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Volume 457: debated on Wednesday 28 February 2007

Q6. Last month, unemployment in Wellingborough increased yet again. At the end of last year, it was higher than it was at the end of 1997. Who should my constituents hold responsible—the Chancellor or the Prime Minister? (123710)

As a matter of fact, my understanding is that as a result of the strength of the economy nationally, the economy in Wellingborough is doing extremely well, and we have more jobs in Wellingborough.

As we are on the subject of Wellingborough, the hon. Gentleman may recall that last week in Prime Minister’s Question Time he asked me about Kettering general hospital’s new £18 million treatment centre and suggested that it was not going to open. Let me tell him that it opened this Monday. It is an £18 million investment and another example of our commitment to Wellingborough.

Does my right hon. Friend share my concern that amid the generally encouraging trends in crime, attacks on those who replenish cash machines are rising? That organised criminal activity, which often harms those who are carrying out their work delivering cash and puts customers at risk, needs to be substantially reduced. Will he join me in calling for measures to do that?

My hon. Friend’s point is absolutely right and valid, and I understand that police forces in different parts of the country are now focusing a strategy particularly on cash machines and how people can be robbed at them. Where that strategy—which often involves CCTV and community support officers—is put in place, the offence has been sharply reduced. We are therefore trying to collate that good practice and spread it across the country, as that specific form of robbery has risen over the past few years. The measures show, however, that it can be dealt with if the right system is put in place.

Q7. Given the increasing cost of the Olympics, does the Prime Minister share the concern of London council tax payers, particularly pensioners, about the Olympic levy and those rising costs? If so, what is he going to do about it? (123711)

Obviously, it is important that the Olympic delivery authority will publish its budget in the next few weeks, and that we keep costs properly under control. The Olympics will do an immense amount for London and the whole country. It will be a huge investment in the future of this country and a wonderful showcase. People of whatever age, whether youngsters or pensioners, in whatever part of the country, should be extremely thankful that we have the Olympics. We should make the investment necessary and ensure that the Olympics in 2012 is—as we believe that it will be—the greatest sporting event on earth.

The Government have rightly prioritised tackling antisocial behaviour. Last year, in Greater Manchester alone, 26,000 complaints were made against so-called mini-motos. Nationally, they are responsible for 40 per cent. of complaints about nuisance. On Friday, the House will consider proposals to regulate those dangerous machines. Why are the Government not supporting those proposals?

I am not aware of the specific point that my hon. Friend raises about regulations, and I am happy to look into that. My understanding is that as a result of antisocial behaviour measures taken in different parts of the country where mini-motos have been a problem, those vehicles can be lifted away and, if necessary, destroyed. He is right that the new antisocial behaviour legislation has been used vigorously by the local council in Manchester, as elsewhere, to make a great difference to people’s lives. I would not want anything to impede our ability to deal properly with disturbance caused by mini-motos. I will look into the matter and get back to him.

Q8. When the Prime Minister launched his crusade against gun crime, he must have known that three times as many people are killed by knives as by guns. Why is he ignoring knife crime? Furthermore, 10 years on, what has happened to his promise to be tough on the causes of crime? (123712)

I am afraid that the hon. Gentleman is misinformed. As well as tackling gun crime, we are introducing tougher sentences for the possession of knives as illegal weapons. It will be more interesting to see whether the Liberal Democrats support those proposals, as they usually oppose any tough measures on law and order.

I entirely agree that we need to deal with the causes of crime. That is the reason for Sure Start, the inner-city regeneration programmes, our great investment in schools, the introduction of extended school days and the use of school facilities for voluntary groups and others. We are doing an immense amount on that. In respect of both crime and its causes, we are being commensurately tough.

Q9. My constituency has recently seen an upsurge in the amount of public underage drinking, which has led to antisocial behaviour and worse. The police are doing what they can, and my local newspaper is running a campaign aimed at reducing that blight on the lives of many of my constituents and people across the country. Will my right hon. Friend join me in commending the “Cork It!” campaign of The Falkirk Herald? I am happy to support the “Cork It!” campaign of The Falkirk Herald, and I agree that that is a real issue, but I know that the Scottish Executive have a strong plan to deal with it using antisocial behaviour legislation that is very similar to that which we have in the rest of the United Kingdom. This again shows that crime and disorder are very important issues for people out on the doorstep. They want to make sure that in their local community people are behaving properly, and I therefore give my full backing to the campaign of The Falkirk Herald. (123713)

Later today, the House will debate the national Offender Management Bill. In the consultation leading up to its publication, 96 per cent. of respondents said that they were against the new service. That was said across the piece, by knowledgeable people and organisations including the National Association of Probation Officers and the prison officers. My question therefore is: what was the purpose of the consultation—and how much did that exercise cost the taxpayer?

The purpose is, obviously, to find out what people think about this, but let me just tell the hon. Gentleman—[Interruption.] Before he shakes his head, the hon. Gentleman should listen to the answer. In the voluntary sector, for example, organisations such as the National Association for the Care and Resettlement of Offenders, which has a long record of handling some of the most difficult offenders, the voluntary organisation authorities themselves, the chief executive of Crime Concern, Turning Point, the Rainer Foundation and the chief executive of the association of voluntary organisations are all saying something that we all probably know from our own constituencies: sometimes the voluntary sector can be better at rehabilitating, and dealing with, some of the worst offenders in society. All we are saying is that where that can be shown to be the case, why not use the voluntary sector and the independent sector to reduce reoffending?

We have put a large amount of additional money into probation and more probation officers, but we believe that we can get the best deal possible if we have a partnership between the public and the voluntary sector. That is why I say, with the greatest respect, that if people really want to tackle reoffending in our society they should support the Bill tonight.