“Annoying” behaviour – how did Liberal Democrat peers vote?

The first really controversial parliamentary vote happened last night, on the Anti Social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Bill, which I wrote about yesterday.

The Government suffered a pretty comprehensive defeat, by 306 votes to 178 on their Clause 1. However, the amendment on which they voted wasn’t much better as it kept the “capable of causing annoyance” threshold for housing situations. Now, given that the people most likely to fall foul of this are the most vulnerable people with addictions and conditions which affect their behaviour, there is  a high chance that incidents will happen at or near their home. Making them homeless helps how, exactly?

16 Liberal Democrat peers rebelled and supported the Amendment, including an early rebellion from new peer James Palumbo. Significantly, Ken MacDonald, former Director of Public Prosecutions was among them. The 16 were:

Lord Burnett

Lord Carlile

Lord Clement-Jones

Lord Goodhart

Baroness Linklater

Lord MacDonald

Baroness Miller

Baroness Nicholson

Lord Palumbo

Lord Phillips

Lord Redesdale

Lord Rodgers

Lord Strasburger

Lord Taverne

Lord Thomas

Baroness Tyler

55 peers voted against the Amendment. You can see who they are here.

The Bill has another Report Stage day in the Lords next Tuesday. It will then have its Third Reading before it heads back to the Commons. It means that there is a bit of a window in which we can make our views known to our MPs.

* Caron Lindsay is Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs at Caron's Musings

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  • Caron Lindsay Caron Lindsay 9th Jan '14 - 9:33am

    Linda, I’ve put in the link so people can see. I’m way too lazy to type all 55 out. I’d have bothered if they’d have voted the other way, though.

    Having said that, they are liberals, all of them. I don’t think it helps when they do something we don’t like to suggest that they aren’t.

  • David Evans 9th Jan '14 - 9:33am

    “Significantly, Ken MacDonald, former Director of Public Prosecutions” did what?

  • Making them homeless helps how, exactly?

    It might help their neighbours quite a bit…

  • Brian Paddick 9th Jan '14 - 10:30am

    Linda. This was the wrong amendment and it was muddled thinking. The main argument was that the terms ‘nuisance and annoyance’ were “imprecise and vague” and yet those exact terms were included in the second part of the amendment. Not only that, the second part of the amendment provides those in social housing with more and better protection from ‘nuisance neighbours’ than for those in private rented housing or owner occupiers. If you are a council tenant, action can be taken on the basis that your neighbour is responsible for ‘nuisance or annoyance’ but if you do not have a social landlord, you have to prove ‘harassment, alarm or distress’ before anything can be done. How is that liberal?

    The Government minister offered to withdraw his amendments on this part of the Bill and to engage in discussion with all parties before the Third Reading, with all options on the table. He had already made considerable changes to other parts of the Bill, mainly as the result of Lib Dems Baroness Sally Hamwee and Lord Tony Greaves’ amendments at Committee stage, so he had already proved he could be trusted to have an open discussion. Forcing a division after such an offer was unnecessary and against the conventions of the House. In my opinion, there was too much heat and not enough light in the chamber yesterday and as a result we achieved the wrong result. I voted against the amendment and I believe I did the right thing. Changes needed to be made but these were not the changes we needed.

  • Graham Martin-Royle 9th Jan '14 - 11:16am

    What is really annoying is having to rely on un elected peers to get rid of this illiberal bill.

  • Richard Wingfield 9th Jan '14 - 12:56pm

    While the exact wording of the amendment may not have been perfect (and Lord Paddick has highlighted the anomaly that there is a different test for social housing and private housing), the principle behind it is absolutely right. Whilst a narrow exception for a lower threshold in housing matters is arguable, the general rule should be that behaviour should not be prohibited by an IPNA unless it is capable of causing harassment, alarm or distress. I really struggle with the idea that there is behaviour which is not a criminal offence but which certain individuals are prohibited from doing. That is why the language used in criminal law (harassment, alarm and distress) should be used for the IPNA regime.

    Reading Baroness Hamewee’s comments in the debate yesterday concerned me greatly. Here is the most worrying exchange:

    [i]Lord Forsyth of Drumlean: I apologise for interrupting my noble friend and am grateful to her. May I ask her the same question I asked my noble friend Lord Faulks? Can she give us a specific example of something that would be prevented by the Bill as it stands?

    Baroness Hamwee: My noble friend is asking for examples of behaviour. It could be kids kicking a football around on a bit of open ground—which happens on a bit of open ground next to my house. I am lucky enough to live on the Thames but I find it extremely annoying to have discovered that rowing is the most noisy activity: one might not have expected it. It could be a bit of drinking—not drunken behaviour but people sitting around with a can of lager. I know from neighbours’ comments that they feel apprehensive about that and, although there has never been anything for them to be apprehensive about, they just do not like people sitting around drinking cans of lager in public. I also suggest dogs being exercised on the same ground where children play—there are a lot of annoyances in that kind of area. People see me and no doubt think that I am a poor old lady delivering pizza leaflets for tuppence a thousand when I am delivering political leaflets.

    Lord Forsyth of Drumlean: Is my noble friend suggesting that all these examples should be capable of being stopped by the courts?

    Baroness Hamwee: Of course, if people feel threatened and their lives are badly impinged upon. That is what the Government are trying to prevent by this Bill.[/i]

    The idea that people should be prohibited – with threat of criminal punishment, including imprisonment- for kicking a football around, rowing, sitting around and drinking, or exercising a dog in a park where children are playing is, to me, completely illiberal. If such things are causing problems, then let councils introduce fines in the same way they do with littering or not clearing up after dogs. These nuisances/annoyances should not be addressed by criminal punishment and to hear a Liberal Democrat peer suggest they should be was staggering.

  • Jenny Tonge also voted with the 16 who supportedtheamendment. So that is 17 Liberal Democrats, as Jenny is far more deserving of the name than some of those who have bought their seats in the Lords.

  • To describe this bill as “illiberal”, while true, is a monumental understatement. It is the latest step in what David Icke terms the “totalitarian tiptoe”, by which he means a long and calculated sequence of incremental measures that ultimately reduce individual autonomy among humans to the bare minimum. The endgame is state control of every aspect of life, something that Stalin and Mao dreamed of doing but lacked the technology to achieve. Not so Mr Cameron, and the elite that controls him.

    This bill is all-encompassing, in that it is capable of criminalising almost any kind of conduct that the prosecuting authorities don’t like. It is also devious, in that it surreptitiously imposes criminal liability on the basis of the civil standard of proof.

    Lord Paddick is right to point to the nebulous nature of the terms “nuisance” and “annoyance”. While “nuisance” has a broadly settled meaning at common law, and there is also statutory nuisance, “annoyance” extends much further and is wholly imprecise. It basically refers to any conduct that a particular policeman, magistrate or judge dislikes and wishes to suppress. Baroness Hamwee evidently doesn’t approve of dogs, and would use this law to persecute dog-owners. But the policeman and the magistrate might be dog lovers! See how capricious it is! The term, “annoyance”, is basically an invitation to the courts to dispense palm tree justice, something that English law has always, and quite rightly, stood firm against.

    First they come for unpopular minorities, and in particular those with no voting power, like children and young people. And the backwoods applaud. Next, and very shortly, they’ll be bearing down on people who publish dissenting material on the internet. Then after that, quite possibly people who drive cars (remember Mr Blunkett’s proposal to have satellite surveillance of motor vehicles – how long before that sees the light of day again?). People might start waking up at that point, but I doubt it, somehow. Once that gets through (with Lib Dem support, no doubt), micro-chipping of the population can’t be too far away. Ultimately, it will be everyone in every conceivable situation, apart from the elite, that is. Many people actually want to be slaves. I don’t. And I suspect that most fellow Liberal Democrats don’t, either.

    I joined the Liberal Democrats to stop this kind of thing. How horrible it feels to watch our Parliamentarians dissolve into jelly.

  • nigel quinton 11th Jan '14 - 6:05pm

    Like Caracatus I’d like to congratulate Brian Paddick for contributing some clarity to the discussion. It is often very difficult for us to understand all the reasons for our MPs and Peers to vote in a certain way and it is clearly wrong to cast all those who voted against the amendment as illiberal. More to the point surely is how can our parliamentary party have allowed this nonsense to get on the agenda in the first place?

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