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Mr. Michael: The hon. Gentleman was probably one of the youths who caused trouble there in those days. He has clearly not learned from those days to do his homework first. He has not read the requirements, conditions, advice and guidance, any more than he listened to what I said. The measure can succeed only in the context of community support and a joint effort to tackle the problem, involving communities, parents, local authorities and the police; but that is what is proposed. Did the hon. Gentleman not understand that?
Mr. Hughes: Of course I did. The right hon. Gentleman should not become so excitable so quickly. If, however, he thinks it a good idea to start stereotyping, and to say that the Peckhams or Penarths of this world should contain no-go areas--curfew areas; "can't go out late" areas--I must tell him that I do not think it will be good for the law-abiding people, including young people, who live in those areas. It can only paint bad pictures: it can only make areas that look as though they have trouble look even worse. By all means let the police concentrate on the troublemakers, but they should concentrate on the troublemakers rather than the places where they live.
I hope I have demonstrated straightforwardly that Liberal Democrats have considerable concerns about a Bill that is good in parts, but very worrying in parts. We shall do our utmost to make sure that it is much better by the time it returns to this House.
Joan Ruddock (Lewisham, Deptford): Last week one of my local newspapers, the News Shopper, featured a banner headline: "Crime is on the rise--report". A subhead referred to an increase of £30,000. It dealt a tremendous blow to both the police and the local authority, which had forged an extremely effective community safety partnership. It was, moreover, distressing for all of us because it was simply untrue.
In Lewisham, crime fell by 5 per cent. between the period from March 1999 to December 1999 and the corresponding period in 2000. Burglary fell by 16 per cent., and the borough was top of the Metropolitan police league table in respect of judicial disposals of such crimes. Car crime also decreased, and Lewisham was near the top of the league table in respect of clear-up rates.
The headline might have been justified, although clearly to a lesser extent, with regard to reporting of street crime, which has been on the increase in Lewisham and throughout the country--although the number of such crimes in Lewisham is lower than the Met average.
Mr. Chris Pond (Gravesham): I have here a copy of one of my little newspapers, which reports a crime increase of 10 per cent., and states that, in Kent, crime fell by 23 per cent. during the same period. That paper is the Gravesham News Shopper. Do we detect a trend?
Even where certain crimes have increased, most people are not the direct victims. Most people feel, however, that their quality of life is threatened and often diminished by the fear of crime, which is why it is so reprehensible that local newspapers exaggerate crime levels. Antisocial behaviour gives rise to anxiety, and also creates an impression of lawlessness. That is why I welcome the Bill.
I want to talk mostly about low-level crime. I welcome the measures relating to young people. Let me also say, however, how much I appreciate the provisions for enhanced witness protection. Like many of my hon. Friends, I have dealt with a small but terribly distressing number of cases involving people who have been willing to come forward, but have subsequently lived in terror of victimisation. We owe it to them to improve their treatment.
In Lewisham, as elsewhere, young people commit a disproportionately large number of crimes. In our crime and disorder audit, the statistics relating to robbery, violence against the person, theft and handling all demonstrate that the highest offending rate was among those aged between 15 and 24, and that the second highest was among those aged between 10 and 14. Victimisation of those same groups is equally high, however. In the context of robbery and violence, the highest rate of victimisation was among those aged between 10 and 24.
A raft of Government measures are already addressing many of the underlying causes of crime. Unemployment--to name but one--is falling dramatically in my constituency. Nevertheless, there is a real need for more deterrence. Both my local authority and the Lewisham police service generally welcome the Bill: they are delighted by the Government's recognition that the yob culture will no longer be tolerated.
At present, most people arrested for drunkenness--certainly in my area--get off with a caution. Not even a night in the cells seems to act as a deterrent, and there is a feeling that the courts do not view drunkenness as a serious matter. Such is the frustration of my constituents and my local authority that they are in the process of constructing a case for a byelaw on street drinking. I agree with what my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary said about such applications for byelaws: they are difficult to draft, and the local authority has been greatly concerned about the difficulties involved. The Bill will be helpful in that regard as well.
In my experience, there are two kinds of street drinker. There are the long-term alcoholics, who are usually older and penniless, and there are the daytime drinkers, who cause serious offence but who really need "wet centres" and other ways of being helped to overcome a habit that can no longer be deterred. I trust that we can give more help to local authorities and volunteer organisations to try to tackle the--admittedly small--number of people who engage in such disruptive activities.
A much more widespread problem is that of young people who are fit and healthy and who seemingly have unlimited funds with which to purchase alcohol. They cause continual misery to my constituents in their rowdiness in the streets and around drinking places--not only licensed premises, but off-licences as well--particularly in the evenings and at night, on the buses, the tubes and the trains, where they are intimidating and cause real concerns. Indeed, they probably deter many people from travelling when they would wish to do so. It is for that reason that we believe that fixed-penalty notices will be a deterrent and very helpful in trying to deal with that type of antisocial behaviour.
There will always be a limit on the number of those who can be arrested, however many police officers there are on the streets. On the issue of police officers, I tell my hon. Friend the Minister that my borough commander, Mike Humphrey, is very much of the view that the increased payment for police officers in London, and the free travel to be introduced next month, will greatly aid recruitment and retention.
We cannot, however, reduce this debate to simple numbers. As I said, it will never be possible to arrest all who are involved in antisocial behaviour, regardless of what powers or penalties we have. That is why the rest of the Government's initiatives on youth offending are so important and why local partnerships are crucial too.
In Lewisham, the arrest-to-charge target of two days and the first court appearance target of seven days have been met in 84 per cent. of cases, and that is a very considerable achievement. However, it should be seen alongside the many new and imaginative programmes that never existed before the Government were elected. I think that Lewisham was even ahead of my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary in targeting mobile telephone crime. We have a special scheme whereby people are encouraged
Additionally, 10 schools have been targeted with theatre workshops that help children to define robbery and bullying, to consider their legal and social consequences, and to help them to judge their peers and to attempt to modify their own behaviour. The programme is enormously important, and it is to be properly tested so that, when it is in operation, measurements of street crime and bullying will be taken within a half-mile radius of schools participating in the programme.
We are also grateful to my right hon. Friend for selecting Lewisham borough as a pilot for testing the effect of restorative justice on reducing offending by young individuals. Young people will be confronted with their actions and made to realise the consequences of their crime, both for their victims and for the wider community. It is a pilot, building on an already successful scheme that has involved 40 people in the past year in making some type of reparation.
Finally, I should like to say a few words on the issue of new measures to close down licensed premises. In the past year, I have been dealing with some very serious nuisances at two public houses in my constituency. Both premises are in entirely residential areas where their large back gardens abut the gardens of many neighbours.
As we all know, today's pubs are completely different from the drinking places that were established many years ago. I am speaking about Victorian and Edwardian terraces and public houses. Today, amplified music and eating and drinking outdoors, which are associated with licensed premises, have become a major problem to many of the people living around those areas. I am told by residents that, in the summer, they cannot hear themselves speak indoors because of the noise. They also cannot go into their gardens because of the noise, the bad behaviour, the bad language and the quantities of food that are consumed--with the associated smells--and even thrown into their own gardens.
The problem has become a nightmare for very many people in my constituency. Many of them thought that, come winter, the nightmare would end, but for the advent of outdoor heaters and new year's day barbecues in Deptford. It has become a very serious problem. A great deal of drunkenness and riotous behaviour are occurring in just a few of our public houses and in the surrounds of those buildings; and they have to be dealt with. It is utterly unacceptable to us that the rights of those who run public houses and the rights of those who seek to enjoy themselves should have more sway than those of the hapless victims who are the neighbours of those licensed premises.
I join my right. hon. and hon. Friends in welcoming the Bill, which gives us new opportunities to build on the highly successful crime and disorder partnerships that have brought new hope of crime reduction and reduction in antisocial behaviour to so many of our local communities.