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19 Jan 2009 : Column 565

In addition, although I support the extension of the power to issue a direction to leave, we must be wary of fast-tracking young people into the criminal justice system. More investment is required in outreach youth workers and in positive intervention by the services. I hope that my own Tory-controlled Dudley council will take note of that, as it is currently cutting youth services. Young people should first be offered a programme of support if they are found to be persistently drinking to excess in public and need to change their behaviour. A welfare and social response should surely precede any punitive one for the 10-to-15 age group.

Before I conclude, I should like to say a few words in general support of the Bill, particularly in the light of my experience with the West Midlands police force through the police parliamentary scheme. I worked alongside many officers across all departments of the force, and obtained a warts-and-all view of the work that those men and women do for us, day in and day out. I came away with a renewed respect for the job that they do in the most difficult circumstances, often with provocation from members of the public that even a mild-mannered lady such as myself found it hard to rise above. I know that the falling crime rate—now at its lowest in the west midlands for 18 years—is due to the dedication of those police officers and to the continued assistance of new powers to enable them to do their jobs effectively and professionally. I am sure that many of the measures in the Bill will add to their effectiveness.

I support the Bill and I am grateful that my many concerns and those of my constituents have been acted on, but I would really welcome clarification and assurance on the issues that still concern me. They include lap dancing, temporary licences, the registration of alcohol licensees, and the safety and support of young problem drinkers.

8.23 pm

Mr. Dai Davies (Blaenau Gwent) (Ind): I am sure that all hon. Members have the utmost respect for our police forces. They do a fantastic job, and it is certainly not a job that I would like to do. Policing is now probably at the top of the agenda in our constituency offices, alongside health, education, climate change and transport. It is one of the most important issues for our constituents. The police force offers a service to the community, and I believe that it should be funded according to need. I guess that we have all received a number of lobbies from police authorities, and they show that there is a breakdown somewhere between the Government and the police authorities. We have heard tonight that a lot of money has been put into the police forces, but that is not the way that the representatives of the police authorities who come to talk to me about funding see it.

One subject that has been prevalent in tonight’s debate is the need to include the community in decision making. One measure that has been introduced in our area is the PACT—police and community together—meeting, but the problem is that there is a huge difference between consultation and action. Unless the people at those meetings see action, they will walk away. Including the public is one thing, but if they are then alienated, they will leave the process alone. If we are encouraging the public to come along to such meetings, we should
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consider giving them a budget of their own to spend on the issues in the community that worry them. I guess that those issues are primarily the same for all of us. They include antisocial behaviour and traffic problems—nothing that is particularly high on the agenda in terms of serious crime, but in our communities such issues are very important. To that end, there needs to be a review of the antisocial behaviour order system. It is certainly not working in our area. The persistent offenders—the usual suspects—are still there.

Police community support officers provide a uniformed presence on the streets. That is a good idea, but I still believe that if we asked our constituents whether they would prefer four community support officers or two of our own police officers, they would rather have the full-blown police officers.

We have heard tonight that more than 3,000 new laws have been introduced. I am sure that they were introduced with all the right intentions, but what is the point if we cannot enforce them? We would be better off with fewer laws and better enforcement.

On a number of occasions, the police have talked to me about their relationship with the Crown Prosecution Service. In certain circumstances, the police want to bring charges and the CPS decides otherwise, and there seems to be a definite breakdown between the two organisations.

There has been a loss of values in our communities, a loss of respect for the police, and in some cases even a loss of respect for life. We need to bring back that respect.

Another problem that we have heard about tonight relates to statistics, and to the number of crimes that those in our communities see as crimes, especially in relation to antisocial behaviour. Such crimes are often not recorded as crimes. People in my community have now started to ask for log numbers. If the police refuse to list an incident as a crime, at least people will have something to refer to if they have a log number. That, too, needs to be looked into.

We have spoken many times about the lack of discipline in young people. Thank goodness that applies only to a minority, but it is a significant minority none the less. In that context, we have also spoken tonight about alcohol abuse. I recently met representatives of the Royal College of Nursing, who complained bitterly about the number of assaults on nurses that are now taking place, primarily because of alcohol abuse. I am sure that teachers and police officers would make the same point.

To put barriers in the way of obtaining alcohol is one thing—I understand why that is happening and I support some of the measures involved—but we are not asking why children and young people under the age of 16 find the need to drink. What are their reasons? Most of the reasons relate to inactivity and boredom: they have nothing to do. The problem is that our local authorities are now having to cut their budgets, which are being tightened all the time, and the provisions that are being taken away from our communities tend to be the ones that the young people want to keep, including the youth clubs and leisure facilities that provide them with something to do. Unless that is looked at, the problem of inactivity among our young people is going to get worse.

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If we as politicians sat in a room with police, teachers and people in our communities, I am sure that we could identify the problem families. They tend to be the same ones time and again. Those problem families need 24/7 attention. With a lack of social workers and youth workers alongside the police, those problems are not going to go away.

The police authorities do a fantastic job. We speak about electing people to them, but that is already happening through local authority representation. Perhaps that is something that needs to be reviewed and strengthened, but the local authority certainly has a presence, and most of it comes from people who have been elected by their communities. If there is a problem there, let us look at it.

I honestly believe that the problem in my community has been worsened over the years by the removal of local police stations. At one time, each small community had its own police station somewhere in the vicinity. We also had police houses on estates. When problems broke out in those estates, the complaint we always got was, “You don’t have to live with it; it is not in your back yard.” When we had police houses and police stations in those areas, the police were part of the community; they lived it, and contact between the community and the police was that much stronger.

David T.C. Davies: The hon. Gentleman makes a number of excellent points, with which I thoroughly agree, although he may not necessarily welcome my saying so. Does he agree that it was not simply a matter of police living in the community in police houses, as there was also a stronger sense of morality, particularly in those valley communities that he and I love so well? There was a strong sense of morality, but for many reasons, sadly, it is disappearing.

Mr. Dai Davies: I fully agree with the hon. Gentleman. The influence of parents and grandparents has significantly weakened over the past 25 or 30 years. I recently spoke to a head teacher who told me that the problem with our communities now is that we have children having children. There is no influence around to teach that moral aspect of our society; it is a very important point.

Finally, I want to touch on the issue of “perceived crime”. Whenever we speak to the police about problems in our areas, they say, “Oh, yes, but it is only perceived; you only think you have a problem.” Well, when Mrs. Davies or Mrs. Jones in my constituency—they are 80 years of age—have stones thrown at their window, they are not simply perceiving it; they are feeling it and worrying about it. In some respects, they are terrified to leave their homes. We need to take that much more seriously, not simply brush it under the carpet.

The relationship between the police and our communities is vital to us all. This Bill is a start, but many parts of it need to be strengthened and looked at in greater depth. I look forward to Third Reading.

8.31 pm

Mr. Andy Slaughter (Ealing, Acton and Shepherd's Bush) (Lab): I generally welcome the Bill and commend much of it, including parts 2 and 3. It is perhaps a shame that Opposition Members have spoken against the clauses on prostitution and, indeed, some of the
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clauses relating to the control of binge drinking and alcohol abuse. Like my hon. Friends the Members for City of Durham (Dr. Blackman-Woods) and for Stourbridge (Lynda Waltho), I am going to concentrate in the brief time I have available on the proposals relating to lap dancing in clause 25, as the number of such clubs has mushroomed in recent years and caused difficulties for a great number of hon. Members in their constituencies.

The reclassification of lap-dancing or pole-dancing clubs as sex encounter venues is a very welcome step. Since the Licensing Act 2003, the number of such clubs is estimated to have doubled approximately to about 300. It is fair to say that that was an unintended consequence of the legislation, which effectively disenfranchised local communities and made it extremely difficult for licences to be withheld from those establishments.

That was brought home to me very keenly towards the end of last year in respect of an application for such a club in the west Kensington area—an area that I represented for about 20 years as a councillor and hope, following boundary changes at the next election, to represent again as an MP. It is an issue that has affected many areas in London and, indeed, outside it. In this case, a notorious establishment called the Fox tavern was bought by a company rather luridly called Passion Nights, which had no previous experience of running such places. It sought to open it as a lap-dancing club for up to 600 people with a large number of private booths and other insalubrious trappings that go along with such institutions. Needless to say, like many of these establishments, it was to be located in a densely populated residential area, with all that one expects to go with it in the way of schools, community facilities and so forth. It does not take much imagination to realise that that club would entirely change the character of that area. Despite that rather obvious fact, the experience of a number of my hon. Friends elsewhere has shown how difficult it is under existing legislation to challenge such licences. In those circumstances, one must try to prove a hypothesis: one must try to prove that something will happen for which there is clearly no current evidence, because the establishment is not currently there, and the criteria for refusal of licences are extremely narrow and not directed at the nuisances that residents usually expect such establishments to cause.

Fortunately, things have gone reasonably well thus far in this case, but that is entirely due to the fact that within 10 days of its becoming common knowledge that the application was being submitted, more than 25 per cent. of all residents in the catchment area had signed petitions and presented the local authority with over 1,000 objections to the club’s opening. Owing to the quality of those submissions and the organisation involved—I know that a great deal of organisation was involved, because I gave evidence at the licensing hearing—the authority refused the application. It was one of very few applications that were refused.

However, the matter does not end there. Next month there will be an appeal in the magistrates court, and I strongly suspect that even if the residents win again, the matter will proceed to the High Court, because the people who have the estimated £2 million needed to develop such a project have deep enough pockets to exceed, in the legal process, whatever the residents can come up with.

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The clause is good news. I say that not only because of my own reading of it, but because organisations such as Object and the Fawcett Society—which have campaigned nationally on the subject—generally welcome it, and believe that it will do the trick when it comes to new licences. Some of my hon. Friends have already mentioned the caveats, so I will not go over the ground again. There is, however, an opportunity for temporary or occasional licences.

Two matters concern me particularly, given my own experience. First, I want to know how transitional provisions will be dealt with. We understand that they will be dealt with by means of a statutory instrument, but it would be helpful if—perhaps not today, but certainly in Committee—the Minister could give some indication of how the Government expect existing licences, and the process of renewal and challenge of those licences, to be dealt with. Given the mushrooming of facilities of this kind over the last five years, the problem clearly does not relate only to new licences dating from the time of enactment.

The second issue, which I think has already been covered by my hon. Friend the Member for City of Durham, is the issue of choice. There is an adopted rather than a mandatory provision here. Indeed, it is a double adopted provision, because it constitutes an amendment to schedule 3 of the Local Government (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1982. There will be a “postcode lottery” effect. There will, I suspect, be displacement between authorities, some being less robust and some being more robust, and there is likely to be a substantial delay while authorities take advice and decide whether to adopt the new legislation. I ask my hon. Friend the Minister to look at that issue again, and to consider particularly the matter of transitional provision. Notwithstanding that caveat, however, the legislation is very welcome.

I did not intend to say anything particularly partisan, but I am afraid that the door was opened by the newly appointed shadow Home Secretary, the hon. Member for Epsom and Ewell (Chris Grayling). Perhaps it was his enthusiasm for his new job that gave him the temerity to claim credit for the Conservative party for coming up with these ideas. That, I think, is simply churlish. I think that credit should be given where it is due. The Conservative party’s record on this issue is actually very bad, whether we view it at national or at local level.

Because she is a very modest person, my hon. Friend the Member for Stourbridge did not mention the fact that she and my hon. Friend the Member for City of Durham had conducted a co-ordinated campaign, including an early-day motion which, when I last saw it, had attracted 119 signatures in the last Session. Four were from Conservative Members. That is how much the Conservative party cared at that stage. Conservative Members’ support in debates raising the issue, and their support for the ten-minute Bill, were singularly lacking. I am glad to note that residents’ pressure has belatedly brought them to the table to support this recommendation, but I think it would be rather better for them to give credit to the people who have pursued the agenda over the last two to three years than to try, in a rather tawdry way, to claim the credit now.

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Last year the Under-Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, my hon. Friend the Member for Bradford, South (Mr. Sutcliffe), wrote to all local authorities asking whether they had any concerns. My Conservative council wrote back, saying that the current restrictions

There is a degree of complacency in that statement. My hon. Friend the Member for Stourbridge made a good point, even though it was jeered by Opposition Members. There are lurid examples of Conservatives and their organisations not simply not opposing institutions of this kind, but giving support to them in a rather childish and schoolboyish way.

I hope that the Conservative party has learned its lesson on this matter. I hope this provision will be toughened, and that it will not be subjected to the same sort of parsimonious comments that we have heard so far about the rest of the Bill. On that basis, I hope that the Bill will make progress and that the specific provision on lap-dancing clubs will be strengthened.

8.40 pm

Mrs. Nadine Dorries (Mid-Bedfordshire) (Con): I wish to speak first on part 1 of the Bill, but only briefly because I am sure that my hon. Friend the Member for Harwich (Mr. Carswell) will do it justice when he is called to speak.

The Government have missed a huge opportunity to be bold and to go the full way to having elected police commissioners. Instead, they have proposed the direct election of some members of police authorities, which is a cop-out. I am unsure precisely how that will work in practice, but people will elect members to various police authorities, and that will generate no interest or excitement. I cannot see in my mind people pouring out of their homes to go to the polling booths to vote for members of a locally elected police authority, because it will not be accountable. The police commissioner would have been accountable and such accountability would have been an exciting development. It would have been great if people could have gone to the polls to vote not only for their MPs and local councillors, but for the police commissioner as well. Let us imagine that after such a vote crime had gone up in their area, they were unhappy with what had been happening on their streets and there was no visible policing; if, when the next election came around, they could point the finger at somebody and say, “That’s your fault”, they would go back into the polling booths to vote again in droves. Imagine the other advantages such as the prudence that would be applied to police budgets, and also in relation to how the budgets would be spent and the priorities adopted by the police commissioner—which I am sure would have mirrored those requested by the local residents.

That is what people want. Every area has different policing needs; every community knows what it wants in terms of policing. There was a chance to offer people the opportunity to vote for somebody who was visibly accountable and responsible for keeping their streets safe. It is a great shame that the Government have missed out on that huge opportunity—they have ducked out of it.

Turning to part 2 of the Bill, I wish to speak particularly about clauses 16 and 17. Clause 16 addresses orders under the Street Offences Act 1959 to do with

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In effect, a court will order that prostitutes attend three meetings. This is a prime example of making bad law. Let me read out a passage:

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