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15 Jan 2007 : Column 554

Mr. McNulty: I take the hon. Gentleman’s point and accept his sincerity but, given that funding for PCSOs for Surrey will increase next year by some 28 per cent. and that Surrey’s settlement next year is some 3.6 or 3.7 per cent., I fail to understand his complaint. I speak regularly to the chief constable of Surrey as well as the chief constables of other forces. They say that the key to the future of policing is the greatest possible flexibility in not only resources but performance frameworks, targets and all the other dimensions. That is precisely what we are trying to provide, working with the APA and ACPO.

Dr. Brian Iddon (Bolton, South-East) (Lab): May I invite my hon. Friend to Bolton to see Greater Manchester police’s mobile police stations, which go into the heart of the community? The idea was borrowed from the town represented by my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, North (Ms Johnson). The mobile police stations are enjoying remarkable success in reducing crime by as much as half in the areas where they operate. Will my hon. Friend visit one?

Mr. Jim Cunningham: This week.

Mr. McNulty: I am tempted by that suggestion. If my hon. Friend the Member for Bolton, South-East (Dr. Iddon) can sort out the ticket, perhaps we will go later today. Although I have been to Oldham and Rochdale and seen many of the constituent parts of Greater Manchester in the context of policing and neighbourhood policing, I have not visited Bolton, and I look forward with great interest to seeing the mobile facilities about which he is so clearly pleased.

Nick Herbert (Arundel and South Downs) (Con): In October, I asked whether the Home Secretary planned to abandon the Government’s promise of 24,000 police community support officers. He categorically denied that. However, that manifesto pledge has now been abandoned. Three days before Christmas, the Home Office altered the crime fighting fund so that police numbers can drop. No announcement has been made publicly or to the House, and police authorities have been told to keep quiet about it. Will the Minister publish the change or are cuts in policing another example of a failure about which Ministers would rather we did not know?

Mr. McNulty: I should rather like the evidence for the hon. Gentleman’s point about everyone being told to keep quiet about the matter, given that half today’s questions have been about it. Crime fighting fund and PCSO flexibility were afforded the APA and ACPO at their request in discussions. As hon. Members know, given a history of seven or eight years of continuous—now record—growth in policing, we are flattening out resources. All the APA and ACPO protestations have sought greater flexibility not so that numbers can drop like a stone, but so that they can decide locally the best priorities for any force in any area. That is the key point. Given that we have afforded greater flexibility to individual forces and listened to the APA and ACPO, the hon. Gentleman should welcome our actions.

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Alcohol-related Crime

7. Mr. David Burrowes (Enfield, Southgate) (Con): What assessment he has undertaken of alcohol-related crime during the Christmas and new year period. [114681]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Vernon Coaker): The Home Office did not undertake a specific data collection exercise to assess alcohol-related crime during the Christmas and new year period. However, the Home Office collects alcohol-related crime and disorder statistics on an annual basis through the British crime survey. The data covering 2006-07 are planned for publication in July 2007.

Mr. Burrowes: Given that the latest data from the British crime survey show that 47 per cent. of crime is alcohol-related, does it make sense for there to be no funding for the alcohol treatment requirements of community orders or suspended sentences, as confirmed by the Minister in response to my question on 8 November? Is it not the reality that the Government have done much to make alcohol more accessible, but little to pick up the tab and address the consequences of their actions?

Mr. Coaker: We can bandy statistics of what has happened with alcohol-related crime, but the hon. Gentleman quoted the BCS, which said, for example, that the number of incidents in which the victim believed that the offender was under the influence of alcohol had fallen by about one third since 1995. However, the hon. Gentleman raises an important question. Is alcohol-related violence too high? Yes it is, and we are trying to do something about that. Do we need to look at our strategy for dealing with alcohol-related violence? Yes we do, and we are taking a number of measures to do that. What about those who might need treatment? We are looking at what we can do with respect to that. The Government are examining our alcohol harm reduction strategy in tackling alcohol-related violence, in toughening the law and ensuring enforcement on the street and in developing treatment to deal with alcohol in a medical sense, which can be made available through either the criminal justice system or the NHS.

Mr. Adrian Bailey (West Bromwich, West) (Lab/Co-op): Does my hon. Friend agree that one of the problems is with premises where the publican is happy to allow customers to get tanked up, but ejects them when they start causing problems and denies any responsibility? I recently went out with the West Midlands police on night patrols in areas where that is a problem. They pointed out that one way round the problem is close co-ordination between the police service and the licensing authority—the local authority—to ensure that such premises have their licences removed.

Mr. Coaker: My hon. Friend makes an excellent point. We all know that powers have been made available to the police and local authorities to deal with such problems. Where those powers are used, they make a real difference to tackling problems of disorder
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in our town centres. I have seen the excellent work done in Nottingham and my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary was there only last Thursday night, when he saw the use of closure powers by the local authority, the use of fixed penalty notices by the police and tough enforcement action on the street. He saw, as I did, that where there is tough enforcement action, and people working together and using all the powers that are available to them, a real difference can be made in tackling alcohol-related violence and disorder. In Nottingham, the latest figures show that where that has been done, there has been a 31 per cent. reduction in alcohol-related crime.

Mr. Richard Benyon (Newbury) (Con): Under previous licensing arrangements, a lot of drinkers used to go home at chucking-out time, causing no difficulty to the police and law and order forces. [Hon. Members: “No.”] Many did, but quite a lot did not. Does the Minister accept that a regrettable unintended consequence of the new licensing arrangements is that many young people go on to other premises, drink for much longer and get into trouble with police later in the night?

Mr. Coaker: I do not agree with that at all. With respect to the hon. Gentleman, I did not notice that, when young people were coming out of pubs at 11 pm, everything was calmness and light. The Licensing Act 2003 gives flexibility to licensed premises to determine when they wish to close. The anecdotal evidence, which we are analysing as we go along, so far shows that the fact that not everybody is turned out of premises at the same time does not cause disorder, but helps to quell it.

Ms Celia Barlow (Hove) (Lab): Does my hon. Friend agree that there has been a great difference in alcohol-related offences owing to the fixed penalty notice? Up to the middle of December in my home city of Brighton and Hove, any notices handed out to anyone enjoying the festive season meant that they created no more disturbances throughout the rest of the night. Does he have any plans to extend that successful scheme?

Mr. Coaker: We are always considering how to extend what has been successful. My hon. Friend said how effective penalty notices have been. People want justice and the fixed penalty notices now available to the police mean that there can be swift justice on the street and that the police can deal quickly with people who act irresponsibly. The notices keep the police on the street, reduce bureaucracy and mean that the police are where we want them: patrolling in our communities.

Neighbourhood Watch

8. Mr. David Kidney (Stafford) (Lab): What support his Department provides for the national neighbourhood watch organisation. [114682]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Vernon Coaker): The neighbourhood watch movement comprises numerous local and regional schemes. The Home Office provides support to those schemes through the provision of free
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literature, public liability insurance, training and advice. We continue strongly to believe in and support neighbourhood watch schemes and the wider watch movements.

Mr. Kidney: The neighbourhood watch scheme claims an impressive membership of 6 million households, about a quarter of our country’s population. However, does the Minister agree that we can go further than that? When Staffordshire police and I make joint presentations to the public, as we did most recently last Friday at Great Haywood, about the effectiveness of neighbourhood watches in complementary action with neighbourhood policing, people see how effective they can be themselves. They queue up to sign for new neighbourhood watch schemes. Does the Minister agree that such local successes could be made nation wide if the Home Office fully backed an effective national organisation?

Mr. Coaker: I congratulate my hon. Friend on his work in supporting neighbourhood watch schemes in Stafford and trying to develop them there. He has championed the issue, not only in respect of his local area but in pressing us to do more about it. As he pointed out, there are 165,000-plus watch movement schemes, such as shopwatch, pubwatch and so on, as well as neighbourhood watch. They cover 6 million households and have approximately 10 million members. There is no doubt that neighbourhood watches contribute to tackling crime; most importantly, they also tackle the fear of crime. They provide an important mechanism through which ordinary members of the public and communities can work with local police and influence policing priorities in their areas.

Bob Russell (Colchester) (LD): Does the Minister agree that, like Crimestoppers, neighbourhood watch schemes play an important part as the eyes and ears that detect and report crime? If that is the case, surely more support should be given to such schemes. I invite the Minister, as Colchester is much nearer than Bolton, to come to my constituency and see what is arguably the most successful neighbourhood watch scheme in the country.

Mr. Coaker: I visit many constituencies and see success on the ground. As the hon. Gentleman points out, neighbourhood watch schemes are an important way of tackling the fear of crime and crime itself. The Home Office is doing a lot to support the development of such schemes; as I said, we fund public liability insurance and literature and have made a website available to people. Alongside that, we are working with local neighbourhood watch groups to establish a new strategy that will lead to the sort of support mentioned by the hon. Gentleman.

Kerry McCarthy (Bristol, East) (Lab): I have been working closely with my own neighbourhood watch on formulating dispersal order action plans so that we can address the underlying issues that have led to problems of antisocial behaviour in the community. What conversations will the Minister have with his counterparts at the Department for Education and Skills to ensure that local authorities act on their new statutory duty to provide new facilities so that we can
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address some of the underlying problems and so that young people do not hang around the streets with nowhere to go and nothing to do?

Mr. Coaker: My hon. Friend makes an excellent point. Although a lack of new facilities can never be an excuse for poor or antisocial behaviour on the street, it is incumbent on us all to try to improve youth facilities. That is what we have been doing. She will be pleased to know that another important aspect of the strategy that we are trying to develop is encouraging more young people to be part of neighbourhood watch schemes. In that way, we can get better schemes and tackle crime more effectively. As I am sure she will agree, it is not only old people who want something done about crime; young people are also demanding that we do something about it. We should work together to develop schemes and tackle some of the problems on our streets. If we can involve young people, the neighbourhood watches will be much more effective.

Sir Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield) (Con): The hon. Member for Stafford (Mr. Kidney) is right. Neighbourhood watch is outstandingly successful, but it is outstandingly successful because it co-operates closely with community and neighbourhood policing. Will the Minister reply to the question put earlier by the hon. Member for Coventry, South (Mr. Cunningham)? Is there any truth in the stories that appeared in the press over the weekend that there was to be a cut in the number of members of a police force, and therefore in the number of bobbies on the beat who participate in neighbourhood and community policing?

Mr. Coaker: We have a record number of police on our streets and we have police community support officers in all our communities. It is interesting to note that the debate about community support officers has now become a debate about how many of them there are. When they were first introduced, it was said that they were not worth the investment. The hon. Gentleman made a good point in saying that it was important for neighbourhood watch to work with local police, community support officers, local authorities and all partners. Of course it is important. Neighbourhood policing is not just a matter for the police; at its best, it is neighbourhood management.

Community Support Officers

9. Mr. Philip Hollobone (Kettering) (Con): What assessment he has made of the potential effects of replacing police constables with community support officers.[114683]

The Minister for Policing, Security and Community Safety (Mr. Tony McNulty): Given that the basic policy premise behind the hon. Gentleman’s question is, in my opinion, flawed, there has been no such assessment. Police community support officers are not a replacement for police constables. They are an additional, highly visible and responsive resource for the police service to deploy in support of the implementation of neighbourhood policing.

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Mr. Hollobone: I agree with the Minister that the replacement of police constables is not the basis of Government policy, but may I tell him of the strong feeling of residents in Kettering that the effect of the Government’s policy will be precisely that? Next year, there will be an increase in the number of police community support officers in Northamptonshire and, potentially, a reduction of 42 in the number of full-time police officer posts.

Mr. McNulty: I note the inclusion of the word “potentially”.

Mr. Kevan Jones (North Durham) (Lab): Because of the funding crisis facing Durham constabulary next year, the police authority is contemplating replacing
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100 police officers with 70 community support officers. Although I commend the role of community support officers in Durham, as a result, Durham residents will have 100 fewer police officers on the streets. Will the Minister agree to meet me, together with my hon. Friends the Members for City of Durham (Dr. Blackman-Woods), for Easington (John Cummings) and for Bishop Auckland (Helen Goodman), to discuss the police authority’s budget for next year and to stop that happening?

Mr. McNulty: I shall be happy to meet my hon. Friends to discuss the matter. We have said very clearly that, given the settlement and the debate that we shall subsequently have on it, if any force has any difficulties over resources, it should get in touch with us. I say the same to Northamptonshire as I have just said to Durham.

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Orders of the Day

Planning-gain Supplement (Preparations) Bill

Order for Second Reading read.

Mr. Speaker: I should inform the House that I have not selected the amendment in the name of the Leader of the Opposition.

3.30 pm

The Financial Secretary to the Treasury (John Healey): I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

This Bill is short and straightforward. It is a one-page, three-clause paving Bill. It has been prepared and introduced to ensure the regularity and propriety of Government expenditure in accordance with Government accounting rules. It therefore gives the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, Northern Ireland departments and the commissioners of Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs authority to expend resources on preparations necessary for the potential introduction of a planning gain supplement.

Given the brevity of the Bill, it will be immediately apparent that it has nothing to say about the policy, nature or indeed operation of a planning gain supplement. If the Government decide to introduce a supplement, we will announce and legislate for it in the normal way, so there will be a substantial opportunity to debate and scrutinise the proposal. Since Kate Barker first recommended a planning gain supplement in March 2004 in her review of housing supply, there have been 40 parliamentary questions, four public consultation documents, a Select Committee inquiry report and a Government response. Along with the Minister for Housing and Planning, my hon. Friend the Member for Pontefract and Castleford (Yvette Cooper), I welcome this active parliamentary interest, because planning, development and housing affect all our constituencies.

Mr. Henry Bellingham (North-West Norfolk) (Con): As the Minister rightly points out, this matter affects all our constituencies. Does he agree that, as a general rule, if there is section 106 agreement—agreement under section 106 of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990—and there will be a planning gain, the local community in question should benefit entirely from that planning gain?

John Healey: As the hon. Gentleman says, it is important that the benefits of development are delivered primarily to the local communities and local areas that are affected. It is also important that those communities see the benefits that come from that, and that sufficient—indeed, increased—resources are available to support the development of the infrastructure necessary for such developments in future. A proposal for a planning gain supplement could be designed to meet such objectives.

Several hon. Members rose—

John Healey: I am spoiled for choice; I give way to the right hon. Member for Wokingham (Mr. Redwood).

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