Angela Smith on the government’s refusal to engage with our concerns on the Anti-Social Behaviour bill
As the Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Bill crawls forward it becomes clearer and clearer that so many of the provisions are ill-thought out – and ministers have no meaningful answers to many of the questions being raised. We really need legislation that tackles the serious issues of anti-social and criminal behaviour faced by the public. This Bill isn’t it.
A prime example is the new proposals for Dispersal Orders. The Government proposes to extend these from 24 to 48 hours for anti-social behaviour and remove the role of local authorities. Ministers had previously agreed to continue to work with and consult councils before any such order is introduced but has now reneged on that commitment.
So, why is the Government bringing these changes forward? Has anyone asked for these powers? Has anyone made representations that the existing powers are inadequate? What is the problem that the Government is seeking to resolve? Simple and straightforward questions, to be asked of any legislation.
But in a fairly lengthy and comprehensive speech from the Home Office Minister in the Lords no answers were forthcoming. Not even answers we didn’t like – just no response to these basic requests. And when my colleague Toby Harris pursued the matter further, to try to understand how such Orders would work in practice, he was accused of being “mischievous”.
It all means we’re none the wiser and will have to pursue matters further at Report Stage of the Bill.
A number of problems arise from the government’s attempts to ‘streamline’ the bureaucracy of dealing with anti-social behaviour. While on paper it may seem sensible to reduce the overall numbers of different measures available, in practice trying to squeeze different problems into a one-size-fits-all solution has its difficulties. As a result, a Public Spaces Protection Order replaces gating orders, dog control orders and designated public place orders.
It is hard to fathom what the gating of alleyways and ginnels has in common with protection from dangerous dogs; and complaints from organisation concerned with both highlight this. In some cases, the limit is too long. But in those cases where it could be too short, there’s no need to worry as it can be renewed again and again, and again. In fact, forever! And without consulting anyone.
In the debate, the Minister responded that those who were unhappy can always apply to the High Court under the legislation – or seek Judicial Review even though the legislation itself states that such an Order “may not be challenged in any legal proceedings”.
Once again: more confusion than answers.
There have been lighter moments, for example Lord James of Blackheath’s remarks on his experience of ‘mooning’ – something, I hasten to add, that he was on the receiving end of. It turned out that he and his wife were returning home in their car when a coach load of schoolboys thought this would be fun. I hope he was joking when he told fellow Peers that his wife, a youth justice office, wants to send them to prison for a year.
We have a number of new clauses to try and put some meaningful action into the Bill that will tackle the issues we know are of real concern to the public. We can only hope that Ministers both start listening and provide us with some genuine answers.
Baroness Angela Smith of Basildon is a Shadow Home Office Minister in the House of Lords
Published 28th November 2013