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Baroness Hollis of Heigham: My Lords, it has been a long debate. Noble Lords are the first to complain that their question has not been answered while they hope to heaven that I shall not answer everyone else's questions.
We believe that members of society as taxpayers and as victims of crime have a legitimate interest in how and whether the state should support those people who flout their responsibilities to society by failing to meet the requirements of their community sentence.
We have heard four voices, mostly from the Benches opposite, arraigned against the Government. The first--which I believe was best expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart--was that of the human rights lawyers who argue that this measure contravenes the ECHR and therefore will not stick. My noble friend Lord Goldsmith dealt with that matter brilliantly in Committee and again tonight. It is an argument that I think the Opposition Benches cannot sustain.
The second voice we have heard tonight against the Government's measure is that of the "domestic" lawyers--if I may so call them--who say that it is a double punishment. It is not a double punishment; it is a condition of benefit. If one leaves work voluntarily but fails to obtain benefit, one could argue that that is a double punishment in that one has lost one's job and one's benefit. However, if one had kept the job there
The third voice arraigned against the Government tonight is that of those who state--this was spoken to powerfully by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Lincoln--that to take away benefit means that those on community sentences who are affected become poorer and commit more rather than less crime. Someone on a community sentence has already broken the law. In that sense he or she has already committed a crime by failing to observe the community sentence. That is a matter of choice. There is an alternative. First, they can observe the community sentence or, secondly, they can take a job and earn their income rather than thieve it. I refer to the notion that we should not make a sanction bite on people who have broken the law and persist in breaking the law as they may become poorer as a result. We should not respond to that situation by not imposing the sanction but rather we should ensure that they obey the law.
The Opposition Front Bench in another place, led by the Conservative Member, Mr Pickles, urged the Government to punish offenders if the pilot reveals that the sanction did not bite severely enough. The Conservative Benches in the other place have a decent respect for being tough on criminality. That is a voice that we have not heard tonight. Mr Pickles asked whether the Government could assure him that if the pilots produced evidence that those who breach orders and lose benefit are tempted into further crime the Government would not abandon the powers but would seek to ensure that such people were vigorously punished. That is a voice that we have not heard tonight.
The fourth, and final, voice arraigned against the Government is that of those--I associate it with the Liberal Democrat Bench--who believe that benefit is in some sense inalienable to which sanctions should not be attached. However, I believe that benefit constitutes a contract. I do not believe that someone has the moral right deliberately to be a freeloader and to rely on the conscience and cash of others to protect him from the consequences of his failure to act without conscience and with impunity.
Baroness Hollis of Heigham: My Lords, at that point my alliteration ran out! Against those four voices there is a voice that has not been heard; it is the voice of terrified neighbours. I represented a poor council estate for 25 years. After the lack of repairs, which my electors were impatient about, and the lack of transfers to other housing, which they bore with resignation, their main concern was with anti-social behaviour which frightened them. I remember trying to persuade terrified pensioners to give evidence in court against thugs when they knew that if they did so members of
The voice that has not been heard tonight is that of the man whose car has been vandalised and cannot get to work. It is the voice of the small Asian shopkeeper whose shop has been done over yet again. It is the voice of the pensioner whose windows have been broken and that of the parents who are worried that their 12 year-old is being tempted into drugs by the drug pushers who operate on the council estates. It is the voice of young women who have been assaulted by men who think that it is all right to knock them around after a few drinks. It is the voice of people whose everyday life is a misery due to the anti-social behaviour of a minority. However, unlike most of us, they do not have the money to buy peace, privacy and seclusion from that anti-social behaviour. Who is speaking for them tonight because I have not heard that voice?
I hope that I have responded to noble Lords' concerns. The question that noble Lords have to address is whether they can justify removing the measures from the Bill, or, alternatively, supporting the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Windlesham, rather than listening to the voice of those who have to tolerate anti-social behaviour day in and day out because one of the few sanctions that might bite--the removal of benefit--has been denied the Government by this House. Your Lordships' House has a reputation for listening not just to the voices of lawyers, bishops and others, but also to those outside who have not been heard; those who suffer anti-social behaviour day in and day out. Those are the people the Government seek to protect tonight. I hope that on that basis noble Lords will think at least twice, if not four times, in favour of not supporting the amendment tonight and will instead support the Government.
Lord Windlesham: My Lords, this has been a fine debate on an issue that has attracted relatively little public attention. It is exactly the type of questionable government proposal which should be subjected to expert scrutiny. I believe we can all agree that this is a prime function of your Lordships' semi-reformed House.
I express my thanks not only to those who have taken part in the debate, but also to the large numbers who have listened patiently throughout the lengthy debate, not least my distinguished neighbour on this Bench. Most noble Lords who spoke in the debate contributed on the basis of their own expertise, and some brought eloquence to the debate, too. That is the true spirit of Parliament. I say no more now on the merits which have been so exhaustively discussed. I ask noble Lords to decide the matter and wish to test the opinion of the House on Amendment No. 114A.
Resolved in the affirmative, and amendment agreed to accordingly.