Anti-social Behaviour Bill

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Mr. Ainsworth: I know what the hon. Gentleman is reaching for and if I have not already made it clear, connection with the use is connection with the use; ownership is a separate matter. Compensation should not be considered if the person concerned is connected with the use—in effect, the misuse—of the property. Mere ownership of the property does not connect him with the misuse of it. Clause 1(1), as I read it, ensures that a person who is connected with that use or misuse cannot be considered for compensation. That does not debar the owner but anyone who has been connected with the activities taking place on the premises so that they are not inappropriately considered for compensation.

Clause 10 relates to compensation claims for those who incur financial loss, such as direct loss of income, in consequence of a closure notice or order. An owner may have taken all possible steps to control the behaviour but been unsuccessful, and for those cases we have given the courts discretion to award compensation for loss of rental income or damage caused during the closure period.

Hon. Members ask what constitutes reasonable steps and it is our intention to issue guidance. That guidance will be based on good housing management practice. Is someone clears off abroad without leaving an agent in control of the use of their premises, that will not be an excuse because it is not in line with the guidance and good management practice, so they will not be eligible for compensation. We need to clarify that in guidance.

Liberal Democrat Members and Conservative Members—I am not sure whether their emphasis is different—have properly alighted on the words

    ''that he took reasonable steps to prevent the use''

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and the guidance should clarify that. I am as concerned as the hon. Member for Surrey Heath to ensure that we do not inappropriately pay out taxpayers' money. Whether the words should be ''reasonable steps'' or ''all reasonable steps'' will be considered in conjunction with the guidance to pin the matter down. I give a commitment to do that and to try to ensure that an avenue is open for people who have been treated inappropriately but that it is not open to people to claim compensation inappropriately from taxpayers.

Mr. Hawkins: I am grateful for the Minister's comments. Before he finishes, I hope that he will deal with the specific issue that I raised. We have all seen situations in which someone who is not in any sense law abiding benefits from a bizarre verdict of the court and then immediately tries to slap in a claim for compensation. The Minister's comments were reasonable, but I hope that he will address that specific issue.

Mr. Ainsworth: If the hon. Gentleman believes that he raised anything in Committee today that I have not tried to explore elsewhere to ensure that compensation is paid only in appropriate circumstances, he is wrong. I can assure him that those concerns have been kicked around.

Subsection 4(d) states:

    ''having regard to all the circumstances it is appropriate to order payment for compensation in respect of loss''.

That should cover the circumstances to which the hon. Gentleman referred in which it is clear that people may have met the strict guidelines but, because a freakish situation arises, it is inappropriate to pay compensation. That should be covered by paragraph (d) and we must ensure that that is adequate.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 10 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 11


Amendment made: No. 190, in

    clause 11, page 7, line 41, leave out subsection (1) and insert—

    '(1) References to a controlled drug and (however expressed) to the production or supply of a controlled drug must be construed in accordance with the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971.'.—[Mr. Bob Ainsworth.]

Mr. Hawkins: On a point of order, Mr. Cran. I am slightly puzzled because my hon. Friend the Member for South-East Cambridgeshire and I did not see amendment No. 190 on the selection list. We may have been in error, but it does not appear to be on our selection list.

The Chairman: If the hon. Gentleman looks, he will find it.

Mr. Hawkins: I beg to move amendment No. 42, in

    clause 11, page 8, line 28, leave out 'of the fee simple'.

My hon. Friend the Member for South-East Cambridgeshire has now spotted amendment No. 190 under clause 1, so the mystery is solved.

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It may be my cynical mind, but whenever I see a Government Bill that is printed in one typeface apart from one part of one page, which is in a completely different typeface and involves specific legal language with which I am familiar, it occurs to me that it might be what people in the film industry call a last-minute cut-and-paste job. I wonder whether one of the Home Office draftsmen suddenly realised that there may be a technicality relating to land law and rushed off to the relevant bit of the Treasury Solicitor's Department for a specific definition of ownership. Other than those of us who had to fight through exams on land law as part of our legal qualifications, one does not often see phrases such as

    ''other than a mortgagee not in possession, who is for the time being entitled to dispose of the fee simple of the premises''.

I would be fascinated to hear the Minister describe his understanding of fee simple, but at this time of night it would be unfair on him, hard though I know he works. I want just to know whether he has a simple explanation for it.

Shona McIsaac: The hon. Gentleman will notice that the passage in question is not in fact in a different typeface, but in a different type size.

Mr. Hawkins: I am grateful for the hon. Lady's correction. I should have said that it is a different type size; nevertheless, it looks different and immediately jumps off the page. It was obviously included at a different time and I am interested in what the Minister has to say about it.

While I am on my feet, Mr. Cran, I would like to query a matter of order. We were disappointed that our proposed new clause 1 was not selected for debate, because we hoped that this Bill was an appropriate vehicle for our proposals on proceedings against drugged drivers, which are contained in a measure currently being debated in another place and due to come to this House in July. Will you advise me at some point before we finish tonight about whether its non-selection means that it could still be referred to on Report? I wanted to raise that before we ran out of time on this part of the Bill.

The Chairman: We shall separate the two issues.

Mr. Ainsworth: I have found a good use for the hon. Member for Surrey Heath. I must admit that not only am I not an expert on land law, but I had not noticed the different size of print. His devious mind has alighted on something that may be right.

The amendment has highlighted the difficult question of the owner of a property. The correct identification of the ownership of the property is a concern and legal definitions can appear complicated. As currently drafted, the subsection identifies the freeholder of the premises as the owner, and it may be desirable also to include the leaseholder in cases in which property is subject to a relatively long lease.

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We shall give the issue further consideration with a view to introducing an amendment on Report if necessary. I thank the hon. Gentleman for bringing to the Committee's attention a potential difficulty that must be addressed. I ask him to withdraw the amendment so that we can do that.

Mr. Hawkins: I am glad that the Minister has found my raising the issue helpful, and given that he has continued to examine what I acknowledge are difficult issues, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Question proposed, That the clause, as amended, stand part of the Bill.

Vernon Coaker: Clause 11 brings us to the end of the first part on an important new power, of which we have listed the different interpretations. I know that it is a concern to the Minister and his colleagues to ensure that all the bodies that have the new power available to them know that it is available. We have found that although we pass powers in this place, many people have no idea about them. If we are passing the powers, we must ensure that such people know about them so that they can be used.

Mr. Ainsworth: My hon. Friend is right. Simplicity is always a good thing, but some of our legislation has to be complicated. It grows up over time and is not used to the extent that it should be. We often find ourselves passing new laws when there is potentially an answer or redress in existing law, so communicating the new powers will be important. We will have to join in that communication at every level.

7 pm

Concerns about certain aspects of the power have been addressed in Committee today, and there is broad agreement that it is needed. That agreement should help us in hammering home the necessity of using the powers whenever appropriate. We will have to examine what we do as a Government, both in the Home Office and in the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister, to communicate the need to use the powers. I give my hon. Friend the assurance that we will do so.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 11, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.

The Chairman: On the matter of order, the hon. Member for Surrey Heath will know that such decisions are made by the Speaker and his advisers. I cannot say much more about that, except that perhaps that the hon. Gentleman should keep close to the Clerk after the sitting, as he might be able to help him more than I can at this stage.

Further consideration adjourned.—[Mr. Heppell.]

Adjourned accordingly at one minute past Seven o'clock till Thursday 8 May at ten minutes past Nine o'clock.

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The following Members attended the Committee:
Cran, Mr. James (Chairman)
Ainsworth, Mr. Bob
Blackman, Liz
Brooke, Mrs.
Clark, Paul
Coaker, Vernon
Flint, Caroline
Francois, Mr.
Green, Matthew

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Hawkins, Mr.
Heppell, Mr.
McDonagh, Siobhain
McIsaac, Shona
Moffatt, Laura
Paice, Mr.
Taylor, Ms Dari
Wright, David

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