Justice (Northern Ireland) Bill

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Mr. McWalter: Will the Minister enlighten me? I am confused about the references to schedule 1A in the clause. I had expected to find the details of schedule 1A on page 119, where amendments to the Criminal Justice (Children) (Northern Ireland) Order 1998 are

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detailed, but it is not there. The schedule relates to the precise way in which the orders work. I would not wish the Committee to move on from consideration of the clause without having debated whether schedule 1A is to be implemented by statutory instrument.

Mr. Browne: I am grateful to my hon. Friend. If any other hon. Members are looking for schedule 1A, they will find it in schedule 10.

Mr. Mallon: I have listened with interest to the Minister. I am still unhappy that the report, which, for the young person, would be very important, is incomplete. It is so in the sense that there is no reference to the needs, be they educational, psychological or of some other kind, of the young person. That incompleteness would have been remedied had the previous reference to ''needs'' been successfully adopted and included in the Bill.

Again, the absence of any reference to the young person reflects the Bill's miserly approach to the needs of the young person. I take the Minister's point on new clause 3. I also take the point about probation officers and social workers. However, I still believe that there are cases where it would be right to ensure that other needs that often prevail in this type of case are provided for, in terms beyond those specified in the Bill.

I know the probation and social services and I respect them, so I shall not press the amendment. I shall, in an act of faith, accept that the element of the new clause to which the Minister referred is adequate. I hope that, for once in my life, an act of faith will prove well-founded.

Mrs. Calton: I am somewhat disappointed that the hon. Member for Newry and Armagh will not press amendment No. 286 to a vote. In my view, it is better than amendment No. 228. It covers more ground and so should be included in the Bill. However, if the hon. Gentleman is prepared to accept that the new clause to which the Minister referred will cover the provisions that he seeks to add, I shall indulge in a similar act of faith.

The Minister said that education would be regarded as important and taken into account. In the light of that, I am prepared to withdraw amendment No. 227 and not press any others, apart from amendment No. 255, which ensures that the child's education will be provided for in any plan from a youth conference. It may need tidying up so that it fits all the legal niceties, but a youth plan should recognise the importance of education as it is usually regarded by most of us in this country.

Lady Hermon (North Down): I welcome you back to the Chair, Mr. Conway. I am delighted to see you.

I want to explain to the hon. Members for Newry and Armagh and for Cheadle that, under the Human Rights Act 1998, every child in the jurisdiction of Northern Ireland already has the right to an education, in accordance with their parents' religious beliefs or philosophical convictions. That right will extend to the children who will be subject to the orders.

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Mrs. Calton: I thank the hon. Lady for her intervention and assistance. I am more than willing to accept that there may already be legal provision for every child in Northern Ireland. However, my experience has shown over many years that even legal provision on the subject does not always work. As people who are putting legislation together now, we should remind those who will come after us that we regard education as of paramount importance in a child's life.

Mr. Francois: I appreciate the point that the hon. Lady is trying to make. Is her argument that legislative provision has not necessarily achieved its aim? If so, what is the point of making further legislative provision?

Mrs. Calton: Therein lies the difference between a Conservative and a Liberal Democrat. Conservatives tend to be less optimistic on the whole than Liberal Democrats. I have been a teacher and a chair of social services, and I know what the Government guidelines are for children in care. I know what the Government say about children in care in other places. Many of the relevant children will effectively be in care, and they will be treated slightly differently from those who are not. Their education should be important.

I have said all that already, and there is little point in saying more. Amendment No. 255 should be voted on, but I shall not press any others in the group. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

The Chairman: I remind the Committee that in the next hour, we need to dispose of, by whatever means, 11 clauses and schedules. That may help hon. Members with the length of their speeches.

Mrs. Calton: I beg to move amendment No. 229, in page 31, line 35, after 'consents', insert

    ', having been previously informed of the potential outcomes of consent.'.

I shall do my best to keep my speech short. The amendment introduces the concept of informed consent appropriate to the child's age.

Mr. Blunt: On a point of order, Mr. Conway. I apologise to the hon. Lady for interrupting her, but I have been reflecting on your remarks and seek your guidance. It is plain that we do not have enough time to consider the rest of part 4. Your injunction to make our speeches short should be permanent, in the sense that hon. Members should keep to the point in debate. However, we will not be able to give part 4 proper consideration. Do we then ignore amendments that are important and issues that need to be discussed, or foreshorten our debates? The Government have got us into this mess, so why should there be a duty on us not to give proper consideration to the issues?

12 noon

The Chairman: I hear what the hon. Gentleman says. My injunction was not for brevity. As long as hon. Members stay in order, I shall allow them to speak, but I wanted to ensure that the Committee was aware of the small writing at the end of the first column on the selection list, which points out that debates up to those on new clauses and new schedules

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relating to part 4 must be concluded under the programming motion by one o'clock. It is not in my gift to change the programming motion; that is for those who decide such matters and for the instructions of the House.

As long as hon. Members stay in order, they can speak for as long as they want, but the length of their speeches will affect whether they reach all the matters that they want to reach.

Mrs. Calton: I had virtually said all that I was going to say. We should consider the important concept of informed consent appropriate to the child's age. I again draw the Committee's attention to the need for appropriate legal advice. In many submissions made to the review, concern was expressed that children should understand what they were agreeing to when they were asked to consent to various procedures. That is what the amendment seeks to ensure.

Mr. Browne: The hon. Lady is right to point out that a reparation order cannot be made unless the child consents. She seeks to qualify that requirement. By definition, consent can be sought only when the requirements of the order are determined. Given that the child will previously have been informed of the possible outcomes of consent, I see no need for the amendment.

The hon. Lady may seek to avoid circumstances in which a child might agree to something while being unaware of the consequences of the order in terms of, for example, criminal record. If so, I should say that we expect that the child will have the advice of a legal representative to ensure that he or she knows the exact consequences. In part, I return to an answer that I gave to the hon. Lady some time previously. There is a significant choice in terms of representation and advice. A child has a right to that, as does an adult, and the Government cannot interfere with it.

Mrs. Calton: I thank the Minister for that answer. The same arguments apply as applied to the guardian ad litem. We must be certain that the child will receive appropriate advice, as would come from properly trained people. The Minister has given assurances about that, so I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Mr. Blunt: I beg to move amendment No. 262, in page 31, leave out line 38.

I was surprised to read in new article 36B(2) that

    ''The court must not make a reparation order in respect of the offender if it proposes—

    (a) to pass on him a custodial sentence; or

    (b) to make in respect of him a community service order, a community responsibility order or a combination order.''

The amendment would strike out the restriction on passing a custodial sentence. One can see that there is a degree of overlap between community service orders and reparation orders, but the principle surely applies across the piece. The amendment also serves as a vehicle for a debate on reparation orders as described in the Bill.

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Paragraph 10.75 of the review recommends the introduction of reparation orders in Northern Ireland, after which it states:

    ''We believe that the introduction of reparation orders and the new form of community service for those under 16 years of age will provide useful additions to youth conference co-ordinators and sentencers in creating imaginative, appropriate and proportionate youth conference plans.''

Reparation orders should not be a stand-alone punishment that cannot be taken in conjunction with other forms of punishment that might be awarded by the courts.

The principle behind the orders is that the offender consents to both the youth conference and reparation orders. If we want to create as flexible a system as possible, we should allow a youth conference to conclude that a variety of different types of order may be appropriate. I do not understand why an element of reparation should not sit alongside a custodial sentence. If the offender agrees to the order, as is required, it may be appropriate to have a combination for a serious offence, such as mobile phone theft, for which the Lord Chief Justice has said there should be exemplary penalties. If negotiation with the offender, which must happen if his consent is to be achieved, enabled him to make reparation in combination with a sentence, and if his reparation were thought to be genuine and were carried out under the system proposed in the Bill, a shorter sentence might be passed because the youth conference could be confident that a reparation order had been made and had linked the offender and the victim.

Reparation orders are a positive vehicle, as they provide the opportunity for direct reparation between victim and offender, and the new article limits them unnecessarily. I hope that the Government will reconsider the matter and ensure that reparation orders can be used in a more flexible framework. That could mean their not only accepting amendment No. 262 but returning on Report to remove new article 36B(2) altogether. If the Government do not agree to the amendment, I may seek to remove the paragraph myself on Report to allow reparation orders to be used as flexibly as possible in order to give them maximum effect.

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