With permission, Mr Speaker, I would like to make a statement about the antisocial behaviour action plan, which I published today with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities.
I am proud of what Conservatives have achieved since 2010: overall crime, excluding fraud, is down by 50%; neighbourhood crime is down by 48%; and we are within days of securing the historic achievement of a record number of police officers nationally. That is all thanks to this party’s commitment to law and order.
But we must always strive harder to keep the British people safe. The worst crimes flourish when lower-level crime is tolerated. Let me be clear: there is no such thing as petty crime. Public First polling found that people cited antisocial behaviour as the main reason why their area was a worse place to live than 10 years before. The decent, hard-working, law-abiding majority are sick and tired of antisocial behaviour destroying their communities. Nobody should have to live in fear of their neighbours, endure disorder and drug taking in parks, see their streets disfigured by graffiti, fly tipping or litter, or feel unsafe walking alone at night, with gangs of youths hanging around, getting up to no good, intimidating us all and degrading the places that we love.
Personal experience of antisocial behaviour is highest in the police force areas of the north-east, the midlands and the south-east. In Derbyshire, Northumbria and Durham, at least 45% of adults have experienced antisocial behaviour. As one of the research participants from our polling in Liverpool reported, anti-social behaviour
“makes you feel unwelcome, like you’re not wanted or loved, like you don’t feel you belong. It does affect your emotional wellbeing. You don’t feel safe…you don’t know what is going to happen next. I’ve felt like this for the three years that I’ve lived here, and I’ve been planning on leaving for the past year.”
Such sentiments are why my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has made tackling antisocial behaviour a top priority for this Government.
Our antisocial behaviour action plan will give police and crime commissioners, local authorities and other agencies the tools to stamp out antisocial behaviour across England and Wales. It targets the callous and careless few whose actions ruin the public spaces and amenities on which the law-abiding majority depend. Our plan outlines a radical new approach to tackling antisocial behaviour, and it is split across four key areas.
First, there is stronger punishment for perpetrators. We are cracking down on illegal drugs, making offenders repair the damage that they cause, increasing financial penalties, and evicting antisocial tenants. The Opposition cannot seem to make up their mind on whether they want to legalise drugs. While the Leader of the Opposition and the Mayor of London argue about cannabis decriminalisation, we are getting on with delivering for the public.
Drugs are harmful to health, wellbeing and security. They devastate lives. That is why I have taken the decision to ban nitrous oxide, also known as laughing gas, which is currently the third most used drug for adults and 16 to 24-year-olds. By doing so, this Government will put an end to hordes of youths loitering in parks and littering them with empty canisters. Furthermore, under our new plan, the police will be able to drug-test suspected criminals in police custody for a wider range of drugs, including ecstasy and methamphetamine. They will test offenders linked to crimes such as violence against women and girls, serious violence and antisocial behaviour.
We will ensure that the consequences for those committing antisocial behaviour are toughened up. Our immediate justice pilots will deliver swift, visible punishment for all those involved. Offenders will undertake manual reparative work that makes good the damage suffered by victims. Communities will be consulted on the type of work undertaken, and that work should start swiftly—ideally within 48 hours of a notice from the police. Whether it is cleaning up graffiti, picking up litter or washing police cars while wearing high-vis jumpsuits or vests, those caught behaving antisocially will feel the full force of the law.
The upper limits of on-the-spot fines will be increased to £1,000 for fly-tipping and £500 for litter and graffiti. We will support councils to hand out more fines to offenders, with councils keeping the fines to reinvest in clean-up and enforcement.
Nobody should have to endure persistent anti-social behaviour from their neighbours. That is why we plan to halve the delay between a private landlord serving notice for antisocial behaviour and eviction. We will also broaden the harmful activities that can lead to eviction and make sure that antisocial offenders are deprioritised for social housing.
Secondly, we are making communities safer by increasing police presence in antisocial behaviour hotspots and replacing the outdated Vagrancy Act 1824. The evidence is compelling: hotspot policing, which is where uniformed police spend regular time in problem areas, reduces crime. That is why we are funding an increased police presence focused on antisocial behaviour in targeted hotspots where it is most prevalent. Initially, we will support pilots in 10 trailblazer areas, before rolling out hotspot enforcement across all forces in England and Wales in 2024.
We will also replace the 19th-century Vagrancy Act, which criminalised the destitute, with tools to direct vulnerable individuals towards appropriate support, such as accommodation, mental health or substance misuse services. We will criminalise organised begging, which is often facilitated by criminal gangs to obtain cash for illicit activity. We will prohibit begging where it causes blight or public nuisance, such as by a cashpoint or in a shop doorway, or directly approaching someone in the street.
Rough sleeping can cause distress to other members of the community, for example by obstructing the entrance of a local business or leaving behind debris and tents. We will give police and local authorities the tools they have asked for to deal with such situations, while ensuring those who are genuinely homeless are directed towards appropriate help. We will build local pride in place by giving councils stronger tools to revitalise communities, bring more empty high street shops back into use and restore local parks.
Thirdly, there is prevention and intervention. Around 80% of prolific adult offenders begin committing crimes as children. We are funding 1 million more hours of provision for young people in antisocial behaviour hotspots and expanding eligibility for the Turnaround programme, which will support 17,000 children on the cusp of the criminal justice system. Our £500 million national youth guarantee also means that, by 2025, every young person will have access to regular clubs, activities and opportunities to volunteer.
Fourthly, we will improve accountability to the public. A new digital tool will mean that members of the public have a simple and clear way to report antisocial behaviour and receive updates on their case. We are also launching a targeted consultation on community safety partnerships, with the aim of making them more accountable and more effective.
This Government are on the side of the law-abiding majority. We will take the fight to the antisocial minority. This Government have set out a clear plan and a clear set of measures to do just that: more police, less crime, safer streets and common-sense policing. I commend this statement to the House.
This plan is too weak, too little, too late. The Home Secretary says people are sick and tired of antisocial behaviour. Too right they are—because people have seen serious problems getting worse and nothing has been done. But who does she think has been in power for the last 13 years?
It is a Tory Government who have decimated neighbourhood policing. There are 10,000 fewer neighbourhood police and police community support officers on our streets today than there were seven years ago. Half the population rarely ever see the police on the beat, and that proportion has doubled since 2010. This is a Conservative Government who weakened antisocial behaviour powers 10 years ago, brought in new powers that were so useless they were barely even used, including the community trigger and getting rid of powers of arrest, even though they were warned not to.
The Government abandoned the major drug intervention program that the last Labour Government had in place, slashed youth service budgets—the YMCA says by £1 billion—and have let charges for criminal damage halve. Community penalties have halved and there is a backlog of millions of hours of community payback schemes not completed because the Government cannot even run the existing system properly. Far from punishing perpetrators of antisocial behaviour, the Government are letting more and more of them off.
As a result, criminal damage affecting our town centres is up by 30% in the last year alone. It is a total disgrace that too many people, especially women, feel they cannot even go into their own town centres any more because this Government have failed them. They do not see the police on the beat and they do not feel safe.
So what are the Government proposing now? We support some of the measures, largely because we have long called for them. We called for hotspot policing; we called for faster community payback. We support stronger powers of arrest and a ban on nitrous oxide. But let us look at the gaps. There is nothing for antisocial behaviour victims, who are still excluded from the victims code and the draft victims law. On the failing community trigger, all the Government are going to do is rename and relaunch it. They are re-announcing plans on youth support that the Levelling Up Secretary announced more than a year ago. I notice one new thing in the document: an additional 500 young people will get one-to-one support. Well, there were 1.1 million incidents of antisocial behaviour last year, so good luck with that.
The Government are not introducing neighbour respect orders. Astonishingly, neighbourhood policing is not mentioned even once in the document. How on earth do the Government think they will tackle antisocial behaviour without bringing back neighbourhood policing teams? Their recent recruitment—to try to reverse their own cuts of 20,000 police officers—is not going into neighbourhood policing. There are 10,000 fewer neighbourhood police officers and PCSOs in our teams than there were seven years ago. Labour has set out a plan for 13,000 more neighbourhood police on the streets, paid for by savings that have been identified by the Police Foundation but which Ministers are refusing to make. Will the Home Secretary now agree to back Labour’s plans to get neighbourhood police back on the beat to start taking action?
Hotspot policing is not the same as neighbourhood policing. We support hotspot policing to target key areas, but that is not the same as having neighbourhood teams who are there all the time, embedded in the community, and know what is going wrong and why. There are plenty of things that are already crimes—that are already illegal—on which the police already have the powers to act but do not. No one comes because there are not enough neighbourhood police.
Will the Home Secretary apologise to people across the country for her cuts of 10,000 neighbourhood police and PCSOs, and for taking the police off the streets, meaning that people do not see them any more? If she does not realise that having fewer police in those neighbourhood teams is causing huge damage and undermining confidence, she just does not get it. Really, after 13 years, is this the best the Conservatives can come up with?
The more I listen to the right hon. Lady, the more confused I am about what Labour’s policy is. She criticises our plan while claiming that we have stolen Labour’s, so I am not sure which it is. In the light of the embarrassing efforts of the shadow Policing Minister, Sarah Jones, to explain her own policy on television last week, I am not sure that any Labour Members really know what their antisocial behaviour policy is. Let me tell the House one big difference between the right hon. Lady’s plan and ours: unlike her, we call tell the public how much ours will cost and how we will pay for it—a big question that Labour is yet to answer.
The shadow Home Secretary talks about policing cuts. Never mind that we are recruiting 20,000 extra police officers—the highest number in history. Never mind that we have increased frontline policing, which leads to more visible and effective local policing. Never mind that by the end of this month, we are on course to have more officers nationally than we had in 2010 or in any year when Labour was in government.
The shadow Home Secretary wants to talk about safer streets. Well, let us compare our records. Since 2019, this Conservative Government have removed 90,000 knives and weapons from our streets. Since 2010, violence is down 38%, neighbourhood crime is down 48%, burglary is down 56%, and overall crime, excluding fraud, is down 50%. What does Labour’s record show? That where Labour leads, crime follows. [Interruption.] I know it hurts, but it is true. Under Labour police and crime commissioners, residents are almost twice as likely to be victims of robbery, and knife crime is over 44% higher. In London, Labour’s Sadiq Khan wants to legalise cannabis. In the west midlands, a Labour PCC wants to close police stations. Labour opposed plans to expand stop and search. Labour Members voted against tougher sentences for serious criminals. They voted against the increased powers for police in our Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act 2022. So we should not be surprised that, while this Conservative Government are working to get violent criminals off our streets, Labour is campaigning to release them. The Leader of the Opposition and some 70-odd Labour MPs signed letters—they love signing letters—to stop dangerous foreign criminals from being kicked out of Britain. One of those criminals went on to kill another man in the UK, and we learned this week that many others went on to commit further appalling crimes in the UK. Shameful! Outrageous! Labour Members should hang their heads in shame!
The truth about Labour is that they care more about the rights of criminals than about the rights of the law abiding majority. They are soft on crime and soft on the causes of crime. The Conservatives are the party of law and order. Our track record shows it, and the public know it.
As the Home Secretary pointed out, crime is now at half the level it was when Labour told us that there was no money left in the coffers to continue the fight. I congratulate her on bending her elbow and putting so much effort into driving the number down even further. I particularly commend her on the publication of the plan today, which builds on the focus on antisocial behaviour that we published in the beating crime plan not so long ago.
May I urge my right hon. and learned Friend to examine carefully the routes of supply of nitrous oxide? We need to avoid a situation in which the substance moves from the legitimate market into the illegitimate market and becomes another hook for drug dealers to draw young people into their awful trade. How can she restrict supply to those who genuinely need it without it necessarily becoming an illicit substance that drug dealers use for their business?
Let me put on the record my admiration for and gratitude to my right hon. Friend for all he has achieved and led—not just when he was at the Home Office but before that, when he worked for City Hall on the frontline of policing and crime fighting. He talked about our plans to ban nitrous oxide. We are clear: there needs to be an exception for legitimate use. It is used in a vast array of circumstances that are lawful, commercial and proper, and those will not be criminalised.
Most of this statement does not apply in Scotland because, thankfully, justice is devolved. The Scottish Government take a public health approach to criminality—the violence reduction unit’s approach, which has been emulated by the UK Government. I gently suggest that criminalising young people in this way will not help—[Interruption.] If the antisocial behaviour from the Government Benches could stop, that would be helpful.
The independent Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs recently concluded that the evidence shows that the health and social harms of nitrous oxide were not commensurate with a ban. Why has the Home Secretary overruled her advisers? The Misuse of Drugs Act has completely failed to prevent people from taking heroin, cocaine and cannabis. Why does the Home Secretary believe that it will stop people from taking nitrous oxide?
The overall legislative framework on illicit drugs continues to strike a balance between controlling harmful substances and enabling appropriate access to those drugs for legitimate medicinal research and, in exceptional cases, for industrial purposes. But with respect, I am not going to take any lectures from someone from the SNP, which has overseen in Scotland a total collapse of confidence in policing and, more devastatingly, a record high in Europe when it comes to the number of drug-related deaths.
There is a lot to welcome in this statement, particularly some of the ways in which increased police resources are being used; we are seeing that in Torquay town centre, with the launch of Operation Loki. I also very much welcome the reform of the wholly outdated Vagrancy Act—a useless tool against organised gangs that in theory also criminalises the most destitute. Could my right hon. and learned Friend outline how traders and residents in places such as Torquay and Paignton town centres will see the difference the plan is making and hold the local force to account?
There is a wide range of measures in this plan, and we are going to consult on many of them, but one example is where we want to potentially streamline the availability of public spaces protection orders, so that the police can access those really important orders more quickly and efficiently and take action to prohibit nuisance and antisocial behaviour in local areas.
My local police tell me that in the Rhondda, which is a very low-crime area in general, the single biggest issue that we face is domestic violence: we probably have higher figures in the Rhondda than for three other neighbouring constituencies added together. I hope the Home Secretary will forgive me if I am not very impressed by what she is announcing today, because I want to see the police really focusing on what might save lives.
In particular, can she look into the role that brain injury plays? In poorer communities, there is lots of evidence to suggest that nearly two thirds of those going into prison these days—both women and men—are people who have suffered significant brain injuries that have not been diagnosed or treated before they come into the criminal justice system. Sometimes that leads to them truanting, falling out of school and coming into the criminal justice system. Is it not important that we base everything we do on evidence, rather than sloganising?
I think this is highly evidence-led, because we are focusing heavily on restorative justice, prevention and diversion, whether that is through hotspot policing, the investment in youth facilities, or the diversion of people who engage in drug-using behaviour on to treatment facilities. That is about prevention, rather than cure.
I put on record my thanks to the Prime Minister for taking time to speak with constituents impacted by antisocial behaviour when he came to Essex Boys and Girls Clubs in Chelmsford this morning. The hotspot policing will make a huge impact, but can I also particularly thank the Home Secretary for the youth guarantee, making sure that every young person will have access to clubs, activities or other opportunities?
I very much enjoyed meeting officers from Essex Police in Chelmsford today, in my right hon. Friend’s constituency, with the Prime Minister. She has a lot to be proud of locally—the police team there are fantastic—and she is absolutely right to talk about the investment in youth services. As part of our national youth guarantee, we are investing over £500 million to provide high-quality local youth services so that by 2025, every young person will have access to regular clubs, activities and adventures away from home, and opportunities to volunteer.
I wonder if the Home Secretary sees the inconsistency between saying in one breath that there is no such thing as petty crime, and then in the next one boasting that crime has fallen, but only if we exclude fraud from the figures.
May I bring the Home Secretary’s attention, though, to the question relating to homelessness? Of course, it is welcome that we are going to be directing vulnerable individuals towards appropriate support, such as accommodation, mental health or substance misuse services. Can she tell the House, however, why it is that something as basic as that is not already the case, and what she thinks these vulnerable people will find when they get to the point of accessing those services?
The right hon. Gentleman talks about fraud. The data collection only changed to start counting fraud over the past 10 years, which is why we refer to the fall in crime in the way that we do. Fraud is obviously a big feature of modern-day crime, and that is why the Government, led by the Home Office and the Security Minister, are setting out a fraud strategy, which we will be announcing very soon.
I think it is laughable that the Labour party has come into the Chamber today talking about being the party of law and order—an absolute scandal. The Home Secretary will be aware of a deportation flight to Jamaica just a couple of years back, taking some of the most vile criminals on board back to their homeland. After Labour campaigned to stop it, two went on to commit terrible crimes: a murder, and attacking two women. Does the Home Secretary think that now is a good time for Opposition Front Benchers to apologise to this House and to the country?
Order. I think it is important that Members ask about the statement and the Home Secretary’s responsibilities. She is not responsible for the Opposition.
My hon. Friend raises a very good point, because his question highlights the gross failure of the Labour party. Labour Members are much more interested in letter writing campaigns to stop the Home Office deporting serious foreign national offenders. They are much more interested in the rights of criminals, rather than the rights and entitlements of the law-abiding majority. I agree that they should apologise for their devastating actions.
Any plan for dealing with antisocial behaviour must include support for victims of antisocial behaviour. While police and crime commissioners, such as Kim McGuinness in Northumbria, are working hard to tackle antisocial behaviour, they are prevented from running dedicated victim support programmes, as there is no Government funding. When will the Home Secretary provide this important funding, so that victims of antisocial behaviour can have some help?
I am pleased to say that Northumbria is going to be one of the pilot forces, both for hotspot patrolling and immediate justice. Specified funding will be rolled out across the year to those 10 police forces in each pilot to ensure that the measures and resources are there so that we can increase the response to antisocial behaviour.
Antisocial behaviour in our towns is a major concern for many people living and working across Erewash, so I welcome the new zero-tolerance approach and the fact that Derbyshire will be a trailblazer area. Can my right hon. and learned Friend assure me not only that Erewash police and Erewash Borough Council will receive their share of the new funding, but that persistent offenders will be swiftly prosecuted using the full force of the law?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right that Derbyshire is also a pilot force for hotspot patrolling and immediate justice. When it comes to hotspot policing, which we know works in many parts of the country, that will mean that the police will be expected to identify places and times where antisocial behaviour is prevalent, and they will be able to use this extra funding to lay on additional policing, greater visibility and a more robust response.
I am grateful to the ACMD for its detailed report and its advice. Its input is an essential part of our decision-making. We have complete faith in the quality and rigour of its work. However, the Government are entitled and expected to take a broader view, and we are entitled to take into account other relevant factors, particularly the emerging evidence that nitrous oxide causes serious harm to health and wellbeing.
May I congratulate my right hon. and learned Friend on her incredibly sensible decision to ban the recreational use of nitrous oxide? As we heard a little earlier, one reason its use has been so prolific is that it is so extraordinarily easy to purchase, from small canisters up to pallet loads. Can I urge her to do everything she can to continue to stifle the supply and to clamp down as hard as she possibly can on those who continue to sell this dangerous product for recreational purposes?
I thank my hon. Friend for the great campaign he has led, which is reflected in the decision we have made today to ban nitrous oxide. He has spoken passionately about the devastating impact it is having not just on individuals, but on communities. He is right that we now need to take this robust approach. We need not only to curb the supply but, importantly, to criminalise possession, so that there is a deterrent and a meaningful consequence for people who break the law by using nitrous oxide.
The website article supporting this statement mentions that up to £5 million will be made available for CCTV and equipment restoration in vandalised parks. Is that £5 million the total budget, because the restoration of Ammanford children’s park in my constituency, which was recently vandalised, and the installation of CCTV will cost £140,000 alone? Will county councils and town and community councils in Wales be able to access this scheme, and if so, how?
We want to ensure that sufficient resource is available to local authorities and police forces so that they can take meaningful steps to sanction those involved in antisocial behaviour—whether through the community payback scheme, in which we see the perpetrators undertaking the clean-up job afterwards, or through the higher fines that we have announced—and we want to enable local authorities to retain much of the revenue so that they can reinvest it in their resources.
What I have heard consistently throughout the time I have been a Member of Parliament is that long-term residents who love their town no longer feel comfortable going into the town centre. Often they see groups of young men behaving in a way that diminishes the quality of that experience for the law-abiding majority. Does the Home Secretary agree that we need a permanently higher police presence in the town centre, but also that the police need to be much more confident about engaging earlier with these groups of men blighting our town centre?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. We are seeing far too many instances of bad behaviour, dangerous behaviour and unacceptable behaviour going unchecked—whether that is violent or disruptive behaviour or a plain nuisance. We need to ensure that visible policing becomes a fact of life, so that people are deterred from engaging in this behaviour in the first place, but also that we have a system of immediate justice so there is a swift sanction and people feel the full force of the law.
Only after my right hon. Friend Yvette Cooper published her comprehensive strategy on antisocial behaviour has the Home Secretary been shamed into cobbling together today’s statement, but that statement does not mention the word “alcohol”. Alcohol is at the source of much domestic violence, community violence and city centre antisocial behaviour, so how is she going to get on top of the growth in alcohol-based violence?
I gently remind the hon. Member that her party has royally failed to properly cost its so-called plan on antisocial behaviour, as evidenced by the shadow Policing Minister’s failure to explain how it would be paid for. Once it gets the basics right, we can have a proper conversation about what Labour’s proposal is. On taking the action that we are proposing, we are delivering £12 million of additional funding this year to police and crime commissioners to support an increased police presence alongside other uniformed authority figures such as wardens in problem areas for antisocial behaviour. Raising the visibility and increasing the resourcing of policing will be an effective way to deter and take the right action.
Over the past year, residents across Chatham and Aylesford have suffered repetitive instances of antisocial behaviour involving noise nuisance from cars and bikes and unauthorised access to private lakes by large groups of children. The local councils have had to go through lengthy processes to establish public spaces protection orders to tackle these issues, which have left residents at their wits’ end while the bureaucracy slowly cranks away. Can the Home Secretary confirm that the announcement today will make it a lot simpler for the authorities to clamp down on this type of antisocial behaviour, so that it can be dealt with there and then, rather than waiting for months for consultations and paperwork to be completed?
I thank my hon. Friend for all the work that she and her local team and councillors have led in challenging and stopping antisocial behaviour locally. She is absolutely right; what we have identified is that it has become onerous, inefficient and too time-consuming to secure these really effective orders, and this is exactly what the consultation will do. It will aim to streamline and speed up the acquisition of a PSPO, which can really make the difference between an area blighted by antisocial behaviour and an area that is free, safe and pleasant to frequent.
The Government’s action plan shows that the amount of antisocial behaviour being reported to the police is down, yet people’s experience of it has soared. People are not reporting antisocial behaviour because they have lost faith that reporting crimes will lead to any action, let alone an arrest. Arrests have halved since the Conservatives took office in 2010, and there are 100,000 fewer neighbourhood police officers and PCSOs than there were seven years ago. Does the Home Secretary agree that the best way to make our communities safer is to follow Labour’s plans to put an additional 13,000 police officers and PCSOs back on our streets, because after 13 years of this Conservative Government, the action plan is all talk and too little, too late?
I admire the hon. Gentleman’s cheek. Frankly, he has failed to support any measure that we have put forward to increase police powers or sentences on offenders, to roll out greater funding for our police forces, or to empower them to take better action for our residents. When he had the chance he voted against every measure we put forward. He really needs to up his game.
Antisocial behaviour affects all our constituencies and constituents, but the Home Secretary will know that when it comes to funding allocations, urban areas often attract the largest proportion of funds. In rural areas, antisocial behaviour will often be more thinly spread and might be of a different type, but it will still cause huge nuisance to local residents and communities. Working with her right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, will she assure me that proper rurification of the rubric of funding is undertaken, to ensure that the concerns of my North Dorset constituents are taken into account as much as those of constituents in large urban conurbations?
My hon. Friend is right to highlight that disparity between forces, which can lead to adverse impacts for those forces that have a particular rurality. I am glad that Dorset is one of our pilot force areas for the immediate justice scheme that we are putting forward, as that will mean more resources for Dorset police and on the frontline. We have an increased number of police officers throughout England and Wales, which will increase the resource and the response to antisocial behaviour.
I thank the Home Secretary for her statement. Colleagues across the House will recognise the importance of tackling antisocial behaviour with stronger and increased community policing. I would like to raise the issue of support for junior and trainee police officers. Anu Abraham was a 21-year-old student police officer on a placement in West Yorkshire who took his own life following bullying allegations and a lack of support. I met Anu’s family on Friday, and they wanted to make it clear that they feel the harm and lack of support that Anu experienced at the hands of the police killed him. The family now want Anu’s death and the miscommunication that followed to be reviewed by the Independent Office for Police Conduct. Will the Home Secretary or the Policing Minister meet me and Anu’s family, to hear their concerns and discuss what can be done to prevent any further tragedies?
May I place on the record my deepest condolences and sympathies to the family of Anu Abraham? I cannot imagine what they must be going through right now, and I thank the hon. Gentleman for his advocacy for them at this difficult time. Every man or woman who puts themselves forward to serve in our police force deserves support and credit for their bravery and the high standards they uphold. I am happy to arrange some kind of appropriate meeting between an official or Home Office Minister and the hon. Gentleman, should that be the right thing to do.
I commend the Home Secretary’s plan, particularly the part where the people committing these acts will have to clean up their mess within 48 hours. My constituents in Bassetlaw will be particularly pleased with that as it is a better record than my Labour council has for cleaning up graffiti, which can take at least five working days. Nitrous oxide is of course no laughing matter. Does the Home Secretary agree that the problem is not just that it is a gateway to other drugs, but that it also causes a significant amount of antisocial behaviour?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The use, supply and possession of nitrous oxide needs to be taken much more seriously. Young people, particularly 16 to 24-year-olds, have been able to acquire this harmful product far too easily. The decision I have made to ban it will ensure that many more young people are protected from its devastating effects.
I very much welcome the Home Secretary’s statement, which has been encouraging—I think everyone in the House welcomes it. Underage drinking and drug use is prevalent in Northern Ireland and does not seem to be getting any better. Will she ensure that discussions take place with the Department of Justice in Northern Ireland so that parallel policies can be introduced alongside the antisocial behaviour action plan announced today, so that Northern Ireland can match it?
I do not envisage working from home to be used as a way of remedying the damage caused by antisocial behaviour. What I foresee, building on the very effective community payback scheme that we rolled out throughout the country, is people involved in graffiti, vandalism and criminal damage having to roll up their sleeves and make amends in real and direct ways to the community they have harmed. The consequence linked to their actions will send a powerful message and teach them a powerful lesson.
Criminalisation does not tackle problem drug use; it simply blights the lives of young people with criminal records. Why not look in depth at the reasons why people turn to drugs: the decades of cuts to youth services; the deep poverty in which many of our communities lapse; and the associated mental health crisis? Is it not time, therefore, that the Home Secretary recognises that problem drug use is primarily a health issue? And if it is a health issue, will she review the devolution of responsibility for drugs policy to Wales?
Dealing with drugs requires a robust policing and law enforcement response. We are taking a tough line against illicit drug use, and a rehabilitative element. That is why I am proud that this Government have created 55,000 new drug treatment places and are investing £580 million in drug treatment. There is a real programme of work based on rehabilitation and getting people off the devastating cycle of drug dependency.
The Home Secretary will be aware that I wrote to her about the availability of nitrous oxide and I have spoken in the House about enforcement on fly-tipping, so I commend her for the tough action she has taken today. I want to turn to what she said about the Labour police and crime commissioner closing down police stations in the west midlands. My constituents are very concerned that he has no plan to keep a police station open in the borough of Solihull or a front desk at Chelmsley Wood police station. Does she agree that the Labour police and crime commissioner is short-changing my constituents in Meriden and the people of the west midlands?
I am afraid that where Labour leads, crime follows, and the west midlands is no exception. The Labour police and crime commissioner is more interested in closing police stations—he cannot even command the support of his own Labour members—than standing up for the law-abiding majority in the west midlands.
I welcome the Government’s antisocial behaviour action plan. I know that the vast majority of my constituents will join me in welcoming the policies aimed at tackling organised begging gangs and nuisance beggars. Will my right hon. and learned Friend assure me and my constituents that this is not about bringing back the Vagrancy Act by the backdoor, but that there is a plan to ensure that those in need who are begging on the street will be provided with the services they need, because the vast majority are suffering from mental health and addiction problems? We must remember that not all rough sleepers are beggars and not all beggars are rough sleepers.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. She has put in considerable effort to tackle this issue on the frontline, both in her role as a Member of Parliament and as a former leader of Westminster City Council. It requires a nuanced and thoughtful approach. We are repealing the Vagrancy Act, but we are also making it clear that we will prohibit organised and nuisance begging. We will introduce new tools to direct individuals to vital resources so that they can find accommodation and support. There should not be a reason for them to live in squalor and such hardship in this day and age.
I welcome the Home Secretary’s focus on antisocial behaviour today, which has long been a focus of Lincolnshire police. As she knows, Lincolnshire police find themselves in an anomalous funding position, as the lowest funded police force in the country. It is remarkable that Lincolnshire remains a low crime county, but the police need greater support. Will she reassure me that we will get to a funding position where Lincolnshire gets the uplift that we have seen in other parts of the country? That will allow the police to deliver on her antisocial policy.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right to raise the financing of police forces. I am aware of the challenges that Lincolnshire police are facing in that regard. The Policing Minister, my right hon. Friend the Member for Croydon South, and I are looking at the measures and proposals on the funding formula. There will be an announcement very soon.
I warmly welcome the antisocial behaviour action plan and am delighted that South Yorkshire has been chosen as one of the pilot trailblazer areas for hotspot policing. In my constituency, we are fortunate that serious crime rates are low, but antisocial behaviour still blights the lives of many constituents in Stocksbridge, Deepcar, High Green, Penistone and Dodworth.
There is a clear link between antisocial behaviour and school absence. Sheffield and Barnsley have some of the highest rates of severe school absence of any local authority, with more than 2,500 children mostly missing from school across the two local authorities. Will my right hon. and learned Friend speak to and urge her colleagues in the Department for Education to set out a plan to reverse the rising tide of school absence and all the negative impacts it has not only on children but on communities?
My hon. Friend speaks with a huge amount of experience from her days as a teacher. She knows more than many how, with vital resources in schooling, effective teaching and proper support in schools and from parents, we can divert children from a life of crime, antisocial behaviour and devastation to themselves and their communities. There is a strong theme in this plan of diversion, investment in youth activities, but also in the Turnaround scheme. We are expanding the eligibility criteria and are working with professionals to ensure that children will be taken away from a life of crime.
When I have assisted constituents whose lives have been made a living hell by neighbours using drugs or blasting out music at all hours, it has taken far too long to solve the problem, so I welcome the proposals that my right hon. and learned Friend has set out to make it easier to evict such people. When will those changes take effect, so that the courts can consider any behaviour that creates a nuisance? Will local authorities be empowered—and required—to act where landlords are unwilling or absent?
My hon. Friend is right to mention eviction powers. We want to ensure that it is easier for landlords to take action against antisocial tenants, whether in the social or private rented sector. Our measures in the plan will empower them to take swifter action.
Under the disastrous reign of police and crime commissioner Andy Burnham, Greater Manchester police were put into special measures. With the assistance of my right hon. Friend Kit Malthouse, Stephen Watson was appointed chief constable under the revolutionary concept of charging criminals with offences. We saw a 42% increase in the charge rate for the 12 months up to September 2022. Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that not only is this plan exactly the correct course to take, but chief constables and other senior police officers must start arresting people, as this Government want?
I could not put it better, but I will reiterate my hon. Friend’s sentiment because Stephen Watson, whom I met when I visited Greater Manchester police recently, is a real success story. His approach is one of common-sense policing, getting the basics right and high standards. Getting his men and women to fight crime and focus on the priorities people have is a winning formula. Stephen is a great leader in policing and we need more leaders in policing just like him.
When we travel into our great cities and towns, we see mile after mile of graffiti. The message is clear: abandon hope all ye who enter here. Can my right hon. and learned Friend tell the House that the perpetrators—the so-called graffiti artists—will be tracked down and made to clean up the mess they make, and be seen to do so publicly?
Simply put, yes. That is the aim of the community payback scheme, which has been very successful, as well as the measures included in this plan, whereby those who are inflicting ugliness, chaos and nuisance on communities need to make amends themselves, directly to the communities that they have harmed.
I thank the Home Secretary for personally listening to the concerns and ideas that we have had across Lancashire, and for supporting me and our fantastic police and crime commissioner, Andrew Snowden, as we try to tackle these issues. Can she outline how quickly Lancashire will receive the major £2 million funding boost for hotspot patrols and how she thinks that will make a difference in Hyndburn and Haslingden?
Let me put on record my thanks to my hon. Friend, but also to Andrew Snowden, the excellent PCC in Lancashire, who has led some great initiatives, notably on antisocial behaviour. The police have had a lot of success in clamping down on boy racers and other nuisance behaviour in some town centres in the area. Lancashire police will receive funding as one of the pilots for hotspot policing. That money will be diverted to increasing resources on the frontline to improve visible and responsive policing.
I warmly welcome the Home Secretary’s statement, which comes at a particularly timely point for my constituents, as the first email I opened in my inbox this morning reported vandalism to a brand-new £20,000 fence around a community sports facility in Winslow. Also over the weekend, the Crew Café in Princes Risborough saw a break-in. That café sits at the epicentre of a hotspot of antisocial behaviour over the last year, seeing intimidation, broken glass and other vandalism. Can she assure me that the powers she has announced today give the superb officers of Thames Valley everything they need to combat these incidents and that, as broken windows theory teaches us, this will shut down higher-level crimes too?
I thank my hon. Friend for welcoming me to his constituency over the weekend to meet Thames Valley police and his excellent police and crime commissioner, Matthew Barber. They are leading brilliant work when it comes to rural crime. He is absolutely right. I believe in the broken windows theory of crime prevention. It is essential to take a zero-tolerance approach to so-called lower-level crime. As I said, there is no such thing as petty crime. It leads to more serious crime and more criminal behaviour. The antisocial behaviour plan is vital to stamp it out at the earliest possible opportunity.
The Home Secretary already knows that antisocial behaviour and nitrous oxide abuse, in particular, wreaked havoc along our beautiful seafront in Southend and Leigh-on-Sea last summer, so I warmly welcome these steps to ban nitrous oxide and use hotspot policing. I thank her for meeting me and listening to my concerns, and those of colleagues across the House. Southend police welcome the moves and have two questions: will the legislation be in place to avoid our seafront being blighted this summer, and will our wonderful ice cream sellers and ice cream parlours be excluded from the ban, as I am sure they will be?
I thank my hon. Friend for her indefatigable campaigning to ban nitrous oxide and take a tough approach in response to that devastating drug. She is absolutely right that there will be exceptions to the prohibition for legitimate, lawful and proper uses; we do not want to stop the industrial use, the commercial use or the medicinal use of any substances. Ultimately, my hope is that the sight of these canisters on the ground, blighting our communities and making our places ugly, will become a thing of the past.
Stoke-on-Trent has seen significant issues with antisocial behaviour and drugs crime, particularly with the horrific drug monkey dust, so I very much welcome the announcement that the Staffordshire police area will be one of the pilot hotspot areas. Will my right hon. and learned Friend outline what that means for frontline policing and for ensuring that more resources go to fighting crime on the streets of Stoke-on-Trent?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right that his police force’s area will be a pilot area for hotspot policing. The pilots will start very soon—before the summer, we hope—and we have chosen the areas with the greatest need. When it comes to tackling antisocial behaviour, we see them as a priority, and we want to ensure that there is a proper response on the frontline as quickly as possible.
On Friday, I held a crime surgery in Thornaby and heard horrific stories of the misery caused by youth crime and antisocial behaviour, so today I am delighted to see Cleveland benefiting both from additional hotspot policing and from immediate justice. Can my right hon. and learned Friend outline what residents across Stockton South can expect to see and, importantly, how quickly they can expect to see it?
My hon. Friend is a doughty champion for his residents and for public safety up in Cleveland. I am very glad that Cleveland is a pilot both for immediate justice and for hotspot policing. What people will be seeing up there is more funding—more funding for more resource. That resource will, hopefully, be more police officers, who will be able to respond in a rapid way to areas of acute challenge when it comes to antisocial behaviour, so we can bring an end to what my hon. Friend calls the misery of blighting our communities, nuisance behaviour and, fundamentally, damage to the fabric of our way of life.