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9.34 pm

Andrew Rosindell (Romford) (Con): This has been a lively and worthwhile debate. We have heard compelling arguments from hon. Members on both sides of the House about the Government's failure to live up to their
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promise to curb antisocial behaviour on our streets. I would particularly like to commend the comments made by my hon. Friend the Member for Hornchurch (James Brokenshire), who has done an enormous amount of work on this problem, as the Government have clearly failed to do. My hon. Friend the Member for Upminster (Angela Watkinson) has also spoken, and both are Members of Parliament in the same borough as me.

Labour's top-down, target-centric approach to fighting crime has quite obviously failed to deliver. It is a fact that 10,000 incidents of antisocial behaviour are reported every day, and almost one fifth of the population believe that there are high levels of antisocial behaviour in their community. Antisocial behaviour blights the lives of ordinary, everyday people who are trying to go about their lives, commuting to work, going out with their friends and walking to the shops. They cannot go about their daily business without being hindered by fear and having to look over their shoulder at every corner. The tragic case of Fiona Pilkington and her daughter highlighted the lengths to which people can be driven when they are on the receiving end of this horrific behaviour.

Shockingly, levels of violent crime have increased by almost 70 per cent. in the past 10 years. That is an appalling record for the Government, who have failed to fight crime and antisocial behaviour effectively. Even the Home Secretary has admitted that the Government have been resting on their laurels rather than effectively fighting antisocial behaviour. The right hon. Member for Don Valley (Caroline Flint) said that she felt the Government might be losing ground, and that they should not be complacent. Clearly, there are fears on both sides of the House that that might be happening. My hon. Friend the Member for Bosworth (David Tredinnick) referred movingly to Fiona Pilkington. How many more people like her, who live in fear and who are afraid to leave their homes because of threats of violence and abuse, will there be? That is another example of a family that was appallingly let down by Government failure.

I agree with much of what my colleagues have said this evening, particularly my hon. Friend the Member for North-West Cambridgeshire (Mr. Vara), and my hon. Friend the Member for Woking (Mr. Malins), who spoke about the need for discipline in schools and the need to deal with truancy. He also said that literacy was a factor in this situation.

A major catalyst for antisocial behaviour is substance abuse, as we all know. The United Kingdom has the highest level of problem drug use in Europe. This Government have allowed a dangerous and toxic youth drinking culture to develop, spurred on by 24-hour licensing and cheap drink deals. As my hon. Friend the Member for Braintree (Mr. Newmark) pointed out, drunken yobs have made our town centres no-go areas, deterring the many people who want to enjoy a quiet night out in town rather than drink themselves into oblivion. Binge-drinking-fuelled antisocial behaviour is a very real problem, and it is out of control.

Let us take as an example Moston lane in Manchester. On that one street alone, there are 22 premises that are licensed to sell alcohol. In Sheffield, a student was recently caught urinating on a war memorial after drinking himself into a paralytic state. Five years ago, while
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serving as Home Secretary, the right hon. Member for Norwich, South (Mr. Clarke) vowed to "eliminate" antisocial behaviour by the time of the next election. He has not delivered on that promise, and neither have any of his successors. This complacent attitude cannot be allowed to continue.

We cannot tackle crime unless we also address the causes of crime: family breakdown, drug abuse and binge drinking. We need an extensive review of how to tackle the blight of antisocial behaviour. Measures that work should remain in place and those that do not should simply be scrapped. A poll by the Centre for Social Justice found that more than 75 per cent. of people think that the police are not intervening enough against antisocial behaviour. I believe that that was borne out by the comments of the hon. Member for Mitcham and Morden (Siobhain McDonagh), who had so many concerns that one would have thought that she was referring to a Conservative Government-but of course it is her own Government who have failed on so much of this, and they will pay the price next year.

The police have been suffocated by red tape and now spend more time at their desks doing paperwork than they do pounding the streets. We will cut police bureaucracy and give them greater powers so that they can respond more easily and more quickly to stop youths who are disturbing our communities. Fewer police sitting at their desks means more police on the streets-and there is no substitute for that. As the hon. Member for Wyre Forest (Dr. Taylor) made very clear, we need to put the police back in control to be more effective, and I agree.

We will enable the police to remove young offenders from the streets altogether and to propose the introduction of street curfews and the confiscation of possessions as a deterrent against future bad behaviour. If the police believe someone is carrying a concealed weapon, they will be able to search them more easily-without a plethora of paperwork. These would all constitute real and effective measures that would enable the police to enact targeted interventions, which would have a significant impact on stopping those who indulge in antisocial behaviour before their behaviour develops into something far more sinister.

As you will know, Mr. Speaker, as shadow Home Affairs Minister with specific responsibility for animal welfare, I take particular interest in the use and abuse of animals as tools for the purpose of antisocial behaviour. Nowhere does this horrific concept resonate more strongly than in respect of dangerous dogs. In recent years, the breeding of dogs to scare, intimidate and, in the worst cases, attack others has become a significant and dangerous problem for many inner-city communities and wider urban areas across the country. Irresponsible youths and gang members with antisocial agendas are breeding and training dogs to be overly aggressive and destructive in order to provide themselves with a form of "protection" or, more specifically, "street status". In reality, they are breeding a living, breathing offensive weapon.

The number of complaints received by the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals about status and dangerous dogs saw a twelvefold increase between 2004 and 2008. Over that same period, admissions to NHS hospitals for dog-inflicted wounds soared by 43 per cent. It is no exaggeration to say that what we are seeing is an emerging epidemic. It is crucial that we take
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into account the criminal implications, while maintaining the best interests of animal welfare at heart.

The Dangerous Dogs Act 1991 prohibits the breeding, sale and ownership of certain breeds of dog. The number of prosecutions brought under this Act has more than doubled over the past decade. However, as the dramatic rise in the number of incidents shows, this legislation has failed rationally to address the problem. This ineffective legislation has also manifested itself most cruelly with cases of innocent family pets being confiscated and destroyed by the police force. It has become all too familiar under this Government that a responsible majority gets penalised by a highly irresponsible and antisocial minority. That is why we pledge to repeal the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991 and replace it with a dog control Act, containing provisions and requirements with a much stronger emphasis on owner responsibility.

Crime and antisocial behaviour have defined the downward spiral of this Government's 12-year legacy. Broken promises have led to a broken society. Labour's web of failure has now entangled more than just man: man's best friend is also suffering owing to ignorance and a reluctance to review the legislation. Public safety is of paramount importance, and today's problems will be tackled effectively only through properly thought out legislation and adequate support for those who enforce it.

9.45 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Alan Campbell): This has been a useful and wide-ranging debate, and it was enriched by Members' constituency experiences. I hope that they were not experiences such as the case of Fiona Pilkington-the hon. Member for Bosworth (David Tredinnick) mentioned that-although such experiences do remind us of what can happen in extreme cases, when agencies that people rely upon let them down. It has also largely been a realistic debate-although not entirely, I have to say. There have been no references to "The Wire", a television programme that was the blueprint for Opposition policy at one time, and there were only three references in almost five hours to "broken Britain", one of which was in the last five minutes. Such references are an insult to the police, local councils, the Churches, the voluntary organisations and, most of all, the residents who are working hard throughout the country to make their communities safer and better.

The reality is that crime is down by 36 per cent. in 12 years. If-this is an enormous "if" as it will not happen-the Government happened to change in the next few months, we would be the first Government since the war to leave office with crime lower than when we took office. That is the reality of the situation, whatever the rhetoric from those on the Opposition Benches.

I shall address Members' comments in themes, rather than go through each speech. The first theme, which emerged from a number of speeches, was that antisocial behaviour is above all a local matter and that tackling it requires local action. It is a matter not just for the police or the council, but for the whole range of local agencies and partnerships working with local people in local communities. There are many examples of good practice throughout the country. Because somebody somewhere
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will know how to make the powers that are available work, one of the Home Office's jobs is to make sure that the powers are used by people who know how they work, supporting and challenging local partnerships.

The second theme is that tackling antisocial behaviour is important in every community and that everyone, regardless of where they come from or whether they are rich or poor, wants to be able to live in their community in safety and with a fulfilling life. Unfortunately, that is not the case everywhere, particularly in communities where offenders prey on the poorest and most powerless. My right hon. Friend the Member for Salford (Hazel Blears) reminded us of the need for the twin-track approach of enforcement and prevention-to use that well-worn phrase yet again, of being tough on crime, tough on the causes of crime, a prescription that even the hon. Member for Romford (Andrew Rosindell) has come to get.

Through using the full range of available powers and enforcement and prevention, we have got crime down by 36 per cent. in 12 years. What we need is a clear enforcement message and clear punishment. The hon. Member for West Chelmsford (Mr. Burns) is not present, but not for the first time, I agree with him in this regard. Having a strong enforcement message allows us to have the next conversation, which is about all the things we need to do to prevent antisocial behaviour. That means that we can talk seriously about the proposals put forward by the right hon. Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Mr. Duncan Smith) on short prison sentences; that was picked up by the hon. Members for Woking (Mr. Malins) and for Upminster (Angela Watkinson). Having that conversation is possible only when communities know that a strong enforcement message is going out as well, holding people responsible if they break the law.

A message that came through particularly strongly from Labour Members was the need for proper resources. That was picked up by my right hon. Friend the Member for Don Valley (Caroline Flint). The Opposition were given the opportunity on a number of occasions to make commitments on resources, and everyone will have noticed that they ducked the issue.

We have an historic number of police officers: 16,000 police community support officers and 36,000 police officers in 3,600 neighbourhood policing teams spending 80 per cent. of their time on their patch. Let us have none of the nonsense about police being hindered by bureaucracy and unable to leave their police stations. To carry on repeating that message is to deny the very good work being done in neighbourhoods up and down this country.

The hon. Member for Hornchurch (James Brokenshire) is behind the game, talking, as he did, about the target culture. As the Minister for Policing, Crime and Counter-Terrorism reminded him, there is only one measure: the single confidence measure. As my hon. Friend the Member for Mitcham and Morden (Siobhain McDonagh) pointed out, the confidence target's purpose is to make the police and others accountable to the public in all that they do, not least through the policing pledge, so that they face the public whom they serve.

The police have the powers available at their disposal, including antisocial behaviour orders, and, as has been acknowledged, the evidence from the National Audit Office is that where these powers are used, they work.
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[Interruption.] The hon. Member for Hornchurch chunters from a sedentary position, and he has said, "Never mind ASBOs, what about a warning letter?" [Interruption.] I am delighted that that is what the NAO said, because I do not care what we use as long as it works. The message from the NAO is that if we intervene once-be it a warning letter or an ASBO-it changes behaviour in two thirds of the cases; by the time of a third intervention, it changes behaviour in 93 per cent. of cases. Both the police and local authorities must be prepared to use the powers and then, if they are not being effective, to escalate things-that is how to get effective action in local areas.

The focus has understandably been on young people and, in particular, on the need to divert them away from trouble, whether they are the offenders or, as in many cases of antisocial behaviour, the victims of that behaviour. People seem to forget that half the ASBOs given out do not go to youngsters; they go to adults. We need to be realistic about the involvement of young people in the criminal justice system too. I do not think that the hon. Member for Eastleigh (Chris Huhne) was realistic in that regard. The reality is that fewer young people are coming into contact with that system, and that is a good thing. When they do come into contact with it, fewer young people then go on to reoffend, and that is a good thing. We should all be united-I hope that we are-in our view that young people, by and large, are law-abiding, decent and upstanding citizens in their local communities. We must ensure that the small minority who cause the problems feel the full force of the law and the powers that are available. I am determined that that is what will happen, but I am not sure that that determination is shared by those in every part of this House.

Young people spend most of their day in school-or they should do. My hon. Friend the Member for Mitcham and Morden spoke of the importance of good links between schools and the local police. That is why, as the Prime Minister has said, we want to see more safer school partnerships; I wish that we did not need after-school patrols, but if we need them, we should have more of them. It is also why we should be building on schemes such as Sure Start, not cutting them.

The hon. Member for Eastleigh mentioned the importance of sport-I agree about that-but he did not acknowledge the huge investment that this Government have put into school sport, school music and play areas in our local communities. He did not acknowledge it, but Lib Dem councillors up and down the country are, almost weekly, going around taking credit for the investment that is going into their local communities.

Much has been made of supporting families, and that is crucial if we are to win this struggle against antisocial behaviour. We need to make sure not only that parents are more responsible, but that they have the support they need to turn the corner for their family. That is why we are extending family intervention projects, which have been supported very strongly by my right hon. Friend the Member for Salford and others. They are expensive, but they are not as expensive as doing nothing. If we take a short-term sticking plaster approach, it will ultimately cost us more in the long run.

We also need to send a strong message with tough sanctions-we need tough love. It is not a choice to sign
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up to family intervention projects, but a responsibility that people have to do everything they can, with support, to turn their family around. The hon. Member for Hornchurch talked about poverty and educational underachievement, and I agree with him, but I do not think it is as simple as saying that if it was not for family breakdown none of these problems of poverty or educational underachievement would exist. The reality is that the causes of crime are extremely complex and they give us, as politicians, tough choices. Do we continue to invest in Sure Start, do we invest in family intervention projects or do we cut inheritance tax for the richest 3,000 in the country?

A lot has been said, as is often the case on these occasions, about providing good local facilities, particularly for young people. The Government have put money into providing activities on Friday and Saturday nights, when-surprise, surprise-a lot of antisocial behaviour happens. In 81 areas, there were 5,000 projects. It is up to local authorities and others to step up to the mark and to ensure that they are doing everything they can to make sure that those facilities and activities are available. I hope that when local councils look at their budgets and look to make cuts-youth facilities are often easy targets-and are scrambling to get 0 per cent. council tax increases next April, every Member of this House who wants youth facilities will be out there arguing for them in their area.

My hon. Friend the Member for Pudsey (Mr. Truswell), who is no longer in his place, asked about the confiscation of assets-a key part of tackling offenders in our community. The direct answer to his question is that half the money taken in assets seized goes to the Home Office and makes up the Home Office budget that goes into front-line services. The rest is shared between agencies. He mentioned, as did others, community cashback, which ensures that money goes into local schemes and under which £4 million has gone into local projects, voted for by local people. Residents can see that justice is being done because they can see that crime does not pay.

I agree with the hon. Member for Eastleigh that we have to take a holistic approach. We have to ensure that the money, commitment and resources that go into local areas are all applied to the problems in those local areas. I commend to him the Total Place pilots that are running up and down the country to ensure that we are getting the most that we can out of our investment of money from Departments and agencies. That is crucial in these difficult economic times.

In conclusion, antisocial behaviour is an issue for every community. People have a right to live in safety, peace and security. We need a realistic assessment of where we are and of the progress that has been made. It is important to acknowledge and build on that progress. My right hon. Friend the Member for Salford said that antisocial behaviour and harassment happen less often than they did. I agree with her, but they still happen more often than they should.

Question put and agreed to.


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Delegated Legislation

Motion made, and Question put forthwith (Standing Order No. 118(6)),


Question agreed to.

Motion made, and Question put forthwith (Standing Order No. 118(6)),

Question agreed to.

Motion made, and Question put forthwith (Standing Order No. 118(6)),

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