HC Deb 02 December 1997 vol 302 cc148-50
5. Mr. Davidson

What plans he has to take action against anti-social neighbours. [17094]

The Minister for Home Affairs and Devolution, Scottish Office (Mr. Henry McLeish)

We are giving effect to our manifesto commitment to take tough action on neighbour nuisance and anti-social behaviour. Provisions for anti-social behaviour orders will be included in the crime and disorder Bill. We recently announced proposals for further legislative and administrative measures to tackle this totally unacceptable menace in every community in Scotland.

Mr. Davidson

Do my hon. Friend and the Government accept that anti-social neighbours are a curse on good and decent people in all parts of Scotland? Will my hon. Friend pledge that the Government will take action during their first year in office? It is essential that action is taken quickly because the problem was completely neglected during the 18 years of the previous Government.

Does my hon. Friend accept that this is not simply a problem of council tenants misbehaving? Action must also recognise that many owner-occupiers and private tenants, often in previously council-owned houses, are also behaving in an anti-social manner. Simply to have new rules for the easier eviction of council tenants will not address the whole range of problems. Does my hon. Friend accept that we must have action quickly?

Mr. McLeish

I could not agree more with my hon. Friend. This is not within my power, but I expect that the crime and disorder Bill will become law by the summer of 1998. Everyone should appreciate that we are embarking on the toughest ever crackdown on anti-social behaviour. It will cover local authority tenants and private tenants and, of course, it will also cover home owners. We intend to make sure that the mindless behaviour of the few in every community in Scotland who undermine at every turn the quality of life of the many will be vigorously tackled.

Let me make it quite clear that the orders will be tough. They will be proposed by local authorities and will ensure that people's freedom will be restricted. People could be restricted to their houses or to certain areas and, of course, many types of activity will also be restricted. A breach of an order will result in a term of imprisonment of up to five years and an unlimited fine. These are tough measures to tackle a tough problem. Scots are sick and tired of having to live in this way in many communities and we intend to take the action that will solve the problem.

Mrs. Laing

Will the Minister assure the House that the provisions that he outlined will extend to hon. Members whose constituencies neighbour that of the hon. Member for Glasgow, Govan (Mr. Sarwar), whom we are delighted, if rather surprised, to see in his place?

Mr. McLeish

I am sure that that contribution was about suggesting that every hon. Member supports the tough measures that the Labour Government are taking on anti-social behaviour. We expect that the orders could cover almost 600 people. That means that the tiny minority of people who are causing mayhem in towns, villages and cities will be tackled. That is real progress and we await with interest the passing of the Bill.

Mr. Charles Kennedy

Does the Minister recognise another matter in addition to his legislative proposals? For example, every time I visit west Inverness in my constituency for discussions with the three key public agencies involved—the police, the social work department and the housing department—they all point to the continuing resource starvation since the general election and the lack of improvement since the Conservatives were, thankfully, turfed out. Therefore, will he recognise that, until those agencies get more money, no amount of legislation will bring about a great practical improvement for people who are affected at the local community level?

Mr. McLeish

We appreciate that our measures will involve resources. We are willing to face that. The hon. Gentleman is right to say that we are speaking not just about anti-social behaviour orders. We need to look at the questions of eviction and of witness intimidation, which is rife in many cases, and, of course, we want inter-agency co-operation in relation to witness protection. This is a package of measures and I assure the House that we intend to pursue the matter speedily to get appropriate and effective action.

Miss Begg

I am sure that the constituents who have written to me describing the misery that they have experienced as a result of anti-social neighbours will be delighted by my hon. Friend's statement, particularly his comment that not just council tenants but owner-occupiers and private landlord tenants will be covered. I urge my hon. Friend to ensure that, when such legislation is passed, anti-social neighbours are dealt with through the courts as quickly as possible to put the victims out of their misery.

Mr. McLeish

I am grateful for my hon. Friend's comments. I reassure her and the House that, when the Bill is passed, we intend to have proper procedures in place to maximise the speed with which anti-social neighbours are dealt with. That has been the problem: it has taken far too long to bring culprits to the courts. That has meant more misery for the victims, who can be found in every constituency.