HC Deb 28 June 1991 vol 193 cc1239-300 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 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 ho using 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)


Mr. Stuart Randall (Kingston upon Hull, West)


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 o f 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 be have 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?

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 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 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.

Mr. Randall

I should he 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 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.

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.

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.

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: 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 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!

Mr. Randall

I should be grateful if the hon. Gentleman would tell us in a little more detail what he envisaged happening to the gentleman with the drug and behavioural problems whom he described. Earlier, he advocated that such people should be evicted and moved into other housing on licence whence, if they did not behave properly, they should be thrown on to the streets. How would he deal with people of this sort? His tough stance seems to go against the Government's notion of care in the community.

Mr. Brandon-Bravo

I have not one jot of sympathy for people who consciously carry out anti-social activities, but the young man to whom I referred was very sick and I believe that he was taken to hospital, where his problems were dealt with satisfactorily. I accept that that individual perhaps falls into the grey area of those people who slip through the loophole of the Mental Health Act 1984.

In response to a letter I received from one lady about the noise coming from flats, I suggested that she should wait until the security system was installed, because the mechanism would then be available to council staff on duty to know what was happening and to deal with it. It seems that was a pious hope, because, even after the security system was installed, little was achieved. I do not blame the staff, because they were only acting on instructions. They sat and watched the screens, and if anything untoward occurred, they did not telephone the police but their supervisor. I am not sure what was supposed to happen then, but as far as the tenants were concerned, what hapened was zilch.

Mr. Randall

I want to return to the example that the hon. Gentleman gave earlier, because it concerns a central point that I am anxious to resolve. The hon. Gentleman described it as a case involving someone with psychiatric problems moving into an area. Although I do not have the details of that specific case, my immediate reaction is that a man who lives in the way that the hon. Gentleman vividly described needs help. To evict such an individual on licence would be a tragedy. The hon. Gentleman is raking up all the old Conservative nonsense of the early 1980s—the short sharp shock, and hang 'em and flog 'em brigade. Instead, such a man needs help to get back on his feet and to live a decent life in society.

Mr. Brandon-Bravo

I am greatly disappointed with the hon. Gentleman. He knows very well that I have tried to draw a clear distinction between those consciously guilty of criminally anti-social behaviour and the individual who is not covered by the 1984 Act. No one denies that a grey area exists. I have discussed it with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, and we are examining the ways in which it can be tackled with care, understanding and sympathy—while making certain that a distinction is drawn between the consciously guilty and individuals of the kind that I described.

I turn to the question of intimidation. After a security system was installed in the block of flats that I earlier mentioned, I received a letter from one of the residents, stating: every time a flat became empty, it was used for blues parties, and the council were not making a great effort to stop them … all they would do would be to repair the door and the people running the parties would come and break it down again. On that afternoon, the door was opened by some … guys. I knew one of them … to be a person that organised parties … I went to the housing officer … we were told to go home and not to worry as everything would be taken care of and that there would be no parties … an injunction would be obtained and if a party started … I just had to call the police. At 7 pm, the music and drink arrived and they off-loaded a music speaker as big as a mini car. I can confirm that, because I have seen one of those speakers. It is about the size of a domestic fridge-freezer. That is pretty big. Right hon. and hon. Members can imagine the noise that two such speakers would make at a party in a comparatively small council flat. The letter goes on: I asked the security guard, 'Have you no powers?' He answered, 'I have no powers to say no. He lives here.' That is absurd … We are told we have great security, yet the doors are just held open while all this goes on. I saw that happen, so I know it to be true. When the tenant checked with the police, they knew nothing of any injunction. As he says, Someone is lying to us. On another occasion, that same resident's family was awoken at 1.30 am by loud banging in the flat above. He went upstairs and saw two men trying to break down the door with a hammer. He states: I was told by them to go away … I then said that I was going to call the police … they came towards me and lashed out, then I was hit with a hammer, punched, and my teeth were broken and knocked out. The council do not seem to realise the feeling of insecurity and anxiety felt by my family and me … I could not even bring myself to speak to the lady from Victim Support. As a result of my meeting with members of the residents association, Labour councillors finally bothered to go to talk to them. Those residents, who live in a ward that has been a Labour fiefdom for as long as anyone can remember, told me, "They take us for granted." I replied that they would probably go on voting Labour for the rest of their lives anyway, but, be that as it may, I was their Member of Parliament and would do what I could to help. I never ask people about their politics, and that probably goes for most right hon. and hon. Members. However, it grieves me when I see ordinary working-class people being taken for granted by their elected representatives, on the basis that they will always have their support.

Mr. Randall

Of course.

Mr. Brandon-Bravo

The hon. Gentleman says, "Of course." That is the saddest part of all. We imagine, as reasonably sophisticated people, that everything can be solved through the ballot box. Sadly, that is not so. In certain situations, people need help beyond the ballot box, in dealing with problems that some councillors will not address.

The chairman of the city housing authority acknowledged that the flats concerned had fallen below city standards, and that tenants should expect cleanliness inside and out and action to be taken against noise nuisance. He confirmed the duties of the people watching the security monitors, and made a reference to the use of loudspeakers. He pointed out to the residents that unless they were prepared to stand up in court and testify, it was difficult for the local authority to take action. I accept the truth of that, but it should not be used as an excuse to do nothing.

The housing chairman, who is supposed to be in charge of policy and to approve council tenancy agreements, irritated me beyond belief with this comment about clogs in the blocks of flats known as the 4Bs, when he said that its tenants association should make decisions about dogs. It is for the council to take such decisions, and to say, "Dogs are not permitted, but we will apply discretion when it comes to the Yorkshire terrier or small lap dog that many people, particularly the elderly, keep for company." No one can deny that the council has the power to say, "You shall not keep a rottweiler, alsatian, or any other large dog in a high-rise block."

I tried to make direct contact with that housing chairman, but he did not answer. Instead, he wrote to Tony Barton, whom I complimented earlier, saying that he would not reply to my letter because he thought that I was being somewhat hysterical. If I am angry on behalf of my constituents and that is deemed to be hysterical, so be it. However, at least he conceded this point: This nevertheless does not excuse the fact that the rubbish and graffiti should not have been there in the first place. When I visited the residents, they smiled and said, "We don't know if it was because the council knew that you were coming, but yesterday four lorries turned up and carted away more rubbish than you can possibly imagine from these flats." When they showed me around, I said, "My goodness. If four lorries came yesterday, they had better come back tomorrow, the day after, and the day after that," —because it looked as though no rubbish had been removed from those tower blocks for months.

Councillor Chapman continued: I am not excusing previous management deficiencies but we are already taking measures to improve the situation by, for example, introducing security". The council is beginning to do what I was submitting should have been done years ago. I said at a tenants' meeting that I would be willing to try to enforce a ban on dogs in the Radford road flats, but added that I would need the backing of the tenants' association. The views of the representatives of the tenants are clear, but it must be for the council to decide whether large dogs should be allowed to be kept in the flats. It is ridiculous for councillors to say that the responsibility for placing a ban on dogs rests with the tenants.

In his letter, the Labour chairman, Councillor Chapman, takes up the issue of security of tenure. He wrote: Mr. Brandon Bravo, I believe, voted for this legislation. Indeed I did. If the measure came before the House again, I would vote for it again. I hope that all my right hon. and hon. Friends would vote for security of tenure. I challenge those who occupy the Opposition Front Bench to say unequivocally that the Labour party has no plans to diminish security of tenure for council tenants. If the sort of things that are being said in Nottingham on this issue represent official Labour party policy that lies under the surface, it is time that that was established once and for all.

I tried to help a constituent who lives in another block of flats. When she explained her position I said to her, "After 23 years, you should not be driven from your home. I cannot accept that it is the innocent who have to pay the price." I am sure that many hon. Members would confirm that the local authorities in their constituencies often ask complainants whether they would like a transfer. Often it is easier to offer the innocent party a transfer than to tackle the guilty party. Surely that is wrong. I do not see why the innocent should suffer. The constituent to whom I have referred is a lady who lived happily in her home for 23 years before a problem arose, yet she was being asked whether she would like a transfer. That is not an option which I can accept.

Mr. Barry Porter

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for allowing me to put the record straight. Some many hours ago—well, it feels like that—I said that I had never heard of the sort of problems that my hon. Friend has described in the area that I represent. I have made a check and I have been reminded by my secretary that twice over the past five years I have been approached about similar problems and the transfer option. These cases involved noise, drug-taking and general unneighbourly behaviour. I wish that to be known, but the majority of the Wirral is clearly perfect. I must accept, however, that there are one or two small stains to its otherwise impeccable character.

Mr. Brandon-Bravo

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for taking the opportunity of putting the record straight. It seemed inconceivable that the Wirral could be perfect and that within the area there had not been one example of the sort of problems that I am drawing to the attention of the House.

In one instance I have no criticism of the local authority's housing department or social services department. Those who are involved in causing the problems to which I shall refer are not criminal—I know that I am not using that term in a correct legal sense. I shall not put a label on those who are causing the problems, because I am aware that I shall be challenged up hill and down dale for using the wrong label. I shall refer to the two people who are causing problems as Mrs. X and Miss XX.

Solicitors have tried to take out injunctions against Mrs. X during the past couple of years. She threatens people in the streets. The police have tried to take her to court to have her bound over. We cannot lock up this sort of person. I am not sure how conscious such a person is of the trouble that he or she is causing. With Mrs. X, the problem is abuse and foul language generally. Perhaps I am being kind when I describe her as a poor old dear. She seems not to fit into any category and no one knows quite what to do with her. However, an answer must be found.

I went to see Mrs. X's house in the knowledge that there is not a solution to everything. One of the failings of politicians is that we kid ourselves that there is always a solution to everything. There is not. Indeed, we have debates to try to highlight problems. It may be that there is a genius living in these islands who has the answer. If so, let him come to the Bar of the House and present it to us. After all, we have long been struggling to find answers to the problem that I have put before the House.

I referred to Mrs. X as a poor old dear, but she is not an old lady. When I went to her house I found that the windows were boarded up. It seems that she thinks that stones will be thrown at her windows. People wish that she would stay quietly in her home and leave them alone, but it seems that she feels threatened. As I have said, no one knows what to do with her.

Miss XX has been moved voluntarily on five occasions within Nottingham. All that that has done is move on the problem. Again, no one knows what to do. A letter from some residents reads: Over the past five months she has threatened the children, shouted abuse at adults and children (which is unrepeatable) … threatening with dangerous weapons such as a carving knife, a baseball bat and scissors. The last straw was last night when she came out threatening the children with a hammer. Who is to say that in one of her fits of depression she will not physically attack a child? She has already tried to do so on numerous occasions in the street. When I took up the case I found, to my horror, that I had dealt with it 12 months before—at least I thought that I had dealt with it. I said to myself and to my constituents "Here we go again. I know this Miss XX of old." Their hearts fell just as mine did.

I recalled that 12 months ago an old lady of 92 was terrified to leave her home because Miss XX used to lift the flap of the old lady's letter box and scream through the aperture. She would threaten to pour petrol into the old lady's house. I should say that Miss XX has never carried out a threat of that sort. She has occasionally been taken before the magistrates by the police, but she seems to fit into no slot that has been created by the relevant agencies. We love to put people into slots so that we can say that we have found an answer.

I shall read a letter that I received from the housing department that is relevant to the argument that I am advancing. It reads: I am sure that you appreciate Miss"— the letter gives her name but I shall refer to her as Miss XX— … has a mental problem which neither I nor my staff are able to deal with. Indeed, it is my personal opinion that she should not be living in the community at all without some regular supervision. I have expressed this view forcibly to the caring agencies but they seem unable or unwilling to take any responsibility for her. I do not want to pass judgment on whether the agencies are "unable" or "unwilling". I only hope that this constituency case will be picked up by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and that he will consider whether current legislation is able properly to deal with it.

The letter continues: In all fairness, however, I have to tell you that in my opinion it is most unlikely a judge would grant the council a possession order, despite the evidence, in view of her condition. In other words, there is no point in the council taking Miss XX to court because it would not be able to obtain an eviction notice. It is obliged, therefore, to opt for the voluntary approach. The letter adds: I am desperately trying to do all I can to find a solution to this very difficult and time-consuming problem but in all honesty I cannot see a way forward at this point in time. I only wish I could. The letter continues: The meeting was attended by Social Services staff, the Police and … this Department … and each expressed great concern about her behaviour. It was noted she had been banned from the Offices due to her abuse of staff … there were frequent complaints/petitions about her behaviour etc. They concluded that Miss XX may persistently be at odds with the community … Health services staff are quite clear that she is 'untreatable'. Any work … can have only a very limited effect in changing her attitude/behaviour. The housing department agreed to recommend rehousing on Management Grounds but careful consideration must be given as to location/neighbourhood and vulnerability of children/elderly etc. I believe that that case is typical of a number of cases, although I do not know how many, throughout the country.

I share the view expressed in the letter that Miss XX and those like her should be placed in a hostel/community-type setting where there could be close monitoring of … behaviour. It seems, however, there is no Local Authority or any other type of accommodation available for people like her. It was also stated, quite rightly, that she cannot be forced or co-erced to live where she does not want to go. I am greatly concerned that the Housing Department is left in the unenviable position of having to deal with this anti-social tenant with a mental condition. Obviously my staff will continue to act in the best interests of both the tenant and the community, (hopefully with the continued co-operation of the Social Services staff and the Police), to try to ensure matters do not get out of hand … in any other area where she may be moved to in the future. I think that I have shown that there is a real problem not only in my city, but throughout the country, much of which can be tackled if there is the local will to do so. Housing, environment and health legislation can deal with most of the problem. The House should consider further legislation to provide for local authorities to deal with such cases. Although they may be few in number, they involve a disproportionate use of staff, money and time.

I wish briefly to touch on the second part of my motion. It appears that the city of Nottingham now has a council willing to use the tools that this Government have provided. If it uses them, there may well be a diminution of the problems caused by anti-social behaviour. However, if local authorities such as Liverpool, Lambeth and Hackney do not carry out their duties in areas in which nine out of 10 other local authorities happily carry out those duties, how on earth can we expect local authorities, such as the one that I have named, to tackle those real human problems? By whatever style, title or priority the Labout party currently adopts—[Interruption.] Is it high priority, first priority, top priority—

Mr. Randall

We decide the priorities.

Mr. Brandon-Bravo

The hon. Gentleman was, of course, referring to the Labour party, not the Government.

Mr. Barry Porter

I wish to be as helpful as possible. The secretary of the ruling Labour party in Lambeth is an ex-Member of Parliament, who represented a Nottingham seat. If my hon. Friend has any complaints, I am sure that Mr. Michael English will deal with them immediately.

Mr. Brandon-Bravo

My hon. Friend referred to the gentleman who held my seat before I won it in the 1983 general election. I hope that my hon. Friend will forgive me if I do not respond to his point.

I have taken much more time than I intended, but given the number of interventions, most of them helpful—

Mr. Cox


Mr. Brandon-Bravo

As the hon. Gentleman says, the rubbish came from him. I accept his descripton of his intervention. I was grateful for the other interventions from hon. Members, and I commend my motion to the House.

10.54 am
Mr. Alan Williams (Swansea, West)

The hon. Member for Nottingham, South (Mr. Brandon-Bravo) has done the House a service by initiating this debate, He may as well have taken another five minutes to deal with the other two constituency cases that have been brought to him since 1983. He made an interesting speech, in which he recognised personal ineffectiveness—not just his, but chat of all Members of Parliament. It is a pity that he spoilt what should be a useful and constructive debate by trying to superimpose a rather trivial and silly political dimension.

I do not intend to follow that line, although we could cite examples of Conservative councils and councillors and make silly yah boo noises. We could even ask how it is that, with the previous Conservative party leader, the right hon. Member for Finchley (Mrs. Thatcher), having said there is no such thing as society, it is possible to be anti-social? That would be a good debating point at the Oxford Union, but it is not what we are here to debate today. As I said, the hon. Gentleman has provided the House with a good opportunity for debate, which he partly spoilt by introducing a political dimension. I hope that we can now get to the substance of the issue.

In some ways, we are involved in an exercise in humility. As the hon. Gentleman said, this is a sovereign Parliament, but we have placed a duty on councils. That is passing the buck. He said that he did not know what to do about the problem, but implied that because Parliament had imposed a duty on councils we should assume that they could deliver an answer. That is a rather fatuous way to treat some of the issues that we are discussing.

What continually emerged during the hon. Gentleman's speech—I am not making a criticism as I am sure that we will all say it—was the fact that he did not know what to do about the problems. It is a pity that he kicked the councils for not being able to solve them. I am not suggesting that the hon. Gentleman should know how to solve the problems; I certainly do not. He gave the example of an old lady in his constituency—a sad but common case. Every hon. Member has the equivalent: of that old lady. However, it is simplistic to suggest that such people should be rehoused, given one opportunity to stop causing problems, and then thrown out on the streets. He cannot seriously suggest that that would be a solution. If that approach were adopted, I do not doubt that he would be on his feet in the House condemning the very council—especially if it were Labour—that had put an old lady out on the street.

Mr. Brandon-Bravo

I did not say that.

Mr. Williams

The hon. Gentleman should read his speech in Hansard. He did the House a disservice because instead of dealing with the issue on its merits—it has enormous merits—he tried to twist it by imposing a political dimension. He put himself into rather absurd, illogical corners.

It became increasingly clear, not just from the hon. Gentleman's comments but from some of the examples that he cited, that very often the sort of people we are discussing are at the margins of competence. He said that they were not criminals, but he could not define them. If something cannot be defined, it is hard to legislate to deal with it. That is one of the problems of Parliament.

I suspect that during the debate we will hear example after example for cases of which Parliament cannot effectively legislate. We can introduce nominal legislation saying that certain things cannot be done, but that is rather like our legislation that says that people should not break the 30 mph speed limit. We all know that that legislation is effective only in the context of the impossibility of achieving that speed on many of our roads. Although necessary, the legislation is fairly meaningless in its application.

We should clear the deck of the nonsense that all that we have to do is to pass a law and we will have solved the problem. We can often recognise and define a problem, but that is very different from solving it. Therefore, let us not indulge in the easy trick of saying, "We, in Parliament, from on high, have said that this should not happen and those nasty, incompetent councillors and council officials have failed to do what we have told them they have to do, although we admit that, if we were in their position, we would not know what to do either."

Mr. Hugo Summerson (Walthamstow)

The right hon. Gentleman is somewhat missing the point. The House has given local authorities considerable powers and resources to deal with the sort of problems described by my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, South (Mr. Brandon-Bravo). The main complaint is about local authorities which, although they are in full possession of these powers and resources, display indifference to the problem and make no effort to deal with it.

Mr. Williams

My hon. Friend the Member for Tooting (Mr. Cox) mentioned Wandsworth council, the prime example of all Conservative virtues, which suffered from the same problems as those outlined by the hon. Member for Nottingham, South. Unless half the population are inspectors checking on the other half, many of the matters about which we complain are almost untreatable in legislative and administrative form. We are talking of behavioural and malevolent defects. One can sometimes deal with malevolence, but behavioural inadequacies are more difficult to cope with. They are caused by the change in our social cement, our social structure and our social responsibilities.

Mr. Carrington

The House will accept that many of the problems described by my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, South (Mr. Brandon-Bravo) result from social conflict between the lifestyles of the parties involved, which is a great difficulty. However, is the right hon. Gentleman is mistaken, because the problem is in the solution. It may be difficult enough to find in itself, but we cannot even start on a solution because the legislation to enable it to be acted upon is not in place. In other words, legislation is a necessary precursor to finding a solution to a social problem.

Mr. Williams

The hon. Gentleman is taking a somewhat different position from that of the hon. Member for Nottingham, South, who said that the solutions are there but these nasty local authorities will not use the legislation that Parliament has enacted.

Mr. Brandon-Bravo

I did not say that.

Mr. Williams

The hon. Gentleman will need to read what he said. I listened to his speech with an attention that much of what he had to say did not deserve. He needs to think through what he said, because many of his premises conflicted with each other. I did not want to get into party contention on this because I came in to refer only to one brief issue. However, listening to the hon. Gentleman stimulated all manner of responses.

Mr. Carrington

I reinforce what the right hon. Gentleman said. We had a stimulating hour and a quarter from my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, South.

Mr. Williams

It was certainly thought inducing. Unfortunately, hon. Members have had to bear the consequence of the fertility that it created in my imagination. If the aim of the exercise was to stimulate debate, the hon. Member for Nottingham. South has certainly done that.

We can all quote examples of anti-social behaviour—aggressive smokers, hooligans and the foul mouthed. I shall concentrate on one example. Many of these personal behavioural inadequacies come together in a singularly dangerous environment when the people about whom we are talking are put into a car. I can hark back to my younger days, as no doubt other older Members can, and talk about the neighbourhood, the influence of neighbours and the fear of stigma in the community. We live in a different society. It is more mobile and semi-detached in its accommodation and attitudes. There is no social cohesion or sense of social responsibility. Strangely, such social patterns were consolidated by factors such as living through a war, because we had to work together and observe certain basic rules. However, society has gradually loosened.

The hon. Member for Nottingham, South described the person who throws litter from the top floor of a flat, but that person is now throwing a can through the window of a car in the fast lane, on to the central reservation of a motorway. People who are a danger, a threat or a nuisance when they are relatively static become positively dangerous when they are in 1 tonne of metal capable of doing 100 mph. On the roads, the neuroses, the aggressiveness, the competitiveness and the inconsiderate behaviour that can be found in other contexts are concentrated in a situation in which there is no accountability. For example, if one feels inclined to shout at a neighbour, one knows that he will be living there the next day, and one has to take into account how relationships will be affected. In a car, if a conflict arises, snap decisions are taken at 70 mph by drivers of varying competence. There is no social restraint there. There is no accountability because one does not know the other person.

Mr. Brandon-Bravo

In America, a driver could pick up a gun and shoot the other person.

Mr. Williams

The hon. Gentleman is correct. I fear that we may be coming to that extreme behaviour. We have a relatively low ratio of cars to people and it will become considerably higher.

There is belligerence, aggressiveness and a lack of awareness in people in control of vehicles that are capable of high speeds. That is exacerbated by the fact that there is congestion not only on urban roads but on motorways. People are in a hurry and a rush. All these additional pressures bring out the inadequate characteristics described by the hon. Member for Nottingham, South.

All hon. Members spend a lot of time on the roads and we have observed such behaviour. I do not suggest that we are better or worse drivers than anybody else, but, because of the amount of time that we spend on the roads, we are able to observe the rapidly deteriorating standards of conduct. I drive up and down the M4 to my constituency. I am lucky in that it is a relatively unused motorway. I feel sorry for those of my colleagues who have to travel on the M1, one of the most miserable motorways to be found anywhere in the world. We are lucky that the road from London to Wales and back is a fairly pleasant drive with only the occasional hold-up.

I have been struck in the past few years by the change in attitudes towards driving. The hon. Member for Nottingham, South spoke about the American experience. On American freeways motorists are allowed to pass on either side. In Britain we sensibly preserve the rule that one should pass only on the right-hand side. At least one knows where to look to see where trouble may be coming from. Increasingly we all experience the belligerent, aggressive driver who weaves his way through the traffic, passes on the inside lane, ducks into the middle lane and works his way in and out of the traffic streams. No doubt he feels clever. He may be venting his need to prove his competitive capability, but he creates enormous dangers for a great many people.

A worrying phenomenon that has emerged recently is a tendency, which cannot persist for long without leading to serious accidents, for people to jump the red light at traffic junctions. All of us who drive in and out of city centres, especially if we do so in the rush hour, find various ways of dealing with the tedium and frustration. We turn on the radio and try to lose ourselves in music, a discussion or whatever is on. Recently I have taken to counting the number of cares that jump the red light. It is not uncommon to see as many as three cars go through the red light. One is aware that for them and for the people on the other road, it is a matter of good fortune rather than judgment that accidents are avoided.

About two months ago I was driving in London. I was the third car in the outside lane to draw up at a set of traffic lights. A car behind went not only outside into the oncoming traffic stream but around the red light, cut across the traffic and proceeded to turn left.

The problem of standards of driving is the only reason why I bothered to intervene today. It worries me that we have a problem which, as the hon. Member for Notthingham, South said, we do not know how to deal with. The laws are in place on road traffic offences. There is no point in passing more laws, because we cannot enforce the existing ones. People do not seem to recognise that the laws are there not just because of parliamentary bloody-mindedness but to protect them and other people.

I conclude this brief speech with a warning of what will happen. The hon. Member for Nottingham, South referred to how much further aggression and violence among road users has developed in the United States. I am appalled at the speed at which we seem to be following the same pattern. That must be a matter which causes anxiety to all road users and to families and pedestrians. Therefore, I hope that some attention can be given to how we can introduce new self-discipline. Enforced regulation on its own will not achieve the objective. We must try to create a new self-discipline in road use and driving and try to develop a sense of consideration for other road users.

11.13 am
Mr. Matthew Carrington (Fulham)

I am most grateful for the opportunity to participate in this debate. I begin by congratulating my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, South (Mr. Brandon-Bravo) on selecting this motion, which is wide-ranging and all-encompassing but tackles the real problems that many of us who represent urban seats find that our constituents face on a day-to-day basis. In many ways the problems are of almost insoluble complexity. That has already been said and amply illustrated with examples. The difficulties of anti-social behaviour have no simple solutions. They are frequently conflicts of lifestyle, attitude and sometimes of generation, experience or stage in development in the stages through which we all pass in life. In many cases those conflicts are insoluble. My hon. Friend demonstrated that magnificently and I compliment him on the way in which he introduced the motion.

I shall concentrate on some aspects of anti-social behaviour which my constituents face. I hark back to some of the points that my hon. Friend made about noisy neighbours, one of the worst social problems that my constituents in some areas face. Noise problems are by no means confined to council estates. We must be clear about that. It is not a problem of class, wealth or poverty, any more than anti-social behaviour is. It is a problem which we all face in some way or another. The only way in which one can get away from noisy neighbours is by becoming so isolated that no matter how noisy the neighbours are they do not cause problems. That, I am afraid, is not a privilege that any of my constituents have—nor, I am sure, do many constituents who live in urban areas.

I am not sure that even in rural areas it is easy to get away from noise. I am a townie—a Londoner born and bred. Having lived in London all my life and represented a London constituency, I like to take my holidays in the countryside. Several years ago I went to an extremely rural spot. I was taking a walk one evening as the sun was going down and in the middle distance a loudspeaker was beating out heavy rock music for the edification of the entire countryside, including the cows. Someone was having a party in the middle of the countryside. If I had lived a quarter of a mile away, I should have been just as annoyed as some of my constituents are when parties are held next door.

The problem of noise is not confined to one area or one class. In many areas it is, of course, exacerbated by the policies pursued by local authorities. I shall come to that in a moment. The problem is also made worse by the nature of the construction of many properties. Again, that is by no means confined to council estates or modern properties. Much of my constituency was built before 1914 and much of it comprises terraced houses. In fact, the overwhelming majority of my constituency was built as terraced houses. Many of those houses have partition walls that are as thin as anything that one would find in the most jerry-built of the 1960s council estates. Noise travels just as easily through them. Some of the noise problems arise riot from wild parties but from a neighbour, who is absolutely deaf, having the television set turned up too loud in the front room.

Mr. Alan Williams

The hon. Gentleman makes a valid point. Is not it an example of the problems that face councils and those who seek to deal with such difficulties? Even when regulations have been changed to ensure greater sound insulation, often the regulations were devised in the days of what we call the radio. Now youngsters have amplifiers and so on. Technology invalidates attempts to engineer out the problems that the hon. Gentleman describes.

Mr. Carrington

The right hon. Gentleman is correct. Attitudes to noise change and technology has changed, which enables music to be played louder than when he or I were young. I listened to the wireless with a cat's whisker, trying to get some noise in my headphones. I well remember as a child lying under the bed clothes trying to pick up Radio Luxembourg on my crystal set. Children now have ghetto blasters, to use American parlance, and can make as much noise as they like. That is a serious problem.

On the underground, one often has to sit next to a fellow—not necessarily young, but perhaps somebody who should know better and should be more experienced —who is listening to a personal stereo. One hears not the music but the thud, thud of the base. Noise is intrusive and is a problem, but the extent of the problem differs according to the person who is listening and the time of day.

Mr. Summerson

Does my hon. Friend agree that an equal menace is the young man who gets on the underground with a guitar, sings two or three songs extremely badly and then passes a hat round?

Mr. Carrington

My hon. Friend is right. I have mixed views about buskers. Hon. Members walk down the squalid and sordid underpass that leads from this place to the outbuildings at Norman Shaw. Some of the buskers in that underpass are wonderful people who play instruments so well that they should be in a concert hall, whereas others hurry one on one's way in order to get away from them. Noise is an irritation if it is unpleasant to the person who is listening, but it is cheering and pleasant if it is played in the right circumstances and at the right volume and if one is in the mood to listen to it.

I wanted to presage my comments with those thoughts because we cannot regard noise as being absolute; it affects different people differently. In some circumstances, noise is totally inappropriate. All-night parties are not a novel feature of urban life. When I was a student in London in the mid-1960s, many more years ago than I care to remember, I was not averse to all-night parties. I am sure that the neighbours were no happier about the noise that we made, admittedly on more primitive equipment, than neighbours these days. Such parties are unacceptable and steps must be taken to eliminate them.

The problem is worse in areas of mixed communities. If a community consists of people who have similar lifestyles, are from similar age groups, have similar work patterns and have children, problems can be reduced. One of the problems is that councils tend to mix the young with the old and people with or without children on council estates. They are not sufficiently sensitive to the needs of different members of society.

In advocating such a solution, we can be accused of racism. I represent an inner-London constituency which benefits from having a mixed community. The stereotype of all-night parties, ghetto blasters and anti-social behaviour is that it is a black-white problem. That is not true. Many people from all races and ethnic backgrounds suffer from such parties. The problem is not confined to any racial ethnic sector of the community. When my constituents complain about an all-night party, it is perceived as a complaint on racial grounds rather than on noise grounds, and frequently it is not. The initial reaction of the people to whom a complaint is made is that it is a racist complaint, but often that is confounded by the fact that the people on both sides of the dispute are of the same race. These things are never as simple as they seem.

Policies must ensure that people of similar lifestyles are housed together. There is a problem in Fulham, where many houses have been converted into flats. I see the hon. Member for Tooting (Mr. Cox) nodding; I am sure that he experiences the same problem in his constituency. If a family with children live in the upstairs flat and an elderly couple live in the downstairs flat, there will be many problems and difficulties that, given the description of my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, South, might be more common in Nottingham.

The problem will not be solved by fining one party to a dispute. The housing allocation officer must consider possible conflicts when allocating housing and, where possible, the policy should be to house elderly people together. That would minimise the problem. It will not be possible to achieve that every time, but the London borough of Hammersmith and Fulham does not appear to operate such a policy, mainly because of a misguided fear of being accused of being racist rather than because it does not understand the problem.

Much can be done to minimise the problem of noise, but if a neighbour is completely unamenable to reason and outrageous in his behaviour, there comes a point when something more must be done. There are always extreme cases where noise is persistent and they occur when the environmental health officer is not at his or her desk. All too frequently in the London borough of Hammersmith and Fulham when my constituents telephone the environmental health officer they get only the answering machine, and when the officer contacts them the following day the party is finished and there is no evidence. Therefore, nothing can be done until a party is next held, when exactly the same happens. The problem may be solved by employing more staff, but it is more likely to be solved by changing the priorities of the environmental health department.

If someone has a neighbour who is extremely noisy and obtains evidence to give grounds for eviction, that will sometimes result in an eviction and the people will be thrown on to the street. The council may not have a statutory obligation, or even a moral obligation, to rehouse those people. However, more often than not, that is not so. Instead the people causing the noise are vulnerable and the council has a statutory obligation to rehouse them either because they are mentally or physically disabled or, which is more likely, because children are involved.

The children might be the principal cause of the noise. Many cases have been brought to me where the noise is not caused by the parents in a flat, but by their children, who may be 10, 11 or 12 years old and listen to what we used to call record players. I suppose that nobody calls them that now. The children listen to loud music on what are now called sound systems, probably when their parents are not in. Perhaps parents should not leave children of that age alone, but in reality many do. When neighbours complain to the parents, the parents often find it impossible to control children and the next time they go out, the children ignore their instructions, turn up the sound systems and create the same problem.

In such circumstances, eviction is very difficult because the council has an obligation to rehouse people, albeit not always a legal obligation. It may be possible to rehouse people on licence without security of tenure. If they are rehoused, they will have to move to another area. As my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, South graphically illustrated with his examples of Mrs. X and Miss XX, the problem passes from one group of neighbours to another. Someone once said about a couple who were unhappily married that the only good thing to say about the marriage was that it stopped two other people being unhappy. We are talking about much the same problem because, by moving the people on, another set of neighbours will be made equally unhappy, which is no solution—although it works occasionally.

I have encountered some extreme cases in Fulham, one of which recently hit the national as well as the local press. I shall not give enough detail to identify the family, although I regret that some newspapers did. Their small children were completely out of control, running riot in the street, in neighbours' gardens and on neighbours' roofs and causing mayhem. There are a number of such cases in my constituency where the families involved need to know that the council cares enough to do something about them. Part of the solution might be for them to be relocated and given a fresh start. But that is not the whole solution, because many of the problems stem from such families being abandoned in the community without the sort of social service support that they need.

In the case that I mentioned, the local residents, the council and I are working together with a degree of co-operation across party boundaries to try to find a solution to the problem. I am optimistic that we may find a solution, but it is never easy. As my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, South said, part of the solution is to ensure that we have the legislation necessary to take action.

Problems related to care in the community often occur in urban districts. We now have people who, in previous generations, would have been in long-stay mental institutions. They have rightly been brought out to live in the community as their psychiatrists and doctors believe that that is appropriate. Such treatment works in the vast majority of cases, where the people make good neighbours, and conform and cope well, given the right amount of support. They often live in the community to their benefit and that of society.

I strongly believe that a community in which people of all types live together greatly benefits that community, but it does not work in some sad instances. That is sometimes because disabled people refuse to take the medication that they have been prescribed so their condition is no longer under control. It may be because they refuse treatment or because the support services break down so that they do not receive the assistance that they need. When that happens, such people become a great nuisance to their neighbours. They do not create merely a noise nuisance—although that is frequently the case—but many other types of disturbance.

We have heard about abuse and threats and we can add to those nuisances smell, which is equally horrible if one lives next door to it. It is equally impossible to cope with and, as a problem, it is equally difficult to solve. Although it is perhaps a more comic problem, if one lives next door to it, it becomes as all-pervasive and revolting as loud music played day and night. As constituency Members, knocking on doors, canvassing at elections and walking round our constituencies, we have all been met by a blast of stale, fetid air and a smell that knocks us back from an open doorway in a block of flats. That is no joy for the canvasser and is a horror for the next-door neighbours.

It is difficult to try to deal with people who are not receiving adequate care in the community. That problem should not be passed on by simply moving the people from one flat or house to the next. The only way of solving the problem is to ensure that they receive the right level of support within the community and that there is the right structure in social services departments and the understanding that they not only have to look after their clients, but have to ensure that those clients are acceptable to the neighbours. Therefore, the social services departments are responsible for not only their clients, but for the others who live in the community.

There should be a greater readiness by the medical profession to understand that some individuals, either through their own choice or because they cannot look after themselves, need greater care—even to the extent of hospitalisation. Understandably, many psychia-trists are reluctant to accept that.

The problems of mixed communities frequently occur on council estates, although by no means always. Other problems arise throughout my constituency, often in streets other than those that have been built since the war as new council developments. Double-parking is as much about anti-social behavour as are problems involving people who blast their neighbours with loud music.

I know of many instances where people double-park as a matter of habit in narrow streets, leaving just enough room for one car to pass. it is an understandable habit because parking in Fulham is akin to musical chairs. Fulham does not have residents' parking and consequently parking is a matter of catch as catch can. When one tries to park in certain areas the only way to do so is to tour round two or three blocks until somebody leaves. When that happens four or five other cars all rush to the same space. It is a lengthy procedure as well as an anti-social one because the people who do not get the parking space are upset. The parking problem means that double parking is common; consequently, public service vehicles such as fire engines or ambulances cannot get down a street and the poor person parked on the kerb must knock on various doors in the street to try to find who has double-parked.

Mr. Summerson

I know that my hon. Friend is keen on cyclists. Does he agree that if more people used bicycles rather than cars, parking would not be such a problem?

Mr. Carrington

I do not want to be sidetracked, but many years ago, when I was a young boy, I used to ride a bicycle around London—that shows how long ago it was.

Mr. Steve Norris (Epping Forest)

No one had cars then.

Mr. Carrington

That is right. I now drive a car, as do most hon. Members, because I need to travel at unsocial times of the day when public transport is not available. The difficulty is that, nowadays, few cyclists obey the highway code. When I was a cyclist I had that code drummed into me, but now cyclists overtake me on the inside, ride in my blind spot and jump the lights. Perhaps a minority of cyclists behave in such a dangerous manner, but we must do something to ensure that cyclists understand that they, too, are responsible for road safety.

Mr. Jack Aspinwall (Wansdyke)

Does my hon. Friend agree that the sidetracking that he mentioned would be helpful for cyclists in traffic?

Mr. Carrington

My hon. Friend is right, but that brings me back to the problem of parking. My hon. Friend will know that cycle tracks in London go down the side of roads and, more often than not, someone parks in those tracks. The cyclist must then go out into the road, which defeats the purpose.

The solution to the problem of double-parking is simple —we should have more control on parking. I welcome the Government's initiative to give parking control to local authorities. We should have a self-financing service operated by traffic wardens who can identify bad and illegal parking. Double-parking is dangerous and is therefore a police matter, but traffic wardens would be able to report that and summon assistance from the right authorities.

Another problem caused by cars is that when people leave a party late at night—even a well-run one—they may slam their car doors. That noise is as anti-social as any other behaviour.

I recognise that I have taken up a considerable amount of time and I hope that hon. Members will forgive me for doing so. This is an extremely important matter of concern to my constituents and I am grateful for the opportunity to discuss it.

We must address one of the fundamental problems of anti-social behaviour. I do not believe that it is confined to a particular stratum of society; it is not related to poverty or wealth, but crosses the spectrum. The difficulties that people encounter in their housing and the problems that are caused to neighbours are frequently misunderstood and related to the poverty of the individual. In other words, it is suggested that someone living in poor circumstances because he does not have a lot of money is more likely to be anti-social than someone living in relative comfort.

Mr. Allen McKay

The hon. Gentleman's argument is extremely good. Is he aware of the problem with neighbours that is being encountered in Belgravia? One morning a man got up to find that his Rolls-Royce had been stripped of paint; it will cost him £25,000 to put it right. The next morning he found that his car was covered with bolt holes. He has accused his neighbour, who has denied liability.

Mr. Carrington

That problem illustrates exactly what I am trying to say. Disputes between people are more often to do with human nature than with human conditions.

One difficulty is that sociologists frequently look at the problem and claim that if only we did this or that it would be solved. That is not true. The only thing that will solve human nature is divine intervention and we have been a bit short of that recently. We can all hope that human nature will change, but we should not be too optimistic about it.

It is frequently suggested that poverty is the cause of anti-social behaviour. I believe that that does a considerable injustice to people who do not have a great deal of money. It is also suggested, sometimes by the Labour party—I do not want to introduce an unsuitable party-political tone, because the problem of anti-social behaviour is a cross-party one—that if one introduced a minimum wage into the pay bargaining structure it would solve many of the problems associated with anti-social behaviour. I note from the expression on the face of my hon. Friend the Minister that he is extremely pleased that that subject has been raised. I can understand why.

It is suggested that a minimum wage would alleviate poverty, but it would do no such thing. It would exacerbate it, as has been demonstrated by studies of that policy. A minimum wage would create more unemployment as it would throw people out of work. Many of our trade unionists have illustrated ably how that minimum wage would create pressure for the restoration of differentials in pay bargaining. That means that all wages would go up so that the minimum wage would cease to be of benefit to the lower paid. Its introduction would mean that everyone's wages were pushed up, which would make inflation far worse. We all know that high inflation hits the least well-off in our society hardest. A minimum wage would make life worse for the poorest people.

Mr. Randall

What is the hon. Gentleman's formula for helping to alleviate poverty in Britain?

Mr. Carrington

The hon. Gentleman has been here many years and he has listened as the Government have explained endlessly how we shall alleviate poverty.

Only a few ways of alleviating poverty work. The principal one is to achieve a healthy, low-inflation economy which grows solidly and consistently. We have achieved that in the past 10 years at a faster rate than have our European neighbours. There will always be people who, sometimes through their own fault, but often through circumstances, end up being out of work and having to say to the state, "I cannot support myself. I need assistance." We must ensure that the level of assistance increases at as rapid a rate as the economy can afford. That, too, has been achieved under Conservative rule. The level of income and social security support, through housing benefit and so on, has kept pace with, and sometimes gone beyond, the rate of inflation. So the least well-off in the community are doing very well indeed.

The same is true of wages. The average household has seen its real rate of disposable income increase by about 3 per cent. a year since the Conservatives came to power. Those are the ways to alleviate poverty. To try to do it by manipulating the social structure of the fabric of society not only does not work but causes worse problems.

Mr. Randall

What the hon. Gentleman suggests as the answer to poverty has not worked. The Conservatives have been in power for over a decade and the OECD figures show that in the poverty stakes, Britain is at the bottom of the league in Europe. The gap between the rich and poor has widened. Either the hon. Gentleman accepts the level of poverty that exists in this country or he does not understand how the Conservatives have been operating during the past decade.

Mr. Carrington

The hon. Gentleman becomes confused on this subject, which is not unusual among Labour Members. I accept that the gap between the rich and poor has been getting wider, but the poor have become much richer and some at the top have got richer as well. In other words, the whole of society has prospered. The implication of the hon. Gentleman's intervention is that the size of the economic cake is static and that, as a result of the rich getting richer, the poorer have had money taken from them. That is not true; the poor have got richer as well, because everybody has benefited from the growth in society.

Statistics can prove almost anything, and the hon. Gentleman quotes statistics to suit his case. The degree of poverty in society depends on where one draws the poverty line. As society gets richer and as, rightly, we give more resources to people who cannot look after themselves—as we pour money into helping people who were abandoned by the Labour party before 1979—the poor get richer. Poverty is defined by the level at which people get assistance from the state. As the threshold for receiving assistance goes down and as the amounts of assistance that people get go up, larger numbers of people are helped.

That is the right way to proceed. Rather than increase the degree of poverty, it alleviates it, because we recognise poverty where previously it was ignored. We bring people into receiving help. Family credit is a good example of that. If the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, West (Mr. Randall) knows people in his constituency who have not taken up family credit, he should urge them to do so, because the Government have been extremely generous to those who are unable to look after themselves. That is one of the great strengths of our economy.

The measure of poverty and proposals, for example, for a minimum wage, will not solve the problem that we are debating this morning. It must be tackled in other ways, often by local authorities arbitrating between neighbours, recognising that different lifestyles must be considered when housing is allocated and responding faster to enable measures to be taken to identify the problem and then tackle it, whether that is simply by talking to both sides in a neighbours' dispute or by obtaining an eviction notice, and so on.

Mr. Randall

I have great respect for the way in which the hon. Gentleman is putting his case, but there is a terrific flaw in what he and the hon. Member for Nottingham, South (Mr. Brandon-Bravo) have been saying. The hon. Gentleman is advocating that we do nothing to prevent problems from arising. His argument has been entirely about how we deal with the problem after it has arisen. My hon. Friends and I argue that there has been a deterioration in the social fabric which has contributed to the trouble and that the most cost-effective way of dealing with it is to improve the social fabric in crucial areas so that people do not have recourse to anti-social and criminal behaviour.

Mr. Carrington

I had hoped that the hon. Gentleman would not take that line, because it is not a useful way of considering the problem. It is not simply a problem of society, although it must be addressed ahead of time. I spoke of housing allocation policy and the like. Apparently the hon. Gentleman missed that part of my speech. It is not good enough simply to blame the social fabric of our society, which today is more homogeneous than at any time in the past. We now have greater respect for each other. [Interruption] More complaints are now being made by the public about anti-social behaviour because people generally complain more today about matters that previous generations tolerated happily. The same applies to crime statistics. The amount of crime has increased because more crime is reported.

Mr. Randall


Mr. Carrington

If the hon. Gentleman does not believe that, let him examine the correlation between the number of policemen and the amount of crime. There is a greater willingness today to report crime. Like my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, South, I hope that the Secretaries of State for the various Government Departments involved will consider what measures can be introduced to help solve the problems that we are discussing. Although those measures may not solve them completely, they may provide a path to a solution.

11.57 am
Mr. Tom Cox (Tooting)

It is a pleasure to follow the speech of the hon. Member for Fulham (Mr. Carrington) and I agreed with many of the points he made in his interesting and constructive speech. Long ago, I served as a member of the old Fulham borough council and later I was a member of the borough of Hammersmith and Fulham. Having grown up in the area, I am well aware of the problems that the hon. Gentleman rightly brought to the attention of the House.

I listened with interest to the speech of the hon. Member for Nottingham, South (Mr. Brandon-Bravo). He will be aware that during the week, certain words were added to his motion. When I first visited the Vote Office and asked whether the terms of the motion had been published, I received a copy and decided to take part in the debate, and my speech was prepared at that stage much in accordance with the speech that the hon. Gentleman made.

I proposed to talk about the playing of loud music. On that and similar issues, I agree with the comments of the hon. Members for Nottingham, South and for Fulharn. It is a real problem to which there are no readily available answers. One approaches the police, they become involved, the music is turned down for a while, the police go away, the music is played at high volume again and when one telephones the police again they reply, "We are stretched to the limit and we cannot pay another visit."

The hon. Member for Fulham suggested that people should contact the environmental service officers. He may not be aware that on many occasions people who telephone are connected to an answering device, so the party, or whatever the disturbance may be, has ended before those officers are able to get involved.

When I saw the additions to the motion I decided to change the content of my speech. In the coming months Labour Members can expect such changes on an increasing scale, including the usual attacks against Labour councillors. The motion names the councils under attack, but I shall speak about another council that is not named—Wandsworth council.

Mr. Norris

It is a good council.

Mr. Cox

I wonder whether the hon. Gentleman will say that once he has heard my speech. If so, I am more than willing to make arrangements for him to come to my constituency to witness several ongoing problems there. I wonder whether he will then say that it is a good council.

We know much about the London borough of Wandsworth and the fact that it is a no-poll-tax borough. However, we all know the old saying, "You get owt for nowt", which certainly applies to Wandsworth.

Mr. Norris

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Cox

I shall give way later. I have only just started my speech.

Many residents, irrespective of their family and social backgrounds, now say that Wandsworth council—

Mr. Norris

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Cox

No, the hon. Gentleman must learn to contain himself a little.

Residents in the borough now say that Wandsworth council is behaving anti-socially. Another old saying is that the chickens come home to roost. They are now coming home to roost in Wandsworth because the Tory group there, which has a massive majority, is split. This week's edition of a long-established, highly respected newspaper, the Wandsworth Borough News, contains a lengthy article on that subject. It names the groups that are now splitting from the official leadership of Wandsworth council. Last night's Evening Standard also reported the split. At the annual general meeting in May, several very experienced and highly respected councillors were sacked. They were chairs—

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Employment (Mr. Eric Forth)


Mr. Cox

They were chairmen and chairwomen of important committees in Wandsworth. The Minister laughs; we know his style. I wonder whether he will laugh at the point that I am about to make.

Mr. Forth


Mr. Cox

That is the kind of comment that we expect from the Minister. If Labour councillors were being attacked, he would shout "Hear, hear". However, when he hears Conservative councils being attacked he regards it as a big joke.

Those former senior chairmen and chairwomen were sacked by the leader of Wandsworth council because they opposed the ongoing cuts in council services. They are quoted as saying that the leader of Wandsworth council, Sir Paul Beresford—he was knighted by the right hon. Member for Finchley (Mrs. Thatcher) for his services—misled them and has imposed excessive and unnecessary cuts on the council. Such action has been detrimental to many of the services in Wandsworth.

Mr. Norris

I wanted to agree with the hon. Gentleman's earlier remark about getting "owt for nowt". I have the misfortune to live in Lambeth, which is littered with huge sacks of fetid, rotting rubbish. When I go into Wandsworth I see that I should prefer to live there because there is neither rubbish nor poll tax. Therefore it seems that "owt for nowt" is an extremely attractive option.

Mr. Cox

As one would expect, the hon. Gentleman does not mention that there are not many services in Wandsworth either. He would not need such services because he is lucky enough to be able to pay for them. As the hon. Member for Fulham said, if one is fortunate enough to have a good job, a good income or independent means, one does not look to the council to provide services. So there is another side to the argument.

I am prepared to accept that some people are delighted that they pay no poll tax. We know that in the City there are people who would be delighted to pay no tax at all. Services in Wandsworth are being increasingly run down, cut back or completely stopped. For example, this week's Balham and Tooting Guardian —a freebie newspaper that circulates throughout Wandsworth—says: CAB office is to close. Balham Citizens' Advice Bureau has been forced to scale down services and will close its doors in September as a result of a council-imposed grant freeze. Wandsworth council froze the CAB's grant of £513,000 for its four borough offices in March". The article then says: Last year, the Balham CAB handled more than 10,000 inquiries and will now have to find other ways to serve the area. That is just one example of what has happened as a result of the deliberate policy of "no poll tax". Alongside such cutbacks in provision for local people, we have seen the complete stoppage of grants to Pensioners Link. To his credit, the hon. Member for Nottingham, South referred to old-age pensioners who are experiencing enormous problems. Throughout the country, large numbers of pensioners look to pensioners' organisations such as Pensioners Links. They have little money and rely on Government or council grants, which have now been stopped in Wandsworth.

Wandsworth Disabled Group, which no hon. Member would suggest should stand on its own two feet and raise its own money, has had its money stopped. As the hon. Member for Fulham said, we live in a multiracial society that exists in great harmony. Like many theatre groups, the Tara arts theatre group in my constituency was struggling. Its funding was stopped. What happened? It had to close. The list goes on and on.

I agree that housing is of crucial importance. Hundreds —I repeat, hundreds—of council properties in Wandsworth are boarded up and waiting to be sold, yet every day my postbag is filled with letters from people who have grown up in the borough but cannot find anywhere to live. People wanting somewhere to live will come to my advice service tonight. All of us who hold weekend advice services experience that. Those people are wasting their time, even if they are on the council house waiting list because they will not get much hope or help from Wandsworth council. By contrast, a person with money or one who can get a mortgage has no housing problem whatever. Such a person does not even have to live in the borough of Wandsworth to buy a council property.

The hon. Member for Nottingham, South described the reactions of people suffering housing problems. We all know that they say, "Who do I turn to? I have lived in the area all my life. I do not have the resources to buy my own property or get a mortgage. I certainly do not have the kind of money that would allow me to go to an estate agent and rent property. I look to the council." All around them they see properties that are boarded up and they ask why they cannot be offered one. The simple answer is that Wandsworth council's priority is to get rid of council housing as quickly as possible. That is most certainly anti-social behaviour. We all know what happens.

Youngsters say, "To hell with this. I won't stand it any more", and leave home. That creates stress and friction within the family. Youngsters end up sleeping rough, and sadly, some wind up in trouble.

I am involved with Wandsworth council in a major issue—the closure of an elderly people's home called Milton Close in Earlsfield. It has 30 residents. I read in the Wandsworth Borough News that the home was possibly to be closed. As every Member would—the hon. Member for Nottingham, South outlined our responsibilities—I got in touch with the residents. I told them that I had read about the possible closure but had not been informed by the council that it might happen and asked whether there had been consultation. Back came the letters—I have them in my office if any hon. Member wants to see them—saying, "There has been no consultation with us. We do not know what is going on. We are extremely worried. We have lived in the area for a long time. If the home is closed will we still be allowed to live here?" They were worried. I wrote to the director of social services, outlining the sort of feedback that I had received from the residents and asking what sort of consultation there had been with them. Last week I got a letter from him saying that now that the social services committee had decided to close the home, the council would enter into negotiations with the residents to see what they would like to do. That is anti-social behaviour. All of us would argue that to achieve good industrial relations—that broadens the issue slightly—good human relations and good relations with the council, everyone concerned must be involved early on. Wandsworth council most certainly has not done that. Its behaviour is certainly anti-social.

Schools in Wandsworth are facing amalgamation. Two of the schools so threatened are in my constituency and the other is on the other side of the road in the constituency of the hon. Member for Battersea (Mr. Bowis). Several hundred youngsters who attend those schools live in my constituency. I have been inundated with letters from local parents who are completely opposed to what is being threatened for the schools to which they chose to send their youngsters. On Wednesday evening I attended a public meeting to hear the council's proposals on the amalgamation of Swaffield and Allfarthing road schools. Several hundred parents attended the meeting. Both schools are popular. Everyone who spoke was completely opposed to the proposals presented by the chairman of the education committee.

This week the Balham and Tooting Guardian, which is a good paper with wide coverage, carries a letter from a lady who lives in the Battersea constituency. The headline is: What will become of the children? She is just one of the residents, of whom, as the hon. Member for Nottingham, South rightly pointed out, we should take note. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman meant that to apply to all levels of government because he certainly referred to local authorities. The letter states: To merge Allfarthing and Swaffield Schools would be a disaster for children. With reference to herself and her husband, she continues: We were lucky to obtain a place at Swaffield School and can see our child making good progress as a result of the school's professionalism … The plans to close two well respected schools make a farce of the Tory party's policy of increased parental choice. Who knows what standard of education these proposals will bring or how many children's education will be blighted by this plan or even how many children will be unable to obtain a place in the proposed merged school? I am prepared to be generous to Wandsworth council. These are supposed to be genuine consultations. At Milton Close there were no consultations. The overwhelming number of parents now understand that Wandsworth council is stripping the assets of its schools.

Mr. Carrington

The hon. Gentleman and I represent similar parts of London. The profiles of Wandsworth and of Hammersmith and Fulham are demographically similar. He will know that the process of amalgamation of schools which he describes as being so resisted in Wandsworth is exactly the same as that in Labour-controlled Hammersmith and Fulham where it is being opposed in exactly the same way by parents, often with my support.

The hon. Gentleman cannot claim that Wandsworth is asset-stripping the schools unless he also claims that Hammersmith and Fulham council is asset-stripping its schools—which is nonsense. I hope that we can now get away from this party-political badinage and back to a more sensible debate about what is going on in our society.

Mr. Cox

That is a valid point, but the hon. Gentleman spoils it when he suggests that we get away from this sort of political attack. The hon. Member for Epping Forest (Mr. Norris), who has an outer-London constituency, thrives on this sort of political fight. Given the opportunity, he would be indulging in it today. That is what this Chamber is all about.

The big difference between Wandsworth and Hammersmith and Fulham is that the latter council does not have the asset-stripping track record of Wandsworth council. That is what worries the parents of Wandsworth so much—they have seen what else Wandsworth council has done and they made their fears clearly known at Wednesday's meeting to the chairman of the education committee, when they told him that they did not believe him. They have written to me to say that they are Conservative voters but that they do not believe what Wandsworth council tells them.

The motion also refers to unemployment, so it is worth looking at Wandsworth's unemployment. It has the ninth highest unemployment among London's 32 boroughs. The official figures published on 9 May showed that 12,879 people were unemployed in the borough of Wandsworth. In response to a question from me, the Employment Service in a letter dated 17 June stated that in my constituency, in the supposedly wonderful borough of Wandsworth, 4,788 people were out of work and there were only 104 vacancies in the local job centre.

Earlier there was quite an exchange between my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, West (Mr. Randall) and the hon. Member for Fulham about a minimum wage. I shall not get involved in that argument as time is flying by, but, whether we talk in terms of a minimum wage or, as the Secretary of State for Employment does, about how many hours a week people should work, the crucial problem to which the Government are unwilling to face up concerns people who cannot even get a job. What are the Government doing about them? What I have said about Wandsworth's unemployment can be said of any of the London boroughs —some have even higher unemployment.

I accept much of the wording of the motion tabled by the hon. Member for Nottingham, South. So does the Labour party. Some Labour authorities have taken actions that we certainly do not support: indeed, we condemn them. I make no bones about that. But we should not draw attention to Liverpool, Lambeth and Hackney, as the motion does, without showing the other side of the local government coin—Tory-run authorities.

To their credit, there are already councillors in Wandsworth who have had enough of the behaviour of the leader of the Conservative group and his policies of cuts, cuts and more cuts. No longer are they prepared to be part of all that because they have seen what it does to services. I agree with the hon. Member for Nottingham, South that councillors seek to serve their communities—how right he was. These councillors' political views are different from mine—we belong to different parties—but it is to their credit that at long last they have told the leader of the council that he is destroying the fabric of society for the vast majority of people who live in the borough. I wish them well, not because I want to cause problems within the gorup—that has nothing to do with me—but because I want good services to be provided by councillors and councils for the people who live in their areas. The record of Wandsworth council, with its "no poll tax", has been an utter disgrace for the people who have lived in Wandsworth for many years.

12.25 pm
Mr. Hugo Summerson (Walthamstow)

It is a great pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Tooting (Mr. Cox). He and I share an interest in greyhound racing. We also share an interest in the problems of urban areas, although he would not expect me to agree with his remarks about Wandsworth.

I apologise to my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, South (Mr. Brandon-Bravo) for not being here at the start of his speech this morning. I got out of bed at the right time to be here for 9.30, but on my journey I found that the Angel station was closed—I do not know why. Applying a little lateral thinking, I got on a bus and went down to King's Cross. There I was on the platform waiting for a Victoria line train when suddenly a voice announced that the station was being closed and everyone on the platform had to leave. Just at that moment, a train arrived but its doors did not open and it went on its way with a lot of frustrated people inside trying to get out and a lot of frustrated people on the platform trying to get in.

I mention this only to give a pat on the back to the station managers at King's Cross: there was no panic, all the automatic gates were open and staff were on hand to usher people out. I just hope and pray that nothing terrible was going on at King's Cross this morning. It may be that someone dropped a piece of litter on to the track which was then set on fire by a spark. Such an action is in itself anti-social.

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, South on the wording of his motion. As soon as I saw it I let out a cry of joy because it would allow me to ride all my favourite hobby horses again—starting with the numbering of premises. Before you, Madam Deputy Speaker, rule me out of order, I contend that it is very anti-social of those who own shops and offices not to number them.

If one wants to visit a particular shop in, for example, Victoria street or Holborn—or any other street that seems to stretch for miles, particularly on a hot day—one may identify from the telephone directory that it is at No. 351, and set out to find that address. One does not know at which end of the street it is to be found, or whether it is in the middle of the street. One may find No. 15, but then one has to discover which way the numbers run, and walk another 100 yds before arriving at No. 20. That is even more unhelpful, because one does not know whether the premises are numbered consecutively, or whether odd numbers run all the way down one side of the street and even numbers down the other and whether in a clockwise direction or an anti-clockwise direction.

My next point concerns burglar alarms—a subject in which I have long taken an interest. People who are in the habit of turning on their burglar alarms when they go away for the weekend are, in effect, expecting all their neighbours to listen out for the alarm if it goes off. It is their neighbours who will be driven crazy by the noise of the burglar alarm if it goes off on Friday night and continues sounding for the whole weekend. Here I refer not only to alarms on residential property but shops and other commercial premises. Burglar alarms are supposed to ring for only 20 minutes before they automatically cut off, but in all too many cases, that does not happen. On 9 May 1989, when I sought to introduce my Burglar Alarms (Control) Bill, I stated: I have discussed the matter with the Metropolitan police and the House will be as horrified as I was to learn that according to their reckoning about 98.4 per cent. of times when they are called to deal with burglar alarms it is a false —[Official Report, 9 May 1989; Vol. 152, c. 724.] No wonder no one takes any interest these days when a burglar alarm goes off—everyone automatically assumes that it is a false alarm. The manufacturers of burglar alarms over the years have a great deal to answer for.

I move on to the internal combustion engine—

Madam Deputy Speaker (Miss Betty Boothroyd)


Mr. Summerson

I will certainly relate my remarks to the motion, Madam Deputy Speaker. The internal combustion engine, by its very nature is extremely noisy.

Mr. Randall

Does the hon. Gentleman have one?

Mr. Summerson

I will come to that. It need not be noisy, according to the way the vehicle is driven. People like the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, West (Mr. Randall) and myself take a responsible attitude when driving our motor cars—I in my 22-year-old MG, and the hon. Gentleman in his Rolls-Royce. We set off from traffic lights calmly and gently, so as not to waste fuel or make a noise, but many people think it fun to roar down quiet residential streets as fast as they can, making a terrible racket. It may well be fun for them to upset and disturb others, but it is not fun for those whom they disturb and those who suffer the resulting pollution.

It is very anti-social to allow one's car or other vehicle excessively to pollute the atmosphere. People ought to maintain their vehicles properly, to ensure that their engines give out as little pollution as possible. The day will surely come, albeit in some decades' time, when the people in our cities will look back with amazement and wonder how we could ever have permitted the internal combustion engine to be used in cities, in view of the noise and pollution caused by its use. The pollution attacks buildings and the fumes emitted from the exhaust systems of vehicles that are powered by the internal combustion engine are extremely bad for our health.

To move on—it will be obvious that I am hopping from one subject to another without any real connection between them—it is surely also anti-social to waste water. After all, water is one of our most precious natural resources. That is the kind of phrase that politicians love to trot out because it sounds so good. In fact, it means that we are short of water. More and more people are using more and more of it. There is little connection in the minds of those living in urban areas between the water that comes out of the tap and the source of that water. There are many who do not realise that rivers are drying up because of excessive extraction.

Mr. Randall

I am fascinated by the hon. Gentleman's argument. There are many who are extremely concerned, especially in Kent, that we have had a great deal of rain and yet we still do not have adequate water supplies. It seems that we need to build more reservoirs. The problem is not that we use too much water but that we do not save enough of it. So much of it goes straight into the sea. We should invest in more reservoirs to ensure that we have adequate water supplies.

Mr. Summerson

We already have massive natural reservoirs in the form of aquifers, but we cannot continue pumping aquifers at a rate which extracts more water than can be replenished. If the hon. Gentleman told some of the people of Kent, "We want to cover large parts of your county with reservoirs" he would receive a pretty dusty response. The answer is to conserve water. People should realise what a precious resource it is and use it accordingly.

Turning to dogs, I am a long-term supporter of a national dog registration scheme. I know that I am at odds with the Government on this, but I believe that such a scheme is needed. Those who own dogs which upset the neighbours because of their mess and noise would be less inclined to be responsible for such nuisances if they knew that their names appeared on a register and that they were indissolubly linked with the ownership of such a dog. I am a great dog lover and I would love to keep a dog, but as I live in London I do not think that it would be fair on the dog. I realise, however, that many people find great value in the companionship provided by a dog. I believe also that most people want to see the introduction of a national dog registration scheme and all the benefits that would flow from it.

Much has been said today about noisy neighbours, and especially about the mix of people living in certain areas. Leucha road in my constituency has long been inhabited by elderly people, and that is how those people want to keep it. Recently, however, the council decided to move young people into the road, and I have received many complaints from the traditional residents as a result. They complain about the noise, the internal combustion engine, and the fact that some of those young people turn up at 2 or 3 o'clock in the morning on motor bikes, revving the engines and shouting. Those young people obviously enjoy noisy music, often late at night, but it disturbs the elderly people.

When I complained to the council, I received a pompous and stuffy reply saying that the council did not discriminate. That is a truly astounding argument. The council should have consulted the elderly people in Leucha road and asked what they thought about young people with entirely different interests and lifestyles being moved into their area.

I wish next to discuss buildings and their structure and fabric. My hon. Friend the Member for Fulham (Mr. Carrington) spoke about thin partitions and about two-storey houses being converted into separate flats. That can be a real problem because those houses were not originally designed and built to be occupied as two separate units.

Mr. Carrington

It is not a major point, but I should mention that until 1925 or 1930 the demography of London was such that many of the houses that we fondly imagine were in single occupation were, in fact, intentionally in multi-occupation from the time they were built.

Mr. Summerson

That may be true, but people's current expectations are rather higher. If they buy a converted flat and then find that they are constantly disturbed by the everyday activities of their neighbours, there is something wrong. Perhaps that could be solved by strengthening the building regulations to ensure that when a house is converted into a number of self-contained units, the sound-proofing on a horizontal plane between the units is more stringent, which would make the noise transmission between the units much less.

Until now, I have assiduously avoided party politics, but I now intend to bring them into my speech—so Opposition Members can switch off if they want. Because the London borough of Waltham Forest made little effort to collect the community charge last year, it now ha .s a shortfall, so it is imposing a £50.29 surcharge on my constituents in this financial year. There is nothing especially new about a shortfall—there were shortfalls with the rating system, although not so great—but what sticks in my throat and in the throats of my constituents is the fact that the leader of the council and four other Labour councillors made it quite clear that they did not intend to pay the community charge—what an example to set for the rest of the people in that borough. Those elected councillors represent the borough. People look up to them because they run the affairs of the borough, yet they announced their intention to break the law and not to pay the community charge. Many people in the London borough of Waltham Forest must have decided that if their leaders were defying the law, they could do the same, so it is hardly surprising that there was a considerable shortfall on collection of the community charge in the last financial year. Many people have written to me complaining bitterly because they are being expected to pay for those who did not pay last year.

Mr. Alan Meale (Mansfield)

How many constituents wrote to the hon. Gentleman saying that they thought that the community charge was unfair?

Mr. Summerson

Most of my constituents agreed entirely with the principle of the community charge. Wherever I went in my constituency, people told me that they agreed entirely with the idea that everyone should contribute something towards the cost of local authority services, but they did not agree with the disgraceful level of £438 at which it was set by the Labour council. In the council elections last year, my party made it clear that we could run the borough on the basis of a community charge set £75 lower. It was left to the Government to rescue the people of the London borough of Waltham Forest, but now the council has imposed this disgraceful surcharge of £50.29.

Mr. Meale

We are discussing anti-social behaviour. What part of the council budget would the hon. Gentleman cut, and what effect does he think that that would have on anti-social behaviour in the Walthamstow area?

Mr. Summerson

The hon. Gentleman has given me a marvellous opportunity, for which I am grateful.

Mr. Carrington

What an invitation.

Mr. Summerson

Indeed. I could stand here for the next three hours telling the hon. Member for Mansfield (Mr. Meale) what I would do. First, I would cut the women's unit. The leader of that unit is paid a salary equivalent to that of a Member of Parliament, for which my constituents have to pay, although they get no benefit from it at all. Since the council took office in 1986, it has taken on 1,000 extra bureaucrats. When my constituents complain to me about the high level of the poll tax, I point that fact out to them and ask them whether they think that they are getting any extra benefit from those 1,000 extra bureaucrats. The answer is no. It is just fat, and they do no good.

I commend sections 89 to 91 of the Environmental Protection Act 1990, which were introduced to ensure that local authorities live up to their responsibility to keep the roads in their areas clean and well swept. Many local authorities, particularly Labour ones, do not attach a great deal of importance to keeping the streets clean. The heading of section 91 is: Summary proceedings by persons aggrieved by litter. It ensures that Zpeople who want to do something about the fact that their local authority is not keeping the streets clean can take some action and get something done about it.

I wish to move on swiftly to the subject of housing action trusts and tower blocks. I have a particular—I was going to say "peculiar", but perhaps I had better stick to particular—hatred and loathing of tower blocks. They are the most horrible things. Which of the architects who designed them or who came up with the concept of tower blocks, talking a lot of rubbish about streets in the sky and cities in the air, has ever actually lived in one of those monstrosities? The sooner all tower blocks are pulled down, the better—I am sure that tower blocks breed unemployment, hopelessness, despair and anti-social behaviour.

There is a possibility that a housing action trust will be created in the London borough of Waltham Forest. If the tenants agree to it, it will remove the three worst tower blocks on the worst estate in my constituency. I hope that the tenants will vote to set up a housing action trust and that it will result in those tower blocks being removed and the tenants living in more traditional housing—by which I mean proper, human, humane housing—and no longer stuck miles up in the air away from their friends and amid the breakdown of the social fabric.

Mr. Meale

Like Jeffrey Archer?

Mr. Summerson

The hon. Gentleman anticipates me. I was about to say that, of course, there are tower blocks in which people are happy to live. One has only to look at the Barbican to see that some people can be happy living in tower blocks, but there is all the difference in the world between a tower block in the Barbican and a tower block on the Boundary road estate in my constituency.

Many of the problems that people bring to me are due to yet another failure by the local authority. If it did its job properly, there would be many fewer complaints from my constituents and everyone would be a great deal happier. That is why I support the second part of the motion, which deplores the conduct of Labour local authorities. I deplore the conduct in far too many areas of the Labour-controlled London borough of Waltham Forest. I hope that the measures that the Government have introduced, especially the Environmental Protection Act 1990 and housing action trusts, will make a start on solving some of the problems and that the amount of anti-social behaviour will fall, and rapidly.

12.52 pm
Mr. Stuart Randall (Kingston upon Hull, West)

I begin by congratulating the hon. Member for Nottingham, South (Mr. Brandon-Bravo) on doing so well in the ballot and introducing to the House a motion on anti-social behaviour. However, I must say that the motion has changed in the past 24 hours. We expected to debate noise, problems in tower blocks and other more specific matters, but the motion before us is rather loony. It does no credit to the Conservative party or even to the hon. Gentleman. We have had an interesting debate, but the motion clearly demonstrates that the Conservative party is in a state of utter panic and is sinking without trace as we move towards the general election.

The opening comments of the hon. Member for Nottingham, South were interesting, especially his notion of compulsorily removing people who behave anti-socially to licensed alternative council property and, if they persist with their anti-social behaviour, of throwing them on to streets. The hon. Gentleman's use of the word "tough" showed that he believes that they should be dealt with firmly.

Labour believes that many of the people who, unfortunately, could be caught by such a policy need care and help. The hon. Gentleman said that mentally ill people would not be so treated, but it would have been unfair not to have said that. However, his definitions were not sharp enough. We sense that the Conservative party would support people who need help and who are a top priority being thrown on to the streets. That is reminiscent of what happened after the 1979 election, when Ministers advocated the short, sharp shock and when Conservative Members spoke of hanging and flogging in debates on capital punishment.

I am not happy about the first line of the motion because it is frivolous. Parts of the motion are sound, but the end is nonsense. The first line mentions anti-social behaviour. In essence, that is behaviour contrary to that which is generally recognised as being required so that we can live together in a civilised way. In the past decade, the Government's policies have been based on the notion that there is no such thing as living together. The consequences of that ideology is that the Conservative party is regarded as uncaring. It supports the ultra-rich at the expense of poor people and it encourages greed, selfishness, and the notion of "I'm all right, Jack".

A good example of that was the yuppie phase of the mid to late 1980s, which encouraged greed, materialism and the showing-off of big cars. Interestingly, that coincided with the increase in the number of beggars on our streets. That conservatism has created a society which is economically and socially unfair. The rich have unquestionably become richer and the poor have become poorer. The traditional British ideas of fair play and decency which permeated the Conservative party have been driven away by the new breed of Tories. As a consequence, Britain is less civilised.

A good example of that is the way in which the Government have allowed directors of newly privatised industries such as gas, electricity, British Telecom and water to grab massive pay rises. The Conservative party does not seem to understand the resentment that that is causing, especially among people who are unemployed or on the verge of unemployment. There is a rottenness—a stench—emanating from the Government. No wonder the British people are turning their backs on them. The Opposition believe that the social fabric of Britain has been severely damaged by the Conservatives which in turn has contributed to the anti-social behaviour referred to in the motion. That is the difference between the two sides of the House.

Under the Conservatives, Britain has become more divided and more polarised; Labour party policy is just the opposite. We believe that society is about living together in a civilised way, removing the inequalities of opportunity, developing talent and creating a genuinely freer society. Labour party members are socialists and proud of it. The word "socialism" comes from the Latin word "socius" and means being a companion, ally and partner, and acting together. Those are wonderful qualities which must be the basis of civilised behaviour. That is diametrically opposed to what the Conservative Government have practised during the past 12 years. What are the consequences? There has certainly been a growth of anti-social behaviour. Hon. Members who represent about 60,000 people know that that is true, because they are all in touch with their constituencies.

Under the Conservatives, we have had the highest crime figures ever recorded in British history. It is worrying that many of those crimes are of the nastier type involving horrific violence and sexual abuse. Why do people resort to crime? I know that I am interpreting statistics, but the Opposition believe that unemployment contributes to drug-taking, which can turn into crime. There have been various papers on and statistical analyses of the subject. Some of our research shows that the inter-relationships between unemployment and crime in the past decade are complex. I do not believe that sufficient work has been done to determine the precise reason. Many factors impinge on one another. We believe that the social fabric of Britain would be better if the massively increased unemployment levels were reduced.

Mr. Forth

I detect that the hon. Gentleman might be backing away from his earlier stance. If he is suggesting that there is a causal link between unemployment and crime, does he accept that that is an insult to most unemployed people to which he would not want to be a party? If that is so, will he explain why, regrettably, crime in this country, as in many others, has risen in the past decade, wheras employment has gone up and down? Therefore, how can there be any relationship between them?

Mr. Randall

I thought that I had qualified my suggestion. I followed the Minister's logic, which I have heard before. It has been used many times in the House. I was saying that the behavioural problems relating to this country's social fabric were more complex than the simplistic bits of logic given by the Minister. I take the Minister's point, but the Opposition believe that unemployment can cause crime. I gave the specific example of drug-taking. Some pretty good research has shown that there is a relationship between drug-taking, crime and anti-social behaviour. The problem is more complicated than it appears.

It would be far better if our country did not have such a high level of unemployment, but we are in yet another recession under the Government. Perhaps the Minister can tell us when he expects unemployment to come down to even 1.5 million people. I am sure that he will mention that issue.

Another important part of the social fabric is the need for decent housing for all. My hon. Friend the Member for Tooting (Mr. Cox) made an eloquent speech on that subject and the hon. Member for Walthamstow (Mr. Summerson) also mentioned it. However, that housing must be provided at rents that people can afford. In certain parts of London, we believe that the Conservative party has carried out a ruthless programme of social engineering to ensure that people on lower incomes, who are likely to be Labour supporters, are driven out of the areas in which they have traditionally lived. Such places have become yuppie-ised. My hon. Friend the Member for Tooting said that Walthamstow council—[Interruption.]—operates a policy to get rid of council housing. That is social engineering. I note that the hon. Member for Nottingham, South is grinning with glee thinking, "My goodness. My majority is going to go up even further." Such social engineering demonstrates the anti-social behaviour that has been committed by the Government and local authorities that connive with them.

Mr. Carrington

The reason why my hon. Friend the Member for Walthamstow (Mr. Summerson) and I laughed was the hon. Gentleman's Freudian slip when he referred to the hon. Member for Tooting (Mr. Cox) criticising the borough of Walthamstow. We entirely agree with that and we admire the hon. Gentleman's conversion to our cause.

Mr. Randall

The motion was changed so late that I did not start to prepare my speech until 10 o'clock last night. That is the reason for my mistake. I am delighted that the hon. Gentleman should intervene to correct the record. It is the policy of Wandsworth council to get rid of council housing. That anti-social behaviour and engineering of constituencies is uncivilised and it puts party politics before the well-being of people.

Mr. Barry Porter

I am interested in the issue of yuppification. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman could reveal to the nation where he lives.

Mr. Randall

It is clear where I live. We have been told for security reasons not to give our address, but I live in a place called Trinity court, off Fish street in Hull. The hon. Gentleman will find me listed in the Hull telephone directory.

One consequence of pressing local authorities so that they are unable to provide housing and accommodation at a decent rent is a growing resentment, despair and fury at local authority behaviour.

Another factor that has caused much resentment is the way in which our education system has been damaged. It does not take a PhD to appreciate that if one does not provide a broad education for personal development there is a greater probability of anti-social behaviour. The more youngsters are given an opportunity for education, the better for society. The Labour party has traditionally regarded education as perhaps the most important factor in creating individual freedom. Strength and power emanate from education and we believe that if we are to have a genuinely free and fair society, the education system must be no less than excellent and must be available to all.

As Conservative Members have attacked me in housing terms, perhaps I should point out that all my children have gone through state education. I hope that I do not sound pompous when I say that yesterday my son-in-law got his honours degree. So Simon Lomax is now a doctor and my daughter is a doctor. We have two doctors in the family and I feel very healthy. I hope that I shall be forgiven for showing off my pride in that way.

I feel passionately about education. It is vital to give youngsters the chance of a good education. When I used to visit state schools with my children I sometimes felt almost a sense of resentment at the way in which the walls of corridors had not been painted for a decade, and where there were leaking roofs and outside toilets. To act in that way is to treat children almost with contempt. Youngsters must feel pride in their schools, or they can turn to vandalism, which is a manifestation of anti-social behaviour. Youngsters tend to say, "Why should I bother to do my bit if the authorities, including the local authorities, fail to do theirs?" Local authorities have been hampered by Government policy. We must set young people a good example.

One of the most tragic and perhaps the most visible failures of the Conservatives in protecting the social fabric of Britain has been in the growth of poverty and homelessness. I feel ashamed that we should have tens of thousands of people, many of them young, living on the streets of our cities. We should hang our heads in shame at society having degenerated in that way in the past decade.

Many of those people are there through no fault of their own. On my way to my constituency I walk through Euston and King's Cross stations—I also frequently go through Waterloo station—and talk to some of the youngsters. They welcome my interest. They are glad that somebody is taking an interest in them. Often they are a decent bunch of kids who are there through no fault of their own. I resent our country being damaged in that way and such a state of affairs being allowed to exist. Nobody seems to care about them. Everybody seems to be rushing along attending to their own business. The compassion that used to exist in Britain, of which we were proud, seems to have disappeared.

Many of those desperate and forgotten people have recourse to drugs. A few weeks ago I visited an organisation called DART—the drugs and alcohol resource and treatment team—in my constituency. The leaders of the group told me that some of the youngsters who had received treatment there had been taking drugs that cost £800 a week to finance. It is remarkable that many of those young people have been spending £800 a week on drugs for a considerable time, but it is less surprising that their drug habits are financed by crime and anti-social behaviour. Amazingly, they never seem to be caught.

The Government's taxation and social policies are largely responsible for creating poverty and homelessness, which have such devastating consequences on British society. The Government must at least accept some of the responsibility for the ensuing anti-social behaviour.

I referred earlier to the record levels of crime under this Conservative Administration. In absolute terms and as a percentage of the population, Britain puts more people in prison than any other European country. The cost of running our prison service is about £1 billion a year. People are simply pushed into prison where they are often given no treatment, therapy or employment training opportunities. They simply come out some time later and the level of recidivism is very high. If those people are not a threat to public safety, one wonders why we are spending £1 billion a year for criminals to come out and commit the same crimes. Some are even worse after spending time in prison.

The Labour party believes that that is a manifestation of the Government's policies during the past decade. They allow crimes to take place and then bang people in prison. In some parts of the country the judiciary put people into regimes that can be of value, but the system is so patchy that that does not always happen. By contrast, the Labour party advocates that the emphasis must be on crime prevention rather than dealing with crime after it has happened. I realise that the Government are trying to change in that way.

Mr. Barry Porter

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Randall

I shall give way to the hon. Gentleman after my next point.

The Government spend only some £250,000 on crime prevention, which is not adequate. Clearly, they have not put it high on the priority list. They have simply produced a glossy brochure, which is why the statistics are so bad.

Mr. Porter

I speak not as a member of the Conservative party but as a former solicitor in the criminal courts. It may surprise the hon. Gentleman to know that I agree with what he says, but I do not know the answer.

It takes a great deal of personal effort to get into prison. The run-of-the-mill chap who starts off in a juvenile court can expect to have seven or eight convictions before he is taken away from society. The hon. Gentleman is right that the rate of recidivism is high, so putting people into prison does not seem to cure the problem. I want to know what we should do, because, although past Labour and Conservative Governments have tried community service orders, short sharp shocks and supervision orders, the rate of crime continues to rise. The hon. Gentleman was perfectly entitled to say that the problems occur because of the Conservative Government, but he is entirely wrong. If he is correct, why is crime rising in countries with Social Democratic Governments and Governments of no particular party? It has to do not with party politics but with society's attitude. I agree with the hon. Gentleman that putting people into prison for relatively minor offences is not correct and we should reconsider it.

Mr. Randall

I am interested to hear what the hon. Gentleman has to say. He can speak with great authority having practised in that area of the law. I accept that the Government have changed, but during the past decade we were throwing people into prison for fine defaults. People were thrown into prison for trivial offences, which is why the numbers are so great.

The new emphasis must be on crime prevention. We must encourage all the agencies involved in crime-related matters, particularly the local authorities that have been cut out so far, social services departments, voluntary organisations, neighbourhood watch and the police. All must work together positively to prevent crime. Some measures are simple. We can relocate a bus stop from down the road to just outside a pub so that those who have had a drop too much get straight on to a bus and go home. If the bus stop is elsewhere, they might wander round the streets and kick in windows. That may sound trivial, but it is important. If we put some lighting in what we in Hull call tenfoots, or back alleyways, we can prevent women from being attacked. Those little measures are important. Local authorities have much to offer in that regard, but the Government have prevented them from participating. That is a negative approach and a reason why crime prevention has not been as effective as it should have been.

Mr. Summerson

The hon. Gentleman is right about lighting. As it happens, I am wearing my British parliamentary lighting group tie. He is right to emphasise the importance of crime prevention and he mentioned neighbourhood watch and the role of police and local authorities. Will he, therefore, explain to the House why many Labour-controlled local authorities have obstructed the establishment of neighbourhood watch schemes?

Mr. Randall

The hon. Gentleman's case could have stood up in the early 1980s, but not now. Even in the last Parliament, it was said that Labour was anti-police, yet interestingly at the last Association of Chief Police Officers conference there was no clapping following Lord Waddington's speech, but almost a standing ovation for my right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley). That is just one, perhaps small, manifestation of the way in which the Labour party is held in such high esteem by the police these days. We are moving in the right direction.

There is terrific scope for making remarkable reductions in anti-social and criminal behaviour, but it must come about through co-operation such as I have described. The role of local authorities is crucial.

The Conservatives give the impression of being anti-local government. They have centralised powers and prevented local authorities from making the decisions and providing the services that they wish.

Self-discipline within families is a factor which influences levels of anti-social behaviour, but the key factor is to improve the social fabric of British society which has been so disastrously damaged by nearly 12 years of Conservative rule. The new Labour Government will create a more cohesive society which will be economically and socially just. We do not want people living in cardboard boxes on the streets. That symbolises the ethos of Conservatism. We want to eliminate poverty and to improve job prospects and prosperity. We want decent education and health care for all. We want all families to have decent housing and to be relieved of horrific and record levels of crime. It is these aspects which will improve the social fabric of Britain and which we believe are the prerequisites for reducing anti-social behaviour.

1.24 pm
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Employment (Mr. Eric Forth)

This has been a fascinating debate, as these Friday occasions often are. I, too, pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, South (Mr. Brandon-Bravo) for selecting this imaginative motion.

In a sense, this has been a debate with problems but no solutions. That is perhaps not surprising, given the subject matter. I select as evidence of that examples from two Opposition Members who have been here throughout the day. The right hon. Member for Swansea, West (Mr. Williams), speaking about many different sorts of cases, said that he did not know what to do about them. He also pointed out that my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, South had not offered many solutions to the problems that he identified.

The hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, West (Mr. Randall) plumbed the depths of superficiality when he said, in a startling phrase which we shall all remember for a long time, that it would be better to have a country with no unemployment. As a Minister in the Department of Employment I may say that that came as an inspiration to me; it is a phrase which will be burnt into my memory for a long time to come. If the hon. Gentleman is prepared to go beyond that profound analysis and offer us a solution one of these days, I shall be the first to listen to him.

The hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, West also seemed obsessed by what he called yuppies. I do not know whether he thought that young poeple who are upwardly mobile are a good or a bad thing. I have always thought that young people seeking to better themselves are a rather good thing. If the Labour party is now against young people bettering themselves, the sooner we hear more about that the better—

Mr. Randall

Of course we are not against yuppies. We are not against anyone. We believe in creating a more cohesive society. We are complaining about the social engineering that has been effected by Conservative councils in conjunction with a Conservative Government so as to ensure that certain parliamentary seats, especially in the south of England, are safe. We resent that because it hurts people. The Government are putting parliamentary politics before the people of London.

Mr. Forth

This is getting richer and richer. We are moving from a statesmanlike debate to the rough and tumble of party exchanges—in which I am always a reluctant participant. I shall, however, allow myself to be drawn in on just this one occasion. The hon. Gentleman talks about social engineering. He is a member of a party which devised the comprehensive system of education which has almost destroyed our education system over the past two decades, solely in the cause of wrongheaded social engineering. So I take the hon. Gentleman's accusation ill from him. The right hon. Member for Swansea, West will remember, too, that it was the Labour party, under Lord Callaghan, which gerrymandered parliamentary boundaries. So accusations from Opposition Members about social engineering are a disgrace, and I refute them.

Mr. Alan Williams

The hon. Gentleman was stretching the point about comprehensive education a bit far. Edward Boyle was the relevant Secretary of State and Labour councils certainly supported the policy, but so did a great many Conservative councils. If the Conservatives had thought the policy wrong, they were for a great many years in a position to stop it happening.

Mr. Forth

I do not want to get drawn into a debate on education, since there are many other points to cover today. It was the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, West who mentioned social engineering and I was simply trying to answer his point.

On the whole, this has been a serious and thoughtful debate about the real problems that all Members of Parliament encounter every time we meet our constituents on social occasions or in our advice bureaux.

My hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, South graphically described situations that we all recognise, in relation to the problems that arise from noise, nuisance, harassment, and other difficulties with neighbours. They are among the most intractable problems that confront Members of Parliament and local authority officers. It is widely acknowledged that local authorities have a key role in trying to ensure that tenants can enjoy their homes in peace.

Perhaps it was not sufficiently acknowledged by today's contributions that owner-occupiers and private and public tenants and their families are covered by laws designed to allow them to enjoy their homes in peace. One of the most important is the Protection from Eviction Act 1977, which we amended in the Housing Act 1988, and which was designed to protect residential occupiers from being harassed. It is often assumed that harassment is an act perpetrated principally by the rogue private landlord against his tenant, but it is a more wide-ranging offence.

If a landlord or his agent, or someone who may or may not be connected with him, indulges in any behaviour that is designed to undermine the occupier's security, he could be guilty of harassment. It is a criminal offence to harass a residential occupier and one which attracts fines of up to £2,000 and up to six months' imprisonment. We amended the Act only three years ago to enable the courts to award to a private tenant who is illegally evicted damages based on the profit made by the landlord from the illegal eviction. Those new provisions have already proved very successful. The courts have awarded damages of £34,000 and £46,000 in recent cases.

That Act and the changes that we made to it emphasise the basic rights of the occupier to undisturbed occupation, whatever the precise nature of his tenure. My right hon. and hon. Friends in the Department of the Environment have on many occasions made clear their commitment to that right, and to the need for landlords to gain possession of their property through the courts if they want to repossess it.

Many of today's contributions dwelt on the question of noise—including those of my hon. Friends the Members for Nottingham, South, for Fulham (Mr. Carrington) and for Walthamstow (Mr. Summerson). Noise is a major cause of irritation between neighbours, and it is one to which the construction of many modern properties contributes. It affects residents of blocks of flats, terraced houses, semi-detached properties, and even those who live in open, rural areas as much as those in densely populated urban areas.

The technology for creating noise has developed much faster than the technology for preventing it—if that exists. Many modern machines and entertainment systems, for example, generate noise at levels that were inconceivable and intolerable not that long ago.

My hon. Friend's motion refers to environmental health legislation. The Environmental Protection Act 1990 consolidated and updated the law on statutory nuisances, including noise, and clarified the duty of local authorities to investigate complaints, to such an extent that if a council is satisfied that a statutory nuisance exists, it must serve an abatement notice on the person responsible or on the owner or occupier of the premises, and can enforce that notice through the magistrates court.

Alternatively, any individual who is aggrieved by the existence of a statutory nuisance may complain directly to the magistrates court, provided that he also notifies the person against whom he is bringing proceedings. The court can make a nuisance order if it is satisfied that a statutory nuisance exists.

The streamlined procedures introduced by the 1990 Act make it easier for councils and individual occupiers to take action, but that was not the end of the story. The noise review working party was established, and the report that it published last October contained a wide range of recommendations. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment has already accepted some of them and to the extent that it was possible for him to act on them in the framework of the Environmental Protection Bill as it went through the House, he did so. The other recommendations are being seriously considered and the Department has already published an initial response.

The review covered all types of noise, many of which have not been referred to today, and perhaps the most important in relation to the motion was the section on neighbourhood noise. That source of noise has always generated the most complaints and the volume of complaints, if I might use that expression, has trebled over the past 10 years. One of the sources of noise to attract most attention in recent months—it has been mentioned several times during the debate—is private parties. Indeed, it was noisy parties that were partly responsible for our setting up the rather appropriately if not quaintly named noise review working party. It was just about possible with the sort of noisy parties that took place a decade ago to console oneself while it was going on that the party must come to an end eventually. However, the noise levels that are now being experienced tend to be in a different league from those of 10 years ago, and some people often feel that they are losing their sleep and their sanity.

Neighbours can be furious that local authority officers and the police can arrive at the scene of a party and apparently be powerless to stop it in its tracks. The officers may face serveral obstacles. For example, making a noise is not in itself a criminal offence. Perhaps the party-giver cannot be identified, and it may be that the noise-maker cannot be arrested. The noise review report devotes a considerable amount of space to this issue, and includes recommendations about new offences that are being considered seriously and urgently.

I have said that noise made by neighbours generates the most complaints. In some ways, it is the most intractable problem, because individual freedoms are involved as well as straightforward nuisance. It must be sensible for neighbours to try to sort out problems among themselves before involving the local authority and the law. With that in mind, the Department of the Environment has financed the recently launched first pilot neighbourhood noise awareness scheme in the Forest Hill area of Lewisham. The idea is that a local group of residents, of all tenures, come together and prepare their own leaflet suggesting ways in which they can restrict the impact of noisy activities.

The leaflet produced at Forest Hill contains advice on noise levels, noise and annoyance, illegal activities, guidance on what to do if disturbed by noise and a community code recommending how noise can be reduced, with a list of do's and don't's. Anyone who is suffering and cannot secure an improvement by a direct approach can drop a note to the local authority and the complaint will be followed up.

The keynote of the scheme is that the initiative lies with the residents, and that attempts are made to nip trouble in the bud. Those are the same themes that I mentioned earlier. Though the Department of the Environment is reviewing possible legislation, I think that we must recognise that the law is not the total answer. There must always be resident involvement and early co-ordinated action. As I think the right hon. Member for Swansea, West said in this and another context, we need not more laws but more common sense in many instances.

A significant problem was brought graphically to the attention of the House by my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, South. It was mentioned also by my hon. Friend the Member for Fulham. There are residents who are forced to deal with people who, through no fault of their own, are not able to exercise what I have recently described as common sense. In extreme cases, the lack of common sense in the sense that I use the term can be a form of mental disorder. That condition may be so extreme that the question arises whether the sufferer should be detained in hospital under the Mental Health Act 1983. My hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, South mentioned a case of this sort in which he has been involved. The operation of the 1983 Act is a matter for my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health and is not the responsibility of the Department that I represent. I shall, however, attempt to give a brief explanation on behalf of my right hon. Friend of the way in which the Act operates.

Broadly speaking, the Act provides that a person may be detained in hospital if he or she is suffering from mental disorder as defined by the Act. "Mental disorder" for the purposes of the Act means mental illness, arrested or incomplete development of mind, psychopathic disorder and any other disorder or disability of mind. "Severe mental impairment" means a state of arrested or incomplete development of mind, which includes severe impairment of intelligence and social function, and is associated with abnormally aggressive or seriously irresponsible conduct. The Act further defines mental impairment and psychopathic disorder.

It must also be necessary that the person should be detained in the interests of his or her own health or safety, or for the protection of others. The mental disorder must be of a nature or degree that makes admission to hospital, as opposed to other possible options, appropriate.

Having said all that, I should add that detention is always a severe restriction of personal liberty. Therefore, the operation of the Act relies on the clinical judgment of doctors and other professional staff, who must satisfy themselves that all the criteria that I have mentioned apply. A person may not be detained simply because he or she is a nuisance. When the Act was introduced, Parliament went to great lengths to ensure that it safeguarded the interests of the patient or his or her family, and that of the community at large. It is, of course, a very difficult matter to ensure in every case the balance of interests that the Act was specifically designed to achieve.

I am assured that, in most instances, the Act appears to be working well, but some difficulties may arise in the interpretation of its provisions and there may of course be genuine differences of opinion in exercising clinical judgment. The Department of Health published a code of practice in May last year, which is intended to help to resolve some of the problems. The code is for the guidance of registered medical practitioners, managers and staff of hospitals and mental nursing homes, and approved social workers, in relation to the admission of patients to hospitals and mental nursing homes under the Act. It is for the guidance of registered medical practitioners and members of other professions in relation to the medical treatment of patients suffering from a mental disorder.

That Act, of course, operates against the background of the wider policy that mentally ill people should be looked after as far as possible in the community. However, it is a prerequisite of this policy that mental illness hospitals should not be closed before alternative, locally-based services are available—and that principle was restated in the community care White Paper published in 1989. The development of local services is aimed primarily not at closing hospitals, but at providing services to meet the diverse needs of the mentally ill. Health authorities' closure plans relate mainly to the traditional mental hospitals—the sort of places that are too old, too large or too remote to form part of a modern service providing care and treatment with the minimum of formality and delay.

Having said that, I add that we recognise that the development of local community services has been patchy. Recently—from 1 April this year—we introduced a specific mental illness grant for local authorities, and we have provided £21 million from central funds in the current year. My right hon. Friend has also introduced the care programme approach, which offers a systematic approach to the care of people referred to the specialised mental illness services.

Tremendous amounts of money and effort are being devoted to helping with the problems of mentally ill people, but only a small proportion of them will or should be subject to detention under the Mental Health Act. That does not mean that the Act needs to be reviewed, but it does mean that there will be cases, such as the one described by my hon. Friend, where the community will be expected to cope in the best way that it can with what I might describe as oddnesses of behaviour. That does not put people above the law. They may engage in behaviour affecting their neighbours, which may occasionally be criminal, and they will be subject to the criminal law like everybody else.

Where cases of assault are involved, prosecutions can be brought under the Public Order Act 1986 and the Offences Against the Person Act 1861. The Powers of Criminal Courts Act 1973 enable victims to seek compensation. Those whose behaviour is difficult may, if they are local authority tenants, also pose management problems for their landlords.

We must accept that good management practices by the landlords are essential. I hope that my hon. Friend will accept that, in such cases, it is essential that the Government provide the framework—which I believe they have—that local authorities play their role responsibly—which, by and large, they try to do—and that the social services departments act, as they so often do, as the long stop or safety net. However, there may still be—and it may always be the case—individuals who are difficult to deal with under those provisions, and who will simply continue to test the patience of us all, including my hon. Friend.

My hon. Friend the Member for Fulham raised the question of a national minimum wage. That is an important element in the debate, if only because the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, West mentioned unemployment levels—although he had to alter tack later in his comments. It is worth exploring the question of a national minimum wage because the Labour party has tried to have both the penny and the bun. It is coming perilously close to its old trick of pretending—as the hon. Member for Tooting (Mr. Cox) said about another matter, and which I shall rephrase a little to take account of my different origins and accent—"You can't get anything for nothing." The House should clearly understand exactly what is meant by a national minumum wage. The Labour party has suggested that lots and lots of people can get more pay, but that it will not cost anybody anything. All that we need to do is wave a legislative wand, pass a law and, magically, a lot of people will get more pay. Presumably, that is the idea behind a statutory minimum wage.

It is worth having a look at what all that might mean. We have to go to the Labour party's political document, which was rather misleadingly entitled, "Opportunity Britain". In it, the Labour party promised to introduce a national legal minimum wage starting at the level of 50 per cent. of men's median earnings and that, over time, it would increase as a proportion of earnings to a point where no one was paid less than two thirds of the male median hourly rate.

In fairness, I should say that the hon. Member for Sedgefield (Mr. Blair), who speaks for the Opposition on these matters, is now trying to resile from this. In a letter to The Independent yesterday, he said that, as long ago as 12 June, he had made it clear that when Labour says "everyone", that does not mean everyone, because it does not include young trainees, whoever they are—he does not define them. According to the same letter, he did not for the "first time" say that teenagers should not be covered. There is an element of doubt as to just who would be covered. It is no longer "everyone", because some categories are being excluded.

Whether this is the first, second or third time that it is being said does not matter for this purpose. It is up to Labour Members to clarify what they mean. Given the importance of the issue, it is vital that we understand fully what Labour means by a "statutory national minimum wage". Our estimate is that if it is applied at anything like the levels that the Labour party is talking about, even with the initial rate of 50 per cent., it will cost at least 750,000 jobs, and possibly as many as 2 million jobs if we go to the minimum of what is proposed. The hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, West expressed sincerely his concern about the effects of unemployment on the social fabric, but for his party, in almost the same breath, to subscribe to a policy that may be well intentioned but would have the inevitable effect of raising unemployment by unimaginable levels is grossly irresponsible.

Labour Members will have to face up to this point and answer it. They cannot argue that people should be given a certain level of pay as of right, regardless of productivity, performance or the ability of employers to afford it, and then complain about the undesirable and evil effects of unemployment on society. That is inconsistent, irresponsible and unfair. The sooner that Labour Members come clean on this, the better it will be for all of us.

It is worse than that, because the mechanism of the system that Labour is proposing will give rise to the "chasing of the tail" phenomenon. If a statutory minimum wage level is related to a median and then raised, and then differentials are introduced, which in turn will raise the median further, inevitably the minimum must be raised. With such a process, before we knew where we were, we would be caught in a vicious upward spiral whereby the minimum chased the median and vice versa. We would be locked into a process that inevitably meant rampant inflation and further job losses.

How all of this fits with a party which is allegedly concerned about the levels of unemployment is beyond me. It has not prevented Labour Members from taking part in the debate on the motion of my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, South, on anti-social behaviour, and talking glibly about the difficulties of society, and importing unemployment into it. Given their policies, that is an odd way to go about things.

What do the trade union leaders, who are allegedly supporters of the Labour party—perhaps it is the other way round—say about a national minimum wage? Mr. Bill Jordan of the Amalgamated Engineering Union has made it clear that he, on behalf of his members, would demand full restoration of differentials. His union would oppose any "squeeze on differentials". He has said: if the price of a national minimum wage is wage restraint for higher paid members, then our answer would be no. Gavin Laird has said: no way are we going to agree to a standstill of craft differentials. Roger Lyons, the leader of the Manufacturing Science Finance union has said that any idea that the unions could be persuaded to offer wage restraint under a Labour Government is deranged. Eric Hammond, general secretary of the Electrical, Electronic, Telecommunications and Plumbing Union has said: we will oppose any restraint on differentials by any government and we will do all in our power"— that power is considerable— to increase the reward for skills, qualifications and productivity, not just because it is in the interests of our members, but more importantly, because it is in the interest of our economy and country". What could be clearer? A series of senior labour leaders have come out and said that whatever any Government sought to do on a national minimum wage, they would step in with their union power and demand a restoration of the differentials that they expect for their skilled workers.

The first result of the proposal for a national minimum wage mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, South in the motion would be the prospect of mass unemployment. The second result would be action to support the restoration of differentials. That, in turn, would lead to an increase in pay levels which, in turn, would lead to a further necessity to increase the minimum wage. What policy could be more damaging or irresponsible or have a worse effect on Britain's employment level and economic strength? That is a question which Opposition Members must answer. We are still waiting for an answer.

The next aspect of a national minimum wage was touched on by Opposition Members. The first myth that they propagate is the problem of low pay and that people are increasingly poorly paid in the British economy. It is an absurd analysis. As we all know, throughout the 1980s the general standard of living in Britain has risen. People on all pay levels have enjoyed higher pay, a point which my hon. Friend the Member for Fulham made very well. To suggest that there is a group of disadvantaged people at the bottom of the pile is absurd. The facts simply do not bear that out.

The second myth that is often propounded by Opposition Members is that the widening of the spread of earnings denies the fact that lower-paid people have improved their lot. They have indeed. Since 1979 average male earnings have increased by over 28 per cent. and average female earnings have increased by over 36 per cent. in real terms. That is ahead of any inflation level at any time, whereas in the years up to 1979 the figures were only a fraction of the increases since then. Lower-paid occupations have by no means received the lowest increase since 1979. The average level of pay for those in the bottom 10 per cent. of male earners has increased. The increases have taken place across the board and across the spectrum.

The third myth that must be dealt with is that those on low earnings are a fixed group of people who are condemned for ever to be in low-paid work. That is not so. Many, indeed most, of the low paid and young have only recently entered or returned to the labour market. As their experience increases, they tend to move up the earnings scale. The position of young people in the employment market is already beginning to change in the light of significant reductions in the number of school leavers. Employers are increasingly offering favourable pay and conditions of employment simply to recruit young people.

My Department's new earnings survey, which is based on the pay of a sample of individuals provides some striking evidence. The pay of a group of people identified in 1979 has been tracked over time. About half of them no longer appear in the survey, perhaps because they have left the labour force to retire or bring up children. They may have become self-employed or have been unemployed at the time of the later survey. But we can compare the earnings of the remainder. We can compare the pay of the same individuals in 1979 with their earnings 10 years later.

The figures show that over 70 per cent. of full-time workers in the lowest tenth of earnings in 1979 had moved up into a higher income group by 1989. Almost a quarter of them had moved into the top half of the incomes distribution. There is a particularly strong upward movement among new entrants and re-entrants to the labour market. Perhaps those are some of the yuppies to whom the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, West took such exception earlier and then retracted—[Interruption.] I wish it to be recorded in Hansard that he is now muttering about social engineering. If the hon. Gentleman is saying that people moving from their lower income groups of 10 years ago to higher income groups is social engineering, he has a sick impression of self-improvement.

Mr. Randall

That is nonsense. I have moved up and I commend it. We are talking about the way in which some London boroughs have removed older housing, but failed to replace it with housing to rent that people on low incomes can afford. As a consequence, people have been driven from the areas where they were brought up. That causes much distress, splits up families and has a detrimental effect on the social fabric. We know what the motives are.

Mr. Forth

The hon. Gentleman makes a different point from the one with which I was dealing. Examination of our exchanges will show that he is trying to duck the question. I am talking about the opportunities for self-improvement. In our society, which allows and encourages self-improvement, people are able to raise themselves from lower earnings groups to higher earnings groups.

Mr. Randall

Of course. This is obvious.

Mr. Forth

I am glad that, after further reflection, the hon. Gentleman seems not to disapprove of that. Perhaps if he thinks further, he will come round to our point of view that a national statutory minimum wage will cause higher unemployment and disadvantage the people whom he claims to represent.

The next myth is that low pay and poverty are one and the same thing and that all low-paid people are poor. That has never been true, and is not now. Households, typically, have income from several sources and, more often than not, from more than one earner; young people still living at home and married women who work part-time contribute to living standards in the home and normally provide only part of the household income. Low earners, typically, are in those groups. Only 8 per cent. of the lowest tenth of full-time earners are in the poorest tenth of the population. The majority are in the top half of income distribution, with 5 per cent. in the richest tenth. It is absurd to count as impoverished by low pay a managing director's wife who chooses to earn £50 a week working part time in a local bookshop. Yet such people are often included in low-pay statistics by people who argue that there is a low-pay problem and that low pay and poverty are inevitably bedfellows.

The major factor in low income is not low pay but unemployment. The facts could not be clearer: 62 per cent. of people live in households headed by a full-time worker, and only 9 per cent. in one headed by an unemployed person. In the poorest tenth of the population, only 23 per cent. live in households headed by a full-time worker, but 37 per cent. live in unemployed households. Having a job —even a lower-paid job—is always better than being unemployed. Most poor people are not low paid. Poverty has other causes, including old age, disability, unemployment, large families and lone parents. We must constantly be aware of those factors. We are, but Opposition Members are not.

The hon. Member for Tooting made great play of the fact that, at the last count, 12,879 people are out of work in the borough of Wandsworth. No one can be proud of that figure, and I would not claim to be. I shall pick two years at random. In June 1983, 14,420 people were out of work in Wandsworth. In June 1987—I cannot imagine why I alighted on these dates, but they came handily to me —14,459 people were out of work in Wandsworth. Despite recent increases in unemployment in Wandsworth, the number of people without jobs is still significantly lower than in June 1983 and June 1987. I now know why I picked those dates; they were when the Conservatives won large parliamentary majorities in general elections. No doubt the hon. Gentleman will want to reflect on that when he considers the impact of politics on Wandsworth or on the country as a whole.

Mr. Cox

That is a pathetic answer. Does the Minister think that when his comments are read by unemployed people in Wandsworth, that will enhance the great image that the new Prime Minister is seeking to present and the notion of a citizens' charter? All the Minister can do is to tell us to look at what the figures were on two previous occasions. The fact is that now, in June 1991, there are people out of work with absolutely no hope of getting jobs. That is what the Minister should be concerned with, not going back to the figures of several years ago.

Mr. Forth

I am glad that the hon. Gentleman made that point, because I shall now respond to it. I was going to anyway, but I shall do so now even more happily. He raised an interesting and relevant point and asked what the Government were doing about those who had the misfortune to lose their jobs or had difficulty finding jobs in Tooting or anywhere else. I shall now give him an answer.

Every newly unemployed person now receives an in-depth advisory interview, during which all the opportunities for getting back to work are discussed—[Interruption.] I hope that the hon. Member for Tooting is not giggling.

Mr. Cox

I am no more giggling now than the Minister was giggling when I was making my speech about the problems in Wandsworth. I shall listen to the Minister with great interest, and I hope that he tells me and the unemployed people in Wandsworth what the proposal will bring, because that is what we want to know.

Mr. Forth

I do not claim to be a creator of jobs. I hope to avoid destroying jobs and have spent some time explaining how the Labour party has the potential to destroy jobs. That is not the business that the Government are in; they are in the business of creating an environment that not only allows jobs to be developed—mainly by the private sector—but, more importantly, gives the maximum support, through the services provided by the Department's Employment Service, to those who need it in the locality.

First, we ensure that the unemployed are given an understanding interview in order to establish their circumstances and potential for work. We also try to arrange that the same adviser is constantly with newly unemployed people to ensure that their problems are fully understood and dealt with on a continuous basis.

We have introduced special advisory interviews that are available after 13 weeks of unemployment for people whose skills are in demand locally. Extra help is given to the long-term unemployed who do not take up places in employment training, either through job clubs, which have proved a great success, or other offers. Intensive help with job-search from trained advisers is now available over several weeks for those who have the misfortune to be out of work for two years.

In addition, in March my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Employment announced an extra £55 million of funding for the Employment Service to ensure that standards of customer service to the unemployed are maintained and, where possible, improved and to provide extra support for people who cannot find work in the first few weeks of unemployment. Some 25 per cent. of people who lose their jobs are off the register again within a month, and 50 per cent. are off it within three months. That illustrates very well the fact that, fortunately for all of us, the unemployed are not now and never have been a static group of people with no hope. The unemployment register changes by up to 300.000 people every month because although, regrettably people lose their jobs, fortunately they find other ones—some of them do so very quickly.

Our aim in the Department of Employment is to do our best to ensure that the process continues as rapidly as possible, but we have not rested there. My right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Employment, announced another set of measures only last week. As unemployment has been increasing, it has become apparent that the most effective help that we can give some unemployed people is work experience to keep their skills up to date. The main element of the further measures announced last week was a new programme called Employment Action. That will provide work experience on local projects for 60,000 unemployed people in a full year. It will be targeted on those who have been unemployed for six months or more, particularly those living in our inner cities.

The training and enterprise councils, which are starting to become operational in London, will be a major contributor to that programme's process. Equally, the number of places available on ET has been increased so that an extra 15,000 people can this year learn new skills to help them find a job.

Through the measures that I have described, job clubs and other policies, the Department of Employment is taking positive action to address the exact difficulties highlighted by the hon. Member for Tooting. I hope that he did not regard the way in which I gave the figures as complacent—I wanted to set them in context. It is vital that we not only continue to take the problem seriously, but do everything we can to help people find work.

In the time available I have tried to resond to the important points raised in the excellent motion tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, South. I have tried to place the problem in context and, given my Department, I have tried to spend some time on the employment aspects of the issue. I did so largely in response to the points made by the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, West to show him the error of his ways.

I hope that the Labour party will reconsider its potentially disastrous policies. I hope that it appreciates that the policies that I have outlined are positive and helpful. I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, South will agree that the response right across different Departments to the problems raised by his motion has been a positive one, to which he can give his support.

2.5 pm

Mr. Alan Meale (Mansfield)

I take great pleasure in being here today. When I read the first part of the motion I jumped on a train from the midlands and came down straight away. That first part is excellent and it could have been written by Labour party Front-Bench spokesmen. I part company with Conservative Members on the second part of the motion. As I listened to the Minister's speech it became clear why that second part had been added. It was done so that a party-political point could be made, but that detracts from the problem that has been set down for discussion.

It was a bit misleading of the Minister to come to the House to try to put the blame for high unemployment on a future Labour Government. He said that the consequences of a Labour Government would be mass unemployment, but we have mass unemployment now. There are millions of people unemployed without taking into account those thousands who have been taken off the register through calculation methods and Government policies. To blame today's mass unemployment on a Labour Government of the future is absolute nonsense.

Twelve years of Tory rule has given us mass unemployment, which is getting worse day by day because the Government continue to follow the wrong economic policies. The Government have forced up interest rates to such a level that every working day many businesses are going bankrupt. The owners of those firms supported the Conservative party in previous elections, but they are now going out of business because of that support.

I pay credit to the hon. Member for Nottingham, South (Mr. Brandon-Bravo) for tabling the motion which has enabled us to debate this important subject. I intend to be brief because I know that other hon. Members on the Conservative Benches wish to participate, albeit briefly.

The first part of the motion says that one way in which to solve anti-social behaviour is to pursue sound long-term employment measures". I agree. The problem is that for many years the Government have pursued short-term employment measures and some of our major industries have suffered because of that. The hon. Gentleman comes from my area, the east midlands, where some major industries have been devastated. More than 150,000 jobs have been lost in coal mining, tens of thousands of jobs have gone in steel making and an equal number have been lost in the railways and in other public service sectors.

The hon. Member for Nottingham, South was right to talk about the need to examine the way in which we give priority to housing and use the housing stock. The best way to tackle the housing problem in my part of the world would be for the Government to adopt a different attitude towards public housing. I welcome some of the actions that the Government have taken, for example, in encouraging new house builders, such as housing associations, to establish housing areas in which people can participate in the management of their homes.

In my constituency, and in that of the hon. Member for Nottingham, South, a massive amount of public housing is going down the tubes because of Government policy. Nearly 5,000 council properties have been sold in my area. I am in favour of tenants of council houses who wish to buy being able to do so, but the Government must not insist on retaining legislation that prevents local authorities from using the money obtained from the sale of council houses to build more property to house people who are in the same position as the original tenants who bought their homes. If councils cannot build new property, the problem continues to grow. In my area, millions of pounds are being held in the coffers of authorities and cannot be touched.

There are 868 registered homeless people in my constituency. They could be housed if the Government allowed authorities to construct more houses. It is no answer to say that there are many empty properties in the Mansfield district council area which could be given to the homeless, because there are 9,226 people on the waiting list, 2,700 of them with special needs, some of them terminally ill, some disabled, some severely disabled and many of them pensioners. With an average ratio of 40 empty properties a week, we cannot keep pace with the level of homelessness.

It is a bit rich for the Government to say that they are doing well on the environmental health front. Air pollution inspectors now operate under the auspices of local district authorities and there are inspectorates ac the regional level. They have been cut to the bone and the point has been reached when all they can do is drive from one disaster to the next. Do the Government really claim to be sorting out that problem?

The hon. Member for Nottingham, South was right to refer to mental health. It is a scandal for any Government, of whatever political persuasion, to introduce policies that dump the mentally ill back on to the community without the necessary support facilities being provided. It is a disgrace to close hospitals and push the mentally ill on to society when social services departments in shire county council areas cannot cope because of lack of resources. I am aware of the problems that have been created in Nottingham because of the Government's policies for the mentally ill. There are similar problems in my constituency.

It is right that some people who have been in mental hospitals should be returned to the community, but to do that willy nilly without providing extra resources for management is disgraceful.

I congratulate the hon. Member for Nottingham, South on this debate because we should have discussed the problem much sooner. However, the problems that have been expressed clearly on both sides of the Chamber must be dealt with by those in charge. The only way to do so is to provide the resources and be determined to sort out the matter.

2.15 pm
Mr. Jack Aspinwall (Wansdyke)

I am grateful to the hon. Member for Mansfield (Mr. Meale) for his consideration. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, South (Mr. Brandon-Bravo) on initiating this important motion, which has given me the opportunity to present an example of anti-social behaviour which has caused much distress and heartache to many households in my constituency in the past few weeks. My constituents have had neighbours imposed on them—I refer to the influx of nearly 3,000 hippies, who have descended on the peaceful rural communities of Avon county and other west country areas, creating mayhem and havoc.

I strongly support helping those who, through no fault of their own, get into financial and social difficulty. I have always tried to be as helpful and reasonable as possible, as have the local councils and agencies in Avon county. However, the experience that many of my constituents have endured has been unbearable.

There have been intrusions on at least 15 privately owned sites. A large number of people have descended illegally in a wide variety of vehicles. Some are families with children, and packs of dogs including rottweilers and bull terriers are running uncontrolled about the sites. Intimidation of ordinary people, who wish peaceably to enjoy their homes, has caused anger and nearly led to violence.

The operation of moving hippies into an area has not happened by chance but is a highly organised event. Land is identified by scouting groups who test local reaction and can apparently find sites, the ownership of which is in dispute, or which belong to the Labour and Liberal Democrat controlled Avon county council. Some of those hippies are sophisticated and legally knowledgeable, with modern aids such as mobile telephones, CB radios, fax machines and a wide network for the distribution of leaflets and other material. Their arrival at sites is not by chance. The operation is well planned and carried out in such a way that it is extremely hard for the law to be enforced.

Carlingcott—a lovely, peaceful village inhabited by decent, ordinary people—was chosen because there was an ownership dispute over two nearby fields and probate had not yet been granted in an estate, which gave no firm definition to enable legal proceedings or proceedings by the police to commence.

Avon county council has a chosen policy not to take proceedings against hippies who settle on council land because the county council has not complied with the Caravan Sites Act 1968, which behoves them to provide suitable sites. Avon county council has been a soft touch in the hippy world. It is a flagrant breach of duty to the vast majority of the people of Avon not to attempt to prevent the current problems, which continue to worsen.

I have received many letters containing heartbreaking stories from people who do not deserve the problems imposed on them partly because of the council's doctrinaire view. When I visited a hippy site last weekend and asked whether itinerants would be prepared to settle on a well-prepared site with running water and sanitary conditions, they laughed openly. How can the county council ignore the wishes of the vast majority of people for whom it has a duty of care?

The financial implications of the intrusion of hippies are enormous. To contain a site of 2,000 hippies and nearly 400 vehicles, with all the problems involved, costs more than £60,000 in police time alone for a weekend's cover. Other parts of the community have to suffer reduced manning levels to enable a proper police presence to be available in case of an outbreak of violence.

I wish to place on record my thanks to the Avon and Somerset constabulary who deal with the problems arising from the presence of the hippies. Sometimes there is a misunderstanding among those who suffer from the effects of the hippies and the police do not seem to respond rapidly to a situation. I will tell the House of the difficulties encountered in an operation of the complexity and magnitude of that in the Wansdyke constituency, on Charmy Down, Peasesdown St. John and other sites.

A common allegation is that vehicles are untaxed, uninsured and unroadworthy. I am strongly assured by the police that all the vehicles in the county are checked thoroughly for ownership proof, insurance, tax and roadworthiness. If vehicles are found to be unroadworthy and if the law is breached, arrests are made under the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984. The police can use section 39 of the Pubic Order Act 1986 to remove people from sites. The Act provides them with discretionary powers to order trespassers to leave land in certain circumstances. If trespassers knowingly fail to obey such an order, they commit a criminal offence. Trespass is a most complicated matter which usually rests with the civil courts and is certainly not a criminal offence. There is the additional problem of huge numbers of people congregated together. I wonder whether the wisdom of confrontation would prove beneficial to the community in the end.

The police can make arrests under section 39. I ask the House to imagine 2,000 men, women and children, as well as dogs and so on, the men being arrested, the degree of force that would have to be used, and the women and children being left on the site and becoming the subject of local social services and education departments and everything that the public expect, followed by the likelihood that the arrested persons could plead not guilty, be bailed and returned to the site. The police have no powers whatever to move the vehicles. In such circumstances, striking the balance between the freedom of the individual and the well-being of the community loses some of its meaning. There must be a way of solving this difficult problem which is creating further anti-social behaviour.

It is well know that a major source of income is the benefits cheques which are collected from the local social security office. Perhaps sanctions would help. For example, the payment of resources could be stopped until certain conditions are observed, such as residency or registration as being able and willing to work.

I have seen various types of hippies. During my visit last weekend to the Peasedown St. John site I met some young people who were reasonable, clean, interesting and could have been the sons and daughters of any family in the land. I asked them why they had come to the hippy site. They said that they had heard through the grapevine that there was to be a pop festival and that they were going to enjoy themselves. I might add that the media sometimes lose the balance between providing news and dealing with community interests. Widely publicised through television, radio and the press, the Peasedown site became national news. It was easy to tell from the programmes exactly how to get to the site, which added to existing problems.

We must find places that are sufficiently remote and away from the general population where sites can be prepared, perhaps on a seasonal basis, with adequate toilet facilities, water, and perhaps even electricity, so that young people can attend pop festivals with little or no interference to ordinary people. It is not beyond the bounds of possibility that the noise baffles used at major airports could be adapted to prevent objectionable noise over wide areas. Noise is another form of anti-social pollution on hippy sites and it is extremely difficult to control it.

The environmental health officers erected noise detection meters, but the legislation is ponderous and it would have been extremely dangerous for a small number of police officers and environmental health officers to enter a site. Even if they were able to serve abatement notices, nothing in the legislation empowers them to deal quickly with noise pollution. It is difficult to overestimate the effects on small villages in which people live peaceably in their homes of incessant beating of drums and loud music disturbing the peace night and day. The effects on ordinary people—on elderly people, children and shiftworkers—are unacceptable.

Anti-social behaviour has many effects on society and it is always the law-abiding people who suffer. The added problems caused by drugs, excessive alcohol, noise, uncleanliness and unlawfulness and by damage to persons and property all take their toll on sites such as those that I have described. It is every citizen's right peaceably to enjoy his life and home. Anti-social behaviour imposed on others by itinerants is wholly unacceptable. I welcome today's motion, which has enabled me to express these views.

2.26 pm
Mr. Steve Norris (Epping Forest)

I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, South (Mr. Brandon-Bravo) made his speech long merely because he was awaiting my arrival in the Chamber and I apologise for not hearing all of it. I shall toss my notes aside and truncate remarks which could have filled one and a quarter hours so as to fit them into three and a three quarter minutes.

We should be in no doubt about why the Fabian Society rightly concluded that a national minimum wage would cost nearly 1 million jobs or why the Government concluded that it would cost almost 2 million jobs. The reason has perhaps not emerged from today's debate, but I can give practical examples of how it works.

I well remember in my old constituency of Oxford, East going to see a lady who had decided to convert her front room into a hairdressing salon so that she could practise a profession that she had learnt before she married and had a family, and so that she could give employment to a couple of her friends—and, more importantly, offer a service to people in the area which they could never have afforded at some of the larger shops. They wanted to enjoy having their hair done by neighbours in a friendly atmosphere.

Along came a man from the wages council saying, "I am terribly sorry, my dear, but you cannot possibly do that—you are not paying your neighbours enough." "How do you mean?" she asked—"I do not draw as much as you are asking me to pay these ladies out of the business myself; I am doing it for fun because I can do it here at home and because my neighbours can earn themselves a little money. We are not doing it to make the difference between life and death. We simply want to afford one or two luxuries in life." "I am sorry," he said, "That is no business of mine—You either pay these ladies the money, or you close down." So she closed down, thereby losing out herself and disadvantaging her neighbours who had helped her in the shop for a bit of pin money and all the people on the estate who used to enjoy a good value-for-money service.

We have heard a great many assertions about how hundreds of thousands of jobs will be lost, but there is no secret about the sort of example that I have cited. It is terribly sad; I have every sympathy with those who believe that minimum wages are a standard to be borne by those who care about the poor, but it is necessary to think through the argument. Doing that makes one realise that poverty is best alleviated by creating real job opportunities. We should remember that more than a million people have jobs now who did not have jobs when the Government came to office.

Secondly, nothing is more likely to create a fear of crime and to worry and frighten elderly people than the sight of sacks of rotting rubbish left in the streets, of broken glass, of windows boarded up, of graffiti and vandalism. As we know from research—this is not a bland assertion—those signs of a lawless, anarchic society are exactly those which make an elderly person fearful of leaving their own home and a prisoner within it. That is the result when a local authority such as Liverpool, Lambeth or Hackney loses control—and that is how anti-social behaviour can be genuinely defined. That appalling neglect is the record of those Labour authorities, and I hope that the electorate of Walton at least will take account of it when they vote on 4 July.

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, South on the way in which he framed his motion—

It being half-past Two o'clock, the debate stood adjourned.

Mr. Tony Benn (Chesterfield)

On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. The sixth item to be considered on today's Order Paper, the Commonwealth of Britain Bill, has against it the words, Queen's Consent to be signified. I have a letter from the Home Secretary indicating that the Queen has given her consent to the Bill, and I wonder whether it would be in order for that consent to be indicated by a Privy Councillor before the Bill is put before the House for consideration.

Madam Deputy Speaker (Miss Betty Boothroyd)

I note the right hon. Gentleman's point, but we have not reached that item.

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