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Crime and Security Bill

Part of Bill Presented — Pedicabs Bill – in the House of Commons at 7:08 pm on 18th January 2010.

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Photo of Rob Flello Rob Flello Labour, Stoke-on-Trent South 7:08 pm, 18th January 2010

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 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 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.

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