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The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Paul Goggins): We have put in place a broad programme to prevent children from being drawn into crime, with targeted initiatives focusing on those young people most at risk in high-crime areas. We have also made significant improvements to the youth justice system that have assisted in reducing reoffending rates.
Hugh Bayley: Does my hon. Friend recognise the sense of powerlessness that a community can feel when a group of children or young peoplesometimes a very small grouprun riot and engage in a localised epidemic of vandalism or criminal damage? What help can the Government give those communities so that they can believe that their voice and views will be listened to by law enforcement authorities and the courts? What are the Government doing to encourage local authorities to provide meaningful activities for young people in deprived neighbourhoods over the summer holiday to try to divert them from antisocial behaviour?
Paul Goggins: My hon. Friend is right that many local communities feel overrun and powerless in that way, which is why the Government are taking action in the Anti-social Behaviour Bill and a range of other measures. He is right to argue that communities need to be more involved in the criminal justice systeman issue that was raised by my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary in the Edith Kahn lecture. To give my hon. Friend an example of the use of referral ordersthe main court disposal for first-time young offendersyoung offenders are referred to a local panel, on which sit two local community members, and which determines the programme that they must follow. In
Mr. Oliver Letwin (West Dorset): We are united across the House in our desire to lift young people off the conveyor belt to crime and see what the hon. Member for City of York (Hugh Bayley) described as worthwhile activities for young people. Presumably, we also all agree that, in our desire to lift some young people off the conveyor belt to crime, we must not create incentives for other young people to get into crime. May I therefore take it that the Minister for Crime Reduction, Policing and Community Safety was either inaccurately reported or was making an elaborate joke when it was suggested in the weekend papers that she wanted to pay young recidivists up to £20,000 a year to go straight?
Paul Goggins: I read the press reports over the weekend. They were right in one respectmy hon. Friend the Minister for Crime Reduction, Policing and Community Safety thinks highly of that project. However, we need to clarify some of the detail in those reports. First, people are not employed in that project as an alternative to prisonthey are paid to work as mentors for young people, and the starting salary is about £8,000. If they gain all the qualifications, they can earn up to £15,000, but all of them are full-time staff. Some of them are ex-offenders, but they are turning that negative experience into something positive for society. I would have thought that, now that he knows that, the right hon. Gentleman would join me in supporting such an approach.
Mr. Letwin: I am glad to hear that. As we seem to be making progress, will the Minister help us by agreeing also that the probation service ought to play an important part in helping young people off the conveyor belt to crime? If so, what does he make of a letter from the head of service delivery for the probation service in the London boroughs of Merton and Sutton, who writes to the clerk to the justices in a magistrates court:
Paul Goggins: I am aware of some of the difficulties currently experienced in London, and I am looking at them closely with senior management in the probation service. However, I draw the right hon. Gentleman's attention to the fact that there are now 2,000 more probation officers than there were in 1997 and that the overall budget for the probation service is set to double in the current spending period. The Government are therefore putting resources into the probation service, and we intend to make sure that the kind of service that it offers is a credible alternative to custody.
Paul Goggins: My hon. Friend is right. The way that services are coming together at local level is very encouraging, and can provide the right package of support for young people. It can provide the strong support that can deter them from reoffending. To give an example of such programmes, the youth inclusion programme pinpoints young teenagers who are most at risk in the big high-crime areas. There has been a 30 per cent. reduction in the number of arrests in those areas as a result of that programme, so co-ordinated action between all the agencies can make a difference.
Sir Patrick Cormack (South Staffordshire): If the Government are anxious to cut down the number of young offenders, why are they taking steps to make every member of every pony club in the country a potential young offender?
Paul Goggins: I will look carefully at the issue raised by the hon. Gentleman, but given the range of my responsibilities, including prisons and probation, and the challenges that we face in those areas, I hope he will forgive me if I pass on that one.
Ross Cranston (Dudley, North): I congratulate the Front-Bench team on measures such as the Youth Justice Board at national level and the youth offending teams at local level, which are having a real impact. Will my hon. Friend comment on what my local police saythat much petty youth offending is alcohol-fuelled? Will he have a conversation with our hon. Friend the Minister for Crime Reduction, Policing, and Community Safety, who I am pleased to say has brought with her from the Department of Health the alcohol strategy that she was developing?
Paul Goggins: My hon. and learned Friend is right. Alcohol is far too often involved in offending, not least among young people. We need to deal head-on with that problem and provide alternative positive activities for young people that will take them away from crime. Where that happens, we see very good results.
The Minister for Crime Reduction, Policing, and Community Safety (Ms Hazel Blears): We have no plans to do so. The standard of proof set by the House of Lords, in the case of R v Crown Court at Manchester ex parte McCann and Others, has not proved to affect antisocial behaviour order applications adversely. ASBOs are one tool in the fight against antisocial
Mr. Allen : In common, I suspect, with most Members, the majority of cases that I dealt with at my surgery at the weekend involved antisocial behaviour. I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and his predecessor on introducing measures to tackle antisocial behaviour that will help the majority of the constituents who came to my surgery on Saturday. But will my hon. Friend the Minister keep antisocial behaviour orders under review at all times? They were a good idea when they first came in, and they have been improved. Can we ensure that we continue to improve them so that they can be more and more workable? I look forward to the debate on Wednesday about making sure that the proof required for an ASBO is not at criminal but at civil level.
Ms Blears: Indeed, I look forward to discussing the issue at length with my hon. Friend in Westminster Hall later in the week. I can confirm to him that the orders are civil orders, and that the civil standard of evidence is therefore admissible. Antisocial behaviour orders are being granted at an increasing pace. There were 1,112 orders up to March this year, and only 31 have ever been refused. The police and local authorities are increasingly using the powers that the Government have given them to tackle antisocial behaviour and disorderly conduct.
Sir Sydney Chapman (Chipping Barnet): I have had at least two cases of antisocial behaviour recently. In one case, a person driving without insurance or a licence hit another car and gave a number, but the police will not follow up in cases where the person is found not to have insurance because they say they cannot act upon suspicionthey must have third-party evidence. That is causing a great loss of faith in our policing and legal system. Will the Minister look at those cases? They could well be answered by accepting the case advanced by the hon. Member for Nottingham, North (Mr. Allen) and transferring the burden of proof to civil, rather than criminal, standard.
Ms Blears: I will gladly look into the issue that the hon. Gentleman raises. Members of the public have a natural concern when powers are provided but not used in the way they ought to be. People have particular concerns about the breaches of antisocial behaviour orders. We are determined to ensure that where powers are available, they are used to their fullest extent.
Kevin Brennan (Cardiff, West): With regard to antisocial behaviour, is there not also a responsibility on corporate interests? Is my hon. Friend as disappointed as I was when I attended a meeting last Friday in my constituency to learn that despite lobbying for many years by local councillors, including councillor Gregory Owens, BT has failed to do anything about a problem exchange building that is attracting antisocial behaviour on the part of local youth? Is there anything the Home Office can do to get corporate interests to accept their responsibilities as good neighbours?