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Antisocial Behaviour Orders

Volume 457: debated on Monday 19 February 2007

The effectiveness of the Government’s antisocial behaviour policies has been assessed in two key independent reports published just before the new year, by the National Audit Office and by the Youth Justice Board. Both confirmed that our twin-track approach of support and enforcement is effective in protecting our communities from antisocial behaviour.

I thank the Minister for that reply. Recent figures from the Youth Justice Board show that more than 50 per cent. of ASBOs have been breached, a third of which have been breached on five or more occasions. Is not that proof positive that ASBOs are just another political gimmick from this Government? Is it not time that we tackled the real long-term causes of antisocial behaviour?

That is not true and it simply will not do. If we are to tackle antisocial behaviour, we must tackle every aspect of it, including support for those who need it through to enforcement. To isolate breaches of ASBOs, which are just one spot on a continuum of assorted interventions that the Government are making on antisocial behaviour, undermines professionals who are working up and down the country to repair many of the dysfunctional aspects of our communities. That is not on: it does discredit to the hon. Gentleman and is a shame for those who are trying seriously to work with communities in Peterborough, Cambridgeshire and elsewhere.

As my hon. Friend knows, the press often describes how young people given ASBOs regard them as some sort of badge of honour. Will he tell me what more the Government can do to change the attitude of those young people and make them more socially responsible?

I thank my hon. Friend for the question, but I do not accept the starting premise that children up and down the country regard ASBOs as a badge of honour. I do not doubt that some do, but if they persist in their antisocial behaviour they can wear their badge of honour with pride while they are doing time for breaching their ASBO. However, the real issue—as my hon. Friend implies—is that there is much that we need to do at the other end of the process, in terms of supporting families and parents. The assorted interventions that we have made in our communities up and down the country, from Sure Start, nursery provision and children’s centres all the way through to parenting support and other elements, are vital in tackling antisocial behaviour. It is not just about ASBOs, so I thank my hon. Friend for his question, as I know that in general much good work is happening in Yorkshire.

Is the Minister aware that there has been a considerable number of ASBO breaches in my borough of Bexley? Residents have worked hard with the police and the community safety partnerships, but the breaches undermine the credibility of ASBOs, so what further reassurance can the Minister give my constituents who suffer increasing antisocial behaviour in our area?

I congratulate all in the London borough of Bexley, including the hon. Gentleman, who take the matter seriously. I take the point that when there is a breach it can undermine much of the work that communities have put in, but the hon. Gentleman, and the people of Bexley who are working so hard on the matter, should be under no illusion that when there are breaches and people persist in not taking the help and support afforded by antisocial behaviour interventions, and when a minority insist on damaging the cohesion of our communities in Bexley and elsewhere, they will be dealt with swiftly.

Does my hon. Friend agree that across the country more and more community safety partnerships are getting better at obtaining and enforcing ASBOs? Should not the message from the House be that if people behave at an acceptable standard there will be no action in court, but that if they misbehave there is the certainty of consequences?

That is absolutely right; I thank my hon. Friend. We also need to say clearly that, overwhelmingly, we are talking about only a minority of people in each of our communities—not about criminalising an entire generation through ASBOs, as it is sometimes erroneously put by commentators, or about ignoring antisocial behaviour. My hon. Friend is right: across the country, through crime reduction partnerships and community safety partnerships more and more communities are dealing both with the causes of antisocial behaviour and the support necessary to challenge them, as well as obtaining effective intervention that firmly gets people who would indulge in antisocial behaviour to desist.

Since ASBOs were introduced the failure rate has spiralled year after year. The National Audit Office report states that well over half of all orders are being broken, and in County Durham 74 per cent. of ASBOs are being breached. Recently, when the Government’s respect tsar, Louise Casey, responded to questioning from the Public Accounts Committee on the NAO findings, she was unable to confirm that a formal qualitative assessment of the use of the orders was being undertaken. When will Ministers publish a detailed evaluation of the use of ASBOs? Does the breach rate have to hit 80, 90 or even 100 per cent. before that information is made available?

Again, that question is not terribly helpful in terms of the discussion. If the hon. Gentleman wanted to quote the NAO report in full, he could have gone on to say that in terms of the whole continuum of interventions we have been talking about it showed clearly that about 65 per cent. of people desisted from antisocial behaviour after one intervention and 85 per cent. desisted after two. A whopping 93 per cent. of people desisted from antisocial behaviour after further intervention. In answer to the original question, I said that there had been authoritative responses and effective evaluations from both the Youth Justice Board and the NAO and before that there was a substantive report from Campbell, who I think was the key author. In March or April we will say in more detail how we want to build on the evaluation of the effectiveness of ASBOs, based on the Campbell report and what the NAO and the Youth Justice Board have said.

In the middle of the hon. Gentleman’s rather erroneous question, there was an entirely fair point about evaluation. As I said, in March or April we will announce how to take things forward, building on Campbell, the Youth Justice Board and the NAO report.