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28 Oct 2002 : Column 527—continued

Antisocial Behaviour

3. Mr. Chris Pond (Gravesham): What further measures he proposes to deal with antisocial behaviour. [75311]

4. Mr. John Randall (Uxbridge): What his policy is to reduce antisocial behaviour in suburban areas; and if he will make a statement. [75312]

12. Helen Jones (Warrington, North): If he will make a statement on the impact of the Government's policies for tackling antisocial behaviour. [75323]

The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. David Blunkett): I do not think that there is a Member of the House who does not feel the scourge of antisocial behaviour. Uncontrolled antisocial behaviour is the breeding ground for more dangerous and long-term criminality. The new slimmed-down antisocial behaviour orders, action against vehicles on and off the road, the new community support officers, the street wardens scheme, and now the consultation that has been undertaken by the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister will help us to put in place support mechanisms for those at local level, whether in the inner city, the suburbs or rural areas, who are, first, tackling the problem and, secondly, helping those who are at the receiving end of it.

Mr. Pond: My constituents will be pleased to hear that response from the Secretary of State. He will be aware that the headline figures on crime in north Kent have come down substantially in the past five years—by about 30 per cent.—but the fear of crime persists, because of the loutish and antisocial behaviour of a few people in my constituency, as elsewhere in the country, who blight the lives of the many. What further measures does my right hon. Friend propose to help councils such as mine to push through antisocial behaviour orders, and has he any further plans for the use of parenting orders and final warnings to try and stem the problem of youth offending?

Mr. Blunkett: There is a combination of the strengthening of the powers, the slimming down of the bureaucracy, and the imperative at local level for the crime reduction partnerships. Over 90 co-ordinators now exist at local level to act at local level. We have to deal with the dichotomy between people wanting the Home Office to intervene and do things from the centre, and at the same time wanting to stop the Home Office intervening and doing things from the centre. I appeal to local authorities to pick up the new powers, whether through antisocial behaviour orders or parenting orders, and to co-operate with the police and the community to make them work. So often, the reluctance to use them stems from a fear that they will be overturned. The new powers allow the slimmed-down initial orders to be issued before the hearing, and send a clear message that we will no longer put up with antisocial behaviour.

Mr. Randall : The Home Secretary is right to describe antisocial behaviour as a scourge on all our constituents. I welcome many of the measures that the Government

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have tried to put in place, some of which have been more successful than others. However, we must all try to deal with the problem. Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that it would help a great deal to have more visible local policing? Will he join with me in urging the Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis to reopen West Drayton police station?

Mr. Blunkett: I would certainly encourage the Commissioner to use his operational accountability to ensure that there is accessibility for local people and that, above all, response times are improved. That is why the initiative taken by my right hon. Friend the Minister of State on the non-999 number will be important. Response times to antisocial behaviour are commensurate with the commitment to reassure and support people rather than to ignore their calls, and to ensure that community support officers and street wardens can play their part. By joining together at local level—I understand that that is happening in Hillingdon by tackling graffiti and other abuse in the environment—an atmosphere can be created in which people believe that they can play a part in improving their community. They can be a strong community that can tackle antisocial behaviour.

Helen Jones: Progress is undoubtedly being made but there are still parts of my constituency where a small minority cause mayhem for those around them. Will my right hon. Friend take more steps to encourage local councils to make better use of the powers that they already have? Will he discuss with my right hon. Friend the Deputy Prime Minister ways of enabling councils to take swifter action against antisocial tenants, to ensure that the system protects the vast majority who pay their rent and do not cause trouble, rather than the small minority who make life hell for the people living round them?

Mr. Blunkett: We are doing well this afternoon because we all agree on that. The review that the office of my right hon. Friend the Deputy Prime Minister has been undertaking will be a crucial further strand in the extension of work in the Home Office in tackling the problem. People are sick and tired of cheap housing being bought up and of public funding going into tenancies, with no control, no proper contractual arrangements and no responsibility on the part of landlords. If we could combine the action that we are taking with a massive clampdown on what is a complete scam, we would all be much better off at local level.

Lady Hermon (North Down): As antisocial behaviour orders have still not been introduced in Northern Ireland, will the Home Secretary kindly initiate discussions at the earliest opportunity with the newly enhanced team at the Northern Ireland Office to ensure that the orders are extended to Northern Ireland?

Mr. Blunkett: I am sure that my right hon. Friend the newly-appointed Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, with his experiences across the board, including Wales, will be keen to do so. I will take the opportunity, as quickly as possible, to do what the hon. Lady asks.

Mr. Chris Mullin (Sunderland, South): My right hon. Friend will be aware that a great deal of antisocial

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behaviour is generated by out-of-control youths with air weapons. What plans does he have to address the problem? Does he have any plans to raise the age limit at which youths can handle these weapons? We have to take our chances where we can.

Mr. Blunkett: Very neat. I know that the issue is close to my hon. Friend's heart. I stress that my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State will be bringing forward quickly a series of measures that will proportionately address the matter. It is becoming a scourge and people are genuinely frightened. The nature of the weapons has changed to the point where we need a rapid review.

Mr. Nick Hawkins (Surrey Heath): The Home Secretary will be aware that Opposition Members were pleased when he listened to the concerns expressed by Government Back Benchers, such as the hon. Member for Gedling (Vernon Coaker), and by my right hon. and hon. Friends that the original antisocial behaviour orders were far too bureaucratic.

The right hon. Gentleman will be aware also that there is still a problem in that not enough antisocial behaviour orders are being made. Although we welcome the backing that has been given to the orders by acceptable behaviour contracts, does he feel that enough of those are being used? Does he agree with his hon. Friend, who said to me shortly before the summer recess that the Government had in mind to consider whether police forces were to be allowed to name those who were the subject of antisocial behaviour orders? Many police forces, including Surrey, have been greatly concerned that the courts have not been able to name those at whom the orders are targeted.

Mr. Blunkett: As far as I am aware, the courts are under no restriction in terms of naming those who come before them, although I am certainly prepared to check out the matter. In the spirit of this afternoon, I agree that we have not got in place sufficient behaviour contracts or antisocial behaviour orders. I think that slightly more than 650 antisocial behaviour orders have so far been issued, but we will issue new guidance and support in November to back up the change in the law. I am always amenable to pressure, especially when it is in the direction in which I was already going.

Mr. Gerald Kaufman (Manchester, Gorton): Is my right hon. Friend aware that constituents of mine were both relieved and appreciative when an antisocial behaviour order was imposed on 14-year-old Lorraine Ogden, whose name was circulated by the police in a leaflet? However, she breached the order six times, was arrested by the police and charged six times and, after five months, was subjected to a supervision order, a curfew order and a parenting order served on her mother. Does he agree that although the orders are an excellent institution that was introduced by this Government, to allow people who have been placed under the orders to defy them and to waste the time of police and the courts is to undermine their purpose? Will he consider what action he can take to stop that happening?

Mr. Blunkett: My right hon. Friend demonstrates the very worst tip of an iceberg in terms of constant

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reoffending leading to action that is too weak and failure to reinforce the agreed penalties. With my right hon. Friends the Lord Chancellor and the Attorney-General, I am doing everything possible to get the sensitive, proportionate message across. It is important that magistrates, as well as district judges, who sometimes overturn the decisions of magistrates on enforcement, understand the damage that they can do to the signals that need to be sent out to young people in particular saying that they can no longer make a monkey of the police and the judicial system. That will be one of the tasks of the new criminal justice legislation that will be introduced following the Queen's Speech.

Mrs. Annette L. Brooke (Mid-Dorset and North Poole): Is the Home Secretary aware that, in parts of my constituency, there will be cuts in youth programmes for 11 and 12-year-olds, even with Connexions and the children's fund? What will he do to ensure joined-up thinking in this very important area of tackling antisocial behaviour?

Mr. Blunkett: I sincerely hope that that will not happen and that the local council and the Connexions service can respond with the Youth Justice Board. The board announced only last week that, with resources allocated by the Home Office, we will be developing for eight to 13-year-olds youth inclusion panels and programmes to link up with the work done over the summer, including the Splash programmes and the very imaginative work done in excellence in cities areas, and carry it forward throughout the year. Instead of carrying out youth policies appropriate to the 1950s, we are now adapting our policies to the 21st century.

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