Clause 36 - Anti-social behaviour orders

Anti-social Behaviour Bill – in a Public Bill Committee am 9:10 am ar 15 Mai 2003.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Photo of Mr Nick Hawkins Mr Nick Hawkins Ceidwadwyr, Surrey Heath 9:10, 15 Mai 2003

I beg to move amendment No. 63, in

clause 36, page 28, line 16, at end insert

'or are otherwise connected with the same antisocial problem in the same area.'.

Photo of Mr James Cran Mr James Cran Ceidwadwyr, Beverley and Holderness

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:

Amendment No. 64, in

clause 36, page 28, line 25, at end insert

'or are otherwise connected with the same antisocial problem in the same area.'.

Photo of Mr Nick Hawkins Mr Nick Hawkins Ceidwadwyr, Surrey Heath

Good morning, Mr. Cran, on this bright morning. I welcome you back to the Chair and other members of the Committee. I can deal with the amendments quite briefly. As the Minister and others will realise, they would have the same effect. Again, we are genuinely attempting to improve the Bill by making it more flexible. The Bill uses the words

''that the person's anti-social acts are material in relation to the principal proceedings'',

which is too restrictive. We hope that the Minister will understand the spirit of the amendments. As my hon. Friend the Member for South-East Cambridgeshire (Mr. Paice) and I often say, we do not suggest for a moment that our wording is necessarily perfect, but I am sure that the Minister can understand what we are getting at.

It would be helpful if courts could consider the wider picture. If someone is involved in an antisocial behaviour problem, there should not be the restriction of their antisocial acts having to be material in relation to the principal proceedings. I need take up no more of the Committee's time. We shall listen with interest to what the Minister has to say. I hope that, even if he cannot accept the precise wording of the amendments, he will say that he will keep the matter under review and may introduce something that achieves the same objective.

Photo of Bob Ainsworth Bob Ainsworth The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department

I understand what Opposition Members seek to achieve, but their proposal would not be helpful. I hope to persuade the hon. Gentleman that that is right. The amendments would open up the county courts to further antisocial behaviour applications even when the antisocial behaviour of the person in question was not directly related to the principal proceedings in the court. That would not achieve the objective of making it simpler to get antisocial behaviour orders to provide quicker protection for those suffering from antisocial

behaviour. Further evidence and witnesses would be necessary, as the antisocial behaviour would be unrelated to the evidence in the principal proceedings. That could slow down the proceedings and the protections that they offer. The appropriate forum for unrelated applications is a magistrates court.

When the evidence of a person's antisocial behaviour is directly relevant to proceedings in a county court, the Government's proposal will enable that court to join the person to the proceedings, so that an order may be made against them. That will be extremely useful when, for example, a tenant is being evicted due to the antisocial behaviour of a family member or friend. It removes the need for the same evidence to be presented in different courts.

Under the amendments, we might deal not with the antisocial behaviour directly relating to the relevant premises, but with antisocial behaviour that was occurring around the corner. That would not be helpful. In those circumstances, a separate order should be sought. That said, I fully understand what the hon. Gentleman seeks to achieve, because there are pockets of antisocial behaviour that go well beyond individual premises in respect of which proceedings may be taken in the county court.

Photo of Mr Nick Hawkins Mr Nick Hawkins Ceidwadwyr, Surrey Heath

I am grateful to the Minister for the constructive way in which he is approaching the amendments. I understand his point, but will he undertake to talk to those at the sharp end, who will have to deal with ASBO proceedings and conduct cases, as they have been doing under the existing law, and ask them whether they are worried that the Bill's wording is too restrictive? If he undertakes to do that, I shall happily withdraw the amendment.

Photo of Bob Ainsworth Bob Ainsworth The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department

I am happy to do that, but what the hon. Gentleman proposes is wide of the specific proceedings that will be dealt with in the county court, and it would in any case not be helpful.

Photo of Mr Nick Hawkins Mr Nick Hawkins Ceidwadwyr, Surrey Heath

I am grateful to the Minister. He realises that it is not our intention to make the provision more complex or difficult. We were trying to make it more flexible. He said that he will consult further with those who are at the sharp end to see whether the wording of new subsections (3A)(b) and (3C) can be improved. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

Photo of Annette Brooke Annette Brooke Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

I repeat something that I have said before about antisocial behaviour orders and I am slightly heartened that the National Association of Probation Officers makes the same point. The association suggests that ASBOs should always be accompanied by a further requirement or have attached to them something that could change behaviour. At the moment, the ASBO is pure enforcement.

The clause makes a sensible extension to existing legislation by including housing action trusts, which was an obvious omission. I have always expressed

concern about the fact that once outside agencies, such as the local authority and the police, are brought in, there is not the same incentive to ensure that other measures have been tried first. Being able to include accompanying measures would allow the nature of the physical environment and other factors to be considered.

The clause extends the scope of the ASBO. I accept that that is necessary at the end of the line, but I have always been concerned that it is pure enforcement, particularly when it is extended to other agencies. I ask the Minister to consider at least issuing guidance on having something alongside the ASBO to change behaviour.

Photo of Shona McIsaac Shona McIsaac Llafur, Cleethorpes

I welcome you, Mr. Cran, to the Chair on this sunny morning.

When antisocial behaviour orders were introduced, I thought how wonderful it was to have found a solution to the problem that so many people were experiencing in our towns and cities. However, as the weeks went by, cases were still being brought to my attention from all parts of my constituency—villages, towns and town centres. I would contact the police, highlighting the concerns of residents and detailing the harassment and antisocial behaviour that my constituents had experienced. Time and again, however, the police did not follow up my concerns for a variety of reasons, including the complexity of the law. I began to feel dismayed, despite thinking that ASBOs would be a solution to the antisocial behaviour from which people were suffering. It became clear that we needed to make ASBOs simpler.

We are now going the right way. Having lobbied the Humberside police for some time about antisocial behaviour, I am gratified that they have started issuing ASBOs. One was reported in the Scunthorpe Evening Telegraph this week under the headline, ''Street ban to keep the peace''. That was the first order to have been issued in the town and only the third in north Lincolnshire; yet week in, week out, cases are being brought to my attention in which an ASBO would be appropriate.

That first ASBO covered a variety of streets in Scunthorpe. The man's targets were women and children but, as the police said, he seemed to know how to stop short of being criminal. He would turn up at schools and harass his intended victims' children. I am glad that the order has been used and I hope that the police will use the powers a lot more.

Another case was brought to my attention involving someone in Barcroft street in Cleethorpes. We cannot seem to get antisocial behaviour orders against the perpetrators in this case, but this woman has listed many examples of antisocial behaviour. The latest involved people running down the street with baseball bats smashing windows. That is criminal. Something needs to be done about these neighbours from hell, yet nothing is being done. I hope that the police and other authorities start to pull their finger out and use the powers and sanctions that will be available to them.

It is disheartening to speak to people whose lives have been made a misery by antisocial behaviour, to tell them about the sanctions that exist, to take it up with the police and then to find out that nothing has happened. They blame politicians. We are the ones who take the responsibility. That is not acceptable. This Friday my hon. Friend the Member for Great Grimsby (Mr. Mitchell) and I are visiting our local police to discuss many aspects of the Bill in detail. We will express our concerns and say that we hope that they will do something now. Having welcomed antisocial behaviour orders when they were first introduced, we feel that the police have not used those powers enough. I welcome the clause. I hope that the chief constable of Humberside pays attention to what we have been saying.

Photo of Mr Nick Hawkins Mr Nick Hawkins Ceidwadwyr, Surrey Heath

I was not going to speak in the stand part debate, but the speech by the hon. Member for Cleethorpes (Shona McIsaac) has provoked me to make a brief contribution. It is perhaps unwise for hon. Members, particularly Labour Members, to make speeches that are in effect a direct attack on the police. The hon. Lady said that she felt that it was unfair when her constituents blamed politicians. However, she has been part of a Government who have introduced an incredibly complex and bureaucratic system, which we repeatedly pointed out at the time would not be used. Her constituents are right to say that politicians did not get it right. That is particularly true when some Labour Members, including the hon. Member for Gedling (Vernon Coaker)—

Photo of Mr Nick Hawkins Mr Nick Hawkins Ceidwadwyr, Surrey Heath

I will in a moment—who is about to speak, joined me in debates when ASBOs were first introduced in saying that the authorities in Nottinghamshire, like those in Surrey, found the system so complex and that it was taking so long to get anyone before the courts that they were giving up in despair. I recognise that the Government, under huge pressure from us, have gradually been improving ASBOs. If the Government had listened to us in the first place, they would never have introduced a system that was so complex and bureaucratic. Instead, the hon. Lady's local police would have a system that they could use.

Photo of Shona McIsaac Shona McIsaac Llafur, Cleethorpes

I am sorry that the hon. Gentleman has made this party political, because the essential factor here is the concerns of our constituents. There may be many reasons why ASBOs are not being used. It may be complexity or it may be unwillingness. But what on earth did his Government do for 18 years to deal with the antisocial behaviour that our constituents were experiencing? I will answer that question for him. It was a big fat zero.

Photo of Mr James Cran Mr James Cran Ceidwadwyr, Beverley and Holderness

Order. This is developing into a second speech.

Photo of Mr Nick Hawkins Mr Nick Hawkins Ceidwadwyr, Surrey Heath

As my hon. Friend the Member for South-East Cambridgeshire said, we did a great deal. Before the hon. Lady came into this House, I was one of those involved in the Bill that became the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994. The present Government have built upon that Act's provisions,

and the police and local authorities regard it as one of the most effective criminal justice measures.

I remind the hon. Lady that when my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Howard) was Home Secretary, the crime rate began to decline for the first time since the Second World War because of our very tough measures. In my first Parliament, from 1992 to 1997, our tough law and order measures started to reverse a trend that had continued through successive Governments since the war. I have made my point, and I wish to hear what the hon. Member for Gedling has to say on the matter.

Photo of Caroline Flint Caroline Flint Llafur, Don Valley

My hon. Friend the Member for Gedling and I have a long involvement in this area. I am pleased to say that we in the Doncaster area were one of the first areas in the country to use antisocial behaviour orders. The people whom I and other colleagues represent finally saw the opportunity to deal with harassment, intimidation, vandalism and violence. It was an opportunity for police to use powers that had previously been denied to them. We politicians can sit here and create the framework, the words on the paper and the guidelines but, ultimately, in terms of implementation, what is important is how those guidelines are received on the ground and how they are interpreted and used to best effect by local agencies.

Photo of Shona McIsaac Shona McIsaac Llafur, Cleethorpes

My hon. Friend's constituency neighbours my own. Would she comment on the fact that in Humberside, police have issued very few antisocial behaviour orders, while police in her area have issued many more?

Photo of Caroline Flint Caroline Flint Llafur, Don Valley

It is important that we learn from best practice. It would be sad if the community in one area were denied the experience of best practice in other areas. We are all human. In various parts of the country, depending on who is in charge—and their attitude to issues and problems—a different approach might be taken. The important point is whether an approach works. The saddest situation is when something works in one part of the country and, for all sorts of reasons, people do not look at that and customise it to their area. I do not believe in reinventing the wheel.

One of the functions of a Government is to identify problems. There is no doubt that we are all agreed that antisocial behaviour is a huge problem that our constituents face every day. It is something that, under previous Governments, the law has been unable to address. The powers that were given to the police in the past have proved insufficient. That is why it is at the forefront of our minds today. The Government must recognise the problem, put law into action and encourage innovation in dealing with the issue. At the same time, a good Government and good legislators will review what has been done, identify gaps and see where improvements can be made. That is why we are here today. There is no point in rerunning old arguments about whether ASBOs work. In some parts of the country, they have worked; in others, they have not. We must address how we can make them work better and more effectively.

Photo of Annette Brooke Annette Brooke Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs) 9:30, 15 Mai 2003

I agree about spreading best practice. I wonder whether the hon. Lady will agree with me that in some places, where there have not been many ASBOs, good use has been made of acceptable behaviour contracts. Those contracts are a by-product of ASBOs, but very productive as a voluntary process. We should consider how an issue is being tackled in an area and spread that good practice.

Photo of Caroline Flint Caroline Flint Llafur, Don Valley

The hon. Lady makes a good point. All of us should be wary of broad statistics. We are dealing with a situation that requires all sorts of interventions on many levels. The problems that face two streets in one neighbourhood might be very different from those in another street nearby. I know from my work in child care, and from sitting on the board of a sure start project in my constituency, that we should commend interventions that help vulnerable families to cope with situations—whether or not they have any control over them.

Projects such as South Yorkshire lifestyle citizenship project, which runs during the summer holidays to encourage young people to become involved in community activities, and other displacement activities and projects are part of the menu of what I call tough love. It recognises that in some areas activities are needed to take people out of their situations, and to encourage them to mix socially in a way that they have not previously done. It shows them that they have the choice between continuing to be a pain in the community—causing the sort of upset, grievance and intimidation that can result in a whole neighbourhood being destroyed—and taking up the opportunities offered by their local authority or youth service, educationalists or counsellors, voluntary or charitable groups or the Government. However, they are also told that if they carry on, action will be taken. The few should not be allowed disproportionately to affect the lives of the many.

In one area of my constituency, four or five families practically hold a community to ransom. We have been working on that situation not for a few months or a year but since I became a Member of Parliament in 1997, and we are still attempting to resolve it. It is difficult to go back to the community and say that we know how bad things are. However, we are now making progress.

I am pleased that the clause contains a reference to parenting orders. As we know, this huge area is not just a matter for the police. Many agencies are involved, including housing departments—which deal not just with council housing but with private sector housing—social services, youth services and the courts. One of the successes in Doncaster has been that, after a lot of prodding when ASBOs first became available, the council now has an antisocial behaviour unit, a collaborative venture between the agencies that aims to find a fresh approach to problems. An early problem involved lawyers who did not understand the system. Now that we have an antisocial behaviour unit, we have lawyers who are dedicated to fast-tracking ASBOs.

Each young person or child belongs to a family, and there are many types of family—we are not here to judge them. Unless families co-operate, enforcement can be difficult. The youth offending team in Doncaster and those who serve as lay members on the panel know that unless they involve the parents of the young people who come to see them, the job is only half done. I am pleased that the Bill recognises that fact. Parenting orders can take many forms. A parent may merely be told that a child must be indoors at a certain time, or that his or her whereabouts must be known. However, sometimes the order recommends a positive approach to engaging with the child that the parent had not thought of, and that helps the family to form a better relationship for the future. Sometimes it is a crying shame that no one intervened earlier in a situation. That is why sure start and other Government initiatives to lay down some investment are so worthwhile. Let us hope that as a result the next generation will not have to deal with so many problems.

Photo of James Clappison James Clappison Ceidwadwyr, Hertsmere

I hope that the Committee is aware that I have long been interested in this subject. I strongly support anything that will help deal with antisocial behaviour. I have been a Member of Parliament for just over 10 years. Throughout that time the number of constituents coming to me with problems caused by antisocial behaviour has increased steadily year on year, irrespective of which party was in government, the economic circumstances or whether the area was going through prosperity or recession.

Together with housing, antisocial behaviour is the most common problem that people come to see me about at my surgeries. People complain about it throughout the constituency. I attend meetings to do with antisocial behaviour not just in parts of the constituency regarded as lower-income areas or areas with lower housing costs but in every part. It is a common problem throughout the borough. It extends from wards in receipt of single regeneration budget funding because they are among the poorest, not only in Hertfordshire but in the whole country, to other wards recorded as among the top 10 most affluent in the country. I have an interest in antisocial behaviour orders. I support their objective and I would like to see them in operation.

The problem with ASBOs is learning lessons from the past so that we can make them more useful in the future. I cannot remember the name of the first proposal for antisocial behaviour orders, but the principle was the same—a civil order that would attract a criminal penalty if breached. The proposal was made by the Labour Opposition during debates on the Housing Act 1996. It was the subject of some debate, and interest was shown in all quarters as to how effective it would be in tackling the problem. It was not rejected out of hand by the then Government; an interest was taken and it was subject to critical and constructive debate.

The Minister will recall that ASBOs were one of the flagship provisions of the Crime and Disorder Act

1998, together with a number of other provisions—child curfew orders, parenting orders and orders relating to drug treatment and testing. We should be objective. That range of orders has had a mixed record. Some have been more successful than others. The orders relating to drug treatment and testing have been helpful. The parenting orders are good in principle, although they have not been as widely used as they might have been; the Minister will know the figures. The number of orders that have been made is quite modest in relation to the problem that they seek to tackle.

The hon. Member for Don Valley (Caroline Flint) made some comments about statistics, but it is relevant to consider how far the orders have been used in the context of all the orders introduced under the Crime and Disorder Act. I am not being partisan, but they were one of the flagship provisions. When they were introduced I continued to take an interest in them. From time to time I asked Ministers across the Floor of the House of Commons how many antisocial behaviour orders and child curfew orders had been made. The Minister will correct me if I am wrong, but I believe that the orders were introduced in April 1999, so they have been available for about four years. When they were first introduced, Ministers told us that not as many orders as they would have liked had been made because magistrates and others had yet to get used to them.

After a while, Ministers said that the orders were not being made because winter had arrived, the nights were drawing in and people were not going out, but that we would see more evidence of them the following summer. The seasons passed, and the number of antisocial behaviour orders that were made in the country as a whole over the period of four years—the Minister will know the figures—was, objectively, modest, especially in relation to the scale of the problem. If I say that it was modest in relation to the scale of the problem in my constituency I am being flattering, as in the whole of the four years, not a single antisocial behaviour order was made in respect of any of the residents of my constituency.

Photo of James Clappison James Clappison Ceidwadwyr, Hertsmere

The hon. Lady asks why not and I, too, have asked that question. The magistrates and the police in the borough in my constituency are not unique in not having made a single antisocial behaviour order; the same is true of other boroughs in Hertfordshire and throughout the country. The total for the country is modest in relation to the extent of the problem.

Photo of Caroline Flint Caroline Flint Llafur, Don Valley

I am trying to follow the hon. Gentleman's argument. He expressed empathy with all those who saw antisocial behaviour in their constituencies, and said that he had plenty of evidence that such behaviour went on in his community. As ASBOs are not being used in his constituency, my advice is that he should put all the agencies together and say, as I had to, ''There is a problem. This is the power to use. Why are you not using it? Are you doing anything else? You must justify not using the orders to my constituents.'' If ASBOs are not being used, how is antisocial behaviour

being tackled in the hon. Gentleman's constituency? He seems to be saying that it is running riot.

Photo of James Clappison James Clappison Ceidwadwyr, Hertsmere

It is not the only place where it may be running riot. The hon. Lady may be aware that the Crime and Disorder Act 1998 established crime and disorder reduction partnerships, of which there is one in my constituency. They have been helpful in tackling the problems of crime and disorder as at least they have brought people together. The lesson for the hon. Lady is not to blame others for what has happened in respect of antisocial behaviour orders and say, ''It is all your fault for not making them,'' but to consider the nature of the orders and not to exaggerate their effectiveness in tackling the problem of antisocial behaviour. To keep returning to them as a way of tackling such behaviour—

Photo of James Clappison James Clappison Ceidwadwyr, Hertsmere

Will the hon. Lady let me reply to her first intervention? The lesson is not to keep returning to the orders as a way of tackling antisocial behaviour when there are other, much more effective ways of tackling it. I shall give way to the hon. Lady if she wants to make a further point, but I hope that she will take note of the fact that antisocial behaviour orders have been in place for four years; they were implemented exactly as the Government wanted—the Government would brook no amendment to them—although they have subsequently been amended. When they were first introduced, the Government told us that they were part of a crackdown on antisocial behaviour and said how effective they would be. Perhaps the hon. Lady will tell the Committee how many antisocial behaviour orders have been made in the whole of the country over four years?

Photo of Caroline Flint Caroline Flint Llafur, Don Valley 9:45, 15 Mai 2003

It seems from what the hon. Gentleman is saying that he is against antisocial behaviour orders. I therefore presume that he will vote against them. He has made a case based on his ideas that they are not working. I have not suggested that ASBOs are the only tool in the box, but they are a tool. I must say to the hon. Gentleman that the number of ASBOs does not reflect the impact that they have on the community. Police officers in my constituency have said that the use of ASBOs has had a disproportionate effect in stopping others adopting the sort of behaviour that could lead to the issuing of an ASBO.

Photo of James Clappison James Clappison Ceidwadwyr, Hertsmere

I hope that I have made it sufficiently clear that I do not oppose ASBOs, but I advise the hon. Lady to have a proper understanding of just how effective they have been.

The hon. Lady advances another interesting argument in favour of ASBOs, which Ministers have also advanced from time to time, although they have stopped doing so recently. This is the theory that ASBOs are so frightening that they act as a deterrent on those who are minded to commit antisocial behaviour. The hon. Lady will have to accept that that is a difficult theory to test. It is difficult to find any statistics that prove that they are a deterrent, but I would be very interested in any such statistical

evidence. She must agree that the argument depends on the assumption that those who commit antisocial behaviour have quite a lot of legal knowledge about ASBOs.

Photo of David Wright David Wright Llafur, Telford

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Photo of James Clappison James Clappison Ceidwadwyr, Hertsmere

I shall certainly give way to the hon. Gentleman if he wishes to support that theory. I warn him, however, that Ministers who advanced it have given up doing so.

Photo of David Wright David Wright Llafur, Telford

I am happy to defend the process. I recently met the chief superintendent in my area in west Mercia, who told me that the ASBO process had been undertaken numerous times—on 60 or 70 occasions. If there was a good quality partnership with a local authority and other agencies, the problems could be dealt with before ASBOs had to be issued. If the hon. Gentleman visits Telford, we can show him how it is done: he clearly cannot do it in his own constituency.

Photo of James Clappison James Clappison Ceidwadwyr, Hertsmere

There we are. The hon. Gentleman must accept that it is very difficult to produce statistics to support that argument. I would welcome a debate about that. Perhaps he and the Minister could produce for the whole country the number of cases of antisocial behaviour that have been stopped by ASBOs. I am not sure about Telford—it may be one of those parts of the country about which the Committee has heard that happily is immune from antisocial behaviour—but the effect of ASBOs on the whole country, the number that have been issued and the effect of the threat of their being issued, is very modest indeed.

Photo of Mr Nick Hawkins Mr Nick Hawkins Ceidwadwyr, Surrey Heath

Part of the answer to all Government Members who have intervened may be provided by the leader of the Government rebels—the hon. Member for Nottingham, North (Mr. Allen)—in a letter that he gave to all members of the Committee this morning, in which he wrote:

''Many local councils welcome ASBOs but are prevented from using them against the most anti-social people because of the excessive level of proof required.''

That is surely one of the many criticisms that Opposition Members and others have made about ASBOs.

Photo of James Clappison James Clappison Ceidwadwyr, Hertsmere

The hon. Member for Telford (David Wright) is nodding, but he should face the fact that Back-Bench members of his own party and Ministers have complained that insufficient numbers of ASBOs are being issued. Although it may not be true of his constituency, he has not addressed the point that the number of ASBOs issued and the threat of their being issued is modest compared with the scale of the problem. ASBOs have been tinkered with over and over again, which may contradict the hon. Gentleman's confidence in them. I will welcome anything that works and will support any evidence that the Government can produce that they are working.

I have no problem with ASBOs in principle, but I want solutions that work. I wonder how far we will get with the extra measures in the clause. We note that the police, the British Transport police, local authorities and registered social landlords can already apply for

ASBOs. The clause allows housing action trusts to be added to that list. I am doubtful how many more ASBOs that will produce, and whether the effect of the threat of them will increase. I am happy to go along with the clause if it will make them work. However, we should not exaggerate the usefulness of ASBOs. Let us not have Bills produced just before local authority elections every year, so that the Government can say, ''Look here, we are cracking down on antisocial behaviour,'' while rehashing provisions that have been of limited use in the past. Let us not take that approach; let us take the approach of adopting measures that work.

Without straying out of order, let me tell hon. Members that one way of making antisocial behaviour orders work is to have sufficient numbers of police officers on the streets. In many cases, the police are involved in acquiring the proof or evidence that is needed to make the orders, but their time is under a great deal of pressure. The question is whether they can go through all the steps that are required to obtain an order, even as amended by the clause, when there are competing demands on their time. I am referring to police officers investigating serious crimes, when actual offences have been committed, as opposed to bringing in civil orders that might prevent future events. They do not have sufficient time to deal with criminal offences—sometimes fairly serious criminal offences, such as have been committed in my constituency. That is the real problem.

The hon. Member for Telford will say that police numbers have increased, but in the past six years the picture has been mixed. In any event, during the whole time that I have been a Member of Parliament, my constituents have continually demanded more police officers on the streets. They are very concerned that we have had a serious reduction in the number of officers, which has left the police very much under stress and under pressure.

With the best will in the world, I doubt whether an awful lot more antisocial behaviour orders will be made in future. I live in hope that they are. I hope that we see some of the effects to which the hon. Gentleman referred, but I think that he will agree that they are difficult to prove. We welcome good experience from any part of the country, but please let us not exaggerate the effectiveness of antisocial behaviour orders. Let us have a proper understanding of their effectiveness. The Government introduced them in the first place as the solution to antisocial behaviour as part of a crackdown. Government Members will have to understand that the orders have not had that outcome.

Photo of Vernon Coaker Vernon Coaker Llafur, Gedling

I thank the hon. Member for Surrey Heath (Mr. Hawkins) for reminding the Committee of my Westminster Hall debate on the use of antisocial behaviour orders, which took place nearly four years ago. My hon. Friend the Member for Don Valley was also there.

The hon. Member for Hertsmere (Mr. Clappison) overstates the case. The Government never said that the orders were the whole solution to antisocial

behaviour. They said that they were part of a range of measures that could be used to tackle an increasing problem. It is fair to say that I have been disappointed with the number of antisocial behaviour orders that has been issued. What we need to discuss under this clause—perhaps my hon. Friend the Minister will comment on this—is how we will encourage people to use antisocial behaviour orders more. Clause 37 is designed to deal with some of the questions that were raised as to why antisocial behaviour orders have not been used. Perhaps it will tackle some of the issues to make that easier.

It is a dangerous game to play to talk about whether someone has a good MP, based on the number of antisocial behaviour orders that have been introduced in the area, because I have none. I do not know what that says about me. My hon. Friends are very good MPs. The situation with the orders is different in other parts of Nottinghamshire. Indeed, in Nottingham city, which is adjacent to my constituency, Nottingham city council has used a large number of antisocial behaviour orders. However, my local council, which is next door and has exactly the same legislation and procedures, has used none.

Clearly, there is an issue if what I have described happens throughout the country. The purpose of the Committee is to say that antisocial behaviour orders will not solve the problem of antisocial behaviour, but that if we can make the process easier, they will form an effective part of the solution.

Photo of Shona McIsaac Shona McIsaac Llafur, Cleethorpes

My hon. Friend detailed the patchy use of antisocial behaviour orders and other sanctions throughout the country. Does he think that the problem is not so much their complexity but the willingness and knowledge of the agencies involved?

Photo of Vernon Coaker Vernon Coaker Llafur, Gedling

I want to say a brief word on the cultural change that needs to take place. My hon. Friend raises an important point about the willingness of the agencies to use the orders. However, the procedures also need to be examined and made easier. It is not an either/or situation. The answer is probably yes to both the points that my hon. Friend raised.

Photo of David Wright David Wright Llafur, Telford

My hon. Friend is, of course, an excellent constituency MP. The point that I was trying to make was that it is a question of process, as well as of the issuing of antisocial behaviour orders. For example, fewer antisocial behaviour orders are issued in my constituency than in neighbouring Shrewsbury. That means not that the process has been better implemented in Shrewsbury but that the authorities there have reached the final point more rapidly. If the matter can be dealt with through the process leading up to an antisocial behaviour order, so much the better.

Photo of Vernon Coaker Vernon Coaker Llafur, Gedling

I think that that is true but people in an area must believe that their actions will have consequences—that if they carry on messing about, an order will be imposed. I accept the point about my hon. Friend's area, but in my area that has not been the case. People do not believe that there will be an end point.

This is the first clause in the part of the Bill dealing with sanctions. The use of antisocial behaviour orders is an important issue. A recurring theme in the Committee has been the increased powers that we propose to give to the police and others to tackle the problem, and whether those powers will be used. If we cannot ensure that they are used, we are wasting our time.

Several hon. Members rose—

Photo of Vernon Coaker Vernon Coaker Llafur, Gedling

I will give way in a moment, but I wish to develop the point. I know that the hon. Member for Mid-Dorset and North Poole (Mrs. Brooke) is sincere in what she said about the need to understand, to counsel and to have other alternatives available, but I believe that a cultural change in the way in which society deals with people who commit antisocial or criminal acts is needed. People have to believe that there will be a consequence if they do something wrong.

No one is saying that the first thing that should be done with an 11 or 12-year-old who messes about is to slap an antisocial behaviour order on them. Of course they would be counselled, and attempts would be made to understand what had happened. However, there must be an end point and a consequence. Many people are starting to talk about the concept of ''tough love'', and I believe that that is right. We should try to understand and to give support, but there must be a much quicker final intervention to make people understand the consequences of their actions.

Photo of James Clappison James Clappison Ceidwadwyr, Hertsmere

I have some sympathy for the hon. Gentleman's comments on the clause. Does he agree that there should be consequences not just for the 11 and 12-year-old youngsters whom he describes but for their parents? Perhaps we should look further at parenting orders, which have been one of the more successful innovations of the Crime and Disorder Act 1998, and which, in my humble opinion, have more potential for tackling antisocial behaviour than the antisocial behaviour orders.

Photo of Vernon Coaker Vernon Coaker Llafur, Gedling

I agree. The hon. Gentleman will have read clause 36 and will have seen that, under subsection (7), when the court issues an antisocial behaviour order to a young person under the age of 16, it can also impose a parenting order. As my hon. Friend the Member for Don Valley said, that is an important extension of the power. A recurring theme throughout the Bill, with respect to antisocial behaviour orders, is that we want the parents, in certain situations, to take more responsibility for the behaviour of their sons or daughters.

Photo of Mr Matthew Green Mr Matthew Green Democratiaid Rhyddfrydol, Ludlow

I support the comments by the hon. Member for Telford, since our constituencies share a police force. My constituency shares a police division with Shrewsbury and Atcham. In Shrewsbury and Atcham, antisocial behaviour orders have been used fairly extensively and successfully. In my constituency, none has been used.

Photo of Shona McIsaac Shona McIsaac Llafur, Cleethorpes

The hon. Gentleman said that there was no antisocial behaviour there.

Photo of Mr Matthew Green Mr Matthew Green Democratiaid Rhyddfrydol, Ludlow

I said that there was very little antisocial behaviour. However, I do not see it as bad

that no antisocial behaviour orders are used in my constituency. The use of raw statistics—how many antisocial behaviour orders have been used in the country, or which places do or do not have them—glosses over the fact that there are different approaches, some of which have been very successful. In other parts of the country, acceptable behaviour contracts have been used instead of antisocial behaviour orders. We must therefore be cautious about saying that not enough orders have been used. We need to study individual areas to decide whether an approach works.

Photo of Vernon Coaker Vernon Coaker Llafur, Gedling 10:00, 15 Mai 2003

I accept that a raw statistic does not tell the whole story, but not enough antisocial behaviour orders have been used. I know from my constituency that that is not because of wonderful things such as acceptable behaviour contracts, but because of the fundamental failure of those responsible for tackling such issues and, indeed, of the Government, who have not made antisocial behaviour orders easier to use. The fact that we do not have many orders is a sign of failure, not of success. I take the point that an area has not necessarily got better just because it has five orders while another area has two. None the less, I doubt that there are many areas in the country where ordinary members of the public could point to a case in which they thought that an antisocial behaviour order should not have been used.

Photo of Mr Nick Hawkins Mr Nick Hawkins Ceidwadwyr, Surrey Heath

As I said earlier, the hon. Gentleman has taken a constructive approach throughout our debates. I agree with him and with the hon. Member for Don Valley that the inclusion of subsection (7) is helpful. I do not want anyone to think that we oppose attempts to make the law better. Like the hon. Gentleman, we have always said that the original antisocial behaviour order proposals were too bureaucratic and too complex. I know that he will agree that that was one reason why they were not used enough in the first place.

Photo of Vernon Coaker Vernon Coaker Llafur, Gedling

I accept that. That was a helpful intervention.

Antisocial behaviour orders and the other sanctions in the clause must be part of a cultural change in society. As well as trying to understand and to deal with the problems, we must be tougher with individuals who cause mayhem on our streets. They must understand that their actions will have consequences.

In closing, I have a specific question for my hon. Friend the Minister, although I may have misread the clause. The introduction of community support officers is significant and radical, and they can help enormously to tackle the problems that we are discussing. However, I do not see them on the list of people who can request antisocial behaviour orders. Given that they are one of the major planks in our efforts to tackle problems in our communities, can my hon. Friend say whether they should have the power to suggest that antisocial behaviour orders should be used? Will he reflect on whether they should be included in the list?

With those brief remarks, I welcome the clause, which will encourage the use of antisocial behaviour orders. Such orders are not the solution to the problems in our communities, but they are part of a general range of sanctions.

Photo of Bob Ainsworth Bob Ainsworth The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department

The general debate relates to an important policy area, and I shall comment on some of the issues that were raised.

There is the issue of why antisocial behaviour orders have not been used more widely. We had some serious input into that debate, although we also had some point scoring, which is inevitable. As my hon. Friend the Member for Gedling has said, we must combine two things. We must simplify the process, and we have already introduced measures to do so. Indeed, we are introducing measures in the Bill to make antisocial behaviour orders more accessible. However, my hon. Friend also mentioned the need for a cultural change. I find it strange that hon. Members should suggest that it is not for Members of Parliament to comment on the priorities of organisations in their constituencies. The attitude that has come across is that my hon. Friends the Members for Don Valley and for Cleethorpes should confine their comments to the structure of the legislation—how dare they make comments about how the police, the local authority, the courts or whoever operate in their area?

None of us, however, really believes that. As Members of Parliament, we all know what we need to do if we are to get the cultural change that my hon. Friend the Member for Gedling talks about. We need to participate in the framing of legislation to ensure that it gives people the powers that they need and we need to keep those powers under review to ensure that they are as useable as they need to be. We also need to get involved in our local communities, to be proactive and to find out why things operate as they do and why other people have priorities that we do not share. At the end of the day, that is democratic representation, is it not?

In Cleethorpes, it seems that the police have been reluctant to get involved in antisocial behaviour orders. If that were true, it would be strange indeed if a Member of Parliament did not have a view, unless antisocial behaviour was not a problem in the constituency. In Coventry, where we were involved before the 1997 election in framing policies on such matters, the police were keen to get involved in antisocial behaviour orders. However, we had problems from the local authority legal department there, which was resistant to giving assistance and getting involved. It is wrong to suggest that we can get the necessary buy-in to deal with antisocial behaviour without Members of Parliament being leaders on what needs to done in their local communities, finding out why others do not buy into the priorities that they and their constituents share, and constantly urging the Government to review legislation in order to ensure that it be useable and accessible.

Photo of James Clappison James Clappison Ceidwadwyr, Hertsmere

I am with the Minister on much of what he says, but does he remember when the right hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw) said as Home

Secretary that we should have an evidence-based approach? What works is important, so if it is becoming evident that the approach in one piece of legislation is having only a limited effect and that other things are more effective, such as tackling parents through parenting orders or drug problems through drug treatment and testing orders, should we not give priority to those schemes and to increasing the number of police officers, rather than continually revisiting something that has had limited usefulness?

Photo of Bob Ainsworth Bob Ainsworth The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department

I do not totally buy into what the hon. Gentleman has said. Let us not get back into point scoring, because we could all go over the issue of police numbers again. I could say that crime doubled under the last Conservative Government, which it did, and that police numbers were falling. I could point out that we have turned that situation round, that there are now record numbers and that the official Opposition are pledged to 20 per cent. cuts in public expenditure. I could ask where on earth they are going to get the extra police officers from, but that would not achieve a lot.

Photo of Mr James Cran Mr James Cran Ceidwadwyr, Beverley and Holderness

Order. I can see where this debate is going, so I should like to be assured that it will not go any further in that direction.

Photo of Annette Brooke Annette Brooke Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

I think that you will prefer my quieter approach to get us back on track, Mr. Cran. I understand that each crime and disorder reduction partnership must nominate an antisocial behaviour officer from within the local authority. Will the Minister confirm that? That officer is an important person to make contact with. How much sharing of best practice has there been between such people, who have in their portfolios—probably along with other jobs—responsibility for their area's antisocial policies?

Photo of Bob Ainsworth Bob Ainsworth The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department

I do not think that there is anything like enough sharing of best practice and we must certainly work at that. On my other point, hon. Members have a role both in framing legislation and in investigating the under-use of powers that are available.

Antisocial behaviour orders cannot be seen in isolation. They should not be abandoned for more popular or successful measures, as the hon. Member for Hertsmere suggested. We must work at making antisocial behaviour orders more widely available as we spread best practice, as well as using those other measures.

Only 785 antisocial behaviour orders were reportedly issued up to the end of 2002. I will not pretend that that is an acceptable number. There is a problem with under-reporting, so the number is probably higher than that, but I am not suggesting that we have used the powers to their fullest extent. However, there have been 3,106 parenting orders, and 3,816 juvenile curfew orders. We must look at the entire package. We should not regard it as frozen legislation. The problem still exists, and we must refine the answer to that problem.

CSOs cannot request antisocial behaviour orders. A chief officer makes the application, after consulting a local authority. CSOs could, however, be involved in the decision about whether to suggest that an application be made. That is central to the role that they play within communities.

Photo of Liz Blackman Liz Blackman Llafur, Erewash

We have established that the Bill gives authorities a better chance of obtaining antisocial behaviour orders. We have also had a discussion about the role of MPs. My hon. Friend mentioned that it would be a good idea to further spread best practice and that more work needed to be done on that. Could he flesh out how that will happen and how he sees the strategic role of Government in ensuring accountability once the Bill becomes law? Central Government are a partner in this matter. How are we going to make sure that the patchy way that the orders are enforced will be made consistent?

Photo of Bob Ainsworth Bob Ainsworth The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department

The Home Secretary fully recognises that it is not the job of the Home Office simply to frame legislation and then to leave it to others. Delivery must be at the heart of everything that we do. We must engage with local government, which is an important partner. We must look at the operation of the court system. We must look at the engagement of the police. Delivery and how legislation is used should be central to the responsibilities of central Government. It is not good enough for central Government to provide the legislative framework, only for others to take over the job thereafter. That certainly is not the view of the Home Secretary, nor is it the view of this Government. The Government must see their role as deliverers, not just as legislators.

Photo of Vernon Coaker Vernon Coaker Llafur, Gedling

My hon. Friend has said that community support officers will not be able to apply for antisocial behaviour orders. I ask him to give that matter further consideration.

Photo of Bob Ainsworth Bob Ainsworth The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department 10:15, 15 Mai 2003

I shall, and my hon. Friend will batter my ear if I do not do it—although he may batter my ear even more if I agree to do it: I have no way out.

In order to deliver in that area, the Home Office has set up an antisocial behaviour unit. Its job is not only to talk to practitioners about the powers that are available, but to get feedback on whether and how they are being used and to ensure that the legislative process is being put properly into practice.

Photo of Liz Blackman Liz Blackman Llafur, Erewash

I accept that we are not starting with a blank sheet, but will the Minister accept that councils perform differently? The Government may need to be a little more proactive in targeting those that perform less well, in order to get them up to the mark.

Photo of Bob Ainsworth Bob Ainsworth The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department

Yes, we accept that. The Government, the antisocial behaviour unit and Members of Parliament all have an important role to play.

I return to the issue raised by the hon. Member for Mid-Dorset and North Poole. She said that the ASBO is an enforcement measure and that she wanted to see more activities attached to the ASBO to deal with the underlying causes of the problem. My hon. Friend the Member for Gedling addressed that point. Yes,

measures to tackle those underlying issues are needed, but to attach them to ASBOs would make the orders not more accessible but, potentially, less so. I would be totally opposed to something being built into the ASBO that would result in them not being issued or pursued unless this, that or the other had been put in place beforehand.

I agree with all my hon. Friends—we are not in contradiction—that we must see a change of attitude. Yes, of course there has to be support and care; and no one suggests that the first intervention for a 10-year-old should be an enforcement one. However, we must get more into the frame of mind that certain things are not acceptable and that enforcement action will be taken.

Photo of Annette Brooke Annette Brooke Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

Let me clarify my point. The problem is that we are widening the number of people who can apply for an ASBO. I am confident when a local authority is at the heart of the order, because I know who the antisocial behaviour officers are and I can work with them. However, I do not have that confidence when the ASBO is initiated by a registered social housing landlord, because I do not know the landlord and, as a result, do not know that earlier processes have been engaged on.

My concern is that, when bringing more bodies into the system, one could jump through a lot of hoops and go straight to the process. I want to be reassured that everything will be tied together. I keep making the point that there is no requirement for housing associations to be at the centre of a crime and disorder reduction partnership, and I would feel more confident if there was such a requirement. It works as a total partnership in some parts of the country, but the legislation does not include the sort of safeguard that I am looking for—which I think is a pretty reasonable one. I do not want to undermine the system. The problem lies in extending the power to other bodies that are not locked into the partnership.

Photo of Bob Ainsworth Bob Ainsworth The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department

Housing action trusts need to be able to apply for ASBOs. Their tenants are often at the receiving end of the problems suffered by our communities. We will not allow housing action trusts to apply for orders without consulting the police or the local authority. They will have to consult before making an order, and it is right that they should do so. They cannot do that in isolation and without that consultation.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 36 ordered to stand part of the Bill.