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9.10 pm

Mr. Dai Davies (Blaenau Gwent) (Ind): I start by saying how much I admire the work of the police. It is an unenviable job, and to follow on from what my hon. Friend the Member for Wyre Forest (Dr. Taylor) said, the police have expressed frustration to me about their inability to get charges through the Crown Prosecution Service and into court.

Although we have spoken a lot about the young people of this country, it is not just people under 18 who cause antisocial behaviour. It is often families and people in their 30s, 40s and 50s, so it is not right to demonise young people. In fact, I had the honour of attending a meeting of the all-party group on youth affairs last week, chaired by the hon. Member for North-East Derbyshire (Natascha Engel). Some 50 young people were there who took an interest in their community, in law and in government. I urge Ministers to speak to those young people and listen to them, because they want to put things right as well.

I have lived in the same street in my constituency all my life, and it has saddened me to see the change over the past 20 or 25 years. The community has disintegrated in some parts of my constituency. Areas such as mine relied on traditional industry, and we are now seeing the second and third generation of people unemployed. That has led to a loss of identity and belonging. Children have nothing to belong to, and they do not want to address anything in their area any more. They are disengaged from all aspects of life.

We have heard about the tragic death of Fiona Pilkington and her daughter, and we could all cite cases of exactly the same problem. There are two ladies living alone in a council property in my constituency who have had their windows smashed four times in the past six months.
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Often in such cases, the same thing happens as in the case of Fiona Pilkington: the crime is reported, but because it is at the same address as a previous crime it tends to get low priority. I have tried and tried to get those two ladies registered as vulnerable adults, because they are in trouble all the time, but the council will not recognise that.

The Minister said that the problem of perceived crime was reducing, but I only hope that real crime is not going up. In my constituency, the police have told me that because of the recession the increase is more than 10 per cent. I have said before in the House that we have taken police away from our communities. We have empty police stations across our boroughs. I have said many times that we should go back to having police houses on estates. It was said earlier that the police need to live with the problem, but they used to do that. They were there on estates and on hand to respond to problems.

I have asked many times for family intervention. When troubled parents have two, three or four children, the chances are that the children will not be angels. Unless we deal with the problem on a one-to-one basis, it will not be solved. The Minister mentioned the family intervention project. Will he clarify who pays for it, and who controls it, and when he will consider rolling it out in other areas?

The problem of education has been mentioned. I have said many times that children are now having children, and the grandparent role has disappeared in some families because people aged 30 do not see themselves as grandparents. The wider family is starting to dissolve.

One project that has been introduced in our area is the PACT meeting-partners and community together-which is a wonderful concept using the multi-agency approach that we have heard about tonight. The problem is that when issues are raised at PACT meetings time and time again and nothing is done, it drives away people in the community. They think, "What is the point? Why should I attend? Nothing is ever done."

As my hon. Friend the Member for Wyre Forest said, people are becoming afraid to come forward and confront those who are causing problems. We have heard tonight about the 3,000 or so laws that have been introduced over the past 10 to 12 years. My hon. Friend and I were present when the "Anti-Social Behaviour Enforcement and Support Tools" document was published. The sad thing is that although we support the document, we have yet to see it really put into force. The last thing we need is more laws that will not be enforced.

I was very concerned to hear in the news recently about the proposal-although it has been put to one side-for police to carry guns. We are moving towards an American system, and that is something to which I object. My worry is that we are also looking at vigilantism. If we are not to deal with the situation in a law-abiding way, in some areas-I have seen such things on estates in my constituency-we could move towards vigilantism and people taking the law into their own hands.

I have urged police in my constituency to walk the streets in plain clothes. Very often, they turn up like the cavalry, with the horns blowing and flashing lights, so by the time they arrive, the perpetrators have gone-the police have driven them away. That is wonderful for that street at that time, but the police have just moved the perpetrators elsewhere. CCTV cameras have the same
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effect. They are a wonderful concept, but they tend to move the problem from one street to another, not to solve it.

The police look at statistics-the Minister for Policing, Crime and Counter-Terrorism mentioned that the number of targets and statistics is being reduced-but my worry is that they book smaller crimes, such as parking offences, and the community is given those statistics on what the police have done. In many cases, the police do not investigate car damage. I have urged my constituents at the very least to ask for a log number whenever they phone the police, because if their call is listed as "no crime", at least there will be a log of the call to the police station.

There is huge concern about the loss of funding. We have heard about the multi-agency approach, but the budgets of borough councils are being squeezed every year. I am afraid that the number of youth workers will decrease and that community centres will be closed. I am also concerned about short-term funding. We put something in place for six or 12 months, but if it works, it should be there for ever. We are worried that the voluntary sector is being squeezed and losing funds. We have heard about wardens on the streets and community pastors-there are lots of initiatives, but it is no good having an initiative for a week or a fortnight. If it works, it should be funded for ever.

One debate last week was on the Territorial Army. I wonder whether there is an opportunity for the young people who are causing problems to be part of the TA, the Air Training Corps or the Scouts. Can we develop a programme that will get those youngsters involved in community work? I know there are lots of problems with health and safety these days, but there are so many things that need doing in our constituencies, and I am sure there is a will and a way to do them.

I look forward to the day when people from both sides of the House can sit around the table together-we have heard good ideas and wonderful things from people of all parties and, I hope, from independents. I wonder whether we could one day get together and put those things down on paper and introduce them.

9.18 pm

Mr. Shailesh Vara (North-West Cambridgeshire) (Con): The House will be aware that in the year 2007-08, 3.9 million instances of antisocial behaviour were recorded in England and Wales, but we also know that that is a gross underestimation of the actual number, because many people simply will not report instances because they fear reprisals. In fact, it was estimated that last year, more than 30 million instances of antisocial behaviour took place in England and Wales. The Government have pledged to be

but I think we are all agreed that that phrase has a hollow element to it right now.

It is not just the Opposition who are critical; I would like to refer to an article in The Daily Telegraph last month by the right hon. Member for Birkenhead (Mr. Field), who wrote:

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Crucially, he added:

While the Government sleepwalk, tens of thousands of our fellow citizens are daily subjected to utter and absolute misery, many of whom are the most vulnerable and poorest in society. There is no point Ministers shaking their heads in disapproval: the facts speak for themselves, as do our post bags-

Mr. Hanson: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Vara: I will not give way, because the Minister will have plenty of time in the winding-up speech.

The Government have had a plethora of initiatives, with a mixture of results. ASBOs have had limited success and, instead of being a deterrent, they are often seen as a badge of honour. As for penalty notices for disorder, I issued freedom of information notices to every police force, and the results were disturbing. There were instances of penalty notices being served on individuals who had not yet paid the previous penalty or penalties. One individual received nine PNDs over a five-year period, eight in one year alone. One would have thought that there would come a point when people would stop issuing PNDs and take some serious action.

One of the things that we must do most urgently is stop the police suffocating under bureaucracy. People do not join the police force so that they can become clerks in offices and sit behind desks. They join the police force so that they can be out on the streets, fighting crime. That message has not been taken on board in the past 12 and a half years.

Antisocial behaviour is a stepping stone to more serious crime. If a young thug believes that today he can terrorise his neighbours, there is no reason to believe that tomorrow he will not walk into a shop, assault the shopkeeper and take the day's earnings. It costs £60,000 a year to keep an individual in a young offender institution, and it costs £41,000 a year to keep a prisoner in prison. We are all clear that for every pound that is spent on a youth offender institution or a prison, it is a pound less for our pensioners, our armed forces, hospitals, schools and so on. So it is vital that we try to deal with the root causes-as hon. Members have mentioned.

Early intervention has been mentioned. Many social issues need to be considered, but time does not allow me to go into them in great detail. They include family breakdown; drink and drug abuse, both by parents and the offending children; lack of stable family units; lack of parental supervision; and lack of discipline, both at home and in schools. There is also a distinct lack of role models. The only role model that some individuals have is a father-in some cases, a mother-in prison or, if not in prison, engaging in activities that will lead to imprisonment. Crime is seen as a family occupation, often followed by the next generation. Being picked up by the police, fined or locked up in prison is simply seen as an occupational hazard.

Of course, many of the solutions have been covered-the work of councils, other agencies and so on-but I want to mention two particular instances in my constituency,
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both from the voluntary sector. One concerns a highly respected local individual by the name of George Martin. Mr. Martin and a group of well-meaning people raised funds and bought a centre in the village of Stilton in my constituency. They run that centre on a voluntary basis and it is a great success-as I know, because I have visited and spoken to the children and young people who use the facilities.

Another successful venture is in the village of Somersham, where I have visited a refurbished and improved play and sports area for young people. I went there with a dedicated councillor by the name of Steve Criswell. It is a partnership between local business and the district and parish councils, and is also a success story for a local initiative.

There is one other measure that I would like to commend to the House: the national citizen service, which has been put forward by the Leader of the Opposition, my right hon. Friend the Member for Witney (Mr. Cameron). It comprises a six-week course for all 16-year-olds to have a life-changing experience-an opportunity to mix with others away from home; an opportunity to test their limitations and challenge their prejudices; an opportunity for personal growth and service to others. The national citizen service will help to prepare young people to become better citizens, so that they can learn to be responsible and have respect for themselves and others.

In conclusion, after more than 12 years, six Home Secretaries and countless pieces of legislation and initiatives, there is still so much more to do. This Government came into power on a promise of toughness, but they have shown themselves to be desperately weak. I am only sorry that along the way so many people have suffered, and that they continue to do so.

9.25 pm

Angela Watkinson (Upminster) (Con): We have heard from numerous speakers this evening that a wide range of strategies are in place to try to deal with antisocial behaviour. However, they are only as good as the sanctions that apply when they are breached, which happens all too frequently-unsurprisingly, because they are issued to people who are non-conforming and have no natural empathy with others.

The initiative that interests me most is the child safety order, which allows compulsory intervention when a child under 10 engages in antisocial behaviour. To most right-minded people, the thought of a child under 10 out in public unsupervised and getting into trouble fills us with horror. A child safety order allows compulsory intervention and, if breached, can lead to a parenting contract, which is issued on a voluntary basis, but which, if breached, can lead to a parenting order. I hope that when the Minister sums up, he might elucidate what happens when a parenting order is breached. What happens then to the child who required the child safety order in the first place?

We have also heard about the wholesale breaching of ASBOs. Breaching an ASBO is punishable by a fine or up to five years in prison. I am not sure how often the continuous breaching of an ASBO leads to a custodial sentence, but when it does, it is important that the person concerned leaves prison a better person than when they went in. One way to achieve that is by
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improving education and training courses in prison. However, one of the greatest impediments to that is that someone serving a custodial sentence who has to make a court appearance will thereby lose their place in the prison where they are serving their sentence. When they leave court, they are transferred to another prison, which means that any education or training that they might have been undertaking is lost, and they have to start all over again.

To somebody who might not have a good educational grounding before they go into prison, that is extremely discouraging. I hope that it might be possible to do something about that, so that people in prison can at least complete the education and training courses that they take. Even more needs to be done with employers, particularly large organisations, so that people who have completed custodial sentences are given a chance of employment, so that they can become productive members of society.

All the strategies that are in place need serious review, to see which are working and which are not, and how well they are working or otherwise. Barnardo's has had some interesting ideas about both education programmes for children and parents outside prison, and a range of specialist services, including remand fostering, which all need to be considered together in addressing how best to combat antisocial behaviour.

There is great perplexity among people in my constituency who have been victims of antisocial behaviour. We have big problems on our buses. At one stage, two routes had to be withdrawn because the antisocial behaviour was so bad, with passengers and drivers being abused and bricks being thrown through the windows, but that has now been overcome. The routes had to be withdrawn for a period, so all the people who wanted to use them were disadvantaged because of the bad behaviour of a small number of people. I should pay tribute to Havering PCSOs, who are now doing an extremely good job of riding on the buses and giving confidence to elderly passengers in particular. Happily, for the time being at least, the bad behaviour on the buses seems to have been overcome.

Two elderly ladies who were living on either side of a problem family have contacted me this week. There was a litany of antisocial behaviour over a very long period, culminating in the family's house being burned down and one of the adult members of the family ending up in prison. These elderly ladies now find that after the house is refurbished, one of the younger generation of the family will be allowed to assume the tenancy. They are extremely nervous that continued antisocial behaviour will lead to their having to start keeping diaries all over again. They cannot understand why a family who behaved so badly have been able to resume their tenancy in a new house that has been paid for by the taxpayer, with no guarantee of any peace of mind for their neighbours.

I want to see more police powers and more flexible police powers, so that when young people cause trouble, particularly at night out in public, the police can return them not to their homes, as they do at the moment-to the great surprise of some parents, who cannot understand why their young children have been returned home-but to the police station, so that the parents will have to come and collect them. No doubt that will be of great inconvenience to some parents, who have no idea where their children are-and who care even less-because
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they do not supervise them. That will at least give the police an opportunity to discuss the children's behaviour with the parents in an attempt to modify that behaviour. There is also the opportunity for curfew orders and the confiscation of mobile phones. There is a whole flexible range of additional powers for the police to use to try to overcome this scourge in our neighbourhoods.

For the few minutes that remain, I want to concentrate on what we would colloquially term families from hell-those in which every member behaves in a socially unacceptable way and makes it impossible for anyone living in the vicinity to enjoy their lives, because of aggressive, intimidating and threatening behaviour. Such families often damage their own and other properties and they are unable to live in harmony with others, treating everybody else as a potential enemy. Of course, the children learn this behaviour from the adults around them.

Strangely, these problem families are in their own comfort zone because everyone else around is scared of them. They are in control of their area and they can make other people's lives a misery without hindrance. The younger members, in particular, often belong to a gang and run around at night causing mayhem. However, having to move somewhere strange where they are not known by others-this is particularly true of the teenagers, who may suddenly be separated from their gang-is the last thing that such people want. Without the local reputation that they have built up, they might become the victim of the sort of intimidation that they have enjoyed meting out to others.

Although the situation is much more difficult in private property, the threat of eviction from public property much sooner in the proceedings-such proceedings can often take as long as a couple of years-could have a much more salutary effect than issuing ASBOs, which are often treated as a badge of honour and breached again and again with impunity. People should know that their antisocial behaviour could affect the security of their tenancy, in the same way that points affect a driving licence. Their victims might be encouraged to come forward with evidence if they thought that that would be effective, and that would enable the local authority and the police to build up sufficient evidence to take matters to court.

In short, several improvements could be attempted to address this problem: strengthening tenancy agreements by accumulating sanctions, with earlier eviction as a tool for moderating behaviour; better education and training in prisons, so that people who serve a custodial sentence have an opportunity to be productive and to find employment when they come out; more discretion for police officers and more flexible working hours for PCSOs; and clear consequences for troublemakers to deter them from going on to commit more serious crimes. The decent, law-abiding majority should be protected, and these simple measures could help to act as a deterrent to those who blight our neighbourhoods with antisocial behaviour.

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