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Lord Harris of Haringey: I am grateful to my noble friend for that reply and am pleased that these issues will be looked at as part of the review of firearms law. Although the restrictions that the Government have introduced on carrying such weapons in public are extremely welcome, we must now look at their more general availability and the fact that, once somebody has such a weapon or imitation weapon, the temptation to take it out and to use it is rather too great.
I accept the arguments made about the difficulties of an amendment that refers to prohibiting the sale of such weapons unless there is a lawful object or reasonable excuse. I accept that that may be much too wide in all such instances. But I hope that, as part of the review, the Government will look at ways in which we can stifle the production, sale, manufacture and distribution both of air weapons, to which the noble Lord, Lord Monson, has referred, and of imitation weapons, which, when unlawfully displayed in public, can lead to a situation in which firearms officers are deployed, potentially putting all sorts of people at risk as a consequence.
Baroness Stern: Clause 138 changes the situation when youth courts are dealing with publicising an anti-social behaviour order. Currently, personal information on children subject to proceedings should be released only when there are exceptional circumstances. The clause reverses that position: publicity will be given unless exceptional circumstances prevent it.
The Minister will know that all the main organisations that work with children would like to see this controversial provision dropped from the Bill. I shall mention just Barnardo's, the Children's Society, the National Children's Bureau, the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, Save the Children and Voice for the Child in Care. That is a formidable alliance with years of experience of and contribution to the care of children in this country. I am sure that it is a matter of great regret to the Minister, as it is to me, that the Government find themselves taking measures that are in total opposition to the views of those valuable and respected organisations and that no compromise has been possible.
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There are many arguments against the measure. I have considered the measure in conjunction with the Government's latest guidance on publicising the personal details, including photographs, of those who receive anti-social behaviour orders. I am afraid to say that I found it a chilling document.
There is a human rights objection to the provision. It is against the spirit of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, by which the Government are bound. There are also ethical objections. It is a sad state of affairs when society wants children and young people from the poorest and most deprived families to become pariahs and the butt of community hatred, vigilantism and "shop-a-yob" newspaper coverageall for matters that are not even criminal.
I am as opposed to anti-social behaviour as, I am sure, is the Minister and as are the children's organisations that I mentioned. They spend much of their time working to ensure that children do not grow up anti-social. It is a major argument against the provision that it will make it likely that anti-social behaviour will increase. It will create a pariah group of young people who will wear their notoriety as a badge of honour, sever their ties with respectable society and join the street gangs that are, unfortunately, becoming more prevalent. Because of the Internet and its search engines, the effects of the provision on those young people and their families will last for many years. Once their names are known and can be typed in, their histories will be there for all to find out.
The Earl of Listowel: I strongly support my noble friend Lady Stern. I shall endeavour to be brief, but my first concern is that there was no debate on the clause in the other place. Although the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, raised a question about that at Second Reading, the Minister made neither specific response to that question nor any reference to the issue during the Second Reading debate. We will now have curtailed scrutiny of the Bill.
It is not particularly a party political matter; there is no great controversy among the parties about it. However, as we heard, those who work with children are very concerned. Yet, there will be only this evening's discussion and a brief discussion tomorrow, with no chance for correspondence with the Minister, no opportunity to reflect and no chance to consult the relevant organisations. That is my first concern.
"We asked [her] whether the practice of naming and shaming could be justified in light of concerns of child safety. She told us that publicity was crucial for community confidence, and commented that 'if there are good reasons for not having publicity then the courts always have the power to impose reporting restrictions'. She also confirmed that there was no current research looking at the effects of publicity on those involved".
During the passage of the Anti-social Behaviour Bill two or three years ago, I pressed the Government repeatedly for research into the impact of that controversial measure on those children and families. To the best of my knowledge there has been no such research carried out by the Government. Perhaps I may ask my noble friend Lord Chan whether he would give a medicine to a child without knowing what the side effects would be on a vulnerable child. That is my second concern.
"Every Child Matters, although based in the Department for Education and Skills, requires co-ordination and joined-up working with other Government departments . . . In particular, the Youth Justice system and the immigration system currently operate in ways which can be seen to undermine the aims of Every Child Matters. These tensions need to be tackled at Ministerial level if the Government is to convince us that every child really does matter equally".
The noble Baroness earlier referred to the problem of professionals working in silos. Perhaps she will explain the Government's programme to encourage co-operative working between agencieseducation, health and criminal justice, for example. But how can those agencies have confidence to work as a team? To many people involved in health and social services, publishing the names of such vulnerable childrenwithout even bothering to investigate the implications that such publication has for those children and familiesis highly irresponsible and possibly highly detrimental to the welfare of those children.
"However, we conclude that the Government's strategy is being undermined by different philosophies, methods and tactics amongst key players. In particular, we were disappointed to hear that some social services departments, local educational authorities, Children and Adolescent Mental Health Services, Youth Services and children's non-governmental organisations (NGOs) are often not fully committed to local [anti-social behaviour] strategies. The failure to attend meetings of Crime and Disorder Reduction Partnerships is just one symptom of this. Yet many perpetrators of ASB, both young and adult, are also the very people with complex support needs and therefore with whom these organisations are already, or should be, working".
A psychiatrist with whom I spoke two weeks ago was treating a girl who, while undergoing treatment, had to move her home because her identity had been publicised widely in the neighbourhood. How can health professionals work closely with the criminal justice system if they have difficulty with whether the criminal justice system puts the interests of the child as a high priority?
Rod Morgan, head of the Youth Justice Board, is responsible for the work of youth offending teams and the state of children in prisons. I have heard him recently expressing deep concern about the naming
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and shaming of children. If the argument for having publicity is to empower local communities so that they know something is being done, frankly, complainants should be told that something is being done as regards the incidents about which they have concerns.
We have already heard today about the increased number of community officers working on the beat. They know the kids in their communities about whom action needs to be taken. They can be informed without necessarily releasing names and photographs to the press. It is then extremely difficult to work positively with either the children, their families or their carers.
In conclusion, while I apologise for taking so long, it deeply concerns me that this important area will not receive the scrutiny it certainly deserves. First, as I said earlier, there has been only a brief debate on it, followed by a short discussion in this House. Secondly, there has been no research into the consequences of publishing such information about vulnerable young people and families, whatever they may have done, as the noble Baroness was good enough to recognise earlier, and I thank her for that. Thirdly, surely the close co-operation and work of agencies will be undermined if their values seem to be in such conflict with one another.
I beg the Minister to think again about this clause and to consider bringing it back on another occasion when we have had time to reflect on a matter which affects some of the most vulnerable children and families in our society.
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