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House of Commons

Friday 28 June 1991

The House met at half-past Nine o'clock

PRAYERS

[Mr. Speaker-- in the Chair ]

Anti-social Behaviour

9.35 am

Mr. Martin M. Brandon-Bravo (Nottingham, South) : I wish to call attention to anti-social behaviour, and I beg to move :

That this House agrees that all have a right to the peaceful occupation of their homes ; recognises that such a right can only be achieved if nationally sound long-term employment measures are pursued, and locally proper use is made of existing housing, environmental health and mental health legislation, all of which are necessary to achieve the desired environment ; and therefore deplores the conduct of Labour local authorities in Liverpool, Lambeth, Hackney and elsewhere for counter- productive local policy and practice and the Labour Party nationally for hoodwinking workers by the advocacy of employment policies, including a national minimum wage, which together work against the achievement of peace in the community.

I am most grateful to have the opportunity draw to the attention of the House yet again the subject of anti-social behaviour. The motion falls broadly into three parts : the more obvious manifestation of anti-social behaviour including the evidence that I have from my constituency and the city of Nottingham itself ; the climate in which such behaviour flourishes- -I shall seek sadly to show how our local council, not just those of Liverpool, Hackney and Lambeth, contributes to that climate--and how employment may or may not impinge on the subject. I intend to concentrate on the first part, briefly touch on the second part and, as my colleagues and the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Employment, my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Worcestershire (Mr. Forth), seem to regard employment matters as being interlocked within this subject, to leave such issues to them.

By the grace of modern technology the city authority of my Nottingham, South constituency was able to fax to me this morning a brief, the opening paragraph of which states that, in the current year, that authority has had to deal with 500 reported cases of anti-social behaviour. It is therefore clear that this is no small subject. It requires the widest publicity if it is to be properly addressed.

Hansard contains considerable records of discussions on the topic, but most of them were held at the ungodly hour of 2 am, precisely the same time as most of the parties to which we were referring were disturbing our neighbours. I am not sure that we were disturbing many people with our debates here at 2 am, but it seems appropriate that our discussions coincided with the disturbances themselves. I brought the subject to the Floor of the House in the early hours of one morning in March 1989, when I said that a home affected by the anti-social behaviour of neighbours ceased to be a home, and that anti-social behaviour was a cancer in our society, on our housing estates and particularly our tower blocks. I said that the problem was known to all too many of us in urban districts


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and stressed that all of us had ducked and fudged the issue for far too long. In that debate I acknowledged that, in giving security of tenure to good tenants, we also gave it to the troublemakers. I stressed that no one should have the right to abuse security of tenure and conduct themselves in such a way as to deny their neighbours the right of the peaceful occupation of their homes. What bothers me is that the chairman of the housing committee of my city council has said many times--he repeated it only last week--that it is security of tenure which is preventing the council from tackling the problem. He seems to suggest that my Labour local authority would be happy to see security of tenure eliminated or its scope diminished.

Mr. Alan Williams (Swansea, West) rose --

Mr. Stuart Randall (Kingston upon Hull, West) rose

Mr. Brandon-Bravo : I shall give way in a moment.

Whatever the difficulties in dealing with an anti-social tenant, I would not--I hope that this goes for all my hon. Friends--for one moment consider taking away from honest, law-abiding tenants the right of security of tenure of their council property merely to make it easier to deal with the one in 100, or perhaps one in 500, who wrecks other people's lives.

Mr. Alan Williams : Obviously, the hon. Gentleman is going to give us a stimulating speech given the reaction it has already generated. If we follow the logic of his argument would the problems be eased if the unruly, inconsiderate neighbour happened to be someone who had exercised his right to buy?

Mr. Brandon-Bravo : If someone is an owner-occupier in the public sector--the problem also applies in the private sector--the housing authority would have no power to do anything.

Mr. Williams : What happens if that person lives next door to a council tenant?

Mr. Brandon-Bravo : I intend to speak for about 50 minutes, but if the right hon. Gentleman does not allow me to reply to his question I shall speak for even longer. I am sure that he would acknowledge that whether the anti-social resident is in the public or private sector, the environmental health officer has a role.

Mr. Williams indicated dissent.

Mr. Brandon-Bravo : The right hon. Gentleman will have to make his own speech. The environmental health officer has powers, as do the police.

Mr. Randall : The hon. Gentleman will be aware that the powers available to the police are limited because noise is not a crime. The enforcement powers of environmental health officers are similarly limited. I am a little confused by the hon. Gentleman's speech. Earlier the hon. Gentleman seemed to imply that if people did not behave in a reasonable and social manner they would be thrown out. Where would he throw those people? Should we expect to see a lot of people living in cardboard boxes on the streets of Nottingham as a result of his policy?


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Mr. Brandon-Bravo : I am awfully glad that, at this early stage in the debate, we are flushing out what now looks like another official Labour party commitment. I am sure that there will be some back-shovelling as the weeks go by.

The official Opposition should decide whether they agree with my local Labour party. Do they wish to remove from council tenants the security of tenure that was given to them by the Conservative party under the Housing Act 1980? If so, that should be said loud and clear. At that time the one great thing that we gave to all council tenants was either the right to buy or security of tenure. As a result, many of my council tenants now feel that they can treat their property as their own home.

Whether a person is evicted should be left to the courts, but, if he is evicted, the present housing legislation means that a local authority no longer has any legal requirement to rehouse that person. The local authority might say in advance to the courts that it considers the miscreant to have made himself intentionally homeless, but it might then offer that person a home under a temporary licence. That person would then be the one in a 100 living in public-sector property who does not have the protection enjoyed by the other 99. The local authority would have the power to say to that trouble maker that he no longer had security of tenure as his tenancy was under licence. The authority could say to that tenant, "If you do it again, tough." If that means that that person becomes homeless I am sure that the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, West (Mr. Randall) will accept that that means that a house is available for someone else who will live decently. I have little sympathy for people who try to destroy other people's lives. If those people are given two chances, but spurn both, my sympathy is at an end. I am sure that that feeling is shared by many.

Mr. Barry Porter (Wirral, South) : I agree with the argument that my hon. Friend has advanced, but I fear that he is whistling in the dark. Surely the most virulent form of anti-social behavour is the failure to pay rent. Does my hon. Friend agree that Labour local authorities show a marked reluctance to collect unpaid rent or to do anything about tenants who refuse to pay rent? If they will not do anything about that, I doubt whether they will act as my hon. Friend suggests.

Mr. Brandon-Bravo : My hon. Friend ilustrates why the motion refers to Liverpool, Lambeth, Hackney and elsewhere. If those authorities will not collect their taxes and deliver to their residents and tenants the services that the law says that they should, they do not use the tools available to them. I am sad to admit that that is local democracy. If they will not act, one can only hope--a faint hope perhaps--that the electorate will realise where the problem lies and do something about that through the ballot box.

I received a letter from a tenant who described the problems with which she was confronted--I am sure that many hon. Members have had similar letters-- as a result of late-night parties. My constituent said that the noise and music start

"about midnight and goes on until 7 or 8 am most nights of the week. We can't sleep at night. And you can't even hear the television I've been reduced to tears."

My constituent approached the police about the problem, but, to be fair to them, they face a difficult task. The police said that they do not have a "soft policy" on what we have


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come to call "blues parties". However, in that particular case they at least admitted that there was "a problem", which is a masterly understatement.

In comon with most hon. Members, I am regularly confronted by people at my advice sessions who are at the end of their tether with worry and aggravation. They tell me that they find it almost impossible to get across to the culprits the strength of feeling of their neighbours and the distress caused. Officials have confirmed that difficulty. That is not good enough and we must work to find ways in which to tackle the problems.

In the debate in March 1989 I referred to the growing practice of providing a concierge and security systems. Provided that system is properly used it works. I acknowledge that it is expensive, but in the long run, I suspect that such systems cost a local authority little and certainly a lot less than the human distress that is caused by such anti-social behaviour.

The installation of security systems means that there is less destruction of flats and the common parts, for example, the main doors, of our tower blocks. It means that a tenant's front door is not kicked in every time a difficult tenant forgets his key. It would avoid the problems caused by a difficult tenant who does not bother to tell friends coming to his shindig the number of his flat. When that happens everyone else is woken up at some unearthly hour until those people find the right flat.

I said in the previous debate--I shall deal later with the issue as it affects my city--that councils did not, for example, enforce their own tenancy agreements. Councils have argued for far too long that it is difficult to get cases to court and residents to appear as witnesses. That does not surprise me. I am aware--I shall produce evidence this morning to substantiate this--of threats that my constituents have received when seeking to deal with this dreadful problem. As I said, my local authority has announced in the last month its intention to enforce tenancy agreements. That could not have come too soon, and we shall wait and see whether the council means what it says.

In October 1990 the subject of noise was again debated on the Floor of the House, in the context of the Environmental Protection Bill and that debate took place at a sane hour of the day. As the Minister for the Environment and Countryside said then, the Government did not intend that measure to be used as a tool to introduce fundamental changes to noise legislation, as they wanted the opportunity to consider fully what the noise review working party would say about the many facets of noise in the environment. But as he pointed out, the measure took the opportuntity to consider the maximum penalties, and that will help in my city because penalties in certain circumstances have risen from £2,000 to £20,000.

That Bill, now the Environmental Protection Act 1990, also defines statutory nuisance and underlines the duty on local authorities to investigate complaints. This debate is not designed to discuss that Act, but it is relevant in the sense that nobody can say that the Government have not attempted to provide the tools necessary to tackle the problem.

My hon. Friend the Member for Luton, North (Mr. Carlisle) had the opportunity, also at 2 o'clock in the morning, to raise the subject of noise pollution and he covered the same ground that I am treading today. I have discussed the matter with him and he apologises for not


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being able to be here today. Perhaps by debating the issue in prime time we may be able to publicise some actions that can and should be taken to help tackle the problem.

My hon. Friend the Member for Luton, North said in that debate that he was anxious to raise the problem of noise and in particular the problem of noisy parties and noise created by individuals, mainly in the towns and cities. He said that problems were often caused by people who seemed totally bereft of any feeling for their fellow citizens and neighbours. The tragedy, he said, was that parties did not occur for an hour or two but sometimes for many hours and even days. He noted that substantial numbers of people were likely to attend such functions and claimed that the way in which they behaved and the nuisance they caused should concern us all.

My hon. Friend pointed out that some people enjoyed loud music more than the rest of us. Perhaps that is one of the down sides of modern society. He added that some styles of music were not particularly accommodating to some people who lived in urban areas. He also, rightly, pointed out that all too often some of the parties were a front for drug taking. That is why I say that many Departments of state are involved, and it is an area in which the police can and do try to act.

My hon. Friend the Member for Luton, North claimed that some of the problems were caused deliberately, rather than accidentally, to provoke neighbours, and he spoke of music deliberately turned up high, the use of what have come to be called ghetto blasters, and even television sets being turned up simply to annoy neighbours. We must bear it in mind that problems of that sort occur in modern public sector housing blocks that were not equipped with soundproofing. Their construction did not take noise problems into account, and I blame nobody for that because this has nothing to do with party politics. When we built tower blocks in the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s the problem was simply not understood.

Faced with the problem, people have gone to the police, but, as the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, West pointed out, the police do not have power to deal specifically with noise. Simply making a noise is not of itself a crime. While I appreciate that, it is not an excuse for saying, "Let us forget all about it." We must address the problem because it has, or should have, nothing to do with party politics.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Luton, North pointed out, in certain situations the police are reluctant to enter a party where large numbers of people are in attendance. Those people might be highly intoxicated or, as my hon. Friend pointed out, be on drugs and, to put it kindly, be in a boisterous mood. I suggest that it is often much worse than that.

Replying to that debate, the Under-Secretary of State for the Environment, my hon. Friend the Member for Banbury (Mr. Baldry), said that it was sensible for neighbours to try to sort out problems among themselves in the first instance, before invoking the local authority and the law, but he recognised that that was only a first step and that we could not just leave it to people to solve their own problems because, in practice, that was often not possible. He acknowledged that gatherings such as blues parties might go on not just for hours but for days, were conducted at a volume that polluted the environment--he, too, spoke of ghetto blasters, car radios and so on--and he accepted that much of the nuisance was deliberate rather than unthinking and accidental.


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Mr. Randall : I should be interested to hear what action the hon. Gentleman suggests people should take in those circumstances. In that debate, the Under-Secretary referred to the Government's new initiative, the neighbourhood noise watch pilot scheme. He emphasised that in such schemes the initiative had to lie with the residents. As the hon. Gentleman said that in many instances residents could not tackle the problem on their own, does he envisage the local authorities having a role?

Mr. Brandon-Bravo : Yes, but not the local authority in the sense in which we normally use that term. I have more in mind the role of the active local councillor. Such a councillor, in an area where the problem is prevalent, should have at the top of his priorities the need to help his ward constituents to try to solve the problem. That is the type of self- help that I would welcome and encourage, and later I shall describe some activities of a group of people in my constituency who, living in difficult circumstances, have done that.

Mr. Tom Cox (Tooting) : I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman has a local government background, as many of us have. I sympathise with the point that he makes, but he does not know about the current legislation. The power to act when loud music is causing a nuisance does not lie with the police but with environmental health officers. The problem in my area and possibly throughout the country is that, because of Government cutbacks in local authority funding, there are insufficient environmental health officers. I am told that repeatedly by my own authority.

Mr. Brandon-Bravo : The hon. Gentleman may be told that by his own authority, but it is the standard excuse from local authorities throughout the country.

Mr. Cox : It is a Tory council.

Mr. Brandon-Bravo : I do not mind what council it is. If it is a Tory council it should be ashamed of itself. If it is a Labour council that is probably par for the course. The money can and should be found to resolve this problem. The hon. Member for Tooting (Mr. Cox) came into the Chamber a little after the start of the debate--

Mr. Cox : I was here at the very outset.

Mr. Brandon-Bravo : Then I am sorry that the hon. Gentleman was not listening, because I referred in my opening remarks to the role of environmental health officers. The hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, West shook his head as though I were wrong. I am grateful to the hon. Member for Tooting for confirming that I was right and that the Labour Front-Bench spokesman was wrong.

Mr. Matthew Carrington (Fulham) : There may be an analogy here with the legislation that combats noise under different circumstances. If a private sector landlord puts a noisy tenant next door to a sitting or controlled tenant, a plethora of legislation would allow action to be taken against the private sector landlord for harassment of his sitting tenant. He would be accused of putting someone next door to "winkle out" that tenant. The local authority would take immediate action under the various rules, regulations and procedures available to it. If it takes such


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action to protect a sitting tenant, should not it treat with equal seriousness the same harassment perpetrated by one tenant against another in its own housing stock?

Mr. Brandon-Bravo : I am grateful for my hon. Friend's valuable intervention. Given the paucity of attendance in the Chamber this morning, I hope, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that my hon. Friend will catch your eye, because his point needs to be underlined. I am grateful to my hon. Friends and the few Labour Members present for attending this debate, but not a single member of the Liberal Democrat party is present at least to let us know that party's policy.

Mr. Barry Porter (Wirral, South) : I was just contemplating that, in the 12 years that I have been a Member of Parliament, I cannot recall having received a letter, representation or petition on the problem about which my hon. Friend clearly feels so deeply. I hope that he will produce some evidence because either there is something different about Nottingham, Luton, Tooting and, for all I know, Fulham, or the good people of Wirral are models of proper behaviour. There may be something in the water in Nottingham.

Mr. Brandon-Bravo : I doubt whether it has anything to do with the water. My hon. Friend must be the luckiest Member of Parliament if he has never had an example of this problem.

In a sense, my hon. Friend the Member for Wirral, South (Mr. Porter) highlights why the problem has taken so long to be tackled. Many hon. Members represent rural constituencies--I do not suggest that my hon. Friend's constituency is rural--where the problem does not exist. When those of us who represent urban constituencies try to describe the problem it is beyond their understanding because they have no experience of it, have never talked to people about it and simply do not believe that it happens. I assure my hon. Friend that it is one of the biggest nightmares in urban areas and we must continue to seek an answer.

The date of the letter to which I referred is important in establishing the history of the problem and how long it has taken some authorities to get to grips with it. Although, I consider my local chief environmental health officer, Mr. Sidney Hill, a friend--he is a first-class officer and I do not criticise him--like other council officers throughout the country he can act only under the policies laid down, monitored and watched by elected councillors. If elected councillors will not support an officer in getting to grips with the problem, the officer cannot succeed. The letter has now been sent to every citizen of Nottingham.

Mr. Allen McKay (Barnsley, West and Penistone) : The hon. Gentleman will probably hear from the Institution of Environmental Health Officers after the debate putting him right on some of the matters that he has mentioned. First, environmental health officers have a statutory duty on noise abatement. The council's policy does not stop them carrying that out, because a complaint can be taken up by an environmental department as a statutory duty. Secondly, if the problem occurs on a council estate, the environmental health officer normally approaches the housing department, which then deals with it.

Mr. Brandon-Bravo : I do not disagree technically with the hon. Gentleman. He knows--I am sorry that the hon.


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Member for Tooting did not know--that I have spent enough years on local authorities to know the rule book, but I also know how it works in practice. The hon. Gentleman knows in his heart that I am right. If the elected council will not back the officers, much less can be done. Naturally, environmental health officers have duties and powers under current legislation and they are separate from the duties of the local authority, but it is a rare officer who will fly in the face of his elected council if it is minded not to pursue the problem.

The letter from my local chief environmental health officer to which I referred is dated 29 April this year--six weeks ago. That is why my reaction, when I received it from one of my constituents, was that the penny had finally dropped. I thought that in 1991 the council might be about to do something. The letter says : "The City Council is becoming increasingly concerned about nuisance caused by the anti-social behaviour of certain residents"-- what a revelation after all these years of publicity, discussion and letters--

"the City Council will take all necessary steps to ensure that your tenancy conditions are adhered to, which may lead to the eviction of tenants who act persistently in an anti-social way and disturb their neighbours."

Again I say, "At long last"--six years after the Labour-controlled city council was given the tools to do the job. The letter refers to "the keeping of cats and dogs in flats and maisonettes" not being allowed under the conditions of tenancy and states : "tenants are responsible for the action of any visitor who breaches"

the tenancy agreement. That relates to the practice of tenants, often in tower blocks, who go away for a couple of weeks and give their key to a friend who holds parties. That causes all sorts of problems for the local authority and the police. I pay compliments where they are due and I am delighted that Nottingham city council has now agreed at long last to recognise the problem. It says that it will do something about the problem and I hope that it will. Mr. Sidney Hill refers to the Environmental Protection Act 1990 and says :

"I shall use powers strengthened by the Environmental Protection Act 1990 to deal with noise nuisances and the Council will"-- I am delighted that he underlined the word--

"prosecute people who continue to cause noise nuisance with a maximum fine of £20,000. Furthermore, fines of up to £2,000 may be imposed where the property is being used for business purposes." In response to possible criticisms from the hon. Members for Barnsley, West and Penistone (Mr. McKay) and for Tooting, I say that I hope that the local council will let Mr. Hill get on with that job. Indeed, I hope that the council will make it easier for him and not put obstacles in his way.

In my opening remarks, I said that by the wonders of technology, my council had faxed me through a brief. It ties in with the letter and confirms :

"As the landlord, the City Council has an obligation to protect a tenant's right to quiet enjoyment of their property and to take action against the tenant who, by their anti-social behaviour, breaks their conditions of tenancy."

If that is a public statement which my council has at long last put on the record and which it means, I hope, for the sake of thousands of my constituents and of people in the city of Nottingham and elsewhere, that that pledge is delivered.


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The note continues :

"500 reported cases of anti-social behaviour covering noise, blues parties, unruly dogs and car repairs"

are contrary to tenants' agreements and the council will seek notices of possession. I am delighted. The note continues : "The City Council is committed to taking a firm line with anti-social tenants and apart from the possibility of seeking possession of a dwelling, ex-parte injunctions will be sought as a way of stopping the nuisance without necessarily requiring the eviction of the tenant."

The memo deals with the mental condition of some anti-social cases. My motion refers to that and I shall return to the problem later. I acknowledge that hon. Members on both sides face a real difficulty and I hope that by highlighting it today we can tackle it. I received an earlier letter from Mr. Hill in June 1985--as I have said, I am angry that this has taken so long--in which he said : "The majority of such complaints relate to the playing of loud, amplified music at unsociable hours"

and he describes everything that I have already mentioned. He highlighted differing lifestyles and mentioned unemployment. My hon. Friend the Under- Secretary of State may say whether unemployment is relevant. Mr. Hill highlighted commercial interests and referred to blues parties. He said :

"they cause annoyance, discomfort, loss of sleep, intimidation and other social pressures

The noise may be intermittent, irregular and as a result sometimes difficult to monitor and to obtain evidence to take legal action" and effectively resolve the problem. His letter concluded : "The Director of Housing will be writing to you concerning the problem of enforcing tenancy conditions relating to nuisance caused to other tenants."

That was back in 1985. Six years later, the council has made up its mind to say that it will apply the tenancy agreement. Hence my anger during the past six years.

In 1980 the city council published a booklet that contains two sentences which are as valid now as they were 11 years ago : "One person will accept with apparent unconcern a noisy situation that will drive another person to distraction What is acceptable at 10.00 pm on Saturday night, has by 2.00 am Sunday morning become decidedly unacceptable."

That is a masterpiece of understatement.

People have floated the idea of housing courts. I do not wish to debate that possibility this morning, save only to say that we must find ways of improving access to the legal system for ordinary citizens so that they can enforce their rights. Perhaps my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister will consider whether his citizens' charter could give my constituents and others their right to the peaceful occupation of their homes that exists in current legislation. Whatever our system, the aggrieved party must be allowed easy and prompt access to a legal remedy at an affordable cost.

The papers on the possibility of a housing court said that the atmosphere and procedures must not be unnecessarily forbidding. That assumes that we reach that stage. All of us who have been involved in the problem know that, because of threats and intimidation by the guilty people, many tenants would not go to such a court even if it were easy to do so. Only a very brave person will stick his head above the parapet and take action himself. That is why the state machinery--I hate that phrase--must do the job for the resident. We cannot allow the resident to do it himself.


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The Conservatives had a brief spell in control of Nottingham city council in 1988. They began addressing the question of how to make the new legislation work. They set up a housing management panel to deal with cases of persistent anti-social behaviour. It agreed that the director of housing could receive papers on anti-social behaviour, noise nuisance, dogs, vandalism, harassment and illegal use of the premises. The machinery was there. We lost control. The machinery did not exactly gather dust ; it was kept and the council has begun to use it. I have been told to my amazement that the council has even evicted one tenant. That is one tenant in all this time. I hope that sufficient publicity will be given to that eviction, if only to ensure that it acts as a deterrent to others who, having got away with creating nuisance for the past heaven knows how many years, think that they can continue to do so. Let us hope that the message will get through that they will not get away with it any longer. I am trying to show why I am so angry that it has taken not just my authority, but many others, so long to act. When my hon. Friend the Member for Broxbourne (Mrs. Roe) was Under-Secretary of State for the Environment I asked her to reaffirm what powers we had. Her answer went to our city council in March 1988. Referring to anti-social tenants, she said :

"We specifically gave Councils the power to go to court to seek their removal. The relevant provision is now Ground 2 of Schedule 2 to the Housing Act 1985. Where a tenant or a person residing in a dwelling-house has been guilty of conduct which is a nuisance or annoyance to neighbours' the Court does not have to satisfy itself that in addition suitable alternative accommodation is available for the displaced tenant."

Such a person may have made himself intentionally homeless, and the letter makes it clear that the local authority has no obligation to rehouse him.

I want to show that Conservative Members took the problem seriously and did not just leave it to the housing Minister. I have a note that confirms that the Home Secretary also recognised the problem and called for the papers. I know that my right hon. Friend the Member for Oxford, West and Abingdon (Mr. Patten) also tried to deal with the problem ; he was the Minister who took the 1985 legislation through the House.

Little happened thereafter--certainly not in my area. I approached my hon. Friend the Member for Rossendale and Darwen (Mr. Trippier), the then Under- Secretary of State for the Environment, in March 1989. He reaffirmed what we already knew--that much could be achieved with concierge security systems--and he made an important point in his closing sentence. Three years after the legislation was passed he wrote :

"the tools are to hand now for real progress on this front." Yet by April 1991 my council had only just managed to tell its residents that it believes it has the tools to do the job. I continued to press the issue, not because I was dissatisfied with what the Government had done, but because, for some reason, we could not get the point across to local authorities. The Minister confirmed again that

"It is a matter for the local authority to decide whether they wish to provide further housing for tenants evicted"

under schedule 2 to the 1985 Act. The Minister confirmed that he had taken legal advice on the interpretation of the Act and that these people could well be regarded as having made themselves intentionally homeless :


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"In this case the authority would have no obligation to provide permanent accommodation it could provide accommodation under licence to persistent anti-social households"--

that is the mechanism that we should try to persuade local authorities to use.

I should like to offer a few specific cases to persuade my hon. Friend the Member for Wirral, South of the reality of these problems which affect so many people. I corresponded with a gentleman who lives in one of our tower blocks. I shall not give his name because I do not think it right to use constituents' names except in special circumstances. It is one thing to name Members of Parliament and local councillors--we are in politics and we have to stand up and be counted--but I dislike using the names of constituents without good cause.

The heading under which the gentleman wrote to me was, "The Nightmare Continues". For some of these people the problem is indeed a nightmare. The then chief constable of Nottinghamshire tried to deal with some of the points. I accept that the police cannot gather evidence unless they are actually present to witness tenants slinging their rubbish out of their 12th floor window. They can also do little about dogs fouling stairways and walkways. The dogs should not be in the blocks of flats in the first place, but that is the responsibility of the local authority, under the tenants' agreement. The chief constable stated that he was aware of the problem and was dealing with it. He confirmed that people had been arrested for possession of drugs. I welcome my right hon. Friend the Minister of State, Home Office to the Front Bench. He was responsible for the superb legislation of 1985 and he followed it through with support from the Home Office thereafter. I find it rather sad that some of these flats had to be demolished ; nevertheless I approve of their demolition in this case. I still have a photograph of my right hon. Friend the Minister of State, Home Office standing--at the time he was responsible for housing--in front of these ghastly flats and seeming to agree that the sooner they were pulled down the better. As the chief constable said at the time :

"The forthcoming demolition of part of the flats will improve the environment which has been upgraded visibly during the past three years."

It is sad that the only way to cure an anti-social problem is by knocking down flats--but they were lousy flats, and good riddance to them.

I should like to mention a letter from a resident of another block of flats. There are 18 tower blocks in Nottingham and I am blessed--if that is the right word--with 11 of them. The letter describes another anti-social tenant who continually sniffs glue. He has been seen squirting gas lighter fuel down his throat. He plays a cassette recorder and a television very loudly and generally behaves insanely. He spends most of his waking hours as high as a kite. He says that he has been addicted for the past five years and cannot stop. His place reeks of glue and gas fumes. He has 22 convictions. This is not hearsay : it is fact, and I know that the case was resolved. It is another example of why I believe that we should debate these issues in prime time, as we are doing today.

Earlier, I mentioned self-help, as did my hon. Friend--I know that it is not the custom of the House to call him that--the Member for Kingston upon Hull, West. I applaud the laudable efforts towards self-help of a group


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of residents in four of our tower blocks in the Radford area of the Lenton ward. I pay tribute to and I do not mind naming Mr. Tony Barton and his fellow residents on the self-help committee. He writes that many people keep dogs in the flats and that nothing is done about that :

"Small dogs aren't so bad, but big ones such as Rottweilers etc. need space".

Imagine an elderly person finding the lift doors opening to reveal a rottweiler!


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