Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Steve McCabe.]
I am delighted to have been given the opportunity to open this lengthy and, I hope, wide-ranging debate on antisocial behaviour. The matter is of concern to every Member of the House, and it is right and proper that we scrutinise the success that there has been in tackling it.
The debate is also timely, as such issues are always rightly under public scrutiny and subject to substantial media interest. Lately, however, that spotlight has been even more intense. Recently, the Public Accounts Committee discussed antisocial behaviour; on 2 November, the Youth Justice Board reported on antisocial behaviour orders; and on 7 December, the National Audit Office published its report, “Tackling Anti-social Behaviour”. It is important that I put my comments in the context of those excellent documents.
It is also important to establish the framework in which antisocial behaviour should be discussed. It is right and proper that elements of our antisocial behaviour policy and the whole respect agenda should be subject to due scrutiny. We should not, however, dwell on particular aspects. Antisocial behaviour and the Government’s policy on it are on a continuum from prevention and preventive measures to control and effect.
It is important to deal with the causes of antisocial behaviour as well as controlling it through antisocial behaviour orders. Does the Minister share my disappointment that only 5 per cent. of conventional ASBOs have individual support orders attached? What further action can he take to ensure better take-up of ISOs, which are designed to provide support to young people to prevent them entering the criminal justice system?
I entirely support my hon. Friend’s point about individual support orders. To be effective, the whole array of actions and policy interventions of the broad antisocial behaviour programme, including the respect agenda, need to work together with social services and local government elements such as education and housing. Intervention—and especially prevention, as she suggests—works best in the context of that focused, multi-faceted and multi-agency approach. The debate should take place in the context of that range of policy initiatives. That is not to demur from a debate on ASBOs, and the National Audit Office report was particularly useful in that regard. However, we must debate the issue in the context of parenting orders, individual support orders and other initiatives carried out by a range of agencies. The real success of such a programme in alleviating the effects of antisocial behaviour in our communities will be seen when all the prevention works, and there is no longer a need for more severe forms of intervention.
I fully support the Government’s antisocial behaviour policies and the use of ASBOs, whose effectiveness has been demonstrated in Manchester. However, I am disappointed in the Government’s approach to the licensing of mini-motorbikes. There have been 26,000 calls about them to Greater Manchester police in the past year. It is true that the police have powers to deal with them individually, but is that a sensible use of police resources when most of the problem could be dealt with by a licensing regime?
I do not share my hon. Friend’s disappointment, but I take his point about the general problem of mini-motos. I agree that the task of dealing with it should not fall entirely to the police, and that other agencies or systems should also come into play. A licensing system is one possibility, but I think the most fruitful area to explore is direct intervention with manufacturers and retailers, in the full and certain knowledge that not much mini-moto activity can be legally sustained. Mini-motos are not allowed on roads or in public parks, and they are not allowed on private land without express permission.
This is a huge and growing issue, and we are trying increasingly to deal with it. We are already working with manufacturers and retailers, and we need to do more of that. I will pass on my hon. Friend’s suggestion about the licensing system, but I think that proper enforcement by trading standards officers and others—a multi-agency approach at local level—will prove to be the best way of reducing the nuisance that mini-motos undeniably cause.
I accept and welcome my hon. Friend’s points about ASBOs, but if we are to engage in a mature debate we cannot slip into the belief that we are criminalising an entire generation by deploying them. That is not the case, and the numbers involved do not sustain such a suggestion. Nor should we assume that they do not work because they are seen as a badge of honour, that they do not work because of the breach rates, or that they do not help with prevention and helping young people to develop. [Interruption.] Let me say in response to the chuntering on the Opposition Front Bench that I will return to the issue of the Youth Justice Board. I have a few words to say about that.
As I have said, ASBOs are not ineffective, and they are not criminalising an entire generation. They must be used as one element in an overall continuum. Criticism of their use on either of those counts often constitutes a counsel of despair from people who would rather do nothing than help our communities. It should also be recognised that, more often than not, young people are victims of antisocial behaviour. It is important to understand that ASBOs are not just about attacking young people.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right that ASBOs work; they have been very effective. That is largely due to back-up from the police—community beat officers and managers working together—and the local authority provision of community wardens. It worries me that local authorities are reducing the number of wardens and a visible presence on the streets, which is allowing antisocial behaviour to become rife again. Has my hon. Friend a view on that?
It would be a pity—I put it no more strongly than that—if, given the increasing use and effectiveness of ASBOs and the increasing implementation of our neighbourhood policing policy throughout the country, some councils were short-sighted enough to withdraw community wardens. Wardens have a specific and well-established role which has been very effective and successful and, while distinct from that of the community support officers who help with neighbourhood policing, works very well in tandem with it.
My hon. Friend’s broader point goes to the heart of the antisocial behaviour agenda. ASBOs are part of a range of responses that must include the police, local authorities and other appropriate agencies, which must work together to sustain activity in their areas.
I am listening carefully to what the Minister is saying. Is it not the case, however, that although it is all too easy to heap blame on, and look for solutions from, the police and local authorities, by the time the yobs and louts come to the attention of the police, the trouble has long since set in? The cure does not lie with the police; it lies further back, with schools and families.
My remarks are still at the introductory stage, but I think that the substance of them has been precisely that. The problem is not the fault of the police or of councils, and prevention is as important as—if not more important than—intervention at the other end to deal with the consequences. That is what I have been saying for the past 10 minutes.
Perhaps I have confused the hon. Gentleman, rather than the other way around. I certainly agree that the problem should be dealt with further back, as it were; that we should think about housing and the condition of some estates, and about education in discipline and citizenship and other awareness factors in schools. Families are also important in this context, which is why parenting is such a core part of our respect agenda.
What I was trying to say was that it is a shame that, when antisocial behaviour issues reach the public domain, people tend to concentrate on behavioural excess and our responses to it. As was suggested by my hon. Friend the Member for Stockport (Ann Coffey), where ASBOs have proved effective their success has been largely due to individual support orders, and the work of police, councils and other agencies behind the scenes. I think that we agree on that.
The December report of the National Audit Office broadly accepts that our approach to tackling antisocial behaviour is working. It builds on the findings of the 2005 Home Affairs Committee report on antisocial behaviour, which not only welcomed the fact that the Government had made tackling such behaviour a priority, but concluded that our strategy was about right. It describes the range of far-reaching actions we have taken that have helped to make the policy a success.
Most people in the NAO’s case review sample who had received an antisocial behaviour intervention—an ASBO or an acceptable behaviour contract, for instance—did not re-engage in antisocial behaviour, thus bringing continued respite to the community. I know that there is a debate about breach rates among young people and others, and we will come to that, but it is important to note that the NAO’s sample showed that 65 per cent. of people desisted from antisocial behaviour after one intervention and 93 per cent. did so after three. That is encouraging, and reinforces the point that earlier intervention is central to overwhelming success.
The NAO report acknowledges that areas are making increasing use of the new interventions. More than 13,000 acceptable behaviour contracts were made between October 2003 and 2005, more than 800 areas were designated for dispersal between 2004 and 2005, and powers to close crack houses were used more than 500 times between January 2004 and 2005.
When I paid a visit to Burnley and Preston, I saw—in Preston, I think—acceptable behaviour contracts working well. I spoke to young people on the wrong end of the contracts and to the police who, after the serving of contracts, worked with the young people as well as the rest of the community to ensure that they did not “descend” from acceptable behaviour contracts to ASBOs. That is relevant to what was said by my hon. Friend the Member for Chorley (Mr. Hoyle). The local policing network was taking part in what are loftily called diversionary tactics, which helped keep those young people who were the focus of such contracts on the straight and narrow instead of “descending” into ASBOs.
It is inevitable that there will be different interpretations of bits of the NAO report from Members of different parties. However, it was reported to Louise Casey and David Normington at the Public Accounts Committee inquiry earlier this week that the NAO said that there was not enough analysis of the successes and failures of any of these policies. I think that Louise Casey accepted that, and I think that the permanent secretary did so too. Does the Minister accept the important fact that there has simply not been enough analysis of what works and what does not in this area?
When the report was published on 7 December, I went to the NAO launch event and spoke briefly at it, and I said that I recognise that that is the case. We are at an early stage in a far greater utilisation of the powers than previously—things have been slow—and it is right that there is still much to learn from a growing amount of both anecdotal evidence and empirically based data analysis.
I am not trying to paint the report or the world of ASBOs as an unqualified success. There are areas that we need to learn about. I am trying, in the way that I am opening the debate, to set a tone that allows for a proper, reflective and mature discussion rather than knockabout politics. I also accept the implied point that certain elements of the report could be read out in an entirely different way from those on which I am concentrating—that is certainly the case. The comprehensive way in which ASBOs are used and how they are set in the wider context of antisocial behaviour policy—including the preventive point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Stockport (Ann Coffey)—are relatively new developments. Of course the evidential base is growing and we need to analyse as we go, because whatever array or portfolio of the different elements of the continuum works in Burnley may not work in Southend or anywhere in between. The measures must reflect the needs of the local community.
The right hon. Member for Haltemprice and Howden (David Davis) has made a fair point, but let me make a wider point. Every time one of these powers—ABCs, dispersal orders, closure of crack houses and other interventions—is used, on the whole it brings relief and respite to local communities and the lives of Members’ constituents are no longer made a misery by a yobbish minority. It is important to state that.
We also know that our approach is working because British crime survey statistics show that between 2002-03 and 2005-06, the proportion of people who perceived there to be high levels of antisocial behaviour in their area fell from 21 per cent. to 17 per cent. Therein lies a conundrum, in the sense that the more that we seek to focus on intervention and the outcomes of antisocial behaviour and the more resources that we put into neighbourhood policing, the more—initially, at least—people take an interest in problems of antisocial behaviour and low-level crime and the more their wish to have them resolved is heightened. Such intervention and awareness of problems and possible solutions to them might well increase people’s confidence in the ability to seek their resolution. Therefore, to pursue the right hon. Gentleman’s point, although I cite in argument those British crime survey statistics, they might well fluctuate. That is relevant to his point about analysis and understanding what is really going on. Nevertheless, the notion that there has been success has been proven.
We are not complacent. We continue to make improvements in the way in which antisocial behaviour is tackled. We are ensuring that areas are increasingly measured on their effectiveness in tackling antisocial behaviour through the introduction of local area agreements. From—I think—next April, all local authorities in England will have a local area agreement setting out the priorities for that area as agreed, crucially, between local partners and central Government.
Tackling antisocial behaviour remains at the heart of the Government’s wider programme to build a modern culture of respect. The respect programme, which was launched at about this time last year, will step up and broaden the Government’s clampdown on antisocial behaviour, promoting good behaviour and challenging bad. The taskforce continues to support, encourage and challenge local services to implement approaches that will build respect and tackle antisocial behaviour, and ensure that communities see and feel that action is being taken.
To return to the point of the hon. Member for Spelthorne (Mr. Wilshire), local policy interventions across the piece must not be just an add-on to everything else that is happening in a local community through housing, education, community cohesion or in other ways. All those ways must be—as they increasingly are—inculcated with the notion that antisocial behaviour, and the precursors of it, should be at the centre of all that they do. Providing locally tailored solutions to antisocial behaviour is no easy task. Every perpetrator of antisocial behaviour is different, so one-size-fits-all solutions do not work. As I have said, that is also true for responses on a locality basis; solutions in each constituency or borough must be different given the different nature and make-up of our communities.
In consultation with experts in the field, we have equipped those on the ground with the necessary range of tools and powers to do their job in the best way that they see fit. They can tailor use of interventions according to the antisocial behaviour committed and their knowledge of the perpetrator. Our guidance strongly advocates an incremental approach. In practice, that means that to turn around the petty nuisance behaviour of a child at school, an acceptable behaviour agreement can be made; that the group of children who cause a nuisance on a housing estate can be arrested if they fail to abide by a dispersal order; that there are fixed penalty notices for litter louts and those who cause disorder; and that, for the persistent perpetrator of antisocial behaviour, the courts can make an ASBO.
Alongside those measures, £45 million of additional funding has been made available to youth offending teams through the Youth Justice Board to develop and enhance a range of evidence-based preventive programmes. Those schemes enable young people who are referred to be supported and challenged in order to address the underlying causes of their antisocial behaviour. Effective sanctions are available for those who do not comply and there is support throughout the process in order to change bad behaviour. As my hon. Friend the Member for Stockport suggested, for young people given an ASBO we have created the individual support order and the parenting order to tackle the root causes of their behaviour and to achieve that preventive dimension.
An effective approach to tackling antisocial behaviour must be based on a mixture of support, sanction and, crucially, prevention, as well as intervention. The key aims of any intervention are to enable the individual to recognise the consequences of their behaviour, to ensure that they change their behaviour, to protect victims, witnesses and the community, and to provide the support and education required to address the behaviour.
We have taken huge strides in providing those tools and powers and we are now consulting on whether we need to strengthen them further with new measures, including proposals for a deferred penalty notice for disorder. That will encourage adherence to acceptable behaviour contracts by attaching a penalty notice for disorder, which would come into effect only if the contracts were breached. I hesitated a moment ago because my speaking notes say “incentivise” and I refuse to use such words; “encourage” or “motivate” are better. We are also proposing new powers to close premises that cause persistent, significant and serious harm to local communities, but as a last resort and backed up by court order.
I also want to highlight what we are doing to tackle antisocial behaviour by young people. However, let me again stress that antisocial behaviour is not primarily a youth issue, as many believe. The latest statistics on ASBOs, published on 7 December, show that nearly 60 per cent. of ASBOs were issued to adults and only 40 per cent. to children. We are working harder than ever to divert young people from antisocial behaviour, and I should like to highlight the good work that the Youth Justice Board is doing in this respect. It is one of the many partners that must be at the table in looking at antisocial behaviour interventions in communities such as those in my hon. Friends’ constituencies.
In 2005-06, youth offending teams delivered parenting interventions in respect of 11,007 young people with final-warning interventions and community-based penalties; that is more than double the estimated number delivered in 2003-04. Of those interventions, 87 per cent. were delivered on a voluntary basis, and 13 per cent. under parenting orders. Most parents are willing to engage without a contract or order, but where more structure is needed a contract can be offered. Where parents are not willing to engage in tackling the child’s behaviour voluntarily, a parenting order can be made. YOTs will also be providing more parenting support, using funds provided through the 2004 spending review and the 2005 Budget, with a focus on preventing youth crime and antisocial behaviour. Many colleagues present will know that in every area there is a hard core of persistent antisocial behaviour offenders, just as there is in respect of a range of other crimes. Our job is to try to turn around those offenders, as well as to deal with them in other ways if that does not happen. Equally, we must ensure that what is a minority of yobs is not added to by that potential reservoir.
Some 84 YOTs are putting in place targeted parenting programmes that are aimed at preventing offending or antisocial behaviour by children. The funding for these programmes amounted to some £4 million in 2006-07, and it will be £5.5 million next year. It should pay for several thousand more parenting interventions, which will be counted toward a YOT performance target and reported to the Youth Justice Board. That new funding is also being used to develop parenting services directed at young fathers, black or minority ethnic parents and young parents in custody. Most YOTs are also putting in place youth inclusion programmes and youth inclusion and support panels, which deliver parenting interventions as part of a package of support for at-risk young people. As was pointed out earlier, the make-up of families and their at times apparently dysfunctional nature is a factor, which is why I am particularly pleased about these interventions on young fathers and on young mothers—with or without the father in tow. That must be part of the overall process.
I hope that I have given a broad perspective on what we are doing to tackle antisocial behaviour in its wider context, and I hope that Members will bear it mind that little, if anything, was done about these problems before the introduction of ASBOs and the various other tools and powers. Given that a lot of Members want to speak and that we had a statement earlier today, I have deliberately curtailed my remarks, while still generously taking interventions, which is why my speech nevertheless lasted for 27 minutes. I hope that the debate on this young and growing public policy area, which matters to all our communities, will be conducted in a reflective and mature spirit. When they say that they will no longer put up with such behaviour, they now have a framework to deal with it. That will improve the lot of our communities throughout the country. I want to thank the Youth Justice Board, the youth offending teams and everyone involved at local level in the eradication of antisocial behaviour, which can only be in the best interest of every Member of this House.
Antisocial behaviour is of enormous and growing concern to the public and to this House. In a survey conducted by University College London last May, the UK was thought by respondents to be Europe’s worst country for antisocial behaviour, with more than three quarters of them believing that Britain had a “big or moderate problem”. The cost of responding to reports of antisocial behaviour in England and Wales is £3.4 billion a year, and approximately one in five people now perceives a high level of antisocial behaviour, according to the British crime survey. A count of antisocial behaviour conducted by the Home Office in September 2003 came up with a total of more than 66,000 reports of antisocial behaviour in one day. That is equivalent to 16.5 million incidents a year.
A number of official indicators of antisocial behaviour show an increase. Of the seven strands that make up the measure, three have shown an increase since 2004-05—teenagers hanging around on the streets, people being drunk or rowdy in public places, an issue to which I shall return, and noisy neighbours or loud parties. This is primarily, but certainly not exclusively, an urban problem. The British crime survey found that people living in urban areas were twice as likely as those living in rural areas to perceive high levels of antisocial behaviour. Social renters were almost twice as likely as those in owner-occupied or private rented accommodation to experience high levels of perceived antisocial behaviour. However, the key point is surely that antisocial behaviour affects the poorest in our society the most, and disproportionately. In addition, the fear of youth crime is rising. Nearly a third of people now believe that young people hanging around on street corners represents a serious problem; significantly, that is an increase from the approximately one quarter who believed that as short a time ago as 1996.
Antisocial behaviour can be nuisance behaviour, but much of the time it is neighbourhood crime and should be dealt with accordingly. The use of abusive or intimidating language and drunken behaviour are crimes, and our concern about the Government’s response is that too much of it involves keeping such offenders out of the courts, while failing to tackle the offences that are taking place. Let us consider the essential part of the Government’s toolkit: antisocial behaviour orders. The National Audit Office report shows that more than half—55 per cent.—of ASBOs are breached. Of those breaches, more than a third— 35 per cent.—occurred on more than five occasions. In my county of Sussex, there are four breaches for every ASBO that has been issued. Some 79 per cent. of those who receive an ASBO have previous convictions, and the average number of convictions for those with previous convictions is a staggering 26.
In pointing out the number of ASBOs that were breached according to the NAO report, will the hon. Gentleman also highlight the fact that 41 per cent. of those breaches were committed to custody? That shows that there is a very real sanction if people breach their ASBO.
I am interested by the Minister’s intervention, but the truth is that those were cases in which other offences were committed, which is why a custodial sentence was given. [Interruption.] He should know that, which is perhaps why he is smiling. The truth is that the custodial sentence rate for offenders who breach ASBOs alone is, the Home Office admits, just 2 per cent.
The hon. Gentleman is getting to the heart of where the real problem lies, which is with the courts, which are too soft. The police take such people to the courts, which then take a sympathetic view and do not give the custodial sentence that is needed. Does he agree with me that the courts have got to get tough and protect the victims?
Well, there are a number of problems. First, it may be the case that the courts are not being tough enough, but they are of course under pressure not to produce custodial sentences because the Government have not planned for sufficient prison places. Secondly, there are many offenders who should have been dealt with in the courts in the first place, rather than through this remedy. Nevertheless, it is unacceptable that such a low number of breaches are dealt with through custodial sentences, and I am happy to agree with the hon. Gentleman on that point.
The Youth Justice Board report, published in November last year, claimed that
“Parents commonly argued that ASBOs functioned as a ‘badge of honour’, rather than addressing the causes of the behaviour.”
The report also found that nearly half of the young people whose case files were reviewed had been returned to court for failure to comply with their order. It is also clear from the report that young people do not understand the antisocial behaviour regime. It showed that many young people did not understand the details of the orders that were placed on them.
Given the level of breaches, it is not surprising that MORI research shows a lack of public confidence in ASBOs. An Ipsos MORI research report, published in June last year, six months after the launch of the Respect action plan, found that nearly half of people think that ASBOs are not effective at stopping antisocial behaviour. In December, the Minister said:
“I don’t accept a breach of an ASBO is the failure of an ASBO.”
In that case, what constitutes success? Is it a failure if an offender breaches parole? Is it a failure if a suspect jumps bail? Is it a failure if a prisoner absconds? Why then is it a success if someone breaches an ASBO? That is plainly nonsense.
The Permanent Secretary at the Home Office told the Public Accounts Committee on Monday that
“If you step out of line, the breach is enforced.”
But it is not, as we have just heard. There are a minimal number of custodial sentences for ASBO breaches. The National Audit Office report pointed out that more than half of those issued with ASBOs engaged in further acts of antisocial behaviour during their order.
It is the same story with acceptable behaviour contracts, which are broken by more than 60 per cent. of those under 18. The NAO report states:
“Acceptable behaviour contracts are the most frequently used intervention for which data is available…however, contracts were less effective with people aged under 18 where just over 60 per cent. of our cases displayed further anti-social behaviour.”
The credibility of the Government’s flagship policy to deal with antisocial behaviour is severely undermined by the failure to enforce the orders.
Secondly, there is the problem of evaluation, which my right hon. Friend the Member for Haltemprice and Howden (David Davis) has already raised. That is surely fundamental to the effectiveness of the regime. The NAO noted:
“The absence of formal evaluation by the Home Office of the success of different interventions and of the impact of providing support services in conjunction with the interventions prevents local areas targeting interventions in the most efficient way to achieve the best outcome for the least cost.”
In December 2005, Baroness Scotland said in a written answer:
“The Home Office is conducting an evaluation of ASBOs, the findings of which will be available in spring 2006”.—[Official Report, House of Lords, 7 December 2005; Vol. 676, c. WA100.]
In November 2006, the Minister in the other place said:
“The qualitative aspect of the study highlighted a wide range of views on a number of issues, but there were few common themes underlying the findings. We are therefore conducting further analysis of the data...Publication is now planned for the new year.”—[Official Report, House of Lords, 28 November 2006; Vol. 687, c. WA37.]
So there has been a delay of well over a year for the promised evaluation of ASBOs.
Extraordinarily, neither the Permanent Secretary at the Home Office nor the head of the Respect taskforce, Louise Casey, knew about that study when they were questioned by the PAC on Monday. Sir David Normington said:
“I am afraid I do not know about that.”
Louise Casey said the same. We know that the head of the Respect taskforce has a dislike of evidence-based policy making. She once infamously said that there is an obsession with evidence-based policy in No. 10. We are certainly getting used to the collective amnesia in the Home Office, but we should be able to expect that the Permanent Secretary and the head of the Respect agenda know that an evaluation of ASBOs is being conducted. That evaluation is fundamental to the ability of this House and the wider public to judge whether or not ASBOs are a success and its absence is a fundamental weakness in the Government’s case.
The third concern that we have about ASBOs is whether it is right that they are applied as a civil instrument to deal with persistent offenders who should be dealt with by the courts. The NAO noted that a small core of people repeatedly engaged in antisocial behaviour. Around a fifth of its sample received more than half of all the interventions and that group had an average of 50 criminal convictions. The report also said:
“There was…a hard core of perpetrators for whom interventions had limited impact.”
It is clear that ASBOs are an ineffective and inappropriate instrument to deal with hardened criminal behaviour, and that a minority of offenders should be dealt with in the courts and properly sentenced, so that victims can be assured that action has been taken. But the Government’s approach is the opposite. It is increasingly to develop what they call summary justice, so that such cases are not dealt with in the courts. That summary justice is, increasingly, soft justice.
The Sunday Telegraph recently reported that a woman who falsely accused a man of raping her was released with nothing more than a penalty notice for disorder and an £80 fine. If her story had been believed, the man she accused could have been jailed for life. If that woman had been taken to court, she could have been jailed for six months for making false rape allegations. How can it possibly have been appropriate to impose a penalty notice for disorder and an £80 fine in such circumstances?
Destroying or damaging property, which in court could incur a fine of up to £2,500 or three months in prison, can now be punished with an £80 fine. Whether the fine is £80 or £100—the proposed increase—it is simply not high enough to deter a persistent criminal. As my hon. Friend the Member for Hornchurch (James Brokenshire) has revealed, penalty notices for disorder are increasingly being used to punish shoplifting of goods under the value of £200. Nearly 22,000 penalty notices for disorder were issued for shoplifting in 2005 and nearly 17,000 in the first six months of 2006. Even if the maximum penalty is increased to £100, a shoplifter has only to get away with one in three thefts to break even or one in two to make a £100 profit. That allows shoplifters to make a substantial profit by achieving only a 50 per cent. success rate with very low risks.
Paying a penalty notice for disorder is not even an admission of guilt. If a defendant pays within 21 days, they do not even get a criminal record. They are, in the words of my hon. Friend,
“little more than glorified parking tickets.”
A spokesman for the British Retail Consortium said:
“This sends the wrong message to criminals. It tells them they have a licence to steal and won’t get any serious punishment.”
Just as ASBOs are regarded as a badge of honour, some yobs, in the words of Richard Garside, director of the Centre for Crime and Justice Studies, see penalty notices for disorder as
“the perfect end to a day out”.
To them, an instant fine is far more attractive than being taken through the court system. What is more, each penalty notice for disorder costs £91 to administer, meaning that the Government actually lose money on each one.
In September last year, the sentencing policy and penalties unit in the Home Office even suggested that
“serious crimes such as assaulting a police officer and mugging”
could be made punishable by a penalty notice for disorder to keep hundreds of thousands of offenders out of court. Not surprisingly, those plans did not make it into the Government’s consultation paper on antisocial behaviour, published in November. But the suggestion alone indicates just how out of touch the Home Office is with the public. It has a strange notion of what constitutes proper justice.
The hon. Gentleman raises the issue of the cost of penalty notices. Would he rather see those offenders go through the expensive and long-winded court process, in which the decision is made a long time after the event and at greater expense? Is that his party’s policy?
I strongly agree with the hon. Gentleman, and I shall deal with exactly that point in a moment.
A report from the centre for crime and justice studies at King’s college showed that from March 2004 to March 2006, the proportion of offences brought to justice that resulted in a successful conviction fell from just under 70 per cent. to 53 per cent. By that measure, the true justice gap—the failure to bring offences to justice—may have increased over the past two years because, if penalty notices for disorder involve no admission of guilt, can they really be considered to be true justice? The Government have taken hundreds of thousands of quite serious cases out of the courts and punished criminals with little more than a slap on the wrist.
The Government’s latest idea, outlined in the November consultation paper, is a deferred penalty notice for disorder. The proposal would mean that a fine would not be payable for up to six months, or might even not be paid at all. In effect, the notice would be a warning that the offender would receive a warning. I wonder whether the Government plan to count those deferred penalty notices for disorder as offences brought to justice. That would certainly help their detection rates.
Summary justice increasingly means soft justice. In the words of a chief Crown prosecutor, it amounts to
Summary justice can also lead to injustice. The Minister knows, because I have raised this matter with him before, that a stallholder at the royal Norfolk show in July 2006 was fined £80 and given a penalty notice for disorder by the police. His offence was that he displayed a T-shirt that the report in The Times said bore the slogan “Bollocks to Blair”.
Yes. I apologise, Madam Deputy Speaker, for reading out The Times report of the phrase that was used. Perhaps I should paraphrase, and say that the T-shirt bore the slogan “Testicles to the Prime Minister”. The prohibited phrase epitomises a sentiment that is probably shared by 80 per cent. of the general public. It is almost certainly shared by the occupant of No. 11 Downing street, but it apparently constitutes an offence meriting a fine of £80. That is plainly nonsense. If there had been any attempt to take the case to court, it is inconceivable that a sensible magistrate would have convicted the man for wearing the shirt. That shows another danger arising from the increasing use of penalty notices for disorder—that they can lead to injustice, with improper decisions being taken by the police and people effectively being coerced into accepting a ticket rather than run the risk of a prosecution.
The prohibited phrase would be an apt description of the Government’s Respect action plan. I have it here. The House will remember the plan, as it followed the Together plan, which has been dropped. The Together website is closed, and the hotline does not ring. The Together plan has fallen apart, but a new catchphrase has been adopted—“respect”.
The new action plan is full of profound advice, of which I am sure that the Minister is justly proud. On page 20, it states:
“Everyone is part of everyone else”.
On page 24, it states:
“The whole is greater than the sum of its parts”.
On page 36, it states:
“Respect—broader, deeper, further”.
That is the sort of vacuous nonsense that the so-called Respect action plan contains, but let us take a careful look at some of its proposals. The 101 national non-emergency number is called a “key part” of the Respect drive. That was promised in Labour’s 2005 manifesto, but what has happened? The pilot schemes were a huge success. The head of the Home Office’s work force strategy directorate admitted last year that
“many benefits…have already been realised, including increased partnership working between police and local authorities, improved call handling, more coordinated community safety service delivery and high levels of customer satisfaction.”
A recent caller satisfaction survey in Hampshire found that 91 per cent. of respondents were either satisfied or very satisfied with the 101 service.
I am not surprised at that. I visited Chicago with an all-party group at the end of last year and saw for myself how important and effective a non-emergency number service can be. Such a service makes people feel that the police and other public services are accessible, and that help and information are within reach.
So why has the next phase effectively been shelved? Perhaps the Minister will tell us. I am holding a 101 pen, which promises
“a new number to call”.
However, that number is not available to people in London—or Birmingham, Manchester or most of the country.
In October 2006, the Mayor of London wrote to the Home Secretary. He said:
“I am extremely concerned that the Home Office has decided to delay Waves 2 and 3 of the implementation of the National Single Non-Emergency Number—101—including London.
To be a truly world class city that hosts the Olympics in 2012, should the Capital not have the facilities that New York and Paris boast?”
So what has happened to the 101 number?
The non-emergency number in north Yorkshire is 0800 606 0247. Is that not slightly more difficult to remember than the number that my hon. Friend suggests we should adopt?
I am extremely impressed that my hon. Friend managed to remember that number. I am tempted to challenge the Minister about whether he can remember the non-emergency number in his constituency. I bet that he cannot. I am happy to admit that I could not remember the non-emergency number in my area when I needed to ring it, and members of the public have the same problem. However, everyone would be able to remember 101.
The Respect action plan—this vital document—also promises 24,000 police community support officers by next year, calling them
“absolutely vital to the modern police force”.
The plan says:
“Numbers on this scale will revolutionise policing in our communities.”
When I asked the Home Secretary in October whether the rumours were true that the numbers of PCSOs would be reduced, he flatly denied it. Later on in the year, that manifesto pledge was dropped.
That decision was disguised as “flexibility”, but at the same time, the money that would have been available to chief officers for PCSOs was taken away. Ken Jones, the president of the Association of Chief Police Officers, said:
“Being given the flexibility to manage decline is not a position we have sought”.
Durham police have already announced that 100 police officers will be cut. The Government have not condescended to announce the relaxations in the crime fighting fund properly to the House, but the head of the Police Superintendents Association has warned:
“At a time of impending police funding crisis, we are worried that some chief officers will see”
“as a green light to start shedding police officer posts to save money”.
The head of finance at ACPO has warned:
“Most forces will lose some officers or police staff. There will be fewer people working in police forces in the future.”
So much for the promises of the Respect action plan. It is a plan to deal with antisocial behaviour without the police, and without people being able to get hold of the police.
I am following my hon. Friend’s speech with interest. He is speaking very well, if I may say so. In many communities, a lot of antisocial behaviour is caused by relatively small gangs of young people. Many hon. Members want the police to move against the gang leaders, as dealing with them robustly and taking them out of circulation would send a powerful message to those on the fringes of such behaviour. Does my hon. Friend know why, under this Government, the police often appear reluctant to move against those gang leaders?
I listened to my hon. Friend’s question with great interest. The chief constable of Essex is a good and robust officer, and I imagine that he would be keen to take action against gang leaders. I hope to have a meeting with him shortly, and I shall be interested to hear his explanation. In the context of the Serious Crime Bill, we will hear the Government’s proposals for taking action against serious criminals. We will have to examine closely the extent to which that will substitute for proper action that results in offences being taken to court. Just such a substitution has happened in relation to more minor crimes and antisocial behaviour.
The Respect action plan concedes that alcohol misuse is a driver of antisocial behaviour, but it has almost nothing to say about how to deal with the problem. Perhaps that is not surprising, given that the head of the Respect taskforce supported binge drinking on the ground that
“Doing things sober is no way to get things done.”
Figures published in June 2006 show that the percentage of people saying that they have a “very” or “fairly” big problem with drunken or rowdy behaviour in public places in their area increased from 23 per cent. in July 2004-05 to 25 per cent. in July 2005-06. We know that 70 per cent. of peak-time accident and emergency admissions are alcohol-related. We all know the problems faced in our communities—whether rural or urban—from drunken and disorderly behaviour, which blights people’s lives, especially on Friday and Saturday evenings.
We shall have to see whether the Government’s deregulation of licensing hours was a sensible response to the problem, but we already know that the Minister’s predecessor, the former Respect Minister, now the Minister without Portfolio, the right hon. Member for Salford (Hazel Blears), is deeply pessimistic. She blames the “Anglo-Saxon mentality” and says that people “enjoy getting drunk”. Perhaps they do, but the communities that suffer the consequences do not enjoy it, and any serious plan to address antisocial behaviour should address the problem of binge drinking.
May I remind the hon. Gentleman that a former leader of his party boasted of drinking 14 pints when he was in a summer job? However, I am delighted to hear the hon. Gentleman’s new-found enthusiasm for cracking down on alcohol-related disorder, so last year, in November, why did he vote against the drink banning orders in the Violent Crime Reduction Act 2006?
As far as I can remember, we supported the alcohol disorder reduction zones, and I debated the issue with the Minister on the Floor of the House. We shall support any measures that we think will be effective and successful in dealing with the problem of binge drinking. It is the Government who have a case to answer for the relaxation they undertook, despite evidence that the problem was increasing, especially among young people. We will see whether that decision was wise.
Every year there are millions of antisocial behaviour incidents, but only about 10,000 ASBOs have been issued in six years. A significant proportion of them were imposed in Greater Manchester and London, but the total for other areas is only a few hundred. The problem of antisocial behaviour is much too wide to be solved by ASBOs alone, although to be fair to the Minister, he recognised that. When I was reviewing some of the things that the public had said about antisocial behaviour, I was struck by the comments of Jill Smith of the Heartsease residents association in Norwich. She said:
“There are people on this estate with ASBOs, yet there is still a lot of crime, they do not seem to be working. For some people getting an ASBO is great. We are totally disillusioned by how crime is being dealt with around here.”
ASBOs may bring specific relief, but there is little evidence that antisocial behaviour is abating overall.
The Home Office has set an arbitrary target: by 2007 or 2008, the percentage of people who feel that antisocial behaviour is a “very” or “fairly” big problem should be lower than a baseline year. The baseline year chosen is 2002-03, when the figure was 21 per cent., but the figure has never been more than that. As the centre for crime and justice studies said:
“As with the crime-related targets set by Labour, this might be an example of another target being set with little risk of it being missed.”
The perception that antisocial behaviour is a serious problem is rising again; the figure is currently 17 per cent. How effective have the Government’s frenetic interventions been?
The key to a more effective approach must lie in a new focus on prevention, as well as on more effective remedial measures. As the head of the National Audit Office, Sir John Bourne, said:
“The Home Office should consider developing, and implementing further, more preventive measures to tackle causes of antisocial behaviour.”
That was, of course, an echo of the Prime Minister’s famous pledge, but as our social justice policy group report said:
“Tony Blair used to talk about tackling the causes of crime. He no longer does; instead his Government’s attitude has become reactive and short-term.”
The report pointed out that
“the majority of young offenders come from broken homes, have drug addiction and alcohol abuse habits, the academic age of a child of 11 and many of these young people have mental health problems…become members of street gangs…The increasingly dysfunctional society…is one that breeds criminality. To be tough on the causes of crime, the causes first have to be properly understood”.
The report identified family breakdown and educational failure as two of the major drivers of crime.
The Prime Minister’s strategy unit recently estimated that problem families whose members commit crime, live on benefits and have poor health cost the state up to £250,000 a year every year. By contrast, the NAO reports research from the United States, which shows that the savings from diverting an individual from a life of antisocial behaviour and crime range from £0.9 million to £1.2 million a year. It makes economic as well as social sense to look more creatively at the type of interventions that the NAO says will work and which are cost-effective, including special education programmes and support for families.
The Government stab at such solutions in the Respect action plan, but their approach reflects their belief—no doubt honestly held—that top-down central intervention really can change things on the ground. It rarely can, and in the case of antisocial behaviour, it has not.
We believe that a new approach is needed, which epitomises our belief in social responsibility—that we all, not just the state, have obligations to our neighbours and communities, and that politicians should put trust in people and the local associations that they naturally form. That means ensuring that voluntary organisations and local communities are empowered to participate in the organisation of community safety.
I apologise to the hon. Gentleman. I talked about the police, but I did not mention wardens. I am happy to echo his support for them. In my constituency, successful warden schemes operate in some villages, and they are popular with the local community; but in other villages in my rural constituency, there is unhappiness that too much of the burden is now being put on the local community, which has to make its own provision for wardens. The police precept has increased—it has doubled proportionately in terms of the funding for police—yet people feel that they have not been given police officers in return. The Government’s recent reneging on their promise of PCSOs for those villages has deeply upset people. They feel that they are being asked to pay twice; they are paying increased council tax and not receiving police officers in return and now they are being asked to pay for wardens, too.
The NAO said that the majority of people in its six focus groups were completely unaware of the strategy in their local area. The Government have already reviewed the crime and disorder reduction partnerships. The permanent secretary told the Public Accounts Committee that the Home Office is evaluating the partnerships, and that in spring it will publish evidence of how they are performing. How does that evaluation relate to the review that is already under way? I should be grateful if the Minister told us.
The review is certainly needed. Crime and disorder reduction partnerships are invisible to the public, exactly as police authorities are invisible to the public. Much stronger local accountability is needed, as well as diversity in the delivery of community safety and an enhanced sense of community among the organisations involved.
We favour a right to policing; communities should be given ownership of community safety and a real say in how it is delivered. That say will certainly not be given by the community call for action, which has just been introduced under the Police and Justice Act 2006, and which we regard as more of a gimmick than a serious attempt to enable communities to participate in policing.
I must take issue with the hon. Gentleman’s point about not intervening in the causes of crime. What is Sure Start and Sure Start parenting? We should think of the parenting lessons that go on in schools in my constituency to great effect. The hon. Gentleman ignores those issues when it does not suit his argument. I would be glad if he recognised that the sort of activities that I mentioned are going on not just in my constituency, but throughout the country.
The issue is whether the interventions are successful. I could easily counter the hon. Lady by saying that truancy has increased, but my point was that despite all these interventions—top-down interventions by the Government—antisocial behaviour has remained at very high levels and has increased this year. That puts a question mark over how effective the interventions have been and whether the Prime Minister’s rhetoric about engaging in the causes of crime has actually been met in reality. I hope that we can all agree about the importance of tackling the causes. What I am seeking to examine is whether or not the interventions have been effective.
I had moved on to the issue of the extent to which the public feel excluded from the decisions that are taken about community safety in their area. As far back as 1988, the Prime Minister said:
“When a sense of community is strong, that adds its own special pressure against anti-social behaviour”.
However, the Government’s approach to dealing with antisocial behaviour rests on desperate remedial action, driven by a Home Office in which we can hardly have confidence scratching at the surface of the problem.
Our approach is fundamentally different. We do not think that antisocial behaviour is a minor issue. Too often, it is neighbourhood crime. We believe that it needs police out on the streets to reassure communities, prevent crime and take effective action.
My hon. Friend and I are neighbours and I have discussed the matter with him before, but does he agree that part of the problem of people’s lack of confidence in how antisocial behaviour is dealt with is knowing who is responsible—who actually takes responsibility—for it? There is no doubt that the multi-agency approach is essential, but it is absolutely vital that the people concerned know who is accountable for delivering a solution to this wretched curse of antisocial behaviour.
My hon. Friend is exactly right. People do not know who is responsible and that is part of the problem. The crime and disorder reduction partnerships are, as I have said, intensely bureaucratic and usually invisible to the public. Police authorities are essentially invisible to the public—though the police have made great strides in advancing their own visibility—and if neighbourhood policing is going to be withdrawn as a result of cuts in promised PCSO numbers and so forth, it will obviously not be a solution. As the partnership approach becomes increasingly important, we believe that it is essential to rebuild the bridges between the community and the agencies that are delivering community safety. The community must be given a real say—with respect to budgetary control, where appropriate—in terms of the delivery of community safety in local areas.
We believe not just in having more police out on the streets taking effective action—rather than keeping them in police stations, tied up in bureaucracy—but in tough enforcement against persistent offenders. We want fast justice, not soft justice. We believe in empowering communities and in taking serious action to tackle the drivers of crime.
The Government have created a new criminal offence for every day that they have been in office and we have seen 29 criminal justice Acts, reorganisations of the prison service, the probation service and the courts, yet antisocial behaviour still persists and crime rates remain among the highest of our peer-group countries. Out on the streets and in the communities, people know that the Government’s approach is not working. It is time for a fundamental rethink.
Antisocial behaviour is a blight on our communities and the Government make no apology for taking the action needed to tackle it.
We have been tough on antisocial behaviour. We have not only increased resources going to the police and local authorities, giving them the tools and the powers they need to crack down on troublemakers, but we have also been tough on the causes of antisocial behaviour. This Labour Government have also worked to tackle social exclusion and bad parenting, to relieve poverty and to improve poor housing. I reject the allegation that we are not keen on tackling the causes of antisocial behaviour.
Along with many other Members, I am sure, I receive letters and e-mails from constituents who feel that their community is blighted by low-level crime and irresponsible behaviour. In Wakefield, we are lucky to have some extraordinary people who have stood up to antisocial behaviour and transformed the community—and I would like to make special mention of three of them.
Sue Thomson lives on Aysgarth, which is part of the huge Lupset housing estate in west Wakefield. In 2002, Aysgarth had a nickname—the Bronx. It was gripped by antisocial behaviour, with residents enduring trouble almost every night. People’s lives were blighted by burnt-out cars, vandalism, and loud music. Drug-taking took place openly on the streets and fireworks were let off as a signal to drug addicts to come and get their fix. Sue set up the Aysgarth community association and badgered the local council and police for help. The council has now refurbished many of the squalid one-bedroom flats that used to house the drug dealers. The rest were bulldozed. Four years on, the estate is almost trouble free. People used to sympathise with Sue about living in Aysgarth, but now they want to live there. Sue’s tenacity has transformed her area and she is a credit to her community.
Hazel Chowcat is another woman who has made a difference. Last year, the Calder Grove area of Wakefield saw large groups of young people loitering on street corners, drinking, being unruly and generally causing traffic problems. A parish councillor for West Bretton, Hazel worked with the local neighbourhood police teams to identify the young people involved. They met the parents and agreed acceptable behaviour contracts—and they worked. The Home Secretary visited Calder Grove in May 2006 and saw for himself how those teams had reduced the problems in their community.
I have received many complaints about young people riding mini-motorbikes, which terrorise older people, younger children and pets. Mini-motorbikes are dangerous, antisocial and illegal. Councillor Ron Halliday represents Wakefield East ward, which covers the Eastmoor and Portobello estates. Ron took me out to Portobello to show me the damage that those bikes had caused. They are simply a death-trap for children, yet I have never seen any young rider wearing a helmet. Ron has been campaigning to stop young people riding mini-motos and to educate parents about the dangers of letting their children ride them. Mini-motos cost at least a couple of hundred pounds and I cannot understand why parents insist on buying them for their children. Ron’s work is improving lives and could even save lives.
I would like to turn now to the problems that we face in our city centre. Wakefield’s Westgate area is famous for its clubs and bars, but recently it has become a magnet for drink-fuelled antisocial behaviour, particularly on Friday and Saturday nights. Wakefield, known as “the Merrie city” since mediaeval times on account of the quality of its pubs, was getting a terrible reputation. Families were afraid to venture out after dark and the Wakefield theatre and restaurants claimed that brawling drunkards were scaring people away.
I therefore went on the infamous Westgate run myself in February last year, accompanied by Inspector Dave Westwood and Chief Superintendent Mark Whyman. I stayed out till 2am on Sunday morning—the latest I have been out since I was elected to this place.
I began by visiting a CCTV control room—[Interruption.] It was all quite entertaining: it is certainly a different city after 10 o’clock at night. I visited the CCTV control room, which is linked to officers on the ground. At 1.30 in the morning, it was fascinating to recognise people that I had seen from the control room at 9 pm now sitting in the cells and the booking area having been arrested. From the CCTV and the radio-ing backwards and forwards, it was easy to spot the troublemakers about four hours before it all started. It was a revelation.
I saw that arresting people takes huge amounts of officer time. I know that my hon. Friend the Minister visited Wakefield last summer and is aware of the booking-in problems at Wakefield station. We cannot tackle 21st century crime in 19th century buildings. Right at the end of the evening, outside the police station, I also witnessed the arrest of an extremely drunk and highly aggressive young man. I will not repeat the language that was used, Madam Deputy Speaker, but it was a stream of four-letter words—the worst two that can be thought of, so I will leave it to your imagination. When he was told to stop, he repeated the words insistently. Later in the cells, he indignantly demanded to see a senior officer to complain about his detention. However, he soon piped down when it was pointed out to him that he had been arrested by the chief superintendent, accompanied by an inspector and witnessed by his MP.
The police city centre team, led by Inspector Dave Westwood, has transformed the landscape of Wakefield city centre. There has been a 25 per cent. reduction in violent incidents on Westgate in the last two years. I know that anecdotes do not make evidence, but that fact represents a real reduction in the levels of violent crime. Wakefield’s Labour council also deserves praise for playing its part. It has introduced a traffic order banning cars from Westgate on weekend nights better to manage the flow of people and taxis and to stop people who have taken too much to drink falling under the wheels of cars. It has also brought in an alcohol exclusion zone to stop street drinking in the city centre during the daytime.
The church, too, has played its part. A pilot street angels scheme involves volunteers patrolling the city centre to offer help to those who may be vulnerable or in danger because of drugs or drink. They provide a reassuring, sober presence on busy weekend nights and their interventions are estimated to have saved the lives of four people in the last month alone. I am delighted that that scheme will be formally launched next month. I would also like to highlight the work done by our local newspaper, the Wakefield Express. In December 2004, it launched a campaign called Streetsafe to improve the safety of the city centre, improve the city’s image and reduce alcohol-related violence. Its campaign was nominated for a national press award and given a commendation from the divisional commander of West Yorkshire police.
I am interested to hear about the hon. Lady’s experiences. I certainly pay tribute to West Yorkshire police for all that they do. However, does she agree that often they are battling against the odds and that it would certainly help their efforts if there were a much tougher approach—perhaps a zero-tolerance approach—to breaches of ASBOs and if persistent offenders were taken off the streets so that the police do not end up arresting and re-arresting the same people and moving the same people on time after time? Does she agree that we need to have a zero-tolerance approach to breaches of ASBOs so that the police can deal with these problems properly?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for that intervention. I know that he takes an interest in the police, because I bumped into him in the force training school in August last year. He and I were both spending time with West Yorkshire police force. I have heard anecdotal evidence from the police that things such as drinking banning orders are incredibly effective because they divide people from their drinking buddies and they know that they are banned from their own local clubs. I do not know what the rate of breach of ASBOs is in Wakefield. I know that the council has issued 155, but I do not know how many have been breached. It is obviously important to take into account the reasons for those breaches and their nature. We need to look much more creatively at how we use ASBOs and at making them more personalised to the individual. I will come to that later.
I pay tribute to everyone who works tirelessly against antisocial behaviour in Wakefield by standing up for decency, running sports and youth clubs and standing up for the silent majority. They are a credit to our city. But the success of their work in tackling antisocial behaviour is also a credit to the measures that the Government have brought in. I am not going to rehearse the police numbers. Suffice it to say that West Yorkshire police have seen 600 more police officers in the past 10 years and the successful introduction of police community support officers, which Opposition peers voted against in the other place.
This is about the police engaging with communities. The introduction of neighbourhood policing has been a step change in the way in which we deal with antisocial behaviour. Last summer, as I said, I spent three days attached to Wakefield police. I went out on the beat with the safer neighbourhoods team in the Agbrigg, Belle Vue and Portobello areas to see how their new working methods are helping to restore respect by providing reassurance, and tackling antisocial behaviour and low-level crime. I visited the Portobello estate with neighbourhood beat officer Eddie Davis. We spotted a mini-motorcyclist. The officer did not give chase, because it could have been dangerous, and potentially fatal, for that young person. Eddie Davis did not need to give chase to that young person. To my amazement, he already knew the child’s name and address. He had confiscated one mini-moto already from the boy and that child was about to lose his second mini-moto. Those new seizure powers were introduced by this Labour Government and they are helping the police to make life better on the Portobello estate.
I also took the officer to visit people in a street where I had conducted a roving surgery and where they had complained to me about the activities of drug dealers. Those people’s lives are being ruined by people turning up late at night and people sleeping in cars outside the houses. One of the residents told me that a drug user had come knocking on his door at 1 o’clock in the morning, looking for the dealer’s house, accompanied by a three-year-old child. When we talk about the help that parents need, there can be no excuses for a civilised society to say that it is acceptable for any three-year-old to be out at 1 o’clock in the morning while his carer, father, uncle or babysitter—whoever that adult was—is out looking for drugs to get a fix. Anything that we can do to make the lives of those children better is to be welcomed.
I would like publicly to thank the officers from the neighbourhood policing team who have started to accompany me on joint roving surgeries, both in our city centre tower blocks and on the Eastmoor estate. It is clear that Sergeant David Monaghan-Jones, PCSO Helen Pickles and PCSO Victoria Mann have established warm and productive relationships with the local communities and tenants’ organisations, particularly in the city centre. I went out and about with them last November. One lady who answered her door said to me, “It’s just like the olden days. We know who our officers are. We know that they are around. We recognise the work that they are doing in the city centre.” It was clear from listening to the interaction of the police with those tenants that they knew what the tenants could see—and how they could help the police to tackle crime in the city centre—from their tower block windows. They could see the drug dealers in the city centre car parks, where the dealers know that CCTV does not reach. There was a true spirit of co-operation. The men and women who serve as police officers or PCSOs in Wakefield do an incredibly tough and often harrowing job with professionalism, enthusiasm, dedication and good humour.
The council also deserves praise for taking the problem of antisocial behaviour seriously. It uses the Government’s neighbourhood renewal fund to put teams of neighbourhood action patrollers on to the streets. In Wakefield, we are fortunate that people have one telephone number that they can call to report antisocial behaviour. There are joint patrols and there is a police inspector permanently based with those neighbourhood patrollers to ensure that information is shared effectively. Antisocial behaviour, whether it is fly-tipping, drug dealing or noise nuisance, can be reported. That enables problems to be tackled from both a council and a police perspective so that powers can be combined and information shared more effectively.
Opposition Members may dismiss ASBOs as a gimmick, but they are not. They are a vital tool to tackle antisocial behaviour. They help to protect young people, individuals and the community from the harms caused by antisocial behaviour and they are effective. The Government have not only brought in measures to tackle antisocial behaviour, we have done a huge amount of work in tackling the underlying causes. We know that poor housing can blight whole areas and create a bad reputation. The Government’s commitment to make all council and social housing fit to live in and decent by 2010 is one of our least praised policies. However, it is transforming the lives of Wakefield’s residents by giving them warm, safe and modern homes in which to live. Such physical regeneration, together with the growing role for tenants in shaping their own environments, is transforming communities. Last week, I was delighted that regulations were laid before Parliament that will give tenant management organisations powers to apply for ASBOs. That is another step towards making social transformation a reality throughout the country.
I called my local neighbourhood police yesterday to ask their opinion of what more is needed to help them in their fight against this scourge. Inspector Karen Bailes was keen to impress on me the importance of parents taking responsibility for their children’s actions. I have already mentioned the child who had one mini-motorbike confiscated, yet whose family seemed to think that it was acceptable to buy him another one and for him to continue to break the law. Many children’s first brush with the police is through low-level antisocial behaviour—a bit of graffiti here, some verbal abuse there; or perhaps throwing stones at a window. Neighbourhood police officers can identify problem children, but they are most successful when working with parents who take responsibility for their children’s actions and help their children to learn that such behaviour is unacceptable.
I totally agree with the hon. Lady. The community support officers in her constituency and mine, whom I have had the pleasure to meet, do a fantastic job. However, when I spent time out late at night with CSOs in my constituency, I noticed that some of the yobs and thugs whom the officers try to move on and disperse do not treat the officers with the respect that they should because they do not see them as real police officers. Many CSOs to whom I have spoken have encountered that problem. If they had more powers, such as the ability to use handcuffs, more respect for them might be fostered. Has the hon. Lady given any thought to whether CSOs should be given more tools so that the yobs and thugs will treat them with the respect they deserve?
No police community support officers have raised that point with me. However, on my night out with the chief superintendent and the inspector, I noticed the general lack of regard in which they were held as police officers by people going past. They told me tales of people saying, “I smell bacon,” meaning, “Here come the pigs.” That general lack of respect for police officers, despite their high visibility, shocked me. The problem affects not only PCSOs. The police officers whom I know would back me up in saying that there is a lack of respect for police officers across the board.
We need to keep the powers under review. PCSOs sometimes undergo further training to become police officers. They are an important conduit for training and recruitment. If PCSOs were given additional powers, it might create a disincentive for them to progress to become fully qualified police officers. The hon. Gentleman’s idea is interesting, but I do not necessarily think that it would work in practice.
Let me return to my point about parenting. Inspector Bailes told me that the problem arises when parents do not take responsibility, put their heads in the sand, swear that their child is innocent and blame other people’s children or the police—they blame everyone but themselves or their child. It is the children of such parents who cannot learn respect. They learn that they can escape the consequences of their actions and get away with it. Inspector Bailes told me that those children move on from nuisance behaviour to criminal behaviour. They go from spraying walls to attacking other children or older people. In many cases, those children become adults who are lost to society for ever simply because their parents would not face up to their responsibilities.
Chaotic parenting can have a terrible impact on the lives of children and young people. The failure to set boundaries early teaches children that they can keep pushing, which can lead to antisocial behaviour. When I was out with the police, I met a woman in a hostel for victims of domestic violence. Although she did not really want to say what had happened to her, in the end she said, “I love my son, but he beat me and I could not stay.” That is where antisocial behaviour can lead: beating up one’s own mother so badly that she has to leave her own home.
I was delighted when the Home Office announced that Wakefield council would receive £50,000 to help to pay for staff dedicated to helping local parents. When the Wakefield Express announced that news, my office took several calls from distraught mothers who were desperate for help with their unruly teenagers. I am glad that Wakefield parents will get more of the help and support that they need, whether they are dealing with toddler tantrums or teenage tearaways. However, I urge Ministers to continue to look for ways to improve parenting and to support difficult families. The Children Act 2004 states that all agencies should work together to support a child.
The Youth Justice Board published a report in November on the use of ASBOs among under-18s. Although I take on board the Minister’s point that only 40 per cent. of ASBOs go to children aged between 10 and 17, those people make up only 13 per cent. of the population, so we can argue that ASBOs are disproportionately focused on that age group. However, I reject the badge of honour theory that has been widely reported in the media and repeated in the Chamber today. Any schoolteacher or parent of a teenager knows that what children or young people say, and what they actually feel, can be two totally different things.
If a young person is answering a question, or talking in a braggartly way to their family, they will say those things to make themselves feel hard, and to make themselves feel better about what is essentially a shameful experience. Children feel such things deeply. In addition, the review focused on only 10 of the 156 youth offending teams in England and Wales, and that cannot be described as a representative or statistically broad sample.
I wish to offer Ministers some constructive criticism as they review their policy on antisocial behaviour orders. First, we need to make sure that it is not impossible for young people to comply with the conditions that magistrates impose on them, and that young people can remember what is expected of them. There are two prisons in my constituency: New Hall prison, for young offenders and women, and Wakefield prison, which is a serious, high-security prison. In my conversations with prison staff, they have told me that six or 12 months is an eternity to a young person. Those periods need to be broken down into much smaller, more manageable slots, so that they are not set up to fail by magistrates. Instead of talking about six months, we should say, “The conditions will apply for six months, but there’ll be monthly reviews.” Perhaps we could incentivise—encourage, rather, as I know that we are not allowed to use the word incentivise—young people to work towards complying for smaller, more bite-sized chunks of time, so that they feel that they can achieve what they are asked to do.
We need to include positive, alternative activities to enable the rehabilitation, reconciliation and reintegration of young people. The Secretary of State for Education and Skills talks about the personalisation of learning, and my hon. Friend the Member for Stockport (Ann Coffey) talked about individual support orders, but we could consider the personalisation of ASBOs, too, so that as well as there being a negative and punitive side, we could consider forcing young people to engage in a tailor-made programme of positive behaviour that would promote their welfare and curb their bad behaviour. I pay tribute to the many organisations, such as the YMCA and Rathbone Training, where I served as a trustee for seven years, who take on the challenges of reintegrating the most difficult, disadvantaged and disaffected young people.
The Government care about communities. We listen to communities, and we are serious about empowering them to resist antisocial behaviour. People in Wakefield know what respect is and they know how to behave well. They understand what common standards of decency are, and they uphold them, but a small minority will not obey the rules, and they undermine the lives of the decent, law-abiding majority in Wakefield. I am proud that the Government are in solidarity with that law-abiding majority, and that the police, whom I have met and shadowed, have the tools and resources to do their job of making sure that young people get the help that they need to change their lives. I am proud that the Government are in tune with the decent majority.
Thank you for calling me in this debate, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I propose to talk a little about the scope of the problem, and then to discuss the party political dimension, because I know that that has been contentious in the past. After that I will perhaps discuss possible solutions.
On the scope of the problem, like many other Members, including no doubt the hon. Member for Wakefield (Mary Creagh), I regularly go out into the constituency, knocking on doors and talking to people, and I ask them, “What causes you the most concern? What is the greatest issue that you face in your community?” A number of issues come up, but three do so routinely. One of them is development in the area—house building, traffic congestion, and issues of that sort. Another is the council tax. Unsurprisingly, that issue comes up a lot when the bills start arriving through people’s doors. However, the issue that comes up far more often than any of the others—in fact, more often than every other area of Government policy combined—is the wide, amorphous problem of antisocial behaviour.
Different people mean different things by antisocial behaviour. I accept the point made by the Conservative spokesman, the hon. Member for Arundel and South Downs (Nick Herbert): sometimes, when people describe antisocial behaviour, they are really talking about crime, pure and simple. They are talking about criminal acts. However, the term includes vandalism, graffiti, late-night noise and behaviour that is inconsiderate but that may not be regarded as criminal. It undoubtedly blights the lives of millions of our fellow citizens.
It is fair to say that if the House’s priorities reflected people’s priorities in my constituency and, I suspect, every other constituency, we would discuss the matter not just this week, but every single week that the House sits. I am grateful for the privilege of speaking on behalf of my party, as there is no greater Liberal issue. We must make sure that people do not feel so insecure in their own home or so unsafe in their neighbourhood that they dare not venture beyond their front door after dark. At this time of year, they are effectively under voluntary house arrest for 12 hours a day, so it is imperative that we address their concerns.
I am extremely flattered that just over an hour and a half after the debate began the hon. Gentleman rushed into the Chamber as soon as my name appeared on the monitor. I anticipated that the Labour Whips Office would be able to provide briefings for Members who did so, but the hon. Gentleman is right. Many hon. Members no doubt entered politics as a result of their experiences growing up or because of their parents’ party preferences, but that is not true in my case. When I was old enough to take an interest in such matters, I tried to make a cool, dispassionate assessment of which political party offered the best prospects for our country. Anyone who undertakes such a task intelligently would conclude that the Liberal Democrats offered the strongest future.
It would be difficult for anyone who, like me, grew up in the 1980s to adopt the Conservatives as their preferred party, because the Conservative party presided over a doubling of crime, which is a truly astonishing record. Crime did not rise by 5 or 10 per cent., or even by monstrous figures such as 15 or 20 per cent., but by 100 per cent. We have paid for that under successive Governments, including the last Tory Government, as billions of pounds in tax have been spent on Home Office legislation and policing. We therefore had the right to expect crime to fall under the previous Government, but instead it went up by 100 per cent., so the lives of millions of our fellow citizens were blighted as a result of the Conservatives’ period in government and the way in which they exercised power for 18 years. Any rational person would object to the Conservative record so, instead, I shall consider the Labour party’s record on crime and its critique of Liberal Democrat policy.
The Labour party’s approach to the Home Office cannot be regarded as a manifest success. In the 60-year period between 1925 and 1985, Governments of different parties introduced six criminal justice Acts. Roughly speaking, there was a criminal justice Act once a decade. Under this Government, the introduction of criminal justice Acts has become more frequent than an annual event. Such is the frenzy of legislation that the Government often plan the next criminal justice Act before they have implemented the previous one. So many Home Office Bills making legal changes have been proposed this Session that I cannot remember them all, and I have to refer to my notes. They include the Fraud (Trials without a Jury) Bill, the Legal Services Bill, a criminal justice Bill, an asylum and immigration Bill, the Offender Management Bill, a counter-terrorism Bill, the Tribunals, Courts and Enforcement Bill and, just this week, the Serious Crime Bill.
Too often, the Government mistake legislative frenzy—it is called “eye-catching initiatives” by the Prime Minister, and it secures a quick hit for Ministers in the newspapers—for effective action on crime. For the first few years after Labour came to power, that was quite seductive, because Ministers were busy with new initiatives and legislation. They seemed to care about the problems and wanted to crack down on them. Then, after a period, people started to think, “Wait a second. We keep reading in the newspapers about all the crackdowns and the other tough measures that are being taken, but where I live—on my estate, or even in my village or small town—they do not seem to be having any effect. We still seem to be blighted by antisocial behaviour.”
The Government’s big litmus test in this area is antisocial behaviour orders. The Liberal Democrats have been criticised by the Labour Government for not embracing antisocial behaviour orders as enthusiastically as they would wish, so I took the opportunity to look into the matter. For clarification, the Liberal Democrats supported the Crime and Disorder Act 1998. We had questions to ask about antisocial behaviour orders, and rightly so.
If the Minister wants to intervene and say that antisocial behaviour orders have been perfect in every regard, or if any other Member thinks that there are no criticisms to make of the implementation of antisocial behaviour orders, I am happy to give way. I am willing to take an intervention from any Member who can say that they have been perfect in their constituency. I suspect that that has not been the experience of most right hon. and hon. Members.
The hon. Gentleman says that the Liberal Democrats supported the Crime and Disorder Act 1998, but in Committee they opposed ASBOs. They opposed dispersal orders. They opposed measures in the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002. There is a long litany of measures introduced by the Government that the Liberal Democrats have opposed. Can the hon. Gentleman answer my earlier question and explain why he is criticising the Government, having opposed everything the Government have done to try to crack down on antisocial behaviour?
As the hon. Gentleman has only just come into the Chamber, he will not have heard the Minister’s opening remarks, when he said how constructive he wished to be about these matters. The hon. Gentleman may be out of tune with those on his Front Bench. I shall answer the question in considerable detail, as I know how much it interests Members.
In 1998, the Liberal Democrats supported the Crime and Disorder Bill. We asked legitimate questions, as any Opposition party would, about whether the Government had thought through every detail of ASBOs. The other example that Labour Members, in particular, cite is the Anti-social Behaviour Bill in 2003, which my party voted against. As we made clear throughout, there were measures in that Bill that we supported—for example, the powers to close down crack houses—but it is fair to say that there were aspects, particularly to do with dispersal orders, about which we had reservations. In a free society, it is right for opposition parties to have reservations about the power of the state to restrict people’s freedom of association. That is what we argued in the House.
I fully accept that in Committee Opposition Members and Back-Bench Government Members will ask questions, but that was not what the hon. Member for North Durham (Mr. Jones) asked. He asked the hon. Gentleman to explain why the Liberal Democrats voted in Committee against ASBOs and dispersal orders. We would be interested to hear the answer.
I shall take the questions from the Labour coalition with the Conservative party as one amalgamated question. Let me run through some of the Bills in this area that the Labour party opposed when it was in opposition. It is instructive and helpful for everyone to understand. The Criminal Justice Act 1982—Labour opposed it. The Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984—Labour voted against it. The Public Order Act 1986—by their own rationale, some hon. Members might want to intervene and tell me why they are in favour of public disorder or public anarchy.
I shall give way shortly to the hon. Lady, who might want to explain why the Labour party voted against the Public Order Act 1986, and why we should not rightfully conclude, to judge by the arguments made by those in her party, that she is in favour of public disorder.
Order. Let me intervene to bring an element of calm. The hon. Lady must not say “you”, because that implies that she means me, and I have nothing to do with it. It might help the general flow of the debate if we were to talk more about the present day than too much about the past.
I was at school during that period as well.
Let me return to the legislation opposed by Labour Members. It is a rather long list, and this debate is scheduled to finish at 6 o’clock, so I will skip through it. It includes the Public Order Act 1986, the Criminal Justice Act 1988, and the prevention of terrorism Acts in every single year from 1983 to 1993—and, after the right hon. Member for Sedgefield (Mr. Blair) had become leader of the Labour party, in 1995 too. Labour Members voted against all those pieces of legislation here in the House of Commons.
Will my hon. Friend confirm that the Anti-social Behaviour Act 2003 was not about ASBOs as such but contained only a minimal extension of ASBOs to housing trusts? Will he also confirm that, following opposition in this House to dispersal orders, the other House introduced an important amendment whereby the senior police officer would have to consult the local authority before issuing a dispersal order, which dealt with our concern that it is no good just moving people from A to B without their having something to do?
I will come to the hon. Gentleman in a moment; he has the opportunity to make a speech if he wishes.
For many Members, the crux of the debate appears to be antisocial behaviour orders, which are held up as the great litmus test of whether one has an interest in resolving this issue. For me, they are important—they are one club in the bag, to use a golfing analogy—but they are not the entire solution. There are many other ways in which to address the problem. Liberal Democrat councils have been notably at the forefront in offering many constructive alternative measures. For example, when Islington council was under Liberal Democrat control, its leadership pioneered acceptable behaviour contracts whereby the police, the local authority and, importantly, the individual and their family came to a conclusion about what would be an acceptable way for them to conduct themselves. Many people regard those as highly successful, and they have been taken up by many other local authorities.
I will give way to hon. Members shortly when I have finished this section.
There is an interesting National Audit Office report that compared different types of intervention. It started with the warning letter, saying that the cost of issuing such a letter was £63 and that the success rate was 63 per cent. Then it moved on to acceptable behaviour contracts—as pioneered by typically innovative and imaginative Liberal Democrats in local government. They cost £230, but are marginally more successful than the warning letter, with a success rate of 65 per cent.
Now we get to antisocial behaviour orders—[Interruption.] Let me finish my National Audit Office point. The Government and some of their friends on the Conservative Benches are hanging their hat on ASBOs. The cost is not £230, like that of acceptable behaviour contracts, but £3,100—more than a dozen times greater. Anyone who is concerned about efficient public spending will follow my argument. One would believe that, for all that extra money and the claims that Labour Back Benchers make, the success rate would be 90 or 95 per cent. However, instead of being even 65 per cent. successful, like the acceptable behaviour contracts, the success rate is 45 per cent. That is telling.
It is no wonder that the previous Home Secretary, the right hon. Member for Norwich, South (Mr. Clarke), said on 3 March 2005 on BBC television that antisocial behaviour contracts were “better” than ASBOs. The latter have an important part to play, and one would be happy if one were among the 45 per cent. whose problem was resolved through them. I am happy for those people and I believe that ASBOs can make a contribution. However, when the Minister, Labour Back Benchers and some of their keener supporters on the Conservative Back Benches claim that the ASBO is the defining issue, and none of the cheaper, more constructive and more successful measures have a part to play, they do their constituents a disservice.
The hon. Gentleman is generous in giving way. It is important to note for the record that Councillor Derek Sawyer, who was a Labour member of the Metropolitan Police Authority and former leader of Islington council until the tragic death of Councillor Milton Babulall in November 1999, when the Liberal Democrats took over, invented and pioneered the use of acceptable behaviour contracts in Islington. The new Liberal Democrat administration continued with them.
The hon. Gentleman has indeed been generous in giving way. He highlights Islington under the Liberal Democrats as a beacon of great activity in tackling antisocial behaviour. Does he realise that the Liberal Democrat administration in Islington, which is my neighbouring borough, opposed the use of CCTV on a mobile police van? Perhaps that contributed to the Liberal Democrats losing seats and Islington becoming a hung council.
Do hon. Members want to go through every council in the country in an attempt to score points for the benefit of their local newspapers?
I share the view of the hon. Member for Arundel and South Downs that the Government’s top-down, “we know best” approach is rarely effective. I have seen much good practice in many areas of the country and I do not necessarily claim that only the Liberal Democrats put forward good ideas. We simply seem to devise many more than our numbers would suggest.
I assure the hon. Gentleman that I did not rush in when I realised that he was speaking. Indeed, much more of the sort of thing that we are hearing and I might be tempted to rush out. I also assure him that I have not been put up to intervening by the Labour or the Conservative Whips. However, he sought some help with local authority matters and press releases. He probably does not know that I am restoring a farmhouse about a mile outside his constituency. I therefore know a little about Taunton Deane, South Somerset and Somerset. It might help his press release this weekend if he could tell hon. Members why, given that those three councils have, in the course of recent history, been controlled by the Liberal Democrats, I discover antisocial behaviour—vandalism, graffiti, the lot—every time I am there.
Where do I start? Taunton Deane borough council is the dominant local authority in my constituency. About 96 per cent. of the people in my constituency live there. When the council was under Liberal Democrat control, it installed CCTV in the town centre and pioneered the support of neighbourhood wardens and many other measures that have been extremely effective. Much to my regret, however, the council has been controlled for the past three and a half years by the Conservative party, although I hope that that will be rectified in May. If, besides improving his farmhouse outside my constituency, the hon. Gentleman wishes to make complaints about issues in my constituency, I am afraid that I shall have to refer him to the Conservative leadership of the council.
Does my hon. Friend agree that when we have a national telephone number on which to report antisocial behaviour, as has been promised, it will be much easier for people who have second homes and the like to report such behaviour in the various localities?
My hon. Friend makes a good point. The issue of the national phone number was raised earlier. Certain straightforward measures could be taken to alleviate public concern in this regard, and it is extraordinary that the Government are unable to take those measures much more quickly than they are.
The point that I was trying to develop before that series of interventions is that antisocial behaviour orders have a role to play. They are one of the clubs available to the golfer, to use a golfing analogy, but they are not the sole solution to the problem. The problems are much greater, as other hon. Members have said, and tackling them when an offence has already been committed and the people who have had their lives blighted have already suffered is too late in the process to be ideal. That is not to say that they do not need to be tackled at that stage, but we need to try to intervene much earlier in the process.
I remember taking part in a church debate in my constituency during the general election campaign, in which a couple of hundred people took part. The question of police numbers came up, and of which candidates supported additional community policing. Unsurprisingly, all the candidates claimed that they supported additional community policing, but I was in the enviable position of being able to make that claim more plausibly because my party was committed to abolishing identity cards and using the money to resource extra community policing over and above what the Labour party was able to offer. None the less, we all talked in those terms.
I then asked the audience of 200 churchgoers, “What is it that will prevent you from vandalising car wing mirrors as you walk back to your homes this evening? Is it the prospect of being caught by the police?” The chances of being caught red-handed by the police and being convicted for that offence are extremely small. Even if police numbers were doubled, or quintupled, it would still be extremely unlikely that anyone would be caught. So why did those 200 people not choose—I assume that they did not—to vandalise any car wing mirrors? It was because they knew that it would be wrong. They knew that it would be an inconsiderate way to behave towards other people.
We need to imbue in people a sense of neighbourliness, community spirit, fraternity and awareness of other people’s suffering. There are a number of ways in which we can do that. There is no magic solution, however. If it were that easy, the problem would already have been solved and we would be discussing something else this afternoon. Schools have a role to play, with the leadership and discipline that they provide and the example that they set. Parents also have a crucial role to play in setting an example as they bring up their children. National role models, such as those whom children and young people see on television, also have an important role to play, although some have not been as impressive as they should be recently. Role models in people’s homes and communities are also important.
The new Liberal Democrat policy that we all need to love one another to solve crime is most enlightening. Clearly one of their former Front Benchers is taking that a bit far at the moment, even to the point of loving one of our European counterparts from Romania. In regard to the golf bag analogy that the hon. Member for Taunton (Mr. Browne) raised earlier, if he did not vote for any of the measures that the Government have introduced, would not his golf game be rather short? There would be very few clubs in the bag to play the game with.
I am arguing precisely the opposite. The point has also been made in relation to Europe, to which the hon. Gentleman alludes. With regard to tackling antisocial behaviour, he is the one-club golfer and I am the fully-rounded Tiger Woods. Having been good enough to give way to him, I am sad that he chose to trivialise the matter. This is an important issue for my constituents and those of many other Members, including the hon. Member for Wakefield who, to be fair, spoke before the hon. Gentleman came into the Chamber and started to take an interest in the debate. She made some important and worthwhile points about children’s upbringing and how the examples set by adults have the potential to lead to antisocial behaviour if not addressed at an early stage.
In the past, the hon. Gentleman’s party’s policy has been to allow 16 and 17-year-olds both to purchase and to appear in hard-core pornography. How does objectification of women contribute to the work of schools, churches and parents in providing effective role models to encourage young people away from antisocial behaviour? Does his party still have that policy?
I and a record number—since the second world war—of my colleagues were elected on the 2005 general election manifesto. I do not recall—although I do not have the manifesto to hand—that proposal being in our manifesto, or in the Labour or Conservative party’s manifesto. The hon. Lady has entered a non-debate.
I was talking about the crucial role that intervention at an early stage plays in schools, in parenting and in relation to role models. It is crucial that people exercise responsibility in their community and do not take a passive approach. I have met many local action teams and neighbourhood watch schemes, some of which are more successful than others. What unites them, however, is a willingness to stand up and say that the problem is not for the police to sort out for them, but for them to address. They recognise that they need to care about what their community is like and what children are doing in it. In my constituency, I have attended fetes, jumble sales and other events held by local action teams to raise funds to support local youth projects and such like. Those have been extremely effective in letting people know who is trying to solve problems in the community in conjunction with the police.
I am also extremely supportive of community policing, and am pleased that there is a growing political consensus about that. People are seeing in their neighbourhoods a regular, identified police officer. They know that person and what they are doing, and they know that he or she knows the schools in the area, speaks to the head teachers and pupils, knows the local vicars and shopkeepers and is closely involved in day-to-day activities. The local action team and neighbourhood watch have close contact with that police officer. In some cases, they have that police officer’s mobile phone number, which they can ring if they have a particular concern or problem to bring to his or her attention. The police officer might have a small neighbourhood budget, which can be used to supplement the local action team’s activities, perhaps by funding community or youth projects. That is an extremely successful model. Not only do such police officers get to know the opinion formers and pillars of such communities, but often, to put it bluntly, some of the persistent troublemakers.
I am also extremely supportive of police community support officers. So many people say that they want visible policing. They want people working in conjunction with their community police officer, and they want people whom they know and empathise with, and who understand the area and get down to the nitty-gritty of problems. Most of the time, people do not want armed response units, although, on rare occasions, those may be the necessary and appropriate response. Most of the time, people are worried about low-level issues such as late-night noise, graffiti, vandalism and even litter. What they want is someone who they feel has a finger on the pulse and understands their concerns. Police community support officers can hold surgeries. People can go and see them, and can feel that they have a direct link with them.
For all those reasons, I greatly regret the Government’s decision to renege on their manifesto commitment and reduce the number of community support officers. In Avon and Somerset, the police authority area in which my constituency falls, the chief constable and chief superintendents carried out a large amount of consultation with community groups, local action teams, neighbourhood watches and others. They said “You will have all these extra PCSOs. We want to use them effectively, and we want them to be part of the community. We will start recruiting soon, and we want to hear your thoughts.” We were told that we would be given 541 PCSOs, which would be our share of the overall 24,000.
After all that consultation, the police in my area and across the country have been left looking stupid. They have had to go back to those community groups and say “We are awfully sorry; we told you that you would have an extra five PCSOs in your neighbourhood, but we have had to scale it down to three. And we are afraid that all the ideas for which we asked you have gone out of the window. We will have to go back to the drawing board.” Avon and Somerset’s allocation of new PCSOs has been cut from 541 to 346, a reduction of 195, which has had an extremely significant and detrimental impact on police plans for my area.
I am listening with interest to the hon. Gentleman waxing lyrical about police community support officers. I recollect that when we first announced that we wished to introduce them, they were widely derided in the House by the hon. Gentleman’s party. Could he possibly explain the conversion?
I do not recall that. I do not know whether I should use the defence used earlier by a Labour Member that Members are not allowed to have any interest in business that took place in the House at a time when they were not present, but as far as I am aware, the Liberal Democrats have always supported community policing and, indeed, pioneered it.
I do not want to stray too far from the beaten path, Mr. Deputy Speaker, but I understand that people in my constituency and elsewhere look back to a period 30, 40 or 45 years ago when there was a high level of community policing. People knew that there was a bobby on the beat, knew who that person was, and had an affinity with them. I think it is fair to say that there has subsequently been a departure from that model and a greater concentration on larger-scale “macro” policing at the expense of community policing, which is a source of great regret. Having criticised the change for many decades, I am pleased that it has now become a political consensus that community-level policing is effective in tackling crime and antisocial behaviour.
I am only intervening because I am fascinated. The hon. Gentleman said that his party had “pioneered” community support officers. I would be grateful if he could share with the House how his party pioneered them and why, having pioneered them, it did not support them when the Government announced them.
Perhaps I can explain. The position may be different in London, but the hon. Gentleman’s colleague the hon. Member for Spelthorne (Mr. Wilshire) said earlier that he takes holidays near my constituency. In my constituency, a warden system was adopted which covered a number of villages. The hon. Gentleman can come and visit them if he likes. Lots of Conservative Members do come to my constituency, and he is more than welcome to join them. The wardens were introduced when the Liberal Democrats were running Taunton Deane borough council and Somerset county council. It was a very good arrangement.. The wardens wore yellow tops, and were closely involved in a number of local initiatives. I do not think that there was any party-political significance in the colour of their tops.
Those wardens have now become community support officers—they have become part of a wider scheme—and both the council and I, as the local Member of Parliament, have been extremely supportive of that initiative throughout. PCSOs have made a substantial contribution to community policing in my area, and it is a source of regret to me that the hon. Gentleman is trying to make a political point. I thought that we had a consensus. I would like the hon. Gentleman to join me in raising concerns about the reductions in the numbers of new community support officers in Somerset, Hampshire, Yorkshire and elsewhere, rather than making trivial points.
I am very grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way. I fully agree with anyone who is critical of the reduction in the number of police officers, because my party has spent a considerable amount of time not only increasing them when in government, but calling for more of them since we left office. The only reason why I intervened on the last occasion was that, true to form, Liberal Democrats make claims that do not necessarily have much in common with what actually happened. To claim to support PCSOs when they condemned them when the Government announced that they would be introduced seems rather difficult to do—and amazing even for a Liberal Democrat.
I do not think that I could have been clearer. The hon. Gentleman talks about rewriting history, but he claims that his party increased the number of police officers when it is widely accepted as fact that when the right hon. and learned Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Howard)—the leader of the Conservative party at the last general election—was Home Secretary, the number of police officers was cut. He might not wish to repeat the point he has just made, as he is skating on thin ice.
My hon. Friend is, perhaps, letting Labour Ministers off a little lightly, because the situation in Hampshire is even worse than that which he describes in Avon and Somerset. Hampshire constabulary made announcements on PCSOs and carried on hiring them at a time when the Home Office had decided to cut them back by a third—from a total of 536, I believe. That happened even after community groups had been consulted—as I understand was also the case in Avon and Somerset—and after the PCSOs had been hired and had started patrolling the areas to which they had been allocated. They were making an extremely useful contribution to tackling antisocial behaviour in my constituency—for example, in Eastleigh town.
I am genuinely shocked to learn of what happened in Hampshire. Perhaps I was too generous to the Labour party when I said that there was consensus on this issue; perhaps Labour Members need to consider whether their party needs to take more effective action on crime and to listen to accounts of some of the strong examples that we are setting.
My speech would have been much briefer if so many Members had not intervened—particularly Labour Members—to make fatuous points, but let me conclude by saying that my party takes the whole issue of antisocial behaviour extremely seriously. We are supportive of ASBOs where they are necessary and where they are likely to be effective, but we do not regard them as the absolute litmus test and the only effective measures in this area. Plenty of other measures have been pioneered by Liberal Democrat councils and others and have a vital role to play, such as acceptable behaviour contracts. We are in favour of community policing, of stimulating and supporting local community groups, and of trying to tackle the root causes of the problems that blight our communities.
The British public have tired of the Government’s tough rhetoric, as there is such a great contrast between what they hear being said in Parliament and what they see happening in their own neighbourhoods. They have tired of what the Prime Minister called eye-catching initiatives, which are designed to get headlines in tomorrow’s newspapers and to get Labour Ministers on to television but which have little or no effect in their communities. They do not want tough talk; they want effective action, and that is what my party is offering the people of Britain.
First, let me acknowledge the contributions of previous speakers, particularly for the benefit of those Members who have been unable to be in attendance throughout the debate. Of course, we heard first from my hon. Friend the Minister, and I should apologise to him—and to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker—for arriving a tad late for that contribution as I was coming from a Standing Committee sitting.
We then heard from the hon. Member for Arundel and South Downs (Nick Herbert). I could say many things about his speech, but let me pick up on one point that he made in particular. I see that he is leaving the Chamber; he must be very afraid about what I am about to say about his contribution. He suggested that Labour Members do not think that antisocial behaviour is something to be treated seriously; he suggested that we think of it as a soft alternative to tackling crime. The reality is that Labour—as the Government’s actions have demonstrated—sees both of them as part of the solution. We need to tackle crime and the causes of crime, and to tackle antisocial behaviour. In fact, it was the right hon. Member for Haltemprice and Howden (David Davis)—the lead Conservative Front-Bench spokesman on this subject—who described antisocial behaviour orders as gimmicks. We have got to remember where those who are prepared to tackle antisocial behaviour really are to be found in this House; actions speak louder than words.
I was very impressed by the contribution of my hon. Friend the Member for Wakefield (Mary Creagh), and particularly by the inspiring stories that she told of people working from the bottom up on these issues. As we all recognise, it is the people whom we are here to represent, and it is the tools that the Government have put into their hands that are helping them to tackle such problems in their neighbourhoods. My hon. Friend gave some great examples in that regard.
I do not want, in effect, to prolong the already lengthy comments of the hon. Member for Taunton (Mr. Browne) by commenting on the many points that he raised, but I should point out that we need a reality check. Forgive me, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for raising the issue of crime—even though this is a debate about antisocial behaviour—as other Members have done. I want to draw Members’ attention to yesterday’s Evening Standard, which highlighted London’s crime figures. Between 2005 and 2006, there was a drop in every single area of crime except robbery. Homicide and violent crime are down, racist crime is down by 12 per cent., and homophobic crime is down by nearly 9 per cent. Gun-enabled and Operation Trident gun crime are both down by more than 14 per cent. The evidence shows what is really going on; the scaremongering is irresponsible.
While we recognise that crime is a continuing problem that is never going to go away—we still have a lot to do in our constituencies, and the police and the Government have problems to tackle—we must not overplay the problem and argue that crime is so rampant that we are not seeing any progress. I pay testament to my police force in Hackney, who have made great progress; I shall touch on that issue shortly.
I have risen to speak on this issue because of its extreme importance to my constituents. We know that problems still exist, and I want to highlight some of the complex issues associated with antisocial behaviour. We have heard too much debate just about antisocial behaviour orders—I want to talk about some of the other issues, as well. I want to stress that in discussions about rights and individuals, we must not forget the rights of the community: the rights of the majority of decent folk, who just want to have a quiet life at home without having to deal with antisocial behaviour and crime. As I have mentioned, tackling crime is key, and it is only fair to highlight the progress made in my own borough. Between April and November last year, house-breaking declined by 39 per cent., to the lowest level since 1998. Muggings are down by 7 per cent., gun crime is down by 34 per cent. Overall, crime is down in the borough of Hackney by 15 per cent. Between April and November last year, 2,700 fewer crimes were committed. We must recognise the important work that has been done in that regard.
The Government’s aim has been to put antisocial behaviour on the national agenda. Until the Labour Government were elected in 1997, antisocial behaviour was something that people had to put up with. It was not mentioned, and people lived with it daily on their estates and streets; they had no tools to deal with it. I was a councillor during the 1990s, and I remember sitting in many a meeting with residents, and trying to bring together the different agencies, council officers, the police and other enforcement officers to tackle many of the day-to-day irritants of antisocial behaviour. We had some success, but—by gum!—it was a long and tortuous process. We could have done with some of these tools then.
In 1997, a Government were elected who were committed to providing those tools. They have also introduced the excellent neighbourhood policing model, and I pay testament to the Mayor of London, who has progressed that model faster than in other parts of the country. We have seen a real difference. In Hackney, by and large, people know who their neighbourhood policing teams are. I regularly refer problems to those teams, and I usually find that they already know about them and are tackling them. We are therefore beginning to nip such problems in the bud.
It is important to acknowledge, however, as others have done, that central Government cannot deal with this issue alone; such efforts should not be driven from the top down. I disagree with Opposition Members who suggest that there is a Whitehall-led policy on this issue. The Home Office and other Government Departments clearly have a very important role to play in setting the parameters, and it is also clear that we need laws and tools. However, the solutions are best determined locally. Progress is being made in the form of the forthcoming London Local Authorities Bill, which will put even more power into the hands of local authorities; that is a welcome step. Importantly, money is increasingly being devolved to local authorities so that they can take such decisions.
It was the Government who introduced the respect agenda a year ago, and antisocial behaviour and its causes are being tackled. I particularly welcome “Youth Matters”, the youth opportunity card and the youth opportunities fund. All of us in Hackney agree that we need to do more to ensure that young people have alternatives. I am not suggesting that all antisocial behaviour and crime is linked to young people, but there is an issue here, which I shall touch on a little later.
Hackney council has recently been using more antisocial behaviour contracts, of ABCs, as they are frequently called. One of the issues that I wish to raise with Ministers is the cost of processing ASBOs. It costs thousands of pounds in court costs to process an ASBO. Hackney is trying to get partners to work together on that issue so that we can get money from different sources—landlords and other agencies—to fund it.
Another issue in London that affects evaluating the efficiency of ASBOs is the problem of people crossing borough boundaries. Data are collected on a borough basis for the police and the councils, but London is one city and people move around. I know that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has announced a review of data collection in the Home Office and mentioned some of the problems with the quality of data collected. I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will pass on to my right hon. Friend and his team the need to consider this issue in particular if we are to have a proper evaluation of the success of ASBOs and be able to tackle the problems that Hackney council tells me it faces on a daily basis.
Another issue that I wish to raise relates to the role of landlords. I know that my right hon. Friends the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government recently announced an initiative to encourage registered social landlords and housing associations to play a more active role, but in Hackney—thanks to historic funding mechanisms—we have several estates with multiple landlords, sometimes six or even more, managing different parts of the estate, sometimes even different bits of the same block. That often leads to a buck-passing mentality and a lack of co-ordination. Nothing is ever anyone’s responsibility, because it can always be blamed on someone else. For example, in the Lee Conservancy road area in Hackney Wick, it is difficult to get to the root of problems such as dumping of rubbish and car parking problems—we have not quite reached the state of parking rage, but there are many difficulties—and more serious matters.
CCTV is also an issue on multi-landlord estates, and at a meeting in December, residents of the Holly Street estate, which nestles between Queensland and Kingsland roads in my constituency, repeated requests for the local registered social landlords to buy into a police-supported CCTV system. Councillors Emma Plouviez, Tom Price and Patrick Vernon have championed the issue, but the landlords seem to think that it is not their responsibility to buy into an effective, centrally controlled CCTV system on which the police and the council have worked together. It is time that we challenged those landlords.
The National Housing Confederation recently launched its campaign “iN business for neighbourhoods”, which was its way of saying that landlords had a bigger role than simply dealing with housing. We need to see landlords walk the walk as proof that they take the issue seriously.
I have already mentioned some of the issues of CCTV and other parties, so I shall not repeat those points. However, the Liberal Democrats, represented eloquently today by the hon. Member for Taunton (Mr. Browne), are fond of talking about Big Brother. I prefer to talk about Big Sister, which involves support for the community and family, and keeping a watchful eye out for them. That is not a problem for me or for the people in my constituency. In fact, they would probably like to see more of it.
My hon. Friend the Member for Wakefield rightly touched on some of the issues involving parenting in her detailed speech. We need to do more to tackle poor behaviour by young people. That is a challenge for those of us who are parents, whatever the age of our children. I pay tribute to our schools in Hackney, which I have often described in the Chamber as “schools plus”. They deal with a range of children, some from challenging backgrounds, who do not have stable family homes and whose parents do not—frankly speaking—take the responsibility that they should. I want to stress that the vast majority do, although some do not. Hackney schools have been very good at delivering parenting support. The Government as a whole could learn from the experience in Hackney.
For example, Karen Glenister has been the head teacher at Burbage school in Hoxton for just over a year. Being keen to improve behaviour, she began to challenge pupils. One boy regularly misbehaved, and she made a series of telephone calls to his father to complain that the boy’s behaviour was not acceptable. At first, the father railed against her, and said that she was not describing the child he knew. He did not believe what he was being told, and refused to take responsibility for his son’s behaviour.
Gradually, through grit and determination, she won the father around and persuaded him to go on a parenting course held in the school. At the end of the year, she wanted to reward everyone—pupils and others—connected with the school who had achieved something in the year. She asked the parents who had attended the course to go to the school for a certificate presentation.
To her surprise, the father I am speaking about turned up booted and suited, and asked if he could make a little speech. In his emotional address, he talked with gratitude about the important impact that the lessons had had on him. He said that they had given him a different and better perception of his role as a father, and enabled him to have a better relationship with his son. That is the sort of day-to-day success that is being achieved in Hackney, and we need more of it.
In Daubeney school in Homerton, a parenting centre has been set up with funding from a charitable trust. Its aim is to give parenting skills and support to people even before they have children. That is in addition to the Sure Start investment in Hackney, which has given the borough 14 children’s centres.
On Monday, I had the great pleasure of visiting the Ann Tayler children’s centre in London Fields. I went with my hon. Friends the Minister for Pensions Reform and the Economic Secretary to the Treasury. We visited the newly refurbished and extended school building and saw the one-stop shop through which the fantastic new centre provides very welcome support for parents and the under-fives.
I have some personal experience of these matters. I am a parent of children under five years old and have benefited from the sort of support that I am describing, which has helped me with all the little niggles associated with the difficult job of bringing up children. As I have said before, Sure Start should not be confined to the under-fives. It is also needed for children in primary and secondary schools, and for teenagers. To some extent, the respect agenda addresses that problem, but we need an even more joined-up approach across Government.
I also want to congratulate Rev. Rose Hudson-Wilkin, a visionary vicar in the Queensbridge area of Hackney. She is not afraid to challenge parents to take their role responsibly and seriously. She speaks out where others fear to, and tells parents that they need to take responsibility and question their children about their activities, especially when they are in possession of new goods. Where do they get the money from? She is not afraid to encourage parents to ask such questions, and we need more people in leadership positions to do that.
In Hackney, education activities are not limited to primary schools and Sure Start. The Hackney safer schools partnership is led by a police sergeant and a senior officer of Hackney’s learning trust, which is the borough’s education authority. The partnership is supported by an education worker based in the youth offending team, and is an example of good, joined-up local government. Recently, the partnership has linked with the safer neighbourhoods teams at ward level.
The partnership provides educational programmes, and supports schools in responding to risk and identifying points of intervention. It also makes referrals to the local youth inclusion programmes. It plays an important role in Hackney by contributing to the development of routes out of gang involvement by which children are helped to relocate and find employment or training. The partnership has also introduced acceptable behaviour contracts in schools.
We hope that in time there will be a seamless weave of such provision in Hackney, helping people at all stages of their lives. It is not Big Brother: it is Big Sister, and it is taking an interest in people’s lives—at schools and on estates, through the police and CCTV, or in all sorts of other ways.
I said that I wanted to speak about the problems with Hackney’s Holly street estate. I visited it when it was being redeveloped in the early 1990s, and it was a dump. Crime and health problems were rife, but crime has massively reduced since the estate was rebuilt. However, just after the 2005 general election, there was a problem of serious drug dealing on the estate. The police mounted a major campaign, working with local landlords and the council, to tackle the problem. The issue was not only criminal—this may be where we disagree to some extent with the Opposition Front-Bench speakers: people associated with the drug dealing were congregating and there were no-go areas. They were not necessarily committing crimes, but by congregating they made residents worried and alarmed.
The police operation was a great success. The police took their time; they did not rush things and residents patiently lived with the problems as the police moved in. The operation was successful not only because the police took action to imprison most of the 20 main ringleaders, but also because they brought in a dispersal order on the estate. It was so effective that no one realised it had been lifted. When I visited the estate with a Home Office Minister, people were not aware that the order had been lifted a month previously because the problems had gone. Obviously, when we live in a city we know that things will not always be perfect, but by and large the improvements have been massive.
The point about Holly street that I particularly want to highlight to Ministers is the impact of low-level nuisance. Crime is identifiable and the police can make arrests. We have ways of tackling crime, although we can argue about their effectiveness, but small things that often go unreported have a significant effect on people’s lives and force them to change their behaviour. There was someone who used to lurk every morning at a bus stop on Kingsland road in the Holly street estate, sometimes dealing drugs, but not always committing a crime, which meant that most residents walked to another bus stop so that they could get to work. The local newsagent opened later in the morning because he did not want to deal with people who were drugged up or drunk, which meant that commuters could not buy their newspaper. Parents were accompanying their children to and from the bus stop. Those little irritants, which are actually quite big in the day-to-day life of residents, do not register as reported crime.
I urge the Metropolitan Police Service and the Home Office not necessarily to measure such things—we are always so keen to do that—but to acknowledge that although those annoyances are difficult to define, it is crucial to deal with them if we want peaceful, decent lives. I illustrate the benefit of dispersal orders with a quote from Vincent Stops. He is a councillor for Hackney central, which covers my constituency and straddles that of my hon. Friend the Member for Hackney, North and Stoke Newington (Ms Abbott). The dispersal order had a great effect on the Pembury estate and he said:
“Of all the issues I have got involved in this generated the most interest…the turnout to a meeting was…over 150 people.”
He said that they were not the people who usually attended, but tenants from all backgrounds,
“fed up with being harassed by small groups of youths—it was a genuine cry for help from those we don’t normally hear from”.
He added that more youth work was needed, which, as I said, we recognise in Hackney. Those comments show that the measures were sorely needed, and we should be grateful for them.
I have canvassed the opinions of local people and councillors. Common problems cover everything from vandalism, graffiti and rubbish to more serious things, which border on crime. The Government’s announcement of more money for run-down estates is welcome. Happily, the vast majority of estates in Hackney are no longer run-down, thanks to the decent homes programme that my hon. Friend the Member for Wakefield rightly highlighted as a significant measure.
Perhaps the Government could follow Hackney’s lead in terms of its estate improvement budget. Tenants have complete control of a small budget provided by Hackney Homes—formerly Hackney council—and can use it to improve physical facilities on their estate. That is residents’ control, putting power in the hands of the people who know what they want.
On decent homes, Sally Mulready, a councillor in Chatham ward said:
“Above all else the Decent Homes programme will make a huge and eventually historic difference to the lives of people living on estates.”
In Hackney, we are seeing things that are beyond our wildest dreams after years under Tory control.
I want to touch briefly on drugs, though not to talk a lot about drug policy. I do not believe that we can talk about tackling antisocial behaviour—certainly in Hackney—without talking about drugs. Drugs are still a scourge on our streets. The police have a role in enforcement and arrest, but activity around drugs—taking in everything from gangs and low-level crime to drugged-up individuals—is the cause of many problems. We need to recognise that these daily irritants that change people’s behaviour can be a problem. On the Holly Street estate, the victims were almost always effectively the wider community, so we need really joined-up government to deal with the problem.
There is some evidence of the availability on Hackney’s streets of a stronger form of cannabis known as “skunk”. This stronger form of the drug is, according to anecdotal evidence from the police—we are still trying to work out ways of measuring it—more widely available and causing great problems. I am working with Anglican deans, councillors and residents in the local area to highlight the problem. We can talk endlessly about the classification and reclassification of cannabis and about big drug policy, but we need to recognise that drug policy is often behind what is actually happening on the streets. That is what people are living with now.
I am interested in what my hon. Friend is saying. In my constituency, as in hers, young people’s lives are blighted by drugs. Does she agree with me that the one thing that we should not do is legalise some of those drugs, as the Liberal Democrats advocate?
I think that it is fair to say that, on this side of the House, we believe in joined-up government to tackle the problem, rather than the “joint up” government often proposed by some Opposition Members. The seriousness of the problem with skunk is sadly demonstrated by the tragic murder only last year of a father of two on Evergreen square on the Holly street estate. Stevens Nyembo-Ya-Muteba of the Democratic Republic of the Congo went out one night, not particularly late, and said to the children sitting on the stairwell, “Will you please be quiet as I have to get up for work tomorrow?” For that crime, he was stabbed and killed. He left a widow and two children to live with the consequences. That is one of the reasons why, in Hackney, we take the issue of drugs very seriously—it is not something to laugh about.
In fairness to other Members, I will not go in great detail into other antisocial behaviour issues, but I need to touch on them. Hackney has seen a ban on street drinking in some areas, which has had a great effect and reclaimed the streets for ordinary decent folk. The power given under the Licensing Act 2003 to local authorities—rather than distant magistrates living a long way from the area—to take decisions about what happens in their areas is another important issue. I pay tribute to Councillor Christine Boyd, who led very effectively on licensing issues.
We have seen a creative partnership with a local hospital develop in Hoxton. An ambulance is now stationed in Hoxton—an area with a large number of bars and effectively the saturation zone in Hackney. It picks up people who are very drunk, dealing with them there, rather than clogging up accident and emergency. There are many problems connected with alcohol abuse, but we do not have enough time to go into them all today. Alcohol certainly causes many problems in Hackney, but at least the partnership I just mentioned goes some way to tackling some of them.
I welcome the Gambling Act 2005, which comes into force some time later this year. It will allow local authorities to have a say about betting shops in their area. Much to residents’ and the council’s dismay, an application for a third betting shop in Chatsworth road in the Homerton area of Hackney was recently made. The problem cannot be dealt with under current law, but thanks to the Government’s introduction of a change in the law under the Gambling Act 2005, local authorities will be able to tackle it. They can make a judgment, as they know what works best for their area.
Noisy neighbours are still a problem, and even though Hackney has an effective noise patrol more work needs to be done. I raised the matter with my Front-Bench colleagues with particular respect to ASBOs. Perhaps we could use them more effectively around noise nuisance.
Another issue is that although the Home Office often talks tough, we should look more to mediation. In a dense, inner-city area such as mine, talking to people can sometimes be one of the solutions. We were elected as Members of Parliament because people voted for us and we need to put that community first. We need to be on the side of those suffering from antisocial behaviour. The Labour Government have a good track record. I have highlighted some of the issues that I would like to see changed and improved, but we can be proud of what we have begun. I hope that it is just the beginning and that we have more to see.
Students of my speeches will know that they are normally noted more for their length than their brilliance. The Minister bears the scars of some of that. He can also probably testify to the fact that they are sometimes more partisan than most. On this occasion, however, I want to try to avoid both of those characteristics. In fact, I regret joining in the jollity earlier, because it might undermine the approach that I want to take. I can only plead that I was provoked beyond endurance and apologise to the hon. Member for Taunton (Mr. Browne).
I want to say a few words about the issues that lie beneath and beyond the obvious manifestations of antisocial behaviour. I want to focus on the causes of antisocial behaviour rather than the symptoms, because it is the symptoms that are regularly discussed in the House. I am conscious that I am not an expert and that my constituency probably suffers less than many from antisocial behaviour. However, my mailbag, like everybody else’s, bears testimony to the fact that large numbers of my constituents are concerned and some of them are genuinely fearful. They need speaking up for just as much as others.
Antisocial behaviour is routinely defined as a specific range of unpleasant activities. The Government statistics, if I understand them correctly, use just six categories: vandalism and graffiti, litter, teenagers hanging about, drugs, alcohol and rowdy behaviour, and noisy neighbours. Yes, those things are antisocial, but they are just the obvious and more extreme examples of something that goes much wider. They are examples, but only a few examples, of what the legislation on ASBOs says can cause “alarm, harassment and distress” to individuals. It is unhelpful to limit our thinking to a short list—anybody’s short list, not just the Government’s—or a narrow definition. It does us well on these occasions to reflect on the fact that none of us is perfect. All of us, whoever we may be, do things that, to quote the legislation, cause “alarm, harassment and distress” to other people. It is not just yobs and layabouts who are antisocial. It might be worth thinking quietly for a moment about whether those yobs, vandals and layabouts learn their behaviour from us all, rather than inventing it on their own.
To date, much of our response to the behaviour that we do not like is to seek treatment for the symptoms. There have been quite a lot of attempts to treat those symptoms. Like Gilbert and Sullivan, I made it my job to produce a little list. I have discovered: ASBOs, dispersal orders, local partnerships, fixed penalty notices, support and sanctions packages for parents, banning the selling of spray paints to under-16s, powers to close noisy pubs, conditional cautions, community payback, on-the-spot fines, the national parenting academy, the Minister for respect, the national respect squad, intervention orders for drug addicts, and respect zones. I imagine that I have missed some things out. Somebody is welcome to add to the list. This afternoon, I mean no criticism. I do not want to go into whether those measures are good or bad. I simply want to ask: how well has that, or any, list worked? It does not appear to have prevented a rapid growth in antisocial behaviour a little while ago. The best that it might have done is to stop that increase in its tracks.
Is my hon. Friend aware that endorsing the driving licence of a convicted yob, or imposing a driving ban on them, even when the offence has nothing to do with motoring, has proved to be highly effective in the United States of America in deterring antisocial behaviour? Should we not try that over here?
I am sure that my right hon. Friend is right. Such measures are worth implementing. However, I hope that he will forgive me for not going too far down that road, apart from by agreeing with him, because although we have tried a lot of measures and we can try more—they can have some success—I get the message that that approach is not curing the underlying problem. The message for a Government of any party is that while simply trying that approach might help, it will not bring about a cure, because that lies somewhere other than such lists of measures.
The way towards the cure lies with serious thinking, rather than hyperactivity. We need long-term thinking. Although we can learn lessons from looking back at what we have tried, which has not been perfect, we must also look forward towards tackling the problem in a different way. Antisocial behaviour is not a short-term problem that can be dealt with by a short-term fix. Our thinking must be wide-ranging. Antisocial behaviour is not just the troublesome activities on that short list that are carried out by a few. Although being self-centred and disregarding others do not appear on anyone’s list, they are just as antisocial as anything on a list that any Government have come up with. Our thinking needs to switch so that it focuses on the causes just as much as, if not more than, on the symptoms.
Antisocial behaviour does not just happen, but develops over time. Paradoxically, society itself has helped to create the antisocial behaviour that we are trying to tackle. The behaviour of all individuals, including everyone in the Chamber, owes a huge amount to the values, standards, attitudes and priorities of the society in which they were born and grew up.
We all recognise that we must take account of past decisions and past behaviour. However, let me cite the words of Christine Boyd, a councillor in my constituency. She said:
“Last week I heard a housing officer comment that when she started in the job 15 years ago, all they had was the housing Act and eviction and that was very difficult to obtain, but that the range of new powers made her positive about the future.”
Does the hon. Gentleman acknowledge that if there are problems from the past, we need to tackle them, but that practitioners on the ground say that these measures are making a difference?
I agree with the hon. Lady. That was why I stressed that the thinking needs to look back. My analysis of the problem is not an attempt to rubbish what anyone is doing, irrespective of whom that is. I am trying to get across my view that always taking more action in government to address the symptoms will not bring about the ultimate cure, even though it might reduce some of the problems.
I argue that society might have contributed a lot to its own problems because it is not just the shortcomings of any society that can give rise to such behaviour. The problems seem to have been partly caused, albeit not wholly, by well-intentioned activities. Let me give the House two examples. I have deliberately picked controversial examples to find out whether they will persuade people to do a bit of the thinking on which I am keen.
Let us consider society’s championing of human rights. Of course it is proper to protect individual freedom—that is what we are here for. We must protect minorities against any abuse by the majority. I do not dispute any of that; it is right and proper, and we all sign up to it. However, if we take that too far, might it not end up with me believing, when I listen to all that, that I am entitled to do whatever I like and to behave however I like? We need to consider the fact that there is a downside to even the best of intentions.
I accept that my second example is controversial. We all accept that we must work to provide decent housing for all. Of course, homelessness and poor housing play a big part in creating the symptoms that we are concerned about, but ought we not to consider, even for a moment, whether even the nicest separate home can lead to problems of isolation for the single-parent family who are in that ever-so-nice house all on their own? The problem is the lack of role models, and the time that the children spend unsupervised, in that house. Might there not be a downside to all the things that we think are good? One could go through the whole list of good intentions, saying, “Let’s think for a moment. The outcome is not always 100 per cent. good.”
The hon. Gentleman has developed an interesting point, but although he mentions exceptional housing, I cannot think of any place that provides quality housing for single-parent families—far from it. I think that the problem is due to poor housing, in which people are pushed together, and the fact that such people have no other opportunities. I am pleased if he can say that quality housing is provided in his area, but I do not know of anywhere else where that is the case.
I said that I would be controversial. I am not arguing for any particular type of housing; I simply observe that although we all aspire to the situation that the hon. Gentleman would like, we need to reflect a little as we go. We should say to ourselves, “There could be downsides to the good towards which we are working.” That is my only point; I am not seeking to criticise anybody or anything.
My thesis is that we should not focus so much on the symptoms, but try to understand the causes in a broader and deeper way, and then consider how we can cure the problem. I owe it to the House to try to explain what I think needs to be done if we are to get to the causes, and then the cure, of antisocial behaviour. As I have hinted, I have come to the uncomfortable conclusion that it might just be society itself that has brought about the problem. Even if I am only half right in that conclusion, the solution can come only from society—from local communities, and the individuals and organisations within them. The other side of the conclusion is that the solution will not come from a Government of any party. The solution will only come from within communities.
Many aspects of society cause me concern, but the list is long and the hour is late, so I shall not burden the House with a long list. I shall mention just four aspects. They are all issues that relate to the example that we in society set for other people. The first aspect is that I sense a serious breakdown in social structures in society. I do not intend any criticism of anybody involved in that breakdown; I just observe that it has happened and is happening. I shall use the same example that I used earlier—the growth in one-adult households—but I do not criticise people for that growth. I do not want to go down that route.
In one-adult households, there are children who have very little contact, or less contact than others, with adults, particularly older adults. Should we then be surprised when people growing up in that sort of environment have less respect for a group of people that they have never lived with, or grown up among? We should be concerned about that, and about the large amount of unsupervised time. Of course the one parent has to work and provide for those children. I do not mean any criticism, but having tried to bring up children myself, I am persuaded that unsupervised time for the young is near the heart of trouble. If anyone wants to invite trouble, let a young child loose on its own for any length of time, and I can guarantee, from bitter experience, that they will find trouble.
Poverty is pointed to, but we should be concerned about poverty of experience, as well financial poverty. However, the problem is not just the financial situation of the one-adult household, but the lesser range of experience that can all too easily be found there. Again, I must underline the fact that I am not seeking to criticise anyone, but I shall do so in my second example. Role models have been touched on, and modern technology has made it easier for the super-successful to influence more and more people, not only in our own society but in the world at large. Am I wrong to worry about loutish behaviour on the football pitch by role models, because when I read the paper or talk to other parents I learn that such behaviour is copied on school playing fields? Role models are important, but I worry about the hedonistic lifestyle enjoyed by film stars and pop groups. Young people look up to them and idolise them so, inevitably, they will be copied. People have tried to argue that there is not any evidence that violence in the cinema and on television creates violence elsewhere, but I am not persuaded. If television does not influence people, why on earth do advertisers spend so much money trying to do so? The position of role models is crucial, and I am worried about the image that they project.
Thirdly, we must look at the individual attitudes and behaviour if we are to get the bottom of antisocial behaviour. Are other hon. Members as worried as I am about the contribution of irresponsibility to the spread of antisocial behaviour? In my constituency work, more and more people tell me that someone else is to blame or is responsible for their predicament. They say that they have a problem, but it is the duty of the state, local government or someone else, to solve it. If that is the attitude that we pass on to the young, should be surprised by their antisocial behaviour?
Finally, I raise with trepidation the collapse of social values and standards. I am conscious of the fact that any politician who attempts to talk about values and standards is on dangerous territory. Those of us who were Members of Parliament in the days of the back to basics campaign do not need to be reminded of the trap that awaits us if we are not careful, but values and standards are important. Ultimately, they are a matter of faith and belief, and I do not have any intention of approaching those subjects. However, successful and stable societies are all based on clear values and standards, without which we cannot define antisocial behaviour. How can we do so if society has not staked out what it expects of its members?
I urge the House to bear with me as I pose one more question. Am I alone in wondering whether the “anything goes” attitude of some Christian denominations and clerics has something to do with antisocial behaviour because, if anything goes, people can do what they like? I have taken longer than I intended, but I have done my level best to try to avoid being partisan. If there is one message that I wish to leave with the Government and Conservative spokesmen it is that we can, and must, do what we can to limit antisocial behaviour. We can and we must protect other people from it. But the cure will not come from us. The cure will come from society, via local communities and individuals. If I am right in that analysis, might it not be a little antisocial of us and of the Government of the day, whoever forms it, to say, “Leave the problem to us. We will sort it out for you”?
I thank the hon. Member for Spelthorne (Mr. Wilshire) for giving us thoughtful, considered and non-partisan insights into his views about antisocial behaviour.
I am grateful that the House has the opportunity to discuss the extremely serious issue of antisocial behaviour. With the possible exception of social housing, it is the subject about which constituents most come to see me at my weekly surgeries.
I warmly thank the hon. Member for Taunton (Mr. Browne). I have had a bad day, and he gave me a real laugh. He cheered me up. His comments confirm that Liberal Democrat antisocial behaviour policy is ill-considered, ill-thought through and hilarious. However, there is a serious side to this. My constituents are affected by antisocial behaviour, and the hon. Gentleman offered no meaningful solutions for tackling it. I hope that at the elections constituents throughout the country will remember that.
Far too many individuals and communities in Hartlepool, as in other places, have their quality of life affected by nuisance neighbours, problem families, yobbish behaviour, drinking in the street, and gangs of youths intimidating decent people—not only older citizens, but making other young people feel threatened as well. Reduction of crime has been a great success over recent years in Hartlepool, with examples of true partnership working to achieve significant results.
By coincidence, I had an e-mail this morning about crime figures in Hartlepool from the district commander of Hartlepool basic command unit, Steve Ashman. I will quote what Steve said in his e-mail.
“December saw an outstanding performance in terms of both crime reduction and our detection rate. The district has never before returned less than 800 crimes in a month, going back to when crime records began. I have often thought that to get under 800 would be possible but difficult. We came in with 736, which has smashed all previous records.”
Given that December is traditionally a high point for crime, with more people being drunk because of Christmas and new year, and more burglaries because of Christmas presents, that shows a remarkable achievement. I pay tribute to Steve and all his staff in Cleveland police for their work in helping to reduce crime in the town.
The success in crime reduction is not mirrored in attempts to deal with antisocial behaviour, which have faltered in recent years. There has been a belief in some organisations in Hartlepool that antisocial behaviour was difficult to define and so difficult to address. I was concerned that that followed the principle of “It’s too hard so we won’t try”, which is of no use to my constituents.
In June last year I was fortunate enough to secure an Adjournment debate on the subject of antisocial behaviour in Hartlepool. In that debate I expressed my frustration that agencies, particularly the local council, were not being as proactive in both prevention and enforcement as agencies in other areas. The tools provided by the Government to tackle antisocial behaviour, such as ASBOs and acceptable behaviour contracts, were not being used as much as I or, more importantly, residents believed they should be. Hartlepool had seen 10 ASBOs issued in a six-year period, well behind neighbouring authorities such as Middlesbrough and Stockton-on-Tees.
In that debate I quoted letters and e-mails which expressed constituents’ concerns about, for example, loud music being played at 3 am, antisocial tenants being evicted only to turn up again in a different house in the same street, and gangs fighting in front of frightened residents. One of the e-mails from a constituent concluded:
“It seems to us that a number of agencies have powers to deal with a lot of issues but do not use the powers and many appear not to talk to each other.”
Among decent residents there was a growing loss of faith in the ability of agencies to tackle the problem.
I find that suffering from antisocial behaviour is not confined to a particular area or a particular class of people. I receive many complaints from people in the most prosperous part of my town about underage drinking in Ward Jackson park. Youths congregate, causing disturbance and intimidation. They move around frequently in order to trick the police, but tend to be in the affluent areas of Seaton Carew, the Fens estate and the picturesque village of Greatham.
Having said that, it is fair to say that people living in the most deprived areas of Hartlepool are disproportionately more likely to suffer from instances of criminal and antisocial behaviour than other areas. The wards of Stranton, Grange and Dyke House are filled with energetic and committed people who are actively engaged with making their communities better—people such as Julie Hetherington, Brian Maiden, Brian McBean, Muriel Boreland and Irene Nelson. Why should those people and their neighbours have to suffer from blatant and open drug dealing in the street, litter, graffiti, and problem families, as well as the prospect of going to work and having to walk past people drinking in the street and not bothering to seek employment? Many of the Victorian terraced properties in areas in the centre of town have been sold to private landlords who do not care about the neighbourhood, who often do not even know where Hartlepool is, and are not that bothered as long as the housing benefit cheques keep coming in.
I am pleased that some progress has been made in Hartlepool in the six months since my debate. I am also pleased that the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, my hon. Friend the Member for Gedling (Mr. Coaker), who responded to the debate in June, is on the Front Bench. I pay tribute to the work that he did after the debate. He put a rocket under the backsides of some people in Hartlepool, which has made a real difference. There is a growing recognition among certain elements in the local authority that enforcement need not necessarily be a negative or an exclusive policy that is completely contrary to prevention and rehabilitation, but can and should be undertaken with a whole range of other appropriate approaches towards tackling the problem.
Hartlepool was the pilot basic command unit in the Cleveland police area for neighbourhood policing. The local strategic partnership, which I chair, in conjunction with the Home Office pledged £250,000 to that project to ensure that policing was as close to communities as possible. An additional 74 police officers have been recruited—we have 21 new officers in total—or redeployed from back-office duties to ensure that the fight against crime and antisocial behaviour is led from the streets. Since April last year, there has been a local police team in each ward in the town, with leaflets distributed showing the photos of the police officers together with their contact numbers, and surgeries have allowed members of the public to discuss matters of concern directly with them. That has had an unbelievable impact on the sense of community safety for most of the town. The visible police presence on the streets of Hartlepool has led to a palpable sense of decent people reclaiming their areas.
In September, I was asked by community groups from Stranton, Grange and Dyke House to chair a meeting between residents and senior agency staff in organisations such as the police and the local authority to discuss the problems of drug dealing and to ensure that measures such as CCTV provision are operational and co-ordinated. A follow-up meeting in November showed that the closer working and, crucially, the level of discussion and debate between residents and police on matters such as the best approach to tackling suspected drug dealing—whether we kick the door in or take more covert approaches—has helped to increase faith and reassurance and ensured that residents are part of the process of reducing criminal and antisocial behaviour.
In addition, to tackle the problems of absent and uncaring private landlords, the local authority is in the final stages of considering the introduction of a selective licensing scheme—under powers introduced by this Government—which would mean that landlords in the town would have to show that they have in place suitable arrangements to deal with antisocial tenants.
Perhaps most encouragingly for residents, local agencies are working with much greater focus and energy to put in place enforcement actions. At the time of my Adjournment debate six months ago, 10 antisocial behaviour orders had been issued in six or seven years; I understand that that figure has increased to about 30. The principle of naming and shaming young people who have been issued with ASBOs is making its first tentative steps in Hartlepool. Last month, 2,000 leaflets were distributed on the Dyke House estate regarding a three-year ASBO, informing residents that the individual concerned had been making threats of violence, had been verbally abusive, and had harassed residents, damaged property and thrown missiles. That is welcome. I have wanted that initiative to be introduced for some time to provide reassurance to residents blighted by the thoughtless actions of a small number of individuals and to make the individuals concerned accountable for their actions. I hope that there will be more instances of such publicity.
Despite the undoubted improvements in the past few months, there is a need to do much more and to adopt a more co-ordinated approach in Hartlepool. One of the reasons why local agencies have been slow off the mark in using the extra powers that the Government provided was a feeling among some officials that a move towards enforcement was somehow contrary to attempts to rehabilitate and to prevent antisocial behaviour. I have observed a significant difference in approach and style between those involved in enforcement and those who work in prevention. I hope that those differences are ending, and that a more consistent approach, which can embrace prevention and enforcement as fundamental parts of a co-ordinated antisocial behaviour strategy, is coming to the fore.
The town could do much more to introduce early intervention to prevent the onset of antisocial and criminal behaviour. As other hon. Members have said, early intervention is crucial because signs of delinquent behaviour in children are one of the strongest indicators of future activity. It also allows those individuals to overcome barriers and fulfil their potential. Studies show that some factors, such as poverty, dependence on benefits, parents’ history of convictions and imprisonment, and the youthfulness of parents, are most closely associated with predicting a child’s behaviour in later life.
A study in this country, which the National Audit Office report cites, shows that 63 per cent. of boys with convicted fathers were subsequently convicted themselves. The report concluded:
“Having a convicted parent at age 10 was the best single predictor of anti-social personality at age 32.”
That rings true in my experience as a ward councillor on Hartlepool borough council and as a Member of Parliament.
The hon. Gentleman makes an important point. Would he be surprised to learn that a recent answer to a parliamentary question that I tabled revealed that only 3 per cent. of local authorities mentioned the children of prisoners in their children and young people’s plans? Does he agree that it is important to identify early those children who might be at risk of committing crimes later?
I agree. As soon as the debate finishes, I shall rush to the Hartlepool children and young person’s plan to ascertain which factors it takes into account—whether it includes not only children who have convicted parents, but the range of risk factors that I mentioned—as methods of trying to predict and prevent antisocial behaviour.
It is important to stress that I do not suggest that everybody in the categories that I outlined is condemned to a life of crime and should be accordingly stigmatised. However, risk factors can be used to target and tailor more efficiently early intervention mechanisms that have greater chances of success. That approach would complement the Government’s attempts to reduce social exclusion and improve chances in the most deprived areas.
The Government’s emphasis on education, the doubling of spend per pupil in Hartlepool, the provision of neighbourhood renewal fund money and the establishment of Sure Start centres all demonstrate that early intervention can make a positive impact. However, we could do more in a more co-ordinated and targeted way. For example, I should like an extension of education maintenance allowances to include graduation incentives, which would encourage young people in deprived areas, who hitherto had not even considered further and higher education, to do so. I hope that my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary can expand on whether that is planned.
I am interested in hon. Members’ comments about neighbourhood policing, which is the 21st-century equivalent of the bobby on the beat. For a variety of reasons, that informal supervision is absent. My hon. Friend the Member for Chorley (Mr. Hoyle) mentioned community wardens. We have them in Hartlepool, where they have proved a huge success. People say that, 20 or 30 years ago, the bus conductor or the park warden could say, “Oi Johnny, oi Mary, don’t do that”, and prevent things from escalating. There is a consensus that neighbourhood policing works. We need to consider other mechanisms and ensure that the 21st-century equivalent of the park warden or bus conductor is in society, not only to make areas safer but to prevent antisocial behaviour at an early stage.
The borough of Hartlepool is relatively compact, and organisations such as the borough council, the primary care trust, the basic command unit that I mentioned earlier and the registered social landlords are all coterminous. They can and do work together effectively. The sharing of information takes place, but I would be keen to see whether the Government can facilitate even more data sharing.
I would also like to see a much greater expansion of restorative justice. I have already called in the House for community justice centres in my constituency, like those in Liverpool and Salford. I was disappointed that we were not included in the latest batch, but I will keep fighting for them. Hartlepool would be an ideal location for such centres because of the well developed residents’ network and the sense of civic pride that my town has. That civic pride, which encourages a feeling of positive engagement on the ground in neighbourhoods, needs to be encouraged still further.
I will also continue to push for more powers to be given to residents’ groups, because I can see the potential for such powers in Hartlepool. Neighbourhood renewal money has given community groups in my constituency hundreds of thousands of pounds to improve amenities, by providing better street lighting and helping to keep neighbourhoods cleaner, for example. More could definitely be achieved if the Government gave residents associations more powers to take ownership and control of their area, and I would like the Minister to address that point when he winds up the debate.
We should not shy away from enforcement as an effective tool to tackle antisocial behaviour. Early intervention and initiatives to break the negative cycle should be emphasised, but inevitably there comes a point when enforcement is necessary. The Government need to continue in the same direction and encourage magistrates to pass tougher sentences. I pay tribute to what my hon. Friend the Member for Chorley said about magistrates being soft. We need to tackle that issue, possibly by naming and shaming those who do not impose harsh sentences.
I mentioned earlier the 17-year-old youth in Hartlepool who had a three-year ASBO placed on him. He has been locked up 60 times. That is unacceptable. We should ensure that any sentence passed, whether a prison or a community sentence, is served effectively. If a community order is served requiring litter in an area to be cleaned up for a week, we should not pat Johnny or Mary on the back if they turn up only once or twice. The litter needs to be cleaned up, and if that is not done in the time provided, those people need to be sent back until it is done. That not only provides discipline but gives reassurance to the local community.
My hon. Friend is making a good point. We must ensure that people who commit crimes tidy up the areas in which other people have to live and put up with the problem. Does he agree that part of the difficulty lies with the probation service? Often, young people turn up to do the work that they have been challenged to do, only to find that there is no one there to provide supervision. They are then sent away. That disincentive works against them and they end up not doing the hours that they were supposed to do as part of their community service, just because the probation service did not have anyone available on a Saturday or Sunday.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. One of the things that I would like to see in my area is an analysis of the probation service, to find out where the weaknesses are, and whether community sentences are being imposed and enforced—and if not, why not?
The sense of civic pride in Hartlepool is the thing that, most of all, gives me hope and helps me to believe that we will be able to tackle antisocial behaviour. I have mentioned that we have an astonishing mix of people throughout the town who have the energy and the drive to improve Hartlepool. I am pleased that agencies and organisations are now working more closely with residents to improve neighbourhoods. This partnership working seems to have improved in the past few months, taking into account residents’ concerns and achieving better results. I pay tribute to the Minister, and I hope that the Government will continue to provide additional powers and funding to raise the quality of life for all the residents in my constituency.
Order. It might help if I offer a little guidance to the House. The Back-Bench speeches are averaging about 23 minutes at the moment. Five hon. Members are seeking to catch my eye, and I believe that there is a desire for Front-Bench winding-up speeches. We shall have to try to get below that average if everyone is to be satisfied.
I am pleased to follow the hon. Member for Hartlepool (Mr. Wright). My mother’s family hail from west Hartlepool and I have happy memories of visiting the town and being on the beach at Seaton Carew.
As children, when we were not visiting the beach at Hartlepool, we would often visit the Yorkshire coast. From that experience, I know that antisocial behaviour is nothing new. Travelling down the A64 in our Standard Ensign, we would often come to Staxton roundabout, and be faced with the decision of turning left for Scarborough or right for Filey. If it was Easter, and the mods and rockers were in town, we would often decide to turn right, as the antisocial behaviour on the beach on such occasions was something to be believed. That paled into insignificance, however, when compared with Glasgow holiday week in August, when most of Glasgow closed down, factories closed down, whole streets decamped to Scarborough and the hard drinking of the men was something to be experienced.
The current problem with antisocial behaviour is much more ubiquitous and in many ways more complex. First, access and attitudes to alcohol are very different now, and drinking hours are much longer. In my constituency, people can drink until 5 or 6 o’clock in the morning in nightclubs or at the new casino. Many tourists who visit the town now adopt Spanish hours, as I call them, going to sleep in the early evening only to get up so that they can club all night. Young people also have much more money in their pockets than they used to have. Many people, before they even go out for the night, will tank up on vodka in their guest house or at home. Alcopops have made alcohol a much more attractive option for younger people. Even if one cannot fight one’s way to the bar in a particular establishment, waitresses, almost like those girls who sell ice cream in the cinema, go around with trays of shots. One can throw £1 into the tray and quickly knock back a vodka shot between rounds.
The other big change since the 1960s is that decent people go out more in the evenings. We have moved on a lot from the early days of chicken-in-a-basket. More people now enjoy having meals in restaurants and spending time in our city centres, to which, previously, people largely went to drink in pubs, not to eat. People who go out for a good time, perhaps to binge-drink, are therefore intermixing with families and more respectable—if I can use that word—people who do not regard that as a good prospect.
Towns such as Scarborough depend heavily on tourism; it is, I am told, the UK’s premier tourist resort. We are trying to attract more families and conferences to the town, which we cannot do if we have this image of binge-drinking on our streets. We do not want undesirable people coming to the town. We do, however, have the UK Independence party conference coming to Scarborough in October—[Hon. Members: “Are you tempted?”] On that occasion, I will be in Blackpool, to which the Conservative party is not too posh to go.
Forty-six per cent. of calls to North Yorkshire police are about criminal damage. I know, however, that Scarborough is not as bad as many of our inner-city areas. We heard from the hon. Member for Wakefield (Mary Creagh), who is not in her place, about the number of ASBOs served in her constituency. Last year, our newly appointed local police chief, Chief Inspector Andy Everitt, identified his top priorities: targeting the top five antisocial offenders; more ASBOs; the use of alcohol-free zones and, possibly, parenting orders.
Scarborough is a low-crime area. From speaking to my local authority today, I understand that only 25 incidents get phoned in for the whole borough, which pales into insignificance when compared with many London and inner-city boroughs in the north of England. However, one in four crimes takes place in either the town centre or Castle ward, and our crime and disorder reduction partnership is working well. Our Conservative-controlled local authority is well ahead of the game—I am pleased that places such as Hartlepool are catching up—which might be related to the fact that the leader of that council is a former chief of police in Scarborough.
The attitude taken in Scarborough is that ASBOs are not the way to go. The point at which an ASBO is issued to an offender is probably too late. We should be getting ahead of the game. Only two ASBOs were issued in Scarborough last year. We feel that the way forward is through other measures. As well as ASBOs, for which residents, the council or landlords can apply through the civil courts, we have CRASBOs—criminal ASBOs—five of which have been issued. I do not know for sure, but I suspect that those five offenders are the five referred to by Chief Inspector Everitt when he took up his post. CRASBOs are much cheaper to secure, because they result from criminal prosecutions. As we have already heard today, issuing an ASBO can cost up to £3,500, and in cases in which ASBOs are contested it can cost many times more than that.
We have 14 acceptable behaviour agreements in the borough, three acceptable behaviour contracts and five active dispersal areas. We have a designated public places order, which applies to 150 streets. Amid the plethora of street furniture in Scarborough are distinctive lime-green signs—I think I used the word “funky” when they were introduced—drawing attention to the areas involved. Contrary to popular opinion in the town, they are not areas where people are prohibited from drinking, but if the police ask someone to hand over the alcohol that they are drinking, that person can be arrested and fined £500 if they refuse to do so. Those arrangements replace byelaws which had no powers behind them. If people chose to ignore them, there was nothing that the local authority could do.
Scarborough has a successful crime and disorder reduction partnership, known as the Safer Communities Partnership (North Yorkshire Moors and Coast). There have been many successes, for instance in regard to problem drinking. There are four planks to that strategy. The first plank is responsible retailing. We have the Best Bar None campaign, which gives pubs and off licences accreditation if they can meet the required standards by identifying people who are drunk and refusing to serve them, and being vigilant about the problem of under-age drinking. The second plank is responsible drinking. Attitudes to binge drinking need to be changed. We distribute Spikeys, special caps for bottles to prevent people from putting spirits or date-rape drugs into them. We are also examining the problem of domestic violence linked to irresponsible drinking. The third plank is enforcement and fixed-penalty notices, and the fourth relates to the urban environment.
Lighting is important in the urban environment. If people are to feel confident in our town centres, the lighting must be adequate. Conversely, one reason why we do not see too much antisocial behaviour in the villages is that there is no lighting. Young people do not congregate in the village centres because in winter it is pitch black, and no one can see what they are doing. We are also considering the location of takeaways and taxi ranks, where there can be flashpoints of antisocial behaviour as people congregate after leaving the pubs. We have a very good CCTV system in the town.
Led by the local authority, we have been giving thought to what it calls inter-generational activity. Elderly people, perhaps retuning home from a meal in a restaurant, are intimidated by young people in the streets at night. Although the young people may not be doing anything illegal or causing a specific problem, the fact that they are there, sometimes wearing hoodies, may make elderly people less than keen to rush across and hug them straight away. The local authority is organising another “kids versus cronies” bowling competition this year, following last year’s successful roll-out. I am only sorry that, not being in either group, I shall not be able to take part in it just yet.
I thank my hon. Friend for that. As he knows, I completed my 50th year during the Christmas break. It is downhill from now on: cronyism beckons.
Before I end my speech, I must refer to the problem of mini-motos. They are a real bane for many communities, but we must think carefully before we regulate, because many people use motorcycles responsibly for recreation purposes. Some use them for trial riding, for instance, while others take part in motocross. I suspect that if we try to clamp down on mini motos, the majority of law-abiding citizens will comply with the new legislation but the troublemakers will ignore it—that is similar to the situation in respect of guns. We must think carefully before we take action that might impinge on responsible motorcycle users.
Finally, let me refer to a case that came to my attention this week via my new “text your MP service”. A young lady contacted me and I rang her back right away. She has a problem in her street with people who have been subject to certain of the measures that we are discussing; they are no longer able to roam the streets but instead they go to particular houses, and that can be a real problem. The young lady who contacted me said that at the house next door to hers 20 people come and go at all times of the day and night and that there is noise; she has even had to install her own closed circuit television camera so that she can observe what goes on outside her home. She is not an old fogey; she is a 23-year-old with a young family.
I pay tribute to the work being done by Scarborough borough council, North Yorkshire police and the police authority under the chairmanship of county councillor Jane Kenyon. Unlike in Hartlepool, we have been ahead of the game, and the lesson to be learned is that the types of issues that we are discussing need to be addressed not top-down by edict from Government, but from the bottom up by local people, communities and councillors deciding what is the best tailor-made approach to the problems that they face in their area. I am pleased that the Minister referred to that in his opening remarks; he said that we cannot have off-the-peg solutions to such problems, but that they must be tailor-made for every community.
I am pleased about the progress that is being made in Scarborough. We are a good and safe place to come on holiday. Although there is still much to do in terms of addressing antisocial behaviour, under the inspired leadership of our Conservative-controlled borough and county councils we are moving in the right direction.
It is a pleasure to take part in the debate, and I want to echo some of the comments of the hon. Member for Scarborough and Whitby (Mr. Goodwill). As I represent Cleethorpes, a number of the issues he referred to are also of relevance to my constituency. On Friday and Saturday nights, lots of people congregate in Cleethorpes town centre and there is concern about the drinking culture there and its impact in terms of antisocial behaviour.
I am also pleased that the hon. Member for Taunton (Mr. Browne) has returned to the Chamber, because as I am one of the two Members present who served on the Committee on the Anti-social Behaviour Bill—as it was called before it was enacted—I can tell him that his colleagues who served on that Committee came up with some pretty strange and wacky proposals. I certainly recall their negative comments on police community support officers, dispersal zones and many other measures in the Bill.
As I served on the Committee, I know about the measures under discussion and the powers of the police and local councils—
Will the hon. Lady confirm that in fact we discussed community support officers—which is, I think, what they were called at the time—in discussions on the proposed legislation that became the Police Reform Act 2002, not in those on what became the Anti-social Behaviour Act 2003? Therefore, I do not think that there can be any recollections of the tone of discussions of CSOs other than as generally supportive.
The hon. Lady should go away and read the back copies of reports on the Committee stages of the Bill I mentioned, because various derogatory comments were made about PCSOs. As I have said, there were also many other strange comments by Liberal Democrat Committee members; for instance, at one point when other Committee members were expressing concern about antisocial behaviour, a colleague of the hon. Lady—I do not remember whether she was in attendance at the time, so I am unsure whether she recalls what was said—declared that there was no antisocial behaviour in his constituency. That gave us much cause for hilarity, just as the speech today of the hon. Member for Taunton gave my hon. Friend the Member for Hartlepool (Mr. Wright) some cause for hilarity.
I know the ins and outs of the Anti-social Behaviour Act 2003 fairly well, and I was very enthusiastic about the measures introduced because they addressed my residents’ concerns. Since I was first elected to this House in 1997, a lot of people have raised issues such as vandalism, graffiti, nuisance noise and groups congregating. Back in 1997, there was not the language to address those issues, but an increasing number of Members started raising them, which in part led to the 2003 Act.
There are two aspects to the 2003 Act: the behavioural aspect—antisocial behaviour orders, parenting contracts, acceptable behaviour contracts—and the environmental aspect, by which I mean abandoned cars, fly-tipping, graffiti and so on. Since that Act came into force, we have augmented the powers of local authorities and others through the Clean Neighbourhoods and Environment Act 2005. That has given local communities a lot of tools to deal with antisocial behaviour.
Although it is tempting to do so, I shall not go into detail about the causes of antisocial behaviour, a few of which the hon. Member for Spelthorne (Mr. Wilshire) alluded to. I may not agree with some of his ideas, but I agree that we have to look at the causes. Many powers exist that enable us to address antisocial behaviour, but as other Members have said to me, enforcement—the use of those powers by local authorities, the police and others—can be patchy around the country. That is my experience. My constituency is covered by two local authorities; unlike that of my hon. Friend the Member for Hartlepool, it does not have the luxury of being coterminous. North Lincolnshire and North East Lincolnshire councils introduce different measures at different times, even though the communities affected by those different measures live alongside each other. That creates confusion. Also, the councils and the police do not use their powers to their fullest extent, so the perception in Grimsby, Cleethorpes, Immingham, Barton and the surrounding villages in my area is that the 2003 Act is not addressing their concerns. However, the problem is not the Act itself and what the Government have done, but the use of those powers.
Let me give a few examples. The former chief constable of Humberside once told me that he did not agree with the 2003 Act and some of the measures in it. Some councillors told me that they felt that it was an infringement of people’s liberties, so they did not want to use the powers available to them. The chairman of the police authority at that time had similar views. Police community support officers—they have been mentioned today—and community wardens are integral to addressing antisocial behaviour, but unfortunately, when the first round of bidding came in for police CSOs in my area, the then chief constable and the chairman of the police authority decided that they did not wish to bid. Most other forces put in bids for CSOs, but our area did not, and we were left with zero. Members can imagine how that looked. We had councils that were somewhat recalcitrant about using their powers, and a chief constable who did not want police CSOs.
One can therefore understand why some local residents are feeling let down by the Act, in spite of the fact that I was on the Committee and am an enthusiast for all the measures. Indeed, even before I was elected as a Member of Parliament, I had campaigned on the issues of community cohesion, respect, pride in one’s neighbourhood and the need to address the antisocial behaviour of a minority who sometimes terrorise the law-abiding majority.
Recently, the Grimsby Telegraph, a local newspaper that covers the north-east Lincolnshire part of my constituency, launched a campaign called “Enough!”, which probably summarises the views of my constituents. They have had enough of the antisocial behaviour sometimes manifested in our communities. To be fair to the paper, it sees this campaign as an extension of the Government’s respect campaign and it is designed to encourage community action. I have mentioned the councils and the police, but community action is as much a part of addressing antisocial behaviour as the other issues that have been mentioned today. The newspaper always includes a link to the Government’s respect website in its coverage of the campaign.
To date, some 8,000 people have signed the petition and it was presented to Louise Casey of the antisocial behaviour unit last week. The paper is not trying to come up with solutions, but to highlight some of the problems that exist in the urban areas of Grimsby and Cleethorpes because of quirky decisions made in the past by, for example, the chief constable. The council has been slow to take up the issue of antisocial behaviour. North-East Lincolnshire council has had financial problems and was languishing at the bottom of the league table for performance and, unfortunately, that has had an impact on our community.
Things are getting better, I am glad to say. The council has tried to take action, although I do not think that it is taking enough action yet. For example, when I tabled a parliamentary question about how many incidences of fly-tipping there had been and how many fixed penalty notices and prosecutions there had been in response, the answer was a big fat zero in terms of the latter. I do not know of any action being taken to combat noise nuisance, especially at night. As one can imagine, being a resort area we do get noise nuisance at night from, for example, parties with thumping music or cars that just park up outside houses with the music blaring out for a couple of hours. I do not recall any action being taken or fixed penalty notices being issued in such instances.
We are making progress, slowly, and that has to be good news. The new chief constable is keen to use the powers and he wants community support officers. My hon. Friend the Member for Great Grimsby (Mr. Mitchell) and I will meet Chief Superintendent Kevin Sharp of our local division next week to talk about the newspaper’s campaign and what further measures can be taken. My hon. Friend the Member for Brigg and Goole (Mr. Cawsey), who is a former chairman of Humberside police authority, is going to see the chief constable tomorrow to raise some of the wider issues surrounding antisocial behaviour and community support officers.
With regard to CSOs, the Humberside police authority area is in an unusual position. We lost out on two rounds of bidding for CSOs, so the question is how we catch up with the rest of the country following the decision not to bid. The decision was unusual, perhaps even unique: I know of no other police force in Britain that decided that PCSOs were not needed. I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will be able to do something to rectify the problem.
As I said, my local newspaper has been running a campaign to highlight the region’s antisocial behaviour. Will my hon. Friend say whether anything can be done to secure enhanced funding for what is a problem area? Our rate of crime per 1,000 of population is somewhat higher than the national average, and the unusual circumstances of north and north-east Lincolnshire justify additional support.
I want to raise a couple of other matters. First, what can be done to help local authorities to make full use of their powers? My hon. Friend may want to discuss that question with colleagues in other Departments, but one element of the problem has to do with education. For example, I have become aware through my correspondence with the local authority that some of the people there do not know what powers are available to them. What can he do to get the message through about the powers that local authorities have?
Secondly, I want restorative and community justice to be extended. I welcome the introduction of ASBOs, parenting orders and so on, but some of the people who are guilty of antisocial behaviour do not understand the consequences of their actions because there is no real system of restorative justice.
Often, the victims of antisocial behaviour just want to hear the perpetrators say that they are sorry. The people who cover a wall with offensive graffiti may have drunk a bit too much to be able to think straight, but the victims of that antisocial behaviour want to be able to tell them how it feels—and to see them clean it up. An important element of this debate is that people must be made aware of the impact of their antisocial behaviour on its victims.
In my area, most ASBOs are imposed after a crime has been committed. That system has its merits, but I believe that many of the people who are given an ASBO are already too far down the line. We should use the antisocial behaviour measures that we have introduced to nip criminal activity in the bud. When behaviour becomes criminal, it is often too late to do anything to change the pattern of offending. I want there to be more emphasis on early intervention to stop people engaging in antisocial behaviour and then going on to commit crimes.
Finally, I am pleased to have been able to take part in this debate.
The impact of antisocial behaviour on communities and individuals cannot be overestimated, and it must be tackled effectively. The Minister for Policing, Security and Community Safety opened this debate by saying that we should adopt a reflective approach, and I welcome that. The debate is about striking the balance between preventive and putative measures—between support and action. I have agreed with a lot of what has been said by the many hon. Members who have commented on that balance.
One form of preventive action is the Sure Start scheme, which many Members have mentioned today and about which I have spoken on many occasions, because the Government are to be congratulated on it. However, it will take time for the effects of the first Sure Start programmes to work through and, because the schemes are confined to the most deprived wards, many families who live just outside those areas may not yet have been included.
Preventive strategies are essential. A report submitted to the Public Accounts Committee made it clear that there is much more scope for preventive action, as Liberal Democrats point out in every debate on antisocial behaviour. Such action is important. I would like more work to be done through our children’s services and children’s trusts to identify children who may be at risk, so that suitable measures can be adopted as soon as possible.
Before I was elected I was knocking on doors in one of the villages in my Dorset constituency and I was surprised that in household after household people told me that there were terrible antisocial behaviour problems. Eventually, an ASBO was imposed on one young man—in fact, it was the first ASBO that Purbeck district council, in conjunction with Dorset police, had managed to secure. However, although that ASBO was absolutely necessary, it was only necessary because there had been no earlier interventions. The village no longer had a community beat officer and many other things were lacking. I accept that there are occasions when ASBOs are needed as a stop measure to protect the community, but we should focus on the whole toolkit, as we have said many times, starting with warnings, which are cost-effective, as the National Audit Office report tells us.
I am particularly interested in acceptable behaviour contracts. There is often a competition about which authority has issued the greatest number of ASBOs, which is silly. As the hon. Member for Scarborough and Whitby said, ASBOs are sometimes used when other measures have not even been tried. The NAO report refers to Labour-controlled Hackney council, which has made enormous use of acceptable behaviour contracts—effectively, I assume, because the proportion of ASBOs is smaller. I am proud that acceptable behaviour contracts were pioneered in Islington.
I want to talk about the impact of ASBOs on young people. As the debate has shown, we are sometimes in danger of equating all young people with yobs. That is sad, because the majority of our young people are excellent and will grow up to become good citizens. There is a danger of stigmatising and of targeting antisocial behaviour measures on the young; much of the data show various interventions in respect of under-18-year-olds. At a sitting of the PAC, someone put a good question to a Home Office civil servant. They asked whether it would be possible to have a breakdown of the figures for antisocial behaviour, because there is a big difference between a 17-year-old and 10 or 12-year-olds. Further breakdown of the statistics would be helpful for monitoring and evaluation.
One of my particular concerns is vulnerable young people—not because I am soft about antisocial behaviour, but because I am genuinely concerned about the unintended consequences of measures. That is why effective scrutiny in Committee is so important; far too much legislation has unintended consequences. I hope the Minister will reflect on and respond to the following point, which I raised at the PAC without receiving a satisfactory answer. The British Institute for Brain Injured Children conducted a survey of youth offending teams and antisocial behaviour co-ordinators between April 2004 and April 2005. It reported that 35 per cent. of children made subject to ASBOs had a mental health problem or recognised learning disability. It found that 3 per cent. had autism or Asperger’s syndrome, while 42 per cent. had attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.
I am really concerned that children and young people who may have complex conditions are getting caught up in the action against antisocial behaviour. Clearly, other measures could be used more appropriately in those particular circumstances. It is easy to say that the evidence is just anecdotal, but there is rather a lot of it, so I would ask the Minister to take the matter away and check out the evaluation and monitoring. Surely it is not a sign of a civilised society to impose punitive measures or conditions on a child with Asperger’s who may be quite unable to meet those conditions. Surely it is a strength to recognise that individual cases may need to be treated rather differently. In those circumstances, we need a proper assessment from children’s services so that children at risk are protected rather than wrongly given an ASBO. There should really be a legal requirement—I have proposed amendments in various Committees in this respect—for any order against a child to be preceded by a children’s service assessment.
I welcome the introduction of individual support orders, but I would like to point out a time lag. ASBOs were introduced in 1998 and all along the Liberal Democrats said that supportive measures should be in place. It is no good just having stop measures, because if we are to make real progress, we need to change people’s behaviour. We had to wait until 2004 before individual support orders were introduced. As Liberal Democrats, we question the priorities and the balance that the Government have implemented. We welcome the introduction of ISOs, but we do not welcome the fact that only 1 per cent. of ASBOs on children presently appear to have support orders attached.
It would be good to hear the Minister’s reassurance that more work will be done on encouragement and education. I think that the Youth Justice Board report made the point that the majority of sentencers appeared to be unaware of the support orders. It also noted that out of the £500,000 of ring-fenced funding made available in 2005—I congratulate the Government on making it available—only £62,000 was applied for by youth offending teams to provide the input necessary for individual support orders. It is important to build on this and ensure that young people with ASBOs have a support package wrapped around them.
I would like to comment on breaches. Acceptable behaviour contracts are discussed in the audit report and there is a lot about young people not understanding the conditions. Clearly, we need to work on that aspect, as full communication and understanding are necessary. We have to make these measures work better. In respect of breaches of ASBOs, there are questions about whether all the conditions are reasonable, so a full input from the local youth offending is necessary to ensure that they are reasonable. A young person has to have some interaction with others.
I believe that an individual support order can have conditions attached to it and that a breach can also happen there. It is a matter for a bit more concern, as the support order is surely supposed to be supportive and it does not seem terribly helpful if someone ends up with a criminal record. I realise that we are back to the carrot and stick, but it remains a bit of a problem.
Some people have mentioned naming and shaming and they have seen it in a positive light. I understand some of the arguments that are put forward. However, I am concerned about the naming and shaming of the vulnerable children that I have mentioned, and the potential consequences. My attention has been drawn to the guidance that is issued by the Home Office and I have read through it. Is the Minister sure that it goes sufficiently far? It requires factual information. I am not sure that it has the full common assessment that we need.
Parenting measures have been mentioned by many previous speakers. I questioned parental orders during the Committee stage of the Anti-social Behaviour Act 2003—[Interruption.] I did indeed. I did not vote against them, but I questioned them, because that is my role as an MP: to question in Committee. I could not see how we could make people do what they did not want to do. Being a former teacher, I made the point that, if one tries to make kids do something that they do not want to do, they sit there with folded arms and do not participate. However, parental orders have apparently been successful and I have said on many occasions that I am pleased that that is so. There are parents who have said, “I wish I’d had parent classes a long time ago.” I am prepared to admit when I have questioned something—it was right to question it at the time—which evidence later shows to be useful.
I am really short of time.
It has to be better to have parental classes on a voluntary basis, as part of a change of culture. We all acknowledge that parenting is an incredibly hard job. There should not be a fear of being stigmatising or of being seen as a failure when it comes to seeking help. I have often said: if someone has a bad headache for a week, they go to the doctor, so if they are having issues with parenting, why on earth is it not the norm to seek help? I would like to see lots of parenting classes readily available right across the board.
As other Members have mentioned, the key to the issue is adequate policing in the local community. I cannot let this opportunity slip without mentioning that we have real concerns in Dorset. At this time, it is the second lowest funded police authority in the country. The chief constable is really concerned. It is an incredibly high performing police authority, which we are proud of. However, with the new demands on the force, there is no slack to cope with everything. Along with not having all our community support officers, the fear is that perhaps we will not be able to have all the resources that are needed in neighbourhood policing. I emphasise the importance of partnerships. I will give one example. With our local police station and local police force, a motor vehicle dealership recently provided quite a large vehicle for the police and the community wardens. It is used to take young people to activities. That is a fantastic partnership. There are many more examples.
Finally, I draw attention to an important point in the National Audit Office report: are we giving enough support to victims of antisocial behaviour and to potential witnesses? There is more that should be done. I echo the point made by previous speakers that we should be doing much more with restorative justice. That system has been used in Scandinavian countries for years and we need to roll it out much faster than we are. All in all, we have a big problem. We need to work at partnership level in our local communities, but we need adequate funding for our neighbourhood policing.
It is great that so many people have joined in the debate. That shows how much store people put by the fact that antisocial behaviour is a big problem in constituencies. I have to agree with that. Where do we start in a debate about antisocial behaviour? The issue is about getting funding across in certain areas. Home-Start in Chorley is a good group that gives families support when they need it. The problem is that we could lose Home-Start in Chorley because of a lack of funding. We need to try to find new funds to ensure that we do not lose such schemes; otherwise we will pay the price somewhere down the line through antisocial behaviour.
Where do we go from there? Other groups are important, too. We must try to challenge antisocial behaviour, so I am pleased that we can do that through ASBOs. ASBOs are successful, but they are good only if strong magistrates are willing to back them up and if the court is willing to push through the problem people who will not respect the terms of their ASBOs. If that does not happen and the court is weak, police and the victims feel let down, although that might be due to not the magistrate, but the advice of a clerk that the matter should not be pursued, or that the person should be given another chance. Unfortunately, victims do not understand that. We have to put victims first, and the sooner we start doing that, the better.
I am pleased to say that the number of police has gone up in Lancashire—may it continue to increase. A uniformed presence on the streets can make a real difference to fighting crime. The police community support officers back up that presence and operate with the beat manager to play an important role. The PCSOs are as effective as anyone I know. They can rightly call on the local council, and council wardens have a role to play with PCSOs because by working together, they can fight antisocial behaviour. They are committed to making our streets safer. We must not shy away from keeping a uniformed presence on the street.
When people break their ASBOs and continue to be a problem, we must deal with that. An effective way of doing so would be to change the rules for court sentences. The sentences give should be not maximum sentences, but minimum sentences, so that victims will know the exact time that people will serve. At present, someone who gets a maximum sentence might serve only 50 per cent. of it, with good behaviour. If minimum sentences were given, victims would understand exactly how people were being punished. If those people misbehaved in prison, the sentence would be extended. A minimum sentence is important to victims, and we must continue to ensure that victims’ voices are heard and that they are first in the justice system. I am pleased that we are getting that message across.
We must give alternatives. Young people need support, but when the council tax comes round, we always see a cut in the youth budget. That is always one of the first cuts to take place, yet we wonder why there is no funding for alternatives for young people. Our area does not have the pleasure of having a unitary authority; we have a two-tier system and are reliant on the county council. However, when the county council sets its budget, Chorley gets a poor settlement for youth provision, which leads to a cut in its youth service and problems on the street. We must change that and realise that the youth budget is important because it funds some of the ways of tackling antisocial behaviour. We must make it a priority that councils understand that they have a part to play. We need preventive measures—not just a stick, but a carrot as well.
I am pleased that there are people such as Tom Watson, who looks after Tatton community centre in Chorley. He has ensured that the community centre is available for all people in the area. The youth service on a Monday is provided by volunteers, so the people who live in that area are putting the youth club on and making a difference.
We need to join everything up. Neighbourhood watch is not about people twitching behind curtains and trying to be nosey. People involved in neighbourhood watch are trying to make their communities safer. Tom Watson has worked well with Keith Warren, who looks after the Lancashire neighbourhood watch and has been advising the Government on best practice and the way in which neighbourhood watch can work with authorities to bring about safer streets in Lancashire. I am pleased that those people are on board.
I am pleased, too, that the Government have ensured that closed circuit television has a role to play in Chorley. I am pleased that there is a safer car park scheme, so that when people go to their cars and see youngsters hanging around under the floodlights, they understand that there is some protection, and that there is someone looking after them. We need to join up all those measures. I would like CCTV to be rolled out to all the rural villages in Chorley, as that would make the villagers safer. We have a big role to play in making our streets and communities much stronger and safer for all of us. I am sure that the Minister takes his job seriously, and I know that he cares passionately about ensuring that people are safe on the streets. We must fight antisocial behaviour, and we can do so by working together.
There is a responsibility on off-licences, too. They are the cause of a lot of antisocial behaviour, because they provide the drink that fuels it. Usually, it is not youngsters who go into the off-licence, but someone over 18, who buys the drink to pass on or sell to youngsters. They then go to the recreation ground, have far too much to drink and cause vandalism, using spray-paint cans to spray their names everywhere. That behaviour has an effect on people’s lives, and it is a misery for people who have to put up with it, night after night. We must try to ensure that off-licences are policed, and that can only be done by bringing all the organisations together. We must be firm with anybody who breaks the code on selling alcohol.
Of course, after alcohol there is usually a next step: drugs. People start off with cannabis and go on to harder drugs. I do not care what people say—there is a definite link between soft drugs and hard drugs. We must be tough and reclassify cannabis. There has been a trial, and the results show the consequence of being soft on cannabis. Whatever people might say, it is a dangerous drug with long-term health effects, and we need to tell people that it is dangerous. It is time to re-categorise it, because drugs are a blight on young people, and a major part of antisocial behaviour. Drugs and drink fuel young people in a way that causes misery, not just for the young person, but for the family that they go home to and the families that live in the neighbourhood. Drugs are a real challenge. We have to be tough on the dealers, and we must make sure that the sentence fits the crime. Dealers should be put away for a long time, so that they are not allowed back on to the streets to deal again. We must make sure that there is lifelong protection for the people who live in the areas that are affected. Of course, we must make our voice heard.
I understand that the hon. Gentleman will speak next. I have nearly finished, and I think that it is only right that we all get to speak. We have all waited a long time to do so. I finish by saying that the Government want to be tough on crime, but we must keep proving to the people that we will be tough. We must stand up and be counted when people ask it of us, because it is easy to talk tough and vote weak; we see that now and again on the Opposition Benches.
I thank the hon. Member for Chorley (Mr. Hoyle) for an excellent speech, and I share a number of his views, including his concerns about antisocial behaviour orders, the need to focus on victims, and his passion about the problems of drugs. He spoke with authority, passion and commitment about his constituency, and for that he should be congratulated.
It is interesting that we have had such a fantastic debate. As we are coming to the end of it, it would be useful if I mopped up and responded to some of the views expressed. We had an interesting debate last week on social exclusion, and there is an overlap between the two subjects.
The definition of antisocial behaviour is a good place to start. The Crime and Disorder Act 1998 describes it as behaviour
“likely to cause harassment, alarm or distress to one or more persons not of the same household as himself”.
To put it another way, it is a line that is breached when expressing public emotion, either in celebration or in anger. To understand the causes of antisocial behaviour is to understand the limits of opportunities in our society, the shortfalls of Government policy, and the decline in moral and social values.
Hardly a day goes by without our hearing about an incident on a train, in a town centre or a residential area in which people were disturbed by antisocial behaviour such as a fight, a tussle, someone letting off fireworks and so on. We live in a complex, interdependent, integrated social community, whose excesses and imbalances are enthusiastically exposed by the media, so differences in opinion and jealousy invariably arise. It is the Government’s responsibility to ensure that any resulting antisocial behaviour is dealt with correctly, whether by tackling it long before a situation develops, by limiting the conditioning of the aggressor, who comes to realise that they are out of order, or by allowing the police to deal with the problem.
There has been a flurry of activity since the Government came to office. More than 30 criminal justice Acts have been introduced since 1997 including, most notably, the Crime and Disorder Act 1998. ASBOs were introduced in 1999, and the Antisocial Behaviour Act was passed in 2003. Recently, in January 2006, the respect action plan, which has been mentioned, was introduced, and last June, the national respect squad was formed. Last month, on 27 December, the respect tsar announced that 40 areas would be designated as respect zones and receive extra cash. There has been a huge number of initiatives but, as we heard from my good and hon. Friend the Member for Arundel and South Downs (Nick Herbert), the Government are failing, which is reflected in the huge sum—some £3.4 billion—that antisocial behaviour costs every year.
The 2005-06 British crime survey showed that the number of kids hanging about on street corners has risen, as has the number of people getting drunk and engaging in rowdy behaviour. Complaints about noisy neighbours, too, have increased. The Government’s response to antisocial behaviour is largely reactive, as hon. Members have said, not preventive. The National Audit Office says that about 50 per cent. of ASBOs are breached. The ASBO is regarded as a badge of honour and, because of the pressures on the police, its conditions are not enforced. The police play a pivotal role, and I take my hat off to the Dorset constabulary, which is one of the best performing in the country but, unfortunately, one of the worst funded. It looks after Bournemouth town centre and keeps it relatively safe, but about half the police on duty on a Friday or Saturday night look after an area about half a mile square, so the rest of Bournemouth does not receive the coverage that residents expect their taxes to provide.
Much has been said about the role of police community support officers. I hesitated to welcome their introduction, as it appeared to be a case of policing on the cheap. CSOs have a role to play but, unfortunately, they have limited powers, so the role of special constables should be bolstered. I come from an Army background—[Interruption.] I urge the Minister to bear with me, because I very much value the role of the Territorial Army in helping the regular Army when required to do so. In Bournemouth, people do not sign up to become police specials, because there is no money involved. Instead, they sign up to become CSOs, whose salary almost equates to that received by a full police officer. CSOs’ training does not approach the training given to specials, and neither are their powers of arrest comparable. I urge the Minister to shift the emphasis so that specials are paid a sum comparable to that received by members of the TA who work with the regular Army.
Last year, a bizarre formula change meant that nightclubs and tourism destinations were reclassified in the funding package that determines police manning levels. Elements nightclub in Bournemouth, which has the capacity to accommodate 3,000 people, and the Dog and Duck in Weymouth are both classed as one unit, which is unacceptable. We have 30,000 visitors on a Friday or Saturday night, but those numbers are not taken into account in the manning levels for Dorset and Bournemouth, so I urge the Minister to reconsider them.
A growing majority of people go out on a Friday or Saturday night with the sole purpose of getting drunk. There has been a change in attitudes, as we have heard, because those people do not have a sense of duty and have grown up with a different set of values. I blame the role models with whom they associate themselves or whom they look up to. What recently happened in “Big Brother” is a mirror image of British society. I shall leave aside the racist taunts. Shilpa Shetty is a Bollywood star and everything that Jo, Jade and Danielle are not. She is rich, famous, talented and intelligent—everything they want to be but cannot be. Their behaviour has been fuelled by alcohol, which is typical of so many youngsters today. They get drunk and behave aggressively, oblivious to the consequences. They are chasing a dream fuelled by a desire to alter their station in life without making any effort. Their behaviour is made worse because they have been trapped in the “Big Brother” house, but it is a true reflection of what is going on in British society.
Too many youngsters care little about the community, have no sense of responsibility and do not try to understand people outside their own circle. Their role models are pop stars, film stars and football players. We all know those characters and how they behave. They are in our papers every day. They are not the role models that I grew up with, and are certainly not the role models that my parents had. Unfortunately, there is a growing generation that has limited aspirations. Binge drinking is seen as OK. The spin-off from that is the antisocial behaviour that we have discussed today. The drinking culture in Britain is so different from that on the continent. In a roundabout way, “Big Brother” has done the nation a favour by allowing us to focus on what is happening to our culture.
Not enough is being done to counteract that. We should try to catch people early, keep them active and engaged, build their confidence and manage their expectations. In Bournemouth there are examples to show that the opposite is happening. We have been told to build 20,000 houses. No consideration has been given to how close together the houses will be or the type of community that that will create. No consideration has been given to amenities, which will undoubtedly have an impact on community spirit when people are living on top of each other.
In other parts of the world, such as New York or Australia, basketball nets and other outdoor facilities are free and widely available. In Britain, swings and roundabouts are provided for children up to the age of four, then there is nothing for kids to do to expend their energy, other than to hang around on the streets. Those who try to take the initiative, such as Bournemouth sea cadets, get no money because of the cuts in defence spending. Bournemouth canoe club gets no money because budgets have been cut by the councils. It has been reiterated time and again in the Chamber that the emphasis must be on local structures, but that is not happening.
The problem is serious. There is a whole generation that has a different set of values and does not share a sense of commitment to the community or duty to the country. The knock-on effect is poor education, reliance on the state and increased antisocial behaviour.
I should like to introduce a form of community service. I am not suggesting bringing back the draft. My suggestion is that when young people reach the age of 18, they should spend 10 months doing something that is not for themselves. Yes, they could join the Army, the Navy or the Air Force, but they could also join the Forestry Commission, a voluntary unit or a community hospital. Doing something that was not for themselves, but which would be to the economic benefit of the country, would cut back the £3.4 billion that is being wasted each year dealing with antisocial behaviour. More importantly, it would build the individual’s self-esteem, skill sets, confidence, sense of duty and pride in the nation.
Under the Government since 1997 truancy is up, crime has risen, binge drinking is reaching a critical level, obesity is on the rise, family breakdown is on the increase, prisoner reoffending is up and, as has just been mentioned, teenage pregnancy rates have increased. That is a poor reflection of the Government’s performance. Antisocial behaviour is the antithesis to society, and society is changing under the Government. I am worried for our younger generation. I am also worried that on current performance, the Government are not meeting the challenge to face those issues.
In his opening speech, the Minister said that he hoped that we would have a thoughtful and measured debate. That is precisely what we have had this afternoon, with some interesting contributions raising various issues associated with the problems of antisocial behaviour, which significantly affects so many neighbourhoods and communities across the country.
Neighbourhood crime, neighbourhood nuisance and community safety have a major impact on the quality of life of countless people. There is little doubt that walls daubed with graffiti tags, smashed up bus shelters and rowdy groups on the streets intimidate many people and discourage them from venturing out into their own communities. The hon. Member for Wakefield (Mary Creagh), like many other Members, talked about the local action, and she described how individuals in her community were taking the initiative. Those actions at community level are crucial in delivering the changes that we want.
I welcome the hon. Member for Taunton (Mr. Browne) on his first outing on the Liberal Democrat Front Bench. He made some interesting remarks about the history of community policing, albeit that Members in other parts of the House may not have shared his take on certain aspects.
The hon. Member for Hackney, South and Shoreditch (Meg Hillier) emphasised the importance of partnership working with the police and other agencies, as well as the role played by the community. I agreed with a fair amount of what she said, although I might look at her in a slightly different light in future given her theme of “Big Sister” and wonder whether she personifies that in her constituency in looking out for the interests of its residents.
My hon. Friend the Member for Spelthorne (Mr. Wilshire) made a thoughtful contribution in which he observed that solutions can come only from the communities and individuals involved. He challenged Members on both sides of the House to reflect on that, and we certainly will.
The hon. Member for Hartlepool (Mr. Wright) emphasised the need for restorative justice, highlighting the community court in Liverpool that has been set up as a pilot. As more pilots roll out in the months ahead, we will examine their effects in bringing justice closer to the community.
My hon. Friend the Member for Scarborough and Whitby (Mr. Goodwill) emphasised the impact of the growth in late-night entertainment and the problems of alcohol and binge drinking. I noted his comments about the local initiatives that have been introduced in his constituency to deal with alcohol-related crime and about the importance of the built environment in making communities feel safer.
The hon. Member for Cleethorpes (Shona McIsaac) mentioned the problems in her constituency in relation to community policing. I will be interested to see how the Minister responds to her direct questions about that. The National Audit Office report indicated that about 80 per cent. of people in receipt of ASBOs already had a criminal record, which raises questions about whether they are given in appropriate circumstances. There is also the question of the overlap between antisocial behaviour and crime.
The hon. Member for Mid-Dorset and North Poole (Annette Brooke) talked about the balance between support and action, which is a key aspect of the debate. It is important not to equate all young people with yobbishness, and we must all get that message across. Last night, I attended a presentation evening at Chafford school, where I said that it was great to celebrate young people’s successes. They are not all bad, but that can be the perception from looking at the newspapers. It is much more sophisticated than that and we need to appreciate that.
It is important to take account of mental health challenges such as Asperger’s, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and dyslexia, which can be triggers of or factors that lead to antisocial behaviour and crime. We must consider how to resolve those problems through dealing with people who experience such challenges.
The hon. Member for Chorley (Mr. Hoyle) highlighted the problem of ASBO enforcement: if breaches occur, ASBOs are not always properly enforced and proper sanctions are not applied. That is a powerful and important message about the impact and effect of ASBOs.
My hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth, East (Mr. Ellwood) mentioned the increase in antisocial behaviour in the past few years. He made an important point about the role of special constables. I want to put on the record my congratulations to special constables on their work and service day in, day out, and my thanks to them for that. They are important and should be valued. My hon. Friend made important points about how their status could be further improved which I am sure will not be lost on hon. Members of all parties.
My hon. Friend also mentioned volunteering and getting young people involved in the social aspect of their communities. I welcome the initiative of my right hon. Friend the Member for Witney (Mr. Cameron): the young adult trust, which tries to promote a sense of social responsibility in communities, gets people involved and gives them new opportunities.
There is no doubt that antisocial behaviour makes an impact on all our communities throughout the country, but it also places a huge burden on the state. According to the National Audit Office, the cost to Government agencies of responding to reports of antisocial behaviour is approximately £3.4 billion per year. The Prime Minister’s strategy unit estimates that problem families—whose members commit crime—live on benefits, have poor health and cost the state up to £250,000 a year. My hon. Friend the Member for Arundel and South Downs (Nick Herbert) drew attention to that.
I welcomed the spirit in which the Minister opened the debate. He accepted that aspects of his policies were not an unqualified success. Many issues that were mentioned today brought that to the fore. Against the backdrop of neighbourhood disorder, the Government have introduced an array of legislation, made many announcements and set up initiatives, culminating most recently in the launch of the much hyped Respect action plan. That included a host of interventions which fall outside the criminal law, from warning letters, through acceptable behaviour contracts and fixed penalty notices, to antisocial behaviour orders.
The Prime Minister has talked up ASBOs above all other interventions. In the Respect action plan, he stated that he was,
“pleased that an ASBO is now a household expression—synonymous with tackling antisocial behaviour.”
The problem for the Prime Minister and the Government is that they simply do not know how effective ASBOs are at tackling antisocial behaviour.
The recent National Audit Office report “Tackling Anti-social Behaviour” noted:
“The absence of formal evaluation by the Home Office of the success of different interventions and of the impact of providing support services in conjunction with the interventions prevents local areas targeting interventions in the most efficient way to achieve the best outcome for the least cost.”
This week’s report by the Centre for Crime and Justice Studies, “Ten years of criminal justice under Labour: An independent audit”, goes a step further. It states:
“There is little doubt that underlying some of the rhetoric are real problems affecting people in communities across the country. But Labour has become lost in the arbitrariness of its measures of anti-social behaviour. Furthermore, its flagship ASBO policy faced huge implementation problems at the start, and is looking increasingly discredited as a mainstream response.”
The current lack of detailed qualitative analysis of the apparent remedies devised by the Government leads to confusion locally, with the National Audit Office suggesting that antisocial behaviour co-ordinators and others were
“more likely to use interventions which related to their background or local preference rather than there being a clear relationship to the behaviour exhibited.”
As for the public, according to Ipsos MORI, people believe that ASBOs are effective in showing the local community that something is being done about antisocial behaviour, with a positive rating of plus 18 per cent. The rating slumps to minus 7 per cent. when people are asked whether they think that ASBOs stop people engaging in antisocial behaviour. This is a case of presentation over delivery. The upshot of all this is that, having introduced a toolkit of sanctions, the Home Office does not know exactly what works, when it works or why it works.
There has been some discussion about whether the ASBO has become a badge of honour among certain groups. It certainly seems as though the breach rate for ASBOs has become a badge of honour for the Home Office. The rate has become higher and higher, with the National Audit Office putting the figure at 55 per cent. and some studies suggesting that it is topping 60 per cent. We are now told by the Home Office that that is to be viewed as some kind of measure of success, on the basis that ASBOs are being enforced. That is absurd logic, even for the Home Office. It shows that ASBOs are ineffective in getting the offender to change their behaviour, and that they are being breached. Perhaps the Minister could tell us whether, if that analysis is to be followed through, he would welcome a further jump in the breach rate next year.
It is not just the antisocial behaviour order that has run into problems. Other key parts of the respect action plan have also been derailed. The Government’s manifesto commitment to increase the numbers of police community support officers to 24,000 by 2008 to “revolutionise policing” in our communities has been slashed by 8,000, as we have heard from many hon. Members today. The national single non-emergency number intended to be available across England and Wales by next year is now to be subject to an evaluation review towards the end of this year, despite apparently being a key part of the respect drive. In the recent national community safety plan update, the Home Office gave itself a green traffic light on this issue. In fact, it looks as though the traffic light is firmly stuck on red.
More generally, one of the worrying aspects of the Government’s approach is the conflation of antisocial behaviour and crime. The concept of antisocial behaviour is subjective and has been used to cover a wide range of issues including selfish or thoughtless behaviour, nuisance and crime. That has caused a damaging erosion of what is viewed as a crime. That sends out a wider message, and there are parallels with the Government’s proposals to use fines rather than community punishments. The response of the judiciary to that proposal has direct relevance to the debate on the cross-over between antisocial behaviour and crime.
In response to the consultation on community punishments, the Council of Her Majesty’s Circuit Court Judges was quoted in the press as saying:
“Less serious offending is usually the breeding ground for more serious offending...To create the impression such offending is not to be treated as significant is to encourage the belief that crime may not result in retribution, hastening and substantially increasing the risk of more serious offending taking place.”
There is a clear point of distinction between the desire for speedier, more efficient justice and the erosion of the concept of criminality. Summary justice does not mean soft justice.
We believe that it is right to hold individuals to account, to hold them responsible for their actions and to punish them when they break the law, but if we do not tackle the underlying causes of crime and disorder we will never have safer communities and safer neighbourhoods. There is a shared responsibility between the Government, local government, other public agencies, social entrepreneurs and the communities themselves to tackle the fundamental matters of family breakdown, mental health issues, drug dependency, and a lack of educational achievement, opportunity and hope—all of which can act as contributory factors to antisocial and criminal behaviour for so many people.
However many initiatives and action plans the Government may come up with, however many respect squads they may impose, and however many super-nannies they may parachute in, there will be only a limited effect on the number of people benefiting and on the duration of the support. “Tough on crime and tough on the causes of crime” sounded good all those years ago, but after 10 years in office, it remains what it was then: just a soundbite.
It is a pleasure and a privilege to wind up such an important debate. As various hon. Members on both sides of the Chamber have said, antisocial behaviour affects all our constituents and is of real concern to many. I join the hon. Member for Hornchurch (James Brokenshire)—who was here instead of in Committee this afternoon—in congratulating all Members who have contributed to the quality of the debate. People outside will be pleased by the generally constructive nature of the debate—although differences of view were expressed—which will make an important contribution to tackling a real concern.
I intend to make some general comments, then to respond to individual Members’ contributions, and finally to say something about the way forward.
I want to emphasise an extremely important point made by the hon. Member for Hornchurch and a couple of others. Much of today’s debate has focused on yobbish behaviour and on the minority of young people in our communities who cause a criminal, antisocial problem, which drives people in many parts of the country to despair. Nobody can condone, in any sense, such behaviour. As hon. Members have said, however, we are talking about a minority of young people. We are not talking about the majority of young people, who are growing up in difficult times and, in many cases, caring for others, raising money for charity and making all sorts of wonderful contributions to their communities. It behoves us to ensure that the message that goes out from this Chamber is that, yes, we want to clamp down on the irresponsible and criminal minority, but we recognise that the vast majority of young people in this country are a credit to their communities and their families. That is an important point on which to start.
It is often thought that it is parliamentarians, the older generation or people who are somehow not in touch who want antisocial behaviour to be dealt with. However, when I go and speak to young people—I am sure that many hon. Members, and many of my hon. Friends, have the same experience—I find that it is young people themselves who are demanding that we do something about it. By and large, young people are much more likely to be the victims of crime or antisocial behaviour, to have their mobile phone taken, to be the victims of irresponsible drinking, to be mugged on the street, to have their bag stolen and to be intimidated.
Let us be clear: this is not a debate about out-of-touch parliamentarians or older people lecturing younger people about the way that they should live, or about some mythical age, which, if only we could return to it, would make everything better. It is about a demand from every section of the community, young and old, that we do something about the problems that exist. Young people want that as much as anyone else. That is also an important message to get across.
Partnership is key to tackling antisocial behaviour, in any area. A strong partnership must be based on a strong police service and police force. As neighbourhood policing and issues relating to police officers have been mentioned, it would be helpful to run through some statistics. On a like-for-like basis, Government grants and central spending to help the police service in England and Wales tackle antisocial behaviour will have increased from £6.2 billion in 1997-98 to £11 billion in 2007-08. That is a cash increase of nearly £4.8 billion, or 77 per cent. In real terms, there has been an increase of more than 39 per cent. between 1997-98 and 2007-08. We can debate the level of resources, but all Members should acknowledge that there has been a substantial increase.
By the time recruitment has finished, there will be an additional 16,000 police community support officers—because, obviously, there were none before—and more than 14,000 additional police officers. There will be more specials, and a 35 per reduction in crime. There will be more than 20,000 additional civilian posts, which themselves make an important contribution to ensuring that we have police on our streets. However, we must ensure that we give our police the powers that they need.
The Government have listened to what communities and voluntary organisations have told us. We have listened to what has been said about what we know to be problems in our communities. Having listened, we have introduced a number of measures that have made a significant difference and provided additional powers. We have introduced parenting orders to deal with problem families. Antisocial behaviour orders—about which I shall say more shortly—have made a significant contribution to the tackling of antisocial behaviour in many areas, although I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Stockport (Ann Coffey) that it would be helpful if there were more individual support orders, which are intended to help those with antisocial behaviour problems. Powers have been introduced which have led to the closure of more than 500 crack houses across the country. The Government introduced those powers to deal with a very real problem that many of us have encountered in our communities. Mini-motos are illegal on the streets without proper licensing, and we need to remind people of that.
The lesson of all those measures is that—as my hon. Friend the Member for Hartlepool (Mr. Wright) pointed out—when people work in partnership real change happens, and real differences can be made in the tackling of crime and antisocial behaviour.
I agree with the hon. Member for Arundel and South Downs (Nick Herbert) and others that it is not just a question of giving the police and law enforcement authorities more powers. We must try to tackle some of the problems in our communities, along with their causes. Some may complain that the Government have not done enough, or that action in certain policy areas has not been as effective as it might have been. However, the Government have spent enormous sums on working with communities to try to challenge some of the causes of antisocial behaviour in each and every community, and in society as a whole.
Huge amounts have been spent on neighbourhood renewal and trying to regenerate areas where social and industrial decay and poor housing have blighted so many communities. Money has been invested in work with our teachers to provide good schools in some of our most difficult areas, on tackling truancy by encouraging people to attend school, and on raising standards and expectations. There have also been huge increases in parental support. People felt at first that Sure Start was a “nanny state” idea that would interfere with families, but the children’s centres that have resulted from it represent a major attempt to help some of the poorest and most dysfunctional families in society. We as a Government should be proud of that. Every Member with a children’s centre in his constituency will visit it, and will tell people how good the centres are and what a difference they have made to those who use and work in them.
Alongside all those measures are diversionary tactics—projects such as Positive Futures, intended to divert young people from crime—and the most difficult project of all, trying to restore respect. A question that confronts us all and does not, I think, divide us is “How do we pass a law saying that people must respect one another?” There is a debate to be had about how we can restore respect for each other in our communities to make society function more effectively. The Government’s respect taskforce is a good example of the way in which we have wrestled with what everyone recognises as a real issue in communities. That is not the draconian, fascist-type of authority that it is often caricatured as; it is about having respect for the police, for teachers and for parents. People tell us that they feel that respect for such legitimate authority is missing. The work that is being done by the respect taskforce, local authorities, MPs and the Government is part of the agenda of trying to restore that. Although we want to introduce new laws and we are trying to do many other things, we will only succeed in tackling antisocial behaviour if we manage to restore respect in our communities.
My opening remarks have not been as brief as I had hoped, and although I cannot do justice to the contributions of every Member who spoke, let me pick up on a few of the points that were made. The hon. Member for Arundel and South Downs made an important point on PCSO numbers. The reason why there is flexibility in the budgets is not to do with the Government; it is because the Association of Police Authorities and the Association of Chief Police Officers have asked for that flexibility. Let me quote from their press release:
“We are pleased that the Government has listened to the case, made by the Association of Police Authorities and the Association of Chief Police Officers, for greater flexibilities and freedoms in determining the ways that policing is provided to local people.”
I know that the Conservative party is looking at its policy agenda. One of the things it is looking at is local decision making. One of the consequences of that is that sometimes decisions are made locally that are difficult nationally. However, if we are to have local decision making and flexibility, we must mean it. We have tried to respond to what we were asked to do in a way that protects policing but gives that flexibility in respect of local services. We gave flexibility to local services to determine how to spend the funds.
I join my hon. Friend the Member for Wakefield (Mary Creagh) in congratulating Sue Thomson on the work that she has done on controlling the night-time economy in Wakefield and reducing crime by 25 per cent. I also welcome the conversion of the hon. Member for Taunton (Mr. Browne) to the need for police community support officers. However, we noted that the Liberal Democrats remain opposed to dispersal powers. In communities throughout the country, dispersal powers are an effective tool in tackling antisocial behaviour. Let me make a party-political point: I hope that the hon. Gentleman tells every Liberal Democrat constituency party in the country that the policy is to oppose dispersal orders, because many of my hon. Friends find that that message somehow does not get down to local Liberal Democrats. So let me say loudly and clearly, so that it is recorded in Hansard, that we recognise that the Liberal Democrats are opposed to the use of dispersal powers.
I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Hackney, South and Shoreditch (Meg Hillier) is greatly concerned about the links between skunk in particular and mental health issues. I hope that she has seen our recently launched advertising campaign, “Brain store”, which tries to deal with the problem.
The hon. Member for Spelthorne (Mr. Wilshire) mentioned problems to do with social breakdown; the debate on that needs to continue.
I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Hartlepool for his kind remarks. He talked about the need for partnership and the success that there has been in Hartlepool as a result of people working together. I commend him on the community leadership he has shown in trying to ensure that the powers that are available to local councils and local people are used. On the point he made about more power to residents associations, it is clear that if we are to do anything, local people must be involved, and they should determine how best to get involved.
Let me say to the hon. Member for Scarborough and Whitby (Mr. Goodwill) that I look forward to eating chicken-in-a-basket in Scarborough. He mentioned alcohol. That is clearly a major problem and we need to deal with it, and the designated public places orders are very successful.
I also thank my hon. Friend the Member for Cleethorpes (Shona McIsaac). If she wants to meet me to discuss some of issues in her constituency, I will do so. My hon. Friend the Member for Chorley (Mr. Hoyle) made some great remarks on youth facilities. They are very important. Prevention is the key, as the hon. Member for Mid-Dorset and North Poole (Annette Brooke) said. The hon. Member for Bournemouth, East (Mr. Ellwood) mentioned the important role of special constables. I apologise if I have missed anybody, or any particular points, but if anyone wants to meet me in the Lobby to discuss them, I am perfectly happy to do that.
We are tackling the problem of antisocial behaviour from every direction, providing the tools and powers to agencies in order to stop a range of antisocial behaviour, and focusing on early intervention. In the light of all those measures, we hope to make a very—
It being Six o’clock, the motion for the Adjournment of the House lapsed, without Question put.