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Mr. McLeish: In view of the desire to expedite business, I shall try briefly and comprehensively to respond to the hon. Member for West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine (Sir R. Smith).

The hon. Gentleman was right about monitoring, and that will be an integral part of the measure. We are introducing anti-social behaviour orders, and widening eviction powers for landlords. There is a range of activities that need to be monitored, partly because the information is useful in itself, but also so that we can properly evaluate our measures. I can assure the hon. Gentleman that monitoring will be carried out, and that requires a series of statistics to be compiled by local authorities, landlords and, centrally, the Scottish Office. We concede that point.

I am pleased that the guidance has been of some help. I appreciate that it does not go as far as the hon. Gentleman would wish, but it is draft guidance, and we are happy to listen to the views of the hon. Gentleman and his colleagues, and take into account their collective wisdom.

The hon. Gentleman said that the clause is part of a wider armoury of measures that we need in any community. There is clearly significant support for attacking anti-social behaviour. This evening, we are concentrating on drugs and crime and the issue of visitors, which the hon. Gentleman spoke about. We are extending powers, and we must implement them with caution.

There are currently loopholes that prevent anti-social and criminal acts committed outwith tenanted properties and the activities of visitors from being taken into account when considering whether a tenancy should be continued. The extended grounds for eviction in clause 23 will close those loopholes, but they will not open floodgates. We hope and expect that, by increasing the deterrent effect of a threatened eviction and, for persistent abusers, who are

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fortunately small in number, allowing swifter action against them, the new measures will help to produce more harmonious communities.

In framing our proposals, we have been guided by the consideration and conclusions of the Scottish Affairs Select Committee. Its landmark report in December 1996 serves as the platform for many of the measures, be they legislative or administrative, that we are now promoting.

For those unfamiliar with the Select Committee's findings, I inform the House that it considered the addition of new mandatory grounds of eviction, and concluded against that course of action. We support that conclusion, and the proposals in clause 23 are to extend the discretionary grounds for eviction.

That is an important distinction. The discretionary grounds are referred to as such because, in considering the evidence laid before them when landlords seek a repossession order on one of the discretionary grounds, sheriffs must apply a general test of reasonableness. Thus, eviction can be granted only when the sheriff, taking into account all the circumstances of each case, believes that it is reasonable for eviction to be ordered. In practice, therefore, the courts have a very wide discretion to take into account any relevant feature of the case, such as the likelihood that a tenant could control a violent or anti-social nuisance.

I reassure the House that nothing that we are proposing in clause 23 affects the existing requirement for sheriffs carefully to weigh the evidence presented, and to consider whether it is reasonable in all the circumstances. That is as it should be, and that, as a fundamental feature of the laws of eviction, provides a powerful safeguard against the type of abuse that hon. Members have described.

Points have been raised about the impact that the Bill may have on domestic violence and on women generally. The Government have pursued a very tough line on that issue since we were elected. We would do nothing to place women in very vulnerable circumstances in jeopardy. We intend to tackle crime, drug dealing and abuse generally, but certainly there will be safeguards--as I believe we said in the guidance--for women in vulnerable domestic situations.

It follows from what I have said that the spirit behind all the amendments in the group is not unwelcome. The aims very much echo our intentions, and if amendments such as Nos. 83 to 86 were needed to offer protection to vulnerable tenants, especially women, I would not hesitate to accept them. However, in my view, the general test of reasonableness, which I mentioned earlier, renders these very specific caveats unnecessary, and in some cases undesirable.

Our guidance to landlords will make it clear that the new grounds are intended to tackle serious anti-social conduct. Even if landlords choose to disregard the guidance which we have in place when the measures take effect, the courts will be required to apply the same test of reasonableness as currently applies.

In our view, amendment No. 101 confuses the two separate grounds for eviction which are we are extending, and it is therefore undesirable. Housing legislation currently holds separate the ground for eviction based on a criminal conviction and that based on anti-social

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behaviour. That separation is maintained in our new grounds, and we wish to retain it. It is not necessary to provide in this way that the offences must impact on the quiet enjoyment of home life; the sheriff's general test of reasonableness already effectively requires the courts to take into account the nature of the offence and its bearing on the tenancy.

I firmly believe that, in the clause as drafted and the guidance that we shall issue, we are setting out our intentions clearly and promoting extended grounds for eviction which will be clear and limited in their application.

Yesterday, I visited Easterhouse in Glasgow, and I visited Cranhill. That community lives in fear of the menace of drugs. I was alarmed to hear the comments by the group of mothers I met. Although there are important civil liberties issues, and although it is important that landlords do not use the legislation irresponsibly, there are also very powerful arguments for saying to the women in Cranhill, "Yes, we need solutions to your problem." I think you know of their situation, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Given that situation in Glasgow, they want action.

Although it is not the solution to pass a problem from one part of a town or city to another, it might give the local residents a respite from the dealing, the pushing and the fear that children live in. The House would be remiss if it did not take those arguments seriously. I know that those feelings are shared by Opposition Members. I believe that we have achieved a balance; I hope that the guidance will ensure that that is the case.

Sir Robert Smith: I thank the Minister for his reply. On the subject of Cranhill, he has made the valid point that, if one removes a person from a community, thereby breaking their links and their network in that community, although one will have moved them into another community, at least it will take them time to build up their network, and then one might use other avenues to deal with them.

As with everything, no clause of the Bill should be oversold as the magic bullet that will solve the problem. However, if we have these clauses and then provide the resources to those on the ground, if communities are willing and in a mood to make use of them, and if we can build that momentum and keep it going, we may turn the tide of anti-social behaviour and remove some of the menaces that confront us. I especially welcome the assurance on reasonableness, because that is an excellent word, which probably defines things better than we possibly could by amending clause 23.

In light of those reassurances, the guidelines, the monitoring, and especially the gathering of statistics, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 28

Racially-aggravated offences: England and Wales

The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Jack Straw): I beg to move amendment No. 16, in page 22, line 27, leave out


'of, or association with members of,'

and insert '(or presumed membership) of'.

Mr. Deputy Speaker: With this, it will be convenient to discuss the following amendments: Government amendments Nos. 17 and 160.

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No. 10, in page 22, line 33, after 'race', insert 'religion,'.

Government amendments Nos. 102 and 103.

No. 11, in clause 33, page 26, line 9, after 'race', insert 'religion,'.

Government amendments Nos. 107 and 108.

Mr. Straw: I am glad to see that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland has just sat down on the Treasury Bench; now that he is present, the standard of debate should, as ever, rise to meet his--always high--standard. You know that from personal experience, Mr. Deputy Speaker; my right hon. Friend's reputation goes before him.

Amendments Nos. 16 and 17, and the equivalent amendments relating to Scotland--amendments Nos. 102, 103, 107 and 108--are designed to clarify the test of what amounts to "racially aggravated" for the purposes of these offences. In Committee, the Minister of State, my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth (Mr. Michael), undertook to consider the sort of case in which, for example, a Bangladeshi was the victim of hostility that was intended to be directed at a Pakistani. Those who commit many racially aggravated offences and who go in for acts of racial hatred are typically so ignorant that they see the colour of someone's skin, or their general appearance, and dismiss them as, for example, "Pakis" or other such horrible insults, without knowing from which racial or religious group they come.

We are determined that no perpetrator of racist attacks should escape proper conviction and punishment because of the perpetrator's ignorance about the victim's racial group. Our amendments in this group will put the issue beyond doubt, and we are grateful to Opposition Members for raising the matter in Committee.

Our amendments make it clear that, whatever racial group the perpetrator believes the victim to be from, an offence will be racially aggravated if racial hostility or motivation is proved. That should partly deal with the concern which has been expressed to me outside the House concerning the example of a woman who happens to be white, but who is Muslim, who is wearing a chador--a religious face-covering--and who is the subject of racial abuse and racial attack on the grounds that she is a Pakistani. The fact that she turns out to be a white Muslim rather than a Pakistani Muslim will be no defence if racial hostility or motivation is proved, which I suggest it almost always will be.

I now turn to amendment No. 160 and the equivalent amendment relating to Scotland, amendment No. 103. We have continually made it clear that we are as wholly opposed to religiously motivated violence and harassment as we are to racially motivated violence and harassment. The Bill does not protect some groups and not others; it protects everyone from racist crimes.

In Committee, several hon. Members asked whether the offences described in the Bill would cover attacks made by, for example, Muslims.


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