HC Deb 08 December 2003 vol 415 cc773-5
Mr. Dave Watts (St. Helens, North) (Lab)

How many antisocial behaviour orders have been issued since their introduction. [142098]

The Minister for Crime Reduction, Policing, and Community Safety (Ms Hazel Blears)

ASBOs were introduced in England and Wales from 1 April 1999. The number of notifications received by the Home Office of ASBOs issued in England and Wales at all courts from 1 April 1999 to 30 June 2003 is 1,337.

Mr. Watts

I have been meeting police and magistrates in St. Helens to discuss antisocial behaviour. Does my hon. Friend agree that some magistrates courts and some police forces clearly do not give ASBOs the serious attention that they should? Will she talk to the Lord Chancellor about how to make the policy more effective in future?

Ms Blears

I understand that six ASBOs have now been granted in my hon. Friend's area, and there are plans to make sure that more of those who commit antisocial behaviour are targeted in future. He is right to say that all parts of the criminal justice system, including the police and the courts, need to take the agenda seriously; that is precisely what we are working on. I am delighted that, for the first time, the Magistrates Association has issued sentencing guidelines on antisocial behaviour, so that there is consistency in the sentencing process. I hope that my hon. Friend agrees that, increasingly, police, local authorities and the courts are taking the tackling of antisocial behaviour seriously, because it is the public's top priority.

Miss Anne McIntosh (Vale of York) (Con)

Does the Minister accept that ASBOs are failing to work in the villages around York? Skelton, Rawcliffe and Clifton Moor have been made to pay £14,000 this year, rising to £16,000 next year, for private security guards to assist the police in tackling antisocial behaviour. Surely that is privatisation by the back door, and totally unacceptable.

Ms Blears

I do not accept for a moment that ASBOs are failing. The hon. Lady should take a look at Leeds, where 66 interim ASBOs were obtained over the course of a weekend to reclaim an estate that was completely out of control. She should come to my Salford constituency, where we now have more than 50 ASBOs, 25 of which were obtained on conviction after the new powers were brought in—[Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker

Order. The hon. Member for Vale of York (Miss McIntosh) put a question to the Minister; she must allow the Minister to reply and not butt in.

Ms Blears

We like to start off gently, so we start with an acceptable behaviour contract; perhaps we should have one of those in relation to our proceedings. By using the range of tools available—acceptable behaviour contracts, ASBOs and parenting orders—local authorities and the police can successfully tackle antisocial behaviour, which is an extremely important issue to the people whom we represent.

Mr. John Smith (Vale of Glamorgan) (Lab)

Just a thought: perhaps you, Mr. Speaker, should consider issuing antisocial behaviour orders from time to time. What about the problem that we have with our local authority, Conservative-controlled Vale of Glamorgan council, which refuses to co-operate in the issuing of antisocial behaviour orders, even when residents demand them to solve the most difficult problems on some of our most difficult estates?

Ms Blears

My hon. Friend knows that, under the Crime and Disorder Act 1998, there is a duty on local authorities and the police to co-operate. Those authorities have a responsibility to work together to tackle such issues. We in Government have put on the statute book a range of tools for local authorities to use in tackling those problems, and we are determined that they will be encouraged to use the tools available and tackle deep-seated problems in our communities. That is why we have the Together action plan, Trailblazers, the Together Academy, bringing practitioners together, and the Together ActionLine, to make sure that we can all tackle the problems together.

Mr. Graham Brady (Altrincham and Sale, West) (Con)

Does the Minister accept that sometimes, by barring offenders from the place where they commit offences, the effect of ASBOs can be to move them to another community, where they can cause serious problems that did not previously exist?

Ms Blears

The evidence shows that displacement does not occur as a result of ASBOs. With such innovative legislation, it is important that there should be exclusion areas around the place where people are allowed to go. If they breach that, they can get a custodial sentence, which is increasingly happening. We have included in the Act a provision to widen the exclusion area from the area where the offences were committed so that the problems of displacement do not occur. The legislation is innovative and forward looking, and I commend it to the hon. Gentleman.

Mr. Michael Jabez Foster (Hastings and Rye) (Lab)

Nigel Barry, the antisocial behaviour officer of Hastings borough council, tells me that one of the problems is the criminal test that is being applied to the obtaining of ASBOs. Does my hon. Friend intend to restore the balance of probabilities evidential test, as was originally intended, so that such orders can be more easily obtained?

Ms Blears

I understand the point that my hon. Friend makes, but I reaffirm and put it on record that the antisocial behaviour order is a civil order. Its rules of evidence are governed by civil rules of evidence, which means that we can use professional evidence. Local people do not have to stand up and be intimidated and harassed, as they have been. The evidential requirement for proof is the highest standard. These matters are serious, and it is acceptable to have the highest standard of proof, but at the same time we must retain the civil rules of evidence so that victims and witnesses can be supported when they come forward and make the case.

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