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The Lord Bishop of Bath and Wells: I am hesitant to speak after the noble and learned Lord. I should like to look at just one or two of the principles involved in what is an important and significant decision. On Tuesday, I was grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Williams, and to the Solicitor-General for the way in which they dealt with the clauses affecting children, not that I always agreed with them. I was grateful for the repeated emphasis that the relevant legislation is intended to be a new way to protect children, and, where necessary, to intervene in the brutalising process which affects many children in the first 10 years of their lives.
Of course that brutalising effect does not stop at 10. We were told on several occasions that what appears on the face of the Bill to be draconian measures are, in the light of the normal practice of good magistrates, good courts and wise authorities, going to work out as protective of and sensitive to children's needs.
As a new boy to this process I hope that the Committee will forgive my asking if it is not essential that the Bill itself must express more of those protective characteristics towards children. Cannot legislation become something very different in other hands, at other times? The amendment would help us to continue to recognise the limitations of responsibility, according to the maturing process.
I use the word "brutalised" because in the vast majority of cases that is what they have become--because of what has been done to them. Many children have to carry in their hearts and their heads, and perhaps on their bodies, violence, abuse and bullying, which often results in a sort of mixture of fear and rage which deprives them of their childhood. Out on the streets they can grow a shell of amoral and anarchic behaviour, but they grow in our society in the garden that we create. It is not just created by their parents, though great responsibility lies with them.
Our experience is that approaching children with an attempt to restore security, trust, and safety from harm, often allows children to rediscover their potential, their sense of worth. The constant looking to punishment as the solution to the problem of our children seems to me to be misguided, though necessary as a last resort.
A civilised society cares for its children. Where the child's family breaks, abuses or misuses the child, we have a responsibility for the nurture of children who might appear to some to be villains and to do wrong things. Very often, in my experience, they have been victims--victims before they get into child prostitution, addiction, or repeat the cycles of anti-social behaviour. But just because they are victims does not mean that they do not retain some responsibility. "Appropriate responsibility" were the words used by the noble Lord, Lord Williams.
To deprive a person of his responsibility is to deprive him of his humanity. Everyone has responsibility. It is largely by becoming responsible that we discover who we ourselves are. To be excused of all our behaviour is to be excluded from life. The key here however is "appropriate responsibility"--the maturing process implies that there should be a development of greater responsibility for our actions.
We need to give proper recognition to the childhood of children. When we think of the appalling continuous propaganda to which many such children are submitted--propaganda about abuse, violence and sexual behaviour, suggesting that betrayal, theft, racist thuggery and adultery are norms, and there is a constant drip, drip, drip in the sort of areas about which we are talking, it is no wonder that anti-social children are growing up in what is the garbage of our social experience, enormously damaged.
One reason for supporting the amendment is to recognise and put on the face of the Bill that recognition. Children may light a fire, but have no idea what the consequences might be. Children may put a boot to the side of a head without understanding what the consequences might be. Children do not see cancerous lungs or, tragically, the hell of addiction.
It is important that the Bill offers a decent, safe, adult response, to recreate the setting in which the child may return from amorality to moral identity, from anarchy to belonging and a future. Such children, like their parents,
Lord Judd: I support the amendment. The Committee should be grateful to my noble friend for having given us the opportunity to reflect on the issues at stake. I should begin by declaring an interest. I have the privilege to be the president of the YMCA in England. The organisation does not deal with children of this age, but with a large number of young men and women in their late teens. During the course of the experience which we gain in our frontline work, I am repeatedly struck by the fact that often a young offender has been forged by experience in early life. So often we learn of the total absence of love and affection in the upbringing of the child. So often, sometimes in moving terms, we are told by those with whom we are dealing--for example, the young offenders' institutions--that it is in the young offender's institution that for the first time young people begin to discover a sense of responsibility and belonging.
It is a challenge for a layman such as myself to intervene in this learned debate. However, as a layman, when I am reading appalling offences in which children and young people are involved I often reflect that when the background of the offender is examined we discover nightmarish situations and realise that it would have been miraculous if the young person concerned had come through with a clear sense of what was right and what was wrong.
We also live in a time when the whole ethos of our mass media is increasingly being driven downmarket into sensationalism and morbid preoccupations with what is bad and rotten in society. We also live in a time when, as regards what is right and wrong, what is sent out by leaders of society as role models is confusing and we do not know where the dividing line should be. We also live in a time when in our concern to balance the economy we are emphasising the importance of the basic skills of reading, writing and arithmetic in the early formative years of education. However, that is not coupled with an equally firm commitment to the issue of ethics and so forth. That is happening at a time when the traditional influences of religion are on the wane in schools and among the young. That is why in an organisation such as the one with which I am privileged to be involved attention is increasingly turned to support for good parenting, for example.
I was struck by the amendment on the Marshalled List and wished to say merely that I sometimes worry about our priorities in debates in this Chamber. I worried on Monday evening because we appeared to be talking about controls as distinct from support of what should ideally be in a vibrant democracy. If we are talking
I have a genuine affection and high regard for the Minister and sometimes I feel for him in the difficult role which he has to play. However, I hope that tonight he will give a message about the resolve of the Government not simply to deal with the control mechanisms in the revision of legislation, but to throw an even greater commitment to strength into the positive actions that need to be taken for our young so that we will have an imaginative, creative approach towards the well-being of society and the healthy development of young people and children.
Baroness James of Holland Park: I crave the indulgence of the Committee because I was not present during the Second Reading debate. When I worked at the Home Office, part of my responsibility was to attend the juvenile court. I remember an engaging young scamp before the court who had been letting off pellets from his catapult in the supermarket, causing distress and hurt. When asked whether he knew what he was doing was wrong, he gave the wonderful reply, "I knew that it was against the law, but I didn't know that it was wrong", which caused difficulties.
I wait to hear what the Minister will say in response to the amendment--I have considerable sympathy with it--but I wish to make a point about the treatment of children. Of course we should deal with our young with compassion. Of course we should address ourselves always to means which may help them to live better, fuller, more satisfactory law-abiding lives. However, it is sometimes confusing to the young when treatment and punishment are so separate. I remember the words of G.K. Chesterton. He said that children, being honest, love justice. Adults, being corrupt, naturally prefer mercy. Let us always ensure that what we give our children is in their eyes justice as well as mercy.
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