HC Deb 12 May 1982 vol 23 cc870-83

`(1) Subject to the provisions of this section, where a person under 17 but not less than ten years of age is convicted of an offence which is punishable with imprisonment in the case of a person aged 21 or over, the court may make an order confining the offender to his place of permanent residence for such hours of any day and for such day or days of the week as they think fit; provided that:—

  1. (a) the offender has consented to the order;
  2. (b) where the offender resides with his parent or guardian such parent or guardian has consented to the order;
  3. (c) where the offender resides in the care of any other person or authority such person or authority has consented to the order;
  4. (d) having regard to the circumstances of the case it considers the requirement necessary for securing the good conduct of the offender or for preventing repetition by him of the same offence or the commission of other offences;
  5. (e) the court has the benefit of a social inquiry report upon the offender.

(2) An order under this section shall be known as a curfew order.

(3) The periods within a day within which confinement may be imposed under this section shall be:—

  1. (a) Mondays to Fridays—6 p.m. until 6 a.m. on the following day;
  2. (b) Saturdays and Sundays—noon until 6 a.m. on the following day.

(4) The maximum duration of such an order shall be three months. The maximum number of days within such a period of three months shall be 42.

(5) An offender subject to a curfew order shall, at the request of a person acting as an officer of the court or a police officer who calls at his place of permanent residence to which he has been confined during the hours prescribed by the order, present himself to such person in order to establish his presence; and failure to do so shall constitute a breach of the order.

(6) Where such an order has been made and it appears on information to a justice acting for a relevant petty sessional area that the offender has been in breach of the order, the justice may issue a summons requiring the offender to appear at a place and time specified in the summons before a magistrates' court acting for the area or, if the information is in writing and on oath, may issue a warrant for the offender's arrest requiring him to be brought before the court.

(7) If it is proved to the satisfaction of the magistrates' court before which the offender is brought under this section that he has without reasonable excuse been in breach of the order then that court may:—

  1. (a) impose upon the offender any sentence or make any order which it might have imposed or made for the original offence of which he was convicted;
  2. (b) commit the offender to the Crown Court for sentence.

(8) A magistrates' court which deals with an offender's case under subsection 5(2) of this section shall send to the Crown Court a certificate signed by a justice of the peace giving particulars of the offender's breach of the order together with other particulars as may be desirable, and a certificate purporting to be so signed shall be admissible as evidence of the breach before the Crown Court.

(9) Where by virtue of subsection 5(2) above the offender is brought or appears before the Crown Court and it is proved to the satisfaction of the court that he has been in breach of the order the Court may impose upon the offender any sentence or make any order which it might have imposed or made for the originial offence of which he was convicted.

(10) Nothing in this section shall prevent a court imposing an order under this section in addition to other penalties that it is empowered to impose save that where the offender is subject to a supervision order any such confinement to his place of permanent residence shall be imposed as a condition of that order and not under this section.

(11) In proceedings before a Crown Court under this section any question whether there has been a breach of the order shall be determined by a court and not by the verdict of a jury.

(12) An offender who is in breach of a curfew order shall be liable to arrest by a police officer.'.—[Mr. Lyell.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

Mr. Lyell

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

It is getting late—[HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear"]—and this new clause was fully discussed in Committee. I note that the lowing herd is not wholly absent. I move the new clause now because, despite the Minister's friendly and encouraging words in Committee and the fact that the matter is being considered seriously with a view to bringing it forward in an acceptable form, I have made some changes to the original clause and I wish to mention briefly its objects and provenance.

The object of the clause is to add what I believe would be a valuable weapon to the courts' armoury of non-custodial sentences for dealing with juvenile crime. The House is well aware of the rise in juvenile crime, and I am sure that we all agree about the importance of parental responsibility in trying to curtail juvenile offences. We recognise that in some cases the parent or parents simply cannot control their youngsters and I do not suggest that the clause is appropriate for such cases. However, many offences occur when a young person goes out late at night, drinks rather too much, causes criminal damage or gets into trouble at a bar, disco or on the streets. If he could be restrained and kept at home on appropriate days, such as Friday or Saturday—or kept away from a football match where he might have got into trouble—by order of the court, enforceable and supported by such a clause, he could be greatly benefited. Not only would the disapproval of society be marked by an appropriate penalty but the youngster could be saved from himself.

The idea for the clause was not mine. The kind words of the Minister should go to the Magistrates' Association, which passed a resolution saying that it would wish such a non-custodial option to be added to the sentences that magistrates could impose, especially on juveniles. That has been reinforced by the views of the inner London juvenile court panel, which is in an especially good position to know the sentencing needs for such offences. I have had discussions with many magistrates. Although the original clause does not have the blanket support of all organisations, I have received much support from chief probation officers and directors of social services, including those from my county of Hertfordshire, where the idea for the clause arose.

The objects of the clause are to enhance parental responsibility and to make provision for another non-custodial sentence. There is a growing realisation in Britain that we have something to learn from the Americans in the wide range of non-custodial options that they make available to their courts, especially for juveniles. We should be ready to go down that wad.

As I wish to be brief, may I move on to deal with some of the changes that appear in the present draft of the clause compared with the draft before the Committee. The principal point raised by those who voiced objections—I recognise that some of them were valid—was about enforcement.

In Committee I made the point that is valid in many cases, but not all, that to a great extent a curfew order would be self-enforcing, in that if the young person on whom it was imposed broke it that person would rapidly go back to old haunts and habits, and thus rapidly come to the notice of the police again and be brought back before the court for an alternative penalty or some other suitable punishment—non-custodial, one hopes. However, that is not always the case.

I agree with the criticism that there should be a check-up system. Consequently, subsection (5) suggests that a person subject to a curfew order should be ready to make himself known to someone who comes to check up. That should not necessarily or normally be a police officer. The form of words is a person acting as an officer of the court". We have this in the fines enforcement officer who is used by some courts. If the offender were ordered to remain at home between certain hours, it would be possible for a person acting as an "officer of the court" to come at random and do a spot check—not to enter the dwelling, because I am sure that the House would think that that was unnecessary and unjustified, but to come to the door. There would then be an obligation on the offender to make his presence known.

Mr. Teddy Taylor

I am fascinated by my hon. and learned Friend's interesting idea. What will the officer of the court or the police do if he arrives at the house, rings the bell, and there is no answer? If the bell does not work, what does he do?

Mr. Lyell

I did not want to read the whole of subsection (5). Failure to present himself would constitute "a breach of the order", and a summons would then be issued and the offender brought back before the court. If there was a reasonable excuse—for instance, that he was ill and unable to get out of bed—there would be no breach because of the way in which the clause is drafted. II the bell was not working, that would be a reasonable excuse, and no offence would be committed. That is covered by the clause. It is important to have a check-up system that does not fall on the police.

I want to thank senior members of the Association of Chief Police Officers with whom I have had an opportunity to discuss the clause since the Committee stage, and the National Association for the Care and Resettlement of Offenders, from which I have had a number of constructive suggestions which are included in the clause as drafted. I am also grateful to the other bodies which have made submissions which, where possible, have been taken into account in the present form.

There is a second point about enforcement. If a police officer should recognise someone as being in breach in the street, it is obviously right that there should be a power of arrest. That was not originally included, but is now included.

I do not envisage that the general method of enforcement should be by trawls by the police in the streets. The police do not want that. It would be unnecessary in local communities outside the great conurbations, and it would be impractical within the great conurbations. It is not proposed. Thus, one of the potential difficulties of the new clause has been avoided in the new draft.

The second point made was that it is important that the court should use such an order in appropriate cases. It was pointed out that in certain cases the parents would be quite inadequate or the young person would be wholly out of control, and that in such cases the courts should not use such an order. I accept that. First, there is a change, in that the consent not only of the parents but of the young person is now required. Secondly, the new draft provides for a social inquiry report. Thirdly—and here I am grateful to NACRO for the suggestion—it provides that it should be imposed only in cases where, having regard to the circumstances of the case, the court considers the requirement necessary for securing the good conduct of the offender or for preventing repetition by him of the same offence or the commission of other offences. That is a rigmarole used in other sentencing options. It is highly appropriate to this order because it is exactly for those objects that the order would in any event be imposed by a court. One sees embodied in the clause its whole purpose.

12.15 am

This could be reinforced by a Home Office circular. When there is a new sentencing option, particularly one which to some extent breaks new ground, it is desirable that the kind of circumstance in which it should be employed should be made known to the justices, although, since the idea emanated from the magistrates, I take the same view as was taken by the Minister in Committee that the courts can be trusted to use it in appropriate cases. In so far as safeguards are needed, they are embodied in the clause.

A third point which was made was that the restrictions which would be imposed by such an order should not be in conflict with a supervision order. I recognise the force of that. For that purpose, where a supervision order is either to be imposed for the same offence or is already in force and one wishes to avoid a conflict, the clause as drafted provides that the keeping in which would be required by the order should be imposed only as a condition of the supervision order and not as a separate matter, thereby avoiding the conflict which might come from two distinct and possibly, though not likely, conflicting penalties.

Mr. Lawrence

Why would not the end that my hon. and learned Friend seeks be achieved by having a supervision order when the curfew could be supervised?

Mr. Lyell

I am grateful to my hon. and learned Friend. I was coming to that point. I hope that we shall get the supervision order law into such a form that that can be done.

As the House knows, the probation service is under considerable stress. I have the greatest respect for the kind of intermediate treatment that is to be found in schemes such as the Medway close support scheme and schemes which emanate from ideas from the University of Lancaster and other ideas which are put into effect in different areas. But these intermediate treatment schemes, excellent as they are, are highly intensive and require a great deal of probation officer time.

What we are seeking to do is in appropriate cases to harness the good will and efforts of parents. There is a large number of juvenile offences. I am not suggesting—and I do not think the magistrates have put this forward—that this order would be used in a huge number of cases, but it could be used in a significant number where intensive use of the probation service would not be appropriate. That is one reason why the magistrates are anxious to have the provision. That is why it is desirable to have it as a curfew order separate from and additional to a supervision order. The suggestion of my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Burton (Mr. Lawrence) is sensible, and I hope that we shall see that achieved, but in a significant number of cases it is right and proper to seek to go further.

I have made it clear in my opening remarks that it is not my intention to divide the House. This is a new non-custodial option and a new sentencing option. I hope that it will be considered constructively by the House. I know that it will be examined constructively by my hon. and learned Friend the Minister. I hope that before the Bill completes all its stages an opportunity will be found, perhaps in another place, to bring the clause forward in a polished form that will have the approval of the other place and, in due course, of ourselves. It may thereby find its way on to the statute book to be of that benefit to the courts in the sentencing options which we know that magistrates seek.

Mr. William Pitt (Croydon, North-West)

This new clause is a considerable improvement on the one that we discussed in Committee. However, I cannot support it wholly. I have some reservations about its efficacy and the ability of people to carry it out.

Under subsection (1)(a), the offender must consent to the order and under (1)(b) the offender's parent or guardian must consent to the order, if the offender resides with him. That would be admirable if that consent were both given and accepted all the way through the currency of the order. I am worried that the offender may consent to the curfew order at one moment—perhaps to get himself off the hook—but two or three weeks later when the curfew order started to bite, the offender might decide to remove his consent. He may say to himself "Blow this, I am going out and I shall face the consequences."

I am concerned about how, especially in the large conurbations, which is where the curfew order would be used most, if it were put into operation, anyone could find the young offenders who were breaking the curfew order other than by making large police trawls of the streets or—dare I say it in the Chamber?—by making people carry some form of identification. That would be impractical.

I would accept the order if it were part of a supervised activities order. However, it is not considered in the clause that it should be part of a supervised activities order. I can see no other reason why young people should be curfewed in this way. It reminds me of sending children to bed with no tea. It is not a creative way of performing a non-custodial sentence. I have used the word "creative" several times in Committee and in the House when talking about the matter. We should be looking for the creative use of a young offender's time, to make him aware of the crimes that he has committed, of his debt to society and that he has to do something constructive to expiate those crimes.

Mr. John Carlisle (Luton, West)

The hon. Gentleman has mentioned the word "creative", which he used ad nauseam in Committee. Does he agree that denying an offender the pleasures of freedom is creative, by confining him to his home for that length of time?

Mr. Pitt

I agree that denying the offender the pleasures of freedom has a certain appeal. However, this method of denying the offender the pleasures of freedom is coupled with nothing else and depends upon the offender being on his honour to stay at home. In times of financial hardship and when there are Government cuts, where will we find the court officers to knock up those people and find out whether they are responding to the curfew? Will we allow policemen to knock on people's doors to find out? The offender is restricted on his honour and that of his parents. What happens if the parents decide to go out one evening to enjoy themselves, and leave the boy or girl at home? The boy or girl is tempted to clear off——

Mr. Kilroy-Silk

Chain them to the sink.

Mr. Pitt

Indeed. I shall use the word that I have used ad nauseam—I would not call that a creative use of curfew.

While the order has a superficial attraction and while I can see that the new clause is a marked improvement on the original one tabled in Committee, I still feel that unless the order is part of a supervised activities order and a general trend to use that person's time in properly expiating his crime, it is an impractical proposition. I cannot support it.

Mr. John Carlisle

I am delighted to support new clause 39, tabled by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Hemel Hempstead (Mr. Lyell). I pay tribute to him for the amount of work and time that he has put into the clause, and for his eloquence this evening and in Committee.

The question has been rightly raised by my hon. Friend and learned Friend and by the hon. Member for Croydon, North-West (Mr. Pitt) about the enforcement order. Although that point would worry the police and is acceptable, I feel that if the principle were applied to those offenders we would have gone some way to giving the courts an additional weapon and form of deterrent that they have—entirely at their discretion—the ability to use. Some form of curfew already exists in the orders that can be made preventing football hooligans from attending a game on a Saturday, and making them report to a centre. Where they are enforced, there have been problems, but on the whole they have been extremely successful.

I suggest to the hon. Member for Croydon, North-West that if the clause puts parents and the offenders on their honour, that is a part of the clause that we should support. But the main thrust of my hon. Friend's argument, like the spirit of the Bill, has been to put responsibility back with parents for the actions of their offending children.

Most hon. Members, certainly Conservative Members, would agree that we have gone too far down the road which gives that responsibility to others and which blames the State, the school and the social worker for children's offences. This small measure, which has been well thought out by my hon. and learned Friend, will begin to correct that and begin to put the responsibility back with parents so that they have to make the decision.

With regard to enforcement, I do not envisage, and my hon. and learned Friend does not envisage, a large force of snooping court officers or policemen going around a district. If an offender is made subject to this type of order, he will think twice about breaking it. Under the new clause, an offender who breaks the curfew can be brought back to the court and punished for that offence.

Mr. S. C. Silkin

The hon. Gentleman is making a great point of parental responsibility. How does that arise other than in the initial grant of consent by the parents? Surely, once that has been granted, the parents do not come into the matter. They have no continuing responsibility for ensuring that the curfew is enforced.

Mr. Carlisle

That is rather an unfortunate path to take, because the spirit of the Bill is to try to make the parents more responsible. It would go against the spirit of the curfew if the parents, even under the terms of the Flew clause, relinquish that responsibility to the courts. It is another form of deterrent which would be a useful weapon for the courts. I hope that my hon. and learned Friend will look at it sympathetically, possibly under the new draft—I congratulate my hon. and learned Friend on the changes that he has made—and even if, in another place, some other form of new clause is tabled, we have today established a principle which must be continued.

Mr. Lawrence

We must avoid at all costs non-enforcement of this proposal so that young hooligans cock a snook at the law and just laugh at the decision of the magistrates when an order is made. Therefore, everything turns on its enforceability. While I do not wish to derogate from the sensible view which has been expressed by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Hemel Hempstead (Mr. Lyell), and which has been persuasively presented and argued, the fact remains that unless this proposal can be properly supervised, we shall continue one of the themes of the breakdown of order in our society—the complete lack of respect for authority which young people have developed. We cannot rely on the responsibility of parents to put everything right just because we might introduce a new clause in the Bill.

Unless my hon. and learned Friend can give an assurance that the police and the other forces of law and order will be able to enforce this provision, I must repeat the question that I asked: is not the best way of bringing this about by way of supervision orders? Then the little thugs and hooligans will not treat the law with the disrespect which is the foundation of later criminality.

12.30 am
Mr. Andrew F. Bennett

I rise briefly to make one or two comments on the new clause. I shall not take long in view of the hour.

For a considerable time I lived in Oldham where at that time there was great parental responsibility. Parents often imposed a strict curfew on many of the young people and it all worked well until the traditional Wakes holiday when the parents went away and left the young people at home, often with great misgivings that they were to look after the house for the fortnight. One was amazed at the amount of mischief and mayhem that occurred at all the parties that were organised at those houses while the parents were away.

The police often found it harder to control what went on in many of those houses than they did when the young people went to recognised places of entertainment, because at least most of the people running those places wanted them to be orderly and well run and wanted to discourage any disorder or mischief. In addition, the police were able to supervise them.

Some of those young people will accept the order but will quickly become bored by the imposition of a curfew. They will encourage others to visit them. As I understand the new clause, that would be perfectly all right. As a result, a lively party could take place with no restriction at all on the person on whom the curfew had been imposed. It might well be a considerable inconvenience to other people in the neighbourhood, but there is a big difference between an inconvenience to the neighbours and an issue on which the police can intervene. That is at least one of the areas that must be looked at.

This is an attempt to find a new punishment, and there are strong arguments to support the view that we should be looking for new ways of persuading people that they have a duty to conform to the law rather than behaving in an irresponsible way. However, not enough thought has been given to the new clause. Far too many people would quickly be able to demonstrate that it did not work. It would be laughed at and brought into disrepute.

The organising of parties in the homes of those under a curfew order is one example. The problems of enforcement are another. Grave difficulties would be involved in knocking on doors well into the evening and being certain that the person coming to the door was the person on whom the curfew had been imposed.

I can think of several teenagers in my constituency in respect of whom it would not be easy, especially on the doorstep in the evening, to tell whether it was brother A or brother B.

Mr. Alexander W. Lyon

Or whether it was a boy or a girl.

Mr. Bennett

My hon. Friend may have that problem, but in my constituency the difficulty would be to identify two brothers, particularly if the person checking had not met them before.

Police officers have told me that quite often they have difficulty trying to arrest a young person, and are sometimes not certain whether they have got the right brother. Therefore, enforcement could well prove difficult. Once one starts to get into difficulties, having to knock at the door, wanting to go into the house to be certain that one has checked up and seen the person on whom the curfew order was imposed, one again begins to cause difficulties. I suspect that one would not be very popular with the neighbours if there were a row or something of a disturbance because of an argument about whether the right son was there.

This would be particularly the case as some parents at that time of night may not be in the most sober of minds. They may be rather more inclined to jump to the protection of their son than they would be the following morning in the cold light of day, when they reflect that the son was breaking the order and should not have been doing so. In many areas it would be true to say that there would be quite a few parents who would not answer the door in the calmest and coolest of ways, and might quickly get into a dispute. It is amazing the number of times when a discussion on the doorstep in this sort of area in the evening——

Mr. Kilroy-Silk

It is not an easy thing to do.

Mr. Bennett

—can lead to a situation in which tempers can become frayed and what is a small incident becomes a major one.

There are many snags in the new clause. Once those snags are demonstrated, the law in total comes into contempt because one part of it is seen not to be working effectively.

Mr. Teddy Taylor

I do not want to be difficult, when my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Hemel Hempstead (Mr. Lyell) has spent a great deal of time in writing out the clause, but I hope that the Minister will not, with his usual kindness, give a commitment to implement this because it is probably one of the most ridiculous ideas that we have seen for a long time.

How on earth will the checking up be done? In the present state of lawlessness, not only is it unusual for large numbers of people to answer doors after 7.30 pm, but any parent would be well advised to tell their children, particularly if alone in the house, not to answer the door.

Apart from that, have we thought of where responsibility would lie if there was no answer? What is the situation if a youngster is out breaking the curfew if he has been instructed to do so by his parents? Is there a liability on the parent, or on the youngster?

As far as I know, there is a law that makes it unlawful to leave a child under 14 years of age by himself. If the parents are going out because they want to go out, or because there has been a sudden call, because granny has been taken ill, or they have to go to see someone urgently, what is their responsibility in relation to a child of 10, 11 or 12, who could be covered by the curfew?

Mr. John Carlisle

I cannot see how that could possibly be any objection. The law is, as my hon. Friend says, that a child under the age of 14 should not be left alone. The law would not be any different. The parents should not be going out in the first place.

Mr. Taylor

All that I am saying is that sometimes, due to unusual circumstances, perhaps because of a sudden phone call, a mother has to go out. Does she take the child with her, breaking the curfew, or does she leave the child at home and try to avoid the problem? Next, how will the identification take place? Will someone go around and try to identify the individual? Finally, is it fair and reasonable?

Mr. Parris

I congratulate my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Hemel Hempstead (Mr. Lyell) on the cautious and careful way in which he moved the new clause. If some of my hon. Friends had listened more carefully to the way that it was moved they would have realised that my hon. and learned Friend was careful in his description of his aims. The principal impediment to its passage into legislation has been the way that it was oversold, not by my hon. Friend but, particularly, by the press. It has been described as a draconian and all-purpose new clause, applicable in all manner of circumstances to all manner of young offenders. That is not what is proposed. This is an alternative to custody that would be applicable in certain cases, which would be few in number. It is necessary only to accept that there will be some cases in which this penalty might be considered suitable and that the courts will be able to distinguish them.

I do not agree with the view of my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Burton (Mr. Lawrence) that the crucial test of the new clause is its enforceability. If he had listened more carefully, he would have understood that this is essentially not an enforceable measure. Its success will depend upon the willingness of the offender and his parents to try to make it work. It could not be enforced against the will of the offender or his parents any more than is the case with supervision or probation orders. The measure would work only where everyone agreed to give it a try. There are circumstances where it might be a suitable punishment. It is worth trying. I commend it in the hope that the Government will be able to implement something of this nature.

Mr. Edward Lyons

I am unhappy about this proposal. I feel that magistrates will be tempted to impose the new sentence on a child aged 11 or 12 when they might otherwise impose nothing at all. If the child who is expected to exercise adult self-control at home then decides to go out because some of his friends have called round, he can be brought back to the court a second time. He is already becoming familiar with court procedures. An extra strain is imposed on the time and resources of the court. This seems an unfortunate path to pursue with youngsters of that age.

It is also necessary to consider one-parent families. I know of a case in my constituency where a man works on night shift and has to leave a boy aged 10 at home on his own. If a child of that age is to be subject to this sort of order, who will police the child? This proposal implies that parents should police their children. Sometimes the parents are not there to police their children. Sometimes the parents are not so law-abiding as to want to police their children. Sometimes they have no control over their children.

There is a distinct possibility that youngsters will be brought back repeatedly before the court and that they will become almost criminals simply because they cannot resist at a young age, dashing out to play with their friends. Those youngsters at the top end of the scale, say those aged 16 and 17, might be tempted to play ducks and drakes with the curfew order to show they are not frightened by it. Their friends might dare them to break it. If that happens, they are back in court.

It is all very well to say that a reasonable excuse for the youngster not being at home will be accepted by the magistrates as a reason for acquitting. Often, however, the explanation will be tested only in court. In other words, court proceedings have to take place before the young person can be acquitted. A boy might be deaf. That is not so unusual. A boy might not hear the knock at the door because he is at the back of the house or in the bathroom with the radio playing. However, because a policeman has come to the door and received no reply, that young lad is back in court. How can that be a sensible way of proceeding?

12.45 am

I am against a curfew innovation that is capable of expansion. Curfews are enforced for adults in places such as South Africa and totalitarian regimes. Once the public are used to the idea of curfew orders, a Home Secretary in about five years' time will be able to say "The scheme has worked rather successfully and we shall extend it to persons up to 21 years and to adult offenders."

Mr. Parris

If the hon. and learned Gentleman regards the curfew as such a draconian measure, how does he characterise open prisons?

Mr. Lyons

The open prison is a different concept because it is a custodial sentence. A curfew would put a substantial strain on those who would be called upon to police themselves. If a person is placed on probation, he can go where he pleases for the most part, provided that he does not commit crime. He knows that crime is wrong. A person who is subject to a curfew will not feel that going outside his home is a criminal offence or is wrong. We shall be making a crime of something that for most of us is a completely innocent activity—for example, leaving one's home to play a game of football.

If we want youngsters to become slaves to the television set, the curfew will be a marvellous provision. The Lord Chief Justice says that youngsters are slaves to the television screen. That is exactly what will happen if this proposal is accepted. Youngsters will have to stay at home, and for most of the time they will be gazing at the television screen. If a child is in an unhappy home in which the parents fight and squabble and he wants to get out, he will, none the less, be forced to stay in that unhappy domestic atmosphere and witness domestic squabbles, which will do him no good.

If the child leaves his home and is subsequently returned to the magistrates, will he be expected, in the presence of his parents, to give a truthful explanation? Will he dare to say "I had to get out because my parents were fighting. My father was hitting my mother. At times my father was getting drunk and I knew that there might be violence at any moment'? Will he dare to say that in court in front of his parents?

There are many difficulties about this proposal and I hope that the Government will think again. The law should not be brought into disrepute. Laws should not be passed that are so tempting to break and when those who will be subjected to the discipline that is proposed will be so young that they will find it difficult to adhere to it. This proposal should be dropped.

Dr. Summerskill

Several of my hon. Friends in Committee and tonight have drawn attention to the practical difficulties that will be faced by families, be they one-parent or two-parent families, if the proposal is operated. The scheme relies for its success upon the full co-operation of the young offender and of his parents or guardian. That is something that we hope will materialise, but in practice it probably will not. The young offenders who will be involved will already have been convicted of an offence that is punishable with imprisonment if committed by a person aged 21 or over. The new clause lays much emphasis on the role of parents and so have As supporters laid such emphasis. They have stressed that they want to see more parental responsibility, but they have not mentioned the role of the police in the enforcement of the clause.

I do not know whether the hon. and learned Member for Hemel Hempstead (Mr. Lyell) and the Minister of State have consulted the police about their role, but they will be involved in surveillance following an offender's court appearance, and that is a new concept. Do the police have the manpower or desire to operate the arrangement? Has the Minister even consulted the police about their enforcement role? If the provision is not enforceable and effective we should not put it on the statute book.

Mr. Mayhew

I offer my congratulations to my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Hemel Hempstead (Mr. Lyell) on his constructive and helpful contributions to our debates in Committee and on Report. I welcomed the new clause that he moved in Committee as an original and promising addition to the options available to the courts for dealing with young offenders without having to send them to custody. That is one of the themes of the Bill. The other is that there must be custodial sentences, in suitable gradations and variety, for those whom the protection of the public requires should go into custody.

We have consulted widely on the proposals. I said in Committee that we would have to listen carefully and pay attention to what was said about them. I have certainly consulted the police and have received comments from a number of organisations to which I am grateful. The volume of comments that we have received illustrates the importance of the proposals.

I hope that my hon. and learned Friend will not think me discourteous if, as the curfew tolls the knell of passing night, I do not take as long to reply as the subject justifies.

From the consideration that the Government have given to the curfew and from the discussions that we have had, there have emerged three main areas of concern and possible difficulty. The first is the enforcement of a curfew, and I have noted, without surprise, that that is the major concern of those who have expressed anxiety about the new clause. The second possible area of difficulty is the proposal's impact on relations between the police and young people, and the third is its possible effect on relations between young offenders and their parents.

Many organisations have emphasised that young offenders often suffer from personal difficulties at home, and many come from difficult family circumstances, with such problems as one-parent families and inadequate accommodation. It is widely felt that an order that, as a punishment—as distinct from a constructive package of supervision requirements—confines a young offender to home for long periods in such circumstances would worsen family relationships rather than reinforce parental responsibility and control.

The courts would certainly have to use such a power with great discrimination, but that ought not to be beyond them, especially as the new clause provides for a social inquiry report, as well as for the consent of both parent and offender to the making of an order. Therefore, I am not too discouraged on that aspect.

The most crucial difficulties that a curfew would raise relate to enforcement. If enforcement were left to the detection of breaches on the streets, the curfew could be ignored with a high degree of impunity, which would undermine the credibility of the order. The police would not be able, in the normal course of policing, to identify offenders who broke curfew, particularly in areas of population concentration like the inner cities and large towns where the crime problem is most acute. That has been forcefully represented to us on behalf of the police who feel that it would have an adverse effect on respect for the law generally.

It is proposed in the new clause that there should be reinforcing provisions enabling the police to arrest a juvenile whom they think is in breach of a curfew, which would also confer a power to arrest on reasonable suspicion and would enable checks to be made at the offender's home to ensure that he was there. I fully appreciate that the power to check up at home does not amount to a power of entry and that it is proposed that such checks might somehow be carried out by someone, other than the police, described as "an officer of the court" in the clause.

The prospect of requiring juveniles to present themselves, even at the doors of their own homes to satisfy a curfew inspector if their presence during the night, on pain of prosecution for breaching the order, raises some difficult practical questions, some of which have been touched upon tonight, as well as the question whether a random check is right in principle.

One asks who would carry out the checks. The police do not have the resources to take on additional duties of this kind, and it is questionable whether they should do so. It is clear that they do not want to. The courts too do not have the staff for that purpose. I do not overlook the fact that if a curfew order were used as an alternative to custody, savings would result from the reduction in the population of detention centres or youth custody centres, for example. However, I expect, if custody were seen as possibly appropriate, that a supervision order rather than a curfew order would be made.

The new clause also proposes that the police should have power to arrest the young offender who is out in breach of curfew. I am sure that that would be necessary if it were to be enforceable. It will only rarely happen that the police unmistakably recognise on the street a juvenile whom they are certain should be at home under curfew at that time on that date. Their suspicions will usually be much less certain and checks will need to be made. That raises serious and uneasy questions about the influence which attempts to enforce suspected breaches of curfew might have on the ability of the police to establish and maintain the relationships that they need with young people in their areas.

I have consulted my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Hemel Hempstead about these objections. I was anxious that the original idea should have the best possible chance of success. Following the Standing Committee, and as these comments and misgivings were made known to us, I naturally consulted my hon. and learned Friend. I acknowledge the effective and ingenious way in which in the revised new clause he has sought to meet some of those objections. There are much more promising prospects for the concept of a curfew as a condition of a supervision order. However, as a free-standing power of the nature of a penalty, the Government have come reluctantly to the conclusion that a separate curfew power would not be an effective addition to the powers available to the courts to deal with young offenders.

I say that with great regret, because the new clause is clearly intended to provide a helpful and imaginative extension to the powers of the courts. Many of the objections that have emerged might well be overcome if a curfew condition were included in a constructive package of requirements contained in a supervision order under clause 19 to be monitored as a whole by the supervisor nominated by the sentencing court. That solution is hinted at in subsection (10) of the new clause. It is my hon. and learned Friend's initiative that has prompted us to look urgently to see how clause 19 may be adapted to provide this as an additional option for the courts if they should wish to avail themselves of it.

Mr. Dubs

The Minister talks of linking a curfew order with a supervision order, but is he aware that the National Association of Probation Officers is concerned about this because it feels that a curfew order would prejudice and alter for the worse their relationship with their clients?

Mr. Mayhew

I am aware that that is the view of the National Association of Probation Officers. I am also aware, as is my hon. and learned Friend, that there are probation officers who see that in a proper case it could be a useful addition to a supervision order. I am also aware that although the Association of Directors of Social Services has serious reservations about the proposal in its present form, it feels that its prospects would be much more promising if it were to form part of the constructive package of supervision that would come with a supervision order, widened as clause 19 proposes. I hope that that will prove practicable. If so, we shall endeavour to provide for it in the other place.

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Therefore, I hope that my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Hemel Hempstead will not feel that I have poured too much cold water on the new clause. I think that he knows that I am anxious to see whether the measure can be made a success. It is with reluctance that I have felt obliged to say that we cannot accept the new clause in its present form. However, there is a prospect for the idea as part of a supervision order, and I hope that we shall find that that is a practicality.

Mr. Lyell

With the leave of the House, may I say that I understand what my hon. and learned Friend the Minister has said and I am grateful to him for the diligent way in which he has continued to consider the new clause?

I should point out that 25 per cent. of all Metropolitan Police arrests are of young people between the ages of 10 and 16. That shows more clearly than anything else what a big problem the young offender represents for society, how many offences must be dealt with, and how vital it is to get the parents involved whenever that is possible. Enforceability is one of the major points to consider in the curfew clause. I reiterate my gratitude to the senior members of the Association of Chief Police Officers. Those to whom I spoke had enormous knowledge of the major conurbations and of the particular difficulties that might occur. However, I do not think that I misrepresent them—they will make their own further representations—when I say that they did not see overwhelming difficulties in the check-up provisions. Indeed, they considered the matter more constructively and positively than that. They saw no serious difficulty in the check-up provisions.

A new clause of this nature can be brought forward only after serious consideration. I am glad that that consideration will continue and that some measure may be introduced in the other place. In those circumstances, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the motion.

Motion and clause, by leave, withdrawn.

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