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20 Nov 2002 : Column 723—continued

8.35 pm

Mr. Piara S. Khabra (Ealing, Southall): I congratulate the Home Secretary and his Department on many provisions in the Queen's Speech. Although it is easy to be swept away by events overseas—from our efforts to tackle international terrorism to possible military action against Iraq—it is important not to lose sight of our responsibilities at home. The word Xresponsibility" is especially important because the theme of rights and responsibilities provides the foundation on which this year's legislative agenda is to be built.

My constituents frequently tell me that one of their biggest concerns is the insecurity and, in many cases, outright fear that they feel as a result of crime. Although this country has been fortunate to have experienced broadly falling levels of crime—the British crime survey is testament to that—street crime and other forms of antisocial behaviour frequently dominate my postbag. For that reason, I am pleased that the Government intend to introduce measures to tackle antisocial behaviour.

An emphasis on local communities is the key. It is ultimately at a local level that people assess success. It is all well and good for politicians to trumpet national statistics, but unless people see tangible local benefits and feel safe in their neighbourhoods, all our hard work will be forgotten.

Last year's crime and disorder audit published for the London borough of Ealing, which covers my constituency, found that antisocial behaviour was one of the four most pressing concerns for residents, with more than a third of panellists saying that they were concerned about it. So I welcome proposals to extend the application of fixed penalty notices and to widen their enforcement, as well as plans to continue to improve the implementation of antisocial behaviour orders in the courts.

I recognise that the orders have had a mixed success. Research published by the National Association for the Care and Resettlement of Offenders shows that they

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take an average of three months to obtain. But the principle behind them is right. We should work to improve the system rather than simply abandoning it. As NACRO points out, such orders can work, but it is essential that they take local circumstances into account.

Taking a more robust approach to quality-of-life issues, such as graffiti, fly tipping and the use of spray paints, also makes sense. The term Xzero tolerance" is often overused and misunderstood. Many people associate zero-tolerance policing with police brutality and the persecution of minorities, but that need not be the case. The problem often lies more in the execution of the policy than in the principle behind it.

The strategy is based on an article published in March 1982 called the XBroken Window Theory". It argues that if one window in a building is left broken, the others will soon be broken too. I agree that the system, which has been adopted in cities such as New York, is not perfect and that other factors, such as demographics, have played a part in falling crime. Any initiative on antisocial behaviour, and on criminal activity in general, will invariably focus on young people. The crime audit in my constituency found that in 2000–01, over 70 per cent. of suspects for incidents of robbery of personal property were males aged between 10 and 21.

Education plays an important role, especially in the early years. It is one of the best ways of reducing such crimes. As the Economic Opportunity Institute, based in Seattle, points out, quality early education is regarded by law enforcement officers in America as considerably more effective in crime prevention than trying more juveniles as adults or building more youth detention centres. We should also note successful initiatives such as the campaign conducted by the Boston police department, whose scheme includes co-operation between police officers and civilians to wash off graffiti and to run youth clubs.

Unfortunately, whatever progress is made in preventing youth and adult crime, there will still be offenders. I welcome the Home Secretary's plans to increase consistency in sentencing, as well as his custody minus and custody plus proposals. I am convinced that they will prove popular with my constituents as it surely makes sense to find useful alternatives to short-term custody which will benefit local communities.As a justice of the peace for 11 years, and having relevant experience of the system, I also support plans to reform the court system and to bring together magistrates courts and Crown courts to work within a single organisation.

I hope that you will indulge me for a moment, Madam Deputy Speaker, while I quickly cover proposals that fall within my remit as a member of the International Development Committee. I am pleased to note the continued commitment to development work and the plans to increase the aid budget still further. We have seen the terrible effects that suffering and disenchantment can create, and we have been made all too painfully aware that what happens in one nation affects us all. Improving the conditions of the world's poor benefits us all and it is also the right thing to do.

There is much to look forward to in the current legislative year. No doubt much will prove controversial as the Government try to strike the correct note,

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whether on freedom for hospitals, on freedom for individuals or on how best to balance the rights of victims and the accused.

8.43 pm

Mr. Mark Hoban (Fareham): Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker, for calling me to speak in what is an important debate for all our constituents.

I pay tribute to the hon. Member for Bassetlaw (John Mann) who spoke, as ever, with passion and eloquence about the problems that face his constituency. As someone who spent the first nine years of his life in the east Durham coalfields, I understand the sympathy and concern that he displayed about the problems with heroin in former coal-mining communities.

My constituency is stuck between Southampton and Portsmouth. I am glad to see the Minister for Policing, Crime Reduction and Community Safety, the right hon. Member for Southampton, Itchen (Mr. Denham) in his place on the Treasury Bench. Both those cities have much greater crime problems than my constituency. Fareham is a relatively peaceful place, but I get an awful lot of letters from constituents who are concerned about antisocial behaviour. That issue affects people throughout the constituency regardless of their social class or the type of housing that they live in.

Many people saw the introduction of antisocial behaviour orders as a first step to tackling those problems. Many are disappointed that fewer orders have been issued than the Government suggested when they introduced them in the last Parliament. In Fareham, none have been issued. I have been made increasingly aware of the difficulties that the police and local council face in applying for antisocial behaviour orders. Despite the fact that they have worked hard together, there are too many impediments in the magistrates courts for the orders to be granted.

Sandra Gidley: I, too, represent a Hampshire constituency. A police superintendent recently told me that antisocial behaviour orders were expensive and time-consuming. However, she said that the police had had a lot of success with acceptable behaviour contracts. Has that been the case in the hon. Gentleman's constituency?

Mr. Hoban: The police and the council have worked hard to use many different orders to try to combat antisocial behaviour. At the end of the day, however, a much more severe sanction is needed for some of that behaviour. The hon. Lady may not be aware of a recent case in Portsmouth where an antisocial behaviour order was issued. Having read the list of convictions that the subject of the order had gained in recent years, I was surprised by the length of time that it took to issue an antisocial behaviour order—she had caused havoc across Portsmouth and in her local community.

I agree that there are other means available to tackle the problem, but ASBOs should be looked at again—we should make it much easier to apply for them so that they can be used to restore peace to local communities. There is one area in which ASBOs do not appear to have been used. A business in my constituency had great problems tackling the behaviour of a small group of people. The owner operated a retail premises, which

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those people would enter to terrorise his staff and customers. That happened repeatedly, but it was difficult for the owner to resolve the problem. He lost trade and staff, and ended up having to spend #5,000 of his own money to ban those people from his premises. We need to look at ways in which we can act more effectively to protect people in shops, whether they are customers or staff, so that owners do not have to resort to delving into their own pockets to protect their business from the actions of a small group of individuals.

When I went out with the local police in Fareham in the summer to get a better idea of the antisocial behaviour that they faced, they raised the issue of drink, which they felt was a more important factor in crime in the area than drugs. The hon. Member for West Bromwich, West (Mr. Bailey) said that it is not just the police who have a role to play in tackling problems in crime. The Fareham police raised with me the way in which alcohol is sometimes sold by convenience stores. One police officer cited alcohol being placed near the door. Forty-eight cans of Stella Artois, for example, may be offered at a bargain price—people come in, see the cases of beer and run out again, getting away scot free. The till is not at the front of the shop near the door, but at the back. The location of promotional offers therefore creates an environment in which alcohol can be obtained relatively easily.

That police officer also drew to my attention something that was emphasised again by Portchester community school this morning. School council members came to the House today to look around, and I talked to them about the issues that they perceived were a problem in their area. Both they and the police said that too often people serving in convenience stores and off-licences were only 18, 19 and 20, knew under-age drinkers in the area and did not feel strong enough to stand up to their demand to be sold cheap beer and cider. Shop owners, who may be victims of crime, need to think about their role in preventing crime. If they take more responsibility for their actions—

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