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Tenant Obligations and Vetting Arrangements

12.31 pm

Mr. Stephen McCabe (Birmingham, Hall Green) (Lab): I beg to move,

It is fashionable in some quarters to try to paint a picture of our society as one in which crime is out of control. I can tell you, Mr. Speaker, that I do not believe it, and it is certainly not the case in my Hall Green constituency—if anything, the reverse is true. All the main indicators show that the men and women of West Midlands police, which is responsible for the operational command unit that covers my constituency, are achieving spectacular results—burglary is at an all-time low, vehicle crime is down, theft is down, and street assaults are down. The truth is that Hall Green has never been safer, but the fear of crime rides high.

Why is that? Antisocial behaviour is the factor above all others that fuels the fear of crime, and it is a constant daily event in the lives of decent ordinary people. The perpetrators have no regard and no respect for others. They include those who destroy property without regard to the cost; those who damage other people's property without regard to the impact on the victim's life; those who threaten and intimidate; those who use loud music as a weapon; those who rev their cars and motor bikes at all hours of the day and night; those who fail to control their children's behaviour; those who hold wild parties night after night; and those whose actions bear no relation to the normal decency that we are entitled to expect in a civilised community. Those people are responsible for the fear of crime and the damage to our communities.

Fear is a terrible thing: it contorts and diminishes people's lives; it makes people afraid to go out and use local facilities; it makes people uncomfortable in their own homes, which they have worked hard for; and sometimes it makes people think that life is not worth living. It takes a huge toll on decent families' daily lives, and nowhere is the problem of antisocial behaviour more acute than in the case of a neighbour who constantly and deliberately behaves so badly that they make their neighbours' lives intolerable.

I am delighted that the Government have introduced legislation that allows tough action to be taken. Such action should, of course, receive cross-party support, and I am saddened and disappointed by the Liberal Democrats' hostile approach.

There are many good landlords in this country, including local authority landlords, housing associations, charitable trusts and private landlords, but there are also landlords who pay far too little attention to the misery that a bad tenant can cause. Those landlords give the impression that, as long as the housing benefit is paid, they do not give a damn. I believe that it is time for all landlords to make it clear that they do give a damn.

The Bill proposes first, the imposition of a minimum set of obligations on all tenants by statute. They should include a signed agreement to pay rent regularly and to
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maintain the property and any garden in good condition. They should prohibit dumping rubbish that is likely to attract vermin. They should include a requirement to refrain from damaging another neighbour's property or right to enjoyment of their property through antisocial behaviour. Those obligations should be subject to a simple, legal, contractual process, whereby a breach can provide automatic grounds for eviction. They should apply to all tenants, irrespective of the landlord.

Good landlords already insist that tenants should agree to a basic set of obligations. Good landlords have nothing to fear from my proposals because they are already doing their job. If they choose to go further than my basic requirements in the interests of protecting their property and all their tenants, I have no problem with that. My request is for a minimum set of tenant obligations: a basic contractual agreement that a tenant must sign and will have the force of law.

My second request is even more straightforward. When tenants have been evicted because of antisocial behaviour, it is preposterous that they should be rehoused next to a fresh and unsuspecting set of neighbours only to begin again a campaign of abuse, harassment and intimidation.

It is common on many housing estates to come across former council properties that were originally sold under the right to buy but that are often, because of mortgage default or other financial pressures, in the hands of private landlords. Those properties are regularly used to provide houses for people whose previous bad behaviour has led to the loss of a tenancy. Surely the time has come to require all landlords to vet tenants. Surely it is right that some effort should be made to establish where people have come from, their previous tenancy history and the reason for their being in need of accommodation. Would that not be in every landlord's interest? Would that not increase the chances of finding of a tenant who was likely to pay the rent and maintain the property? Above all, would it not reduce the ability of people with a history of bad behaviour to move around different agencies and different areas, leaving in their wake a trail of broken lives and distraught individuals?

I have met some of the people who have been left behind—people who live on anti-depressants because of the constant fear of their neighbours; people who have lost their jobs because they cannot concentrate through lack of sleep; people who are denied the simple pleasure of sitting in their back garden, and, in the worst cases, people who end up with a criminal record because they finally snap and take the law into their hands. That cannot be allowed to continue. Surely the time has come to place a statutory requirement on all landlords to take reasonable steps to vet prospective tenants and ascertain their previous history.

That would prevent the absurd position in my constituency and that of almost every hon. Member whereby people are evicted after a long battle but acquire a new property only a few doors or a few streets away. Imagine how it would feel for people to go through agony, believe that they are rid of an antisocial neighbour who has destroyed their lives for months if not years, only to find that person living four doors away in the full knowledge that their testimony was instrumental in the earlier eviction. Just as the Home
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Secretary has responded to the Bichard inquiry by calling for a common-sense approach and sharing of central information, a similar requirement must be imposed on all landlords to share known information about tenants with a bad history. It is time that the Data Protection Act 1998 was used to exchange information sensibly and safely rather than, as is all too often the case, used as an excuse and a shield to hide behind, to prevent information sharing and to evade responsibility.

Finally, if a person has been the victim of a horrible and abusive neighbour, we owe it to that person to ensure that that never happens again. I therefore believe that as part of the vetting process, when an individual or group of neighbours have been the victim of antisocial tenants, those people should be consulted as part of the vetting process before a new tenant is put in place.

Those are simple requirements. They are designed to help good landlords and decent people who want to live in a civilised community. No one who intends to behave in a civilised manner has anything to fear from them; only those who believe that it is their right to abuse and destroy the peace of others should be fearful. Those who need to learn now that we are here to protect the ordinary decent majority and those who do not abide by the rules cannot expect to be accommodated alongside decent, hard-working people.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. Stephen McCabe, Mr. David Amess, Mr. Adrian Bailey, Mr. Liam Byrne, Mr. Tony Clarke, Mr. Ivan Henderson, Andy King, Siobhain McDonagh, Ms Gisela Stuart, Mr. John Taylor and Mr. Anthony D. Wright.

Tenant Obligations and Vetting Arrangements

Mr. Stephen McCabe accordingly presented a Bill to establish minimum obligations to be imposed on new tenants; to make provision about the vetting of such tenants; and for connected purposes: And the same was read the First time; and ordered to be read a Second time on Friday 15 October, and to be printed [Bill 161].

13 Oct 2004 : Column 288

Point of Order

12.42 pm

Hugh Robertson (Faversham and Mid-Kent) (Con): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. You will be aware of comments made by Sir Jackie Stewart this morning to the effect that the 2005 British grand prix will not take place. Given that that will affect hundreds of thousands of fans of the sport, and 40,000 people who are directly employed in the industry, and that it will have a knock-on effect on our chances of hosting similar international events in the future, have you received an indication from the Minister for Sport and Tourism that he will come to the Chamber to make a statement, as he has been commenting at length in the press on the subject?

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