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Antisocial Behaviour

7. Mr. Crispin Blunt (Reigate): If he will make a statement on the Government's policies to deal with antisocial behaviour. [151704]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Mike O'Brien): The Crime and Disorder Act 1998 introduced measures to deal with antisocial behaviour, including the crime and disorder partnerships and antisocial behaviour orders.

We are introducing further measures in the Criminal Justice and Police Bill, including fixed-penalty notices, for a wide range of offences to help police deal immediately with loutish behaviour and to provide strengthened controls on drinking in the streets.

We are implementing in full the policy action team report on antisocial behaviour. The crime reduction toolkit on antisocial behaviour, which was published in January, gives practitioners comprehensive and detailed advice on good practice and partnership working.

Mr. Blunt: Is it antisocial behaviour to tell an untruth?

Mr. O'Brien: It is of course the case that telling an untruth may be honestly done or dishonestly done. People have to consider these matters for themselves.

Antisocial behaviour is being addressed by the legislation that the Government have put through the House. We are ensuring that the Crime and Disorder Act 1998 contains provisions that will deal with the real problems that concern the people of this country. They are concerned about law and disorder on our streets and about policing. That is why, under the Labour Government, crime is coming down and police numbers are going up, and that is why we are dealing with these issues, and ensuring that we do so effectively.

Mr. Gerald Kaufman (Manchester, Gorton): Will the Minister say what action the Government intend to propose to the House to deal with the antisocial behaviour of the shadow Home Secretary and a Conservative Whip, who, by their example, are saying to louts and hooligans

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that they should break the rules and break the law? Will my hon. Friend explain how louts, hooligans, drunkards and criminals can be expected to obey the law of the land if official spokesmen and spokeswomen of the Conservative party disregard, obstruct and set aside the decisions of the House of Commons?

Mr. O'Brien: My right hon. Friend is quite right: antisocial behaviour takes many forms. It is important that Members of the House set a good example--especially those who might one day aspire to high office. Opposition Front-Bench Members, especially the right hon. Member for Maidstone and The Weald (Miss Widdecombe) in some of her behaviour last week, displayed a regrettably bad example for the young people of this country. When the right hon. Lady comes to the Dispatch Box to condemn loutish behaviour on our streets, let us make sure that we have no loutish behaviour from her in this place.

Mr. Simon Hughes (Southwark, North and Bermondsey): When Home Office Ministers look back over their four years of dealing with antisocial behaviour and crime, do they register the fact that, according to the latest opinion polls, nearly two thirds of the British public--more than in any other area of Government policy--think that the Government have failed on law and order?

The Government's senior policy adviser at the Home Office says that their performance has been incredibly poor; he cites clear-up rates that are the same as they were when those Ministers took office in 1997. At this late stage, may we at least have honesty? Gimmicks such as giving parking-type tickets to drunkards on the street and having curfews will not do much at all. To take away people's right to choose jury trial is positively an act in the wrong direction. If there was a commitment to real increases in police numbers and to real community safety forces that would give additional police service in each local council area--instead of all the rhetoric, all the window dressing and the many policies that have totally failed over four years--we might get somewhere.

Mr. O'Brien: The hon. Gentleman's rhetoric today is nothing short of amazing. The Liberal Democrats go around the country claiming to be tough on crime in one place and soft on crime in another. Every policy that the Labour Government--or indeed, any Government--have introduced to deal with crime and disorder on our streets has been attacked by the Liberals as being too tough on criminals.

Let me tell the hon. Gentleman that the Government's record is one of crime going down and police numbers going up. We are putting funding into fighting crime, while during this Parliament and in recent years, the Liberal Democrat party and especially the hon. Gentleman, as its spokesman on law and order, have been soft on crime throughout.

Mr. Bill O'Brien (Normanton): I welcome the policies introduced by my hon. Friend to combat antisocial behaviour. Does he agree that in crime hot spots, portable closed circuit television would help further to continue the reduction in crime? In many areas, there is a genuine fear that if the Tories had the opportunity to impose their

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public spending cuts, such services would be reduced and crime would increase. Does my hon. Friend agree that portable CCTV would help to reduce crime still further?

Mr. Mike O'Brien: The massive investment made by the Government in CCTV--encouraging local authorities and the police to install such facilities throughout the country--has certainly had a powerful impact on crime. Indeed, my hon. Friend is right to say that portable CCTV has a place in the array of tools needed by the police to deal with the problems of crime on our streets. He is also right to say that, while the Labour Government have a record of putting extra resources into the police, ensuring that we provide them with the communications systems that they need and that we put resources into CCTV and other technology, if the Conservatives got into power we would see £16 billion worth of cuts in public expenditure. Those cuts would fall on the police too. Let there be no mistake about it: when the right hon. Member for Maidstone and The Weald and her party were in office, we saw cuts in policing from 1993, with cuts in the housing allowance; we did not see the sort of investment that has been made in CCTV under the Labour Government. Their record was crime up; our record is crime down. Their record was cuts in police numbers; our record is police numbers now going up.

Dr. Julian Lewis (New Forest, East): If the Minister can come out of pre-election auto-rant for a second, will he tell me whether any progress has been made on a practical suggestion about CCTV that I have made on several occasions and to which he has responded positively in the past? Where shops and garages trade during antisocial hours, there should be a requirement that they have adequate CCTV coverage in the places where people have to pay--where they have to queue in vulnerable situations and could be attacked by louts. Have the Government actually done anything about that, rather than saying that they think it is a good idea--which, of course it is?

Mr. O'Brien: It is indeed a good idea, and we are agreeing on resources for the retail crime reduction partnerships. It certainly would help if those late-night shops and various other facilities--

Mr. John Bercow (Buckingham): Outlets.

Mr. O'Brien: Outlets, as the hon. Gentleman helpfully suggests. If the various outlets were to have CCTV outside their premises, it would assist not only those who run them but the police; indeed, the Government are working with retail outlets in particular to try to ensure that we do that. I am a little concerned that small businesses in particular are reluctant to have extra burdens placed on them, and I am sure that the hon. Member for New Forest, East (Dr. Lewis) does not want to do that. We need to take action by a process of proper discussion and negotiation with the business community, rather than by merely imposing regulations, as he seemed to suggest. I am sure that, on reflection, he would agree that the previous Government imposed far too much regulation on

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small businesses. The Government are trying to reduce that over-regulation, and that is one of the areas where we can make progress.

Mr. Desmond Browne (Kilmarnock and Loudoun): My hon. Friend will be aware that no behaviour is more against the interests and legitimate aspirations of many of the communities that we represent than that of those who deal in drugs and then flaunt the wealth that they have accumulated in that fashion in front of the communities that their behaviour is impoverishing and destroying. He will be aware that the publication of the draft Proceeds of Crime Bill and the extra money in the Budget for tackling crime and drugs were very welcome in Scotland, as they were throughout the United Kingdom, but does he agree that steps must be taken to foster a culture of whistleblowing among those who deal with criminals and who allow them the opportunity, inadvertently or by deliberate omission, to launder their money and transfer it into the legitimate economy?

Mr. O'Brien: I certainly agree with my hon. Friend. The draft Proceeds of Crime Bill will apply to Scotland, and the Budget announcement of an extra £220 million to tackle drugs was welcomed in Scotland, especially by my right hon. Friend the First Minister, who said that it was


I certainly agree with my hon. Friend that we need to ensure that there is effective provision to encourage whistleblowing.

Miss Ann Widdecombe (Maidstone and The Weald): Is it antisocial to say that someone has told an untruth who is found not to have done; and, if so, should an apology be made to the victim?

Mr. O'Brien: I think that I have dealt with that, but the right hon. Lady has not dealt with the behaviour that she displayed in the House last week. Frankly, she and I are here to ensure that when we deal with such matters, we present an image to the public of some responsibility. What she has displayed during the past week puts the House in a bad light and reflects badly on her. Indeed, it reflects very badly on any Member of Parliament who seeks to put himself or herself in a position of responsibility. Those in high office have a responsibility to set an example, and she has failed to do that.

Miss Widdecombe: Will the hon. Gentleman at least agree that mugging is antisocial? If so, what is the appropriate response to someone who mugs 56 clauses, 42 Opposition amendments, 10 Government amendments and six schedules? Is not the correct penalty for such a person five years out of office, with no early release? Is not someone who stands up to that mugging acting in self-defence and should not he or she be supported by the authorities of the House, who care about effective parliamentary scrutiny? Get to the Dispatch Box and apologise.

Mr. O'Brien: It is the right hon. Lady who ought to be apologising for her appalling behaviour during the past week. She comes here and starts to say that she is

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concerned about crime, but she sets a bad example to the people of this country in the behaviour that she displays. People are responsible for their actions, and she is responsible for the bad example that she set in the House last week. She should be at the Dispatch Box now, apologising for her behaviour not just to me and Labour Members but to every hon. Member and to all those who elect us.

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