Clause 44 - Power for police to make schemes

Criminal Justice and Police Bill – in a Public Bill Committee am 4:30 pm ar 1 Mawrth 2001.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Photo of Mrs Jackie Ballard Mrs Jackie Ballard Democratiaid Rhyddfrydol, Taunton 4:30, 1 Mawrth 2001

I beg to move amendment No. 8, in page 34, line 21, leave out subsection (2).

I am surprised that the official Opposition do not have a position on the extension of child curfew orders to teenagers under 16. I have made clear my position and I shall not take up much of the Committee's time in moving the amendment, because we do not want either clause to be in existence. However, accepting that it was likely that clause 43 would be passed, we decided to try to improve clause 44.

The idea of the measure is that the public should not be subject to intimidation from large groups of young people, but when the Government talked initially about the provision for under 10-year-olds, they said that child welfare was the key issue. Local authorities were to make child curfew orders, because they have to provide for the education and welfare of children, through social services, youth services and a whole raft of measures that may give young people alternatives to hanging about on street corners. To say, as the clause does, that the police can also have the power to make local child curfew orders, independently of local authorities, which are reduced to the level of consultees, is to move away from any pretence of considering child welfare and into the sphere of criminal sanctions.

Photo of Charles Clarke Charles Clarke Minister of State, Home Office

The amendment would remove the provision that allows the chief officer to apply for a scheme. It is technically defective—although I do not criticise it on that basis—in that it would remove subsection (2), yet subsections (3), (4) and (5) would make no sense without it.

The Government's position is that partnership is where we ought to be. The police are a front-line service and they must work in partnership with local authorities, which is the central function of the clause. Partnership is a two-way process, which is why the initiating role can be played either by the local authority or by the police. They work in partnership in practice, as is required by the Crime and Disorder Act 1998 and the crime reduction partnerships, which is the right way to proceed.

I understand the hon. Lady's general concerns, but I am genuinely surprised that she thinks that it is wrong to give the police as much power as local authorities to initiate action in such circumstances, given the proviso that both are required to work in conjunction with each other in accordance with the 1998 Act and the various partnerships. It is appropriate that both local authorities and the police should be able to initiate action.

I hope that the hon. Lady will be prepared to withdraw the amendment. If she decides to press it to a vote, I hope that the official Opposition will have the guts to vote as they should.

Photo of Mrs Jackie Ballard Mrs Jackie Ballard Democratiaid Rhyddfrydol, Taunton

If the clause was about genuine partnership, it would have said that the chief of police should consult the local authority and then, if they are both in agreement, either can initiate the procedure. As it stands, if the chief of police consults the local authority and it says, ``No, we think there are better ways of dealing with the problem'', he can go ahead anyway. The clause would permit that state of affairs, which would be a bad example of partnership.

I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

Photo of Mr Nick Hawkins Mr Nick Hawkins Ceidwadwyr, Surrey Heath

I entirely reject both what the Minister said in the previous debate about the official Opposition's position and his completely specious assertion that police numbers are going up. He appears to believe that, just because the Home Secretary says that provision will be made for recruiting more police, more will automatically be conjured up. In most areas, the numbers recruited have so far not made up the shortfall caused by the collapse in police morale that those in the Police Federation and others repeatedly comment on, which, as the Minister knows perfectly well, is the direct result of Labour Government policy. Consequently, in areas such as mine and that of my hon. Friend the Member for Reigate—

Photo of Mr Nick Hawkins Mr Nick Hawkins Ceidwadwyr, Surrey Heath

No, I will not. There is little time, and I want to reinforce the fact that our position on child curfews is absolutely clear.

I said at the outset of the debate on clause 43 that I intended to invite my hon. Friends to vote with me against clause 44, because the mischief lies in the bureaucracy. The Minister cannot claim that the original Labour legislation was a success—we know that child curfews have failed, because there have not been any. The legislation was wrong, as we pointed out at the time. To echo the words of the hon. Member for West Bromwich, West, we treated the matter with derision because it was such a catastrophic failure. The Minister should apologise to the Committee and to the nation for introducing a completely unworkable policy.

The Minister dismisses Fred Broughton, the chairman of the Police Federation, as—allegedly—a friend of his who only ever calls for more police. The quotation from him that I read out went much further than that: he said that the measure that the Government introduced is completely unworkable. We know that, because it has not been used. This bureaucracy will be equally unworkable, which is why we reject the clause and will vote against it.

Photo of Crispin Blunt Crispin Blunt Ceidwadwyr, Reigate 4:45, 1 Mawrth 2001

I share my hon. Friend's displeasure at the Minister's remarks about our attitude to the stand part debate on clause 43.

There have been no child curfew orders on children under the age of 10, and the scheme that the Government introduced in the 1998 Act was wholly unworkable. It is a question of judgment as to whether extending it to the age of 16 would make it more workable. I may not want to support the Government directly or oppose the extension of the schemes, and I do not believe that the Government should attack me for taking such a view on the measure. They should allow me to express my neutrality. I am also extremely suspicious when the Government are determinedly anxious that we should take a view one way or the other. If we were to support the proposal, and the practical merits of extending it to 16 are that it works in as non-existent a fashion as it worked up to 10, we would be lined up as supporting the Government's measures. If we were to oppose it, and it did not work in exactly the same way as it worked for those under 10, the Government would no doubt use their spin machine to misrepresent the Opposition, who, as Conservatives, have always wanted to support good order, proper public behaviour and responsibility. If the measures were going to deliver that, we would support them. However, there are serious questions about their practicality, which is why I believe that the clause should not stand part of the Bill.

To address the clause directly, the provision has come into disrepute because local authorities have not found any occasion on which to make it work, although they might be able to make it work if the age range is extended to 16. I suspect that the Government's motivation is that they want to widen the ability of the police as well as local authorities to make such orders, so that they can at least say that some orders have been introduced. Currently, the provision is falling into disrepute because not a single order has been introduced.

The police have enough to do without being burdened by such provisions. The decision as to which authority should implement the provision should be straightforward. It should be one or the other. On the basis of conversations that the hon. Member for West Bromwich, West had with people whom he represented as a councillor, the greater weight of concern is about child misbehaviour. As a member of a local authority, he would have been able to make those representations. At least it would be clear if it were solely local authorities' responsibility to initiate such orders. The Government were therefore probably correct when they attempted to introduce the measure for the first time in the 1998 Act. The fact that the age was 10 meant that the provision has not worked at all in practice. Raising the age to 16 at least gives it a chance to be applied.

It is wrong to introduce the police into the process. If the police want to initiate such matters, I am sure that they would be able to approach the local authority to invite them to do so. It should be the proper democratic responsibility of the local authority to make the orders as they see fit. That should be part of the new relationship that police and local authorities are trying to establish. Police boundaries have, in many instances, been aligned directly with those of local authorities. That has happened in my county of Surrey, and the Metropolitan police has reorganised itself to align with borough boundaries. That process should be happening; the police should be capable of talking to local authorities. Since the Labour party has become a rather more respectable institution and one rather more interested in law and order issues—that is, compared to the state that it was in during the 1980s. It is merely more respectable than it was; I did not say that it was respectable.

Photo of Mr Nick Hawkins Mr Nick Hawkins Ceidwadwyr, Surrey Heath

I think that what my hon. Friend intended to say was that the Labour party may superficially be pretending to be more respectable. Does he agree that the most interesting thing to come out of this debate was the hon. Member for Taunton pointing out that the most wonderful training for becoming a Liberal Democrat Member of Parliament was hanging around on the streets doing little of any use?

Photo of Crispin Blunt Crispin Blunt Ceidwadwyr, Reigate

I note what my hon. Friend says in respect of the hon. Member for Taunton.

My point is that most local authorities, under whichever political control, are now rather more likely to talk to the police. Some Labour councils have been deeply antipathetic to people in uniform, notably the armed services, and have not allowed the armed services to attend recruiting fairs in schools, for example. However, by and large, there is now much greater co-operation between local authorities and the police, which is why I oppose the police being given the powers, because in most circumstances if the police consider that there is a problem they will be able to talk to their local authorities and invite them to initiate the powers. The extension introduced by the clause is unnecessary; that is why I oppose it.

Photo of Simon Hughes Simon Hughes Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

I apologise because, as I anticipated, I could not be here for the beginning of the debate. Although I have not yet read the transcript, I share the views that I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Taunton expressed in my absence. Child curfew schemes should not be extended as proposed, and although the Committee has now agreed to that extension, they should certainly not be issued at the behest of the police rather than the democratic local authority, as the hon. Member for Reigate said. If the police cannot persuade the local authority, they have a pretty thin case. The local authority has local democratic accountability in a way that the police do not. Those who are elected can be dealt with accordingly by the electorate.

In her defence, may I say that I am sure that my hon. Friend the Member for Taunton never hung around without clear purpose—[Laughter]—and, because she briefed me specifically on this point, she believes, as do I, that it may be rather good preparation for people, before they become Members of Parliament, to hang around occasionally to see what really happens on the street, rather than hiding themselves away in places where they do not have as much contact with reality.

I have been party to all the arguments about what happened in Strathclyde and elsewhere in Scotland. In my constituency, where, as everywhere else, the issue is live, all my conversations with the Metropolitan police, from the most senior to the most junior level, have confirmed that it did not seek the power and does not anticipate that it would need or use it. To borrow from what the Home Secretary said last week, the police want to concentrate on the criminal, the offender, rather than on the generality of the area or neighbourhood.

It will do no good to communities with high crime to be singled out as areas in which curfews are in place. That will reduce property prices and only attract more trouble and difficulty. I expect that, as with junior curfew orders, they will probably never happen; if they do, it will probably be for a short time. The police want to get on with dealing with the troublemakers; those who are lawfully going about their business should be allowed to do so, whether they are under or over 16. It is going down the wrong road in the wrong direction to be thinking of curfews for teenagers on their way to adulthood. That is another worrying example of the illiberal tendency that too often reasserts itself at the heart of the Government.

Photo of Charles Clarke Charles Clarke Minister of State, Home Office

I have argued the points already and I do not want to add anything to them. I urge the Committee to allow the clause to stand part of the Bill.

Question put, That the clause stand part of the Bill:—

The Committee divided: Ayes 10, Noes 6.

Rhif adran 20 Adults Abused in Childhood — Clause 44 - Power for police to make schemes

Ie: 10 MPs

Na: 6 MPs

Ie: A-Z fesul cyfenw

Na: A-Z fesul cyfenw

Question accordingly agreed to.

Clause 44 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Photo of Gerry Sutcliffe Gerry Sutcliffe Assistant Whip (HM Treasury)

I beg to move, That further consideration be now adjourned.

Photo of Roger Gale Roger Gale Ceidwadwyr, North Thanet

The hon. Gentleman should be aware that under the sittings motion, business would normally terminate automatically at Five o'clock. However, in the interests of tidiness and completeness, I will accept the motion. The Committee will sit again at 10.30 on Tuesday morning with Mr. Hood in the Chair. I trust that those members of the Committee heading north will find more clement weather than during the past week, and I am sure that all of our good wishes go with the hon. Member for Selby (Mr. Grogan), given the traumatic circumstances that his constituents have faced this week. I wish all the Committee a peaceful and productive weekend.

Question put and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly at four minutes to Five o'clock till Tuesday 6 March at half-past Ten o'clock.