|Previous Section||Index||Home Page|
Successful working together on these issues can be patchy, however. I attended a raid on a property in part of the Meir to deal with drug use on the premises. The police arrived and gained entry to the premises, which were in a horrendous condition. Anyone keeping animals in such conditions would rightly be arrested and prosecuted, but there was a small child running around these premises. The city council officer turned
up within about 15 minutes of receiving a call from the police, and secured an agreement from the tenants that they would vacate the property within 28 days. That was an extremely good result, which showed how the police and the city council can work together very well. Unfortunately, as I have said, such good responses can be patchy; they are not happening uniformly across the city or, indeed, across the country.
An extremely effective local resident, a gentleman called Brian Jones, came up with the fantastic idea of mobile CCTV. This involves great long columns with wireless cameras at the top, which can be moved around the footprint of the area, as and when problems arise. That system should certainly be taken up elsewhere, and I give credit to Brian and all those involved with it.
Another local resident is Fred. I will not use his surname, but he will know who he is. He is a very forthright man who lives on the eastern side of my constituency. He and his neighbours were having problems with the local yobbos and idiots, as he put it. He got them into his front room, sat them down and asked them what the problems were. They explained that they had nothing to do. They certainly would not argue with Fred. I am sure he will forgive me for saying that he is no youngster, but he embraced the problem, got to the heart of it and came up with a solution.
So there are good, positive things happening, but there is still room for improvement. Conservative and Liberal Democrat Members mentioned antisocial behaviour orders being ineffective, being used far too liberally-if I can put it like that-and being a badge of honour. I wish that that were the case in Stoke-on-Trent, because only 12 antisocial behaviour orders have been issued there in the past year. What is the point of our meeting here, having these debates and passing legislation if local authorities are not going to make full use of the powers available to them?
On empowering local officers to issue fixed-penalty notices, I asked the city council nearly two years ago to allow people to go through the training and get a warrant card so that if they saw some mindless idiot throwing a bag of chips into the middle of the street and walking off up the road, they would be able to tackle them. Nearly two years later, I am still waiting for that training to take place.
Gating orders are a wonderful thing. They result in instantaneous improvement to an area by getting alleyways and passageways-places where teen gangs can gather and cause a nuisance-gated off. In Stoke-on-Trent, however, there is a requirement for a 100 per cent. take-up by local residents. What nonsense! What is the point of having the legislation if councils are going to use it in such a way that it becomes very bureaucratic and difficult to get through?
The legislation that we have is extremely good, but some of it is just not being used. We need to see a recognition of that in the Bill. Some of the powers in it could be improved further, and I will go on to talk about that shortly. The provisions in clauses 37 and 38 are certainly welcome, however. They include a requirement for family circumstances to be taken into account and reported on when considering ASBOs-that is, of course, if we can actually persuade our local authorities to make more use of ASBOs in the first place.
I was interested to receive a briefing from an organisation called Catch22, which outlined a number of elements that it would like to see included in any parenting assessment. I know from my previous experience outside the House, working with a Birmingham-based charity-the Malachi Community Trust-that works with young people with behavioural or mental health difficulties, that some of those elements are absolutely crucial. For example, sometimes, something as simple as improving a person's housing situation can make all the difference, and even provide a miraculous outcome not only for the family but for the whole neighbourhood. If we solve someone's housing problem, we often solve the deeper problems that are manifesting themselves in antisocial and criminal behaviour.
Catch22's briefing also mentioned the need to take into consideration a family's financial situation, debt, family breakdown, conflict and bereavement. In my experience, family breakdown can have a huge impact on the way in which families behave, and can result in antisocial and criminal behaviour.
David T.C. Davies: It took a moment to sink in: is the hon. Gentleman seriously suggesting that we should reward people who exhibit antisocial behaviour by giving them a brand-spanking-new house to live in?
Mr. Flello: I am not suggesting that at all. I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his intervention, because it will allow me to clarify my comments. I am saying that my experience working with organisations such as the Malachi Community Trust has shown me that families often live in desperate housing circumstances. A family of a dozen, for example, might be living in a two-bedroom home. One child at school might be struggling to find anywhere quiet to do their homework, which becomes very frustrating, leading to detachment from school life and lack of interest in school, perhaps ending with the child being drawn into gang activities. It can happen for a whole host of reasons, but I concur completely with Catch22 that this is just one area that needs to be looked at. I am not suggesting that there should be a reward mechanism, but I will come back to the point when I talk about family intervention projects.
Worklessness or, indeed, having to work long hours away from home can impact on children and create many difficulties with their behaviour. Mental health issues and drug or alcohol dependency in the family should also be on the list. I ask the Minister to look at the Catch22 briefing paper as it relates particularly to clause 37, because it is important to have a wide-ranging assessment of the parental situation rather than to focus solely on whether the parents have control over the young person in question.
Having said all that, I have some concerns that in cases where local authorities are hesitant to use antisocial behaviour orders, particularly where young offenders are concerned, these alternatives might be used as a further excuse not to go down the route of imposing ASBOs. I am concerned that where parental orders and the reports on family circumstances are being looked at, these will not be used as an excuse by a local authority to avoid going down that route at all.
I mentioned family intervention projects. I have seen such projects for myself in Stoke-on-Trent and I was extremely impressed by them. I met one family living in
extremely inadequate housing. Both parents were drug users, while the daughter was herself a parent but took no parental responsibility, preferring to spend all day in bed, and the son-of primary school age, but close to secondary school age-was truanting. The family intervention project went in and literally transformed the lives not only of this family, but of those in the surrounding area, whose lives had been blighted.
The last I heard was that the mother was off drugs and attending college with her daughter, who had stopped spending her day in bed and was now taking parental responsibility for her own child. The father was doing his best to get clean of drugs, and the son was at school, enjoying it, doing well and thriving. This was a complete transformation, as I said. Yes, it is expensive; yes, it is a lot of hard work; yes, it takes dedication-but it works. I certainly welcome the Prime Minister's announcement on tackling the 50,000 most challenging families in the country. That project needs resources and work put into it; anything that can be done through this Bill to strengthen that would be a very positive thing indeed.
Let me move on to what I believe is an omission from the Bill. An investigation of an issue that has been a concern of mine, and, more importantly, of many of my constituents-certainly for as long as I have represented them-is reported in today's Daily Mirror. I do not think of myself as a killjoy; I like a drop of alcohol from time to time, as do many people. I like to think that I control it, rather than it controlling me. Unfortunately, however, as reported in this article, there is a culture of pubs opening up with the mentality of "Have all you can drink for a tenner". We need to address the problem of alcohol misuse, which is taking place on a huge scale.
Sadly, Stoke-on-Trent tops some of the league tables on various negative things, one of which is alcohol misuse. I petitioned some of my local residents groups and asked them for their views on a particular issue, on the basis of which I hope to table amendments to the Bill in Committee. That issue was drinking in public. At the moment, it is possible for the local authority to ban drinking in public in a city centre or to bring in alcohol restriction zones in particular residential areas where there are problems. So far as I am aware, however, local authorities do not have the ability, in consultation with residents, perhaps through a referendum, to ban all drinking in public, save in designated picnic areas across the city.
At the moment, some residents may feel that their area is tainted by being designated an alcohol restriction zone. In other areas, such as privately owned shopping arcades, the owners might be too liberal in allowing people to sit on the steps drinking cans of strong beer from an early hour of the day. That problem blights people's lives. I see no excuse for or reason to allow people to walk up and down residential streets from early in the morning, drinking alcohol or hanging around in parks where children are trying to enjoy themselves in play. I shall be looking to table an amendment to bring in a provision whereby a local authority, perhaps through a referendum of the public, could bring in an authority-wide ban on drinking alcohol, save in certain areas designated as picnic areas where alcohol is allowed.
Domestic violence is another issue. I enjoyed the contribution of the hon. Member for Woking (Mr. Malins). I intervened in his speech on the issue of the victim not wishing to pursue action against the perpetrator. The
police can indeed arrest the perpetrator-or the alleged perpetrator-but that arrest is often followed by no further action being taken because the victim does not wish to press charges. It may well be that the following morning or 24 hours later, the perpetrator is released and goes home, only for further domestic violence to ensue.
I recently went out with a police constable one Friday night and we were called out to a particular home. The officer told me, "I know where this house is; this is not the first time I have been called out here." It was a domestic violence incident. We arrived to find that other officers had arrived slightly before us and had taken charge of the incident. As we left, the constable told me, "We will be back to these premises again tonight. This will not be the only time we'll be called out here, but the victim never wants to press charges." Sadly, all too often in this situation, women-it is predominantly women-who are the victims will, for a whole host of reasons often including the fact that they love the perpetrator, refuse to press charges. Some of us find that hard to understand, but it is nevertheless the case.
As I see it, the benefit of being able to apply these orders is that police officers will, under instruction from their superintendent-I take the point about only one superintendant covering the Oxfordshire area-be able not only to arrest the alleged perpetrator, but to take him back to the police station, at which point the notice can be served. Rather than being released a few hours later to go home and continue the cycle of violence, the order will mean a two-week, or perhaps longer, window of opportunity for the relevant agencies to work with the victim. One hopes that we will reach a point at which the victim says, "Enough is enough." It is right to move things on and to tackle the victim-perpetrator relationship so that the ongoing cycle of violence does not continue.
John Hemming (Birmingham, Yardley) (LD): I recognise the difficulty that the hon. Gentleman mentions. A number of victims have told me that they feel out of control of the situation when they ask for help. Does he agree that we must be very careful not to create a situation in which victims suffer in silence because they feel they will not have control over what will happen if they ask for help?
Mr. Flello: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for that intervention. He makes an extremely good point, and it brings me on to my next point, which is that financial intimidation is often a factor in domestic violence, in that the victim, who is often a woman, might think that she will be made homeless. She will often have children, too, and she will be considering their needs. She might feel that if she takes the children and leaves the family home, she will be more vulnerable. There is further intimidation-a further level of domestic violence-in such mental cruelty being heaped on to somebody already suffering in an abusive relationship. The orders give breathing space, by in effect saying, "No, you don't need to leave your family home; you don't need to take your children at dead of night and get away. Actually, it is the person creating the problems in this relationship who has to go," thereby creating some safe space around the family to sort out what to do next.
The National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children has issued a briefing, which many hon. Members have probably read. It talks about the current official definition of domestic violence, which is
"any incident of threatening behaviour, violence or abuse (psychological, physical, sexual, financial or emotional) between adults who are or have been intimate partners or family members, regardless of gender or sexuality."
I entirely agree with the NSPCC's point that that definition fails to capture the impact of such abuse on children. Where children have witnessed-perhaps for many years-ongoing domestic violence, their perceptions of what is a normal, healthy adult relationship can be extremely tarnished, and sometimes, although by no means always, their own relationships in future years are very damaged by what they have witnessed. The Bill must take note of the fact that children can be silent victims. The main victim-very often a woman-is the physical victim on whom the violence is being inflicted. However, any children witnessing it-even if just remotely, such as by being upstairs and hearing the shouting and sounds of violent activity-can be extremely damaged by that. The Government, and certainly the Department for Children, Schools and Families, should consider offering greater support through the schools network for young people who have witnessed domestic violence in their home.
I understand that there are to be pilots for the Bill's domestic violence programme, and I would like to make a plug for Staffordshire. We have already heard some extremely positive comments about what Staffordshire has achieved in minimising form-filling, and I would like it to be considered as a possible location for a pilot.
The hon. Member for Epsom and Ewell said that prison security is a much greater issue, and phone smuggling a much more common crime, than 12 years ago. Over that period, the availability and use of mobile phones among the general population has increased a lot, and the size of handsets has reduced dramatically. He may not realise that mobile phones are getting smaller, but the inmates who smuggle them into prison via their bodily orifices have realised that. Phones are being routinely and regularly smuggled in, and that is a problem. I see that my right hon. Friend the Minister for Policing, Crime and Counter-Terrorism is shifting in his seat; I hope he is not reaching for his phone to check the size of it. [Interruption.] I knew I would get his attention one way or another. [Interruption.] That is an extremely chunky phone. The smuggling of phones into prison is a problem, but that is not a result of lax security-of it somehow being worse now than 12 years ago. It is simply a fact of life that mobile phones are smaller and more accessible, and component parts are more easily taken apart and smuggled inside.
I fully support the measures to address this problem, and I wonder whether their scope should be widened to include police cells. Visitors, and even staff, are not the only external parties who smuggle phones into prison. Often, prisoners being taken straight to prison from the courts are already in possession of a phone. That is an issue, too.
Mr. Tobias Ellwood (Bournemouth, East) (Con):
The hon. Gentleman is making very interesting, if also slightly lurid, comments about mobile phones. Would it
not be simpler for prisons to employ the same systems that are now being employed in theatres? They are used by the military, too, and they jam all mobile phone signals.
Mr. Flello: I am grateful for that intervention, because it brings me nicely on to my next point, which is about jamming equipment. It is not only the military who are exploring that. I gather that some hotel chains routinely install jamming equipment so that residents are more inclined to use the hotel's telephone system than their own mobile. Perhaps that is just an unfounded allegation, but I understand that it does happen.
There does not necessarily need to be jamming equipment. Prisons could be constructed in ways that minimise the possibility of getting a mobile phone signal. Certainly, some of the offices in and around Parliament seem to have been constructed in a way that minimises that. This afternoon, as I was on my way to the Chamber, I could not get a signal on my mobile phone, even though it was telling me I had a couple of new messages. Therefore, as well as the active jamming of signals, there are also passive methods that can be used to make getting a signal impossible. That is particularly important for those prisoners whom we do not want to be able to have any such communications-but such people have been caught using laptops, logging on to the internet and creating websites. That important point was missed by the hon. Member for Epsom and Ewell.
The legislation that is already in place needs to be looked at, too. There are some 3,000-odd measures, which are important tools in the toolkit, and they should be used. I would like the Home Office to do some work on which local authorities are using the powers that are available, which do not use the full range, and which use them only very rarely.
One overlooked area of legislation that needs to be considered involves pubs that serve people who are clearly drunk. This is of relevance to my point about alcohol misuse leading to many crimes. If an area, such as a city centre, increasingly becomes a place where, fuelled by alcohol, criminal activity and antisocial behaviour occur, we should look at the pubs or nightclubs in that area that are serving people who are clearly drunk and who then go out on to the streets and cause problems.
My final point is about an issue that might be addressed in an amendment to the Bill. I am currently dealing with a dispute between two neighbours. The police have done everything they can within the law to resolve it, and the local authority has done everything it can to resolve it, too. They have concluded that it is a lifestyle difference between the two neighbours, but I am concerned that the neighbour who is suffering-who is at the receiving end of what she perceives to be the problems-is becoming more and more traumatised. In such situations, the local authority and the police say that nothing more can be done. Given some of the tragedies that have gone before, we need to consider whether there is a further provision that we can introduce in the Bill to identify a problem and try to find a solution that is not already covered by legislation. However, that matter would be better brought up in Committee.
|Next Section||Index||Home Page|