I beg to move,
That this House
has considered antisocial behaviour.
I thank the Backbench Business Committee for the opportunity to debate an issue that affects every constituency, all over the UK. Certainly in the last couple of years, antisocial behaviour has become one of the biggest issues in my constituency. It is absolutely vital that Parliament continues to debate these bread-and-butter issues when our time seems to be squeezed solely on discussing Brexit.
Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary and the fire service found in 2018 that 40% of respondents nationally think that crime and antisocial behaviour is a problem in their area, up from 25% in 2015. Of course, antisocial behaviour appears in many forms, such as gangs of youths hanging around parades of local shops, convenience stores and off-licences, public drinking, vehicle damage and theft, aggressive begging, drug dealing, noise nuisance, and attacks on public transport. In my constituency recently, stones have been thrown at buses in the Orchard Park area, meaning that the bus companies have had to divert buses from there. Of course, antisocial behaviour is also about vandalism, graffiti, fly-tipping and rubbish.
As a constituency MP, I want to make some observations about what is happening locally in my patch of Hull North, but I also want to draw out some of the common themes that are developing around the United Kingdom, challenge the Minister on what the Government need to do, and make some suggestions about sharing good practice.
My home city, Hull, is a fantastic city, with many good, hard-working people—they are the salt of the earth and proud of their communities. Many believe in the best community values of solidarity that we see in friendly societies and trade unions. Very sadly, this is currently typified by the way the community has come together in the search for the missing university student Libby Squire, in the work the emergency services are doing with the University of Hull, students and local people. It is also shown in work being done with young people by Steve Arnott and his Beats Bus crew and by the boxer Tommy Coyle.
Like any city or town, however, Hull has its problems, and sadly we now have a generation of young people who have grown up in the austerity years. We could call them the austerity generation. Some have become very difficult to reach. On a visit to a local primary school in my constituency, the year 6 students told me they did not feel safe in their local area. They mentioned youths hanging around the park who were aggressive and intimidating and they mentioned drug dealing, and they did not like the rubbish and fly-tipping blighting their area.
Nationally, 2.2 million children aged 10 to 17 are worried about crime and antisocial behaviour, and 950,000 children have experienced crime and antisocial behaviour. When I asked constituents to tell me about their experiences of antisocial behaviour, this is what some of them said:
“Youths on motorbikes screaming around North Bransholme at all hours making lots of noise and driving dangerously in and out of cars and other motorists causing them to brake hard.”
Another one said:
“Groups of intimidating youths also hanging around shops being verbally abusive and displaying anti-social behaviour around people trying to use the shops, always the same ones, I’ve stopped going now –
it’s got beyond a joke.”
“One of our Neighbours banged our door for quite a few times with his guests, they were shouting as they were all drunk. I called 999 (because I didn’t have a credit to call on 101). The operator said that it's not an emergency and disconnected my call by advising to call on 101. Few minutes later they urinated inside my house through the door”.
Or this comment:
“Spat at, threats to ‘slit my f***ing throat’, threats to ‘smash my f**ing face in’”.
Feeling safe where we live, work and play is important to us all, and antisocial behaviour can make people’s lives miserable. As our local police and crime commissioner Keith Hunter, who is also the national lead for police and crime commissioners on antisocial behaviour, says, antisocial behaviour is often the start of what can lead to serious criminal behaviour if not checked and dealt with. It is clear that we need to reclaim our public spaces for the law-abiding majority.
Keith Hunter has also said:
“When public services and policing retreat from public spaces there will always be a section of society who will seek to use that void for their own criminal or anti-social purposes. That hard core encourages others who under different circumstances would not be a problem. Then law-abiding people don’t go to those areas, reinforcing the takeover by the bad element”.
I have to reflect on the fact, therefore, that since 2010 there has been a cut to the Humberside police budget of 31%. Until recently, policing levels in Humberside were down to levels not seen since the 1970s. We have stopped seeing police, special constables and police community support officers on our streets, especially outside the city centre. We have also lost our excellent Hull community wardens, who provided an extra reassuring presence on the streets all over Hull.
It is not just about police numbers; equipment has been cut too. For example, we no longer have our own helicopter based at Humberside airport, which could respond quickly, track suspects and identify cannabis factories with its heat-seeking capability. We now share a helicopter with other Yorkshire forces. Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary reported in 2017 on the substandard response to ongoing police incidents resulting from the decline in the number of national helicopters. I am aware of reports that Lincolnshire police are using police drones. I wonder if the Minister could reflect upon drones as a cost-effective idea that other police forces should consider using more widely.
The police grant settlement this week sadly does not produce the central Government funding that police forces need. Humberside’s PCC says that
“services are stretched to breaking point” and is now having to consult on a 6.4% council tax precept increase—a regressive tax, let’s remember, on the “just managing”—to raise the money he needs to stabilise police numbers and meet the increasing costs of the force. Thankfully, we have a PCC who is actively recruiting and training police officers in order to restore some of the numbers lost since 2010. He recognises the reassurance of having a presence focused on the frontline.
My hon. Friend is making some vital points about antisocial behaviour. She mentioned the role of community support officers and the cuts to their numbers. The Welsh Government stepped in to fund community support officers across Wales when the UK Government cut the funding. Is that not a stark reminder of the difference between Labour and Tory Governments’ records on policing and local government?
My hon. Friend’s intervention sets out very clearly the difference and how the role of PCSOs is valued in Wales.
There are some good initiatives happening in Humberside to tackle antisocial behaviour, particularly where the police are working alongside active Labour councillors such as Rosie Nicola, Gary Wareing, Steve Wilson, Gwen Lunn, Marjorie Brabazon and Anita Harrison, who are all determined to tackle antisocial behaviour in their areas—for example, by using a mobile cop shop to move to areas where problems develop. With the current problems with attacks on buses, there are also plans to use a Trojan bus with police aboard who can take action if stones and other items are thrown at the bus. They can stop the bus, get off and deal with it.
The police are showing a video in local schools demonstrating the effects of antisocial behaviour. I think the video came from Dundee and contains the example of a child throwing a stone at a driver who then swerved, hit a pram and killed a baby. That kind of video is useful in educating children and young people about the effects of what they think might be a prank. Humberside has also pioneered Operation Yellowfin to combat crime with motorbikes—another big problem in my area—and has received national recognition for its work with local petrol stations to prevent people who commit antisocial behaviour on motorbikes and mopeds from being able to buy petrol. That said, we need a routine long-term police presence to deter and detect antisocial behaviour, not just special one-off operations when things get really bad.
Does my hon. Friend agree that the fundamental problem is that, with 21,000 police officers having been taken out of the system, along with PCSOs and others, it is an uphill struggle and that the Government must take seriously the need to put in significant resources if we are to tackle antisocial behaviour? At the moment, the police are having to deal with violent crime, which has gone up by 19% in the last year, and so by necessity are deprioritising antisocial behaviour, which is making people’s lives a misery and terrorising our constituents.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. I could not agree more.
We should recognise the important work that my hon. Friend Emma Hardy has been doing in identifying the off-rolling of school pupils. Owing to changes in the education landscape and the academisation of schools, there has been an increase in the number of children who are being home-educated. They disappear from the school system, and many then become part of the antisocial behaviour problem. I should be interested to know the Minister’s view. I should also like to know whether she is willing to speak to her colleagues in the Department for Education, and whether she thinks that including education representatives in the community safety partnerships might be a way of dealing with the problem.
We also need to do much more in relation to mental health. We need to understand what antisocial behaviour does to people’s health and wellbeing, to understand that mental health issues can be one of the reasons why perpetrators become involved in antisocial behaviour, and to understand the help that they require.
One idea that could be rolled out nationally came from New York in the 1990s, when the mayor adopted a zero-tolerance approach to antisocial behaviour, fly-tipping, rubbish-dumping and graffiti. The outcomes were very positive. If a window was broken it was fixed, if rubbish piled up it was moved, and if people behaved in an antisocial way they were dealt with. If that is to work here, however, it will need stable funding, and, as we heard from my hon. Friend Rushanara Ali, the money must come from central Government. It will also need a multi-agency approach, and strong political leadership both nationally and locally. I understand that there is a plan to adopt this approach in Beverley Road in my constituency, where there are multiple issues connected with antisocial behaviour, but sadly, although it has been much talked about, not much progress has been made so far, and communities are still suffering from the blight of antisocial behaviour.
I should also like the Minister to consider the effects of supported housing for those who have drug and alcohol problems or mental health issues, or have recently left prison. In Hull there are many projects in Victorian terraced housing in tightly packed neighbourhoods, with limited support. I often receive complaints about shouting, swearing, drinking, drug-taking and threats of violence in those properties. There is also a large hostel, Westbourne House, in a residential area. Along with the police and crime commissioner, we believe that the hostel is in the wrong location and causes antisocial behaviour problems in the neighbourhood. Establishing such hostels and supported housing in settled communities can cause real problems. I hope that the Minister will be able to say something about better guidance on where they should be located, better monitoring and better enforcement of contracts, and will also consider whether the Care Quality Commission needs more powers.
A report by the National Audit Office shows the scale of the funding reductions in my city since 2010. There has been a 37% decrease in Government funding for the council. Early intervention schemes have been cut back, and now focus only on those who are most desperately in need and in crisis. Children’s centres no longer have their original purpose of providing a universal service for all families, and voluntary and youth groups have been cut. Those cuts, along with all the others, are creating a perfect storm in our most disadvantaged communities. Cuts in services are often a false economy, because they will cost taxpayers much more in the longer term.
Another aspect of antisocial behaviour involves neighbour disputes. Constituents tell me that they have to fill in numerous diary sheets, and nothing ever happens. Hull City Council has told me that it has to demonstrate a “pattern of behaviour”, and needs the sheets in order to do so, but even then the behaviour may not be serious enough to lead to enforcement action, namely eviction. I am also told that owing to the current pressure on the courts, when the council does go for eviction and has all the evidence to hand, it can take as long as eight months—or more—for that to happen. Even when dates are given for hearings, they are often adjourned. Antisocial behaviour of that kind causes real upset and distress, and I should like to hear from the Minister what more she thinks she could do to tackle it.
When the coalition Government took office in 2010, they changed antisocial behaviour legislation. I believe that that action was led by the Liberal Democrats, who thought that Labour’s legislation was too draconian, and obviously felt that they should be more on the side of the perpetrators than on that of the victims. Community protection notices can work quite well, but they cannot be issued to those under 16. In the case of under-16s, the only option is the use of injunctions. The council tells me that the problem with injunctions is that they are very hard to enforce. Hull City Council has to get good evidence and signed affidavits and it has to apply to the court and pay fees. It has to bear the burden of getting the injunctions, but if they are breached, very little happens.
This is linked to my concern about criminal behaviour orders, which are available only when a conviction has been achieved. I recently came across a young man who had been given a CBO and who had breached it multiple times. He went to court, but no action was taken even though he was terrorising the local community. I have written to Justice Ministers about this several times, but I have not had a satisfactory response, so I hope that the Minister will be able to help me to get one. I suggest that it is time for a review of the legislation and of the training of the judiciary and their understanding of the effects of antisocial behaviour.
In conclusion, I want to remind Members of a story that my friend, the former right hon. Member for Holborn and St Pancras, Frank Dobson, used to tell about Lena Jeger when she was campaigning as the Labour candidate in the 1953 by-election. Canvassing a woman in a block of flats in a Camden Town, Lena launched into the great left-wing issue of the day: German re-armament and the threat that it posed to international peace and security. When Lena paused for breath, the constituent asked: “Did you come up in the lift?” “Yes dear,” replied Lena. “Stinks of piss, doesn’t it?” said the woman. “Yes dear,” said Lena. “Can’t you stop ’em pissing in the lift?” asked the woman. “I don’t think I can,” said Lena. “Well,” said the woman, “if you can’t stop them pissing in our lift, how can you expect me to believe that you can stop the Germans re-arming?” In 2019, if we cannot get all our agencies working together to stop youths throwing stones at buses in Orchard Park or to tackle aggressive begging in Newland Avenue on my patch, how will voters believe that we can sort out the big challenge of Brexit?
It is a pleasure to follow Diana Johnson, who touched on many important issues. I thank the Secretary of State and the Policing Minister for the additional resources that have been given to Greater Manchester police recently. That is very welcome, although I would not like to suggest that we would not appreciate more. The additional money is important as it will enable the police and crime commissioner of Greater Manchester, who is also the Mayor, to ensure that there is a fair distribution of resources right across Greater Manchester. There is often concern that Greater Manchester police put too much focus on Salford, Manchester and certain parts of Greater Manchester, rather than the parts of the boroughs of Bolton and Wigan that I represent and have an interest in. There is a strong feeling locally that there needs to be a fairer distribution of policing resources.
The hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull North was right to put getting this right in the context of Brexit. After Brexit, antisocial behaviour and law and order more generally is the single most commonly raised issue. Brexit will hopefully be done and dusted in a matter of weeks, but antisocial behaviour and law and order are significantly longer-term issues that need more focused and concerted action over the long term. People write to me, email me and raise issues on social media and at the public meetings that I hold, and antisocial behaviour is a very frequently raised concern.
Recently, the communities in Ladybridge and Westhoughton have held very well attended community meetings. I always think that, if people are prepared to come out to a community centre on a beautiful sunny evening when they could be spending time with their family and enjoying life, it really does show their strength of feeling. The meetings have been incredibly well attended, and people have been very vocal about antisocial behaviour such as the behaviour of their next-door neighbours, and about the inability of the police and other agencies to deal with those disruptive neighbours or with events and activities that take place on the high street and more widely. They sense that there is an inability, or perhaps an unwillingness, to deal with these concerns. Over time, what may be a low-level or relatively small concern can develop and get worse. As the hon. Lady pointed out, if problems can be nipped in the bud early on, that prevents them from getting worse.
In Allerton, a few serious incidents of violent crime, including a stabbing at the library and other incidents on the high street, have led to a greater feeling that things are getting out of hand. I had a meeting with the local superintendent and chief superintendent, and I was reassured to hear that they were confident about reorganising, having a stronger community focus and restoring the relationship with the community. That can help local police to better understand what is going on, but the local community also get to know the local police. Increased visibility has a deterrent effect and improves people’s confidence. We want people to be confident when going around the community so that they feel part of the community. If people do not feel confident about being out and about and getting involved, that can lead them to withdraw. As people withdraw from the community, problems can easily get worse and then out of hand, turning into a bigger challenge for the police.
I recently spent some time with the police on a Saturday night shift. Both the bobby on the beat and an officer in a patrol car can deal with an immense number of different situations. It speaks to the quality and ability of our police that they can deal with such things. One of their biggest worries is alcohol on our high streets and the effect of people who have had a little too much to drink. However, we should also reflect on good pubs, good pub management and good landlords and landladies and the influence that they and the community can have on drinking. Pubs are an important part of our local community, and good management from good proprietors can help to create a good healthy pub environment, which can help to reduce issues that occur on the streets.
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that some communities are not interested in going to the pub and want to drink in the street? The street then becomes their drinking place, which leads to antisocial behaviour that frightens residents away from their town centres.
I entirely agree. On a slightly different note, residents in Horwich have told me about a small fishing lake where people sit around late into the evening. Whether drugs or drink are involved, that presence of people and the rowdiness and noise that goes with it is upsetting and off-putting. People who want to take their children to the high street should not have to avoid it after a certain hour. They should not have to avoid parts of my constituency due to inconsiderate behaviour.
That is where the police have to react and get involved, because a police presence—a bit of visibility every now and then—can tone down people’s behaviour so that they have more respect, which can improve the environment. If we can get more people and more families on to the high street and elsewhere in the community, that can have a civilising impact, which is better than the sense that people have to evacuate such areas, leaving them to the people who drink in the street.
How the police manage antisocial behaviour links in with sentencing by magistrates courts. The approach needs to be more robust. Constituents frequently raise with me their concerns about sentencing and the opportunities for rehabilitation in prison. We should be looking at the whole criminal justice system and, whether it is policing, the courts or prisons, more resources are required in all those areas.
I concur with the previous speakers. I congratulate my hon. Friend Diana Johnson on securing this important debate. Antisocial behaviour is a significant matter for a considerable number of residents in our constituencies and we need to find some better answers.
I did not want to say a lot but, as there is a bit more time, I will try to say a bit more. Antisocial behaviour is so frustrating for our constituents. People without a lot of money, living on terraced streets, have their wing mirrors kicked off and then have them kicked off again a month later. Youths on the street think it is entertaining to act in an aggressive or surly manner that brings about fear in others. Noise nuisance. Neighbours who just want to argue endlessly and disrupt other people’s lives. People who just want to deny others an amenity; they may not do something in person. The actions range from doing graffiti, to destruction, to vandalism, to the way they keep their property or neighbourhood, with open spaces and playgrounds forever being vandalised.
That loss of amenities and that threat destroy communities, yet we do not take it as seriously as our constituents do. This debate is extremely serious to me because antisocial behaviour blights so many communities. My constituency—including Accrington and Hyndburn—is no different from many others. Antisocial behaviour is a bugbear. I listen to constituents who come to my surgeries to talk about issues that are very frustrating or that are being dealt with in an exceedingly slow way. I know that individual is suffering.
I always say to my staff that antisocial behaviour is the No. 1 issue that I want us to tackle for people who come into my office or surgery. I tell them that I want them to give it the highest priority because it is so destructive hour by hour, day by day. There is a dysfunctional family on my cousin Vicky’s terrace. They think it is appropriate to play loud music and shout at 4 o’clock in the morning. She works, so you can imagine the implications. It is driving her around the bend and very little can be done. Resolving the issue is very slow and difficult, which is typical of many of the antisocial behaviour issues that my constituents face.
Antisocial behaviour blights lives in many ways. A lot of the time these incidents are not considered to be serious enough, but they have a huge, scarring and detrimental impact on victims’ lives. I appeal to Members to escalate the issue. The damage often does not affect MPs—how many MPs live in a deprived area and have to suffer the consequences of antisocial behaviour?
I feel a sense of déjà vu. When I became an MP in 1997, antisocial behaviour was one of the biggest issues and, under the guidance of Prime Minister Tony Blair, we took huge action to try to tackle it, whether through safer neighbourhood teams, basing police teams in town centres, introducing antisocial behaviour orders or discussing what to do about antisocial tenants. We are now going backwards on all those issues and we are reinventing the wheel—it was there, but we have resiled from it.
I concur with that. Indeed, I think my hon. Friend has seen an advance copy of my speech, as I want to raise a number of those issues. I will not address them directly now, except to say that, on council estates, we have moved away from having the old tenant manager and collecting rents at the door. I do not suggest we have that now, but the system had some advantages and we have replaced it with one where there seems not to be as much supervision, which brings difficulties and an increase in antisocial behaviour.
I was not highlighting the MPs who are sat here today, as they are clearly exceedingly concerned about antisocial behaviour in their constituencies. It is worth mentioning that this week we voted on the police funding settlement, which is at the heart of all this. I do not think there is any escape from the fact that if police numbers are reduced—I will go on to comment on other aspects of the police and criminal justice system—police presence is reduced and of course that will have a detrimental impact. As my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull North said, where there is a vacuum in policing, there will be an opportunity for those with a malign or malevolent attitude to others to behave in a way that is not conducive to the wellbeing of the victim, the neighbourhood or the community. We therefore have to put that right. It is wrong that the Government have cut policing so significantly, as the consequences are considerable. I asked my local police and crime commissioner in Lancashire, Clive Grunshaw, who is doing a very good job, about this situation. He said that he has lost a considerable number of officers. He has lost 800 officers in Lancashire and 450 members of police staff—that is never mentioned, but it diverts resources.
In 2002, or thereabouts, the Labour Government under Tony Blair introduced neighbourhood policing. After seeing rising crime year on year, decade on decade, we began to reverse that cycle, no more so than in terms of antisocial behaviour and low-level crime, with the introduction of neighbourhood policing. That was a positive, progressive approach to some of these issues. I know that we must have sanctions, and I will address those in a moment, but at the heart of reducing antisocial behaviour was neighbourhood policing.
I often talk about Peel ward, which I represented as a councillor before I came here. In 2002, it had 120 anti- social behaviour incidents a month. The neighbouring Spring Hill ward had slightly more—it had nearly 130 a month. We can only imagine having that many incidents, and we must remember that the wards are small in my constituency. There was constant harassment of residents, day after day. When neighbourhood policing was introduced in Lancashire—it came in in my ward at the very beginning of the roll-out—we began to see huge reductions in antisocial behaviour. Within about three years I think we were down to 10 or 15 incidents a month of recorded antisocial behaviour, which is 10% or 11% of what it had been. The residents breathed a sigh of relief, but they were angry. I remember holding a public meeting in Accrington at the council offices just prior to the introduction of neighbourhood policing. The room could hold about 140 people, but nearly 200 turned up and we could not get everyone in. It was dangerous, as people were packed at the back and pushing to get in, and the anger was incredible.
I do not want to return to those days. I do not want to return to the days when I got a telephone call after midnight and was so sick of antisocial behaviour that I just rocked up out of the house and went round to a neighbour’s house where there was a gang of 20 yobs, and confronted them myself on Bold Street. I think there is a video tape somewhere of me confronting them. Residents thought it was the end of it when their councillor was going out to confront these yobs after midnight. I confronted another group of 25 at the bottom of my street and one of them threatened to glass me there and then. That was where we were in 2002. When neighbourhood policing was introduced, it was a progressive answer that caused a huge reduction in antisocial behaviour. It was not, though, only about the police presence on the ground.
I say openly—my constituents may be watching—that I have asked my local police and crime commissioner to increase the police precept by as much as he possibly can. That is my view, and I am going to tell the truth. We have to put police officers back on the beat and get policing back to a neighbourhood level. If the Government want to continue with their cuts, all we will be able to do by increasing the precept is replace officers we have lost.
If the hon. Gentleman is going to ask his local police and crime commissioner to make the sort of changes he is suggesting—of course, he is absolutely right to do so as the local MP—will he also ask him why he is keeping £37.9 million in reserves in a savings account, and why those reserves have increased by £17.8 million since 2011? He is getting the money, but it seems he is not spending it.
Let me explain to the Minister how finance works. Most public authorities usually keep back around 5% to 10%—that is the Audit Commission’s advice—because there are peaks and troughs in what they pay out each month. They need to have money there in case what they pay out rises. There is also a capital investment programme. The Minister may not know, but I know, that Blackpool police station is crumbling and needs replacing. The police and crime commissioner needs to know that he has the money. If he is prudent—he is a Labour police and crime commissioner, so he is prudent —he will be saving, year on year, to replace Blackpool police station. [Interruption.] The Minister is chuntering, but Blackpool North and Cleveleys is a Conservative constituency. If she does not want Blackpool police station to be done up, she should stand up at the Dispatch Box and say so.
I visited Blackpool North on Friday and sat in a meeting with some of the people who make the most difference in the local area, including my hon. Friend Paul Maynard and the local police officers, community groups and councillors. We were not talking about buildings; we were talking about the great work that officers, community groups and the council do to keep that area safe. I concentrate on people rather than bricks and mortar.
I think that is what I have talked about so far. The Minister had no answer to my question; it seems she does not really care about Blackpool police station.
Just for the record, the Bonny Street police station in Blackpool is indeed crumbling—it is an absolute disgrace—but a shiny new replacement has already opened, probably around six months ago, right on the edge of my constituency. I hear what the hon. Gentleman is saying in his stout defence of the Labour police and crime commissioner, but perhaps the Bonny Street police station in Blackpool and its new replacement, which has now opened, is not the best example.
I was using it as an example of why a police and crime commissioner would retain reserves. The hon. Gentleman has just proved the point that I have been making: the police and crime commissioner in Lancashire, Clive Grunshaw, does a wonderful job by making sure that there are reserves so that, as the hon. Gentleman says, Blackpool and the Conservative MP there can get a brand new shiny police station to replace the crumbling one. That is what I call fiscal responsibility. The Minister should think about that when she gets to her feet and makes these points—well, she did not actually make any point in response to my point about the police station; she was saved by one of her Back Benchers, to be fair. This is about prudence. The Minister talks about people, but perhaps she should have listened to the points I made earlier about this being about staff, people, communities and neighbourhoods.
To return to the point that I was making, we have lost 800 staff—this is not just about the savings. By the way, I say to the Minister that there is a difference between capital and revenue—another obvious point. However, cutting 800 staff means that antisocial behaviour will increase. A total of 450 staff have been removed from the back office, which has an impact, and neighbourhood policing units have basically collapsed; they no longer exist. We have gone back to 1990s response policing, with police increasingly driving around areas in their panda cars. I have been out with the police at night on several shifts and seen how policing has become a blue light operation. That is what Lancashire constabulary has been reduced to. When there is serious knife crime in an area or some big incident happens, the police cannot deal with antisocial behaviour. We cannot have a progressive solution if we strip out neighbourhood policing.
I want to touch on one other point, which relates to the coalition Government. I sometimes get sick and fed up with Liberal politicians saying that we should not have CCTV cameras. They talk all this nonsense about catching criminals. I ask Ministers to please listen to constituents and residents and to be on their side—do not be on the side of those Liberals. I say gently to the Minister that our constituents and residents suffer and would like to see CCTV cameras working; they do not see it as a problem.
I have asked for the precept to be raised, and I say that quite openly. The public have been asked about that, and 78% of those surveyed support that move. I like to say that I am in touch with the people, but in this particular instance I obviously am. The public want to see more police on the beat. They want to see our police tackling antisocial behaviour.
The cuts have really affected our areas of Hyndburn and Haslingden. We have no presence, apart from a blue light presence, on the streets. I know that sometimes the chief constable does not want to send out that message, and he may well have something to say in my ear. I say back to him, “I’m sorry Andy, but unfortunately, that is what is happening.” There are no PCSOs or beat constables out on the street any more. Our neighbourhood policing teams have been seconded to other duties, causing the neighbourhood policing units to collapse in Lancashire. It is simply not fair.
In the past few weeks, a vigilante group has moved in. This is where we end up. Antisocial behaviour is exceedingly aggravating to so many people. The Accrington vigilante group is called, I think, Hyndburn Watch. It has its own uniform and various other semi-official regalia, and it is out patrolling the streets at night. Is this what we have come to? We cannot deal with antisocial behaviour and we cannot protect the public, so people have to protect themselves and they have to pay for the privilege of having a non-existent service through their taxes. I am deeply concerned that these people are putting themselves in danger. It is not the right approach.
These nine years of police cuts have affected Lancashire. I know that there are Members on the Conservative Benches who privately, and occasionally publicly, agree with that and who do not agree with their own Government on the scale of the cuts that have hit our communities. Antisocial behaviour continues to worry me, and it worries more and more people around this country.
The Office for National Statistics has published information showing that, between October 2017 and September 2018, there was a staggering 13% increase in people experiencing or witnessing antisocial behaviour. The links with further austerity and cuts are clear when the figures are broken down into categories. There was a 28% rise in the number of people experiencing or witnessing groups hanging around on the streets.
I want local authorities to find a progressive solution to this, but what have we got? Youth clubs are closing in my area—I think we have consolidated five clubs into one. There is no progressive offer for people. They are roaming around the streets saying that they have nowhere to go, and in truth now they have nowhere to go. It is very difficult for them. We should be trying to find progressive answers for the vast majority who really want to abide by the law. Perhaps on a bad day, or on a few bad days, they and their mates get carried away and disrupt other people’s lives, but they are not intrinsically bad people.
I will come shortly to those who are the worst offenders and how we should deal with them, but we must have a progressive solution. It is worrying that the crime statistics are up, because I have to say—the coroner also says this—that there has been a massive increase of drugs in Hyndburn and Haslingden from county lines. The streets are awash with cocaine, and young people are getting involved through county lines. People can get cocaine anywhere at its purest level; never has it been available on the same scale as now. I ask for police sniffer dogs to go in, but there is a lack of policing; the police say they are unable to do that to try to resolve some of these issues. But young people involved in antisocial behaviour are slipping into a life of crime, so we need to be very concerned about the worst antisocial behaviour because of how that will manifest itself further on.
In all of this we need to go back to some basic principles. When we were tough on crime and tough on the causes of crime we had the right policies. We need to get back to being tough on crime and tough on the causes of crime; we have never controlled antisocial behaviour more than when we had that policy. As my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull North said, the architects of that policy should be congratulated, because it was a breakthrough, but instead we have seen a roll-back in the last few years.
As has been said, a reformed ASBO needs to be reintroduced; I do not want to see people go to prison, so that is where the reform needs to be. Local authorities and police should be able to impose ASBOs where necessary on some of these individuals—the worst elements. We need to go back to what matters and listen to people; we need to have a community-centred approach to tackling this issue.
As Chris Green said, we need to look at the criminal justice system. For the worst offenders—not the majority, but those who repeat antisocial behaviour—we need to look at the criminal justice system. Community payback does not particularly work in some instances for repeat offences, and prison does not work, so we need to find something in the middle that does not send offenders back to hang around with their mates again and commit more antisocial behaviour. We need to look at other aspects of the criminal justice system so that we have a system that is progressive, that trains people, and that gets them out of this behaviour, but that also sanctions those who want to carry on. It must be punitive, but with some progressive or educational elements.
Does my hon. Friend agree that the changes and amendments that need to happen in the justice system are part of a very complex solution, and that no one golden bullet is going to solve all problems?
I agree with that. As I have said, we should always start with the progressive answer, but for those who are regressive and refuse to behave we need to look at a reformed and tougher criminal justice system.
I think that most Members will agree that antisocial behaviour forms a huge part of their caseload. It is perhaps not the part of their caseload that they came into politics to deal with, but it is the reality of what our individual constituents face, frequently day to day. Indeed, the constituents who come to see us are merely the tip of the iceberg of those who suffer from antisocial behaviour.
I pay credit to Citizens Advice Scotland, which has an excellent website that helps people by guiding them through the world of antisocial behaviour, which is incredibly complex. The website starts by giving a list of definitions of what amounts to antisocial behaviour, including what we have heard about in the debate: noise, shouting, swearing, the gathering of groups, harassment—including, of course, racial and sectarian harassment—verbal abuse, and the bullying of children both at school and beyond, such as at public recreation grounds. Indeed, we have had the benefit today of hearing about two excellent Committee reports on social media, through which bullying takes place, and on the need for intervention early in young children’s lives to give them the best possible support for the future.
I want to discuss two aspects of antisocial behaviour: antisocial behaviour that is perpetrated by an individual, which is frequently described as neighbour disputes; and antisocial behaviour that is occasioned by groups. Neighbour disputes are incredibly difficult to provide help for, and it is frequently the case, as my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull North said, that mental health problems sit behind individual cases. Indeed, mental health problems are often passed on to the recipient of antisocial behaviour. Dealing with the situation can be challenging, difficult and, unfortunately, expensive.
I would like the Minister, if possible, to extend a view on situations that occur among people in freehold accommodation, rather than rental or leasehold properties. In such cases, the recipients of antisocial behaviour frequently get to the stage where they say, “I’m just going to move. That’s the simple answer—I’ll admit defeat and move away.” However, under existing law, both north and south of the border, there is an onus to disclose neighbour disputes in sale documents, which will of course make selling a house incredibly difficult. I wonder whether the Government have had any thoughts about how to facilitate a method of addressing that, because sometimes the only answer for the person who is suffering antisocial behaviour is to move away.
Does my hon. Friend agree that the exponential growth in private renting has exacerbated the problems of antisocial behaviour? Landlords often do not care about the behaviour of their tenants because they do not live next door to them. All they care about is that the rent is getting paid, and they see that as the end of their responsibility.
I cannot better my hon. Friend’s intervention. Indeed, the only reason why I chose to raise the issue of freehold premises is that it is rarely mentioned. Within my constituency, there have been challenges for people who have admitted problems and subsequently found great difficulty in selling their houses, but that in no way downplays the antisocial behaviour, and the pain, suffering, mental health anguish and challenges, faced by families in rented and leasehold accommodation.
As we have heard, groups can also choose to behave antisocially, and there is one aspect of that which needs to be addressed, because it might be the key to solving the problem. Let me describe some examples from where I live in Prestonpans in my constituency of East Lothian, which is of course in Scotland, where these matters are devolved. There have been great challenges involving our early teenagers who hang around in groups. I know a significant number of the individuals involved, having had the privilege of teaching them at primary school. They are not bad people, but sometimes when they group together, a group mentality takes over, with actions and behaviours becoming acceptable to the group that, in all honesty, its members would never, ever contemplate doing as individuals. Much work needs to be done to address this group mentality, and to aid and abet some of the very best work that is going on to defeat antisocial behaviour.
Let me raise another example from my community. A new playpark was put up predominantly for children under 10, and particularly those of pre-school age. There was a big discussion about how to stop the equipment being damaged, and that was achieved by bringing older brothers and sisters into the park to explain why the equipment was so important to their younger brothers or sisters. Suddenly feeling an identity among the community that was going to use the facilities empowered the older children to look after it. A significant number of those children and young people said to other young people, “Don’t damage the park. It’s for my little brother and sister.”
Antisocial behaviour is occasioned, in the main, by people who become dissociated from others in their communities, be they their neighbour who is playing the television too loud, a group that has nothing to do because of the closure of after-school clubs, or groups of vigilantes who have lost faith in the community, in society and in their politicians—the people they have elected to govern them to look after them and solve problems. There are no simple answers. I could stand here and rail against austerity, because withdrawing assets and funding is a huge problem and it has caused this isolation to increase and become magnified. Responsible leaders and a responsible Government need to admit that that withdrawal has gone too far. We need to re-empower our communities and our society, and that will cost money. Empowerment should come through giving local authorities more devolved power and responsibility so that they, in turn, can devolve that back into communities, with people again feeling connected to what happens around them. They will then not have to phone their councillor after midnight and say, “Come and speak to these 20 people,” but may instead be able to speak to the person in question and say, “Look, you can’t really have a party and invite all these people.” The connection between people will be such that antisocial behaviour reduces.
Will my hon. Friend consider the fact that one of the this Government’s failures is the number of NEETs—those not in education, employment or training—that we have, with the figure running between 6% and 10% across every county and area? Where are these young people? What are they doing? Why are they not in education and training? [Interruption.]
I am grateful for my hon. Friend’s intervention. That is true, regardless of any dispute of those statistics that I feel may be coming. If someone becomes dissociated, and disconnected from their education and from their family and friends—for whatever reason—why should they buy into the society that they find themselves in? If their rented housing is inadequate—if they have water coming down the wall—and they have a landlord who just does not care, why should they buy into society and what their neighbour needs?
When we look at young children’s behaviour and sense of responsibility at school, we see that people innately care about each other. They lose that feeling because of the experiences that they face in life. One of our responsibilities as leaders is to ensure that the funds, assets, skills and strategies are in place so that people do not lose that in the first place, and so that if they are at risk of losing it, there is support to guide them back, such as after-school clubs and mentoring. Then they will understand their responsibilities, from something as simple as not dropping litter all the way through to not being part of a vigilante gang that feels that it is its right to engender justice in a community.
I am reminded of Orlando’s great phrase in “As You Like It”:
“I do desire we may be better strangers.”
One of the problems that we have found in our communities is that, for a whole lot of reasons, it is becoming much easier to become a better stranger than to become a better friend. There are no simple answers, but I have respect for a Government who face up to trying to solve these problems. I think that there individuals, answers and strategies out there that can make our constituents’ lives, families, schools and communities better. In that way, we will drive down antisocial behaviour—not excusing bad behaviour, but showing why it is not acceptable in our society.
I congratulate my hon. Friend Diana Johnson on bringing this very important debate to the House.
Last November, Bedfordshire police had to suspend its 101 call service for a few hours because of budget cuts and a steady rise in emergency 999 calls. Faced with difficult choices, the police have had to prioritise serious violent crime at the cost of others, especially those related to antisocial behaviour, even though those crimes are still very important. There simply are not the resources to tackle antisocial behaviour properly. The funding formula for Bedfordshire police has failed. Bedfordshire is funded as a rural force, but with the force’s responsibilities ranging from an airport that requires a complex and expensive counter-terrorism strategy to a town centre prison that places high demands on police and emergency services, and with two large and expanding urban centres, it faces all the problems a force such as the Met would expect to deal with.
The community is still reeling from the spate of fatal knife crimes. I have concerns about knife crime prevention orders, because they risk criminalising a generation of young people. The police do not need more powers; they need more officers. Bedford is a particular target for county lines crimes, and gang culture is a fast-growing problem in our area. The emergency funding grant, which is designed to be used in periods of acute crisis, had to be used by Bedfordshire police to meet the costs of day-to-day policing. The force is still overstretched and under-resourced. Tough choices have to be made.
Channel 4’s “Dispatches” reported in October that 57% of burglaries in Bedfordshire had to be screened out as there were not enough resources for the police to attend them. That is the highest proportion in the country. If police are unable to attend burglaries or car-related crimes, they will not be able to turn up to a group of teenagers who are street drinking or someone who is urinating in a public place. There is no police presence on the streets to deter such behaviour, yet antisocial behaviour is one of the most important issues for my constituents by far. It makes them feel that their home is unsafe and their town no longer belongs to them. We must tackle the root causes of antisocial behaviour. In the Bedfordshire area, we require early intervention and some work to prevent these issues.
Bedford has done well to retain its support services, against all the odds, given the cuts to Bedford Borough Council and social care funding, but we need more, not less. We need to fund local authorities properly and to provide adequate youth and sport services, which have been proven to work well as a driving force against antisocial behaviour. That cannot be done until the Government recognise that the level of antisocial behaviour on the streets is due to their failed policies, and until the Government really end austerity and fund our police properly.
For me—and, I imagine, for you, Madam Deputy Speaker —some of the issues that we have been raising this afternoon were ones that we were discussing back in 1997, and considering how to tackle them. Although nirvana never came, certainly progress was made in many of our town centres and cities. In a way, we have lost our way and forgotten what was successful, but we do know what worked.
My constituency of Mitcham and Morden is not unique as a place. Over the past few years, we have again seen a steep rise in antisocial behaviour on our streets. We have always had our problems, but never before has antisocial behaviour, street drinking and petty crime felt as pervasive or hard to tackle. I am afraid that, particularly around Mitcham town centre, the climate of antisocial behaviour has become so intense that the difficulties of suburban shopping centres have become much worse. A multimillion-pound regeneration of the town centre should have meant that Mitcham began to get better, yet when speaking to local businesses I have been dismayed to hear stories of shopfronts vandalised, staff abused and intimidated, and once loyal customers choosing to shop elsewhere, feeling that their local town centre had become unsafe, or was simply an unpleasant place to shop. Mums—principally mums—did not want their children to be in an environment where men urinated in the street or brawled because they had drunk too much.
Antisocial behaviour is a problem that residents often feel powerless to change, but they are by no means apathetic. When I welcomed Sophie Linden, London’s Deputy Mayor for Crime and Policing, and Sally Benatar, commander of our south-west London Basic Command Unit—because we no longer have borough police services in London—to a public meeting in my constituency in June 2018, hundreds of residents turned up. The place was packed. They were spilling out into the playground outside. They stood for hours to make their point in the sweltering heat, and the concern raised time and again was, “We just don’t see police on our streets any more. We don’t see the police community support officers who used to get to know us. We cannot get through to the police.” Anybody who has tried to ring 101 knows exactly how difficult it is just to get the phone actually picked up.
On the point about police officers, it is frequently said—by, I must say, somewhat older residents—that previously police officers, who were part of and understood the community, knew the stories behind what was frightening them. There is clearly much evidence saying that it does not matter whether we have police on the beat, but the truth is that police officers who understand their community have a community that understand the police officers as well.
I completely agree with my hon. Friend. We got a kickback on this in 1997-98—principally from the police, who felt that the best way to deal with crime was in fast cars—but there was a resulting reduction in crime. That came about from the safer neighbourhood teams, which proved substantially the success of having police on the beat and of having police community support officers, who initially were often rejected by the police and the community, because they had the time to build relationships and get to know people. When people, especially young people, began to get into trouble, as my hon. Friend says, such officers could bring agencies together and start to provide the support that many of those individual youngsters and their families desperately needed.
I just want to put this point on the record because my hon. Friend may have somebody in her constituency that she thinks the same about. I would like to say a big thank you to PC Dave Pearson, a local beat manager, because he has done a fantastic job. He has sorted out a lot of antisocial behaviour, and he deserves to have that put on the record.
I am delighted that I gave way to my hon. Friend. Thanking our public servants and our police who go the extra mile to make our areas better is really important.
All too often, disgraceful antisocial behaviour just goes unchecked. It goes unchecked because it is not seen as a serious crime. It goes unchecked because the local police teams simply do not have the resources to follow up every last incident of vandalism or drunken hooliganism. It goes unchecked because we no longer have the bobbies on the beat to control it. However, when a drunken altercation led to the tragic murder of a young man in my constituency last year, it served as a poignant, painful reminder that the gulf between antisocial behaviour and serious crime is not as large as we often allow ourselves to believe.
Mitcham and Morden has been my home all my life, and I am deeply proud of it. I sincerely want each and every one of my constituents to share this pride in our local area, but it can become desperately hard to ask them to do so when they do not even feel safe in their own community. The simple truth is that there is no substitute for a visible police presence in the community. Mitcham needs more bobbies on the beat, and I suspect we are far from alone in that regard.
We did not arrive here from nowhere. The rise in antisocial behaviour we have seen in so many of our communities is the regrettable but inevitable consequence of more than eight years of indiscriminate cuts and biting austerity at the hands of successive Governments. In real terms, central Government funding for the police has decreased by 30% since 2010. We have lost roughly 20,000 police officers in that time, or 14% of the workforce.
In the London Borough of Merton—a small, suburban borough that is the third safest in London—we have lost 90 police officers since 2010. The safer neighbourhood teams, which used to have five officers, a sergeant, two PCs and three PCSOs, are now down to two PCs and one PCSO, and that is when we can get them, because when people go on long-term sick leave or have to move on somewhere else, those vacancies are not filled.
The important Mitcham safer neighbourhood team has gone, so there is now no longer a team for the town centre. Amazingly, the police officers who used to be based in every secondary school in Merton have also gone, because the police cannot recruit quickly enough to fill those posts. Retention rates have plummeted because our police do not feel valued. How could they when, year after year, they are asked to take on more work with less support, fewer resources and, in real terms, lower wages? Even when they are offered more money, it is difficult to fill those posts. Detectives in the Metropolitan police area have been offered £4,000 a year more, but they still cannot recruit detectives. The consequence of that for our safer neighbourhood teams is that many police are forcefully transferred into those roles, and are not available to walk our streets and do the basic policing work that we know our communities need.
The Conservative party has always taken great pride in its image as a party that would put the police first, come down hard on crime, and keep the men and women of Britain safe. With police disappearing from our streets, violent crime on the rise, and many of us feeling more vulnerable than ever before in our communities, I find myself asking the same question as many of my constituents: whatever happened to the party of law and order?
I apologise for being held up at the beginning of the debate.
I thank Diana Johnson for securing a debate on such a substantial issue. As we have heard, Scotland has a separate legal system, but the Antisocial Behaviour etc. (Scotland) Act 2004 remains in force and covers police and agency powers regarding antisocial behaviour. The Scottish Government have always been clear in their belief that there must be a partnership approach if we ever hope effectively to tackle antisocial behaviour, and that includes the police, local authorities and court services.
One thing we can all agree on here is that everyone has the right to be and feel safe in their own home—that should be the benchmark for the kind of society we are aiming for. But that also includes an element of compassion, because that right also applies to those individuals who sometimes find themselves participating in antisocial behaviour. I applaud the comments by Martin Whitfield, who spoke very eloquently about the need to see individuals as people who need help, rather than simply to chastise them as a problem. That is important because if we want to move forward as a society, we have an obligation to understand why people do the things they do, and why they behave as they do at certain times.
This is about stopping and asking whether a young person is roaming the streets because they are trying to escape something horrible in their own home. Or are they lashing out as a cry for help? If we find someone who is intoxicated or aggressive, someone should assess their mental health at some point, and if their health is not okay we should find out why and figure out how these factors affect their decision making. Only then can we begin to develop meaningful preventive measures, which includes looking holistically at our judicial system, our social security set-up and our health structures, because all these things play into people’s lives.
That is what the Scottish Government have tried to do whenever they have had the power. For example, since 2008 they have committed £92 million to CashBack for Communities, which funds a wide range of projects and facilities throughout Scottish communities. In my constituency, I have had the pleasure of seeing the essential support that so many local organisations provide, including—to name a few—RAMH, the Kibble, Spark of Genius, and the council’s team to combat antisocial behaviour. I have played football with Street Stuff, which is brilliant because people take the time to sit with an individual and treat them as a human being who matters, as opposed to simply a problem that needs to be solved. They take the time to do that, seeing past all the bravado and any aggressiveness, and finding out what is actually going on in that person’s head and life at that moment in time. Making that effort and taking the time to sit with someone, treating them as a human being who matters even if they are off the wall, is about finding out where their mind has taken them and finding ways that we can help to bring them back into the real world and support them.
On the whole I am pleased that those measures seem to be having a positive impact in Scotland. Experiences and perceptions of antisocial behaviour have been reduced over the past 10 years under the SNP. The percentage of adults who felt that people behaving in an antisocial manner was a common issue in their area has fallen from 46% in 2008-09 to 29% in 2016-17. The Scottish Household Survey 2017 also reflects that trend. The estimated percentage of adults who experienced vandalism has almost halved between 2008-09 and 2016-17. Fewer adults now think that violence between groups of individuals or gangs is common in their area, falling from 26% to 10%. We seem to be heading in the right direction, even if we are not fully there yet.
Ultimately, we have to recognise that it benefits society as a whole when we do our best to ensure the welfare of absolutely everyone. I think that is exactly the point made by the hon. Member for East Lothian, when he said that we have to find a place for everyone. No matter how challenging or difficult that person is—I have no doubt that everyone here has had dysfunctional and difficult constituents come to them—we have to offer some kind of assistance and a way of legislating better on these issues in the future. We need to treat people as though they matter and understand where they are coming from. I hope that this Scottish perspective has offered some sort of substantial help to the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull North. I thank her again for bringing this debate forward.
I too congratulate my hon. Friend Diana Johnson on securing the debate. I also congratulate Chris Green and my hon. Friends the Members for Hyndburn (Graham P. Jones), for East Lothian (Martin Whitfield), for Bedford (Mohammad Yasin) and for Mitcham and Morden (Siobhain McDonagh) on their excellent speeches.
Antisocial behaviour covers a wide range of unacceptable activity which causes harm to an individual, to their community or to the environment. Anything from vandalism and littering to street drinking and drug usage, from nuisance neighbours to begging, are all examples of antisocial behaviour. If an action leaves somebody else feeling distressed or harassed, or if it causes concern for public safety, then it is deemed to be antisocial behaviour. Individual occurrences of antisocial behaviour can appear to be quite minor, but the cumulative impact of persistent incidents in communities can have a highly damaging effect.
The most recent Crime Survey for England and Wales reports that almost 36% of respondents had experienced or witnessed antisocial behaviour in their local community, an increase of 5% from the previous year and the highest figure since data were first collected in 2012. I am not surprised by those figures. Drink-related crime was one of the highest types of antisocial behaviour that respondents said they had experienced. Drinking on streets and on public transport can lead to others feeling intimidated, and to verbal and physical attacks.
Acts of vandalism are all too common in many of our communities. We see endless graffiti on public and private property. Unfortunately, they are not all Banksy’s. I hear many cases of homes that have been attacked, property damaged and car tyres slashed. We need to seriously crack down on the perpetrators of these crimes. While many, although not all, antisocial behaviours do not physically hurt individuals, the emotional and psychological damage they cause can be just as harmful.
The availability and use of drugs in our communities is also a real worry. County lines has been responsible for a rapid rise in the accessibility of drugs on our streets up and down the country. Gangs are targeting our most vulnerable young people: kids in the care system or those trapped in poverty; kids who maybe do not have somebody waiting for them at home wondering where they are. These youngsters are being manipulated into gang culture, which is a key factor in much of the antisocial behaviour and more violent crime that is becoming far too normalised across society today.
The use of synthetic drugs is still a major cause for concern. Despite the blanket ban on them having heavily diminished the supply, we would be very naive to think that the problem is anywhere near solved. Criminals will continue to produce these highly toxic drugs, and people—often the most vulnerable people—will continue to use them and keep up the demand. Individuals and groups hanging around on streets with nothing to do and nowhere to go, those who are high on drugs and those in need of their next fix or under the influence of alcohol are all potential threats to our local communities. Boredom, desperation and rivalry can all be the catalyst for a wide range of antisocial crimes.
While all that is going on, police cuts continue and local authorities are seeing big reductions in their Government funding, despite unprecedented pressures. All of that means there are not enough resources to deal with the ever-growing problems. While the headlines read that an additional £970 million funding will be available through the police grant for 2019-20, it does not take long to realise that the reality is very different: £509 million of that will come from doubling the police precept for council tax payers, meaning a further burden on our already hard-pressed constituents. It will also mean that areas with a low council tax base, such as south Wales, will be hit hardest.
Alongside that, the £142 million of pension grants for local forces from central Government funds falls alarmingly short of the £311 million pension liability. This means that, despite core central Government funding for local forces increasing in theory by £161 million, the reality is that this, together with the pensions grant, does not even cover the pension liability. Taking all that into account, the harsh truth is that however the Government try to manipulate the figures, central Government funding for local police forces has been cut for the ninth consecutive year.
Police numbers are now at their lowest for three decades. Since the Conservatives came into Government in 2010, the number of police officers has fallen by 21,000, 16,000 police staff have been axed, and community support officer numbers have declined by 6,000—all this while the Government continue to promise to protect the frontline. Public safety should be a priority, but as things stand, some forces are so stretched that tackling antisocial behaviour on their streets is a battle that they are struggling very hard to take control of.
But it does not need to be like this. The Welsh Labour 2011 manifesto promised more funding for community support officers, and it delivered. While the Conservative party has been scaling back and cutting jobs, the Welsh Government, as we heard from my hon. Friend Jessica Morden, has invested in 500 more community support officers across Wales. Labour has a plan to make Britain safer—to recruit more police officers to take back control of our streets. We need to tackle antisocial behaviour and make sure that our constituents feel safe in their communities. Warm words and manipulated figures do not make our communities safe. Resources, action and funding are what we need to make our citizens feels safe, our communities feel cared for and our country protected.
It has been a pleasure to be here, although it has been difficult to hear some of the accounts that hon. Members across the House have shared of experiences that their constituents have suffered at the hands of those who act antisocially. I join the thanks and congratulations to Diana Johnson on securing the debate. We share a television news programme, so I know of the work she does in her local area. I join her in thanking the officers and all those involved in looking for Libby Squire. We are all conscious, of course, that it is a live investigation, but our thoughts are with the family.
I thank hon. Members for participating in this debate, particularly my hon. Friend Chris Green, as well as the hon. Members for Hyndburn (Graham P. Jones), for East Lothian (Martin Whitfield), for Bedford (Mohammad Yasin), for Mitcham and Morden (Siobhain McDonagh) and for Paisley and Renfrewshire South (Mhairi Black), and I am grateful to my hon. Friend Mark Menzies for his intervention.
As we have heard, antisocial behaviour can have a significant impact on both individuals and communities, and it can affect people in their own homes and our public spaces, which everyone should be free to enjoy safely. Left unchecked, persistent antisocial behaviour, whether it involves littering, vandalism, public drunkenness, aggressive dogs, noise, threats or abuse, can have a debilitating impact on people’s quality of life. As I say, hon. Members have taken care to describe various examples, and I am sure we were all perturbed to hear about the experience in Hyndburn of the noise in the middle of the night. Sadly, such offending can lead to a journey to even more serious crimes, as outlined by the hon. Member for Mitcham and Morden.
The police and local authorities have available to them a range of powers and actions. We tend to focus on the 2014 Act, but the police and councils also have general operational powers. For example, the police in the constituency of the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull North have been working alongside Hull City Council to install 17 CCTV cameras on the Orchard Park estate to drive down the number of crimes. I understand also that the police have been working with communities to make sure they feel safe, including by visiting schools to speak to pupils about the impact of behaving antisocially. That is not part of the 2014 Act, but it is part of their general powers and actions.
The hon. Lady also mentioned the use of drones by Lincolnshire police. These are proving to be useful in many ways. Obviously, Lincolnshire is a vast rural area, and my police and crime commissioner, Marc Jones, is pleased with their use in tackling hare coursing, which is not a form of antisocial behaviour that has been mentioned today, but believe you me its impact on local communities is frightening and intimidating. It might be an example of one of the more serious types of antisocial behaviour.
I am pleased to say that under the 2014 Act we have reformed the tools and powers available to local areas. Mention was made of ASBOs. Initially, they were of use, but they became a badge of honour among some protagonists, which is why the coalition Government reviewed the law on antisocial behaviour and introduced the 2014 Act.
It strikes me that the point the Minister has just made is a very middle-class view. What do working-class communities think about ASBOs? Were they asked if they were beneficial before they were taken away?
I am talking about the children subject to them. Among them, they were becoming a badge of honour, which is why we increased the range of powers under the 2014 Act not just to target individuals behaving antisocially, but to give much wider powers to protect whole communities and public spaces, which I will come on to in a moment.
We had an urgent question this week on knife crime prevention orders, which are a very targeted form of preventive order that we are introducing through the Offensive Weapons Bill to help to catch the small cohort of children who may be susceptible to knife crime before they start accumulating criminal convictions or causing even more harm in the community. I very much hope that the orders will enjoy the support of the House when the Bill returns.
On the introduction of those preventive orders, which the Minister spoke about at the Dispatch Box earlier this week, a person did not have to have a conviction to be given an ASBO, but they would need a conviction to get a criminal behaviour order, and, as I explained, there are problems with enforcement. Is it not time to look again at whether the changes introduced in 2014 are really working?
As I have said, we are reviewing the powers in the 2014 Act. Towards the end of my speech I shall talk about the reviews that are being undertaken. I fully acknowledge the work that was done in the noughties to tackle antisocial behaviour, but we wanted to improve on it. We thought that increasing the range of powers available in the Act would help to address some of the problems that had arisen over the years since the introduction of ASBOs.
The powers in the Act can be scaled up or down depending on the nature of the antisocial behaviour. They are flexible, they enable local agencies to tailor their approach to the individual circumstances, and they range from tools for early intervention to those that can be used to address the most serious and persistent antisocial behaviour. Whenever possible, such behaviour should be stopped before it escalates. We therefore introduced a civil injunction which may impose prohibitions or positive requirements. It may, for example, require the perpetrator to repair damage to someone else’s property.
As the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull North just mentioned, when behaviour becomes more serious and involves or occurs alongside criminal activity, a criminal behaviour order may be made. It can impose prohibitions and requirements to stop the antisocial behaviour: for example, it may prohibit the offender from entering a particular area.
Unfortunately, some areas can become hotspots. My hon. Friend the Member for Bolton West gave a vivid description of antisocial behaviour in Horwich, and, like others, focused on the role that alcohol can play in some forms of it. One of our actions to tackle antisocial alcohol consumption was the introduction of local alcohol action areas. Multi-agency work is conducted in 32 areas in England and Wales. Wrexham, for example, is taking part in a “Drink Less Enjoy More” initiative to reduce alcohol sales in pubs, bars and clubs to intoxicated individuals. We have given new powers to relevant authorities to tackle alcohol-related crime and harms. We have, for instance, placed cumulative impact policies on a statutory footing, made changes in the late-night levy that will make it more flexible and fairer to businesses, and given immigration officers new powers to tackle illegal working in licensed premises.
We have also introduced a range of powers to deal with antisocial behaviour in hotspot areas. The dispersal power can be issued by the police to require an individual who engages in antisocial behaviour, crime or disorder to leave the area for up to 48 hours. The community protection notice can be used by the police and local councils to address unreasonable behaviour affecting a community’s quality of life, involving, for instance, graffiti, rubbish and noise. The public spaces protection order can be used by a council to put restrictions on an area in which behaviour has, or is likely to have, a detrimental effect on the local community. I know that several councils have considered using those orders to try to control alcohol consumption in public places.
As we have heard, it is local communities that suffer as a result of antisocial behaviour, and we wanted to enable them to speak out and “call out” the authorities when they believe that they are not being listened to. The community trigger enables victims of persistent antisocial behaviour to demand a formal case review when a locally defined threshold is met, and the community remedy gives victims a say in the out-of-court punishment of perpetrators.
The hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull North asked about guidance. We want to help local agencies to understand the powers and informal measures they can use to tackle antisocial behaviour, which is why we have published statutory guidance for frontline professionals. We updated that guidance in December 2017 to reflect feedback from those who are working with these powers, and to remind people of the importance of proportionality and transparency in the use of them.
I reassure Members that the Home Office keeps these powers, and the Government’s overall approach to tackling antisocial behaviour, under review through a national strategic board. This brings together representatives from key agencies and across Government to consider our approach and to identify any emerging issues. This debate is timely, as the board will meet again next week and will no doubt consider the points that have been raised today. I am grateful to agencies and associations such as the Local Government Association, which very kindly invited me to an event last year to discuss antisocial behaviour and the use of public space protection orders. Our multi-agency work programme will help to bear down on antisocial behaviour in local communities.
Opposition Members were keen to address the issue of police funding. I always regret that I have to give people a mini history lesson whenever I tackle this issue, but it is important to put the decisions that have been made over the past few years into context. We inherited a very difficult economic picture in 2010, and we had to make tough decisions to address the mess that we were in economically because of the way in which things had been run in years gone by under the Labour Government. That is why we made tough decisions—[Interruption.] I hear Labour Members saying, “Well, you’ve had long enough.” In 2015, the then Home Secretary was able to say to the Chancellor, “We must protect police funding” because we had managed the economy in such a way that we could begin to make those changes in police funding and in other areas. Police funding has been protected since 2015, and last year Conservative Members of Parliament voted for a funding settlement that increased police funding by up to £470 million. This week, Conservative Members voted for the Government’s proposal to inject a further £970 million into policing, with the help of police and crime commissioners, but sadly, Opposition Members did not feel able to support that.
I want to outline what the funding settlement will mean. Humberside will have £11.5 million more than last year as a result of Tuesday’s settlement. It has reserves of £28.9 million, which is higher than the national average. Greater Manchester will receive £34.7 million more than last year because of Tuesday’s vote. It has £75.6 million in its reserves—an increase of £25 million since 2011. The reason that I keep talking about reserves is that I want to equip all Members on both sides of the House to hold their police and crime commissioners to account and ask them how they are spending their reserves.
I am about to come on to Lancashire, but I would be happy to give way to the hon. Gentleman—[Interruption.] I am sorry. I am getting conflicting requests. I am being asked to speed up. I must mention Lancashire, because I was delighted to visit it last week. My hon. Friend Seema Kennedy and I met the chief constable in Hutton, and my hon. Friend Paul Maynard and I met community leaders. My hon. Friend David Morris and I met people in Morecambe to discuss crime and policing issues in the local area. Lancashire does have £37.9 million in reserves, and that has increased by £17.8 million since 2011, which is higher than the national average—
I am not sure that the hon. Gentleman had that information to hand. I will happily give way to him.
I am happy to say that the reserves are £37.9 million as of March last year. If the PCC has decided to spend some of his savings, the Government welcome that, because we give money to PCCs to spend on policing in the local area, not so that it can sit in savings accounts. I will not trouble Members with the figures for Bedfordshire, the Met or South Wales, because I know that the House is eager to move on to the Adjournment debate.
Turning to education, we are conscious of the role of alternative provision when it comes to county lines. I hope that hon. Members know that we are expecting a report from Edward Timpson into alternative provision, because we are conscious of the impact that it can have on serious violence. I am pleased that we have raised the age at which children can leave education from 16 to 18, but I am aware that some children still fall through the net, which is why the report will be so informative and important.
I am extremely grateful to all Members for their contributions to this debate. Antisocial behaviour still affects communities—
I am being directed not to take the hon. Gentleman’s intervention, so I hope that he will understand. I thank everyone for today’s robust debate.
I thank the Minister for her kind words about the ongoing Libby Squire investigation. I am pleased that we had the opportunity to have this debate this afternoon and I thank all Members who took part. It was particularly interesting to hear what my hon. Friend Siobhain McDonagh said about parts of the debate leading to a sense of déjà vu and that we were talking about reinventing the wheel. It is clear that mistakes have been made, particularly around police cuts since 2010. The thin blue line now really is too thin.
No one can seriously say that the fact that Labour increased police numbers when in government, meaning we had neighbourhood policing, more officers on the beat and PCSOs, was the reason we had a banking crisis and the sub-prime mortgage crisis in the USA. So to try to argue that that had to be dealt with by an incoming coalition Government is, frankly, tripe.
I remember Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary saying in 2010 that police budgets could be cut by up to 12% without affecting the frontline, but we have reached a point at which over 30% of police budgets are being cut. Choices made by the coalition Government and then successive Conservative Governments gave tax cuts to the rich and did not protect policing. Combine all that with cuts to local authorities, it should come as no surprise to anyone that we are seeing such levels of antisocial behaviour today.
I ask the Minister to reconsider the legislative change that came in after 2010 that removed the victims of antisocial behaviour away from the centre, seemingly giving more rights to the youths who were not behaving well and engaging in criminal activity. We need to review that. The victim must be at the heart of antisocial behaviour legislation and protections.
Question put and agreed to.
That this House
has considered antisocial behaviour.