The Anti-Social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Bill is currently making its way through parliament, and recently passed committee stage.
Among other things, it will introduce a “Public Spaces Protection Order”, to prevent specified things being done in specified public places. The idea is to introduce a simplified alternative which replaces Dog Control Orders (use of leads, control of fouling), Gating Orders (restricting public access), and Designated Public Place Orders (restricting consumption of alcohol in public places).
Once the bill is passed by parliament, a local authority will be able to make a Public Spaces Protection Order if it is satisfied that activities carried on in a place have a detrimental effect on quality of life.
Before making a Public Spaces Protection Order the local authority will need to consult the police, and whatever representatives of the community it thinks appropriate. The order can last for up to three years, and can then be extended repeatedly, for periods of up to three years. Breaching an order will be a criminal offence, subject to an on-the-spot fine of £100, (more in certain cases), and a fine on conviction of up to £1,000.
On face value it all sounds good stuff: improving quality of life, simplifying bureaucracy, but various groups have raised some worrying concerns. The main ones are:
- These orders are too open-ended: as well as replacing existing powers that cover alcohol control zones, dog control, and local bylaws, they would allow councils, for example, to ban spitting, smoking or begging in public places, or ban rough sleeping.
- There are fewer checks and balances than with current regulations: no requirement for public consultation, less central government scrutiny
- New crimes would be introduced, normally be punished with on-the-spot fines, sometimes issued by private security guards working on commission
- There is a risk of discrimination: orders could be directed at particular groups of people, such as the homeless, or young people, rather than being general rules which apply to everyone. They could be used to suppress peaceful protest.
These are not straightforward issues. We will be watching the specialists debate with interest. But above all, we can’t help feeling that having to resort to punitive measures is a symptom of a deeper problem. We hope that a strong community, and more constructive interventions will mean that approaches such as Public Space Protection Orders are rarely (if ever) necessary to maintain the quality of our life.
To quote the indefatigable F. R. Wilson, in his “Practical Guide for Inspectors of Nuisances” (1881):
Good-humour, good words, forbearance, explicitness of explanation and clearness of instruction, will be found most serviceable.