HC Deb 22 March 2000 vol 346 cc997-9 4.24 pm
Mr. Vernon Coaker (Gedling)

I beg to move, That leave be given to bring in a Bill to change the maximum specified age at which a child may be subject to a notice given under a local child curfew scheme. It is important to state first that the Government regarded tackling anti-social behaviour as one of their first and most important priorities. Many people living in communities affected by such behaviour have demanded that firm action be taken. The anti-social behaviour that takes place in our communities is not trivial and it cannot be ignored. It blights many people's lives and many communities. People want something to be done about it.

All hon. Members will know, from their postbags and their surgeries, about the quite appalling behaviour of a small minority of people. That bad behaviour is evident across all communities. It should be recognised that the problem is not confined to inner cities or rural areas. Unfortunately, the problem extends throughout all our communities. Examples of the sort of behaviour to which I am referring can be found in local parks, alleyways, open spaces and shop fronts.

The police and local authorities have for many years been demanding from Government new and greater powers with which to tackle anti-social behaviour. The police, local authorities and local communities had a feeling of helplessness when it came to dealing with such behaviour. It was as though nothing could be done. The Government responded to various calls and demands with the introduction of the Crime and Disorder Act 1998, which is an important piece of legislation. It provides for partnership between the various responsible agencies and bodies—the police, local authorities, voluntary groups and schools, for example. The Act has encouraged partnership at a local level. There must be joined-up thinking if we are to tackle behavioural problems.

As well as its provision for partnership, the Crime and Disorder Act contained specific new powers, including parenting orders, child safety orders, anti-social behaviour orders and curfews, which were for children under 10. The Act enabled local authorities, where there was a specific problem in certain areas, to apply for a curfew order. Children up to the age of 10 could be barred from going into those areas.

Despite the demands from local communities, the police and various bodies to have new powers, there has been a disappointing take-up. Very few anti-social behaviour orders have been made, and not one child curfew order. What is happening with curfews and why is it that orders are not being used?

I believe that the answer is simple. The age at which curfew orders can be made is too young—it needs to be extended to 16. Most of the few young people who are causing problems in our communities are between the ages of 10 and 16, not younger than 10. The power that I propose would enable a local authority to ban young people for a limited period from an area where problems were arising so that order could be restored. What would that mean for many of our communities?

Problems are arising in parks, open spaces, alleyways and the front of shops, and we should respond to the demand from local communities that something be done. The imposition of a curfew in such areas would give the local authority, in liaison with the police, the opportunity to try to restore order.

We should understand the hell and sheer frustration that some people experience when living next door to people who engage in anti-social behaviour. It is not good enough to say that nothing can be done. People tell me that they understand some of the difficulties involved in dealing with law and order problems. In Nottingham, there have been some terrible examples of firearms offences on the streets. My constituents and many other people to whom I talk understand the difficulties that the police have in dealing with such offences, which are often drug-related. However, they do not understand the inability of the community, the police, local authorities and politicians to deal with gangs of young people who terrorise their neighbourhoods and cause problems. The Bill would enhance the power of local authorities to deal with those gangs. It would be welcomed by the people in our communities and would, indeed, be greatly welcomed by my constituents in Gedling.

We all accept the need to examine the facilities that are available and to do something about them, and of course there is a need for more community workers. I do not accept, however, that the poor behaviour of a small minority can be excused because of a lack of facilities. Indeed, the young people I speak to want something done about the anti-social behaviour that they experience in their communities. Let us not forget that young people make up the largest group of victims of crime. I spoke to a sixth form recently, whose pupils were as adamant as any of us that they wanted anti-social behaviour addressed so that they could more readily enjoy the open spaces and leisure centres that are sometimes not available to them because of the activities of a few. I believe that extending the age range for which the curfew could be used would make a real difference to the powers that are available to local authorities and the police.

It is often argued that such measures infringe an individual's human rights. There is a balance to be struck between the human rights of an individual and the human rights of a community. I am concerned about the human rights of the many people who live next door to a park, try to shop in a particular area or are abused when they walk down the street.

In conclusion, I believe that the Bill, in extending the age range from 10 to 16, will give local authorities a greater opportunity to tackle a blight on many of our communities. It will give us the opportunity to address those problems, to meet the needs of our communities and to tackle anti-social behaviour. That is not a trivial problem; it is a huge problem for many people in many communities.

I commend the Bill to the House.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. Vernon Coaker, Mr. Lawrie Quin, Mr. Andrew Reed, Gillian Merron, Mr. John Heppell, Liz Blackman, Ms Rosie Winterton, Ms Ann Coffey, Mr. Neil Turner, Ms Joan Ryan and Caroline Flint.