|Previous Section||Back to Table of Contents||Lords Hansard Home Page|
Lord Goodhart: My Lords, I support my noble friend. This is a bureaucratic sledgehammer. There is a bunch of young children roaming around, gathering on a street, a public garden or public path and making a bloody nuisance of themselves. What happens then? The local authority has to consult, has to draw up the order, have it approved by the Home Secretary and publicise it. When it has the order, it turns out to be totally useless because most of the children are 10 or 11, or the ringleaders are 10 or 11, and there is nothing that the curfew scheme enables the local authority to do.
By the time the order is obtained, it has taken so long that winter has set in and the evenings are too cold for the children to be mucking about anyway. Why not, for heavens sake, use the Children Act power for the police to pick up the children, take them home and, if necessary, report them to the social services, and drop this extraordinary scheme?
Lord Hylton: My Lords, I am strongly in favour of local control in matters like this, which is why I support the amendment. I like subsection (6) especially enabling local affected people to make representations or be heard before the magistrates. I strongly approve also of the 90-day period. I hope that the Government will feel able to accept the amendment.
Baroness Anelay of St. Johns: My Lords, I shall address my remarks to Amendment No. 30 only. I am sure that noble Lords will recognise that I am the first to praise the value of magistrates and to resist the erosion of their judicial activities. I hope that I shall be able to speak about that on Thursday when we reach Clause 40. So one might expect that I would welcome the extension of their sphere of action, as proposed in Amendment No. 30. However, on this occasion I question whether it would be appropriate for the magistrates' courts to be used in the manner prescribed in the amendment. It provides that curfew order applications would be made directly to a magistrates' court either by the local authority or the police and that there would not be the requirement first to obtain the views of the local community who would be affected by the order. Of course, I note that under the existing subsection (3)(b) the local authority should consult such other persons or bodies as it considers appropriate.
Of course magistrates could take evidence. That is their job when they sit daily either in the family proceedings court, the adult court or the youth court. It is not beyond their competence so to do. But I wonder whether the court is a proper forum for holding what would need to be much in the nature of a public inquiry about the potential impact of a curfew order on a category of the local population and the requirement to take into account the needs and conditions of the locality. Magistrates' courts take evidence about individuals and they adjudicate upon their actions. Whether they are hearing issues of breach of the peace or affray, they are, in practice, tackling issues from the viewpoint of assessing actions of the individual within the framework provided mostly by the criminal justice system or within the matters governed by the family proceedings court.
I have great sympathy for what the noble Lord seeks to achieve and I share some of his concerns about the cumbersome machinery contained in the Bill. However, I have reservations about whether the magistrates' court could provide the right venue as enshrined in Amendment No. 30.
Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, I am not sure that I understood entirely the observations of the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, about the 90-day period. A period not exceeding 90 days is contained in Amendment No. 30 and in the Bill at Clause 14(1). Therefore, there is no difference.
The noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, asked us to put our minds to Article 5. We do not believe that we are in danger of breach, but as he has raised the issue we shall look at it in exactly the same way as I undertook at look at Article 8. We do not believe that there is a problem.
Local child curfews are intended to be a response to a particular problem for the purpose of maintaining order. Amendment No. 30 recognises that, because it takes the phrase from the Bill. We believe it to be self-evident that the role and support of the police are crucial. They are likely to be the primary source of advice and they will undoubtedly have a primary duty for enforcing the curfew. We find it strange that in the amendment there is no requirement for prior consultation with the police. Indeed, the police are served with notice only once an application is made to the magistrates' court. The views of the police would not be sought. Taking up a point made by the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, the local community would not be asked its view before the application was made. The probation service and the voluntary agencies would not be consulted by the local authority before it went directly to the magistrates' court. Indeed, the notice of re-application is only then to be served on the chief officer of police and the appointed or assigned probation officer. That strikes us as putting the cart vigorously before the horse.
We believe that our scheme is perfectly workable. It consults as appropriate; that is, before the scheme is put to the Home Secretary. Everyone who has a view can put it forward. The local authority is given abundant
Lord Thomas of Gresford: My Lords, I listened to the Minister's reply and I regret to say that I do not accept his premise that there is no consultation. Where under-10s are running riot it is not enough to spend weeks and months in prior consultation before action is taken. What is needed is quick action which will involve the community in the sense that it can make representations directly to the decision makers and then leave it to the magistrates, who have local knowledge, to take the appropriate decision in the interests of the community.
I am disappointed at the way in which the Government stick to their cumbersome machinery. I do not propose to divide the House on this amendment, but when Amendment No. 31 is called I may have a different view. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Leave out Clause 14.
Resolved in the negative, and amendment disagreed to accordingly.