HC Deb 08 January 2001 vol 360 cc689-91
1. Maria Eagle (Liverpool, Garston)

What plans he has to reduce the incidence of antisocial behaviour in British cities. [142642]

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

The Government have taken a series of initiatives to tackle antisocial behaviour. The Crime and Disorder Act 1998 introduced crime and disorder partnerships, antisocial behaviour orders, important changes to the youth justice system and other measures and new offences, including those of racial harassment and violence. More than 140 antisocial behaviour orders have now been made by the courts. Since they were implemented nationally in June, in excess of 243 parenting orders have been made. In the first year of operation, there were more than 1,500 successful prosecutions for racial harassment and violence. The forthcoming criminal justice and police Bill will include further initiatives to tackle behaviour that undermines community life, including strengthened bans on on-street drinking, and powers enabling the police promptly to close licensed premises and to issue fixed-penalty notices.

Maria Eagle

Does my right hon. Friend agree that organisations such as Liverpool city council's antisocial behaviour unit can be an effective spearhead in tackling antisocial behaviour? Is he surprised, therefore, to learn that the Liberal Democrat-controlled city council has allowed the staffing of that unit to decline to less than half its proper establishment? Will he join me in urging the council to recruit quickly to the antisocial behaviour unit to make it effective again?

Mr. Straw

There is no doubt that properly directed antisocial behaviour units in local councils can make a very significant difference in tackling antisocial behaviour in our communities. I share my hon. Friend's concern that Liverpool city council has apparently decided to cut the staffing of that unit, and I very much hope that it will restore the number of staff to the previous level.

Mr. Jonathan Sayeed (Mid-Bedfordshire)

If the Home Secretary wants to reduce antisocial behaviour in Flitwick, Ampthill or Shefford—towns in my constituency—will he ensure that they receive the funding that they require for closed circuit television?

Mr. Straw

We have allocated £150 million for CCTV schemes over three years. That represents a huge increase on the amounts allocated by the previous Administration—about £15 million a year. We invite bids from towns across the country, and if towns in the hon. Gentleman's constituency put in bids, they will be considered carefully.

Mr. Tony McWalter (Hemel Hempstead)

Does my right hon. Friend share my frustration that a large number of councils do nothing about the Crime and Disorder Act 1998? When I received a call from the distressed mother of a girl who had been attacked in my constituency, I asked my local council to take out an antisocial behaviour order against her attacker. That was 18 months ago. Will my right hon. Friend ensure that local authorities do not fall down in their duties in that way?

Mr. Straw

Happily, the number of councils that are derelict in their duties to members of the community is decreasing, but some remain, as my hon. Friend has said. That is frustrating because the experience of local authorities and police services that have used antisocial behaviour orders is extremely good. That point was made just two days ago in the Daily Mirror in respect of an antisocial behaviour order issued against a drug dealer in the Bristol area. The order restricted the number of visitors to the drug dealer's house and imposed other restrictions on her behaviour. There is no doubt that antisocial behaviour orders are working. In many cases, even the threat of such an order acts as a serious discipline on those who cause a nuisance, especially when they know that the threat will be followed through if it does not work.

Mr. David Lidington (Aylesbury)

Was it not the Home Secretary who gave an early pledge that he would deter antisocial behaviour by halving the time taken to get youth cases to court? Who will accept responsibility now that the Government have broken that early pledge and failed to keep their word? When the chairman of the Youth Justice Board said last Friday that people have taken their eye off the ball and got a bit complacent, was it not Ministers whom he was accurately describing?

Mr. Straw

The record shows that it was not Ministers whom the chairman of the Youth Justice Board was describing. Neither is it true that the pledge has been broken; we are on track to deliver the pledge in the time scale clearly set out in the manifesto and we shall do so. We have already managed to cut the time taken to get persistent young offenders into court by seven whole weeks.

That contrasts with the astonishing complacency of the Conservatives when they were in government. Not only did they refuse to do anything about the scandalous state of the youth justice system as it then was, but they described the pledge as "undeliverable". [Interruption.] They were going to do nothing about it. We have already delivered a significant part of the pledge in many parts of the country and—[Interruption.] It is no good Conservative Members laughing, because the pledge has already been delivered in many parts of the country and it will be delivered in the time scale set out.

Ms. Ruth Kelly (Bolton, West)

In Horwich in my constituency, a retired firefighter recently collapsed after chasing youths outside his home, and he later died. He had been the subject of a sustained campaign of victimisation lasting many months. Last month, the youths involved walked free from court. Does my right hon. Friend agree that the only ways to combat such loutish behaviour, which can terrorise families and communities, is for the police, the local authority and the community to work in partnership to deliver safer streets for everyone and for the anti-crime measures that the Government are enacting to be implemented in full at a local level?

Mr. Straw

Yes, I share my hon. Friend's opinions on this matter and express my great sympathy for the relatives and friends of the poor man who collapsed and died. We have set out a very clear agenda of powers available to the police, local authorities and the courts to deal with such behaviour and we look to the police, local authorities and, specifically, the courts properly to enforce the will of Parliament.

Without going into the details of the case that my hon. Friend mentioned, there is no question but that, when Parliament agreed to the idea of antisocial behaviour orders, it was clear that it expected that, in normal circumstances, there should be an immediate custodial sentence for the breach of such an order.