Anti-social Behaviour Awareness Week — [Mr Virendra Sharma in the Chair]

– in Westminster Hall at 11:27 am on 20th July 2022.

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[Mr Virendra Sharma in the Chair]

Photo of Virendra Sharma Virendra Sharma Labour, Ealing, Southall 2:30 pm, 20th July 2022

Before we start the debate, while the heat remains at this exceptional level, I am content for Members not to wear jackets or ties in Westminster Hall. Mr Speaker has announced similar arrangements for the Chamber. When the House returns in the autumn, Mr Speaker will expect Members to revert to wearing jackets, and strongly encourage male Members to wear ties, when speaking in the Chamber or Westminster Hall.

Photo of Jacob Young Jacob Young Conservative, Redcar

I beg to move,

That this House
has considered Anti-social Behaviour Awareness Week.

It is a pleasure to speak under your chairmanship, Mr Sharma. It is also my pleasure to host today’s debate on an issue that affects every part of our nation, and touches every Member of this House, as can be seen from the cross-party participation today.

Recent YouGov research commissioned by Resolve, an organisation that deals with antisocial behaviour, found that over half of people—56%—believe that

“more needs to be done” to tackle antisocial behaviour in their community. It is a blight on our towns, cities and neighbourhoods. It causes terror, particularly for elderly and vulnerable residents, causes damage to our community facilities, undermining pride of place, and breeds a culture and perception of lawlessness, which ultimately ends in only one way.

This is my second ever Westminster Hall debate, and I picked this subject because antisocial behaviour is one of the most pressing issues in my inbox every week. I am grateful to Mr Speaker for granting the debate during Anti-social Behaviour Awareness Week. As my constituents can confirm, antisocial behaviour comes in many forms. One of the biggest problems that we face in Redcar and Cleveland is linked to off-road bikes. The motorcycles are often not roadworthy or registered, and the users are not wearing the protective gear necessary to prevent serious injury.

The problem is particularly prominent in the TS6 postcode area, around the High Farm Estate in Normanby and leading up to the Eston hills, where people on such bikes are destroying precious natural habitats on our hills. However, it is even more disturbing to learn from speaking to the children at Green Gates Primary School in Redcar that they see off-road motorbikes driving past at great speeds, often around school opening and closing times. We must also recognise the distraction that the sound of motorcycles can be for young people as they try to focus on their learning in school.

Another big issue often linked to the off-road bikes problem is the drugs trade and the ease with which criminals can avoid detection by using an off-road bike, as they know that, due to safety concerns, the police are unable to intervene and stop them. That laughable situation can see a yob on a bike mooning a police officer on the trunk road in Eston, and the police officer unable to do anything in that instant other than attempt to identify the individual.

Photo of Mike Amesbury Mike Amesbury Labour, Weaver Vale

I thank the hon. Member for giving way and for securing this vital debate in this important week on antisocial behaviour awareness. I concur; I have a similar problem with off-road bikes in my constituency, in the Runcorn area, the Northwich area and certainly the Frodsham area. Weaver Vale Housing Trust is involved with various partnerships, and I know that Cheshire’s fire service is involved—when it is not involved with the other things that you referred to, Mr Sharma. However the police are undoubtedly under-resourced. We need more neighbourhood policing, such as neighbourhood hubs, which certainly the Opposition would propose. Would the hon. Member concur?

Photo of Jacob Young Jacob Young Conservative, Redcar

I absolutely agree with the hon. Member, which is why I am pleased that, in the Cleveland force area, we have increased the number of police officers by 200 since the 2019 election. I also agree with him on that focus on neighbourhood policing—a return to common-sense policing, which I hope to come back to later in my remarks.

As I was saying, those situations can leave my constituents baffled. I have many law-abiding constituents who just want to do everything they can to make our area a better place, and they cannot understand how a problem as ridiculous as this is able to continue.

Another element of antisocial behaviour that I wanted to touch on was the criminal damage and vandalism that we see in communities such as Grangetown and South Bank, and in areas of Redcar and Marske. It was fantastic to see local children from Zetland Primary School recently create a beautiful mural depicting our town on a once-graffitied railway bridge. That is a great example of a community-led approach to helping us improve our area. Sadly, the following day vandals once again graffitied that bridge, destroying all of the hard work the schoolchildren had put in. I am sure hon. Members can understand how disappointing that was for the young people, but I am sure it will not prevent them making a difference in the future.

In Cleveland, our local police and crime commissioner, Steve Turner, is also the Association of Police and Crime Commissioners’ lead on neighbourhood policing and antisocial behaviour, which means we are in a unique position to learn from best practice in this area. Steve has been able to reduce reoffending rates among first-time offenders by a whopping 94% in parts of the force area, through the DIVERT programme, using resources such as the safer streets fund, which we are grateful to the Government for providing.

We cannot keep relying on one-off funding pots. We need the Government to set out their plans for further reducing this societal menace. For the first time since the establishment of PCCs in 2014, 100% of published police and crime plans now highlight preventing and tackling antisocial behaviour, which proves we are giving it the attention it now deserves.

We know that antisocial behaviour is not just a policing problem; it is a partnership problem. It is down to education providers in tackling those not in education, training or employment. It is the local authority failing to identify neglect and poor parenting. It is the local health authority and its strategies for tackling drug addiction and abuse in our communities. It is housing associations that fail to act when confronted with problem families and individuals who know the system better than they do.

I congratulate the Minister on her appointment. Given I have her in front of me, there are a few issues that I feel the Government need to tackle. I appreciate not all of them may be within her remit. First, on sentencing, it cannot be right that the police spend hours of their time collecting evidence and processing paperwork to arrest an individual, to see them get only a slap on the wrist.

For repeat offenders of these crimes seemingly to face no escalation in penalty only leads to further harm in our communities. I refer to what I said earlier about antisocial behaviour breeding a culture of lawlessness. If they know that they can get away with it on their first try, their second try, their third try, perhaps on the fourth attempt the criminality begins to escalate. At that point, it is no longer a young lad flying around on an off-road bike. He might try to shoplift and ride off on his bike. Then it escalates and he mugs a woman in the street and flies off on his bike once again. To some extent, we have enabled that downward spiral to occur, as we have allowed a culture of lawlessness to take hold among some of those criminals.

To recognise the work that the Government have done so far, I mentioned the safer streets fund, and they have also introduced community behaviour orders. I say to the Minister that CBOs simply do not go far enough. They do not have enough teeth to act as an effective deterrent. Some officers tell me that they are not worth the paper they are written on. As well as beefing up CBOs, I would like to see the police feel equally empowered to use parenting orders more frequently, to place responsibility for looking after young people who are committing antisocial behaviour back on to the parents.

The police can only be in so many places at any one time. As I have mentioned, we are grateful in Cleveland for the extra 200 police officers we have gained since 2019, but it is fundamentally the responsibility of a parent to ensure that their child is not terrorising people in their area. That should also be linked to social housing, and there should be a duty on housing associations to seek to address problem tenants.

Photo of Margaret Ferrier Margaret Ferrier Independent, Rutherglen and Hamilton West

I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on securing the debate. An issue I see more and more, which I know others across the UK also see, is a rise in youth disorder. Constituents and businesses in Burnside in Rutherglen in my constituency are becoming increasingly frustrated with the antisocial behaviour. The local police have been excellent in doing what they can, but there are various barriers to tackling the problems. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that youth disorder presents its own set of difficulties, which perhaps need more investment when it comes to finding a solution?

Photo of Jacob Young Jacob Young Conservative, Redcar

I absolutely agree with the hon. Lady. Let us not forget that at the end of every act of antisocial behaviour, there is always a victim—someone who is feeling harassment, alarm or distress at what has been done to them or their community. I continue to believe that the core principles of both our justice and policing systems should always put the victim first.

I will end on that point and allow other Members to come in, but before I do, I will give a quick statistic. A recent YouGov antisocial behaviour poll found that after witnessing or experiencing antisocial behaviour 57% of people did not report it to anyone. To speak directly to anyone watching this debate, the most important thing that they can do if they are witnessing or experiencing a form of antisocial behaviour is report it to the police or the local authority. From my personal experience, I know that sometimes it can feel that nothing is being done or that intervention is meaningless. However, my message is that the only way we can finally get a grip on the problem is by all of us working together to resolve it.

Photo of Chris Evans Chris Evans Shadow Minister (Defence) 2:40 pm, 20th July 2022

I congratulate Jacob Young on securing an important debate.

This week marks a year since the end of all lockdown restrictions. For most people who had been consigned to staying at home away from loved ones, it was a most welcome development. For the first time in what felt like eternity, people were able to gather, catch up with friends and reacquaint themselves with normal life. However, for some people, the ending of covid-19 restrictions has brought only misery, with a dramatic rise in reports of antisocial behaviour in my inbox. From across my constituency, I have received reports of graffiti, damage to rugby pitches, off-road biking, drinking, drug taking and threatening behaviour.

As we have moved into the summer months, things have got worse, not better. A few weeks ago, I held a meeting with market traders, shop owners, local councillors and the police in Blackwood in my constituency. I also attended a meeting in Newbridge, where I was told that antisocial behaviour was leaving people fearful for their safety. In both meetings, constituents were reluctant to report that behaviour, simply because of the amount of time they spent waiting on the phone having rung 101.

Antisocial behaviour accounted for one fifth of all crimes reported in May this year in my constituency, but I worry that that is not the full picture. Antisocial behaviour can often lie in a difficult place between a non-emergency crime and a time sensitive one. Many people are mindful not to place undue pressure on 999 lines, but are frustrated at being unable to quickly report antisocial behaviour.

A few weeks ago, I spoke in an Adjournment debate about the importance of having quick response times for 101 calls when illegal off-road biking is reported, as often perpetrators speed away before people can even make the call. I heard what the hon. Member for Redcar said about antisocial behaviour. Very often, we can be partisan on the issue, but I was pleased that the Policing Minister agreed to meet with me and several colleagues from across the House to discuss ways to combat off-road biking. It is an issue that affects anybody with a patch of green grass in their constituency and it is important to have a joined-up approach in how we tackle it.

Photo of Peter Gibson Peter Gibson Conservative, Darlington

I want to point out to the hon. Gentleman, as someone representing an urban constituency, that off-road bikes cause a problem on our streets and roads. It is not necessarily a requirement to have a patch of grass.

Photo of Chris Evans Chris Evans Shadow Minister (Defence)

I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman is saying that he has no grass in his constituency, but I fully understand what he means. Like I said, I do not think there is a single constituency that is not affected by illegal off-road biking. My point was that we need to come together, cross-party, to tackle it. I am pleased that the Government have seen how important the issue is and have agreed to meet with me and several colleagues in the autumn. With the political situation as it is, I do not know who the new Policing Minister will be, but I look forward to meeting whoever they are once they are in post.

The inability to report these issues in a timely manner is leading to the under-reporting of these crimes. I have heard from many constituents that they have previously tried to report incidents, but the inability to get through has deterred them. As incidents are often reoccurring, many constituents continue to suffer in silence as their previous attempts to report crimes have been nothing short of hopeless. People can often go for years without seeing any permanent action being taken against perpetrators, as police and councils are often unaware of the true extent of the problem.

Another issue that has been raised is the intimidation being caused by antisocial behaviour, which makes people nervous to visit their high street. I have long been concerned, even before the lockdown, about the future of our high streets, due to the competition from the internet and the rise of business rates. They do not need people being intimidated to come to town centres; that could prove the death knell of so many of our high streets.

The fear of being approached and intimidated often leaves people too scared to leave their homes to interact with the community. One constituent described to me that they feel like they have become a prisoner in their own home, unsure of what they will face when they leave their house, having previously found strangers in their garden, and having their family members approached with a knife. That is no way to live. People deserve to feel safe in their communities and in their homes.

Safety is one of the main concerns raised by constituents. Gwent police have imposed dispersal orders, but they simply push the problem into other villages. For example, when an order was imposed on Newbridge recently, the neighbouring communities of Abercarn and Crosskeys saw a spike in instances of antisocial behaviour. What makes this worse is that many of the young people do not live in the locality and take advantage of cheap rail fares to travel into places such as Newbridge that have a train station, cause havoc, then leave. That makes it difficult to identify them.

Photo of Paul Howell Paul Howell Conservative, Sedgefield

It is not just rail. In the north-east of my constituency, we have very poor public transport of any kind. In terms of people committing antisocial behaviour, it is often not in their village, but a neighbouring village or somewhere fairly close by, so I would agree with the hon. Member’s point.

Photo of Chris Evans Chris Evans Shadow Minister (Defence)

I thank the hon. Member for his point, which proves how important it is that we have a cross-party view on this, and that we get together and come up with some solutions. He is right: there are young people jumping on buses, jumping on trains, causing havoc, and then leaving.

Photo of Chris Evans Chris Evans Shadow Minister (Defence)

Bikes as well; I have mentioned them.

The pandemic undeniably caused a lot of financial hardship for businesses and many high streets, and things have only just returned to normal. Antisocial behaviour around these businesses now acts as another threat to their financial viability. Without proper action to tackle antisocial behaviour, I fear many businesses will struggle to survive.

As the hon. Member for Redcar said, victims are often elderly, and struggle with mobility or health issues, which already makes it harder for them to get out into the community. It also often makes dealing with systems such as 101 much harder, and they become more vulnerable, more isolated, and sadly experience the worst impacts of antisocial behaviour.

I have heard from constituents about the worry of being threatened by groups after reporting previous abuse to the police or to their housing associations. One constituent told me they once witnessed a neighbour being cornered and verbally abused after reporting instances of drinking and drug taking; they now fear for their own safety if they report an incident. Perpetrators are often young people, and there has long been a stigma around young people and antisocial behaviour, and a perception that they are only out to destroy and cause chaos.

Photo of Paul Howell Paul Howell Conservative, Sedgefield

I do not know if the hon. Gentleman is aware of how serious this intimidation can be. In the last year, there was an incident in Wingate in my constituency, where a constituent waved at a quad biker. As a result of that, his house, his caravan and his car went up in flames. It is shocking the way that things can accelerate to such a degree. The need to get to the root cause, and to address this, is absolute, as the hon. Member says.

Photo of Chris Evans Chris Evans Shadow Minister (Defence)

I am sad to say to the hon. Member that that is something I have heard too, and I am sure that everyone receives accounts in their inbox of terrible incidents like that. Such incidents are occurring everywhere. I hope the hon. Member’s constituent has found some peace, and that the perpetrators have been brought the justice—I genuinely hope that, and I hope he can pass that message on to his constituent.

The underlying causes of antisocial behaviour run much deeper than just young people. Over the past several years, youth services have been decimated, and only now are we trying to rebuild those vital services back up in our communities. It is crucial that young people have somewhere to channel their energy to avoid getting involved in antisocial behaviour. Our plan to tackle antisocial behaviour must include a plan to provide places for young people to go. As a sports fan who—I will admit—has written two books on boxing and football, I think that sports clubs have an important role to play in that. I hope that in future there will be a way of ensuring that young people interested in sport in school have such an outlet in the community.

The issue often spreads so much further than antisocial behaviour. We know, as the hon. Member for Redcar said, that what starts as lower-level crime can escalate into more serious crimes, leaving communities feeling unsafe. A plan is needed that addresses antisocial behaviour from multiple angles. We need better support for young people to prevent them from turning to this behaviour. We need shorter waiting times on 101 services so that if incidents do occur, victims will not only be able to speak to someone quickly, but feel empowered to report it again. Everyone deserves to live in peace and go about their business as they wish. It is finally time that we —together as a Parliament—take meaningful action to combat the problem once and for all.

Photo of Peter Gibson Peter Gibson Conservative, Darlington 2:50 pm, 20th July 2022

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Sharma. I thank my hon. Friend Jacob Young for securing the debate. It is a great pleasure to see my hon. Friend the Minister in her place to respond to the debate. My hon. Friend the Member for Redcar knows, as I do, that antisocial behaviour and the fear of it is of great concern to our constituents. It is like a cancer in our society that imprisons people in their homes, leading to them fearing venturing out, and causes part of our community to be perceived as a no-go area. That cannot be right in a civilised society.

I want to concentrate on a problem specific to Darlington: off-road bikes. From previous speeches, it seems that off-road bikes are a perennial problem across the country. Off-road and quad bikes are the vehicles of choice for those in my community who want to tear around our estates and parks, creating noise pollution, posing an intimidating danger to pedestrians and making life grim for those who live nearby. Parents are fearful of the danger to their children. Pedestrians are fearful of being knocked over, and the all-pervading drone of the engines make parts of our community inhospitable. We must do more to rid our communities of this problem.

I praise Durham Constabulary’s Operation Endurance, which is focused on tackling this scourge and, I am pleased to say, has had an appreciable impact. Since February, section 59 warning signs have been erected to notify offenders of the new powers. Anyone seen riding an off-road bike, quad or 4x4 in Darlington will have their vehicle seized straightaway by Durham Constabulary. That has had an immediate effect. By 15 February, 24 fixed penalty notices, three speeding tickets and 18 barring notices had been issued. Three illegal quads and one illegal off-road bike had been seized, while two stolen mopeds were also recovered. Furthermore, one vehicle was seized and the driver was arrested for drug driving, while a further driver was reported for careless driving. These actions are working, removing the ability of offenders to offend and acting as a deterrent by demonstrating real consequences to those involved. Durham Constabulary, Darlington Borough Council and others are working closely to tackle the problem.

Photo of Paul Howell Paul Howell Conservative, Sedgefield

On working together, one thing I see in Ferryhill, part of my Sedgefield constituency, is groups of young schoolchildren coming together as what are called ambassadors. They reach out to the community and raise issues. One of the big issues they have been raising lately is antisocial behaviour and the fact that low-levels of it are affecting Ferryhill town centre and the way that children are going from the primary school to the senior school. It is wonderful to see these sorts of community-led things starting to engage with the process. As the hon. Member knows, my constituency surrounds his.

Photo of Peter Gibson Peter Gibson Conservative, Darlington

I am grateful to my hon. Friend and constituent for his valuable intervention extolling the virtues of working together. I would like to draw the attention of Chris Evans to the proposal to bring forward an all-party parliamentary group on this issue. I encourage him to speak with his colleague Judith Cummins, who I have had extensive discussions on this particular topic with.

As the MP for Darlington, I have continued to share the powerful messaging from Durham Constabulary and Darlington Borough Council to ensure that everyone reports these incidents to the 101 service. I could say much more about the Labour police and crime commissioner’s ability to improve response times on that service in County Durham, but I will not. It is vital that local communities play their part in tackling this scourge if enforcement is to be successful. I repeat my message that every sight and sound of off-road bikes should be reported, so that our police can gather the intelligence they need to eliminate this problem.

The problem, as we have heard, is not limited to Darlington. I would ask the Minister to respond to some simple, practical and sensible suggestions on how to tackle it. Compulsory insurance for off-road bikes and quad bikes would dissuade the casual user from illegal use of the bikes. Compulsory registration of off-road bikes would make the identification of these vehicles much easier for law enforcement. Mandating manufacturers to install immobilisers to these vehicles would also help to reduce theft and misuse by unauthorised riders. These suggestions have been raised in discussion with the Minister’s predecessor, my right hon. Friend Kit Malthouse, and I do believe that the time has come for Home Office Ministers and Department for Transport Ministers to work more closely on a package of measures to target this issue.

One further point on off-road bikes is the question of what happens after the vehicle has been seized. Currently, the police recoup their recovery and storage charges for seized vehicles by auctioning them off. This leads to a ridiculous merry-go-round of offenders buying back the very same vehicles the police have seized. Our police forces need a ringfenced pot of money to enable them to pay the recovery and storage charges, crush these vehicles and get them off our streets. There are many other types of antisocial behaviour, but the essence of today’s debate seems to have concentrated on off-road bikes, which are a scourge on all our communities.

Photo of Margaret Ferrier Margaret Ferrier Independent, Rutherglen and Hamilton West

Another issue I have seen in my constituency is graffiti. It upsets residents, who take a lot of pride in their community. Cambuslang Community Council has taken a great initiative in brightening up Cambuslang with some beautiful murals. Does the hon. Member think that cleaner, nicer surroundings that people can take pride in can deter graffiti, or is it something we will always see happening?

Photo of Peter Gibson Peter Gibson Conservative, Darlington

The hon. Member raises an important point. I think we can summarise this as the “broken window” theory. We all want to live in good, clean and smart communities. Graffiti is a symbol of decline in our urban environment. I think we should continue to double down on addressing it.

Darlington also faces illegal and unacceptable fly-tipping in our alleyways by fly-by-night operators, who will rock up in a Transit van or a flat-bed truck and take household rubbish away for a tenner, avoiding the inconvenience of contacting the council or taking a trip to the tip.

Photo of Peter Gibson Peter Gibson Conservative, Darlington

I will give way to my hon. Friend one last time.

Photo of Paul Howell Paul Howell Conservative, Sedgefield

I thank my hon. Friend for his generosity. One of the biggest areas affected by the scourge of fly-tipping are the farms that surround Darlington. People take their rubbish and just dump it in the middle of a farm. It can be very serious for that farmer. It can block his access, destroy his crops and all sorts. I would encourage my hon. Friend to reference the rural, as well as urban, situation.

Photo of Peter Gibson Peter Gibson Conservative, Darlington

As my hon. Friend well knows, I have very little rurality in my constituency. My job is to represent the people of Darlington. As a constituent of mine, he knows the problems that Street Scene in Darlington faces in cleaning up our streets, but I commend his efforts in highlighting rural crime and the scourge on our farms. I have spent time on our streets with Street Scene—Darlington Borough Council’s environmental services department—and seen at first hand the impact that this issue has on local residents and on the town as a whole.

Since 2019, the now Conservative-led Darlington Borough Council has been delivering for local people, and I want to take this opportunity to praise it for all of its hard work. The new administration has also been taking action on fly-tipping, listening to the concerns of residents and working hard to tackle this scourge, with increased prosecutions of those found to be fly-tipping, and with Street Scene responding more speedily to incidents and taking a more proactive approach to rooting out those responsible.

While our Government, council and constabularies are tackling antisocial behaviour, more could be done through cross-Government working to tackle some of these issues, and with ringfenced pots of money to support the steps taken. I know that the Minister is a sound and sensible woman of integrity, and that she will have listened closely to the debate. I would like to invite her to Darlington, to see at first hand the problems, actions and further solutions to our first-hand experience of antisocial behaviour.

Photo of Sarah Jones Sarah Jones Shadow Minister (Home Office) 3:01 pm, 20th July 2022

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Sharma. I congratulate Jacob Young on securing this important debate, which is timely and very pressing. My first job after university was working for the former Member for Redcar, Mo Mowlam, so I know his area a bit, and some of the challenges that he talked about were similarly challenging back then.

Anti-Social Behaviour Awareness Week is a good initiative. There are lots of groups that I could pay tribute to, but I will highlight ASB Help and Resolve in particular —two really good organisations that work year-round to tackle this blight on our communities. Hon. Members who made contributions have spoken about the lack of a co-ordinated approach to tackling antisocial behaviour. The hon. Member for Redcar said that it was one of the most pressing issues in his inbox, and I think that is probably the same for all Members of Parliament, whether their constituencies are rural, urban or a mix of both. His call to return to a common-sense policing approach to antisocial behaviour is the right one.

My hon. Friend Chris Evans talked about all of the issues with off-road biking, as did others, and that is something that particularly affects people across the country. I did not know that he had written two books, but I do now—I will make sure that I read them. Peter Gibson talked about people feeling imprisoned in their homes, and had some good suggestions on off-road biking, which have been mentioned in this place many times before. There is a package of measures on off-road biking, and various Bills have been suggested by Members across the House, so there is agreement there and I hope the Minister is listening to those suggestions.

We are all aware of the real misery that antisocial behaviour causes. Before Christmas, in the autumn, I made trips across the country, in my role as shadow Policing Minister, to try to understand the scale and diversity of antisocial behaviour: how it affects different communities, the impact it has on them and what is being done about it. Those were eye-opening trips. Although each area was unique, everywhere I went it was clear that antisocial behaviour is not low-level crime; it is massively underestimated and massively under-prioritised in the way that policing is done in this country. It ruins lives, makes people feel unsafe and worried, and creates division in communities.

Photo of Peter Gibson Peter Gibson Conservative, Darlington

I would welcome the hon. Lady’s suggestions and ideas as to what she, her party or any of us could do to encourage and improve the reporting of antisocial behaviour.

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

That is an important question. Several things are linked to the reporting. First, people do not believe that anything will be done. Sadly, that is partly because twice as many people as 10 years ago now perceive that they never see a police officer on the streets. People do not feel that it is worth reporting, because they do not think they will get a response.

Secondly, at a national level, the Government do not collect data on antisocial behaviour. There was a debate in this place a few months ago where a Conservative Member made the case for the Government to record antisocial behaviour nationally, because it is not part of the metric so everybody reports and records it differently. Everybody has different approaches—some people use some interventions and some people use others—and there is no consistency across the country. In answer to the hon. Member’s question, people are loth to report it because they think that nothing will be done, and they do not see it as something that is prioritised at a national level.

Photo of Peter Gibson Peter Gibson Conservative, Darlington

I am truly enlightened by the hon. Lady’s response to my intervention, and truly shocked that we do not have national statistics and that there is not a level playing field across the country to assess and deal with that. I wonder whether the Minister, when she sums up, can address that problem and perhaps suggest what more we can do to drive forward that change, from which we would all benefit.

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

The hon. Gentleman makes a good point. The Minister has obviously been in her position for only a short time, so we will all be gentle with her today, but there is a good conversation to be had about how we measure these things, which I will come to.

It is a hidden epidemic. Any constituent will say that antisocial behaviour is an important issue, but the stats do not bear that out. Polling by YouGov found that a third of the UK public had experienced an increase in antisocial behaviour in their area, with just 1% believing that the problem had decreased a lot.

Crime and its causes are complicated and we do not have time to go into all of them now. Antisocial behaviour tends to be localised—whether it is noise, fly-tipping or graffiti—and there is a correlation between antisocial behaviour hotspots and deprivation. The rolling away of some parts of public services has had an impact on the support that is given to people with mental health issues and on youth services, which we have talked about many times, and that has had a knock-on impact on the prevalence of antisocial behaviour. Where antisocial behaviour is rife, other crime follows. We know that it can be the starting point for real issues building up in communities.

Since the 2019 Government came to power, crime overall is up 18% and prosecutions are down 18%. Rates of arson are spiralling: incidents are up by 90,000 compared with 2019 but the charge rate is just 4.3%, which is down from 8.3% in 2015, and nearly 60% of investigations—more than 280,000 cases—are closed without a suspect being identified. Arson does huge damage to local communities. It ruins property, of course, and it ruins people’s sense of safety and pride in their community, so the vicious cycle continues. When I was in the north-east, there was a particular issue with arson that local people were very concerned about.

On the sense that nothing will be done if these issues are reported, that is sadly now the case when it comes to some crimes. Recent figures on car theft, for example, show that just one in 100 thefts of cars resulted in a charge. If someone’s car is stolen, and only one in 100 get a charge, the chances of them reporting antisocial behaviour and thinking that something could be done are quite low. Recent figures showed that in nearly half of neighbourhoods in the country, no burglaries had been solved by the police in the last three years at all, which is truly shocking and shames us, and speaks to some of the struggles that the police are having in doing the common-sense policing that we all want them to be doing.

In this context, the presence of neighbourhood police officers is very important. There are over 7,000 fewer neighbourhood officers on the frontline now than there were 12 years ago. There is only one neighbourhood officer for every 2,400 people in this country now, whereas 10 years ago there was one per 1,600 people. That does make a difference.

For the first time, the Government have introduced a new metric for measuring neighbourhood crime, which is a combination of four other crimes: vehicle-related theft, domestic burglary, theft from a person, and robbery of personal property. It is an interesting measure. The Government will say that neighbourhood crime has fallen in the last year, but the metric does not include any level of antisocial behaviour and it does not include bike theft, criminal damage or arson, so it is not a clear and complete picture of what neighbourhood crime is. I ask the Minister to look at that issue in her new role.

We know that a third of 999 calls are now about mental health emergencies and the police just cannot cope; they are responding to mental health issues and not to the crimes that they should be investigating. They spend significant time dealing with other crises in the community, and the impact of noise, graffiti, fly-tipping, drug dealing and vandalism is felt more and more acutely.

Good work is being done in patches, and I am sure that all of us would pay tribute to the police and crime commissioners who are working hard to make a difference. When I was in Northumbria, I saw the rural crime network with police and crime commissioner Kim McGuinness, which seemed to be working really effectively. When I was in Cardiff, I learned of a reduction in antisocial behaviour through the Step into Sport programme; my hon. Friend the Member for Islwyn mentioned the importance of sport earlier. In Merseyside, there is a youth diversion fund, which more than 6,500 young people engage with. These are pockets of good practice. Sadly, because the police simply do not have the resources to do what they want to do, they are only pockets and not the norm.

I hope that neighbourhood policing will be a real focus for the Minister. Last week, I had the pleasure of welcoming some police community support officers to Parliament to celebrate the 20 years since PCSOs were introduced. That was under the last Labour Government and Lord Blunkett, who was there to talk to them. Those PCSOs’ insights were really interesting: they knew their patch inside out, they had built up relationships with local people, and they were able to intervene to de-escalate and tackle some of the issues of antisocial behaviour in a really effective way. Some of them told me stories of how they had dealt with kids who had been antisocial who then, later in life, came up to them in the street and told them how proud they were of what they had become, in part because they had a good relationship with a PCSO.

However, the number of PCSOs has been cut by nearly half since 2010. The peculiar thing about that is that it has not been a Government policy; it has just happened because of cuts to services. It was not deliberate. I ask the Minister to look at PCSOs and consider whether we need to restore their numbers. I think that we do, because they are the eyes and ears of the police.

As I have said, hard data is not collected properly. I have made a series of freedom of information requests across the country about how forces deal with antisocial behaviour. They all do it in different ways. The issue needs gripping at the centre, with some good measurements in place.

Photo of Peter Gibson Peter Gibson Conservative, Darlington

The hon. Lady makes an important point about the value of our PCSOs and the work they do in our community. In Darlington, we have seen 136 new officers recruited to Durham constabulary, and some of those new recruits to our police force were directly recruited from among existing PCSOs. The skills, talents and abilities that those PCSOs learned in their job have not been lost to public service, as those PCSOs have gone on to work in the police.

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

That is a really interesting point. The same has happened with specials, but there is then a shortage of PCSOs and specials, because they go up to become officers. Alongside that, we have lost the experience of all the police who have been cut over the last 10 years. Although we have the new recruits coming in, some of whom are PCSOs and specials, the experience of local communities and the knowledge that the police have built up over many years has gone, and it will take some time to bring that back.

Labour has made commitments to put police back into neighbourhoods through police hubs. That way, there will be a space in every community where people can interact with the police, but with the infrastructure around them of local authorities, enforcement officers and youth services. Such neighbourhood prevention teams, as it were, could work collectively to try to crack down on some of the antisocial behaviour and its causes in the community. We think that would have a big impact on presence, problem solving and focus on antisocial behaviour. That is really needed, as are some of the measures hon. Members have mentioned, such as changing legislation around off-road biking and similar issues.

We also think that there should be a recruitment drive for special constables. I was with the south Wales special constables last night, who have won a Queen’s award for volunteering. They give up their time for free and it is quite extraordinary how proud they are of the work that they do. Their numbers have also fallen by about 50% over the last 10 years, and it will be interesting to see whether the Minister has any thoughts yet on specials and whether those numbers need to increase.

There is much to be done. We talk about antisocial behaviour often in this place, particularly in Westminster Hall, where Members often feel the need to come and talk about it because it is such an issue. Sadly, we do not get the response from Government that we would like. I ask the Minister to think about PCSOs and specials, about measurements of antisocial behaviour and about how we grip the issue nationally and really understand it.

I also ask Conservative Members to think about these issues when they are considering who to vote for to be the next Prime Minister. The right hon. Member for Richmond (Yorks) (Rishi Sunak) wrote in The Daily Telegraph yesterday that he would ringfence child exploitation teams from any future policing cuts. Does that mean he is planning future policing cuts? That is a question that hon. Members should ask him and others, because it is an important issue for the next Prime Minister.

The Home Office has a key leadership role to play, and I ask the Minister to make sure that is happening. Criminals cannot be given free rein. When low-level antisocial behaviour is not tackled, it leads to greater and more significant crime—drug running and all the other issues that have been mentioned. That is not good enough for our communities; they need more support and reassurance. I hope the Minister will take these issues seriously.

Photo of Amanda Solloway Amanda Solloway Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office) (Minister for Equalities), The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department 3:17 pm, 20th July 2022

May I begin by saying what a pleasure it is to serve under your chairmanship, Mr. Sharma? I have only been in the role for a few days; anything that I fail to answer I will take away and respond to in writing. I will be delighted to pass on some of the questions about policing to the Minister for Policing, my hon. Friend Tom Pursglove.

I congratulate my hon. Friend Jacob Young on securing this incredibly important debate. He is always a forceful advocate for his constituents, as he demonstrated in his remarks, but on this occasion there is an added element of timeliness. As he and other Members referred to, the timing of this debate is particularly appropriate because it is Anti-social Behaviour Awareness Week.

Antisocial behaviour plagues the lives of victims. It has an adverse impact on the atmosphere and the environment of areas where it is rife. It ruins law-abiding citizens’ enjoyment of public places. It is not, therefore, something that we can focus on for a week and then move on from; it must be a priority all year. This awareness week is, none the less, a vital opportunity to highlight the damage done and the misery caused by antisocial behaviour, and to bring together the various agencies that have a role in confronting them. I have been delighted to support the awareness week, and I have sent messages to launch the event that took place here in the Palace of Westminster and to the conference that is going on today.

Antisocial behaviour should never be dismissed as low level. It is a serious problem and the Government are serious about addressing it. That is why this week, the Home Office is launching a set of principles designed to galvanise and strengthen the response to antisocial behaviour. The principles will act as a kind of benchmark, setting clear expectations for local agencies and guiding their approach to issues, such as how they encourage reporting and delivering appropriate and effective interventions. Ultimately, we are trying to get real consistency in the understanding of and approach to antisocial behaviour across the country.

I realise that to some this may be familiar territory, but it is worth taking a moment to touch on the powers that can be used to tackle antisocial behaviour. The police, local authorities and other local agencies have a range of flexible tools and powers under the Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014. There is a particular local dimension to the issue, which manifests itself in different ways in different locations, as has been mentioned. It is therefore for local areas to decide how best to deploy the powers available to them, depending on the specific circumstances. They are best placed to understand what is driving the behaviour in question and the impact that it is having, and to determine the most appropriate response.

To support local areas in making effective use of powers, the Home Office published statutory guidance, which sets out the importance of focusing on the needs of the victim and the local community, as well as ensuring that the relevant legal tests are met. The guidance was updated last month to include expedited public spaces protection orders, and further guidance on the community trigger, referencing the role of health agencies and police and crime commissioners. As colleagues may be aware, the community trigger gives victims of persistent antisocial behaviour the ability to demand a formal case review. Further clarification has also been added to the guidance on community protection notices, and the role of restorative justice as an option in the community remedy section.

We need to ensure that local areas are making proper and effective use of these powers to tackle the underlying drivers of antisocial behaviour and protect victims and communities.

Photo of Margaret Ferrier Margaret Ferrier Independent, Rutherglen and Hamilton West

I welcome the Minister to her place and thank her for giving way. I think there is a link between the soaring cost of living and a rise in antisocial behaviour. As more people are pushed into poverty, mental health deteriorates and they become disillusioned. Does she agree that better resourcing and funding for drug and addiction services in communities is vital to addressing that crucial contributory factor to antisocial behaviour?

Photo of Amanda Solloway Amanda Solloway Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office) (Minister for Equalities), The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department

The reasons why antisocial behaviour occurs are incredibly complex. The hon. Lady will know that I am a great advocate for mental health and how we support mental health issues in the community. That is why we continue to keep the issue under review through the Home Office-chaired antisocial behaviour strategic board, which brings together a range of partners and representatives from key agencies and other Departments.

The Government are providing significant funding to drive efforts to tackle antisocial behaviour. An important scheme in this space is the safer streets fund, which was established to help local areas put in place measures designed to prevent crime and improve safety. Earlier rounds of the fund had a secondary focus on tackling antisocial behaviour through initiatives such as improved street lighting, increased CCTV and training. We are now taking the emphasis on this problem a step further, with antisocial behaviour one of the primary crime and issue types to be targeted in the fourth and fifth rounds of the fund.

In addition, crime and antisocial behaviour form part of the prospectus for the £4.8 billion levelling-up fund. The Government are also funding diversionary interventions to help safeguard young people away from crime. We have invested £200 million over 10 years in the Youth Endowment Fund, a charity whose core mission is to fund interventions to identify what works in reducing and preventing serious violence. It was a great pleasure to listen to Chris Evans talk about how interventions such as boxing and sport can help in these situations. I, too, will have a look at the book—I will be very pleased to look at it.

Most Members mentioned off-road biking. We know that the inappropriate use of off-road bikes can have a significant impact on individuals and communities. I listened very carefully to the suggestions by my hon. Friend Peter Gibson, and I will look at those more fully. Reckless use of these vehicles can cause people to feel intimidated and fearful. Enforcement of road traffic law and decisions about how to deploy available resources are rightly the responsibility of chief officers.

A suitably trained police driver may undertake a pursuit of a motorcyclist. The decision whether to undertake a pursuit is an operational one, taking account of risk and proportionality in each situation. It is worth noting, however, that the police have the power under section 59 of the Police Reform Act 2002 to seize vehicles, including off-road bikes, being used in an antisocial manner.

Photo of Peter Gibson Peter Gibson Conservative, Darlington

I am grateful to the Minister for highlighting section 59 notices, which, as she will have heard in my speech, are having an appreciable impact in Darlington. The specific problem my local force has is the cost of disposing of the vehicle, to stop the merry-go-round of seizing the vehicle and auctioning it to cover the cost of disposal, which ends up with the perpetrator getting their vehicle back and continuing to perpetrate the problem.

Photo of Amanda Solloway Amanda Solloway Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office) (Minister for Equalities), The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department

I would appreciate a longer conversation and would, therefore, love to take up the offer of visiting my hon. Friend in Darlington. The police can also use the powers in the 2014 Act to deal with antisocial behaviour involving vehicles.

On the point about motorcycle noise outside schools, the Department for Transport is trialling noise camera technology to understand whether it can be used to automatically detect when vehicles are excessively noisy. The objective of that is to provide local authorities and police with effective enforcement tools capable of capturing sufficient evidence to support successful prosecutions of offenders. That will further enable local areas to enforce against vehicles that have been modified or driven in a way to create excessive noise.

In closing, I thank all hon. Members for their contributions to the debate. It is clear from speaking to constituents and others just how important this issue is. I echo what my hon. Friend the Member for Redcar said about how important it is to report these crimes. Antisocial behaviour matters a great deal to constituents and, therefore, to us as their representatives. It strikes at the heart of how decent, law-abiding citizens want their neighbourhoods and communities to feel. We will not tolerate a situation where people have to suffer because of the actions of a selfish minority. Antisocial behaviour is a blight. We are determined to tackle it wherever, whenever and however it rears its ugly head.

Photo of Jacob Young Jacob Young Conservative, Redcar 3:27 pm, 20th July 2022

I thank everyone who participated in today’s debate. It is a real pleasure to see the Minister in her place. When she is visiting Darlington, I invite her to come along to Redcar and Cleveland, where there will be a lemon top waiting for her. I have heard the shadow Minister, Sarah Jones, speak before about my predecessor, Dr Marjorie Mowlam. It is right that we acknowledge the great impact that she had on Redcar and the country.

It has been distressing to hear some of the stories, including those from Wingate, where constituents of my hon. Friend Paul Howell were victims of arson, from Darlington, where fly-tipping blights communities, and from Newbridge high street, where businesses do not feel safe. I have said for some time that the problems we face on the high street include not only the fact that there are not as many shops any more—we have to do more to create spaces that people want to visit and make it easier for people to visit those spaces—but, crucially, the fact that people have to feel safe when they visit the high street. I am grateful to Chris Evans for mentioning that.

As I said at the start, this issue affects people across the country. We heard from the hon. Member for Islwyn in Wales and from Margaret Ferrier in Scotland—there is still time for Jim Shannon to burst through the doors and intervene. I am grateful to the new Minister for addressing some of the points raised. I know that, as the diligent Member of Parliament for her constituency of Derby North, she knows these issues all too well. I hope that, in her new position, she is able to resolve some of the sticking points that our local police forces face, as well work with other agencies to tackle underlying causes of antisocial behaviour.

Finally, I thank my constituents, who provided me with examples of antisocial behaviour that they witnessed, and the charities mentioned, such as ASB Help, Resolve and others, which do a lot of work in this field to make a difference every day. I also thank my local police officers and PCSOs, who do everything they can in incredibly difficult circumstances. I am very proud to represent Redcar and Cleveland and all my constituents who work so hard to make our area the best it can be. We are let down by a small minority with no respect, but that does not take away from the amazing work that some do in our communities day in, day out, and I pay tribute to them.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved,

That this House
has considered anti-social behaviour awareness week.

Sitting suspended.