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"We have let people down".
She was critical of the division of responsibility for antisocial behaviour between the Home Office and the Department for Children, Schools and Families, a point touched on by the right hon. Member for Don Valley (Caroline Flint). How can the Government be so hypocritical and fire the drugs tsar, but let the crime tsar survive? I can give way to the Minister if he wants to intervene. No; he is firmly welded to the Bench.
How did we reach a situation in which, allegedly, tackling antisocial behaviour is not really part of police activity? One officer made a remark to that effect that was broadcast nationally. I see the Minister shaking his head, and I agree with him. If we look back over the history of policing, there were periods when different demands were made of the police, and different direction was given from the top. In the 1960s, Roy Jenkins, the Labour Home Secretary, introduced-reasonably enough-what was called pandarisation, with the use of little Morris Minors to make the police mobile. It was a good idea at the time to achieve more effective policing, but it failed because it broke the link between the police and the policed. Eventually the policy was reversed. Recently, we have had reactive policing. That partly dates back to 9/11 and the whole terrorist issue. Organised crime has also demanded police resources, and a few years ago we had an unduly large proportion of murders in Leicester.
The solution to the problem lies in the origin of British policing, as devised by Sir Robert Peel and the Metropolitan Police Act 1829. The Act required that able men be appointed and sworn in as police officers of the metropolis principally for "preserving the Peace." That was their first duty, although they were also tasked with
"preventing Robberies and other Felonies and apprehending Offenders against the Peace."
Those are all important, but it is preserving the peace that is the first duty of the British police officer. Sir Richard Mayne, the first commissioner, described the preservation of public tranquillity as the first priority. We have lost that aim.
We have reached a point at which it is easier for police forces to pursue the other objectives, and we have not had enough emphasis on the simple requirements of keeping neighbourhoods safe. The awful case in my constituency has brought that to the fore, and we are now looking for ways to improve the situation. I suggest to the Minister and my hon. Friend the Opposition spokesman that we must focus on peace in the community. That is what people want above anything else.
Hinckley and Bosworth borough council was also criticised, but in some ways it has been ahead of the game. The last Conservative administration in 2006 introduced the weekly information-sharing meetings, where all the agencies got together to discuss what to do. Subsequently we have had neighbourhood action teams, and a range of interventions and remedies. There have been special measures taken in Barwell-a community house was introduced there in July. However, in 2007 and beyond, there was clearly a breakdown in communication between the agencies. In defence of the town I represent I must add that, it would be wrong to say that no one was concerned and that no action was taken.
The right hon. Members for Salford (Hazel Blears) and for Don Valley made robust speeches, saying that tough action had to be taken. Councils have to take tough action. Indeed, some law enforcement-in terms of maintaining the peace-has shifted from being a police duty to being a council duty. The councils are obliged to apply these remedies, but that is not the core discipline of council officers. The councils are getting these instructions, but taking such action is complicated. Councils have to be very robust and have a policy that makes it clear that if orders are broken, there will be consequences. The matter will be taken to court, and it is no good saying nothing will happen. We have had problems in the past with Traveller communities, when difficult law and order issues arose-
Hazel Blears: The hon. Gentleman is making some important points about the pivotal role of housing in tackling antisocial behaviour. Does he agree that, as well as councils taking action, there is often a great deal of antisocial behaviour in the private rented sector and that the introduction of landlord licensing, which I am fighting for in the Gerald road and Seaford road areas of Salford, can make a big difference? Privately rented property is often the source of a great deal of antisocial behaviour.
I agree with the right hon. Lady, but I chose council tenants, because councils often have control over vast swathes of housing. An important
sanction is to tell council tenants, and other tenants if applicable, that they will not be moved to a nicer borough-that is, shifted to somewhere better. Rather, they have to understand that if they do not follow the requirements of the new measures that have been introduced, they will go to worse housing. Councils must be robust about that, so that the move will be difficult for those concerned.
Leicestershire constabulary has introduced an extensive training programme for the police. The Minister would do well to encourage councils to ensure that they train their staff too. Indeed, I was interested to hear his ministerial colleague saying earlier that he would issue instructions to councils about how they should handle antisocial behaviour. However, the lack of co-ordination on that has been a terrible gap-indeed, a glaring hole-in the Government's policy.
I will say a word about that in a moment, but first I want the Minister to take on board the need to train staff. There must be adequate training to safeguard children and adults alike. Why do I say that? Let us look at the number of agencies and sub-agencies that we are dealing with. We have the safeguarding adults board, the weekly information-sharing service, which I have described, the crime and disorder reduction partnership, community safety programme boards, adult social care departments, adult social services, children and young people's services-the list is endless. How do we co-ordinate all those groups? I was speaking to a senior colleague on the council in Hinckley who said, "Well, Fiona slipped through the net." We have to ensure that the mesh in the net is thicker and that less gets through. We have to consider all those issues.
I have mentioned the police and Hinckley and Bosworth borough council, but I must now mention Leicestershire county council, which was not criticised to the same degree. However, it has a youth offending service, a youth service, which is represented on the police-led multi-agency joint action groups, and a family intervention project, as described by the right hon. Member for Salford. The county council has other projects that have helped, such as its support for the work of the multi-agency Barwell recovery strategy, which is led by the borough council. Those projects, along with the youth impact team initiatives and the safeguarding adults boards, are all helping.
Let me return to the police for a bit. Leicestershire constabulary took quite a beating in the inquiry, but the police have also taken positive initiatives, raising the profile of the safeguarding adults programme. The police have also introduced the JACQUAL-joint action for quality of life-team and the police and council antisocial behaviour teams, so they have not been dilatory in acting after the problem.
However, the police have suffered a major handicap. The 101 telephone system, the non-emergency system that the Government trialled in Leicestershire, was extremely successful. The police picked up a lot more information, because a lot more people were prepared to ring them on that simple, three-digit telephone number. I cannot imagine why the system has been dropped, with all the technology that we now have, which, relatively speaking, is becoming cheaper. Given the success of the project, the Minister should look again at the resources for it.
The police in Leicestershire have introduced two other measures that are well worth mentioning. The first is a system whereby they know exactly where every car on
the beat is. The second is a laptop system that makes available a massive amount of information at any one time.
The hon. Member for Bridgend (Mrs. Moon), who is not in her place now, talked about street pastors, who represent an interesting development. The scheme is a Church-backed project to put people in the community on the streets at no cost-they are volunteers-to help individuals. I shall be finishing on this theme, but when the Churches are united or there are individuals who want to help, we have to embrace them. We cannot ignore them. They are volunteers, so they are cheap; there are no bills to pay. We need to put our arms around them and say, "Yes please, we need your help in our communities." That is important.
The other issue-perhaps I should say, "The next related issue," because, unusually, I have a little time this evening, although I assure colleagues that I will not speak for too long, because that is not necessary-is political control and direction. I served in the Army years ago, and it used to be said that men are only as good as their officers. However, with councils the opposite is the case. The officers are only as good as the men and women elected as councillors who control them-or should control them, because far too often officers are given their head.
We have very good officers in the county, and I have a lot of respect for Hinckley and Bosworth borough council officers, but boy, do I wish that there were sometimes better political direction, because officers should not have to deal with the allocation of housing, Travellers' sites or resources on their own. That is what politicians are for. We are there to oversee those people. That is the relationship.
I said that the tragic case in my constituency had attracted a lot of attention. Indeed, some contributions were made at the party conferences, but to call someone a "victims champion", as Labour did at its conference, is a bit tacky. I mean, how can Sara Payne be the champion of all the people who have problems? That was not a very good use of language. However, I think-perhaps predictably-that some important proposals were made at the Conservative conference. They included introducing a range of instant punishments, such as grounding orders, which may need to be developed, and cleaning up local parks, which is eminently sensible, as well as dealing with mountains of bureaucracy and trying to give more power to the police to take action.
Caroline Flint: I am interested in the concept of grounding orders, but a power already exists through parental orders. Part of what parental orders should be used for is ensuring that children are not out and having to be picked up by the police and others at 11 o'clock, 12 o'clock or 1 o'clock in the morning. It is the parents' responsibility to ground them, and if they do not, the parental order kicks in.
David Tredinnick: I have some sympathy with what the right hon. Lady has said. However, what we really need, whichever Government are in power, is to find a system whereby the police do not waste their time, which means that when they apply their time, it is effective and has an outcome. We do not want endless visits by the police that achieve nothing. I say to those on both Front Benches that we need to focus on the quality of police time and on how police time is used. We now have support officers, and we can make things much more effective.
The police's task has been made much more difficult by some of the Government's measures. One measure, which the Prime Minister himself has criticised, is 24-hour drinking. I was in conversation last night with Byron Rhodes, the chairman of Leicestershire police authority. We talked for about an hour, and he said, "Look, two o'clock is surely enough, isn't it? You should see the amount of police resources it takes to deal with nightclubs after that." Does it make sense for clubs to close at six o'clock in the early hours of the morning? Are we really a nation that needs to drink through the night? I do not think that we are, and I think that we have proved that these changes do not work. We are not a continental nation-we do not naturally sit there with a sausage and a lager at six o'clock in the morning. [ Interruption. ] I was thinking of my time in Germany, but I had better move on fast, because I am getting into a lot of trouble. We should revisit the alcohol laws. The licensing laws were brought in during the first world war, because munitions workers were getting so drunk. That was happening in one city north of the border in particular-I will not defame it this evening-so the licensing laws were brought in for a purpose. We really need to revisit the issue.
The crime problem has been exacerbated by the downward pressure on, and the destruction of, the traditional British pub. The number of pubs going out of business is tragic. I could mention the Dog and Duck in my constituency; it is happening all the time. People used to go to these places for community. If people sit at home drinking lager behind laptops, we will have criminals-we will have people who cannot form relationships and who do not have friends. We should protect the pubs.
A related issue is the removal of dartboards from pubs. I will not use the G-word-gentrified-but there is definitely an attempt to push places upmarket, and that means taking out the dartboards. A survey has been done on this. The removal of dartboards is a great tragedy, because darts is a national sport. I have played it, although I do not play it very much and do not pretend to be a great darts player, but I do not like to think of pubs losing their dartboards. In Leicestershire, we have skittles. We have a lot of skittles alleys-they are great fun, and a lot of pubs still have them. How about the Minister or my hon. Friend the Member for Romford (Andrew Rosindell), who is sitting on the Opposition Front Bench and who might be in power in a few months, doing a bit to support pubs that keep traditional games? Why can we not offer some incentives?
It would not necessarily be very expensive. Do we really want empty, gloomy pubs that close down? I do not think so.
Of course, the smoking ban has not helped. I voted against it and I am really pleased that I did, because the more I look at it, the more I think that it was a great mistake not to gradually phase it in- [ Interruption. ] I am not going to hold the support of the right hon. Members for Salford and for Don Valley on this one, although I have held it for most of the debate, which is unusual. However, it was a mistake to put everybody outside. And what about the environmental issues? Someone tell me the cost of these massive gas cookers outside-
David Tredinnick: Madam Deputy Speaker, I will relate my remarks to antisocial behaviour. We really ought to revisit the way in which we have blocked a large number of people who still smoke out of the places where they used to have their social life. That is a great pity.
I have talked about police priorities, and I have quoted Robert Peel and Richard Mayne-I have gone right back to the basics. The problem in Barwell was that the officers, in this case under the direction of their senior officers, were not applying themselves as a priority to keeping the peace. I think that things have now changed dramatically, and the police focus on Barwell has been formidable-I suppose that one would expect that reaction. The police have done good work, and I will refer in a moment to something else that will be happening as of Friday.
First, however, I want to turn to policies on elected police chiefs and other elected officials. I spent some time in New York, and I attended a well-known university researching policing and public order in a multiracial Britain. I looked at Scarman, policing in the '80s and the riots in Brixton and Bristol. I have some sympathy with the idea of elected police chiefs, because I think that that political direction is important. However, if we do go down that route, there are real dangers that the police will be pulled in certain directions by particular groups. Given the current problems with terrorism and the other national issues that the police are obliged to deal with, there would have to be safeguards.
David Tredinnick: Madam Deputy Speaker, the answer is that we will have less antisocial behaviour if we have a police force that is more sensitively directed. I am suggesting to the House that it is not enough to have elected police authorities, even though they have been reformed and now have a different composition. There is a strong case for having some-not a lot, but some-elected police representatives in communities.
I have one last point to make on the political issue. I notified the borough council- [ Interruption. ] I ask the House to bear with me for just a minute longer. I notified my borough and county councils, the police and the police authority that I was going to make this speech. I said that there was a fair chance that I would be called because of the problems that we had had. The focus of the problem locally has been what is being done in Barwell. I am sure that this is a happy coincidence, but I received an e-mail before the debate saying that four youths linked to antisocial behaviour in the Barwell area had been charged with offences and will appear before the Hinkley courts next month. As I have said, I am sure that it is a happy coincidence that that arrived before this debate, but it might not be. It might have arrived because I, as the Member of Parliament for the constituency, notified the agencies involved that I was going to make my speech. That is a good example of political accountability, with elected representatives in this honourable House saying what they feel, and action being taken on the ground.
A lot of politics can be summed up in simple words, and one of the great phrases of this autumn was uttered by my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition. I think that it represents what the country wants, so parties on both sides of the House should take note. My right hon. Friend said at the Conservative party conference:
"We've got to stop treating adults like children and children like adults".
I gave a great sigh and thought, "Thank you. That's what people really want to hear." The nation is fed up with being told that the kids are giving us the runaround and adults cannot take any action. That has had a really serious impact on our policing. Traditionally, everyone in this country was a policeman. We always have been-it is part of our culture. One has only to read in "Oliver Twist" about Bill Sikes's dog running off to the east end and being pursued by everyone in a hue and cry-one does not have to watch the westerns to see the posses going out. The fact is that everyone was always part of the police, and we need to get back to that so that we can support the police. We do not want to hear the police tell us, "We'll nick you if you touch that person." Why would they do that? Because they have poor direction. There is not enough political input at the top telling them, "Don't say that. It's stupid." The police cannot enforce all the laws anyway. There is a duty on all of us to keep the peace.
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