James Sunderland welcomes the fact that Bracknell is the 21st safest town in the UK (excluding Scotland) but highlights the need to do more to tackle issues such as antisocial driving. He also takes the opportunity to request the Minister to review the case of constituent Luke Ings, who is in prison under an IPP sentence, and calls for more resources for cold case reviews on cases such as the murder of 7-year-old Stacy Queripel that happened 29 years ago but with the killer still at large.
It is a great pleasure to be called. Law and order is a subject that is close to all our hearts, as has been made clear by the passionate contributions that we have heard so far.
I shall not speak for long, but I want to do two things. First, I want to provide a constituency perspective—a local perspective—which I think is relevant. Secondly, I want to explain why I feel that the crime prevention measures in the Queen’s Speech are so important.
Bracknell is the safest major town in Berkshire, and the 21st safest town in the United Kingdom. That is a great accolade. These statistics, by the way, are taken from the website crimerate.co.uk, and I urge everyone to look at them. The overall crime rate in Bracknell in 2021 was 60 crimes per 1,000 people. That compares favourably with Berkshire’s overall crime rate, being 25% lower than the Berkshire rate of 75 per 1,000. East Berkshire is a pretty good place to live, offering good schools and good roads; we also have almost full employment. I am proud to represent those who live in my constituency.
Crowthorne is deemed to be a “small town” in this analysis, although it is probably a village. In 2021 the overall crime rate was 43 crimes per 1,000 people, 76% lower than the overall Berkshire rate. In Sandhurst, the overall rate in 2021 was 45 crimes per 1,000 people, 69% lower than the Berkshire rate. Finchampstead—which is certainly a village—is categorised as one of the five safest small towns or areas in Berkshire, with a rate of 36 crimes per 1,000 people.
The most common crime recorded in my constituency is violence against the person, including, sadly, sexual violence, so we have work to do. I therefore welcome a number of the measures in the Queen’s Speech. I do not want to wax too lyrical about what we have already heard, and the Home Secretary has covered all the detail. However, I welcome the Public Order Bill, the economic crime Bill, the economic crime and corporate transparency Bill, the modern slavery Bill, the National Security Bill, the draft protect duty Bill and the Online Safety Bill.
Let me focus on three of the Bills that have been announced. The draft victims Bill will set out to restore victims’ confidence that their voices will be properly heard, and that perpetrators will be brought to justice. That is very important to my constituents. The Online Safety Bill creates a new regulatory framework that improves user safety online while safeguarding freedom of expression, making the UK one of the safest places in the world in which to be online. The Bill of Rights, which has real relevance locally, will ensure that there is a proper balance between the rights of individuals, our vital national security and effective government, strengthening freedom of speech and our common-law traditions, and—rightly—reducing reliance on Strasbourg case law post-Brexit.
There are some additional issues to focus on. For instance, 13,500 new police officers have been provided so far in this Parliament as part of the manifesto commitment to put 20,000 extra officers on the streets. We are getting there. Thames Valley alone has gained an additional 368 police officers, with a further 233 projected for this year. That is great news for Bracknell, for Berkshire and for Thames Valley. The commitment to introduce a new drugs strategy is extremely important: we need to break up county lines and criminal gangs, and help those who are struggling and are the victims of crime. So far we have seen the closure of 1,500 county lines, 600 operations against organised crime groups, and more than 220,000 drug seizures. Those are impressive figures, but we can go further. For the purpose of crime prevention, £200 million is being offered for a 10-year youth endowment fund.
I have already mentioned the Public Order Bill. It is so important for people to be able to go about their daily business and get to work, and for ambulances to get to hospitals. No one has the right to impede the way in which other people lead their lives, and those who chain themselves to railings and glue themselves to the road need to be in jail: that is a fact.
I welcome all these Bills on the basis of their inherent merits, and because they will make a difference. Let me end with three key points which are important to me locally, and to my constituents.
We need stronger powers to deal with antisocial behaviour, in terms of police response and in terms of arrest at the scene. We see a great deal of such behaviour in Bracknell, in the wider constituency area and throughout the United Kingdom. Antisocial driving is another feature locally. On Saturday evening, at Birch Hill Sainsburys in Bracknell, there was a big car meet. That is fine: I love cars. I am a motor sports fan, and I chair the all-party parliamentary group for motorsport. However, activities of that kind must be managed and controlled. People were spinning cars and doing “doughnuts”; there was tyre smoke, and there was a huge amount of noise. It reached the point at which residents were being assaulted. This cannot continue to happen. I would urge Sainsburys to lock its car parks at night when its stores are not open—that would be an easy way of dealing with the problem—but I would also urge Bracknell Forest Council, the Thames Valley police and crime commissioner and Thames Valley police to deal more responsibly with such incidents, which cause misery to all concerned. We must cut down on speed, on antisocial driving and on noise nuisance.
A constituent of mine, Luke Ings, was jailed at the age of 18 for affray. He is now 37 years old, and he is still in Durham prison. He has done his time, in my view. He is what is known as an IPP prisoner—imprisoned for public protection. He has been given an indeterminate sentence. I suggest to the Minister that we need to review IPP prisoners to ensure that we are not locking people up beyond the point at which they have be locked up. Luke Ings has done his time; let us please release him.
Young Stacey Queripel, aged seven, was found dead—murdered—in woods in Bracknell 29 years ago. I think we need to focus a bit more on cold cases and cold case reviews. I want to see more police resources given to investigating that particular crime, and all those like it. No one has been brought to justice for that murder in 29 years, and the family still live in Bracknell.
I am very happy with the announcements made yesterday, and I am very supportive of the Government. I think that the Bills will make a difference—but I also think we can go further.
My hon. Friend will know that there are two elements to most sentences: rehabilitation, which is important because we can rehabilitate criminals in prisons and put them back on the streets as, we hope, reformed characters; and deterrence. Does he agree that deterrence is an important function of any sentence and that longer sentences may well have the deterrent effect of saying to people, “Think twice before you commit that crime”?
I thank my hon. Friend for his intervention, as he makes a perfect point. Not only is it a great deterrent, but the longer those people are locked up in prison, the longer they cannot commit these horrible crimes.