Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Lord Williams of Mostyn: The provision in the clause is intended to give a local authority a certain flexibility in the operation of the scheme. I take note of the noble Baroness's observations about the difficulty of police enforcement, but that is dealt with because no scheme will be put into effect without the mandatory consultation under Clause 14(3)(a). Therefore, the senior police officer in the relevant area must be consulted before one has a differential scheme. The point behind that requirement is that, for example, with the older age group of eight or nine year-olds, one might have to have specified hours which would be less or more extensive than for a younger age group. I believe that children aged five or six are quite different in their behaviour and, indeed, in their needs from those of eight or nine. That is especially so these days when children seem to grow up very quickly.

Therefore, in a particular area one might want a differential scheme but it could not even be considered before one had the full views of the chief officer of police. I take the point made by the noble Baroness. We have built in flexibility but we have also built in the mandatory consultation of the police. I hope that that is a satisfactory answer to what I accept was a reasonable question.

Baroness Anelay of St Johns: I thank the Minister for his explanation. I still have some concerns that consultation in itself may not solve the problem of what happens on the night when a group of rowdy children gather together and cause a severe difficulty for police who are seriously trying to solve public order problems with young people whom they wish to see return home safely. Indeed, they want to see the problem resolved without having to use any heavy-handed methods. I shall read carefully what the Minister said but, in the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 151 not moved.]


On Question, Whether Clause 14 shall stand part of the Bill?

Lord Thomas of Gresford: I oppose the Question that Clause 14 stand part of the Bill because I do not feel that the investigation we have carried out into its

10 Feb 1998 : Column 1123

provisions this evening has satisfied me that this is a viable scheme. The clause starts off by saying that the child curfew scheme is to be made where it is,

    "necessary to do so for the purpose of maintaining order".

But there is nothing there about the purpose of protecting children, although it has been sold to us on the basis that the purpose behind the legislation is to protect children. It is not; it is to maintain order and clear the streets.

Moreover, the machinery involved seems to me to be overwhelmingly cumbersome. The local authority has to consult with various people before submitting a scheme to the Secretary of State. The Secretary of State then has to consider it. There then has to be further consultation and, when all that process has been gone through, it appears that the scheme applies to under 10 year-olds and for a maximum of 90 days.

I appreciate what the Minister said; namely, that he is seeking to strike a balance between the rights of children to play and to be in the streets and maintaining order. Indeed, I appreciate that fact. However, at the end of the day, it seems to me to be very cumbersome machinery which needs to be further examined.

There could well be some purpose in having child curfew schemes, but if there is I respectfully suggest that there should be a much simpler machinery; that it should be far less draconian in its results, leading, as I have said, to child safety orders which then lead to parenting orders; and it should be for children not necessarily under 10 but of an age group who may be above that. If riots are envisaged, the provision should perhaps extend for a period of longer than 90 days and not be subject to the limitations that are placed upon it here. The whole of this scheme, as set out, seems to me to be cumbersome and ineffective. I hope that the Government will look at it.

Lord Hylton: I should like to support what the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, has said. I do so for four reasons. I am not convinced that the Government have really thought this matter through. The first reason is the administrative one to which both the noble Lord, Lord Thomas, and the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay of St Johns, have referred. Time will be required to get a scheme into place with, first, consultation, then the approach to the Secretary of State and, finally, the implementation period. I cannot see how that process can be gone through in under three months and it might easily be as much as six months if the summer holidays happen to intervene. Then, as has been pointed out, the scheme is effective only for up to 90 days.

My second reason is the burden that will be put on the police once such schemes are in place. They will have to establish the exact age of any given child they come across. Here I suggest to the Government that 11 would be a better age than 10 if we must have this kind of measure. I say 11 because that is the age at which most children transfer from primary to secondary school. Therefore, one simple question should be capable in most cases of establishing the

10 Feb 1998 : Column 1124

position. The police will have to make up their minds, somehow or other, whether the child's home is a safe place to take the child to, or whether he has to be taken somewhere else. That will not be at all easy.

My third reason is that the imposition of such curfews will affect all the children in the given area and not just those who are causing problems. However, I was encouraged by what the noble and learned Lord the Solicitor-General said about these schemes being used only if there was no other way of dealing with the situation. Fourthly, with that in mind, I suggest to the Government that it may be far more productive to put new resources into particular local areas where the social provision for children is deficient, and where there are little or no after school facilities, rather than adopt such clumsy, laborious and time-consuming machinery.

Viscount Colville of Culross: Like the noble Lord, Lord Thomas, in listening to this discussion I have been concerned about the machinery. I hope that the Government might think again, and perhaps they could answer two questions which arise out of subsection (5). I understand the process. There is to be prior consultation, then the measure is put before the Secretary of State who either confirms it or refuses to confirm it, and then there is subsequent consultation. I have two questions. First, what is the objective of the subsequent consultation? The scheme is in the form in which it has been approved. There is no power to vary it. What is the point of consulting after the Secretary of State has already approved it?

Secondly, if there is to be subsequent consultation, and it is to have any effect, why have not the Government given the Secretary of State power to vary the order? I have never seen a power of a confirming Minister which does not give the Minister the powers to confirm, to refuse to confirm, or to confirm with variations. The power is invariable. If the Secretary of State is providing himself with a method of informing his own mind about the rightness of the scheme, perhaps in view of some possible infringement of the European Convention on Human Rights, or because there is a pattern he wishes to establish, he should have the power to vary what is being put forward by the local authority.

I merely reinforce that if there is to be subsequent consultation, he must have power to vary it, otherwise there is no point in having that subsequent consultation.

Lord Williams of Mostyn: I am grateful for the observations which have been made. Some have been replied to by the Solicitor-General or by me on earlier aspects of Clause 14.

On the one hand, it is complained that we are being draconian and taking civil rights away from small children and possibly their parents. On the other hand, it is said that we are not sufficiently consultative. I believe that we have the balance about right. To take this unique step it is necessary to proceed with caution. It is not right to say that the curfew period

10 Feb 1998 : Column 1125

must last for 90 days. The Bill says that there may be a curfew order for a specified period not exceeding 90 days.

My noble friend Lady Kennedy said that we must consult properly. I take her point. But this is a scheme which requires consultation. It requires notification to the chief officer of police and to other appropriate persons; and then one has the sanction of the Secretary of State. The Secretary of State may confirm or refuse to confirm. Any subsequent consultation he has, if he wishes may lead to a varied scheme being put forward. But we believe that this is essentially a local remedy, that local people are likely to know best here, subject to the overall control of the Secretary of State to confirm or refuse to confirm. We do not think that it is appropriate for him to have the power to vary unilaterally. It may be that consultation with the local authority or appropriate persons in the locality might produce a varied scheme which, after the appropriate consultation had been gone through, he could then decide to confirm or refuse to confirm.

We think that we have sufficient consultation here. It is said that it is a draconian scheme simply for the purpose of maintaining order. It is not. Mischief is caused by young people who often commit quite a lot of crime, not least, surprisingly to me, taking and driving away motor cars at very young ages. There may be dissent on the Opposition Front Bench; the noble Lord, Lord Henley, raises a question. But the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, who has more knowledge than many of us in this House, knows well from sitting in the magistrates' courts that children are amazingly adept at driving motor cars. When we think how difficult it was for us to pass our test at the age of 17-plus, we realise how readily the facility of taking other people's motor cars seems to be acquired.

When young children are in this state there is something seriously wrong with the parenting arrangements for those children. It is true, as my noble friend Lady Kennedy said, that their homes may be disagreeable. They may have been the subject of domestic abuse, or witnessed it, or the subject of sexual abuse. But my answer echoes that of the Solicitor-General. If that is so, they have slipped through the net. Despite all the arrangements that we pride ourselves on, sometimes wrongly, to protect children sufficiently, plainly in the circumstances which we anticipate those children will not have been protected.

I recognise the concerns of the noble Lord, Lord Thomas, on the civil liberties' front. The noble Lord said that the measure is draconian and may lead to a child safety order. It will lead to a child safety order only if certain important hurdles are crossed: that it is necessary in the interests of securing that the child receives appropriate care, protection, support and proper control. Those should be the birthright of all children of this age. If a curfew order of up to 90 days led in significant cases to children receiving appropriate care, protection and support, I would not

10 Feb 1998 : Column 1126

regard that as draconian. I would regard it as civilised, and many people would regard it as Christian behaviour.

We have to consult people, because it is their areas, their lives, their communities and their children that are to be affected. We believe, of course, that we are breaking new ground. But as I said earlier--and I do not apologise for repeating it--the alternative is to do nothing. We repudiate the idea that we do nothing. I beg to move that Clause 14 stand part of the Bill.

Clause 14 agreed to.

Clause 15 [Contravention of curfew notices]:

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page