HC Deb 12 July 1999 vol 335 cc15-6
10. Mr. Vernon Coaker (Gedling)

What steps he is taking to ensure that the powers contained in the Crime and Disorder Act 1998 to tackle anti-social behaviour are used. [89219]

The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Jack Straw)

It is for the courts to decide whether an anti-social behaviour order can be granted. I have, however, issued detailed guidance to make clear the kind of circumstances in which applications should be sought. The orders provide a valuable tool to help combat anti-social behaviour, and I encourage the relevant authorities in areas where such behaviour is a problem to consider their use.

Mr. Coaker

On tabling a parliamentary question some two or three weeks ago about the use of the orders, I was surprised to find that, since they had come into effect in April, only one had been issued. The Home Secretary will know that many of us suffer the blight of anti-social behaviour on our estates, and were looking forward to the Crime and Disorder Act as a way of combating such behaviour. Will he do all that he can to encourage police forces, such as Nottingham police, and local authorities, such as Gedling district council, to use the orders that he has given them to combat behaviour that is driving many of our citizens absolutely mad?

Mr. Straw

I am happy to give my hon. Friend that undertaking. There was huge support for the idea of the orders—expressed nationally by the police and local authority associations, and to me personally by the police and local authorities when I visited his area of Nottinghamshire last year. Unfortunately, when new orders are introduced and this House and the other place create new offences, it often takes time for the authorities to make proper use of them. We are doing all that we can nationally to encourage the police and local authorities to make full use of the orders for which they asked. In turn, I ask every right hon. and hon. Member on both sides of the House to do everything possible to cajole and encourage their local police forces and authorities to make the fullest possible use of the orders.

Sir Robert Smith (West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine)

Does the Home Secretary remember that, when the Crime and Disorder Bill was in Committee, Ministers gave assurances that the orders were a last resort and were not to be oversold? Is there not a danger in the question and the answer that he has given of sending out the wrong message, resulting in the orders being used as a blanket system of justice rather than a last resort?

Mr. Straw

We are not in any sense overselling the idea of the orders. They are indeed a last resort, although many people in many constituencies are at the end of their tether as their civil liberties—their fundamental freedom to enjoy life in peace without being harassed and intimidated by anti-social neighbours—are being withdrawn. That is why the orders are there. I think that they have already had some effect. The police tell me that the threat of them is already helping to ensure greater compliance in some neighbourhoods. So, the figures of the orders granted belie their effectiveness. They are a last resort, but they are there to be used, and used they should be.

Mr. Martin Linton (Battersea)

Will my right hon. Friend ensure that magistrates receive information on, and training in, the use of anti-social behaviour orders, and that they are made aware of the results of imposing such orders in a national demonstration project along the same lines as the community service demonstration projects?

Mr. Straw

The last point is an excellent idea, which I shall pursue. I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising it. There was considerable discussion with the Magistrates Association and the stipendiary magistrates, as well as with the Justices' Clerks Society, about the draft guidance. So, a great deal of work has already been done to draw to the attention of magistrates the detailed way in which the orders work and, indeed, the need for them.