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Baroness Hamwee: I am obviously reassured that the Government take the matter as seriously as the noble Lord appears to indicate. Despite what I said in opening this discussion, I have some sympathy with an approach which tackles the general position of witnesses rather than selecting protection in one area. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Baroness Hollis of Heigham moved Amendment No. 263ZAGD:

After Clause 140, insert the following new clause--

Young persons: breach of witness protection order

(".--(1) This section applies to an injunction granted by a county court or by the High Court--
(a) in possession proceedings;
(b) in any proceedings for breach of tenancy relating to residential premises;
(c) in proceedings brought by a registered social landlord or a public sector landlord as defined in section 80 of the Housing Act 1985 for trespass or nuisance;
(d) in any proceedings brought by a local authority using its powers under section 222 of the Local Government Act 1972;
which is a witness protection order granted under the provisions of this Act.
(2) Where a young person is in contempt of court by reason of a breach of any injunction to which this section applies that court shall have the equivalent powers of sentence and punishment which would be available to any criminal court had the defendant been convicted of an offence liable to imprisonment for up to two years.").

The noble Baroness said: This amendment concerns the problems presented by under 18 year-olds in civil law. Where an adult breaches an injunction, he or she is in contempt of court and can be imprisoned for up to two years. This amendment would give the county court or High Court powers to deal with someone under 18 as if he or she had committed an equally serious offence.

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We find that a large number of cases of abuse, violence, harassment or serious damage to property are committed by juveniles. If these were criminal proceedings, the court could act and the actions would range from fining the parents to sending the young offender to an appropriate institution. But in civil law there is no appropriate punishment; indeed, there is barely any punishment at all.

According to Wookey v. Wookey, one cannot take out an injunction against someone under 18 because he cannot be imprisoned, nor is he likely to have an income which could lead to the payment of a fine, and imprisonment could not again come into it if he defaulted on payment. This was brought home to me when Exeter City Council obtained an injunction against someone who was either 16 or 17--a young man who had a history of making threats and committing acts of violence culminating in a threat to burn down a council house. The young man broke the injunction by further violent acts. When the city council pursued the matter, the official solicitor stepped in and said the injunction should never have been granted in the first place as the young man was under 18. The city council had to drop the case; the local authorities were entirely powerless to act. This amendment would bring the powers of civil courts into line with those of the criminal courts when dealing with juveniles. I beg to move.

Lord Lucas: Clearly the new clause of the noble Baroness highlights an important and intractable feature of life on some local authority housing estates. There may be gangs of youngsters, some below the age of criminal responsibility, who indulge in various forms of anti-social behaviour. It is not easy to devise an apt remedy in terms of public policy. A number of government departments have an interest: the Department of the Environment, the Home Office, the Lord Chancellor's Department, the Department of Health and possibly the Department for Education and Employment. The measures in Part V of this Bill represent the first fruits of the Government's work in the field of anti-social behaviour. That work has been undertaken in close consultation with the local authority associations. But it does not end here, with this Bill. There is a great deal more work to do, co-operatively between departments and with local authorities.

That said, we are not comfortable with the route pursued in this amendment. It would allow a county court or a High Court to impose on a young person who breaches an injunction granted by a county or High Court any penalty which would have been available if the young person had been convicted of a criminal offence which carries a sentence of imprisonment of up to two years.

The use of custody for those under 18 years of age is something that we resort to reluctantly. That is why the law only provides that it may be used for those young offenders who commit serious offences or who persistently offend. This reflects the long held principle that young people who appear in court should be treated in a way that takes into account their level of maturity and their welfare needs. This new clause is out of line with these important principles. Under the new clause, a county court would have the power to impose a sentence

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of detention on a 15 year-old for up to two years; for example, for a breach of an injunction which had been issued to prevent the escalation of a relatively minor breach of the tenancy agreement, such as persistently loud music.

We feel that in any case the Youth Court will be the appropriate forum for dealing with people of this age. We certainly agree that when young people commit serious anti-social acts which amount to a criminal offence then such firm action is needed. That is why we have provided the courts with a wide range of penalties to deal with those aged 10 and over who have been convicted of a criminal offence. Courts also have powers to ensure that parents of young offenders support and care for their children to help prevent re-offending.

For the relatively few young people who offend in a serious and persistent way a custodial sentence must remain an option. That is why we have recently widened the custodial powers available. The Youth Court is experienced in dealing with those serious sentences and we would not wish to widen that area of jurisdiction to the county court. But it is quite clear that the noble Baroness and I are aiming in the same direction with much the same ambition--to achieve an effective solution to these problems.

I hope that the noble Baroness will understand that we cannot support the specific solution she proposes and will withdraw the amendment.

Baroness Hollis of Heigham: I propose to withdraw the amendment. I agree with the noble Lord that it is an intractable problem. I think the truth is that none of us knows what to do about it. None of us likes, wants or seeks custody for young people under 18, especially as they may end up more damaged at the end of it. However, if custody is inappropriate, and those people cannot pay fines, what does one do? We are not talking about the child of 10 who kicks a ball, or anything at that level. We are talking about people of 15, 16 or 17 who commit arson, threaten violence and terrify elderly and frail people.

Again, I do not know whether community service orders, or some version of a sentence within the community, is a way forward. We are clearly on the cusp between what is civil and criminal in much of this area. Obviously we shall have to return to the issue. However, currently local authorities are absolutely powerless to do anything against young people under 18. Many teenagers, largely but not invariably young men, are responsible for a major amount of serious harassment and intimidation which occurs, and they go free because custody is inappropriate. They do not have an income with which to pay a fine and, therefore, an injunction is not appropriate because if that were broken there would be contempt and a fine which they could not meet.

We shall have to return to the issue. Whether such people could be required to do a number of hours of work

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in the community, I do not know. We need some help on the matter. It is simply unreasonable at present for so many people to do as they do: to criticise local authorities for the management of council estates and then deny them the powers needed against those people who cause not simply a minor nuisance but serious intimidation.

The noble Lord is right. I shall withdraw the amendment. We should revisit the issue. I am stumped as to the best way forward on such an intractable problem. It would be helpful to hear from organisations outside and beyond this Chamber as to what might be the most appropriate way of dealing with this very real problem. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

11.30 p.m.

Baroness Hollis of Heigham moved Amendment No. 263ZAGDA:

After Clause 140, insert the following new Clause--

Restraining Order

(".--(1) Section 222 of the Local Government Act 1972 shall be amended as follows
(2) After subsection (1) there shall be inserted-- "(1A) On the application of a local authority under this section in their own name the High Court or a county court may issue an injunction restraining any person from--
(a) engaging in or threatening to engage in conduct likely to cause a nuisance or annoyance to a person residing in, visiting or otherwise engaged in a lawful activity in qualifying premises or in the locality of such premises, or
(b) using or threatening to use such premises for immoral or illegal purposes, and may attach such ancillary provisions to ensure compliance with an injunction as the court thinks fit including provisions restraining any person from entering qualifying premises or the locality of qualifying premises.
(1B) The following are qualifying premises for the purposes of this section
(a) dwelling houses held under introductory, secure or assured tenancies, or
(b) accommodation provided under Part VII of the Housing Act 1996, or Part III of the Housing Act 1985 (homelessness).")

The noble Baroness said: This amendment seeks to amend Section 222 of the Local Government Act. Where a person living on a council estate has been verbally abused or harassed, has had threats made against them, their house attacked, rubbish thrown into their garden and so on, the only person who has suffered and can take private law action is the victim, the individual resident, not the local authority. All that the local authority can do is act as landlord and seek possession against one of its own tenants for breaching its conditions of tenancy.

If the person responsible for the violence and harassment is not a council tenant but, let us say, an owner-occupier, possibly a right-to-buy former tenant, a visitor, a private rented sector tenant, or a housing association tenant, in all such situations the local

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authority cannot use private law but only public law remedies, which in this field are in short supply.

When this issue was raised in the other place in terms of debates about community safety orders, public protection orders and the like, one argument used by Ministers was that local authorities already have sufficient powers under Section 222 of the Local Government Act to deal with the situation.

Work that we have done shows that that is simply not true. If Section 222 was sufficient, local authorities would already be using it successfully. They do not, and cannot, because it is not sufficient.

Section 222 of the Local Government Act 1972 states that,

    "Where a local authority consider it expedient for the promotion or protection of the interests of the inhabitants of their area ... they may prosecute or defend or appear in any legal proceedings and, in the case of civil proceedings, may institute them in their own name".

Such measures have been used by local authorities to prevent, for example, Sunday trading or breaches of planning law--in other words, where commercial companies were willing to flout the law repeatedly because they were willing to pay the fine at the end of the day.

However, when local authorities have tried to use Section 222 for serious anti-social behaviour, as the Minister in another place suggested they could, those local authorities which to my knowledge on several occasions have used it have had to withdraw or face surcharge because courts have ruled that there was not a wide enough public interest at stake.

I quote the notorious Finnie brothers case. Coventry City Council, in March 1995, tried to use Section 222 against the Finnie brothers, aged 26 and 29, to exclude them from a small section of one Coventry housing estate. Neither of the brothers lived there. They were not tenants, but they had friends and relatives on the estate. Together, they ruled the estate. They were held responsible for burglary, intimidation, harassment, violence and fire-bombing. Law-abiding tenants left the area, and the local authority found it difficult to get new tenants to live there. School rolls actually fell--people were voting with their feet. People were terrified of giving evidence. Councillors, MPs, the police and community representatives all gave sworn evidence.

The city council obtained a temporary injunction against the two brothers, who lived outside the estate but came in to produce that litany of offences. However, the city council's counsel, Sir Louis Blom-Cooper, advised it to withdraw the action as there was a risk of failure and therefore the court costs that would result would render it liable to surcharge. It had to follow counsel's opinion and the case fell. Some local authorities have been able to get Section 222 injunctions in cases of domestic violence; others have failed because judges have deemed that Section 222 did not cover it.

What is to be done? One could seek a brand new clause on the basis of public protection. I am very

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reluctant to go down that route. This area is difficult. It is a mixture of hybrid civil and criminal law. There is also an issue as to how robust the evidence would need to be on which a local authority could seek an injunction with powers of arrest, as the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, mentioned.

However, there may be a simpler route. I hope with all my heart that the Minister will feel able to support it. If this amendment is not appropriately drafted perhaps he will be able to come back with his own amendment on Report. This may cut through a lot of our problems. It could be made clear on the face of the Bill and without doubt that Section 222 of the Local Government Act 1972 may be used, just as the Minister said in the other place, by a local authority as the basis for an injunction to exclude anyone, not just its own tenants, from coming into a defined area of its estates if the judge agrees that serious anti-social behaviour has occurred or is likely to occur.

The Minister in another place said that Section 222 could bear that interpretation. I have to say that several learned counsel have disagreed with him and local authority cases have fallen as a result because the councillors feared surcharge. The right way to do what the Minister says can be done, but QCs say cannot, is to make it clear on the face of the Bill that Section 222 can do the job that the Minister wants.

I very much hope that the Minister will feel able to support the principle of the amendment and, if this is not the appropriate amendment, will come back with a broadly similar one on Report. I beg to move.

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