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Baroness Hamwee moved Amendment No. 263ZADA:

Page 79, line 36, leave out from ("section") to end of line 38.

The noble Baroness said: This amendment seeks to delete Section 83(1)(b) from the proposed new Section 83 of the Housing Act 1985; in other words, to ensure that a landlord of a secure tenancy serves a notice specifying grounds on which the court will be asked to make a possession order.

The insertion of a general power to waive the requirement of notice in all cases, not just nuisance cases, is new in relation to secure tenants. Notices are very important. The courts insist on them in many areas of life. For example, in employment matters, it is important to give warnings and notice to ensure that an employee whose job is in jeopardy is warned of the likely outcome of his continued conduct, if that is what is at issue. A notice is a warning shot across the bows. In any event, it seems to me to be fair that before the step is taken of seeking possession with the likely result, or at least possible result, of homelessness, the tenant should be given the opportunity to remedy the complaint.

One cannot know whether the courts would restrict to narrow circumstances the waiver of written notice, but it seems to me to be clear that there are great advantages in written notice, in that there should be far less room for confusion or dispute. I am concerned both about the erosion of existing rights and also about the practical implications. I beg to move.

Lord Lucas: Clause 130 re-enacts Section 83 of the Housing Act 1985 which provides for the proceedings for possession or termination of a secure tenancy. In doing so it makes some important amendments to help to speed up those processes. It is one of those amendments that would be deleted by Amendment No. 263ZADA tabled in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee.

One of the concerns that local authorities have brought to the attention of the Government during the discussion which we have been having about how to tackle anti-social behaviour has been the length of time that the possession procedures take. Eviction is often very much a matter of last resort after all other remedies, such as mediation or an injunction, have failed. By the time the local authority seeks a possession order the level of nuisance or annoyance to the neighbours, or even the whole estate, is clearly way beyond an acceptable level. Therefore, the possession order needs to be obtained quickly so that the neighbourhood does not continue to suffer, and so that those who have come forward as witnesses are not deterred because of the length of the procedures.

In such serious cases we considered that it would be useful for local authorities to be able to ask the court whether they could dispense with the issuing of the notice of possession proceedings. Where such a notice is issued a local authority cannot normally start the possession proceedings for at least 28 days. There could, therefore, be a considerable saving of time. Our view

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that this was a useful proposal was reinforced by the fact that a similar provision already exists for assured tenancies, the regime applied generally to housing association tenants.

Nevertheless, the discretion to dispense with the notice remains with the court which must be satisfied that it is just and equitable to do so. It seems unlikely that the courts would agree to do so unless the case before them was of a very serious nature, and some of these do involve extreme physical violence and abuse. I believe, therefore, that tenants have nothing to fear from the provision. Indeed, the great majority of tenants have something to gain if it helps rid estates quickly of the very worst offenders.

Baroness Hamwee: There seem to be some inconsistencies in comments made in response to earlier parts of this evening's debate. I am not convinced by that answer, but I think that if the court considers that the situation is serious then it is a matter, is it not, for an interlocutory order rather than for moving straight to a position where I believe that the tenant might be prejudiced? It is perhaps a little late to pursue those detailed procedural points at this time of night, but, as I say, I remain unconvinced as to whether this is the right way to proceed. However, for the moment, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 263ZAE to 263ZAGA not moved.]

Clause 131 [Extension of ground of nuisance or annoyance to adjoining occupiers &c.]:

[Amendment No. 263ZAGB not moved.]

Clause 131 agreed to.

Clauses 132 to 140 agreed to.

Baroness Hamwee moved Amendment No. 263ZAGC:

After Clause 140, insert the following new clause--

Witness protection order

(".--(1) In the circumstances set out in this section, when requested by the applicant the High Court or a county court may make a witness protection order in the form of an injunction.
(2) The applicant is--
(a) a local housing authority;
(b) a housing action trust;
(c) a registered social landlord; or
(d) a charitable housing trust.
(3) The application is made immediately before or during the course of proceedings for--
(a) possession of any dwelling;
(b) an injunction relating to the breach of any tenancy;
(c) an injunction relating to the breach of any restrictive covenant applying to any freehold land;
(d) an injunction relating to the breach of any agreement made with any occupier of any dwelling owned or managed by the applicant or in the vicinity of a dwelling owned or managed by the applicant;
(e) an injunction relating to trespass or nuisance committed against the applicant's property;
(f) an application for an injunction by the local authority using its powers under section 222 of the Local Government Act 1972.

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(4) The court is of the opinion that there is a risk--
(a) to any person who has been, is, or may be a witness in any such proceedings;
(b) to a member of the household or of the family of any person mentioned in paragraph (a);
(c) to the property of any person mentioned in paragraphs (a) or (b).
(5) The risk referred to in subsection (4) is a risk of violence, threats of violence, harassment or intimidation to any person by reason of a person's role or likely role as a witness in the proceedings, or the risk of removal of or damage to the property of any such person.
(6) A witness protection order may contain such provisions as the court considers necessary to protect the persons or property referred to in subsection (4) and may include--
(a) an order restricting the respondent from a specified area or several such areas either completely or at specified times;
(b) an order requiring the respondent to remain within the curtilage of a dwelling or other premises at specified times;
(c) an order requiring the respondent to enter a specified area or specified premises only when escorted by a specified person or with the written consent of a specified person;
(d) an order prohibiting the respondent from approaching a specified person or persons;
(e) an order requiring the respondent not to approach specified premises or enter within a specific area around such premises;
(f) an order prohibiting the respondent from contacting specified persons in any way or in specified ways.
(7) Where subsection (6) requires a person to be specified this may be done by naming that person or by a description of a class of persons.
(8) A witness protection order shall contain a power of arrest and the provisions of sections 137 to 140 of this Act shall apply to such power of arrest.
(9) A witness protection order may be for a fixed period or for an indefinite period and may be made or continue after the conclusion of the proceedings but where it is indefinite it shall be subject to review and at the time of making the order the court shall fix a time for a review.
(10) A witness protection order may be varied or discharged on the application of any party to the proceedings or the witness or potential witness who is protected by the order.
(11) For the avoidance of doubt, a witness protection order can contain provisions requiring the respondent not to request, permit, or allow other persons to carry out specified acts on his or her behalf.
(12) For the avoidance of doubt, a witness protection order may require the respondent to vacate any premises that he or she uses as a home or for other purposes. ).

The noble Baroness said: I beg to move this amendment standing in my name and that of the noble Baroness, Lady Hollis of Heigham. I hope that the Committee will forgive me if I do not go through the detail of this amendment at this time of night. I think that what it seeks to provide is fairly clear so I will, if I may, restrict myself to the "why".

Part of the reason behind the amendment is that it is important for direct evidence to be given. On this matter, I take a slightly different view from the noble Baroness regarding her earlier amendment. In proposing the scope for a witness protection order it is intended to assist the giving of direct evidence by a witness rather than direct evidence by, for instance, a police officer, who is not necessarily himself a witness to the event and might not have been there at the time. Indeed, he would have to make a judgment himself on having heard

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evidence from the person directly affected; he would have been put in the position of having to make a judgment; in other words, the court would be at two removes from evidence of the matter which is complained of.

I accept that it would be new to allow a witness protection order in housing proceedings and that it might be argued that all proceedings should allow for such an order. However, I believe that it is particularly in the context of housing proceedings--possibly only in that context--that witness intimidation of the kind described to the Committee has been identified. Therefore, I suggest that it is appropriate to consider special powers for the courts in such proceedings.

I do not believe that I need to repeat the experiences that have already been shared with the Committee, because I am sure that it is generally accepted that there is problem. Having, I appreciate, briefly introduced a long and important amendment, I beg to move.

11.15 p.m.

Lord Lucas: When responding to the same proposal in another place, the Government acknowledged that it had been put forward with the best of intentions to offer protection to witnesses in cases of anti-social behaviour. It is a serious problem and the Government have been working with local authorities to find ways in which to strengthen existing laws and improve their use so that victims of such behaviour are not frightened to come forward and give evidence.

The Government are keen to help, but we do not feel that the kind of witness protection as set out in the proposed new clause offers any more than existing provisions, except in one small area, for the following reasons. Local authorities are already able to take out an injunction to restrain the behaviour of an individual from intimidating witnesses. Where there has been violence or threatened violence, Clauses 135 to 141 of the Bill allow the courts to attach a power of arrest to such an injunction. That is a very powerful weapon because if the injunction is breached it will offer immediate protection to the victim.

I appreciate that a witness protection order could be granted and a power of arrest attached in cases where there is a risk of removal or damage to the property of a witness, but such behaviour, reprehensible though it is, does not alone warrant the proposed new clause. Otherwise, we are clear that the proposed new clause does not offer any more effective means of protection than can be offered by existing means.

We seek to address the problem of witness intimidation in other ways too. Clause 128 contains a revised ground for possession based on nuisance and annoyance. It will enable a landlord to evict on the basis of behaviour likely to cause nuisance or annoyance. That will enable a third party to give evidence. We have in mind here particularly the use of professional witnesses or the police. Some local authorities--for example, Sunderland--have had considerable success with that approach. The Civil Evidence Act 1995, which I understand will be coming into force shortly, will also help in that it will make it easier to adduce hearsay evidence.

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Much of the work done on the issue of anti-social behaviour has been designed to speed up the process involved in gaining eviction. The more quickly a landlord acts, the less time there is for the perpetrator of the harassment to continue his activities and the more likely it is that witnesses will feel able to continue their involvement in the case. Clause 130, for example, makes certain provisions for shortening the timetable of the possession procedure.

Additionally, the Government have issued advice to local authorities on how to get the best out of the court system in order to ensure quick and effective evictions. There is no simple solution to the problem of witness intimidation, and work on this issue must continue. As I said earlier, the Commission on Access to Justice of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Woolf, has acknowledged this in looking at the problem and other issues relating to anti-social behaviour on estates. His report is to be published shortly and we look forward to seeing his final recommendations and what scope he as an experienced member of the judiciary identifies for tackling this problem further. I hope that that gives some comfort to the noble Baroness.

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