Police Reform Bill [Lords]

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Mr. Denham: Having spent some time before the jubilee holiday walking the ox drove between Salisbury and Shaftesbury where the ruts in the road were sometimes up to 4 ft deep because of four-wheel drive enthusiasts, I am temped to extend the legislation to cover the confiscation of those vehicles. I assure the hon. Gentleman that that will not happen, however, because the Bill is concerned about the use of vehicles without lawful authority. It would not extend to the

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unmetalled highways on which people have the right to drive such vehicles, unless a road traffic offence was being committed.

Many members of the Committee will have received letters from their constituents about such issues. Westwood in my constituency converges on the eastern edge of Southampton. It is one of the last remaining woodlands on that side of the city. It has been plagued by motor cyclists for several years and many other MPs will have had problems either with the off-road use of vehicles and motor cycles or the persistent misuse of the highway in an antisocial manner. The intention of the clause is to deal with that.

The hon. Member for Lewes raised a useful point. It is necessary to be able to use the powers set out in subsection (3) after the event, provided that the individual had been warned previously. There are familiar circumstances, such as off-road motor cycle use, where it will not always be realistic for police officers to intervene to apprehend the individual or seize the vehicle, while the vehicle is being used. Therefore, it is reasonable to have a power to seize the vehicle later that day, or the next day, if it is identified in a nearby area of housing. Indeed, it would significantly weaken this measure if that power were not available.

The constable will still have to have previously warned the individual that if they do not discipline their behaviour their vehicle might be seized, and he will still have to believe that there had been a breach of the RTA, or that alarm, distress or annoyance had been caused.

Norman Baker: With respect to the Minister, I am unsure whether it is true that someone has to have been warned. Subsection (5) states that the requirement to give a warning does not apply if the circumstances make it impractical for the constable to give the warning. Therefore, a constable might identify a situation where someone is driving in a manner that causes alarm or contravenes the RTA and attempt to give a warning—or want to—but fail to do so. That constable might then decide to seize the motor vehicle but be unable to do so, but at a subsequent unspecified date—it could be as much as six months later—invokes subsection (2), which enables him to seize the vehicle retrospectively. Is that not possible?

Mr. Denham: The hon. Gentleman is right about the warning; I apologise for having misled the Committee on that point. Subsection (5) would allow for a vehicle to be seized under subsection (2), if it had been impractical for a constable to give a warning.

The hon. Gentleman conjures up the possibility of the seizure without warning of a vehicle many months after an event. As the clause is constructed, that is a theoretical possibility, although whether it is likely to happen is a matter for speculation. However, it is of paramount importance that the police should be able to act after the event, if the legislation is to be sensible. I do not think it would be helpful to introduce an arbitrary time limit for that, as the right course of action could depend on the circumstances.

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Mr. Boris Johnson (Henley): I am slightly concerned that these measures against antisocial behaviour are very widely framed. I am unsure whether a reference to vehicles that cause alarm, distress or annoyance to the public is the right way for us to phrase this legislation. I was recently going around Hyde Park corner when I saw a bright yellow Rolls-Royce convertible in which A. A. Gill was riding, and I can well imagine that many members of the public would find that sight extremely distressing, and that others would find it annoying. Some people drive around in an annoying and ostentatious way; they squeal their brakes, and so forth.

The Chairman: Order. That is totally outside the confines of the debate.

Mr. Denham: I am grateful for your protection, Mr. O'Brien. I have no wish to discuss the restaurant critic of The Sunday Times.

The hon. Member for Lewes raised a point on which he sought clarification. He has corrected me on my interpretation of the clause, so I hope that will be on the record. I understand the issue that he has raised but, in practical terms, the power in subsection (2) is necessary to make sense of the rest of the clause.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 53 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 54 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 55

Anti-social behaviour orders

Mrs. Annette L. Brooke (Mid-Dorset and North Poole): I beg to move amendment No. 281, in page 51, line 32, after '1B', insert ', 1C'.

The Chairman: With this it will be convenient to consider the following amendments: No. 277, in clause 58, page 54, line 15, leave out subsection (3) and insert—

    '(3) The court may only make an order under this section following consultation with the relevant authorities.'.

No. 278, in page 54, line 18, leave out paragraph (a).

Mrs. Brooke: I must extend a belated welcome to you, Mr. O'Brien, as this is the first time that I have spoken this afternoon. I am also seeking some tolerance from you, because I will address a series of amendments and it would help me if I could make a few general comments before speaking more briefly on each amendment.

My hon. Friend the Member for Lewes and I tabled the amendments largely because the subject has not received any debate. Amendments on antisocial behaviour orders were tabled in the House of Lords, and it was generally felt that there was so much detail that there was no time to get into discussion on the subject. I genuinely have several questions to ask and issues to raise. There should be some debate in public on ASBOs. I accept that the wording of some of the amendments is not perfect, but I hope that the Minister will accept the spirit behind them. The point

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is to achieve clarification, and possibly to ensure that some extra guidance goes into the guidance notes when they are finally published.

I agree with the principle that antisocial behaviour orders should be weapons of last resort to be used with lots of other measures. I find it quite difficult to consider them in isolation in the Bill. There is a presumption that we need more and more ASBOs. That is reflected in hon. Members' questions to the Minister. Indeed, in last week's Prime Minister's questions it was asked why 5,000 ASBOs had not yet been made. I guess that the Government might be responding in the Bill by saying, ''Well, we're making it much easier. There will eventually be 5,000.'' That is not the right approach.

The Minister himself has cited Wrexham, where only one ASBO has been made. I am sorry that the hon. Member for Wrexham (Ian Lucas) is not present, because there seems to be good practice in Wrexham. There has been real success there, with 1,500 incidents being resolved through partnership working. That is excellent. Islington is another famous example where acceptable behaviour contracts are used in preference to, or at least as part of the hierarchy before one gets to, ASBOs. To say that we must have more ASBOs and legislation to make that simpler is the wrong premise. The whole package is important.

Ms Meg Munn (Sheffield, Heeley): Does the hon. Lady accept that through using ASBOs and developing practice, the Government are responding to issues that constituents raise regularly with Members of Parliament with a way of dealing with problems that would help in many of our neighbourhoods? The provisions deal with good practice, and are not something that we should be worried about.

Mrs. Brooke: I accept that we need to spread good practice on tackling antisocial behaviour, but I do not accept that we have only one weapon on which we must focus all the time. To pick up the hon. Lady's point, I was anxious to look at the monitoring of ASBOs because I thought that before changes were proposed it would be important to have a look at the evaluation. I have read that document now, and I should like to congratulate those involved with it, and should like an assurance from the Minister that some of the many points within it will be included in the guidance.

The evaluation comes up with several recommendations and an executive summary. The recommendations are crucial, but there is one that I will disagree with when I discuss the amendment. For the most part, there is much about partnership work, which I think is exactly what the hon. Lady was talking about. There is so much good practice but, at the other end of the scale, not everything is in place. I want to be sure that we have problem solving and multi-agency approaches, and that everything comes together. I agree that we must all pull together, and that there is a lot more to be done.

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There is a bit of concern about the evaluation, as it admits that much of the information about the impact of ASBOs is anecdotal, and there are few partnerships formally monitoring the outcome of ASBOs. Everyone speaks positively about them, but that is not necessarily the whole picture, and it is therefore relevant to ask questions. I sought your indulgence, Mr. O'Brien, because I wanted to provide some background.

Amendment No. 281 would make the part of the Bill to which it applies compatible with the subsequent amendments. It is consequential on the subsequent two.

6.15 pm

Amendment No. 277 would delete subsection (3) and insert:

    ''The court may only make an order under this section following consultation with the relevant authorities.''

It is important to hold a consultation. Indeed, an application should be made for an antisocial behaviour order. That is the point of deleting subsection (3). The provision in the Bill bypasses the important requirement for consultation and almost gives the courts carte blanche to impose orders.

Bearing in mind that the proposal is for the community, it surely forms the basis of the partnership between the council and police forces. Why should the court become involved and bypass the consultation? I realise that an objective is to speed things up, but I do not understand that, and I should be grateful for some clarification.

Amendment No. 278 would delete paragraph (a). It is strange to make provision for an antisocial behaviour order and a sentence. The matter does not seem to be covered in the evaluation, so I should like clarification of the origin of that. Offenders should not, in principle, be subject to a double punishment, which is what that seems to be. I thought that the intention of an antisocial behaviour order was intervention before a full criminal prosecution: I have always regarded it as almost a halfway house. Obviously criminal penalties may apply if a behaviour order is breached.

I am not sure why both are necessary, and I am unhappy about it. We are trying to change behaviour, but that is wham, wham punishment, and I do not follow the logic of including it. I can find no reference to the matter, although I have may have missed it, in the evaluation report.

 
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