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The Minister for Policing, Security and Community Safety (Hazel Blears): As set out in our booklet, "Neighbourhood Policing: your police; your community; our commitment", we will provide funding to support an increase in the number of community support officers, to a total of 24,000 by 2008. That investment will ensure that every area in England and Wales will have access to a dedicated, accessible and visible neighbourhood policing team by that date.
Mr. Bailey: After some initial scepticism, the West Midlands police now recognise that police community support officers play a valuable role in the community. However, some people are demanding that PCSOs should be given more powers, including powers of arrest. What assessment has been made of the viability of such requests?
Hazel Blears: I am delighted that my hon. Friend supports CSOs, and he will know that the West Midlands police force now has 223 out on patrol, spending some 90 per cent. of their time on the streets reassuring the public. We have had an interim evaluation of community support officers and we are awaiting a full evaluation report, which should be available towards the end of the year. There have been demands for CSOs to have a range of powers to ensure that they can tackle low-level antisocial behaviour of the sort that makes people's lives a misery. From my visits up and down the country, I know that CSOs are making a good and effective contribution, and I am sure that all right hon. and hon. Members will agree with that.
Mr. Andrew Mackay (Bracknell) (Con): May I disagree with the Minister? Not all of us believe that CSOs are the answer. What is really needed is more police on the beat. Will she satisfy the House that CSOs will be properly trained and will not be given responsibilities that they cannot adequately fulfil?
I am surprised that there is clearly more division than I had thought among the Opposition. After all, the hon. Member for Preseli Pembrokeshire (Mr. Crabb) was glad to welcome CSOs and the
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contribution that they make. The right hon. Gentleman will know that we now have 13,000 more police officers. When his Government were in power, we had 1,100 fewer police officers on our streets. We have also made significant extra investment.
The right hon. Gentleman makes an important point about the training of CSOs. We have now developed a national training programme, worked on by Centrex, for forces to take advantage of. I want to ensure that as CSOs form a real, fundamental part of our police teams for the long-term future, they are appropriately trained and resourced. In that way, they can continue to make the excellent contribution that they are making.
Huw Irranca-Davies (Ogmore) (Lab): Does my right hon. Friend welcome the more than 180 CSOs now working in the south Wales division, in addition to the nearly 300 police officers and more than 20 specials? Does she agree that neighbourhood wardens also play an important role in providing eyes and ears on the ground?
Hazel Blears: Yes, I certainly do agree. I was delighted to have the opportunity to visit my hon. Friend's constituency a couple of months ago to see the excellent work being done to tackle antisocial behaviour in his community. His CSOs are some of the 6,300 who are now patrolling across England and Wales. He is right to say that wardens are important and we are holding discussions with the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister to ensure that our police teams include police officers, CSOs, special constables, volunteers and wardens.
Mr. Jonathan Djanogly (Huntingdon) (Con): As the number of CSOs has grown, so have their powers. For instance, in this year's Serious Organised Crime and Police Act 2005, stop-and-search powers were introduced. Do the Government share the concerns of the Police Federation and others that there is growing confusion in the public's mind between CSOs and police officers? Have not they now become policing on the cheap?
Hazel Blears: I do not accept that. In fact, I have had some excellent and constructive discussions with the representatives of the Police Federation who have recently done some research with their members. They found that their members welcome community support officers where they are the eyes and ears of the police and tackle low-level antisocial behaviour. There will be an ongoing debate about the appropriate powers that CSOs should have, but I am delighted that the federation is now genuinely considering the contribution that they can make. If the hon. Gentleman goes out with his local police force, I can assure him that they would tell him that they do not know how they managed before they had CSOs. Most police officers see them as making an excellent contribution to their work.
John Smith (Vale of Glamorgan)
(Lab): Will my right hon. Friend join me in congratulating community support officer Rhiannon Harris on her excellent work in setting up a business crime reduction partnership in my constituency, with the help of volunteers from the business community such as David Sharpe of Tesco in Barry? What help can my right hon. Friend give her to
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ensure that the partnership gets off the ground and succeeds, so that we can get more community support officers, such as Rhiannon Harris, who do such an excellent job?
Hazel Blears: I am delighted to join my hon. Friend in congratulating Rhiannon Harris on her excellent workand he has raised an important point about business crime. In the past there was almost a sense that business crime did not really have victims, and so was not very important. I believe that business crime is extremely important; that is why we have spent nearly £1 million on setting up a network of business crime advisers working with local businesses. I am delighted that many local retailers are now giving their staff time off to train as special constables, and in those areas shoplifting has fallen by nearly 40 per cent. Businesses working with community support officers and with the police can make a real difference.
The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Charles Clarke): From the summer we will be conducting an evaluation of ASBOs. This evaluation will provide us with information on the extent to which and the circumstances in which ASBOs are effective in tackling antisocial behaviour, and how they work as part of wider strategies to tackle antisocial behaviour. Published findings from that work will be available in 2006, and will enable us to maximise the impact of future ASBOs.
Mr. Soames: I am sure that the House will look forward with anticipation to the information being made available, but given the pretty high level of breaches of ASBOs, does the Home Secretary not agree that although they are useful, it must be for the police to deal with such matters in an energetic and robust manner, and that in order for them to do that, we need more police, particularly in Mid-Sussex?
Of course, and that is why we have increased the number of police in every part of the country[Interruption.] That has been the case. That is also why we have reinforced the police with police community support officers, and why, as my right hon. Friend the Minister for Policing, Security and Community Safety described, people work in police teams, with neighbourhood wardens and so on. The key question that the hon. Gentlemanand indeed, the whole Househas to address is: do we believe that ASBOs make an important contribution to reducing antisocial behaviour? The Government unequivocally say yes, and can point to many examples throughout the country. All kinds of diverse answers come from Opposition Members, and they should make up their minds where they stand.
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Mr. Boswell: Is the Home Secretary not concerned that the number of ASBOs served on adults is now being overtaken by the number currently being served on children? I am ready to concede that some of those children may be right little perishers, but will he bear in mind the fact that apparently, some of the children on whom ASBOs have been served are suffering from attention deficit or other behavioural disorders? Will he therefore think seriously about the absence of criminal intent, and the possible danger that public authorities may be breaching the spirit of anti-discrimination legislation?
Mr. Clarke: With respect to the hon. Gentleman, I must point out that even little perishershowever charmingly we may choose to describe themought not to be disrupting and making miserable the lives of others. Let us remember that the purpose of an antisocial behaviour order is simply to say, "You should not commit antisocial behaviour." It puts no penalty in place, and there is no prison sentence; it just says, "Stop behaving antisocially." If the young little perishers of whom the hon. Gentleman is so tolerant are going round making the lives of individuals on the estate where they live a misery, in my opinion it is right that there is a legal vehicle for saying, "Stop doing that"and that applies irrespective of age.
Mr. John Denham (Southampton, Itchen) (Lab): What is my right hon. Friend doing to promote the greater use of ASBOs on conviction? If we look at any local newspaper, we see reports of many cases of minor violence and other minor crimes that attract a short prison sentence, community service or a suspended sentence, for which an ASBO could be imposed on conviction, restricting where people go and keeping them out of the areas where they have been harassing people. Will my right hon. Friend consider ways in which the courts and the police can be encouraged to make more use of that power, which is already on the statute book?
Mr. Clarke: The Government are doing precisely that and I agree with the thrust of what my right hon. Friend said. I come back to the answer that I gave Opposition Members a few moments ago: the central motivation in all this is to stop antisocial behaviour. My right hon. Friend is right to say that certain individuals, perhaps those just convicted of particular offences, are especially likely to engage in antisocial behaviour. It is important that we say to those people that they cannot do so. We are looking in detail at how we can improve our performance in that area and my right hon. Friend is right to draw attention to it.
Mr. Lindsay Hoyle (Chorley)
(Lab): Obviously, the biggest advantage of ASBOs is when they have been served on people in court and the press is allowed to publish their names and the conditions of those orders. Local people can then be more aware of whether the conditions are being broken and can call the police when they are. When the details of ASBOs are kept back from the press, local people do not know whether the conditions have been broken. Will my right hon. Friend ensure that the public are made aware of the people on whom ASBOs have been served?
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Mr. Clarke: My hon. Friend is quite correct and the Government take precisely the stance that he implies. I would not say that publicity is the biggest advantage of ASBOs, but it is certainly a major one, and my hon. Friend is right to point it out. In a number of cases, publicity surrounding the conduct of people who are behaving in antisocial ways has significantly changed their behaviour.
Mr. Elfyn Llwyd (Meirionnydd Nant Conwy) (PC): I suspect that the Home Secretary will find, in reflecting on a review of the workings of ASBO legislation this summer, that there is a huge amount of inconsistency of approach. In north Wales, for example, there are very few ASBOs, but the system is working well because bad behaviour is dealt with lower down the rungs before people are brought to court. On the other hand, some areas have rushed to impose ASBOs when other legislation would do. Will the Home Secretary speculate on how a properly directed tribunal could ever slap an ASBO on a youngster for swearing when he suffers from Tourette syndrome?
Mr. Clarke: I would certainly not want to speculate on an individual case. However, there is a major difference in the outcomes of particular localities, which is dependent on the attitude of local police and the local authority. What is most important is for the local police and the local authority to work together to put in place a regime to attack antisocial behaviour. To be quite candid, there is no universal position across the country by any stretch of the imagination; there is not even a universal position between parties in the House. Some members of some political parties in the House and in local authorities do not want to get engaged in this sort of work, while others do. I hope that our assessment will reveal the variations that the hon. Gentleman described and enable us better to implement what needs to be done.
Margaret Moran (Luton, South) (Lab): When will my right hon. Friend take action against councils that refuse to use antisocial behaviour orderscouncils such as Liberal-Tory Luton, which has persistently failed to do so? The council voted against using the ASBOs that we introduced and has continued to fail people in the area such my constituent, Lisa Welsh, and her neighbours, who have lived in fear for years and have had to flee their homes. What sanctions can the Home Secretary bring against authorities that refuse to take up antisocial behaviour measures that benefit our constituents?
My hon. Friend puts her finger precisely on the point that I was making in response to the previous question. I wish I could say that Luton provides only an isolated example, but unfortunately it does not. A number of authorities run by parties other than Labour play the role that my hon. Friend describes. We are looking into whether some form of trigger mechanism would be appropriate to deal with the problem. To be quite frank, though, I am loth to go that far, because I still hope that all authorities and all parties across the country will operate positively against antisocial behaviour. I hope that the electors in Luton will make their own judgment of what the council is doing and act accordingly.
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