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Antisocial Behaviour Orders

Volume 504: debated on Friday 29 January 2010

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—(Mr. Spellar.)

It is not with great pleasure that I have applied to discuss this topic this afternoon, because antisocial behaviour is probably the biggest plague of modern times. We can see from the Opposition Benches just how important and serious an issue it is to them. Those Benches have emptied, but Opposition Members will probably regret leaving, because I will later reveal statistical data on local authorities and their attitudes to antisocial behaviour.

First, I wish to discuss the positive. Much of this debate will concentrate on the punitive powers that need to be more effectively used—indeed, some local authorities are not using them at all. When we deal with antisocial behaviour, it is essential that we provide, especially for our young people, alternatives to hanging around on the street with, in their words, “Nothing to do at all.” There is nowhere in the country where young people have historically had less to do in the last 30 years than the constituency of Bassetlaw. The local burghers have been good over the years at providing facilities for pensioners, and they are a strong lobby, not least on the local authorities. Indeed, they are a majority in absolute terms among the elected members, and have been for some time. Therefore, the pensioner voice is rightly heard. I like to pride myself on being one of the champions of pensioner issues across the country, but we must also ensure that local authorities give priority to young people. If we have areas with no cinemas and a lack of sporting facilities and other activities, the disrespect that we show young people is bound to rebound on to society.

I cite as a good example the shameful case of the cinema that Bassetlaw council first promised in 2002, as part of a planning deal—a very unpopular deal—with a large supermarket called Tesco and a developer called Henry Boot. In that plan, the council was to sell its land for an unpopular development by Tesco. The council then passed approval on the explicit basis that it would build a bowling alley and a cinema, aimed at young people in particular, with the moneys that it had received as a capital receipt. Despite the controversy, the plan was adopted. The plans were agreed and the money—£12 million—has been paid over.

The young people in Bassetlaw ask, “Where is our cinema? Where is our bowling alley?” Indeed, I have been asking that repeatedly over the past five years. I have been given promise after promise, but there is no cinema and no bowling alley. The council has put the money in its coffers—some would suggest that it needs some of that money, because of its failed speculation with Icelandic banks. However, even aside from the £8 million that the council unwisely invested in Iceland, that still leaves £4.5 million, which is more than sufficient to build a cinema and a bowling alley. The young people of Bassetlaw are asking this question, so it should be put on the record today: where are our facilities and why has our council not provided them?

But if that were not bad enough, on 23 December a planning application was considered for another supermarket, which would have created 1,000 jobs, including 400 this year, and a multi-sports complex, which would have brought the local football team—a team with 21 junior football teams, and therefore one involving a swathe of young people in the town—back to the town. Again, the said council decided to vote against that application. It is probably the only council in Britain that turns down jobs and youth facilities when offered them for free by the private sector. As one young man—an eight or nine-year old—said to me, “I’m part of Worksop Town: I’m one of the players. I want to play there. I want to see our stadium.” That is about aspiration, and it is precisely such opportunities that are the antidote to the antisocial behaviour on which our councils, and particularly Bassetlaw, let us down.

However, punitive measures are also important. One would think that Bassetlaw and other such councils that do not invest in youth facilities would at least invest in dealing with antisocial behaviour. I have therefore taken the opportunity to make a freedom of information request of every local authority in the country, to see exactly whether the many powers that have been wisely given by the Government—I have actively and willingly voted in favour of all powers suggested while I have been a Member, and will do so in future—are being used. The Local Government Association, in a special briefing for this debate, says yes.

Antisocial behaviour is a particular problem in my constituency but, according to local residents, the council appears to be doing very little about it. Can the hon. Gentleman please tell me what the results of his freedom of information request say about Castle Point borough council and what it is doing about the problem?

I am prepared to make my results public to the entire world, including the hon. Gentleman, although he might be a little disappointed that his local authority has chosen, illegally, not to respond to my freedom of information request. It is most peculiar that it does not even give priority to its legal requirement to respond to a request to provide such information. I must be more diligent in pursuing his council to ensure that it fulfils that legal obligation and provides him with the answer that it perhaps does not wish the world to see.

Of course, Castle Point begins with the letter C. If it began with the letter A, things would be straightforward, because no local authority beginning with the letter A has ever issued any antisocial behaviour orders of any kind. It so happens that overall control on every one of those authorities is held by a certain political persuasion, of a particular colour. That might be a coincidence—I have an analysis of the figures to lay before the House—but no authority beginning with the letter A has chosen to spend anything whatever on ASBOs.

Bassetlaw, as one would expect from my earlier remarks, has chosen to spend no money on ASBOs, despite the fact that we have a small number of nightmare households that ruin communities with their bullying, intimidation, vandalism and abuse. I could name those households; the police could name them; the council could also name them. Quite a number of them are in council accommodation, so why is the council—along with many others across the country—not using its powers? This applies not only to ASBOs. Many local authorities are not using their powers relating to waste, abandoned cars, fireworks and noise controls. It is as though they are bidding for the Olympics. Their figures for the past five years show five zeros: the five rings, the five doing nothings. We see this in authority after authority.

There are examples of good authorities, however. The city of Nottingham, an excellently run authority, has taken a lead in challenging antisocial behaviour and I give it particular credit for its zero tolerance policy with regard to the shameful gardens that some of its tenants used to keep but are no longer entitled to keep. The council is bringing up the neighbourhood. The same dysfunctional families and households are often involved in these practices as well. Often, the problems involve not the younger children but the older ones and the adults. The council has tackled those problems effectively. Manchester city council has also taken a lead in issuing ASBOs and using its powers inventively. It has given the bullies who hassle their communities more hassle in return than they give out. That is the direction that we need to take.

It is worth putting some figures on record. Sixty-one per cent. of councils that do not use ASBOs in a given year are Conservative administrations. It is no surprise that its Front-Bench Members have now disappeared. Twenty-five per cent. of the councils not issuing ASBOs have no overall control, 9 per cent. are Liberal Democrat and 6 per cent. are Labour. So the number of Labour councils not using this power is negligible, compared with the rest. The Conservative party has considerable control over local government at the moment, but these figures demonstrate that councils right across the country are not issuing any ASBOs at all. What support does that offer to the police? More importantly, what support are those local authorities giving to their communities, and to those embattled neighbours who have to live next door to the bullies, the abusers and the hasslers? They are the people who are being let down by those local authorities’ refusal to use their powers.

I commend the range of powers that the Government have brought forward, and the extra resources that have been put in. The Government have given Bassetlaw council more money to deal with antisocial behaviour, but it still does not spend a penny on tackling the known thugs and bullies. These days, that should be a primary role for a local authority. Exemplars such as Nottingham or Manchester city councils should not stand out as beacons. What they are doing is not necessarily brilliant, but it is brilliant in comparison with everyone else. What they are doing should be mundane, humdrum, everyday activity. I do not want those people who give grief to our communities by targeting pensioners and bullying mothers with children to be given air and space in our communities. They should be clamped down on.

I would like to see civil and criminal powers being used against those thugs and bullies, and those people who torment others and who believe that they are beyond the law. I want those powers to be used against the households that become a centre and a catalyst for antisocial behaviour and attract young people—usually the 16 to 25-year-olds—to stay overnight, drinking and perhaps taking drugs. Small numbers of those young people use the households as a base from which to go out and terrify and intimidate their local community.

We need to get back control of our streets and that means we need effective policing. I commend Nottinghamshire police force, which, following my question to the Prime Minister and his action from 9 December, reallocated 84 police officers to the north of the county. It was about time that we got that number of police. It should not require an MP raising the issue in this House to get that level of policing; those police should always be there. Those police—good men and women who are doing their job and taking the brunt of challenging antisocial behaviour—need support from civil society, with local authorities using their powers as landlords, using their powers under the Clean Neighbourhoods and Environment Act 2005 and using the swathe of inventive powers that have been rightly given by this Government. I commend those powers, and I commend my report to those who are willing to look at it and hold to account local authorities that are refusing to put respect and pride back into their communities. Such authorities are not doing what they should be doing, which is leading as civil leaders, using their powers and tackling the bullies. I look forward to the Minister’s response.

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Bassetlaw (John Mann) on securing the debate and, as ever, putting his case strongly and in encouraging terms. He has focused clearly on an important point, which is that, first and foremost, we should not be tolerating antisocial behaviour. Each authority, be it the police, a local council or central Government, should take action on that matter. On behalf of the Government, I commend the focus that he has put on the need not to tolerate antisocial behaviour and to use the many tools and powers available to ensure that we bear down on its causes and the consequences for communities. As he said, communities are often hard pressed by a small number of individuals who make life hell for their neighbours and the rest of their community.

I was particularly interested to hear of my hon. Friend’s constituency experiences with Bassetlaw district council and to hear about the campaign that he is running—I only learned of it in this debate—for a cinema and bowling alley to be used to support an essential part of the alternatives to antisocial behaviour: positive activities for young people. I am sure that he will return to that with gusto outside the Chamber.

The key point that my hon. Friend raised was about the use of antisocial behaviour powers by local councils. I believe that a real effort is being made by many authorities across the country to use their powers in support of the police; we want the police and other agencies to use their powers to ensure that we bear down on this curse, which still persists in many areas. As he mentioned, this Government have introduced a range of powers over the past 11 or 12 years to help support the tackling of antisocial behaviour and to provide real powers—not just for the sake of it, but to provide a positive outcome for the communities that we all serve. My hon. Friend and you will know, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that acceptable behaviour contracts, antisocial behaviour orders, crack house closure orders, demotion orders, dispersal orders, intervention orders, parenting orders, premises closure orders and fixed penalty notices are but some of the key powers that we have introduced since 1997 to help support communities. As my hon. Friend said, many authorities use those powers and penalties to try to make communities safer, and I pay particular tribute to Manchester city council and Nottingham city council, which he mentioned.

Let us consider the use of powers to tackle antisocial behaviour in just the six-year period between 2003 and 2009. During that time, nearly 15,000 ASBOs were used across the country; they were used not only by local councils, but by other agencies and organisations. Those ASBOs have had a real impact on antisocial behaviour in the communities in which they were used. They have been coupled with nearly 14,500 parenting contracts, 9,000 antisocial behaviour injunctions and nearly 50,000 acceptable behaviour contracts. Those are just some examples of powers not merely being put on the statute books but being used, in real time, by those with authority to make a difference on the ground.

I only heard the initial details of my hon. Friend’s survey today, but I shall look at it with interest if he will do me the courtesy of sending me a copy. With officials in my office and my colleagues in local government departments and, potentially, in the Welsh Assembly, I shall consider those powers to assess how local authorities are using them. Ultimately, the use of such powers by local councils is a matter for them. They have the power to use them, and, dare I say it, rather like in the House of Commons, the constituents whom they serve have the power to press local councillors. Councils have the authority to use those powers in a positive way.

I am an advocate locally of naming and shaming the bullies and thugs. Will the Minister consider naming and shaming local authorities? For example, 95 per cent. of Conservative authorities have never used the legislation to remove graffiti, 60 per cent. have never used the noise violation legislation and 85 per cent. of councils overall have never used the legislation on fireworks. Is it not time that the Government named and shamed those councils that refuse to use these powers at all?

As I said, the use of those powers is a matter for the local councils. I would be interested to see my hon. Friend’s figures because if there are real concerns on the ground, we need to consider what measures we can take with the police, local councils and other agencies to make a difference.

As my hon. Friend will know, the cost of not taking action is enormous, and not just emotionally for victims and financially for the wider community. Antisocial behaviour costs the taxpayer £3.4 billion a year, and many practitioners need to use their tools and powers to make a difference on the ground. When those powers are used, there is evidence that they make a difference. I would be interested to see the perception levels in the local authorities that my hon. Friend has identified to see whether there is a correlation between high levels of perception of antisocial behaviour and low levels of use of those powers.

Overall, the perceived levels of antisocial behaviour have fallen since 2003, when nationally they were 21 per cent. We had the British crime survey last week, which showed that 15 per cent. of the population felt that levels of antisocial behaviour were high in the last quarter—September 2009—for which we took a survey result. There has been a downward drive in people’s concerns about antisocial behaviour and I would be interested to see whether there is a correlation between perceptions and action in the areas that my hon. Friend mentioned.

The use of ASBOs, in particular, has been essential in driving down the perception of such behaviour. In 2006, a National Audit Office report on antisocial behaviour found that 65 per cent. of individuals did not re-engage in antisocial behaviour after receiving the first intervention, and ASBOs are a key intervention. So an ASBO or other intervention stopped, immediately and permanently, the antisocial behaviour of 65 per cent. of people the first time around. After the second intervention, that proportion rose to 86 per cent. and, after the third, to 93 per cent. Those individuals who have been involved in antisocial behaviour desist from that after one, two or three interventions. The communities of which they are part, on behalf of which action has been taken, are safer and more confident. We see a rise in confidence in policing and local councils, and falling perceptions of antisocial behaviour. People see a difference in the quality of their lives.

The public can monitor such progress and do considerable work on the issue by looking at antisocial behaviour levels in their communities. I urge residents of Bassetlaw, Nottinghamshire and every other authority where they feel that these powers are not being used not just to raise those issues with their local councillor but to speak to the antisocial behaviour team, which they should have in their communities. I urge them to speak to their neighbourhood policing officer or their local constable, to use their local police non-emergency number and to look at the Government’s website on antisocial behaviour, which is part of our commitment to those who are suffering from harassment. They should use the website to get in touch and ask why the powers are not being used to solve the problems. Those things should be locally driven as much as driven by central Government.

Last November, through the Justice Seen, Justice Done campaign, we launched a newly developed crime and justice website, part of direct.gov. That is a key way for people to access information about police, crime, justice and antisocial behaviour services. People can look not just to powers such as antisocial behaviour orders; they can nominate areas to be cleaned up by offenders, through the community payback and supporting services in the community schemes. With the policing pledge, those services are extremely important.

Antisocial behaviour orders work. In Grantham, for example, an individual called Leigh Buff was convicted in May 2007 of assault and public order offences. He was banned from the town centre at night. The antisocial behaviour team worked with him and a year after his order he was allowed to go into the town centre and has not been in trouble with the police since. In Stoke-on-Trent, a young boy of 11 was responsible for a third of all the antisocial behaviour calls the police received over three months. He even went as far as threatening to attack his father with a knife. He bullied another boy in school until his mother took him out of school. On receiving an ASBO, a parenting order and an individual support order, the behaviour stopped. Not only that, but the judge in question praised the work of the agencies in that area.

There is real merit in antisocial behaviour orders. They have been shown to be of value and they work, but we need to do more. I shall indicate what the Government are doing to tackle antisocial behaviour more generally.

I hope the House is aware, as I am sure my hon. Friend is, that on 13 October 2009 the Home Secretary wrote to all crime and disorder reduction partnerships and community safety partnerships in England and Wales challenging them to develop and publicise minimum standards on antisocial behaviour, and communicate effectively to the public. That includes the use of ASBOs in the local community, and the expectation of their use. We need to take action to reduce perceptions of antisocial behaviour year on year; to give regular updates to the community about what is being done, which I hope will highlight the issues my hon. Friend mentioned; to offer support and practical help to victims of antisocial behaviour; to give residents proper rights of complaint; and to ensure that we take reports of antisocial behaviour seriously by recording and investigating and committing to keep victims informed of the action taken. I have set a target of March 2010 for all authorities to draw up those minimum standards. We are monitoring the work closely, and I suggest that my hon. Friend does the same. One of the key things we want to do is to get out the kind of information he has had to drag out through freedom of information provisions, so that local communities know what is being done in their area.

In 62 partnership areas where perceptions of antisocial behaviour are high—more than 25 per cent.—we have targeted specific support from the Home Office. Officials from my Department are meeting the partnerships, all of which are undergoing rigorous self-assessment processes. We are looking at their improvement plans to ensure that we up their ante on antisocial behaviour. In the next quarter, we shall be doing that in a very positive way. As part of those plans, members of the antisocial behaviour action squad from central Government are being deployed to provide advice and support, and to ensure that tools such as ASBOs are not just on the statute book but are implemented, where appropriate, so that we make a difference.

My hon. Friend made the case for positive activity as well as for ASBOs. As he knows, three Departments—the Home Office, the Ministry of Justice and the Department for Children, Schools and Families—have a youth crime action plan, in which we are investing £100 million not just in visible policing after school or stay safe operations to make sure the streets are safe at night for young people, and not just in reparative community-based activity or engaging with hard to reach young people; we are also looking at doing the positive things my hon. Friend mentioned. We want to make sure that we provide activity on Friday and Saturday nights. I went to Liverpool in October to see Friday night activity there. Many activities were going on. A cinema had been hired by the local police and the partnership to ensure that young people, on a particularly difficult night—Hallowe’en—were offered alternative activities. That is important, and I commend my hon. Friend’s plans for the use of a cinema in his constituency.

The Government will not tolerate antisocial behaviour. We have put plans in place to deal with it. Our record shows that the Labour Government have introduced measures which can and should be used. They are effective, they make a difference and they are being used across the country. They should be implemented as a way of reducing that dreadful activity where it occurs.

I am sure my hon. Friend’s survey will highlight the issue in a constructive way. I will look at it and between us, no doubt, we can help to raise the level of activity—not for the council, the Government or Members of Parliament, but for those who are hard pressed in their communities by behaviour that we should not accept and which we need to stamp out. I commend my hon. Friend on raising this debate and I hope we can work together to take action on the issue.

Question put and agreed to.

House adjourned.