HC Deb 22 July 1996 vol 282 cc86-9

Lords amendment: No. 157, before clause 135, to insert the following new clause—Power to grant injunctions against anti-social behaviour

".—(1) The High Court or a county court may, on an application by a local authority, grant an injunction prohibiting a person from—

  1. (a) engaging in or threatening to engage in conduct causing or likely to cause a nuisance or annoyance to a person residing in, visiting or otherwise engaging in a lawful activity in residential premises to which this section applies or in the locality of such premises,
  2. (b) using or threatening to use residential premises to which this section applies for immoral or illegal purposes, or
  3. (c) entering residential premises to which this section applies or being found in the locality of any such premises.

(2) This section applies to residential premises of the following descriptions—

  1. (a) dwelling-houses held under secure or introductory tenancies from the local authority;
  2. (b) accommodation provided by that authority under Part VII of this Act or Part III of the Housing Act 1985 (homelessness).

(3) The court shall not grant an injunction under this section unless it is of the opinion that—

  1. (a) the respondent has used or threatened to use violence against any person of a description mentioned in subsection (1)(a), and
  2. (b) there is a significant risk of harm to that person or a person of a similar description if the injunction is not granted.

(4) An injunction under this section may—

  1. (a) in the case of an injunction under subsection (1)(a) or (b), relate to particular acts or to conduct, or types of conduct, in general or to both, and
  2. (b) in the case of an injunction under subsection (1)(c), relate to particular premises or a particular locality;
and may be made for a specified period or until varied or discharged.

(5) An injunction under this section may be varied or discharged by the court on an application by—

  1. (a) the respondent, or
  2. (b) the local authority which made the original application.

(6) The court may attach a power of arrest to one or more of the provisions of an injunction which it intends to grant under this section.

(7) The court may, in any case where it considers that it is just and convenient to do so, grant an injunction under this section, or vary such an injunction, even though the respondent has not been given such notice of the proceedings as would otherwise be required by rules of court.

If the court does so, it must afford the respondent an opportunity to make representations relating to the injunction or variation as soon as just and convenient at a hearing of which notice has been given to all the parties in accordance with rules of court.

In this section "local authority" has the same meaning as in the Housing Act 1985."

Mr. Curry

I beg to move, That this House doth agree with the Lords in the said amendment.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

With this, it will be convenient to take Lords amendments Nos. 158 to 165 and 302.

Mr. Curry

In Committee in another place, an amendment was tabled to clarify the ability of councils to use section 222 of the Local Government Act 1972 to curb anti-social behaviour. It transpired that some local authorities using that section had obtained legal advice that they would be unwise to rely on the power to restrain anti-social behaviour in premises that they owned, on the ground that there might not be sufficient public interest to justify its use.

It was clear that local authorities harboured some doubts about whether section 222 enabled them to deal with the problem—hence this amendment. The new clause contains an express power to allow councils to obtain an injunction, in the High Court or the county court, to restrain anyone from engaging in anti-social behaviour on council estates. The power is supplemented by a power for the local authority to request a court to attach a power of arrest. That will enable councils to take effective action.

The amendments will be welcomed by local authorities and by the House. The problem of anti-social behaviour is important, and there is broad agreement on the need to find effective ways to deal with it. I hope that this measure will reinforce the available powers.

Mr. Raynsford

Anti-social behaviour is one of the biggest problems facing communities throughout Britain. The problem must be dealt with urgently, and requires serious attention from everyone concerned, whether in central Government or in local government. We need to ensure that local authorities have effective powers to counter the behaviour of a minority of people who cause disproportionate grief and misery to the communities in which they live. The behaviour is often shocking, involving wanton destruction, vandalism and abuse of neighbours—behaviour that is totally incompatible with the normal decencies of human life. Sadly, many local authorities have found it difficult to take effective action against the perpetrators of such behaviour because of the inadequacy of existing legal sanctions and the extraordinary time it often takes to get cases to court and to get appropriate remedies through the courts.

For that reason, in Committee, the Opposition moved a series of amendments that were designed to give local authorities far greater powers to take action against unruly, disorderly and anti-social elements who terrorise their neighbours, and who make communities hellholes in which it is difficult to lead a normal life. Our proposals envisaged, among other measures, injunctions with the power of arrest, so that a local authority could take effective action against an individual who was causing trouble, without necessarily demonstrating that that person, against whom they had powers to act, was a tenant in the region.

We therefore welcome Lords amendment No. 157, which gives effect to the measures that we were advocating. It gives a local authority the power to seek an injunction against people who are responsible for anti-social behaviour. It enables that injunction to be granted with a power of arrest, so that, if an individual against whom the injunction has been granted subsequently acts in a way that causes anxiety, fear or grief to their community, the authority can seek immediate redress, which is a far more effective deterrent than most.

It is not the whole solution, because other measures are needed to ensure effective action against anti-social behaviour. The long period that it takes to get cases into court requires urgent attention. The difficulties that people encounter because of the reluctance of certain witnesses to come forward because of fear of intimidation and reprisal is another issue. In addition to this amendment, other actions can give greater safety and security to communities.

In government, we will pursue a comprehensive range of measures to bring redress to communities, and to ensure that there is proper sanction against people who make their neighbours' lives a misery and that communities can live in peace and confidence without the fear of their lives being devastated by the actions of a small anti-social minority. Having said that, however, the amendment goes a significant way towards that goal. It gives additional powers. We are delighted that the Government have agreed to our proposals to achieve that, and we therefore warmly endorse the amendment and look forward to its reaching the statute book.

Mrs. Maddock

The amendment is welcomed by all sides, all parties and local authorities, not least because anti-social behaviour has been a great problem. During the passage of the Bill, we have had many discussions on the best way to do it, and giving local authorities the ability to use injunctions against people who behave badly has been the one issue on which there has been agreement. As has been pointed out, however, this applies only to local authority accommodation, and there are problems, particularly on mixed estates. We should be considering, and should have considered, other measures.

We had interesting discussions after the hon. Member for Greenwich (Mr. Raynsford) made some interesting proposals which seemed to me, and I think to others, to go a little beyond the mark in giving local authorities the ability to deal with people without their having to be proved guilty. That struck some of us as going a little too far, but, as he has said, all of us agree that injunctions are valuable. We must, however, recognise that, even if a person can get an injunction, he cannot always get things moving through the courts as quickly as he would like. We will probably have to return to this issue, but, as the hon. Gentleman and others have said, this is a welcome first step. I hope that it will be kept under review and that the Minister will consider whether other proposals can be made to ensure that it works in the way that he and I hope it will.

Lords amendment agreed to.

Lords amendments Nos. 158 to 165 agreed to.

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