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Anti-Social Behaviour Bill

Volume 407: debated on Tuesday 24 June 2003

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As amended in the Standing Committee, considered.

Clause 1

Closure Notice

2.52 pm

I beg to move amendment No. 62, in page 1, line 8, after 'A', insert 'B or C'.

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following amendments: No. 63, in page 1, line 9, leave out 'and' and insert 'or'.

No. 65, in page 3, line 3, in clause 2, after 'A', insert 'B or C'.

No. 64, in page 3, line 3, at end insert 'or'.

No. 66, in page 3, line 4, leave out paragraph (b).

No. 67, in page 3, line 5, at end insert 'or'.

No. 68, in page 3, line 6, leave out paragraph (c).

No. 92, in page 6, line 37, in clause 9, after 'constable', insert 'or authorised person'.

No. 69, in page 8, line 2, in clause 11, at end insert—

'and Class B and Class C controlled drugs which are Class B and Class C drugs within the meaning of that Act'.

Government amendment No. 30.

The Conservatives have no problem with the clarification contained in Government amendment No. 30, which helpfully pursues a point that we made in Committee. My interpretation of amendment No. 92, tabled by the Liberal Democrats, is that it is also an attempt to clarify matters.

We discussed in Committee the issues relating to the extension of the powers to close premises in which drug dealing is taking place to cover class B and C drugs, as well as class A drugs—as the Bill currently provides. We feel so strongly about the matter that we are returning to it again today. We voted on it in Committee and although, of course, we were defeated by the massed ranks of Labour Back Benchers, we wish to debate this important matter again today. We had some support from Labour Back Benchers in Committee. Indeed, in response to similar amendments tabled by the Liberal Democrats, some helpful comments were made by the hon. Member for Don Valley (Caroline Flint), now Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department. Of course, she then had the freedom of the Back Benches. I join my hon. Friend the Member for South-East Cambridgeshire (Mr. Paice) in welcoming both Ministers to their posts, but we will look with interest at everything that the Under-Secretary said when she spoke for herself as a Back Bencher in Committee, in case she is briefed to say slightly different things now that she has been elevated to her new position. On this group of amendments, she was helpful to the case that I am seeking to put, because she pointed out that people who have taken cannabis can often behave in a very silly way. That supports my point that the extra powers would be useful in seeking to deal with antisocial behaviour.

The Liberal Democrats were, as usual, all over the place, with their two spokesmen on the Committee failing to agree with each other, and their more senior spokesman—the hon. Member for Mid-Dorset and North Poole (Mrs. Brooke)— expressing reservations about her policy stance on such matters at their party conference. She said that she would give details of her personal position later. But the Conservatives feel that the powers of the police to close premises where antisocial behaviour has arisen because of class B drugs should be extended to class C drugs. That is because the Government have—unwisely, in our view—announced plans to downgrade cannabis from class B to class C. However, we have noted that the Government have now put back the date on which that downgrading will take place, and we have seen some media coverage of that in the past.

Our position can be succinctly stated. It would be helpful if police officers had the discretion to close premises if antisocial behaviour arose from the use of class B and class C drugs on those premises. As I pointed out in Committee, if one property in a street—and this is particularly true of tourist resorts with many small bed-and-breakfast establishments—becomes known as a place where drug dealing takes place, the bad drives out the good. The good hotelier, who is uninvolved in drugs, will get fewer and fewer customers, because it becomes known that the street contains a property that is used for drug dealing, the consumption of drugs or both. Because of such antisocial behaviour, we say that if the police had the discretion to intervene even in cases in which it cannot be proved that class A drugs are involved, it would be in the interests of the law-abiding members of the community.

The Government's response in Committee was that there is a particular problem with class A drugs—for example, crack houses—and we accept that. Many members of the Committee made that point from their knowledge of their constituencies and other inner-city areas. However, our response was that problems could arise from other drug use. The hon. Member for Gedling (Vernon Coaker), in particular, gave us some support for that view from the Labour Back Benches. If premises are used to produce, manufacture or distribute class B or C drugs, people—especially young people—can be drawn into the drugs subculture. We accept that some of the existing powers may not always be used properly by the forces of law and order, and local people often put pressure on them to do more. The powers in the Bill that are restricted to class A drugs could, if used properly, provide some extra strings for the police's bow. From my experience over many years, both prosecuting and defending drugs cases at the Bar in the midlands, I know that the problems are not restricted to class A drugs.

I hope that the Government will continue to consider the matter thoroughly. Even if they cannot accept amendments Nos. 62 to 69, we would be delighted if the Minister will undertake to keep the matter under review and consult with local authorities and senior police officers. Many of them will tell her that it would be useful if the powers were not restricted solely to class A drugs.

3 pm

I wish to begin by putting on record the thanks of Liberal Democrat Members for the work done in Standing Committee by the former Under-Secretary, the hon. Member for Coventry, North-East (Mr. Ainsworth) and for the part that he played in our debates. We may have had some quite strong disagreements, but the then Minister's good humour and ability to listen to all points of view was very welcome.

I too shall be brief. We had a comprehensive discussion in Committee of this part of the Bill. There was a strong feeling that the aim should be to target class A drugs, to tackle very serious issues of antisocial behaviour, and to use resources effectively.

The Conservative amendments are strange in places. They would mean that ordinary households could face closure notices, and their inclusion of class C drugs could lead to the criminalisation of millions of people. That would be less than productive, given the specific aim of the Bill. We need effective action to deal with what is a very serious problem.

The hon. Member for Surrey Heath (Mr. Hawkins) was right to say that amendment No. 92 returns to an issue that we have raised before. We are not sure that the matter that it addresses is absolutely clear, and I hope that the Minister will give us more reassurance on that. The House will recall that the debate in Committee began with the statement in clause 3 that a
"constable or an authorised person"
may enter premises and do anything
"reasonably necessary to secure the premises against entry by any person."
It was explained in Committee that the authorised person could be a carpenter. Our amendment No. 92 deals with clause 9, which exempts the constable from certain damages but which does not mention the authorised person. That person—the carpenter—could do damage to the property involved. We do not want to give the authorised person unlimited liability, but a balance has to be struck. Our amendment is the simplest way to ensure that the carpenter—or authorised person—would not get caught up in litigation.

We are also worried about the safety of the authorised person in the situation set out in clause 9. Is it clear that all the people present have been removed from the premises by the police? If a person under the influence of drugs goes back into the building, there is a danger that he might attack the authorised person.

I hope that amendment No. 92 makes crystal clear our concerns about clause 9.

I hope that the House will not agree to amendments Nos. 62 to 69. The hon. Member for Mid-Dorset and North Poole (Mrs. Brooke) put her finger on the problem very neatly. We are talking about very dangerous addictive drugs. People who use crack are often totally out of control. The specific requirements for crack and heroin are different from what is needed in connection with other drugs. All of us in the Chamber should acknowledge that.

Rejecting the Conservative amendments would also make it clear that we are speaking about enforcement. We must focus our activity and use police time effectively. If we do not focus in the way set out in the Bill, we will spread our resources to thinly and have significantly less effect as a result.

I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will understand that the Conservative amendments are neither valuable nor important. We must keep focusing on crack cocaine, which is seriously destructive—for the people who take it, for their families, and for the communities in which they live. We must rid our communities of that scourge.

I rise to support my hon. Friend the Member for Surrey Heath (Mr. Hawkins) in urging the Government to accept the Conservative amendments. As he said, they would amend closure notices and orders in two principal ways, by separating drug taking from associated nuisance when notices and orders are made, and by extending the drug categories involved, so that drugs in classes B and C were also covered, as well as those in class A.

I hope that the House will excuse me if I draw on constituency cases of mine. I do not intend to speak for long. A case that is current in my constituency involves a young lady who has some mental difficulties. Her boyfriend, an extremely violent and unpleasant drug taker, moved in with her. After suffering sustained domestic violence, she fled the premises. She now lives in another town.

The young man continued to terrorise the neighbours, one of whom was a young male tenant in a neighbouring property. He had learning difficulties, but was nevertheless managing to look after his property. My constituent's former boyfriend remained heavily involved in activities with a variety of drugs.

The story is close to having a happy ending. The council and the police were able to take joint action, under existing legislation. However, the House should imagine what would have happened if the case that I have described were different in one of two possible ways. First, if the man had married the young lady before he began to beat her up—or at least had entered a long-term arrangement with her to the point that he shared tenancy of the property with her—the process of evicting him would have been much more complicated. In either case, he would have been a fully legal tenant, with all that that implies in connection with tenure. We shall discuss the question of tenure later.

The second possibility has to do with the extremely brave ladies who lived in the street. They came to see me at my surgery, and caused me to take action in the matter. They were faced with the threats of violence from the man at the centre of this case, but were willing to go public about what was happening. It is fortunate that the man involved was acting on his own. Had he been part of a gang that was terrorising the neighbourhood, the situation would have been very different when the matter went to court.

I shall explain why amendment No. 63, and the three or four associated amendments, are necessary. Although it is straightforward to show in a magistrates court that a property is being used for drug taking—all sorts of forensic evidence is usually available in such cases—it is by no means as straightforward to show that a property is a source of public nuisance. If people in the same street are too frightened to testify, how can magistrates establish that a property is the focus of a public nuisance? There is no doubt that the property to which I have referred was such a focus.

If the man whom I have described had been a legitimate tenant in the property, and not merely lived for a few months with the unfortunate woman who suffered violence at his hands, how could any court—magistrates court or Crown court—reasonably establish that the house was a centre for public nuisance? That is why it is important that the public nuisance test should be separate from the test of drug taking; if memory serves, that point was originally raised by Labour Members on Second Reading. Amendment No. 63 and its consequential provisions are essential if the Bill is to strengthen the police's armoury, as Members on both sides of the House want.

Would the hon. Gentleman acknowledge the scale of the problem that we are discussing? I suggest that he moves to Teesside where the number of crack houses is growing exponentially. We do not have just one such house but many hundreds of them. We are talking about the effectiveness of police operations in dealing with a problem of that scale. Will the hon. Gentleman bear that in mind as he addresses the issue? Adding class B and C drugs to the clause, as the hon. Gentleman suggests, would undermine effective police operation.

I hear what the hon. Lady says. I was just about to refer to the amendments on the extension of the powers to classes B and C. Before I do so, I hope that she will acknowledge that nothing that she said in either her speech or her intervention goes against the proposals in amendment No. 63 and their consequentials; they have nothing to do with extending the provisions to classes B and C. It is unfortunate that two sets of our amendments were grouped together as they have different purposes.

Amendment No. 63 deals with removing the requirement to show that a crack house is also a public nuisance. The hon. Lady's Labour colleagues were the first to object to that additional requirement. The amendment would insert the word "or" in place of "and" in the relevant provisions. It is obviously much easier to prove that somewhere is a crack house than that it is a public nuisance, because witnesses are not required.

The hon. Lady referred to the scale of the problem. The police are never forced to pursue any particular case. Policing priorities remain those set down by the chief constable, as they have been for many, many years. Our proposals would offer the police the opportunity—if they want to take it—to deal with houses that have become notorious. In every city in the country, including Canterbury and Whitstable in my constituency, we know of houses that are regularly used for class B and C drug taking. There are all-night parties and it is difficult for people in the neighbourhood to give their children an ordinary upbringing.

Nobody is forcing the police to pursue such cases. My hon. Friend the Member for Surrey Heath pointed out that one house that is on the way down can set the tone for a whole street and we can learn from the policing successes in New York in that regard. The Kent police force, whose chief constable, Sir David Phillips, is in his last week of tenure, is especially good and has achieved some of the largest crime reductions in the country. In Thanet, a neighbouring constituency to mine, the burglary rate is only 10 per cent. of what it was in the first week of Sir David's tenure. That is a remarkable record. If the Kent police were given the opportunity to use the legislation in respect of class B and C drugs as well as class A drugs, from time to time they would do so, to make an example of people and to prevent areas going to the bad before the problem got out of hand.

I promised that my speech would be brief. We have a ridiculously short time in which to discuss a great deal of material. I urge the House to support our amendments and to understand the differences between them. The first set of provisions should be uncontentious, as they were initially raised from the Labour Benches in Committee.

3.15 pm

I am delighted to be taking part in the debate on this excellent Bill. I thank all the colleagues with whom I served on the Standing Committee. One of my first jobs on taking office was to request a document setting out everything that I had said in Committee. I am pleased to note that I said nothing then that I would not be prepared to say today.

I welcome the Minister for Housing and Planning, as he will be dealing with parts of the Bill. I also thank my hon. Friend the Member for Coventry, North-East (Mr. Ainsworth), who, in Committee, had to put up with quite a lot from me and others, as did my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, East (Mr. Heppell) who was sometimes worried that every time he left the Room the Labour ranks were mutinying behind his back.

What was positive in Committee was that we had extensive time to discuss and explore a range of issues. Sometimes, we challenged the Minister and on many occasions my hon. Friend the Member for Coventry, North-East was a credit to his job, providing the reassurances that we needed. That was good.

I thank the Opposition for raising issues in Committee, as they have done today. Their concerns gave rise to considerable discussion in Committee and my hon. Friend the Member for Coventry, North-East agreed to consider their arguments on Report. As a member of the Committee and in the short time that I have been a Minister, I, too, have reflected on what was said and the issues that were raised about premises used for drug taking. We take the problems seriously and have held interdepartmental and external consultations on them with drug organisations and the Association of Chief Police Officers.

We also continue to receive representations from Back Benchers. The problems of antisocial behaviour show the importance of the links between constituencies and MPs. Few other subjects so reflect the strong role that MPs play in representing the views of their community, in differing communities throughout the country.

The power in this part of the Bill was devised to deal with a specific problem that police and housing providers asked us to address: the closure of properties where drugs such as crack and heroin are used and sold, and where intense nuisance is also found. It is to be used only when all other methods of tackling the problem have been exhausted, or would take too long, unnecessarily prolonging damage to communities as a result. Such powers are not to be used lightly. They are severe.

Amendments Nos. 62, 65 and 69 would expand that power to cover class B and C drugs. As press coverage has shown, we have given that proposal active consideration and we held external consultations, following the Committee stage. Nevertheless, after great thought, we decided that we should continue to focus the power exclusively on class A drugs—a point made particularly well by my hon. Friend the Member for Stockton, South (Ms Taylor). In the update of the national drugs strategy, we clearly stated our intention of focusing action on drugs in that way, which was widely welcomed. Class A drugs cause the greatest harm and are associated with serious nuisance, by which I mean violent nuisance. In deciding to reject the amendment, we remain true to our intention to reflect the actual harm caused by the sale and use of those drugs.

We have decided, therefore, that the creation of a new power to act against drugs other than class A controlled drugs would largely be a matter of presentation, rather than the creation of an appropriate power to control an actual problem. The Government intend to reclassify cannabis, as has already been mentioned, from a class B to a class C drug. That reflects the harm that it causes while making the drug classification system more credible to the public. However, that does not mean that we advocate cannabis use. The Government's policy is to concentrate on class A drugs and to restrict the power to close premises to those where such drugs are sold and used. However—

I am grateful to the Minister for giving way and I warmly congratulate her on her appointment.

Given the importance of achieving maximum impact for minimum effort within a framework of inevitably limited resources, does the hon. Lady concede—there would be no shame in her doing so—that in rejecting the amendments she is at least partly motivated by the consideration that there is a limit on the amount of money available and the amount of police time that can reasonably be expected to be committed?

That reflects the priorities, the resources and the maximum impact on communities, and the reality is that crack houses, as they are referred to, have an enormous impact on communities. In crack houses where class A drugs are used, class B and C drugs may often be used as well.

I support what my hon. Friend says. Those powers will be greatly welcomed by tenants' associations and others in my constituency who suffer from what goes on in such one-off drug dealing places. We do not, however, want extensive powers to be granted that will not then be used by the police, which is why focusing on and prioritising class A is absolutely right.

I thank my hon. Friend for that contribution. This is about being effective and using smarter policing to tackle the damage that drugs cause in our communities.

Although the Government's policy is to concentrate. on class A drugs and to restrict the proposed powers to the way that those drugs are sold and used, we will continue to ensure that the police act against those who sell or produce cannabis. The fact that the Criminal Justice Bill, which is being considered in the House, will extend the penalties for dealing in cannabis to 14 years is very important, and the Home Secretary and I support that change. As I have said before, people who use or sell cannabis as well as crack in such houses will be acted against, using those powers.

I also congratulate the Minister on her welcome appointment. She uses the word "effective". Surely the central issue about effectiveness and, indeed, using resources is that it is much easier to prove that a place is a crack house than to prove that it is a public nuisance. Will she now address amendment No. 63?

I will deal with amendment No. 63 shortly, and I hope that my answer will satisfy the hon. Gentleman.

A further reason for our decision was revealed in the external consultation. The feeling was that such expansion to class B and C drugs would have a negative impact on our colleagues who work with drug users in the treatment and homeless sector. It is not desirable to repeat the fear caused in that sector by the amendment of section 8 of the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971, and further destabilise the sector. The risk would be that such agencies would avoid housing all drug users, which would create its own problems if those people were homeless, on the street and open to temptation and crime. That could lead to greater homelessness and harm to those individuals and society.

Amendments Nos. 63, 64 and 67 would create a new power that could be applied to any circumstance of serious nuisance. As drafted, the new power, which is severe, is designed to apply to a specific situation of acute harm, where drugs are sold from buildings and where serious nuisance arises that needs to be dealt with quickly. In seeking to amend the Bill in that way, the Opposition want to create a blanket severe power that could be used in all situations of serious nuisance. It is our view that the power is appropriate only to the particular, acute circumstances of the sale of illegal drugs from crack houses, not to other types of serious nuisance where related criminality is not as severe.

Those forms of nuisance should be controlled through other powers, not least the existing powers available to social landlords to evict tenants, which are strengthened in part 2. A whole host of other powers are therefore available to deal with that type of nuisance, which reflects the wish of hon. Members in Committee to ensure that the existing and new powers are used appropriately and to good effect.

Amendments Nos. 66 and 68 attempt to decouple serious nuisance from the drug-related behaviour involved. As a result, any home where someone was simply smoking crack or another class A drug, rather than causing nuisance, could be closed and the person made homeless. That would create a much more draconian response to the personal use of illegal drugs than is currently contained in the criminal law. Under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971, people would only receive fines for personal possession of drugs, but those amendments could cause them to lose their homes. That is undesirable.

Although drug use is not to be condoned, the solution is not to throw people on to the streets, where their habit would almost certainly get worse and the harm they cause to society would be magnified. The power must be applicable only to those circumstances where the use, production or sale of drugs is associated with serious nuisance. Those amendments would undermine the system of penalties set up and agreed in the 1971 Act.

Amendment No. 92—tabled by those on the Liberal Front Bench, represented by the hon. Member for Mid-Dorset and North Poole (Mrs. Brooke)—reflects a concern, which was raised in Committee, as she rightly said, that authorised persons should have the same protection as the police against damages claims arising from the exercise of their powers. As she said, clarification was sought on that issue. Without the partial exemption from liability in clause 9, the police might be subject to large claims for damages arising from closure by those connected with running crack houses.

The functions of authorised persons are limited to assisting in physically securing the building and carrying out emergency repairs and maintenance under clause 3. The job of carpenter was mentioned in Committee and if carpenters or other trades people are involved in assisting the police—for example, in knocking down a door under the direct orders and supervision of a constable—they are likely to be regarded as being within the exemption. If they are permitted to enter the property alone at a later date to carry out repairs, but carry out those non-police functions negligently, we see no reason why the ordinary law of negligence should not apply to them.

Although the safety of trades people is not addressed in the Liberal Democrat amendment, I wish to say that, when boarding up premises, they will be accompanied by the police, who will offer protection and secure the property for their safety, so that they can carry out the work that they are asked to do. That cover could also be organised for any subsequent visit for further maintenance.

As has been pointed out by the hon. Member for Surrey Heath (Mr. Hawkins), Government amendment No. 30 is acceptable. It deals with a technical matter and allows the definition of the owner of premises to include the freeholder and the leaseholder, where the property is subject to a lease of three years or more. Our intention to introduce such an amendment was signalled in Committee, and it is based on a culture of listening to hon. Members on both sides of the House, as well as to people outside.

This is a crucial issue for the communities that we represent—it is about smarter policing and taking precautions—so I request that the hon. Gentleman withdraw the amendment and that the House accept Government amendment No. 30.

I shall be very brief. Of course, I have listened very carefully to what the Minister has had to say, but I hope that she will continue to keep such matters under review. She has rightly paid tribute to the work of her predecessor, the hon. Member for Coventry, North-East (Mr. Ainsworth), who is now the Government deputy Chief Whip. I echo her congratulations to him on his promotion and her recognition of his very important work in Committee. Hon. Members on both sides of the Committee benefited from his constructive approach.

On this group of amendments, however, I wish to draw the Minister's attention to what her hon. Friend said when he was the Minister. On 6 May, he drew attention to the fact, as my hon. Friend the Member for Canterbury (Mr. Brazier) has just done, that the idea of the decoupling amendments that we moved in Committee—we have proposed similar ones again today—came from the Government's Back Benchers, particularly the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South (Mr. Stevenson). The proposal has not just come from Opposition Members; it is something on which the Minister's hon. Friends agree with us. We feel that, even though the police will not always use such powers, they will introduce an extra element of flexibility, so that where the police wanted to use them, they would have the chance to do so.

In her response, the Minister drew attention to the fact that sometimes premises are used for the consumption of more than one drug. I therefore ask her to bear in mind the point raised once again by my hon. Friends the Members for Canterbury and for Buckingham (Mr. Bercow) that serious nuisances can exist, even if they do not involve class A drugs, of the same kind that the then Minister, the hon. Member for Coventry, North-East talked about:
"We know what they are"—
meaning the types of nuisances—
"comings and goings 24 hours a day, soliciting in the area, paraphernalia and noise."—[Official Report, Standing Committee G, 6 May 2003; c. 32.]
That is precisely why we say that all of those nuisances can arise even if class A drugs are not involved. We entirely accept what the Minister says about crack houses posing a particular problem, and no doubt these powers would mainly be used to deal with the scourge of crack houses to which the hon. Member for Stockton, South (Ms Taylor) has also referred, and which we recognise. I hope it will be borne in mind, however, as this Bill progresses to another place, that we continue to believe that it would be wise for these powers to be decoupled, and to have the flexibility, when appropriate—perhaps only in rare cases—to cover class B and class C drugs, too. At this stage, however, I do not seek to pursue the matter. I therefore beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 11


Amendment made: No. 30, in page 8, line 27, in clause 11, leave out subsection (10) and insert

"() A person is the owner of premises if either of the following paragraphs applies to him—

  • (a) he is a person (other than a mortgagee not in possession) who is for the time being entitled to dispose of the fee simple in the premises, whether in possession or in reversion;
  • (b) he is a person who holds or is entitled to the rents and profits of the premises under a lease which (when granted) was for a term of not less than three years,',—[Keith Hill.]
  • Clause 13

    Injunctions Against Anti-Social Behaviour On Application Of Certain Social Landlords

    3.30 pm

    I beg to move amendment No. 10, in page 10, line 28, leave out 'immoral and'.

    With this it will be convenient to discuss Government amendments Nos. 11 and 21 to 23.

    I also hope to be brief in dealing with this small group of amendments. I want to begin, however, by thanking my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary for her kind words of welcome, and to reciprocate by congratulating her on her well-merited appointment. It is also a pleasure to be working with my hon. Friend the Minister for Crime Reduction, Policing and Community Safety. I congratulate her on her promotion, too. They are two glittering stars in the firmament of the parliamentary Labour party.

    Amendments Nos. 10, 11, 21 and 22 deal with the question of immorality. Specifically, it is proposed that the immoral use of premises, as distinct from unlawful use of premises, should be removed as a ground for obtaining an injunction or a demotion. I am grateful to the hon. Member for South-East Cambridgeshire (Mr. Paice) for bringing this to the Government's attention in Committee. I am entirely in agreement with him that there is no necessary link between immorality and either antisocial behaviour or illegality, and it is misleading to imply one. Immorality per se is irrelevant to what the Bill seeks to achieve.

    We do not think that it is appropriate that injunctions or demotion orders intended to prevent antisocial behaviour should be used to control the use of premises where no illegal activity is taking place and no nuisance is being caused. It is difficult to see what is antisocial in that situation. If illegality or nuisance begins, an injunction under clause 13 or a demotion order under clause 14 can be obtained without the need for any judgments of morality. Amendment No. 23 is a technical amendment to provide consistency in the way that the Bill deals with matters of Welsh devolution. We are deleting subsection (2) of clause 17 to bring it into line with clause 55.

    I welcome the new Minister for Housing and Planning. I was remiss in not referring to him in my earlier remarks, and he rightly chided me privately for that. I congratulate him on his promotion—I suppose that that is what it is—and certainly on his new position in the Government. Whether he has as much power as he had as Deputy Chief Whip I shall leave for others to judge. It is ironic, of course, that the previous Minister, the hon. Member for Coventry, North-East (Mr. Ainsworth), has gone to the job that the new Minister for Housing and Planning vacated.

    I hope that my hon. Friend will agree that the Minister took a sensible approach to the Government's new clauses and amendments. Will he agree, however, that after a period of Trappist silence from the new Minister, which was no doubt put to good effect on behalf of the Government machine, it is extremely welcome that we shall once again hear his mellifluous tones and his gladiatorial approach to political debate?

    I am sure that my hon. Friend, with his immense command of vocabulary, has encapsulated the views of many of us. I smile inwardly at the presence on the Front Bench of the new Minister for Housing and Planning, together with the new Minister for Crime Reduction, Policing and Community Safety, whom I assume is pleased that her colleague has not been put in charge of cycling, bearing in mind a faux pas that he made previously in the House, which was probably the cause of the period of Trappist silence to which he was consigned. Clearly, however, he has paid his penance.

    I am grateful to the Minister for Housing and Planning for his kind words about the amendments, which, as he said, arise from almost identical amendments that I moved in Committee. I remind hon. Members of the words used in Committee by the then Under-Secretary, Office of the Deputy Prime Minister, the hon. Member for Harrow, East (Mr. McNulty), when he spoke to my amendments. He said:
    "Currently, I am not persuaded by my own briefing"—[Official Report, Standing Committee G, 13 May 2003; c. 229.]
    There were several occasions on which he and the hon. Member for Coventry, North-East made similar statements. The result of the openness and honesty displayed by those Ministers is that several welcome amendments and new clauses, such as those in this group, have been tabled.

    I shall not reprise the arguments that the Minister for Housing and Planning made—I made them at slightly more length in Committee. It is wrong to confuse antisocial behaviour with immorality. Immorality is based on a personal judgment and the concept moves with the times. We know from other aspects of legislation that courts have great difficulty defining immorality, so we do not want to bestow that problem on the Bill. The Bill is all about addressing nuisance and annoyance, which are clearly defined in law, so I am grateful that the Government have recognised that those concepts should not be confused with the wholly different concept of immorality.

    We want to discuss other issues before the first knife falls, so I shall leave my remarks at that, except to repeat my welcome and obvious support for the Government amendments.

    I welcome my hon. Friend the Minister for Housing and Planning to the Front Bench and I ask him to bear one thing in mind. I am sure that it is a common phenomenon for hon. Members of all parties to talk to people on council estates who say, "You know, the old rent book used to be very clear. The old rent man used to come round and tell us exactly the duties that we had and correct us when the garden was untidy." In a way, the drift of policy to protect private tenants especially, has gone a little too far the other way.

    I say with the greatest respect to my hon. Friend—I hope that he will consider this although not necessarily react to it at the Dispatch Box—that many councils, including mine, would prefer to have the ability to use a tighter tenancy agreement. In order to achieve that, the Government must stand behind councils rather than continuing what is perhaps a trend of the past 30 years of always looking after the individual rights of a specific tenant. Sadly, people who use their rights are often those who abuse the rights of everyone else in the community. I am not saying that we need to return to a pre-Rachmanite regime, but as the Bill moves to the other place, will my hon. Friend consider the possibility of councils being able to toughen up their tenancy agreements so that they may take speedy action against some of the families that plague all our constituents?

    I would add my congratulations to the Minister for Housing and Planning, but I did so during Question Time last week. He is unfortunate to be promoted into his job only to discover that he is midway through two Bills, or even three. Even being midway through one Bill would be unfortunate.

    I add Liberal Democrat support to the amendments—we have added our names to them—for the reasons outlined by the hon. Member for South-East Cambridgeshire (Mr. Paice) and the Minister. We support the removal of the word "immoral". It was inappropriate and had nothing at all to do with a Bill on antisocial behaviour. I think that the word slipped in because such wording has been used in Bills for several years and there is a tendency to keep rolling on with the same set of words. It is just as well that the problem has been brought to book and I hope that that will prevent the wording from being rolled out in future Bills.

    Amendment agreed to.

    Amendment made: No. 11, in page 10, line 31, leave out 'immoral or'.— [Keith Hill.]

    '153D Injunction against breach of tenancy agreement

  • (1)This section applies if a relevant landlord applies for an injunction against a tenant in respect of the breach or anticipated breach of a tenancy agreement on the grounds that the tenant—
  • (a) is engaging or threatening to engage in conduct that is capable of causing nuisance or annoyance to any person, or
  • (b) is allowing, inciting or encouraging any other person to engage or threaten to engage in such conduct.
  • (2) The court may proceed under subsection (3) or (4) if it is satisfied—
  • (a) that the conduct includes the use or threatened use of violence, or
  • (b) that there is a significant risk of harm to any person.
  • (3) The court may include in the injunction a provision prohibiting the person in respect of whom it is granted from entering or being in—
  • (a) any premises specified in the injunction;
  • (b) any area specified in the injunction.
  • (4) The court may attach a power of arrest to any provision of the injunction.
  • (5) Tenancy agreement includes any agreement for the occupation of residential accommodation owned or managed by a relevant landlord.'.
  • With this it will be convenient to discuss the following: Government amendments Nos. 13 to 20.

    Amendment No. 75, in page 45, line 39, schedule 1, leave out from 'possession' to end of line 40 and insert

    'if it is satisfied

  • (a) that conduct under section 153A or 153B of the Housing Act 1996 has taken place since the making of the demotion order and
  • (b) that the procedure under sections 143E and 143F has been followed.
  • Amendment No. 61, in page 46, line 9, schedule 1, at end insert—

    'including evidence of further conduct under section 153A or section 153B of the Housing Act 1996 which has taken place since the making of the demotion order.'.

    I again offer my thanks to colleagues on both sides of the House who have given me such a warm welcome. It is good to be back. I hope that we will proceed in the same sweet harmonies that prevailed on earlier Government amendments, but that may not be the case. However, I shall at least endeavour to persuade the House of the merits of these amendments.

    Clause 13 provides social landlords with powers to apply for injunctions to prevent anyone acting antisocially towards their tenants or other residents, staff or anyone lawfully in the locality of their housing accommodation. They are strong powers and may be used against any person including private tenants and owner-occupiers. That includes former tenants who have exercised the right to buy.

    I agree with that expression of support. That aspect of the Bill has not yet received the attention it merits and will receive a warm welcome in council estates up and down the land.

    The measures combat antisocial behaviour that is related to the management of the social landlord's stock. They do not give social landlords a wider role to protect any person from antisocial behaviour by any person in any circumstance. There has to be at least an indirect link with the landlord's management of its housing accommodation, although there does not have to be a link with any one particular premises as required by section 152 of the Housing Act 1996.

    However, a landlord might reasonably want to take action against one of its tenants who had acted antisocially in a wider range of circumstances than if the antisocial behaviour were committed by a non-tenant. It is important that rights and responsibilities are negotiated between the landlord and tenant. Amendment No. 12 allows them to do that. To revert to the observation made by my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, North (Mr. Allen), he will find in the provisions the opportunity to strengthen tenancy agreements. The Government desire that to be a general phenomenon. It only addresses part of the argument that he presented, but at least it is a part. I shall bear in mind his other observations.

    By tenancy agreement I mean any agreement for the occupation of residential accommodation owned or managed by the landlord including, for example, long leases acquired under the right-to-buy legislation. The amendment strengthens the enforceability of such agreements in relation to antisocial behaviour. Many social landlords include specific clauses in their tenancy agreements on antisocial behaviour. Those may go beyond what is covered in clause 13. For example, local authority tenancies may forbid tenants from harassing any member of council staff, in any location, regardless of whether they are employed in connection with the management of its stock.

    Social landlords can already obtain an injunction to prohibit a breach or anticipated breach of a tenancy agreement. The amendment defines tenancy agreement more widely and allows a power of arrest or exclusion to be attached to an injunction if there is actual or threatened antisocial behaviour and the use or threat of violence, or the risk of significant harm to any person. That includes circumstances in which the tenant is allowing, inciting or encouraging antisocial behaviour by someone else. I repeat that these are strong powers and they will not be granted lightly by the courts, but where they are appropriate and necessary, they will significantly enhance the protection of the community.

    I very much welcome the powers and know that they will be well received in constituencies up and down the land. It is a great credit to the Government that they have introduced them.

    The powers allow an injunction to be made and further prosecution if that is breached. One point that I was making to my hon. Friend the Minister was that it would be useful to consider the automaticity—the automatic nature—of a breach of a tenancy agreement so that consequences follow immediately rather than waiting for a document or dossier to be built up that can be taken to court. That would help to avoid the intimidation of witnesses. If it is there in black and white on the tenancy agreement, but someone breaks that agreement, certain things might follow automatically. The provision does not allow for that, but I urge my hon. Friend to see whether the good work in the clause can be taken a stage further.

    3.45 pm

    I am extremely grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, North (Mr. Allen), who has obviously devoted a great deal of thought to these matters. I am interested in the concept of a rolling programme in relation to tenancy agreements. My hon. Friend has advanced a serious proposition, and the Government will give it careful consideration.

    Government amendments Nos. 13, 14 and 16 to 20 are necessary consequential amendments, which give effect to new section 153D of the Housing Act 1996. Government amendment No. 15 is a technical amendment that clarifies the question of who is regarded as the legal owner of a property. It makes it clear that a social landlord is an owner if their original lease of the accommodation was for longer than three years and not, as currently stated, if the unexpired period of the lease is for longer than three years. I found that a matter of some confusion, so it may be for the benefit of the House if I provide brief clarification. Any person who has a lease of three years or more will be regarded under the Bill as an owner. The owner is the landlord—in other words, the person who can take out an injunction. Someone with a lease of less than three years is identified as a business tenant. I hope that that added clarification is as helpful to the House as it was to me.

    My predecessor, the hon. Member for Harrow, East (Mr. McNulty), to whom I pay tribute to for his excellent work in Committee and in many other areas of government, said in Committee that he would happily look again at the question of whether three years rather than one year was the correct length of time. I have considered that, and am satisfied that three years is the correct length. Even if a social landlord is not classified as the owner of a particular property, they will still be the manager, and hence able to use the powers in clause 13.

    I turn to amendments Nos. 61 and 75, which were tabled by the Opposition and have the aim of undermining the purpose of the tenancy demotion procedure. They would increase demoted tenants' security of tenure, and would remove the benefits of speed and landlord control of the process, which the demotion procedure is intended to provide. They seek to limit the circumstances in which a landlord may seek to end a demoted tenancy to cases where there is evidence of antisocial behaviour after the order was granted. Eviction from a demoted tenancy is designed to be swifter and easier than eviction from secure tenancies, and is modelled on the procedure for local authority introductory tenancies that was recently approved by the courts as being compliant with the European convention on human rights.

    By the time a tenant has been demoted, the landlord and the tenant have both had their day in court. Evidence has been provided, and witnesses have attended. The amendments would effectively require another full-scale court hearing. There would be costs to the landlord and delays for those who are suffering from the antisocial behaviour, and it may not be easy to persuade witnesses to come back a second time. The demotion order allows landlords to give tenants one last chance, but it also allows them to take swift action if the antisocial behaviour is not addressed. The demotion order will give the tenant and landlord the opportunity for rehabilitation work. However, if that last chance fails, landlords should not be required to justify their own actions again at a further court hearing.

    The Minister spoke about what will happen if that sanction fails, but there is nothing in the Bill about failure after a demoted tenancy is granted. If someone is given a demoted tenancy, the landlord can move for repossession at any point without giving any reasons whatever. That is the problem with the Bill.

    That is not the case. The procedure for ending a demoted tenancy is based, as I said, on the procedure for ending an introductory tenancy. The decision is taken by the landlord, following a process that is already statutory, and is followed by a possession order granted by the court. The tenant will have the right to an internal review of the landlord's decision. The arrangements for the termination of a demoted tenancy will mirror the existing arrangements for the termination of introductory tenancies.

    I understand the hon. Gentleman's concerns. I remind him that the landlord will inform the tenant of his intention to terminate the tenancy. The tenant will have the right to appear before a review panel, which it is intended should include a senior council officer not involved in the initial demotion procedure. Ultimately, the tenant will have the right to take the proposed eviction to judicial review, but at the possession hearing, the court will consider only whether the appropriate procedure has been followed, not the facts upon which the landlord's decision was based or the merits of the case. Without those reassurances, the demotion order would be a less attractive procedure and it would encourage more landlords to apply for a possession order at the first opportunity.

    To put the matter in perspective, we are not speaking of random searches of council estates and picking on people. People who have got to this stage have probably been highly disruptive, disturbed the neighbourhood and made their neighbours' life hell. They have already had at least one chance. The problem is not that the process is too fast, but that it may be too protracted. Witnesses who have come forward, often at great expense, bolstered by housing officers, police officers and so on, may be asked to come to court two or three times, have their windows put in, have acid poured on their car and so on. We have lived with such problems, and I am glad that my hon. Friend is moving swiftly to tackle them.

    It is beginning to sound like a love-in between me and my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, North. I entirely agree with his observations, which are as perceptive as ever. As he says, we have all been there, as constituency Members of Parliament. In my experience as a constituency Member of Parliament, the landlord is usually extremely reluctant to move to the measures that I described.

    Of course, the landlord is aware of the implications of the ending of any form of tenancy and the implications for the family, but the procedure will prevent precipitate action to move towards eviction. It will offer—I reiterate that in my experience this is the desire of most housing managers—the opportunity for a process of rehabilitation to try to bring the individuals concerned back into civic society. That is the name of the game. We need to restore a sense of civic society, and on occasion we must do that by sanction.

    These are reasonable proposals. They meet the wishes expressed overwhelmingly by the social landlord sector in consultation. The Government have no hesitation in moving amendments Nos. 12 to 20 and in urging Opposition Members to withdraw amendments Nos. 75 and 61.

    I shall briefly refer to the Government amendments, before dealing with the two that we tabled, to which the Minister devoted some time. Government amendments Nos. 12, 13 and 14 and the consequential amendments, as the hon. Gentleman said, are draconian, but they are right and wholly supportable. It is necessary to provide for those injunctions. I will not detain the House further on those, except to reiterate our support.

    I welcome Government amendment No. 15, because as the Minister said, it clarifies who is a landlord. The hon. Gentleman referred to the undertaking given by the now Under-Secretary of State for Transport, the hon. Member for Harrow, East (Mr. McNulty), to go away and consider the points that I made in Committee concerning the three-year period. The question that I raised was not whether that period was right or wrong; it had much more to do with the issue with which the amendment deals—whether there were three years still to run. By making it clear that the period was initially three years and that there is no such period still to run, which is what the Bill currently says, the Minister has dealt with the issue. I welcome the amendment, which is obviously another example of the success of my powers of persuasion, for which I shall take credit.

    On amendments Nos. 75 and 61, in the spirit of good will, I say to the Minister that it is a calumny to suggest that the Opposition are trying to undermine the legislation. He is absolutely right to say that antisocial behaviour is a major problem in respect of tenants of social landlords. All of us have encountered that problem to a greater or lesser extent in our constituencies. The hon. Gentleman is also right that action needs to be taken, and there is no difference between my party and the Government on that need, so we do not intend or seek to undermine the Bill.

    The point of the amendments is as follows. As the Bill is currently drafted, and as the Minister obviously wishes to maintain it, once a demotion order is achieved, a landlord will be able to serve proceedings for possession. He will have to give his reasons, and the Minister rightly said—this is set out in the Bill—that the tenant can seek a review. However, he went on to speak about review panels, independence and so on, none of which feature in the Bill. We must make a judgment on the basis of what the Bill contains. As I read it, in the hands of a landlord who wishes to be unscrupulous, a demotion order could effectively be an eviction order, and there is virtually nothing to prevent a landlord from moving from a demotion order straight to eviction.

    All that we are seeking to achieve in the amendments is to provide the second chance to which the Minister and indeed the hon. Member for Nottingham, North (Mr. Allen) referred, and which we endorse. When a tenant of a social landlord allows or commits antisocial behaviour, they should be hit with a hard sanction, and we accept that demotion orders are a tough sanction. However, they should be given a chance to learn as a result of the action that is taken and not commit such behaviour again, and it appears that the Bill does not currently provide that second chance. All that we are seeking is to ensure that if the landlord wishes to go for possession, he must do so because the tenant has taken no notice of the initial sanction that the demotion order represents.

    That is the simple gist of our amendments and the reason why we have tabled them. I do not want to undermine the Bill and I certainly want landlords to be able to take action against tenants who continue to allow or commit unsocial behaviour. However, I do not want to give free licence to the recognised chance of unscrupulous social landlords using the provisions in a way that neither the Minister nor I wish them to be used.

    I shall try to be brief.

    The Liberal Democrats reluctantly accept that the Government were right to table Government amendment No. 12 and the other Government amendments, but I should like to reiterate the point made by the hon. Member for South-East Cambridgeshire (Mr. Paice). Under the Bill as it is currently framed, a couple with an unruly teenage son who has been behaving antisocially may end up with a demoted tenancy, but if the son leaves home and the couple get into rent arrears because one of them has lost a job or for some other reason, they can be fast-tracked for eviction under the demoted tenancy because of those arrears, despite the fact that the problem in respect of which they were given the demoted tenancy has gone completely.

    The hon. Member for South-East Cambridgeshire was right to make that point, which we have also tried to raise, although I accept it has been made in the Conservative amendments. I hope that the Minister will address the issue and ensure that when somebody is evicted after a demoted tenancy has been issued, it is for the same reason in respect of which they were given the demoted tenancy in the first place.

    Let me say to the hon. Members for South-East Cambridgeshire (Mr. Paice) and for Ludlow (Matthew Green) that I understand the seriousness of the points that they make. I shall certainly bear in mind the observation made by the hon. Member for Ludlow about the consistency of the basis of a termination of a demoted tenancy.

    4 pm

    Although I understand the concerns about the precipitate action of unscrupulous landlords against tenants, broadly speaking, in my experience, unscrupulous landlords are more often to be found in the private sector than in the social housing sector, but that is a matter for other legislation. The effect of the amendments would be to take cases back to the courts, with all the disadvantages in terms of witnesses, delay and cost implications for the local authority.

    I hope that the hon. Member for South-East Cambridgeshire will take it from me that the Government intend that the rules governing the termination of demoted tenancies should be those that apply to the termination of introductory tenancies. The regulations will mirror those provisions. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will not press his amendment and that the House will support the Government's amendments.

    Amendment agreed to.

    It being one and three quarter hours after the commencement of proceedings on the programme motion, MR. DEPUTY SPEAKER proceeded to put forthwith the Questions necessary for the disposal of the business to be concluded at that hour, pursuant to Order [this day.]

    Amendments made: No. 13, in page 11, line 6, leave out '153C' and insert '153D'.

    No. 14, in page 11, line 27, leave out from 'landlord' to end of line 29 and insert

    'for the purposes of section 153D'.

    No. 15, in page 11, line 40, leave out from 'lease' to end of line 41 and insert

    'which (when granted) was for a term of not less than three years'.

    No. 16, in page 12, line 7, after '153C(3)', insert 'or 153D(4)'.

    No. 17, in page 12, line 12, after '153C(3)', insert 'or 153D(4)'.

    No. 18, in page 12, line 14, after '153C(3)', insert 'or 153D(4)'.

    No. 19, in page 12, line 17, after '153C(3)', insert 'or 153 D(4)'.

    No. 20, in page 12, line 19, after '153C(3)', insert 'or 153D(4)'.— [Mr. Heppell.]

    Clause 14

    Security Of Tenure: Anti-Social Behaviour

    Amendments made: No. 21, in page 13, line 17, leave out 'immoral or'.

    No. 22, in page 14, line 18, leave out 'immoral or'.— [Mr. Heppell.]

    Clause 17

    Devolution: Wales

    Amendment made: No. 23, in page 16, line 24, leave out subsection (2).— [Mr. Heppell.]

    Clause 18

    Parenting Contracts In Cases Of Exclusion From School Or Truancy

    Amendments made: No. 1, in page 16, line 32, leave out from 'permanently' to end of line 34.

    No. 41, in page 17, line 8, after 'attend' and insert 'a'.

    No. 42, in page 17, line 8, leave out 'sessions' and insert 'programme'.— [Mr. Heppell.]

    Clause 19

    Parenting Orders In Cases Of Exclusion From School

    Amendments made: No. 43, in page 17, line 37, leave out 'sessions' and insert 'programme'.

    No. 44, in page 17, line 42, at end insert—

    '(6) A counselling or guidance programme which a parent is required to attend by virtue of subsection (4)(b) may be or include a residential course but only if the court is satisfied that the following two conditions are fulfilled.

    (7) The first condition is that the attendance of the parent at a residential course is likely to be more effective than his attendance at a nonresidential course in improving the behaviour of the pupil.

    (8) The second condition is that any interference with family life which is likely to result from the attendance of the parent at a residential course is proportionate in all the circumstances:— [Mr. Heppell.]

    Clause 20

    Parenting Orders: Supplemental

    Amendment made: No. 45, in page 18, line 16, leave out from 'make' to end of line 18 and insert

    'provision as to how the costs associated with the requirements of parenting orders under section 19 (including the costs of providing counselling or guidance programmes) are to be borne'.—[Mr. Heppell.]

    Clause 23


    Amendment made: No. 35, in page 22, leave out line 18.— [Mr. Heppell.]

    Clause 24

    Parenting Contracts In Respect Of Criminal Conduct And Anti-Social Behaviour

    Amendment made: No. 46, in page 22, line 38, after 'attend' insert 'a'.— [Mr. Heppell.]

    Clause 25

    Parenting Orders In Respect Of Crimnal Conduct And Anti-Social Behaviour

    Amendment made: No. 49, in page 23, line 25, at end insert—

    '(6) A counselling or guidance programme which a parent is required to attend by virtue of subsection (4)(b) may be or include a residential course but only if the court is satisfied that the following two conditions are fulfilled.

    (7) The first condition is that the attendance of the parent at a residential course is likely to be more effective than his attendance at a nonresidential course in preventing the child or young person from engaging in further criminal conduct or further antisocial behaviour.

    (8) The second condition is that any interference with family life which is likely to result from the attendance of the parent at a residential course is proportionate in all the circumstances.'— [Mr. Heppell.]

    Clause 28


    Amendments made: No. 36, in page 24, leave out line 22.

    No. 37, in page 24, line 25, at end insert—

    '(2) In section 38(4) of the Crime and Disorder Act 1998 (c.37) (meaning of "youth justice services") after paragraph (e) insert—

    "(ee) the performance by youth offending teams and members of youth offending teams of functions under sections 24 to 26 of the Antisocial Behaviour Act 2003,".'.—[Mr. Heppell.]

    New Clause 8— Parenting Orders under the 1998 Act

    '(1) Section 8 of the Crime and Disorder Act 1998 (c. 37) is amended as follows.

    (2) For subsections (4) and (5) substitute—

    "(4) A parenting order is an order which requires the parent—

  • (a) to comply, for a period not exceeding twelve months, with such requirements as are specified in the order, and
  • (b) subject to subsection (5) below, to attend, for a concurrent period not exceeding three months, such counselling or guidance programme as may be specified in directions given by the responsible officer.
  • (5) A parenting order may, but need not, include such a requirement as is mentioned in subsection (4)(b) above in any case where a parenting order under this section or any other enactment has been made in respect of the parent on a previous occasion."

    (3) After subsection (7) insert—

    "(7A) A counselling or guidance programme which a parent is required to attend by virtue of subsection (4)(b) above may be or include a residential course but only if the court is satisfied—

  • (a) that the attendance of the parent at a residential course is likely to be more effective than his attendance at a nonresidential course in preventing any such repetition or, as the case may be, the commission of any such further offence, and
  • (b) that any interference with family life which is likely to result from the attendance of the parent at a residential course is proportionate in all the circumstances.".'.—[Mr. Heppell.]
  • Brought up, read the First and Second Times, and added to the Bill.

    Clause 29

    Dispersal Of Groups And Removal Of Persons Under 16 To Their Place Of Residence

    I beg to move amendment No. 82, in page 24, line 28, leave out Clause 29.

    With this it will be convenient to discuss the following: Amendment No. 53, in page 24, leave out lines 35 to 37.

    Amendment No. 54, in page 24, line 38, leave out subsection (2).

    Amendment No. 55, in page 25, line 6, leave out first 'relevant' and insert 'immediate'.

    Amendment No. 58, in page 25, line 6, leave out second 'relevant' and insert 'immediate'.

    Government amendment No. 38.

    Amendment No. 56, in page 25, line 10, leave out first 'relevant' and insert 'immediate'.

    Amendment No. 57, in page 25, line 10, leave out second 'relevant' and insert 'immediate'.

    Government amendment No. 39.

    Amendment No. 59, in page 25, line 25, leave out 'in the relevant locality'.

    Amendment No. 76, in page 25, line 31, leave out

    'if removed to that place'

    and insert

    'if that person remained in that place to which he was removed to'.

    Amendment No. 60, in page 25, line 36, leave out Clause 30.

    Amendment No. 83, in page 26, line 28, leave out Clause 31.

    Amendment No. 84, in page 27, line 1, leave out Clause 32.

    Amendment No. 85, in page 27, line 25, leave out Clause 33.

    Amendment No. 86, in page 28, line 1, leave out Clause 34.

    Government amendment No. 40.

    Amendment No. 87, in page 28, line 11, leave out Clause 35.

    As well as amendment No. 82, which is in my name and the names of my hon. Friends, in this selection there is a group of other amendments in our name—amendments Nos. 83, 84, 85, 86 and 87. There is one amendment that is jointly in our name and that of Conservative Front Benchers—amendment No. 60. Amendments Nos. 53 to 59 are Conservative amendments that I will leave to Conservative colleagues to address specifically. There are, by my calculation, three Government amendments in the group— amendments Nos. 38, 39 and 40—which are relatively minor amendments to do with locality. The last one is a drafting amendment. Amendment No. 76 is a Conservative amendment that addresses one of the matters that was picked up in the report published by the Joint Committee on Human Rights the other day.

    As Ministers will know, this is a significant part of the Bill for my colleagues and me. Indeed, it is significant by any definition, and was flagged up as such in the report on the Anti-Social Behaviour Bill by the Joint Committee on Human Rights. We give thanks to the Committee for its work and for its 13th report, which has helped inform this debate.

    There might be time for three debates in the next hour and a half, and I hope that we do, indeed, have time for all of them. The first deals with clause 29, which is in part 4 of the Bill, under the heading "Dispersal of groups, etc.". Whether, at the end of the day, we have to have the word "etc." in the title is a matter that we can no doubt debate; part 4 deals with the dispersal of groups. The title of clause 29 is fairly categorical in terms of the issue that we are debating: it is "Dispersal of groups and removal of persons under 16 to their place of residence".

    There was some uncertainty on Second Reading but, to be fair to the Government, it is now clear that the measure contains two proposals. One relates to a power to disperse groups of two or more people, who can be of any age, in certain circumstances. A separate power relates to the removal of under-16s. I want to discuss both those powers, and to signal to the House that we have strong reasons for believing that they are unnecessary and inappropriate; that they go far too wide; that they probably break the law; and that they will be positively unhelpful in trying to deal with antisocial behaviour. I should say that there is a point of common agreement in all parts of the House that, when behaviour becomes threatening, intimidating or harassing, and when people of any age intervene in the lives of other people to make their lives a misery, it is unacceptable.

    Like me, the new Minister for Crime Reduction, Policing, and Community Safety represents an inner-city seat. My hon. Friends the Members for Mid-Dorset and North Poole (Mrs. Brooke) and for Ludlow (Matthew Green)—who served on the Standing Committee—represent very different seats. One has a large seaside resort with a rural hinterland; the other has a beautiful rural area with a large county town and smaller towns and villages. None of us, however, is immune to the fact that there are people of all ages—although they are generally under 40—who can behave in an antisocial way from time to time.

    There is a question as to what antisocial behaviour is, and the Joint Committee on Human Rights has suggested that we should be careful about how we define it. The Liberal Democrats have a fundamental objection to the way in which the Government have drafted this part of the Bill. In Committee, my hon. Friends sought to persuade the Committee to amend the Bill. Had they been able to do so, our fundamental objections would, to be honest, have gone away, because we should have taken out the great iniquity of the drafting. I hope that I can now persuade the House that, as presently drafted, the Bill goes much too far in two respects.

    I shall deal later with clause 29(6), which relates to the power to remove young people. Clause 29(1) states:

    "This section applies where a relevant officer has reasonable grounds for believing—

    (a) that any members of the public have been intimidated, harassed, alarmed or distressed"—

    those are the four conditions that a person can be judged to be in—

    "as a result of"—

    the precondition that—

    "the presence or behaviour of groups of two or more persons in public places in any locality in his police area … and"—

    there is a second precondition that—

    "(b) that anti-social behaviour is a significant and persistent problem in the relevant locality."

    There must, therefore, have been a finding that antisocial behaviour was a "significant and persistent problem".

    That will immediately lead to the difficulty—although it is not the biggest difficulty—of determining what the locality is. Could it, for example, be the whole of the London borough of Southwark, in the case of my constituency, or the whole of the metropolitan borough of Salford, in the case of the Minister's? Could it be one of the places in a borough, such as the Poole part of the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Dorset and North Poole, or a ward, a council estate or a street? That has not been sorted out. There may be guidelines, but if there had been persistent antisocial behaviour in part of the London borough of Southwark, which I know best, that may be enough for someone to be covered by the second precondition.

    Let me make the case, and I shall give way in a second.

    My judgment is—I am being absolutely honest about this—that it is probably possible to find enough antisocial behaviour to get over the first threshold in any constituency in the United Kingdom. Most constituencies contain areas in which there are problems, and if they occur more than once or a few times, they could be said to be persistent. The difficulty comes when there is a trigger that can suddenly have a consequence for a wide area even though the problem has an impact on only a small area.

    The hon. Gentleman is making a reasonable point about defining an area, but there should be guidance. Area crime prevention partnerships could identify problem areas. As well as the police, other agencies and individuals that make up those partnerships could define the locality when there is a particular problem in their area, and they could give community constables the power to act.

    That is true, although we do not have those definitions as yet. The hon. Gentleman will remember that the Labour Government introduced, and Parliament legislated for, the power to place curfews over areas designated either by the local authority or by the police. As we know, no such curfew areas have yet been designated, although the powers have been available for some years

    It is different, but it is the same concept. Authorities were given the power suddenly to intervene on anyone who came within the designated curfew area. Under this Bill, once the area has been designated, the authorities will be allowed suddenly to act in relation to people in the area. The arguments do not stand on their own: they stand together. The major objection to this provision is that, because of some previous behaviour by some, we will be punishing what may be perfectly respectable behaviour by many. By acting on the situation in the past, when there may have been antisocial behaviour by a few, we may infringe the civil liberties of a large number of people.

    I shall explain why that would be the consequence of the Bill and why the hon. Gentleman, on reflection, may decide that he should not support this provision. Once the location issue has been sorted out, what does the Bill provide? It says that all that is needed is for a relevant officer to have reasonable grounds for believing that any members of the public—it could be a member or two members—have been alarmed or distressed as a result of not just the behaviour but the presence of groups of two or more people.

    My hon. Friend the Member for Ludlow put the point clearly in Committee. If members of the public have been intimidated, harassed or alarmed as a result of the behaviour of groups of people, action could reasonably follow, but it is not reasonable to provide that when any members of the public may have been alarmed or distressed, however unreasonably, by the presence of two or more people, the authorities can go in.

    4.15 pm

    Let me tell the hon. Gentleman why the provision is completely unacceptable. It means that, if someone who for no good reason does not like people hanging around at the bus stop, gets into a state about people hanging around the park bench or is troubled and anxious distressed—because a group of people come with their bikes, mountain bikes, motor bikes or scooters and gather at the village pond or at the bottom of the stairwell, that is sufficient— [Interruption.] Yes, it is. It is sufficient that members of the public are distressed or alarmed as a result of the presence of groups of two or more persons. There does not have to be any behaviour at all, let alone antisocial behaviour. They just have to be there.

    My colleagues and I will not sign up to legislation that allows the perception of one person, the views of one person or the reaction of a group of people to determine who shall be on our streets, in our parks or at our bus shelters. The reality is that the provision will most often be used—not necessarily always—by groups of adults who do not like young people hanging around outside somewhere near them. Sometimes they may go further than that. They may use it because of prejudice, because of the hairstyles of a group of people, or because of what they do, or because of their colour —

    I will in a second but I hope that the hon. Lady and everyone else will put it on the record that it would be unacceptable, in a country that prides itself on civil liberties, as the Joint Committee on Human Rights makes clear, to legislate to prevent people from being present in our public places if their presence alone causes distress to someone else. I hope that she will endorse that.

    Will the hon. Gentleman acknowledge that, for the provision to apply, not only must people be alarmed and distressed, but antisocial behaviour must be a significant and persistent problem in the relevant locality, as designated by a senior police officer? Does he accept that the provision is not about moving on people who are doing nothing wrong but about dealing with areas that are plagued by antisocial behaviour? He wishes to delete the provisions that deal with that issue.

    I am sorry that the hon. Lady cannot read the Bill well and did not listen to what I said clearly. She must take away her prejudices and address the legislation that the Government have put before the House. I have dealt with the issue clearly and if she just listens she may be able to correct her views and we may reach some agreement. As I made clear about five minutes ago, there has to be a significant and persistent problem of antisocial behaviour for the provision to apply, but just because there has been such behaviour before, that is not a reason for people whose mere presence causes alarm or distress to others to be dealt with in that way. They could be sent to prison for three months if they contravened a direction from the officer to move on.

    I know the hon. Lady's constituency quite well. I was on holiday in Cleethorpes a couple of summers ago. Let us imagine that in a park in Cleethorpes, or in Grimsby, there had been some persistent antisocial behaviour. Let us imagine that there had been some trouble in those places, that a week or two later the authorisation was given, that there were some young people hanging around and that people kept on phoning the police from houses across the road from the park, saying that they were troubled, distressed and concerned that those 16-year-olds were hanging around in the park. That would be sufficient for the police to be able to disperse that group, and that would be unacceptable. One should respond to behaviour, not presence, and on the basis of what people do, not of what others think that they might do. Nor should one respond on the basis of the reactions of others to the fact that such people are present.

    That is why the Joint Committee on Human Rights, which is chaired by a colleague of the hon. Member for Cleethorpes (Shona McIsaac) and does not have a Liberal Democrat majority, asked the House to consider whether these provisions breach our international legal requirements in law. If the hon. Lady has taken the trouble, as I hope she has, to talk to bodies such as the National Youth Agency, she will have discovered that they are strongly opposed to these provisions.

    Not just yet. If the hon. Lady had talked to the coalition of people who deal with children's and young people's issues—the National Children's Bureau and various other organisations—she would have discovered that they are strongly opposed to these provisions. If she had talked to the Association of Chief Police Officers, she would realise that it, too, has significant concerns about them. If she had talked to the Youth Justice Board, she would realise that the way to deal with the sort of people whom she may want to prevent from continuing to be antisocial—if that is what they have been—is not through this approach at all.

    Will coming in heavy with police officers and seeking to move on youngsters—particularly youngsters—who are doing nothing wrong, just because others have been doing something wrong, improve relations between the police and young people? It certainly will not. Will it improve respect for the police? It certainly will not. Will it improve behaviour in the community? It certainly will not. Will it improve respect from young people for those who made the complaint? It certainly will not. The hon. Lady should know that the alternative provisions and proactive, positive work with young people that the Youth Justice Board has been largely responsible for initiating have been far more effective in dealing with antisocial behaviour and youth crime, as I hope Ministers realise. If she does not know that, I invite her to talk to that body—a body that her Government set up. And I commend unreservedly the work done by Lord Warner, the former chairman of the Youth Justice Board—he is now a Minister in the Lords—and his staff.

    I have sheaves of paper in front of me that set out the successful schemes that are a result of initiatives taken by the hon. Lady's Government. They have reduced antisocial behaviour and crime in many of our communities. One example is the summer splash programme in Avon and Somerset.

    Yes, in a moment. Figures for summer 2002 show a reduction in street crime and robbery of 31 per cent. in those parts of the police authority that ran the scheme. That compares with an increase of 56 per cent. in areas where the scheme did not run. In south Yorkshire, the police authority of the Under-Secretary, the hon. Member for Don Valley (Caroline Flint), this type of crime fell last summer by 17 per cent. in areas that ran the scheme. That compares with an increase of 62 per cent. in areas that did not run it. Across all 10 summer splash areas, there was an overall reduction in the local crime rate of 5.2 per cent. between July and September.

    Colleagues and I have asked many questions on this issue, and the figures make it abundantly clear that what reduces antisocial behaviour is positive, proactive intervention with troublemakers and young people, not the heavy hand of the law in dealing with those who are doing nothing wrong.

    I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way—at last. I have followed his argument with some interest. If the police receive complaints from local residents about a group of young—or not so young—people with a known record of antisocial behaviour congregating in a particular area, I cannot understand why they should not have the right to disperse them, thereby relieving the prevailing tensions in the local community, just because those people happen not to be doing anything at that specific moment.

    If the hon. Gentleman does not understand that, he does not understand the Human Rights Act 1998, implemented by his Government, which enshrined a right of assembly in this country's domestic law that can be upheld in the courts. It applies to 16-year-olds as much as to the hon. Gentleman, and it applies to people who are not doing anything wrong.

    I am not giving way for a second time. The hon. Gentleman needs to understand that, under this legislation, the police are not restricted to picking up people who have been convicted of offences before or people who may have been guilty of antisocial behaviour. No such restrictions can be found in the Bill. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will stick up for people's rights to behave normally, as they choose and with their own freedom of expression, even if sometimes their presence causes other people some distress or alarm. The test should not be whether the hon. Gentleman is alarmed by three 17-year-olds coming down the street towards him; it should be whether there is a cause—

    I have already given way once and I am still dealing with the intervention of the hon. Member for West Bromwich, West (Mr. Bailey).

    The question should be whether those people are, because of their behaviour, causing the hon. Gentleman reasonably to be distressed or alarmed. If that is the case, having the power to intervene may be necessary. However, the police already have acres of legislation—passed by the present Government, the previous Government and the Government before that—to give them the power to deal with those circumstances. The police have a variety of crime and disorder legislation, common law—indeed, a bookful of legislation, which I shall give the hon. Gentleman to read over the weekend—at their disposal. The police already have preventive powers under public order legislation that allow them to intervene if they suspect a breach of the peace, if there is harassment or a threat. There is no need for more powers, when the current powers are not being used to the full.

    Will the hon. Gentleman confirm that no proof of evidence of previous behaviour is required of any suspected groups of people before a police officer or group of officers can come along and designate a place to be one of persistent nuisance, which then gives them the right to disperse the group?

    The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. Like me, he represents an inner city constituency where there are tensions, which sometimes lead to antisocial behaviour. However, we really cannot act on the basis of people's prejudice, or personal response to others. To take a controversial example, if a group of young middle eastern people walking along a street saw a gathering of some young Jewish people on the corner, it might be sufficient to trigger concern because they might feel distress or alarm. The young Jewish people might not have done anything, but the others could be distressed or alarmed because of their gathering—

    No, the hon. Gentleman has not read his legislation, and he should not go through the Lobby voting in favour of legislation that does not say what he thinks it says. If the hon. Gentleman wants to go to his constituents and defend people being taken off the streets and, if they do not agree with it, being regarded as committing a criminal offence that could result in their going to prison for three months when they have done nothing wrong, let him defend it! We on the Liberal Democrat Benches will not defend that. We defend punishing the guilty, but not punishing the innocent. We defend combating prejudice, not pandering to it.

    The hon. Gentleman must not go down the road of believing that going in, clearing the streets, moving people on and using the police to do it is the way to build good community relations. It is not, and anyone who knows what they are talking about knows that it is not. If the hon. Gentleman believes that that is the way to build a responsible next generation, I have to tell him that he is sorely misguided.

    I commend to the hon. Gentleman—and hope that, over the weekend, he will read—the public order digests that present all the current laws. I hope that he will tell us why, if it is such a good idea, a law on curfews has never been implemented. If he thinks that it is such a good idea, why do the police say that they would prefer to use existing crime and disorder legislation? Why do people who are involved in the splash projects, youth inclusion projects and many local schemes say that curfew law is the wrong way to deal with the problem? Why do people who deal in the frontline with young people's behaviour on the streets also say that it is the wrong way?

    4.30 pm

    I just want to make two more points on this proposal. I attended a meeting this morning at which officers from my local authority were making a presentation on developing the athletics track in Southwark park. One of the people from the national organisation representing athletics said to me—I did not prompt him to do so—"Go and tell people that the most useful thing that we can do for antisocial behaviour is to provide more sport, such as athletics and swimming." [Interruption.] Well, I give the Government credit, because they have done a lot, but they should do those things that the evidence proves work, not those things that risk only breeding resentment.

    I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way after all this time. I also have meetings in my constituency and the last few have been to open two sure start schemes designed to create supportive families and combat antisocial behaviour in the long term, and to open a Connexions office designed to help those in the 13 to 19-year-old age group. For him to pretend that the Government are using a one-club approach to this problem is a gross misrepresentation. These provisions will be a useful addition to all the other measures that the Government have instigated to combat antisocial behaviour, and he should acknowledge that.

    I just wish colleagues would listen to debates. I spent the first five minutes of my speech acknowledging the work of the Youth Justice Board, which was created by the Labour Government in their first term, including the work of the board's first chairman and the projects it has implemented. I have given credit for the good things that the Government have done, that have worked and that been shown to work.

    I have never argued that the Government take a one-club approach. I have never even used the phrase. The hon. Gentleman did not hear me say that, because it was not part of my argument. What I object to is a Big Brother power to take people who have done nothing wrong, deprive them of their liberty and punish them just because they say, "I am sorry, but this is my street. I want to stay here, at this bus shelter or in this park. This is my place. Life at home in my flat on the 16th floor is not great, my parents don't look after me very well and I'd rather be here, with my mates in the fresh air. You tell me not to watch the television so much, and this is where I'd rather be."

    The argument is about standing up for young people. It was Edgar in "King Lear" who said, "stand up for bastards". I am standing up for young people. We should ask them what they want and whether they think that this would be a helpful power in the hands of the police. We should also ask those people who deal with young people every day and who work for the projects that the Government have funded. They will say that it is a bad idea. [Interruption.] Well, I have spoken to them and that is what they think.

    If hon. Members are not yet convinced, they should consider the report from the Joint Committee on Human Rights. It states, at paragraph 33:
    "We accept that these are important problems"—
    by which they mean antisocial behaviour—
    "in some areas. However, when we initially examined the Bill we wondered how the measures would in practice make it easier to deal with the problem than it is at the moment. The police already have extensive powers to deal with public order problems. There are many statutes conferring such powers, including the Public Order Act 1986, the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994, and the Criminal Justice and Police Act 2001. In addition, there is the common law power to take such steps as are necessary to prevent a reasonably apprehended and imminent breach of the peace. If the measures were of no more practical assistance than existing powers, it would be hard to say that they are necessary in a democratic society for the legitimate purposes."
    Those are not my words, but the words of the Joint Committee on Human Rights, which has a Labour majority.

    The report also states:
    "When we raised this question, the Government replied that the proposed powers would not be dependent on the commission of a criminal offence by any individual in the group, or on the apprehension of an imminent breach of the peace.
    These powers would be entirely directed to allow potentially threatening situations to be defused before any harm or disorder becomes imminent.
    We are concerned by this response in so far as it is used to justify the introduction of new powers which engage Convention rights. It suggests that the proposed powers are not intended to be a response to threats of serious disorder, but rather to"—

    No. I am in the middle of quoting the report by the Human Rights Joint Committee, which has a Labour majority. The hon. Gentleman may not want to listen to my arguments, but he might listen to the Committee's unanimously approved arguments. The Committee stated:

    "It suggests that the proposed powers are not intended to be a response to threats of serious disorder, but rather to allow the police to manage people in public spaces in such a way as to prevent any more remote risk of minor disorder. It is true to say that this power does not currently exist in the law. There is a reason for that: it has heretofore been regarded as an unnecessary intrusion on the liberty of the individual to allow a constable to give orders to someone where there is no threat of crime or danger to safety. We consider that the potential intrusion on private life and liberty is so extensive and the benefits in any case likely to be so speculative that it might be difficult to establish (either in general or in specific cases) that the powers granted under clause 29 of the Bill will or would be used only when it was proportionate to a pressing social need."
    The final sentence in that quotation is printed in bold type in the report.

    Is the hon. Gentleman trying to say that anyone who has been dispersed by the police in such circumstances will be able successfully to challenge the legislation on grounds of human rights?

    The hon. Gentleman has not been listening. It is pathetic.

    It is frustrating that some hon. Members do not yet understand debate. The answer is that that is not what I said. If I had said it, the hon. Gentleman would have heard me say it. The answer is that the Joint Committee concluded that the proposal in the Bill could breach the law. Let us take the example of a person who has not committed an offence or done anything wrong and who refuses to comply when the police try to move him on. If that person were subsequently charged, convicted and sent to prison, he could succeed with a case against the Government.

    I hope that the hon. Gentleman is proud of the finding that the Government are in breach of the human rights convention, as he will support the proposal in the Lobby. However, I should prefer him not to be proud of it. He should understand that civil liberties are precious, as are the liberties of the individual. We should not give power to the authorities unless those powers are clearly justified.

    My final point has to do with clause 29(6), which deals with young people under 16. It states:
    "If, between the hours of 9pm and 6am, a constable in uniform finds a person in any public place … who he has reasonable grounds for believing—
  • (a) is under the age of 16, and
  • (b) is not under the effective control of a parent or a responsible person aged 18 or over,
  • he may remove the person to the person's place of residence unless he has reasonable grounds for believing that the person would, if removed to that place, be likely to suffer significant harm."
    That is a separate provision. It allows the police to take young people aged under 16 at any time after 9 o'clock at night and before 6 o'clock in the morning away from where they are. I understand the motivation for the proposal, but it is not a necessary or proportionate power, as the evidence given to the Human Rights Joint Committee shows. Young people under 16 are no more likely to be badly behaved than older people. In fact, most young people are well behaved. Many people over 16 behave much worse.

    The Government, rightly, have made a big deal about the rights of children, and we are under pressure to sign up to the UN convention on the rights of the child. The Government announced yesterday that the Minister for Children will also have responsibility for young people. We must take care that we do not tar young people with the brush of calling them troublemakers.

    Antisocial behaviour is a serious problem in all constituencies, and the pressure to deal with it is great. However, the responses to it can be either proper or improper. The responses in clause 29 are improper.

    I am pleased to be able to take part in the debate. Like the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Simon Hughes), I believe that this is one of the most important sections of the Bill, so I am astonished that the Liberal Democrats want to delete all the provisions that give the police powers to deal with persistent and significant antisocial behaviour in our communities.

    We know that antisocial behaviour is a problem the length and breadth of the country. Every day hon. Members receive complaints from their constituents about such behaviour perpetrated by gangs—except in Ludlow. The Liberal Democrat spokesman in the Standing Committee, the hon. Member for Ludlow (Matthew Green), told us that there was no antisocial behaviour in Ludlow, so perhaps we should not be astonished that the Liberal Democrats want to delete clause 29. Their spokesperson told us that antisocial behaviour did not exist. Liberal Democrat councillors throughout the land who are calling for increased powers to deal with antisocial behaviour and the dispersal of groups should pay attention to those remarks. Many Liberal Democrat councils back the Government's measures on the issue.

    Is the hon. Lady confident that all the existing powers to deal with antisocial behaviour are being used in her area?

    No, antisocial behaviour in my area is not being tackled as well as I should like; it is a persistent problem, which is why we need additional legislation to support the existing provisions. The Bill should not be considered in isolation because its powers will interlink with others; they will weave together different aspects so as to tackle that most serious of problems in our communities.

    Does my hon. Friend agree that, in every year, under every Government, there is a crime Bill because that issue exercises our constituents? Sometimes, Governments get the measures right; sometimes, they get them wrong and some of the powers that we had hoped would work do not work in practice. However, the clause includes some practical provisions, which are certainly welcomed by the Police Federation; they will be used in moderation, in extreme cases where people want an end to horrendous and persistent yobbish behaviour.

    My hon. Friend makes some pertinent points. He is right to draw our attention to the comments of the Police Federation. I notice that the Liberal Democrats conveniently glossed over those comments. In its response, the federation stated:

    "The power to be able to disperse unruly gangs is seen by the Police Federation to be particularly helpful for situations where a Section 5 Public Order offence is inappropriate, but where loutish, intimidating behaviour needs to be tackled and youngsters moved on. The provision of a power to deal with such situations, in a simple manner, would not only have a positive effect in practical policing terms but also assist communities that suffer from such problems."
    Perhaps the Liberal Democrats should pay attention to that submission.

    Obviously, from time to time, every Member has problems of antisocial behaviour among groups in their constituency. However, constituents also come to us because they feel that they have been wrongly treated by the police and wrongly tarred with that brush. Is not it of legitimate concern that the powers given to the police under the clause would require no serious proof of evidence, but would allow the police unfettered control over people?

    The Bill will not give the police unfettered control. My hon. Friend is basically saying that we should do nothing about antisocial behaviour.

    That is how my hon. Friend's comments will come across to our constituents. They will think that he does not want to tackle the issue. His use of the phrase "from time to time" said it all. Antisocial behaviour does not happen from time to time; it is persistent and significant, as is stated in the Bill.

    4.45 pm

    It is important to be able to give people the powers to take action against such groups, which can hold whole communities to ransom and terrorise everyone, from the young to the elderly. They cause problems across the board. I have found from discussing the issue with my constituents that some of the people who are most concerned about what they call gangs are young people themselves. They are often the victims of antisocial behaviour by gangs of youths gathering outside schools and attacking each other. Young people are often the ones being bullied, harassed and intimidated. In paying attention to young people, we must acknowledge that they are too often the victims of antisocial behaviour. Antisocial behaviour should not be seen as an issue of the young versus the old, as the Liberal Democrats try to portray it.

    Like all hon. Members, I support youth projects—the Splash projects and so on—that try to find meaningful activities for young people. Those projects will continue, but they do not tackle all the problems. They certainly do not tackle problems that occur at 11.30, 12.30, 1.30 or 2.30 in the morning. No one will take young people along to a football match at 2.30 in the morning, when they are jumping on car roofs, making a racket and perhaps throwing bricks into people's gardens.

    We must have powers to deal with those situations when they occur, and the powers in part 4 are proportionate because of the inbuilt safeguards. The police will not be allowed to do whatever they like. The problem must be persistent, significant and occur in a

    designated area. That will provide safeguards. If used, the powers will reassure our communities that action is being taken to deal with an increasing and significant problem.

    The Liberal Democrats have completely missed the point today. I do not know what world they live in, but most of us live in the real world. I hope that we will resist the Liberal Democrats' foolish amendments, which would delete any extra power that the police could have to deal with the significant problem of antisocial behaviour in our communities.

    I almost hesitate to intervene in the somewhat heated exchanges that have started to develop. I confess to the House that, when the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Simon Hughes) said he would be brief, I suspected that we were doomed, and my self-prophecy proved right. The hon. Gentleman wanted to ensure that we reached the other two groups of amendments today and then took more than a third of the time allocated to make his opening speech.

    A large number of the amendments in this group are in my name and those of my hon. Friends. Although, as the hon. Gentleman said, one amendment has both our signatures, I hasten to assure him that that is pure coincidence because we are addressing the problem from completely opposite directions. We take the view—as we did in Committee—that it is not necessary to constrain the use of such powers in the way that the Bill proposes.

    I agree that a requirement for reasonableness in people's reactions is absent. If the hon. Gentleman has read the reports of the proceedings in Committee, he will know that I moved an amendment to that effect, so that the officer could assess whether he felt that people had reacted reasonably. The Government rejected that, and we shall seek to return to the issue when the Bill progresses to the other place.

    It is right that the police should have the powers to move people on and to disperse a group—not just young people under 16, as seemed to be the impression, but any group of people who are causing a nuisance. What I do not agree with the Government about is that it should be in a "relevant locality", with all the bureaucracy and paraphernalia that goes with designating that relevant locality. When there is clear evidence that a group of people are causing nuisance and annoyance and behaving antisocially in a particular location, the police should have the power, then and there, to do something about it. It is not necessary to go through all the bureaucracy of clause 30 to designate the area as a relevant locality.

    The majority of amendments that I tabled—I shall not detain the House by listing all of them—are designed to get rid of the concept of a relevant locality and simply to free up the police to use their discretion as they think fit if a problem arises in a particular area. The hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey referred to various youth projects, many of which are notable and have been developed through Government and voluntary initiatives for a long while, and I am sure that all Members support those in their constituencies. This is not, however, an either/or issue. My right hon. Friend the Member for West Dorset (Mr. Letwin) has spoken vividly in public about the excellence of these projects and the need for more of them, but whatever the project, pretending that they will somehow completely prevent any group of people gathering and causing a problem anywhere is wishful thinking in the extreme. We also need the powers to back up all the excellent work that provides activities for young people as well as others.

    We oppose totally the Liberals' attempt to remove this clause from the Bill. We do not pretend that it is perfect—we seek to amend it to give the police far more freedom and discretion. As I said, we believe that the Bill should include a test of reasonableness, which we tried to insert in Committee and which we shall seek to do again in the other place. Speaking for the Liberals in Committee, the hon. Member for Ludlow (Matthew Green) said:
    "We do not oppose the clause" [Official Report, Standing Committee G, 8 May 2003; c. 143.]
    We should not be a bit surprised that by now the Liberals have changed their mind and want to remove it.

    The issue of relevant locality and the need for police discretion goes beyond democracy and designating a particular locality as relevant. Our amendments seek to address the problems that will arise for areas that are not designated as relevant localities. We all know that the types of people who in many cases gather and cause nuisance and antisocial behaviour will know full well what the law is, where the relevant locality is and where it is not. The hon. Member for Stockton, South (Ms Taylor) is nodding in agreement, so I hope that she agrees with the logic of my argument, which is to remove the provision on relevant locality from the Bill. What concerns me is that if the police officers come along, after they have gone through the paraphernalia—[Interruption.] The hon. Member for Stockton, South is now shaking her head; the Whips have got to her remarkably quickly. If the area has been designated through the bureaucracy of clause 30, and along comes a police officer who disperses a group of people, that group of people will immediately get wise to the fact that all they have to do is go down the road or across the street.

    The hon. Member for Chatham and Aylesford (Jonathan Shaw) shakes his head, but the fact is that a relevant locality could be anywhere. If he reads the report of the Committee's proceedings, he will discover that the hon. Member for Coventry, North-East (Mr. Ainsworth) suggested that it could be just by a cash point. The concept of a relevant locality—whether it is a few square yards or a few square miles—is not defined in the Bill.

    I suggest that young people, or anyone who would be affected by the provision, might well know the area of the relevant locality and continue their behaviour outside it, which might be in a different part of the borough or down the street—we do not know. It would depend on the part of the locality in which they committed the offence in the first place. The whole measure will quickly fall into disrepute if they are able to evade it, which is why I maintain that we should remove all the paraphernalia and simply give the police the power and discretion to disperse groups, subject to a test of reasonableness. Indeed, the Local Government Association's submission—I expect that all hon. Members have received it—said that the proposals might simply displace problems from one area to another, as I have said.

    Although the majority of our amendments seek to address that problem, I want to speak about one or two other issues. Amendment No. 76 stands alone and does not directly relate to any other amendments in the group. In Committee, I asked about police officers' ability to remove young people aged 16 to their place of residence unless such removal would be likely to cause harm. My worry, which is why I tabled the amendment, is that it is unclear from the Bill that if an officer took a young person back to their home, the officer would have complied with the removal. If, after reaching the home, the officer believed that the young person was at risk, perhaps because a parent or step-parent might exact retribution, I am not convinced that the Bill makes it clear that the officer could take him or her away again. The amendment would provide clarification that if an officer perceived that a young person might be at risk after removal to his or her place of residence, the obligation would be removed from the officer. The amendment is an attempt not to alter the Government's intention, but to provide clarification, because I am not sure that the Bill addresses the issue.

    I do not have specific concerns about the Government amendments in the group and we do not intend to oppose them. I think that they will extend slightly opportunities to use the powers and I shall be interested to hear how the Minister describes them. The provisions do not seem to be especially draconian.

    I return to the fundamental proposition behind the majority of our amendments: we support the principle that the police should be able to use dispersal orders, but we do not think that they should be so constrained that they cannot use them as and when problems arise. The hon. Member for Cleethorpes (Shona McIsaac) told us what happens at 10.30 or 11.30 pm. If such problems arise, the police should be able to do something then and there, rather than having to decide whether they are in a relevant locality under clause 30 and saying, "Oh no, we're not. We can't do anything about it." The police might have to tell people affected that they could use dispersal powers only if the problems were occurring in the next street.

    The Government have produced pretty dramatic proposals—I accept the remonstrations of the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey—but they are nevertheless necessary, as I am sure the Minister will say.

    However, the Government have also tried to hamper and constrain the proposals by creating the paraphernalia that surrounds the designation of relevant localities, and I fear that they will either fail to work or quickly fall into disrepute because people will find ways around them.

    Amendment No. 53 is not the lead amendment, so it has not been moved, but if no other amendment in the group is put to the vote, I shall move it formally. However, if the Liberal Democrats pursue their amendments to delete the relevant part of the Bill, not only can we not support them, but we will oppose them completely because their proposals go against what most of us find in our constituencies.

    5 pm

    The clauses to which the amendments are tabled form an important, significant and central part of the powers available to police in such circumstances. I fundamentally disagree with the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Simon Hughes) in his analysis of the powers. As my hon. Friend the Member for Cleethorpes (Shona McIsaac) said in her passionate contribution, it is vital to take the powers, the Bill and our strategy and policy on tackling antisocial behaviour as a complete set of integrated measures. To single out the powers of dispersal as a fundamental attack on civil liberties does the hon. Gentleman no credit. If he is seriously saying to his constituents that he does not think that the powers are needed or requested by the people in his community, then I am astonished. It is yet another example of the Liberal Democrats willing the ends but not being prepared to will the means, in this case to tackle antisocial behaviour and disorder in our communities.

    The hon. Gentleman knows well, as he demonstrated in his contribution, that this Government have embarked on a series of investments to ensure that young people are diverted from crime and disorder. We are engaging them in youth projects and ensuring that they have educational and leisure opportunities. The Government have spent millions of pounds setting up an infrastructure to ensure that young people in particular have access to some of the opportunities that others take for granted. The powers of dispersal are designed to deal with those circumstances in which the presence or behaviour of a hard core of individuals intimidates, alarms, distresses and harasses people in our communities.

    We recognise that as the powers are important and significant, it is right that they are constrained by a series of conditions before they become operable. Those conditions are set out in clause 29(1)(a) and (b). It states that an officer has to have
    "reasonable grounds for believing … that members of the public have been intimidated, harassed, alarmed or distressed as a result of the presence or behaviour"
    of people in the locality, and
    "that anti-social behaviour is a significant and persistent problem in the relevant locality."
    It is certainly not a case of the Government rushing to give powers without a framework or constraints. Significant hurdles have to be overcome before the powers are triggered and kick in, which is the right way to proceed.

    I have two concerns about clause 29(1). The first is what legitimate proof of evidence is required on the persistent participation of the same people in an assembly at a particular point. The second is how a place is defined. Is it an immediate locality, a street, a neighbourhood or a whole town? That is unclear. Will the Minister explain?

    My hon. Friend raises important points. The provision is for a senior officer to designate a locality, which is the right thing to do. That designation triggers the powers of the constable to make directions on dispersal.

    That locality could be an area covering a basic command unit, a borough or a ward. It is right that that matter should be subject to discussion with local crime and disorder reduction partnerships and community safety partnerships, as that would enable us to engage with the local community to find out where there is a problem and where the powers need to kick in. My hon. Friend the Member for Islington, North (Jeremy Corbyn) will notice that Government amendments Nos. 38 and 39 provide for the constable to make a direction in relation to part of the locality. If there is a problem in a parade of shops, a playground or a smaller part of the designated locality, there will be flexibility for constables, senior officers and the local community to use the provision as part of an armoury of tools. Members need to understand that this is not a one-club approach—it is part of a range of tools available to local communities to combat antisocial behaviour.

    I will give way to the hon. Gentleman but, as his contributions took up three quarters of an hour, I am loth to do so.

    If the locality proposal is such a good idea, why has the Government's only other proposal of a curfew in a specific locality not been used anywhere at all?

    The aim of the Bill is to make sure that we have a straightforward way to tackle antisocial behaviour. The hon. Gentleman will know that, in relation to previous legislation, the local authority had to make an order, which had to be agreed between it and the police, then submitted to the Secretary of State for approval. That was a complex and bureaucratic way to proceed, but the Bill allows for a much simpler way to proceed, as the superintendent can designate the locality, then the constable can go in and exercise powers under the Bill. That is a much more appropriate way to proceed.

    Is my hon. Friend aware that much of the Committee's time was spent looking at proposals that could easily be made effective? Taking on board the points made by Liberal Democrat Members, we were aware that there was a raft of legislation, but the problem was that powers under that legislation were either not being used or were not working. I am willing to do a poll in the constituency of the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Simon Hughes), and I am sure that the overwhelming majority of his constituents would support our suggestions.

    I am grateful to my hon. Friend, who played an extremely constructive and helpful role in Committee by seeking to make the Bill's provisions effective. She has made an important point, and it is one of the reasons for the introduction of a regime of fixed penalty notices. We want to make sure that sanctions can be implemented quickly, easily and without bureaucracy so that they have an immediate effect.

    I find it quite strange to be in a position where, on the one hand, the Liberal Democrats are seeking to remove all the relevant provisions from the Bill, leaving us with no powers whatsoever to tackle the congregation of groups and, on the other, the Conservatives are seeking to remove all safeguards, constraints and hurdles that we have introduced to prevent an arbitrary exercise of powers. In those circumstances, we have adopted a third or middle way, which is the correct way to implement the Bill's powers.

    We need to get the balance right. The Bill deals with rights and responsibilities. It deals both with the rights of the community and the rights of individuals—that should always be uppermost in our mind. Up and down the country, communities are concerned about groups congregating and causing intimidation. I had an opportunity to read the debates in Committee, but I am afraid that I have not had the chance to visit Much Wenlock, where there is zero crime and disorder, although I hope to do so in future. However, I must tell the Liberal Democrat spokesman that his experience is very much a minority one. Thirty per cent. of respondents to the British crime survey said that groups congregating together, causing intimidation or distress, were either a big problem or a fairly big one in their communities. The Government are therefore seeking to address a significant issue.

    At the weekend, I went to a public meeting in Moira in north-west Leicestershire at which hundreds of people expressed serious concern about the activities of a group of adolescent youths who lived in the area. Yes, what my hon. Friend is promoting may be a useful add-on to existing powers, but the community there believe that it is the availability, visibility and sensitivity of local policing that might tackle and draw the teeth of some of the concerns that they expressed to me in a tense and heated meeting at the weekend.

    Many of us in our capacity as constituency Members of Parliament have attended such meetings, where people are rightly angry and feel powerless to do anything about their circumstances. Many of the powers in the Bill are designed to enable those communities to reclaim their streets and their neighbourhoods for the decent people who live in them. The massive numbers of extra police that the Government have funded, together with the community support officers who are increasingly visible on our streets and the neighbourhood wardens funded by local authorities, are providing a greater degree of visible reassurance to the people whom I represent and to many communities throughout the country. I acknowledge that the situation is not resolved, but we are making significant progress.

    I return to the core of clause 29. The Minister is right to speak of the hurdles that are in place when a senior officer designates an area—he must have reasonable grounds, and the antisocial behaviour must be significant and persistent. However, once the area has been designated for up to six months, and the constable is dealing with it, the condition of significant and persistent antisocial behaviour no longer applies. The condition is only that two or more people are gathering and might alarm somebody. They may well not be the people who caused the original problem. Does not the Minister understand that? How does she seek to ensure that the police will not use the powers against people who were not the cause of the problem in the first place?

    Clause 29(1) makes it clear that the officer must have reasonable grounds for believing both that there is intimidation and that antisocial behaviour is a significant and persistent problem. I advise the hon. Gentleman to read the words of the clause carefully. No doubt they will be tested at some point.

    The powers are aimed at specific spots. I want to deal with the point raised by the hon. Member for South-East Cambridgeshire (Mr. Paice) about that. We have not sought a once-and-for-all power nationally. We recognise that problems spring up in certain localities. He referred to the constraints around them as paraphernalia. With respect to the hon. Gentleman, I believe that the constraints and hurdles are an important framework within which the powers operate, and they are sufficient to satisfy genuine concerns about civil liberties, balanced by the rights of communities.

    I shall address the points raised by the Joint Committee on Human Rights. That important Committee considered the matter carefully. We responded to the Committee's original concerns, it accepted many of our reassurances on various parts of the Bill, but as we have heard, it still has some concerns about the establishment of the power. We do not share the Committee's concern that it will be difficult to establish that the powers would be used only when there was a proportionate, pressing social need.

    When we think about pressing social need, we must put at the forefront of our mind communities that are currently prevented from using facilities in their area, such as the cash point or the shops. Young people may be prevented from using parks and leisure facilities because they are excluded from them by the attitude of the people who are causing mayhem and distress in their community. There is a series of safeguards, which I hope will reassure the Joint Committee. Authorisation must be given by a senior officer. The local authority must be consulted. The authorisation does not last for more than six months.

    When we come to make the code of practice under clause 33, it is important that it sets out the conditions in which the power can be operated. We should consider issues such as the grounds for authorisation having an objective basis. That is an important issue. I read the entire debate about reasonableness and when reasonableness applies to the considerations.

    5.15 pm

    Other important issues include seeing whether we can assess the sort of behaviour that the constable wants to prevent when he is making the direction; the degree of intimidation that might be appropriate for consideration; at what stage parents should be notified and brought into the process; and how to determine the geographical areas and locality involved—an issue raised by the hon. Member for South-East Cambridgeshire. We want to clarify a range of issues in the code of practice, taking on board the important and serious matters raised by the Joint Committee. We feel that those provisos will certainly be sufficient to satisfy the human rights position. Human rights and responsibilities relate both to individuals and the communities that we are seeking to protect.

    In defining the locality, will not the police often say that crime is a responsibility not only for them, but for the entire community? In seeking to engage people in the process, does my hon. Friend agree that they are more likely to feel well disposed towards it and feel that it is worth while if they have some powers, and if they can see cause and effect in terms of discussion with the police and agree on a locality to deal with a persistent problem in their neighbourhoods?

    My hon. Friend makes an important point, which relates to the desire to enable communities to reclaim their neighbourhoods. That is possible if they feel a sense of ownership and believe that people are taking notice of what they are doing. If they feel that they are making significant steps on the basis of real power to make a difference in their communities, they will be much more likely to participate in a community safety or crime and disorder reduction partnership and feel that their time is well invested and that what they are doing is worth while. If people do not see any action, they will feel that it is pointless for them to be involved, so such provisions can increase the community involvement that we want to secure.

    We do not want to burden the police with a huge set of bureaucratic requirements. That is why the powers are different from some of the other powers that have been introduced in the past. We want to make the arrangements as simple as we can. It is important that the police feel confident about exercising their powers. The code of practice will be key in that respect. We want to ensure that the constables or community support officers who are making the directions feel confident about their powers. That is why we tabled amendments about choosing a part of the locality; I think that such flexibility is extremely important. I feel that the powers are necessary and proportionate, and that they will have a significant impact.

    The hon. Member for South-East Cambridgeshire referred to removing a child from the area. The powers allow young people who are under 16 to be taken back to their homes. If the constable thinks that they will be at risk of significant harm, he can alert social services and engage the child protection machinery that is available. This is not a case of penalising young people and saying that they are the perpetrators. They can be just as much at risk as anybody else of crime and of being drawn into prostitution or other exploitation and becoming victims. It is therefore appropriate that constables should have a power to decide that, as a child is out late at night, they are not supervised and their parents are not acting responsibly, they will take them home.

    Constables have considerable experience of assessing significant harm. They are all engaged with the local child protection procedures, and I do not anticipate that they would have any difficulty in assessing whether a child was likely to be at risk of significant harm. I therefore do not anticipate that any of the problems outlined by the hon. Member for South-East Cambridgeshire will arise. The powers to take children back to their homes are important in ensuring that we can protect children who may be out and about at 1, 2 or 3 o'clock in the morning, entirely inappropriately.

    The Minister is right in everything that she has said and I do not disagree with her comments, but she has not dealt with the point that I am trying to make in amendment No. 76. As the Bill is currently drafted, it states that a constable

    "may remove the person to the person's place of residence unless he has reasonable grounds for believing that the person would, if removed to that place, be likely to suffer significant harm."
    The point that I was trying to make is that, once the officer has taken the young person home, he will have carried out the removal, which will be in the past. The phrase "if removed to" is in the future tense. I want the Bill to be clear that, exactly as she says, when a constable sees the circumstances of the young person's home once he has taken them home and believes at that stage that they might suffer significant harm, he should be able to say to the young person "I have carried out the removal, but I am going to take you away again."

    It is not adequate simply to say, "Yes, I now think that he is going to suffer significant harm so I'll ring social services." That might be too late. I want the officer to have the discretion that he rightly says that he should have.

    I can give the hon. Gentleman that reassurance. The provision is designed to indicate that if the child would be at risk of significant harm, it is inappropriate to return them to that place. The duty is on the constable to assess the situation. Having taken the child to remove him to the home, if he finds circumstances there that could result in them being at risk of significant harm, he is under a duty to take steps to ensure that that does not happen. Under the general child protection provisions, we would expect constables to alert the duty social worker and to get in touch with the local authority social services department. I can therefore give the hon. Gentleman the reassurance that he seeks that the child will not be at increased risk.

    The powers are necessary, proportionate and will provide another flexible tool in our armoury to tackle antisocial behaviour. They will be broadly welcomed by communities, although they are not supported by the Liberal Democrats. I ask the House to reject the wrecking amendments tabled by the Liberal Democrats and to reject the Conservative amendment, which takes the libertarian argument a little too far. There should be some constraints on these serious powers. The Government have got the balance about right in the interests of the communities that we represent.

    I agree with a great deal of what the Minister said. I would gently say to her, however, that the key element of the power is that it should be used sufficiently in practice. The test will be of how much practical use it is, especially to communities that are besieged by antisocial behaviour.

    The provision will be warmly welcomed by my constituents. In recent months, I have attended several meetings in which constituents have complained about problems caused by groups of youths misbehaving. At one well-attended meeting, there were a number of Liberal Democrat councillors who were anxious that something should be done. If I had been minded to make a point about the locality in which the problem was occurring, I would have tried their patience, given their long-standing experience of problems in their neighbourhood.

    It is entirely legitimate for Liberal Democrat Members to question new legislation and new powers for the police and to judge whether they are compatible with civil liberties. It is sometimes unpopular to plead the civil liberties cause, but I recognise that it is necessary to do so. However, I have to say to the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Simon Hughes) that on this occasion they have got it wrong. Their attitude towards the clause is misguided. It is proportionate, and it is not objectionable in principle to give the police this power. My worry is that it may not be used sufficiently in practice. I remind the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey that we are not talking about arrest, loss of civil liberties or the acquisition of a criminal record, but the power of police officers to disperse groups of people, subject to certain conditions. I wonder whether too many conditions have been hedged around the power: there is a formidable list to be gone through. If problems of the kind described in clause 29(3) are occurring—that is, if a police officer
    "has reasonable grounds for believing that the presence or behaviour of a group of two or more persons in any public place in the relevant locality has resulted, or is likely to result, in any members of the public being intimidated, harassed, alarmed or distressed"—
    it is not out of proportion to give the police the power to require that group to disperse.

    When the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey was asked earlier what he thought should be done about such people, he whispered under his breath, "Nick them." That is an entirely misguided approach to take. The activities described in subsection (3) would probably be an offence under section 5 of the Public Order Act 1986, so the police would already be entitled to arrest somebody, bring charges against them and haul them up in court for such behaviour.

    Would it not be better from everyone's point of view to give the police the power to disperse the group first, to prevent any of those consequences from arising? Would it not be in the interests of the young people themselves to be dispersed rather than arrested and hauled before the courts, where they could get a criminal record? I shall give way to the hon. Gentleman, but I think that he is utterly misguided.

    The comment that I made earlier was that if the people in question, young or old, were committing an offence, they could indeed be arrested. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that, if the power contained in clause 31(2) were put into the legislation, someone who

    "knowingly contravenes a direction given to him under section 29(4) commits an offence",
    could be arrested and sent to prison for up to three months?

    One would hope that they would obey the direction given to them by the police officer. That would certainly be better than the police officer arresting them there and then for an offence, and taking them to a police station for charges to be brought. It would be better for the person concerned, because they would not acquire a criminal record under public order legislation. The hon. Gentleman talks about circumstances in which an offence has been committed, but I strongly believe that this would be the same offence as exists at the moment under that legislation. This Bill gives the police an additional power to require people to be dispersed. I do not think that that is out of proportion. Indeed, I think that it will be a help, but I have to say to the Minister that I wonder whether there is an overload of conditions in the clause.

    The key is whether the provisions will be used in practice. Curfews have been mentioned. They, too, were put forward as an important part of the Government's armoury, but, as we know, they have not been much used. The Government have introduced other legislative measures that have been more successful. It is important to keep an eye on powers such as these, to design them so that they are easy to use and readily available to the police, and to ensure that they are actually used. That is what our constituents want. My constituents are crying out for action on law and order, particularly on antisocial behaviour. The hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey might have noble motives but, in this case, he is totally misguided. Removing the clause would send entirely the wrong signals in our attempts to tackle antisocial behaviour. He is wrong on this, and I hope that he will reconsider his position. If anything is out of proportion on this, it is the attitude of the Liberal Democrats to this fairly modest measure.

    I will be brief, as I realise that we have only a couple of minutes left. I do not necessarily want to make myself unpopular with my own Front Bench, but I have serious concerns about the powers in this clause. That is not because I am in favour of antisocial behaviour—quite the opposite. My constituency, like many others, suffers from all kinds of totally unacceptable antisocial behaviour. Like many others, I have attended public meetings at which people make all kinds of allegations about groups of young people. Some are true and justified; some are untrue; and some are based on misconceptions or misperceptions.

    I have also spent some time talking to groups of young people who hang around the place in large numbers looking intimidating. They often tell me that they are broke and bored, and that the youth club has been closed. What are they supposed to do? Last weekend, I found a group of people hanging round a park. They could have been deemed to be antisocial. They told me that they were unemployed, broke and bored. They were not really presenting a threat to anyone. We need to keep a sense of proportion in these matters.

    I would also suggest to the Minister that the power to designate an area is far too general and broad. One could imagine an over-zealous senior officer simply designating a whole borough as the "relevant locality". What, then, would happen whenever people assembled? What would the police actually do? Surely we should rely on intelligent co-operative policing.

    My final point is on the proposals for under-16s to be taken home after 9 o'clock at night. What is the reaction of the young people in the rest of the community going to be to a group of 1 5-year-olds who are out on a Friday evening being taken home by police officers? Can we not just think this through a bit more?

    5.30 pm

    My hon. Friends and Conservative Members tabled amendments in Committee. We wanted to amend the Bill, but we were unable to persuade the Government to do so. At that stage, we did not seek to delete the clause, but we tried to improve it. We failed to do that. We had an honest debate. The hon. Member for Hertsmere (Mr. Clappison) made a reasonable point about what powers are needed. We have a different judgment, because we believe that plenty of powers are available. The Association of Chief Police Officers was clear that this clause may lead to

    "confrontation, disengagement and isolation of some elements of the communities we police."
    The Police Federation, although supportive in general, was against these powers being available to community support officers.

    If the Minister reads the Bill carefully, she will see that my hon. Friends were right. There has to be the precondition of persistent antisocial behaviour, but it allows the authorities to intervene on someone who has never been involved in that.

    We have an honest difference of view. We think that plenty of powers are available, that the clauses in part 4 are not necessary and will, on balance, be unhelpful. We want to deal with antisocial behaviour, but we strongly believe that this is a step too far. We hope that the House of Lords will substantially amend the Bill, but that, in the first place, hon. Members will join us in rejecting clause 29, thus signifying that part 4 is not the answer to the problems that many of us experience.

    Question put, That the amendment be made:—

    The House divided: Ayes 48, Noes 415.

    Division No. 251]

    [5:31 pm


    Allan, RichardDoughty, Sue
    Baker, NormanFoster, Don (Bath)
    Barrett, JohnGeorge, Andrew (St. Ives)
    Breed, ColinGidley, Sandra
    Brooke, Mrs Annette L.Green, Matthew (Ludlow)
    Burnett, JohnHarris, Dr. Evan (Oxford W & Abingdon)
    Burstow, Paul
    Cable, Dr. VincentHarvey, Nick
    Calton, Mrs PatsyHeath, David
    Chidgey, DavidHolmes, Paul
    Hughes, Simon (Southwark N)
    Corbyn, JeremyKeetch, Paul
    Cotter, BrianKennedy, rh Charles (Ross Skye & Inverness)
    Davey, Edward (Kingston)

    Kirkwood, Sir ArchyStunell, Andrew
    Laws, David (Yeovil)Taylor, Matthew (Truro)
    Llwyd, ElfynThomas, Simon (Ceredigion)
    McDonnell, JohnThurso, John
    Marsden, Paul (Shrewsbury & Atcham)Tonge, Dr. Jenny
    Tyler, Paul (N Cornwall)
    Moore, MichaelWebb, Steve (Northavon)
    Oaten, Mark (Winchester)Williams, Hywel (Caernarfon)
    Öpik,LembitWilliams, Roger (Brecon)
    Willis, Phil
    Price, Adam (E Carmarthen & Dinefwr)Younger-Ross, Richard
    Rendel, David

    Tellers for the Ayes:

    Russell, Bob (Colchester)

    Mr. Alan Reid and

    Sanders, Adrian

    Tom Brake


    Ainger, NickCampbell, Alan (Tynemouth)
    Ainsworth, Bob (Cov'try NE)Campbell, Mrs Anne (C'bridge)
    Ainsworth, Peter (E Surrey)Campbell, Gregory (E Lond'y)
    Alexander, DouglasCampbell, Ronnie (Blyth V)
    Allen, GrahamCash, William
    Amess, DavidCaton, Martin
    Anderson, rh Donald (Swansea E)Cawsey, Ian (Brigg)
    Anderson, Janet (Rossendale & Darwen)Challen, Colin
    Chapman, Ben (Wirral S)
    Armstrong, rh Ms HilaryChaytor, David
    Atherton, Ms CandyChope, Christopher
    Atkins, CharlotteClapham, Michael
    Atkinson, Peter (Hexham)Clappison, James
    Austin, JohnClark, Mrs Helen (Peterborough)
    Bacon, RichardClark, Dr. Lynda (Edinburgh Pentlands)
    Bailey, Adrian
    Baird, VeraClark, Paul (Gillingham)
    Baldry, TonyClarke, rh Kenneth (Rushcliffe)
    Barker, GregoryClarke, rh Tom (Coatbridge & Chryston)
    Barnes, Harry
    Baron, John (Billericay)Clarke, Tony (Northampton S)
    Battle, JohnClelland, David
    Beard, NigelClifton-Brown, Geoffrey
    Begg, Miss AnneClwyd, Ann (Cynon V)
    Bellingham, HenryCoaker, Vernon
    Bennett, AndrewCoffey, Ms Ann
    Benton, Joe (Bootle)Cohen, Harry
    Bercow, JohnColeman, Iain
    Beresford, Sir PaulCollins, Tim
    Best, HaroldColman, Tony
    Betts, CliveConway, Derek
    Blackman, LizCook, Frank (Stockton N)
    Blears, Ms HazelCook, rh Robin (Livingston)
    Blunkett, rh DavidCooper, Yvette
    Blunt, CrispinCormack, Sir Patrick
    Boateng, rh PaulCorston, Jean
    Borrow, DavidCousins, Jim
    Boswell, TimCranston, Ross
    Bottomley, Peter (Worthing W)Cruddas, Jon
    Bradley, rh Keith (Withington)Cryer, Ann (Keighley)
    Bradley, Peter (The Wrekin)Cryer, John (Hornchurch)
    Bradshaw, BenCummings, John
    Brady, GrahamCunningham, rh Dr. Jack (Copeland)
    Brazier, Julian
    Brennan, KevinCunningham, Jim (Coventry S)
    Brown, rh Nicholas (Newcastle E Wallsend)Cunningham, Tony (Workington)
    Curry, rh David
    Brown, Russell (Dumfries)Curtis-Thomas, Mrs Claire
    Browning, Mrs AngelaDalyell, Tam
    Bryant, ChrisDavey, Valerie (Bristol W)
    Buck, Ms KarenDavid, Wayne
    Burgon, ColinDavidson, Ian
    Burnham, AndyDavies, rh Denzil (Llanelli)
    Burns, SimonDavies, Geraint (Croydon C)
    Burt, AlistairDavies, Quentin (Grantham & Stamford)
    Butterfill, John
    Byers, rh StephenDavis, rh David (Haltemprice & Howden)
    Cairns, David
    Cameron, DavidDawson, Hilton

    Dean, Mrs JanetHoban, Mark (Fareham)
    Denham, rh JohnHoey, Kate (Vauxhall)
    Dhanda, ParmjitHope, Phil (Corby)
    Dobson, rh FrankHopkins, Kelvin
    Donohoe, Brian H.Horam, John (Orpington)
    Doran, FrankHoward, rh Michael
    Dowd, Jim (Lewisham W)Howarth, George (Knowsley N & Sefton E)
    Drew, David (Stroud)
    Duncan, Alan (Rutland)Howells, Dr. Kim
    Dunwoody, Mrs GwynethHughes, Beverley (Stretford & Urmston)
    Eagle, Angela (Wallasey)
    Eagle, Maria (L'pool Garston)Hughes, Kevin (Doncaster N)
    Edwards, HuwHumble, Mrs Joan
    Efford, CliveHunter, Andrew
    Ellman, Mrs LouiseHurst, Alan (Braintree)
    Ennis, Jeff (Barnsley E)Iddon, Dr. Brian
    Evans, NigelIllsley, Eric
    Fabricant, MichaelIrranca-Davies, Huw
    Fallon, MichaelJack, rh Michael
    Farrelly, PaulJackson, Glenda (Hampstead & Highgate)
    Field, Mark (Cities of London & Westminster)
    Jackson, Helen (Hillsborough)
    Fisher, MarkJackson, Robert (Wantage)
    Fitzpatrick, JimJamieson, David
    Fitzsimons, Mrs LornaJenkins, Brian
    Flight, HowardJohnson, Alan (Hull W)
    Flint, CarolineJohnson, Boris (Henley)
    Flook, AdrianJohnson, Miss Melanie (Welwyn Hatfield)
    Follett, Barbara
    Forth, rh EricJones, Helen (Warrington N)
    Foster, rh DerekJones, Jon Owen (Cardiff C)
    Foster, Michael (Worcester)Jones, Kevan (N Durham)
    Foster, Michael Jabez (Hastings & Rye)Jones, Lynne (Selly Oak)
    Jones, Martyn (Clwyd S)
    Francis, Dr. HywelKaufman, rh Gerald
    Francois, MarkKeen, Alan (Feltham)
    Gale, Roger (N Thanet)Khabra, Piara S.
    Gapes, Mike (Ilford S)Kidney, David
    Gardiner, BarryKilfoyle, Peter
    Garnier, EdwardKing, Andy (Rugby)
    Gerrard, NeilKirkbride, Miss Julie
    Gibb, Nick (Bognor Regis)Kumar, Dr. Ashok
    Gibson, Dr. IanLadyman, Dr. Stephen
    Gillan, Mrs CherylLaing, Mrs Eleanor
    Gilroy, LindaLait, Mrs Jacqui
    Godsiff, RogerLammy, David
    Goggins, PaulLeslie, Christopher
    Goodman, PaulLevitt, Tom (High Peak)
    Grayling, ChrisLewis, Ivan (Bury S)
    Green, Damian (Ashford)Lewis, Dr. Julian (New Forest E)
    Greenway, JohnLewis, Terry (Worsley)
    Grieve, DominicLiddell, rh Mrs Helen
    Griffiths, Win (Bridgend)Liddell-Grainger, Ian
    Grogan, JohnLidington, David
    Hague, rh WilliamLilley, rh Peter
    Hall, Mike (Weaver Vale)Loughton, Tim
    Hall, Patrick (Bedford)Love, Andrew
    Hamilton, David (Midlothian)Luff, Peter (M-Worcs)
    Hamilton, Fabian (Leeds NE)Luke, Iain (Dundee E)
    Hanson, DavidLyons, John (Strathkelvin)
    Harris, Tom (Glasgow Cathcart)McAvoy, Thomas
    Havard, Dai (Merthyr Tydfil & Rhymney)McCabe, Stephen
    McDonagh, Siobhain
    Hawkins, NickMacDonald, Calum
    Hayes, John (S Holland)MacDougall, John
    Healey, JohnMcFall, John
    Heathcoat-Amory, rh DavidMcIntosh, Miss Anne
    Henderson, Ivan (Harwich)McIsaac, Shona
    Hendrick, MarkMackay, rh Andrew
    Hendry, CharlesMcKechin, Ann
    Hepburn, StephenMackinlay, Andrew
    Heppell, JohnMaclean, rh David
    Hermon, LadyMcLoughlin, Patrick
    Hesford, StephenMcNulty, Tony
    Heyes, DavidMacShane, Denis
    Hinchliffe, DavidMcWalter, Tony

    McWilliam, JohnRosindell, Andrew
    Mahon, Mrs AliceRoss, Ernie (Dundee W)
    Malins, HumfreyRuane, Chris
    Mandelson, rh PeterRuddock, Joan
    Mann, John (Bassetlaw)Ruffley, David
    Maples, JohnRussell, Ms Christine (City of Chester)
    Marris, Rob (Wolverh'ton SW)
    Marsden, Gordon (Blackpool S)Salter, Martin
    Marshall, Jim (Leicester S)Sarwar, Mohammad
    Marshall-Andrews, RobertSavidge, Malcolm
    Martlew, EricSawford, Phil
    Maude, rh FrancisSayeed, Jonathan
    Mawhinney, rh Sir BrianSedgemore, Brian
    May, Mrs TheresaSelous, Andrew
    Merron, GillianShaw, Jonathan
    Michael, rh AlunSheerman, Barry
    Milburn, rh AlanShephard, rh Mrs Gillian
    Miliband, DavidSheridan, Jim
    Miller, AndrewSimmonds, Mark
    Mitchell, Austin (Gt Grimsby)Simpson, Alan (Nottingham S)
    Moffatt, LauraSimpson, Keith (M-Norfolk)
    Moonie, Dr. LewisSingh, Marsha
    Moran, MargaretSmith, Jacqui (Redditch)
    Morgan, JulieSmith, John (Glamorgan)
    Morley, ElliotSmyth, Rev. Martin (Belfast S)
    Moss, MalcolmSoames, Nicholas
    Mountford, KaliSoley, Clive
    Mudie, GeorgeSpelman, Mrs Caroline
    Mullin, ChrisSpicer, Sir Michael
    Munn, Ms MegSpring, Richard
    Murphy, Denis (Wansbeck)Stanley, rh Sir John
    Murphy, Jim (Eastwood)Starkey, Dr. Phyllis
    Murrison, Dr. AndrewSteinberg, Gerry
    Norris, Dan (Wansdyke)Stewart, David (Inverness E & Lochaber)
    O'Brien, Mike (N Warks)
    O'Brien, Stephen (Eddisbury)Stoate, Dr. Howard
    Olner, BillStreeter, Gary
    Organ, DianaStringer, Graham
    Osborne, George (Tatton)Stuart, Ms Gisela
    Osborne, Sandra (Ayr)Swire, Hugo (E Devon)
    Ottaway, RichardSyms, Robert
    Owen, AlbertTami, Mark (Alyn)
    Page, RichardTaylor, Dari (Stockton S)
    Paice, JamesTaylor, David (NW Leics)
    Palmer, Dr. NickTaylor, Ian (Esher)
    Picking, AnneTaylor, John (Solihull)
    Pickles, EricTaylor, Dr. Richard (Wyre F)
    Pickthall, ColinThomas, Gareth (Clwyd W)
    Pike, Peter (Burnley)Timms, Stephen
    Plaskitt, JamesTipping, Paddy
    Pollard, KerryTodd, Mark (S Derbyshire)
    Pope, Greg (Hyndburn)Touhig, Don (Islwyn)
    Portillo, rh MichaelTredinnick, David
    Pound, StephenTrickett, Jon
    Prentice, Ms Bridget (Lewisham E)Truswell, Paul
    Turner, Andrew (Isle of Wight)
    Prentice, Gordon (Pendle)Turner, Dennis (Wolverh'ton SE)
    Primarolo, rh DawnTurner, Neil (Wigan)
    Prisk, Mark (Hertford)Twigg, Derek (Halton)
    Prosser, GwynTwigg, Stephen (Enfield)
    Purchase, KenTynan, Bill (Hamilton S)
    Quinn, LawrieTyrie, Andrew
    Randall, JohnVaz, Keith (Leicester E)
    Rapson, Syd (Portsmouth N)Walley, Ms Joan
    Redwood, rh JohnWareing, Robert N.
    Reed, Andy (Loughborough)Waterson, Nigel
    Reid, rh Dr. John (Hamilton N & Bellshill)Watkinson, Angela
    Watson, Tom (W Bromwich E)
    Robathan, AndrewWhite, Brian
    Robertson, Hugh (Faversham & M-Kent)Whitehead, Dr. Alan
    Wicks, Malcolm
    Robertson, John (Glasgow Anniesland)Widdecombe, rh Miss Ann
    Wiggin, Bill
    Robertson, Laurence (Tewk'b'ry)Willetts, David
    Roe, Mrs MarionWilliams, rh Alan (Swansea W)
    Rooney, TerryWilliams, Betty (Conwy)

    Wills, MichaelWright, Anthony D. (Gt Yarmouth)
    Wilshire, David
    Winnick, DavidWright, David (Telford)
    Winterton, Ann (Congleton)Wright, Tony (Cannock)
    Winterton, Sir Nicholas (Macclesfield)Yeo, Tim (S Suffolk)
    Young, rh Sir George
    Winterton, Ms Rosie (Doncaster C)

    Tellers for the Noes:

    Wood, Mike (Batley)

    Joan Ryan and

    Worthington, Tony

    Mr. Fraser Kemp

    Question accordingly negatived.

    It being three and a quarter hours after the commencement of proceedings on the programme motion, MADAM DEPUTY SPEAKER proceeded to put forthwith the Questions necessary for the disposal of the business to be concluded at that hour, pursuant to Order [this day.]

    Clause 29

    Dispersal Of Groups Etc

    Amendments made: No. 38, in page 25, line 6, after second 'locality', insert

    'or any part of the relevant locality'.

    No. 39, in page 25, line 10, at end insert

    'or any part of the relevant locality'.—[Ms Blears.]

    Clause 34

    Authorisations By British Transport Police

    Amendment made: No. 40, in page 28, line 6, leave out '29(1)(a)' and insert '30(1)(a)'.— [Ms Blears.]

    Clause 36

    Anti-Social Behaviour Orders

    Amendment made: No. 31, in page 29, line 39, at end insert—

    '(8) An order under section 57 made in relation to subsection (5) above may make provision for that subsection to come into force—

  • (a) for such period as is specified in the order;
  • (b) on different days in respect of persons of different ages.
  • (9) Subsection (8) does not affect section 58(2).

    (10) The making of an order as mentioned in subsection (8)(a) does not prevent the making of a further order under section 57—

  • (a) whether for the same or a different purpose, or
  • (b) in relation to the same area.'.—[Ms Blears.]
  • Schedule 2

    Curfew Orders And Supervision Orders

    Amendment made: No. 33, in page 54, line 10, at end insert—

    '(8A) If at any time while a supervision order imposing a foster parent residence requirement is in force, the supervisor notifies tlu offender—

  • (a) that no suitable local authority foster parent available, and
  • (b) that the supervisor has applied or proposes to apply under paragraph 5 of Schedule 7 for the variation a revocation of the order,

  • the foster parent residence requirement shall, until the determination of the application, be taken to require the offender to live in local authority accommodation (as defined by section 163 of this Act).'.— [Ms Blears.]

    Clause 43

    Air Weapons: Age Limits

    ', and,

    (b) after subsection (2) insert—

    "(3) It is not an offence under section 22(4) of this Act for a person of or over the age of fourteen to have with him an air weapon or ammunition on private premises with the consent of the occupier.

    (4) But where a person has with him an air weapon on premises in circumstances where he would be prohibited from having it with him but for subsection (3), it is an offence for him to use it for firing any missile beyond those premises."'.

    With this it will be convenient to discuss the following: Amendment (a) to the proposed amendment, at end insert—

    '() where an offence is committed under subsection (4) the donor or lender of the weapon shall also be liable for the offence.'.

    Government amendments Nos. 4 to 7.

    Amendment No. 70, in page 35, line 7, clause 44, after 'which', insert '(i)'.

    Government amendment No. 8.

    Amendment No. 71, in page 35, line 9, at end insert

  • (ii) either has a barrel less than 30 centimetres in length for is less than 60 centimetres in length overall and
  • (iii) is readily convertible (as defined in section 1(6) of the Firearms Act 1982) to fire ammunition capable of discharging a missile by the force of gunpowder or other explosive material.'.
  • Amendment No. 72, in page 35, line 25, after 'which', insert

    'has a barrel length less than of 30 centimetres in length or is less than 60 centimetres in length overall and'.

    Amendment No. 73, in page 35, line 27, after 'dangerous', insert

    'by virtue of the fact that it can be readily converted to be capable of discharging a missile by the force of gunpowder or other explosive material'.

    Amendment No. 74, in page 35, line 44, at end insert—

    '(4B) If it appears to the Secretary of State that the provisions of the principal Act relating to prohibited weapons or ammunition should no longer apply to any weapon or ammunition he may by Order remove such weapon or ammunition from those specified in section 5.'.

    New clause 6— Requirement of firearm certificate for air weapons

    '(1) For rule 2 of the Firearms (Dangerous Air Weapons) Rules 1969 (as amended by the Firearms (Dangerous Air Weapons) (Amendment) Rules 1993 there shall be substituted the following—

    "2.—(1) Subject to paragraph (2) below, rule 3 of these Rules applies to an air weapon (that is to say, an air rifle, air gun or air pistol)—

  • (a) which is capable of discharging a missile so that the missile has, on being discharged from the muzzle of the weapon, kinetic energy in excess of 5.42 joules (4ft/lb), or
  • (b) which is disguised as another object.
  • (2) Rule 3 of these Rules does not apply to a weapon which only falls within (1)(a) above and which is designed for use only when submerged in water.".'.

    New clause 13— Carrying of an unloaded airgun or air rifle

    'At the end of section 23 of the Firearms Act 1968 insert—

    '(3) It is not an offence for a person who has attained the age of 14 but is under 17 to have an unloaded airgun or air rifle with him in a public place provided that:

  • (a) The airgun or air rifle is so covered by a securely fastened gun cover so that it cannot be used,
  • (b) The young person is travelling directly to or from a place at which he can lawfully use the airgun or where it has been kept on his behalf (whether for repair or otherwise).'.
  • Government amendment No. 9.

    With the permission of the House, I should like to speak to Government amendments Nos. 3 to 9. I will then listen to the debate on the other amendments, which we will resist, and respond to the debate on them at the end.

    I pay tribute to my hon. Friends the Members for Chatham and Aylesford (Jonathan Shaw), for Stockton, South (Ms Taylor), for Jarrow (Mr. Hepburn), for Gateshead, East and Washington, West (Joyce Quin) and the hon. Member for Teignbridge (Richard Younger-Ross) for bringing the misuse of airguns to the attention of the House. I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Chatham and Aylesford has actively sought to raise the issue in his private Member's Bill. He knows that the Government are not unsympathetic to what he has tried to achieve, and we hope that our current proposals to raise to 17 the age at which a young person can own an air weapon and to strengthen controls on unsupervised use will go a long way to meeting his concerns.

    We were aware in Committee of the implications of clause 43 for young shooters in rural areas. It is common for them to use airguns unsupervised for shooting practice and pest control on farms. It is claimed that adult supervision is neither necessary nor practical in such circumstances. The Government have listened to those concerns and have tabled amendments that create an exception to the general requirement for supervision. The exception relates to young people aged 14 to 16 inclusive when they are on private premises, provided that they have the consent of the occupier. However, the use of airguns is not restricted to rural areas, and many of the complaints from hon. Members concern their use in built-up, residential areas in urban, semi-urban and semi-rural settings. The exception will, therefore, not apply exclusively to rural areas. To protect innocent people from the indiscriminate shooting of air guns, it will also apply in urban areas, but we have built in the extra safeguard of making it an offence punishable by a fine of up to £1,000 to fire a pellet beyond the premises—such as the back garden of a house. We have sought to achieve a balance by listening to all sides of the debate on this important issue.

    Government amendment No. 8 will simplify the description of air weapons to be banned under clause 44. The ban relates to weapons that use a self-contained gas cartridge system. As drafted, the description is supplemented with the phrase
    "whether powered by air or carbon dioxide".
    In Committee, the hon. Member for South-East Cambridgeshire (Mr. Paice) questioned whether the supplementary phrase was necessary. He thought that it might be too restrictive and allow the ban to be circumvented if someone developed a weapon powered by another gas—for example, nitrogen. I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for raising that point. I agree with him and the amendment will delete the phrase.

    I welcome the Minister to this part of the debate. As she said, this is an important issue that rouses tremendous emotions. I speak not only on behalf of the Opposition but on behalf of tens of thousands—if not hundreds of thousands—of people who shoot as a leisure pursuit. I wholly condemn the misuse of air weapons and I want that to be clear and on the record. Every self-respecting member of the shooting fraternity wholly condemns that misuse, whether it be shooting at people, pets or buildings. It is wrong, and it should not happen.

    The issue is how such misuse is prevented. Now is not the time to reprise all the arguments that we heard in Committee and that have been made by the Firearms Consultative Council, the Select Committee and many other organisations. Suffice it to say that almost everything that people describe as misuse is already an offence. I understand the Government's desire to take further action to reflect public concern and to try to ensure that people do not misuse air weapons. In that respect, I understand and support the Government's motives. However, I am not convinced that the decision to increase the age limit from 14 to 17 is necessary, although I understand the Government's reasons for doing so.

    I welcome Government amendment No. 3, which recognises the force of argument in Committee and from outside organisations that there is a justification for young people between 14 and 17 using air weapons on private land, either for target practice or pest control. I welcome the amendment, which is almost word for word the one that I tabled in Committee. I would be happy to go even further, which is why I have tabled amendment (a). I note the Minister's comment that she intends to resist it, and I would be interested to hear her reasons.

    One of the themes of the Bill has been the belief in parental responsibility. Indeed, other parts of the Bill are directly aimed at that. Therefore, I would be happy for parents to be held responsible, and liable to be charged with an offence, if they provided a young person with an air weapon that was then used illegally. Amendment (a) would simply provide that if a weapon were used improperly—if a missile went beyond the boundary of the premises or were fired without the consent of the occupier—then the person who gave or lent the weapon to the young person who fired it should also be liable. I shall be interested to hear why the Government have decided not to accept the amendment. At this stage, I cannot say whether I shall accept their argument.

    New clause 13 deals with young people carrying air weapons to the place where they will be used. Many organisations have raised this matter, both those directly involved in shooting and those of a more general sporting nature. Young people can use air weapons for pest control, as has been described, but also as a way to enter the sport of target shooting. Air pistols are used by entry-level participants in that sport, but.22 or full-bore rifles are used by more experienced shooters. Competitions are held at all levels, ranging from local events to the Olympics. They are very important for a significant number of people. I am concerned that the Bill will mean that, although it is legal for young people to use a weapon in competition, they will not be able to take a weapon to a competition.

    Existing legislation requires that an air weapon in a public place must be unloaded and securely fastened in a secure container. The new clause would allow a young person to carry an air weapon to a legitimate place of use—to private land, or a shooting range, for example, or to a repair shop—as long as it was unloaded and securely covered. Also, the young person would have to demonstrate that he was en route to a legitimate use of the weapon.

    The matter has caused widespread concern, and other hon. Members will want to contribute to the debate. When it was raised in Committee, the then Minister, the hon. Member for Coventry, North-East (Mr. Ainsworth), said that he was not persuaded of the argument. I undertook to go away and ensure that those from outside organisations concerned about the matter took the opportunity to persuade the Government of the validity of the argument. I hope that they have been able to do so, even though the Minister's opening remarks about resisting every proposal that was not a Government amendment does not give me great comfort. However, I hope that she will understand that the matter is one of genuine concern for many people. I do not believe that the new clause would result in the misuse that I presume is at the root of her opposition to it.

    I turn now to the separate issue of guns that use the gas cartridge system, and the powers that the Government propose to enable the Secretary of State to ban such weapons. Clearly, a serious problem exists. It is commonly called the Brocock issue, after the brand name of the most widely used gas cartridge air pistol. We know from the police that such weapons are regularly found to have been converted to fire proper gunpowder-propelled projectiles. Amendments Nos. 70 and 72 would constrain the Government's powers. They would not prevent the Government from taking those powers, as I recognise that there is no alternative, even though my basic approach to life is a desire not to ban anything. I have looked at many options, and believe that the only avenue open to the Government was to ban such weapons. However, I am not content that the Bill could allow the Government to ban almost anything that they chose. That would be taking things too far.

    6 pm

    We have frequently debated Henry VIII-type and order-making powers and, almost every Member has spoken for or against them. Where there is a case for them, they should be limited. Taken together, my cluster

    of amendments would constrain such powers. Obviously, I welcome the Minister's comments about my proposals to remove definitions of the type of gas; it seems sensible that the provisions should apply to any gas, and I am grateful to her for accepting that point.

    We want to limit the powers in three aspects. First, the provisions would apply only to gas cartridge systems. Secondly, such systems have to be especially dangerous, defined as

    "those guns that can be converted to discharging a missile using gun powder or other explosive material".

    Thirdly, the provision should be limited to weapons that are small, in both barrel and overall length.

    Some of our amendments were drafted by the British Shooting Sports Council, which is aware of the need to do something about the problem. However, I hope to persuade the Government that, while doing so, we should not penalise the vast majority of people who use air weapons for safe and responsible purposes. Government amendment No. 3 recognises that desire and I hope that, on reflection, they will realise that the powers that they are taking in clause 44 go beyond what is necessary to address what I readily accept is a current problem relating to some self-contained gas cartridge system weapons. The purpose of my amendments is to address that problem.

    When the Minister moved amendment No. 3, she noted that many hon. Members would want to speak. I do not want to take too much of the time that we have been allocated for this element of our proceedings, so I shall draw my remarks to a conclusion.

    People concerned about the misuse of weapons and those who have suggested amendments that would be even more restrictive than the Government's proposals should understand that those of us who do not want to go down that road certainly do not condone the misuse of air weapons. We want it to be stopped.

    The debate is about how, rather than whether, that misuse should be stopped. Wholesale registration would not work. The bureaucratic system would be immense, bearing in mind the estimate that about 4 million air weapons are in circulation. The Government's general approach is in the right direction, with some exceptions. However, our amendments would slightly redress the balance.

    Our amendments would not create a free-for-all for the users of air pistols and air rifles; they would simply ensure that we maintain balance between the small minority of people who misuse such weapons and the vast majority who use them responsibly, properly and safely. I respect the concerns of people who feel that no guns should be allowed or that no private gun use is safe. I do not agree with their arguments but I accept that they are sincerely held. I hope that those who make such arguments will also accept the sincerely held views of those who have used such weapons for much of our lives, and do so responsibly and safely. We believe that there is a place for air weapons and other weapons in our community and that they can be part and parcel of our leisure pursuits without causing damage or risk to the vast majority of people. Such people should not be

    confused with the tiny minority who use weapons maliciously to commit crime or intentionally to cause harm to people, property, birds or animals.

    There is a place for air weapons in our society. We have to find the right balance and, with amendment No. 3, the Government have moved a little way in finding that balance. I hope that the Minister will understand in addressing my amendments that I am simply trying to take that balance a little further, but not excessively so. I look forward to listening to her comments, but I repeat my opening remarks that no one whom I know, nor any reputable shooting organisation, does anything but totally condemn the misuse of air weapons, causing damage or risk to anyone or anything.

    It may be that some people will be deprived of their pleasure as a result of the Bill, but, too often, the victims of the misuse of such weapons are deprived of their lives or livelihoods.

    I wish to address my remarks to new clause 6, which appears on the amendment paper in the names of my right hon. Friend the Member for Gateshead, East and Washington, West (Joyce Quin), my hon. Friend the Member for Jarrow (Mr. Hepburn) and myself. My right hon. Friend, who has long campaigned on the issue, has asked me to express to the House her bitter disappointment that she cannot take part in the debate for unavoidable reasons.

    The purpose of new clause 6 is to extend the need to hold a firearms certificate for the possession, purchase or acquisition of weapons with the capacity to inflict fatal injuries. That would ensure that the applicant is a suitable person to be entrusted with a firearm and that suppliers of dangerous air weapons are registered. In so far as it goes, we welcome part 6, especially clause 42, which deals with carrying firearms in a public place. We welcome the fact that it will be an offence to carry an air weapon or an imitation firearm in a public place without lawful authority or reasonable excuse. We welcome the fact that that will be an arrestable offence, subject to a maximum penalty of six months' imprisonment. That demonstrates that the Government take the issue seriously.

    We welcome the age increase from 14 to 17—it will be offence for anyone to give an air weapon to a person under 17, and those under 17 will not be able to own an air weapon—and tightening up when such weapons may be used unsupervised. We also welcome the fact that, under clause 44, the Secretary of State will be able to prohibit or introduce other controls in respect of any air weapon that appears to him to be especially dangerous. Of course, that will apply to those air weapons that may be converted to use conventional ammunition. In welcoming those measures, I also have to point out that we do not feel that they do not go far enough.

    The Minister will be aware that 75 local authorities and six police authorities in England and Wales have signed up to a campaign, led by Gateshead metropolitan borough council, to bring those possibly lethal weapons under the same control as other firearms. There has been an increasing number of incidents in which serious injuries and even deaths have been caused by the irresponsible use of air weapons.

    In 2001, Matthew Sheffield, who was 13-years-old, was killed by the irresponsible use of an air weapon. That is just one example, and I shall quote his parents' comments:
    "We find it incomprehensible that the use of a fishing rod, the purchase of a new TV and obtaining a driving licence are subject to greater regulation than the purchase and use of a firearm capable of causing death."
    That comment goes to the nub of new clause 6.

    In 2000, the Select Committee on Home Affairs found that the power of an air weapon capable of inflicting fatal injuries was a third of that at which the weapon would fall into the firearms category under the Firearms (Dangerous Air Weapons) Rules 1969. The Select Committee recommended that firearms should be licensed according to their lethality, rather than their mechanism. It found that there was no reason to license weapons with insufficient power to inflict fatal injuries and that the muzzle energy below which a licence should not be required was 4 foot-pounds. That is why we recommend that weapons with a muzzle energy of more than 4 foot-pounds—5.42 J—should fall within the regulations.

    We would also argue that a fee is paid to the police force for the certificate, so that no new burden would be placed on the police, should the Minister put up that argument. Furthermore, we would argue that there would be potential savings to the police force in terms of armed response deployments, as a significant number of such incidents involve air weapons. In Northumbria, for instance, around 50 per cent. of such incidents fall into that category.

    We believe that the amendment is modest and sensible, and it would certainly be widely welcomed by those who have suffered because of the reckless and irresponsible use of air weapons, which the current law fails to tackle correctly. I am sorry that the Minister has indicated that she will resist the amendment, and I hope that she will explain why that is the case. If there are technical reasons for resisting it, I hope that she will assure the House that the Government recognise the validity of the amendment and that they will review firearms legislation to introduce new restrictions before more avoidable accidents and fatalities take place.

    I add Liberal Democrat support to the amendments that the Government have tabled after discussion in Committee. That discussion was prompted rightly by the amendments tabled by the hon. Member for South-East Cambridgeshire (Mr. Paice), which we supported. We showed that the large-scale use of air weapons in rural areas does not pose a significant problem. The measure would have prohibited the use of such weapons by people aged between 14 and 17, creating an offence when there is not a problem. For those who were not members of the Committee, my constituency is the size of Greater London, and I estimate that there are probably between 5,000 and 10,000 air weapons in my constituency and 63 police officers, only about a quarter of whom are on duty at any one time. It would be completely outside the realm of the police in my area to attempt to control use of such weapons by people aged between 14 and 17, and it would not be a task that they would want.

    My constituents will also be grateful for the Government amendment, especially Sennybridge pony club, which trains young people in the sensible use of weapons, particularly for triathlon events involving riding, running and target practice. That will be able to continue.

    I thank my hon. Friend for that point.

    This group also includes several other amendments, some of which we can support in principle, although I am not certain about the detail as I am not an expert in that regard. Broadly, those are Conservative amendments. We cannot support new clause 6, because of the large numbers of weapons, estimated to be in the millions, that exist in the country. Trying to bring those under licensing would be a vast exercise. It would criminalise many people who did riot license them, and an extremely long period of grace would be required. I understand people's concern that the misuse of air weapons—which is an already an offence—can in extreme circumstances cause injury and fatalities. We all have great sympathy in that regard, but such misuse is relatively small-scale given that these weapons are very widespread. New clause 6, in seeking to bring air weapons into the licensing system, attempts a Herculean task, which may prove counter-productive in the long run.

    The hon. Gentleman is not picking up what I said correctly. It is not a question of bringing all air weapons into the regulations—only those weapons that are powerful enough to be capable of causing death. That was not only my view and that of my right hon. and hon. Friends but the view of the Select Committee.

    I fully sympathise with the hon. Gentleman's comments. As I understand it, however, a lot of weapons would be brought in under the 4 foot-pounds provision, including virtually every make of air rifle—which are used extensively in rural areas. Air pistols are not used extensively in areas such as my constituency.

    6.15 pm

    The Conservatives are right to raise these issues, especially in relation to clarifying which gas-propelled air weapons, which can be converted, are to be brought under the new prohibition, and making sure that that is limited to the weapons that are causing the problem. Problems in relation to the misuse of firearms and particular brands of air weapon and their conversion need to be tackled. We all agree on that. What we must make sure of, however, is that the law deals with the problem and does not stretch beyond it. I do not know whether the amendments are drafted correctly, but I hope that the Government will at least respond sympathetically. The amendments may not be the perfect way of dealing with the problem, but the Conservatives were right to table them, and they carry our broad support.

    We have a fair degree of sympathy with new clause 13. In relation to the carriage to a gun club of an air weapon that is securely wrapped in a box or case that prevents

    access to the trigger mechanism, it seems inappropriate for the Government to ask 16-year-olds to make sure that their parents take them to the gun club, which may be only half a mile down the road, either by walking with them or carrying the weapon in the boot of the car. Safeguards should be provided, however, to ensure that the gun is not carried openly in the streets—that it is covered and protected—as the open carriage of gun would invite danger, perhaps more on the young person than on anyone else, as it might add to the attraction for someone to have a go at them.

    We welcome the fact that the Government listened, and I am glad that the amendments have been tabled. They meet a number of the concerns that have been raised, and I hope that a sympathetic attitude will be shown to some of the other concerns that are being expressed and that perhaps they will be given further consideration. What the Government are setting out to do, which we all support, should tackle the problem itself and not go beyond tackling the problem, which would clearly be unnecessary legislation.

    I have supported 98 per cent. of this Bill, and I have been very pleased to be involved in it in Committee and on Report. But I have one serious disappointment that I want to share with the Minister. I hope that she will understand my disappointment and that she will make a commitment to review the issue over time. That disappointment is in relation to air weapons and firearms. Most particularly, I am disappointed that air weapons, which are defined as fairly innocuous and not potentially dangerous despite being potentially lethal weapons, are not to be registered and licensed.

    I am pleased with much that is said in the Bill about the way that air weapons must be handled in a public place, and that only those over 17 years of age will be able to purchase them—all of that is valuable—but the main issue for all of us is the potential of these weapons, misuse of which has caused a death in my constituency. My hon. Friend the Member for Tyne Bridge (Mr. Clelland) mentioned Matthew Sheffield, who lived in Eaglescliffe in my constituency. He was a young 14-year-old boy who was playing on a pleasant Sunday afternoon with an air rifle. He died because that air rifle was misused. That lethal potential must be acknowledged.

    The second feature of my reservation and concern is that clause 43 will amend section 22 of the Firearms Act 1968 so that it will not be an offence for a person aged over 14 to have an air weapon or ammunition on private premises with the consent of the occupier. The clear fact is that Matthew Sheffield's friends had the consent of the occupier. They were on private premises and the air rifle was used inappropriately.

    I entirely respect the hon. Lady's views, which she expressed in Committee. Does she accept that Government amendment No. 3, which is similar to an amendment that I tabled in Committee, would make it illegal for a projectile from an air weapon to go beyond the boundary of private premises? Although she is right to describe the tragedy in her constituency by saying that the weapon was fired from a private property, an offence would have been committed under the new proposals because the missile went beyond the private property to cause the fatality.

    Unfortunately, the hon. Gentleman is inaccurate. The missile was fired on private property and the child died. The children were in a garden—his garden. The missile did no go over a hedge or outside the private property. The sheer enormity of the distress is shown by the fact that the incident happened on a Sunday afternoon while the children were playing a game that went wrong. The point is not only that a 14-year-old boy has died and a family has been traumatised, but that the boy's four friends find it difficult to come to terms with the fact that they were playing a game when an accident meant that a child died.

    I would never say that everyone misuses firearms or air rifles. I am simply saying that the issue with which we must all cope is that such weapons have a lethal potential. I believe that if an adult had named responsibility for an air weapon and gave it to a person aged between 14 and 17 with strict instructions on its use, it would have a controlling effect by ensuring that the young person knew the rifle's limitations and potential.

    Does my hon. Friend agree that it is undoubtedly a true statistic that the vast majority of serious injuries and deaths caused by juveniles using air rifles happen on private property without the missile going outside private property? Does she agree that the Government's position is completely illogical?

    I do not accept that the Government's position is completely illogical. We are all trying to handle the issue carefully. The problem is that air weapons have a lethal potential. It is not illogical to try to handle the problem so that people who use air rifles to cope with rats or other vermin on private property may do so. I do not accept my hon. and learned Friend's proposition, although I know that it is a fact that most accidents and deaths occur on private property.

    I do not want to labour my point further, but I am sure that the Minister will acknowledge that potentially lethal weapons cause a problem. It is true that accidents occur on private property, and it is appropriate to maintain a focus on reviewing the problem so that if it is considered appropriate—as I believe that it is—further legislation may be introduced to provide that air weapons should be bought under licence. Such legislation should provide for a named responsibility. That is an appropriate stance and I ask the Minister to be mindful of my request.

    It would be correct to mention my entry in the Register of Members' Interests because it might be relevant to the debate.

    I tell the hon. Member for Stockton, South (Ms Taylor) that I appreciate the tragedy in her constituency. I am also aware of other accidents, such as when a young girl was blinded in Gateshead owing to the misuse of an air weapon. However, the only way in which we could provide that an air rifle or any firearm never caused an accident would be by banning them all. That would be similar to saying, "If you don't want people to be killed by cars, ban all cars"—the point becomes rather ridiculous. In this case, hard cases would make bad laws.

    It is a question not of banning anything but of control. We are saying that if something looks like a gun, shoots like a gun and kills like a gun, it should be licensed like a gun.

    I hear what the hon. Gentleman says and I am coming to that point. The hon. Member for Stockton, South was highlighting the fact that a gun was misused in an incident in her constituency, that it could have been licensed and that a young man died as a consequence. It is almost impossible to legislate to prevent such incidents. They are tragic, but tragedies do happen.

    The hon. Member for Tyne Bridge (Mr. Clelland) mentioned licensing. His proposal in new clause 6 would apply to air rifles producing 4 foot-pounds or more of energy, meaning that it would cover virtually every air rifle that exists. We do not know how many air rifles exist in this country; my estimate is 3 million and we have heard another estimate of 4 million. Registration of those weapons would place a huge and costly burden on the police. The cost would obviously be passed on to those who wish to use air weapons. Our experience of firearms and shotgun certificates shows that such additional cost places a real burden on low-income families. I think that my hon. Friends would agree that many people from low-income households who used to enjoy shooting have been forced to give it up because of the cost of registration.

    I mentioned cost in my remarks. A price would have to be paid for a licence but there would not be an extra burden of cost on the police. The hon. Gentleman says that the number of air rifles with the lethality that we have described is unknown and that is the whole point. We should know how many such lethal weapons are out there, which licensing would achieve.

    Licensing involves a complicated and bureaucratic system. If an individual were to be licensed to possess any air weapon, checks would have to be made on the individual and the circumstances in which the weapon would be used, where it would be kept and whether it would be secure would all need to be determined. The same rules and regulations as apply to shotguns and rifles would apply to air weapons. That would represent a huge burden that would have to be paid for—presumably by those who want to use the weapons.

    The hon. Gentleman is right that the provision would create a burden, but we have spoken to police authorities. Cleveland police authority is more than keen to be involved in a licensing scheme. We should consider neither burden nor cost, but whether we can increase control and prevent accidents. None of us would claim that we can eliminate accidents completely, but after one has met a family and experienced such an incident at close hand, one realises that it behoves us to find a solution to the problem.

    I know exactly how the hon. Lady must have felt when she talked to the family and we all have great sympathy for them. However, I do not think that her proposal would solve the problem. The hon. Member for Tyne Bridge said that Northumbria police are called to many incidents caused by the improper use of air weapons, but the way in which many are used is illegal now. The vast majority of wounding incidents caused by air weapons are due to people breaking the existing law. Simply passing legislation to provide that everything must be registered would not mean that illegal air weapons—as they would become—would disappear from circulation.

    Those of us who have had the same argument about handguns and shotguns time and again have said that registration may be introduced and controls may be made tougher, but it will not reduce the number of illegally used and held weapons. History proves that to be correct.

    6.30 pm

    The Government are right to resist new clause 6, but I urge them to consider new clause 13. I was pleased that the hon. Member for Coventry, North-East (Mr. Ainsworth), who was not persuaded in Committee, has now been persuaded to change his mind. I am sorry that he is not in the Chamber. He has been promoted to the ranks of the silent ones and is no longer a Minister. No doubt he will be a valuable heavyweight asset in the Government's Whips Office. After last night, they need him. I am sure he will do a first-class job.

    I am also glad that the current Minister is persuaded. Young people of 14 are much more amenable to training in the responsible use of weapons. It is important that they learn how to use weapons safely. Such lessons stay with them for the rest of their lives. Those of us who shoot regularly know that those people who were taught when they were young are much safer than many people who shoot at a later stage of their lives. The fact that young people can now use those weapons under restriction and supervision is a great step forward.

    New clause 13 would be one further step forward for the Minister. Having allowed younger people to use weapons under supervision, there will be an awful logistical problem of getting them from A to B. If someone lives in a village and has permission to shoot on land outside it, he will have to be escorted there by an adult who will have to wait for him to return. That could be early in the morning or late at night when it would not be an attractive proposition. That will cause young people serious problems and put off many who would otherwise want to learn how to use such weapons at an early age.

    The new clause is not a huge step forward and I hope that the Minister will think about it. Even if she says no tonight, perhaps the subject can be dealt with in another place.

    I welcome the Government's change of mind since Second Reading and thank the previous Minister, my hon. Friend the Member for Coventry, North-East (Mr. Ainsworth), for his willingness to listen to the shooting organisations. The Government have taken a sensible step and one that is necessary if we are to ensure that we continue our success in shooting sports at the Olympic games.

    The International Olympic Committee is supportive of shooting. When we bid for the games in London, the IOC may well consider how we intend to ensure that people get the opportunity to shoot, because many people who compete in the pentathlon, the triathlon and other sports started by using air weapons. There is a similar problem with the pistol ban, and our pistol shooters have to go abroad to train. There is a concern that if we do not do something about that and take a more flexible attitude, it could affect our bid for the games in London in 2012.

    I welcome Government amendment No. 3 and urge them to consider new clause 13, which I fully support. If there is no vote on the Opposition new clause, I hope that the Minister and Home Office officials will think about it. They must know that rejecting it is not reasonable. I also hope that the Lords will accept a similar amendment so that we have another chance to consider it. If we are acknowledging that it is reasonable to allow young people of 14, 15 and 16 to use airguns on private premises, it is nonsensical not to accept new clause 13.

    Airguns are not only used in rural areas. It is important that young people who are training for various sporting events can travel to clubs. Surely if we apply a commonsense approach to the problem we can find a way to allow an unaccompanied young person to carry an airgun in a public place while he or she goes to and from the premises where he or she may legitimately use it. New clause 13 overcomes that difficulty. It allows that to happen on the strict condition that the airgun is in a securely fastened gun cover and that the young person travels directly to the club from his or her home. The new clause seems sensible and I shall be most interested to hear the Minister explain why it is not.

    I do not support new clause 6, which calls for the licensing of weapons. The licensing system for other weapons hits the law-abiding decent shooter. The non-law-abiding nasty people in my constituency who go around murdering people would not dream of licensing their weapons. If we are honest, it is nonsense to think that we could possibly stop some of the illegitimate and terrible things that are caused by a small number of people who use weapons in an antisocial way. We cannot stop them by imposing another big bureaucracy that would cost a fortune, when the police cannot enforce the existing law.

    I sometimes wish that Members who have a knee-jerk response to air weapons and issues related to guns would spend time in a shooting club with people who shoot and who have shot all their lives. They would see young people showing the greatest discipline when they shoot. I do not want to go over the Second Reading debate again, but if they saw young people in a disciplined situation they would realise that the best way to prevent antisocial behaviour is through education. That is exactly what the Home Office said a few years ago. Unfortunately, it seems to have changed its mind.

    I thank the current Minister and the previous Minister for agreeing to the change and for tabling Government amendment No. 3. I hope that the Government will give serious consideration to new clause 13, because their amendment does not make sense without it.

    The hon. Lady has a particular perspective on such matters both as a former Minister for Sport and as someone who has a considerable amount of gun crime in her constituency. She is able to see both sides of the argument. With that experience, does she agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Hexham (Mr. Atkinson) that in this instance hard cases could make bad law?

    There is concern about some horrible incidents. I do not belittle anything that has happened in hon. Members' constituencies, but sometimes what seems the simplest way to do something is not the best way. That is why we need new clause 13 if we are serious about allowing our young people to have a future at Olympic games and world championships and to have the opportunity to represent their country in what is an incredibly disciplined and good sport.

    Hon. Members have presented reasonable cases for both sides of the argument in promoting their views on whether there should be further restrictions on firearms, as my hon. Friend the Member for Tyne Bridge (Mr. Clelland) advocates, or fewer restrictions, as some Conservative Members advocate. A powerful argument can be presented either way. It can be argued that it is reasonable for a young lad who lives on a farm to shoot rats in a barn or rabbits. As he lives in a rural area, he poses no danger. If we took a straw poll in Chatham high street and asked whether that should be allowed, most people would say, "Absolutely. What are the Government on about?"

    Equally, however, another case can be made. I wrote to 100 regional newspapers when I put a Bill together last year and became aware of the scores of incidents that occur. So it is also possible to ask whether it is reasonable for children below the age of 17 to be supervised if they are to use potentially deadly weapons. Both those arguments are reasonable. We need to drill down a bit, and find out who are the persistent offenders. They are youngsters under 17, they are mainly boys and they live in the inner city. Most incidents occur in the summer holidays, and their number is increasing. In 1997, there were 7,000 incidents, but in 2000–01 there were more than 10,000. I do not want to rehearse the debates that we had on Second Reading or when discussing my private Member's Bill, but those incidents are clearly rising and many of our constituents are concerned about them. It therefore behoves us to find a way to improve the situation, and it is reasonable to argue that 14 is too low an age limit.

    I appreciate the hon. Gentleman's tremendous commitment on this issue. He referred to the increasing number of incidents, and I accept that that is the case. However, is he aware of the reverse statistic? The number of prosecutions for carrying a loaded air weapon in a public place has fallen consistently year on year since 1996 and is now about 60 per cent. of what it was then. The law has not changed, so it seems odd that, at a time when the number of incidents is rising, there are fewer prosecutions. That makes me wonder whether it is the law that is at fault or, as I prefer to believe, the way in which it is enforced.

    I am sorry, I was trying to be brief. There were 575 prosecutions in 1996, and the latest figures for 2001 show that that number fell to 360.

    I applaud the good work that the police are doing, but millions of these weapons are in circulation, and their nature means that that is covert, making detection difficult. We welcome the reduction in prosecutions, but that does not mean that 14-year-olds should be able to use those weapons. The Opposition believe that the Government should support new clause 13, but I urge my hon. Friend the Minister to stand her ground. A young person may go to a club such as the pony club mentioned by the hon. Member for Brecon and Radnorshire (Mr. Williams) to use potentially lethal weapons. It is therefore important that parents be responsible for ensuring that their children are taken to such places to use those weapons.

    Is my hon. Friend aware that our gold medallist in the pentathlon in the Sydney Olympics started off at a pony club and did all her work and shooting there? Does he understand the impact of the provision on our shooting prospects at the next Olympics, or does he not care?

    Of course I care about our prospects at the Olympics and opportunities for our young people. However, we are in a situation in which hundreds of people are losing their eyes or their lives. I shall not ask my hon. Friend whether she cares about those people, because I know that she does. We need to strike a balance. My hon. Friend should not throw those emotive arguments at me—of course I am concerned and want young people to do well.

    That is a reasonable question. We are talking about rural areas. The hon. Member for Ludlow (Matthew Green) said that he lived in a huge constituency and, in such cases, an appropriate place to shoot is not just down the road but miles away. It is likely therefore that the young person will be taken there by a parent. The key issue is whether that young person is going to a club or not, and I am concerned about the constable's ability to make that judgment. Our constables and police officers need clarity, but new clause 13 is ambiguous.

    6.45 pm

    Does my hon. Friend agree that the issue of whether a parent or a responsible adult accompanies a young person to their club is very much about support for that young person? In many ways, it is about protecting and assisting that young person to undertake the legitimate activity of target shooting. We must make sure that parents are responsible for ensuring that their children travel to and from those clubs safely and easily, thus encouraging them in their shooting activities.

    I rarely disagree with anything that my hon. Friend says. If a young person succeeds at a particular event at a sporting venue, 99 per cent. of the time their parents will be there. I do not believe that the problem will arise, but the key issue is the ambiguity created by new clause 13.

    The majority of offences are committed by youngsters under 17 in the summer holidays, generally in inner-city areas, which is why I support the Government's proposals, which are very similar to those in my Bill. I listened to what my hon. Friend the Minister said about premises, about which I was concerned and which I discussed with her. Again, I did not want any ambiguity. I should be grateful if she addressed that, as police officers on the ground should not have to deal with an ambiguous provision. She mentioned the £1,000 fine for firing outside premises, which is welcome, as we should all condemn people who use these weapons in an antisocial way to cause injury, whether to humans or wildlife. Ten thousand cats are killed, injured or maimed every year, and there are many other worrying statistics. Such incidents should not take place, as the hon. Member for South-East Cambridgeshire (Mr. Paice) said, but sadly they do, and we need to act. I therefore welcome the proposals in the Bill.

    It is clear that weapons of all kinds are lethal in the wrong hands, and air guns, of whatever type, in the wrong hands can be lethal, as has been demonstrated by my hon. Friends. In our amendments and the Bill, we are trying to find a way to deal with hon. Members' concerns, and I am pleased that my hon. Friend the Member for Chatham and Aylesford (Jonathan Shaw) acknowledged that we have gone some way towards meeting the concerns that he raised in his private Member's Bill. However, at the same time, we recognise that for a number of people shooting is a legitimate sport. It is not one that I have ever done or am particularly attracted to, but it is a sport that people pursue legally without harming anybody at all. We are therefore trying to strike a balance.

    Amendment (a) would extend liability for the new offence to whoever had lent the young person his weapon. I accept that that might be useful in adding a further incentive to all concerned to act responsibly, and I have given considerable thought to the proposal. However, there are concerns about how we would make it effective. As has already been said, a licence is not required for such weapons, so proving ownership may make it difficult to pursue the issue of liability.

    Even where a lender of a weapon had gone to great pains to explain to a young person that they must not shoot beyond the premises, it is not a requirement for the lender to be present when the weapon is being used, and it could therefore be argued that it would be unfair to hold him responsible for the young person's offence. In cases where a lender had not instructed the young person in that way, it would be difficult for the police to prove otherwise. Although I was initially sympathetic to the amendment, it would be difficult to implement.

    On new clause 13, I listened carefully to the arguments from hon. Members on both sides of the House, but I am not convinced. The new clause would provide a further exception to the requirement for young people to be supervised when in possession of an air weapon. The main effect would be to allow 14 to 16-year-olds to carry unloaded air weapons without supervision when travelling to or from their home or shooting club, or when crossing public land on the way to shooting on private premises.

    The issue of carriage was raised in Committee. I know that shooting organisations are concerned that requiring supervision when travelling to and from clubs and shooting events would unduly hinder the activities of legitimate shooters. The law already provides exceptions to the requirement for adult supervision where a young person has an air weapon because he is a member of an approved shooting club, or uses it at a shooting gallery. We have listened to the concerns of hon. Members and of shooting organisations and have tabled amendments Nos. 3 to 7 and 9, which provide a further exception for young people who shoot on private land. However, I am not persuaded that yet another exception is justified. I can think of no compelling argument for allowing 14-year-olds to carry weapons around in public without the supervision of an adult.

    The requirement for the weapon to be unloaded and carried in a secure gun cover is superficially attractive, but would be open to abuse. What is there to stop young people taking weapons out of their covers, using them and then, having disposed of any remaining pellets, replacing them in the cover before an approaching policeman can challenge them? Even if the young person had no pellets with him, the weapon could easily be removed from its case and used to intimidate others. Also, there is nothing to stop other young people seizing the weapon and using it to intimidate others.

    As my hon. Friend the Member for Crawley (Laura Moffatt) rightly pointed out, it is not unreasonable to expect a parent or another adult to supervise a young shooter who is going to shoot on private premises or at an approved club. Millions of parents every week support their children in their sporting activities.

    New clause 6, which was moved by my hon. Friend the Member for Tyne Bridge (Mr. Clelland), approaches the problem of air weapon misuse by requiring more of these weapons to be held on firearms certificates granted by the police. The vast majority of air weapons are not powerful enough to fall within the existing certification process. However, there are arrangements requiring a certificate for high-powered air weapons, which pose a particular danger to the public. Such weapons have been designated as "specially dangerous" in the Firearms (Dangerous Air Weapons) Rules 1969. Under those rules, a certificate is required in order to hold an air pistol with a muzzle energy of 6 foot-pounds or about 8 joules, or any other air weapon with a muzzle energy of 12 foot-pounds or about 16 joules.

    The new clause would significantly lower these thresholds to 5.42 joules. It would also remove the differentiation between air pistols and other air weapons. As a result, the new clause would bring many more types of air weapon into the certification process. When considering how to tackle airgun misuse, we considered whether to introduce some form of licensing regime for air weapons. We decided against that course of action because we felt it would be a disproportionate and costly reaction to the problem. I acknowledge that, as my hon. Friend mentioned, some police forces have joined local authorities in demanding that, but it was contrary to the advice that we received from the Association of Chief Police Officers. Rather than set up a costly licensing scheme that would penalise legitimate shooters, we felt it was better to target the small but significant minority of people who misuse their weapons. That is what the measures in the Bill seek to achieve.

    Amendments Nos. 70 to 73 would restrict the proposed ban on air weapons that use the self-contained gas cartridge system to those with a barrel length of less than 30 cm or to those that are less than 60 cm long—in common parlance, to handguns only. Furthermore, the ban would apply only in respect of such weapons that were readily convertible to fire ammunition that uses the force of gunpowder or other explosive material to discharge a missile. Those conditions not only apply to the specific provision to ban self-contained gas cartridge systems as set out in clause 44(3), but to the general order-making power in subsection (6).

    I remind the House why we are seeking to introduce stricter controls on specially dangerous air weapons. It is not because we want to ban a wide range of air weapons to make life difficult for legitimate users; it is because certain types of weapons are being converted and used in an increasing number of violent criminal acts, including murder and attempted murder. It is true that these conversions currently involve ammunition that uses some kind of explosive charge. It is also true that pistols and revolvers are currently the weapons of choice. But we must be mindful of the sort of people who want to use guns in a criminal way. They will always be on the lookout for an alternative source of weapons if one source is closed off. It is vital that we have flexible powers that allow us to address any new designs.

    As regards amendment No. 74, it is interesting that people are willing to give the Secretary of State an extremely wide power to remove any weapons or ammunition from the list of prohibited weapons, but are less prepared to see any additions, even though those must be limited to air weapons that are considered to be specially dangerous. I am aware that the present restrictions have caused some difficulties, but that is more appropriately addressed in the context of the review of firearms legislation generally, which we have promised.

    In the context of the clause, we have tried to meet the concerns of many hon. Members with different points of view. We have restricted the use of air guns. Through the provision for a fine, we have tried to make it clear that people who, in their back yard or garden or on a piece of land, fire beyond the boundaries of that area will be liable for a fine of up to £1,000. I should make it clear that for those under the age of 16, that would apply to their parents, as is the case with other fines. Air weapons are not toys. Considerable thought is required when they are used by children aged 14 to 17.

    We have tried to reach a balance. I hope that the amendments will be withdrawn and the clause supported.

    Amendment agreed to.

    Amendments made: No. 4, in page 34, line 37, leave out 'and'.

    No. 5, in page 34, line 38, at end insert—

    '() in the entry relating to section 23(1) in the second column for "14" substitute "17",

    () after that entry insert—

    "Section 23(4)

    Person under 17 making improper use of air weapon on private premises.


    A fine of level 3 on the standard scale.

    Paragraphs 7 and 8 of Part II of this Schedule apply.",


    () in the entry relating to section 24(4) in the second column for "14" substitute "17".'

    No. 6, in page 34, line 40, leave out 'omit "or (5)",' and insert—

    'for "22(4) or (5), 23(1)" substitute "22(4), 23(1) or (4)",'.

    No. 7, in page 34, line 41, leave out

    ", (4) or (5)" substitute "or (4)".' and insert

    "'22(3), (4) or (5), 23(1)" substitute "22(3) or (4), 23(1) or (4)".'.— [Mr. Heppell.]

    Clause 44

    Prohibition Of Certain Air Weapons

    Amendment made: No. 8, in page 35, leave out line 9.— [Mr. Heppell.]

    Clause 48

    Penalty Notices In Respect Of Graffiti Or Fly-Posting

    I beg to move amendment No. 24, in page 38, line 18, at end insert—

    '(2A) In the case of a relevant offence falling within section 49(1)(f), an authorised officer may not give a notice to a person under subsection (1) in relation to the display of an advertisement unless he has reason to believe that that person personally affixed or placed the advertisement to, against or upon the land or object on which the advertisement is or was displayed.'.

    With this it will be convenient to discuss the following: Government amendments Nos. 25 and 26.

    Amendment No. 29, in page 42, line 9, clause 54, at end insert—

    'In paragraph (b) of Section 88(2) of the Environmental Protection Act 1990 after 'penalty' insert 'and repairs any damage caused'.

    Amendment No. 80, in page 42, line 9, at end insert—

    '() Schedule 4 of the Environment Protection Act 1990 to be amended as follows:

  • (a) at the end of paragraph 3(3) insert "and by way of demand make a charge to cover the local authority's cost of removing, transportation, storage and delivery".
  • (b) after paragraph 3(4) insert—
  • () "when the owner of a shopping or luggage trolley refuses to accept the return of any such trolley the local authority shall by way of demand charge the owner of such a trolley for the cost of removing, transportation, storage and disposal".'.

    Government new clause 14— Graffiti removal notices.

    Government new clause 15— Exemption from liability in relation to graffiti removal notices.

    I understand that my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, North (Mr. Allen) had to leave the Chamber so cannot move his amendments Nos. 27 and 28. Those amendments were inappropriate. He sought to attach fixed penalty notices to the powers to close noisy premises. Fixed penalty notices are designed to provide an immediate response to low-level antisocial behaviour. If the situation in commercial premises has deteriorated to the extent that closure is contemplated, a fixed penalty notice would not be appropriate.

    The power set out in clause 46 enables senior environmental health officers to close noisy pubs and clubs. Amendment No. 27 would automatically associate the issuing of a fixed penalty notice with the exercise of that power. That is not a suitable response to the problem of noisy premises.

    I am sympathetic to the general principle behind amendments Nos. 28 and 29. They would place an additional punishment on the graffiti, litter or fly-posting offender, requiring him or her to repair any damage caused, in addition to receiving the notice. The Government are keen to enhance the role of reparation and restorative justice in dealing with offenders. That is why reparation is one of the new purposes of sentencing set out in the Criminal Justice Bill. It is important that offenders put right the damage that they have done, wherever that is practical. They should do so for an individual victim, if that is what the victim wants, or for the wider community, as with antisocial behaviour such as graffiti.

    7 pm

    However, the amendments would oblige a local authority to require an offender to repair damage in every case and could thereby create a number of practical problems relating to supervision and access to premises that may be dangerous. Should a local authority officer feel that it is more appropriate to require that damages be repaired than to issue a fixed penalty notice, there is always an option to take matters to court, where such an order could be made if it was felt to be appropriate.

    Amendment No. 80, which relates to clause 54, increases the powers available to local authorities to deal with fly tipping, including powers to stop, search

    and seize vehicles and to investigate incidents. Those are very welcome powers, as fly tipping is a huge problem for communities. The amendment seeks not to change the purpose of the clause, but to give local authorities greater powers to charge owners for removal, transportation, storage and delivery of abandoned trolleys. The amendment appears to apply to clause 54 because it already amends a provision of the Environmental Protection Act 1990 in respect of the way in which fly tipping is investigated and prosecuted.

    The proposal relating to shopping or luggage trolleys seeks to provide that local authorities can charge owners of abandoned trolleys the cost of removal, transportation, storage and delivery when they refuse to accept the return of their property. I am told that supermarket owners often refuse to accept the return of property as the sum that they are charged is almost equivalent to the cost of a new trolley. I sympathise with the amendment, as we need to ensure that trolleys that are collected and delivered to their owners are accepted by them, but I cannot support it at this stage. It would have a financial impact on supermarkets and trolley owners, and could also have an impact on local authorities, which would be required to administer the provision.

    We would like more time to consider the proposal and perhaps to carry out consultations about its impact, but I am certainly attracted to the principle that owners should be responsible for the environmental damage caused by wayward trolleys. The recent practice of imposing a £1 charge has been successful in ensuring that trolleys are returned. I shall ask my colleagues in the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, who are responsible for legislation relating to abandoned shopping trolleys, to consider what might be done about the issue.

    Government amendments Nos. 24 to 26 are technical and add a further relevant offence to the list already established in clause 49. Where there has been a contravention of town and country planning advertisement regulations but the offence is fairly minor, the person displaying and affixing the advertisement will be brought within the ambit of the fixed penalty notice regime. I think that such a provision is an appropriate addition to the Bill.

    Government new clauses 14 and 15 owe a great deal to the useful debate that took place in Committee. I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Mitcham and Morden (Siobhain McDonagh) for her tenacity, determination and commitment in trying to ensure that her proposals were accepted. I know how passionately she feels about the issue and how much such action is supported by our constituents throughout the country. We have all seen the way in which cable boxes, bus shelters and railway sidings attract graffiti, and yet local authorities do not have a clear remit to clean it up. Local authorities that act responsibly and clean graffiti from property that does not belong to them are in the ridiculous position of being open to prosecution. In some cases, they are not willing to take such steps, the graffiti is not cleaned up, the public do not understand why their local representatives cannot intervene and there is huge frustration and anger all round.

    The new clauses allow councils to take action on behalf of their communities. They enable local authorities to serve a graffiti removal notice on the

    persons responsible for the property covered in graffiti. If they do not remove it, the local authority can lawfully intervene and clean it up. The authority will be protected from damages claims so long as it exercises due care and attention—a perfectly reasonable provision.

    Chronic graffiti, fly posting, litter and noisy premises lead to an area becoming more run down, with a corresponding increase in crime and fear of crime. They undermine much of our regeneration agenda in local communities. Powers in the Bill to tackle offenders are clear and appropriate to the nature of the offence. The new clauses complement the powers in the rest of the Bill that are aimed at offenders who cause graffiti by freeing up authorities that are currently frustrated by their inability to tackle persistent eyesores that have a detrimental effect on their communities.

    I am genuinely grateful to my hon. Friends for raising this extremely important issue in Committee and pressing the Government to take action on it. I understand that the new clauses might not go as far as my hon. Friend the Member for Mitcham and Morden would have wanted in terms of charging. We have been concerned about the possible costs, but I say to her that, although we are not currently minded to accept the precise proposals that she made, we want to consider the matter further. I want to make it clear that we are not rejecting the proposals out of hand; we simply want to ensure that any costs are proportionate. I can therefore give her some further room for optimism about the clause.

    Concerns have been expressed to me about the noise provisions in clause 47. Several hon. Members, particularly my hon. Friend the Member for Cleethorpes (Shona McIsaac), have asked whether the clause will apply to fireworks. I am pleased to tell her that it will apply to them in the context of domestic noise, subject to a fixed penalty notice of £100.

    I thank my hon. Friend for clarifying that point, which I had warned her about. I know that many hundreds of hon. Members will be pleased that it has been put on record that the noise provisions in the Bill relate to fireworks. That will give some comfort to the many constituents who are faced with excessive noise caused by the abuse and misuse of fireworks. I thank her for putting that assurance on the record.

    I am well aware that my hon. Friend, together with every other hon. Member in the Chamber, has been campaigning about fireworks. Petitions have been signed by hundreds and thousands of our constituents whose lives have been made a misery by the inappropriate use of fireworks. My hon. Friends will know that a private Member's Bill is under consideration that will introduce considerable controls in respect of firework use. None the less, I am delighted to confirm that the domestic noise provisions in the Bill before us are an additional measure allowing action to be taken.

    I commend the Government amendments and new clauses to the House. They will make a significant contribution to ensuring that our areas are clean and pleasant places for people to live in and that we will begin to tackle once and for all the scourge of graffiti, litter, fly posting and fly tipping, which have caused all our constituents a great deal of concern and undermined much of our regeneration programme. The environment in which we live dictates the behaviour of people in our communities, and I am delighted that we are making significant progress on tackling those issues, which are of prime importance to those communities.

    I want to be extremely brief, as I would like to think that we will have a minute or two to debate the last group of amendments.

    The Government amendments are largely welcome. I am pleased that the Minister spoke about the cost impact of the proposals in Government new clauses 14 and 15. We all want to see the end of graffiti. At least, without being over-optimistic, we want it to be removed as quickly as possible, but we must bear it in mind that the property owner sometimes has no way of preventing graffiti from arising. Yes, we would like it to be removed as quickly as possible, so I accept the powers given to local authorities in new clause 14. None the less, we do not want to add unnecessary and unavoidable costs for property owners, whether they are commercial operations, public institutions or private owners. If they can find ways of preventing graffiti from being applied to their property, that is fine, but we would all accept that they cannot always do so, so I welcome the Minister's reluctance to go quite as far as the hon. Member for Mitcham and Morden (Siobhain McDonagh) would have liked in that respect.

    The only other issue that I want to mention is that of shopping trolleys. For the life of me, I have never understood why British supermarkets do not use the practice that French hypermarkets have used for years, with returnable coin deposits.

    Yes, I recognise that it is beginning to happen, but I cannot remember when it did not happen in France. I do not understand why it has not crossed the Channel more frequently, because it seems to be the obvious way of preventing the problem of dumped shopping trolleys, which we all recognise is an eyesore that causes blockages in rivers, streams, drains and so forth. The Minister is right to resist the amendment, but I hope that the supermarkets can deal with the matter directly and that that is perhaps beginning to happen. I certainly would not oppose the Government amendments.

    I thank the Government for introducing new clauses 14 and 15. The issues that we have discussed today mean more to most of our constituents than almost anything else we ever discuss. It is not a party political issue, but a political issue in the widest sense. Unless we can reduce antisocial behaviour, at whatever level—from graffiti and fly tipping to youths gathering on street corners—we will see a decline in participation in our communities and in voting, because it will seem that we can do the big things, but we cannot allow people to feel safe in their own homes and environments. We must not raise people's expectations when we do not expect or intend to meet them.

    What worries me about new clauses 14 and 15 is that they give local authorities another power that they will not and cannot use. That is what happened with the well-intentioned Environmental Protection Act 1990. I appreciate that that was introduced with the best of intentions, but it did not give local authorities the weapons truly to improve the environment. Unless we say that organisations—large privatised utilities and statutory undertakings—can and should pay to have the graffiti removed from their buildings, we will make no progress. Why should the elderly lady who is just managing to pay her council tax have to remove that graffiti? New clauses 14 and 15 say, in effect, that as council tax payers we and our constituents have not only to look after our own homes, but to look after those of everybody else as well. At some point, those in the big companies with multi-million pound budgets that festoon us with brochures and receptions should pay to remove the graffiti on the sub-station in the road where they never live.

    I say thank you to the Government, but we need to be able to use these powers and for people to see a difference. If we do not, people will disengage from all the processes of civic society. It is that important.

    We add our support to the Government amendments and new clauses. The hon. Member for Mitcham and Morden (Siobhain McDonagh) made a good case for passing the burden of cost on to statutory undertakings. That is a matter that the Government should seriously consider. There is a danger that, with their budgets under pressure, the power may be one that councils want, but cannot afford, to use. We need to ensure, one way or another, that councils are not prevented from using it by the burden of cost.

    The other amendments in the group, which are Labour Back-Bench amendments, are well intentioned, but none of them would work in practice. We all understand the issue of shopping trolleys. The returnable deposit may be the solution in the short and the long term. One of the difficulties with amendment No. 80 is that it refers to recovering the cost of destroying shopping trolleys. From an environmental point of view, we do not want supermarket trolleys to be destroyed, whoever is paying for it: we want them to be continually reused for the purpose for which they are intended. The deposit scheme would achieve that.

    7.15 pm

    The Government amendments solve some of the problems that existed in the Bill in relation to graffiti. We particularly welcome amendments Nos. 24, 25 and 26, which clarify exactly who gets the fixed penalty notice when fly posting occurs. As regards people from a commercial organisation fly posting or sticking leaflets on windscreens, in effect littering the place, concern was expressed in Committee that a £40 or £50 fine will not deter such an organisation from doing that. Amendment No. 24 makes it clear that the fine applies to the person who carries it out, which will hopefully deter them. Perhaps there will be other legislation to deter companies in other ways.

    This is a welcome group of Government amendments and new clauses, and they certainly have our support.

    I want briefly to thank the Minister for her positive response to amendment No. 80. Bristol city council and councils around the country will be encouraged that the Government are showing this level of interest. Everyone understands the problem but has no answer to it. I alert the Government to the fact that the deposit scheme for trolleys is not the answer. It is fairly widespread in Bristol, but trolleys are still dumped. For example, 18 were recovered from 20 m of a stream. People simply dump them and take the deposit money out. It is not the answer. I accept the Minister's confirmation that it needs further investigation and again welcome the Government's response.

    I, too, want to speak strongly in support of the amendments and the spirit behind them, as the hon. Member for Nottingham, North (Mr. Allen) is not here, and to endorse the comments of the hon. Member for Mitcham and Morden (Siobhain McDonagh). Graffiti is the bane of many of our constituencies. About four years ago, I secured an Adjournment debate on the subject. I was told, and I certainly claimed, that it was the first debate on graffiti that we had ever had in this House, and it proved an extraordinarily popular undertaking.

    Amendment agreed to.

    It being five hours after the commencement of proceedings on the programme motion, MR. DEPUTY SPEAKER proceeded to put forthwith the Questions necessary for the disposal of business to be concluded at that hour, pursuant to Order [this day.]

    Clause 49

    Meaning Of Relevant Offence

    Amendment made: No. 25, in page 39, line 17, at end insert—

    '(f) an offence under section 224(3) of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990 (c.8) (displaying advertisement in contravention of regulations).'.— [Mr. Heppell]

    Clause 52


    Amendment made: No, 26, in page 40, line 32, at end insert—

    '"advertisement" and "land" have the meanings given by section 336(1) of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990 (c. 8),'.—[Mr. Heppell]

    New Clause 14

    Graffiti Removal Notices

    '(1) This section applies where a local authority is satisfied—

  • (a) that a relevant surface in an area has been defaced by graffiti, and
  • (b) that the defacement is detrimental to the amenity of the area or is offensive.
  • (2) The authority may serve a notice (a "graffiti removal notice") upon any person who is responsible for the surface imposing the requirement mentioned in subsection (3).

    (3) That requirement is a requirement that the defacement be removed, cleared or otherwise remedied within a period specified in the notice being not less than 28 days beginning with the day on which the notice is served.

    (4) If the requirement mentioned in subsection (3) is not complied with, the authority or any person authorised by the authority may remove, clear or otherwise remedy the defacement.

    (5) In exercising the power under subsection (4) the authority or any person authorised by the authority may enter any land to the extent reasonably necessary for that purpose.

    (6) Subject to subsection (7), section 160 of the Environmental Protection Act 1990 (c. 43) has effect in relation to graffiti removal notices as if they were notices within subsection (2) of that section.

    (7) Where after reasonable enquiry a local authority is unable to ascertain the name or proper address of any person who is responsible for a relevant surface, the authority may—

  • (a) affix a graffiti removal notice to the surface, and
  • (b) enter any land to the extent reasonably necessary for that purpose;
  • and that notice shall be treated as having been served upon a person responsible for the surface.

    (8) In this section a "relevant surface" is any of the following surfaces, whether internal or external or open to the air or not—

  • (a) the surface of any street or of any building, structure, apparatus, plant or other object in or on any street;
  • (b) the surface of any land owned, occupied or controlled by a statutory undertaker or of any building, structure, apparatus, plant or other object in or on any such land;
  • (c) the surface of any land owned, occupied or controlled by an educational institution (including its governing body) or of any building, structure, apparatus, plant or other object in or on any such land.
  • (9) But a surface is not a relevant surface unless—

  • (a) in the case of a surface within subsection (8)(a), the street is public land;
  • (b) in the case of a surface within subsection (8)(b) or (c)—
  • (i) the land is public land,
  • (ii) the surface is visible from public land, or
  • (iii) the surface is otherwise visible to members of the public using the services or facilities of the statutory undertaker or educational institution in question or any other statutory undertaker or educational institution.
  • (10) A person is responsible for a relevant surface if—

  • (a) where it is the surface of any land (including a street), he owns, leases, occupies, controls, operates or maintains the land, and
  • (b) where it is the surface of any other thing mentioned in subsection (8), he owns. leases, occupies, controls, operates or maintains the thing.
  • (11) In this section and in section (Exemption from liability in relation to graffiti removal notices)—

    "educational institution" has the meaning given by section 98(2) of the Environmental Protection Act 1990 (c. 43),

    "graffiti" includes painting, writing, soiling, marking or other defacing by whatever means,

    "local authority" means an authority in England and Wales which is a litter authority for the purposes of section 88 of the Environmental Protection Act 1990 (c. 43),

    "proper address" is to be read in accordance with section 160(4) of the Environmental Protection Act 1990 (c. 43),

    "public land" means land to which the public are entitled or permitted to have access with or without payment (including any street to which the public are so entitled or permitted),

    "statutory undertaker" has the meaning given by section 98(6) of the Environmental Protection Act 1990 (c. 43),

    "street" has the meaning given by section 48(1) of the New Roads and Street Works Act 1991 (c.22).'. [Mr. Heppell.]

    Brought up, read the First and Second time, and added to the Bill.

    New Clause 15

    Exemption From Liability In Relation To Graffiti Removal Notices

    '(1) None of the persons mentioned in subsection (2) is to have any liability for damages or otherwise (whether at common law or otherwise) arising out of anything done or omitted to be done in the exercise or purported exercise of—

  • (a) the power ander subsection (4) of section (Graffiti removal notices) (including as provided for in subsection (5) of that section), or
  • (b) the power under subsection (7) of that section.
  • (2) Those persons are—

  • (a) in the case of the power mentioned in subsection (1)(a)—
  • (i) the local authority and any employee of the authority, and
  • (ii) any person authorised by the authority under section (Graffiti removal notices) (4) and the employer or any employee of that person, and
  • (b) in the case of the power mentioned in subsection (1)(b), the local authority and any employee of the authority.
  • (3) Subsection (1) does not apply—

  • (a) if the act or omission is shown to have been in bad faith;
  • (b) to liability arising out of a failure to exercise due care and attention;
  • (c) so as to prevent an award of damages made in respect of an act or omission on the ground that the act or omission was unlawful by virtue of section 6(1) of the Human Rights Act 1998 (c. 42);
  • (d) to liability that any person mentioned in subsection (2) may have to any employee of his.
  • (4) This section does not affect any other exemption from liability (whether at common law or otherwise).'.— [Mr. Heppell.]

    Brought up, read the First and Second time, and added to the Bill.

    New Clause 16

    Power To Remove Trespassers: Alternative Site Available

    'After section 62 of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994 (c. 33) insert—

    "62A Power to remove trespassers: alternative site available

    (1) If the senior police officer present at a scene reasonably believes that the conditions in subsection (2) are satisfied in relation to a person and land, he may direct the person—

  • (a) to leave the land;
  • (b) to remove any vehicle and other property he has with him on the land.
  • (2) The conditions are—

  • (a) that the person and one or more others ("the trespassers") are trespassing on the land;
  • (b) that the trespassers have between them at least one vehicle on the land;
  • (c) that the trespassers are present on the land with the common purpose of residing there for any period;
  • (d) if it appears to the officer that the person has one or more caravans in his possession or under his control on the land, that there is a pitch on a relevant caravan site for that caravan or each of those caravans;
  • (e) that the occupier of the land or a person acting on his behalf has asked the police to remove the trespassers from the land.
  • (3) A direction under subsection (1) may be communicated to the person to whom it applies by any constable at the scene.

    (4) In this section—

    "caravan" and "caravan site" have the same meanings as in Part 1 of the Caravan Sites and Control of Development Act 1960;

    "relevant caravan site" means a caravan site which is—

  • (a) situated in the area of a local authority within whose area the land is situated, and
  • (b) managed by a relevant site manager;
  • "relevant site manager" means—

  • (a) a local authority within whose area the land is situated;
  • (b) a registered social landlord;
  • "registered social landlord" means a body registered as a social landlord under Chapter 1 of Part 1 of the Housing Act 1996.

    (5) The Secretary of State may by order amend the definition of "relevant site manager" in subsection (4) by adding a person or description of person.

    (6) An order under subsection (5) must be made by statutory instrument and is subject to annulment in pursuance of a resolution of either House of Parliament.".'.

    [Mr. Heppell]

    Brought up, read the First and Second time, and added to the Bill.

    New Clause 17

    Failure To Comply With Direction: Offences

    'After section 62A of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994 (c. 33) (inserted by section (Power to remove trespassers: alternative site available)) insert—

    "62B Failure to comply with direction under section 62A: offences

    (1) A person commits an offence if he knows that a direction under section 62A(1) has been given which applies to him and—

  • (a) he fails to leave the relevant land as soon as reasonably practicable, or
  • (b) he enters any land in the area of the relevant local authority as a trespasser before the end of the relevant period with the intention of residing there.
  • (2) The relevant period is the period or 3 months starting with the day on which the direction is given.

    (3) A person guilty of an offence under this section is liable on summary conviction to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 3 months or a fine not exceeding level 4 on the standard scale or both.

    (4) A constable in uniform who reasonably suspects that a person is committing an offence under this section may arrest him without a warrant.

    (5) In proceedings for an offence under this section it is a defence for the accused to show—

  • (a) that he was not trespassing on the land in respect of which he is alleged to have committed the offence, or
  • (b) that he had a reasonable excuse—
  • (i) for failing to leave the relevant land as soon as reasonably practicable, or
  • (ii) for entering land in the area of the relevant local authority as a trespasser with the intention of residing there, or
  • (c) that, at the time the direction was given, he was under the age of 18 years and was residing with his parent or guardian.".'.
  • [Mr. Heppell.]

    Brought up, read the First and Second time, and added to the Bill.

    New Clause 18

    Failure To Comply With Direction: Seizure

    (1) 'After section 62B of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994 (c. 33) (inserted by section (Failure to comply with direction: offences)) insert—

    "62C Failure to comply with direction under section 62A: seizure

    (1) This section applies if a direction has been given under section 62A(1) and a constable reasonably suspects that a person to whom the direction applies has, without reasonable excuse—

  • (a) failed to remove any vehicle on the relevant land which appears to the constable to belong to him or to be in his possession or under his control; or
  • (b) entered any land in the area of the relevant local authority as a trespasser with a vehicle before the end of the relevant period with the intention of residing there.
  • (2) The relevant period is the period of 3 months starting with the day on which the direction is given.

    (3) The constable may seize and remove the vehicle."

    (2) In section 67(1) (retention and charges for seized vehicles) after "section 62(1)" insert ", 62C(3)".'.

    [Mr. Heppell.]

    Brought up, read the First and Second time, and added to the Bill.

    New Clause 19

    Common Land: Modifications

    'After section 62C of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994 (c. 33) (inserted by section (Failure to comply with direction: seizure)) insert—

    "62D Common land: modifications

    (1) In their application to common land sections 62A to 62C have effect with these modifications.

    (2) References to trespassing and trespassers have effect as if they were references to acts, and persons doing acts, which constitute—

  • (a) a trespass as against the occupier, or
  • (b) an infringement of the commoners' rights.
  • (3) References to the occupier—

  • (a) in the case of land to which the public has access, include the local authority and any commoner;
  • (b) in any other case, include the commoners or any of them.
  • (4) Subsection (1) does not—

  • (a) require action by more than one occupier, or
  • (b) constitute persons trespassers as against any commoner or the local authority if they are permitted to be there by the other occupier.
  • (5) In this section "common land", "commoner" and "the local authority" have the meanings given by section 61."'

    [Mr. Heppell.]

    Brought up, read the First and Second time, and added to the Bill.

    New Clause 20


    'After section 62D of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994 (c. 33) (inserted by section (Common land: modifications)) insert—

    "62E Sections 62A to 62D: interpretation

    (1) Subsections (2) to (8) apply for the interpretation of sections 62A to 62D and this section.

    (2) "Land" does not include buildings other than—

  • (a) agricultural buildings within the meaning of paragraphs 3 to 8 of Schedule 5 to the Local Government Finance Act 1988, or
  • (b) scheduled monuments within the meaning of the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Areas Act 1979.
  • (3) "Local authority" means—

  • (a) in Greater London, a London borough or the Common Council of the City of London;
  • (b) in England outside Greater London, a county council, a district council or the Council of the Isles of Scilly;
  • (c) in Wales, a county council or a county borough council.
  • (4) "Occupier", "trespass", "trespassing" and "trespasser" have the meanings given by section 61 in relation to England and Wales.

    (5) "The relevant land" means the land in respect of which a direction under section 62A(1) is given.

    (6) "The relevant local authority" means—

  • (a) if the relevant land is situated in the area of more than one local authority (but is not in the Isles of Scilly), the district council or county borough council within whose area the relevant land is situated;
  • (b) if the relevant land is situated in the Isles of Scilly, the Council of the Isles of Scilly;
  • (c) in any other case, the local authority within whose area the relevant land is situated.
  • (7) "Vehicle" has the meaning given by section 61.

    (8) A person may be regarded as having a purpose of residing in a place even if he has a home elsewhere."'

    [Mr. Heppell.]

    Brought up, read the First and Second time, and added to the Bill.

    New Clause 21

    Aggravated Trespass

    (1) The Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994 (c. 33) is amended as follows.

    (2) In section 68 (offence of aggravated trespass), in subsection (1) (which defines the offence by reference to trespass on land in the open air and lawful activity on land in the open air) omit "in the open air" in both places where those words appear.

    (3) In section 69 (powers to remove persons committing or participating in aggravated trespass), in subsection (1) (which confers the power by reference to trespass on land in the open air) omit "in the open air" in both places where those words appear:— [Mr. Heppell.]

    Brought up, read the First and Second time, and added to the Bill.

    New Clause 22

    Public Assemblies

    'In section 16 of the Public Order Act 1986 (c. 64) (which defines "public assembly" for the purposes of the power in section 14 of that Act to impose conditions on public assemblies), in the definition of "public assembly" for "20" substitute "2".'— [Mr. Heppell.]

    Brought up, read the First and Second time, and added to the Bill.

    Schedule 3


    Amendments made: No. 9, in page 55, leave out lines 8 and 9.

    No. 79, in page 55, line 13, at end insert—

    'Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994 (c. 33)

    In section 68(1), "in the open air" in both places.

    In section 69(1), "in the open air" in both places.'

    No. 34, in page 55, column 2, leave out line 24 and insert—

    'In Schedule 6—

    (a) in paragraph 3(2), the words "and paragraph 4 below" and paragraph (e), and (b) paragraph 4.'.— [Mr. Heppell.]

    Clause 57


    Amendment made: No. 32, in page 43, line 6, after 'Act', insert

    '(other than subsections (8) to (10) of section 36)'.— [Mr. Heppell.]

    Clause 60


    Amendment made: No. 78, in page 43, line 33, after '7' insert

    'and sections (Power to remove trespassers: alternative site available) to (Public assemblies)'— [Mr. Heppell.]

    Order for Third Reading read.

    7.18 pm

    I beg to move, That the Bill be now read the Third time.

    I want to thank not only my hon. Friends on the Front Bench for their sterling efforts today, but my hon. Friend the Member for Coventry, North-East (Mr. Ainsworth) and his colleagues who saw the Bill through Committee. I commend Members of all parties who served on the Committee for the extremely vigorous way in which the Bill was dealt with, especially by my own Back-Benchers who think that I am not going far enough. I should like them to write an article in The Independent newspaper explaining why I am not tough and courageous enough in dealing with these issues, which would undoubtedly change my image enormously overnight with its readers. I shall be brief, as I realise that the Third Reading debate is truncated owing to the very serious statement that has to be made afterwards, and I want other hon. Members to be able to take part.

    The truth of the Bill is that we can give people the powers to do the job—whether in housing, environmental health, the police service or local government more broadly—and we can encourage the local community to take up the issues and to be part of the solution, but unless the people who have the power at their disposal are prepared to use it, and unless the magistrates and district judges are prepared to enforce it, all of us in Committee and on the Floor of the House will have wasted our time.

    The Bill, like similar legislation that my right hon. Friend has introduced, is crucial in dealing with the most fundamental changes occurring in our society. Does he agree that, while we can legislate, we need to see the measures enacted locally? I hope that, when the Bill goes to the Lords, my proposal for a pilot scheme for electing community prosecution officers will be seriously considered.

    I knew that my right hon. Friend would get that in. It is a very interesting idea. In regard to the pamphlet that I published a couple of weeks ago and the discussions that I have been having with the Attorney-General, it will undoubtedly feature in terms of how we lift the profile of prosecution and, above all, how we ensure that the voice of the community—not a vicious, reactionary, mob-rule voice—is heard on behalf of the victim and of those who face the scourge of antisocial behaviour.

    I appeal to magistrates to ensure that breaches of orders or of bail, and sheer antisocial actions within the courts, are dealt with decisively. There are so many examples now of action being taken. In the past, quite lengthy bureaucracy has been struggled through, local residents have patiently kept diaries and appealed to housing authorities to be decisive and to send the right signals to ensure that the message got across, yet when the case was brought, the defendant was patted on the head as though they were on a Sunday school outing. I am not talking about first-time offenders here. Of course we are all in favour of rehabilitation and restitution, and of ensuring that we give people a chance. We are in favour of preventive action and of intervention. The diversionary schemes that were so important over the holiday period last year worked, and could work again this summer.

    We are also going to send a message to the thugs and mindless vandals. We are going to send a message to those in Wrexham last night who were engaged in nothing but sheer mindless thuggery and antisocial behaviour, while trying to present a picture that they were somehow engaged in some activity to do with social cohesion. They were simply causing mayhem and disorder, and we will clamp down on them wherever and whenever such behaviour occurs. If everyone will join us—regardless of party, and without rancour or division—in getting this right, we can change that culture. We can change society back to create more orderly, less brutal and more acceptable neighbourhoods.

    The amendments that have gone through in Committee and today are a measure of improvement, whether they relate to housing and are linked to the Bill that will be taken through by my hon. Friends in the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister, to residential orders, to the action on graffiti, or to unauthorised encampments.

    My goodness me! Gender before beauty—no! I meant that I shall give way to my hon. Friend the Member for Erewash (Liz Blackman) first.

    I thank my right hon. Friend for giving way. He has rightly pointed out that the Bill will not be worth the paper that it is written on unless its measures are enforced, and we all have a role to play in that. Could he just flesh out a little more what role the Government will play in that, because we have a lot to learn about the progress of antisocial behaviour orders? They are implemented in some areas of the country, but still not in others. How do we drive up the effective action of local partnerships in the areas in which these issues are not being taken seriously at the moment?

    Significant progress has been made. I think that about 1,000 orders have now been taken out, along with the interim orders, and progress is being made rapidly. I invite Members from all parties to make contact with the new antisocial behaviour unit, which is a cross-government operation headed by the tenacious Louise Casey, who makes one or two of my friends on the Back Benches look quite mild when dealing with these matters. Members should get in touch because we will be able to provide support, help, guidance and, above all, rigour in terms of what local people need.

    We are not just working with the agencies or the departments in local authorities; we are working with local neighbourhood groups such as neighbourhood watch and others. This will represent a new style for the Government. Yes, we are putting the powers in place, but we are also empowering people to be able to use them themselves. I think that that will make a difference.

    The moment I mentioned encampments, my right hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Itchen (Mr. Denham) tried to intervene on me, and I promised to give way to him. I shall do so now.

    I welcome my right hon. Friend's introduction into the Bill of the measures on travellers. This will raise expectations in the country, so will he take this opportunity to stress that the new clauses will require implementation by the police and clear action by the local authorities to develop temporary camp sites, to enable the powers to be usable? The public need to expect the local authorities to take such action so that these welcome measures will have the effect that people want them to have.

    I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for making that point. He not only nurtured this issue because of his experience of it in his constituency; he also parented the early part of the Bill with my hon. Friend the Member for Coventry, North-East. I thank him for that, and I want to ensure that the time that he spent and the work that he did will not be wasted.

    I would also like to mention aggravated trespass and police conditions on assemblies, because these measures will help us enormously in dealing with the so-called animal rights activists who are vandals and terrorists in their own right. I have to say that, sadly, many of them are also engaged in criminality to fund their activities. We may disagree on some of the detail in the Bill and on whether we shall be able to enforce everything in it. What none of us disagrees on, however, is that it is necessary to take this action.

    7.26 pm

    The Home Secretary has referred to the importance of the Bill, and he is absolutely right. It seeks to address an issue that is, as became obvious throughout the proceedings of the Committee, of great concern to every one of us, whichever part of the country or political party we represent. A number of provisions in the Bill have caused concern. I, too, want to thank the former Minister, the hon. Member for Coventry, North-East (Mr. Ainsworth) and, indeed, the Under-Secretary of State for Transport, the hon. Member for Harrow, East (Mr. McNulty), who appeared once or twice during the proceedings, for the constructive way in which they addressed the Committee's proceedings and the amendments that we had tabled.

    I have been encouraged by today's results because, by my reckoning, there are at least eight separate areas in which the Government have come forward with amendments or new clauses addressing issues that we raised in Committee. The hon. Member for Coventry, North-East gesticulates; I appreciate his having taken our points seriously. Many of those amendments are almost the same, word for word, as those that I tabled in Committee. Obviously, that gives me some pleasure. It also demonstrates that the Government have listened to our arguments, and I welcome that.

    I particularly want to refer to two of the issues that the Home Secretary has just mentioned. The first is the issue of travellers, to which the right hon. Member for Southampton, Itchen (Mr. Denham) referred. We debated that at considerable length in Committee as a result of new clauses that I had tabled, and I very much welcome the two new clauses that the Government have tabled. Questions remain to be asked, however, which will need to be pursued in another place, particularly on the issue of alternative sites. The right hon. Member for Southampton, Itchen referred to the importance of the police and local authorities playing their part in enforcing the legislation. I hope that the issue of alternative sites will not be a loophole that will mean that the whole clause cannot be properly put into effect. We shall need to pursue that matter in another place.

    The new provisions on aggravated trespass and assemblies, to which the Home Secretary also referred, are almost exactly the same, word for word, as those that I tabled in Committee, and I very much welcome them. The Home Secretary rightly condemned the so-called animal rights activists. This is not about the rights and wrongs of animal experimentation; it is about the ability of legitimate firms and their employees to go about their daily business without intimidation or threat.

    I welcome the Government's agreement to those amendments, which were suggested by the Bioindustry Association. I also welcome the measures that the Government have so far taken on airguns. I remain of the view that some of the other new clauses need further attention, and we will raise those matters in the other place.

    One of the themes throughout the debate in Committee, which was taken up again just now by the hon. Member for Erewash (Liz Blackman), was enforcement. The Home Secretary referred to the fact that we can pass the legislation but others have to enforce it. On Second Reading, the Opposition's view was that much of the Bill was unnecessary, as we believed that many of the powers that the Government were providing already existed in different forms, and what was necessary was that they should be properly enforced. The Government have proceeded with the Bill and have introduced these powers, some of them with the amendments that I have described.

    It is absolutely clear that it does not matter how many powers are provided in legislation, unless all the forces of law and order are prepared to implement them effectively, our efforts are as nought. Although I remain of the view that some of the powers in the Bill are unnecessary, and that existing legislation, if properly enforced, could have dealt with the problems, I am extremely anxious that, having gone through this process, these powers in different sectors are properly enforced.

    I rarely, as a matter of practice, refer to detailed constituency affairs, but I want to mention a short letter received from the Crown Prosecution Service. I shall paraphrase it because I do not want the case to be identifiable. Two youths broke into school premises, and they were arrested and charged by Cambridgeshire police. The CPS has written to the head teacher of that secondary school and said that it will not prosecute those youths, because it believes that the resulting sentence is likely to be extremely light and thus would give the wrong signal to those who might commit such offences. I have written to the CPS asking what signal does it think that gives. I am happy to send the Home Secretary the text of the letter.

    Obviously, it would be wrong to identify the case at the present time, but it shows the uphill task that we face. The Home Secretary describes a world in which we can restore some semblance of law and order on our streets and deal with this low level crime of antisocial behaviour. It is a world in which people feel that their community belongs to them, not to the louts. If we are to achieve that, it will require everyone's best efforts.

    Despite our reservations, we believe that the Bill goes some way towards that goal. Therefore, we do not oppose it. Some provisions need to be improved, but we wish it well and, more importantly, we wish its enforcement well.

    7.33 pm

    I associate myself with the tone of the contributions made by the Home Secretary and the hon. Member for South-East Cambridgeshire (Mr. Paice). We are all charged with finding a way to reduce antisocial behaviour and to create a society in which greater respect is shown by one person for another. We may have differences about how we achieve that, but that is certainly a common objective.

    I expressly share the Home Secretary's views about the events in Wrexham over the past couple of days, and I wish to associate myself with his comments on that subject. I commend the work of the police, who were confronted with an unacceptable series of events. I also commend the local elected representatives. I heard the mayor speak this morning, and he was clear that there was no justification for such lawless, unacceptable intolerance, especially as it was founded on a specious premise. That community has traditionally been happy, prosperous and settled. If it cannot, with understanding and compassion, accommodate a few people who have been accepted into the community, there is something severely wrong with the perpetrators of those crimes.

    The Home Secretary and his colleagues will know that my hon. Friends and I agree with some parts of the Bill, such as part 1 dealing with crack houses. Clearly, we all sign up to those proposals, and we need to get them right. We also welcome the proposals on firearms. It is important that we get a grip of the antisocial use of firearms in both urban and rural areas.

    Ministers will also appreciate that we have differences of principle. My hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Dorset and North Poole (Mrs. Brooke), supported by my hon. Friend the Member for Ludlow (Matthew Green), sought in Committee to put our amendments. They did not prevail, so we must ask ourselves whether, if we were in government, we would want the Bill on the statute book, and the answer is no" as there is still a lot to do to it. We will divide the House on Third Reading to register that view.

    We are concerned about the process that takes people too quickly from demoted tenancy to losing their house. We also think that it is entirely inappropriate for teachers or school staff to serve fixed penalty notices under part 3. The argument may be made for the director of education or the senior education welfare officer to do that, but it is not a job that should be given to teachers or to the people responsible for the welfare and support of children.

    Will the hon. Gentleman ensure that his opposition to these measures is included in every Liberal Democrat leaflet that is given out up and down the country?

    I assure the right hon. Gentleman that my colleagues and I have been clear that antisocial behaviour, properly defined, is entirely unacceptable. However, we believe that the best method to deal with that is not increased, discriminatory, authoritarian powers, but a proactive, supportive approach. There should be alternative activities for young people, and more resour