Oral Answers to Questions — Deputy Prime Minister – in the House of Commons at 11:30 am on 7th January 2004.
What steps his Department is taking to tackle antisocial behaviour.
What action his Department is taking to tackle antisocial behaviour.
My Office is tackling the root causes of antisocial behaviour though our sustainable communities plan, which will create thriving communities where people feel safe and want to live. We are also tackling the symptoms of antisocial behaviour by introducing a raft of measures in the Anti-social Behaviour Act 2003 and the Housing Bill, and through ongoing programmes such as that for neighbourhood wardens, with encouraging results.
My local authority, Sandwell, is engaged in a consultation process to identify areas in the borough where public drinking is a nuisance. Given the importance of local authorities, the Government and the police working together to curb antisocial behaviour, can my right hon. Friend assure me that examples of local authority best practice will be promoted by the Government throughout the country?
Yes, I can give my hon. Friend that assurance. He will know that that is the responsibility of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, and she is issuing guidance for parliamentary consideration, which we will consider in the House. It will bring about more uniform practice in respect of licensing and contribute to dealing with antisocial behaviour connected with drink.
Will my right hon. Friend monitor progress on the new local authority licensing powers, particularly the new responsibility that local authorities will have to order the temporary suspension of licences, so that pubs and clubs that allow under-age drinking, binge drinking and antisocial behaviour will get a swift penalty?
I certainly see the sense of that recommendation. Indeed, guidance from another Department will be issued shortly and the House will have to make a judgment as to whether it thinks that it is adequate. I shall pass on my hon. Friend's comments to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport.
Does the Deputy Prime Minister agree that one of the acts of antisocial behaviour that gravely disfigures our country, in every town and street, is the spitting and spreading of chewing-gum? I know that the Government have introduced some initiatives, but will the issue be covered by the Anti-social Behaviour Act 2003, as we really have to do something about chewing-gum?
There used to be a song about sticking chewing-gum on the bedpost at the end of the day. This is a very important issue, however. Anyone going into any of the regeneration areas can see the disfigurement caused by the casting away of chewing-gum. It is a deplorable practice—I know that it is controversial to say that—and we are looking at a number of measures that we can take to clear up the problem, which disfigures some very good developments and regeneration areas.
Can my right hon. Friend tell me what his Department intends to do to persuade certain local authorities that are reluctant to use the new powers that they are about to be given in the Anti-social Behaviour Act 2003? What is his Department going to do to give them a kick up the rear end?
Well, I would not want to be associated with such violent action, but I think that we are making it very clear to local authorities what new powers in the legislation will allow them to do. Many authorities complain that they do not have the powers that they need or that they are not clear enough. The new Housing Bill and antisocial behaviour legislation will make an awful lot of improvements, and I expect all local authorities to play an important part. I do not know of any constituency in this country where people are not demanding that we deal with antisocial activity.
Is the Deputy Prime Minister sufficiently confident about the improvements that will be brought about by the new legislation on antisocial behaviour here in Great Britain to give an undertaking to us from Northern Ireland that his Government will seek to make the legislation available for use in Northern Ireland as quickly as possible?
I am convinced that the legislation will work. In fact, I think that there is a great deal of encouraging evidence about how such measures have affected antisocial areas in a number of countries. We think that the new framework will work. I am a little unsure about the last part of the hon. Gentleman's question and whether the measures apply to Northern Ireland. I take it from his indication that they do not do so, but he has raised an issue, I do not know the answer and I shall write to him about it. [Interruption.]
Order. I call the House to order; it is far too noisy. [Hon. Members: "Hear, hear."] Perhaps those who are cheering me will agree to come to order.
Does my right hon. Friend accept that in many areas, including my constituency, the police and local authorities are working together to use the new powers that they have been given? One of the problems, however, is that at the end of the process of eviction, tenants are all too often rehoused in another local authority house or end up in the private rented sector, where the landlords can be just as irresponsible as the tenants. Will he therefore give guidance to local authorities saying that we should not create a merry-go-round for antisocial tenants whereby they are simply moved from one property to another? There should also be a requirement for private landlords to assume wider responsibility for the antisocial behaviour of their tenants.
Security of tenure and the sanctions used need careful handling. The new Housing Bill that we will introduce to the House, I think on Monday next week, will cover some of the issues involved. However, this matter is not only about public housing and social landlords, but about licensing private landlords. We get a lot of difficulties in that regard, and we are now taking the powers to deal with the problem.