HC Deb 18 January 1977 vol 924 cc88-96

3.53 p.m.

Mr. Anthony Steen (Liverpool, Wavertree)

I beg to move, That leave be given to bring in a Bill to make provisions for the Collective Responsibility of Council tenants so as to eliminate vandalism in urban housing areas; and for associated purposes. This Ten Minutes Rule Bill is rather like Beaujolais nouveau. It is the first Ten Minutes Rule Bill of this Session and it should quite fittingly deal with one of the most important subjects of our time and a major scourge of our society—vandalism.

While right hon. and hon. Members file out of the Chamber, they might reflect that vandalism is running riot in nearly every part of the country, and especially in our towns and cities. The cost of repairing the mindless destruction runs at £100 million a year. Paradoxically, that is more than the total amount spent by the Government under their urban aid programmes over the last nine years, which themselves have been aimed at reversing the backward spiral afflicting those who live in the poorest and most crowded parts of our cities and towns.

Vandalism appears to be at its worst where incidents of social malaise are highest. In the past this was in downtown areas which suffered very severe overcrowding and multi-social deprivation. Yet the destruction of the inner city housing areas and the transfer of people living there to the outer cities appears simply to have lifted social malaise from one area to another. From this it is evident that social malaise is of the person and the family rather than the environment.

It is now recognised that it by no means follows that people with poor housing facilities are more prone to committing acts of vandalism than people who live in three-bedroomed terraced houses on an outer city municipal estate with every modern convenience. On the contrary, the soullessness and apathy of many council estates have a more damaging effect upon the individual living there and his feelings of hopelessness, frustration and boredom than the close- knit neighbourhood which was synonymous with the inner city. Rehousing people, therefore, from inner city back-to-backs to outer city impersonal, uncaring estates may well have aggravated vandalism rather than helped to cure it. Vandalism is only one expression of social malaise, and we must look at the whole problem if we are to make progress.

To date, the only remedy appears to be punishment—that is, if one catches the culprits. The punishments, though are often derisory, for the courts have no powers to do very much, nor are they able to make effective orders for restitution of the damaged property. What we must all acknowledge is that sanctions available up to now have proved singularly ineffective. To eradicate social malaise requires a total approach, but it can be reduced and in turn affect the extent of vandalism. That is the purpose of my Bill. It introduces an entirely new concept—that of collective communal responsibility.

It should help the development of greater disapproval from family, friends and neighbours of anti-social behaviour. A new code of ethics and standards would provide a powerful vandal disincentive. But disincentives, like punishments, are merely a negative approach. We must be willing to say and do something positive.

Communities will club together but they will not get to grips with destructive behaviour unless they are given true incentives. My Bill therefore offers just that—incentives to communities to rekindle neighbourhood responsibility and restore a feeling of, for and about community. Regeneration of family care and individual concern can take place and Parliament can help.

As a first step, every urban local authority would fix the maximum amount of money that it was willing to spend on making good damage caused by vandals to its property on a city-wide basis. A formula for determining that amount could be the average spent in, say, the last three years, plus an amount for inflation. Then the local authority would need to divide up that amount and allocate it to the municipal housing estates.

Vandalism is not confined to council property, but as municipal estates have definable boundaries and all the property is council owned, that lends itself to this kind of initiative. Once the amount of money for the estate had been fixed by the local authority, it would invite all the voluntary groups, youth and community organisations and ratepayers and tenants associations, to form some kind of ad hoc organisation. Youth groups would be particularly involved and asked to work with their peer groups.

Those who are sceptical of this whole approach should know that in the Royal Southern Hospital area of Liverpool, where there is a most active neighbourhood council at work, young people were told that if they helped to reduce vandalism they would receive some help and support for their wish for a youth centre. In one year, thefts of and from motor cars were reduced by 43.3 per cent., as against a city average of 7.6 per cent. Those are startling figures and well illustrate my argument.

My Bill would ensure that if as a result of the combined efforts of the community the amount spent on repairing the work of vandals was less than the amount allocated, the money saved would be used to make extra provision of social facilities for the very people who had helped to root out vandalism. In addition, ad hoc committees might also take extra responsibility for getting repair work done, in which case the local authority would debit the account of the particular estate. This would localise the operation and give people in the area an opportunity to get really involved in repairing the work of vandals. It would provide work for unemployed local people. The work would cost a great deal less and would also be more speedily carried out.

At the same time, that would release new money to ameliorate the facilities in the area and provide greater opportunities and greater community provision. Each year, people would see the fruits of their labours and those communities would provide them with an incentive to continue their fight. If the cost of repair, though, exceeded the amount made available for repair work, the work would have to be deferred until the start of the next financial year. That is probably happening at the moment, by default rather than by design.

It is understandable that people on municipal housing estates may feel somewhat less obliged to maintain property than if it were their own. By offering the kind of incentives proposed by the Bill each individual would be given the opportunity to play his part, releasing fresh money and taking the responsibility off the local authority's shoulders and placing it back on to the community.

At a time when public spending cuts are widespread it would seem appropriate that repairing destructive acts should feature high on the list of cuts. My Bill provides an opportunity to convert and divert money and energy from antisocial and destructive acts into a productive and constructive programme. It is only in that way that the factors of social malaise will decline and collective community action will provide an answer.

4.2 p.m.

Mr. Stan Thorne (Preston, South)


Mr. Speaker

Is the hon. Member seeking to oppose the motion?

Mr. Thorne

I am indeed, Sir. [HON. MEMBERS: "Shame."] I am fortunate in that I happen to be a constituent of the hon. Member for Liverpool, Waver-tree (Mr. Steen). I am further fortunate in that I live on one of the estates that I imagine he has in mind—

Mr. Steen


Mr. Thorne

—a council housing estate which is known as Childwall Valley Estate. I am sure that the hon. Member knows that there was a piece of sociological research some years ago on this estate which attempted to obtain information from the tenants themselves about the sort of property that the council had built. The council had in mind the erection of a further estate, which is now known as the Netherley Estate. It was intended that what had been learned from the examinations of Childwall Valley would be of benefit in the architecture and planning arrangements involved in the new estate.

I do not want to go into detail, but anyone who knows anything about North-West England now knows that the Nether-ley Estate is possibly the worst council estate ever built. It is referred to by the tenants as a barracks or prison. It contains all the prerequisites for vandalism to which the hon. Member seeks to draw attention in his Bill.

Few of us would claim to be able to give an adequate causal definition of vandalism on council housing estates. We could all argue about the nature of the people who occupy the houses but we would learn nothing from that sort of exercise. We might learn a great deal from looking at the type of housing that we have provided. If one provides a seven-storey block with 28 units of accommodation per floor, amounting to about 200 units in a block, and throws together families with small children, with little opportunity to pursue a worthwhile life, vandalism is likely.

The Bill suggests that people who occupy council estates with some social deprivation—which stems from a variety of causes—should be given the collective responsibility for vandalism which may

arise. That is something like putting the cart before the horse. It would be far more useful if we decided at local authority level when a new estate was planned to try to involve the people in some sort of planning exercise vis-à-vis the Skeffington Report of some years ago, which would produce the sort of housing which would tend to diminish the likelihood of vandalism.

The hon. Member's Bill, it seems from his speech, would do nothing to address our minds to the real cause of the problem, which is within society itself. On that basis, I call upon the House to refuse him permission to introduce it.

Question put, pursuant to Standing Order No. 13 (Motions for leave to bring in Bills and nomination of Select Committees at the commencement of Public Business):—

The House divided: Ayes 143, Noes 151.

Division No. 32.] AYES [4.6 p.m.
Alison, Michael Fowler, Norman (Sutton C'f'd) Morrison, Hon Peter (Chester)
Arnold, Tom Fraser, Rt Hon H. (Stafford & St) Neave, Airey
Atkins, Rt Hon H. (Spelthorne) Gardiner, George (Reigate) Nelson, Anthony
Baker, Kenneth Gardner, Edward (S. Fylde) Neubert, Michael
Banks, Robert Goodhew, Victor Osborn, John
Bell, Ronald Grylls, Michael Page, John (Harrow West)
Bennett, Dr Reginald (Fareham) Harrison, Col Sir Harwood (Eye) Page, Rt Hon R. Graham (Crosby)
Benyon, W. Harvie Anderson, Rt Hon Miss Page, Richard (Workington)
Berry, Hon Anthony Hastings, Stephen Prior, Rt Hon James
Biffen, John Hawkins, Paul Pym, Rt Hon Francis
Biggs-Davison, John Hayhoe, Barney Raison, Timothy
Blaker, Peter Heseltine, Michael Rathbone, Tim
Boscawen, Hon Robert Howell, David (Guildford) Rees, Peter (Dover & Deal)
Bowden, A. (Brighton, Kemptown) Howells, Geraint (Cardigan) Rees-Davies, W. R.
Boyson, Dr Rhodes (Brent) Hutchison, Michael Clark Renton, Rt Hon Sir D. (Hunts)
Braine, Sir Bernard James, David Renton, Tim (Mid-Sussex)
Brittan, Leon Jessel, Toby Rhodes James, R.
Brocklebank-Fowler, C. Jones, Arthur (Daventry) Ridley, Hon Nicholas
Brotherton, Michael Jopling, Michael Ridsdale, Julian
Buchanan-Smith, Alick Kaberry, Sir Donald Rifkind, Malcolm
Buck, Antony Kershaw, Anthony Roberts, Michael (Cardiff NW)
Budgen, Nick Knight, Mrs Jill Roberts, Wyn (Conway)
Burden, F. A. Knox, David Rodgers, Sir John (Sevenoaks)
Butler, Adam (Bosworth) Langford-Holt, Sir John Ross, Stephen (Isle of Wight)
Carlisle, Mark Lawrence, Ivan Rossi, Hugh (Hornsey)
Clark, Alan (Plymouth, Sutton) Lawson, Nigel Rost, Peter (SE Derbyshire)
Clark, William (Croydon S) Le Merchant, Spencer Sainsbury, Tim
Clarke, Kenneth (Rushcliffe) Lloyd, Ian Shelton, William (Streatham)
Cockcroft, John Loveridge, John Shepherd, Colin
Cooke, Robert (Bristol W) Luce, Richard Sims, Roger
Cope, John McAdden, Sir Stephen Skeet, T. H. H.
Cormack, Patrick Macfarlane, Nell Smith, Cyril (Rochdale)
Costain, A. P. MacGregor, John Smith, Dudley (Warwick)
Craig, Rt Hon W. (Belfast E) Madel, David Speed, Keith
Davies, Rt Hon J. (Knutsford) Marten, Nell Spence, John
Drayson, Burnaby Mather, Carol Steel, Rt Hon David
Durant, Tony Mawby, Ray Stewart, Ian (Hitchin)
Edwards, Nicholas (Pembroke) Maxwell-Hyslop, Robin Stokes, John
Elliott, Sir William Meyer, Sir Anthony Stradling Thomas, J.
Eyre, Reginald Mills, Peter Taylor, Teddy (Cathcart)
Farr, John Miscampbell, Norman Tebbit, Norman
Fell, Anthony Mitchell, David (Basingstoke) Thorpe, Rt Hon Jeremy (N Devon)
Finsberg, Geoffrey Monro, Hector Wakeham, John
Fisher, Sir Nigel More, Jasper (Ludlow) Walker-Smith, Rt Hon Sir Derek
Fookes, Miss Janet Morrison, Charles (Devizes) Wall, Patrick
Walters, Dennis Wood, Rt Hon Richard TELLERS FOR THE AYES:
Weatherill, Bernard. Young, Sir G. (Ealing, Acton) Mr. Anthony Steen and
Wells, John Younger, Hon George Mr. Peter Bottomley.
Wiggin, Jerry
Ashton, Joe Grant, George (Morpeth) Phipps, Dr Colin
Atkinson, Norman Grocott, Bruce Price, C. (Lewisham W)
Bagier, Gordon A. T Hamilton, James (Bothwell) Reid, George
Bain, Mrs Margaret Hamilton, W. W. (Central Fife) Richardson, Miss Jo
Bates, Alf Hardy, Peter Roberts, Gwilym (Cannock)
Bennett, Andrew (Stockport N) Harrison, Walter (Wakefield) Robinson, Geoffrey
Bidwell, Sydney Hatton, Frank Roderick, Caerwyn
Bottomley, Rt Hon Arthur Heffer, Eric S. Rooker, J. W.
Boyden, James (Bish Auck) Hoyle, Doug (Nelson) Rowlands, Ted
Bray, Dr Jeremy Huckfield, Les Sandelson, Neville
Callaghan, Jim (Middleton & P) Hughes, Rt Hon C. (Anglesey) Sedgemore, Brian
Canavan, Dennis Hughes, Mark (Durham) Short, Mrs Renée (Wolv NE)
Carmichael, Neil Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen N) Silverman, Julius
Carter-Jones, Lewis Hughes, Roy (Newport) Skinner, Dennis
Cartwright, John Hunter, Adam Small, William
Cocks, Rt Hon Michael (Bristol) Jay, Rt Hon Douglas Smith, John (N Lanarkshire)
Cohen, Stanley Jenkins, Hugh (Putney) Spriggs, Leslie
Coleman, Donald Johnson, Walter (Derby S) Stallard, A. W.
Cox, Thomas (Tooting) Jones, Alec (Rhondda) Stewart, Rt Hon Donald
Crawford, Douglas Jones, Dan (Burnley) Stewart, Rt Hon M. (Fulham)
Crawshaw, Richard Kelley, Richard Stott, Roger
Cronin, John Kerr, Russell Taylor, Mrs Ann (Bolton W)
Cunningham, Dr J. (Whiteh) Kinnock, Neil Tierney, Sydney
Dalyell, Tam Lambie, David Tinn, James
Davidson, Arthur Lamborn, Harry Torney, Tom
Davies, Bryan (Enfield N) Lamond, James Urwin, T. W.
Dean, Joseph (Leeds West) Latham, Arthur (Paddington) Wainwright, Edwin (Dearne V)
Doig, Peter Lewis, Ron (Carlisle) Walker, Harold (Doncaster)
Dormand, J. D. Litterick, Tom Walker, Terry (Kingswood)
Douglas-Mann, Bruce Loyden, Eddie Ward, Michael
Eadie, Alex McCartney, Hugh Watkins, David
Edge, Geoff McDonald, Dr Oonagh Watkinson, John
Edwards, Robert (Wolv SE) MacFarquhar, Roderick Weetch, Ken
Ellis, John (Brigg & Scun) McGuire, Michael (Ince) Weitzman, David
Ellis, Tom (Wrexham) McMillan, Tom (Glasgow C) Welsh, Andrew
Evans, Fred (Caerphilly) Madden, Max White, Frank R. (Bury)
Evans, loan (Aberdare) Mallalieu, J. P. W. Whitehead, Phillip
Evans, John (Newton) Marshall, Jim (Leicester S) Whitlock, William
Ewing, Harry (Stirling) Mendelson, John Willey, Rt Hon Frederick
Faulds, Andrew Mikardo, lan Williams, Alan Lee (Hornch'ch)
Fernyhough, Rt Hon E. Mitchell, R. C. (Soton, ltchen) Wilson, Alexander (Hamilton)
Fitch, Alan (Wigan) Moonman, Eric Wilson, Gordon (Dundee E)
Fletcher, Ted (Darlington) Morris, Alfred (Wythenshawe) Wilson, William (Coventry SE)
Foot, Rt Hon Michael Morris, Charles R. (Openshaw) Wise, Mrs Audrey
Forrester, John Murray, Rt Hon Ronald King Woodall, Alec
Freeson, Reginald Noble, Mike Wrigglesworth, Ian
Garrett, W. E. (Wallsend) Oakes, Gordon Young, David (Bolton E)
George, Bruce Ovenden, John
Gilbert, Dr John Palmer, Arthur TELLERS FOR THE NOES:
Ginsburg, David Park, George Mr. Stan Thorne and
Golding, John Pavitt, Laurie Mr. Michael English.
Graham, Ted Perry, Ernest

Question accordingly negatived.