Police Reform Bill [Lords]

[back to previous text]

Mr. David Borrow (South Ribble): I rise to reject the Liberal Democrat amendment. Most of the social housing in my constituency is housing association property, as a result of the stock transfer in the main council in my area.

At the moment, if the housing association wants to take action through the ASBO system, it relies on the police or the local authority to take the lead. That

Column Number: 373

might happen, but because the necessary procedures are so bureaucratic and quite expensive, one can understand why the police or the local authority might not give ASBOs the priority that the housing associations and social landlords might wish. It is important that the Bill ensures that housing associations have the power to take action—if they feel that it is important enough to do so—rather than leaving them to rely on other agencies to take the lead.

I hope that such organisations will always work in partnership, but it is important that housing associations have the fall-back position to take action. I can envisage many situations where antisocial behaviour gets completely out of control. If the local authority or the police will not take action, housing associations can do very little.

Mr. Denham: I totally agree with my hon. Friend, and he is right that the significant extent of stock transfer is one of the issues that have forced this to the head of the queue for legislation.

There have been concerns about the bureaucracy surrounding ASBOs; that is reflected in research. However, it is important to recognise that very little of that bureaucracy derives from the primary legislation that established ASBOs. It has accumulated along the way. Some police forces generate far more evidence than is required to secure an ASBO. Some aspects of the guidance will be revised after the passage of the Bill, as they generate unnecessary bureaucracy. Once the Bill is passed, we shall need to have a concerted campaign to get across to local practitioners that some of what has become regarded as essential to secure an ASBO is in fact unnecessary.

There has been discussion on the consultation with relevant authorities. Sometimes there is debate between local authority agencies—between, say, housing and social services—especially when a particularly young person is causing persistent nuisance. One of the issues raised by registered social landlords is that once there has been a stock transfer they are an outside body compared with the voices within the local authority. If the local authority is not willing to take the issues seriously, the landlord who has responsibility for the tenants is denied access to ASBOs in a way that probably would not take place if the housing department were still part of the corporate local authority.

Although there is no requirement in the clause for registered social landlords to take the responsibility of seeking ASBOs, it permits them to do so if the ideal partnership arrangement is not operating. That is important. Everything will be subject to a court test, so whoever is leading, it will be important to make an appropriate case. No doubt the courts will be interested in the views of other agencies, if those views are sought.

As hon. Members have said, a substantial proportion of the tenancies of social landlords now lie with registered social landlords, not local authorities. There is demand from some registered local social landlords for taking the lead, and the clause will enable them to do so.

Column Number: 374

Mrs. Brooke: I thank the Minister for his comments. I do not wish to push the amendment to a Division, because we voted this morning on the principle of accountability, and a Division would waste time. We need all the authorities to work together, whoever takes up the ASBO, if we are to tackle the causes of, and reform, antisocial behaviour. I do not think that ASBOs can work in isolation.

This morning I quoted from the evaluation in order to highlight the fact that we need the registered social landlords in the crime and disorder partnership. I hope that that will be in the guidance. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Mrs. Brooke: I beg to move amendment No. 274, in page 52, line 19, leave out subsection (7).

The Chairman: With this it will be convenient to take the following amendments: No. 275, in clause 58, page 54, line 8, leave out from 'persons' to ', and' in line 9.

No. 276, in clause 58, page 54, line 11, leave out

    'any place in England and Wales'

and insert

    'the local government area and persons in any adjoining local government area.'

Mrs. Brooke: Amendments Nos. 274 and 276 can be taken together, as No. 276 follows on from No. 274. I should like to make some probing remarks on them.

The clause empowers the police, the council or a social landlord to apply for an ASBO that could be applicable across England and Wales. Presumably, a person will carry that on their back as they move around, although the Minister may correct me on that. Under the Crime and Disorder Act 1998, it was necessary for adjoining local authorities to be consulted before any ASBOs were applied for. The clause does not have the famous safeguard of necessity, so we may end up with police forces and local authorities being responsible for enforcing an ASBO that they have had no role in introducing.

I should like the Minister to pick up on the point that antisocial behaviour may relate to particular circumstances, and a person might have behaved very differently in different circumstances. I know that we are talking about hardcore offenders, but it causes me concern that a person could have such a label upon them. It could make it very difficult to get housing, and it could force people into the underclass. It is the package that goes with the ASBO as well as the measure itself that concerns me, in terms of how the subject of an ASBO will get support to change their behaviour, given that ASBOs cross local authorities.

Mr. Hawkins: We support amendment No. 275 and we can see the point of amendment No. 274. However, we do not agree with amendment No. 276, which would work in a different direction. As the hon. Member for Mid-Dorset and North Poole pointed out, it would restrict the provision to neighbouring local authority areas, which we think would be an

Column Number: 375

undue restriction. We shall listen to the Minister's comments, but we believe that the hon. Lady has a point with the other amendments.

Mr. Denham: I shall deal first with amendments Nos. 274 and 276. I accept that it is a weakness of the existing ASBOs that they cannot tackle certain types of persistent antisocial behaviour because the offenders move around the country. One group that we had in mind in developing the clause was the minority in the traveller community who engages in persistent nuisance more or less wherever they go. That may involve moving from one end of the country to another, and a stay in a particular area may be relatively brief. The disruption caused may be significant but with no possibility of collecting the evidence necessary for the local authority to get an ASBO.

Persistent antisocial behaviour established in one area will enable an application to be made to the courts to apply the ASBO to the people as they move around. That is important, as it will allow the enforcement of a breach of an ASBO in local authority area that is different from the one where the application was first made.

A more limited scope could come into play when someone is moving on account of their antisocial behaviour from one local authority area to another. As I mentioned earlier, many hon. Members are familiar with the round tripping of someone who moves out of a property after a concerted effort by all the agencies merely to pop up a mile down the road, possibly in another local authority area, and continue their behaviour. In those circumstances, it might be more appropriate to apply for an order that restricts the ASBO to a group of local authorities rather than nationally. However, it is necessary to have the flexibility to act on a national level against those people whose pattern of life involves moving around the country perhaps unpredictably or within a limited group of local authority areas.

Mr. Osborne: Does the Minister agree with the Local Government Association, which says in its briefing for those ideas to be effective,

    ''there will be need to be a national agreement on information sharing''?

Mr. Denham: Yes, information is important, and one issue that we must address in the closing stages of the Bill and in guidance is the role of the police national computer. At the moment, it does not store ASBO information in an operational form, but police officers who want to check on a group of people that they think might be subject to an ASBO need to have access, either through the PNC or another mechanism, to up-to-date information about such identifiable individuals. Police officers will not automatically know that an ASBO has been issued 200 miles away, and no one will necessarily volunteer that information. The hon. Gentleman is right that it will be necessary to resolve some important information-sharing issues in the successful implementation of this part of the Bill.

Column Number: 376

On amendment No. 275, ASBOs are designed to protect the community from antisocial behaviour, which the Government have always defined as behaviour that is aimed outside the individual's household towards the wider community or society. The hon. Member for Mid-Dorset and North Poole did not explain the amendment at length, and I am not sure whether it attempts to amend the antisocial behaviour order to create, for example, a domestic violence order.

Mrs. Brooke: I am sorry about that. I forget to make a brief comment. I appreciate that that would change the nature and definition of an ASBO. I wanted to attach a question: does the Minister consider that existing legislation as it applies to a noisy household is sufficient—noise represents antisocial behaviour for a person who lives near it, however it is generated—or is there mileage in using an ASBO, which would need redefining if it were used for such a domestic situation?

6.45 pm

Previous Contents Continue

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries ordering index

©Parliamentary copyright 2002
Prepared 25 June 2002