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12 Mar 2003 : Column 297—continued

Mr. Blunkett: I agree entirely with my hon. Friend and I am grateful for his support, which he gives sparingly and only when he agrees, so I particularly welcome it.

I am in favour of policemen on bikes—even on tandems, although we are trying to break up the two-by-two regime. I am strongly in favour of ensuring that children have alternatives when they are excluded from school. There is universal coverage for children who are permanently excluded, but we do not yet have that for those excluded only for a few days. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Skills is working hard to ensure that we achieve that later this year.

I agree entirely that the measure to deal with the very small number of rogue landlords, which will be targeted on designated areas, will make a real difference. It will get the message across that people cannot freeload on the state—what Aneurin Bevan once described as sucking at the teats of the state. If we can get that right, everyone will be playing their part in overcoming that scourge.

Mr. Nick Gibb (Bognor Regis and Littlehampton): Given the low rate of payment of fines, with only 63 per cent. of fines levied by magistrates actually being paid, how will the Home Secretary ensure that the fixed penalty notices are paid by their recipients? The right hon. Gentleman referred to the 2,000 fixed penalty notices that have been issued since August: how many of those have been paid?

Mr. Blunkett: The hon. Gentleman is entirely right that enforcement of enforcement must be the order of the day. That is why the Courts Bill, currently with the House of Lords, actually ensures that deduction from pay or benefits will be an automatic option rather than a long-term struggle.

On the pilot for fixed penalty notices, 60 per cent. were paid within 21 days and a further 38 per cent. were either paid or withdrawn, leaving only 2 per cent. that defaulted. That is a tremendous record and if we can build on it we shall have a success on our hands.

Lynne Jones (Birmingham, Selly Oak): One of my constituents, an alcoholic, received detoxification treatment in hospital but could not get rehabilitation

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services on discharge. He subsequently died. Other constituents, drug addicts, have to wait inappropriately long periods before receiving rehabilitation services. Although the Government have given additional resources, parliamentary answers suggest that the number of people receiving rehabilitation treatment is not growing. Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is essential to put adequate services in place and that, in order to do so, we must assess the need for such services? Will he ensure that an assessment of that need is undertaken so that adequate services can be set up?

Mr. Blunkett: Yes, I will. The establishment of the national treatment agency, the co-ordinated approach that we spelled out in the autumn, the £500 million extra that we are putting into resourcing the services, and the targeted approach—including the £30 million that we have put into the basic command units and police divisions most affected by the relationship between crime and drugs—will make a difference. My hon. Friend is entirely right to speak of the speed with which not only treatment but rehabilitation needs to be made available. We have a mountain to climb, and I ask not for patience but for support in going forward to ensure that that happens much more quickly and effectively than it does at present.

Mr. John Horam (Orpington): Is the Secretary of State aware that antisocial behaviour is a big problem in the leafy suburbs as well as in the inner cities and rural towns? I received an e-mail only an hour ago from a constituent in St. Mary Cray who was complaining about a neighbour who had been forced out of their house as a result of constant harassment. Half the problem is that, when people go to the police to complain about this sort of behaviour, the constant refrain that they hear is, "We don't have the resources to do anything about it."

In Bromley, for example, the number of police has gone down in the last five years, and the number of police stations in my constituency—one of which was in St. Mary Cray, where that incident occurred—has been reduced from three to one under this Government's regime. Does the Home Secretary not see that, unless the Government tackle the number of police on the level that my right hon. Friend the Member for West Dorset (Mr. Letwin) outlined only a day ago, and encourage them to go down the path of zero tolerance, this statement will be just another litany of feeble and inadequate responses?

Mr. Blunkett: I would be happy to look at the number of police in Bromley and raise the matter with the Met commissioner. Secondly, we now have a national policing plan, which includes antisocial behaviour. We have also given a clear direction from the centre that we want police out on the streets. But let me take the hon. Gentleman head on. Is he suggesting that I should determine the number of police stations in each division? Is he saying that I should determine how the chief constable and superintendents in charge of the police in each police force area should direct them? If so, he is contradicting everything that his Front Benchers said when the minimal powers that we chose to take in the Police Reform Act 2002 were being debated. I was told time and again by the Conservative party that it was

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none of my business to interfere with how the police deployed their resources locally. I believe that it is my business, on behalf of the people we represent. I believe it a lot more than his party does.

Mr. Frank Field (Birkenhead): May I assure the Home Secretary that there will be quiet pleasure in many Birkenhead homes this afternoon at the announcement that he has made today? May I ask him a further question about taking away housing benefit from absentee landlords and neighbours from hell? I welcome his intention to consult on these proposals, but will he consult more widely than the normal list of suspects, who usually advance a defence for people whose behaviour is indefensible? May I suggest that one or two panels of ordinary citizens might give him different views from those of the people whose first cry is about the violation of civil liberties? If he asked for volunteers in Birkenhead, his only problem would be one of crowd control as decent citizens came forward to volunteer to support his policies.

Mr. Blunkett: I pay tribute to my right hon. Friend for the enormous amount of work that he has done and the campaigns that he has been running. I was pleased, some time ago, to be in his constituency to experience the quiet enthusiasm of the people there—quiet only so that we did not have to issue fixed penalty notices for noise nuisance—for sorting out the mayhem around them. As he would expect, I entirely agree with his final remarks, and I have invited the head of Liberty to join me in my constituency in representing just such people.

Mr. Douglas Hogg (Sleaford and North Hykeham): The right hon. Gentleman asked for support for his proposals, but that will of course depend on their detail. He outlined a battery of new sanctions and penalties, many of which will depend on the discretion of officials. Does he understand that, unless his proposals provide for proper safeguarding of civil and political rights, they will be strongly resisted? Consequently, before he publishes his Bill, will he consult widely and genuinely on the incorporation of proper legal and civil safeguards into his statutory proposals?

Mr. Blunkett: There will always be proper rights in our society to protect the interests of those who are accused, so that we can avoid wrongful accusation and wrongful conviction. Those rights will exist, whether in relation to fixed penalty notices, the measures that I have outlined that will be consulted on in relation to housing, the powers relating to individual tenants—I did not answer the question from my hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland, South (Mr. Mullin) properly: those powers will be consulted on alongside the draft housing Bill which will be published in the summer—or the powers that we shall take in relation to rogue landlords, having consulted on the detail of how best to apply them. Of course we will ensure that those rights are incorporated in the legislation, as they always will be. The whole thrust of the proposals is to ensure that the rights of the decent, law-abiding community are safeguarded, not at the expense of the right to avoid wrongful conviction but at the expense of those who make a mockery of our existing laws.

Chris Ruane (Vale of Clwyd): I thank my right hon. Friend for an answer to a written question that his

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Department gave me last week on the number of antisocial behaviour orders issued by police authorities in England and Wales. The top number was 95; the bottom number was nought. My own authority, the North Wales police authority, had issued one, which placed it second to bottom. What help, encouragement and—dare I say—pressure can my right hon. Friend apply to ensure proper take-up of the slimmed-down, fast-track ASBOs that he has announced today?

Mr. Blunkett: Progress has already been made. I have made it clear all along, over the last 18 months, that I thought that the number of orders being taken out was unacceptable. The slimmed-down orders that we already have in place, namely the interim orders, are beginning to bite. We have figures only through to November, and they are disappointing, but since the new interim orders came in in November there has been a dramatic change. We want to ensure that there is immediate access to the existing courts and, in future, to the criminal justice centres, so that immediate action can be taken. We want the police, housing officials and social landlords to be able to use those orders quickly and, above all, we want to ensure that people know about them.

One thing that has struck me over recent months is how little those who have the power to implement these policies know of what they have at their disposal. Even last Friday night, in my own constituency—in a most deprived and difficult part of the city in terms of crime—I found that people were not aware of what was already on the statute book. We have a major task to inform people simply and clearly about how the police and housing and environmental health officials can do their job.

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