Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Linklater of Butterstone, for her complimentary comments about the contribution made by the Government and the efforts that we are making, and I also thank the noble Earl. I very much understand why the noble Baroness and the noble Earl are pressing this issue. We have some very difficult problems to unravel. We went through many of those in Committee. We are being pulled in two different ways. We must consider the interests of the child, who is often abused and neglected and exhibits aberrant, dysfunctional behaviour as a result. That behaviour has a terrible effect on the people around them. We need to examine how best to assist such children to reintegrate. Some have become so damaged that they are incapable of responding to ordinary boundaries. These are difficult issues.

I confirm to the noble Earl that we also believe that this area has been neglected for some time. That is why the Government have put in such energy and huge investment. For example, in addition to the money referred to by the noble Baroness for mental health, there has been £342 million for behaviour improvement programmes between 2000 and 2006, £513 million provided for the Youth Service in 2003–04, the £25.5 million each year for positive activities for young people, the initial budget of £200 million for the Young People's Fund, and the £15 million per annum for positive futures. We need every penny of that money to try to cushion and support young people.

In pressing his amendment, I understand that the noble Earl is accepting that reporting restrictions on certain individuals may have to be raised, but the question is how we monitor that and test whether it is the best thing to do. We have given a lot of thought to the matter. The noble Earl seemed to be asking for a specific piece of research. The major problem associated with work of that nature is that, first, a statistically small number of people are exposed in such a way. Secondly, the nature of exposure is likely to differ considerably from area to area, and thirdly, such young people are likely to be vilified by their local community already and it would be difficult in

3 Nov 2003 : Column 548

research terms to get the empirical data correct—to unpick the impact that this has on them compared with the exposure itself.

Noble Lords will know, however, that we are anxious to look at this area and cull as much information as possible. We looked at the possibility of constructing a separate research programme, how much it would cost and what its benefits would be, but we must bear in mind that we must examine the advantage to young people and how we invest in programmes likely to make a difference.

We have spent a good deal of money on improving our IT systems throughout the criminal justice system. Noble Lords will know that we are spending more than £1 billion—£1.6 billion, I think—on that so that we have the potential to provide improved empirical data on disposals. That will provide us with a robust database of information to enable the Government to calculate the net impact of our policies and inform the making of new policies.

That is the broad context, but the noble Earl wants to know about research in this specific area. Our difficulty is not in saying that we do not think that this is an area that we should continue look at and test out, but how best to do that, how to get the research done and what it would deliver. At the moment, we do not feel that the cost benefit would be fruitful. However, we want to continue to look at this area, because it is obvious that we will have to revisit the whole issue of testing whether our policies are doing that which we seek.

If we examine the issue in the round and look at what we are doing with the Children's Fund, the children's Green Paper, and in the Bill, we see that these issues are being continually looked at to test whether the aspirations that we jointly and severally have for this piece of legislation actually deliver. Although I cannot tell your Lordships that we have a specific project in mind or that we think that there are cost benefits in carrying out a targeted piece of research, we agree that this area will be included in the other things that we must look at to ensure that we are delivering for children in a meaningful way.

We must also, however, deliver for the communities that, regrettably, are sometimes subjected to terrible behaviour. The courts will have an opportunity to address that problem. We want courts to think much more carefully about whether to grant restriction orders for children, which, as noble Lords will know, are dealt with in a significantly differently way from those for adults. The court must say whether it will lift or impose restrictions. For the children, it is a case of whether restrictions are lifted; for adults, it is whether they are imposed. We thought that, in the area of anti-social behaviour orders, it was appropriate to have a similar system.

I remind the House and the noble Baroness that the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child refers to the penal law. ASBOs and the equivalent orders are civil orders. The provisions relate only to orders made on conviction. The details of the conviction that precedes the anti-social behaviour order remain under reporting restrictions until the restrictions are lifted by the court.

3 Nov 2003 : Column 549

We have had to strike a difficult balance. We think that we have got it about right. We know that the orders can be beneficial. The noble Baroness, Lady Linklater of Butterstone, talked about the police and other agencies working together. She knows that part of what we are trying to do is to make the link with the police. We hope that, once the pilot is rolled out throughout the country, the CPS will be involved in charging, thus framing the sort of offences involved. We are trying to make sure that the Juvenile Bench, which will still deal with such matters, will have the information that it seeks.

The noble Baroness and the noble Earl will know well that the courts are still bound to take the welfare of the child into account, under the Children and Young Persons Act 1933. The Judicial Studies Board has produced guidance on reporting restrictions in magistrates' courts, including specific advice on reporting restrictions and ASBOs. As the noble Earl is aware, the guidance includes reference to consideration of the welfare of the child.

When the Bill becomes law, there should, as with any other Bill, be training, through the Judicial Studies Board, on how it should be used and what should be done with it. Home Office officials will work with the Judicial Studies Board to ensure that the guidelines take account of the changes made by the Anti-social Behaviour Bill, so that we have a joined-up approach to how they should be applied. It is part of our security that we have tried to make sure that those who deal with sensitive issues involving children have the skills and training to be more responsive.

I am sure that Juvenile Benches throughout the country will see the campaigns that are launched and will have them in mind when they decide whether, in a particular case, it is right and proper for that child in those circumstances for the court to lift reporting restrictions. Those courts will think carefully about what may happen as a result and about the conditions that they may wish to put on the lifting of restrictions.

I hope that I have said enough to reassure noble Lords that the Government do not intend to let the issue lie fallow. We will return to the matter and continue to consider it. The interests of the children in those circumstances are at the forefront of our mind. Although I cannot give the noble Earl a specific commitment that there will be a piece of research, I can say that we will keep an eye on the issues, as the empirical data come through.

The Earl of Listowel: My Lords, I thank the Minister for her helpful reply. In Committee, she said changes to processes in the juvenile courts were being discussed. I feel more sanguine about that. However, most anti-social behaviour orders relating to children are made in the adult court. The adult court does not have the good relationship with the local youth offending team that the juvenile court has. The adult court does not have the specialist training for dealing with children that the children's court has. The adult court does not meet in a special session once a week, as the juvenile court does, to deal with children's issues. My reason, in part, for

3 Nov 2003 : Column 550

moving the amendment and asking for the research is not so much my concern that we are changing the arrangements in the juvenile courts; it is what is going on in the adult courts and how well informed and well considered their important decisions about children and their families are.

I look to your Lordships to see what support I might have in dividing the House. I am moved towards doing so. Although what the Minister said was, to some extent, reassuring, I feel that there is a danger that such children will, as so often, fall through the gaps. The Government have a huge agenda in this area, and those children may be left out. I take the Minister's point about the difficulties for local communities, but I look to your Lordships for an indication of whether it would be worthwhile to divide the House.

Noble Lords: Hear, hear.

The Earl of Listowel: My Lords, in that case, I shall divide the House.

4.35 p.m.

On Question, Whether the said amendment (No. 66) shall be agreed to?

Their Lordships divided: Contents, 51; Not-Contents, 116.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page