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That is the sort of vacuous nonsense that the so-called Respect action plan contains, but let us take a careful look at some of its proposals. The 101 national non-emergency number is called a “key part” of the Respect drive. That was promised in Labour’s 2005 manifesto, but what has happened? The pilot schemes were a huge success. The head of the Home Office’s work force strategy directorate admitted last year that

A recent caller satisfaction survey in Hampshire found that 91 per cent. of respondents were either satisfied or very satisfied with the 101 service.

I am not surprised at that. I visited Chicago with an all-party group at the end of last year and saw for myself how important and effective a non-emergency number service can be. Such a service makes people feel
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that the police and other public services are accessible, and that help and information are within reach.

So why has the next phase effectively been shelved? Perhaps the Minister will tell us. I am holding a 101 pen, which promises

However, that number is not available to people in London—or Birmingham, Manchester or most of the country.

In October 2006, the Mayor of London wrote to the Home Secretary. He said:

So what has happened to the 101 number?

Mr. Robert Goodwill (Scarborough and Whitby) (Con): The non-emergency number in north Yorkshire is 0800 606 0247. Is that not slightly more difficult to remember than the number that my hon. Friend suggests we should adopt?

Nick Herbert: I am extremely impressed that my hon. Friend managed to remember that number. I am tempted to challenge the Minister about whether he can remember the non-emergency number in his constituency. I bet that he cannot. I am happy to admit that I could not remember the non-emergency number in my area when I needed to ring it, and members of the public have the same problem. However, everyone would be able to remember 101.

The Respect action plan—this vital document—also promises 24,000 police community support officers by next year, calling them

The plan says:

When I asked the Home Secretary in October whether the rumours were true that the numbers of PCSOs would be reduced, he flatly denied it. Later on in the year, that manifesto pledge was dropped.

That decision was disguised as “flexibility”, but at the same time, the money that would have been available to chief officers for PCSOs was taken away. Ken Jones, the president of the Association of Chief Police Officers, said:

Durham police have already announced that 100 police officers will be cut. The Government have not condescended to announce the relaxations in the crime fighting fund properly to the House, but the head of the Police Superintendents Association has warned:

those relaxations

The head of finance at ACPO has warned:

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So much for the promises of the Respect action plan. It is a plan to deal with antisocial behaviour without the police, and without people being able to get hold of the police.

Mr. Mark Francois (Rayleigh) (Con): I am following my hon. Friend’s speech with interest. He is speaking very well, if I may say so. In many communities, a lot of antisocial behaviour is caused by relatively small gangs of young people. Many hon. Members want the police to move against the gang leaders, as dealing with them robustly and taking them out of circulation would send a powerful message to those on the fringes of such behaviour. Does my hon. Friend know why, under this Government, the police often appear reluctant to move against those gang leaders?

Mr. Herbert: I listened to my hon. Friend’s question with great interest. The chief constable of Essex is a good and robust officer, and I imagine that he would be keen to take action against gang leaders. I hope to have a meeting with him shortly, and I shall be interested to hear his explanation. In the context of the Serious Crime Bill, we will hear the Government’s proposals for taking action against serious criminals. We will have to examine closely the extent to which that will substitute for proper action that results in offences being taken to court. Just such a substitution has happened in relation to more minor crimes and antisocial behaviour.

The Respect action plan concedes that alcohol misuse is a driver of antisocial behaviour, but it has almost nothing to say about how to deal with the problem. Perhaps that is not surprising, given that the head of the Respect taskforce supported binge drinking on the ground that

Figures published in June 2006 show that the percentage of people saying that they have a “very” or “fairly” big problem with drunken or rowdy behaviour in public places in their area increased from 23 per cent. in July 2004-05 to 25 per cent. in July 2005-06. We know that 70 per cent. of peak-time accident and emergency admissions are alcohol-related. We all know the problems faced in our communities—whether rural or urban—from drunken and disorderly behaviour, which blights people’s lives, especially on Friday and Saturday evenings.

We shall have to see whether the Government’s deregulation of licensing hours was a sensible response to the problem, but we already know that the Minister’s predecessor, the former Respect Minister, now the Minister without Portfolio, the right hon. Member for Salford (Hazel Blears), is deeply pessimistic. She blames the “Anglo-Saxon mentality” and says that people “enjoy getting drunk”. Perhaps they do, but the communities that suffer the consequences do not enjoy it, and any serious plan to address antisocial behaviour should address the problem of binge drinking.

Mary Creagh (Wakefield) (Lab): May I remind the hon. Gentleman that a former leader of his party boasted of drinking 14 pints when he was in a summer job? However, I am delighted to hear the hon.
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Gentleman’s new-found enthusiasm for cracking down on alcohol-related disorder, so last year, in November, why did he vote against the drink banning orders in the Violent Crime Reduction Act 2006?

Nick Herbert: As far as I can remember, we supported the alcohol disorder reduction zones, and I debated the issue with the Minister on the Floor of the House. We shall support any measures that we think will be effective and successful in dealing with the problem of binge drinking. It is the Government who have a case to answer for the relaxation they undertook, despite evidence that the problem was increasing, especially among young people. We will see whether that decision was wise.

Every year there are millions of antisocial behaviour incidents, but only about 10,000 ASBOs have been issued in six years. A significant proportion of them were imposed in Greater Manchester and London, but the total for other areas is only a few hundred. The problem of antisocial behaviour is much too wide to be solved by ASBOs alone, although to be fair to the Minister, he recognised that. When I was reviewing some of the things that the public had said about antisocial behaviour, I was struck by the comments of Jill Smith of the Heartsease residents association in Norwich. She said:

ASBOs may bring specific relief, but there is little evidence that antisocial behaviour is abating overall.

The Home Office has set an arbitrary target: by 2007 or 2008, the percentage of people who feel that antisocial behaviour is a “very” or “fairly” big problem should be lower than a baseline year. The baseline year chosen is 2002-03, when the figure was 21 per cent., but the figure has never been more than that. As the centre for crime and justice studies said:

The perception that antisocial behaviour is a serious problem is rising again; the figure is currently 17 per cent. How effective have the Government’s frenetic interventions been?

The key to a more effective approach must lie in a new focus on prevention, as well as on more effective remedial measures. As the head of the National Audit Office, Sir John Bourne, said:

That was, of course, an echo of the Prime Minister’s famous pledge, but as our social justice policy group report said:

The report pointed out that

The report identified family breakdown and educational failure as two of the major drivers of crime.

The Prime Minister’s strategy unit recently estimated that problem families whose members commit crime, live on benefits and have poor health cost the state up to £250,000 a year every year. By contrast, the NAO reports research from the United States, which shows that the savings from diverting an individual from a life of antisocial behaviour and crime range from £0.9 million to £1.2 million a year. It makes economic as well as social sense to look more creatively at the type of interventions that the NAO says will work and which are cost-effective, including special education programmes and support for families.

The Government stab at such solutions in the Respect action plan, but their approach reflects their belief—no doubt honestly held—that top-down central intervention really can change things on the ground. It rarely can, and in the case of antisocial behaviour, it has not.

We believe that a new approach is needed, which epitomises our belief in social responsibility—that we all, not just the state, have obligations to our neighbours and communities, and that politicians should put trust in people and the local associations that they naturally form. That means ensuring that voluntary organisations and local communities are empowered to participate in the organisation of community safety.

Mr. Hoyle: The hon. Gentleman said that he would return to the point I raised earlier. What are his views? Does he support the use of local authority community wardens? Does he agree that they have an important part to play in ensuring that communities are safer?

Nick Herbert: I apologise to the hon. Gentleman. I talked about the police, but I did not mention wardens. I am happy to echo his support for them. In my constituency, successful warden schemes operate in some villages, and they are popular with the local community; but in other villages in my rural constituency, there is unhappiness that too much of the burden is now being put on the local community, which has to make its own provision for wardens. The police precept has increased—it has doubled proportionately in terms of the funding for police—yet people feel that they have not been given police officers in return. The Government’s recent reneging on their promise of PCSOs for those villages has deeply upset people. They feel that they are being asked to pay twice; they are paying increased council tax and not receiving police officers in return and now they are being asked to pay for wardens, too.

The NAO said that the majority of people in its six focus groups were completely unaware of the strategy in their local area. The Government have already reviewed the crime and disorder reduction partnerships. The permanent secretary told the Public Accounts Committee that the Home Office is
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evaluating the partnerships, and that in spring it will publish evidence of how they are performing. How does that evaluation relate to the review that is already under way? I should be grateful if the Minister told us.

The review is certainly needed. Crime and disorder reduction partnerships are invisible to the public, exactly as police authorities are invisible to the public. Much stronger local accountability is needed, as well as diversity in the delivery of community safety and an enhanced sense of community among the organisations involved.

We favour a right to policing; communities should be given ownership of community safety and a real say in how it is delivered. That say will certainly not be given by the community call for action, which has just been introduced under the Police and Justice Act 2006, and which we regard as more of a gimmick than a serious attempt to enable communities to participate in policing.

Mary Creagh: I must take issue with the hon. Gentleman’s point about not intervening in the causes of crime. What is Sure Start and Sure Start parenting? We should think of the parenting lessons that go on in schools in my constituency to great effect. The hon. Gentleman ignores those issues when it does not suit his argument. I would be glad if he recognised that the sort of activities that I mentioned are going on not just in my constituency, but throughout the country.

Nick Herbert: The issue is whether the interventions are successful. I could easily counter the hon. Lady by saying that truancy has increased, but my point was that despite all these interventions—top-down interventions by the Government—antisocial behaviour has remained at very high levels and has increased this year. That puts a question mark over how effective the interventions have been and whether the Prime Minister’s rhetoric about engaging in the causes of crime has actually been met in reality. I hope that we can all agree about the importance of tackling the causes. What I am seeking to examine is whether or not the interventions have been effective.

I had moved on to the issue of the extent to which the public feel excluded from the decisions that are taken about community safety in their area. As far back as 1988, the Prime Minister said:

However, the Government’s approach to dealing with antisocial behaviour rests on desperate remedial action, driven by a Home Office in which we can hardly have confidence scratching at the surface of the problem.

Our approach is fundamentally different. We do not think that antisocial behaviour is a minor issue. Too often, it is neighbourhood crime. We believe that it needs police out on the streets to reassure communities, prevent crime and take effective action.

Mr. Nicholas Soames (Mid-Sussex) (Con): My hon. Friend and I are neighbours and I have discussed the matter with him before, but does he agree that part of the problem of people’s lack of confidence in how antisocial behaviour is dealt with is knowing who is responsible—who actually takes responsibility—for it? There is no doubt that the multi-agency approach is
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essential, but it is absolutely vital that the people concerned know who is accountable for delivering a solution to this wretched curse of antisocial behaviour.

Nick Herbert: My hon. Friend is exactly right. People do not know who is responsible and that is part of the problem. The crime and disorder reduction partnerships are, as I have said, intensely bureaucratic and usually invisible to the public. Police authorities are essentially invisible to the public—though the police have made great strides in advancing their own visibility—and if neighbourhood policing is going to be withdrawn as a result of cuts in promised PCSO numbers and so forth, it will obviously not be a solution. As the partnership approach becomes increasingly important, we believe that it is essential to rebuild the bridges between the community and the agencies that are delivering community safety. The community must be given a real say—with respect to budgetary control, where appropriate—in terms of the delivery of community safety in local areas.

We believe not just in having more police out on the streets taking effective action—rather than keeping them in police stations, tied up in bureaucracy—but in tough enforcement against persistent offenders. We want fast justice, not soft justice. We believe in empowering communities and in taking serious action to tackle the drivers of crime.

The Government have created a new criminal offence for every day that they have been in office and we have seen 29 criminal justice Acts, reorganisations of the prison service, the probation service and the courts, yet antisocial behaviour still persists and crime rates remain among the highest of our peer-group countries. Out on the streets and in the communities, people know that the Government’s approach is not working. It is time for a fundamental rethink.

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