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Viscount Bridgeman: I am grateful to the Minister for that comprehensive explanation. We shall of course be examining the guidance very carefully and, on that basis, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord Thomas of Gresford moved Amendment No. 7:

"(4A) Before making a drinking banning order, a court may receive a report from an appropriate officer about the proposed subject of the order, which contains information about the subject and, in particular, about whether there is any reason to suspect that he may be—
(a) suffering from substance addiction (including alcohol dependence);
(b) a person falling within section 1 of the Mental Health Act 1983 (c. 20) (application of Act: "mental disorder"); or
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(c) suffering from any other recognised physical or mental illness or condition which could either—
(i) affect his ability to restrict his intake of alcohol;
(ii) cause him to engage in criminal conduct while under the influence of alcohol; or
(iii) affect his ability to comply with a drinking banning order.
(4B) In subsection (4A), an "appropriate officer" means—
(a) where the proposed subject is aged 18 or over, an officer of the National Offender Management Service or a social worker of a local authority social services department;
(b) where the proposed subject is aged under 18, a social worker of a local authority social services department or a member of a youth offending team.
(4C) If the court determines that the proposed subject of a drinking banning order may be a person falling within subsection (4B)(a) to (c), the court shall not make a drinking banning order unless satisfied, on receipt of medical evidence, that—
(a) his ability to understand and comply with the order will not be significantly restricted by reason of his being a person falling within subsection (4B)(a) to (c); and
(b) compliance with the order, either alone or in combination to any other order or sentence to which he is subject, would not have a deleterious effect upon his mental or physical health."

The noble Lord said: This amendment raises a very important issue, which I am sure the Minister will address. Is it intended that these drinking banning orders will be applied to rough sleepers who are alcohol or drug-dependent? Is it a mechanism for removing from the streets people who are suffering from alcoholism in one way or another? If that is the case, then a person suffering from that sort of illness is bound to breach any prohibitions that are put on him or her, and a drinking banning order would just be one step towards fines and subsequent imprisonment.

We welcome the government amendments in the group commencing with Amendment No. 8, which deal with the introduction of approved courses to treat alcoholism, and that will be discussed in due course. But it seems to me that the introduction of the approved courses idea by the Government brings in a considerable refinement to the Bill as first put before another place.

A major effect is that the drinking banning order will not be the crude and simplistic,

to use the words of Miss Hazel Blears on 13 October last year. It is an order intended to deal with people's problems, as well as to give them a short, sharp shock. If the orders are to be tailored to deal with an individual by, for example, different prohibitions for different periods, as set out in the original Bill, by an order that a person should attend an approved course, or by the possibility that a particular prohibition can be terminated and so on, then it is necessary to have full and proper information about the individual before the court.
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4.30 pm

Amendment No. 7 does not require a report in every case, but if unusual prohibitions are to be contained in the order, or if it deals with a person with an unusual personality, it is only sensible to have a report from an appropriate person, as defined. If, as I have said, the orders are imposed on people who are rough sleepers, surely a report from the Department of Social Services should be available to the court before it considers what prohibitions should be placed on that person.

Further, when there is reason to think that a person may be suffering from drug or alcohol dependence, or any other recognised physical or mental illness, it is only sensible, as the amendment suggests, to have a professional medical view. The order that the judge who hears the application will make will be a matter for his discretion, and the prohibitions that he imposes will also be a matter for his discretion. Therefore, he should have all the available assistance from social services and the medical profession that are relevant to the case. I beg to move.

Viscount Bridgeman: I support the amendment, to which my noble friend Lady Anelay of St Johns has added her name. It would be helpful in some cases if a report were made available to the court before it made a drinking banning order. It is a sensible proposal that should not lead to too great a burden on the court or on those with responsibility for preparing the reports.

We are all concerned about the heavy workload carried by the Probation Service, which has been highlighted in recent very tragic cases, especially in light of the extra burden that it will face at the end of this year when custody plus sentences come into effect. Despite the fact that the DBO is a civil order, it would be valuable if a report could be called for by the court when it believes that it will assist it more effectively to determine whether an order should be made and what prohibition should appropriately be imposed.

The amendment is even more appropriate in the light of the Government's new clauses that open up the prospect of a court ordering that a person should be offered the chance to complete an approved course, to which the noble Lord, Lord Thomas, has referred, and get a discount on the length of their DBO as a result. I hope that the Government can accept the amendment.

Lord Bassam of Brighton: I hear what the noble Viscount says and should perhaps say at the outset that I am going to disappoint him. However, I think that I can give him some cause for cheer.

The amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, and supported by the noble Viscount, Lord Bridgeman, seeks to introduce safeguards into the process of making a drinking banning order. As explained, the amendment would mean that any court considering making an order may first receive a report from an appropriate person on the subject's mental and physical health and whether he or she has any substance misuse addictions. We have a great deal of sympathy with the aim behind the
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amendment. The image conjured up by the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, of the rough sleeper is one that I readily understand as my own city has a fair problem of exactly that nature. It is only right and proper that policies should be directed towards giving assistance and help, which is the spirit in which the amendment has been moved. I understand that.

The amendment would ensure that an order is not imposed unless the court is satisfied that the subject can understand and comply with the order, and that it will not have an adverse effect on his mental or physical health. We know that rough sleepers, who are a part of our community, invariably have mental and physical health problems. This amendment was tabled and debated in the other place and my colleagues there had a similar sympathy with it. I understand the importance of the issue and agree with the aim, but in our view there is no need to set out the requirement in the Bill. I give the assurance that this issue will be dealt with in guidance, as is the case with anti-social behaviour orders. To our way of thinking that seems the best way of dealing with it.

It is already the case that local authorities have a duty under the National Health Service and Community Care Act 1990 to assess any person who may be in need of community care services. If there is any evidence to suggest that the person against whom the order is being sought may be suffering from drug, alcohol or mental health problems, the person's circumstances should be properly assessed and the necessary support provided by social services or other relevant agencies. That support should run parallel with the collection of evidence and application for an order where that is deemed necessary.

When applying for an order against a young person an assessment should be made of their circumstances and needs in each and every case. That will enable the local authority to ensure that the appropriate services are available or are going to be provided for the young person affected and for the court to obtain the necessary information about his or her circumstances. However, it is vital that any such assessment does not introduce delay to the application process for an order as the needs of the community should be paramount. The lead agency should work closely with the local social services department or youth offending team from the start of the process so that where a new assessment is required it can be made speedily.

As I said, the Government will ensure that those considerations are set out in the detailed and comprehensive guidance that will be an important part of ensuring that the legislation when it reaches the statute book becomes operational. I hope that having heard that explanation the noble Lord will feel able to withdraw his amendment.

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