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12.15 a.m.

Lord Thomas of Gresford moved Amendment No. 152:


Page 13, line 1, leave out ("The constable") and insert ("If the constable believes that the contravention is sufficiently serious to justify bringing it to the attention of the local authority, he").

The noble Lord said: I rise to move the amendment standing in the name of my noble friend Lord Goodhart. I shall also speak to Amendment No. 154.

The purpose of the amendments is to leave discretion with the constable who, under Clause 15(1),


As the clause is drafted, the constable,


    "shall ... inform the local authority ... that the child has contravened the ban".

The purpose of Amendment No. 152 is that he shall do so only if he believes,


    "that the contravention is sufficiently serious to justify bringing it to the attention of the local authority".

Some discretion is specifically left to the police officer. I am quite sure that he would exercise discretion in any event, but it is perhaps a protection for him that that discretion be spelt out on the face of the Bill.

Amendment No. 154 merely repeats, not that the child has contravened the ban, but the words of subsection (1); namely,


    "that he has reasonable cause to believe",

that the child is in contravention of the ban. It seems a reasonable drafting amendment. I beg to move.

Lord Falconer of Thoroton: This amendment deals with the enforcement of a local curfew notice. For local child curfews to be effective, they must have within them the right levers so as to ensure that proper action can be taken to react to situations where children are found in breach of a curfew. One of those levers will be a visit by the local authority to the family of a child found in breach. The purpose of such a visit would be to ascertain why the child was out late at night unsupervised and then to decide whether further action was necessary to prevent any repetition.

However, for that important step to take place, the police constable who found the child must inform the local authority of the incident. That is why subsection (2) of Clause 15 places a duty on the police constable to do that "as soon as practicable".

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Amendment No. 152 would undermine that important step. It would make the decision discretionary and place the police constable in the difficult position of having to make a judgment which he or she might not be qualified to make and in circumstances where the full facts might not be known.

As to the second amendment proposed by the noble and learned Lord, Amendment No. 154, we believe it is unnecessary because the issue with which it is concerned is already dealt with in Clause 15(1). On the basis of my remarks, I hope that the noble Lord is happy not to press his amendment.

Lord Thomas of Gresford: I do not propose to press the amendment. However, my concern that the policeman should not be seen as the bogyman remains. If a child knows that being stopped by a policeman will result inevitably in the local authority being informed and all the subsequent machinery coming into action, that will give him a certain view of policemen which I believe is unhealthy. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord Henley moved Amendment No. 153:


Page 13, line 1, leave out ("shall, as soon as practicable,") and insert ("may, if he thinks fit,").

The noble Lord said: I trust that this will be the last amendment I shall speak to this evening. I intend to speak to it briefly and I suspect it is something which I may wish to come back to on Report, depending on what I hear from the Government in response. It is a simple amendment, merely to change the wording. At the moment the wording suggests:


    "The constable shall, as soon as practicable, inform the local authority".

We suspect that that is over-prescriptive as to what the constable ought to do. We suggest that more appropriate words might be:


    "may, if he thinks fit, inform the local authority".

I beg to move.

Lord Williams of Mostyn: I shall reply as briefly, if I may. I have already identified the social evils that curfews are intended to deal with: child protection and public disorder. If a child is found in breach of a curfew, one needs to bear in mind that all the steps are gone through before the local authority curfew order has been given. So it will not be done lightly. We have already identified and recited the consultative process, which is quite deliberately made intensive. If a child is then found in breach of a curfew, one consequence will be simply a visit by the local authority to the family home to see why the child was out late at night unsupervised and to see whether or not the kind of dangers and home conditions which my noble friend Lady Kennedy rightly identified as existing do exist and, if so, to decide whether any further action is necessary.

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For that step to take place, in other words for the local authority to be able to visit the home, it has to be notified. It is as simple as that. The police officer in those circumstances will be obliged to inform the local authority. That triggers a local authority visit. If all is well at home, or all can be made well at home, that should be an end of it. If there are dangers identified by my noble friend, the child's interests demand that further investigation and steps follow.

Lord Henley: I am grateful to the noble Lord for that answer. I shall look at it carefully and consider whether I wish to come back to it at Report stage. It is late and it becomes harder to concentrate on precisely what is being said at this stage. For that reason, I prefer to read what the noble Lord said. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 154 not moved.]

Baroness Kennedy of The Shaws moved Amendment No. 155:


Page 13, line 5, at end insert (", in which case he shall remove the child to the care of a responsible adult").

The noble Baroness said: I shall not rehearse the arguments again for this. We seek to add the words in the amendment, for the sake of completion. I hope that noble Lords, including the Minister, will consider it. I beg to move.

Lord Falconer of Thoroton: Under the Bill, where a child is found in breach of a curfew, the position is this. In the first instance, children in breach of the curfew will come to the attention of the police. Clause 15(3) states that:


    "The constable may remove the child to the child's place of residence".

I am sure we all agree that that is the appropriate first step.

If, however, the constable believes that such a step would place the child--and let us remember that we are dealing here with children less than 10 years old--at risk of significant harm, we would expect him or her to make use of existing powers under Section 46 of the Children Act 1989 to remove the child to suitable accommodation. The nature of that suitable accommodation should in my view be a matter of good liaison between the relevant local agencies. There should be no need to detain such children in inappropriate accommodation such as a police cell, which would obviously be undesirable. This is a matter which we will cover in guidance. In any event, Section 46(3)(f) of the Children Act 1989 requires the constable to remove the child to local authority accommodation or an approved refuge as soon as practicable if he is not initially taken to such accommodation.

The amendment of my noble friend Lady Kennedy of The Shaws requires that the child in those cases be removed to the care of a responsible adult. That qualification is unnecessary for the reasons I have already given. I hope that I have reassured her and

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that she will not press her amendment. In effect, what is being said is that the child is taken home, and if that does not lead to a suitable result, then he is dealt with in ways which will protect him from significant harm.

Baroness Kennedy of The Shaws: I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 155A not moved.]

Clause 15 agreed to.

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Clause 16 agreed to.

Clause 17 [Interpretation etc. of Chapter I]:

Lord Williams of Mostyn moved Amendment No. 156:


Page 14, line 2, at end insert--
(""police authority" has the meaning given by section 101(1) of that Act;").

The noble Lord said: I have already spoken to this amendment. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 17, as amended, agreed to.

        House adjourned at twenty-six minutes past midnight.


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