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The Minister for Police, Courts and Drugs (Mr. John Denham): Community support officers will be under the command and control of the chief officer and will have limited powers conferred on them. They will be deployed
Mr. Dawson: Will my right hon. Friend enlarge on that helpful answer? First, will he commit himself to visiting the fine city of Lancaster to witness the pilot project that is in place there? Traffic wardens have been converted by the constabulary into a potent force to develop community policing and support in the Ridge and Freehold area. Does my right hon. Friend have thoughts on the way in which community support officers can be combined with regeneration opportunities, the Government's employment policies and investment in learning, skills and sporting facilities to provide an integrated package of support for communities to reduce crime and the fear of crime?
Mr. Denham: I am grateful for my hon. Friend's support for the initiative in his local area. It enables me to emphasise once again that the Government's plans for community support officers have been drawn up in close consultation with sections of the police service, and many parts of the police service already want to move ahead on those lines. Clearly, in areas of deprivation, and in areas in need of regeneration, the presence of extra people in the community to tackle low-level antisocial behaviour and to help to deal with issues such as abandoned vehicles and graffiti can help to build the confidence of the community and enable regeneration to take place successfully.
Mr. Pickthall: Is my right hon. Friend aware of the exemplary community warden scheme in West Lancashire, which has been made possible by the total commitment of West Lancashire district council, by the enthusiastic co-operation of the police and the Home Office, and by public approval? The only complaint about community wardens is that there are not enough of them. Will he encourage such successful schemes by providing extra resources in the near future so as to add to their numbers?
Mr. Denham: As I said, the number of posts supported by the Government continues to increase, and a further 700 street warden posts are due to be filled in the next few months. Clearly, we shall want to consider the issue in the next spending review. It is also worth stressing that a significant number of street warden posts are being created at a purely local level by registered social landlords and local authorities, who recognise that it is an extraordinarily cost-effective way of dealing with problems in the community that often cost a great deal more if there is an absence of an authority figure in the area.
Simon Hughes (Southwark, North and Bermondsey): Is the Minister aware that Liberal Democrats welcome the idea of community support officers with properly defined responsibilities? Will he and the Home Secretary use every opportunityas the Government are keen to doto get two messages across? People should know that the result of having additional people to help the police will
Mr. Denham: I welcome the hon. Gentleman's support. He is right that the role of community support officers will complement that of the professional police officer. The roles are not to be confused, and one operates in support of the other. One of the main reasons for that is to enable the police to concentrate their time and efforts on the serious crimes that rightly worry the public and on which they wish the bulk of police energy to be directed. It is critical, at the moment, that every effort is made to concentrate resources on persistent offenders who cause the majority of crime so that they are identified, caught, convicted and punished.
Mr. Nicholas Soames (Mid-Sussex): While agreeing that anything that can be done to reduce the fear of crime is important in our society, does the right hon. Gentleman agree that what really matters is dealing with violent crime, on which the Government have a dismal record? Is he aware of the serious offences committed in the past few days in central London? What is he going to do to make the lives of people who are under the constant threat of violent street crime easier and more secure?
Mr. Denham: The public are rightly concerned about the sort of crimes to which the hon. Gentleman refers, but it is worth remembering that the British crime survey published last autumn showed a significant fall in the public experience of violent crime last year. I am in no way complacent because street robbery is a real concern that has to be tackled. We will do what the previous Government failed to do: we will have more police officers and ensure that those convicted of carrying out such serious crimes receive serious punishment. I welcome, and I hope that the hon. Gentleman does, the decision by the commissioner of the Metropolitan police to deploy from today another 475 officers specifically to tackle street robbery.
Mr. Tony McWalter (Hemel Hempstead): Does my right hon. Friend accept that excellent community safety partnership schemes can be set back if the local government settlement is not appropriate? That has happened to neighbourhood partnerships in my area because of the effect of negative subsidy on the settlement. Will my right hon. Friend assure me that he will make it clear to his colleague with responsibility for local government that it is important for every area to have real growth and that we do not lose such valuable schemes because of the small print on local government settlements?
Mr. James Paice (South-East Cambridgeshire): Is it not sadly the reality in many parts of our country that the fear of crime and the crime profile are rising sharply? For example, the tragic incident was mentioned earlier of an innocent person who was murdered on getting out of their car. Is it not also the case that robbery in some London boroughs has doubled in a year? Surely the highest priority should be given to providing a first-rate service of policing our streets, in terms of both numbers and professionalism. Is the right hon. Gentleman not aware of people's grave concern that that cannot be delivered by using partly trained people with different powers that might vary force by force or even borough to borough? Is it not clear that as our streets become, or at least appear to become, ever more rather than less dangerous
Anyone who suggests that that is not true should walk down the streets in some London boroughs and find out for themselves. They could even look at the Government's figures that show that street robbery doubled in the past 12 months in four London boroughs.
Mr. Denham: The hon. Gentleman would do better to have a conversation with the Metropolitan police, as it has pioneered, pressed for and indeed persuaded us that the creation of community support officers is a key part of its strategy to police the streets of London effectively. I suggest that before he rubbishes the idea, and if he is concerned about street robbery in London, he should talk to the Metropolitan police.
As I said, the Metropolitan police is deploying extra officers dedicated to tackling street robbery. Lord Justice Woolf has made clear the importance that should be attached to sentencing those who commit such vicious robbery. We will ensure that they are properly punished and that measures are in place to put those who are detected and caught under proper and effective supervision, because we are determined not to swap party political chitchat across the Chamber but to get a grip on the problem.
Mr. John McFall (Dumbarton): The Minister will agree that we need the confidence of local groups and communities if we are to tackle crime effectively. Too many of them rightly feel that there are insufficient police on the streets. Will my right hon. Friend therefore take the opportunity of the forthcoming Police Reform Bill to ensure that those who wish to serve their communities for
Mr. Denham: Yes, by tackling red tape and bureaucracy in the police service we shall free up police time. One key aim behind the policing priority posts, which are part of the heads of agreement with the Police Federation, is to enable people who do the most difficult and demanding policing jobs to be properly rewarded and to be given an incentive to stay in those difficult front-line jobs.