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A growing majority of people go out on a Friday or Saturday night with the sole purpose of getting drunk. There has been a change in attitudes, as we have heard, because those people do not have a sense of duty and have grown up with a different set of values. I blame the role models with whom they associate themselves or whom they look up to. What recently happened in “Big Brother” is a mirror image of British society. I shall leave aside the racist taunts. Shilpa Shetty is a Bollywood star and everything that Jo, Jade and Danielle are not. She is rich, famous, talented and intelligent—everything they want to be but cannot be. Their behaviour has been fuelled by alcohol, which is typical of so many youngsters today. They get drunk and behave aggressively, oblivious to the consequences. They are chasing a dream fuelled by a desire to alter
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their station in life without making any effort. Their behaviour is made worse because they have been trapped in the “Big Brother” house, but it is a true reflection of what is going on in British society.

Too many youngsters care little about the community, have no sense of responsibility and do not try to understand people outside their own circle. Their role models are pop stars, film stars and football players. We all know those characters and how they behave. They are in our papers every day. They are not the role models that I grew up with, and are certainly not the role models that my parents had. Unfortunately, there is a growing generation that has limited aspirations. Binge drinking is seen as OK. The spin-off from that is the antisocial behaviour that we have discussed today. The drinking culture in Britain is so different from that on the continent. In a roundabout way, “Big Brother” has done the nation a favour by allowing us to focus on what is happening to our culture.

Not enough is being done to counteract that. We should try to catch people early, keep them active and engaged, build their confidence and manage their expectations. In Bournemouth there are examples to show that the opposite is happening. We have been told to build 20,000 houses. No consideration has been given to how close together the houses will be or the type of community that that will create. No consideration has been given to amenities, which will undoubtedly have an impact on community spirit when people are living on top of each other.

In other parts of the world, such as New York or Australia, basketball nets and other outdoor facilities are free and widely available. In Britain, swings and roundabouts are provided for children up to the age of four, then there is nothing for kids to do to expend their energy, other than to hang around on the streets. Those who try to take the initiative, such as Bournemouth sea cadets, get no money because of the cuts in defence spending. Bournemouth canoe club gets no money because budgets have been cut by the councils. It has been reiterated time and again in the Chamber that the emphasis must be on local structures, but that is not happening.

The problem is serious. There is a whole generation that has a different set of values and does not share a sense of commitment to the community or duty to the country. The knock-on effect is poor education, reliance on the state and increased antisocial behaviour.

I should like to introduce a form of community service. I am not suggesting bringing back the draft. My suggestion is that when young people reach the age of 18, they should spend 10 months doing something that is not for themselves. Yes, they could join the Army, the Navy or the Air Force, but they could also join the Forestry Commission, a voluntary unit or a community hospital. Doing something that was not for themselves, but which would be to the economic benefit of the country, would cut back the £3.4 billion that is being wasted each year dealing with antisocial behaviour. More importantly, it would build the individual’s self-esteem, skill sets, confidence, sense of duty and pride in the nation.

Under the Government since 1997 truancy is up, crime has risen, binge drinking is reaching a critical level, obesity is on the rise, family breakdown is on the
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increase, prisoner reoffending is up and, as has just been mentioned, teenage pregnancy rates have increased. That is a poor reflection of the Government’s performance. Antisocial behaviour is the antithesis to society, and society is changing under the Government. I am worried for our younger generation. I am also worried that on current performance, the Government are not meeting the challenge to face those issues.

5.28 pm

James Brokenshire (Hornchurch) (Con): In his opening speech, the Minister said that he hoped that we would have a thoughtful and measured debate. That is precisely what we have had this afternoon, with some interesting contributions raising various issues associated with the problems of antisocial behaviour, which significantly affects so many neighbourhoods and communities across the country.

Neighbourhood crime, neighbourhood nuisance and community safety have a major impact on the quality of life of countless people. There is little doubt that walls daubed with graffiti tags, smashed up bus shelters and rowdy groups on the streets intimidate many people and discourage them from venturing out into their own communities. The hon. Member for Wakefield (Mary Creagh), like many other Members, talked about the local action, and she described how individuals in her community were taking the initiative. Those actions at community level are crucial in delivering the changes that we want.

I welcome the hon. Member for Taunton (Mr. Browne) on his first outing on the Liberal Democrat Front Bench. He made some interesting remarks about the history of community policing, albeit that Members in other parts of the House may not have shared his take on certain aspects.

The hon. Member for Hackney, South and Shoreditch (Meg Hillier) emphasised the importance of partnership working with the police and other agencies, as well as the role played by the community. I agreed with a fair amount of what she said, although I might look at her in a slightly different light in future given her theme of “Big Sister” and wonder whether she personifies that in her constituency in looking out for the interests of its residents.

My hon. Friend the Member for Spelthorne (Mr. Wilshire) made a thoughtful contribution in which he observed that solutions can come only from the communities and individuals involved. He challenged Members on both sides of the House to reflect on that, and we certainly will.

The hon. Member for Hartlepool (Mr. Wright) emphasised the need for restorative justice, highlighting the community court in Liverpool that has been set up as a pilot. As more pilots roll out in the months ahead, we will examine their effects in bringing justice closer to the community.

My hon. Friend the Member for Scarborough and Whitby (Mr. Goodwill) emphasised the impact of the growth in late-night entertainment and the problems of alcohol and binge drinking. I noted his comments about the local initiatives that have been introduced in his constituency to deal with alcohol-related crime and about the importance of the built environment in making communities feel safer.

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The hon. Member for Cleethorpes (Shona McIsaac) mentioned the problems in her constituency in relation to community policing. I will be interested to see how the Minister responds to her direct questions about that. The National Audit Office report indicated that about 80 per cent. of people in receipt of ASBOs already had a criminal record, which raises questions about whether they are given in appropriate circumstances. There is also the question of the overlap between antisocial behaviour and crime.

The hon. Member for Mid-Dorset and North Poole (Annette Brooke) talked about the balance between support and action, which is a key aspect of the debate. It is important not to equate all young people with yobbishness, and we must all get that message across. Last night, I attended a presentation evening at Chafford school, where I said that it was great to celebrate young people’s successes. They are not all bad, but that can be the perception from looking at the newspapers. It is much more sophisticated than that and we need to appreciate that.

It is important to take account of mental health challenges such as Asperger’s, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and dyslexia, which can be triggers of or factors that lead to antisocial behaviour and crime. We must consider how to resolve those problems through dealing with people who experience such challenges.

The hon. Member for Chorley (Mr. Hoyle) highlighted the problem of ASBO enforcement: if breaches occur, ASBOs are not always properly enforced and proper sanctions are not applied. That is a powerful and important message about the impact and effect of ASBOs.

My hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth, East (Mr. Ellwood) mentioned the increase in antisocial behaviour in the past few years. He made an important point about the role of special constables. I want to put on the record my congratulations to special constables on their work and service day in, day out, and my thanks to them for that. They are important and should be valued. My hon. Friend made important points about how their status could be further improved which I am sure will not be lost on hon. Members of all parties.

My hon. Friend also mentioned volunteering and getting young people involved in the social aspect of their communities. I welcome the initiative of my right hon. Friend the Member for Witney (Mr. Cameron): the young adult trust, which tries to promote a sense of social responsibility in communities, gets people involved and gives them new opportunities.

There is no doubt that antisocial behaviour makes an impact on all our communities throughout the country, but it also places a huge burden on the state. According to the National Audit Office, the cost to Government agencies of responding to reports of antisocial behaviour is approximately £3.4 billion per year. The Prime Minister’s strategy unit estimates that problem families—whose members commit crime—live on benefits, have poor health and cost the state up to £250,000 a year. My hon. Friend the Member for Arundel and South Downs (Nick Herbert) drew attention to that.

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I welcomed the spirit in which the Minister opened the debate. He accepted that aspects of his policies were not an unqualified success. Many issues that were mentioned today brought that to the fore. Against the backdrop of neighbourhood disorder, the Government have introduced an array of legislation, made many announcements and set up initiatives, culminating most recently in the launch of the much hyped Respect action plan. That included a host of interventions which fall outside the criminal law, from warning letters, through acceptable behaviour contracts and fixed penalty notices, to antisocial behaviour orders.

The Prime Minister has talked up ASBOs above all other interventions. In the Respect action plan, he stated that he was,

The problem for the Prime Minister and the Government is that they simply do not know how effective ASBOs are at tackling antisocial behaviour.

The recent National Audit Office report “Tackling Anti-social Behaviour” noted:

This week’s report by the Centre for Crime and Justice Studies, “Ten years of criminal justice under Labour: An independent audit”, goes a step further. It states:

The current lack of detailed qualitative analysis of the apparent remedies devised by the Government leads to confusion locally, with the National Audit Office suggesting that antisocial behaviour co-ordinators and others were

As for the public, according to Ipsos MORI, people believe that ASBOs are effective in showing the local community that something is being done about antisocial behaviour, with a positive rating of plus 18 per cent. The rating slumps to minus 7 per cent. when people are asked whether they think that ASBOs stop people engaging in antisocial behaviour. This is a case of presentation over delivery. The upshot of all this is that, having introduced a toolkit of sanctions, the Home Office does not know exactly what works, when it works or why it works.

There has been some discussion about whether the ASBO has become a badge of honour among certain groups. It certainly seems as though the breach rate for ASBOs has become a badge of honour for the Home Office. The rate has become higher and higher, with the National Audit Office putting the figure at 55 per cent. and some studies suggesting that it is topping 60 per cent. We are now told by the Home Office that that is to be viewed as some kind of measure of success, on the basis that ASBOs are being enforced. That is absurd logic, even for the Home Office. It shows that
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ASBOs are ineffective in getting the offender to change their behaviour, and that they are being breached. Perhaps the Minister could tell us whether, if that analysis is to be followed through, he would welcome a further jump in the breach rate next year.

It is not just the antisocial behaviour order that has run into problems. Other key parts of the respect action plan have also been derailed. The Government’s manifesto commitment to increase the numbers of police community support officers to 24,000 by 2008 to “revolutionise policing” in our communities has been slashed by 8,000, as we have heard from many hon. Members today. The national single non-emergency number intended to be available across England and Wales by next year is now to be subject to an evaluation review towards the end of this year, despite apparently being a key part of the respect drive. In the recent national community safety plan update, the Home Office gave itself a green traffic light on this issue. In fact, it looks as though the traffic light is firmly stuck on red.

More generally, one of the worrying aspects of the Government’s approach is the conflation of antisocial behaviour and crime. The concept of antisocial behaviour is subjective and has been used to cover a wide range of issues including selfish or thoughtless behaviour, nuisance and crime. That has caused a damaging erosion of what is viewed as a crime. That sends out a wider message, and there are parallels with the Government’s proposals to use fines rather than community punishments. The response of the judiciary to that proposal has direct relevance to the debate on the cross-over between antisocial behaviour and crime.

In response to the consultation on community punishments, the Council of Her Majesty’s Circuit Court Judges was quoted in the press as saying:

There is a clear point of distinction between the desire for speedier, more efficient justice and the erosion of the concept of criminality. Summary justice does not mean soft justice.

We believe that it is right to hold individuals to account, to hold them responsible for their actions and to punish them when they break the law, but if we do not tackle the underlying causes of crime and disorder we will never have safer communities and safer neighbourhoods. There is a shared responsibility between the Government, local government, other public agencies, social entrepreneurs and the communities themselves to tackle the fundamental matters of family breakdown, mental health issues, drug dependency, and a lack of educational achievement, opportunity and hope—all of which can act as contributory factors to antisocial and criminal behaviour for so many people.

However many initiatives and action plans the Government may come up with, however many respect squads they may impose, and however many super-nannies they may parachute in, there will be only a limited effect on the number of people benefiting and on the duration of the support. “Tough on crime and
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tough on the causes of crime” sounded good all those years ago, but after 10 years in office, it remains what it was then: just a soundbite.

5.44 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Vernon Coaker): It is a pleasure and a privilege to wind up such an important debate. As various hon. Members on both sides of the Chamber have said, antisocial behaviour affects all our constituents and is of real concern to many. I join the hon. Member for Hornchurch (James Brokenshire)—who was here instead of in Committee this afternoon—in congratulating all Members who have contributed to the quality of the debate. People outside will be pleased by the generally constructive nature of the debate—although differences of view were expressed—which will make an important contribution to tackling a real concern.

I intend to make some general comments, then to respond to individual Members’ contributions, and finally to say something about the way forward.

I want to emphasise an extremely important point made by the hon. Member for Hornchurch and a couple of others. Much of today’s debate has focused on yobbish behaviour and on the minority of young people in our communities who cause a criminal, antisocial problem, which drives people in many parts of the country to despair. Nobody can condone, in any sense, such behaviour. As hon. Members have said, however, we are talking about a minority of young people. We are not talking about the majority of young people, who are growing up in difficult times and, in many cases, caring for others, raising money for charity and making all sorts of wonderful contributions to their communities. It behoves us to ensure that the message that goes out from this Chamber is that, yes, we want to clamp down on the irresponsible and criminal minority, but we recognise that the vast majority of young people in this country are a credit to their communities and their families. That is an important point on which to start.

It is often thought that it is parliamentarians, the older generation or people who are somehow not in touch who want antisocial behaviour to be dealt with. However, when I go and speak to young people—I am sure that many hon. Members, and many of my hon. Friends, have the same experience—I find that it is young people themselves who are demanding that we do something about it. By and large, young people are much more likely to be the victims of crime or antisocial behaviour, to have their mobile phone taken, to be the victims of irresponsible drinking, to be mugged on the street, to have their bag stolen and to be intimidated.

Let us be clear: this is not a debate about out-of-touch parliamentarians or older people lecturing younger people about the way that they should live, or about some mythical age, which, if only we could return to it, would make everything better. It is about a demand from every section of the community, young and old, that we do something about the problems that exist. Young people want that as much as anyone else. That is also an important message to get across.

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