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Mr. James Clappison (Hertsmere): I am listening carefully to the hon. Gentleman. Does he not agree, however, that in the real world an awful lot of people aged over 65 are looking for protection from the antisocial behaviour of others, who are predominantly younger people, and that they want to see people who behave antisocially, of whatever age, brought to account for it?

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Mr. Davey: The hon. Gentleman is exactly right. He enables me to make the point that I had intended to make at the beginning of my remarks. Liberal Democrats take the problem of antisocial behaviour very seriously. We support strong, tough measures to deal with those who behave in that appalling way, to pensioners who are their neighbours or to people of any age in our communities. As I explained at length in Committee—I will not do so now, Mr. Deputy Speaker—Liberal Democrat councils up and down the country are using innovative measures to deal with antisocial behaviour that are proving far more effective than the Government's measures.

I quoted at length—I shall be brief now—the case of acceptable behaviour contracts, which are an innovation in the Liberal Democrat-controlled borough of Islington. Acceptable behaviour contracts did not require legislation. They are much quicker in effect than measures such as antisocial behaviour orders and the proposals that we are debating, and they have enabled the council, working with the different partners in the borough of Islington, to tackle the problem quickly. They do not require a legal process or huge expenditure of taxpayer's money. They have been very effective, however, at dealing with the problem.

I am grateful to the hon. Member for Hertsmere (Mr. Clappison) for his intervention, because, effectively, he refers to the second part of my amendment No. 22, which states that the court must be


When we debated the issue at length in Committee, we heard that many alternatives are available to local authority social services departments and so on. The alternatives are being piloted around the country, and I cited several examples. They all show the high degree of success of the relatively new experiments that deal with such behaviour.

Liberal Democrats believe that successful experiments should be rolled out across the country. They should be fast-tracked and given top priority by the Government, so that we can ensure that councils and public authorities are made aware of the tools that they already possess, have the funds to ensure that they can act quickly and have the pressure of Government on them to ensure that they use those tools appropriately.

The hon. Gentleman's intervention was rather ill-advised. Amendment No. 22 would ensure that best practice is used. It would particularly ensure that older people are not affected, and I am grateful to Age Concern England and Age Concern London for the evidence that I have received from them. It shows how elderly people are currently disadvantaged under the complexities of the housing benefit administration system. There is a danger that the disadvantages that they already suffer will be exacerbated by the Bill. These are modest amendments.

Matthew Green (Ludlow): I am sure that my hon. Friend will agree that another point relates to those aged over 65. If financial penalties drive people into debt, a retired person is less able than someone of working age to work themselves out of debt. The use of financial penalties will especially penalise those who cannot earn the money to take themselves out of debt.

Mr. Davey: My hon. Friend makes an extremely valid point, and one that I had not noticed. He strengthens the

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case for the amendment. I stress that it deals with people who have appeared before the courts. They have already been sentenced to prison or received a conditional discharge. They have been punished, but the right hon. Member for Birkenhead (Mr. Field) and the Government are effectively seeking to put them into poverty and perhaps into homelessness. It is extraordinary that they should seek to make elderly people homeless; it is bizarre.

Mr. Tom Harris (Glasgow, Cathcart): My right hon. Friend the Member for Birkenhead (Mr. Field) does not need my protection, but the hon. Gentleman is being slightly disingenuous. The people to whom he referred are not the victims, but the perpetrators. No one is trying to put them into poverty; they are choosing to accept the sanctions by choosing to continue along the path of constant antisocial behaviour. It is their choice to have the sanctions, which they know about, imposed upon them.

Mr. Davey: The hon. Gentleman would have a point against my argument if it was that we should not do anything about such people. I made it very clear that we should be very tough and seek to change their behaviour. My argument, both in Committee and now, is that the approach taken by the Government and the right hon. Member for Birkenhead will not work.

I sought to discuss in Committee much of the evidence about other aspects of the benefits system in which benefit sanctions have been trialled and explored at some length—the new deal, the job seeker's allowance and so on. Much of the evidence suggests that benefit sanctions have not worked. I know that the right hon. Gentleman might jump to his feet and refer to examples of research in which people have said that they have changed their behaviour. He would be right to do so. I said in Committee that the evidence was mixed. [Interruption.] I think the right hon. Gentleman is saying that I have changed my tune. I have not.

Mr. Frank Field: When the hon. Gentleman was under threat from the Chairman in Committee, he changed his behaviour and gave us a good example of how the threat—not the exercise—of sanctions actually worked.

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. It is just a small point, but I said nothing in Committee.

Mr. Davey: I confirm that, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I also confirm that the chairmanship of the hon. Member for Knowsley, South (Mr. O'Hara) was exemplary. I had no quarrel with the Chairman. However, some of the amendments that I tabled for consideration today were not able to be debated in Committee because of a closure motion. The Committee was unable to sit for as long as I think it needed to in order to scrutinise a particularly serious Bill.

1.45 pm

The Parliamentary Under–Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (Malcolm Wicks): Given that in Committee the hon. Gentleman monopolised the time, so preventing concerned Conservative Members and Labour Members from discussing this important measure, our concerned constituents would like to know now whether he is trying to talk out the Bill.

Mr. Davey: I assure the Minister that I am not intending to talk out the Bill. I can say to him that he and

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Conservative Members moved the closure motion. It was not Liberal Democrat Members who sought to reduce the time for debate in Committee. If there is any problem with the Bill not going forward, the Minister should take his share of the responsibility.

I return to the point made by the hon. Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Harris). It is important that we try to improve the behaviour of these people because it is unacceptable. We must tackle it and be hard on it. That is why I quoted an example from the hon. Gentleman's own country, Scotland. I referred to the Dundee families project, which I will not talk about now because I did so at length in Committee. The project has proved exceedingly successful. It has involved resettlement of some families—taking them away from the communities that they are disrupting. I fully support such resettlement projects. In some cases, I even support evictions of these families. I do not suggest that we must be anything but tough on these people. We must be. The question is whether the approach set out in the Bill will either change their behaviour or result in less antisocial behaviour. I think that all the evidence shows that if we make people poorer and give offenders less chance of stable accommodation when they come out, crime will increase as well as antisocial behaviour. The proposition before us is contradictory in its own terms given the evidence which the Prime Minister supported this month.

Mr. Tom Harris: The hon. Gentleman seems to be suggesting that the measures contained in the Bill are the only possible sanctions against the people about whom we are talking. Surely the hon. Gentleman will agree that this is only one of a wide range of measures. He is right to point out other measures, but this is an important measure even though it is one of many that the Government and local authorities should have at their disposal.

Mr. Davey: I think the hon. Gentleman unintentionally misrepresents what I am saying. I am in favour of a range of measures. He has talked about a few of them, and the Minister has talked about some others, that are designed to tackle the sort of behaviour that we are discussing. My point is that the measure before us will have the reverse effect. It will increase antisocial behaviour, not reduce it. I think that all the evidence backs our case. We have had no evidence that the reverse is the case. I seek to draw the attention of the House to that.

In drawing my remarks to a close, I wish to point out that the amendments that are in my name and that of my hon. Friend the Member for Northavon (Mr. Webb) are focused on a key aspect of policy for the criminal justice system. We are trying to stop reoffending, to stop crime, and to stop antisocial behaviour. That is the purpose behind our amendments, and they will have that effect. If the Government were to accept them, they would make the Bill better. Their insertion would remove some of the more worrying consequences of the Bill.


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