HC Deb 14 July 2003 vol 409 cc11-3
6. Mr. Graham Allen (Nottingham, North)

If he will change the burden of proof for anti-social behaviour orders from criminal to civil. [125059]

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

We have no plans to do so. The standard of proof set by the House of Lords, in the case of R v Crown Court at Manchester exparte McCann and Others, has not proved to affect antisocial behaviour order applications adversely. ASBOs are one tool in the fight against antisocial behaviour. The measures in the Anti-social Behaviour Bill will give further powers to police and local authorities to tackle local disorder.

Mr. Allen

In common, I suspect, with most Members, the majority of cases that I dealt with at my surgery at the weekend involved antisocial behaviour. I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and his predecessor on introducing measures to tackle antisocial behaviour that will help the majority of the constituents who came to my surgery on Saturday. But will my hon. Friend the Minister keep antisocial behaviour orders under review at all times? They were a good idea when they first came in, and they have been improved. Can we ensure that we continue to improve them so that they can be more and more workable? I look forward to the debate on Wednesday about making sure that the proof required for an ASBO is not at criminal but at civil level.

Ms Blears

Indeed, I look forward to discussing the issue at length with my hon. Friend in Westminster Hall later in the week. I can confirm to him that the orders are civil orders, and that the civil standard of evidence is therefore admissible. Antisocial behaviour orders are being granted at an increasing pace. There were 1,112 orders up to March this year, and only 31 have ever been refused. The police and local authorities are increasingly using the powers that the Government have given them to tackle antisocial behaviour and disorderly conduct.

Sir Sydney Chapman (Chipping Barnet)

I have had at least two cases of antisocial behaviour recently. In one case, a person driving without insurance or a licence hit another car and gave a number, but the police will not follow up in cases where the person is found not to have insurance because they say they cannot act upon suspicion—they must have third-party evidence. That is causing a great loss of faith in our policing and legal system. Will the Minister look at those cases? They could well be answered by accepting the case advanced by the hon. Member for Nottingham, North (Mr. Allen) and transferring the burden of proof to civil, rather than criminal, standard.

Ms Blears

I will gladly look into the issue that the hon. Gentleman raises. Members of the public have a natural concern when powers are provided but not used in the way they ought to be. People have particular concerns about the breaches of antisocial behaviour orders. We are determined to ensure that where powers are available, they are used to their fullest extent.

Kevin Brennan (Cardiff, West)

With regard to antisocial behaviour, is there not also a responsibility on corporate interests? Is my hon. Friend as disappointed as I was when I attended a meeting last Friday in my constituency to learn that despite lobbying for many years by local councillors, including councillor Gregory Owens, BT has failed to do anything about a problem exchange building that is attracting antisocial behaviour on the part of local youth? Is there anything the Home Office can do to get corporate interests to accept their responsibilities as good neighbours?

Ms Blears

My hon. Friend makes an extremely important point. He will know that we have tabled amendments to the Anti-social Behaviour Bill to try to ensure that public utilities take responsibility for the graffiti and fly posting that often affect their buildings and equipment. It is important that businesses are at the heart of the community. They are as much members of the community as anybody else. We want to ensure that businesses not only take their fair share of responsibility, but benefit from the reduction in antisocial behaviour that this Government are determined to achieve. There are rights and responsibilities for business, as for all of us, in this field, and I am delighted that we are working much more with business on a range of such issues.