Let me start by paying tribute to my hon. Friend Gloria De Piero for the way in which she ably steered this Bill through Committee on behalf of the
Opposition and for her work more generally as part of our shadow Home Office team before her well-deserved promotion last week. I also welcome the Minister to his new role and, along with my colleagues, I look forward to debating these important issues with him.
Antisocial behaviour orders have been the cornerstone of the fight against antisocial behaviour since Labour came to power in 1997. In that year, the previous Tory Government had failed to address a problem that blighted communities up and down the country, from suburban lanes to inner-city estates, for which people were long overdue a Government response.
ASBOs are a tough, fair and proportionate last response to persistent perpetrators of antisocial behaviour. They require a criminal burden of proof to be brought in, they are a last resort where other interventions have failed and they work because they are backed by the threat of criminal sanction. In seeking to repeal the legislation that brought in ASBOs, the Government are taking a retrograde and misguided step that will not be welcomed by the communities that live in fear of antisocial behaviour and that have come to know that the police have the power to take tough action backed by criminal sanctions if necessary.
In the Government’s most recent crime survey, 80% of respondents said they believed that antisocial behaviour was increasing under this Government since the general election. One third of respondents said that they had either been a victim of, or witness to, antisocial behaviour. They will be wondering why the Government have chosen to respond to people’s concerns not by toughening the legislation or by empowering the police to take action, but by going soft, taking away the threat of criminal sanction, taking police off the beat to attend training on new and weaker powers of response, and requiring the new injunctions to be taken out not in magistrates courts, which would mean they could be dealt with quickly and efficiently, but in county courts, which are slow and overburdened. Amendment 96 seeks not to prevent the Government from introducing injunctions to prevent nuisance and annoyance—they could be a useful alternative for the police to consider using—but to keep ASBOs on the statute book, leaving it to local councils and police forces to decide what best suits their local areas and needs.
I speak from experience. Before the people of Croydon North elected me to the House last November, I spent nearly seven years as leader of Lambeth council in south London. When Labour won power there in 2006, we found that the Tory-Lib Dem coalition had spent the previous three years stalling ASBOs on ideological grounds. One year, it issued none at all. As a consequence, antisocial behaviour remained too high, without sanction. Young people drifted from antisocial behaviour to low-level crime, and then to high-level crime, including street robberies. Gang violence rose. The fear of crime and the perception that local streets were simply not safe became endemic.
One of the first things the Labour-led council did on taking power was clamp down on antisocial behaviour. Issuing ASBOs, working closely with the police, was a key part of the response.