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Lord Mackay of Clashfern: My Lords, I wonder whether the noble Baroness could help me on one aspect. Apparently, for a child covered by this order, the notice is to be served on a parent or guardian and 21 days are allowed. I have no doubt that it is my fault, but I am not clear about the position if that period expires without payment. There may be various reasons for non-payment. Will the child have a criminal conviction recorded against him or her in respect of the failure to pay?
The Earl of Listowel: My Lords, I express my concerns about this order and join the unanimous voices around the House, particularly on the evaluation of previous work in this area. I was grateful to the Minister for the meeting that she held for civil servants dealing with this order during the Criminal Justice Bill proceedings. I found that helpful and, to some extent, reassuring.
However, I am surprised that the evaluation of the areas that have already experienced this restraint has not yet been published. I am very surprised that that has not been taken forward so far. My understanding is that it is largely to do with policy, so I do not see why that should not happen. Working in such a controversial area, it is important to have all the necessary information available before moving forward.
Yes, some children can blight the areas in which they live. I have two principal concerns. First, a significant number of such children are likely to have mothers who are trying to rear their children on their own. Many of them are boys who are growing up without a father interested in their well-being. My second concern, in introducing this measure, is that we do not penalise the most vulnerable families, putting further pressures on them. I would like to be reassured by the
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Minister that if parents and mothers default in paying the fines, there is no way that they will end up in custody as a result.
I am sure that in response, the Minister will say something about the positive work that the Government are doing in this area to engage with young people. We have a choice in this matter. We can concentrate on the positive work with children. Working with children this summer, the only child with whom I had difficulty and to whom I had to raise my voice was a child, who came into my group, whom I did not know. If one knows the children with whom one is working and in whom one takes an interest, it is so much easier to get them to do what one wishes. Investing in the good work being undertaken by the Government is a better approach than what is now before the House.
We also need to bear in mind the impact on some of those families. A charity in north London, operating near King's CrossAlone in Londonprovides a family mediation service for children who run away from home. Regrettably, after they have been working with them for a while, they find that often the families are not prepared to take the children back.
It has certainly been my experience that a child who runs away from home sometimes can have a step-parent in the family who is not that keen to have him around any more. So I am a little worried that here we might be adding that little extra, that straw that breaks the camel's back, in terms of saying, "This child is not just worth the effort any more. It is time for him to move out of the home".
Therefore, I hope that in the Minister's monitoring of this proposal she will look very carefully at the impact on families and what sort of families are being struck by this legislation. I look forward to her response.
The Minister of State, Home Office (Baroness Scotland of Asthal): My Lords, perhaps I may clarify some of the points raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, and answer the issue raised by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay. I shall try to deal also with the comments of the noble Earl, Lord Listowel.
The noble Baroness will remember that we discussed this issue in February of this year when she raised the question of why we were moving from the position of piloting the 16 to 17 year-olds. The debate at that stage was whether there was a significant difference between the sort of behaviour that would be the subject of anti-social behaviour and the behaviour that one would see from a younger child. I said at that time that,
"we plan to introduce penalty notices for disorder as soon as possible for 16 and 17 year-olds in the same areas as for adults. Later this year we expect to pilot in some areas for 10 to 15 year-olds, taking account of early experience with 16 to 17 year-olds".[Official Report, 5/2/04; col. 795.]
The noble Baroness will know that we said that at that stage and we had the discussion about why that move was taken. I made it quite clear that we would pilot for the younger age group.
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I can tell the House that the latest figures for August show that about 700 penalty notices for disorder have been issued in relation to 16 and 17 year-olds. Of those 700, 660 have been for drunk and disorderly behaviour and harassment. So, that is very similar, your Lordships will remember, to the sorts of reasons for which adults receive fixed penalty notices. I know the noble Baroness and the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, will share my view that it is likely that that will not be the primary source for those under the age of 16.
The noble Baroness also said that her party will take into account the saving of police and court time. I would ask her to consider that because in our experience since these were introduced we have found that there is a considerable saving of both police time and courts' activity. The most important thing about that is that if a fixed penalty notice is paid it means that there is no criminal conviction.
Members of this House have expressed concern from all Benches that we should do all we can not to unnecessarily criminalise children, or indeed anyone unless necessary, but particularly children. We have introduced a scheme whereby that is possible for adults but would not be possible for children of more tender years.
The other matters which cause concern are things like the throwing of stones, the fireworks, wasting time and harassment. All of those are now criminal offices. Children over the age of 10, if found to have committed those offences, can now be arrested and dealt with for those offences. So it is not right to say, as the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, did, that we are unnecessarily criminalising children, or that we seek to take inappropriate action. Where a child has been engaged in criminal activity, we seek to take a step that may prevent him or her from having a criminal record. I know that the noble Baroness and I have always agreed on that, so I am concerned that she expressed herself in that way.
We must be clear about what affirmative resolutions are. If this House believes that the order is not merited, it can strike it down, if it wishes. It is not like other orders, which are a bit of a curate's egg, with a bit of this and that. The order says that it will apply to 10 to 16 year-oldsthat is to say, those under 16. If this House believes that the Government have not got it right, it can strike it down.
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It does not lie in the noble Baroness's mouth to say that we are doing anything that either is improper or does not give this House the opportunity to express its view. When the matter was brought forward, I said that we would not proceed immediately, and we have not. The pilots are unlikely to come into being before November this year. We have taken very seriously the comments of the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, and other noble Lords opposite in crafting the guidance. We have consulted very widely. The Youth Parliament has been consulted, and we have taken its comments into account. I can promise, in accordance with the suggestion of the noble Lord, Lord Luke, that we will not undertake the pilots unless and until guidance is available to officers to help them to implement the provisions. We hope that the guidance will be available by October. I can assure the House that it will be available before the pilots commence. The pilots will not commence until the guidance is available.
In response to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay, if an offender pays the penalty, there is no criminal conviction. Payment discharges the offender's liability and involves no admission of guilt. If, during the 21-day period, the parent or guardian does not pay the amount of the penalty or has not indicated a request to be tried, the sum equal to one and a half times the amount of the penalty may be registered as a fine. According to Section 9(5) of the Criminal Justice and Police Act 2001, if the fine is registered in the magistrates' court, it is a fine as if imposed by the court on the conviction of the defaulter. But it is a fine as a result of non-payment of a penalty notice rather than the original offence. The offender will have been fined for failing to pay the penalty notice, which would have to be paid by the parent.
I hope that noble Lords will agree that we have pitched the scale relatively low so that these are the sorts of fines imposed on juveniles of that age in the juvenile court. As noble Lords will see when the negative resolution order comes forward, it is a sensible precaution.
Noble Lords will know that training is the responsibility of the forces. Certainly, when the adult notices were taken out, the forces involved carried out training. Apparently it was done speedily and easily and they did not have any difficulty. I have no reason to believe that that will not take place. I can assure the House that we will make inquiry of those areas in relation to the implementation as to what their proposals are for the training on the guidance.
We will also include in the guidance certain examples of the sort of things to which we would not expect to apply fixed penalty notices in order to give officers some clear guidance as to the circumstances. We have also saidthis will be in the guidancethat only one penalty notice for disorder can be issued against any child. That is a "one" opportunity. We will monitor that very closely.
We have tried to strike a balance. The evaluation that we asked to be completed has not been completed in full. We have published all the evidence that we can.
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There is an element of frustration felt by those of us in government that those undertaking the evaluation, although they have been able to give us some of the facts, have not produced the document that we can publish. But I can assure the House that as soon as we have that full evaluation on the adult scheme, we will place it in both Libraries. It will appear on the website.
I hope therefore that I have dealt with the matters raised. In my opening, I dealt with the issue of discharge of notices wrongly given. They can be discharged by the police. I hear what the noble Lord says about the possibility that the wrong person may be identified; for example, a child giving the wrong name. It is possible to discharge those notices and have another appropriate notice set out.
I thank the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, for his compliments. Indeed, I thank the noble Baroness for her compliments on those things that she thinks we have got right. Of course, we think that we have got rather a lot right. We will continue to have the same approach to young people that we have now in terms of early intervention, help and support in the hope that they will not further engage themselves in criminal behaviour.
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