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7.30 pm

Mr. Tony Lloyd (Manchester, Central): The right hon. and learned Member for North-East Bedfordshire (Sir N. Lyell) will forgive me if I do not follow him in terms of subject matter, as I want to discuss the problem of crime in inner-city areas.

I am astonished that the right hon. and learned Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. Clarke), who has a reputation for being a decent kind of Tory, does not understand the link between crime and the fundamentals that cause crime. Crime and the causes of crime, and the eradication thereof, involve a twin approach. Although serious crimes

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are committed in my constituency, including murder, sadly, on a regular basis--it is almost always drug related--it is often the low-level anti-social crimes that disrupt the quality of life for many of my constituents. That is why I welcome those parts of the Queen's Speech that will combat anti-social and yobbish behaviour.

The other night, a constituent of mine whom I know came out of his home, which is close to the city centre of Manchester. He confronted a youth who was urinating on the street and who had obviously had a good night out drinking. When my constituent remonstrated in very mild terms--he explained that he and his neighbours lived nearby and that the youth's behaviour was not very decent--the youth and two friends beat up my constituent so severely that he was hospitalised.

I do not want to make a trivial point about the connection between crime and alcohol, other than to say that the climate of impunity around the use and abuse of alcohol in our city centres and elsewhere must be dealt with soon. I welcome the relevant provisions in the Queen's Speech, which begin to build on the other measures that the Government have taken, including anti-social behaviour orders and local area partnerships, which are beginning to build a new relationship between communities and the police.

Sadly, the reality is that in communities such as mine confidence in the police has been severely eroded in recent years. That is obviously partly because the police were confronted by a seemingly inexorable rise in crime. I am afraid that the previous Government deserve enormous discredit for that rise, which was built on the previous Government's incompetence not only in terms of the law and order agenda--although they were incompetent in that regard--but in terms of the agenda that includes issues such as work. The link between very high levels of unemployment, which were created by the previous Government, and criminal behaviour is obvious and immediate.

I am glad that unemployment has begun to fall under the present Government--that has had an impact on my constituency--but there has been no related or immediate ratcheting down of criminal behaviour. That will take considerably longer, as we begin to change the culture and climate in which we operate. We need to rebuild a sense of community in our society. I pay tribute to my right hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth (Mr. Michael) for his role in introducing anti-social behaviour orders, which have been tremendously important.

However, I issue a caution. I have said and will continue to say that my police force needs more constables and policemen on the beat and elsewhere. I have told the chief constable of Greater Manchester that he is responsible for ensuring that the inner city has a fairer share of the available resources. However, we must confront the way in which the police manage those resources internally.

In a recent case involving the first anti-social behaviour order in Manchester, the stipendiary magistrate granted anonymity to the relevant youths. The courts thereby let down the police and, more important, the community. In one example, an ASBO was breached. Although the police had been told by members of the community, including local councillors, that the young offender was in breach of the order, the police did not operate

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effectively to bring that young person to justice. The police were not setting the standards that we expect, and which we are entitled to expect, from them--that is the only way to make the new compact with the public work.

Good developments are under way, including the sure start initiative in Manchester which is beginning to make a big difference. The local area partnership is an important part of the effort to rebuild the relationship and trust between the police and the local community.

The hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) discussed the allocation of homes and properties. He raised a fundamental point. I hope that the Government will think hard about a proposal that is missing from the Queen's Speech and that, even at this late stage, we can have a rethink. I am referring to the way in which properties are let to different groups. That problem involves not the local authorities in my constituency but private landlords.

For example, in east Manchester there is a large new deal for communities project, which involves reinvestment in that community. That process is obviously undermined by criminal behaviour, which does much to deter people from repopulating the area and prevents them from regarding it as an area worth living in. A significant number of private landlords, but not all of them, are a major source of concern to local people because they persist in taking no responsibility for the behaviour and attitude of their tenants. A very limited number of people can do enormous damage to the fabric of the wider community--they can fundamentally disrupt the way of life of many people. It is therefore not unreasonable to say that we need tougher controls.

The time has come to examine whether we should license the private landlord sector. If landlords are not prepared to accept their responsibilities, we need powers to coerce them to do so. I am sure that some of my hon. Friends will sympathise with my suggestion that private landlords who do not accept that duty should cease receiving the housing benefit on which many of them depend to make a profit. I urge those on the Government Front Bench seriously to consider legislation in that connection. If such a change is not introduced within a reasonable period--the demand for it in my constituency is enormous--we put at risk the gains that the Government's investment in this context is designed to secure.

There has been some discussion about the curfew, although that is an unfortunate term. Wiser counsels in the Chamber have referred instead to child protection. We should approach this debate from the perspective not of curfews but of protection. The concept of a curfew involves political difficulties and raises other more general problems for our society. I hope that those on the Government Front Bench will ensure that a message is sent, making it clear that there is no generalised assault on young people. The approach does not involve saying that all young people in a particular area are inherently difficult or problem causing--that simply is not the case. In all areas, even those with high levels of criminality, there are young people who are an asset to society and who are an important part of the social cement that binds communities together.

I was at a pensioners do over the weekend and was gratified to see the work that the community and, in particular, the very young members of that community

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put in to ensure that that group of pensioners had a good Christmas evening. Those young people might, in different circumstances--perhaps on street corners--have appeared to me and to other members of the community as individuals potentially capable of causing terror. The fact is that they are not--they are decent young people.

We should say loudly and clearly that most young people are an asset to society--they are the future on which we must build. It is important to get across the message, through the rhetoric of curfews or child protection, that there is no generalised attack on our young people.

Many hon. Members want to speak in this debate, so I shall conclude on this point. Of all the issues that affect my constituents, crime is probably high on the agenda. When I talk to them on the doorstep or when they write to me, they always demand that more should be done. The Home Secretary said that crime and disorder rates are still too high. We should be honest--I wish the Opposition would be a little more honest--and get away from the political rhetoric. The Conservatives had a terrible record for which they will not be forgiven. If we can establish that there is a demand for the rebuilding of communities to be the basis on which we attack the fundamentals of crime, we will be attacking crime and the causes of crime.

7.40 pm

Sir Brian Mawhinney (North-West Cambridgeshire): No one in the House is in favour of high crime rates or communities being racked by disorder. The debate is about what measures, particularly in the Gracious Speech, would provide a better chance of reducing crime and enabling communities to live in a more orderly and stable fashion.

Last Wednesday, my right hon. Friend the Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Hague) pointed out:

Those were the words of the first Queen's Speech of this Parliament in 1997--I share my right hon. Friend's sense of deja vu. The implication is that the Government have not made much progress in the intervening three years. I want to consider those issues from a constituency perspective.

I am happy--or at least I am content--that I no longer have to stand at the Dispatch Box volleying statistics back and forth, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone and The Weald (Miss Widdecombe) and the Home Secretary were doing earlier. However, I want to mention a couple of constituency-related statistics. The Audit Commission's performance indicators for Cambridgeshire show that in 1999-2000 the total number of crimes committed per 1,000 of the population was 95.5, which is an increase over the figure for 1998-99. The total number of violent crimes committed per 1,000 of the population was 9.8, which is also an increase on the figure for 1998-99. When I tell the Minister of State, Home Office, the hon. Member for Hornsey and Wood Green (Mrs. Roche), that crime is rising in my constituency, I offer her the Audit Commission performance indicator statistics.

Another of those statistics caught my eye. The percentage of victims satisfied with the police's initial response to violent crime and burglary had decreased

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from 1998-99. I hasten to add that that is not because the Cambridgeshire constabulary is not impressive, but because there are not enough police in the constabulary or on the beat. I recognise that the Government plan to spend more money on law and order next year. However, even with that expenditure, the Cambridgeshire constabulary will not reach its establishment level by the likely date of the next general election.

I shall not make a speech about resources. I have acknowledged that more will be provided, and I want to thank the Minister and the Home Secretary for recognising the case that my right hon. Friend the Member for Huntingdon (Mr. Major) and I have been making to them about one or two special policing pressures in Cambridgeshire. I do not expect the Minister to respond tonight; I merely want to encourage her to continue to think about those problems before the final figures for Cambridgeshire are announced.

I am sorry that the right hon. Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth (Mr. Michael) has left the Chamber, because it was a bit like old times. In 1997, when I was at the Opposition Dispatch Box, he stood at the other one encouraging the Conservatives to support anti-social behaviour orders. At that time, I said that the Opposition were not against such orders in principle, but we thought that the Government were grossly overselling them and that they would be much more difficult to put in place than he was leading the House to believe.

On the ground that anti-social behaviour orders might turn out to be a good thing, I have constantly badgered Peterborough city council and the Cambridgeshire constabulary in Peterborough about the introduction of such orders. About 10 days ago, I received an interesting letter from a senior police officer enclosing a copy of the new draft protocol. That was in November 2000. The House will recall when that became the law of the land. The officer said:

for these orders. The guidance was issued in June 2000. That is more than two years after the legislation was enacted. The letter went on to say that the police are

It said that the police


The senior police officer cited a case of two youths who were to be pursued with an anti-social behaviour order. They went to court on 5 October, and they went back to court on 2 November, on 21 November and on 1 December. I have to tell the Minister that there has still not been an anti-social behaviour order issued in that part of my constituency. I shall not take lectures from the Home Secretary about supporting anti-social behaviour orders. We would be interested to see whether they actually work, but they have not worked in Peterborough. The police and the council together have not been able to make them work. That is a disgrace, because it is more

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than two years after the event. It is particularly disgraceful given the rhetoric that accompanied the introduction of these orders. It is no wonder that the Home Secretary was sheepish when he said that there had been 140 such orders throughout the whole of the country.

Something caught my eye in The Hunts Post, the local paper. An article on 29 November stated:

The failure of anti-social behaviour orders and this new bureaucratic encouragement sums up the Government. People in the rural parts of my constituency know about crime first hand because they are the victims of it. They know about the fear of crime because they live with it. They see police being diverted from rural areas into the towns and into the city of Peterborough.

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