HL Deb 17 September 2003 vol 652 cc993-1046

House again in Committee.

Clause 26 [Parenting orders in respect of criminal conduct and anti-social behaviour]:

[Amendments Nos. 135 and 136 not moved.]

Clause 26 agreed to.

Clause 27 [Parenting orders: supplemental]:

[Amendments Nos. 137 and 138 not moved.]

Clause 27 agreed to.

Clause 28 agreed to.

Clause 29 [Interpretation and consequential amendment]:

Baroness Scotland of Asthal

moved Amendment No. 139: Page 25, line 21. leave out "27" and insert "28

The noble Baroness said: The amendment extends the interpretation of various terms used in the clauses concerning parenting contracts and orders in respect of the criminal conduct and anti-social behaviour to include Clause 28, which concerns parenting orders appeals. This simply corrects an earlier drafting error that omitted to refer to the clause. It is a technical amendment. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

[Amendments Nos. 140 to 144 not moved.]

Clause 29, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 30 [Dispersal of groups and removal of persons under 16 to their place of residence]:

Baroness Walmsley

moved Amendment No. 145: Page 26, line 7, leave out paragraph (a)

The noble Baroness said: In moving Amendment No. 145, I shall speak also to Amendments Nos. 148 and 158, which stand in my name. I support Amendment No. 159, which stands in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Massey of Darwin.

The Committee may remember from Second Reading in this House and from the proceedings in another place that we on these Benches object to the whole of Part 4. My noble friends and I will, in the main, address our arguments on that when we come to the clause stand part debates. For now, I seek to address by amendment some of the most objectionable details of the clauses in Part 4.

Amendment No. 145 seeks to amend Clause 30(1) by deleting paragraph (a) on the grounds that it is unnecessary, superfluous—if that is not tautology—and too widely drawn. If individuals within a particular locality have been intimidated or harassed, this should form the basis of conventional criminal proceedings. Sections 4 and 5 of the Public Order Act 1986 criminalise threatening, abusive or insulting words or behaviour, or disorderly behaviour. So the Government already have that tool.

As with the Sexual Offences Bill, this is another example of the Government bringing in new legislation in order to be seen to be doing something rather than making full use of the toolkit already in place. Subsection (1) should apply only when there is persistent and significant anti-social behaviour. This is already covered in paragraph (b).

Amendment No. 148 concerns the period during which an authorisation can be enforced. The Bill refers to a six-month period. We believe that, given the ease with which an authorisation can be issued, this brings a danger that designated areas will, to all intents and purposes, be subject to permanent authorisation notices—no go areas. This is neither appropriate nor does it show any confidence in these new laws having much effect. A six-week period, with the possibility of renewal, should provide sufficient time to try out these powers and to see whether they are successful or not in reducing the anti-social behaviour complained of in the locality.

Amendment No. 158 was suggested to us by the LGA, which is concerned that local authorities would only be consulted about a dispersal order and would not have to agree to it. Ensuring that a dispersal order came into force only with the agreement of the chief executive would ensure that enforcement action was complemented by a range of other actions to address the anti-social behaviour in the area. The Minister tells us that of course local authorities would be consulted, but it would be very helpful if it was on the face of the Bill that they had to agree to the action.

I have heard of a number of very creative ways in which local authorities are bringing groups of people together to understand each other and the effect of each other's behaviour. A number of noble Lords went to Camden recently and heard what the authority is doing there. Simply dispersing people is not enough, and authorities such as Camden know it. They know that they have a lot to offer in this process.

Local authorities have key joint responsibility for the planning and delivery of local crime reduction, together with the police service under the Crime and Disorder Act 1998. The principle of joint agreement is key to the spirit of this partnership working, so it is vital that full agreement is on the face of the Bill and not simply assumed.

Finally, I will not say much about the amendment of the noble Baroness, Lady Massey of Darwen, because I am quite sure she will address it very articulately in a few minutes. But I heartily agree with her reasons for wanting to include the local community, which I am sure must involve listening to children—always a good thing. I beg to move.

Lord Dixon-Smith

My Amendments Nos. 146 and 147 are also in this group. I think we should get them and all the amendments relevant to this group debated on the Floor of the House before we are much further forward.

I agree very much with the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, that people are failing to use the toolkit of the existing law. If that is the case, one cannot help but wonder if they will use this law. That is one of those great hypothetical questions to which there is no answer; I would not dream of asking the Minister for the answer, because I know perfectly well that she could not answer it either. We will find out only as time passes.

My two amendments are quite small. The first, which is very small indeed, would leave out "and" and insert "or". The Bill applies where a relevant officer has reasonable grounds for believing:

  1. "(a) that any members of the public have been intimidated, harassed, alarmed or distressed as a result of the presence or behaviour of groups of two or more persons in public places … and,
  2. (b) that anti-social behaviour is a significant and persistent problem in the relevant locality".
In a sense. we had this debate much earlier in the Bill's proceedings. The question is whether "and" is an appropriate word or whether "or" is. We think that "or" would be preferable if the Bill is to mean what it says. I accept that we are talking about a significant increase in the sanctions available.

A relevant officer has to be a senior officer—a superintendent or above—and must make his judgment in the light of all the circumstances, which he will know very well, including the surrounding police area. These are all points that the Minister made in a previous debate. I still think that such a person is capable of making an appropriate judgment. However, it may be asking too much of him to make such a judgment when the behaviour of groups of people causes difficulty for the public in an area and anti-social behaviour is also a significant and persistent problem. If one is elderly one may have to go out in the evening because one may have forgotten to do one's shopping during daylight, and the shops are now open till nine or ten or eleven o'clock at night. As we get older—and I am susceptible to this—we have lapses, and we may suddenly find that we are without something essential, either for our evening meal or perhaps for breakfast in the morning. If one is in that situation and there are groups of rowdy youngsters outside, it can be quite a nerve-bending experience to walk down to the local corner shop and back again. That is what this is all about.

I know that this is an anti-social behaviour Bill, but in this particular instance "and" is perhaps a little more than is necessary and "or" would be preferable.

Amendment No. 147 would remove the requirement for, a significant and persistent problem in the relevant locality". in addition to intimidation. That is another way of stating the same thing. We do not see why anti-social behaviour should have to occur more than once before the police can do anything about it. If a policeman on the street sees anti-social behaviour building up, it is offensive even if it is the first time. They should not have to wait until it is a persistent problem in the area before it is considered offensive. It is offensive.

Those are the reasons why we tabled the amendments. I hope that the Government will consider them. I have no doubt that the Minister will give me a wonderfully lucid and plausible response, but whether she will satisfy me is another matter.

8.45 p.m.

The Lord Bishop of St Edmundsbury and Ipswich

support strongly the amendments and the general concern of the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley. There is clearly widespread concern about Part 4 of the Bill, which is echoed by a large number of organizations—exactly the list given by the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, earlier. It might almost he called the "Sharp list", in referring to it in shorthand. It is a long and detailed list of people who work with children and families.

Those organisations make it quite clear that there is no question of condoning crime or disruptive behaviour or underestimating the effect that it has on other people. The crucial question is how anti-social behaviour is dealt with and prevented and how it is addressed when it occurs. This part of the Bill is crucial to that matter. It revisits the existing provisions to impose area-based child curfew notices, first introduced under Section 14 of the Crime and Disorder Act 1998 and amended under the 2001 Act. The power has, apparently, never been used, which is an interesting comment on it, especially given that the provisions attempt to extend it.

The key point is that the power was brought in originally to protect children, not to restrict them. The new Bill reverses that and starts with the presumption that we view children as a problem rather than being in need of protection. That is a different approach, assumption and attitude.

Paragraph 4 of the Explanatory Notes says: The Bill is designed to ensure that the police have the appropriate powers to deal with serious anti-social behaviour". However, the clause goes way beyond that. This is a provision for a situation in which no crime has actually been committed—that is the point, is it not? In the light of that, Part 4 feels like an unnecessary extension of an existing power and introduces an unwelcome punitive element that will not help to deal with the root problem or the causes of anti-social behaviour. It also raises the question of human rights, in terms of the unnecessary intrusion on the liberty of an individual, to allow a constable to give orders to someone when there is no threat of crime or danger to safety. That question has clearly been raised as well. So there is a whole question about the presence of this part in the Bill.

Baroness Massey of Darwen

It is appropriate that I should speak now to Amendment No. 159 as it follows on from matters that have arisen in the debate. This amendment is in my name and the names of my noble friend Lady David, the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, and the noble Earl, Lord Listowel. I begin by thanking my noble friend the Minister for the prolific correspondence on issues raised at Second Reading and for her obvious concern to consult on the Bill. She has been most assiduous in that and it has been very useful.

I, too, have some problems with this clause, and no doubt there will he much discussion about it at a later date. I am particularly concerned about the police having the power to disperse groups of two or more young people and to remove young people under 16 who are unsupervised in public places from 9 p.m. to 6 a.m. to their place of residence. I think that the provision is full of problems, both practical and ethical. I do not condone crime or disturbance by young people, and I know that some communities have problems of serious misbehaviour among young people, as has been said already, but I believe that community problems are often best resolved by involving communities, including young people.

It is clear from numerous surveys that young people want recreational facilities where they can meet friends and enjoy themselves. We do not have enough such facilities. Surely we should develop more, so that young people do not have to hang around so much in public places, before we set punitive laws that may well add to and increase confrontation between the police and young people and local communities and young people.

The Home Office White Paper Respect and Responsibility—taking a stand against anti-social behaviour states: to tackle anti-social behaviour we must ensure that the community sets clear standards of behaviour", and that, local people must be encouraged to win back their communities and encouraged by local and central Government to do so". I think that that is the crux of the matter. Local child curfew notices under the Crime and Disorder Act 1998 were set out by the Government as a protective measure for children and young people and as a support to parents, as I think was hinted at by the right reverend Prelate. The measures here seem to view young people as a problem rather than as being in need of protection.

The Hamilton Child Safety Initiative concluded that the police cannot solve community problems alone. There has been a welcome commitment by the Government to listening to and involving young people. The Children and Young People's Unit document, Learning to Listen: core principles fir the involvement of children and young people, states that better outcomes for communities are encouraged by drawing on contributions to shape services.

Many children's organizations—I will not go into them all again—are seriously concerned about the new powers under Part 4 of the Bill. My amendment seeks to ensure that members of the local community, including young people and their families, are at least involved in the decision making about dispersing groups.

The Earl of Listowel

I rise to support Amendment No. 159, which was so eloquently spoken to by the noble Baroness, Lady Massey, and to which I have also put my name, and to second the concerns raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley. I am concerned that this proposal may inadvertently increase local tensions. Although I respect the reasons why the Government wish to introduce the provision and recognise the difficulties, I think that this is a constructive amendment. I remember attending weekly meetings at a hostel for 16 to 23 year-olds run by Centrepoint. At the weekly meetings the young people discussed the way in which the hostel was run. The hostel curfew was discussed and, as a result of that discussion, it was raised by one hour. The young people knew, however, that the curfew would be strictly applied and that if they breached it they would be in serious trouble. They accepted that because they had discussed the matter and had agreed to it.

I hope that the Government will regard the measure that we are discussing as a constructive amendment to their proposals. I look forward to the Minister's response. I hope that it will sugar a rather bitter pill.

Baroness Linklater of Butterstone

I, too, rise to support my noble friend and the group of amendments concerning the dispersal of groups and the associated conditions. That matter causes these Benches great concern, not to speak of the concern of many other bodies and organisations in this country whose knowledge, experience and expertise should not be ignored. I include here all the leading children's organisations, the Sharp list and legal opinion, particularly in relation to the Joint Committee on Human Rights, the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and the European Convention on Human Rights. I am no legal expert but it should surely give us pause for thought when such fundamental concerns about where this legislation might be taking us are being expressed, however well intentioned the motives behind the legislation might be.

The issues which give greatest pause are that dispersal can take place if any member of the public is intimidated, harassed, alarmed or distressed merely as a result of the presence of two or more people, and that such a presence is merely likely to result in intimidation, harassment, alarm or distress. Nothing need have actually happened; the offence is simply to be there.

I refer particularly here to the legal opinion on the human rights status of the Bill which was sought from Anthony Jennings QC of Matrix Chambers. He describes the provisions in this clause as "breathtaking"—not an adjective commonly used by sober lawyers—and notes that even the Government concede that the clause involves potential breaches of Articles 5, 8, 10 and 11 of the ECHR. He describes a dispersal order under these circumstances as "a nationwide curfew" particularly on young people under 16 who are not under the effective control of a parent and asks how the presence of such a child can be categorised as "serious anti-social behaviour". At its extremes he asks, what about the teenager walking home from a violin lesson after 9 p.m. or the 15 year-old girl suspicious of someone in uniform asking her to come away with him? His conclusion is that, any infringement of a Convention right must not destroy the very essence of that right. No public interest can justify the destruction of the essence of a right".

The important thing is that the powers can be exercised although the child has done nothing wrong. Not only are these powers frighteningly—and this is my word—draconian, but carry in their wake the potential, as we have already discussed, for real trouble in the future in terms of damaged community relations, alienation of the young, racial tensions and all the features of our society which we must avoid if we are to achieve the positive social behaviour we all seek. We know and understand how young children can be caught up in and risk being involved in ASB simply by being around with, say, an older sibling but this is not the way to protect them.

Lord Bassam of Brighton

This is one of those points in the Bill where we have to begin to think of what I would generally wrap together as real world situations. I say that because all of those who have spoken in the debate so far are, like myself and the noble Baroness, Lady Scotland, motivated by the finest of intentions. We are ultimately trying to give some power back to the community. We all recognise that there is a problem. This part of the Bill tries to deal with that problem in what I would argue is a measured and proportionate way.

I have the greatest respect for the line of argument taken by the noble Baroness, Lady Linklater, on a concern for human rights. It comes not only from good intentions, but from the right sort of community sense and spirit. However, we also have to pay attention to the human rights of those who suffer harassment over time. As I listened, my mind was drawn back to the time when, as leader of my local authority, I was getting regular complaints from part of my ward. It was a very respectable part of Brighton as it happens—not a council estate—so no one need jump to conclusions about the character of the area that I represented.

Each and every night throughout much of one particularly long summer, congregations of young people on the streets undoubtedly caused distress and disturbance to those living in the neighbourhood. The best that the local police and I as a very active councillor—I took great interest in my ward—could offer was logging the activity, making a complaint to the environmental health team, which was concerned about noise nuisance, and advising residents to ensure that they informed their local community constable about what they thought might be public order breaches.

The issue was aired publicly and there were discussions with council staff and local police officers and at a very senior level within the division. However, all that did not provide that community with the protection or a tool in a toolkit that it could use to change the character of its streets in that neighbourhood. It is such situations that, in a sense, we are trying to grapple with in the Bill.

9 p.m.

Lord Thomas of Gresford

From what did the people living in the area want to be protected? Was it criminal offences, or simply youngsters in the street?

Lord Bassam of Brighton

They felt—one has to respect that the views came from constituents—that they were being harassed and threatened by the presence of a large number of people. The age band was fairly wide. They felt that the presence of those people together on the streets as I have described was likely to lead to criminal acts. The responses of the agencies involved were not able to provide them with something that they could use to assist them to reclaim their neighbourhood and their streets. That is an important consideration. I set that in the context of the debate, because it is a very important debate.

The group of amendments is curious. It includes amendments tabled by Liberal Democrat Members of the Committee that come from one direction, but also the amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, that comes from another direction and deals with the and/or issue.

We have tried to strike a balance. Our strategy—the Bill and particularly these clauses—is part of wider government initiatives. We went over that issue at some length in our discussions and deliberations the other evening. The issue is not all about being punitive, but about being constructive as well. My noble friend Lady Scotland or I drew attention to the extensive range of government programmes that provide the sorts of recreational facilities referred to by the noble Baroness, Lady Massey. The provisions are therefore part of a broader constructive approach and they should not be seen in isolation.

Nor are we saying that there is a problem with young people. We recognise and understand that there are many young people with different lifestyles coming from different backgrounds. However, we must accept that sometimes young people—and I am a father of teenagers—can represent a problem to others. It is right to ensure that we have the powers to deal with the problem in a way that is sometimes community disciplinarian. That is at the core of some of our measures.

Having made those initial comments, I want to go through the points in turn. Amendment No. 145, moved by the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, seeks to delete the condition that members of the public in the area must have suffered intimidation, harassment, alarm or distress. In a sense, it is puzzling, but, in the context of the dislike coming from Members on the Liberal Democrat Front Bench, I understand why it has been moved.

Amendment No. 146 gives the senior officer the power to give an authorisation in areas where people have been intimidated, harassed, alarmed or distressed, or that anti-social behaviour is a significant and persistent problem. Amendment No. 147 seeks to take out the requirement that these powers can be exercised only in an area where anti-social behaviour is a significant and persistent problem. There, the noble Lord, Dixon-Smith, is trying to broaden the scope of the Bill's measures.

The Government believe that both conditions should apply as a firm test. These are targeted powers, aimed at areas where groups hang around and where anti-social behaviour is a particular problem. In short, we want this power to be targeted at areas where there are particular problems.

We have heard of concerns about individuals innocently going through an area and being swept up by the measures which are proposed. I would put the argument the other way round. The Government are concerned about the presence in some of our communities of those who want to stir up racial hatred and distress. I would argue that these measures could well be used in circumstances in which those groups are congregating in vulnerable communities—perhaps previously in places such as Oldham or Burnley which experienced that. The powers would be extremely useful in the toolkit of the local community concerned, the police or the local authority. I would ask noble Lords to think of the importance of these measures in that context, too.

Amendment No. 148 seeks to limit the duration of the authorisation to six weeks. It was argued most ably by the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, as ever, that it would be renewed. I take that point, but we believe that we have struck the right balance. That is why we believe that six months is appropriate. We want the local police to be able to use this power as part of a strategy for dealing with anti-social behaviour in their area. They need time for the strategy to work. They do not need the interruption of six-weekly renewals. They need to have a firm position—one that is understood and clearly acknowledged in the community.

We do not believe that the police need to have the power indefinitely, and that is why we believe that six months strikes the right balance between the two. We recognise that circumstances may change and that authorisation may no longer be appropriate. That is why Clause 31(6) makes provision for authorisation to be withdrawn.

Amendment No. 158 suggests that the police should seek the agreement of the local council before, ranting an authorisation. We agree that consultation with the local council is essential if the power is to be used as part of a local strategy for dealing with anti-social behaviour. But we have to take on board operational considerations. I believe that if the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, or perhaps the noble Baroness, Lady Harris of Richmond, were in their places, they would reflect on that, too.

Local authorities and the police already work together closely in local crime and disorder reduction partnerships, and we expect consultation on authorising these powers to be part of that process. However, we believe that the police are the correct agency to lead this power and that they should be able to act if they consider that the powers are necessary to reclaim an area. That is what we are talking about. We are keen to ensure that bureaucracy related to the use of the power is kept to a minimum.

Amendment No. 159 seeks to ensure that the local community is consulted before an authorisation is granted. As I said a moment ago, consultation is at the heart of that. We agree that the local community should be involved in tackling anti-social behaviour in its area. My guess and surmise is that, as in the example that I gave and in other examples which I am sure we can all give, it will be the local community that comes forward and demands that the powers are exercised.

However, as a corollary to that, we would not necessarily want to extend the authorisation process by building in an obligation to consult the local community. But we shall ensure—this is where I believe that it is best put—that the code of practice, issued under Clause 34 of the Bill, gives advice on consultation with the local community. Indeed, we expect that the crime and disorder reduction partnerships, which include representatives from the police, the council and the local community, will want to engage with the community to determine whether there are areas in their locality where the use of the powers would be beneficial.

We agree that it is essential that local communities know that the powers are being used in their area. That is why Clause 31(3) ensures that publicity is given to an authorisation. We consider that clause to be very important. We want people to understand the import of exactly what we are trying to achieve with this piece of legislation and its value and importance in terms of enabling residents sometimes— no doubt in extreme circumstances—to reclaim their community. Ultimately, this is about giving power back to people in those communities so that they may have self-confidence and security. We consider those things to have primacy in this issue and in this debate.

Lord Thomas of Gresford

In my village of Gresford, the War Memorial Trust owns some 18 acres of land.

We have a new sports hall, which is used for all kinds of community activities. We have two football pitches, a cricket pitch, tennis courts, a children's playground, two bowls greens and even somewhere to play billiards and snooker. We have the lot.

Across the road is the youth club. We, as the trustees, received a letter from someone who lives in the same street as the youth club. It said: "I am very concerned that when the youth club finishes, young people spill out and stand in the street next to my house. What we would like the trustees to do is to ensure that there is some way of getting them over to the sports facilities and making them play games and using the facilities that you are providing".

The trustees of the trust—there are approximately 30 of them—who represent the whole community, treated that request with some amusement. But that is what is behind this legislation. The Government are proposing that the police should start to manage people. I believe it was interesting that, in illustrating his point, the Minister referred to the posher part of Brighton, where the inhabitants were upset because young people were standing about in the street—

Lord Bassam of Brighton

Perhaps the noble Lord will give way briefly. I would not wish that description to take too much of a hold in this debate. I believe the residents of that particular part of Brighton would be amused at the description that the noble Lord used. My old ward was full of honest, hard-working folk, who had aspirations to improve, as we all do, and I am sure that they would be best recognised in those terms.

Lord Thomas of Gresford

Perhaps that could be corrected in the local newspaper: the Minister referred to "the not-so-posh" part of Brighton. The people who have aspirations, the social climbers of Brighton, to whom the Minister referred, were concerned at the people who were standing outside their house. He took the trouble to explain that this was not a housing estate. What he wants in the Bill is to have the police manage people so that they are moved from this area into the housing estates, no doubt from which they come.

When that is seen in these terms, we see the essential illiberality of these provisions. In this country we have always believed that it is an unwarranted intrusion upon people's liberty to move them on if they are not committing a criminal offence or if there is no imminent likelihood of a breach of the peace. We ask the police not to tell people where to go within our communities; we ask them to investigate and to prevent crime but not to push people about. That is at the heart of this part of the Bill. That is why we on these Benches oppose it so much.

9.15 p.m.

The Lord Bishop of Hereford

I find myself wanting to come to the rescue of the Minister and defend the Government on this particular matter. There is a danger of illiberality and autocratic oppressive action by the police. However, there is a real problem of antisocial behaviour, which is why I believe that the word "and" is necessary. It reduces the number of occasions which will qualify for this kind of drastic action. There has to be harassment, intimidation and alarm and distress caused and it has to be in the context of ongoing problems in that particular place, not just one group of exuberant young people on one occasion who are a bit of a nuisance, but serious problems against a background of ongoing irritation, oppression and unpleasantness for people who live or work in that place.

Therefore, I believe that the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, is wrong to want "and" replaced by "or". I want the "and" to remain. That will mean that these powers will be used less frequently. I also believe that there is a serious issue here. It is no good pretending that it will just go away if we are nice to people. There are occasions when this kind of behaviour has become really quite intimidating and unpleasant and we need legislation to deal with it.

The noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, says that we have provision for dealing with subsection (1)(a). We have, but that will be used in particular cases where appropriate. This is a new piece of legislation needed for a new situation which has arisen. I find myself wanting to support the Minister. Although I understand the purpose of the amendments, I believe they are misguided. The noble Baroness, Lady Massey, did not say who the people would be from the local community. I believe that that sort of provision is properly made in the code of practice. I support the Government on this issue.

Baroness Walmsley

I thank noble Lords from all parts of the House who supported my amendment, in particular the right reverend Prelate—not the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Hereford!

The Minister started off by saying that we are speaking of a situation that exists in the real world. I hope he does not suggest that those who support the amendments do not live in the real world. We have great concerns about the human rights of residents. However, we are concerned about their right to have public services which work in the long term. I am not just moving things away to be sorted out in the short term. The human rights of society are not enhanced when we undermine the rights of individual, young, impressionable people who have done nothing wrong; rather, that undermines their confidence in the law at a time when they are forming their impressions of the fairness of the law. In the long term that is not a good thing.

The Minister said that local people want power. What about the powers of persuasion? Many things are being done by creative local authorities working with members of the community, empowering them, and working with young people, not against them. I believe that the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, put his finger on the button when he spoke of getting the agreement of young people, which works in such situations.

I thank the Minister for his comments on the issue of the length of time that a dispersal order should he put in place. I am afraid that I still believe that six weeks will concentrate the minds of those who need to address the underlying problems of young people with nothing to do gathering on street corners and intimidating other people. It may be a nuisance if they have to keep going back for a renewal, but perhaps it will be the kind of prod that makes them do something that will work in the long term.

On the local authority having to give agreement, agreement means accountability and ownership. The local authority actually represents local people. They voted for it. Therefore, if we want to give power back to the people, asking for the local authority's agreement is not unreasonable.

However, I thank the noble Lord for his comments. We shall take away and consider his remarks, but we may very well return to this issue later in the Bill. Meanwhile, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 146 to 148 not moved.]

Baroness Walmsley

moved Amendment No. 149: Page 26, line 18, leave out ", or is likely to result,

The noble Baroness said: In moving Amendment No. 149, I shall speak also to Amendments Nos. 150 and 153 in my name and support Amendment No. 155 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith.

Amendment No. 149 is intended to ensure that the order to disperse is proportionate to the problem—a concern highlighted by the Joint Committee on Human Rights, as has been mentioned. We want to ensure that the power to disperse will be available only where it is clear that intimidation, harassment, alarm or distress has actually taken place, not just that someone thinks it might, as one or two noble Lords mentioned when dealing with the previous group. Therefore, this amendment removes the words "or is likely to result".

In its scrutiny of the Bill the JCHR commented that, the potential intrusion on private life and liberty is so extensive and the benefits in any case likely to be so speculative that it might be difficult to establish either in general or in specific cases that the powers granted under clause 29 of the Bill will or would be used only when it was proportionate to a pressing social need. A constable or community support officer who considers using these powers will be in a difficult position, without much guidance from the legislation as to when and how he or she should exercise them". That does not sound like a vote of confidence. This really gets to the heart of our objection to this part of the Bill. And we are not alone; all the children's charities agree with us. It is not proportionate to remove someone from an area or take them home if they are simply there. If they are committing a crime while there, as I said earlier, there are already powers to deal with that.

Amendments Nos. 150 and 151 make the area for the authorisation much more specific than it is in the Bill. "Locality" can mean a very big area of land—a whole town centre. The present drafting makes it too easy for a constable to demand that a group leaves the whole of a locality, even if that is excessive. The area from which the group must disperse should he more clearly specified by the officer and this should appear on the face of the Bill.

Amendment No. 152 reduces the period of time for which a person is banned from returning to a specified area from 24 to eight hours. Given that the purpose is to disperse the group, it is not necessary to prevent a person coming back to the area the next day— 23.5 hours later. Eight hours is much more reasonable, especially given that these situations normally arise at night.

Amendment No. 153 reduces the period of banned time from the period from 9 p.m. to 6 a.m., which we believe to be excessive, to the period from I a.m. to 5 a.m. The current Bill would prevent young people from carrying out a paper round, which is surely to be encouraged as long as it is done safely.

I also support Amendment No. 155, of the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith. It is not good enough to allow a police officer to take a child home even if he thinks he may come to a modicum of harm. The test should be any harm, not significant harm. The whole issue of taking children home also has human rights as well as child protection implications. I know that my noble friend Lady Linklater of Butterstone has great concerns about that. The police's approach to young children out in the street late at night should be from the point of view of child protection. Those are children at risk and the police should have the responsibility to treat them as such and work with other relevant agencies to ensure their welfare.

Although we understand the Minister's concern to catch potential offenders while they are young to divert them from the path that leads them into the criminal justice system, this part of the Bill has not been fully thought through. Perhaps the Minister would explain how the measure would fit into the system to protect children. I beg to move.

Lord Dixon-Smith

I tabled Amendments Nos. 154 to 156 and 160, which are grouped. Amendment No. 154, a simple little amendment on which I hope that the Government will at the least give assurances. would leave out "6" and insert "5". It was tabled for the simple reason that many young lads start their paper rounds between 5 and 6 a.m. As the Bill is drafted, even if they had no nefarious intent, technically a policeman could pack them off home. That is unreasonable. If the Government give me an absolute assurance that the police would never act against a boy with a sack of papers over his shoulder, I shall be content. However, I thought that I should make that significant point, which the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, also picked up.

Amendment No. 155 deals with the question of taking a child home when he may receive harm. Frankly, I find it appalling that a policeman might take a child home when he might receive any harm, but how do we define significant harm? I do not know what is significant harm. In my experience, from wherever you are standing, there is always someone who is worse off and someone who is better off than you. If significant harm is always something worse, it is a question of where you start from. That applies to health, age and everything else.

In this instance, the adjective is inappropriate. We are talking about a known risk—we can do nothing about an unknown risk. If there is a known risk that if taken home, the child will be liable to harm, the idea that the harm must be significant is a difficult concept. I should rather the word were removed.

Amendment No. 156 would insert the words: 'relevant locality' means that area which the constable believes is reasonable bearing in mind the number of people and the circumstances". The provision is all about designating areas with the agreement of local authorities. Later, we shall ask for the magistrates' courts also to be involved. But unless that designated area is small and tightly defined, the relevant area for the purposes of moving people on may be smaller than the designated area. There should be an element of discretion. Amendment No. 156 would provide that.

Amendment No. 160 is significant. Wherever action is taken to move people on, it is essential— I stress that—that it be recorded.

At the moment, that requirement is not in the Bill. Again, the Minister may assure me that the police would have to record that information in the normal course of duty. However, it is not required under the Bill. The Committee should require an answer to that issue. The idea that someone could move people on without the incident being recorded, with the result that nobody would know that it had happened, is intolerable. That applies particularly when dealing with persistent anti-social behaviour, as it is very important to know when such behaviour is persisting, and even more important to know when it is no longer a problem. That would be measured by the absence of records of the need for action.

These are small amendments, but they are significant. I hope that the Government will consider them favourably, or at least assure me that they will be covered properly in the normal course of police activity.

9.30 p.m.

Lord Bassam of Brighton

I shall deal with the amendments in this group, including the government amendment, Amendment No. 163. We have had a general debate on the issue, so I shall deal with the specifics.

Amendment No. 149 prevents a constable using the power if he has reasonable grounds for believing that the presence or behaviour of groups will result in members of the public being intimidated, harassed, alarmed or distressed. It is essential that a constable or community support officer has powers to prevent members of the public being affected in that way, and to prevent intimidation, harassment, alarm or distress occurring. I ask all Members of the Committee who have been involved in the debate to bear in mind that the powers are available only in areas where there has been a history of intimidation, harassment, alarm or distress, and a significant and persistent problem of anti-social behaviour. The two are linked, as the right reverend Prelate described correctly. It is a rigorous test, as it must be.

I wish to nail the issue of whether the legislation is intended to be used only against young people. There has been a whole current of suggestions from the Liberal Democrat Benches that that is the motivation for the legislation. It is not the primary, or only, motivation for introducing the clauses. I return to the example that I gave of street corners being overtaken by racists in some cities, and of powers such as these being proportionate to dealing with the problems that racists can cause in towns, cities and communities. The provision will be a very helpful tool in the fight against such racist activity. It is a matter on which Members of the Committee need to reflect.

The noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, tabled two amendments, Amendments Nos. 150 and 151, to clarify the terms of the direction. The Government agree with the noble Baroness that the constable or community support officer giving the direction will need to make clear the locality to which the direction applies. We also agree that the locality to which the direction applies should be linked to preventing intimidation, harassment, alarm or distress, and should not be unnecessarily large. That is why the constable or community support officer has the option of giving a direction that applies only to part of the relevant locality. Both issues will be covered further in the code of practice issued under Clause 34. That is very important because, in putting together the code of practice, we will wish to ensure that we get it right, and to listen to concerned voices, such as children's charities and local authorities.

The Government consider that a direction should be able to prevent a return to the locality for a period of up to 24 hours. The noble Baroness says that the period should be eight hours. The Government want to prevent groups merely reconvening a few hours later and continuing to cause the public harassment, alarm or distress of the sort that I described earlier. We believe that 24 hours strikes that balance. We hope that the chance of a further direction will deter people from gathering in areas where they cause problems for local communities in a very persistent and continued way.

The power to take children home will help the police to protect local communities from the alarm and distress groups of children can cause. It will also protect children and young people from the risks posed by being unaccompanied late at night, not least that they might themselves become involved in or become the victims of anti-social or criminal behaviour. It is worth remembering that it is young people who are most likely to be victims in those circumstances.

Amendment No. 153 seeks to limit severely the times during which this power may be used to a period from 1 a.m. to 5 a.m. There are severe risks with young people being out unaccompanied at such a late time. Most of us in your Lordships' House would be very concerned if teenagers from our families were out at that hour of the night. For the police not to have this power available for children out as late as 11 p.m. or midnight could put them at risk.

Amendment No. 154 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, seeks to limit the times during which this power may be used to a period from 9 p.m. to 5 a.m. This is the noble Lord's paper-round amendment. It made me think about when I had a paper round in my teens. I do not remember being up at 5 a.m. and my round included the local police constable's house. If he had seen me at that hour of the day, he would have reported me to my mother in a state of shock. This measure is not intended to catch young people delivering newspapers, and it is highly unlikely to be used in those circumstances. It is not what the measure is intended to catch, as I think the noble Lord in all truth and honesty knows.

Lord Dixon-Smith

I am sorry to intervene, but the problem is not so much 5 a.m., but 5.55 a.m., if we are to be pedantic about these things. The Minister is hedging on giving an assurance that the measure would not be used in this way. He said that he thought that it would not. I would have thought that he could be perfectly plain.

Lord Bassam of Brighton

Let us say that it is not our intention that the measure would be used in that way, and I think that the noble Lord understands that.

We could have a lengthy debate on when this power should be available to the police. We believe that the Bill as drafted strikes the right balance. I stress that this is a discretionary power. We recognise that young people, on occasion, have a legitimate reason to be out at night unsupervised. The police will have discretion to return home only those about whom they are concerned and who do not have a legitimate reason for being there.

As currently drafted, a police officer or CSO can take a child home if he has reasonable grounds to believe that the child would be, likely to suffer significant harm". Amendment No. 155 moved by the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, amends this test to "likely to suffer harm". I understand that he wishes to be entirely accurate about the terminology and get something that is easily understood. However, the term "significant harm" is well understood and appears in legislation such as the Children Act 1989 and we see no advantage in amending it. A definition can be found in Section 46(1) of that Act, so it is understood in law already. I invite the noble Lord to check the reference because it may reassure him that the definition is well used.

Amendment No. 156 moved by the noble Lord defines "relevant locality" as the, area which the constable believes to be reasonable bearing in mind the number of people involved and the circumstances of the groups". The Government agree that the constable or community support officer on the ground must decide the precise area from which the group must disperse, provided that it is within a larger area authorised in advance by the superintendent. Clause 30(4) allows the constable or community support officer to disperse a group from part of the relevant locality. For example, the relevant locality could be a whole housing estate, and it would be for the constable or community support officer to decide the exact streets from which the groups must disperse. That makes sense; it does not help anybody if the area is too extensive. An operational decision must be made, and that decision is best left to the constable or community support officer in the circumstances.

Amendment No. 160 would ensure that an officer giving a direction records that direction. We agree with the principle that officers should record directions given. Such issues will be covered in the code of practice to be issued under Clause 34. We think that it is a matter of best practice and invite the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, to agree. In those circumstances, it would not be appropriate to make the amendment. The officers will want to ensure that good practice is understood and that people working throughout the criminal justice system understand the importance of recording and notifying all those involved.

Clause 35 extends the provisions in this part to the British Transport Police. Amendment No. 163, a government amendment, updates a cross-reference to the Railways and Transport Safety Act 2003.

I invite the noble Baroness not to press the amendment, in light of the explanation that I have given.

Baroness Walmsley

We accept that the Bill is not just about young people; the same arguments apply to the human right of anybody, of whatever age, not to be moved on by a policeman simply because they are there. Exactly the same things apply, no matter how old people are.

I thank the noble Lord for his comments on the subject of the relevant area or locality. We will examine the code of practice and come back to it, if we are still not happy about it, at a later stage.

The noble Lord said that, if the Bill did not specify a period of 24 hours, people prohibited from an area would go away for a few hours and come back again. We are proposing a period of eight hours: that is a long time to go down to the pub and have a few drinks before coming back to hang around and intimidate people. It will not happen; it will be the following morning by then.

We discussed the issue of taking children home. If a young child is out at midnight, he is at risk, and the appropriate agencies should be called. That is what it boils down to. I was interested in what the Minister said about the definition of significant harm in the Children Act 1989. We will examine it and, perhaps, come back to it at a later stage.

Despite the Minister's attempts to satisfy us on those issues, we are still unhappy. Undoubtedly, we will come back to them at a later stage, but, for the moment, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 150 to 156 not moved.]

On Question, Whether Clause 30 shall stand part of the Bill?

9.45 p.m.

Baroness Walmsley

Clauses 30 to 36 inclusive should not stand part of the Bill. As I said, I am not alone in thinking that. Not only are my colleagues in your Lordships' House—note the galaxy of talent arrayed beside and behind me on these Benches—and in another place all behind me in that, but Liberty, Barnardo's and the list of bodies that my noble friend Lady Sharp of Guildford read out earlier are all opposed to the provisions of Part 4 because of the detrimental impact that they will have on children and communities. The JCHR believes the powers to take children home to be illegal under human rights law; the Association of Chief Police Officers does not want these powers either; and the Local Government Association has major concerns. That is a very wide range of constituencies.

On these Benches, we do not condone crime. Anyone who claims that we do, and campaigns against us on such an allegation, is not just lying, but is undertaking the worst kind of politics. Nor do we underestimate the impact that seriously disruptive behaviour can have on people's lives. We do not want to be soft on crime, but to be effective on crime in the long term. I think that that is what the public want too. People want measures that work. We believe that these measures will not work and could be damaging to young people and communities.

We are aware that many people's lives are made a misery by anti-social behaviour, which must be addressed. But for the sake of local residents, it must be addressed by effective measures. For the sake of young people, it must be addressed by measures that do not alienate and demonise them. However, the proposals on dispersal will simply increase local tension between those in positions of authority and young people and their families, as well as those who are harassed, without effectively tackling the root causes of anti-social behaviour. We urge the Government to reconsider their proposals and to consult with all members of the community. They must listen to children and young people about the most effective ways of reducing anti-social behaviour, while offering children and families the help that they need.

Young people need to understand how threatening they can be to old people. Moving them on just does not do that. If the legislation is passed, it could even lead to a three-month prison sentence for failure to comply. Most civilised countries in Western Europe would be horrified by such a proposal. Most young people behave well. Those who hang about on street corners do not want to be there. If asked why they are there, they will say that they are too broke to go to the cinema; or in the case of my home town, there is no cinema, and no bus to get to one. They may say that there is nowhere else to go to meet their mates: there is no youth club, no leisure centre—or just one that is closed or inadequate for their needs—and no coffee bar, with its funny Pyrex cups that are now becoming collector's items, like the ones in which I used to hang out during the 1960s. There is nothing.

Part 4 revisits existing provisions to impose area-based child curfew notices, first introduced under Section 14 of the Crime and Disorder Act 1998—a power which, to date, has not been used. This part of the Bill is an unnecessary extension of an existing unused and discredited power. We have been reminded today that local child curfew notices, under the Crime and Disorder Act, were framed by the Government as protective measures for children and young people and as a support to parents. The new measures in the Bill reverse the presumption; they view children and young people as primarily a problem rather than in need of protection.

Why? I believe that it is the easy option. Doing the job more creatively requires more thought, more partnership and more resources. The power of dispersal is an easy way to fail to tackle the problem and to move it somewhere else. These new powers on dispersal of groups do not include any requirement to consult the local community, including children, young people and their families. I hope that the Government will accept the amendment proposed by the noble Baroness, Lady Massey of Darwen.

The proposal removes power from the local community—a strange contradiction of the ethos of the White Paper statement that, to tackle anti-social behaviour we must ensure that the community sets clear standards of behaviour". The Joint Committee on Human Rights highlighted major concerns. On removing children to their place of residence, the JCHR states: Despite the safeguards to which the Government refers, we are not satisfied that the measures in Clause 30(6) of the Bill are a proportionate response to a pressing social need, or that the safeguards provide assurance that the power would be used only where it is necessary and proportionate to do so to protect the child. We therefore conclude that there is a risk of incompatibility with ECHR Article 5 (right to liberty). 8 (right to respect for a private life) and 11 (freedom of association)". Furthermore, the children's charities, for whom all noble Lords have great respect, have highlighted that the power to take children home would contravene Articles 15 and 31 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, which guarantee children freedom of association and the right to leisure, recreation and cultural activities.

Members on these Benches are concerned about the subjectivity of the powers, raising the possibility that they could be misused. Dispersal need not be on the basis that anti-social behaviour has occurred, but that the mere presence of a group is capable of resulting in alarm or distress in a member of the public. There are muscular young men in the gym where I exercise who are capable of causing alarm and distress to me, but I do not expect them to be moved on for my sake.

Although the dispersal should take place only in an area where anti-social behaviour has been a persistent problem, there is nothing to stop perfectly law-abiding people who happen to be in the area at the time, doing no one any harm, being targeted by an over-zealous police officer and moved along with the rest. They may have had nothing whatsoever to do with the previous offences that caused the area to be designated as one where persistent anti-social behaviour takes place. What kind of police state does it make us when it becomes a criminal offence to walk down the street?

We are also very concerned about the potential negative impact on local community relations. The Association of Chief Police Officers is concerned about the effect these powers might have on relations with ethnic minority communities. The street culture of young black people means that they are more likely than are young white people to gather on the street and therefore more likely to be targeted by these powers, potentially reopening tensions with the police that have been fading away in many areas due to hard work on the part of the police and co-operation from communities. It would be a great pity to destroy that work.

The Local Government Association believes that these proposals may simply displace problems from one area to another. It has pointed out that local authorities deliver key services such as youth offending teams, youth work, social services, education and highways. The intervention of these services will be necessary to achieve in the longer term a reduction in anti-social behaviour with the groups from the dispersed area, if the problem is not simply to be moved elsewhere. It is also important to ensure that decisions to invoke an order should be taken only where police commanders and local authorities are convinced that all alternative interventions have failed.

For young people, hanging around and showing off is normal behaviour. It does not mean that they are up to no good. Those that are can be dealt with under existing powers. The statute book is bulging with public order legislation. We need to build trust between young people and the police, not erode it through powers like this. The powers will also be ineffective. What is to stop a child taken home from coming out again as soon as the officer's back is turned? What is to stop members of a group that has been dispersed from going and causing trouble somewhere else? Unless you find out why they are there, explain to them how their presence makes others feel and give them something better to do, simply dispersing them is a terribly negative way of dealing with what we accept is a problem. But we need effective ways, not easy ways. I oppose the Question that Clause 30 should stand part of the Bill.

Lord Thomas of Gresford

I rise to support my noble friend in opposing this clause and this whole part of the Bill, which really is the "move along" part. I have been considering some of the comments made during the course of this debate. The Minister said that it is time to enter the world of reality, while the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Hereford referred to the fact that there are problems with anti-social behaviour in our cities. There are also problems in the countryside, even in the town of Hereford, as I know.

Following the line just taken by my noble friend, ample legislation is in place to deal with the situation where an offence has been committed or there is the likelihood of an offence taking place. The Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 and the Crime and Disorder Act 1998 would apply with drugs and drunkenness offences. The Public Order Act 1986 would deal with a likely breach of the peace. If an offence is being committed or is likely to be committed, the police have a role. The only effect of these provisions will be to permit the police, if they want to exercise these powers—and of course they never exercised their powers under the child curfew order which we debated at length in 1998—to move a group of people from one area to another.

It is said that we are not dealing only with young people; that other groups of people may fall into this category. I have been trying to think of some. It could include those who wish to demonstrate—not by marching; they would be excluded under subsection (5) providing they had permission—for example, outside a social security office or against a pedestrian crossing. In the course of doing so, some people may feel intimidated, harassed and so on. The provisions in the Bill will impinge on people's rights to do that.

There is racial tension in some areas, sometimes between ethnic groups and sometimes involving white racists and so on. Those kinds of public order issues can be dealt with by the existing legislation without the need for more.

In the face of the opposition to this part of the Bill which has been expressed by all the organisations to which my noble friend referred, and the clear decision of the Joint Committee on Human Rights that these provisions breach Articles 5, 8, 10 and 11 of the European Convention on Human Rights, why do the Government wish to persist? I invite them to withdraw this part of the Bill from the consideration of the House.

Baroness Scotland of Asthal

Many of these issues have already been debated in some detail. I shall try to be as "telegraphic" as the noble Lord, Lord Kingsland, would want me to be if he were in his place. The case against clause stand part was succinctly and elegantly put by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Hereford.

I have become troubled by the theme running through a number of comments made in relation to Clause 30—that it is an attempt to alienate or demonise young people. Nothing could be further from the truth. I know it is proper that in Committee we should concentrate on each clause as it comes, but we cannot divorce the Bill and these provisions from the plethora of work that we are carrying out right across the piece to re-engage young people and to meet their needs in terms of education, social integration and activity after school. In that endeavour the Government are linking arms with civil society. We are involving the churches, non-governmental organisations, local authorities and all people of good will who have at their core the interests of young people and children.

The clause was not fashioned or targeted to bite solely on young people, but to bite on the people in a community who are responsible for the anti-social behaviour which adversely affects others and makes life intolerable for many. I therefore feel that it was absolutely correct for the right reverend Prelate to emphasise how important he feels that "and" is. I respectfully agree.

The combination of those factors means that it should be appropriately difficult to designate areas to which these provisions will apply. We are not talking about people going about their everyday business and being inappropriately dispersed; we are talking about an area which has been designated as an area of acute difficulty and concern for members of the community, where they are seeking relief. And they are entitled to it.

I join issue with the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, in relation to her comments about black young people. Can I reassure her that the people who are part of our black and minority ethnic community are just as passionate about anti-social behaviour and wish to find a means to bring about its cessation as are their white counterparts? I am sure the noble Baroness did not mean to cause offence, but I regret to tell her that some may, on reading her comments, take offence. I am sure, knowing the noble Baroness as I do, that no such offence was intended.

These are temperate provisions which we think give back to communities an ability to reclaim a sense of security. Of course I hear everything that the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, says about these matters. We are not turning this into a police state; there will be proper consultation with the local authorities and community groups. I remind noble Lords that in those areas where communities are plagued by anti-social behaviour, there is a hunger for relief—a hunger which we, as legislators, should seek properly to satisfy.

It is not an improper hunger. It is all very well for those of us who have the privilege of living in areas where we are not subjected to the daily harassment and indignity of not being able to go about our everyday business. Some people are terrified to go out of the door because they think they will be jostled and badly treated. There are estates where right-thinking people feel they cannot leave their front door in safety. Some areas have been reclaimed by the use of anti-social behaviour orders, and we aspire to reclaim more of them.

I have some comfort for the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, and his lonely boy doing a paper round. It is usual for the boy on his bicycle to be on his own. Unless he is riding tandem, these provisions will not apply to him because within this area, police and community support officers will have the power to disperse groups of two or more people. Tandem may become the modus operandi for paper boys in the future, but, to my knowledge, that does not appear to be the case yet.

The direction may also include a prohibition on returning to the area for up to 24 hours. We are not going to play ring-around-the-roses with these situations. Eight hours may not always be quite enough. If people are asked to disperse properly, we want them to do so and not come back, and 24 hours is not by any means an unreasonable period.

When the British crime survey of 2002–03 asked what people were most concerned about, 33 per cent of the respondents cited teenagers hanging around in the street as a very or fairly big problem in their area. I take on board everything that has been said about the need for young people to have safe places to play, proper activities and an alternative. I think on the last occasion on which we spoke about this, I gave the example of the experiment in Harrow. People who were complaining about young children took their dog and went to the park with the young children in question, so they were safe, and the problem was solved.

We need innovative, creative responses to social interaction. The work that we are doing in creating the National Criminal Justice Board, and the local criminal justice boards which will enable people to study local needs and think about diversion and alternatives, will, in addition to the improvements and the grants that we are giving, help us to do much.

There is no simple answer; there is no quick fix. We need the full panoply. We need to use every tool available to us to ensure that our communities are safe for young people. The noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, referred to the young people who have been dispersed. She will also know that younger young people are often the most frightened. The bullying that worries some of our very young children of tender years is often visited on them by their older brothers' and sisters' friends. We want to make life safe for all our children—the provisions do not relate only to those who want to behave badly and make life hell for everyone else. It is not only a measure for young people, but for everyone.

This is a very important part of the Bill. We are not dealing here with lawful picketing or any other lawful action. Members of the Committee can read what is said in Clause 30. It ensures that those who are picketing lawfully or participating in a lawful march are not caught by the power.

Clause 31 sets out further details about the process of making an authorisation, giving the police the authority to use the two powers. The authorisation must be in writing, signed by the relevant officer, specify the relevant locality, the grounds for authorisation and the period for which it is valid. There is nothing that says that it has to be for six months; that is the outer limit, and it can be reduced if it appears that the ill that most concerned everyone has passed away. The provision is a flexible tool.

It may be a flexible tool, but history has taught us that it is a tool that we need in our armoury. It is not illiberal; it is not against the human rights of the individual; it is trying to create a balance. As regards the Human Rights Act 1998, we have to balance the rights and liberties of one group with the rights and liberties of another. Sometimes those rights conflict and we have to strike a balance. We believe that the balance is about right, and I ask Members of Committee to consider that this is a proper part of the Bill and that the clauses should stand part of the Bill. I ask those on the Liberal Democrat Benches to think again, with a little charity, about what everyone is trying to do, and not to press this further.

The Lord Bishop of Hereford

Before the Minister finishes, could I press her on the matter of human rights? She says that she believes that the provisions are not incompatible. Is she prepared to say categorically that the Joint Committee is wrong in its statement on that issue? That is an area on which I feel concern, and I do not feel that we have had an entirely satisfactory response.

Baroness Scotland of Asthal

In our response to the committee's comments. we set out fully why we believe the provisions to he compatible. I know that it is getting late. I am quite happy to make the response available to the right reverent Prelate if he believes that that would be helpful, and to ensure that a copy is placed in the Library so that all have an opportunity to read it.

To respond properly to the comments made by the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, it would be right for me to go through each and every comment made by the committee. That would be the proper way to respond. However, I have tried to be more telegraphic because it is very difficult at this time of night to ensure that everyone absorbs what I say. Lawyers are always being accused of going on for ever and boring people with technicalities, and I do not want to be found equally guilty. What I have suggested may be the most efficacious way of dealing with the issue. If the right reverend Prelate would be content, I would be more than happy to write to him and to make the response available to everyone else.

Lord Dixon-Smith

If it would help the Minister, I am sure that I am right in saying that the Government's response to the Joint Committee on Human Rights is already available in the Printed Paper Office in the second report on the Bill.

Baroness Walmsley

I thank the Minister for her response. However, may I make a small correction to the very beginning of her remarks? I did not suggest that the Bill was an attempt to alienate and demonise young people. I meant to suggest that young people would be inadvertently alienated and demonised by the measures in the Bill. I am sure that it is not the Government's intention to alienate and demonise young people, but we think that that will be a consequence if these measures are passed into law.

The Minister talked about the efforts the Government are making to engage young people. Of course we welcome all that. However, it is not completely working, and that is why we have problems. We truly still do not think that these are the ways to do it—because of the unintended consequence of alienating and demonising young people to which I just referred. Of course also, we accept that this is not just about young people. I accept absolutely what the Minister said about younger children sometimes being intimidated by older ones. However, our arguments apply to people of any age.

I turn to the Minister's comments about what I said about black and Asian young people. Of course she is quite correct that there was no intention in my remarks to be offensive in any way. If my actual words are read, I am sure that that will be quite clear. There could be a different interpretation that the noble Baroness had in her head, but, if so, with respect, it was an incorrect one. My remarks were intended to protect young black and Asian people from being inappropriately targeted by the police if they have the powers in the Bill. I thought that I had made that quite clear. Stop-and-search powers cast a very long shadow.

The Minister spoke with the same passion that I feel about the need to provide conditions whereby people can live the peaceful life to which they have a right. I think that we both agree on that. Clearly we disagree about the methods that will be effective in achieving that. I was most interested to hear for a second time—I was not bored by it—the example of Harrow which the Minister mentioned. It is a very good example. However, it did not require the Bill to do it; QED, I think I should say.

On the question of human rights, it is not that I think that the Bill is against the human rights of individuals—it is the experts who think so. 1 t is the Joint Committee on Human Rights which says so. and it is very clear about it.

I thank the Minister for her courtesy in responding to me this evening. I fear that we will come back to these matters later in our consideration.

Clause 30 agreed to.

Clause 31 [Authorisations: supplemental]:

Lord Dixon-Smith

moved Amendment No. 157: Page 27, line 17, at end insert ", and (d) must be granted by a magistrates' court

The noble Lord said: It is only a very short spell of months since we were busy revising the magistrates' courts into an all-singing, all-dancing, all-performing and wonderful social organisation. It struck us that it was a remarkable lacuna in the Bill that they were not to be consulted when these areas were to be designated. After all, in some ways, that sort of judgment is more appropriate to magistrates than it is to a local authority. We consult the local authority. but the magistrates are not involved—although, of course, they clearly would be involved if any court case subsequently arose as a result of all this. It is a simple little amendment which we thought worth exploring. Why in this particular instance have the magistracy been left out of this particular matter? There may be a good reason for it. If there is, I shall be very interested to hear it. I beg to move.

Baroness Walmsley

I support Amendment No. 157. I am sure that the Committee is quite tired of hearing from me tonight, so I shall be very brief. I think that it is wholly reasonable that a magistrates' court should be able to assess the need for an authorisation and grant it or not as it sees fit. There is a great danger that the police will be able to grant themselves far too much power. To put the magistrates' court into the balance is a suitable check and balance to prevent that.

10.15 p.m.

Lord Bassam of Brighton

As the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, explained, Amendment No. 157 seeks to move the granting of an authorisation from a senior police officer to a magistrate. This will make the process for granting an authorisation far more lengthy and bureaucratic, as well as costly. Cost is a very important consideration.

There are similar circumstances when the police can authorise powers to be used in a designated area without an application to the courts. One example, which I believe the noble Lord will appreciate, is the power to stop and search for offensive weapons under Section 60 of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994.

Of course, if someone is prosecuted for failure to comply with a direction, they will have the opportunity to challenge whether an authorisation was properly made in the course of their defence.

As the noble Lord said, it is a simple amendment but we believe that it is unnecessary and bureaucratic. We are also somewhat puzzled by the way in which the Conservative Party in the Commons wanted to remove the authorisation entirely. That seems somewhat at odds with the position which the noble Lord adopted in the Committee this evening. He may wish to reflect on that when he reads Hansard and considers whether the amendment is sensible. The noble Baroness expertly seconded, as it were, the noble Lord's move to strike out the provision we are discussing. I hope that the noble Lord will withdraw the amendment.

Lord Dixon-Smith

I am slightly amused by the noble Lord's sally against me because of a slight inconsistency between Members of this House and Members of another place. We are independent of them and we are able to take our own line across country. That is exactly what we have done. We thought that there was a case to answer. To be fair, the noble Lord has answered it. Whether I entirely agree with every word he said is another matter. As I say, we thought that there was a case to answer and I am grateful for the explanation. We shall study that response. In the mean time, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 158 and 159 not moved.]

Clause 31 agreed to.

Clause 32 [Powers under section 30: supplemental]:

[Amendment No. 160 not moved.]

Baroness Walmsley

moved Amendment No. 161: Page 28, line 8, after "person" insert "unless they are under the age of 18

The noble Baroness said: In moving Amendment No. 161, I wish to speak also to Amendment No. 162. These amendments are similar in a way to Amendments Nos. 11 and 12 to Part 2 which I moved last week. They are based on our obligation under the UNCRC to treat under-18s differently in the criminal justice system.

Because of the lateness of the hour I shall not repeat all the arguments I advanced last week. Suffice it to say that we believe that a three-month gaol sentence is excessive for a young person who is simply there in a place where an officer thinks he should not be. A fine is also inappropriate. Young people have little income so the fine should, if proportionate, be very small and therefore ineffective. If we must have these measures at all, at least let us have a community sentence which avoids dragging children into prisons and gives them an opportunity to do something useful for their community instead. I beg to move.

Baroness Scotland of Asthal

I say straight away that I share the noble Baroness's concern in tabling Amendments Nos. 161 and 162 that juveniles convicted of knowingly contravening a direction should not face a custodial sentence. I reassure her immediately that a custodial sentence is not an option for juveniles convicted of this offence.

Given the debate we had in relation to Clause 4 of this Bill, perhaps it would he helpful if I made clear that there is no need for the Bill to spell out all the available sentencing options open to a court. The options available to a court dealing with a criminal offence are set out in the Powers of Criminal Courts (Sentencing) Act 2000 (as amended). Options range, in hierarchical order, from imprisonment, community service orders, fines through to conditional and absolute discharges. The legislation creating the offence will spell out the maximum period of imprisonment and the maximum fine which can be imposed, but the sentencing court can of course impose a lesser penalty. The Bill sets the maximum penalty as three months' imprisonment and/or a fine not exceeding level 4 on the standard scale—that is to say £2,500 for an adult, £1,000 for 14 year-olds to 17 year-olds and £250 for 10 year-olds to 13 year-olds.

Detention and training orders, the juvenile equivalent of imprisonment, can be made for a minimum of four months. That means that where the maximum penalty of imprisonment which could be imposed is less than four months, as here, a detention and treatment order is not an option in relation to a juvenile offender. The court will be left with the options of a community sentence, a fine, a conditional discharge or an absolute discharge.

In the light of that explanation, I hope that the noble Baroness will feel comforted, and I ask her not to press her amendment.

Baroness Walmsley

I am most grateful to the Minister for spelling the matter out so clearly, and for giving a clear reassurance from the Dispatch Box that custodial sentences will not be used for young people. I am sure that the children's organisations will be as reassured as I am. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 162 not moved.]

Clause 32 agreed to.

Clauses 33 and 34 agreed to.

Clause 35 [Authorisations by British Transport Police]:

Lord Bassam of Brighton

moved Amendment No. 163: Page 29, line 22, leave out "30(1)(a)" and insert "31(1)(a)

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 35, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 36 [Interpretation]:

Lord Dixon-Smith

moved Amendment No. 164: Page 29, line 33, leave out from second "council" to end of line 34.

The noble Lord said: Amendments Nos. 164 and 165 are quite important. Amendment No. 164 would ensure that the police would consult both county and district councils, where both exist, in relation to consideration of dispersal orders. In two-tier local government areas, county councils deliver many key services such as youth offending teams, youth work, social services, education and highways. They are therefore heavily involved in the consequences of the orders, and of course in doing their best to prevent the need for those orders. It therefore seems entirely reasonable that, where two-tier government exists, county councils should be consulted. I hope that the Government will consider that very seriously.

One could argue that the Bill had been drafted in anticipation of our having regional government and unitary authorities across the country. However, there will be a considerable interregnum before that unhappy situation comes about. In the meantime, the county councils are entitled to be consulted as major providers of services in relation to the young people concerned.

Amendment No. 165 would extend the power to apply for an anti-social behaviour order to county councils. The Crime and Disorder Act 1998 created anti-social behaviour orders. In two-tier local government areas, the order then could be applied for only by district councils or the police service. Subsequent legislation has extended the power to the transport police and registered social landlords. We think it would be reasonable to extend the power to county councils in view of the relationship between county and district councils, and in view of the fact that county councils are heavily committed to service provision to try to prevent the problems and are, in many instances, considerable landlords, although they are not housing authorities and certainly not social housing landlords. It may be superseded by other structural legislation for local government, but we must deal with the structure as it is. Where there is two-tier government, the councils are entitled to have a voice and to act pari passu with district councils. I beg to move.

Baroness Walmsley

I support the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, but I have nothing to add to his eloquent remarks.

Lord Bassam of Brighton

I agree with the noble Lord that they are important amendments and their effect has been expertly described. Amendment No. 164 requires the police to consult both the county and district councils before granting authorisation for the use of dispersal powers. Amendment No. 165 seeks simply—I say "simply" in parenthesis—to add county councils to the list of relevant authorities which can apply for an anti-social behaviour order.

The Government recognise that county councils have an important role to play in tackling anti-social behaviour and that a number of counties are keen to be pro-active in that area. The amendments would, on the face of it, certainly assist county councils in fulfilling their role. However, we wish to be satisfied that the process involved would not be overly bureaucratic—I have expressed that concern before— or land local authorities and the police service with disproportionate and undue financial burdens. Cost is an important consideration.

Nevertheless, I am happy to give the propositions further thought and we will return to them at a later stage. We accept the points made by the noble Lord and the noble Baroness and wish to give their further consideration because they are important.

I am struck slightly by the irony that the noble Baroness can support the extension of ASBOs to county councils, but has argued against the clause in its entirety. I am sure that she can live with that—

Baroness Walmsley

I live in the real world. We on these Benches may not prevail in the end. Should that unfortunately be the case, we would wish to see the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, in the Bill.

Lord Bassam of Brighton

My mother used to say "having your cake and eating it". That sums up the position perfectly.

We are keen to give the matter further thought. We are grateful to the noble Baroness and the noble Lord for bringing forward the amendment, but we hope that they will not press it now.

Lord Dixon-Smith

I am genuinely grateful to the noble Lord for his response and for offering to give further consideration to the amendments. I was aware that there was a financial concern, although it must be a fairly small one in relation to county councils. That is neither here nor there. It is right that the matter should be examined. I know that my colleagues in local government hope that they will be able to demonstrate that the proposal would be cost-neutral. I look forward to hearing from the Minister again on Report, when I hope to see the amendments tabled in his name. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 36 agreed to.

Clause 37 [Anti-social behaviour orders]:

[Amendment No. 165 not moved.]

Clause 37 agreed to.

Clause 38 [Certain orders made on conviction of offences]:

10.30 p.m.

Baroness Linklater of Butterstone

moved Amendment No. 166: Page 31, line 41, leave out from beginning to end of line 6 on page 32.

The noble Baroness said: I rise to propose Amendment No. 166 and to speak to Amendment No. 167, which, as Members of the Committee will have noticed, is virtually identical and extends the proposed deletion to Clause 38(4).

The amendment relates to the provision in the Bill which states that, where an ASBO—an anti-social behaviour order—has been imposed by the youth court, the automatic reporting restrictions which currently apply under Section 49 of the Children and Young Persons Act 1933 should be lifted. While the court retains the discretion to apply reporting restrictions in individual cases, the balance has been reversed from what currently obtains, where reporting is automatically restricted unless the court decides otherwise.

The intention of the clause is to make public the details of a young person who is subject to an ASBO, including his or her name, address and school, and so on. with a view to "naming and shaming", to use that unattractive phrase. Not only is the phrase unattractive but so is the motive. Children are rarely shamed into good social behaviour, and I know of no objective or convincing evidence that treating young people in this way and publishing their offence and subsequent order has the effect of deterring future offending behaviour.

I understand that the intention in the Bill is to reassure the community that action is being taken against such young people, and the public will be encouraged to make complaints and inform the police of breaches. But equally well it could increase fear of crime by heightening public awareness. Indeed, there is ample anecdotal evidence that it is more likely to have the detrimental effect of stigmatising the child within the community, impacting on the whole family, including younger siblings, whose vulnerability, as we have already discussed, should also be borne in mind, and impeding community relations—not to speak of the damaging effect on job prospects and lowered chances of going straight in the community, which is what we all want. There is also a strong possibility of the reverse result—of a kind of notoriety which bestows an anti-hero status on the young person. That, of course, is totally undesirable.

More importantly, Article 40(2) of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child asserts the child's right to privacy, at all stages of the proceedings". That cannot be ignored. Further, Article 8 of the ECHR, concerning the right to a private life, is also relevant, as was demonstrated in the case of The Queen v. The Chief Constable of Essex Police, where the court found that, damage could be done to the claimant's family … and the need to safeguard children is particularly important". As always—here, as often I do, I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Scotland—a balance must be struck. In this case, the potential damage to the family and children outweighs any perceived advantage from publicising the offenders' details in posters. I like to think that the Government could also take that view.

In short, the anonymity of children under 18 should be protected both in their interest and, equally importantly, in the interest of the community as well. unless there is a real issue of public safety. I hope that the Government will seriously reconsider this aspect of the process of the youth court in the interests of the community as well as of the offender, rather than pursue this negative and potentially damaging change. We must look to positive and constructive ways of reducing anti-social behaviour, and I believe that this is not one of them. I beg to move.

The Earl of Listowel

I speak to Amendment No. 167 in my name. I share the deep concern expressed by the noble Baroness, Lady Linklater, about this provision. I recognise the intention behind the Government's proposal, but I am concerned that removing these restrictions, as they propose to do, may be dangerous for children who are subject to anti-social behaviour orders, as the noble Baroness said, and may, as she also said, propel some of them into further criminal and anti-social behaviour.

I recognise the reasons why Her Majesty's Government, housing managers, local communities and many magistrates want to change the normal rules in the juvenile court for the particular circumstances in which an anti-social behaviour order is placed on a child following his conviction for a criminal offence.

However, the end we all seek should not eclipse our concern for the welfare of individual children. The children of whom we speak may, for instance, have smeared faeces in the face of a baby or have so terrorised elderly neighbours that such neighbours are afraid to leave the home or even to turn their lights on at night behind the curtains. They may have chased one parent around her car with a knife while her husband is protecting the children within that vehicle. They may also have grown up with little or no contact with their father. As an infant they may have been left in their room on their own, daily, for months on end, their mother returning only to scold them for crying. One or other of their parents may have been through a care system within which they experienced 50 or more placements in different foster homes or children's homes over three years before the age of 16 and have been left unable to act as an adequate parent as a consequence. Has enough research been done into the impact of publication of the child's name, address and photograph in the local press on that child and his family? Sometimes the children are as young as 14.

While it is not the intention of Her Majesty's Government to name and shame children, it may be that on some children the effect of social opprobrium will be to shock them into reforming their behaviour. Other children may feel that greater notoriety is an asset and may feel moved to worse behaviour still. Still others may, for various reasons, be moved to harm themselves or to attempt suicide. It may be that some are rejected from the family home as a consequence of publicity. An identified child's family may become the subject of intimidation by members of the local community. Younger siblings may be particularly vulnerable. Anti-social behaviour orders (ASBOs) were introduced about three years ago. 1 would be grateful to the Minister if she could make available to your Lordships the research showing that identifying children subject to ASBOs is safe. I have no doubt that Her Majesty's Government will have been carefully monitoring the impact this controversial measure has had on identified children and their families.

In that context it is especially worrying and, indeed, I think noble Lords may find it wholly unacceptable that some adult courts currently do not have access to good quality information on the family circumstances of a child before making this decision on whether to lift reporting restrictions. A principal legal officer of a magistrates' court has expressed her concern that the court relies for its advice simply on the child's solicitor. She points out that a solicitor is likely to have spoken to the child and parent only outside the family home. She states that not all solicitors are as diligent at inquiring into the family background as they need to be. In other proceedings dealing with vulnerable minors the courts have reports from social care professionals who have visited the child's home. Is the Minister aware of the concern that magistrates are not being adequately informed before making these momentous decisions? If so, what is being done to address that? I apologise to the Minister for not giving her notice of this question and I understand if she would prefer to write to me on this detailed point.

Given the lateness of the hour, I shall edit my speech. I respect the Minister's real desire to improve the quality of life for all of those living in sometimes our most deprived areas by sharing widely information on these children with their communities. However, how can we be expected to support the extension of these measures to juvenile courts when the current arrangements in the adult court appear most unsatisfactory? Surely. Her Majesty's Government should radically reform the procedures in the adult court before proceeding further and we should be provided with information to assure us that the identification of children—often very vulnerable and young—in the adult courts has been safe for these children and the families involved. 1 look forward to the Minister's response.

Baroness Scotland of Asthal

I say straightaway that I very much echo the concern just expressed about difficult situations in which children have developed into individuals who then exhibit anti-social behaviour to others. We know that often that is a direct result of the way that they have been nurtured—or rather, have not been nurtured—by others. That is a significant issue.

We are trying to remove an anomaly in the provision by bringing reporting restrictions for orders on conviction in the youth court into line with anti-social behaviour orders made in the magistrates' court. As the noble Baroness, Lady Linklater, so clearly said, anti-social behaviour orders made against juveniles in the magistrates' court at the moment are not subject to automatic reporting restrictions.

I can reassure the noble Baroness that the court will retain the discretion to apply reporting restrictions where it believes that to be appropriate; for example, in the interests of the rehabilitation of the child. If the noble Baroness looks at new subsection (9C)(b) in Clause 38(3), she will see that Section 39 of the Crime and Disorder Act 1998—the power to prohibit publication of certain matters—still applies. The noble Baroness will know that Section 39 of the Children and Young Persons Act 1933 provides: In relation to any proceedings in any court … the court may direct that … no newspaper report of the proceedings shall reveal the name, address, or school, or include particulars calculated to lead to the identification, of any child", and, (b) no picture shall be published in any newspaper as being or including a picture of any child … except in so far (if at all) as may be permitted by the direction of the court". That provision has been in being since 1933. precisely to protect children and to have the balance, but also to permit proper identification and publicity if that proves to be necessary. So, although we are lifting the provision in relation to anti-social behaviour orders in terms of the presumption, the court's ability to protect the child, if the court feels on the facts of that particular case that it is merited, is there and retained. We believe that that is very important.

We hope these anti-social behaviour orders will be relatively rare. The noble Baroness and the noble Earl will know that in many cases they have been most successful when the ringleader of any group has been targeted and dealt with. Many of the other young people who have gathered around that person either melt away or become more amenable to being dealt with. It is a matter of huge concern and distress that there are some young people who have been very damaged. They are very destructive, not only to themselves but to others. One way of trying to address that is to take different opportunities to try and change that behaviour.

We know from our research and the Home Office review of ASBOs—the Home Office review of April 2002—that the opportunity to use publicity properly has on occasion been very useful in addressing these issues. For example, we know of one solicitor for Salford council, who considered that one of the most significant aspects of obtaining an anti-social behaviour order is the ability to publicise it. In one case a witness outreach team in Salford spoke to a resident living on an estate, who was troubled by anti-social behaviour and the perpetrators were a gang of youths.

They received press coverage when they were given anti-social behaviour orders. The residents said that the publicity prevented the youths from further intimidating the community, because the youths knew that if they breached the order, that breach would be reported, because everyone in the community was aware of the orders. That actually worked to help the children. So they are not to be used just to help the community. As I think that the noble Baroness and the noble Earl will both agree, doing that which will cause or help the children to change that behaviour is also beneficial to them—keeping not only the community but them safe.

We have also seen that in the wonderful work done in Slade Green in Kent. Before Slade Green was branded as a community safety action zone, only 22 per cent of the residents questioned said that they felt safe at night. Nine months later, 93 per cent of the residents questioned felt safe at night.

They had made judicious use of ASBOs that had been publicised in a way that was creative for the community. It is something of wonder that an area that felt totally unsafe, in which no one wanted to be housed, now has a waiting list. That community is feeling confident, but that is also creating an environment in which children who had previously engaged in very bad behaviour appear to be behaving better because the community has spoken with one voice.

I absolutely understand the concerns of the noble Baroness and the noble Earl, but we will have the security of knowing that the court will decide. I take the noble Earl's point about the importance of the courts having the information that they need to reach an informed decision on whether it is proper to make an order restricting publicity, but it has tended to be only in cases involving the extreme perpetrator that the tool of publicity has been used to try to curb behaviour. That has not stigmatised children inappropriately.

As the noble Baroness said, one tragedy is that for some such children that is not an issue for them; it is an issue for other people. We must try to reclaim them but, using the power that we have retained with the 1933 Act, we shall probably be able to do that.

10.45 p.m.

The Earl of Listowel

I thank the Minister for her reply. I shall read carefully the Home Office research to which she referred. I think that she may want to speak further, so I give way.

Baroness Scotland of Asthal

Just to say that if I find any further or other research that could help and/or answer more specifically the points made by the noble Earl, I shall certainly write to him and make copies of the letter available to all those who have participated in the Committee.

Baroness Linklater of Butterstone

I thank the Minister for that full, well-argued and thoughtful response. I am also grateful to the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, for his eloquent description of how families can be affected and sucked into situations in which there is great potential for damage.

I was well aware of what the noble Baroness reminded us: that under the new provision courts retain discretion to have reporting restrictions in place. That leaves me unclear why the position has been reversed at all. The noble Baroness has already demonstrated her awareness of the sensitivity of the situation; my case is that automatic restrictions should apply unless the court decides otherwise. Once again, it is a matter of balance.

I have listened to the debate with great interest; I shall read it with interest in Hansard. In the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 167 not moved.]

Clause 38 agreed to.

Clause 39 [Penalty notices for disorderly behaviour by young persons]:

Baroness Linklater of Butterstone

moved Amendment No. 168: Page 32, line 29, leave out subsection (2).

The noble Baroness said: In moving the amendment, I shall speak also to Amendments Nos. 169 to 171. Given the lateness of the hour, perhaps I might suggest that the debate on these amendments and the debate on the Question whether Clause 39 shall stand part be rolled into one, if that meets with the Committee's approval.

Noble Lords


Baroness Linklater of Butterstone

Thank you very much. The Bill extends the scope of fixed penalty notices for disorderly behaviour downwards to 16 and 17 year-olds, and so treats those young people as adults.

When the scheme was introduced for over 18s under the Criminal Justice and Police Act 2001, it was also to be piloted and evaluated in four force areas. As I understand it, that evaluation has not been completed or the outcomes assessed. It therefore seems overhasty to consider the extension before its initial effectiveness has been clarified. However, whatever the results of the pilots, the fact is that people in this age group are still not adults, even if they believe that they are. Amendment No. 168 seeks, therefore, to delete the subsection lowering the age to 16.

More worryingly, the Bill provides the power in Clause 39(3), by affirmative resolution procedure, to extend the age group still further to children as young as 10. Amendment No. 170, therefore, proposes that the subsection be firmly deleted—if a deletion can be even more firm the second time around—on the grounds that children of that age simply cannot understand the full consequences of accepting a fixed penalty notice, whatever the outcomes of the pilots for 16 and 17 year-olds. That extension should simply not be an option. An FPN should be issued only if the child gives informed consent. It is stretching credulity that children of that age have the capacity to understand what the consequences or relevance of a fixed penalty notice will he. Certainly, the police operational guidelines in the current piloting in relation to adults states: A penalty notice will not be appropriate where the suspect appears to be unable to understand what is being offered to them". How much more likely is that to be true of young people, let alone 10 year-olds?

Furthermore, there are real risks of labelling such vulnerable children and opening the door wider to the possibilities of' further offending. It is not a device that enables positive social behaviour or ensures the sort of protection that such children actually need.

Amendment No. 171 is a logical extension for the protection of young people that they may be offered a fixed-penalty notice by a police officer only where the child is accompanied by an appropriate adult and additionally should also have the right to legal advice. Again, the notice may be issued only if the young person gives informed consent, as is consistent with code C of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 code of practice, which applies to under 17 year-olds. We believe that that should also apply to under 18 year-olds, as children aged 17 seem to have been missed out.

We are also unclear how a fixed penalty notice will impact on an ASBO and other court disposals on a child. I would be grateful if the Minister could illuminate that.

I wish now to oppose the Question that Clause 39 stand part of the Bill. I have already outlined our objections to Clause 39, and the extension of the fixed penalty notice to young people aged 16 and 17 for disorderly behaviour during the discussion of the amendments, so I shall not rehearse them. It is clear that the purpose of the adult fixed penalty notices scheme is to deal quickly and effectively with low-level anti-social and nuisance offending, to encourage community involvement and to cut down on the burden of administration, which uses up so much valuable police time. Those objectives are completely understandable, and we have no quarrel with them where adults are concerned.

However, we take issue with the fact that, in the interests of swift justice, the protections provided in law for children and young people have been sacrificed. It is not a sacrifice that we should even contemplate. We have already heard from my noble friend Lady Walmsley about how damaging, divisive and counter-productive are the clauses on the dispersal of groups. However, if we can stand back and ask why such groups are there and what is needed to remove their wish or need to be threatening or intimidating, we will find that dispersing and moving on people simply for being somewhere and for what they might do does not address any of the problems of anti-social behaviour. It merely displaces them along with the young people, which is the argument that we have been making about displacement. When the problem has gone up a notch and the police are contemplating fixed penalty notices, the problems begin to be compounded.

I know that the Minister is as committed as anyone to protecting the vulnerable—especially children—and to promoting harmony in our communities, and we share those aims. However, the major flaw in this part of the Bill is that the steps being proposed will achieve none of those objectives. Indeed, the danger is that, by widening the net of sanctions—I believe that we sometimes use the phrase "sanction creep"—to include younger people whose lives and lifestyles betray all sorts of inadequacies, the measures will increase the likelihood of them being drawn further into youth offending and the criminal justice system. We have been talking this evening about behaviour that is essentially not criminal—about being in a place where people are being intimidated—yet we this evening talk about youth justice and criminal justice. If we look back in Hansard, I am sure that we will find that the language has slipped. That is where the danger lies.

The very principle of blurring the boundaries between adults, young people and children immediately runs counter to the established codes of PACE—especially Code C—which are precisely designed to safeguard young people against early contact with the criminal law. Everything that we can do in that regard also safeguards the law-abiding majority in our communities. What is certain. as sure as night follows day, is that the younger the age at which those involved in anti-social behaviour become involved with youth offending, the more certain they are to reoffend, with all the consequences that flow from that. We override these sensible, existing legal precautions at our peril.

Furthermore, this group is already discriminated against in relation to financial and other benefits. Such young people are less likely than their less vulnerable peers to be in either school or work and will come under disproportionate pressure in comparison with adults when it comes to paying fixed penalties. Transferring the burden to parents raises the question of how the payment will be enforced and of what provisions will exist for looked-after children, who are the responsibility of the local authority. It increases the risk of children coming into care if the parents cannot or will not pay, and thus of spreading the criminalising net still further. Therefore, this proposal is especially inappropriate and discriminatory as a sanction and I hope that the Government will not pursue this line of attack.

There is a real danger of employing politically attractive strategies which are simple, speedy and visible in the hope that they will reassure the electorate that action is being taken, regardless of whether a problem has really been addressed or has simply been moved elsewhere. The Minister has already put her finger on the problem when she said that there is no quick fix in these situations. Dealing with many of the root problems of anti-social behaviour is anything but simple. They take time to resolve, which does not help those who want to see some immediate response and solution.

What works in this context is particularly dangerous if it takes place in a moral vacuum, as I tried to indicate in my comments on the dispersal of groups. Truly effective action must take account of the bigger picture and the long-term outcome. We have an increasing range of imaginative measures now being developed, born of increased co-operation and inter-agency working, with schools, the police, voluntary agencies, social services and the engaging of communities, as well as involving legal sanctions for the seriously criminal, which can produce real change.

I am really interested in some of the new initiatives—the new youth inclusion support panels. for example—and wonder to what extent the Government are seriously resourcing and implementing the necessary infrastructure to be sure that they have an impact. We have probation boards, criminal justice boards and a welter of agencies with changing names that confuse outsiders such as myself.

Having spent years as a magistrate, particularly as a children's panel member in Scotland, I know how crucial early interventions and decisions can be in determining the path of a vulnerable child's life. The involvement of community groups and diversion from criminal justice routes can he vital. The police and youth offending teams have their place in preventive and supportive work, but agencies with generic child welfare skills are key and must work alongside them. That would prevent the criminalising of children who had never committed an offence anyway. That is the heart of the matter.

I look forward to hearing and understanding more from the Minister on what concrete financial and practical plans there are in that regard. Good intentions are not enough. Above all—I return to the theme that we have all discussed this evening—we must consult those young people, as it is with them that the solutions lie. As I said, we cannot enforce respect or mutual care and understanding; people must experience it for themselves. We must find ways to give young people that experience. Whatever the root causes of the difficulties, whether they are caused by boredom, having nowhere to go or by real difficulties—learning difficulties, social or emotional difficulties, addiction, abuse or domestic violence— the clause will do nothing to change them. Hence our resistance to it. I beg to move.

11 p.m.

Lord Dixon-Smith

Amendment No. 169 overlaps with the amendments in the group. We are not part of the movement against the clause.

I have no difficulty with the idea of moving the age for fixed penalties down to 16. There is, after all, a proposal that the voting age be lowered to 16 under examination at present. Someone who might be entitled to vote at 16 should be prepared to pay a fixed penalty and to do some of the other things that come later in the Bill. I shall return to that argument.

The amendment is designed to deal with the problem of lowering the age further by order. I considered carefully the question of whether the Bill provided sufficient protection. The clause requires an order with the approval of both Houses of Parliament, and so it could be argued that that provides sufficient protection against rash action by a Minister. Then I considered the nature of the order procedure in this House, in parallel with the other place. We cannot propose amendments to orders or change them. We either approve them or, at a push, reject them. although, by custom and practice, it is rare for the House to do so.

Because of that procedure, the matter ought to be the subject of primary legislation. I cannot envisage a situation in which a Minister would propose something as radical as this in the short-term future, and it would be remarkable if it were not possible to introduce another Bill that covered the issue at some point in two, three, five, eight or 10 years' time. For that reason, I thought that it would be prudent to excise the relevant part of the clause. That is the reason for the amendment, and I hope that the Government will consider it valid.

The Earl of Listowel

I shall speak to Amendment No. 168. I am particularly concerned at the impact of fixed penalty notices on looked-after children. Briefly, before addressing that issue, I should like to turn back to tools, to which the Minister has referred throughout the proceedings. I recognise the feeling in many communities that something needs to be done, but it seems that nothing can be done. There need to be new tools to do that.

One must also remember the concern often raised about the rise in the number of prison inmates since 1992. While there has been a decline in crime since 1992, there has been a steady increase in the number of prison inmates and a sharp increase in the number of children in custody. Part of that is put down to the well-intentioned introduction of new tools, which, in some cases, have appeared to act as a means of widening the net to embrace children and adults who would not otherwise have been involved with the criminal justice system.

Secondly, I turn to the possible impact of fixed penalty notices on families. I remember visiting a hostel run by Centre Point. I saw two 16 or 17 year-old girls, who, as I understood it, had been pushed out of their family by their step-father. One must consider the impact of fixed penalty notices on families who may not be too happy to have their children in the family anymore. It does not just apply to this clause, hut to other clauses in which the fixed penalty notice is mentioned.

In North London, there is a mediation service for homeless children alone in London. It has a special residence where it provides mediation services for these children. Often, it finds that parents do not want their children back—possibly understandably on the part of the parents—once the mediation service has been introduced. That issue needs to be looked at carefully in terms of the impact of fixed penalty notices. The noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, spoke of election. If we are considering lowering the age of electoral responsibility to 16 years-old, we should be thinking of giving more responsibility to 16 and 17 year-olds.

This is a difficult issue. The ultimate right for children is that they should be treated like children. We have a duty to protect them, as they are immature in some ways. I know that that flies in the face of much of what is said. It is a difficult balance, especially in changing times with changing responsibilities. However, we must hold on to the idea that children are immature and lack experience in many ways. What they say is not necessarily a panacea for world ills or for the truth. It may be useful to discuss their experiences with them because they are experts in their own experience. They know about their schools and their local environment. but they have limits on their experience and their maturity limits their judgment.

I am concerned about the impact on looked-after children, a point raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Linklater. Her Majesty's Government have already set a target to reduce the level of involvement of looked-after children with the criminal justice system. There is a danger that fixed penalty notices might work against that target. although I acknowledge that the early intervention that fixed penalty notices allow might be beneficial for some of these children. However, there are practical considerations which makes one think that fixed penalty notices might work to the detriment of looked-after children.

First, a looked-after child is perhaps most likely to put the fixed penalty notice in the bin once it has been given to him or her. He would then be liable perhaps to prosecution. If we were to exempt looked-after children from prosecution because of their special backgrounds, their sense that they were being treated differently from other children would be unhelpful. Yet, a successful prosecution or the involvement of the criminal justice system is also an undesirable outcome.

Secondly, a looked-after child may have difficulty in paying a £40 or an £80 fine, which I think is the kind of figure being discussed. Let us say that the child receives £8.50 per week pocket money. The local authority can take only two-thirds of that in penalty. It might take two months for a boy to save the £80 to pay his fine. By that time. will he have already defaulted? Will the local authority be expected to pay the fine up-front and for the boy then to repay the local authority, and will local authorities agree to this? Might such a financial punishment push the child towards crime or prostitution to pay the debt?

Those are some of the questions which must be resolved. I look forward to the Minister's reply. Perhaps a meeting with the Minister or her relevant officials between now and the Report stage to discuss the clause and how it will impact on looked-after children would be mutually beneficial.

11.15 p.m.

Baroness Scotland of Asthal

I say straightaway that I would be happy to make such an arrangement with the noble Earl, either with myself or with officials if my diary does not permit. I hope that I can take up immediately some of the points made by the noble Earl because he will know that parental liability would apply to a parent or guardian. Looked-after children fall into the category in which the local authority discharges that function while the child is in its care. We would expect the local authority officer to use this opportunity to discuss the child's behaviour with them.

I turn to a further point made by the noble Earl which was echoed by the noble Baroness. Lady Linklater. The expectation is that the child will usually be taken to the police station and an appropriate adult found. We believe that the police officer will be able to make a judgment regarding the ability of the child to understand the penalty notice when they stop that child in the street. In fact, it should have no impact on the anti-social behaviour order by a penalty notice.

Given that we have now merged the Question whether the clause should stand part, perhaps I should cover a few points. I take it that the comments I make on this amendment will directly impact on the comments that I shall not make in relation to the Question whether the clause should stand part.

The noble Baroness, Lady Linklater, resists the extension of the penalty notice for disorder to 16 and 17 year-olds. We believe that penalty notices for disorder have an important role to play in tackling anti-social behaviour among 16 and 17 year-olds As the noble Baroness pointed out, currently they apply only to those aged 18 and over. Pilots of the adult scheme have shown that most of the disorder offences involve alcohol-related anti-social behaviour in town centres on a Friday or Saturday night, behaviour which is often associated with 16 and 17 year-olds. An extension of the scheme would allow the police to impose an immediate sanction on anti-social behaviour which will act as a deterrent, but will not. leave the young person with a conviction. That is an issue which we think is quite important.

The noble Earl was right to refer to the sharp end: that is, those children who are seriously dysfunctional because of the way their history has fashioned them. We know also that other young children, with the exuberance of youth—perhaps they do not have the excuse of social deprivation—also indulge in loutish, violent, inappropriate and drunken behaviour. By the grace of God many of them grow out of it in due course. So fixed penalty notices for such young people, which can provide a short, sharp shock to bring them up on what they are doing, can be capable of being very effective.

We shall pilot the scheme first to see whether it could be usefully applied nation-wide. Further, it will encourage the police to take action in a beneficial way against anti-social behaviour in the streets which is not being dealt with at present.

I turn to Amendment No. 169, spoken to by the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, which would prevent the extension of fixed penalty notices for disorder to under 16 year-olds and would remove the power to impose parental liability for the payment. As I have just said, we believe that penalty notices for disorder could have an important role to play. Sadly—it is an extremely sad situation—children as young as 12 years old are engaged in disruptive behaviour that can be dealt with under the scheme, such as throwing stones at trains or being drunk on a public highway. It is a matter of real concern to us that younger and younger children seem to be abusing alcohol. The Association of Chief Police Officers has urged the Government to extend the scheme to juveniles. As I said, we intend to pilot the first scheme on 16 and 17 year-olds. We would seek the approval of Parliament by the affirmative resolution procedure should we wish to lower the age limit further.

I hear what the noble Lord says in relation to affirmative resolutions not generally being voted down. However, it is possible for that to be done. If either House were to feel strongly enough about the issue, it would be a way of expunging the order from the books—not least because in Committee in the other place there was a great deal of passion for immediately reducing the level to below the age of 16 because of the difficulties that have been experienced.

So that is a vehicle that we could use which, somewhat unusually, would be very effective in regard to this issue because the age limit could be lowered or not lowered. In other affirmative resolution procedures there are often attachments which make it more difficult. Not that I am suggesting for one moment that noble Lords should do that because, if the day comes, I may well be arguing with great vigour that it is something that we should do.

We believe that it is right for parents to take responsibility for their children's behaviour and that they should be expected to pay the penalty on their children's behalf. It is quite wrong that parents are allowing young children to misbehave on the streets, often late at night, and not doing anything about it.

Amendment No. 171 would ensure that where a juvenile is offered a penalty notice the child must be accompanied by an adult and have the right to legal advice. Experience of the adult pilots shows that most penalty notices for disorder are issued in the police station, as I have described.

However, to impose conditions more broadly would effectively restrict the police so that they would not be able to issue penalty notices for disorder on the street. This would deprive them of the ability to give an immediate and low-key penalty to a juvenile. It would also defeat one of the aims of the penalty notice scheme to deal quickly and effectively with anti-social behaviour on the streets.

The provision in subsection (11) of Amendment No. 171 is unnecessary as penalty notices can be appealed, and this appeal is taken through the courts. So there are safeguards there. Adequate protection is thereby already afforded to anyone who is issued with a penalty notice for disorder, including juveniles. So if the juvenile did not consent to the issue of a penalty notice, this could be raised properly through the courts.

As regards the clause stand part discussion, it is right that we should remember that we have piloted the other scheme in the four police areas across the country. As the noble Baroness said, the scheme targets low-level anti-social offending. Penalty notices can be issued to adults for 11 disorder offences, including being drunk and disorderly, Section 5 public order offences and throwing fireworks.

There was a lot of concern as to whether these fixed penalty notices would work. We have found—and we hope to be able to publish relatively soon the results of the first review—that they have been very successful and have targeted the kind of problems we want them to. Indeed, many of those who were sceptical about the scheme have been won over and now see it as a very effective method of going forward. We hope that it will be similarly effective with juveniles, particularly those aged 16.

I would gently remind the Committee that people are able to get married at 16—they have been able to do so for many years—with their parents' support. Some of the young people in this group are not only married but parents themselves. So we are not dealing with children of a quite tender age. Of course we believe—with a passion equal to that of the noble Baroness and the noble Earl—that they are still children and that they still need protection and observation. But we also still have to challenge them a little in relation to some of these issues, and the research that we have carried out so far suggests that this might be an appropriate way of doing so.

Baroness Linklater of Butterstone

I thank the noble Baroness for that very full and interesting reply. I thank, too, the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, for his very useful contribution and, of course, the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith.

Voting and fixed penalty notices is like the comparison between apples and pears—I shall leave it at that for the time being. I am very interested to hear that the pilots have produced some results. They were not available to us, but we look forward to reading them because they obviously have a bearing on the pilots' further development and use. We look forward to following that up.

Despite the Minister's arguments, I remain entirely unconvinced about the lower age group going down from under 16 to as low as 10. The fact is that very young people become parents; 16-year-olds seem like very young children to me, but even if they are married, that has nothing whatever to do with their maturity, their need for protection and their dependency. If they are married and parents, the greater their needs and dependencies. It does not work the other way around. Our position is to continue to resist that provision strongly, if at all possible.

Given the lateness of the hour, I would just remind the noble Baroness that I am very interested in what concrete plans are in place to complement the kind of procedures that we have been discussing to enable young people and children to be kept out of the criminal justice system. I mentioned the YISPs in particular, but there may be others. I do not know whether the Minister wants to respond now or later.

Baroness Scotland of Asthal

I beg the noble Baroness's pardon. In fact, 1 have a big long list of the things that we have done, including Sure Start, children's fund and education. I cannot run through them all now, but 1 will write to the noble Baroness and give her as full a response as I am able. I apologise for not having done it in my rather rapid, short-fire response tonight.

The Earl of Listowel

Perhaps I might take this opportunity to raise one further point with the Minister. It was raised by the noble Baroness, but I am not sure that the Minister replied to it in her response. I refer to 16 and 17-year-olds not being in employment, education or training. They are poorer than their 19 or 20-year-old neighbours. I believe that we are unusual in that 16 and 17-year-olds receive less benefit than their European counterparts. I think that the Government do this because they are keen to see these young people in education, training or employment and do not wish to provide them with incentives to be outside employment. That is controversial, but there are two sides to the argument. It suggests that the fines for 16 and 17-year-olds should be lower to reflect their financial climate and gives further weight to the concern about how these young people will pay the fines.

Baroness Scotland of Asthal

Rather than dealing with that tonight, because we have draft regulations, perhaps I may also write to the noble Earl about those issues?

Baroness Liinklater of Butterstone

I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 169 to 171 not moved.]

Clause 39 agreed to.

Clause 40 agreed to.

Clause 41 [Extension of powers of community support officers etc.]:

Lord Dixon-Smith

moved Amendment No. 172: Page 33. line 23, at end insert '', skateboard user, user of roller skates or in-line skates The noble Lord said: This group of amendments seeks to modernise the Bill a little. The Bill gives powers for people to charge fixed penalties for those who inconsiderately ride their bicycles on pavements where pedestrians have right of way. That is a perfectly reasonable thing to do, but pavements are not the only places where bicycles are ridden without consideration. They can be ridden in parks and other places, in open spaces, in building courtyards and so on. Two of the amendments would simply remove the restriction that makes the penalty possible on footways alone.

The other two amendments are directed to widening the scope to deal with a modern phenomenon—that of skateboards and in-line roller skates—or roller blades—and roller skates themselves. These are all, on occasions, used somewhat to the danger of pedestrians using footways properly, but also in parks and so on. We believe that it would be reasonable to invite the Government to consider whether the fixed penalty should be extended to those particular uses if they are inconsiderately used in areas where the public are expecting to be able to walk in peace and safety. I beg to move.

Lord Bassam of Brighton

The Chief Whip is muttering that 1 ought to be very sympathetic to the amendments, and in spirit I certainly am. There are questions of practicality. however, and I shall deal with the amendments in turn.

Subsections (3) and (6) of Clause 41 give community support officers and accredited persons the power to stop cyclists so that they may issue a fixed penalty notice. That power is restricted to occasions when an offence of cycling on the footway is suspected. Amendments Nos. 173 and 176 would remove this restriction. The amendments would give community support officers and accredited persons the much wider power, which is currently available to police officers. Police have that wider power in order to enforce a number of cycling offences. I am sure that we all wish that they would do that rather more frequently sometimes.

Amendments Nos. 172 and 175 appear to be intended to create a new offence of skateboarding, roller skating or in-line skating on a footway. They are not in fact effective, if that is their purpose, as the amendments do not create the new offences. However, I shall deal with them as a matter of principle.

The amendments would also provide community support officers, accredited persons, and police officers with a power to stop individuals engaged in these activities. I understand the concerns behind the amendments. There is no doubt that skateboarders, in-line skaters and roller skaters can cause irritation to pedestrians in particular localities. They have irritated me from time to time. However, the amendments would move the legal use of skateboards and roller skates from footways to roadways. These devices are not designed for use in traffic—that is for sure— and displacing them on to roads would undoubtedly be dangerous for both skaters and other road users. Having seen people do exactly that, I know that they are highly dangerous.

In addition, there are already sufficient powers to make by-laws to deal with this kind of nuisance. Section 235 of the Local Government Act 1972 enables local authorities to enact by-laws in regard to use of skateboards, which can prohibit such activities in certain locations or regulate them throughout their district. There are already several local authorities that have made it an offence to skateboard or roller skate in designated areas, punishable by a fine on summary conviction.

The debate takes me back to the debates on the Police Reform Bill in the previous Session, which were dealt with by the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, and myself. It is not our intention in general to expand the powers of community support officers, unless there are very strong arguments for doing so. The noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, and noble Lords on the Liberal Democrat Benches were very concerned about the range of powers and duties that would be available to community support officers. I think that at the time we were generally agreed that there had to be strong arguments for extending those powers. For those reasons, I question this particular approach. Nevertheless, as I said, I have not only personal sympathy but a more general sympathy for the proposal. I therefore suggest to the noble Lord that, at this stage, he should not press his amendments.

11.30 p.m.

Lord Dixon-Smith

I am grateful to the Minister for his response, and indeed for his sympathy—but there is an old saying about an ounce of health being worth a tonne of sympathy. It is not the use that we are concerned about; we are concerned about the inconsiderate use. There is that distinction. I think that I shall probably need to consider whether we want to bring this forward again, perhaps with slightly amended wording. Meanwhile I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment. by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 173 not moved.]

Baroness Linklater of Butterstone

moved Amendment No. 174: Page 33, line 40, leave out subsections (5) to (7).

The noble Baroness said: The purpose of this amendment is to restrict the power to issue fixed penalty notices and stop vehicles to police officers and community support officers only. There is concern about public transparency, accountability and professional capability and about the piecemeal extension of police powers to civilian bodies not under the direct supervision of the police. Despite the offences covered being minor, the principle of extending police powers to non-police civilians is a concern. As the PACE codes of practice outline, the key principles of using stop powers and the danger of misuse is highlighted. We see the creation of second and third-tier policing, with increasingly obscure boundaries of accountability and professionalism, as very disturbing. I beg to move.

Lord Bassam of Brighton

As this amendment somewhat extends the previous debate, I shall just briefly go over the important points.

The purposes of subsections (5), (6) and (7) of this clause are to extend, in a focused and appropriate way, the powers available to persons accredited under the Police Reform Act 2002. The amendment would remove all of those provisions. The powers made available to accredited persons are the power to stop cycles—so that, as I said, accredited persons may assist in enforcing the offence of cycling on the pavement —and the power to issue certain penalty notices for disorder.

As with all the powers made available to accredited persons under the Police Reform Act 2002, there are a number of safeguards already in place to ensure that the powers are given only in appropriate circumstances. Chief officers will be responsible for ensuring that anybody given these powers is suitable and, more importantly, properly trained. As an additional safeguard, the clause allows the Secretary of State to determine which penalty notices for disorder should be exclusively for police and which are appropriate to be extended to community support officers and accredited persons.

Communities want lower level incidents of disorder dealt with quickly and effectively. Penalty notices for disorder provide a useful method for dealing with such offences. Extending this power to properly trained accredited persons will provide people already involved in community safety roles with the powers they need to take more effective action. Given the value of these powers, the way in which they have begun to work and the safeguards against their misuse, I suggest to the noble Baroness that it would be inappropriate for her to press the amendment.

Baroness Linklater of Butterstone

I thank the Minister for that reply. I am not entirely sure that I am totally convinced, but I shall read it with interest in Hansard. Meanwhile, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 175 and 176 not moved.]

Clause 41 agreed to.

Clause 42 [Report by local authority in certain cases where person remanded on bail]:

[Amendments Nos. 177 and 178 not moved.]

Clause 42 agreed to.

Clause 43 [Possession of air weapon or imitation firearm in public place]:

[Amendment No. 178A not moved.]

Clause 43 agreed to.

Clause 44 [Air weapons: age limits]:

Earl Attlee

moved Amendment No. 179: Page 36, line 9, leave out paragraph (a).

The noble Earl said: This amendment concerns air weapons and age limits in that regard. At present someone can use an air weapon without supervision from the moment it is bought but he or she must be over 14. The Bill would raise that age to 17. Our amendments seek to retain the status quo of 14. Amendment No. 180 would ensure that private property would remain an exception under Section 23 of the Firearms Act 1968. I beg to move.

Lord Moynihan

Finally, I rise to speak to the amendment standing in my name regarding Clause 44. Clause 44 of the Bill contains a subsection which, if passed, will make it illegal for young responsible shooters between the ages of 14 and 17 to carry air guns in public places without supervision. This removes a paragraph from the Firearms Act 1968 which allows young people to do this provided the gun is held in a securely fastened case. The sporting shooting community is opposing the clause because as it stands it will result in the exclusion of young people from shooting sports. Although what I have heard of the Bill this evening contains an important social remit and its intention to prevent the misuse of air guns is thoroughly laudable, this particular issue is of extreme concern to the entire sporting shooting community. If the clause is passed unamended, it will pose a significant impediment to the participation of young people in a range of shooting sports from informal target practice to competition shooting. It will hear down disproportionately on any young responsible sportsman or woman who has permission to shoot on local farmland. This is particularly the case with air guns as they arc the gun of choice for the majority of young people taking up the sport.

The clause is also inherently self-contradictory. Following pressure from the sporting shooting community, the Government amended the Anti-social Behaviour Bill to allow young sporting shooters to use air guns on private land without supervision. If the Bill does not receive further amendment, young shooters will be allowed to use their guns on private land without supervision, but will be in the conflicting position of having to be supervised when carrying those same guns in public.

Under current law young people considered responsible enough to shoot on private land unsupervised are also considered responsible enough to carry their air guns in public places, provided they are unloaded and in a securely fastened gun case. The British Shooting Sports Council would like to see that situation continue. Those involved in the sport of shooting from our Olympians to the Bisley champions of tomorrow and colleagues on these Benches share that view. The clause runs contrary to Labour's sports policy. Air guns are the gateway to responsible shooting sports for young people, from those for whom it is a weekend hobby to professional competitors such as 16 year-old Commonwealth Gold medallist, Charlotte Kerwood.

Shooting sports often require significant physical exertion and provide a wide variety of health benefits for those who participate in them. By restricting young people's ability to practise these sports, the clause will also work against the DCMS target, as set out in Game Plan, to initiate, a major increase in participation in sport and physical activity, primarily because of the significant health benefits and to reduce the growing costs of inactivity". The clause would limit the opportunities for shooting sports to uphold the Government's objectives and policy goals, and, through sports participation. achieve a wide array of policy goals relating to health and obesity reduction, education, crime reduction and social inclusion.

The clause contradicts Labour's manifesto commitment not to place further restrictions on the sport of shooting. The clause undermines the Government's policy on grassroots sports participation as it creates a disincentive to young people who are thinking of taking up the sport.

I am not the first to raise this issue in Parliament. The concern was raised at the Bill's Second Reading that an amendment to Clause 44 to deal with this issue could water down the Bill's provisions to combat the misuse of air weapons. In order to reassure the Committee that this is not the case I seek to outline briefly our response to three concerns. The first is the misuse of air guns. I quote the Minister in another place: Carrying air guns in a securely fastened case would riot prevent them being misused out of sight of a police officer on the way to the place of use".

1 would argue that a provision in Clause 43 would require everyone carrying a gun in public to provide good cause for their journey to law enforcement authorities. Under the terms of the amended clause, whether the gun is or is not in a securely fastened case, and whether a policeman or member of the public has witnessed any actual abuse or not, the police will be able to challenge anyone carrying any firearm, loaded or unloaded, covered or uncovered, and take immediate on-the-spot action to deal with that. Clause 43 creates an arrestable offence.

In cases where airguns have been misused in public places, there is no evidence—not a single case—to show that the people who perpetrate the crime use the current exemption as a loophole to avoid prosecution. Finally, as responsible members of the community, sporting shooters of all ages always carry their guns in a securely fastened case, and are therefore easily distinguishable from those who misuse airguns.

The second concern is the supervision of young people in sports. Again I quote the Minister in another place, who said: There is no 'strong reason' why young shooters should not be supervised. It is no different to the support given to young people by parents and coaches in relation to many other sports".

That response does not take into account the practicalities of shooting sports; moreover, it indicates that the Government's approach hears clown disproportionately on young sportsmen and women from socially excluded backgrounds.

Shooting sports are often practised in rural areas where it is possible and preferable for young people to walk or cycle on their own to land where they have permission to shoot—for example, local woodland—often on an informal, solitary basis. Shooting sports are also often undertaken at unsociable hours. For example, a young person might be meeting a group of adults to go shooting at dawn. Not all training is carried out through organised sporting shooting events.

Moreover, it is not a legal requirement for adults to accompany young people to practice sessions in other sporting disciplines. As with other sports, therefore, it should be left to parents to judge when it is appropriate to allow young people to travel unsupervised to the location where they practise their sport. As a matter of principle, we believe that young sporting shooters should not be subjected to such a disadvantage, nor their activities unnecessarily restricted.

The third concern is about levels of police bureaucracy. It has been suggested that such an amendment would create further bureaucracy for law enforcement authorities. The highly respected British Shooting Sports Council would assert that, with correct and unambiguous guidance on the issue, the police would face no further bureaucracy than is suggested by the clause as it stands.

I believe that those arguments constitute a strong case, and I hope that Members of the Committee will agree with them.

Lord Addington

The case that the noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, has made is one in which a type of sport that we are encouraging is worried about its recruitment base. On certain occasions, I have incurred the wrath of the group of people under discussion by supporting the Government and previous governments on restrictions on firearms. They feel rather persecuted, but both this Government and the previous government said that people could be part of the airgun fraternity. Airguns are safer, with the man-killing potential of the weapons dramatically lower than the ones that they replaced.

Surely addressing some of the issues raised overall by the noble Lord's amendment would not hurt the Government terribly and not up the risk. Do the Government have any coherent thinking on the issue? Will they address the problem of how to get people involved in the sport at a young age? If people are to reach a highly competitive level, they have to start early. We are very wary of the idea of firearms of any description. However, unless we are to say that they cannot be used at all, people have to have a way in. What is the Government's thinking on the issue?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal

I thank Members of the Committee for raising the issue. The noble Earl, Lord Attlee, introduced it very succinctly, but it could not have been more elegantly or compellingly put on behalf of the fraternity than it was by the noble Lord, Lord Moynihan. However, I have to say that notwithstanding his elegance, there are some fundamental flaws in the argument.

There is no conflict in the Government's stance. As the noble Lord rightly said, the Government are four square behind the sportsmen and women of this country and have done much to support them and to enable them to participate and achieve at the highest level. I speak to reassure the noble Lord, Lord Addington, that the Government have listened keenly to what the sporting lobby has said. For that reason. there is a change in the proposals now put forward by the Government. They enable shooting to take place on private land. But there is no conflict, as the noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, sought to indicate, between the stance we have taken in relation to what happens in the private and public arenas. The two are quite separate and distinct.

Amendments Nos. 179, 181 and 182 go to the heart of Clause 44. They would retain the existing age limit of 14 for the possession of an air weapon. The Government believe that that it is important to raise the age limit to 17. Regrettably, there has been a steady rise in the instance of misuse of air weapons in recent years. In 2001–02, there were 12,340 offences involving the misuse of air weapons. That is a rise of 21 per cent. The new offence contained in Clause 43 will help to tackle this misuse by allowing the police to arrest people who are found to be carrying an air gun in public without good reason. But that is not the whole solution. Much anti-social behaviour relating to air weapons is caused by unsupervised young people —

11.45 p.m.

Lord Dixon-Smith

I hear the statistics with interest. Is it possible to divide the category "air weapons" between air weapons/handguns and air weapons/air rifles? I suspect that the problem is with handguns rather than air rifles, although I admit that there are some cases involving air rifles.

Baroness Scotland of Asthal

One of the important issues, as the noble Lord will know, is that regrettably those who misuse firearms tend to transfer from one source to another if one source is cut off. The noble Lord will know that it is relatively easy to adapt a shotgun with a shortened barrel to have exactly the same effect. The mechanism is identical, so it can be adapted to be as lethal as a handgun.

The noble Lord, Lord Addington, raised another issue. We had thought that air guns were a little safer than others. Regrettably, we arc learning that they are an increasing problem with which we must now deal.

Viscount Goschen

The Minister gave statistics about the increasing number of offences concerning air weapons. However, the argument is about young people and air guns. Can she separate the statistics that she provided to indicate those above 17 and those below 17?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal

I do not know whether the statistics are in that form. I shall inquire and if they are, I shall write to the noble Viscount and place a copy of my letter in the Library. We shall then be able to say whether there is a difference between the two.

Much anti-social behaviour involving air weapons is caused by unsupervised young people. As a further tool to tackle this problem, we believe that it is right to raise the age limit for owning or possessing air weapons. At present, anyone aged 14 or over can own an air weapon. Clause 44 will increase this age limit to 17.

For the purposes of completeness, I am informed that the statistics do not split the figure of 12,340 into handguns and rifles or by age. They are collected in terms of species of offence and are not broken down.

One effect of raising the age limit is that no one under 17 will be able to have an air gun in his possession unless supervised by someone aged 21 or over. We have listened to concerns from shooting organisations about how this would create difficulties for responsible young shooters who use their air weapons unsupervised for target shooting and for pest control on farms. The Government responded on Report in the other place by amending the clause to allow young people aged 14 to 16 to have air weapons unsupervised. provided they are on private premises and have the consent of the occupier.

As an extra safeguard, particularly with urban areas in mind, we have introduced an offence, punishable with a fine of up to £1,000, of firing a pellet beyond the premises. Amendment No. 180 in the name of the noble Lord. Lord Dixon-Smith, suggests an alternative form of this exception. However, it does not contain the safeguards of a minimum age and the offence of shooting beyond the boundary.

Amendment No. 179A in the names of the noble Lords, Lord Moynihan and Lord Dixon-Smith, would provide a further relaxation of the requirement for supervision. It would allow 14 to 16 year-olds to carry their air weapons unsupervised, provided they were secured in a gun cover and provided the young person was travelling directly to or from his club or another place where he could lawfully use the gun.

I fully understand why Amendment No. 179A has been tabled. I know that shooting organisations are concerned that requiring all young people under 17 to be supervised -when travelling with their guns would be impractical and would unduly hinder legitimate shooters. The Government have considered very carefully their concerns, but we are not persuaded that we should make this further exception. The greatest risk of air weapons being misused is likely to occur when they are being carried in public by young people. A gun cover would not prevent the weapon being taken out and misused. We feel strongly that the public must be protected against such misuse, and we remain of the view that adult supervision is necessary in those circumstances.

I heard what the noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, said about the activities of children. But many of those children are properly transported by and with their parents and/or other adults. We believe that Clause 44 provides a balanced control against the misuse of air weapons. It ensures that young people generally do not have unsupervised access to air weapons, while allowing a specific exception for responsible shooters. We believe that the balance is about right and that this would be the appropriate point to come to a proper rest.

Lord Moynihan

Sadly, I fundamentally disagree with the Government on this issue. However, this is not the hour to cover all the points and respond to them in depth, save to say that there has never been a single incident of an offence involving a member of a registered sports shooting club. In the light of that, and with the Minister's agreement, I ask her whether I may discuss the subject in detail with her officials with the intention of seeking common ground in advance of Report stage to see whether we can make progress on this issue.

Baroness Scotland of Asthal

I am more than happy to indicate that we would welcome such a dialogue. I am sure that arrangements can be made for the noble Lord to have that opportunity.

Lord Dixon-Smith

This has been a very good debate. I am hound to say that the response of the Minister is disappointing. But we shall consider whether we can draft these amendments in a different form which might satisfy some of the concerns that she exposed. In the mean time, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. I 79A to 182A not moved.]

Clause 44 agreed to.

Clause 45 [Prohibition of certain air weapons]:

[Amendment No. 182E not moved.]

Lord Bassam of Brighton

I beg to move that the House do now resume.

Moved, accordingly, and. on Question, Motion agreed to.

House resumed.

House adjourned at five minutes before midnight.