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The Earl of Listowel: I thank the Minister for her lengthy response at this time of night, and I am sorry to try the patience of the Chamber a little further, but could she explain how sensible decisions can be made about publication of the information if one has done no research into the impact over several years of the publication and identification of these children on the children and their families? Does the Minister recognise that there is a definite lacuna here, if one is going to make sensible policy in this area in future?
Baroness Scotland of Asthal: I will do that. I have indicated what we did on 31 March about the guidance. We shall be quite ready to review the guidance when the clause is brought into force. We are doing as much as we can in relation to the whole criminal justice area, with the Youth Justice Board, looking at the outcomes and how these issues are being dealt with. I would be happy to write to noble Lords more fully in relation to what we are doing on that score.
The Earl of Listowel: I apologise for intervening once more, but how can the new guidance be well informed if it is not informed by research on the impact of what is effectively naming and shaming these children? I welcome all the efforts that the Government have made in this area, and we all recognise that there have been tremendous steps forward in the youth justice field since the Government introduced the Youth Justice Board. However, on this particular point, if I may say so, the Government appear to be dragging their feet in terms of looking carefully at the matter. The policy seems to be driven forward by a Home Office priority in tackling anti-social behaviourwhich is very important indeedbut the Government seem to have downgraded in that effort the importance of the interests of individual children.
I apologise for pressing the Minister so hard on this point, but I feel passionate about it. I am sure that the Minister does too, but she has a huge agenda in front of her. I apologise to the Chamber for detaining it further.
Baroness Scotland of Asthal: I have tried to be as clear as I can about the importance of this issue. I have said that we have reviewed the evidence. We are looking at anti-social behaviour orders and all the other intensive intervention programmes that we have undertaken at the same time. It is very difficult to disaggregate which part is actually responsible for which effect, because we have driven down crime. Crime has dropped by 30 per cent across the piece.
In relation to youth justice, we have had some very positive responses with regard to the intensive intervention programmes and the parenting orders. Quite often, a whole series of issues have to be brigaded together, which enables you to make the step-change in
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relation to a child's behaviour. It may be educational support, health intervention, social service intervention, rehousing the family, parenting orders in relation to the parents and changing the environment in which the child livesand there may also have been criminal proceedings and an anti-social behaviour order. How one disaggregates which bit had the effect is very difficult to say, but we are judging outcomes.
The outcome is not just a punitive one in terms of the community. If one looks at the Criminal Justice Act 2003 and the targets that we have set ourselves for the reduction of recidivism, narrowing the justice gap, bringing more offences to justice, raising confidence and all those aspirational targets, which are currently being met, the prospect for children is an awful lot brighter than it has hitherto been. This clause is a tiny contributor to that; it is not a panacea and it is not the whole picture. It will not cure all. For some children and some communities, it will be very helpful, but I do not put it any higher than that. It has to be set against the background and context of all the other work that we are doing across government to ensure that children's futures, particularly those of disadvantaged children, are far better today, as a result of the eight years of hard, committed work that this Government have given to children, than they have ever been before.
Baroness Stern: I am very grateful to the noble Baroness. I do not for one minute doubt her commitment. I remind her that the document entitled, Anti-Social Behaviour OrdersUse Of Publicity issued on 31 March states:
are in bold type in case anyone had any doubts. I think that I heard the noble Baroness say that that document would be revised after the Bill became law. I hope that I heard her say that and I shall certainly expect to see that in Hansard tomorrow.
I am very grateful to those who have spoken on this matter. Initially I felt very guilty at keeping noble Lords here so late. But having heard what everyone had to say I feel that it was very worth while. It will give a lot of encouragement to all those organisations out there which feel very, very deeply about how wrong this is. I must say that I agree with them. I think that we are doing something here which is extremely wrong. However, in view of the circumstances I withdraw my opposition.
We are extremely concerned by the proposal in Clause 139 to allow local authorities to contract out their functions in relation to anti-social behaviour orders. Applications for orders that restrict the fundamental liberties of citizens should be handled by public bodies which are fully accountable and are the bodies responsible for dealing with public safety and crime reduction in their areas. Private bodies may have a financial incentive for seeking orders against people and are not sufficiently accountable. We see no legitimate reason for the inclusion of this provision.
I have taken up many cases of vulnerable young people with suicidal tendencies. I would not wish to see them contracted out to outside bodies. The state that takes the decision to deprive people of their liberty should look after them. That is the criticism which I have of this clause. I hope that the Minister will give serious consideration to it.
Baroness Scotland of Asthal: Section 1 of the Crime and Disorder Act 1998 provides power for a "relevant authority" to apply for an anti-social behaviour order (ASBO) in respect of any person aged over 10. This clause amends that section by inserting a new Section 1F to allow contracting out of local authority ASBO functions.
"Contracting out", which is often referred to as "delegation", means that all the local authority's decisions relating to the discharge of a function are put into the hands of another person who then becomes the authorised decision-maker responsible for the discharge of that function on behalf of the local authority.
New Section 1F will enable the Secretary of State to make an order which may specify a person to whom local authorities may contract out all or part of their ASBO functions. Local authorities must have the flexibility to make appropriate local decisions to ensure that their functions are carried out as effectively as possible, not least tackling anti-social behaviour. The ability to contract out all or some of their ASBO powers to other bodies, organisations, or agencies, may assist authorities in their management of strategic and operational functions.
We want local authorities to be able to make local decisions about how to deliver their ASBO powers. However, this must be balanced with the need to make sure that those entrusted with these powers can be expected to be capable of exercising these functions responsibly. The new Section 1F requires that the bodies or types of bodies to whom local authorities may contract out all or part of their ASBO functions should be defined in an order made by the Secretary of State.
There may be some instances where local authorities or the Secretary of State may wish to restrict the circumstances in which the specified bodies are able to discharge the contracted out ASBO functions. The clause allows both the Secretary of State and the local authority to attach conditions when contracting out ASBO functions and allows for the order to specify whether the local authority contracts out all or simply
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some of those functions. The order will allow the local authority to specify general, geographic or case-specific arrangements when contracting out. I know that the noble Lord is anxious about that. Local authorities will have the discretion whether to contract out ASBO functions to those persons specified in the order, and they will retain the power to discharge the ASBO functions in their own right, regardless of whether they have also entered into a contracting out arrangement.
To help ensure that those included in an order made under the proposed power are capable of exercising the functions responsibly, subsection (5) provides that such an order may be laid only after consultation with representatives of the National Assembly for Wales where relevant, local authorities, and other persons as are considered appropriate. We have put in quite a lot of safeguards. I hope that the noble Lord feels reassured with that explanation. I urge the Committee to allow Clause 139 to stand part of the Bill.
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