I remind the Committee that with this we are taking the following: Amendment No. 1, in page 1, line 2, leave out 'three' and insert 'five'.
Amendment No. 10, in page 1, line 3, after 'individual', insert 'permanently'.
Amendment No. 11, in page 1, line 3, after 'individual', insert
'who for more than twelve months has been'.
Amendment No. 4, in page 1, line 4, leave out 'magistrates'.
Amendment No. 2, in page 1, line 4, leave out 'summary'.
Amendment No. 12, in page 1, line 5, after second 'tenant', insert
'and reasonable attempts to offer support and resettlement services have been refused'.
Amendment No. 3, in page 1, line 5, leave out 'Secretary of State may' and insert
'court concerned on the most recent occasion may order the Secretary of State to'.
Amendment No. 13, in page 1, line 8, leave out 'twelve' and insert 'six'.
Amendment No. 15, in page 1, line 8, at end insert
'provided that in the case of a tenant of a registered social landlord the Secretary of State shall first obtain the agreement of the registered social landlord'.
Amendment No. 16, in page 1, line 8, at end insert
'provided that in the case of a tenant of a local authority the Secretary of State shall first obtain the agreement of the local authority'.
Amendment No. 17, in page 1, line 8, at end insert
'provided that in the case of a tenant of a public body the Secretary of State shall first obtain the agreement of the public body and in this section the term public body includes—
(a) a local authority
(b) a registered social landlord
(c) a government department
(d) a police authority and
(e) a health authority or primary care trust'.
Amendment No. 14, in page 1, line 8, at end insert—
'(1A) A local housing authority or a local social services authority may make recommendations to the Secretary of State regarding the withholding of benefit under subsection (1) above and it shall be the duty of the Secretary of State to consider all such recommendations before taking any action under subsection (1)'.
Amendment No. 18, in page 1, line 9, after 'means', insert 'a pattern of consistent'.
Amendment No. 19, in page 1, line 9, after second 'behaviour', insert 'consistently'.
Amendment No. 20, in page 1, line 10, leave out from 'cause' to end and insert
'serious harm, harassment, alarm or distress to others where the behaviour is either linked to the occupation of the home or occurs in the locality of the home'.
Amendment No. 25, in page 1, line 10, leave out 'or' and insert 'and'.
Amendment No. 23, in page 1, line 10, at end add
'and which in the opinion of the Secretary of State cannot better be dealt with in any other way than that specified in this Act'.
Amendment No. 24, in page 1, line 10, at end add
'and which in the opinion of—
(a) the Secretary of State and
(b) the local housing authority and
(c) the local social services authority
cannot better be dealt with in any other way than that specified in this Act'.
Amendment No. 21, in page 1, line 10, at end add—
'(3) For the purposes of subsection (1) the Secretary of State may only withhold any payment of housing benefit if he is satisfied that exceptional hardship will not result for the tenant or any person who resides with them.'.
Amendment No. 22, in page 1, line 10, at end add—
'(3) In paragraph 3 of Schedule 3 to the Social Security Act 1998 (decisions against which an appeal lies), after sub-paragraph (e) there shall be inserted ''; or
(f) section 1 of the Housing Benefit (Withholding of Payment) Act 2002.''.'.
Amendment No. 26, in page 1, line 10, at end add—
'(3) The Secretary of State shall not take any action pursuant to subsection (1) above until he has given any person against whom any such action is intended to be taken a reasonable opportunity to make representations to him or any person appointed by him as to why such action should not be taken.'.
Amendment No. 27, in page 1, line 10, at end add—
'(3) The Secretary of State shall not take any action pursuant to subsection (1) above until he has received the advice of a case conference called for the purpose of considering the proposed action.
(4) For the purposes of this section a case conference is a meeting called by the Secretary of State of all agencies which he considers may be able to offer him guidance and notwithstanding the generality the following persons shall be invited to such a meeting, namely—
(a) a representative of the local housing authority
(b) a representative of the local social services authority
(c) a representative of the local police
(d) the person or persons against whom action is proposed to be taken.'.
Clause stand part.
Amendment No. 28, in clause 2, page 1, line 13, after 'individual', insert 'permanently'.
Amendment No. 29, in clause 2, page 1, line 13, after 'individual', insert 'who for more than twelve months has been'.
New clause 1—Effect on child—
'( ) Before any decision to withhold payment of housing benefit is made regard must be had to the effect of this on the welfare of any children in such a household.'.
New clause 2—Representations—
'( ) In making a decision to withhold payment of housing benefit regard may be had to representations from any person affected by the anti-social behaviour concerned.'.
Government new clause 3—Anti-social behaviour declarations: criminal proceedings
'(1) This section applies where—
(a) on any occasion a person (''the offender'') is convicted of one or more offences by or before a court, but
(b) a custodial sentence of a year or more is not imposed on the offender in respect of the conviction, or any of the convictions.
(2) If it appears to the prosecutor that, by reason of any or all of the conduct giving rise to the conviction or convictions, the offender may have behaved in an anti-social manner, the prosecutor must notify the court to that effect.
(a) the court is notified under subsection (2), and
(b) it is satisfied that, by reason of any or all of the conduct giving rise to the conviction or convictions, the offender has behaved in an anti-social manner,
it must make a declaration that he has so behaved.
(4) A declaration under this section must specify the day on which the conduct in respect of which it is made occurred or, if that conduct occurred on more than one day, the earliest and latest days on which it occurred.
(5) For the purposes of this section, a person has behaved in an anti-social manner if his conduct caused, or was likely to cause, harassment, alarm or distress to one or more persons (not of the same household as himself) residing in, visiting, or otherwise engaged in lawful activity in, the locality of his home.
(6) In this section—
(a) any reference to a conviction includes a conviction in relation to which a court makes an order for a conditional discharge (but not a conviction in relation to which a court makes an order for an absolute discharge), and
(b) ''custodial sentence''—
(i) in relation to England and Wales, has the meaning given in section 76 of the Powers of Criminal Courts (Sentencing) Act 2000 (c.6), and
(ii) in relation to Scotland, means a sentence as defined in section 307(1) of the Criminal Procedure (Scotland) Act 1995 (c.46).
(7) In section 50 of the Criminal Appeal Act 1968 (c.19) (meaning of ''sentence''), in subsection (1), after paragraph (h) insert ''; and
(i) a declaration under section (anti-social behaviour declarations: criminal proceedings) of the Housing Benefit (Withholding of Payment) Act 2002 (anti-social behaviour declarations: criminal proceedings).''
(8) In section 108 of the Magistrates' Courts Act 1980 (c.43) (rights of appeal), at the end of subsection (3) insert ''and a declaration under section (anti-social behaviour declarations: criminal proceedings) of the Housing Benefit (Withholding of Payment) Act 2002 (anti-social behaviour declarations: criminal proceedings).''
(9) For the purposes of any appeal or review, a declaration under this section made by a court in Scotland is a sentence.'.
And the following amendments thereto: (a), leave out subsection (1)(b).
(c), in subsection (2) after ''effect'', insert
'and provide written evidence, including at least a statement from the landlord of the offender.'.
(d), in subsection (3)(b) after ''convictions'', insert
'and by reason of the written evidence it has considered as to the specific anti-social behaviour concerned,'.
(b), in subsection (5), after ''home'', insert
', provided that if a person can show that he acted in self defence or under extreme provocation then his behaviour shall not be deemed to be anti-social'.
Government new clause 4—Anti-social behaviour declarations: civil proceedings—
'(1) This section applies where—
(a) in England and Wales, the High Court, a county court or a magistrates' court, or
(b) in Scotland, the Court of Session or the sheriff, makes a prescribed order in any civil proceedings, other than prescribed proceedings.
(2) Any prescribed party to the proceedings may apply to the court for a declaration that any other prescribed party has behaved in an anti-social manner by reason of any or all of the conduct in respect of which the order is made.
(3) If the court is satisfied on an application under subsection (2) that the person concerned has so behaved it must make a declaration accordingly.
(4) A declaration under this section must specify the day on which the conduct in respect of which it is made occurred or, if that conduct occurred on more than one day, the earliest and latest days on which it occurred.
(5) Subsection (5) of section (anti-social behaviour declarations: criminal proceedings) applies for the purposes of this section as it applies for the purposes of that section.'.
And the following amendments thereto: (a), in subsection (3), after 'accordingly', insert
', provided that the court need not make such a declaration if it is of the opinion that the person acted in self defence or under extreme provocation.'.
(b), after subsection (3), insert—
'(3A) A court may only make a declaration under subsection (3) above against a person over the age of 65 if it considers that there are exceptional circumstances and if it is satisfied that no other method of dealing with that person's behaviour is applicable.'.
(c), after subsection (5), add—
'(6) Where a court is minded to make an order under this section and it forms the view that any person against whom the order is intended is unable to properly represent himself and is not represented the court shall adjourn the proceedings to give any such person the opportunity of securing legal representation.'.
Government new clause 5—Withholding of benefit—
'(1) Where a declaration is made under this Act in respect of a person, any housing benefit payable to him during the disqualification period shall be payable as if the rate of benefit were reduced in the prescribed manner.
(2) Subsection (1) does not apply in prescribed cases.
(3) Subsection (1) also does not apply to a declaration made in respect of a person (''declaration A'') where—
(a) another declaration made under this Act in respect of that person (''declaration B'') has been taken into account for the purposes of any previous application of that subsection, and
(b) any day which is a relevant day in relation to declaration A is also a relevant day in relation to declaration B.
(4) For the purposes of subsection (3)(b) ''relevant day'', in relation to a declaration under this Act, means—
(a) in a case where only one day is specified in the declaration under section (anti-social behaviour declarations: criminal proceedings)(4) or (anti-social behaviour declarations: civil proceedings)(4), that day, and
(b) in any other case, the earliest and latest days so specified and any day between them.
(5) Where a declaration by virtue of which subsection (1) operates is quashed or set aside, all such payments and other adjustments shall be made as would be necessary if the declaration had not been made.
(6) Where, in the case of a declaration by virtue of which subsection (1) operates, the date or dates specified under section (anti-social behaviour declarations: criminal proceedings)(4) or (anti-social behaviour declarations: civil proceedings)(4) are varied by a court (on appeal or otherwise), all such payments and other adjustments must be made as would be necessary if the declaration had been made as varied.
(7) In this section ''disqualification period'' means such period, not exceeding 52 weeks, as may be determined by or in accordance with regulations made by the Secretary of State.'.
And the following amendments thereto: (c), in subsection (1), leave out ''shall'' and insert ''may''.
(a), after subsection (1), insert—
'(1A) Where a declaration is made under this Act in respect of a person any housing benefit payable to a person in whose household he resides may be payable as if the rate of benefit were reduced in the prescribed manner.
(1B) Where a declaration is made under this Act in respect of a person and the commission of the anti-social behaviour leading to the making of the declaration took place within three years of the commission of anti-social behaviour leading to a previous declaration of anti-social behaviour, any housing benefit payable to him or a person in whose household he resides may be withheld.'.
(b), in subsection (7), after second 'period,', insert
'not less than 13 weeks and'.
(d), in subsection (7), leave out ''52'' and insert ''26''.
New clause 8—Old persons—
'.—No benefit shall be withheld under this Act from any person over the age of 65'.
New clause 9—Children under five years—
'.—No benefit shall be withheld under this Act from any person where in the opinion of the Secretary of State it would severely damage the health or welfare of any child under five years of age.'.
New clause 10—Children under five years (No. 2)—
'No benefit shall be withheld under this Act from any person where in the opinion of the local social services authority it would severely damage the health or welfare of any child under five years of age and it shall be the duty of the Secretary of State to ask that authority for its opinion before he takes any action under this Act in cases involving children under five.'.
New clause 12—Reviews (No. 2)—
'( ) The Secretary of State shall publish and send to the National Assembly for Wales a review of the working of section 1 above in Wales after a period of twelve months and shall take into account any points made by the Assembly in any future actions taken under section 1.'.
New clause 13—Reviews (No. 3)—
'( ) The Secretary of State shall publish and send to the Scottish Parliament a review of the working of section 1 above in Scotland after a period of twelve months and shall take into account any points made by the Parliament in any future actions taken under section 1.'.
Before we adjourned for lunch, I was speaking to amendments Nos. 23 and 24. I had not yet referred to amendment No. 21, the hon. Member for Hertsmere (Mr. Clappison) alleged. To remind members of the Committee, I shall explain the effects of the amendments, which appear on page 1167 of the amendment paper. Amendment No. 23 would ensure that the benefits sanction under the Bill does not come into effect unless the matter
''in the opinion of the Secretary of State cannot better be dealt with in any other way than that specified in this Act''.
Amendment No. 24 is broader, suggesting that those who should opine on such matters should include, in
addition to Secretary of State, the local housing authority and the local social services authority.
Before we adjourned, I was making the point that there are alternatives to benefit sanctions. I described one scheme that was piloted by Liberal Democrat colleagues on Islington council in London. The scheme involved acceptable behaviour contracts that are specifically designed to deal with the appalling behaviour that all hon. Members are concerned about. I shall continue my explanation because I want to persuade the Committee that unless we examine alternatives for the process described in the Bill, many cheaper, quicker, more effective options may never be considered.
All the evidence that I have seen, whether from the social exclusion unit or other Government research, suggests that one of the problems of dealing with antisocial behaviour is that many of the authorities involved are not aware of best practice or of all the solutions that are open to them. Amendments Nos. 23 and 24 would ensure that the process envisaged by the promoter of the Bill is integrated with the alternatives that I believe are more effective.
When we adjourned I was talking about acceptable behaviour contracts. I will not describe them in detail because that would be repeating myself, but I want to show how successful they are and how seriously other people take them. Although they were piloted in Islington only two years ago, authorities in more than 90 different parts of the United Kingdom have expressed interest in them. To date, 22 other London boroughs, including the royal borough of Kingston, are seeking to participate by introducing schemes along the same lines. Such interest shows that acceptable behaviour contracts are highly regarded as well as effective. The Home Office agrees. It cited the scheme in Islington as an example of good practice, and documents relating to the scheme are available on the Home Office's crime and disorder website.
Other schemes have cited Islington's as an example of good practice. Operation Arrow, for example, was a two-year Government-funded project identifying options to reduce auto crime. It found that in Islington acceptable behaviour contracts had made a significant impact by reducing certain people's antisocial behaviour in respect of other people's automobiles. There is a widely held opinion that that very new approach to dealing with antisocial behaviour is effective, and as a Liberal Democrat I am delighted to be associated with the group of people who piloted the scheme. Naturally, that is one of the reasons that I am keen to get such options into the Bill. I want to ensure that the Government considers them before introducing housing benefit sanctions, which many people within the House and outside believe is a draconian measure.
Acceptable behaviour contracts have worked well in Islington and have also been found to complement Government policy. Indeed, antisocial behaviour orders work very well with acceptable behaviour contracts. The research, discussions, negotiations and
monitoring of acceptable behaviour contracts provides the evidence that is needed when an application is made to a court for an antisocial behaviour order. The contracts fit very well into processes that the Government have previously adopted—which I heartily recommend to authorities throughout the country—and have since tried to refine in other legislation. There is a real fit with existing Government policy in this area. It is one reason why I am desperately trying to persuade the Government that they should not go to the other extreme before they ensure that such options are considered.
On Second Reading, I was asked whether acceptable behaviour contracts are legally binding. They are not, but that is one reason why they have been so effective. They do not involve the judicial system—someone cannot go to the courts and say, ''He's broken the contract.''—but they can be used to facilitate eviction. They are the backstop to that process. While not legally binding, they feed into an important process to stop antisocial behaviour. However, because they are not tied to the benefits system or to the judicial process, people ask whether they are taken seriously and whether people fear eviction. The answer is yes.
The hon. Gentleman's comment only reinforces my point that hon. Members on both sides of the Committee must look at the alternatives, because those alternatives are working. Families who exhibit antisocial behaviour are really concerned about the possibility of being evicted when they sign a contract. That is what the evidence shows. That is the experience. People should take notice when a council or local police force says that it is an effective remedy.
Acceptable behaviour contracts are one element of the sort of thing that I envisage would be considered as an alternative, prior to the imposition of benefits sanctions, if amendments Nos. 23 or 24 were made. Other solutions could also be considered prior to the benefits sanctions being triggered. I am grateful to the social exclusion policy action team for its report of March 2000, which highlighted some of the successful alternatives, one of which is mediation.
Like other hon. Members, I have had to use mediation services. When constituents come to my advice sessions, which I hold twice a week, I get to hear of neighbourhood disputes and antisocial behaviour, and mediation is one of the solutions that I discuss when people present such problems to me. Mediation services are not well developed in my borough and we rely on the voluntary sector to provide some of them. I often end up having to use a voluntary provider if my constituents feel that mediation is best for them.
In Nottingham, there is a very efficient, proactive mediation service. It was developed and is managed by the National Association for the Care and Resettlement of Offenders, which is interesting. In different ways, it is trying to ensure that people who exhibit appalling behaviour are made to face up to the impact that it has on their victims. That is essential. It is vastly different from the benefit sanctions approach,
which does not tell the individual what is happening and what they are doing. There is no process that forces them to face up to their crimes and the consequences for the poor victims.
The mediation service that has done extremely well in Nottingham does that. Thus, it does not merely move the problem on, which I fear the Bill will do; instead, it finds a proper, long-term solution. I am told that the success rate is two thirds, which is high. That shows that we can avoid going down the route of the benefit sanction if we employ a panoply of measures, many of which I explored this morning.
I cannot accept a closure motion at this stage. The hon. Member for Kingston and Surbiton (Mr. Davey) is making a legitimate point. He is speaking to an amendment about alternatives to benefit sanctions, and so far he has done so without repetition. I assure him and the Committee that I am being vigilant of undue repetition, but I do not find it at this stage.
Further to that point of order, Mr. O'Hara. Can a closure motion be debated, or does the vote take place straight away?
Thank you, Mr. O'Hara.
As you rightly said, I was talking about alternatives to benefit sanctions. From the mediation alternative I turn to the alternative of using specialist teams, which has been tried by many authorities throughout the country, in particular in Bradford. All the evidence suggests that antisocial behaviour is not being properly tackled in certain areas because no one takes responsibility for doing so. The different agencies—the local authority, the social landlord, or whoever—do not come together to pool their resources and tools and focus them on the problem. Specialist teams who do nothing but train, think and work in this area can make a huge difference.
That is a good use of council tax payers' money, because it can sort out problems in our community by pooling existing resources and focusing them more effectively. The specialist team in Bradford has a range of different functions. Its tenancy enforcement team ensures that serious incidents of antisocial behaviour by tenants are tackled. That team has developed close links with several other agencies, especially the police, and has successfully pursued antisocial behaviour orders, which I am sure the Government would applaud. I highlight that example to suggest that we must ensure that local authorities have things such as specialist teams by including them in the Bill. I would be interested to know whether other members of the Committee have such specialist teams in their local authorities. I am not aware of any in mine, and I would like to take that good practice back to my constituency.
The hon. Member for Knowsley, North and Sefton, East (Mr. Howarth) said that many of the methods employed before the benefit sanction is used are all right if the landlord is a social landlord. Perhaps he will correct me if I am wrong, but I believe that he is concerned about private landlords. Often they are absentee landlords who just take the housing benefit cheque and have no commitment to or concern for the local community. We all object to that, but there are schemes to deal with that problem. There is a private landlord project in Newcastle upon Tyne called—
Order. I am trying to be as generous as possible to the hon. Gentleman and to let him make his point, which at the moment is alternatives to benefit sanctions. Earlier in the debate I said that it was legitimate to cite other examples and perhaps say a little about them, but not to expatiate at undue length. The hon. Gentleman is in danger of doing that. If I do my utmost to give him the opportunity, in the face of some opposition, to make his legitimate points, he has an obligation to meet me half way.
I assure you, Mr. O'Hara, that this is my last example of alternative enforcement measures. I have another example of prevention, but that is a separate point that I have not yet touched on.
The hon. Gentleman can imagine my delight when this afternoon I came to the Committee somewhat late and found him still speaking. The Government and Opposition Front-Benchers took exactly one hour. He has now been speaking for one hour and 40 minutes. He has tabled 42 amendments to the Bill and there are 14 in this group. We do not even know, because he has not told us, which amendment he is talking to and how his comments relate to it. I know that he wants to be the hero of the harassers, but could he please bring some logic to his argument?
The hon. Gentleman does himself a great disservice with outbursts like that. He was indeed late; had he come in on time, he would have known that I started my remarks—I am sure that you will confirm this, Mr. O'Hara—by referring to amendments Nos. 23 and 24, which are the amendments to which I was speaking when we adjourned this morning. I hope that that clarifies the point. He might think that there has been no progress since then, but I have been giving more examples.
I gave an undertaking that this next example would be my last example of enforcement measures and it will be. With the hon. Gentleman's patience, I should like to explain how the landlord project in Newcastle works to ensure that private landlords play their part in dealing with the problem of antisocial behaviour. The project brought the whole private sector together. The team had a database of all the different landlords. It took a lot of time investigating the ownership of all the different properties, and it contacted all the private landlords, who helped it to form a landlords' association for the area. It developed best practice with those landlords, and assisted them by giving them services to make their job easier. That is as an example in which all the problems that the hon. Member for Knowsley, North and Sefton, East quite rightly raised are being tackled.
The final example, which relates to prevention, is simple—not rocket science and not new. It is about ensuring that people in authority in our communities are on the streets as often as possible. I am talking not about bobbies on the beat, but about community wardens, estate wardens, estate managers and so on. The presence of people in authority deters antisocial behaviour. I accept that some tenants and residents will still cock a snook at people in authority, but many will mend their ways—or at least become less outrageous in their behaviour—if there are people like community wardens around. That is a prevention mechanism. I should be careful because it does not quite fit into the process of the Bill, because we are taking about enforcement, but I wanted to give that example because alternatives exist.
Amendment No. 21, which is on page 1167 of the amendment paper, would ensure that the benefits sanction would not go ahead if the Secretary of State thought that it would cause exceptional hardship to the tenant or anyone residing with that tenant. We have heard that there may be a hardship regime, and I want to examine how other hardship regimes have worked. There is concern that hardship regimes that have been adopted through secondary legislation and administrative arrangements have not been effective. That is a strong argument for putting a duty on the Secretary of State to consider exceptional hardship.
The change would allow a defence and appeal mechanism for the tenant. If tenants experienced exceptional hardship, they could use the provision as a protection. I should have thought that all Committee members would welcome such a protection to ensure that we do not create destitution among a group in our society. That is the core of amendment No. 21. It is important to recognise that the thrust of both the Bill as it stands and the Government new clauses that, in effect, rewrite the Bill is to create hardship.
Whether the Bill prescribes a total withholding or a reduction of housing benefit, Shelter advises that either system would invariably lead to homelessness and destitution. It believes that tenants would quickly get into rent arrears, be evicted by their landlords and then be unable to secure further accommodation. Families would have to look to the social services authority to provide them with accommodation, which in some cases is of a low standard. Single people would be likely to end up sleeping on the streets, which surely goes against the Government's rough sleepers initiative. Those outcomes are real, not pretend, so the Secretary of State should have to take them into account.
One has to remember what will happen if one increases exceptional hardship, as I fear the Bill will do. That will be counter-productive. If we increase the levels of poverty and destitution among a group of people, many will turn to crime, which is serious antisocial behaviour. That would completely defeat the honourable intentions of the right hon. Member for Birkenhead. Surely, therefore, he will want to include amendments to avert that.
The requirement in amendment No. 21 would be particularly relevant in cases in which the tenant's household includes children. We will move on to new clauses later, in which children—
Order. I advise the hon. Gentleman that we had a general debate about the Bill in the Committee's first sitting, when all hon. Members present participated in a full debate. In this instance, I shall not be particularly tolerant of excessive expatiation.
On a point of order, Mr. O'Hara. As we have heard these arguments, albeit with different words being used, for a long time, when might you be prepared to accept a closure motion?
The Committee will appreciate that I am listening extremely carefully. I have in mind what I said during this morning's sitting about the debate in our first sitting. We are not at a point at which I might consider a closure motion, but I am vigilant of when we might get there.
Thank you, Mr. O'Hara. I accept what you said about debating hardship, although I wonder whether it will be in order to discuss excessive hardship that has been a consequence of other benefit sanctions regimes.
On a point of order, Mr. O'Hara. I do not want to pre-empt the hon. Gentleman's argument, but we have already gone round the effects of other benefit sanctions half a dozen times during our debate.
May I explain what I meant? I did not mean that I wanted to discuss alternatives to benefit sanctions. I accept your ruling, Mr. O'Hara, that we have discussed that matter at great length. I want to discuss the benefit sanctions themselves. We have not spent any time learning lessons from the new deal for young people. If young people refuse an option in the new deal or terminate an option early, they are sanctioned—
Further to the point of order raised by the hon. Member for Hertsmere, Mr. O'Hara. In another place, the Liberal Democrats argued that the regime of penalties is ineffective; they said that they think that the Bill will be ineffective. Is it pertinent of the hon. Member for Kingston and Surbiton to argue that examining a supposedly ineffective regime is relevant?
What I am seeking to do relates directly to amendment No. 21, which I have not been discussing for very long. I am trying to show the Committee that we need a safeguard to prevent exceptional hardship. Other regimes have not achieved that. The Minister has tried to say—he used almost these words this morning—that it is intended that the regulations that are likely to be forthcoming after the Bill is enacted will mirror the underpinning hardship regimes of previous benefit sanctions. The problem is that I do not believe that those regimes worked. There has been real hardship and I can quote an example to the Committee.
A person was told to apply to a hardship fund because his jobseeker's allowance had been withheld. I shall read to the Committee what he told Government researchers when they were considering the effects of the hardship regime. I shall quote from Jill Vincent's ''Jobseeker's Allowance Evaluation: Qualitative Research on Disallowed and Sanctioned Claimants—Phase Two: After Jobseeker's Allowance'', which was published in 1998 by the Centre for Research in Social Policy. The sanctioned applicant said:
''Ended up at the DSS . . . I went into one of these places, you know, big glass cages, filled in a form, handed the form over—''
an application for a hardship payment—
''and they said, sorry, you can't claim this. I said, 'why I've got no money . . . ' 'because we want you to go through an amount of hardship, it's basically a punishment . . . you can't have a loan, otherwise there'd be no point in stopping your money', so I couldn't even get money off the DSS.''
On a point of order, Mr. O'Hara. Mindful of your strictures, may I refer you to column 18 of the Hansard of the Committee's first sitting, on Tuesday 18 June, where the hon. Gentleman makes the same point?
I will, Mr. O'Hara. I simply wanted to examine the Government's objective in their new clauses and in their adoption of a regime similar regime to the one that was originally proposed, albeit with a few modifications. We have heard that one idea behind that approach is to affect and change behaviour.
I know that the hon. Gentleman has a Liberal Democrat press release. He might want to go on with the report, because the researcher concludes that the sanctions were effective in changing behaviour.
The right hon. Gentleman's suggestion tempts me. I was going to say that the results of the research into effects on behaviour are mixed. He is right to say that some research evidence shows that some behaviour is changed, but the report from which I quoted says that the findings are mixed. The behaviour of a number of claimants who were sanctioned did not change in any way.
The report's details of why their behaviour was not changed go to the core of my argument. People did not
change their behaviour, because they were surprised that they had been sanctioned and they did not understand why they had been sanctioned. Some people felt that the sanction—
Indeed. My patience is becoming strained. I have said several times that I am doing my best to be fair to the hon. Member for Kingston and Surbiton and to give him time to make legitimate points. However, I have also said that he has had an opportunity to make his point about the amendment. His remarks are somewhat repetitious with regard to a previous debate, so I strongly advise him to make progress—preferably to the next group of amendments.
I intend to do that, Mr. O'Hara, but I was making a point about deterrence, and I believe that the hon. Member for Hertsmere (Mr. Clappison) is wrong: at no point have I discussed the effects on behaviour that would result from the lack of a hardship regime. I am sure that the record will show that I have not addressed those issues. The point is important, because the right hon. Member for Birkenhead seems to be convinced that the sanction approach will change behaviour. I simply do not believe that the evidence backs that up, but I shall progress to the next amendment.
Amendment No. 22, which is on page 1167 of the amendment paper, relates to an appeals process. I suggest that we should use the standard appeals process that is used in many other parts of the benefits system. The amendment would give tenants whose housing benefit had been withheld the right to appeal the decision of the Secretary of State to a social security tribunal. That would ensure that the Bill was in line with other areas of social security law, especially where that law allows a right to appeal a decision to withhold benefit. Therefore, if the amendment were made, the Bill would be in line with the Government's approach to such matters in the past.
The amendment would also address a problem with an element of the Bill as it relates to the Human Rights Act 1998. The Government obviously believe that their amendment, by providing for a different type of appeal, would make the Bill comply with that Act. I will discuss that in due course. However, the Bill unamended does not contain an appeal process, so it would certainly fall foul of article 6 of the European convention on human rights, which deals with the right to a fair trial.
On a point of order, Mr. O'Hara. Is it relevant for us to be discussing this? The Bill as amended would provide that a court hearing precedes the withholding of benefit. That is not comparable with the withholding of a social security payment, which is done on the say-so of an officer. The Bill also provides that the penalty cannot take effect if the person then makes an appeal. As there is to be an
appeals process, I do not know why we are discussing this matter.
I will address that point shortly.
The Secretary of State's power to withhold housing benefit is available only when a magistrates court has made two orders or convictions, but there should still be a right to appeal the Secretary of State's decision to exercise that power. That is important because of the potential consequences for a household of having housing benefit withdrawn. The amendment should be considered alongside those that we have previously discussed because it links in with them. Where a tenant has had their benefit withheld and it looks likely that they will lose their home and suffer severe hardship, they should be able to appeal.
On a point of order, Mr. O'Hara. The hon. Gentleman is trying to steer the debate back on to territory that he has just left because he has nothing more to say on the subject. It is clear to me that the matters that he is now explaining were covered not only in our previous debate, which he has referred to, but at length earlier today. That being the case, I want to move closure.
I am not ready at this point to accept a closure motion, but I am listening very carefully and looking at the Government's new clauses to see where they deal with points that are being made by the hon. Member for Kingston and Surbiton. I ask him to take note of that.
I do so, Mr. O'Hara.
New clause 3, which is on page 1170 of the amendment paper, is the Government's new clause that is relevant to my argument. That new clause—in particular, subsections (7), (8) and (9)—makes provision for an appeal. That is welcome, but we should debate the comparison between my approach, whereby the appeal would go through the social security system, as is the case in other aspects of the benefits system, including benefits sanctions, with the Government's totally novel approach. The approach that they are suggesting with respect to benefit sanctions and the benefits system has not been adopted before.
We are addressing an important point of principle. I am sorry if some right hon. and hon. Gentlemen think that it is not a new point. I do not think that we have debated it at all. It is a point of great substance, because it would completely change the way in which appeals against benefit decisions are made. We must debate whether we want a benefits appeal system that is administratively based, or one that is based on judicial process.
I regret the way in which our colleague is monopolising the time. It means that there is no chance for a cut-and-thrust debate, but that is for him to decide.
There will be full rights of appeal. The appeal against a court declaration will be made through the courts in the same way as an appeal against the initial conviction or the court order. An appeal will also be possible under the benefits system, relating to how the sanction has been applied, but not to the underlying reason for it.
I thank the Minister for that explanation. That is precisely what I was reading in the Government's new clauses when the hon. Member for Knowsley, North and Sefton, East raised the point of order. I ask the hon. Member for Kingston and Surbiton to note that. I feel that there is little scope for further debate on that point.
I might be able to convince you if I respond to the Minister's comments, Mr. O'Hara. He said that subsections (7), (8) and (9) allow a judicial approach to an appeals system. I understand that that is a completely new way of going about that.
On a point of order, Mr. O'Hara. It is clear that the hon. Gentleman has no intention of taking your advice. I want to move that the question be now put.
I shall give the hon. Member for Kingston and Surbiton one more opportunity, as he has more amendments to speak to. I have been anxious not to accept a closure motion in order to give him the opportunity to speak to his other amendments in the group, but I appeal to him to take that opportunity.
Mr. O'Hara, my argument in reply to the Minister relates to the distinction between an appeal process that is administratively based and one that is judicially based, and whether that is a matter of substance. We have not had that debate. I realise that I have been speaking for a long time—
Order. The point being made by other members of the Committee is that the hon. Gentleman is not giving the opportunity for wider debate on the matter. I repeat my counsel to him: I have refused to accept two or three attempts to move closure as I am anxious for him to have the opportunity to speak to all his amendments in the group. We have been making progress, and I ask him to take the opportunity to speak to his other amendments.
I shall certainly do that. I shall speak later to new clause 3(7), (8) and (9). I believe that it would be in order—I will be delighted if you comment on that, Mr. O'Hara—for me to deal with those subsections, as they relate to the appeals process, while I debate amendment No. 22. I am trying not to waste time but to take part of the debate—
On a point of order, Mr. O'Hara. The hon. Gentleman has been drinking in the last chance saloon for long enough. We were talking about new clause 3(7), (8) and (9) five minutes ago. The matter has been explained to the hon. Gentleman, who moved off and returned to it. We are going up and down like a yo-yo.
Mr. Clappison rose in his place and claimed to move, That the Question be now put.
Question put, That the Question be now put:—
The Committee divided: Ayes 11, Noes 1.
On a point of order, Mr. O'Hara. When the Committee holds a Division and it is clear that only one voice is either in favour of a proposition or against it, do you have the ability to weigh the voices rather than hold a recorded vote, especially when you come to the view that the one hon. Member is obstructing the business of the Committee?
Amendment proposed: No. 12, in page 1, line 5, after second 'tenant', insert
'and reasonable attempts to offer support and resettlement services have been refused'.—[Mr. Edward Davey.]
Question put, That the amendment be made:—
The Committee divided: Ayes 1, Noes 12.
Question accordingly negatived.
Amendment proposed, No. 23, in page 1, line 10, at end add
'and which in the opinion of the Secretary of State cannot better be dealt with in any other way than that specified in this Act'.—[Mr. Edward Davey.]
Question put, That the amendment be made:—
The Committee divided: Ayes 1, Noes 11.
Question accordingly negatived.
Amendment proposed, No. 21, in page 1, line 10, at end add—
'(3) For the purposes of subsection (1) the Secretary of State may only withhold any payment of housing benefit if he is satisfied that exceptional hardship will not result for the tenant or any person who resides with them.'.—[Mr. Edward Davey.]
Question put, That the amendment be made:—
The Committee divided: Ayes 1, Noes 11.