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Mr. Christopher Leslie (Shipley) indicated dissent.

Mr. Howarth: The hon. Gentleman may shake his head, but that is a fact, and it should be of great concern. Police officers are asking their chief constable whether they can take other jobs to supplement their income. In most cases, the chief constable is forced to say that that is not on, as it would be bad for officers' health and their commitment to the service.

There is also the question of status. Other Members have referred to the way in which the police have been battered. I make no apology for adverting to the Macpherson report. If the Government are not prepared to recognise the damage that has been done to police morale throughout the country--but particularly in London--by painting the police as institutionally racist and kicking them from pillar to post all the time, they do not understand what is going on in forces throughout the country. Today, a petition with 16,000 signatures was handed in by Norman Brennan on behalf of Steve Hutt, the policeman who was dismissed for making an unfortunate remark, which he has subsequently regretted. Morale has been seriously damaged by the Macpherson report and it is a great shame that the Government do not recognise that.

We are engaged in party politics, so it is fair enough to take part in the battle of trading figures on police numbers. However, we deceive ourselves if we pretend to the British people that the solution to all the problems of yob culture and street violence is wholly within our hands. It is not, as parents have a role to play. I genuinely believe that many of our problems stem from a lack of parental control. It is fair also to say that parental control is absent because the nature of families has changed. About 75 per cent. of the population are married now, whereas a few years ago the figure was 92 per cent. A fundamental change is taking place in the make-up of society and of families. Overwhelming evidence shows that children benefit from being brought up in a household with a mother and father who are married. To suggest otherwise is to ignore all the evidence.

That is not to say that those brought up in other types of household will turn to crime or become irresponsible citizens, but evidence shows that there is a greater likelihood of their prospering if they are brought up in a household where the parents are married.

When the Minister of State, Home Office, the right hon. Member for Brent, South (Mr. Boateng), addressed a conference that I organised on the cost of family breakdown, he said:

A report which I was responsible for drawing up, with others, on the cost of family breakdown shows that there is a relationship between broken families and the level of crime. The report states:

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There is a clear message to the House and to the country. Of course, people may live the life style that they want, but society is paying a price for certain styles of family. The Government should be unequivocal, instead of pandering to political correctness, with one Minister set against another--the Home Secretary and his Minister of State both supporting marriage, but others forcing through the age of consent legislation in another place, and the Minister for Employment, Welfare to Work and Equal Opportunities saying, I believe, that all life styles are equally valid. The Government must recognise that the evidence shows that marriage forms the best basis.

I hope that the Government will recognise that the position is not as rosy as the Home Secretary painted it. There are serious difficulties with the Government's policy. The Opposition have proposed some solutions, particularly with respect to the family, that should help to reduce the level of crime.

8.58 pm

Mr. Hilary Benn (Leeds, Central): In the debate so far, many hon. Members have spoken about the fear of crime. Like many other hon. Members who have spoken, I represent an inner-city area, and to me nothing symbolises that fear more accurately than the number of houses that I see in my constituency that have metal gates on the front door, because these days it is not enough to shut one's front door if one wants to shut the world out.

Because security is in part a state of mind, is it any wonder that our constituents who find that bloody syringe in the gutter or in the park next to the children's swings, who have to live through the comings and goings at houses where drug dealing takes place, who see the remains of the latest burned-out joy-ridden vehicle, feel that the area in which they live is in decline? That is certainly true of parts of my constituency.

We have in our society an extremely sensitive measure of the quality of life in particular areas. It is called house prices. Is it any wonder that there is such a disparity between the value of properties in different parts of Leeds, as is the case in other major cities?

As a relatively new Member, I have been surprised by the extent to which crime is drugs-related. In the police division of Holbeck, which covers the largest part of my constituency, 60 per cent. of the crime is thought to be drugs-related. Like many of the police officers to whom I speak, and, I suspect, an increasing proportion of hon. Members, I believe that we need a genuine debate about the scourge of drugs, and, to be controversial, I would include alcohol within that debate because of the effects that it has.

The other strong message that I want to put across on behalf of my constituents relates to what I describe as incivility and menace, to which other Members have referred. I am talking of neighbour disputes, children who are out of control, anti-social behaviour, the person next door who plays loud music into the small hours despite having been asked kindly to desist and cars being joy-ridden round estates. Joy-riding is a strange term because it brings no joy to my constituents, who have to listen to the screech of car tyres and the crunch of metal. Last month, one of my constituents, an elderly lady,

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had a joy-ridden car driven into the back of her house. The windows were smashed, and it is no surprise that she wants to leave the area.

These are unquestionably crimes in the eyes of the victims, who come to my surgery and ask with simplicity and force, "Why should I have to live with this?" They are right to ask that question and we must have an answer.

I shall make three quick points. First, I do not believe that law-and-order soundbite wrestling, to which we have been treated in parts of the debate, is the solution. In truth, every Member knows that the problems are complex and the solutions elusive. We must consider police responsiveness. In my experience, nothing causes more aggravation than the policing waiting list. Inevitably, when the police receive a phone call, they will prioritise the man with a knife over young people causing difficulty in a neighbourhood. Yet it is frustrating for those on the receiving end of that menace and trouble not to have a police response.

I am interested in the neighbourhood warden initiative, a scheme which was initiated by my right hon. Friend the Minister for Local Government and the Regions. Leeds is lucky in that it is one of the 50 schemes that has received funding. Two parts of my constituency, Beeston and Cottingley, will benefit. There is real potential because neighbourhood wardens might be able to undertake some police functions, including responding to a call and taking some details. With the best will in the world, even if we had in place now all the police officers who the Government will fund, those officers would still find it difficult to respond to every call.

Secondly, there is community policing. I have had the good fortune to meet good community police officers in central Leeds. Their work, and the uninterrupted time in which to do it, is crucial. It may not register in all the measures of police efficiency, but I believe that their form of nosey neighbourliness, if I may so describe it, is just as effective as their colleagues rapid response.

Interesting things have been happening on the Lincoln Green estate that have been initiated by Police Constable Tony Sweeney, the community police officer, working with the housing department and the council. There was a crackdown on crime involving several agencies. Nurses have been brought in from the local hospital to live in empty flats.

I was saying that house prices are a measure of demand. The social landlord equivalent of house prices is void rates. In April, there were 187 void properties on the Lincoln Green estate, and now there are only 68. Whereas the burglary rate for residential properties was averaging about 16 a month, it is now down to two or three a month. That is the result of hard graft locally, co-operation and commitment. The police, the council and the residents' association, which has only recently been formed, are working together to make a difference.

Thirdly, we need to consider the causes and the consequences of crime. There should be a consequence to our actions, and that is why I am strongly in favour of restorative justice schemes. We rightly feel the anger that Members have expressed on behalf of the victims of crime, but there is another voice in our heads which asks, "Why?" I recognise that there are those for whom crime is a career choice. However, we neglect at our peril the fact that criminal behaviour and low educational attainment are closely linked. We know that poverty is a

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factor. We know that those who are addicted to drugs are driven to find the means to feed that habit. And how often do we read that those who have committed the most appalling crimes of violence were themselves subjected to abuse and beatings when they were young? My hon. Friend the Member for West Ham (Mr. Banks) is right to say that that can never be an excuse, but it does, in part, offer an explanation.

Since we can only give back to each other and to society that which we have been given, giving love and security to young people and showing our commitment to them, working through sure start and the literacy and numeracy initiatives, and carrying out better inspections of local authority services for children may, in themselves, be just as important long-term contributions to solving the problem of crime as any other measures that we take. They are all expressions of the "us", rather than the "me" society, and if they work, we might be able to restore hope to the people whom I represent, who desperately need it.

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