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Criminal Assets (Confiscation)

4. John Robertson (Glasgow, Anniesland): What plans he has to confiscate the assets of serious criminals. [613]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Bob Ainsworth): As part of our manifesto commitment to crack down on crime, we announced the proceeds of crime Bill in the Queen's Speech. The Bill will attack the profit motive that drives organised crime. It will reform confiscation procedures, modernise the criminal law on money laundering, establish an agency with powers to recover criminal assets—including through a new form of civil litigation—extend the provisions for forfeiture of cash derived from or intended for use in crime, and provide for the taxation of criminal gains.

John Robertson: I thank my hon. Friend for that reply. He will be aware that there has been substantial investment in the new Scottish Drug Enforcement Agency, which has been welcomed universally by those in my constituency who try to fight drugs. However, a drug knows no boundaries, so how does my hon. Friend envisage his Department's scope in relation to the Scottish Executive in fighting that evil trade throughout the whole country?

Mr. Ainsworth: I can assure my hon. Friend that the proceeds of crime Bill will apply in Scotland as well as

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in England and Wales. We are discussing its provisions with, and have received full co-operation from, members of the Scottish Executive. That consultation process will continue to make absolutely certain that there are no loopholes when dealing with the purveyors of organised crime, many of whom are involved in drugs trafficking.

Mr. Douglas Hogg (Sleaford and North Hykeham): The Minister will probably know that in the Republic of Ireland there is a Criminal Assets Bureau dealing with confiscation of such assets. Is he aware that many of those who have dealt with the bureau—myself included—believe that the balance is tilted too much in favour of the bureau? It is very important to establish law that ensures that, if there is to be a confiscation of criminal assets, the burden of proving the fact that they are indeed criminal assets must rest firmly on those seeking the order, and that the standard of proof is a high one. Otherwise, injustice will be done.

Mr. Ainsworth: If the right hon. and learned Gentleman has studied the Irish experience, he will know that our country's record on the recovery of the proceeds of crime is not good. Taking into account the different sizes of economies, we recover about a quarter of that which the United States recovers, and about a tenth of that which Ireland manages to recover. I hope that the right hon. and learned Gentleman supports our general thrust, which is to make certain that we bear down on the profits of crime and that we improve our record considerably.

John Mann (Bassetlaw): In my constituency, historically, many problems were sorted out down the pit, but a previous Government shut the vast majority of the pits in my constituency. Can we expect this Government to continue to pursue stronger policies that will lead to the harassment of the harassers and allow ordinary, decent people in my constituency to go about their business in peace?

Mr. Ainsworth: The proceeds of crime Bill is about bearing down on organised crime rather than issues of harassment. I assure my hon. Friend that it should apply underground as well as overground.

Mr. Nick Hawkins (Surrey Heath): I welcome the Minister and his right hon. and hon. Friends to their new posts. Does he recognise that the Government have created a problem for themselves with their proposals, given that the Prime Minister decided that none of the previous Home Office Ministers should continue in their posts, so the entire team was either promoted, moved or fired; and given that the new team of which the hon. Gentleman is a part does not have a single legal qualification among its members?

Does the Minister recognise that Labour's friends among human rights lawyers are already pointing out to The Guardian that the Government's only Human Rights Act—that of 1998—will make it difficult for the new Bill to be compatible with that Act? Does the hon. Gentleman recognise also that there is a real issue about confiscating the assets of those who have never been convicted by a criminal court? How does he reckon that he can square the circle between confiscating the assets of those who are convicted and confiscating the assets of those who have never faced a criminal conviction?

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Mr. Ainsworth: We will introduce the Bill after the summer recess. I hope that we will have the co-operation of Opposition Members, even if they are legally qualified. We shall obviously seek to ensure that our proposals are compatible with the Human Rights Act 1998. I have confidence that we shall be able to do so.

Youth Inclusion

5. Jim Dobbin (Heywood and Middleton): If he will make a statement on the effectiveness of youth inclusion projects in high-crime areas. [614]

The Minister for Prisons (Mr. Keith Bradley): There are currently 64 youth inclusion projects helping about 3,500 hard-to-reach young people in the most deprived neighbourhoods in England and Wales.

We expect the evaluation report in the autumn. Meanwhile, early indications from the first wave of projects, which started in April 2000, are encouraging. They point to reduced crime, development of local delivery capacity and increased local community engagement. Burglary has been reduced by an average of 14 per cent. and criminal damage by a third.

Jim Dobbin: I thank the Minister and welcome him to his new post. Does he agree that it is vital to involve young people in constructive activities, such as the programme called "make a difference", which was introduced by the chief constable for Greater Manchester and which encourages schools to take part in community environmental projects and community security projects for pensioners, to refer to only two examples? There is also the youth inclusion project on the Langley estate in Middleton in my constituency, which does a similar job. Surely this is the way to re-engage young people with communities and to help to reduce youth crime.

Mr. Bradley: I welcome the initiative taken by Greater Manchester police and the fact that the youth inclusion project on the Langley estate has so far attracted about 200 young people—13 to 16-year-olds—in a variety of projects in the area, which I know well as a Manchester Member. The early feedback from the project shows a positive reaction from the young people, the workers who are involved and the volunteers who are also working with the scheme. I hope that we shall be able to extend it in future years, to ensure that we target more young people who are at risk in the community.

Simon Hughes (Southwark, North and Bermondsey): I understand that when Home Office Ministers arrived in the Department they were briefed that the two major issues of concern to the public were the amount of violent crime and the amount of recurring crime committed by young people, especially in urban areas. Evidence shows that many of the young people concerned live in areas of high unemployment with few prospects of alternative activity. Police clear-up rates are extremely low, being a quarter or less. The punishments that are normally given to the youngsters involved are noticeably unsuccessful at stopping early reoffending.

On behalf of the Home Secretary and his colleagues, will the Minister make it clear that what the Home Secretary indicated last week will be their policy—that they are willing to engage in a real debate across the

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parties and more widely about what works in terms of sentencing—and that we shall have an end to Home Office pronouncements by Home Office Ministers that amount to soundbites and gimmicks announced before consultation, which are adhered to irrespective of the weight of the evidence or of how unsuccessful they are?

Mr. Bradley: I can assure the hon. Gentleman that, while there are briefings in the Home Office when new Ministers arrive, we also brief ourselves from our experience in our own communities. Certainly, from my own experience in Manchester, I am aware that the issue of youth crime is of great importance. I only have to talk to my own constituents to be reinforced in our drive to ensure that we have effective policies, including sentencing policy, for that particular group. I can also repeat the Home Secretary's assurance and offer last week: that everyone in the House, of every party, is welcome to give their views on the matter. We want to develop measures consensually and ensure that everyone has the opportunity to express positive views so that we can reflect on them before we introduce legislation.

Young Offenders (Drugs)

6. Mr. David Borrow (South Ribble): What plans he has to ensure that all young offenders with drug problems are identified, assessed and treated for their drugs problems. [616]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Beverley Hughes): Our aim is to reduce repeat offending among all drug misusing offenders by 25 per cent. by 2005, and by 50 per cent. by 2008. For young offenders in particular, we have introduced a raft of measures to tackle the problem of drug abuse, including a comprehensive drug strategy for young offenders in prison; the Youth Justice Board is extending the drug treatment programmes and services available to juveniles. In addition, we have introduced the drug treatment and testing order, a new community sentence targeted at problem drug users aged 16 and over.

Mr. Borrow: I thank my hon. Friend for her reply. In Leyland, in my constituency, there is genuine concern that young people with drug problems who are not classed as young offenders still have to wait far too long to get access to drug treatment; they often have to leave Leyland and go to other places to get treatment. Does my hon. Friend agree that it is crucial that local drug services be readily available, both for offenders and non-offending young people with drug problems? I am highlighting Leyland in my constituency, but such problems exist in many areas, which is unacceptable. If the drug strategy on which the Cabinet Office, the Home Office and the Department of Health are working is to be effective, those waiting times need to be speeded up and access to facilities improved.

Beverley Hughes: I certainly agree with my hon. Friend, not least because we want to prevent young people who may be misusing substances from getting into offending. My hon. Friend therefore makes an important point, and I commend him on the interest that he has taken in the issue in his own constituency. Under the 10-year strategy, £153 million has been allocated to young

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people's services over the next three years. Only£24 million of that sum is for youth justice; the rest is to be used to develop non-offending specific services for young people. The new National Treatment Agency, established in April, will oversee that development.

My hon. Friend is right: because we recognisedthe unevenness of provision across the country, the Government took that initiative last year. I can also tell him that, at the very least, a new community drugs team is planned for Leyland, in addition to the Chorley team, which will begin to have an impact soon.

Mr. John Bercow (Buckingham): I congratulate the Minister on her appointment. Do she and her right hon. Friend the Home Secretary rule out any possibility whatever, during their tenure at the Home Office, of the decriminalisation of cannabis?

Beverley Hughes: Let me make it clear: in our 10-year national drug strategy, we had a top priority—

Mr. Bercow: Answer the question: yes or no.

Beverley Hughes: I shall answer the question in my own time and in my own way. Our priority is to deal with class A drugs, which do the greatest harm. The Government have no intention of legalising controlled drugs, but we are interested in the experiment in Lambeth and in what it can help us to understand about the effective policing of the drugs that do most damage to our young people.

Glenda Jackson (Hampstead and Highgate): Does my hon. Friend agree that many young offenders are multiple drug abusers, and that one of the drugs for which there seems to be insufficient detoxification units in London is alcohol? If the Government do not yet have an alcohol strategy ready, will she consider including the abuse of alcohol in the existing drugs strategy?

Beverley Hughes: I agree with my hon. Friend. So far, services for alcohol misusers have concentrated too much on adults and not sufficiently on young people. My hon. Friend will know that, by March next year, the new drug action teams are required to produce plans for their areas to deal with young people's substance misuse across the spectrum of drugs, including alcohol. In the light of those plans, we shall be discussing with the Department of Health what we need to do to put the focus on alcohol misuse. I agree with my hon. Friend that such a focus is necessary.

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