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Mr. Heald: We broadly agree about this issue now. However, would the right hon. Gentleman care to contemplate why child curfew orders have been such a failure so far? Not one has been granted. Why does Labour's most senior councillor, Sir Jeremy Beecham, say that the extension is unlikely to be used and that curfews are not the most important measure that could be taken? There seems to be lack of enthusiasm on the subject from some of the right hon. Gentleman's colleagues.
Mr. Michael: I am glad to hear the grudging admission that the Opposition are now in favour of child curfew orders, and that they broadly agree with us. I wish that they would give a little more thought to the subject.
I do not think that the hon. Member for North-East Hertfordshire (Mr. Heald) has understood the curfew order or the system. We need to ensure that this is not a bureaucratic process. As set out in the Crime and Disorder Act 1998, it is not. The local authority--now it could be the police or the local authority--has to set out a scheme. It will have to make simple rules to the effect that, in certain circumstances, it will apply the scheme to young people in an area. It is a warning that the authority is serious; it is a warning to young people that unless they start to behave better, they may lose their liberty. Will the loss of that liberty to be out late at night be onerous? I have never understood why seven-year-olds should be out at 3 o'clock in the morning.
Such a step does not need to be onerous if the measures are used appropriately. First, curfew orders need not be used if partners can succeed with other powers. This is where I agree with Sir Jeremy Beecham. I think that, for many areas, the existence in the background of the curfew power will be sufficient to allow steps to be taken locally, for co-operation to be won with the local community and for something to be done. There are examples of where this has been achieved. Hamilton has been referred to on many occasions, and I am sure that my right hon. Friend, in framing guidance, will be looking to the acknowledged success in the Hamilton area.
The measure will succeed if the ground is well prepared. It is not a case of saying, "We want you all to stop coming out at night." The police and the local authority have to discuss the problem that they are facing and how to target the orders to get rid of the problem.
Why is the curfew order needed? Let me give one example. In my constituency, we were discussing the disorder on an estate and a lot of people in the room were saying, "Those youngsters are out of control. Something needs to be done about them. We need to stop them creating havoc around the estate." One woman got up and said, "My little Johnny is one of those youngsters." Everyone said, "Johnny isn't too bad, he's a good lad." She said, "He's a good lad, he's a nice lad, but he's 6 ft 6 in and I'm 5 ft 2 in. His dad left home some years ago. I can't make Johnny stay in if he wants to go out; he says that everybody else is out, so why shouldn't he be?"
The curfew orders are about giving authority back to parents and communities, not about being excessively onerous. The more we can carry on without the need for specific curfews because people have understood the message and the community is being given back authority, the better it will be. Those are the sort of circumstances in which it is important for this mechanism to be used. Communities and parents need to be given back authority. They have to know that they have the support of the local authority and the police, as they have the support of the Government.
My final point is about partnership. I hope that in his winding-up speech the Minister will assure us that it is not intended that the police could go off at a tangent and impose curfews at will, any more than it was the intention that local authorities should be able to do so, nor that the consultation is simply a matter of going through the form. We expect the police, local authorities and communities to work together, do we not? We expect them to co-operate and to address the real issues of their area. Then the result will be liberating rather than onerous.
The crime and disorder partnerships work. Why is that? First, they focus clearly on a problem. They make sure that they have the facts through the crime and disorder audit. Secondly, they focus on outcomes--they want to see crime going down. Thirdly, they operate through a partnership that shares responsibility. In that case, the police and the local authority both have that responsibility. That is not appropriate for the curfew. It is likely that if both bodies had the responsibility, neither of them would exercise it. That is why I think that the proposed dual mandate is right. Otherwise, it would be a recipe for neither to make a move, and we need both of them to move together.
Mr. Heald: I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for giving way again. He has not really answered my question, and I would like him to. Why has not a single child curfew order so far been made? My hon. Friend the Member for Hertsmere (Mr. Clappison) proposed in the Standing Committee considering the Crime and Disorder Act 1998 that curfew orders should apply up to the age of 16, which is what is now proposed. Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that this shows that the procedures for child curfew orders are too leaden and bureaucratic and that something must be done about them?
As long as we hear in a couple of years that there are no more problems with youngsters on the streets causing mayhem late at night, I will not want the test to be how many curfew orders have been imposed; I will want it to be standards of behaviour in the community, protection of the public and communities that are strengthened by this measure and a proper understanding of it. I suggest that the hon. Member for North-East Hertfordshire seek to understand the reasoning behind the measure and how it fits in with the reasoning behind the crime and disorder strategies that have been so successful but which have not had the enthusiasm and support from Conservative Members that we might have hoped for. Such strategies are based on the evidence of need; they target the appropriate groups, share support and are clear about outcomes. We can see from the enthusiasm of the partners in the crime and disorder strategies that those aims can be achieved.
I hope that in the guidance, the Home Secretary will point to the strength of partnerships as the core for creating stronger, safer communities, cutting crime and nipping things in the bud in respect of younger offenders. In particular, we do not want local authorities saying, "Let the police do it" or the police saying, "Let the local authority do it." We want them both to have the powers and to share the responsibility so that they do what is necessary, where the community wants it. That will build on the culture of sharing responsibility and effectiveness that we have started to build. I know that my hon. Friend the Minister shares those views and wishes the police and local authorities to push forward together. Let the philosophy be, "Together, let's do it."
Mr. Simon Hughes (Southwark, North and Bermondsey): The Government have now clocked up about 30 Home Office Bills since they came to power. I agree with the right hon. Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth (Mr. Michael) that there may be some merit in the fact that, for a change, there has not been a lot of sound and fury surrounding the Bill. Instead, there has been a welcome degree of discussion of the issues, some interesting and some also controversial. As the right hon. Gentleman knows, I disagree with him about child curfews. He put the case for them, and I will put the case against them. There is much debate still to be had.
This is a long Bill, with 132 clauses and eight schedules. It is another example of a Bill that is much longer than it should be. It is probably a response to last year's request from the Prime Minister to give him something eye-catching before the election. Headline- grabbing, eye-catching ideas were looked for all over the Home Office departments. There are some things in the
I took some guests round Portcullis House the other day, and they asked me whether the trees in there were really fig trees. I said that I was not an expert, but I had been told that they were. My visitors said that, for fig trees, they had mighty small leaves. I reflected that the Bill does not provide fig leaves big enough to cover the Government's embarrassment.