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20 Nov 2002 : Column 726—continued

Mr. Tom Harris (Glasgow, Cathcart) rose—

Mr. Hoban: The hon. Gentleman is a persistent intervener in all sorts of debates, and I am sure that he has something interesting to say, but I ask him to wait a moment.

If shopkeepers take greater responsibility for the way in which they sell alcohol, many of the problems that we face in Fareham arising from the sale of alcohol to under-age people will be resolved. I give way.

Mr. Harris: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way. I entirely agree with his assertion that alcohol-related crime, especially among the young, is a huge problem. Will he therefore join me in welcoming the Government's moves to increase taxation on alcopops?

Mr. Hoban: The hon. Gentleman has a long memory. That topic was raised in the Standing Committee on the Finance Bill, on which we both served. The debate then was about whether the tax increase was a means of controlling the sale of alcohol or a revenue-raising

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measure. On that occasion, the debate was a score draw, rather than a home or away win for one of us. In a debate about law and order, I do not wish to be sucked any further into a debate about levels of taxation on alcohol.

I shall move on briefly to the topic of drugs, about which the hon. Member for Bassetlaw spoke. A couple of weeks ago I visited a homelessness shelter in the centre of Fareham and spoke to the manager and staff there. The centre is run by a charity, Two Saints housing association, which has homelessness projects across south-east Hampshire. Part of it was the St. Dismas Society, which was set up in the centre of Southampton a number of years ago. One of the concerns that staff at the shelter raised with me was that when an addict is ready for rehabilitation—we may have a discussion about what form of rehabilitation is the most effective—the important thing is that some rehabilitation is available, but often the waiting list for rehabilitation is far too long and the resources have not been put into rehabilitation. As a consequence, some addicts decide after a couple of weeks that they are not that fussed about rehabilitation any more. They will continue to create the same problems in their community and in their family as the hon. Gentleman described in his speech.

In conclusion on this important matter, I hope that the Government will examine the way in which drug rehabilitation projects are resourced. It is a problem not just in the inner cities or in former mining communities. Every community throughout the country is touched in some way by the problems arising from drugs and their use in society. We all need adequate funding for rehabilitation to tackle the menace that drugs have become.

8.53 pm

Andy Burnham (Leigh): The influence of the civil liberties lobby has been in evidence in some—not all—of the contributions that we have heard today. One thing unites people who propound those arguments: they tend not to live on the estates where the problems that we are discussing today are worst. They can afford to cling to such intellectually pure positions when their car is not being damaged, their children are not being intimidated and their community is not being trashed.

This Queen's Speech finally recognises in full a phenomenon that has been growing over the past 20 years, plaguing communities throughout the land. It is no exaggeration to say that youth annoyance and antisocial behaviour have become an epidemic in town centres, suburbs and estates across the country. It is by nature low level and difficult to get a grip on. For that reason, perhaps, it has taken a while to appear on the radar screens as a priority for action. I have no doubt that it is currently the highest priority for action affecting proud working-class communities such as those that I represent.

I have noticed today the lack of interest in the debate among Opposition Members. The Opposition are scrabbling around for speakers. Until they understand the importance of the issue to local communities, I suspect that the only conveyor belt that they will need to worry about is the one that leads to permanent opposition.

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Many of us have spoken in the House about how antisocial behaviour makes people's lives a misery. I have stood here and pointed out examples of how the system simply does not have the answers, and it is clear that the representations and arguments that we have put have moved policy. They are the most important single driver in the policy changes that we are discussing today, which is worth remembering for people who say that this House is often bypassed or irrelevant.

I shall speak for a moment about the origins of the antisocial epidemic, as I think that we need to understand it, and its effect on policing in our communities. Some hon. Members have said that it all starts in the home and others that schools are to blame. Without doubt, respect for authority figures has diminished. In some ways, that is a good thing. We are a far less deferential society and hierarchical class structures have been eroded to some extent, but the downside is the loss of a culture of mutual respect and tolerance.

I strongly believe that the antisocial epidemic can be linked to the social history of Britain in the '80s and '90s and to the Xno such thing as society" era, in which private wealth was elevated as society's prime goal above other things such as the common good. In the area that I represent—I suspect that the same is true for many hon. Members—young people growing up in the '80s and '90s in deprived communities witnessed a fast-developing consumer culture in which images and stories of wealth abounded, but at the same time all that they could see were run-down schools and estates, poor employment prospects and a lack of quality leisure opportunities. What sort of message did that send to young people about how we value them and what aspirations society has for their future? Thankfully, investment is now going into our communities, including those in Leigh, but in some of the most deprived of those communities, the legacy is a large number of disfranchised young people who have limited aspirations for their own future and engage in a range of risk-taking and antisocial behaviour that exasperates their neighbours.

Of course, it is the police who have picked up the pieces and borne the brunt of those problems, and I should like to say a word about the effects on policing. In seeking to address the situation, they face two problems: first, the sheer volume of calls reporting incidents involving antisocial behaviour; and secondly, not having the measures and tools available to them to mount an effective response to such calls. That has led to a highly unsatisfactory situation in communities in which the police patrol will turn up, but then say that there is nothing that it can do. The lack of anything more creates huge frustration among the public, and confidence in the police and the criminal justice system has been damaged because the measures and the tools have not been at their disposal in taking action against some of those young people.

Mr. Lindsay Hoyle (Chorley): My hon. Friend makes a relevant point. Does he agree that one of the best ways of dealing with the problem is to introduce more highly visible policing and more police officers on the streets around the estates where the problems are? People who call on the telephone and have to wait one or two hours

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or until the next day for somebody to turn up experience a bigger frustration, which causes even greater problems.

Andy Burnham: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. I do not know about his constituency, but I am beginning to find that the police are more in evidence on our streets. The introduction of community support officers has been a very welcome change.

One of the most damaging effects of the situation that I have described is that young people have come to believe that they run no risk of redress or punishment for their antisocial behaviour. That is why legislation is vital in this area: the cycle must be broken.

I shall draw attention to three issues that I hope the Home Secretary and Home Office Ministers will consider before finalising their legislation. The first is under-age drinking, to which a number of hon. Members have referred, as it is a common thread in all the problems that we are discussing. On Friday, along with the Minister for Pensions, my right hon. Friend the Member for Makerfield (Mr. McCartney), I shall attend a meeting in my constituency of Lowton and Golborne youth crime forum. At the last meeting, we heard how frustrated people were about the fact that off-licences were selling drink to young people. The hon. Member for Fareham (Mr. Hoban) referred to exactly the same problem. On Friday evenings, gangs of 40 or more young people gather at locations in my constituency and cause mayhem and problems. A common sight on a Saturday morning is the smashed bus shelter. As far as I can see, the only beneficiary is the company that makes the glass panels.

One issue that local police officers have raised with me repeatedly is their ability to confiscate bottles and cans from under-age drinkers. I believe that there is an ambiguity in existing legislation. It gives police the power to seize open bottles, but not carrier bags full of Stella Artois or White Lightning cider. We need to get at the supplies. The Home Secretary previously suggested that he would legislate and clarify the law. I hope that he will do that.

My second point deals with identity cards. At the risk of further inflaming the civil liberties lobby, I believe that the measures that the Home Office propose will be effective only when coupled with a compulsory identity card. I do not understand why people would object to giving their identity to a police officer on request. Many people carry bank cards and forms of ID. They should therefore not object to identity cards. I suspect that, beyond a vociferous intellectual minority, the public have no problem with compulsory identity cards.

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