HC Deb 19 October 1994 vol 248 cc282-321

Lords amendment: No 1, in page 2, line 16, at beginning insert

("Subject to subsection (2A) below")

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The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Michael Howard)

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

Madam Speaker

With this it will be convenient to discuss also Lords amendments 2 to 5, 7, 8, 10 to 18, 21, 188 and 189; and Government motions to disagree.

Mr. Howard

Part I of the Bill provides for, among other things, a new custodial sentence for persistent young offenders—the secure training order. The order may last for between six months and two years, the first half of which would be spent in a secure training centre and the second half of which would be spent under supervision in the community.

Throughout the passage of the Bill, the Government have made it clear that the new secure training centres will be different from anything tried before. They will be centres housing a specific category of persistent offender, and the regime will be tailor-made for them so as to provide the right kind of training and care within a secure environment.

Lords amendment No. 2 and its consequential amendments would allow the courts, when making a secure training order, to choose between local authority secure accommodation and a secure training centre for the custodial part of the order.

Lords amendment No. 4 and its consequential amendments would allow the local authority, when detaining a juvenile subject to a secure training order, to apply to the court for the remaining period of detention to be replaced by a period in other non-secure local authority accommodation, or a period of supervision or a period of detention in a secure training centre.

Amendment No. 4 would also allow the director of a secure training centre to apply to the court for the remaining period of detention to be spent in local authority secure accommodation or other accommodation, or for a period of supervision.

The proposals for the new centres were carefully designed to address the problem of persistent young offenders. The amendments would undermine our ability to respond specifically to that serious problem and would make the operation of the new provisions haphazard, inefficient and much less effective.

Ms Hilary Armstrong (Durham, North-West)

I intervene because it is proposed to locate one of the new centres in my constituency. How long would it take to implement the Home Secretary's proposals, and how long to implement those in the amendments?

Mr. Howard

I am astonished that the hon. Lady, coming as she does from north-east England, should raise that point, but I will deal with it precisely and expressly. The amendments are based on the assumption that local authority secure accommodation would be used instead of secure training centres. I remind the hon. Lady of the attitude of Labour local authorities in her part of the country. At a meeting with directors of social services in the north-east on 19 February 1993, it was agreed that firm proposals to provide the additional 12 secure places assessed as being required would be brought forward by the end of April 1993.

By the end of July 1994–15 months later—no commitment had been forthcoming from those Labour-controlled authorities. At that point, the Department of Health had to make the decision to transfer the resources elsewhere. I trust that the hon. Lady regrets getting to her feet to ask that question.

Ms Armstrong

I am seeking a specific response. When would the Home Secretary's proposals be implemented, and when would it be possible to implement the amended proposals?

Mr. Howard

It is obvious from my remarks that I can give no indication when local authority secure accommodation would be available, because Labour-controlled local authorities, including those in north-east England, have not presented proposals, despite giving firm undertakings to do so. That is a complete answer to the hon. Lady's question.

In accepting the amendments, much was made in the other place of the alleged flexibility that they would bring to the secure training order. Although that argument has superficial attractions, it does not stand any scrutiny. Secure training centres, in their design and their regime, will be tailored to a specific type of offender of a relatively narrow age range. Only in such a dedicated institution will it be possible to provide the specialised regime needed to tackle the behaviour of that group and the range of educational and training programmes that will meet their individual needs.

In contrast, local authority secure accommodation cannot provide that focused regime. That accommodation caters for a variety of difficult and disturbed juveniles in a wide age range. Some are serious offenders, others are on remand, and many are not offenders at all. With such a group to cater for, local authority units cannot provide the concentrated, specialised regime that is the aim behind secure training centres.

Mr. John Greenway (Ryedale)

Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that, for any 12 to 14-year-old to be made subject to a secure training order, it is almost certain that he would already have been the subject of a supervision order? In fact, that is a requirement of the legislation. That would have meant that he would have been in local authority secure accommodation. That would still be available to the court, even with the secure training order—so why do we need this provision?

Mr. Howard

My hon. Friend is entirely right when he says that the Bill requires, as a condition of eligibility for the secure training order, that someone should have been subject to a supervision order—and, indeed, had failed to comply with its requirements. So the logic of the situation is that attempts would have been made to improve the behaviour of offenders in that category, without obliging them to be detained in secure accommodation, but that those attempts would have failed.

Mr. John Sykes (Scarborough)

Is my right hon. and learned Friend aware that householders in Scarborough are fed up with the activities taking place at the Stepney road children's home, which range from mindless vandalism and theft to arson? Is he further aware that the county council social services department has shown itself utterly incapable of controlling that establishment? Quite apart from the fact that that establishment should be closed down now, does not that case show the importance of my right hon. and learned Friend's amendment?

Mr. Howard

My hon. Friend will forgive me if I do not comment on the particular example he cites, because I do not have any detailed knowledge of it, but the general point made by him shows that, once again, he is the authentic voice of North Yorkshire. He speaks for his constituents and represents their views, in marked contrast, on these matters particularly, to those who contribute to the debates from the Opposition benches.

Dame Jill Knight (Birmingham, Edgbaston)

May I assure my hon. Friend the Member for Scarborough (Mr. Sykes) that that area of North Yorkshire, vital though it is, is not the only area in Britain that is gravely concerned about the misdemeanours of young people who are not properly controlled in local authority homes? I have one such home in my constituency, about which I have battled for at least two years, and all the residents have a long list of problems.

In the latest incident, a young girl was let out at half past two in the morning; she was involved in a car accident and lost a leg. But no child of that age should be able to roam around outside a home at that hour while in the care of the local authority.

Mr. Howard

I have great sympathy with the views of my hon. Friend. Indeed, there are many examples in Birmingham of the large number of offences that have been committed by a very small group of persistent young offenders, for whom the sentence is particularly designed.

Mr. Gerald Bermingham (St. Helens, South)

Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman give way?

Mr. John Gunnell (Morley and Leeds, South)

Will the Secretary of State give way?

Mr. Howard

I shall give way to the hon. Gentleman, but then I must make some progress.

Mr. Gunnell

Should not the Home Secretary make it absolutely clear that there is a distinction between the local authority homes, which have just been mentioned, and local authority secure accommodation? Will he acknowledge that Leeds has secure accommodation for 27 children, and that there are plans for its expansion, as he knows? Does he agree that no person has ever got out of that home? Indeed, the Minister of State commented in Committee on the very good standards there. Will he not draw a distinction between children's homes and secure accommodation?

Mr. Howard

If the hon. Gentleman had listened to what I said a few moments ago, he would have heard me explain in some considerable detail why local authority secure accommodation is not appropriate for the group of persistent young offenders for whom the secure training order is particularly designed.

The secure training order will be a sentence of the court. It is Parliament's responsibility to ensure that the effect of any sentence is consistent for all cases. If the amendments are accepted, the secure training order could be served in a wide range of institutions, with varying regimes. Many of the local authority secure units are very small, with places for as few as eight or 12 young people. Persistent offenders will simply not get the training they need if they are dotted around the country in twos and threes in such units.

In contrast, if all secure training orders are served in secure training centres, the courts will have confidence in the regime involved, as it will be underpinned by statutory rules and set out in the contracts with the individual operators.

Mr. Michael Stephen (Shoreham)

My right hon. and learned Friend makes a very important point. It is a question not only of locking youngsters away, but of giving them proper education while they are there. Is he confident that, if the Lords amendment were allowed to stand, the children would receive adequate education tailored to their particular needs?

Mr. Howard

Not only am I not confident that that would happen were the amendments to remain in place, but one of my principal points of opposition to them is that it would be almost impossible to provide the high calibre regime of education and training for those young offenders that it is our intention to provide in secure training centres.

An additional difficulty with the amendments is that they provide the courts with no guidance on which cases should go to secure training centres and which to local authority accommodation. It would be impossible to predict how the courts would use the power to choose between secure training centres and local authority accommodation, or what portions of sentences would be served in custody. It would be necessary to provide accommodation in both centrally provided secure training centres and local authority accommodation, but the proportions would be unforeseeable and there would be a huge element of risk of either under or over-provision in either case.

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As a result, the measures would be rendered unnecessarily expensive and wasteful of resources. Further pressure would also be placed on the local authority stock of secure accommodation, which, even with the planned expansion to take account of other measures in the Bill, will be insufficient to meet the increased demand created by the need to accommodate juveniles subject to the secure training order.

Mr. A. J. Beith (Berwick-upon-Tweed)

Is the Home Secretary really saying that he needs to provide guaranteed numbers in order to get the private sector to provide training centres? Is that not the real motive for resisting the Lords amendment, which would not stop the setting up of training centres, but might introduce some doubt about whether they would secure the numbers they would require to be economically viable?

Mr. Howard

I have just dealt with that point. As I said, the uncertainty that would arise if the amendments were allowed to stand would mean that the measures would be rendered unnecessarily expensive and wasteful of resources. We know that the Liberal Democrats do not give a fig for resources or for expense, and that there is no responsibility in their attitude to these matters; Governments, however, must approach them rather differently.

Beyond the practical issues in the amendments are important points of principle that concern the Government. As I said a moment ago, the secure training order is a custodial sentence, subject to the Criminal Justice Act 1991: in other words, the length of the sentence should reflect primarily the seriousness of the offence, which is a decision for the court at the point of sentencing.

To allow the courts, in effect, to adjust the length of the custodial part of the sentence at a later date—presumably on account of some change in behaviour or circumstances—would be at odds with that principle. Indeed, it is extremely doubtful whether the courts would welcome such detailed involvement with the future treatment of a young offender after the point of sentencing.

There may be very rare cases in which a juvenile serving the secure part of the secure training order clearly needs to be moved to other accommodation—when he or she develops a mental or physical illness, or when there are grave concerns about his or her ability to cope with the regime.

That is partly why the Bill already contains, in clause 2(4), a power for the Secretary of State to transfer an offender where the circumstances of the case require". It is not intended to use the power routinely, but it provides an avenue to allow the moving of juveniles in exceptional cases, and goes some way towards meeting the aim of the amendments.

The Opposition parties have scaled new heights of double dealing during proceedings on the Bill. Both parties abstained on Third Reading, to avoid the public opprobrium that they richly deserved; yet in debates on the detail of the proposals, they have sought to wreck those proposals at every turn.

The official Opposition, in particular, voted against giving courts the power to lock up persistent young offenders—young people who, as my hon. Friend the Member for Ryedale (Mr. Greenway) pointed out, have been given every possible chance to reform and have refused it. The public must be protected from them, and the Conservative party would provide that protection; the Opposition would leave the courts with no power whatever to act. By their actions on this part of the Bill, the Opposition stand condemned as totally out of touch with public feeling, and we shall make sure that the public never forget it.

Dr. Norman A. Godman (Greenock and Port Glasgow)

Will the Home Secretary give way?

Mr. Howard

I am happy to give way to the Opposition Front-Bench spokesman, the hon. Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth (Mr. Michael).

There are serious and insuperable difficulties in the amendments—difficulties of both practice and principle. For that reason, I urge the House to reject them.

Mr. Alun Michael (Cardiff, South and Penarth)

The Home Secretary read his peroration, which was presumably prepared by Conservative central office, with style and drama. The trouble is that nobody believes him. Nobody believes him when he accuses the Opposition of not wishing to place powers in the hands of the courts.

Why is the Home Secretary opposing the Lords amendment? Clearly, he has no faith in the magistrates because it simply gives magistrates courts discretion to deal most effectively with the youngsters who come before them. The Home Secretary wants to take away discretion from the courts. The message of the speech that he has just made is that he does not trust the magistrates.

The Home Secretary should listen to the complaints from, and the concerns of, Conservative Back Benchers. Their complaints and attacks are not about the Lords amendments but about the Government's abject failure to tackle the problems of crime. Is the Home Secretary suggesting that we should leave discretion to him as the only residual way of dealing with inappropriate placements? He must be joking.

The Home Secretary has blamed others for the lack of local authority secure accommodation, but it is the Government, the Conservative party, who have ensured that such accommodation is not available. The delay in providing secure places has been due to the Government's unwillingness to suit their actions to their words. I can give a simple illustration. Long before I came to the House, I was one of many people who campaigned for the provision of secure places to end the scandal of young people aged 15 and 16 being held in adult prison accommodation. They are still being held in adult prison accommodation because, despite the then Home Secretary eventually promising in February 1991 to provide secure places, they have still not been provided. We now have the promise that some of them may just about be delivered this year, but, because of the confusion between the Home Office, the Department of Health and the Welsh Office, the money was not made available and the support was not provided. The Government are to blame.

Mr. Howard

How can the hon. Gentleman blame the Government for the delay in light of the example that I gave the House a few moments ago about the Labour-controlled authorities in the north-east, which gave a commitment in February 1993 to provide those secure accommodation places and had failed to make good that commitment in July 1994? They made that commitment on the basis of what they knew about the arrangements under which the accommodation was to be provided.

Mr. Michael

I like the way in which the Home Secretary leads with his chin every time. He has just read again from the script that he gave us a few moments ago. I gave him an illustration that I have followed over the years and which I know about. There are still no secure places not only in Wales but in other parts of the country because the Government have failed to respond to requests from local authorities to make available the necessary resources and to support their applications. My hon. Friend the Member for Durham, North-West (Ms Armstrong) has knowledge of the position in the north.

Ms Armstrong

After hearing the Home Secretary, I am almost lost for words. Many local authorities have been seeking to extend and develop secure accommodation while the Government's record is lamentable. At Medomsley, a new kitchen was built on the existing prison in 1986. That cost £2.5 million and was never opened because the Government got into trouble with their prison policy and closed Medomsley. They now want to build one of these new secure training centres there. There is a planning application with the local council, but the Home Office has failed to pay the planning fee so the council cannot deal with the application.

Mr. Michael

My hon. Friend has illustrated once again the way in which this muddled and incompetent Government fail to deal with the problem even when they choose the method to do so. I am surprised that the Home Secretary does not want to apologise for the way in which he has failed to deal with the issues.

Mr. Howard

Will the hon. Gentleman now answer the specific example that I put to him and to the hon. Member for Durham, North-West (Ms Armstrong) on the precise point of the provision of local authority accommodation? Labour-controlled local authorities in the north-east promised to provide that accommodation in February 1993 and had still not made good that commitment in 1994. What about an answer to that?

Mr. Michael

What about an answer from the Home Secretary about the fact that the local authority requested the Government to fulfil the promise made by the then Home Secretary in February 1991 and that this year the Government have still not delivered the goods? The Home Secretary is not credible. He comes back with the same form of words. My hon. Friend the Member for Durham, North-West has swept him from the board. The Government are responsible for the matter. They have failed to deliver.

We are dealing with another age group–11 to 15-year-olds—on which the Government are failing the country. That group is dealt with in the part of the Bill that the Lords amended. The Government's embarrassment is illustrated by the disgraceful way in which the Home Office Minister portrayed events on the "Today" programme this morning.

At every opportunity, Hansard records in the House and in Committee the way in which the parliamentary Labour party has tackled every important issue positively and constructively, including how we deal with young offenders. Those hon. Members who follow the record will know that we set out an alternative agenda on Second Reading that would have tackled crime, nipped young offenders in the bud and dealt with the problems faced by our people. We have opposed the bad ideas, supported the good and proposed positive improvements and alternatives to some of the more muddled ideas proposed by the Government.

Mr. Bermingham

As my hon. Friend said, the Home Secretary has failed. I shall put to my hon. Friend the question that I sought to put to the Home Secretary. What is the position if, having had a child assessed by psychiatrists, educationists and everyone else, all the reports go to the court and the court decides, for example, that the child should go into secure training? What would the position be if it were found that two years were not long enough to secure the re-education and rehabilitation of the child, who still remained a danger to society and needed to be constrained? There is no provision for that.

Mr. Michael

My hon. Friend is right. If the amendment is rejected, varying the time limits would be in the hands only of the Home Secretary. A limited period is specified in the Bill. The Home Secretary would have sole discretion to vary in any direction.

Mr. Oliver Heald (Hertfordshire, North)

Will the hon. Gentleman deal with the point that has just been, put to him? In Committee, his party suggested half the length of sentence and a minimum of only one month.

Mr. Michael

The hon. Gentleman would have heard my answer to my hon. Friend the Member for St. Helens, South (Mr. Bermingham) if he had not been so keen to intervene with his prescripted question, which is, of course, inaccurate. In one of the amendments to the Bill, we sought greater discretion over the time that youngsters would be sent to secure accommodation to save the Home Secretary from the mess that he is getting into with this legislation.

Mrs. Barbara Roche (Hornsey and Wood Green)

Does my hon. Friend agree that the answer to some of the questions that have arisen are in the section on juvenile offenders that is contained in the unanimous report of the Home Affairs Select Committee on juvenile crime? Many of its recommendations have been warmly endorsed by the Opposition Front Bench. The report considers a new national agency scheme that would take charge of the problem of persistent juvenile offenders. I regret to say that, despite all the warm words of the Home Secretary, the report has been ignored by the Home Office.

Mr. Michael

My hon. Friend is right. In the past 12 months, the Home Secretary has been concerned only to score one or two points by implementing some of the measures contained in his speech to the last Conservative party conference. He has been seriously unsuccessful in achieving that end. He would have been much better advised to spend time studying the excellent cross-party report produced by the Home Affairs Select Committee rather than trying to implement his own ideas.

Sir Ivan Lawrence (Burton)

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way. Is he aware that the hon. Member for Hornsey and Wood Green (Mrs. Roche) is wrong to suggest that the Home Affairs Select Committee concluded that an agency should replace secure training centres? The recommendation was that there should be an agency in addition to secure training centres.

Mr. Michael

The hon. and learned Gentleman's loyalty to his Home Secretary knows no bounds— he should receive some reward. I should have thought, however, that he would be more loyal to the findings of his Committee, rather than leaping in to diminish their value and to defend the Home Secretary.

Mrs. Roche

I took the precaution of bringing the Select Committee's report with me. The recommendation states: We recommend the establishment of a new national agency to manage the custody and supervision of persistent juvenile offenders and others who receive custodial sentences. It could not be clearer— even to Conservative Members.

Mr. Michael

I wonder whether the hon. and learned Member for Burton (Sir I. Lawrence) wishes to intervene once more to withdraw his defence of the Home Secretary and to defend his own Committee, or does he wish to make no further contribution?

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Sir Ivan Lawrence

The hon. Member for Hornsey and Wood Green is muddled. The Select Committee decided to assume that secure training centres would be implemented by the Government. We went on to propose that, in addition, an agency should consider the running of all these matters at some stage in the future. To suggest that, in some way, the Select Committee was proposing that there should not be secure training centres along the lines that the Government recommend is complete nonsense. Anybody who asserts that clearly has not read the report.

Mr. Michael

I suppose that we should expect an expert advocate to be able to twist and turn in that way, but it says little for the hon. and learned Gentleman and I am sure that members of his Committee will be disappointed to find that he has not been more loyal to their findings.

Mr. Ronnie Campbell (Blyth Valley)

The Secretary of State mentioned secure accommodation in the north-east of England. I have just been on the phone to representatives of the social services in Northumberland, who tell me that they are having talks with the Department of Health with a view to trebling the amount of secure accommodation in Northumberland and with authorities in Sunderland and Newcastle on building secure accommodation somewhere in Northumberland. Rather than not doing anything, it looks like the north-east is well ahead of the Home Secretary.

Mr. Michael

I am afraid that the Government always seek to knock the easy target of local government—usually inaccurately and when the error has been made by them rather than by local government. Labour Members are ready to criticise local government when it fails to do its job, but the Government are always ready to criticise local government, even when it is doing a decent job, despite their failure to support and assist its work.

The context of this amendment cannot be disguised by the irrelevancies of Conservative Members' interventions. This is an enormous rag-bag of a Bill, which implements a conference speech that itself was ill-considered. Much of the Bill is ill-considered and badly targeted. The Government have failed to take part in sensible discussions and to accept common-sense improvements from the Labour party— or even in this case from Conservative Members of the House of Lords.

The Bill will fail to tackle the real target of reducing crime, speeding up justice, cutting reoffending and making society safer. On a number of issues— custody for young offenders, the protection of innocent people and, above all, criminal injury compensation, which we shall debate later— the Government have handled the programme in a ham-fisted manner and have caused outrage in the House of Lords as well as elsewhere in the country.

In moving the amendment that the Home Secretary wishes to overturn, Lord Carr made it clear that he did not seek to alter or weaken the sentence of the court. That is an important point to remember. The amendment was passed because it is clear that the creation of colleges of crime for 12 to 15-year-olds will cause further problems and will not be an ideal way of meeting the need for secure places for persistent and particularly difficult young offenders. Their lordships sought to mitigate the dangers of the Government's proposition.

Even the Government do not pretend that youngsters will be sent away to a secure unit for ever. Those youngsters will return home at some point and it is crazy deliberately to create a regime that makes preparation for that return more difficult and makes it more likely that a returning youngster will reoffend, and in ways that are more serious and damaging to the community as a whole and to individual victims. That, however, is the truth about the system that the Home Secretary wishes to create. If he is determined to press ahead with his colleges of crime, it is only common sense to allow the courts the discretion to be flexible when deciding where a young person serves part of his sentence. That does not mean discretion to social workers, to the Home Secretary, to managers or to accountants but discretion to magistrates, whose responsibility it is to consider the safety of the public.

The first effect of the amendment would be to enable a court making a secure training order to specify that the period of secure detention is to be spent in local authority secure accommodation rather than a secure training centre. The court could specify that only after consultation with the local authority.

Dame Jill Knight


Mr. Michael

I shall give way in a moment. Work by the Dartington social research unit into the benefits of different types of regimes—[Interruption.] I understand from the comments of one or two Tory Members that they believe that taking note of research is odd. Like the Prime Minister, they want to understand a little less before taking decisions that will damage the public and the eventual victims.

The research to which I referred—

Dame Jill Knight


Mr. Michael

The hon. Lady must contain herself for a moment. Research into the benefits of different regimes reveals that considering the family circumstances of a young person is most likely to achieve success, especially as many young people leaving secure units return to their families.

The Association of Chief Police Officers highlighted the problem with existing secure accommodation in its evidence to the Select Committee on Home Affairs in February 1993. It stated: in areas of the country where secure places are not available, the young offenders are taken long distances, which often reduces the opportunity for. family contacts to be maintained, thus actually increasing the difficulties of the offender and weakening family support when it should be encouraged. The Government are intent on pressing ahead with that very type of regime in the centres that they propose. The amendment would not stop them doing so, but it would allow the court an element of discretion, and thereby avoid some of the worst effects of the Government's proposals.

Dame Jill Knight

The hon. Gentleman made great play of people using scripts, but I am not using one; nor was my hon. Friend the Member for Hertfordshire, North (Mr. Heald). I note that the hon. Gentleman is careful not to leave his script; perhaps he is afraid that he will not be able find the exact spot when he returns to it. The flaw in his argument is that he seems to think that it is perfectly sensible and sound to send tearaway children into local authority care, but, as is the case in Birmingham, local authorities frequently admit that they cannot control those children.

Mr. Michael

It is sensible to proceed logically, which is why I did not want the hon. Lady to interrupt me in the middle of my logical speech. She has just woken up to the subject that we were debating a few minutes ago and from which we have moved on.

Local authorities do sometimes find it difficult to deal with some very difficult young people, and that is why many are frustrated by the fact that the Government have not given them sufficient resources to provide adequate local authority secure places. That is the disgrace. If the hon. Lady does not know enough to appreciate that that is the problem, I suggest that she study the issue with some diligence. I now return to the matter of secure training orders, to which we had proceeded before the she intervened.

The Magistrates Association said: It is vital that links should be maintained with the child's family and community by a designated social worker so as to facilitate rehabilitation. In the Association's view, this can only be achieved in small, locally based units. It is, therefore, sensible to accept the logic that magistrates should have the opportunity, where appropriate—where an application for an order is made and in the limited circumstances dealt with in the amendment—to consider whether it is appropriate to vary where a young person is placed.

Mr. Stephen

We all know that there are good parents and bad parents. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that all too often the parents, because of their own criminal or other deviant behaviour, are part of the problem?

Mr. Michael

That is sometimes true, and that is the sort of factor that magistrates should take into account in exercising the discretion that the Lords amendments would give them. If the hon. Gentleman considers that point, he may find himself in agreement with the sense of the Lords amendment, because it does not fly in the face of his argument.

Secondly, the courts would be able to decide that the regime in a local authority secure unit, including education and training, would be more appropriate for the young offender than the regime in a secure training centre. There has been considerable discussion on the matter, and there is much evidence to support that case.

The Minister responding to the debate in the House of Lords suggested that secure training centres would deal specifically with persistent offenders and would therefore be better able to provide a regime to tackle offending behaviour. However—this answers the objections of a couple of hon. Members—the criterion in the Bill for the use of the order is that a young person should have been convicted of at least three imprisonable offences, not necessarily on different occasions. That would include many young offenders who are not very persistent.

The Minister in the House of Lords also said that the age group would be relatively small, but, as clause 5(2) makes clear, secure training centres will accommodate, young people between 12 and nearly 17. The oldest will be those who were sentenced when nearly 15 to a two-year order, and who have been recalled from supervision to the institution after release. That wide age group, and the likely sophistication of some of the inhabitants of the homes, give us cause to worry that they will develop into colleges of crime, rather than places that will return young people to the community more likely to obey the law.

The Home Office's research has shown that local authority secure units provide a better quality of regime for young people than do larger institutions. A court may therefore prefer to commit the young offender to a small local authority secure unit that would provide more individual personal attention and therapy, and a less institutional atmosphere, than a larger secure training centre. Such a unit may also be able to prepare the way for continuity when the young person is released.

Where a court wished a young offender to be held in local authority secure accommodation rather than in a secure training centre, the Lords amendments would give it that choice. Obviously, such a choice would be based on the evidence and the facts, and would be made only in the narrow set of circumstances set out in the amendments.

There are several circumstances in which the power to exercise flexibility over the period of detention might be used. First, a court may commit a juvenile to a secure training centre many miles from his or her home area, although it feels that detention in local authority secure accommodation would have been more appropriate, if no such place is available at the time of sentence. A local authority place may become available later, and it may be clear to the secure training centre staff that the child would be more appropriately held in such a place.

That is a simple example of a situation in which it would be common sense for such a variation to be made. It is not adequate to say that the Home Secretary could exercise the power in such circumstances. We all know about the bureaucracy that is involved in getting such a decision to the point of being reviewed by the Home Secretary. Some of the young people would probably be pensioners by the time that process was complete.

Secondly, a child in a secure training centre may be disturbed or suicidal, and the way in which training and treatment is provided may make a local placement more appropriate. Thirdly, a child in a secure training centre may make excellent progress and respond positively to the regime there.

Following assessment of a child committed either to a secure training centre or to a local authority secure unit, it may become clear that he or she would be more appropriately placed in an open community home, with foster parents or in some other manner that would be more effective in preventing future offending. Surely that should be our priority—to prevent future offending, to avoid future crime and to protect people who could become victims. Finally, there could be circumstances such as compassionate grounds—for example, the death or serious illness of a close relative—which would make a transfer to accommodation nearer to the home area desirable.

Those are just a small number of examples of when it would be appropriate to employ the flexibility provided by the Lords amendments. I do not envisage that the flexibility provided by the Lords amendments would be used on that many occasions. That is why I find it difficult to understand why the Home Secretary is so negative in refusing to accept them.

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Dr. Godman

I intervened briefly on the Home Secretary to ask for confirmation that the measure or the related measures do not extend to Scotland. I should be grateful for the confirmation of my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth (Mr. Michael) on that point. We may well be facing something much more formidable in the proposed criminal justice Bill for Scotland, which, I think, will be announced in the forthcoming Queen's speech.

Mr. Michael

I am always prepared to sympathise with my hon. Friend about likely developments in Scotland, but it is very unwise for an English or a Welsh hon. Member to comment on them. My understanding is that we are talking about a matter that will affect England and Wales. It will be interesting to see what legislation there will be in the next Session and whether the Home Secretary will succeed in blocking the bringing forward of a Bill to provide a body to deal with miscarriages of justice or whether the Lord Chancellor will succeed in pressing for that legislation, which was one of the 27 points which, still, have not been delivered. With my hon. Friend the Member for Greenock and Port Glasgow (Dr. Godman), I shall look with interest to see what is set out in the Queen's speech.

In practice, it seems that the directors of secure training centres, which, of course, will be run by private commercial organisations that have a direct financial interest in maintaining high occupancy, may not often apply to a court to move a child elsewhere. Nevertheless, the amendments, if accepted, would introduce a desirable element of flexibility, subject at all stages to court decisions, into the operation of the secure training order. Our objective should be to ensure that the secure training order, in view of the Minister's insistence in proceeding with it, is as workable as possible.

Mr. Bermingham

Does my hon. Friend agree that the contents of the whole part of the Bill under discussion were a poor attempt to bring real care and training to the young who offend and re-offend? It was once again a hurried measure, by a hurried Home Secretary, who has hurried ideas and who hurriedly fails every time.

Mr. Michael

My hon. Friend is quite right. The measures were put into a statement in the House without thought, and even without consultation with the Department of the Home Secretary's predecessor, who, unfortunately, did not have the sense or gumption to think things through, to listen to the Select Committee on Home Affairs and to come up with something a good deal more sensible. The problem today is that we are able only to consider the Lords amendments, which provide a limited opportunity to introduce a little flexibility and common sense into the measures that have already passed through the House. For the acceptance of that little bit of common sense, rather than simply to look for a quick fix or a quick headline, I appeal to the House. That little element of flexibility would not undermine or damage what the Home Secretary seeks to do. It would simply provide a little common sense—

Sir Ivan Lawrence

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Michael

—which would allow the system to be slightly better targeted and less damaging than it could otherwise become. I shall give way to the hon. and learned Gentleman if he can hold his breath until I get to the end of a sentence.

Sir Ivan Lawrence

I am most grateful to the hon. Gentleman. I wish that he had held his breath a little longer. Will the Labour party give a commitment to implement the agency that was recommended by the Select Committee on Home Affairs and about which the hon. Gentleman has said much this afternoon?

Mr. Michael

It took a long time for the Chairman of the Home Affairs Select Committee to think up that question and to return to his feet. We would be far more interested if he would tell us whether he would press his Home Secretary to implement that recommendation—or, has he so little confidence in the recommendations of his own Committee that he is not bothering to do so, and so little interest in the recommendations of his own Committee that he did do not even know that that recommendation was there until my hon. Friend the Member for Hornsey and Wood Green produced the evidence? During the passage of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Bill, we made clear the constructive alternative strategy that we would adopt. That strategy would succeed in dealing with problems of crime, which are not even addressed by the Home Secretary or the Government.

I understand why the Government and their tame Back Benchers wish to distract attention from the wording of the Lords amendment. They want to do that because the amendment is modest. Indeed, it was tabled by a Conservative peer in an attempt to prevent the Government from digging themselves even deeper into difficulties in future. That is why the House should accept these modest amendments which were passed in another place.

Mr. John Greenway

The Opposition spokesman, the hon. Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth (Mr. Michael), tried very hard to disguise the fact that the Labour party is opposed to secure training units and to the provision in the Bill, but he failed. The public, who are crying out for something to be done about persistent juvenile offenders—

Ms Armstrong

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Greenway

No, I have hardly started my speech.

The public, who are crying out for something to be done about persistent juvenile offenders, will note the Labour party's attitude. I want to bring a more dispassionate approach to the issue because, although we can have party political arguments in this place, people of all parties want something to be done about persistent juvenile offenders. That is what the Bill attempts to achieve.

Ms Armstrong

Is it not true that none of the centres will be built or in operation before the next election? Is not the real reason why the Home Secretary refused to answer my earlier intervention that nothing in relation to the secure training orders will be up and running before then? The Government cannot even get round to paying the planning fee to make progress with the planning application.

Mr. Greenway

I have some sympathy with the idea that it is taking too long to get the secure training units up and running. However, I can tell the hon. Member for Durham, North-West (Ms Armstrong) and the Labour party that it might have been helpful if, when the legislation was passed a year ago, the House had accepted it with enthusiasm. Instead of its taking a year to get the measures through Parliament, we could then have had the legislation on the statute book six months ago and—for reasons which will become obvious—that would have been very helpful in a particular case.

I said that I wanted to try to take a dispassionate view of the matter. In supporting what my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary wants to do, I want to refer to the case of a 14-year-old boy who appeared at York youth court on Monday. That 14-year-old has acquired the nickname "Blip Boy" because of his effect on police crime statistics in the York area. He has already been convicted of 38 burglaries and thefts. At York youth court on Monday he admitted a string of further offences which included five burglaries and attempted burglaries, theft and handling, aggravated vehicle taking, assaults, possessing controlled drugs and possessing an offensive weapon, all—and this is the point—while he was living in social services accommodation in North Yorkshire and Lincolnshire.

Lady Barron, wife of Sir Donald Barron who is much respected and a very senior public figure in the York area—as is Lady Barron—and apolitical in the extreme, said that she would have liked to have given that 14-year-old boy a custodial sentence, but she could not do so. All she was able to do was to give him a two-year supervision order—but had it been within her power to give a form of custodial sentence, that would have been the court's preference.

I want to refer to some of the things that that young man has done. A 65-year-old woman required hospital treatment after she was assaulted by the boy when she spotted him burgling a neighbour's house. The youngster has also assaulted social workers who tried to restrain him in social services accommodation.

I am told by York magistrates court that the young man in question fulfils all the conditions set out in the Bill for a secure training order. He has already been the subject of several section 25 orders and has a long record of absconding from local authority secure accommodation. A senior figure at the court told me this morning that it is highly probable that, as long ago as six months, the court would have preferred to give the youth a custodial sentence, because it was perfectly obvious that every other measure had failed—and not for want of trying. The social services had tried everything without success. I do not criticise them for that; indeed, the House should commend the work of social services departments that are trying to deal with these juvenile offenders. The fact is that they cannot always succeed, however. The task is beyond them. We need something else, and that is why the secure training orders are so important.

Mr. Beith

Does not the hon. Gentleman realise that, with the Lords amendment, such a person could be made the subject of a secure training order as soon as the Bill receives Royal Assent, when an obligation would be placed on a local authority to keep the person in secure accommodation? If the amendment is not agreed to, we shall have to wait until one of these centres has been built before anyone can be given a secure training order.

Mr. Greenway

I understand that, but we are dealing with legislation that will have to apply for a long time to come, not just the next six months or so. I do not therefore believe that we should take the route proposed in the Lords amendment. Magistrates, after all, will not be compelled to sentence a juvenile offender to a secure training order. They will still have at their disposal the whole current range of sentences, including a supervision order, or a requirement to be in local authority social services accommodation, or a section 25 order: none of that will change.

We need a clear-cut alternative that goes beyond what is currently available. The Select Committee report mentioned 200 or 300 youngsters in this context, although that report was referred to today with considerable inaccuracy by the hon. Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth. When we scrutinised this matter early last year, we were told that 200 or 300 places would probably be required, and there will have to be specialist care, education and training in them. I do not see such care being provided in local authority accommodation. It will require a special kind of unit, and that is what the Government want to provide.

The hon. Member for Durham, North-West talked about the speed with which the system could be put in place. It is clear to me that the secure training units need to be built as quickly as possible. If my right hon. and learned Friend catches your eye later in the debate, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I hope that he will tell us how quickly he believes the units can be established. This matter has nothing to do with whether magistrates or police officers support the Conservative party, another party or no party. They all genuinely believe, with the public, that magistrates do not now have at their disposal what they need to deal with these youngsters. So we should give secure training units a try. If people are watching our debate this afternoon, they will see that, once again, the Government have come up with an imaginative idea to respond to public concerns, but that the Labour party has confirmed yet again that it does not have a single policy on how to deal with these youngsters.

4.45 pm
Mr. Beith

I do not think that the conclusion of the hon. Member for Ryedale (Mr. Greenway) followed from his argument. His argument was that there is an urgent problem, which he instanced by a case from his area. He then failed to recognise that a more immediate way of dealing with that problem is to allow secure training orders to go ahead under the terms of the Lords amendment, which would allow them to be brought into effect straight away using existing local authority secure accommodation. The Government have belatedly provided for more such accommodation and for an increase in the number of places available in it.

It ought to be common ground that such measures arise because of genuine public concern about the fact that there are at least some young offenders who have frequently absconded from the accommodation in which they were placed and who have persistently reoffended. There is certainly a small number of very persistent young offenders who have received a great deal of press attention and who present the public with serious problems. There is therefore genuine anxiety on the part of the public, who want reassurance that the courts, empowered by this House, can put such people in places from which they cannot abscond and then reoffend. They should also be given the right training and education while they are locked away in the right sort of accommodation.

How one sets about that is the subject of some public argument at the moment—what should the legal framework be? The Lords have genuinely considered the Government's approach; they have not thrown it out of the window, but have sought to modify it and to give the courts a choice. A reason offered for legislative action in this area has been the belief that the courts did not have enough options open to them. One hears magistrates say in private that they feel that their hands are tied. One effect of the Lords amendment is to untie their hands and to give them more than one way of applying a secure training order.

Listening to the Home Secretary, one might imagine that the amendment was the product of rabid anarchists. In fact, it was moved by, and carried with the support of, members of the right hon. and learned Gentleman's own party—indeed, the amendments were moved by one of his distinguished predecessors in the course of a responsible discussion of a difficult problem. The amendments came about because of the considerable experience of some Members of another place, several of whom served in Conservative Governments.

Listening to the Home Secretary, one might also imagine that the amendments will affect a large number of young offenders and will, if left in the Bill, undermine work with a large number of them and delay its effectiveness. None of those suggestions is true. We are talking about only 200 young offenders who could be the subject of such orders—that at least is the maximum number of places that will be initially provided.

If the Lords amendments are not agreed to, there will be delay and no chance of bringing in secure training orders until the places in the private sector institutions are provided. With the amendments, the Bill could be effective from the moment of Royal Assent, and the orders could be used as a means of dealing with young offenders.

One could also be forgiven for imagining, from what the Home Secretary said, that the Government have a clear picture of the kind of regime of supervision and training that will do the trick in the institutions. Several times the Home Secretary said that, with their 40 young people each, the institutions will enjoy the right supervision, training and education regimes. That betrays a degree of knowledge about what we are going to do with these people which neither I nor many professionals in the field claim to share. There is no such certainty about what measures will effectively help some young offenders to lead useful lives and to abandon the ways of crime into which they have entered at such an extraordinarily early age.

There is a great deal of professional discussion of such issues. All the experience of recent years suggests that Home Secretaries who come along with solutions turn out not to have them at all. What happened to the short sharp shock that was supposed to be a proven method of dealing with young offenders? We have it no more because it did not work. The borstals and approved schools went because gathering together large numbers of persistent young offenders in such regimes did not appear to work. It was not that Ministers thought they were unpleasant or undesirable institutions; they simply had a high reoffending rate and other means had to be sought to deal with the problem. The Home Secretary should not glibly use phrases such as "an appropriate regime of education and training" as though there were a known and recognised answer to the problem.

Clearly, improving youngsters' education so that they have the opportunity to make a useful life must be part of the exercise. Some young people who become involved in that level of crime appear to be pretty intelligent and shrewd about how to carry out crimes and how to evade them. They have energies which need to be channelled effectively. A number of them are clearly in need of discipline and a framework in which they can begin to understand that they have obligations to others.

One can see some of the elements, but pretending that one has the right answer has been the mistake of successive Home Secretaries. The present Home Secretary would be wise not to make that mistake, particularly given that his own Department's research casts such doubt on the matter. The Home Office research and planning unit paper No.66, entitled "Juveniles Sentenced for Serious Offences", published in 1992, states: The study also found that offenders who had been in secure units in the local authority community home system were significantly less likely to have been reconvicted two years after release than those released from young offender institutions.

The research evidence does not suggest that there is an alternative regime in a different institution which we know will work. We are arguing only about how we can guarantee the security that the public require; there is no menu of better methods of providing training for young people readily available.

The professionals working with this age group in local authority homes and social service departments or with the next age group in young offender institutions are trying with great difficulty to deal with changes that society has thrown at them. It is an extremely challenging task to which there are no simple answers.

Clearly, in some cases there are arguments strongly in favour of the smaller local authority home with secure places. A larger institution may offer less prospect of building up stable relationships with staff for children of 12 or 13 who have had no stable home relationships and for whom a purely institutional environment with no stable relationships with other people may offer no way out of the way in which they have traditionally reacted to the lack of stability in their lives.

Mr. Stephen

As the right hon. Gentleman knows, local authorities have had secure accommodation for quite some time. Could he explain why they have not so far succeeded in solving the problem?

Mr. Beith

I do not think that anyone has the solution to the problem; that is the burden of what I am saying. Nor should the Home Secretary pretend that he has the solution. One result of our discussions is that it will be possible and accepted for local authorities to apply greater security in their own secure accommodation places, and the new institutions, when created, should also be secure, but that says very little about the effectiveness of the regimes within them.

Young people will not be in those places for long. Two years later, they will be out in the community with the possibility of committing many more crimes. Indeed, they will be entering the peak ages at which young people commit crimes and they will pose a threat to many more potential victims of crime if they do not come out with a better attitude than that with which they went in. That is why, in particular cases, the court is entitled to examine whether it is likely that a particular young person might be better placed in a small local authority home, which has secure accommodation with the prospect of building up stable relationships, than in a large institution where that child might become the prey of many other hard young offenders, perhaps with greater criminal experience and tendency than him or her.

There is also the problem of distance. The secure training units will be limited in number and may be so far from the homes of some young people that making plans to readmit them into the community at the end of the order or sentence will be difficult. Parental, family or friend contact, which may be crucial in getting them back into society, cannot be achieved.

Clearly, the circumstances may vary. The Lords amendment is asking only for the opportunity for the court to choose in the light of the various circumstances. Indeed, it provides the opportunity for the court to be convinced by the initial experience of private sector secure training units that they offer a better regime for certain youngsters. I remain to be convinced of that, but there seems no good reason why the court should not have the option to place the child in one or other type of institution.

I return to the point that I made to the Home Secretary in an intervention. His resistance to the Lords amendment is driven by the belief that he has to offer the private sector a tempting deal. He has to be able to say to the private sector, "Do not worry. The courts will not be able to send them anywhere else. They will have to send them to you, so your capital will not be at risk. You will have a guaranteed number of places." That is one of the difficulties—and there are a number—about relying on the private sector to provide crucial facilities for custody and for taking away liberty because someone represents a threat to society.

We have great reservations about the privatisation process in the prisons. Taking away people's liberty for the good reason that their liberty poses a threat to society is something that the state does in limited circumstances and over which the state ought to exercise firm authority and control on everyone's behalf.

The Lords amendment is a reasonable compromise with the Government's position. The associated amendments, which provide opportunity for subsequent movement from a local authority place to a secure training centre or vice versa, represent a useful element of flexibility for the court, but not for the Home Secretary or social services departments.

If the Home Secretary were not so worried about the need to offer the private sector a financially reliable deal, he would accept the Lords amendments and recognise that his faith in the secure training units could be tested against the possibility of local authority places being more appropriate for some youngsters.

Sir Ivan Lawrence

Was not the response of the Opposition to my right hon. and learned Friend's exposition of the justification for secure training orders amazing? It was utterly wide of the mark, it was wrong in comprehension, and one can only assume that it was delivered in a state of panic, because the words of their leader—"tough on crime, tough on the causes of crime"—is so manifestly contrary to the way in which the Labour party has behaved in the House over the past 15 years.

If the Labour party were tough on crime and tough on the causes of crime, it would have supported the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984, it would have supported the various Criminal Justice Acts, Public Order Acts, and Prevention of Terrorism Acts. The embarrassment of the Labour party is in realising that it has opposed all those measures because it can not carry its supporters in the House, while the public are totally on the side of stronger action being taken to reduce terrorism and crime in all its forms. That embarrassment causes the Opposition to behave in a totally illogical and incomprehensible way when we propose reasonable, sound and sensible suggestions.

Mr. Michael


Mr. Bermingham


Sir Ivan Lawrence

I shall give way to the hon. Gentleman in a moment. He must have an opportunity to respond. I should like to hear whether his response is any different from the responses we have heard when the same accusation has been made before.

Labour opposition to the secure training centre and to the secure training order shows that the words "tough on crime, tough on the causes of crime" were just an act; they are just empty words meant for television.

Mr. Michael

I wonder whether the hon. and learned Gentleman can summon up rather greater accuracy than he has so far. Will he explain why he followed the Home Secretary into voting down a variety of proposals that were made in Committee—such as the idea of a national strategy to deal with drugs and drug-related crime and measures to deal with weapons and a variety of other issues? His case is the one that the Conservative central office puts out, but it is not accurate.

Sir Ivan Lawrence

When the Government make proposals, they make practical proposals. When the Opposition make proposals, they make absolutely impractical proposals, which are often complete and utter nonsense, even though they continue saying that they will be tough on crime.

I would not be allowed to take up the time of the House in replying in detail to what the hon. Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth (Mr. Michael) said, but so many of the proposals are completely impracticable nonsense. If they had had any merit, the Government would have supported them. Proposals are not made by the Labour party only; the Government always consult many organisations before reaching conclusions.

We have just heard nonsense about the Home Affairs Committee report. There has been a total misunderstanding. It shows that the Labour party is flailing again. It is as though members of the Labour party think that, by flailing their arms about and trying to attack, they give the impression that they are being tough on crime. I do not know whether the hon. Member for Hornsey and Wood Green (Mrs. Roche), who no doubt will make her contribution, confused herself, but certainly the hon. Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth confused himself.

5 pm

When we proposed a new national agency to manage the custody and supervision of persistent juvenile offenders and other people who receive custodial sentences, we were suggesting its introduction over a longer period. It was not meant to be an immediate replacement for our suggestion of secure training orders. We made that clear in our report: on the assumption that the Government does intend to press ahead with its present plans for secure training orders, there are a number of points which we believe to be crucial. We then suggested ways in which the secure training orders might be improved; some of the suggestions have been taken up by the Government. We suggested that there should be a qualifying threshold and we suggested certain provisions, some of which the Government have adopted.

We spoke about the size of the centres and concluded that there should be a wide spread of units each containing no more than 15 inmates, though in large centres of population it may be possible for more than one unit to be sited together.

We spoke about intensive staffing of those secure training centres, recommending that a staffing ratio of at least two staff to each inmate should be the norm.

We spoke about education and training in the secure training centres, and we said that we believed that the emphasis of any custodial regime for young people must be more educational and therapeutic than punitive.

We spoke about the length of time to be served and we recommended that there should normally be a minimum period of six months served in custody"— a recommendation which was rejected by members of the Opposition— following which, according to his or her response, the individual should be … freed to intensive community supervision".

We spoke about aftercare in the secure training orders, recommending intensive supervision for those sentenced to secure training orders as soon as they are judged fit to return to the community".

We recommended that the Home Office learn from the lessons of private sector involvement"— I emphasise that— in the prison service before granting any contracts to the private sector to run centres where secure training orders will be served.

All that is on the basis that there is to be a secure training order. It is not on the basis that there should be no secure training order. It is nonsense to suggest the contrary, and it misleads anyone who is listening to the debate.

Mrs. Roche

I am grateful to the hon. and learned Gentleman for giving way, but it is obvious that he is completely muddled himself—not for the first time. If the hon. and learned Gentleman reads the report carefully, he will see that, leaving aside the issue of secure training orders, which the Committee did not consider one way or the other, the Committee entitled that section of the report on the new national agency "A more radical" approach.

I asked my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth (Mr. Michael) why we had not heard from the Government and the Home Secretary when they would implement that more radical approach, which they appeared to have welcomed cautiously when our report was published. It appears that the hon. and learned Gentleman has completely muddled the entire subject.

Sir Ivan Lawrence

If that is what the hon. Lady intended, it is not what she said. Certainly, it was not what the hon. Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth understood the hon. Lady to say. If she is going on to say that we did not even consider the secure training orders, I have just read out page after page of our report in which we suggest certain measures that the Government may take with their secure training orders.

Furthermore, the hon. Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth has the effrontery to take the position that the Government should respond to the youth agency proposal, when his party refuses to commit itself to that. If one wants a classic example of the Labour party's total confusion and flailing about, what better example than that?

The hon. Gentleman asks why the Government do not accept the proposal of the Home Affairs Select Committee to create that agency and, when asked whether he would implement it, refuses to answer the question, simply because he cannot say yes, will not say yes and does not want to say yes. If the Opposition believe that the public will be impressed by that performance, they have another think coming to them.

The basis of our proposal for secure training orders is that the public are fed up with the hard core of persistent juvenile offenders who have gone on and on committing offences, and the magistrates and Crown court judges have asked repeatedly for a means of tackling the problem. Local authority provision has never been adequate to deal with hard-core persistent juvenile offenders, of which there are not many.

When the Home Affairs Select Committee went to America, we asked, "How do you deal with your hard-core persistent juvenile offenders?" They asked us, "How many are you talking about?" We said, "Two or three hundred." They asked, "Which town are you talking about?" We said, "That is in the whole of the country," and they said, "We have 300 or 400 hard-core persistent juvenile offenders in every town and city in the United States of America."

However, we learned from the Massachusetts experiment, which we went there to watch. We drew conclusions, and we recommended that, in the fullness of time, one agency should control the sentencing of all young offenders. However, we cannot implement that in the short term.

Opposition Members ask why we have not implemented all that already. It will take even longer if we follow an agency route, which will take many years to develop. I hope that we shall do that in due course. The Government have not ruled it out.

Mr. John Greenway

Was it not also the case that, under the Massachusetts experiment, any youngster, from the age of 12 or 13, who was sentenced to one of the orders, which would put them under the control of that agency, would be under the control of that agency until the age of 18, and could be recalled to custody by those who ran the agency at any time during that five or six-year period? Would not that be a radical departure from everything that Labour Members have said this afternoon?

Sir Ivan Lawrence

Another radical departure would be the recommendation—with which we do not agree—that one cannot re-programme children's minds, if they are going badly wrong, in as little as six months. One may need years. We may have to bite that bullet in due course. Young offenders who are taken out of circulation because they are persistently evil and go off the rails time and again may need longer than six months, even under secure training orders, for the full weight of re-programming facilities to be brought to bear effectively on them.

However, that is for another time. For the moment, let us do what we can, as efficiently and as effectively as possible, to tackle the public's worry about the persistent hard core of juvenile offenders who have committed so many of the appalling crimes that we have heard about recently, and for which the secure training order is a positive solution.

Dame Elaine Kellett-Bowman (Lancaster)

What really upsets my constituents is that so few people commit so many offences, and that, while they are not in custody, they are leading local gangs. One per cent. of those in the age group commit 60 per cent. of offences. In a market town in my constituency, a custodial sentence was imposed on some youngsters which meant that they were out of circulation. While they were out of circulation, they were not committing burglaries.

If they have a tough custodial regime, they come out not as the Opposition would suggest, but with pride in themselves, because they have learnt something. They have become healthy. They have found that they can do something and achieve something in life. That is the point—

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Geoffrey Lofthouse)

Order. That is a long intervention.

Sir Ivan Lawrence

But it was a good intervention, with which I agree.

Mr. Walter Sweeney (Vale of Glamorgan)

Will my hon. and learned Friend note that, in the Vale of Glamorgan, close to the constituency of the hon. Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth (Mr. Michael), there is a council home from which young offenders have been able to wander at will and commit further offences, such as taking without consent? My constituents are crying out for the provision of secure units to which young offenders can be sent. When a couple of offenders from Llantwit Major in my constituency were sent away by the court to an institution in England, there was an immediate dramatic drop in the offender rate in that small town.

Sir Ivan Lawrence

I agree with my hon. Friend. It touches on another point that we learned in Massachusetts. One of the important requirements for giving secure training to young offenders is the need to separate them from their bad influences, from the gangs and perhaps from their bad families. It is all very well having institutions close to where their families and friends with bad influence can visit, but Massachusetts told us that they must be put a long way away, so that they are totally removed.

The Government are not proposing to do that. They have a humane attitude to this—although they may have to adapt that attitude in due course. I am not saying that our suggestions are 100 per cent. perfect. That kind of change may be needed if what is proposed does not work. As we say, we will suck it and see.

Perhaps the Government are right and Massachusetts is wrong. If the Government are right, we can carry on with such close co-ordination between the secure training centres and the family homes from which the young offenders come. That is an important point, which I hope my right hon. and learned Friend will bear in mind.

We have said, "This is the problem, and this is a positive solution, which has general support." When we go round and explain it to our constituents, whether Conservative or not, they say, "Good, excellent, splendid." They simply cannot understand the Opposition being opposed to it.

Mr. Nick Hawkins (Blackpool, South)

Does my hon. and learned Friend agree that those who are calling most for such a provision are judges, recorders, assistant recorders and magistrates, as well as the rest of the population? They have been crying out for years for more secure accommodation for the worst of the young offenders.

Sir Ivan Lawrence

Yes, of course. I am sorry that I put that point so badly earlier that my hon. Friend had not accepted it then.

The Lords amendments will undermine a provision which is sensible, practicable, and which has the support of the overwhelming majority of people, including the judges. The amendments suggest what the Labour party has always suggested, which is that its own power base, the local authorities, where it is often in a substantial majority, can deal with the question of young offenders much more effectively than any other institution. Apart from the fact that that has never been proven in the past, which is one reason we have come to this situation, it is totally impracticable.

5.15 pm

Opposition Members do not seem to have grasped the point that what we want to do with young offenders, to re-programme their minds by education and training and one-to-one hands-on help, cannot be done in local authority care. One reason is that local authority institutions are not just for persistent hard-core juvenile offenders: they are for all other kinds of juvenile offenders, who might be much less to blame and have done much less wrong than the hard-core persistent offenders.

To put the two together in the same institution will only make the less bad worse, because the persistent hard-core juvenile offenders are what we say they are—hard-core, hard-bitten; it has gone into their souls. We must somehow get hold of their souls and change them. They will be the strong ones influencing those who have done wrong, but not so much wrong.

Those local authority institutions have children in care who have done no wrong. Why should they be locked in secure accommodation with hard-core persistent offenders who will teach them their bad ways? There is no way under the existing situation, preferred by Opposition Members and Members of the other place who supported the amendments, that we can hive off those who are less guilty of crime and those who are guilty of no crime at all from those who are persistent hard-core juvenile offenders, unless one has a new institution for the last group.

It is not just that that is impractical; it is that the heart of local authorities has never been in dealing with the worst kind of offenders. When one goes round, they say, "We are local authorities. We are social services. We are not here to punish the bad. We are not even here to educate. We cannot. We do not have the resources, the powers or the facilities to do so." Their heart is not in it.

Their solution to the hard-core persistent juvenile offender has too often been to give them a holiday, send them to Center Parcs or on safari; let them see what the good life is and perhaps they will be good in order to get the good life rather than bad. But as so many offenders have said when they have come back from such holidays, "They must be joking. Whoever thought that I would change after I had been to Center Parcs or on safari somewhere in Egypt? They must be mad."

Mr. Bermingham

What has that got to do with the amendment?

Sir Ivan Lawrence

That is the kind of attitude that the local authorities have to dealing with persistent juvenile offenders. It is no good, it does not work and it is not what the public want. It is certainly not the sort of remedy that judges, whether magistrates or Crown court judges, want to pass by way of judgment.

Mrs. Teresa Gorman (Billericay)

Is my hon. and learned Friend aware that this very day listening to this debate is a group of parents who have come all the way down from Scotland, from the Strathclyde and Dumbartonshire area, where 500 young children have been killed in the past five years by dangerous drivers, many of whom are juveniles? They think that six months' detention is a totally inadequate punishment for the bereavement that they have suffered.

Mr. Bermingham

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. The hon. Lady has clearly not read the Bill. It does not apply to Scotland.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

That is not a point of order for me.

Sir Ivan Lawrence

Yes, but my hon. Friend was making a point which applies as much to England and Wales as to Scotland and Northern Ireland. It is a general point. People are concerned, and it is because of that concern that the Government are doing something concrete which the Opposition do not wish to see done.

Not only is the local authorities' heart not in it, but we can see that local authorities are not anxious to be involved from the interesting point that my right hon. and learned Friend made about the meeting of the Labour-controlled local authorities in February 1993 at which they suggested action by July but nothing happened.

No action is being taken because their hearts are not in it. They do not believe that local authorities or social services exist for that purpose. Members of the Home Affairs Select Committee visited some facilities. At one of them, we were told that the cost to the local authority of caring for one person was in excess of £3,000 per week. If that is the best that a local authority can do with taxpayers' money in dealing with hard-core, persistent juvenile offenders, it requires another think, more management and a different organisation.

The Government do not intend to introduce a new form of borstal, approved school or glasshouse—all of which institutions, I agree, have not proved successful. They propose nothing less than the re-programming of children's minds when they have gone off the rails. That requires education, training, care and love, as well as punishment and discipline. That cannot be done by local authorities, but only by a specially dedicated organisation, which the Government are establishing.

Opposition Members say that local authorities could provide a satisfactory alternative, but all the evidence shows that that alternative has never been and can never be satisfactory. Their proposals would only undermine what the Government will achieve by taking a positive step to deal with hard-core, persistent offenders. It may not be 100 per cent. good, but it is 80 per cent. good. We can continue to improve it, and it will work. To do other than to reverse the amendments and to give the plan a chance would be madness.

Ms Ann Coffey (Stockport)

The amendments would give a court making a training order the discretion to specify that the period of detention should be served in local authority secure accommodation rather than in a secure training centre. That appears to be a reasonable and flexible amendment. Clause 2(2) seems to allow the court to commit an offender, if a place is not available at a secure training centre, to a local authority-registered children's or voluntary organisation home. It does not stipulate that it should be a secure place. I am sure that it would not go down particularly well with some hon. Members if young people sentenced to a secure training order were, because of a lack of sufficient appropriate accommodation, placed in children's homes. That would create the problems complained of this afternoon. Perhaps the Home Secretary will clarify whether that could happen.

The Government are trying to deal with the complex problem of juvenile crime with a simplistic solution and are paying little attention to its likely effectiveness. To put juvenile offending in perspective, the number of juvenile offenders in Stockport in 1990 totalled 1,600 and in 1993, 1,400. The major offences were shoplifting, youth car crime, public order transgressions and nuisance—basically, kids on the street. A small group was involved in drug dealing and protection. All those are of great public concern—especially car crime and shoplifting, which cause higher insurance premiums and food prices.

A study by Stockport's Youth Justice team of all juveniles who appeared before Stockport juvenile and Stockport youth courts between 1 January 1990 and 31 March 1994 revealed that from a total of 1,500, four boys regally fitted the terms of the secure training order. At the time of sentencing, the magistrates could have imposed a custodial sentence on three of the boys but did not do so. That leaves only one boy who could have been committed to a secure training centre, which would have made little impact on Stockport's crime statistics and would not have greatly improved its residents' quality of life.

A fraction of the juveniles who come before the courts merit supervision orders. I mention that because breach of a supervision order is one precondition for a secure training order.

Youth offenders have complex problems. School exclusions have rocketed and there are high illiteracy rates, complex problems at home and lack of parental control. Parents who seek help have little preventive support until the problem becomes so acute that there is statutory intervention. It is largely a question of resources being applied to stop juveniles offending. Perhaps statutory responsibilities on local authorities under the Children Act 1989 need to be properly funded and monitored. One cannot disentangle the provisions of that Act from legislation on juvenile justice.

The Home Secretary announced new national standards for supervision orders.

Mr. John Greenway

Good for him.

Ms Coffey

Exactly—well done, but making sure that supervision orders work is labour intensive and time consuming. The Home Secretary has not put the necessary resources behind those new standards, which is a pity because supervision orders can be effective. Some 80 per cent. of those who serve custodial sentences reoffend, but only 55 per cent. of those who undergo non-custodial treatment do so. One does not need to be a genius to know why. If children are kept in a normal environment, they will mature. If they are placed in an institution that contains a criminal sub-group, all that they will learn are further criminal attitudes and values. That is why community treatment is much more effective than custodial sentencing.

Mr. Stephen

Does the hon. Lady agree that one reason why juveniles who serve custodial sentences reoffend is that in this country, a young person is not placed in custody unless he or she has exhausted almost every other way of being dealt with? We are dealing with the hard core who are put into custody, and it is hardly surprising that they reoffend.

Ms Coffey

Even in the case of hard-core offenders, all the statistics show that placing them in prescriptive custodial care does not help them in the long run, if one wants to avoid such offenders spending their juvenile lives in custodial care and their adult lives in gaol—something that no hon. Member wants.

Mr. Edward Garnier (Harborough)


Ms Coffey

I must press on. Crime must be tackled early. Children must be kept in education, because their exclusion from school is not helpful. A preventive duty on local authorities must be given high priority, bail support schemes should be properly funded, and youth provision must be re-examined because that is a cornerstone in crime prevention.

Perhaps children should be placed in children's homes as part of a preventive strategy. I view that as community treatment, in an effort to stop children offending before they become eligible for custodial sentences that include secure training orders. However, local authority children's homes are closing because of budget pressures, and recommendations to improve residential care in the public and private sectors, national standards and training have not been implemented by the Government. Perhaps the Home Secretary will talk to the Minister with responsibility for children's homes about introducing new standards for them, to complement the right hon. and learned Gentleman's national standards for supervision.

Unless standards improve and there is increased availability of appropriate places to meet children's needs, the amendments—welcome as they are—would still compel local authorities to place children hundreds of miles from their homes, with placements dictated by cost rather than needs. The cost of crime to the public is high. Preventive measures also cost money, but crime prevention is complex, and the measures that I have mentioned will reduce crime, to the benefit of the community. That is what it is about. Opposition Members know that there are children who need control, who need to be placed away from home, and who need to be in secure accommodation, but let not Conservative Members pretend that that is a solution to the problem of juvenile crime. It is not and it is not enough.

Mr. Bermingham

I sought to intervene some six times on the Home Secretary to ask him a simple question: what if the miscreant needed more than two years' retraining? He did not let me intervene. I suspect that he guessed that the question was coming. My hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth (Mr. Michael), who is the Opposition spokesman, allowed me to intervene, and he did know the answer. It does cover it. That is the problem with this part of the Bill.

5.30 pm

I have been on the Home Affairs Select Committee for the best part of 10 years. I have been a practising barrister and declare an interest. In that time, I have had the opportunity to look time and again at the problem of juvenile crime. In 1986, the Committee went on a trip to America. When we announced where we were going—to Massachussetts, to look at how juvenile crime was dealt with there—the Home Office sent the Minister of State, with a couple of officials, to have a look. Nothing happened. We produced a report on drugs and other things. On another occasion, the Home Affairs Select Committee went again. Things had moved on a bit in the years since I was there. I did not go that time, because I did not want to see, at the expense of the state, something that I had already seen—once officially and two or three times privately. But back came the information. Things had changed slightly in Massachussetts, but what had not changed there was the effectiveness of the programme. It reduces reoffending.

In his speech at the Blackpool conference last year, the Home Secretary made 27 points. One has been implemented so far, and one of them was to be tough on crime. I have a suspicion that the Home Secretary will not like what I am about to say. On Second Reading—I did not serve on the Committee that considered the Bill—I made the point that the Home Secretary has still not got it right. He has tinkered with it. He has gone for it on the cheap. He has not gone for it effectively. There are not 200 persistent young juvenile offenders in this country; the figure is probably nearer 500 or 600. Not a single institution has been built to provide the treatment necessary. When will he provide an institution to deal with the first 12 or 15? Please, Home Secretary, tell me, because I have an awful feeling that it ain't going to be for quite some time.

The Home Secretary was, in his day, a very good planning lawyer, but his Department cannot even pay its planning fees, we hear, so it has not even started. One would have thought that the Home Office would think about what society wants. It is all very well for the hon. and learned Member for Burton (Sir I. Lawrence), who is Chairman of the Home Affairs Select Committee, to go on and on in his 20 minute-plus speech. If one says something, at least try to make a point. The point is that there is a persistent problem. There are people from Scotland in the Gallery whose children have died. If we are to protect the children of England, we must contain the persistent offender.

Mr. Garnier

I would be grateful for a little explanation. Is the hon. Gentleman advocating, in principle, support for the provision of secure training units, but regretting their lateness in coming? I am confused by the difference between his opinion and that of the Labour Front Bench.

Mr. Bermingham

If the hon. Gentleman had waited a little longer, he would have found the answer to the question. It is very simple: there is a need for containment of the persistent offender, who can be as young as eight, nine or 10. Let us not walk away from it. Anyone who has practised—my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth, who has much experience in these matters, will agree with me—recognises the existence of the problem. The question is how to deal with it. This measure, for reasons that I will come to in a moment, is not the answer. It is a partial answer, but, unfortunately, it will not be effective in the weeks and months that lie ahead. The persistent young offender may, for various reasons, have problems that cannot be ironed out in six months, nine months, 12 months, 15 months or two years. It may even take longer.

Mr. Stephen

Is the hon. Gentleman therefore saying that he would have supported the amendment that I tabled on Report and Third Reading, which would have made secure schools available to children from the age of 10 to 18?

Mr. Bermingham

I go back to the point that I have made constantly in the House over 10 years. Provision needs to be made for the persistent offender to be contained. Then, as they progress in the training, retraining and education, they earn their way out of it. So the containment becomes less stringent as one goes forward, until ultimately one is rehabilitated into society. That is what happens in Massachussetts—or did 10 years ago. The outcome was not 74 per cent. reoffending, which this country had at that time, but 28 per cent. That is an enormous amount of crime solved. I am saying that, if we had that system, the hon. Member for Sedgefield [Laughter.] Not Sedgefield—[HON. MEMBERS: "Forgotten him already!"] No, it is the face of the hon. Member for Ryedale (Mr. Greenway) which beams across the Committee Room at me week after week. His was the constituency I sought to remember. His example at York would have been dealt with by the system that I have been advocating for 10 years.

Let us take what the Government have now proposed. I have said that it was a hurried measure, hurriedly thought out and hurriedly implemented. It produces a two-year package some time in the future. It will not become effective with the Royal Assent, because the Home Secretary has not had the units built. The money for that is not available yet. I am hoping that he will say that he will have the first unit available on 1 January next year. I suspect that he cannot.

There is a little nasty in the Bill—put out to private tender. Why does the Home Secretary object to the amendment? It has positive benefits.

Sir Ivan Lawrence

It is a wrecking amendment.

Mr. Bermingham

It is not. If the hon. and learned Member for Burton would occasionally try to understand that some people do things for a non-political purpose, because they care about the safety of citizens in this country, I would be grateful.

The amendment enables the court, whether it be a judge or magistrate, to select the option. They could be in a position—they have had all the reports—to select accordingly. If the amendment is passed, the Home Secretary will know, from the date of Royal Assent, that courts can bring secure training into effect simply by using the local authority avenue. It is a possibility.

So, once again, the Government have not thought through the matter of dealing with persistent offenders, which society demands. They have brought a measure to the House which they cannot implement immediately, and we are left with no solution to the problem for some time to come. The Home Secretary will tell me that the bulldozers are moving, the bricklayers are working, the money is pouring in, and the training units—

Mr. Howard

indicated dissent.

Mr. Bermingham

The Home Secretary shakes his head because he knows that they are not there. He knows that the money is not there for it at the moment either.

I am sorry to say that the measure is a sham, designed for publicity. It is not a practical, working measure that could be brought into effect tomorrow. The Lords amendments give us some hope that something can be done. I urge the House to support the Lords tonight.

Mr. Peter Bottomley (Eltham)

I apologise for not being able to listen to all the speeches at the beginning of the debate.

This is not the time to go into a full review of juvenile justice or why people offend. We should accept that the reason for the clauses and amendments that we are discussing is the fact that a small minority of people behave abominably: they may be troubled children, but the trouble that they cause to society is enormous.

I do not want to open up the issue of whether children should be sent to the equivalent of gaol, which is also a debate for another time; I will say that, if the secure training centres are established, there will be nothing like the concentration of numbers that has occurred in institutions set up in the past. I welcome that. I have some doubts about whether a total of up to 50 people will be manageable, but I do not wish to delay the debate by going into details.

I speak as a former chairman of the Church of England Childrens Society, which used to look after some most troubled children, and I have observed how difficult and important it is to achieve progress in individual children. We are not concerned now with what to do with children for six months or two years; we are concerned with helping to reconstruct their lives—with redemption and resurrection, and the re-creation of a life of worthwhile activity.

Only five centres will be available to the courts. I may receive advice from more knowledgeable people, but I hope that it will not be possible for magistrates to send young offenders to those centres for periods of at least six months; I hope that such offences will be deemed serious enough to warrant a Crown court hearing.

Are we right in regarding at least Lords amendment No. 15 as a wrecking amendment? I do not think that it is. I am convinced by those who argue that it extends the powers of the courts, and I do not think that we should limit those powers if Lords amendment No. 15 contains additional opportunities. Unless I hear convincing arguments to the contrary, I intend to support Lords amendment No. 15 or an equivalent to it.

Mr. Gunnell

It is welcome to hear positive comment from a Conservative Member. Part of the problem during the debate has been their persistent confusing of local authority children's homes and local authority secure accommodation. The hon. Member for Ryedale (Mr. Greenway) suggested that a young criminal in York had escaped from local authority secure accommodation; I think that that is most unlikely. That young person was probably in a children's home. As the Home Secretary knows, the regulations governing children's homes, introduced by the present Government—I think that the latest regulations were introduced in 1990—insist that children cannot be locked up in such homes.

The hon. and learned Member for Burton (Sir I. Lawrence) painted a farcical picture of local authorities. It was, in fact, a serious criticism of the Home Secretary's expenditure. The Home Office is paying for more than 20 of the occupants of a local authority secure home that I know in Leeds, and was involved in the capital expenditure involved in its creation; it would not be paying some £70,000 a year per child for the accommodation unless it was effective. In Committee, the Minister of State said that he had visited that facility in Leeds and accepted that it was doing a good job. Leeds also runs the "bed bureau" dealing with local authority secure accommodation throughout the country, and knows about the nationally available facilities.

Lords amendment No. 15 puts the point very clearly. Why is the Home Secretary not prepared to allow choice? The hon. Member for Blackpool, South (Mr. Hawkins) said that judges and magistrates did not like the proposal, but that is nonsense: it will allow them 'to choose, the accommodation that they consider suited to the individuals with whom they deal, knowing their offences and background and how far they live from the five available centres.

Why does the Home Secretary say that magistrates and judges should not have the power to decide? In my view, there are only two possible answers, one of which was given at the outset by my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth (Mr. Michael). Either the Home Secretary does not trust magistrates to make the right decision, or he believes that, if they have the powers to make that decision, there will not be enough clients for his centres. As the right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith) suggested, he needs to bolster the numbers.

5.45 pm

We must eliminate the notion that local authorities provide accommodation that is not secure, and houses a multiplicity of types of children. As the Home Secretary knows, to enter secure accommodation young people must have committed offences for which they would receive a 14-year custodial sentence: the offences must be very serious. The children in secure accommodation in Leeds have indeed committed grave offences—offences as grave as murder in some cases. They are in secure accommodation because society and the local authority rightly believe that they need to be there, and that the public need to be protected from them.

I do not think it right to categorise local authority secure accommodation as collecting all sorts of young people, and to suggest that those entering it are likely to corrupt or be corrupted by those already there. I support the amendments because I believe that the "colleges of crime" argument is a strong one, and that we are creating another cause of crime when we put together 40 serious juvenile offenders in care that is at the very least untried, because we have not tried privatising accommodation for children of that age who have committed such offences. I believe that we should give magistrates the choice, and I believe that the Home Secretary's real reason for not wanting to give them that choice is less that he does not trust them than that he does not think that the new centres will get off the ground unless a clientele is collected fairly promptly.

We should be concerned not just with the period of accommodation, but with rehabilitation and the prevention of persistent reoffending. My hon. Friend the Member for Stockport (Ms Coffey) gave the statistics—figures of 80 per cent. and 55 per cent. for two different types of treatment. I feel that we are opting for the type which, so far, has been shown to have the worse record.

If the private sector is to bid not only to provide accommodation and care but to provide aftercare, the position will become extremely difficult. If an offender is given a secure training order, say, in Cornwall and then goes to Oxfordshire—that being the site of the nearest centre—how will the same person in authority be able to provide aftercare back in Cornwall, where I believe the regulations state that the offender would have to be seen just once a month? How will it be possible to provide the level of aftercare needed to integrate the offender back into the community? If he stays distant from his community, the chance of his reoffending will be all the greater.

I feel that the Lords amendment gives us a chance to improve the Bill, and to improve the position for many of the young offenders who will come before the courts. I am very sorry that the Home Secretary seems determined not to let it stand.

Mr. Hawkins

I shall speak very briefly, just to deal with a matter which Opposition Members raised time and again in Committee, and which has now been raised again by the hon. Member for Morley and Leeds, South (Mr. Gunnell). He suggested that different past treatments for offenders showed differences in reoffending rates, but he was not comparing like with like. Opposition Members repeatedly make that mistake. Often the most serious juvenile offenders, whom I used to prosecute over many years at the Bar, received the most serious sentences. They were precisely the hard-core offenders who would reoffend. One is not comparing like with like because those who commit less serious offences are given supervision orders and are less likely to reoffend.

In order to deal with the most serious juvenile offenders, we need sensible, secure provision. The only Labour Member who seemed to understand that is the only one with real experience over many years at the Bar, the hon. Member for St. Helens, South (Mr. Bermingham). He recognises that there is no point in sending the most serious young offenders on safari holidays because it simply sends a signal to those offenders that they are being rewarded for their crimes. What about the law-abiding children whose parents cannot afford to send them to Center Pares or on safari holidays? We need secure training centres because while those juveniles are in those centres they are not breaking into old ladies' houses and that is what the public want to see.

Mr. Howard

With permission I should like to respond to the debate.

We knew that we would have to make allowances for the hon. Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth (Mr. Michael). We knew that he would go to any lengths to curry favour in the elections taking place today. Clearly, his approach is that the best way to perform effectively in those elections is to put as much distance as possible between the truth and the remarks one makes. That was the principle that he adopted and, for all I know, it may be the most effective technique for election to the shadow Cabinet.

The hon. Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth suggested that the Opposition have always adopted a constructive attitude to these matters. Has he forgotten that in another place the Labour party, led by the noble Lord McIntosh, voted to take out of the Bill the whole of part I which would have deprived the courts of any powers to send young offenders to secure institutions of any sort? The hon. Gentleman responded enthusiastically to an intervention from his hon. Friend the Member for St. Helens, South (Mr. Bermingham), who suggested that there should be scope for a longer period to be spent in a secure training centre. He had no answer to the point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Hertfordshire, North (Mr. Heald), who pointed out that the only amendment from the Labour party in Committee was designed to shorten the time to which people could be sentenced to a secure training centre, not to lengthen it.

The hon. Gentleman behaved disgracefully—there is no other word for it—to my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Burton (Sir I. Lawrence), the Chairman of the Select Committee, who gave him chapter and verse on how the Committee recommended an agency in addition to the provision of a secure training centre. Without the slightest foundation, he accused my hon. and learned Friend of twisting and turning when my hon. and learned Friend was simply pointing out the truth.

The reality behind the approach of the Labour party and the hon. Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth was revealed when in his closing remarks he said that one of the things that are wrong with the provision is that it assumes that anyone who has committed three offences is a persistent offender. That is the attitude which the Labour party brings to consideration of these matters and it is as well that everyone should know about it.

We heard an interesting speech from the right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith). I welcome him, somewhat belatedly, to his new responsibilities. I hope that he holds that position on the Opposition Benches for a long time, particularly if he makes a habit of making the sort of speech that he made today. He attributed to me opinions that I have never expressed, he attacked me for arguments that I have never advanced and he constructed his speech on a basis that did not deal with the points that have been made in the debate. We had splendid speeches from my hon. Friend the Member for Ryedale (Mr. Greenway) and my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Burton, who explained precisely why the provisions are necessary and why the amendments from another place should be rejected.

The hon. Member for Stockport (Ms Coffey) advanced statistics on reoffending that have been comprehensively answered in an intervention by my hon. Friend the Member for Shoreham (Mr. Stephen) and by my hon. Friend the Member for Blackpool, South (Mr. Hawkins). The hon. Lady attacked our proposals for secure training centres on the basis that they are not the whole solution. I accept that they are not the whole solution and we have never advanced them as the whole solution. However, they are an important part of the solution and we have to have them. We shall have them as soon as possible.

Local authority secure accommodation is no alternative, for the reasons that I gave in my opening speech. It is no use pretending that there is local authority secure accommodation available that would enable the courts to pass sentence the day after Royal Assent. It is not available in sufficient quantities. It is not available largely for the reasons that I put to the hon. Member for Durham, North-West (Ms Armstrong). I gave her the specific example of Labour local authorities in the north-east that have not been providing the accommodation and she had no answer to that point. She replied with the pathetic point about non-payment of the planning fee and I shall deal precisely with that issue.

It is true that we have not paid the planning fee in respect of our application for planning permission for a secure training centre. We have not done so because it would be improper for us to do so before we obtain Royal Assent. Had we sought to disburse moneys before Royal Assent, the Labour party would be the first to complain that we were flouting the will of Parliament, behaving improperly and seeking to spend taxpayers' money without proper permission to do so. That is the simple truth. I would that we could make greater progress, but we must abide by the proprieties, as we always do. That is why the planning fee has not been paid.

Ms Armstrong


Mr. Howard

I do not know what the hon. Lady is going to say.

Ms Armstrong

Why did the Government apply for planning permission some weeks, if not months, ago and ask the local authority to deal with it immediately?

Mr. Howard

We are not allowed to spend money until we have Royal Assent—[Interruption.] It is extraordinary that the Labour party, which tells us daily of its aspirations to government, is so completely unaware of what the proprieties demand in relation to these matters.

The hon. Member for St. Helens, South criticised us for not yet having a secure training centre in being. Of course we do not have such a training centre. That is what the legislation is about. We want the legislation in order to be able to provide secure training centres. That is why we are here.

I am sorry that my hon. Friend the Member for Eltham (Mr. Bottomley) was not here at the beginning of the debate. I hope that, had he heard my opening speech, he would have understood why we are not prepared to accept the amendments from another place. We believe that we are dealing with a discrete group of persistent young offenders. We believe that they need a particular remedy that is tailor-made for them. They need a high-calibre regime of training and education, which we intend to provide in our secure training centres. That is why we think that that is the right sentence for the courts to pass on them. That is why we think that the amendments that were passed in another place should be rejected.

For those reasons and for the reasons that I gave in my opening remarks, to which the Labour party has not responded, I invite the House to reject the amendments.

Mr. Michael

With the permission of the House, I should like to reply.

The laughter that greeted so many of the Home Secretary's comments showed the ridicule into which he has brought his high office. I suppose that we should be pleased that the Home Secretary returned the loyalty of the Chairman of the Select Committee. However, he is as inaccurate as the Chairman in the account that he gave of these matters.

I remind the House that a vote against the Lords amendments is a vote to refuse discretion to magistrates and a vote against a commonsense approach to the prevention of reoffending. That is what it is about.

6 pm

Question put, That this House doth disagree with the Lords in the said amendment:—

The House divided: Ayes 298, Noes 272.

Division No. 306] [6.00 pm
Ainsworth, Peter (East Surrey) Coe, Sebastian
Aitken, Rt Hon Jonathan Colvin, Michael
Alexander, Richard Congdon, David
Alison, Rt Hon Michael (Selby) Conway, Derek
Allason, Rupert (Torbay) Coombs, Simon (Swindon)
Amess, David Cope, Rt Hon Sir John
Ancram, Michael Couchman, James
Arbuthnot, James Cran,James
Arnold, Jacques (Gravesham) Currie, Mrs Edwina(S D'by'ire)
Arnold, Sir Thomas (Hazel Grv) Davies, Quentin (Stamford)
Ashby, David Davis, David(Boothferry)
Aspinwall, Jack Day, Stephen
Atkins, Robert Deva, Nirj Joseph
Atkinson, David (Bour'mouth E) Devlin, Tim
Atkinson, Peter (Hexham) Dicks, Terry
Baker, Nicholas (Dorset North) Dorrell, Rt Hon Stephen
Baker, Rt Hon K. (Mole Valley) Douglas-Hamilton, Lord James
Baldry, Tony Dover, Den
Banks, Matthew (Southport) Duncan, Alan
Banks, Robert (Harrogate) Duncan-Smith, Iain
Bates, Michael Dunn, Bob
Batiste, Spencer Durant, Sir Anthony
Beggs, Roy Dykes, Hugh
Bellingham, Henry Egger, Tim
Bendall, Vivian Elletson, Harold
Beresford, Sir Paul Emery, Rt Hon Sir Peter
Biffen, Rt Hon John Evans, David (Welwyn Hatfield)
Body, Sir Richard Evans, Jonathan (Brecon)
Bonsor, Sir Nicholas Evans, Nigel (Ribble Valley)
Booth, Hartley Evans, Roger(Monmouth)
Boswell, Tim Evennett, David
Bottomley, Rt Hon Virginia Faber, David
Bowden, Sir Andrew Field, Barry (Isle of Wight)
Bowis, John Fishburn, Dudley
Boyson, Rt Hon Sir Rhodes Forman, Nigel
Brandreth, Gyles Forsyth, Michael (Stirling)
Brazier, Julian Forsythe, Clifford (Antrim S)
Bright, Sir Graham Forth, Eric
Brooke, Rt Hon Peter Fowler, Rt Hon Sir Norman
Brown, M. (Brigg & Cl'thorpes) Fox, Dr Liam (Woodspring)
Browning, Mrs. Angela Fox, Sir Marcus (Shipley)
Bruce, Ian (S Dorset) Freeman, Rt Hon Roger
Budgen, Nicholas French, Douglas
Burt, Alistair Fry, Sir Peter
Butcher, John Gale, Roger
Butler, Peter Gardiner, Sir George
Butterfill, John Garel-Jones, Rt Hon Tristan
Carlisle, John (Luton North) Garnier, Edward
Carrington, Matthew Gill, Christopher
Cash, William Goodlad, Rt Hon Alastair
Channon, Rt Hon Paul Goodson-Wickes, Dr Charles
Chapman, Sydney Gorman, Mrs Teresa
Churchill, Mr Grant, Sir A. (Cambs SW)
Clappison, James Greenways, Harry (Ealing N)
Clark, Dr Michael (Rochford) Greenways, John (Ryedale)
Clarke, Rt Hon Kenneth (Ru'clif) Griffiths, Peter (Portsmouth, N)
Clifton-Brown, Geoffrey Grylls, Sir Michael
Gummer, Rt Hon John Selwyn Monro, Sir Hector
Hague, William Montgomery, Sir Fergus
Hampson, Dr Keith Moss, Malcolm
Hannam, Sir John Nelson, Anthony
Harris, David Neubert, Sir Michael
Haselhurst, Alan Newton, Rt Hon Tony
Hawkins, Nick Nicholls, Patrick
Hawksley, Warren Nicholson, David (Taunton)
Hayes, Jerry Nicholson, Emma (Devon West)
Heald, Oliver Norris, Steve
Heathcoat-Amory, David Onslow, Rt Hon Sir Cranley
Hendry, Charles Ottaway, Richard
Hicks, Robert Page, Richard
Higgins, Rt Hon Sir Terence Paice, James
Hogg, Rt Hon Douglas (G'tham) Paisley, Rev Ian
Horam, John Patnick, Sir Irvine
Hordern, Rt Hon Sir Peter Patten, Rt Hon John
Howard, Rt Hon Michael Pattie, Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey
Howarth, Alan (Strat'rd-on-A) Pawsey, James
Howell, Rt Hon David (G'dford) Peacock, Mrs Elizabeth
Howell, Sir Ralph (N Norfolk) Pickles, Eric
Hughes Robert G. (Harrow W) Porter, Barry (Wirral S)
Hunt, Rt Hon David (Wirral W) Portillo, Rt Hon Michael
Hunt, Sir John (Ravensbourne) Powell, William (Corby)
Hunter, Andrew Rathbone, Tim
Jack, Michael Redwood, Rt Hon John
Jackson, Robert (Wantage) Richards, Rod
Jenkin, Bernard Riddick, Graham
Johnson Smith, Sir Geoffrey Rifkind, Rt Hon. Malcolm
Jones, Gwilym (Cardiff N) Robathan, Andrew
Jones, Robert B. (W Hertfdshr) Roberts, Rt Hon Sir Wyn
Jopling, Rt Hon Michael Robertson, Raymond (Ab'd'n S)
Kellett-Bowman, Dame Elaine Robinson, Mark (Somerton)
Key, Robert Robinson, Peter (Belfast E)
Kilfedder, Sir James Rowe Andrew, (Mid Kent)
Knapman, Roger Rumbold, Rt Hon Dame Angela
Knight, Dame Jill (Bir'm E'st'n) Ryder, Rt Hon Richard
Knight, Greg (Derby N) Sackville, Tom
Knight, Mrs Angela (Erewash) Sainsbury, Rt Hon Tim
Knox, Sir David Scott, Rt Hon Nicholas
Kynoch, George (Kincardine) Shaw, David (Dover)
Lait, Mrs Jacqui Shaw, Sir Gilles (Pudsey)
Lang, Rt Hon Ian Shephard, Rt Hon Gillian
Lawrence, Sir Ivan Shepherd, Colin (Hereford)
Legg, Barry Shersby, Michael
Leigh, Edward Sims, Roger
Lennox-Boyd, Sir Mark Skeet, Sir Trevor
Lester, Jim (Broxtowe) Smith, Sir Dudley (Warwick)
Lidington, David Smyth, Rev Martin(Belfast S)
Lightbown, David Soames, Nicholas
Lilley, Rt Hon Peter Speed, Sir Keith
Lloyd, Rt Hon Peter (Fareham) Spencer, Sir Derek
Lord, Michael Spicer, Michael(S Worcs)
Luff, Peter Spicer, Sir James(W Dorset)
Lyell, Rt Hon Sir Nicholas Spring, Richard
MacGregor, Rt Hon John Sproat, Iain
MacKay, Andrew Squire, Robin (Hornchurch)
Maclean, David Stanley, Rt Hon Sir John
Madel, Sir David Steen, Anthony
Malone, Gerald Stephen, Michael
Mans, Keith Stern, Michael
Marland, Paul Stewart, Allan
Marlow, Tony Streeter, Gary
Marshall, John (Hendon S) Sumberg, David
Martin, David (Portsmouth S) Sweeney, Walter
Mates, Michael Sykes, John
Mawhinney, Rt Hon Dr Brian Tapsell, Sir Peter
McCrea, Rev William Taylor, Ian (Esher)
McLoughlin, Patrick Taylor, John M. (Solihull)
McNair-Wilson, Sir Patrick Taylor, Rt Hon John D. (Strgfd)
Merchant, Piers Temple-Morris, Peter
Mills, Iain Thomason, Roy
Mitchell, Andrew (Gedling) Thompson, Patrick (Norwich N)
Mitchell, Sir David (Hants NW) Thompson, Sir Donald (C'er V)
Moate, Sir Roger Thurnham, Peter
Molyneaux, Rt Hon James Townsend, Cyril D.(Bexl'yh'th)
Tracey, Richard Wheeler, Rt Hon Sir John
Tredinnick, David Whitney, Ray
Trend, Michael Whittingdale, John
Trimble, David Widdecombe, Ann
Trotter, Neville Wiggin, Sir Jerry
Twinn, Dr Ian Wilkinson, John
Vaughan, Sir Gerard Willetts, David
Viggers, Peter Wilshire, David
Waldegrave, Rt Hon William Winterton, Mrs Ann (Congleton)
Walden, George Winterton, Nicholas (Macc'f'ld)
Walker, A. Cecil (Belfast N) Wolfson, Mark
Walker, Bill (N Tayside) Wood, Timothy
Waller, Gary Yeo, Tim
Ward, John Young, Rt Hon Sir George
Wardle, Charles (Bexhill)
Waterson, Nigel Tellers for the Ayes:
Watts, John Mr. Timothy Kirkhope and
Wells, Bowen Mr. Simon Burns
Abbott, Ms Diane Corbett, Robin
Adams, Mrs Irene Corbyn, Jeremy
Ainger, Nick Corston, Jean
Ainsworth, Robert (Cov'try NE) Cousins, Jim
Allen, Graham Cummings, John
Alton, David Cunliffe, Lawrence
Anderson, Donald (Swansea E) Cunningham, Jim (Covy SE)
Anderson, Ms Janet Cunningham, Rt Hon Dr John
(Ros'dale) Dafis, Cynog
Armstorng, Hilary Dalyell, Tam
Ashdown, Rt Hon Paddy Darling, Alistair
Banks, Tony(Newham NW) Davies, Bryan(Oldham C'tral)
Barnes, Harry Davies, Ron(Caerphilly)
Barron, Kevin Denham, John
Battle, John Dewar, Donald
Beckett, Rt Hon Margaret Dixon, Don
Beith, Rt Hon A.J. Dobson, Frank
Bell, Stuart Donohoe, Brain H.
Benn, Rt Hon Tony Dowd, Jim
Bennett, Andrew F. Dunnachie, Jimmy
Benton, Joe Eagle, Ms Angela
Bermingham, Gerald Eastham, Ken
Berry, Roger Enright, Derek
Betts, Clive Etherington, Bill
Blair, Tony Evans, John(St Helens N)
Blunkett, David Ewing, Mrs Margaret
Boateng, Paul Fatchett, Derek
Bottomley, Peter (Eltham) Field, Frank (Birkenhead)
Boyes, Roland Fisher, Mark
Bradley, Keith Flynn, Paul
Bray, Dr Jeremy Foster, Don (Bath)
Brown, Gorden (Dunfermline E) Foster, Rt Hon Derek
Brown, N.(N'c'tle upon Tyne E) Foulkes, George
Burden, Richard Fraser, John
Byers, Stephen Fyfe, Maria
Caborn, Richard Galbraith, Sam
Campbell, Menzies (Fife NE) Galloway, George
Campbell, Mrs Anne (C'bridge) Gapes, Mike
Campbell, Ronnie (Blyth V) Garrett, John
Campbell-Savours, D.N. George, Bruce
Canavan, Dennies Gerrard, Neil
Cann, Jamie Gilbert, Rt Hon Dr John
Chidgey, David Godman, Dr Norman A.
Chisholm, Malcolm Godsiff, Roger
Church, Judith Golding, Mrs Llin
Clapham, Michael Graham, Thomas
Clark, Dr David (South Shields) Grant, Bernie (Tottenham)
Clarke, Eric (Midlothian) Griffiths, Nigel (Edinburgh S)
Clarke, Tom (Monklands W) Griffiths, Win (Bridgend)
Clelland, David Grocott, Bruce
Clwyd, Mrs Ann Gunnell, John
Coffey, Ann Hain, Peter
Cohen, Harry Hall, Mike
Connarty, Michael Hanson, David
Cock, Frank (Stockton N) Hardy, Peter
Cock, Robin (Livingston) Harman, Ms Harriet
Harvey, Nick Morley, Elliot
Hattersley, Rt Hon Roy Morris, Estelle (B'ham Yardley)
Henderson, Doug Morris, Rt Hon A.(Wy'nshawe)
Heppell, John Morris, Rt Hon J.(Aberavon)
Hill, Keith (Streatham) Mowlam, Marjorie
Hinchliffe, David Mudie, George
Hodge, Margaret Mullin, Chris
Hoey, Kate Murphy, Paul
Hogg, Norman (Cumbernauld) O'Brien, Michael (N W'kshire)
Home Robertson, John O'Brien, William (Normanton)
Hood, Jimmy O'Neill, Martin
Hoon, Geoffrey Oakes, Rt Hon Gordon
Howarth, George (Knowsley N) Olner, William
Howells, Dr. Kim (Pontypridd) Orme, Rt Hon Stanley
Hoyle, Doug Parry, Robert
Hughes, Kevin (Doncaster N) Patchett, Terry
Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen N) Pendry, Tom
Hughes, Roy (Newport E) Pickthall, Colin
Hughes, Simon (Southwark) Pike, Peter L.
Hutton, John Pope, Greg
Ingram, Adam Powell, Ray (Ogmore)
Jackson, Glenda (H'stead) Prentice, Bridget (Lew'm E)
Jackson, Helen (Shef'ld, H) Prentice, Gordon (Pendle)
Janner, Greville Prescott, John
Jones, Barry (Alyn and D'side) Primarolo, Dawn
Jones, Ieuan Wyn (Ynys Mofln) Purchase, Ken
Jones, Jon Owen (Cardiff C) Quin, Ms Joyce
Jones, Lynne (B'ham S O) Radice, Giles
Jones, Martyn (Clwyd, SW) Randall, Stuart
Jowell, Tessa Raynsford, Nick
Keen, Alan Redmond, Martin
Kennedy, Charles (Ross, C&S) Reid, Dr John
Kennedy, Jane (Lpool Brdgn) Rendel, David
Khabra, Piara S. Robertson, George (Hamilton)
Kilfoyle, Peter Robinson, Geoffrey (Co'try NW)
Kirkwood, Archy Roche, Mrs. Barbara
Lestor, Joan (Eccles) Rogers, Allan
Lewis, Terry Rooker, Jeff
Liddell, Mrs Helen Rooney, Terry
Litherland, Robert Ross, Ernie (Dundee W)
Livingstone, Ken Rowlands, Ted
Lloyd, Tony (Stretford) Salmond, Alex
Llwyd, Elfyn Sedgemore, Brian
Loyden, Eddie Sheerman, Barry
Lynne, Ms Liz Sheldon, Rt Hon Robert
Macdonald, Calum Shore, Rt Hon Peter
Mackinlay, Andrew Short, Clare
Maclennan, Robert Skinner, Dennis
MacShane, Denis Smith, Andrew (Oxford E)
Madden, Max Smith, C. (Isl'ton S & F'sbury)
Maddock, Diana Smith, Llew (Blaenau Gwent)
Mahon, Alice Snape, Peter
Mandelson, Peter Soley, clive
Marek, Dr John Spearing, Nigel
Marshall, David (Shettleston) Steel, Rt Hon Sir David
Marshall, Jim (Leicester, S) Stevenson, George
Martin, Michael J. (Springburn) Stott, Roger
Martlew, Eric Strang, Dr. Gavin
McAllion, John Straw, Jack
McAvoy, Thomas Sutcliffe, Gerry
McCartney, Ian Taylor, Matthew (Truro)
McFall, John Taylor, Mrs Ann (Dewsbury)
McKelvey, William Thompson, Jack (Wansbeck)
McLeish, Henry Timms, Stephen
McMaster, Gordon Tipping, Paddy
McNamara, Kevin Turner, Dennis
McWilliam, John Tyler, Paul
Meacher, Michael Vaz, Keith
Meale, Alan Walker, Rt Hon Sir Harold
Michael, Alun Wallace, James
Michie, Bill (Sheffield Heeley) Walley, Joan
Michie, Mrs Ray (Argyll Bute) Wardell, Gareth (Gower)
Miller, Andrew Wareing, Robert N
Mitchell, Austin (Gt Grimsby) Watson, Mike
Moonie, Dr Lewis Welsh, Andrew
Morgan, Rhodri Wicks, Malcolm
Wigley, Dafydd Wray, Jimmy
Williams, Alan W (Carmarthen) Wright, Dr Tony
Williams, Rt Hon Alan (Sw'n W)
Winnick, David Tellers for the Noes:
Wise, Audrey Mr. Eric Illsley and
Worthington, Tony Mr. John Spellar

Question accordingly agreed to.

Government motions to disagree agreed to.

Subsequent Lords amendments agreed to.

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