Clause 2 - Requirements included in injunctions

Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 2:00 pm on 25th June 2013.

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Photo of Gloria De Piero Gloria De Piero Shadow Minister (Home Affairs) 2:00 pm, 25th June 2013

I beg to move amendment 13, in clause 2, page 2, line 35, after ‘make’, insert ‘and to meet the costs of’.

Photo of Roger Gale Roger Gale Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (Full Member)

With this it will be convenient to discuss amendment 14, in clause 2, page 2, line 44, at end insert ‘as soon as possible’.

Photo of Gloria De Piero Gloria De Piero Shadow Minister (Home Affairs)

I want to make it clear that amendment 13 is a probing amendment—we want clarification. We have no problem with the addition of “positive requirements”: the Labour party introduced the concept of positive requirements, partly through individual support orders. In the light of submissions and evidence from local authorities and the police, we want clarification on how the requirements will be funded. The Government’s impact assessment for the injunctions does not quantify the cost of imposing positive requirements.

A submission from the Local Government Association stated:

“The LGA is concerned that, given that use of positive requirements is predicted to impose an additional financial burden on councils, the overall estimates that the injunctions will be cheaper to use than ASBOs may not be right, and councils may be placed under an additional financial burden.”

What does the Minister have to say about that?

The Association of Chief Police Officers gave written evidence to the Home Affairs Committee that stated that

“concern about agencies’ capacity and capability to deliver this support in difficult economic times has to be considered.”

I want clarity on that.

On amendment 14, if someone is put on an alcohol awareness course for six months, the police have to be informed if the person does not meet their positive requirement. That is absolutely fine, but we are a little worried about time scales. For example, if said person does not turn up to session 1, 2 or 3, we think that the police should be notified at that stage and not at the end of the six months. Will the Minister respond to those points?

Photo of Jeremy Browne Jeremy Browne The Minister of State, Home Department

I hope you enjoyed a good lunch, Sir Roger—but not too good—and are therefore in fighting form, for I think we have three more hours of deliberations this afternoon.

Photo of Jeremy Browne Jeremy Browne The Minister of State, Home Department

Minimum of three hours. A three-hour warm-up and then we shall see where we go from there.

Photo of Roger Gale Roger Gale Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (Full Member)

Order. The Minister may find that, at least to some extent, it is in my gift.

Photo of Jeremy Browne Jeremy Browne The Minister of State, Home Department

Indeed. I did not doubt that for one moment, Sir Roger. I was simply trying to encourage you to give us the maximum opportunity to consider the Bill.

I am grateful to the hon. Member for Ashfield for providing us with the opportunity to consider in more detail the practicalities surrounding the use of positive requirements in the injunction process in part 1.

On amendment 13, although I agree that it is important to establish how positive requirements will be funded at the point of an injunction being issued by the court, I do not agree that the individual or organisation responsible for supervising compliance should be liable for the costs. I take on board the hon. Lady’s point that the amendment is probing and that I should not take it too literally. However, to take it literally momentarily, where the local authority, for example, applied for an injunction that was to include attendance at a drug rehabilitation course, the teacher delivering that course could be put forward to supervise compliance.

Although the teacher would be best placed to monitor attendance and engagement with the course, it would not be right for the teacher, or school or college, to cover the costs of the course. Instead, we could expect the local authority, as the applicant, to cover those costs. That is because the downstream benefits of changing the perpetrator’s behaviour fall to them and other agencies, such as the police.

Taking the amendment literally, we think that there would be unfortunate consequences to accepting it. In addition, by placing the burden of costs on the supervisor—in this case, a teacher or a school—we would be in danger of deterring those bodies from coming forward and working with local agencies to prevent future antisocial behaviour.

I want to make it clear that not all positive requirements will necessarily incur costs. A court might direct an individual to repair something they have broken. For instance, if an individual had broken a fence as part of a persistent campaign of antisocial behaviour against a neighbour, the court might feel that making that person fix the fence would force them to confront the consequence of their behaviour and promote a change of approach. That sanction would not necessarily incur a cost. Furthermore, positive requirements that do incur costs will be considered on a case-by-case basis by the applicant.

We should not forget that leaving antisocial behaviour unchecked also comes at a cost. The applicant might decide that the cost of, for example, a drug rehabilitation course, if drug abuse were the root cause of a person’s antisocial behaviour, would be small compared to the ongoing costs associated with not addressing the causes of the behaviour. In that situation, they might feel it is money well spent, and fund the course. There are all kinds of activities taking place in the communities we represent that can help people in those sorts of circumstances, and some of the positive requirements may be swept up in existing activity.

Photo of Sarah Champion Sarah Champion Labour, Rotherham

Will the Minister create an additional pot for those costs to come out of, or will the money be ring-fenced? I am concerned that people might be put off applying because they know it will come out of their ever-decreasing budgets.

Photo of Jeremy Browne Jeremy Browne The Minister of State, Home Department

As all the major parties have accepted, there is no additional money available for measures of this type because of the appalling budget deficit we inherited when we came to office three years ago. We will require agencies that already have considerable amounts of public money available to them to fund a lot of the initiatives.

However, some of the positive requirements will not incur costs, and some of the costs will be negligible. In some cases, the cost will be less than the cost of leaving the problem unattended to. In other cases, the person could attend a course that they had already chosen to attend, or the course might have an open place on it. All kinds of activities are going on all the time in our communities. The marginal cost of putting an extra person on a positive requirement course would not be high if that activity was already taking place in that community.

Photo of Gloria De Piero Gloria De Piero Shadow Minister (Home Affairs)

Positive requirements sound fantastic, and I think everybody will support them. What would the Minister say as guidance to the agencies that expressed concerns about the costs—ACPO and the LGA? Should a positive requirement be attached to every injunction to prevent nuisance and annoyance? What is the proportion?

Photo of Jeremy Browne Jeremy Browne The Minister of State, Home Department

That decision would need to be made locally, depending on the circumstances of the individual case, but I take the hon. Lady’s point. In my limited experience—I have been a Minister for three years—every agency that is consulted about anything thinks it would make life easier for it if a bit more public money were put in its direction. That might have been a feasible approach to government when we had big budget surpluses, but we do not have big budget surpluses, and we have to ensure that we operate effectively to achieve value for money for the taxpayer.

As I say, the consequence of not addressing some of these patterns of behaviour often has a bigger impact on the taxpayer than addressing them. We do not want people to breach the injunctions and, in the most extreme circumstances, go to prison for up to two years. That bears a much greater cost than trying to correct their wayward behaviour at an embryonic stage. Therefore, it should not be assumed that the costs will be much greater.

Amendment 14 relates to the requirement for the person supervising compliance to notify the applicant for the injunction and the police of any breach or completion of a positive requirement. I endorse the sentiment behind the hon. Lady’s amendment. It must be right that breaches are reported as soon as practicable, but that is implicit in the clause as it stands, so I see no need to clutter the Bill by writing such a requirement into it. Moreover, the point can more sensibly be made in accompanying guidance to practitioners. For all those reasons, I ask the hon. Lady to withdraw her amendment.

Photo of Gloria De Piero Gloria De Piero Shadow Minister (Home Affairs)

All Governments have to produce impact assessments. Has the Minister done such an assessment exploring how many IPNAs he expects might  be used and how many he thinks should have positive requirements attached? Hon. Members of all parties have said that they believe strongly in positive requirements, so agencies would expect some guidance from the Minister, rather than his leaving it to local discretion. Injunctions to prevent nuisance and annoyance are a big part of the Bill.

Photo of Jeremy Browne Jeremy Browne The Minister of State, Home Department

In some cases, they may be beneficial. In some cases, the positive requirement may be more likely to address the cause of the antisocial behaviour than the negative penalty, but in others it may be that the positive requirement is not necessary, is quite a modest measure or incurs no cost. Saying this may be an ongoing task for me during the lifetime of the Committee, but with this Bill we are not trying to anticipate every single form of antisocial behaviour that could possibly occur anywhere in the country, the precise motives and circumstances of every perpetrator, and the precise requirements of every victim. I fear that we are going to hear a refrain, whereby I keep being asked to anticipate all such circumstances into the indefinite future and am criticised for being insufficiently perceptive in my ability to gaze into the distant future and put into the Bill every single thing that could possibly go wrong for somebody in any circumstance.

Photo of Jeremy Browne Jeremy Browne The Minister of State, Home Department

I will give way in a moment, in case the hon. and learned Gentleman is able to gaze so far into the future and be so certain of everything that he sees that he can assist me.

We are trying to introduce a Bill with flexible powers that can be deployed locally by local agencies that best know the circumstances of the perpetrators and victims in that area. I would not presume to know about the circumstances of every community in the hon. and learned Gentleman’s constituency. I would not feel that it was right for the Committee to try to take a prescriptive approach; I would hope and believe that the agencies in his area were best equipped to interpret the Bill in a way that was most advantageous to the people they serve.

Photo of Stephen Phillips Stephen Phillips Conservative, Sleaford and North Hykeham

I will stick to the subject that is being debated. Does the Minister agree that we should at least try to anticipate what we can in terms of what antisocial behaviour might take place, while granting sufficient powers to encompass the circumstances, Rumsfeldian as they may be, that we have not anticipated? Is that not the point of the Bill?

Photo of Jeremy Browne Jeremy Browne The Minister of State, Home Department

We are trying to—in the jargon—“de-clutter the antisocial behaviour landscape” because, over a number of years, the previous Government kept adopting additional measures to respond to concerns about new forms of antisocial behaviour. That is why we have a range of 19 existing measures that are very niche and specific in their application. The concern has been raised with us that it is complicated for practitioners to be sure which is the most suitable of those measures to deploy. It would be helpful to have a streamlined, more flexible, smaller set of measures that can be deployed imaginatively by people in any given community to try to address the problems that they face.

Inevitably, if we give people power—whether GP fundholders, free schools or, for that matter, antisocial behaviour practitioners—to exercise some discretion free from ministerial diktat, we have to trust them to do that with a degree of wisdom. It requires asking Government to let go, but that is often a good approach in life. I am keen to recommend that approach to the Committee, and not only for the Bill; that approach is a theme that runs through the legislation of a number of Departments. We have made no estimate of the number of injunctions that will be applied for in any year, or the number that would include positive requirements. That is, as I said, properly a matter for local determination.

Photo of Sarah Champion Sarah Champion Labour, Rotherham 2:15 pm, 25th June 2013

I would like to return to the budget. I hear the Minister saying that there is no additional money and that any money has to come from the existing pot, and I accept that. If I am hearing him correctly, there will hopefully be free places on existing courses, which are cheaper than going to jail. If perpetrators went to jail, it would not come out of the local authority’s pot. Say, for example, that a local authority put aside £100,000 in its budget planning specifically for the positive requirements and there was then a riot, so all the money was spent in the first six months. Can the Minister envisage such a situation, whereby there is no money for the positive actions so nothing gets done?

Photo of Jeremy Browne Jeremy Browne The Minister of State, Home Department

It is possible to envisage circumstances where such exceptional behaviour takes place that special provisions have to be made. Governments do, in some situations, make provision for exceptional circumstances. The bottom line, in the immortal words of the former Chief Secretary to the Treasury running up to 2010, is that there is no money left. The Government spend almost £2 billion of our taxes and borrowed money every single day. The reaction to every initiative cannot be, “We need to spend even more money”, because we do not have lots of extra money to spend.

My point is that local councils, which have considerable sums of money, have to think about how they use that money intelligently on behalf of the taxpayer who funds them. It may well be that some courses offer particularly good value for money and that the cost of adding someone on to a course as an additional person is marginal in some circumstances, and therefore offers good value for money, but let me say this: no member of the Committee knows with absolute certainty the best range of measures and positive injunctions to reduce antisocial behaviour in Taunton Deane. I would even be modest enough to say that I am not 100% sure I know precisely what the best measures are to reduce antisocial behaviour in Taunton Deane, but I am sure I know better than anyone else serving on the Committee.

Rather than assuming that we all know the best way to tackle antisocial behaviour in Taunton Deane and magicking up even more borrowed money—even though the Labour party does not want to spend any more money—which is a less good way to proceed, we should give power and autonomy to local practitioners. We should trust them, give them a bit of flexibility to be innovative and imaginative and ask them to spend public money wisely, rather than continuing to seek new  sources of funding, when, I venture, sometimes they are not spending the existing revenue as efficiently as they could. That may be an unfashionable view, but I invite the Committee to endorse it.

Photo of Gloria De Piero Gloria De Piero Shadow Minister (Home Affairs)

The logic of what the Minister is saying is, “If you are particularly cash-strapped, we do not expect any positive requirements.” The Association of Chief Police Officers and the LGA are serious organisations with experience of dealing with antisocial behaviour, and they are genuinely concerned that they may not be able to afford the positive requirements in this financial crisis. Granted, some local authorities will be more cash-strapped than others, so there may be regional disparities. Some local authorities may be able to enforce and grant positive requirements, but others may not have the resources to do so. Would it not be sensible to conduct an impact assessment to see whether the positive requirements will work?

Photo of Jeremy Browne Jeremy Browne The Minister of State, Home Department

I hope that councils and others continuously assess whether the public money they are spending is having any beneficial consequences. If they conclude that there is no benefit to spending taxpayers’ money on something, they should probably stop spending it or spend it more wisely. I take that as a given in the public sector. I am not sure whether hospitals or schools have explicit requirements not to squander public money, but they should be spending it efficiently and effectively.

There is a range of measures. Anyone going around their constituency on a Friday can see all kinds of initiatives to help people and to try to correct wayward behaviour. In some cases, such initiatives could be adapted to help those who are subject to injunctions as part of the positive requirements. In other cases, it may be that the positive requirement is not needed, but we envisage that decision being made locally so as best to serve the needs of the community.

Photo of Gloria De Piero Gloria De Piero Shadow Minister (Home Affairs)

I have listened to the Minister, but, in truth, I am rather concerned, because a new power is being introduced without an impact assessment. Some councils, the LGA and ACPO have made representations to say that they may not be able to afford to use it. Whatever the warm words about positive requirements, whether the measures will be applied is a concern. Will they be applied equally across the country?

Photo of Jeremy Browne Jeremy Browne The Minister of State, Home Department

The measures will not be applied equally across the country, because what may work best in Ashfield may not work best in Taunton Deane. Ultimately, there are two models of government. One is that all wisdom resides in Whitehall and that we have a highly prescriptive, centralised command and control model of government. The alternative model, which the measure is trying to put forward but is received with antipathy by those who are ideologically concerned, is that we should not assume that the Government always know best. It may well be that the people delivering the services—the head teacher, the local GP, the local council or the police officer working on antisocial behaviour in his or her neighbourhood—have some wisdom to impart about their own neighbourhood. Perhaps we should give them a bit more discretion and a bit more of an opportunity to be innovative. There will be no uniformity of provision, but I do not necessarily regard that as a bad thing.

Photo of Gloria De Piero Gloria De Piero Shadow Minister (Home Affairs)

With respect, representations have not been made from ACPO and the LGA saying, “They may want to do such things in Ashfield, but they do not in Taunton Deane.” The objections and concerns raised by the bodies that will have to grant the positive requirements are about the financial situation not making that possible. Is it not time for an impact assessment on the positive requirements?

Photo of Jeremy Browne Jeremy Browne The Minister of State, Home Department

This is like a question and answer session. The assessment of whether activities undertaken by people in the public sector offer value for money for the taxpayer is constant and I expect that to happen as a matter of course.

Photo of Gloria De Piero Gloria De Piero Shadow Minister (Home Affairs)

I am not convinced by the Minister’s answers, and we may well return to the amendments on Report.

I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 2 ordered to stand part of the Bill.