Examination of Witnesses (Question Numbers
CAMPBELL MP AND
24 MARCH 2009
Q560 David Davies: Would you agree
then that prison works?
Mr Hanson: There is a range of
things. I think that prison works in some circumstances and community-based
sentences can work in others. It will depend on the reasons why
people are involved and what the interventions are. In some instances
I think immediate custody and interventions in prison are an appropriate
sentence; in other areas a community-based sentence will have
much more of an impact. What we both want is a change of behaviour
and prevention of re-offending along with an element of punishment.
Q561 Mr Streeter: We have heard from
almost every witness in this inquiry that parenting is at the
heart of this matter. I think we all agree with what and what
goes on in our homes is crucial in terms of the outcomes for young
people. Of course it is very easy to say that and very hard to
make a real difference. Mr Campbell, what is the Home Office really
doing about making our parents in this country more responsible?
Mr Campbell: I think there are
two elements to it. The first is how you support parents in what
can often be very difficult circumstances. The second thing is
what happens if they do not respond to that support and if they
simply will not engage. Let me deal with the former first. Most
of the support for parents with regard to TKAP comes via the Department
for Children, Schools and Families through a whole variety of
things like, for example, early intervention programmes, family
intervention programmes and of course the fact that there are
parenting practitioners in every local authority area. It is about
giving parents access to the right advice to allow them to meet,
perhaps together, in order not just to discuss with professionals
how best they can resolve issues within their families but also
to work with other parents in those areas, too. It is, as you
suggest, a longer term, very much a preventative approach. I think
the important lesson is: the earlier the intervention, the better
and getting parents to acknowledge that they have a problem and
that they can get help. When that happens, I have to say Mr Streeter,
the parents have been very appreciative that there is somebody
there for them to speak to and to help to resolve their issues.
Of course, if they do not respond to that, if they fail to engage,
then there are things which can come into place, like for example
parenting orders where they can actually be held to account for
what their children are getting up to. I think the evidence is
of a willingness by many parents to engage, particularly if it
is a TKAP area where there has been a history developing of this
particular problem because they want to get involved to make sure
that their children are not victims, but also that their children
are not perpetrators.
Q562 Ms Buck: We had some very powerful
evidence earlier this morning from Professor Kevin Browne about,
as he put it, the indisputable impact of violent video games upon
young people's behaviour, sometimes in terms of giving them a
role for acting out and sometimes more broadly just in terms of
de-sensitising people to violence. I wonder what your view is
of what the Government should do about it. Following on from the
last question in terms of parenting, is it not the case that many
of the people we are most worried about are young people whose
parents are themselves in some way either absentphysically
absent or mentally absentand incapable really of exercising
that proper control that a child should have in a loving environment?
What is the answer to that dilemma?
Mr Campbell: Perhaps I could deal
with the video games first. Of course Professor Tanya Byron did
a review for us entitled Safer Children in a Digital World.
One of the key recommendations that she made was to set up a UK
Council for Child Internet Safety. That council has met on a number
of occasions and in fact working groups are now in place and looking
at various aspects. I have to say that perhaps the driving force
most recently has been around images of children on the internet,
but not exclusively so. She also had quite a lot to say about
video games. What she said was, and I think there is some fairness
certainly in the first point, that videos can play a very important
and constructive part in the lives of young children. However,
of course there is concern about videos and also video games and
about the longer term effects. I think there is some evidence
of a short-term effect but as for the longer term effect of exposure
to these videos and video games, the evidence is not there, probably
because it is a relatively recent phenomenon. The council working
groups are looking at this issue. I think we certainly want to
empower parents to have greater information at their disposal.
Q563 Ms Buck: Is not the heart of
the dilemma those households where the parents simply are not
there or not able or not willing to exercise that informed involvement
and control that is the bottom line? The evidence seems to be
that if a child is growing up in a loving and secure environment,
then that will trump the adverse impact, within reason, of the
exposure to violence. The problem, surely, is the combination
of these very violent films and video games and a household environment
that is not able to exercise proper control.
Mr Campbell: The point I was making
was that many parents need help about what the content of video
games is and so we are looking at the classification system and
protecting children by making sure that they have a better knowledge
of what is safe for them to watch.
Q564 Chairman: You are accepting,
are you, that video games have a short-term effect on young people?
Mr Campbell: That was the finding
of the review, that there is an issue around short-term effects
on behaviour, but whether that translates into a long-term effect
and gets to the extreme that we are talking about, I do not think
the evidence is here yet. I did not hear the evidence that you
Q565 Chairman: The Government has
not implemented any of the recommendations of the Byron report.
Mr Campbell: That is what we are
Q566 Chairman: How long will it take?
Mr Campbell: We would expect that
by the autumn we would be bringing forward
Q567 Chairman: A whole year after
Mr Campbell: What we are seeking
to do is to work closely with industry and other agencies and
getting the council up and running, getting the working group
running and making sure that we have a research-based approach
cannot be achieved overnight.
Q568 Mrs Dean: If I can just go back
to the importance of families, we heard earlier from Professor
Browne that he felt that when parents are before family courts
it would be useful for treatment orders to be placed, particularly
on violent fathers who he said moved on from one family to another,
in the prevention of violent crime amongst young people. Have
you any desire to see that implemented?
Mr Hanson: Perhaps I could answer
both Ms Buck's and Mrs Dean's points together. Family is extremely
important. I think the family sets the culture of how individual
young people are operating. One of the key things that we have
done in general terms is to try to identify now, through the Youth
Crime Action Plan, what early interventions we need when, for
example, children start missing school, when there are chaotic
drug users in the family, when there are other circumstances,
potentially even when parents are away from the home in prison
or through other circumstances. That early intervention and identification
is crucial. That could be done potentially through the courts,
through examination of parental behaviour; it could be done through
informal networks in schools, through head teachers. However it
is done, it needs to be done. What we are finding is that a history
of commencement of early criminal activity at a young age, be
it 8, 9, 10, 11 or 12, will lead over time, unless there is intervention,
to much more serious and dysfunctional behaviour later in life.
Whether it is through examination in court or through a range
of support measures we put in place through the Youth Crime Action
Plan, it is crucial to try to identify those children who are
most at riskat risk very often not through faults of their
own but through the dysfunctional chaotic nature of their family
and the circumstances that they live in, which leads to potential
crime activities in their family or absences from school. So we
are very focused on that and have put additional resources into
the Youth Crime Action Plan to develop family intervention projects,
think family interventions and intensive support. Indeed, one
scheme I would like to draw to your attention, Mr Vaz, which is
in the very early stages, is the idea of intensive fostering whereby
when children are coming to the court through low level crime,
we now have a scheme operating in three areas on a pilot where
we can take them out of the environment and provide intensive
fostering with a family to support them. Currently, we have around
30 families involved in that; it is a £10 million project
over the next three years to look at whether we can even offer
support where there is not a functional family, and that can help
change people's lives.
Q569 Chairman: Minister, this Government
has been in power for 12 years. The level of knife crime has risen.
You are saying this may well be the result of a breakdown in families.
Surely the Government must bear some of this responsibility?
Mr Hanson: I would say that if
you look at crime overall, it has fallen by 37% during the course
of this Government's term of office. If I look at the interventions
that we have made, which I am very proud of, in relation to family
support centres, the minimum wage, working families' tax credit,
investments in nursery education, I think that the Government
that I support has a very proud record on those factors. There
are challenges, and the nature of any government, whether our
government or an opposition government, is that those challenges
will change over time. Knife crime is an issue we need to address
and we need to look at. There is a range of factors we need to
work through. The key thing for me is to make sure that we do
that on an early basis to identify who is at risk and take interventions
to change the lives of those people.
Q570 Tom Brake: Mr Hanson, are you
happy with the current sentencing policy in relation to knife
Mr Hanson: I think sentencing
is very important, Mr Brake, but I would also put it in the context
of the two big areas before we get to sentencing, which are prevention
and enforcement. Prevention through chaotic lifestyles and working
on young people is extremely important. Enforcement of activities
such as knife wands and policing and street teams is equally important.
Sentencing comes at the end of those two and in a sense is a failure
of those first two by bringing people before the courts. We have
strengthened the knife crime sentencing regime over the past two
years. As I indicated earlier to Mr Davies, we have seen an increasing
trend in people going into custody and an increasing length of
time in custody. We have also developed what I think are some
very imaginative and intensive alternatives to custody to give
people, particularly unemployed offenders, intensive unpaid work
for carrying a knife and activity which will lead perhaps to the
knife referral programmes I have mentioned previously. The menu
of sentencing exists. The key thing for me is prevention and enforcement
as much as what happens when people are sentenced.
Q571 Tom Brake: But there are no
areas in relation to sentencing policy that are currently under
review that you might have identified where perhaps a different
approach is required?
Mr Hanson: We have a number of
pilots on the use of community-based sentences to see whether
or not for example knife crime is related to drug activity, whether
the drug treatment orders might well end the knife crime activity,
whether or not we need to look, as you have said now, at the expansion
of the knife referral project. Very often in some cities carrying
a knife is something that is done without thought to the consequences.
When people are convicted of carrying a knife, they will be taken
through the seven-step programme to show the consequences of that.
We are expanding that activity. I think we need to look at a mixture
of custodial sentences for serious offences and for persistent
offenders and community-based sentences where we can change behaviour
through community activity. What matters to us all is what changes
behaviour. For some people it will be custody because of their
behaviour; for some it will be a community-based sentence. We
need to look at the range of options and build on what we have
Q572 David Davies: True or false:
the number or people being killed violently in this country is
higher now than it was 12 years ago based on recorded crime?
Mr Hanson: I think that is true,
Q573 David Davies: The reason why
it is possible to say that crime has fallen is because many people
who would previously have been charged with GBH, for example,
are now being charged with ABH or with lesser offences. Is that
not also correct?
Mr Hanson: Mr Davies, would point
out that on 1 May 1997 there were around 60,000 people in prison;
there are now, as of this week, 83,000.
Q574 David Davies: How many of those
are foreign nationals?
Mr Hanson: About 11,000 are foreign
Q575 David Davies: The number of
foreign nationals has increased greatly. If you took the prison
population and the percentage of British people in prison, it
is not that much higher than it was 12 years ago, is it?
Mr Hanson: I would say to you,
Mr Davies, that the chances of being convicted are greater than
ever before; the chances of receiving a custodial sentence are
greater than ever before; the length of that sentence is greater
than ever before. Also, the number of community-based penalties
is greater than ever before. I think that does show a real impact
on the level of crime. If I look at the knife crime statistics
over the past 12 months, the increase in custody and the increase
of community-based activity have seen a fall in the number of
people who are entering accident and emergency departments for
knife-related offences. The enforcement that Mr Campbell is responsible
for has achieved that in support of what we are doing on sentencing.
Q576 David Davies: I think I would
accept that because you have brought in more prison sentences,
which underlies a point which has been made many times by me and
members of my party, which is that prison is very effective in
deterring people and keeping them off the streets when they have
committed a crime. Is that not also correct?
Mr Hanson: I think prison is effective
in deterring people sometimes. What is most effective, in my view,
is the threat of being caught and the threat of enforcement. From
my perspective, whatever our views on prison sentences, a short
effective sentence in prison may not be as effective as a community-based
sentence or indeed as the threat of greater enforcement. For example,
if I put a young person in prison for 100 days, that may not be
as effective as a knife referral scheme in the community, or indeed
as extra help and support on knife wands or arches or extra police
monitoring at particular times of day or night in particular areas.
Q577 Martin Salter: On the same subject
but with slightly more factual probing: the reoffending rate in
our young offenders' institutions is a national disgrace; 70%
of young people who receive a first time custodial sentence actually
reoffend within two years. Does that not suggest the exact opposite
to the previous question and actually our custodial system and
our prison system are not working?
Mr Hanson: There is probably an
element in both viewpoints that has to be reflected upon. The
figures that you have mentioned are indeed very worrying. I am
not happy to be a Youth Justice Minister presiding over a 70%
plus reoffending rate in first time offenders into custody. That
is why we need to look at the wide range of holistic measures.
Later this year, we will be introducing a new Youth Rehabilitation
Order, which went through the Criminal Justice Act last year,
which is a further step before custody. Sadly, there will still
be people who will go to prison because there will be serious,
violent, dangerous offences which will lead to custody. My assessment
has to be: how do we deal with young people in community-based
sentences and what do we do with those that do go to prison or
youth offender institutions that changes their lives. It means
investment in education, training, employment, skills, family
support, resettlement, rehabilitation, on all of which we need
to up our game and which I happily accept that we need to do more
Q578 Martin Salter: Minister, you
have been in my constituency and with me when we have looked at
the very successful National Grid scheme which offers training
and employment opportunities for people leaving custody. That
has seen a reduction in reoffending rates down from 70% to 7%.
There have been dramatic improvements. What plans are there to
roll that out nationally? At the moment, whilst it is an excellent
scheme, it is a patchwork scheme and it is not available to all
young offenders' institutions, for example.
Mr Hanson: We are trying very
hard to look at how we can roll out greater employment opportunities.
The key from my perspective to the prevention of reoffending for
those who are over 16 and who are seeking employment is to get
back into work, in addition to tackling some of the underling
problems as well. I have been very keen to look at building an
alliance with a range of employers to try to increase through-the-gate
opportunities where we undertake training in prison or young offender
institutions and we seek to try to find a through-the-gate method
to employ them or to find uses for the skills that they have learnt
in prison. We have the National Grid scheme which operates in
Reading Prison, but for example only three weeks ago I opened
a new scheme in Liverpool Prison with Timpsons, the shoe repair
people, where they are undertaking a 15 person training scheme
in Liverpool Prison and are finding employment for people after
the end of their courses when they come out of prison. That is
one of the keys to employment through the gate and it is one of
the things we need to work on still more.
Q579 Chairman: You do not feel that
with such a high reoffending rate people are actually going to
prisons and young offenders' institutions and learning more about
knife crime and coming out to be more sophisticated at stabbing
Mr Hanson: I do not because I
believe ultimately that we have to have the interventions in prison
to change people's lives. We have set a very ambitious target,
Mr Vaz, of a further reduction of 10% in the reoffending rate
for young people over the next three years. I believe we will
meet that. There is always the danger that prisons will become
academies of crime, but our whole ethos is to change the person's
life in prison, to give them support, to make a difference to
their lives and to change their behaviour. We have to keep on
top that at all times.