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The Minister for Police, Courts and Drugs (Mr. John Denham): We are determined to tackle youth crime in London. We support the Metropolitan police service's safer streets campaign, which has already had an impact on street robbery, and we are working with 11 London boroughs to target those young people most at risk of offending. The new taskforce of the police, local authorities and criminal justice agencies will bring together the efforts of every part of the criminal justice system to work together to tackle youth crime.
Mr. Thomas: Does my right hon. Friend recognise that one particular crime in London of which young people have generally, but not exclusively, been the victims is mobile phone crime? Can he tell the House what further action he intends to take in that regard, and can he assure the House that he has the co-operation of all the big mobile phone companies in his efforts to crack down on such crime?
Mr. Denham: My hon. Friend is right to raise the issue of mobile phone crime, as it is probably the largest single factor in the rise in robbery rates. As he will know, for many months Ministers have been putting pressure on the industry to act on this problem. I am pleased that over the past few weeks all the mobile phone operators have announced measures to cut off mobile phones once they are stolen and to share the identifying numbers among the companies so that the phones cannot be switched from one part of the system to another. I believe that that, together with other action that we are taking, such as education campaigns in schools about where to use mobile phones and so on, will make a difference.
Sir Sydney Chapman (Chipping Barnet): Will the Minister confirm that, in the last nine months for which figures are available, street crime in London has risen by a shocking 39 per cent.? Will he further confirm that most of that crime has been committed by young people? Although we welcome the Metropolitan police's short-term strategy for dealing with problems on our streets, what long-term strategy have the Government got to tackle this serious matter?
Mr. Denham: The hon. Gentleman's question is a very good one. We need to ensure that we catch the young people who are offending and take measures to protect the public from them. It is also important to minimise the numbers of young people in the rising generation who are likely to become involved in offending. The work that we are doing with the Metropolitan police, 11 London boroughs and the Government regional office is designed to bring together schools, social services, the police, the probation service and other agencies to identify the young people who are at risk of getting involved in offending and to divert them into other activities.
Ms Karen Buck (Regent's Park and Kensington, North): Does my right hon. Friend agree with me that good community relations are not an alternative to, but a prerequisite for, effective policing? Furthermore, does he
Mr. Denham: A fundamental principle of policing in this country is that it is by consent. The police must be able to take the effective measures that are needed to tackle crime, and to do so with the support of the communities that are being policed. My right hon. Friend has today set out how we will do that. We need to ensure that stop and search can be used, but as my hon. Friend said it must be intelligence-led and targeted. It must also enjoy the growing confidence and support of communities which are the victims of crime and need effective action taken against it.
Mr. John Wilkinson (Ruislip-Northwood): Is not it a fact that a great deal of crime, including that perpetrated by young people, has a drug-related element? Can the Minister reassure Londoners that the drug problem in the capital will be vigorously tackled? Does he share the permissive attitude of the Liberal Democrats, or does he think that that is a thoroughly retrograde step?
Mr. Denham: I can give the hon. Gentleman an absolute assurance that, unlike the Liberal Democrats, the Labour party will not propose the legalisation of heroin. [Interruption.] A serious issue lies behind the hon. Gentleman's question. We must ensure that the efforts of the police in London are focused. [Interruption.] The Liberal Democrats do not like what they did at the weekend, which is why there is a certain amount of background noise.
We will ensure that the efforts of the police and other agencies are focused on class A drugs, which wreak havoc, have a spin off and cause most crime. We will also step up efforts on drug treatment, so that young people who have got involved in drugs have help to break their habit and to break the criminal way of life that they have drifted into.
The Minister for Police, Courts and Drugs (Mr. John Denham): Despite the overall fall in violent crime under this Government, we remain determined to make the fight against violent crime a priority, and in particular to tackle the rise in street crime that has taken place in some of our major cities. We regularly meet the Police Federation to discuss policing matters, and will support the police in their action against violent crime. The action that we have taken includes measures
Mr. Goodman: Can the Minister explain to the Police Federation how it reduces the amount of violent crime to ask those who are stopped, but not searched, for their names, addresses and self-defined ethnicity? Some who were asked those questions in pilot projects have declared themselves to be "Martian" or "Jedi knight".
Mr. Denham: As I said earlier, it is important for the police to be able to make effective use of stop-and-search powers, but in implementing the recommendations of the Lawrence inquiry we are taking measures to ensure that that is done with the confidence of all communities. The approach has been piloted and we can pilot it further to make sure that it works effectively, but the police must be equipped with the tools that they need to do their job properly.
Mr. Baron: Although the latest figures show that violent crime is risingparticularly in Essex, where there has been a 33 per cent. increase since 1998the number of police constables has fallen. Will the Minister stop picking a fight with the police and learn from Mr. Giuliani, the former mayor of New York, that the best way of reducing all categories of crime is substantially to increase the number of police on the streets, and work with them rather than against them?
Mr. Denham: The hon. Gentleman has not been in the House for long. If he had been here longer, he would know that the cut in the number of Metropolitan police was started by the last Governmenthis partyin 1990, and that the cuts in other forces followed the same pattern under that Government. What makes our party and our Government different is that we have reversed the decline, and are on track for record police numbers. We will have 130,000 by next year. If any party in Parliament is meeting the need for more police officers, it is this party. The hon. Gentleman's party failed.
Dr. Nick Palmer (Broxtowe): A Nottingham magistrate whom I visited at home yesterday told me that recent statements by the Lord Chief Justice had left him unsure about what policy to follow in imprisoning offenders. Does the Minister agree that, while we are keen to explore alternatives to prison in the case of a range of offences, we should ask magistrates to take a firm line in the case of violent offenders who pose a danger to the public?
Mr. Denham: I do not think it is for me to comment directly on Lord Justice Woolf and sentencing policy. If I did so, I might risk committing some terrible constitutional crime. I think the message is pretty clear, however: those who pose a real threat to the public through violent crimes such as street robbery must face severe penalties. Other sentences may be more appropriate for those who do not pose such a threat, but we hope and expect that the courts will protect the public when violent offenders are brought before them.
Mr. Denham: There is a real problem with the misuse of weapons. It is one of the symptoms of antisocial behaviour among young people that we need to tackle. A few weeks ago we received the report of the firearms consultative committee, which considered air weapons, firearm use and age limits, among other issues. We are currently examining its recommendations.
Simon Hughes (Southwark, North and Bermondsey): Given recent welcome and high-profile contributions to the debate on the future of the criminal justice system by senior judges, senior police officers and Ministers, can the Minister confirm that the interests of victims and witnesses will motivate the reforms that the Government have in train? Although we have reservations about the associated bureaucracy, we support the new initiatives announced by the Home Secretary. However, if we are to deal with violent crime effectively, including through the effective use of stop and search, we must remember that it is not the court system that is failingthree out of four people brought to court are found guiltybut deterrence and detection of crime on the street. Only one in four of those who commit crime is arrested, and in London only one in eight is likely to be caught. Will he confirm that catching people and deterring crime are the priorities on which we should concentrate, rather than worrying too much about people getting off at the end of the process, given thatby and largethey do not?
Mr. Denham: The most unproductive way to approach this issue is to debate which part of the system is to blame. The reality is that reforms are needed in the police, in sentencing and in the courts. It is wrong to argue that the entire problem lies in a particular place. In discussing the criminal justice system last week, Sir John Stevens of the Metropolitan police did not say that the police are not in need of reform; he said that they, too, are in need of it.
It is, of course, right that we need to ensure that the police are well equipped to detect crime. The safer streets campaign of the Metropolitan police is not simply about putting more police officers on the streets, but about using people in a targeted way to produce the right evidence. The protection of witnesses and victims must run right through the systemfrom the way that they are treated by the police at the beginning of the process, to what happens when they go to court, including whether they feel safe and protected from those about whom they are giving evidence. Instead of debating which part of the system should be blamed, as the hon. Gentleman suggests, let us recognise that reforms are needed in each part of it.
David Winnick (Walsall, North): If stop and search is to be one police weapon against criminality, do the police not have a responsibility to carry out their operations in such a way that claims of discrimination will simply not
Mr. Denham: My hon. Friend is right, but we should recognise that, although not everything is yet perfect, in recent years the police service across England and Wales has made huge efforts and great stridesespecially since the Lawrence reportin tackling the problems that have been identified, and in improving the policing of minority communities in particular. That is one reason why members of those communities are calling for police action in a way that they would not have done five or six years ago, and we should acknowledge that.
The measures proposed today by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State are intended to underline and demonstrate precisely what my hon. Friend is saying, which is that every part of every community can be confident that police measures are being used properly.
Mr. Oliver Letwin (West Dorset): I agree with what the Minister has just said, and like others on both sides of the House we support the Home Secretary's backing for stop and searcha power that the police need to fight crime on our streets. However, having listened to the Minister, I confess that I am still at a loss to understand how the new code's bureaucratic requirements will help police officers to use that power. He implied that the code will increase the level of consent to stop and search, but can he explain why receiving a report will make someone happier to be stopped by the police?
Mr. Denham: The point is that, over time, it will be possible to establish clearly who the police are stopping in order to make inquiries and to ask them to account for themselves. That is the best way to settle arguments about whether people are being picked up because there is reason to believe that they are committingor planning to commitan offence, or simply because of the colour of their skin. Showing that they are being picked up for the former reason, and not the latter, is critical to maintaining public confidence in the use of those policing powers.
Mr. Letwin: Although the Minister has an argument, an opposing one exists that is of greater force. The bureaucratic requirements do not match the realities of everyday policinga point made abundantly clear by the police. The Home Secretary said in the police debate, on 5 December 2001 at column 347, "We will cut bureaucracy". He rightly recognised that bureaucracy imposes severe constraints on policing, but how is the new code consistent with that theme?
Mr. Denham: The key reason why we want to cut the bureaucracy that ties police officers to police stations is to free them up to be out in the community fighting crime and using their powers where they have the chance to protect the public and reduce the level of crime. We will drive that agenda forward. The present proposals were produced in outline after careful consideration in the Lawrence inquiry. The group that has been advising my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary and me on the implementation of those recommendations includes senior
The proposals have been tested in practice with officers on the front line and, as we pilot them further, no doubt further revisions will be needed. However, the truth is that if we want police officers to use the powers of stop and search to tackle street crime, they have to do so in a way that enjoys the public's confidence. The proposals produced today balance those two requirements.