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Anti-social Behaviour Bill

House again in Committee.

Clause 26 [Parenting orders in respect of criminal conduct and anti-social behaviour]:

[Amendments Nos. 135 and 136 not moved.]

Clause 26 agreed to.

Clause 27 [Parenting orders: supplemental]:

[Amendments Nos. 137 and 138 not moved.]

Clause 27 agreed to.

Clause 28 agreed to.

Clause 29 [Interpretation and consequential amendment]:

Baroness Scotland of Asthal moved Amendment No. 139:

The noble Baroness said: The amendment extends the interpretation of various terms used in the clauses concerning parenting contracts and orders in respect of the criminal conduct and anti-social behaviour to include Clause 28, which concerns parenting orders appeals. This simply corrects an earlier drafting error that omitted to refer to the clause. It is a technical amendment. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

[Amendments Nos. 140 to 144 not moved.]

Clause 29, as amended, agreed to.

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Clause 30 [Dispersal of groups and removal of persons under 16 to their place of residence]:

Baroness Walmsley moved Amendment No. 145:

    Page 26, line 7, leave out paragraph (a).

The noble Baroness said: In moving Amendment No. 145, I shall speak also to Amendments Nos. 148 and 158, which stand in my name. I support Amendment No. 159, which stands in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Massey of Darwin.

The Committee may remember from Second Reading in this House and from the proceedings in another place that we on these Benches object to the whole of Part 4. My noble friends and I will, in the main, address our arguments on that when we come to the clause stand part debates. For now, I seek to address by amendment some of the most objectionable details of the clauses in Part 4.

Amendment No. 145 seeks to amend Clause 30(1) by deleting paragraph (a) on the grounds that it is unnecessary, superfluous—if that is not tautology—and too widely drawn. If individuals within a particular locality have been intimidated or harassed, this should form the basis of conventional criminal proceedings. Sections 4 and 5 of the Public Order Act 1986 criminalise threatening, abusive or insulting words or behaviour, or disorderly behaviour. So the Government already have that tool.

As with the Sexual Offences Bill, this is another example of the Government bringing in new legislation in order to be seen to be doing something rather than making full use of the toolkit already in place. Subsection (1) should apply only when there is persistent and significant anti-social behaviour. This is already covered in paragraph (b).

Amendment No. 148 concerns the period during which an authorisation can be enforced. The Bill refers to a six-month period. We believe that, given the ease with which an authorisation can be issued, this brings a danger that designated areas will, to all intents and purposes, be subject to permanent authorisation notices—no go areas. This is neither appropriate nor does it show any confidence in these new laws having much effect. A six-week period, with the possibility of renewal, should provide sufficient time to try out these powers and to see whether they are successful or not in reducing the anti-social behaviour complained of in the locality.

Amendment No. 158 was suggested to us by the LGA, which is concerned that local authorities would only be consulted about a dispersal order and would not have to agree to it. Ensuring that a dispersal order came into force only with the agreement of the chief executive would ensure that enforcement action was complemented by a range of other actions to address the anti-social behaviour in the area. The Minister tells us that of course local authorities would be consulted, but it would be very helpful if it was on the face of the Bill that they had to agree to the action.

I have heard of a number of very creative ways in which local authorities are bringing groups of people together to understand each other and the effect of each other's behaviour. A number of noble Lords went

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to Camden recently and heard what the authority is doing there. Simply dispersing people is not enough, and authorities such as Camden know it. They know that they have a lot to offer in this process.

Local authorities have key joint responsibility for the planning and delivery of local crime reduction, together with the police service under the Crime and Disorder Act 1998. The principle of joint agreement is key to the spirit of this partnership working, so it is vital that full agreement is on the face of the Bill and not simply assumed.

Finally, I will not say much about the amendment of the noble Baroness, Lady Massey of Darwen, because I am quite sure she will address it very articulately in a few minutes. But I heartily agree with her reasons for wanting to include the local community, which I am sure must involve listening to children—always a good thing. I beg to move.

Lord Dixon-Smith: My Amendments Nos. 146 and 147 are also in this group. I think we should get them and all the amendments relevant to this group debated on the Floor of the House before we are much further forward.

I agree very much with the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, that people are failing to use the toolkit of the existing law. If that is the case, one cannot help but wonder if they will use this law. That is one of those great hypothetical questions to which there is no answer; I would not dream of asking the Minister for the answer, because I know perfectly well that she could not answer it either. We will find out only as time passes.

My two amendments are quite small. The first, which is very small indeed, would leave out "and" and insert "or". The Bill applies where a relevant officer has reasonable grounds for believing:

    "(a) that any members of the public have been intimidated, harassed, alarmed or distressed as a result of the presence or behaviour of groups of two or more persons in public places . . . and,

    (b) that anti-social behaviour is a significant and persistent problem in the relevant locality".

In a sense, we had this debate much earlier in the Bill's proceedings. The question is whether "and" is an appropriate word or whether "or" is. We think that "or" would be preferable if the Bill is to mean what it says. I accept that we are talking about a significant increase in the sanctions available.

A relevant officer has to be a senior officer—a superintendent or above—and must make his judgment in the light of all the circumstances, which he will know very well, including the surrounding police area. These are all points that the Minister made in a previous debate. I still think that such a person is capable of making an appropriate judgment. However, it may be asking too much of him to make such a judgment when the behaviour of groups of people causes difficulty for the public in an area and anti-social behaviour is also a significant and persistent problem. If one is elderly one may have to go out in the evening because one may have forgotten to

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do one's shopping during daylight, and the shops are now open till nine or ten or eleven o'clock at night. As we get older—and I am susceptible to this—we have lapses, and we may suddenly find that we are without something essential, either for our evening meal or perhaps for breakfast in the morning. If one is in that situation and there are groups of rowdy youngsters outside, it can be quite a nerve-bending experience to walk down to the local corner shop and back again. That is what this is all about.

I know that this is an anti-social behaviour Bill, but in this particular instance "and" is perhaps a little more than is necessary and "or" would be preferable.

Amendment No. 147 would remove the requirement for,

    "a significant and persistent problem in the relevant locality",

in addition to intimidation. That is another way of stating the same thing. We do not see why anti-social behaviour should have to occur more than once before the police can do anything about it. If a policeman on the street sees anti-social behaviour building up, it is offensive even if it is the first time. They should not have to wait until it is a persistent problem in the area before it is considered offensive. It is offensive.

Those are the reasons why we tabled the amendments. I hope that the Government will consider them. I have no doubt that the Minister will give me a wonderfully lucid and plausible response, but whether she will satisfy me is another matter.

8.45 p.m.

The Lord Bishop of St Edmundsbury and Ipswich: I support strongly the amendments and the general concern of the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley. There is clearly widespread concern about Part 4 of the Bill, which is echoed by a large number of organisations—exactly the list given by the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, earlier. It might almost be called the "Sharp list", in referring to it in shorthand. It is a long and detailed list of people who work with children and families.

Those organisations make it quite clear that there is no question of condoning crime or disruptive behaviour or underestimating the effect that it has on other people. The crucial question is how anti-social behaviour is dealt with and prevented and how it is addressed when it occurs. This part of the Bill is crucial to that matter. It revisits the existing provisions to impose area-based child curfew notices, first introduced under Section 14 of the Crime and Disorder Act 1998 and amended under the 2001 Act. The power has, apparently, never been used, which is an interesting comment on it, especially given that the provisions attempt to extend it.

The key point is that the power was brought in originally to protect children, not to restrict them. The new Bill reverses that and starts with the presumption that we view children as a problem rather than being in need of protection. That is a different approach, assumption and attitude.

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Paragraph 4 of the Explanatory Notes says:

    "The Bill is designed to ensure that the police have the appropriate powers to deal with serious anti-social behaviour".

However, the clause goes way beyond that. This is a provision for a situation in which no crime has actually been committed—that is the point, is it not? In the light of that, Part 4 feels like an unnecessary extension of an existing power and introduces an unwelcome punitive element that will not help to deal with the root problem or the causes of anti-social behaviour. It also raises the question of human rights, in terms of the unnecessary intrusion on the liberty of an individual, to allow a constable to give orders to someone when there is no threat of crime or danger to safety. That question has clearly been raised as well. So there is a whole question about the presence of this part in the Bill.

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