Committee (5th Day) (Continued)
Clause 87: Notice requirements for new ground
Amendment 56ADD not moved.
Clause 87 agreed.
Clause 88: Review requirements for new ground
Amendments 56AE and 56AF not moved.
Clause 88 agreed.
Clause 89: Corresponding new ground and notice requirements for assured tenancies
Amendments 56AG to 56AL not moved.
Clause 89 agreed.
Clause 90 agreed.
Clause 91: Offences connected with riot
56AM: Clause 91, page 61, line 39, leave out “or a person”
This group of amendments takes us to Clause 91, which provides for possession in the event of riot-related offences. The first amendment in the group is Amendment 56AM, tabled by my noble friend Lord Greaves, who also tabled Amendment 56ACC. He proposes to leave out the words “a person” from the new grounds so that the ground for possession would be limited to an offence by the tenant residing in the dwelling house, not the tenant or another person. My noble friend, who cannot be here today, asks whether—as he and I read the legislation—this could include, for instance, a lodger or someone who has been taken in by the tenant on the advice of the Government to avoid the spare bedroom tax.
My Amendment 56AB would restrict the ground for possession to the commission of a serious offence, using the definition in new Section 84A in Clause 86 for convenience. I understand and appreciate that granting possession will be a discretionary matter, but the court must take account of some circumstances being such as to justify the exercise. I was concerned, as I have been on similar points, by the Government’s response to the Joint Committee on Human Rights, which said that it was not persuaded by the Government’s justification for this ground for possession. The Government say that this is likely to happen only very exceptionally. The ground is discretionary, which means that the court will not be able to make a possession order unless it considers it reasonable to do so. The court may be less likely to conclude that it was reasonable to evict when the crime was not committed in the locality of the property. As it is a riot-related offence, it may have been committed some way away and have nothing to do with the property. We are talking here about offences which, in all likelihood, are unrelated to the other occupants of the property. The JCHR commented that this response would disproportionately affect women and children.
This Bill is, rightly, victim focused, but I am concerned that this punishment would create new victims—other occupants of the property. If an offender who is about to set out to take part in a riot and to loot is not deterred by the thought that he might be convicted of a criminal offence and be imprisoned, and the effect of that on his family, would he even think about the tenancy? I find it hard to put myself in the mind of such a person, but I doubt it.
My amendments would restrict the offence in question to a serious offence and try to meet the Government part way on this. I have other amendments that would allow the court to transfer the tenancy to the spouse of an offender who herself or himself is not an offender. I am not happy with the clause, but I have cut out the first bit and gone straight to seeking a compromise with the Government. I beg to move.
My Lords, I would like to address the House on this clause. As the Minister will be aware, I am very much in favour of the architecture of this Bill and very sympathetic to its aims. However, as in life, not everything is perfect, and I fear that I cannot give my endorsement to this clause, which gives the court additional powers to order possession in relation to secure and assured tenancies in the event that the,
“tenant or a person residing in the dwelling-house has been convicted of an offence which took place during, and at the scene of, a riot in the United Kingdom”.
That distinguishes it from other parts of Part 5, which are concerned with matters that take place in the locality—or the vicinity, as the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, would have it.
I understand that the additional ground for possession has been included in the Bill to reflect the seriousness with which the Government view participation in riots, particularly those on a scale seen in this country during the summer before last. Those who committed offences during the riot on that occasion were dealt with speedily and firmly. Sentences of imprisonment were the norm, and some were lengthy. To some extent, one could say that they were deprived of the right to remain in a dwelling house by that very process. The courts have sufficient powers to deal firmly with offenders caught up in a riot and appeals against sentences were, for the most part, unsuccessful. The criminal justice system—some would say “for once”—in general responded very well to what occurred.
I am concerned that this measure is a step too far. While a court would still have to be satisfied that it was reasonable to grant possession, the fact that the relevant offence can be committed not only by the tenant but by someone residing in the dwelling house means that a tenant wholly innocent of involvement in a riot could potentially lose their home. I do not think that this is a necessary or appropriate provision, given all the other powers that exist elsewhere in the Bill. I am also concerned that what is essentially a procedure by way of civil remedy should carry with it a criminal offence of this sort connected with the civil recovery of possession. Although I share the Government’s concern that those involved with riots should be dealt with in a way that sends out a message to any potential rioters, I take the view, as did the Joint Committee on Human Rights, of which I am a member, that this clause is a step too far.
My Lords, I, too, am a member of the Joint Committee on Human Rights and wish to speak to Clause 91. I sympathise with the Government’s reasoning and motivation for this additional ground for possession being included in the Bill and appreciate the strong signals that are needed for people involved in rioting. I was in London in the summer of 2011 so I can directly share the concern of the Government and the general public about the serious nature of the offences of those who participate in riots, especially on that scale. However, as my noble friend Lord Faulks outlined, the criminal courts have sufficient powers to deal with those matters. If I recall correctly, some courts even sat through the night, and many offenders were clearly extremely shocked to be sentenced to a period of imprisonment. The criminal courts were not found wanting and sentences reflected the gravity with which the judiciary viewed this behaviour.
It is important to note the distinctive nature of the power in Clause 91. Unlike the powers in Clauses 86 to 90, this power is exercised in relation to behaviour that is not necessarily either of any impact on the landlord or in relation to the premises themselves or connected to the dwelling house. I also share the concern of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Lloyd. When speaking of the old ASBO regime, he stated that we are,
“using the civil law to do the work of the criminal law”.—[Official Report, 18/11/13; col. 750.]
Repossessing premises is a civil law matter, but this provision is akin to bringing criminal penalties for riot into our civil courts. As my noble friend Lord Faulks has outlined, the courts have to be satisfied that it is reasonable to grant possession. However, the fact that the offence can be committed not only by the tenant but by someone residing in the dwelling house means that a tenant wholly innocent of involvement in rioting could lose their home. That is unjust.
Such a tenant could argue that Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights protects their right to a family life and home. However, such arguments can often be lengthy and expensive. Many of these arguments will end up being funded by the taxpayer. Although I share the Government’s concern that rioting should have potentially serious consequences, I am left wondering why if rioting is a ground for repossessing premises, other serious offences, such as paedophilia, are not. I maintain the view recorded in the report of the Joint Committee on Human Rights. This clause will be an unhelpful precedent.
My Lords, a few weeks ago I was quite taken aback when I received from a Conservative Peer a message of glowing tribute for the two speeches I had made in the Chamber that day. Since I had not been anywhere near the Chamber that day I was somewhat mystified, and that is why I want to make it clear that the speech before last was not made by me, but by someone with a similar name. The noble Baroness currently in the chair and I also have the same sort of problem from time to time, except that there is one big difference between her and me which is fairly obvious. I do not mean politics, I mean gender. So I want to make it clear that the speech before last was made by the noble Lord, Lord Faulks: F-A-U-L-K-S. I say that because if I just pronounced it, Hansard would not know what on earth to do.
I have a further point. Had I been making these points in another place with the noble Baroness, Lady Fookes, in the chair, she would have ruled me out of order long before now, but that does not happen here. My point is that that the numbering and lettering of these amendments is even more confusing than the confusion between our three names. I hope the clerks will look at some more logical way of numbering and lettering amendments. After all, 56 is not the only number that you can use for an amendment. There is 57 for example, and so on. These As, Bs, Cs, Ds and so on are most confusing. However, I am going on too long, taking up time now when I am looking forward to speaking in order, substantially and importantly, on attacks on shopkeepers and public service workers later in the Bill.
My Lords, I support my noble friends Lord Faulks and Lady Berridge, although I am not on the Joint Committee on Human Rights. At the time of the riots in London and across the country a couple of years ago, I supported severe punishment by the courts of otherwise minor relatively offences, because those offences took place during a riot. I do not support lenient treatment of minor offences committed during a riot. However, as my noble friends have indicated, the provision to order possession of a property when the offence has absolutely nothing to do with protecting neighbours, for example, from anti-social behaviour, is a step too far. It is politically motivated and is not driven by the needs of justice. Therefore, it should be no part of this Bill.
My Lords, Clause 91 is headed “Offences connected with riot” and presumably the intention is again to put victims first. In that case, I come back to an earlier point: why are there two classes of victim of riotous behaviour? Riotous activity by a tenant of social housing or an assured tenancy can lead to eviction, but riotous activity by an owner-occupier cannot, and there is no redress of comparable severity that would apply to an owner-occupier but not to someone in rented accommodation. Will the Minister address this point? In a Bill intended to put the victim first, what is the thinking behind the Government’s apparent decision that there should be two classes of victim when it comes to action that can be taken against those who cause misery through the activity defined in Clause 91?
Under Clause 91, tenants, including the individual convicted of riotous activity, who have caused no nuisance, annoyance or harassment, alarm and distress to anyone living in their own locality could be evicted. Children could be evicted. This clause appears to have more to do with punishment over and above that handed down by the court for riotous activity. This additional punishment is not evenly applied, since it can affect only those in social housing and assured tenancies and not owner-occupiers. Is that fair and just?
Finally, Clause 91 refers to,
“an offence which took place during, and at the scene of, a riot in the United Kingdom”.
Could this include an offence unrelated to the riot, but at the scene of the riot, such as careless or dangerous driving, or a minor assault? If so, could a family in rented accommodation face eviction for such an offence as a result?
With regard to the question that the noble Lord asked me before our tea break, I have nothing further to add. The two classes of tenure are different. Therefore, the possession of property which is owned by someone and the possession of a property which is tenanted by someone are not comparable. The noble Lord is seeking to introduce a red herring. It adds nothing to whether anti-social behaviour should be grounds for possession.
I understand what the Minister is saying, but he seems reluctant to admit that under this Bill someone in rented accommodation can be treated much more severely than an owner-occupier. He seems unwilling to face up to there being, for the same offence, unequal treatment and indeed considerably more drastic treatment for those in rented accommodation, who can lose their homes while owner-occupiers cannot. There is no penalty of equal severity for an owner-occupier that does not apply to someone in rented accommodation.
An owner-occupier with a mortgage might well find his home taken from him as a result of a term of imprisonment. I say to the noble Lord that trying to compare bottles with cans is not a particularly helpful thing to do. Either he is in favour of retribution—
I am very grateful to the Minister for giving way. He has been asked this question a number of times. Of course, there are differences. One significant difference, of which he will no doubt be aware, is that if you are a tenant of a public authority, you have additional protection by virtue of the Human Rights Act, whereas those who are not protected by a public authority—private tenants—do not have any such protection.
I am always interested to listen to a lawyer explaining the law. However, that point does not answer the point that I have made: for the same offence there is a much more drastic penalty for somebody in rented accommodation than for an owner-occupier—namely, loss of their dwelling.
The noble Lord has made that point several times. It is up to other noble Lords to judge whether it correctly identifies anti-social behaviour, which is what the Bill seeks to address.
I would like to talk about the subject of this debate—that is, the specific proposals in Clause 91. As the law stands, thuggish behaviour against neighbours or in the locality of a tenant’s home may be a basis for eviction. However, looting, or other riot-related criminal activity, by tenants further away from their homes would not usually be taken into account. I do not think that is right, although the noble Lord may think that it is. People who wreck other people’s communities through riot-related offences should face the same consequences that they would if they carried out such behaviour in their own neighbourhoods. Clause 91 enables that to happen. It also sends out a strong and important message for the future that if you get involved in a riot, whether that is near your home or not, there may be consequences for your tenancy.
However, I emphasise that we would expect landlords to seek to evict under this new ground for possession only exceptionally. With regard to the concern raised by the Joint Committee on Human Rights—that the ground amounts to a punishment and may disproportionately affect women and children—it is important to note that safeguards will be in place. The new ground is discretionary, and so, just as is the case for the existing discretionary grounds for possession for anti-social behaviour, the court would have to consider whether it was reasonable to grant a possession order in the light of the facts of the case. The impact on the whole household and any young children is likely to be a relevant factor in this.
Amendments 56AM and 56CC to this clause would mean that possession action under the provisions of Clause 91 could be triggered only where the tenant, and not a member of their household, had been convicted of an offence. Amendments 56B, 56C, 56D and 56E would mean that only convictions for “serious offences”, as defined for the purposes of the new absolute ground for possession, could trigger possession action under the provisions of Clause 91.
As I have said before, it is an established principle of tenancy law that a tenant is held responsible for the behaviour of members of their household. There is also an issue of wider parental responsibility here. In practice, though, the landlord would need to prove that it was reasonable to grant possession, and we consider it unlikely that the court would find this to be the case where a child of a tenant has, as a one-off, got caught up in, and committed, an offence during a riot. Clearly, a tenant, or any other parent, should be held more responsible if their teenage child makes their neighbours’ lives a misery over a period of years than if they just let them out of their sight for a few hours. Similarly, in practice we would not expect this new ground for possession to be used where the conviction was for a minor offence. We would expect these provisions to be used only exceptionally and in relation only to serious riot-related offences. Therefore, a landlord might, for example, consider possession action where one of their tenants had been convicted of a serious assault on a police officer, but not where they had stolen a pair of trainers from a shop. Again, even if a landlord were to apply for possession on the basis of a minor offence committed at the scene of a riot, we would not expect the court to consider it reasonable to grant possession. Therefore, we would, in practice, expect the impact of Amendments 56AM, 56CC, 56B, 56C, 56D and 56E to be limited.
I recognise, however, that, through these amendments, my noble friends—I was also grateful for the speeches made by my noble friends Lady Berridge and Lord Faulks—are seeking to ensure that we establish in law that only serious offences committed at the scene of a riot by a tenant could provide a trigger for possession under the new ground. I am, therefore, ready to consider these amendments further, without commitment, in advance of Report.
Amendments 56CA and 56CB would enable the court, when granting possession against a tenant, to order that the tenancy be transferred to another individual. There may be occasions, for example where relationships break down, where it is appropriate for a court to determine to whom within a household a new tenancy should be granted. In general, however, decisions about who should be allocated available social housing locally should rest with the landlord or, where nominations agreements are in place, with the local authority. They, not the courts, understand who is most in need of social housing locally, and are best placed to make decisions in the light of that knowledge.
In short, I believe that these provisions make entirely appropriate changes to the discretionary grounds for possession available to landlords. It will still be for the landlord and the courts to decide whether possession is reasonable in all the circumstances. That said, in relation to the riot-related provision, I will, as I have indicated, take away Amendments 56AM, 56CC, 56B, 56C, 56D and 56E and consider them further. With that assurance, I commend Clauses 90, 91 and 92 to the Committee.
My Lords, I confess that I am a little confused by the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Rosser. As I understand it, he supports the concept but takes issue with differentiation between tenures. However, in supporting the concept and saying that different tenures should be dealt with in a similar way, I assume that he is talking about confiscation of a property. However, we do not have to go there as that is not what is provided by the Bill. Obviously, I am very grateful to my noble friend—
As I said, the noble Lord is concerned about differentiation. That is where my logic—perhaps not his—takes me. I am grateful to the Minister. My amendments on the transfer of a tenancy sought to ameliorate the situation, although I recognise landlords’ concern. As regards what is reasonable for a court or a landlord to do, I am not sure whether the reasonableness concerns the seriousness of the offence or the nature of the household—for instance, whether there is a child in the household. I have a bit of a difficulty there. Having said that, my noble friend made my argument extremely well. I am very glad that this matter will be considered further and will not take up any more of the Committee’s time on it tonight. I look forward to coming back to it on Report, whenever that is. It is probably quite soon. I beg leave to withdraw Amendment 56AM.
Amendment 56AM withdrawn.
Amendments 56B to 56E not moved.
Clause 91 agreed.
Clause 92 agreed.
Clause 93: The community remedy document
56F: Clause 93, page 64, line 14, leave out “one” and insert “two”
My Lords, in moving Amendment 56F, I will speak also to Amendments 56G and 56H, as well as Amendments 56GA, 56GB, 56HA and 56HB in the name of my noble friend Lord Greaves.
With Clause 93 we reach Part 6 of the Bill—Local Involvement and Accountability—which starts with community remedies. The first of my amendments is to Clause 93(3), which provides that an action which might be included in the community remedy document is appropriate if it has one of three objects: assisting rehabilitation, ensuring reparation, and punishment.
A community remedy should have an objective of more than punishment. The Offender Rehabilitation Bill, which has been through this House and is now in the Commons, makes a very welcome switch in direction in penal policy by the way in which it looks at rehabilitation. There is a change in general thinking along these lines as well. My amendment would require two of those three actions—not punishment alone, but either reparation or rehabilitation as well; and it might just be rehabilitation and reparation.
Amendment 56G is on a completely different point: consultation on the community remedy document. It would require the police and crime commissioner, or MOPAC in London—I do regret the loss of the acronym MOPC—to consult with local authorities. I cannot believe that I have omitted to mention the London boroughs, but I am sure that the Minister will tell me that, for this purpose, they are unitary. Amendments 56GA and 56GB from my noble friend Lord Greaves are much better, but they do the same thing.
Amendments 56HA and 56HB are my noble friend’s amendments to Clause 94. They ask about the relationship between the requirements that the community remedy document places on someone, whether by agreement or conviction, and the requirements under IPNAs and CBOs. Are they the same? Are the requirements in Clause 93 the way in which IPNAs and CBOs will also operate, or are community remedies alternative and additional? Why are they all needed?
My noble friend’s amendments also probe the concept of the community remedy as an alternative to a fixed penalty notice or a caution when an offence has taken place. He is concerned that the whole area of penalties versus cautions might become even more muddled. I share this concern. I think I saw a government statement recently announcing changes in the use of unconditional cautions; I might be wrong, but this is not central to the amendments. Apart from, perhaps, my first amendment on consultation, these are probing amendments as to the provisions in this part of the Bill. I beg to move.
My Lords, I shall be brief. I shall certainly be interested to hear the Minister’s response to the amendment moved by the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee. Subject to hearing from the Minister, it is difficult to see what the problem would be with inserting “two” rather than “one” in Clause 93(3). As the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, has also pointed out, when it comes to Clause 93(5), although there is consultation, it does not seem as if local authorities are going to get much of a look-in. If the Minister was going to move to two rather than one of the objects having to be carried out, it would be even more important to consult with local authorities.
My Lords, perhaps I may deal with that point. It is clear that local authorities are likely to be engaged in the compilation of suitable elements for community remedies but we do not see the necessity of putting it in the Bill.
I thank my noble friend Lady Hamwee for raising these issues about this important part of the Bill. Dealing with low-level crime, out of court where appropriate, means that victims get justice quickly. My noble friend is absolutely right: there is a review going on at the moment of informal cautions and the consequences of out-of-court settlements. Damian Green announced this in a Written Ministerial Statement on 19 November. These remedies strengthen the armoury. They mean that the offender has to face immediate consequences for his or her actions which can make her or him less likely to offend in the future. The community remedy will give victims of low-level crime and anti-social behaviour a say in the punishment of offenders out of court. It will also ensure that victims and the public agree that the punishments used are meaningful, rather than a token slap on the wrist.
The Bill provides that the actions on the community remedy menu must have the objective either of assisting in the offender’s rehabilitation, ensuring that they make reparation or providing a punishment. Some actions will have more than one of these elements; for example, cleaning up graffiti is a reparative action but it also has an element of punishment. In other cases, appropriate actions may have only one of the elements required. One of the actions we have suggested in the draft guidance is that the offender could be asked to sign an acceptable behaviour contract, whereby they agree not to behave anti-socially in future. This assists the rehabilitation of the offender but it need not have a reparative or punitive element.
I know that my noble friend is keen to avoid actions that are purely punitive in nature. However, I see no reason why this should not sometimes be appropriate. The Criminal Justice Act 2003 already provides that a conditional caution may impose a financial penalty on the offender. On its own, this would be a punitive punishment and may, in some cases, be entirely appropriate. So we should not rule out that option.
Amendments 56G and 56H would make the community remedy document subject to consultation and agreement with the local authority as well as with the police. The PCC has a duty to consult the chief constable and to agree the community remedy menu with him or her. This is appropriate, since police officers will be using the community remedy document and will take ultimate responsibility for the sanction offered to the offender.
However, I believe that the role of the local authority is a little different. The PCC should consult with community representatives and the public. We would expect this to include local councils, as they are likely to contribute a number of actions to the menu. Professionals such as youth offending teams will know what actions are appropriate and what resources are available locally to deliver the more formal sanctions.
My noble friend has tabled a number of amendments—alongside those in the name of my noble friend Lord Greaves, who is not in his place today—which seek to enhance the role of local authorities in the Bill. In this instance, I believe that it makes a good deal of sense to formalise the relationship between the PCC, the police and local authorities in establishing the community remedy document. There is much to be gained from this relationship and, since the community remedy document will be established in advance—one might say in slow time—there is nothing to lose by making the responsibility to consult a statutory one. However, I believe that the responsibility to agree the actions to be included on the community remedy document should rest with the PCC and the chief constable. PCCs are democratically accountable to the public, and the responsibility of ensuring that the community remedy meets the needs of local people properly rests with the PCC.
For many of the same reasons, I do not believe that the decision about whom it is appropriate to consult in preparing the document should be a joint responsibility of the local authority and the PCC, which is what Amendments 56GA and 56GB, tabled by my noble friend Lord Greaves and spoken to by my noble friend Lady Hamwee, seek to do. Responsibility for preparing the community remedy document properly rests with the PCC, and so, by and large, should the decision on consultation.
Amendments 56HA and 56HB, also tabled by my noble friend Lord Greaves, would mean that the community remedy would be used for anti-social behaviour only and not for low-level criminal offences. The Bill places a duty on the police officer to make reasonable efforts to obtain the views of the victim on whether the offender should undertake any of the actions in the community remedy document.
As currently drafted, that duty applies when someone has admitted to anti-social behaviour or a low-level criminal offence which the officer has decided will be dealt with using a conditional caution. The community remedy provides a means to engage the victim in considering what the community resolution should be or in considering appropriate conditions to attach to the caution. The police officer will take ultimate responsibility for the sanction offered to the offender and must ensure that it is proportionate to the offence committed.
I am firmly convinced that this victim-focused approach should apply equally where it is considered appropriate to deal with a low-level criminal offence with an out-of-court disposal. In particular, where the offending is low-level or it is someone’s first offence, undertaking an action from the community remedy menu, such as apologising to the victim or repairing the damage caused, may have a more positive and longer lasting impact on the offender than a formal court sanction.
As I have indicated, I will give sympathetic consideration to Amendment 56G in advance of Report. As for the other amendments, I hope that, having aired these important issues, my noble friend will be content to withdraw her amendment.
My Lords, how will the remedies be evaluated? I am inclined to think that the community remedy is not “one size fits all”. I know that it rests with the PCCs but I have said previously that I am concerned about how the remedies will be reviewed across the country. Can the Minister give me any idea of how that is going to happen?
Each PCC has to consult within his area on what is considered to be an appropriate menu—if one might call it that—of suitable community remedies. I have little doubt that members of the Association of Police and Crime Commissioners will discuss this matter in some detail among themselves and that there will be considerable input. However, essentially it will be about local decisions made to address local problems and finding local solutions for local anti-social behaviour and for dealing with low-level crime at a local level and in a formal way.
My Lords, I suspect that the debate about the role of the local authority and the relationships between the local authority and local policing bodies is destined to go on and on. However, wherever the word “community” is seen, I move almost seamlessly to local authorities. Police and crime commissioners are indeed democratically accountable but so are local authorities. Local authorities are going to be more local than most of the police and crime commissioners, whose areas of responsibility are very wide, and of course they cannot impose a penalty themselves. Anti-social behaviour is very much a local authority concern. I am not seeking to downplay the role or status of police and crime commissioners—I would expect both to contribute. However, I thank the Minister for his response and beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 56F withdrawn.
Amendments 56G to 56H not moved.
Clause 93 agreed.
Clause 94: Anti-social behaviour etc: out-of-court disposals
Amendments 56HA and 56HB not moved.
56J: Clause 94, page 66, line 10, at end insert—
“( ) Provisions should be put in place under a designated senior police officer to ensure scrutiny of decision making through a local scrutiny panel.
( ) The strategy and usage of cautions and out of court disposals should be reviewed by a local scrutiny panel on a regular basis.
( ) The use of cautions and out of court disposals for serious cases and repeat offenders should be particularly scrutinised.”
My Lords, this is a probing amendment, which seeks to put in place a scrutiny element in decision-making through a local scrutiny panel. I have taken the wording of the amendment from the recently published government document, Review of Simple Cautions, which was written by the College of Policing and the Government and was published in November this year.
Scrutiny is a method by which out-of-court disposals can be reviewed by magistrates, district judges, PCCs, the police, the probation service and YOTs. In London, I understand that MOPAC, the Mayor’s Office for Policing and Crime, would take the lead.
I understand that the necessary legislation is in place for scrutiny panels to be established and that a number of PCCs have already introduced some form of scrutiny panel. The prime purpose of these panels is of course to help the public maintain confidence in out-of-court disposals. I am moving this probing amendment because I believe that the rollout of scrutiny panels has been very patchy across the country. As far as I know, no scrutiny panels have been established in London, and I believe that that is a cause for concern.
It is worth reviewing the figures relating to the massive change in recorded crime that we have seen in recent years. In 2008, there was a maximum of 360,000 cautions. Currently, the number of cautions issued by the police is about 200,000, which represents a huge reduction. In London, in our youth courts over the past three years we have seen a halving of the number of cases brought to court. There are any number of explanations for this huge reduction in recorded crime, and I shall not go through all the possible ones. However, I will list some of them because I know that they have been widely debated in the press and elsewhere.
The first is that there is indeed a genuine reduction in the level of crime, which of course is to be welcomed. A second explanation that is commonly advanced is the cuts to the police service. A further explanation is the massaging of reported crime figures, as was alleged in the Public Administration Select Committee on 19 November. A further explanation is the removal of police targets for offences brought to justice. Another is that the police are concentrating resources on gang-related offences rather than specific drug-related ones: namely, possession with intent to supply. That explanation is specific to the London area.
There are other, more improbable, explanations: I will list just a couple. The first, which I heard from a police officer, is that the riots of 2011 led to a reduction in the current levels of crime because the offenders were locked up for such lengthy periods that they failed to instruct a younger generation in crime. The second is that the banning of lead in petrol in 1998 led to this reduction in crime.
As I say, there is any number of reasons for this. However, the Government will be well aware that there is widespread scepticism about the reliability of the figures used. The method put in place by the Government to try to address that scepticism is the scrutiny panel. I am moving these amendments—which are probing; I understand that the legislation is in place—to try to get the Government to roll out the scrutiny process more thoroughly. My experience is that in London it is just not happening. It is a very important part of the process for the public to maintain confidence in our out-of-court disposals. I beg to move.
My Lords, one of the issues that my noble friend Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede raised is the apparent extent to which Clause 94 could be used to keep cases that would justify court proceedings under the terms of the Bill out of the courts, where an individual has admitted to engaging in anti-social behaviour or committing an offence to a constable, investigating officer or a person authorised to issue additional cautions. Even where such a person thinks that the evidence is enough to seek an injunction under Section 1 or to take other court proceedings, they can still make a decision not to seek an injunction, not to take court proceedings, not to give a caution and not to give a fixed penalty notice. Instead, they can tell the offender to carry out any action listed in the community remedy document, including making a payment to the victim.
Since the Secretary of State is to issue guidance to local policing bodies on how they should discharge their functions in preparing or revising the community remedy document, can the Minister say what will be the maximum penalties that can be provided for in that document, including the maximum payment that can be ordered to be made to the victim? If an offence has been admitted, can the offender insist on being taken to court or receiving a caution or fixed penalty, rather than carrying out an action listed in the community remedy document?
Will a constable or investigating officer be able to act under Clause 94(3) if the offender has previously committed offences, or will it be only if the offender is not previously known? Will a record be kept and, if so, by whom, of any actions under Clause 94(3) that an individual who has committed anti-social behaviour or an offence has been told to take? Since the community remedy document is to apply not only to anti-social behaviour but to an individual who has committed an offence, what kind of offences will be deemed suitable to be dealt with under Clause 94?
My noble friend Lord Ponsonby spoke about the issue of scrutiny and the apparent inadequacy of the scrutiny that is likely to take place. Certainly, there do not seem to be watertight provisions in the Bill to ensure that such scrutiny takes place of the use of the powers under Clause 94.
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, for tabling his amendment. As he explained, it is probing in nature and seeks to establish a local panel to scrutinise the strategy and use of cautions and out of court disposals in particular. I listened carefully to the reasoning given for the reduction in crime; there were some interesting comments.
I draw your Lordships’ attention to the out of court disposals review that is currently taking place, in partnership between the Ministry of Justice and the police, and in conjunction with the Home Office, the Attorney General’s Office and the Crown Prosecution Service. The review will look at all out of court disposals currently used against adults and consider how they might be reformed. The aim is to ensure that out of court disposals are as effective, simple and transparent as possible. The review includes conditional cautions and community resolutions, both of which will be subject to the community remedy. This public consultation was launched on 14 November to seek the views and experiences of professionals, victims’ organisations and the public. The consultation will conclude on 9 January and the review as a whole will conclude later in the spring.
Two key themes of the review—picking up on a point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby—are transparency and accountability. The consultation asks the public to consider whether they think there is more information about out of court disposals that should be shared; whether they are able to hold the police to account for the way that out of court disposals are used; and how they think that the Government can make the out of court disposal system more accountable.
In particular, the consultation asks for views on what sort of offences out of court disposals are appropriate for. I agree that the use of cautions for serious offences and repeat offenders requires careful consideration in each specific case. The Review of Simple Cautions, to which the noble Lord referred, has already been completed. The review made it clear that cautions should no longer be used for indictable only offences, and certain serious either-way offences, unless there are exceptional circumstances, and that those who persist in criminal activity should no longer expect to receive a caution. Those changes have been made to the guidance on simple cautions.
The out of court disposals review is also looking at this issue. Currently, the guidance for all out of court disposals indicates that they are available for all offenders, but are primarily intended to address first-time offending. The latest data, for 2012-13, show that 60% of those getting a caution—that is, either a simple or a conditional caution—have not received a previous caution.
On the issue of senior officer oversight, the simple cautions review recommended that there should be greater local accountability and scrutiny of decision-making. The review further recommended that each force should have a senior officer identified as responsible who would provide local leadership and accountability and who would make use of local scrutiny panels. We are considering that recommendation carefully as part of the wider out of court disposals review. There are clearly links between the matters considered in the simple cautions review and the out of court disposals review, and we will consider these alongside each other. Further, I assure the noble Lord that the issues he and others raised in this debate will be fed into the out of court disposals review.
The draft guidance on the community remedy signposts existing CPS guidance on the use of conditional cautions. The community remedy will work with any changes to conditional cautions or community resolutions that take place as a result of the review, but we need to be careful not to impose anything in the Bill or the guidance that will contradict or restrict any changes to those systems.
I will pick up a few points made by the noble Lord, Lord Rosser. He asked about the crimes for which the remedy might be used. They are low-level criminal damage, low-value theft, minor assault without injury and anti-social behaviour, and are currently set out on page 15 of the draft guidance. In addition, the noble Lord asked whether the offender could insist on prosecution. The answer is no. He asked whether the community remedy only applied to first-time offenders; I have already covered that particular issue. I was asked what records are kept. The police will keep records in accordance with the Data Protection Act 1998 and will retain them if there is a specific police purpose. As I said, a much more detailed review will end in January of next year.
The noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, indicated that this was a probing amendment. I hope by what I have said that that I have conveyed that there are broader issues to consider as well. We will undoubtedly return to this issue once the current review results are out. In the interim, I hope that the noble Lord is reassured both by my explanations and my commitment that the content of this debate will be included in that review, and that he will be minded to withdraw his amendment.
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Ahmad, for that response to my amendment. I am pleased that there will be a further review of out of court proposals. Perhaps there should be a review of the scrutiny panels themselves? The purpose of my amendment is not to address a lack of legislation. The legislation has been in place for years: it is just that it has not been implemented.
On that point, as I said in my response, one thing that the wider review is doing is talking directly to local players on the ground, including local police, to feed back on the effect. The noble Lord is quite right that legislation is available. What we need to see is practical implementation. We hope that the more detailed review will address those issues.
Once again, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Ahmad, for that explanation. I will make one last point. In London, where 25% of all crime in England and Wales takes place, as far as I am aware no scrutiny panels are in operation. Having said that, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 56J withdrawn.
Clause 94 agreed.
Clause 95 agreed.
Clause 96: Review of response to complaints
56K: Clause 96, page 67, line 30, at end insert—
“( ) The relevant bodies must decide under subsection (1)(b) that the threshold for a review is met where the person making the complaint has notified any of the relevant bodies that he or she has been a victim of anti-social behaviour or is vulnerable due to ill health, mental capacity, race, sexuality or religion.”
This amendment is regarding the threshold for review for the community trigger. We are concerned that the community trigger will not be effective unless it takes into account the vulnerability of the victim. We all accept that vulnerability is important and how somebody responds to anti-social behaviour has a huge effect on the impact it has on them and on the community. Our worry is that the proposed trigger is too weak and will therefore be ineffective.
We put in some freedom of information requests about the number of times the triggers had been successfully activated in the pilot areas. The figure was just 13 times out of a reported 44,011 incidents of anti-social behaviour. The worry is that somebody who is vulnerable is not treated any differently to someone who is perhaps more robust and able to deal with the problem.
I feel so strongly about this because I am reminded of one of the first cases I dealt with when I was a reasonably young county councillor in the early 1990s. A lady who came to see me and with whom I was in regular contact for some time was vulnerable. She was easily bullied. Most of us would have thought that the behaviour of some kids in her street was insignificant—eggs thrown at her windows, for example. It was annoying and irritating, and it went on for some time, but her reaction made her more vulnerable. Trying to get the authorities to act in the days before we had anti-social behaviour orders was extremely difficult. It went on for some considerable time.
That situation has not stopped. The Minister will be aware of recent cases and the case of Fiona Pilkington and 18 year-old Francecca Hardwick which goes back to 2009. They complained 33 times about harassment and anti-social behaviour. In the end, Miss Pilkington set fire to their car and they were both killed. Anti-social behaviour can have some tragic and harmful consequences, particularly where the victims are vulnerable. The amendment would ensure that the community trigger takes into account that vulnerability and the need for a 24-hour response if someone says that they are vulnerable. That should be enough to speed up the process. We do not want to see other incidents with such a tragic consequence.
My colleagues in the other place raised this in Committee. The Minister, Jeremy Browne, said then that the Bill already provides a framework for taking account of particular vulnerabilities and individual needs. I cannot find that in the Bill or in that amendment. Both the issue of vulnerability and the reporting process need to be explicit and clear in legislation or guidance—I would prefer in legislation. One thing that struck me about the Fiona Pilkington case was the comment that systems were in place for officers to have linked the catalogue of incidents, but they were not well utilised. It is a case of being very specific and clear about what the expectations are. I am concerned that Jeremy Browne was talking about hate crimes. Perhaps the Minister can give me some guidance on this. Hate crime does take vulnerability into account, but anti-social behaviour and hate crimes are not the same thing.
The chief executive of Victim Support also said that she supported the community trigger in principle,
“but we think it could go further than that, to make the most important thing in measuring the test the impact on the victim … We think that should very much be the focus of the test: the vulnerability of the victims”.
There is real concern that vulnerable victims will definitely feel that their complaints have not been adequately dealt with if they have to make a minimum of three complaints. Under the heading “Review of response to complaints”, Clause 96(4) states:
“In a situation where … at least three (or, if a different number is specified in the review procedures, at least that number of) qualifying complaints have been made”.
For someone who is feeling vulnerable, being bullied and suffering from anti-social behaviour, three complaints can be two complaints too many before we see tragic consequences. Those three complaints do not guarantee a response: they merely trigger a review from the police or council.
I understand what the Minister is seeking here, but it would be helpful if he could look at this in a little more detail. We looked at how this was approached in the Manchester City Council case study and we were quite impressed with the way these issues were looked at. There were four trigger questions to ascertain the vulnerability of the victim. Something like that could be looked at to take into account those vulnerable victims who feel the consequences and suffer the impact far more than others. They could then be dealt with as a matter of greater urgency, rather than having to make three complaints first. I beg to move.
My Lords, the noble Baroness has made some interesting and important points and I agree that the impact on the victim is what we should be looking at. But I am concerned about the wording. This may be a start, but it is not the complete solution. Notification is not the same as an assessment and certainly not the same as any evidence that there has actually been previous anti-social behaviour and claiming that there has—one can see how mischief could be made of that. What is vulnerability? These things cover a wide spectrum. I take the point about starting from how the victim feels and whether feeling that makes that person a victim whereas another person might not feel victimised by the same behaviour, but it is a complicated area.
My amendment 56L would provide a trigger in the case of more than one complaint if it is made by somebody living at a different address. What I am getting at is that this needs to be about more than just a tiff between two neighbours and not something that is very short term.
Amendments 56LA to 56LE in the name of my noble friend Lord Greaves are, he says, part of his attempt to get uniform and accurate descriptions of councils in different parts of the Bill. The Minister will recognise this. The only thing that I would disagree with him on is the phrase “part of his attempt”—I think one could call it a campaign.
I come to this area of problems between neighbours or people in residential environments through my work as a chartered surveyor. I see it in terms of being brought into situations where these problems have turned into some sort of property dispute. I have enormous sympathy with what the noble Baroness, Lady Smith of Basildon, set out, and with what the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, said. The difficulty is that when people have annoyed each other there are various phases to this annoyance.
The first stage is to say: “Oh, well. They have done something they should not have done”. The second stage is: “If they do that again, I shall take action”. The third stage is when absolutely anything, however minor, triggers the most violent reaction. People who have got themselves in a sensitised situation cannot get out of that psychological bind. That is one of the most difficult and intractable things that one has to deal with. This may result in the police being called out on multiple occasions or the local authority being endlessly rung. That is the reality.
Yes, people will claim that they are vulnerable, although in a sense that is a self-assessment of whether they are actually vulnerable or it is some self-created vulnerability. What I do know is that on both sides of the argument, the perpetrator and the victim are likely to think that the other is completely nuts, irrational and unreasonable in their attitude. I do not know how this Bill or this amendment resolve that issue. There is a case for taking some of these things out of what one might call a heavyweight approach to dealing with the problem.
Whether one fires off in the direction of some other community means of trying to unpick things—getting people to realise that their neighbours’ children are not ogres and the children’s parents to recognise that the affected person is also not an ogre—is a really difficult issue. I am not sure that we have the solution here. However, I shall certainly give the matter some careful thought between now and the next stage, because there is something in terms of social cohesion and peaceable existence for people in residential environments that needs to be addressed much more deeply.
My Lords, I shall speak to Amendment 56K. For far too long we have allowed concerns about the rights of perpetrators to inhibit communities from addressing this important issue at the expense of the majority of law-abiding citizens, who are simply trying to get on with life, raise a family, work and study. What has to happen before we actually face that what is termed anti-social behaviour is so wide that we cannot sit in the ivory tower of Parliament and honestly tie it down for today and tomorrow? We need to allow flexibility for these powers to be meaningful.
I must congratulate and thank the noble Lord and the noble Baroness for proposing one of very few amendments that think of the victims. I have seen so many provisions and amendments about protecting the perpetrators’ ethical and religious beliefs and considering their disabilities, but for me, this is the first about the victim. I cannot tell your Lordships’ about the number of times that I have been contacted by victims who are ill, elderly, suffer disabilities—or all three. They have to deal with anti-social behaviour and are scared to leave their home. These people need immediate action and cannot wait for the numerical thresholds to be met. So I, for one, fully support this amendment.
My Lords, this has been a good debate and we have addressed the whole relevance of the community trigger and how it might operate in practice. We have had the four trials—the noble Baroness, Lady Smith, referred to the one in Manchester and the report that we have had on it. We can all agree that persistent anti-social behaviour causes significant harm to victims. That has been made quite clear by everybody who has spoken—my noble friend Lady Newlove, the noble Earl, Lord Lytton, and my noble friend Lady Hamwee. However, people can sometimes find themselves being passed from the police to the council, to the landlord and back again, or reporting the same problem over and over again.
The community trigger will give victims and communities the right to demand that agencies that have ignored repeated complaints take action. It is an important safety net and is at the heart of our reforms to put the victim at the centre of the response to anti-social behaviour. I hope that no authority in every instance to has to wait to be reminded three times of anti-social behaviour. Some anti-social behaviour will need immediate response, but the community trigger will give victims the right to a review of the authority’s response when three notifications have been made.
Amendment 56K, from the noble Baroness, Lady Smith of Basildon, relates to the threshold for using the community trigger. The Bill provides that the threshold will include the number of complaints that a victim has made in a certain timeframe; for example, three complaints in six months. However, it will also include an assessment of the victim’s vulnerability, because we know that it is often the most vulnerable in our society who are at greatest risk. Many agencies complete a risk assessment when a case is reported, and will revisit the assessment periodically, because vulnerability and resilience to vulnerability change over time in certain cases, though not in all.
The Home Office summary report on the community trigger trials, which was published in May, contains an example risk assessment matrix. This was the one used by the Richmond Housing Partnership. The matrix asks for details of the behaviour, such as how frequent it is, whether it is getting worse, the vulnerability of the victim—including whether they are being deliberately targeted and how much it has affected them—and the support available to the victim, such as whether they live alone or have a close network of friends and family, and whether their health is affected. The answers are scored and the result provides an indication of the potential harm—I use that phrase definitively, because it appears in the Bill—that may be caused to the victim. It is not a definitive assessment, but it assists the professional in assessing the needs of the victim.
We have added a second limb in response to a recommendation from the Home Affairs Select Committee. It ensures that the potential for harm will be a consideration when setting a trigger threshold, not just the number and frequency of incidents. Amendment 56K seeks to determine that the community trigger threshold will be met if the victim is judged to be vulnerable due to ill health, mental capacity, race, sexuality or religion. I have every sympathy with the intention of this amendment.
I understand that anti-social behaviour can often be motivated by these factors, and that vulnerable people need our protection. However, the broader approach to considering potential harm that I have just described captures these as well as other vulnerabilities. Rather than trying to put victims into categories, we require agencies to consider their individual needs.
I hope that I have reassured noble Lords that focus on vulnerability is already provided for in the Bill. I draw the noble Baroness’s attention to page 58 and Clause 96(5)(b), which refers to,
“the harm caused, or the potential for harm to be caused, by that behaviour”.
So that is in the Bill.
I apologise if I misdirected the Committee. There is direct reference to the subjective nature of anti-social behaviour. That was on the recommendation of the Home Affairs Select Committee. It also appears in the guidance, under the heading “Putting victims first”, which states on page 10:
“The Community Trigger can be used by any person and agencies should consider how to make it as accessible as possible to young people, those who are vulnerable, have learning difficulties or do not speak English”.
On the following page, under “Responding to the victim”, it repeats that the potential harm to a particular victim is one of the key matters that has to be taken into account. We have already built in the very issues that the noble Baroness has said she would like in the Bill.
I turn to Amendment 56L, tabled by my noble friend Lady Hamwee. It probes the finer detail of how the community trigger threshold will work in practice. My noble friend seeks reassurance that, for instance, three members of a household cannot report the same problem and have that count as three separate incidents for the purpose of meeting the threshold. This would of course mean that they would essentially jump the queue to get their problem dealt with as a community trigger. The Bill already accounts for this, and I will happily explain how.
Clause 96(11) defines a “qualifying complaint” for the purpose of the community trigger. The complaint needs to be made within one month of the incident occurring, or a different period if specified within the review procedures. This is to prevent someone making complaints about historical incidents in order to use the community trigger. Subsection (12) allows the local agencies to set out what will be considered a “qualifying complaint” where someone makes two or more complaints about the same behaviour or incident, in particular when separate complaints relate to different aspects of one incident. That achieves the safeguard that Amendment 56L is designed to achieve.
We want to ensure that the legislation is robust enough that only genuine requests to use the community trigger meet the threshold, while allowing the procedures to be flexible enough to ensure that the trigger can help those victims who need it most. I hope that I have reassured my noble friend that the procedures are set out in a way that will ensure they will not be manipulated in the manner that she fears.
As I said, we have trialled the community trigger in four parts of the country since June 2012, and the majority of requests to use the trigger were genuine. We have tested the legislation through trials and I am content that we have achieved a good balance between addressing the needs of the most vulnerable victims, which my noble friend Lady Newlove emphasised, and allowing agencies the flexibility to operate the community trigger to suit local circumstances.
Some amendments have been tabled by my noble friend Lord Greaves, to which my noble friend Lady Hamwee referred. I know that my noble friend is anxious to ensure that we standardise the definition of a local authority in the Bill. In this case, however, the wording used in Clause 97 and Schedule 4 is technically correct. His amendment 56LD inadvertently omits line 19 on page 69, which is still required. Given that our provisions are technically correct, I am not persuaded that there are sufficient grounds to make the amendments.
I hope that, having listened to what I have said, the noble Baroness is content to withdraw her amendment.
I am grateful to the Minister; I think he has heard what I said. I should like to read the details of what he said in Hansard with reference to the guidelines and the Bill, because I am not 100% sure that the points he makes fully address the issues that I brought forward today. First, he said that there is a right to demand that the authorities take action. My understanding is that it is not a right to take action, it is a right to have a review of the case. He is right to say that, sometimes, cases of anti-social behaviour are motivated by someone’s vulnerability, but sometimes it is the vulnerability of the individual that makes the anti-social behaviour more severe, because they are less able to cope with the pressures they face.
I am very grateful for the support of the noble Baroness, Lady Newlove, the Victims’ Commissioner. She fully understands the point I am trying to make about how people react to anti-social behaviour. For the trigger to be used 13 times in more than 14,000 incidents gives me cause for concern. If I can go back to read what the Minister said and read the guidance, at this stage, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 56K withdrawn.
Amendment 56L not moved.
Clause 96 agreed.
Schedule 4: ASB case reviews: supplementary provision
Amendment 56LA not moved.
Schedule 4 agreed.
Clause 97: ASB case reviews: interpretation
Amendments 56LB to 56LE not moved.
Clause 97 agreed.
House resumed. Committee to begin again not before 8.37 pm.