Antisocial Behaviour in Town Centres — [Esther McVey in the Chair]

– in Westminster Hall at 9:30 am on 26 April 2023.

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Photo of Robbie Moore Robbie Moore Conservative, Keighley 9:30, 26 April 2023

I beg to move,

That this House
has considered the matter of antisocial behaviour in town centres.

It is a privilege to serve under your chairmanship, Ms McVey, in a debate on an important issue. Antisocial behaviour is a plague that haunts many of our town and city centres, our villages and our countryside. We all feel passionately about the issue, and I am sure we all receive much correspondence about it. Therefore, we all need to get on top of it. If we are to deliver real, positive change for our constituencies, it is important that we tackle antisocial behaviour in all its forms.

As Members of Parliament, we like to sing from the rooftops about the positives in our communities—how well our businesses are doing, how safe it feels to go around our town centres—but we need to tackle darker issues such as antisocial behaviour, fly-tipping and physical assaults taking place on our streets. I want to use the debate to outline some of the challenges that I unfortunately face in Keighley and in Ilkley, as well as some of the positive work that the Government are doing and further work that I would like them to do.

According to the Office for National Statistics, the police recorded 1.2 million incidents of antisocial behaviour in the year ending June 2022, which is a 16% decrease compared with the year ending March 2020. Antisocial behaviour, while decreasing, remains a problem for us all to face, and I want to describe some examples of antisocial behaviour in Keighley. There is a huge problem around the bus station. Young people are being approached and mobile phones taken off them. Assaults are taking place in the centre of Keighley where people are coming and going, and wanting to access businesses. Sometimes, the environment is intimidating and unsafe. I receive a lot of correspondence about that particular hotspot.

There are various hotspot streets, particularly around the Lund Park area of Keighley, and I have received correspondence about Westburn Avenue. The incidents that take place are localised micro-incidents. Nevertheless, they build the fear factor that we all associate with antisocial behaviour.

We have had some darker incidents as well, such as vehicles being targeted, and petrol being poured on vehicles and set alight. That happened only a couple of weeks ago outside a location in Keighley that I know well. We have also had speeding and the antisocial behaviour associated with it, extreme speeding and cars with loud exhausts going up and down particular streets in Keighley, such as North Street, Cavendish Street, Oakworth Road and Fell Lane. I have received a lot of correspondence about drivers purposely accelerating way beyond the speed limits that have been put in place. The police have been doing their level best to try to tackle those incidents.

Another issue in Keighley is cars being driven without insurance and parked cars that are way beyond having passed their MOT test. Some of those cars are parked at the roadside, particularly where drug drops and distribution take place.

Photo of Anthony Mangnall Anthony Mangnall Conservative, Totnes

My hon. Friend is making a good speech and giving us an A to Z of road names in his constituency. Does he agree that tackling the list of problems he faces in Keighley, which I also see in south Devon, is about enforcement, police visibility and ensuring that young people have things to do—options and opportunities to go out and achieve?

Photo of Robbie Moore Robbie Moore Conservative, Keighley

My hon. Friend makes a good point. I want to paint a picture of the challenges that we all face as MPs and describe the nature of the correspondence that is arriving in our inboxes, whether it is about speeding, antisocial behaviour or physical assault. We have to get to grips with why such incidents take place. It is predominantly those of a younger age who are participating in them, whether because of boredom or a lack of activities on offer to them.

One of the things that I have been doing—I believe that my hon. Friend has been doing this as well—is engaging in dialogue in community meetings. I hold large constituency surgeries and invite the police along, so that the issues can be raised. It is always fed back to me that police prioritisation relies on data collection. How many meetings do MPs go to and hear that, while residents know that these issues are happening on their streets, they have not necessarily been reported via the 101 system or email, or to the community police station so that data is collected and police enforcement targeted in specific areas?

On the outskirts of Keighley, the Utley safer streets group holds regular meetings. It is organised at community level by local residents and provides me as the MP, district councillors and the local police with the opportunity to go along, receive information and provide feedback on what the local police forces do, while also serving as a means to hold them to account.

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

I congratulate the hon. Member on securing today’s debate. A pub in Rutherglen in my constituency has faced awful harassment from teenagers who loiter and drink on the street outside, spoiling for a fight, and they have actually physically assaulted customers coming out of the pub. The pub has spent tens of thousands on preventive security measures, but the presence of a bouncer actually exacerbated the problem. The police have done a lot in this case, but a cross-agency approach is needed. Does the hon. Member share my concern about the lack of funding for these teams?

Photo of Robbie Moore Robbie Moore Conservative, Keighley

The hon. Member makes a valid point: street drinking is a big problem. It is one that we have in Keighley, particularly around the Church Green area, where groups hang around, causing issues for local businesses that want to grow, thrive and improve their customer base. However, street drinkers are putting people off going to those businesses. In my constituency, the police are doing a lot to try to alleviate the issues, including engaging in dialogue and correspondence. Sometimes it is up to the pubs and venues themselves to address the drink-related issues that spill out from them and the issues caused by some wishing to access their facilities. It is very much about having a joined-up approach, which I will come on to later in my speech.

Photo of Anthony Mangnall Anthony Mangnall Conservative, Totnes

My hon. Friend is being gracious in giving way again. I have set up a police hub initiative in my constituency where the police use local spaces to enhance visibility. That ensures that they can get out into the community more readily, rather than having to go back to HQ each time. It has been very effective in driving down crime and antisocial behaviour in local areas, at no extra cost to the state. Does my hon. Friend approve of that model?

Photo of Robbie Moore Robbie Moore Conservative, Keighley

It is an exceptionally good idea. Before I became an MP, the police station was in the centre of Keighley, but, frustratingly, our previous Labour police and crime commissioner decided to move it to an industrial estate just outside Keighley, which is not a good location. Everyone in Keighley knows that the police station is now out of the town centre as a result of that bad decision by the previous Labour PCC. I want that police station to be moved back to the centre of town.

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

We all suffer from the closure of police stations. Will the hon. Member also condemn his own Government, who have overseen the closure of nearly 800 police stations across the country?

Photo of Robbie Moore Robbie Moore Conservative, Keighley

Our police station was not closed. The Labour PCC decided to move it out of the town centre to an industrial estate outside Keighley, making it less accessible to many of my constituents.

In addition, in the run-up to the 2019 general election, the then Labour PCC, the then Labour MP for Keighley and the Labour leader of Bradford Council gave false hope and false promise that the police station would be moved back to the centre of town. That false hope just happened to be announced in the run-up to the general election, but what happened? All those plans are now off the table as a result of our new West Yorkshire Mayor deciding that we cannot facilitate that move. I hope we will get an instruction, or as much help from the Government as possible, to move the police station back into the centre of Keighley, from which it should have never been moved in the first place.

On the point that my hon. Friend Anthony Mangnall made, police hubs are an excellent idea. In many rural parts of my constituency, facilities such as village halls have been used for community-wide engagement. A police officer, a sergeant or the neighbourhood policing team can go along and have dialogue with residents, and communicate and provide reassurance at a micro-local level. We can use such facilities across our constituencies to enable dialogue and better reporting of issues and concerns.

On drug taking, I am very pleased that the Government have taken a stance on nitrous oxide—laughing gas—cannisters, which I have been campaigning to ban since being elected. In the summer months, and particularly on bank holiday weekends, a lot of people get the train from Bradford and Leeds to Ilkley to sit at the riverside and enjoy the sunshine, but sometimes the area is used for antisocial behaviour, and that is not fair for Ilkley residents.

We all face many, many issues with antisocial behaviour. I will quickly touch on fly-tipping. I represent an urban fringe-type constituency, and we have a lot of fly-tipping, particularly in the Worth Valley ward, where Councillor Rebecca Poulsen has been fighting incredibly hard, working with the police, to deal with fly-tipping-related incidents. We must not forget that dumping used construction material, or whatever else it might be, in our beautiful environment is a form of antisocial behaviour in its own right. It was horrifying that, at the back end of last year, our Labour-run Bradford Council decided to close the Keighley tip—a ridiculous decision that would have resulted in more fly-tipping across the constituency. I am pleased to say that after I brought a petition to this House, signed by more than 7,000 people, which Laura Kelly and Martin Crangle heavily campaigned for, Labour-run Bradford Council finally listened and overturned that ridiculous decision. It has now decided to keep the Keighley tip open.

I very much welcome the Government’s plan to put more police officers on our streets. As a Conservative MP, at the last election I campaigned to get 20,000 police officers back on to our streets, and West Yorkshire police has recruited more than 1,000 since I was elected. I want to ensure that they are prioritised in dealing with the many concerns that my constituents across Keighley raise. I urge the Mayor of West Yorkshire, Tracy Brabin, to ensure that as many as possible of those police officers are on the streets of Keighley, Ilkley, Silsden and Worth Valley to tackle antisocial behaviour and give our neighbourhood policing teams the means that they need.

It is a complete myth that Labour is the party of law and order, and that it actually cares about clamping down and being tough on those who commit offences that cause harm to others and try to rule the streets through fear. I can categorically say that that is not the case at all. Labour will not pull the wool over the eyes of residents across Keighley and Ilkley. It was so determined to secure power in Keighley a couple of years ago that it actively selected as a candidate for Labour-run Bradford council Mohsin Hussain, who only seven years earlier had been given a 12-month sentence, suspended for two years with 250 hours of unpaid community work, after being convicted of an armed street assault in Keighley with a pickaxe handle, causing bodily harm. Another of his gang used a baseball bat. When that individual was released on bail, he was caught accelerating to 77 mph in a 30 mph zone in Keighley, driving through a series of traffic lights at speed and going around the wrong side of a roundabout. Those are the types of antisocial behaviour issues that I get contacted about time and time again. These are unfortunately the very issues that are still happening in Keighley today—physical assaults and extreme speeding. Yet Labour’s answer to all of that is to select and actively campaign for a candidate who a few years previously had been handed a two-year suspended sentence. What is worse is that our West Yorkshire Mayor, Tracy Brabin, who is in charge of implementing our local police and crime strategy, John Grogan, who wants to be the next MP for Keighley, and the current Labour leader of Bradford Council all came to Keighley to campaign, knock on doors and deliver leaflets to get that individual into power. And now, unfortunately, he is a district councillor on the Labour-controlled authority.

What does that say to the victims of antisocial behaviour, the victims of street crime, those who have to put up with physical abuse and those who live near the streets where extreme speeding regularly takes place? My view is that Labour does not care about implementing a strong and robust police and crime strategy. Labour will use any means possible to secure the votes to secure power, taking the votes of people in Keighley and Ilkley for granted.

I say to the Minister that I appreciate the work of the Home Secretary and her predecessors in taking a robust approach to antisocial behaviour. It is an issue that impacts all our constituencies time and again. It is probably one of the biggest issues to fill my inbox. We cannot sing from the rooftops about the good things in our constituencies and promote our businesses without tackling the plague that continues to haunt our town centres. On that, I will hand over to other speakers, as I know that many want to take part in this debate.

Photo of Esther McVey Esther McVey Conservative, Tatton

I remind Members that they need to bob if they wish to be called in this debate. I will not put a time limit on speeches, but be mindful that we will go to Front Benchers at 10.28 am, and that Robbie Moore will have a couple of minutes at the end to wind up.

Photo of Ian Lavery Ian Lavery Labour, Wansbeck 9:47, 26 April 2023

I wish I had prepared my contribution as a response to Robbie Moore, because some of the outrageous statements he made were frankly unbelievable. Anyone would think that the Conservative party had not been in office for 13 years. Is it just me, or would anyone think there is an election around the corner? He hit back at the democratic processes in his constituency about who is elected. It is the people who elect their representatives. The MP does not select councillors—it is the people who do that. Criticism of the people in his own constituency might not go down well.

However, I seriously thank the hon. Member for bringing this timely debate on a massive subject, though it is shame he used it simply to try to attack the Labour party. That is extraordinary, to be honest. His closing remarks were along the lines of, “Thank you, Minister, for the wonderful robust approach that the Government have taken to antisocial behaviour on the high street.” If they are doing a great job, what is there to debate? There is either a problem that needs to be dealt with, or everything is okay. He cannot have it both ways, I am afraid.

The common denominator to the huge issues that I describe as high street anarchy is that the Conservative party in 2010 reduced the police by 20,000 officers.

Photo of Jon Trickett Jon Trickett Labour, Hemsworth

As always, my hon. Friend is making a powerful contribution. I was in Northfield Primary School in South Kirkby on Monday, where there is a serious antisocial problem. The policing is lacking because of the cuts that he just referred to. I do not think we should be demonising a whole generation of young people. The Tories cut £1 billion or more of funding for youth services, so there is no youth provision in the villages I represent—there are no youth clubs—and all sorts of other facilities simply closed down as a result of those cuts. Does he agree that the backdrop to this problem of antisocial behaviour is, first, inadequate policing because of poor funding and, secondly, cuts to services upon which so many people depend?

Photo of Ian Lavery Ian Lavery Labour, Wansbeck

Absolutely. I thank my hon. Friend for that intervention, because it is so true. Are these young people bored? Perhaps it is boredom, but the hon. Member for Keighley should recognise that it is because of the reduction in youth provision and the withdrawal of funding to local authorities, charities and lots of other organisations that used to fund youth networks right the way through our communities. They are gone. That does not mean to say that, because people are bored, they can create havoc on the high streets, because that is not acceptable at all.

If we look at Northumbria police, I have to place on record that the police in my constituency do a marvellous job—every one of them—and they know that they are really under-resourced. That is the real issue on the high street: the police are under-resourced, and they have to assess and deal with crimes as they happen in real time. Do the police go to where the assaults are happening, or do they go to where somebody is pulling plants out of flowerbeds on the high street? I do not want to trivialise what is happening on the high street, because it is very, very important. There is theft taking place in the shops. There is vandalism. There is antisocial behaviour, and there is unruly behaviour. We have also noticed in my constituency an increase in racist abuse.

I put a survey out to retailers in Ashington, Newbiggin, Morpeth and Bedlington asking them about antisocial behaviour, and I got a fantastic response. They all have huge criticisms, and they all have different issues. We then had a meeting with the police on Friday night, and the sad fact of the matter was that very few people turned up, because there is absolutely no confidence at all in the criminal justice system. There is a recognition that the police do what they can, but there is a bigger recognition that they are not doing anything that is addressing the huge issue of antisocial behaviour on the high street.

Let me give a few examples of what is happening in my patch. We have people going into the bigger stores on the high street—into Boots and Co-op—and stealing stuff, and they are basically stealing, first, items to sell on, and secondly, items to keep themselves healthy and clean. People never used to go pinching to keep themselves clean and keep their babies’ clothes well washed, but that is one of the things that is happening now. There are people walking into some of the bigger stores on a daily basis and just picking up what they want and walking out. The people there are instructed by the management, and rightly so, that they cannot stop people stealing, because it is not their role—and if they do, goodness knows what the consequences might be.

We had a situation in my constituency where someone was stabbed trying to prevent somebody else from stealing from the shop. We have security guards in the bigger stores, but then we have the smaller retailers. We had a chap who mentioned that somebody just walked in last week, picked 24 cans of beer up and just walked out. They rang the police, and they got a response four days later. The response was: “Well, can you explain which direction the gentleman went in?” That was infuriating. The police might have had good reason to ask such a question, possibly for CCTV, but if someone just walks into a shop—into someone’s else business on the high street, which they depend on for themselves and their family—pick something up and walk out, the owner will want some action, for heaven’s sake. They want the police to come, not to ring four days later.

I would imagine that, at the very same time, there were other crimes assessed by the police to be a priority compared with what is happening on the high street. We have all sorts of issues on the high street. They have mentioned racism. I live in a constituency that I think is roughly 99.1% white, and racism has never, ever been an issue, but it is becoming an issue. The people themselves are asking the police to deal with the racial abuse—and again, it is not a priority. I mentioned the 20,000 police being taken off the streets in 2010, and we should never forget that. It really galls me, by the way, when we hear the Conservatives, time after time, saying, “We are putting police back on the street.” They should not have taken the police off the street in the first place. Since 2010, Northumbria police has lost 1,000 police officers. Because of the inflationary crisis, next year it will have to find a further £12 million, which will cause extra pressures.

People do not just want their crimes to be recorded and for somebody to perhaps ring up and say, “We will look at this,” or, “We’ll look at that”; they want to see the police on the high street. I have seen videos—Al Vaziri, who has been a businessman in Ashington in my constituency for decades and a pillar of society, showed us CCTV videos only last month of young people throwing a brick at his window. Everybody knows who the individual was; it is on CCTV. We need convictions. Mr Vaziri took the decision to retire, because he cannot put up with it any more—racial abuse was also a contributing factor. He has decided that he and his wife will retire, away from what they see happening on the high street.

We must realise that the system is entirely broken. On one side, we have the retailers, the hard-working people and the businesspeople, on high streets in different towns and villages in the community, who are suffering as a consequence of this unruly anarchy from young people who think they can do whatever they want—because they can do whatever they want, because they are not being challenged at any stage. Then we have the many retailers who are being forced out of business. This fella told me, “They come in, Mr Lavery, pinch these things and walk out. It’s robbery—they’re robbing me and robbing my family.” It is just not acceptable.

Retailers and people on the high streets are suffering greatly from abuse, bad behaviour, unruly behaviour, theft and robbery, and it is the police’s job to remedy the situation and tackle these issues. I give full praise to the police in my constituency for the fantastic work they do, but they simply do not have the resources. They have not said this to me, but I feel that they understand that they are having to undertake a tick-box exercise. They realise how broken the system is, because they say that they have to prioritise other issues. A startling fact that the inspector told me on Friday night is that just above 50% of the call-outs in my constituency are connected to mental health issues. The police are not social workers; they are there to tackle the issues I have raised, which will surely also be mentioned in other contributions to the debate.

Is it too much to ensure that the police are properly resourced to walk through communities, so that people see them? We very rarely see police officers on the beat. Again, I am not criticising the force; the police have had to face under-resourcing from the Government. It isn’t any wonder that if we take 20,000 police officers off the streets, there will be an increase in crime—that is logical. It is not really difficult to come to terms with or understand. The system is completely and utterly broken. This is about how we put that right.

To conclude, I simply praise police officers. We have to think about how we can address the huge issues affecting small and bigger businesses on the high street, because they are facing a ridiculous situation. This is going to be very difficult, but we need more police, we need more youth provision, and we need people to be held to account for what is happening on our high streets. Only when that happens will we begin to see a reduction in antisocial behaviour.

Photo of Paulette Hamilton Paulette Hamilton Labour, Birmingham, Erdington 10:03, 26 April 2023

It is a pleasure to serve with you in the Chair, Ms McVey. I thank Robbie Moore for securing this important debate.

For many of my constituents, the sad reality of living in Tory Britain is that antisocial behaviour is increasing in our town centres, and there has been a loss of confidence in the police. The Government have hollowed out neighbourhood policing, allowed vulnerable young people to be drawn into crime, and let confidence in the police and the criminal justice system collapse. Criminals are being let off, and victims are being let down. In my constituency-wide survey, the main concerns raised were policing and tackling crime, which constituents tell me is a massive issue. We need more police on our streets to make us feel safe. Young people no longer have faith in the police, and one of my constituents told me that a lot of people do not report crimes because they do not think the police will even bother to come out.

Antisocial behaviour is increasing in my communities in Erdington, Kingstanding and Castle Vale. A constituent told me that Erdington High Street at times feels lawless. Another told me that his 70-year-old father carries a personal attack alarm when he goes on his morning walk. A third is scared to walk with his dog in the local park. It is shameful that, after 13 years of Conservative Government, anywhere we look in Britain, nothing is working.

Erdington High Street is the beating heart of my community. Last August, Birmingham City Council and I put in a bid to the Government levelling-up fund for £11 million, which would have totally transformed our town centre and gone a long way to reducing antisocial behaviour in our area. But the Tory Government let us down yet again, rejecting ours and the four other Birmingham bids. While Erdington will not receive a single penny from the Government’s £2.1 billion fund, despite ranking in the top 10% of deprived areas in the country, the Prime Minister’s own affluent constituency received £19 million.

At the same time, I have been campaigning relentlessly alongside local residents to oppose an application to open an eighth betting shop on our high street. Sadly, the Government decided to back the gambling bosses and overturn local wishes. I am helping thousands of constituents with casework; I am holding meetings with local retailers concerned about antisocial behaviour on the high street; and I supported two great bids to the Government levelling-up fund that Ministers shamefully rejected. Sadly, Erdington feels left behind.

Councils are committed to tackling antisocial behaviour in town centres, but it is essential that the Government adequately resource policing and community safety officers to enforce restrictions put in place. It is no good saying the Government have put 20,000 police back on the streets when, 13 years ago, they literally hollowed out those services. I am doing my bit. Can the Minister tell me why the Government are not doing theirs?

Photo of Alex Davies-Jones Alex Davies-Jones Shadow Minister (Digital, Culture, Media and Sport) 10:07, 26 April 2023

It is an honour to speak in this morning’s debate and serve under your chairship, Ms McVey. I am not usually one for superstition, but I must say that this debate is incredibly timely. Sadly, only last weekend, my community was hit by a particularly violent bout of antisocial behaviour in our town centre of Pontypridd, while last night, another incident of unprovoked violence occurred in our town. At the time of preparing my comments for this debate, a distressing video of last Friday’s violent brawl is circulating online in which one individual can be seen laying on the floor literally having his head kicked in.

This is the sad reality of our high streets, but let me be clear: Pontypridd is not ordinarily a violent community. Antisocial behaviour is a blight on communities up and down the country—my area is not alone. Today’s debate is about an important national issue that our constituents rightly expect us to take seriously. But for me, this is also a persistent local issue, as my constituents are sick and tired of being intimidated by antisocial behaviour.

Last weekend, I was shocked and saddened to learn of such an incident taking place in a part of town that is usually—especially on market day—bustling with activity, as locals shop around for a bargain or enjoy a bite to eat at one of our many offerings. It is precisely because Pontypridd’s town centre is so often a vibrant place that I have my constituency office just seconds away from where the market traders set up their stalls.

Following recent events in Pontypridd, I want to place on record my heartfelt thanks for the swift actions of South Wales police and our local Pontypridd policing team, including Chief Inspector Helen Coulthard, Inspector Leigh Parfitt and Constable Liam Noyce among many others. South Wales police does phenomenal work to keep us safe, especially when much of its work happens thanklessly and tirelessly behind closed doors. However, the frustrating reality is that South Wales police is doing the best it can with extremely limited resources.

Embedded, preventive neighbourhood policing is such a vital part of keeping our streets safe. But let me be clear: after more than a decade of Tory budget cuts to policing across the UK, we have weakened our country’s capacity to deal with antisocial behaviour, both in a preventive capacity and, too often, when responding to it. I need not remind colleagues that this UK Tory Government have cut police officer numbers across the UK by thousands. Across the UK, charges have collapsed, antisocial perpetrators are getting away with their behaviour, and criminal damage and arson attacks have skyrocketed. We can, and we must, do better.

Proper neighbourhood policing is vital, but another important part of preventing antisocial behaviour is, of course, the adequate provision of youth services to get teenagers away from the streets. Shamefully, funding for those sorts of services has also been cut to the bone thanks to 13 years of Conservative rule in Westminster. Our communities up and down the country are facing undeniable funding pressures. Youth services have been completely slashed, which increases the chances of antisocial behaviour, and with neighbourhood policing on its knees, perpetrators are more likely to get away with their disgraceful behaviour.

I am proud to say that in Wales our Labour-led authority, despite the impossible challenge thrown at it by the UK Tory Government, is trying to make a difference for its communities. Indeed, we are fortunate that on Ponty high street, at the site of our old YMCA building, our town centre will soon boast an incredible £4.4 million arts and youth centre zone. The project will deliver true community spaces and provide much-needed youth services for a generation. I am also lucky to be well supported by a fantastic business improvement district. Pontypridd BID has been vital in championing antisocial behaviour prevention measures, where the UK Government funding has barely scratched the surface. But as with local authorities across the nation, it is overstretched and having to do more with less and less.

Colleagues will be aware that I am a proud and vocal champion for fair funding for Wales. The inadequacy of the Barnett funding formula is very much a topic for another day, but it is an important truth that the UK Government have a responsibility to support ASB-related projects across the UK. I put on record my thanks to the Welsh Labour Government, who with the limited powers available to them have committed to more police community support officers, and I look forward to welcoming the officers on the streets of Pontypridd this summer.

I also look forward to hearing the Minister’s responses to my points, and I sincerely hope that there is a strategy to tackle antisocial behaviour once and for all. We need an ambitious strategy to tackle it, but the Department has clearly failed thus far to act appropriately, which is having serious consequences for people across the UK. I sincerely hope that the Minister is listening and I look forward to her remarks.

Photo of Jim Shannon Jim Shannon Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Human Rights), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Health) 10:12, 26 April 2023

It is a pleasure to speak in this debate, and I thank Robbie Moore for leading it. In the short time that he has been here, he has had many Westminster Hall and Adjournment debates on similar issues to this one. They are critical issues—the issues that people contact us about most—so it is good that he has set the scene. I thank him for his commitment to bringing such issues to Westminster Hall and the main Chamber for consideration. He deserves credit for that.

I am pleased to speak in the debate, because I have—as others do; I am not different from anybody else—such pride in the town centres in my constituency; Newtownards, Comber and Ballynahinch are the largest towns there. I have mentioned before that my main constituency office is in the town centre of Newtownards, and the sense of community there is so real. It is an area where people learn to know everyone. Of course, the fact that I have lived in the area for all but four years of my life, and have had a fairly long life, means that I know it well. I know the people well and get to know the people who come in. I have become incredibly proud of the area’s reputation.

It is good to see the Minister in her place. She will not have to answer any of the questions that I will pose, because she has no responsibility for them. I always give a Northern Ireland perspective, if I can, because what I say replicates what others have said, and what those who will speak afterwards will say. In Northern Ireland, we are no strangers to having different rules and different council policy. One issue that has become prevalent in more recent years is the antisocial behaviour of youths in Newtownards town centre. We deal with issues of antisocial behaviour every week, unfortunately, and they are critically important for my constituents, be the issue under-age drinking or graffiti.

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

A problem that has recently resurfaced in parts of my constituency is sectarian graffiti. The perpetrators of a recent spate of graffiti were identified, and they were only teenagers. Does the hon. Member agree that that behaviour can often be generational, and that angle should be given greater consideration?

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

As always, the hon. Lady makes a very apt intervention and I thank her for that. In my town of Newtownards, on the Ards peninsula, we have recently witnessed gang warfare, for want of a better description, in which graffiti has been prominent. It has been specific to many people and has been unhelpful, dangerous, vindictive and cruel. She is right to highlight graffiti and the role that needs to be played. At times, we ask: who is responsible for removing the graffiti? It is a very simple issue, but one that crops us. We usually find that the building’s owner paints over it, or if the graffiti is specific and nasty, the council can come out and remove it. So that becomes an issue.

Other problematic issues in my constituency are loitering, loud music and, in some rare cases, drugs. There is absolutely no place for that in our local communities. There is a street in my constituency called Court Street where there are a few derelict houses. On most weekends, there will be youths inside those homes drinking and blasting out music until the early hours; not to mention that the glass in the properties had to be broken at some stage, so there is a real health threat to the young people, too. The police and local councils have boarded up the windows numerous times, as have the owners. A local councillor who works in my office has been contacted out of hours and rung the police numerous times to make them aware of what was happening, but there does not seem to be any strategy to tackle the issue. We need better co-operation between local councils and police to ensure a better response, first, on the issue of building control and who is responsible for making the building safe, and secondly, so the police can give appropriate warnings and take relevant action, should this not stop.

I wish to put on record my thanks to the Police Service of Northern Ireland back home for what it does and, in particular, to the community police officers who do such great work. They interact with community groups, organisations and individuals, and that interaction has been incredibly helpful; on many occasions, it addresses the antisocial issues, and it builds the confidence and the relationship between the general public and the police. It also gives the police a better idea of who is involved.

Another issue in the town that has proven to be a major problem is suspected under-age drinking and drugs in local parks and leisure centres, which is also potentially dangerous for young children. I have highlighted that many times back home. Discarded bottles and sometimes other items, for want of a better description, are left in the children’s playground. It can be a mess of broken glass, takeaway wrappers, litter, cigarette butts and other things, and can also be dangerous.

Lastly, I have no doubt that in some cases parents are completely unaware of where their children are. I am a parent of three boys. They are well grown up now and I have six grandchildren, but we are no strangers to the fact that our children, in the past, fabricated, or could have fabricated, their whereabouts and what they were doing, because sometimes they did not want us to know. Parents can play a huge role in ensuring that their children are responsible and, if they are out and about on weekends, not creating a risk for themselves or other people by behaving antisocially.

I have a great relationship with my local policing team, which will frequently carry out patrolling checks in hotspots to deter any antisocial behaviour. In an intervention, Anthony Mangnall referred to police hubs. That is one of the things we should look at. It was a wise and helpful intervention, which I think can make a difference. Could the Minister comment on that? I have mentioned before the relationship between councils and local police; there needs to be greater power for the two to work together. For example, councils should be able to renovate buildings that are being abused, and make real use of them to boost the local economy, forcing antisocial behaviour out.

I want to mention something that I think will be helpful for the Minister and which operates across the whole of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. We have a very active street pastors group. I have been involved with them from the very beginning, when a lady called Pam Williamson came to see me. I had always had an interest in them. It started because all the churches came together to address a social issue. It is the sort of reaching out that I love to see—I know that you would as well, Ms McVey. The churches see that they can do something practical on the streets. It was a local group, but it expanded from Newtownards across to Bangor, and down the Ards peninsula to Comber and elsewhere. It is really active and it brings together so many good people with good intentions, who go out at night and reduce antisocial behaviour. The figures have dropped, and that is one of the reasons why. The Minister may wish to refer to that in her speech, and the hon. Member for Keighley, who introduced this debate, may wish to refer to it in his wind-up.

I have seen what the group do. They offer people a bottle of water or a pair of sandals. They help young people who are unfortunately inebriated and do not know what they are doing, and get them home safely. How critical that is for ladies, women and young girls! It is critical for people to have someone there when they are feeling emotionally vulnerable. How important it is to ensure that parents know where their children are! Those are the things that street pastors do. I am a great supporter of street pastors. I think that all Members present have street pastors in their area who do marvellous work. They are an instrument that we can all use, because they have a deep interest in the community.

Photo of Paulette Hamilton Paulette Hamilton Labour, Birmingham, Erdington

I absolutely agree. I have street pastors in my constituency. This is not their fault, but the problem with street pastors is that, because we lack the police and people from other local agencies to work with them, it is becoming unsafe at certain times of the day and night for them to do their valuable work. Given the lack of police and other services on the high street, does the hon. Member feel that the environment is safe enough for street pastors?

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

I thank the hon. Lady for her intervention. It is difficult for me to answer that, because I cannot speak for other areas. I can speak only for mine, and I must say that in my constituency, the police are never too far away. The issue for street pastors is that they are not police. That is probably why they are approachable, which is one of their advantages. I know from my constituents that they have probably saved people from abuse and physical and other harm, and that they have got people home safely. Street pastors have a working relationship with the police, but they are not the police. They are there to help, and I think people recognise that; the street pastors’ years of involvement in this work on the streets of Newtownards, Bangor, the Ards peninsula, Comber and elsewhere in my constituency have shown that to be the case. The hon. Lady is right; street pastors need to be safe, but in my area, I think they are.

I conclude with this: these issues are prevalent in all constituencies across the United Kingdom. An antisocial behaviour plan has recently been introduced in England, which it seems will tackle the worst of antisocial behaviour in England. I am grateful to the Minister, for whom I have the utmost respect. What discussions could she have with our Department of Justice back home? I believe wholeheartedly that we can do things much better together, because this is a national issue. That is why the debate is important, and that is why I am speaking in it—not that I can necessarily add anything more for the Minister to reply to. I just wanted to let her know that we have some ideas in Northern Ireland. It is good to exchange those ideas, and thereby do better for everyone.

Photo of Esther McVey Esther McVey Conservative, Tatton

We move now to the Front-Bench spokespeople.

Photo of Marion Fellows Marion Fellows Scottish National Party, Motherwell and Wishaw 10:24, 26 April 2023

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship for the first time, Ms McVey. I congratulate Robbie Moore on securing this important debate. I will not stand here and say that everything is wonderful in Scotland. We have already heard from Margaret Ferrier, and there are issues in my constituency, too, many of them linked to local housing issues. In North Lanarkshire Council, police and local housing officials work closely together to solve those problems.

In spite of that, the Scottish Government actually recognise how much antisocial behaviour can, as many hon. Members have said this morning, blight people’s lives. The Scottish Government remain committed to tackling all forms of antisocial behaviour via legislation, and fixed penalty notices for things such as littering, which is another bad antisocial behaviour issue. I am reliably informed that there is no Scottish equivalent to section 59 of the Anti-social Behaviour and Policing Act 2014, but we have our own Act—the Antisocial Behaviour etc. (Scotland) Act 2004—and some stringent operating procedures for police.

As in other parts of the United Kingdom, it is not always possible for police in Scotland to attend every incident of antisocial behaviour, because there is simply no capacity after 13 years of austerity. Importantly, according to the Scottish Community Safety Network, 12-year-olds living in the 20% most deprived areas, as measured by the Scottish index of multiple deprivation, are more likely than those in the 20% least deprived areas to have engaged in antisocial behaviour. As Ian Lavery asked, is antisocial behaviour about boredom? In some cases, it is simply about not having a decent life chance because of poverty.

Those living in more deprived areas, socially rented housing and urban areas are more likely to think that antisocial behaviour and neighbourhood problems are issues in their area. However, perceived levels of antisocial behaviour differ from actual levels, and that is a real issue as well. There is a lot of perception about antisocial behaviour. What is antisocial behaviour for one person is not always antisocial behaviour to someone else, and we need to look at things differently in some areas.

I reiterate that the root of the problem is a lack of resources for police, local authorities and organisations that help. In my area of Scotland, there are still street football leagues. The police in Scotland act differently, it is fair to say. They are much more community-based; there is a much wider sense in which they use consent to police their areas, and they work much more closely with local authorities. However, some of the great work they have been doing has been affected by real-terms cuts to funding, which is a huge pity.

In spite of the UK Government’s austerity cuts, Scotland still has a higher number of officers with better pay than at any time during the last Administration, and more police per head of population than England and Wales; that is a priority for the Scottish Government, and will continue to be. We have increased the number of police officers in Scotland, and they get paid about £5,000 more per annum as a starting salary. Also, fewer police officers resign voluntarily in Scotland because their conditions are better. The UK Government should look at that.

It is important that people look to not just the police to solve antisocial behaviour issues, but proper local organisations that work with police and other agencies. Jim Shannon talked about street pastors; we know what good work they do across the UK. Churches in my area are also involved in that good work. The whole thing comes down to money. I am probably the oldest Member present. I can remember when there was a zero-tolerance approach to any crime in New York; I believe it was in the 1980s. I think we all recognise, as we should, that small crimes can lead to larger crimes. We should not simply label that as antisocial behaviour at the outset. As well as providing support for victims, we need to provide outlets for younger people, who are mainly, but not always, the ones exhibiting antisocial behaviour. We need to look at what we do, take a zero-tolerance approach, and work with organisations to try to prevent such behaviour.

The hon. Member for Wansbeck was right to say that boredom leads to a lot of antisocial behaviour, but we cannot tackle antisocial behaviour at its root without adequate Government funding. Government funding in England will lead to Barnett consequentials for Scotland, so will the Minister talk about how the Government will improve funding to help to fight this scourge across the United Kingdom?

Photo of Sarah Jones Sarah Jones Shadow Minister (Home Office) 10:31, 26 April 2023

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Ms McVey, and I am delighted that Robbie Moore was able to secure this debate on an incredibly important topic. Perhaps we can forgive him for some of his colourful attacks on his Labour party colleagues because sometimes there is a direct correlation between an MP’s majority and the scale of their exaggerations against their opponents. However, the hon. Gentleman made some good points, and I agree 100% that antisocial behaviour is a plague that haunts many of our communities.

It is a shame that the Government have only recently woken up to the challenges of antisocial behaviour. I have attended debates at which Ministers have described antisocial behaviour as low level and not something they had chosen to prioritise in the past, and if Members look at the strategies that the Government have published in recent years, they will see that antisocial behaviour barely got a mention. The Labour party takes antisocial behaviour seriously. It is not low level; it is ruining lives.

Photo of Robbie Moore Robbie Moore Conservative, Keighley

I note that the shadow Minister says the Labour party takes antisocial behaviour extremely seriously. I am interested in her views on the selection of Labour party candidates for local elections. Does the Labour party think it appropriate to select candidates with previous convictions, such as a two-year suspended sentence, to stand for election to positions of responsibility?

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

I do not know about that particular case, but I do not think it acceptable that over the past 13 years the Government have not taken antisocial behaviour seriously and that the lives of people across the country have been ruined as a result. The hon. Gentleman is perhaps sad that he did not become a police and crime commissioner when he stood for election—I am sure he would have done an excellent job—but he cannot deny, and did not deny in his speech, the damage that has been done to our town centres and our communities over the past 13 years.

People across the country know exactly what antisocial behaviour feels like. They know what changes in their neighbourhood when community respect is worn down, and they know what broken Britain feels like. Parents worry about their children playing in the park or being targeted online. Pensioners worry about scams. Small businesses worry they will be targeted by thieves or vandals. Knife crime plagues communities, women feel less safe on the streets and antisocial behaviour ruins lives without consequence.

Labour’s driving mission is to deliver safer streets. If a family does not have a big house with a garden, the kids play on the streets, or hang out in the parks or the town centre, and it is vital that people feel they are safe enough to enjoy their local area. Criminal damage to shops, schools, leisure centres and businesses has increased by more than 30% in the past year alone. That is an extraordinary figure. There are 150 incidents of criminal damage to non-residential buildings a day. Antisocial arson went up 25% last year. Knife possession is up 15% on pre-pandemic levels. More than 6 million Brits are witnessing drug deals on their streets. That is 6 million people seeing drug dealing and drug taking on our streets.

Some town centres have been particularly hard hit by vandalism, harassment and abuse. Do not be fooled by the Government’s announcement today that they have met their arbitrary police recruitment target of 20,000. The Tories should hang their heads in shame that they decimated policing. Replacing some of the officers cut by the Government is not a victory. A press release will not suddenly make the public see police officers on the streets who are not there. Nobody will be fooled.

My hon. Friend Ian Lavery made a powerful speech about how people just want to see action; they want something done when a crime is committed. He rightly paid tribute to the police in his area. They are trying to do the right thing, but they do not have the resources. How insulted will they be when they hear the Home Secretary say in her speech today that the police need to stop concerning themselves with political correctness and get on with basic policing? It is nonsense that the police are not doing the things we want them to because of the way they approach their job. They are trying but they are massively overstretched. We have seen such cuts that it is very difficult for them to do the things that we all demand of them. They will not praise the Home Secretary for what she says today.

In her shocking 300-page report on the Met, Louise Casey made it really clear that visible neighbourhood policing is crucial to restoring confidence in police. Neighbourhood policing has been slashed. There are 10,000 fewer neighbourhood police and PCSOs on our streets today than there were eight years ago. The population has also increased, so we have fewer officers per person in this country by some margin than when the Tories came to power.

Charge rates are plummeting, victims are dropping out of the process in record numbers, the Conservative Government scrapped the major drug intervention programme that the last Labour Government had in place, and support services for kids have been decimated. YMCA says that £1 billion has been taken out of youth work across the country. As my hon. Friend the Member for Wansbeck mentioned, the police spend hours, if not days, dealing with mental health cases, simply because there is no one else to pick up the pieces. Community penalties have halved and there is a backlog of millions of hours of community payback schemes, not completed because the Government cannot even run the existing scheme properly.

Far from punishing perpetrators of antisocial behaviour, the Government are letting more and more of them off. The Conservatives weakened Labour’s antisocial behaviour powers 10 years ago, and brought in new ones that are barely used. They got rid of powers of arrest, despite being warned not to, and they introduced the community trigger, which is sadly something most people have not heard of. When polled, the public say there is no point in investing in improving the community if it is just going to be vandalised by criminals. It is impossible to level up without tackling crime.

Labour announced months ago our action plan to crack down on antisocial behaviour that blights communities. Respect orders will create a new criminal offence for adults who have repeatedly committed antisocial behaviour and are ignoring warnings by the courts and police. Labour will introduce new town centre patrols, and a mandatory antisocial behaviour police lead for every local neighbourhood, as part of our neighbourhood police guarantee, with 13,000 extra neighbourhood police and PCSOs.

We should, of course, pay tribute to the Welsh Government, as my hon. Friend Alex Davies-Jones did, for committing more PCSOs, because they are the eyes and ears on antisocial behaviour and can stop things escalating. They can find out the problems, they know people’s parents, they know where people live, and they can go round communities to stop antisocial behaviour escalating. The hon. Member for Keighley’s force, West Yorkshire police, has the second highest proportion of PCSOs by population in England, which I am sure he is pleased about.

We will bring tough action against town centre drug dealing, with tough powers for the police to shut down crack houses, and local neighbourhood drug teams to patrol town centres and lead data-driven hotspot policing targeted at common drug-dealing sites. We will introduce a national register of private landlords, and a duty for local partners to tackle antisocial behaviour, with mandatory antisocial behaviour officers in each area.

Under a Labour Government, if somebody wants to commit vandalism or dump rubbish on our streets, they had better be prepared to clean up the mess. We will bring in fixed-penalty cleaning notices and tough penalties for fly-tippers, and establish clean-up squads, where offenders will clear up litter, fly-tipping and vandalism that they have caused. The next Labour Government will not let another generation of lost boys and girls grow up without hope. That is why Labour will introduce full prevention and diversion programmes, with new youth mentors for the children and young people most vulnerable to crime, and access to mental health professionals in every school.

What are the Government proposing to do about the 13 years of neglect? Recently they called for hotspot policing, faster community payback, and stronger powers of arrest. That sounds familiar—because it is exactly what Labour has been calling for, and is already in Labour’s plans. However, the Government have left out the most important part, which is putting our neighbourhood police and PCSOs back on the streets. They are not investing in that. Labour’s plans to support victims have also been neglected. On the community trigger that is not working, the Government have decided to rename it, and they have re-announced plans on youth support that the Levelling Up Secretary announced more than a year ago.

The Government have said that 500 young people will get one-to-one support. There were 1.1 million incidents of antisocial behaviour last year. Supporting 500 people just will not cut it. The Government are still not changing their weakened enforcement powers on antisocial behaviour, and neighbourhood policing is not even mentioned in their action plan. The Minister knows that hotspot policing cannot be a replacement for neighbourhood policing. Neighbourhood teams made up of officers, PCSOs and specials are the eyes and ears of our communities. They are the Catherine Cawoods of policing. They know what is going on in their communities, and are trusted to understand and fix problems.

I hope that the Minister can answer a few questions. What is the plan for the police workforce now that the uplift programme has finished? Will she back Labour’s plan to put 13,000 more police officers, PCSOs and specials back in our neighbourhoods? Will she support Labour’s respect orders, so that the police can have the powers that they need to arrest and deal with persistent antisocial behaviour, and can she confirm whether cutting the number of PCSOs by half was a deliberate policy measure or just an accident of no planning?

Where the Conservatives have dismantled neighbourhood policing, Labour will bring it back. Where the Conservatives have weakened antisocial behaviour powers, Labour has a tough new plan to tackle it. Where the Conservatives forgot about our young people, Labour will prioritise them. Labour will revive the reassurance that if you are a victim of a crime, something will be done.

Photo of Sarah Dines Sarah Dines The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department 10:42, 26 April 2023

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Ms McVey. I thank my hon. Friend Robbie Moore for securing the debate. He knows, as we all do, that these issues matter to a great many of our constituents in all parts of the country. Antisocial behaviour is a menace that must be reckoned with. It causes untold distress, concern, frustration and fear. It ruins people’s enjoyment of public spaces, and at worst it destroys lives and gnaws at the fabric of communities. It is totally unacceptable.

Town centres should be bustling and energetic, but they should also be safe. My hon. Friend mentioned Keighley bus station. Transport is crucial. People should be able to walk to get a bus or train, and his work in that area is really important. The Government are committing a large sum of money—an extra £2.5 million—for a pilot to extend transport safety officers. Conservatives feel very strongly about such issues.

No one should feel threatened when walking alone at night or during the day. Nor should they have to dodge litter or drug paraphernalia on the streets, endure persistent unruly behaviour or excessive noise, or see their local areas disfigured by graffiti and vandalism. Those are just a few of the many examples Members have raised of how antisocial behaviour manifests. Different areas have different problems, as is clear from Members’ contributions, but a recurring theme is the harm done to the physical environment and the impact on decent, law-abiding citizens, who suffer as a result of the actions of a selfish minority. Antisocial behaviour affects lives.

Photo of Sarah Dines Sarah Dines The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department

I will make a little more progress first. Antisocial behaviour is not low level or minor, and I do not accept the characterisation that the Government view it as somehow petty. That is an unfortunate narrative. I am sure that we all agree that antisocial behaviour is very impactful on people’s everyday lives. We need to attack it head-on.

In relation to the police uplift, today’s debate is obviously very timely, for two reasons. At 9.30 this morning, just as my hon. Friend the Member for Keighley was rising to start his remarks, the latest statistics on the police uplift programme were published. Let me confirm to hon. Members what those figures tell us. I am delighted to say—we should be proud—that from the end of March 2023, 20,951 additional police officers have been recruited from funding from the police uplift programme. That brings the current police officer head- count in England and Wales to 149,572, an increase of 3,542 compared with 2010.

The upshot is that there are now more police officers in England and Wales than at any point in history. The Opposition spokesperson, Sarah Jones, is inaccurate in saying that that is not the case. We will have more police on the beat to prevent violence—more police out about in their communities, solving burglaries and, yes, tackling antisocial behaviour on the ground. It is of course for police forces to determine how they use their own money and the additional officers at their disposal. Let me say in response to some of the contributions we have heard that West Midlands police has closed 20 police stations and chosen to spend £33 million of its money refurbishing a head office. But there is no doubt that the police have a crucial role to play in tackling antisocial behaviour. A responsive and visible police presence can have a strong deterrent effect as well as helping to provide reassurance for communities.

This debate is timely for a second reason: it was only at the end of last month that the Government published their bold and ambitious action plan to tackle antisocial behaviour. The difference between our plan and Labour’s is that ours actually has some depth, narrative and detail. The hon. Member for Croydon Central will remember that detail and figures are really important.

As has been made clear today, constituents all over the country are sick and tired of antisocial behaviour. The Government hear their concerns and we are determined to step up the response. Our action plan will give police and crime commissioners and local authorities and their agencies the tools to stamp out antisocial behaviour across England and Wales. It targets the callous and careless few whose actions ruin public spaces and amenities on which the law-abiding majority want to depend.

Photo of Alex Davies-Jones Alex Davies-Jones Shadow Minister (Digital, Culture, Media and Sport)

The Minister mentioned the impact of antisocial behaviour on communities and she also mentioned transport. A big problem that we have is the antisocial noise from the exhausts of modified cars racing up and down our bypasses and through our town centres. Last April, the former Transport Secretary, Grant Shapps, announced a pilot of noise cameras to capture that antisocial behaviour, but we have heard very little since. Will the Minister go back to the Transport Secretary to find out what is happening with the noise cameras and see whether they can be rolled out across the UK, because that antisocial behaviour is a major problem in Pontypridd and Taff-Ely?

Photo of Sarah Dines Sarah Dines The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department

I am certainly willing to do that. Anecdotally, there are similar issues in my constituency of Derbyshire Dales, and I have written to the Transport Secretary myself in that regard. There are pilots, and I think there is a consideration as to whether there should be more.

The Government’s action plan outlines a radical new approach and is split across four key areas. There will be stronger punishment for perpetrators. The Opposition say that the Government have disregarded that, but that is not the case; the Government are going to bring forward stronger punishment for perpetrators. Marion Fellows mentioned experiences of zero tolerance in the USA. There are historical and academic reasons why that is of interest and why it works in some areas and not in others, but the Government will introduce stronger punishment for perpetrators in this country.

We are cracking down on illegal drugs, making offenders repair the damage that they cause, increasing financial penalties, and evicting antisocial tenants. Drugs are harmful to health, wellbeing and security, and they devastate lives. That is why we have decided to ban nitrous oxide, known as laughing gas, which is currently the third most used drug among 16 to 24-year-olds. How many of us have stumbled across the canisters broken on the ground? That really is antisocial behaviour. The Government will put an end to the hordes of youths loitering in parks and littering them with empty canisters.

Furthermore, under our new plan, the police will be able to undertake drug testing of suspected criminals in police custody for a wider range of drugs, including ecstasy and methamphetamine—medical testing is moving onwards. They will test offenders linked to crimes such as violence against women and girls, serious violence, and antisocial behaviour. We will ensure that the consequences for those committing antisocial behaviour are toughened up. Our immediate justice pilots will deliver swift, visible punishment for those involved. Members who have contributed are right that we need to see more officers on the street, and the Government are delivering that.

Offenders will undertake manual reparative work that makes good the damage suffered by victims. I am pleased that the Opposition agree with that plan, which is part of their own plan. Communities will be consulted on the type of work undertaken, and the work should start swiftly—ideally, within 48 hours of notice from the police. Whether it is cleaning up graffiti, picking up litter or washing police cars while wearing hi-vis jumpsuits or vests, people caught behaving antisocially will have to make swift reparations to the community.

The upper limits of on-the-spot fines will be increased to £1,000 for fly-tipping, which I know is a scourge for many Members present, including my hon. Friend the Member for Keighley. Another notable absence from the Labour party’s plan is proper figures. Facts and figures are really important, so we have announced that the fine for fly-tipping will be increased to £1,000, and to £500 for litter and graffiti. We will support councils to hand out more fines to offenders, with the money going back into local authority investment on activities such as cleaning up and enforcement, which is essential.

Nobody should have to endure persistent antisocial behaviour from their neighbours, which is why we plan to halve the delay between a private landlord serving notice for antisocial behaviour and eviction. We will also broaden the scope of harmful activities that can lead to eviction and make sure that antisocial offenders are de-prioritised for social housing.

Secondly, we are making communities safer. We are funding an increased police and other uniformed presence focused on antisocial behaviour in targeted hotspots where it is most prevalent. Initially we will support 10 trailblazer areas, before rolling out the hotspot enforcement across all forces in England and Wales. Hon. Members have mentioned their areas. Northumbria, West Midlands and South Wales police and crime commissioners will be piloting the enhanced hotspot response in 2023-24.

We will also replace the 19th-century Vagrancy Act with tools to direct vulnerable individuals towards appropriate support, such as accommodation, mental health or substance misuse services. We will criminalise organised begging, which is often facilitated by criminal gangs to obtain cash for illicit activity. We will prohibit begging where it causes blight and public nuisance, for example, where there are cashpoints, in shop doorways or when people are approached directly by someone in the street. We will also give police and local authorities the tools to address situations where rough sleeping is a public nuisance, such as the obstruction of doorways or the build-up of debris and tents, while ensuring that those who are genuinely homeless are directed towards appropriate help. We will build local pride in places by giving councils stronger tools to revitalise communities, bring more empty high street shops back into use, and restore local parks.

Youth have been mentioned by the hon. Members for Wansbeck (Ian Lavery) and for Pontypridd (Alex Davies-Jones), and prevention and early intervention is of course important. It is an issue on which we can all agree. We need to have young people properly engaged to steer them away from crime, which is why the Government have committed to the third strand of our plan: prevention and early intervention. Around 80% of prolific adult offenders begin committing crimes as children.

We are funding 1 million more hours of provision for young people in antisocial behaviour hotspots and expanding eligibility for the turnaround programme, which will support 17,000 children—not just 500, as has been suggested—who are on the cusp of the criminal justice system. Our £500-million national youth guarantee also means that, by 2025, every young person will have access to regular clubs, activities and opportunities to volunteer. It would be useful if all Members, including Opposition Members, read the Government’s antisocial plan, because it addresses many issues raised by all parties. Because we are funding 1 million more hours of provision for young people, that really is going to be a turnaround for them. We are working with youth offending teams, the Probation Service and local authorities to intervene very early on behalf of children at particular risk.

Fourthly, we will improve accountability. A new digital tool will mean that members of the public have a simple and clear way to report antisocial behaviour and receive updates on their case. We have also launched a targeted consultation on community safety partnerships, with the aim of making them more accountable and effective.

I am particularly interested in the points made by Jim Shannon from a Northern Ireland perspective. He is always insightful. Although the Government are putting such a lot of money into making streets safer, that is only possible with the assistance of the community. Sometimes the state is not very good at it, but the community is. It is only with the assistance of those working in the community—such as street pastors, who were mentioned by Mrs Hamilton—that we can move forward.

I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Keighley for securing the debate and everyone who has participated. We can all agree that antisocial behaviour is a scourge, but it is all about how best to address it. I suggest that the Government, in a properly costed and thought-through way, have addressed the issue. It has been underlined again today just how enormously important tackling antisocial behaviour is to people up and down the country. The Government hear and understand those concerns, and we are acting on them. As I have set out, we are implementing a very wide-ranging, carefully thought-out plan that is backed by proper statistics, thought and planning. It is also backed by £160 million of funding, and it will bring benefits to every part of England and Wales, including town centres. As ever, our focus is on doing what is right for the decent, hard-working and law-abiding majority. We will do everything in our power to protect them from harm and to deliver them the safe and peaceful streets they deserve.

Photo of Robbie Moore Robbie Moore Conservative, Keighley 10:55, 26 April 2023

I thank all hon. Members who have participated in this important debate. Like them, I thank my local neighbourhood policing team. We all know how hard those teams work on the ground and that they face many challenges across our town centres, cities and villages.

It is very good to hear from the Minister that today we can announce that 20,951 extra police officers have been recruited since 2019—an uplift of 3,542 since 2010. I also thank the Minister for recognising the challenges that I have faced in Keighley bus station. I know that she will follow that through with interaction with West Yorkshire police in working out how to get to grips with some of those examples and other challenges that we all face. Without a doubt, it is important that the Government are being strong by introducing increased penalties, tougher sentences and swifter interaction between arrest, conviction and sentences coming to fruition.

I thank my hon. Friend Anthony Mangnall and Jim Shannon for mentioning policing hubs, the importance of engaging police officers with constituency meetings, and a community buy-in and community partnership approach that works with our local authorities. Some antisocial behaviour issues are related to challenges that partnership-led approaches can deal with. I thank them for mentioning that, and I also thank Margaret Ferrier for mentioning the specific issue of street drinking.

Of course, the hon. Members for Wansbeck (Ian Lavery), for Pontypridd (Alex Davies-Jones) and for Birmingham, Erdington (Mrs Hamilton) all have Labour police and crime commissioners. It is disappointing to hear that the Labour PCC for the West Midlands is spending £33 million on refurbishing the office at Lloyd House rather than protecting 20 police stations. I see that in my constituency as well: a lack of prioritisation of what police officers should be focusing on because of a lack of direction and approach from our West Yorkshire Mayor, who does not have the right strategy.

It was disappointing that the Labour spokesman, Sarah Jones, could not answer my question about whether political party candidates’ previous convictions should be properly referenced. It is disappointing that the Labour party is putting up candidates who have previously had suspended prison sentences. On that note, I thank the Minister very much for her time in this debate on an important issue that we all want to raise.

Question put and agreed to.


That this House
has considered the matter of antisocial behaviour in town centres.