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Mr. James Clappison (Hertsmere) (Con):
It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Stourbridge (Lynda Waltho) and my hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, Southgate (Mr. Burrowes), both of whom made excellent and accomplished speeches, including well-justified tributes to their predecessors. I am sure that the House looks forward to hearing them again in future and that my hon. Friend, who is a near neighbour, will fight for many of the same causes as MPs in neighbouring Hertfordshire.
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The Bill contains some worthwhile measures. There are new developments in some fields and incremental changes in existing legislation and, as the Home Secretary conceded, there is some closing of loopholes. However, taken as a whole, the Bill's title is rather flattering to its contents. Although the Home Secretary has been more restrained than some of his predecessors in introducing legislation, even he oversold this measure. That has been a problem throughout Labour's period in government. There has been overselling of legislation since the beginning, with the Crime and Disorder Act 1998. At that time, Ministers would have dismissed out of hand the criticism that in eight years' time we should need a Bill on violent crime reduction; yet after eight years of one piece of oversold legislation after another, we had the spectacle of the Prime Minister appearing on the steps of Downing street just after the general election telling us that he had been taken aback by what he had heard during the campaign. He described the problem of yobs in society and talked of the need to rebuild respect.
Where the Bill assists in rebuilding respect and tackling the yob culture it should be given support, but we should never lose sight of the fact that we need to do much more. Nowhere is that more true than in the field of firearms legislation. One of the most worrying developments of the past eight years has been the rise in gun crime, which has doubled in the past five years alone. No interpretation of the statisticsno sleight of handcan make them appear better. However we try to divide the categories of firearms legislation, as the Home Secretary was tentatively trying to do during his speech, we must keep in view the fact that there is a grave problem of crime involving the use of firearms. It is concentrated in certain communities and has blighted some inner-city areas. Many police officers believe that there is a risk that it will spread to many other communities.
The provisions in part 2 will require careful examination. We need to ensure that they give as much protection to the public as possible while not losing sight of the desirability of safeguarding the interests of people who use weapons legitimately. The provisions must make some difference in practice, but above all we must remember that much more needs to be done, as the crisis is urgent.
Similarly, much more remains to be done about alcohol-related disorder, although the problems are different. I commend much that was said by the right hon. Member for Southampton, Itchen (Mr. Denham). I had the pleasure of serving under his chairmanship of the Select Committee on Home Affairs when we conducted our inquiry into antisocial behaviour and considered the problem of alcohol-fuelled disorder. I was struck by the scale of the phenomenon of drinking in our cities and indeed our townswe have heard from hon. Members about the problems in communities of various sizes.
The chief constable of Nottingham gave evidence to the Committee and told us that on the previous Friday between 80,000 and 100,000 people had been in Nottingham city centre, policed by only about 40 officers. He also told us that the licence capacity in Nottingham was 61,000 people in 1997 but that by 2004 it had risen to 108,000.
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Clearly, the vast majority of those who go for an evening out in Nottingham are well behavedthose of us who remember the film "Saturday Night and Sunday Morning" will know that this has happened from time to time in the past in Nottinghambut the sheer scale of the phenomenon and the atmosphere that it engenders must be addressed, and there are many ways to do so, other than just by enforcement alone, although that has a part to play, and by the marginal improvements in enforcement that the Bill will produce.
I wish to refer to one of the ways in which we could tackle the problem of bad behaviour, antisocial behaviour, the decline in respect and so on. There was some talk before the publication of the Bill that the Government would consider giving extra protection to public servants. I was disappointed to find nothing in the Bill about that, and I understand that there are no other such proposalsif the Minister has any, I shall be pleased to hear about them.
Public servants are often in the front line of those who face violence and antisocial behaviour. In many cases, they are not treated with the respect that they deserve, and which they once received. I think particularly of the lack of respect shown to and, sometimes, the offences committed against teachers, doctors and nurses, those in the emergency services, those who serve the public in local and central Government and those who provide transport for the public in many different ways. All those people serve the public.
I believe that there is a caseI hope that we will be able to explore it in Committeefor considering providing extra protection to those servants of the public in the form of more serious sentences for those who commit offences against public servants. That can be justified in theory. Such things should be treated as aggravated offences because all the people whom I describe serve the public, the nature of their jobs requires them to come into contact with the public and the service that they provide to the public is interfered with by the offences that are committed against them.
Even those in the emergency services can sometimes be the victim of such offences. Since these ideas came to mind, during last week in my constituency, there has been a serious report of how such things can arise. The fire service was called to deal with a report of a neon sign malfunctioning outside a pizza parlour in Borehamwood at about half-past 10 in the evening. As a fireman examined the sign to find out whether it was safe, he was shot in the forehead by a pellet fired from an airgun. Another man was shot in the arm. Both men were taken to hospital. Thankfully, their injuries turned out not to be serious; but, as the police said afterwards, it was an incredibly reckless action.
I do not knowno one can know at this stagewhether the measures in the Bill on air weapons would have covered that offence, related to it or helped in any way. It is too early to say; we do not know enough about the circumstances of the offence, but we clearly know that it was an attack against a public servant acting in his very important line of duty, protecting the publicsomeone who puts himself in the way of enough risk already, without being exposed to more by members of the public committing offences against him. Someone who goes out to work on behalf of the public should receive additional protection.
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Although some of the individual measures in the Bill may be worth while, I hope that during its consideration there will be an opportunity to consider giving much stronger protection to those who serve the public. Such measures would do far more to rebuild respect in our society, as well as doing justice to our public servants and giving them the protection that they deserve, than the measures that are currently in the Bill. Frankly, much more needs to be done by legislation and in many other ways. As we all know from our constituencies, and as the Prime Minister found out during the election campaign, there is a serious problem today with disorder, and we have not yet reached the right scale of dealing with that disorder to meet the needs of our constituents.
Ms Sally Keeble (Northampton, North) (Lab): I join the tributes to the two hon. Members who made their maiden speeches. In particular, my hon. Friend the Member for Stourbridge (Lynda Waltho) paid an elegant tribute to Debra Shipley, and I am sure that many hon. Members who have been friends with Debra very much appreciated her words.
One reason why I particularly welcome the BillI take issue with the hon. Member for Hertsmere (Mr. Clappison) in this respectis that it deals with the type of violent crime that my constituents experience most and that causes them most concern. Mercifully, most of them are not the victims of some of the very serious crimes, such as murder, but many of them experience crimes that result from alcohol, or if they do not experience them, it is because they are frightened by them and keep out of the town centre. Tackling alcohol-related crime will have a huge impact on the quality of life of many of my constituents and, indeed, on the environment that they enjoy. I want to talk about the measures on binge drinking, but I also want to ask my right hon. Friend the Minister whether she might say something about so-called happy slapping. The Bill contains a measure about mobile phones, but it is very restricted and I want to ask her some questions about that.
I shall deal first with binge drinking. I warmly welcome the proposals on alcohol disorder zones. I have been convinced of the need for such zones since going out on the beat with the Northamptonshire police in the town centre a good number of years ago, when I saw huge pressures on the police as a result of the weak management of late-night drinking in the town centre. One night, there were 13 or 14 arrests, which is probably the equivalent of a small riot, and young people suffered serious injuries. Of course, the town centre becomes a complete no-go area for anyone over the age of 25, in a family group or not either very drunk or interested in getting drunk.
The issues that have arisen in many of our town centres have been caused by weak approaches by the drinks industry, sometimes a lack of thought in town-centre design by the local authoritymy hon. Friend referred to that in discussing her constituencyand, of course, the attitudes of young people to drink. Quite a few hon. Members mentioned the issue of fashion in crime. All those issues need to be tackled.
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On the drinks industry, a number of hon. Members talked about the state of the insides of venues and the fact that there is nothing to do other than stand up and drink. There is a lack of mix in entertainment and, in particular, a lack of food. Going around some of the venues that must make provision for eating as part of their licence, one commonly finds that the restaurant is shut for one reason or another. The hon. Member for Croydon, South (Richard Ottaway) talked about people standing and drinking. He struggled to think of what else they were doing and then said that they were enjoying themselves. In some venues, one wonders how much of what is going on is enjoyment and how much is just drinking for the sake of it.
The management of young people by club staff is also a major issue. Young people go into such places, have as much alcohol poured down their throats as possible and are then chucked out on to the street, thereby creating an immediate problem that the police must deal with. It seems completely inappropriate that the police should have to manage that, which is one reason why alcohol disorder zones are so important.
I take issue with hon. Members who have criticised the new licensing laws. Although I probably err on the side of wanting to see less drinking, the new licensing laws give local authorities more flexibility to think carefully about how they will stagger the opening and closing hours, thus raising issues that they have not considered before, such as the mix of business and how to provide licences.
Roads and transport are also serious issues. I am pleased that the explanatory notes specifically mention the use of income from such zones for transport schemes, which will, of course, also have a major impact on improving public safety, given that drink-driving is a fairly logical consequence of too much drinking if there is no other form of transport.
Alcohol has an impact on crime and several hon. Members have talked about its impact on policing. It leads to increased costs if policing is funded by overtime, while police resources are drained if that is managed by routine rostering. One often wonders why burglars do not wait until Friday and Saturday nights to operate because they know that all the police are safely in the town centre dealing with alcohol-related problems.
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