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Mrs. Lait: I am happy to provide that clarification, but we are here to probe Government policy, not Conservative party policy.

There is no contradiction between the statement that the Minister read out from my hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst saying that local councils should provide—we all agree and have said so consistently throughout the past hour or so—and anything that my hon. Friend the Member for Brentwood and Ongar (Mr. Pickles) has said. The key that the Minister is eliding over in the statement from my hon. Friend the Member for Brentwood and Ongar is “under these circumstances”. Those circumstances are the Government’s top-down imposed regional spatial strategy, which produces the local development frameworks, very few of which have been agreed. The requirements of the regional spatial strategy and the local development frameworks imposed on local government is where the top-down implication comes in. It has nothing to do with local councils making their own decisions undriven by the Government.

Mr. Wright: Let me move on to talk about the policy framework and Government policy. There are two days left to contribute to the consultation on where new sites in North Wiltshire should be. I hope that the hon. Member for North Wiltshire and others will take the opportunity to reassert the earlier view that the recognition and identification of sites is just as important in 2008 as it was in 2004. We definitely need that.

The Government believe that everyone has the right to a decent home and a secure and authorised place in which to raise their families. For years, local authorities have assessed the housing needs of the settled population to plan strategically for the future requirements of their residents. That is entirely appropriate.

Local authorities identify land for all uses in their local plans, which are available so that the public can see at a glance what type of development is likely to take place in their neighbourhoods during the coming years. There is no reason why land suitable for use as Gypsy and Traveller sites should not go through the same process. It is not appropriate for housing for Gypsies and Travellers to be treated differently from housing for the settled community.

The policies that the Government have put in place ensure that our record on equality now extends to Gypsies and Travellers through the planning system, as it should. Everyone in our communities, whether they live in a house or on a Gypsy and Traveller caravan site, needs to know that local authorities are planning for the housing needs of future generations. This Government have pledged to deliver 3 million new homes by 2020. The need to provide equality of opportunity for Gypsies and Travellers is tiny in comparison. As the hon. Gentleman mentioned, we are talking about 4,000 pitches by 2011 to accommodate all caravans on all currently unauthorised sites, which means that less than1 square mile of land is required throughout the country.

The hon. Gentleman commented on the exercise by North Wiltshire district council. I praise the council for taking steps to identify suitable locations to address the need for additional sites within its area. As I hinted, the hon. Gentleman knows that I cannot comment on the proposals, but the council’s approach in recognising
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the need to plan proactively for authorised sites must be the right one in tackling unauthorised sites. That evidence-based approach seems to be entirely right.

I reiterate a point that I made earlier, which is important. Regional spatial strategies should be established using a robust and credible evidence base. The GTAAs to which the hon. Gentleman referred naturally form part of that evidence, but if he or any other hon. Member who has contributed today believes the evidence to be less than credible, I suggest that they make their views known through the statutory consultation process.

Lembit Öpik: I suggest a test for what the Minister said. He claims that the process that he has described will resolve the issues that we are discussing. Is he predicting that the Government’s approach will resolve the specific issue in North Wiltshire that has been raised? If so, when will he see the issue resolved?

Mr. Wright: All I am saying is that I think there is a large element of consensus between the hon. Gentleman and me that the identification and provision of authorised sites ultimately improve community cohesion and reduce enforcement costs. Everyone, whether Gypsy and Traveller communities or the settled community, wins through the identification and provision of authorised sites and good management. That seems entirely reasonable, and should be carried out as part of the RSS process through the strategic assessment of need, whether it is housing in general or Gypsy and Traveller accommodation. Again, that seems entirely reasonable and sensible. I hope that the identification and provision of authorised sites will iron out as much as possible some of the problems that have been highlighted today.

The hon. Gentleman also touched on a central point that the hon. Member for North Wiltshire made about armies of people coming from eastern Europe and elsewhere to the newly provided sites. The hon. Member for Montgomeryshire sensibly poured cold water on that, because there is no evidence that armies of Gypsies and Travellers are waiting to migrate to this country as soon as new sites are established.

I emphasise that accommodation assessments are already undertaken for settled housing needs, and it is only right and proper that we also assess the needs of Gypsy and Traveller residents.

Mr. Ancram: If there is no evidence on that account, was there evidence in relation to, for example, the Poles who came here after the accession treaty?

Mr. Wright: That is a wider point that I cannot comment on in three minutes, but it is an important point in terms of immigration policy.

Let me move on to how the situation in the south-west of England relates nationally to the Government’s commitment to provide equality of opportunity for Gypsies and Travellers throughout the country. The panel’s report recently submitted to the Secretary of State sets out how many new pitches should be provided in the south-west. I commend the work that has been undertaken in the south-west to bring forward the delivery of new pitches so far, and we will publish our proposed changes to the regional spatial strategy in due course.

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We want that progress to be replicated throughout the country. There is an established need for new houses throughout the south-west. It is right, and expected, that they will be provided. It is similarly right, and expected, that the number of new homes required will be carefully and meticulously studied. Regional spatial strategies are to be founded on a robust and credible evidence base, subject to examination in public so that everyone has the chance to comment. That is the process that has been followed in the south-west, enabling all those with an interest to probe or challenge the assessments of the need for more Gypsy and Traveller sites.

I hope that it is clear to the hon. Member for North Wiltshire and others that in this age of equality what is right and expected for members of the settled community becomes right and expected for Gypsies and Travellers too. I started by saying that there is one law for all. Gypsies and Travellers should abide by the planning system. They should apply for planning permission before developing land that they own, and local authorities have swift and appropriate enforcement action to deploy if they do not do so.

We will not see a reduction in unauthorised camping if new sites are not provided to meet the needs of the Gypsy and Traveller communities. The task group stated that, when there is a demonstrable need, local authorities should begin work on identifying sites now. I am glad that in the south-west the regional spatial strategy is close to concluding how many pitches should be provided. It will then be for local authorities such as North Wiltshire to ensure—not by a top-down approach—that they provide homes and accommodation for those who need them most.

3.59 pm

Sitting suspended.

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Crimestoppers (Great Yarmouth)

4.30 pm

Mr. Anthony Wright (Great Yarmouth) (Lab): It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship today, Mr. Chope.

I am certainly pleased to have the opportunity to debate this subject, although I do not think that it will be very contentious. It will probably be one of the easier debates for the Home Office to respond to, because the subject is one deserving of celebration rather than one that requires the Home Office to intervene or take any particular action.

As I say, I am pleased to have secured this debate. Although the subject is Crimestoppers in Great Yarmouth, this is really a celebration of the fact that the nationally recognised and successful Crimestoppers scheme started in Great Yarmouth some 25 years, on 24 June 1983; the exact anniversary is next Tuesday. The scheme was started by Detective Inspector Mike Cole and was ably supported by the then manager of the Woolworths store in the town centre, Jim Carter; both of them are visiting Westminster Hall today to enjoy the celebrations of what was achieved in Great Yarmouth.

I want first to express my appreciation for the initiative, which, as I say, was taken by Mike Cole and Jim Carter to start the scheme. I would also like to mention the then local chief superintendent, Peter Howse; the then chief constable, George Charlton, and the late Peter Ware, who was the editor of the Yarmouth Mercury at that time. Each of them had their own input and helped to make such a success of the new scheme.

It is only fair that we look at the humble beginnings of the scheme, which were in another country, where the idea first came about to encourage members of the public to give information on suspected criminals. The scheme started in Albuquerque, New Mexico, in 1976. A young man had been shot dead during a robbery at a filling station, and having made little headway in finding the perpetrator, police decided to set up an anonymous phone line for witnesses to come forward with information. Within 72 hours, arrests were made, but what amazed the New Mexico police was the number of people giving information on other, unrelated crimes. The Crimestoppers concept was born.

It was another six years before a youthful Detective Inspector Mike Cole was on a police visit to Peoria, in Illinois. He took a particular interest in the scheme that was being run by a sergeant in the community relations department. Working from a dedicated room, the sergeant was taking information from the public about crimes. The difference was that this information was given anonymously, and callers giving information that led to an arrest put themselves in line for a reward payment from money donated by local businesses. That was Crimestoppers Illinois-style.

Mike Cole was so impressed by the scheme and its results that, on his return to Great Yarmouth, he submitted a report daring to suggest that it be tried out in the town. Both his chief superintendent and the chief constable gave their approval. However, it was by chance that Jim Carter, the manager of the local Woolworths, who had been in that post for only about a year, received a letter from Chief Superintendent Peter Howse asking for
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support. The bottom line was that both Mike and Jim saw this scheme as an opportunity to get the community involved in crimefighting.

At this juncture, I want to take time out to pay tribute to another of my constituents, Carol Saldinack, who I am sure some people will have heard about from the media. She was the lady who reported her two sons to the police for their vicious attack on a father of two from Chichester. She reported them because she saw it as the right thing to do. Although she was not able to have anonymity—indeed, she did not want it—her action does give us hope that there are people who recognise that it is not the job of Government or the police alone to catch criminals; we all have a responsibility. I have met Carol and she wants to continue getting the message out about the need for all of us to take responsibility. If that means using Crimestoppers as a way of giving information anonymously, that should be encouraged.

Returning to the road that led to Crimestoppers, the next step was to convene a meeting of all the local businesses and, of course, the media in Great Yarmouth. Peter Ware, who was the editor of Yarmouth’s local paper at the time, was on board from day one, giving the required space in the paper to fuel the Crimestoppers trial. The local business community willingly donated some cash and then £10 per month into the Crimestoppers account.

The scheme was officially launched on 24 June 1983 and the anonymous calls came in to a collator’s office from 9 am until 5 pm, with an answer machine taking calls outside those hours. Once any information was received, the real police work began, with police gathering their own evidence, because anonymous information never could and never should be treated as evidence to be put before a court.

The scheme was a huge success and it had a positive effect on the crime figures. Other forces took a keen interest, and it was not long after officers from the Metropolitan police visited Great Yarmouth that the scheme went nationwide. Recalling the visit by the Metropolitan police officers, Mike Cole said:

Thus, the scheme began in what Jim Carter described as

Just four years later, Crimestoppers began to expand, with Thames Television adopting the idea and promoting it in the capital. Locally, the next huge step was the involvement of Anglia Television in promoting Crimestoppers throughout the Anglia region. The irony is that the then head of programming at Anglia, Jim Wilson, went on to become chairman of Norfolk police authority and of Anglia Crimestoppers.

From humble beginnings in Norfolk, Crimestoppers has spread to every part of the British isles. The essence of Crimestoppers has never changed. Mike Cole and Jim Carter feel very proud—quite rightly, in my opinion—to have been in at the start of one of the country’s best crimefighting initiatives. They still recall those early days when the rewards were paid out under the town hall clock. I do not know whether they had to wear a red rose for identification, but I do know that this
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wonderful scheme is a huge success story. Great Yarmouth should be proud of having been in at the start.

Having looked at the scheme’s humble beginnings in Great Yarmouth, I shall look at some of the successes of Crimestoppers nationally over the last 25 years, up to the present day. After its infancy in a single Great Yarmouth office, operating from 9 to 5, Crimestoppers now has 39 regional boards across the UK, Channel Islands and the Isle of Man. In its first year as a national venture, it received fewer than 5,000 calls; last year, it received more than 80,000 calls.

As well as its network of permanent staff, Crimestoppers has more than 400 people volunteering in their spare time to help to fight crime, and it is supported by a 24-hour call centre, ensuring that calls can be answered around the clock every day. With this supporting network, Crimestoppers has been no small success. Since the scheme went national in 1988, 84,000 arrests and charges have been made; nearly 1 million actionable calls have been received, and as a result, more than £100 million-worth of goods have been recovered and more than £145 million-worth of drugs have been seized. To put those impressive figures into context, some 17 people are arrested every day as a result of information given to Crimestoppers. In addition, every five days one person is charged with murder as a result of information given to Crimestoppers.

Following on from these impressive successes, Crimestoppers is now a leading player in a number of successful crime reduction partnerships. Teaming up with the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre, Crimestoppers has been a partner in “Most Wanted”, an initiative that has been in place since November 2006, which helps to catch some of Britain’s most dangerous criminals and missing convicted sex offenders. As part of the launch of “Most Wanted”, five appeals for missing offenders were posted on the initiative’s website. Within hours, as the result of the widespread publicity, Gordon Stewart, one of the five missing offenders, surrendered to the police. The website has received more than 8 million hits; more than 1 million appeals were viewed by the public when the campaign was launched, and to date nine offenders have been located.

Crimestoppers has also had success abroad, leading the campaign alongside the Serious Organised Crime Agency to catch British criminals in the Costa del Sol. Operation Captura in the Costa del Sol encourages anyone who recognises the wanted criminals on its website to call Crimestoppers from Spain, to give information anonymously on a dedicated Spanish free phone number, which is—

Mr. Christopher Chope (in the Chair): Order. I hesitate to interrupt the hon. Gentleman. You can discuss Crimestoppers in Great Yarmouth and Crimestoppers in the UK—you can argue that Great Yarmouth is part of the UK—but when you start talking about Crimestoppers abroad, you are getting a little bit away from the subject matter of this debate.

Mr. Wright: Not really, Mr. Chope, because Crimestoppers UK receives the calls about the criminals who have escaped justice in the UK by going abroad, so it is very relevant to the scheme that started in Great Yarmouth 25 years ago, which encouraged people to contact the police. The scheme encourages people to
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report not just criminals in the UK but those who are abroad, so it has a direct relevance in that sense. I am nearly finished, Mr. Chope, so I will not take up much of your time on this particular subject, but I can assure you that it is all relevant to Crimestoppers UK.

Mr. Christopher Chope (in the Chair): My concern is that the title of the debate is Crimestoppers in Great Yarmouth. To extend it to Crimestoppers in the UK, which I have tolerated, is one thing, but to talk too much about the impact of Crimestoppers outside the UK is going a bit too far.

Mr. Wright: I crave your indulgence, Mr. Chope, as I turn to the multi-agency operation Pentameter 2, which launched last October to protect victims of the sex trafficking industry. Anonymous Crimestoppers intelligence has assisted the police in Leicestershire in rescuing six females from brothel premises, closing four brothels down and arresting two persons who were subsequently charged with running a brothel and controlling a prostitute. Through its youth arm, Shadow CS, Crimestoppers is now targeting the London boroughs that are hardest hit by gun and knife crime.

It is through collaborative partnerships and joint working between the police, businesses and the media that Crimestoppers has had the success that it has had, and will continue to have, I am sure, for the next 25 years and beyond.

Another element that is key to Crimestoppers having any success at all is the information provided to it by members of the public. Without people picking up the phone to make that call, the thousands of arrests and solved cases would not have been possible. So as we celebrate 25 years of successful crime stopping, we should also stop to recognise the individuals who come forward. Often that is not an easy thing to do. People may feel under pressure not to come forward because of the potential consequences; they may know the person who they are reporting. Crimestoppers teams and the general public must be congratulated on their efforts to bring criminals to justice. Those behind the scenes can look back with pride and highlight the fact that it all started in Great Yarmouth.

Crimestoppers has gone international. The fact is that without the two gentlemen who started the project, Jim Carter and Mick Cole, who are here today, the 80,000 or so arrests that have been made, not just in the UK but internationally, since Crimestoppers began would never have been made. I pay personal tribute to those two individuals from Great Yarmouth, to the community in Great Yarmouth for taking the initiative forward, and to successive Governments who have supported it.

Most of all, I encourage as many people as possible to use the anonymous phone lines and to listen to the words of Carol Saldinack, who is a constituent of mine. She did not have anonymity but she gave up her two sons because she thought that that was the right thing to do. She says that it is up to socially responsible people in society to use whatever measures are available, including Crimestoppers, to report criminal activity, wherever it takes place, so that we can help the police, and help the Government to bring down the crime statistics.

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