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Neighbour relationships are one of the most difficult things for people, particularly on some of our major estates, and I see these orders as necessary in this area. However, it would be helpful if the Minister could tell us where he sees them being appropriate and what effect he thinks they will have on local government in dealing with the problems caused. The amendments of the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, will be necessary to shore that up. In the first instance, however, it would be helpful to have a response.
Lord Ramsbotham: I have considerable sympathy with these amendments, in line with the growing concern about the disproportionate imposition of anti-social behaviour orders. For example, in the paper last week, there was talk about an anti-social behaviour order that, if carried out, would have prevented a youngster from travelling anywhere on public transport for the foreseeable future. That cannot make sense.
There is a much underused aspect of this: the community impact order, which involves such things as prevalent offences. Quite often the development of anti-social behaviour in neighbourhoods that leads to this sort of closure might benefit from a wider
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The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Home Office (Lord West of Spithead): I thank noble Lords for their inputs. It is clear that all of us in the Committee understand the impact of this sort of behaviour in areas of our community. I must make it clear that we are not talking about occasional loud noise or annoyance; we are talking about excessive and persistentthat word was used by the noble Baroness, Lady Hanhamanti-social behaviour amounting to significant and persistent disorder or persistent serious nuisance, which can have a devastating impact on neighbours and the wider community as well as on the perpetrators family and cohabiters.
A multi-agency approach would have to have been taken first to tackle the nuisance behaviour, using the full range of support and enforcement measures available. I hope that that answers the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, to the extent that we would expect to see the use of, for example, acceptable behaviour contracts, parenting contracts, injunctions, ASBOs or community impact orders alongside offers of support before any closure is pursued. The premises closure provides the opportunity to encourage and cajole people who might not have been willing to accept assistance actually to do something and to take some help. We hope that we can improve them and put them in a position where they can return to their house after three months, having engaged with the various social services and the people with whom they need to engage to cure the things that are making them behave in that way.
The noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, mentioned the impact of crack house closures. I disagree with him; those closures have proved very popular. Since their introduction, 722 premises have been closed. Cuckooing has been reported and we believe that premises closure orders will offer a mechanism to help vulnerable people who have become victims of it. The order will mean that the safe haven can be taken out of action. People have gone from crack houses to cause the trouble in those places that the noble Lord rightly mentioned. Vulnerable people can be offered the help and support that they need. That is how we hope to move forward on this.
I can assure the Committee that the young and vulnerable will be a strong part of our considerations. Robust guidance will be given to practitioners and will have to be strictly adhered to. To place those requirements in the Bill risks making the process for making orders so complex that we would not get the benefit of them. I go back to my reference to mission
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Premises closures, like existing crack house closures, will be used alongside support measures. They will provide an opportunity for local agencies to co-ordinate and offer support that those subject to the closure previously rejected. That is what we found in the past. It is in their interest as well as in the communitys interest. This approach of challenging and supporting is practised by the 53 family intervention projects launched by the Respect Task Force in April 2007. I therefore ask the noble Lord to withdraw his amendment.
Lord Mayhew of Twysden: I find that a rather disappointing reply. I cannot see why Amendment No. 161 would make the procedure for the making of an order more complex. Paragraph (d), to be inserted by the amendment, would ensure that,
The Minister said that there will be guidance, but that also has to be looked at by the magistrates court. It is surely much easier for that to be in the Bill. I respectfully submit that the same point can be made about paragraph (e), which would provide that,
The point does not improve with repetition. I ask the Minister to reconsider his dismissal of those proposals, which I believe would make life that much easier for the courtit is, as we may remind ourselves, a magistrates courtand a good deal less hazardous for people who may be caught up in the imposition of the orders.
Baroness Hanham: I want to ask one question. The supposition is that the premises will be closed. The Minister said that, after three months, the occupants will be able to come back. It would be very unusual in local government for an apartment or flat to be kept for three months. That is a long time to have a flat sterilised, as it were. Equally, if the premises have been closed, not because of the fault of the people who are the tenants or the occupiers but because of people who are coming in and causing a nuisance, that will presumably be taken into account. Will there be in guidance some indication as to whether the tenancy will be restored or maintained during those three months or whether it will be expected that the local authority will remove that tenancy and have to get the family to start all over again? I cannot resist reminding the Committee that it was my borough, the
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Lord West of Spithead: First, I congratulate the noble Baroness on getting that legislation passed, because I understand from everything that I have been told that it has been extremely valuable, even with the proviso that this order will resolve the problems that have been found there. The issue of a council apartment, flat or house being empty for three months is a very good point; I do not know the answer off the top of my head. I assume that it will be kept available for those people. Perhaps I may go away to think about that so that we can return to it in later debate. I am not sure what the position is.
I know that at the moment we have the ability with council housing finally to move people on. It takes a huge length of time, by which time the impact on the local community and the fact that we have not been able to get social services fully involved with the family causing the difficulty constitute a real problem. We have not historically been able to do that with private housing. Sometimes, private housing has been used for things like cuckooing, as has been mentioned. The issue of the housing being kept open is a valid point. I have to say that I have not asked that question, but that may come up in debate later and I will be able to address it then.
The noble and learned Lord asked whether we could include the amendments because he felt that just giving guidance to magistrates was inadequate. I still feel that trying to articulate too many of the details in the Bill will make the statutory test very difficult. We will be caught up in court and unable to take the necessary action as readily as we should. As I said, by that stage, we will have used such things as acceptable behaviour contracts, parenting contracts, injunctions, ASBOs and community impact orders. All of those things will already have been tried before we move down that road. The vulnerable people, the vulnerable children about whom the noble and learned Lord was rightly talking, are at risk because of the things going on in some of those houses, yet the people involved are unwilling to let those people who could help them get involved. This provision will make that happen. Clearly, all our statutory obligations to look after children will be enforced and we will have to look after them. I hope that that answers those points.
Baroness Butler-Sloss: Will the Minister say what the position is for vulnerable adults? If an old grandmother or great grandmother is living in the same household as a thoroughly disruptive family, who quite rightly should be subject to a closure order, what is the councils duty towards such a person, who will be made homeless?
Lord West of Spithead: The noble and learned Baroness makes a very valid point. The council has a responsibility to find other accommodation for those who are made homeless, which would apply here. In addition, all the various social services and people
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Baroness Butler-Sloss: If the family is quite rightly stigmatised as the result of a closure order, will the vulnerable adult also be stigmatised as being, for instance, intentionally homeless, or will that elderly person be treated as someone who has been made unintentionally homeless and therefore as a priority for accommodation? A rather rigid approach, or the approach that the family has caused this, might take the blameless along with the blameworthy.
Lord West of Spithead: The noble and learned Baroness makes another very valid point. This would have to be taken case by case. Would they be stigmatised? There is certainly nothing in the order, and nothing that the various social services would do, that would try to stigmatise someone in that position. It is difficult to judge what the understanding of anyone in the community would be. I am afraid that that is a very difficult thing to ascertain. Certainly nothing would be done to try to stigmatise someone who was not involved in that grouping, and the social services would look after their interests.
Lord Thomas of Gresford: I am most grateful to all your Lordships who have taken part in this debate. The Minister did not answer the question posed by the noble Baroness, Lady Hanham, as to what he envisaged to be significant and persistent disorder or persistent serious nuisance. In other words, how high is the bar? That is extremely important, because if the bar is set too low so that these orders are regularly made, would there be 720 crack house orders, for example? How many orders are there likely to be for anti-social behaviour? Excessive use could be counterproductive, because local authorities will have to deal with ever increasing numbers of displaced people who must be accommodated in some sort of temporary accommodation. Indeed, the temporary and uncertain existence that they are then to enjoy is more likely to exacerbate anti-social behaviour than the opposite. Will the Minister consider how high the bar is being placed?
The Minister also referred to private ownership, which gives rise to another matter which I should have addressed when I first addressed your Lordships. It is almost unknown for owner-occupiers to be evicted from their own property. The tradition is that a persons home is his castle, particularly if he owns it. I warn the Government that there is a danger that the protection for a persons home and property being violated in this way will give rise to issues under the right to peaceful enjoyment of possessions under Article 1 of the first protocol to the Human Rights Act. This is an important area.
I am grateful to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mayhew, for asking what is so difficult about putting the proposed amendments into subsection (4) in new
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Lord West of Spithead: On the meaning of the significant or persistent disorder, as with crack house closures, it will be for the police, the local authority and, ultimately, the courtthe court will be involved in thisto decide whether the activity that has been going on constitutes the level of anti-social behaviour that should allow this to happen. The courts, as well as the police and the local authority, are fully involved. This will be at the end of a long programme of trying lots of other measures to ensure that these people behave correctly and cease being real problems in their area. That is all I can say on that issue.
Baroness Hanham: I am sorry to keep on, but I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Thomas, for picking up on this. What are we talking about? Are we talking about very loud music being played very late at night for a very long time, with people jumping on the floorboards and going on and on, and nothing else resolving the problem? Are we talking about young people persistently congregating outside flats and harassing people as they go in, and not giving up, but doing it over and over again? Are we talking about people pushing petrol through letterboxes? What are we talking about?
From my experience of local government, I know that very many attritive things happen where this might have an effect. It would be most helpful to have at least an outline of what we are talking about. The courts would need to know whether harassment or whatever was at such a sufficient level that they could deal with it.
Lord West of Spithead: Bearing in mind that a whole raft of measures will have been gone through on this, perhaps I may give a flavour of what we are talking about; for example, noise, rowdy behaviour, frequent drunken parties, high numbers of people
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Lord Mayhew of Twysden: I shall deal just with the question put by the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford. What is the difficulty in having this amendment in the Bill? After all, the Bill has not been exactly reticent when it comes to matters of detail.
Lord West of Spithead: Our feeling is that guidance would be the best way to achieve this rather than trying to put specific details in the Bill. That will make it more difficult. It is better to have a broader ability to give broad guidance, which will allow flexibility and will allow the courts and the various people involved to
Baroness Falkner of Margravine: I did not wish to interrupt the noble Lord half way through his sentence, but perhaps I may explain why we are being persistent about trying to get some clarity. One gets the idea that the noble Lords reticence in explaining why we cannot have this in the Bill is because by issuing it as guidance there would be greater flexibility and, therefore, a trenching up of the areas in which it might be used, rather than the more straightforward measures that he has just given us an example of. If the noble Lord wants the flexibility to encompass a wider range of measures than we now believe are under this ambit, then perhaps it would be better explained to us in that manner.
Baroness Hanham: Would the noble Lord say that guidance would be available to us by Report so that at least we could see what was being proposed by that stage? I am sure the noble Lord would then have a decision to make.
Lord Campbell of Alloway: I respectfully ask the Minister to take into account that, as a general rule, one really feels that the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, are right and ought to receive consideration. I would not have spoken but the question of guidance arosewhether one document or two. I do not know whether the Minister knows that this is not how things work as a rule. Basically, guidance is introduced by a trigger clause in primary legislation. That then is guidance and the legal efficacy is set out in the trigger clause. You do not have that and the statute too. You do not have the two documents. You have one or the other. The
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Lord Thomas of Gresford: I wonder if I could expand this point just a little further. We have no control over guidance, particularly if it is not before us on Report. The only thing that we can control is the wording that appears in the statute. Guidance is not regulation so we do not even have that in our quiver to consider for a later stage. Anything could go into guidance. That is my first point.
My second point is that the Minister has to consider how these things work in practice. The person who applies for the order obviously wants to get that order. Therefore, he has to brief himself not only on the terms of the Act, but, if the Minister is right, on the guidance. He will have to be ready to satisfy the guidance notes before the magistrate. That is just the same thing as if it was in the Bill, but at least we would all know where we are. Then the matter goes before the court and the people opposing the making of the order have to look, again, not just at what is in the Bill but at the issues that arise on the guidance. We are always looking at two separate documents: what the Bill says on the point, which is the basis of the order; and the guidanceit has no statutory basis at all, as the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Alloway, pointed outwhich has to be kept to one side and consulted for any order to be made. This is totally confusing.
I cannot see anything in the Ministers reply about it being complex to put the matters which we have raised in the Bill. I hope that he will consider before Report the criticisms that have been made from all around the Committeeif the noble Lord, Lord Judd, were here I am sure he would be criticising the provision tooso that something can be done by Report which will satisfy the problems we have discussed.
Lord West of Spithead: If I have not taken into account all the various inputsthey are valid, and there is scope for confusionI would be ready to consider the case for statutory guidance in time for Report stage.
Lord Thomas of Gresford: We will have a look at that in due course, and no doubt we will consider whether these amendments should be pursued. However, the Minister can be sure that these amendments will be tabled again on Report so that we can debate the statutory guidance he has now promised us. On that basis, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
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