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2.44 pm

Mr. Peter Viggers (Gosport): I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for New Forest, East (Dr. Lewis) for allowing me to intervene for a few moments to share with him and the House my own experience of spending time with the police constabulary in Gosport. I have always found the officers there extremely efficient and courteous. It is one of the more enjoyable and interesting aspects of the role of a Member of Parliament to spend time with such splendid men and women.

I have found that when antisocial behaviour is drawn to the police's attention, they undertake a range of activities. Operating under the acronym SCARE, in the case of Hardway in my constituency they carried out a survey of 400 houses; put in a covert vehicle to film young people engaged in antisocial behaviour; and observed people glue sniffing. They took the issue up with the individuals concerned, their parents and teachers, and were able to win the support of parents and teachers in clamping down on that antisocial behaviour.

I also have in my constituency the Hampshire constabulary aircraft, which is now a twin islander. My constituents will be pleased to hear that it is rather quieter than its predecessor aircraft. It can be extremely valuable in carrying out heat-seeking surveillance.

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I should like to pay tribute to the police. In Gosport, policemen Gary Boud and John Snow have set up six-a-side football teams. Two hundred teams take part and they operate a yellow and red card system. They deal with antisocial behaviour not on the football field but elsewhere, so that if a star player has one yellow card his mates will be anxious that he should not get another yellow card, which would mean getting a red card and being disqualified. The police also operate the so-called "Snap" discotheque for 11 to 16-year-olds. It is over-subscribed, with more than 400 people attending it.

I pay tribute to the police for all that they do, but there is a very thin blue line. My hon. Friend rightly drew attention to the fact that the housing allowance in the Hampshire area is only £1,000, whereas in Surrey it is £2,000 and in the Metropolitan police area it is £6,000. We are losing policemen to those areas and to areas with cheaper housing, such as Norfolk and the west country.

It would be so very good if the police could be made eligible for the Jubilee medal to pay respect for the work that they do in defending all of us—much in the same manner as the armed forces, who are eligible for the Jubilee medal.

2.46 pm

The Minister for Criminal Justice, Sentencing and Law Reform (Mr. Keith Bradley): I congratulate the hon. Member for New Forest, East (Dr. Lewis) on obtaining this debate on policing in Hampshire. It provides a useful opportunity to air some of the issues surrounding policing in Hampshire and discuss Government policies to reduce crime and make Hampshire a safer place in which to live. I also welcome the contribution from the hon. Member for Gosport (Mr. Viggers).

Given the limited time available, I may not be able to cover all the points raised by the hon. Member for New Forest, East, but I shall write to him on any points that I cannot cover.

Let me put the debate into an overall context. Police recorded crime in Hampshire fell by 1.2 per cent. in the 12 months to March 2001, according to the latest statistics published by the Home Office. Recorded crime in the south-east as a whole has fallen by 7.6 per cent. since 1997 and in Hampshire alone, recorded crime has fallen by 12.4 per cent. since 1995.

The latest British crime survey shows that, in 1999 and 2000, an average of 11.7 per cent. of all vehicle-owning households across England and Wales were victims of vehicle-related theft. The south-east Government office region was well below that figure at 9.4 per cent., making it the second safest region for vehicle-related theft after East Anglia, at 9 per cent., in both 1999 and 2000. In the same survey, the south-east was also below the national average for burglary. In the 12 months to March 2001, Hampshire had the highest detection rate in the south-east.

The Government are committed to raising police standards and believe that we must bring every police basic command unit up to the standards of the best. That is why the Home Secretary is setting up the new police standards unit, which will work closely with BCUs and local crime and disorder partnerships to identify and

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promulgate best practice, overcome obstacles to success and drive up performance throughout England and Wales. As the hon. Gentleman said, this is an all-party concern and there is all-party support for raising those standards.

The Government are also continuing to make the biggest ever investment in crime reduction. The crime reduction director for the south-east tells me that £15.3 million has so far been allocated by the Home Office towards the capital costs of closed circuit television in 95 schemes across the south-east, including Hampshire. Moreover, £6.8 million has been allocated this financial year alone to local crime and disorder reduction partnerships across the south-east to disrupt drugs markets and tackle drug-related crime.

The hon. Members for New Forest, East and for Gosport both referred to antisocial behaviour. I understand and share their concerns about it and other offending behaviour by young people. I listened with great interest and sympathy to the stories that they related. Every Member can give similar examples of such behaviour disrupting communities and causing misery to the people who live in them. We all want to tackle the problem in the most effective way possible.

Responsibility for tackling antisocial behaviour on a day-to-day basis is an operational matter for chief officers of police. However, other agencies have a role to play as well. The most effective way to tackle problems is through co-ordinated preventive action at local level involving all the other relevant agencies—including local authorities, schools and local bodies—in addition to the police. Problems have to be identified locally and a plan of action drawn up with local needs in mind.

The constabulary informs me that officers in the New Forest division have excellent working partnerships, including with the local district council, youth organisations, the Forestry Commission and many other diverse groups. They take a proactive stance in those partnerships.

Antisocial behaviour is being tackled by Hampshire constabulary. For example, in the constituency of the hon. Member for New Forest, East, seven local youths have been identified as being responsible for causing general nuisance in and around the Netley View estate. All the youths have been visited by the police and are now the subject of acceptable behaviour contracts, which are voluntary agreements that aim to address their behaviour. That is part of the process towards their being made subject to antisocial behaviour order—ASBOs—if there is no improvement in their behaviour.

We introduced ASBOs under the Crime and Disorder Act 1998, which was aimed specifically at preventing the persistent harassment and intimidation that can make people's lives a misery in the way that the hon. Gentleman identified. They prohibit individuals from specific antisocial actions and are available for any person over the age of 10 who has acted in an antisocial manner likely to cause harassment, alarm or distress or who is likely to do so again. Three have been issued in Hampshire this year, and we are currently considering the operation of ASBOs to ensure that they are being used as effectively as possible.

I urge the hon. Gentleman to visit officers in the New Forest division of Hampshire constabulary. I understand that they would be only too pleased to welcome him so

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that he can see the good work that they are doing in conjunction with local partnerships to tackle antisocial behaviour in his constituency.

I wish to comment briefly on the work that the hon. Member for Gosport said was being carried out in his constituency. There have been some very successful Gosport police operations and I welcome his support and praise for the police in their work to tackle low-level crime in that area. The work is being carried out by Superintendent Baldry, the divisional commander for Gosport, and his team. The hon. Gentleman referred to the SCARE projects—an acronym for survey, collate, action, respond and evaluation—and they have been a particular success in his constituency.

Gosport is also home to very successful working partnerships, with the police playing a highly proactive role in initiatives such as the "Townwatch" and "Pubwatch" schemes. We must learn the lessons from good practice and ensure that they are disseminated not only throughout Hampshire, but throughout the country. We must recognise the incredibly hard work that the police do to try to reduce crime and antisocial behaviour. We all welcome that.

The hon. Member for New Forest, East also raised the issue of local police numbers and funding. The Government-supported funding for Hampshire police authority has consistently been above the average in England and Wales in recent years. In 2001-02, funding increased by £11.2 million to £213.9 million. That is a 5.5 per cent. increase in cash terms or 3 per cent. in real terms. The average cash increase in England and Wales was 4.9 per cent. By any standards, it can be recognised that Hampshire had a reasonably good settlement.

In addition, Hampshire will receive this year around £1.7 million from the crime fighting fund and more than £220,000 from the rural policing fund. Hampshire police authority set a budget for 2001-02 of £216.2 million. This is an increase of £11.5 million, or 5.6 per cent. over previous years.

Police numbers are also important as part of a comprehensive package of measures to ensure modern and efficient police services. The public rightly feel reassured by the visible presence of police officers on our streets. It helps to reduce the fear of crime. Hampshire had 3,485 police officers at the end of August 2001. That is 50 more than in March 2001 and 33 more than in March 1997.

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