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Antisocial Behaviour

Volume 406: debated on Monday 9 June 2003

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12.

What plans his Department has to tackle antisocial behaviour through Housing Benefit sanctions. [117294]

We are determined to tackle the antisocial behaviour that brings misery and disruption to so many of our constituencies. We are interested in the idea that was first floated by my right hon. Friend the Member for Birkenhead (Mr. Field). People have rights, but they also have responsibilities. On 20 May my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State wrote to a range of organisations seeking their views on the introduction of a housing benefit sanction against antisocial behaviour. We will consult communities on housing estates and the victims of antisocial behaviour. I hope that all hon. Members will also consult their communities. We await the responses to the consultation before setting out our specific proposals.

How can a scheme be devised that does not punish people in the household who are not the perpetrators and have no control over the perpetrator? The Minister will be aware of the probable links between antisocial behaviour by adult males and domestic violence. Secondly, is the Minister going to devise equally intrusive punishments for those who are not on benefits?

Of course, we have the Anti-Social Behaviour Bill before the House at present, which will introduce several powers, and that will be another weapon in that armoury. We are consulting on that, because any measure has to be practical and we must have regard to human rights, including in those situations that my hon. Friend describes. However, when a victim has to become homeless—I know of such a situation in my constituency of Croydon, North—to get away from the bullies, I am interested in the rights of the victims, not only the rights of the perpetrators.

Is the Minister aware of the extreme frustration felt by many of my constituents, who daily suffer antisocial behaviour and who—to make their lives tolerable again—want their local authority housing department and other social landlords to have more powers at their disposal?

Yes, I am aware of that and of the hon. Gentleman's support for the measure. I am also aware that we would have had a private Member's Bill on the subject on the statute book now, if it had not been blocked by the Liberal Democrats, who are more on the side of the thugs than of the victims. We want to introduce enforceable powers that have regard to the rights of those members of the problem household who are innocent, but address the problems of those people who are sick and tired of the neighbour from hell making their lives a misery.

Is not one of the problems caused when local authority tenants live cheek by jowl with private tenants, perhaps of those people who have bought former council houses? There is no sanction on the landlord of a former council house to control what sort of tenant he takes and how they are treated. As long as the landlord gets the housing benefit, he does not care a damn about the people who live next door.

We have to be aware that just as there is a small minority—albeit an important number—of rogue tenants, there are also rogue landlords, who do nothing to control the behaviour of tenants or to repair property and simply claim the housing benefit—

Well, some of us take the subject seriously, as do our constituents. The Office of the Deputy Prime Minister has introduced new powers to bear down on abuse in the privately rented sector.

I suspect that every hon. Member, like the Minister and myself, has constituents who have had to flee their homes because of such dreadful behaviour. It is more than a year since the Prime Minister said at Prime Minister's questions that he approved of action to address that. He said that the vast majority of people in this country will support the idea that people who get benefits from the state owe some responsibility in return. Why is it that the Government refused to give time to the Bill introduced by the right hon. Member for Birkenhead (Mr. Field)? The Minister said that a Bill on the issue is before the House, so why have the Government not put such powers in it? Above all, why are they only just starting a process of consultation, 14 months on?

The hon. Gentleman is being unfair for once, which is unlike him. We did our best to amend my right hon. Friend's private Member's Bill. We spent many hours in Committee trying to get it right, with the help of Conservative colleagues. However, despite broad support, it was talked out by the Liberal Democrats on a Friday morning. We need to turn principle into proper practice, and it is right to consult on that, including with the victims.