Select Committee on Home Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 1-19)




  1. Good morning, ladies and gentlemen, and welcome back, Minister. I do not think we have ever had a minister here twice within four or five days before. We all understand that you have been landed in it by the resignation of your colleague and I have asked the Committee to go easy on you! Whether they will take that request on board remains to be seen. I am sure they will. Ms Casey, welcome. Would you like to introduce yourself.

  (Ms Casey) I am Louise Casey and I am the new National Director for Anti-Social Behaviour based in the Home Office.

  2. How long have you been in post?
  (Ms Casey) This is my tenth/eleventh week.

  3. Have you been there since the inception of this Bill?
  (Ms Casey) I knew I was going to do the job from the Queen's Speech onwards and I started full time some time in January. So, yes, I have been in charge of the White Paper and the Bill since then.

  4. And before that you were dealing with homelessness, I believe.
  (Ms Casey) I have been dealing with homelessness for the Government for the last three-and-a-half years.

  5. Then if I may begin with some general questions. Minister, how would you distinguish between anti-social behaviour and criminal behaviour?
  (Mr Ainsworth) Chairman, may I begin by thanking you for the introduction. I was enormously pleased when I took responsibility for this Bill at the back end of last week to learn that I was appearing in front of you at the start of this week! I do feel somewhat ill-prepared for the Committee by comparison with that which you would expect. If my honourable friend the Member for Southampton Itchen was here, the father of many of these proposals, he would be able to give you a far deeper understanding of the Bill and I am sure that will be to your loss as well as mine. Anti-social behaviour often runs into criminality at the bottom end. The definition is where people are behaving in such a way as to create fear among people living in their neighbourhoods. I think what we mean by anti-social behaviour is well understood. I am not sure that I could give you a script with defined—

  6. Why is there the urge to tackle this problem now?
  (Mr Ainsworth) I do not think there is an urge to tackle the problem now, I think there is a degree of frustration that has built up over a period of time, not by the Government but by all of us in this House who represent our local communities. We have seen over a period of time now measures to tackle criminality being introduced, categories of crime falling and some categories of crime falling very substantially, but we do not see a comparative improvement in the feeling that there is in our communities of safety and a feeling of assurance in our communities and I think we all know from dealings with our constituents that it is low level criminality, it is anti-social behaviour, it is graffiti, slovenliness and all of those other problems that are undermining the confidence of our communities and hence there is a frustration to get on and to start to seek to tackle those root causes. Often, if you allow them to fester, then they lead to criminality almost inevitably. These are not going to be easy issues to drive back. There are attitudes that have become fairly ingrained within our society over a generation or so. Are we prepared to allow them to continue or are we determined to bring in measures that are going to do something about it? We stand on the latter; we are determined to start to tackle these issues.

  7. Several of the organisations we have consulted have complained about the lack of consultation in relation to this Bill and the speed at which it is being brought in and the short period between the publication of the White Paper and the Bill. Why the rush?
  (Mr Ainsworth) Not all of the measures in the White Paper are being rushed. Some of them were already flagged and are included in other measures that were already going through the House. Some of the measures have been lifted out and put into an anti-social behaviour Bill and will be brought in front of the House in fairly short order. I am sorry that we have not been able to consult widely. We will try to listen to people as extensively as we can as the Bill passes through the House and to take on board comments that are made. I do not think that consultation is going to bring us to agreement with all of the groups who are making representations on this. We do have some issues where we have quite distinct opposition to policies we are proposing. We will obviously continue to listen and seek to refine those measures, but there is a need for action and I do not think that it can just be left on the table to fester and to continue.
  (Ms Casey) The other thing to bear in mind is that with my three-and-a-half years working for the Civil Service running homelessness and being in and amongst housing departments a great deal, a lot of the ideas contained within the White Paper have actually come out of local authority housing departments who feel that we need to act a lot faster on pushing some of these measures through in order that they actually have the tools that they need to do the job. In the last 10 weeks, I have spent two days a week outside London predominantly in local authority areas meeting both residents and members of the public but also practitioners and a great deal of what is contained within the White Paper and a lot of the measures that are contained within our Bill are actually quite practical workmanlike measures in order to try and get things pushing forward, things like trying to tackle the private rented sector and landlord abuse of that, things like trying to bring together some of the good stuff that has happened on anti-social behaviour orders and consolidate that as well as more general things on noise which plagues people and people become frustrated when they do not have everything that they need. It is really quite a workmanlike approach to the Bill and also the White Paper and I myself, having come from the voluntary sector before coming into government, feel very strongly that it is important that whatever we do is actually based on the reality of what is happening outside and that we are going to be entirely dependent, particularly the unit in the Home Office, in delivering all of this and we will be dependent very much on the police and also on local authority people and community groups to help us push this agenda forward and therefore the White Paper and the Bill reflect a great deal of what their views and opinions were during that process. I can literally pick out parts in here and think that so-and-so had said that over and over and over for the last year or so and it is now in here, it is done, we are going to be get it through Parliament, they will be able to use that tool and we will crack on with the job.
  (Mr Ainsworth) Let me take a specific point to illustrate. The measures on crack houses. The actual measures we are proposing are relatively new on the scene, but the issue has been kicked around for a very long time. We have consulted on alternatives. We have tried desperately to give the police the power they need to close crack houses and to close them in short order. The issue is not new; the issue has been around for too long in many ways and we do need to move on.

  8. It is fair to say that many of the housing proposals are not going to be in the Bill that is published later this week, they are going to be in a Housing Bill published when?
  (Ms Casey) I think that is due in the course of the summer.

  9. During "the course of the summer" sounds a little dodgy to me!
  (Ms Casey) I will check the detail.

  10. I think we shall want to give this Bill a little pre-legislative scrutiny and we would therefore hope it turns up when the House is sitting.
  (Ms Casey) I am sorry, Chairman, I have just been told that it is being consulted on shortly and will be in the House in September. The anti-social behaviour social tenants are contained within the anti-social behaviour White Paper and the Bill. The measures to tackle the private rented sector, selective licensing and more wide licensing, is going to be in the Housing Bill because they are complicated and we need slightly more time, so they are in the White Paper.

  11. It may not be a job for this Committee, it may for some other Committee, but I am sure that Parliament will want to have an opportunity to scrutinise this Bill in advance and they will not have the opportunity to do so if it just turns up as this one did.
  (Mr Ainsworth) I saw your eyes light up, Chairman, and the point you made about your desire to give pre-legislative scrutiny is well made and we will check it out and come back to you.

  12. I hope you will send word. Some of the critics of this Bill have argued that the thrust of Government policy is to stigmatise young people. How do you respond to that?
  (Mr Ainsworth) I do not believe that is so. We obviously do not want to stigmatise young people, but there are problems with the behaviour of certain young people and with what happens within certain families. It is other young people who suffer from that kind of behaviour and it is other families who wind up suffering from that behaviour. We need to tackle those issues. People cannot just say that because we need to tackle issues that are at the root of some of the problems that exist in many of our neighbourhoods, we are seeking to stigmatise a whole class of people. We are certainly not seeking to do that. How can young people grow up within an environment where norms are being set and expectations are being given to them that are totally outwith what we would want to see within our society? Unless we are prepared to clamp down on the bad behaviour, then we should not be at all surprised if that bad behaviour begins to spread to other sections of young people. Setting standards is not an attack on young people in my opinion.

  13. You are effectively calling for a cultural change, are you not? You are calling for communities to become more willing to take a stand against anti-social behaviour.
  (Mr Ainsworth) I hope this is the start of precisely that. I do not think that the measures in this White Paper taken alone or the measures in the Bill taken alone are going to achieve what we need to do. We have seen some trends in society, as I have said, over a long period of time where we can just sit back and accept that they are the inevitable consequences of the modern structure of our society and say, "Well, there is nothing we can do." However, it is not the role of Government to do that. It is the role of Government to start to try to turn back some of those trends and to make some differences in the behaviour that has become so ingrained in some areas and which is causing such problems.

  14. I am sure you will agree that such changes cannot be achieved by legislation alone. How can people as a whole be encouraged to play the sort of role you envisage in challenging anti-social behaviour?
  (Ms Casey) The first thing is just by the very fact that we have published a White Paper and we are doing a Bill and putting some urgency into that has actually been welcomed certainly by the places I have been to in the last few weeks. We think that the Government are putting this subject squarely on the map for the voiceless victims, which is what the people who suffer-anti-social behaviour are. They feel that they do not have a voice and that no one is supporting them though they sometimes feel that the local authority housing department or a certain police officer will step in and help. What we will do on the back of the Bill and the White Paper is literally roll forward a programme to encourage people and to say that we are on their side and that we do not expect people to sit in silence any longer having fireworks put through their front door letterbox or having noise played night after night or being racially intimidated day in and day out, and that there are things which we need to get right everywhere. In some places, there are people who can tackle that very well now and, in other places, they are not tackling very well and my job working for ministers and working for the taxpayer is to actually shift a gear up and say, "We are going to do something about this and we can do something about it." On the youth issue, I feel very strongly, having at one time been a volunteer for Centrepoint, that young people are the victims of crime, if you look at the statistics, as much as the perpetrators. In fact, you are more likely, if you are a young man, to be beaten up than you are to beat up somebody else and I think it is really important that the White Paper and what we are doing on anti-social behaviour is about standing up for their rights as young people to live in a society where they are free of being intimidated and bullied and that we are on their side in all of this. What this does is back up the phenomenal, in my view, work that people like Sure Start and also the Youth Justice Board with the whole raft of money that is going into Splash Schemes and all sorts of things, the Children's Green Paper, and all that sort of stuff. We are there to support young people but, as Bob says, there is a line and, at the moment, we do not think that the line is defined clearly enough within the community where people know that, if they step over it, there are going to be consequences and we will support and support and support people up to the hilt in order to try and get families in communities back on track but if young people or their parents or anybody steps over that line, they need to know that the community is going to be supported in taking action against them.

Bob Russell

  15. Minister, would you agree that one of the problems is lack of pride in the community where many of these young people live? Do you think there is a role there for the voluntary sector and the voluntary youth movements in particular? If there is, do you think it would be money well spent if there were financial incentives given to the voluntary youth movements to set up shop in such areas?
  (Mr Ainsworth) There is no doubt that there is a lack of pride, and there is a lack of respect and a lack of respect for people's neighbours and the communities within which people live for collective provision. People do not respect public property to anything like the degree we would want them to do and the costs of that are absolutely phenomenal. The costs of just cleaning up street furniture and neighbourhoods, even to the standards that we manage to achieve, is completely and absolutely astronomical. So, yes, we need to turn back some of those issues. Yes, we do need to engage young people positively and give them things to do but, make no mistake about it, we do need to give guidance about what is acceptable and what is not acceptable and we need the support of the community in order to do that. We cannot just have the Police Service on its own trying to do that job. We need the whole of the community to be able to move to a situation where they can begin to input again themselves. They are restricted in their ability to police their own communities because of some of the attitudes that have grown up over a period of time. The attitude towards people who complain about other people's children and the behaviour of other people's children is a lot different to that which it perhaps used to be some time ago. People's confidence to actually engage themselves and people's confidence to try to make a difference has been undermined and undermined over a long period.

  16. To come back to the point, would you not agree that investment in the youth infrastructure, if I can use that term, by either the voluntary sector or the statutory sector, would be money well spent, investing in young people rather than catching up after all the damage and anti-social behaviour has been caused?
  (Mr Ainsworth) We need to input early both positively and in terms of setting guidelines of what is acceptable behaviour—I accept that—because people then move on to create bigger problems and to get into criminality; they move from anti-social behaviour into criminality. So, early intervention is absolutely essential.
  (Ms Casey) The answer in the White Paper is that we are going to do both. There is £530 million going in and I could sit here and cite chapter and verse of the new money over the last few years that is going into things like the Youth Service—I think £0.5 billion went into the Youth Service last year—and money going into Connexions and all those sorts of things. What we both feel is that, even if you put that money in, you still need to know where the enforcement line is. I was in Wythenshawe with one of my colleagues sitting on the back row a couple of weeks ago. We went out with something called Operation Garden City. That is fantastic; it has had money through Splash and through the Youth Service and they have produced this great idea where, every single night of the week in Wythenshawe, there are youth clubs and youth services available—the voluntary sector and church groups as well as the statutory sector. It is not a huge amount but there is something to do in the locality every night. It stands and falls on the fact that the police go out every single night of the week during half term—they do it over Easter and they will be doing it over the summer—and they work in partnership. So, the police go out, approach kids and say, "How come you are here? What time of night is this to be out and about? What are you doing? Have you not been to this tonight? Do you want us to drop you round there?" It works hand-in-hand. Amazingly, crime drops, anti-social behaviour drops and the youth clubs are busy. We visited some of the youth clubs and they are not just helping kids who are committing crime and who are at risk of crime, they are helping kids who are not caught up in anything at all. The Government strategy on youth and the Government strategy on crime therefore is saying that we need to make sure that we are getting the money, the resources and the policy right on youth overall, but we have to make sure—and it is my job and Bob's job to make sure—with anti-social behaviour that we are sorting out the worst excess and that we do make sure that the people at risk of doing it are brought back into line. So, it is the doing of both that is the answer.

Mrs Dean

  17. Minister, what is the estimated number of cases per year in which intensive fostering or fostering on remand will be deemed appropriate?
  (Mr Ainsworth) Twenty-six.
  (Ms Casey) In the pilots. This is a relatively new innovative idea that the Department of Health are leading on. Frankly, I think it is just fantastic if what it does is ensure that families are put back together and kids are basically stopped from committing crime. The idea is to pilot it in about four areas and initially the Department of Health will be funding approximately 26 places. Obviously this is quite a new approach; it is one of the matters in which I am certainly very interested in terms of trying to put top-end support into families and kids. It does not sound a lot but, if we get it right, that will be really, really fantastic.

  18. So that is 26 between the four . . .?
  (Ms Casey) The four pilot areas.

  19. Do you see any danger in not getting sufficient volunteer foster parents?
  (Mr Ainsworth) There is a problem. There is a gap. At the moment, we are approximately 8,000 short of what we need in terms of foster parents nationally. So, yes, we need to grow the number of people who are prepared to do this work for us and we need quality people who are prepared to do this work for us as well if fostering is going to make the contribution that potentially it can.
  (Ms Casey) I think the irony is—and I say this as somebody who knows people who are teachers and foster carers—that they would be quite interested in becoming involved in something that is so unusual which is trying to help actually quite damaged individuals and bring them back from the brink and most people in public service get a huge kick out of that. My reading of it is that the irony is that we will probably be okay with the 26 placements. It is if the project gets bigger and bigger and where you are going to need more volunteers. You are quite right to identify a deliverability issue, but let us cross that bridge when we come to it. There is no point in not trying something if we think it will work.

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