HC Deb 17 March 2003 vol 401 cc624-6
16. Bob Spink (Castle Point)

What plans he has to link benefits to the behaviour of recipients. [102960]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (Malcolm Wicks)

The Government have previously recognised the case for a role for housing benefit sanctions in tackling bad neighbour nuisance. Many of us have constituents who have suffered from the so-called neighbour from hell. However, sanctions need to be workable and capable of being applied decisively—[Laughter.] Our constituents who suffer from antisocial behaviour do not find it a laughing matter. Sanctions need to be workable and capable of being applied decisively in response to antisocial acts in the local community. They must act as a deterrent, not simply as a punishment after the event, and they must not be so cumbersome to administer that the costs outweigh the benefits. We intend to consult on a proposal to sanction housing benefit. If a workable measure can be developed, we will legislate to implement it.

Bob Spink

Having accepted in principle the linking of housing benefit to behaviour, why have the Government rejected the Prime Minister's idea of linking child benefit to behaviour? What is wrong with the Prime Minister?

Hon. Members


Malcolm Wicks

What is wrong with the Prime Minister? Nothing at all. I should like to be quoted on that. There is a serious issue about the measures we can employ to tackle antisocial behaviour of different kinds. That is the purpose of the recent White Paper and that will be the purpose of legislation. If housing benefit sanctions can be made to be a workable instrument of policy, we will do that. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Skills has made other proposals to ensure that truancy, which is big problem and a contributory factor in our shopping centres, can be tackled.

Mr. David Kidney (Stafford)

Does my hon. Friend agree that the original setting up of the Child Support Agency is a bad precedent for the judicial function being taken over by an administrative body? Does he not worry that decisions about who is telling the truth in behaviour disputes and whether the alleged antisocial behaviour is acceptable or unacceptable are matters not for administrators, but for courts, to decide?

Malcolm Wicks

The reality is that the Child Support Agency, with the agreement of the whole House, is delivering maintenance more effectively than the old court-based system, which simply did not work. However, I have said that we will take great care to ensure that the Government's concern to tackle antisocial behaviour, which I think is shared on the Conservative Benches but not the Liberal Democrat ones, is workable. That is why we shall consult very carefully to ensure that aspirations to tackle the yob neighbour can be translated into something that is workable, legal and effective.

Mr. John Berco (Buckingham)

The Minister has chosen to interpret the question asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Castle Point (Bob Spink) in terms of antisocial behaviour as it is conventionally understood. However, can he tell the House in what number or proportion of cases jobseeker's allowance has been withdrawn from those recipients of it who have thrice refused decent job offers?

Malcolm Wicks

The sanctions regime in Jobcentre Plus and new deals has been very effective. There are different sanctions regimes and I shall send the hon. Gentleman the data, but I have met unemployed people who admitted that the sanctions regime made them seek employment. Instead of playing party games on this one, what the British public—not least those living in fear of the yob neighbour—want to know is whether this Parliament can bring forward workable solutions. We are determined to do that, and I think that most of the House is. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman would prefer to play the party political game.