§ The Minister of State, Home Office (Baroness Scotland of Asthal)
My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time.
This Government have done much to tackle crime. Since 1997, overall crime has dropped by over a quarter. Despite this, many people perceive that levels of crime are high. More than one in three people consider anti-social behaviour has a negative impact on their quality of life.
Anti-social behaviour creates an environment in which the community does not feel safe and does not have confidence that its rights will be protected. It blights people's lives, undermines the fabric of society and holds back regeneration. The behaviour of a persistent minority can sometimes ruin whole communities.
No one should have to put up with behaviour that causes misery and distress. As a society we must set clear standards of behaviour. The police, local authorities and others must enforce these standards and take swift, effective action if they are breached. They must also provide effective intervention and support to those families and individuals who need to change their behaviour.
I shall be brief in introduction and, since it is Friday, I know the House will welcome that. While the Bill was in another place, the Government were very open to constructive suggestions for the Bill's improvement. The positive debate led to a number of additions to the Bill at Report stage. I know that many noble Lords will also be eager to bring their experience in these areas to bear on the Bill.
Part 1 of the Bill provides the power for the police to act swiftly to address the misuse of illegal drugs by closing premises causing a serious nuisance to the community. Closing a property where drugs have been used, sold or produced for three months will help the police to disrupt these activities. The premises can then be brought back into proper use to rebuild strong and healthy communities.
There is a small minority of people who behave anti-socially within their home or neighbourhood, making life miserable for the rest of the community. Part 2 aims to build on the powers of social landlords to tackle such behaviour. Clause 12 ensures that tenants will be fully informed about the tools their landlords have at their disposal, and how their complaints will be dealt with.
1092 Clause 13 enables all social landlords to obtain injunctions to protect a wide range of people from anyone who perpetrates anti-social behaviour that affects their management of their stock. For example, they can use injunctions, where appropriate, with a power of arrest and a power to exclude the perpetrator from specific premises or areas, to protect their tenants and their families, staff and other people in the neighbourhood, including residents of other landlords and owner-occupiers.
This part also provides that anti-social tenants will lose their security of tenure through "demoted tenancies" until their behaviour is addressed. Clause 16 ensures that the courts take into account the impact of anti-social behaviour on the community when considering a possession case.
Parents have a critical role in teaching their children the difference between right and wrong. They are also responsible for ensuring that their children attend school and are supported in their learning. Part 3 of the Bill underlines their responsibilities. It is crucial that youth offending teams, education welfare services and schools work with the whole family to offer effective packages of support and intervention. The parenting contracts in Clauses 19 and 25 will provide a framework within which this work can operate.
Some families are unwilling or unable to accept support when offered it. Parenting orders provide a mechanism for parents who are not willing to address their child's behaviour. In another place, we responded to issues raised in this area, and agreed that parenting orders should be made more flexible. The Bill now enables the court to decide on the best structure of support as part of an order, including a residential element if that would he effective.
Parents have a legal duty to ensure that their children attend school regularly. Too many parents do not take this duty seriously. Too many schools are frustrated by having to repeat lessons for children who have missed school. By allowing education welfare officers and senior school staff to issue fixed penalty notices for truancy, we are providing an addition to the selection of sanctions available to address this problem.
We must protect the rights of people who are so intimidated that they will not use public facilities, such as parks or cashpoint machines or playgrounds, because they are fearful of the groups of people loitering around them. We want to help communities to reclaim their streets from intimidation and anti-social behaviour. The powers in Part 4 of the Bill will enable the co-ordinated targeting of a specific problem in designated areas. We want to ensure that the police and community support officers have the confidence to act where vulnerable young people are out in these areas at night, at risk of coming to harm, and take them home.
Part 5 of the Bill contains a range of improvements to provisions that have already started addressing anti-social behaviour. Over 1,000 anti-social behaviour orders have now been made to protect the community. Clauses 37 and 38 introduce further 1093 improvements in this area to extend ASBOs, to simplify them for practitioners and to help them more easily protect the communities for which they are responsible.
Young people are as often the victims of crime and anti-social behaviour as they are the perpetrators. However, some young people ignore the standards set by society, causing disruption and misery. The Bill will allow the police and community support officers to take speedy action against young people committing offences such as throwing fireworks, trespassing on a railway, and being drunk and disorderly, by issuing a fixed penalty notice. We will also enable accredited officers to issue fixed penalty notices in circumstances that the chief constable of their area feels are appropriate.
For a small number of persistent young offenders we are determined to explore new programmes which combine support and enforcement to change their behaviour. Schedule 2 will therefore allow intensive supervision orders and curfew orders that are currently limited to three months to last for up to six months. Some families are unable to provide the support required to tackle a young person's offending behaviour, and in a minority of cases they may even encourage it. This part also enables the court to offer these young people an intensive fostering placement as an alternative to custody.
Part 6 addresses the misuse of air weapons and replica guns that disrupt communities, causing intimidation and distress. Clause 43 prevents any person having an air weapon or imitation firearm in a public place without reasonable excuse. Clause 44 provides that young people under 17 will be able to use an air weapon only when supervised by an adult unless they are on private land or using the airgun as a member of a registered shooting club. Clause 45 bans the lethal self-contained gas cartridge system.
The effects of anti-social behaviour are most visible when the results of that behaviour disrupt and ruin public places such as shopping precincts, town centres or railway stations. Part 7 of the Bill includes new powers for environmental health officers to shut down pubs and clubs that are causing public nuisance by the noise they create. Clause 48 also makes it easier to use existing powers to tackle inconsiderate neighbours making noise at night. If a window is broken or a wall is covered in graffiti it can contribute to an environment in which crime takes hold, particularly if intervention is not prompt and effective. The Bill will help to stop that process of neglect.
Part 7 contains a range of new powers for local authorities including the ability to issue fixed penalty notices for graffiti or fly-posting, to clean up graffiti on street furniture and to intervene where a litter abatement notice has been ignored. We will also prevent graffiti by restricting the sale of spray paints.
Part 8 was introduced by amendments in another place following constructive discussion in Committee. Clauses 59 and 60 respond to concerns raised about the 1094 ability of extreme activists to exploit loopholes in the current law that enable them to continue their programmes of intimidation.
Clauses 61 to 65 introduce new powers for the police to move on trepassorial encampments. Currently trespassers can be moved on from unauthorised encampments only when they have caused damage to the land, used threatening, abusive or insulting words and behaviour, or have six or more vehicles on the land. Those requirements make it difficult to act swiftly to prevent the damage and disruption that can be caused by these encampments. The Bill removes those pre-conditions. Instead, it includes a new condition that there should be adequate site provision in the area before the power is used.
The Bill provides additional tools to tackle anti-social behaviour. These tools should not be seen in isolation, and legislation is only the first step. Our strategy on anti-social behaviour is to ensure that all available powers are understood and that they are used in creative and innovative ways. We want to ensure that members of the community are fully engaged in setting and enforcing standards of behaviour. The measures in the Bill will build on existing powers and programmes to ensure that anti-social behaviour is tackled with the correct balance of enforcement and support. I commend the Bill to the House.
§ Lord Moynihan
My Lords, before the noble Baroness sits down, I should be very grateful if she would give a commitment that, in line with the Labour Party manifesto, the Government do not intend to place further restrictions on shooting sports.
§ Baroness Scotland of Asthal
My Lords, the Government are committed to tackling the misuse, not the use, of air weapons. It is reasonable that a young person taking part in shooting activities is supervised when carrying a firearm in public. We do not believe that that will prevent them engaging in those sporting activities.
Moved, That the Bill be now read a second time.—(Baroness Scotland of Asthal.)
§ 11.18 a.m.
§ The Earl of Shrewsbury
My Lords, I declare an interest as chairman of the British Shooting Sports Council, president of the Gun Trade Association, a former chairman of the Firearms Consultative Committee, a landowner and a keen shooting enthusiast.
§ The Earl of Shrewsbury
A busy man, my Lords.
I welcome this important Bill and the opportunity to speak on it, and I shall address in the main the issue of air weapons and the section of the Bill which deals with them.
1095 First, however, as a landowner, I am absolutely delighted that the Government have targeted as part of the Bill the problem of fly-tipping. It is the scourge of the countryside. When the landfill tax regulations were going through this House some years ago, some of us warned the then government that the legislation would create a problem in terms of excessive fly-tipping, and we were correct. At last, some action is going to be taken to deal with this obnoxious situation. I congratulate the Government on that move.
My real comments, however, concern the proposed legislation regarding air weapons. We in the shooting sports world warmly welcome any moves by government to restrict and curtail the proliferation and use of illegally held weapons. As I and many others have stated on numerous occasions—and it is borne out by the statistics—the problem lies almost entirely with illegally held firearms. The recent firearms amnesty has served a most useful purpose in removing a significant number of weapons from circulation, weapons which either were illegally held or which had the potential to become illegally held. But for all the good it did, the amnesty was but a drop in the ocean. The numbers of illegally held firearms are vast, and probably unquantifiable.
Clause 45 of the Bill seeks to ban the import, manufacture, transfer and sale of self-contained air-cartridge system airguns, the majority of which are described as the Brocock. For those of your Lordships who might be unfamiliar with this firearm, it starts life as a relatively benign handheld air pistol, but which can be converted without any great effort to a lethal "Saturday night special" .22-calibre handgun. It is favoured by the drug gangs, and has been used in an increasing number of woundings and murders. Many of the drug gangs and other criminals regard the Brocock as a fashion item to promote their so-called macho image. There are currently around 70,000 of these weapons in circulation. I shall not blind your Lordships with further statistics, but I could go on for ages.
The gun trade and the shooting sports believe wholeheartedly in the safety of the public, and in bearing down hard on those who hold illegal firearms or act irresponsibly with regard to such weapons. We support the Government in any sensible and workable initiatives which are fair to the genuine shooting sportsman to safeguard the public with regard to firearms use, and we firmly believe that the vast majority of our supporters and enthusiasts behave in a thoroughly responsible manner. In our support of the Government's initiatives, however, we also believe that there must be a spirit of co-operation with the shooting organisations and that their expert opinions must be listened to and taken into account in legislation, if nothing else to make such law workable from both our side and the side of the authorities. We have built up a good rapport with ACPO and Home Office officials over the past few years—something which before might well have been fraught with difficulty. It is a vast improvement.
1096 I have to tell the Minister that we in the shooting sports world support the ban on Brocock guns and similar weapons, but with one caveat. The handgun bans of the late 1990s established a principle of compensation. It was unpopular and somewhat contentious, but it worked to good effect. Her Majesty's Government have made it clear that they do not intend to compensate for the ban on self-contained air-cartridge system guns; but owners will be able to keep their guns under a Section 5 licence, then converting to a Section 1 licence. They cannot trade them; they cannot transfer them. As the guns will he Section 1 weapons, they will have to apply for a Section 1 certificate, which costs £50. They will have to have a security cabinet and any other items that the crime prevention officer requires, at a cost of £200 to £300, or maybe even £400. The total value of said gun is £100 to £200. The result, as Mr Micawber would have said: "misery".
Many of these guns will find themselves in the hands of criminals, released into the black market or retained under the bed, so to speak—and they will he untraceable. They have no serial numbers. Surely, it makes good sense to compensate, ensuring that the guns are handed in and destroyed. The cost is estimated at £15 million and I suggest that when measured against the benefits to the public safety, that figure is necessarily acceptable. I urge the Government to reconsider.
The final part of my speech concerns Clause 44 of the Bill, and relates to the carriage of air guns in secure containers by young persons between the ages of 14 and 17. On Report in the other place, Her Majesty's Government put forward their own amendment, which was accepted, to allow young persons of those ages to use air weapons on private land, so long as the projectiles did not leave the curtilage of the land in question. It is more complicated than that, but I have given a précis. However, Ministers appeared to have difficulty with transportation of such air weapons to and from the shooting ground by those young people.
To rectify the position in a fair and practical way, I intend to bring forward an amendment in Committee to permit those young persons to transport their air weapons to and from the ground where they have permission to shoot, in secure containers and unsupervised. That would neither impinge upon nor dilute the requirements of Clause 43, which makes it illegal to carry an air weapon in public without good or lawful reason; nor would it diminish the powers of the police to exercise their authority in such circumstances. The amendment will not be intended to create a loophole, nor to make the law any less effective. I am confident that I shall be able to allay the fears of Ministers before Committee stage.
In conclusion, I believe that the Bill is necessary and sound, and that with your Lordships' usual good advice and wise counsel will be made even better during the course of its progress. It is to be broadly welcomed.
§ 11.25 a.m.
§ Baroness Linklater of Butterstone
My Lords, this comparatively small Bill—ertainly by comparison with the Criminal Justice Bill—as some enormous aspirations, a wide and varied scope and considerable risks. It is a curate's egg, good in parts, yet its aim is no less than to change the culture of our society. It covers issues as diverse as crack houses, parenting contracts and firearms. In that context, I am absolutely astonished that the first leader for the Opposition on the Tory Benches should concentrate solely on the issue of firearms, as there are far more important issues to be considered.
The Bill risks in the process, albeit with the best will in the world, some of our precious civil liberties, through potential infringements of the European Convention on Human Rights and the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.
Anti-social behaviour is ill defined in the Bill, which is a serious deficiency when it comes to making decisions and achieving consistency in its enforcement which could lead to infringements of Article 8 of the ECHR. Rather like the elephant, which is impossible to describe but recognisable when you see it, the White paper simply says,it means different things to different people".But however you define it, we do recognise it as a scourge on our communities and individuals where it occurs.
When the Government and the Home Secretary find us on these Benches resisting some of the measures in the Bill, it is not because we disagree with the basic proposition. What is at issue is the ways and means of effectively and constructively dealing with those problems, and of how we perceive and manage those predominantly young people who display no respect, recognition or concern for the rights, freedoms, privacy or feelings of others and pursue their own wishes and desires at the expense, of, and with distress to, their fellow citizens.
What the Bill reflects, however, is a regrettable aspect of our British culture, which is an innate suspicion of the young. In this country, we are not nearly as child centred as so many European countries are. Here, we do not see families out all together at all hours as one might in France, Italy or Spain, for example. Developing a culture which so often keeps our youth at arm's length has in turn helped to foster in some places and in some minds a climate of distrust. Ultimately, that generates the sort of fear of what a group of even two people might do just by their presence on a street corner, and which then actually fosters distrust, promotes more alienation of the young and feeds the fear of them. However, because the very real and offensive anti-social behaviour of a few ignores the civil liberties of others, it can never in turn justify the encroachment of state power and the diminution of the civil liberties of the of the rest of our society, which we hold dear. That is what the Bill risks doing.
1098 In his White Paper, Respect and Responsibility—Taking a Stand Against Anti-Social Behaviour, the Home Secretary talks passionately about no longer tolerating the intimidation and harassment from which so many communities suffer. He talks about the,need for a cultural shift from a society where too many people are living with the consequences of anti-social behaviour, to a society where we respect each other, our property and our shared public spaces".I fail to see how this kind of legislation could create such a cultural shift—an enormous claim—to one of respect. Much of the tone of the Bill concerns enforcement based on a very negative, zero-tolerant approach, which could not possibly create a new culture of respect. Respect has to come through positive learning from, and experience of, others within families, schools, employers, social agencies and, above all, individual relationships. Respect is not learnt through the imposition of a raft of sanctions by the police, local authorities or others, except, possibly, that respect which is a form of fear, risking further alienation and division and which is the antithesis of what we all seek.
The Home Secretary's message is that the Government will clamp down in a variety of ways in the belief that this will,change society back to create more orderly, less brutal and more acceptable neighbourhoods".I do not believe that we can go back to the halcyon days the Home Secretary seems to remember; rather we must go forward and address head on unacceptable behaviour, both on the street and in its origins, in ways that are constructive and include elements of prevention and rehabilitation as well as enforcement to ensure that these alienated individuals and groups become better integrated in our society so that the threat they pose is diminished.
I understand very well the political imperative the Home Secretary feels himself under. He wants to demonstrate action, and action now. The people who complain at constituency surgeries want the hooligans and neighbours from hell out now. But what also matters is what works, and lasts, and how the agencies involved—particularly the police, statutory agencies, schools, housing and voluntary organizations—can, indeed, effect lasting change as well as enforcing immediate change. That is a difficult balance to strike.
New powers for enforcement may merely displace the problem, such as the dispersal of groups to another place or the anti-social tenants rendered homeless and then simply housed elsewhere. Criminalising more young people and their parents, especially through the breach of parenting orders or fixed penalty notices, will not improve their behaviour. The review of ASBOs by the Home Office in 2002 found that in over 60 per cent of cases there were mitigating factors such as mental ill health, addiction or learning problems, and the Audit Commission in the same year found that over 60 per cent of permanently excluded secondary schoolchildren (and 90 per cent of permanently excluded primary schoolchildren) had special educational needs; children who badly need more, and appropriate, schooling, not 1099 none. That does not excuse their behaviour but demonstrates the complexity of the problem and the need for a more holistic approach.
Furthermore, in making claims for a dramatic change in culture through clamping down on and stamping out such behaviour, expectations may be raised only to be dashed. This is particularly so when the enforcement and associated resourcing of the suggested measures are unlikely to be realised. If the police, for example, respond to their new dispersal powers much as they did to curfew orders—which was not a lot—or teachers are not inclined to impose fines on parents—which they do not wish to do—that debases legislation through its inapplicability or inappropriateness. If much of the implementation depends on significantly more policing, more resources for parenting orders, ASBOs or intensive foster parenting which do not materialise, the Bill is again rendered ineffective.
An overarching criticism of the Bill is the lack of consultation before it was introduced, followed by the insertion of clauses of significance relating to travellers, trespass and other matters which had no opportunity for debate at all. I should like to add my particular concern which is the apparent lack of consultation or debate with young people themselves who are at the heart of much of the Bill. It reflects in its preparation the lack of engagement with the very people who are not only part of the problem but also very much part of the solution. I urge the Government to rectify this by every means at their disposal if they are serious about building bridges with our disaffected young, and recognise that their co-operation and advice are necessary if the best intentions of the Bill are to be realised.
A second and deep concern is how the Bill appears to risk incompatibility with articles of the ECHR and the UNCRC. When the Joint Committee on Human Rights was finally able to publish its report on 17th June, it had this to say on the dispersal of groups in Part 4:We consider that the potential intrusion on private life and liberty is so extensive, and the benefits in any case likely to be so speculative, that it might be difficult to establish (either in general or in specific cases) that the powers granted under clause 29"—which is now Clause 30—of the Bill will or would be used only when it was proportionate to a pressing social need".On removing a child to his place of residence it stated that it was not convinced by the Government's safeguards that,the measures in C1 30(6) are a proportionate response to a pressing social need, or that the safeguards provide assurance that the power would only be used where it is necessary and proportionate to do so to protect the child. We therefore conclude that there is a risk of incompatibility with ECHR articles 5, 8, and 11".In relation to the proposals for intensive fostering as a requirement of a supervision order, it said that it is not confident that the proposals,are sufficiently robust and reliable to ensure that the foster care requirements would satisfy the requirements of ECHR Article 8 (right to a private and family life)".1100 In addition, the National Children's Bureau advises that in its view, inter alia, the power to disperse "groups" of young people contravenes Articles 15 and 31—the right to free assembly and recreational activities—of the UNCRC. Those are just some of the examples which are, to say the least, concerning.
Of the nine parts in this Bill, my colleagues will speak on the areas in which they specialize—true to the cross-departmental inter-agency way of working which we advocate for this Bill. I should like to say just a few words about one area which causes me real concern; namely, Part 4, which concerns the dispersal of groups.
Anthony Jennings QC, who has given a legal opinion on the Bill's compliance with human rights, describes the measures in this part as "breathtaking". To authorise police to disperse young people for what they might do, rather than have done—merely for being there—is an example of dealing with a perceived or potential problem, not an actual one, with the message: "We don't like the look of you—go away". We really cannot go down that road, which could lead in totally unacceptable directions.
However, ACPO has said,the initial reaction of the forces suggests that it would not be enthusiastically used in the operational environment",not only because it recognises the potential for confrontation, disengagement and conflict with the police, particularly with ethnic minorities, but also because it recognises that there is a street culture with which the police have to work. It has to be acknowledged that there may be safety in numbers as well as companionship for some young people, particularly if there are difficulties and possibly violence at home, not to speak of the lack of options available to many young people if they are "broke, bored and with nowhere to go". The real issue here is the challenge to the Government to put greatly increased resources, energy, manpower and imagination into developing youth facilities, sporting and otherwise, so that such people actually do have some options and thus become properly engaged again. Youth services need the highest possible profile rather than being a Cinderella service.
I have glossed over the parts of this curate's egg which we welcome such as the increase in the police powers to close crack houses, and, indeed, to restrict the use of guns and imitation weapons. In some of the areas where we have concerns there are also welcome elements. But the danger in this Bill is that in the utilitarian drive for the greatest good of the greatest number, by enhancing the power of the state it will erode the rights of its citizens, create more not less alienation and anti-social sentiment and thus defeat its object. John Stuart Mill would not approve of that, and nor should we. Before we start trying to change culturally those with anti-social behaviour, we should attempt some cultural changes ourselves by liking these young people and consulting with them so that they become included, feel more acceptable and thus become so. Then I believe that we would effect the lasting change on anti-social behaviour we all want to see.
§ 11.40 a.m.
§ Lord Beaumont of Whitley
My Lords, on this occasion it is a more than usual pleasure to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Linklater, because there was not a word that she said with which I did not agree. This is the ultimate nanny-state Bill and should never have been brought before Parliament. Nannies, whether of the nurse or grandmother variety, look at what is happening and, if they disapprove, stop it. Nannies who are not very good tend to run together the two sentences "What are you doing?" and "Stop it!", but let us assume that this nanny sitting in the Cabinet Room is a good nanny, concentrating on such vacuous pieces of nonsense as "History will forgive us", and that what she disapproves of are matters which everyone ought to try to discourage.
I entirely agree that the Bill is well-intentioned, but there are limitations to nannydom. It should be used only to control those who rightly or wrongly are not given rights which have to be respected. Even that is doubtful as we move into the vexed area of children's rights, but I will not get lured down that path today. There is no place for nannydom in dealing with full citizens, however. It is important for our civil liberties that matters which are to be treated as crimes or subject to sanctions in the courts should be strictly defined, and the appropriate legislation should be specific.
We in the Green Party recognise that many of the forms of behaviour targeted in the Bill should be the subject of action. However, for many of them, as the noble Baroness said, criminalisation is not the right answer. We shall join noble Lords from all parts of the House in submitting the Bill to the closest scrutiny, but I repeat that it is wrongly conceived and should never have been brought before us.
§ 11.42 a.m.
§ Baroness Massey of Darwen
My Lords, I congratulate the Minister on her comprehensive introduction, on her stamina in handling three Bills at a time, possibly all in the same week, and on her wonderful jacket.
I want to focus on issues related to children and young people in the Bill. I will also echo some of the concerns expressed by the noble Baroness, Lady Linklater, about positive learning and constructive intervention. I know that the Minister is sympathetic and keen to listen, and to set up meetings with noble Lords and children's organisations on the issues. I should declare an interest as the co-chair of the All-Party Children Group.
The Government have done much for children of which we can be proud. The Sure Start programme is involving and supporting families in many areas, and the children's fund, the Connexions service, the National Service Framework for Children and other initiatives will give opportunities to children and young people and have a positive impact on their lives and those of their families. Although I welcome much of the Bill, what concerns me about parts of it is the emphasis on punitive measures.
1102 No one, of course, wants to put up with outrageous and dangerous behaviour from young people, and communities deserve protection, as my noble friend said earlier. In the community surrounding the area where I am a governor in London, a group of young people aged 12 and 13, led by a 16 year-old, is causing havoc among adults and children. What is to be done? We need to ask ourselves, first, what has happened to those young people to make them behave like that; and secondly, what is the best way of dealing with them? My guess is that such young people may well have been inadequately parented, truanted from school and underachieved, and are now seeking power and stimulation outside socially acceptable systems. Intervention is needed, and should be mainly—not exclusively, I agree—preventive and restorative. Such measures should be indicated in legislation.
I have been struck by briefings sent to me by children's organisations in relation to the Bill. I wonder whether the Minister is aware of how much concern there is among those organisations. A joint statement from 13 of them concludes:Being tough on children and young people is not an effective solution to the root causes of conflict in communities…We ask that they"—the Government—focus on positive and effective approaches to ensuring safer, more cohesive communities and providing opportunities for children and young people".The organisation Groundwork, which works with young people, states that:Government needs to place more emphasis on prevention and working with local communities to tackle social conditions that give rise to much anti-social behaviour—for example, by building local youth services which can enable young people to lead fulfilling and responsible lives. There is a real danger that some of the proposals in the Bill may simply reinforce negative perceptions of young people as trouble makers, jeopardise their future life chances and lead to further alienation".I was in a meeting the other day with the children's rights director in the National Care Standards Commission, who quoted what young people had said to him about staying out of trouble. They said, "Give us things to be active". That theme recurs over and again in surveys such as that that carried out by the Children and Young People's Unit.
Groundwork had an initiative in one of the most violent areas of Belfast to increase young people's self-confidence and involvement in the community. One positive outcome was that young people who had previously set fire to the peace line painted their own mural on the same steel gates. It is possible to change young people's behaviour without locking them up or making them part of the revolving door of the custodial system. I fear that that only increases a sense of disengagement and persuades them that they are destined to commit anti-social acts again, and so it goes on. Custody should be a last resort.
The All-Party Children Group last week met children's organisations to listen to concerns about the Bill in relation to children and young people. Those fell into the following categories: dispersal of groups and curfews; parenting contracts and orders; fixed penalty notices; intensive fostering as a requirement of a 1103 supervision order; trespass; housing; and the removal of reporting restrictions on conviction in the youth court. We shall return to those issues but I want to dwell briefly on the dispersal of groups and curfews, and on parenting contracts and orders, to illustrate the need to insert positive recommendations into the Bill.
Part 4 covers dispersal of groups and curfews, as discussed earlier. Under it, young people under the age of 16 who are unsupervised in public places could be removed between 9 p.m. and 6 a.m. There already exist in the Crime and Disorder Act provisions to impose area-based child curfew notices. I understand that the power has never been used, and I am not sure what the point is of duplicating it.
The issue of dispersal of groups in the Bill would dispense with the existing requirement to consult the local community. Such co-operation and involvement of local authorities and community groups would seem essential in helping the police to solve problems. Local facilities where young people can socialise are woefully inadequate in many parts of the country. Removing the child to her or his residence may present problems. The Joint Committee on Human Rights has expressed dissatisfaction that the measures are an inappropriate response to a pressing social need, and that safeguards should provide assurance that the power would be used only to protect the child. Parenting contracts and orders are dealt with in Part 3. The orders refer to contracts or orders between parents and LEAs or governing bodies and, in the case of exclusion, with youth offending teams in respect of criminal or anti-social behaviour. I am aware that government amendments brought forward on Report in another place provide that the counselling and guidance component of a parenting order may include a residential requirement. I understand that those amendments were not debated and I know that the issue is being taken up. Refusal to sign a parenting contract can be cited as grounds for application for a parenting order, which can lead to a £1,000 fine. A recent evaluation of parenting orders showed that youth offending teams preferred to work with parents on a voluntary basis, as services based on mutual agreement and voluntary participation are most effective. The same study concludes that parents affected would have welcomed support at a much earlier stage. How can we build that in?
The Department for Education and Skills Behaviour Improvement Programme highlights the importance of early intervention and preventive strategies. Issues surrounding exclusions from school are highly complex and often contentious, as I know from my work as a school governor. Problematic and disruptive behaviour requires a multi-agency approach that does not alienate children and parents. Effective family support is essential and it must be multi-disciplinary. However, there is no duty in the Bill for social or other services to provide whatever might he most helpful to the parent and the child. Nor is there reference to involving children and young people as part of the solution.
I return to my original thoughts; namely, that we of course need to protect society from disruptive young people, and that sometimes the ideal of early 1104 intervention is too late. However, an over-emphasis on enforcement and punitive structures may make matters worse. A Bill on anti-social behaviour should also make firm provision for social behaviour to be encouraged and supported.
I look forward to the progress of the Bill and to further discussion with the Minister. Perhaps she will tell us what consultation will next take place. There is much we can do to make it more positive for children. and potentially more effective for society.
§ 11.51 a.m.
§ Lord Clement-Jones
My Lords, I am extremely concerned about the impact of the Bill on certain sections of the community, particularly those who experience disability. That view is shared by a number of important organisations, such as the National Autistic Society and Mind. I am far from convinced that the Government, in their haste to enact what I think is the 15th Bill on crime since they took office, have really thought through the consequences of the Bill.
The Government need to consider in particular how the Bill will affect those with disabilities, those with special educational needs and those with mental illness. The key question: how will it avoid making the behaviour of people with conditions such as autistic spectrum disorders or mental illness being stigmatised or even criminalised by the legislation?
People with autism, for example, can sometimes display challenging as well as obsessive and ritualistic behaviour. That behaviour, which is related to their disability, may include stereotyped movements, poor awareness of personal space and repetition of strange sounds and words. Unfortunately, that behaviour can be interpreted as being anti-social. That is similarly the case with mental illness, where behaviour can on occasions be unpredictable and challenging. There is ample evidence that people who have suffered or are suffering from mental distress are more likely than others to be the victims of anti-social and violent behaviour, rather than its perpetrators. Prejudice and ignorance lie at the heart of that and are likely to lead to behaviour being wrongly perceived, categorised and unfairly acted upon.
People whose behaviour is unusual because of a mental illness or learning difficulties already attract fear and prejudice from some neighbours and sections of the general public. That has been vividly demonstrated over many years in numerous campaigns against the development of community mental health facilities.
As my noble friend Lady Linklater pointed out, the Government's White Paper stated that the term "anti-social behaviour" means different things to different people. That is the concern of organisations such as the NAS and Mind. As a result, there is no common definition of anti-social behaviour in the Bill and that is a major cause for concern. It leaves understanding of what constitutes anti-social behaviour open to interpretation and could mean that enforcement of the Bill would be extremely inconsistent and potentially discriminatory.
In Part 3, which relates to education and where there is a definition of anti-social behaviour, such as in Clause 29, which applies to parenting orders, the definition is 1105 extremely general and all encompassing. It does not even require any negative consequences to have occurred. Anti-social behaviour is stated to mean,behaviour by a person which causes or is likely to cause harassment, alarm or distress to one or more other persons not of the same household as the person".So, for instance, a person with an autistic spectrum disorder or mental illness could display strange behaviour which does not harm anyone and that could he interpreted as "likely to cause" distress.
The provisions of Part 3 deal with truancy and exclusion from school: parenting contracts in cases of exclusion from school or truancy; parenting orders in cases of exclusion from school; and penalty notices for parents in cases of truancy. We on these Benches are concerned that those provisions might lead to people with autism, particularly children, or children with Tourette Syndrome, or young people with mental illness being wrongly brought within the scope of parenting orders or contracts.
There are many cases identified of pupils with autistic spectrum disorders being excluded from school due to a failure on the part of the school. An NAS survey found that 21 per cent of children with autism have been excluded from school at some time, the most common reason given being that the school was unable to cope with the child. It is unacceptable to stigmatise a child with an autistic spectrum disorder, or its parent, because a school has failed to put in place appropriate measures to help support them. That also applies to truanting, since a pupil with autism or Asperger syndrome may fail to attend school due to bullying or extreme anxiety.
Part 2 of the Bill deals with housing. We on these Benches also have strong concerns on behalf of people with disabilities, special educational needs and mental illness about the provisions in Part 2 of the Bill, which deals with troublesome tenants in public sector accommodation. Clause 12 inserts a new clause, Clause 218A, into the Housing Act 1996, entitled "Anti-social behaviour: landlords' policies and procedures". Subsection (2) states:The landlord must prepare—That provision gives individual authorities and landlords the right to define anti-social behaviour and prepare their own anti-social behaviour procedures.
- (a) a policy in relation to anti-social behaviour;
- (b) procedures for dealing with occurrences of anti-social behaviour".
New Section 153A of the Housing Act, also inserted by the Bill, states that the conditions of the injunction are that the person is,capable of causing nuisance or annoyance to…a person residing in housing accommodation owned or managed by the relevant landlord…visiting the housing accommodation or otherwise engaged in lawful activity in or in the locality of the housing accommodation—Or—employed…by the relevant landlord…in connection with the exercise of the relevant landlord's housing management functions".1106 Who would define conduct "capable of causing nuisance"? Children with an autistic sprectrum disorder can often be misinterpreted as naughty because of instances of challenging behaviour. Adults with ASD can also display challenging or what may be deemed odd behaviour, or conduct "capable of causing nuisance". That is also the case with mental illness.
Who decides that? Anti-social behaviour would be subjectively interpreted by each landlord. Local housing authorities or housing action trusts can take their guidance from the Secretary of State, but registered social landlords are given almost no information apart from that in new Sections 153A and 153B of the Housing Act as inserted by the Bill. We believe that registered social landlords must also be obliged to take guidance from the Government on that issue, as should local housing authorities or housing action trusts.
I turn to the issue of anti-social behaviour orders under the Crime and Disorder Act 1998, as amended by the Bill. If the Bill is passed in its current guise, there could be more examples of parents who have a child with an autistic spectrum disorder receiving ASBOs. One child's parents received an ASBO because their son was trampolining in his own garden and making what were called "strange" noises which caused "distress" to neighbours. That is merely one example.
In summary, I am seeking the following assurances from the Minister: first, that the provisions of the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 will apply to cases where exclusion orders are used in respect of children with autism, other SEN or mental illness, and that schools will make reasonable adjustments to the way in which they exercise their procedures to comply with the Act.
Secondly, the Disability Discrimination Act provides that landlords must not discriminate against tenants for a reason or reasons related to a disability. Will the Government ensure that people with autism or mental illness will not be discriminated against on the grounds of their disability for the purposes of the provisions inserted by the Bill and that they will receive the help and consideration that they need to put their case across?
Thirdly, will the Government give clarification as to what guidance will be given to local authorities and social landlords on the definition of "anti-social behaviour", and say what the status of any guidance will be?
Fourthly, who in particular will regulate the behaviour of social landlords?
Finally, the Bill states that in issuing a demotion order a landlord must be satisfied that the tenant or person residing at or visiting the premises has engaged in or threatened to engage in anti-social behaviour as defined and that it is reasonable to make the order. Will the Minister give an assurance that the clauses in the Disability Discrimination Act relating to the making of reasonable adjustments in the management 1107 of a tenancy apply here and that it could not be deemed reasonable to make the order unless attempts at reasonable adjustment have been made?
Without these assurances, this Bill is at risk of becoming a law that gives much greater potential for prejudice against those with mental health problems or disabilities such as autism, whether from neighbours displaying it, or by schools, or by the police, or by social landlords being influenced by it. I therefore fervently hope that the Minister will seriously reassess the impact of the Bill and at the minimum give the assurances required.
§ 12.1 p.m.
§ Lord Corbett of Castle Vale
My Lords, I remind the House that I chair the All-Party Penal Affairs Group and also have the privilege of chairing the pathfinder Castle Vale Neighbourhood Management Board in my former constituency in Birmingham. I served for several years on the Home Affairs Committee in another place and eventually became its chairman.
It is important that we acknowledge success in efforts to tackle anti-social behaviour and to recognise that it is a real problem. It blights the lives of too many communities and robs people of the safety and security to which they are entitled in and around their homes.
One success is told in the annual review of the Youth Justice Board, published this week, which has the job of preventing offending by children and young people. It states:Evidence from reconviction data relating to non-custodial disposals published this year shows a 22.5 per cent reduction against predicted rates".Those successful community punishments, as an alternative to locking people up, are what some alarmist newspapers label people "walking free" along streets which they say are unsafe to walk along.
One day, it is to be hoped, these newspapers will feel able to tell readers that three out of every four young people sent to prison arc reconvicted within two years. That costs taxpayers around £21,000 a year for a place in a young offenders institution, against about £6,000 for a well-managed punishment scheme with a proven rate of success in reducing re-offending.
I am grateful for a brief from Liberty about the Bill. but it does not seem to me that Liberty acknowledges or understands the real grief that unsupervised children as young as eight or 10 can and do inflict on neighbours and communities.
There was a street in the Erdington Hall area of my former constituency which I sometimes thought was populated totally by orphans, as children of 10 and under played football and created mayhem at one or two in the morning during summer nights. That is what I call a real liberty.
I was able this week to go with others to meet residents of Camden council's "families in the focus" scheme in Somers Town, north London. This community-led scheme has improved the quality of the lives of about 1,000 tenants in Ampthill Square nearby. Together, Liz Leicester, the impressive development manager, and support workers, Ashtok Pursani and Michael King, 1108 have helped the community to help themselves—that is the point—to a safer and friendlier environment. A single mum with a turbulent teenage son said—and I remember her saying it—"Now we're getting back our sense of community and mixing cultures, which helps".
An area which had been rife with anti-social activity, fighting, vandalism and graffiti has been reclaimed by its community. On behalf of those residents, I want to make a plea to my noble friend on the Front Bench. It is absolutely imperative that schemes of this kind have at least three years' funding rather than the annual agony of wondering whether the cash will follow the good intentions. I have no doubt that the Minister well understands that investing in success in encouraging community involvement takes more than 52 weeks and needs trained workers for more than a year.
Groundwork UK, a federation of 48 locally owned trusts working with more than 100 councils to help deprived communities to help themselves, worries that the Government need more emphasis on prevention rather than enforcement. I have to say to Groundwork that it should not worry. because it is not a matter of choice between prevention or enforcement. It is using either or both where appropriate.
A great deal of effort in community rebuilding is going on all over the country to encourage and enable communities to help themselves to safer streets and homes and better lives. Your Lordships will understand if I give an example from my former constituency of Birmingham, Erdington.
Castle Vale, a former Spitfire aerodrome opposite the factory which built more than half of them, had 34 tower blocks, scores of maisonettes and was unloved by both the council and residents. In seven years, it has been transformed with help from a housing action trust which residents voted into being by an impressive 93 per cent.
The real test of change for that community arose when the housing action trust decided, in consultation with residents, that it had to act against a group of families who threatened the success of what the community had achieved. Warnings were ignored by most of the families and the housing action trust took a landmark case for possession of their homes.
In an area where only a few years ago there would have been a sullen silence at the news, more than 100 residents came forward to give witness statements about the anti-social behaviour over a long period of those families and their children. The impressive head teacher of Castle Vale school, staff of the housing action trust and others determined that what they had helped to build together they would not allow to be wrecked by an uncaring minority.
The anti-social families must have known that they had lost when, after leafleting all 5,000 homes on the estate about a protest meeting, only they turned up. The court backed the residents and the housing action trust, and ordered outright evictions in most cases.
That, in part, explains why there are nom, about 1,200 families elsewhere in Birmingham in a lengthening queue to live on the Castle Vale estate. It is also why unemployment is down from the 27 per cent it 1109 was when I turned up there to 5 per cent, which is well below that for the city as a whole. And that is why I welcome the provisions in the Bill for the remaining housing action trusts to apply directly for anti-social behaviour orders, which are easier and less costly than the route that had to be taken by the housing action trust to gain the evictions.
There has been success, too, for police areas which ran pilots of fixed-penalty notices for a range of anti-social behaviour and which the Bill extends. The idea is to deal quickly with minor offences—mainly drink-related—to save court costs and police time and to deter those who think it is okay to act like a yob in a public place.
West Midlands police was one of the pilot areas and it found the system worked well. Of the 1,854 penalty notices issues—of course, police constables have other options when dealing with such behaviour—only two in every 100 were contested. Typically, a young man in a group of five or six—several pints the worse for wear—chose to hand over the £40 on the spot while his mates stood around watching, and one could almost hear them thinking, as one West Midlands police officer described it to me, "Well, it was only a bit of fun but, on the other hand, is it worth 40 quid?".
I am grateful to Chief Inspector James Andronov of West Midlands Police Operations Support for giving me this information and for urging that the scheme be extended in the way provided in the Bill to those aged 16 and 17 who commit acts of anti-social behaviour and, indeed, to those aged 10 and over.
Overall, in the pilot areas, more than 3,000 prosecutions or cautions were displaced by fixed penalty notices, saving a great deal of police time and money and also having the effect of keeping more police officers on the street.
There is growing evidence of communities, including young people, working together to replace the conflict caused by anti-social behaviour with co-operation, which builds confidence that things can get better. The Bill provides more tools to help that process and I welcome it.
§ 12.11 p.m.
§ Baroness Walmsley
My Lords, I, too, welcome parts of the Bill, such as the measures on crack houses and firearm controls, but I am very concerned about others, which I consider to be unnecessary, ill-conceived and even counter-productive. I refer to the power of teachers to issue fixed penalty notices and the powers to disperse groups. As a former teacher, I cannot think of anything better designed to destroy my relationship with my pupils than the power to issue fixed penalty notices. However, I am sure that my noble friend Lady Sharp will have something to say about that a little later.
I intend to concentrate my remarks on Part 4—the new power for police to designate areas where they can disperse groups; Part 7—the powers for dealing with the sale of aerosol paint; and the sections of Part 8 which relate to trespassers.
1110 First, I want to make a few general comments. As several noble Lords have said, anti-social behaviour means different things to different people. It blights people's lives, undermines the fabric of society and can hold back regeneration. The effects of each incident are immediate, real and personal. They can be long-lasting, causing distress to individuals and sometimes scarring communities for years. We on these Benches treat these issues very seriously. But what we need to combat those things are effective, realistic and workable policies, based on real evidence of what works, and not this rag-bag of an illiberal Bill.
My noble friend Lord Clement-Jones regretted the definition of "anti-social behaviour" in the Bill. However, in introducing the Bill in another place, the Minister defined it as being where people behave in such a way as to create fear among people living in their neighbourhoods. The problem with that is that what frightens one person does not frighten another, and there may be no intention to frighten. As my honourable friend the Member for North Southwark and Bermondsey said in another place at Second Reading:Legislating because people are afraid of crime, as opposed to legislating because of things that people actually do, is a dangerous road to go down.".—[Official Report, Commons, 8/4/03; col. 159.]Better answers to the problem may be found in prevention, remedial action and better police resources for deterrence, rather than bringing in the full weight of the law, especially in relation to young people. We must always look at supporting and providing facilities for young people first. Tried and tested alternatives, such as mediation, build on the work of the Crime and Disorder Act 1998 with the partnerships and pilot schemes that have been developed and initiatives by the Youth Justice Board and local government around the country. For example, the acceptable behaviour contracts introduced by the Liberal Democrats in Islington have worked better than the anti-social behaviour orders. That is evidence, my Lords.
It is quite inappropriate to drive in the legal juggernaut when part of the problem is the lack of facilities for young people to work off their energy in positive, constructive and harmless ways—ways that help them to develop into responsible adults and not ways that get them a criminal record and set a destructive ball rolling.
The Home Secretary says that he wants to send a signal that anti-social behaviour will not be tolerated and that there will be sanctions. I have no problem with that, so long as it is accompanied by a signal of equal strength that says that young people are valued by society and have a positive contribution to make to communities. We do not do that, I am afraid. I believe that the British sometimes give the impression that we do not like children very much. The state gives them few avenues to contribute to society, apart from joining the Armed Forces. That is left to voluntary organisations, many of which do it very well.
The Bill has a prevailing negativity about young people. They are the problem—full stop. The Bill is mainly about enforcement; there is little about 1111 prevention or rehabilitation. It could end up penalising young people simply for being in the wrong place at the wrong time, even if they are not behaving badly. That is what I do not like about it. Most young people behave perfectly well and many over-18s behave far worse. However, an honourable exception is the measures in Schedule 2 to provide intensive fostering as an alternative to custody. But I am very concerned about the lack of availability of suitable foster parents to do the job and about the pay, conditions and training available to them.
There is also inconsistency in the Bill in relation to the age of young people at which different parts apply. Part 4 addresses the removal of under-16s to their houses by police. Part 5 relates to penalty notices and could apply to children as young as 10. Part 6 on Firearms will set an age limit of 17, and provisions in Part 7 will set an age limit of 18 for buying spray paint. It would be easier to support the Bill if there were more consistency.
The shadow Home Secretary emphasised the scale of the problem of anti-social behaviour, and many of my own MP colleagues have taken up the concerns of their electorate with great conscientiousness. I have much sympathy with the Home Secretary's concern, but I believe that the solution is far more fundamental than a few legislative measures to provide the police with sanctions.
I think that Julie Andrews had it right when she sang:Let's start at the very beginning, A very good place to start".I shall resist the suggestion of my noble friend Lord Phillips of Sudbury to sing that. Why do we not start at the very beginning, with very young children? In some areas, our provision of education and services for very young children and their parents is lamentable, although we are moving in the right direction. There is not enough provision for parents who want their young children to have the best possible educational experiences—at least for part of the day or week. We do not train the people who look after young children well enough, and we certainly do not pay and value them enough.
Part of the answer to anti-social behaviour in the long term is to get the early years right and then a whole lot of other good things will follow, including good young citizens. It is no coincidence that countries where the population has an active social conscience and where citizens feel a responsibility for each other are the same countries where they put enormous effort and resources into high-quality services for the very young. I was in Sweden recently and I saw hardly any graffiti, for example. Investing in the early years is cost-effective, both in money terms and in human and social terms.
However, if we must have legislation, offences and penalties, an issue arises concerning the resources available to police the Bill. For years, the Liberal Democrats have been calling for more bobbies on the beat. That appears regularly in our election literature, and governments of both political colours have let the 1112 country down on that point. But our message is more refined than simply numbers. We would like chief constables to be able to assess and recommend the resources needed to police their particular areas and we would like to see those resources provided. We do not want to see measures, such as some of those in the Bill, that will drive a wedge between the police and the communities they serve. Most police understand that well, and ACPO has expressed great reservations about the use of the dispersal powers in the Bill.
Another problem as I see it is that the Bill confuses the civil and criminal law. You used to know where you stood with the law. If a person committed a crime, he went through the formal court process with a requirement for proof beyond reasonable doubt and the right of appeal. Now, things are not so clear. Annoyance and nuisance may attract a criminal penalty and, of course, the civil law has less protection for the accused. There is danger in that muddle.
Perhaps I may be specific about my concerns regarding Part 4. We are not convinced of the justification for Clause 30 and its consequential clauses. We shall return to that later during the Bill's progress. The powers are unnecessary, inappropriate, go far too wide and will be positively unhelpful in trying to deal with anti-social behaviour. My noble friend Lady Linklater pointed out that there are several serious human rights issues relating to Part 4. I do not intend to repeat her remarks, but I very much agree with them. She and I will explore those as the Bill progresses through your Lordships' House. I shall return to the other human rights issues when addressing Part 8.
We are concerned that Clause 30 states that all that is needed is for a relevant officer to have reasonable grounds for believing,that any members of the public have been … alarmed or distressed as a result",simply of the presence of groups of two or more people before he takes action. That means that if someone who, for no good reason, does not like people hanging around, he can make a complaint and the group can be dispersed. They may be children on their hikes or scooters around a village pond or a group at the bottom of the stairwell of an urban block of flats. It is enough for members of the public to be distressed; no kind of behaviour, let alone anti-social behaviour, is required; they just have to be there.
We will not sign up to legislation that allows one person's perception, however unfounded, to determine who should be on our streets, in our parks or in our bus shelters. The way to deal with that is to give young people something to do, rather than to criminalise them for doing what young people have always done—hang out with their friends.
Part 7 contains a gallimaufry of measures designed to protect the environment. Although wishing to extend the opportunities for young people to express their creativity, we certainly do not condone graffiti that besmirches the face of other people's buildings. However, that is another part of the Bill that casts young people in a negative light. It assumes that 1113 teenagers buying spray paint are up to no good, whereas they may be doing quite the contrary and be in pursuit of a creative hobby. Many teenagers have bikes and motor bikes and hobbies such as the modelling of boats and aeroplanes that require the use of spray paint and I see no reason why they should not be able to buy it.
The law must make sense to those who are law-abiding as well as dealing properly with the anti-social in society. The age of 18 as the cut-off age for the legal sale of spray paint is unreasonable. It would be much better set at 16, especially when the powers of dispersal are also set at that age. It seems ridiculous that a 17-year old could buy and drive a car but could not buy the paint to repair a scratch on the door, if the Bill is not amended. The real issue is not the sale of spray paint but the respect for property. There are other ways to deal with that. We shall be pressing the Government on that matter later.
I now turn to Part 8 and the measures on trespass introduced without debate on Report in another place. It is important to note that those measures were not scrutinised by the Joint Committee on Human Rights, as they were not in the Bill when it was first introduced. If they had been, I am sure that the Joint Committee would have expressed great concern. That raises the question of the effect of the fact that the Human Rights Act 1998 provides for scrutiny only before a Bill is introduced. It does not make any provision for the increasingly common government practice of introducing major new measures at later stages of Bills as they pass through one or other House of Parliament.
The measures in Clauses 61 to 65 raise considerable concern about the human rights of travellers. First, there has not been sufficient consultation. The measures were introduced without any consultation with some of the major organisations that support travellers. Although they welcome the link in Clause 61 with the availability of alternative sites, they have serious worries about other aspects of the Bill. The very fact that something specific on gypsy and traveller families has been tacked onto a Bill about anti-social behaviour encourages the public to have racist attitudes to them. It suggests that the nomadic way of life, linked with the shortfall in sites, is in itself criminal behaviour. That is not helpful.
Secondly, it is illogical to retain Section 61 of the 1994 Act alongside proposed new Section 62A. Where is the logic in saying that if there are five vehicles an alternative site must be identified but if there are six that does not have to be done?
The then housing Minister, Tony McNulty MP, said:All people have the right to access services such as housing, education and welfare and everyone should be able to enjoy a decent standard of living and their chosen lifestyle within the confines of the law, but unauthorised encampments are not a satisfactory situation for any of the parties concerned".I agree. He also said:People who camp illegally have no access to the basic facilities that you and I take for granted".1114 I also agree with that. However, he admitted that,illegal encampments will continue until provision meets demand. It surely makes sense for local authorities to make provision for gypsies and travellers based on an assessed need rather than to risk unauthorised encampments that require authorities to pursue costly legal and site clear-up action".I agree with that, but point out that local authorities often lack the resources to deal with the problem. The retention of Clause 61 does not sit easily—or at all—with those sentiments expressed recently by the former housing Minister.
The provisions are unnecessary. The 1994 Act gives police the powers that they need to move families on—within half an hour if they need to. Police action under the Bill is not based on any sort of behaviour, let alone anti- social. As with young people gathering on a street corner, it is simply based on being in the wrong place. The same solution is preferable: provide a suitable alternative and remove those seriously questionable provisions from the Bill.
I am a gardener and I believe in being tough on weeds and tough on the causes of weeds. However, when I pull up weeds, I do not leave the ground bare so that more weeds grow up in their place. I plant strong, healthy, decorative plants that cover the ground and contribute to the beauty of my garden. Will the Government do the same?
§ 12.26 p.m.
§ The Earl of Listowel
My Lords, the noble Baroness has reminded us that many of us are now looking forward to spending more time in our gardens.
I welcome the Bill's intention and many of its measures, especially those affecting the environment and the closure of places where drugs are sold. However, I am concerned that certain of the measures may be heavy-handed and exacerbate the circumstances that they seek to limit. I have in mind the words of the friar in Romeo and Juliet—his advice to Romeo, which, if I remember it correctly, was:Oft we mar what we seek to mend".In the case of Romeo and Juliet, it was the young people who suffered because of the cupidity and the lack of priority on social relationships in their society, and it is the young people who will be affected by the Bill on whom I want to concentrate.
I begin by welcoming the noble Baroness's stewardship of the Bill and its association with Louise Casey, director of the Anti-social Behaviour Unit, because of the Minister's long experience in family law and Louise Casey's success at the Rough Sleepers' Unit in reducing street homelessness. The latest figures in London showed that 321 people were sleeping rough on one night, compared with 620 in 1998—almost a 50 per cent reduction. Those circumstances encourage me to view the Bill's proposals sympathetically. I should add that Louise Casey became director of the Anti-social Behaviour Unit only at the beginning of the year, shortly before the White Paper was published.
1115 I specifically welcome the Government's introduction of residential parenting orders. As ever, the devil may be in the detail, but that measure holds out the prospect of our having an additional means to intervene with the most troubled families to prevent their children being taken into care. May I take it that parents will bring their children with them to those settings?
I welcome the Government's recognition of the blight that anti-social behaviour causes, especially to our poorest communities. I well remember from living near one of the largest housing estates in Europe, in south London, the depressing impact of graffitied walls and littered streets. Although I cannot remember being intimidated by gangs of youths in the streets, except on one occasion, during my 18 months there, I know that groups of young people can be intimidating, especially if they are playing music littered with obscenities.
Noble Lords will be aware of the special challenges to young people at the start of the 21st century: rising divorce rates; changes in employment patterns; a significant percentage of children with parents with problem drug addiction, according to a recent report; easy access to hardcore pornography on the Internet; decreasing youth service provision by 18 per cent over the past 20 years, according to this week's Guardian; and increased immigration, which, for all its benefits, brings with it a challenge to share public values. All those factors have an impact on children and young people.
Increasingly it appears that young people grow up without the love of a concerned and caring parent. It is hardly surprising that many lack a sense of the boundaries to behaviour that Her Majesty's Government are keen to set in parts of the legislation. I am glad that Her Majesty's Government recognise those problems. However, I am concerned that their response in the Bill may not always be the appropriate one.
I was deeply shocked to learn in a recent report, The Decision to Imprison, published by the Prison Reform Trust and forwarded by the noble Lord, Lord Hurd of Westwell, that the adult prison population has grown by 71 per cent since 1991, despite crime having fallen over that period. If my reading of the report is correct, key factors in the increase are how the media have presented crime to the public and the lack of political leadership in minimising the use of custody and preventing the lengthening of sentences. The British climate is punitive, and harshly so. The number of children in custody has also shot up in that period, even though there has been a decline in youth crime. That is particularly true of girls: there has been an increase in the number of girls in custody.
Boundaries must be set, but it must be done by people whom children and young people perceive as respecting them. The lack of consultation with children and young people on this important document is very concerning. The co-construction between children and young people and adults of the limits by which they must abide should be a key factor in helping them to respect those limits. Without such 1116 confidence, their distrust of adults may be merely reinforced and their tendency towards nuisance and criminality encouraged.
Many years ago, for several weeks over two holidays, I had responsibility for five boys aged around 10 to 13. Each week I took them ice-skating, where I had the pleasure of seeing the youngest learn to make his first steps on the ice. On another occasion, we took a group of young people dry-slope skiing. Skiing was an activity that they considered to be reserved for the privileged and they particularly enjoyed that day out. Her Majesty's Government have begun to invest heavily in such work with young people. As a result of last year's investment in such programmes, total crime decreased by 7.4 per cent from June to August compared to a 2.9 per cent increase in 2001 during the same period. Those figures are based on a small sample but are at least indicative of the benefits of positive intervention.
On reflection, does the Minister not agree that far more work must be done to develop facilities for young people—as many noble Lords have already said today, and, I am sure, many will say hereafter—in providing a workforce that knows how to engage them, developing long-term projects involving members of the local community, both adults, particularly parents, and young people, before resorting to some of the measures in the Bill? For instance, does the Minister really think that it is desirable and workable to introduce fixed-penalty notices for 16 and 17 year-olds before the pilot of fixed penalty notices for adults has even been completed?
I welcome the seriousness with which Her Majesty's Government are taking anti-social behaviour. I applaud the intention of the Bill to intervene early before anti-social behaviour undermines the social fabric of communities. However, I am concerned that some of the measures may have the unintended consequence of exacerbating social disintegration in communities.
§ 12.34 p.m.
§ Baroness Dean of Thornton-le-Fylde
My Lords, I welcome the Bill and the assurances given by the Minister that she will listen to constructive suggestions. The Government should be congratulated on bringing the Bill forward. It is the first time that we have had a comprehensive look at what is a scourge on many of our communities up and down Britain. "Rag bag of a Bill" are not words that ring in my mind when I read the legislation. I approach the Bill on the basis of having been chairman of the Housing Corporation for the past six years. Throughout that period, week after week, I have been meeting and talking to communities in some of the most deprived areas in England.
The Minister may feel a little embattled by many of the contributions made today. I note that all noble Lords welcomed the Bill but then went about almost destroying the very structure on which it is based. Perhaps I may say by way of comfort to the Minister that many thousands of tenants are saying, "Thank goodness something is now going to be done". That 1117 does not mean that it is an anti-libertarian, right-wing approach. Those people live on affected estates day after day and experience some of the incidents there.
We must remind ourselves that we are talking about very small numbers in our community. However, those very small numbers make the lives of many, whether children, older people or families, a living hell. There is no doubt that prevention and rehabilitation are the best long-term cure; we cannot put enough money into that.
Much of the debate has concentrated on young people. I expect that that is right, but the Bill is not just about young people. Anti-social behaviour on many of the estates that I visit is carried out by mature adults. Some of their activity is the worst kind of anti-social behaviour. The Bill will provide the means of dealing with it.
What can be done if, after all the remedial work and attempts to improve the area, it has not succeeded, as has been the case in many areas? There have been many success stories, but there comes a point at which strong enforcement action is needed to protect the liberty of the majority. The majority of people suffer the kind of anti-social behaviour that we all know about. The response must be quick and effective. I suggest that the Bill provide a power that assists it to take place.
This House has the laudable reputation of protecting people's liberties, with which I would like to be associated. However, in this case, in our approach we must weigh up the liberties of the majority. A small minority is responsible for some of the mayhem that takes place. We have all seen television programmes and read about the neighbours from hell. We are appalled, from a distance—looking around this House, I do not know how many of us live daily in some of the situations that the Bill addresses. What we see are not just pictures but the reality for so many up and down our country. Old people are afraid to go out because, although the crowd at the end of the street may not intend to harm them, they are terrified.
A further example is where neighbours move into a very orderly street, and, within a month, the street is terrified of them. I have seen such instances in Manchester. The police are unable to do anything about it. Some young people know their rights and say openly to the police, "You can do nothing about me. The law does not give you any rights to do anything about my action". All those factors must be weighed Up.
I shall concentrate on Part 2 of the Bill because I am chairman of the Housing Corporation, which regulates housing associations, or social landlords, as they are referred to in the Bill. Social landlords should not be expected to control anti-social behaviour, which has nothing to do with their role in the community as a landlord or a neighbourhood manager, as increasingly they are becoming. We expect them to deal with antisocial behaviour because of their housing management role. They have to deal with many of the same problems 1118 as local authority landlords and it is right that they are given the same powers to apply for injunctions to take immediate action to tackle anti-social behaviour.
The new provisions will also reverse the present inequity in the protection of tenants. People used to have protection as local authority tenants, but lost that when they transferred to social housing stock. Under the Bill, housing associations will have the power to apply directly to the courts for anti-social behaviour orders on their own behalf, rather than having to go through the local police or the local authority. The latter course has been tried for a number of years and has just not worked at all. Anti-social behaviour orders are useful but they take time, they are expensive and it can be very difficult to get them. Sometimes they work and sometimes they do not. So I welcome the provision for housing associations to be able to apply directly for injunctions.
Under Clause 12, all housing associations must have anti-social behaviour policies and procedures that are effective and responsive to the needs of their tenants. Those are fine words, but how will the provision work? I have no difficulty at all with the idea of placing a duty on housing associations to publish those procedures and make them available to the public. It is right that residents and the general public should know what is expected of their local social landlord.
I listened with interest to the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, who is not in his place at the moment. He asked who would bring forward the proposals relating to social landlords. Housing associations do not simply come up with a policy in isolation. We as their regulator would not allow that. Anti-social behaviour agreements are not a new thing. They are already in place up and down the country, and not only within housing associations. Early intervention is a requirement. However, local agencies must be involved. The local community—the police, neighbourhood wardens, youth offending teams, schools, health workers, social workers, community development workers and probation officers—must be involved. We as the regulator would require that. Local partnership mechanisms are absolutely essential.
Many associations have worked to put crime and disorder partnerships in place up and down the country. We have helped to fund some of those as the regulator. I will not take up the time of the House today, but there are many examples. I certainly agree with the comments of my noble friend Lord Corbett of Castle Vale, who gave us some positive examples. The noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, mentioned Islington, but her comments went a little over my head. I have lived in Islington for 12 years. I was mugged last year, so its policies did not personally help me or a number of other people. If noble Lords talked to people on the ground in Islington they will tell you that they do not feel very safe in many parts of Islington, even in the centre of the town.
Old Oak Housing Association, for example, part of the Family Housing Association Group—a large housing association—involves voluntary and statutory 1119 organisations to investigate and seek resolutions for incidents. We funded a project—the Waltham Forest Housing Action Trust. It provided a procedure to allow anonymity for witnesses coming forward to help get anti-social behaviour orders. Anonymity is absolutely crucial, because without it many people will not come forward. All those policies have been arrived at with the local community and we do not see the situation being any different in the future.
Clauses 14 and 15 provide for demoted tenancies. The provision is an ultimate one. We believe that almost all the clauses in the Bill are ultimate provisions. They are not to be used as the first step because it would not make sense. The provision should be used as a last step, which is why I welcome most of the Bill. Such provisions are used after all other measures have failed. That is how the Housing Corporation sees the situation. We would expect steps to be taken such as counselling, mediation and involving people in the community to help arrive at good behaviour agreements, and such steps are being taken. Communities have been living in such a hell that they do not have the time to wait for Parliament to pass legislation. They have to get on with it and do what they can to improve their own communities.
I raise the issue of demoted tenancies and emphasise that they should be a last step because I know that Shelter, the homeless charity, which does great work, is concerned about them. Should this provision stay in the Bill as drafted, families or tenants could be demoted without being offered the support to enable them to change their behaviour. Shelter would like the Bill to be amended to provide for such support before tenancies are demoted. For our part, we would expect that to take place before a housing association took action. However, it would he interesting to have the Minister's comments. In cases involving demoted tenancy, housing associations should only opt for eviction if anti-social behaviour is repeated.
The corporation also believes that the process involves a series of steps. If a demoted tenancy order is issued, there is time to deal with the problem. If that provision is not there, housing associations may feel that there is no alternative but to go for a straight eviction order. About four years ago, Manchester City Council decided to tackle anti-social behaviour in Manchester. It went through the process of issuing in excess of 400 eviction notices—the Manchester Evening News took it apart for that. Just over 20 tenants were evicted in the end. Some tenants realised, "This is serious. Our conduct is unacceptable in this community", and revised their behaviour. I do not accept that people who commit anti-social behaviour cannot be helped to change their conduct. We find that all the time. Sometimes people do not change and the Bill will provide the wherewithal to deal with them. The Bill sends a very strong message about changing people's behaviour.
The noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones. mentioned autistic children, and he is right to raise that issue. The National Autistic Society is also concerned. We all know that there are young children living in our community whose behaviour, because of their 1120 condition, can be perceived to be anti-social. However, I have not heard one complaint from a tenant or family who had been treated unfairly by a housing association. We would not expect the Bill to be used in such cases. Some assurance from the Minister about how we are to prevent the criminalisation of children in such a way would be welcome.
Clauses 49 to 56 deal with graffiti and fly-posting. I am not really interested in gun sports and the countryside—in fact I am not interested in gun sports full stop, and fly-posting is not something I particularly want to talk about this morning. However, we have talked about graffiti on public buildings. Many noble Lords will have been in some awful estates where graffiti is on people's gates, walls and houses. In many of those communities people are striving very hard to be proud of the community in which they live, to look after their homes and to be able to have decent, clean streets. Graffiti is depressing and demoralising for them and it sometimes pushes them to the point at which they think, "What is the point? Why do we bother?".
Dealing with graffiti may appear to be a small part of the Bill, but it will do an enormous amount to improve the way that people feel about their estates. Furthermore, why should they not have estates and communities every bit as good as some of the privately-owned stock in nice suburban areas that do not have this problem? People need protection from that activity.
I welcome this Bill. I also welcome the fact that the Minister is prepared to consider amendments because some will undoubtedly be needed. As we debate this Bill, I hope that noble Lords will have at the back of their minds the many thousands of tenants and families up and down the country who are suffering anti-social behaviour day in day out. Many of them are losing sleep. They are frightened to go out on the streets. They are terrified that their kids are being drawn into drug-taking and what is sometimes called petty crime but often becomes major crime. We must keep that at the back of our minds because the Bill is intended to help them.
§ 12.50 p.m.
§ Baroness Gardner of Parkes
My Lords, I am delighted to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Dean of Thornton-le-Fylde. As an area chairman for housing on the Greater London Council, I came across many of the situations about which she spoke. They have not changed, and we certainly need the powers.
I had intended to speak on only one aspect of' the Bill, but, when the noble Baroness, Lady Linklater of Butterstone, said that she was disturbed by the fact that the first Conservative speaker had covered only one aspect, I felt that I should comment on some wider aspects of the Bill. I shall try to do so briefly.
I agreed with neither the tone nor most of the content of the speech made by the noble Baroness, Lady Linklater of Butterstone. I agree with the comment just made by the noble Baroness, Lady Dean of Thornton-le-Fylde, that the public are crying out for the legislation. Many speakers made the point that 1121 the powers in the Bill will not be used all the time; they will be used as an ultimate action, when all else has failed. I thought that the remark made by the noble Baroness, Lady Dean, on that was very appropriate, and I made a note of it. The powers will make life more liveable for many people.
The noble Baroness, Lady Linklater of Butterstone, said that the Bill was wrongly conceived and should never have been brought before us. I do not agree. The noble Lord, Lord Beaumont of Whitley, said that there was not a word of what the noble Baroness, Lady Linklater, said with which he did not agree. Those two comments convince me that the Bill is right. I do not agree with either of those speakers.
I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Massey of Darwen, that custody should be the last resort. It is the same story; everything should be a last resort. I also agree with the noble Lord, Lord Corbett of Castle Vale, that prevention and enforcement are part of the same thing and that it was a case of using either or both to the greatest effect.
When the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, spoke about trespass and so on, it drew my attention to Clause 60, which is headed "Aggravated trespass". I wondered whether the Bill covered the nonsense that a person must protect his property in such a way as to ensure that a potential burglar would not suffer any harm. If it does not, would it be appropriate to make an amendment to cover that? I remember that, when we debated that law in the House many years ago, it was clearly said that, if a burglar tripped on a hole in someone's path, that person would be liable for the fact that the burglar had broken his leg. The same thing occurred recently in a criminal case that was widely reported in the newspapers.
In that previous debate, I remember that a Member asked the Lord Chancellor, who was dealing with the issue, whether someone who saw a burglar coming up a ladder to enter his bedroom had an obligation to say, "That rung is a bit shaky. Be careful there". We were told that it did not go that far but that people did have an obligation to maintain their property. Surely, if it is freehold property, it is up to the owner to allow it to deteriorate, if he wants to—but, apparently, he has an obligation to the burglar. If I am correct in thinking that the burglar is an aggravated trespasser, Clause 60 would be a good place to put in something to deal with that nonsense, which is how the general public think of it.
I shall return to the speech that I intended to make. As earlier speakers have made clear, anti-social behaviour is multi-faceted, and that must be the reason why the Bill is so wide-ranging and covers drugs, housing, public order and other issues. Notably, Part 7 is headed "The Environment". It is unusual to include a part on the environment in a Home Office Bill. The Home Office is, of course, resistant to the idea that high hedges are appropriate, but I am convinced that they are. We had the suggestion of an amendment put forward this week from the Liberal Democrat Benches.
1122 I consulted the Public Bill Office, which took a long time to come back with an answer. It said:there are arguments in both directionsand then came down against me "on balance". I do not accept that, and I hope to convince your Lordships that there is a place in the Bill to help the high hedge victims; and victims they are. The damage done to the lives of others by a hedge dispute is a clear-cut case of anti-social behaviour. We have just seen the worst outcome in Scotland, with the murder of one man and the suicide of the killer.
I know that it is standard procedure for departments not to handle correspondence that they treat as "not our subject", and that the many letters sent by hedge victims are sent straight on to the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister. Will the Minister assure me that the department is, at least, counting the letters that it is receiving before forwarding them on? It is important that it should be aware of the widespread concern over the issue at a time when there is a part of the Bill that deals with the environment.
Paragraph 1.12 of the White Paper, Respect and Responsibility, states:The common element in all anti-social behaviour is that it represents a lack of respect or consideration for other people. It shows a selfish inability or unwillingness to recognise when one's individual behaviour is offensive to others, and a refusal to take responsibility for it. More fundamentally it shows a failure to understand that one person's rights are based on the responsibilities we have towards others and towards our families and our communities".All parts of the Bill have the one aim of improving the lives of those blighted by the anti-social behaviour of others. Even anti-social noise usually has to stop at some time, as the noise makers need sleep, but a hedge nuisance is continuous and usually ever-growing. I therefore offer no apology for stating today that control of high hedges should be included in the Bill. I intend to move an amendment to insert a new clause to that effect in Part 7.
In November 1999, the Government published a consultation document High hedges: possible solutions. Exceptionally, they had 3,000 replies from individuals and organisations. Usually, replies are numbered in hundreds. Of those who replied, 94 per cent wanted legislation, and 77 per cent of local authorities who replied took the same view.
Two Private Members' Bills on high hedges have been lost in the Commons, in 2001 and this month. Your Lordships have fully debated, amended and passed almost identical Bills, with support from all parts of the House. Such high hedge Bills would give local authorities the power to deal with complaints about high hedges and to order action to remedy the problem, if they thought that it was justified. They resemble the provisions in Part 7 of the Anti-social Behaviour Bill, which is mainly about strengthening the powers available to local authorities to deal with local environmental problems. Specifically, the graffiti removal notices introduced by Clause 54 are similar to the remedial notices in Clause 5 of my High Hedges Bill.
1123 The power in Clause 48 to allow local authorities to investigate complaints about night noise mirrors closely the procedure for dealing with high hedge complaints. Both are neighbour issues. I offer no apology for stating today that the control of high hedges should be included in the Bill. As I said, I intend to move an amendment to insert a new clause to that effect in Part 7.
It has been suggested to me that one reason why the high hedges legislation might not be appropriate for this Bill is that it makes provision for conciliation between the parties. I find it strange that that should be an objection, when the Home Office's Active Community Unit is funding Mediation UK and the Lord Chancellor's Department has attached great importance to alternative dispute resolution.
Your Lordships have heard my arguments on the issue of high hedges many times before. I had a Question on the subject as recently as 15th July. So for that reason I do not intend to elaborate further. This is the last debate before the parliamentary Recess and there are many speakers. It is not an appropriate time to detail the well-known sufferings of the victims from the anti-social behaviour of irresponsible high hedge owners.
I shall save my comments for the debate on my amendment in Committee. There is a little stop-press news: 1 have just received a note from the Public Bill Office, which I shall read to your Lordships because I am so pleased with it. It states:This is just to let you know that we think that the amendment you faxed to us today is relevant to the Anti-social Behaviour Bill, and that we will table it on Monday".That is the stop-press news. I strongly support the Bill and I hope that it goes well.
§ 1 p.m.
§ Lord Addington
My Lords, I wish to raise issues about a degree of prejudice and ignorance related to the hidden disability of attention deficit hypersensitivity disorder and how it will be affected by the Bill. Having said that, I must admit to my own bit of prejudice. The minute that I saw something entitled "Anti-social Behaviour Bill" every liberal fibre in my being said, "Watch out". As has already been stated, what is anti-social behaviour to one person is merely social interaction for someone else.
Having said that, I recognise that many of the problems referred to by noble Lords are real and can occur. But I would call for a degree of sensitivity when dealing with these issues. Consider social and cultural awareness because the potential for the cock-up school of history to come marching in on the back of this Bill is massive.
I briefly turn now to my main point. Attention deficit hypersensitivity disorder is a genetically determined neuropsychiatric condition, which means that it is in the structure and nature of one's brain. It affects a person's social interaction skills, the way in which information is taken on board, the reaction to information and the way a person behaves with others. Part 3 initially alerted me to this problem. As with all 1124 these conditions we generally hear about it in relation to children, despite the fact that usually it is a life-long disability that will continue into adult life.
As regards children in the classroom, I read an article which described a series of stereotypes. It stated:These children are repeatedly described as 'lazy', 'underachievers', 'not reaching their potential', 'unpredictable', 'disorganised', 'erratic', 'loud', 'unfocused', 'scatterbrained', 'undisciplined' and 'uncontained—.I like "uncontained"; it gives us an idea of how people see the condition. People with ADHD are also considered to be either easily distracted or hyper-focused and lose their train of thought easily.
Because of the way in which these people's minds work, they have trouble interacting with everyone else. Usually, when a problem like this is raised, people say, "Ah, but it is only a small group". Alarmingly, it probably is not. It is suggested that up to 10 per cent of the population have this problem to a degree. That is a spectrum, so maybe 2 per cent or 3 per cent of the population might have this to a meaningful level and cannot co-ordinate properly.
In the classroom, inability to process information properly and react to the basic premise of education is a problem. Activity one undertakes now will lead to rewards later on—for example, the examination process, recommendations for work, and so forth. Children in the classroom will find it extremely difficult to comprehend that idea. As regards punishment, people with this condition disregard it. It does not matter to them very much. They deal with the now; punishment is in the future. They forget about the future because it is the next step and it is not something to be worried about. They worry about the now. Once it is over and clone with it is gone.
I raise this because we must have a process within the structure for making orders and so forth in Part 3. This will also apply later on because people who fail educationally end up in prison at an alarmingly high rate. There is a strong correlation between people with ADHD and the prison population, as with many other hidden disabilities. Unless we obtain some form of diagnosis or at least train observers to look at children as regards Part 3, we may as well be putting petrol on a fire. We would be using a punishment involving parents for people who cannot comprehend.
I am asking the Government to give serious thought to all forms of hidden disability when considering Part 3 and to ensure that something is in place that stands at least a chance of catching someone who has this condition. Hidden disabilities tend to follow a classic pattern, which as a dyslexic I know well. Approximately 20 years ago, some people still said, "Oh, I do not agree with dyslexia, it is just people who are lazy, blah, blah".
Now some teachers know a little about the problem, but they are not terribly interested, their lives are complicated and they back off. That is understandable. We do not have contented teachers in the current education system—that is something on which we can all agree. If nothing is put in place to spot the problem, we will get into difficulties. As this may be an inherited 1125 condition, the parent of a child who is effectively getting them into trouble with the legal system might not be able to provide the most conducive environment at home in which to achieve more stable and productive results.
I suggest—this is very similar to a point made in a speech by my noble friend Lord Clement-Jones—that unless the Government have people in place throughout this system, the real reason why this form of anti-social behaviour is taking place will be missed. The situation will be made worse. A degree of joined-up government will probably be required. My opinion on joined-up government is that we do not have it. Ministers occasionally drag departments together and force them to communicate. Occasionally, Ministers do not manage to drag their departments together. We must ensure that there is an interaction between education and health. The health service recognises the condition and I am informed that treatment with drugs can be of assistance in certain cases. My learning curve on this problem has been very short.
Unless health, education and the noble Baroness's department can be brought together, there will be problems. We must ensure that they co-operate and talk to each other, because all the hidden disability problems require a multi-agency response. Not only the people themselves need to be educated—children often do not grow out of these conditions. We must ensure that the agencies are talking to each other so that they will know how to respond. The people concerned will need to learn how to control their activities or how to place coping strategies in their own lives. If we do not do that, matters will be made worse in many cases. This could be a major hole in the Bill because there is a strong chance that most of the people being addressed will have a hidden disability of one kind or another.
§ 1.10 p.m.
§ Lord Wedderburn of Charlton
My Lords, I welcome many parts of this Bill and I understand the aims described by my right honourable friend the Home Secretary in another place, especially to take action against the extravagances of such matters as graffiti, noise and litter. I agreed with what he said in the House of Commons at Third Reading:We are [also] going to send a message to the thugs and mindless vandals".—[Official Report, Commons, 24/6/03; col. 987.]There is a need to stop thuggery wherever it appears, while vandalism is unpleasant and offensive to those who have to suffer its depredations But I also agree with those who have said that the measures presented in this Bill demonstrate a really inadequate effort to confront the issues of civil liberties. I shall reserve the detail on that point for the Committee stage because there are two aspects of the Bill to which I intend to devote my brief interventions today.
First, certain provisions in the Bill attempt to change social behaviour by methods that are in some cases questionable and appear not to be backed by adequate research. A change of social habits and, more important, a change of consciousness—especially, but not limited, to youths and young children—is not 1126 necessarily achieved by the imposition of severe legal penalties or by mechanisms in which the normal processes of the rule of law are set aside, certainly if the aim is for people to have more rather than less respect for the law.
On reading the Bill, I was most forcefully struck in this by the provisions covering fixed penalty notices. In its briefing, the Law Society pointed out that the introduction of fixed penalty notices and the increase of powers allocated to others dealing with children are matters of very serious concern. The society has also stated that:We believe children will be at a considerable disadvantage in understanding the process and impact of a fixed penalty notice … we believe that an appropriate adult should be present and access to appropriate legal advice be made available before a fixed penalty notice is offered",The use of legal sanction is in many situations a dangerous way of trying to change social consciousness.
Of course it is easy to say, and many would agree, with my preference to seek such change through the social advancement of poor and ethnic minority families, improvement in the lot of families living on pitiful wages, extra assistance to single mothers unable to provide proper meals, along with the provision of psychological services, leisure amenities and the positive introduction to activities for youths living in blocks of flats where, despite the efforts of local authorities with inadequate resources, the lifts never work and the stairways stink. These efforts, it seems to me and to many others, should be the priorities before the use of legal sanction. Legal sanction has its place, but it is emphasised in this Bill to a point which I think is excessive.
The minds and habits of the Luddites did not translate into the idealism of Chartism, and then into the responsible trade unionism of Applegarth and the Junta through the imposition of fixed penalty notices.
Secondly, I wish to speak to another part of the Bill where the objectives seem to be as questionable as the methods. This part, Part 8, was introduced at a very late stage and not debated in another place. I wish to add to the remarks made by the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, on this.
The persecution of the Roma people in Europe at this moment in history places a special obligation on this House and Parliament generally to view with care any further discrimination against them and against any other travellers. The new clauses contained in Part 8, headed "Public Order and Trespass", are provisions inserted in the House of Commons which were not debated. They became part of the Bill scarcely an hour before the end of its progress through that House. They allow for the eviction of travellers from land where they are in law trespassers, whether or not they have caused any damage but are staying with their vehicles. They also provide for the seizure of vehicles and caravans, which are those people's homes.
Similar powers have existed in a lesser form since the 1994 legislation, which were vigorously opposed by my party. The first question I ask is: what is the need for this 1127 new and rather brutal regime? In March, as Housing Minister, my honourable friend Tony McNulty stated that:People who camp illegally have no access to services such as housing, education and welfare, which you and I take for granted … a fresh water supply, sanitation and waste disposal to name but a few. The majority of these encampments occur because there are no authorised sites to which to direct them. Whilst I do not condone such encampments, they will continue until provision meets demand".It is true that there is provision in the clauses just introduced demanding that the police should believe that there is a pitch on a relevant site—which is carefully defined—for the caravans in question within the local area, but with respect to my noble friend on the Front Bench, the Bill does not demand that there should actually be in existence adequate sites.
The police are not a branch of social services and they have their limitations. On past experience, of which there is a great deal, it is highly likely that the police will be called on to use these powers at the behest of a landowner, when their opportunity for knowing exactly what sites are really available in the local area will not be adequate for the task in hand. What is more, under these clauses, the persons concerned are forbidden to stop without permission on any other land belonging to the local authority within the next three months. If one traveller does so, and he or she is over the age of 18, the penalty can be imprisonment for up to three months.
There is no opportunity given to question the belief that there is a site available in the neighbourhood before at minimum notice their homes are to be evicted or seized, their children cut off from the schools which they may have begun to attend, and before they lose contact with medical services which, recent experience shows, they have increasingly begun to make. A Birmingham University study carried out in October 2002 showed that there is still a massive deficiency of appropriate sites. Some 2,000 or more are needed, but the number presently available is pitifully small. The evidence is clear that even before these clauses are enacted, travellers are being told that there are approved sites where that is not the case.
The briefing paper from Opre Roma, the Gypsy Council, points out that when similar powers were introduced by a Conservative government in 1994, the Opposition spokesman, my noble and learned friend Lord Irvine of Lairg, said that there was "humbug at the heart of the Government's policy" in their eviction powers because the real intention was to force gypsies and travellers to assimilate into the community. I ask the Government to confront that proposition in answering the question: why bring forward now these extra powers to those introduced in 1994?
The Gypsy Council has stated:This will put even greater pressure on travellers and gypsies who, through no fault of their own, have no authorised place to stop, whether emergency, transient or permanent. We therefore urgently call upon the Government to radically alter these proposals or to remove them entirely from the Act".1128 It is my belief that there was no consultation with the organisations representing travellers before these new provisions were hastily inserted in the Bill in the House of Commons. My right honourable friend the Home Secretary mentioned them only in response to an intervention from an honourable Member in the Commons asking about measures on travellers. In his final speech, the Home Secretary stated that:1 am grateful to my right hon. friend for making that point. He not only nurtured this issue because of his experience in his constituency; he also parented the early part of the Bill with my hon. Friend the Member for Coventry, North-East. I thank him for that, and I want to ensure that the time he spent and that the work that he did will not be wasted".—[Official Report, Commons. 24/6/03; col. 988.]He then went on to speak about animal rights activists—an association that seemed to me to be rather strange.
I know something of those experiences which have gripped the public interest, although I do not know about the experience in the particular constituency to which my right honourable friend referred. But some months earlier, considerable publicity had been given to the eviction of travellers who encamped for a period before they went to the Epsom Races on the unused football field of Eton College. They did cause a bit of a mess, but as one boy said,We don't mind them because it is the cricket season".One of the gypsies was quoted as saying:If there were transit sites where we could move on from, the council and police would not have any trouble from us".The field was put out of bounds to the pupils, but in fact regular football matches were played in the evenings between them and the travellers, who lent the pupils some of their players because the school side kept losing. One traveller said, in a sensible summing-up, that,it is important to remain on cordial terms because they are going to run the country, aren't they'?".The county court kicked them out with an eviction order, but at least there was some hearing and some process. There would be virtually none if these procedures in the Bill are adopted under the new clauses on which, as I understand it, your Lordships' Joint Committee on Human Rights has been unable to pronounce because of the dates on which they were introduced.
The problems besetting society in respect of travellers with a lifestyle that is not illegal but which presents special problems to others, including landowners but not exclusively landowners, cannot be solved by turning the screw tighter and tighter upon them at the behest of those annoyed landowners. Nor can the lack of available caravan sites be solved just by giving the police the unenviable task of driving out families from sites where they have alighted and seizing the vehicles which are their homes. There is an unjustified belief here, again, in the benefits of crude legal sanction rather than in social action. I believe that this House—the only House which will debate these new clauses—should give this matter very serious attention.
§ 1.21 p.m.
§ Baroness Sharp of Guildford
My Lords, as my noble friend Lady Linklater indicated, while we have broad sympathy with the main aims of the Bill, which is to create a society in which greater respect is shown by one person for another, and, more generally, by people for public goods and public spaces, we have some reservations about the specifics of a number of aspects.
We have all experienced the frustration of the pointless vandalism that one sees constantly—the destruction of park benches and litter bins, the mutilation of shelters, endless graffiti. Guildford, the town I come from, is the night club capital of the South East. If you go to the cinema or the theatre on a Friday or Saturday night and walk up the high street, there are hordes of young people milling around. I know that the elderly in the town feel very frightened by it. Actually, it reminds me very much of Rome of Madrid on a Saturday night, where hordes of people mill around. Partly because of the climate in this country, we are less used to people milling around outside in the same way.
The big question is whether these are the right measures to deal with the problem. Is the Bill being tough on crime, with its fixed penalties, its powers regarding dispersal and aggravated trespass? Or are the Government not being tough enough on the causes of crime?
I recognise that the Government are arguing that this is but one Bill among many and that other aspects of their policies deal with some of the causes of crime. As your Lordships know, I wear the hat of education spokesman for the Liberal Democrats in this House. Regarding the education aspects of the Bill, I am very conscious of the degree to which arguably we are trying to come down when the horse has bolted. I know that the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, will be speaking after me—perhaps he should have spoken before me, because I think he will stress how habits are bred very early in life, possibly within the first six months.
It is certainly true that parenting classes for teenagers may come too late and we need to make a very consistent effort to educate young parents in relation to how they look after young children. Sure Start is a very important programme but it does not have one of the attributes which is so important in the voluntary model on which it was based—lthe coming together of a community to try to cope with its ills and help itself. That is a part of the HomeStart issue.
This is why I worry about fixed penalties for truanting and parenting orders. I am particularly worried that school staff may be expected to impose fixed penalties for truanting. It is vital that good relationships between staff and parents are upheld; destroying those relationships by having the right to impose penalties in this way could be extremely dangerous.
Youth offending teams have found that parenting orders are very valuable. One interesting feature is the degree to which parents often say how valuable they find these classes to be. However, an issue that arises constantly with parents of teenagers and adolescents is 1130 their cry for more facilities for their young people. I shall be coming in a moment to the need for more youth facilities.
Youth offending teams prefer working with parents on a voluntary basis rather than having parents forced into these relationships. There are very real worries that those who are least able to bear these responsibilities will be the ones who fail to comply with the orders that are made. That will lead to fines, which, in turn, will not be paid, which, in turn, will lead to imprisonment, which, in turn, will mean splitting up the families and putting the children into care. Putting children into care exacerbates the whole problem of anti-social behaviour—if not then, at a later stage.
My noble friend Lady Linklater mentioned that 90 per cent of primary children who are excluded from school have special educational needs of one sort of another. Many of these needs are classed as EDB—emotional development and behaviour.
The education section of the Guardian this week featured counselling in primary schools. It quoted the special educational needs co-ordinator at the primary school featured as saying:Bad behaviour always happens for a reason, whether it's a late night or a mother who's left".The article said that according to the Centre for Child Mental Health, one of the biggest groups of children excluded before the age of nine have suffered from a death in the family. Broken homes are another frequent reason for bad behaviour.
The Guardian feature is about a little boy whose sister died in an accident, causing the family to break up. He went with his father and the other siblings with his mother. Unable to cope, he became aggressive and rude at school, and was on the verge of permanent exclusion. His saving was an NSPCC school counsellor who helped to talk him through his frustrations and control his anger. I would like to quote what he said, because it is quite significant:When I get annoyed now, I think of something else, like my little brother or sister, my dog or football, anything that will reassure me".He went on:I'm a lot quieter now. I prefer it because the teachers are not always looking out for me doing something. That used to make me paranoid and I'd lash out".Now he is about to go to secondary school; he has settled into school and he has, in many senses, become a good citizen.
The cost of a part-time school counsellor is £10,000 a year. If that school counsellor helps only two young boys, and many will help half a dozen or so, the amount that that will save society at a later stage is huge. The cost of coping with some of these young hooligans is a minimum of £45,000 a year. Many of your Lordships know the cost of keeping young people in prison, and prison is not a good place for them. The costs of other special measures are huge. Therefore, the return on early years measures—for every pound invested we get £8 back—is not a bad one. It is one that is worth thinking about. We should question whether fixed penalties are always the right way forward.
1131 I should like to say a few words about Part 4 of the Bill, on Clause 30 and the dispersal of groups. Again, the whole tone of the Bill is antagonistic to young people. There is, perhaps, a failure to understand why they gather together in groups. Young adolescents are gregarious and they want to get together. I found interesting what Jeremy Corbyn said at Report stage in another place. He said:I have … spent some time talking to groups of young people who hang around the place in large numbers looking intimidating. They often tell me that they are broke and bored, and that the youth club has been closed. What are they supposed to do? Last weekend, I found a group of young people hanging round a park. They could have been deemed to be antisocial. They told me that they were unemployed, broke and bored. They were not really presenting a threat to anyone. We need to keep a sense of proportion on these things.".—[Official Report, Commons, 24/6/03; col. 950.]Again, we need to think positively as well as negatively. The noble Baroness, Lady Massey, quoted the briefing that we had from Groundwork, an organisation that concentrates on projects in challenging and potentially dangerous areas. That organisation's key to solving problems involves engaging and involving the local communities.
The Guardian education supplement, from which I have already quoted, contains an article about a scheme reclaiming a park in West Hove—Stoneham Park. The story there is also quite interesting. The article says:Two years ago, Stoneham Park was an asphalt wasteland surrounded by high bushes—intimidating to enter by day and a haunt of drug dealers by night … Today the park … is a colourful safe haven for parents, children and young people alike … It is not uncommon to find more than 300 people using the park after school and in the bushes there are more likely to be children playing hide-and-seek than drug dealers peddling their wares".The key to that transformation was the involvement of the local community and the development of a sense of local ownership. As one of the key movers in that process said,'We've shown that problems with graffiti, vandalism and other antisocial behaviours can be tack led when the community works together'".
Those are extremely important lessons. Both the examples that I have given illustrate the need, as the noble Baroness, Lady Massey, emphasised, for the Bill to stress not only the negative enforcement point of view but to incorporate some more positive ideas. It should recognise the need for society to set clear standards and guidelines by which we expect people to operate, but we need carrots as well as sticks, incentives and support mechanisms as well as sanctions and penalties.
I would like to say a brief word about Clauses 61 and 62, and would very much like to associate myself with the views expressed by the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, and the noble Lord, Lord Wedderburn, in relation to travellers. There are great dangers that we are pushing through the legislation without recognising the need for local authorities to provide many more sites for travellers. While there are not enough sites, this kind of' action is of no value whatever.
1132 Clause 61 deals with the issue of aggravated trespass, which arises partly in answer to the needs of medical researchers who do experiments with animals, and companies such as Huntingdon Life Sciences. It is extremely important that we as a society develop a way of limiting the degree to which people involved in those experiments lose their basic human rights to privacy and family life. It is important that there are sanctions preventing the invasion of those two basic human rights in such cases, and I am not confident that Clause 61 or Part 8 are the answer to the problem. I would argue that it is something on which the Government must take action.
§ 1.36 p.m.
§ Lord Northbourne
My Lords, when I considered what I would say this afternoon, I believed that I might be alone in suggesting that the Bill would not achieve the Government's objectives unless much more was done to address the causes of anti-social behaviour. In fact, I find myself in a 100 per cent majority, and I would have been proud to make many of the speeches that I have heard this morning and this afternoon.
I join with the noble Baroness, Lady Butterstone, in saying that the Bill alone will not secure respect for social values, but will alienate young people. I take comfort from the statement from the Minister that the legislation is only a first step. I shall suggest a few more steps.
Anti-social behaviour is mainly a problem of boys and young men, and it is nearly always born of frustration, boredom and hopelessness. I shall give the House an extreme example, not from this country. My wife and I visited a sister organisation to Toynbee Hall in Chicago. The Chicago trust took us down to south Chicago, where there was an estate—a concrete area with high-rise buildings, housing 6,000 people, all black and all unemployed. Some of the flats were burnt out, and we could see where the smoke had come out of the windows. None of the lifts or telephones worked.
The trust had set up a first aid department, because the estate was a no-go area for the police and ambulances and first aid services. I asked people in the department what major problems they had, and they told me that the main things that they dealt with were childbirth and gunshot wounds. They showed us the pitted ceiling, where the stray bullets from the gunfights between the drug dealers had gone into their first aid post.
When I went home that night, I thought about things in the bath, and I suddenly realised that if I had been living in those conditions, I would have got me a gun somehow, and I would have joined a drug gang. At least it would have given me something to wake up for in the morning and a group of friends. If I got shot—what the hell—it could not be worse than life in a place like that. I suggest that simply as a paradigm of the problem.
The life history of a person involved in anti-social behaviour is often like this: poor support from the family, no family or violent parenting, or all three; failure to cope in school, leaving school illiterate, unmotivated, unemployable, angry about not being 1133 able to engage in the consumer society, no hope and frustration. The Government must be given great credit for recognising that problem and for calling it social exclusion and addressing it. They have done a lot, but there is still more to be done.
I shall refer in a moment to some of the things that the Government have already done, but first I shall draw attention to an aspect of the matter that has scarcely been addressed so far, which has been called the "fathering deficit" or the "dad deficit".
Much recent research shows that fathers do matter, that boys instinctively want and need a dad. Research shows that boys who have had good support from a father or surrogate father have a better chance of doing well in school and in later life. It shows that boys need a decent father to learn how to be a man; how to relate to a woman, and indeed to other men; how to control anger; and how to negotiate solutions. It shows that a father in a committed relationship with the child's mother will normally increase the child's confidence, sense of security and willingness to work in school.
Yet, in our nation today, about 22 per cent of children are living in families without resident fathers. About 7 per cent of the nation's children have lost all contact with their father. About 30 per cent of children born today will see their parents' marriage break up before they leave school. Of course, we have no figures for informal partnerships. However, in my view, those figures show all too clearly the low value that our society places today on stable relationships. I shall return to the subject of stable relationships.
The dad deficit is not only about absent fathers; many fathers today, even if they are living at home, do not know what their child needs let alone how to give it to him. Others work such long hours that they fail to give their child the time and attention that he really needs. Some wrongly believe that they can make up for that with money. Finally, of course, there are a considerable number of fathers who themselves have personal problems—as has been referred to by a number of noble Lords—including unemployment, substance abuse and poor anger control, often leading to domestic violence.
Again I say that the Government are doing a lot. I had intended to read out an impressive list. However, I shall not do so because the noble Baroness, Lady Massey, has already rehearsed it. The only point that I would like to emphasise is the point that the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, mentioned—the importance of early intervention. Your Lordships will not be slow to detect that that is because I want to tell you a little story about how that can happen.
Last week, my wife was in charge of some of the grandchildren and the following conversation took place. Arthur is aged three. "Arthur, time to get out of the bath". "No". "Arthur, come on, time to get out of the bath". "No, no, no". "Arthur, I will count to 10". "20?" "15". They settled on 15. He came out like a lamb. That child, I suspect, will sustain a stable marriage.
1134 I should like now to look at what still remains to be done to address the dad deficit and the stable family deficit. I think that, first and foremost, fathers need to be encouraged to accept that they do have a big responsibility to any child they father. Here I would say—and I know that it is difficult—that the Government have to come off the fence. They have to stop mumbling the formula, "It is not the job of government to interfere in the way that adults live their lives". In matters of such importance as social exclusion and anti-social behaviour, the Government have a duty to articulate the shared values of our society. Fathers matter. Committed relationships matter. Time spent with children matters.
Mary McLeod, chief executive of the Family and Parenting Institute, recently wrote:The critical question is over the nature of the contract between the parent and the State".
Fathers need to know clearly that they do have a responsibility, not just to contribute to maintenance, but also to secure as far as they possibly can that their child has the fathering it needs. Fathers need to be given confidence by being told again and again that they have a vital role to play. They are not redundant, as some extreme feminist propaganda would have us believe.
Fathers and families also need more help to fulfil their role as parents in the 21st century, especially those who themselves have not had the experience of a happy family. Parenting orders and parenting contracts are fine; they are provided for in the Bill. They have been shown to work, and I am sure that they will be useful. However, why bolt the door when the horse has bolted? As the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, said, many of the parents who eventually get to parenting classes ask, "Why did my child have to commit a crime before I could get this help?" We must get to parents long before their child has got to the stage of committing a crime.
What other kinds of help are needed? Children need stability and security. They need, if possible, a father and a mother whom they can claim as their own and who live together. In today's world, how can the needs of the child be reconciled with the needs of their parents? It is a key question. The solution in my view can lie only in enabling adults to cope more successfully with committed stable relationships and in our celebrating those who do it.
What are we teaching our children and teenagers today in school—and in the soap operas and the teenage magazines—about commitment, unselfishness, compromise, stability and responsibility? Not much. Could we not do better?
Families need time together. Every child will benefit from spending at least one whole non-school day a week with a parent or parents. Today, more than 10 per cent of parents work both Saturday and Sunday. Most of them say that they wish they did not. Time spent with parents will reduce anti-social behaviour.
Families need respite. In particular, every teenager needs a place to go when home is temporarily not an option—a place which is accessible and warm, where 1135 they can feel welcome and a sense of belonging, where they have something interesting to do and where parents need not worry that they are safe.
I think that there is another need in our society—the need for a much more open and frank discussion about how the traditional parenting patterns of some of the ethnic minority groups who have joined us in this country can he more successfully integrated with the shared values and needs of our society as it is today, here in the 21st century.
Finally, perhaps I should have the courage to say this. The desire for personal fulfilment, and the sexual drive in adults, are very powerful instincts. As far as I know, almost every society we know of in history has found it necessary to set some limits to these instincts in the interests of society as a whole. Indeed, we have recently done that in the Sexual Offences Bill. Perhaps that Bill goes about as far as it is possible to go in law, and perhaps a little further. However, if certain types of adult behaviour do lead to some children growing up without hope and some children growing up prey to anti-social behaviour, then it seems to me that we ought to think again about what we should teach our children in school—about responsibilities, about parenthood, and about right and wrong.
§ 1.47 p.m.
§ Baroness Hamwee
My Lords, I should like to address my remarks particularly to Parts 2 and 9 of the Bill, although my first comment—which I am not the only noble Lord to make—goes a little wider.
The first definition in the interpretation section which applies to the whole Bill starts with an "L", not an "A". I am not surprised that the term "Anti-social behaviour" is not defined, because it is not easy to define. However, I am sure that, given her background, the Minister, above all, will appreciate the dangers in relying on the "I know it when I see it" test, especially in the context of administrative rather than judicial sanctions, which are perhaps particularly liable to wide variation. I came back into the Chamber when the noble Lord, Lord Wedderburn of Charlton, was speaking. I may have missed him making a similar point. I apologise to him that I did not hear the whole of it.
To some, at the lower end of the scale, the fumes from next door's barbecue may constitute anti-social behaviour. I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Gardner of Parkes, in pointing to a very real issue of anti-social behaviour. I will support her in her amendments—one says rashly, without having seen them—as I did in relation to her Private Member's Bill, which I am so sorry seems to have fallen at a hurdle down the Corridor. To other people, "continual shouting and screaming" may be a normal way of life. I have used that phrase because it is one of an illustrative list in the current consultation paper issued by the Department for Work and Pensions on withdrawing housing benefit as a sanction. The latter is not a part of this Bill but we hear that it may become so. The least of my objections to that is that it would be introduced at a very late stage in the Bill. We have just finished the Report stage of the Local 1136 Government Bill and throughout its passage Ministers objected to new clauses which were proposed on the grounds that it was too late in the day to introduce a new issue. The noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, may recognise the comment. However, we were told yesterday that the Government would introduce into the Local Government Bill at Third Reading a new clause on the back of yesterday's education Statement.
However, that is much less important than a concern that withdrawing housing benefit would not be effective in addressing anti-social behaviour and, indeed, could well compound the problems. I understand that the Government predict that tenants in that situation would not have accumulated sufficient arrears to be evicted, but surely if you qualify for housing benefit, that is precisely the effect that would be likely. Private sector landlords could well be even less inclined to accept people on housing benefit than they are now. That is currently, and has for some time, been a real issue. Although I am sure that the noble Baroness, Lady Dean, knows far more detail about the matter than I, I understand that housing associations see this as a threat to their own viability. If such provisions were added, they would make the Bill even more concerned with punishment than with prevention, support, and tackling the underlying problems which in so many cases lead to the behaviour complained of.
That view of the Bill is not one which ignores the very serious impact of anti-social behaviour on neighbours and others in the community. As the noble Baroness said, often so-called mature people engage in that behaviour rather than young people. It is precisely because we have the interests of the whole community at heart, and of the individuals who make up the community, that we make critical comments. As my noble friend Lady Linklater said, we want to see measures that will last.
Mention has been made of the proposals for demoting tenants from secure tenancies because of the tenant's behaviour or that of his family or friends—indeed, behaviour that may be capable of causing a nuisance or annoyance. To make that process of eviction easier does not tackle the causes. Although I take the point that the noble Baroness made about that being a remedy of last resort, and that mediation and other measures should come first, I do not think that that negates the point that Shelter made. I understand that I am not alone in that view. I am told that the Social Exclusion Unit recognises that that may not be the way to deal with tenants who behave anti-socially.
Yesterday the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, said that local government Bills come along like buses so that if we cannot get new clauses into the current one, there will be another one along soon. It seems to me that the Home Office also sends out new pieces of legislation before the previous one has reached its destination. By that I mean before the previous one has been tested in practice. Social landlords have a range of remedies at their disposal. Shelter—it should know—takes the view that there is a lack of understanding and expertise about how to use the current remedies. The Crime and Disorder Act 1998 put a duty on local authorities to 1137 take reasonable steps to prevent crime and disorder, so is it really necessary to impose a new duty on them to publish anti-social behaviour procedures? More and separate duties do not always join up. Sometimes they duplicate and sometimes they even slightly contradict.
The matter of current remedies was raised by a number of speakers. I had not thought, until my noble friend Lord Russell mentioned it, that Clause 30(4) of the Bill seems to be a repetition of the Riot Act, which has been in existence for some time. Clause 30(4) refers to a constable giving a direction,requiring the persons in the group to disperse".I have not had a chance to look at the language of the Riot Act but that wording certainly rings bells.
As so often, it may be the children in a family who suffer most if measures which result eventually in eviction are taken when parents behave anti-socially. Children are often blamed—here I come to a later part of the Bill—for graffiti. However, it is not always carried out by young people. The London Assembly, of which I am a member, published a report on graffiti about a year ago of which I wish to read some short sections to your Lordships. I wish particularly to quote those who gave evidence to the Assembly's investigative committee. One graffiti writer told it:Many graffiti writers are not young kids as is popularly believed. The majority of graffiti writers are over 18 and many are in their thirties. Some hold down respectable jobs. Although it may be difficult to understand, graffiti is a way of life for some people and is something they enjoy".The report suggests that the main motivation for writing graffiti is,the achievement of fame and notoriety amongst peers".A memorandum by John, Craig and Simon told the committee that,People become involved in graffiti because they see it as a way of achieving fame, respect, identity and notoriety. It provides them with an opportunity to be noticed. Spraying their names—which I understand is called tagging—brings recognition especially when the tags are complex designs. In some ways it is similar to advertising".Other reasons given for writing graffiti include alienation, gang culture, boredom, bravado, the influence of popular culture and artistic expression. It seems to me that it is a complicated matter.
I have already questioned the extra duties that will be imposed on local authorities. The Local Government Association has indicated that there are some extra powers proposed by the Bill which would, indeed, be useful with regard to fly posting, noisy premises, abandoned shopping trolleys, and so on. But the powers must be usable. I repeat a comment that has already been made today and which is made frequently; that is, without resources the powers will not be usable.
I agree very much with the comment of the noble Baroness, Lady Scotland, that in this area prompt action is very important. Your Lordships will be aware of Mayor Giuliani's "broken windows" policy in New York. I certainly do not wholly support the 1138 implementation of that policy but the acceptance that once there is a small problem it is liable to attract further environmental and other problems is very important.
I look forward to dealing with environmental, and particularly housing, issues at the next stage. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, will, on behalf of his party, contribute his experience to debates on the Bill. I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Gardner. for picking up the point but it is notable that the contribution from the Conservative Benches was not as extensive as we might have hoped.
The noble Earl, Lord Shrewsbury, said "result. misery" when he talked about guns. The subject matter of the Bill comprises much misery, much more, I believe—including the use of replica weapons in cities—than was the subject of the noble Earl's speech.
To the extent that new legislation is necessary to deal with what my noble friend Lady Linklater acknowledged to be very real issues, the Bill needs to be balanced. We shall seek, using the fashionable term, to rebalance some parts of the Bill.
§ 1.59 p.m.
§ Baroness Thornton
My Lords, at this stage of a debate on the day when we are breaking up for our summer holidays, it is probably a good idea to stick to time and try not to be too repetitive. However, I echo the words of other noble Lords and congratulate the Minister on her stamina this week, and particularly on maintaining her usual high quality of debate and good humour.
I intend to address my remarks to Part 2 of the Bill and those parts that deal particularly with the behaviour of young people. Finally, I shall speak about Part 7, which concerns environmental issues; I could do nothing less with my noble friend Lord Whitty here to listen to remarks on those parts of the Bill that concern him.
There is no doubt that the problems of anti-social behaviour can and do cause misery to many individuals and communities. I commend the Government on their efforts over the past few years to get to grips with the issue, and particularly on the appointment of Louise Casey, whom I know will concern herself with prevention as well as cure. Like many here, I would prefer more emphasis and resources brought to bear on preventive measures, but I can also see merit in a legislative approach that sends a clear message that certain types of behaviour are unacceptable, and that gives additional power to the police and others to deal with it promptly and effectively.
There is an over-emphasis on punishment in the Bill. however, and there is a need to get the balance right between intervention, prevention and punishment. I fear that the read-across to the Green Paper on children at risk has not yet happened, and we may need to take that into account as the Bill progresses through the House. I am also concerned about the stigmatising of young people that the Bill seems to suggest, which has already been mentioned by other noble Lords, including the 1139 noble Baronesses, Lady Linklater and Lady Massey, and the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, to name but three. It seems to me that we have a society that says that, when children reach the age of 12 and until they are around 19 or 20, they become a danger to society.
We are all guilty of assuming that a group of youngsters getting together is bound to be up to no good. I include myself in that. Not so long ago, I entered my children's school playground and saw a group of young men—friends of my teenage son—gathered in a circle, all leaning in. They were tall young men with baggy trousers, trainers and multi-coloured hair, and they were clearly animated by whatever they were doing with their heads so close together. I thought, "What is going on here?", in the way adults do, and went over to break it up—whatever it was. Those young men were having an argument about who should cuddle the baby sister that one of them had brought in to introduce to his friends, and there they all were, billing and cooing over the baby. I felt ashamed of myself. I have teenage children, and should have expected better of myself.
I have reflected on how much of that goes on in the lives of today's teenagers—on how much groundless suspicion and hostility they have to face when going about their everyday business, and how much those attitudes undermine their instincts to do or be good, when society shows them such low regard. It is legitimate to ask whether the Bill reinforces the stigmatisation of young people, particularly our young men. That is particularly ironic when the facts are that youngsters are more often the victims of anti-social behaviour, as they are often the victims of crime. One third of the victims of reported street crime are under 17. I know that my six-foot tall 16 year-old son is actually in much more danger as he goes about his daily life in London than my rather small 15 year-old daughter.
Everyone knows that young people congregate in public places, largely because they have nowhere else to go to meet their mates. People's homes are usually too small, and often full of parents. Places to go are too expensive for young purses, or are inappropriate, so often the park or outside the shops is where they will meet. Surely we also know that one of the solutions is to ensure that they have places to go. In the spirit of celebration of successes advocated by my noble friend Lord Corbett, I should like to say that I am the chairman of a trust called Make Space, which works in co-ordination with Kids' Club Network. We exist to give funding to people and groups of people who want to create spaces for young people to go.
By the time that we have done our work dispersing the funds made available by the enlightened donations of Nestle, over the next two years we will have enabled hundreds of clubs, schools and groups to create spaces for youngsters to congregate, to either participate in activities or simply meet their friends. It is an imaginative scheme of which I am proud to be chair, and one of many seeking to provide preventive interventions. Indeed, the Government's own recent proposal for rolling out sports facilities for youngsters 1140 is much to be welcomed, but many more are needed. I look forward to working with the Minister to improve the relevant part of the Bill.
Part 2 will make it easier for local authorities and social landlords to evict tenants for anti-social behaviour. I can see why it is necessary to deal with anti-social neighbours, and concur with much that my noble friend Lady Dean had to say, which she did from enormous experience in housing. However, I wish to address what needs to happen before we get to the point of eviction, because, as she said, surely eviction must be the last resort.
During the mid-1990s, Dundee City Council experienced problems with nuisance neighbours and anti-social behaviour. The policy of eviction was deemed unworkable as it became clear that that approach was not solving the problems. In cases that resulted in eviction, very little was done to tackle the causes of the problem. Accommodation was not available to those who had been evicted from council properties and many families ended up in bed-and-breakfast accommodation or temporary housing, or moved in with relatives. The problem was therefore displaced rather than addressed.
In an attempt to tackle the underlying problems of nuisance neighbours and look for a long-term solution, Dundee City Council asked NCH, the national children's charity, with which I have a long-standing association, to manage and develop a project. It established the Dundee families project, which offers a wide range of support services to the homeless or those facing eviction as a result of anti-social behaviour. Between 1996 and 2000, 126 families were referred to the project. The aim of the Dundee families project is to work with those families facing eviction and to restore families to satisfactory tenancy arrangements through appropriate and intensive support.
The project offers a wide range of support for families, which includes parenting skills, anger management, cookery classes and domestic budgeting, and also acts as a link to other services such as drug treatment and health services. Many of the families referred to the project have a history of anti-social behaviour such as noise complaints, violence, damage to property, drug dealing, fire raising and running protection rackets, many of which have been referred to by noble Lords. Other referrals are related to family relationship problems.
Three main support services are offered to the families. First, outreach work is an early intervention to avoid eviction. Secondly, residential core accommodation is aimed at addressing those facing eviction. Thirdly, there is residential dispersed accommodation, as the project has 12 flats throughout Dundee and offers family support. Many families who have used the residential core accommodation move into those flats. Once they have shown that they can successfully live in the community, the tenancy of the accommodation is transferred to them.
1141 The results speak for themselves. There is a marked reduction in anti-social behaviour and evictions. Two-thirds of the cases are considered successful with families re-housed. However, one in 10 families refuses to engage with the project. It certainly seems to me that those families might well fall within the terms of the legislation.
Many of the families who use the Dundee project are vulnerable. They are families with long histories of anti-social behaviour. They are poor and rely on state benefits. Many of the adults have drug and alcohol problems or criminal records. There is also evidence of neglect affecting almost half of the children and over half of the women have suffered domestic violence.
It is widely believed that schemes like the Dundee project are very costly. However, the project has been evaluated by Glasgow University and it is estimated that it in fact saves Dundee City Council £117,000 a year. The council has made those savings because of the decrease in tenant evictions and because fewer children need to be taken into care.
The Dundee project has proven that there is a successful way of reducing anti-social behaviour and giving vulnerable families the necessary advice and support that they need. Surely, in terms of the development of sustainable communities, do not schemes such as that provide a way forward? All the organisations concerned with children and young people, including the Local Government Association in my borough of Camden, say that prevention must move forward with sanctions.
I conclude by welcoming the clauses that concern the environment in the Bill. Those clauses in particular will be effective only if they move forward with buy-in from local communities.
I shall briefly mention a scheme operated by the London Borough of Camden—where I live—which is called the Boulevard Project. It was established in direct response to community concerns about the look and feel of Camden's streets. Camden commissioned a nationwide survey. In response to the question "What makes you feel unsafe or uncomfortable about walking Britain's streets?", 39 per cent of the respondees cited litter and 37 per cent cited graffiti.
Camden council has set itself a target of 2005 for raising the levels of cleanliness and feelings of safety in the borough. It aims to achieve that by making physical improvements to the streets and looking at hoardings and street furniture. It has established a "grimefighter" team, which will use specially devised equipment to rid the streets of graffiti. It has established street wardens as part of the mainstream council services, as well as DART (the Drug Action Response Team), which will be responsible for cleaning needles and sharps from the street.
It is not cheap to tackle those problems in the short run, but in almost every clause of the Bill investment in prevention will be cost-effective in the long run. I look forward to working on the Bill with my noble friend the Minister.
§ 2.11 p.m.
§ Lord Phillips of Sudbury
My Lords, being "tail-end Charlie" in a debate such as this has some plusses and some minuses. It rather wrecks what one was expecting to say, but stimulates one to say other things. Outside, a Peer said to me that it is remarkable that the Liberal Democrats comprise only 10 per cent of the House, but represent 40 per cent of the speakers in this debate, and asked if it is something to do with antics of young Liberals. I think not. It is a genuine concern of those on these Benches, as it is of everybody, to try and grapple with these most intractable problems. I am sure that I speak for others in saying that there is no wish to politicise the issues that lie behind the Bill. There has been far too much point-scoring in British politics between different parties—why one party has not done that and the other would do that. We have a common problem that requires every bit of sagacity, experience and imagination that we can collectively bring to bear. My remarks are therefore in that spirit.
The Minister may think it somewhat churlish for me then to say that I think that it is a something-must-be-done Bill. I would not have it at all. We have relapsed in this country, and particularly in Parliament, into confusing law-making with achievements on the ground. The public of this country yearn not for more laws, but for more police; not for more powers for authority, but for more prevention, detection and enforcement of the laws that we already have—and, my word, we have a stupendous amount of criminal law. I think that this is the 17th criminal law Bill that the Government have produced in six years in office, and that comes on top of a great deal more. We are drowning in laws. We have legislative overload. We should focus our attention on prevention, detection and enforcement.
Some will have heard last night's statistic that in London last year, 1,090,000 crimes were reported. That is a huge number. It represents one crime for every eight members of the city's population. The trouble is that only 14 per cent of those crimes were detected. The problem lay not in an insufficiency of laws, but, I suggest, in an insufficiency of police. It is no accident that New York, which is a city of the same size as London, and with similar problems, has nearly a third more police active on its streets than we have in our great conurbation.
I put it to the Government that unless we are willing sensibly to enforce the laws we have, we should count ourselves hypocrites. Enforcement does not just mean locking people up—and, Heaven knows, we have enough of them; 77,000, rising by the end of the decade to an expected 100,000. Enforcement also assures people; helps them have a more positive view of the police so that they will voluntarily collaborate with the police more and do so more effectively; and reduces levels of fear, which are often exaggerated but are often a reality for millions of our fellow citizens.
The noble Baroness, Lady Massey, the noble Lord, Lord Corbett, and my noble friend Lady Walmsley emphasised the importance of a sense of community and organic, bottom-up self-help as the real antidote 1143 to anti-social behaviour. A great deal of anti-social behaviour is somewhat illusive, transitory and quick, and it is difficult to get the authorities to react to it.
I want to refer to the problem of discretionary law, which is not only a problem in this Bill. Others have referred to the lack of definition of the offence, but I want to look at the problem a little more widely. One of the problems with the use of anti-social laws is that they are apt to beget an anti-social reaction. Powers are so widely drawn under the Bill, and they give such wide discretion to authorities, that any exercise of them will almost inevitably be seen by the person against whom they are exercised as subjective, even as vindictive, especially as the people against whom they are exercised already often see themselves as victims. And they often are victims, judging by the statistics quoted by my noble friend Lady Linklater, which are worth repeating. She told the House that 60 per cent of those subject to anti-social behaviour orders; 60 per cent of those excluded from secondary schools; and 90 per cent of those having problems at primary schools have strong indicia of disadvantage and problem.
Resentment is also being created by a sense of being arbitrarily targeted. That is a big problem for the Bill and for much of the legislation we have passed even in my time here. "Why pick on me?", is what people ask. If the conduct for which they are being prosecuted is commonplace, and often it is, and if it has been ignored for weeks or months in the locality in which they live, the sense of victimisation when they are picked up and prosecuted will be easily inflamed and beget not contrition but its reverse.
The noble Baroness, Lady Massey, talked of the revolving door of the custodial system. Many people would describe it as a "revolting" door, because of its feeble rehabilitative context and for the attitudes that it begets, as I have tried briefly to touch upon. What do I mean by this "discretionary" legislation? Others have touched upon it, so perhaps I may look at Clause 13. When I came into this House, we were debating the Crime and Disorder Bill 1998. The noble Lord, Lord Bassam, will remember what a pain I was in complaining about the wide definition of causing harassment, alarm or distress. A number of us warned the Government that that would be a difficult measure to carry home in the courts, and so it has been. Yet in this Bill, we are talking about causing annoyance to someone—annoyance to another tenant or occupier of the block of flats where one lives. If annoyance were the test of being excluded from one's residence, I would not have survived any single year of my upbringing.
It is a hopelessly feeble test. It is feeble because the police will not know how to react in relation to it; and feeble because the magistrates will be reluctant to apply the measure, just as they have been over ASBOs. I remind the House that only 1,100 anti-social behaviour orders have been made since the legislation came into effect four years ago. That represents fewer than one ASBO per court per year, which says a great deal about this kind of legislation.
1144 Perhaps in relation to the discretionary law, I may instance what happened to me yesterday. As I was walking out of Charing Cross Underground into the little linear path nearby, which noble Lords will know, there was a young adult urinating quite openly against the gates leading into the park. I made the remark, "That's going to leave a nasty smell.", and he said, "Fuck you.". I am sorry to use the word in this House, but it happens to be the commonest single word in the vocabulary of that age group, I fear. That was his response. I believe that he said it, first, out of shock that anyone should even take note of the act and, secondly, out of a kind of indignation that anyone should interfere with what he undoubtedly considered to be a perfectly reasonable and proper act. Therefore, I must confess to a certain disappointment that, yet again, we are in the process of deluding ourselves and the public that we shall achieve anything in a measure covering 63 pages of new law relating to anti-social behaviour. But I would love to think that we might.
One thing that the Government might contemplate is extending the recently established Anti-social Behaviour Unit into every district council and every city. I do not believe there is any reason why we should not have a small unit in every council. I accept the Government's proposition, which was mentioned, in particular, by the noble Lord, Lord Corbett. The noble Lord has experience of another place and I defer to the other House in this matter. The Members there have surgeries where, week by week, they speak to people who are the victims of such behaviour. I accept that and take it utterly seriously. But I believe that, in practical terms, if each local government area had the duty to run a small unit—even to elect someone to run it and act as a focus or a co-ordinator between the police, the local authority, probation officers, schools and social workers—then conceivably we might get something done effectively. That is what we all want.
I hope that the burden that this legislation will place on the police, who are already bowed down with paperwork, and on the justices of the peace, who have the difficult task of enforcing the legislation, will be smaller than I expect it to be.
Finally, can we not sometimes use some of the legislation that stood us in such good stead for such a long time but which seems, in some modern police authorities, to be thought of as almost antique and therefore unusable? I refer, for example, to binding over. That measure has been hugely useful, practical, easy and unbureaucratic in controlling minor acts of anti-social behaviour since 1361 and in keeping the peace. I wish the Bill Godspeed but hope for little from it.
§ 2.22 p.m.
§ Lord Dholakia
My Lords, we now come to the concluding part of the debate. Like the Minister, I too had the Friday feeling, but it soon evaporated. What a relief it is to reach the end of a week in which we have had three days of the Criminal Justice Bill followed by one day of the Anti-social Behaviour Bill. I envy the 1145 stamina of the Minister. I hope that she will take note of what has been said here and that we can all work together to improve the contents of the Bill.
I enjoyed the contributions of those who agree with the Bill as much as I did those of noble Lords who have serious concerns about certain aspects of the legislation. I look forward to the contribution from the Bishops' Bench at some stage—particularly in Committee—because I believe that the Bishops are very much in the front line in their activities with young people across the country, and their input would be very helpful. I hope that the Bishops will take note of this comment when they read Hansard.
I also want to say how delighted I was with the news from the noble Baroness, Lady Gardner of Parkes, about the High Hedges Bill. When I trim my hedge this time, I shall certainly bear in mind the required height, subject to the amendment going through the House.
The Anti-social Behaviour Bill contains an extensive array of new powers directed at a wide range of groups—from noisy neighbours to street beggars, from drug dealers and traffickers to graffiti artists, and from truants and their parents to groups of young people hanging around in the evenings.
The Bill has received the scrutiny of the Delegated Powers Committee. It would be helpful to have written observations from the Minister, particularly on paragraphs 8, 10 and 11 of the committee's report. This is not the place to consider detailed issues reflected in the report of the Joint Committee on Human Rights, but we shall raise those matters in Committee.
I do not doubt for a moment the need to provide a legislative framework for issues that confront our society when all other means are either inadequate or have failed. I also accept that in certain instances the Bill will deal with fairly low-level crimes. But we must pause from time to time to consider the outcome of statutes that have already been introduced. We must consider their effect on crime hut, more fundamentally, on our prison population—a point well made by the noble Earl, Lord Listowel.
In her opening speech, the Minister mentioned that crime has fallen. We should remind ourselves that, despite that, the prison population has risen drastically since the Government came to power. That is a worrying trend. That is why I plead that all legislation should be examined for its impact on the prison population. More than 73,000 people are incarcerated; more than 65 per cent of those in prison reoffend within two years; and all but about 30 will leave prison at some stage. That places a heavy responsibility on the Government not simply to consider short-term measures but to produce legislation that will improve people's quality of life by considering issues such as restorative justice, reparation and measures to tackle reoffending. Those are the three "r"s that we should consider with respect to future legislation.
This week, I was glad to receive a copy of the talk given by David Faulkner at a National Association for the Care and Resettlement of Offenders conference. I 1146 declare an interest because I chair that organisation. He was at one time a senior civil servant at the Home Office. He said:Statutory measures which unnecessarily complicate the criminal justice process, introduce compulsory requirements, or narrowly restrict the courts' flexibility or discretion, are themselves likely to create anomalies, inconsistencies and, ultimately, injustice … The outcomes to be achieved by any legislation on criminal justice will depend as much on the spirit and the climate in which it is put into effect as they will on the actual contents of the statute. Critical factors in sentencing include the intentions, outlook and judgement of sentence's and other practitioners, the dynamics of the criminal justice process as a whole, external factors such as the influence of the media and the political leadership of Ministers".
Those are wise words. They apply as much to the Criminal Justice Bill as they do to the Anti-social Behaviour Bill. We therefore need repeatedly to question what is necessary and appropriate. That point was well reflected in what many noble Lords from this side of the House said.
Some of the measures are constructive, well thought-out and welcome—for example, extending restrictions on the ownership and carrying of weapons and the banning of airguns, which can be readily converted to fire live ammunition. That must be tackled, and will help to combat the gun culture that has blighted the lives of all too many families in deprived inner-city areas and has tragically and disproportionately taken the lives of all too many young black people.
Giving courts powers to make fostering a requirement of a supervision order in cases where a custodial sentence would otherwise have been passed will provide a constructive and preferable alternative for young offenders which is far more likely to steer them away from reoffending than is custody. However, as my noble friend Lady Walmsley asked, is there sufficient provision for fostering young people? Parenting contracts have the potential to work well in cases where parental co-operation is vital to reinforce the work of schools and other agencies with young people but where parents themselves need support and help to exercise more effective control over their children's behaviour.
Other measures in the Bill are likely to damage rather than assist steps to combat anti-social behaviour. The proposal to extend courts' ability to publicise the names and details of children made subject to anti-social behaviour orders is wholly misguided. It would seriously hinder the rehabilitation of young offenders. In many cases, it would increase the degree of attention and status arising from bad behaviour in which some young people revel and which simply leads to more of the same behaviour.
The new powers for police to move on two or more people from a locality hold serious dangers. That point has been reflected by several noble Lords. Anyone who knows the history of the use of "sus" powers and stop-and-search powers will know the real risk of their discriminatory use and the risk that they will lead to disproportionate harassment of groups of young people from racial minorities. That is likely to reduce still further 1147 trust between the police and young people, with damaging results for ethnic minorities' confidence in the criminal justice system.
There is already an adversarial relationship between the police and black and Asian young people. Why add to it? Police have extensive powers, some of them never used, without adding further legislative measures. I often hear colleagues say, "If I see a group of black or Asian people on one side of the road, I cross over and walk on the other side". What we want clearly to demonstrate is the stereotyping of young people and people's fear of crime. Those are the issues that we must tackle. However, equally, we must ensure that the powers that we vest in our police are not used to an extent that criminalises certain sections of minority communities.
The Bill's proposal to extend the use of fixed penalties also contains some serious flaws. The recent pilot experiments in selected areas with a greater use of fixed penalties have shown that they can be a sensible way of dealing with some low-level offences and of keeping minor offenders out of court so that they do not incur a criminal record. However, it makes much less sense to extend fixed penalties to 16 and 17 year-olds, many of whom may find that they cannot pay. In practice, it will often be a fine on parents. In other cases, the Bill allows fixed penalty notices to be imposed on parents whose children play truant from school. That would be unfair on parents who have tried their best, but failed, to control and discipline their children. In other cases, it will increase resentment and friction between parents and children, damage family relationships and increase rather than reduce the chances of further misbehaviour.
Overall, the Bill is unbalanced. It reflects the Government's obsession with enforcement, control and punishment as a response to crime and anti-social behaviour. There is abundant evidence that a balanced approach with a greater emphasis on prevention, rehabilitation and education would be far more effective than the excessively negative and punitive approach taken by the Bill. Home Office research into anti-social behaviour orders has shown that in 60 per cent of cases there are mitigating factors involved in the offender's behaviour, including drug and alcohol problems, learning difficulties and school exclusion. The Audit Commission has found that 90 per cent of permanent exclusions from primary schools and 60 per cent of those from secondary schools are of children with special needs. People who behave in an anti-social manner often do so as a result of factors such as drugs, alcohol, family conflict or mental health problems.
As a joint statement by the Local Government Association and 12 other national organisations, published on 8th April, put it:both the white paper and in particular the bill, still place an undue emphasis on enforcement. Whilst enforcement measures have a role to play they make little, if any, contribution towards tackling the root causes of anti-social behaviour … The Government needs to give more emphasis to prevention and to working with local communities to tackle the social conditions that give rise to much anti-social behaviour".
1148 Let us hope that we can put right some of the shortcomings identified by noble Lords in this debate. But, more importantly, how do we encompass the ideals of a civic society and citizenship away from the legislative framework, which we often see as a panacea for all our ills?
§ 2.35 p.m.
§ Lord Dixon-Smith
My Lords, I begin by welcoming the Minister and thanking her for the very helpful, commendably brief but extremely clear exposition of the content of the Bill and its purposes with which she opened the debate. It has been enormously helpful in providing a framework on which everybody has been able to hang their remarks. I was also very pleased to hear her say that she would approach the detail of the Bill with some flexibility in its later stages.
I also thank all noble Lords who have contributed to the debate. Everybody has spoken with the immense benefit of their own background, experience and knowledge and each has brought a different perspective to a common problem. The debate will make interesting reading for anyone who is interested in, and cares about, the subject.
Anti-social behaviour per se consists mainly of little things, but little things can be cumulative in their effect and can be irritating and destructive to community life if they are allowed to persist for too long.
The noble Baroness, Lady Dean of Thornton-le-Fylde, was concerned about the negative approach that appeared to be emerging from the tone of the debate. In my reading of what has been said, that is not the intention, but this is what I choose to call an "apple pie Bill". We all like apple pie, but there is endless scope for debate about the precise proportions of apple, about how much sugar to use, whether to use ginger or cloves and how to make the pastry. That is the nature of this debate. The principle of the Bill has not been significantly attacked by anyone here.
Be that as it may, the presence of the Bill is a little unfortunate. Its existence is an acknowledgement by the Government of the concern about anti-social behaviour and a desire to do something about it—both of which are laudable. However, it is also an acknowledgement that the 15 Bills mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, that precede this one and deal with various aspects of crime and disorder have so far failed. Therefore, we are trying again.
Anti-social behaviour means different things to different people. We all have our own definition. We therefore have a problem. I do not know how many noble Lords are present today, but if we all wrote down our definitions there would be common factors in what we wrote, but each definition would be different. That is a problem.
Paradoxically, or unsurprisingly, there is a definition of anti-social behaviour in the Bill on page 10, which deals with an application to the courts for an anti-social behaviour injunction. We find that:This section applies to conduct … which is capable of causing nuisance or annoyance to any person".1149 Further down page 10, in lines 18 to 28, we find:The second condition is that the conduct is capable of causing nuisance or annoyance to any of the following—a person residing in … the accommodation … a person visiting the … accommodation … or … engaged in lawful activity in … the locality … a person employed in … connection with … the property.Finally, it says:It is immaterial where conduct to which this section applies occurs".That goes far too wide. I can imagine that some people might find it irritating and annoying that somebody should come to the House to complain to their MP about the actions of their housing authority. That might well upset somebody in the housing authority.
I extrapolate outrageously—I freely admit that—but we are protected in this country because the words refer to an application that must be made to our courts. I am told by those who know the law better than I that the courts are used to dealing with questions of nuisance. Annoyance is not, perhaps, so well defined in law, but there are pages of judgments on nuisance. We are protected and, my golly, we are lucky. Imagine those words in legislation in a nation with a different culture and a different jurisdiction. Imagine the abuse that could occur. We must do something to tighten up that definition.
Like the noble Lord, Lord Phillips of Sudbury, I am not so perfect that I have never annoyed anybody or caused nuisance to anybody. Nor am I so tolerant that I can say that I have never been annoyed or felt that somebody had caused me trouble. We must think seriously about this. The words in the Bill are straight out of George Orwell's 1984. As has already been said, it is also worth noting that that aspect of the Bill was picked up by the Joint Committee on Human Rights in its report.
We must remember that the purpose of the part of the Bill that deals with housing and security of tenure is to coerce—I think that that is the word—people into conforming with and behaving according to standards that are acceptable to society. There is a technical problem with that. I am told by those who are in a position to know that, if someone goes to court to get a normal protected tenancy converted into a demoted tenancy, a new tenancy agreement is, in effect, required, as it is a major variation in the tenancy agreement. There are considerable legal problems with that, not the least of which is what one does if the tenant to whom the punishment or coercive act is applied refuses to sign the new agreement. Is he then a squatter? Does one apply immediately for eviction, which is not the intention of the Bill? Worse, there will be carry-over of rent, if there is any time remaining for which rent has been paid. Should the landlord keep it? If he does, he acknowledges, by definition, the continuation and existence of a further tenancy, even though no document has been signed. There are technical problems with that part of the Bill, and they require some study. We need to think very carefully about those when we reach further stages of the Bill.
1150 When going through with the procedure of eviction, there is also the paradox of what happens to the evicted person or family. Is the local authority obliged to rehouse them? It can refuse to rehouse them; it has that right. The local authority can say that they inflicted the homelessness on themselves. Then what happens to them? Should they be put into bed-and-breakfast accommodation, which would immediately inflate the whole cost of the problem? The remedies here are as bad as the disease in many ways, if one can put it that way. Again, we need to treat this matter with a great deal of care.
As has been said by many noble Lords, it is not simply a problem of the awkward diversity of mankind with all its variations and differences. We are dealing with deep behavioural problems, problems of social inadequacy and all too often—also mentioned—problems which are what one might call the secondary results of particular forms of health or mental difficulty.
We must be sure, and very sure, that all those aspects are properly understood and taken into account by what must be a multi-agency approach, which is, again, a factor well covered today. We are talking not just about those who are involved in housing; we are talking about social service authorities, education authorities, those who are responsible for the youth service, sporting facilities, the probation service, the police, voluntary agencies, such as Shelter, and so forth. All those bodies are involved. For there to be a solution they all have to be involved. We must not lose sight of that.
My final point is that the solution must be adequately resourced. I can pay one tribute to the Government in this matter; they are being very generous in the way they spend our money on the provision of public services. But the fact is that we all have considerable doubts as to whether the benefit coming from that increased expenditure in any way matches the increase in expenditure. There is far too much evidence that it does not. The additional resources in themselves are not a solution; it is the management of those resources that really matters to a community. However, we are fortunate that the vast majority of people are responsible.
Clause 30 of Part 4 concerns,Dispersal of groups and removal of persons under 16 to their place of residence".That causes me a certain amount of concern and wry amusement. The noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, expressed considerable concern about the wording of Clause 30, which is, of course, subject to Clause 31. It means that someone cannot just say that he does not like the sight of two kids on the corner of a street and march them off. It has to be in a designated area; there has to have been consultation with the local authority; and there has to have been publication of the fact that there was going to be this possibility of action in a particular area.
I turn to Clause 30(6) which illustrates why we must be careful about this Bill, which refers to,between the hours of 9pm and 6am".It is amusing that the Joint Committee on Human Rights read it the wrong way around as "between 9 a.m. and 6 p.m.". But that is neither here nor there. 1151 If a constable finds a person under 16 years of age not under the control, really, of a parent or a responsible 18 year-old,he may remove the person to the person's place of residence".I find myself wondering how he is going to do that. There are no sanctions provided. If the constable tries to grip the child or teenager by the ear and take him off, he will probably—and rightly—be done for assault. Section 32(4) states that:Where the power under section 30(6) is exercised, any local authority whose area includes the whole or part of the relevant locality must be notified of that fact".That is the only sanction or control provided that is supposed to enable a constable to remove a child to his place of residence, wherever that may be. In purely practical terms, a constable will have better things to do. I find this part of the Bill very odd.
Another aspect of the Bill that has been mentioned but which, again, causes me some concern is the question of the ages at which people may do certain things. Currently, at the age of 16, it is possible to leave education, enter full-time employment, to smoke, to join the Armed Forces and pay income tax and national insurance on earnings, while a t the age of 17 a person can own and drive a car or light motorcycle. However, under the terms of the Bill, a person cannot buy an aerosol spray can of paint. The Government have talked about lowering the voting age to 16 years. Are they really serious about making it an offence to sell aerosol spray cans of paint to anyone under the age of 18 years? I find that most peculiar.
I follow the sentiment of the noble Lord, Lord Phillips of Sudbury, in saying that this Bill is really not welcome. That does mean that we do not support it or that it should not have been introduced, but we cannot welcome it. We should not need to welcome it, but while perforce we support it in principle because, as I have said, it is an apple pie Bill, we shall have to work hard to improve it as it progresses through the remainder of its parliamentary process in this Chamber.
§ 2.52 p.m.
§ Baroness Scotland of Asthal
My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have spoken, and in particular I thank those who have paid me warm and quite undeserved compliments on my stamina. However, I accept the understanding indicated by those comments.
I say to the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, that I am absolutely certain that by the time the Bill leaves this House it will be in apple pie order, full of flavour and easily digestible. I have been encouraged by our debate. I know that many concerns have been expressed, in particular those highlighted by the noble Baronesses, Lady Linklater and Lady Walmsley, supported so fulsomely by the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont of Whitley. I say straightaway that I understand those concerns, but I think that my noble friends Lady Massey and Lady Dean had it right in terms of the tone. I say that because these are instruments which the Government have created because it was necessary to do so in order that they could be used in the last resort.
1152 My noble friend Lady Dean has an enormous wealth of experience in dealing with these very difficult issues where a balance must be struck between the needs of the community—sometimes representing thousands of people—whose enjoyment of their community is held to ransom by the few.
I also very much endorse what was said by the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia. We agree with passion with restoration, rehabilitation and reparation. In the structure we have created—and we have to look at the Bill in terms of structure and tools—we have provided an opportunity for intervention and alternatives for those who behave in an anti-social way so that the ultimate tool can be avoided. That is why my noble friend Lady Dean was absolutely right to say that a demoted tenancy can be used as an alternative to an eviction. If you were to ask a family who are in difficulties which they would prefer, I am left in no doubt that the great majority would take advantage of the demoted tenancy. As my noble friend said, it gives us a huge opportunity to work with those families.
We should take courage and comfort from what was said by my noble friend Lord Corbett. As did my noble friend Lady Dean, he gave a graphic example of how, when the tools are put into the hands of the community, they can really change lives and restore to that community its sense of sanctity and dignity.
I have been given very strict instructions by the Chief Whip of this House that I have only 20 minutes in which to reply. As your Lordships may see, I have the ability to reply to each and every point raised. I note from the mood of the House that noble Lords would prefer me not to do so. Therefore, I will try to be brisk but I hope no noble Lord would think me discourteous if I do not deal in detail with each and every item that they have, quite justly, raised. However, I will pick up a few thematic issues which were raised by a number of noble Lords.
The noble Baronesses, Lady Walmsley, Lady Linklater, Lady Hamwee and Lady Sharp, all raised questions about children, as did my noble friend Lady Thornton, whom I commend on her most valiant support of what we have done. Our approach to tackling anti-social behaviour in young people is multi-faceted. It provides a mixture of support and sanction, and works with the young people in the context of their family, school and community. The range of remedies is designed to be as flexible as possible so that a different combination of tools may be appropriate for different families.
I agree that these measures will be successful only as part of a coherent, multi-agency approach with children and families in the long term. These measures build on existing programmes that intervene and support children who are engaged in anti-social behaviour. We want to create really good, positive incentives for good behaviour through innovative schemes such as the Connexions Card. Young people can earn points for voluntary and learning activity, which can be exchanged for "money can't buy" opportunities. We want to support positive role models, developing citizenship and positive attitudes to society.
1153 In addition, a large number of schemes are available across the country to provide diversionary activities to reduce anti-social behaviour among young people. This includes the Positive Activities for Young People fund, which pulls together, under one initiative, a range of funding to provide year-round activities for young people. Some £25 million is available for 2003. I very much thank the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, for what he said about what the Government are doing. I very much endorse what he said about the need for families to become involved and the real importance of fathers. I reassure the noble Lord that we believe that children need both sexes to care for them, if they are to be well-rounded, whether those relationships are to be within or without marriage.
Schools, local authorities and youth offending teams already do a lot of work in partnership with parents to improve young people's behaviour. The package in the Bill is about supporting parental responsibility, allowing parents to build their skills so that they can respond more effectively to challenging adolescents' demands. We wish to engage parents on a voluntary basis, and there is scope for that. However, if and when the parent shows resistance, it must be possible, if we are to try to break the cycle, to impose a parenting order.
I reassure noble Lords that I have heard of a number of anecdotal instances of parents being very resentful of and resistant to the imposition of the parenting order. As it progressed and they understood the value and engaged in the process, they expressed gratitude for the fact that they had been encouraged to engage in the process and went on to persuade others to do it on a voluntary basis. That does not take anything away from the arguments of those such as the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, who says that voluntary interaction is much better. Of course it is, but when one cannot get someone to volunteer, sometimes we have to volunteer for them.
My noble friend Lord Wedderburn and the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, raised the issue of fixed penalty notices. We expect most fixed penalty notices for truancy to be issued by local authority education welfare officers, who also organise prosecutions for truancy. We believe that it is right to give head teachers and assistant head teachers, authorised by them, the power to do so. The decision whether to issue a penalty notice in an individual case will involve the making of a professional judgment, which we believe can be appropriately exercised by the senior management.
Of course, I hear what the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, said, echoed by the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley. We are not seeking somehow to suborn the judgment of the teachers, but there are teachers who take the view that it might be one of the tools that they would like in their toolkit, even if they never use it. The threat of sanctions sometimes gives just that little bit of encouragement to make those people who are non-compliant comply. This is all about discretion. Like others who have spoken on the issue, I have confidence 1154 in the quality of our head teachers and the ability of teachers to exercise that discretion judiciously, appropriately and only when necessarily.
Several noble Lords raised the issue of dispersal of groups. We do not agree that the powers under Part 4 will be disproportionate. Where there is a history of significant and ongoing anti-social behaviour, the powers will give the police a flexible tool to deal with the problem. We recognise the importance of police using new powers fairly and appropriately, and we believe that Part 4 contains sufficient safeguards to ensure such a designation of areas for the power and the requirement to consult local authorities.
We agree that the officer who makes an authorisation, and the constable or community support officer who exercises the power to disperse the group will need guidance before using the powers provided for in Part 4. Clause 34 provides the Secretary of State with the power to issue a code of practice.
I have already referred to the issue of housing, which my noble friend Lady Dean of Thornton-le-Fylde spoke about. The most effective intervention is early involvement from a wide range of local agencies, such as police, social landlords, neighbourhood wardens, youth offending teams, schools, health workers, social workers, community development workers and probation officers. It is right that tenants should expect to live their lives peacefully without fear or intimidation, as my noble friend indicated. It is right that social landlords should have the power both to protect their tenants and to take action against their tenants when they are the perpetrators of anti-social behaviour.
I think that the noble Lords, Lord Clement-Jones and Lord Addington, raised a very important issue about children who are vulnerable. The Disability Discrimination Act 1995 applies to education. Local education authorities and school governing bodies will have to be mindful of their responsibilities under that legislation as they exercise powers under this Bill. The most recent guidance on exclusion makes it clear that schools should be very slow to exclude pupils with special educational needs and reminds schools of their legal duty not to discriminate on the grounds of disability.
The noble Lord, Lord Addington, raised the issue of anti-social behaviour orders and what will happen. Judges will continue to consider all relevant factors when considering a possession case. So a tenant who is aware of his behaviour and its effect but continues to behave anti-socially will be treated differently from someone who is not fully able to control his behaviour because of a disability. However, even when someone is not able to control his behaviour, if the impact of that behaviour is such that it affects the health and safety of those around him, judges are more likely to grant possession.
We would expect social landlords to consider the needs of their tenants; that is, to consider disability issues when allocating the property in the first place, ensuring that disabled tenants receive appropriate 1155 support. We expect eviction to be the very last resort. If the landlord is aware that a tenant whom they are evicting has a disability, should also ensure that they are given adequate support during the eviction process and assistance in finding appropriate alternative accommodation.
The noble Earl, Lord Shrewsbury, was the first to speak on issues in relation to airguns. Although I think he was the only noble Lord to speak on those issues, I shall nevertheless seek to reply. The Government have been considering those issues very carefully. Our consideration included the recommendations of the Select Committee in another place which—in April 2000, under the chairmanship of the noble Lord, Lord Corbett—produced a report on control of firearms. We have decided that the measures currently before the House represent the best way of tackling the problems of misuse. Licensing air weapons would be a disproportionate and costly reaction to the problem.
As the noble Earl indicated, there are huge numbers of air weapons in circulation; estimates range from 4 million to 7 million. The vast majority of owners, as he indicated, are law abiding. During the passage of this Bill, the Government listened to concerns raised in another place about the effect that these provisions could have on rural communities. We therefore tabled amendments that created an exception to the general requirement for supervision. That exception relates to young people aged 14 to 16 inclusive when they are on private premises provided they have the consent of the occupier.
However, I am afraid that we are not persuaded that yet another exception is justified. We do not think it unreasonable to expect a parent or other adult to supervise a young shooter when he is neither at a club nor on private premises. We believe that we have struck a fair balance in crafting these provisions between protecting the public and safeguarding the interests of existing owners.
The noble Lord, Lord Phillips, made some rather ungenerous comments. He started by giving us an injunction that we must behave and speak in comity, but then—somewhat, some would say, like certain members of the profession—disregarded his own strictures.
I remind the noble Lord that police numbers are 2,445 more than they were in March 1997, and rising. There are 129,600 at present and we are on course to have 132,500 by 2004. Community support officers began to be recruited in September 2002. There are now 1,354 CSOs and we are on target to reach 4,000 by the end of' 2005. I think that that is a very credible contribution to have made.
1156 I have already referred to the Parenting Fund. Some £25 million will be provided over three years to develop better parenting support through the voluntary sector. Just in case noble Lords are not spinning enough from figures, we are devoting £391 million that did not exist before 1997 to the Youth Justice Board and the Youth Inclusion Programme. Through the Department for Education and Skills some £460 million is being spent in 2003–04 on providing effective advice and support to 13 to 19 year-olds through the Connexions service which is now operational in all 47 Connexions partnerships across England. They are doing a splendid job. We are very proud of the work that has been undertaken by Connexions and we invite the House, when looking at what we are doing, to see it very much in the context of everything else that goes with it.
The noble Lord, Lord Wedderburn, touched on the issue of travellers and the sites that may be available to them. We recognise that there is a need to create more authorised sites across the country. Our research conducted by Birmingham University confirmed that. We are currently looking at ways in which to develop a policy that will lead to an increase in that provision.
I cannot leave this debate without turning to the vibrant issue that was raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Gardner of Parkes. I commend her wily success in relation to crafting a provision which can come within the ambit of the Bill. I very much look forward to addressing her issue when we discuss it more fully in Committee.
It has been said that we have done much but there is still much to do. I wholeheartedly endorse that. This Bill is a very necessary addition, contrary to what the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, said. A huge number of people in this country are desperate to have this vital tool in their toolkit so they can make a difference.
§ Lord Dixon-Smith
My Lords, I not think I said that the Bill was unnecessary. I may have said that it was not desirable. "Unwelcome" was the word that I believe I used.
§ Baroness Scotland of Asthal
My Lords, I stand corrected if that is right but I say that the Bill is desirable and that it is very, very welcome to those who suffer from the anti-social activities of others. I have spoken for 20 minutes.
On Question, Bill read a second time and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.
§ House adjourned at fourteen minutes past three o'clock to Monday 8th September at half-past two o'clock.