The draft Anti-social Behaviour Bill: pre-legislative scrutiny - Home Affairs Committee Contents


Introduction


1.  The draft Anti-Social Behaviour Bill was published on 13 December 2012. It is the Government's intention to tidy up the tool-kit for dealing with anti-social behaviour (ASB) and to involve victims and communities more directly in dealing with the problem.

2.  Although interventions can be effective in some cases, ASB continues to be a blight on many people's lives, affecting communities across the country. ASB can take many forms, both in the open and behind closed doors: people being drunk or rowdy in public places, noisy neighbours, litter lying around, vandalism, graffiti and damage to property, and people using or dealing drugs.[2] It can affect individuals, businesses and public service providers such as schools and hospitals, and can lead to spiralling crime and decline in local communities.[3] It remains a significant problem and often under-reported—a survey in Houghton and Sunderland South found that 50% of respondents had reported ASB to the police or Sunderland Council, 40% had not reported ASB to either and 10% had not experienced anti-social behaviour.[4]

3.  There is broad recognition that ASB is the responsibility of multiple agencies, including the police, local councils, businesses and housing providers.[5] However, we heard many accounts of unacceptable delays in reaching resolution and a sense of helplessness among victims who were passed from agency to agency.[6] In some cases, ASB was considered victimless or trifling and simply ignored.[7]

4.  In particular, it is the cumulative impact of continuous or repeated, low-level ASB that can cause some of the most significant suffering among victims, but remains most resistant to intervention by the authorities.[8] It can make people feel isolated and vulnerable, worsen mental health problems and cause people to withdraw completely from their work social lives.[9] In a few terrible cases, such as those of Fiona Pilkington in Leicestershire and Dr Suzanne Dow in Broxtowe, persistent ASB has been cited as a factor which contributed to victims taking their own lives.

5.  The current powers available to tackle anti-social behaviour were considered by many witnesses to be effective when used properly, but often slow and difficult to deploy.[10] Evidence from Police and Crime Commissioners and others showed that dealing with ASB remains high on the public agenda, but stubbornly difficult to carry out effectively.[11] In addition there is the problem of balance—how to tackle problem behaviour without placing undue constraints on perfectly reasonable behaviour. Most witnesses welcomed the proposed reduction in the number and complexity of tools as a way of simplifying and streamlining the process.

6.  Antisocial behaviour continues to trouble communities across the country. For some, it is no more than a background irritation, but for others antisocial behaviour can be a debilitating blight on their lives. It can corrode community spirit, creating a breeding ground for more serious crime.

7.  The current antisocial behaviour control regime, though effective in some cases, leaves many people frustrated by a slow and uncoordinated response. Persistent antisocial behaviour, if it is not addressed quickly and conclusively, can be mean months or years of misery for the victims. The impact of anti-social behaviour on the individuals and communities affected must not be under-estimated. Perpetrators continue to reoffend and overall levels of antisocial behaviour are stubbornly high. In this context, we welcome the Government's decision to review and rationalise the statutory framework for dealing with ASB. However, as we go on to explain in this report, dealing with ASB depends on more than just the formal interventions available—it depends on facilitating inter-agency working, providing support services, and providing a speedy and predictable process through the court system. If the Government is serious about tackling ASB, then it will bring forward proposals on these as companion measures during the Bill's eventual passage through Parliament.

Our pre-legislative scrutiny

8.  The draft Bill follows a Home Office consultation, More Effective Responses to Anti-Social Behaviour, in February 201; a white paper, Putting Victims First, in May 2012; and a DCLG consultation, A New Mandatory Power of Possession, August 2011. The draft bill is in seven parts:

  • Part 1 makes provision for a new, civil Injunction to Prevent Nuisance and Annoyance (IPNA), which replaces four current orders: the Anti-Social Behaviour Injunction, drinking banning order on application, intervention orders and individual support orders.
  • Part 2 makes provision for an order on conviction to prevent anti-social behaviour, to be called Criminal Behaviour Order (CBO) and is designed to replace the Anti-Social Behaviour Order (ASBO) on conviction. A CBO would be given on application by the prosecution, in addition to a court sentence
  • Part 3 contains power for the police to disperse people whose presence or behaviour in an area they have reasonable grounds to suspect has contributed or is likely to contribute to ASB, crime or disorder.
  • Part 4 covers new powers given to the police, local authority and some housing associations to deal with community protection and for these bodies to serve on individuals a Community Protection Notice (CPN). It also contains provisions to close properties associated with nuisance or disorder.
  • Part 5 makes provision for the possession of houses on anti-social behaviour grounds, including a new absolute ground for possession.
  • Part 6 of the bill contains provisions on establishing a new "Community Remedy", which will allow victims of anti-social behaviour to choose from a list of punishment options (such as mediation, compensation to the victim or reparation) and a "Community Trigger", which would launch a review of a response to ASB when a certain locally-determined threshold (such as five calls) is reached.
  • Part 7 of the draft legislation contains general provisions.

Transitional arrangements would mean that existing orders to deal with ASB continue in force after the bill comes into effect, but cannot be varied or extended, and after five years will come to an end. Figure 1 below shows how the draft Bill will rationalise the 18 existing remedies against ASB into six.

Rationalisation of ASB tools



ELECTRONIC FORMAT OF THE DRAFT BILL

9.  The draft Bill was published on-line as a single-volume PDF file, incorporating both the text of the draft Bill and the Explanatory Notes. However, whereas the Explanatory Notes were published in a format which could be searched electronically, copied and pasted, and put through text-to-speech software, these features were disabled in the electronic text of the draft Bill itself. These features are available when a Bill is published on-line by the House, but draft Bills (which are in effect consultative documents) are generally published as Command Papers and their format is a matter for the Department concerned. We can see no good reason for disabling these features, an act which presented a minor inconvenience to all users but potentially a significant and unnecessary obstacle to those who rely on text-to-speech conversion.

10.  One of our witnesses complained about the inaccessible format, which was not suitable for text-to-speech software for people with impaired vision and had spent time using optical character recognition software to produce some accessible versions of the text of the draft Bill. He noted that this was contrary to the principles set out in the Disability Discrimination Act 2005 and the Equality Act 2010.

11.  We recommend that the Leader of the House of Commons ensure that in future all draft Bills are published in a form in which the normal features of the chosen format are enabled, so that users can make full use of search, copy and paste, and text-to-speech features. This is not just a matter of convenience—though convenience alone is a compelling argument—it is about providing information in the most accessible formal possible.

12.  While we welcome the opportunity to comment on this legislation in draft form, we note the conclusion of the Liaison Committee that if the Government is serious about the role that pre-legislative scrutiny can play in making better legislation, it needs to ensure that the committees tasked with conducting that scrutiny are given a reasonable amount of time in which to do it: a bare minimum of twelve weeks.[12]

13.  Publication of the draft bill was delayed by over a month compared with the timetable initially proposed to us by the Home Office. This left us just six working weeks for our inquiry, an unacceptably short period for pre-legislative scrutiny. This was a particular problem for witnesses, who in effect had only the Christmas period to produce submissions to us. It was clear from several responses to our call for evidence that witnesses were basing their responses on the White Paper and had not yet had time to reflect on the detail of the draft Bill. Moreover, the Government will continue to consult on the Community Remedy until 7 March 2013, so its position on this important component of the bill is not yet formed.


2   Ev w1 [Paddy Tipping], addendum Back

3   Ev w74 [MOPAC], paragraph 4 Back

4   Ev w101 [Bridget Phillipson MP] Back

5   Ev w74 [MOPAC], paragraph 4; Ev w68 [Social Landlords Crime and Nuisance Group], paragraph 3.2 Back

6   Ev 42, 45 [LGA], paragraph 4.2 Back

7   Ev w15 [Association of Convenience Stores], paragraph 11 Back

8   Ev w13 [John Dwyer] Back

9   Ev 38 [Victim Support], paragraph 1.3; Ev 42 [LGA], paragraph 2; Ev w95 [South Yorkshire Police] Back

10   Ev 34 [National Housing Federation], paragraph 3.1 Back

11   Ev w74 [MOPAC], paragraph 8; Ev w15 [Association of Convenience Stores], paragraph 16; Ev w15 [Association of Convenience Stores], paragraph 5 Back

12   Liaison Committee, The Work of Committees in 2008-09: Government Response to the Committee's Second Report of 2009-10, 2 August 2010, HC 415, Government Response  Back


 
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Prepared 15 February 2013