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Lord Phillips of Sudbury: I shall speak in the same vein. I am not aware of any legislation in the land that gives such remedies for causing mere annoyance. If the Minister can point us to any other legislation that makes mere annoyance a sufficient ground for granting an injunction, I would not be persuaded, but I would be less harsh in my sense that the drafting is seriously inadequate.
The word "nuisance" is fine because it is defined in lawan endless amount of case law says what it is. You do not need to talk about "significant nuisance", as it must be significant in order to be nuisance. However, according to the dictionary, "to annoy" merely means to anger. In the course of a year, my children would fall foul of that provision 365 times four. Annoyance is hopelessly undefined in the Bill and in common law. There is no case law to sustain it, and it must not stand.
The preconditions of a closure order in Clause 2 are comparableboth are hugely serious consequences; one is an injunction and the other a closure. Clause 2(3)(b) talks not just about nuisance, a concept defined by law, but about "serious nuisance". If the argument against adding the word "serious" before "annoyance" is that it is too vague, I lob it back to the Minister that it is a word used in juxtaposition with "nuisance" earlier in the same Bill.
Lord Hylton: I welcome warmly the injunction that it will be possible to obtain under Clause 13. The noble Lord, Lord Phillips of Sudbury, probably makes a good point about annoyance, but my reason for welcoming the clause is that it seems to provide a way of nipping in the bud anti-social behaviour that causes nuisance. That is why I am not too happy about Amendments Nos. 30 and 33A, which contain the words "persistent" or "repeated". I want nuisances stopped at a very early stage in the process. We all know of tenants and others who have got away with murder, sometimes over years. That is what we want to prevent.
Lord Phillips of Sudbury: Perhaps I may just clarify that my amendment does not condition "nuisance" at all. I only wish to condition "annoyance" by talking about "serious or repeated". I accept that nuisance of itself may be a sufficient ground.
I wanted to go on to say, following the point made earlier by the noble Lord, Lord Corbett of Castle Vale, that failure to observe the terms of tenancy agreements in so far as they concern nuisance and closely related matters should lead, after one or two warnings at the most, to applications for injunctions. I hope that that will be effective and provide a real remedy.
Baroness Dean of Thornton-le-Fylde: If the Minister is going to consider these amendments, I would like to add my thoughts. I was very pleased to hear the way in which they were introduced, because I do not think that they answer the point. I should declare an interest as chairman of the Housing Corporation. In the lead up to this Bill I have been deliberately meeting many tenants and residents in very many parts of the country where anti-social behaviour is a serious problem. I would be amazed if the noble Lords who have spoken about their own children would come anywhere near this Bill. This Bill is about dealing with the serious problems within some of our communities.
The Bill is also, however, about prevention, and this part of the Bill is an important part of that. Many of the tenants and residents that I have met would not identify with the comments that the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, genuinely made about anti-social behaviour being persistent over a long period of time. If we allow that to be the definition for the workings of the Bill, it will not deal with anti-social behaviour. Considering the trouble that the landlord has to go to and the resources involved to actually apply for an injunction, most if not all of them would try to deal with problems before they reached that point. Bad behaviour is not annoyancewe have all caused annoyance from time to time. We are talking about behaviour which, even on one occasion, can cause fear to people, especially old people, in some of these communities.
Lord Phillips of Sudbury: I am most grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Dean of Thornton-Le-Fylde, for giving way and I am sorry to interject again, but she says that the problem is not one about annoyance. However, the objection that many of us have is exactly about "annoyance" because annoyance of its ownnot serious annoyanceis sufficient to grant an injunction under the Bill. That is the objection.
Baroness Dean of Thornton-le-Fylde: That may be the noble Lord's interpretation, but looking at these amendments, we see words such as "persistent", "unreasonable" and, in Amendment No. 33, "deliberately intended". I have actually been in situations where some of these issues have been dealt with and there is, of course, complete denial. The people involved say that they never deliberately intended to cause fear or worry.
Lord Elton: The difficulties described by the noble Baroness, Lady Dean of Thorton-le-Fylde, would be removed if the word "annoyance" was removed. The qualifying phrases are designed to raise the threshold for the experience described as annoyance in the Bill. After all, the word is not defined and is very much open to a wide range of interpretations.
On my noble friend's Amendment No. 30, I share the view of the noble Baroness, Lady Dean, that "persistent" is something that should not be added. In fact, a very serious nuisance can be caused on a single occasion. A group of young rowdies having a rave-up in the central courtyard of a block of flats at night is not persistent behaviour, but would be horrific for the people living around that courtyard. I would not want an injunction to be ruled out in that case.
I differ from the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, in his wish to have some measure of intent inserted into the nuisance clause. As his noble friend on the Front Bench has already demonstrated in the gentlest way, it is possible to cause a nuisance unintentionally. One can do so by driving a stolen motor car round and round a block of flats with a punctured exhaust pipe. That is not done to annoy the neighbours but to get a buzz when the cops turn up with their sirens blazing. The qualifying phrases do not work. If "annoyance" must be left in, I believe that the late entry by the noble Lord, Lord Phillips of Sudbury, is the best in the field.
Baroness Hamwee: I commented to my noble friend that the amendments from these Benches happen to come from three solicitors. He said that the only thing that was unusual about that was that it was not three barristers. We all recognise the point made by the noble Baroness about the seriousness of the decision to seek an injunction. None of us would expect an injunction to be sought for a trivial reason or in trivial circumstances.
However, we feel that the Bill should express the level of the annoyancethe seriousness and significance. I take my noble friend's point that no adjective should be applied to nuisance because it is a term that is understood. The Bill should recognise that there is a threshold. It is not only a matter of a landlord deciding that the behaviour is not serious enough or perhaps even getting to the point of the court saying that an injunction would be an inappropriate remedy. That would begin to interfere with the way in which the Bill proposes to deal with the situation.
As to the point made by my noble friend Lord Clement-Jones about deliberate intention, we are talking about people being deliberate or reckless as to the consequences of their actions. I do not think that any of us is trying to draft on the spot, but we are all looking to the Minister for acknowledgement. We all accept that, in the context described by the noble Baronessand I agree with the
Lord Avebury: Perhaps I may suggest two models for the Minister to consider if he is seriously thinking about amending the clause in the light of all the criticism that has been made. The first is in Section 4 of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994, which allows prosecutions to be made after a single serious event occurs that is the result of threatening, abusive or insulting behaviour. I realise that that is a level above what we are discussing here, but it is important that Section 4(A) allows that to happen.
The other provision that I wish to draw to the Minister's attention is the Protection Against Harassment Act 1997, in which the conduct needs to be repetitive. I accept that those pieces of legislation deal with conduct that is a great deal more serious than that which would attract injunctions under these provisions, but they are nevertheless useful as a model of the wording and for considering whether or not the conduct dealt with by these provisions that attracts injunctions should be of a one-off nature or required to be repetitive. I only suggest that the language in the Acts which I quoted might be a useful guide in how to revise this particular provision.
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