Mr Frank Field, Member of Parliament, kindly agreed to take part within an Online, Question and Answer session for Neighbours From Hell in Britain during December 2004.
Member of Parliament Party: Labour
Member of the public accounts committee
We would like to express our thanks to Mr Field for agreeing to take part in our 15 question interview, we are positive this will be of great interest to many readers.
To find out more about Mr Frank Field, MP please visit his web site here: FrankField.co.uk
December 2004 – Online Question & Answer Session with Mr Frank Field, MP
Frank Field says: “I am glad I had 12 years’ training fighting Trotskyists in Birkenhead because, if I had not, I do not think I could have survived those 15 months in the department [social security]. It is entirely true that Gordon [Brown] was trying to block my ideas on pensions.”
Most recent election: The 2001 general election
Full name: Frank Field
Date of birth: July 16 1942
Place of birth: London
Education: St Clements Danes Grammar
Previous Occupation: Company Director; Author/Writer; Teacher
Marital Status: Single
Source: Guardian Unlimited Politics
We asked Mr Field a total of 15 different questions, you can view these together with his responses below:
Question 1. Have you, or a member of your family, ever suffered from any kind of neighbour nuisance to enable you to understand just what it’s like?
Answer: Yes. I have been on the receiving end.
Question 2. Many Local Authority areas have different policies/procedures for neighbour problems. If all areas followed the same procedures and guidelines surely it would be easier for people to get the support and help they need. Are there any plans for making a national guideline package for this problem?
Answer: The Government should set a competition to find out which local authority provides the most effective service and then universalise that to all local authorities. Particular importance should be paid to how local authorities help residents where neighbours from hell live in private rented accommodation.
Question 3. Why do the Police refuse to use the Protection From Harassment Act 1997 to arrest and prosecute certain Neighbours From Hell, when they clearly have committed a criminal offence under its terms?
Answer: Could you ask the police this question?
Question 4. If you are a Council or Housing Association tenant, the landlord is far more accountable with clear policies on how they ought to be dealing with problem tenants; there is a clear place for someone to go to make a complaint about a ‘public sector’ tenant. It is much more difficult to deal with ‘private tenants’ and ‘private owners’ who are causing problems or those responsible for people in their property that cause problems. What can be done about this problem?
Answer: I tabled a bill to take housing benefit away from neighbours from hell and to disallow landlords from drawing housing benefit to any tenant on a property which they have let to a tenant convicted of anti social behaviour. The Government blocked the bill.
Question 5. Nuisance Neighbours can often bully and force an individual to Court when they have not done anything wrong. This often causes a person huge financial cost. The nuisance neighbour seems to be able to make individuals spend large sums of money in legal costs. Is there no way that this type of behaviour can be curtailed and could solicitors be forced to avoid Court in cases like these?
Answer: I shall be trying to reform the law this session so that people will be able to go into the magistrates’ court with their neighbour, ask the magistrates to issue a warrant and, this is where the law needs to be changed, have the power to direct the police to bring the offending people into court that day.
Question 6. Are there any groups campaigning for the rights of witnesses to remain anonymous when reporting breaches of ASBO’s by people who belong to large gangs of organised criminals, who are known for violent activity?
Answer: Not that I know of.
Question 7. When you are living with Neighbours From Hell – you cannot get any recompense when they have made your home un-saleable by their victimisation, criminal damage, and abusive manner. Even if the legislation of ASBO’s is used against them to curb their behaviour, the damage to your health, state of mind and property is irreparable.
When one tries to sue for any monetary redress against the damage inflicted by their porous lifestyle, as a home-owner you incur costs of thousands of pounds and they for the most part claim Legal Aid. Where is the justice in that?
Answer: I do not favour forcing harassed residents to go through the courts. We need to build small, as indestructible as possible, estates on to which neighbours from hell are placed and where the police can manage them to best effect. Of course we need a range of other measures to prevent any family reaching the end of the road.
Question 8. We are increasingly hearing of Neighbours From Hell using CCTV cameras to intimidate their neighbour (victims). At present, the Information Commissioner is unable to address this issue, simply because the domestic use of CCTV is currently exempt from the Data Protection Act.
Given that under the Act, the Sixth Data Protection Principle specifically provides “The right to prevent processing which is likely to cause damage or distress”, is there any obvious reason why this important legislation could not be extended, so that domestic (malicious) use of surveillance cameras is effectively outlawed.
The Information Commissioner would then be able to legally enforce an individual’s right to privacy in their own home?
Answer: Could you write to the Commissioner and ask advice?
Question 9. Police Authorities are continuing to close, or make part-time, many local stations outside the cities and in the more rural areas. This is despite local opposition including petitions and representations from MP’s. Resources are being channeled into “hot spots” resulting in increased Anti-Social Behaviour in previously more stable but now less-policed areas.
Forces are using a single central call-centre to receive calls, operators at these centres do not have “local knowledge” and time is wasted explaining a location. Response time is significantly slowed and residents feel vulnerable with little or no local Policing during evenings and weekends.
What is being done, in real terms, to address the issues raised by those living outside the cities, so-called “action zones”, to ensure that 999 calls are responded to, to provide an active Police presence to ensure that communities are kept safe?
Answer: The issue goes way beyond this. In Birkenhead each of the wards has only about two police at any one time. We cannot in the short run get a huge increase in the numbers of police. That is why changing the law so whole neighbourhoods can go down into court knowing that the law is on their side, and ask for action that day, minimises our need only to work through the police. We must have a law which allows us as citizens to use it effectively without our use being mediated by lawyers. While it looks a small change it will mean a legal reformation where the court system becomes in effect de-priested.
Question 10. Many young people wander the streets because they have nothing else to do. Youth centres are closed because of rowdy behaviour and vandalism. Available activities are often far too costly for ordinary young people to use and are centralised, therefore out of reach.
What real steps are being taken to help our young people develop a genuine personal maturity and a positive self-image so that they will benefit both themselves and society in their adult lives?
Answer: This is an important point which needs to be kept to the fore. But it is not only young people who are neighbours from hell.
Question 11. What use are anti-social behaviour orders if the council will not implement them. In order for ASBO’s to really take effect, they have to be rigorously enforced if they are breached. How confident is Mr Field that Local Councils/Police have sufficient resources and more to the point, the commitment, to ensure ASBO’s are adhered to with a ‘faster tracking’ process wherever possible?
Answer: I am not. The root cause of anti social behaviour is the rise of dysfunctional families who fail to teach their offspring how to behave. In the bill I am introducing I shall be seeking to give the police the power of surrogate parents – to be able to warn and caution and then immediately impose anti social behaviour orders. It will be up to the offender then to go into court and get the order lifted.
Question 12. It’s clear from reading people’s experiences on Neighbours From Hell in Britain, that the police are institutionally opposed to becoming involved with problem neighbours, despite the new powers that exist to deal with them and the various announcements.
At the extreme, this often leaves sufferers taking matters into their own hands. What is the government proposing to do to change the attitude of the police and how will they measure this?
Answer: I agree although my worry is that the police are even more broken-backed than you describe. This question, like so many others, shows that an effective counter-move against anti social behaviour has to be made on a large number of fronts, including increasing the confidence of the police to act like police.
Question 13. Planning laws are obviously out of date. Several members at Neighbours From Hell in Britain have had to suffer from planning decisions by Councils that leaves them having to pick up the pieces of any damage caused to their property and also with a hefty bill and lengthy legal battle.
When raised with Councils, they are usually told that it is a civil matter, which the Council cannot be involved with. How would you propose to make our local councils more accountable for the consequences of their planning decisions?
Answer: I am afraid I do not have an answer.
Question 14. Why do Neighbour From Hell victims have to fight so long and hard for something that is supposed to be rightfully theirs by law, the right to enjoy their homes in peace! What can be done to make the routes open to nuisance neighbour sufferers more effective and above all, with quicker solutions available?
Answer: I have explained that I am in favour of neighbourhoods not only have immediate access that day to the Magistrates’ Court (they do now), but the Magistrates have power to request the police to deliver warrants and to see that they are carried out.
Question 15. It’s clear from the crime statistics that whilst the police are adept at catching speeding motorists, they will not deal with untaxed or uninsured vehicles, referring the complainant to the DVLA. Despite the fact that statistically an untaxed/uninsured vehicle is far more likely to be involved in an accident that those that are legal. How is the government to redress this?
Answer: This is part of the target culture that we have. Speeding is dangerous but I do not think we should be wrong-footed here. The danger is that by asking for police to be transferred from speeding to other offences we look as though we are condoning speeding. And we know speeding kills.