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18 Jan 2007 : Column 1023

Partnership is key to tackling antisocial behaviour, in any area. A strong partnership must be based on a strong police service and police force. As neighbourhood policing and issues relating to police officers have been mentioned, it would be helpful to run through some statistics. On a like-for-like basis, Government grants and central spending to help the police service in England and Wales tackle antisocial behaviour will have increased from £6.2 billion in 1997-98 to £11 billion in 2007-08. That is a cash increase of nearly £4.8 billion, or 77 per cent. In real terms, there has been an increase of more than 39 per cent. between 1997-98 and 2007-08. We can debate the level of resources, but all Members should acknowledge that there has been a substantial increase.

By the time recruitment has finished, there will be an additional 16,000 police community support officers—because, obviously, there were none before—and more than 14,000 additional police officers. There will be more specials, and a 35 per reduction in crime. There will be more than 20,000 additional civilian posts, which themselves make an important contribution to ensuring that we have police on our streets. However, we must ensure that we give our police the powers that they need.

The Government have listened to what communities and voluntary organisations have told us. We have listened to what has been said about what we know to be problems in our communities. Having listened, we have introduced a number of measures that have made a significant difference and provided additional powers. We have introduced parenting orders to deal with problem families. Antisocial behaviour orders—about which I shall say more shortly—have made a significant contribution to the tackling of antisocial behaviour in many areas, although I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Stockport (Ann Coffey) that it would be helpful if there were more individual support orders, which are intended to help those with antisocial behaviour problems. Powers have been introduced which have led to the closure of more than 500 crack houses across the country. The Government introduced those powers to deal with a very real problem that many of us have encountered in our communities. Mini-motos are illegal on the streets without proper licensing, and we need to remind people of that.

The lesson of all those measures is that—as my hon. Friend the Member for Hartlepool (Mr. Wright) pointed out—when people work in partnership real change happens, and real differences can be made in the tackling of crime and antisocial behaviour.

I agree with the hon. Member for Arundel and South Downs (Nick Herbert) and others that it is not just a question of giving the police and law enforcement authorities more powers. We must try to tackle some of the problems in our communities, along with their causes. Some may complain that the Government have not done enough, or that action in certain policy areas has not been as effective as it might have been. However, the Government have spent enormous sums on working with communities to try to challenge some of the causes of antisocial behaviour in each and every community, and in society as a whole.

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Huge amounts have been spent on neighbourhood renewal and trying to regenerate areas where social and industrial decay and poor housing have blighted so many communities. Money has been invested in work with our teachers to provide good schools in some of our most difficult areas, on tackling truancy by encouraging people to attend school, and on raising standards and expectations. There have also been huge increases in parental support. People felt at first that Sure Start was a “nanny state” idea that would interfere with families, but the children’s centres that have resulted from it represent a major attempt to help some of the poorest and most dysfunctional families in society. We as a Government should be proud of that. Every Member with a children’s centre in his constituency will visit it, and will tell people how good the centres are and what a difference they have made to those who use and work in them.

Alongside all those measures are diversionary tactics—projects such as Positive Futures, intended to divert young people from crime—and the most difficult project of all, trying to restore respect. A question that confronts us all and does not, I think, divide us is “How do we pass a law saying that people must respect one another?” There is a debate to be had about how we can restore respect for each other in our communities to make society function more effectively. The Government’s respect taskforce is a good example of the way in which we have wrestled with what everyone recognises as a real issue in communities. That is not the draconian, fascist-type of authority that it is often caricatured as; it is about having respect for the police, for teachers and for parents. People tell us that they feel that respect for such legitimate authority is missing. The work that is being done by the respect taskforce, local authorities, MPs and the Government is part of the agenda of trying to restore that. Although we want to introduce new laws and we are trying to do many other things, we will only succeed in tackling antisocial behaviour if we manage to restore respect in our communities.

My opening remarks have not been as brief as I had hoped, and although I cannot do justice to the contributions of every Member who spoke, let me pick up on a few of the points that were made. The hon. Member for Arundel and South Downs made an important point on PCSO numbers. The reason why there is flexibility in the budgets is not to do with the Government; it is because the Association of Police Authorities and the Association of Chief Police Officers have asked for that flexibility. Let me quote from their press release:

I know that the Conservative party is looking at its policy agenda. One of the things it is looking at is local decision making. One of the consequences of that is that sometimes decisions are made locally that are difficult nationally. However, if we are to have local decision making and flexibility, we must mean it. We have tried to respond to what we were asked to do in a way that protects policing but gives that flexibility in respect of local services. We gave flexibility to local services to determine how to spend the funds.

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I join my hon. Friend the Member for Wakefield (Mary Creagh) in congratulating Sue Thomson on the work that she has done on controlling the night-time economy in Wakefield and reducing crime by 25 per cent. I also welcome the conversion of the hon. Member for Taunton (Mr. Browne) to the need for police community support officers. However, we noted that the Liberal Democrats remain opposed to dispersal powers. In communities throughout the country, dispersal powers are an effective tool in tackling antisocial behaviour. Let me make a party-political point: I hope that the hon. Gentleman tells every Liberal Democrat constituency party in the country that the policy is to oppose dispersal orders, because many of my hon. Friends find that that message somehow does not get down to local Liberal Democrats. So let me say loudly and clearly, so that it is recorded in Hansard, that we recognise that the Liberal Democrats are opposed to the use of dispersal powers.

I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Hackney, South and Shoreditch (Meg Hillier) is greatly concerned about the links between skunk in particular and mental health issues. I hope that she has seen our recently launched advertising campaign, “Brain store”, which tries to deal with the problem.

The hon. Member for Spelthorne (Mr. Wilshire) mentioned problems to do with social breakdown; the debate on that needs to continue.

I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Hartlepool for his kind remarks. He talked about the need for partnership and the success that there has been in Hartlepool as a result of people working together. I commend him on the community leadership he has shown in trying to ensure that the powers that are available to local councils and local people are used. On the point he made about more power to residents associations, it is clear that if we are to do anything, local people must be involved, and they should determine how best to get involved.

Let me say to the hon. Member for Scarborough and Whitby (Mr. Goodwill) that I look forward to eating chicken-in-a-basket in Scarborough. He mentioned alcohol. That is clearly a major problem and we need to deal with it, and the designated public places orders are very successful.

I also thank my hon. Friend the Member for Cleethorpes (Shona McIsaac). If she wants to meet me
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to discuss some of issues in her constituency, I will do so. My hon. Friend the Member for Chorley (Mr. Hoyle) made some great remarks on youth facilities. They are very important. Prevention is the key, as the hon. Member for Mid-Dorset and North Poole (Annette Brooke) said. The hon. Member for Bournemouth, East (Mr. Ellwood) mentioned the important role of special constables. I apologise if I have missed anybody, or any particular points, but if anyone wants to meet me in the Lobby to discuss them, I am perfectly happy to do that.

We are tackling the problem of antisocial behaviour from every direction, providing the tools and powers to agencies in order to stop a range of antisocial behaviour, and focusing on early intervention. In the light of all those measures, we hope to make a very—

It being Six o’clock, the motion for the Adjournment of the House lapsed, without Question put.


Whipps Cross Hospital

6 pm

Mr. Iain Duncan Smith (Chingford and Woodford Green) (Con): This petition has been signed by 21,000 people in my constituency and borough, who are concerned about the review entitled “Fit For the Future”, which takes no regard of a wider London review of health, and feel that it will damage their services.

The petition declares:

To lie upon the Table.

18 Jan 2007 : Column 1027

Train Services (Maidenhead and Twyford)

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

6.1 pm

Mrs. Theresa May (Maidenhead) (Con): I am pleased to have the opportunity to raise in the House the problems that my constituents are suffering as a result of the appalling service that they are getting from First Great Western, and I thank Mr. Speaker for giving me that opportunity. Sadly, it is not the first time that I have had to complain in this Chamber about the services from First Great Western and the problems of the deteriorating train service. To put it in a nutshell, there are not enough fast and semi-fast services for my constituents in Maidenhead and Twyford, or at the branch-line stations of Furze Platt, Cookham and Wargrave. They are suffering considerable delays and cancellations, the service has become less reliable in recent months—it was by no means perfect previously—and they are now suffering chronic overcrowding on the key trains that take commuters into and from London.

Such problems have led the Maidenhead Advertiser, following the introduction in December of the new timetable, to state the following:

It is an appalling service, and I am telling the Minister today that it is time for the Government to grasp the nettle and do something about the problems that they and First Great Western have caused to my constituents.

I have mentioned the stations in my constituency. Many of my constituents commute to London or to Reading and the west using those train services. Although Maidenhead is only a 45-minute drive from London, they want to use the trains and are committed to using them, but sadly, in recent years the service has deteriorated. There are companies that situated their headquarters in my constituency because the train service to and from London was good, and because there were other good transport links in the local area. So this is an important issue for Maidenhead’s economy, but it is also important for the economy of the wider Thames valley. If those companies move out, it is not only we in Maidenhead who will lose jobs and local economic vibrancy; the surrounding area, the south-east and the country as a whole will be affected.

Let me give the Minister, who has doubtless been briefed on this issue, a short history. We used to have a very good train service, run by Thames Trains, and the franchise for our local commuter services was different from that for the long-distance services. Sadly, the Government and the Strategic Rail Authority chose to merge the franchises in 2004, and in 2005 they announced that, as from last April, First Great Western would be granted the merged franchise for nine years, with a possible extension for a further three years. Since then—since First Great Western took the service over—it has been deteriorating year on year.

I will refrain from going through all the problems that we have had over the years; suffice it to say that last year I presented a petition with 2,500 signatures of
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constituents of mine who were concerned, worried and appalled by the train service, and who wanted the Government and FGW to take some action to improve it. Those 2,500 people were telling FGW that the timetable that it proposed to introduce in December 2006 would not work and would cause them considerable problems. Sadly, FGW chose not to listen and everything that my constituents forecast would happen as a result of that timetable has come to pass.

I do not want to go into details about individual trains—the Minister may be pleased to hear that—but I do wish to quote some of the many hundreds of emails and letters I have received from constituents raising the problems. Maurice Lawson, who is one of the passenger representatives on FGW’s customer panel, tells me:

Sarah Lawson says:

Jonathan Freeland wrote to say:

Fiona Mactaggart (Slough) (Lab): The complaints of the hon. Lady’s constituents are similar to those of my constituents about the appalling service on the same line. Does she find it shocking that European Union regulations provide for a minimum amount of space for a cow, sheep or pig, but none prevents the grotesque overcrowding that human beings face daily on that line?

Mrs. May: I do share that concern and I know that the hon. Lady has been fighting on behalf of her constituents in Slough who suffer from the same problems as my constituents. It is appalling that if our constituents were chickens, cows or pigs, there would be rules about how many could be in a carriage at a time. Because they are people, there are no such rules. Sadly, the Office of Rail Regulation, which now has responsibility for health and safety on the railways, is doing nothing about the chronic overcrowding, which is not only miserable for those travelling in those circumstances, but downright dangerous, as many of my constituents have pointed out.

Jonathan Freeland continues:

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Richard Ashcroft has emailed me to say:

Janice Trounson writes:

What is sad is not only the problems caused by the timetable change, but the attitude of the rail company, which causes extra frustration for commuters. They email the company only to be told not to worry, it is just teething problems and it will all bed down in due course. Sometimes the train company does not seem to know what is happening. I had an email only yesterday from Jo Hulme who said that

That is symptomatic of the attitude that many of my constituents report from FGW. Sam Steele emailed me yesterday to say that he had asked FGW:

He goes on to say that people obviously have to be at work at certain times, and that

The problem was summed up best by a gentleman whose name I shall not mention, as he is employed by FGW as a train driver. In his email, he states that

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