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12.50 pm

Mr. Tony Banks (West Ham): I am reassured to see the hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Derek Conway) attired in traditional Conservative suiting—that helps people like me who become confused by all the new Members. It used to be that if someone walked by me wearing a red tie, I could safely say, if I did not know him, "Good morning, comrade". Equally, if someone came by in a suit like the hon. Gentleman's, I could hiss "Capitalist lackey" and know that the insult had been well directed. I am grateful to him for preserving that tradition.

I welcome the debate. Last Friday, at Newham town hall, I attended the chief superintendent's awards for officers of the borough who had conducted themselves exceptionally in the line of duty. I have attended the ceremony before and it is an eye-opener. It reminds us of the bravery continually exhibited by many police officers. I was alarmed by how many awards related to crimes committed in West Ham, but the ceremony drove home the point that the police have one of the most crucial roles in society—the preservation of order.

If the police are to fulfil that role, they need to retain the respect of the overwhelming majority of our citizens. Anything that imperils the respect in which they are held imperils us all. The hon. Member for Ruislip-Northwood (Mr. Wilkinson) talked about changes of attitude in society, and he was absolutely right. Far more unites than divides the House on the policing of our society. As the hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup said, the exchange of "yah-boo, we-did-more-than-you" remarks neither advances us nor gives confidence to those whom we represent. I hope that we can continue in our present mode of putting forward ideas and exploring means of dealing with what we all agree are high and unacceptable levels of crime.

The hon. Member for Ruislip-Northwood talked about attitudes. I was brought up in Brixton in the 1950s. We played on the streets, and there was no street crime that I can remember. There was certainly no fear of such crime. Attitudes were entirely different. One was never cheeky to a police officer. There was mutual respect in the local

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community and there was respect for the law and the police. In exchange, policing was non-intrusive and non-aggressive. In many ways, police officers were more like "Dixon of Dock Green" than those in "The Bill".

I do not want to sound like some rheumy-eyed old fart—

Mr. Chris Pond (Gravesham): Impossible.

Mr. Banks: My hon. Friend can say that, but he should wait until I have finished before he rushes to judgment.

There was more respect in those days, not just for the law and the police, but among people for each other and for the communities in which they lived. I can illustrate that in several small ways, and I do not mean to be flippant. I used to ride my bike all over the place and would not have dreamed of doing so without lights. I certainly would not have jumped traffic lights or ridden a full-sized bike on the pavement. Those things happen all around us today. They are not very important in themselves, but they are symptomatic of changing attitudes.

Graffiti were hardly known in those days. The only sort of graffiti that I recall were slogans such as "No to German rearmament" or "Marples must go". We did not see the kind of mindless stuff that appears on our trains and walls now. I beg someone to say that I am wrong, but I seem to remember that the streets were not strewn with litter as they are now. All that sort of thing begins to add up.

There used not to be any football violence. Last week I spoke to the Metropolitan police about football hooliganism, and the way in which it is being forced away from the grounds and into surrounding communities. The police support the Football (Disorder) Act 2000 and say that it is working, but they are concerned about the fact that magistrates are still not ready to impose the banning orders that the Act allows them to impose. That must be considered now, in the run-up to the World cup. I hope that those in the Home Office and the Lord Chancellor's Department will remind the magistracy of its power to impose such orders, because they are important to the maintenance of decent behaviour both here and abroad.

The examples that I have given may not be significant individually, but when we put them together we can see how things have changed. The root causes of the changes in the nature and size of crime statistics are too profound for me to attempt a detailed analysis in this speech, but inter alia there has been a decline in respect and concern for others, and a more permissive attitude to violence. Our shock threshold has been lowered, in terms of violent crimes and violence generally, which is all around us on television and in the rest of the media.

We have also seen the emergence of a dependency culture—the feeling that a living is owed to people, rather than having to be earned. Undoubtedly the most significant contribution to the rise in crime is the phenomenal increase in drug abuse, although there are other factors. I think that Sir John Stevens missed the target the other day when he seemed to single out the criminal justice system. Judges are no more responsible for the activities of thugs and criminals than local authorities are responsible for litter on the streets. Lawmakers—us, and judges—do not criminalise people; people criminalise themselves when they take it on

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themselves to break the law. Having said that, I tend to agree with the hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup, who has shot off—to change his suit, I hope—that judges and magistrates are too soft and too disconnected from street-level reality. Nevertheless, they are not responsible for criminal activity any more than the police are responsible by not arresting enough people.

Along with a number of others, including my hon. Friend the Member for Battersea (Martin Linton), the hon. Gentleman spoke of the blame culture that tends to predominate nowadays. Every morning on the "Today" programme someone is whingeing on: "Why doesn't so-and-so do something? Why has this or that not been done?" Perhaps I say this because I am now a member of the party that is in government, but it always ends up being the fault of the Government and their Ministers. Why do people not say, "What are you doing about it?" [Hon. Members: "Hear, hear."] Please; not too much.

I feel like that. I hope it is not because I am going soft or getting old—perhaps it is—but I feel that people are always coming along saying "What are you going to do for me?" One wants to say "What the hell are you doing for yourself? You start doing something for yourself, and then maybe we can do something for you."

There is far more talk about rights in society today, and not enough about responsibilities. I believe passionately in the rights of citizens, but the supreme right of all of us is the right to lead our lives free of fear and violence. That is the supreme and fundamental right of the law-abiding citizen in this country, to which all other rights are subservient.

As a number of Members have said, we have seen the steady rise of the law-and-order issue on the political agenda, not just since the life I remember in 1950s Brixton but in the time—nearly 20 years—during which I have represented a constituency in the east end. There is now more fear on our streets than I can remember. The Government—any Government, but I hope that it will be a Labour Government—who reclaim the streets for the law-abiding majority will not only gain enormous political support but, far more important, create a more civilised community for all of us.

The hon. Member for South-East Cambridgeshire (Mr. Paice) rightly pointed to the need for community involvement, but communities need encouragement to get involved. Very often, people do not get involved because they feel isolated, intimidated and frightened of the possibility of reprisals if they identify themselves with the forces of law and order as opposed to the criminals in their local community.

The hon. Gentleman and others identified the areas of concern, but to deal with them we must contemplate measures that many might consider draconian. The Prime Minister was once wont to use the expression, "Tough on crime, tough on the causes of crime". In order for that approach to work, it first requires us to be tough on the symptoms so that we may build the confidence to eliminate the causes. I shall now shut up and rattle through my own personal programme for being tough on crime.

The Minister said that we shall have 130,000 police in England and Wales; I welcome that. At times I think that we need 130,000 for my street, but let us be in no doubt: 130,000 in England and Wales is good, but not good enough. We need at least another 10,000 in London alone.

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As a regular user of public transport, I believe that we need far more police on the transport system, especially at night.

I was fortunate enough to be in Athens fairly recently, looking at the new metro system that is up and running for the 2004 Olympic games, and I saw armed paramilitaries on the system. I was slightly surprised. I asked various Athenians, and my friends out there, of which I am glad to say I have a large number—I may not have many here, but I have many in Athens—what they thought, and they were very supportive of that measure. Why cannot we think about using the military in support of the civilian authorities in this country?

Before hon. Members say that that is a bit extreme, I remind them that paramilitaries have been stationed at Heathrow and Gatwick in the past. We consider public safety to be important enough at airports to merit such measures, and there is not that much petty crime and violence in airports. Why do we not station paramilitaries at our railway stations, such as Liverpool street, or at Euston, where there is a hell of a lot of trouble at night, and particularly at weekends when football supporters are criss-crossing the country and passing through? That is the sort of thing that we should be thinking about.

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