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The other problem was that the common law and the 1964 Act, working together, led to some confusion-hence the substantial support for abolishing the rule completely-but a fair compromise would be to restrict it to wills and trusts and to apply a 125-year period. Such a period is pretty well the longest life imaginable, plus the period of minority for the next generation. Some critics might say that that is too long, but it is worth pointing out that 9,000 centenarians now live in the United Kingdom-a ninetyfold increase since 1911. The number of centenarians has increased by 7 per cent. since 2005. At the current rate of expansion, the
UK's centenarian population will reach 40,000 by 2030. Indeed, in the UK, the over-90s are the fastest growing segment of the population.
It is interesting to note that Lord Hodgson explained in another place that he had spoken to a gerontologist who pointed out two rather stark facts: first, as of this moment, three quarters of the people in the world who have ever reached the age of 65 are alive and kicking today; and secondly, someone living today will live to the age of 200. I hope to goodness that it is no one in the House. Furthermore, given that fact, it is perhaps a reasonable compromise to set the rule at 125 years.
Turning very quickly to accumulations, the rule was originally based on the Accumulations Act 1800, which was a direct response to the Thellusson case, which I want to mention briefly. Peter Thellusson died in 1797 and left the staggering sum of £600,000, equivalent to more than £200 million today. His will made it clear that all the income had to be rolled up and accumulated for ever, or at least for the whole life of the last survivor of his descendants living at his death. This formula could have taken us up to the 1950s. By then, with accumulation and compound growth, the sum could have increased to £20 billion-odd.
It is interesting to note that my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Harborough (Mr. Garnier) tells me that he is a direct descendant of Peter Thellusson, and if the fund had been allowed to accumulate over all those years, he might well have been a beneficiary. In fact, the children and grandchildren of Peter Thellusson would not have been able to benefit from his will, because of the accumulation on which he insisted in his will, which is why the law was changed-in this case, retrospectively-so that there could not be accumulation in perpetuity.
That was a sensible piece of legislation and stood the test of time, but we have moved on to a global economy and towards the concept of total return on trusts, which means that the trustees look not only at income and capital growth, but at income and capital growth combined. That is why the pressure has grown over the years for the rule against accumulations to be abandoned. The right decision was made, because it was time to get rid of it.
There are two issues on which I want the Minister to comment, if she can. The first relates to powers of appointment, which were discussed in the other place. Numerous experts there favoured applying the new law on accumulations to the exercise of existing special powers of appointment in order to achieve greater flexibility in the management of trusts-a pragmatic approach. As I understand it-the Minister might be able to confirm this-following the amendments in the other place, there will be no retrospective element to the new rule on accumulations, so the powers of appointment will not be able to be exercised in terms of the new law and will have to be exercised on the basis of the existing law at the time.
The other point on accumulations relates to charities. The Government were right to put in place a clause that states that charities will not be able to accumulate for more than 21 years, but they will be able to accumulate for 21 years. For charities that are building up sums of money for a particular purpose, accumulating and rolling over the income makes a great deal of sense.
I have one technical point on commencement, which did not lend itself to an amendment. Clauses 15(1) and (2) cover commencement. They make the pre-Act law apply to any will executed before commencement day, even if it takes effect on or after the commencement day-that is, because a testator dies on or after commencement day. However, there is a rule in law that if a codicil is made to a will which makes some reference to the will, the will is republished, with the consequence that it is treated as made on the date of the codicil, unless that would defeat the testator's intentions. How would case law apply to a will made before the Act comes into force but republished after it does so? That is not clear. Perhaps the Minister will touch on that point or write to me if that is easier.
As I have pointed out, trust law in this country is fairly complicated. Many have argued that we should have gone for a consolidating measure and brought the whole of trust law together. However, that would have taken a much bigger Bill and much more time. This is a small measure, but it is nevertheless welcome. It will make life easier for practitioners. There will be a problem while three parallel systems are running-the old common law, the 1964 Act and new Act, if the Bill becomes an Act, which I hope it will. That will produce some challenges, but the Bill will simplify matters and update trust law.
The Government were wise to bring forward the Bill, although I note that among the affected trusts are many that cover the great landed and ducal estates of this country. It is somewhat ironic that a new Labour Government, in their dying days, should make life easier for the great ducal estates in this country. I applaud the Government for that, because they have been pragmatic, but the fact should be noted. They have come a long way, and that is why we support this limited measure.
It is a pity that we did not have the Law Commission briefing, and, in some ways, that a very complicated Bill was subject to the fast-track process. It has worked out all right, but the question is whether we should use it again for Bills that are controversial in terms of practitioners, if not politically. Perhaps we should think again about using the fast-track procedure for such Bills. If a Bill were introduced to reform an archaic statute, one very simple Bill, using that procedure, would make sense. Having put those reservations on the record, however, we support the Bill, thank the Minister and her team for bringing it forward and wish it well.
David Howarth (Cambridge) (LD): I was wondering whether the hon. Member for North-West Norfolk (Mr. Bellingham) was attempting to be the last person in this country's history to be subject to the old perpetuity rule of lives in being plus 21 years. I must say that I found the explanatory notes to be perfectly clear, and that the Law Commission briefing is in the commission's own reports, which on this subject are exemplary.
I, too, thank the Government, and the Law Commission, in particular, for bringing forward the Bill. It has been quite a long time in the making, and the commission members who are most responsible for it are no longer members. Owing to that, I shall mention one by name,
Mr. Charles Harpum, who did an extraordinary amount of work on the Bill and has produced legislation that, in its mechanism, will last a long time. The hon. Member for North-West Norfolk mentioned the people who taught in this area of law, so I should add that I was taught by Mr. Harpum himself, in his first year as a lecturer, which now seems a very long time ago.
I support what the Minister said about the new procedure in the House of Lords. It seemed to work very well, and it helped us to expedite procedure in this House, too. I hope that this legislation, along with the new Act on Law Commission reports, will lead to a better way of moving the commission's reports through this and the other House and into legislation. More controversial reports will need fuller discussion, but Bills such as the one before us, which are clear but technical improvements to the law, should go through as quickly as they possibly can.
I make only two comments on the Bill's subject matter. First, on the length of the perpetuity period, the hon. Member for North-West Norfolk had one substantive point, which was that, with the advance of medical science, at some point people will live longer than 125 years. When we reach that point, however, we will not have to revise the whole structure of the law-only the number of years.
Secondly, on accumulations, I want to put on the record that throughout our discussions on the Bill, the Government have been very clear that the provisions on accumulations for charities are compatible with the total return approach. There was some worry in the sector about that, but the Government have been very clear, for which I thank them. I thank them also for the Bill, and I wish it Godspeed in passing into law.
Bridget Prentice: I thank the hon. Members for North-West Norfolk (Mr. Bellingham) and for Cambridge (David Howarth) for their support for the Bill both on the Floor of the House and in Committee. In particular, I thank the hon. Member for Cambridge, who succinctly put to bed-I hope-some concerns that the hon. Member for North-West Norfolk had. Indeed, if we live more than 125 years-God preserve us-the period in the legislation will have to be changed. I was also pleased that the hon. Member for Cambridge confirmed again that charities have nothing to fear from what the Bill wants to do.
I want to respond to the hon. Member for North-West Norfolk on the issue of the procedure. The fact is that the Bill followed the usual procedure for Law Commission Bills in this House-it went to a Second Reading Committee under Standing Order No. 59. The new procedure in the other place will help to keep what we might refer to as "lawyers' law" up to date and perhaps even more understandable than it normally is to most of us.
I was disappointed that the hon. Gentleman felt that the explanatory notes were too hard to understand. Officials work very hard to make them as clear and simple as possible, and we will continue to try to make them so, in the plainest possible English. He asked why it took so long to bring the Bill forward. As he will know, Governments of all colours have found it difficult to introduce Law Commission Bills, but today I would like to accentuate the positive in saying that I hope that more Bills will come forward in this fashion.
The hon. Member for North-West Norfolk asked particularly about retrospectivity and accumulations, and whether the new law will apply to existing trusts. That issue was debated in detail in the other place. The Bill will not apply new law on accumulations to existing trusts as a result of the amendments in the other place. I hope that that has reassured the hon. Gentleman on that matter. The hon. Gentleman also mentioned wills that were made before but that take effect after the Bill is enacted. The Bill will apply to a will if the will is both created and takes effect after the Bill is enacted. The law relating to republication will apply as it does at present, so the Bill does not change that. I hope that I have responded to all the hon. Gentleman's concerns. If I have missed anything, I shall respond to him in writing.
The Bill, although technical, is important. It brings the law up to date, and I am pleased that we have been able to produce a Law Commission Bill under the new procedure. I am also grateful for the support that the Bill has received from across the House.
Bill accordingly read the Third time and passed, without amendment.
That this House has considered the matter of tackling anti-social behaviour.
I am pleased to be able to initiate a debate in Government time on this extremely important issue, which has an impact on every right hon. and hon. Member in this House and every community that we represent. In opening the debate, I am particularly pleased to focus on the fact that the Government have recently, through my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, made it clear that tackling antisocial behaviour not only is a continued priority, but will remain a top priority for them.
You, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and all Members will know that antisocial behaviour has a devastating impact on the lives of individuals and their communities across the United Kingdom as a whole. I want to send a message from this Dispatch Box that antisocial behaviour never has been acceptable and that it never will be. The Government will continue to drive down antisocial behaviour to ensure that people have the right to enjoy their lives in peace, free from the devastating and often extremely damaging effects of such behaviour in their communities.
We all know from our own constituency experiences that graffiti, noise and petty vandalism are extremely important to those on whom they are inflicted and that they need to be tackled by the responsible agencies; I mean not only the police, but local authorities and others involved.
Let me say at the outset that antisocial behaviour is not committed by the majority of young people. It is something that we need to focus on in relation to all aspects of our society, not just the individuals who often get blamed for it, who in are a minority among young people.
Mr. Graham Allen (Nottingham, North) (Lab): I hope that the Minister will talk about not only antisocial behaviour but its alter ego, pro-social behaviour: in other words, the need to stop the problem before it arises by intervening early with young people, as early as when they are babies, children or at primary school, so that they discover the right way to grow, to learn, to listen and to develop as human beings.
Mr. Hanson: My hon. Friend makes an extremely valid point that I will indeed touch on later. He will know that through the youth crime action plan, the Government have focused a considerable amount of effort on ensuring that we tackle not only antisocial behaviour but issues to do with chaotic families, alternative activities, and interventions at a local level with individuals who are vulnerable to becoming involved in antisocial behaviour. That is because, as ever, prevention is just as important as enforcement and positive action against individuals at large.
I can report to the House that perception of antisocial behaviour across the board is reducing, partly owing to the Government successes that I will discuss in a moment. In 2008-09, 17 per cent. of the population felt that they experienced a high level of antisocial behaviour across
the board, compared with 21 per cent. of the population in 2003-04. Accepting that there has been that fall in perception does not detract from the fact that when such behaviour is experienced by an individual, a family or a community, it has a 100 per cent. impact on them. We must act on the wreckage that this causes to individual lives and communities and ensure that we bear down on it still further despite our successes to date.
Chris Huhne (Eastleigh) (LD): Given that there is a fairly small difference between 17 and 21 per cent., is the Minister convinced that it is greater than the margin of error for the poll that was used?
Mr. Hanson: The hon. Gentleman will have looked at a range of issues. He does not, I believe, support some of the measures that we have taken on antisocial behaviour. I think that any measures to drive it down, and to drive perceptions down, are important. He will know that we are going to drive down still further some of these activities and perceptions where there are particularly high levels of antisocial behaviour. I will ensure that we continue to do that for as long as I hold this post, because it is vital that individuals whose lives are blighted by antisocial behaviour have not only the long-term remedies mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, North (Mr. Allen) but strong enforcement, strong action and help and support to drive it down still further.
I am candid enough to say to the House that antisocial behaviour remains a problem in several areas in relation to the work that we are doing. In the Place survey undertaken by the Department for Communities and Local Government-until recently that survey was ably examined and looked after by my right hon. Friend the Member for Salford (Hazel Blears)-20 per cent. of people still felt that there were high levels of antisocial behaviour in their areas. That is why, whatever we have done to date in working tirelessly to provide an effective response in tackling antisocial behaviour-and we have undertaken a considerable amount of activity-there is more that can and should be done. Action needs to be taken to strengthen the response across all areas.
On 13 October, my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary announced to the House a new impetus for tackling antisocial behaviour. That extra action covers activity in some key areas, and it supports not only the work done to date but the preventive agenda referred to by my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, North. The action that my right hon. Friend announced includes practical support for victims of antisocial behaviour; re-emphasising to our colleagues in the police the need for a strong police response when it occurs; looking to establish across the country as a whole minimum standards of response and service for victims and individuals who have to deal with antisocial behaviour; considering action-this is particularly important-against those who flout the law, especially those who flout antisocial behaviour orders; and the action that we are taking focused on areas with high levels of antisocial behaviour.
James Brokenshire (Hornchurch) (Con):
The Minister mentioned as one of those five points raising standards locally, and the Home Office essentially setting national
standards. How does he intend to follow that through? Will there be more inspection or regulation sitting behind it?
Mr. Hanson: The intention is not to drive forward regulation or set central standards. We want to examine particular matters and encourage action plans in particular areas, with financial support, by 2010. The key points of the minimum standards will be taking reported cases of antisocial behaviour seriously, recording and investigating them, keeping victims informed of actions taken, telling the community on a monthly basis what action has been taken to tackle antisocial behaviour, providing practical support for victims and ensuring that all agencies-the police, local councils and others-link together so that there is effective management.
There have been occasions when agencies have had issues reported to them and taken an interest but have not had the co-ordinated response that is necessary to tackle them. We are challenging all community departments in local areas to sign up to minimum standards by March 2010, when we will review the information and ensure that action is taken.
Mr. John Horam (Orpington) (Con): Will the right hon. Gentleman include housing associations in his list of those to be involved? Often it is a three-way relationship between the local council, the police and housing associations. They are as important as the other two, and it will be helpful if they are included in the action that is to be taken.
Mr. Hanson: The hon. Gentleman makes an important point. Housing is central to some aspects of the antisocial behaviour that we face. Although local authorities have a responsibility for housing, a lot of the housing in my constituency is provided through housing associations. It is important that they are involved in establishing minimum standards. From my perspective, the key is to ensure that there is an effective link between neighbourhood policing and other agencies so that they come to locally acceptable solutions.
Further to the question that the hon. Member for Hornchurch (James Brokenshire) asked, we need to make the standards that are set available to the public, who will have recourse to the local government ombudsman if they have a complaint. We will expect as a matter of course every police force and local authority and, taking the point of the hon. Member for Orpington (Mr. Horam), every social landlord to seek at least to meet the minimum standards expected by the public and ensure that they keep on track.
We acknowledge the importance of all the issues that I mentioned. If I discuss each in turn you will see, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that we cover a number of matters in our latest proposals. First, we have always acknowledged that supporting victims is crucial. It is self-evident to Members that a victim may be a victim for the first time and may not know their way around the system, so we want to ensure that the victim is at the heart of what we do. Victims are often too frightened to give evidence against a perpetrator because they are scared about the impact on their communities, and as a result they often do not come forward.
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