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Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014

Volume 768: debated on Monday 1 February 2016


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the impact on informal and spontaneous busking and on homeless people of the Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014 and guidelines made under that Act.

My Lords, the Government have not carried out any such assessment. However, we have made it clear in the statutory guidance that anti-social behaviour powers should not be used against reasonable activities such as busking, where this does not cross the line into anti-social behaviour.

My Lords, that is not particularly reassuring. There is a real problem: scores of public space protection orders, thousands of community protection notices and tens of thousands of dispersal notices have already been issued routinely on an arbitrary basis against street entertainers, young people and the homeless for many legitimate, non-harmful activities such as busking, skateboarding and even carrying a golf bag. This is chilling. Is it not high time that we took stock of these powers and amended the guidance—and, if necessary, the primary legislation—before our freedoms are eroded any further?

I think that the position of the Government is very clear on this. Buskers are not criminalised. Indeed, we have seen some very good initiatives being taken at a local level. The noble Lord will be aware of the Busk in London initiative right here in London. What we need to see is more voluntary arrangements in place at a local level. I believe that about seven or eight councils have thus far signed up to the London voluntary code. We need to encourage the remaining boroughs out of the 32 to do so as well.

My Lords, in December last year the Metropolitan Police justified the use of the Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act to prevent a busker performing in Romford on the grounds that,

“street performing attracts thieves as large crowds gather”.

Yet they do not seem to take any action when even larger crowds gather to watch street performing in Covent Garden. Will the Minister accept that better statutory guidance is needed to avoid heavy-handed policing?

What is required is for local councils to learn and look towards good practice. We have seen examples of good practice in place and have also seen how the Act has been used effectively—the transition from having 19 elements within the anti-social behaviour orders to having six has helped. But this is very much a matter for local authorities. We have seen good practice around the country, which needs to be replicated in those areas where we have seen such acts as the noble Lord just described.

My Lords, can the Minister give a stronger assurance to the Lib Dems that they will not be prosecuted for skateboarding?

If the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, is suggesting that police powers are forcing people to sleep rough on the streets, perhaps it is relevant to ask whether it is not true that there are now 20 times as many hostel places appropriate for people sleeping on the street as there are people sleeping on the street?

My noble friend raises an important issue in relation to housing and the need for more effective social housing. The challenge for all of us across the country, not just for central government but for local government as well, is to ensure good-quality, affordable housing for all. We all want to see the eradication of street sleeping.

My Lords, does the Minister understand that one of the big problems out there is the very steep rise in rough sleeping? There are not enough beds, either hostel beds or other sorts of beds such as detox beds, for them to go into. There has been an unprecedented rise since before 1997 in the number of people sleeping rough on our streets, which is giving local authorities and others massive problems. What will the Government do about it?

The noble Baroness’s question goes wider than busking, but I can tell her that of course the Government have taken action; they have undertaken the biggest housebuilding programme that we have seen for decades. It is important that we work with local authorities to identify where the housing challenges are, face up to that crisis and address the housing issue. As I have already said, the issue of housing is a challenge not just for us in central government but across the country for local government as well.

I remind the Minister that the Question refers to homeless people—it is not exclusive to busking—and therefore the question from my noble friend was entirely legitimate. The reality is that the number of households accepted as homeless has risen by over a third since 2010, while the number of people who sleep rough has increased by over 50%. The Minister seeks to tell us about all the measures the Government are going to take, but could he tell us why they allowed this situation—the increase since 2010 in the number of homeless people and the number of people sleeping rough—to arise in the first place?

The noble Lord should also look at the record prior to 2010 and what his own party did. We have taken forward the biggest housebuilding project that we have seen for decades. There is an acute problem as regards the housing crisis and people sleeping rough on our streets; we are seeking to address it, but we must work hand in glove with local authorities.

My Lords, will the Minister care to comment on the availability—and on government policy on the availability—of housing for homeless people? In my experience, few of the people I have met who are homeless and sleeping on the streets will benefit from the Government’s housing policy, which is to build lots of houses, including those at £400,000. How much do the Government believe should be spent specifically on the homeless?

The Government have taken a raft of different initiatives on building affordable houses and a raft of different initiatives to encourage home ownership. The Rent to Buy scheme is another good example of what the Government have looked towards—ensuring innovative solutions to the housing challenges people face, including those who are looking to buy a home for the first time.