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Baroness Hilton of Eggardon moved Amendment No. 23:

Page 2, line 34, at end insert--
("( ) Proceedings under subsection (9) above may be instituted by a relevant authority.").

The noble Baroness said: We come to one of my amendments on which I do not think that I have yet had an answer from the Minister. The purpose of the amendment is to ensure that the relevant authority--that is, the police and the local authority combined--will be able to apply directly to the courts for conviction in the case of a breach of an antisocial behaviour order. That is partly so that the Crown Prosecution Service will not be able to exercise a veto. It is felt that the CPS might exercise a veto because, on the whole, it is concerned with probably more serious criminal offences than those that may have led to the passing of the order in the first place. It is also felt that the CPS might not be sympathetic to what has gone before or to the long-term harassment and distress of those affected by such behaviour.

More seriously perhaps, the amendment relates to the necessity of achieving a speedy prosecution. If people have been subjected to racial taunts, graffiti, harassment and distress over a period of many weeks or months and, despite the imposition of an order, the distress and harassment continue, it is essential (both in terms of respect for this whole new system and in order to alleviate the distress of those affected and to rescue them from their awful situation) that criminal proceedings can be instituted with the greatest possible rapidity and that some of the law's delays can be obviated.

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Local authorities have considerable experience of prosecuting cases in various fields. Therefore, it is not necessary to involve the Crown Prosecution Service. I think that this is one instance where the police and the local authorities combined could be trusted to proceed directly to court and to apply for proceedings in relation to a breach of an antisocial behaviour order. I beg to move.

Lord Falconer of Thoroton: The effect of the Bill as drafted is that if criminal proceedings are brought they should be treated in the normal way and just like any other criminal proceedings; namely, the prosecution should be in the hands of the Crown Prosecution Service. My noble friend Lord Williams of Mostyn has described the reasons why the policy decision has been taken that once a breach is established it should be dealt with not as a matter of civil remedy but as a matter of criminal offence. In those circumstances, the logic of that policy decision is that the matter should be dealt with by an independent prosecutor like any other serious criminal offence--namely, the Crown Prosecution Service--following investigation by the police. The CPS decides whether or not a prosecution should be brought or continue. That is the logic of our position, and I believe that that is the correct approach to take in relation to it.

I do not believe that the concern of my noble friend is justified. Her concern is that, if a local authority is prosecuting, the matter will be dealt with more quickly than it would be by the CPS. One hopes that the CPS would establish appropriate internal guidelines to make it possible for these matters to be dealt with quickly and expeditiously, particularly where a victim was suffering as a result of the antisocial behaviour that gave rise to the order in the first place and the criminal proceedings in respect of breach.

Although my noble friend raises an important point I believe that the decision to treat this matter like any other criminal offence is the right one both logically and practically. I hope that my noble friend will reconsider the matter and seek to withdraw her amendment.

Baroness Hilton of Eggardon: I understand the logic of treating the matter via the Crown Prosecution Service. The difference is that this will be part of an ongoing series of offences rather than a single offence. Normally, a single offence is committed and the matter is then concluded, but in the case of harassment and distress, as here, there is an ongoing situation which is not like a single act of burglary, murder or other criminal offence. I believe that it is therefore qualitatively different. However, I would like to consider what my noble and learned friend has said. In the circumstances I seek leave to withdraw my amendment, which I may return to at a later stage.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 24 not moved.]

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Lord Williams of Mostyn moved Amendment No. 25:

Page 2, line 40, after ("section") insert--
(""the commencement date" means the date of the commencement of this section;").

The noble Lord said: I have already spoken to Amendment No. 25. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Lord Henley moved Amendment No. 26:

Page 2, line 43, at end insert--
("( ) The Secretary of State shall within two years of this section coming into effect make a report to Parliament on the working of anti-social behaviour orders.").

The noble Lord said: I promise to be brief. We come more or less to the end of Clause 1. Given that there are a further 95 clauses to go, I do not intend to delay the Committee on clause stand part on this particular clause. This afternoon we have had a pretty thorough discussion on a single clause, albeit one of the more important ones in the Bill. This and a number of other similar amendments in my name which relate to other clauses were originally grouped together. However, I felt it better to reserve the right to take them separately and ungroup them.

Amendment No. 26 is designed purely to ask the Secretary of State within two years of the provision coming into effect to make a report to Parliament upon its working. I move the amendment purely on the basis that this is a new concept in terms of antisocial behaviour orders. The same is true of some of the other later amendments.

It may be that these orders will prove very effective; they may prove to be ineffective. I considered tabling sunset amendments to this clause which would have ceased to have effect after a certain period unless Parliament decided otherwise. Having considered the matter, I thought it best to leave them as they were and merely ask the Secretary of State to make a report to Parliament so that Parliament would have an opportunity to debate the working of the provision. No doubt the noble Lord or the noble and learned Lord-- I do not know who will reply to this debate--will resist this with his usual flexibility and tolerance. I believe that this is an important matter. It is important that with new concepts of this kind Parliament should in due course have an opportunity to examine how they are working and decide whether they are as effective as both we and the Government hope they will be. I beg to move

9.30 p.m.

Lord Renton: I hope that the Government will not resist the amendment which I regard as one of great importance. Unless a report is made to Parliament from time to time, Parliament will not know how the Bill is working out. It breaks new ground of an unusual kind. Even if the Government cannot accept the amendment tonight, I hope that they will keep their minds open because, it is, as I said, an important matter.

The Earl of Mar and Kellie: It is important that Parliament hears how this new measure is working out.

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I shall pick up two points which have emerged during the past few minutes. First, I am strongly in favour of the rapid response to a breach of the antisocial behaviour order that the noble Baroness, Lady Hilton, recommended. That is especially important if offenders are young.

The second point relates to what the Minister said. It may have been a slip of the tongue, but he referred to people who cannot or will not control their behaviour. I am not certain that someone who cannot control his behaviour should be placed under such an order. As a criminal justice social worker I was brought up to believe that one should not set people up to fail. I may be reading too much into the casual expression, "cannot control his behaviour", but such a person should perhaps be made the subject of a probation order. Someone who cannot control his behaviour should not be made the subject of an unsupervised order. I wonder whether I picked up the Minister correctly.

Lord Williams of Mostyn: It was not a slip of the tongue. Some people are violent criminals. They cannot or will not control their behaviour, because they often enjoy their thuggery and violent behaviour. If it comes to a choice between protecting the public on the basis that they will not or they cannot, then I regret to say that simple supervision by a social worker is not a remedy in every case. It was no slip of the tongue.

I turn to the amendment. I agree entirely with noble Lords who have said that a review of the success or otherwise of legislation is desirable. It will tell us what we may have done wrong, what lessons we can learn for the future, upon the basis of what past experience shows. I can say to the noble Lord, Lord Renton, that we are increasingly looking to do that on a regular basis.

Even now we are looking at proposals to review the early workings of two recent pieces of legislation from 1997--the Sex Offenders Act and the Protection from Harassment Act--both of which broke new ground in the criminal field. We believe that that should be normal practice. So I welcome encouragement to do that. The only difference between us is whether we provide that on the face of the Bill or continue the workings of review which can be the subject of Question and debate in this place.

We believe that it is not necessary to provide for review on the face of the Bill. There was no review on the face of the Sex Offenders Act and the Protection from Harassment Act. I forestall the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, by saying that just because they were Conservative Acts I should necessarily follow them. We believe that there is a strong case for continuing scrutiny, but that that should be done in the way that we are doing it rather than have it as a statutory obligation.

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I hope that the Committee will take my rejoinder in the way that I took its inquiries; namely, that we need information; we need periodic review; but it is better done in the way that I suggest rather than on the face of the Bill.

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