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Public Spaces Protection Orders

Volume 798: debated on Thursday 11 July 2019


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the (1) imposition, and (2) operation, of public spaces protection orders.

My Lords, we introduced public spaces protection orders, or PSPOs, through the Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014 to enable local councils to tackle anti-social behaviour in public spaces. The Home Office does not centrally collate data on the number issued. Our statutory guidance makes it clear that PSPOs should be used appropriately and proportionately. The effect of the powers is kept under review through a national anti-social behaviour strategic board.

My Lords, the Minister was very constructive the last time we discussed these issues and helped to change the statutory guidance on PSPOs. However, they are increasing at a faster rate than ever and continue to target homeless people, with bans on begging and rough sleeping. Will the Government now admit that the statutory guidance has not achieved its intended aim? Is it not now necessary to enforce the guidance properly, give better means of appeal against the imposition of a PSPO, or change the original powers?

I thank the noble Lord for his kind words. He is absolutely right: following his concerns and those of the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy of Southwark, 18 months ago we published the updated statutory guidance to make it clear that PSPOs should not be used to target people based solely on their being homeless. As I said, they should be used proportionately and appropriately.

My Lords, will the Minister admit that the powers that PSPOs give are too great and wide-ranging? Their use can extend to sweeping real concerns, such as rough sleeping, under the carpet, as the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, said, through criminalisation, as more than 50 councils have used those powers, and to restricting personal freedoms, including the right to protest in a public space. Is it not time that PSPOs were scrapped?

I do not think residents affected by anti-social behaviour would agree with the noble Earl. It is important that these powers are kept in force, as residents should be able to live their lives without the effects of anti-social behaviour—literally on their doorsteps in some cases.

My Lords, I have been in your Lordships’ House only for almost six years, but I have lost count of the number of times that we have explained to the Home Office how its legislation as drafted could be misused. The Government then say that they do not intend the legislation to be used in that way. Trusting local authorities or the police to use legislation only in the way intended is no longer good enough. When will the Government incorporate measures into legislation to ensure that it cannot be misused?

The noble Lord may be referring to the rough sleeping strategy and how the Home Office uses it. The Home Office is not looking to trick rough sleepers into providing their data to be used for enforcement purposes—a criticism that has been made against us. However, we have been working with local authorities and charities to design an information-sharing protocol that protects the rights of vulnerable individuals but also allows for the effective operation of the RSS.

What is needed is not just to stop the inappropriate use of PSPOs but for the Government to change their policy and provide cash-strapped local authorities and other agencies with the resources to bring homelessness—which is not a crime—to an end for good, through personal support, assistance into employment and more genuinely low-cost housing, including social housing to rent. Reference has been made to the fact that the Home Office had to update its guidance at the end of 2017. This now states that PSPOs,

“should not be used to target people based solely on the fact that someone is homeless or rough sleeping”.

Why was this not included in the guidelines from day one? What effective check and redress is there, even now, to ensure that PSPOs are not continuing to be used inappropriately against those who are homeless or rough sleeping? The use in the updated guidelines of the word “solely”, which the Minister herself stressed, looks like a significant potential loophole.

The noble Lord will recognise that the reasons for rough sleeping are many and complex and the sole fact that someone is homeless is not, in itself, a reason to slap them with a PSPO. On housing, we are investing £9 billion in more affordable homes across the country and have delivered over 400,000 such homes since 2010.

My Lords, anti-social behaviour has taken many forms over the years. In my experience, dealing with it can also take several forms. One of the easiest is to have sufficient police officers on the street to nip it in the bud as it occurs. That always proved valuable in my time. The problem at present is that we do not have the front-line officers with time to deal with it courteously and compassionately.

Policing is only one aspect of dealing with rough sleeping and homelessness, which are different things. The noble Lord is absolutely right that we need police on the streets, hence my right honourable friend the Home Secretary’s ambition to have far more of them. The rough sleeping initiative has allocated £46 million this year to 246 areas. This has funded an estimated additional 750 staff and more than 2,600 bed spaces across England.

My Lords, the Minister said in answer to the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, that the Home Office keeps these powers under review. Can she explain how that is being done, given that she also said in answer to the noble Lord that no central records are kept of when these powers are used and for what purposes?

On keeping things under review, of course the Government keep all legislation under review. While we do not hold that data centrally, local authorities hold the data. How effectively legislation works is played out in the effect of the legislation in question.