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Anti-social Behaviour Orders

Volume 693: debated on Thursday 21 June 2007

asked Her Majesty’s Government:

What recent assessment they have made of the effectiveness of anti-social behaviour orders.

My Lords, the effectiveness of the Government’s anti-social behaviour policies was independently assessed last year by the National Audit Office and by the Youth Justice Board. Both confirmed that our twin-track approach of support and sanctions works. We have driven down perceptions of anti-social behaviour by four percentage points from the baseline of 21 per cent in 2002-03 to 17 per cent in 2005-06.

My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for her reply, but is she aware that often the tagging devices are either damaged or removed? Is she further aware that female officers are sent out on their own and can sometimes work until 2 am, travel 300 miles and be confronted by guns in the house? Can this be right?

My Lords, I am not able to confirm the facts given by the noble Baroness. There is an issue in relation to those who seek to remove a tag. Anti-social behaviour orders are seen as preventive and are usually imposed before someone has committed an offence for which they are sentenced and then tagged. I can assure her that everything is being done to ensure that enforcement is followed through.

My Lords, is not the truth of the matter that ASBOs are not working, never have worked and have simply become a badge of honour for the recipients who acquire them?

My Lords, that is not true. Anti-social behaviour orders are cutting reoffending and are better controlling the individuals who are subject to them. By the third intervention, 93 per cent of those who have had an anti-social behaviour order have desisted from such behaviour entirely. I regret to tell the noble Lord that he is simply incorrect.

My Lords, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer, made a Statement about prison overcrowding this week. In the light of that, will the noble Baroness have a word with him and the Sentencing Guidelines Council to ensure that less use is made of custodial sentences for those in breach of anti-social behaviour orders?

My Lords, the noble Lord will know that we have made it very clear that prison should be used only when it is appropriate and the best possible alternative. He also knows that anti-social behaviour orders can be enforced in ways that fall short of imprisonment if that is the effective way of dealing with the matter, but the emphasis has to be on what will be effective in stopping criminal behaviour.

My Lords, will the noble Baroness confirm that it is government policy that acceptable behaviour contracts should always be used first and that it is a mistake to proceed directly to an ASBO without first trying a contract?

My Lords, I very much endorse the import of what the noble Lord says in relation to acceptable behaviour contracts, which are very successful. However, it depends on the stage at which the individual is dealt with, because some people’s behaviour is so gross and out of control that it is absolutely appropriate to go straightaway to an anti-social behaviour order. I agree with the noble Lord that acceptable behaviour contracts are incredibly successful, are being properly used and are having a great impact.

My Lords, will the Minister resist the assault that is being mounted against ASBOs? In so doing, will she take into account the fact that people like me, when canvassing in inner London areas and council estates, find that people there embrace ASBOs and say that they have been the best thing that has happened for them? Will she be very cautious indeed? Yes, let us make sure that ASBOs work correctly, but let us resist the attempts to withdraw them, because that would certainly not be welcomed by many of our Labour supporters in inner London areas.

My Lords, I endorse what my noble friend said. If you go to areas that are subjected to anti-social behaviour, you hear from all the people there what a blessing they have found the orders to be. They say that the orders have made their lives much more tolerable and that their lives were not tolerable before. The Government are very proud indeed of having introduced that measure.

My Lords, precisely how many people are in prison at the moment for breaching anti-social behaviour orders? What comment does the noble Baroness have on Anne Owers’s report in the 2006 annual lecture to the Judicial Studies Board that it is clear that anti-social behaviour orders are widening the net of the mentally ill in prison?

My Lords, I do not have the precise figure, but I will see whether I can get it. The most important thing to understand is that breaches of anti-social behaviour orders must be dealt with robustly, and they are being dealt with robustly to enhance compliance. We do not accept that the introduction of anti-social behaviour orders has inappropriately broadened the net. If one looks at the YJB’s report last year, one will see why we say that.

My Lords, is it not the case that there is nothing fundamentally flawed in the concept of the ASBO, provided that the order is made in an appropriate case as a last resort, rather than as a first resort, and provided that its objective is clear and its terms are precise, so that it can be stated at any time whether there has been a breach of the order?

My Lords, can we deduce from the question asked by the spokesman for the Official Opposition that the position of the Conservative Party now is to oppose ASBOs, when in fact they are supported by Conservative councillors and magistrates up and down the land? I simply cannot understand the contradiction.

My Lords, it is for noble Lords opposite to speak for themselves, but I remind the House that the parties opposite did not initially support ASBOs and were driven to support them because of their efficacy.

My Lords, will the noble Baroness please look into the question of female officers being sent out on their own?

My Lords, I will certainly look into that, but I respectfully say to the noble Baroness that it is wide of this Question, which is on anti-social behaviour orders.

My Lords, is it not the case that there is a small but nevertheless significant group of young people who are being given ASBOs for significant but low-level misbehaviour and who, having breached those ASBOs, have been back to court two, three or even four times? All that happens is that the ASBO is extended and strengthened. There are no real sanctions available other than custodial sentences, which the magistrates believe are not appropriate in such cases. That minority of young people are laughing at the system.

My Lords, very few people are now laughing at the system, because the breach procedure is robust. It is interesting that we are told on one hand that we are much too rigorous in enforcement and on the other that we are not enforcing the orders enough. Proportionality is very important, and the way in which we are dealing with this now is correct.