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The Minister for Crime Reduction, Policing, and Community Safety (Ms Hazel Blears): ASBOs were introduced in England and Wales from 1 April 1999. The number of notifications received by the Home Office of ASBOs issued in England and Wales at all courts from 1 April 1999 to 30 June 2003 is 1,337.
Mr. Watts: I have been meeting police and magistrates in St. Helens to discuss antisocial behaviour. Does my hon. Friend agree that some magistrates courts and some police forces clearly do not give ASBOs the serious attention that they should? Will she talk to the Lord Chancellor about how to make the policy more effective in future?
Ms Blears: I understand that six ASBOs have now been granted in my hon. Friend's area, and there are plans to make sure that more of those who commit antisocial behaviour are targeted in future. He is right to say that all parts of the criminal justice system, including the police and the courts, need to take the agenda seriously; that is precisely what we are working on. I am delighted that, for the first time, the Magistrates Association has issued sentencing guidelines on antisocial behaviour, so that there is consistency in the sentencing process. I hope that my hon. Friend agrees that, increasingly, police, local authorities and the courts are taking the tackling of antisocial behaviour seriously, because it is the public's top priority.
Miss Anne McIntosh (Vale of York) (Con): Does the Minister accept that ASBOs are failing to work in the villages around York? Skelton, Rawcliffe and Clifton Moor have been made to pay £14,000 this year, rising to £16,000 next year, for private security guards to assist the police in tackling antisocial behaviour. Surely that is privatisation by the back door, and totally unacceptable.
Ms Blears: I do not accept for a moment that ASBOs are failing. The hon. Lady should take a look at Leeds, where 66 interim ASBOs were obtained over the course of a weekend to reclaim an estate that was completely out of control. She should come to my Salford constituency, where we now have more than 50 ASBOs, 25 of which were obtained on conviction after the new powers were brought in[Interruption.]
Ms Blears: We like to start off gently, so we start with an acceptable behaviour contract; perhaps we should have one of those in relation to our proceedings. By using the range of tools availableacceptable behaviour contracts, ASBOs and parenting orderslocal authorities and the police can successfully tackle antisocial behaviour, which is an extremely important issue to the people whom we represent.
Mr. John Smith (Vale of Glamorgan) (Lab): Just a thought: perhaps you, Mr. Speaker, should consider issuing antisocial behaviour orders from time to time. What about the problem that we have with our local authority, Conservative-controlled Vale of Glamorgan
Ms Blears: My hon. Friend knows that, under the Crime and Disorder Act 1998, there is a duty on local authorities and the police to co-operate. Those authorities have a responsibility to work together to tackle such issues. We in Government have put on the statute book a range of tools for local authorities to use in tackling those problems, and we are determined that they will be encouraged to use the tools available and tackle deep-seated problems in our communities. That is why we have the Together action plan, Trailblazers, the Together Academy, bringing practitioners together, and the Together ActionLine, to make sure that we can all tackle the problems together.
Mr. Graham Brady (Altrincham and Sale, West) (Con): Does the Minister accept that sometimes, by barring offenders from the place where they commit offences, the effect of ASBOs can be to move them to another community, where they can cause serious problems that did not previously exist?
Ms Blears: The evidence shows that displacement does not occur as a result of ASBOs. With such innovative legislation, it is important that there should be exclusion areas around the place where people are allowed to go. If they breach that, they can get a custodial sentence, which is increasingly happening. We have included in the Act a provision to widen the exclusion area from the area where the offences were committed so that the problems of displacement do not occur. The legislation is innovative and forward looking, and I commend it to the hon. Gentleman.
Mr. Michael Jabez Foster (Hastings and Rye) (Lab): Nigel Barry, the antisocial behaviour officer of Hastings borough council, tells me that one of the problems is the criminal test that is being applied to the obtaining of ASBOs. Does my hon. Friend intend to restore the balance of probabilities evidential test, as was originally intended, so that such orders can be more easily obtained?
Ms Blears: I understand the point that my hon. Friend makes, but I reaffirm and put it on record that the antisocial behaviour order is a civil order. Its rules of evidence are governed by civil rules of evidence, which means that we can use professional evidence. Local people do not have to stand up and be intimidated and harassed, as they have been. The evidential requirement for proof is the highest standard. These matters are serious, and it is acceptable to have the highest standard of proof, but at the same time we must retain the civil rules of evidence so that victims and witnesses can be supported when they come forward and make the case.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Paul Goggins): The prison population is expected to grow over the next five years, which is why the number of prison places will be increased to 78,700 by 2006. At the same time we anticipate that a greater use of community penalties will reduce the number of less serious offenders who are given a custodial sentence.
Gareth Thomas : Given the fact that the vast majority of prisoners go on to reoffend once released, what assurances can my hon. Friend give that those worrying increases in the prison population will not affect the ability of the Prison Service to carry out rehabilitation programmes to stop reoffending?
Paul Goggins: My hon. Friend is right that some people who leave prison do go on to reoffend. We place emphasis on improving education in prisons and making sure that there is a better connection to Jobcentre Plus so that people leaving prison stand a better chance of getting into a job. We must ensure that when people leave prison they can adopt a lifestyle that means they do not have to return to crime.
Mr. Nigel Evans (Ribble Valley) (Con): Does the Minister accept that if someone is arrested for a first offence for burglary, the chances are that it is not their first offence but merely the first time that they have been caught? Is the Government's policy, therefore, for first-offence burglars to go to prison? If so, what assessment has he made of the extra places needed for that?
Paul Goggins: The court can deal only with the offences before it; it cannot second-guess the crimes that an individual may have committed. In the light of the information before it and the offence of which the person has been convicted, the court must choose the penalty deemed appropriate for that individual.
Mr. Hilton Dawson (Lancaster and Wyre) (Lab): Is it not a shocking fact that 25 young people have died in young offenders institutions over the past 13 years? Is it not time that the Government made a principled stand and arranged for all children to come out of custody?
Paul Goggins: Like Members on both sides of the House, I deeply regret the death of any young person in custody, or of anybody in custody. The Prison Service is working mightily hard to reduce the incidence of people taking their own lives or engaging in self-harm. The use of custody for juveniles has fallen in the past year by about 13 per cent. as we have developed intensive and appropriate programmes for young people in the community. However, some young people commit extremely serious offences, and for their sake and because of the need to protect the public they sometimes need to be in custody.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Caroline Flint): Cameras were first used in Devon and Cornwall in 1992. The latest year for which data are available is 2001. In that period there were 22,902 prosecutions for speeding offences detected by camera.
Mr. Swire : In the run-up to Christmas everyone is interested in road safety. In her earlier answer to the hon. Member for St. Helens, North (Mr. Watts) I think that the Minister added to the general confusion surrounding speed cameras by overstating their importance. When I recently asked the Secretary of State for Transport about SPECS digital speed cameras, which, as far as I am aware, we do not have yet in Devon and Cornwall, he said that the revenue from the cameras went to cover the cost of their operation, with all surplus moneys going to the Treasury.
Caroline Flint: Devon and Cornwall want the cameras because they joined the scheme in October 2002. They did not have to join the scheme, but they did so. That must say something about why they want the cameras. As I said earlier to my hon. Friend the Member for St. Helens, North (Mr. Watts), we must use the latest technology and police officers to tackle offences on our streets and roads. There is no doubt that speeding is a serious criminal offence. When people are speeding or not driving at the appropriate speed according to the conditions, they can affect lives. That is what needs to be dealt with. That is why the scheme is so popular, that is why police forces want it, and that is why they want the resources to assist them in dealing with road safety.