Reid gets tougher on anti-social behaviour

People holding endless rowdy parties or threatening and intimidating their neighbours could be locked out of their homes for three months at a time, John Reid has said.

The home secretary said new police powers would tackle those households that were the “bane of the community” – but stressed they would be used as a “last resort” and would not lead to permanent eviction.

Such powers are already available to close down crack houses, allowing police to take action within 48 hours of a complaint being made, but today’s proposals would see them extended to brothels and to the homes of noisy or anti-social tenants.

However, Adam Sampson, director of charity Shelter, warned the plan to lock people out of their houses “would only create homelessness and move the problem from one neighbourhood to another”.

The plans are included in a Home Office consultation document published today, which also calls for a toughening up of existing acceptable behaviour contracts (ABC). Thousands of these are issued each year, mainly to young people, to keep them in line.

There are currently no official penalties for breaking such a contract – other than the threat of a tougher sanction such as an anti-social behaviour orders (Asbo) – and the government wants to introduce the threat of a maximum £100 fine.

Police officers would be able to hold this threat over the offender to ensure they kept to their ABC – if they did, the fine would be waived. If they breached the contract, they or their parents would have to pay up.

In a foreword to the consultation document, Tony Blair accepted some people may think “we have already gone too far” but stressed: “I am determined to press on with our reforms to rebalance the criminal justice system and create a modern culture of respect.”

And in a speech in Bristol earlier today, Mr Reid said: “Anti-social behaviour ruins communities and can make people too afraid to leave their homes.

“The police, local authorities and the public have advised us what more is needed and what works, and the government has listened to that and is committed to supporting those on the frontline dealing with these problems,” he said.

The proposals make clear that closure orders should only be used when all other measures, including Asbos, had been exhausted. But Mr Reid said it was “fair” to have “clear and tough” consequences for anti-social behaviour.

“I want to put victims’ needs first. With these measures, victims will see action being taken quickly so that the incident is resolved – and in many cases the offending behaviour can be addressed before it takes hold,” he said.

However, shadow home secretary David Davis accused ministers of having nothing but hot air, saying: “What the public expect of a government is active enforcement of laws already in place, not more grandstanding rhetoric designed to generate headlines.”

Liberal Democrat home affairs spokesman Nick Clegg agreed, saying all the evidence suggested acceptable behaviour contracts were successful when they engaged rather than demonised young people.

“They are already enforced with sanctions, but by adding another tier of threats and penalties, John Reid seems ready once again to sacrifice what works for a one-off hit in the media,” he said.