New Clause 55

Criminal Justice and Immigration Bill – in a Public Bill Committee am 6:15 pm ar 29 Tachwedd 2007.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Anti-social behaviour orders: reporting restrictions

‘(1) Omit sections 1(10D), 1(10E) (anti-social behaviour orders) and 1C(9C) (orders on conviction in criminal proceedings) of the Crime and Disorder Act 1998 (c.37).

(2) In section 1C(9) of that Act (orders about anti-social behaviour on conviction in criminal proceedings) omit “(10D), (10E)”.

(3) After section 49(2)(d) of the Children and Young Persons Act 1933 (c.12) (restrictions on reports of proceedings in which children or young persons are concerned) insert—

“(e) any proceedings under the Crime and Disorder Act 1998.”.’.—[Mr. Heath.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

Photo of David Heath David Heath Shadow Leader of the House of Commons

I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

Photo of Nicholas Winterton Nicholas Winterton Ceidwadwyr, Macclesfield

With this it will be convenient to discuss new clause 56—Anti-social behaviour orders —

‘(1) Section 1 of the Crime and Disorder Act 1998 (c. 37) (prevention of crime and disorder) is amended as follows.

(2) In subsection (7) at the end insert “or in the case of persons under 18 not less than three months”.

(3) In subsection (10) after “if without reasonable excuse a person” insert “over the age of 18 years”.

(4) In subsection (10) at the end insert “or

(c) in the case of a person below the age of 18 years, a reprimand, warning, youth conditional warning or any sentence of the court commensurate with the seriousness of the offence other than imprisonment,”.

(5) In subsection (11) after “Where a person” insert “over the age of 18 years”.’.

Photo of David Heath David Heath Shadow Leader of the House of Commons

I promise that this will be the last group that I speak to.

The two new clauses deal with antisocial behaviour orders and their application to young people. We have been reminded on several occasions that it was not the original intention for ASBOs, but they have become principally a disposal for young people rather than adults, which is perhaps perverse. New clause 55 deals with something that I do not expect Ministers to agree with me about, because they have disagreed on the last two occasions that we have debated the matter—in the context of the Anti-Social Behaviour Act 2003 and the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act 2005. However, that will not stop me from raising the issue again.

In the case of criminal offences, we have a reporting restriction for children. It has been there for 70 years, it is an important part of our criminal justice system, but yet it does not apply to ASBOs, either when they are made, or when they are breached. These children, when brought before a court, can have their faces spread all over every newspaper and even on a notice board in a supermarket. Yet if they commit a more serious crime and are given a criminal sentence ab initio, that will not happen. It seems perverse that we deal with such matters in different ways, and a variety of people have brought attention to the subject.

I do not expect the Committee to be hugely swayed by the opinion of Alvaro Gil-Robles, the Human Rights Commissioner of the Council of Europe, although he is an estimable gentleman and a colleague of mine on the Parliamentary Assembly of the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe. He specifically raised the issue, saying that it is,

“entirely disproportionate to aggressively inform members of the community who have no knowledge of the offending behaviour, and who are not affected by it, of the application of ASBOs. It seems to me that they have no business and no need to know.”

That is his view, and it is perfectly proper for the Government and the Committee to take a different view. However, I think that it is disproportionate and that it is in stark distinction to the way that we deal with real criminal offences, as opposed to those that fall below the criminal standard of proof. It seems extraordinary that we make that division in the case of children. In the case of adults, I have no problem. If adults commit antisocial behaviour, naming and shaming them is all part of the process, but I am not sure that that is the right way for civilised society to deal with young people and children as young as 10.

New clause 56 deals with the period of an ASBO, and seeks to extend the discretion of the court when dealing with a person aged under 18, so that the minimum period can be reduced to three months. That would enable a short, objective lesson in the form of an ASBO to be given to a child, without it necessarily extending to the two-year minimum period. That, too, seems a sensible discretion to leave the court when it deals with a very young offender—I suppose that we call them offenders when we are talking about ASBOs. It is a moot point whether they are offenders or potential offenders when such a civil remedy is applied. In any case, the courts should have the discretion to do what they see fit in the case of a young person, and a three-month minimum period for the order would be appropriate.

The second part of the new clause deals with what happens in the event of a breach. Again, we return to the matter of custody. Is that really the answer for a breach of an ASBO if it has not been established as necessary for the protection of the public from harm? I doubt it, and if a young person is in breach of an ASBO, better and more appropriate disposals should be available to the court and used rather than sending a young person into custody, where we know what will happen—we have just discussed it. They go in, come out and commit an offence. That is not a sensible way to deal with someone who persistently causes problems through antisocial behaviour.

I am not arguing against ASBOs; as the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department knows, we have always been open to the view that they can work under certain circumstances. Right from the start, we did not oppose them. However, the way in which they are used has always been open to question, and we have always wanted to engage in discussion with the Government on how they can best be used.

Photo of Vernon Coaker Vernon Coaker Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Home Office) (Crime Reduction)

I have a couple of brief comments on the new clauses. The context of the debates that we have had in the past hour or so is that none of us wants to see our young people in prison for the sad reasons that we have heard about. We want them to be diverted from antisocial and criminal behaviour. We must consider how we can effectively do that and what to do to ensure that we achieve it. If we really mean that, every single one of us in the room has a lot of work to do.

Out there, diversion and community punishment, and working with young people who commit offences instead of imprisoning them—restorative justice and so on—is a big matter for argument and a debate that needs to be won. The terms of trade are changing, and the debates that we have had in the Committee and elsewhere in Parliament show that parliamentary opinion, and perhaps some parts of public opinion to an extent, are moving. The work of my two ministerial colleagues in the Ministry of Justice has helped to shape that debate and move it forward.

Photo of Alun Michael Alun Michael Llafur, De Caerdydd a Phenarth

My hon. Friend is absolutely correct, and it is good to see some movement in the direction of saying that laws ought to prevent what they forbid, which is precisely what the ASBO is designed to do. It is a measure of prevention, not punishment.

Photo of Vernon Coaker Vernon Coaker Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Home Office) (Crime Reduction) 6:30, 29 Tachwedd 2007

That is an excellent point, and I thank my right hon. Friend for it. That is the whole purpose of the civil order—not to punish, but to prevent.

After that brief introduction, I shall respond briefly to the comments made by the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome. There is almost a contradiction between what I said a moment ago and what I am about to say, in that I do believe that the courts need discretion in some of the cases referred to by the hon. Gentleman. For example, in respect of reporting restrictions when antisocial behaviour orders are given, it is not automatic that the court should publicise the  names—it does not have to name and shame. The court has the power to say, “We do not think it appropriate in these circumstances for the name of that young person to be given, for the following reasons.” The courts would no doubt take factors such as vulnerability into account. However, in some circumstances, for the prevention of harm in communities, including the prevention of harm to other young people—young people are, by and large, the victims of crime—naming may sometimes be necessary. I ask the hon. Gentleman to reflect on that point.

On reducing the minimum duration of antisocial behaviour orders from two years to three months, the Committee will know that the Government have moved some way toward the sorts of issues that the hon. Gentleman raised. The Bill now allows for an annual review. Although it does not go fully to the three months’ duration wished for, it has started to move towards it. Where there was an expectation that a review would be held, we have made an annual review a statutory requirement—a statutory duty. Again, progress has been made.

One of the most difficult questions, particularly in the context of today’s debate, is that of not having the option of custody for breach of ASBOs. I do not particularly want young people to be put in prison, nor do I want them to be imprisoned for breach of an ASBO, but I believe that that must be an option. Let me cite a study that shows how difficult the subject can be. The Youth Justice Board conducted a study in December 2004—admittedly, a couple of years ago—in which it considered 43 young people who had received custody for breach of ASBOs. Between them, those young people had committed a total of 1,779 offences. Ministers receive briefings all the time, but when I read that I was astonished and shocked.

When I say that custody is available as a sanction for breach of an ASBO, hon. Members often say, “Yes, but there has to be a lot of other offences before it happens.” I was shocked at that figure. It suggests that many of the interventions that my hon. Friends are trying to introduce earlier in the process need to be considered in order to discover what works. However, there is a problem: what do you do with people who have committed so many offences, when every other alternative has no doubt been tried by the police, the youth offending teams and others? It seems to me that, in those circumstances, we are left with no choice.

The question then is what sort of environment are those young people being sent to if they breach their ASBO and are sent into custody? Again, the debate has moved on; we are moving away from saying that they should just be locked up and given bread and water. There is a growing mature opinion says that if people— particularly the young—breach their ASBOs, there must be a better option than the traditional type of environment. Although it might have to be a secure environment, perhaps it could have a better rehabilitative element that would command public confidence.

Although I understand the principles and substance of the points set out by the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome, I believe that the custody option should be available as the last resort for those who breach an ASBO. We have tried to move some way towards a minimum term in the annual review that we have introduced in this Bill. With those comments, will the hon. Gentleman consider withdrawing his new clauses?

Photo of David Heath David Heath Shadow Leader of the House of Commons

I am grateful to the Minister for sustaining the quality of debate right to the end of our proceedings. This is almost a coda to what we started a long time ago. I hope that he and his colleagues are right about the alternative structures that will be put in place if the Bill is enacted and that they will be effective in doing what we as a Committee all want them to do.

I do not agree with the Government about reporting restrictions, but the Minister knows that. I accept what he said about the minimum period. However, I do not think that people should be given a custodial sentence for breach of ASBOs. They should be given a custodial sentence if that is necessary for the protection of the public as a result of the offences that they have committed. It is a subtle but real difference. Again, we must agree to differ on that. Having said that, I am grateful to the Minister for responding to the points that I have made and I seek leave to withdraw the new clause.

Motion and clause, by leave, withdrawn.