House of Lords
Monday, 2 December 2013.
Prayers—read by the Lord Bishop of Derby.
Disabled People: Mobility Benefits
My Lords, no such assessment has been made. The controlled approach to the reassessment of recipients of disability living allowance began only on 28 October 2013. There is not enough information yet to assess the effect this phase will have on Motability customer numbers, including those with adapted cars. In addition, the vast majority of reassessments will not start until October 2015.
My Lords, does the Minister recall that exactly 12 months ago his department estimated that by 2018 there would be 428,000 fewer enhanced mobility claimants aged 16 to 64 on the new PIP system, compared with the old system? Does he appreciate the anxiety this has caused to those dependent on these payments to finance their Motability vehicles? Will he update the House on the latest position, and do everything in his power to lift the threat felt by those people whose degree of disability almost certainly will mean that they should not lose their Motability entitlement but who, until they know, will inevitably fear the worst?
My Lords, I emphasise that we are looking to create a thorough assessment under PIP that is balanced and also looks after some of the gaps in DLA, particularly concerning people with mental health problems, who have not done as well under DLA as they should do under PIP. With regard to the concerns about the transition, we are working with Motability to put together a package of £2,000 per person for those who move off the enhanced DLA but not into PIP so that they can purchase a second-hand car at the appropriate time.
Will my noble friend tell me why his department took no notice of the responses to the 11th-hour consultation on the key moving-about descriptor in the PIP assessment? This descriptor enables a claimant to have enough points for the enhanced rate of mobility, which opens the door to the Motability car. Responses to the consultation were overwhelmingly against what the Government have proposed. I wonder why they bothered to have the consultation if they are not going to take any notice of it.
My Lords, I emphasise that a lot of attention was paid to that consultation, as to all consultations. The issue that the department had to deal with was whether there was a better suggestion for drawing a line and, in practice, we could not find one within the consultation responses. I remind noble Lords that, as a result of activity in this Chamber, we toughened up the definition with,
“reliably, safely, repeatedly and in a timely manner”,
locked into how it operates.
My Lords, nearly 30% of those who get enhanced mobility payments turn them into a Motability car, so approximately 100,000 to 120,000 people stand to lose their car. We know that when they go to appeal, 60% win their appeal but in the process, given the time it takes, they will have lost their car before having the additional expense of starting all over again. Will the Minister therefore ensure that anyone going to appeal does not lose their car until the appeal has been heard?
My Lords, that is not the process which we are going through. It is difficult to draw a line between people with enhanced mobility and those on Motability. That is one of the things that we will be looking at as we do this review, which will report towards the end of next year—before large volumes of people are due to go in, so we will be able to look at this closely.
My Lords, I declare an interest in that I am in receipt of DLA but not of a Motability car. Regardless of whether the Government know the figures of who will be affected, this will affect a significant number of people. I travelled on a train this morning from Darlington to London. There were two spaces for wheelchairs and no accessible toilet on board. Can the Minister explain what consultation there has been with other government departments to ensure that when this huge number of people is affected, the public transport system will be able to cope?
My Lords, I wonder whether the Minister realises just how worried disabled people are. The whole transition to PIP has been in chaos. The Atos work capability assessment is a disaster, the bedroom tax is hitting them, disabled kids have had their benefits cut, and 100,000 people have signed a petition demanding a cumulative impact assessment of the Government’s changes. Is the Minister proud of the Government’s record?
My Lords, we are handling an extraordinarily difficult economic and financial position. As noble Lords are of course aware, we have had a decline in GDP of 7.2% from its peak in 2008-09. That is more or less the same level as what happened in the 1930s. Handling that decline has been enormously difficult and one of the most interesting things about the way we have handled it generally is that, unlike every other developed country, we have spread the inevitable difficulties across the whole economy, rather than, as elsewhere, the poor being hit far worse than the rich. That has not happened in the adjustment that we have made in this country.
My Lords, pursuing the point made by the noble Baroness about the role of Atos Healthcare, in confirming the amounts of money that are involved in this process, will the Minister confirm to the House that in the past 12 months alone, £114 million has been paid to Atos Healthcare; that, over the distance, more than £700 million has been paid to it; and that he has had to call in PricewaterhouseCoopers in order to assess its role? Will he tell us what that has cost and when the National Audit Office will now report on the tendering arrangements involving Atos Healthcare that it has decided to investigate?
Defence: Type 26 Global Combat Ship
My Lords, the Type 26 global combat ship programme is currently in its assessment phase. As is standard practice with equipment projects, the final design, equipment fit and build programme will not be set until the main investment decision has been taken, when the design is more mature. This decision is expected towards the end of 2014. Our current planning assumption is for the construction of 13 Type 26s with a planned service life of around 25 years.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for the reply, and for letting me have sight of it before today. He will be aware of the force-level formula which relates build rates to the planned life of a warship. Although this Answer undoubtedly raises a whole raft of questions, not least those relating to manpower and shipbuilding, I want to focus on just one. Have we really decided that this great maritime nation of ours needs only 13 frigates? Only four years ago, 18 was considered too risky; at the time of the Falklands, we had 40. Has there been a realistic, in-depth study of the requirement for the number of frigates—I am talking about frigates, not destroyers or other things—or is the number 13 based purely on an arbitrary cost figure? In the final analysis, defence of the nation is the top priority for any Government of whatever hue, and I believe that we are standing into danger.
My Lords, I agree with the noble Lord that defence of the nation is absolutely the top priority of the Government. That is why we are undertaking the Type 26 global combat ship programme. The Type 26 will become the backbone of the Royal Navy from around 2020, and the programme will help sustain surface warship capability in the United Kingdom after the construction of the carriers. This multibillion-pound investment will secure thousands of skilled shipbuilding jobs across the UK for decades to come.
My Lords, the Type 26 is a credible export design and there are likely to be three export variants—general purpose, anti-submarine warfare, and air defence—all sharing a common acoustically quiet hull to realise economies of scale. It is not expected that the UK will build export variants, but international interest in the design is unprecedented. It should be stressed, however, that the Type 26 is neither dependent upon nor funding the export campaign.
My Lords, having recently been on a Type 45 destroyer and been briefed on its capability, which is enormous, may I ask what the Type 26 will do which the Type 45 will not be able to deliver, mindful of the fact that one is a destroyer and one is a frigate?
My Lords, although sharing a common acoustically quiet hull, the Type 26 will be delivered in two variants: a force anti-submarine warfare variant and a general purpose variant. All will employ a tailored-mission approach to operations, allowing equipment and crew to be reconfigured to meet changing operational requirements and the future demands of the maritime and joint environment.
My Lords, it is absolutely intended that that is one of the roles that the Type 26s will be used on. We are building a complement of Type 26s that, from the initial ship right through to the end of the class life, will provide us with the flexibility to respond to a wide range of tasks.
My Lords, the build location will be confirmed after the main investment decision point. The UK Government are not planning for independence. Should Scotland decide to separate from the UK, it would no longer be eligible to bid for those contracts that are subject to exemptions from EU procurement rules to protect essential national security interests and are therefore placed or competed for within the UK. All the UK’s new complex warships are being built in UK shipyards, and we remain committed to using UK industry in this area.
The Minister has just described the Type 26 as the backbone of the Royal Navy. The problem is that there are only 13 of them, and there does not seem to be any planning beyond that. I think that most of us are concerned about the long-term view of the Royal Navy for us as a maritime power, as was indicated in the first Question. Thirteen is not the backbone of a major maritime power.
My Lords, I disagree with the noble Lord. The First Sea Lord has some very exciting plans for the future of the Royal Navy. The Type 26s we are planning, the three OPVs and, of course, the Type 45s which my noble friend mentioned, are all part of those exciting plans.
My Lords, in the context of Scotland, the UK has a number of commercial yards involved in building military warships which have been involved in the building of the carriers. It is recognised that these yards would need additional investment to enable them to participate in the building of the Type 26.
Syria: Humanitarian Aid
My Lords, the UK is working with our international partners, including in the UN Security Council, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs and the Friends of Syria core group, to ensure full implementation of the UN Security Council presidential statement of 2 October to allow free and unfettered access for the delivery of aid to all Syrians. As stated by the UN, the primary onus is on the Syrian regime to comply with these measures, and we are actively engaging with Russia to reinforce this message to the regime.
My Lords, I hope that the Minister accepts that my call on the Government to resume contact with the Government in Damascus in no way means that I condone the appalling things that have happened in Syria on all sides—any more than I condone the many other breaches of human rights named by the noble Lord, Lord Alton of Liverpool, during his astonishing debate on 21 November. Does the Minister accept that nearly all the Governments named by the noble Lord enjoy diplomatic contact with Her Majesty’s Government, and that with one of them, Iran, we have recently resumed diplomatic relations? Given that the Syrian Government appear to have restored their authority over most parts of Syria in recent weeks, is it not time to resume our diplomatic presence in Damascus, both for the reasons mentioned in my Question, and to perform the necessary consular functions to protect the remaining British community?
I of course hear the point that the noble Lord makes. There has been some limited contact in relation to consular matters. We have not formally broken all diplomatic ties with the Syrian regime. It has withdrawn its people from the embassy here, and we have done the same in relation to our people in Syria. We have maintained some contact via other embassies that still have personnel within Syria. We have felt that, in terms of progress on humanitarian work and in relation to the chemical weapons work that is going on, the UN is the right body through which to engage. That is the process that we have been adopting.
My Lords, is the Minister aware that 500,000 children have not been vaccinated against polio over the past two years because of the conflict and the lack of humanitarian access? What is the UK doing to secure guarantees of respect for what Save the Children calls a “vaccination ceasefire” that which will allow unconditional, safe access by humanitarian workers, before this highly infectious and crippling disease becomes an epidemic across the whole of the Middle East?
The issue of providing access specifically to vaccinate children was raised at the high-level meeting chaired by the noble Baroness, Lady Amos, on 26 November. So far, about 10 cases of polio have been confirmed and 12 more potential cases have been identified, but it is thought that hundreds of children are carrying polio in a country where it had been completely eliminated. This is one of a number of humanitarian issues that we are hoping will be dealt with in the run-up to the Geneva 2 meeting in January.
My Lords, just a few minutes ago I spoke to the staff of Médecins Sans Frontières, who emphasised that it is essential to establish many more humanitarian corridors, especially in the disputed areas, to allow the entry of essential antibiotics and anaesthetic agents. Will the Government continue and, indeed, redouble their efforts to establish these corridors?
My noble friend makes an important point. This is one of the ideas that have been put forward. However the noble Lord will be aware that humanitarian corridors are not defined in international law and, although there have been some successes in the past, such corridors require all parties to agree to their establishment. In the absence of such agreement, establishing these zones usually requires foreign military intervention, which is not on the table at the moment. The noble Lord will also be aware that humanitarian corridors and safe areas have not always worked in the past. A case that comes immediately to mind is the Srebrenica genocide, which occurred in a safe area.
Does my noble friend agree that the most enduring solution to the humanitarian crisis in Syria is a successful conclusion of the Geneva 2 talks and the implementation of the Geneva communiqué’s plan for a transitional Government? In the light of that, have the Government moved on their position on the attendance of Iran at the Geneva 2 talks and on the continuation of President Assad in any form of transitional Government?
We have very clear priorities in Syria. The first is to ensure that we alleviate humanitarian suffering. The second is to prevent Assad from using chemical weapons on his own people again. However, this is against a backdrop of finding a political solution that brings the conflict to an end. It is good that the date of 22 January 2014 has now been set for Geneva 2. In relation to Iran, parties to Geneva 2 are those that have formally endorsed the Geneva communiqué. Iran has not yet done so publicly. There is a sense that Iran is not playing a positive or helpful role in the current crisis.
We expect the regime to play a part in Geneva 2, which is all about coming forward with a proposal to establish a transitional governing body. This has to be done with mutual consent, so the regime must play its role. However, it seems incredibly unrealistic to expect real progress in Syria if Assad has any role in a body that has full executive powers and, therefore, control over the military, security and intelligence apparatus. Large parts of Syria do not accept him or expect him to play such a role.
My Lords, to what extent do the Government actively support the efforts of the noble Baroness, Lady Amos, head of the United Nations office for humanitarian assistance, to set up a humanitarian corridor in Syria? What, if any, are the objections expressed by any member of the UN Security Council to the establishment of such a project?
Of course, we fully support the work of the noble Baroness, Lady Amos, who is another great example of a Member of this House playing an incredibly important role on the international stage. We pushed and worked with the noble Baroness on the UN Security Council presidential statement during the UN General Assembly meeting in October this year. That asked specifically for humanitarian agencies to have immediate, unfettered access to all parts of Syria. Therefore, the establishment of a humanitarian corridor is part of a process; it is one of a number of options that could bring that about. However, first and foremost it is about having unfettered access. We have access to all 14 governorate regions of Syria, but unfortunately not to all the populations within those regions. Tragically, millions of people still have not had any humanitarian support for nearly 12 months.
Planning: New Garden Cities
My Lords, the Government already support local communities that seek to provide significant numbers of new homes in new and expanding towns. Between 2013 and 2015 the Government are investing £474 million to support large-scale housing and commercial development in places such as Wokingham in Berkshire and Cranbrook in Devon. An additional £102 million of investment is available for 2015-16. We will publish a prospectus inviting bids for this funding in the spring.
My Lords, with great respect to the noble Baroness, is she aware that she has not answered my Question? It is nearly two years since the Prime Minister said that there would be a policy paper on garden cities, which still has not appeared. Does she not agree that in the face of the housing supply crisis this inaction is deplorable? Is she aware that it took the Attlee Government precisely one year to enact legislation for new towns and to designate Stevenage as the first one, and that within five years, 10 new towns had been started? Does she not agree that we need a bit more Attlee and a bit less apathy from the Government?
I like to think that I am an action kind of girl. I am very happy to inform the noble Lord and this House that this Government are doing exactly that. I am intrigued by the noble Lord’s frustration, which is a little misdirected. I seem to recall that his Government promised five and then 10 eco-towns, and I am not aware that any of them got off the ground. In contrast, we are working with local councils that have locally led proposals—we are working with them now—and because of our support a large number of these larger sites have been unblocked and are ready to start.
Did my noble friend notice that the Answer she gave was not to the Question that the noble Lord asked? He did not ask about new towns but about garden cities. Will she therefore be very careful about the Ebenezer Howard history? His garden cities were built because our towns were unpleasant and were not good places in which to live—but now they are. Will she make sure that the new houses are built in our old towns, which will regenerate them, and not built on open countryside, where we need the land to grow food?
My Lords, I declare an interest as the Member of Parliament for 15 years for Stevenage—the first post-war new town— and as the former Member of Parliament for one of the first garden cities, namely, Letchworth. In that context, given that the housing need is estimated as 1.5 million new houses, will the Government—and the noble Baroness, as an action Minister—carefully consider the possibility of announcing a new list of new towns? That will certainly protect the countryside, the existing cities and, above all, will prevent the ribbon development that would destroy both.
My noble friend is certainly right that we need more new homes, and increase of supply is essential. We think it is really important to be in a position where those plans are brought to fruition. Rather than imposing new towns on any area, we are encouraging towns to come forward with their plans. I have been able to demonstrate today that the Government are supporting those which come forward, and the support that we are giving is making these plans become a reality.
My Lords, is my noble friend aware that I, too, am a former Member for one of the third and fourth generation new towns, Northampton, which I represented for 23 and a half years? Is she aware that there were two reasons for the secret of those new towns, the latter ones? First, they were built adjacent to an existing town that had all the facilities in culture and sport that normal families want. Secondly —initially this seemed to be more controversial—part of their success was that they were run by development corporations which had to consult in depth and work with the local authorities. That decision had to be taken to be successful.
European Union (Referendum) Bill
The Bill was brought from the Commons, read a first time and ordered to be printed.
Redress Schemes for Lettings Agency Work and Property Management Work (Approval and Designation of Schemes) (England) Order 2013
Motion to Approve
Renewable Heat Incentive Scheme (Amendment) (No. 3) Regulations 2013
Motion to Approve
Health and Social Care (Amendment) (Food Standards) Bill [HL]
Bill passed and sent to Commons.
Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Bill
Committee (5th Day)
Relevant documents: 12th Report from the Delegated Powers Committee, 4th Report from the Joint Committee on Human Rights.
Clause 69: Power to issue closure notices
56ZF: Clause 69, page 41, line 31, leave out “habitually”
I shall speak also to Amendments 56ZG, 56ZH, 56ZJ, 56ZK, 56ZL, 56ZQ, 56ZR and 56ZS.
This group of amendments takes us to Clause 69, Chapter 3, on the “Closure of premises associated with nuisance or disorder”. The heading ends with “etc”. We have talked quite a lot about the “etc” in this Bill. I am concerned in these amendments with who may be affected by a closure order. For instance, Clause 69(1) provides that there may be a closure notice if,
“the use of particular premises has resulted, or … is likely … to result, in nuisance to members of the public, or … that there has been, or … is likely soon to be, disorder … associated with the … premises”.
The closure notice will prohibit access by everyone, essentially, subject to some particularities. It occurred to me that premises that may well be affected are pubs, which very often have staff living in them. There are particular rights for people who habitually live on the premises, but “habitually” is quite a high test. The provision that I have just mentioned is about access to the premises. I read that as allowing the people listed to continue to occupy the premises, but I may be wrong in that. The guidance that the Government have issued in draft suggests that it means access in order to collect belongings. Will the Minister confirm, or otherwise, that the closure notice could mean that people will be turned out of where they live? The amendment removes the word “habitually” and Amendment 56ZK is consequential.
Amendment 56ZG would add a right of access not just for the owner but also for an operator. I am again thinking about pubs and other leisure or business places. The owner is not necessarily the person who operates the business on the premises. In a later clause, there are provisions for rights of appeal. Again, I seek to add an operator in there, because I am not clear whether an operator would have an interest in the premises for the purposes of these provisions. Interest in land has a narrower meaning than I read it here. I also suggest that there should be access by anyone designated and agreed by the police who is required to ensure the safety and security of the premises. It would be unreasonable to refuse access if looking after the safety and security of the premises is required, as I assume that it would be.
Amendment ZJ is what my noble friend Lord Greaves would call, “One of those legal things”. As the Minister said, he is occupied “Pendling” today, rather than being in your Lordships’ Chamber. Clause 69(4) states:
“A closure notice may not prohibit access by”,
“and accordingly they must be specified”.
I suggest that they should be deemed to be specified. If they must be specified, what happens if the specification fails to include them? That would be grounds for a challenge over a relatively small issue. I am trying to be more helpful there than perhaps I am in the other amendments.
Amendment 56ZL is about the service of notices. The guidance to which I referred states that it is a local matter as to who is designated by the local authority to serve the notice. I agree with that, so I think that we should say so and not just say any employee of the local authority.
Amendment 56ZR inserts a new subsection on the display of information. There is a defence of a reasonable excuse. I am not sure whether a lack of knowledge, which this amendment would cure, is a sufficient excuse when we are talking about a criminal offence.
Finally, Amendment 56ZS concerns compensation. In Clause 83(5), it seems that the court needs to be satisfied as to all four matters set out. However, that cannot be right, because the first two are mutually exclusive. This is therefore a drafting amendment, but not a drafting amendment for the sake of it. I am suggesting that the court needs to be satisfied as to the matters in paragraphs (a) or (b) and paragraphs (c) and (d). I beg to move.
My Lords, these amendments address aspects of the new closure power. As noble Lords will recall, the power has two key parts: the closure notice and the closure order. Where informal measures have failed, or are inappropriate, the closure notice allows the police or the local authority to close quickly those premises for up to 48 hours out of court. In some cases this will be sufficient to resolve the problem, but in others a longer-term closure order might be required. Following the closure notice, the police force or the local authority that issued it can apply to the court for a closure order to close premises for up to three months, although this can subsequently be extended by the court to a maximum of six months. This allows the local authority or the police to find a solution to the problem while protecting victims and communities.
Amendments 56ZG and 56ZH seek to exempt the operator of the premises and anyone else designated to secure the premises from the effect of a closure notice. The purpose of the closure powers is to restrict the number of people who are able to access premises, and therefore to reduce the nuisance or annoyance associated with it. The clause allows the owner as of right to access the premises so that they may secure and maintain it and obtain any items or information they may need. As my noble friend has explained, there may be cases where a person other than the owner is in control of the premises. Alternatively, the owner may not be able to attend and secure the premises. The closure powers cover a wide range of premises and therefore a wide range of situations. To include the term “operator” may make the definition too wide, enabling a large number of people to claim that they cannot be prohibited from accessing the premises by the closure order. This could have the effect of undermining the closure notice itself.
However, Clause 69 already contains provisions to allow the closure notice to be tailored to the appropriate circumstances, which was a concern my noble friend raised. Subsection (3) allows for the police or for the local authority to define who is prohibited, at what times and in what circumstances. The police or the local authority will therefore consider what the appropriate arrangement is on a case-by-case basis. It is in their interests to have the premises properly and safely secured, as this will help ensure adherence to the closure notice. They will be able to make arrangements to ensure that the appropriate people can access the premises, whether this be the operator or someone designated by the owner.
The list of those whom a closure notice cannot prohibit relates to those who should not be prohibited by an out-of-court notice in any circumstances. It is our view that this should remain as those who habitually live there or who own the premises. The clause adequately caters for my noble friend’s point as regards the operator of the premises.
Amendment 56ZJ seeks to amend Clause 69(4). Subsection (4) states that the closure notice cannot prohibit access to those who,
“habitually live on the premises, or … the owner”.
This means that those people can continue to access and, indeed, occupy the premises. However, a closure order can prohibit those who live in the premises and the owner. A closure order can be made only by the court. That is an important distinction between the two measures. It is for the court to decide who should be prohibited. The breach of closure notice is also a criminal offence, whether or not it is specified. It is important to be clear who can enter premises subject to a closure notice. It also needs to be clear to those who may seek to enter premises as well as those enforcing the closure notice. Whether this is specified or not does not change the fact that the closure notice cannot prohibit those who habitually live on, or own, the premises, as I have already said. Therefore, even where an oversight occurs, it will not result in an individual having breached a closure notice as the notice cannot prohibit access. As I say, a closure order can be made only by the court.
Amendment 56ZQ seeks to allow the owner, occupier or operator of the premises to appeal a closure order. I am pleased to reassure my noble friend that the Bill already allows for this. Clause 77 sets out two categories of people who can appeal a closure order. These are, first, a person on whom the notice was served and, secondly, a person who has an interest in the premises but on whom the closure notice was not served. Clause 72(2) covers the serving of a notice. It lists a number of ways the police or local authority can serve the notice and requires that they do all of these, if possible. Therefore, in the majority of cases, the owner, operator and occupier will be served the notice and therefore can appeal under Clause 77(1)(a). If, for some reason, it was not possible to serve the notice on the owner, operator or occupier, they would be able to appeal under Clause 77(1)(b), which provides that anyone,
“who has an interest in the premises but on whom the closure notice was not served”,
can appeal the closure order. In this clause, “interest” covers those with a financial or legal interest in the premises. Given those reasons, I hope that my noble friend will not move the amendments I have covered.
Amendment 56ZL would allow a local authority to appoint a business partner to serve a closure notice, as my noble friend explained. I acknowledge from my own experience that this can be helpful. Local authorities considered different ways of delivering these services and concluded that the decision to serve a notice should remain with the local authority. I would like to take the amendment away and come back to it on Report.
Amendment 56ZR seeks to ensure that those who may need to know about a closure notice or order are properly informed of its provisions to ensure that it is not breached inadvertently. The Bill requires that the police or local authority,
“must if possible … fix a copy of the notice to at least one prominent place on the premises … each normal means of access … any outbuildings that appear … to be used with or as part of the premises”.
They must also, if possible,
“give a copy of the notice to at least one person who appears … to have control of or responsibility for the premises, and … to the people who live on the premises and to any person who does not live there but was informed (under section 69(6)) that the notice was going to be issued”.
This ensures that, where it is possible to do so, the notice will be clearly displayed and given to the key individuals who may be seeking to access the premises. If, for whatever reason, the notice could not be served and displayed in the way I have indicated, resulting in an individual accidentally entering premises in contravention of a closure order or notice, it could be considered that in the circumstances the individual had a reasonable excuse. They would not then be in breach of the notice or order and would not have committed an offence.
Amendment 56ZS would allow those seeking compensation to have to satisfy only two of the conditions set out in the Bill rather than all four. I listened very carefully to what my noble friend said about the drafting elements, and I am sure that officials have noted that as well. However, the amendment would mean that the court would have to be satisfied only that one of the conditions set out in paragraphs (a), (b) or (c) of Clause 83(5) had been met alongside the condition in paragraph (d). However, I take on board the helpful comment made by my noble friend Lady Hamwee about the drafting. We will reflect on that in advance of Report.
We have deliberately framed these provisions around the four conditions that have to be met. We often decry the growth of compensation culture and we do not want to add to it here. Of course, where the owner or occupier of the premises subject to a closure notice or order has suffered financial loss, was not in any way associated with the anti-social behaviour on the premises and took reasonable steps to prevent such behaviour, that person should be entitled to claim compensation. However, we do not believe that the ability to seek compensation should extend more widely than this. To do so would open up the police and local authorities to numerous claims, and would make it more difficult for applicants to know whether their claim was likely to be successful. Importantly, this amendment might also deter police and local authorities from exercising their closure powers in appropriate cases, thereby exposing victims to continued distress.
Having said that, I note that my noble friend’s intent in tabling this amendment came from a drafting perspective. However, based on the assurances that I have given, I hope that she will withdraw the amendment.
My Lords, of course I shall do so but, on that last point, when I looked again at my amendment in preparation for today’s debate, I thought that this would be something that would be completely bemusing to anyone who did not have the Bill in front of them. I apologise for that. It should be paragraph (a) or (b) and (c) and (d). It also seems that the applicant having incurred financial loss, as set out in paragraph (c), was a given—one has to incur loss to have a claim for damages. So it may or may not need to be said.
I am grateful to my noble friend for the other points that he has covered. On whether or not one refers to the operator—I am thinking about businesses—we are back to guidance. My noble friend talked about discretion on a case-by-case basis. He is aware that I would prefer to rely on guidance as little as possible.
I remain concerned about the term “habitually resident”. There is a danger of people who live in the premises being adversely affected when they should not be caught up in this. Where will they go?
I note that the Minister talked about “interest”, where it is used in the context of a financial and legal interest, as being something between interest in property and the normal, general meaning of the term. I will think about that. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 56ZF withdrawn.
Amendments 56ZG to 56ZK not moved.
Clause 69 agreed.
Clauses 70 and 71 agreed.
Clause 72: Service of notices
Amendment 56ZL not moved.
Clause 72 agreed.
Clause 73: Power of court to make closure orders
Amendment 56ZM not moved.
Clause 73 agreed.
Clause 74: Temporary orders
Amendment 56ZN not moved.
Clause 74 agreed.
Clause 75: Extension of closure orders
Amendment 56ZP not moved.
Clause 75 agreed.
Clause 76 agreed.
Clause 77: Appeals
Amendment 56ZQ not moved.
Clause 77 agreed.
Clause 78 agreed.
Clause 79: Offences
Amendment 56ZR not moved.
Clause 79 agreed.
Clauses 80 to 82 agreed.
Clause 83: Compensation
Amendment 56ZS not moved.
Clause 83 agreed.
Clauses 84 and 85 agreed.
56A: After Clause 85, insert the following new Clause—
“Crime and disorder reduction: development control
(1) The Secretary of State shall designate a body representative of chief officers of police for the purposes of this section.
(2) A body designated under this section shall publish guidelines that specify for a particular type of development the measures that should be included in that development to promote—
(a) crime and disorder reduction, and(b) the prevention of anti-social behaviour.(3) Guidelines under this section shall only be produced following consultation with organisations that represent—
(a) local authorities, and(b) persons engaged in the design and construction of developments requiring planning permission.(4) A planning authority may, in respect of any application that it receives for planning permission, specify as a condition for the approval of that planning permission that the development concerned must follow guidelines published under this section.
(5) A planning authority may only specify a condition under subsection (4) if it is satisfied that to do so would promote—
(a) crime and disorder reduction, or(b) the prevention of anti-social behaviour.”
My Lords, the problem with this Bill and the discussions that we have had in Committee is that, throughout, it has not always been clear who wants the changes that are proposed in it. Most of the proposals made by the Government are not evidence-based and many of them are ill thought through. Furthermore, there is a serious danger that the Bill will be irrelevant. Overall, levels of crime have declined over the past 15 or so years, and the trend in burglary is particularly marked. However, there is no cause for complacency there. A report on the front page of today’s Times talks about a, “Sudden surge in property crime”. Therefore, the stability with which we have seen crime figures move downwards is not something that we can take for granted.
However, unmentioned in the Bill is the fact that the Government are seeking to do something that would have the effect of undermining all their objectives in this legislation. Indeed, they are seeking to undermine the progress that has been made over the past 20 or so years in reducing crime levels. Certainly, over the past 20 years those building new developments—new-build homes, refurbished homes and so on, schools, play areas, hospitals and many others—have increasingly been informed by or have adopted the principles of Secured by Design.
What was achieved over that 20-year period under this initiative carried out under the auspices of the Association of Chief Police Officers and adopted by many local authorities? First, Secured by Design developments—those using the approved products and materials—are now half as likely to be burgled, and show a reduction of 25% in criminal damage. That is evidence that these measures make a difference. Secondly, the additional cost of using Secured by Design standards in the average home is modest, estimated at only around £170 per property, yet, as I have already indicated, these are changes that make a real difference to the risk of burglary and criminal damage.
Thirdly, it is estimated that in one year alone, some 700,000 burglaries have the potential to be thwarted if appropriate security devices are installed—representing an annual saving of more than £1.97 billion. Fourthly, the Association of British Insurers has estimated that the introduction of Secured by Design standards across the UK would bring more than £3.2 billion-worth of savings to the economy over 20 years. Finally, householders who are not offered security recommendations after a burglary are 69% more likely to suffer a repeat incident than those who are offered advice. Therefore, the lesson is that the Secured by Design initiative has made a real difference. This is a success story that is widely copied and cited internationally, and it is the subject of many academic studies testifying to its efficacy.
What is the Government’s approach to something that clearly makes a difference and clearly works? It is the old, traditional approach of, “If it ain’t broke, take it to pieces anyway”. I appreciate that the Minister is not responsible for the activities of the Department for Communities and Local Government, but we are always assured that government is a seamless whole, working together in the interests of the people of this country.
The Department for Communities and Local Government issued a consultation document seeking views on its recent review of building regulations and housing standards. The proposals put forward by the department suggested a two-tiered standard of security: a basic minimum level that would be generally required and a so-called “enhanced” standard. The basic standard is demonstrably inadequate and has been shown to have little security benefit. Yes, that basic standard might specify stronger locks; but if it does not say anything about the flimsiness of the doors, you may have a nice, firm lock, but the door will burst open with one firm kick while the lock remains in place. That does not do much for security, though it may please the lock-makers.
Even the so-called “enhanced” standard would be lower than the existing Secured by Design standards. It is most significant that that could be required by local authorities only where what is described as a “compelling” case exists for the higher standard to be the norm. In legal terms, “compelling” is a strong test to meet. To make a compelling case, a local authority would have to demonstrate that the development would be subject to an elevated rate of burglary—you will be expected to be able to demonstrate that before the building is even built. Moreover, you will have to determine that there will be a higher than normal impact of burglary on tenants even before a property is let.
That is nonsense. It goes without saying that this test will be almost impossible to pass in respect of a new development. As the test has to be applied site by site, it is not even clear that it will simplify matters for developers; it is likely to produce confusion and added uncertainties for them, because when they submit a proposal they will not know whether the authority will attempt to apply the enhanced standard.
As I said, the enhanced standard will not be as beneficial as the proven Secured by Design guidelines. It will not be open to a local authority to require the proven Secured by Design guidelines, even if it wishes to do so; and to apply even the so-called “enhanced” standards, it will have to go through a complicated process to demonstrate the compelling case required by the Department for Communities and Local Government, with all the implicit threats of legal action that that entails.
This is the antithesis of localism. In my naivety, I assumed that the Department for Communities and Local Government was supposed to promote localism. If this is promoting localism, it is a very strange way of doing it, because it removes from local authorities the power to set what they regard as the most appropriate standards in their area. In practice, it is a centrally driven dumbing down of standards: the Department for Communities and Local Government is dumbing down the standards of security that must be met by new developments. That is putting communities and householders at greater risk; it is putting at risk progress in reducing crime, especially burglary.
When the Minister responds, will he tell me where the demand is for this dumbing down? Who is it—apart from the burgling fraternity, obviously—saying, “We want lesser security”? I am not aware of this great demand. What representations were received by the Department for Communities and Local Government before it made these proposals? Did it consult the Home Office? If it did, what did the Home Office say? Did it say, “Yes, please, Department for Communities and Local Government; undermine all the work we have been doing to reduce crime for the past 20 years by removing these requirements for better security in the home”? Did it listen to local authorities? Did it listen to the communities affected and those who would have to live in ill-secured properties?
This has all been put forward as a simplification of the planning process. It has been suggested that, somehow, Secured by Design standards have been the cause of stalled developments. Could we be given an example of a development that has stalled because of the requirement to have Secured by Design standards? I rather suspect that no such development exists.
If there has been any communication centrally to say that these standards ought to be lessened or lifted, it has probably been produced by some intern working for one of the groups of housebuilders, who has drawn up a list of all the regulatory requirements that they are subject to and said, “We don’t like them”. Where is the evidence that there is a real problem? What world do the officials and Ministers who support this measure live in? Have any of them had to live in an area blighted by excessive crime that is facilitated by poor design and inadequate security standards? These things make a real difference to people’s lives. They are the sort of thing that the rest of the Bill is about.
If we believe in localism, local authorities should be able to choose the level of security standards that they consider appropriate for the communities that they represent. That is the whole principle. Local residents elect their local councillors to protect their local interests and to make local determinations of policy. So what is the problem that Ministers think that they will solve by preventing that local, democratic discretion? What this risks is that progress made over the past two decades in designing out crime, reducing burglary and making anti-social behaviour harder will be put into reverse. This is, in short, an act of vandalism—anti-social behaviour of the worst sort.
The measure also risks adding to the costs of the criminal justice system. Indeed, if we throw away the advantage that designing out crime has given us, how will our communities cope in the future, with a diminished police force and neighbourhood policing no more than a distant memory, while the threat of crime, as the Times reports today, rises again? Who benefits from this short-sighted policy? Obviously burglars do, and maybe developers who will see a modest increase in their profits. But yet again we seem to have a Government who neglect the many in favour of a privileged few—in this case, burglars.
That is why I tabled this amendment. It requires the Home Secretary to ask the Association of Chief Police Officers or a successor body to draw up Secured by Design guidelines. It requires that those guidelines are produced following consultation with local authorities, builders and developers, and it gives local planning authorities the option of making the following of these guidelines a condition of any planning permission that they make. It is a localist and permissive power.
The noble Lord, Lord Greaves, is—thankfully—not in his place today. He put forward an amendment that I assume will not be moved, which is a wrecking amendment. It would render the guidelines voluntary for the developers. I am not sure what purpose he had, although no doubt he would have explained it to us at some length had he been given the opportunity. But my amendment gives the Government the opportunity to think again. It allows them to put prevention first. Surely protecting people against crime is an investment—better than facing the spiralling costs of enforcement while waiting for the unproven measures envisaged in the Bill. It allows the Government to put localism first. If local elected councillors choose to prioritise Secured by Design, they will be able to with the amendment. If they choose not to, that, too, is their prerogative. If local people want higher security standards, they will elect local councillors accordingly. My amendment is all about localism, crime prevention and better security for communities. I beg to move.
Amendment 56AZA (to Amendment 56A) not moved.
My Lords, I support the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Harris. I need to declare a new interest to the House that has happened in the past year. I am one of the patrons of Neighbourhood Watch and Home Watch. At an awards ceremony for that organisation, I spoke on the same platform as the noble Lord, Lord Taylor. I will make a simple point. As a chief police officer, I lost count of the numbers of Secretaries of State and Police Ministers I stood next to on platforms who supported Secured by Design. Therefore, it seems rather odd that a Government have come forward to remove something that has clearly appeared successful to politicians of all parties.
Secondly—I will keep this brief—as I understand it, the assessment of whether an enhanced standard is needed will be based on crime maps—that wonderful invention that both parties have claimed over the years. If this is a development on a brown site, there will not be any crime. Therefore, the brown site will be built with the lowest possible standard. This does not seem very sensible. I urge the Government to look again at supporting the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Harris, which puts back that which does not need to be lost.
My Lords, I apologise for missing the first moment or two of debate on this amendment. As one of the Ministers who went round the countryside talking about the importance of Secured by Design, I merely say quietly to the Minister that there is a great deal to be said for any actions which mean that you get started right. So much of what we do is retro-fit. It is being faced with a difficult situation and saying: “What the blazes do we do; how do we actually sort this out?”.
The point about this concept is that you start off right, and say from the very beginning: “Would we not do better if we organised things so that it was more difficult for people to find themselves in a vulnerable position, and more difficult for those who wish to be criminals actually to be criminals?”. My reason for speaking is this: I look round the House and it is probably true that there is a high proportion of us who were lucky enough to have been brought up in circumstances where our environments encouraged us to behave properly. That may not be true of everybody, but of an awful lot of us. The older I get, the clearer I become that the environmental effects upon children and young people are really important.
This is just one aspect of it—a tiny, but very important one. I hope that the Government will think carefully about this. I will not indulge in the discussion about interns writing lists of things, but it is not true that this is a burden. It is what any sensible developer ought to do without any question. It is the natural way of developing today. I say that and declare an interest because I advise a number of developers, trying to make them do these things in any case, so I know perfectly well that this is what they would normally do. I hope that the Government will think very hard before this is removed from what ought to be the natural way of things.
My Lords, I feel slightly like the meat in the middle of a robust sandwich, because I am afraid that I shall voice a slightly different view. In addition to my declared interests in connection with the Local Government Association and the National Association of Local Councils, I am also a chartered surveyor in private practice. To some extent I become involved with issues of design, and although I am not any sort of specialist security consultant, security becomes a necessary part of that.
I re-read with some interest what the noble Lord, Lord Harris, said on Second Reading. I hope that I listened with sufficient care to what he has just said, but while not actually disagreeing with any of the ingredients that he set out, I would voice a word of caution about his conclusions. First, it must be said that this is about a commercial initiative of the Association of Chief Police Officers, or rather a subsidiary company of ACPO. It is an accreditation-based approach in which, as I understand it, Secured by Design would become the accreditation body and would set the standards. As I see it, this amendment paves the way to giving this statutory backing. The question is: do the Committee think that that is appropriate or that it is proof against later mission creep?
Secondly, I asked a building control officer of my acquaintance, quite a senior man who goes around lecturing on these matters, what he thought about Secured by Design as a necessary ingredient in building control and planning matters. He did not think that security should be singled out as a category for statutory treatment, or that the regulatory burdens should in some way be increased thereby. That said, I feel sure that, where it is necessary and desirable to do so, developers and others will be pleased to adopt Secured by Design standards on a voluntary basis and as a marketing tool. That is entirely fair.
Residents also need in the context of their built environment, whether it is Secured by Design or not, themselves to be vigilant and to take reasonable steps to ensure that the opportunities for criminal activity against their homes and belongings in a residential setting are minimised. That is inevitably a movable feast. There might be a perverse incentive here. If people feel that Secured by Design somehow gives a warranty or guarantee or underpins a relatively crime-free environment, they may tend to forget those things. I think that getting people better in tune with the real risks, bearing in mind that this is a movable feast and that criminal activity is always changing and evolving, might be a better incentive. I will listen with interest to what the Minister has to say.
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Harris, who first raised this issue at Second Reading. It can sometimes be difficult across government to see how the actions of one department impact on another. I say to the noble Earl, Lord Lytton, that the reason that the amendment is before us today is that Secured by Design is in great danger of being totally undermined by the action of the Department for Communities and Local Government. There seems to be a holy grail of deregulation, to see what we can pull out of regulation, without making a proper assessment of where regulation is good or bad, of what is its impact.
Secured by Design is there to protect people in their homes. One of the non-violent crimes that causes the most distress to anybody is the intrusion into and burglary of one's home. It is not necessarily about theft of items, although they may be things of great personal, sentimental or monetary value; it is the intrusion into one’s home, the place where we expect to be the most safe, but where we suddenly feel the least safe and the most insecure. That is what Secured by Design sought to address.
I have to say: it works. The noble Lord, Lord Deben, mentioned his experience of it. I was looking at some of the case studies of what was done and how much difference it made. Secured by Design case studies are interesting because they show the situation before and after. Prior to the work being undertaken in Nottingham City Council area, a particular estate, Bells Lane and Broxtowe, suffered 227 burglaries. Following the work undertaken by Secured by Design, there was a 42% reduction in the number of burglaries, yet in the city as a whole there was a reduction of just 21%, so it was inevitable that Secured by Design had an impact there.
The Secured by Design estates in West Yorkshire outperformed the region as a whole on burglary of dwellings offences. Between August 2007 and 2008, there were 19,701 burglaries, but only two of those were in Secured by Design properties. Similar research in Glasgow demonstrated that total housebreaking crime fell by 26%, while attempted housebreaking decreased by 59% at properties with new Secured by Design doors and windows. So there is clearly a case that that is extremely effective.
That is what surprised me about the consultation by the Department for Communities and Local Government, which was introduced under housing standards, building regulations, and so on.
The noble Lord is chuntering away to me, but I cannot hear a word he is saying, so he should know that I cannot respond.
It is a consultation but it was in August, and I recall that when we discussed it at Second Reading the Minister seemed to be unaware of the consultation and could not tell us then if the Home Office had responded to the DCLG. It would be helpful if he could say what response the DCLG has had now from the Home Office. I do not think that the noble Lord, Lord Harris, is overstating the issue when he says that the proposals being consulted on—some of us are a bit more sceptical about government consultations perhaps than others these days—undermine the standards currently being met by Secured by Design properties.
It was interesting to see the response from neighbourhood watch, in which the noble Lord, Lord Blair, said he was involved. Since neighbourhood watch arrived 30 years ago, the number of domestic burglaries has fallen sharply, due in no small part to the development of high security standards for locks, doors and windows and the design of open spaces. These kinds of issues have really made a difference.
The noble Lord, Lord Harris, asked who asked for these changes. The noble Lord even mentioned developers. My experience of dealing with developers when I was building regulations Minister was that many of them wanted to see the higher standards. Good developers feel that they will be undercut by bad developers if they want to meet the high standards, whether in security, building regs, the kind of materials they use or environmental works in the home. They find it very difficult to compete with what they would call the cowboys, who do not meet the same high standards. I would find it difficult if developers were asking for this change. I do not think there is a national union of housebreakers in existence yet, so I doubt if it was that. It would be great if the Minister was able to say to us again, “This has been taken off the table. We wish to continue with Secured by Design. We have spoken to the DCLG. It understands our concerns and the necessity for this”. Will he answer the questions raised at Second Reading and today about why this was ever considered, because it is clearly such a ridiculous move?
My Lords, perhaps I could seek some clarification from the noble Baroness. As I understood it, the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Haringey, moved this amendment in the context of new-build—that was certainly the sense I got. A number of the examples that the noble Baroness, Lady Smith, has outlined appear to relate to the retrofit of existing buildings. The two are not the same. We have 23 million to 24 million houses in the country, of which new-build is a tiny proportion at any given moment. If we are talking about the application of Secured by Design to existing buildings—in other words, retrofit—how is that going to be affected by this amendment?
Perhaps for the convenience of the Committee, I could respond very quickly. My amendment is couched in respect of planning permissions. If it is simply an alteration to an existing building that does not have a planning impact, obviously it does not apply. The purpose of this amendment—if I get really irritated by the Minister of course I will put it to a vote—is to try to get clarity as to why the Government are making this change and why they are doing something that is so potentially retrograde.
The point that the noble Earl has just made highlights why this is so dangerous. Most of the changes have happened in new buildings or major refurbishments. It is a slow burn. It has taken 20 years for the impact of these changes to be seen and felt. If you stop the higher standards, it will take another five, 10, 15 or 20 years before we see the consequences and the sorts of problems that used to exist in many estates and developments 20 or 30 years ago, which I am sure many of your Lordships will remember. That is why it is so important. Making the change now will not have an immediate effect in three months’, six months’ or 12 months’ time but it will have an effect over the next five, 10 or 20 years. That is why this change is so short-sighted.
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Harris, whom I do not want to annoy because we have a lot to do today, has brought back something that he raised at Second Reading. If I was unable to respond to him then, I think he will understand that there are no proposals in the Bill about any changes to planning procedures. He is seeking to introduce a new measure which, I hope to demonstrate, rather presumes the consultation.
As the noble Baroness, Lady Smith of Basildon, should know, that consultation finished on 31 October and the Government are considering their response to it. I suggest that the noble Lord, Lord Harris, is rather jumping the gun in seeking to impose on the Bill a particular predetermination of that consultation in advance of the Government coming back on it. However, we can all agree on the important role that design and security measures can play in helping to prevent crime—I agree with my noble friend Lord Deben on that—and I am grateful for the opportunity that this debate gives me to explain how the Government are going about it.
In England, the police have for many years successfully worked to prevent crime and anti-social behaviour through their close engagement with developers and builders, and local planning authorities. Working alongside them from the very earliest stages of the design process, they offer specialist advice on the measures which can prevent crime and anti-social behaviour. The guidance on which they base their advice is shaped by the central police crime prevention management service—the Association of Chief Police Officers’ Crime Prevention Initiatives Ltd—and promoted under the corporate title Secured by Design. As the noble Lord, Lord Harris, says, Secured by Design is a well respected brand that, among other things, provides guidance on the layout and design of developments, and on security standards. I agree with him that involving the police in shaping places and setting standards for secure buildings has been worthwhile and has undoubtedly served to prevent many crimes.
However, I disagree with his call to legislate to designate a body of police leaders and then to charge it with publishing guidelines about the measures to be included in each type of development. On a practical level, the police are already doing this and will continue to do so. It is right that they are reviewing the standards for building security. Over the years these have grown considerably in number, making a review sensible, but the police do not need a statutory duty to do this. In addition, Crime Prevention Initiatives Ltd, through Secured by Design, already works closely with standards test houses, manufacturers and, increasingly, with building developers. I am not persuaded that we should seek to prescribe its working model in legislation, as subsection (3) of the proposed new clause seeks to do.
Subsection (4) of the proposed new clause seeks to define the way in which the police guidance is used by local planning authorities. The reforms we in Parliament have made to the planning system continue to place safety and crime prevention as a key part of sustainable development. The National Planning Policy Framework—your Lordships have been in this Chamber when listening to discussions on that document—promotes the design of places that are safe and where crime and disorder, and the fear of crime, do not undermine the quality of life or community cohesion, so I am at one with the noble Baroness, Lady Smith of Basildon, on this issue.
The recently published draft planning practice guidance, which supports national planning policy, covers safety, crime, anti-social behaviour and counterterrorism. It continues to highlight the importance of engagement with crime prevention design advisers and counterterrorism security advisers at local level.
Both the noble Baroness and the noble Lord, Lord Harris, asked what discussions there have been between DCLG and the Home Office. The noble Lord will be fully aware—that is why I am confident about replying on behalf of the Government even though my department is the Home Office and not DCLG—of the principle of collective responsibility. While DCLG takes the lead in consulting on changes to planning guidelines, these are government proposals and of course the Home Office has had discussions with DCLG on this and other issues. Councils will continue to be able to consider the locations and layouts of sites and proposals when drawing up local plans and deciding on individual applications. They do not need a further statutory duty to do this.
Turning to perhaps the most complex area—the review of housing standards, to which the noble Lord referred at Second Reading and again today—the review process is holistic, taking into account all standards applying to housing. The review is intended to make it simpler for local authorities to apply the right standards. Security is seen as one of those core standards; we want it to be an integral part of development at the right level where local authorities believe that this is necessary. That is the way we have consulted on proposals for national standards and we continue to work with ACPO—and Secured by Design, for that matter—to evaluate the best way forward.
The Government are currently working through the recent housing standards review to simplify the way in which technical standards such as those in Section 2 of the Secured by Design standards are used in new housing developments. Proposals on the recent consultation—about which I recently made a mistake: I said 31 October but it was actually 27 October and I apologise to the Committee for that error—explored how a national security standard could be introduced for the first time. The proposed standard includes two possible levels of specification, with the higher level intended to mirror the current standards in Section 2 of Secured by Design. The intention is not to weaken these standards but to ensure that households adopting the higher specification will benefit from the same level of protection as they do now.
A range of options for implementation have been proposed, including possible integration of these standards into the building regulations or allowing local authorities to retain discretion in requiring higher standards of security—as they do now—providing that there is suitable evidence of need, and that the viability of development is not unduly affected by such a requirement. These are matters on which the consultation sought views and which we are now analysing.
The fact that security is one of only four areas in which the Government are considering national standards amply demonstrates the importance of this issue, and underlines our continuing commitment to ensure that new homes are built from the outset with measures in place that we know will significantly reduce households’ vulnerability to burglary in particular.
However, moving from the current position to one where national standards are adopted brings with it some complexity. By necessity, this includes reassessing the way in which compliance can be most effectively delivered. The Government will be looking at responses to the consultation over coming weeks in deciding how to proceed; officials remain in regular dialogue with those supporting the national policing lead for crime prevention and representatives of Secured by Design. However, it would be wrong for me to pre-empt the outcome of the review at this time. I believe it would be wrong for this Committee to seek to pre-empt the outcome of that review at this time. For the reasons that I have outlined, I ask the noble Lord, Lord Harris, to withdraw his amendment.
My Lords, I am particularly grateful to the noble Lords, Lord Blair of Boughton and Lord Deben, and my noble friend Lady Smith for their support for the intention of this amendment. The point that the noble Lord, Lord Deben, made—that this is what sensible developers ought to do—is absolutely right. The problem is whether in circumstances where there is pressure on costs all developers will be so sensible.
The noble Earl, Lord Lytton, raised the legal status of ACPO, which I know is a matter of concern in a number of quarters, including the Home Office. This amendment does not specifically refer to Secured by Design or to the Association of Chief Police Officers. I did as shorthand, but I am aware that there are a lot of discussions going on at the moment about the future of ACPO and, going forward, whether any agglomeration of chief police officers should be in the form of a limited company will have to be revisited. The fact that it is a commercial initiative, as the noble Earl, Lord Lytton, rather disparagingly called it, does not alter the principle. The principle is that there needs to be a system of best practice that is duly recognised and takes note of the policing experience in reducing crime in a particular area.
This amendment does not refer just to housing. It also refers to developments such as schools, play areas and so on. It is about building security in at the earliest stage. I remember the very early involvement of the police in the discussions that took place about the building of Wembley Stadium and security in terms not only of counterterrorism but of the safety and everything else of the people using it.
I am grateful to the Minister for responding at length. He pointed out that this is still at consultation stage. I hope your Lordships will forgive me if I am not entirely uncynical about many consultations. Many government consultations now have the tone of, “We have decided what we are going to do. We will now allow a minimum period for you to comment on it, and then we will go ahead with it anyway”. However, let me be positive and assume that this is a genuine consultation—a genuine invitation with an open mind, which I think is the phraseology used in legal cases about consultation—to seek advice.
The advice that I am giving and that many others have given is that these proposals do not work. The Minister said that this is a new clause and is not in the Bill. That is exactly my problem with the Bill. It talks about anti-social behaviour and reducing crime. Here is something that is potentially going to make crime worse, and it is not in the Bill. That is why I have tried to introduce it into the Bill. The timing is extremely beneficial in that, assuming that the Government genuinely have an open mind on these matters, they have the opportunity of reading what is said in Committee today and considering further. I hope that the Minister will take it across to his counterparts in the Department for Communities and Local Government who might not otherwise be studying the Hansard of this debate quite so avidly.
The Minister said that he agrees about the importance of involving the police at an earlier stage. My understanding of the DCLG document—which is albeit just out for consultation at the moment, although the Government have had more than four weeks to consider the results of that consultation—is that the effect of the Government’s proposals is that it would not be open to a local authority to specify standards that go beyond the minimum or enhanced standards specified. You can have a local authority, locally elected, that says, “We would really like to go along with the Secured by Design standards, but we are not allowed to because we have to go along with either the basic level or the enhanced level”. The enhanced level is not the equivalent of the Secured by Design standard; it is a lower standard in practice.
Will the Minister tell us whether or not we will know the outcome of the Government’s consideration on this point before we come back to the Bill on Report? If this is not going to be possible, will we know the outcome of the consultation before Third Reading? If the Government go ahead with these changes, will Parliament have any right to intervene before they are made?
The timing of the legislative programme is not in my hands, so I cannot give the noble Lord a clear response on that. Parliament seems to have a way of raising these issues, even if the Bill does not include a proposal from the Government in this context. Noble Lords are quite capable of raising issues at any point and the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Haringey, gives a perfect example of how Parliament can be used.
I am grateful to the Minister for addressing the question, but I am not sure that he answered the question, which was whether we would know the outcome of the consultation by the time the Bill reaches Report and Third Reading. If he is saying that the usual channels may decide either to accelerate the Bill—they have done very well so far—or that it is going off into the distant future, then that is a different matter. If he were to give an indication of the date when the consultation will be responded to by Government and government policy becomes clear, that would help us understand whether or not we will be able to return to it in the course of the Bill.
I suspect the Minister’s silence suggests that he does not have the information to hand. Perhaps he could write to me so that I am aware of the timetable for this. If security is a core standard, why will local authorities not be able to go to the higher standard? It would be helpful if the Minister could give us an assurance that they will be able to choose their standard and are not obliged to follow either the basic or so-called enhanced rate. In the hope that the Minister will enlighten us on some of these points between now and Report, I withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 56A withdrawn.
Clause 86: New ground for serious offences or breach of requirements etc
56AA: Clause 86, page 52, line 37, after “met” insert “and that such an order is proportionate”
Part 5 of the Bill is about recovery of possession of dwelling-houses on grounds of anti-social behaviour. This amendment—and others in this group in my name—proposes that the court’s response should be proportionate and that this should be written into the legislation. I very much support the thrust of the amendments in this group in the name of the noble Baronesses, Lady O’Loan and Lady Young, which are more oppositionist than mine.
The draft guidance on the purpose of the new absolute—I emphasise that word—ground for possession says that it is,
“intended for the most serious cases of anti-social behaviour and landlords should ensure that the ground is used selectively.”
So it is an absolute ground but is to be used selectively. I am very uncomfortable with that. If it is to be used selectively, the legislation should make it clear that the absolute ground is not an absolute ground to be applied in every instance. The Joint Committee on Human Rights, which made this point in relation to exclusion from dwelling houses under other clauses, takes the view that reliance on the Human Rights Act, which the Government have prayed in aid, is not satisfactory when Parliament has the opportunity, as we do here, to define the test in the legislation.
Another group of amendments seeks to leave out the term “visiting” so that possession could not be sought on the basis of behaviour by someone who is visiting premises. Can the Minister be specific as to what may or may not be proportionate to fulfil the conditions in the grounds for possession of properties under various tenures—that is, possession of somebody else’s home—when the visitor may not even be a regular and frequent visitor but an occasional one? I would not be persuaded that the fact that someone was a regular and frequent visitor and behaved badly should be grounds for possession.
Amendment 56AE is a small amendment on the regulations about reviewing the requirements. Sometimes whether something “may” or “shall” be provided seems to be a matter of how you feel on the day and how the wind is blowing. I have always had a problem with understanding the term “may in particular” if it means that you must do something. Frankly, some of the Bill is hard enough without it being elliptical.
My noble friend Lord Greaves has tabled a number of amendments to these provisions, to which I will speak briefly. He seeks to change the term “locality” to “vicinity” and asks whether the term “locality” means the same as where it is used elsewhere in the legislation—for instance, with public spaces protection orders—and whether it is wider or narrower than “neighbourhood”. Of course, in any event, how appropriate is it here? His Amendments 56ACA and 56ABA on Clause 86 deal with conditions surrounding a breach of an IPNA which is not in the dwelling house or its locality, but which is capable of causing nuisance or annoyance to a resident or occupant of housing in the locality or to the landlord or manager. Therefore, as my noble friend says, something that could annoy outside the locality would fulfil the condition and allow possession to be obtained, and a person on his own with nobody else in sight might fulfil the words in the Bill. There would be considerable evidential problems if the person was on his own and nobody else could see it, but in terms of the strict wording he may be right.
Finally—as far as I am concerned—Amendment 56ADD would leave out Clause 87(8), which directs the tenant who needs help or advice about possession notice to,
“take it immediately to a Citizens’ Advice Bureau, a housing aid centre, a law centre or a solicitor”.
My noble friend queries whether it is appropriate to include a reference to the citizens advice bureaux in legislation. Of course, the very obvious questions here are about willing the ends by suggesting that a tenant should go there to seek help, but not willing the means to do so. I beg to move.
My Lords, Amendments 56ADC and 56AL are in my name and that of my noble friend Lady O’Loan. As something urgent has come up, I am afraid that my noble friend cannot be here today. Essentially, I tabled these amendments in order to find out a bit more about what the Government see as the implications of Clauses 86 and 89. My understanding of the Government’s case is that they want to speed up the process of evictions from social housing in order to,
“better protect victims in the most serious cases of anti-social behaviour and criminality”.
I am sure that we would all support that.
The DCLG consultation described the proposed new measure on possession as limited to cases of proven,
“serious housing-related anti-social behaviour”,
which suggests that there would be limited application of these clauses rather than using them as a way of increasing the number of evictions. It would be helpful if the Minister could clarify this point because only one of the triggers for mandatory possession in this section relates to a conviction for seriously violent crime. The other triggers relate to breaches of injunctions or criminal behaviour orders.
Given the high rate of breaching of ASBOs over the years of approaching 58%—of that figure, another 43% of all ASBOs issued have been breached more than once—there does not seem to be proportionality in these sanctions. Where is the discretion to allow for different circumstances and for the fact that approximately seven in 10 children breach their ASBO, often due to lack of support or organisation rather than calculated non-compliance? It seems that this proposed new power must inevitably lead to a rise in evictions. If this is not the Government’s intention, will the Minister tell the Committee how the Government will prevent such a rise? These clauses could have very severe implications for under-18s. It will affect children who have done nothing wrong but who have had the bad luck to share a dwelling with somebody who has. The clauses could also be deemed detrimental to the children and young people who do breach or offend.
I am concerned in particular that children will suffer. There do not appear to be many, or any, safeguards. Therefore children will suffer due to the impact of, potentially, one person’s behaviour, especially as a family evicted on these grounds may be deemed to have made themselves intentionally homeless—that is, of course, what the amendment seeks to address—and are thus unlikely to be rehoused in comparable accommodation in their neighbourhood. How does this sanction address the underlying causes of anti-social behaviour? Surely making a whole family homeless due to the behaviour of one family member, or indeed a visitor, is both a both a double punishment and counterproductive. My understanding is that even if mandatory eviction would not amount to a breach of the human rights convention, it is still a public policy proposal that doubly punishes the most vulnerable families in our society. A mandatory requirement for the judge to order possession removes all but the bare minimum of judicial discretion in deciding whether or not an individual or a family is to be evicted.
Can the Minister explain how it is desirable that by the simple act of having a visitor in a dwelling place, a family might be made homeless? How is someone supposed to know that a visitor has breached an ASBO? How will these clauses be policed and monitored? I am particularly concerned that care leavers, who may be helped through the allocation of a local authority flat when they leave care, often find it difficult to prevent local drug dealers or other undesirable elements subject to ASBOs entering their property and sometimes settling in for a long stay. What would the consequences be for a young person in this position who felt bullied into providing accommodation for someone in breach of an ASBO?
My Lords, I hope that my noble friend will be very careful about not accepting the amendment for a very important reason. The noble Baroness talked about the most vulnerable people in society. From my experience as a Member of Parliament, the most vulnerable people I ever came across were decent families whose whole lives had been made totally unacceptable by their neighbours. I am afraid it is one of the facts of life that up till now no measures have been introduced that have dealt with this issue. Unless these measures are very serious, these people will go on suffering, not just for a year or two but very often for whole lifetime. The situation is remarkably regular; it is not one of those things that happens occasionally. Indeed, I fear that it has become more likely today than it was when I first started being a Member of Parliament 40 years ago.
This particular part of the Bill will be received with considerable support by those most concerned about the most vulnerable—people who cannot defend themselves and are subject to years of abuse by neighbours who seem unable to take account of all the legislation that we have had. ASBOs and the like, as the noble Baroness said, are very often ignored, and we have no other way in which to deal with this. So I hope that we recognise that we have to be tougher than we would normally like to be. I say that as someone who does not have a reputation in this House for being overly tough. If you have not seen the state to which some people’s lives are driven by these sorts of neighbours, you really do not understand why this measure is so terribly important.
I endorse what my noble friend said about the need to protect those who are the victims of anti-social behaviour. Very often they are just the sort of people who are held up as being vulnerable to the effects of the provisions in the Bill. From my experience of a barrister practising for public authorities, I add the observation that it has become quite a regular feature of litigation that public authorities are sued for failing to take sufficient steps to protect those who are the victims of anti-social behaviour. The Bill will at least provide some form of additional power to give an answer to those sorts of claims.
My Lords, the amendments with which we are associated relate to Clauses 86 and 89 and whether they should remain in the Bill in their present form. We also wait with considerable interest to hear the Government’s response to the different points that have already been made in the debate on this group of amendments.
As the government documentation on the Bill indicates, the existing grounds for possession for anti-social behaviour are discretionary and require the county court, on application from the landlord for possession on an anti-social behaviour ground, to decide that the ground is made out and that it is reasonable to grant possession. The Government say that it takes on average seven months to get an outcome from the courts in anti-social behaviour possession cases, and that the existing discretionary grounds apply only to anti-social behaviour and criminality in, or in the locality of, the property. Indeed, in the light of the riots two and a half years ago, the Government are also proposing later in the Bill to extend the scope of the discretionary ground so that landlords can seek to evict a tenant who adversely affects the lives of those in neighbouring communities through rioting and looting, or who attacks or threatens landlords’ staff away from their homes.
The purpose of the new absolute ground for possession, say the Government, is to speed up the possession process in cases where anti-social behaviour or criminality has already been proven by another court. The Government’s draft guidance states that the court must grant possession subject to any available human rights defence, provided that set procedures have been followed. In addition, the court’s discretion to suspend possession will be limited to no later than 14 days, or six weeks in exceptional circumstances.
It is worth reflecting on the conditions that have to be met for a grant of possession; at least one of them has to be met. The first is that a tenant, a member of the tenant’s household or a person visiting the property, has been convicted of a serious offence. The second is that the tenant, a member of the tenant’s household or a person visiting the property has been found by a court to have breached an injunction to prevent nuisance and annoyance—in other words, an IPNA. The third is that the tenant, a member of the tenant’s household or a person visiting the property has been convicted of breaching a criminal behaviour order. The fourth is that a tenant’s property has been closed for more than 48 hours under a closure order for anti-social behaviour. The last is that a tenant, a member of the tenant’s household or a person visiting the property has been convicted of breaching a noise abatement notice order.
These powers have potentially significant effects. Will the Minister say—this question has already been asked—whether the number of evictions is expected to increase as a result of these provisions, particularly in the light of the Government’s implied comments about the deterrent effect of the current length of eviction proceedings on landlords taking action? These would seem to imply that an increase in evictions is likely if the length of time to complete court proceedings is reduced.
Will the Minister confirm what will happen to those families who are evicted, including any children or elderly or disabled people? Who, or which body if any, will have responsibility for finding accommodation for such families who become homeless as a result? Alternatively, will such families simply be left to their own devices, even if that means being on the streets, on the basis that they will be deemed to have made themselves—including any women, children, elderly or disabled people—intentionally homeless?
As I understand it, the power to evict under Part 5 relates to those in social housing and to those in assured tenancies in the private sector. Will the Minister confirm that that is the case? The power to evict does not appear to apply to owner occupiers, including those living in a mortgaged house who might well have secured their mortgage under a state-backed scheme that is ultimately supported by all taxpayers, including by those in rented accommodation. To that extent, it does not appear that there is equality of treatment for victims irrespective of tenure. It would appear that under the Government’s Bill, which is intended to put victims first, a victim who lives in social housing and has had their life made a misery by a person or persons in a nearby owner-occupied property does not have eviction available as a possible solution—unlike a victim who lives in their own home and has had their life made a misery by a person or persons living in social housing or an assured tenancy.
If the Government’s intention is to put the victim first, why are there apparently two classes of victim, one for whom eviction of the perpetrator and their family is a possible solution, and another for whom it is not a possible solution and for whom there is no alternative additional sanction available? Will the Minister address this point? If I am right, will he confirm that the Government nevertheless regard this as totally fair and just, when there do appear to be two classes of victim?
My Lords, Clauses 86 to 88 introduce a new absolute ground for possession for anti-social behaviour for secure tenancies generally—local authority tenants and some tenants of other social landlords in secure tenancies. Clause 89 makes equivalent provision for assured tenancies, which applies to housing association tenants or tenants in the private rented sector. This is about possessions of tenanted property. It is not designed to address owner occupiers, because they are not tenants. They are under a different form of possession.
Does the Minister not accept that that in itself means that there are two classes of victim? If you are a victim in an owner-occupied property, having your life made a misery by somebody in a rented property, eviction is a possible solution. However if you are living in a rented property, whether under a social or an assured tenancy, having your life made a misery by someone in an owner-occupied property, eviction is not a possible solution. Does that not mean that under the Bill there are two classes of victim?
No, under the Bill there are two categories of housing occupation. It is perfectly possible for someone living next door to an owner occupier who is being anti-social to use any of the other measures in this Bill. Eviction is not one that is currently open to the courts, but there are plenty of other measures. That is one of the reasons why we have discussed things such as the community trigger, about which the noble Lord asked me a lot of questions on the previous occasion the Committee met. Existing grounds for possession—
I do not want to put words in the Minister’s mouth, but I think he is agreeing with me that there are two different classes of victim. There is different treatment. If you are a victim living in an owner-occupied property having your life made a misery by somebody in rented accommodation, eviction is a possible solution. However, if it is the other way round and you are a victim living in rented property, whether social housing or an assured tenancy, and your life is being made a misery by somebody in an owner-occupied property, eviction is not a solution. I am asking the Minister not to tell me what is in the Bill but simply to agree that it creates two different classes of victim.
I think the noble Lord is being disingenuous on this point. There has never been a power of possession applied to owner occupiers in such cases as there is no landlord-owned property to possess; it is the property of the person living in the house. We have already debated the mechanisms whereby that sort of anti-social behaviour is dealt with both by individuals who might consider themselves victims and by authorities whose job it is to enforce those mechanisms. I do not accept the premise behind the noble Lord’s question.
Existing grounds for possession for anti-social behaviour under the Housing Act 1985 are discretionary. This means that the court may grant possession only if the ground is made out and it considers it reasonable to do so. In practice, this means that a significant amount of time is required for the court to consider the matter, leading to extensive delays. This prolongs the suffering of the victims who have to continue living next door to the perpetrators. Indeed, the evidence we have suggests that it can take an average of some seven months from application to the grant of a possession order, as the noble Lord said. The provisions in these clauses seek to short-circuit that process by removing the requirement on the landlords to prove to the court that it is reasonable to grant a possession order where criminal or anti-social behaviour has already been proven in another court.
Under the new absolute ground, the court will be required to grant possession, subject to any human rights defence, if any one of five conditions is met. These all relate to anti-social or criminal behaviour. The offence or anti-social conduct must have been committed in the tenant’s property or in the locality of the property, affected a person with a right to live in the locality, or affected the landlord or a person employed in connection with the landlord’s housing management functions. I would like to emphasise that it is not our intention or belief that the new absolute ground will increase the number of evictions for anti-social behaviour. The available evidence shows that eviction for anti-social behaviour is an exceptional course of action. There are, on average, some 2,000 each year in the context of 4 million social homes in England. Overwhelmingly, landlords look to alternative remedies and tools to address the anti-social behaviour and its causes before resorting to possession proceedings. However, where landlords do seek eviction, it will avoid duplication and delay in the process.
The noble Baroness, Lady Young of Hornsey, was concerned that these new arrangements might lead to an increased number of evictions. The noble Lord, Lord Rosser, also asked about that. I wish to cite a few examples from evidence that was given to the House of Commons. Angela Mawdsley, Anti-Social Behaviour Manager at Leeds City Council, said:
“It takes a significant period of time to get possession orders through the court. For a lot of these crimes or offences, we would be looking to take possession action anyway, so I do not think it will increase the amount of possession action that we take. I agree with my colleague that it is about the amount of time it is taking to get through the court, and it is very difficult to keep witnesses on board while a court case goes on for more than 12 months”.—[Official Report, Commons, Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Bill Committee, 18/6/13; col. 32.]
Chris Grose, anti-social behaviour adviser and senior consultant at the Chartered Institute of Housing, said that,
“although we see the proposed absolute ground for possession, we do not necessarily see that there will be a lot more evictions. As I said before, we are really good at nipping things in the bud and getting in there early with early intervention work”—[Official Report, Commons, Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Bill Committee, 18/6/13; col. 31.]
People want to sustain their property. These are just the points that have been made by my noble friend Lord Deben.
I will address the specific amendments tabled by my noble friend Lady Hamwee. Amendment 56AA and Amendment 56AG seek to amend the provisions of Clause 86(1) and Clause 89(1) to make explicit that, when the court is considering whether or not to grant possession under the absolute ground, it may do so only where it considers this to be proportionate. We have been here before in Part 1 and Part 4 of this Bill. I do not think these amendments are necessary. The Bill already provides that the granting of a possession order by the court under the new absolute ground is subject,
“to any available defence, based on the tenant’s Convention rights, within the meaning of the Human Rights Act 1998”.
It is clear, therefore, that the tenants of public authorities will be able to raise proportionality under Article 8 of the Human Rights Convention. It means that public authority landlords will need to consider carefully which cases to bring under the absolute ground. As we have made clear in the draft guidance, we expect it to be used selectively for serious anti-social behaviour only.
My noble friend went on to speak to Amendments 56AB, AC, AD, AH, AJ and AK—the first ones relating to secure tenants and the others to assured tenants. These seek to amend three of the conditions that must be met for a court to grant possession under the absolute ground so that the anti-social behaviour of a visitor to a property could not be considered. These amendments would mean that the absolute ground could be used only when the anti-social or criminal behaviour was done by the tenant or by a member of the household. The provisions for the absolute ground are in line with existing grounds for possession. They make clear that tenants are responsible for the anti-social behaviour of visitors to their property as well as that of members of the household. This is a well established principle, based on the fact that, in practice, there is sometimes very little that differentiates a regular visitor to a property from a resident. Landlords have indicated that excluding the anti-social behaviour of visitors from the absolute ground is unhelpful when they are seeking to take action against persistent, serious anti-social behaviour by those who spend much of their time at the property, but where it is not clear whether or not they are strictly members of the household. We would not expect a landlord to seek possession as the result of the behaviour of an occasional visitor. It is important to remember that public authorities will need to ensure that any decisions they make to bring possession proceedings under the absolute ground are proportionate.
My noble friend Lady Hamwee spoke to a number of amendments which were tabled by my noble friend Lord Greaves—Amendments 56ABA, 56ABB, 56ACA, 56ADZA, 56AH, 56AHA, 56AHB, 56AJA, 56AJB, 56AKA and 56AKB. The amendments seek to amend the first, second and third conditions so that the anti-social behaviour must have taken place in the vicinity of the property instead of the locality. I do not think that these amendments will improve the Bill. “Locality” is a well established term in local housing law. Existing provisions for possession under anti-social behaviour require the anti-social behaviour to have taken place in the locality of the property. Landlords and the courts are therefore familiar with this term and its meaning in housing actions. The amendments would simply reinvent the wheel and create new confusion over what area is covered by the term “vicinity”. In addition, they would create inconsistency with existing possession provisions, which are based on the offence being committed in the “locality” of the property.
The term “locality” in this context dates back to the Housing Act 1996. Parliament preferred it then as suggesting a wider geographical area than “vicinity”, while still maintaining the link between the tenant’s behaviour and the area in which they live. Vicinity might, for example, capture just close neighbours, while locality could capture the impact of a tenant’s behaviour on an estate more widely. I think that that argument still holds good today.
My noble friend also spoke to Amendments 56ACB and 56ACC. These amendments seek to amend Clause 86 by redefining the second condition for the absolute ground; namely, that an injunction to prevent nuisance or annoyance has been breached. The amendments would mean that this would relate to conduct,
“intended or likely to cause”,
nuisance or annoyance instead of “capable of causing” as currently drafted. Given that this provision relates to the injunction under Part 1, it is essential that the definition here mirrors the test for the issuing of the injunction. We have already debated in detail the test for the injunction and it will be no surprise that I believe that the language of the IPNA test should be retained here.
The noble Baroness, Lady Young of Hornsey, and my noble friend Lady Hamwee spoke to amendments which would mean that tenants evicted under the new absolute ground would not be considered to have made themselves intentionally homeless. I am afraid that I believe these amendments are misconceived. They imply that tenants evicted for anti-social behaviour are the innocent victims of circumstances when quite the reverse is the case. The type of tenant that we would expect to be evicted under this new ground would be someone who, as described by my noble friend Lord Deben, had been given many chances to change their behaviour, on the understanding that failing to do so could result in their being evicted, but had repeatedly refused to do so, choosing instead to keep making their neighbours’ lives a misery.
Quite properly, the decision on whether someone is intentionally homeless rests with the local authority. I see no good reason for creating special rules in relation to the absolute ground which do not apply in relation to the existing discretionary grounds for possession.
I assure my noble friend that, in making decisions about whether an applicant for homeless assistance is intentionally homeless, local authorities must be satisfied that the act or omission that led to homelessness was deliberate. Applicants must always be given the opportunity to explain such behaviour. Therefore, they will look not simply at the fact of the eviction alone but at what led to this action and take that into account.
In addition, where tenants have been evicted for anti-social behaviour and have been found to be intentionally homeless but are in priority need—for example, because they have children—the local authority has a duty to provide temporary accommodation for such time as to allow them a reasonable opportunity to find their own alternative accommodation. This is typically for 28 days but it could be longer depending on the circumstances.
I now turn to Clause 87, which ensures that tenants are given adequate notice of the landlord’s intention to take action to seek possession, are told the reasons why possession is being sought and are informed of how they can access advice. It relates to tenants with secure tenancies. Clause 89 introduces corresponding notice requirements for possession of assured tenancies under the new absolute ground. Amendment 56ADD, in the name of my noble friend Lord Greaves, seeks to remove the requirement that the tenant receives information about where advice can be sought. I believe that this is an important safeguard to ensure that the tenant is given every opportunity to get necessary help and advice about the landlord’s action.
My noble friend also spoke to Amendment 56AE, which relates to Clause 88. This clause provides tenants of local authorities with a right to seek a review of any decision by the landlord to seek possession on the new ground. That is a sensible safeguard for the tenant, which will not introduce undue delay because of the timescales specified. The amendment would require that the matters my noble friend sets out are included in regulations made in respect of such reviews. I assure my noble friend that that is unnecessary. We have already published draft regulations, which cover both her points about who should carry out the review and the arrangements for an oral hearing.
Amendment 56AF seeks to prescribe that the regulations should make provision for the landlord to grant the tenancy of the property to another individual. That is entirely unnecessary. Social landlords already can decide to whom they grant new tenancies on properties that become vacant as a result of the previous tenant being evicted, in line with allocation policies locally.
There is no absolute right to social housing or to accommodation in the private sector. Tenants have responsibilities that are enshrined in the terms of the tenancy. They are duty bound to comply with the terms of such agreements and that includes not engaging in crime or anti-social behaviour, particularly where that makes the lives of their neighbours a misery. Where they do engage in such behaviour they have to expect there to be consequences, including, potentially, having their home repossessed. Where a court has already passed judgment—for example, finding a tenant guilty of breach of a criminal behaviour order—the landlord should be able to take swift action to seek repossession. These clauses provide for just that and I commend them to the Committee.
My Lords, I do not want to go through every amendment again. On the question of the term “locality”, the Minister has explained that there will be confusion if the term used in housing law is not used here and I understand that. My noble friend’s point was that, while that may be the case, there will be confusion if the term is used in the Bill in different places meaning different things, but I will leave that to him to pursue after today.
I was intrigued by the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Faulks, about local authorities being sued for failing to take steps that were open to them. I wonder whether providing an absolute ground, which the guidance says is to be used selectively, might not cause more difficulties as regards what is open to neighbours to claim. I understand entirely the point about the impact on neighbours—although perhaps I do not understand it entirely, because I am lucky enough not to have suffered from such a degree of unneighbourly activity. Having been a councillor, however, one cannot be unaware of what goes on.
I would be repeating what I said before if I were to comment on the term “proportionate” and the use of discretion, so I will simply beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 56AA withdrawn.
Amendments 56AB to 56ADZA not moved.
Amendments 56ADA and 56ADB
56ADA: Clause 86, page 55, line 10, leave out from “instrument” to end of line 16
56ADB: Clause 86, page 55, line 19, at end insert—
“(13) A statutory instrument containing an order under subsection (10) or (11) may not be made unless a draft of the instrument has been laid before and approved by a resolution of—
(a) each House of Parliament (in the case of an order of the Secretary of State), or(b) the National Assembly for Wales (in the case of an order of the Welsh Ministers).”
Amendments 56ADA and 56ADB agreed.
Amendment 56ADC not moved.
Clause 86, as amended, agreed.
Schedule 3 agreed.
House resumed. Committee to begin again not before 5.50 pm.
Energy: Action on Bills
My Lords, with the leave of the House, I shall repeat a Statement made in another place by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change.
“With your permission Mr Speaker, I would like to make a Statement on the action the Government are taking to reduce the impact of government policies on energy bills.
Even though British households pay some of the lowest prices for gas and electricity in Europe, this is no comfort to those who have seen energy bills rise considerably over the past 10 years. The latest round of price rises announced by the energy companies has been particularly unwelcome coming ahead of what is likely to be a cold winter, and in such circumstances it is right that people ask whether these rises are justified and what the Government are doing to keep energy bills affordable now and in the long term.
The main driver of these energy price rises has been rising wholesale energy costs, and the need to upgrade energy infrastructure to ensure security of supply in the long term. Wholesale and network costs make up more than two-thirds of bills. Supplier costs and profits make up around a fifth. So the energy companies need to be more open about these costs, so that consumers can judge which suppliers are acting responsibly and keeping their costs down.
Working with Ofgem, the Government are making this possible by forcing the energy companies to open up their books and justify price rises to their customers. We are increasing competition in the market to bear down on prices and provide people with a proper choice of supplier and, as I announced in the annual energy statement, Ofgem, working with the competition authorities, will report annually on the state of competition in the market, looking in depth and across the energy sector at profits and prices, barriers to entry and consumer engagement.
Ofgem’s reforms for competition in the retail market are already making it easier for people to understand their bills, work out where they can get the best deal and switch providers easily. But it is also right that the Government are open about our social and environmental policies, which make up just under a tenth of the average bill.
Our polices provide for immediate help for the most vulnerable with direct cuts to bills as well as long-term savings on bills through energy-efficiency programmes and support for low-carbon energy, which boosts energy security and tackles climate change. For example, the warm homes discount cuts the bills of 2 million vulnerable households by £135. The energy companies obligation—the ECO—provides permanent long-term savings on bills, including for the most vulnerable, by helping people upgrade their homes and making them easier and cheaper to keep warm.
Support for cleaner energy increases our energy security and boosts investment in our thriving renewable energy sector, with tens of thousands of green jobs being created. But unlike the winter fuel payment, which provides around 12.5 million pensioners with help with their bills, and cold weather payments, which last year provided more than £146 million to cut bills for the most vulnerable, policies such as the renewables obligation, ECO and the warm homes discount are paid for directly by consumers through their bills, rather than through general taxation. So it is right that the Government keep these social and environmental obligations paid for by energy bill payers under continuous review. Where we can act to reduce their impact on bills while maintaining the integrity of our policy, we will, but as we do this, we must act responsibly. We must ensure that the changes we make maintain the support provided to the most vulnerable, maintain the investment in clean energy and do not have a negative impact on our carbon reduction ambitions.
In this spirit, the Government have reviewed the cost profile of social and environmental policies and I can today announce proposals that would reduce the average household bill next year by £50 on average. First, the Government will provide £300 million in both 2014 and 2015—£600 million in all—for a new rebate to all domestic electricity customers worth £12. Secondly, we propose to consult on remodelling the energy companies obligation so that it is easier and cheaper to deliver. The changes to the ECO would result in £30 to £35 off average bills next year, although the precise reduction in individual household bills will depend on the energy supplier.
The existing dedicated support in ECO for low-income and vulnerable households—affordable warmth and the carbon saving communities obligation—will be maintained at current levels and extended from March 2015 until March 2017. The other element of ECO—the carbon emissions reduction obligation—will also be extended by two years, but reduced by 33%. These changes are subject to consultation, which will be carried out in the new year. In addition to government action, the electricity distribution network operators are willing to take voluntary action to reduce network costs in 2014-15, which would enable suppliers to pass on an average one-off £5 reduction on domestic electricity bills.
I have been clear from the start that support for low-carbon energy should not change, and it will not. The Government recognise that green energy investment incentives, such as the renewables obligation, contracts for difference and feed-in tariffs, are essential for investment in future home-grown clean energy generation. Without this low-carbon investment, energy security would be jeopardised as Britain would become ever more dependent on imported oil and gas, and energy bills in the future would be increasingly subject to high and volatile fossil fuel prices.
The Government will also ensure that their overall approach will cut just as much carbon as planned. New measures, worth more than £540 million over three years, will boost energy efficiency even further by introducing new schemes for home owners, landlords and public sector buildings. In future, when people buy a new home they could get up to £1,000 from the Government to spend on important energy-saving measures—equivalent to half the stamp duty on the average house—or up to £4,000 for particularly expensive measures.
The scheme will be available to all people moving house, including those who do not pay stamp duty, helping around 60,000 homes a year over three years. The Government will also introduce a scheme to support private landlords in improving the energy efficiency of their properties, which will improve around 15,000 of the least energy-efficient rental properties each year for three years. Together, the home owners’ and private rental schemes will be worth £450 million over three years. In addition, £90 million over three years will be spent improving the energy efficiency of schools, hospitals and other public sector buildings.
The Government will deliver a significant boost to the Green Deal, increasing the funds available to local authorities this year through the Green Deal communities fund from £20 million to £80 million, to help to support ‘street-by-street’ programmes for hard-to-treat homes in a cost-effective way. We will keep the Green Deal cashback scheme open, which will protect jobs in the energy efficiency industry, before the new measures take effect.
All the major energy suppliers have confirmed that they will pass the benefits of this package on to their customers. The reduction in individual household bills will depend on the energy supplier. Some companies have not yet announced price rises for 2014, or have limited their rise until the Government’s review of green levies concluded. Others have announced price rises and indicated that they will reduce their customers’ bills as a result of these changes.
Energy companies will now make final detailed decisions about how to apply these measures, but these cost reductions will ensure that average energy bills are lower in 2014 than they otherwise would have been—on average, by £50 per household.
As the major energy companies have now confirmed, there will be no need for price rises in 2014, unless of course there is a major change in wholesale or network costs. Some have gone further, with commitments to hold prices down for longer.
Today’s announcement of cuts to energy bills is just part of the concerted action the Government are taking to help hard-working families, including through income tax cuts, the council tax freeze and the fuel duty freeze. This help for people with their energy bills is being achieved while we maintain and extend support for the fuel-poor, while we continue to back green energy and boosting energy efficiency”.
My Lords, I commend the Statement.
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness for repeating the Statement.
I will start by commenting on why we have the Statement, which has all the hallmarks of being rather rushed. Only a month ago, we were debating the Annual Energy Statement. That was intended to be the document in which the Government set out their near-term priorities on energy policy—but here we are, less than a month later, considering a whole raft of new announcements. It is a bit odd, and the timing seems to be related more to trying to air difficult discussions ahead of the Autumn Statement than to anything else.
The rushing of this has serious implications. As noble Lords will be aware, the Statement does not have an impact assessment attached to it. It is subject to consultation—although you would not believe that given what we have read in the newspapers—which will not begin until January. We are in danger of having energy policy being made up on the hoof. The serious implications are that that will destabilise people’s confidence in our market. If we had an impact assessment, we could see what the full implications of this raft of policies would be. That would help us understand the impact on jobs in the insulation sector and the implications for households, including fuel-poor households. How many of them will now miss out on ECO measures as a result of the announcement today? I should be grateful if the noble Baroness could give me an estimate of how many households will now not receive much-needed help to insulate their homes as a result of the carbon-saving proportion of the ECO being cut by one-third.
The other curious aspect of this package is that we are now being told that the Government have managed to get a voluntary commitment to reduce network charges. Why is that voluntary? Do we not have a regulator that is meant to be putting the consumer first and assessing whether distributed network charges are appropriate? It is highly irregular for a department to be ringing round asking for voluntary cuts to a charge that is subject to price regulation. Clearly, our price regulator is not up to the task.
That raises another question about whether any of this will actually be delivered. Is it true that Ofgem has powers that it can use to ensure that the savings that the Government are making for the energy companies will be passed on to the consumer? Given that it seems incapable of regulating the distributed network operators, why should we believe that it will do any differently with this package of measures?
I am grateful that the noble Baroness repeated the acknowledgement that fuel poverty is still a priority. At the moment, the fuel poverty targets have been abolished and we are expecting to see new targets for what the Government propose to do on that policy. When we will see targets being re-established to deal with fuel poverty—not to “address” it but to tackle it and reduce the number of people who fall into that category?
The package also contains a number of measures to try to boost uptake of the Green Deal. I think that that is being wrapped up as an additional boost, but actually it is clear that the Green Deal is failing so abjectly that the Government have been forced to rethink and introduce the very incentives that were suggested and should have been included right from the start, including stamp duty rebates.
There is now a vague commitment that landlords will somehow be able to help people take up energy efficiency measures. Reading the detail, it seems that 15,000 households are expected to be supported by this landlord intervention. Can the Minister tell me what percentage that represents of households in the rented accommodation sector? It does not seem a huge number. Also, what proportion of least-efficient households is that likely to address?
On the issue of landlords and the energy efficiency of their properties, it has come to my attention that the Government were recently forced to pay £6 million of taxpayers’ money to the administrating body that looks after the energy performance certificate policy for rented accommodation because the number of people who have actually complied with the law in providing energy performance certificates is vastly under what was expected. Why is this? Why do we have a situation where landlords are not complying and not providing the energy performance certificates they are mandated to provide for their tenants?
The other question about the 15,000 households is: how will the Government ensure that the target is actually met? Their progress on the Green Deal is, as we know, lamentable. Fewer than 1,000 households have taken it up, against an overall target of 100,000. If the policy is to succeed, how on earth are we going to ensure that it is auditable, measurable and will actually be delivered?
I will make a couple of comments on the carbon implications of this package. The Government have been relatively clear that this will see a 3 million tonne increase in carbon emissions and have sought to introduce policies to mitigate that, one of which is a totally non-specified policy in the transport sector. Can the Minister give us any more information on what that policy is likely to be? The transport sector is not renowned for cheap or affordable carbon saving, so I would be interested to see what the impact assessment will say on the cost of that transport policy compared to the cost of cutting carbon through energy efficiency. We all know that energy efficiency is one of the best ways to reduce carbon. It is one of the most cost-efficient ways forward. Yet here we are, reducing that very policy.
When it comes to value-for-money policies on carbon cutting, will the noble Baroness also comment on the fact that, as we saw in our debate on the Energy Bill, the most cost-effective way of reducing carbon is to switch from coal to gas. In this House we passed an amendment designed to encourage that and to make sure that we do not have coal burning continuing at very high levels on into the next decade. Yet it seems that on Wednesday it seems that the Government will be whipping against it. Will the noble Baroness also comment on that?
In closing, I have a horrible suspicion that the organisation that will be celebrating the most out of this will be EDF Energy, which seems almost word-for-word to dictate government energy policy. I notice from its press release that it is now gunning for the home-display elements of the smart metering rollout. I wonder how long it will be before they are cut. It is also interested in reducing network charging. The thing I find most regrettable in all this is that the Secretary of State in the other place stated that he was standing up to the big six. I am afraid nothing could be further from the truth. This is policy as dictated by the big six. A Labour Government would stand up to the big six, split up the companies so that they are ring-fenced from generation and supply, and introduce far greater competition into the energy market. That is the way to get prices down. Much greater competition in every element of the energy supply chain is the only way that we can get out of the bind we are in at the moment. It is regrettable that the Government do not seem able to do that.
My Lords, I do not know whether the noble Baroness welcomes the Statement or not. The Government have gone a long way to try to address genuine concerns from consumers. I have constantly raised the point from this Dispatch Box that we need to ensure that we put consumers first. The Government have looked, listened, heard and responded to try to ensure that what we propose is, first, doable and is not just jingoistic language that says, “Let’s price-freeze now and pay later”. If we go by what the noble Baroness’s party is suggesting, we will have price hikes before and after a freeze, which does not resolve anything. What we are trying to do is put through some measures that will respond to a very serious issue.
The noble Baroness said that this was rushed. No, it was not. We have been discussing this and, like any responsible Government, we have been reviewing. We need to ensure that we not only respond to the concerns of the consumer but do not destabilise investment in this country, because this country sorely needs the scale of investment that this Government have been pushing for since we came into government in 2010. She also asked how many households will miss out because of the extension. The extension actually means that more households will be able to gain from energy-efficiency measures, because it will go from 2015 to 2017. I do not know why the noble Baroness thinks that we are not going to have more households, because we are giving opportunities for more households to receive energy-efficiency measures.
The noble Baroness is right that the distribution networks are regulated. They are regulated by Ofgem. However, they have taken a decision voluntarily—we have not asked them to do so—to put forward this proposal for 2015, which reduces bills. That is a very good thing and we should welcome it.
The noble Baroness said repeatedly that the Green Deal has failed but it is a long-term programme over 20 years. We have already addressed the measures in 230,000 households under ECO and we have had 100,000 assessments done. Some of those assessments will be done through the Green Deal finance; others will be done through other measures. This is an opportunity for people to be in charge of how they might reduce their own energy costs. I remind the noble Baroness that, under her party’s Administration, between 2004 and 2009 average bills went up from £522 to £1,153. We should remind her that this is a discussion of a concern that we should all be trying to address. While I agree that a lot more needs to be done, what is really good is that consumer groups have welcomed what we are doing.
I welcome the Statement that has been read, and particularly the fact that the Government have taken on board two recommendations of the Committee on Climate Change, of which I am chairman: first, in the use of more loft insulation and cavity wall insulation, which, against our recommendation, were previously excluded; secondly, in the fact that we were proposing a reduction in stamp duty to help people to go in for energy efficiency. I also welcome the fact that the Government have repeated their commitment to the reduction of our emissions, in line with the statutory requirements and the very tough policies necessary to achieve those. The Committee on Climate Change will look at the 33% reduction to see whether it will in fact be as the Government suggest; that is its duty and will be part of its job in the coming year.
The important thing is that, as far as we can tell at this moment, what is proposed today means that we will still be able to meet our carbon budgets as required—the first, second, third and fourth of those—and that there will still be more stringent matters to be taken on later. Above all, after all the discussion that the Government might perhaps remove themselves from their commitments, it is quite clear that this is not part of it. However, we recognise that next year the Government will have to face up to the most stringent investigation as to how far the actualities meet the promises.
My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lord Deben for his endorsement of the Statement. Like him, I am very concerned that we meet all our commitments, particularly on carbon emissions, which are not just important for us but a global problem that we all need to work on. I remind the House that, since we came into government, we have seen a reduction in carbon emissions, perhaps not of the scale and size that we would like, but it is going in the right direction: 4% is still better than the rising emissions that we were seeing.
My Lords, before the noble Baroness gets carried away with the reduction in carbon emissions, it would not be unreasonable to remind her that we have had one of the worst economic slumps since the 1930s. The level of industrial activity made a bigger contribution to that than any policy of the Government—although one might say that their economic incompetence has had a role to play.
As someone who is a member of a couple of the fuel poverty charities—I have an interest declared on this—I would say that at best those charities would give a guarded welcome to this. Perhaps the Minister could tell us when she anticipates an impact assessment being published on these measures. If we are going to have a serious debate on this in the weeks and months ahead, we have to have some kind of independent assessment of what is taking place.
It is also fair to say that at best this is a reduction in price increase; it is nothing much more than that. At worst, it still means that far too many households are now going to have to wait longer for any improvement in their insulation. As the Minister has said, the fact that there is a cut of some 30% means that the money will be spread thinly over a longer period.
The Minister said that the failure of the Green Deal can be excused by the fact that it is a 20-year project; it is only a 20-year project for people who have to pay it back. The idea is that people will come into the scheme and will have up to 20 years to pay. I cannot imagine that Governments will still be flogging this dead horse 20 years from now. People who are living in cold, hard-to-heat houses want treatment this year, not in 2033.
My Lords, when the noble Lord speaks about economic downturns, I have to remind him that it was his Government who were in charge of that. It was his Government who oversaw the worst economic problems that this country has ever faced in peacetime, so let me just put that on record. Since 2010, we have had to make some really difficult decisions, and those decisions have had, in part, to be taken because of the incompetence of the party opposite for 13 years when it was in charge.
On the impact assessment, I told the House that we will see something early next year. I really regret that the noble Lord keeps putting down the Green Deal, given that it gives so many jobs to small suppliers. I say to the noble Lord that we need to encourage the growth of the Green Deal, because it supports small and medium-sized enterprises across our great country.
My Lords, I was quite pessimistic when the negotiations started between the Treasury and the DECC on this matter but I congratulate the Minister on the outcome. It has not moved us backwards; it has actually moved the energy efficiency and carbon agenda forward. I very much like the fact that, for new home buyers or people moving, there will be that discount or a contribution towards energy efficiency. Certainly, there needs to be a deal for landlords; that is also good. The other thing that has not been mentioned so far is that we have had a reaction from distribution network operators, who seem to have been left out of this somehow and have some responsibility themselves. Perhaps from that small move on taxation, we will have a more progressive regime. On the existing regime, we have affordable warmth, the carbon-saving community obligation still in place and the low-carbon regime that comes out of the Energy Bill, which we hope will pass unchanged. Those are all items of good news.
Will the Minister tell us when the scheme to do with people moving houses and the landlord scheme are likely to come in? Many people will welcome those schemes very strongly. Will the new focus on distribution network operators continue and what will her department be doing in that area? We seem to be held captive by the mantra that energy prices relate entirely to wholesale gas prices. We have seen cheap coal becoming an increasingly important part of the energy mix. Where have the profits that the energy generating companies have made through that cheaper fuel gone? They certainly have not come through to consumer bills. Will my noble friend pursue that investigation?
My Lords, I thank my noble friend for his endorsement of the Statement and the work behind the scenes to ensure that we have not lost all the important elements and measures that will reduce carbon, provide energy efficiency and help the most vulnerable households that we need to make sure we are helping.
My noble friend asked when the new schemes will come in. They will come in around mid-2014. They have to follow the proper processes and consultations. Ofgem regulates the distribution network operators. It is for Ofgem to ensure that the costs the networks are proposing are viable. We must accept the package in the round. A lot of things need to be done. This Government are taking that on board.
My noble friend asked about competition and coal. We are taking both extremely seriously, and I hope to come back with a little more detail about how we propose to see Ofgem strengthen what it is doing to ensure that there is greater transparency on how energy companies use their profits.
My Lords, there is much in the Statement that I welcome, particularly a point that has not been commented on directly. The move in support for the social aspects of the programme from energy bills to general taxation will have some impact on the poorest and on fuel poverty and is entirely to be welcomed. The renewables obligation payments are still going to be collected through energy bills. When will the expected increases in those precepts on bills eat up the £50 which has been announced today?
The right reverend Prelate asks a really important question. The point is that whatever measures we are taking, they have to be taken in the round with other measures that we are also taking. It is not just the £50 that will, on average, come off a bill. It will be all the other measures that work alongside this. While the right reverend Prelate is right to ask the question, he needs to accept that there are several measures in place that will address a number of outstanding issues, such as making sure that the most vulnerable pensioners get the help they need during the coldest periods of the year. Let us look at the picture in the round rather than identify one measure.
My Lords, I applaud and welcome the help the Minister has announced today to assist heating in homes. Have the Government considered, as a simple, practical measure, encouraging people to use electric blankets? They are the answer to many of the Government’s aims. They are very green as they use little electricity and they reduce the need for so much heating in the home. They also make the home very energy efficient—that is, they cost less—which is what the Government seem to have as an aim.
I thank my noble friend for her endorsement of the Statement. As with all measures, we need to be able to ensure that people are kept warm and safe and that they are not paying over the odds for energy. There are measures in the Statement and measures that we are already undertaking that will help energy efficiency and help consumers to reduce their bills.
I thank the Minister for the Statement. In doing so, I repeat the question I asked her last week about the Government’s attitude to markets and, in particular, failing markets. Less than two months ago, we were told by no less a personage than the Prime Minister, and by almost everyone else who has been briefing on his behalf, that any intervention in the energy markets was at best a return to the 1970s and at worst Marxism—presumably a return to the 1870s. Today, in her introductory remarks—I think I am quoting her correctly—the Minister talked about “forcing transparency on the market” and later referred to “bearing down on prices”. Will she clarify for us whether the Government now accept that it is not only proper and reasonable to intervene in a failing market but it is the duty of government so to do in order to protect people from a faulty market?
My Lords, I shall respond to the noble Lord as I probably responded to him last time. We need to ensure that there is greater competition. I hate to go back to my earlier point, but under the previous Administration, the number of energy companies reduced from 14 or 15 to six. The big six is a Labour creation. If we have less competition, it is because that competition was taken out by the previous Government. We have now seen seven new entrants in our energy mix. We will see a greater number of entrants coming forward because we have created confidence for smaller providers to come into the marketplace. We do not need intervention as the noble Lord expects. We need to ensure greater competition.
Does my noble friend agree that there is a vital need at the moment to encourage investment in the energy supply industry and in the electricity supply industry in particular? I welcome her Statement, but will she explain to the House how this is going to encourage more investment in the energy supply industry and how the pledge of the party opposite to freeze prices is going to bring about long-term investment in the electricity supply industry, which is so important if we are not going to have the lights going out?
My noble friend is right. We need investment. Since 2010, we have seen more than £35 billion of investment in the energy sector in this country. My noble friend will have to get the answer on the Opposition’s pledge from them. It seems that they are empty words that have no substance.
My Lords, perhaps the Minister can clarify the arithmetic, particularly in relation to the eco. Past DECC figures suggested that the eco costs consumers about £47 a year. This Statement claims that we will save £30 to £35 of that cost, yet 60% of the eco relates to affordable warmth and other fuel poverty measures, and they are going to be maintained according to this Statement, so the full cost must fall on the other 40%. By my calculations, that works out at roughly £7, not £30 to £35. The only way to square those figures is by extending the period by another two years, which means halving the annual expenditure on the fuel poverty programme. Even then, the arithmetic does not work out. If that is indeed the case, and the insulation industry seems to be taking that to be the case, does it not justify the stance that we on this side of the House took that the Government’s commitment to the fuel poverty strategy is only to address it rather than to reduce the numbers in fuel poverty? The only measure that we have yet seen is an attempt by the Government to refine fuel poverty downwards, as the Select Committee in the other place pointed out. Will the Minister explain those figures and perhaps justify the position?
My Lords, I have tried to follow the noble Lord very carefully. I will write to the noble Lord if I get it wrong, but I understand that the average saving of around £50 relates to what energy companies themselves have pledged to pass on. I will have to go back, read Hansard and revisit what the noble Lord has said.
My Lords, does the noble Baroness agree that we not only need competition between companies, as she has said, but between different sorts of fuel and sources of supply? We have seen in the United States the very beneficial impact of fracking in diversifying both sources of supply and sorts of fuel. We have great reserves in this country. There are, of course, difficulties about extraction and differences between this country and the United States, but we have riches under our own earth. Does the noble Baroness agree that, in the longer term, the best thing we can do is exploit them?
My Lords, my noble friend is right that we need a broad energy mix and shale gas will be part of that once we have ensured that it is safe and environmentally safe to extract. That we recognise the need for a wider energy mix is shown in the establishment of the Office of Unconventional Gas and Oil.
My Lords, I return to the question asked by my noble friend Lord Reid. Would it not be better if the Minister just accepted that this whole unhappy saga has demonstrated that there are vast areas of policy which cannot simply be left to market forces because there are too many social issues involved? Intelligent government is, therefore, about getting the right mix between the roles of competition, leadership and constructive intervention by the state on behalf of society.
My Lords, I return to the response I gave to the noble Lord, Lord Reid. We need greater competition to ensure that consumers get the best price available. We cannot market-manage a sector when the noble Lord’s party reduced 14 or 15 suppliers to six. We need to widen the pool of suppliers so that consumers have a greater choice, are able to switch more easily and can be sure that energy efficiency measures will help them to reduce their bills.
Glasgow Helicopter Crash
My Lords, with the permission of the House, I will repeat a Statement made by the Secretary of State for Scotland in the other place on the helicopter crash that happened in Glasgow on the evening of Friday 29 November. Before repeating my right honourable friend’s Statement, I am sure I speak for all parts of your Lordships’ House in expressing our deepest condolences to the family and friends of those who lost their lives in this terrible tragedy, as well as expressing our own thoughts for those injured and our thankful appreciation of those who have given such valiant service in the rescue operation. The Statement is as follows.
“With permission, Mr Speaker, I should like to make a Statement to update the House on the crash of the helicopter that happened in Glasgow on the evening of Friday 29 November.
As the House will be aware, at approximately 10.25 pm on Friday evening, a helicopter, operated on behalf of Police Scotland, crashed into the roof of the Clutha Bar in Stockwell Street, Glasgow. It was reported that there were around 120 people in the bar at the time of the accident. Police Scotland has overnight confirmed nine fatalities. This includes the pilot of the helicopter and the two police officers on board. A further 32 people were injured in the crash and 12 remain in hospital. Three of these casualties are being treated in intensive care, where their condition is described as serious but stable. The search of the building continues and it remains possible that more casualties could be found.
I am sure that the House will also wish to recognise the outstanding work of the emergency services, for the speed, professionalism and courage of their response on Friday night and into the early hours of Saturday morning. Police, fire and ambulance services all responded magnificently, working in difficult and dangerous circumstances. In particular, we should recognise that police officers had to respond in circumstances where they were dealing, not just with the death of members of the public, but also with two of their own colleagues, PC Kirsty Nelis and PC Tony Collins.
Some of the most remarkable stories of courage and selflessness from Friday night and Saturday morning have come from staff and customers of the Clutha Bar and passers-by who came to their assistance in the immediate aftermath of the accident. They responded with no thought for their own personal safety. Members will know that among them was the right honourable Member for East Renfrewshire who happened to be one of the first to arrive on the scene. The right honourable gentleman is not in the House today, as he is in the Philippines, in the course of his duties as Shadow Secretary of State for International Development. He is characteristically understated in describing his role, but I am sure I speak for the whole House when I say that his response—which was instinctive—did him credit.
I had a meeting with members of all three emergency services in the command centre and I also met with Councillor Gordon Matheson, at the City Chambers where I signed the book of condolence. Glasgow City Council will now take up much of the burden of caring for and comforting those affected by this incident. My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Transport has also been in regular contact and his department, through the Air Accidents Investigation Branch, now has a duty to investigate and report on the causes of the accident. Investigations of this sort are inevitably complex and can be lengthy. I know that all those affected will be looking for answers but the gathering of evidence, especially at this early stage, will be vital to the investigation. I hope that the police, and other investigatory agencies, will be given the time and space to do their job.
The House will also wish to know that there has been close contact between Her Majesty’s Government and the Scottish Government since the incident. The Prime Minister spoke to the First Minister on Saturday and offered any assistance from the emergency services or other agencies south of the border, should that be required.
I wear today a badge given to me this morning by Councillor Gordon Matheson. It reads, quite simply, “People Make Glasgow”. The response of the people who make Glasgow has demonstrated all the courage and character that has made the city famous throughout the world. We in this House, and the people we represent in communities throughout the United Kingdom, stand in solidarity today with the people of Glasgow as they mourn their loss and start to come to terms with their grief. People make Glasgow: today I wear that badge with pride.”
My Lords, that concludes the Statement.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for repeating the Statement from the other place. I associate Her Majesty’s Opposition with the expressions of condolence to all those bereaved and sympathy to the injured, and to the great city of Glasgow for the disaster that struck the Clutha Bar overnight at the weekend.
The response of the city of Glasgow, and its people, has won admiration throughout the United Kingdom. The Minister mentioned the emergency services and the hospitals, which have coped with the injured and the deceased. It has been a great response to such a disaster. I come from the town of Rutherglen, a near neighbour of Glasgow, but had the honour to represent the Toryglen part of the city and have always admired the resilience of Glasgow people and their positive response in adversity. I particularly thank the Government for the spirit of consensus and co-operation shown in their actions and behaviour throughout. This has been first class and is much appreciated.
I will ask the two questions put by Margaret Curran in the other House, so that they can be placed on record. We fully understand the pressures of time when it comes to compiling reports, but can the Minister give any indication of when even an interim report might be ready? We fully understand the nature of that question. Secondly, what support can the UK Government offer to Glasgow and the families of the crash victims? Glasgow City Council has to be commended for its reaction to the disaster. Councillor Gordon Matheson, leader of Glasgow City Council, said,
“Those who are already suffering physically and emotionally need time to recover and to grieve. Money will be very far from their thoughts, but Glasgow will not allow their suffering to be compounded by financial plight in their hour of need. There will be people who are unable to work, or who face a lengthy road to recovery. Families face uncertain times ahead without loved ones. We can and will help them in the days, weeks and months ahead—and we know many of our fellow Glaswegians will also want to lend their support”.
Glasgow taxi drivers, the taxi association and travel companies are already offering support. The council is promising charitable funds, and the fact that various businesses are coming forward indicates the spirit of Glasgow.
A remark made by Margaret Curran sums up, for me, the nature of Glaswegians. She said,
“it is the spirit of people who did not turn and run from the Clutha Vaults pub but who ran towards the danger and worked arm in arm to lift men and women to safety”.
Both the Government and Opposition, and all parties in both Houses of Parliament are united in their support of the people of Glasgow. That support for such a resilient group of people will be much appreciated.
I am grateful to the noble Lord for his comments and for what he has said about the resilience and the spirit of the people of Glasgow. He said that that has been admired throughout the United Kingdom, but it is fair to say that it has been admired beyond the shores of the United Kingdom. As he pointed out, people ran to help in those circumstances rather than running away from danger. The comments from Councillor Matheson that he quoted represent the real spirit of Glasgow.
The noble Lord asked me about when a report might be expected, although he accepted that it is very early days yet. The Air Accidents Investigation Branch deployed a team of 12 people to Glasgow on Saturday morning, which has been assisting the emergency services with the removal of bodies from the helicopter wreckage and in the immediate vicinity. The helicopter has now been lifted from the roof of the bar. I know that the Air Accidents Investigation Branch will want to give an interim report, but it is too early to predict when that will happen.
The noble Lord also asked about assistance to the authorities in Scotland. As I indicated, offers of assistance have been made to Police Scotland. The Government have made such offers to both the Scottish Government and to Glasgow council. As the Statement said, Glasgow council will now bear much of the burden of what happens from here on. We continue to be ready to provide support, if required, in the best spirit of the co-operation at all levels and by all people that has marked the response to this event.
My Lords, I thank my noble and learned friend for his Statement and for the tribute which he rightly paid to the emergency services. Without in any way anticipating the results of the inquiry, it seems that rather a lot of helicopters fall out of the sky these days. We have seen it in the North Sea and not a stone’s throw from here. Would this not be a good time perhaps to review the maintenance regime that applies to helicopters and the rules that surround it? I appreciate that this was a police helicopter and that we do not know the circumstances. However, should we not look at some kind of review of the safety and maintenance standards that are required of helicopters that fly over heavily populated urban areas?
My Lords, I thank my noble friend for his question. He highlights the fact that there have been some helicopter crashes and fatalities in recent times. Over a long period of time the safety record has generally been good. However, I am sure the whole House will agree that any accident must be thoroughly investigated if lessons can be learnt. It is also important to remind ourselves that helicopters fly many different types of operations and that a helicopter taking large numbers of passengers out to installations in the North Sea is somewhat different from the operation that was undertaken by police and other emergency helicopters in this situation. I am not sure that a generic inquiry would necessarily be the best way forward. However, it is important that there is a thorough investigation of the various accidents that have happened. I am in no doubt that the Air Accidents Investigation Branch and other relevant authorities will try to ensure that that thorough investigation takes place so that we can learn any lessons that are appropriate.
My Lords, I am not a Glaswegian. However, all Scotland grieves with Glasgow after this terrible tragedy and is proud of how the people of Glasgow have responded. As parliamentarians, we have in the past few years seen the worst of us. On Friday night, with Jim Murphy, we saw the best of us. We recognise that when a young man puts himself in harm’s way he will live with the memory of that night for the rest of his life.
I will ask the Minister a question, which he may not be able to answer. As we know, these helicopters are used a lot by police and emergency services the length and breadth of Britain and beyond. Given that there is no indication as to what caused this accident and there is no black box recorder, are there any plans to ground these helicopters? If that is the case, what back-up would be available to emergency services throughout the country?
My Lords, first, I endorse and echo what the noble Baroness said about Jim Murphy. Those of us who saw that interview realised the spirit of someone whom many of us know. It was all too typical of Jim to do something like that. On the particular helicopter—the EC135—as I said, it is obvious that at this stage of the investigation the cause of the crash is unknown. That type of helicopter has been operated successfully, both in the United Kingdom and internationally, and has a good safety record. At this time we are not aware of any information that would lead us to consider this type as unsafe, but if at any time the European Aviation Safety Agency, which has the approval process, is concerned that the aircraft type is unsafe, it can ground all operations. However, that decision has not been taken.
My Lords, as the son of a long-standing emergency worker, I, too, associate myself with the warm tribute that the Minister, and in another place the Secretary of State, gave to emergency workers across Scotland. Those professionals take extraordinary risks to make sure that we continue to be safe and well. I associate myself and the Liberal Democrat Benches with those remarks. Will the Minister commit the United Kingdom Government to ensuring that whatever review is carried out as a result of those investigations into helicopter flights over cities and rural areas, recommendations are acted upon, because of the necessity of rotary-wing emergency aircraft for Scotland? Will the Minister make sure that those in the Clutha Bar who have been affected by this tragedy are aware that in perhaps their time of greatest need their fellow Glaswegians, their countrymen and women and those across all of these islands stand with them? Will he ensure that the support that is necessary is provided to those who are affected, not only at the moment but for the weeks and months to come, and that Her Majesty’s Government provide support to Glasgow City Council—to endorse the words of the noble Lord, Lord McAvoy—and to the Scottish Government?
My Lords, on that final point, it is obvious that it has been a pretty traumatic experience for those who were involved. I hope that over the days, weeks and months ahead, they will find strength and comfort from the strong support for them in the community. I repeat that it has been made clear to Glasgow City Council that we stand ready to give such help as may be appropriate. I echo the tribute he paid to emergency workers.
I have heard it said by some who have been there that because of the particular site of the tragedy, the investigation has been one of the most complex they have ever worked on. Those who undertook much of the rescue and recovery work were doing so in dangerous circumstances. That simply underlines the debt that we owe them. Obviously it is premature to speculate on what kind of recommendations would be made. However, I am sure that the recommendations, be they addressed to government or other bodies, are ones that will require to be properly and fully responded to.
My Lords, does the Minister agree that the caring and compassionate tone set by Sir Stephen House, the chief constable of Police Scotland, and Rose Fitzpatrick, the deputy chief constable, in all of their public pronouncements has helped with the healing process as the brave people of Glasgow as a whole respond to this very challenging and difficult situation?
Certainly, any public statements I have seen on television by both the chief constable and the deputy chief constable have been exactly that. As I said in the Statement, it is worth reminding ourselves that they themselves suffered the loss of colleagues in this tragedy. Notwithstanding that, they have acted with exemplary professionalism.
My Lords, as an ex-Member of Parliament for one of the Glasgow seats, I take this opportunity to say both that I mourn for the people of Glasgow today and that I am proud of them for the way in which they have reacted to this tragedy. First, it is a compliment in these modern times that there is no photograph of the tragedy because everybody went to help rather than taking out their iPhones and taking photographs. I have a serious question, because it is a very serious moment. The latest reports say that there was no mayday signal from the helicopter before it crashed. Is this correct? Does it not say something about what happened to that helicopter if there was no mayday signal?
My Lords, I am not aware of that. It is not a report that I have seen or been made aware of, and therefore it would be wrong for me to speculate. Obviously, matters such as that will be examined, and I have no doubt that information will come out in the days and weeks ahead. However, it would be wrong for me to speculate on what I have not heard.
My Lords, while entirely joining myself with my noble and learned friend’s remarks about all those who have been affected by this horrible accident, I declare an interest as president of the British Helicopter Association, which is the trade body that looks after operators of all sorts of helicopters, including police helicopters. It is, as my noble and learned friend said, far too early to even begin to speculate on the cause of this accident. It will take some time to establish what it is. It appears to be incredibly unusual, certainly in my experience, for an incident of this sort to arise without any warning whatever apparently—although we do not know if there was a mayday call or not.
Does my noble friend agree that it is perhaps not strictly comparable to some of the incidents that we have seen on the North Sea, which often have occurred for other reasons? Perhaps he would also endorse that the safety regime through the regulators, both the European Aviation Safety Agency and indeed our own Civil Aviation Authority, is of the very highest standard. Certainly in my experience all those concerned with this, including all those who live in populated areas where police helicopters have to operate, must be reassured that these aircraft and their crews operate to the very highest standards, and that no stone will be left unturned in trying to establish the cause of this accident.
I acknowledge the experience of my noble friend and share his view that it is important. I believe it is the case that the Air Accident Investigation Branch conducts these inquiries and investigations thoroughly and to the highest standards. Once the AAIB has the details on the cause of this tragic accident, it will be a matter for the Civil Aviation Authority to consider what action may be necessary, and to ensure that these matters are proceeded with, regarding the overwhelming requirement for safety in these operations.
I thank the Minister for his Statement, and particularly for his generous tribute to our parliamentary colleague, Jim Murphy. Although he is a self-effacing character, in a sense I think he recognised that what he did was pretty ordinary for Glasgow where, perhaps because of the industrial culture and legacy, there is a tendency to run towards the danger when others are in danger. In any case, however it may surprise others, it remains inspiring. I obviously associate myself with the condolences for those who have lost loved ones or family, and those who are injured. I will ask the Minister one question. I understand he said that the search continues inside the Clutha Bar for others who may be there. Does he have any information as to whether there are known and identified persons, without any names, who are still unaccounted for—or is it simply a matter of searching the bar itself?
My Lords, I note again the point made by the noble Lord with regard to Jim Murphy. I rather suspect that the self-effacing way in which Jim handled the interviews was because he recognised that he was not alone among those who responded to that situation. I cannot, because I do not have the information, go beyond what I said—and what the Secretary of State said when he stood up and made his Statement in the other place—which is that the search of the building continues. I am not aware of the position regarding people who may have been missing and identified. I know some concerns have been expressed by victims, and some frustration. That is totally understandable in the circumstances. Equally, Deputy Chief Constable Fitzpatrick, who has already been referred to, said:
“The uncertainty for the families of those who have died is at the front of our minds … It remains our absolute priority to give clarity to those affected as soon as we are able”.
Does the Minister accept that we all wish to be associated with his messages of condolence to the bereaved, and also to those who have been severely injured or injured at all? Can the Minister tell us whether helicopters of this nature possess black boxes, and whether that will be one of the issues to be looked at in the inquiry?
My Lords, it is the case that this helicopter was not fitted with any cockpit voice recorder, flight data recorder or usage monitoring system. It is important to say that it was not a requirement. Again, it would be wrong for me to speculate on whether that is something that the AAIB will wish to look at in terms of any possible recommendation. I will just make the point at the moment that it was not a requirement for this particular type of helicopter.
Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Bill
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.