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Baroness Warnock: Does the Minister intend that antisocial behaviour requires that there shall be a society against which such behaviour is intentionally or otherwise directed and that a society shall consist of more than one person? Is that the basis for disregarding the powerful argument put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, of there being a remedy one day, but, when the husband dies, there being no remedy the next day? Is it essential that antisocial behaviour must harm, frighten or distress more than one person?

Lord Williams of Mostyn: As I have indicated, that is precisely the way in which the Bill is drafted in subsection (1)(b). A necessary precondition to the granting of the order, which a number of your Lordships have described as draconian, is:

in other words, that there shall be a social dimension which is beyond individual harm.

I have made my position plain. There are strands which pull in different directions. Some of your Lordships say that the order is far too draconian, mitigated slightly because there must be more than one person, but others of your Lordships say that it is usefully draconian and ought to be limited to individuals. I can do no more than repeat the Government's present position and my undertaking, limited as it was, to transmit your Lordships' views.

Lord Belstead: The Minister has kindly said that he will look at the issue, which is characteristic of him. He said that if the amendment were made to the Bill the situation would be much wider. I suggest that it would be wider only because subsection (1)(b) will still exist. It means that the Bill will be more workable in the terms of the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, but the amendment will not make the situation much wider because subsection (1)(b) will remain on the face of the Bill.

Lord Williams of Mostyn: I am not sure that it would help the example given by the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, because the single black man or black woman, the married partner having recently died, could not necessarily overcome paragraph (b). The order would not be necessary to protect persons in the local government area unless one agreed to the further amendment suggested by the noble Lord, Lord Renton. We are piling hypothesis on hypothesis and I cannot usefully deconstruct those pyramidal hypotheses tonight.

Lord Goodhart: The Minister said that the Committee was divided between those who regard the Bill as too draconian and those who regard it as not draconian enough. As someone who has criticised aspects of the Bill for being too draconian, I make it clear that this amendment is not one which we would

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regard as being draconian. We regard it as one which removes a logical inconsistency which the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, so clearly pointed out.

Lord Henley: I thank the Minister for going as far as he did. I assure him that I believe that the clause should not be designed to deal with the disputes of neighbours. That would be like taking a sledgehammer to crack a nut or--dare I say it?--taking a chainsaw to a leylandii.

The Minister's argument is that the Protection from Harassment Act will deal with the cases in which only one individual is affected as opposed to a number of people. As I understood the Minister's earlier argument--and it was referred to by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Ackner--witnesses are reluctant to come forward and to take action particularly in the criminal courts. That is why the Government saw such a clause as a half-way house, whereby actions can be pursued without their having to go to the criminal courts; that is, to make use of the local authority and the police authority.

However, as the noble and learned Lord, Lord Ackner, and my noble friend Lord Renton pointed out, that does not apply in the case of the single individual, in particular the single black person whose spouse has recently died, referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon. As a result of the support I have received, I must press the Minister further. Although I intend to withdraw the amendment tonight, I, and I suspect other noble Lords, will wish to return to it at a later stage. I hope that that assurance will concentrate the minds of the Minister and his honourable and right honourable friends in the Home Office when they consider the matter. Strong feeling has been expressed by Members on all sides of the Committee. All those in favour of the Bill and of this clause--and I repeat that I am, as is my noble friend Lord Onslow--believe that the clause should cover the single individuals to whom reference has been made.

I hope that the Minister will take note of what has been said, in particular by those more learned than I, and discuss the matter with his colleagues in the Home Office. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

5.45 p.m.

[Amendment No. 6 not moved.]

Lord Henley moved Amendment No. 7:

Page 2, line 6, leave out from first ("area") to end of line 7.

The noble Lord said: This is a probing amendment. Amendment No. 5 was also a probing amendment, but the debate continued for almost half an hour. The amendment deletes the words:

    "or any chief officer of police any part of whose police area lies within that area".
Can the noble Lord give an assurance as to the extent to which the police were consulted before the legislation was drafted? Which police bodies and associations were consulted and what was the response that the Home

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Office received from the various bodies representing the police at different levels to their inclusion in this part of the Bill? I beg to move.

Lord Windlesham: Although those interesting and pertinent questions will elicit a reply from the Minister, I do not believe that we should pass over the amendment too quickly. It provides the Committee with its first opportunity to concentrate attention on the intermediate stage in the provision of redress. I commented on those lines in our debate on the first amendment. What the Minister said, in particular in reply to the previous amendment, fills out to a considerable extent the role of the police and the local authorities.

What is the intermediate stage? What is to happen? We need to look at the proposal because it is easy to concentrate on what is in the Bill. There is the complainant, the person whose objectionable behaviour is complained of, the court which makes the order and possibly a court which imposes a criminal penalty for breach of the order. However, there is also this obscure ground which must first be traversed by the victim who is seeking redress. Therefore, the complainant must satisfy the relevant authority, which is either the local authority or the police. They must consult each other before making an application. How will they respond when a complainant comes forward in pursuit of a remedy?

The complainant must show that he has been subjected to an antisocial manner within the meaning of Bill. Harassment, alarm or distress must have been caused or might have been caused. Two or more persons not of the same household need to be involved unless the persuasive tongue of the noble Lord, Lord Williams, manages to reduce that to one or more.

How are those decisions to be taken by local authorities? Local authorities already have an enormous number of responsibilities. They are conscious of how they must respond to those who are persistent complainers. I do not like the use of the word "trivial." What may appear trivial to those in authority may be very important to the individual concerned. It is for the individual to persuade a local authority or the police that the conduct does amount to grounds for an order under this particular legislation.

Who takes the decision, not just whether to accept the application and go forward to the court but whether, under this legislation, in the view of the local authority or, more particularly, in the view of the police, the conduct complained of warrants the initiation of criminal proceedings? Let us remember that there is not just the recent Protection from Harassment Act 1997 but there is also the 1994 legislation. Therefore, there are a number of avenues which are open to those who must take those decisions.

It is important that there should be some consistency in how those decisions are taken. I suspect that there is a real risk that some of the relevant authorities in certain areas will respond in one way which may be quite different from those which respond in another. Is the Home Office proposing to publish any guidelines as regards the criteria against which those decisions are to

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be taken at the preliminary gate? That is a gate through which, if this legislation is to have any effect at all, the complainant must pass. Therefore, uniformity and criteria are important. I should like to know whether it is proposed that there should be any pilot experiments before the scheme is brought into more general effect.

Lord Thomas of Gresford: I follow the noble Lord, Lord Windlesham, in his query to the Minister. In September 1997 there was a suggestion that there might be professional witnesses employed, presumably by the local authorities, in order to investigate matters which arise under this Bill. Is it therefore the intention that a local authority should be required to set up a separate department, a counter, for complaints--an enforcement agency with professional witnesses who would go out and take statements and do all manner of things necessary to bring the complaint before the court? Alternatively, are those matters which are normally dealt with by the police to be left to police forces? Do the Government have any idea at all or any assessment of how many orders they would expect to be made in a given average-size local authority or police authority area during a year? What thought has been given to those issues? It seems to me that this amendment raises for consideration the roles envisaged for both local authorities and police authorities as regards the implementation of the proposals in the Bill.

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