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Mr. Kevan Jones (North Durham) (Lab): I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Stourbridge (Lynda Waltho) and the hon. Member for Enfield, Southgate (Mr. Burrowes) on their maiden speeches. Let me also say how pleased I was to note that the soft-on-crime, criminal-friendly wing of the Liberal Democrats has a champion in the hon. Member for Hornsey and Wood Green (Lynne Featherstone).
I welcome the Bill. I shall concentrate on two aspects. I particularly applaud clause 27, which makes it an offence to fire an air pellet beyond the boundaries of a property. That is also welcomed by my constituent Ms Rachel Fernie of Chester Moor, who contacted me recently about a group of youths who were using her land to fire rifles and, in one particularly nasty incident, seriously injured her neighbour's cat. Such irresponsible behaviour, often leading to the injury and even death of pets and wildlife, must be stamped out.
In addition, I welcome the provision to increase the age at which someone may acquire or possess an air weapon without supervision from 17 to 18. I congratulate the Evening Chronicle in Newcastle on its campaign to restrict the use of air weapons following the tragic case of 16-year-old Nicola Diston, who lost sight in one eye after being hit by an airgun pellet. The newspaper presented a petition signed by some 21,000 readers to my right hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Brightside (Mr. Blunkett) when he was Home Secretary. Those readers will be pleased with the Bill. It would be remiss of me not to pay tribute to the former Member for Gateshead, East and Washington, West, Joyce Quin, who did a tremendous amount of work in raising the issue in the House.
I turn to the part of the Bill that deals with the reprogramming of mobile phones. Right hon. and hon. Members may be aware that, in the previous Parliament, I was drawn sixth in the private Member's ballot, a feat that I managed two years runningit is either a bonus or a burden, depending on one's point of view. I introduced a Bill to amend the Mobile Telephones (Re-programming) Act 2002. Unfortunately, due to the general election, it ran out of parliamentary time. I am pleased that its provisions are incorporated in this Bill. I am sure that it will receive cross-party support. Early-day motion 601, which I tabled in the previous Parliament, received support from over 100 Members on both sides of the House.
Tackling mobile phone theft is key to reducing street crime. Mobile phones are taken in half of all robberies. In 30 per cent. of robberies, they are the only item stolen. Victims are targeted for their mobile phones, which are then sold or used in a lot of illegal drugs sales.
Mobile phone theft is a particular problem for the young. More than half of phone robbery victims are under 18 and more than half the offenders are aged between 15 and 17. Such crimes can have tragic results, as was demonstrated in June 2004 with the killing of Kieran Rodney-Davis in Fulham.
The Bill will reduce the ability to sell on mobile phones. I congratulate the industry on setting up the database in 2002 that allows phones that are reported as
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lost or stolen to be blocked across the United Kingdom, so that the network can no longer be used, and on its national campaign to tell the public that stolen mobiles can be made useless by reporting the theft to the network provider.
The Bill will close a loophole in the 2002 Act. In effect, it will make it an offence to offer or to agree to reprogramme a mobile phone or to have a mobile phone reprogrammed. Introducing that offence brings the legislation into line with drug dealing legislation, under which it is an offence to offer to supply a controlled drug. It will enable the police to clamp down on reprogrammers and disrupt what is a lucrative market.
In short, I believe that those measures will lead to more people being brought before the courts for the offence of reprogramming. They are not controversial but they will make a real difference to street crime. Added to the tough measures in the Bill, we can be proud that we have a Government who will ensure that the criminals are not the ones who benefit and that victims have a voice at last.
Mr. Christopher Fraser (South-West Norfolk) (Con): I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, Southgate (Mr. Burrowes), who made a fine maiden speech, and the hon. Member for Stourbridge (Lynda Waltho) on her maiden speech.
Much in the Bill deserves to be looked at carefully, whether one represents an urban constituency or, as I do, a rural one. We all desire a crackdown on gun culture, binge drinking and the rising tide of violent crime, but we cannot forget the context of the Bill, which is the Government's failure to deal with violent crime, gun culture in our towns and cities, knife crime, drugs, the importation of illegal weapons and the mayhem caused by binge drinking.
On violent crime, the simple fact is that people in my part of Norfolk are just like others across the country: they will need a lot of convincing that the measures in the Bill will make a difference. We must not forget that 1.1 million violent crimes were committed last year across England and Wales and that recorded crime has risen by more than 800,000 from 199899. Recent crime figures show increases in violent crime in Norfolk above the national average, which should be of concern to the Home Secretary, who is also a Norfolk Member. Violent crime in my area has risen by 14 per cent. in the last year. My constituents and all law-abiding people desire to feel safe and secure in their homes, communities and streets.
The fact that mine is a rural constituency means that it has its particular problems. We all remember the case of Tony Martin, who lives in west Norfolk, and who shot a burglar entering his property. Members will recall that that case revealed the fear and anxiety of the rural population in areas where the police presence is too thinly spread. My constituents do not want headline-grabbing initiatives from the Home Office and they can only hope that the Bill will have an impact that previous Home Office policies have not had. For example, I should like to ask the Minister, while she is guffawing on the Front Bench, how many child curfew schemes have
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been established since 1998? What proportion of fixed penalty notices for disorder have been paid within the required period? What proportion of antisocial behaviour orders have been breached?
Like all Members of Parliament, I believe that there should be a crackdown on gun crime but the Government's record is poor. Firearms offences in England and Wales have risen every year since 1997 and, by 200203, there were over 24,000 such offences, more than double the number in 1997. A gun crime is committed every hour and it is no surprise that successive Home Secretaries have convened umpteen summits on the issue. We want action, not talk. Guns, drugs and violent crime are intimately linked. If we make an impact on one, we must make an impact on them all.
I wish to put on record my concerns about shooting associations. I am sure that I am not alone in saying that I have received many letters and comments from constituents about this part of the Bill. In dealing with the real problem of gun crime, we must not end up penalising the law-abiding majority of people who go about their business of legal shooting. Lawful shooting is an essential part of many areas of rural life and the rural economy and I want to be sure that the Bill, while its motives are well intentioned, will not prejudice the interests of constituents in that respect.
Finally, I turn to binge drinking, which is a serious problem. The British crime survey showed that the number of people worried about people being drunk or rowdy in public areas is up by 10 per cent. on last year, despite the Government's various crackdowns on alcohol-related violence. Half of all violent attacks are alcohol-related and the cost to the taxpayer of alcohol-fuelled crime is £12 billion a year.
This Bill has a lot of initiatives but I have grave concerns about the Government's new licensing regime, which threatens a reckless surge in late licensing and, in turn, alcohol-fuelled violence and yobbish behaviour. The Bill has made headlines, but it remains to be seen whether it will work in the face of the Government's rushed 24-hour drinking initiatives. If this Bill is to have any impact, it must be true to its title and reduce crime on the ground. My constituents need that, as do others, and they deserve it after eight years of the Government not addressing the problems.
Mr. David Kidney (Stafford) (Lab): I want to focus on alcohol and on some of the work being done in Stafford. The backdrop is Staffordshire police reporting an 8 per cent. fall in crime overall this year, which is the latest in a series of consecutive falls. House burglaries are down by 24 per cent., vehicle crime by 18 per cent. and robbery by 27 per cent., but violent crime is up by 4 per cent.
It is also important to see the Bill in context. We now have an alcohol harm reduction strategy and the Licensing Act 2003 is about to come into force. It gives more powers to the police and more rights to local communities, and public safety is at the heart of its four licensing objectives. We in Stafford have already made
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use of previous Labour legislation in this regard. An order designates the town centre as an area in which people may not drink alcohol in public and a further order provides for the dispersal from the town centre of those engaged in disorderly conduct.
The police and the council have already taken a professional approach to managing so-called binge drinking in Stafford town centre, and they are not alone. Our licensees, led by Chris Lewis of the Swan hotel, have come together in a very strong pubwatch. Licensees in Stafford are given radios that provide a direct link to the police, community support officers and the closed circuit television control centre, so that when one is alerted, everybody is alerted. We are already using effectively everything at our disposal and, when drinking banning orders come into force, they will be a useful complement to existing practice in Stafford. The overriding aim of our pubwatch group is, "Banned from one, banned from all." Once it is possible to obtain court orders, they will reinforce the voluntary scheme and tie in those licensees who are not already participating.
On the introduction of alcohol disorder zones, I can tell the House that the concept of the police asking for contributions from licensees to the cost of policing is not new in Stafford. Licensees at Zanzibars, the Litten Tree and what used to be called Props have all made voluntary contributions already. The police in Stafford sign and publish service level agreements so that there is no suggestion of any impropriety in their using their influence to sign people up to that arrangement. Perhaps we will not need an alcohol disorder zone in Stafford because such a policy has already been adopted voluntarily. That will not be so in some areas, in which such zones will therefore be necessary. In others, the very existence of that power will persuade people to behave reasonably.
The situation in Stafford was born of a working partnership involving the police, the councils, CCTV and the licensees themselves. We should also remember trading standards, to which reference has been made and which have played an important role in dealing with the selling of alcohol to under-age people. Such partnerships also involve transport groups, such as minibus and taxi drivers, and night-time economy workers such as the security staff at pubs and clubs.
Looking beyond the Bill, it is true that we need to support parents in the tough job that they face these days in bringing up youngsters. We need effective and timely treatments for alcohol and drug abuse, and better education and information. We need to build on the work that the Portman Group and alcohol groups throughout the countrysuch as ADSIS, the Alcohol and Drugs Service in Staffordshirealready do.
Much is already being done. I agree that some of the cultures developing in this country are undesirable, but I want to join those who have sought to provide a counterbalancing view of our young people and our hope for the future. Just yesterday, I spent several hours with 600 Air Training Corps cadets on a field day in Stafford. Those young people, aged between 13 and 21, showed great ambition and talent and a responsible attitude to life. Just last week here in Parliament, I chaired a debate involving 60 year 8 pupils upstairs in Committee Room 10. Some great talent for the future was on display, and all 60 behaved very responsibly. The previous week, I worked alongside six volunteers who
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are developing an allotment for use by disabled adults in wheelchairs. We have an important choice to make about the cultures that we want to develop in this country. It is up to ourselves, the politicians, the media, the celebrities who have so much influence, and our community leaders to back the right horse.
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