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1.6 pm

The Minister for Policing, Security and Community Safety (Mr. Tony McNulty): I am delighted to have been given the opportunity to open this lengthy and, I hope, wide-ranging debate on antisocial behaviour. The matter is of concern to every Member of the House, and it is right and proper that we scrutinise the success that there has been in tackling it.

The debate is also timely, as such issues are always rightly under public scrutiny and subject to substantial media interest. Lately, however, that spotlight has been even more intense. Recently, the Public Accounts Committee discussed antisocial behaviour; on 2 November, the Youth Justice Board reported on antisocial behaviour orders; and on 7 December, the National Audit Office published its report, “Tackling Anti-social Behaviour”. It is important that I put my comments in the context of those excellent documents.

It is also important to establish the framework in which antisocial behaviour should be discussed. It is right and proper that elements of our antisocial behaviour policy and the whole respect agenda should be subject to due scrutiny. We should not, however, dwell on particular aspects. Antisocial behaviour and the Government’s policy on it are on a continuum from prevention and preventive measures to control and effect.

Ann Coffey (Stockport) (Lab): It is important to deal with the causes of antisocial behaviour as well as controlling it through antisocial behaviour orders. Does the Minister share my disappointment that only 5 per cent. of conventional ASBOs have individual support orders attached? What further action can he take to ensure better take-up of ISOs, which are designed to provide support to young people to prevent them entering the criminal justice system?

Mr. McNulty: I entirely support my hon. Friend’s point about individual support orders. To be effective, the whole array of actions and policy interventions of the broad antisocial behaviour programme, including the respect agenda, need to work together with social services and local government elements such as education and housing. Intervention—and especially prevention, as she suggests—works best in the context of that focused, multi-faceted and multi-agency approach. The debate should take place in the context of that range of policy initiatives. That is not to demur from a debate on ASBOs, and the National Audit Office report was particularly useful in that regard. However, we must debate the issue in the context of parenting orders, individual support orders and other initiatives carried out by a range of agencies. The real success of such a programme in alleviating the effects of antisocial behaviour in our communities will be seen when all the prevention works, and there is no longer a need for more severe forms of intervention.

Graham Stringer (Manchester, Blackley) (Lab): I fully support the Government’s antisocial behaviour
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policies and the use of ASBOs, whose effectiveness has been demonstrated in Manchester. However, I am disappointed in the Government’s approach to the licensing of mini-motorbikes. There have been 26,000 calls about them to Greater Manchester police in the past year. It is true that the police have powers to deal with them individually, but is that a sensible use of police resources when most of the problem could be dealt with by a licensing regime?

Mr. McNulty: I do not share my hon. Friend’s disappointment, but I take his point about the general problem of mini-motos. I agree that the task of dealing with it should not fall entirely to the police, and that other agencies or systems should also come into play. A licensing system is one possibility, but I think the most fruitful area to explore is direct intervention with manufacturers and retailers, in the full and certain knowledge that not much mini-moto activity can be legally sustained. Mini-motos are not allowed on roads or in public parks, and they are not allowed on private land without express permission.

This is a huge and growing issue, and we are trying increasingly to deal with it. We are already working with manufacturers and retailers, and we need to do more of that. I will pass on my hon. Friend’s suggestion about the licensing system, but I think that proper enforcement by trading standards officers and others—a multi-agency approach at local level—will prove to be the best way of reducing the nuisance that mini-motos undeniably cause.

I accept and welcome my hon. Friend’s points about ASBOs, but if we are to engage in a mature debate we cannot slip into the belief that we are criminalising an entire generation by deploying them. That is not the case, and the numbers involved do not sustain such a suggestion. Nor should we assume that they do not work because they are seen as a badge of honour, that they do not work because of the breach rates, or that they do not help with prevention and helping young people to develop. [Interruption.] Let me say in response to the chuntering on the Opposition Front Bench that I will return to the issue of the Youth Justice Board. I have a few words to say about that.

As I have said, ASBOs are not ineffective, and they are not criminalising an entire generation. They must be used as one element in an overall continuum. Criticism of their use on either of those counts often constitutes a counsel of despair from people who would rather do nothing than help our communities. It should also be recognised that, more often than not, young people are victims of antisocial behaviour. It is important to understand that ASBOs are not just about attacking young people.

Mr. Lindsay Hoyle (Chorley) (Lab): My hon. Friend is absolutely right that ASBOs work; they have been very effective. That is largely due to back-up from the police—community beat officers and managers working together—and the local authority provision of community wardens. It worries me that local authorities are reducing the number of wardens and a visible presence on the streets, which is allowing antisocial behaviour to become rife again. Has my hon. Friend a view on that?

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Mr. McNulty: It would be a pity—I put it no more strongly than that—if, given the increasing use and effectiveness of ASBOs and the increasing implementation of our neighbourhood policing policy throughout the country, some councils were short-sighted enough to withdraw community wardens. Wardens have a specific and well-established role which has been very effective and successful and, while distinct from that of the community support officers who help with neighbourhood policing, works very well in tandem with it.

My hon. Friend’s broader point goes to the heart of the antisocial behaviour agenda. ASBOs are part of a range of responses that must include the police, local authorities and other appropriate agencies, which must work together to sustain activity in their areas.

Mr. David Wilshire (Spelthorne) (Con): I am listening carefully to what the Minister is saying. Is it not the case, however, that although it is all too easy to heap blame on, and look for solutions from, the police and local authorities, by the time the yobs and louts come to the attention of the police, the trouble has long since set in? The cure does not lie with the police; it lies further back, with schools and families.

Mr. McNulty: My remarks are still at the introductory stage, but I think that the substance of them has been precisely that. The problem is not the fault of the police or of councils, and prevention is as important as—if not more important than—intervention at the other end to deal with the consequences. That is what I have been saying for the past 10 minutes.

Perhaps I have confused the hon. Gentleman, rather than the other way around. I certainly agree that the problem should be dealt with further back, as it were; that we should think about housing and the condition of some estates, and about education in discipline and citizenship and other awareness factors in schools. Families are also important in this context, which is why parenting is such a core part of our respect agenda.

What I was trying to say was that it is a shame that, when antisocial behaviour issues reach the public domain, people tend to concentrate on behavioural excess and our responses to it. As was suggested by my hon. Friend the Member for Stockport (Ann Coffey), where ASBOs have proved effective their success has been largely due to individual support orders, and the work of police, councils and other agencies behind the scenes. I think that we agree on that.

The December report of the National Audit Office broadly accepts that our approach to tackling antisocial behaviour is working. It builds on the findings of the 2005 Home Affairs Committee report on antisocial behaviour, which not only welcomed the fact that the Government had made tackling such behaviour a priority, but concluded that our strategy was about right. It describes the range of far-reaching actions we have taken that have helped to make the policy a success.

Most people in the NAO’s case review sample who had received an antisocial behaviour intervention—an ASBO or an acceptable behaviour contract, for instance—did not re-engage in antisocial behaviour,
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thus bringing continued respite to the community. I know that there is a debate about breach rates among young people and others, and we will come to that, but it is important to note that the NAO’s sample showed that 65 per cent. of people desisted from antisocial behaviour after one intervention and 93 per cent. did so after three. That is encouraging, and reinforces the point that earlier intervention is central to overwhelming success.

The NAO report acknowledges that areas are making increasing use of the new interventions. More than 13,000 acceptable behaviour contracts were made between October 2003 and 2005, more than 800 areas were designated for dispersal between 2004 and 2005, and powers to close crack houses were used more than 500 times between January 2004 and 2005.

When I paid a visit to Burnley and Preston, I saw—in Preston, I think—acceptable behaviour contracts working well. I spoke to young people on the wrong end of the contracts and to the police who, after the serving of contracts, worked with the young people as well as the rest of the community to ensure that they did not “descend” from acceptable behaviour contracts to ASBOs. That is relevant to what was said by my hon. Friend the Member for Chorley (Mr. Hoyle). The local policing network was taking part in what are loftily called diversionary tactics, which helped keep those young people who were the focus of such contracts on the straight and narrow instead of “descending” into ASBOs.

David Davis (Haltemprice and Howden) (Con): It is inevitable that there will be different interpretations of bits of the NAO report from Members of different parties. However, it was reported to Louise Casey and David Normington at the Public Accounts Committee inquiry earlier this week that the NAO said that there was not enough analysis of the successes and failures of any of these policies. I think that Louise Casey accepted that, and I think that the permanent secretary did so too. Does the Minister accept the important fact that there has simply not been enough analysis of what works and what does not in this area?

Mr. McNulty: When the report was published on 7 December, I went to the NAO launch event and spoke briefly at it, and I said that I recognise that that is the case. We are at an early stage in a far greater utilisation of the powers than previously—things have been slow—and it is right that there is still much to learn from a growing amount of both anecdotal evidence and empirically based data analysis.

I am not trying to paint the report or the world of ASBOs as an unqualified success. There are areas that we need to learn about. I am trying, in the way that I am opening the debate, to set a tone that allows for a proper, reflective and mature discussion rather than knockabout politics. I also accept the implied point that certain elements of the report could be read out in an entirely different way from those on which I am concentrating—that is certainly the case. The comprehensive way in which ASBOs are used and how they are set in the wider context of antisocial behaviour policy—including the preventive point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Stockport (Ann Coffey)—are relatively new developments. Of course the
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evidential base is growing and we need to analyse as we go, because whatever array or portfolio of the different elements of the continuum works in Burnley may not work in Southend or anywhere in between. The measures must reflect the needs of the local community.

The right hon. Member for Haltemprice and Howden (David Davis) has made a fair point, but let me make a wider point. Every time one of these powers—ABCs, dispersal orders, closure of crack houses and other interventions—is used, on the whole it brings relief and respite to local communities and the lives of Members’ constituents are no longer made a misery by a yobbish minority. It is important to state that.

We also know that our approach is working because British crime survey statistics show that between 2002-03 and 2005-06, the proportion of people who perceived there to be high levels of antisocial behaviour in their area fell from 21 per cent. to 17 per cent. Therein lies a conundrum, in the sense that the more that we seek to focus on intervention and the outcomes of antisocial behaviour and the more resources that we put into neighbourhood policing, the more—initially, at least—people take an interest in problems of antisocial behaviour and low-level crime and the more their wish to have them resolved is heightened. Such intervention and awareness of problems and possible solutions to them might well increase people’s confidence in the ability to seek their resolution. Therefore, to pursue the right hon. Gentleman’s point, although I cite in argument those British crime survey statistics, they might well fluctuate. That is relevant to his point about analysis and understanding what is really going on. Nevertheless, the notion that there has been success has been proven.

We are not complacent. We continue to make improvements in the way in which antisocial behaviour is tackled. We are ensuring that areas are increasingly measured on their effectiveness in tackling antisocial behaviour through the introduction of local area agreements. From—I think—next April, all local authorities in England will have a local area agreement setting out the priorities for that area as agreed, crucially, between local partners and central Government.

Tackling antisocial behaviour remains at the heart of the Government’s wider programme to build a modern culture of respect. The respect programme, which was launched at about this time last year, will step up and broaden the Government’s clampdown on antisocial behaviour, promoting good behaviour and challenging bad. The taskforce continues to support, encourage and challenge local services to implement approaches that will build respect and tackle antisocial behaviour, and ensure that communities see and feel that action is being taken.

To return to the point of the hon. Member for Spelthorne (Mr. Wilshire), local policy interventions across the piece must not be just an add-on to everything else that is happening in a local community through housing, education, community cohesion or in other ways. All those ways must be—as they increasingly are—inculcated with the notion that
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antisocial behaviour, and the precursors of it, should be at the centre of all that they do. Providing locally tailored solutions to antisocial behaviour is no easy task. Every perpetrator of antisocial behaviour is different, so one-size-fits-all solutions do not work. As I have said, that is also true for responses on a locality basis; solutions in each constituency or borough must be different given the different nature and make-up of our communities.

In consultation with experts in the field, we have equipped those on the ground with the necessary range of tools and powers to do their job in the best way that they see fit. They can tailor use of interventions according to the antisocial behaviour committed and their knowledge of the perpetrator. Our guidance strongly advocates an incremental approach. In practice, that means that to turn around the petty nuisance behaviour of a child at school, an acceptable behaviour agreement can be made; that the group of children who cause a nuisance on a housing estate can be arrested if they fail to abide by a dispersal order; that there are fixed penalty notices for litter louts and those who cause disorder; and that, for the persistent perpetrator of antisocial behaviour, the courts can make an ASBO.

Alongside those measures, £45 million of additional funding has been made available to youth offending teams through the Youth Justice Board to develop and enhance a range of evidence-based preventive programmes. Those schemes enable young people who are referred to be supported and challenged in order to address the underlying causes of their antisocial behaviour. Effective sanctions are available for those who do not comply and there is support throughout the process in order to change bad behaviour. As my hon. Friend the Member for Stockport suggested, for young people given an ASBO we have created the individual support order and the parenting order to tackle the root causes of their behaviour and to achieve that preventive dimension.

An effective approach to tackling antisocial behaviour must be based on a mixture of support, sanction and, crucially, prevention, as well as intervention. The key aims of any intervention are to enable the individual to recognise the consequences of their behaviour, to ensure that they change their behaviour, to protect victims, witnesses and the community, and to provide the support and education required to address the behaviour.

We have taken huge strides in providing those tools and powers and we are now consulting on whether we need to strengthen them further with new measures, including proposals for a deferred penalty notice for disorder. That will encourage adherence to acceptable behaviour contracts by attaching a penalty notice for disorder, which would come into effect only if the contracts were breached. I hesitated a moment ago because my speaking notes say “incentivise” and I refuse to use such words; “encourage” or “motivate” are better. We are also proposing new powers to close premises that cause persistent, significant and serious harm to local communities, but as a last resort and backed up by court order.

I also want to highlight what we are doing to tackle antisocial behaviour by young people. However, let me again stress that antisocial behaviour is not primarily a
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youth issue, as many believe. The latest statistics on ASBOs, published on 7 December, show that nearly 60 per cent. of ASBOs were issued to adults and only 40 per cent. to children. We are working harder than ever to divert young people from antisocial behaviour, and I should like to highlight the good work that the Youth Justice Board is doing in this respect. It is one of the many partners that must be at the table in looking at antisocial behaviour interventions in communities such as those in my hon. Friends’ constituencies.

In 2005-06, youth offending teams delivered parenting interventions in respect of 11,007 young people with final-warning interventions and community-based penalties; that is more than double the estimated number delivered in 2003-04. Of those interventions, 87 per cent. were delivered on a voluntary basis, and 13 per cent. under parenting orders. Most parents are willing to engage without a contract or order, but where more structure is needed a contract can be offered. Where parents are not willing to engage in tackling the child’s behaviour voluntarily, a parenting order can be made. YOTs will also be providing more parenting support, using funds provided through the 2004 spending review and the 2005 Budget, with a focus on preventing youth crime and antisocial behaviour. Many colleagues present will know that in every area there is a hard core of persistent antisocial behaviour offenders, just as there is in respect of a range of other crimes. Our job is to try to turn around those offenders, as well as to deal with them in other ways if that does not happen. Equally, we must ensure that what is a minority of yobs is not added to by that potential reservoir.

Some 84 YOTs are putting in place targeted parenting programmes that are aimed at preventing offending or antisocial behaviour by children. The funding for these programmes amounted to some £4 million in 2006-07, and it will be £5.5 million next year. It should pay for several thousand more parenting interventions, which will be counted toward a YOT performance target and reported to the Youth Justice Board. That new funding is also being used to develop parenting services directed at young fathers, black or minority ethnic parents and young parents in custody. Most YOTs are also putting in place youth inclusion programmes and youth inclusion and support panels, which deliver parenting interventions as part of a package of support for at-risk young people. As was pointed out earlier, the make-up of families and their at times apparently dysfunctional nature is a factor, which is why I am particularly pleased about these interventions on young fathers and on young mothers—with or without the father in tow. That must be part of the overall process.

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