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Lord Monson: The noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, made a powerful case, as one would expect, for Amendment No. 3. I particularly welcome Amendment No. 4, with which it is grouped and to which I added my name. One could only wish that its principles had been incorporated into earlier legislation touching upon the causing of alarm or distress.
As the noble Lord said, the point is that alarm and distress can be extremely trivial in nature. A person of exceptionally sensitive disposition could be alarmed at a neighbour bursting a paper bag in his or her back garden in the middle of an afternoon or could be distressed, for example, at the squashing of a bluebottle. Surely the heavy hand of the law should come into play only when the alarm or distress in question is subjectively significant.
Lord Thomas of Gresford: I support the amendment. Last year I recall that at the annual general meeting of the Gresford Memorial Trust a lady arrived to complain about young people outside a youth club opposite her home who were playing football after the youth club had closed. She asked the trustees, of whom I was one, whether there was some way in which we
Lord Elton: Perhaps I may put in my four-penn'orth. This comes back to a point I raised on the first amendment. I refer to the breadth of the form of behaviour that is potentially embraced by the wording. The amendment does something to narrow it. It may be that the noble Lord can tell us what these words are already taken by the courts to mean. There may be a precise meaning of "distress". However, if it is the colloquial meaning, we certainly need the words in the amendment.
Lord Henley: I rise neither to support nor oppose the amendment. However, like my noble friend Lord Elton, I should be interested to hear from the Government exactly what the words "harassment, alarm or distress" mean at the moment and how they are interpreted. No doubt the noble Lord will be able to refer to the large number of authorities which I have found in Archbold and take us through a brief legal seminar as to their meaning. The noble Lord shakes his head. I suspect that the Committee may be somewhat relieved. However, he would certainly assist the Committee if he could give us some idea as to what the words mean and to what extent and how much he thinks adding "serious" and, later on, "or reasonable and serious" would limit the words "harassment, alarm or distress".
Lord Hylton: I support the amendments in the hope that the Government may feel able to accept them, or something very like them, for the purpose of avoiding a huge mass of trivial and unsubstantial complaints both to local authorities and to the police.
Lord Dholakia: I support the amendments. Every time I have discussed this clause with colleagues the example that has been cited to me is the wild parties and music in Brixton. That is the type of situation that can cause alarm and distress. I have no difficulty in terms of bad neighbours and so on. The problem I have is that the clause could be misused. There is a parallel here in terms of stop and search legislation. Twenty-five per cent. of stop and search in this country relates to black people. In London, 40 per cent. of stop and search relates to black people. Unless we identify in the clause that we mean serious alarm and distress, the authorities
Lord Thomas of Gresford: Perhaps I may follow on from the noble Lord, Lord Henley. I, too, dipped into Archbold today to see what the words "harassment, alarm or distress" mean in the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994, to which reference has already been made. The Act created a summary offence which consists of the intentional causing of harassment, alarm or distress to another person by the use of threatening, abusive or insulting words or behaviour, or the display of any writing, sign or other visible representation which is threatening, abusive or insulting. The words in the 1994 Act were carefully drawn to limit the scope. The sentence for the offence, which is a summary offence, is a maximum of six months' imprisonment. Now we are faced with those same words without any qualification, without the use of the word "intentional", and nothing to indicate the way in which "harassment, alarm or distress" is objectively to be caused or objectively to be assessed.
The other major difference is that the Bill proposes a maximum sentence of five years' imprisonment on indictment as opposed to the summary offence of six months' imprisonment in the 1994 Act, which is within the memory of those on the Government Benches who were then on this side of the House and were no doubt opposing at that time. It was seen to be more of a niche and much less of the big issue that the Government are making in this case.
The Earl of Mar and Kellie: Perhaps I may make three points from the point of view of those who will have to implement the anti-social behaviour orders in the Bill. First, there has to be a limit as to what is an acceptable complaint and what is not. I support the amendments because they appear to lay down a useful interpretation. Secondly, it is important that the Bill does not appear to promise too much. Thirdly, it is important that the Bill clarifies the intentions of Parliament for those local authority officers and police officers who will have to deal with and sort out the complaints.
Lord Williams of Mostyn: The noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, rightly said that he was deploying his arguments on a wider basis than Amendments Nos. 3 and 4, and, as with the noble Lord, Lord Henley, I found that extremely helpful. Perhaps I shall fall into the same error as he but respond fairly briefly on the points that he made. I entirely agree with him that a human right, nowhere defined, is the right to be different, the right to be a nuisance and the right to be an eccentric--up to a point. I omitted the words "Lord Copper", because I offered them to the noble Lords on the Bench opposite to fill in, which they kindly did. The Bill is entirely about defining that point. It was said by the noble Lord that the threshold of behaviour is too low because one is setting a criminal regime which is individual rather than general. But that is what injunctions do at the
Secondly, the noble Lord suggested that the order might be too wide and too vague. If one looks at Clause 1(4) one sees that the order will not be too wide or too vague because it is able to prohibit the defendant only from doing anything described in the order. If one stresses the word "anything", and rolls the eyes appropriately, of course it looks as though this will be endlessly Draconian. But it is not. The words "anything described in the order" are intended to be prescriptive; that is to say, the magistrates' court must specify with particularity what conduct is forbidden by the order.
The third point is that the sentence is too great. The court is given what we believe to be a reasonable range of options. It does not include a conditional discharge. That is a matter of particular, determined policy because the order itself is conditional--that is to say, if one obeys the terms of the order, first, there will be no criminal record and, secondly, there is no criminal sanction deriving from the order. It is purely prohibitory. So there is no difficulty there at all.
Of course we trust the courts by giving them an appropriate range of remedies. It will be the magistrates' courts in particular areas, knowing the problems of their particular peoples and communities, to decide about harassment, alarm or distress. The boys playing football outside the Gresford Club would not be subject to this order because this is an anti-social order as designated in Clause 1(1)(a); namely,
Lord Henley: I am sure the noble Lord will accept that there could be occasions when people playing football outside one or more houses cause alarm, distress or harassment by the very nature of football and how it is played.
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