Jail sentences for anti-social neighbours were the centrepiece of new plans for action against persistent harassment or criminal behaviour unveiled by Jack Straw, Labour's home affairs spokesman, yesterday.
The party is also considering whether to punish parents of troublesome children aged under 10, who are too young to be dealt with by the law.
The plans were dismissed by Michael Howard, the Home Secretary, as simply "dressing up the existing civil law on nuisance to make it look new". The threat of jail for failing to obey a court order "would only ever happen in extreme cases - where intentional harassment was proved", Mr Howard said. "This is already a criminal offence under the Criminal Justice Act."
Mr Straw told a Westminster news conference: "Every citizen has the right to a quiet life. But all too often the lives of thousands of law- abiding residents are made a misery by the intolerable actions of a gang of youths, a criminal family or a group intent on racial harassment.
"The proposals are tough but they are proportionate to the disruption faced by many communities. We have to act against the banditry of people who put themselves above and beyond the law."
Responding to Labour's consultation paper, A Quiet Life, Mr Howard said the Government was already proposing action on "night-time noise", with "clearer powers for councils to seize hi-fi equipment".
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