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Baroness Masham of Ilton: My Lords, I am concerned about some of the amendments in the grouping. There has been a change in society in that, certainly in the north of England, many young girls, particularly, are drinking a tremendous amount and roaming the streets. They must be at risk of being enticed into prostitution. Not long ago, Barnardo's produced a very good video of children who were in social care in Leeds but were working as prostitutes in Halifax and being kept in appalling conditions. There is a risk element and we need to consider carefully these amendments.
Baroness Linklater of Butterstone: My Lords, I rise with some trepidation to speak on behalf of my noble friend Lord Lester of Herne Hill. He greatly regrets that he cannot be here to speak to Amendments Nos. 50 and 53, which are tabled in his name.
Both amendments seek to give effect to the recommendations of the Joint Committee on Human Rights by inserting important safeguards into the Bill. Clause 30 contains provisions for the dispersal of groups of two or more people where it is reasonably believed that anti-social behaviour is a significant and persistent problem, and that such groups have harassed, intimidated, alarmed or distressed members of the public in the locality. However, the Joint Committee on Human Rights expressed concern that it might be difficult to ensure that the powers under Clause 30 would be used only when they were proportionate to a pressing social need.
In order to address this concern and to provide a tighter test and an additional safeguard to the use of these powers, we propose that the provisions in the amendment should be inserted into the Bill. Under the amendment, in order to be able to give an authorisation which would allow for the exercise of the new powers under Clause 30(4), the relevant officer must have reasonable grounds for believing that such authorisation and exercise of powers is appropriate and necessary for the prevention of disorder or crime.
Amendment No. 53 relates to the removal of young people under 16 to their place of residence. We have some concerns about this power and my noble friend feels that it is very important that this provision should be clearly linked to Clause 30 and to Amendment No. 50. As the Joint Committee on Human Rights observed, the provision effectively turns the authorisation into an extension of child curfew schemes. It also expressed concerns that the measures are not a proportionate response to a pressing social need.
It is not completely clear from the face of the Bill that Clause 30(1) conditions need to be met before Clause 30(6) can be applied, hence the need for the link. This is unacceptable. In order to address the ambiguity and to provide an additional safeguard to the use of these new powers, the provision in the amendment should be inserted after Clause 30(6). This will ensure that all of the Clause 30(1) conditions, including the new condition proposed as Clause 30(1)(c), are met before the power to remove is triggered. I hope that I have made myself clear to the Minister.
Baroness Howarth of Breckland: My Lords, there can be some confusion between the need to remove young people from the streets when they are in danger or causing difficulties that might lead to an offence and young people who are simply congregating, when people fear that they might cause offence. To address the point that the noble Baroness, Lady Masham, was concerned about, young prostitutes and young women in difficulties certainly need help. If they are ordinary kids who are just grouping together on the streets, they need help, but not help as regards being dispersed.
We know from what happened in the Climbie situation that the police forgot to take a holistic view because the person in front of them was a child. I have great respect for the police and have worked with them through the years, but it would help to have it in the Bill to remind them, through their training, that they have to intervene and work with social services if they find themselves in charge of a child who is on the street.
Lord Avebury: My Lords, I want to take the Minister back to the discussions that we had on the Licensing Bill, and the question of the large number of people who congregate outside premises where clubs are operatingyoung people between the ages of 16 and 30, whose ages are extremely difficult to determine. If a police officer faces a situation in which such a group of people is likely to intimidateor is intimidating and harassingmembers of the public, how does a police officer single out those who are of the age to which the clause applies?
Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, perhaps I should reiterate the basis on which the provisions will apply. As currently drafted, a senior officer may grant an authorisation in areas where people have been intimidated, harassed, alarmed or distressed, as a result of the presence or behaviour of groups and where anti-social behaviour is a significant and persistent problem. Those are the criteria set out, which need to be satisfied before the powers under this clause can operate.
Amendment No. 49 would remove the possibility of the police using powers based on the presence of groups causing intimidation, harassment, alarm or distress. The Government believe that it is not only the behaviour of groups that makes people feel threatened in their communities. The presence of the group, and the fear of what it might do, prevents people from using the open spaces and facilities within communities. The provisions are not limited to children. Groups can be dispersed, regardless of age. Only the curfew powers relate specifically to juveniles.
Amendment No. 51 would prevent the constable from 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 the constable or community support officer has powers to prevent members of the public being affected in this way and to prevent intimidation, harassment, alarm or distress occurring in the first place.
We say respectfully that Amendment No. 52 is also unnecessary as Clause 32(4) already has the effect that is proposed in the amendment. The social services department of the local authority will be notified if a constable or community support officer decides to exercise his powers under Clause 30(6) of the Bill. I believe that the noble Baroness will see that the power which she seeks is there already.
Amendment No. 54 is also unnecessary as under the general child protection provisions in the Children Act 1989 we would expect constables to alert local authority social services departments of any child they believe is at risk of significant harm. We shall certainly ensureI hope that I reassure the noble Baroness, Lady Howarththat this point is covered in the code of practice issued under Clause 34. I hope that gives the noble Baroness some comfort.
Amendment No. 53 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Lester of Herne Hill, seeks to clarify that before a police officer or community support officer exercises his power to take a child home, the conditions required for an authorisation apply. Clause 30(2) ensures that the power to take a child home can be exercised only when an authorisation is in place. While I recognise the point that the noble Lord, through the noble Baroness, is making, I hope I can reassure him and her that the amendment is unnecessary. The noble Lord has a few concerns and may welcome a discussion on them. I should be very happy to have that discussion with the noble Lord. If, due to our somewhat tight timetable, I am not able to conduct that discussion myself, I am sure we can arrange for him to have a proper consultation with the relevant officials dealing with the matter. I hope that following my comments and the offer of a discussion, the noble Baroness will feel able to withdraw the amendment.
Baroness Linklater of Butterstone: My Lords, I thank the Minister for her very clear reply. She considers the amendments unnecessary as their aims are covered in the Bill. My noble friend Lord Lester will read what has been said in Hansard. I speak for him but I am sure that he will welcome the noble Baroness's kind offer of a consultation.
Baroness Walmsley: My Lords, I thank the Minister for her reply and other Members of your Lordships' House for their support for these amendments. I believe the Minister suggested that Amendment No. 51 would remove all of subsection (3). However, it seeks to remove only the words,