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Mr. Challen: You just said they were going to be expensive.

Mr. Osborne: Well, they are. There is only one reason that the Government want to introduce these officers: they think that it will save money and put more people in uniform on the streets.

Mr. Challen: Is it not the case that we have promised to have 130,000 uniformed police on the streets by next March? Is that expensive or is it cheap?

Mr. Osborne: Policing is expensive, but the answer is not to have a load of people in uniform on the streets who

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have sort-of police powers, and who are unable to deal with antisocial behaviour, for example, in the way that the police can. Going into a town centre on a Friday or Saturday night and confronting a group of drunk youths who are causing all sorts of problems might constitute low-level policing in the Home Office's book, but any police officer will say that dealing with unpredictable, violent people is one of the most difficult parts of their job.

The Home Office wants to put community support officers into that role, and to give them one power—the power to detain people for half an hour. In most town centres on a Friday night, giving someone in a uniform that is not a police uniform the power to detain people for 30 minutes until the police arrive is not going to work. The Government think that they are getting policing on the cheap, but I do not think that it will not turn out that way. That is why I reject these proposals, and I hope that the House of Lords continues its resistance to them.

9.12 pm

Mr. Gordon Marsden (Blackpool, South): I am very pleased to be able to speak in favour of this bold Bill, not least because it is not an isolated initiative, but part of a pattern of legislative and executive action by the Government to combat crime. It links with other initiatives such as the street crime initiative—which is going to deliver £67 million to 10 police forces across the country, including my own in Blackpool—and the safer cities initiative, which will have important implications for tackling antisocial behaviour through interventions such as pub watch schemes, approved tenancy schemes and antisocial behaviour orders.

The Bill also links with action on victims' rights and the determination to link the Crown Prosecution Service with the police to improve follow-through in the justice system. This represents a sustained, intensive and pragmatic attack on crime, but also a responsive one. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary and his team at the Home Office deserve the highest praise for this, and for pursuing this Bill.

I want to speak first about the police standards unit. It is absolutely right that we should pursue this. In his previous incarnation in the last Parliament, my right hon. Friend showed courage, vigour and balance when this principle of inspection was applied in education. I find it bizarre that Conservative Members, whose Government introduced an inspection unit in education in the early 1990s, should now apparently be so opposed to the extension of the concept to the police service today.

Clause 3, which establishes

is absolutely right. Hon. Members have said today that there is too much variation in the figures. This is not just a question of value for money; it is also a question of performance and accountability. We need to be able to share best practice and joint partnership, as is the case in education. Occasionally, police officers need that little extra push, in the same way that local education authorities do. It is needed if there is to be public confidence, and a feeling that external inspections are being carried out.

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We heard a lot of puffed-up rhetoric and false antithesis from the hon. Member for West Dorset (Mr. Letwin). Why did he not note the eminent good sense displayed by his former colleague as Attorney-General and Solicitor- General, Lord Mayhew, who said when speaking about the Bill in the House of Lords:

I entirely agree with that.

We all know that the police work hard locally and nationally, and that applies not least to the initiative on antisocial behaviour orders; but a further push is needed. The process needs to be streamlined. The new forms of ASBO that the Bill will permit will give police, courts and councils more flexible tools with which to do their bit. ASBOs can constitute a key element in dealing with the destructive swathe of juvenile offenders in local communities.

I have seen how people in Blackpool are made vulnerable by problems such as transience, a relatively skewed demography causing more young and elderly persons to feel at risk, the effect of vandalism on small businesses, and aggressive street behaviour—which, sadly, can be both locally and visitor-generated. I think that that applies to all coastal towns. In that context, ASBOs are not just a response to public concern; they enable time to be "freed up".

I welcome the proposals to increase civilian input, which will, I hope, enable the police to be more sensitive and responsive to home calls. A lady in my constituency was asked, when a crowd of youths were jumping up and down on her elderly husband's car outside, whether it was "a life-threatening situation". The police felt that if it was not, they could not go and deal with it. I do not want to see more examples of that.

In the intervals between not being able to decide whether policing, or the provision of community support officers, was cheap or dear, the hon. Member for Tatton (Mr. Osborne) spoke of the impact on town centres. He missed the point. The point is that the presence of community support officers as part of a network will, in many cases, enable police to be there in the town centres. What people in my community in Blackpool who are not in the tourist area want is a dedicated presence of police, or police support, to provide the necessary reassurance. At present, inevitably, many of those who are present must be taken away to deal with town-centre problems at weekends.

I welcome the extra police numbers we have been given in Blackpool—45 last year and another 10 this year, five of whom have gone on dedicated patrols on a major estate in the constituency. I also welcome the impetus given to ward beat managers and response teams, and the initiative launched by Blackpool police and my local newspaper for the printing of ward beat managers' details. Nevertheless, however well we do in surpassing the targets of 1997, the police will always be stretched. We need community support officers to provide that intensive day-by-day reassurance—to provide that local input.

My hon. Friend the Member for Bury, North (Mr. Chaytor) mentioned the important things that had been done in a Lancashire pilot. I welcome the Home Affairs Select Committee's support for the proposals, with

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safeguards, but we must give practical support to the community support officers. We cannot be left with the toothless CSOs with whom the hon. Member for West Dorset and his hon. Friends would be satisfied. For instance, how would they cope with the problem described by a constituent who wrote to me earlier in the year? The letter states that between 6.45 pm and 8.15 pm on most Fridays

Conservative Members may say that that is a job for the police. However, without regular policing in communities to get rid of that low-level violence and antisocial behaviour, difficulties will build up into the sort of problems that I have described.

Community support officers will help to build up communities and people's quality of life. They are part of a process that involves area forums, neighbourhood watch schemes, neighbourhood renewal, home zone schemes such as those that operate in the wards of Talbot and Brunswick in my constituency, and even the gating initiatives that are being introduced.

We cannot expect everything to be done by policing. We must accept that parents also have a responsibility in the matter, and that we need to use all the relevant associations and voluntary groups. That is why I welcome the accreditation schemes proposed in the Bill.

However, we must also make sure that we fulfil the debt to people of the older generation on our estates and in our constituencies. They feel most pressured by this low-level activity. Some of the chatterati outside the House who have complained about the provisions in the Bill, or the reborn liberals among Conservative Members, ought to look at the practical implications of what they are suggesting—or, rather, what they are not suggesting—should happen on the estates in our constituencies.

Community support officers will be able to show juveniles the errors of their ways at an early stage, just as the effective enforcement of ASBOs does. The "broken window" effect, which so often leads to the creation of no-go areas and the misery that all hon. Members have seen in their constituencies, can be stopped by that sort of application.

Problems such as I have described are of concern to all of us, but especially to those who are core voters, and those who feel that they are most affected by such problems. As my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary said at an early stage in the Bill's introduction, tackling crime is part of our social renewal agenda. That is why the proposals regarding ASBOs and CSOs are so important, and why I am very pleased to support the Bill tonight.

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