§ 6. Dr. George Turner (North-West Norfolk)
If he will make a statement on progress in implementing his Department's measures relating to crime and disorder. 
§ The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Jack Straw)
The Crime and Disorder Act 1998 received Royal Assent on 31 July this year. Of the 121 sections in the Act, 87 have now been brought into force, some of those on a pilot basis. Sex offender orders will come into force on 1 December and anti-social behaviour orders will come into force on 1 April next year.
Considerable effort is being put into publicity about the Act's provisions. That includes a regional tour which I undertook in September, national conferences, written publications and a site on the internet, which I am told is proving very popular. Going around the country, I am struck by the huge enthusiasm shown by the police, local authorities and the public for the provisions of the Act.
§ Dr. Turner
I assure my right hon. Friend that there is considerable enthusiasm for making a fast start in North-West Norfolk. In the distribution of pilots, will proper attention be paid to the needs of rural constituencies such as mine? If the pilots are to tackle hot spots, may I remind my right hon. Friend that King's Lynn, the market town in my constituency, has 30 per cent. more crime than the average metropolitan area, and twice the county average? Is that not just the sort of problem that the pilots should be tackling? May I assure my constituents that their needs are being considered in my right hon. Friend's Department?
§ Mr. Straw
I can certainly give that assurance to my hon. Friend. As he knows, I paid an interesting visit to his constituency, looked at some of the problem areas and also spoke to a meeting in King's Lynn on a wet Friday evening, at which 700 good citizens of King's Lynn turned up to hear me—[Interruption.]—and they stayed to the end.
9 With regard to piloting in rural areas, we have sought to distribute the pilots around rural areas, as well as urban areas and inner-city areas. Pilots are taking place on various subjects in Devon, Gloucestershire, Northamptonshire and in north Staffordshire.
§ Mr. A. J. Beith (Berwick-upon-Tweed)
Does the Home Secretary believe that further measures will be needed to deal with offenders who are deemed to be extremely violent because of mental illness or personality disorder, but whom psychiatrists diagnose as not likely to respond to treatment? Is he aware that this concern has arisen not simply following the conviction of Michael Stone for those two brutal and horrible murders, but because there has been a tendency in recent years for psychiatrists to diagnose a number of violent people as not likely to respond to treatment?
§ Mr. Straw
Yes, I entirely agree with the right hon. Gentleman that there must be changes in law and practice in that area. We are urgently considering the matter with my right hon. and hon. Friends in the Department of Health. Sir Louis Blom-Cooper, who has a distinguished record in this field, said on the radio on Sunday that one of the problems that has arisen is a change in the practice of the psychiatric profession which, 20 years ago, adopted what I would call a common-sense approach to serious and dangerous persistent offenders, but these days goes for a much narrower interpretation of the law. Quite extraordinarily for a medical profession, the psychiatric profession has said that it will take on only patients whom it regards as treatable. If that philosophy applied anywhere else in medicine, no progress would be made in medicine. It is time that the psychiatric profession seriously examined its own practices and tried to modernise them in a way that it has so far failed to do.
§ Miss Melanie Johnson (Welwyn Hatfield)
On Saturday, I was out visiting constituents and met a group of my more elderly constituents who are having problems with minor vandalism in their area, which leads to them feeling unable to use some of their front rooms and concerned about general safety in their neighbourhood. Will my right hon. Friend comment on the role of community police officers under the Crime and Disorder Act 1998 in tackling such community disorder, which is of great concern to people in Welwyn Hatfield?
§ Mr. Straw
I have spoken to many community beat officers about their frustrations in dealing with criminal anti-social behaviour such as my hon. Friend describes. One of the reasons that we have created in the Crime and Disorder Act 1998 the new injunctive powers for anti-social behaviour orders is to ensure that community beat officers, their commanding officers and superintendents in the operational command units in the police service can seek effective action by the courts to crack down on such behaviour. I believe that, once the order comes into force next April, it will be extremely effective in dealing with such disorder in my hon. Friend's constituency and in every other constituency across the country.
§ Mr. James Clappison (Hertsmere)
The Home Secretary will know that one of the main provisions of the Crime and Disorder Act 1998, which has already come 10 into place, is for local authorities to make child curfew orders. Does the right hon. Gentleman accept that many people find it strange that local child curfews will apply to youngsters under 10 but not to those aged 10 or over, who many of us think are more likely to cause serious trouble on estates and neighbourhoods than the under-10s? Is it a sensible use of police time for the police to have to sort out the under-10s from the over-10s? Will the right hon. Gentleman be as bold as his rhetoric and tell us how many local child curfews he thinks we shall hear about on the internet, in hot spots or anywhere else? Or is the prospect of a wet night in King's Lynn more forbidding?
§ Mr. Straw
No. Having done one wet night in King's Lynn, I am game for any number of them.
I find it rather odd that, under the Conservative party, which was in power for 18 years, the juvenile justice system was allowed thoroughly to decay. It became worse and worse. When we proposed that there should be trialled area curfews for under-10s, Opposition Front Benchers could come forward only with derision.
Of course I understand that there is a problem, too, with children who are over 10 who are racketing around unsupervised in local areas, but the most serious problem arises in respect of those who are under 10, who are under the age of criminal responsibility. That is why we have introduced a specific power.
As for the over-10s, anti-social behaviour orders will be available for any child. We made it clear when considering the Crime and Disorder Bill in Committee, and I made it clear in Blackpool—another wet evening—only three weeks ago, that if a strong case emerges for raising the age of the curfews we shall, of course, consider it.
§ Ms Debra Shipley (Stourbridge)
Does my right hon. Friend agree with me that sector policing in my constituency, and especially in the Lye area, has been a great success, and that has been due in no small part to the partnerships evolving within the community, with the police reaching out to leaders and to young people and disaffected groups within the community, and liaising directly with them?
§ Mr. Straw
I accept what my hon. Friend says. There is no doubt that the very good experience of local authorities and of the West Mercia police in my hon. Friend's area shows to other local authorities and police forces, which might not have been in the vanguard, the importance and value of reducing crime and disorder in their areas. This arises from statutory partnerships, which we have established under the Crime and Disorder Act 1998.