Previous SectionIndexHome Page

Mr. Frank Field: An intervention and the speech of the Opposition spokesman, the hon. Member for Hertsmere (Mr. Clappison), gave the game away for the Liberal Democrats. Any Member who was concerned to represent their constituents' views about how their lives are being ruined by a small, dedicated group of constituents behaving in an antisocial manner would have

19 Jul 2002 : Column 620

introduced their comments on the amendments by making that plain. It took an intervention to stir from the hon. Member for Kingston and Surbiton (Mr. Davey) that that was the real point behind his amendments. I do not accept that. Liberal Democrat Members tabled a whole series of wrecking amendments in Committee, some of which we spent five hours going round and round, and they are doing it again today. We all have in our mind's eye the image of Liberal Democrats as being people with shaggy beards and sandals. They must be here today if they think that we have a load of 65-year-olds running around terrorising young families with children in an antisocial manner. Their amendments are absurd.

Matthew Green: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Field: I will in a minute, because it is good to see the hon. Gentleman in his seat.

I hope all those who are of pensionable age in Surbiton and other Liberal Democrat seats think carefully about the absurd image that Liberal Democrats have of people who cause antisocial behaviour in their constituencies. It is to protect those older constituents that many of us on both sides of the House are supporting this and other measures.

Matthew Green: My concern about what the right hon. Gentleman is saying is that measures introduced by his Government, such as antisocial behaviour orders, are not being used. If there is such a huge problem, will he explain why ASBOs are not being used before he advocates more measures?

Mr. Field: That question should have been addressed to the hon. Gentleman's own Front Benchers. If the measures are never used, why should they stir up the fear that this one will send vast numbers of our constituents to prison? The two things do not add up. When pressed in Committee, Liberal Democrat Members sprang up like jack-in-the-boxes to say, "Of course we are representing the interests of our constituents: we are massively concerned about antisocial behaviour, and we want a whole range of measures to deal with it." I therefore asked the Library to find out what concerns every Liberal Democrat had expressed about antisocial behaviour before the introduction of the Bill. Let me record on the Floor of the House that not one Liberal Democrat had asked a question about it, made a speech about it in this Chamber or written an article about it for a national or local newspaper. They may be concerned about it now, but they certainly were not before the introduction of the Bill.

Mr. Edward Davey: The right hon. Gentleman is factually incorrect. I have spoken to my hon. Friend the Member for Northavon (Mr. Webb) and I know that my hon. Friends have raised the issue. More importantly—with great respect to the right hon. Gentleman—Liberal Democrats on the ground are not just talking about it and writing articles, but producing policies to tackle antisocial behaviour in our communities. I challenge him to go to the borough of Islington to see how acceptable behaviour contracts are working. I also suggest that he go to the Home Office's website, where that Liberal Democrat innovation has been held up by his own Government as best practice and has been recommended across the country. That has not taken legislation or parliamentary

19 Jul 2002 : Column 621

questions, but active engagement by elected Liberal Democrat councillors in Islington. The right hon. Gentleman should withdraw his remarks.

Mr. Field: I shall not do so for the simple reason that, as Labour and official Opposition Members have made plain, if we are to stand any chance of countering antisocial behaviour more successfully than in the past, we need a whole range of measures, and the Government have said that they will provide them. Some will require legislation, but many will not. Some councils, thank goodness, are already pressing ahead with such measures, but others are dragging their feet.

Lawrie Quinn (Scarborough and Whitby): Many seaside communities such as Scarborough and Whitby have a persistent problem in relation not only to tenants, but to landlords who fail to police and monitor their tenants' activities. My local council and local community would want this measure to be placed on the statute book to give them an extra deterrent to ensure that such behaviour is dealt with.

Mr. Field: I agree. Given that our seaside towns usually have a higher proportion of elderly people than elsewhere, it is interesting that my hon. Friend chooses not to use the scare tactic of saying that we have to protect pensioners from the measure when, of course, we want to protect them from antisocial behaviour. He probably knows that a clause in the original Bill dealt directly with landlords. Sadly, it had to be withdrawn because it clashed with human rights legislation that the House passed.

The good news is that the Government are considering measures for the next Session aimed specifically at bad landlords—in particular those who make a cool killing on milking housing benefit. Those people pay not the slightest attention to the way in which they contribute to the collapse of working-class areas by accommodating such families. None of us would want to live next door to those families, so we should not inflict them on our constituents.

The Liberal Democrats took the typical old line of pulling out one tiny bit of Government policy. They said that the Bill must fall because it is against the Government's strategy on people who reoffend, but that is only part of their strategy. The Prime Minister's overall vision of our society is to remoralise it and to change people's behaviour. That is the cornerstone of policy. We are in a new situation in which old class politics are giving way to the new politics as regards how we control behaviour. As we get to grips with that agenda and fashion measures to deal with it, of course we must be careful and listen, especially to our constituents, but to pretend that we can pull measures off the shelf, as we could for the past century, as solutions to issues that are only just emerging, shows how naive the Liberal Democrats are on this issue.

Mr. Bob Blizzard (Waveney): Does my right hon. Friend agree that during the next election, the neighbours from hell who make so many people's lives a misery should put up Liberal Democrat posters in their windows,

19 Jul 2002 : Column 622

because it is clear from debates in Committee and the House that the Liberal Democrats are the party of the neighbourhood nuisance-makers?

Mr. Field: We all hope that those who are in error change their ways. I have warned the Liberal Democrats, and in so doing perhaps slightly hardened their views about antisocial behaviour, that they have to answer one question: are they prepared to have one, let alone two, of those families living on one or both sides of them? Hence the Liberal Democrats' support in Committee for the establishment of what some people crudely call sin bins. If we do not want those families living next to us, we cannot expect to inflict them on our constituents. In that case, we have to think about where we put such families until they change their behaviour.

Ms Karen Buck (Regent's Park and Kensington, North): I am listening to my right hon. Friend with care. As someone who has a serious problem of antisocial behaviour in my constituency, on which I have spoken many times, the aspect that concerns me most is that the neighbours from hell who have been evicted have almost invariably ended up living with friends, sometimes staying on their floors, in private accommodation, which gives the local authority virtually no leverage to deal with their behaviour. The consequence of the actions taken under the current provision is to relocate the problem from within, say, a council estate to a street nearby where their behaviour continues unchecked.

Mr. Field: I fully accept my hon. Friend's point. That is why I have lobbied the Government to the effect that local authorities should be given the resources so that they can build accommodation to house people who inflict such horrors on our constituents. That is part of the overall picture. However, the measure does not deal with it because the Bill's title means that we can deal with only one aspect of the problem in our debate. However, the contrast between the amendments that my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon (Mr. Dismore) tabled and those that the Liberal Democrats tabled reveals a difference in approach.

2 pm

Let me deal with my hon. Friend's amendments. I accept that my hon. Friend was probing through the amendments and that he therefore probably already knows some of the answers. Indeed, given his legal experience, he probably knows them better than me. It is important that hon. Members do not have a view of the courts that is too mechanical. Things may be different in London, but most of our constituencies are clearly defined areas of towns, villages or groups of villages. The courts' operations happen against the background of that framework. Those there know a bit about the people who come before them.

At the end of proceedings, a charge of antisocial behaviour will be made against the individual before the court. That should be taken into account when we devise sentencing policy. The House has always been careful not to be too prescriptive on sentencing; it grants some freedom of manoeuvre in a general framework. However, some courts are still waiting for their first, second or third order to arrive. The hon. Member for Kingston and

19 Jul 2002 : Column 623

Surbiton referred to that. The logic of his position is that we need to find methods of speeding up the process and ensuring that antisocial behaviour orders come before the courts more quickly.

We began to consider the matter in Birkenhead seven years ago, and we lobbied the Labour party, which was then in opposition. We proposed a simple system of penalty points, which the police could apply mainly against young lads for their misbehaviour. That was not accepted and we got antisocial behaviour orders instead. Not one application for such an order has been successful in Birkenhead. Consequently, we have made representations to the Home Secretary to turn the procedure upside down so that one seeks an order and returns to the court after carrying out all the detailed work to implement it. The Home Secretary accepted that reform, which is outlined in the White Paper that was cited.

Considering methods of controlling behaviour is new, and we realise that even after introducing a measure, we may have to revert to it to speed up the process of justice to protect our constituents.

Next Section

IndexHome Page