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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 be 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 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 for 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 organisationsI will not go into them all againare 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 lawyersand 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,
The important thing is that the powers can be exercised although the child has done nothing wrong. Not only are these powers frighteninglyand this is my worddraconian, 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
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 councillorI took great interest in my wardcould 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.
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?
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