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Lord Bassam of Brighton: They feltone has to respect that the views came from constituentsthat they were being harassed and threatened by the presence of a large number of people. The age band was fairly wide. They felt that the presence of those people together on the streets as I have described was likely to lead to criminal acts. The responses of the agencies involved were not able to provide them with something that they could use to assist them to reclaim their neighbourhood and their streets. That is an important consideration. I set that in the context of the debate, because it is a very important debate.
The group of amendments is curious. It includes amendments tabled by Liberal Democrat Members of the Committee that come from one direction, but also the amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, that comes from another direction and deals with the and/or issue.
We have tried to strike a balance. Our strategythe Bill and particularly these clausesis part of wider government initiatives. We went over that issue at some length in our discussions and deliberations the other evening. The issue is not all about being punitive, but about being constructive as well. My noble friend Lady Scotland or I drew attention to the extensive range of government programmes that provide the sorts of recreational facilities referred to by the noble Baroness, Lady Massey. The provisions are therefore part of a broader constructive approach and they should not be seen in isolation.
Having made those initial comments, I want to go through the points in turn. Amendment No. 145, moved by the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, seeks to delete the condition that members of the public in the area must have suffered intimidation, harassment, alarm or distress. In a sense, it is puzzling, but, in the context of the dislike coming from Members on the Liberal Democrat Front Bench, I understand why it has been moved.
Amendment No. 146 gives the senior officer the power to give an authorisation in areas where people have been intimidated, harassed, alarmed or distressed, or that anti-social behaviour is a significant and persistent problem. Amendment No. 147 seeks to take out the requirement that these powers can be exercised only in an area where anti-social behaviour is a significant and persistent problem. There, the noble Lord, Dixon-Smith, is trying to broaden the scope of the Bill's measures.
The Government believe that both conditions should apply as a firm test. These are targeted powers, aimed at areas where groups hang around and where anti-social behaviour is a particular problem. In short, we want this power to be targeted at areas where there are particular problems.
We have heard of concerns about individuals innocently going through an area and being swept up by the measures which are proposed. I would put the argument the other way round. The Government are concerned about the presence in some of our communities of those who want to stir up racial hatred and distress. I would argue that these measures could well be used in circumstances in which those groups are congregating in vulnerable communitiesperhaps previously in places such as Oldham or Burnley which experienced that. The powers would be extremely useful in the toolkit of the local community concerned, the police or the local authority. I would ask noble Lords to think of the importance of these measures in that context, too.
Amendment No. 148 seeks to limit the duration of the authorisation to six weeks. It was argued most ably by the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, as ever, that it would be renewed. I take that point, but we believe that we have struck the right balance. That is why we believe that six months is appropriate. We want the local police to be able to use this power as part of a strategy for dealing with anti-social behaviour in their area. They need time for the strategy to work. They do not need the interruption of six-weekly renewals. They need to have a firm positionone that is understood and clearly acknowledged in the community.
Amendment No. 158 suggests that the police should seek the agreement of the local council before granting an authorisation. We agree that consultation with the local council is essential if the power is to be used as part of a local strategy for dealing with anti-social behaviour. But we have to take on board operational considerations. I believe that if the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, or perhaps the noble Baroness, Lady Harris of Richmond, were in their places, they would reflect on that, too.
Local authorities and the police already work together closely in local crime and disorder reduction partnerships, and we expect consultation on authorising these powers to be part of that process. However, we believe that the police are the correct agency to lead this power and that they should be able to act if they consider that the powers are necessary to reclaim an area. That is what we are talking about. We are keen to ensure that bureaucracy related to the use of the power is kept to a minimum.
Amendment No. 159 seeks to ensure that the local community is consulted before an authorisation is granted. As I said a moment ago, consultation is at the heart of that. We agree that the local community should be involved in tackling anti-social behaviour in its area. My guess and surmise is that, as in the example that I gave and in other examples which I am sure we can all give, it will be the local community that comes forward and demands that the powers are exercised.
However, as a corollary to that, we would not necessarily want to extend the authorisation process by building in an obligation to consult the local community. But we shall ensurethis is where I believe that it is best putthat the code of practice, issued under Clause 34 of the Bill, gives advice on consultation with the local community. Indeed, we expect that the crime and disorder reduction partnerships, which include representatives from the police, the council and the local community, will want to engage with the community to determine whether there are areas in their locality where the use of the powers would be beneficial.
We agree that it is essential that local communities know that the powers are being used in their area. That is why Clause 31(3) ensures that publicity is given to an authorisation. We consider that clause to be very important. We want people to understand the import of exactly what we are trying to achieve with this piece of legislation and its value and importance in terms of enabling residents sometimesno doubt in extreme circumstancesto reclaim their community. Ultimately, this is about giving power back to people in those communities so that they may have self-confidence and security. We consider those things to have primacy in this issue and in this debate.
Across the road is the youth club. We, as the trustees, received a letter from someone who lives in the same street as the youth club. It said: "I am very concerned that when the youth club finishes, young people spill out and stand in the street next to my house. What we would like the trustees to do is to ensure that there is some way of getting them over to the sports facilities and making them play games and using the facilities that you are providing".
The trustees of the trustthere are approximately 30 of themwho represent the whole community, treated that request with some amusement. But that is what is behind this legislation. The Government are proposing that the police should start to manage people. I believe it was interesting that, in illustrating his point, the Minister referred to the posher part of Brighton, where the inhabitants were upset because young people were standing about in the street
Lord Bassam of Brighton: Perhaps the noble Lord will give way briefly. I would not wish that description to take too much of a hold in this debate. I believe the residents of that particular part of Brighton would be amused at the description that the noble Lord used. My old ward was full of honest, hard-working folk, who had aspirations to improve, as we all do, and I am sure that they would be best recognised in those terms.
Lord Thomas of Gresford: Perhaps that could be corrected in the local newspaper: the Minister referred to "the not-so-posh" part of Brighton. The people who have aspirations, the social climbers of Brighton, to whom the Minister referred, were concerned at the people who were standing outside their house. He took the trouble to explain that this was not a housing estate. What he wants in the Bill is to have the police manage people so that they are moved from this area into the housing estates, no doubt from which they come.
When that is seen in these terms, we see the essential illiberality of these provisions. In this country we have always believed that it is an unwarranted intrusion upon people's liberty to move them on if they are not committing a criminal offence or if there is no imminent likelihood of a breach of the peace. We ask the police not to tell people where to go within our communities; we ask them to investigate and to prevent crime but not to push people about. That is at the heart of this part of the Bill. That is why we on these Benches oppose it so much.
The Lord Bishop of Hereford: I find myself wanting to come to the rescue of the Minister and defend the Government on this particular matter. There is a danger of illiberality and autocratic oppressive action
Therefore, I believe that the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, is wrong to want "and" replaced by "or". I want the "and" to remain. That will mean that these powers will be used less frequently. I also believe that there is a serious issue here. It is no good pretending that it will just go away if we are nice to people. There are occasions when this kind of behaviour has become really quite intimidating and unpleasant and we need legislation to deal with it.
The noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, says that we have provision for dealing with subsection (1)(a). We have, but that will be used in particular cases where appropriate. This is a new piece of legislation needed for a new situation which has arisen. I find myself wanting to support the Minister. Although I understand the purpose of the amendments, I believe they are misguided. The noble Baroness, Lady Massey, did not say who the people would be from the local community. I believe that that sort of provision is properly made in the code of practice. I support the Government on this issue.
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