Youth Crime and Antisocial Behaviour — [Mr Laurence Robertson in the Chair]

– in Westminster Hall at 11:30 am on 12th January 2022.

Alert me about debates like this

[Mr Laurence Robertson in the Chair]

Photo of Laurence Robertson Laurence Robertson Conservative, Tewkesbury 2:30 pm, 12th January 2022

Before we begin, I have a few notices. I remind hon. Members that they are expected to wear face coverings when not speaking in the debate, in line with current Government guidance and that of the House of Commons Commission. I remind hon. Members that they are asked by the House to have a covid lateral flow test before coming on to the estate, and to give each other and members of staff space when seated and when entering and leaving the Chamber.

In this debate, hon. Members should not mention any active legal cases. There will be an advisory six-minute limit on Back-Bench speeches.

Photo of Matt Vickers Matt Vickers Conservative, Stockton South

I beg to move,

That this House
has considered youth crime and anti-social behaviour.

It is a privilege to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Robertson. I thank all hon. Members for attending the debate. It is encouraging to see such wide interest in this issue. Clearly it resonates deeply not just with me and the people of Stockton South, but with MPs and constituents up and down the country.

I chose the wording of the motion carefully and deliberately. This is not just a debate on antisocial behaviour, because often what starts as mindless antisocial behaviour goes on to become crime. In areas of my constituency, that is exactly what is happening. Many of my constituents are rightly angry when abuse, broken windows, missiles and assault are badged as antisocial behaviour. They identify the perpetrators and report them to the police, only to be left feeling that nothing is being done about it.

Often when we talk of youth crime and antisocial behaviour, it can be trivialised, downplayed and dismissed. We tend to assume that it is simply a few young people drinking a couple of cans in the park. That is not to say that that does not happen, but the other side of youth crime is more vile and sinister. In my constituency, there continues to be repeated, sustained and violent abuse of persons and communities, which go on not just for hours, but for days, weeks and months at a time.

Youth crime appears in many guises. In Stockton South we have seen car windows smashed, arson, verbal abuse, emergency workers spat at and pelted with missiles, teenagers beaten and robbed, vandalism and destruction of property. Across the UK there are people afraid to leave their homes after dark, scared to go to the shops, terrified to live their lives. That cannot go on.

It would be wrong to say that we have not made any progress on the issue. Locally, I invited residents to meet me, alongside local police and the council. Together, we have managed to identify individuals who were responsible, put additional CCTV in place and increase police presence in hotspots at peak times. The council’s youth and antisocial behaviour teams have undertaken work with the youngsters in an effort to teach them the error of their ways and redirect their energies.

The number of first-time entrants into the youth justice system is down significantly since 2010, but that is little comfort to those whose lives continue to be made a misery by the actions of this rogue minority of young people. All too often, it feels that the system is stacked in favour of the perpetrators rather than the victims. Today, with her permission, I will share the plight of one of my constituents, though for her own safety she will remain nameless.

This constituent is a mother and a pillar of her community. For about two years, she has suffered abuse and intimidation from a group of youths. Throughout, she has shown both bravery and incredible determination to improve her community. The catalyst for this episode was when she initially reported an example of antisocial behaviour to the police. The youths in question found out she had reported them and labelled her a grass, and went out of their way to ensure she was punished for fulfilling her role as a good citizen.

The abuse has involved her children being attacked and assaulted, stones being put through her windows, and adolescents showing up at her house to intimidate her, filming the abuse, uploading it to TikTok and broadcasting live videos on social media as they try to damage her property. It is abhorrent, disgusting and an utter disgrace. The police have tried to help. They put a van outside her home for a time. Although that temporarily stopped the issue, the second the van left, the abuse started again. The police quite simply do not have the powers or resources to deal with this. It is clear that the system does not work.

I am sure that all Members here today would agree, in the strongest possible terms, that that example and stories like it are far too commonplace. In Ingleby Barwick and Thornaby in my constituency, separate groups of young children have been causing havoc. People have been abused and intimidated in the street, and there are concerns over the prevalence of drug use. When one veteran tried to confront youngsters over their behaviour, he was assaulted and hospitalised—an incident that has rightly disgusted the community in what is considered an affluent area.

I do not believe these children have been born inherently bad. They are not evil or demonic. I also do not believe that because a child is born in one estate or another, they will inherently be drawn to such behaviours. I believe this is an issue that affects children of every class, creed and colour.

Youth crime is a complex matter that requires a multifaceted, co-ordinated and often localised response. The causes of youth crime are diverse: education, family breakdown, poor parenting, a lack of creative output, and poor outlooks and opportunities. There is no one-size-fits-all approach to this problem. However, I believe it is the Government’s moral obligation to take serious steps towards fixing this issue; for it is their duty to ensure that children have the opportunity and ability to get the best from life. It is only through adequately resourcing and empowering all the agencies in this arena that we can make a real difference.

If nothing else, we can easily advocate action on the basis that to combat such behaviour early is to improve the quality of life for many, save police time and money, and free up our courts and prisons. Prevention is better than rehabilitation. It is better that we stop children getting into violent, antisocial behaviour in the first place, than to rely on excessive punishments in an attempt to deter those who will not be deterred.

Often, those who engage in antisocial behaviour do not fear punishment and, worst of all, do not have hope for their own futures. We need all local partners to start collaborating and getting youngsters engaged in youth activities, sports and initiatives to prevent them from turning to antisocial behaviour and crime. We must give youngsters something to do, with a meaningful outlet for their energies.

It shocks me that records on the use of antisocial behaviour powers and orders are not collated nationally, limiting any meaningful assessment or discussion about their use or effectiveness. By collating data nationally, we can ensure that successes and failures in relation to antisocial behaviour can be studied by policy makers, which, importantly, will enable informed improvements to make sure that the orders are fit for purpose and meet the challenges of evolving antisocial behaviour.

Of course, there are differences in how neighbourhood policing works in Thornaby, Twickenham and Tower Hamlets, but good policy lessons can still inspire and enable conversations that lead to material and substantial improvement in the lives of people across the United Kingdom. Creating a national framework would help not only those communities plagued by youth crime, but those children who have been sucked into a cruel cycle of perpetual reoffending.

I also believe that we need to look again at the burden of proof that is needed before civil authorities can intervene to compel educational courses and proactive measures. When sitting around the table with frustrated residents who feel nothing is being done and authorities who tell us that they need a greater catalogue of evidence to take something forward to court, there appears to be an impasse that leaves communities to suffer for longer than need be. Nobody wants to see youngsters criminalised unnecessarily, but neither should residents be left to suffer for months, waiting for enough offences to take place to build a case.

Not only is the burden of proof creating a challenge for authorities, but the speed at which youth crime and antisocial behaviour cases are progressed and resolved is just too slow. The process by which justice and corrective action are administered is in desperate need of acceleration. I believe that this should be central to any plan on youth crime. For the communities affected, the long delays feed into the narrative that nothing is being done and that the system is not on their side.

For youngsters, this can leave them with months of anxiety and an inability to focus on self-improvement. I spoke to someone from the youth offending team, who said that often by the time a young offender reaches them, the youngster has forgotten the details and the context of their offence and what they have done, and is likely to have gone on to commit further offences.

We need those in affected communities to see that action is taken quickly and that those who fall foul of their communities are brought to account. Waiting a year or more for action to be taken is unacceptable. We need to end the perception that youth crime and antisocial behaviour will be met with non-action and that perpetrators have impunity to act at whim.

It is important that we actively take steps to educate parents, who play such a crucial role in shaping their children. The number of parenting orders being issued is thought to be falling. If that is the case, I would like the Government to examine why that is and consider whether there is room for improvement in the relevant legislation.

Photo of Scott Benton Scott Benton Conservative, Blackpool South

My hon. Friend is making a brilliant speech. One of the main problems that we have in Blackpool is that, when parenting orders are issued, often the police are exasperated that the council cannot hold those families and young people to account and make them abide by the conditions of those orders. Does he agree that that is a problem and that we need to see how youth offending teams and local authorities can work with the police to ensure that the orders are adhered to?

Photo of Matt Vickers Matt Vickers Conservative, Stockton South

I could not agree more. Actually, it is about sharing best practice. All these problems require every agency to work in collaboration, which is probably what makes this issue such a difficult one—it is about education, schools, local authorities and policing. The sharing of best practice and the collation of data nationally would help to inform the decisions that are made.

Some families need support in managing their children, but all too often I hear concerns expressed at my surgeries about parents who just do not care what their children get up to. In such cases, there needs to be tough action. I firmly believe that parents should be held accountable if they fail to engage with the authorities in efforts to control and help their children.

To conclude, enough is enough. I ask the Government to consider how we collate records on the use of ASB powers and orders, so that we can make a real and meaningful assessment of their use and effectiveness, and empower our police and local authorities. I think we should look again at the burden of evidence and the speed of our justice system, so that our communities see prompt action and offenders are held to account more quickly. Yes, some families need support in dealing with troubled youngsters, but those families who fail to engage with the authorities to help and control their children should be held responsible, either legally or financially.

It is imperative that we, as a country, start taking this issue seriously. We are talking about our children and our communities—the very fabric of our nation. The Government must act. They must show that they care and have the courage to tackle this problem head-on, whether for the young family who worked hard, saved up and bought a dream home, only for it to become a nightmare, or for the elderly lady who dare not leave her house after dark. Will the Government look again to see what more we can do to prevent a minority of youngsters from making people’s lives a misery?

Photo of Alex Davies-Jones Alex Davies-Jones Shadow Minister (Digital, Culture, Media and Sport) 2:42 pm, 12th January 2022

I am very grateful for the opportunity to speak in this debate and to be called so early.

Antisocial behaviour is one of the issues that I am contacted about most by constituents—not just the antisocial behaviour in Downing Street, but the antisocial behaviour affecting all our communities. In communities in my constituency such as Beddau, Tonyrefail, Church Village, Rhydyfelin and Ponty town, instances of graffiti, damage to football pitches, joyriding, drinking, drug taking and threatening behaviour are causing huge problems. For people living under the shadow of such antisocial behaviour, the situation seems to be getting worse rather than better.

Labour’s analysis of official statistics found that 13 million adults across the UK had witnessed antisocial behaviour in the past year, which is about one in five of us. Meanwhile, the number of people who say they never see police out on the streets has doubled. Put simply, people in my community do not feel safe on the streets, which absolutely should not be the case. Although I know that South Wales police, my own local force, is working incredibly hard to respond to the rise in antisocial behaviour, it is massively overstretched and the pressures of the pandemic are only making that situation worse.

When we talk about antisocial behaviour and youth crime, the focus is often, importantly, on the victims. However, we also need to consider what is driving antisocial behaviour and what support is on offer to young people. It is wrong to try to have a meaningful conversation and debate about antisocial behaviour and youth crime without considering the impact of the pandemic on young people.

All of us across the House know that the pandemic and the measures that were necessary to control the spread of the virus, including social distancing and school closures, have had an enormous impact on young people. I have visited schools in my constituency and heard young people of all ages talk about their feelings of loneliness and isolation. More and more of them are struggling with mental health problems.

Criminalising young people is not the solution to this issue. A multi-agency response is vital in supporting young people, and particularly important before a young person even has contact with the police. I would very much like to hear more from the Minister today about what her Government are doing to foster a multi-agency approach to tackling youth antisocial behaviour.

Everyone deserves to feel safe in their community, and when we talk about antisocial behaviour, I think that a lot of the time safety is actually what people are concerned about. In debates such as this, it is possible to be over-zealous in talking about more criminalisation; what people in my community actually want is to feel safe and to feel that they are being listened to.

I have to say that South Wales police really is doing its best in very difficult circumstances. Over the last year, my constituents and I have raised serious concerns about incidents of drag racing, and specifically the use of modified cars. That has been happening across the countryside in my area. I recognise the efforts of South Wales police, which recently launched Operation Buena in an attempt to tackle this problem. I have raised this matter with the Government on multiple occasions. Cars that are modified to backfire loudly are causing huge worry. Constituents of mine have compared it to the sound of a shotgun going off; it really can be terrifying, especially for elderly people. It is vital that steps are taken to bring an end to these modifications that cause huge anxiety to people living in the community. People often feel unable to report such matters to the police, and it is hardly possible to rush out and take down a number plate when someone is speeding past. What does the Minister suggest my constituents do?

Often, the young people who are involved in such behaviour do not understand the impact it has on the community. A constituent wrote to me recently to describe how the problem has become worse because of the pandemic. At a packed meeting in Talbot Green, a young man who had been involved in some of the racing was in attendance. He explained that he was just driving for fun, and that he and his friends really did not have anything else to do—as hobbies go, this one was at least cheap. When he realised the impact on the local people, he apologised and explained he really had not understood the impact of his actions and the anxiety that they caused. That highlights the importance of engaging holistically with young people to ensure that they have meaningful alternative ways to spend their time. We also need to ensure that the police have the right levels of support available to help with the problem in the meantime.

With the UK Government yet to make good on their promise of 20,000 new police officers on our streets, I am worried that it will be some time before we see any progress. If the Government are serious about keeping our streets safe, I urge them to work closely with the devolved nations, local authorities and police forces to tackle these problems head-on.

Photo of Robbie Moore Robbie Moore Conservative, Keighley 2:46 pm, 12th January 2022

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Robertson. I thank my hon. Friend Matt Vickers for securing this important debate. I, like many other Members in the House, like to be able to sing from the rooftops all of the good things that are going on in our constituencies, but it would be completely wrong of us to dodge the criminal activities and antisocial behaviour that continue to haunt our constituencies. I am afraid that Keighley and Ilkley is no different. It is only right that we are able to raise these concerns in this place, so that we can lobby hard and make sure that these issues are dealt with.

I am sad to say that Keighley experiences its fair share of antisocial behaviour. As my hon. Friend the Member for Stockton South said, this is not just antisocial behaviour—it goes on further into organised crime and the like. The types of experiences that we are having include recreational drug use, which is a huge problem in my constituency, particularly with young people in parks and public places. I am sad to say that in Keighley, Ilkley and Silsden, young people are taking drugs and leaving used needles and empty canisters behind. These people are treating my constituency—my town of Keighley—like a playground, with no respect whatever for the wider community.

I could go on. Some of the other issues that we are experiencing include: fireworks being let off late at night and at all hours; people using our roads like a racetrack or a game, with modified cars and loud exhausts, and really annoying many of my constituents; and worst of all, such behaviour can turn violent and directly involve innocent members of the public who just want to go about their lives. Too often I receive heartbreaking pieces of correspondence from constituents, telling gut-wrenching stories about going about their own business only to be assaulted and mugged in Keighley by mobs of thugs wearing balaclavas. That happened only this month, and in the last two weeks several constituents have raised these concerns.

What is worrying is that although I have many fantastic independent local businesses right in the centre of Keighley, wanting to encourage people into the town to drive economic prosperity, people are being put off from coming in because of these issues. One constituent, Laura Kelly, who owns a fantastic business in the centre of Keighley, is doing a great job standing up for local businesses and making the case that more should be done about antisocial behaviour.

I am aware that there are many reasons—often complex—why young people could be drawn into committing crimes such as the ones that I have mentioned. They might have had a troubled upbringing, with little family care or support, or have had negative influences around them from an early age. Solving such issues is not easy, but the key thing that we must do is offer young people different pathways to a life out of crime, so that they are not dragged into those circumstances. We must provide a way out for them and their friends, so that they do not get drawn into drug dealing, which is a huge challenge.

Youth services and youth workers play a vital role in helping those in disadvantaged positions. They help provide great services to many of the young people in my constituency. Those services allow people to access a network of new environments, to gain new hobbies, to get involved with sports and to learn more skills, all of which can help them get out of crime.

At this point, I must mention Keighley Albion and the Keighley Cougars, local sports groups—rugby groups—that have tried to get young people out of their day-to-day habits of driving using Keighley as a racetrack, and get them more involved in other activities. I was delighted to hear my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer announce an extra £560 million for youth services in last year’s spending review, but I must make it clear that that money must go directly to those areas and to provision such as youth services, to get it to those who need it most.

As I said, my constituency unfortunately has an undeniable problem with youth crime. It is my sincere hope that if we continue to open up, to talk about such issues, we can show young people a different option out of crime, to move our community forward. I finish by asking the Minister, can we ensure that for those who are convicted of crimes, justice is served quickly, so that my local businesses and residents feel that justice has been served in a timely manner?

Photo of Lyn Brown Lyn Brown Shadow Minister (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Affairs) 2:52 pm, 12th January 2022

It is an absolute pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Robertson.

I thank Matt Vickers for giving me the opportunity to talk again about the county lines difficulties that we have in my constituency and elsewhere in the country. Much of the really violent crime and antisocial behaviour committed by young people in my patch is linked to the lines drug gangs. Just before Christmas, I introduced a ten-minute rule Bill, in which I had a number of asks, including a national strategy to end county lines criminal exploitation for good.

I became aware of county lines back in about 2015 or 2016. I was introduced to some mums of children who were being exploited. Have no doubt: those mums were amazing—they are courageous, strong and brave—and they showed me so much to enable me to understand what is happening in my constituency.

One of those women—I will call her Ashley—told me about her son, Kofi. When Kofi was 15, his neighbour started to build a relationship with him, and at first it all seemed okay. The neighbour was often to be found at Ashley’s house, watching TV and playing PlayStation. Slowly, however, Ashley realised that this man was turning her son away from school and away from her. Then, three days before Christmas, Kofi did not come home.

The next night Kofi called her, whispering. Some men had him—he did not know where he was and he was absolutely terrified. When Kofi finally returned, Ashley again called the police, and made him go to the police station, despite threats of violence against both of them. It was an extremely brave thing to do.

What Ashley told them, however, was ignored, and Kofi was treated as a criminal, not a victim. He was 15 years of age. The men who had groomed, exploited, traumatised and threatened him were, as far as Ashley knows, left alone, and no one came to check on Kofi afterwards to ensure that he was okay. Ashley told me that Kofi was never the same after that experience—his trust and hopes had been absolutely crushed. He had no support for his trauma, and the pattern continued.

A year later, Kofi was about to be accepted into the Army, to change his life for the better. But in that moment of hope, historical robberies were laid at Kofi’s door. Ashley believes it was because he was of an age to be sentenced as an adult. Ashley tells me she has seen Kofi’s groomers walking the streets, flashing the cash they made destroying children’s lives.

Five years ago, there was a bit of an excuse for not understanding what the lines were doing to our children; but there is no excuse now. The police, teachers and others have become more knowledgeable but, sadly, our response to the lines is still not based on evidence. The Government do not know how many children supervised by youth offending teams have gang memberships or criminal exploitation noted as an issue. The Government do not know how many of those known to children’s services have criminal exploitation as a risk factor, or how many slavery and trafficking prevention orders have been made to stop the exploitation of children. They do not know how many local safeguarding partnerships even have a child criminal exploitation strategy, let alone the effectiveness of those strategies.

It is only by having a real understanding of the complexity of the lines that we will make progress. We need our social workers and our police to be empowered to work with the people best able to reach the children in trouble. That means trusted community groups and charities who know their patch, but it means parents, too. The mums I have worked with over the years have been so very impressive in their dedication and perceptiveness about what has gone wrong. Social workers, police officers and even teachers sometimes have a bit of suspicious attitude towards the mums, and that has to change.

The Commission on Young Lives is working on this issue and will publish a report in the coming weeks. I want the Government to actively engage with it. If the Minister is able, I would like her to commit to meet me, Barnardo’s and the Children’s Society to talk about a statutory definition of child criminal exploitation ahead of the victims Bill. The role of a parent in a young person’s life is limited, especially once a groomer has got their hooks in them; but they are so often the best ally that we have, and they must be listened to and respected. Family has to be treated as part of the solution for preventing youth crime.

Photo of Tom Hunt Tom Hunt Conservative, Ipswich 2:47 pm, 12th January 2022

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Robertson. It is surprising to be called so early in the debate. I thank my hon. Friend Matt Vickers for sponsoring this debate, which is of relevance to many right hon. and hon. Members in this place.

Sadly, Ipswich has been at the heart of much crime and antisocial behaviour, some incredibly serious, and some seemingly less serious but perhaps connected to the most serious crime. We have had some tragic incidents in Ipswich over the last few years. Tavis Spencer-Aitkens was brutally murdered three years ago outside his father’s home, as a result of county lines and gang violence in Ipswich. Richard Day, an Ipswich man, was killed in the town centre in tragic circumstances.

There are some things we can do that some may say involve us getting tougher with crime, particularly when it comes to sentencing, to make sure that those who commit the most serious crimes are appropriately punished. From time to time Members will see me speaking to that. But it is not just about having a tough approach to sentencing. We also need to spend some time thinking about the lives that a lot of these individuals lead, to put ourselves in their shoes and to imagine that we are them, and that we are in a school where we are not successful, perhaps because we have learning disabilities—we know that the proportion of those in prison with learning disabilities is incredibly high.

If an individual does not feel like a success at school because they are not getting the success that they need, their needs are not being met, and they go back home and potentially there are problems with their home life, and there is nothing to do in their local area—no club for them to join, and they cannot get a sense of belonging from anywhere—the brutal reality is that, for some, joining a gang does give them that sense of belonging. The way to tackle that is to give them a positive sense of belonging. If we put ourselves in their shoes, we want to have the positive pulls and less of the negative pulls.

What I actually want to talk about today is the seemingly less serious antisocial behaviour. We say “less serious”, but in the minds of many of my constituents it is very serious. I lose count of the number of times that I talk to constituents—long-term Ipswich residents who have lived in Ipswich their whole life—who are critical of the town centre. Often I think they can be unfairly critical of the town centre, because we have some fantastic businesses in the town centre that work incredibly hard to make it an attractive destination. Most of the residents’ concerns are to do with antisocial behaviour and not feeling safe in the town centre.

If we are to have a conversation about regenerating our town centre, by all means let us engage in a debate about business rates reform, town deals and levelling-up funds, but we also need to have a conversation about crime and the fear of crime, because if that is deterring people—my constituents—from going into the town centre to spend money, we need to deal with that as well.

I want to touch now on an issue on which not everyone will agree, which is to do with large groups of individuals—more often than not young men—who congregate in and around the town centre, more often than not drinking alcohol, often leaving litter afterwards, and acting in an incredibly antisocial way. Constituents get in contact because they, or often their daughters, have been on the receiving end of inappropriate comments and have been made to feel intimidated while going about their business. That is simply unacceptable.

I often talk to the police and ask, “What opportunity is there to disperse these groups?”, because I think that should be part of the police’s remit, and they often say, “Unless they are clearly breaking the law and it is really obvious, there is nothing we can do.” I would personally like to see the police empowered to play their role in making our public spaces safe, secure environments in which the law-abiding majority feel safe, and that they want to go to.

There is an element here of tolerance, which is important, but I think we should be intolerant of antisocial behaviour. I do not care who it is who is forming in large groups, acting in an antisocial way, making people feel uncomfortable; I do not care where they are from. If their behaviour is not acceptable, it needs to be communicated to them.

There is a number of things that we can do, and I have touched on one of them, which is the police having more of a remit to disperse groups of young men who are having a detrimental impact on the town centre in Ipswich. We also need fair police funding in Ipswich. We know that Suffolk is one of the most unfairly funded police authorities in the country, so we need a commitment to review the national police funding formula as soon as possible. I must stop going on and draw my comments to a close. Thank you for indulging me, Mr Robertson, and allowing me to go over the time limit.

Photo of Catherine McKinnell Catherine McKinnell Chair, Petitions Committee, Chair, Petitions Committee 3:03 pm, 12th January 2022

I congratulate Matt Vickers on securing this debate. I know that hon. Members across the House will agree that it is the sense of community—that coming together of people, and the genuine care and compassion that we show each other—that makes our communities great. One benefit of having such an amazing community in Newcastle upon Tyne North is that we have some fantastic community groups, such as the D2 youth project in Newbiggin Hall, the Denton Youth and Community Project in West Denton, and Inspire Youth. Those and many more organisations work incredibly hard to keep young people off the streets and prevent them from falling into crime—something that I know is a major focus for our police and crime commissioner, Kim McGuinness, in Northumbria, who helps to fund many of these projects.

Yet we have to accept that there is a limit to what local agencies can do and what the police can do, despite the bravery and hard work of officers, when we have seen 10 years of devastating cuts to our policing and criminal justice system under Conservative Governments.

Significant pockets of antisocial behaviour simply blight parts of my constituency, in areas where decent people are just trying to get on with their lives. We continue to see significant issues in Newbiggin Hall, with persistent crime and vandalism affecting the day-to-day lives of many people. There are also general concerns about antisocial behaviour across Newbiggin Hall, including motorcycle disorder and drug dealing. West Denton has also seen a significant increase in antisocial behaviour in recent years. In just one week last year, the fire brigade was called out on six out of seven days for fires in the same street. While constituents most frequently raise problems with Newbiggin Hall and West Denton, I know that other neighbourhoods struggle with antisocial behaviour issues. It is unacceptable that any of our constituents should feel unsafe in their own homes, or feel they have to watch their backs when they walk to the shops or worry that their children are sliding into a life of crime, but unfortunately that is the reality for many of my constituents.

The Government have no shortage of rhetoric on crime. Ministers like to tell us how tough they will be and how harshly they will punish the criminals that we manage to catch, but for all the tough talk, the truth is that Conservative cuts to frontline policing and the criminal justice system have caused the proportion of reported crimes ending in prosecution to plummet over the last 10 years. For example, in 2013-14, more than a quarter of violence against the person offences recorded by police in England and Wales ended in prosecution; in 2016, it was around 17%. By 2019-20 and 2020-21, it had fallen to just 6% and 9% respectively.

Tough talk and harsh punishments will not stop these people making our constituents’ lives a nightmare while the Government refuse to give the police the resources to catch them in the first place, and the justice system the ability to see it through. I am afraid to say that this has created an environment where antisocial behaviour can be seen to take place with relative impunity. That is incredibly frustrating for those on the receiving end of it. We know that the police are recruiting 20,000 new officers to partially compensate for past cuts, but Ministers have shown far less interest in replacing the backroom staff essential to supporting their colleagues out on the beat. That means that police officers will still be pulled into administrative duties that do not require a trained police officer.

The first duty of any state is to ensure the safety of its people. After 10 years of various Conservative Governments hollowing out the police and criminal justice system, the British state, for many of my constituents, is simply failing in that duty. We need a Labour Government that will put community safety first. That means more police out there tackling crime, antisocial behaviour and dangerous driving—the things they came into the force to do. It means funding and restoring youth projects and treatment services that prevent crime. It means providing real support and justice for victims.

Photo of Jacob Young Jacob Young Conservative, Redcar 3:08 pm, 12th January 2022

I thank my fellow Teessider, my hon. Friend Matt Vickers, for introducing this debate on this vital issue. It is a privilege to serve under your chairmanship for the first time, I believe, Mr Robertson.

Antisocial behaviour is a significant issue in Redcar and Cleveland, endangering lives, perpetuating crime, damaging protected habitat and ruining the life chances of young people. A particular element of antisocial behaviour in Redcar and Cleveland is a result of the illegal use of off-road motorbikes, unlicensed and uninsured, incidents of which have been making people’s lives miserable, particularly in areas such as Eston, Normanby, Teesville, Grangetown and South Bank. There have been widespread reports from local people of these off-road bikes being used to ferry drugs between dealers, sometimes sadly exploiting young children in the process, as Ms Brown outlined in Kofi’s awful story. This exploitation is abuse, tragically ruining the lives of young people, greatly endangering public health and damaging the living environment of the people I represent.

Despite attempts by Redcar and Cleveland Council to block off the unofficial routes that these criminals use, including more than £15,000 spent trying to protect Eston Hills alone, the problem persists. Additionally, efforts by Cleveland police to tackle the problem have been largely fruitless, often hampered by the sheer scale of the task, with police resources spread thin over such a wide area.

Many people feel powerless, to the point where some of my constituents have ceased even reporting incidents of this criminality. There is the feeling that nothing will be done. This must change. I want to make a plea to my constituents who experience or witness this type of antisocial behaviour. It is imperative that they report it. Each phone call helps the police colour their picture and enables them to better pursue the individuals responsible.

Beyond the menace of off-road bikes, another antisocial behaviour problem in Redcar and Cleveland is kerbside gangs. Gangs of youths are causing minor criminal damage, while terrorising estates, and there are vulnerable people, such as the elderly or disabled, living on these estates. I support Cleveland police in wanting to see the courts become more stringent in pushing parental orders, whereby parents can be held responsible for their child’s behaviour, and that goes to the heart of the problem.

Although we have a Home Office Minister responding to today’s debate, and although antisocial behaviour often involves criminal behaviour, this is not a problem that the police or Government alone can resolve. I believe that it is for us as a society to create spaces where young people, especially young boys, are able to find purpose and self-worth. Frankie Wales’s boxing club in Redcar is a perfect example. He helps young boys in Redcar and Cleveland not only to learn to box, but to achieve their potential and value their community, belonging to a positive gang. My hon. Friend Tom Hunt touched on that in his comments.

Alongside his boxing club at Coatham Memorial Hall, Frankie hosts inter-generational events, where the young people he engages with on a day-to-day basis serve local care home residents and elderly people. In so doing, they learn the value of supporting their wider community. This surely is a shining example of the third sector helping to tackle issues of antisocial behaviour in a way that national and local authorities and the police never could. It may be charities, churches or community groups, such as Frankie’s boxing club, the Chris Cave Foundation or the Ladies of Steel youth club in Dormanstown. They demonstrate that it is only by coming together as a society that we can tackle antisocial behaviour. I believe we should do all we can to support them.

Photo of Florence Eshalomi Florence Eshalomi Labour/Co-operative, Vauxhall 3:12 pm, 12th January 2022

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Robertson, and I pay tribute to Matt Vickers for securing this important debate.

I have listened to hon. Members talking about issues that affect a number of our constituents. Left unresolved and untreated, these issues can get out of hand and can, unfortunately, result in dangerous events, including murder. We have to be honest: for a number of our young people up and down the country, the opportunities available to them are disappearing fast. The opportunities that existed in our youth clubs and after-school centres have been cut due to the successive underfunding of our local government. We need to address that if we are going to tackle antisocial behaviour.

Last July, I attended the memorial event for Jahreau Shepherd, a champion mixed martial arts fighter, who was tragically stabbed near Sancroft Street in my constituency. There were a number of his family members there that day. I will not forget speaking to his mother; I heard her pain, loss and suffering from losing a loving son. He had got his life back on track and was an inspirational figure in the community. Tragically, Jahreau was stabbed by his own half-brother, who he had acted like a father figure to, encouraging him to sort out his life and fix up. However, his half-brother suffered from major mood swings and was sentenced for manslaughter with diminished responsibility at the Old Bailey.

As the MP for Vauxhall, which is just across the river from here, I am never heartbroken or struck by those tragic cases that I unfortunately have to hear, because sadly, in my short two years of being an MP, I have had too many of those conversations. I have had to comfort mothers and fathers, brothers and sisters, aunties and uncles, and grandparents. Too many have seen the shocking impact of youth crime and antisocial behaviour when it spirals out of control. I have talked to them when they are saying goodbye to their loved ones, thinking about the future that some of those young people could have had, sitting in front rooms and looking at pictures on the wall of those innocent young children—because they are children.

We have to be honest and identify the causes of youth crime among our young people, which are complex and varied. It is not just a matter of victims versus criminals; a case of just lock them up, go hard on them and throw away the key. Many of our young people who tragically fall into this are actually victims of crime themselves, and have gone through such difficult childhoods. Some hon. Members state that we just need parents to be tougher, but those parents are struggling as well. Those parents had complex childhoods and need help. That is the pattern. If we do not fund properly, we will keep seeing this repeated over and over again for generations.

We have to address the issue of childhood trauma, because many of those children, as my hon. Friend Ms Brown highlighted, are being exploited. They are victims of older people exploiting them, in some cases children as young as 10. We have to look at how we address that. We cannot keep treating the issue as them versus us. We need to look at how we support some of our young people, instead of trying to push them into a punitive justice system. We need to stop pigeonholing these young people, some of whom are barely out of school.

I am grateful to the many youth workers and youth clubs across my constituency who do fantastic work with our young people and their families, including the Black Prince Trust, Bright Centres and Young People Matter. They are working day in, day out to ensure that those young people do not get caught up in youth crime or antisocial behaviour, but the reality is that they groups cannot do it on their own. They have suffered massive cuts over the past few years. Just last Friday I was with Young People Matter, trying to save the community group it has been operating in for a number of years. The housing association is trying to force it out and the alternative provided is not suitable. Will the Minister recognise the vital work that such groups do? How will the Government support them in delivering the funding so that they can continue working in this area?

Shortly after I was elected in 2019, I was one of the first people on site when a stabbing took place outside Kennington station, just over the border of my constituency, on 7 January 2020. I was one of the first people to help that young boy, who was just 15, by putting pressure on the wound. I said in my maiden speech that we cannot allow ourselves to become desensitised to the issue of violent youth crime.

We have to look at how to get adequate funding for mental health services for our young people. We have seen the devastating impact of covid-19 on mental health services for our young people. Will the Minister please ensure that there is vital support for young people? This is now a priority to help all of us—families, young people, practitioners, the police and the wider community—effectively address youth violence and antisocial behaviour.

Photo of Gareth Thomas Gareth Thomas Shadow Minister (International Trade) 3:18 pm, 12th January 2022

I am grateful to Matt Vickers for securing this debate, although, as a father of two young children, I find it slightly unnerving to be reminded of my parental responsibilities for their future behaviour.

I have been fortunate to listen to some great speeches and, as a result, intend to be entirely parochial in my comments about the needs of my constituency. My constituents, who are worried about antisocial behaviour and youth crime, want to see five things. First, they want more police and, crucially, more sympathetic policing. We are fortunate in having strong local leadership across the three boroughs of which Harrow is part, but we certainly do not have the level of local policing that we had under the previous Labour Government, when each ward and community had a sergeant, three police constables and three or four police community support officers, able to take real local intelligence and use it in a sensitive way to get better police outcomes.

I would like to see stronger action by the British Transport police around the many transport hubs in my constituency. We need to see enforcement activity that people know about, and that helps to offer comfort to people who are worried that they might be victims of antisocial behaviour around those transport hubs. I think particularly about some of the comments that young women have made to me about the sexual harassment that they have faced in one or two of those transport hubs in particular.

A national point that I would make, which is reflected in Harrow, and echoes a point made by my hon. Friend Catherine McKinnell, is about the justice system. Quicker action by the courts to process the cases of young people accused of wrongdoing is essential. I was struck by the report by Her Majesty’s inspectorate of probation, which found that at the end of 2020 the backlog of children awaiting court appearances in England and Wales had increased by more than 50% compared with the same period the previous year. One can understand that in the context of covid a little, but it is striking that the pattern of such backlogs has been increasing since 2010.

The chair of the Criminal Bar Association has made a similar point—that there were cases of 17-year-olds awaiting trial who were not likely to have their cases come to court until next year at the earliest. Those delays can only mean anguish and fear for victims, more uncertainty for those accused children, and the sense that there is somehow impunity for the worst cases of antisocial behaviour.

As other Members on both the Government and Opposition Benches have alluded to, we need more support for schools to support young people who are at risk of being bullied and who are at risk of getting in with gangs, and more support for activities that they can join in the holidays or after school. Too many of those activities, because of austerity over the last 10 years, are no longer available.

On a more general point, we need action on the poverty that too many young people in my community in Harrow are experiencing, which prevents them being able to do their homework when they want to or being able to take part in other activities that my children will take for granted, because their parents simply cannot afford them.

Action is essential going forward. What specific action does that mean? Harrow missed out in the announcement by the Metropolitan Police Commissioner in October last year on getting a dedicated police team for the centre of our area. I hope that will be rectified as a matter of urgency. Harrow town centre has many redeeming features, with many great businesses, but it is still scarred on occasion by antisocial behaviour. Having a dedicated police team for that town centre to mirror the one in the Prime Minister’s constituency in Uxbridge would be extremely welcome.

As I already alluded to, the British Transport police have to take stronger action and be a stronger presence around Harrow-on-the-Hill station and Harrow and Wealdstone station, which young people and older people consistently report as places where they are worried about being attacked or do not feel safe.

Lastly, I want to praise the work of the Young Harrow Foundation and its excellent chief executive, Dan Burke. Working with Harrow Council, Harrow schools, the police and the NHS, he has set out in some detail the concerns of young people in Harrow aged between nine and 18. Some 6,000 of them were interviewed about the challenges they face, and issues around support for their mental health and for more activities that they can take part in during holidays and after school are urgent. More support for those types of organisations, which want to bring funding into my constituency, would be extremely welcome.

Photo of Jim Shannon Jim Shannon Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Human Rights), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Health) 3:25 pm, 12th January 2022

Thank you, Mr Robertson, for enabling me to speak in this debate. I thank Matt Vickers for securing and leading the debate, and for his comments. I have three things to say. First, I support what he is putting forward and his contribution—and the contribution of others as well. Secondly, I want to offer a Northern Ireland perspective, as I always do. The Minister does not have responsibility for Northern Ireland, so she will not have to answer the points of view that I will put forward, but they are to add relevance to this debate and to put forward some ideas for how we can improve. Thirdly, I will refer to one very active organisation in my constituency of Strangford, and suggest to the Minister and others here that that organisation could work alongside the police, community groups and community leaders to address the issues. It has done that in my constituency, which is why I want to talk about it.

To say that I am somewhat concerned about the rates of antisocial behaviour and youth crime is an understatement. The rates have increased significantly because of the covid-19 pandemic, and some of the figures that I will give are quite significant and worrying. Powers must be given to local authorities to help address that. I have heard Robbie Moore speak a number of times about antisocial behaviour, and not just in Westminster Hall but in the main Chamber. He referred to those who race about in cars, and others have referred to that issue as well. Sometimes they use their Twitter or Facebook accounts to tell people where to be. Back home, the police monitor those sites and are able to be there when the young people arrive. I am sure that has been done. If it has not, it should be, because it is another method of addressing the issue.

Antisocial behaviour encompasses the criminal and nuisance behaviour of all kinds, most notably noisy neighbours, public drunkenness, street drug dealing, littering and loitering, which other hon. Members have referred to. Pre-pandemic, in 2019, the United Kingdom’s antisocial behaviour crime rate was 22 per 1,000 people. For 2020, the first full year of living with covid, that figure increased to 29 per 1,000, so it is quite clear that the pandemic has, as with nearly everything in life, changed things dramatically—and not for the better.

For Northern Ireland, instances of antisocial behaviour and youth crime have also been increasing, according to the Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency. The rise has been described as “substantial”. In the 12 months from March 2020 to February 2021, there were almost 74,000 antisocial behaviour incidents in Northern Ireland, which is an increase of almost 19,000, or 34.1%, on the previous 12 months. On the mainland, incidents are up 24%. That is quite worrying. Northern Ireland’s figure is the highest rolling 12-month figure since the period of June 2010 to May 2011—some 11 years ago. In addition to this, all 11 policing districts showed high levels of antisocial behaviour. We cannot simply blame the pandemic for the increase in antisocial behaviour and youth crime in society; I believe that it goes deeper. The Minister will obviously respond to the comments that others have made.

Antisocial behaviour has been an issue in my constituency for as long as I have been an elected representative, which is not since yesterday—I first started as a councillor in 1985. I served on the police partnership board at that time. I believe that we made some significant steps in trying to address antisocial behaviour. Not only did we employ officers in the council to liaise and work alongside the police service in Northern Ireland; we also engaged with other community groups to try to address those issues—such factors as family environment, domestic violence and struggles in young people’s education. Others, including Florence Eshalomi, referred to those. Studies found that children who struggle in domestic settings or in school are more likely to be involved in crime and partake in antisocial behaviour. I thank my neighbourhood policing teams and council officers for what they do. Ards and North Down Borough Council policing teams do brilliant work in reducing the rates of antisocial behaviour in Strangford.

I am conscious of time, Mr Robertson, which is going by quicker than I had realised. Street pastors have been significant in my constituency, and have worked alongside the police and the council antisocial officers. They ensure that people who are intoxicated, or whatever it may be, get home. They are there to provide help to ladies who lose their shoes—it happens—or those who need a drink of water, or those who just need somebody to talk to. I am sure the Minister and other hon. Members already know this, but Street Pastors is one of the organisations that can help. It wants to help and, in my constituency, it has.

To conclude, I urge the Minister to undertake discussions with the devolved Administrations to see what we are doing, in order to share and learn, which is what we want to do as well, and to put in place more police to deal with the rise in antisocial behaviour in our constituencies. I encourage the Minister to look at the prison system, to see if improvements could be made to make prison a beneficial time for young people, to educate them and make reoffending an unlikely route for them to go down.

Photo of Ian Byrne Ian Byrne Labour, Liverpool, West Derby 3:31 pm, 12th January 2022

It is an honour to serve under your chairship, Mr Robertson. I thank Matt Vickers for securing this incredibly important debate.

I start by paying tribute to constituents, families and young people in Liverpool, West Derby who are living through the real-life consequences of austerity. It has decimated the provision of youth clubs, youth workers and the services that helped to shape my life experiences, and those of so many others like me, growing up in Thatcher’s Britain in the 1980s. I owe such a debt of gratitude to the youth workers who guided me and so many others through such a difficult period in our city’s history. The relationships we formed with those youth workers, and their guidance and wise counsel, are the reason I can stand here today participating in this debate. It was interesting to listen to Ian Wright say something extremely similar on TV on Saturday.

That crucial safety net has now been removed, and our communities are living through the consequences. Youth provision is almost non-existent, with vulnerable children roaming the streets, getting into gangs and trouble. We have recently seen fatalities in Liverpool due to knife crime, with children killing children, devasting whole communities and families. Youth centres are shut, and sometimes the only sporting facilities available in my constituency are privatised facilities that charge £70 an hour to families struggling through austerity and now a cost-of-living crisis. Many of our children have not got a chance if opportunities and facilities are not available to all.

I place on the record my thanks to all the service staff, teachers, parents, community groups and police across West Derby, especially Anfield Sports and Community Centre, Action for Children, the Young Person’s Advisory Service and Alder Hey staff, and I acknowledge the work being done by the No More Knives and Real Men Don’t Carry Knives campaigns. These people are doing so much across our city to support young people through such difficult times.

There is a massive effort being made across Liverpool to support and nurture our young children, but we desperately need funding and policy changes from central Government. Since austerity began in 2010 under the Conservative-Lib Dem coalition, Liverpool City Council has seen its funding reduced by 65%. Despite the Government declaring that the age of austerity is over, the cuts to our funding continue, and the consequences for our young people, and the youth services and facilities they need, continue to be felt.

According to research by the trade union Unison, between 2010 and 2019, youth services in the UK suffered cuts of £400 million. That will have meant the loss of 4,500 youth work jobs and the closure of more than 760 youth centres since 2012. It is shameful. According to a February 2021 survey by UK Youth on the impact of covid-19 on youth services, 66% of the 1,759 organisations surveyed said there had been an increase in demand. Despite the greater need for their services, 83% reported that their funding had decreased, while 64% said they were at risk of closure in the next 12 months. Research by the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy found that 80% of young people say that their mental health has worsened during the covid-19 outbreak.

As I have said, we desperately need the funding and policies from the Government to support, nurture and invest in our young people. In her response, will the Minister commit to providing the vital funding that councils need to invest in youth services and facilities for our young people? As I have mentioned, so many facilities have been lost in the last decade, and I do not doubt the positive outcomes they would have had for so many young people had they remained open.

Will the Minister explain the Government’s strategy to support pupils and schools so that young people do not face exclusion and the lifelong damage that can cause? Will she also commit to funding young people’s mental health services, as well as early intervention mentoring programmes and specialist children’s services? This should not be a postcode lottery. We need provisions for our youth and preventive measures put in place as an investment to ensure that all our children have a level playing field and a bright future.

I hear the words “levelling up” a lot from Government Members. Let us put it into practice and restore the youth provision we have lost to all, so that the phrase actually means something to our children.

Photo of Laurence Robertson Laurence Robertson Conservative, Tewkesbury

We need to leave a couple of minutes at the end for the mover of the motion to respond. I call Sarah Jones.

Photo of Sarah Jones Sarah Jones Shadow Minister (Home Office) 3:36 pm, 12th January 2022

Thank you, Mr Robertson; it is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship. I congratulate Matt Vickers on securing the debate, which has been interesting; I agreed with virtually everything he said. Antisocial behaviour has been trivialised, downplayed and dismissed in recent times. He said that we have a moral obligation to ensure that every child gets the opportunities they need to make the best of their life, that this is about more than just policing—it is about schools, local authorities and youth work—and that enough is enough. I think he will get a shock when he realises that his party has been in government for the last 11 years and has caused significant cuts that have driven a lot of the problems we face today.

I congratulate all hon. Members on their speeches. My hon. Friend Alex Davies-Jones talked about the impact of covid, which is really important in how we look at this issue. Robbie Moore talked about youth workers and how important they are, and we heard from my hon. Friend Ian Byrne just now about the impact of cuts to youth work across the country. My hon. Friend Ms Brown is such a fantastic campaigner on county lines and has been for a long time, and I add to her plea for the Government to look at the issue of defining child criminal exploitation. As it happens, an amendment calling for a definition is going through the House of Lords as we speak, so there is an opportunity in the Lords for the Government to support my hon. Friend’s cause, and we would welcome that.

Tom Hunt represents an interesting area; some good progress has been made on county lines in East Anglia. It is one of the only areas in the country where there has been some progress, but there is still a lot to be done. My hon. Friend Catherine McKinnell spoke about the wonderful police and crime commissioner, Kim McGuinness, and the work she is doing. I was up there just before Christmas and worked with her; I went to St James’s Park and saw the wonderful youth work the football club is doing to try to ensure that people have opportunities. Jacob Young represents an important part of the country; a lot of the problems that are being debated now existed 20 years ago when I was working for Mo Mowlam.

My hon. Friend Florence Eshalomi spoke movingly, as always, about the really big challenges we face with youth violence, which I have in my constituency as well. My hon. Friend Gareth Thomas talked about those massively long waiting times. We cannot expect our young people to understand justice when the justice system does not work; it makes no sense and it cannot be done. Jim Shannon spoke about council workers and the importance of tackling antisocial behaviour through local councils. Of course, our local councils have been absolutely decimated, so that is very difficult. Finally, my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, West Derby told a personal story about how important youth work is. I think we all collectively agree with all of that.

I am pleased to follow so many good speeches. Since becoming an MP, I have spent five years campaigning against knife crime, and in my role as shadow Policing Minister I have been around the country in the past few months, looking at antisocial behaviour and seeing a lot of the issues. We can see how antisocial behaviour, which is defined as low-level but which I do not think is low-level at all, can spread and become more serious crime over time, exactly as hon. Members have said.

Everyone has a basic right to be safe in their community. Sadly, after the past 11 years our streets have become less safe. We have talked about prosecution rates; criminals are literally getting away with it under this Government. Only 6.5% of all crimes—a little over one in 20—lead to a prosecution, and the charge rate has halved over the past five years. Those figures are extraordinary. Criminals can pretty much get away with it.

Photo of Sarah Jones Sarah Jones Shadow Minister (Home Office)

Exactly. Whether people live in the city or in the country, they worry about their kids going out on the streets and getting into drugs. People can go online and buy any drug they want; on the “Today” programme only this morning, Claire Campbell spoke about her son, who died of an overdose after buying drugs online. There is a whole world of problems. Police struggle because they have to become social workers due to the impact of mental health cuts and the like. Serious organised criminals have got a real grip, and the UK is Europe’s largest heroin market—I think that statistic is extraordinary and shows how much work we have to do.

Antisocial behaviour is up 7% in the past year, with 1.8 million incidents recorded. To say that it is ignored by this Government is an understatement. There is no way of measuring the problem because it does not form part of the statistics under the Home Office’s counting rules. The way local authorities treat antisocial behaviour varies: some areas are good, while some are hopeless. I have made a series of freedom of information requests; I will not go into them all now, because they will come out shortly, but one council had 248 recorded incidents of antisocial behaviour and did 150 investigations, which resulted in no enforcement action whatever. Some boroughs really are struggling to do anything, and some are doing good things.

When I was going around the country, I saw a lot of good activity on antisocial behaviour. Rhyl was a particular favourite: for a start, there are more police community support officers on the street there, because the Welsh Government have funded more PCSOs over and above Government funding and they are crucial to preventing antisocial behaviour. There was a wonderful project with people you would describe as hoodlums out on the street, doing whatever they were doing. Youth workers went out to where they were, got involved with them and got them involved in sport. They took them up Snowdon, which was completely out of their comfort zone—they had not done anything like that before—and now they are doing their Duke of Edinburgh’s award. It was a complete transformation—how wonderful.

I went to see the Peel project in Hull. A park had become a horrible place for antisocial behaviour, with drug taking and kids hanging around, but the police gave a local organisation some shipping containers. It put a load of sports stuff in and based a little office in the park, and now the park is now a lovely place where people do sport and come together because there are adults, some structure and some things to do. It is not rocket science, but in so many places it is simply not done because the funding is not there.

Let me move on to youth crime. A 15-year-old boy, Zaian, was murdered in my constituency just before new year’s eve in the park I used to play in. On the same day, another boy became the 30th teenager to be murdered in London last year. Research from the organisation Crest shows that between 2014 and 2019 there was a 56% rise in knife possession offences for 10 to 17-year-olds, which is extraordinary. The organisation says that those who commit robbery and use weapons before the age of 18 are much more likely to have long criminal careers than young people who commit less serious crimes. Arrests of 10 to 17-year-olds make up a growing proportion of arrests for robbery—the statistics go on.

Anne Longfield, who was such a brilliant Children’s Commissioner, brought out a report this week that shows that spending on early intervention has reduced by almost two thirds over the past 10 years. What can we do with a third of what we had before? We know that these problems start young, and the Sutton Trust tells us that 1,000 family centres closed over the same period. Youth services were cut by about 40%—and by much more in some parts of the country—and the number of children given treatment by child and adolescent mental health services was massively reduced and they had to wait for long periods. We know what the problems are.

On top of that we can add the fact that we have so few police officers compared with what we need. Some 50% of PCSOs have been cut, and the Government have no plans to bring any of them back. We are still 10,000 short of the number of officers we used to have and, as was pointed out, a lot of officers are spending time doing other roles because of the cuts to police staff.

Labour says that there is nothing more important than keeping people safe, and we have a plan to provide new police hubs that will be visible in every community as a place where the public can go and talk to the police and other agencies in person. We will have new neighbourhood prevention teams to bring together the police, community support officers, youth workers and local authority staff to tackle crime. These teams would prioritise being visible and would pursue serial perpetrators of antisocial behaviour.

I appreciate that I need to end my speech, but I will just ask the Minister a series of questions. Will she consider bringing back the 50% of PCSOs we have lost? Will she speak to the request from the hon. Member for Stockton South for antisocial behaviour to be measured nationally in a better way? Will she address the request from my hon. Friend the Member for West Ham for child criminal exploitation to become a priority, and will she look at tackling crime and antisocial behaviour with real force from the Home Office? The Home Office too often blames local police forces and does not provide leadership, and often it is not one step ahead of the criminals but one step behind. We need real leadership from the Home Office and cross-Government working to tackle these very significant and increasing problems.

Photo of Rachel Maclean Rachel Maclean The Minister of State, Home Department, The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department 3:47 pm, 12th January 2022

It is a huge pleasure to serve under your exemplary chairmanship, Mr Robertson. I thank my hon. Friend Matt Vickers for securing this important debate. It has been a wide-ranging debate touching on vital issues that affect all our constituents and all our communities. I thank him very much for bringing to my attention and to that of Home Office officials the courage of the individuals in the cases he mentioned. All the Members in this debate have brought personal stories to the fore, and I commend them for doing so and their constituents for coming forward.

We would think from listening to Sarah Jones—it is a pleasure to follow her, and we do have a good debating relationship—that the Government are doing nothing on this, so let me start by saying that this Government have put beating crime front and centre. It is a key part of the levelling-up agenda to tackle antisocial behaviour, youth crime and wider crimes. At no stage do we believe or think that this is low-level behaviour; we never underestimate the impact that it has on communities, public spaces and the law-abiding majority who want to go about their business. We have seen so much in the pandemic that the enjoyment of public spaces is vital for mental and physical health, and we are firmly and fully committed to tackling and preventing crime, youth crime and antisocial behaviour.

In the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Stockton South alone, Cleveland police has recruited 194 additional police officers and will be receiving £157 million in funding, which is an increase of up to £7.7 million on previous years. That is replicated around England and Wales. Across the country, we have recruited 11,053 officers towards the 20,000 target, which was set out at the last general election, for England and Wales. Some Members from Wales are here, and I am sure they will welcome that funding from Conservative central Government. The police across the country will receive £15.9 billion for this financial year. I am sure we can all agree that these are significant amounts of public money being dedicated by this Conservative Government to this vital priority.

If we are to successfully address antisocial behaviour and youth crime, it is vital that Government, local authorities, frontline professionals and voluntary sector partners work together. That is at the heart of our plan. I commend all the Members who mentioned the community groups and various charities that are working so hard in this area. I have the same experience in my Redditch constituency. Those groups can do some things that the state cannot, no matter how well-funded and well-meaning it is. As Ian Byrne eloquently said, they can reach people who are out of reach, and it is vital that they continue to do so.

Photo of Jim Shannon Jim Shannon Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Human Rights), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Health)

In my contribution, I referred to Street Pastors as one such organisation. I am aware that it works in the constituency of Florence Eshalomi, as it does in others. What discussions has the Minister had with Street Pastors about using that voluntary service for the betterment of all the community?

Photo of Rachel Maclean Rachel Maclean The Minister of State, Home Department, The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department

I thank the hon. Gentleman so much for raising that. I strongly support that service with all my heart. I have seen how Street Pastors works effectively, especially in the night-time economy. We have debated violence against women and girls, and the Home Office has funded a number of such schemes and enabled local authorities to roll them out in their local areas.

Antisocial behaviour comes in various forms and guises. It differs from community to community, which is why it is important that there are flexible local powers that can be used, along with local knowledge of an area from local communities and the other agencies in it.

Members will be familiar with the changes that were made following the introduction of the Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014. A number of tools and powers were introduced at that time. Some of those powers can be issued by a court, and they impose positive restrictions or requirements on an individual convicted of a criminal offence who has engaged in behaviour that has caused, or is likely to cause, harassment, alarm and distress. One of those powers is a community trigger, which is a vital safety net. My hon. Friend the Member for Stockton South made a point about the burden of evidence on communities. I encourage him to come back to me to have a detailed discussion with my officials. We are very keen to hear how we can improve that so that these powers work effectively for his community and others.

I do not have a huge amount of time left. I want to focus my remarks on parenting orders, which Members have raised.

Photo of Rachel Maclean Rachel Maclean The Minister of State, Home Department, The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department

I will save the hon. Member the trouble; I will happily meet her. However, I want her to know that the Home Office is working with and funding the Children’s Society on many of the issues that she rightly touched on. Modern slavery is a vital part of the Government’s plan.

A parenting order is not the only way in which we can require families to engage with the authorities and tackle this behaviour at the source. Very often, youth offending teams work with parents on a voluntary basis. The experience is that parents often engage readily and take part in specific programmes, including parenting programmes, and that can have a very helpful, positive outcome. However, when parents do not engage with parenting orders, youth offending teams can ensure compliance and encourage engagement by issuing warning letters and using compliance panels. Consistent non-compliance without a good reason can lead to a police investigation and proceedings in court. Non-compliance may lead the court to issue a fine of up to £1,000, a probation order, a curfew order or an absolute or conditional discharge.

Ms Brown raised county lines. I have a huge amount of respect for her, but unfortunately, she did not credit the work that has been going on nationally on county lines. I want to update her: since 2019, the police have closed more than 1,500 county lines, made over 7,400 arrests, seized £4.3 million in cash and drugs and safeguarded more than 4,000 people. Whatever party Members are from, I am sure that they can welcome that achievement.

Photo of Rachel Maclean Rachel Maclean The Minister of State, Home Department, The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department

I am afraid I will not. I have such a lot to say and I have had less time than the Opposition spokesperson, the hon. Member for Croydon Central, and other Members.

We are investing £560 million in youth services in England over the next three years, including the youth investment fund, to transform the Government’s offer to young people and to level up opportunities right across the country. To kick-start the youth investment programme, an additional £10 million will be spent this year in key levelling-up areas to enable local youth providers, such as the ones that many Members have mentioned, to invest in projects and expand the reach, number and range of services that they currently offer. I think that we all agree that these types of crimes have complex roots, and they often go back generations. We must tackle the causes of crime as well as having the appropriate powers, enforcement and sentences.

I will touch briefly on the safer streets fund, as it is extremely relevant to many of the issues raised by Members. I am sure that my hon. Friend the Member for Stockton South knows this, but may I remind him that Cleveland police have £366,289 from the safer streets fund, and that that project will carry out a variety of crime prevention measures, including 30 new or upgraded CCTV cameras, refurbishment of four alley gates and bespoke target-hardening measures for residents’ homes. It is these basic safety measures that can give confidence to communities that the presence and the security are there.

Overall, across the country, the Government have invested £70 million in the first three rounds of the safer streets fund. This financial year alone, the fund is supporting 107 local crime prevention projects to implement interventions such as improved street lighting, increased CCTV, increased presence of “guardians” to deter crime, and, pivotally, training to change attitudes and behaviours.

Most of these measures are set out in the Government’s beating crime plan. I encourage all Members to read the plan. It is a key manifesto commitment of this Government to get crime down and to set out how we will tackle crime and the causes of crime. It is a targeted approach to places, people and the business of crime underpinned by getting those basics right. The whole plan is supported by an unwavering commitment to the police that we will do everything in our power to combat crime and work out what actually works in keeping our country safe.

We are working with practitioners and experts who deal with this issue day in, day out. In a further strand, which is vital, we are working across the country with partners to establish principles for a strong and effective partnership response to antisocial behaviour. That is why we have undertaken the police and crime commissioner review to equip PCCs with the tools and levers that they need to drive down crime and antisocial behaviour in their areas. As I said at the start, we recognise the damage and distress caused by antisocial behaviour. We recognise the devastation to lives caused by youth crime, both to the perpetrators and the victims, and I am absolutely committed, as are my Home Office colleagues, to tackling this issue head-on.

Photo of Matt Vickers Matt Vickers Conservative, Stockton South 3:57 pm, 12th January 2022

I thank Members for their wide-ranging and insightful contributions. It is clear that youth crime and antisocial behaviour has a huge impact on the lives of people across the country, and it should probably feature in discussions in this place more often. We have heard examples of and gratitude for the amazing police officers, the people who work in our local authorities, the people who work in the voluntary sector, and the people who work in our schools and youth services who do so much to make our communities safer.

We have heard all the manifestations of youth crime and antisocial behaviour whether it is the modified cars, the off-road bikes, or the issue of county lines. We have also heard that it affects businesses as well as the lives of people, and we have heard about the exploitation of young people and the horrific and tragic outcomes that this can have for them and their families. I think that we all agree that we need to open up opportunities for young people who are often the victims as well as the perpetrators.

I thank the Minister for taking the time to hear the many challenges that this issue creates across the country. I welcome the Government’s focus on tackling crime and antisocial behaviour; I welcome the thousands more police officers that we have across the country, including 194 in Cleveland; I welcome the huge uplift in police funding, including £157 million more for Cleveland; I welcome the opportunity to discuss the specifics around some of those antisocial behaviour powers; and I welcome the huge increase in youth services and the safer streets funding, which we are delighted to welcome in Cleveland.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved,

That this House
has considered youth crime and anti-social behaviour.