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Antisocial Behaviour

Volume 524: debated on Monday 7 March 2011

The Government recently launched a consultation on reforming the toolkit for dealing with antisocial behaviour. The proposals will reduce the bureaucracy, delay and cost that hamper the police and their partners. We are also working to help police forces improve their service to victims by, for example, supporting eight police forces in trialling a new approach to handling calls on antisocial behaviour.

Does my hon. Friend agree that community partnerships and statutory partnerships are key in dealing with antisocial behaviour?

My hon. Friend makes an important point. The nature of antisocial behaviour means that the main emphasis in tackling it lies with the police, because much of this behaviour is crime, but other partners, such as community safety partnerships, play an essential role. We support that and it is recognised in the toolkit for civil orders. We have stripped away some of the bureaucracy that got in the way of getting those partners to do the job that they are needed to do.

May I encourage my hon. Friend to liaise with police authorities about deploying safer neighbourhood teams on the basis of places, not artificial ward boundaries, as such an approach would allow coverage to extend into the crucial evening period, when a lot of antisocial behaviour takes place?

There are certainly operational issues associated with the tasking of safer neighbourhood teams. I know from my hon. Friend’s constituency the importance and emphasis that the Mayor of London places on those teams. I am sure that he will have heard clearly the message that my hon. Friend has sent about the importance of discretion at the operational level.

What can be done to engage young people early in order to prevent their engaging in antisocial behaviour?

The issue relating to young people and antisocial behaviour is important. It is also worth recognising that most victims of antisocial behaviour are young people themselves. The Government are focused on intervening early: the early intervention grant, which is worth about £2.2 billion, will support activities to help young people start off in a positive way. Clearly, young people can be victims of antisocial behaviour, which is why it is important that we take action early to prevent it in their communities.

Does the Minister accept that in dealing with adults involved in neighbourhood nuisance, low-level violence and intimidation, antisocial behaviour orders have been an invaluable part of the toolkit? Will he give an assurance that they will continue to be available to police and local authorities seeking to reduce antisocial behaviour?

The right hon. Gentleman will be aware that we are consulting on a new toolkit, whereby the tools are reduced in number to five core ones. The problem is that ASBOs have been used less and less and the number of breaches has increased. We are clear about the need for civil orders, which is why we are consulting on the new powers. They are better tailored and will ensure that the civil standard of proof is used to make the orders easier to obtain. They will also be able to put in place positive requirements to break patterns that may lead to antisocial behaviour and crime.

In Bristol, the police have made very good use of the antisocial behaviour legislation—the acceptable behaviour contracts and ASBOs—to tackle kerb crawling and on-street prostitution, which blights the lives of many residents of the Eastville area of my constituency. Can the Minister assure the House that any replacement for the current antisocial behaviour legislation will continue to give the police the powers to tackle this problem?

I am grateful to the hon. Lady for highlighting that specific example and I hope that her community will take part in the ongoing consultation on the new toolkit, which will last until the middle of May. We are clear that the existing powers remain in place until such time as a new regime is introduced, but we are very focused on it being practical, supporting communities and having the effect that people want it to have in bearing down on antisocial behaviour and the crime that can lead from it.

Can the Minister confirm that more than 10,000 police officers, many of whom are in neighbourhood teams tackling antisocial behaviour, will be cut over the next two years? The Thames Valley police force, which covers the constituencies of the Prime Minister and the Home Secretary, said the following about possible local youth centre closures:

“the loss of those services would mean more opportunities for young people to get involved in crime and antisocial behaviour”.

So with cuts to front-line policing and youth services across the country, how exactly does the Minister expect his rebranded, weaker version of the ASBO to maintain progress in combating antisocial behaviour?

I do not accept that this is some sort of weaker tool. There is going to be a more effective suite of tools with which to bear down on antisocial behaviour. Let us not forget that it was the last Labour Home Secretary who suggested that the previous Government had in some way been coasting on antisocial behaviour. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has reminded me that Thames Valley police has said that it will be protecting neighbourhood response teams. It is also worth highlighting that the Mayor of London recognises the importance of safer neighbourhood and community teams and of delivering on the antisocial behaviour agenda.

I do not know whether the Minister has seen “Minority Report” in which precogs predict where and when serious crimes are going to occur, but will he assess a less futuristic and more practical technique that has been advocated by Peter Neyroud, the ex-chief of the National Policing Improvement Agency, and by the Cambridge Institute of Criminology, which could cut reoffending and antisocial behaviour? The technique flags up the criminals who are most likely to reoffend, thereby allowing resources to be concentrated on them and halving prisoner numbers, saving money and improving public safety in the process.

I am not sure whether Philip K. Dick is bedtime reading for Peter Neyroud, but certainly the whole idea of prevention and acting earlier is very much at the heart of the consultation in which we are engaged on antisocial behaviour. I am certainly clear about the role of prevention and the need to act early in breaking patterns of offending before people become too engaged. I will certainly look at the research to which he refers.