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Lord Dixon-Smith: I am sorry to intervene, but the problem is not so much 5 a.m., but 5.55 a.m., if we are to be pedantic about these things. The Minister is hedging on giving an assurance that the measure would not be used in this way. He said that he thought that it would not. I would have thought that he could be perfectly plain.
We could have a lengthy debate on when this power should be available to the police. We believe that the Bill as drafted strikes the right balance. I stress that this is a discretionary power. We recognise that young people, on occasion, have a legitimate reason to be out at night unsupervised. The police will have discretion to return home only those about whom they are concerned and who do not have a legitimate reason for being there.
Amendment No. 155 moved by the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, amends this test to "likely to suffer harm". I understand that he wishes to be entirely accurate about the terminology and get something that is easily understood. However, the term "significant harm" is well understood and appears in legislation such as the Children Act 1989 and we see no advantage in amending it. A definition can be found in Section 46(1) of that Act, so it is understood in law already. I invite the noble Lord to check the reference because it may reassure him that the definition is well used.
Amendment No. 160 would ensure that an officer giving a direction records that direction. We agree with the principle that officers should record directions given. Such issues will be covered in the code of practice to be issued under Clause 34. We think that it is a matter of best practice and invite the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, to agree. In those circumstances, it would not be appropriate to make the amendment. The officers will want to ensure that good practice is understood and that people working throughout the criminal justice system understand the importance of recording and notifying all those involved.
Baroness Walmsley: We accept that the Bill is not just about young people; the same arguments apply to the human right of anybody, of whatever age, not to be moved on by a policeman simply because they are there. Exactly the same things apply, no matter how old people are.
I thank the noble Lord for his comments on the subject of the relevant area or locality. We will examine the code of practice and come back to it, if we are still not happy about it, at a later stage.
The noble Lord said that, if the Bill did not specify a period of 24 hours, people prohibited from an area would go away for a few hours and come back again. We are proposing a period of eight hours: that is a long time to go down to the pub and have a few drinks before coming back to hang around and intimidate people. It will not happen; it will be the following morning by then.
We discussed the issue of taking children home. If a young child is out at midnight, he is at risk, and the appropriate agencies should be called. That is what it boils down to. I was interested in what the Minister said about the definition of significant harm in the Children Act 1989. We will examine it and, perhaps, come back to it at a later stage.
Despite the Minister's attempts to satisfy us on those issues, we are still unhappy. Undoubtedly, we will come back to them at a later stage, but, for the moment, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Baroness Walmsley: Clauses 30 to 36 inclusive should not stand part of the Bill. As I said, I am not alone in thinking that. Not only are my colleagues in your Lordships' Housenote the galaxy of talent arrayed beside and behind me on these Benchesand in another place all behind me in that, but Liberty, Barnardo's and the list of bodies that my noble friend Lady Sharp of Guildford read out earlier are all opposed to the provisions of Part 4 because of the detrimental impact that they will have on children and communities. The JCHR believes the powers to take children home to be illegal under human rights law; the Association of Chief Police Officers does not want these powers either; and the Local Government Association has major concerns. That is a very wide range of constituencies.
On these Benches, we do not condone crime. Anyone who claims that we do, and campaigns against us on such an allegation, is not just lying, but is undertaking the worst kind of politics. Nor do we underestimate the impact that seriously disruptive behaviour can have on people's lives. We do not want to be soft on crime, but to be effective on crime in the long term. I think that that is what the public want too. People want measures that work. We believe that these measures will not work and could be damaging to young people and communities.
We are aware that many people's lives are made a misery by anti-social behaviour, which must be addressed. But for the sake of local residents, it must be addressed by effective measures. For the sake of young people, it must be addressed by measures that do not alienate and demonise them. However, the proposals on dispersal will simply increase local tension between those in positions of authority and young people and their families, as well as those who are harassed, without effectively tackling the root causes of anti-social behaviour. We urge the Government to reconsider their proposals and to consult with all members of the community. They must listen to children and young people about the most effective ways of reducing anti-social behaviour, while offering children and families the help that they need.
Young people need to understand how threatening they can be to old people. Moving them on just does not do that. If the legislation is passed, it could even lead to a three-month prison sentence for failure to comply. Most civilised countries in Western Europe would be horrified by such a proposal. Most young people behave well. Those who hang about on street
Part 4 revisits existing provisions to impose area-based child curfew notices, first introduced under Section 14 of the Crime and Disorder Act 1998a power which, to date, has not been used. This part of the Bill is an unnecessary extension of an existing unused and discredited power. We have been reminded today that local child curfew notices, under the Crime and Disorder Act, were framed by the Government as protective measures for children and young people and as a support to parents. The new measures in the Bill reverse the presumption; they view children and young people as primarily a problem rather than in need of protection.
Why? I believe that it is the easy option. Doing the job more creatively requires more thought, more partnership and more resources. The power of dispersal is an easy way to fail to tackle the problem and to move it somewhere else. These new powers on dispersal of groups do not include any requirement to consult the local community, including children, young people and their families. I hope that the Government will accept the amendment proposed by the noble Baroness, Lady Massey of Darwen.
Members on these Benches are concerned about the subjectivity of the powers, raising the possibility that they could be misused. Dispersal need not be on the basis that anti-social behaviour has occurred, but that the mere presence of a group is capable of resulting in alarm or distress in a member of the public. There are
Although the dispersal should take place only in an area where anti-social behaviour has been a persistent problem, there is nothing to stop perfectly law-abiding people who happen to be in the area at the time, doing no one any harm, being targeted by an over-zealous police officer and moved along with the rest. They may have had nothing whatsoever to do with the previous offences that caused the area to be designated as one where persistent anti-social behaviour takes place. What kind of police state does it make us when it becomes a criminal offence to walk down the street?
We are also very concerned about the potential negative impact on local community relations. The Association of Chief Police Officers is concerned about the effect these powers might have on relations with ethnic minority communities. The street culture of young black people means that they are more likely than are young white people to gather on the street and therefore more likely to be targeted by these powers, potentially reopening tensions with the police that have been fading away in many areas due to hard work on the part of the police and co-operation from communities. It would be a great pity to destroy that work.
The Local Government Association believes that these proposals may simply displace problems from one area to another. It has pointed out that local authorities deliver key services such as youth offending teams, youth work, social services, education and highways. The intervention of these services will be necessary to achieve in the longer term a reduction in anti-social behaviour with the groups from the dispersed area, if the problem is not simply to be moved elsewhere. It is also important to ensure that decisions to invoke an order should be taken only where police commanders and local authorities are convinced that all alternative interventions have failed.
For young people, hanging around and showing off is normal behaviour. It does not mean that they are up to no good. Those that are can be dealt with under existing powers. The statute book is bulging with public order legislation. We need to build trust between young people and the police, not erode it through powers like this. The powers will also be ineffective. What is to stop a child taken home from coming out again as soon as the officer's back is turned? What is to stop members of a group that has been dispersed from going and causing trouble somewhere else? Unless you find out why they are there, explain to them how their presence makes others feel and give them something better to do, simply dispersing them is a terribly negative way of dealing with what we accept is a problem. But we need effective ways, not easy ways. I oppose the Question that Clause 30 should stand part of the Bill.
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