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Lord Hoyle: My Lords, so far as I am aware it will be available to Northern Ireland, but I prefer to write to the noble Lord on that point.

Lord Mackenzie of Framwellgate: My Lords, I welcome the Statement. I do not believe that anyone can doubt that crime is a blight on society. Crime reduction is far more important than crime detection. If one can stop crime being committed that is what one should do. Over the past few years crime has reduced. The reduction began in about 1993. The number of reported offences has dropped by about 1 million in any one year. That represents 1 million fewer victims. To make no bones about it, I pay tribute to the previous administration for that turnround. That reduction has continued under the present Home Secretary.

The large number of burglaries represent very serious offences. When someone enters a home and destroys and steals items, it has a lasting effect on the victim. Quite often it results in a victim having to move. The Crime (Sentences) Act which comes into force in December of this year will provide automatic sentencing for burglars committing offences for the third time--the "three strikes and you're out" provision.

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The anti-social behaviour order is an extremely good measure. One difficulty for the police was getting witnesses to give evidence against so-called neighbours from hell. It is understandable that if someone is causing tremendous problems in a community, the last thing people wish is to be seen reporting the matter to the police and identifying themselves. We saw what happens when witnesses' names were released inadvertently following the Lawrence inquiry.

The advantage of the new system is that the police or the chief executive of the local authority can give evidence before the court relating to intimidation. The victim remains anonymous. It is a tremendous advantage. I believe that we shall see a sharp reduction in that type of offence, and an improvement in the quality of life for people living in those communities. I welcome the Statement.

Lord Hoyle: My Lords, I thank my noble friend for his remarks. I agree that one of the difficulties previously related to vulnerable members of the public who were afraid to give evidence in civil proceedings. Under these orders, it is the professional witness--whether from the police or local authority--who will give evidence in relation to conduct likely to cause harassment. So I believe that that will be a step forward.

I also welcome what my noble friend said on the action we are taking against burglary. The figures have been coming down, thanks to the effective actions of the police. We have to ensure that that continues. I know the distress that burglary causes to many families.

Lord Rowallan: My Lords, I, too, welcome the Statement. Can the Minister confirm that the alarming rise in the number of crimes being committed by the youth of today will not be adversely affected by the recent decision of the European Commission of Human Rights in the Jamie Bulger case?

Lord Hoyle: My Lords, we have taken the best legal advice in relation to these matters. As far as we are aware these provisions will not be an infringement of the human rights legislation.

Lord Christopher: My Lords, I welcome the Statement. I do not wish to engage in any political knock-about. However, perhaps I may suggest to my noble friends who believed that the issue related to recent policy changes that the demographic figures demonstrate the position. We are a long way from completing the battle on crime, in particular burglary.

I wish to address a few remarks on burglary and ask my noble friend a question. All the evidence suggests that the same people are burgled again and again. Although I exaggerate a little, it is the poor robbing the poor. As a consequence, very different policies will be called for. Will partnership and community involvement mean community on a small scale? The evidence of Oscar Newman in the 1970s on New York demonstrated that success was achieved when small communities--tower blocks and small housing estates--were involved

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in the necessary changes in their environment. They will not accept diktat from above, even if "above" is the local town hall.

As an anecdote, I cite one case where the police said, "If only hedges were planted, how different it would be" and the tenants said, "The local authority won't let us plant hedges." There needs to be a dialogue with the local community. I hope that my noble friend will confirm that.

Lord Hoyle: My Lords, good progress has been made in relation to the crime and disorder partnership. Involving the community includes not only authorities but also magistrates and health authorities. I believe that that is the way forward. Who know better the difficulties that have been created than those living in the area? We believe that the targeting of estates in relation to the use of CCTV will play its part in reducing crime on those estates. Those are valuable measures to improve people's lives in the worst crime areas. The estates play a leading role in the measures I have announced today. However, part of the package is the provision of better housing, amenities and, as has been said, ensuring that children go back to school.

The Earl of Mar and Kellie: My Lords, would anti-social behaviour orders be appropriate for people who ride motorcycles in the immediate vicinity of houses, intimidating people on footpaths and making a considerable degree of noise? It has proved to be a substantial nuisance to many people.

Lord Hoyle: My Lords, of course it all depends on the circumstances. The provision of anti-social behaviour orders is to tackle behaviour which causes harassment or intimidates neighbours or a community in general. If such behaviour causes intimidation or harassment, I do not see why it could not come under one of those orders. I think that the measure is all-embracing. The noble Earl will agree with me that it all depends on the circumstances being experienced. That is why we are making local communities partners in what we are doing.

Access to Justice Bill [H.L.]

5.26 p.m.

Proceedings after Third Reading resumed.

Clause 11 [Terms of provision of funded services]:

The Minister of State, Cabinet Office (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) moved Amendment No. 3:

Page 8, line 23, leave out ("conduct such as is specified in section 9(2)(f)") and insert ("relevant conduct").

The noble and learned Lord said: My Lords, your Lordships may recall that at Report stage amendments were moved to Clause 9 on the funding code, and what was then Clause 10, on financial contributions, to narrow the definition of "conduct"--first, in relation to the factors taken into account in funding decisions under the code; and, secondly, in relation to contributions that an assisted person may be asked for. That was in

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response to the concerns that had been voiced at Committee, by the noble Lord, Lord Phillips, and others, that the definition of conduct in the Bill at that stage could be used to exclude cases where the applicant was, for whatever reason, unpopular. The same definition of conduct was given in each of the clauses.

Those amendments were welcomed by your Lordships. I am pleased to return to the subject now with a further narrowing of the definition of conduct as it relates to the making of financial contributions. This is because the definition of conduct as it stands in relation to the funding code allows conduct in previous proceedings to be taken into account. That is necessary so that the commission could, for example, take a previous fraudulent application into account in deciding whether to grant an application for funding. However, it would be wrong, once a person has been given funding for a case, to insist on a higher contribution towards the cost of that case because of any conduct other than the conduct in that particular case.

It is solely to confine the relevant conduct to that which occurs in the proceedings for which services are being funded that these amendments are now being moved. On that basis, I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Lord Falconer of Thoroton moved Amendment No. 4:

Page 8, line 31, at end insert--
("and in paragraph (b) "relevant conduct" means conduct in connection with the services (or any application for their funding) or in, or in connection with, any proceedings in relation to which they are provided.").

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Lord Goodhart moved Amendment No. 5:

After Clause 12, insert the following new clause--

Determination of financial resources for contributions
and costs
(" .--(1) In determining for the purposes of sections 11 and 12 the financial resources of an individual, regulations shall provide that the first £100,000 (or such larger amount as may be specified) of the value of the beneficial interest of the individual in the equity of a dwelling house which is his only or principal residence shall be disregarded.
(2) For the purposes of this section "equity value" means the market value of the dwelling house after deducting the debts not exceeding £100,000 (or such larger amount as may be specified) secured on it by a mortgage or charge.
(3) Regulations may provide that the amount to be disregarded under subsection (1) may be reduced in specified circumstances where the equity exceeds £100,000 (or such larger amount as may be specified) and the individual does not have the sole beneficial interest in the equity.").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, this amendment is the same as one which I moved at Report stage but withdrew. Under the present legal aid regulations, an applicant for legal aid is not eligible if he or she has capital of more than £6,750. If he or she has capital of more than £3,000 but less than £6,750, the excess over £3,000 may have to be paid in contributions to the cost of an action. However, the equity in the dwelling house

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of the applicant is not treated as capital either for eligibility or liability to pay contributions unless it exceeds £100,000.

In Annex A to the Explanatory Notes, the Government announced an intention to change the regulations. Under the proposed new regulations, the value of equity up to £100,000 will still be disregarded when deciding whether the applicant is eligible for legal aid, but that equity will be taken into account for the purposes of liability to pay contributions. As a result, someone with equity of, say, £90,000 in a house could obtain legal aid, but if the case were lost he might find himself liable to pay tens of thousands of pounds, even the whole value of the equity, as a contribution. The payment of contributions can be deferred until the house is sold, but must be paid then and not carried over into the purchase of a new house. In the meantime, interest is payable.

The Law Society pointed out that for people whose only capital is equity in their home the risk of liability to pay contributions was an enormous disincentive to applying for public funding out of the community legal service. In practice, only those who are renting houses would be likely to apply for such funding. I therefore tabled an amendment to prohibit the equity in the house being taken into account so long as it was under £100,000.

I accept that the changes which this amendment seeks to prevent could be made under the existing powers to make regulations under the Legal Aid Act. However, it is an important amendment. It is not one I would normally have wished to bring back on Third Reading, but I do so now because I understand that the Government are willing to undertake to hold wide consultations before implementing changes to the relevant regulations with a view to drafting those regulations in ways which will minimise hardship. If that is the case, I greatly welcome it. I would like the statement of the Government's intention to be recorded in Hansard. I beg to move.

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