Previous Section Index Home Page

Police (North Yorkshire)

5. Hugh Bayley (City of York) (Lab): How many police officers there were in North Yorkshire in (a) December 1979, (b) December 1997 and (c) December 2007. [208944]

The Minister for Security, Counter-Terrorism, Crime and Policing (Mr. Tony McNulty): The published figures show that North Yorkshire had 1,342 police officers in March 1979, 1,337 in March 1997, and 1,606 in September 2007. Police officer numbers have increased by some 20 per cent. in the force since 1997—well above the 11 per cent. increase for England and Wales. In addition, there are some 188 police community support officers, and with 1,100 or so police staff there has been almost a doubling of police staff since 1997.

Hugh Bayley: There you have it, Mr. Speaker. Under the Conservatives, the number of police officers in North Yorkshire fell and crime rose. Under Labour, the number of police officers has risen substantially and crime has fallen. Can my right hon. Friend reassure me that the policing and crime reduction Bill, which the Government propose to introduce next year, will lock in those gains and ensure further reductions in crime in North Yorkshire?

Mr. McNulty: I can assure my hon. Friend that that will certainly be at the centre of the policing Green Paper. I can also assure him that the balance between urban and rural policing efforts will be equally to the fore in that Green Paper and in future policing in North Yorkshire.

Mr. Robert Goodwill (Scarborough and Whitby) (Con): How many of those additional police officers are stuck back in the police stations, filling in the forms that the Government have insisted they spend all their time doing?

Mr. McNulty: In answer directly to the hon. Gentleman’s cliché-ridden question, let me say that the answer is fewer and fewer. I can assure him that, when we get the full results of the pilot being carried out in the Staffordshire, West Midlands, Leicestershire and Surrey forces and implement that throughout the country, there will be substantially more police officers out on the streets, rather than filling out paperwork in the station.

Miss Anne McIntosh (Vale of York) (Con): The Minister referred to PCSOs, and I understand that the budget is ring-fenced only for a limited period. How does he propose that North Yorkshire police find the additional funds to pay for PCSOs in future?

Mr. McNulty: The hon. Lady will have noticed that, uniquely, in the past couple of years the Government have implemented their spending plans in three-year
9 Jun 2008 : Column 9
chunks; it is called the comprehensive spending review. This is the first year of a three-year chunk, and we are absolutely committed to that ring-fencing continuing for those three years. I am sure that if my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary and I have anything to do with it, the funding will continue thereafter. North Yorkshire can certainly be guaranteed that that ring-fencing will continue, not least because of the huge success of police community support officers across the country in supporting and complementing the role of police officers.

Mr. David Ruffley (Bury St. Edmunds) (Con): I send my condolences to the family, friends and colleagues of the officer who died while training.

The Flanagan report, which Ministers backed in February, stated that

Will the Minister listen to the police service, change his mind and pledge to maintain both the number of police in North Yorkshire, and the current national figure of 141,284?

Mr. McNulty: I made it very clear during either the constables’ or the sergeants’ conference at the Police Federation conference——they were both such huge fun that I cannot remember which it was—that we thought that 140,000 or thereabouts was the appropriate national complement. It is unusual for the hon. Gentleman to be so centrist in his deliberations. I will not dictate to each and every chief constable across the country and tell them how many police officers they should have. That is a matter principally for them. [Interruption.] Centralist rather than centrist. Centralising, probably; okay. The autonomy of each and every force is very important. It is for local communities, served by their local constabulary, to determine what the mix should be of police staff, PCSOs and police officers. If we are really to achieve, on a cross-party basis, what the hon. Member for Scarborough and Whitby (Mr. Goodwill) suggests—that is, if we are to get more and more of our police officers out on the streets, rather than having them waylaid by bureaucracy—through measures such as the use of hand-held devices and the pilots currently being carried out, a fixation on numbers is not sufficient; it is a rather sub-intellectual attitude towards policing for the future.

Drugs Act

6. Paul Flynn (Newport, West) (Lab): What assessment she has made of the effects of the Drugs Act 2005. [208946]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Vernon Coaker): The Drugs Act 2005 introduced a series of provisions. The Home Office published research in 2007 that identified the positive effect of the Act in improving the grip that the Government exert on drug-using offenders, through the drug interventions programme, by getting larger numbers of drug users to enter drug treatment. Following our clarification in the Act of the law on magic mushrooms, the British crime survey 2006-07 showed a decrease in use in the past year across all age ranges, with a significant decrease among 16 to 24-year-olds, from 3 to 1.8 per cent.

9 Jun 2008 : Column 10

Paul Flynn: That Act was passed with all-party approval—always a worrying sign—shortly before the last general election, when all parties wanted to appear tough on drugs. One of its provisions put magic mushrooms in exactly the same category as heroin—a tough decision, but a very stupid one. How many young people have been criminalised and imprisoned under that new provision?

Mr. Coaker: As I have just said, since the passage of the Act the percentage of young people using magic mushrooms has fallen from 3 to 1.8 per cent. Significant increases in the import of fresh magic mushrooms to this country led the Government to take the action that they did. I know that my hon. Friend believes we should be doing other things, as well as taking action through legislation. He will have seen that the latest drugs strategy deals with many of the things for which he has long been calling—improved treatment, access to support for families, and many other measures that I know he believes also make a difference.

Sir Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield) (Con): In a house in the centre of Macclesfield, in Bridge street, 17,000 cannabis plants were found. They were found only because the electricity system that was helping the plants to grow could not cope with the demand, a fire occurred and the fire service went in. Does the Minister accept that if more police were on the beat—on the street—going past such properties, that sort of thing would not occur, and that the police have a role in trying to ensure that drugs which are killers are not grown in the middle of a town such as Macclesfield?

Mr. Coaker: The hon. Gentleman makes an important point, and of course police on the street make a real difference. I shall be meeting the Association of Chief Police Officers to discuss cannabis farms and factories, which are a major worry for us all. The hon. Gentleman will have heard my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, in her announcement that the Government would reclassify cannabis from class C to class B, which will also help with police priorities, say that she would organise a meeting with the electricity companies and others to consider whether there is any way we can identify domestic properties that do not have a normal domestic bill, for obvious reasons, and take appropriate action. I hope that that reassures the hon. Gentleman.

Mary Creagh (Wakefield) (Lab): Will my hon. Friend join me in congratulating Wakefield’s police, who this year alone have shut down not one but eight cannabis factories in residential properties in Pinderfields road, Wesley street and on Bradford road, just a few doors down from where I live? Does he agree that we need to do more to shut down hydroponics shops that have sprung up in all sorts of places and which provide the seeds and the hardware kit that allow organised gangs of criminals to come in, use people who have been trafficked, and put the plague of cannabis on to our streets?

Mr. Coaker: First, it would be remiss of me not to welcome my hon. Friend back to the House from her leave. We all welcome her back.

In similar vein to the answer that I gave to the hon. Member for Macclesfield (Sir Nicholas Winterton), my hon. Friend is right to point out the importance of
9 Jun 2008 : Column 11
taking action against cannabis factories and cannabis farms. As I said, the reclassification of cannabis will make a huge difference. In the same announcement in which my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary announced reclassification, she also announced that the Government would look into the issue of hydroponics, cannabis seeds and the impunity with which some shops sell paraphernalia which is often not for any other purpose. I hope that that review will start to answer some of the questions that my hon. Friend raised.

Antisocial Behaviour

7. Annette Brooke (Mid-Dorset and North Poole) (LD): What recent assessment she has made of the effectiveness of antisocial behaviour orders. [208948]

8. Mr. Rob Wilson (Reading, East) (Con): What recent assessment she has made of the effectiveness of measures to combat antisocial behaviour. [208949]

The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Jacqui Smith): Nobody should have to suffer antisocial behaviour. On 8 May I announced new measures to bear down on the most persistent offenders, tackle antisocial behaviour on public transport and make sure that the many tools and powers that we have created for the agencies over the past 10 years are being used appropriately and effectively.

Annette Brooke: With 60 per cent. of ASBOs being breached among juveniles and less than 20 per cent. being accompanied by individual support orders, and the Children’s Commissioner’s report this morning, which criticises the effectiveness of ASBOs and points out that they are drawing more and more children into the criminal justice system, is the Home Secretary convinced that we have the right balance of measures in the toolkit to tackle antisocial behaviour? I accept that ASBOs should be there.

Jacqui Smith: Oh good; I welcome the Liberal Democrat U-turn in accepting that ASBOs should be there. A breach of an antisocial behaviour order means that people know who has one, they are reporting when the perpetrator is not fulfilling the conditions imposed on them, and that person is being hauled back to court and often facing custody. That is the system working—a system that did not exist at all and would not exist if the Liberal Democrats had their way, and which is extremely popular with local communities fighting antisocial behaviour across the country.

Mr. Wilson: Further to the question from the hon. Member for Mid-Dorset and North Poole (Annette Brooke), the Secretary of State will be aware that the number of ASBOs breached by offenders is now at more than 60 per cent. The new guidelines from the Sentencing Guidelines Council effectively ignore the sentencing terms set by this House and by Parliament. Does the Secretary of State agree that the Government’s flagship ASBO policy is in disarray and, in respect of that number, in complete collapse?

Jacqui Smith: No, I do not, and nor do the independent National Audit Office, the Audit Commission and others who have looked in detail at the Government’s antisocial
9 Jun 2008 : Column 12
behaviour policy. Incidentally, they have found, I think, that two thirds of people perpetrating antisocial behaviour stopped it after the first intervention, which could be a warning letter or an acceptable behaviour contract. Almost another third did so after the second intervention, leaving 7 per cent. of persistent offenders, who I believe are a significant problem. That is why I announced further action against them at the beginning of May.

Ms Sally Keeble (Northampton, North) (Lab): Is my right hon. Friend aware that a police officer in my constituency was assaulted and injured when he was policing some antisocial behaviour caused by drinking in the streets? Will she send sympathies to the police officer, who I think is still in hospital, and say what more will be done to deal with alcohol-fuelled antisocial behaviour on our streets?

Jacqui Smith: Yes, I shall of course send sympathies to the police officer in my hon. Friend’s constituency. I do believe that we need to do more, particularly with respect to the persistent possession of alcohol by young people. That is why the issue was a priority in the youth alcohol action plan, which was published just last week by myself and right hon. Friends. We were very clear in that document that there needs to be an escalation, particularly for young people caught in possession of alcohol. The first time, it is clear that parents should be informed. If it happens again, it is clear that people should receive an antisocial behaviour order. Incidentally, a parenting order may need to be put alongside that, because it is important that parents take responsibility for where their children are and what they are doing. If young people are persistently caught in public places with alcohol, it is right that we introduce a new offence of persistently possessing alcohol in a public place to send out a strong message that alcohol puts young people in danger, and that it puts them in danger of committing antisocial behaviour. None of us should have to put up with that.

Ann Coffey (Stockport) (Lab): I am pleased that recent figures show that the number of individual support orders has more than doubled. Those orders, which are granted alongside antisocial behaviour orders, require young people aged between 10 and 17 to attend treatment for underlying problems, such as drug and alcohol abuse, which cause their antisocial behaviour. Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is important that applications for those orders are increased? What more can she do to increase them?

Jacqui Smith: My hon. Friend has worked long and hard to make sure that in tackling antisocial behaviour, we nip in the bud the behaviour that causes it and provide the support that is necessary to prevent it from happening. She is right to say that although the number of individual support orders placed alongside antisocial behaviour orders has increased, certainly with respect to young people, that ought to be the case in every consideration of an antisocial behaviour order, so that we can stop the damage to communities and help to prevent young people in particular from continuing such behaviour, which is bad for them and the places where they live.

9 Jun 2008 : Column 13

Mr. Graham Stuart (Beverley and Holderness) (Con): Residents in Beverley are extremely concerned about antisocial behaviour, as they are in so many parts of the country. Local police have told me that they are frustrated by the small number of individuals who have an ASBO, breach it, turn up in court and are told that if they breach it again there will be serious repercussions, but for whom after they do breach the ASBO again and turn up in court, the repercussions do not seem to occur. Will the Home Secretary reassure the people of Beverley that we will have a joined-up system, meaning that people who breach ASBOs will stop causing so much difficulty on our streets?

Jacqui Smith: Forty per cent. of people who breach ASBOs face custody for doing so. I think that that is right. I announced on 8 May that we needed to do more to join up the range of agencies that deal with persistent offenders. If someone is a persistent perpetrator of antisocial behaviour, people should look at whether their car licence is up to date, whether they have a TV licence and whether they are fraudulently claiming benefits, as has happened, for example, in a pilot in Manchester. All the agencies in an area and all in its community need to focus attention on persistent offenders to stop them making the lives of the people who live around them a misery.

Andrew Mackinlay (Thurrock) (Lab): In her reply to the hon. Member for Mid-Dorset and North Poole (Annette Brooke), the Secretary of State rightly referred to the fact that an awful lot of antisocial behaviour occurs on transport, particularly trains. Will she discuss with British Transport police how people using trains can contact them much more urgently than at the present time? It is particularly frustrating if someone dials 999 and is told by Essex police in Chelmsford, “Contact BTP.” That is the problem. An awful lot of sexual and racial harassment and other nuisances are taking place on our trains, and people do not know how to contact the police and cannot get a response in adequate time.

Jacqui Smith: My hon. Friend makes an important point. That is perhaps one of the issues that we need to examine in the work that I am carrying out with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport as we consider what more we need to do to counter antisocial behaviour on our public transport and ensure that people get the response that they need in order to counter it.

Local Policing

9. Barbara Keeley (Worsley) (Lab): What proposals she has to give local communities more information on local policing resources and performance. [208950]

The Minister for Security, Counter-Terrorism, Crime and Policing (Mr. Tony McNulty): We made an explicit commitment in the recently published crime strategy to make crime data available on a monthly and consistent basis to the public at a level and in a context that makes sense to them locally. We think that keeping people informed of what is being done to deal with crime in their area and telling them about progress plays a very
9 Jun 2008 : Column 14
important role in making them feel safer. That is why we hope that from July this year monthly crime information will be made available to everyone.

Barbara Keeley: I thank the Minister for that answer. In Salford, levels of concern about antisocial behaviour have fallen from 48 per cent. three years ago to 30 per cent. That is really good progress, but it means that a lot of people are still concerned about antisocial behaviour. Does he agree that we should let communities influence the priorities of their neighbourhood policing teams so that they know that those teams are working on their key areas of concern?

Mr. McNulty: I most certainly do. The provision of local crime information, plus the implementation of neighbourhood policing, plus neighbourhood police teams interfacing directly with their public to establish those priorities, plus, eventually, local councils also having a role in the form of neighbourhood management working alongside neighbourhood policing, has proved a very effective and powerful resolution to many of the concerns that local communities have. We have seen throughout the country how communities have in effect won back their streets and public spaces from those who would do nothing but harm in those areas.

Mr. Paul Burstow (Sutton and Cheam) (LD): The Minister talks about keeping people informed. Does he therefore share my concern that the Metropolitan police are drawing up proposals to reduce the number of police officers by as many as 2,000 over the next few years in response to budgetary pressures? Surely that information on future police numbers is the sort of information that my constituents and many others in London need to know.

Mr. McNulty: Tempted as I am to traduce the record of the ex-hon. Member for Henley when he has barely got his feet under the table, I know of no such plans by the Metropolitan police. Indeed, the last plans and budgets that I saw were intended to do quite the opposite, particularly at the interface between counter-terrorism and policing, in increasing and improving police numbers. As far as I am aware, there are no plans to row back from the implementation, on a ward-by-ward basis, of safer neighbourhood teams. I think that to his rather pleasant surprise, the Mayor of London—I hope that this is not insulting him either—has found that there is an enormous amount of common ground between what this Government are seeking to do in London in working with the Metropolitan police and his own agenda for London. Where that common ground is in the interests of London, we will not be found wanting in working with the new Mayor.

Next Section Index Home Page