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Antisocial Behaviour

Volume 407: debated on Wednesday 18 June 2003

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What his Department's role is in reducing antisocial behaviour in local communities. [119747]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Office of the Deputy Prime Minister
(Phil Hope)

The Government recognise the impact that antisocial behaviour can have on local communities and people's quality of life. That is why we are taking strong and concerted action across Government to tackle problems of antisocial and nuisance behaviour. Examples of action being taken by the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister include neighbourhood warden schemes, new measures to deal with antisocial tenants, and a new package of more than £200 million to create cleaner, safer, more attractive local environments.

I thank the Minister for that reply and congratulate him warmly on his appointment.

Last Friday, I visited Inspector Holland, at Swanage police station, to discuss antisocial behaviour in that part of my constituency. He informed me of the reluctance of many local agencies to use their existing powers for antisocial behaviour orders. Will the Minister assure me that the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister will issue clear guidance on how councils should use the new powers in the legislation that we are currently examining in this place and elsewhere, so that, even in Tory councils, where they are happy to do nothing and then blame the Government, we can ensure that the problem of antisocial behaviour is tackled properly throughout the country?

I thank my hon. Friend for his kind remarks.

I agree that it is important that local agencies make use of all the powers available to them to tackle antisocial behaviour. My hon. Friend has been at the forefront of local campaigns to reduce that problem in his constituency, pressing local councils to take more decisive action. I take this opportunity to urge all councils to use their new powers and the new resources that the Government have provided to tackle a problem that blights too many of our local communities.

I, too, congratulate the Minister on his new appointment.

I do not think that the hon. Gentleman can be held personally responsible for the new £200 million package to which he referred, but I am keen to know his view on how that package of measures to get rid of antisocial behaviour ties in with the Licensing Bill, to which we gave a Third Reading only the other night, and its plans to allow 24-hour drinking on all our streets—especially as regards central London.

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his kind remarks.

The hon. Gentleman must understand that we are working across Government to implement a range of programmes to tackle antisocial behaviour, so that on our streets we see new neighbourhood wardens and new community support officers who will be working hard in their areas, with local communities, doing a different job from that of the police, to tackle the kind of problem to which he referred. I am confident that they will be able to take serious steps to reduce crime rates and to ensure that the trend continues downward.

I warmly welcome my hon. Friend to the Treasury Bench in a long-overdue promotion.

As one of my hon. Friend's first duties, will he arrange a meeting with his counterpart at the Department for Education and Skills? My hon. Friend will know from his previous work that one of the keys to tackling antisocial behaviour is developing parenting and social skills in young people before they become antisocial. Will he discuss that with the DFES and consider asking his colleagues to include those skills for young people in the national curriculum?

I thank my hon. Friend for his kind remarks.

My hon. Friend puts his finger on an important point. As well as measures to tackle crime, we are introducing measures to tackle the underlying causes of crime—[HON. MEMBERS: "Ah."] My hon. Friend is right to point that out. Many of our constituencies benefit from programmes such as sure start, as well as from the children's fund, from Connexions and the youth service, which work with young people and families to deal with problems of low self-esteem and under-achievement at school. Those programmes are raising standards, attainment and aspirations in some of the poorest neighbourhoods in our communities.

I, too, warmly welcome and congratulate the hon. Gentleman on his new position. He was a distinguished Back Bencher and I am sure that he will quickly get used to defending the indefensible.

Although the hon. Gentleman has been at the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister for only a short time, does not he feel a degree of embarrassment that the average number of antisocial behaviour orders is less than 5 per cent. of what the Government predicted? Does he blame local councils for that, or is the real culprit a Government who mistake press releases for law enforcement? Local authorities can use such orders only against a backdrop of neighbourhood policing, so will he support the Conservative call for an extra 40,000 police officers on our streets?

Again, I thank the hon. Gentleman for his kind remarks, and I am glad that I do not have to defend a record of crime doubling under the Conservatives or to go into the next general election defending a pledge to cut public spending by 20 per cent. The facts are that there have been 785 antisocial behaviour orders up to last November, that the threat of such orders can have an impact on reducing crime and that the new Antisocial Behaviour Bill, which I hope the Conservative party will stop its foolish opposition to and start to support, will introduce new measures to clamp down on such problems in our communities.