Only a few days to go: We’re raising £25,000 to keep TheyWorkForYou running and make sure people across the UK can hold their elected representatives to account.

Donate to our crowdfunder

Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Bill — Second Reading

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 7:11 pm on 29th October 2013.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Lord Dholakia Lord Dholakia Liberal Democrat 7:11 pm, 29th October 2013

My Lords, let me congratulate my noble friend Lord Paddick on his excellent contribution. He brings with him his vast policing experience and it is right that we will have further contributions from him on these subjects. We also must not forget his experience as a mayoral candidate in London, which brought him into contact with our very diverse communities. A word of polite warning to my noble friend: his experience on the TV programme “I’m a Celebrity… Get Me Out of Here!” no longer applies because he will find that until the House of Lords is reformed he will remain here.

My objective in looking at any proposed legislation is to see what priority is being given to crime prevention in its broadest sense and to diverting young offenders from the criminal justice system. This may sound a soft approach, but we pay little regard to the strictly limited contribution that courts and prisons make in reducing crime. The end product of judicial decision has little impact on the overall pattern of crime. Prisons, to many, are a revolving door and an expensive way to regulate behaviour. Public expectation of prisons to prepare inmates for their eventual release is high, but the ability of prisons to deliver that is fairly limited. Of course, prison confinement is appropriate to those whose offending makes other alternatives unacceptable, but it would solve many problems if we ensured that those sentenced to prison stay there no longer than absolutely necessary. That is my starting point in this debate.

I welcome many of the measures in the Bill, including provisions to improve the law and practice relating to anti-social behaviour, sexual offending, forced marriages, dangerous dogs, policing, and extradition. In common with a number of other noble Lords, I have reservations about some aspects of the Bill, including those relating to victim support and the eviction of families of those engaged in anti-social behaviour. I hope the Government will be prepared to listen to arguments and consider amendments on these points in Committee.

I am pleased to see that the Government propose to abolish the discredited ASBO, which is a crude and thoroughly flawed measure. ASBOs have a high breach rate overall and a particularly high breach rate for young people. One of the central flaws of ASBOs is that their provisions are purely negative. In other words, courts can include provision in an ASBO requiring somebody to refrain from doing something but cannot require somebody to take part in positive activities to provide them with support and rehabilitation. It is true that courts can provide support for a young person by making an individual support order alongside an ASBO, but in practice they do this only in a small fraction of cases. In the absence of support, it is hardly surprising that young people in dysfunctional families with chaotic lifestyles so often end up repeatedly breaching the order.

I therefore welcome the abolition of the ASBO and various related orders, and their replacement by the new injunction to prevent nuisance and annoyance in the criminal behaviour order. I welcome the fact that the injunction will be a civil order and that breach will be treated as a civil matter with a maximum penalty on breach of two years’ imprisonment rather than a criminal conviction and five years’ imprisonment, as is now the case. This was always a draconian penalty for behaviour which was anti-social but did not amount to a criminal offence. The fact that the new injunction is a civil order will avoid unnecessarily criminalising young people for breaching the order, which the current ASBO does.

Although I consider the orders a distinct improvement on the ASBO, I have some reservations about the details—these can be considered in Committee. We should reconsider whether the new injunction should be available for conduct which merely causes nuisance or annoyance rather than the stronger test of harassment, alarm, or distress which applies to the ASBO. I would also like to see a stronger prohibition on the reporting of names of children subject to this proceeding. The naming and shaming of children is almost always counterproductive. It can seriously hinder a child’s rehabilitation. In some cases people react by regarding this notoriety as a badge of honour. Then they try to live up to their reputation by increasingly extreme behaviour to look hard in front of their friends. I would like to see the law include a strong presumption against reporting children’s names in these proceedings.

There is one aspect of the new powers in relation to the anti-social behaviour order which I am unable to support: the provision of the mandatory eviction of whole families because one of the family has breached an injunction to prevent nuisance or annoyance. Courts should have the discretion to order possession when this is appropriate in all circumstances, but the Bill gives the courts very little discretion. This could lead to a large number of families rendered homeless and destitute because one family member has been involved in offending or anti-social behaviour. As homelessness increases the chances of criminal behaviour, this is more likely to increase crime than reduce it.

There are other issues that, again, we need to look at in Committee. For example, there is the provision in the Bill to protect the victims of forced marriage. By making breach of forced marriage protection orders a criminal offence, the Bill will ensure that the police always have the power to arrest those who breach the order. The new offence of inducing someone to leave the United Kingdom and travel to another country to be subject to a forced marriage is another valuable provision, but we all know that changing legal powers is not enough by itself to tackle the problem of forced marriage. Legal change needs to be accompanied by much greater efforts to enable people at risk of forced marriages to seek help in the knowledge that they will receive it. Much more also needs to be done to educate teachers, health workers and other professionals to recognise and act on the signs that someone is at risk of forced marriage if the provisions of the Bill are to have maximum effect.

The Bill includes important provisions to strengthen the power of the Independent Police Complaints Commission. I was delighted to listen to the views expressed by my noble friend Lord Paddick, such as on the extension of the IPCC’s jurisdiction to include complaints against subcontractors. At a time when an increasing number of police functions are outsourced to private contractors, this is an important safeguard. Alongside the strengthening of the IPCC, I am delighted to see that the Bill makes statutory provision for the establishment of a College of Policing, which will help to promote professionalism and standards across the police service.

The Bill includes some important reforms to the powers of the police, and immigration and customs officers to detain travellers at ports and airports under the Terrorism Act in cases where there are no grounds for reasonable suspicion that the person is involved in terrorism. I particularly welcome the reduction of the maximum period of examination in these cases from nine to six hours, the extension of the right to inform other people and consult solicitors, the restriction of the grounds on which strip-searching can take place, and the repeal of the power to seek samples of blood and other body fluids.

I would certainly like to see the Government go further and end the power to detain people without any suspicion. I also favour further safeguards for people detained in these circumstances, including the video and audio recording of these examinations. However, the provisions in the Bill are a valuable move in the right direction and the Government obviously ought to be congratulated on taking this important step.

There is one other area of the Bill that we have failed to mention so far and on which I hope the Government will be prepared to think again: the provision to devolve funding for victim and witness support from central government to police and crime commissioners. At present the Ministry of Justice provides funding to a range of organisations which support victims and witnesses. The central backbone of these services is provided by the excellent organisation Victim Support. The existence of a properly funded national organisation guarantees that high quality support from well-trained volunteers is readily available to victims in all areas of the country. The staff and volunteers are supported by an experienced organisation with 35 years’ experience of providing high quality services to support people who have suffered loss, injury, damage, abuse and distress from crime. It is difficult to see the sense in proposals to break up this high quality service and to leave the provision of victim support provision to the varying decisions and priorities of police and crime commissioners.

In conclusion, I welcome the Bill, which includes many valuable reforms that will improve the quality of justice in many areas of the law. I trust that with a constructive attitude on all sides of the House and openness on the part of the Government, we can work together in Committee to change a good Bill into an even better one.