Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

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

17 Sept 2003 : Column 1025

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. I 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

17 Sept 2003 : Column 1026

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. I 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",


    "(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.

17 Sept 2003 : Column 1027

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.

17 Sept 2003 : Column 1028

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.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page