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One step that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary announced in October was an additional £2.8 million of funding to support local victims champions in all targeted
areas, by which I mean areas with a very high level of antisocial behaviour, with a view to extending the program still further when we discuss the provisions of the White Paper later this year. That effectively means that we will provide services to support victims and witnesses of antisocial behaviour to bring cases forward in magistrates courts and throughout the process.
As I mentioned earlier, we have also promised tougher action on those who breach their ASBOs. We will conduct a review of how that is working in practice, involving both the Secretary of State for Justice and the Attorney-General, and we will shortly issue new guidance on what local authorities should do when an ASBO is broken and needs to be followed up, to ensure that those who have been given that community-based penalty see it through.
We have a renewed focus on advice on driving up prosecutions. Going back to some of the points that have been made so far today, I can say that we are also looking at local service standards, so that the public know what to expect when antisocial behaviour occurs in their areas, what the minimum standards are for responses, and what support is available to communities when such action is taken. I want to leave that, in large part, to local discretion-referring to the points made by the hon. Member for Hornchurch from the Opposition Front Bench-but I want to ensure that we have those measures in place. We will be reviewing what local authorities say they are putting in place by March 2010 and will hold them to it. We will also expect the community to hold them to it.
Mr. Allen: I thank my right hon. Friend for his generosity in giving way a second time. Does he agree that it is important that he works closely with the Crown Prosecution Service and his colleagues in the Ministry of Justice to ensure that the burden and level of proof are such that we can get convictions in some of those cases? Very often, targeting in the CPS means that it has to be almost 100 per cent. certain, which is rare, before it will take a case. Will he ensure that cases are taken on the balance of probabilities, rather than the CPS feeling target-bound and not taking other cases?
Mr. Hanson: That is very important. Very often, the police, people who live on an estate or in a community, and the local council will know where there is a problem, and they must produce evidence to that effect. I take what my hon. Friend says. Again, as part of our review, we will be looking at the guidance we issue not only on breaches but in relation to prosecutions generally, because it is important that action is taken. That is what people expect and what decent people want in their communities. They want action to solve the problem, not necessarily, with due respect, words to go around the problem.
Effectively, we will also be providing-this is key to the drive announced by my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary on 13 October-specific support to areas where the perception of antisocial behaviour is particularly high. We have identified a number of key areas, including Salford and Doncaster, where there will be additional help and support. We regard that as critical in helping to drive down perceptions where they are extremely high. The extra support will be part of the action plan that is being drawn up. The plan is time-limited to March of next year to ensure that action is taken now in such key areas.
Linked to that is the question of the policing pledge and the policing White Paper, which will come out shortly. When that is produced-it will hopefully be later this month or, at the latest, early December-we will again be taking some clear next steps regarding what we can expect from the public and neighbourhood policing, with support from police officers. That will include a continued commitment to having a dedicated neighbourhood policing team in every community. Neighbourhood teams will cost resources, which is investment to which we are committed-not only for next year but, in terms of examining them in detail, for future years.
The White Paper will also include measures to enhance the focus of local neighbourhood policing, through working with partners and giving extra support to partnerships. That will ensure that victims, offenders and neighbourhoods are the focus of police activity, which is a positive step. From my perspective, identifying antisocial behaviour issues locally with the community is key.
None of that commenced on 13 October following my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary's statement. This Government have been committed to tackling antisocial behaviour since they came into existence in 1997. The Crime and Disorder Act 1998 created crime and disorder partnerships, and community safety partnerships in Wales. They are key when the Government decide what agencies across government need to be brought together to fight crime and antisocial behaviour.
The legislation also introduced the ASBO, which has given practitioners vital powers for dealing with serious antisocial behaviour. Some 14,972 ASBOs were issued between 1 April 1999 and 31 December 2007. In due course, ASBOs have changed the behaviour of many individuals who have behaved antisocially, and given confidence to the community in dealing with such behaviour.
Mr. Humfrey Malins (Woking) (Con): I know about the number of ASBOs issued, but is the Minister worried that, over those years, more than 50 per cent. of those ASBOs have been breached? The figure for 10 to 17-year-olds is even worse, with nearly 65 per cent. being breached. That is a troubling figure.
Mr. Hanson: I accept that the breaching of ASBOs has been a concern. I know that the hon. Gentleman is a fair man, and I hope that he will accept that the Home Secretary's announcement on 13 October of extra steps to tackle breaches of ASBOs was a recognition that that number is unacceptable. If people are given a punishment, it must be seen through. Restraining orders in relation to a particular community must be enforced strongly by the courts, the police and the community at large. I accept that the breach rate is challenging, but I am convinced that we will take further action to deal with those individuals in a positive and practical way in the future.
Practitioners tell us that communities are given respite from the misery of nuisance and loutish behaviour by ASBOs, and we know that they work. Antisocial behaviour is a challenging and complex matter, without a one-size-fits-all solution. ASBOs are important, but they are one of a range of tools that we have used to support the development of policy to tackle antisocial behaviour in all its forms. Members will know that, from crack house
closure orders to dispersal orders and, most recently, premises closure orders, we have given a range of powers that are now being exercised by local police through the courts to ensure that innumerable people in communities across the country are spared the difficulties caused by individual properties, licensed premises or individuals causing concern.
To return to the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, North, enforcement is only one aspect of the work that we need to undertake. We need to ensure that the underlying problems that lead to antisocial behaviour are tackled at their roots. That is why we have undertaken action with perpetrators and their families, with the level of support needed to tackle the underlying causes of that behaviour. We have, for example, issued individual support orders, helping young people on ASBOs, and parenting orders, helping parents to tackle issues that cause problems or make them worse. In the last five years alone, we have issued 43,000 acceptable behaviour contracts, 12,600 parenting contracts and 3,000 parenting orders, and we have closed down 1,700 crack houses across England and Wales. That shows not only an element of enforcement, but recognises that we need to deal with dysfunctional families, in which one generation after another is not learning the basics of a decent society.
Mr. Paul Truswell (Pudsey) (Lab): Does my right hon. Friend accept that some of the families about which he is talking are inflicting huge damage on their communities through other criminal activity, as well as antisocial behaviour? They are often pursued by the police through the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002. Does he understand the concern of some forces, such as West Yorkshire, that an inadequate proportion of the money gleaned through POCA is returning to those forces so that they can tackle the sort of problems that we are talking about?
Mr. Hanson: I accept the point that my hon. Friend makes. It is clear that people involved in antisocial behaviour are often involved in a range of other criminal activity. In his response to the debate, the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, my hon. Friend the Member for Tynemouth (Mr. Campbell), will touch on that issue and give some real facts and figures. I am aware that considerable resources are going to local forces from POCA, but it is an issue that we need to look at. From my perspective-and my constituency contains families who cause difficulties, as every constituency does-the Proceeds of Crime Act and the confiscation of assets has been a key determinant in people desisting from this behaviour, and visible punishment has an effect on the community at large.
We have also had two significant and successful campaigns-the Together and Respect programmes-that have raised the profile of the action that we are taking on antisocial behaviour, brought practitioners together and contributed more to tackling those problems. To return to the point that my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, North made-a point that I will refer to regularly-we have also introduced a range of early intervention initiatives aimed at preventing antisocial behaviour in the first place. Although not targeted solely against individuals who are involved in antisocial behaviour, schemes such as Sure Start and "Positive
activities for young people" are part of the positive community building to which this Labour Government have been committed, to tackle deprivation, give respect and ensure that individuals are supported through their lives.
David Lepper (Brighton, Pavilion) (Lab/Co-op): I apologise to my right hon. Friend for missing the first part of his speech, but I was serving on a Statutory Instrument Committee with the Under-Secretary, my hon. Friend the Member for Tynemouth (Mr. Campbell). My right hon. Friend talked about community activity. Does he recognise the important role that local action teams play at the neighbourhood level in bringing together local residents, their councillors, representatives of the council and the police to pinpoint where the problems are and to find solutions to deal with them?
Local action is vital. I mentioned earlier that the new drive initiated by my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary includes efforts to look at local action plans that not only have the police on board, important though they are, but the local council, as well as enjoying the support of local tenants and residents associations, the local councillor and, as the hon. Member for Orpington said, local housing providers and social landlords. They all have a role, not only in standing up and saying, "This is not acceptable," but in delivering plans that help to support the development of local activity in due course.
Jeremy Wright (Rugby and Kenilworth) (Con): May I ask the Minister to add something else to the list- schools? He is rightly focusing on dealing with young people and giving them the right messages about the consequences of their antisocial behaviour. However, must it not also be the case that bad behaviour must have consequences in schools and that young people should understand that clearly? Is it not important to look at exclusions and ensure that head teachers have the authority to exclude without appeals panels putting children straight back into schools, thereby undermining the head teacher's authority and teaching young people that they can get away with bad behaviour, which is why, I would suggest, the rates at which antisocial behaviour orders are broken are so high, as my hon. Friend the Member for Woking (Mr. Malins) mentioned?
Mr. Hanson: The hon. Gentleman invites me to stray into other areas of departmental policy. I accept-and I give him the assurance-that schools play a central role in instilling discipline. However, I would also want a framework that ensures that when children are excluded, for whatever reason, there is a proper plan for that, so that young people do not have greater problems outside school than the strong discipline in school would pose for them. However, I am sure that my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary will examine his comments on that issue and help him in his winding-up speech.
Siobhain McDonagh (Mitcham and Morden) (Lab):
In considering discipline in schools and the relationship between young people and the police, would my right hon. Friend not agree that the initiative to ensure that most schools, including certain high schools in London,
have their own dedicated police officer is important? Through his relationship with those young people, that police officer can often get intelligence on antisocial behaviour and crime being committed locally.
I also refer right hon. and hon. Members to the youth crime action plan, which was launched in 2008. The plan is a tripartite scheme, involving not just the Home Office, which is my current Department, but the Ministry of Justice, where I was previously the Minister with responsibility for prisons, probation and youth justice, and the Department for Children, Schools and Families, to look at making that link between schools, justice and activities for young people. That way we can ensure that we have not only tough enforcement and non-negotiable support where necessary, but a heavy focus on prevention.
I refer again to the significant investment made to date in family intervention projects, which also touches on the point that my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, North mentioned about ensuring that the multiple problems faced by the most chaotic families, such as drink, drugs, domestic violence and illiteracy-problems that cannot be separated from their communities and which must be dealt with as a whole-are dealt with through added investment. Colleagues will know that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister recently announced a major expansion of family intervention projects to ensure that we provide the means not only for enforcement but for deep work with chaotic and dysfunctional families.
Mr. Simon Burns (West Chelmsford) (Con): Does the Minister agree that however important rehabilitation is, and it is important, there should, where it is justified, also be an element of punishment? Does he share my amazement at the fact that an 18-year-old who pleaded guilty to an offence in Chelmsford court last week and who asked the court to take into account 645 other offences, which involved stealing more than £1 million-worth of goods, simply got 150 hours of community service and was rehoused with his partner, moving from the town where he lives to Chelmsford?
Mr. Hanson: You will excuse me, Mr. Deputy Speaker, if I cannot comment on an individual case that I know nothing about. I accept what the hon. Gentleman has said, but a punishment based in the community can sometimes be more effective than a short prison sentence. My experience-I know that the hon. Member for Woking (Mr. Malins) shares this view-is that short prison sentences can often be much more damaging in the longer term and lead to much more crime in the longer term than a properly targeted, focused community-based sentence. I cannot comment on the individual case, because I do not know it, but, self-evidently, somebody who goes to prison for 12 weeks might lose any job or home that they have, might not get off the drugs or alcohol that are leading them into particular problems and will, ultimately, not benefit from their time in prison. However, a strong community-based sentence that provides support in the community to tackle issues with drugs or alcohol and which gives people the opportunity to work or live locally can be effective in the longer term in reducing crime.
As a whole, the Government's approach has been successful. Hon. Members would expect me to say that, but it is not just me saying that: three independent reports have told us that that is the case. The National Audit Office report found that two thirds of perpetrators stopped behaving antisocially after one intervention and that nine out of 10 ceased after three interventions. The British crime survey has shown that the negative perception of these issues is falling. If we look at the broader picture in our communities, we see that people are safer than they were 12 years ago, difficult though some of the challenges are. The chances of being a victim of crime are historically low and crime has fallen by 39 per cent. since May 1997. The recent data also show that, on tackling antisocial behaviour issues, confidence in our police has risen in the past year alone, from 45 per cent. in March 2008 to 50 per cent.
The neighbourhood policing role-this goes back to the point mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Mitcham and Morden (Siobhain McDonagh)-means that we now have 16,000 community support officers, who were an invention of this Government. They not only support police on the ground, but help, particularly in local communities, to deliver a visible response and an embedded police presence in the neighbourhoods that need it most. Indeed, I have been out with local community support officers and I have looked at these issues in detail to see where we are on improving standards. We have provided some of the tools and powers that people want, but as I have said in the debate, there is more that we need to do. We have funded an action line, a website and help and support to practitioners to deal with the issues that I have mentioned.
I want to make a final mention of the youth crime action plan-a particularly important piece of work that is ongoing for the community at large. On enforcement and prevention, the youth crime action plan has been backed by £100 million of additional funding, which has been put into selected areas across the country, where offending rates are highest. That has supported a range of activity across the board to help reduce antisocial behaviour.
On Friday night last week-the night before Halloween -I visited the city of Liverpool, which is the city of my birth, to look at a particular operation in the Clubmoor and Norris Green area, which provides real help and support through interventions to provide Friday and Saturday night activities for young people. On Friday, through the youth crime action plan, the police supported the hiring of a cinema where they showed a film free of charge. Individuals were attracted into the cinema, rather than being on the streets causing mischief. We had an extra policing presence on the streets of Liverpool last Friday night. We had social workers and youth workers from across the city working together to look at vulnerable individuals who might have been drunk or involved in drug-related or other activity. Those youth crime action plan activities are funded by Government money that is being invested on behalf of the taxpayer to prevent crime. Such resources need to continue to be provided, and they will form part of the activities in our campaign to show that public investment is often good investment that makes a real difference on the ground in communities, as I saw on Friday night in Liverpool.
Mrs. Madeleine Moon (Bridgend) (Lab):
I, too, was out on Friday night. I hope that my hon. Friend did not have the torrential rain and bitter cold that we had in
North Cornelly, where I spent the evening with my street pastor scheme. The street pastors are well known for the work that they have done with people who are drinking in town centres, but this is a new scheme that has been set up to work with young people. I was amazed at how many young people we found sitting around the streets and on walls, despite the cold and the torrential rain, with nothing to do. The street pastors invited them into the church to get them involved in cooking, football teams and all sorts of things. That sort of community engagement is vital for showing young people that the community cares.
Mr. Hanson: Absolutely. I am not just talking about the scheme that I saw in Liverpool on Friday night, in which the cinema was opened as part of the plan to bring young people in. I have visited numerous schemes across the country in which police community support officers and local police officers are undertaking activities such as late-night football and youth club activities to try to divert young people in off the streets and get them involved in positive activities. That is all very positive and should be encouraged through the plan.
Alistair Burt (North-East Bedfordshire) (Con): Before the Minister leaves that subject-to which I am sure others will refer later-may I point out that, if we are going to get youngsters actively engaged in voluntary activities such as those, we have to allow the adults the opportunity to work with them? The pressures of extra regulation are making it more difficult for adults to get involved in this way; they feel that it is getting harder to take part in such activities because they are constantly being checked up on. There is a relationship between the two. Will the Minister say something about that before he sits down?
Mr. Hanson: It is extremely important that we have standards in place to ensure that we do not involve individuals who could put young people at risk. The Government's response to this question is the direct result of the Bichard report, following the Soham inquiry, and the Magee review. These dealt with the implications of people working with young children. The Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families has asked for a review of this matter, and we are looking at how we can get the balance right. It is important to do that, so that individuals can help and support young people while we ensure, as far as we can, that we eliminate the risk of other activity.
Mr. Brooks Newmark (Braintree) (Con): I agree with the point made by the hon. Member for Bridgend (Mrs. Moon). The street pastors in Braintree do an excellent job, but one of the messages that I am hearing, particularly on the estates, relates to the loss of community centres as our towns continue to be developed. There is nowhere for young people to go. More importantly, at the side of every estate, we see signs that say "No balls allowed" or "No kicking balls". Space must be made available so that young people have somewhere to go, outside and inside.
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