My children are heading for a life of crime. I'm not happy about this, obviously, but there seems to be little I can do. You see, the Government wants to make "being annoying" a criminal offence.
They're trying to change the law and replace ASBOs with Injunctions To Prevent Nuisance and Annoyance (IPNAs).
And while I love my children dearly, I can see that they're already on the slippery slope. By the time they reach the age of criminal responsibility (that's 10) they'll be hardened criminals.
My youngest daughter, for example. Only yesterday, she got bored in a shop and started shouting "poo poo pants" very loudly. Yes, she's only two. But clearly a reprobate. The cops should keep an eye on her. She's up to no good.
Then there's the four-year-old, who repeats everything she says 17 times and likes to jump up and down making silly noises. Shheesh, she can be annoying at times. Let's throw her in jail!
Here are some of the things that IPNAs could potentially be used for:
• A 10-year-old kicking a ball against a wall. We've all done it in our childhood. Long summer afternoons of kicking a football against a wall, or a fence, or smashing a tennis ball against a garage. It's part of being a kid. But it's annoying, and a nuisance. So give that kid an IPNA.
• Parents who can't stop their baby from crying all night. Yes, it's annoying. Yes, it's a nuisance. Shut that kid up! Tick those boxes and give them an IPNA.
• A group of 13-year-old boys hanging around outside a shop. They're not doing anything 'criminal'. But their presence annoys a LOT of people. They make the place look untidy. They wear HOODIES. They must be up to no good. Give them all IPNAs.
• A 12-year-old practising the trumpet, every afternoon, loudly and badly. That's annoying, isn't it? Very. Nobody could argue with that. Slap on an IPNA and confiscate all annoying instruments forthwith.
• A class full of 11-year-olds chewing gum, throwing paper aeroplanes and refusing to listen to their supply teacher. A group IPNA! I'm sure teachers have been longing for the power to take out injunctions against their most annoying classes.
• Children on trains. Crikey, they're annoying. They talk loudly. They laugh all the time. They run up and down the aisles. They spill crisps everywhere. That goes for children in cinemas, too. And on aeroplanes. Actually, children everywhere. Let's ban them from all public places! Lock them up! Throw away the key!
It seems we just can't put up with being annoyed any more. ASBOs already target behaviour considered to cause harassment, alarm or distress. But that's not enough. Now we have to crack down on annoying behaviour too. Does that include bad jokes? Sniffing? Leaving dirty socks on the floor? Eating tuna sandwiches in public?
Under the proposed changes, an IPNA would also be much easier to grant than an ASBO. A judge has to be satisfied that an ASBO is necessary, while an IPNA only has to be "just and convenient".
And an IPNA can lead to a prison sentence – they're not messing about here. Children face a whole new range of punishments for breaking an IPNA, including three months in a young offenders' centre.
Peers are voting in the Lords this afternoon on the report stage of the bill – it's already slipped quietly past all its Commons stages. The Lords may hold it up for a while, but it seems like the Government is pretty determined.
If all this sounds rather ridiculous to you, there's a campaign against the IPNA proposals which you can sign here. There's also a campaign group set up called: Reform Clause 1: Feel Free to Annoy Me which you can find here.
Or am I wrong? Should we crack down on annoying behaviour? Which annoying behaviour would you like to see outlawed? Your wish may be about to come true...
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