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Anti-social Behaviour: C&AG Report

Volume 687: debated on Tuesday 12 December 2006

asked Her Majesty’s Government:

Which recommendations of the report by the Comptroller and Auditor-General, Tackling Anti-Social Behaviour, published on 7 December, they intend to implement.

My Lords, it is less than one week since the National Audit Office’s report was published, and we are still studying its findings, conclusions and recommendations. There is likely to be a Public Accounts Committee hearing in the new year and then a formal response, which of course I cannot anticipate.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for her reply. I am sure that we can all agree that in certain communities a number of people suffer a wretched, miserable existence due to the activities of a few. To counteract this, in 2003 the Government brought in anti-social behaviour orders. Three years’ work has gone into that, so plenty of data are available. ASBOs have come in for condemnation from some quarters, but the National Audit Office in its report on 7 December recommends specific measures. Has the time not come for a detailed appraisal of the whole operation, which should be published? That would be preferable to racing ahead with new initiatives.

My Lords, a number of reports have been published on anti-social behaviour orders and their application, and noble Lords will have had the advantage of debating them. It is important to recognise that this new report identifies that anti-social behaviour orders have been very successful. Sixty-five per cent of people desisted from anti-social behaviour after one intervention, 86 per cent desisted after two interventions, and as many as 93 per cent desisted after the third intervention. There have been a number of reports and they are telling us that we are doing well and that, although we need to go further, this is a success.

My Lords, does my noble friend agree that anti-social behaviour orders have been the best method yet of stopping in their tracks people who have not been amenable to reason, persuasion, instruction or discipline, but that if they are not to be devalued they must be used sparingly and invariably be enforced?

My Lords, I respectfully agree with my noble friend and say further that anti-social behaviour orders are only one tool. We also have the benefit of the acceptable behaviour contracts, which, if used as part of the overall protocol, are very successful indeed in interrupting patterns of offending behaviour.

My Lords, has the Minister had the opportunity to read the report of the Runnymede Trust on racial equality and anti-social behaviour orders? One recommendation is that local authorities, to meet their obligation under the Race Relations (Amendment) Act 2000, should undertake ethnic monitoring. Why has that not been done and has the department issued any instruction on that subject?

My Lords, the issue of ethnic monitoring has been considered. The Together website talks about standing together and the action that we are going to take. The noble Lord knows that we continue to keep disproportionality under review. I shall ensure that we highlight this matter for my honourable friend the Minister responsible for that part of the portfolio.

My Lords, the Youth Justice Board recognises that anti-social behaviour orders can work extremely well, but what is the Minister’s response to the board’s urging that youth offending teams must always be involved whenever an ASBO is considered for a child or young person? How does she respond, too, to the research published in November that revealed that, in seven out of 10 areas examined, YOTs had little or no involvement in the imposition of an ASBO, and that many young people in the survey did not understand the restrictions placed on them and were therefore at risk of breach?

My Lords, the Anti-Social Behaviour Unit is now working extremely closely with the Youth Justice Board to ensure that there is clear interaction between the YOTs and the unit’s activity. That appears to be working well and there is a good working relationship.

My Lords, is the Minister aware that I spent a long evening going many miles with a friend who deals with ASBOs? I went as her chaperone, and what really shocked me was that, if I had not been there, she would have been sent out on her own—as she normally is—until late, sometimes not getting home until after midnight.

My Lords, I commend the noble Baroness and her friend for doing invaluable work. The dedication of those who undertake this work is having material success; we are changing behaviour and, as a result, giving great relief to communities. So I commend the work done by the noble Baroness and her friend—but it is right that we are taking every step to ensure that people who undertake that work do so safely.

My Lords, in view of the undoubted fact that combating anti-social behaviour is dependent in large part on a uniformed police presence on the streets, can the Minister comment on reports circulating in the broadsheet press that funding for police community support officers is likely to be cut substantially in the next 12 months?

My Lords, community support officers have done a very valuable job. We are working closely with ACPO to make sure that the right numbers are available in the right places. This is a joint action plan, which has been agreed across the board. We hope that we shall have sufficient numbers where they are needed.

My Lords, the Minister talks about the success that the Government have enjoyed, but has she not read the report’s comment that 55 per cent of ASBOs are breached and that they fail to reach 20 per cent of people, whom I have to call thugs, who are making people’s lives a misery? Will she give a commitment today at least to give better support to witnesses of anti-social behaviour, who, as the report points out, feel particularly intimidated when they have to attend breach proceedings in court? What will the Government do to address that problem?

My Lords, one should not see breach as failure. One is looking at ongoing behaviour over a long period. Breach enables us to intervene and change behaviour, and by the third intervention 93 per cent of people are back on track. We now have better support packages for victims and witness protection has been very successful. We are rightly continuing to look at those issues. I am very pleased by the success of the work that we are undertaking.