HC Deb 25 June 1991 vol 193 cc929-42

Lords amendment: No. 74 in page 33, line 12, at end insert— (3) For the purpose of facilitating the attendance in court of parents or guardians, the youth court in each area shall hold at least one sitting fortnightly outside the times at which the court normally sits if in the opinion of the court this is justified by the number of cases where to require a parent or guardian to attend court at the times at which the court normally sits would jeopardise the employment of the parent or guardian or would be undesirable for any other reason.

Mr. John Patten

I beg to move, That this House doth disagree with the Lords in the said amendment.

Madam Deputy Speaker

With this it will be convenient to take the following: Lords amendment No. 75.

Lords amendment No. 76, in clause 49, page 34, line 16, leave out from "years" to end of line 18 and insert—

  1. "(a) to exercise those powers if it is satisfied, having regard to the circumstances of the case, that their exercise would be desirable in the interests of preventing the commission by him of further offences; and
  2. (b) where it does not exercise them, to state in open court that it is not satisfied as mentioned in paragraph (a) above and why it is not so satisfied."
The following amendments to Lords amendment No. 76: leave out '(a)'.

(b), leave out from `offences' to end of line 8.

Lords amendments Nos. 77 and 151.

8.15 pm
Mr. Patten

I shall also speak to amendments Nos. 75 to 77 and 151 which refer to the provisions for binding over the parents of young offenders. I shall then deal in the second part of my speech with an issue that I know concerns the official Opposition. That may be convenient for the Opposition's spokesman.

As the House will know, we firmly believe that the binding over of parents of juvenile offenders can play an important role in helping to prevent further offending by young people. We wish the courts to make much more and better use of this power. That policy was set out clearly in the White Paper "Crime, Justice and Protecting the Public", and that is what the provisions of clause 49 are intended to achieve.

Where the offender is 16 or 17, we think that the courts should have the power to bind over the parents and should have the full discretion to use that power as and when they think it appropriate to do so. Clause 49 already achieves that. However, where the young person is under the age of 16, we think that the courts should be under a duty to consider the question of binding over the parents of a juvenile offender in every case. We also think it right that such powers should be used wherever the court considers it helpful in preventing reoffending by the young person. Amendment No. 76 would achieve that.

Where the juvenile is under the age of 16, the court will be required to do three things. It will be required to consider exercising the bind-over power in every case. It will be required to exercise the powers if, having regard to the circumstances of the case, it is satisfied that their exercise would be desirable in the interests of preventing the commission of further offences by the young person. Where the court does not exercise the powers, it will be required to state in open court why it has chosen not to do so.

The reference to the use of the power to bind over parents to help to prevent reoffending by the young person is especially valuable. It directs the court's attention very clearly to the positive purpose and benefits of binding over. It also makes it clear that there is no compulsion to bind over a parent when it is clear that the parent is not in a position to exercise the control that would prevent further offending.

It may be convenient if I now speak to Opposition amendments (a) and (b) to amendment No. 76. One of the main points of clause 49 is that a court will always have to consider whether to bind over the parent or guardian of a young offender aged under 16. Either it exercises its power to bind over or it gives its reasons for not doing so. That is the theory and the practice that we want to see. The Opposition's amendments would remove the second half of that provision. We would effectively be returning to the law as it stands and we do not want to do that. The Government believe that the magistrates' existing discretion to bind over parents or guardians is not used as often as it might be, and if amendments (a) and (b) were accepted, there would be no additional obligation on magistrates even to consider whether they should exercise their powers to bind over.

I turn now to amendment No. 77. Clause 49 allows the courts to bind over parents for up to three years. During such a period, family circumstances may change. For example, it is possible that a child whose parents are bound over when he or she is 14 or 15 and still at school, may leave school, get married and leave home before the hind-over period of this length has ended. To allow for such changes in circumstances, amendment No. 77 provides the courts with a power to revoke or vary an order binding over a parent if it would be in the interests of justice to do so.

Mr. Maclennan

I want to ask the Minister for his view on amendment No. 74 which is grouped with this amendment, but which he has not dealt with. It would be of interest to know the Government's view.

Mr. Patten

I shall do my best.

In the interests of justice, the parent or guardian must make an application to the court, and the court must be satisfied that there is a relevant change of circumstance.

Amendment No. 75 is a technical amendment. As the Bill is drafted, it is the court that convicts the young offender which would be required to consider the binding over of parents. However, the convicting court may not be the court that sentences the young offender.

In amendments Nos. 75 to 77 and No. 151, we have made some sensible improvements to the Bill. That brings me to the end of the first half of what I said I would deal with. I now deal with the second part—amendment No. 74, which concerns the hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Mr. Maclennan). I cannot, under any circumstances, commend it to the House.

Amendment No. 74 is designed to make it easier for parents to attend court when their child appears as a defendant, by requiring the courts to inquire into possible difficulties that parents in employment might experience in attending court during normal working hours and, if necessary, to hold at least one sitting a fortnight outside normal hours to accommodate them. That alone would cost between £7 million and £10 million.

I see no advantage in compelling a court, before setting a date, to seek out the defendant's parents and to see whether, in the court's view, their employment might be jeopardised by coming to court during normal hours. A parent reluctant to attend might seize the opportunity to claim that his job would be in danger, or might give some other fallacious reason, if he had to be absent for even part of a day. The court would then have to confirm with the parent's employer that that was the case, with all the attendant costs and all the delays in the criminal justice system which would flow from that. As we all know, one of the best things to do with juveniles is to get them brought before the court as quickly as possible and dealt with as quickly as possible so that they learn the lesson before they have forgotten it.

It should also not be forgotten that many of those in employment are engaged in shift work or work at weekends. Such work patterns seem to provide considerable flexibility for parents. Not only parents, but victims must be taken into account. The House of Lords did not mention victims and the inconvenience caused to victims who have to appear as witnesses and who may have to come out after dark in the evening. Why should victims have to come out in the evening, for example, and make an attendance at court as witnesses at great inconvenience to themselves?

Mr. Sheerman

Will the Minister give way?

Mr. Patten

I really cannot—

Mr. Sheerman

Will the Minister give way?

Mr. Patten

The hon. Gentleman must restrain himself.

We need to take into account the perfectly proper considerations of all court users. We must take into account not only the accused and the accused's parents, but witnesses and victims. In taking a balanced view of amendment No. 74, we taken into account the convenience not only of parents, but of all court users. Does the hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr. Sheerman) want me to give way? I did not think that he did—

Mr. Sheerman

I had resigned myself to coming back to the subject of victims in my remarks in response. The Minister knows—and I do not know how he did not blush when he made the point about victims—that we tried to put the whole role of victims in the court system high on the agenda. The Minister knows that he and his Government would not allow victims to be discussed when the Bill was in Committee.

Mr. Patten

If the Opposition wished to deal with the serious problems facing witnesses in court, and the fact that the elderly, the disabled and other victims might have to turn out at night to attend court sessions, they would have taken them into account in tabling their amendments, and would not have tabled them in their present form. I cannot recommend amendment No. 74 to the House.

Mr. Sheerman

I will start with the "Home and Away" part of the Minister's remarks, rather than with the "Neighbours" bit of his speech—[Laughter.] My hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, West (M r. Randall) said that the first half was "Neighbours" and the second half was "Home and Away", and that they were as bad as each other. It was a bit dismal to listen to the Minister's rather negative response.

In Committee, the Minister opposed the ideas in the amendment. He has had to change his mind, because he has been defeated in the Lords and he has to make some concessions. However, he does not have the good grace lo say that he was wrong in Committee, that he has learnt his lessons and that he is trying to improve. Instead, he threw in the gratuitous insult about victims, although we desperately tried to get victims on the agenda of the Bill and were prevented from doing so by the long title of the Bill. Every time we sought to amend the Bill, we were knocked back because the amendments were out of order.

Like the Minister, I will start by discussing amendment (a) to Lords amendment No. 76. It would remove from the Bill the requirement for courts to give reasons if they do not bind over the parents of juvenile offenders. In its original form, the Bill provided that, when a juvenile was convicted of an offence, the court must bind over the parents to take proper care of him or her and to exercise proper control, unless it considered that that was unreasonable.

On Report in the Lords, the Government removed the statutory presumption in favour of binding over parents in response to amendments moved by peers in the all-party penal affairs group. We are always grateful for small mercies, and that was a positive change from what the Minister said in Committee. We had argued from the beginning in Committee that the bind-over proposals were wrong and were opposed by all who worked in the system as doctrinaire nonsense which would create far more problems than it would solve.

The Minister has staked his reputation on legislating for happy families. We have told him that one cannot do it, that, if one imposes a £1,000 fine on parents for their children's good behaviour, it will not work, and that it will destroy families rather than unite them. We told him that until we were blue in the face. It was not until those in the other place told him that, that he had to accept that some part of our argument was right.

We stressed that the proposals were likely to increase rather than reduce juvenile crime by placing an additional burden on many families who were already under pressure. Amendment No. 74 was a welcome modification of a quite unworkable proposal. Through amendment (a), we are saying that the new version of the clause would require courts to give reasons if they did not bind over parents. Although an improvement on the original proposals, that will still—[Interruption.] We had strictures from the right hon. Member for Mitcham and Mordern (Mrs. Rumbold), the Minister of State, earlier about my not concentrating fully on her remarks. I was not, because I was trying to follow how we had lost a couple of clauses. I hope that the Minister has not lost a couple.

The power for the courts to give reasons if they do not bind over parents is still not good enough. Although an improvement on the original proposal, it will still place inappropriate pressure on courts to use a measure that, in the vast majority in cases, would do more harm than good. It is misguided to place pressure on the courts to use that power in cases in which they do not currently regard as sensible to do so.

Binding over parents and requiring them to forfeit money if the child reoffends is likely to increase parents' resentment and to aggravate further relationships between them and their children, putting the children more at risk than ever. It will increase the pressures on many families who are already struggling to survive against great odds. In some cases, it will accelerate the trend for parents to throw their children out of the house to join the growing ranks of the young homeless. We have talked about the homeless, and about the Vagrancy Act 1824 and the missed opportunity to get rid of it. The problems that I have described would have been more serious if the Bill had not been amended by the Lords.

We believe that a further refinement would be for the Minister at last to say that the provision was a bit of an ideological wheeze which he thought might go down well at the Conservative party conference and might impress some Back-Bench Members. He should say that, because of the implacable opposition of the Magistrates Association, the Justices Clerks Association and everyone who does the job in juvenile justice, he has taken some notice. He should go the full way and forget the proposal.

The "Neighbours" part of my speech concerns amendment No. 74, which is better than the first part—which is hard to believe. I will not render this bit with an Australian twang. The amendment requires youth courts to hold at least one sitting a fortnight in the evening or at weekends when that is justified—I hope that the Minister will listen—by the number of cases that would be dealt with more appropriately at such a time. The amendment was moved not by some radical firebrand, but by Baroness Faithfull, a constituent of the Minister. I know that he has great respect for that lady. She moved the amendment on behalf of the all-party penal affairs group and it was carried on Third Reading by 79 votes to 75, against the Government's wishes.

One result of the amendment will be to reduce the risk that requiring parents to attend court with their children would jeopardise their employment. Perhaps if one is of the aristocratic persuasion in a marginal Oxford constituency, one may feel that it is irrelevant to consider how the courts cater for people. The Opposition have consistently said that the real change that needs to be made to the courts system is that the system should be more consumer-oriented. The people who use the courts should find friendly courts and places which are not aloof. The courts should be people's courts where people can find justice. They should be run for the people and not for the barristers, lawyers and others who are there to serve. It is about time that we had a legal system based on the principle of serving people who use them rather than those who work in the courts.

8.30 pm

The Minister of State may be contemptuous of the idea that ordinary working people and single-parent families must attend court. Perhaps the Minister of State should be reminded of the number of homeless people in the marginal Oxford constituency that he represents. He would be surprised at the number. There are many in my much less marginal constituency of Huddersfield. Those families need to be able to attend courts at more convenient times than at present.

What is wrong with weekend or evening courts? The Minister plucks figures out of the air. He seems capable of adding up only in tens. His proposals seem to cost £10 million, £100 million or £1,000 million.

Mr. John Patten

I said £7 million.

Mr. Sheerman

Well, £7 million to £10 million. The proposal has not been costed properly. We should at least be able to experiment in the areas where there is greatest need. We might then make the courts people's courts instead of lawyers' courts. The Opposition believe that justice and access to justice is what this Bill could have been about. Unfortunately, that has not been the case. The one small measure that Baroness Faithfull managed to propose in the other place could be a sign that the Government are at least prepared to accept that change.

I am sorry that the Minister has been contemptuous of this, sensible amendment which would have opened up the courts and made them more amenable to those who have jobs in which they lose pay if they do not turn up. The proposal would have made matters more convenient for single parent families and those who suffer from the kind of discrimination that I have described at work. If those people do not turn up at work, they are not paid and the family is not fed or shod.

Mr. Maclennan

I was more surprised by the Minister's reasons for opposing amendment No. 74 than by the fact that he opposed it. There is no requirement to hold courts at the convenience of the parents or guardians of young people brought before the court. There is a requirement to hold such courts only when that is justified. Therefore, the amendment is unnecessary because, as I understand it, it is open to the courts to hold evening sittings if they so choose at the moment.

As it is desirable that the courts should hold evening sittings if that is in the interests of justice including the interests of the witnesses, the amendment must be unnecessary. I understand that courts increasingly choose to sit in the evenings. That makes a great deal of sense. It saves time and it expedites hearings. It also meets the convenience of many people who are not necessarily professionally engaged in court, and it may even be for the convenience of those who are so engaged, who may prefer to handle a long list of cases rather than a short list and have to return on another occasion.

The Minister's over-the-top opposition to the amendment was uncharacteristically unsympathetic. I hope that he does not disapprove of the holding of evening courts. I was surprised by his suggestion that the costs would increase. I was also surprised that he was able to cost matters in that way. It must be difficult to judge how often courts would choose to sit in the evenings. I would like to know the Minister's assumptions and how he made his calculation of £7 million to £10 million of additional expenditure. If courts could dispose of matters which they would otherwise have to bring back on another day, that would save money. I hope that the Minister can reassure me that the Government do not oppose evening courts.

Question put:

The House divided: Ayes 202, Noes 132.

Division No. 194] [8.36 pm
Adley, Robert Boscawen, Hon Robert
Aitken, Jonathan Boswell, Tim
Alison, Rt Hon Michael Bottomley, Peter
Amess, David Bottomley, Mrs Virginia
Amos, Alan Bowden, Gerald (Dulwich)
Arbuthnot, James Bowis, John
Arnold, Jacques (Gravesham) Boyson, Rt Hon Dr Sir Rhodes
Arnold, Sir Thomas Brandon-Bravo, Martin
Ashby, David Brazier, Julian
Aspinwall, Jack Bright, Graham
Atkins, Robert Bruce, Ian (Dorset South)
Baker, Rt Hon K. (Mole Valley) Buck, Sir Antony
Barnes, Mrs Rosie (Greenwich) Budgen, Nicholas
Batiste, Spencer Burns, Simon
Beaumont-Dark, Anthony Butler, Chris
Benyon, W. Carlisle, John, (Luton N)
Bevan, David Gilroy Carrington, Matthew
Biffen, Rt Hon John Carttiss, Michael
Blackburn, Dr John G. Channon, Rt Hon Paul
Chapman, Sydney Lang, Rt Hon Ian
Chope, Christopher Latham, Michael
Churchill, Mr Lawrence, Ivan
Clark, Rt Hon Sir William Lennox-Boyd, Hon Mark
Conway, Derek Lester, Jim (Broxtowe)
Coombs, Simon (Swindon) Lightbown, David
Cope, Rt Hon Sir John Lloyd, Peter (Fareham)
Cran, James Luce, Rt Hon Sir Richard
Curry, David McCrindle, Sir Robert
Davies, Q. (Stamf'd & Spald'g) Macfarlane, Sir Neil
Davis, David (Boothferry) MacGregor, Rt Hon John
Day, Stephen MacKay, Andrew (E Berkshire)
Devlin, Tim Maclean, David
Dicks, Terry McLoughlin, Patrick
Douglas-Hamilton, Lord James McNair-Wilson, Sir Michael
Dover, Den Madel, David
Dunn, Bob Malins, Humfrey
Durant, Sir Anthony Marland, Paul
Dykes, Hugh Marlow, Tony
Eggar, Tim Marshall, Sir Michael (Arundel)
Emery, Sir Peter Martin, David (Portsmouth S)
Evans, David (Welwyn Hatf'd) Maxwell-Hyslop, Robin
Evennett, David Mayhew, Rt Hon Sir Patrick
Fallon, Michael Moate, Roger
Favell, Tony Monro, Sir Hector
Field, Barry (Isle of Wight) Montgomery, Sir Fergus
Fishburn, John Dudley Moss, Malcolm
Fookes, Dame Janet Mudd, David
Forman, Nigel Newton, Rt Hon Tony
Forsyth, Michael (Stirling) Nicholls, Patrick
Fox, Sir Marcus Norris, Steve
Franks, Cecil Owen, Rt Hon Dr David
Freeman, Roger Patnick, Irvine
French, Douglas Patten, Rt Hon John
Fry, Peter Pawsey, James
Gale, Roger Roberts, Rt Hon Sir Wyn
Gardiner, Sir George Rumbold, Rt Hon Mrs Angela
Gill, Christopher Ryder, Rt Hon Richard
Glyn, Dr Sir Alan Sainsbury, Hon Tim
Goodlad, Alastair Shaw, David (Dover)
Goodson-Wickes, Dr Charles Shaw, Sir Giles (Pudsey)
Grant, Sir Anthony (CambsSW) Shelton, Sir William
Greenway, Harry (Ealing N) Shepherd, Colin (Hereford)
Greenway, John (Ryedale) Shepherd, Richard (Aldridge)
Gregory, Conal Shersby, Michael
Griffiths, Peter (Portsmouth N) Skeet, Sir Trevor
Grist, Ian Smith, Tim (Beaconsfield)
Ground, Patrick Soames, Hon Nicholas
Grylls, Michael Speller, Tony
Gummer, Rt Hon John Selwyn Stanbrook, Ivor
Hague, William Stanley, Rt Hon Sir John
Hamilton, Rt Hon Archie Stern, Michael
Hamilton, Neil (Tatton) Stevens, Lewis
Hanley, Jeremy Stewart, Allan (Eastwood)
Hargreaves, A. (B'ham H'll Gr') Stewart, Andy (Sherwood)
Hargreaves, Ken (Hyndburn) Stokes, Sir John
Harris, David Sumberg, David
Hayhoe, Rt Hon Sir Barney Summerson, Hugo
Hayward, Robert Taylor, John M (Solihull)
Heathcoat-Amory, David Taylor, Sir Teddy
Hicks, Mrs Maureen (Wolv' NE) Tebbit, Rt Hon Norman
Hicks, Robert (Cornwall SE) Thompson, D. (Calder Valley)
Hill, James Thompson, Patrick (Norwich N)
Hind, Kenneth Thornton, Malcolm
Hogg, Hon Douglas (Gr'th'm) Thurnham, Peter
Hordern, Sir Peter Townend, John (Bridlington)
Howarth, G. (Cannock & B'wd) Trippier, David
Irvine, Michael Twinn, Dr Ian
Irving, Sir Charles Vaughan, Sir Gerard
Jack, Michael Viggers, Peter
Janman, Tim Wakeham, Rt Hon John
Jones, Gwilym (Cardiff N) Walker, Bill (T'side North)
Kellett-Bowman, Dame Elaine Waller, Gary
Key, Robert Wardle, Charles (Bexhill)
Kilfedder, James Watts, John
King, Roger (B'ham N'thfield) Wheeler, Sir John
Kirkhope, Timothy Whitney, Ray
Knapman, Roger Widdecombe, Ann
Knight, Greg (Derby North) Wilshire, David
Knox, David Winterton, Mrs Ann
Wolfson, Mark
Wood, Timothy Tellers for the Ayes:
Woodcock, Dr. Mike Mr. Tom Sackville and
Yeo, Tim Mr. Nicholas Baker.
Abbott, Ms Diane Leighton, Ron
Adams, Mrs Irene (Paisley, N.) Lestor, Joan (Eccles)
Allen, Graham Lofthouse, Geoffrey
Anderson, Donald Loyden, Eddie
Archer, Rt Hon Peter McAvoy, Thomas
Barnes, Harry (Derbyshire NE) McKay, Allen (Barnsley West)
Beckett, Margaret McKelvey, William
Bell, Stuart McLeish, Henry
Bellotti, David Maclennan, Robert
Bennett, A. F. (D'nt'n & R'dish) McMaster, Gordon
Bermingham, Gerald Madden, Max
Blunkett, David Marek, Dr John
Boyes, Roland Marshall, David (Shettleston)
Brown, Ron (Edinburgh Leith) Marshall, Jim (Leicester S)
Bruce, Malcolm (Gordon) Martin, Michael J. (Springburn)
Callaghan, Jim Martlew, Eric
Campbell, Ron (Blyth Valley) Maxton, John
Campbell-Savours, D. N. Meacher, Michael
Carlile, Alex (Mont'g) Meale, Alan
Carr, Michael Michie, Bill (Sheffield Heeley)
Clark, Dr David (S Shields) Michie, Mrs Ray (Arg'l & Bute)
Clarke, Tom (Monklands W) Mitchell, Austin (G't Grimsby)
Clwyd, Mrs Ann Morgan, Rhodri
Cohen, Harry Morris, Rt Hon A. (W'shawe)
Corbett, Robin Morris, Rt Hon J. (Aberavon)
Corbyn, Jeremy Mullin, Chris
Cox, Tom Oakes, Rt Hon Gordon
Crowther, Stan O'Brien, William
Cryer, Bob Patchett, Terry
Cunliffe, Lawrence Pike, Peter L.
Dalyell, Tam Powell, Ray (Ogmore)
Darling, Alistair Prescott, John
Davis, Terry (B'ham Hodge H'I) Primarolo, Dawn
Dewar, Donald Quin, Ms Joyce
Dixon, Don Randall, Stuart
Duffy, Sir A. E. P. Rees, Rt Hon Merlyn
Dunnachie, Jimmy Richardson, Jo
Dunwoody, Hon Mrs Gwyneth Robinson, Geoffrey
Eadie, Alexander Rogers, Allan
Eastham, Ken Rooker, Jeff
Edwards, Huw Rowlands, Ted
Ewing, Harry (Falkirk E) Sedgemore, Brian
Fearn, Ronald Sheerman, Barry
Fields, Terry (L'pool B G'n) Sheldon, Rt Hon Robert
Fisher, Mark Shore, Rt Hon Peter
Flynn, Paul Short, Clare
Foster, Derek Skinner, Dennis
Fraser, John Smith, Andrew (Oxford E)
Fyfe, Maria Smith, C. (Isl'ton & F'bury)
Galbraith, Sam Smith, J. P. (Vale of Glam)
Galloway, George Snape, Peter
Garrett, Ted (Wallsend) Spearing, Nigel
Godman, Dr Norman A. Steel, Rt Hon Sir David
Golding, Mrs Llin Strang, Gavin
Gordon, Mildred Taylor, Mrs Ann (Dewsbury)
Graham, Thomas Wallace, James
Grant, Bernie (Tottenham) Warded, Gareth (Gower)
Griffiths, Nigel (Edinburgh S) Watson, Mike (Glasgow, C)
Griffiths, Win (Bridgend) Welsh, Michael (Doncaster N)
Heal, Mrs Sylvia Wigley, Dafydd
Hood, Jimmy Williams, Alan W. (Carm'then)
Howells, Geraint Winnick, David
Hoyle, Doug Worthington, Tony
Hughes, John (Coventry NE) Young, David (Bolton SE)
Jones, Barry (Alyn & Deeside)
Jones, Ieuan (Ynys Môn) Tellers for the Noes:
Kirkwood, Archy Mr. Frank Haynes and
Leadbitter, Ted Mr. Jack Thompson.

Question accordingly agreed to.

Lords amendment No. 74 disagreed to.

Madam Deputy Speaker

Do I understand that the hon. Member is not now pressing his amendments (a) and (b) to Lords amendment No. 76?

Mr. Randall

Yes, Madam Deputy Speaker.

Subsequent Lords amendments agreed to.

Lords amendment: No. 78, after clause 49, insert the following new clause—Detention etc. pending trial— In section 38 of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 (duties of custody officer after charge), for subsections (6) and (6A) there shall be substituted the following subsections—

  1. "(6) Where a custody officer authorises an arrested juvenile to be kept in police detention under subsection (1) above, the custody officer shall, unless he certifies—
    1. (a) that, by reason of such circumstances as are specified in the certificate, it is impracticable for him to do so; or
    2. (b) in the case of an arrested juvenile who has attained the age of 15 years, that no secure accommodation is available and that keeping him in other local authority accommodation would not be adequate to protect the public from serious harm from him,
    secure that the arrested juvenile is moved to local authority accommodation.
  2. (6A) In this section—
    • 'local authority accommodation' means accommodation provided by or on behalf of a local authority (within the meaning of the Children Act 1989);
    • 'secure accommodation' means accommodation provided for the purpose of restricting liberty;
    • 'sexual offence' and 'violent offence' have the same meanings as in Part I of the Criminal Justice Act 1991;
    and any reference, in relation to an arrested juvenile charged with a violent or sexual offence, to protecting the public from serious harm from him shall be construed as a reference to protecting members of the public from death or serious personal injury, whether physical or psychological, occasioned by further such offences committed by him." ")

Read a Second time.

Mr. Randall

I beg to move, amendment (a) to the Lords amendment, leave out paragraph (b) and insert— '(b) in the case of an arrested juvenile who has attained the age of 15 years, that keeping him in such accommodation with such supervision as the local authority proposes to make available would not be adequate to protect the public from serious harm from him before he is brought before the magistrates' court to which he is charged to appear.'.

Madam Deputy Speaker

With this, it will be convenient to take the following amendments to the proposed amendment: (b), in line 24, leave out 'secure accommodation means accommodation provided for the purpose of securing liberty'.

  1. (c), in line 26, leave out "'sexual offence" and "violent offence" have the same meaning as in Part I of the Criminal Justice Act 1991'.
  2. (d), in line 29, leave out
'charged with a violent or sexual offence'. Lords amendments Nos. 79 and 80,

Lords amendment No. 81, a new clause—Transitory provisions pending provision of secure accommodationand amendment (a) to the Lords amendment.

Lords amendments Nos. 97, 119 to 121, 130 to 132, 144, 152 and 163.

Mr. Randall

Amendment No. 78 was a response by the Government to concerns expressed in another place by Lord Elton and opposition to the continued detention of juveniles in police custody in circumstances in which local authorities have offered to accommodate them until their court appearance. The purpose of the Government's amendment is to lay down restrictive criteria that will help to meet those concerns. We welcome the proposal, and our amendment is intended to improve the measure by clarifying some of the wording.

We are concerned that the Government's intentions could be thwarted unless the wording is modified. There are two problems, the first of which lies in the wording of paragraph (b) of Lords amendment No. 78, where there is a risk that the reference to "secure accommodation" could send the wrong message to police custody officers by suggesting to them that, where no secure accommodation is available, they are almost automatically entitled to regard other sorts of accommodation as inadequate to protect the public. Local authorities have effective ways, other than secure accommodation, of ensuring security and the surveillance of arrested juveniles, whom they usually have to hold for no more than one night before producing them at the next available court.

The reference to "secure accommodation" reinforces the tendency for police custody officers to regard other sorts of accommodation as inadequate and will produce wide inequalities between different districts. Children in regions without immediate access to secure accommodation will be at risk of being held in police cells. Moreover, local authorities that take their duty to provide accommodation for detained juveniles seriously, and have access to secure accommodation, will have to choose whether to earmark secure accommodation beds exclusively for that purpose. Secure accommodation is an expensive and valuable resource, but the proposals to end remands in custody will place extra demands on it. To leave paragraph (b) as it stands will place an irrational demand on this limited facility.

The second problem lies in the wording of paragraph (b), which refers to the notion of protecting the public from serious harm, but defines "serious harm" only in terms of violent and sexual offences. The custody officer is given no guidance on how to interpret "serious harm" in relation to other offences. Our proposals will ensure that the term "serious harm" means protecting the public from death or serious personal injury, whether physical or psychological, whatever the offence for which the juvenile is arrested. That will ensure consistency between the courts. I hope that the Government will accept our proposals in the constructive manner in which they have been presented and are intended.

Lords amendments Nos. 79 to 81 set out stricter criteria for the remand of juveniles in custody in the short term and provide for the ending of such remands in the long term. The important short-term changes are that such remands will he restricted to cases where they are needed to protect the public from serious harm from the defendant, and that no juvenile can be remanded in custody unless he or she has been offered legal representation. That is unquestionably a welcome and substantial step in the right direction.

However, we believe that the real need is to end completely the remanding of juveniles to adult prisons and remand centres, and we have debated that issue at considerable length. Where it is necessary to remand a juvenile, it should be to a secure place in a community home staffed by those specialising in working with children, not to a prison department establishment. While the Government have committed themselves to ending juvenile remands in custody eventually, they have not committed themselves to a timetable for doing so. They have said that they will end such remands where sufficient local secure accommodation is available, but they have not announced a specific timetable.

In February, the Home Office issued a consultation paper entitled "The Remand of Alleged Juvenile Offenders". The Home Office proposed to restrict custodial remands in the short term on the lines of the Bill's provisions—to establish between 30 and 35 more secure beds for juveniles in local authority homes and to review the position, but not necessarily to end juvenile remands in custody, over the next four years.

There has been mounting concern at the remand of juveniles in custody, and many cases can be quoted. The Minister knows only too well that there were some frightening problems relating to young remand prisoners in Hull prison. We should all compliment the staff there, who have to cope in such difficult circumstances. The conditions in which some young people, but not as many as before, are now held are much worse than those for sentenced young offenders in young offender institutions —indeed, they are the worst conditions in the whole penal system. The young people are often confined for most. of the day in overcrowded, insanitary cells. Boys of 15 and 16 are held with older teenagers up to the age of 21, many of whom are much tougher and more experienced offenders. That is a recipe for criminal contamination, bullying and suicide attempts.

In the 12 months to end of June 1990, 1,300 boys aged 15 and 16 were remanded to prisons and remand centres. However, the number of juveniles on remand in penal establishments at any one time is much smaller. On 30 April 1990, there were 65 untried and 19 convicted, unsentenced boys under the age of 17 in prisons and remand centres. The Opposition believe that, with such numbers, it should be possible to plan a timetable strategy.

In their consultation paper, the Government estimated that the necessary secure accommodation should be ready in four years' time. However, four years is a disturbingly long time in view of the gravity of the problem. Even more disturbing is the lack of a firm commitment to end the custodial remand of juveniles at that date. Although, ideally, we should like to see a more rapid timetable for ending that practice, the amendment is limited to providing that it should be discontinued at the time when the Government have established that the necessary secure accommodation is in place.

The amendments are positive and constructive and tackle a terrible problem for which the Government have failed to come up with a timetable. I hope that the House will support them.

9 pm

Mr. John Patten

Amendment (a), which is the first of the two amendments to Lords amendment No. 78, would remove the reference to secure accommodation from new subsection 6(b) and insert a reference to supervision. Having listened carefully to the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, West (Mr. Randall), I argue that the nature of the accommodation alone should not determine whether the police can safely transfer 15 and 16-year-olds to the local authority, but that the quality of the supervision should also be considered. I happen to agree that quality is important and Lords amendment No. 78 allows the quality of supervision to be taken into account. It does not compel the police to hold on to 15 and 16-year-olds if they are satisfied with local authority arrangements.

However, I cannot commend the Opposition amendments to the House because, alas, they have an undesirable side effect. They would widen the discretion of the police to hold young people in police cells. I am sure that that is not what the hon. Gentleman wants. Lords amendment No. 78 requires the police to make the transfer if secure accommodation is available. The Opposition's amendments as drafted would remove that requirement. I know the drafting style of the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, West and I am sure that he did not draft the amendments. Perhaps they were drafted by the learned counsel to whom the hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr. Sheerman) referred earlier. If they were drafted at great cost to the Labour party by some outside source, I hope that it was done on a no foal, no fee basis because it is extremely badly drafted and produces the opposite to what the Opposition set out to achieve. It would allow the police to hold a 15 or 16-year-old, even if secure accommodation were available, if the police certified that that accommodation offered inadequate protection to the public. That cannot be right and I am sure that it is not what the Opposition intend.

The remaining Opposition amendments to Lords Amendment No. 78 deserve serious consideration but would further restrict police power to hold an arrested juvenile aged 15 or 16. Provided that no local authority secure accommodation is available, Lords amendment No. 78 allows the police to hold 15 and 16-year-olds where there is a risk of serious harm to the public. It does not matter whether that serious harm would be caused by a sexual or violent offence or in some other way. For example, it may be another in a series of bad domestic burglaries of the homes of elderly people after dark. Unfortunately, the Opposition's amendment would limit the concept of serious harm to death or serious personal injury. That simply does not recognise the reality of the problem.

The public have a right to expect protection and consideration for their fear of further attack or burglary by 15 or 16-year-olds. We should not underestimate the harm that a serious domestic burglary can cause. It is not easy to judge serious harm but I believe that the police will be called upon to make difficult decisions, often on the basis of limited information. A balance must be struck between the needs of the young person and those of the public, but the police must have the discretion to strike that balance, at least overnight, and the Opposition's amendments would deprive them of that. Moreover, they could expose both the young man—it normally is a young man rather than a young woman—to further harm.

As for Lords amendment No. 81, on which the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, West spoke towards the end of his speech, there is not a scintilla of difference between us on the end that we both want to achieve—the ending of remanding young people in prison. The hon. Gentleman was right to pay tribute to staff at Hull prison, who have done an extremely good job. However, the amendments to Lords amendment No. 81 would set a firm date of four years after the enactment of the Bill for prison remands to be ended. The Government are committed to ending such remands as quickly as possible and I happen to think that that deadline will be met but—it is a big but —let us suppose that the deadline cannot be met in some part of the country for, say, a combination of planning reasons. Local protest groups, local authorities not granting planning permission or appeals to the Department of the Environment could all prevent that deadline from being met. If the deadline of four years were not met in such areas, dangerous young people would remain on the streets. I am afraid to say that, while I agree with the sentiment of what the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, West said, I cannot agree with the actuality of the amendment, nor can I commend it to the House, and I hope that hon. Members will resist it.

Question accordingly negatived.

Lords amendment No. 78 agreed to.

Subsequent Lords amendment agreed to. [Special Entry].

Lords amendment: No. 81, to insert the following new clause—