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Noble Lords: The noble Viscount, Lord Bledisloe.

Lord Williams of Mostyn: I am so sorry. I did not properly turn round and I mistook the voice. I must be extremely careful in future. I am most grateful to the noble Viscount, Lord Bledisloe, who has knowledge of these matters. These are perfectly easy questions for the courts to deal with, given the will. I resisted a trawl through Archbold and I further resist the temptation to cite any cases with which I might have been involved. The divisional court concluded that whether a person is

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likely to be caused harassment, alarm or distress is simply a question of fact, easily to be determined by the magistrate.

We have been ranging fairly widely over questions of intent, malevolence and so forth, which are not the subject of the present amendments, Amendments Nos. 3 and 4. I have set out the Government's position on them. I commend it to the Committee as being a reasonable, well considered, middle way of dealing with undoubted problems.

5.15 p.m.

Lord Goodhart: I shall restrict my reply to Amendments Nos. 3 and 4. I welcome the fact that the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn, recognised that there is a human right to be a nuisance and an eccentric, up to a point, and that the purpose of the Bill is to define the boundaries. I think that the noble Lord has put those boundaries in the wrong position. All the examples given by the noble Lord involve acts that are obviously likely to cause serious alarm or distress, or serious harassment. I accept that intent is not a necessary requirement of an antisocial behaviour order and in these amendments I have not sought that it should be so. However, it seems necessary that there should be a threshold of seriousness of conduct before it is possible to make an antisocial behaviour order.

In response to the noble Viscount, Lord Bledisloe, I would say that the law should not rely on the exercise of a discretion by the local authorities or the courts to screen out the obviously footling and trivial cases. The threshold should be drawn high enough to exclude such cases.

I do not think that Amendment No. 13 is adequate to deal with the problem, for reasons that I shall explain when we reach that point. As the Government have gone half way to dealing with the problem I indicated, I simply ask why they do not go the whole way and accept perhaps not the exact wording, but at least the spirit of my amendments. I shall not press Amendment No. 3 today, but we may return to it at a later stage. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 4 not moved.]

Lord Henley moved Amendment No. 5

Page 1, line 15, leave out ("two") and insert ("one").

The noble Lord said: Again, much of the ground of this amendment has been covered in earlier discussions. I move the amendment now in order to ask the simple question: why "two" and not "one"? The noble Lord, Lord Williams, stated that the provision was designed to deal with matters which he implied related largely to the inner cities, but he then agreed that they could extend to the "leafy suburbs", as he put it. I suggest that they could also cover ground way beyond the leafy suburbs. It is possible that the single occupant of a single property, way out on its own in the country, could be caused alarm, harassment or distress by the activities of--dare I say it--malevolent footballers playing outside. I give that example as it is one that we have used earlier.

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I raise this purely as a question of inquiry. Why on earth does the Bill have to state "two or more persons"? Is it purely an evidential matter that the authorities should not be empowered to act until at least two persons from separate households are making the complaint and that the authorities should not be empowered to act and to go to court until there are "two or more persons" involved; or is there some other reason behind the provision? I am mystified about this and I should be interested to hear the noble Lord say why it was thought that "two or more persons" was right instead of just "one person". I look forward to hearing the noble Lord. I beg to move.

Lord Monson: I welcome this amendment. I would have put my name to it had I spotted it earlier, although I have added my name to Amendment No. 47 which deals with a similar situation in Clause 18. Time and time again, we read of elderly widows or spinsters, and occasionally of widowers, who are mercilessly bullied by young people, whom they have often befriended earlier. Surely single people in that position deserve just as much protection as couples or groups of single people. I, too, am at a loss to know why at least two people should be required for the purposes of the clause.

Lord Renton: I regard this amendment as a very important one. It is extraordinary that a bench of magistrates may say that it finds serious harassment has taken place and that it caused great distress but that only one person has suffered and so the defendant must be found not guilty. Are we really to legislate like that? Are the Government to rely, by analogy, on one of the very few offences that can be committed by only two persons or more? I can think of only the offence of affray. I remember it very well because 30 years ago at Hertford Assizes I prosecuted the first case of affray that had occurred in about 100 years. I had the honour and pleasure of leading the noble Lord, Lord Wigoder, in that case. I hope that I am in order in mentioning it. In the offence of affray it is only when two or more persons are involved that an offence has occurred, but that is different from this situation. Here we have the possibility of a sad elderly person, perhaps a widow who lives alone, being harassed by a gang of irresponsible youths. Under the Bill as it stands there can be no conviction. We really cannot legislate like that.

Viscount Tenby: Perhaps I may clear up one small matter arising out of previous discussion on the clause. I assure the Minister that no court of which I was a member would convict him either for speaking Welsh or voting Labour, especially if it managed to bring into play an antisocial behaviour order.

I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Henley, does not think me patronising if I say that this amendment is a very important and interesting one, not least because of any answer that may be forthcoming from the Minister on the matter. To start the tariff at two or more persons will preclude the proverbial little old lady living alone. She is the person who is probably most in need of this provision. Presumably, she will suffer because of the difficulty of providing corroborative evidence in order

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to bring a successful prosecution. Noble Lords may regard the difficulty as compounded because here we are entering unknown territory in the context of what some noble Lords consider to be the loose terms of the order. After all, one person's living hell is another person's sensory enjoyment in an evening of heavy metal music from a CD.

But can one forget the anxieties about interpretation and the like, important though they are? This order has been in the wings for far too long. In my book repeated assaults on the senses and gross intrusion into people's private space are no less serious in some instances than physical assaults on the person. Surely, what is required in the enforcement of this order is greater common sense at the end of the 20th century and less referral to legal precedents of the 16th and 17th centuries. I hope that the Minister can see a way in which a solitary complainant may reasonably be able to derive some satisfaction from this very important order.

Lord Hylton: I would have thought it a good thing to have two persons in the Bill as drafted because that is likely to introduce into the situation a greater element of objectivity. However, the noble Lord, Lord Henley, perhaps has a point when he speaks about the occupant, perhaps the single occupant, of a totally isolated house in the country. One may also visualise the solitary user and occupant of a hut on an urban allotment. I dare say that the ingenuity of the Government is such as to find a way to cover these rather exceptional situations.

The Earl of Onslow: I should like to seek help from the noble Lord. The Bill makes reference to "two or more persons not of the same household". If I read it aright--perhaps my reading of it is incorrect--it means that if three elderly people live in an isolated house they can be harassed without let or hindrance but that if there are two isolated houses with one person living in each the situation is different.

Lord Williams of Mostyn: I point out to the noble Earl that the wording is "not of the same household as himself"; that is to say, the defendant perpetrator.

Lord Mishcon: I should like to add one more instance that worries me and perhaps other noble Lords in view of the intent of these provisions. If I may take colour for the purposes of my example. Let us assume that a black gentleman is living in a house in a street which is occupied wholly by whites. As a result of some rather unpleasant people, that black person finds his life unbearable. Is he to have no remedy under the Bill?

Lord Thomas of Gresford: Can the Minister say whether it is possible for one person to suffer harassment, alarm or distress and for the court to assess that if other persons were around they would also have been likely to suffer harassment, alarm and distress?

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