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Crime Reduction (Morley and Rothwell)

3. Mr. Colin Challen (Morley and Rothwell) (Lab): What steps he is taking to reduce crime in Morley and Rothwell. [148325]

The Minister for Crime Reduction, Policing and Community Safety (Ms Hazel Blears): Leeds crime and disorder reduction partnership, which covers Morley and Rothwell, has benefited from more than £3 million of funding for local crime reduction initiatives in 2003–04. That includes £1.5 million from the building safer communities fund to tackle crimes such as antisocial behaviour, burglary, drugs, violence and vehicle crime, and almost £1.2 million from the basic command unit fund to tackle crime and to fund a dedicated monitoring officer with LeedsWatch CCTV scheme.

Mr. Challen: I thank my hon. Friend for that reply. Following a meeting with my divisional police commander just before Christmas, I can say that the latest figures that he has are very positive, with most areas of crime falling. My concern is that we seem to be reaching a funding plateau after a 30 per cent. increase in Government funding for the police since 1997. The local precept may be set at a level that will not aid the

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recruitment of more police. Can we have a review of the wide variation among precepts across the country to get a better understanding of why some local people pay a lot more for police and get more policing than we do in West Yorkshire?

Ms Blears: My hon. Friend is right that his local crime figures are extremely good: burglary down 26 per cent.; robbery down 37 per cent.; and vehicle crime down 33 per cent. Locally, the force is doing an excellent job, augmented by the community support officers who are now patrolling his streets. However, he raises the important issue of funding. We always recognised that this year's settlement would be difficult, but that is in the context of a 30 per cent. increase over the past three years, which has meant significant funding going into our police services right across the country. We have reviewed the formula to try to target our funds on the areas of greatest need. Although this year we have a flat-rate increase to cover inflation and pay settlements, we will be looking to see how we can target our funds on the areas of highest crime in future.

Antisocial Behaviour

4. Claire Ward (Watford) (Lab): What plans he has to penalise parents who do not enforce antisocial behaviour contracts placed on their children. [148326]

The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. David Blunkett): I was pleased to visit my hon. Friend in her constituency of Watford last Wednesday to see for myself the extent of the challenge and the way that the community is rising to it. The issue raised at that time is the one that we are addressing this afternoon: how do we ensure that the voluntary ABCs—acceptable behaviour contracts—are supported by parents? That is done, first, by giving support and advice and, secondly, by ensuring that there is proper enforcement. The Anti-social Behaviour Act 2003, which was passed at the end of last year, enables us to introduce parenting contracts alongside contracts for the youngsters. If parents refuse to adhere to them and to support the police and the community, the youth offending teams can apply to the court for a parenting order. That would include not only the imposition of fines where appropriate, but the potential for a residential requirement, which would teach the parents how to parent.

Claire Ward : May I thank my right hon. Friend for that reply and say how grateful we are for his visit last week? On the issues that he has raised, it would be a good idea to link together the parenting orders and the acceptable behaviour contracts, but will he also consider an issue that was raised with him last week in my constituency about the need to make obtaining antisocial behaviour orders easier once an acceptable behaviour contract is in place and has not been adhered to? That would enable us to move on quickly to obtaining an ASBO, as well as having those parenting orders.

Mr. Blunkett: Yes, I am very happy to look at that and to use the interim orders that are now available as a fast track to ensure that those who breach the voluntary contract know that there will be a rapid move to greater

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enforcement. A combination of diversionary activity and prevention with clear, enforceable rules will, I believe, help us to turn round the situation that so often bedevils communities where just a handful of young people are providing the wrong leadership and parents—some of whom are bewildered, some disinterested—are allowing that to happen. The combination of measures in the 2003 Act will enable us to take the steps necessary to ensure that we get this right.

Mr. Andrew Mitchell (Sutton Coldfield) (Con): Although the Home Secretary is clearly right in saying that parents should be made responsible for the behaviour of their children, does he think that acceptable behaviour contracts are working well? Can he tell us how many have been breached since they were issued?

Mr. Blunkett: I cannot give an answer on the number that have been breached, but we have research, which we will publish in the next few days, from the early stages of the acceptable behaviour contracts that were run in north London. I think that it will show not only how they work, but how important it is to spread best practice so that we can learn the lessons very quickly. I hope that as part of the Together campaign and the new website, which we will be launching shortly, we can show people how things have worked in other areas, rather than having to reinvent the wheel.

Mr. Bob Blizzard (Waveney) (Lab): As my right hon. Friend has just acknowledged, if an antisocial behaviour contract does not work we need to progress to an antisocial behaviour order. Obviously, we need the police properly to enforce those orders. What guidance has he given to our police forces on the importance of enforcing ASBOs when members of the community report breaches of ASBOs to them? What support can be offered to the young people on those ASBOs once they go beyond the age up to which the youth offending service is responsible for them? I understand that the probation service cannot offer that support.

Mr. Blunkett: There are two separate issues. The first is that we ensure—as we shall in the next few days—that every police force and every police officer is familiar with the law as it stands at the moment, following the passage of the Act; and that, above all, magistrates are familiar with, and use, the powers available to them in respect of breach. Often, the police bring forward evidence but magistrates are reluctant to take decisive action.

The second issue is very separate. As part of the development of our policy, we need to ensure that the new criminal justice boards are able to join up the various agencies locally so that things work more effectively, rather than our constantly having to change the law.

Mr. Nick Hawkins (Surrey Heath) (Con): Does not the Home Secretary recognise that the police and local authorities in crime and disorder partnerships say that they still find antisocial behaviour orders very bureaucratic and time-consuming, and that even when

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someone is taken back to the courts for breach of an ASBO the police often find that all their hard work is wasted because the sentence is not sufficient for the breach? Local communities need better protection, not the bureaucratic system on which the Government continue to rely.

Mr. Blunkett: We were perfectly honest about that. Two years ago, we indicated that the operation of ASBOs was too bureaucratic and time-consuming, so we changed the system in the Police Reform Act 2002 and last autumn, in the Anti-social Behaviour Act 2003, we streamlined it both for interim orders and for streamlined fast track, including the use of the county court as well as the magistrates court. But, yes, the hon. Gentleman's second point is entirely right; indeed, it was the point I was making a moment ago. The hard work of the police and the community will come to nothing if breaches are allowed to go unpunished, which is why we need the co-operation of magistrates and district judges.

5. Mr. Mike Hall (Weaver Vale) (Lab): If he will make a statement on the role of local communities in tackling antisocial behaviour. [148327]

The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. David Blunkett): That follows on neatly. I could have chosen the questions myself; although just to make it clear, we do not choose the questions ourselves—otherwise the headline tomorrow morning will be, "Government take over Question Time".

My hon. Friend is entirely right to raise that question. It is critical to mobilise the community and for the community to be part of the solution, in terms of prevention and intervention with young people and by reporting, supporting and backing the police and the courts in doing their job. That is absolutely vital. Where that works best, it is because the community is part of the solution.

Mr. Hall: I thank my right hon. Friend for that answer. Since 1997, the Government have put a huge amount of legislation in the statute book to allow the police and local authorities to tackle antisocial behaviour. There have been several successful ASBOs in my constituency, and I should like to see more. I have a specific question about off-licence sales to young people, which seem to be the root cause of a huge amount of antisocial behaviour: what will the Government do to try to tackle that problem?

Mr. Blunkett: I think that we all accept that there is a very real challenge—arising both from sales to under-age consumers and from the binge drinking that often goes alongside it. In the antisocial behaviour strategy, which we shall publish by the spring, we shall seek the co-operation not simply of local communities, off-licences and supermarkets—where there is a growing trade—but of the industry itself. In the end, the golden goose will be cooked and, if we do not get a grip on this increasing problem, we shall obviously face increasing demands for draconian action on the sale and availability of alcohol. If we are not to go down that road, we must expect all those involved to play the game by being part of the solution.

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Bob Spink (Castle Point) (Con): What advice will the Home Secretary give to my constituents who are threatening this week to set up vigilante groups, to go out on the streets to deal with exploding youth antisocial behaviour, and who need to deal with very low levels of policing locally? What advice will he give to the local police who refuse to attend a public meeting that I am calling to seek solutions with the public and the police to those very problems?

Mr. Blunkett: I have had a funny day, so I hope that the hon. Gentleman will forgive me for reflecting for a moment on exploding youths—something that we have not yet legislated against.

The truth is that the hon. Gentleman is entirely right to suggest that there is a major challenge, and it is not just up to the Government, but up to all of us to get this right and to provide the enforcement powers for both the police and the courts system. As I have said already this afternoon, we need quite supportive and then, if necessary, draconian powers in relation to parents and a link-up between youth offending teams, the Youth Justice Board and the new Connexions service, so that we can see the two-handed approach actually working in practice.

Ms Sally Keeble (Northampton, North) (Lab): Is my right hon. Friend aware of the great problem of policing antisocial behaviour in town centres, in particular in Northampton, as a result of late-night drinking? How might he get the local business communities, particularly the entertainment industry, to take some responsibility—possibly including bearing some of the costs—for policing that type of activity?

Mr. Blunkett: This links neatly with the previous question because, if we are to have a system where people do not take the law into their own hands, those who are part of the problem ought to be part of the solution. The best practice that we have across the country—whether in Manchester or York—is where licensees and those providing entertainment and alcohol are prepared to contribute, with the police, to the cost and the enforcement itself. Of course, street wardens and community support officers, paid for jointly by the local authority, and the police service funded from the Home Office, can ensure that we have our own vigilantes, rather than communities having to set them up themselves. I challenge, and will do so in the months ahead, industry, licensees and those involved who are making a lot of money from entertainment to take on that challenge and to be part of the solution.

Mr. James Paice (South-East Cambridgeshire) (Con): The tendency to take the law into one's own hands—or for communities to take it into their own hands, to which the Secretary of State rightly refers—is born of immense frustration, as I am sure he will accept. Communities feel let down that neither the police nor the criminal justice system seems to be able to commit the resources necessary to deal with antisocial behaviour. But does he understand that, after a case where a community has finally given vent to its frustration, patience has snapped and people have taken the law into their own hands, that frustration turns to deep anger when they find that the police and the

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criminal justice system bend over backwards to track down and prosecute those members of the public whose patience has snapped, and far more effort is put into that prosecution than into prosecuting the antisocial behaviour that caused the original problems and the frustration? Is the Secretary of State concerned that political correctness is taking too big a role?

Mr. Blunkett: Political correctness and political opportunism seem to go hand in hand, in equal measure—I should know because I have been probably the least politically correct member of the Government Front-Bench team—and I am absolutely clear that the police and the criminal justice system's job is to pursue criminals, not those who are trying to defend themselves. That is why, in the Criminal Justice Act 2003—apparently unbeknown to the BBC and others—we amended the law unanimously. We all agreed that it was sensible to ensure that people protecting their own homes could not be sued and did not face people getting legal aid to make their lives a misery. I should like the BBC, just occasionally, to tell what has been done, not just what they do not know about.

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