Skip to main content

Orders Of The Day

Volume 403: debated on Tuesday 8 April 2003

The text on this page has been created from Hansard archive content, it may contain typographical errors.

Anti-Social Behaviour Bill

Order for Second Reading read.

12.42 pm

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

In doing so, I am mindful of the number of Members who will endeavour to catch your eye, Mr. Speaker, and of the time limit on speeches. I shall therefore try to ensure that as many Members as possible can contribute to the debate on what I consider to be very important legislation, which will empower people across the country once and for all to get a grip on the scourge that bedevils their communities: the antisocial behaviour that makes other people's lives a misery.

I need to make it clear at the outset that this legislative vehicle is just one part of the broader story laid out in the White Paper "Respect and Responsibility", which was published a few weeks ago. The interdepartmental approach means that other legislation and measures will be picked up by the relevant proposals laid out in provisions such as the draft Housing Bill, which was published last week. I am very gratified that ministerial colleagues from the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister, the Department for Education and Skills, and the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs have joined the Under-Secretary, my hon. Friend the Member for Coventry, North-East (Mr. Ainsworth), and me today on the Front Bench. This is truly a cross-government endeavour to tackle a cross-government challenge.

The Bill is of course a symbol of the need for a cultural change, not simply for legislative change. It is about putting alongside prevention and remedial action the key enforcement measures that send that signal to those involved in antisocial behaviour. Prevention will of course be crucial, as will offering people a chance to remedy their behaviour. However, if they do not believe that the measures currently available are sufficient—if their understanding is that there will be no consequences for their actions—it is not surprising that they continue to cock a snook at the police, at housing departments, and at their neighbours and the wider community. The Bill is an endeavour to send the signal that we are no longer prepared to tolerate such behaviour.

I wish to reiterate my thanks to my colleagues and to my officials and advisers. I want to demonstrate that the establishment of the new antisocial behaviour unit—which again will have a cross-departmental remit—is an indication that we mean business, not merely by facilitating what will happen at local level but by driving the measures forward. In that way, there will be a foot constantly on the accelerator. We want to make sure that we check what is happening at local level, and that we encourage and support people at local level. We also want to ensure that there is cross-referencing with legislation that is before the House, or which has already gone through. That includes legislation being carried forward by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport.

Does my right hon. Friend accept that, although it is excellent that work on the Bill has taken place across Departments and across Whitehall, this excellent Bill would have been even stronger if there had been full pre-legislative scrutiny? That would have allowed electors, people who work in housing offices, serving police officers and others to submit their views and to exchange ideas with Members of Parliament over a long period. As a result, this good Bill would have been made even better.

I always think it desirable to have the maximum possible prior scrutiny of legislation. We have endeavoured to secure that and, over the next two years, my Department will work to ensure that, wherever possible, all Bills appearing in our legislative programme will be published in draft form. However, we were faced with two problems. First, we asked whether there had been sufficient debate about the scourge of antisocial behaviour, and which measures already on the statute book work, and which do not. Secondly, we wanted to take account of what extra powers constituents and those who represent them at local government level believe to be necessary.

We knew, when we published the White Paper, that we would have to act swiftly. We therefore had to balance further scrutiny with the speed of implementation that would allow the people whom the Bill will empower to get on and do the job. In the end, we had to decide whether the people whom we represent would thank us if we promised them that we might do something in a year's time to bring in legislation that would be implemented in two or three years, or whether they would prefer us to get on with it now and implement the measures laid out in the Bill. On balance, we decided that the latter would be the better course.

The Home Secretary is committed to this Bill, which the Government announced in the Queen's Speech of 13 November. Why have the Government broken the Cabinet Office guidelines that specify that every Government Bill should have a minimum of 12 weeks' consultation? The Government could have introduced this Bill earlier. Many of the Home Secretary's colleagues in local government oppose many of the measures in the Bill, and many of the professionals involved in other parts of the Bill think that it is inappropriate, badly timed or unnecessary.

The real difficulty with the Liberal Democrats is that they always want it both ways. They want to show the public that they are in favour of measures to enable people to protect themselves against antisocial behaviour, and then they want to use technical devices to slow the Bill down and avoid having to do anything about the problem. Local authorities will be responsible for implementing much of the Bill. I shall be very pleased indeed to contrast the effectiveness of those councils that are not controlled or influenced by the Liberal Democrats with the effectiveness of those that are. That will be a measure of the sort of commitment to dealing with the problem that we are looking for.

Before I give way again—we shall not get very far if we carry on at this rate—I want to tell the House that I am very pleased that my right hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Itchen (Mr. Denham) is in the Chamber today. He spent the past two years going around the country, listening and responding to people, and finding out what the police and housing department staff thought about antisocial behaviour. Those people did not ask for longer consultation periods; they said, "For God's sake, get on with the job."

I am bewildered by the numbers of people who seem to think that slowing down what politics and politicians are about is what the public want. The same idea is also evident in some of the public debate on this matter. What people say to me is that they are sick and tired of the gridlock that prevents Parliament and politicians from doing precisely the things that they have wanted for years. "When do we want it? Now!" is the usual slogan of flag-wavers in Parliament square. Well, we are giving it them now, and I am very pleased to do so.

My right hon. Friend mentioned the Department for Culture, Media and Sport. Some of the worst antisocial behaviour is perpetrated by English football fans travelling abroad. That is covered by the Bill, but will my right hon. Friend have any discussions with Ministers and the Football Association about the possibility of preventing English fans from travelling to the return match against Turkey?

As my hon. Friend knows, my right hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Itchen did a first-class job on the measures that we have included in the Bill, and I am happy to consider how we might build on that. I will talk to the Under-Secretary, my hon. Friend the Member for Coventry, North-East, about the way in which we might respond. Of course, legislation has already prevented 1,500 people from travelling abroad.

I shall, because my hon. Friend will never forgive me if I do not, and I live next door to her.

I am most grateful to my right hon. Friend. Does he agree that one of the commonest complaints about antisocial behaviour concerns the misuse of fireworks? Will he ensure that urgent action is taken, either through this Bill or the Fireworks Bill, a private Member's Bill promoted by my hon. Friend the Member for Hamilton, South (Mr. Tynan), to control that misuse, which terrorises old people, youngsters and animals alike?

I agree entirely. I was pleased to be able to come in for the Second Reading of that Bill promoted by my hon. Friend the Member for Hamilton, South (Mr. Tynan), and we shall facilitate it in every way we can to ensure that it arrives on the statute book as quickly as possible.

The Home Secretary rightly talks about the need for action. May I ask him to consider the fact that measures to deal with one aspect of antisocial behaviour—namely, traveller incursions, which are a particular problem in my constituency—are already on the statute book, but Home Office guidance to the police tells them not to use those measures? Will he ensure that that changes and that guidance does not dilute the impact of the work that he is trying to do?

Let me be helpful. If guidance notes have gone out from my Department—not only on this issue, but on any others—that the police, local authorities or hon. Members on both sides of the House believe to be unhelpful, I will be happy to review them with Ministers immediately. We are in the business of breaking down barriers to implementation and preventing advice that may have gone out in the past, albeit with the best intentions, from disabling people in relation to carrying out their duties.

This afternoon, we are reflecting on action that is required in the future, as well as measures that have already been implemented, and on how it can best and most effectively be facilitated. That picks up well on the point made by the hon. Gentleman. When we found out that antisocial behaviour orders were too bureaucratic and too difficult to implement, we slimmed them down through the Police Reform Act 2002, but the Bill contains measures that will help still further. We discovered that police could not easily take action in relation to abandoned vehicles and/or vehicles being used off-road. The 2002 Act helped with that, but in drafting future measures we will have to review what needs to be done. Those measures must be clear and helpful to those who have to struggle with bureaucracy, and they must ensure that people understand that they have to help themselves. The message is: "We will help you if you will help yourself, but if helping yourself entails making the lives of others a misery, we will make your life a misery instead." What is so despairing is the philosophy that we so often hear: "If that hasn't worked, nothing will." I do not believe that. If a measure has not worked, it wants to be set aside or revised, but we believe that our measures will work.

That runs contrary to the myth that the Crime and Disorder Act 1998 has been a failure. I want to put it on record that my predecessor, who is now Foreign Secretary, and his team did not get the full measure of accord for that Act, which has been a substantial success. It established the Youth Justice Board and, from that, the youth offending teams. It had tremendous success in putting in place the measures successfully to implement the youth justice pledge on the speed with which we deal with young offenders. It established community safety partnerships, which can work better, but are a substantial success. Its key measures—the orders—have been a success. Those orders have been disparaged by Opposition Members, but let me reflect for a moment on just how successful some of them have been. So far, there have been 11,600 drug treatment and testing orders; 3,879 intensive supervision and surveillance orders; more than 18,000 reparation orders; just under 3,500 parenting orders; and more than 1,800 acceptable behaviour contracts. Through to November, before the interim orders were introduced, there were nearly 800 antisocial behaviour orders, even with all their difficulties. By the end of March, 3,000 fixed penalty notices had been issued in just four pilot areas. Those are successes, not failures.

It is difficult to tackle antisocial behaviour effectively when it is so commonly seen in the home. For example, one in four women experience domestic violence at some point in their lives. To complement the Bill, will my right hon. Friend give an undertaking that legislation on domestic violence will be included in the next parliamentary Session, and press for that; and will he let us know when we can expect the promised consultation document on that issue?

I intend, with parliamentary colleagues across Departments, to publish a consultation paper in the next few weeks. I also intend to publish a Bill in draft to enable people to scrutinise and comment on it, and over the next few months we shall bring forward other draft measures. I hope that that will take us forward in introducing what my hon. Friend rightly describes as a key complementary measure. So much of the tragedy of violence takes place in the home, and hon. Members on both sides of the House will want that to be addressed as quickly as possible.

The key question in relation to such measures is, "Are they used and, if not, why not?" That has two key elements. First, can we slim down bureaucracy still further? The answer has to be yes, and I challenge anyone who feels that some measures are too bureaucratic to come forward with ideas about how we might achieve that. I am intent on building on the O'Dowd report in relation to the police—I will have more to say about that in the weeks ahead—and, at the same time, on slimming down bureaucracy in the criminal justice system. Both measures require urgent and focused attention, but they also require those who are implementing them to be positive about doing so, rather than simply saying, "I wish somebody would do something about it." The people who can help us to do something about it are often those who are implementing the bureaucratic measures, and I challenge them to help and assist us.

Does the Home Secretary accept that the biggest problem of all for the policeman on the job is the length of time that it takes to process suspects when they are arrested? Until that ridiculous length of time and vast volume of bureaucracy is tackled, policemen will remain extremely reluctant to use the powers that they already have.

We are all concerned about that. The street charging measures that were thrown up by the O'Dowd report, fixed penalty notices, and the ability to use new technology to communicate directly back to the police station and the computer are all crucial in being able to do the job. We will have to examine not only the technology, but the way in which it is used.

The second question is whether we can persuade people at local level to adopt particular measures. I am not talking simply about the better working of the police but about the way in which housing or environmental health officers respond. The best local staff do not want to pick up a telephone and say, "I really would like to help you but I don't have the power." What they would really like to say is, "I really would like to help you and, thank goodness, I now have the power. It is difficult, and I will have to come out and work antisocial hours, but I will now be able to assist you." Some people in professional organisations may have distanced themselves by promotion from the front line, but saying, "We don't want to implement these measures because they're inconvenient and make life difficult," is not the way to persuade the public to pay more council tax, income tax or VAT in order to fund those professionals' jobs.

Will my right hon. Friend add social services departments to his list of those who should be contacted? Those departments are often already working with families, trying to support them in looking after young people who are behaving antisocially in their communities. Will my right hon. Friend acknowledge the important role of social services staff? Joint working between social services and the police must be enhanced.

I agree with my hon. Friend, who spent time as a chair of social services in Lancashire. She is aware of these issues. Joint working is important.

I can never resist hitting a ball over the net, so I have to say that there is a two-way street here. Social services have a key role in early intervention, and enforcement agencies should be positive at the stage when action and orders because of criminality are not yet necessary. It is important that the police and social services work together. However, it is also important that social services and youth offending teams know the moment when it is necessary to get tough—in other words, when to threaten enforcement. I was brought up on the estates that I have the privilege of representing, and my experience is that people rapidly get the message. If they get the message that they can get away with what they are doing, they will get away with it; if they get the message that someone will clamp down, it is amazing how quickly their behaviour can change.

We need more staff to implement our proposals. I hope that fixed penalties will be able to fund the work of environmental health officers and others; and I hope that achieving better behaviour will assist housing officers to do a positive job rather than spending all their lives fruitlessly trying to deal with antisocial neighbours and tenants when they do not have the power to do so. Dealing with such people when they do have that power will save them time and energy. The Under-Secretary of State, Office of the Deputy Prime Minister, my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow, East (Mr. McNulty), is here and would agree with that.

We also need more police and more of the police family. That is why, just a week or two ago, we were pleased to announce that in the 12 months up to September last year we had an increase of 4,337 police in England and Wales. That is the largest increase since 1976—which, of course, was under a previous Labour Government.

I cannot resist giving way because I know that my hon. Friend will want to say something positive about Wales. [HoN. MEMBERS: "Wales?"]

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the essence of the Bill is a partnership approach to challenging antisocial behaviour? Does he agree that protocols on information sharing have to be updated alongside all the other measures in the Bill to ensure that partners can work together effectively to challenge this scourge?

Yes, I do agree—and I was thinking of the Wales that is just south of Sheffield rather than the Wales that is west of the Severn. [Laughter.]

I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Erewash (Liz Blackman). The additional resources and policing available—and we are at a record total of 131,548, just to put that on the record, which is 1,500 more than we pledged for the end of March—will assist us to undertake the co-ordination about which my hon. Friend is asking.

Let me turn to particular elements of the Bill.

Well, I have taken a great many interventions. I would be happy not to do so the next time I am on my feet, if that is what hon. Members want.

Clauses 1 to 11 in part 1 deal with action against class A drugs and, in particular, crack houses, commercial or domestic. I am sure that the measures will be widely welcomed; they will be vigorously implemented because such places are a scourge of our time.

Will my hon. Friend clarify a concern of mine about part 1? Why will the police have the power to close down premises that they believe are being used for the supply and use of class A drugs, but at the same time have to show that there has been nuisance or disorder? Why can they not close premises down simply if they are satisfied that class A drugs are being supplied or used?

We wanted to be as clear as possible about the evidence base and the ability to get that evidence swiftly. The more complicated the situation, if we open up all sorts of vistas of challenge, the more likely it will be that people who have—let me choose my words carefully—legal expertise at their disposal will make a monkey of the measures and therefore make things more difficult.

Is not the Home Secretary's hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on- Trent, South (Mr. Stevenson) making a very important point? The additional requirement on the police to prove that there has been disorder is something else for lawyers to get their hands on to prevent an order being made. With crack houses and the like, is it not inevitable that they bring in their trail misery, crime and social disorder?

We are talking about the police being satisfied that dealing is taking place and that nuisance is being caused. On the issue of immediate action in closing and sealing, it is pretty important—even for those of us who want vigorous steps to be taken—to ensure that people cannot cause mischief in the process. We have consulted the police on this, and they are satisfied that they will have the power to take the necessary swift and effective action.

Part 2 of the—

Will my right hon. Friend give way? I really do apologise.

If I did not give way to my right hon. Friend, I would be bedevilled either by a series of his letters or, even worse, one of his questions.

This is a question, and it relates to premises being used for drug trading. I take it that the Deputy Prime Minister's licensing measures will deal with the houses of private landlords where drug trading takes place, but will the definitions in the Bill be wide enough to take account of, for example, the Texaco filling station on Chapman street in my constituency, which has been used for drug trading, and telephone boxes, which, through incoming calls, can be used for drug trading as well?

My right hon. Friend is correct: the draft housing Bill will implement some of the White Paper's key proposals—which were widely supported—on licensing and the designation of particular areas. I am very pleased that the Deputy Prime Minister and the Ministers in his Department have agreed to implement those measures vigorously. I will drop a line to my right hon. Friend, speedily, about the abuse of telephone boxes and other public areas in relation to drugs. Clauses in the Bill extend powers in relation to social landlords and the contracts that have to be drawn up. There will be published and enforceable policy statements so that tenants and landlords clearly know their rights and responsibilities. That is not the case at the moment. Speeding up injunctions will be a key element. Demoted tenancies are other aspects of part 2, as are ways in which we will speed up the process of dealing with antisocial behaviour on the housing front.

I am enormously grateful to my right hon. Friend for giving way again. I have a worry about housing and I hope that he will be able to clarify the situation. Part 2 relates to local authorities, housing corporations and registered social landlords. Antisocial behaviour in my constituency has unfortunately been tracked to private landlords, but I can detect no mention of such people in the Bill.

Issues relating to private landlords will be addressed in the housing Bill. I have indicated, as did the White Paper, that we are keen for the measure to be implemented and targeted carefully. It will provide for entirely new powers and will address the related issue of the withdrawal of automatic and direct payment of housing benefit. That measure has gained enormous support and I am grateful to my ministerial colleagues for their help to ensure that it has cross-departmental support.

We are concerned that cross-cutting measures that relate to housing and the Home Office should come into operation before the Bill reaches the statute book by starting a pilot project. Will my right hon. Friend confirm that discussions are being held with his colleagues so that we may have a pilot scheme in Stoke-on-Trent?

I congratulate my hon. Friend because in all the years that she has been in the House, I have never known her to miss a trick on pilot programmes. I am happy that discussions are taking place, and I know that the importance of the measures is acknowledged in the Potteries, which was reflected by her contribution and that of my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South (Mr. Stevenson). The provisions are especially important for areas in which traditional industries have been historically run down and very cheap properties are available. Necessary steps must be taken in such areas to stop exploitation.

Part 3 relates to truancy, and I am pleased that my hon. Friend the Minister for Lifelong Learning and Higher Education is here. [HON. MEMBERS: "Where is she?"] She will not receive a fixed penalty notice because she has only just left the Chamber. I am sure that she wants to spend time supporting the Secretary of State for Education and Skills in his endeavours today on higher education.

Part 3 will strengthen the ability to issue parenting contracts and to develop them as a prerequisite to the expanded parenting orders that address parents' actions. The orders will address not only parents who fail to take necessary action to support their children in going to school, but their behaviour on school premises. We want to strengthen the hand of head teachers and teachers who deal with the few parents whose behaviour is not only a terrible example to their children and others, but a disruption to the life and work of schools.

Does my right hon. Friend accept that the success of parenting orders thus far is due in no small part to the alacrity with which they have been taken up by parents themselves? Surely that shows that many parents throughout the country are desperate for the support that parenting orders offer and that could be provided by programmes of positive parenting that were directed more universally.

My hon. Friend is entirely right. Those who have run into difficulty, and those who fear that they might, have a deep desire to take parenting classes. We must ensure that parenting orders do not become a stigma for people who attend such classes. Every one of us who has been a parent will have despaired at least once, looked at the ceiling and wished that someone would give us a hand. Children no longer live in close proximity to their grandparents, aunts and uncles and so their relatives' good—and sometimes bad—ways cannot always be passed on. We need the scheme to be more readily available and to spread it more quickly so that it is an attractive proposition, and not only an enforcement measure for when things go drastically wrong.

Part 4 addresses a matter of considerable interest that must be handled with great delicacy. The police know of small neighbourhoods or communities in which there is much antisocial behaviour and residents are bedevilled by gangs of youths, people who are out of hand and people against whom they know that the police would like to take action. Such people cock a snook at, and have total disrespect for, authority. We intend to give the police power, after consultation with the local authority, to designate such an area for six months to allow groups that are believed to be intimidating or to be causing a nuisance to be dispersed. That will send a signal that we are no longer prepared to put up with such intimidation, which can be deeply frightening and worrying, especially for elderly people. We do not intend the measure to be used to disperse young people who go about their lawful business or to deal with situations when two or more people are somehow perceived to form an intimidating group. However, we require more draconian action against people who deal in drugs and who are drunk and disorderly, often after binge drinking.

My right hon. Friend has anticipated much of my question. May I seek further reassurance about the implications of clause 29? It will give the police powers to disperse if

"members of the public have been intimidated, harassed, alarmed or distressed as a result of the presence or behaviour of groups of two or more persons in public places".
Will he assure me that the Bill will not make it unlawful for two, three or more people to gather on a street corner for social purposes?

I am pleased to give my hon. Friend that assurance. The measure will be used when people refuse a police request to disperse and move on. The police will have the power to enforce the request and take immediate action. Problems do not exist in most places, but it is right to address severe difficulties that are experienced when lawlessness overwhelms a local community. If areas are designated, there will be an automatic power to lay down a curfew for an interim period to get a grip on the locality so that people feel safe to walk the streets again.

No one in any part of the country should be unable to walk down their street to catch a bus or train, or to buy a newspaper or milk, because they fear that they might he attacked or abused. We must restore the culture in which they were not fearful, although that will take time. People who phone the police should be told that something will be done, rather than, "Don't trouble us with this because we've got more important things to do." People who phone an environmental health department should not be told, "We'd like to help but we can't", but instead, "We'd love to help, and we will." Housing officers should not say, "We're very upset about what is happening, but the situation is difficult", but instead say, "Yes, this is difficult but we are going to get together people in the locality and we will help you, with our new powers, to get a grip on the situation." If there is intent for that to happen, we can change the world together. That cannot be achieved, however, by us, the police, or housing or environmental health officers working alone, but by people joining together and being prepared to work together.

Can the Home Secretary explain why young people will not think that the Government are picking on them? Why should people be more afraid of a group of 15-year-olds hanging around on a street corner than of a group of 21 or 25-year-olds? If he thinks that it is a real issue, why not give the police the power to disperse adults behaving badly as well as young people who are just standing around?

If I read the hon. Gentleman right, anyone hanging about should be dealt with and dispersed.

And I am putting the question back to the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Simon Hughes) to discover what he believes.

The hon. Gentleman does not believe that anyone should be dispersed. He thinks that the powers to do that already exist, but if they were working satisfactorily, there would be no need to strengthen them, as I said. We must remember that the previous powers were done away with. The police on the beat tell me—I do listen to them because they are the best people to listen to—that they used to have those powers but that they were swept away when a wider range of unacceptable powers were removed. Older Members will remember those as the "sus" laws.

Because respect is learned at that age and young people understand whether they can get away with things. However, the hon. Gentleman misses the point: such powers of dispersal do not exist. That is why we are introducing them.

To facilitate unity within the Liberal Democrat ranks, I will give way to the hon. Member for Ludlow (Matthew Green), who was originally trying to intervene.

Will the Home Secretary confirm that if a policeman wants to disperse a group of youths, half a dozen of whom are 17 and half a dozen are 15, he can use the power to send the 15-year-olds home, but the 17-year-olds remain on the street corner?

I am sure that the policeman would disperse all of them, having carefully analysed each person's date of birth. To quote my 20-year-old son, the hon. Gentleman should "get real." That is what he says to me. We are providing a power that is to be used sensitively and sensibly. If there is a serious concern about that in Committee, we will of course listen to it.

My right hon. Friend should not be deflected from his course of action. The vast majority of people in my constituency, and I am sure across the country, will be delighted by the new powers to disperse groups of young people who are causing problems. The key to all the new powers will be their enforcement and use, and the cultural change that will ensue. Will my right hon. Friend outline again how he intends to encourage people to use the powers, including the power to disperse groups who are causing problems on street corners?

I shall, but I think that we are going up a gum tree. Although curfews apply to younger people of 16 and below and allow for their removal to their homes, the powers of dispersal apply to everyone. I want to ensure that we are not misled by the misreading of the Bill by the Liberal Democrats.

There are two issues to consider. The first is that the measures can be handled more speedily and therefore implemented quickly. The second is the reduction of bureaucracy. Above all, we must ensure that people at a local level are prepared to use the power. As I said, if people are not prepared to use it, we cannot make them, but local people can demand that the powers of enforcement are used. Part 5, which deals with sanctions, speeds up the issuing of antisocial behaviour orders further. It also relates to the enforcement powers for fixed penalty notices, in particular the ability to use those in the way in which they have been applied in the pilot areas. That will make a difference. I hope that the power that we are giving to chief constables to designate licensed agencies to use some of the more limited powers will enable us to spread the immediate implementation of the enforcement of such powers.

I thank the Home Secretary for being so patient and giving way so often. Does he agree that the success of the dispersal powers depends on a policemen being available to do the dispersing? In my constituency, where we have the problem of youths congregating and intimidating local residents, no police officers are available to do that.

It certainly does depend on that, which is why the 4,337 extra police, the 1,300 community support officers and, with the help of my hon. Friends in the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister, the neighbourhood and street wardens that are being introduced across the country will all help to achieve that. That is also why the new power for chief constables to designate others in particular circumstances to use fixed penalty notices will make such a difference, as I hope it does in the hon. Lady's constituency.

I will, but I appeal to hon. Members to let me finish because it is important to move on to Members who have waited patiently to speak.

I thank my right hon. Friend for attending the Second Reading of the Fireworks Bill on 28 February. That was much appreciated.

The point about the curfew, or the child safety initiative as it was called in my constituency, is that children as young as five and six were being left to wander the streets with older children. It was necessary for the police to pay attention to that to ensure that they were returned to their homes. Does my right hon. Friend agree that the curfew has the additional effect of safeguarding younger children who are left to roam the streets at night?

It is an important protective order for younger children, especially after 9 pm. Many people despair when children as young as five, six and seven are out on the streets at such a late hour. They are picked up and led by those who engage them in drug running and other activities that destroy their lives as well as the lives of those around them. I must again congratulate my hon. Friend on the Fireworks Bill and hope that it makes speedy progress.

Part 6 of this Bill deals with firearms. We have spelt out what we intend to do about people who carry duplicate and converted weapons in a public place. We are clamping down on converted weaponry. We will introduce licensing measures and will ban the import and sale of such weapons. The new regulations on air weapons and the age group that can own them will also help. All those measures will have an important role to play in sending those critical and necessary signals.

Notwithstanding the wide support that my right hon. Friend will deservedly receive for his attempts in part 6 to curb the antisocial menace arising from the irresponsible use of air weapons, does he accept that in banning the use of air weapons on private land for those aged between 14 and 17, the Bill will have the perverse effect of stopping a farmer's son shooting rats in his father's barn? I know that that is not the Government's intention. Will he assure the House that he will accept helpful amendments in Committee once he has received the necessary legal advice?

On a previous occasion—the Criminal Justice Bill, I think—I made the mistake of saying that I am always in favour of helpful amendments, and there were hundreds of them. So I shall say cautiously that there is a real issue, and we are prepared to discuss it in Committee, as we should be, given that debates in Committee are intended to try to find solutions that do not lead to other difficulties. I hope that my hon. Friend will accept that assurance.

I welcome the change that will ensure that people have to cover their guns and not carry loaded guns. However, will my right hon. Friend ensure that the guidance notes make it clear that the Bill will not prevent legitimate young shooters going to legitimate places to shoot? Will those people be covered by the reasonable exemptions, and will that be clearly stated?

We are seeking good and lawful reasons for carrying weapons, and we need to ensure that the guidance is positive and helpful in that way. I am grateful to my hon. Friend enabling me to clarify that.

In respect of part 6, does my right hon. Friend recognise the fact that there is another type of lethal weapon: the unauthorised, unlicensed use of scambler and off-road motorbikes? A fortnight ago, my hon. Friend the Member for Cynon Valley (Ann Clwyd) had a fatality in her constituency—a two-year-old was killed. There is frequent nuisance behaviour when such motorbikes are used on cycle paths and rights of way. They are a danger and a menace. Will he consider including powers in the Bill or elsewhere that will tackle that menace?

My hon. Friend makes an essential point, which highlights a very real difficulty. Under the Police Reform Act 2002, we have provided the police with powers in relation to the off-road use of vehicles. The difficulty is, first, to ensure that they know the law and, secondly, that they are prepared to use it. I am not critical of them in that regard; we need to find better ways to communicate with the police than we have at the moment. We rely heavily on asking the Association of Chief Police Officers to do the communicating, which is perfectly reasonable because it is a management role, but it does not go far enough. We need very simple and easy to understand communication about what is on the statute book and how best to use it, and that is critical in dealing with off-road vehicles. I have the same problem in the locality in which I live, and it causes a menace to people, animals and the environment, which is often damaged as well.

That brings me to part 7, which touches on the environment. First, there are new powers for environmental health officers, both commercial and domestic, to deal with noise nuisance. Noise nuisance—antisocial neighbour nuisance—is one of the scourges of our time and one of the things that upsets people most of all. It damages their health, and we need to deal with it. The clauses in part 7 also deal with things such as graffiti, fly posting, unauthorised tipping and the like. I hope that those proposals will be followed through by my good friend the Minister for Rural Affairs and Urban Quality of Life, who is driving things forward, with his ministerial colleagues at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, to ensure that we have a cleaner, safer and quieter environment.

While I am here, I wish to say in passing that, although this is not in the Bill, I hope that, at some point, we will persuade manufacturers not to produce those wretched devices that lock and unlock people's car doors, making the most enormous noise at 6 am for no good purpose and making other people's lives a misery. I just wanted to get that off my chest. Finally, spray paints are just a damn nuisance.

All this is designed to provide the enforcement measures, to send the right signals, to give people the right powers and, above all, to tell agencies and local people that we are making the legislative provisions and putting in place the direction, but, in the end, it is down to them to use them. If we want a better place to live—a safer, cleaner and better Britain—we have got to do it together.

1.34 pm

The fact that so many Labour Members have attended the Chamber and, we understand, are seeking to catch your eye, Madam Deputy Speaker, is remarkable testimony to the extent to which they recognise the problem of disorder from which the British public are suffering after six years of Labour Government. They are right to be concerned about that, and the Home Secretary is right to be concerned about it, and the motives behind the Bill are good motives and ones that we share. I hope that Labour Members felt a rosy glow as they heard the Home Secretary go through the wonderful measures that he is going to introduce.

I should say at the start that the Conservative party will certainly not oppose the Bill, but it suffers none the less from a few disadvantages when used for the purpose of propaganda by the Labour party at the local elections and thereafter. A few minor disadvantages, then: first, a large part of the Bill will do no more than make minor enlargements and refinements to existing powers; secondly, most of the changes are to the Government's own previous legislation, some of which has not yet been implemented; thirdly, a large part of the Bill will have absolutely no effect in practice; fourthly, other parts of it are unworkable; fifthly, some of it is entirely meaningless; and, finally, another part is of questionable good sense. It is therefore out of the Opposition's magnanimity that we choose to try to make it a better Bill in Committee, rather than to disrupt it at this stage.

I have made a number of allegations, which deserve to be substantiated. The Home Secretary has given us a magnum opus, which I cannot replicate, not least—I apologise to the House for this—because I will be speaking about quite another matter in Westminster Hall at 2 o'clock, but I will seek to substantiate those remarks. I said first that a large part of the Bill represents only minor enlargement and refinements to existing powers. For example, the antisocial behaviour injunctions in part 2 tinker with the antisocial behaviour injunctions—our old friends—in the Housing Act 1996. I cannot see any significant improvement.

The parenting contracts, which the Home Secretary mentioned in dealing with part 3, broadly replicate the home-school agreements under sections 110 and 111 of the School Standards and Framework Act 1998. In fact, they so closely replicate those measures that they replicate the fact that they are not compulsory and do not establish civil liabilities. The civil servants have obviously gone to great trouble to ensure that there is no advance on the previous legislation.

The group dispersal powers—they were much discussed—in part 4 almost entirely replicate section 14 of the Public Order Act 1986. In case the House does not believe me, I will read the relevant subsection of clause 29. [Interruption.] Oh, all right—Labour Members wish to spare me the trouble and to take it on trust. [HON. MEMBERS: "Go on, read it out."] No, no, I resist the blandishments of my hon. Friends. I do not want to bore the House. Let me assure the House that the words are virtually identical.

I turn to the fact that many of the changes are to the Government's own previous legislation, some of which has not yet even been implemented. Let us take the closure of crack houses in part 1. The previous Home Secretary introduced the Criminal Justice and Police Act 2001, which amended section 8 of Misuse of Drugs Act 1971. The Home Secretary has not yet implemented the 2001 Act. I take it that he has not yet done so because he has decided to change it. Part 1 represents a change to the 2001 Act, which was introduced by his predecessor, but it has not yet been implemented.

The parenting orders in part 3 represent a revision of section 8 of the Crime and Disorder Act 1998, by which the previous Home Secretary introduced parenting orders. The revisions are not very substantial, but I take it that the present Home Secretary wants to make sure that he is the person who has the parenting orders under his name rather than his predecessor.

Then we come to those parts that will have no effect in practice. The Home Secretary mentioned the closure orders for noisy premises in part 7. This is most interesting, and I draw it to the attention of Labour Members because I hope that they will go out to their constituencies and local authorities and explain exactly what this part of the Bill actually does. It is presumably designed to make it more difficult to hold a rave. How does it do that? It does that by ensuring that premises that have a premises licence or a temporary event notice can be closed for 24 hours.

If hon. Members will forgive me, I will not give way at this stage.

I am not an expert on raves—I have never attended a rave—but I rather have the impression that there are few holders of raves who seek temporary event notices under the licensing laws, and still fewer who seek premises licences. The Licensing Bill provides for premises licences but the process is lengthy and I doubt whether the average rave organiser would know how to fulfil it. If the rave does not possess a premises licence or have a temporary event notice attached to it, this Bill confers no power whatever to close it down. I admit that I am flabbergasted by that omission and we shall try to do something about it in Committee.

My favourite example—it is positively majestic—occurs in clause 42. What is the effect of that clause? It is that a person under 17 who is carrying an unloaded airgun in a case—a locked gun case—in a public place, who has a reasonable explanation for doing so and was previously legal will be illegal. That will dramatically affect the level of gun crime in this country. In fact, it will particularly affect any 16-year-old who knows how to fire an unloaded airgun without removing it from its case in a public place. That is a majestic provision.

It would be funny were it not true.

I said that some of the Bill would be unworkable in rural areas—a point to which I hesitate to draw the attention of Labour Ministers, very few of whom have anything to do with rural areas. However, those of us who are local yokels with straw in our teeth are aware that it is the practice in rural areas for 16-year-olds to go around farmyards dispersing chickens—not raves or groups of young men—with airguns. However, under clause 43, subsection (4)(a), that will be illegal. I take it that the one policeman to be found in the length and breadth of rural England will be sent to prevent that 16-year-old from walking around his own farm dispersing chickens.

That will, of course, never happen, but much more serious is the issuing of fixed penalty notices in schools. That is an extremely important indication of the type of problem that we shall have to deal with in Committee. Clause 22 states that an authorised officer can give a penalty notice for truancy. That does not sound too bad, until one studies the definitions of "authorised officer" on page 19 where there is a lengthy process of successive approximation that I take it has been concocted to try to ensure that anyone not reading the Bill closely will not notice what is going on.

An "authorised officer" includes an "authorised staff member" and an "authorised staff member" is subsequently defined as including
"a member of the staff".
For the first time in British history and, as far as I can discover, with no international precedent, we have the mind-numbing idea that teachers could hand out fixed penalty notices to the parents of children at their school. I cannot imagine how the Home Secretary imagines that such a provision would be workable and I hope that we can change it in Committee.

The parenting orders in clause 25 are all very well, but does my right hon. Friend agree that the real problem arises when children are excluded from school, often for appalling behaviour, and the decision is reversed on appeal, often with the result that the credibility of the school, its governors and its head suffers enormously?

My hon. Friend is right. That is why our hon. Friend the Member for Ashford (Mr. Green), the shadow Secretary of State for Education and Skills, has rightly proposed that head teachers should be given sole power to order exclusions and that there should be no provision for them to be overruled. That would be a serious piece of legislation. Perhaps, within the long title of the Bill, we could introduce it as an amendment.

I asserted that some of the Bill is meaningless. In clause 12, we are told something that will dizzy and appal every neighbour from hell in Britain. When they read the provisions they will be absolutely terrified. We are told that the social landlord
"must prepare…a policy in relation to anti-social behaviour…must publish a statement of the policy"—and
"from time to time keep the policy…under review".
There is nothing wrong with that. Why should there not be policies on dealing with antisocial behaviour? Every registered social landlord whom I have been able to ring in the last 24 hours has told me that they already have such policies. The Bill will make it a legal requirement for them to have such policies. Fine. Excellent. However, if anyone imagines that anything will change as a result of landlords adopting, publishing and reviewing such policies, they are dreaming.

Finally, I asserted that some of the Bill is questionable—although not much of it. If there were so much as to be worrying, or if much of the Bill was positively counterproductive, we should have to vote against it, but that is not the case. I hope that the Home Secretary will pause to reflect on at least one aspect of the Bill, however, as it would move us in a strange direction. It relates to the widening of the powers of community support officers in parts 4, 5 and 7. CSOs are to have the powers to disperse groups, to stop cycles—I admit that is not a great matter—and finally, under clause 51, to issue fixed penalty notices for graffiti and fly posting.

In principle, there is nothing objectionable in CSOs having such powers. However, they were given one set of powers initially, yet now, not many months after the measure that established CSOs, another Bill would add to those powers. I have no material doubt that it will not be long before the Home Secretary comes along with another new Bill—indeed, many new Bills. He is a serial offender as regards the production of legislation, or perhaps I should say that he is the most energetic Home Secretary since the war—something that horrifies those of us who have to shadow him. I fear, however, that it will be worse than just more legislation; there will be more legislation that gives more powers to CSOs. What will that do? Very gradually, it will recreate something that we already know: it is called a police force. It is time for the Home Secretary to ask himself whether he really needs CSOs. Should he not admit that he is moving towards making them police officers and actually do so? We could then stop quarrelling about whether the use of CSOs is right or wrong and whether they are policing on the cheap because we would have turned them into police officers.

The Bill is a crabwise assault on that proposition and that is misleading.

Despite the right hon. Gentleman's reservations, does he agree with Henry Ward Beecher who, 147 years ago noted that laws tend to gravitate downwards? He said:

"Like clocks, they must be cleansed, and wound up, and set to true time".
That is the purpose of the Bill.

Yes, but the problem is that, in many respects, the Bill is like a clock that is stuck at five to one and is right only once every 24 hours—[HON. MEMBERS: "Twice!"] I am so sorry; it is right twice in every 24 hours. Labour Members are awake—I am grateful for that.

Alas, the problem is that in order to make the Bill useful, it would need to include something really useful: people to enforce it. If there were 40,000 additional police officers, which the Conservatives are committed to providing, it would be worth paying attention to brushing up the legislation. The record of all parties over 50 years is inadequate. I do not deny that. It is time that the Home Secretary and the Government admitted that for 50 years we have failed to notice what Civitas revealed last weekend: just after the war, there were three crimes per police officer; nowadays, there are more than 40. We have been systematically underpoliced. There should be consensus on both sides of the House that we should not be fiddling while Rome burns; what we need is not tinkering or amelioration, with little bits of legislation here and there, but a step change in the policing of this country.

The right hon. Gentleman is beginning to give the impression that he is enthusiastically negative about the Bill. I am listening carefully to his speech and am astounded to hear that the Opposition do not intend to vote against Second Reading. Surely he has the good grace to acknowledge that the Government have more than met their target for more police officers. During the past 12 months, we have appointed 4,500 additional police officers, which puts the Conservative record into the distant past.

That is a charming rewriting of history. When a Government inherit a police force, diminish it, raise its numbers to just above where the previous Government left them and claim that as a world record, they are, in a literal sense, telling the truth. However, everyone in the country knows that we have been systematically underpoliced. To reply to the hon. Gentleman's earlier point, we are not voting against the Bill because it is not worth doing so. It is not a Bill that deserves to be voted against; it deserves to be slightly improved in Committee and permanently forgotten. A year from now, few people will even be able to remember that it existed.

The important point to arise from this debate—20 minutes of which was taken up by the Home Secretary before he even mentioned the Bill—and the thing that deserves to be remembered about it is the fact that the Bill is a prolonged form of legislative press release. This is a Bill designed to show that the Government are doing something about antisocial behaviour. I know it is difficult to do something real—I know it is difficult to persuade the Chancellor of the Exchequer to liberate the funds for the policing that we need; I know it is difficult to get young people off the conveyor belt to crime—but the fact is that tinkering with their own laws, passed not many months ago, or with other laws that are perfectly adequate, is no substitute for really tackling the problem. I would call the Bill a half measure but in fact it is a quarter measure, and I wish the Home Secretary luck of it.

Order. I remind the House that Mr. Speaker has imposed an eight-minute limit on all Back-Bench Members' speeches.

1.50 pm

As I pointed out to the Home Secretary earlier and to Mr. Speaker on a point of order, the Bill has come to us after an extremely short consultation process. Liberal Democrat Members find it an unsatisfactory muddle of a Bill because there has been no proper preparation for the legislative process that is before us. There has been no draft Bill. Mini-consultation has taken place on certain aspects of the Bill, but that was too short to enable real members of the real public to respond.

No, not yet.

There has been no chance for the Home Affairs Select Committee to consider the Bill and to produce a report on it. There has been no chance for the Joint Committee on Human Rights of both Houses, which is meant to advise us on legislation, to take evidence and report on the Bill. There is a series of checks and balances that are meant to be built in before we legislate to ensure that we get legislation right. None of these procedures has been followed. I understand that on the Conservative Opposition Benches and certainly on the Liberal Democrat Benches—if people are honest, I hope that this applies on the Labour Benches—Members feel that there is much in the Bill that should not have legislative effect. That is not surprising. It is—[Interruption.] I shall set out exactly the things to which I am referring. Many provisions in the Bill are also clearly afterthoughts. They could have been dealt with in legislation that has been introduced in the past year or so, but the Government refused to do that, or did not want to. There are other provisions that are dangerous and should not be in proposed legislation.

That is why we have sought to use the procedure that the House arranged that it could have to commit the Bill to a place where we could take evidence, where we could hear from those who have views about the Bill and where—

No. In a second, I will give way.

We could have heard from the Local Government Association, which is meant to be involved in implementing many of the things that are before us. It has spoken strongly against large parts of the Bill.

No. I have said that to the hon. Lady already.

The LGA, which is dominated by the Labour party, is clear that some parts of the Bill are unnecessary and that other parts are badly intentioned. Those are examples of why a proper legislative process should have taken place. In answer to the Home Secretary's suggestion that we should legislate every time the people in Parliament square shout, "What do we want, we want it now?", that is sometimes the problem of his Department's response. It listens to the initial voice and does not think through the implications. That is why his Department legislates so much. That is why it has to regularly revisit legislation that it put on to the statute book only the previous year.

The great Home Secretary of the last half of the previous century was a then Labour Home Secretary not famous for much more legislation. The great, late Roy Jenkins is famous for decriminalising and repealing legislation—getting rid of legislation—not for adding more and more legislation.

I want to put on record how much I admire the work of the late Roy Jenkins as Home Secretary. I admired in particular the way in which he embraced private Members' Bills as his own in order not to legislate through the normal process.

That may show a respect for Back-Bench Members and an ability to involve them in the parliamentary process. To be fair, I have just heard the Home Secretary say to one of his colleagues that having listened to a debate on a piece of legislation from Back-Bench Members of the Labour party on fireworks, that is a measure that he proposes to support.

Given the hon. Gentleman's wish to tackle antisocial behaviour and his respect for private Members' Bills, does he regret the opposition that the Liberal party showed to the Bill that was introduced by the right hon. Member for Birkenhead (Mr. Field) to tackle antisocial tenants, by scuppering that Bill and using every possible means within the private Members' Bill system to bring it to a halt?

Not in the slightest. That is because parliamentary processes are equal for us all to use. My party has argued for greater rights for Back Benchers. However, when a Back Bencher comes up with a misguided proposal, as the right hon. Member for Birkenhead (Mr. Field) did, we will strongly oppose it. We did so at the time and we would do so again. We know that it was also strongly opposed in parts of government. We know about the rows that took place in government. That is why housing benefit removal and child benefit removal are not in the Bill, thank God. We hope that they will not later be included in the Bill either. We respect—

Order. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will get back to the content of the bill.

The hon. Gentleman knows that in the Housing Bill that we shall gain the Government may seek powers to consult local communities on whether they think that the Bill, on which he and his colleagues spoke out, should be given legislative effect. Would he like that consultation to take place in his constituency so that we could hear the views of his voters rather than his own bias against the measure?

I am happy that people are consulted in all constituencies. The right hon. Gentleman should read the evidence of the Local Government Association and that of the Mayor of London in response to these issues. The arguments for taking money away from people, including penalising the poor and the disadvantaged, as an immediate response to antisocial behaviour lead to more marginalising, more alienating and making it more difficult for people who are already at the bottom end of the social scale. I am surprised at the right hon. Gentleman, who has fallen for the populist trap rather than the principled trap, and is appealing to the populists in his constituency and not properly looking after those who are often the most socially disadvantaged and who need help rather than punishment.

Given the hon. Gentleman's scathing criticism of the Bill so far and his criticism of my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary for bringing forward the measure, will he give the House the benefit of his thoughts about whether his party will be voting for or against the Bill on Second Reading?

I can give the hon. Gentleman the answer now. The Bill is a muddle; it is a mixture. There are some good provisions and some unnecessary provisions. We will not fall into the Labour party's trap. The Bill is being presented this month only because there are local elections next month. We know the truth. That is the reality. It is a political ploy of a Bill. It is a shop window of a Bill. It is a window dressing of a Bill. If the Committee is sensible, if the House is sensible, and certainly if the House of Lords is sensible, large parts of the Bill will be removed before it reaches the statute book. Other large parts of the Bill will be amended. We shall then have a Bill that is left with a few decent bits that we want to see enacted. That is why we shall not vote against its Second Reading. However, if the Bill is not improved and if the rubbish is not taken out of it, we shall vote against its Third Reading. We shall then seek to amend it in the Lords in the hope that we shall get a Bill that is worthy of Parliament, not a Bill that was pulled off the shelves in the Home Office and cobbled together as a pre-election gimmick. Such a Bill would not befit the concentration of the Departments in question, many of which have their own Bills. They should be introducing education measures and housing measures, for example.

Will the hon. Gentleman bear in mind the fact that representations have not been made to me as a Member representing a Northern Ireland constituency? There are 18 constituencies in Northern Ireland, but the Bill does not extend to them. Quite frankly, the people of North Down are as entitled to protection from antisocial behaviour as the people of north Devon and north Wales.

The hon. Lady knows that I always argue for legislation that treats the people of Northern Ireland equally. Had there been proper consultation about a properly thought-through Bill, we could have considered whether more powers should be devolved to Wales, and whether Northern Ireland wanted its own legislation, which it could amend, or wanted to be part of this legislation. None of that, however has been possible—it is an England and Wales Bill with a bit of a Wales opt-out, an occasional Scottish add-on and no Northern Ireland component at all.

Actually, the people of Northern Ireland have no choice. Responsibility for criminal justice and policing remains with Westminster, as it has for 30 years, even—and I hope that talks with my colleagues at Hillsborough are successful—if the Assembly is restored. Criminal justice was not devolved to the Northern Ireland Assembly before suspension, and is not likely to be, so responsibility rests squarely with Westminster. It is disgraceful that we fall far short in Northern Ireland of the protection that we rightly deserve.

The hon. Lady argues assiduously, as she did throughout the Committee stage of the Criminal Justice Bill, that Northern Ireland electors and Members of Parliament should be treated equally in deciding what criminal justice legislation they want. I hope that Ministers will pass that on to the new Leader of the House, who has been Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, who understands the issue, and may be sympathetic to the hon. Lady's representations.

Because the Bill is an antisocial behaviour measure, we look in it for a definition of antisocial behaviour but, of course, there is none. There is no consistent terminology in the Bill. The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, the hon. Member for Coventry, North-East (Mr. Ainsworth), appeared before the Select Committee on Home Affairs and was honest in saying that he had literally picked up the brief the previous week, so was less prepared than the right hon. Member for Southampton, Itchen (Mr. Denham) would have been had he remained in office. That is not a criticism—as the hon. Gentleman knows, I am very supportive of him. However, when he was asked how he defined antisocial behaviour, he did not have such a definition because the Government have not provided one.

The danger is that the Bill confuses things. In the past, people knew where they stood. For example, if you committed a crime you went through the court process. The police and courts were involved and you were punished and sent to prison. There was a formal process and appeal, and proof beyond reasonable doubt was required. We are now putting other things into the pot. Annoyance may attract a criminal penalty, as may nuisance, but the civil process has less protection, and there is a risk that the Government may be muddling the old criminal law with new processes which they think are necessary but which entail certain dangers.

No.

Can I tell the Home Secretary that while there are some things in the Bill that clearly need to be dealt with by criminal law such as the misuse of crack cocaine and firearms, other things may not be such obvious candidates for the use of criminal law? Dropping litter is not in the same league as misuse of a firearm.

I hope that the Government will accept my next point in their cooler and more rational moments. It is important that we do not judge people so harshly that we build a society where all sorts of relatively minor antisocial behaviour becomes a serious handicap for them later in their adult life. The right hon. Member for Suffolk, Coastal (Mr. Gummer), when we were debating the Criminal Justice Bill the other day on Report, pointed out that under that measure someone's previous record of behaviour could be used in evidence against them in the criminal courts. There was a danger, he pointed out, that people's opinions about someone's behaviour would mark them, making it more likely that they would be convicted of a crime. Down that road lies the big brother state. Sometimes I think that the Home Secretary is in favour of that state—[Interruption.] That seems especially so, as has just been said, when he is the big brother. I resist that move, and I hope that he will make it clear that we should have much more devolution of power, not centralised power. We should try, not to criminalise more people and lock them up, but to make sure that they behave without being criminalised, without a criminal record and without ending up in prison.

I just want to put on record the fact that I am not in favour of the big brother or big sister state. I am in favour of introducing measures that provide for a civilised, acceptable level of behaviour in a civilised world where people can live in peace and quiet. That would avoid a situation in which some people's response to an ever-increasing dysfunctionality in communities, disrespect and the likelihood of disorder is such that a big brother state is appealing precisely because it would do the things that the hon. Gentleman spoke about. Those people are so sick and tired of things disintegrating around them that they would turn to extremes. That is my philosophy.

I share that objective with the Home Secretary, which is why we must be careful—I am sure that he understands this—not to legislate where we do not need to. We must always look first at prevention, rather than punishment, and must always look for things like mediation—tried and tested alternatives which work on the ground—and things that, as he has rightly said, build on the excellent work of the Crime and Disorder Act 1998, the partnerships that have been developed and many of the pilot schemes and initiatives that he, his Government, the Youth Justice Board and local government around the country have initiated.

There is much good news out there—so much, in fact, that the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, the hon. Member for Coventry, North-East, was on the radio and television the other day working hard to persuade the nation that crime figures were going down again. I agree, and have said so. However, the Bill does not appear to be a response to the fact that those figures are going down—it appears to be a response to the fact that fear of crime is still high. Legislating because people are afraid of crime, as opposed to legislating because of things that people actually do, is a dangerous road to go down.

May I make a couple of practical suggestions to Ministers? They have contemplated in linked legislation amending the laws on begging. Begging has been a crime since 1824, but beggars have not disappeared because it is illegal. Ticket touting has been illegal for years, but ticket touts have not disappeared because it is illegal. Busking has not been permitted for years, but buskers have not vanished because it is illegal. The Home Office appears to believe that if you legislate against people they disappear. If you legislate against activity, it stops. May I tell Ministers that that does not usually happen? It is much better to take alternative positive action on the ground.

Will the hon. Gentleman do himself a favour and not misrepresent the facts? Begging is already illegal, as he knows, and we fine beggars. We do not register them or check up on their behaviour or the reasons for it. We do not use that begging to get them the drug treatment that it is estimated 86 per cent. of them need. The hon. Gentleman knows that that is what we are proposing to do—why does he seek to misrepresent it?

The hon. Gentleman misunderstands me. I said that begging has been illegal since 1824. He is right that the issue is often that those people have mental illnesses, drug addiction problems and alcohol addiction problems, and are homeless. The remedy is not to make them more criminal. The remedy is both to provide treatment for drug abuse, which the Under-Secretary is working on, but which is not yet available throughout the country, and to provide the resources for housing departments that local authorities ask for so that the homeless can be housed more quickly and effectively. Local authorities are not responding to the Bill by saying, "Yes, we want all those laws," they are saying, "Give us the resources to do the things that we know we have to do." Just blaming people and giving out more criminal records is a dangerous way to go. That is the way that America has gone. In Britain, 30 per cent of adults under 30 have a criminal record. If we take up the opportunity of giving out penalty tickets and fines to 13-year-olds, what sort of future will we condemn them to? If we begin to treat young people's experiences as a problem, not as an opportunity, which is what the Bill hints at, what sort of a message are we sending them?

I want to make two more substantive remarks and conclude, so that other colleagues can get in.

There are many things that we can do. We can make sure that housing allocation policies work better, so that families and communities are kept together and not separated. We can make sure that schools are given more power to run their own show, rather than passing more laws enforcing measures from above. We can design and build housing estates that make it less easy, rather than easier, for people to commit crime.

Of course some things are difficult. We have a world where young people sit in front of computers, where they communicate less and where parents talk to them less. I was at a gun crime memorial service the other day in Peckham, and the call to families was, "Speak to your children more." The Mums against Guns were saying, "We must speak to our children more. The dads must speak to their children more. We must have more communication." We do not want young people punished, marginalised and criminalised at a young age.

The Government are going down the wrong road. The Crime and Disorder Act 1998 was a good thing. The youth Justice Board is a good thing. They have all done good work, and we should build on them. We should see the evidence of what works. In my borough, there are many successful schemes. The Karrot scheme and incentives for young people work. Southwark Mediation works. Neighbourhood wardens work. Kickstart works. Splash works. More police work.

I was in Watford on Sunday. The new Liberal Democrat mayor of Watford has just provided space for a skateboard park by the pyramid in the middle of town. I met some young people who said that they wanted that, to stop them getting up the nose of people in the town centre. They want to be able to do their own thing in a way that does not get them into trouble. Such schemes work.

Curfews do not work; they have never been used. Giving an 11-year-old a penalty notice will not work. Making teachers, local education authorities and education welfare officers behave like police officers will not work. It should be the police, not the teacher, the designated member of staff or the local education authority, who decide whether somebody has committed an offence. We must make sure we separate those responsible for supporting and developing young people, and those responsible for criminalising them. Unless we change the Bill significantly, there is a danger that we will yet again legislate in haste and repent at leisure.

It is sad that the Bill does not mention social services. [Interruption.] If it does it barely mentions them; there is certainly not a section on social services. There is a section on education, a section on housing, a section on firearms and a section on drugs, but the effective agency for picking up the youngsters in dysfunctional families who are liable to commit crimes are the social services departments, which are overstretched and burdened and asking for more resources.

My hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Dorset and North Poole (Mrs. Brooke) recently went on an official visit to Sweden, where children are normally not regarded as being capable of being put in the criminal justice system until they are over 16. They are seen as people who need help, support and educational backup. Sweden has a much higher success rate than we do and its approach is much more effective. We must look around us and learn the lessons of other countries. [Interruption.]

The hon. Member for Cleethorpes (Shona McIsaac), who has tried to intervene about 16 times, asks what we would say. We say: nationalise the mediation process across every local authority. [Interruption.] I mean spread it across the country. I would not be against it being nationalised. We should make sure that social services and education departments have the resources that they need to do what they know works. We should make sure that community punishment is visible in the community. We should make sure we have many more youth and community workers, who can be positive role models for young people. We should make sure that we have restorative justice and schemes such as the Dundee family project, which helps families who are not very good at bringing up their children.

As was pointed out by the right hon. Member for West Dorset (Mr. Letwin), we should not spend time legislating for landlords to have policies and procedures to deal with antisocial tenants, when they do not need legislation to do that. Most of them do it anyway. We do not need to legislate for parenting contracts, which are voluntary and so, by definition, do not need legislation. We certainly do not need parenting orders to be issued at the instigation of teachers and the LEAs. If disciplinary sanctions are needed, those should be exercised by the forces responsible for discipline.

That is the second time this afternoon that it has been stated in the Chamber that landlords do not need orders that define good policies and the way in which good or bad tenants are treated by them. The hon. Gentleman is well wrong. In my constituency we have faceless landlords, who are buying up streets and renting out the properties. Those are often giro drops. We need some control over that if we are to assert that criminality is not acceptable in my community.

The hon. Lady and I are not at cross-purposes. She is arguing that we need to regulate the private sector; I agree. That is being done in the housing Bill, which is out for consultation. That is where the parts of the Anti-social Behaviour Bill that deal with housing should be. We should not be debating demoted tenancies, which I happen to support, probationary tenancies and such conditional tenancies in the context of a Bill about law and order. Those should be dealt with in a housing Bill.

We should also consider how we deal with the private, the local authority and the housing association sectors. I am fed up with the fact that in my community there are powers that can be imposed on local authority tenants and their kids, and on housing association tenants and their kids in Rotherhithe, but not on the private sector tenants and their kids who live in the houses next door. Those powers should not be considered in the context of this Bill. The same applies to education. We have had six education Bills in the past seven years. If we want to change the powers that apply to education, that should be done in the context of legislation on education, not in the present Bill.

I end with two points, one of which relates to fixed penalty notices. I urge Ministers to hear what was said from the Conservative Front Bench earlier, what has been said before, and what we say. Fixed penalty notices should not be handed out by people who are not police officers or employees of the police service, with one or two exceptions such as environmental health officers, who have had a traditional role. The Bill tries to do again what Parliament last year said it did not want. Parliament said last year that it did not want the private security officer to be able to hand out fixed penalty notices. We say that today, as we said last year. The Government should have heard that last year and taken it to heart, and should not try again to push at a door that Parliament has already closed.

No. I also hope the Government are not serious about fixed penalty notices being given to under-16s. There may be an argument for new penalties for over-16s. There may be an argument for legislating in relation to over-16s in certain respects. I am willing to accept that there is an argument for banning the sale of spray paint to under-16s, though why on earth its sale to over-16s should be banned I fail to understand. If they are adults who can work, pay taxes and serve the country, I do not understand why they cannot go shopping and buy what they want. If the Government think it reasonable to issue fixed penalty notices—fines—directly to 11, 12 and 13-year-olds, which is the power that the Bill permits the Home Secretary to introduce, I ask them to think again.

The Bill contains important proposals for dealing with drugs and firearms. If the Government left it at that, it would have support from the Opposition parties and more widely. The Government have chosen to throw all sorts of other measures into the Bill. It is a muddled Bill, in some parts, unfortunately, it is misconceived, and in many respects it is unnecessary. We will do all we can in Committee to make it a much better Bill, but I sincerely hope that the Government hear the voices in the Chamber and outside, and take out all the provisions that are wrong or which should not have been in the Bill in the first place.

2.19 pm

I refer hon. Members to my entry in the Register of Members' Interests.

Again and again in 13 years as a Member of Parliament and as a councillor, I have sat down with groups of residents who are angry and frustrated about the persistent problems of crime, drug abuse and antisocial behaviour on their estates. Although it is probably not stated often enough, it is an article of faith that the more deprived a community is, the more damaging the impact of such behaviour will be, as neighbourhoods spiral further out of control and desirability and can end up exclusively as ghettos of the poor and deprived.

It is often not realised that young people are the victims of crime as least as much as they are its perpetrators. A recent survey conducted among young people by the youth parliament in my constituency drew out the fact that fear of crime, bullying, harassment and intimidation are among the principal concerns of young people living in the inner city. It is extremely important that we recognise that it is for the sake of future generations and as well as of pensioners and other residents, who also live in fear of crime, that we take some of the measures set out in the Bill.

The Bill contains much that is very welcome and that I support wholeheartedly, although I have one or two concerns that I want to flag up. Antisocial behaviour lies at the heart of the increase in fear of crime. It has already been mentioned that, despite the fall in crime figures across the board in recent years, the latest British crime survey shows a sharp increase in the number of people reporting fear of crime. I hate to describe some types of criminal behaviour as "lower level", but it is the range of behaviour that we understand to be antisocial that is part of the problem.

Mention has also been made of the fact that there is a lot of good news that we can talk about in most of our local areas. I am very pleased with the progress that has been made on so many fronts in my constituency as a consequence of actions put in place since the Crime and Disorder Act 1998. Some projects have been funded in my constituency by sources such as the neighbourhood renewal fund, and the neighbourhood warden schemes have been positively triumphant in raising community awareness in terms of being eyes and ears on the street, building good connections with the local community and being part of the wider crime-reduction family.

On one of my estates, which has been plagued for years with persistent antisocial behaviour, we recently launched Britain's first mobile police station, which was in situ offering local residents a visible demonstration of police presence and a commitment to action. Last summer saw Operation Puma, a police crackdown on crime and antisocial behaviour that occurred during the summer holidays. The operation had a very beneficial effect across our estates. Police have also been working with secondary schools, some of which have had very serious crime and antisocial behaviour problems in the past.

My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has expressed to me his recognition of the very important contribution made by the rapid reaction crack protocol drawn up in the royal borough of Kensington and Chelsea. It is now received wisdom among crack addicts in north London that the one place where they do not want to be is Notting Hill, where the authorities come down on them like a ton of bricks. Unfortunately, one of the perverse consequences of the success of the rapid reaction crack protocol is that crack addiction and crack houses now tend not to open up in north Kensington and are being displaced to Brent and Paddington. I am delighted to say that Westminster police have now adopted the protocol, but other boroughs have not done so. While I welcome the additional powers in the Bill to enable a swift response to crack houses, may I therefore commend to Ministers' consideration the fact that we want every area, and every partnership between police and social landlords or other local agencies, to sign up to that model of excellent practice? In north Kensington, it has resulted in the closure of crack houses within a few days and sometimes within 48 hours. That has been a very successful example of good practice.

The other excellent example of good practice is the youth inclusion project, which has been working for a couple of years in an area with serious problems of crime and antisocial behaviour—the Dalgarno estates in north Kensington. I understand that such projects have managed nationally to achieve a 30 per cent. reduction in arrests. Locally, eight out of 10 young people with previous convictions among the top 50 who are known to be at risk of offending in north Kensington are linked to the youth inclusion project—an example of long-term, in-depth work that diverts young people away from crime and has a proven track record.

Some of my concerns about the Bill and about other ways in which we are responding to antisocial behaviour relate to resource constraints. In my area, policing is a particular concern. Unfortunately, Westminster still has 500 fewer police than 10 years ago. Due to problems with the census count, we have been unable to benefit from any additional police officers through the resource allocation formula in London. Although London is seeing a significant and welcome increase in the number of police officers, in areas of central London such as mine, we are still under-policed, so the very welcome additional resources provided in respect of neighbourhood wardens and community support officers are still offset to some extent by the fact that too few police are available to work with our local communities.

The other worry is that the neighbourhood renewal fund and similar Government resources directed to deprived areas to help us tackle crime are sometimes offset by reductions in local authority discretionary expenditure. Ministers should be extremely aware of that issue. Cuts in important services such as the youth service and children's play facilities mean that young people who would otherwise benefit from such facilities are out on the street and at risk of offending.

Finally, I should like to say a couple of words about the provisions relating to the role of social landlords and evictions. One of my worries is that we may be in danger of not using the powers that already exist to enable landlords to clamp down on antisocial behaviour among tenants. As I hope my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary will accept, social landlords have very strong powers available to them, including injunctions, possession orders, antisocial behaviour orders, acceptable behaviour contracts and introductory and starter tenancy regimes. The Homelessness Act 2002 gives local authorities new powers to refuse to offer accommodation or to reduce the preference given to applicants for housing where antisocial behaviour is an issue. Powers are available to social landlords and we must ensure that they are using them in the most effective way and working in partnership. In my experience, we are still in the early stages of securing effective partnership arrangements.

2.27 pm

During the Christmas recess, I sat for a couple of days as a district judge in a very busy south London court. The afternoon list one day consisted of a series of parents who had been brought before the court by way of summons to face an allegation that they had permitted their children not to attend school. Such examples of misbehaviour or lack of control by parents frequently arise in south London, so when I looked at the Bill and considered the issue of parental contracts with a school, thought that I would tell the House about my experience.

Seven mothers were due in court that afternoon. Two did not turn up, after having received a court summons. Two turned up roaring drunk and incapable of understanding what was going on. Another couple turned up and, albeit sober, were utterly inadequate and incapable of comprehending even what they were doing there. The seventh turned up and used the sort of language that we in the House would never use to each other, even on a rugby pitch. Those seven cases arose in one afternoon.

Where does that get us? It gets us to a clause saying that, although there is an existing criminal offence of not sending one's child to school, the Bill thinks that all may be cured by a parenting contract. There was not a mother in court that afternoon who would have had the slightest idea what a parenting contract would mean. One or two could not write their names. Others might have torn up the contract and thrown it in my face.

I was powerless. Fines were a waste of time; there is no point in imposing a £50 fine on such people. Eventually representatives of the education authority said that they were doing their best with the mothers. I adjourned the cases.

I am worried about clause 18 because contracts will not work. Such concepts are not a good idea because we have to realise that we are dealing with people who are effectively from the—I hesitate to use the word—underclass. They are desperately underprivileged and outside mainstream society.

I am surprised by the hon. Gentleman's comments. My police force and local authority say that acceptable behaviour contracts between parents, the local authority and the police have been very effective so far. They say that the contracts are so valuable that they will avoid more drastic action later when the child is out of control. Why are the hon. Gentleman's local authority and police so different from mine?

If everything works so well, why is the Bill necessary? If the hon. Lady steps into the London courts, she will witness some of the problems that I encountered.

The Home Secretary's motives for introducing the Bill are good, but I wonder whether it will make a difference. In the past seven years of the Labour Government, 15 crime Bills have been introduced and the Home Secretary has produced more than 100 initiatives. They have not made a great difference: crime has increased.

As my right hon. Friend the Member for West Dorset (Mr. Letwin) said earlier, in 1971, 17 crimes were reported for every police officer. Today, there are more than 40 crimes for every police officer. When we consider our approach to crime, why do we never focus on detection rates? Many young people who commit the sort of low-level crime that falls into the antisocial behaviour category do it because they know that they will not see a policeman and that they will not get caught and dealt with.

Let us consider previous legislation on antisocial behaviour that the Government introduced. The Crime and Disorder Act 1998 was not such a great success. I warned that the antisocial behaviour orders would be bureaucratic and ineffective. Instead of the 5,000 that we were promised, only a few hundred have been issued. The Home Secretary tells us that 11,000 drug treatment and testing orders have been made, and that parenting orders have been issued. However, we never know how many have been breached. Yet day after day in the courts, one comes across breaches of orders that have not been effective at all.

Graffiti, drunkenness, criminal damage and noise form the sort of low level crime and antisocial behaviour that affects our communities. Plenty of existing law would be effective if a fully staffed police force administered it properly. Sections 4 and 5 of the Public Order Act 1986 cover much of the sort of behaviour that the Bill describes, such as hanging around on corners and apparently posing a threat to passers-by. Further measures are unnecessary. The Criminal Damage Act 1971 already deals with graffiti; people who are responsible for graffiti and are caught are always prosecuted under that Act. What is the need for more measures?

The common factor in most antisocial behaviour is drink. Our teenagers are the heaviest binge drinkers in Europe. Eighty-eight per cent. of criminal damage offences are committed while the offender is under the influence of drink; 15 per cent. of 12 to 17-year-olds have been involved in some form of antisocial behaviour as a direct result of drinking alcohol. Our neighbourhoods and communities have to face the need to get a grip on under-age drinking. We must focus much more on the supply of alcohol.

In my constituency of Woking, antisocial behaviour is perceived as being closely connected to the sale of alcohol to under-age drinkers. One Saturday evening, 83 per cent. of off-licences sold cans of lager or alcopops to a 15-year-old schoolboy who volunteered to help trading standards officers. It is a curse in our communities that young people drink far too much. It leads them to antisocial behaviour and crime. We should examine that problem and put more police on the beat in our communities. That is the way forward, not a Bill that is barely worth voting for or against.

2.35 pm

I listened with great interest to the right hon. Member for West Dorset (Mr. Letwin) and to the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Simon Hughes). They missed the point of the Bill, which can be used in the context of crime prevention partnerships. It will be effective because it will allow for short-term interventions alongside longer-term preventive measures.

I am surprised at the condemnation by the hon. Member for Woking (Mr. Malins) of the Crime and Disorder Act 1998. The partnerships that were set up under the Act work successfully. The hon. Gentleman shakes his head. If he came to Barnsley, he could see a crime prevention partnership that I chair, which has existed for almost eight years and works extremely well. The provisions in the Bill will be used to benefit the community.

I support the Bill, but recognise some of the anxieties that hon. Members have mentioned. Nevertheless, it will be successful in the context of the crime prevention partnerships. The explanatory notes do not mention the partnerships, but anyone who is active in a community knows that the provisions will be used for that purpose.

There is a need to strike a balance between enforcement and prevention. I shall give some examples from my constituency. The hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey referred to the difficulty of being able to tackle some problems. We have set up the heads of agency group, which brings together people who can make immediate decisions locally and participate in longer-term decision making. That group includes the directors of housing, education and social services. They sit to consider specific cases, but they do not only examine each case on its merits, they make decisions in the context of longer-term action. For example, Barnsley operates a safer communities project in the village of Worsborough. It was initially funded by the Joseph Rowntree trust and helps to identify the risk factors that young people face. We hope that the study will result in an opportunity to roll out the project across the community. That will provide a longer-term approach to dealing with prevention, but it will run alongside the shorter term interventions provided by the Bill.

Clauses 1 to 11, in part 1 of the Bill, deal with drugs. I believe that the closure orders will be effective, although I have to say to the Minister that, in my constituency, drugs tend to be a problem on the estates and can therefore also involve tenant issues that will be dealt with later in the Housing Bill. We have, however, been able to move against tenants when we have had evidence of their using their houses to distribute drugs. We have evicted such people. Only a couple of years ago, in an old mining village called Ward Green, we were able to evict tenants who were involved in distributing drugs, which was leading to antisocial behaviour.

I am sorry, but I have only a few minutes.

We were able to evict those tenants. The difficulty was, however, that they then gravitated to an area of Barnsley in which there were already problems and it became doubly difficult to deal with the matter at that stage. I know that the Minister is aware of such issues. Perhaps some of the measures in the Housing Bill will allow us to tackle that particular difficulty.

In regard to what the hon. Member for Woking had to say earlier, I can tell him that, in Barnsley, we have established a beat team. The local authority pays for the seven officers, who work together with three enforcement officers and a legal adviser from the authority to tackle environmental issues such as graffiti and vandalism. That is working well. Their work is complemented by the tenancy enforcement wardens, and we are having some success. I believe that the measures in the Bill will be helpful to those teams.

To return to the drugs issue, we reckon that the problem drives 70 per cent. of the crime in Barnsley. We have a big heroin problem, as do lots of other mining communities, and we need to be able to deal with it in the context of the Government's drugs policy. That will involve providing much more treatment, but, at the same time, it will be helpful to be able to deal with houses or premises from which drugs are being distributed by issuing closure notices.

Clauses 54 and 55 deal with waste and litter. These measures will be helpful, because once a vicinity starts to look shabby because of litter, it becomes conducive to antisocial behaviour. Being able to deal with such issues directly, again through the crime prevention partnership, by enforcing the measures in the Bill will be very helpful. I want to draw to the Minister's attention to an initiative that I witnessed in west Wales. As co-Chair of the all-party group on ire prevention, I was asked to visit west Wales to see some of the initiatives—

2.44 pm

I draw to the attention of the House the entry that appears in my name in the Register of Members' Interests.

I am the first person to welcome any initiative to tackle antisocial behaviour, which is a problem for my constituents and those of other hon. Members. I share the objectives that the Home Secretary set out—indeed, I warmed to many, if not all, of the sentiments that he expressed today. The issue for me, however, is that of how well the proposals will work in practice and how much difference they will make. I want to see proposals that will make a substantial difference to what is a very substantial problem. My right hon. Friend the Member for West Dorset (Mr. Letwin) was right to draw attention to the Bill being one of 15 different pieces of legislation on these matters, some of which make only marginal changes to existing legislation.

My attitude towards these issues is coloured by the fact that, like my hon. Friend the Member for Woking (Mr. Malins), I served on the Committee of one of the first—if not the first—pieces of criminal justice legislation introduced by this Government, the Crime and Disorder Act 1998. I well remember the claims that were made on behalf of that legislation, both inside the House and outside it, before it came in. Anyone who took those claims at face value would be surprised to find the House now considering not only another piece of antisocial behaviour legislation, but one that puts right some of the problems in the Crime and Disorder Act. Furthermore, it is not the first Bill that has been needed to put right some of those problems.

I remind Labour Members that the flagship provision of the Crime and Disorder Act was the antisocial behaviour order, which the Home Secretary mentioned only briefly when talking about the various orders available under the Act. The antisocial behaviour order was, however, the brave new idea of the Act, and anyone who had the temerity, in 1998, to question its practicability had their concerns dismissed out of hand by Ministers. Well, how much use have the antisocial behaviour orders been? My hon. Friend the Member for Woking is right to say that we can learn from experience. My constituents are still waiting to find out whether an antisocial behaviour order can be effective in changing behaviour because, in the almost three and a half years since they have been available, not a single one appears to have been taken out in my constituency. Only about nine have been taken out in the whole of Hertfordshire, and just a few hundred in the whole of the country.

I have put this concern to Ministers in the past, and they have sometimes argued that this was proof of the effectiveness of antisocial behaviour orders. I remember, on one occasion, a Minister argued that the fact that the orders were not being made was evidence that potential miscreants were so frightened by them that they had stopped committing antisocial behaviour. It might be the case that there is greater legal knowledge in some quarters than we had thought, and that there are some budding legal careers in unlikely places, but the Minister's argument would tend to suggest that the problem of antisocial behaviour had got better rather than worse since 1998. My constituents could tell a different story, however.

The antisocial behaviour orders that have been made have quite simply not been up to the scale of the problem of antisocial behaviour, and nor have many of the other provisions in the Crime and Disorder Act. When we consider the parenting orders, which have more to be said for them than antisocial behaviour orders, the Home Secretary said that only some 3,000 had been made over three years. That works out at about five for each of the more than 600 constituencies in this country over three years, and I think that we all know that the problem relating to antisocial behaviour orders is even bigger than that.

Does the hon. Gentleman remember the Home Secretary saying in December that he was surprised when he went round the country to find that people did not know about the powers that already existed?

Indeed. Is not that an argument for trying to work with measures that already exist first, rather than trying other things that have not been piloted and for which we can see no results?

We need to ask how workable the provisions will be, which brings me to the reservations that I have about the Bill. I have already mentioned one of them in an intervention, which is the provision regarding crack houses. I welcome the idea of closure orders, but I wonder how many will be made in practice. I note, for example, that before granting an application for a closure order, a magistrates court will have to be satisfied not only that the premises in question have been used

"in connection with the unlawful use or supply of a Class A controlled drug"
but that
"the use of the premises is associated with the occurrence of disorder or serious nuisance to members of the public";
and that
"the making of the order is necessary to prevent the occurrence of such disorder or serious nuisance for the period specified in the order."
The hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South (Mr. Stevenson) was right about this, and I am sure that the police will be concerned. How many of these orders are going to be made in practice if all this has to be proved to the satisfaction of the courts?

An even worse example of potential legal overload in the Bill involves the power for the police to direct groups of youths to disperse. I know from my constituency caseload just how much of a problem some groups of youths can be.

In general I support that power for the police—indeed, I thought that in practice they had it already, and if they need more powers, I am in favour of that as well—but we should note what needs to happen before an officer can use the powers in the Bill. There must have been an authorisation for their use, and such an authorisation can be given only by an officer of the rank of superintendent or above. Authorisation can be given by that senior officer only if he has reasonable grounds for believing, first, that any members of the public have been
"intimidated, harassed, alarmed or distressed"
as a result of the presence or behaviour of groups of two or more persons in any locality in his police area, and secondly, that antisocial behaviour is a significant and persistent problem in the relevant locality.

Before any authorisation, consultation must take place with any local authority whose area includes all or part of the relevant locality. Authorisation must be given publicity through an authorisation notice contained in a newspaper circulating in the relevant locality or posted in a conspicuous place in the relevant locality. The authorisation notice must comply with all the formalities set out in clause 30(4)(a) to (c), and the authorisation from the senior officer must comply with those in subsection (1)(a) to (c).

All that sounds a bit like applying for planning permission. Only when a police officer has jumped through all those hoops is he authorised to direct a group to disperse, or "move on" as we used to say—and before he can exercise that authority he must, when he wishes to use it, have
"reasonable grounds for believing that the presence or behaviour of a group of two or more persons in any public place in the relevant locality has resulted, or is likely to result, in any members of the public being intimidated, harassed, alarmed or distressed".
It surprises me that the police do not already have the power to move people on if their behaviour has had or is likely to have such results. At the very least, someone behaving in that way would be committing an offence under section 5 of the Public Order Act 1986. In such circumstances police officers would properly enforce the law not by dispersing the youths but by arresting them, so that they could be brought before a court and charged with an offence. I wonder how much use those provisions will be in practice.

Moreover, the power in question relates only to youths under 16. Unfortunately, groups of youths do not always divide themselves neatly into groups of under-16s and over-16s. Whatever the Home Secretary says, that is a problem for the police in practice. It brings to mind our debates during the Committee stage of the Crime and Disorder Bill on child curfew orders, which the Home Secretary had the good sense not to mention when referring to that Act because not one has been made throughout the country—not least, I suspect, because of the problem of mixed-age groups. I hope for the sake of our constituents that the new powers turn out to be more useful to the law-abiding public than those orders.

I look forward to the introduction of measures that will make a real difference to people. I think that the provisions on antisocial tenants will need careful consideration in Committee. I was very sympathetic to the Bill introduced by the right hon. Member for Birkenhead (Mr. Field)—

2.53 pm

I support the Bill without reservation, because I am happy to reflect the views of my constituents. I have represented the same part of Birkenhead—practically—since 1979, and during that time the nature of politics in the area has changed. In those early years, when I held surgeries or meetings or read letters, my constituents raised the issues that I expected them to raise: social security matters, the possibility of obtaining housing transfers, employment problems. Of course they still raise such issues, but the new politics that they raise are politics relating to behaviour. The Government are attempting to deal with that massive change.

Why do we keep returning to the issues mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Hertsmere (Mr. Clappison)? I call him my hon. Friend because he supported a measure to which I shall return shortly. One reason for the number of measures to deal with antisocial behaviour is the fact that it forms the basis of the new politics. It is difficult to grapple with an issue for the first time, and I do not believe that the number of different antisocial behaviour measures represents failure; I rejoice in the fact that when a measure does not work, the Government are prepared to come back, to make suggestions, and sometimes even to listen to our proposals for change.

I support the Bill because it reflects the current overriding concern of my constituents. They also want us to ask what the reasons are for the breakdown of common decencies in our society, and we should think about those in the long term. They do not, however, want us to be so academic in debating the causes of that breakdown that we do not try to enact measures aimed at preventing common decencies from collapsing still further. To what extent will the Bill help us to hold the line?

My hon. Friend the Member for Hertsmere, as I call him, strongly supported a Bill I introduced earlier in this Parliament to deal with "neighbours from hell". There was widespread support from Members, apart from Liberal Democrats. I want to nail the untruth, peddled by the Liberal Democrats again today, that being tough on antisocial behaviour constitutes an attack on the poor. It is the poor themselves who are most damaged by such behaviour. Unlike me they have no bank balance. They cannot move away from the neighbours from hell, but must put up with them and see their children and their own lives destroyed.

I hope that the Government will consult widely on measures allowing action against private landlords who give succour, comfort and help to neighbours from hell. I hope that, if that does happen, they will go into the heart of constituencies that return Liberal Democrats, and ask ordinary voters how representative those Members are of the views trotted out in this Chamber by those who want to prevent us from taking such action. I look forward to going to the constituency of the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Simon Hughes) myself, and introducing him to some of his constituents and their views on these measures.

My hon. Friend, as I still call him, asked why we returned to all this with a sense of disappointment. It is true—we must admit it—that we had hoped to see the curfew measures used more effectively. We also wanted more antisocial orders to be used, not because we wanted to punish for the sake of it, but because we wanted to draw a line while looking in much more detail at the root causes of the breakdown of common decencies in our communities.

That is why, before this debate, I presented the Community Prosecution Lawyers Bill to ensure that in each of our constituencies the Crown Prosecution Service must establish an office, and a senior lawyer must be elected by our voters whose primary task will be to implement the Government's antisocial behaviour legislation. The CPS's role will be to ensure that that person has adequate legal training, but our constituents will decide who gains the highly paid position. My guess is that once the position has been gained, the thought of losing it as a result of failure to deliver on the Government's programme of trying to counter antisocial behaviour will serve as a way of ensuring that many more of our measures come into effect. Therefore, I hope that, when that measure comes forward, perhaps as an amendment at the Report stage of this Bill, we will gain Liberal Democrat support as well as support from those on the Treasury Bench.

In the moments that I have left, I reiterate the importance of the measures that the Government are trying to bring forward. I congratulate them when they are big enough to stand up and say that a measure has not worked as they want it to and that they are going to try to refine it. Antisocial behaviour is an evil that stalks the country. It destroys a common culture that the Labour movement was important in building. Why do we take the issue so seriously? We do it because we reflect our constituents' views and because antisocial behaviour is an attack on the common decency culture that the Labour movement had an important part in building in bringing about a significant change in the way people behaved to one another over the past 100 years.

There are now real threats to our constituents' safety and well-being. Many of my constituents, who have always put more into society than they have ever taken out, will be giving a roar. There will be a roar across the whole of the constituency, except among those few neighbours from hell who gain comfort from the Liberal Democrats.

Royal Assent

Order. I have to notify the House, in accordance with the Royal Assent Act 1967, that Her Majesty has signified her Royal Assent to the following Acts:

Health (Wales) Act 2003
Community Care (Delayed Discharges Etc.) Act 2003
Police (Northern Ireland) Act 2003.

Question again proposed, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

Anti-Social Behaviour Bill

3.1 pm

It is always a great pleasure to follow the right hon. Member for Birkenhead (Mr. Field). I cannot understand why, instead of struggling with writing these Bills themselves, the Government do not ask him to write them. He would have produced a far better Bill than the Home Office has done. I understand the right hon. Gentleman's views.

It is right that the Government should be forgiven for getting something wrong the first time and trying a second or third time, but, as my hon. Friends have said, they have tried 15 times since 1997 and three times since the Crime and Disorder Act 1998, so Opposition Members' patience is rightly wearing thin. The Government have had many shots at this and it is about time they got it right. The Home Secretary and other Labour Members will forgive Conservative Members if we appear to be cynical about the Bill. One of the things about Bills that crop up for the second, third, fourth or fifth time is that they always seem to do so when an election is approaching. Is it not curious that this Bill has come up just before the local government elections?

The Bill has been introduced with indecent haste. The fact that the ink has hardly dried on the White Paper "Respect and Responsibility" and that hardly anyone has read the White Paper when out of the woodwork has come the Bill makes us smell an election gimmick. As my hon. Friends have said, we doubt whether the measures will work. Similar measures have not worked in the past and I doubt whether they will work in future.

One of the reasons why the provisions will not work is that the people whose job it is to implement them have no confidence or faith in them. It is interesting to look at the briefing material produced by organisations that work in the sector. Here is the Children's Society's view on giving police powers to disperse groups of two or more young children any time of the day or night—I emphasise day or night:
"We believe that these measures represent a potential breach of children's civil liberties and rights and we are concerned about the impact that this will have on children living in their communities."
How can the Bill be made to work if the people who have to implement it believe that gangs of youths in black hoods gathering in shopping centres intimidating elderly people should not be moved on because their civil liberties and rights may be affected? Those are the sort of people with whom we are dealing: they, and people in local authorities, will have to implement the Bill.

I have a similar quote from Barnardo's, once a well respected organisation called Dr. Barnardo's Homes, which now takes on the completely different aura of a campaigning group. Again, it is against the
"power for police to move on two or more young people from a locality or to return under 16's home after 9 pm".
It says that that "is of great concern." It continues:
"Again we are concerned about the accountability of the 'relevant officer' and the omission of any requirement to consult with local people including the children and young people themselves."
What nonsense, coming from an organisation that is meant to be responsible and involved in the welfare of children! If those are the people who will have to implement the Bill, there is no chance of its working.

I congratulate my hon. Friend on his courage in making the points that he has just made, which highlight the wider point that, as Government money becomes a larger feature of voluntary organisations, more and more of them are turning from being providers of excellent services to being noisy campaign groups.

I agree. That is one of the reasons why the Bill cannot be effective. If the publicity is correct, teachers in the north-east of England have made it clear that they will not dish out fixed penalty tickets to parents. They say they do not want to take on that role and it is wrong that they should.

That is not to say that Conservative Members are not concerned about antisocial behaviour. I entirely agree with the right hon. Member for Birkenhead that it is an evil in our society and destroys communities. It is a problem even in the constituency I represent, which is a country constituency with market towns. On council estates in my constituency, there are in most cases just two or three families who with their children and various offspring cause complete mayhem. They threaten people who complain about their behaviour and slowly instil a spiral of decay on the estate: only people who have no option but to move there do so and the whole place slowly goes down hill. We could take firm action with those people. Evict two or three families and we would very quickly bring back up the quality of the estate. In the old days, we had sin bins. When people were evicted from nice estates, they were put into a poor estate, but given a chance, if they behaved themselves, to come back. Although I have no doubt that that was extremely unpopular with Labour Members, it used to work.

As my right hon. Friend the Member for West Dorset (Mr. Letwin) said, we believe that the real answer is to have a proper police force. In my constituency, we have had regular problems with gangs of youths gathering together in one particular location, curiously one of the most affluent parts of the north-east. Some of those gathering together were from some of the more affluent families in the area. It was the police who dispersed them. They went away and peace was restored to that area. Such an approach will work if one has enough police officers and if the police are given the right powers.

For goodness' sake, one of the ways to make policing more effective is to remove the ghastly aura of political correctness with which the police daily have to deal. They have too much bureaucracy to contend with, and more attention is paid to their being politically correct than to their getting on with the job of policing.

I do not have much time. Forgive me.

A police officer told me the other day that a new recruit had arrived in the police force who had been known as Paddy all his life. That was his Christian name. He was told by senior officers that he had to be called Patrick and that calling him Paddy was an offence. That story came directly from police officers themselves. If we want to outlaw antisocial behaviour, we need a properly motivated police force. That is what Conservative Members will campaign for.

I mention two further points. The first has already been mentioned and here I declare an interest: I refer hon. Members to the Register of Members' Interests. It is to do with the new firearms provisions in the Bill. The hon. Member for Vauxhall (Kate Hoey) made the point earlier. The proposals to restrict the use of air weapons by those aged between 14 and 17 will have a serious and unnecessary effect on law-abiding young people who wish to use air rifles properly. Many people who take part in shooting sports during their lives start with air weapons. The younger they start using an air weapon and are taught proper safety and responsibility—perhaps at the age of 14—the safer and more responsible they will be later in life. I hope that in Committee the Minister will consider amendments to allow responsible use of air weapons by those under the age of 17 and above the age of 14.

My final point concerns the issue of litter, which is dealt with in what is in effect a compendium Bill. The Bill gives local authorities additional powers to enter land and to remove litter, but the problem is that it is local authorities that a re responsible for the state of our streets and roads. If one drives down the A1, say, between Newcastle and London, or along the A1 western bypass near Newcastle, one sees that the main culprits for the littering of such roads, which are the worst in Europe, are the highways authorities and the local authorities. Giving them greater powers to enter private land is an absolute waste of time, because it is they who should be doing more to keep the countryside clean.

3.10 pm

I contacted my local police and the housing director of the registered social landlord and ran the Bill's provisions past them. By and large, their response was extremely positive, although they did flag up one or two concerns.

Because this is such a broad Bill, I want to concentrate on just a few issues that I am particularly concerned about as an MP and a former teacher, such as the provisions on truancy and poor behaviour, and particularly those resulting in exclusion. Such behaviour constitutes one of the first opportunities that children have to flaunt conventions, the needs of their peers, the law and wider society. We know that there are well-established links between under-achievement and crime when children behave badly, truant or both. If such behaviour goes unchecked, it is difficult to prevent it from becoming entrenched and being displayed in adult life.

There are some reasons for truanting that I can understand, such as bullying and family trauma—things that require a slightly different approach—but much truancy and bad behaviour in schools is condoned by parents, or, as the chief inspector of schools has identified, responsibility for it is ignored. In many cases, that was my experience as a teacher in dealing with truants and their parents. The underlying problem was that the parents themselves had lost control at home by failing to set the boundaries. They were condoning or ignoring such behaviour by implementing what I can only call an appeasement policy, or, at the very least, by taking the line of least resistance at home.

However, another recurring theme was that later on, those parents would return to seek support because their children were running amok at home, ruling the roost, affecting younger siblings and sometimes using violence. The parenting contracts with which clause 18 deals have the potential to get such parents to recognise their responsibilities and, above all, to seek support.

As a former teacher, the hon. Lady has experience to bring to bear on this aspect of the debate. However, does she believe that an ability in her professional life to issue a fixed penalty notice to a parent at a parent's evening would have helped or hindered her relationship with that parent? Would it have improved the situation that she describes?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for that intervention; if he will be patient I shall deal with that precise point in a minute.

Parenting contracts and the levering-in of support builds on the experience of parenting orders and the Crime and Disorder Act 1998. The Youth Justice Board parenting programme ran 42 parenting projects in partnership with other local agencies. The feedback from the evaluation was extremely positive, and Members will doubtless agree that what matters is what works. The effectiveness of the support to be provided to parents who sign these contracts voluntarily will be key, and should be based on best practice learned from these parenting projects.

Parenting orders are already granted to parents for convictions for truancy, and this measure has been extended to include exclusion. That is a positive development, but unlike contracts, such orders oblige parents to meet certain conditions, and offer support. Of course, youth offending teams can also apply for such orders because of antisocial behaviour, and it would be helpful if data-sharing protocols were evolved for police youth offending teams, local education authorities and schools.

On fixed penalty notices—the issue mentioned by the hon. Member for Epsom and Ewell (Chris Grayling)—in principle I am very much in favour of firing a shot across the bow of a parent who is condoning truancy. I have no problem with that, but I have grave concerns about who issues those fixed penalty notices, as do many other Members. I believe and hope that putting the onus on teachers to issue such notices will be examined in greater detail in Committee. I am prepared to accept reasoned arguments in Committee that justify that initiative. However, my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has asked all Members to flag up areas in which bureaucracy might, interfere with implementation, and I do think that that initiative will lead to some bureaucratic nightmares.

Does the hon. Lady also agree that all the teachers' unions have registered their unhappiness with that proposal, saying that it would turn teachers into police officers, which is the last thing that they are asking to happen?

Given the implication of what I have just said to my right hon. Friend, yes, I understand that there are major concerns about this issue. I am therefore sure that it will be examined very carefully in Committee.

My local registered social landlord is extremely positive about the provisions in the Bill dealing with housing. So am I, because like many Members, I get regular complaints about antisocial behaviour in the context of housing. Transparency is a good thing not just for tenants, but for the broader public. It is important that such policies be clearly understood, so that appropriate demands can be made of the authorities to do something about the problem. The requirement for landlords to have regard to relevant guidance issued under the Secretary of State or the relevant authority should help to establish best practice across the sector. Barnardo's, to which the hon. Member for Bournemouth, East (Mr. Atkinson) referred, believes that a requirement should be included in the policy to map out steps to be taken to resolve disputes, where they arise. That suggestion is worthy of consideration. Mapping out steps in order to resolve such problems is a good idea, given the principle of "a stitch in time", which I believe in.

The provision relating to injunctions is very welcome. I agree that we need a measure to catch those situations in which antisocial behaviour is known about but neighbours are too frightened to make a formal complaint. I am thinking of cases involving domestic violence, and racial and other forms of harassment. My local housing authority also regards as positive injunctions to assist landlords in dealing with antisocial behaviour occurring outside the vicinity. However, it points out that clarity is again needed in the sharing of information with the police, and the police themselves have suggested that these protocols need further development. I deliberately flagged up this issue with the Home Secretary, because information sharing and the development of protocols creates some of the infrastructure necessary to improving partnership working.

I am certainly in favour of the provision concerning demoted assured short-term tenancies. However, I am mindful that between 80 and 90 per cent. of problematic tenants have rent arrears. That is why the clause, suggested by Barnado's, that deals with intended support should be written into antisocial behaviour policy. Where appropriate, agencies should make early interventions and work with such tenants.

I recognise that there is great concern about children being caught by the poor behaviour of parents. However, parents cannot use their children as an excuse for carrying on behaving badly. Longer-term work with parents has to be undertaken; otherwise, the cycle will simply repeat itself. There does, however, come a point when removing a family is right and fair for the surrounding neighbours.

I have other issues that I should like to air, but I am sure that I will get an opportunity to do so later during the Bill's passage through the House. Let me finish my contribution by saying that in general I very much welcome the provisions in the Bill, which will serve Erewash extremely well.

3.20 pm

Antisocial behaviour is the social disease of our era. It feeds fear among victims, and it destroys communities. If it is left untreated, it allows the perpetrators to slide naturally into even more serious crimes.

At surgery after surgery in my constituency, I hear the most pitiful tales. A couple of months ago, two separate delegations—each unknown to the other—came to see me to talk about the absolutely hideous behaviour of one family. There is a child at risk involved in the case, so I cannot be too specific about it lest the child might be identified. However, such cases involve children bullying other children, and people threatening their neighbours and urinating through letter boxes. In more than one case, such incidents have built up to people firebombing their neighbours—a very serious crime that started from relatively small, but repetitive and ugly, beginnings. Other cases involve families unable to sleep at night because of the noise from next door.

The House should be in no doubt that I strongly support any measure seriously designed to tackle the problems of antisocial behaviour. I listened to the Home Secretary when he originally announced the Bill. My heart leaped: the Bill seemed to be full of good ideas but, once I came to examine the small print, I could not believe how little substance there was.

In the next four or five minutes, I want to look at a couple of the principles behind the Bill's aims that seem to me to be right, then at some examples that show how the Bill will not deliver anything. Finally, I shall make a suggestion of my own.

Two underlying principles ran through the Home Secretary's speech. If they were implemented they would be absolutely sound, and they have been enunciated repeatedly, at one time or another, by the right hon. Member for Birkenhead (Mr. Field). One principle is that we have to shift from a criminal approach to a civil approach in connection with behavioural patterns of the sort that have been described. The other is that we must adopt a multi-agency approach, and not simply leave the matter to the police, although my right hon. Friend the Member for West Dorset (Mr. Letwin), the shadow Home Secretary, is right to say that we need more policemen.

Those two principles are sound, and they are fine. However, what is the Bill trying to achieve? One example is perhaps the most dramatic. People have pointed out already the flaw in the proposal regarding the closure of crack houses. I have several crack houses in my constituency, and they are known habitats of drug dealers. I thought that I was really going to be able to welcome the proposal to close crack houses. It struck me as an excellent way forward, using magistrates courts rather than Crown courts, the balance of probability, and the civil law. I believed that the police would be able to go and take action, and that the provision would make a big difference. However, several hon. Members have pointed out already that the problem is that the police do not merely have to establish, on the balance of probability, that illegal drugs are being handled on the premises. They also have to establish that there is a public nuisance, which completely torpedoes the measure, as I shall spell out.

What makes dealing with such activity so difficult is that witnesses are frightened to come forward. The Bill would be a good measure if it were properly drafted and did not require witnesses. Police on their own can provide evidence of a physical nature that should be enough to support other evidence to the effect that, on the balance of probabilities, a property is being used for such purposes.

The Bill shifts the requirement on the police. Instead of merely having to prove that a property is being used for drugs, the Bill will require them to prove as well that it is causing a public nuisance. In that way, the Home Secretary is virtually guaranteeing that it will be necessary to produce witnesses. Proving a substantial public nuisance inevitably requires victims who are willing to speak out. The additional requirement therefore ensures that the Bill is almost completely torpedoed, and I suspect that very few closures will take place.

Several similar examples could be offered. There is not enough time to go into them all, but I want to talk about demotion of tenancies. No one supports more strongly than I the proposition that antisocial tenants must be got rid of. I have introduced two, or even three, ten-minute Bills that have looked at different elements of the problem, such as the eviction of violent husbands and partners. I strongly support such a measure, but what is the concept of demotion of tenancy trying to achieve? Surely, the same evidence will be required to achieve a demotion of tenancy as would be required to secure an eviction?

The evidence would have to be brought before the Crown court, as is the case at the moment. A demotion of tenancy is the stage that comes before an eviction, but a real change would involve more than simply changing the name and then having the same debate. A much better way would be to let magistrates courts handle such cases, as they involve local people who are aware of local conditions. Alternatively, the eviction decision could be taken away from the courts, and provision could be made to ensure that conviction for certain categories of crime would end a secure tenancy automatically. The tenant would automatically be served with a notice to the effect that he or she was in the hands of the local authority, which would then he able to make the decision itself. The matter could be handled in a variety of ways, but it is certain that the approach adopted by the Bill will make very little difference.

As I listened to the right hon. Member for Birkenhead, I was struck again by the fact that the Government have failed—yet again—to act on a measure that he proposed. I and other Opposition Members welcomed it and, had it not been for the pathetic behaviour of the Liberal Democrats, it would have been accepted by the House. However, the Government have chosen not to take this opportunity to adopt the right hon. Gentleman's proposals.

In the final minute or so of my speech, I should like to offer one last thought to the House. It is something that would make a real difference. Why do we not cut down on the paperwork involved in arrests? That is what discourages the police from dealing with the smaller offences that can do so much harm in society. The best way to do that would be to amend the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 so as to give back to police the traditional habeas corpus power that they had until 19 years ago. The American police still have it, and holding people overnight is often the best way to deal with antisocial behaviour.

3.28 pm

I want the House to picture the following scene: a person walks out of her front door and sees, tossed over the garden wall, half-eaten kebabs, and chip wrappers.and bottles and cans. There is some graffiti on the wall and on the gate, and there is litter on the pavement where she has to swerve past the messages left by the neighbourhood dogs. When she walks across the street, she hears loud music blaring, and there are more bottles underfoot. That is what I had to put up with on a Saturday morning a few weeks back as I walked from my house five minutes down the street to do my advice surgery. It was unusual in that I do not always get graffiti on a Friday night. However, it happens not only to me, but to many of my constituents. I am sure that many hon. Members would echo that.

At the time, I was consulting my constituents about their attitudes to crime and antisocial behaviour, and trying to get to the root of their fear of crime. I do not know why the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Simon Hughes) cannot go out and consult his local residents rather than just whinge in this House. I had plenty of time after the Queen's Speech to go out and find out exactly what my constituents thought about the matter. When I did so, they made the same comments regardless of whether they lived in the densely packed terraced streets of north Cleethorpes, the port of Immingham, the market town of Barton or the village of Waltham. Here are some of their comments: "gangs of youths"; "young ruffians, sometimes in groups at the shopping centre late at night—there ought to be curfews for young children and they should carry ID cards"; "drunken youths"; "gangs of antisocial youths"; "loutish behaviour"; "parents have to be shown that they cannot put the blame for their children on others—bad parenting needs to be addressed"; "why are youngsters allowed to have airguns anyway?"; "the misuse of fireworks is a year-round occurrence"; "it takes too long to take away dumped and burned-out cars". That is just a selection of the many comments that I received from my constituents about the antisocial behaviour that they felt was plaguing their lives.

One of my local authorities, North Lincolnshire council, also consulted people about the matter, and it revealed that 39 per cent. of people thought that teenagers hanging around on the streets was a fairly big or a very big problem in their neighbourhood. We cannot overestimate the seriousness of what we are dealing with.

Should I give way to a Liberal Democrat? I am much nicer than the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey, so I shall.

Will the hon. Lady clarify whether what was disturbed in the examples that she gave was the behaviour of the young people or people's perception of the young people?

If the hon. Lady will pay attention I shall go on to say what was concerning my constituents.

In my survey, 80 per cent. of respondents stated that although they were aware that crime figures had gone down, their fear of crime had gone up. That is a result of antisocial behaviour. The intimidatory factor that creates their fear is the destruction of the environment that results from graffiti, rubbish or young people hanging around on street corners. They do not lack faith in the police and what we are doing to try to tackle the problem of antisocial behaviour.

The hon. Lady mentioned crime figures. Does she accept that if, for example, a gang of troublemakers vandalises eight front gates in a street on a Friday night, eight different people feel that they are a victim of crime, but it almost certainly does not show up as eight different crimes in the crime figures?

That depends on where the crime figures are being recorded. In some areas they are based on the number of incidents and in others they are based on the number of perpetrators. In my area, it is the latter. That gives more accurate figures than those produced in an area where the police take the view that if 25 cars are smashed up in one night by a lout, it is only one crime because only one lout has done it. It is not—it is 25 different crimes.

I took up my findings from my constituents with David Westwood, the chief constable of Humberside. In his reply, he wrote:
"In north-east Lincolnshire, levels of crime have fallen and there has been a constant increase in the numbers crimes solved each month."
However, he continued:
"Another problem arising from questionnaires such as yours is what the public considers to be a crime is not necessarily a crime in law. For example, a group of youths congregating on a street may make people feel intimidated and uneasy and therefore their behaviour is construed to be criminal, when in fact they are not committing an offence in law."
That gets to the heart of the debate. People perceive that such acts are wrong and think that we should be doing something about it. They do not want us to wait any longer—they have been putting up with it for years and want us to act now.

When my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary announced his proposals for the Bill, I went back to the people I had consulted and said, "These are some of the things that we are proposing to do." Those people were virtually 100 per cent. supportive of what the Government are trying to do. Time is short, but I will read a couple of responses that I received. Some of those responses were interesting because the opinions that they express differ from some of the opinions that we have heard today. For example, one Cleethorpes resident said:
"I don't think there is any need for begging at all and a penalty would help."
However, she continued:
"You can't stop gangs of youths gathering in groups as they are not all troublemakers. I find if you are nice to them, they are nice to you."
However, somebody from the same street wrote to say that he hates seeing gangs of youths on the street corner and that, every time he tells them to get a haircut or a decent job, they have a go at him. That made me feel rather sorry for that gang of youths.

An Immingham resident wrote to say:
"Thank you for your letter. I am delighted to read its content and about the proposed crackdown on antisocial behaviour. This should have a great impact on the lives of decent hard-working people."

As my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary said, this is not just about enforcement, it is about attitude. The responsibility is not simply that of the Government, the police or the local authorities—although everybody says that the local authorities ought to be cleaning up after people. People have to take responsibility themselves. There should be zero tolerance of antisocial behaviour and I have no trouble saying that. There should be zero tolerance of fly tipping, graffiti, noise nuisance, nuisance neighbours, firework misuse, airguns or whatever. That will require a change of attitude in society—and clearly a change of attitude on the part of the Liberal Democrats, who do not know where they are on this issue. [Interruption.] The hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Simon Hughes) is good at saying things from a sedentary position. He would not take my intervention so he is too scared to intervene on me.

One Waltham resident said:
"We must work together as decent honest citizens to make our streets a safer place to be."
Everybody will have to work together. This Bill goes some way towards ensuring that that will happen and I will give it my wholehearted support.

3.37 pm

This Saturday afternoon, I was approached by an elderly gentleman who told me how his life was being made a misery by antisocial behaviour. He said that he was disturbed late at night, every Friday, by very unpleasant behaviour from young people, possibly on their way home from a local youth club. I am sure that people such as that constituent, on hearing of the existence of this Bill, will have very high expectations of it. The behaviour described by my constituent needs tackling—as, indeed, do any activities that result in criminal damage to property by people who are perhaps not so young. However, I do not think that this Bill provides any appropriate solutions for such incidents. In my constituency, we need more bobbies on the beat, and I hope that the Minister might consider funding some neighbourhood wardens. We have none at all in Poole. A more visible, uniformed presence would be the greatest deterrent that we could have.

In many instances, it is appropriate to use a problem-solving approach at a local level and on a multi-agency basis. If young people are seen as part of the problem, they should be involved in finding solutions. The crime and disorder partnerships make such an approach possible. Some excellent work is being done, but there simply are not enough resources across a range of services to fund and implement enough suitable strategies. We should be funding the existing excellent initiatives.

My simple example highlighted just one type of antisocial behaviour; hut we all know that, in reality, the term is used to cover a wide variety of activities and issues, from minor nuisance to behaviour that can almost destroy people's lives. My example also highlighted the common perception that antisocial behaviour is entirely down to young people. We have to be very careful about that perception. As was made clear by an hon. Member earlier, we must remember that young people are also the victims of crime.

I support many aspects of the Bill, including its main aims, and it contains some helpful proposals, but it is also unhelpful in places, especially part 4, which almost demonises young people. Clause 29 allows for groups of two or more children to be dispersed if, by their mere presence, they are tin ought to be causing distress to others. I am concerned that children and young people will be judged not on their behaviour, but on the reaction of others to their behaviour. That is a dangerous path.

For many years I have been directly involved with groups of young people and sometimes extra policing has been necessary, but the problems have been solved by using existing powers. We need a well resourced multi-agency approach, which includes ensuring that young children are provided with the facilities that they want—shelters, skate parks, safe play areas or whatever—and that can only be sorted out at locally. The emphasis in part 4 risks alienating young people still further without involving them in the solutions.

That is a great aspiration. Unfortunately, it is not happening under Somerset county council, which is cutting funding and—guess what?—it is Liberal Democrat controlled. Does the hon. Lady realise that what she advocates is fine in Mid-Dorset and North Poole, but it is certainly not what her party is doing in Somerset—or Devon for that matter?

That enables me to highlight the fact that councils across the south-west have had an appalling funding settlement from the Government. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman has been part of a delegation to a Minister fighting on behalf of his residents. We are aware that because of the funding situation in the south-west, there are cuts in much needed services. My argument is that we need resources for good initiatives.

Let me illustrate how a strong-armed approach can be counterproductive. Wooden benches in my constituency were grouped together in an open space. Young people congregated there and were perceived to be a nuisance. It is not clear that there was any real problem and no damage was caused. However, the local authority was persuaded to move the benches. They were then spaced out and put in a long line along a path. Since then, every bench has been vandalised. It is clear that we need the right solution for a specific problem.

No, I want to continue.

It must surely be an aim to ensure that children and young people do not get into the criminal justice system, yet across the country we have a serious problem, especially in Somerset, with the underfunding of social services. Eligibility criteria have continually been tightened across social services provision for children, which prevents children from being identified and assisted at an earlier stage. If that were done, it would save police time, cost less and provide the child with a better chance of avoiding an antisocial behaviour order.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Simon Hughes) said, I recently visited Sweden and was fascinated to note the lead role that social services play in dealing with behaviour that would have been judged criminal in this country. I was also picked up on using the word "preventive". It was suggested that I should use "encouragement" instead.

No, I want to make progress.

The idea of intensive fostering could be useful, especially if it reduces the number of young people in custody, but ideally work needs to be done with the child and the family together. There is also the issue of where additional well-trained foster carers will come from. Part 3 proposes to extend the use of parent contracts and parent orders. I am well aware that parent orders have been successful, but in the context of truancy and exclusions it would be desirable to proceed by voluntary agreement wherever possible. Although there will be some instances when such orders will be the right tool, there are sometimes complex reasons behind truancy and a child's behaviour at school and that problem will need to be treated differently. Those orders are not a panacea. They are one measure that will be appropriate in some circumstances. Although parents can be made to attend parenting classes, they cannot be made to participate. It is incredibly undesirable for head teachers and teachers to impose fines for truancy: a separation is needed between enforcers and those who are trying to work with children and their families.

The main problem with the Bill is that it is a hotchpotch: it contains a whole range of measures, and it is full of enforcement measures. It is the end of the line, yet the Government have so many good initiatives, such as sure start and the many youth initiatives. Why do they not concentrate on evaluating existing schemes and rolling out successful programmes more widely?

I have only one minute left.

My hon. Friends and I will not be voting against the Bill tonight. We support large sections of it, and we would like the opportunity to improve other sections. What we are really concerned about, however, is that no real consultation has taken place. I am waiting for an answer from the Home Secretary as to whether young people were consulted on the Bill, which would have been a good starting point. We will therefore vote against the programme motion tonight, as the Bill deserves detailed scrutiny and real consultation so that we can get a piece of worthwhile legislation.

3.46 pm

The range of measures that the Government have introduced are making a real difference in terms of preventing and tackling antisocial behaviour.

When I was first elected in 1992, in response to complaints from residents about youths causing nuisance, I used to hold meetings with angry residents, to which I invited the police. The police would point out how limited their powers were, that they did not have enough officers to deal with the problem, and that, anyway, it was not a priority for policing. Residents complained, however, that their lives were being made a misery, it was a priority as far as they were concerned, and if the police were unwilling to act, that would only confirm to the young people involved that they were beyond the law. In practice, the meeting would result in the police paying particular attention to the area concerned, but, inevitably, when the police went away, the problem came back. Alternatively, I would find myself calling a similar meeting in another area in my constituency to which the youths causing nuisance had moved.

Now, when I have complaints from residents and hold meetings, I have not only the police present but also a representative from the youth offending team. That partnership approach enables young people causing nuisance to be identified and dealt with by the appropriate agency. I welcome the provision in the Bill for dispersal of groups and removal of persons under 16 to their place of residence, which will help with the more persistent and serious problems of groups of young people involved in antisocial behaviour. That would have helped, for example, with a particular situation that occurred recently on one of the council estates in my constituency, in which a group of young people systematically intimidated and harassed residents. If that power had been available to the police, that group of young people could have been disbanded more quickly while the individuals were dealt with. In the event, it was the residents who fled the estate.

The introduction of crime and disorder partnerships has made a real difference to the way that disorderly and antisocial behaviour can be dealt with. It means that agencies must work together to meet targets for community safety, and recognises that that is not solely the responsibility of the police. The introduction of antisocial behaviour orders has been very effective in Stockport in dealing with those young people who have histories of offending, burglary, taking and driving, combined with behaviour designed to terrify and intimidate anybody who might give witness to their behaviour. I would, however, like more attention to be given to making exclusion orders from shopping centres part of the conditions of an ASBO when the offender has a history of shoplifting and intimidation of shop staff. Shoplifting is not a victimless crime, as countless shop workers will testify. The increasing level of intimidation, abuse and assault on shop workers is alarming and should not be tolerated.

I would like, however, to bring a problem to the Minister's attention and to that of the Lord Chancellor: the length of time that it takes to apply for and be granted an ASBO. In Stockport, an application is always based on previous offending history, relying on previous convictions. Those offences have already been proven to a higher standard than required by an ASBO, so it seems perverse that they can be the subject of a legal aid application to defend them a second time. What happens, of course, is that the case is strung out for months while defence solicitors extract large amounts of public funds, particularly in the case of appeals for which no grounds have to be given.

For an ASBO to be granted, the applicant has to show two things: first, that the defendant behaved in any antisocial manner and, secondly, that an order is necessary to protect the public. If an application relies on previous convictions and the court accepts that such behaviour is antisocial as well as criminal, legally aided argument should be reduced to whether an order is necessary to protect the public. I wonder whether the Minister will look at that point.

The measure of a crime and disorder partnership's success is not just the number of ASBOs applied for and granted, but the systematic application of the range of measures at its disposal to improve community safety. Critical is how well the agencies work together locally, and I wonder whether the Minister has any plan to publish the outcomes for crime and disorder partnerships, so that we can see the progress being made.

In Stockport, acceptable behaviour contracts are an effective mechanism for defining to young people the behaviour that needs improvement, while enabling the involvement of the necessary agencies. So a young person may be forbidden to leave his home after 8 o'clock at night, but he will also receive help for alcohol abuse problems and his parents will be asked to attend parenting classes.

The parenting contracts introduced by the Bill will be equally effective. Like ABCs, they will not be legal contracts, but, when I inquired last year, I was informed that only 3 out of 28 such contracts had been broken. Of course, those who break the contract know that the next step will be an ASBO. Similarly, the next step for those who break a parenting contract will be a parenting order, so those contracts will be viewed as having authority.

However, some of those young people's backgrounds include chaotic families, often known to a number of agencies, with histories of drug and alcohol problems, and their parents have poor parenting skills because they themselves were badly parented. When those children started primary school, they were unable to learn because of underdeveloped language and social skills, and they almost immediately began to fail. School can only do so much. The earlier we start to break that terrible cycle, the better.

Although ASBOs are very welcome in dealing with serious antisocial and persistent criminal behaviour, the problem is very deep-seated in young people by the time that they become subject to them, and changing that behaviour is all the m ore difficult to achieve. That is why the investment in the early years is very welcome. Using money from the standards fund, language development teams are going into nursery classes and making a real difference to language development. Sure start schemes are helping to improve parenting in the crucial early years, enabling children to take advantage of the education that they are offered and helping them to succeed in the education system. It is right that that kind of support is backed up with pressure on parents, particularly to send their children to school—a child who is not there cannot be educated.

When children are born into such chaotic families, agencies should intervene effectively to support that those children, as they are clearly at risk of developing into antisocial adults. Such investment would have a worthwhile return if it were to keep those children from failing at school, turning to criminality and costing the state thousands in secure accommodation, youth custody and years in and out of jail, not to mention the cost to victims and the wider community.

Prevention versus enforcement is an old argument. Of course, there must be both, but that combination is more likely if the resources of councils and other agencies are used, rather than simply asking social services departments to take responsibility for such families. Resources involve not simply cash, but innovative ways of looking at delivering services. One of the values of the sure start initiative is that it changes the way that existing services are delivered.

Part of the Bill is about dealing with graffiti, litter and dog fouling. Recently the children of Tame valley, as part of their citizenship curriculum, wrote to me about such problems near their school. When I visited them, they showed me, among other things, the bus stop that had been vandalised, the litter and the dog fouling. The council has responded very positively to their concerns. I am sure that the whole House would like to congratulate the children of Tame valley and their teachers on their successful efforts to improve their environment. I am sure that those children will welcome the increased powers in the Bill to deal with those problems. Through the citizenship curriculum, schools are teaching children 1.0 care for their community and to understand how to achieve what they want appropriately. That makes an important contribution to the wider agenda of preventing antisocial behaviour by encouraging children to be good citizens from an early age.

In conclusion, I very much welcome the Bill as a positive step towards enabling agencies to take effective action in combating antisocial behaviour.

3.54 pm

I welcome much of what the Bill proposes, as will my constituents.

Bournemouth, as an urban conurbation that includes Poole, as we have heard from the hon. Member for Mid-Dorset and North Poole (Mrs. Brooke), includes residential areas that experience many of the problems that the Bill is designed to tackle. Those areas include housing estates where it takes only a few unruly ringleaders of gangs of young people to make the lives of everyone else a misery. They cock a snook at the entire neighbourhood, as the Home Secretary rightly pointed out in his opening speech.

Such behaviour can be discouraged by regular police patrols. The appointment of a community beat officer represents a valuable contribution in any such neighbourhood. However, the police cannot be everywhere. The Crime and Disorder Act 1998 established community safety executives, under local authorities, which allowed elected members to highlight local experiences of antisocial behaviour and to respond by agreeing a strategy with the police and the local authority.

Under local government reorganisation, that procedure was replaced by local partnerships that have no direct accountability to the council. I look forward to assurances from the Minister who winds up the debate that the effectiveness of the Bill's new provisions to deliver safer communities will not be undermined by the new and remote partnerships that have replaced the local community safety executives.

I welcome the measures to tackle the misuse of air weapons. They include some of the proposals in the 10-minute rule Bill that I introduced last year—the Firearms (Replica Weapons) Bill—which would have banned the acquisition and use of airsoft weapons by anyone under the age of 17 unless supervised by an adult. I was extremely grateful to the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, the hon. Member for Coventry, North-East (Mr. Ainsworth), for meeting me to discuss my Bill.

I introduced the Bill after the traumatic experience of two of my young constituents—sisters—who were targeted in a public place by a ball bearing gun. Such incidents involving BB guns occur regularly throughout the country, but that will no longer be the case if the Bill is effective. We must all welcome that.

My local Dorset police—like all forces—will welcome measures to tackle the availability of replica weapons. All too frequently, we read reports about the police reacting to the brandishing of guns in public, only to find that they are replicas. Apart from that being a costly waste of police resources, it can lead to tragic consequences. However, the Bill does not appear to respond to police requests for tougher controls on the sale of toy guns.

Last week, the Bournemouth Daily Echo reported that the cab window of a passenger train passing through Poole town centre had been fired at by a paintball gun, which could have obliterated the view of the driver. One can imagine the consequences for a car driver if his windscreen was sprayed with paint in that way. Like the use of airsoft guns, the use of paint guns without supervision should also be banned.

Finally, I am disappointed that the Bill does not strengthen police powers to deal with the antisocial behaviour of large groups of travellers who occupy public parks and open spaces with unauthorised encampments. When I introduced my Traveller Law Reform Bill on 10 July last year, I described the horrific experience in Bournemouth in Christmas 2001 and in the new year of 2002, when 300 caravans and vehicles and 800 people occupied Kings park in my constituency. My Bill would define the rights and responsibilities of travellers.

As the Anti-Social Behaviour Bill does not refer to the antisocial problems posed by travellers, I look forward to proposing my own constructive solutions when I reintroduce my private Member's Bill on Wednesday 7 May. I look forward to the support of the Government for that measure.

3.58 pm

For me, too, it would be an unusual constituency surgery if no one came to me with a story about the distress that their household was experiencing due to antisocial behaviour. It is to the Government's credit that they have fully recognised the problem and have already responded in a range of ways, notably in the 1998 legislation that set up crime and disorder reduction partnerships. That was enthusiastically welcomed by the police and the local authority in Newport, who have themselves addressed the challenges to increasingly good effect.

The new White Paper and the Bill will add valuably to the panoply of interventions available to public authorities. In Newport, we especially welcome the powers to disperse intimidating groups in designated areas and to close down premises used for drug dealing; the powers on air guns, replicas and graffiti; and the scope to accredit neighbourhood wardens. Newport's estate rangers, now renamed the community safety warden service, have won the respect and confidence of local people.

Of course, there will be differences of view. I have found different reactions to fixed penalty notices for 16 and 17-year-olds and to the provision for faster eviction as between the police in Newport and the youth offending team. There are greater doubts still about the appropriateness of the proposals concerning housing benefit. However, the important point is that the added powers will be provided for use at the discretion of local agencies and partnerships. It is positively valuable that the merits and demerits of using them should be debated thoughtfully at local level. I shall make three points.

My first point is that prevention is better than cure. Indeed, that is the title of an excellent document on policy for young people produced by the Welsh Assembly Government.

Risk factors for children and young people are more likely to occur in low-income households where unemployment is endemic, where there are housing problems and where there is a culture of substance misuse. So, to resurrect a phrase, we must be tough on the causes of antisocial behaviour. The Government's commitment against poverty and in support of good public services is central to that strategy.

In 1997 and 1998, in the Department for Education and Employment, I had the privilege of working with my right hon. Friend who is now the Home Secretary on the new deal, the national child care strategy and sure start, all of which were early and essential building blocks in the strategy.

My observation of children and young people is that they need two things: love and success. Where they have both, they will thrive. Where one is missing, they may get by. Where there is neither, they will almost certainly be in real difficulty. Love is not for the state to provide, but it can help. The Government are right to focus on parenting through Parenting Plus and support for home start, which does a wonderful job in Newport, as well as to introduce the new powers on parenting contracts and parenting orders. That so many parents who have been subject to parenting orders express enthusiasm and recommend them to others shows us, if we are in doubt, that inadequate parents do not want to be inadequate. Intensive fostering and intensive support schemes will enable children to receive care and attention that may make all the difference to them emotionally.

Without compromising standards, schools can find opportunities for all their pupils to achieve success in some area and the respect of their peers.

Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that where the love and support of parents is not available to children, the constant attention of a mentor throughout a child's development can be a crucial factor in developing that life in a positive direction?

I very much agree with the hon. Gentleman. It is difficult to find mentors and mentoring is a difficult role to play, but I do not doubt that he is right that where they can be brought into play, they will play a valuable part.

We are doing much more to provide sufficient sporting facilities, but we must do still more to ensure that there are enough recreational facilities that are affordable and available for people in deprived communities. Those who are working on the ground in the more disadvantaged wards of Newport, East tell me that, while more funding is available for intervening when things have already gone wrong, not enough funding is available for preventive work. It is a struggle even to obtain a few thousand pounds to refurbish a youth club or to fund young people to make a video. Early intervention and preventive investment should have consistently higher priority.

That takes me to my next main point, which is about prioritisation and integration of effort. Antisocial behaviour covers a multitude of sins, from unkempt gardens to systematic persecution. Holistic approaches are needed, but vaporous terms such as "holistic" and "partnership" do not get us very far.

The partner agencies have other pressing duties. The police must deal with serious crime. The health service must deal with cancer and heart disease. On what basis are they and other partners to commit resources to antisocial behaviour? How then are they to prioritise between different varieties of antisocial behaviour?

My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, in the White Paper and the Bill, is giving a clear lead. Government, whether in Whitehall or Cardiff, needs consistently across all Departments to follow that lead. The police now know, with the national policing strategy that was published in November, that antisocial behaviour is to be a higher priority than in the past. I trust that the resources and the performance indicators emanating from across government will reflect that. However, if everything is a priority, nothing is a priority. The Government need to make it clear where in the plethora of priorities antisocial behaviour ranks.

We need consistent approaches between levels of government, between Departments, between different areas and over time. To ensure delivery, we need more than just identification of where lead responsibility lies among Departments and individuals, important though that has been. We need to overcome the problem of agencies and Departments operating as separate fiefdoms. All must be equally committed, because if we fail to deal with one part of a complex pathology, we will undermine the rest of what we do. Hitherto, in Newport, we have not, for example, had the commitment that we needed from the health service to our crime and disorder reduction partnership. Too little effort and resource have gone into the child and adolescent mental health service. Public service agreements, business plans, targets and performance indicators must all reiterate the same story. We need to pool budgets for antisocial behaviour to a greater extent. Multi-agency training must be developed further. Partnership must become integration.

We also need to improve our base of evidence. We need systematic recording of antisocial behaviour, the number and severity of instances, the profile of perpetrators, and the damage that is done, as well as progress on objectives. Cost-benefit analysis in this complex inter-agency arena is not easy, as the Newport community safety partnership has noted in a thoughtful and candid strategy document. We must disseminate what has been found to work to good effect—perhaps that will be a role for the Government's new antisocial behaviour unit.

My final point is about community confidence and resilience. Antisocial behaviour damages vulnerable communities the most, and hurts the most vulnerable people in them the worst. There are things, however, that can be done quickly to help to build confidence.

Neighbourhood agreements, as recommended in the social exclusion unit report of 2000, can establish ground rules whereby communities agree standards of acceptable behaviour and service providers set out the service that the community can expect. If people who have been frightened, confused and disillusioned know what they have a right to expect and what behaviour is within the pale and what is beyond, they will be better able to regroup and stand up for themselves.

The right hon. Gentleman has not mentioned something that is surely as important as any other factor. Would not it be a good idea if those who transgressed were simply punished, so that then they might not do it again?

Of course—I shall come to that. I do not disagree with the hon. Gentleman.

There has been one consistent call from the public over the past 20 years which, until now, has been consistently rejected by the police—it has been for the return of the bobby on the beat. Experienced police officers in Newport regard it as highly desirable. The local policeman, known by all and knowing them, was a symbol of authority and the community's insistence on law and order, and was a very effective deterrent for young people minded to misbehave. I am pleased that in areas of Newport the local policeman, now called the crime and disorder reduction officer, is once again a familiar figure, and a greatly appreciated one. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary is increasing police numbers and introducing community support officers, but if he can provide further resources to fund regular uniformed foot patrols in the areas worst affected by antisocial behaviour, it would do much to create a sense of security and improve community morale.

When antisocial behaviour orders were introduced, they seemed to be just what was needed to deal directly and firmly with the troublemakers. They were so beset, however, with procedural restrictions and complications that they proved disappointing. Improvements were made in the 2002 legislation, and the Government's new proposals will improve ASBOs further. Newport welcomes the provision that local authorities will be able to prosecute for breaches of ASBOs, although the problem with prosecutions is to provide evidence that will hold good in court. We have had very few ASBOs in Newport. In one case, it is clear that the young person has routinely breached the ASBO and threatens in the most terrifying way people who might give evidence against him. They are certain that he would deliver on his promise. His only certainty seems to be that he will continue to get away with it. As the Government say in the White Paper, "effective enforcement is key". I therefore welcome their proposals to improve the protection of witnesses and the training of magistrates and judges, and to establish community justice centres where justice should be accessible and speedy.

We can further build community confidence if the rotten apples are taken out of the barrel quickly and decisively. When warnings and other less draconian interventions have failed, action is justified to remove individuals or families who are poisoning their neighbourhoods. Eviction must clearly be a last resort, but the Government are right to provide more powers for use when necessary.

Order. The right hon. Gentleman has had his eight minutes.

4.9 pm

As a number of right hon. and hon. Members have observed, the Bill includes worthwhile measures to address the phenomena of drugs, firearms, litter, noise and graffiti. I salute Ministers for advancing those policies, but there are weaknesses in the Bill, and it is my responsibility in this debate to highlight some of them.

Reference has been made on both sides of the House to the provisions for the reduction of security of tenure. It is possible, as the Government intend, to demote tenancies in certain instances. However, we must be careful to reflect not only on the motive behind the policy, but on its probable consequences. I readily concede that some people who are thoroughly antisocial and pestilential nuisances can cause their neighbours and local authorities to reach the end of their tether. In some circumstances, there may be no alternative but to evict a tenant—though the Bill does not readily provide for such an outcome—from a home owned by a local authority or where the person is a tenant of a housing action trust or a registered social landlord.

It behoves us to reflect, however, on the policy implications elsewhere of enforcing such a decision, which might prove necessary. What are we to do in respect of the provision of bed-and breakfast-accommodation? Have we factored in its likely cost? How many people will be affected by it? If it is judged that the circumstances justify breaking up the family, are we prepared to contemplate the reality of the consequences of that for which we are legislating—that some children will be forced into the alternative hell of serial fostering arrangements or of institutionalised care?

I am not saying categorically that it would be rash to do so and that no such outcome could ever be justified. It might be the lesser of two evils or the least worst outcome. However, simply to congratulate ourselves and give the impression of complacency to the outside world would be foolhardy in the extreme. If we legislate as the Government propose—without amendment, adequate back-up or safeguards—other policy implications will arise. If we act as clauses 14 and 15 provide, we will not necessarily deal with the problem, but simply move it on to another destination.

If the Under-Secretary were willing to acknowledge the point—I am not making it in a partisan sense, but in a constructive spirit—I would appreciate it. It would also be helpful if he could tell us more about the other aspects of Government policy between Departments that would require additional funding, integration and co-ordination. That would contribute towards the practical outcome of joined-up government, to which we all sign up in principle.

I have a second concern, shared by hon. Members in all parts of the House, which is about the provision in clause 22 for the imposition of fixed penalty notices on parents whose children have played truant. It is easy to provide for that, to wield the big stick, to seem tough and to indulge in a self-gratifying display of machismo by saying, "We are dealing with the matter", but are we really doing so? I salute the hon. Member for Erewash (Liz Blackman) who, on the strength of her professional experience, expressed real concerns about empowering a head teacher or teacher to impose that penalty. I entirely agree with her.

Let us reflect on what that could mean for relations between the teacher and the parent; between the teacher and the pupil; and—last but by no means least—between the parent and the pupil. There is an argument for applying fixed penalties, which I readily concede. It avoids a more time-consuming and long-winded method of addressing the problem. However, I implore the Under-Secretary to reflect in sober and constructive fashion in Committee on whether there is a more effective way of dealing with the problem. I sometimes think that if a clause is very long, as clause 22 is—it consumes or absorbs three pages of the Bill—there is probably something wrong with it. I say to hon. Members that proposed new section 444B to the Education Act 1996 contains no fewer than 10 subsections, the first of which, appertaining to the provision for regulation or secondary legislation, itself contains no fewer than 11 paragraphs. There is something wrong here; the provision is vague, ill-defined and imprecise. The meat needs to be put on to the bone. That is not an application to be included in the Standing Committee, although I shall obviously have to put up with the judgments that my hon. Friends in the Whips Office make on these important matters.

My third concern is the consideration of fixed penalties in relation to 16 and 17-year-olds. I am anxious about that as well. Of course, people who are undermining the quality of life of others have to be confronted, punished and shown a better way forward. However, if some of those people have next to nothing by way of financial resources, is it an intelligent policy option for this House to say "We shall fine you"? Even Ministers seem to recognise the potential lacuna in their provisions, as clause 38, which deals with this matter, refers to the capacity of the Secretary of State to specify different amounts for persons of different ages. That conjures up extraordinary ideas of a 13-year-old being subjected to one penalty while a 16-year-old is subjected to another and a 17-year-old to yet another. That seems extraordinary. I am not sure that there is a rationale behind that approach or whether it has been thought through.

The problem is that there is too much focus in the Bill on inputs and not enough attention directed to outputs. I do not want breast-beating from the Home Secretary and I do not want him to legislate simply to feel better or to appeal to the Daily Mail or other tabloid newspapers. I want him to legislate to improve the quality of life for people in my constituency and among the citizenry of this country. The Bill needs to be scrutinised rigorously, thoroughly and remorselessly, and that is what my hon. Friends will do.

4.17 pm

I am very interested to follow the hon. Member for Buckingham (Mr. Bercow), particularly in the light of his comments about fixed penalty fines. I should like to develop an argument firmly in favour of fixed penalties and I hope that that will complement his contribution.

It is obvious from the number of hon. Members who wish to take part in this debate that we completely understand the corrosive and severely damaging psychological impacts of antisocial behaviour in our communities. Good people need to know that Members of this House are on their side. That is what I firmly believe the Bill is about—supporting people who for too long have had to put up with the sort of behaviour that we all know we are discussing.

All of us have been visited by people with such concerns. I live in a community in which we suffer from many of the problems that have been raised on the Floor of the House. It is interesting to note that some members of our community think that it is all right to throw out an old mattress into the street and that it is okay to have a party all night so that the children cannot get up for school in the morning. Such people cannot quite understand why others find their behaviour offensive. It is about time that we made a difference through partnership work with our local authorities and police.

Last week, I held an advice surgery in Crawley. I was pleased that when a family and other neighbours came to complain about severe disruption caused by another neighbour, the police came too. They held the surgery with me and were bigger advocates of Home Office policies under this Government than anybody I have ever met. The police shared with residents the fact that new powers are in place, and extra powers are coming. I felt extremely heartened about that.

No doubt we will all choose to deal with particular aspects of the Bill, as we do not have time to mention everything on which we would like to comment. I pledge my support to most aspects of the Bill, which is a positive contribution to making our communities safer and, frankly, nicer to live in. The issue I want to consider in particular is fly tipping, which affects many people not only in towns but in the countryside. I recently attended an excellent seminar organised by Environmental Campaigns Ltd—ENCAMS—formerly the Tidy Britain Group. Those attending included representatives of local authorities, rail authorities and others who attempt to deal with the hideous problem of fly tipping. Not only do people who perpetrate fly tipping use large vehicles and believe that it is acceptable to dump tonnes of rubble outside somebody's gate or in a small area where children should play, but they take money for doing it. That goes beyond antisocial behaviour. It shows complete disrespect for our communities. The Bill should provide for extremely tough action to be taken against those who believe that they can charge money for that. Their vehicles should be confiscated so that they can no longer do their job and then take extra money for fly tipping. I hope that we can strengthen the provision on that.

I support the imposition of a statutory duty on authorities to work together. Fly tipping happens in all our constituencies and counties. We need co-operation to ensure that local authorities understand the way in which they work and how to reach out to each other to prevent it. The Bill gives them the ability to do that but I should like it to provide for a statutory duty on them to consult each other on creating partnerships in counties.

I chaired my local authority's environment committee for nine years, and I am pleased that my son recently qualified as an environmental health officer. He now lives and works in London and would argue that noise is one of the most difficult problems for neighbours, especially noise that happens through the night. It is often caused by people who do not work during the day and do not have the discipline to think, "It's midnight, perhaps I'd better go to bed." They play music and disrupt their neighbours' lives. I should like environmental health officers to be properly supported, and I want to consider fixed penalty notices in that context. Some people simply do not think about others, and it would be right to apply a fixed penalty notice to them. I also believe that the equipment should be taken away in cases of constant abuse. I am glad that my local authority has used that power effectively.

My authority and Sussex police were desperate to be chosen to pilot fixed penalty notices and were disappointed when they were not. They support their introduction because they have conducted a programme in Crawley called Operation Marble, which has reduced town centre disorder and crime by more than 35 per cent. through in-your-face policing. The police have a presence in the town centre and a video camera. They tell people, "If you don't go home now, you'll end up in court with us." Taking money from disruptive people and spoiling their night is perfect because it does not mean a criminal record. Young people who behave badly often regret it bitterly later. I hope that we can make the maximum use of fixed term penalties to ensure that we tackle antisocial behaviour in our communities properly.

I shall not give way because many more people want to speak.

I fully support the aspects of the Bill that will improve life in our communities, and I sincerely hope that we can say in the near future that the Government have truly tackled antisocial behaviour.

4.24 pm

Like all the hon. Members who have spoken so far today, I very much welcome the focus of the Government's attention on the whole issue of antisocial behaviour. I have no doubt that this is the most serious issue facing our country today, and I do not say that lightly, given the other issues that we are tackling in all our public services. I believe that to be the case, and I base that statement on the experiences of the constituents I meet as I go round my constituency and of those who come to my advice surgeries, and on the findings of the surveys and questionnaires that I have undertaken since I was elected to Parliament. Time and again, antisocial behaviour and crime are put ahead of people's other concerns about health, education or transport.

The Government are absolutely right to focus on this issue. It is a huge issue; indeed, it is probably so big that we need something comparable, in our own time, to the reformation of manners that Wilberforce wanted to launch in his day. The scale of the problem before us really is of that nature. When we look at antisocial behaviour, we have to look at the long-term causes that have brought about the state of affairs today as well as at the short-term remedies that we are going to bring to bear on the problem. Looking at the long-term causes, I find myself in complete agreement with the White Paper. On page 21, it states:
"Healthy communities are built on strong families."
It goes on to say that
"Parents…have to ensure their children understand the difference between right and wrong."
How true those words are. If the people engaging in antisocial behaviour today had had the good fortune to be in homes in which right and wrong were clearly portrayed to them from an early age, the scale of the problem would be very much less today.

I welcome the Government's focus on trying to support family life. I welcome the measures in the Bill and the expenditure in the Lord Chancellor's Department and elsewhere to try to do something about the scale of the problem involved in putting family life back together in this country. I would say, however, that the amounts being so spent are minuscule compared with the cost to the Government of picking up the pieces. I wonder whether it is time for us all to have an honest debate in the House about whether we need to shift the balance a little more between prevention and cure in this area.

I will judge the success or failure of the Bill on whether it makes a real difference in cases such as those that have arisen in my constituency recently. To preserve the privacy of those concerned, I shall not go into them in detail. The first case concerned a young mother who was desperate to move from her council flat because of the behaviour of the tenants above her. The second involved a young man whose door had been kicked down twice and had paint spattered all over it. The third involved a mother whose daughter had received death threats from people further down the street. In the fourth case, a young couple suffered such continual noise and disruption in their first home that their only option was to move out of the area. Perhaps the most harrowing case of all, however, involved a gentleman who came to see me two weeks ago. He and his partner had been forced to put their two young children into voluntary care to get them out of the street and the immediate neighbourhood in which they lived.

These are unacceptable circumstances for any of our constituents to find themselves in, and the real test of the Bill will be whether it will make a meaningful difference to such people, and whether it will help us to move forward and to solve problems such as the five in my constituency that I have outlined.

To solve such problems, we need more police on the streets. There is no other way round the problem. To enforce the measures in the Bill, we need more police constables patrolling our constituencies. That is why I welcome unreservedly the measures proposed by my own Opposition Front Bench to put 40,000 more police on to our streets over the next eight years. The Government have talked about increased police numbers, and I welcome that, but there is a difference between the establishment that the Government figures describe and the number of officers on the ground. In one of my police stations the other day, there were supposed to be six officers and a sergeant out on patrol. The reality was that there were only two constables. All the others were either elsewhere doing training courses or attending magistrates courts. They were not there to do the job that they had been called to do.

We also need courts that will process cases much faster. One of my constituents had his front door kicked down in January and again in February. He tells me that the court case will be delayed until June by forensic laboratory tests. The spattering of his door with paint, also in February, is still being investigated. That gentleman will have had to suffer the results of extreme antisocial behaviour for five months—150 days—because of the slowness of our courts.

We must ensure that guidelines and regulations, as well as the laws passed here, are intelligible. I learned recently that a local authority felt that it must inform people who had been complained about of the intention to install noise-monitoring equipment. That impression was corrected only by a letter to me from the Minister for Rural Affairs and Urban Quality of Life, citing the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000. I wonder how many local authorities and housing authorities are not using powers available to them because the guidance and regulations are not clear.

Finally, let me say something about litter, graffiti and fly tipping. I feel passionately about the problem of litter, which, as many Members have said, represents the first step in the descent into antisocial behaviour. We cannot rely entirely on local authorities and others to clear up litter; we need to realise that we are all responsible for the litter outside our houses, outside shops and outside businesses. Until we understand that we are all involved, not just our local authority litter-pickers, we will not make things better. Schools can play a vital role in teaching children and young people about the importance of picking up litter and not dropping it themselves.

When I go for a walk with my family nowadays, we take plastic bags with us so that we can pick up litter. Such action can lead to a staggering change in attitude—a sense of ownership of the street or road in which one lives.

4.32 pm

I welcome the Bill. I am glad that a Labour Government are finally getting tough on the menaces who plague decent, upstanding citizens. The Bill is about decency, and about tackling what I call the yob culture out there.

I want to comment on parts 3, 4, 5 and 6, and to link them with my constituency and with what my local authorities are doing. Clauses 29 and 38 will be warmly welcomed by my constituents in the Hemlington ward of south Middlesbrough, because they finally give the police and other authorities power to challenge antisocial youths and other groups on our streets. Their behaviour has been a particular problem in Hemlington, on estates and in the shopping precinct. Local shopkeepers tell me that the excessive numbers of youths congregating in the precinct frighten away their customers, many of whom are elderly. Not just the profitability but the very survival of many of those shopkeepers is threatened as a result, and ordinary men and women are forced to change their normal routines because of the behaviour patterns of a small minority.

I also welcome clause 32, which gives powers to community support officers, thus freeing police resources and enabling them to be targeted more efficiently. It also establishes a more flexible and consistent framework of crime prevention, as opposed to reaction to crime. Both the local authorities in my area, Middlesbrough and Redcar and Cleveland borough councils, operate warden schemes. Thanks to mayor Ray Mallon's lead, Middlesbrough now has one of the biggest schemes in the country, tied to a comprehensive database that logs the shifting patterns of antisocial behaviour and can quickly identify emerging hotspots. The Redcar and Cleveland borough council scheme is similarly spread over a large area. The authority deserves praise for being the first in the country to achieve a warden presence in every community. Those measures in the Bill will provide support for the good work already being achieved by local authorities in my constituency. The task now is to align the work of those wardens with the new powers and duties that will be open to them under the Bill.

Cleveland police have reported that there are 2,110 fewer victims of crime on a year-on-year basis. In January to March this year, compared to January to March last year, individual incidents of crime fell by 2,470. With a record number of 1,600 officers and 40 police community support officers, that provides a good base on which to build the new legislation.

The hon. Gentleman referred with enthusiasm to clause 38. What merit is there in imposing a financial penalty on 16 and 17-year-olds who have no money, who will get into debt in paying the penalty or who will simply fail to comply? Would it not be better to punish them in a more constructive way?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for that comment, but he has not seen the study from the four pilot areas, which has demonstrated that most offenders are generally happy to pay within 21 days, so his case does not hold up.

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that in the pilot areas that he cites penalty notices were not applied to 16 and 17-year-olds? They were applied to those aged 18 or over, so he is quoting something that does not meet the point that the hon. Member for Buckingham (Mr. Bercow) made.

There is no evidence to suggest, as the hon. Member for Buckingham (Mr. Bercow) claimed, that those people would not be able to pay. They are paying. In answer to the hon. Member for Ludlow (Matthew Green), we have no way of knowing that they will not pay.

Middlesbrough council told me that previous legislation has enabled it to become more proactive in relation to crime and antisocial behaviour. Legislation such as the Crime and Disorder Act 1998 and the Local Government Act 2000 has given local authorities the ability to tackle antisocial behaviour head on and they are using those powers to help to win court orders excluding particular named individuals from areas where those people have terrorised whole communities of decent people.

I strongly welcome part 6, clauses 42 to 44. I see that the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, my hon. Friend the Member for Coventry, North-East (Mr. Ainsworth), is on the Front Bench. North-east MPs made strong representations to him on that aspect of the Bill, which deals with the possession of air weapons, especially by youngsters under the age of 17, and the potential outlawing of air weapons capable of being "re-engineered" so as to fire conventional ammunition.

The misuse of air weapons has been a big issue in my constituency and across Teesside and the north-east. It led to my local paper, the Middlesbrough Evening Gazette, running the brilliant "ban the young guns" campaign, and a petition carrying many thousands of signatures collected across Teesside being presented to my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister on a visit to that paper's offices.

There has been case after case of youngsters using air guns and rifles in open space around some of the more isolated villages in the east Cleveland area. It has escalated into people becoming the victims of air rifle sniping. A number of families in my constituency have been lucky not to lose a son or daughter, or at least see them blinded. The banning of the sale of air weapons to children under 17 will remove at a stroke the conduit through which this behaviour occurs.

Similarly, I welcome the provision in clause 42 that bans the carrying of imitation firearms in a public place. As we know, such imitation weapons are not the cap-guns of our youth; they are carefully engineered replicas of real weapons such as those made by Smith and Wesson, Uzi and Heckler and Koch. We all know that these weapons have been used in robberies. A few months ago, a shop in the Tees Valley ran a quarter-page advert in a regional paper advertising such weapons. One possible amendment to clause 42 could involve banning any advertising of such weapons, except at the point of sale. I ask the Minister to consider such a provision. After all, we already ban the advertising of tobacco goods, and it could be argued that a similar case can be made in this regard.

I strongly welcome the Bill, and I wish it a happy passage through this House and elsewhere.

4.41 pm

I, too, welcome the Government's attempts in this area, although I have to say that this is a bits and pieces Bill. Some of it is good, some of it bad, and frankly, other bits of it are pointless. However, it is a step on the road, and I commend Ministers for that. There is an awful lot more to do in an area that undoubtedly affects every one of our constituents to some degree. Society as a whole has got to get to grips with this problem; otherwise, the decline in standards will lead to an increasing number of people feeling oppressed and under siege. Indeed, those of our elderly population who come into contact with antisocial behaviour will feel downright scared, and their entire quality of life could be affected. It is therefore extremely important that we get to grips with this issue.

I want to begin by confronting the Minister head-on with the Home Secretary's comments in his opening address about police numbers. My constituency is on the fringes of London, and like many other Members with such constituencies, I see the real problems that are caused by the way in which the Government are handling police funding and rewards, and by their entire approach to policing. I want to take the Minister to task on the problems that we face, and to encourage him to look more closely at them.

The truth immediately outside London is that, far from having more police, we have too few police and the numbers are reducing. We suffer from an overspill factor: a Metropolitan police area that has undoubtedly gained more officers. As my hon. Friend the Member for Upminster (Angela Watkinson), who is not in her place, said, even certain London areas do not have enough police on the streets. However, it is counties such as Surrey, Buckinghamshire, Kent and Essex that are suffering in particular from the drive to recruit officers into the Metropolitan police. We as a nation are rightly facing the huge challenges that have to be met, and the Government are right to attempt to bring more officers into the Met. We see them on the streets protecting the London Eye and this place against terrorism.

However, the reality is that a combination of the Met's aggressive outward recruitment policy in the past year or two and huge pay disparities across the London boundary—an officer in the Metropolitan police area earns £6,000 a year more than an officer in a station just two or three miles away, and receives free travel as well—has led to a huge flow of officers from just outside London into the Metropolitan police area. I see that happening day in, day out, week in, week out in my constituency. A few months ago, I stood talking to an officer in the yard of Epsom police station. He said, "I look around here and I see officers who I know are going to the Metropolitan police." The beat constable in Ashtead, the village where I live, has joined the Met. Senior officers from Epsom and Ewell have left to join the Met. I also recently visited some special constables at the local police station. The specials do excellent work in our area, across Surrey and throughout the country. They are a very under-praised resource.

In his tirade against the Metropolitan police, will not the hon. Gentleman accept that that force is training record numbers of recruits, and that it loses officers to other forces as well as gaining them from other forces? It is a two-way process, as the figures show.

I take issue with the Minister over that. When, as the local Member of Parliament, I visited my local police station, I discovered that the special constables are the longest serving officers in the area. They are the ones who retain knowledge of the area's particular problems, and who know who the troublemakers are. Part of the challenge of tackling antisocial behaviour is knowing who the troublemakers are, where to find them and where to watch over them. When the experience in a police area resides mostly with the volunteers, and when the regular officers are mainly raw recruits who stay around for a year or two before they cross the border for £6,000 a year more, the Minister must understand that that has an impact on policing, and on the force's ability to tackle antisocial behaviour.

I very much agree with my hon. Friend, and my force in Bedfordshire suffers from exactly the problems that he has described. Does he agree that there is something unethical about offering officers London allowances for housing and so on—and free travel—when they live outside London? It is simply not fair on forces outside London, which suffer a terrible problem of retention. Many young people do not consider joining their local county forces, but instead go straight to the Met.

I very much echo the points made by my hon. Friend. We will be able to tackle antisocial behaviour in the areas outside London only if we move away from the present arbitrary allowance structure. We need an allowance structure that gradually dips as one moves further away from London, not one that simply falls off a cliff.

Moreover, the resourcing levels received by forces outside London following changes to the grant structure mean that it is impossible for neighbourhood officers to tackle antisocial behaviour in the way we want them to. I have another example for the Minister. One of my local police stations is just across the border in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Mole Valley (Sir P. Beresford), but it also serves parts of my constituency. A couple of weeks ago we discovered that its four neighbourhood officers did not have access to a police car. I hope that the lack is being rectified, but the example shows the problems that we face in the south-east, where the structure of police funding has moved resources away from the fringe forces. The resources have either gone into the Metropolitan police area, or to forces elsewhere in the country. Ministers need to understand that.

Does my hon. Friend agree that it is wrong that outer London areas such as my constituency and his own—which is on London's outer rim, although not part of greater London—should be so badly affected by the fact that the Metropolitan police's resources are centred on inner London? As a result, we are disadvantaged, as all the resources are spent in the inner London areas. Does he also agree that we need to restore community beat officers? They understand communities and know their areas like the backs of their hands, and they know too who are the people who cause the antisocial behaviour that we want to tackle.

I agree totally with my hon. Friend. That is why it is so frustrating in constituencies such as mine to see an experienced neighbourhood beat officer—who knows the troublemakers and who has worked for months to tackle the problem—being tempted away to go and work a few miles up the road for £6,000 a year more. The Minister must understand the problems that that causes. I hope that the Home Office will be able to provide some solution in the months ahead.

I have a couple of final points to make. The first is in relation to graffiti. I welcome the proposals in the Bill to outlaw the sale of cans of spray paint to people under 18 years of age, but will the Minister look at the issue of internet sales? It appears that a number of suppliers of specialist spray paints specifically designed for graffiti make their products available via the internet. The methods outlined in the Bill to tackle graffiti may very well fail to deal with that problem. When he discusses the detail of the Bill in Standing Committee, will the Minister, with his officials and members of the Committee, give full consideration to the matter? I hope that he will be able to find ways to tighten the Bill to ensure that the trafficking that I have described cannot take place.

Finally, I want to turn to the principle that parents can be fined, and that teaching staff will carry out the process. That is nonsense. Teachers are already exposed to dealing with the practical difficulties of antisocial behaviour—in the classroom, and from parents who challenge their authority. Teaching is an extremely difficult job. All too often, our teachers find themselves up before the police or the courts facing spurious allegations from young people. That is not an isolated event: it happens all the time. Simply expecting our teachers to stand up in the face of troublesome parents and issue a fixed penalty notice is unrealistic and absurd, and the Government need to think again, because there has to be a better way. The principle of tackling parents whose children cause trouble is a good one, but this is not the right way to do it.

I welcome the overall strategy of the Bill, but it goes only a fraction of the way towards dealing with the problem, and some of the ideas in it are frankly wrong. I hope that in Committee it can turn from an inadequate Bill into a much more effective Bill that will achieve the goals that hon. Members on both sides of the House want it to achieve.

4.50 pm

I rise to support the Bill. We should regard it not as a stand-alone Bill, but as part of a package of measures that the Government are taking, which includes the Criminal Justice Bill, the Fireworks Bill and the forthcoming housing Bill. When that package is in place, we will be in a very good position to tackle crime, disorder and antisocial behaviour on the streets in our towns and cities.

We all know that antisocial behaviour, even at low levels, is a major problem on our streets—it certainly is in my constituency. It can and does damage our communities, our quality of life and our environment. There is an even more important reason to tackle antisocial behaviour: if we do not, we are in danger of allowing young people or, indeed, older people who engage in such behaviour to drift into more serious crime. It is of paramount importance to draw the line and to say, "Stop now, before you transgress further and possibly end up in prison."

I strongly welcome part 1 of the Bill, which gives the police powers to close down premises that are being used for the supply or use of class A drugs or are associated with disorder or nuisance to the public. Some hon. Members suggested that that part of the Bill should not be there. However, every time constituents have raised the issue with me it has been clear that nuisance and disorder are created just by the comings and goings, noise and so forth, and the police will not find it difficult to deal with. I very much welcome the speed with which action can be taken. When a closure notice is served, a court hearing will be held within 48 hours. I commend that, and I wish that other parts of our criminal justice system responded as quickly.

My attention has been drawn to clause 10, which deals with compensation. I was surprised by that, and I ask the Minister to clarify the circumstances in which compensation might be paid to an owner of closed premises. I cannot imagine that such an owner would not know what had been going on in his or her premises and must have gone on with his or her consent.

I generally welcome part 2, which deals with housing issues and associated antisocial behaviour. Clause 12 requires social landlords to publish antisocial behaviour policies and procedures. The Local Government Association contends that that is unnecessary and will lead to duplication, as those duties already exist under the Crime and Disorder Act 1998. I would welcome the Minister's comments on that criticism.

I support clause 14 and the power to allow a secure tenancy to be brought to an end by a demotion order. That clearly says to tenants who are engaged in antisocial behaviour that the writing is on the wall. If they do not then change their behaviour, they have had their final public warning and must accept the consequences of continuing with it. I am happy that there is also a carrot: if the antisocial behaviour ceases, after a year the secure tenancy will be reinstated. That is perfectly right and fair.

I want to pick up on that point about a cooling-off period. The hon. Gentleman comes from an area that probably has more problems than my rural area, but does he feel that one year is long enough? Where antisocial behaviour is concerned, offenders tend to be repeat offenders.

I am not sure; we will have to suck it and see. Given my Government's willingness to see how legislation works in practice, I am confident that, if there is a problem, it will be dealt with.

I welcome part 4 of the Bill, which is headed "Dispersal of groups etc.". Groups of youths who congregate at various sites can cause tremendous distress and intimidation. Shopkeepers suffer, and elderly citizens in elderly people's homes suffer tremendously, from that kind of behaviour. However, I echo some concerns that hon. Members have raised. The procedure seems quite bureaucratic, and the hon. Member for Hertsmere (Mr. Clappison), who is not in his place at the moment, went through them. In brief, there has to be consultation with the local authority and the publication of a notice. If I were in a gang of young people, as soon as that notice was published, I would move my gang's activities to another site. Would that mean that the whole procedure would have to be gone through again for the new site? I ask the Minister to reconsider the workings of these measures. It may be easier to give the police a direct power, if there is a problem in a particular area, to go and deal with it.

I welcome part 6 of the Bill, which deals with air weapons and imitation firearms. Part 6 will be widely welcomed—indeed, it has already been welcomed by the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and like-minded organisations. Last year, the RSPCA recorded 903 incidents of injury to animals by airguns. If this Bill can help to eradicate or reduce that cruel and wanton infliction of suffering on animals, it will have been worth while.

The Bill proposes to extend the use of fixed penalty notices. I have an open mind on this issue. I understand that pilot projects have proved successful, but will the Minister clarify what will happen if somebody riding a bike on a pavement or doing something else that warrants an FPN refuses to give his or her name and address? I presume that a police officer would have the power of arrest, but what power would a community support officer or a neighbourhood warden have?

It is hard to discuss antisocial behaviour without referring to the disgraceful scenes at England's international football fixture just a few days ago. That was the most awful antisocial behaviour of all. The Government should revisit their policies on this. It seems to me that the current sanctions have not had the desired effect. Is it not possible—in this Bill or in the Criminal Justice Bill—to introduce an offence of being involved in, or causing, violence that takes place at, or is associated with, a sporting event at home or abroad; and can that offence not carry a minimum two-year sentence and a maximum five-year sentence?

Will my hon. Friend join me in suggesting that the English Football Association should not make any tickets available for the return match when England play Turkey in Istanbul?

That is an excellent suggestion. It is obvious that the trouble will be repeated in Istanbul. The FA can and should impose that sanction. I hope that the Minister will consider the points that I have raised in this regard.

When I listen to the Liberals on crime and disorder and the justice system, I despair. If ever they were in power—God forbid—we would have social workers enforcing our laws, not police officers. Conservative Members can smile, but when they say that they will fund a further 40,000 police officers, will they please tell us where the money will come from? The officers will be funded by tax rises or deep cuts. Will such deep cuts be made to spending on health and hospitals or education?

The funding to provide those extra police officers will come from savings that will result from our new asylum policy, which will use quotas.

The laughter throughout the Chamber shows how ridiculous that comment was.

I welcome the Bill and I wish it well.

5 pm

I want to focus on the Bill's desperately negative overall view of young people. It contains nothing to suggest that the Government value young people. They have done many good things for young people such as setting up the splash initiative and the children and young people's unit, but there is nothing in the Bill for young people except draconian measures. It sends the message that young people are the problem—full stop. Centrepoint says that the Bill has a "prevailing negativity". The Bill is all about enforcement; there is nothing about prevention or rehabilitation.

There is confusion about the age at which provisions apply throughout the Bill. Part 4 addresses the removal of young people to their houses by police, and it will apply to people under 16. Part 5 of the Bill relates to penalty notices and if the Secretary of State were to pass a statutory instrument, the provisions could apply to children as young as 10. Part 6—"Firearms"—will set an age limit of 17, and provisions in part 7 will set an age limit for buying spray paint at 18. The Government are confused about the age at which young people are defined under the Bill. Will they make up their mind whether the age is 16, 10, 17 or 18, because it would be easier to find support for the Bill if they reached a satisfactory view?

There is a real oddity about the provisions on spray paint. People aged 17 may hold a driving licence and buy a car, but if their car gets scratched, they will not be allowed to buy spray paint to cover the scratch. If the Government reduced the age limit from 18 to 16, many of us would find it easier to support the provision, but they insist on a limit at 18.

Is the hon. Gentleman suggesting that the age limit should be 16?