|Previous Section||Back to Table of Contents||Lords Hansard Home Page|
Lord Elton: I rise briefly to support one of the most effective three minute speeches I have heard from any Front Bench delivered by the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley. I should like to leave two thoughts in your Lordships' minds. The first is that we must not assume that the police always arrest the right person. The protection we provide is not merely for the guilty who should be anxious but also for the innocent who
The Earl of Listowel: I support the noble Baroness's amendment. I would welcome some advice from the Minister on a point of concern. I am concerned about children in care but particularly about care leavers. They often lose touch with those people from their local authority with whom they should be keeping in touch. I am concerned that they might be particularly vulnerable to, perhaps, a misapplication of this measure. I would appreciate it if the Minister could write to me or offer some assurance in her reply.
Lord Elton: The noble Baroness, Lady Howe, raised an important point. She thought the Bill had not been child-proofed. We now have a Minister for Children. Has she had a chance to look over the Bill and will she in future look through all legislation that affects children? This is a serious question and one that needs to be pressed.
Lord Bassam of Brighton: This has been a very useful 10 minutes. We had a three-minute introduction that was stunning in getting to the point. I think the discussion has been very helpful. This Chamber is at its best when it focuses on the practical and this has been a very practical discussion.
The amendment would prevent street bail being granted to a child except where an appropriate adult was present. Broadly speaking, appropriate adults are responsible persons whose normal role is to attend police stations to support detainees who are either juveniles or mentally vulnerable in some way.
We recognise that this is a difficult area. We are dealing with a group with an age range of 11 to 18. I recogniseas a parent more than anything elsethat what one sees with those aged 11 and those aged 18 is very different. Obviously, there will have to be a very age-responsive response by the officers on the street conducting particular operations and exercise.
So we expect that the police will have to exercise great care when deciding whether to street bail a juvenile. The noble Lord, Lord Elton, made the point that the police do not always get it right. Anyone in public life who has ever had to deal with any kind of casework involving the police knows that. It is obvious that the police do not always get the issue right.
However, the very nature of street bail means that an appropriate adult will probably not normally in any event be available on the spot to participate in the process. Therefore, in the guidance that we are developing for the police we intend to emphasise that an officer considering such action in relation to a juvenile must be satisfied that the juvenile fully understands the implications of street bail and the obligations which flow from it. In a way, that takes us back to an earlier debate and the point made about language by the noble Baroness, Lady Harris. This concerns more than language; it concerns an understanding of what is happening to themthe
Additionally, we are likely to specify that street bail should be given only to a juvenile who is able to provide a satisfactory name and address of a parent, guardian or some other person responsible for his welfare. That will make a qualitative difference. In those circumstances, the police will be able to post a copy of the street bail notice to that parent or guardian, with an indication that it would be helpful if that person could attend the police station with the juvenile when he answers his bail. That is an important point to remember, not least because we want this measure to work. The guidance will have to be carefully constructed to meet the juvenile welfare concerns raised by the noble Baronesses, Lady Howarth, Lady Walmsley and Lady Howe. All their concerns about relationships with young people in the street are important.
In particular, I take the point about a police officer considering street bail for those who might be mentally vulnerable. Guidance must state clearly that street bail should not be given to anyone they suspect of being mentally vulnerable. So street bail will be inappropriate in those circumstances.
We are very grateful to the children's charities which have contributed to the discussion behind the scenes on this particular aspect of the Bill. I am more than happy to make a commitment from the Dispatch Box today that not only have we found their representations to be very useful, but that we would like to continue to consult with them in drafting and framing the guidance because we need to draw on their valuable experience and ensure that we get it right.
Although I appreciate that not everyone will be happy with that commitment or what lies behind it, we think that it is important that this power and facility is there. Obviously, if a young person, perhaps aged 11 or 12, is confronted by a police officer, it is likely that the police officer will be less inclined to use street bail. But I think we also have to recognise that 17 and 18 year-olds are sometimes very streetwise indeed. Having the facility to use street bail will be extremely useful in those circumstances. Not only will it mean that they can be apprehended and begin to understand the full implications of their own actions, but also it will usefully mean that the police can make an intervention that bears on their future conduct.
In those circumstances it would be sensible operationally for the police to have the opportunity to use street bail. Of course, there will be a requirement that ensures that when the juvenile attends a police station he does so in the company of an adult, is properly represented and has the opportunity of full legal advice.
I am grateful to all Members of the Committee who have contributed to the debate. I hope I have picked up the various points that were of particular concern. Obviously, we shall have the opportunity further to reflect on the issue. As I said, I have made what I think is a valuable commitment to further consultation with
Lord Campbell-Savours: Perhaps I may act as sweep following the points made by the noble Baroness, Lady Howe, and the noble Lord. What is Margaret Hodge's role? Will she now be child-proofing all legislation of this nature affecting children?
Lord Bassam of Brighton: Our expectation isthis is obviously a developing and emerging role so far as Margaret Hodge is concernedthat the process will involve a degree of "child-proofing" of legislation. But she has a very wide-ranging remit. It would be wrong for me today to try to itemise from the Dispatch Box exactly how it will work in all circumstances. Clearly, there needs to be consultation across Whitehall. One reason for having such an important post is so that the consideration given in legislation to the position of the child is foremost in government thinking, not just our government, but those in future.
Baroness Carnegy of Lour: I go back to the noble Lord's reply to the discussion in general. He said he hoped he had picked up the points; I think he picked up very few of them. The noble Baroness put the case clearly. Other noble Lords made points; the noble Baroness, Lady Howe, made an important point. It is totally unsuitable for only guidance to protect a child of 11, 12, 13, 14 from being put on bail and having to go home to tell his parents about it. That is simply not right. The noble Lord should ensure that this issue is dealt with in the Bill.
The noble Baroness's use of the term "a child" may be wrong. I agree that 17 or 18 year-olds may be in a different position. That was obviously a most unsatisfactory answer and I hope that when the noble Lord reads the record of the discussion, he will see that the amendment is nearer the mark and that this is not a suitable matter for guidance.
Baroness Howe of Idlicote: Further to the question on the Minister for Children, the noble Lord indicated that there would be a role for a Minister to child-proof legislation. Has the new Minister for Children child-proofed the Bill, or would the noble Lord invite her to do so at this stage?
Lord Bassam of Brighton: I cannot be explicit about whether the Minister has child-proofed the legislation and all its many ramifications. It would be wrong of me to say otherwise. I recognise the importance of the issue, so after the debate I shall certainly draw to the attention of my honourable friend Margaret Hodge the implications of this part of the legislation in particular.
In response to the noble Baroness, Lady Carnegy of Lour, I am sorry if I have missed something. I was very careful in my response. I made the point that the age range was very wide, and that common sense says that
|Next Section||Back to Table of Contents||Lords Hansard Home Page|