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Mr. Shaw: In the Malling area, young men the same age have been the subject of ASBOs, have offended against them and have been taken to court. It is the first time that that has happened in the community involved. If a custodial sentence is imposed, a message will go out
Miss Widdecombe: If the hon. Gentleman had listened to my earlier comments, he would have noted my specific observation that young people should be taken out of the environment where they are causing a problem and a problem is being caused to them, and should be put into secure training. I devoted a substantial section of my speech to that. Intervention would happen earlier than it does in the case of ASBOs: until an ASBO has been seriously breached, nothing is done.
My point is that the tendency to breach ASBOs would probably be reduced by more visible policing. I am trying to present common-sense solutions to problems that are not easy to deal with, and have multiple roots. I said specifically, not just today butto make a party political pointwell before the last election, when it was a crucial plank of my policy, that youngsters should be taken into secure training if they were causing a neighbourhood menace.
Mr. Mark Oaten (Winchester): I thank the right hon. Lady for that point. She is making a strong case for more police and greater police visibility, but is it not the case that studies by the Audit Commission and others show that that only provides a comfort factor, and that having police walking the beat and police in cars is not as effective in tackling crime as she may be suggesting?
Miss Widdecombe: I think that the hon. Gentleman is wrong and the reason for that stems from what I saw in New York, where, as he knows, there has been not only a zero tolerance policy but a huge hike in the number of police and a huge concentration on visible policing. Visible policing has lots of positive benefits, one of which, as the hon. Gentleman identified, is that it reduces the fear of crime. The second is that it enables police to interact with the community.
I cannot imagine anyone flagging down a police car to say, "Excuse me, officer; I am not certain, but I think that I may have seen something odd two nights ago." However, if there is a man walking the beat at a fairly slow pace, looking interested and, in particular, looking around, that sort of interaction takes place. Just as CCTV is a deterrent to opportunistic crime but not as much to planned and organised crime, a visible policeman is a deterrent to opportunistic crime.
Therefore I do not believe for a moment that visible policing is simply a comfort factor. If one chooses to make comparisons between a police car responding immediately to a call some way off and a policeman who may or may not see something of interest as he wanders along a street, one can reach the conclusion that the hon. Gentleman has drawn, but if one takes a broader view, one reaches a different conclusion.
Mr. Edward Davey: I think that the right hon. Lady will appreciate my argument when I have made it. When Mayor Giuliani was asked, when he was in London recently, what was the key aspect of his fight against crime, he said that it was not just the number of police
Miss Widdecombe: That is undeniably the case. Mayor Giuliani had another 11,000 policemen and I am not suggesting that they were all walking up and down streets; they were doing all sorts of things, but they were also walking up and down those streets. In New York, one need not look far to see the visible presence of a policeman. In London, one can sometimes walk quite a long way before seeing one, and in a rural area, or in some villages in my constituency, one will never see a policeman.
I am not saying for a moment that there is a simplistic relationship between the number of police officers and crime. Rather, I am saying that although the number of police may not be a sufficient condition of fighting crime, they are certainly a necessary condition of it, and that if there are not enough policemen, the fight against crime is doomed to failure. That, sadly, is what is happening at the moment.
In addition to policemen there are of course the special constables. When I asked a question about the number of special constables, it apparently constituted such a detailed request that the Minister brushed it away. It is not a detailed question. Special constables are the reserve that the police fall back on. The police are facing an ever-increasing amount of bureaucracymuch, but not all, imposed by the Labour Governmentwith fewer active numbers and less of a reserve to fall back on. That is obviously totally counter-productive if we want to control crime.
Another aspect of quality of life has nothing to do with crime but causes me considerable irritation and probably causes a great many people to raise their eyebrows and wonder why it only appears to happen in London and not in other capital cities. I am referring to the sheer quantity of litter that blows and flows around London. There are the awful, rotting black bags that sit on pavements and street corners, and which one has to wend one's way round when going out in London in the evening. Why is it that we appear, uniquely, to be unable to control litter and rubbish in London when other capital cities have done it extremely effectively? It impacts on the quality of life and lets the capital down, especially in the eyes of visitors, who are used to completely different standards.
I am grateful for the opportunity to contribute to the debate. I hope that the Minister will take seriously the points that I have raised and that he will not interpret them as being made in a purely party political spirit. I hope that he will acknowledge that statistics are not the answer; real policemen on real beats, doing real jobs, are.
Mr. David Lepper (Brighton, Pavilion): Thank you for calling me, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I am glad that the emphasis of the discussion has shifted away slightly from London. I feared, soon after the debate started, that we would discuss nothing but London and ignore the rest of the south-east of England. Most of my remarks will be about the experience of my constituency, on the south coast.
Quality of life means different things to different people. To some of my constituents, the fact that a Labour Government are likely to approve a national park for the south downs will be a big boost to their appreciation of the area in which they live and their feelings of well-being. To others, the fact that our Dome concert hall has just reopened after a major refurbishment, financed partly by the local council, partly by national Government funding, partly by English Heritage and partly by the lottery, and the fact that that will lead eventually to refurbishment and an entirely new library and museum in the centre of our city, will be key factors in judging the quality of their life.
However, to many of my constituents, the prime criterion that they would use is whether they have a job. My hon. Friend the Member for Harlow (Mr. Rammell) spoke about changes that had happened nationally and in his constituency over the past four and a half years. Throughout the Brighton and Hove city area, in January 1997, there were 14,415 people out of work. That figure has now been reduced to 5,531. In my constituency, the January 1997 figure was 5,721 and now the figure is 1,845a drop of 66.8 per cent.
I would argue that that drop is mainly attributable to skilful management of the economy by the Labour Government and to other policies, which have been opposed by the Oppositionpolicies such as the new deal for the unemployed. The new deal first helped young peopleyoung people exactly like those that the right hon. Member for Maidstone and The Weald (Miss Widdecombe) talked about. It has helped young people exactly like those whom I saw in the late 1980s and early 1990s as a teacher in a secondary school on a council estate in Brighton, who were leaving school at age 16 without hope of employment. The new deal has given them a new kind of hope, but not only hope: it has given them jobs.
The new deal has provided support, encouragement and training for many people who had been considered unemployable by the previous Government because of a disability, or because they were lone parents. They were encouraged to be benefit-dependent, whereas our policies have encouraged them to find the potential within themselves and to use it very positively.