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29 Jun 2006 : Column 493

I also know about the ASBO 13 project that has been introduced in my hon. Friend’s constituency to tackle the problem of young people hanging around with nothing to do. If a young person comes to the attention of the police, they are given a “ticket”, and asked why they are hanging about and what they would like to do instead. Many young people said that they wanted to play football. Football teams have now been set up to cater for them, and there is even a football league consisting of those teams. When the agencies fail to act, we need to tell them loudly and clearly that we expect them to do so. I believe that that is my hon. Friend’s point. The powers are there and the agencies should use them. They should support young people through projects such as those that I mentioned but let us see the powers used, too.

Mr. Kemp: The point about powers is important. I attended a State of the City debate last Thursday in Sunderland. Canon Stephen Taylor, the chair of the partnership, reported to people there that, as a result of using the powers, Sunderland is now the safest city in the north. Agencies have worked in partnership and used the tools with which the Government have provided them. That has been a great success and there has been a great reduction in antisocial behaviour. That is a tribute to the police and other agencies on Wearside. A neighbouring city to Hartlepool has thus experienced great success in recent years.

Mr. Coaker: I thank my hon. Friend for that intervention. It shows that, when the police, local authorities, voluntary organisations, residents’ groups, faith groups and others come together, they can make a difference because we have given them the tools, the powers and the laws to make a difference in their community. We often hear the plea in all our constituencies: “Why aren’t the laws used more often?” The challenge for us is to demand that the laws be used. My hon. Friend’s example of what happens in Sunderland shows that, when people work and act together, it makes a difference and we can reclaim the streets for the decent, law-abiding majority. That is what we want.

I know that Hartlepool borough council plans to introduce a selective licensing scheme from October. My hon. Friend the Member for Hartlepool referred to that. Selective licensing is a tool introduced by part 3 of the Housing Act 2004 to assist local authorities, together with other appropriate measures, to tackle problems in the private rented sector. A designation comes into force three months after it has been made or approved and all PRS properties, with certain exemptions, in the designated area are required to be licensed by the local authority. A landlord who fails to apply for a licence commits a criminal offence and can be fined up to £20,000. Before granting a licence, a local authority must satisfy itself that the landlord is a fit and proper person to manage the property and that there are, or can be put in place, adequate arrangements for its effective and proper management. In addition, the authority can impose such other conditions as it considers appropriate to secure the proper management of the property, including conditions for preventing or reducing antisocial behaviour by the tenant or his visitors.

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For local people to have confidence in local agencies, those agencies need to communicate the actions they are taking to let the public know what they are doing. Local radio, newspapers, leaflets and newsletters all provide opportunities to send out the message that antisocial behaviour will not be tolerated, and let the public know the part they can play. For example, publicity of ASBO proceedings is often an integral part of local agencies’ efforts to tackle antisocial behaviour for two reasons: first, to help the community and the victims of antisocial behaviour know that something positive has been done to stop the abuse; and, secondly, to publicise the prohibitions so that the community can help enforce the order. Such publicity is not intended to punish or shame the individual, but to show that the law is being enforced.

I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Hartlepool has advocated the use of publicity when ASBOs are granted, and I am aware that the issue of publicity has been a concern in Hartlepool. However, I have been informed that the local agencies are now taking a collective decision as to whether publicity is appropriate when they attend the consultation meeting before an application for an ASBO is made. It is to be hoped that such collective decision making will improve the process. I agree with my hon. Friend that people need to see that the law is being enforced—a plea that is often made in my constituency. Sometimes people say that even when the law is enforced by the police and local authorities they do not know about it, so publicity for the consequences of poor behaviour can be an important confidence-building measure. I know that my hon. Friend is particularly keen on such measures.

More widely, a range of existing Home Office developments can be brought to bear in helping practitioners to tackle antisocial behaviour. The House will be interested to learn that a national survey of crime and disorder partnerships showed that between October 2003 and September 2005 we issued 13,000 acceptable behaviour contracts; 500 crack house closure orders; more than 1,500 housing injunctions; more than 1,700 parenting orders and contracts; and more than 800 dispersal orders. Figures from the police show that since 2004 more than 200,000 penalty notices for disorder have been issued. I want those powers to continue to be used widely and wisely across the country.

There are record levels of police officers to tackle antisocial behaviour. Nationally, there were 141,270 police officers on 30 September 2005—an increase of more than 1,100 since September 2004, and 14,112 more than in March 1997. Cleveland had 1,640 police officers on 30 September 2005, which is an increase of 181, or 12 per cent., since March 1997. We are committed to increasing the number of police community support officers to 24,000 by March 2008. As my hon. Friend mentioned, there were 86 PCSOs in Hartlepool on 30 September 2005, and we expect the number to increase. PCSOs are already being used in Hartlepool and they will be the eyes and ears on the street. They have been one of the best reforms the Government have introduced and I am pleased that they are working with police officers on the streets of Hartlepool to try to tackle antisocial behaviour.

My hon. Friend also mentioned that although there were problems with a small minority of people in some parts of his constituency, the good news is that total
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recorded crime fell by 21 per cent. in Hartlepool and by 8 per cent. in the Cleveland police force area as a whole between 2003-04 and 2004-05. Criminal damage fell by 9 per cent. in the Hartlepool area in the same period.

It is worth keeping in mind that criminal damage and vandalism include incidents such as graffiti and broken windows, which blight local communities. I know that my hon. Friend is keen to see that all aspects of antisocial behaviour are tackled, including broken windows and vandalised telephone boxes and bus shelters. It is particularly important that we tackle the vandalism associated with street furniture.

We are running a yearlong “tackling vandalism” programme with ENCAMS, which runs the “Keep Britain Tidy” campaign. Hartlepool crime and disorder reduction partnership is one of 84 CDRPs involved in the programme. Those partnerships will be developing and implementing an action plan to drive up performance and improve the delivery of initiatives to tackle criminal damage and vandalism.

We have also worked in Hartlepool and other areas to tackle alcohol-related violence. Indeed, in Hartlepool there have been a number of test-purchase operations to tackle under-age drinking; we shall release the results in the near future.

My hon. Friend raised another major point about communities being able to call for action and the presence of community justice centres. I remind him that the Police and Justice Bill, currently progressing through Parliament, contains a measure called the community call for action. It will give those local communities who feel that there is a need for more action to tackle problems in their area a trigger by which they can demand that. That is a particularly important reform, because it empowers local communities to try to influence those who take decisions.

My hon. Friend mentioned the community justice centre in north Liverpool. We are keen to repeat the success of that centre in other areas of England and Wales as soon as possible, building on the lessons that we have learned about it. The results of the evaluation of the north Liverpool project and the Salford community justice initiative, which is running now, will be reported in January 2007, which will give us an opportunity to consider how to move forward.

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As my hon. Friend also knows, we have tried to support families through Sure Start and many other projects. He mentioned the Dundee project and the possibility of something similar in Hartlepool. We are committed to rolling out 50 family intervention projects across the country; we have heard what my hon. Friend said and will keep his comments in mind when we consider their location.

I have tried to limit my remarks to Hartlepool and the surrounding area, but the Government have taken a range of other initiatives nationally to do with respect as well as neighbourhood policing, which my hon. Friend is keen to encourage in his area. Indeed, the basic command unit to which he referred was one of the pilots for that and I know the keen interest that he has taken in it. We have tried to learn from that example and from my hon. Friend's interest as we roll out the policing programme for the rest of the country. Obviously, neighbourhood policing is a major means by which we intend to deliver our programme in terms of tackling antisocial behaviour, as is working with local councils, crime and disorder reduction partnerships, and so on.

Antisocial behaviour blights far too many of our communities. It is probably the issue on which MPs get more correspondence and more individuals coming to see them than any other. That is why my hon. Friend has secured this important debate. His debate refers to Hartlepool, but I think that all Members would agree that his comments could be applied to many of our constituencies.

But the debate has also shown that where people stand together, where people act with the local council, the local police and voluntary organisations, and where people use the powers that are available to them, given by this Government on a range of issues, we can make a difference. There is no need for any street in this country not to be reclaimed by its community. We can do that by working together. We can do that by using the laws that are available to us and we can do that by having hope and optimism for the future. I congratulate my hon. Friend again on the debate that he has initiated and my hon. Friend the Member for Houghton and Washington, East on his comments. I would say to everyone: stand together, because by doing that we can make a difference.

Question put and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly at five minutes to Six o’clock.

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