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Lord Renton: Perhaps your Lordships will realise that the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn, has made a convincing case for the use of the words, "cause harassment, alarm or distress". However, those words are so clear and precise and can be so well understood that there is no need to introduce the wider and vague concept of anti-social behaviour. Could he not between now and the Report stage consider the drafting of the subsection? After all, it is a drafting matter which does not affect the substance and motives behind Part I of the Bill. As the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, pointed out, we must try to get the matter clear.

Lord Williams of Mostyn: It is clear. I can think of no words clearer than,

We wish the objectionable nature of that behaviour, which will underpin the prohibitory order, to be properly described as "anti-social"; that is to say, acting in an anti-social manner. I respectfully suggest that that is simple and plain.

Lord Hardy of Wath: Will my noble friend consider the fact that some people in the areas to which he referred have for a long time put up with anti-social behaviour? They may not have had cause for harassment; they may not have had cause to feel distressed; they may not have been alarmed; but they may have been caused fury, frustration and disgust over a long period. The quality of their lives may have been made wretched by anti-social behaviour. If my noble friend were to accept the amendment and restrict the action to cases in which harassment, alarm and distress

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had been caused the Government would not be meeting the broader need which, sadly, exists in many parts of the country.

Lord Windlesham: The Minister has given a sketch of the general context of Part I, and that has been helpful. He spoke eloquently of the need to protect the individual citizen who is faced with such behaviour, however it is described; the Bill describes it as "anti-social". However, he left the Committee with the impression--indeed, I believe that he used the words--that the citizen can go to the courts to enforce the right by way of a civil injunction. In order to fill out his explanation, should he not make clear that the individual complainant does not have access to the courts? The individual complainant must persuade either the local authority or the police to take action, and therefore there is an intermediate stage.

Lord Williams of Mostyn: I said deliberately and specifically that action would be taken via the appropriate authorities. I am happy to clarify that issue. The noble Lord is right in saying that the appropriate authorities would be the local authority or the police.

I may have to disappoint my noble friend Lord Hardy, although I never like to turn away support. We wished to provide a description of an anti-social manner and anti-social behaviour. Within that description, we have included the meaning:

    "that is to say, in a manner that caused or was likely to cause harassment, alarm or distress".
It is not simply the virtue of a propagandist description. We want it to be clearly understood, first, by our community generally and, secondly, by those who behave in ways which cause to some people indescribable and unimaginable harm in their own homes and communities, that such behaviour will not be tolerated because it is anti-social as described further in Clause 1(1)(a) as:

    "likely to cause harassment, alarm or distress to two or more persons not of the same household".
I believe that the argument is proper not because it is in a government Bill but because we have got it right. I say to the Committee--not specifically to the noble Lord, Lord Renton, because I do not wish to encourage hopes--that, in respect of every dot, comma, colon and semi-colon of the Bill, if genuine improvement is available we shall look to take the opportunity to achieve it.

Lord Brightman: I do not know whether I have missed something, but I do not see the remotest difficulty with paragraph (a). "An anti-social manner" is merely an abbreviation which is defined by the words which follow. The Bill states:

    "an anti-social manner, that is to say, in a manner that caused or was likely to cause harassment",
and so forth. That is perfectly clear and there is no problem.

Lord Beloff: Does the Minister agree that, in order to make things clear, respect for the English language is important? I can see that one can cause distress or alarm,

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but I am baffled by the idea of causing harassment. To harass someone is a positive fact. I come here in order to harass noble Lords opposite, but I do not come here to cause them harassment. Would it not be possible to revise the wording so as to make clear the difference between causing alarm and causing harassment? That seems to me to be an odd concept.

Lord Williams of Mostyn: It is part of the criminal law. I readily accept that the noble Lord, Lord Beloff, does not come here to harass me. On the other hand, he often causes me harassment.

Lord Milverton: I have listened to the debate and I believe that the Minister answered well. I would not rush to support the amendment tabled by my noble friend on the Front Bench.

Lord Ackner: To what extent is the test to be applied to subsection (1)(a) objective or subjective? Does the supersensitive person who is caused distress give rise to the prospect that an application will be made, or is the test to be that the behaviour must be such as to cause the distress or alarm to persons of reasonable fortitude?

Lord Williams of Mostyn: It is a factual issue of whether the behaviour has caused or is likely to cause harassment, alarm or distress to two or more persons not of the same household. As the noble and learned Lord will see, my Amendment No. 13 provides that:

    "For the purpose of determining whether the condition mentioned in subsection (1)(a) above is fulfilled, the court shall disregard any act of the defendant which he shows was reasonable in the circumstances".
I respectfully return to my proposition that magistrates' courts and juries up and down the land are perfectly able to deal with such concepts, bearing in mind that they do not find criminal liability but are the basis for a prohibitory order.

Lord Ackner: With respect, I do not believe that the Minister has answered my question. Is the test to be objective or subjective? The question must permit of an answer and I invite the noble Lord to provide it.

Lord Williams of Mostyn: I do not believe that one looks at those concepts in quite that legalistic way, if I may say so with all humility. The magistrates will deal with matters in their area. For example, if one has a particularly vulnerable old lady, it seems to me that the test will have to be applied to "two or more persons". It is the circumstances of those two or more persons which will have to be looked at.

If they are unusually susceptible to harassment, alarm or distress, the court will have to draw a balance as to what is suitable in all the circumstances. That does not depend on the purely legalistic question of whether it is subjective or objective. That is far too narrow and unhelpful a question.

Lord Henley: I thank my noble friend Lord Milverton for his fulsome support for my amendment.

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I assure him that I did not intend to press this to a Division of the Committee. It is an amendment tabled to probe the Government's intentions.

I thank the noble Lord, Lord Williams, for giving us a very full reply to the points which Members of the Committee have raised. That is useful. We should all like to finish this day of Committee stage in time for early bed and cocoa, or something stronger, as the noble Lord puts it.

I should also add that we accept entirely, and in no way did I wish to imply otherwise, that anti-social behaviour can be a very real problem for large numbers of people throughout the country. Equally, it can be a problem whether or not they live in leafy suburbs. It can be a problem wherever they live.

Having said that, I believe that my amendment and the discussion that we have had arising from it have given rise to real problems. I note the point made by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Brightman, that the words,

    "anti-social manner, that is to say",
are perfectly well defined by the words,

    "cause harassment, alarm or distress",
and therefore were not superfluous. But there is that further use of "anti-social acts" as pointed out by the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, in subsection (1)(b) where they are not so limited. That still creates a number of problems which need to be addressed.

The noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, rightly pointed out that such a clause could lead to extremely heavy penalties indeed being imposed on individuals who act in breach of what the noble Lord, Lord Williams, described as a "mere prohibitory order". I remind the noble Lord that if he looks at subsection (4), he will see that the courts have the power to prohibit the defendant,

    "from doing anything described in the order".
The courts can go a very long way and can make that decision on evidence which has been accepted merely on the balance of probabilities and not beyond reasonable doubt. Therefore, an order made on such a basis can go as far as one cares to see. It is possible for that order then to be breached and, as a result of that, very severe penalties may be imposed. For that reason, it is important to make sure that the definitions within Clause 1 are tightly drawn so that the individual knows to what he is subject and everybody knows exactly how the clause can be interpreted.

As I made clear, I have no plans to test the opinion of the Committee at the moment. It may be that I am completely wrong to suggest that the words,

    "in an anti-social manner, that is to say",
should be removed from the Bill. I believe that we need to hear more on this. The noble Lord did not address the point, to which I may wish to return later, of what precise mischief the clause is designed to address that would not be covered already by public order legislation and covered by those words,

    "cause harassment, alarm or distress".

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