HC Deb 20 January 2003 vol 398 cc9-11
5. John Mann (Bassetlaw)

What assessment he has made of the likely impact of custody plus and custody minus sentences upon the reoffending levels of heroin-misusing offenders.[91426]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Hilary Benn)

The new sentences of custody plus and custody minus have been designed to enable courts to tailor sentencing decisions to the needs of the offender, including applying drugs treatment and rehabilitation requirements as appropriate.

John Mann

Does the Minister agree that a more detailed evaluation of success is possible if carried out on a geographically stable population of drug misusers?

Hilary Benn

I first pay tribute to my hon. Friend's work on this issue, which I know is greatly admired by Members on both sides of the House. I agree that if we are to assess the effectiveness of the vastly increased resources that we are going to put into drug treatment, about which we had a good debate a week ago today, it is important that we do so in all kinds of communities, including those such as my hon. Friend's, whose particular characteristics have given rise to his understandable concern.

Angela Watkinson (Upminster)

Given the escalating number of heroin-using offenders, escalating demand for heroin treatment and the fact that the vast majority of heroin addicts started on cannabis, will the Home Secretary reconsider the relaxation of the law on cannabis?

Hilary Benn

No is what I would tell the hon. Lady, for the simple reason that that change has flowed from police practice over many years. Police officers say clearly in their advice to us that they wish to be able to concentrate on dealing with the most dangerous drugs, including heroin, to which she referred.

Kevin Brennan (Cardiff, West)

Does my hon. Friend concur with the proposition that effective probation services can help to reduce the reoffending rate of heroin users? Will he therefore undertake to investigate the proposed closure of the Lewis road probation service workshops in my constituency, as that service is valued locally?

Hilary Benn

I will gladly look into the details of the case that my hon. Friend has raised. On his general point, he is entirely right that the probation service has an important role to play, and is making a major contribution to the drug treatment and testing orders, which are proving to be successful.

Mr. Dominic Grieve (Beaconsfield)

The Minister will agree that many heroin users commit burglary to fund their addiction. In that context, the Home Secretary said in response to the further final clarification by the Lord Chief Justice on burglary sentences: I am pleased he has clarified that, not least that those who have committed a multiplicity of crimes, including other crimes than burglary, will not simply be let off, nor will they in terms of second or subsequent offences, expect to get, albeit a tough community sentence, but instead to get custody, I think that is the right signal, and I'm very glad to have clarified that. What did he mean?

Hilary Benn

The Home Secretary meant precisely what the hon. Gentleman has read out. If he is having difficulty understanding my right hon. Friend's words, the position is simply this—my right hon. Friend, the Lord Chief Justice in his clarification and others have said that repeat offenders who burgle for the first time should expect custody, because the public rightly will not understand or accept that repeat offenders who turn to burglary should expect to be treated in any other way.

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