HC Deb 26 July 1979 vol 971 cc857-60
2. Mr. Andrew F. Bennett

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department what consultations he has had and with whom in relation to the introduction of a residential or secure care order for juveniles.

22. Mr. Kilroy-Silk

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department what consultations he has had and with whom in relation to the introduction of a residential or secure care order for juveniles.

24. Mr. Arthur Davidson

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department what plans he has to change the procedures for the detention and treatment of juvenile offenders.

The Minister of State, Home Office (Mr. Leon Brittan)

The Government are pressing ahead with considering how best to strengthen the powers of the courts in relation to young offenders. We shall carry out appropriate consultations as soon as we are ready to do so.

Mr. Bennett

Does the Minister agree with the local authority associations' view that, with their assessment facilities, they are best equipped to decide the needs of the young person for a residential place, fostering with a family, and that sort of thing? How would residential care orders and secure orders be varied during their operation if it became obvious that, either for the needs of the community or those of the young person, they needed to be varied?

Mr. Brittan

The way in which any orders would be varied is a detailed point that we are still considering and on which we shall be interested to hear the views of the bodies concerned when we proceed to consultations. The general question whether there is room for a residential care order has a wide degree of support in the country.

Several Hon. Members rose

Mr. Speaker

Order. I propose to call first those hon. Members whose questions are being answered.

Mr. Kilroy-Silk

As no court has the power to determine the precise custodial conditions for adults, why do the Government consider it important that the courts should have more power over schoolchildren, particularly as more than 70 per cent. of young people living in institutions re-offend? Would it not be a more constructive approach to the problem of juvenile crime to emphasise the value of alternatives to custody rather than to embark upon a lengthy and expensive custodial programme?

Mr. Brittan

I agree with the importance of alternatives to custody, and the Government's massive support for the recent conference on intermediate treatment showed that they appreciate that to the full. On the other hand, I think that there is room also for a residential care order. The contrast that the hon. Gentleman seeks to draw between adults and juveniles is not valid, because courts have power to order custody for adults, whereas at present the law is somewhat different for juveniles.

Mr. Davidson

What representations has the Minister received from, or what consultations has he had with, magistrates in juvenile courts? He will be aware that magistrates have great difficulty in finding suitable places for young offenders, and therefore in passing what they consider to be suitable sentences. Incidentally, I applaud most of the hon. and learned Gentleman's remarks today.

Mr. Brittan

As I indicated in my earlier answer, the process of consultation has not yet begun.

Mr. Bevan

Will my hon. and learned Friend set up an inquiry into the early release from Her Majesty's prisons of criminals who have served but a fraction of their sentence?

Mr. Brittan

I should certainly be interested in any information that my hon. Friend has on this matter, but it does not relate to the question of a care order or residential care order for juveniles.

Dr. Summerskill

Will the Minister bear in mind that under the previous Government a code of conduct was drawn up between magistrates and social services departments for handling these care orders? Will he ask for a report on how that code of conduct has operated, before he goes any further with this matter?

Mr. Brittan

I certainly regard the code of conduct to which the hon. Lady referred as a most constructive and useful development. When considering how to go further we shall want to take account of the effects of that code.

Mr. Edward Lyons

Will the Minister accept that any change such as transferring powers from social services to magistrates would mean a large increase in the number of secure care and residential orders? How would that fit in with the shortage of accommodation and the need for the Government to spend large sums of money to create more places, which would go against their policy of cutting public expenditure?

Mr. Brittan

The hon. and learned Gentleman's assessment of the effect of a change of the kind that he mentioned must necessarily be somewhat speculative. I do not think that one can draw the conclusions that he has drawn from the change, the precise nature of which has not yet been worked out, still less announced.