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Motion made, and Question put forthwith, pursuant to Standing Order No. 83(A)(6)(Programme motions),

5 Jun 2006 : Column 82

Question agreed to.

Nhs Redress Bill [lords] [moneY]

Queen’s recommendation having been signified——

Motion made, and Question put forthwith, pursuant to Standing Order No. 52(1)(a) (Money resolutions and ways and means resolutions in connection with bills),

Question agreed to.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Alan Haselhurst): With the leave of the House, I shall put motions 4, 5 and 6 together.


Motion made, and Question put forthwith, pursuant to Standing Order No. 118(6) (Standing Committees on Delegated Legislation),

International Development

Question agreed to.


Motion made, and Question put forthwith, pursuant to Standing Order No. 119(9) (European Standing Committees),

Democracy, Dialogue and Debate

Question agreed to.

Mr. Deputy Speaker: With the leave of the House, I shall put motions 8 and 9 together.




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Antisocial Behaviour (Wellingborough)

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn. —[Tony Cunningham.]

7.15 pm

Mr. Peter Bone (Wellingborough) (Con): I thank Mr. Speaker for giving me the opportunity to discuss an issue that is becoming increasingly significant in my constituency. I also thank the Minister for his attendance and look forward to his response. I welcome my hon. Friend the Member for Kettering (Mr. Hollobone) to the debate—we share the same basic police area, and I know of his concern about crime.

When I applied for the debate, the title that I proposed was “Vandalism, Graffiti, Arson, Muggings and Yob Culture in Wellingborough”. That was changed on the Order Paper to “Tackling antisocial behaviour in Wellingborough”. I want to make it clear from the start why I do not believe that “antisocial behaviour” is an adequate description of the problem in my constituency.

In certain parts of Wellingborough, yob culture is rife. It is that yob culture—what is described as “low-level crime”—that is having such a devastating effect on many law-abiding citizens in my constituency. Yob culture, vandalism, thuggery, muggings, arson, drug-dealing and generally threatening behaviour may not command the same seriousness in the eyes of the law as high-level crimes, but they blight the lives of many, many innocent people. Those people feel that the law is letting them down—that the law is on the side of the criminal, not the victim. They feel helpless. I am here today to stand up for those people in my constituency.

“Antisocial behaviour” is not a strong enough phrase to describe the despair that families in my constituency are experiencing at the hands of mindless criminals who make it their mission to disrupt the everyday lives of innocent people. These yobs are criminals, and they must be caught and tried as such.

One of my constituents had huge concerns about law and order in the other major town in my constituency, Rushden. Councillor David Childs was both a district and a town councillor, and he was very concerned about the level of crime and violence in the town, especially on Friday and Saturday nights. He had suffered unprovoked attacks on two separate occasions. David was not a professional politician; he was an ordinary, decent person who wanted to serve the community in which he lived. He was a local plumber and a family man. Although he held Conservative views, his interest was in helping the local community, regardless of party politics. He played an active role in promoting social life in Rushden through his many interests, including “Party in the Park”.

Like many local councillors, David wanted to see a greater police presence in the town. I have mentioned him first because it was he who first alerted me to the problems of yob culture in Rushden. On 4 May this year, David was made mayor of Rushden. Unfortunately, a week ago today he died of asbestos-
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related cancer. I shall attend his funeral tomorrow. David will be sorely missed by his family, friends and colleagues, and by the people of Rushden.

Yob culture is growing in Wellingborough. For some families, the situation has become so unbearable that they feel that the only option is to take the law into their own hands. They are fed up with being victims of the mindless youths who terrorise their lives. I run the Listening to Wellingborough and Rushden campaign. We regularly survey local people because I feel it is important to listen to the views of people whom one represents and then campaign for change on their behalf. The campaign was formed because only by listening to people makes is possible fully to appreciate their problems and concerns.

The listening campaign seeks the views of local people through surveys, public meetings and door-to-door canvassing, as well as by e-mail and telephone. We regularly send out surveys to residents asking what local and national issues are of most concern to them. Time after time, the number one issue of concern for the people of Wellingborough is crime. In fact, the gap between crime and the second biggest concern for my constituents is increasing with every survey.

Just last week, I had a meeting with worried residents in the Croyland ward of Wellingborough. They contacted me because they were fed up with a couple of problem families in the area who were making the lives of everyone else a misery. Several people who live in the Abbey road and Priory road area of Croyland told me how they were subjected to a constant spate of vandalism, graffiti, theft, abuse and even arson. Only a few residents felt that they were able to come forward to let me know of their suffering. Many of the other families, especially the elderly, who have been affected by this explosion of yob culture in the area were too scared to come forward; they were afraid of the repercussions that it would cause. One name did get into the local media and that person's garden was set on fire. How many more cases are there that we do not know about? These are innocent victims who are too scared to say anything in fear of being a target of revenge by mindless criminals.

The meeting I had last week was also attended by the police, the antisocial behaviour officer for Wellingborough council and local councillors Paul Ainge and Lesley Callnon. The residents of Abbey road told us how they were consistently terrorised by the yobs. Their cars have been vandalised so many times that someone made the point that they no longer get the damage repaired because it will just happen again. One person said that they were too frightened to go on holiday because they were not sure what they would come home to.

Many of the residents who attended the meeting own their houses. Some have tried to move out of the area, but their property is unsaleable owing to the reputation of those local yobs. Why should innocent families be forced to sell their homes?

David Taylor (North-West Leicestershire) (Lab/Co-op): I am sure that the hon. Gentleman would not want to give the impression that teenage thuggery, persistent truancy and general antisocial behaviour are restricted to young people who happen to live in rented
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properties on council or housing association estates. He is coming perilously close to saying that. Some of the worst cases in north-west Leicestershire are in private estates around the town centre.

Mr. Bone: I am grateful for that intervention. I tried to word this passage of my speech particularly carefully because it would be totally wrong and misleading to suggest that it is council tenants who cause the problem. That is outrageous and wrong, but in this particular case, as I shall explain, there are one or two families who are living in council property and the question has been raised of why the council is not doing something about it.

The criminals whom residents spoke of were all council tenants. The residents said, “Why should the council rent accommodation to people who are terrorising the neighbourhood? Surely the council should have powers to evict families who are acting in such an appalling manner.” Why should they be terrorised by those very few families, who happen to be council tenants?

The system is failing those people and the criminals know it. One of the mantras that is being muttered around criminal circles in Wellingborough is, “You don’t rob off your own. You rob off people who are rich enough to afford insurance.” When those yobs and vandals get away with terrorising innocent people, they see no reason why their criminal activities should not continue and grow in degree and intensity.

The residents at the meeting gave the representatives of the council and the police the names of the criminals. Both the police and the local council were well aware of those criminals. Indeed, most of them were repeat offenders, yet they are still living in council accommodation, terrorising the innocent.

Mr. Philip Hollobone (Kettering) (Con): I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing this important debate. I know that he is a constituency champion on these and other important local issues. He has just made the point that the police, the council and the other agencies know who these criminals and yobs are. Does he agree that the system is such that the legal team at Wellingborough council, which is now a joint team with Kettering council, finds it extremely difficult to convince the courts that known criminals and yobs should be evicted from their council tenancies?

Mr. Bone: My hon. Friend makes a powerful and true point. It was interesting that when the residents were naming three or four families who were causing the problems, before they finished the police told them who the next family was. It is ridiculous—the police, the council and the victim know who is doing it, yet no action can be taken.

The police sergeant at the meeting explained how the call centre worked when people telephone the police. He stated that there is a call centre grading system where the operator grades the seriousness of the crime, which then receives the allocated and available resources. General thuggery and yob crime is not high on the priority list, yet it is that type of crime that affects so many people up and down the country. One
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person summed it up at the meeting by saying that there is no point in phoning the police if the group of known criminals are hanging around outside their property because they would just get laughed at—but it is that intimidation and the lack of response which currently allows the criminals to win.

What we need in Wellingborough, what we must have, is an increased police presence on our streets. We need more police officers patrolling the beat, catching criminals and deterring crime. The answer to the problem of yob culture is not regional superforces, as proposed by the Government. In my constituency, we have already lost our chief superintendent, who is now based in Kettering. Public access to Wellingborough police station is now part-time. Police resources have been diverted elsewhere, all to the detriment of my constituents.

Under the Government's plans for an east midlands superforce, Northamptonshire police would merge with Nottinghamshire, Derbyshire, Leicestershire and Lincolnshire.

Our police headquarters would be moved from Northampton to Nottingham, and all that at a huge cost to the taxpayer. The money would be better spent on local policing—on more beat officers patrolling our streets. It is proven that if we have a greater police presence on the streets, the level of crime decreases.

David Taylor: While I took issue with the hon. Gentleman the first time I intervened, I endorse the point that he is making now. If a force serving a population of 4.25 million has its headquarters 40 or so miles away, it is likely to be less sensitive to local priorities on antisocial behaviour not just in Wellingborough, but in Whitwick in Leicestershire and Wirksworth in Derbyshire. The list could go on. There is real concern that those priorities will be damaged as policing resources are transferred to Nottingham and south Nottinghamshire to tackle the evident problems there.

Mr. Bone: Again, I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman's intervention. I know of his concern, which he has expressed on many occasions, about the proposal to create an east midlands regional force, but I will come later specifically to that point.

Another area in my constituency, Queensway, has experienced a lot of crime caused by yob culture. The police recognised that that was a real problem area and ploughed huge police resources into the neighbourhood. In Queensway, there was a particular problem with burglaries. Extra police officers were drafted in to patrol the area 24 hours a day and the number of burglaries went down to zero. As soon as that police presence was removed, the crime levels started to increase again.

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