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I put up with that for a couple of stations, and then three points occurred to me. The first-given that the behaviour was pretty nasty-was that I was not sure where I could get hold of a guard. Secondly, I asked myself whether I should intervene. I do not know whether my colleagues would have intervened, but I lost my nerve because there was a chance that I would get thumped. Thirdly, I thought to myself, "Wait a minute: what has gone wrong here? All we are talking about is the fact that someone, somewhere, has not taught these
young people how to behave properly in public, and it is a real shame." I watched them get off the train a couple of stations later: a nice-looking, young bunch who might make quite a lot of life. But they had behaved so badly on the train, and I was not even sure that they had noticed what they were doing.
We have heard a great deal about ASBOs tonight. We have heard a great deal about their effectiveness or otherwise in relation to antisocial behaviour. I remember when they were introduced. Indeed, I have had to administer a few myself. They have a place in life-the Minister said so, and I agree with him-but there are an awful lot of breaches. The overall figure is 50 per cent., and in the case of youngsters aged 10 to 17 it is nearly 65 per cent.
Actually, I am not sure that I like the idea of a 10-year-old being subject to an ASBO. There must be other, better methods. Nevertheless, there are breaches. In 2005, 4,000 ASBOs were issued and 2,100 were breached. In 2006, 2,700 were issued and 1,800 were breached. Earlier, the Minister spoke of tougher action from the Government against those who breach ASBOs. He will know that already in the magistrates court breach of an ASBO carries a sentence of six months. He will also know that in the Crown court it carries a sentence of five years. Tremendous penalties are available to the courts, and I do not think that we need to toughen them up.
We have also heard a great deal about new measures, but the question for me is not how we intervene in relation to antisocial behaviour, but when we intervene. In my view, the earlier we do so the better. For years in the House, I have heard about the introduction of new measures by successive Governments. I have heard about new policies, new orders from the courts, acceptable behaviour orders, parenting orders, referral orders, grounding orders, websites, helplines and night courts. The list of initiatives is endless. But does it get us anywhere? I do not think it does, and I think that most people out there in the community realise that that sort of top-down approach is not really effective.
Yes, I am a very junior member of the judiciary. I take that little slight on the chin. The trouble is, as far as I can see, that a great number of ASBOs are being breached. That suggests not only that they are not always effective, but that we are not intervening early enough with our children in the community.
The hon. Gentleman appears to be arguing that ASBOs are not effective because they are breached. Does he not accept that ASBOs are often applied to the most prolific offenders, and are therefore
more likely to be breached in most circumstances? I defy the hon. Gentleman to tell my constituents Mr. and Mrs. Patel on the Duchy estate that their bravery in standing up and giving evidence was not worth while. It has made a huge difference to that estate.
Mr. Malins: I am afraid that that comment was not worthy of a former senior Minister; it is as simple as that. All I am saying is that ASBOs are not always effective. My main point is that our intervention should come at an earlier stage, with the children in our community.
Angela Watkinson (Upminster) (Con): I am sure my hon. Friend is aware that one form of antisocial behaviour starts as early as reception classes in infant schools, where children have not learned at home how to behave in an acceptable way.
Mr. Malins: My hon. Friend is quite right. I was about to say that the myriad orders, agencies, new punishments and new sentences from the courts are no substitute for a good, loving home life with proper role models for young men in our communities and proper discipline in schools, so that people learn from a very early age how to behave properly. I think that the House should focus on that.
Another issue that is very important to me is literacy. I have a great deal of anecdotal evidence from the courts where I sit. A huge percentage of the youngsters who appear before me-indeed, this is true of many aged between 18 and 25-have real literacy and numeracy problems. A typical example might be a young man, perhaps 20 by now, who comes from a very poor estate where there was no green grass and nowhere to play. He lived four floors up in a block of flats where the lift did not work. His mother was probably addicted to Prozac, and his father or stepfather was probably drunk and knocked him about. He went to school and did not make much of a fist of it. It was not long before he was beginning to get behind in his lessons, and then he began to truant. When he was truanting, he eventually got himself excluded form from school. He would go back occasionally, but then, because he was frustrated with life and could not read and write properly, his behaviour was becoming worse and worse. Finally, he was permanently excluded. Eighty-two per cent. of youngsters under 21 in our young offender institutions have been excluded from school at some stage, and approximately 50 per cent. have been permanently excluded from school. Many of them were excluded because they were disruptive. To a great extent, that disruptive behaviour comes from frustration at their lack of literacy and numeracy.
So many youngsters are incarcerated on short sentences-which, by the way, I believe are a complete waste of time and money-in our young offender estate. The levels of literacy and numeracy in the young offender estate are very low indeed. However, in many of our young offender institutions the maximum amount of time spent on education and training is only four hours a week. What the devil is that worth to somebody who goes in there barely able to read or to write his own name? There is also two hours a week on team sport. Call me old-fashioned, but I happen to believe in the merits of team sport-of learning to take a knock and give a knock, and to behave properly.
As often as not, those in our young offender institutions are locked up for 17 hours a day, and there is a total lack of emphasis on what is truly important: getting the boys-they are boys-to read, write and become better qualified for life outside. There is also a total lack of emphasis on resettlement. In the last few months of a sentence, we should be striving hard to ensure that every youngster coming out of a young offender institution has somewhere to go-a job to go to, a mentor, a bit of support outside-otherwise there is just a revolving door and they come back inside.
The behaviour of a minority of young people is very bad-although most young people are brilliant. However, I firmly believe that we, as a Parliament, must not debate this issue every six months, trying to outbid ourselves with more and more different punishments, more and more different bodies and more and more different headlines, when in fact we know that the truth is that we must intervene with youngsters early, because if we do not, the rest of our talk is rubbish.
I had wanted to talk about the importance of the role of the family. I have looked at the situation in some European countries where there is a stronger family ethos and where antisocial behaviour differs very much from ours both in type and in the amount and frequency of it. That will have to wait for another day, however.
Instead, I shall discuss a situation that arose in my constituency over the weekend. The hon. Member for Bridgend (Mrs. Moon) said she was out in her constituency on Friday night, observing how the street pastors operate. I was out in my constituency in the very early hours of Sunday morning, having received a telephone call to let me know that 800 cars, each containing between two and five young people, had arrived between two villages. They proceeded to leave the cars, walk into the woods to a disused warehouse and have an illegal rave. We might ask, so they left their cars and went into the woods; where is the harm in that? Well, there are a number of ways in which that behaviour was antisocial, and there are a number of issues to do with how it was dealt with and how I would like it to be dealt with in future.
First, the warehouse was unsafe; there was steep rock and it was surrounded by water. It is also no exaggeration to say that everybody in there was high on drugs. The organisers were making their money by selling the drugs, not by charging an entrance fee. The cars had been left all over the road, too, and the local people were kept awake from about 1 am, when the cars started to arrive; they screeched up and down between the two villages. There was also the noise from the sound system. Three thousand people descended on to this small rural area, and it was completely overwhelming.
The debris caused were an antisocial feature, as was the fact that there were no toilets-people just went to the toilet where they could. My biggest concern, however, was the fact that there was no water supply and also that there were no medical facilities, no emergency services and no back-up. These kids had no water. I was there for seven hours, along with others. The kids were
taking pills, inhaling from canisters and yet they had no water. They were not in a position to be in control of what happened to them or their own safety.
Another big concern is the fact that these people came to our constituency in the first place. They did so because the place they came to was seen as an easy target. Two policewomen were sent at the height of this rave. I am not sure what they were sent to do; I imagine the phone call went to the emergency services and they came. They wandered into the middle of this illegal rave, but they should not have done so because their safety was compromised. We needed a strong response from the local police to protect the safety of these young people, getting them out of this area and this danger.
What did the police do? When it became daylight these two policewomen, having been up, left their shift and two policemen came to take over-they were great people, but what could two of them do in the face of this? The police superintendent told us that they were going to send a helicopter up to assess the danger, despite the fact that we had been there for hours and had already been up there. They sent the helicopter up, although we had actually been told that the weather was too bad; we knew that it was raining, because we were soaked to the skin. Thank goodness it does not rain in Afghanistan, Iraq and such places, because I have no idea how helicopters are used there when it rains. The helicopter eventually went up when the rain stopped, and a couple of hours later the police did come out. The action chosen was to stand and to serve an order on the organisers-but there were no organisers as such.
People slowly began to disperse peacefully. All credit to the kids, because they did, in their incapable state, try to clean up some of the mess as they left. People who should not have been driving were getting into cars. Drugs are as dangerous as alcohol when one is driving, and these people should not have been getting into their cars on leaving-this was 13 hours after they had arrived. If we had had an elected police commissioner who was accountable to the people of the two small towns where this rave took place, the police would have been more rapid in their response and more effective in how they dealt with the situation. As it was, this rave continued and people had their day disturbed, as their night had been. Can one can imagine this going on all through the night? I was there at 7 am and I got home at 2.30 pm -we were just in the position where we could leave around then. The mess on the roads and at the site was disgraceful.
We have spoken about antisocial behaviour today, and people have cited their cases and what has happened to their constituencies. Antisocial behaviour can be anything from a child misbehaving, or somebody on the tube or train with their iPod on too loud so that it disturbs everybody else's peace and environment, to something like the 3,000 people who arrived in my constituency. At the bottom of all this is the authorities' ability to deal with antisocial behaviour as it arises. I know that a number of cases have been made for the myriad of agencies and tools that both the police and the authorities have to deal with antisocial behaviour, but the fact is that in many cases they do not deal with
it. As I witnessed with my own eyes on Sunday, it is not a case of not wanting to deal with it; it is almost a case of there being too many instruments for the police to use. It is not as though any one event is dealt with by saying, "This is how we deal with this; this is the tool we use." There are so many tools that the police are confused as to what they use and when.
We know that 15,000 antisocial behaviour orders have been served, that 50 per cent. of them are breached and that 65 per cent. of ASBOs given to young people are breached. That constitutes a fail; it means that ASBOs are not working. Rather than serving ASBOs on young people who behave in a way deemed to be antisocial, perhaps we should be reinforcing our police, so that they can act in a way that makes these young people think twice about what they are about to do before they commit any instance of antisocial behaviour; those 3,000 young people who wanted to arrive in my constituency for an illegal rave should have known that it was not worth their while, because the police would descend on them and move them on. It should not have been worth their while coming from Wisbech, Suffolk and all the other places that they told me they had arrived from, because the police should have had the powers and the ability to deal with the situation straight away and move them on. Apparently some police forces do take that approach, which is why the kids were in my constituency; they were there because the police forces in their area have a zero-tolerance attitude towards these raves.
It has been very interesting to listen to some of the speeches made by Labour Members-in fact, it has been amazing, because this Government have been in power for 12 years, but some of the speeches have almost suggested that antisocial behaviour is a new phenomenon that has suddenly arisen. If we speak to anybody, anywhere and ask them what is of huge concern to them, the answer will be the rise in antisocial behaviour in all areas of life and in all places. Whether it is on the train or in schools, or whether it involves people descending on the streets in my constituency, antisocial behaviour is on the increase and it is getting worse.
Whatever we are doing with the myriad tools and instruments that the police have, it is not working. The sooner the Government accept that, the better. As soon as they understand that the way to deal with antisocial behaviour is to give the police powers, to make them more accountable and to give them the ability to deal with such behaviour as and when it arises, the better it will be for all of us. One way of doing that, and of ensuring that it happens, is to consider having elected police commissioners.
Tom Brake (Carshalton and Wallington) (LD): The hon. Lady is about to refer to the elected commissioners as part of the solution. Will she explain why so many senior police officers do not see those as part of the solution at all and are worried about a politicised police force?
I am delighted-I thank the hon. Gentleman for that question. Who would want to vote for their job, which is incredibly safe, to become not so safe and more accountable to the people? Who would want that? It is probably self-explanatory why police chief constables do not want this to happen. We are not
talking about elected chief constables-the hon. Gentleman completely misunderstands me-but about elected police commissioners. They are not quite the same, but it does not make any difference: if someone were accountable for how the police respond to antisocial behaviour, I guess it would be dealt with much more effectively.
I will sit down now because I know that lots of hon. Members want to speak, but I wanted to highlight the case in my constituency this weekend, how it disturbed the lives of many hundreds of people and how we need to reinforce our police forces so that they can instantly deal with such situations when they arise.
Alistair Burt (North-East Bedfordshire) (Con): This has been an enlightening but also frustrating debate. We have heard about many things that have frightened us on behalf of our constituents, but we are frustrated because we have been here before. It is not a subject on which there are easy answers or places where we have been successful. The hon. Member for Mitcham and Morden (Siobhain McDonagh) made as eloquent a plea for a change of Government as I can remember hearing, if that is her experience in her constituency after 12 years of a Labour Government. The only phrase that she did not include was a plea at the end of, "Why, oh why can't someone do something about all this?"
Siobhain McDonagh: The hon. Gentleman needs to be aware that the council involved, Merton council, is a Conservative-run council and my complaints are mainly based on its actions. I did not want to mention it, because I did not want to reduce people's concerns for the constituents to whom I referred.
Alistair Burt: In my understanding of government, the Home Secretary is a Labour Home Secretary, the democracy that the hon. Lady was asking about is run by a Labour Government, and if a council is not doing something there is a democratic way of dealing with it. She was complaining about Labour policies. Who created the structure that she was kicking up so much fuss about? It was a common theme among a number of colleagues who spoke, who talked about the endless meetings and liaison panels and the industry that has grown up. It is not one council's fault or one Government's fault. There has been a change of attitude over a long time, but the truth is that after 12 years there is only one place where the buck stops, and that is with her colleagues.
I shall do my best to be brief. I shall cover ground similar to that covered by others, but I want to outline the situation is in my constituency and say two or three things that highlight the concerns in North-East Bedfordshire, a largely rural area with frustrations and concerns related to antisocial behaviour.
In Little Staughton-a small parish in the north of my constituency-people had a very bad summer. A series of outbreaks of criminal behaviour, including damage to property, and abusive behaviour was finally traced to a young man and a few acolytes whom he led. The young man had problems, which is often the case with those involved in such activity and behaviour, but huge distress was caused to the local parish. However, its excellent parish council chairman, Tony Moss, is concerned about people's inability to be contacted by the police and about the criminal justice system's inability to inform them about what has happened as the result
of their complaints and concerns. He said, "If you're not attached to the criminal justice system, you're not aware of what's going on." He is concerned that the police's hands are often tied in terms of informing people of the progress of a case and the individual concerned and what the sentence and compensation might be. In that case, the parish council believes that restorative justice would make a difference. It would like the young man and his friends to work in the village, so that people could talk to them about what has happened, so that they can understand the impact of what they have done and regain some self-esteem by doing something about it. The parish council's approach seems perfectly reasonable: this is something in which the criminal justice system should involve people.
In an intervention I mentioned the concern felt by many people who look after organisations that the increasing bureaucracy and regulation relating to child safety are driving away those who want to take part and volunteer to help children and young people in my constituency. I was disappointed by the Minister's response. I hoped that he would be more positive about the concerns that have been raised about the Independent Safeguarding Authority and say that he takes them rather more seriously than the incumbent chief executive would appear to have done.
There is a good article in The Sunday Times this weekend by Jenni Russell, who describes how a small boy could not be picked up by someone who knew him, because he had not been authorised to pick up the child. The youth worker who stopped the child being taken home knew that the boy faced a mile-and-a-half journey on his own in the dark, in the rain. She could not take the boy home either, and he went home in the dark, in the rain on an unlit road. Jenni Russell says in her article about the way we now deal with such issues and the checks:
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