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Anti-social Behaviour Bill

3.30 p.m.

House again in Committee.

Clause 11 [Interpretation]:

[Amendments Nos. 20 and 21 not moved.]

Clause 11 agreed to.

Clause 12 [Anti-social behaviour: landlords' policies and procedures]:

Lord Dixon-Smith moved Amendment No. 22:

"(1A) Each local housing authority must, not later than three months after the commencement of section 12 of the Anti-social Behaviour Act 2003, publish guidance concerning anti-social behaviour."

The noble Lord said: Clause 12 deals with landlords' policies and procedures in relation to anti-social behaviour. It is vitally important that every agency involved knows exactly what is happening, and that the people affected by these policies know exactly what the position is.

This group of amendments is directed at ensuring that the circulation of information goes rather wider than is specified on the face of the Bill. We seek to involve the local authority, which ought to have thought about the issue of anti-social behaviour in a wider sense than purely in its capacity as a housing authority. At the other end of the scale, under the Bill as drafted there is no obligation to provide tenants with a copy of the policies of their landlords so that

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they know exactly what their obligations are. This group of amendments is therefore aimed at improving the Bill in terms of those deficiencies.

Amendments Nos. 22 and 26 ensure that each local housing authority addresses the new anti-social behaviour legislation and that it publishes guidance for its current and its prospective tenants. The Bill states that,

    "The landlord must . . . prepare a summary of its current policy and procedures . . . [and] . . . provide . . . a copy of the summary to any person who requests it".

That is not sufficient. The information needs to be better distributed than that, and it needs to be better than "a summary".

Amendment No. 28 seeks to insert a new subsection into Clause 12. We believe that there is an omission in the current drafting; namely, there is no provision for keeping a record of complaints and of the action taken in the face of anti-social behaviour on the part of a tenant. It seems to us that if there is anti-social behaviour, and if the system is to finish up in court, proper records of all the steps taken in an attempt to control and diminish the anti-social behaviour before arriving at the court proceedings are essential.

These amendments would considerably strengthen the Bill. They would make any court proceedings that did arise more secure. But, more importantly, if accepted, they would make it more likely that fewer people would be guilty of anti-social behaviour. The pressure would be greater on people not to—I do not like to use the word "conform" because it could be misinterpreted—behave irresponsibly. Therefore, fewer cases would come to court. There may be an irreducible minimum in the number of cases coming to court; but that is what we want to see in court, and nothing else. This is an important group of amendments in one way, although in another sense they are trivial—but small actions often have big effects. I beg to move.

Baroness Hamwee: There is little in the Bill that is trivial.

I want to speak to Amendments Nos. 23 to 25 in this group. Amendment No. 23 adds to the items that the landlord must prepare:

    "procedures for preventing occurrences of anti-social behaviour [and] . . . procedures for providing [appropriate] support and rehabilitation services to those who have engaged in anti-social behaviour".

I tabled the amendment in order to raise the need for the response to anti-social behaviour to be broader than just enforcement. I am sure that the Minister will agree with that, but she may say that the matter can be dealt with off the face of the Bill, in guidance. I am anticipating her response, but I would not agree.

The amendment is deliberately not overly prescriptive and simply requires social landlords to place as much emphasis on prevention, support and rehabilitation as they are being asked under the legislation to place on enforcement.

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This is not a new way of approaching this issue in legislation. The Homelessness Act 2002 required local authorities to produce policies relating to prevention and support in their homelessness strategy. The amendment is intended to balance the increased enforcement powers that are proposed with a clear commitment in this area.

I am not saying anything original in making this general point. The Social Exclusion Unit—I should have been shocked had it not taken this view—acknowledges that eviction can simply move a problem—in saying that, I am characterising people as a problem and I do not want to do that—of anti-social behaviour in moving the people exhibiting the behaviour elsewhere. That has the effect of destabilising other communities, or at the very least transferring the effects on neighbours by moving them to the next estate or a few streets away. I am sure that many noble Lords have had to deal with particular examples. In the amendment I seek to knit all the strands together.

Amendment No. 24 refers to crime and disorder partnerships under the Crime and Disorder Act 1998. It is intended to raise two points. First, local authorities should not have to reinvent the wheel by preparing an anti-social behaviour strategy separate from their other strategies and work. I suggested that procedures under this section may duplicate that other strategy. Secondly, there is a need to be compatible.

Amendment No. 25 proposes that the publication by the landlord of a statement of policies and procedures is required within 12 rather than six months after the commencement of the section. That will enable me to understand when it is expected that the section will be brought into effect. We may well be talking about a period longer than six months from now or from the enactment of the whole statute, but six months is on the short side. I am sure that authorities will want to get on with the job but I am also aware of the consultation that ought to take place. It is not simply a question of sitting in a dark room with hot towels on one's head, thinking about it and then writing that down. It is a much bigger exercise.

Lord Corbett of Castle Vale: I have sympathy with what the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, says about the importance of looking at the proposals not only from the punitive aspect but from the preventive and encouraging aspect. However, I wish that my noble friends on the Front Bench would consider bringing forward a social behaviour Bill to deal with the positive aspects. I wish they would consider what assistance local government and the agencies involved can provide starting at primary school level to give the subject proper status in the curriculum. They should provide proper teaching back-up to help to encourage young people to behave in a sensible and community-minded way.

Secondly, it has been my experience over 20 years or more that every single tenant, whether of a local council, a housing association or a private landlord, signs a tenancy agreement. While the language of that may not be precisely what we are discussing in the Anti-social Behaviour Bill, it lays down, often in stern

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terms, the way in which tenants are expected to behave; for instance, "Excessive noise will not be made after eight o'clock at night", and so forth.

There is a weakness which I must point out to my own party and to local councils. There has been a reluctance to use the powers in the individual tenancy agreements to bring tenants up short and say, "You signed an undertaking when you took this tenancy to behave in this way. You are not doing it. Unless you stop this behaviour, which is causing unpleasantness and grief to everyone around you, we will take proceedings for breach of those tenancy agreements".

I suspect that that will deal with the point that noble Lords have been arguing. However, I understand that although tenants have such an agreement and sign it as a condition of getting the tenancy, it is one of those documents which goes behind the clock and is not often looked at.

3.45 p.m.

Lord Avebury: I support my noble friend in her Amendment No. 23, which deals with prevention. My noble friend Lady Sharp and I visited the London borough of Camden a couple of weeks ago to look at the work it is doing in implementing social behaviour orders and, much more importantly, in preventing a necessity for such orders. They have had some degree of success with that. We were invited to look at two particular projects. The first was the Sidmouth Mews Kids Club in King's Cross, which has been up and running for about 18 months. The second was the Families in Focus project, which is based on three estates in the Euston/King's Cross area—Ampthill Square, Leviter House and Mayford—with the aim of assisting local communities to revive and raise their aspirations by building on community strengths and fully engaging the children, young people and families in community life.

I want to draw the Committee's attention to the fact that these projects continue to operate largely on the ability and enthusiasm of volunteers. They work on a shoestring but the money they receive from public funds is intermittent and uncertain. If we are to have a proper prevention strategy, we need to back local authorities and landlords who are implementing such measures. Both schemes report that the search for funding is a continual struggle. They receive small amounts of money from SRB grants, from the lottery, from local trusts and from the local authority, but the impact of uncertain funding in the short term is a risk of losing good workers who build up relationships of trust with the children, young people and their families. It also creates much anxiety for the local community and risks losing the goodwill and support which they have built up with the hard work they have already done. The people who run the projects are constantly being asked, "How long have we got this project for, what are we going to do and where are we going to go when we have run out of money?".

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If the Government are serious about doing something concrete about anti-social behaviour, they need to build into the Bill the kind of amendment which my noble friend has suggested.

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