HC Deb 15 June 1998 vol 314 cc8-10
6. Mr. David Hanson (Delyn)

What plans he has to reduce the level of crime committed by young people. [44248]

The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Jack Straw)

The Crime and Disorder Bill includes a number of proposals to help reduce the level of crime committed by young people. These plans are intended to nip offending behaviour in the bud, to reduce delay and to achieve better co-ordination of youth justice services.

Mr. Hanson

Is my right hon. Friend aware that, on some estates in my constituency, young people are still abusing many of my constituents physically and verbally? Those young people are involved in criminal behaviour, such as vandalism, and the Government's proposals will certainly tackle such problems. Will my right hon. Friend look, in the longer term, at the reasons for social exclusion so that we may begin to integrate those young people into society at large?

Mr. Straw

We accept that we must tackle the underlying causes of social exclusion. That is why my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has established the social exclusion unit, and a raft of programmes, from the welfare-to-work programme to provisions in the Crime and Disorder Bill, are under way. They will give the police and local education authorities special powers to tackle truancy on the streets.

However, we know also that many of those who live in deprived areas and who are socially excluded commit no offences whatsoever. Therefore, it is very important that we do not excuse the misbehaviour of a minority and ensure the rapid passage and enforcement of the measures in the Crime and Disorder Bill that are designed to tackle bad behaviour by both juveniles and adults.

Mr. Peter Viggers (Gosport)

May I congratulate the Home Secretary on his authoritative and statesmanlike response to the previous question, which placed responsibility for the conduct of young people firmly upon their parents? They should not be allowed to resile from that responsibility. Does the Home Secretary agree that closed circuit television systems have proved extremely effective in identifying criminals and preventing crime? I thank him for the closed circuit television systems that have been developed in the main town centre area of my constituency and in Stubbington. Does the Home Secretary agree that they are cost-effective and should be encouraged further?

Mr. Straw

I thank the hon. Gentleman for both parts of his question. There is no doubt that closed circuit television systems that are properly planned, properly introduced and properly monitored can have an important effect on reducing crime and disorder and, above all, on reducing people's fear of crime and enabling them to use public space better.

Ms Hazel Blears (Salford)

The Home Secretary will be aware of the task force that has been established to tackle crime and disorder in Langworthy in my constituency of Salford. That task force involves Government, council, police and Victim Support working together to tackle the huge problems in that area. Will the Home Secretary confirm that the task force and local people—many of whom are good, law-abiding citizens—will continue to have the Government's full support in trying to improve their community and make it a safer place in which to live?

Mr. Straw

As my hon. Friend knows, I am aware of the deep concerns of the residents in the Langworthy area of Salford as a result of my visit there two months ago. The task force that has been established to tackle serious problems in that area—not the least of which is criminality by a minority—enjoys the Government's full support. It is a very good example of the kind of inter-agency co-operative working that is the best approach to reducing crime and disorder in such areas in the long term.

Mr. John Greenway (Ryedale)

In their five early pledges, the Government promised to cut youth crime by halving the time that it takes to bring young offenders to court. How early is early? Where is the evidence of any progress in that area? Will the Home Secretary confirm that the Government do not expect to meet that pledge, as so many of their proposals—he referred earlier to the first stage—have yet to be tested and there are no new resources for the police or the probation service with which to implement them? This is the fourth early pledge that the Government have broken. When will the Prime Minister have the confidence to publish his report on the Government's first year achievements? If and when he does, will it not show that things have got worse rather than better?

Mr. Straw

The hon. Gentleman should hang his head in shame for coming to the Dispatch Box to talk about youth crime when the Government of which he was a supporter presided over a situation where more and more young criminals committed crimes and fewer and fewer went before the courts. It has fallen to us to tackle the problem. The hon. Gentleman asks when we will do so. The powers that we have to take to implement the proposals have not even gone through this House yet. It was one of the first Bills we introduced and, with luck, it will become law before the end of July. Serious progress will be made then. When we took office, we found—contrary to the synthetic comments that we have just heard—that the previous Government did not even collect information on the number of persistent young offenders, still less do anything about it. One hundred pilot areas have been established, and we will implement that pledge—like the rest of the manifesto—well before the next election.

Mr. David Borrow (South Ribble)

In my constituency, the overwhelming concern is juvenile crime. At a meeting with the local police on Friday, I found that they—unlike Tory Members—were convinced that the Crime and Disorder Bill would do much to deal with juvenile crime. Does my right hon. Friend agree that my constituents would be much better listening to the concerns and views of the local police in South Ribble than to the carping comments of Tory Members?

Mr. Straw

I entirely agree with my hon. Friend. His constituents and mine have the benefit of the care and service provided by the Lancashire constabulary. It was not least because of concerns raised by Lancashire police over many years that we developed the proposals in the Crime and Disorder Bill for anti-social behaviour orders and the raft of reforms of juvenile justice.

On resources, one of the things that the right hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield (Sir N. Fowler) failed to notice in the Audit Commission reports of 1996 and last month is that not only do so many persistent young offenders get away with it—thanks to the inefficiency of the system that the previous Government left us—but that millions of pounds is wasted as a result of that inefficiency. Our changes are designed to ensure that more persistent offenders are dealt with more swiftly, and that resources are far more adequately and efficiently used.