Examination of Witnesses (Questions 80-99)|
TUESDAY 25 MARCH 2003
AINSWORTH MP AND
80. There is a proposal that social landlords
will have to publish their policies and procedures on anti-social
behaviour. The Law Society wants them to record complaints relating
to such behaviour and monitor any actions they take to resolve
problems. Is that something you would consider? The Law Society
wants social landlords to record the actions they are taking on
anti-social behaviour and not just publish their procedures.
(Ms Casey) That is absolutely right. Colleagues in
the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister have been involved in
that and have been promoting that. I know people wonder why we
think they should be published. I just think this is about getting
people to be accountable. It is about them being accountable to
their tenants, and their tenants being accountable for their behaviour.
That is why this is critical. Given that so much council stock
has been transferred out to housing associations and registered
social landlords, we feel it is time to make sure that everybody
is clear about what we think are the responsibilities in terms
of their tenants, and how we think they should be disposed.
(Mr Ainsworth) The publishing is not just for information
about those who are likely to wind up being confronted by action,
it is about trying to make local authorities and social landlords
accountable to the wider community. Publish what you are supposed
to be doing, so that we can see what you are doing alongside what
you are supposed to be doing. That is the motive behind obliging
them to publish their policies.
81. How big is the problem of "rogue"
landlords who are content, let us say, to draw housing benefits
but turn a complete blind eye to the behaviour of their tenants,
and take no responsibility whatsoever for it? Is that a major
problem which is going to be tackled?
(Mr Ainsworth) I could say, "Ask your Chairman",
who has been on this before for a very long time. Yes, it is a
very real problem in many localities, where we wind up with landlords
who are happy to take the rent and are not the slightest bit interested
in dealing with the behaviour of the people who they rent their
properties to. The blight which that can cause is huge.
82. That is private owners as well, not just
local authorities, is it not?
(Mr Ainsworth) Yes.
83. The new licensing arrangements in the Housing
Bill mean that in future private landlords will be held accountable
for rubbish dumped by their tenants. Is that something that will
be easy to enforce? I can see all kinds of difficulties in proving
who is dumping rubbish, and whether it is their tenant or somebody
(Mr Ainsworth) It is about obliging landlords to have
reasonable tenancy agreements in the first place and to expect
decent and reasonable behaviour from the people they rent to,
and then effectively enforcing the tenancy agreements that they
have got. What we do not want is landlords in some circumstances
where they just walk away from any responsibility for what goes
on in property that they own, from which they are taking an income.
They are not entitled to do that. The responsibility does not
lie wholly and solely with the tenant; they have responsibilities
84. One problem which is not addressed in this
Bill, but you may have some knowledge about it, is that we agree
if areas go downhill it is likely that anti-social behaviour increases.
I have been faced with a problem where on some streets there are
houses which are empty, nobody knows who owns them, nobody can
be held to account to repair them, those properties decay, get
infected with vermin and actually bring the area down. Are there
any proposals to tackle that problem?
(Ms Casey) That is why the job goes once you have
published White Papers and got Bills through Parliament. Essentially,
there are lots of schemes around the country, and there is one
in Gateshead, where they already manage their private landlords
fairly effectively, but it is voluntary. The landlords who want
to be part of it take part, and they manage their tenants well
and they keep on top of it. We know how that can be done. It is
not hugely bureaucratic, difficult and all the rest of it. You
know when landlords are on top of their property, or not. If they
opt into the system it can work incredibly well. What we want
to do here, using the Housing Bill, is actually give local authorities
the ability to make that happen, rather than be a voluntary thing.
The reason I think the Anti-Social White Paper is so important
is because anti-social behaviour is everybody's responsibility
and nobody's responsibility. It is one of those weird ones. Everybody
has an interest in it, and a few people will sometimes be accountable
for it. What we are trying to do here, and what we will do in
practice on the ground, is pull this together using local authorities
and the police so that they will have a view on that. For instance,
the East Manchester NDC will know exactly what those properties
are. What we want to do is give them the power here to be able
to sort those sorts of things out. You do it on a case-by-case,
area-by-area basis. Anti-social behaviour is not rife everywhere.
Not everybody behaves anti-socially. You go into particular areas,
you sit down with the community and they say there are three or
four families creating a nightmare, or there are one or two kinds,
or five empty properties with one landlord who is feckless and
not keeping it in place, but the hundred other landlords are doing
a damn good job. You have got to get some proportion here. What
we are asking local authorities and the police to do, with our
support and help, is actually look at how that is working on the
ground, be on top of their area, and in some areas of the country
people do it really well. It is not all bleak. There are people
around the country who know how to tackle this; know how to get
on top of landlords but could do with some more powers in some
places. The idea of licensing actually came out of a trip when
I was in Bristol just before Christmas where Bristol City Council
said, "We have great landlords in our area. We're not in
a low demand area, therefore we would not be in the selective
licensing pilots for ODPM, but we want to get on top of some aspects
of our private rented sector". We listened to that; it is
in the White Paper; it will be in the Housing Bill; and we then
need to make it happen outside.
85. Where did you say the idea of licensing
(Ms Casey) The selective licensing came out of ODPM
and doing it in low demand areas, and was very much led by ODPM
a long time ago. The idea of extending itbecause they heard
about it and knew that was happeningthe idea of saying,
"Could we do it in a not low demand area" Bristol City
Council put forward to us very forcibly. That was one of many.
This is anecdotal at this stage. This is the person who talked
(Mr Ainsworth) It was the DETR and the year was 2000,
I understand, Chairman.
86. Minister, 25 years ago we never witnessed
this large number of anti-social behaviour cases but, of course,
over the last 25 years there has been a full frontal attack on
the concept of council housing. Do you think the two go together?
(Mr Ainsworth) I do not. I think there was anti-social
behaviour 25 years ago. I do not think it was of the proportion
that it is now. I think there have been a lot of changes in the
structure of society that have led to the level of the problem
we have got now so, yes, it needs to be dealt with. We see anti-social
behaviour on other than council estates: we see it in city centre
locations; we see it in commercial areas; we see it on private
estates as well. It is not restricted to council estates.
87. I appreciate that. The point I was making
is, when we had council housing which provided housing for people
in need, the waiting lists and homelessness were not at the levels
they are now. We also did not have the level of anti-social behaviour.
I am suggesting to you that there may well be a connection between
the two. You mentioned how local authorities are having to bring
together the evidence of the other agencies. Would you agree with
me that the problem is that magistrates and judges sometimes,
too often in fact, then let down the local residents and the local
council in failing to deliver on all the evidence put before them?
(Mr Ainsworth) I think that that can be a problem
in some circumstances. You have seen me flag up an instance of
good practice in my own city, Coventry, where we have tried to
get the registered social landlords, the local authority and the
magistrates together just to make sure that level of understanding
of the consequences of some of the behaviour that leads to the
request for an Anti-Social Behaviour Order is understood by the
bench. Unless people are prepared to do that work and engage with
the bench, the bench is not going to have a level of understanding
of what is going on in the community that they need to. Some of
the measures in here are designed to be able to ensure that people
can make appropriate representations and can make people aware
not only of the consequences on the individual who appears in
front of the magistrate, but on the wider consequences that arise
from any action that is taken, or failure to take action, on behalf
of the magistrates. It is an issue that needs to be addressed.
It is one of the issues which is being addressed.
88. In the spirit of joined-up government we
can look to the Home Office appraising the Lord Chancellor of
which of his people down in the Shires are failing to deliver?
(Ms Casey) It is a critical issue for us to make sure
that we deliver on anti-social behaviour from the beginning of
this White Paper to the end. The same way we are working with
schools, youth groups, community groups etc to make sure we are
getting the prevention right, we also need to work in the same
way with the court service and with the Magistrates' Association.
You will know that in the White Paper we are very keen to make
sure there is consistent and effective sentencing, not only of
breaches but also trying to push Anti-Social Behaviour Orders
forward so that everybody knows what happens and how it happens.
We need to take some responsibility for helping the Lord Chancellor's
Department in doing that. I was a lay magistrate before I got
this job; I understand a lot of them do a very good job, are connected
with the community, and would feel very strongly about this. We
need to make sure that everybody receives training and receives
the right help from the Anti-Social Behaviour Unit, and works
with our colleagues in the Lord Chancellor's Department to make
that happen, and works directly with the Magistrates' Association
in particular. The sentencing guidelines for anti-social behaviour
are being reviewed and we will input into those. As Bob says,
what we are looking for is consistent, effective responses from
the courts. That chimes entirely with what the Lord Chancellor's
Department is also seeking to achieve.
89. One small issue to which you may not have
the answer immediately to hand, but I would be grateful if you
would let me know. Section 46 of the Environmental Protection
Act 1990 stipulates that individual tenants, rather than the owners
of property, are responsible for rubbish, but that means in a
multi-occupied property you cannot prosecute the owner of the
property because you have to be able to identify the precise individual
who is responsible, who in many cases may have moved away some
time ago. I have seen local authorities scrabbling around in back
lanes looking through rubbish for envelopes so that they can mount
a prosecution. The obvious change that needs making is to give
local authorities the option of prosecuting the owner of the property.
I understand that is meeting some resistance. Why?
(Mr Ainsworth) I do not know, Chairman, as you predicted.
I am not certain. What you are saying on the surface appears to
be commonsense. I am not certain you are right that there is resistance
but, if there is, I will seek to clarify the position and come
back to you.
90. I have it on very good authority that there
is resistance. It may have melted away now. There was resistance
to a lot of the things we have just been discussing, as though
they were the most obvious and sensible things to do in the world!
(Ms Casey) I believe this is another item that was
in the Living Place consultation document, and consultation
on it is open. I believe that is where that is being considered.
We can come back to you on that.
Chairman: I would like information on
that precise pointsection 46 of the Environmental Protection
91. Minister, Liberty have said that Fixed Penalty
Notices "give the police quite unprecedented power".
They say it gives police the power to be "judge, jury and
executioner". I think they are trying to make a point that
FPNs are a form of arbitrary justice. How do you answer that claim?
(Mr Ainsworth) Then they are obviously opposed to
all FPNs where Fixed Penalty Notices are available now against
motorists, for instance, or speeding offences. Unless we want
to drag every one of these instances through a court procedure
with all of the expense and the time that is involved in that,
then Fixed Penalty Notices provide us with a good alternative
road to go down. People can challenge them. They do not need to
accept them. They can take the issue to court if they so desire.
It is an effective way of engaging the police service and others
in low level criminality and anti-social behaviour where we are
not going to wind up tying up constables' time, and tying up the
courts' time and, therefore, having the measures we are making
available to people hugely underused. That is the choice we have
got. They either remain underused, or we apply the ability to
have a fixed penalty sanction. At the end of the day, people can
challenge them, and they are free to do so.
92. Do you think that argument might hold some
weight if it is proposed to extend the powers to non-police officers
to carry them out?
(Mr Ainsworth) There are already powers that non-police
officers have for Fixed Penalty Notices. Local authority employees
have got powers.
(Ms Casey) Local authority officers have powers for
dog fouling and littering already. On the disorder offences I
think the Liberty question is relating to, community support officers
as accredited people already have those powers. The issue here
is that people can contest it, in the way they can contest anything
they are charged with. The fact is the pilots so far have shown
that the vast majority, 60%, pay up within 21 days. It is phenomenal.
If that continues and those pilots continue to work in that way,
then the low level disorder offences, as the Minister has said,
are not clogging up the courts, not clogging up police time. It
is a straightforward issue of disorder offences and most of them
pay within 21 days. Only 2% in the pilots are ending up in court.
You can judge for yourself on those statistics. That was a snapshot
survey which was carried out on the pilots in January; it is the
one which is in the White Paper. If that is as good as it looks
then the Fixed Penalty Notices is a very powerful tool for tackling
low level disorder; and it does not strip anybody of their right
to contest it if they feel they are being hard done by in exactly
the way the Minister said for speeding offences.
(Mr Ainsworth) Let us just say that there are certain
Fixed Penalty Notices that it would be highly inappropriate for
anyone other than a police constable to have access to. I do not
see how people other than police officers should be dealing with
people who are in a state of intoxication, for instance. Those
are circumstances where we need to ensure that people with the
appropriate powers and in the appropriate position are the only
people who have access to Fixed Penalty Notices. We do not seek
to extend them inappropriately to other people.
93. What kind of training do these accredited
officers get when it comes to applying Fixed Penalty Notices?
(Mr Ainsworth) You have to remember, where we are
talking about accreditation, that is accreditation by the local
commander. It is not only accreditation of the individuals who
are involved and being given those powers; it is an accreditation
of the scheme itself. The local police commander will have a lock
on whether or not a particular category of employee has access
to these kinds of powers in his accreditation scheme. He will
then have the ability to refuse access to each individual in those
schemes. He can dictate the reason for the scheme in the first
place, the reason for its existence, as well as the training and
the standards that are required.
94. Is there concern for the personal safety
of accredited officers when they are applying Fixed Penalty Notices
(Mr Ainsworth) If we put them in circumstances that
were inappropriate for them to use then, yes, those issues would
arise. That is why we must not give them powers to apply Fixed
Penalty Notices inappropriately. There are certain circumstances,
as I have said, where we should be talking about a police officer,
and we should be talking about the police constable and nobody
else, like dealing with drunken behaviour, for example.
95. Could you list a few of the appropriate
(Ms Casey) Dog fouling, litter, cycling on the pavement,
and confiscation of alcohol and tobacco from those under age,
those are the sorts of things.
96. You could be drunk under age.
(Ms Casey) As the Minister has said, if they are drunk
under age they are going to be very difficult. Community Support
Officers only have powered to detain for half-an-hour. You are
talking about a police response in those scenarios. Nobody is
attempting to take that away or change because it is right and
proper. Community Support Officers have, frankly, gone down a
storm in many areas of the country that have them, people are
very glad to see them and think they are absolutely fab. They
like the fact that, if you are in a no drinking zone area, they
are able to go and say, "I'll take that can away from you".
It is quite a straightforward extra layer of trying to deal with
97. Minister, I share your enthusiasm for Fixed
Penalty Notices, but I cannot quite resist this question: if we
are to have Fixed Penalty Notices for just about everything on
earth, and if drugs are a major cause of anti-social behaviour,
why on earth not Fixed Penalty Notices for the possession of soft
drugs? Why drunkenness and everything else on the earth but not
(Mr Ainsworth) To be perfectly honest with you, it
is not something I have looked at. You are talking about, overwhelmingly,
the reclassification of cannabis and how we deal with cannabis.
We are talking to ACPO about how cannabis and Classification C
is going to be policed. We still want to give them a power of
arrest. They want a power of arrest for aggravated circumstances
where people just flatly refuse to desist. There is evidence in
some of the jurisdictions that Fixed Penalty Notices in the area
of drugs have been rather difficult to enforce and that collection
rates have been pretty low. I think it is stories like that which
have probably discouraged us from giving thought to the introduction
of fixed penalties in the area of drugs. Overwhelmingly we have
tried to talk, where it is appropriate, getting people into treatment
and, where it is appropriate, taking effective enforcement action
against them; but we did not look in detail at Fixed Penalty Notices
for Class C drugs, to be honest.
Miss Widdecombe: I am not surprised.
I think the reasons may have been other than those you have given.
Chairman: That is a campaign for another
98. Could you tell us about the thinking behind
removing reporting restrictions in your court cases?
(Mr Ainsworth) Publicity is effective in some circumstances,
very effective. I do not take the view that in every situation
people are not to be exposed to that. If people have behaved in
a shameful way then, where the court decides it is appropriate,
why not put those circumstances into the public domain? Publicity
is available for Anti-Social Behaviour Orders in other areas.
It is not as if we are breaking new ground entirely in this area.
99. We have taken some evidence to say that
there is some argument that it contravenes the UN Convention on
the Rights of the Child. Have you taken any advice on that?
(Ms Casey) We have proved this, as it were, at a policy
level for those sorts of issues, and the answer is that it seems
fine. As the Minister has said, in the magistrates' court if you
apply for a straightforward Anti-Social Behaviour Order for a
young person there are not the automatic reporting restrictions
and, where appropriate, you have to apply for them if you want
to be restricted. We are simply trying to consolidate that in
the youth courts. Where there is an Anti-Social Behaviour Order
on conviction, for example, it is not an automatic restriction.
We are just cleaning up what already exists, as opposed to anything
clever or terribly new, to be honest. I wish we could say we were,
but we are not.