Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Lord Thomas of Gresford moved Amendment No. 30:

Leave out Clause 14 and insert the following new clause--

Child curfew orders

(" .--(1) A child curfew order is an order which applies a ban on children of specified ages (under 10) being in a public place within a specified area and for a specified period (not exceeding 90 days)--
(a) during specified hours (between 9 pm and 6 am); and
(b) otherwise than under the effective control of a responsible person aged 18 or over.
An order may specify different hours in relation to children of different ages.
(2) An application for a child curfew order under this section may be made by a local authority if it appears to the authority that the relevant condition is fulfilled, namely, that it is necessary for the purposes of maintaining order.
(3) Such an application shall be made to the magistrates' court whose commission area includes the specified area.
(4) Notice of the application shall be given--
(a) by posting the notice in some conspicuous place or places within the specified area;
(b) in such other manner, if any, as appears to the local authority to be desirable for giving publicity to the application.
(5) Notice of the application shall be served upon--
(a) the chief officer of police;
(b) the probation officer appointed for or assigned to the magistrates' court.
(6) Any person or body of persons interested may make representations in writing or may be heard orally on the hearing of the application.
(7) The magistrates' court if it is satisfied that the relevant condition is fulfilled, may make a child curfew order.
(8) Notice of the order shall be given in like manner as in subsections (4) and (5) above.
(9) If while a child curfew order is in force it appears to the court which made it, on the application of any person or body of persons interested, that it is appropriate to make an order under this subsection, the court may make an order discharging the child curfew order.
(10) In this section--
"local authority" means--
(a) in relation to England, the council of a district or London borough, the Common Council of the City of London, the Council of the Isle of Wight and the Council of the Isles of Scilly;
(b) in relation to Wales, the council of a county or county borough;
"public place" has the same meaning as in Part II of the Public Order Act 1986.").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, Amendment No. 30 is grouped with Amendment No. 31. Perhaps I may first address some remarks to the latter. That opposes the whole principle of the child curfew order. I entirely agree with the comments of the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy, on the previous amendment that it is unnecessary to have child curfew orders and there are already powers under the Children Act to deal with individuals. The objection in principle to curfews is that they attack whole groups rather than difficult and problematic individuals.

While the noble Lord is considering Article 8 perhaps he will consider also Article 5, which deals with liberty. These proposals involve the issue of liberty and family

17 Mar 1998 : Column 635

life. I urge the Government to consider the alternative approach favoured by the National Association of Probation Officers, which is to look at ways of introducing crime prevention strategies on difficult estates and revitalising urban areas--to cut the jargon, to give children something to do or, as the right reverend Prelate said a moment ago, to mobilise the community, parents and others, in order to do something about the difficulties that they face.

I received a letter from a Mr. King of Bristol. He listed various activities that would be outlawed by a blanket curfew order. His first suggested activity was seeing granny round the corner. He went on to list: riding bikes with friends; football; stick in the mud; going to the shops; posting a letter; carol-singing; bob-a-job and matters of that kind. Child curfew orders involve the essential principle of liberty.

If there is to be a child curfew order--the Government appear to be pretty determined on such a course--is this the right way? The proposed system in Clause 14 is cumbersome. When all that has been done, as the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn, said a moment ago, something else must be done. This is a cumbersome machinery which, as the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay of St. Johns, pointed out in Committee, is unlikely to be put into practice very often.

I was pleased to receive a letter from the Minister on 20th February in which he said:

    "The Home Secretary has no role in terms of varying a scheme once it is submitted. His role is confined to the area of satisfying himself that the consultation which the authority has undertaken is adequate and reflects local views to a sufficient degree. He cannot be expected to second guess a local authority on detailed points which are of a local nature".

What, then, is the role of the Home Secretary that is envisaged? It is not to make a decision upon the merits of the scheme that is being put forward. It is merely to exercise a supervisory role to see that there has been consultation. Presumably some official in the Home Office will be given a check list to tick off that the right organisations have been circulated and have made some representations. That leaves the Home Secretary with no supervisory role with local knowledge of what the problem is.

In a further letter of 12th March the Minister wrote:

    "One of the principle features of our proposals is the measure of support which the local community itself expresses towards a local child curfew scheme. It is crucial to its success".

The proposals that I have set out in Amendment No. 30 are criticised because the application would be made by the local authority direct to the magistrates' court without first seeking the views of the local community.

If noble Lords look at the detail in Amendment No. 30, they will notice some important points. First, it is suggested that the local authority make the application to the magistrates' court. As the Minister said a moment ago--he has made the point for me--a local authority consists of elected members who are responsive to the needs of the people who have elected them to the position that they hold upon that local authority. So, first, the community is reflected in the local authority that brings forward the proposal.

17 Mar 1998 : Column 636

Secondly, the amendment makes it clear that public notice should be given of an application to the magistrates' court for a child curfew order by the affixing of a notice in appropriate places and by advertising in the press or on the radio, as needs be. Thirdly, the local community, on the proposal that I put forward which does not involve going to the Home Secretary and producing a scheme, can have a direct input by oral and written representations to the decision makers; namely, the magistrates. Under the government scheme as drafted in Clause 14, the local community cannot appear in front of the local authority or the Home Secretary and make representations of the sort that can be made to a magistrates' court.

Crucially, under the scheme that I put forward in the amendment the local community can apply for the discharge of the order if it thinks that it is no longer necessary for that order to continue. The community is involved through the bringing of the scheme by way of local authority representatives; it has the right to make representations in person to the decision makers--the magistrates--and it can apply for the discharge of the order. There cannot be greater community involvement than the scheme put forward in Amendment No. 30.

Further, the magistrates' court--unlike the Home Secretary--will be fully apprised of the local issues because the magistrates will be from that area. They will understand the difficulties in the estate from which all their customers come. They will know the area. They can ensure that proper evidence is brought before them by the police and other interested persons. If there is a dispute about the making of an order, that can be tested before the magistrates by evidence and cross examination.

So I reject the suggestion that may be made again that these proposals do not go far enough on consultation and public involvement. My proposals involve the public to a far greater degree. The decision makers will have knowledge of the issues, as opposed to what is proposed in Clause 14.

Furthermore, my proposed clause has the advantage that it retains the character of a judicial process. As the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy, said, it maintains due process. It cannot smack of a political decision, whether it is a local political decision or a national one, if it is a court that takes that decision.

Secondly, the decision of magistrates is made in public, not in the Home Office or in the confines of the local authority committee room where the public may have no right of access, and certainly no right to speak. Any issues that may arise in relation to the curfew order can be aired in the presence of the press and the public and add to the publicity that would surround the making of the order. More important, instead of going through the machinery envisaged in Clause 14--consultations followed by a trip to the Home Secretary, followed by the Home Secretary's decision and then further consultation for an order that lasts for 90 days only--a decision by magistrates can be obtained, implemented and removed quickly.

In today's debates on the various issues that have arisen in relation to the Bill, the Minister talked of magistrates being wise enough and reasonable enough

17 Mar 1998 : Column 637

to know a reasonable excuse when they see one. That was in answer to Amendment No. 4. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer, refuted the suggestion that I made that the Government no longer trust the judges and the magistrates. Later, he said that they rely upon the discretion of the local authority and magistrates' courts to do the right thing.

So when it comes to other clauses of the Bill the Government are the first to rush to the courts saying, "We rely upon them. They know what they are talking about. They know their own area". But when it comes to this proposal we are faced with machinery that is so cumbersome that it will never operate. It is decision making at a distance from the people whom it affects. I beg to move.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page