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Serious Organised Crime and Police Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 5:45 pm on 6th April 2005.

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Photo of The Earl of Listowel The Earl of Listowel Crossbench 5:45 pm, 6th April 2005

My Lords, my name is also attached to the amendment and I strongly support the points raised by the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, relating to the convention. Last night I mentioned the issue of scrutiny. While much of the Bill was scrutinised in the other place, this aspect of it received no consideration there. We had an occasion to discuss it late last night but, given that those on the front line are so concerned about the Government's current agenda of improving services for children and giving more thought to the needs of those who work directly with children, we should give the matter careful consideration and listen to those concerns.

Last night I raised the issue of research into the impact of publishing the names of these children—a practice that has been going on for several years. When the Anti-social Behaviour Bill passed through this House, I urged the Minister to produce research into the consequences of that activity. At the time, I believe that the Minister replied that it would be too difficult to carry out such research, and she repeated that in her response last night.

I am also concerned at the division that such a practice might provoke among agencies working together to improve outcomes for children. I shall come to that later.

I reflect on my experience of being responsible for the type of children covered by this clause. I remember 20 years ago working in an intermediate treatment centre with a 10 year-old traveller boy. He would hit all the workers and, to ingratiate himself, would tell obscene jokes about his mother to the older boys—he was by far the youngest in the centre. He was a deeply troubling and deeply troubled young man.

I think of a boy with whom I worked last year—a 10 year-old, who got into fights with other children. One lunchtime, we came across him lolling in a tyre-shaped inflatable, rocking himself backwards and forwards like an infant. It was only towards the end of our time working with him that we learned that he had just come out of care and had been newly adopted.

I think of a young man with whom I worked recently who had just come out of his minority. He demanded attention from all the staff and young people in the hostel and made himself deeply unpopular. He was eventually excluded from the hostel but fortunately he has found another place.

Those are the kinds of young people whom we are discussing now. As the noble Baroness herself made clear in a conversation that we had on this subject, she recognises that many of the young people whom we are discussing and who will be caught by this clause are the kind of young people to whom I have referred. In its evidence to the Select Committee on Education and Skills in the other place, the Association of Chief Police Officers said that it was important to recognise,

"that children who commit offences, without excusing them or trying to defend them, are exactly the same constituency as children who get excluded from school, children who become in need of protection or have CAMS [Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services] needs".

Last night, the noble Baroness spoke of the difficulties of research in this area. I recognise that it can be difficult to conduct such research where there are a number of interventions with these children and their families and where there are parenting orders and so on. Nevertheless, if we are to encourage the local media to publicise the identities and photographs of these children—we have been doing so for several years now—it is incumbent on us, if we really believe that every child matters, to conduct as rigorous research as we can to find out what happens as a result.

I was pleased to be put in touch by the Minister with one of her civil servants to ask about research. He told me that the Youth Justice Board will shortly undertake some research in this area. So I urge the Minister to wait until we know better what the impact of the very controversial publication of these children's names would be before proceeding on this matter. I share the concerns of those outside that, if these children and their families are identified, they may become the targets of people in the local area. I am concerned that labelling them in this way may reinforce some of the bad behaviours that we are seeing and that it may impact on the children's rehabilitation.

We need research, but that has not been forthcoming. There is a possibility of it taking place in the future—fairly soon, I hope. So let us wait until the outcome of that research is available to us and to the courts which have to make decisions in this area. I look forward to the Minister's response.