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Mr. Oaten: Any effective antisocial behaviour measures would get our support, but we will not support the sticking-plaster approach, or measures that simply move a problem around from one estate to another, for example. I am interested in using antisocial behaviour orders as a punishment, but also in matching that with measures that effectively tackle the long-term problems. After all, it was the hon. Gentleman's Government who said that they wanted to be tough on crimeas represented by antisocial behaviour orders and on the causes of crime. ASBOs do not necessarily address that second aspect.
On community service, I believe that we could go further in engaging communities. We have argued for the establishment of community justice panels, which would get the community involved in setting the sentences for low-order crime. That would probably be more effective than badging people, because it would ensure that members of a community felt a sense of ownership and justice in relation to what happened in their area.
We shall support the Government's suggestions on knife crime. I asked the Home Secretary earlier, during Home Office questions, whether he would consider linking the maximum sentence for a knife crime to that for a gun crime, and I was grateful to him for saying that he would look into the matter. People who commit crimes with either weapon can kill, and it should at least be possible for a court and a judge to set similar sentences for those crimes. Further steps need to be taken in that respect.
I have some concerns about issues relating to the age of 18 and legal responsibility, but that is part of a wider debate that we must have about what responsibilities kick in between 16, 17 and 18. A married couple will no longer be able to put a knife on their wedding list if they get married at 17. We need to consider such issues, but I am sympathetic to the Home Secretary's position.
We should also consider the problem of purchasing knives on the internet. My researchers did some cruising on the internet this morning[Hon. Members: "Oh!"] They did so legally, I might add, and they are all older than 18. They found for sale a "Red Dragon" Samurai sword, a genuine Gurkha working knife, a "Rambo"
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survival knife and a "Tanto" hunting knife. The list goes on, and it conjures up appalling images. We need to tackle that problem.
Drinking is one of the causes of such crimes, so we obviously welcome the announcement from the Beer and Pub Association this morning that it will do away with the happy hour. That is one step in the right direction, but that concession covers only 50 per cent. of clubs and pubs. I hope that the Home Secretary will use the BPA decision as a means of leverage on some of the other operators, rather than those operators using it as an opportunity for commercial gain, because 50 per cent. of the marketplace has got rid of the happy hour. The real danger is that the less scrupulous, who are not part of the association, will see it as an opportunity to get more customers in for the happy hour. The Government need to act urgently.
I want to conclude with some personal remarks and thoughts, not party policy, about the respect agenda in this country. The Government are absolutely right to tackle the issue of respect, which is key, and which came up time and again on the doorstep. That is not a mystery to any of us, as we have known for many years that people are concerned about how we tackle it. Can politicians micro-manage the issue, however? By banning hoodies in town centres, for example, can we alter the lack of respect? I am doubtful about that, but we have a responsibility to try to do something about it.
I have two thoughts on the matter. The first is about community and the breakdown of community and of neighbourhoods. Why is there a sense of community in the village in which I live, andthank goodnesslittle crime, yob culture or whatever one wants to call it? What can we do to try to recreate a sense of community in which people talk to each other and neighbours communicate with each other? We now have a climate in which neighbours put up fences of leylandii to try to avoid talking to each other. Parents do not talk to each other about how they bring up their children. We often seem to want to exclude others, and we seem very isolated.
My second thought relates to the campaign being run at the moment by the Daily Express to try to bring back some form of national volunteering. There may be something in that, and to be blunt, it is risky for politicians to talk about it. We need to explore this agenda, however. No one wants to return to national service, but should we not examine the idea of youngsters once again giving something to society and working together?
Mr. Andrew Turner: I have been thinking of this intervention for some time in view of what the hon. Gentleman has been saying. Is it not important to recognise that many thousands and millions of young people do not conform to the demonisation of them by some right hon. and hon. Members? Many thousands and millions of young people do volunteer, but do not have to be corralled into doing so by some kind of national scheme.
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right that the vast majority of youngsters do not deserve the "hoodie yob" tag. It is on their behalf that we must tackle those who are a problem, however. That does not
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mean that we should ignore or fail to address some of the issues. Many young people do volunteer, but the question is: why do others not do so? Let us be blunt: many children have an opportunity to take part in a gap year, live away from home, experience a different area, and move away from the estate or the community in which they have been brought up. We should examine ways in which we can expand that opportunity, so that every youngster, at some point in their life, after schooling, has the opportunity to get away from home, meet different youngsters and peer groups, and perhaps take part in a six-month programme of activity. Although it may be the bigger picture debate, we need to examine the respect agenda.
When the Government put forward serious suggestions to try to tackle crime in this country, they will have our support. When they put forward measures that undermine the principles of justice and civil liberty, however, I guarantee that this partybecause no other party will do itwill defend those important principles.
I am only the second Member to represent the Denton and Reddish constituency, which, being only 22 years old, is still a relatively new political creation. The previous Member, Andrew Bennett, had represented both this seat and, before that, the former constituency of Stockport, North continuously since 1974. I am privileged to have known and worked alongside Andrew Bennett for a number of years, and I consider him not just my predecessor but a real friend and comrade. He was a first-class constituency Member of Parliament for both Stockport, North and Denton and Reddish, and will certainly be a hard act to follow. Indeed, it was a testament to his hard work in the constituency that at every election he fought in Denton and Reddish there was a swing away from the Conservatives towards Labour. That is some political achievement.
With Andrew Bennett, we always knew where he stood. I did not always agree with Andrew's stances, but he hadsometimes to the dismay of the Whips Officestrong views, and he stuck to them. In over 30 years, he never swayed from his beliefs. He is a real man of principle.
In Parliament, Andrew served in the 1980s as a Front-Bench Opposition spokesperson on education. More recently, he served as co-Chair of, first, the Select Committee on Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs, and then the Select Committee on Transport, Local Government and the Regionsa post that he happily shared with my hon. Friend the Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody). Most recently, he chaired the Select Committee on the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister. He was extremely well versed in the rules and procedures of the House. He was a true parliamentarian. He was alsoin fact, he still isa keen rambler, and I know how proud he was that this Labour Government had finally secured key legislation granting the right to roam throughout our countryside.
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I shall also briefly pay tribute to another former Member. Before 1983, much of what is now Denton and Reddish constituted the main part of the Manchester, Gorton constituency. Until 1983 the MP for that constituency was Ken Marks. Although, sadly, he is no longer with us, Ken is still held in very high esteem throughout much of Denton and Audenshaw.
Before entering Parliament in a hotly contested by-election in 1967, Ken served for many years as a local councillor for the Denton West ward on Denton urban district council. For the past nine years I too have served as a Labour councillor for the Denton West ward, on Tameside metropolitan borough council, and I am very privileged to have entered the House by following in Ken Marks's footsteps.
Let me explain to Members who are unfamiliar with the constituency that Denton and Reddish is in eastern Greater Manchester. It straddles the metropolitan boroughs of Tameside and Stockport, and contains not just the towns of Denton and Reddish but the strong communities of Audenshaw, Dukinfield, Haughton Green, Heaton Norris, Heaton Chapel and Lancashire Hill. The constituency nestles firmly between the Pennines and the bustle of the city of Manchester.
A 10-minute drive in one direction takes one to all the delights of the city centre, and another in the opposite direction leads straight into the Peak District national park. Although mine is an urban seat, we are blessed with the Tame Valley, a linear country park. It runs throughout the constituency, following the River Tame, one of the two tributaries of the River Mersey.
Denton and Stockport were once the main centres of hat manufacture in the United Kingdom. Sadly, hatting has all but died, but the beaver is still Denton's mascot, and of course we still have three pubs called the Jolly Hatter. I am not entirely certain whether it was the effect of the mercury or the beer that made them all so jolly.
Thanks to this Labour Government, the constituency that I have inherited is a far better place than it was in 1983, when my predecessor was first elected for the seat. Back then the area was blighted by poor housing, high unemployment and declining industries. Now, thanks to massive investment, that is beginning to change. Unemployment, at 1.9 per cent., is below both the national and the regional average, and the new deal has given real hope to hundreds of young people. Major new shopping developments have opened in Denton town centre, and the completion of the M60 Manchester orbital has brought massive inward investment into both Tameside and Stockport.
Unfortunately, some of the more inferior constituency profiles have failed to catch up with the dramatic changes that have taken place under Labourso much so that my Tory opponent referred to poor housing, high unemployment and declining industries throughout his campaign. Thankfully, that was not a picture that my electorate recognised on 5 May.
It is the issue of communities that we are here to debate today, and I welcome the Government's crime and disorder measures in full. However, I particularly want to focus on housing, a subject to which both Andrew Bennett and Ken Marks referred in their maiden speeches. Again, a lot has changed since Andrew Bennett raised that issue on 12 March 1974. Reddish in particular has benefited from a 10-year housing renewal
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programme, which has greatly improved many of the older terraced houses in the area. There has been a fantastic conversion of the listed Houldsworth mill in Reddish, and now other fine mills in the town are set to be regenerated into smart new apartments. In the Tameside part of the constituency, major investment is being put into social housing through stock transfer, although the criticism has been that for many tenants, the pace of change has been slower than they expected. Nevertheless, the decent homes standard will be met by New Charter Housing, and its investment programme has made a big difference to the areas that have benefited so far.
House prices throughout Denton and Reddish have rocketed under this Government. Indeed, Dukinfield was highlighted as a "property hot spot" in a recent Halifax survey published in The Times. Although that is good news for those with a foot on the property ladder, it is starting to have a major impact on first-time buyers. I fully welcome the proposals outlined over the weekend by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer to extend shared equity. That will have a positive impact in my constituency, and I look forward to supporting the measures when they come before us.
Despite those positives, there are still some areas for concern. First, there is the increasing problem of absentee private landlords. There is an issue, particularly with older terraced property being snapped up as an investment to be rented out privately, and either tenants are unable to get in touch with their landlord to get repairs done, or neighbouring residents are unable to contact the landlord to report antisocial behaviour, which is a growing problem.
The other issue is the need to stop market failure spreading out of east Manchester. That has been a real issue over the past decade throughout much of eastern Manchester. The Government are to be congratulated on their efforts to stabilise the situation there with an injection of massive investment through the regeneration company New East Manchester. The problem for my constituency is that it falls just outside that regeneration area. The risk is that while the market is stabilisedand, I hope, the trend reversedwithin east Manchester, things will start to slip on the fringes of the constituency, where similar housing exists but without the benefits extended to the regeneration areas adjacent.
Those are some of the issues that I wish to pursue in Parliament. I also wish to return to one other piece of Ken Marks's unfinished businessthe issue of ground rents and chief rents. My constituency is one of only a handful of areas where chief rents are legally established. Despite the fact that people are freeholders, someone else can charge an annual fee on their land. I have to say, through my experience as a councillor, that some of the tactics employed by some of the rent charge companies leave a lot to be desired. However, thanks to Ken Marks, people can buy out their chief rents by applying to the Government office. Unfortunately, the same is not true for those subject to ground rents. They are still subject to some of the bad tacticssome would go as far as calling them scams employed by the rent charge companies. I want the rules to be toughened up, so that those bad practices are stopped.
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I said on election night that it was an honour and a privilege to represent in Parliament the area where I have always lived, where I grew up, went to school and am now bringing up my own family. I genuinely believe that, and restate my pledge to do my very best for all the communities of Denton and Reddish.
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