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There are plans to introduce more community support officers to assist the record numbers of police, which is only right and proper. To judge by the London experience and the way in which the Metropolitan police have configured their local neighbourhood policing scheme, such schemes work very well. We will try to ensure that the importance of neighbourhood policing is recognised not only in Northamptonshire but throughout the country, regardless of the debate on super-forces. The hon. Gentleman will know that Wellingborough was one of the key locations in Northamptonshire where the scheme was started. I do not have the timetable for when the rest are to be
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introduced, but he will doubtless find out that information far more readily than I could. Getting these people out on to the streets is extremely important.

There was a meeting at Downing street today to discuss antisocial behaviour—as the hon. Gentleman said, that was astute timing—at which, among other things, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions announced that we are seriously considering the use of housing benefit sanctions for those who rent in the social sector. However, I take the point, made by my hon. Friend the Member for North-West Leicestershire, that antisocial behaviour is not the preserve of those who rent in the social sector.

David Taylor: I am grateful to the Minister for that reassurance. It is certainly true that powerful levers are available to housing associations and local authorities in dealing with families guilty of persistent antisocial behaviour. However, is there any new thinking on the levers that might be necessary to tackle some of the most persistent and dreadful incidents of antisocial behaviour, which are just as likely to involve owner-occupiers? Indeed, two of the worst cases of antisocial behaviour in my time as an MP—in the Coalville area of my constituency—occurred precisely because no such levers were available.

Mr. McNulty: My hon. Friend makes an entirely fair point. In dealing with such cases, the focus will have to come from a different legislative base. As he suggests, it is through assorted social housing powers and the dimension of housing benefit sanctions that we can fix on those in the social sector. Thought is being given, in a general sense, to how we might deal with those for whom such a sanction does not exist. My own constituency experience shows that it in no way follows that even the most persistent of offenders in an area are from a particular social tendency; it depends entirely on the area in question. The respect action plan provides new standards for housing management, so that social landlords can understand what is expected of them in dealing with misbehaving tenants. We are considering extending that plan to the private rented sector, but that is a small, less burgeoning sector, even in this day and age. A lot is happening.

I take the hon. Gentleman’s point about the impact on policing of low-level inquiries into the “fabric” issues—for want of a better phrase—associated with antisocial behaviour. Such inquiries might better be undertaken by, say, environmental health bodies, councils or others. We are trying to set up an alternative, non-emergency number, called the 101 service. Northamptonshire is included in the third wave of that service. We want to increase awareness, so that people realise that if a car has been abandoned or windows have been broken—such behaviour might encourage those who choose to hang around and make mischief—they can call the 101 number.

When the service is up and running, it will, through the use of a filter, divert the caller to the relevant council department, environmental health body or agency. That will, we hope, take a significant burden away from 999 in the form of the sort of intermediate call that should go to the police station rather than being dealt with in that way, and get some reciprocity
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in terms of action following soon after our communities have made such an inquiry. That will not solve all the issues, but it does assist in that regard and addresses the important point that the hon. Member for Wellingborough made at the start, which is that someone somewhere should recognise that the consequences of destructive behaviour, or of messing up a particular street scene or park, matter. They matter to local communities, and so should matter to everybody else.

The key to success is the vigilance of local communities, of local councillors and MPs in properly representing their communities, and of all community agencies, including the crime and disorder reduction partnerships, working together. It is also getting a model where neighbourhood policing has far more substance than it has now—and we are trying to do that. I fully concur with the notion that the impact of such antisocial behaviour and yobbery matters because
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it matters to our communities and to the cohesion of those communities, and that our communities deserve a voice against it. That is what all our legislation on antisocial behaviour has been about, and what all the resources and investment that we have put into policing up and down the country have been about. It is what the respect action plan is about.

Across the Chamber, with the armoury of assorted ways to go forward, and with that voice engaged, with locally elected councillors and the community proper, we can get to the stage at which our communities can feel that someone is listening—I know that that is the frustration—that their voice matters, and that things will be done both about the individuals concerned and the consequences of those individuals’ antisocial behaviour. I again commend the hon. Gentleman and congratulate him on raising this important debate, and on the manner in which he has done so.

Question put and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly at two minutes past Eight o’clock.

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