Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Bill
The Committee consisted of the following Members:
Steven Mark and Georgina Holmes-Skelton, Committee Clerk
† attended the Committee
The Chair: Good morning, ladies and gentlemen. Hon. Members may remove their jackets if they wish to do so. I have a few housekeeping announcements before we kick off. The selection lists for today’s sittings are on the table, as are all the other relevant papers. I am very conscious of the fact that a number of hon. Members may not have participated in such proceedings before to the extent that they are participating currently, and it is probably a good idea if we all remind ourselves of how the process works.
First, amendments are grouped according to subject. That means that we have a series of debates on a series of subjects that may or may not all be relevant to a particular clause. Therefore only the first amendment is moved, by the lead proposer of that amendment. Any subsequent amendments that need to be moved will be moved later as we reach the relevant points in the Bill, so please do not be alarmed if you think that you have missed your chance—“Why didn’t we vote on that?” The answer is that if we need to vote on it, the opportunity will present itself at the right place and the right time. At the end of the debate on each group of amendments, I shall call the mover of the first amendment to respond if they wish—there is no compulsion to do so—and, where appropriate, we will put it to a vote.
I have a very relaxed attitude towards clause stand part debates, save for this: you can have only one. You can have a stand part debate at the beginning of the debate on a clause or at the end, but you cannot do both. It is up to the Chair to exercise judgment to decide whether all the matters relating to a clause have been sufficiently debated and therefore whether a stand part debate is warranted. I say that only because sometimes we get to the end of a debate on a group of amendments and I say that I am satisfied and then people say, “Oh, there was something else that I wanted to say.” Don’t be caught on the hop. It is up to individual Members to determine how they want to play this. I will judge at the end whether all the contents of the clause have been covered sufficiently.
It is quite often the case, particularly at the opening of the Committee stage for a Bill of this kind—this is in effect the first sitting, of course—that Members want to cover an issue that is rather broader than the amendment under discussion. I have no problem with that at all, but I ask you to confine your remarks to the clause under discussion. We do not want another Second Reading debate. I think that is just about everything. I hope that it is clear.
‘(2A) The second condition is that the court is satisfied, on the balance of probabilities, that the respondent has engaged or threatens to engage in conduct capable of causing physical or mental harm to a second person, including self-harm; or to arouse apprehension or fear in the second person for his or her own safety or that of any other person (“bullying”).’.
‘“bullying” means behaviour capable of causing physical or mental harm to a second person, including self-harm; or to arouse apprehension or fear in the second person for his or her own safety or that of any other person.’.
Tracey Crouch: It is a pleasure to be serving under your chairmanship, Sir Roger. My amendments would channel the proposed powers in the Bill to address bullying behaviour positively. I do not intend to detain the Committee long, as other hon. Members may wish to contribute and others wish to speak to their own amendments, but I want to start by stating a few simple facts.
One in three children has experienced bullying. One million children are bullied every week, inside and outside school. Bullying is the biggest concern for children, and their parents, as they grow up. I think it highly unlikely that anyone in the Committee Room has not had, as a constituency MP, casework relating to bullying. It is not a victimless crime. It is harmful to the victims and not only often has long-term effects, but in some cases can lead to tragic circumstances.
When I was at school, we used to say, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” Sadly, for some people, that is simply not the case. At least 20 children every year commit suicide because they are being bullied. Research by the BeatBullying campaign group found that 44% of suicides among 10 to 14-year-olds were explicitly linked to bullying. I cannot imagine how bad it must be for a 10-year-old to take their own life because of the actions of others. I cannot imagine the pain of parents to discover that the death of their child was not because of sticks or stones, but words—words so painful and persistent, but ultimately preventable if someone had intervened earlier.
I left school 20 years ago. It was before the internet was invented. Mobile phones were the size of a brick and still the preserve of the well-off, and a tweet was something that birds did. I went to an all-girls school, and to bully someone was in many ways more difficult. That is not to say that it did not happen, but it may have been less persistent.
If we fell out with a friend and bad-mouthed them to others, we did so via notes that were passed around a class, or we would give the friend a look that said, “I don’t like you right now”. Anyone who has a wife, girlfriend, daughters, sisters or nieces will know that look. It was mastered and delivered with effect, and once administered, never forgotten—until a new note was passed along the desks to the old friend, asking for forgiveness and to make friends again. Communication was less instant in those days. By the time we had written a note in our best handwriting, we had probably changed our minds. If we were unlucky, the teacher would see the note going around, confiscate it and have both of us in front of her at the end of class to work it all out.
Today’s schoolchildren face an entirely different challenge. The advent of social media, text messages and other forms of electronic communication means that not only does a vast amount of bullying take place outside school, but that it is immediate, can go viral, be anonymous on occasion and be sustained over a long period. Research shows that one in three young people has been a victim of cyber-bullying and one in 13 has experienced persistent and intentional cyber-bullying that lasted for a year or more in almost a quarter of cases. Sadly, one in 20 has resorted to self-harm, and 3% have reported a suicide attempt as a direct result of cyber-bullying.
Whatever the method, bullying has a detrimental effect on our youngsters and something needs to be done not just to protect the victim, but to help change the perpetrator’s ways. That is in part why the Bill is the perfect vehicle for including specific measures relating to bullying. Previous objections to tackling bullying were directed at not criminalising youngsters. There is something odd about a society that will criminalise a kid for spraying paint all over a wall, knocking over a bin or kicking a ball against a wall for hours on end, but not for malicious and persistent harm against another child.
The beauty of the legislation is that any perpetrator of antisocial behaviour, be they adult or child, will not be criminalised under the reform of antisocial behaviour orders, but subject to civil procedures instead. That makes sense and allows those who commit low-level harm not only to be punished for their offences, but to be subject to positive requirements that allow them to change their behaviours before it is too late.
That is why including bullying in the legislation, or at the very least having guidance, would help in both the short and the long term. Research from the world expert on bullying, Professor Olweus, found that bullies are typically law-breaking students and by the time they are 24, 60% are likely to have committed a more serious crime. An early intervention not only helps the victim, but could help to change a bully’s overall behaviour, saving the criminal justice system money in the long term.
A recent objection to my amendments has come from the Government, who stated that there is already legislation covering bullying. In theory, that is true. With the help
Colleagues might have added the Crime and Disorder Act 1998, which introduced ASBOs to the mix, but there is some confusion about that. The 1999 guidance mentioned bullying in relation to what constitutes antisocial behaviour and the 2002 review of ASBOs covered persistent bullying, but the 2006 guidance—the current Home Office guidance—does not mention bullying in its list of what sort of behaviour can be tackled by ASBOs. In itself, that is a reason why my amendments should be considered, so that injunctions to prevent nuisance and annoyance can be applied to that kind of behaviour.
Furthermore, there is something slightly contradictory in issuing a statement that we do not want to criminalise children for bullying, but then advising that there is already legislation in which criminal offences are applicable to bullying. There is something even more bizarre given that none of the legislation listed is age specific and could in theory be applied to workplace bullying, yet was clearly not seen as adequate protection for working-adult victims of bullying, as a new piece of legislation was introduced specifically to deal with that offence. It is hard to understand why the Government are against the amendment, because not only does it address the issue of not wanting to criminalise children by instead relying on the positive outcomes of the IPNA but previous Governments have done all they can to protect workplace victims of the same offence.
It worth stressing that the amendments would do no more than bring UK laws into line with those in other countries. In America, 49 states have tough anti-bullying legislation. Earlier this year, South Africa and New Zealand introduced their own legislation. The Committee will not be surprised to hear that, as in so many areas, Sweden has led the way and has strong legislation in place to tackle this harmful and hurtful behaviour.
My amendments would give extra support to members of the teaching profession who are, at the moment, mainly responsible for dealing with bullying. Given the extent of bullying that takes place outside school, I have some sympathy with schools tasked with tackling it. There are many complications for them in doing so. Let me give an example. My constituency has at least six secondary schools within a three-mile radius of each other, and many children from different schools are likely to use the same bus to travel to and from school. If a child is bullied by another from a different school, it is difficult for the victim’s school to deal with the behavioural issues of the other pupil; yet again, technology hampers things and exacerbates the situation. Each school has an anti-bullying policy, but while the intentions are good, its application is sometimes patchy. Furthermore, the policy is often dismissed as pointless. The ultimate sanction for a school is to exclude a bully, probably on a temporary basis to start with, but in discussions with us, youngsters shrugged their shoulders and said, “It’s just a day off.” The kids themselves do not see it as a punishment, so they do not feel there is anything to
Including bullying in the IPNA, ensuring that prohibitions and positive requirements are applied, giving head teachers and principals of FE colleges the power to apply for the injunction under clause 4 and allowing for the community trigger and remedy to be used for the offence would help to change the behaviour of those who wish to cause harm.
“The Bill aims to diminish the extent to which honest and hard-working people are preyed on by criminals and by bullies who show no regard for the basic rules of civilised living.”—[Official Report, 9 May 2013; Vol. 563, c. 168.]
The Bill is an opportunity to protect the 1 million children bullied every year, and hopefully to prevent future tragedies such as the suicides of Ayden Olson, Thomas Mullaney, Ben Vodden and the many others who have taken their lives because of bullying. I hope the Government have listened to my reasons for tabling the amendments, and will consider them carefully and positively. I look forward to hearing the Minister’s reply. Let me respectfully tell him that warm words are no longer enough; it is time for action.
Gloria De Piero (Ashfield) (Lab): It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Roger. The hon. Member for Chatham and Aylesford is right and I commend her for the work she has done on bringing the issue of bullying to the forefront and for campaigning on it for as long as she has been a Member of the House. She is right to highlight all the figures and statistics. We have all seen on television, heard on the radio and read in our newspapers some absolutely tragic cases. More than 1 million children are bullied inside and outside school every week; the figures are astonishing. As the hon. Lady said, in our constituency surgeries we have all come across cases that highlight the issue. I am sure that some of us can remember a school friend being bullied; perhaps some of us were bullied at school as well. It is heartbreaking that bullying is such a serious issue that in some tragic cases it leads to suicide.
We commend the discussion of the matter, and we are interested to hear what the Minister of State, the hon. Member for Taunton Deane, says about it. However, on the Labour Benches we have very grave concerns about the scrapping of the ASBO. I will outline those concerns in some detail later in our debates.
The hon. Lady made some good points, and if the ASBO is scrapped, we will certainly look favourably at what she said, because we want the Bill to be as good as possible. However, we do not believe that anything warrants scrapping the ASBO and replacing it with a weaker sanction.
Paul Maynard (Blackpool North and Cleveleys) (Con): It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Roger. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Chatham and Aylesford on her amendments, which demonstrate exactly why the Bill is so necessary.
Part of what the Government are seeking to do by replacing ASBOs with IPNAs is to introduce greater flexibility in the antisocial behaviour toolbox. My hon. Friend is quite right that the nature of what constitutes antisocial behaviour is changing. During the past 10 to 15 years, we have seen a cumulative hill of legislative good intentions, identifying new social problems, the answer to which is to pass yet another order, regulation or piece of legislation. Yet from the oral and written evidence, we know that what practitioners want is a simpler and more easily comprehensible toolbox. My hon. Friend is right to identify bullying in school as an example of the need to accommodate more flexibility for newly emerging types of antisocial behaviour that perhaps even 20 years ago were not considered as important as they are now.
The amendments also apply to an equally important area that is changing rapidly, namely hate crimes, and in particular disability hate crimes. During our evidence sessions, Members will have heard me refer to the case of Fiona Pilkington. We may think that that is a classic example of disability hate crime and is already covered somehow by existing legislation. However, the nature of hate crime is changing, as is the impetus for people to commit such crime. In my view, the nature of the ASBO, with its inherent risk of becoming a badge of honour, plays into a lot of the psychology that underpins hate crime, where there is the desire to be seen by peers as somehow taking a lead and showing off. That element unfortunately creates a cumulative pattern. I therefore welcome the amendments as a way to tackle that underlying tension.
I have already raised the issue of flexibility. That matters because of a newly emerging type of hate crime, which is not really recognised yet. Some people call it mate crime; I believe that other charities, such as Mencap, prefer the term false befriending. For those who do not know, false befriending is when a vulnerable person is befriended by someone who wishes them ill will, either financial or physical, and lures them into a state where their vulnerability matters and where they are easily deprived of money or their safety. It does not really count as a hate crime in the eyes of many practitioners, because the individual against whom the crime has been committed has invited the person who committed it into their home or into their life. That is very difficult to capture under existing legislation, but the answer is not to introduce a new set of orders or a new name for something; it is to improve the flexibility of the toolbox.
Gloria De Piero: I have heard the term badge of honour, although it is not one that I hear from my local police officers or in my community. Is it not the case that if someone breaches an ASBO there is a criminal sanction, whereas with an IPNA there is no criminal sanction? My fear is that the IPNA will become in reality the badge of honour that the ASBO never was.
Paul Maynard: I thank the hon. Lady for that intervention, although the crux of my argument against her for the rest of this month will probably be that an ASBO is a badge of honour. It contains a criminal
The Chair: Order. We have now reached exactly the tipping point that I referred to earlier. The amendments relate to bullying. We are now moving on to ASBOs, which is the subject matter of the clause. That is fine, but the Committee now has to decide whether it wants to go right down that route, or whether we stick to bullying and the amendment, and deal with ASBOs in the clause stand part debate.
Gloria De Piero: I think the hon. Member for Blackpool North and Cleveleys was making a case for improving the individual support order. For me, scrapping the ASBO is not necessary to improve the ISO.
The Minister of State, Home Department (Mr Jeremy Browne): Thank you very much, Sir Roger, for agreeing to chair our deliberations over the next few weeks. It is a pleasure for me and everyone in the Committee to serve under your guiding auspices.
I give credit to my hon. Friend the Member for Chatham and Aylesford for raising an issue that is serious for millions of children and parents around the country. She brought to the Committee’s attention the sheer scale of the problem in schools, but not exclusively in schools, and the evolving nature of the threat from bullying caused by new technology. What is happening is not necessarily new, but the means by which it is being perpetrated have evolved as communications evolve.
My hon. Friend also talked about the harrowing effect bullying can have on children and the detrimental effect it can have on people involved, including the perpetrators and victims. My hon. Friend the Member for Blackpool North and Cleveleys made a valid and broader point about the impact that bullying can have on not just children but adults, particularly vulnerable adults.
The issue is serious, and we rightly have an opportunity to discuss it this morning, thanks to my hon. Friend the Member for Chatham and Aylesford and her amendments. I want to make a fairly substantial contribution, because the issue warrants it. I hope that will provide her with some assurance. We will make a judgment on that at the end of my remarks.
The Government are sympathetic—how could we not be?—to my hon. Friend’s cause. However, we are not persuaded that the amendments are necessary or would automatically have the effect that she desires. Let me explain why, and rather than being wholly negative, let me engage with her points. I hope that we will reach a conclusion that will be of some satisfaction to her.
I want to make three main points. First, as my hon. Friend rightly said, schools are already expected to take a strong stand against all forms of bullying, tackling it at the earliest opportunity and not allowing it to escalate to the point where a pupil suffers emotional or physical distress. To that end, all schools, both maintained and independent, are required to have measures in place to prevent all forms of bullying.
I appreciate my hon. Friend’s point that a child from one school could bully a child from another school, or that bullying could take place outside the physical environment of the school. Nevertheless, it is worth mentioning in passing that schools are expected to take a strong leadership role on the issue of bullying; that is not central to our deliberations, but it is material.
Stephen Phillips (Sleaford and North Hykeham) (Con): Will my hon. Friend inform the Committee whether the duty on schools to tackle and prevent bullying is statutory? Is it contained in guidance, or is it simply something the Department for Education tells schools it wants to happen?
Mr Browne: That is a lead for the Department for Education, which has responsibility for schools over and above the responsibility of the Home Office. My understanding is that schools are obliged to have policies on bullying. Of course, some schools enforce those policies with greater vim and vigour than others, but I would like all schools to take their responsibility seriously. Schools are required to have measures in place to prevent all forms of bullying. Section 89(1)(b) of the Education and Inspections Act 2006 covers maintained schools, and the Education (Independent School Standards) (England) (Amendment) Regulations 2012 state that all independent schools are required to ensure that
Tracey Crouch: Is the Minister aware that schools in the Government’s academies programme do not have to inform the local education authority of instances of bullying? Although academies and free schools might have bullying policies in place, they are not required to report instances of bullying to the wider world.
Mr Browne: That takes me slightly outside the remit of my Department. My understanding is that there are a series of areas where academies and free schools are not obliged to interact with local authorities in the way that conventional state schools are required to do, which might include reporting, or procedures that schools follow more widely. I take my hon. Friend’s point, but we need a wider discussion about the merits or otherwise of the requirement for schools to have a close organisational link with their local authority, whether it is more advantageous for them to have a greater degree of autonomy, and whether teachers and the school management should be able to make decisions with greater freedom from their local councils. I put on the record that schools are expected to take the bullying seriously. The Government want schools to demonstrate proactive leadership in that area.
My second point is about the existing framework of law beyond the Bill. Where more serious cases of bullying occur—for example, those that constitute a breach of
Offences under the Public Order Act 1986 are also relevant to bullying behaviour. Unlike harassment offences, those offences do not rely on a course of conduct. Therefore, they could kick in when there is a one-off incident of bullying behaviour that meets the elements of the relevant offence, rather than the more classical cumulative behaviour that is covered under the Protection from Harassment Act. When bullying involves physical violence or a threat of physical violence, a number of offences could be relevant, including common assault and battery, actual bodily harm and even grievous bodily harm.
In addition to those criminal offences, the Protection from Harassment Act also provides for a civil remedy. Under the Act, a court can grant an injunction for the purpose of restraining the defendant from pursuing any conduct that amounts to harassment. With such a number of powers already available to tackle bullying, I do not believe that it is necessary to amend the legislation to include specific mention of bullying.
My third point is about how the legislation will apply. My first point is that schools, outside the law, in their codes of conduct need to take the issue seriously. Secondly, I would not want the Committee to think that there is not relevant legislation that can be applied in this area. There is a substantial amount of relevant legislation, depending on the particular circumstances. The police and others should feel free to deploy that legislation.
Stephen Barclay (North East Cambridgeshire) (Con): My hon. Friend describes a hotch-potch of different options. Could I direct his attention to a parent worried about their child being bullied, who finds that the child’s school is not acting? I am sure the school will have a policy, but it is not proving effective. As I understand the amendment, it seeks to give clarity to a parent that they have an alternative in that situation; they have a clear alternative through the police with a sanction—not a criminal one—that has teeth. It is that clarity for a parent worried about their child that the amendment addresses. My hon. Friend describes a confusing range of powers of which I suspect many parents will not be aware.
Mr Browne: My hon. Friend calls the current legislation a hotch-potch; I would not use that expression. Inevitably, Parliament over centuries has passed a number of laws, and they can be relevant in a particular case. Most areas that we consider are covered by a number of relevant laws. Far from being a hotch-potch, there are a number of laws already in place that could be deployed. When there is an incident, the school could bring it to the attention of the police who could deploy the laws passed by Parliament to bring about the outcome desired by everyone on the Committee.
I had three points and that was the second. I will get to why the legislation can be deployed but I thought it would be helpful first to ensure that everybody understands that schools and the police are not powerless at the moment. There is legislation in place that gives powers to the police to intervene and take action where appropriate.
Mr Browne: I do not have that information available. It may be the case that schools need to be more active in enforcing their policies in this area and bringing more incidents to the attention of the police, and the police need to be more active in pursuing those issues when they are brought to their attention. The point I am making is that legislation is in place. If it has not been used as widely as some members of the Committee would wish, that is not necessarily an argument for putting new legislation in place. It may be an argument for using the existing legislation more frequently.
Mr Browne: I will give way, but I wanted to be helpful by outlining to the Committee some of the measures in place. What I really want to do is talk about the specifics of the provisions, which was the third point.
Tracey Crouch: I may be helpful to the Minister by replying to the previous intervention. I asked the Library for some statistical analysis of the times that the legislation outlined by the Minister was used specifically against bullying. The Library was unable to disaggregate those figures, so it is difficult to tell whether it has been used.
Going back to the Minister’s point about available legislation, if all that legislation was indeed available for use in cases of harassment or bullying, why did the previous Government introduce separate legislation specifically to deal with the workplace? Surely that demonstrates that the protections available under all the existing legislation were not adequate to deal with vulnerable adults facing bullying in the workplace. Why can we not do the same for vulnerable children?
Mr Browne: I was about to get to that point in my speech. I did not wish this to be an area of controversy. All I was saying was that there are measures in place, for example, under the Protection from Harassment Act, that could be successfully deployed to bring about outcomes that we all desire. If those measures are not being deployed as frequently as we would like, well, there is lots of legislation available to the police that we could argue should be used more frequently, but that does not necessarily mean that the legislation is bad legislation, or that we need to amend it; it may just be that the police need to use it more frequently, or that people need to report incidents more frequently to the police. Anyway, I just wanted to draw the Committee’s attention to the fact that there is already legislation in this area. To talk specifically about the Bill, there may well be cases where the injunction could be of use in tackling bullying, and there is nothing in the Bill that prevents that from happening. Bullying could well meet
Schools should continue to use the same approach as they do now: if they consider their disciplinary framework to be insufficient to deal with a specific incident or series of incidents, they should bring the matter to the attention of the police or other agencies, such as the local authority.
This will allow for a range of more formal interventions to be considered, including whether to apply for an injunction to prevent nuisance and annoyance—the option of applying for the injunction is available. The court could not only grant an injunction to stop perpetrators bullying and harassing others, but include positive requirements. The positive requirements under the new injunction will allow the court to require individuals to undertake activities to address the underlying drivers of their antisocial behaviour—issues of anger management or substance misuse, for example. A court could also impose positive requirements as part of a criminal behaviour order.
The amendments would also include the term “bullying” in the test for the community remedy, but that test, too, already covers behaviours that may include bullying. Furthermore, the legislation has been drafted specifically to allow for flexibility of usage by practitioners—that relates to the point about the flexible toolkit made by my hon. Friend the Member for Blackpool North and Cleveleys. Defining certain types of behaviour that the tests refer to goes against the essence of their flexibility, and I would not wish to take that step, but as I have indicated, I share the wish expressed by my hon. Friend the Member for Chatham and Aylesford (Tracey Crouch) to see all instances of bullying comprehensively dealt with, so that all children go to school without fear and no other families have to suffer as some have already suffered.
Schools are best placed to tackle bullying through their disciplinary measures, but where more robust interventions need to be considered, they will continue to work with their local partner agencies, such as the police and local authorities. The crucial point is this: the Bill allows for a range of powers to be used flexibly to prevent antisocial behaviour and we have specifically not listed every single conceivable form of antisocial behaviour that those powers could be flexibly deployed to combat. For example, in our evidence sessions last week we heard from a group of people who thought that we should state explicitly, on the face of the Bill, how these powers would apply to dogs, but the Government’s position is that if we list every single circumstance, the provisions will no longer be flexible. The provisions can be deployed to combat dog-related antisocial behaviour, but the crucial point relevant to this discussion is that they can be deployed to combat
Before I take a few interventions, I want to say to my hon. Friend the Member for Chatham and Aylesford that I and my Department have considered the case she made on Second Reading. As I said, the Government’s desire is not to list every conceivable way the powers could be deployed, but we will be issuing guidance. I am happy to assure my hon. Friend that the guidance published alongside the Act will include reference to bullying and outline how the new powers can be used to deal with bullying, so that there is no doubt in the minds of the police, local authorities or others who may want to use the legislation to tackle bullying in future that it is within their power to do so and that Parliament intended it to be used in incidents of bullying.
Mr Browne: I was slightly unfair not to give way earlier, because I have essentially just answered the hon. Gentleman’s question. Captured under the overall headline of antisocial behaviour are many different ways that people can behave towards others that make them miserable or compromise their quality of life. The Government are not seeking to list every single form of human interaction that could constitute antisocial behaviour so that this legislation could be deployed in those circumstances. Our aim is to create a streamlined toolkit of measures that can be deployed in a diverse range of circumstances, depending on the behaviour in question. That may be people’s dogs behaving badly towards neighbours, bullying in schools, or a range of behaviours. Just because we have not attempted the impossible task of compiling an exhaustive list of every single way that one person can inflict unhappiness upon another, that does not mean that we are indifferent to the unhappiness in each of those cases.
I am not seeking plaudits when I say that we have made a significant concession to my hon. Friend the Member for Chatham and Aylesford and to the general will of the Committee by undertaking to state in the guidance that the legislation is intended to be used in cases of bullying, including when children are involved, because we want to avoid doubt.
Richard Fuller (Bedford) (Con): I am not sure that the points the Minister is making are being received by hon. Members on both sides of the Committee with the same clarity with which he is presenting them. He says that he does not want to enumerate the specific circumstances in which the powers can be used, but the Bill already describes some such circumstances. He says that he has made a significant concession on the guidelines, which may be persuasive, but will that information be available on Report, so that those of us who feel that my hon. Friend the Member for Chatham and Aylesford has made a good point will be able to make remedy then?
Members of the Committee who believe that the legislation should try to anticipate all forms of antisocial behaviour, including forms that may not yet have been conceived by perpetrators, will be disappointed, because it is not the Government’s ambition that the Bill describe everything that people can do to other people to make them unhappy. Our aim is to make sure that local authorities, the police and others have flexible powers available to intervene in the case of antisocial behaviour. We think that this injunction is a more flexible tool than the ASBO favoured by the hon. Member for Ashfield, who speaks for the Opposition. It could be deployed in exactly the circumstances described by my hon. Friend the Member for Chatham and Aylesford, and we are happy to make that explicit in the guidance. I hope that Members on both sides of the Committee will see that as a sensible way to proceed, because we all share the concerns raised by my hon. Friend. I hope that the Bill will address those concerns and will come to be used to bring about the ends that we all desire.
Bridget Phillipson (Houghton and Sunderland South) (Lab): May I outline one example where the application of the current legislation does not work as effectively as it might? I am aware of a case where one child was targeted and bullied by a group of children, but unfortunately the school did not treat that as seriously as it might have done—for all that we talk about bullying, sometimes there is blurring of the victim and the perpetrator and the victim is deemed to be complicit in some way. The child was then targeted out of school; their family was targeted, including at their home. That could be called antisocial behaviour, but the school, while not responsible for that behaviour out of the school, was not dealing with the problem in the school. How do we get a working approach where everyone comes together to deal with these problems? Is that not a deficiency in the current legislation and its application?
Mr Browne: The hon. Lady gives an extremely good example. There are conventional models of bullying that take place, for example, at school in break times, and that is more obviously within the school’s specific remit because it is perpetrated within its geographic confines. However, as my hon. Friend said in her introductory remarks, new technology makes it much harder to think of bullying—or wider harassment, for that matter, whether perpetrated against children or adults—as taking place within specific geographic confines. I agree with the hon. Lady that it can expand or mutate into other parts of a person’s life even if it originated in a school, a workplace or some other environment.
The injunction is intended to be a flexible, adaptable power. Our desire for flexibility is why we are not specific, as some would wish, about how it should be applied. Some may interpret that non-specificity as meaning that the injunction lacks the powers that they seek in a particular circumstance, but we are trying to make sure that that flexibility is an asset, not an impediment to dealing with the type of behaviour that all of us wish to see reduced or eradicated altogether.
I hope that I have engaged fully with all the points made by my hon. Friend and other members of the Committee. I have tried to demonstrate that the new injunction may be used in a wide range of circumstances, including those described by my hon. Friend in her powerful introductory speech.
Gloria De Piero: It is clear that we do not like the IPNA, but we agree that the amendment would strengthen and improve it. The hon. Lady feared warm words from the Minister. There is a promise of some guidance at some point, but none of us has seen or know what it will say, so let me see if the Opposition can be clearer in our offer. If clause 1 falls and the ASBO is retained, we will work with Government Members to table a new clause to make sure that bullying is tackled in the way in which the hon. Lady has done so much to bring to the fore.
Tracey Crouch: I am grateful to all hon. Members who spoke on my amendment. I hope the Minister recognises that there is clearly support for the amendment on both sides of the Committee. Although in some sense I can understand what he is saying about legislation, it is quite clear that the current hotch-potch of measures available to deal with the issue is not actually working. We are seeing an increasing trend of youngsters being bullied and they are being bullied outside school more often than inside, and we would be naive to think that the teaching profession can deal with this problem in its entirety. That was recognised in previous guidance issued by the Home Office when ASBOs were established under the Crime and Disorder Act 1998. It is disappointing that the current guidance, issued in 2006, does not include bullying in such terms.
I welcome what the Minister said about issuing guidance on bullying, but I am disappointed that he does not think it necessary to put a definition into statute. Other types of antisocial behaviour are recognised and listed in the Bill, and I cannot see what is harmful about including bullying in that list, especially given that it affects so many people, particularly children. Although my amendment is not designed just for children, it is clear that they are most vulnerable to bullying, and other measures, such as workplace legislation, exist to protect adults. I am therefore still at a loss to understand precisely why the Government are not more sympathetic to my amendment.
I did not hear the Minister make specific reference to the other amendments that I have tabled, such as that which would allow a head teacher or the principal of an FE college to apply for an injunction, thereby expanding the Government’s proposed list and putting the teaching profession in charge of helping to get such an application. Furthermore, it is disappointing that the statutory definitions currently listed in the Bill do not include self-harm. It is clear that youngsters in particular self-harm as a consequence of bullying. That also needs to be looked at seriously.
With respect to the Minister, I am not sure that he has fully grasped the importance of the issue. It is not a party political issue; it is something that we as constituency MPs deal with daily and we should take it far more seriously in order to try to protect our youngsters, particularly the vulnerable ones. I still find it ironic that we will be very clear and specific about IPNAs in relation to alcohol misuse and disorder, for example, but we will not deal specifically with the harmful offence of bullying.
I am very much in favour of what the Government are trying to do with IPNAs. I like the flexibility that my hon. Friend the Member for Blackpool North and Cleveleys outlined, but I thought that my amendments would be a positive addition to the Government measures. They deal with some of previous criticisms of how bullying is tackled. Nobody wants to criminalise a 14-year-old for bullying another child at school, but my amendments would enable early intervention to help the bully to change their behaviour by providing a positive requirement as well as prohibiting some behaviours. We are talking about flexibility and the available toolbox; my measure is a tool that could help to make a real difference in people’s lives.
I have heard what the Minister says about guidance, and I welcome the Opposition’s statement that, if the guidance is not forthcoming or strong enough, my amendment would be supported if I were to table it on Report. From listening to what colleagues on the Government Benches have said, I am sure that they would also support it. The Minister therefore has three months to look at this issue and come back with something a bit more solid, because I have to say that I am not yet convinced by his response.
I am not sure whether it is in order, Sir Roger, but I would like to ask the Minister a question. Is my amendment to clause 4 about a head teacher or a principal of an FE institution applying for an injunction something that the Government would support?
Mr Browne: Following your initial strictures, Sir Roger, I was speaking to amendments 5, 6, 7, 9, 10 and 11. The hon. Lady’s amendment 8 to clause 4, and it is not in this group. You asked me specifically to speak to that group of amendments.
Tracey Crouch: If I have understood the timing of the Bill correctly, we should reach Report stage by the middle of September. I would certainly like to see the guidance published before then, preferably by the end of August. That would be helpful and then we could all
Mr Browne: As I said earlier, I am not able to give the Committee a date on the issuing of guidance. That is in part because the guidance will be informed by our deliberations. I would not want the Government to appear to be drawing up guidance without reference to the contributions from my hon. Friends and Opposition Members. We envisage bringing guidance to Parliament for consideration before the Bill has reached its concluding stages. I am not able to give an exact date. Obviously the guidance will be informed by our deliberations, so guidance will be introduced that will take into account all the points raised by my hon. Friend.
Stephen Phillips: Does my hon. Friend agree that the sensible thing for the Government to do is to introduce draft guidance before Report? Final guidance, assuming that the Bill completes its passage through both Houses, could be published after the Bill receives Royal Assent. I am sure she would agree that there is nothing to prevent the Government from publishing draft guidance before Report.
Tracey Crouch: I agree entirely with my hon. and learned Friend. It would not be unusual to do that. I believe that that is exactly what happened with other Home Office Bills when antisocial behaviour orders were discussed.
Richard Fuller: Does my hon. Friend share my fear that the Minister is about to lose a truce and gain defeat if he does not make it clear to the Committee right now that that draft guidance will be available before Report?
Tracey Crouch: I agree entirely. The Minister’s response was welcome when it came to specifying that the Home Office was willing to look at guidance, but I fear that it is not clear when that guidance might be forthcoming.
Mr Browne: I fear that my hon. Friend the Member for Bedford is trying to pick a fight when I have been conciliatory. I said explicitly that the Government would include references to bullying in the guidance. He infers that I am being duplicitous but I am not. I have been completely explicit on this point. I cannot give a precise date. Of course we would like the guidance to be published before Report, but we have to conclude our deliberations in Committee by 16 July. I have already said in the less than an hour that we have been talking that the hon. Lady has made a persuasive case for the guidance to be modified to include the points she made. Other hon. Members may make other good points between now and 16 July which we may wish to include in the guidance as well. It seems strange that Committee members appear to be asking to be disregarded by the Government and that we should be getting on with publishing the guidance before we have heard their contributions. We will publish the guidance. We want to publish it so that
Tracey Crouch: The issue is whether or not the Government believe that there is a problem with bullying; that the IPNA is an adequate tool to deal with the issue; and that the flexibility within the scope of the Bill could be applied. If that is the case, I do not understand why the Government oppose my amendment. I could understand it if it were to do with poor drafting; I am not a Home Office lawyer, which is why I was willing to be gracious about withdrawing the amendment.
The Chair: Order. For clarification—it is important that Members understand this—the hon. Lady can only seek the Committee’s leave to withdraw the amendment; she is not in a position to withdraw it herself.
Mr Browne: The hon. Lady said that I, speaking on behalf of the Government, lacked clarity. Let me read my words again. I read them before, word for word, so I know what I said. I said that there may well be cases where the injunction could be of use in tackling bullying, and that there is nothing in this legislation that prevents that. Bullying could well meet the nuisance and annoyance test in clause 1 or the harassment and distress test in clause 21, so there is no need to add to those tests to make explicit reference to bullying behaviour. As I have said, there is nothing in the legislation that prevents that. I could not have been clearer about that. I do not understand why some Members who share my objectives and those of the hon. Member for Chatham and Aylesford, wish to imply that there is a lack of clarity on behalf of Government, when I have been as clear and explicit as possible.
Tracey Crouch: I am grateful to the Minister for his response. There is of course a difference between the words “could” and “would”. It is clear that we need to understand, or at least to appreciate, that the legislation would apply to those who are being bullied—the victims of bullying. The perpetrators who are conducting that bad behaviour should receive some sort of positive intervention. I am not asking the Government to set up a whole new structure to help to tackle this behaviour. It is quite clear that many people who participate in bullying are probably already well known to other agencies and that there is an opportunity for intervention. There is also an opportunity to change somebody’s life at the outset before they progress further into the criminal justice system.
I hope that the Government will publish guidance before Report and that it will be specific in the same way that the Crime and Disorder Act was on this offence. The Government should go away and listen carefully to the contributions of Members on both sides of the Committee and make it clear that there is a problem in society at the moment. The Home Secretary has been very specific, saying that this piece of legislation will tackle bullies, so I do not understand why we are not putting the provision in the Bill itself.
‘(aa) any conflict with the respondent’s caring responsibilities including, in particular, any caring responsibilities for a child.’.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Roger. I hope that this is a slightly less controversial amendment, which the Government should feel able to accept. It amends clause 1, which deals with IPNA, and deals with what I consider a lacuna in subsection (5). At the moment, when an injunction is granted, the body granting it—the court—is required to consider a number of enumerated matters. At present those are:
Sarah Champion (Rotherham) (Lab): The hon. and learned Gentleman mentioned caring responsibilities for a child. I work with a lot of young carers in Rotherham who care for adults. I am also aware of adults with caring responsibilities for adults. Does the provision need to be that specific—caring responsibilities for a child—or could it be just caring responsibilities?
Stephen Phillips: I am extremely grateful to the hon. Lady for her intervention. If she cares to take a copy of the amendment she will see that the provision I seek to introduce requires a court to take into account any conflict with caring responsibilities, including in particular caring responsibilities for a child.
It seems that if a court is to be required to take into account the factors already enumerated by the Government in subsection (5)—religious beliefs, education, other courts orders and so on—it is imperative that it also takes into account caring responsibilities before deciding what the content of an injunction should be, and whether an injunction is appropriate in the first place.
I could give specific examples. It may be that an IPNA would be granted against a parent who had responsibilities to get a child to an after-school club or pick them up from school, take them swimming and so on. If there is a curfew requirement or anything of that nature, or to attend interviews or supervision that conflicts with those, that will damage those for whom they have caring responsibilities. I hope the Committee will feel that this is a sensible, uncontroversial addition to the Bill. Although I have not discussed it with him, I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister, given the considerable good will he has demonstrated in this excellent Bill, will be able to accept the amendment.
Gloria De Piero: I am sure that we all agree with the amendment tabled by the hon. and learned Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham. I, too, am interested to learn why the legislation did not make provision for caring responsibilities. We would be happy to amend existing antisocial behaviour legislation to take that into account.
Mr Browne: I am grateful to my hon. Friends for tabling an amendment that raises some important issues around carers and their responsibilities, in the context of what the courts should consider before granting injunctions under part 1. That is important, because there are people in our society who need extra care and support to help them lead productive lives and to do the everyday things that many of us take for granted, and they rely on others to provide that care and support.
As has been said, we are talking not only about parents or guardians caring for children. There are many carers around the country who care for adults who need their assistance. Carers perform important duties that touch on the rights of those for whom they care. We therefore accept that, as far as practicable, a prohibition or requirement should not conflict with or interfere with a respondent’s caring responsibilities. We understand and share the concern of my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham.
However, the court is not constrained by subsection (5) to consider only the matters listed there in deciding whether particular prohibitions and requirements are appropriate. In other words, that is not an exhaustive list of every conceivable circumstance that would make it hard for them to discharge their obligations under an injunction. There could well be other circumstances, including caring responsibilities, which should be borne in mind when the injunction is granted. The court must carry out a two-stage test before it may grant an injunction. It must satisfy itself not only that the respondent has engaged, or is likely to engage, in antisocial behaviour—that is the No. 1 test—but that it would be “just and convenient” to grant an injunction. That wording is contained in subsection (3).
Within this second limb, the court will routinely consider issues of proportionality and fairness in deciding whether to grant an injunction, and what prohibitions or requirements to include in that. It will consider not only all relevant matters specifically required by the Bill, but all matters in the round to ensure that it makes the right decision. If a respondent has responsibilities as a carer that could be affected by an injunction, the court will take that into account.
Furthermore, in deciding whether to include a requirement in the injunction under clause 2(2), the court must receive evidence from the person responsible for supervising the requirement that that requirement is not just suitable, but, in practice, enforceable. That means that the court would consider evidence that showed that the respondent had responsibilities as a carer and would not impose a requirement that could not be enforced or would not be suitable in that individual case. The obligation on the responsible person to make arrangements for a positive requirement under clause 2 would similarly require them to factor in any caring responsibilities of a respondent.
A court will also have to consider the article 8 rights of the respondent and others who may be affected by one of its orders. However, the right to family life under article 8 is a qualified right and the courts may interfere with that where it is right and proportionate to do so.
Having said all of that, I believe and accept that caring responsibilities are by their nature different from other matters addressed in subsection (5). For example, it may be possible for somebody to make adjustments to their caring routines to discharge their obligations when subject to an injunction. In this Committee, we may think that that is right. It is a slightly different matter, however, to ask somebody to change their religious beliefs to satisfy the requirements of an injunction. We think, therefore, that while this list is not exhaustive, the point before us in the amendment is of a different order from the three requirements listed.
The answer I would give comes back to the point that I made in response to the previous amendments. My hon. and learned Friend made a point about carers, but he could have tabled an amendment about the difficulties that someone with disabilities who is subjected to an injunction may face, as those may be different from those experienced by someone who did not have disabilities. For that same reason, it would have to be considered whether those disabilities meant that that nature of the injunction was not just and convenient. The list is not exhaustive, and all those matters will need to be taken into account in addition to the three specified in the clause.
I accept that the amendment raises an important issue that practitioners and the courts need to consider where it is relevant to an application for an injunction. However, for the reasons that I gave, I do not think it necessary to include a further requirement in the Bill. I hope that, having heard that explanation, my hon. and learned Friend will be content to withdraw his amendment.
Stephen Phillips: I am grateful to the Minister for the detailed explanation he gave about why the Government feel that the amendment is inappropriate. The difficulty with the case he advances is that subsection (5) enumerates a list of matters that a court must take into account when deciding whether to grant an IPNA. Subsection (5) enjoins courts, as far as practicable, to grant an injunction such as to avoid conflict with the things enumerated in that list. It is all very well for the Minister to say that a court can take into account other things; the trouble is that those things are in an entirely different category and are essentially discretionary. As the Minister indicated, they have to be taken into account under other subsections of clause 1, or under clause 2.
The Minister referred to the European convention on human rights. It might be true that a court can take caring responsibilities into account under the European convention on human rights. However, religious beliefs, which are included in subsection (5), can also be taken into account under the European convention on human rights. Why are they in subsection (5), but caring responsibilities are not? It makes no sense at all. Either everything that ought to be taken into account and avoided should be in subsection (5), or subsection (5) is redundant.
On the Minister’s point about disability, I have to say—this is no doubt my fault—that all his comment illustrates is another amendment needs to be made to
Mr Browne: I did not seek to encourage my hon. and learned Friend to table further amendments, although it is entirely up to him. Before he sits down, I want to caution him against the temptation to be attracted to the apparent concession from the hon. Member for Ashfield, who said she supports the amendment, given that she has put her name to amendment 30, which seeks to water down the equivalent provision in clause 21. In amendment 30, the Opposition seek to remove the requirement that prohibitions or requirements should not interfere with the respondent’s work or education commitments. It is difficult to understand the Opposition’s approach. They appear to want to strengthen the provisions in this part of the Bill and water them down elsewhere. I advise my hon. and learned Friend that he would be better to work in conjunction with the Government—as he appears to be doing at the moment—who wish to demonstrate good faith in this area without supplying an exhaustive list, which is almost certainly an impossible task.
Stephen Phillips: I am working with neither the Government nor the Opposition; I am working on behalf of my constituents, and I am trying to improve the Bill. I am not quite sure what the Minister’s comment was directed at, but we could do without it. In respect of the Minister’s intervention, I must say that I am responsible for defending many things, but the Opposition’s inconsistency is not one of them.
Gloria De Piero: Hon. Members will be aware that amendments are sometimes tabled to get clarification, to probe and to get more detail. The Opposition are not being inconsistent; the amendment is designed to probe.
Stephen Phillips: So there we have it. I am not persuaded by the Minister’s assurance that there will be sufficient protection when an IPNA is granted against someone with caring responsibilities for either a child or, as the hon. Lady said, an adult. Caring responsibilities should be included in subsection (5), and courts should be enjoined to take disabilities into account. On that basis, I will not withdraw the amendment.
Gloria De Piero: I shall argue that clause 1 should not stand part of the Bill. That does not mean that we would not support additional clauses on bullying being added to the Bill further down the line. We thank the hon. Member for Chatham and Aylesford for her work on bullying and stand by the offer we have made to her.
The Opposition have serious concerns about the abolition of the ASBO and its replacement with an untested, weaker power. I will develop my argument in some detail, because we feel very strongly about this matter. From chats on the doorstep and from our constituency casework, we all know that antisocial behaviour is a major problem. Around 2.4 million incidents of antisocial behaviour were recorded by the police in England and Wales for the year ending September 2012. In its own impact assessment on the changes the Bill introduces, the Home Office refers to the 2010 Ipsos MORI poll that found that antisocial behaviour is the public’s highest priority.
Gloria De Piero: I am grateful, Sir Roger. More recently, in March the Government’s official crime survey revealed that more than eight out of 10 people believe antisocial behaviour has risen in England and Wales during the past 12 months. Nearly a third of the 46,000 people questioned for the British crime survey by the Office for National Statistics said they themselves had been a victim of yobbish behaviour, or had witnessed an incident, in the previous year. We are talking about serious stuff. Sometimes in this House we have debates on subjects that do not cut through to our constituents. We all know that antisocial behaviour is not one of those subjects.
The Opposition are worried that the Government want to throw a tried and tested system into chaos. Scrapping the ASBO and replacing it with a weaker power, at a time when eight out of 10 people say antisocial behaviour is on the rise, is simply the wrong thing to do. Interestingly, in all the conversations that have taken place about the Bill, everybody has used the term antisocial behaviour; does that not suggest that it is right to keep the name of the power as it is? That name forces agencies to talk about antisocial behaviour. We do not want to hide the phrase away in the small print. It is the phrase our constituents use, it is what the police say and it is how it is referred to on TV and in our newspapers. We believe that that is a serious point.
The Committee should remember that in 1997 there were no specific tools to tackle antisocial behaviour. We are not saying that the Government should not update the powers, improve them, or amend them. The Opposition had pledges to make them better in our own manifesto. We are saying to the Government, “Don’t turn the clock back and scrap the powers: that is a mistake. Improve them, but don’t turn the clock back and introduce a weaker power.”
The Home Secretary said in the Chamber that we had some sort of romantic or sentimental attachment to the ASBO because we introduced it. That is absolute nonsense. We are asking Members to keep the ASBO because the alternative being created is weaker and yobs will be let off the hook.
Gloria De Piero: That may be an argument for having an IPNA in addition, but I do not think it is an argument for scrapping the ASBO. In fact, during the oral evidence sessions, Liberty’s representative, when asked whether the powers were weaker, said yes, in terms of the lack of criminal sanction, they were weaker. That evidence is on the record.
A breach of the new injunction will not be a crime; let us imagine what that might mean in practice. Let us say that an individual—we will give him the name Johnny—has been abusing residents around the local supermarket. He is warned to stop, but he does not, so he is given an ASBO that prevents him from hanging around that supermarket and abusing people: the ASBO is like a final warning. However, Johnny goes back to the supermarket and continues to abuse and harass people, causing distress. When he ignores that final warning and continues to cause misery, that constitutes a crime, and it is absolutely right that it does. There has to be a criminal sanction, otherwise why would an individual not breach an order?
Paul Maynard: The hon. Lady sets out a good example of how the breaching of an ASBO can lead to a spell in jail, but does she accept that the vast majority of those in jail for breaching ASBOs have speech, language and communication needs that mean that they cannot fulfil or comprehend the ASBO’s requirements? They are being set up to fail. Is that really protecting our local communities?
The police would report any such breach to the Crown Prosecution Service. The CPS would then take up the case and Johnny would end up in court. As the hon. Gentleman says, some four in 10 Johnnys would end up in prison. That is how seriously we took a breach. Under the IPNA, in exactly the same scenario, a breach would not result in a criminal record, because it would not be a crime. The police could pursue a breach under contempt of court, but they would have to pay to do so. One chief inspector told me that his legal services team estimated that the per-case cost of pursuing a breach would be some £800 to £1,500. That is a lot of cash for a cash-strapped local council or police force, which would have to take money from elsewhere.
Pursuing a breach is obviously the right thing to do, but do not just take my word about the chances of that happening. On cost, Gavin Thomas, vice-president of the Police Superintendents Association, said that
“there is a cost because we have to have people to pull together the case, take it to court and enforce it, so there is a cost.”––[Official Report, Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Public Bill Committee, 18 June 2013; c. 9, Q10.]
The question we must all ask is whether we could go back to our constituencies and tell those who sent us here that we have changed the law and that antisocial behaviour may now go unpunished. That is not hyperbole; it comes from the evidence given to us by senior police figures. I will quote my hon. Friend the Member for Rochdale who made the following point to Tim Jackson, the national deputy secretary of the Police Superintendents Association:
Another major concern is that it takes time for agencies to get used to new powers. In 1999, when the ASBO was introduced, only 104 were issued. In 2011, 1,414 ASBOs were issued, which is 14 times higher than in the first year of operation.
Paul Maynard: Will the hon. Lady explain why the number of ASBOs issued last year was a significant decline compared with the total of three or four years ago? I cannot find the figures quickly, but the figure has reduced. Does that decline in usage not suggest to her that the tool is less appropriate than it used to be?
Gloria De Piero: No. There was a peak in the mid-2000s of something like 4,000 ASBOs, but the number has been pretty consistent over the past few years. As I said, the figure for 2011 was 14 times higher than in 1999 when the ASBO was introduced.
“your point is a good one. I think you may well find a dip, so to speak, in terms of officers having to get a grip on the new legislation and what is actually required.”––[Official Report, Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Public Bill Committee, 18 June 2013; c. 9, Q12.]
Mr Browne: Speaking on behalf of my constituents and the Government, let me put a proposition to the hon. Lady. When Sara Thornton, with all her expertise, gave evidence to us last week, she was asked about this specific point. She said:
“I do not think necessarily that there will be a lull. The numbers of ASBOs at the moment are pretty low; I had a quick survey done yesterday and it is fewer than 10 in one of our police areas per year. So it is really quite low. I do not anticipate a lull.”––[Official Report, Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Public Bill Committee, 20 June 2013; c. 71, Q135.]
The change in the definition to nuisance and annoyance has been of concern to a number of organisations, and 25 of them wrote to The Times a couple of weeks ago. Those organisations, which included the Centre for Mental Health, Justice, YoungMinds, the Children’s Society, Barnardo’s, the Standing Committee for Youth Justice and UK Youth, asked for the existing definition to remain. Of course, they are not part of the Labour party, but independent organisations. The point is that now is not the time to throw the system into chaos and to risk ASB going unpunished; that is not the public’s priority, and it should not be ours.
I want to tackle head on the suggestion that ASBOs did not work and that they were a badge of honour. I want to quote, not the Labour party, but the National Audit Office, which looked at the issue in the mid-2000s. It said Labour’s approach to ASB worked with 65% of people, because they desisted after the first intervention on ASB. Therefore, the majority of people who received an antisocial behaviour intervention did not re-engage. However, a hard core did, which is why it is important to say that if people breach the terms of their ASBO by continuing to play their music all night or to abuse and intimidate people in the town centre—in short, by continuing to cause misery—that is a crime, full stop.
ACPO, like chief constables across the country, will make the best of the approach that is put forward, but many practitioners have raised the concern that, with changing case law, it might take some time for them to be able to use these powers as effectively as the previous powers.
To conclude, we all hear horrific tales of antisocial behaviour; it is a really hard nut to crack, and we hear about it in our surgeries. Let me mention a couple of examples I have heard lately. A business person who runs a restaurant says a gang of lads hang around outside. He says it is really bad for business because they intimidate his customers. I tell him that, under the
Richard Fuller: When I was young, the Labour party had a soft heart for young people who sometimes indulged in errant behaviour. I have no idea where that soft heart went, and perhaps the hon. Lady can tell me. However, my question is, what analysis has she done of the impact on young people’s lives of a preference for criminalising youthful, albeit antisocial behaviour? Does always looking to criminalise behaviour have long-term consequences for society?
On the point about when Labour lost its heart, we all know that the less well off people are, the more likely they are to be a victim of crime and antisocial behaviour. That is why it is in our DNA. That is why it is the core of the Labour party. We do not think that because people have less protection but are more vulnerable to crime and antisocial behaviour we should let those responsible off the hook.
Stephen Phillips: The hon. Lady said that the vast majority of ASBOs were given to adults. She then said that only two thirds of them were. Is the Labour party’s position to criminalise a third of those against whom ASBOs were granted, a third of them being children in respect of what is essentially mistaken behaviour? Is that the policy of the Labour party?
Stephen Phillips: I am absolutely astonished to hear the hon. Lady say that. The United Nations and everybody else accept that they are children. That therefore means that the Labour party’s policy in relation to mistaken antisocial behaviour is to criminalise children. Is that right?
Gloria De Piero: If I were to tell a woman who had come into my surgery in tears because a guy was making her life a misery by spitting at her and abusing her, that there could be no sanction because he was only 17—I am sorry, but that is where I stand.
Stephen Phillips: The hon. Lady is being generous in giving way. What she needs to say to the person who comes into her surgery is that there is legislation in place to tackle this behaviour and to stop it occurring. That, presumably, is what the Labour party should concentrate on, not on criminalising children.
Gloria De Piero: The ASBO is the final warning. There would be a visit from a police officer first, and then perhaps a written warning and an early intervention. Quite a few of those things would be exhausted before the ASBO stage. An ASBO is not the first thing. It should be the final warning. If after all those interventions that final warning has been ignored—
Richard Fuller: I am grateful to the hon. Lady for telling us that Labour party policy is that at the end of the road she wants to criminalise children when it comes to antisocial behaviour. Would she not accept that the socio-economic background of many of the children she and the Labour party would like to criminalise is the same underprivileged background as that of those who suffer from antisocial behaviour? Would she therefore not agree that a better approach would be to do what the Government are doing and identify families who need assistance and target it on them, rather than taking out a big stick and clubbing children and their families around the head?
Gloria De Piero: I am on the side of the victim. But of course interventions are made. I am proud that we introduced things like Sure Start. We do not shout enough about all the things that we did to help the underprivileged, but I will always be on the side of the victim in the criminal justice system. I have been generous in allowing interventions. I think I have explained why the Opposition believe that if all the warnings and interventions are ignored there should be a tough sanction.
Paul Maynard: I congratulate the hon. Lady on her speech. It is tempting to look at the past, and I would be the first to agree that the Labour party has done a great deal in terms of antisocial behaviour legislation since 1997. Tony Blair said that he wanted to be tough on crime and tough on the causes of crime, so it seems odd that Labour Members are now retreating to just being tough on crime. The causes of crime are now being relegated to a subset. Everyone talks about antisocial behaviour, and there is a comforting feeling of nostalgia for those four simple letters—A, S, B, O—but just because they spell ASBO is not a reason for retaining antisocial behaviour orders. I could spend some time arguing the merits of the IPNA, but I want to look a little more closely at the hon. Lady’s arguments for retaining ASBOs and that in some way the issue of positive requirements can be dealt with by improving the individual support order.
As we noted in our interventions, the number of ASBOs is declining. That, to me, is a critical indicator showing that those who have to utilise the toolkit no longer feel absolute confidence in the ASBO as a tool. During exchanges—we can tell it is Wimbledon fortnight; it is rather like tennis—we heard the hon. Lady say that it is important to recognise that antisocial behaviour affects deprived areas in particular and that, in some way the Labour party has, if not a monopoly on the matter, at least an authentic, natural voice. As the Member of Parliament for the fourth most deprived ward in the country, I am well aware of the devastating impact of persistent antisocial behaviour on people’s lives. Like the hon. Lady, I am sure, I try to give comfort and reassurance to people who come to my constituency surgery. However, I have no doubt that the measures
The measures will tackle the causes of the crime. I am concerned that the Opposition’s approach is rather at variance with the position taken by their shadow Front-Bench spokesmen in the Children and Families Bill on breaches of ASBOs. We have swapped figures about who gets an ASBO and at what age. In 2011, the last year for which figures are available, breaches of ASBOs in the 10 to 17 age group were 27.1%, with a high of 40% in 2009.
As I said earlier to the hon. Lady, we know that those people overwhelmingly have speech, language and communication needs. We have constructed a conveyor belt for the most vulnerable in our society, whereby they end up in jail. I am not comfortable, as an MP in this legislature, with a system in which we set up our young people to fail. Jail is not the right place to solve all society’s ills. I do not believe that Opposition Members believe that either, yet somehow they appear to be trying to preserve that system.
I accept that improvements can be made, but they lie in the IPNA. As we heard in evidence, only a small number of individual support orders have been issued since 2003. It is worth noting that ISOs were introduced in 2003, because it suggests that someone had already noticed that there was a need to refine ASBOs.
Previous Labour Governments always had to have a criminal justice Bill, to prove that they were doing something because something must be done. I am not a fan of more legislation for the sake of it, but this set of legislative requirements is a refinement and an improvement. I am surprised that the hon. Lady is so desperate to retain ASBOs.
Paul Maynard: The hon. Lady makes an important point, which was discussed during the passage of the Children and Families Bill. We now need to introduce a more coherent system that applies from an early age, bringing together health and education. That is what the Children and Families Bill will do, ensuring that funding is more appropriately deployed, in line with the fashionable term, “early intervention”. We should not wait until someone has stepped on to the conveyor belt of the youth justice system before we start trying to solve all their problems.
Once again, I underline the point that we should not use the youth justice system to solve the social problems in our society. The hon. Lady’s argument is fundamentally flawed. I am surprised, once again, to hear Labour clamping down on the most vulnerable in our society. When a constituent comes to my surgery because they are suffering antisocial behaviour, she wants to know that the individual will be punished—yes—and that
The Government are making a grave mistake by introducing what is quickly becoming known as the IPNA. I want to say a few words about that, and use a case of antisocial behaviour that came to my attention at my weekly surgery, a week ago last Friday.
One of my constituents, Tina Squire, came to see me and explained that she and her neighbours were suffering antisocial behaviour—not nuisance or what the Minister earlier described as unhappiness. The residents of Greave estate say they are being terrorised. It is difficult to overestimate what they are living with. The actions of the terrorisers are causing the residents not unhappiness, as the Minister puts it, but ill health. It cannot be put more simply or clearly.
That is my first point: language and its importance in legislation such as the Bill. The Bill waters down the tone in relation to antisocial behaviour, and belittles residents’ problems and experiences. [ Interruption. ] I will make this point and then allow the Minister to intervene. Language is extremely important, and the term “antisocial behaviour” should be in the Bill. It should continue to be used. I accept that there may be a need for amendments; that is the nature of legislation. However, I am strongly of the opinion that the relevant orders should be called antisocial behaviour orders, not IPNAs.
Mr Browne: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way; I was not intending to intervene, because I want to make a speech, but I object to being selectively quoted. I shall check the Official Report, but I think that in response to amendments tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Chatham and Aylesford I spoke of unhappiness or great misery. However, I do not want to detract from the hon. Gentleman’s overall point that antisocial behaviour can be a severe blight for individuals or families, causing great misery or unhappiness, and severely compromising their quality of life. I should not want the hon. Gentleman to imply that I am downplaying the effect of antisocial behaviour on its victims. I readily accept, and see in my constituency, that it can be very severe.
Simon Danczuk: I appreciate that intervention and the Minister’s support for my point. We would not want the orders to be called unhappiness orders. It is important to use the right phrases and terminology, to give residents confidence and clarity about the fact that the Government understand their terrible experiences. Language is important.
David Rutley (Macclesfield) (Con): I appreciate the hon. Gentleman’s record of hard work for his constituents in Rochdale, which is well known. Does he recall, however, the evidence from the Association of Chief
Simon Danczuk: I am not saying that amendments should not be made, or that the orders should not be revised in any way. However, my first point is that language is very important, and I urge the Government to reconsider their thinking.
I return to the point that arose when we took evidence, not least from Ministers, about compromise within the coalition Government. I am genuine in saying that: I wonder whether the two Government parties have come to some compromise and come up with something that seems lighter and less harsh than the ASBO did. Residents do not appreciate that.
Let me continue with this particular case. One of the young people terrorising Tina Squire, her family and her neighbours was served with an ASBO relatively recently. Tina Squire returned to my constituency office yesterday to explain that her windows had been smashed and that the word “grass” had been graffitied across her hall. The perpetrator is clearly in breach of his ASBO; there is no doubt about that.
This is a very live issue. I am obviously pressing the police to punish the breach. There is no doubt in my mind that there is a small group of youngsters intimidating Tina Squire, and I will tell the Committee why. It is because she gave evidence that resulted in the ASBO being applied—
The Chair: Order. I am sorry to have to interrupt the hon. Gentleman. I have listened very carefully to him and I think that we are in some danger of straying into matters that the House cannot consider because they are before the courts. I am afraid we have to be very careful about what we say. I urge the hon. Gentleman to steer clear.
My second point is that we must have a criminal sanction for breaches of an ASBO. It is important to have that criminal sanction when severe crimes are committed, some of which I have described. Neither I nor the public understand why the Government are making it more difficult to apply a criminal sanction to those criminals.
Mr Browne: Someone could observe that the ASBO does not appear to be having the desired effect in the hon. Gentleman’s constituency, but that is not the point. The point I want to make, which may be a wider warning to the Committee, is that there is a tendency in politics to talk about antisocial behaviour when what people are really talking about is criminal activity. Smashing somebody’s windows is not “antisocial behaviour”; it is criminal damage. I do not doubt the hon. Gentleman’s sincerity, but there is a risk that if we term that type of activity “antisocial behaviour” we appear to diminish its importance, when I do not doubt—as he says himself—that it is having a very severe effect indeed on the victim.
Simon Danczuk: It is being applied as it should be applied, and any breach of it should result in a criminal sanction. However, the Government are proposing to make it difficult to apply the criminal sanction. That is my second point: it should be easier to apply the criminal sanction.
Let me turn to my third and final point. The antisocial behaviour that has been occurring on Greave estate was initially met by a lot of reluctance of local residents to give evidence and to come forward as witnesses. Indeed, Tina Squire was brave in coming forward and I commend her for having done so. It is one of the reasons why she is receiving further intimidation. My third and final point is about the Government’s suggestion for a community trigger. Will the Minister consider scrapping the community trigger threshold, so that reluctant witnesses are not put off giving further evidence?
I will make some general points about the impact that antisocial behaviour has on communities and why the Government’s approach is mistaken and will not help communities to deal with it. We all know that antisocial behaviour can blight a community. What residents tell me is particularly distressing about such behaviour is that it often means that they cannot even feel safe in their home—the place they should feel safest. In Northumbria, my force area, 116,000 incidents of antisocial behaviour were reported in the past year. In a survey that I carried out with local residents on the issue, some troubling cases were reported to me. For example, Miss K told me that her harassment had started in 2011; she had had a new car, and within two weeks, it had been targeted with paint stripper, which caused her real distress. At that point, her partner, who had been in employment, was an unpaid carer. As the Minister says, someone’s car being targeted in that way is clearly criminal, but it is often difficult to track down the people concerned; also, it is often part of a much wider pattern of behaviour, for which we need clear sanctions.
“I feel I’ve lost everything as we had a home that would have been paid for. The costs with selling it this time has wiped out everything we had worked hard for. I could sit…and cry at everything I have lost.”
Stephen Mosley (City of Chester) (Con): The hon. Lady, the shadow Minister and the hon. Member for Rochdale have all given examples of antisocial behaviour. Does that not tell them that the ASBO system is not working?
Bridget Phillipson: What the examples tell me is that antisocial behaviour in communities such as mine and across the country remains a huge problem—of course it is; I would not deny that. We still have a long way to go to ensure that it is taken seriously and agencies work
The issue that my constituent raised touches on aspects where housing comes into the matter and how we are able to deal effectively with antisocial behaviour depending on the tenure of the person concerned. There will be opportunities to discuss that more fully in later debates, so I will leave it for the moment, but I have concerns about how the Bill can deal effectively with people across tenures. In my experience, the most difficult cases to resolve involve tenants in the private rented sector. Landlords are often reluctant to act, which can quickly lead to serious and escalating problems.
The hon. Member for Blackpool North and Cleveleys talked about early intervention, targeted support and being tough on crime and the causes of crime. I absolutely agree that what is needed is not just sanctions, but support and intervention offered to families to stop antisocial behaviour from escalating. Police officers tell me that they want to deal with antisocial behaviour the first time it happens; as far as they are concerned, even a first time is a failure. They want to be in their communities, listening to what is going on and picking up problems before they become criminal or start to escalate, but with the reduction in front-line officers in my area and across the Northumbria force, and with the cuts that are, unfortunately, leading to police officers having to spend more time—[ Interruption. ] Does the Minister wish to intervene?
The hon. Lady serves on that Committee and signed up to its conclusions, as I understand it. Does she differ from her Back-Bench colleagues, who appear to wish to keep automatic criminalisation, or does she continue to support the view of the Home Affairs Committee that it is a good idea for criminalisation not to be automatic?
Bridget Phillipson: I am sure that the Minister served on Select Committees before he assumed ministerial office, so he will know that in Select Committees, there is a full debate on the issues and evidence is taken, but people often do not agree with absolutely everything in the report. Of course people reach a natural compromise with their colleagues, working cross-party in order to be constructive to the Government. I am concerned about certain aspects of the Government’s proposals. I think the Home Affairs Committee was constructive in what it offered to the Government. I am pleased that the Government have taken heed, in some areas, of the pre-legislative scrutiny that we offered the Bill. It is important that we have an opportunity to debate the legislation and to recommend change constructively where appropriate.
The point that I was making is that the number of front-line officers has been reduced, making it more difficult for problems to be nipped in the bud before they escalate. Police officers believe that one incident is one too many, which is absolutely true.
“The 999 stuff is still okay. The neighbourhood stuff, the fact that the community know us and who the local bobby is—that’s gone. You deal with demand, withdraw to your statutory responsibilities, but issues like antisocial behaviour where you need to build trust and confidence, you need people to know you so you can nip things in the bud—that’s gone.”
We on the Home Affairs Committee heard from a number of senior and eminent people that they are concerned that the whole concept of neighbourhood policing is being undermined. It took us a long time to get back to the system of neighbourhood policing. [ Interruption. ] The Minister is chuntering. I am happy to take another intervention if he likes.
Mr Browne: I do not understand the position of the Labour party. The position used to be that the Government were wicked for trying to get the budget back into balance and that Labour would borrow more to spend more, but my understanding as of last weekend is that Labour supports the Government’s reductions in public spending, in which case I cannot see why Members are standing in this Committee lamenting the consequences of cuts that they themselves support.
Bridget Phillipson: We have been clear since 2010 that we do not support 20% cuts to policing. We supported HMIC’s recommendation that 12% was manageable and would not have the same impact on the front line.
Mr Browne: That is absolutely crucial. Is the hon. Lady now saying that because the consequences of the reductions in police budgets, which in my view were necessary, are so invidious in her constituency—that is her observation, even though crime has fallen in her police force area—Labour will reverse those reductions when it comes to office, or is that just posturing and hot air? My understanding is that the Labour party now supports the cuts being made by the Government.
Bridget Phillipson: We are here to debate what the Government are doing. We are talking about antisocial behaviour and the Government’s approach. I have been clear about the Labour party’s position on policing, our priorities and what we believe is important. That may be unusual to the Minister, who is a Liberal Democrat and so has not necessarily had to take that kind of difficult decision. He must now defend what he is doing in government, not simply attack a theoretical position.
Mr David Hanson (Delyn) (Lab): My hon. Friend will be aware that as the Minister responsible for policing, I supported a 12% cut in policing budgets for the three years of this Parliament. Before the election, the present Minister criticised me, promising 3,000 extra police officers, but he is now committed to a policy of 15,000 fewer. I do not think that we should take lessons from him on—
My right hon. Friend makes an important point. I remember having similar discussions with Liberal Democrats about their approach to policing during the 2010 general election. Unfortunately, those 3,000 extra police officers have yet to materialise, although they were apparently to be funded by scrapping ID cards. That happened, but unfortunately there was then a huge reduction in the number of police officers. We live in hope that, in future, the Liberal Democrats will stand on a manifesto that they can actually deliver.
I will not be diverted into those matters any further, Sir Roger. To return to the subject of early intervention, the hon. Member for Blackpool North and Cleveleys made an important point about how we support families and work with them to tackle the underlying causes of antisocial behaviour and ensure appropriate interventions. Again, my concern is about how local authority budgets in areas such as mine have been disproportionately cut. We are having a big problem supporting families through council social work departments and offering the targeted support that is often needed.
In my career before becoming an MP, I managed a woman’s refuge. I often worked with families who were experiencing difficulty in their lives, and who needed support. Often, the trauma and abuse experienced by children manifested itself in antisocial behaviour, which caused difficulties in communities. With the right intervention, such a problem can be addressed. We can make changes to ensure that communities feel safe and that that behaviour is stopped. However, it was also clear to me that, even with all the help and support and interventions—the warnings from the police and the support from social workers and the voluntary sector—there sometimes comes a point when a tough sanction is needed. An ASBO was never meant to be the first step. It was to be used when all else had failed. It is about seeing a pattern develop and supporting a person to change that pattern. Where that is not possible and where the person is not willing to commit to that kind of change, there comes a point when a sanction is needed.
Stephen Phillips: The hon. Lady makes a powerful point. Do she and the Labour party think it is appropriate to criminalise an 87-year-old man by the use of an ASBO for being sarcastic to his neighbours?
Bridget Phillipson: I am not aware of the case that the hon. and learned Gentleman mentions, so I really cannot comment on it. All I will say is that the cases that I have seen where ASBOs have been granted are very serious indeed. They represent a pattern of behaviour that makes people’s lives a misery. It can be a concerted campaign of harassment, targeting and abuse that can literally drive people to the point of suicide. We have to be careful to ensure that we have in place legislation that
That brings me on to my main concern about this legislation. The removal of the criminal sanction weakens the Bill and will damage our approach to antisocial behaviour. It will not send out a clear message to those who perpetrate antisocial behaviour that this is a serious matter. We have made big progress in tackling antisocial behaviour—the term itself is now widely used and police forces, local authorities and others are much better at identifying and dealing with it—but we still have a long way to go. Unfortunately, the Government’s approach will not help.
Mr Browne: I will in a moment, but I have more good news to come. The Government have done that while still presiding over a reduction in the catastrophic budget deficit that we inherited after the mismanagement of the previous Government. We do not rest on our laurels, which is why we are introducing excellent legislation such as the initiative that I am about to talk to the Committee about.
Gloria De Piero: Did the Minister see the Government’s own crime survey in March, which revealed that more than eight in 10 people believe that antisocial behaviour has risen in England and Wales over the past 12 months? Is he happy with that?
Mr Browne: I do not wish people to believe that antisocial behaviour has risen. All the statistical evidence on crime and antisocial behaviour is indicative of a fall. We see that in police recorded crime and in the British crime survey. Obviously, there is also a reduction in the cases of very serious crime, which are hard to categorise. I do not think that there is a dispute over the fact that crime has fallen in the past three years. It has fallen in every single police force in England and Wales, but we want to do more, which is why we are introducing the Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Bill further to protect people across the country.
Clause 1 establishes the power to grant injunctions to prevent nuisance and annoyance. The police, local councils and other agencies are working hard to reduce antisocial behaviour to protect victims and tackle offenders, and we heard of similar such cases during the debate. Incidents of antisocial behaviour are still too high, and continue to blight communities and cause great misery to victims. That is a point of agreement across the Committee, because as MPs or just as members of society, we have all seen how antisocial behaviour can have a severe impact on victims; it can be harrowing to hear about their experiences. We have an obligation to do what we can to try to protect people from such behaviour.
The police recorded some 2.3 million incidents of antisocial behaviour in the year ending December 2012, and we know that other incidents are reported to local councils and social landlords or, in many cases, are not
We have listened to victims. They want agencies to take their problems seriously and to respond quickly to those problems and, ultimately, they want their problems to stop, but front-line practitioners know that the current powers do not work as well as they should. Last Thursday, for example, the Committee heard from Sara Thornton, chief constable of Thames Valley police:
“The fact is, the experience has been that the ASBOs have been quite bureaucratic, in terms of securing them, and maybe not as effective at tackling the problem as we hoped.”––[Official Report, Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Public Bill Committee, 20 June 2013; c. 71, Q135.]
The most recent statistics from the Ministry of Justice—to the end of 2011—show that 57% of antisocial behaviour orders, which is close to what the hon. Member for Ashfield describes as a vast majority, were breached at least once, and just over 42% were breached more than once. Due to more than 10 pieces of legislation being introduced over several years before 2010, the current antisocial behaviour toolkit has become bloated with a plethora of powers that are confusing to practitioners and the wider public.
We are replacing the 19 existing powers with six new and more effective powers so that agencies can provide quick and long-lasting respite to victims who need it. Many of our witnesses last week supported streamlining the existing powers, including Tony Lloyd, the police and crime commissioner for Greater Manchester, who gave compelling evidence.
Mr Browne: No, I would not necessarily draw that conclusion. I share the view of the hon. Member for Houghton and Sunderland South—she appears no longer to share this view herself, ironically—that the move away from automatic criminalisation for breaching an IPNA is welcome. There are severe sanctions in place, and some people might regard them as excessive. I do not want people reading our deliberations to think that the breach of an IPNA is without consequence: for an over-18, there is scope for an unlimited fine or up to two years in prison. An IPNA is a serious measure, but people who receive an IPNA will not be criminalised if they breach it, which, particularly in relation to children, has been welcomed by many people, including some of those who contributed to our deliberations this morning.
Clause 1 establishes the IPNA, which will replace antisocial behaviour orders on application, antisocial behaviour injunctions, individual support orders and intervention orders. The IPNA is modelled on the antisocial behaviour injunction, which has been used successfully by social landlords for more than a decade to address antisocial behaviour.
The IPNA will be a purely civil remedy and will be available in the county court for adults and in the youth court for under-18s, which will ensure that we retain the expertise of county court judges in making civil orders and use the experience of youth court judges in hearing cases involving young people. A wide range of agencies
Subsections (2) and (3) set out a two-stage test to obtain the new injunction. First, an applicant must satisfy the court that an individual has engaged or has threatened to engage in conduct causing nuisance and annoyance. The nuisance and annoyance test is based on the one already in use for the antisocial behaviour injunction, which has worked well for more than a decade for housing practitioners tackling antisocial behaviour. Concerns have been expressed about the wording and formulation of nuisance and annoyance, but we have used the measure because it has been in place for an extended period and has a successful track record.
During the consultation, there were, admittedly, mixed responses to our proposed test for the injunction. However, we welcomed the fact that a significant majority of those who responded on the point preferred the lower test of nuisance and annoyance, while a minority would have preferred a higher test. We felt on balance, due to the case record, that we had arrived at the right formulation.
Moreover, the test is well known to the courts and is supported by several years of case law. In determining whether the first test has been met, the court will apply the civil standard of proof, namely the balance of probabilities. That will help to reduce the burden on the police and others in meeting the criminal evidential standard that currently applies to ASBOs.
Secondly, the applicant must satisfy the court that it is just and convenient to grant the injunction. That was the point I discussed with my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham, although not in a way he found compelling I regret to say. It must be just and convenient to grant the injunction. As part of its consideration, the court must have regard to the principles of proportionality or fairness before granting an injunction. Sadly, that is another point that my hon. and learned Friend found uncompelling. However, it was meant with good intentions.
Some hon. Members raised concerns about the potential cost of the new injunction, and the possibility that the police may not pursue breaches due to resource implications. That was a point made by the hon. Member for Ashfield. I do not believe that that will be a problem. The available evidence from the National Audit Office suggests that it costs just over £3,000 to obtain an ASBO, whereas it costs around half that—about £1,600 —to obtain the antisocial behaviour injunction on which the clause 1 injunction is based.
The same NAO report found the cost of pursuing a breach of an ASBO to be around £1,500, which is the same figure as the hon. Member for Ashfield quoted for pursuing a breach of the new injunction. Taken as a whole, because the new injunction will be quicker and easier to obtain, we can be confident that the overall end-to-end cost will be somewhat lower than for obtaining an ASBO.
The hon. Member for Ashfield also expressed concern in the evidence session last week about the training implications of the new injunction. The Committee heard some powerful evidence from Chief Constable Sara Thornton. In response to a question from the hon. Member for Rochdale, who contributed this morning, the chief constable said:
“So in terms of improving the effectiveness, yes, we are going to have to train officers, but I think that is worth while. Certainly, all my neighbourhood officers and patrol officers, who are the ones who will be dealing with this sort of case, have training included in their duty timetable, once every six weeks. So it is the sort of thing that we would be able to take in the run of events, making sure they are up to speed. If there is a bit of additional training cost, it really would be well worth it, in terms of additional effectiveness in tackling antisocial behaviour locally.”––[Official Report, Anti-Social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Public Bill Committee, 20 June 2013; c. 70-1, Q134.]
In the light of that evidence, I hope Opposition Members will now accept that the investment in training for front-line police officers in the exercise of the new powers is both fully justified and entirely manageable. Ultimately, the lower test and the lower civil standard of proof to get the new injunction mean that it will be quicker to obtain than the antisocial behaviour order, which we have heard from Opposition Members is often not as effective as they would like in their constituencies. Front-line professionals will be able to use the new injunction as a preventive measure to nip emerging problems in the bud before they escalate into something more serious, which is good news for the victims we all seek to help.
The injunction will stop antisocial behaviour quickly by prohibiting the person from doing certain things. Crucially, however, the court could also include positive requirements for the individual to do anything described in the injunction. That point was raised by several of my hon. Friends who do not want just to use negative sanctions to address the deep-seated social problems that can be linked to antisocial behaviour, but who want to try to address the underlying causes. My hon. Friend the Member for Blackpool North and Cleveleys talked about his interest not just in the crime but in the causes of crime. I share his sentiment, which is why the positive requirements are in the Bill. The availability of positive requirements addresses one of the major flaws of antisocial behaviour orders, which tend to focus on stopping the behaviour but not on getting individuals to deal with its root causes, such as substance misuse or anger management, thereby stopping the cycle of antisocial behaviour that, as we heard from hon. Members of all parties, can be devastating for the communities and individuals affected.
Subsection (5) of the clause requires the court to ensure that prohibitions or requirements do not conflict with the offender’s religious beliefs, interfere with their work or school arrangements, or conflict with the requirements of any other court order or injunction. The Committee decided that the list should be extended by the addition of caring requirements, and my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham appears to think that it should be longer still. I do not know whether he wishes it to be exhaustive, or whether he wishes to get as close to exhaustive as
Stephen Phillips: The point is that the Government enumerated in the Bill certain matters that they considered should be taken into account when an injunction was granted. The Government therefore accept that it is appropriate to define certain circumstances that must be taken into account. The question is about what those circumstances are. The Committee has agreed that one should be added, and I suspect that there are hon. Friends on the Government Benches who think that others should be added as well. The problem the Minister has in making the argument that the one that has been inserted does not need to be there at all is that the Government themselves have already identified three, which they enumerate in subsection (5). Having enumerated those three, there can therefore be no principled objection, other than pure amour proper, as to why further instances should not be identified. That is the difficulty that the Minister faces.
Mr Browne: It is not a difficulty I face; the issue is about how we can collectively frame legislation that best protects the constituents of my hon. and learned Friend, which is of course his preoccupation, and all our constituents. We are all concerned to act in a way that is beneficial to our constituents; no one has a unique claim to that elevated purpose. There is now a list of circumstances where an injunction may not be applied. As I said, the list is not exhaustive, and none of us would want it to be so long that it put severe practical barriers in place of granting an injunction when perpetrators were doing severe harm to people in our constituencies—so long that the practical obstacles to granting the injunction were such that it was harder to prevent severe harm. I know that if a Minister were to warn of a consequence of that type, it would be taken seriously by all members of the Committee, because we want to do our best to protect the victims of antisocial behaviour.
There is no minimum or maximum prohibition or requirement period for adults, so for them, the injunction could be indefinite. However, in the case of under-18s, the maximum period for the injunction is 12 months. That was recommended by the Select Committee on Home Affairs, on which the hon. Member for Houghton and Sunderland South serves, and the Government accepted it.
In summary, antisocial behaviour ruins too many lives and changes too many communities. The handful of more effective powers in the Bill puts victims first, and the Government are keen to abide by that dictum. They give front-line professionals what they need to deal effectively with antisocial individuals who do not respond to informal intervention and continue to cause harm to others. It is right that individuals who perpetrate such behaviour should face up to the consequences of their actions.
We all have choices to make about whether we wish to inflict such behaviour on others, regardless of our personal circumstances, and people who do so should
Gloria De Piero: I have listened to the Minister, but I am not convinced, and I am supported by much of the evidence that we heard during our evidence sessions last week. I do not believe that it is right to throw a tried and tested system into chaos; it would turn the clock back. My hon. Friends the Members for Rochdale and for Houghton and Sunderland South made that point and brought powerful testimony from their own constituencies.
Although we do not believe that clause 1 should stand part of the Bill, the points made by the hon. and learned Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham and by the hon. Member for Chatham and Aylesford were important. There have been some warm words and commitments, and we are very happy to work with those Members to pursue their points.
Simon Danczuk: Does my hon. Friend share my view that both the Government and the public will regret the dilution of antisocial behaviour orders, and that the public will see it as a backward rather than a forward step?