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Straw's tough stance 'draconian'

Government plans to get tough on the parents of young criminals could be counterproductive, Jack Straw, the Home Secretary, was warned this week.

Some measures proposed under the Crime and Disorder Bill, currently going through Parliament, could also breach the European Convention on Human Rights, according to the Family Policy Studies Centre, an independent research body.

In a briefing paper, the centre outlines 40 concerns as to how the Bill affects parents and children. The parenting order, which gives courts the power to require parents to attend counselling or guidance sessions or risk a fine of up to pound;1,000, should not be compulsory, the centre says. The order unjustly punishes parents; will have a disproportionate impact on poor and lone parents; and is likely to exacerbate family tensions.

Proposals to abolish doli incapax - the presumption that children aged 10 to 14 do not know the diffence between naughtiness and serious wrongdoing - are said to run counter to European human rights practice.

Child curfew orders which police and local authorities can apply for to keep under-10s indoors between 9pm and 6am are "draconian", says the centre, as the Government has produced only anecdotal evidence that this age groups regularly terrorises neighbourhoods. They might also breach the European human rights convention. In any case, emergency powers under the Children Act already provide police with the option of removing children at risk from the streets.

The paper says there are other reasons for offending than poor parenting. These included low income, bad housing, living in deteriorating inner cities, unemployment, influence by delinquent friends, truancy and under- achievement.

The Government must tackle economic disadvantage and the hopelessness in which many young offenders and their families live if the proposed legislation is to work, warns the centre.

The Crime and Disorder Bill and the Family, Family Policy Studies Centre, 231 Baker Street, London NW1 7XE, pound;5.00.

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