Examination of Witnesses (Questions 20-39)|
4 DECEMBER 2007
Q20 Margaret Moran: That would be
very useful, yes. You will be aware, I am sure, that access to
specialist drug treatment for under-18s is very much a post code
lottery, and we know it from our own constituencies. Could you
tell us how work that your Department is doing with the Department
of Health to tackle that problem is progressing? Could you also
tell us how you are addressing the fact that there are many private-sector
so-called drug services, many of which are located very often
in areas like mine in Luton, in which there are two or three,
which are deemed to be (can I put it politely) of variable outcome,
and actually may be accelerating problems rather than dealing
Sir David Normington: I do accept
that this is probably one of the key issues, particularly in relation
to tackling Class A drug use. It has been a major focus of the
overall Government strategy on drugs for the last year to 18 months.
I think we see something like a 30% improvement in the coverage
of the availability of treatment; but it is still the case, I
accept, that it is not everywhere and it is not consistently good
everywhere. I know that is a priority for the Department of Health
as part of the drugs strategy. I am afraid I do not know about
the other point you make about the private companies. I do not
know whether the Department of Health or the local Trusts are
looking to regulate that; I can find that out for you.
Margaret Moran: Would you, please.
Q21 Mr Winnick: Sir David, the country
at large as been shocked by the number of young people, some of
them well under 20 who have been murdered this year. Has the Home
Office taken any special action with the police to look further
into these horrifying murders?
Sir David Normington: We have
worked with the police forces and others in the four areas of
the country where we think there are particular problems with
violence caused by guns and knives, and where gangs are particularly
prevalent. That includes Liverpool, it includes Manchester, Birmingham
and London. We have had a very targeted effort with them, supporting
them with money, to look at what works best in taking guns and
knives off the street and in tackling gangs. There is quite a
lot of very good local practice, particularly by the police, but
often it does not get spread around the country. The programme
the Home Secretary has been leading on tackling guns, knives and
gangs is focussing very specifically on this. It is quite targeted
because, although there is an issue country-wide, it is particularly
prevalent in particular places. Last week there was a day when,
in each area, the police actually raised the profile of that issue
and went in and arrested some people and so on; and also showed
the localities the kinds of things they were doing to tackle this
problem. We have that, and we also have at national level a ministerial
group which is bringing all the departments together with an interest
to tackle this. So whether it is victim and witnesses protection,
or whether it is getting into the schools on education, it is
trying to tackle it at both ends of the problem.
Q22 Mr Winnick: I believe the number
murdered this year, of the category I have mentioned, was 26.
Arising from your comments, should there be any optimism that
net year there will be less of such killings?
Sir David Normington: I hope so.
Q23 Mr Winnick: No, we all
Sir David Normington: Of course
I am not going to promise you that because I cannot. I think that
the action we are taking is very targeted on those areas where
we think there is greatest risk. Forgive me for saying it, I do
not mean to sound complacent, but the numbers are very small and,
therefore, you can get from year to year changes of a few either
way. I think it is the case that the number of deaths in this
area has been quite stable, and is not actually going up very
Q24 Mr Winnick: That is not much
consolation for the loved ones who are left behind.
Sir David Normington: Of course
Q25 Mr Winnick: It goes without saying,
I was hardly asking for a promise which no-one is able to give.
Looking a violent crime as a whole, there was, according to the
statistics, a 7% increase between 2004-05 and 2006-07. That is
rather alarming, is it not, considering the categories of violent
crime, apart from murder?
Sir David Normington: That is
one of the reasons, when the new Home Secretary published her
new crime strategy in the late summer, serious crime and violent
crime were highlighted as the area in which she wanted to give
particular priority. That is reflected in some of the new targets
that we set, because it is worrying. Overall, over a longer period,
violent crime has been coming down very sharply. It has been coming
down at the same pace as crime overall. In recent times, you are
right, there has been an upturn and obviously we are very concerned
Q26 Mr Winnick: I wonder what you
would say to those who argue that to some extent at least, without
exaggerating, the increase in violent crime is linked to the relaxation
in licensing hoursin many instances it is 24 hours, or
near 24 hoursand violent crime cannot really be separated
from alcohol abuse?
Sir David Normington: I do not
know whether it is linked to the licensing hours but it is certainly
the case that drug and alcohol-related crime are the major
issues in our crime problem. I do not think it is related to the
licensing hours. I have no evidence of that.
Q27 Bob Russell: Sir David, you made
reference to gun crime and mentioned four of the major cities.
You will be aware, because this Committee had a one-off session
on knife crime, that knife crime is four times more prevalent
than gun crime and is not limited just to the major cities. What
is the Home Office doing to address the fact that knife crime
is four times more likely to result injury and death than gun
crime, yet the sentencing policy does not treat knife crime on
the same level as gun crime?
Sir David Normington: Forgive
me, the work we have been doing focuses on guns, knives and gangs.
It is about knives as well, and it is looking at whether sentences
are proportionate; whether we need to do anything more to the
law; as well as looking at the targeted action we need to take.
It is also trying to ensure that we make some practical progress
in the places where we think there has been the main problem;
but also to learn those lessons. We are not neglecting the rest
of the country; it is just trying to ensure that we make some
progress in places where we think there is a particular need to
focus. At the end of March we will take the lessons from that
and then apply them elsewhere.
Q28 Bob Russell: You do accept that
knife crime on young men is four times more prevalent than gun
Sir David Normington: I do not
think I have those figures, but it is broadly of that order, yes.
Q29 David Davies: Sir David, to what
extent do you feel that recent changes in legislation, which have
made it very difficult, if not impossible, for police officers
to search people who have got recent convictions for dealing drugs
and carrying knives and who are already stopped for committing
minor transgressions? Police offices are unable to search them.
To what extent do you think that is contributing to the levels
of knife and gun crime, in that young people who are inclined
to do this know that they can walk around pretty well unmolested?
Sir David Normington: I really
do not think that is the case.
Q30 David Davies: It is.
Sir David Normington: I really
do not think it is.
Q31 David Davies: It is.
Sir David Normington: There are
two things we are doing: one is, we are reviewing at this moment
the Police and Criminal Evidence Act which is looking at the police
procedures. If that were really the case we would need to change
that. I do not believe it is. Secondly, Sir Ronnie Flanagan is
also looking at a number of aspects of policing, particularly
in relation to the operation of policing and any bureaucratic
barriers to their effective operation. We have two ways we are
going to pick that up. I am afraid I do not have chapter and verse,
but I do not believe what you say is so.
Q32 David Davies: What if I told
you that, as a Special Constable, I have actually stopped people
for committing minor offences and POCd them and found they have
got recent conviction for carrying knives or dealing drugs and
been told that I cannot legally search them because I would be
making a stereotypical judgment about the possibility that they
might have one at that moment without any evidence to back that
Sir David Normington: I would
be very surprised if there is anything in what the Government
is doing to encourage that view.
Q33 David Davies: The Human Rights
Act and the stuff that came out after Lawrence.
Sir David Normington: I do not
believe that is the position.
Q34 David Davies: That is what all
police officers are told.
Sir David Normington: I certainly
do not believe it should be.
David Davies: Thank you.
Q35 Ms Buck: I am just wondering
on that point possibly, Sir David, if you could give us some information
now or later about what has actually happened to stop and search
figures in recent years. I think the statistics would undermine
that argument, whether or not it is true in a specific circumstance?
Sir David Normington: I will happily
provide a note on these points.
Q36 Ms Buck: Sir David, you mentioned
earlier in response to David Winnick's questions about the issue
of dissemination of good practice when it comes to dealing with
young people and with gang crime and so forth. I think that is
a very important point. I want to ask a couple of questions about
antisocial behaviour, because I think that is even more true.
Antisocial behaviour, unlike crime, as a concept is much less
well defined and slippery, and therefore the issue of good practice
is much more important; it ranges from chewing gum on the pavementand
I once shared a platform with Hazel Blears who told me of young
people rolling round an estate in Salford with machine guns, which
I regard as less antisocial behaviour and more a declaration of
war! You do actually have a whole range of activities which can
be classified as antisocial behaviour. The National Audit Office
Report made recommendations on the evaluation of different measures
to tackle antisocial behaviour. Could you tell us what progress
the Home Office has made on the evaluations?
Sir David Normington: We committed
ourselves in reaction to that Report to do an evaluation of the
comparative benefits of using different methods. We have looked
at the effectiveness of particular measures, but we have not taken
an overall view of it. We have committed ourselves to doing that
but that work is not yet completed. There is quite a lot of evidence
of what works in individual cases. It is interesting, what you
describe of course is a whole variety of things that worry people;
but the most prevalent thing is young kids hanging around in a
threatening way. That is the thing in public consultations that
always come up higher than the other issues. What we have tried
to do with antisocial behaviour is develop a series of interventions
which you can use which goes from a warning letter to what are
popularly known as ASBOs and then the enforcement of ASBOs. What
you need is a proportionate response to the problem. Often if
you nip it in the bud early then actually it stops. We know that
after the first intervention on antisocial behaviour, the first
issue of some kind of warning, 65% of people stop doing it. If
you get in there early and you have community support you can
actually made a very quick impact.
Q37 Ms Buck: Which is interesting,
is it not, because it is often the case at a local authority,
another agency level locally, it is that early intervention and
preventive work which often fails to be funded. I refer back to
the Boyhood to Manhood Project and the fact that it is very hard
to evaluate if you do an early intervention what expenditure and
what action it has actually stopped. It is not quite satisfactory
to say that you are still in the process of evaluation and not
give us an idea about when there will be some relatively hard
information that at a local level people can use to guide their
Sir David Normington: To be clear,
we do have a website which gives advice to all the local coordinators
on antisocial behaviour about what works. That is different from
having a research project to say over a long period what works.
We do have a website; we do have conferences; we bring the practitioners
together and actually exchange best practice. There is quite a
lot of work already in place which says: these are the interventions
that work: this is what has made a real impact in particular places.
Q38 Ms Buck: Why has the public attitude,
fear and concern about antisocial behaviour not gone down?
Sir David Normington: It has gone
down. It has gone down from about-
Q39 Ms Buck: 17% up to 18% and back
Sir David Normington: I think
it has gone down from 21% to 18% actually. There are statistics
and statistics, are there not. Actually that 17-18% is not a significant
change. It has come down from 21-18%. We also have underneath
that quite a lot of evidence of what has been happening in particular
areas. In some areas there is a very significant decline in anxieties
about antisocial behaviour. One of the things we need to do is
to link those success stories up with the actions that have been