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The Countess of Mar: My Lords, some time ago I asked the noble Lord, Lord Bassam of Brighton, what the point of fining beggars was. What is the success rate for recovering the money that such people are fined?
Lord Falconer of Thoroton: My Lords, I do not have those statistics. The noble Countess makes a good point. It indicates why it is sensible, after a beggar has been fined on several occasions, that the courts should try something else rather than simply fining them again. That is why making the information recordable and giving the courts the power to pass a community sentence after the third offence may be a more productive way forward.
The Lord Bishop of Derby: My Lords, does the Minister agree that, as well as the effort and energy put into outlawing beggars, a good deal of effort, energy and other resources could be put into helping organisations such as the Salvation Army that do their best to keep beggars off the streets in a humane and caring way?
Lord Falconer of Thoroton: My Lords, I agree entirely. An example might be the work into which the Government put significant resources to help people who were otherwise sleeping rough into hostels and, beyond that, into more permanent accommodation. I agree with the point made by the right reverend Prelate.
Earl Ferrers: My Lords, is the noble and learned Lord aware that, although there may be great sympathyquite correctlyfor people who are poor, there is not a great deal of sympathy for beggars? I was once accosted by a beggar who, when I declined his invitation, referred to me as "an effing judge". In that instance, he was incorrect in his use of both the adjective and the noun, although it may have been a reflection of his view of the judiciary. Having had no success with me, he turned and accosted some young ladies, again without success. When a police car arrived, he took cover.
The inference to be drawn is that he knew that he was doing wrong and that the police have an effect. Such incidents cause great distress to people in the streets, who do not like to see them happen. That does not mean that people are not sympathetic to someone's condition.
Lord Falconer of Thoroton: My Lords, I am not sure which the noble Earl found more offensivethe "effing" or the "judge". I apologise to all the judges in the Houseand to all the others. The noble Earl makes a valid point. There are many reported incidents of aggressive begging, which causes considerable distress to people using public places. That is why it is important to deal as effectively as possible with begging, for the sake of the people who use the streets and of the beggars themselves. They should not be in the degrading position of having to beg.
Moved, That the debate on the Motion in the name of the Lord Brennan set down for today shall be limited to three hours and that in the name of the Lord Redesdale to two hours.(Lord Williams of Mostyn.)
"In recent years, we have made significant progress in tackling crime and disorder. In the past six years, crime is down by more than a quarter, street crime reduced dramatically. The chance of being a victim of crime is the lowest in more than 20 years. Yet, the fear of crime remains high. No one will believe that crime has fallen, unless they experience it in their own lives and those of family and friends.
"More than one in three consider that anti-social behaviour is still affecting their quality of life. Over 30 per cent are intimidated by gangs hanging around their neighbourhood. Too many lives are affected by the irresponsibility, disrespect and loutishness of others.
"Anti-social behaviour can affect people physically and emotionally, undermining health and destroying family life. It can also hold back the regeneration of our most disadvantaged areas, creating the environment in which crime can take hold.
"Where enforcement is poor and anti-social behaviour goes unpunished, criminals learn that they can get away with lawlessness. That is why we are now leading a new drive to work with individuals, families and communities to build effective action.
"Rights and responsibilities must go hand-in-hand. This White Paper and the legislation to follow aim to put in place support and help for those who are prepared to accept it, and clear, speedy, and effective enforcement, when they are not.
"Our public spaces should be open for everyone to use freely. Our streets should be free of loutishness, gangs of drunken hooligans, or drug dealers capturing the lives of young people. Neighbours creating noise and nuisance, and those intimidating others, are a blight on our society.
"Those who do not suffer this, should not get in the way of protecting those who do. That is why we will crack down on noise and nuisance. Fixed penalty notices of £100 will be available to environmental health officers. Persistent abuse will lead to a reversion to probationary tenancies, court action and fast-track eviction.
"Automatic rehousing is no longer an option. Children of persistently anti-social and dysfunctional families will be offered new intensive fostering. Tenants and landlords must share responsibility. Anti-social tenants will lose their right to buy.
"But we intend to go further. Tenants must not be allowed to make the lives of others a misery. We will empower local authorities to license landlords, so that they no longer automatically receive direct benefit payments. We will also consult on the appropriateness of measures to withdraw from individual tenants the automatic right to be granted housing benefit. Where the problem is caused by pubs or clubs, environmental health officers will have the power to close them.
"But gangs of youths can often be the catalyst for further crime, as well as intimidation. We will enable the police to designate areas experiencing high levels of anti-social behaviour, within which new powers to disperse groups causing trouble will be available. We will merge these powers with those of child curfews, to enable unaccompanied children out late at night to be removed from the streets.
"We are well aware of other forms of behaviour threatening neighbourhoods. We have already announced measures to tackle the misuse of air weapons and the availability of replica guns. We will make carrying an air weapon or imitation in a public place an arrestable offence. We will support wholeheartedly the new proposals to restrict the sale and use of fireworks.
"But we recognise that family problems, poor educational attainment, unemployment and alcohol and drug misuse, can all contribute to unacceptable behaviour. These do not constitute an excuse, but we must act to enable people to rebuild their lives. We will take cross-government action to provide support, while ensuring the principle of 'something for something'.
"No longer should an individual child disrupt a school, nor should inaction by parents disable that child for the future by non-attendance at school. Parents have a duty to ensure that their children are in school and behaving. Persistent failure will result in parenting orders, fines, or fast-track court action.
"We will support families to overcome their problems, through parenting classes and new fast-track parenting orders. We will examine residential provision as a compulsory part of education and rehabilitation.
"We need the help of the community as a whole in changing the culture: parents to instil a sense of responsibility and respect; communities to build the confidence to provide witnesses and to stand up to the thugs; and businesses to accept their responsibilities.
"Record police numbers; the historic reform of police pay and regulations; and the new extended police family, including community support officers, specials, street and neighbourhood wardens, all have their part to play.
"We have an effective armoury of measures; fast-tracked, slimmed-down anti-social behaviour orders, acceptable behaviour contracts, and parenting orders. Since August almost 2,000 fixed penalty notices have been issued in the four pilot areas. We are clear that breaches of orders must be treated decisively.
"I know every Member of this House believes that families should teach respect, that bad behaviour must be dealt with decisively, and that there is a need to restore pride in our communities. This is the challenge we face in the decade ahead. I ask the House to support the measures I have outlined today as a contribution to that endeavour".
Baroness Anelay of St Johns: My Lords, I thank the Minister for repeating the Statement made a short while ago by his right honourable friend in another place. For the past 18 months, we on these Benches have been talking about the importance of "re-establishing the neighbourly society" and "recapturing the streets for the honest citizen". The Minister's excellent catch-phrase, "respect and responsibility" is remarkably similar. I do not complain about thatfar from it.
The similarity of our language derives from the fact that we and the Government share the same diagnosis of the same problem. We both recognise that there has been and still is, in too many parts of Britain, a retreat from civilisation. We both recognise the truth behind the "broken windows" thesis that has guided American cities in their successful efforts to reduce low-level disorder and crime.
We both recognise that if our children are to grow up into the people we want them to be, they need to grow up in a society that is orderly and respectful and not on streets that are controlled by gangs and drug
Since the Government came to power, they have battered us with 15 Bills dealing with crime and disorder. Legislation continues to pour out of the Home Office at a rate of knots. The problem is quite simply that we doubt today whether the latest battery of proposals will prove any more effective than the last at curing the problems which we both diagnose to be undermining our civil society.
The simple fact is that the gangs on the streetsthe drug dealersdo not show any signs of avidly reading the Government's block-buster tomes of legislation. They go their own way confident that their activity will go unchecked.
Of course, we all recognise that police numbers are important. And of course we all recognise, as the Minister did today, that it is important that they should not be tied up with bureaucracy. However, I am afraid that that is precisely what this Government have done to the police. It is important that the police are set free to do their real job of policing.
Will the Minister assure the House that when these new orders are introduced, they will not go the same way as child curfew orders that have never been issued? Will he assure us that they will not go the same way as the night-time courts that now appear to have been abandoned after costingaccording to Written Answers in another place£6,000 an hour and £7,000 a case?
How will parenting orders be any less bureaucratic than the anti-social behaviour orders that have proved so difficult to obtain? I noticed one slight deviation in the text delivered by the Minister from that delivered by the Home Secretary in another place. With regard to the reference to tenants not being allowed to make the lives of others a misery and the Government empowering local authorities to license landlords, I noticed that the noble and learned Lord omitted that the people to be licensedthat is, the landlordswould be designated private-sector landlords. Will the Minister tell us whether the omission was simply a slip of the tongue or was there something more significant about it?
The Minister says that children of persistently anti-social and dysfunctional families will be offered new intensive fostering. Why cannot the Children Act 1989 achieve that? What is "intensive fostering"?
I note that the White Paper states at paragraph 2.24 that the Government will take powers to enable intensive fostering to occur as an alternative to custody. On what basis would this be enforced by the courts? Would it be by the family proceedings court or by the youth court? That is an important issue.
During Question Time, there was an important Question from the noble Earl, Lord Russell, regarding begging proposals. Today, the Government have made much in the press and on television of their new measures concerning begging and the enforcement of the existing vagrancy laws. Will the Minister expand
Today, the Minister announced a huge raft of detailed proposals. They deserve much scrutiny since they involve cross-departmental co-operation on a grand scale. It is astonishing that the Government have published this document only four weeks before the Bill is to be introduced in another place, if the Government's Whips Office is to be believed.
I am ever the optimist: I would not survive long here if I were notI mean, in this House, not on these Benches. Therefore, I hope, for the sake of the future of our society, that the Government begin to think about a coherent, long-term strategy for the programmes that lift our young people off the conveyor belt to crime. In future, I hope that the Government listen more carefully to their own Social Exclusion Unit whose recent advice is that they should let existing legislation settle down and be effective instead of hurrying into a panoply of penalties for the sake of one good PR day.
Lord Dholakia: My Lords, I, too, thank the Minister for repeating the Statement. There is no dispute that we believe and share in the goal for a more respectful and less abusive society. The Government measures have been based on the experience of anti-social behaviour orders which were introduced under the Crime and Disorder Act 1998. These are civil orders which become criminal only when they are breached.
We are concerned that ASBOs, as they are now termed, tend to distract the public from the continuing failures of six years of law and order policy, rather than contributing to the coherent development of successful existing policy. Existing research points out that ASBOs are cumbersome, costly and difficult to enforce. NACROa body which I chairfound that the average ASBO costs more than £5,000 to enforce and takes more than three months to obtain. More than one-third of ASBOs were breached within the first nine months of issue. That does not build much confidence in the present system.
It would be helpful to know whether the Government have sought a more holistic approach, combining enforcement with preventive initiatives tailored to local conditions. Examples of good practice include the use of acceptable behaviour contracts and parental control agreements, along with youth
Perhaps I may ask the Minister whether the definition of anti-social behaviour is clear. Evidence points to confusion among local authorities over how to identify and respond to problems that are rife in certain areas. The Crime and Disorder Act 1998 defines anti-social behaviour as acting in a manner,
The reduction of alcohol and drug abuse, the use of guns and knives and violent crime should be the central thrust of government policy. That is why dealing more effectively with crack houses is welcome. But further criminalising beggars will simply marginalise people already existing on the edge of society. Beggars need support and routes back into settled lives, not ever-longer criminal records.
It should be the role of central government to provide the funding necessary for local policing, community safety and youth work. There is a real danger that the Home Office is suffocating the efforts of those who have to bring about change in our local communities by the use of more and more unrealistic legislation.
We shall study carefully the measures that will require further legislation. We accept that anti-social behaviour acts as a catalyst for more serious crime and disorder. However, we must strike the right balance. Large numbers of our young people are law-abiding and lead useful lives. However, if breaches of ASBOs continue at the present level, their impact on the criminal justice system will be substantial. The fact that we have more than 72,000 people in prison is a clear sign that many pre-emptive measures could be taken. We need to identify the legal measures outlined by the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, before using ASBOs.
Evidence so far shows that more than three court hearings have been required before a decision was reached on an anti-social behaviour order. What plans has the Minister drawn up to ensure that the same will not happen with future orders?
Lord Falconer of Thoroton: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay of St Johns, and to the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, for the welcome they have given to the Statement. Obviously we need to examine closely the detail of the Bill when it comes through.
Perhaps I may deal first with the specific points raised by the noble Baroness. She asked whether intensive fostering will be enforced by the family court or the youth justice court. The provision indicates that we would envisage intensive fostering being made available both in relation to Children Act proceedings and in relation to criminal proceedings. Thus both courts will have a role to play.
She asked whether these ASBO proposals will go the same way as the child curfew order. ASBOs have now been up and running for a number of years and are providing real help. Acceptable behaviour contracts have been in place for some time and also provide real help, as do parenting orders. Furthermore, as I indicated when repeating the Statement of my right honourable friend the Home Secretary, fixed penalty notices are also up and running and they, too, provide real help. However, we need to address the problem identified by the noble Baroness in her remarks. The measures we have proposed will bring comfort in relation to that.
As regards the issue of begging, the noble Baroness asked whether we intend to draw a distinction between the various types of beggars. Making begging a recordable offence and ensuring that after three convictions the court has available alternative actions will make it possible for courts to draw the kinds of distinctions that are needed. It is also worth bearing in mind that begging may be one emanation of a problem, but where there is intimidating or aggressive behaviour, it may be another kind of crime altogether.
The noble Baroness pointed out that a Bill was expected imminently. Yes, we expect to see the legislation during this Session. We need to be ready for it because the problem is urgent and urgent measures are needed to deal with it. She also asked whether there was a difference between what I said in the Statement and what was said by the Home Secretary. My role is simply to repeat that which has been said in another place. If I failed to repeat the Statement with precise accuracy, that was my mistake. I simply repeat rather than originate Statements. Perhaps I may confirm that "designated private sector landlord" is the correct phrase. It means that in those areas where there is a problem, then and only then can a landlord be so designated.
The noble Lord said that ASBOs are expensive and that in some respects they are too complicated to secure. He pointed out that sometimes it can take as many as three court hearings to have an ASBO put in place. We have sought to address the problems of over-complication and over-complexity in the Police Reform Act 2002. As a result, it is now possible to impose an interim ASBO straightaway, so that the protection is in place. That has cut down considerably on bureaucracy. The cheapest ASBO was one obtained in Manchester at an estimated cost of £300, so it is possible to secure the orders in a cost-efficient manner.
The noble Lord was right to note that, where a specific problem exists, the court saying, "You shall not do this. If you do, you will be subject to the criminal law", is a right and sensible approach. But it should be regarded as only one part of the armoury now available to the police and local authorities to combat anti-social behaviour.
The noble Lord said that more clarity is needed as regards what is meant by anti-social behaviour. He went on to draw our attention to the definition set out in the White Paper, referring to the Crime and Disorder Act 1998. Anti-social behaviour is defined as,
The noble Lord commented on the position with regard to beggars. He made the point that we should be careful both in relation to begging and ASBOs that we do not increase the size of the prison population. I have already indicated that the move will be to make begging recordable and to allow for a community sentence to be passed after three occasions. Some 700 ASBOs have been granted. I should stress, however, that such anti-social behaviour can be as corrosive in a community as can many of what may be regarded as more serious crimes. Therefore, in appropriate cases, one needs the ultimate sanction.
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