Gale`s View –  6th June 2012

I have lost count of the number of constituents who have, over the years, called to see me or written to me to complain about the noise, bad language, music or sounds of sexual activity, or all four, emanating from “the people next door” or “the flat above my bedroom”.  I have, in general, had to advise that there is no law against inconsiderate, unpleasant neighbours.  Until now.
 
While it has been the case that Local Authorities have had some powers to take action against anti-social tenants the compilation of evidence by those suffering from nuisance, the Council, and the police has been at best a lengthy and complicated process and at worst impossible.
 
The Home Secretary`s publication of “Putting Victims First” contains measures that will assist very considerably to ensure that is the protection  of the law-abiding citizen rather than the “rights”  of the lout that will in future be afforded priority.
 
As Theresa May told the House of Commons, “anti-social behaviour” masks a range of disorder and crime which affects people`s lives on a tediously daily basis.  From vandalism and graffiti, through drunk or rowdy behaviour in public to intimidation and  harassment in the home, all have huge impacts on far too many people in the country and none of this behaviour is remotely acceptable in a civilised society.
 
Police forces, local authorities, social landlords, neighbourhood watch, residents associations and other voluntary groups have all tried, working within the existing framework of law and regulation, to address the problem.  But the last government`s “ASBO” regime did not work because it was too bureaucratic, too complicated and so impossible to enforce that it quickly became almost a Badge of Honour within the hooligan community. What the Home Secretary is proposing now represents a fundamental shift towards focussing on the needs of victims and it will strengthen the hand of those seeking to protect some of the most vulnerable people in society.
 
We have long known, under successive governments, what the victims of crime and anti-social behaviour want.  First, of course, they want the offensive behaviour to stop. They want the problem to be dealt with quickly and they do not want it to happen again.  They also want those guilty to be punished for what they have done and to pay, to society, the price of their contempt for the values of common decency. That has to mean more than a judicial “slap on the wrist”. Police and local agencies need clarity and the powers to come down hard and fast on those who seek to make the lives of others a misery.
 
Government cannot, alone, solve the problem but we can create a framework that allows local agencies – councils, the constabulary and others – to respond speedily, robustly and effectively to local concerns.  This means helping agencies to identify and support people at high risk of harm, to give faster and more effective powers to speed up the eviction process to deal with the most anti-social tenants, and to address long-term solutions to binge-drinking, drug abuse, irresponsible dog ownership and, perhaps most important of all, to family breakdown.
 
The Home Secretary intends to publish a draft Bill for pre-legislative scrutiny so that those with a professional, voluntary or personal interest in these issues can offer observations and criticism before legislation is enacted.  This must not be a prolonged process – we need action now, not words – but I want to hear from any constituent  that wishes to comment upon the need with a view to sending a fair précis of those thoughts, whether I personally agree with them or not,  to Theresa May.

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