The Minister for Policing, Security and Community Safety (Hazel Blears): We have had an excellent debate with contributions from 27 hon. Members, which tells us that the subject is popular and that it resonates in hon. Members' constituencies.
I join other hon. Members in congratulating my hon. Friend the Member for Stourbridge (Lynda Waltho) and the hon. Member for Enfield, Southgate (Mr. Burrowes) on their excellent maiden speeches. My hon. Friend the Member for Stourbridge discussed her trips out with local police officers and neighbourhood watchMr. Timmins from Stourbridge will remain in my heart. She also paid tribute to her predecessor, Debra Shipley, whose work, particularly in relation to children, will be remembered by many hon. Members on both sides of the House. My hon. Friend said that Stourbridge has seized her heart; she seized our hearts tonight, and I am sure that we will hear more from her.
The hon. Member for Enfield, Southgate paid a generous tribute to his predecessor, Stephen Twigg, for whom we all have the greatest respect for his contribution to his community, and I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will make a similar contribution.
I am delighted that hon. Members from both sides of the House support many of the provisions in the Bill. The right hon. Member for Haltemprice and Howden (David Davis) welcomed drinking banning orders, the offences concerning concealed weapons and the work on imitation firearms. Along with a number of hon. Members, he raised the issue of the causes of crime. I gently remind him that the state of this country's economy when 3 million people were unemployed was a major contributor to some of the problems experienced by our poorest communities. We have heard a lot tonight from Conservative Members about the poorest
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communities, but I ask them not to have collective amnesia and to remember our economy's current success.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Itchen (Mr. Denham) raised some important points. He is a particular champion of trying to get the hospitality industry to contribute to the extra costs of policing, and I have no doubt that we will discuss some of the issues that he raised about definitions in Committee.
I welcome the broad support of the hon. Member for Winchester (Mr. Oaten) for many of the provisions in the Bill. He discussed how we can encourage voluntary activity. We want to see voluntary action, which is currently happening in a number of areas, on binge drinking in addition to the clear-cut alcohol disorder zones. He is right to raise the issue of sales on the internet, and we will continue to work on that matter over the summer and to debate it in Committee.
I am delighted that my right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Gorton (Sir Gerald Kaufman) raised the work that has been done in Manchester on tackling the whole range of antisocial behaviour. I commend the police and others in Manchester, who are pioneers in being on the side of the decent people in their community. On those issues, local people support action against the minority and the protection of the rights of the majority.
The hon. Member for Hertsmere (Mr. Clappison) raised the important issue of extra protection for those who serve the public. We have not gone down the path of creating a separate criminal offence, but we are determined that attacking people who serve the public will be an aggravating factor, and we want to work on that matter with the Sentencing Guidelines Council. The definition "public service worker" is very narrow, because some people who work in the private sector actually serve the public. I think that the question should be, "Is someone serving the public?", rather than focusing on their particular employment.
My hon. Friend the Member for Northampton, North (Ms Keeble) raised some important issues. I was delighted to visit her during the election. I know that she regularly goes out with her police service. She is right to mention planning in town centres. We need a wider mix of premisesnot just premises targeted at 18 to 25-year-oldsso that perhaps some of us older people will feel comfortable in our town centres as well. Happy slapping can be dealt with under existing offences about actual bodily harm, but my hon. Friend is right to say that it is a worrying phenomenon and we have to take it seriously.
I welcome the general support of the hon. Member for Hornsey and Wood Green (Lynne Featherstone) for the proposals. She talked about differentiating between good and bad licensees. I am sure that she knows that we have been working on an accreditation scheme like Manchester's best bar none scheme whereby people get credit, endorsement and acknowledgement for running their premises in a proper way. We will look carefully into whether we can incorporate that into the Bill.
My hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Northfield (Richard Burden) referred to the way in which knives and guns are marketed. Many Members will have seen such information in leaflets and on the internet. It is already an offence to market knives in a
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way that could encourage combat. I share my hon. Friend's concern about whether that is being enforced properly and ensuring that we crack down on it. Some of the advertisements that I have seen are of great concern. I am pleased that he raised the issue.
The hon. Member for South-West Hertfordshire (Mr. Gauke) said that we have a modest set of proposals none of which he has any real objection to. That is fairly grudging support, but I welcome it none the less. He talked about the need for more police. He is relatively new to the House, but I am sure that he knows that under Labour we have an extra 13,000 police officers while under the Tories we had 1,100 fewer. I am sure that he will find that figure imprinted on his brain as we have these debates on a regular basis.
I was delighted to hear the contribution by my hon. Friend the Member for Hackney, North and Stoke Newington (Ms Abbott). She has an excellent record on campaigning against imitation weapons, and I am pleased that we have been able to deal with that in the Bill.
The hon. Member for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy (Mr. Llwyd)I have got better at saying that as time has gone onraised the important issue of enforcing our existing law. I am pleased to say that the number of offences that are being enforced has gone up in the past year to 18 months. We have had some massive enforcement campaigns, and we are right to press the police to enforce. The hon. Gentleman mentioned the marketing of alcopops. The issue of advertising and celebrities will be important in taking this forward.
My hon. Friend the Member for Warrington, North (Helen Jones) raised an issue that she has raised on several occasionsensuring that penalties are right for people acquiring alcohol that is then passed on to young people. As she will know, it is now an offence as we have made it a fixed-penalty notice. However, we will continue to press forward in that respect.
The hon. Member for Rugby and Kenilworth (Jeremy Wright) talked about resources for policing. He will knowor if he does not now, he will over the next few monthsthat under this Government we have had a 30 per cent. increase in funding for police officers; that is a 21 per cent. real-terms increase after inflation.
My hon. Friend the Member for Barnsley, East and Mexborough (Jeff Ennis) has had a tremendous record on campaigning on airguns for several years now; I pay tribute to him for that. We have put measures in the Bill, and we are in discussions, particularly with Scottish Ministers, about whether there is further work that we can do. My hon. Friend has made a genuine and significant contribution to work in this area.
I was delighted to visit my hon. Friend the Member for North Durham (Mr. Jones) just a few months ago. At last we have the measures on mobile phone reprogramming that will help to crack down on mobile phone theft.
The hon. Member for South-West Norfolk (Mr. Fraser) asked about fixed-penalty notices. About 100,000 have been issued of which 75 per cent. have been paid. They are a great success. They save the police a huge amount of time in terms of bureaucracy and paperwork and have been welcomed enormously.
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I was pleased to meet my hon. Friend the Member for Stafford (Mr. Kidney), as well as the licensee of the Swan hotel, during the general election. I did not have the pleasure of going to Zanzibar, but perhaps I might be able to visit him there on a future occasion. He mentioned pubwatch schemes, which are very important in tackling these issues. There is an excellent pubwatch scheme in Workington, where the police are working tremendously hard with the local council in making a difference.
The hon. Member for Clwyd, West (Mr. Jones) told us about some very worrying events that had taken place in his constituency, particularly the three fatal stabbings. The measures on knives in the Bill build on some pretty serious legislation that we already have in place. We have banned 19 different kinds of bladed weapons. We recently banned stealth knives, flick knives having been banned for a long time.
I was pleased to visit the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Wirral, West (Stephen Hesford) during the election campaign. I saw at first hand the reassurance that the police provide on the ground and the fact that local people feel much better for it. He asked us to look again at air weapons and we will continue to take the matter forward.
On the speech of the hon. Member for Woking (Mr. Malins), I want to put paid now to the idea that thousands of children are carrying knives in our schools. That is not true. Only a tiny minority carry knives but we want to ensure that we protect the majority of young people who could be put at risk.
I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Hall Green (Steve McCabe) for his work, especially on highlighting the problems with internet sales of knives and guns. He was working on that before many others and he has helped to push our policy making on the subject. I reassure him that we do not want alcohol disorder zones to undermine in any way the excellent regeneration projects throughout the country. They will ensure that we get a grip on the problem and help our regeneration to have even more impact.
I want to set the debate in a little context. Although we have said a great deal about violent crime tonight, it is in the context of a 30 per cent. reduction in crime in the past eight years. There are 500,000 fewer people getting burgled than under the previous Conservative Government. Vehicle crime is down by 30 per cent. and robbery is down by 25 per cent. from its peak four years ago. All that has been tackled by direct, focused action from the police, using intelligence, targeting the hot spots and the prolific and priority offendersvery smart policing. The police are working ever closer with their partners, especially in local government. They work together to protect elderly people, provide better street lighting and more CCTV.
However, it is true that crime trends are changing. We are moving from acquisitive crimeburglary and robberyto more crime that revolves around behaviour, involving drink, drugs and violence. That is the reason for the Bill.
The measure will help the police and local authorities. It will give them the powers that they need to make another step change in the fight against crime. The
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Government are determined to keep ahead of the criminals and ensure that we are on the side of the decent, law-abiding majority, especially the decent young people who are often the victims of antisocial behaviour and violent crime. As well as giving the police the powers to do the job, we are trying hard to do one of the most difficult things that Government ever have to do: try to change people's behaviour. We want people to think twice and know that it is simply not worth it to carry on behaving violently towards others.
We want people to realise that it is not cool to carry a gun and to know that there are ways to resolve conflict other than using knives or being violent. That is why we are working with the Department for Education and Skills, why we have projects such as the Connected Fund and why we are working with Mothers Against Guns. The educational and preventive work is important to us because we are trying to change behaviour. It is difficult but we managed it on drink-driving and wearing seat belts. Some of those measures were fought tooth and nailpeople said that they would never work. I therefore genuinely believe that we can help to change behaviour.
We have witnessed two of the best examples of changing behaviour in the Chamber today. I listened with increasing fascination to the speeches of the right hon. Member for Haltemprice and Howden and the hon. Member for Winchester. The right hon. Member for Haltemprice and Howden used to have a reputation as the hammer of the right but tonight, we saw caring, compassionate Conservatism. He talked about the causes of crime and championing the poor. Tonight was a revelation to me. I am not sure to which audience he is trying to appealperhaps it is not Labour Members but has more to do with the hon. Gentlemen who are sitting behind him. However, we have seen a tremendous change in the right hon. Gentleman's behaviour.
We have also witnessed behavioural change in the hon. Member for Winchester. He used to be the voice of civil liberties and the defender of individuals' rights, but today he was talking tough on crime. We heard him supporting our measures to tackle violent crime. We heard his comments on drinking banning orders, alcohol disorder zones and good behaviour.