Blair vs the Yobs

Today, the Prime Minister announces his latest initiative to tackle youth hooligansim. But are his policies genuine or a gimmick?
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Indy Politics

Antisocial behaviour orders

In 1999 police and councils gained powers to tackle low-level vandalism and thuggery by issuing antisocial behaviour orders (Asbos). The scheme has been much revised and extended since then.

Ministers originally intended that 5,000 Asbos would be issued every year. The take-up has been lower, but has increased after a slow start. About 7,000 have been imposed since 1999. Nearly half are breached, which critics say threatens to criminalise children who break them.

However, ministers can point to research showing a drop from 21 per cent to 17 per cent in numbers of people who are worried about antisocial behaviour.

Fixed penalty notices

On-the-spot penalties are viewed by the Government as a key weapon against petty crime. Offenders are fined between £30 and £80, with the amount increasing by 50 per cent if they fail to pay within three weeks. The system went nationwide in April 2004.

More than 50,000 were issued in 2004, most for "disorderly behaviour while drunk" or "causing harassment, alarm or distress".

The Government says it nips yobbery in the bud. Opponents say it enables the better-off to pay their way out of trouble, with the poorer have to take their chance in court.

Child curfews

Local authorities, in conjunction with police, were given the power in 1998 to ban under-10s - later extended to under-16s - being out alone at night. Tony Blair said these curfews would stop young children "growing into a life of criminality", but the Police Federation complained about their "highly bureaucratic" nature. Three years later, not one curfew was in place.

Dispersal orders

Under the Anti-Social Behaviour Act of 2003, police can disperse groups of two or more under-16s in areas designated as centres of disorder. They have been enthusiastically adopted by local authorities and more than 400 are in place in England and Wales. There is also evidence that they have helped to lower levels of street crime.

However, the Home Office lost a test case in the High Court last summer brought by a 15-year-old from Richmond, south-west London, who argued the legislation breached his human rights.

Truancy

Since 2001, parents of persistent truants can be fined £2,500 or jailed for up to three months. The Government also suggested these mothers and fathers go on courses to improve their parenting skills.

There have been increasing numbers of truancy sweeps. Past government targets for reducing truancy have been abandoned and levels remain about the same as in 1997. About 50,000 children are missing from school in England at any one time.

Night courts

The idea of allowing courts in England and Wales to sit at nights and weekends was first aired by Jack Straw in 2001 when he was Home Secretary. The scheme was seen as a way of speeding up the criminal justice system, but was soon dropped. A £5m pilot project threw up a host of problems, such as finding cells for offenders.

Instant cash fines

Tony Blair sparked howls of derision six years ago when he proposed giving police powers to march delinquents to cash dispensers and impose instant fines for loutish behaviour. He said "a thug might think twice about kicking in your gate, throwing traffic cones around your street or hurling abuse into the night sky" if he thought he could be forced to pay £100 on the spot.

The Prime Minister backed down after the scheme was condemned by police and lawyers as unworkable and a threat to civil liberties.

Banning alcohol on public transport

A proposal that was put forward by the Prime Minister's respect unit as a way of to cut binge drinking and stop inebriated passengers causing havoc. The proposal - which would have stopped long-distance travellers having wine with a meal - fell apart within hours as ministers distanced themselves from the move and opponents ridiculed it as "nanny statism".

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