Mr. Michael Fallon (Sevenoaks): I, too, support the amendment. I think that all hon. Members want these orders to be more effective than they are, as I mentioned at Home Office questions yesterday. The argument that the hon. Member for South Swindon (Ms Drown) put forward in support of taking this particular routenamely, that county courts would be better equipped to draw inference, to handle hearsay evidence and to judge the burden of proofmight well apply to other categories of offence as well as to prostitution. I am afraid that this brings us back to the question of whether the orders are still sledgehammers, blunt tools, or however we want to describe them. We need to look again at how the orders are processed, taking the time delay into consideration as well.
It would nevertheless be churlish of me not to recognise that the Minister is trying to improve the way in which the orders work. I certainly welcome the extension of the relevant authorities, and the inclusion of housing associations, which will make a big difference in my particular part of Kent. I hope, however, that when he replies to this short debate, he will recognise with some humility that the orders have been cumbersome to operate and that, three years on, cases such as the one brought before us by the hon. Member for South Swindon show that they are still not working as effectively as they should be. I look forward to the Minister's reply.
Mr. Denham: I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for South Swindon for raising this matter. She has raised it in the House before, and I understand her concerns. No one would deny the real nuisance caused by prostitution and also by kerb-crawlersan issue on which the Government have recently taken action by making kerb-crawling an arrestable offence.
I have some concerns about the amendment, however. One, touched on by the hon. Member for Sevenoaks (Mr. Fallon), was the difficulty that we might set up an anomalous treatment of antisocial behaviour orders as between one type of offence and another. One of the Government's reasons for routing antisocial behaviour orders through magistrates courts was the perception of the difficulty of accessing county courts through a more traditional type of injunction. I fear that a consequence of accepting the amendment would be a great deal of pressure to put a lot of other antisocial behaviour orders into the county court, much of which might come from defence lawyers seeking to prevent orders being put in place, rather than from those who wishas do all hon. Membersto make them more effective. For that reason, I must resist the amendment.
The Government have recognised that there are ways in which antisocial behaviour orders can be improved, and part of the Bill deals with the interim ASBO to that end. We also recognise that a county court dealing with an eviction matter, for example, could impose an ASBOas, indeed, could a criminal court dealing with a prostitution- related matter. Those measures will be helpful.
Research that we published earlier this year suggests that some of the time taken in getting ASBOs has, in my view, reflected the way in which people have gone about collecting evidence, the expectation of the courts, and so on, rather than anything in the primary legislation. Part of that stems from our own guidance about ASBOs, which we shall aim to slim down when it is revised once the Bill has completed its passage. There have certainly been cases in which the weight of evidence collected has been greater than anyone would have thought necessary for a criminal case, let alone for a civil injunction of this kind.
I have travelled round the country talking to people about antisocial behaviour orders, and there is no doubt that magistrates must, of course, consider each individual case on its merits. When local authorities, the police, and others have sat down with the magistracy, however, and explained the context in which ASBOs are being used, their purpose, and the types of problems being tackled, there has been greater consistency by magistrates in supporting applications for the orders. I do not know whether that is relevant to my hon. Friend's constituency, but it may be an issue that needs to be looked at there.
After this debate, I would, of course, be happy to consider whether we need to address any of the specific issues of inference, evidence, and so on, that my hon. Friend has raised, or whether we need to ask my right hon. Friend the Lord Chancellor to address them in the context of his role as president of the Magistrates Association.
Will the Minister please have a quiet word with his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, just to put on record with him the fact that we in Northern Ireland would very much like to see antisocial behaviour orders made available to the magistrates courts? We do not have the orders in Northern Ireland at all; perhaps the Secretary of State could give some thought to that gap at another juncture.
Ms Drown: I do not want to detain the House, so I shall not push the amendment to a vote. However, I hope that the Minister will continue to review the matter, which is important to improving the quality of life of my constituents in central Swindon. I am reassured by his commitment to continue to tackle the issue, and I look forward to continuing our correspondence about it. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.
'for the discharge of an order'.
The amendment will make a minor drafting change to the clause. Under the legislation, we will enable an ASBO to be made on criminal proceedings. As the Bill stands, however, the ASBO could not be varied in the flexible way that all other ASBOs may be varied. The amendment makes it clear that the application can be made to vary an order at any time by the relevant authority or by the offender. The amendment will achieve consistency between all the orders, and a fair and proportionate system will be established.
Mrs. Brooke: The Minister will not be surprised that I want to pursue the matter, as I did in Committee although we were rushed, and I am sure he agrees that we did not have time for a proper answer. In Committee, I raised the point that if we are attempting to change as well as stop certain behaviour, which I hope we are, people should not have to go through an absolute two-year period before they can apply, or even have the opportunity to apply,
Such orders may have an effect, perhaps by shaking up young people and their families, but we are condemning them to a two-year wait with that label on them. Would it not be better to provide the opportunity to get rid of the label and to tackle the behavioural problems rather than just put a stop to them temporarily? Will the Minister consider the fact that although six months might not be enough, two years is a long time for somebody to carry a label if they are determined to change their behaviour?
Mr. Denham: Indeed, the purpose of our amendment is to bring into line the flexibility on other ASBOs and that on those for criminal convictions. I agree with the hon. Lady that, when an ASBO is in place, we must always consider how we can change the underlying offending behaviour.
Amendment made: No. 48, in page 69, line 22, after "Article 6" insert "or 6A".[Mr. Denham.]
'(1) The following enactments shall be amended in accordance with subsections (2) and (3)
(a) section 51A of the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974 (c. 37) (application of Part 1 of that Act to the police);
(b) section 49A of the Employment Rights Act 1996 (c. 18) (right of police officers not to suffer a detriment in relation to health and safety at work issues); and
(c) section 134A of that Act (right of police officers not to be unfairly dismissed in relation to health and safety at work issues).
(2) In subsection (1) of each of those sections, for "officer" there shall be substituted "authority".
(3) For subsection (2) of each of those sections, there shall be substituted
"(2) In this section 'the relevant authority' means
(a) in relation to a member of a police force, a special constable appointed for a police area or a police cadet appointed by a chief officer of police, the police authority or, in the case of a combined area in Scotland, the police board (within the meaning of the Police (Scotland) Act 1967 (c. 77));
(b) in relation to a person appointed as a police member of the National Criminal Intelligence Service, the Service Authority for that service;
(c) in relation to a person appointed as a police member of the National Crime Squad, the Service Authority for that squad;
(d) in relation to any other person holding the office of constable or an appointment as police cadet, the person responsible for maintaining the body of constables or police cadets in question.
(2A) The Commissioner of Police for the City of London shall be treated for the purposes of this section as if he were a member of the City of London police force."