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Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, I warmly welcome the statement of affirmation given by the noble Baroness in relation to the Bill. From time to time there may be some who may be forgiven for not getting entirely that impression, so I am glad that the noble Baroness said it so clearly. It is, of course, not only necessary to want to do good; one has to deliver and do that which enables good to be done. That is what we seek to do. I agree with the noble Baroness that much good work has been done in Committee and throughout the Bill's passage. I thank her warmly for her compliments which are not merited but are gratefully received by me none the less.
I turn to Amendments Nos. 9 and 10. I understand why the noble Baroness pursues the matter but I regret to tell her that I still think that these issues are misplaced. The effect of Amendments Nos. 9 and 10 would be that under-16 year-olds would get a criminal conviction whereas, because of the proposals that we have made in the Bill, children over the age of 16 would not. I am sure that that is not the noble Baroness's intention.
Of course at this stage we could have brought forward primary legislation in relation to younger children if we thought that was merited. However, we do not think that it is. It is clear from the information that we have at the moment that including 16 and 17 year-olds is merited. We shall look at the information that comes from the pilots and the operation of the system in relation to that younger age group. If we find that there is evidence to justify coming back to the House and using the affirmative resolution procedure to say, "We should like to reduce this age limit even further to 15 year-olds, 14 year-olds or whatever", we have the ability to do so. Therefore, it is not right to sayas the noble Baroness suggeststhat we are going to drop the age immediately to 10 year-olds. That is not our intent. We wish these procedures to be used judiciously and well and only if they are merited.
We appreciate the views expressed today and on previous occasions but we firmly believe that penalty notices for disorder have an important role to play in tackling anti-social behaviour by juveniles. They provide a valuable addition to existing powers and in our view complement them. They are aimed at relatively low level anti-social behaviour of the kind that causes a great deal of annoyance to the wider community. Juveniles who cause annoyance are not the sole preserve of the poor. Some very rowdy, disagreeable young people come, regrettably, from the very best of families. The measure applies to all those who behave badly in the way that we are discussing. That behaviour needs to be addressed. We have not changed our view about the need for this sanction to be available to the police in dealing with juveniles under 16 years of age. Extension of the scheme would give the police the power to tackle this behaviour. A notice will act as a deterrent but not leave the young person with a criminal conviction.
Baroness Linklater of Butterstone: My Lords, before the noble Baroness goes any further, I ask for reassurance on the matter. If she is continuing to consider dropping the age boundary to 10, will she also consider carrying out further pilots? Will she give an assurance that she would consider further pilots before the age limit was dropped once again?
Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, the modus operandi which we have adopted up until now is to have the power, pilot it, see whether it worksthe noble Baroness will know that that was what we did with regard to adultshone it to try to refocus it so that we get the best results and then seek to roll it out. We shall do the same kind of pilot with regard to 16 to 17 year-olds. It is a case of "suck it and see". We want to get it right. We need to be very careful to ensure that the scheme works. We are considering very much the utility of what we are doing.
We believe that the fact that these penalty notices do not end in a conviction is an important factor in their favour. The noble Baroness, others on the Liberal Democrat Benches and my noble friend sitting behind me, who are very interested in and committed to children's issues, have made the point time and time again that it is important to get children on the right road, not give them a conviction early and deal with them properly. This facility is our way of doing that. The behaviour is tackled, the offender sees the results of his or her behaviour but gets a chance to mend his ways and keep out of the criminal justice system.
Excluding under-16 year-olds from the scheme would mean that they could be dealt with only in a way that would leave them with a record, whereas offenders over 16 who accepted a penalty notice would not be left with a record. In our view it is right to allow those under 16 the same opportunity to keep out of the criminal justice system. At the same time communities want the police to take action against anti-social behaviour committed in their neighbourhoods and this will enable the police to do that.
The Association of Chief Police Officers has urged the Government to extend the scheme to juveniles. As your Lordships will know, we intend to pilot the scheme first on 16 and 17 year-olds to see whether it could be usefully applied to younger age groups. I assure the noble Baroness that we shall pay very careful attention indeed to how it is working with that group when deciding whether to use the power to extend the scheme to under-16s.
Parents should take responsibility for their children's behaviour and they should be expected to pay the penalty on their children's behalf. That is no different from the current position when a court fines a child under 16. I am really asking: do you want a conviction or not? I am sure that the answer that the noble Baroness would give is that none of us really wants these children to have a conviction unless it is necessary. I ask the noble Baroness to consider that point.
I remind the House that the decision of the Home Secretary to lower the age will require the agreement of both Houses. The Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee did not oppose these powers. The noble Baroness will remember that the beauty of an affirmative resolution procedure is that either the House agrees to it or it strikes the order down. That option would be available if the House felt that the order was not merited. Penalty notices for disorder are intended primarily as an alternative for the police for low level anti-social offending such as being drunk and disorderly. The police final warning scheme will still remain the main disposal for under-18s. Supplementary guidance will be provided to the pilots to make it clear that penalty notices for disorder are an alternative option where they are thought a sufficient deterrent.
The noble Baroness asked for assurance that the safeguards of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 would be available to those under 18 years of age who were given a penalty notice for disorder. For both adults and juveniles, the application of PACE and the codes of practice under it depends on the circumstances of the
Under Section 2 of the Criminal Justice and Police Act 2001, a constable can give a penalty notice for disorderly behaviour to a person if the constable has reason to believe that that person has committed a penalty offence. In many cases, the constable will have reason to believe that a juvenile has committed a penalty offence without arresting or interviewing him. For example, the constable might have witnessed him throwing stones at a train or consuming alcohol in public.
The idea of penalty notices for disorderly behaviour is to give the police a quick and effective means of dealing with such cases. In them, if I may respectfully suggest it, it would be a waste of time to arrest the juvenile and take him to the police station, and the presence of an appropriate adult would not serve any purpose. Once he has been given the penalty notice, the juvenile will still be able to discuss with his parents and others whether to pay the penalty or make a request to be tried. Under the proposals, parents will be notified of the issue of the notice. They will have 21 days to either pay or ask the court for a hearing. We believe that that both protects their rights and ensures that the child has ample opportunity to understand what the notice was issued for and the subsequent process.
There are other cases that are less clear-cut, in which the constable may not be sure whether a penalty offence has been committed. For example, it may not be apparent whether the juvenile is drunk or unwell. In those cases, the constable might wish to talk to the juvenile about whether he has committed an offence. That would constitute an interview for the purposes of PACE codes, and the juvenile would have to be taken to a police station and interviewed in the presence of an appropriate adult.
I hope that those assurances help the noble Baroness. I cannot say anything very much about the levels of fine. Those matters will be taken into consideration, and there will be guidance. We would be happy to send the children's charities copies of the draft guidance for pilots for 16 and 17 year-olds, so that they can comment on them. We would take that into account. The level of fine that we impose will be the kind of issue explored as a result of the pilots for 16 and 17 year-olds. We have not at the moment fixed a set level, but I am sure that we can take those issues into account.
I hope that the noble Baroness understands a little more clearly why we think the provision a useful hybrid. It does not need the full panoply, but we hope that it will have a beneficial effect. It will be quick and the young person will know that their behaviour is disapproved of, albeit that they will not be treated so
Baroness Linklater of Butterstone: My Lords, I thank the Minister for once again giving such a full and thoughtful response. I still feel that there is an inappropriate connection between the approach to children as young as 10 and teenagers as old as 17, albeit that the provision is a way, as she said, of possibly avoiding some sort of conviction. However, it boils down to a failure to make that kind of crucial distinction. We must always keep the needs of children in mind, however we go about dealing with their offences.
Although I recognise the possibility of affirmative resolution if such a situation were to be revisited, I understandI have not had direct experiencethat it is very rare indeed for an affirmative resolution to be voted down. Therefore, something would simply go through, so not much difference would be made in reality. However, I am very grateful for the Minister's offer to send draft guidance to the children's charities. I am sure that they will welcome that concession. In view of that, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.