HC Deb 14 July 2003 vol 409 cc14-6
8. Dr. Nick Palmer (Broxtowe)

What assessment he has made of the impact of community support officers on the incidence of antisocial behaviour. [125061]

The Minister for Crime Reduction, Policing, and Community Safety (Ms Hazel Blears)

We have received very positive accounts from a variety of sources of the good work that is being done by community support officers in the communities where they are already on patrol. I have not yet made any assessment of their impact on the incidence of antisocial behaviour, but I expect that to be one of the matters that will be covered in the formal evaluations that are due this September from the 27 forces funded last year.

Dr. Palmer

I look forward to pressing my hon. Friend further in tomorrow's Adjournment debate. Does she agree that one issue that has attracted particularly wide interest is whether the power of detention that some CSOs have has been a significant factor in enabling them to deter antisocial behaviour?

Ms Blears

I pay tribute to my hon. Friend's work in this field. He has been assiduous in ensuring that his community gets maximum benefit from community support officers. Powers of detention are being piloted in six areas; they have proved extremely useful on occasion in allowing CSOs a little breathing space in order to check the names and addresses that have been given to them. I am sure that we will learn interesting lessons from those pilots.

Dr. Vincent Cable (Twickenham)

Does the Minister agree that the undoubted success of CSOs does not detract from the need for additional full uniformed officers; and does she accept the Metropolitan police commissioner's calculation that an extra 6,500 full officers will be required safely to beat-police the streets of London?

Ms Blears

The hon. Gentleman will know that this Government are putting on to the streets record numbers of police officers, together with community support officers, to provide high-profile visible patrolling that reassures people in our communities. The Home Secretary gave the figures. There are 132,600 police officers: that is a record number, and it is more than 5,000 more than there were when the Government came to power. If the hon. Gentleman talks to senior officers in the Met and to officers on the front line, he will find that they are incredibly grateful for the extra support, resources and backing that the Government have given them in the fight against crime.

Jim Knight (South Dorset)

Last week, my local newspaper, the Dorset Echo, reported on its front page the welcome that was given by shopkeepers in Dorchester—which is in the neighbouring West Dorset constituency of the shadow Home Secretary—to community support officers who, thanks to a Home Office grant for rural areas and market towns, are tackling antisocial behaviour in town centres. Could the Minister attach the same priority to coastal towns, where we have particular problems with antisocial behaviour, especially during the summer months?

Ms Blears

I am delighted that my hon. Friend has found community support officers to be so useful. Last week, I had the opportunity to meet a reporter, Mr. Simon McGee from the Nottingham Evening Post, who has been running a fantastic campaign on antisocial behaviour. My hon. Friend the Member for Gedling (Vernon Coaker) has also been a tremendous support in that regard.

My hon. Friend the Member for South Dorset (Jim Knight) is right to draw attention to seaside towns. He may know that community support officers have been deployed in such areas—in Rhyl, for example—to ensure that such antisocial behaviour can be controlled.

I should just like to make it clear that, as I speak, the number of police officers is 132,260.

Mr. George Osborne (Tatton)

Could the Minister tell us how many police officers could have been employed for the amount of money that has been spent on community support officers? That is surely the only way in which to judge the effectiveness of the idea.

Ms Blears

I am a little disappointed by the hon. Gentleman's lack of imagination in this area. As I am sure that he knows, we seek not only to have record numbers of police officers, but a whole range of other people visibly patrolling on our streets. As I understand it, the figure is approximately half the numbers that we could have had. I would challenge the hon. Gentleman to go to any community where community support officers are patrolling in order to see for himself. He should ask those local people, "Are they good value for money?" I can imagine that the answer that he will get is, "Yes, they are good value for money and they are doing an excellent job."

9. Ian Lucas (Wrexham)

If he will grant emergency funding for community support officers in Wrexham. [125062]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department(Fiona Mactaggart)

I am not convinced that emergency funding for community support officers would be effective in avoiding a recurrence of the serious breakdown in public order on the Caia Park estate that was experienced in June. I understand that North Wales police have an action plan in place to deal with any future problems on the estate.

Ian Lucas

I am disappointed by that reply. We have heard much about the effectiveness of community support officers on the streets throughout the country. The people of Wrexham are working hard to deal with the causes of the serious civil disturbances of the past month. For the first time, North Wales police have said that they will support the introduction of community support officers. Will the Under-Secretary meet me and the police to discuss that fact so that community support officers and their benefits can be used to address the difficulties that Caia Park estate and Wrexham face?

Fiona Mactaggart

I thank my hon. Friend for his determined efforts to encourage his local police, especially on the use of community support officers. I recognise that he has persisted in that, and that has been helpful. However, other police forces that had applied in both rounds and been unsuccessful would perceive it as unfair if North Wales police got emergency funding. Basic command unit commander Steve Curtis has made proposals, for example, to consider a policing priority area in Wrexham. That might provide part of the solution.

The key role of community support officers should be to help prevent the sort of disorder that Wrexham experienced rather than tidying up after it has happened. Having community support officers as eyes and ears on the ground, noting, for example, piles of bricks in places where people could chuck them, is one of the best ways in which to prevent such disorder. That is preferable to their dealing with it when it happens.