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Antisocial Behaviour Orders

Volume 472: debated on Monday 25 February 2008

Three independent reports, including the Home Affairs Committee report of 2005, the Audit Commission report of May 2006 and the National Audit Office report of December 2006, have confirmed that our approach to tackling antisocial behaviour is working. We have also appointed Ipsos MORI to undertake a qualitative study investigating the circumstances in which different antisocial behaviour interventions are most effective. Antisocial behaviour orders are just one of these. The outcome is to be published some time in 2008.

Does the Minister not accept that antisocial behaviour orders, sadly, have not been the success that many Members of Parliament would wish them to be?

Oh no they have not. The National Audit Office, which the Minister cited, indicated a breach rate of 55 per cent., and the rate in Durham is as high as 74 per cent. When are we going to try to tackle the situation before young people start to become antisocial? Can we not give greater encouragement to the sea cadets, the Army cadets, the air cadets, the scouts, the guides and other uniformed organisations, to give young people a purpose in life at an early stage?

I am tempted to say that the National Audit Office said, “Oh yes they are”. In my constituency and in constituencies throughout the country, people want more, not fewer, antisocial behaviour orders because they see their effectiveness in dealing with antisocial behaviour. However, the hon. Gentleman makes a reasonable point when he asks whether we have to rely solely on antisocial behaviour orders. Of course we do not. Those are a consequence for people who act in an antisocial way, but it is an important part of policy to try and prevent that in the first place, including through parents, families and the uniformed organisations of the sort that he mentioned.

I welcome the approach taken by the Minister, and emphasise that the experience in my constituency and in the black country is rather different from that outlined by the hon. Member for Macclesfield (Sir Nicholas Winterton). The opinion locally is that if we are to combat crime, there must be a high level of community involvement. Antisocial behaviour orders not only provide a fast-track method of dealing with individuals, but give reassurance and incentives to local communities to get involved in anti-crime initiatives. Will my hon. Friend ensure that that element is reinforced at local level in community policing?

My hon. Friend makes a thoughtful contribution. As he says, antisocial behaviour orders are one part of the answer when dealing with antisocial behaviour, but alongside that there need to be other initiatives not just by the police, but by the local authority, schools and all the other agencies working together to tackle problems. As part of that, it is important to involve young people, as my hon. Friend said. When we talk about antisocial behaviour, it is incumbent on us to remember that the vast majority of young people in this country are decent, hard-working and growing up in difficult times. They want something done about the small minority who are a problem as much as the rest of us do.

The ASBO unit at north Northamptonshire police is overwhelmed with work because it is far from straightforward to persuade magistrates to issue an antisocial behaviour order. It is meant to be a weapon of last resort. What speedy and effective penalties are in place to ensure that parents are held responsible for their children’s behaviour?

The hon. Gentleman makes an important point about the fact that, as I said, antisocial behaviour orders are one part of the solution, but he is right to point out that alongside that we hear the cry, “What are parents, schools and families doing?” Other measures are available, such as acceptable behaviour contracts. Parental contracts are also available to the courts to ensure that the minority of parents who refuse to take responsibility for their children are encouraged to do so. Where parents refuse to do so, surely being encouraged to do the right thing and look after their own children is part of the solution as well.

What steps can my hon. Friend take to encourage local authorities that have consistently failed to use antisocial behaviour orders against antisocial tenants to do so, instead of leaving people at the mercy of awful tenants next door to them? Can we stop local authorities constantly offering mediation, which puts the victim on the same level as the perpetrator, and encourage them to tackle those who make decent people’s lives a misery?

I know that my hon. Friend has been working hard in her local area, and that awful and tragic events have recently taken place there. She is right to point out that we need to ensure that existing laws are enforced and acted on. That is why we recently published a document to send out to local authorities and to the police reminding them of the powers that are available. May I add a point that I made to my hon. Friend—whether it is antisocial behaviour, kids on the street or antisocial tenants as she described, it is important that they do not merely receive warning after warning, and that sooner or later there is a consequence for their action. If that means tough action with respect to antisocial tenants, that is what should be used.