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Chris Grayling: Tackling antisocial behaviour

There's a reason why David Cameron and the Conservative team talk about the Broken Society. You've seen a pretty stark snapshot of it in Doncaster this week.

But it's not just about brutality and violence.

It's also about the minor acts of antisocial behaviour and criminality that affect almost any town or city. 

I heard one story a couple of weeks ago. 

This time it was from a small estate in the Midlands. 

But it is a tale that is familiar to many. 

Every Friday and Saturday night. 

The same gang of young people. 

Some of them aided and abetted by parents who just don't care. 

An evening of under-age drinking leading to trouble and nuisance right across the estate. 

Not just the occasional under age pint. 

But bottles of vodka - bought by disinterested adults - fuelling mounting nuisance for all the other residents - young and old.

And if the police are called, the troublemakers just melt away into back alleyways - or disappear into homes where a small number of inebriated and reckless parents ply them with still more alcohol.

A life of misery for all those affected by what is often a small minority. 

It just has to stop. 

It's time we really reclaimed our streets. 

It's time we ended the blight of graffiti ridden alleyways. 

Of soiled passageways. 

Of kicked in doors. 

Of intimidating behaviour. 

Of excessive under age drinking. 

Of broken windows and acts of vandalism. 

Of wing mirrors kicked off cars and smashed up bus shelters. 

Those are not the hallmarks of a civilised society. 

They are the hallmarks of a society that is losing its way.

And they are paving the way for much worse.

The incident in Doncaster this week should serve as a wake up call for our nation.

Thankfully, events as grotesque as this one involving such young children remain pretty rare.

But violence between children is becoming too much of a norm. The events in Doncaster are only the latest and probably the worst example of a whole series of incidents where children are killing or maiming other children.

Knife murders of teenagers by other teenagers have become all too commonplace on the streets of some of our cities.

We hear more and more about incidents of violent attacks between children.

I was told by a prison officer in a Youth Offender facility recently that some gangs have started to make it a condition of induction for children that they take a knife and maim a passer by.

There are deep rooted social problems behind the changes in our society that have led to this situation.

Family breakdown, addiction, benefit dependency, educational failure all play a part.

Changing what we have called the broken society will be a long and difficult process.

But one step we can take quickly is to go to war on antisocial behaviour. Because the minor criminality committed by younger teenagers so often leads to worse if it goes unchecked.

That's why it's so important to deal with it before some of those young people are dragged into something much worse.

And it's really important to remember that this is not just one generation looking down on the antics of another. It is not just the old who are victims of the blight of antisocial behaviour.

The vast, vast majority of our young people are decent and hard working, and will grow up to be responsible citizens in our society. So why do we let a minority blight their lives as well?

Because those law abiding young people are the ones who are most likely to be subject to intimidating behaviour. 

To have their possessions stolen. 

To be afraid to go out around some areas at night. 

And in the worst cases to be threatened with a knife. 

They are also the ones most likely to fall foul of the Government's ill-thought out approach to dealing with antisocial behaviour.

Much of the Government's focus in tackling antisocial behaviour has been on moving people on, or on banning them from a particular area. It likes blanket bans in particular - its latest Criminal Justice Bill allows for dispersal orders for ten year olds.

And superficially they can work - but they can also be immensely unfair. 

When police in my own constituency enforced a dispersal order around the local cinema a little while back, after a bout of antisocial behaviour there, the troublemakers moved on and the trouble stopped. But some law abiding young people waiting outside the cinema for friends were also moved on - and how can that be fair.

The Home Office only started to measure acts of antisocial behaviour relatively recently. It's one of those areas which is quite hard to define.

But the Government did define it - and the results were disturbing to say the least. 

Three million acts of antisocial behaviour recorded last year. 

And that's only a tiny fraction.

We know that only about one incident in ten is actually recorded and reported. 

So the true figure is near to thirty-five million acts of antisocial behaviour. 

A true blight on virtually every single community in the country. 

Almost one in two of the population experiencing antisocial behaviour each year.   

When I said that we should spend less time concentrating on rights, and more on wrongs, it raised some eyebrows. 

But I stand by that view. 

When I talked about fewer rights and more wrongs. I was particularly talking about teenagers. It's about time we learned, as a society, as parents, as teachers, as police, to say no. It's time we spent a bit more time worrying about the wrongs in our society, and a bit less about the rights of those who are disrupting it.

In some parts of our society, "my rights" has become an alibi for bad behaviour.

How often are people in authority confronted by surly young teenagers saying "I know my rights". Well actually, they don't. The wider debate about the Human Rights Act has nothing to do with teachers, police and other officials enforcing standards of good behaviour on our streets.

It's time that children realised that they can be told to stop it by a teacher or a policeman and that, sometimes, they just have to do what they are told.

Young people have to learn that when an adult makes a decision they have to listen - the adult doesn't have to 'earn the respect' of the young person.

The same should apply in our schools and for the police on our streets. 

I believe in human rights. 

But I also believe in the rights of the victims of crime and antisocial behaviour. 

And that everyone has a responsibility to respect the community in which they live.  

That's why it's right to start reclaiming our streets. 

The starting point needs to be a fresh look at the way we approach these issues. 

There need to be five central principles that underpin our approach to tackling the blight of antisocial behaviour. 

The first of these is very straightforward. 

There have to be consequences for every act of antisocial behaviour. 

If a young troublemaker just gets away with it, he or she will have little reason not to offend and reoffend. 

The second is that we must set very clear expectations for parents. I don't think it's good enough to simply say that parenting is very difficult, that some kids are hard to control, and so we will be tolerant of those parents who don't restrain their children.

I think that is a cop out. 

Understanding and help yes. But allowing them to abdicate responsibility - definitely not. 

The third is that we need to teach children the difference between right and wrong very early in their lives. That has to mean a much tougher approach to bad behaviour in our schools.

The fourth is that we must enforce responsible behaviour towards young people in our society. 

I think that adults who wilfully supply young people with excessive amounts of alcohol should be prosecuted and dealt with effectively by the law.

I think that off-licenses that systematically ignore the rules and sell alcohol to minors should be closed down. 

And I think that adults who sell drugs to children should face long prison sentences. 

But we also have to realise that life is about carrots as well as sticks. 

That's why the fifth principle must be about ensuring effective youth engagement in Britain today. 

There is some excellent work being done by local voluntary sector groups around the country. Friday night football. Boxing clubs for young people. The work of street pastors dealing with potential youth frustrations and flashpoints. The work of our scout and guide movements.

And Government should do everything it can to support the voluntary sector groups that do deliver that process of engagement.

We have to recognise the need for hands-on adult leadership in all of this. 

It can't just be left to police and policing. 

But antisocial behaviour does have to be policed, and it has to be policed effectively. 

And I want us to strengthen the hands of the police in dealing with the problems on our streets and communities. 

In my last speech I said that I wanted the twenty first century equivalent of a clip around the ear. That's why I announced plans to introduce grounding orders for young troublemakers.

The idea was to give police the power to short cut the long and involved process to get an ASBO and seek a local injunction grounding a young troublemaker at home for up to a month - except for school hours.

The idea is meant to be simple, and we will introduce it with the minimum of process. I don't want yet another power that takes weeks, and endless paperwork to make work.

The twenty first century clip around the ear is designed to punish but not criminalise. One of the problems of our current system is that almost anything has to be registered as a crime if the police are following the rules that are imposed on them.

I was told by one officer recently that he had had to register as a crime an eight year old knocking over a four year old in a playground, just because an adult had complained about it.

And by another that two teenage friends who fall out and scrap in the street can often find themselves caught up in legal process, rather than getting a simple warning, because of the complexity of the rules.

The Government is currently debating - and piloting - whether to give police more discretion. I don't think we should need a pilot to decide whether or not to trust our professionals.

And I do think we should give them the right to sort things out, to ensure that there are immediate consequences, without always resorting to the courts, prosecutions and criminal records.

But I do think that there should be an effective punishment every time young people do step out of line. Immediate consequences - but not necessarily a black mark on their record which will stop them getting a job ten years later.

So in the next few months my colleague Dominic Grieve and I will be investigating ways of strengthening the approach which

I began with the announcement of grounding orders. 

I want to see instant community punishments for serious acts of antisocial behaviour. 

Saying sorry to your victims is not enough. 

We should expect them to do positive work to pay back their community for an antisocial act or a minor crime. 

If you kick down someone's fence, and you are caught, then you should expect to give up the next few weekends to community work. And your family should expect to pay for the damage.

The Government has taken some tentative steps in this direction but I want to go further and faster down this route: antisocial behaviour will be punished and the payback will be fast and tough.

We need to make sure that our system delivers punishments at twelve to stop crimes at sixteen. 

But the Police are not the only people responsible for keeping young people on the straight and narrow. 

My colleague Michael Gove has talked extensively about the role of schools in all of this. 

Teachers cannot be a substitute for effective parenting. 

But schools can set the example even if some homes do not. 

I think we need a firm approach on discipline in schools. 

And we need to back our heads and teachers in enforcing that discipline. 

Never again should we see the scandal of Heads and Governing bodies over-ruled by outsiders when they have taken a decision to exclude.

There can be no more damaging message to young troublemakers than to show them that their head teacher has no power over them.

And if he or she takes the decision to exclude, and then the young person concerned is reinstated in the school, it shows precisely that - that ultimately the school does have no power.

I'm not in favour of wanton exclusions. 

But I do think that a sudden change of environment - the loss of trusted allies in the school gang - the uncertainty of being in a new place can serve as a wake up call to a young troublemaker. It won't always work, but it can make a difference.

And for those young people from the most complex and difficult backgrounds, where conventional approaches are not working, then Michael Gove is absolutely right to be talking about boarding academies. Sometimes you need to take a young person with serious issues right out of their comfort zone if you are to start turning them around. 

Responsibility and leadership for young people isn't just a school issue though. 

Parents need to know that there are clear expectations on their shoulders as well. 

And that there are consequences if they do not take responsibility. 

But there's one caveat to all of this. 

Youth exuberance is not automatically antisocial. 

Kicking a ball against a wall is not automatically antisocial. 

Making a noise is not automatically antisocial. 

Sometimes it's all just a bit of a nuisance. 

And not a police matter. 

I hope that if we free up the police to tackle antisocial behaviour when it really occurs. 

And that we give them the right powers to deal with it. 

Then adults will feel freer to watch over their communities without a fear for the consequences. 

Freer to ask the kids on the corner to move away from the worried old lady's house. 

Or to keep the noise down a bit. 

Safe in the knowledge that if things do get out of hand, the police will be there. 

But in the hope that they will not be needed. 

Because a society that is scared of its children is one that cannot be at comfort with itself. 

What I want to see over the next generation is a gradual change in the attitude of our society. 

I want to see the energies of the young channelled in more positive ways. 

I want to see parents who lack responsibility and purpose gradually learn it again. 

I want to set strict limits to youthful exuberance so that when it turns to something more problematic there are clear consequences.

But in those areas which are being systematically wrecked by acts of gratuitous antisocial behaviour, then there are very real consequences.

Where the police have the power to act effectively and quickly in defence of the local victims of what is happening. 

Where parents can also pay the price for the actions of their children. 

In too many places, and particularly on some of our most troubled estates, there are law abiding people who feel like prisoners in their own homes.

In twenty-first century Britain, that simply isn't good enough. 

In many places our local police teams are doing an excellent job in trying to turn things round - often despite a system that seems to make it more difficult for them to do so.

But in many other places there is a huge amount still to be done. 

I think it's time to reclaim our streets. 

To back-up the law abiding. 

And to rein in the young gangs that are making their lives a misery. 

Not just to bring peace and calm back to those neighbourhoods. 

But also to stop young minor offenders becoming young major offenders. 

Too little has been done in the past decade. 

Under a Conservative Government that will change.

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