Clause 1 - Closure notice

Anti-social Behaviour Bill – in a Public Bill Committee am ar 6 Mai 2003.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Amendment proposed [this day]: No. 13, in

clause 1, page 2, line 27, leave out subsection (8).—[Mr. Hawkins.]

Question again proposed, That the amendment be made.

Photo of Mr James Cran Mr James Cran Ceidwadwyr, Beverley and Holderness 4:30, 6 Mai 2003

I remind the Committee that with this we are discussing the following:

Amendment No. 14, in

clause 1, page 2, line 29, leave out subsection (9).

Amendment No. 129, in

clause 1, page 2, line 36, at end insert—

'(12) This section does not apply to premises operated by agencies working to aid and rehabilitate drug users and the homeless.'.

Amendment No. 130, in

clause 2, page 3, line 7, at end insert—

'(d) alternative accommodation is available to any resident of the premises who is not involved in the activities described in paragraphs (a) and (b).'.

Amendment No. 24, in

clause 2, page 3, line 25, leave out subsection (9).

Photo of Annette Brooke Annette Brooke Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr. Cran. I do not think that I have met you before, so it is a double pleasure.

I have already made the case and I do not want to repeat it.

Photo of Annette Brooke Annette Brooke Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

I think that that comment is a little unjust, as I do not use quite as many words as some members of this Committee.

In summary, amendment No. 129 has been included to allay the concerns of people who work with charities that help drug addicts and homeless people. Such organisations argue convincingly that, unless the amendments are accepted, the manager or owner of premises used for homeless people or drug rehabilitation could be more severely punished for allowing drugs to be used on the premises than the person using the drugs. As I said earlier, we must take an holistic approach, and it is important to ensure that people working in the agencies and on the various initiatives are on board.

Amendment No. 130 would ensure that innocent and vulnerable people who may lose their homes because they have become caught up in the situation but are not guilty per se have some protection and are not left homeless on the streets.

We feel strongly about amendments Nos. 129 and 130. They are not just probing amendments.

Photo of James Paice James Paice Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

I also welcome your presence in the Chair this afternoon, Mr. Cran. I did not intend to speak to this group of amendments, because my hon. Friend the Member for Surrey Heath (Mr. Hawkins) put the case admirably for those that we tabled. However, I want to pick up on the amendment to which the hon. Member for Mid-Dorset and North Poole (Mrs. Brooke) has just spoken, particularly because of the point made by my hon. Friend in his opening comments this morning. He referred to the problems in Cambridge, where two managers were imprisoned for allowing drug dealing on the premises. One of those managers was a constituent of mine, so I was closely involved and have some insight into the issues.

In amendment No. 129, the Liberal Democrats propose that the clause should

''not apply to premises operated by agencies working to aid and rehabilitate drug users and the homeless.''

The work of such agencies is to be welcomed and supported, and the charity concerned, Winter Comfort in Cambridge, does admirable work. I do not want to go over the events leading up to the court cases, for obvious reasons, but I come to the issue with that experience and I do not support the amendment, but not for any partisan reason.

That case caused a huge furore throughout the voluntary organisations that help people who are using drugs, but it is essential for the law to have the power to deal with a situation if it gets completely out of hand. I am not saying that that was so in the case to which I referred, and I do not want to comment on it in detail, but I know that it caused a lot of heart-searching throughout the voluntary sector that deals with those vulnerable people. In many ways, one's sympathy is with them and the need to provide the managers of such facilities with as much support as possible. I genuinely believe that. However, at the end of the day we must accept that, in some circumstances, those facilities can become a focus for local disorder, disruption and antisocial behaviour that affects people in the neighbourhood. It would therefore be wrong to exempt such facilities totally.

It is important that the police, social services and all the other public bodies that work closely with those running such premises—which may be an agency or a hostel—are sensitive to the local situation and the problems of these often vulnerable people. However, it would be wrong—I say this with huge respect for the hon. Member for Mid-Dorset and North Poole and her presentation of the amendment—to provide the blanket exemption from this aspect of the Bill that she advocates. I hope that anyone would treat such a situation sensitively. If there were evidence that a location was providing a focus for disorder, causing antisocial behaviour in the locality or distress to others who live or work in the vicinity of the premises, action would need to be taken. The Cambridge case shows that people can take action. As I said, it would be wrong to provide a blanket exemption.

Obviously, I do not know what the Minister will say, but I should prefer a ministerial exhortation that, in such a situation, the premises would be treated with great sensitivity, and that one would not seek to end such provision other than in extremis. However, to suggest that such premises should never be closed, which would be the consequence of the Liberal Democrat amendment, would be wrong. Again, I say that with the experience of having had to deal with a difficult situation that was not located in my constituency, but adjacent to it. One of the two people imprisoned as a result was a constituent of mine. Although that might lead me to have sympathy for the amendment—there is sympathy for the cause—it would not be right to go as far as it proposes.

Photo of Bob Ainsworth Bob Ainsworth The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department

Welcome to the Chair, Mr. Cran. We are, in effect, dealing with two sets of amendments that are designed to do different things. I think that the hon. Member for Surrey Heath anticipated what I was going to say. Amendments Nos. 13 and 24 reduce the clarity of the power. In tackling drug dealing, there is always the problem of obtaining enough evidence to prosecute individuals for their part in selling drugs. That is particularly difficult when the selling goes on behind closed doors. The proposed powers will ensure that, when nuisance to the community is evident, even if no prosecution can be brought against an individual, action can be taken to control the behaviour occurring within the property and to ensure that the dealing stops.

The use of the power to close premises may or may not be connected to criminal proceedings. That is an operational matter for the police. It is best left to them to decide the most appropriate course of action. By stating that there need be no connection between criminal and civil action, we seek to remove a potential hindrance to the use of the powers and give clarity to the court that it can use the powers even without criminal charges against the individual involved in supply. That clarity is important, as we are talking about the same offences: the production, use or sale of class A drugs, which are criminal offences.

We should not pass legislation that could leave people without the necessary clarity—it could give the impression that action should be taken only in cases of criminal activity. It is for the police to decide when the powers should be used in conjunction with a criminal prosecution, and if they believe that that is not possible, they should get on and use the powers that we are giving them in order to prevent the nuisance that is inflicted on the community.

Photo of Mr Nick Hawkins Mr Nick Hawkins Ceidwadwyr, Surrey Heath

I have been listening very carefully to what the Minister has been saying to justify the use of the word ''immaterial''. I understand his argument, but will he just answer me this? If the provisions challenged by our amendments did not appear at all, would not the legislation have exactly the same effect? If something is immaterial, and it is not in the legislation at all, surely that silence would be regarded as meaning that the police had the

powers that they needed to close down crack houses, whether or not anybody had been involved in the criminal courts.

Photo of Bob Ainsworth Bob Ainsworth The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department

I believe so. Unlike me, the hon. Gentleman has a legal qualification, so he is probably best able to judge. However, for the price of a bit of ink and a bit more paper, we are putting things beyond doubt. The issue is very serious, as he quite rightly recognises, so it is worth clarifying for the courts that the powers do not need to be used in conjunction with a criminal prosecution. Of course, if it is appropriate that is exactly what the police ought to do. They ought to keep at the forefront of their minds the prosecution of people who involve themselves in the drugs trade and other such behaviour. The hon. Gentleman anticipated that the wording was for the sake of clarity, but was worried that it might be for something else. I am simply trying to confirm that there is no ulterior motive in the wording. The wording makes it absolutely clear what the issue is.

Amendment No. 129 serves to create a blanket exemption for premises operated by agencies working to aid and rehabilitate drug users and the homeless. I understand the intention of the amendment, and the Government place considerable value on the work that so many people do in the rehabilitation and homelessness fields to assist drug abusers and drug addicts. We intend closure notices and orders to be used against premises such as crack houses, as I have said in response to previous debates in Committee. Such places cause the most serious nuisance and distress to the community. The powers are not designed to be used against premises or agencies working with drug users and assisting in combating drug problems in this country.

I do not deny that the problem is potentially serious for the reasons raised by the hon. Members for South-East Cambridgeshire (Mr. Paice) and for Mid-Dorset and North Poole. We must try to do two things. If we are to tackle the drugs problem to the necessary degree, we have to ensure that treatment and harm minimisation are developed and are properly tailored and aimed at the people who have the problems. Such people are often homeless, beggars on the street, or other people who have serious problems, sometimes as a result of their drug misuse and sometimes in conjunction with it.

We want to encourage people into the field and to expand it, but at the same time we must make absolutely certain that people are not abusing the situation and that their abuse is covered by the law, if and when it occurs. Having a blanket exemption, as the amendment suggests, would be a retrograde step and we could not support it. Such an exemption would leave the law open to exploitation by unscrupulous people who claim to provide services of the type in question, or by individuals working in such agencies who choose to act outside of the law—the hon. Member for Mid-Dorset and North Poole will know that there are many different views on drugs law stretching from every extreme and relating to every dimension. The law needs to be able to cover such circumstances where appropriate.

We have already considered the issue and believe that the Secretary of State's ability to grant exemptions to premises or types of premises, which amendment No. 14 would remove, provides the appropriate protection for workers and premises in this field. If we found that those powers were being used inappropriately we could take the necessary action to clarify when and how they should be used. I understand Parliament's concerns about delegated powers, but I would far rather leave us with the ability to act if these powers are used in a way that we have not envisaged than put a blanket ban on their use in particular areas, as proposed by Liberal Democrat Members, which could be quite dangerous.

We believe that the ability to exempt certain premises from the power in the clause is a necessary reserve power. There is a need to ensure balance in relation to powers to close any setting where class A drugs may be sold or used. An unwanted consequence would be if facilities for drug users were not provided through fear of the legal consequences. The power to make exemptions allows the Secretary of State flexibility in defining those premises where it is not appropriate for the power to be used. In certain cases, the closure of a premises could lead to greater harm to the community. Those cases can often be dealt with by using other, less harmful means.

Amendment No. 14 would leave no possibility of preventing the use of that power on premises where it would be against the public good. I do not suggest that that will happen because the police are aware of the need to develop treatment and harm minimisation facilities to deal with the homeless. They are alert to the consequences of inappropriately affecting such facilities or deterring their development. However, there is a fear about that and the reserve power should cover it.

Photo of Mr Nick Hawkins Mr Nick Hawkins Ceidwadwyr, Surrey Heath 4:45, 6 Mai 2003

The Minister and I are both trying to address these issues seriously. I am grateful for the way that he is responding. These are perhaps matters of degree. The Minister will realise that our main concern was that this was approaching a Henry VIII power and that the Bill would not tell us what the Secretary of State may decide to do by regulation. As he knows, we have frequently objected to the use of such powers. We think that it would be much better if these matters were all in the Bill. I hope that the Minister will understand that while we are not having a pitched battle about this, there are questions of judgment here. It is a judgment call and we come down on the other side.

Photo of Bob Ainsworth Bob Ainsworth The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department

I understand those concerns and I have heard them from the hon. Gentleman in other circumstances. If I were on the Opposition Bench now I would make exactly the same point. He knows, as I know, the sensitive area that we are involved in here. The case in an area adjacent to the constituency of the hon. Member for South-East Cambridgeshire was mentioned. Irrespective of what happened in that individual case, it did great damage to the confidence of many people who were doing an appropriate job that we wanted them to do. Drawing the line in the right place is difficult. To set out in the Bill that the

power will be used in certain circumstances and not in others leads to problems. One can give complete comfort by simply exempting the homeless, yet one suffers the consequences if someone abuses that exemption.

Photo of Annette Brooke Annette Brooke Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

I should like to explain my concerns. I listened carefully to the hon. Member for South-East Cambridgeshire and the Minister and I take the point about the blanket ban. There is an area not far away from the constituency that I represent with several drug rehabilitation centres. The situation has reached a point where the local population, especially hotel owners—a mishmash of hotels is mainly used—are saying that they do not want any more centres. That is difficult, as we need them. They are highly unlikely to be free of disorder: there must be some disorder in creating order. The Bill, however, is handing a tool to a neighbourhood to get a charity closed down. It may be right for the neighbourhood for that charity to be closed down, but it may be wrong. Will the Minister look into the possibility of a middle way?

Photo of Annette Brooke Annette Brooke Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

A third way. There is a danger that, by leaving the Bill as it is, we could provide people with a great weapon with which to terminate much good work.

Photo of Mr James Cran Mr James Cran Ceidwadwyr, Beverley and Holderness

Order. I want to make it clear that from now on interventions should be short, crisp and to the point.

Photo of Bob Ainsworth Bob Ainsworth The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department

You seem to be much gentler in the Chair than you were in the Whips Office, Mr. Cran. [Laughter.] That is confirmed by the laughter from the Opposition, as they should know better than I do.

I ask the hon. Lady to think about her claim that we are giving a power to people who will object to the facilities. We are not. We are giving the power to a police officer, who will consult a local authority on taking action that a local community is urging him to take. That is different. As I said, if such a pattern of use were attempted and approved by a court—nuisance would have to be caused and the public good would have to be considered—we would have the reserve power to deal with it if we believed that it was absolutely necessary.

With regard to the Henry VIII clause, I say to the hon. Member for Surrey Heath that we are giving the power only to reduce what Parliament is approving. The situation is not quite as bad as some of the circumstances that worry him.

Amendment No. 130 is unnecessary. Accepting it would clog up the process of granting closure orders, interfere with the way in which a local authority discharges its homelessness responsibilities, and place those removed from a crack house before other equally deserving cases. They could, for example, be placed ahead of priority cases such as persons aged 16 or 17 who are estranged from the home and not in care, or others returning from an institutionalised background such as members of the armed forces.

A central concern during the creation of these powers has been that provision should be quick and effective against the nuisance that is being caused on

premises but that adequate provision must be made for those who have not been involved in the use or supply of class A drugs. That concern is addressed by the requirement for details of where to obtain legal and housing advice to be contained in the closure notice. Anyone with a connection to the property will therefore know how and where to access advice and services if they need them.

The amendment would mean that action could not be taken unless those services had been provided. I do not think that children or spouses of people involved in drugs, however innocent, should be made a special case because they are associated with a crack house or with other premises associated with class A drugs where nuisance has been caused.

The hon. Lady is welcome to press the matter to the vote if she wants to but cases should be dealt with equally and on merit, and not given priority because of the circumstances in which the eviction arose. Decisions should be based on need, not on the background to the case.

In light of my remarks, I ask hon. Members to reconsider their amendments. I hope that they will not press them to the vote.

Photo of Mr Nick Hawkins Mr Nick Hawkins Ceidwadwyr, Surrey Heath

I add my welcome to you, Mr. Cran.

This has been a good debate, notwithstanding the fact that it was interrupted by the Adjournment of the sitting in the middle of the day. All of us, including the Minister, recognise that the issues are very difficult, and that there are judgments to be made. I should make it clear that if the Liberal Democrats were to press their amendments Nos. 129 and 130 to the vote, we would vote against them and with the Government. We agree with the Minister.

My hon. Friend the Member for South-East Cambridgeshire talked about the Wintercomfort case. I was not sure whether the Minister was making a pun when he talked about giving comfort to the hon. Lady. Perhaps he was not. We believe that it is important to ensure that the police have powers in cases where, for example, an organisation starts out by purporting to offer treatment but tips over the scale into actively supplying drugs. Sadly, that has happened several times, although it was the Wintercomfort trial that caused all the publicity and had a knock-on effect on legitimate drug rehabilitation work elsewhere in the country, as my hon. Friend the Member for South-East Cambridgeshire said. Nevertheless, I have come across other cases that did not have as much publicity but where so-called drug rehabilitation or harm minimisation clinics were actually promoting drugs.

I draw the Committee's attention to the important work being done by Dr. Mary Brett, a senior science teacher at Dr. Challoner's grammar school in Amersham. Some members of the Committee may not have come across it before, although I know that the Minister has. Dr. Brett gave evidence to the Home Affairs Committee's significant report into drugs policy a year or so ago. She continues to keep me, my hon. Friends and other hon. Members informed of

organisations that start by purporting to be legitimate drug advice clinics or drug advice charities but tip over into the promotion of drugs. That is important in relation to this part of the Bill.

I shall give the Committee some brief examples, but before I do so, it is important to note that Dr. Brett's concerns about some of the drug charities were endorsed in the Select Committee's report, as the Minister will recall. She has followed these issues for several years, and members of the Select Committee were as horrified by some of her examples as I was when I heard about them, even though the Select Committee is Government-dominated. It is not simply a question of the Opposition raising these concerns: a Labour-dominated Select Committee endorsed what was said.

In paragraphs 201, 202 and 204 of its report, the Select Committee said:

''we believe that all drugs education material should be based on the premise that any drug use can be harmful and should be discouraged.

Our attention was drawn to two leaflets. The first was produced by DrugScope and entitled What and why?: Cannabis . . .

When we asked for further clarification of their philosophy, we were told that DrugScope 'as an organisation prides itself on providing balanced, accurate drug information to professionals and the public'.''

In paragraph 207, the Select Committee concluded in bold type:

''We acknowledge the need to provide realistic drugs education, but we believe that examples such as the Lifeline leaflet'',

which was one of the leaflets that Dr. Brett produced for the Select Committee,

''crossed the line between providing accurate information and encouraging young people to experiment with illegal drugs. We believe that publicly funded organisations involved in educating impressionable young people about drugs should take care not to stray across this line . . . We do not share the view that confronting young people with shocking images of the harm caused by some drug use is counter productive . . . We acknowledge the importance of educating all young people about the harmful effects of all drugs, legal and illegal. Nonetheless, we recommend that the Government conducts rigorous analysis of its drugs education and prevention work and only spends money on what works, focusing in particular on long term and problem drug use and the consequent harm.

Since the Select Committee's report, Dr. Brett has found some more offending leaflets and has written about them to my hon. Friends and me—and perhaps to members of the Committee. They were produced by an organisation called the Drugs Posse, and they are probably even worse than the ones produced by Lifeline and Drugscope, which were criticised by the Select Committee. The Clued Up Posse and an organisation called Connexions sent out one such leaflet, and Dr. Brett asked her sixth formers, who are the target audience, to examine it. They concluded that it was patronising and useless and that it positively encouraged drug use. They also pointed out that the dark green used in the publicity material resembles a Rizla packet, which sends out a message about those organisations. I know that Hansard has a problem with things being held up, but as the Committee can see, the leaflet looks like a Rizla packet with ''cannabis'' written across it.

I know that the Minister takes those issues seriously, but in other Ministries there is a problem with the lack of joined-up government.

Photo of Mr Nick Hawkins Mr Nick Hawkins Ceidwadwyr, Surrey Heath

I will of course give way to the hon. Lady in a moment.

We are discussing organisations that the Government must take seriously when they examine which organisations are helping drug addicts as opposed to promoting drug use. Dr. Brett has written to the Department of Health pointing out that its official publications seem to run counter to Home Office objectives. The Government have to make sure that their message is unified. Rather than taking up any more of the Committee's time, I shall draw these examples, which have only just come to me, to the Minister's attention.

When we consider the premises used by these organisations, we have to look out for their publicity material. The term ''harm minimisation'' is often used as code for legalisation and gives the wrong message. The organisations' premises may need to be closed down, which is the point that relates to the clause. This is the only part of the Bill in which I can address the publicity material produced by those organisations.

Photo of Caroline Flint Caroline Flint Llafur, Don Valley

I hesitate to intervene on the hon. Gentleman, but I wonder whether his point is relevant. I thought that we were dealing with a situation in which premises

''have been used in connection with the unlawful use or supply of a Class A controlled drug, and . . . that the use of the premises is associated with the occurrence of disorder or serious nuisance to members of the public.''

That is the subject of the clause, and I agree with the Government that we should not exempt organisations if they are carrying out those sorts of activities. The hon. Gentleman's broadening of the Bill's scope does not help the argument.

Photo of Mr James Cran Mr James Cran Ceidwadwyr, Beverley and Holderness

Order. Just so that everyone is clear about my view, I decide whether we are in order. The hon. Gentleman was stretching things a bit far, but even he realised that.

Photo of Mr Nick Hawkins Mr Nick Hawkins Ceidwadwyr, Surrey Heath

I am grateful to you, Mr. Cran. I wanted to take a little time on the issue because this is the only part of the Bill in which I have an opportunity to put those important points on the record.

Photo of Bob Ainsworth Bob Ainsworth The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department

I do not want to take too long and incur the wrath of the Chairman because we are straying slightly wide of the amendment. There will always be differences of emphasis, but I accept the hon. Gentleman's argument that people should not stray over the line. We agreed with the Home Affairs Committee that some people will find it difficult to deal with the language and methods used to encourage ''harm minimisation'', but if we are to give people credible, valuable information, rather than encouraging them to learn from their mates in the playground, we must use such language and methods.

Photo of Mr Nick Hawkins Mr Nick Hawkins Ceidwadwyr, Surrey Heath

I know that such decisions need to be taken and that the Minister takes the issue seriously. I will not take up the Committee's time this afternoon

with examples, but will the Minister examine whether the Department of Health and other organisations funded by taxpayers are undermining the Home Office's overall message? I am grateful to the Minister for agreeing that.

We will oppose amendments Nos. 129 and 130, tabled by the Liberal Democrats, but we accept the Government's explanation of the so-called Henry VIII clause, and I will not press that matter. The question with regard to the word ''immaterial'' was a probing one, as I made clear. I therefore beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Amendment made: No. 186, in

clause 1, page 2, line 28, after 'use', insert ', production'.—[Mr. Bob Ainsworth.]

Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

Photo of Mr James Cran Mr James Cran Ceidwadwyr, Beverley and Holderness

I am happy to have a short debate, but I underline the word ''short''.

Photo of Vernon Coaker Vernon Coaker Llafur, Gedling

The clause, in common with many others in the Bill, gives the police important new powers, and it is therefore very welcome. It is important at this stage, however, for the Minister to reassure us that those powers will be used. Throughout the Bill extensive new powers are made available to the police, local authorities and others. Many people in my community would want to see those powers used, because they will enable crack houses and other such premises to be closed down, and communities will be able to reclaim for themselves the sense of safety and community that is often diminished by crack houses. I would like to place on record my hope that those powers will be used extensively in the not-too-distant future.

Photo of Caroline Flint Caroline Flint Llafur, Don Valley

I have a quick point to make. During the debate, much mention has been made of vulnerable people, and of spouses, partners and children. It should be noted, for the record, that vulnerable women and children often find themselves in a situation in which their property is used by transient men who use them, abuse them and then move on. This is a tough measure, but the reality is that children are being brought up in such an atmosphere, and where there are indications that the offences mentioned in subsection (1)(a) and (b) are occurring, we must bite the bullet and do something about it; otherwise such situations repeat themselves. That happens in my constituency, and no doubt in those of other hon. Members present.

Photo of Dari Taylor Dari Taylor Llafur, Stockton South

I, too, welcome the first part of the Bill. It is valuable, and my local police force also welcomes its provisions. The police and others in my constituency have, however, expressed two concerns, which I would like the Minister to address. They are concerned about the use of the phrase ''serious nuisance'' in subsection (1)(b), and they think that the expression used should be simply ''nuisance''. They believe that the use of the word ''serious'' is open to a variety of judgments, and that those judgments could cause confusion and slowness in the delivery of appropriate legal controls.

Photo of Mr Nick Hawkins Mr Nick Hawkins Ceidwadwyr, Surrey Heath

I should place on record the fact that when I had a similar discussion with my local police they made exactly the same point. I hope that the Minister will therefore listen carefully to what police forces in different parts of the country are saying.

Photo of Dari Taylor Dari Taylor Llafur, Stockton South

My second point refers to subsection (2)(b), and the use of the phrase ''reasonable steps''. Again, the consensus of opinion within my local authority and police force is that that use of language could be problematic. In my constituency there are streets owned by corporations and companies that are faceless and unknown. Having to take ''reasonable steps'' to find out who has control and who has responsibility for the premises could give the police a serious headache when they are attempting to do what we all want them to do—reduce antisocial behaviour in our constituencies. The Minister should examine those two phrases and understand how the police and local authorities feel about them.

Photo of Liz Blackman Liz Blackman Llafur, Erewash

Like many of my colleagues, I welcome the clause, but I want to know whether, once the Bill becomes law, the measure and its effectiveness will be carefully monitored. The difficult and challenging behaviour caused by crack houses is severe in many constituencies, including mine. It will be no good if, a year down the line, we find out that the police and their local partners are not using the clause as well as they could. Will the Minister keep a close eye on its effectiveness from day one, because it is potentially an excellent measure?

Photo of Bob Ainsworth Bob Ainsworth The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department

I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Gedling (Vernon Coaker) that the powers need to be used, and I agree with the comments of my hon. Friend the Member for Don Valley (Caroline Flint) about the size of the nuisance and the fact that the powers are justified. The circumstances in which they may put people will be no worse than the circumstances in which they often place themselves.

Two patterns of use arise in Coventry. The main area of difficulty is just outside my constituency, where families generally face one of two circumstances: in inner-city council flats, tenants are either paid to make themselves scarce or, because of the family circumstances, effectively captured with their family and held captive while the activity continues. Although the measures might seem draconian, they are necessary. We are rescuing people from a difficult situation, not a perfect situation.

We must be up-front about our monitoring.

Photo of Mr James Cran Mr James Cran Ceidwadwyr, Beverley and Holderness

Order. I ask Mr. Ainsworth to face the microphone because otherwise it is very difficult for Hansard to hear.

Photo of Bob Ainsworth Bob Ainsworth The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department

I apologise, Mr. Cran.

It is essential that all measures in the Bill are kept under review and monitored. When we revisit and seek to improve measures, it prompts great mirth among Opposition Members, who attempt to misrepresent that as our trying to rewrite past measures. Dealing with antisocial behaviour is difficult, and it must be the highest priority. If the measures do not work as we want them to or they are not as effective as we need them to be, we must keep them under review and be

prepared to go back to them and to improve and amend when necessary.

On the points made by my hon. Friend the Member for Stockton, South (Ms Taylor), I should say that, as I said earlier, I am concerned that we do not set the threshold too high so that the measures are difficult to use. We plan to spell out in guidance the kind of nuisance that we are talking about to aid the courts in deciding when to allow the measures to be used. If we just referred to ''nuisance'' and left it at that, we could, as the hon. Member for Mid-Dorset and North Poole said, leave the way open to a person who does not want a particular facility in their area saying that a nuisance is created by its existence. We need to be clear about that.

The kind of premises that worry my hon. Friend and the police in Stockton cause serious nuisance. We must get the guidance right and clearly tell the police that where people come in at all hours of the day and the night, where there is soliciting or where drug paraphernalia is left in the immediate premises, that amounts to serious nuisance. That will trigger the offence and give the police a quick and effective measure to deal with it.

Photo of Mr Matthew Green Mr Matthew Green Democratiaid Rhyddfrydol, Ludlow 5:15, 6 Mai 2003

The Minister mentions guidance. Does he not agree, particularly considering the speed at which the Bill has been rushed forward without proper consultation, that some draft guidance would have been welcome? It could have dealt with many of the questions that are now being raised. Draft guidance has been issued to Standing Committees on other Bills to show the Government's intentions. Does the Minister agree that it would have been a good idea?

Photo of Bob Ainsworth Bob Ainsworth The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department

In an ideal world, yes, but one has to strike a balance between taking action and not taking action. The hon. Gentleman should not hide behind those devices—if he thinks that we have got it wrong, he should say so and vote against the measures. If he thinks that they are too draconian and do not deal with the problem, he should say so, not advance that silly argument, ''Let's do it, but let's do it next year.'' I have seen legislation massively improved by pre-legislative scrutiny of draft Bills and during Committee proceedings. If people engage properly in the debate they can have input and improve measures that the Government introduce. I sense that the hon. Gentleman does not really support the measures in the Bill, but does not want to come out and say so. He would rather ask why we did not consult, or why we do not act in two years' time.

Photo of Liz Blackman Liz Blackman Llafur, Erewash

The police in my area wholeheartedly welcome the provisions as they stand in the Bill. They see them as an effective way of challenging and dealing with a rapidly growing problem, and would not want them to be lost in a lengthy consultation. They feel that the measures are just about right to deal with the current problem.

Photo of Bob Ainsworth Bob Ainsworth The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department

My hon. Friend is right. Let us get on and do it. If we need to take further measures or do something else because of an ongoing nuisance in a

particular area, let us be courageous enough to act at the appropriate time.

We may come later to the other points that my hon. Friend the Member for Stockton, South raised about landlords, reasonable steps and so on. We must get the provisions absolutely right. We have to expect good behaviour from people, but we need to cover in guidance what constitute reasonable steps on the part of landlords. We intend to do exactly that.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 1, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.