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Dispersal Zones

Volume 459: debated on Monday 30 April 2007

7. What assessment he has made of the impact of dispersal zones; and if he will make a statement. (134279)

Between January 2004 and 1 April 2006, the police used the power to disperse unruly groups in more than 1,000 designated areas. They have succeeded in tackling under-age drinking, joyriding, noise nuisance, the antisocial use of fireworks, the harassment and intimidation of residents, and many other such transgressions. That is yet another example of our commitment to empowering local communities to tackle the blight of antisocial behaviour.

I thank my hon. Friend for that answer. The police in Salford used a dispersal order and zone very successfully to get rid of disorderly behaviour at Ellenbrook shopping precinct, where large groups of youths were gathering and intimidating shop staff and local people trying to shop there. Given that success in Salford, does my hon. Friend agree that we need to continue with dispersal orders and zones, antisocial behaviour orders and parenting orders to tackle such disorder and antisocial behaviour, rather than expressing the somewhat pious hope that we have heard expressed recently that young people might start to behave?

I agree entirely with my hon. Friend. Sadly, I do not have intimate knowledge of the Ellenbrook shopping precinct, but I am sure that it is in a far better position than it was before the use of dispersal zones. We are very clear that the respect agenda, antisocial behaviour measures and broader such powers are liberating communities throughout the country from such behaviour, in ways that simply were not happening before the introduction of the legislation. Anyone who thinks that this is a consensual position, and that it would continue, should listen to the fluff and drivel that we heard last Monday from the Leader of the Opposition.

May I ask two practical policy questions that arose from a meeting with residents of the Sholing area of Southampton, where a dispersal zone has had a marked improving effect on antisocial behaviour since its introduction in October? First, the current rules appear to imply that if a dispersal zone works, the local authority and the police can no longer justify having one. Secondly, there is a need to be able to vary the boundaries of dispersal zones much more flexibly than the current rules allow. In the light of my hon. Friend’s commitment to dispersal zones, will he look at both those policy issues?

I thank my right hon. Friend for his comments; as usual, they are considered. Again, I do not know anything about Sholing in Southampton, but I am happy to increase that ignorance—[Interruption]I meant to say increase my knowledge, of Southampton—[Interruption.] As the Opposition are saying, I do not need any help with the ignorance. However, I take the point that the import of the existing law is that once a problem has been solved, a dispersal zone is to be shut down, and reinvented only if the situation occurs again; we need to look into that. I also accept that the existing system may well be too bureaucratic to allow such zones’ boundaries to be varied; the practicalities of that issue need to be considered, too. Both my right hon. Friend’s points are well made.