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Mr. David Jones (Clwyd, West) (Con): It is clear from the contributions from hon. Members on both sides of the House that violent disorder is a concern for hon. Members from all parts of the country. Certainly, violence on the streets of the towns in my constituency is regularly raised. In the time available to me, however, I should like to concentrate on two aspects of the Bill.
First, under clause 34, the age limit for the purchase of knives will be raised from 16 to 18. I represent a semi-rural constituency in a relatively tranquil part of north Walesat least, it was tranquil until quite recently. During the past 12 months or so, we have experienced something of an explosion in knife crime. Sadly, there have been three fatal stabbings in my constituency during that period. One of them involved a young man called Ben Jones, a student with everything to look forward to, who was making his way to the local skate park. He was stabbed, quite gratuitously, by an older man, not by a young man, and to that extent, I echo the remarks of the hon. Member for Warrington, North (Helen Jones). It is not always the youths who are responsible for crimes of violence.
Simply to raise the age limit for the purchase of knives from 16 to 18 will add nothing to the legislation that is currently in place. Even the most moronic apprentice thug would realise that his mother's cutlery drawer in her kitchen contains an arsenal of knives that could be used for the purpose of inflicting serious injury on other people, and to that extent, I echo the remarks of the hon. Member for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy (Mr. Llwyd). What we need is far more proactive policing, possibly by more officers, and, quite frankly, no compunction at all about stopping and searching people whom those officers suspect may be carrying knives.
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The other aspect that I should like to focus on is clause 35, which contains the powers for head teachers to search pupils for concealed weapons. Many hon. Members may be astonished that such powers do not already exist. Certainly, they are long overdue. In my constituency, I was recently informed by a head teacher that one of his pupils assaulted another with a blunt instrument, putting that pupil into casualty with a fractured skull. Subsequently, the head teacher immediately expelled the boy in question. The boy's parents appealed to the local education authority, which reinstated him, thus undermining the head teacher's authority irreparably and, of course, causing extreme concern to the parents of the boy who was so badly assaulted. The measure is certainly called for, so I compliment the Government to that extent, but it should be backed up with a power to allow head teachers immediately to exclude pupils who are found carrying dangerous weapons. Such pupils should have no right of appeal to the LEA, because the matter should be entirely at the discretion of the head teacher.
I am worried that the Bill is modest in its execution, although lofty in its ambition. Although several of its measures might do something to quell the rising tide of violence on our streets in the evenings, overall it is really only tinkering with existing legislation. It would be far more appropriate to put more police officers on the streets, properly equipped to enforce the laws that we have now. To that extent, I am pessimistic that the Bill will achieve the objectives that it tries to secure.
Stephen Hesford (Wirral, West) (Lab): I have only six minutes in which to speak, so I shall curtail what I was going to say. I welcome this important Bill, for which I pay tribute to my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary. I also pay tribute to my right hon. Friend the Minister for Policing, Security and Community Safety, who recently visited my constituency and saw at first hand some of the good work that we are doing locally.
I wondered whether several Opposition Members were being somewhat disingenuous, because I did not recognise some of their comments as being in keeping with what community support officers and my local area commander are able to do when policing alcohol-related incidents and disorder in my community. However, we can of course always do more, which is what the Bill is designed to do.
As several hon. Members have said, the Bill is an attempt to build on the culture of respect that the Prime Minister described and to reintroduce that into our communities. I urge my right hon. Friend the Minister not to listen to the siren voices that seem to criticise the Government on the grounds that they are introducing yet another Bill, because I do not see it in that light at all. I reject the so-called Lord Woolf view that we are simply stacking up legislation; I think it somewhat disingenuous. The Bill will deal with the issue rather than just exploiting it, which is what my constituents want to happen.
I do not know how many other hon. Members wish to speak, so I shall concentrate on only one element of the Bill. Hon. Members who served in the last Parliament will have read the early-day motion that I tabled on the use and possession of ball-bearing guns, which received the support of more than 150 Members. I tabled it
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because of the case of my then constituent, David Hazel. He was simply talking to his wife outside the front door of his house on one of our estates when a car pulled up which was completely unknown to Mr. Hazel and his family. The incident was probably a case of mistaken identity, but after a short exchange of words about nothing in particular, the driver got out of the car and shot Mr. Hazel in the back with a BB gun.
I have written to the Home Office about banning the sale of BB guns, which was the subject of my early-day motion. It touches on two aspects of the Bill. BB guns can be frighteningly realistic and they are certainly cheap, yet they can be lethal. Unfortunately for Mr. Hazela healthy young man in his prime with a young familythe ball-bearing that was fired out of the gun entered his spine and crippled him. That was a senseless act and he was blameless. The type of gun used in the offence is freely available. From my reading of the Bill, it seems that those guns will be as easy to obtain after its enactment as they are now. Perhaps we can debate that in Committee.
I agree with the comments on air weapons. I ask the Minister to consider adding to clauses 26 and 27 and stiffening up their provisions. Other hon. Members mentioned licensing. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary talked about the difficulties that it might bring. I ask the Minister to reconsider this aspect of the Bill. I believe that that is important, as do the family and friends of my former constituent, David Hazel.
Mr. Iain Wright (Hartlepool) (Lab): I pay tribute to the excellent maiden speeches by the hon. Member for Enfield, Southgate (Mr. Burrowes) and my hon. Friend the Member for Stourbridge (Lynda Waltho).
I want to concentrate on measures to tackle alcohol-related violence and disorder. Thankfully, Hartlepool experiences little crime in relation to firearms, imitation firearms and knives. However, regretfully, the town knows all too well the problems associated with crime fuelled by drink.
The Bill could have been drafted specifically to deal with the problems facing Hartlepool. Overall crime is down markedlyby something like a quarter in the past 12 months. Of the 17 wards in my constituency, more than half have crime figures below the national average. Hartlepool district is considered the most improving basic command unit in the country by the police standards unit and Her Majesty's inspectorate. That has been achieved by a passionate embracing of partnership working by multiple agencies. Yet I have to acknowledge that town centre violence in Hartlepool is still far too high. Of its 17 wards, the two that make up our town centre suffer from a crime rate that is more than twice the national average. Those two wards account for nearly 40 per cent. of all offences of violence against the person. Up to 70 per cent. of that violence is alcohol-related.
The message that the statistics provide is clear: overall crime is falling in Hartlepool directly as a result of the Government's legislation. The persistent problem, however, is violence and disorder arising from alcohol use in the town centre. Deal with that problem in
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legislation and the benefits will be huge. I sincerely believe that the Bill will play a decisive role in tackling the problems that my constituency faces. The introduction of alcohol disorder zones, where licensed premises will be required to contribute to the costs of dealing with alcohol-related disorder, are massively welcomed by me and my constituents. I will continue to push for all licensed premises to act responsibly and to avoid the need for compulsion, although I accept that that might be necessary.
Environmental legislation and regulations are based on the "polluter pays" principle, whereby the organisation or individual responsible for inflicting damage on the environment bears the financial costs of clean-up. It is entirely right and proper that the principle should be extended and that the premises seen to be responsible for fuelling the drink-crazed mayhem in our town centres should be financially liable for the costs of policing the area. Time and time again officers in my area tell me that police resources on Friday and Saturday nights are focused almost exclusively on the town centre at the expense of estates and local neighbourhoods, where antisocial behaviour invariably occurs. Requiring premises to pay for policing will allow town centres to be safer while ensuring that other areas receive appropriate police attention and coverage.
I am anxious and impatient to see the Bill on the statute book so that its measures directly benefit my constituents. I hope to do all I can to ensure that it is implemented quickly. I fully support the Bill.
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