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20 Nov 2002 : Column 716—continued

8.4 pm

Mr. Mark Todd (South Derbyshire): I want to address two related issues. A family in Church Gresley, which is close to my constituency office, perpetrated a reign of terror on citizens around their home for a period of between 18 months and two years. It was a large family, with a number of children who attracted friends who acted in much the same way. Several of them were prosecuted for offences, but the preparation of the antisocial behaviour order took a long time. I was involved because I had received so many complaints that I could set out for the police the details of what had happened in some cases. However, the encouraging aspect is that the ASBOs seem to have provided some relief, supplemented by a certain amount of informal community social control on which I shall not expand at present.

I welcome the implication in the Queen's Speech that landlords who fail to ensure that their tenants abide by normal tenancy obligations might lose the right to receive housing benefit direct. In the case to which I referred, the family's home was privately rented and the landlord simply took the money and could not care less about the behaviour of the tenants, despite the complaints that were made. Other hon. Members have referred to similar cases, which cannot be excused. The state should not provide a pay cheque for people who are prepared to ignore the behaviour of tenants who are terrorising an area. I strongly welcome the proposals and will scrutinise them in detail to ensure that they will actually work in such cases.

My other dominant concern has not yet been mentioned: the increasing prevalence of illegal camping in my area. Typically, there are four or five such encampments—I think there are five at present—despite the fact that the local authority provides two sites for travellers. South Derbyshire has long provided a home for people with a travelling way of life. We welcome them. They attend local schools and are part of our citizenry. However, we also attract a large number of people who scorn that hospitality and are a tremendous nuisance in our area.

Normally, such people occupy a site and then trash it. They dump debris, including destroyed cars, dead animals and felled leylandii. One of the major economic activities of such travellers is to chop down those nuisances in people's gardens, but they leave them in lay-bys and on other people's property. Such rubbish is scattered across the site.

The local taxpayer has to pay for the cleaning of the site, at a cost of between #2,000 and #3,000 a time. My local authority usually spends between #20,000 and #30,000 a year cleaning up after those travellers have left. It would not be so bad if they did not immediately move on to another site in the area and repeat the experience.

The councils, the police and the Environment Agency claim difficulties in responding. There are clear breaches of environmental protection law, but linking physical evidence to an individual is often difficult. There has been one successful case—an extreme one—in which the

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person set up a car-breaking business. Often, however, names given are unreliable and the police seem to be unable to pin down vehicle ownership. Hon. Members may not be aware that one needs a licence to haul waste and if one's vehicle is not licensed, it represents a breach of the law. However, it seems impossible to nail people for that particular offence.

The Office of the Deputy Prime Minister has drafted proposals for new guidance within the existing law. They may or may not be adequate. Apparently, the matter rests with the Home Office, a Department which, I regret, has in the past had a reputation for gentleness towards abusive and antisocial travellers who bring law-abiding travellers into disrepute. I urge rapid consideration and firm endorsement of measures to reduce and, I hope, remove that nuisance. I note that the proposals on fly tipping in the Queen's Speech may help enforcement, because that is one of the major activities that I associate with such travellers' presence, and I would wish to move amendments if that is not the case when we see the Bill.

I turn briefly and finally to other points that have been made, particularly by my hon. Friend the Member for Cannock Chase (Tony Wright). The debate has certainly highlighted the institutionalising of social control. There has been an accelerating trend of transfer from informal social mechanisms—families, larger employers where people work for most of their lives, shared entertainment and social activities, shared military experience, deference and so on—to an obligation on the state to provide the same apparatus.

A good example is the work load of any Member of Parliament. In my grandfather's time—he was a Member of Parliament—few felt that they should turn to an MP to demand a response from the state. All hon. Members can now witness the fact that we receive such requests daily, yet let us consider this paradox: as the state increases its panoply of controls, its servants and representatives are held in less and less regard.

We fail to engage our citizens in parliamentary democracy if we do not succeed in engaging them in the apparatus of the state that they will for themselves through us, and we will need to reflect on that on another occasion. Their engagement is critical to the way in which any state apparatus may work, and many of the apparatuses that they wish and will through us will fail for that reason.

8.11 pm

Mr. Jon Owen Jones (Cardiff, Central): I wish to follow on from some of the comments made by my hon. Friend the Member for Barnsley, Central (Mr. Illsley) and the hon. Members for Newark (Patrick Mercer) and for Romford (Mr. Rosindell). I welcome the reform of the licensing laws proposed in the Queen's Speech. I acknowledge that they will do much to help tourism and lead to a saner licensing system. I also acknowledge that they will help to reduce the trouble—the violence and so on—that our police face owing to the 11 pm closing of so many licensed premises. Having said that, I want to draw attention to the problems that the reform of licensing will not address.

The reforms will not address the problems that occur in many metropolitan city centres, such as that in my own city, which have an extremely high density of

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licensed premises, usually with late licences—clubs and the like—and where the police encounter immense difficulty finding the resources to meet the problems that that density causes.

I hope that the forthcoming legislative programme—as has been mentioned, it is overwhelmingly sponsored by the Home Office—will include a proposal to deal with those problems. I suggest that a precept should be placed on the sale of alcoholic drinks in areas with a high density of licensed premises. Such a precept—for example, perhaps just 1p on a pint or an equivalent alcoholic drink—would be worth six coppers on the beat in my constituency.

The particular problem in Cardiff is that, during the last three years for which figures are available, the capacity of licensed premises has expanded from fewer than 8,000 to 13,500 in a 100-yd area in St. Mary street, which is in the heart of the city. The police estimate that they are policing 30,000 to 40,000 drinkers in the city centre on an average Friday or Saturday night. One reason why those figures have increased remarkably in Cardiff is the great success of the Millennium stadium, which is right next to that drinking area.

Some 3 million people have come to the city to attend the Millennium stadium in the past few years. That is a great success, and many of those people have had a good time and stayed on. They have decided that Cardiff is a good place to have a good drink at the weekend, and they often come from areas hundreds of miles away from Cardiff.

The problem is that violence has also increased. In the six months to 31 December 2001, 135 injuries were treated, compared with 65 in the same period in 1999, so violence is growing faster than capacity. Almost one serious injury is reported every night. In 2001, 63 per cent. of violent incidents in Cardiff on Saturday nights occurred in the city centre, compared with 38 per cent. in 2000 and 26 per cent. in 1999. Some 87 per cent. of those injured were male and 63 per cent. of the males were between the ages of 18 and 30.

Although ending the 11 pm closing time for pubs and the 2 am closing time for nightclubs will lead to less friction, the high density and the level of drinking make it inevitable that the problems will continue.

The figures that I have just given come from the work of Professor Shepherd who is a consultant surgeon at Heath hospital in Cardiff and chair of the Cardiff violence prevention group. He has done magnificent work in co-ordinating hospitals, police, councils, ambulance services and others in drawing attention to such problems and trying to address them.

The number of police available on Friday and Saturday nights in Cardiff city centre is typically one sergeant, with eight constables on duty. That is not nearly enough, so they are supplemented from each of the 10 police districts around the rest of Cardiff. Those other police districts, which typically have three to four policemen on duty in the evening, will therefore have 25 per cent. of their police resources taken away to police the city centre.

Of course this is not just a problem for Cardiff. The chief constable of Nottinghamshire has said that it is

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He wants pubs and clubs in the city centre to pay a direct tax towards those policing costs.

Many of those who drink in Cardiff city centre come from outside Cardiff, but they do not bring with them the resources allocated to police them when they go there to drink. The people of Cardiff bear the costs in rates and reduced cover in other parts of the city. On the principle that the polluter should pay, I believe that a precept of a penny or two on alcoholic drinks in areas with high densities of licensed premises, with the money raised going to the emergency services, would be the most just way to fund the resources needed, rather than depriving other parts of the city of emergency cover.

On the basis of 1p a pint, if the 30,000 to 40,000 people in Cardiff city centre on an average Friday or Saturday night buy the equivalent of three drinks each—I suspect that they would often drink a lot more than that—it would bring in #1,200 a night, roughly equivalent to six extra policemen. There could be other mechanisms, but I hope that the Home Office will carefully consider that proposal to bring in resources to meet the causes of the problems and to fund those resources from the people who profit from the problems—the licence holders—and make very large profits on the alcohol sold.

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