HC Deb 27 October 1997 vol 299 cc572-4
10. Mr. Amess

What recent representations he has received on measures taken by his Department in respect of crime prevention. [11666]

Mr. Michael

As of last Friday, 24 October, we had received 114 responses to our consultation document, "Getting to Grips with Crime—a New Framework for Local Action". I am especially pleased at the positive response from both the police and local authorities. A variety of representative and voluntary organisations have responded positively to our invitation to join us in developing proactive strategies to cut crime. We have also had a positive response from many business leaders.

Mr. Amess

Is the Minister aware that policing in Westcliff and Leigh-on-Sea is shortly to be reorganised? Will he join me in congratulating all those involved in trying to improve the quality of people's lives by high-visibility, community-based, intelligence-led policing—all, I understand, at no extra cost to the Exchequer?

Mr. Michael

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his interest in the policing of Westcliff and Leigh-on-Sea, about which I would not otherwise have been as well informed. About a year ago, it was discovered that 25 per cent. of crime in the division was occurring on one beat in the town centre, and staffing levels were adjusted accordingly, although I understand that there is no reorganisation as such, leading to a cut of 14 per cent. in crime in that division last year. That is a good example of crime being analysed and properly understood—that is right at the heart of our policies—and then being tackled by the police, either alone or in conjunction with local authorities and others.

Mrs. Brinton

Does my hon. Friend agree that urgent measures are needed to combat youth crime, particularly after 18 years of Tory lawlessness and disorder? I should like to draw his attention to the state of siege in Kingsley road in Peterborough, where gangs of teenagers and children as young as 10 daily set houses on fire, burn out cars and force young families to flee their homes in the middle of the night leaving all their possessions. Will he ensure that the proposals for youth curfews are enforced when the crime and disorder Bill becomes law?

Mr. Michael

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for her comments, and for the stress that she has placed on dealing with youth crime. That is a measure of the extent to which we have concentrated on youth crime and on preparation of measures in the crime and disorder Bill throughout the summer. We await comments on several consultation documents that include some of the measures that will address the problems to which she referred. The curfew proposals are practical and will work in the situations that she described, with youngsters of 10 and younger running roughshod around an area. We need to build confidence back into the system; we are determined to do that.

Mr. Evans

Has the Minister received any representations about the abuse of laser lights? I am sure that he has recently read in the newspapers about the abuse of what are normally presentational aids. When abused, they can cause temporary blindness; if stared at over even relatively short periods, they can cause more sinister damage to the eye. Will he ensure that his Department will spread the message loud and clear to people who abuse laser lights that they will face the full rigour of the law?

Mr. Michael

The hon. Gentleman raises an important point, which arises whenever something legitimately available for sensible business and other purposes is misused or abused to the detriment of other people. The issue has certainly been raised with us, not least by the Police Superintendents Association. We are considering the medical evidence about the problems that can be caused and we wish to address the issue. We are awaiting evidence from some of the police associations about the extent to which their members have discovered problems. We need to understand the problem to address it properly. Many people will share the hon. Gentleman's concern.

Mr. Sutcliffe

Further to the point raised by the hon. Member for Ribble Valley (Mr. Evans), at the weekend in my constituency a laser pen was pointed into the eyes of a bus driver, who was temporarily blinded. While I accept what my hon. Friend says about what his Department can do, will he ask the Minister for Competition and Consumer Affairs to look at the availability of those pens and at who can buy them?

Mr. Michael

My hon. Friend makes a good point: we need to work across Departments. That is why I mentioned that we are discussing items that are available for legitimate use but that are being used by some people in the wrong way. We shall certainly consult colleagues about the best way to respond to the problem highlighted by the incident in his constituency.