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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.

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I thank the Minister for his comments on the issue of the length of time that a dispersal order should be 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Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.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

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whole of a locality, even if that is excessive. The area from which the group must disperse should be 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 1 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

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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

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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 l a.m. to 5 a.m. There are severe risks with young

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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.

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