Before section 32

Housing (Scotland) Bill: Stage 3 – in the Scottish Parliament at 2:15 pm on 13th June 2001.

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Photo of Bill Aitken Bill Aitken Conservative

The issue of anti-social tenants has been much ventilated, but it is worthy of further consideration. I would be grateful if the Executive considered amendment 75 as a positive and constructive contribution to the debate on anti-social tenants.

The Executive seems reluctant to address the problem. Of course, the Executive realises the difficulties that are involved. Both the Minister for Social Justice and her deputy have paid lip service to the issue in previous debates, but the actions that they have taken so far have not been at all robust. For example, anti-social behaviour orders appear to many councils to be an exercise in futility; it takes a long time to obtain an order and when a council eventually gets one, the problem has reached such a point that either the anti-social family has moved out to make life misery for other people or the neighbours have moved out.

Understandably, sheriffs are reluctant to evict problem families, particularly when young children are involved. I understand that reluctance. Under amendment 75, people who were providing a real danger, nuisance or annoyance to their neighbours could be compulsorily removed.

I am sure that the housing schemes of Glasgow are not unique in having difficulties with anti-social tenants, but from her constituency knowledge the deputy minister will be well aware of the problems there. There has to be a much more determined effort to combat the problem of anti-social tenants. I do not suggest that such people should be cast out into the outer darkness—of course not—but they should be removed from areas where they are causing a problem. They should then be closely supervised by housing and social work officials so that they can be given the earliest opportunity to return to mainstream housing. I strongly suggest that the problem of anti-social tenants cannot be allowed to continue without a much more robust and forceful approach to dealing with those who make the lives of many of our decent citizens in many parts of Scotland unliveable.

I move amendment 75.

Photo of Brian Adam Brian Adam Scottish National Party

The whole question of anti-social tenants is difficult. We have had differences of view about how to tackle the problem and it is to Bill Aitken's credit that he has at least attempted to do that. However, amendment 75 does not say to where he would move those tenants. I am concerned that amendment 75 would create ghettos where we would dump—for want of a better word—problem tenants. Irrespective of how well social work and housing officials would retrain—that may be the term for which Bill Aitken was grasping earlier—support and supervise those tenants, I am not convinced that amendment 75 provides the right way of addressing the problem.

In light of the fact that the ministers have—cleverly or otherwise—introduced housing improvement and homelessness task forces, and given that there is some disagreement about what should be done, perhaps more brainstorming should be done in this area. Certainly, we should expect some improvement on the bill's current provisions, but perhaps task forces are not the only way of tackling the problem. For those reasons, I am pleased that Bill Aitken has at least raised the issue, but I am afraid that I cannot support the solution that he suggests in amendment 75, because it could lead to ghettos.

Photo of Robert Brown Robert Brown Liberal Democrat 2:30 pm, 13th June 2001

Bill Aitken has raised an issue, but I am bound to say that he has done it in a simplistic and superficial fashion by lodging amendment 75. I may have been a little bit obsessed about rights and about people's ability to challenge arbitrary acts of authority. However, amendment 75—the wording of which makes no mention of proof or of anything other than allegation—is a charter for arbitrary action.

More to the point, the amendment does not actually achieve anything. As Brian Adam has rightly said, moving the problem does not solve it. The approach that has been taken by the Scottish Executive and by the Social Justice Committee is much more productive. We are trying to get to the heart of the problems and to combine that aim with a series of powers to give a bit more oomph, as it were, to that sort of background. We are trying to solve the problem, not just to shift it, and particularly not to do so in such an arbitrary fashion. I regret to say that I feel that amendment 75 ought not to be agreed to by the Parliament, as it would lead to bad legislation.

Photo of Johann Lamont Johann Lamont Labour

Anti-social behaviour is a serious problem. Any member who holds surgeries in their constituency will be aware of the depth of the problem and of the difficulties that are faced by far too many of our citizens. We are talking about rights, and citizens clearly have a right not to be bullied, harassed or intimidated in their own homes, nor to be subjected to racist harassment and abuse. We must be rigorous in our approach to the problem and rigorous in our solutions. We must not suggest that the problem can be dealt with in an easy or simplistic way. One of the key points to emerge from the Social Justice Committee's recent deliberations was that, although we all recognised the problem, we had some difficulty in agreeing on the best solution. We have to be honest and confront that problem.

In commenting on amendment 75, I have to say that the real difficulties of anti-social behaviour go far beyond the social rented sector, just as racist behaviour goes far beyond people who live in rented accommodation. It is therefore crucial that the Executive and all the agencies—not just housing and social work—including the police are directed on the problem.

One of my key concerns about Bill Aitken's proposed solution is that it implies that if we can get the tenants sorted out, we can get rid of the problem. We know that some of the problems of anti-social behaviour go far beyond that. I therefore seek a clear and strong commitment from the ministers about the central role of Executive departments working together to ensure that there is also joint working at local level to address the problem of anti-social behaviour wherever it emerges.

Photo of Paul Martin Paul Martin Labour

I oppose amendment 75, which leaves us with many difficulties as to where anti-social tenants would be placed. I have raised with ministers the need to monitor anti-social tenants. There are great difficulties in moving them from one part of a local authority area to another and perhaps we should consider that after reflecting on the Housing (Scotland) Bill. Will Margaret Curran provide an update on the amendment that I lodged at stage 2 about interim anti-social behaviour orders? I believe that such orders would provide an effective way of dealing with many of the anti-social behaviour problems that Bill Aitken has raised.

Anti-social behaviour is carried out by a small minority of the community. Those people cannot be given the opportunity to rule the community by behaving in the disruptive manner that we have seen in Sighthill in my constituency. There are good, decent people who live in Sighthill, who have been stigmatised by the behaviour of a small minority. When we make legislation to deal with anti-social behaviour, it is our job as elected representatives to ensure that we support the officials out there who are doing a good job for us in many respects.

Photo of Margaret Curran Margaret Curran Labour

This afternoon's discussion has reflected the commitment in many parts of the chamber to dealing with a pernicious social problem. I assure Opposition members, who look as if they are likely to remain in opposition for some time—I could not resist saying that, but I have not done badly by managing to wait until half-past 2—that we are determined to deal with the problem.

Bill Aitken was misleading the chamber when he suggested that we have not taken decisive action on anti-social behaviour. It is clear, as has been expressed very well, that the misery that such behaviour causes in all communities is unacceptable. The bill, as amended, proposes a great deal. It suspends right to buy for anti-social tenants; introduces probationary tenancies for those with history of anti-social behaviour; establishes a link between anti-social behaviour orders and probationary tenancies through possible conversion when an ASBO has been granted; and provides for support for probationary tenants to ensure that a successful conversion back to a full Scottish secure tenancy can be achieved.

Paul Martin mentioned interim ASBOs. We had a significant discussion on that issue, which was also raised by Robert Brown, at stage 2. Members of the Social Justice Committee, including, I think, Bill Aitken, were sympathetic to the proposals, which were seen as a way of responding to the frustration that is felt by many local authorities at the delays that can occur in getting courts to grant ASBOs. We promised at that stage that we would discuss the matter with colleagues. Our view is that it makes sense for a measure of this nature to be included in an appropriate justice bill so that it can be used to tackle anti-social behaviour in all situations. I give members a commitment that we will introduce legislation on the topic at the earliest possible opportunity. We were persuaded that the problem does not rest exclusively within the social rented sector and that a wider, justice-oriented approach is required.

I endorse many of the points that members from different parts of the chamber have made about amendment 75. I reassure Johann Lamont that we will make every effort to ensure that there is joint working at a local level to deal with the profound problem of anti-social behaviour and we will support such working strongly.

When we have considered measures along the lines that Bill Aitken proposes, the overwhelming view of respondents to consultation has been that that approach is not sustainable. None of the key agencies that deliver services and deal with those issues would support that approach.

We must remember that paragraph 8 of schedule 2 allows the landlord to seek to move nuisance tenants to alternative accommodation. That power exists and can be used when it is appropriate. The only difference, and it is a big difference, between that power and what Bill Aitken is proposing is that the court—Robert Brown made this point—has to be satisfied that the landlord is acting appropriately.

The fact is that compulsory relocation of anti-social tenants is not the panacea that Bill Aitken seems to think that it is. Leaving aside the civil liberties issue, it makes no sense to create ghettos of anti-social tenants or to move tenants to the poorest-quality housing available as a purely punitive measure. As I said to Bill Aitken in an earlier debate, the anti-social tenants will not be living next door to him, so I do not think that they should be moved to live next door to anybody else. Such simplistic solutions to a complex problem are self-defeating and I urge members to reject them.

I assure members that we have presented them with a series of decisive measures. There is a sincere and profound commitment across the Executive to tackle anti-social behaviour.

Photo of Bill Aitken Bill Aitken Conservative

I do not need to add very much, but I will sum up by saying that when the matter was first raised in the chamber, at stage 1, the minister challenged me about where these people would be put: she said that they would not be put next door to me. They would not be next door to me, nor would they be next door to her, but they would certainly not be next door to those whose lives they are currently making a misery. Action on this problem is long overdue; it must be taken and it must be much more robust than what is proposed in the bill.

Photo of Patricia Ferguson Patricia Ferguson Labour

The question is, that amendment 75 be agreed to. Are we agreed?

Members:

No.

Division number 23

For: Aitken, Bill, Davidson, Mr David, Douglas-Hamilton, Lord James, Fergusson, Alex, Gallie, Phil, Goldie, Miss Annabel, Harding, Mr Keith, Johnstone, Alex, McGrigor, Mr Jamie, McIntosh, Mrs Lyndsay, McLetchie, David, Monteith, Mr Brian, Mundell, David, Scanlon, Mary, Scott, John, Tosh, Mr Murray, Wallace, Ben
Against: Adam, Brian, Baillie, Jackie, Barrie, Scott, Boyack, Sarah, Brankin, Rhona, Brown, Robert, Butler, Bill, Campbell, Colin, Chisholm, Malcolm, Craigie, Cathie, Crawford, Bruce, Cunningham, Roseanna, Curran, Ms Margaret, Deacon, Susan, Eadie, Helen, Elder, Dorothy-Grace, Ewing, Dr Winnie, Ewing, Fergus, Ewing, Mrs Margaret, Fabiani, Linda, Finnie, Ross, Fitzpatrick, Brian, Gibson, Mr Kenneth, Gillon, Karen, Godman, Trish, Grahame, Christine, Grant, Rhoda, Gray, Iain, Harper, Robin, Henry, Hugh, Home Robertson, Mr John, Hughes, Janis, Hyslop, Fiona, Ingram, Mr Adam, Jackson, Dr Sylvia, Jackson, Gordon, Jamieson, Cathy, Jamieson, Margaret, Jenkins, Ian, Kerr, Mr Andy, Lamont, Johann, Livingstone, Marilyn, Lochhead, Richard, Lyon, George, MacAskill, Mr Kenny, Macdonald, Lewis, MacDonald, Ms Margo, Macintosh, Mr Kenneth, MacKay, Angus, MacLean, Kate, Macmillan, Maureen, Martin, Paul, Marwick, Tricia, Matheson, Michael, McAllion, Mr John, McAveety, Mr Frank, McCabe, Mr Tom, McGugan, Irene, McLeod, Fiona, McMahon, Mr Michael, McNeil, Mr Duncan, McNeill, Pauline, McNulty, Des, Morgan, Alasdair, Morrison, Mr Alasdair, Muldoon, Bristow, Mulligan, Mrs Mary, Munro, John Farquhar, Murray, Dr Elaine, Oldfather, Irene, Paterson, Mr Gil, Peacock, Peter, Peattie, Cathy, Quinan, Mr Lloyd, Radcliffe, Nora, Raffan, Mr Keith, Robison, Shona, Robson, Euan, Rumbles, Mr Mike, Russell, Michael, Scott, Tavish, Sheridan, Tommy, Simpson, Dr Richard, Smith, Elaine, Smith, Iain, Smith, Mrs Margaret, Stephen, Nicol, Stevenson, Stewart, Stone, Mr Jamie, Sturgeon, Nicola, Swinney, Mr John, Thomson, Elaine, Ullrich, Kay, Watson, Mike, Welsh, Mr Andrew, White, Ms Sandra, Whitefield, Karen, Wilson, Allan

Photo of Patricia Ferguson Patricia Ferguson Labour

The result of the division is: For 17, Against 98, Abstentions 0.

Amendment 75 disagreed to.