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It is important to acknowledge, however, as others have done, that central Government cannot deal with this issue alone; such efforts should not be driven from the top down. I disagree with Opposition Members who suggest that there is a Whitehall-led policy on this issue. The Home Office and other Government Departments clearly have a very important role to play in setting the parameters, and it is also clear that we need laws and tools. However, the solutions are best determined locally. Progress is being made in the form of the forthcoming London Local Authorities Bill,
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which will put even more power into the hands of local authorities; that is a welcome step. Importantly, money is increasingly being devolved to local authorities so that they can take such decisions.

It was the Government who introduced the respect agenda a year ago, and antisocial behaviour and its causes are being tackled. I particularly welcome “Youth Matters”, the youth opportunity card and the youth opportunities fund. All of us in Hackney agree that we need to do more to ensure that young people have alternatives. I am not suggesting that all antisocial behaviour and crime is linked to young people, but there is an issue here, which I shall touch on a little later.

Hackney council has recently been using more antisocial behaviour contracts, of ABCs, as they are frequently called. One of the issues that I wish to raise with Ministers is the cost of processing ASBOs. It costs thousands of pounds in court costs to process an ASBO. Hackney is trying to get partners to work together on that issue so that we can get money from different sources—landlords and other agencies—to fund it.

Another issue in London that affects evaluating the efficiency of ASBOs is the problem of people crossing borough boundaries. Data are collected on a borough basis for the police and the councils, but London is one city and people move around. I know that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has announced a review of data collection in the Home Office and mentioned some of the problems with the quality of data collected. I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will pass on to my right hon. Friend and his team the need to consider this issue in particular if we are to have a proper evaluation of the success of ASBOs and be able to tackle the problems that Hackney council tells me it faces on a daily basis.

Another issue that I wish to raise relates to the role of landlords. I know that my right hon. Friends the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government recently announced an initiative to encourage registered social landlords and housing associations to play a more active role, but in Hackney—thanks to historic funding mechanisms—we have several estates with multiple landlords, sometimes six or even more, managing different parts of the estate, sometimes even different bits of the same block. That often leads to a buck-passing mentality and a lack of co-ordination. Nothing is ever anyone’s responsibility, because it can always be blamed on someone else. For example, in the Lee Conservancy road area in Hackney Wick, it is difficult to get to the root of problems such as dumping of rubbish and car parking problems—we have not quite reached the state of parking rage, but there are many difficulties—and more serious matters.

CCTV is also an issue on multi-landlord estates, and at a meeting in December, residents of the Holly Street estate, which nestles between Queensland and Kingsland roads in my constituency, repeated requests for the local registered social landlords to buy into a police-supported CCTV system. Councillors Emma Plouviez, Tom Price and Patrick Vernon have championed the issue, but the landlords seem to think that it is not their responsibility to buy into an effective,
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centrally controlled CCTV system on which the police and the council have worked together. It is time that we challenged those landlords.

The National Housing Confederation recently launched its campaign “iN business for neighbourhoods”, which was its way of saying that landlords had a bigger role than simply dealing with housing. We need to see landlords walk the walk as proof that they take the issue seriously.

I have already mentioned some of the issues of CCTV and other parties, so I shall not repeat those points. However, the Liberal Democrats, represented eloquently today by the hon. Member for Taunton (Mr. Browne), are fond of talking about Big Brother. I prefer to talk about Big Sister, which involves support for the community and family, and keeping a watchful eye out for them. That is not a problem for me or for the people in my constituency. In fact, they would probably like to see more of it.

My hon. Friend the Member for Wakefield rightly touched on some of the issues involving parenting in her detailed speech. We need to do more to tackle poor behaviour by young people. That is a challenge for those of us who are parents, whatever the age of our children. I pay tribute to our schools in Hackney, which I have often described in the Chamber as “schools plus”. They deal with a range of children, some from challenging backgrounds, who do not have stable family homes and whose parents do not—frankly speaking—take the responsibility that they should. I want to stress that the vast majority do, although some do not. Hackney schools have been very good at delivering parenting support. The Government as a whole could learn from the experience in Hackney.

For example, Karen Glenister has been the head teacher at Burbage school in Hoxton for just over a year. Being keen to improve behaviour, she began to challenge pupils. One boy regularly misbehaved, and she made a series of telephone calls to his father to complain that the boy’s behaviour was not acceptable. At first, the father railed against her, and said that she was not describing the child he knew. He did not believe what he was being told, and refused to take responsibility for his son’s behaviour.

Gradually, through grit and determination, she won the father around and persuaded him to go on a parenting course held in the school. At the end of the year, she wanted to reward everyone—pupils and others—connected with the school who had achieved something in the year. She asked the parents who had attended the course to go to the school for a certificate presentation.

To her surprise, the father I am speaking about turned up booted and suited, and asked if he could make a little speech. In his emotional address, he talked with gratitude about the important impact that the lessons had had on him. He said that they had given him a different and better perception of his role as a father, and enabled him to have a better relationship with his son. That is the sort of day-to-day success that is being achieved in Hackney, and we need more of it.

In Daubeney school in Homerton, a parenting centre has been set up with funding from a charitable
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trust. Its aim is to give parenting skills and support to people even before they have children. That is in addition to the Sure Start investment in Hackney, which has given the borough 14 children’s centres.

On Monday, I had the great pleasure of visiting the Ann Tayler children’s centre in London Fields. I went with my hon. Friends the Minister for Pensions Reform and the Economic Secretary to the Treasury. We visited the newly refurbished and extended school building and saw the one-stop shop through which the fantastic new centre provides very welcome support for parents and the under-fives.

I have some personal experience of these matters. I am a parent of children under five years old and have benefited from the sort of support that I am describing, which has helped me with all the little niggles associated with the difficult job of bringing up children. As I have said before, Sure Start should not be confined to the under-fives. It is also needed for children in primary and secondary schools, and for teenagers. To some extent, the respect agenda addresses that problem, but we need an even more joined-up approach across Government.

I also want to congratulate Rev. Rose Hudson-Wilkin, a visionary vicar in the Queensbridge area of Hackney. She is not afraid to challenge parents to take their role responsibly and seriously. She speaks out where others fear to, and tells parents that they need to take responsibility and question their children about their activities, especially when they are in possession of new goods. Where do they get the money from? She is not afraid to encourage parents to ask such questions, and we need more people in leadership positions to do that.

In Hackney, education activities are not limited to primary schools and Sure Start. The Hackney safer schools partnership is led by a police sergeant and a senior officer of Hackney’s learning trust, which is the borough’s education authority. The partnership is supported by an education worker based in the youth offending team, and is an example of good, joined-up local government. Recently, the partnership has linked with the safer neighbourhoods teams at ward level.

The partnership provides educational programmes, and supports schools in responding to risk and identifying points of intervention. It also makes referrals to the local youth inclusion programmes. It plays an important role in Hackney by contributing to the development of routes out of gang involvement by which children are helped to relocate and find employment or training. The partnership has also introduced acceptable behaviour contracts in schools.

We hope that in time there will be a seamless weave of such provision in Hackney, helping people at all stages of their lives. It is not Big Brother: it is Big Sister, and it is taking an interest in people’s lives—at schools and on estates, through the police and CCTV, or in all sorts of other ways.

I said that I wanted to speak about the problems with Hackney’s Holly street estate. I visited it when it was being redeveloped in the early 1990s, and it was a dump. Crime and health problems were rife, but crime has massively reduced since the estate was rebuilt. However, just after the 2005 general election, there was a problem of serious drug dealing on the estate. The
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police mounted a major campaign, working with local landlords and the council, to tackle the problem. The issue was not only criminal—this may be where we disagree to some extent with the Opposition Front-Bench speakers: people associated with the drug dealing were congregating and there were no-go areas. They were not necessarily committing crimes, but by congregating they made residents worried and alarmed.

The police operation was a great success. The police took their time; they did not rush things and residents patiently lived with the problems as the police moved in. The operation was successful not only because the police took action to imprison most of the 20 main ringleaders, but also because they brought in a dispersal order on the estate. It was so effective that no one realised it had been lifted. When I visited the estate with a Home Office Minister, people were not aware that the order had been lifted a month previously because the problems had gone. Obviously, when we live in a city we know that things will not always be perfect, but by and large the improvements have been massive.

The point about Holly street that I particularly want to highlight to Ministers is the impact of low-level nuisance. Crime is identifiable and the police can make arrests. We have ways of tackling crime, although we can argue about their effectiveness, but small things that often go unreported have a significant effect on people’s lives and force them to change their behaviour. There was someone who used to lurk every morning at a bus stop on Kingsland road in the Holly street estate, sometimes dealing drugs, but not always committing a crime, which meant that most residents walked to another bus stop so that they could get to work. The local newsagent opened later in the morning because he did not want to deal with people who were drugged up or drunk, which meant that commuters could not buy their newspaper. Parents were accompanying their children to and from the bus stop. Those little irritants, which are actually quite big in the day-to-day life of residents, do not register as reported crime.

I urge the Metropolitan Police Service and the Home Office not necessarily to measure such things—we are always so keen to do that—but to acknowledge that although those annoyances are difficult to define, it is crucial to deal with them if we want peaceful, decent lives. I illustrate the benefit of dispersal orders with a quote from Vincent Stops. He is a councillor for Hackney central, which covers my constituency and straddles that of my hon. Friend the Member for Hackney, North and Stoke Newington (Ms Abbott). The dispersal order had a great effect on the Pembury estate and he said:

He said that they were not the people who usually attended, but tenants from all backgrounds,

He added that more youth work was needed, which, as I said, we recognise in Hackney. Those comments show that the measures were sorely needed, and we should be grateful for them.

I have canvassed the opinions of local people and councillors. Common problems cover everything from
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vandalism, graffiti and rubbish to more serious things, which border on crime. The Government’s announcement of more money for run-down estates is welcome. Happily, the vast majority of estates in Hackney are no longer run-down, thanks to the decent homes programme that my hon. Friend the Member for Wakefield rightly highlighted as a significant measure.

Perhaps the Government could follow Hackney’s lead in terms of its estate improvement budget. Tenants have complete control of a small budget provided by Hackney Homes—formerly Hackney council—and can use it to improve physical facilities on their estate. That is residents’ control, putting power in the hands of the people who know what they want.

On decent homes, Sally Mulready, a councillor in Chatham ward said:

In Hackney, we are seeing things that are beyond our wildest dreams after years under Tory control.

I want to touch briefly on drugs, though not to talk a lot about drug policy. I do not believe that we can talk about tackling antisocial behaviour—certainly in Hackney—without talking about drugs. Drugs are still a scourge on our streets. The police have a role in enforcement and arrest, but activity around drugs—taking in everything from gangs and low-level crime to drugged-up individuals—is the cause of many problems. We need to recognise that these daily irritants that change people’s behaviour can be a problem. On the Holly Street estate, the victims were almost always effectively the wider community, so we need really joined-up government to deal with the problem.

There is some evidence of the availability on Hackney’s streets of a stronger form of cannabis known as “skunk”. This stronger form of the drug is, according to anecdotal evidence from the police—we are still trying to work out ways of measuring it—more widely available and causing great problems. I am working with Anglican deans, councillors and residents in the local area to highlight the problem. We can talk endlessly about the classification and reclassification of cannabis and about big drug policy, but we need to recognise that drug policy is often behind what is actually happening on the streets. That is what people are living with now.

Mr. Kevan Jones: I am interested in what my hon. Friend is saying. In my constituency, as in hers, young people’s lives are blighted by drugs. Does she agree with me that the one thing that we should not do is legalise some of those drugs, as the Liberal Democrats advocate?

Meg Hillier: I think that it is fair to say that, on this side of the House, we believe in joined-up government to tackle the problem, rather than the “joint up” government often proposed by some Opposition Members. The seriousness of the problem with skunk is sadly demonstrated by the tragic murder only last year of a father of two on Evergreen square on the Holly street estate. Stevens Nyembo-Ya-Muteba of the Democratic Republic of the Congo went out one night,
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not particularly late, and said to the children sitting on the stairwell, “Will you please be quiet as I have to get up for work tomorrow?” For that crime, he was stabbed and killed. He left a widow and two children to live with the consequences. That is one of the reasons why, in Hackney, we take the issue of drugs very seriously—it is not something to laugh about.

In fairness to other Members, I will not go in great detail into other antisocial behaviour issues, but I need to touch on them. Hackney has seen a ban on street drinking in some areas, which has had a great effect and reclaimed the streets for ordinary decent folk. The power given under the Licensing Act 2003 to local authorities—rather than distant magistrates living a long way from the area—to take decisions about what happens in their areas is another important issue. I pay tribute to Councillor Christine Boyd, who led very effectively on licensing issues.

We have seen a creative partnership with a local hospital develop in Hoxton. An ambulance is now stationed in Hoxton—an area with a large number of bars and effectively the saturation zone in Hackney. It picks up people who are very drunk, dealing with them there, rather than clogging up accident and emergency. There are many problems connected with alcohol abuse, but we do not have enough time to go into them all today. Alcohol certainly causes many problems in Hackney, but at least the partnership I just mentioned goes some way to tackling some of them.

I welcome the Gambling Act 2005, which comes into force some time later this year. It will allow local authorities to have a say about betting shops in their area. Much to residents’ and the council’s dismay, an application for a third betting shop in Chatsworth road in the Homerton area of Hackney was recently made. The problem cannot be dealt with under current law, but thanks to the Government’s introduction of a change in the law under the Gambling Act 2005, local authorities will be able to tackle it. They can make a judgment, as they know what works best for their area.

Noisy neighbours are still a problem, and even though Hackney has an effective noise patrol more work needs to be done. I raised the matter with my Front-Bench colleagues with particular respect to ASBOs. Perhaps we could use them more effectively around noise nuisance.

Another issue is that although the Home Office often talks tough, we should look more to mediation. In a dense, inner-city area such as mine, talking to people can sometimes be one of the solutions. We were elected as Members of Parliament because people voted for us and we need to put that community first. We need to be on the side of those suffering from antisocial behaviour. The Labour Government have a good track record. I have highlighted some of the issues that I would like to see changed and improved, but we can be proud of what we have begun. I hope that it is just the beginning and that we have more to see.

3.44 pm

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