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Reference has been made to the work carried out by Barnardo's about sexually exploited young people. Its work found that young people are in prostitution because of a lack of choice, because they are socially, emotionally and economically vulnerable. They have been failed by services at an early stage in their lives. The key point is that Barnardo's list of effective work with those young people includes giving them attention. In the words of Barnardo's, they have few, if any, concerned attentive adults in their lives, so they are attracted by the attention that they get from the adults who then go on to exploit and abuse them. For all of us, that is a sad prospect and is illustrative of how inappropriate the Government's argument for retaining the criminalisation of such young people is.
The noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, had to leave but, as she could not be here, she asked me to put on the records that ECPAT UK is very concerned that the Committee should take seriously the points made about the decriminalisation of children involved in prostitution.
Baroness Morris of Bolton: I was unable to speak on Second Reading, but I have been following the proceedings of the Bill very carefully. I very much support the noble Baroness, Lady Miller, and the comments of my noble friend Lady Hanham.
These children come from broken families where there is violence. They are often homeless. They turn to drugs and shoplifting and enter prostitution. As the noble Baroness, Lady Miller, said, many of them have been in care. There is recent evidence that the sex industry has been targeting children leaving care, and who are then trafficked within our borders into the sex industry. If those children and young people go into prostitution, we as a society have let them down. We should be doing all that we can to protect them, not to criminalise them.
Lord Ramsbotham: I rise to support the amendment, and especially the comments of my noble friend Lady Stern. I remind the Committee of the observations of the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child. It stated:
"The State party should always consider, both in legislation and in practice, child victims of these criminal practices, including child prostitution, exclusively as victims in need of recovery and reintegration and not as offenders".
That is important because, if you treat them as offenders, you are likely to deter them from seeking assistance from the authorities, which plays into the hands of the abusers. Therefore it is essential that we do not criminalise them.
Baroness Howe of Idlicote: I, too, support the amendment moved by the noble Baroness, Lady Miller. It re-emphasises the fact that these are children that we, between us, have failed. They are victims. We have failed them either as parents, as carers, or as the state. As we know from plenty of evidence, it is those who have been in care who, alas, are most likely to end up in that situation. There is a lot more that we need to do, but one thing that we do not need to do is give them a criminal record. It makes every sense that there is no criminalisation, no offence to be committed for those aged under 18. That is how the Government should go forward. There is plenty more we can do. I thought the point about the need to have someone to take an interest in the child-literally, somebody to love; it is as simple as that-is important. We should be finding mentors to point out to them other ways of developing their lives from then onwards. I support the amendment.
Lord Brett:Amendment 65 concerns an extremely important issue in relation to the offence of loitering and soliciting for the purposes of prostitution, which Clause 15 will amend. The amendment changes the law so that children cannot be prosecuted for the offence of loitering and soliciting. It clearly concerns not only the noble Baroness but a number of noble Lords and many people outside this House. Many favour changing the law in the way suggested in the amendment. We take seriously the concerns of the Joint Committee on Human Rights and children's organisations, among others, who argue for decriminalising children in relation to this offence. We have considered this matter fully and taken account of the full range of views. Having done so, on balance, we have decided to retain the current law.
I should start by emphasising that we accept the principle that children who become involved in prostitution are victims of a sexual offence and should be offered appropriate support. We set out our approach in our guidance Safeguarding Children Involved in Prostitution, which was originally issued in 2000, and we maintain that position in the latest version of the guidance, which was published earlier this month. As a consequence of this guidance and the approach it sets out, this offence is used against children very rarely. Between 2004 and 2007, a period of four years, five convictions and five cautions were given to under-18s for this offence. The noble Baroness said that in 2000, the latest year for which statistics are available, there was one conviction and two cautions. My brief states that there was one conviction and one caution. It is clear that, in practice, this offence is used extremely rarely in relation to under-18s. In the overwhelming majority of cases, they are treated solely as victims of a crime.
Nevertheless, we believe there are reasons in favour of retaining this offence. Alan Campbell, the Minister in the other place who has been cited, made the point
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Noble Baronesses made the point that in exceptional cases support from other agencies has been made available but has not been accessed or has not been effective in helping the child exit street prostitution. In some cases, we believe the intervention of the criminal justice agencies may be vital in ensuring the removal of that child or young person from a situation of danger and initiating engagement with support services. It may be that this intervention is the most effective in leading the child to engage with the appropriate support agencies, given the failure. It is not necessarily failure on the part of the agencies; it may simply be that the child has decided that it does not want to co-operate. This is an opportunity to give a boost to the rehabilitation that we are seeking to achieve with the new rehabilitation penalties that we are creating in Clause 16.
Lord Brett: Because in the vast majority of cases we see and treat the victims as precisely that. In only five cases was there a need for prosecution or caution of under-18s in the period 2004 to 2007.
I accept that the argument is finely balanced. We have considered at great length the issues at stake. However, we have concluded that the arguments in favour of maintaining the current position and the potential risks in amending the law force us to the view that we wish to maintain it. That view is supported by ACPO and the CPS. I hope I have set out clearly the reasons why the Government have concluded that we do not wish to meet the noble Baroness's wishes. I hope she will withdraw her amendment.
Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer: I thank all noble Lords who have spoken, especially those who put their name to my amendment. The noble Baroness, Lady Morris of Bolton, spoke very movingly about the issues of broken families and drugs. The noble Baroness, Lady Howe, said that we have corporate responsibility, as I would call it, for these children. Given the fine balance that the Minister mentioned, I am surprised that he has continued to come down on the side of retaining this provision. I was given some hope when I read the comments of the noble Baroness, Lady Morgan of Drefelin, who was looking at this issue from the point of view of the Department for Children, Schools and Families when giving evidence to the Bill Committee in the other place. She agreed that a child prostitute is a victim, not a criminal.
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The Minister has advanced no evidence from ACPO or anyone else about why this is more helpful. This morning-it seems a long time ago-I heard on the "Today" programme that there is very little provision. In the whole of the UK, there are just 56 beds for runaway children. It is not surprising that they end up on the street. If they do not want to be put straight back into care, and there are often substantial reasons why they have run away from home or care, they have no hostels. Just 56 beds is underprovision of an enormous sort, so runaways are already more vulnerable.
We shall certainly return to this issue on Report. The noble Lord, Lord Borrie, mentioned a paradox but, apart from that, I did not hear any support for the Government's position, so I imagine that the balance will go against the Government on Report. In the mean time, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Communities and Local Government & Department for Work and Pensions (Lord McKenzie of Luton): My Lords, I beg to move that the draft Child Support Collection and Enforcement (Deduction Orders) Amendment Regulations 2009, which were laid on 3 June 2009, be approved.
Noble Lords will be aware that some non-resident parents are determined not to accept financial responsibility for their children. Unfortunately, they demonstrate this by failing to pay their child maintenance and building up arrears. The Child Maintenance and Enforcement Commission already has a number of tools it can use to enforce payment when this happens. For example, it can use a deduction from earnings order, which is an effective method of collecting both ongoing liabilities and arrears in many cases. However, in some cases, a deduction from earnings order cannot be used or is ineffective; for example, because the non-resident parent is self-employed or frequently changes jobs. The Government want the commission to be able to take quick and effective action to enforce payment of child maintenance in all cases where a non-resident parent is failing to comply. With this is mind, we set
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Subsequently, the Child Maintenance and Other Payments Act 2008 inserted powers into the Child Support Act 1991 which would allow the commission to use deduction orders to collect child maintenance from an account held by a non-resident parent with a deposit-taker or from funds held by a third party. Because deduction orders will be administrative they can be made without going to court first and can therefore get money flowing for children more quickly. They will provide an additional tool that can be used alongside existing methods of collection and enforcement.
The regulations before us today will implement the powers taken to enable both regular and lump-sum deduction orders to be used on accounts held by deposit takers, which will normally be banks or building societies. These regulations do not make provision for deduction orders to be used on funds held by third parties, such as solicitors. The commission has decided to use deduction orders on bank and building society accounts first because it believes that orders on these accounts have the greater potential for collecting child maintenance. The regulations have therefore been developed in close consultation with representatives from the banking sector which will be responsible for operating the orders. The commission will go on to assess the scope for further regulations which will enable it to use lump-sum deduction orders on funds held by third parties. This will involve working with a number of stakeholders, including solicitors and other government departments.
I should make it clear that, where there are arrears of child maintenance, the commission will do all it can to make an arrangement with the non-resident parent to pay those arrears before a deduction order is made. The commission would much prefer child maintenance to be paid, for example, by direct debit, which will not incur any additional charge for the non-resident parent and is much easier and cheaper for both the commission and the deposit-taker to administer. However, if the non-resident parent fails to make a satisfactory arrangement to pay, the commission will use what information it has to first liaise with deposit-takers in order to identify a suitable account on which to make an order. In doing so, the commission will ensure that it does not make an order on an account which is specifically excluded by the regulations. This would apply where, for example, the non-resident parent has no beneficial interest in any of the funds in it because they are operating it solely as a trustee.
The regulations also prevent the commission from making a lump sum deduction order on an account which is used wholly or in part for business purposes. However, it may make a regular deduction order on such an account, but only where it is used by the non-resident parent as a sole trader. If the Commission decides to make a regular deduction order, the deposit-taker will be required to deduct regular amounts of ongoing maintenance and/or arrears from the non-resident parent's account. The commission will send a copy of the regular deduction order to the deposit-taker, specifying details of the account, the amount, the dates on which
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Safeguards will be in place to protect both the non-resident parent and the deposit-taker. The amount of each deduction will not exceed 40 per cent of the net weekly income used in the current maintenance calculation, and the deposit-taker must not deduct an amount that will put the account into overdraft. The regulations also set out clearly the circumstances where either the non-resident parent or the deposit-taker can apply for a review of a regular deduction order. This includes, for example, where there has been a change in the amount of the maintenance calculation in question or an incorrect amount has been specified in the order due to an error. Both the non-resident parent and the deposit-taker will have a right of appeal to a county court-or sheriff in Scotland-against the making of the order and against a decision following an application to review the order. If the commission decides to make a lump-sum deduction order the deposit-taker will be required to deduct a lump sum from the non-resident parent's account in respect of a specified amount of arrears. The order will operate in a similar way to a third-party debt order from a court but, because it is administrative, the process will be quicker.
The primary legislation makes provision for a number of safeguards in respect of lump sum deduction orders and the regulations set them out as an integral part of the process. The commission will initially send the deposit-taker and the non-resident parent a copy of an interim order which will specify details of the account and the arrears to be collected by a final order. The interim order will also instruct the deposit-taker to freeze up to the amount specified in the order. Both the non-resident parent and the deposit-taker will have 14 days to make representations to the commission against the proposals in the interim order.
At any point throughout the process, from receipt of the interim order until the funds are paid to the commission, both the non-resident parent and the deposit-taker may apply to the commission for consent to release some or all of the funds from the account. The non-resident parent might do this where, for example, there is an existing written contractual obligation to make a payment to another party. The deposit-taker might do it where, for example, it already has a written agreement with the account holder that a specific amount in the account is held as security against a loan.
A robust appeals process will also be in place. Both the non-resident parent and the deposit-taker will have a right of appeal to a county court-or sheriff in Scotland-against the making of the order and a
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Noble Lords should be aware that the new powers inserted into the 1991 Act made provision for regulations to allow both regular and lump-sum deduction orders to be made on a joint account. However, these regulations do not include such provisions. We recognise that these new powers are unprecedented and, therefore, the commission will use them carefully, particularly on initial implementation. That is why the safeguards are built into the process. It is also why the commission is planning to start to introduce deduction orders using a small dedicated team so that implementation will be at a low volume and controlled.
The impact assessment, which was published alongside the draft regulations, says that this policy will be fully evaluated by the commission in September 2010. If that evaluation finds evidence that excluding joint accounts from the scope of deduction orders is reducing their effectiveness, we will introduce further regulations to extend provisions so that orders can be made on joint accounts. The evaluation will also enable the commission to collect information which will allow it to assess the potential for and likely benefits of increasing the number of deduction orders made in the future. In the mean time, the provisions in these regulations will enable the Child Maintenance and Enforcement Commission to start to use deduction orders both as an additional enforcement tool and as a means of encouraging ongoing compliance.
Lord Taylor of Holbeach: My Lords, I thank the Minister for introducing these regulations. We on these Benches understand why the Government have brought them forward. My honourable friend Mr Andrew Selous supported them in another place, and they have our support here.
These measures might be sensed to have a draconian feel about them, but the estimate of £2 million raised in the first year is mere drop in the ocean compared to the £3.8 billion owed by non-resident parents-a figure growing by £10 million a month. It would be of interest if the Minister could tell us how many parents caring for their child do not get any of the money to which they are entitled from the non-resident parent.
Electronic tagging in extremis to impose a curfew or the ability to remove travel documents or passports, should that come about, represent considerable powers, although, of course, the latter would be effective only
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I also note that an administration fee will be charged. The Minister talked of this. How will the department calculate this and will it be charged irrespective of circumstances and the amount involved? Meanwhile, the cost to the banks and building societies of providing information requests and delivering money will be considerable. Has this been properly estimated by the Government and are the deposit takers satisfied?
This operation to address the huge shortfall of recovering overdue moneys will in future be in the hands of the Child Maintenance and Enforcement Commission. How will CMEC go about sequencing deduction orders and what will be its priority?
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