HC Deb 23 November 1978 vol 958 cc1570-604

7.38 p.m.

Mr. Roger Sims (Chislehurst)

I beg to move, That the Children and Young Persons Act 1969 (Transitional Modifications of Part I) Order 1978. be not made in the form of the draft laid before this House on 1st August 1978 in the last Session of Parliament. Between October 1977 and September 1978, 56 girls under the age of 17 were remanded to the remand centres at Risley, Low Newton and Pucklechurch, which most of us would consider not the most desirable accommodation for girls of that age. In the same period 45 girls were remanded to Holloway prison, a state of affairs which I am quite sure all hon. Members will agree is quite unacceptable. Indeed, the House will recall that the very first recommendation of the Eleventh Report of the Expenditure Committee on the Children and Young Persons Act was that the practice of remanding young persons to adult prisons shall cease forthwith". In its White Paper in response to the report, the Home Office stated that it accepted this recommendation in principle. In paragraph 16, after referring to certain work in hand, the White Paper said: When these are completed in two or three months' time it should no longer be necessary, at least so far as the London region is concerned, to remand girls to Holloway, save in exceptional circumstances. That was in May 1976, but, as the figures I have quoted show, girls are still being remanded to Holloway.

Now we have an order which, with effect from 1st January 1979, if implemented, will prevent courts from authorising the detention of girls in prison establishments. Why is the order being brought forward at this stage? Either there is sufficient secure accommodation for girls likely to need it, in which case the order is not necessary, or there is not sufficient secure accommodation available, in which case the order should not be made.

When a child appears before a juvenile court, the proceedings are not likely to be completed at the first appearance. There will almost certainly be a remand, perhaps for the defence to prepare its case if it is contested, and in any event after a finding of guilt, in order for a report to be prepared. For the remand period, the child will probably be allowed to return home with its parents, but home conditions or the nature of the offence may be such that an interim care order is made in favour of the local authority, which will accommodate the child in one of its community homes.

The problem arises when the child is violent, disturbed or an absconder and needs to be kept in secure accommodation—that is to say, accommodation in which the violent child can be restrained and the absconder contained. By no means every local authority has secure accommodation available, and some interchange between authorities takes place. On 1st November, according to information provided in response to my parliamentary Question, there were sufficient secure places in the whole of England and Wales for no more than 60 girls on remand, and in some areas there were no places at all.

If a child appearing before court is made the subject of an interim care order and the local authority believes that the child needs secure accommodation but has none available, the social worker can apply to the court for a certificate of unruliness. This will be issued by the court only if an application is made, and not of its volition. Before issuing such a certificate, the court must be satisfied that certain criteria laid down by the Home Office are met, in particular that the child is in need of secure accommodation and that none is available within the community home system.

If so satisfied, the court will issue the certificate and the child can then be accommodated in a prison establishment—that is to say, a remand home or a prison. As I have indicated, such certificates of unruliness were issued in respect of 101 girls in the most recent 12-month period. The House will understand, therefore, that the need to accommodate girls in prison has arisen entirely because satisfactory facilities have not been provided in the community home system.

The provision of secure accommodation within this system is the responsibility not of the Home Office but of the Department of Health and Social Security, and I am surprised and disappointed that no Minister from that Department is present for the debate. The importance of this aspect is indicated by the presence of my hon. Friend the Member for Wallasey (Mrs. Chalker) on the Opposition Benches, and it is unfortunate that no Minister from the Department of Health and Social Security is here.

To be fair, I should mention that the Department has a programme for substantially increasing the number of secure places, but at present there are only 60 places throughout the country and on the Minister's own admission at least four of these are out of use for lack of staff. My suspicion is that there may well be more than four out of action for that reason.

The future programme was detailed by the Secretary of State for Social Services in a reply to my right hon. Friend the Member for Wanstead and Woodford (Mr. Jenkin) on 17th November. I shall not burden the House with details of the programme, but a number of projects are not due for completion until the latter part of 1979 and some in 1980. There is even doubt as to whether there will be sufficient secure accommodation when the present programme has been completed.

In his reply to me on 7th November, the Minister of State said: I expect that when the present building programme is completed the programme will substantially meet the need for secure accommodation for girls under the age of 17".[Official Report, 7th November 1978; Vol. 957, c. 105.] That is a qualified answer which does not exactly exude an air of confidence. The truth is that the Department, as in certain other areas, has lacked a sense of urgency or even understanding of the importance of this problem. Earlier this year, a joint working party of the Magistrates Association, the Association of Metropolitan Authorities and the Association of County Councils, on which the Department was represented—indeed, one of its officials took the chair—examined amongst other matters the problem of secure accommodation for juveniles. Its report, issued in July, said in paragraph 56: Initially the Department of Health and Social Security also did not fully recognise the priority which should have been accorded to capital projects for children. That is quite an admission. The next paragraph made the very fair comment: The grants for the construction of secure accommodation are welcome although they will be limited in their effect as they do not cover running costs of this type of provision. However, more recently some action has been taken, and the current DHSS building programme for secure units holds out a reasonable hope that by 1980 or 1981 there will be adequate secure accommodation for girls.

But the order is due to come into effect on 1st January 1979. If it is implemented, what are local authorities to do with girls remanded to their care who are violent, disturbed or absconders? Paragraph 18 of the White Paper on the Children and Young Persons Act, referring to the phasing out of remand to prison establishments, said that this will have to be subject to the fullest consultation with local authorities. To be fair, I must mention that such consultation appears to have taken place, but to little effect. The Association of County Councils says that, having been consulted prior to the laying of the order, it has stressed that local authorities will have difficulty in providing sufficient secure accommodation by that time"— that is to say, 1st January 1979.

The director of social services in Leicestershire comments that the local authority associations have been consulted about the remand of young people to Prison Department establishments but have informed the Secretary of State that it was not possible to implement the order unless more resources were available.

What will the Secretary of State for Social Services have to say to social workers handling persistent absconders in the Midlands, East Anglia, the southern counties, the South-East—Kent, Surrey and Essex—in all of which regions there are no secure places for girls on remand? What will he say to social workers in the West Country if the two secure places for girls there are occupied, or in Lancashire, Liverpool and Manchester if the six places to cover all that area are full and they are without alternative accommodation for violent girls?

Mr. Robert Kilroy-Silk (Ormskirk)

I do not know what the Secretary of State will say, but is the hon. Gentleman trying to imply that persistent absconders—no other category—of the age of 15 or 16 ought to be remanded to prisons, to Hol- loway, when he would be the first to agree that we do not have the power to send them there when they are convicted of an offence? Is he implying that he would want to see these girls in prison when they are technically innocent of an offence when we cannot send them there when they are convicted?

Mr. Sims

Of course I am not implying that. I am saying that if, when a girl comes before a court and is remanded, the circumstances are such that the social worker feels that if that child goes home she may commit further offences, or that the home conditions are such that she should not go back there, it is desirable that that child should be put into accommodation from which she will not abscond. My argument is that there is an insufficiency of that kind of accommodation.

Of course, when the case is dealt with the child may be sent to a home. She may be released back into the community. If the court decides to send that child to a home, again, if she is liable to abscond, she will have to be put into long-term secure accommodation. I am referring purely to short-term remand secure accommodation, which is limited to the figures I have been quoting. What I am saying is that social workers, faced with such a child, will have no alternative facilities. Unless we have replies to these questions, the order should be withdrawn.

What will the Minister of State say to the magistrates at, for example, Chertsey, who comment: Such secure accommodation as is available in homes administered by the GLC can only be used by Chertsey juvenile court after the needs of the London courts have been satisfied"? There are only 16 secure places available for the whole of the Greater London area, four of which cannot at present be used because they are inadequately staffed.

What will the hon. Gentleman say to the Association of Magisterial Officers in Cornwall, which makes the point that if a girl in respect of whom at present an unruly certificate is issued is remanded in future to local authority care, she may continue to abscond, fail to appear at court and commit further offences, and that as that would occur whilst she was in the care of the local authority it might well result in claims for compensation being made against the authorities, which are technically responsible for failing to contain the girl?

What is the Minister's reaction to the magistrates at Solihull, whose case would, I know, have been put by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Solihull (Mr. Grieve) were he not abroad on European parliamentary business? The Solihull justices say that it is their experience over the past two years that there has been a marked increase in violent behaviour on the part of girls under the age of 17 years, and they have given me details of some of these cases which make horrifying reading. In one it needed six men to subdue a swearing and struggling girl before she could be taken to Risley remand centre.

What can Solihull do, faced with such a situation after 1st January? The Solihull justices pose the direct question: If the Secretary of State makes the order, the justices would ask what assurances he can give that secure places will be available in the vicinity of the court other than in prison establishments". I hope that the Minister of State can answer. I hope, too, that he can satisfy magistrates in Derbyshire, Nottinghamshire, South Lincolnshire and Humberside, who tell me that they have no secure places available to them, and in Hertfordshire, where the only two places are occupied most of the time.

Only last week in Horsham a certificate of unruliness had to be issued in respect of a girl described as an aggressive absconder, who is now in Holloway. At least in Sussex there are plans for six secure places at Hassocks, but they are to be built in 1980 for readiness in 1981. What is to happen to an aggressive absconder coming before the Sussex courts after 1st January. Again, if the Minister has no satisfactory answers to these questions, the order should be withdrawn.

The House should consider the wider implications of the order. If there is no secure accommodation for the type of girls I have described, and it is no longer possible to accommodate them in prison establishments, the social services must send them to their traditional community homes, where they are bound to be a disruptive, if not a literally destructive, influence and from which they are very liable to abscond and then commit further offences such as those involving house- breaking and violence, which brought them before the courts in the first place. Or there is the danger that, rather than face such a prospect, the social worker will simply send the girls back home, fom which, of course, they will continue their criminal activities.

I return to the point with which I started—that if there are adequate secure places for girls on remand the order is not needed. If there are not sufficient places, the order should not be made, and I think that I have clearly demonstrated that the latter is the case. Making the order is not the answer to the problem of inadequate secure accommodation. It makes no more sense than to seek to solve the prison overcrowding problem by forbidding courts to send people to prison.

The motives behind the order are entirely admirable and are fully supported on the Conservative Benches. Its timing is quite unrealistic. This is not a matter that should be one of controversy between the two sides of the House. We all have at heart the best interests of the community generally and of young offenders.

Mr. Max Madden (Sowerby)

Is the hon. Gentleman aware of the position in Humberside, an area to which he referred, where the regional children's committee, in consultation with the local authorities, is proposing to close a community home in my constituency, a home called Dobroyd Castle? Does not he think that, in view of the shortages of secure accommodation to which he has referred, before confirming the closure the Tory local authorities involved in the decision should at least consider the possibility of providing secure accommodation at Dobroyd Castle?

Mr. Sims

I am not familiar with the case to which the hon. Gentleman refers, but on the face of it there would be a case for the regional planning committee, which decides these matters, considering converting the home into secure accommodation. But it might not lend itself to that, and without knowing the details in that region I cannot comment. However, I take the hon. Gentleman's point.

I urge the Minister as strongly as I can to withdraw the order and bring it forward again when his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Services, on whom a great deal of responsibility in this matter lies, is in a position to offer adequate alternatives to prison for girls.

7.56 p.m.

Mr. Robert Kilroy-Silk (Ormskirk)

We have had another typical example of Tory Front Bench hypocrisy.

Mr. Edward Gardner (South Fylde)


Mr. Kilroy-Silk

Perhaps the hon. and learned Gentleman has not seen the newspapers today. They are all emblazoned with the news that the Tories will tonight oppose the order ending remands of 16-year-old girls to prison on unruly certificates. We have heard a very responsible, moderate, sensible speech from the same hon. Member, the hon. Member for Chislehurst (Mr. Sims), as issued that inflamatory press statement outside the House. Is not this yet another example of Tory hypocrisy, the attempt to play it both ways, to appear tough on the law and order issue outside the House and yet respectable and sensible when the Tories are properly confronted with the issue inside the Chamber?

Mr. Sims

I do not want to start a dogfight on this matter. I assure the hon. Gentleman that if he saw the press release that I issued I think he would agree that the statement he has seen in the press entirely misinterprets it. I made quite clear what were my views. My press release was a condensed version of what I have just said.

Mr. Kilroy-Silk

I must, and of course will, accept the hon. Gentleman's disclaimer. But it is clear from what the world has read that the Conservative Front Bench was officially opposing the order. That is not what the hon. Gentleman said in his speech. It is not what he is doing. We should stop the double talk and keep to one story at all times and all places, which is not what the Tory Party has been doing on this and other issues and on the so-called law and order issue generally.

It is no good the hon. Member for Wallasey (Mrs. Chalker) shaking her head in that severe, schoolmasterly fashion. [HON. MEMBERS: "Schoolmasterly?"] I used the word advisedly. I welcome, as the hon. Member for Chislehurst was unable to, and welcome enthusiastically, the Government's fulfilling a commitment that they have made repeatedly over several years to end the remand of schoolgirls to prison at the age with which the order deals.

The order is a limited attempt to make our prison system and our penal policy to some extent more civilised and more humane. It is limited because it applies only to girls, and then only to girls who are on unruly certificates and not to other categories of schoolgirls who are remanded. Most important, it is limited because it applies only to girls. Nevertheless, it is an important and welcome contribution, and I congratulate my hon. Friend the Minister and my right hon. Friends on having continued the progress that was started last year, when the remand of 15-year-old girls was ended by the Children and Young Persons Act 1969 (Transitional Modifications of Part I) Order 1977.

The impetus of ending remands of schoolchildren to prison department establishments has been generated by this Government. It has been this Government in the past four years, under severe difficulties, both financial and Parliamentarly, and in the face of political and public opinion constraints, who nevertheless have found themselves able first to end the remand of girls of 15, then in the Certificates of Unruly Character Conditions Order of August last year to tighten up the criteria by which girls of that age could be remanded to prison department establishments, thereby reducing the number of such remands, and now to end those remands altogether. Indeed, the order to which I have referred that tightened up the criteria which had to be satisfied before an unruly certificate could be granted for all schoolchildren led to a very sharp and immediate drop in the receptions of all 14 to 16-year-old schoolchildren at that time. The drop so far seems to have been maintained, though I suggest that it is rather too early to be optimistic about its results in the next year or so. But certainly the effect of the measures which the Government have taken so far are demonstrated by the figures to have had quite a significant impact on the number of such receptions into prison department establishments.

As I said, we are speaking about only a limited number of girls. We are not talking about all girls in this age group who are remanded to prison establishments, be they remand centres or local prisons. There were 231 girls between 14 and 16 who were received as untried prisoners in 1977 into prisons and prison department establishments, of whom the 101 referred to by the hon. Member for Chislehurst were girls on reception on unruly certificates. So a total of 231 schoolgirls aged between 15 and 16 were put into prisons—remand centres—which every hon. Member on both sides of the House has constantly criticised as being barbaric, inhumane, overcrowded and unsanitary institutions. Yet for some reason the hon. Member for Chislehurst suggests that if we have not the alternative resources elsewhere, though he agrees that it is not right and proper to legislate so that we can send girls of 14, 15 or 16 to prison when they are convicted, somehow he still finds it acceptable and desirable.

Mr. Sims


Mr. Kilroy-Silk

But the hon. Member has asked my right hon. Friend to withdraw this order. If he is asking for the order to be withdrawn, he is asking for the continuation of the remand of such girls to prisons on unruly certificates—not of the more serious category who form the total of that 231, but the less serious of the 231. That is why we are making this small but significant start. We are starting with the less serious—those on unruly certificates, not those sentenced to borstal training. Yet the hon. Member has suggested that even those who are least harmful, relatively, of that group should be sent to prison today, tomorrow and after January next year, when he is not prepared to say that we ought to legislate to send all 14-year-olds and above to prison once they have been convicted of offences.

That might be a perfectly tenable position, and I have no doubt that many right hon. and hon. Members would accept it and argue for it very strongly. But it is not the law. Unless someone argues that case and makes it, it is totally indefensible to say that we shall not allow the courts to sentence school children to prison but that we shall allow them to remand them to prison department establishments, remand centres and local prisons when they are considered to be unruly. That seems to me to be a totally indefensible position which can be justified only on administrative grounds of convenience, which is no justification at all.

Mr. Ivan Lawrence (Burton)

Does the hon. Member draw no distinction between the regime on remand in a prison and the regime which follows a prison sentence? Will he say which women's prisons girls are sent to on remand which are barbaric?

Mr. Kilroy-Silk

The regimes on remand and in prison are different theoretically, but in practice they are extremely similar. To all intents and purposes, a remand centre is no different. In many cases, its regime and living and working conditions may be worse than in many prisons. There are lots of so-called rights which remand prisoners possess but which they do not possess in fact in our present prison system.

I go back to the 231 girls. I am concerned not just to ensure that the order goes through but to go further so that we end the remand of all girls of 16 and under to all prison department establishments, whatever their regimes happen to be.

Of the 231 who were received into prison department establishments and in fact tried in 1971, three were eventually found not guilty. A staggering 147 of the 231 girls were eventually given noncustodial sentences. So we have a total of 150 of the 231 girls whom the courts decided eventually had committed offences which were not serious enough to warrant incarceration in any kind of institution, yet we had kept them in prisons, and the hon. Member for Chislehurst wants that situation to continue. We had imprisoned them in some cases for considerably long periods. Each of those 150 girls whom the courts, after the full process of law, decided were not guilty or had committed offences not serious enough to warrant any form of detention had in effect served prison sentences. To me, that is totally unjustifiable.

Mr. Patrick Mayhew (Royal Tunbridge Wells)

Does the hon. Member think on reflection that his last point is entirely fair? Surely there are many instances in which a court takes into account very properly the fact that a young person has been in custody for a period of weeks or possibly, regrettably, even months on remand and that that experience in itself has constituted sufficient punishment of a custodial nature to enable the court thereafter to say that the child or young person need no longer lose his or her liberty.

Mr. Kilroy-Silk

Of course, and the hon. and learned Member will know that very often the courts want a short, sharp remand. But let me make the point again that they are not entitled to do it once they have convicted, yet they will do it by the back door when children are still technically innocent. I accept that very often a non-custodial sentence will be given because it is felt that the offender has already been punished sufficiently whilst on remand. But I cannot accept the hypocrisy of that. I know that the hon. and learned Member was not supporting or defending it, but I am sure that he will agree with me that, to say the least, it is a hypocritical system of justice which will use a way of getting a person into prison when it is not possible to do it after the due process of the law.

Remanding children in prison is a back door, shoddy and despicable way of punishing them. If we want to punish them by imprisonment, if we believe that some children of that age are extremely difficult, very large, aggressive, recalcitrant and unruly, as the legal definition has it, and should be imprisoned from the age of 14, 12 or even 10, let us be honest about it, let us legislate and let us do it. But let us not have the continuing hypocrisy of saying "We do not treat children like that in our country, we have the Children and Young Persons Act, and we think in terms of welfare and not punishment, but we imprison them behind the scenes technically and as an administrative convenience", and then use the argument employed by the hon. and learned Member for Royal Tunbridge Wells (Mr. Mayhew).

I return again to the 231 girls to whom I referred just now, 150 of whom were found not guilty or given non-custodial sentences, many of them having spent weeks and in some cases months in prisons when they were all unconvicted and all technically innocent. We are still imprisoning, and we shall go on imprisoning even after this order is passed, a large number of girls who by our judicial 'procedures are still innocent of any offence at that time.

Now that we are celebrating, if it can be called that, the end of remanding at least one category of girls to prisons, perhaps we ought then to move on to ending the remand of boys—at least those who are on unruly certificates, if not for all boys between 14 and 16 years old who are remanded in prisons. In 1977, there were—

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Oscar Murton)

The debate has a very narrow scope. The hon. Member must confine himself to the desirability or otherwise of what is envisaged in the change of the minimum age for girls. We must not stray into the subject of boys, because the order does not concern itself with them.

Mr. Kilroy-Silk

With respect, Mr. Deputy Speaker, it is fair, when we are talking about the same categories of individuals, the same offences and the same conditions, to draw a comparison between how we are treating one special, privileged group, and how we are treating another group, which is less privileged.

There were 3,841 boys remanded in 1977, far fewer than the 4,500 remanded in 1976 or the 5,337 remanded in 1975. As with the girls on remand, there has been a considerable decrease in the number of boys in the age range 14 to 16 who have been remanded at prison department establishments. Just as a significant proportion of the girls are eventually found not guilty, or given a non-custodial sentence, so also is a large proportion of the boys in that age group. Of the 3,841 boys held on remand in 1977, 1,031 were eventually given a non-custodial sentence while 37 were eventually found not guilty.

The same kind of considerations which apply to 14 to 16-year-old girls apply equally to 14 to 16-year-old boys—

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. I have given the hon. Member some scope so that he could draw the analogy between the two sexes. He must not now start expatiating on the subject of boys. We are dealing in this debate with females.

Mr. Kilroy-Silk

You surprise me, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I knew—

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. I may surprise the hon. Gentleman, but that is my privilege.

Mr. Kilroy-Silk

What I was about to say, when I spoke of your surprising me, Mr. Deputy Speaker, was that I knew that l was sailing close to the wind when I decided to sail. You surprised me by exercising your privilege. I was hoping that you would not, at least not at this time of night. I accept your ruling. I was trying it on, and I had said most of what I wanted to say.

We have, for tactical and administrative reasons, moved towards ending the remand of these girls. I hope that the Minister will give a clear and specific commitment to the effect that he will be moving further along that progressive road leading to the end of the remand of all schoolgirls of that age. I trust that he will feel able to comment on that in his reply. My hope is that the Government will go on from that point to apply the same vigour and determination which they have demonstrated in seeking to end the remand of girls to ending the remand of 14-year-old boys and, perhaps in a year's time the remand of 15-year-old boys, culminating in ending the remand of all schoolboys.

I have some questions to ask my hon. Friend. Will he say what extra resources the Government have and will be providing, given that there is not sufficient secure accommodation within the community? This was a point made by the hon. Member for Chislehurst and it is one that I have made on many occasions. Insufficient resources have been allocated by successive Governments of all parties to allow the proper implementation of the spirit and intentions of the Children and Young Persons Act 1969. Can my hon. Friend confirm my understanding that there will be an approximate trebling of the number of secure places by 1980 as compared with the number inherited by the Labour Government from their predecessors?

It is all very well for Tory Members to claim that there is no alternative provision for the girls whom we have now decided not to remand in prison. They, too, were equally guilty, during their period of office, of failing to provide sufficient resources. They are responsible, as my hon. Friend the Member for Sowerby (Mr. Madden) pointed out, for closing down facilities in some areas and then getting Opposition Front Bench spokesmen to claim that there are insufficient places.

This issue is not the responsibility of my hon. Friend the Minister of State. We are discussing it tonight because of the lethargy of the Department of Health and Social Security—

Mr. Lawrence

Where is the Secretary of State?

Mr. Kilroy-Silk

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State should be here to defend and explain his position, not the Minister of State, Home Office. Unfortunately, as on so many occasions—and I have played my part in highlighting this point—the Home Office has to take the rap for the inefficiencies at the Department of Health and Social Security. This complaint concerns the remanding of schoolchildren into prison establishments because the Department of Health and Social Security has not provided sufficient resources to look after such people in the community. It concerns equally the treatment of alcoholics, vagrants or mentally abnormal offenders, and a variety of other categories of offenders about which the Home Office constantly has to answer questions, face criticism, and take the responsibility. The real responsibility lies with the Department of Health and Social Security, at which the criticism should be directed.

I reinforce the recommendation contained in the last report of the Expenditure Committee and ask why the Home Office does not charge the Department of Health and Social Security for all of the places which that Department causes to be taken in our prisons. There is a lot of money there. If we work it out on the basis of answers to parliamentary Questions, the cost is about £96 a week per person. My hon. Friend would be coining it, metaphorically.

I hope that my hon. Friend will take this point seriously. Local authorities adopt this approach. If they use the services of another authority, they must pay for it. This applies when they are sending children across the border to a neighbouring school, using community homes, old persons' homes and so on. When a local authority discovers that it is paying out a lot of money to another authority it often decides that it might as well build the facility itself.

If the Department of Health and Social Security had to pay £96 per week each for all the 3,841 boys remanded in 1977 that would amount to a lot of money. I leave out of consideration for the moment all the mentally abnormal offenders, the alcoholics and the vagrants. If the DHSS had to do this it may be that we would get all of the facilities that we all want. I hope that my hon. Friend will be slightly more aggressive in pushing the DHSS so that, later in the year, he will be able to come to the House with a further order ending the remanding of boys aged 14 and then, a little later, with a similar order applying to boys aged 15.

8.18 p.m.

Mr. Edward Gardner (South Fylde)

The hon. Member for Ormskirk (Mr. Kilroy-Silk) has said much tonight with which I and hon. Members on both sides of the House would agree. However, he spoils his case with his wild political comments, which can do nothing but undermine our faith in his general judgment.

This order will have the effect, as my hon. Friend the Member for Chislehurst (Mr. Sims) has pointed out, of making it impossible for the courts to issue certificates of unruliness in respect of girls under the age of 17. The result will be that these girls will be sent to ordinary community homes. The inevitable risk will be that their presence will disrupt the regime of the home, and—I think it ought to be faced by the Home Office—will put in peril the other children in the home. The law at present allows unruly girls of 15 and 16 to be committed to remand centres, or prison if there are no remand centres available. I join the hon. Member for Ormskirk when I say, in sympathy with hon. Members on both sides of the House, that it is appalling that children should end up in remand centres or, indeed, in prison.

It is equally appalling that unruly girls aged 15 and 16 should be sent to ordinary community homes, thus putting in peril the public at large because they can easily escape from such homes. I shall be pleased to hear the Minister's comments about the danger of such girls putting in peril the safety of other children in those community homes.

The Minister of State, Home Office (Mr. Brynmor John)

If there were sufficient secure places available, I presume that the hon. and learned Member would not make such criticisms.

Mr. Gardner

The Minister has anticipated my next argument. There is not sufficient accommodation. Where there are disruptive and violent children who qualify under the present law as children whose character is so unruly that they cannot be safely committed to the care of a local authority, one must face the question: where they are to be sent? What are we to do with them? The bleak fact is that behind the order lies the absence of secure community homes to which such children can be sent.

The responsibility for the provision of community homes is that of the Department of Health and Social Security. The responsibility for the provision of community homes and for the care of unruly girls of this age should rest with one Department, or with two Departments which can work together.

I understand that what the Department of Health and Social Security does with its right hand is foreign and unknown to the Home Office, which might act in a different way. There seems to be no cooperation or co-ordination. If the Home Office had an effective influence over the Department of Health and Social Security and an active Home Secretary who was determined to solve the problem, we should now have a programme for building more community homes.

I suggest to the Minister that the time has come when we can no longer talk about the lack of resources. We must now talk about the essential need for more community homes and the proper use of them. I suggest that there should be more than one type of community home. There should be three categories. We should have the ordinary community home which we now have, another category which would provide security but not the strictest type of security, and the fully secure community home to be used for the worst cases. No Government can escape such a programme.

The resources can be met partly by reducing other programmes of development in penal establishments. I do not suggest that the prisons should suffer. Other penal establishments could stand a reduction in the funds spent upon them. Such funds saved could be diverted to building community homes.

I am anxious to see such a programme because without it the Government will be faced, as they are now, with a lack of community homes and the dangers to the community caused by children who can escape too easily from ordinary community homes. Such children are enabled to return to their criminal associates and to participate in the crimes for which they were originally sentenced. There is nothing to discipline children of that kind.

I urge the Minister to consider urgently the building of such homes. I hope that he will do all he can to encourage the Department of Health and Social Security to co-operate with him. All shades of political opinion, magistrates, social workers and committees composed of Members on both sides of the House agree that we should have an amendment to the Children and Young Persons Act 1969 which would give the courts the power to send children who fall into this and similar categories to secure community homes. Such homes are not available at present.

8.27 p.m.

Mr. Max Madden (Sowerby)

At the centre of the debate is the opposition of many hon. Members to the prospect of children on remand having to spend time in prison. That is repugnant to all hon. Members and all sections of the public.

Can the Minister give us some information about the length of time that children have been subjected to confinement in prison while they are on remand? There are different regimes for those who are on remand and those who have been sentenced. But none of us is under any illusion about the shattering impact on a child of spending any time in prison, whatever the regime. We must all be anxious about providing accommodation to avoid any child having to spend time in prison while on remand. I should welcome some information on the number of children who have been so imprisoned.

The hon. Member for Chislehurst (Mr. Sims) took us on a tour of the United Kingdom and ask the Minister of State a number of questions about the situation in various parts of the United Kingdom.I shall ask my hon. Friend for some information confined to one part of the United Kingdom—namely, Yorkshire and Humberside.

I preface my remarks by expressing regret that the Department of Health and Social Security is not represented in the Chamber this evening. I have been in correspondence with the Department and I have tabled a number of Questions on the threatened closure of Bobroyd Castle community home in my constituency.

The brief history is that Calderdale council, the local authority, in consultation with the regional children's committee, is contemplating closing the home in the early part of next year. The main reason, so far as I have been able to comprehend it, is that it believes that future provision will not warrant keeping open the community home. Secondly, a number of predominantly Conservative-controlled authorities have withdrawn from the pooling arrangements which provided necessary finance for community homes in York shire and Humberside. That has been an important factor in the threatened closure of the home.

It does not seem that the Department of Health and Social Security has a total say in deciding whether a community home remains open and the finances that are made available for such a home. In the replies that I have received, I have been told that the final decision rests with the local authority—namely, Calder-dale council—in consultation with the regional children's committee. The Secretary of State has an opportunity only to approve the deletion of any community home from the regional plan of a region. It is a curious position and it seems that a major interest and influence lie with local authorities, including, in view of the composition of local government at present, predominantly Tory-controlled authorities.

In the replies that I have received, I have been told that over the next three years the number of community home places that are expected to be necessary in Yorkshire and Humberside will decline compared with the number provided since 1971. I find that interesting. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State says that he has no reason to query those forecasts. I shall be extremely grateful if the Minister of State will make inquiries with a view to assuring us that the forecasts are correct. There is expected to be an increase in the number of girls who will be in need of community home places, but the number of places needed for boys is expected to fall quite sharply.

The home to which I have referred was supervised until 1971 by the Home Office. I do not think that many will disagree with me when I say that during the time that the Home Office was in charge of the home it was not exactly lavish with expenditure. There has been considerable neglect of the buildings. Responsibility must be laid at the threshold of the Home Office.

If we have nothing else from the debate, I should like an assurance from my hon. Friend the Minister that he will make urgent inquiries and undertake maximum consultation with the Department of Health and Social Security to ensure that everything possible is done to prevent a final decision being taken to close the community home unless and until the Home Office and the DHSS are entirely confident that closure is justified based on expected demand.

Secondly, I should like to know what provision is now made for secure accommodation within the Yorkshire and Humberside region. That seems to be the second pertinent point to arise from the debate. It will be helpful if my hon. Friend gives some indication of the present provision of secure accommodation within the community home network and the expected provision within the foreseeable future.

I join with those who have given a welcome to the order. Everything should be done to ensure that there is adequate and proper provision of secure accommodation within the community home service and that no girl or boy is subjected to any time in prison awaiting remand. The Government should endeavour to abolish the periods spent in prison as quickly as possible in the knowledge that that approach will receive the support of both sides of the House and the support of the overwhelming majority of the general public.

8.35 p.m.

Mr. Patrick Mayhew (Royal Tunbridge Wells)

The hon. Member for Sowerby (Mr. Madden) has properly and usefully drawn attention to a problem in his part of the world, and this is just the sort of debate which gives hon. Members the rare opportunity to do that.

I shall comment on some of the hon. Gentleman's remarks later, but I start by asking the Minister three questions. First, does he acknowledge that there is any need for secure accommodation for children? Secondly, does he consider that there is enough secure accommodation? Thirdly, why is the order being brought forward now?

The first question answers itself. Anyone with experience of the capacity of a very small minority of young people to commit violent offences must recognise that there is a need for secure accommodation when a care order is made. If we do not agree on that, we disagree on one of the most important factors in this problem.

As to whether there is enough secure accommodation, I have only to say that there is none in Kent. The comments of my hon. Friend the Member for Chislehurst (Mr. Sims) show that that situation obtains in a very wide area in the country. I see that the Minister is shaking his head. I look forward to hearing what he has to say in rebuttal. I know that in my constituency children who are placed in secure accommodation have to go north of the river into Middlesex.

If there is not enough secure accommodation and the Government recognise that fact, we have to ask why the order is being introduced now. All of us in the rather sparsely attended Chamber are deeply interested in this problem and we agree that it is offensive for children and young people to be remanded into prison or to serve prison sentences.

However, we must decide which interest is to be put uppermost. Should we always put the interest of the offender, or the person accused of an offence, above the interest of the people in the area where that young person has been living? It is often a difficult decision, but in the end one must put the community interest uppermost.

My hon. and learned Friend the Member for South Fylde (Mr. Gardner) spoke about young people escaping from community homes. There is hardly a question of having to escape from those homes, because children have only to walk out through an unlocked door when there is no secure accommodation. Time and again there have been examples of young people leaving community homes and committing one offence after another.

I believe that community homes can work. I do not share the view that they are a misconceived idea which cannot work. I have an example in my constituency of a home that is highly successful because it carries the approval, confidence and support of the community. Such homes cannot succeed without the confidence of the community. If they do not have that confidence, they are not community homes, because they derive nothing from the community.

I have also, alas, an example of that latter category in my constituency—a home that was burnt down as a result of arson only a month ago. I am being besieged by constituents who ask me to help them to ensure that the home is not rebuilt. I sympathise with their view, but I have declined to support them because I believe that the community home must work. It can do so only if it has the confidence of the community, and it will get that confidence only if it has secure accommodation. That is what we are asking for.

At the moment, how can I persuade those in my constituency who are worried for the safety of their community, worried for their own safety, worried for the safety of their property and their children, and perhaps worried about the safety of elderly people, that they can have confidence in a reopened home unless it is to have secure accommodation incorporated in it?

I am told tonight by Labour Members that this is the fault solely of county councils. That is not true. The rate support grant has been cut in the rural areas. The Department of Health and Social Security also has a part to play, in which it has fallen down. I condemn the absence from the debate tonight of a Minister from that Department.

I hope that the Minister will answer the three questions that I ventured to put to him. I have an idea what those answers must be. Why, therefore, is the order being brought forward when there is not nearly enough secure accommodation? At the end of the day, the security of the community must be uppermost. Sad, offensive and regrettable though it may be that in a certain very small number of extreme cases a young person should be committed on remand to a prison, in the absence of secure accommodation in the community homes that must continue to happen.

8.41 p.m.

Mr. Ivan Lawrence (Burton)

I too, Mr. Deputy Speaker, shall be short. We are all agreed in this place that it is thoroughly undesirable that girls aged 15 and 16 should ever be sent to prison on remand. There is no point in arguing that, because we are all at one. The question before the House is this: is the order sensible?

Bearing in mind that there is nowhere else to send girls who are unruly, bearing in mind that the public have a right to be protected against those who are likely to be violent or unruly, and bearing in mind that unruly orders would not have been made if these girls had not been the sort of girls against whom the public needs to be protected, is it sensible to say to the magistrates "You cannot remand them anywhere in safe keeping until such time as the matter is tried?"

If I were to go back to my constituents over the weekend and say that I had supported a measure which removed all restraint from the albeit relatively few girls who are in need of some restraint—because that is the nature of the order—my constituents would think me mad.

The hon. Member for Ormskirk (Mr. Kilroy-Silk) is attacking the wrong target when he attacks Conservatives. He should be attacking the Government, with all the force at his disposal, for failing to provide a decent alternative form of secure accommodation for these girls aged 15 and 16. He should devote all his attention to his Government, where he will have more effect than in attacking us for doubting the common sense of the order.

It can be said, and it ought to be said, that it is possible, of course, to exaggerate the argument that it is barbaric and that it is wholly useless to send girls to these establishments, for even a short period of time. It may be that Risley is barbaric, but I do not think that Holloway is barbaric. There is a difference between a remand regime and a prison regime. You can rest assured, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that the prison officers at these establishments try, at their best, to make sure that the worst influences of the prison regime are not visited upon young girls on remand who have not yet been tried.

Hon. Gentlemen may say that it is hypocritical, but so much in our system has emerged so roughly through the ages that it appears with our modern viewpoint and the benefit of hindsight to be hypocritical. The fact remains that many judges, knowing that not only young girls but all sorts of offenders, having had a glimpse of the really repulsive existence that faces them in prison if they offend again, are deterred from doing something that they might otherwise have been tempted to do, are inclined to impose a custodial sentence.

Counsel who appear often say "My client, having spent two, three or four weeks inside that establishment, is terrified by what he has seen." Their being terrified is a reason for feeling perhaps that such people have learnt something and will be deterred from offending in that way again. It may be illogical or even hypocritical, but there is a practical value there which should not be underestimated. Indeed, the courts' thinking often is that perhaps a person has been deterred.

The matter goes closer than that. Prison officers are convinced that early acquaintance with prisons by offenders of all ages is sometimes the strongest deterrent that could ever be advanced. Prison officers throughout the country would tell the hon. Member for Ormskirk, if he were to ask them, that we waste a good deal of our time in the penal system trying to keep people out of prison until it is too late to deter them from any form of criminal conduct when perhaps they should be given a glimpse of imprisonment and what it means at an early age. Therefore, although I do not press the point, because it is not the strongest of points against the order, I suggest that we should consider whether girls of 15 or 16 who are on the threshold of uncontrollability, of delinquency, seeing what a prison is like, even from the viewpoint of a remand regime, and seeing, hearing and talking to those inside, would be deterred.

Mr. John

If I follow the hon. Gentleman's argument aright, he is calling for a reversal of the Criminal Justice Acts and, paradoxically, wanting to make it easier to imprison people the younger they are rather than when they become adults. Is that what he is advocating?

Mr. Lawrence

I am making the point in a general way—I hope, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that you will permit me to make it, because it is serious and important—that if offenders of any age are shown at an early stage what imprisonment means, they may be deterred from taking part in further criminality. At present, we tend to keep that deterrent until the very last moment when perhaps a person has got into the habit of offending and of having sentences imposed which are no longer more than pats on the head and farewells, and prison is no longer a deterrent. Such a person then has to be imprisoned for years. I suggest that a short, sharp sentence at an earlier age might have had a more deterrent effect. I am not saying this off the top of my head. This is what seasoned prison officers who have seen the effect of imprisonment upon inmates have put to me in a number of cases in different parts of the country.

Mr. Madden

The hon. Gentleman seemed in the earlier part of his speech to share with the rest of us a repugnance at children being put in prison, but in the latter part of his speech he seemed to contradict that view. From his experience with young offenders and others, does he agree that one can hypothesise about the effect of prison on young children encouraging them to further criminal activities? Secondly, does he agree that, especially among young people, a term of imprisonment can sometimes be a status symbol and that we should be wary of placing that on the shoulders of children?

Mr. Lawrence

I concede the two points made by the hon. Gentleman, but he misunderstands the burden of my argument. I concede that it is thoroughly undesirable to allow girls of 15 and 16 to be kept in prison for any length of time, but the case is not as bad as it is sometimes painted because there are certain compensating advantages. Of course, they may not compensate for anything like the degree of blame which can be attributed to a system which perpetrates this form of barbarity as it has been portrayed. Nevertheless, the picture is not necessarily in all establishments quite as bad as it is painted.

All of us in this place, whether we have said so or whether it has merely been the burden of our argument, are focusing on the need for Government action. Whether it is the responsibility of the Minister of State, Home Office, or the Secretary of State for Social Services does not for the moment concern me. It is high time that the Government remedied the evil of the shortage of secure accommodation where these young can be kept, so that society may be protected while the young people are treated in a humane and decent way. Until that is done, there is no sense in an order such as this. It is for that reason that this side of the House was perfectly right to have objected to its production.

8.52 p.m.

The Minister of State, Home Office (Mr. Brynmor John)

One purpose that this debate will serve is to disabuse hon. Members, particularly Conservative Members, of their widespread misconceptions about the order and about the availability of accommodation, particularly secure accommodation, in the present system.

I should first like to lay the groundwork for what has been universally agreed to be the correctness of what we are doing. The Eleventh Report of the Expenditure Committee suggested three years ago that the practice of remanding juveniles to adult prisons should cease forthwith, and the Government accepted the recommendation.

More important, and more recently, the working party of the magistrates and local authorities also took the view very strongly that boy sand girls under 17 should not be remanded to prison department accommodation, and again expressed the hope that rapid progress would be made. It is against the background of the need to provide secure care accommodation that we have had to decide on how we phase it in. The first decision by the Government, which was implemented in March 1977, was the ending of the remanding of 14-year-old girls to prison department custody and accommodation.

The same objections were made by the local authorities when that was done as are being made in this debate by the Opposition on their behalf. In practice, it has been shown that not one of them has been borne out. The local authorities have been able to cope without any undue difficulty. I hope, therefore, that hon. Members will not take the easy answer that because people complain this necessarily shows the inability of the authorities to meet the situation. Sometimes authorities need a prod to do what is right.

Secondly, we then made tighter rules with regard to certificates of unruly character. Those took effect on 1st August last year. They narrowed the criteria on which certificates of unruliness could be made. My hon. Friend the Member for Ormskirk (Mr. Kilroy-Silk) said that it is perhaps too early to have a settled view on what effect that has had on the numbers. But, so far as it goes, it has certainly had an encouraging effect. It has reduced by some 20 per cent. the total number of remands of juveniles to prison department establishments. That, too, plays a part in the pattern we are furthering tonight.

We then faced the problem of how to take the next step. We were conscious of the number of secure places available. The hon. and learned Member for Royal Tunbridge Wells (Mr. Mayhew) was at his best when he asked me three questions. However, his speech when he tried to develop them was rather less good.

Mr. Kilroy-Silk

It is par for the course.

Mr. John

It may be par for the course, as my hon. Friend says. We have all been round that course often enough. We accept the need for secure accommodation. Therefore, we considered whether the next extension should be to 14-year-old boys, but the number of 600 to 700, in the light of the present number of secure places available, ruled this out. The decision we made to move to the next category, of 15 to 16-year-old girls, did not rest entirely on the factor of numbers. Because there is no detention centre provision for girls, a girl of this age who is brought before the court must be sentenced to borstal training, local authority care, or a non-custodial sentence. There are only those possibilities.

In regard to those who are committed to a magistrates' court with a view to borstal training, a certificate of unruliness is not required for a remand in custody. I wish to make it clear that in that category there will still be a power for girls of that age to be remanded to prison department accommodation.

In this instance we are dealing with those girls in respect of whom either local authority care or a non-custodial penalty would be the sentence. My point is that since local authorities in many cases would have to look after those girls after sentence, it is appropriate that we should move in a direction that would extend their care to pre-sentencing as well as to what happens afterwards.

Mr. Kilroy-Silk

My hon. Friend has mentioned girls on remand who may be sentenced to borstal training. He will recall that I asked whether any progress was being made in ending those remands. Can he throw any light on the Government's intentions in that respect?

Mr. John

Before I reply to my hon. Friend, I will give way to the hon. and learned Member for South Fylde (Mr. Gardner).

Mr. Gardner

I am seeking information. Is the Minister suggesting that girls of 15 and 16 can be remanded to borstal for the period in which they are awaiting trial? I agree with him that they can be committed to a borstal institution by order of the court, but is he satisfied that that is a suitable order for a girl? Would it not be better to have community homes with secure accommodation?

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Myer Galpern)

Order. We appear to be adopting a new practice of gathering up all the interventions. Perhaps before the Minister replies I should ask the House whether there are any further interventions.

Mr. John

I was trying to have a package tour of interventions to save time in the long run. I wish to tell my hon. Friend the Member for Ormskirk that we want to proceed further as secure accommodation becomes available. I am sug- gesting how we should determine our priorities.

I think that the hon. and learned Member for South Fylde must have been listening to a different speech from that which I made. Certainly I did not say that borstal training could be awarded before sentence. What I was saying was that in regard to those remanded by the magistrates to the Crown court, a certificate of unruliness is not required and therefore they are outside the scope of that order. I hope that that is now clear to all hon. Members.

The nub of the case relates to numbers and whether there exist a sufficient number of secure places to justify this order. I congratulate the hon. Member for Chislehurst (Mr. Sims) because I have had a lonely eminence in this matter and I am glad to find somebody who uses figures as badly as I do. The hon. Gentleman mentioned the figure of 101 certificates of unruliness granted in the first nine months of this year.

Let me give a breakdown of those figures. The issuing of 101 certificates of unruliness does not mean that 101 people are dealt with, because, as hon. Gentlemen will know, a certificate of unruliness is initially granted for three weeks, beyond which a further certificate has to be granted. This comes back to the point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Sowerby (Mr. Madden). It is extremely unlikely that any girl will be remanded in custody for longer than a month. But sometimes it happens, in which case the number of certificates does not equal the number of offenders. That is the first point to be made, namely, that 101 certificates of unruliness does not necessarily mean that 101 girls have been dealt with.

Mr. Sims

I hope that my figures are correct, because I have taken them from the hon. Gentleman's Department's replies to my own Questions. In answer to a Question dated 7th November, I was told that in the 12-month period October 1977 to September 1978, 132 certificates were issued. I then asked for a breakdown and was told that they were in respect of 101 girls. I used the figure of 101. Therefore, we are talking about 101 girls in a 12-month period.

Mr. John

The hon. Gentleman only confirms my being one step up the ladder of numeracy, because although he has not realised it we are taking a different base date. I was talking about the first nine months of this year, whereas he took a 12-month period. However, I accept that 132 certificates were made during that 12-month period. But in 24 cases more than one certificate was issued in respect of the same girl. Therefore, although 101 certificates of unruliness have been made this year, fewer individuals than that are involved.

However, this is an aggregate. It does not mean, as the hon. Gentleman was understood to say on radio this morning, that because 101 girls have had certificates made against them, whereas we have only 66 places, accommodation must be inadequate and, therefore, the order cannot possibly be made. The fact is that the number of girls who are remanded under certificates of unruliness average 12 at any one time. The largest number in any single month last year was 18. Therefore, we are really talking about 18 girls with certificates of unruliness made against them, whereas there are 66 units of secure accommodation. On those figures there is absolutely no question but that there are sufficient secure care places to enable this order to go through.

For six of the nine months about which I am talking, the number of certificates issued did not exceed 10. The largest number in any one region was six, so we are talking about comparatively small numbers. We are certainly not talking about 100 girls being foisted upon secure care accommodation at any one time. In fact, taking the figure of 18, we would have room to treble the maximum number of certificates of unruliness which have been made in the first nine months of this year and still have spare accommodation. I hope that that disposes entirely of the argument that insufficient units of accommodation are available.

As I have said, 66 units of secure accommodation are available. Of these, as the hon. Member for Chislehurst has said, four are at present out of operation because there is a shortage of staff. The Department of Health and Social Security has consulted the local authority concerned and I have the assurance that by the time this order comes into operation—on 1st January—those four units will be in commission. Therefore, we shall have 66 in operation.

Mr. Lawrence: If the hon. Member is right and there is always sufficient secure accommodation, why do so many magistrates think, on the advice of the social service workers, that there is not? Can he explain why so many applications are made for unruliness certificates in the first place if there is adequate accommodation?

Mr. Mayhew

Surely the Minister's argument depends for its validity upon the premise that the existing secure accommodation is vacant and ready to take the additional 16, which is about 25 per cent. The information one receives is that it is nearly always full.

Mr. Madden


Mr. Deputy Speaker

We do not have enough places for all hon. Members.

Mr. John

As I understand the situation, and I have checked this very carefully, the accommodation is available for this purpose.

Mr. Mayhew

But is it vacant?

Mr. John

Available means vacant. Replying to the hon. Member for Burton (Mr. Lawrence), I cannot speculate why people say what they do. Often they persist in saying things that are contrary to all evidence. In due course I shall deal with the amount of secure care accommodation available in some areas to which allusion has been made by the hon. Member for Chislehurst.

Mr. Robin Hodgson (Walsall, North)


Mr. John

No, I shall not give way. The hon. Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Hodgson) has been out of this debate for a long time. I intend to answer those hon. Members who have sat here throughout the debate.

The amount of secure accommodation obviously varies from region to region. Within a global sum we have lack of provision in some areas and adequate provision in others. Again I have checked, and there is a method whereby local authorities can co-operate with each other and can make available secure care accommodation on a swap system between the different regions. Where there is a shortage in any particular area accommodation can be made available in another area.

If we are to make the best possible use of the available accommodation provided, it is for local authorities to cooperate to the full and utilise all that accommodation.

Mr. Hodgson


Mr. John

No, I shall not give way.

Mr. Hodgson


Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. I hope that I shall not have to issue a certificate of unruliness.

Mr. John

The hon. Member for Walsall, North seems to think that he has to get up in order to make his mark on a register when he returns to the Chamber. I will not give way to him, and I hope that that is tolerably clear to him.

There can be an argument that the secure accommodation may take the young girl some miles from her home but that also happens at present in the remand system. The hon. Member for Chislehurst said that there are 45 girls on remand at Risley. For there to be that number they must have come from a very wide catchment area. Therefore, that is not a true argument against making this order.

The hon. Member for Chislehurst also asked why the order was necessary. The answer is that sometimes there is either inadequate knowledge of the availability of accommodation or an insufficient search for that accommodation. Therefore, the justification for the order is that a sufficient and proper search be made for the acommodation within the local authority bounds. Therefore, I believe it to be justified on that ground.

I accept, as do all of us who accept the philosophy of the 1969 Act, that, progressively, people under the age of 17 ought not to be remanded to prison department accommodation, but that will depend upon the availability of secure places. I was asked about the resources devoted by the Government towards community homes generally and secure places. Since 1974, there has been a 30 per cent. increase in spending on children's services. Loan approvals for community homes have totalled over £35 million, in addition to the £5 million made available for secure places.

I can confirm that by the end of 1980 the number of secure places will have trebled as compared with the position that we inherited in 1974. Hon. Members opposite, with all the accretion of virtue which comes from long occupation of the Opposition Benches, say that the Government should have provided more. Yet we have done very much better than the Conservative Government did between 1970 and 1974. I repeat that there will be a trebled availability by the end of 1980.

Mr. Raymond Whitney (High Wycombe)

There will be a trebled need for them.

Mr. John

I doubt that very much. If the hon. Gentleman thinks that to be the situation, no amount of accommodation, no amount of building, will keep pace with that sort of increase in remands. But it is not borne out by the experience of the past five years, and I see no reason why last year should prove so gloomy even in the hon. Gentleman's own forecasts.

The hon. and learned Member for South Fylde said that it is no longer right to talk about lack of resources. I sit on this Bench in some pretty unlikely circumstances, listening to a party which constantly talks about the need to cut public expenditure further but then says that it is no argument to claim that we lack the resources. Such an attitude is a display of double standards. I know that the hon. and learned Gentleman has a close interest in these matters, and I put to him that it is no use the Conservative economic spokesman saying that in general there should be a massive cut-back in public expenditure while his colleagues suggest that for the provisions of secure accommodation we should have more expenditure.

The hon. and learned Gentleman suggested that it could be done at the expense of other penal establishments. What other penal establishments? He did not specify. Surely it could not possibly be the community service orders or the exciting developments in penology, for which both sides of the House can take credit. As ever, the proposal was marked by vagueness, perhaps to satisfy people's consciences that we can provide sufficient secure places and money can be found for it.

The hon. and learned Gentleman said that the unanimous voice of social workers, magistrates, and so on, was that we should put the matter back to the courts to make secure accommodation orders. But that is not true. The magistrates have made no secret of their belief, and I have made no secret of my belief that they are wrong on this point, but the working party found that amongst the local authorities and amongst many magistrates there was a unanimous belief that the 1969 Act was the basis upon which the future of our care of young people had to rest, and that the local authorities, which included social workers, were unanimously of the view that the situation about secure care should remain as it is.

My hon. Friend the Member for Sowerby asked me a number of questions. I have dealt with the question about the length of remand. Let me deal with the question of Yorkshire and Humberside. At present there are five secure care places there, and there are plans for a further four to be built. The maximum number of girls remanded in custody at any one time in the past nine months was three, and the total in the past nine months was eight. Therefore, my hon. Friend will see that the provision of nine such places not only gives us ample for the present needs but a cushion against the sort of expansion that the hon. and learned Member for Royal Tunbridge Wells suggested in an aside might be experienced.

I return to the points made by the hon. and learned Gentleman and his questions. First, do I accept the need for secure care? Yes. I do. Secondly, is there enough secure care? In my view, on the figures I have given, there is no question but that there is sufficient.

The hon. Member for Chislehurst mentioned the West Midlands and said that magistrates there had told him that there was no secure care. In fact, there are 11 places for secure care. Another three are under construction, which will make a total of 14. If I may say so—and I do not criticise the hon. Gentleman for this—this is an example of the sort of weakness that outside bodies get into through giving subjective judgments and subjective impressions. They are not always wholly aware of what is available. They are not wholly aware of how the present system can be used effectively.

Mr. Lawrence

The point is that the Department of Health and Social Security tells them. There is the example of Walsall, where the court phoned 58 times in September to obtain a place, and the DHSS allocated a place to a girl in February.

Mr. John

I should like details of that case, but as far as we are concerned—and it cannot be gainsaid—there are enough places available. There are arrangements for flexibility in their use. When the hon. and learned Member for Royal Tunbridge Wells asks why, then, we issue the order now, I reply "Because it is now possible and because we believe that now is the right time to end a system which"—even if one uses a milder adjective than that used by my hon. Friend the Member for Ormskirk—" amounts to an extremely undesirable state of affairs for girls of 15 and 16."

Therefore, I hope that the House will be reassured as to the numbers and as to the provision being made, both now and in the immediate future, and will accept that the order should now come into force.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved, That the Children and Young Persons Act 1969 (Transitional Modifications of Part I) Order 1978, he not made in the form of the draft laid before this House on 1st August 1978 in the last Session of Parliament.