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

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 10:46 pm on 29th October 2013.

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Photo of Lord Rosser Lord Rosser Shadow Spokesperson (Defence), Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs), Shadow Spokesperson (Transport) 10:46 pm, 29th October 2013

My Lords, this has been a lengthy but interesting debate in which there have been many powerful contributions based on direct first-hand knowledge and experience of specific issues and areas which the Bill seeks to address, not least from the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, in his considered and eloquent maiden speech. We wait with interest to hear on a later occasion, as indicated by the noble Lord, which aspects of the Bill he regards with less enthusiasm.

During this debate, many doubts and reservations have been raised about specific aspects of the Bill, and these will no doubt be pursued in Committee and on Report. The Bill is either wide-ranging or a dog’s breakfast, depending on one’s overall view of it. The Government have tried to give this possible Pandora’s box of a Bill a theme in a bid to generate an appearance of cohesion to their proposals. That theme appears to be putting victims first. That can certainly be an objective, but surely the overriding purpose of a Bill such as this should be to reduce the number of victims.

There is much in the Bill that we support. We support the new criminal offence for possessing a firearm with intent to supply. We support the initiative on a new College of Policing, which will afford an opportunity to provide training and to set standards. We also support in principle the police pay and negotiation proposals and the Police Remuneration Review Body. The Minister referred to the Armed Forces Pay Review Body as a favourable comparison. Interestingly and perhaps wisely, he did not quote the body for the Commons, IPSA, as being in that category as well. We support extending the powers of the Independent Police Complaints Commission to oversight of private contractors and staff employed by police authorities—a measure proposed by the Opposition last year.

The measures on forced marriage have cross-party support. We also welcome the measures on sexual harm prevention notices, although there will be issues that need to be discussed regarding the detail.

We support giving immigration officers some additional powers in the light of the nature of terrorism that we have at the moment, but once again the detail of how and in what circumstances the proposed measures will be implemented, their nature and how far they go will need to be considered carefully.

We support the principle of community remedy under Part 6. We strongly believe that restorative justice and community resolutions should be used when dealing with anti-social behaviour, although the Government will need to be rather clearer about exactly what they intend should happen in practice and what resources are going to be made available.

We will want to look at the proposed changes in the powers of police community support officers. That applies as well to the changes for police and crime commissioners, for whom the Bill seems to be trying to provide additional work. We will look at the clauses on witness protection measures and victim services but we, like others in your Lordships’ House, have concerns about their fragmentation through commissioning by police commissioners and the impact that that will have on national commissioning and standards.

We welcome the measures against dog attacks in the home. However, on dog control notices, there is the significant question of whether the measures in the Bill are sufficient to address the problem with which we are faced. The Government say that they are, but the Committee in the other place described the proposals as “woefully inadequate”. Dog control notices would ensure the muzzling of dogs in places which the public access, the neutering of dogs and the owner and dog having to attend and complete training courses.

I suspect that a considerable amount of time will be taken discussing the anti-social behaviour proposals. We all deplore anti-social behaviour and the impact that it can have. However, we do not regard the proposed changes to the anti-social behaviour order regime or the developments on the injunctions to prevent nuisance and annoyance—IPNAs—as helpful or a forward move. The Government assert but have yet to produce the hard evidence that anti-social behaviour orders have not been an effective solution and claim, once again without hard evidence, that the lack of criminal sanction in future under this Bill will not weaken but rather strengthen the ability to tackle anti-social behaviour. It was, after all, the Minister who told us in his opening speech that crime had been falling—falling, he could have added, each year since ASBOs were introduced.

We will need to look at what will be regarded as behaviour capable of causing nuisance or annoyance. Some people seem to find the decisions of a referee at a football match annoying, and it is not unknown for some landowners to regard walkers on a footpath through one of their fields as a nuisance. I assume that the Government will say that at least the first example is a ridiculous one and would not come within the terms of the wording in the Bill. But I am not so sure about the Government’s view on the second example and that those responsible will interpret the wording in the Bill and the associated guidance in a sensible manner.

Different people will interpret generalised or ambiguous wording in a different way. There does seem to be a clear message being given by the change in the criteria from behaviour causing, or being likely to cause, harassment, alarm or distress, as at present for an anti-social behaviour order, to behaviour causing nuisance or annoyance for the new IPNA, and in the change in the burden of proof from beyond reasonable doubt to balance of probabilities. That message is surely that the Government want much more behaviour—some would say including normal behaviour of many young people—to be liable to be caught under the terms of the IPNA with a much lower threshold necessary to establish and prove the case. That is a message that could result in IPNAs being issued, metaphorically speaking, like confetti for little or no meaningful effect.

We will also want to be clear about the possible consequences of a breach of an IPNA. I appreciate that the Government made some amendments on Report in the Commons, which mean that the ability to exclude a person from his or her own home will be available across all tenures and not just to the social housing sector. I am not sure that this principle applies in other circumstances. It appears that for those living in rented housing a breach of an IPNA could result in eviction. If that is the case, could the situation then arise that a family in rented housing could be evicted following a breach of an IPNA by one member of the family on the basis that the conduct of that individual was making life intolerable for nearby neighbours living in owner-occupied property, but that if a family next door who owned their own home also had one member of the family who had breached an IPNA, and the conduct of that individual was making life intolerable for nearby neighbours living in rented housing, they would not be evicted? Perhaps the Minister could say whether that could or could not be the case under the breach of an IPNA clause in the Bill. If it could happen, could he say whether the Government do or do not believe that these clauses potentially treat some sections of the community rather differently from others for the same offence? The same issue would appear to arise in connection with possible eviction for those in rented housing who have been convicted of an offence at and during a riot, wherever that involvement might have taken place. The Government say they want to put resources into sorting out the problems that overwhelm so-called problem families. I am not sure that that objective will be assisted if the ultimate effect of the IPNA proposals in this Bill proves to be that more such families end up on the streets.

We have received from the Government a copy of the draft guidance for front-line professionals on the proposed reforms of anti-social behaviour powers in this Bill. It is 65 pages long and, in places at least, appears to be strong on verbiage and weak on clarity. It bears all the hallmarks of having being written by a committee lacking unanimity of view. However, at this stage, I am willing to accept that during the passage of this Bill the Minister may be able to convince us all that this is a document free of ambiguity and in essence is not so ambiguous that it basically hands over to others the job of trying to interpret what this Bill actually means.

I may have misunderstood, for example, the wording on injunctions to prevent nuisance and annoyance. If I have I am sure the Minister will put me right. I would hate to think that he is as uncertain as I am about the exact meaning of parts of this Bill, since this Bill is his baby. Page 24 states:

“Anyone seeking to apply for an IPNA must have evidence … that the respondent has engaged in, or is threatening to engage in, conduct capable of causing nuisance or annoyance to another person. They will also need to satisfy the court that it is just and convenient to grant the injunction”.

Later, the same page states that,

“in deciding what constitutes ‘nuisance or annoyance’, applicants must be mindful that this route should not”— and “should not” is in bold—

“be used to stop reasonable, trivial or benign behaviours that have not caused, and are not likely to cause, harm to victims or communities”.

If one of the tests that the guidance indicates is that behaviours must have caused or be likely to cause harm to victims or communities, then why does the Bill not refer to causing harm and clearly define it—causing harassment, alarm or distress, for example—rather than simply referring to conduct causing nuisance or annoyance? There is a difference between causing nuisance and annoyance and causing harm. Which is correct: the Home Office Bill, the Home Office guidance or neither? Are the Government simply passing the buck for sorting that out to someone else, whether they be sitting in a court or working outside one?

There are a number of other issues we will want to discuss as the Bill goes through this House. These include measures to tackle covert policing, protection of people from assaults at work, reductions in the potential for gun use and reductions in domestic violence. We will also want to discuss the issue of legal highs and reducing their availability in our communities, and the redefinition of the compensation test for those who have been wrongly convicted.

The important issue of extradition was dealt with in a rush towards the end of the proceedings in the House of Commons. One government MP, lamenting this, said:

“Of course, the House of Lords is stuffed full of experts—lawyers and others who are au fait with the issues—and I am sure that there will be proper scrutiny in the other place”.—[Hansard, Commons, 15/10/13; col. 697.]

That is probably one expectation that we can meet, including whether the proposals are fair and just, will actually deliver the declared objectives and not also have some potential unintended consequences.

The Government’s proposals on anti-social behaviour in particular will need to be backed up by adequate and appropriate resources, both human and financial, if anything is to be achieved. Other proposals will also depend on proper resourcing being provided. Bearing in mind the cuts that have been made in a number of key areas, such as weakening the DNA provisions, reducing CCTV, reducing police numbers, reducing community safety budgets, leaving local authorities financially less able to maintain youth services, and now, it appears, the potential undermining of the

Secured by Design standards, to which my noble friend Lord Harris of Haringey has drawn attention, we will want to find out from the Government as we consider the Bill in detail whether their proposals are simply words or whether the necessary resources and powers will be provided—and, if so, in what form and to what level—to deliver the claimed objectives for the many changes set out in the Bill.