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The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. David Blunkett): On 18 June, I published a comprehensive proposal for preventing domestic violence, protecting victims and providing support to those who have been abused and affected. That includes ways of changing attitudes so that those who believe that domestic violence is acceptable get the message very clearly. Two national programmes have been piloted and we have accredited them, and a further programme is under development, as my hon. Friend knows. I should like to commend her for the work that she has done locally and nationally in pursuing this issue.
Judy Mallaber : I thank my right hon. Friend for that reply. Although difficult, it is vital that we address the behaviour of domestic violence offenders, as the evidence suggests that they will almost certainly continue to assault their current and future partners. As part of the programme, will my right hon. Friend ensure that accreditation and therefore funding for Probation Service programmes is rolled out as soon as possible? Will he also consider the experience in respect of other programmes such as PODAPrevention of Domestic Abusein Derby, which works with perpetrators who voluntarily seek help, but is struggling to maintain its funding after initially having three years of lottery funding? Will he consider how such schemes can be extended?
Mr. Blunkett: I shall certainly consider that issue, as the first important step forward is when someone acknowledges that they have a problem and are in need of help. There is a real problemit applies not only to this areawhere pilot funding comes to an end without what might be described as an exit programme to ensure that funding can be picked up and that the programme will not be disadvantaged. These are very important issues. We do not want to proceed with something when we do not know that it works, but when it works we need to ensure that there is long-term funding to sustain it.
Mr. John Bercow (Buckingham): Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that there is a compelling case for seeking to emulate the example of Sunderland city council's housing department, which includes in tenancy agreements a clause that allows for the removal
Mr. Blunkett: I am not in full possession of every detail of the Sunderland scheme. The hon. Gentleman will recall that, in my statement on 18 June, I made a point of saying that it was important to get the perpetrator out of the house, leaving the family and children with stability wherever that is possible, and as long as we can ensure with restraining orders that they are not terrorised by the individual repeatedly going back to the home.
Vera Baird (Redcar): May I raise an issue about the standard of proof, which has just been discussed in respect of anti-social behaviour orders, in domestic violence cases? Like ASBOs, such cases involve civil proceedings, but where a domestic violence allegation is raised, its quasi-criminal nature means that the judge adopts the higher criminal standard of proof to such an extent that women are often advised not to pursue such allegations. Is it not very important that the overlap between civil and criminal cases and their respective standards of proof should play a major role in the current domestic violence review?
Mr. Blunkett: I believe my hon. and learned Friend is correct. We indicated that liaison and work between the civil and criminal courts was crucial. We have the experiments in Cardiff, West Yorkshire and London, and we need to extend them, as we were describing this time last week, as part of bringing justice to the community through community justice courts, so that we can ensure that, on a range of issues, including this one, the courts, the magistracy and the judiciary are as close to the people as possible, and that they understand the difficulties and have the power to act.
The Minister for Crime Reduction, Policing, and Community Safety (Ms Hazel Blears): We have received very positive accounts from a variety of sources of the good work that is being done by community support officers in the communities where they are already on patrol. I have not yet made any assessment of their impact on the incidence of antisocial behaviour, but I expect that to be one of the matters that will be covered in the formal evaluations that are due this September from the 27 forces funded last year.
Dr. Palmer : I look forward to pressing my hon. Friend further in tomorrow's Adjournment debate. Does she agree that one issue that has attracted particularly wide interest is whether the power of detention that some CSOs have has been a significant factor in enabling them to deter antisocial behaviour?
Dr. Vincent Cable (Twickenham): Does the Minister agree that the undoubted success of CSOs does not detract from the need for additional full uniformed officers; and does she accept the Metropolitan police commissioner's calculation that an extra 6,500 full officers will be required safely to beat-police the streets of London?
Ms Blears: The hon. Gentleman will know that this Government are putting on to the streets record numbers of police officers, together with community support officers, to provide high-profile visible patrolling that reassures people in our communities. The Home Secretary gave the figures. There are 132,600 police officers: that is a record number, and it is more than 5,000 more than there were when the Government came to power. If the hon. Gentleman talks to senior officers in the Met and to officers on the front line, he will find that they are incredibly grateful for the extra support, resources and backing that the Government have given them in the fight against crime.
Jim Knight (South Dorset): Last week, my local newspaper, the Dorset Echo, reported on its front page the welcome that was given by shopkeepers in Dorchesterwhich is in the neighbouring West Dorset constituency of the shadow Home Secretaryto community support officers who, thanks to a Home Office grant for rural areas and market towns, are tackling antisocial behaviour in town centres. Could the Minister attach the same priority to coastal towns, where we have particular problems with antisocial behaviour, especially during the summer months?
Ms Blears: I am delighted that my hon. Friend has found community support officers to be so useful. Last week, I had the opportunity to meet a reporter, Mr. Simon McGee from the Nottingham Evening Post, who has been running a fantastic campaign on antisocial behaviour. My hon. Friend the Member for Gedling (Vernon Coaker) has also been a tremendous support in that regard.
My hon. Friend the Member for South Dorset (Jim Knight) is right to draw attention to seaside towns. He may know that community support officers have been deployed in such areasin Rhyl, for exampleto ensure that such antisocial behaviour can be controlled.
Mr. George Osborne (Tatton): Could the Minister tell us how many police officers could have been employed for the amount of money that has been spent on community support officers? That is surely the only way in which to judge the effectiveness of the idea.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Fiona Mactaggart): I am not convinced that emergency funding for community support officers would be effective in avoiding a recurrence of the serious breakdown in public order on the Caia Park estate that was experienced in June. I understand that North Wales police have an action plan in place to deal with any future problems on the estate.
Ian Lucas: I am disappointed by that reply. We have heard much about the effectiveness of community support officers on the streets throughout the country. The people of Wrexham are working hard to deal with the causes of the serious civil disturbances of the past month. For the first time, North Wales police have said that they will support the introduction of community support officers. Will the Under-Secretary meet me and the police to discuss that fact so that community support officers and their benefits can be used to address the difficulties that Caia Park estate and Wrexham face?
Fiona Mactaggart: I thank my hon. Friend for his determined efforts to encourage his local police, especially on the use of community support officers. I recognise that he has persisted in that, and that has been helpful. However, other police forces that had applied in both rounds and been unsuccessful would perceive it as unfair if North Wales police got emergency funding. Basic command unit commander Steve Curtis has made proposals, for example, to consider a policing priority area in Wrexham. That might provide part of the solution.
The key role of community support officers should be to help prevent the sort of disorder that Wrexham experienced rather than tidying up after it has happened. Having community support officers as eyes and ears on the ground, noting, for example, piles of bricks in places where people could chuck them, is one of the best ways in which to prevent such disorder. That is preferable to their dealing with it when it happens.