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Lord Renton: Perhaps your Lordships will realise that the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn, has made a convincing case for the use of the words, "cause harassment, alarm or distress". However, those words are so clear and precise and can be so well understood that there is no need to introduce the wider and vague concept of anti-social behaviour. Could he not between now and the Report stage consider the drafting of the subsection? After all, it is a drafting matter which does not affect the substance and motives behind Part I of the Bill. As the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, pointed out, we must try to get the matter clear.
Lord Hardy of Wath: Will my noble friend consider the fact that some people in the areas to which he referred have for a long time put up with anti-social behaviour? They may not have had cause for harassment; they may not have had cause to feel distressed; they may not have been alarmed; but they may have been caused fury, frustration and disgust over a long period. The quality of their lives may have been made wretched by anti-social behaviour. If my noble friend were to accept the amendment and restrict the action to cases in which harassment, alarm and distress
Lord Windlesham: The Minister has given a sketch of the general context of Part I, and that has been helpful. He spoke eloquently of the need to protect the individual citizen who is faced with such behaviour, however it is described; the Bill describes it as "anti-social". However, he left the Committee with the impression--indeed, I believe that he used the words--that the citizen can go to the courts to enforce the right by way of a civil injunction. In order to fill out his explanation, should he not make clear that the individual complainant does not have access to the courts? The individual complainant must persuade either the local authority or the police to take action, and therefore there is an intermediate stage.
Lord Williams of Mostyn: I said deliberately and specifically that action would be taken via the appropriate authorities. I am happy to clarify that issue. The noble Lord is right in saying that the appropriate authorities would be the local authority or the police.
I may have to disappoint my noble friend Lord Hardy, although I never like to turn away support. We wished to provide a description of an anti-social manner and anti-social behaviour. Within that description, we have included the meaning:
Lord Brightman: I do not know whether I have missed something, but I do not see the remotest difficulty with paragraph (a). "An anti-social manner" is merely an abbreviation which is defined by the words which follow. The Bill states:
Lord Ackner: To what extent is the test to be applied to subsection (1)(a) objective or subjective? Does the supersensitive person who is caused distress give rise to the prospect that an application will be made, or is the test to be that the behaviour must be such as to cause the distress or alarm to persons of reasonable fortitude?
Lord Williams of Mostyn: It is a factual issue of whether the behaviour has caused or is likely to cause harassment, alarm or distress to two or more persons not of the same household. As the noble and learned Lord will see, my Amendment No. 13 provides that:
Lord Ackner: With respect, I do not believe that the Minister has answered my question. Is the test to be objective or subjective? The question must permit of an answer and I invite the noble Lord to provide it.
Lord Williams of Mostyn: I do not believe that one looks at those concepts in quite that legalistic way, if I may say so with all humility. The magistrates will deal with matters in their area. For example, if one has a particularly vulnerable old lady, it seems to me that the test will have to be applied to "two or more persons". It is the circumstances of those two or more persons which will have to be looked at.
If they are unusually susceptible to harassment, alarm or distress, the court will have to draw a balance as to what is suitable in all the circumstances. That does not depend on the purely legalistic question of whether it is subjective or objective. That is far too narrow and unhelpful a question.
I thank the noble Lord, Lord Williams, for giving us a very full reply to the points which Members of the Committee have raised. That is useful. We should all like to finish this day of Committee stage in time for early bed and cocoa, or something stronger, as the noble Lord puts it.
I should also add that we accept entirely, and in no way did I wish to imply otherwise, that anti-social behaviour can be a very real problem for large numbers of people throughout the country. Equally, it can be a problem whether or not they live in leafy suburbs. It can be a problem wherever they live.
Having said that, I believe that my amendment and the discussion that we have had arising from it have given rise to real problems. I note the point made by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Brightman, that the words,
The noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, rightly pointed out that such a clause could lead to extremely heavy penalties indeed being imposed on individuals who act in breach of what the noble Lord, Lord Williams, described as a "mere prohibitory order". I remind the noble Lord that if he looks at subsection (4), he will see that the courts have the power to prohibit the defendant,
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