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Mr. Michael: I should like first to commend amendment No. 13 to the House. It is a small technical amendment, which we have tabled to meet concerns expressed in Committee that it was unnecessarily restrictive to provide that anti-social behaviour orders should contain prohibitions applying only to the local government area in which the application was brought. The amendment would allow agreement to be reached in cases in which an activity perhaps occurs across local government boundaries. I believe that both Conservative and Liberal Democrat spokesmen will welcome the fact that, on reflection, the Government have agreed that it should be possible to deal with such situations, and will accept that amendment No. 13 represents a positive response to aspects of the debate.

Hon. Members who participated in the Committee stage will recall that the minimum age of 10 was subject to a lengthy debate, and that Committee members made a strong case for the proposal now contained in amendment No. 74. I still think that they are wrong. Let us consider the situation of the "family from hell", in which the adults are involved in anti-social behaviour that threatens and intimidates the neighbourhood, and in which the younger children are very often used by their parents and older relatives as the "deliverers" of some of the harassment, damage or even injury to those in the neighbourhood. Neighbours' children can be followed or threatened by the younger children in such families.

As hon. Members will be aware, police officers often have experiences in which youngsters under 10 say, "You can't touch me, Mister." Such youngsters know that they are below the age of criminal responsibility. We have addressed the issue of such behaviour by those below the age of criminal responsibility in clause 11, which provides for child safety orders, so that--in the interests not only of the wider community but of the child--the behaviour can be dealt with and nipped in the bud.

If we are to tackle anti-social behaviour by a family or group of individuals, it is necessary to have an order against each member of that family or group. People over the age of 10 should therefore be eligible for the anti-social behaviour order. To raise to 16 the minimum age at which an anti-social behaviour order may be imposed would leave a gap between those who can be dealt with under the provisions of clause 11, as they are under the age of 10, and those over the age of 16.

I should be quite happy to respond to the request by the right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith) for clarification on use of the orders. It is

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not the Government's intention that anti-social behaviour orders should generally be used for younger children. However, there would be an anomaly if a family's younger members, who are perhaps being used by older family members, could not be placed under equivalent requirements so that there is equity and so that the same provisions apply to all family members.

I should like also to allay fears about juveniles being dealt with in adult courts. Part III of the Children and Young Persons Act 1933 will apply to the orders and contains important safeguards. The position concerning juveniles will be clearly stated in guidance that will be issued later this year. We made a first draft of that guidance available in Committee. Currently, we are revising the guidance in the light of discussions in Committee and of comments from other organisations. If the right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed requires any further clarification on the points that he made in moving his amendment, I shall ensure that it is provided.

Mr. Beith: The Minister describes a scenario in which he sees it as advantageous for the law enforcement authorities to put everyone--adults and children from the same family from hell--on the same sheet of paper. Of course, the family members then have to appear in separate courts--the magistrates court and the youth court. In Scotland, where it is not thought necessary to put all the names on the same sheet of paper, the children will be dealt with by the children's panel, and the adults will be dealt with differently. There is already a distinction in the procedures followed. I think the Minister may be chasing some illusory law enforcement tidiness if he thinks that having all the names on the same sheet of paper is somehow advantageous.

5.30 pm

Mr. Michael: Clearly, there are obvious differences in jurisdiction as between Scotland on one side of the border and England and Wales on the other. I am trying to address realities. Many of us have had experience of the police and local authorities being powerless to deal with a serious situation and to prevent further anti-social behaviour. As I explained in Committee, there was an attempt in Coventry to use the present system of injunctions to achieve that end.

A particular family was placed under an injunction not to continue the behaviour that was causing harassment and fear in the local community. As a result of that injunction, such behaviour lessened, not only on the part of the family placed under the injunction but on the part of other families on the estate and, indeed, in other parts of Coventry where it was seen that the police and local authorities were determined to take action and that such behaviour would not be tolerated. The problem was that, as a result of an appeal, it was found that such action went beyond the intentions in law for the proper use of that type of injunction. That is why we have to design a measure to deal specifically with anti-social behaviour.

The whole point of the order system is to prevent further anti-social behaviour by each individual who is named on an individual order. It would be very odd to place some members of a family under the requirements of an order, but to leave others free to be used by the older members. I have specific examples in mind. When I spoke to police and local authorities and, indeed, to my

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Back-Bench colleagues, many examples arose where having an order for all a family's members would be desirable. For example, I visited an estate with my hon. Friend the Member for Northampton, North (Ms Keeble) to talk to the local community and the police. We discussed a case which clearly we cannot debate in the same way in the Chamber.

I am clear that we need to catch all the targets. If the court decides that it does not need to make some of the younger members of a family subject to an anti-social behaviour order, it does not need to do so, but it should have the freedom to address the problem on the basis of the evidence made available to it.

The intention is that the order being made and the severe punishment available for the breach of an order will not simply lead to many people being punished, but will lead to some of the offending behaviour ceasing, and other people being allowed to live more secure and peaceful lives.

Mr. Allan: We understand the Minister's point about a family grouping--there is a rationale behind it--but what will happen to a group of, for example, 13-year-olds who hang around causing minor criminal damage or writing graffiti? We want it made clear that, although their behaviour is reprehensible, they will continue to be dealt with in the normal way, and that it is not the Minister's intention that anti-social behaviour orders will be used against them, which is exactly what some people expect will happen.

Mr. Michael: I think it is unlikely. It might be possible to construct an extreme case in which it might be appropriate, but the hon. Gentleman is right--it would be unlikely that anti-social behaviour orders would be used in such circumstances. However, one or two people--perhaps 18 or 20-year-olds--might be associating with a couple of younger children who, under their influence, were indulging in anti-social behaviour. They clearly do not form a family group; it is simply that I can think of examples where it was family groups that were causing a problem that needed to be dealt with in order to protect the local community.

I hope that in my response to the serious points made by the right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed and in supplementing the very full and useful debates that we had in Committee, I have teased out for the House the Government's intentions in introducing the anti-social behaviour order and for retaining the lower age of 10 as the cut-off point in England and Wales. The fact that these debates have taken place will assist us in ensuring that the guidance offered to the courts on the use of anti-social behaviour orders is precise.

Ms Roseanna Cunningham (Perth): I shall speak briefly to amendment No.147 to clause 19, a clause which relates specifically to Scotland. It is a probing amendment directed principally at subsection (3).

I do not think that there will be much disagreement with the Government's general proposals. All Members of Parliament--I am no exception--know of people who, to a greater or lesser extent, suffer because of the anti-social behaviour of their neighbours, but I should like

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the Minister to tell us precisely what he expects an order to contain and, more to the point, what factors he would expect the sheriff to take into account when imposing the conditions.

The Minister will be aware that some people live in blocks comprising four flats or in even higher-density housing. Such accommodation imposes its own difficulties when orders are placed on individuals in respect of their behaviour. Indeed, I am dealing with a case where there are enormous disagreements between neighbours living in a "four in a block". I am having some difficulty envisaging how the conditions of an order can be drawn to deal with that scenario, especially when the conditions would presumably relate to proximity or geographical, physical factors. Will the Minister go into a little more detail about precisely what he would expect the sheriff to consider?


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