Clause 37 - Certain orders made on

Anti-social Behaviour Bill – in a Public Bill Committee am 10:15 am ar 15 Mai 2003.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Photo of Mr Nick Hawkins Mr Nick Hawkins Ceidwadwyr, Surrey Heath 10:15, 15 Mai 2003

I beg to move amendment No. 65, in

clause 37, page 29, leave out lines 5 to 7.

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

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:

Amendment No. 66, in

clause 37, page 29, leave out lines 34 to 36.

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

First, let my say that I think that the debate that we have just had was extremely useful. Dealing with these amendments is linked to that. I wanted personally to compliment the Minister and the Government. That is not something that I do every day, but the Minister will be aware that in a previous debate in which he and I were involved in Committee, I proposed amendments to enable courts to publicise the names of juveniles who had been made the subject of an antisocial behaviour order. The Minister gave a sympathetic reply, as he often does. He said that he would continue to keep the matter under review. He was under pressure from his own Back Bench, specifically the hon. Member for Sheffield, Heeley (Ms Munn), who did not agree with him. However, he said that he agreed more with me than with her, which caused some amusement.

I was delighted to see subsection (9)(c) in this clause, because it is the Government's response to the points not only that I made in Committee, but that my local authority had made. I am looking at a letter sent by the chief executive of Surrey Heath borough council, Mr. Barry Catchpole, to Louise Casey who, I believe, is still the head of the antisocial behaviour unit at the Home Office. The Minister is looking puzzled. I will draw his attention to the Official Report when we break at 11.25 am. I remember this vividly and I am not being tongue-in-cheek. This is a genuine thank you to the Minister and to all those people in the Home Office who put subsection (9)(c) into the Bill, because it reflects precisely a weakness that had occurred in my own constituency where the police and the local authority—the crime and disorder reduction partnership—had done a huge amount of work to bring two brothers finally before the courts and to issue an ASBO. The local Camberley newspaper desperately wanted to publicise that as part of the deterrent effect—to make an ASBO work and to make local people aware that an ASBO had been granted. However, because the two brothers were under the relevant age, the press were refused permission to publicise the case, and the police and chief executive of the local authority wrote to me to say that that defeated the object of the exercise and weakened the ASBO. The newspaper group took the matter to appeal to obtain permission to publicise it and were refused because of the state of the law. That should not happen now, so it is a pleasure to be able to compliment the Minister on this occasion.

I know that we will return to the issue of publicity on a second group of amendments, so I do not wish to say too much now, but it is no surprise that when the Government finally do something right and listen to us, the Liberal Democrats then oppose it. I have no hesitation in drawing attention to the fact that when the Government and the Opposition are doing something sensible together, the Liberal Democrats are against it. We shall return to that.

We are seeking in these amendments to make a further improvement in flexibility. We wish to query with these probing amendments whether it is necessary to have new subsection (3B) in each of subsections (2) and (5). At the moment the Government have inserted:

''It is immaterial whether evidence led in pursuance of subsection (3A) would have been admissible in the proceedings in which the offender was convicted.''

We simply wish to probe whether that is necessary. No doubt the Minister will explain precisely his thoughts on subsections (3B). Does one need to say in such terms that something is immaterial? I am not convinced that those words have to be in the Bill. We will listen to the Minister with interest.

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

The usual trick when someone pours on one the kind of praise that the hon. Gentleman has just poured on me is to sit quietly and accept it, but I am so suspicious of him that I shall not do that. I have absolutely no memory of the debate to which he referred and I am convinced that he is getting me mixed up with my right hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Itchen (Mr. Denham). I make that point just in case there is a barb in what the hon. Gentleman says.

There is some uncertainty among magistrates courts regarding the evidence that can be presented in support of banning orders on conviction and orders on conviction for antisocial behaviour. The experience is that magistrates courts are not consistent in allowing additional evidence in the post-conviction civil phase of the proceedings. Amendments No. 65 and 66 would preserve that uncertainty and consequent inconsistency. The intention is to make it easier for the court to determine whether the offence for which the individual has been convicted is an isolated incident or part of a pattern of behaviour. The provisions will also make it easier for the court to determine whether the imposition of a preventive order will help prevent further incidents of antisocial behaviour or football hooliganism. The court needs to be satisfied of the preventive effect before it makes an order.

However, the evidence that may be relevant to that decision may not have been relevant to the incident that led to the criminal charge and may not have been admissible in those proceedings, such as video recordings of behaviour at football matches or hearsay evidence from professional witnesses, employees of a local authority or social workers. If the approach is to be consistent, we must make it clear to those responsible that once the criminal aspect of the hearing has been dealt with and the process has moved on to the application for the antisocial behaviour order, evidence such as video and hearsay evidence is in order to make a case. That is what the clause would do. However, I am afraid that the amendment would prevent us from doing that, which is why I must resist it.

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

I understand what the Minister says, and I said that we had tabled a probing amendment. However, the Minister does not need to be suspicious. I am certain and can show him the relevant section in Hansard to prove that I am not confusing him with his right hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Itchen. I am slightly surprised, as I thought that the incident would have stuck in the Minister's memory as it has in mine, given the exchange that he had in a previous debate with me and with the hon. Member for Sheffield, Heeley. However, to satisfy the

Minister's curiosity, I shall find the Hansard today to reassure him. There is no barb. The Minister does not need to be suspicious and—

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

Order. I have heard enough of this. I expect everyone when they leave the Room to check it up.

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

I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

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

I beg to move amendment No. 84, in

clause 37, page 29, leave out lines 15 to 17.

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

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:

Amendment No. 85, in

clause 37, page 29, leave out lines 18 to 24.

Amendment No. 176, in

clause 37, page 29, leave out lines 19 to 22.

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

If discretion were the better part of valour, I might have stayed seated and not taken this matter up with the Committee. However, I am moving amendment No. 84, which the hon. Member for Lancaster and Wyre (Mr. Dawson) tabled and with which Liberal Democrat amendment No. 176 is grouped. The hon. Gentleman's amendments remove more lines than the Liberal Democrat amendment, which I prefer, although we can take it as read that the thrust of both is the same, so I shall make the same comments.

When he was speaking to earlier amendments, the hon. Member for Surrey Heath decided to address the issue under discussion in advance—perhaps he will make no further comment. It is therefore right that an alternative view be put. The world is not black and white and there are circumstances in which it is not a good thing to name and shame young people. We should consider the issue seriously, yet many members in the Committee have seen matters in black and white this morning and on other occasions.

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

May I just get to the thrust of my argument? I have not got that far.

The Minister will probably reply in much the same way as members of the Select Committee on Home Affairs did, by pointing out that young people can be named when antisocial behaviour orders have been presented in other forums, and that the restriction only applies to the youth court. Nevertheless, I want to make this point because it is a matter of principle. The point of an antisocial behaviour order is to stop behaviour. If the whole world knows the name of a child, does that help the implementation of the order? It might make a lot of people feel better if the child is named, but I am not convinced that doing so is necessary. I take a liberal point of view on the issue—and why not? Someone in this Room must do so.

First, there is the question of labelling. If someone were named, that would hit the press and would affect that individual's future employment prospects if it became widely known. I certainly do not give up on

young people as young as 10, and whatever hon. Members say or shout at me, that view should be expressed. There is also the practical aspect: having an ASBO attached to one's back might have a bit of kudos, and therefore might lead to more antisocial behaviour. That is one of the reasons that we do not always take extreme action against terrorism, for example, because there is something heroic about it.

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

There could be perceived to be something heroic about being named, because it generates more antisocial behaviour.

I think that it is rather sad. There are alternative views in the world. It is important to appreciate that naming and shaming is not always the right thing to do. There are many circumstances in which it is not: a young person in very tragic circumstances may need protecting. I say to the Minister that the issues are not black and white and that, however difficult cases are and however tough people want to make the measures, there are some young people whom we should not give up on at the age of 10.

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

Yes, Mr. Cran, I will give way now. I had forgotten.

Photo of Vernon Coaker Vernon Coaker Llafur, Gedling

I apologise to the hon. Lady, because I know that she tried to intervene on me earlier and I forgot that she was trying to do so. I was not intending to be rude.

Many of us would agree with some of the points that the hon. Lady makes if the court did not retain the discretion to decide whether it was in the interests of the child or of public safety to name the child. Surely the discretion retained by the courts addresses some of the issues that she raises?

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

I accept that that discretion covers some of the aspects, but I hope that I have made the point that going from one extreme to the other is not necessarily a good thing.

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

I would have liked to understand the point that the hon. Lady made about terrorism, but I did not. My hon. Friend the Member for Gedling has just exposed the fact that what the hon. Lady said to the Committee was different from what she proposed in the amendment, because that discretion remains.

The clause removes an anomaly by bringing reporting restrictions for orders on conviction in a youth court into line with those made in a magistrates court, as those made against juveniles in a magistrates court are not subject to automatic reporting restrictions. I assure hon. Members that the details of the criminal conviction will remain confidential and that the court will have the discretion to apply reporting restrictions where appropriate—for example, in the interests of rehabilitation. That decision can be taken there and then in the youth court as it can be taken in the magistrates court. However, this measure will close the loopholes, ensure consistency, and make the orders more enforceable for agencies that have to tackle antisocial behaviour on the ground.

Effective publicising of orders is an important part of how they work. Awareness of an order and its conditions enables communities to assist the statutory agencies to monitor the order and to expose whether it is being breached. It reassures victims and witnesses that action is being taken to protect them.

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

I did not want intervene too soon, because I wanted the Minister to explain the Government's stance. I am delighted with the way he puts it. Does he agree with Mr. Catchpole, the chief executive of Surrey Heath borough council, who wrote to the head of the antisocial behaviour unit in January this year that it is important to introduce laws that will enable offenders under 18 to be identified both on television and through local media? His view is that there is no reason whatever to withhold the identities of such miscreants for the reasons the Minister stated.

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

I do not accept that there is no reason to withhold the identities of individuals; there can be a reason to do so. If the court can be convinced that it is not in the interests of the individual concerned that publicity be given and that there is a chance of effective rehabilitation that publicity could damage, publicity would not be appropriate. We are giving the courts discretion to consider such situations and to decide whether it its appropriate to publicise the case. They already have such discretion in the magistrates court and they should have it in the youth court. The hon. Member for Mid-Dorset and North Poole is saying something reasonable that is not in line with the amendments she has tabled.

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

I thank the Minister. I am pleased to have made the points I did, because when I hear that youngsters should be shown on television it appals me. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

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

Photo of Caroline Flint Caroline Flint Llafur, Don Valley

I rise to ask for clarification. This is the only part of the Bill where I can raise the issue, because it deals with sanctions against breaches of antisocial behaviour orders. Have the Government considered the nature of breaches? A problem that has occurred in my area is that the initial order can be handled by the police or the local authority—in the case of Doncaster it is the antisocial behaviour unit—and their legal representation, but breaches are handled by the Crown Prosecution Service.

I want clarification because in our experience the Crown Prosecution Service has tended to come to such cases without a great deal of knowledge of the background and the impact on the community. In meetings with magistrates, they have said to me that often when breaches occur and the case comes back to court, the person who has breached the order has been with their lawyer for a considerable time, even though they may be a young person or a child. The lawyer puts a well-rounded case on behalf of that person, relating all the ills they have met along the way, yet the CPS can come along as if the case is part of the job lot for the day; it has not been involved with the case and

it does not put forward a particularly good case on behalf of the community.

I have raised with the Solicitor-General the issue of guidance to the CPS on how it deals with antisocial behaviour orders. She said that the Government are concerned about that and about the issue of breaches being handled by the legal representation that initiated the legal order in the first place. Whether it is contained here or dealt with elsewhere, breaches are important. We pass the orders and if they are breached people, must have a sense that the case will be put forward on their behalf as thoroughly as it was when the initial order was made.

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

I understand entirely the question that the hon. Member for Don Valley raises and I have no doubt that the Minister is getting some advice to enable him respond to that sensible contribution even as I speak.

On the clause in general, I agree with the point that the hon. Member for Gedling made in his intervention on the hon. Member for Mid-Dorset and North Poole. Concerns about the way in which publicity will work should be addressed through giving the court discretion. I want also to mention the view of the chief executive of my local authority. The hon. Member for Gedling and other hon. Members will understand that the court retaining discretion over publicity is an important safeguard. However, we must recognise the frustrations of senior police officers and chief executives of local authorities, who have found that the restrictions placed on the operation of ASBOs have meant that they have not been as effective against the worst offenders in areas such as mine as the police, the local authority and the crime and disorder reduction partnerships wanted them to be. That is why I said in my opening remarks on the first group of amendments to the clause that we welcome the fact that the Government are making the system more workable.

The last complete year for which the Home Office has produced figures, which I have had from the Library, is the year ending November 2002. At that stage only 789 ASBOs had been issued throughout the whole country, although there have obviously been a lot more since. When compared with the Government's original notion that there might be 5,000 a year, which I remember vividly from the first debates, that figure of 789 in four years is, as my hon. Friend the Member for Hertsmere said earlier, very disappointing if we want ASBOs to work.

I hope that the way in which the amendment to the law contained in clause 37 makes the process more flexible and enables more publicity and a greater deterrent effect will bring some improvement. We still think that further improvements could be made—we have put forward some suggestions and there are one or two more to come in subsequent groups of amendments, although I would be out of order to talk about those now. However, we think that as the clause a whole is a helpful improvement and I shall listen with interest to the Minister's response to the Member for Don Valley.

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

Breaches are and have been a problem. The latest available figures, for June 2000 to December 2001, show that 29 per cent. of ASBOs were breached and the cases prosecuted, and that 43 per cent. of those who were prosecuted received immediate custodial sentences. We need to ensure that the CPS is at the centre of prosecution for breaches. We are talking to the CPS and the Lord Chancellor's Department so that they establish procedures to ensure that the local authority concerned and the police are called in cases of breach, in order to ensure that the courts are fully aware of the impact of that breach on the wider community when deciding how to act.

On the other issue, I refer my hon. Friend the Member for Don Valley to subsection (3). New section 1C(9A) to the Crime and Disorder Act 1998 will allow the local authority to prosecute for a breach, so we are doing precisely what she wants us to do. Although we want the CPS to perform that function, we also intend to give the ability to pursue that breach to the local authority that sought the order and in whose area the antisocial behaviour took place in the first place.

Photo of Mr Matthew Green Mr Matthew Green Democratiaid Rhyddfrydol, Ludlow

On a point of information, are there any other circumstances in which a local authority can bring criminal proceedings that might end with imprisonment?

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

Yes, a fair few.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 37 ordered to stand part of the Bill.