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Having said that, it is fair to say that people living in the most deprived areas of Hartlepool are disproportionately more likely to suffer from instances of criminal and antisocial behaviour than other areas. The wards of Stranton, Grange and Dyke House are filled with energetic and committed people who are actively engaged with making their communities better—people such as Julie Hetherington, Brian Maiden, Brian McBean, Muriel Boreland and Irene Nelson. Why should those people and their neighbours have to suffer from blatant and open drug dealing in
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the street, litter, graffiti, and problem families, as well as the prospect of going to work and having to walk past people drinking in the street and not bothering to seek employment? Many of the Victorian terraced properties in areas in the centre of town have been sold to private landlords who do not care about the neighbourhood, who often do not even know where Hartlepool is, and are not that bothered as long as the housing benefit cheques keep coming in.

I am pleased that some progress has been made in Hartlepool in the six months since my debate. I am also pleased that the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, my hon. Friend the Member for Gedling (Mr. Coaker), who responded to the debate in June, is on the Front Bench. I pay tribute to the work that he did after the debate. He put a rocket under the backsides of some people in Hartlepool, which has made a real difference. There is a growing recognition among certain elements in the local authority that enforcement need not necessarily be a negative or an exclusive policy that is completely contrary to prevention and rehabilitation, but can and should be undertaken with a whole range of other appropriate approaches towards tackling the problem.

Hartlepool was the pilot basic command unit in the Cleveland police area for neighbourhood policing. The local strategic partnership, which I chair, in conjunction with the Home Office pledged £250,000 to that project to ensure that policing was as close to communities as possible. An additional 74 police officers have been recruited—we have 21 new officers in total—or redeployed from back-office duties to ensure that the fight against crime and antisocial behaviour is led from the streets. Since April last year, there has been a local police team in each ward in the town, with leaflets distributed showing the photos of the police officers together with their contact numbers, and surgeries have allowed members of the public to discuss matters of concern directly with them. That has had an unbelievable impact on the sense of community safety for most of the town. The visible police presence on the streets of Hartlepool has led to a palpable sense of decent people reclaiming their areas.

In September, I was asked by community groups from Stranton, Grange and Dyke House to chair a meeting between residents and senior agency staff in organisations such as the police and the local authority to discuss the problems of drug dealing and to ensure that measures such as CCTV provision are operational and co-ordinated. A follow-up meeting in November showed that the closer working and, crucially, the level of discussion and debate between residents and police on matters such as the best approach to tackling suspected drug dealing—whether we kick the door in or take more covert approaches—has helped to increase faith and reassurance and ensured that residents are part of the process of reducing criminal and antisocial behaviour.

In addition, to tackle the problems of absent and uncaring private landlords, the local authority is in the final stages of considering the introduction of a selective licensing scheme—under powers introduced by this Government—which would mean that landlords in the town would have to show that they have in place suitable arrangements to deal with antisocial tenants.

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Perhaps most encouragingly for residents, local agencies are working with much greater focus and energy to put in place enforcement actions. At the time of my Adjournment debate six months ago, 10 antisocial behaviour orders had been issued in six or seven years; I understand that that figure has increased to about 30. The principle of naming and shaming young people who have been issued with ASBOs is making its first tentative steps in Hartlepool. Last month, 2,000 leaflets were distributed on the Dyke House estate regarding a three-year ASBO, informing residents that the individual concerned had been making threats of violence, had been verbally abusive, and had harassed residents, damaged property and thrown missiles. That is welcome. I have wanted that initiative to be introduced for some time to provide reassurance to residents blighted by the thoughtless actions of a small number of individuals and to make the individuals concerned accountable for their actions. I hope that there will be more instances of such publicity.

Despite the undoubted improvements in the past few months, there is a need to do much more and to adopt a more co-ordinated approach in Hartlepool. One of the reasons why local agencies have been slow off the mark in using the extra powers that the Government provided was a feeling among some officials that a move towards enforcement was somehow contrary to attempts to rehabilitate and to prevent antisocial behaviour. I have observed a significant difference in approach and style between those involved in enforcement and those who work in prevention. I hope that those differences are ending, and that a more consistent approach, which can embrace prevention and enforcement as fundamental parts of a co-ordinated antisocial behaviour strategy, is coming to the fore.

The town could do much more to introduce early intervention to prevent the onset of antisocial and criminal behaviour. As other hon. Members have said, early intervention is crucial because signs of delinquent behaviour in children are one of the strongest indicators of future activity. It also allows those individuals to overcome barriers and fulfil their potential. Studies show that some factors, such as poverty, dependence on benefits, parents’ history of convictions and imprisonment, and the youthfulness of parents, are most closely associated with predicting a child’s behaviour in later life.

A study in this country, which the National Audit Office report cites, shows that 63 per cent. of boys with convicted fathers were subsequently convicted themselves. The report concluded:

That rings true in my experience as a ward councillor on Hartlepool borough council and as a Member of Parliament.

Annette Brooke: The hon. Gentleman makes an important point. Would he be surprised to learn that a recent answer to a parliamentary question that I tabled revealed that only 3 per cent. of local authorities mentioned the children of prisoners in their children
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and young people’s plans? Does he agree that it is important to identify early those children who might be at risk of committing crimes later?

Mr. Wright: I agree. As soon as the debate finishes, I shall rush to the Hartlepool children and young person’s plan to ascertain which factors it takes into account—whether it includes not only children who have convicted parents, but the range of risk factors that I mentioned—as methods of trying to predict and prevent antisocial behaviour.

It is important to stress that I do not suggest that everybody in the categories that I outlined is condemned to a life of crime and should be accordingly stigmatised. However, risk factors can be used to target and tailor more efficiently early intervention mechanisms that have greater chances of success. That approach would complement the Government’s attempts to reduce social exclusion and improve chances in the most deprived areas.

The Government’s emphasis on education, the doubling of spend per pupil in Hartlepool, the provision of neighbourhood renewal fund money and the establishment of Sure Start centres all demonstrate that early intervention can make a positive impact. However, we could do more in a more co-ordinated and targeted way. For example, I should like an extension of education maintenance allowances to include graduation incentives, which would encourage young people in deprived areas, who hitherto had not even considered further and higher education, to do so. I hope that my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary can expand on whether that is planned.

I am interested in hon. Members’ comments about neighbourhood policing, which is the 21st-century equivalent of the bobby on the beat. For a variety of reasons, that informal supervision is absent. My hon. Friend the Member for Chorley (Mr. Hoyle) mentioned community wardens. We have them in Hartlepool, where they have proved a huge success. People say that, 20 or 30 years ago, the bus conductor or the park warden could say, “Oi Johnny, oi Mary, don’t do that”, and prevent things from escalating. There is a consensus that neighbourhood policing works. We need to consider other mechanisms and ensure that the 21st-century equivalent of the park warden or bus conductor is in society, not only to make areas safer but to prevent antisocial behaviour at an early stage.

The borough of Hartlepool is relatively compact, and organisations such as the borough council, the primary care trust, the basic command unit that I mentioned earlier and the registered social landlords are all coterminous. They can and do work together effectively. The sharing of information takes place, but I would be keen to see whether the Government can facilitate even more data sharing.

I would also like to see a much greater expansion of restorative justice. I have already called in the House for community justice centres in my constituency, like those in Liverpool and Salford. I was disappointed that we were not included in the latest batch, but I will keep fighting for them. Hartlepool would be an ideal location for such centres because of the well developed residents’ network and the sense of civic pride that my town has. That civic pride, which encourages a feeling
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of positive engagement on the ground in neighbourhoods, needs to be encouraged still further.

I will also continue to push for more powers to be given to residents’ groups, because I can see the potential for such powers in Hartlepool. Neighbourhood renewal money has given community groups in my constituency hundreds of thousands of pounds to improve amenities, by providing better street lighting and helping to keep neighbourhoods cleaner, for example. More could definitely be achieved if the Government gave residents associations more powers to take ownership and control of their area, and I would like the Minister to address that point when he winds up the debate.

We should not shy away from enforcement as an effective tool to tackle antisocial behaviour. Early intervention and initiatives to break the negative cycle should be emphasised, but inevitably there comes a point when enforcement is necessary. The Government need to continue in the same direction and encourage magistrates to pass tougher sentences. I pay tribute to what my hon. Friend the Member for Chorley said about magistrates being soft. We need to tackle that issue, possibly by naming and shaming those who do not impose harsh sentences.

I mentioned earlier the 17-year-old youth in Hartlepool who had a three-year ASBO placed on him. He has been locked up 60 times. That is unacceptable. We should ensure that any sentence passed, whether a prison or a community sentence, is served effectively. If a community order is served requiring litter in an area to be cleaned up for a week, we should not pat Johnny or Mary on the back if they turn up only once or twice. The litter needs to be cleaned up, and if that is not done in the time provided, those people need to be sent back until it is done. That not only provides discipline but gives reassurance to the local community.

Mr. Hoyle: My hon. Friend is making a good point. We must ensure that people who commit crimes tidy up the areas in which other people have to live and put up with the problem. Does he agree that part of the difficulty lies with the probation service? Often, young people turn up to do the work that they have been challenged to do, only to find that there is no one there to provide supervision. They are then sent away. That disincentive works against them and they end up not doing the hours that they were supposed to do as part of their community service, just because the probation service did not have anyone available on a Saturday or Sunday.

Mr. Wright: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. One of the things that I would like to see in my area is an analysis of the probation service, to find out where the weaknesses are, and whether community sentences are being imposed and enforced—and if not, why not?

The sense of civic pride in Hartlepool is the thing that, most of all, gives me hope and helps me to believe that we will be able to tackle antisocial behaviour. I have mentioned that we have an astonishing mix of people throughout the town who have the energy and the drive to improve Hartlepool. I am pleased that agencies and organisations are now working more closely with residents to improve neighbourhoods. This partnership working seems to have improved in the
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past few months, taking into account residents’ concerns and achieving better results. I pay tribute to the Minister, and I hope that the Government will continue to provide additional powers and funding to raise the quality of life for all the residents in my constituency.

Several hon. Members rose—

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. It might help if I offer a little guidance to the House. The Back-Bench speeches are averaging about 23 minutes at the moment. Five hon. Members are seeking to catch my eye, and I believe that there is a desire for Front-Bench winding-up speeches. We shall have to try to get below that average if everyone is to be satisfied.

4.24 pm

Mr. Robert Goodwill (Scarborough and Whitby) (Con): I am pleased to follow the hon. Member for Hartlepool (Mr. Wright). My mother’s family hail from west Hartlepool and I have happy memories of visiting the town and being on the beach at Seaton Carew.

As children, when we were not visiting the beach at Hartlepool, we would often visit the Yorkshire coast. From that experience, I know that antisocial behaviour is nothing new. Travelling down the A64 in our Standard Ensign, we would often come to Staxton roundabout, and be faced with the decision of turning left for Scarborough or right for Filey. If it was Easter, and the mods and rockers were in town, we would often decide to turn right, as the antisocial behaviour on the beach on such occasions was something to be believed. That paled into insignificance, however, when compared with Glasgow holiday week in August, when most of Glasgow closed down, factories closed down, whole streets decamped to Scarborough and the hard drinking of the men was something to be experienced.

The current problem with antisocial behaviour is much more ubiquitous and in many ways more complex. First, access and attitudes to alcohol are very different now, and drinking hours are much longer. In my constituency, people can drink until 5 or 6 o’clock in the morning in nightclubs or at the new casino. Many tourists who visit the town now adopt Spanish hours, as I call them, going to sleep in the early evening only to get up so that they can club all night. Young people also have much more money in their pockets than they used to have. Many people, before they even go out for the night, will tank up on vodka in their guest house or at home. Alcopops have made alcohol a much more attractive option for younger people. Even if one cannot fight one’s way to the bar in a particular establishment, waitresses, almost like those girls who sell ice cream in the cinema, go around with trays of shots. One can throw £1 into the tray and quickly knock back a vodka shot between rounds.

The other big change since the 1960s is that decent people go out more in the evenings. We have moved on a lot from the early days of chicken-in-a-basket. More people now enjoy having meals in restaurants and spending time in our city centres, to which, previously, people largely went to drink in pubs, not to eat. People who go out for a good time, perhaps to binge-drink, are therefore intermixing with families and more
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respectable—if I can use that word—people who do not regard that as a good prospect.

Towns such as Scarborough depend heavily on tourism; it is, I am told, the UK’s premier tourist resort. We are trying to attract more families and conferences to the town, which we cannot do if we have this image of binge-drinking on our streets. We do not want undesirable people coming to the town. We do, however, have the UK Independence party conference coming to Scarborough in October—[Hon. Members: “Are you tempted?”] On that occasion, I will be in Blackpool, to which the Conservative party is not too posh to go.

Forty-six per cent. of calls to North Yorkshire police are about criminal damage. I know, however, that Scarborough is not as bad as many of our inner-city areas. We heard from the hon. Member for Wakefield (Mary Creagh), who is not in her place, about the number of ASBOs served in her constituency. Last year, our newly appointed local police chief, Chief Inspector Andy Everitt, identified his top priorities: targeting the top five antisocial offenders; more ASBOs; the use of alcohol-free zones and, possibly, parenting orders.

Scarborough is a low-crime area. From speaking to my local authority today, I understand that only 25 incidents get phoned in for the whole borough, which pales into insignificance when compared with many London and inner-city boroughs in the north of England. However, one in four crimes takes place in either the town centre or Castle ward, and our crime and disorder reduction partnership is working well. Our Conservative-controlled local authority is well ahead of the game—I am pleased that places such as Hartlepool are catching up—which might be related to the fact that the leader of that council is a former chief of police in Scarborough.

The attitude taken in Scarborough is that ASBOs are not the way to go. The point at which an ASBO is issued to an offender is probably too late. We should be getting ahead of the game. Only two ASBOs were issued in Scarborough last year. We feel that the way forward is through other measures. As well as ASBOs, for which residents, the council or landlords can apply through the civil courts, we have CRASBOs—criminal ASBOs—five of which have been issued. I do not know for sure, but I suspect that those five offenders are the five referred to by Chief Inspector Everitt when he took up his post. CRASBOs are much cheaper to secure, because they result from criminal prosecutions. As we have already heard today, issuing an ASBO can cost up to £3,500, and in cases in which ASBOs are contested it can cost many times more than that.

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