Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Anti-social Behaviour: C&AG Report

2.58 pm

Baroness Seccombe asked Her Majesty’s Government:

The Minister of State, Home Office (Baroness Scotland of Asthal): My Lords, it is less than one week since the National Audit Office’s report was published, and we are still studying its findings, conclusions and recommendations. There is likely to be a Public Accounts Committee hearing in the new year and then a formal response, which of course I cannot anticipate.

Baroness Seccombe: My Lords, I thank the Minister for her reply. I am sure that we can all agree that in certain communities a number of people suffer a wretched, miserable existence due to the activities of a few. To counteract this, in 2003 the Government brought in anti-social behaviour orders. Three years’ work has gone into that, so plenty of data are available. ASBOs have come in for condemnation from some quarters, but the National Audit Office in its report on 7 December recommends specific measures. Has the time not come for a detailed appraisal of the whole operation, which should be published? That would be preferable to racing ahead with new initiatives.

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, a number of reports have been published on anti-social behaviour orders and their application, and noble Lords will have had the advantage of debating them. It is important to recognise that this new report identifies that anti-social behaviour orders have been very successful. Sixty-five per cent of people desisted from anti-social behaviour after one intervention, 86 per cent desisted after two interventions, and as many as 93 per cent desisted after the third intervention. There have been a number of reports and they are telling us that we are doing well and that, although we need to go further, this is a success.

Lord Howarth of Newport: My Lords, does my noble friend agree that anti-social behaviour orders have been the best method yet of stopping in their

12 Dec 2006 : Column 1451

tracks people who have not been amenable to reason, persuasion, instruction or discipline, but that if they are not to be devalued they must be used sparingly and invariably be enforced?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, I respectfully agree with my noble friend and say further that anti-social behaviour orders are only one tool. We also have the benefit of the acceptable behaviour contracts, which, if used as part of the overall protocol, are very successful indeed in interrupting patterns of offending behaviour.

Lord Dholakia: My Lords, has the Minister had the opportunity to read the report of the Runnymede Trust on racial equality and anti-social behaviour orders? One recommendation is that local authorities, to meet their obligation under the Race Relations (Amendment) Act 2000, should undertake ethnic monitoring. Why has that not been done and has the department issued any instruction on that subject?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, the issue of ethnic monitoring has been considered. The Together website talks about standing together and the action that we are going to take. The noble Lord knows that we continue to keep disproportionality under review. I shall ensure that we highlight this matter for my honourable friend the Minister responsible for that part of the portfolio.

The Earl of Listowel: My Lords, the Youth Justice Board recognises that anti-social behaviour orders can work extremely well, but what is the Minister’s response to the board’s urging that youth offending teams must always be involved whenever an ASBO is considered for a child or young person? How does she respond, too, to the research published in November that revealed that, in seven out of 10 areas examined, YOTs had little or no involvement in the imposition of an ASBO, and that many young people in the survey did not understand the restrictions placed on them and were therefore at risk of breach?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, the Anti-Social Behaviour Unit is now working extremely closely with the Youth Justice Board to ensure that there is clear interaction between the YOTs and the unit’s activity. That appears to be working well and there is a good working relationship.

Baroness Sharples: My Lords, is the Minister aware that I spent a long evening going many miles with a friend who deals with ASBOs? I went as her chaperone, and what really shocked me was that, if I had not been there, she would have been sent out on her own—as she normally is—until late, sometimes not getting home until after midnight.

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, I commend the noble Baroness and her friend for doing invaluable work. The dedication of those who undertake this work is having material success; we are changing behaviour and, as a result, giving great relief

12 Dec 2006 : Column 1452

to communities. So I commend the work done by the noble Baroness and her friend—but it is right that we are taking every step to ensure that people who undertake that work do so safely.

Lord Campbell-Savours: My Lords—

Noble Lords: Cross-Bench!

Lord Dear: My Lords, in view of the undoubted fact that combating anti-social behaviour is dependent in large part on a uniformed police presence on the streets, can the Minister comment on reports circulating in the broadsheet press that funding for police community support officers is likely to be cut substantially in the next 12 months?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, community support officers have done a very valuable job. We are working closely with ACPO to make sure that the right numbers are available in the right places. This is a joint action plan, which has been agreed across the board. We hope that we shall have sufficient numbers where they are needed.

Baroness Anelay of St Johns: My Lords, the Minister talks about the success that the Government have enjoyed, but has she not read the report’s comment that 55 per cent of ASBOs are breached and that they fail to reach 20 per cent of people, whom I have to call thugs, who are making people’s lives a misery? Will she give a commitment today at least to give better support to witnesses of anti-social behaviour, who, as the report points out, feel particularly intimidated when they have to attend breach proceedings in court? What will the Government do to address that problem?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, one should not see breach as failure. One is looking at ongoing behaviour over a long period. Breach enables us to intervene and change behaviour, and by the third intervention 93 per cent of people are back on track. We now have better support packages for victims and witness protection has been very successful. We are rightly continuing to look at those issues. I am very pleased by the success of the work that we are undertaking.


3.06 pm

Lord Grocott: My Lords, I have two business announcements, both of which are subject to the leave of the House. First, a Statement on personal accounts will be repeated later today by my noble friend Lord Hunt of Kings Heath after the Second Reading of the Concessionary Bus Travel Bill. Secondly, immediately after the Statement, an Answer given in the other place to an urgent Question on Iraq will be repeated by my noble friend Lord Triesman.

12 Dec 2006 : Column 1453

Consolidated Fund Bill

Brought from the Commons, certified by the Speaker as a money Bill, and read a first time.

Concessionary Bus Travel Bill [HL]

3.07 pm

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time.

Buses are the most widely used mode of public transport in this country. Over two-thirds of all public transport journeys are made on them. The number of bus journeys is at a 10-year high, around 5 billion in the UK in 2005.

Our buses now boast their best ever environmental performance. They are more accessible for disabled passengers than ever before and there has been good progress on improving the quality of the buses on our roads. The average age has come down by more than 20 per cent over the past 10 years.

The flexibility of bus networks means that they can provide a genuine alternative to the car, helping to tackle congestion, improve social inclusion and contribute to meeting our goals on climate change. The Government recognise that buses are particularly important for some of the most vulnerable people in our society. They often provide a vital lifeline to services such as shops, leisure facilities and hospitals and are an important connection to the community. That is why, in 2001, the Government acted to ensure half-price bus travel in England for all older and disabled people within their local authority area, and why, earlier this year, we provided an additional £350 million per annum to make such travel completely free.

These measures have already reduced transport-related social exclusion and have helped to enhance well-being in our communities, but we want to go further. We want pensioners and disabled people to be able to go further too, not just travel within local authority areas. We recognise that the places to which people need to travel are no respecters of sometimes arbitrary local authority boundaries. The Bill means that, for the first time, around 11 million older and disabled people will be able to use off-peak local buses free of charge anywhere in England. That will give them the freedom to travel across district or county boundaries to nearby shops, to access healthcare or to visit friends and relatives. They will have free travel when visiting any part of England, from Cumbria to Kent and from Cornwall to Cambridgeshire.

Those important changes require a change in the law. We will ensure clarity and consistency in how the new national concession is implemented across England. The Bill will guarantee, in legislation, free local bus travel anywhere in England from 9.30 am to 11 pm on weekdays and all day on bank holidays and at the weekend. We will do that by amending the Transport Act 2000 and, for Greater London, by amending the Greater London Authority Act 1999.

12 Dec 2006 : Column 1454

The Government will provide up to £250 million of new money each year to pay for this extended national bus concession.

A national scheme will require some changes to current arrangements. A bus driver in Devon needs to be able to easily recognise a pass issued in Durham; we need a national standard. The Bill therefore includes a power to standardise the appearance of passes. We will continue to encourage councils to take account of local circumstances. Where local authorities wish to go even further than the new national statutory entitlement, they will be able to do so. Section 93 of the Transport Act 1985 gives local authorities the discretion to provide concessions at additional times or on different modes. The Bill will not change that. It means that local authorities up and down the country can continue to offer concessions on other modes or travel token schemes. In London, the Freedom Pass system will not change. Whatever works best for local authorities and their residents will be in place.

What about scheduled coach travel? I assure the House that the Bill will not affect the existing half-fare concessionary scheme, which we introduced in May 2003. Government funding of £15 million every year means that millions of older and disabled people will go on benefiting when making longer journeys by coach. We are listening to stakeholders, and we are discussing the measures in the Bill with local authorities, bus operators and bus users. We recognise the importance of ensuring that bus operators receive fair payment for carrying concessionary passengers. In the same way as now, reimbursement will be offered on a “no better, no worse off” basis, so no operator should be disadvantaged by the new measures. An operator can appeal if he believes that reimbursement has been set at the wrong level.

We also need to ensure that councils get a fair deal. At present, the Government provide around £800 million a year to local authorities via the formula grant system. Local authorities then reimburse bus operators for carrying concessionary passengers. We are committed to working with local authorities and bus operators to ensure that the mechanisms for funding and reimbursement are fit for purpose. The concessionary fares landscape varies across England. In some areas, the travel concession authorities responsible for providing reimbursement are district councils; in other areas, it is unitary county councils or passenger transport executives. Overall, there are 291 separate travel concession authorities, and separate arrangements apply in London. This can mean that some bus operators need to negotiate with many authorities each year. It means a wide variation in schemes and reimbursement regimes across the country, and it means that even where countywide schemes are set up, there is no guarantee that they will last.

The Bill provides the power to simplify the system in the future. There is provision to transfer reimbursement and other administrative functions, such as issuing permits, from district councils to county councils, or to transfer those functions to the

12 Dec 2006 : Column 1455

Secretary of State. If such steps were taken, district councils could also be asked to co-operate at the county level on the administration of discretionary Section 93 schemes.

We expect that moving reimbursement and administration to higher-tier authorities or to the Secretary of State could improve efficiency and save money. A recent National Audit Office report estimated that annual savings could be as much as £12 million, but I can assure the House that any such change would be subject to extensive consultation and there would be full and proper parliamentary scrutiny of any draft secondary legislation, which would be introduced by affirmative resolution.

Lord Foulkes of Cumnock: My Lords, my noble friend will be aware that there is already a nationwide concessionary scheme in Scotland. I have my card here, as has my noble friend Lord Hogg. His is issued in Aberdeen and mine in Ayrshire but they look exactly the same. They allow us to travel around Scotland. This Bill introduces a similar system for England. Will the schemes be reciprocal? Will Scots pensioners be able to travel in England and English pensioners in Scotland?

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, I was coming to that. Of course we intend that to be the case. My noble friend will recognise that cross-border schemes already operate; for example, people from Carlisle can cross the border into Scotland and take advantage of their pass. We intend to make the scheme nationwide; this is a Bill for England but the scheme will be consistent with Scottish and Welsh legislation, and it takes in Northern Ireland.

Lord Foulkes of Cumnock: My Lords, I welcome what the Minister has said. We would have expected nothing less from this Minister and this Government.

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, I am more than grateful to my noble friend and await the fire-bolt still to come after that helpful intervention.

The Government’s first priority is to implement a successful all-England scheme, but the Bill enables us, when we have done that, to put in place with the co-operation of the devolved Administrations a scheme whereby eligible people have the right to free bus travel anywhere in the United Kingdom.

The Government would consult fully the devolved Administrations to obtain their agreement before pursuing any UK-wide scheme. I know that there might be some anxiety in the Scottish Administration, and in Wales and Northern Ireland, about the implications of the English scheme. We have already thought carefully about the legal arrangements. The Bill enshrines in legislation the ability for Welsh, Scottish and Northern Irish passes to be recognised in England, and for English, Scottish and Northern Irish passes to be recognised in Wales. The Bill also ensures that bus operators can be fairly reimbursed for journeys by any eligible UK resident travelling anywhere in the UK.

12 Dec 2006 : Column 1456

Nothing in the Bill needs to affect existing cross-border arrangements set up by local authorities. I mentioned the Carlisle scheme that allows concessionary travel across the border into Scotland; likewise, a scheme for Shropshire enables concessionary journeys into Wales. Authorities in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have the discretion to make short cross-border arrangements under existing legislation.

It makes sense to adopt a flexible concessionary fares framework. We want the Government to be able to respond to changing circumstances in the most appropriate way to maximise benefits for users. That is why the Bill includes powers to extend the times when concessionary travel is available or to provide it on alternative modes such as trams or community transport, should the resources for such national extensions become available. We have retained the power to include new categories of concessionary travellers in the future, such as students or carers for disabled people.

In conclusion, this Bill will guarantee for the first time that no older or disabled person in England is prevented from travelling by cost alone. It brings real social inclusion benefits for our communities. It is another important step forward in transport provision. I commend the Bill to the House.

Moved, That the Bill be now read a second time.—(Lord Davies of Oldham.)

3.19 pm

Lord Bradshaw: My Lords, we welcome the Bill, although we feel that the money has been spent in a rather careless way and that it could perhaps have been spent better. However, as regards the objects of the Bill, we agree with the Minister. The problems spring from the haste with which the arrangements were implemented after an announcement by the Chancellor before the last election, and they also spring from political ends rather than from those that meet practical objectives and efficiency in implementation. But increased bus use, which has certainly taken place within limited resources, is an aim that we all share.

Money has been—I use these words advisedly—sprayed around through the random mechanism of the rate support grant. It is, I submit, something of a blunderbuss approach to the issue, rather than one that we would ascribe to the surgeon who is trying to pinpoint the cause of the trouble. In summing up, my noble friend will highlight some of the problems that arise for local authorities, some of which have gained and some of which have lost from the way in which the money has been spent. The result is that some money—but not enough in every case—has gone to those that, with lots of bus services and lots of pensioners, are in greatest need and other money has gone to those with very few bus services and many fewer potential beneficiaries. This is what I call bad outcome No. 1—the money has been spent carelessly.

In the areas with passenger transport authorities, to which the Minister made reference, the money has gone to their constituent district councils, which may or may not pass the money on to the authority

12 Dec 2006 : Column 1457

charged with the job of securing bus services. This is what I call bad outcome No. 2—the money has not flowed to the people who need it. This is an indirect route for paying subsidy: it pays little regard to actual bus use and is full of leakage.

Bad outcome No. 3 is that the maximum bureaucracy has been created with, as the Minister said, every district council negotiating separately with each of their bus operators about the reimbursement that they should receive as a result of participating in the scheme. This is at a time when local authorities, of which I am a member, are obliged to reduce staff and bureaucracy. That system is inefficient and creates bad feeling among district councils on the one hand and bus operators on the other, when those two groups should co-operate in providing the highway space and other facilities necessary to provide a good bus service.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page