BARONESS SMITH rose on the floor of the House of Lords, having just stepped off a flight from Argentina, to discuss the subject of anti-social behaviour.
Baroness Smith said:
“My Lords, first, I welcome the fact that we are having this debate, because the injunctions were clearly the major issue raised at Second Reading. I think that most noble Lords who contributed to that debate raised this issue.
However, I start by saying that the late scheduling of today’s Committee sitting is rather unfortunate. There will be noble Lords who would have wished to table amendments to today’s debate but who, given that the sitting was scheduled only on the last sitting day before Recess last week, may not have had the opportunity to do so. The noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, made the point that we now have a clash with the Children and Families Bill, which is also in Committee as we speak. I suspect that, given the nature of the subject before us today, many noble Lords who are in that Committee would also wish to contribute here. My final plea is that this time yesterday I was in Argentina, and I arrived in the UK only a few hours ago. I promise not to do my Eva Peron impression on this issue—although perhaps in passion if not in length. The scheduling is unfortunate, and I hope that the Minister will take that message back. I would not want noble Lords who have a contribution to make to this debate to be unable to do so.
“The noble Lord, Lord Greaves, has done us a service with his amendment, and I am also eager to probe the Government’s thinking on this issue as well. I am certainly not against children and young people being held responsible for their actions; we defined that principle in anti-social behaviour orders. We have had some debate today about the criminal age of responsibility for young people, but the amendment and the Bill are not really about that. They are about whether a young person aged 10 is likely, on the balance of probabilities, to cause annoyance or nuisance to anyone. I am not a parent, but my experience of 10 and 11 year-old children is that they inevitably cause nuisance and annoyance to somebody at some point. I do not know whether the Bill is an appropriate vehicle to make that kind of behaviour subject, on the balance of probabilities, to such an injunction. I find that
somewhat strange and I would like the Minister to develop his thinking and explain why the Government think that it is appropriate.
I can think of numerous examples where 10 and 11 year-olds would cause nuisance and annoyance: persistently kicking a ball at a fence, breaking that fence or causing disruption in the neighbourhood. That is the very point that my noble friend Lord Harris made: the Government are trying to squeeze a range of interventions into one which, inevitably, will not be appropriate in every case.
I wonder, if a complaint is made about a young person aged 10 or 11 causing nuisance or annoyance, how the police are going to investigate to see whether it is appropriate that such an injunction be placed on that young person. The JCHR made the point that there is no requirement whatsoever in the Bill to judge what is in the best interests of the child before such an injunction is imposed. It would be helpful if the Government would explain their thinking why it would be appropriate to issue an injunction when a 10 or 11 year-old may cause nuisance or annoyance.
Lord Faulks (Conservative)
“Perhaps the noble Baroness can help the House. Section 1 of the Crime and Disorder Act 1998, passed by the previous Government, permitted local authorities to apply for ASBOs in respect of persons aged 10 or over, subject to conditions. Does the party opposite have a changed view now, in view of the amendment?
Baroness Smith of Basildon (Labour)
“We want the Government to justify their position. As I said at the beginning, I think it appropriate for young people to be held responsible for their actions, but I want to probe why the Government think that this kind of injunction is appropriate. The anti-social behaviour order, as we shall debate later, required a much higher level of proof of nuisance. In the injunctions contained in amendments made in 2003 to the Housing Act, there is a lower level, as we have heard from the housing associations which have contacted us. In this specific instance, I think that the Government need to justify why they consider this injunction appropriate as the only means of dealing with such behaviour.