HC Deb 14 June 2004 vol 422 cc510-2
9. Mr. Peter Luff (Mid-Worcestershire) (Con)

If he will make a statement on the enforcement of antisocial behaviour orders. [178159]

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

Effective enforcement is essential for antisocial behaviour orders to have any value. Communities must be reassured that the stand that they have taken to give evidence and obtain the order was worth while and antisocial individuals must know that there will be swift and meaningful consequences if they continue with their antisocial behaviour.

Mr. Luff

After five long years, the antisocial behaviour order system is at last creaking into some kind of life. My constituents in places such as Droitwich Spa are delighted with headlines such as those that I have in my hand about the first two ASBOs that have been issued in Droitwich. However, will not the next problem with the system be that the orders will come to be held in contempt by those to whom they are issued because magistrates have insufficient powers to enforce them and, crucially, because there are not enough secure places to send the young yobs to if they breach the terms of their ASBOs?

Ms Blears

I know that the hon. Gentleman's communities have suffered from antisocial behaviour for some time—I understand that it has occurred on the Westlands estate and around the Lido. I am delighted that, because the police and his local authority have two antisocial behaviour orders on the ringleaders, as appears on the front page of his newspaper, there was not one incident of antisocial behaviour or youth nuisance during the half-term holiday a couple of weeks ago. Our twin-track approach of tough enforcement and support for young people, including more youth facilities and mobile skate ramps is working in his community, as it is throughout the country.

Mr. Peter Pike (Burnley) (Lab)

Does my hon. Friend recognise that in north-west industrial towns, back alleys offer an escape route for many people who commit antisocial behaviour? Does she think it wise to encourage schemes of alley gating, which make it more difficult for people to create a nuisance that causes many problems for residents?

Ms Blears

Indeed, the alley-gating schemes in place throughout the country are some of the most popular things that we have done. We have invested £2.3 million to support communities and I have seen alley gates in Stockton, Plymouth, Preston and my own community of Salford. Once an alley is secure, it is no longer a haven for muggers, robbers and those who attack our communities. In fact, people in many communities have put their garden furniture and hanging baskets into alleys, so many places in our communities have become quite Mediterranean or riviera-like.

Bob Russell (Colchester) (LD)

Does the Minister agree that the enforcement of antisocial behaviour orders is a combined effort by not only local authorities, the police, the courts and other agencies, but local communities? With that in mind, does she agree that the role of the neighbourhood watch movement is vital? Given that that is the case, why are the Government underfunding the National Neighbourhood Watch Association and frustrating its attempts to find outside funding?

Ms Blears

I am delighted to hear the hon. Gentleman's welcome for the antisocial behaviour powers—perhaps we are hearing a different view from the Liberal Democrat Benches. He is right that the system is about not only what the police and local authorities can do, but what local people can do. That is why I am happy to pay tribute to the fantastic work of local neighbourhood watch schemes and to confirm that we have funded the National Neighbourhood Watch Association over recent years and given it extra support. We are not in a position to provide further funding, but I can tell him that I am happy to meet the organisation to discuss how we may find a way forward. The contribution made by local schemes is vital to our efforts to tackle crime and disorder.

Mr. Bill O'Brien (Normanton) (Lab)

I fully support my hon. Friend's efforts to combat antisocial behaviour by issuing ASBOs. What advice would she give local authorities about cases in which antisocial behaviour involves undertakings or organisations in respect of which there is no domestic aspect? People can be aggrieved by problems caused by activities of that sort that have nothing to do with domestic matters.

Ms Blears

My hon. Friend raises an important point. Local authorities are increasingly finding innovative ways to use antisocial behaviour powers. Camden local authority recently issued antisocial behaviour orders against big multinational companies that promote pop concerts and put up posters throughout the neighbourhood. Such fly posting degrades the quality of the environment. Our powers can be used just as effectively against businesses as they can against individuals. Wherever there is antisocial behaviour, local authorities and the police should use the powers.

We have also introduced pilots to deal with graffiti on property belonging to statutory undertakers and water authorities. Again, it is about thinking more creatively about how we can use those powers to be on the side of the decent law-abiding majority of citizens and saying that we mean to tackle antisocial behaviour, wherever it might be.

Mr. Geoffrey Clifton-Brown (Cotswold) (Con)

Does the Minister accept that although ASBOs are working a bit better now than when they were first introduced—when they were almost non-existent—part of the problem, which arose in a constituency case of mine, is the difficulty of getting as far as a magistrates court? The procedure involved is difficult and complex, and many warnings have to be given. Does she have any proposals to review that procedure?

Ms Blears

With respect, I think that the hon. Gentleman is out of date. The procedures have been simplified quite dramatically. If he is in touch with his local authority and the police, he will know that they are increasingly using the powers. We have also appointed a team of expert antisocial behaviour prosecutors—one in every region—whose job it is to train other prosecutors how to use the powers, gather the evidence and ensure that cases get to court. The antisocial behaviour prosecutors will also ensure that magistrates are properly keyed in to all the issues. Right along the chain—from gathering the evidence, to encouraging local people to take a stand, to preparing those cases properly and getting them into court, and to making sure that breaches are taken seriously—we have revolutionised the whole of the criminal justice process to be on the side of the decent people in this country, rather than on the side of the perpetrators.

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