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House of Lords

Friday, 18th July 2003.

The House met at eleven of the clock: The LORD CHANCELLOR on the Woolsack.

Prayers—Read by the Lord Bishop of Chester.

Anti-social Behaviour Bill

The Minister of State, Home Office (Baroness Scotland of Asthal): My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time.

This Government have done much to tackle crime. Since 1997, overall crime has dropped by over a quarter. Despite this, many people perceive that levels of crime are high. More than one in three people consider anti-social behaviour has a negative impact on their quality of life.

Anti-social behaviour creates an environment in which the community does not feel safe and does not have confidence that its rights will be protected. It blights people's lives, undermines the fabric of society and holds back regeneration. The behaviour of a persistent minority can sometimes ruin whole communities.

No one should have to put up with behaviour that causes misery and distress. As a society we must set clear standards of behaviour. The police, local authorities and others must enforce these standards and take swift, effective action if they are breached. They must also provide effective intervention and support to those families and individuals who need to change their behaviour.

I shall be brief in introduction and, since it is Friday, I know the House will welcome that. While the Bill was in another place, the Government were very open to constructive suggestions for the Bill's improvement. The positive debate led to a number of additions to the Bill at Report stage. I know that many noble Lords will also be eager to bring their experience in these areas to bear on the Bill.

Part 1 of the Bill provides the power for the police to act swiftly to address the misuse of illegal drugs by closing premises causing a serious nuisance to the community. Closing a property where drugs have been used, sold or produced for three months will help the police to disrupt these activities. The premises can then be brought back into proper use to rebuild strong and healthy communities.

There is a small minority of people who behave anti-socially within their home or neighbourhood, making life miserable for the rest of the community. Part 2 aims to build on the powers of social landlords to tackle such behaviour. Clause 12 ensures that tenants will be fully informed about the tools their landlords have at their disposal, and how their complaints will be dealt with.

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Clause 13 enables all social landlords to obtain injunctions to protect a wide range of people from anyone who perpetrates anti-social behaviour that affects their management of their stock. For example, they can use injunctions, where appropriate, with a power of arrest and a power to exclude the perpetrator from specific premises or areas, to protect their tenants and their families, staff and other people in the neighbourhood, including residents of other landlords and owner-occupiers.

This part also provides that anti-social tenants will lose their security of tenure through "demoted tenancies" until their behaviour is addressed. Clause 16 ensures that the courts take into account the impact of anti-social behaviour on the community when considering a possession case.

Parents have a critical role in teaching their children the difference between right and wrong. They are also responsible for ensuring that their children attend school and are supported in their learning. Part 3 of the Bill underlines their responsibilities. It is crucial that youth offending teams, education welfare services and schools work with the whole family to offer effective packages of support and intervention. The parenting contracts in Clauses 19 and 25 will provide a framework within which this work can operate.

Some families are unwilling or unable to accept support when offered it. Parenting orders provide a mechanism for parents who are not willing to address their child's behaviour. In another place, we responded to issues raised in this area, and agreed that parenting orders should be made more flexible. The Bill now enables the court to decide on the best structure of support as part of an order, including a residential element if that would be effective.

Parents have a legal duty to ensure that their children attend school regularly. Too many parents do not take this duty seriously. Too many schools are frustrated by having to repeat lessons for children who have missed school. By allowing education welfare officers and senior school staff to issue fixed penalty notices for truancy, we are providing an addition to the selection of sanctions available to address this problem.

We must protect the rights of people who are so intimidated that they will not use public facilities, such as parks or cashpoint machines or playgrounds, because they are fearful of the groups of people loitering around them. We want to help communities to reclaim their streets from intimidation and anti-social behaviour. The powers in Part 4 of the Bill will enable the co-ordinated targeting of a specific problem in designated areas. We want to ensure that the police and community support officers have the confidence to act where vulnerable young people are out in these areas at night, at risk of coming to harm, and take them home.

Part 5 of the Bill contains a range of improvements to provisions that have already started addressing anti-social behaviour. Over 1,000 anti-social behaviour orders have now been made to protect the community. Clauses 37 and 38 introduce further

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improvements in this area to extend ASBOs, to simplify them for practitioners and to help them more easily protect the communities for which they are responsible.

Young people are as often the victims of crime and anti-social behaviour as they are the perpetrators. However, some young people ignore the standards set by society, causing disruption and misery. The Bill will allow the police and community support officers to take speedy action against young people committing offences such as throwing fireworks, trespassing on a railway, and being drunk and disorderly, by issuing a fixed penalty notice. We will also enable accredited officers to issue fixed penalty notices in circumstances that the chief constable of their area feels are appropriate.

For a small number of persistent young offenders we are determined to explore new programmes which combine support and enforcement to change their behaviour. Schedule 2 will therefore allow intensive supervision orders and curfew orders that are currently limited to three months to last for up to six months. Some families are unable to provide the support required to tackle a young person's offending behaviour, and in a minority of cases they may even encourage it. This part also enables the court to offer these young people an intensive fostering placement as an alternative to custody.

Part 6 addresses the misuse of air weapons and replica guns that disrupt communities, causing intimidation and distress. Clause 43 prevents any person having an air weapon or imitation firearm in a public place without reasonable excuse. Clause 44 provides that young people under 17 will be able to use an air weapon only when supervised by an adult unless they are on private land or using the airgun as a member of a registered shooting club. Clause 45 bans the lethal self-contained gas cartridge system.

The effects of anti-social behaviour are most visible when the results of that behaviour disrupt and ruin public places such as shopping precincts, town centres or railway stations. Part 7 of the Bill includes new powers for environmental health officers to shut down pubs and clubs that are causing public nuisance by the noise they create. Clause 48 also makes it easier to use existing powers to tackle inconsiderate neighbours making noise at night. If a window is broken or a wall is covered in graffiti it can contribute to an environment in which crime takes hold, particularly if intervention is not prompt and effective. The Bill will help to stop that process of neglect.

Part 7 contains a range of new powers for local authorities including the ability to issue fixed penalty notices for graffiti or fly-posting, to clean up graffiti on street furniture and to intervene where a litter abatement notice has been ignored. We will also prevent graffiti by restricting the sale of spray paints.

Part 8 was introduced by amendments in another place following constructive discussion in Committee. Clauses 59 and 60 respond to concerns raised about the

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ability of extreme activists to exploit loopholes in the current law that enable them to continue their programmes of intimidation.

Clauses 61 to 65 introduce new powers for the police to move on trepassorial encampments. Currently trespassers can be moved on from unauthorised encampments only when they have caused damage to the land, used threatening, abusive or insulting words and behaviour, or have six or more vehicles on the land. Those requirements make it difficult to act swiftly to prevent the damage and disruption that can be caused by these encampments. The Bill removes those pre-conditions. Instead, it includes a new condition that there should be adequate site provision in the area before the power is used.

The Bill provides additional tools to tackle anti-social behaviour. These tools should not be seen in isolation, and legislation is only the first step. Our strategy on anti-social behaviour is to ensure that all available powers are understood and that they are used in creative and innovative ways. We want to ensure that members of the community are fully engaged in setting and enforcing standards of behaviour. The measures in the Bill will build on existing powers and programmes to ensure that anti-social behaviour is tackled with the correct balance of enforcement and support. I commend the Bill to the House.

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