HC Deb 23 June 1998 vol 314 cc842-61

'.—(1) Where a court passes a sentence of detention in a young offender institution in the case of an offender who is subject to a detention and training order, the sentence shall take effect as follows—

  1. (a) if the offender has been released by virtue of subsection (2),(3),(4)or (5)of section 75 above, at the beginning of the day on which it is passed;
  2. (b) if not, either as mentioned in paragraph (a) above or, if the court so orders, at the time when the offender would otherwise be released by virtue of that subsection.

(2) Where a court makes a detention and training order in the case of an offender who is subject to a sentence of detention in a young offender institution, the order shall take effect as follows—

  1. (a) if the offender has been released under Part II of the 1991 Act, at the beginning of the day on which it is made;
  2. (b) if not, either as mentioned in paragraph (a) above or, if the court so orders, at the time when the offender would otherwise be released under that Part.

(3) Subject to subsection (4) below, where at any time an offender is subject concurrently—

  1. (a) to a detention and training order; and
  2. (b) to a sentence of detention in a young offender institution,
he shall be treated for the purposes of sections 75 to 78 above, section IC of the 1982 Act and Part II of the 1991 Act as if he were subject only to the one of them that was imposed on the later occasion.

(4) Nothing in subsection (3) above shall require the offender to be released in respect of either the order or the sentence unless and until he is required to be released in respect of each of them.

(5) Where, by virtue of any enactment giving a court power to deal with a person in a manner in which a court on a previous occasion could have dealt with him, a detention and training order for any term is made in the case of a person who has attained the age of 18, the person shall be treated as if he had been sentenced to detention in a young offender institution for the same term.'.—[Mr. Michael.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

3.41 pm
The Minister of State, Home Office (Mr. Alun Michael)

I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

Madam Speaker

With this, it will be convenient to discuss the following amendments: Government amendments Nos. 19, 23 to 25 and 88.

Amendment No. 65, in clause 73, page 57, line 35, after 'child', insert 'over the age of 12'.

Amendment No. 66, in page 58, leave out lines 1 to 6.

Government amendment No. 26.

Amendment No. 67, in clause 96, page 79, line 35, leave out 'or a prison'.

Amendment No. 68, in page 79, line 36, leave out 'or (c)'.

Amendment No. 99, in page 80, line 8, after 'apply', insert 'or if paragraph (a)(i) above applies, but paragraph (a)(ii) does not apply.'.

Amendment No. 69, in page 80, line 10, leave out from 'applies' to the end of line 12.

Amendment No. 100, in page 80, line 12, at end insert— '( ) Where a person has been remanded to a prison under subsection (4) above, it shall be the duty of the local authority social services department in whose area the court which remanded the person is located to inform the Court if local authority secure accommodation becomes available in which the person remanded to prison could be accommodated, and, on receipt of such notification, the court shall be deemed (unless it makes an order to the contrary), to have ordered that the person remanded to prison should be transferred to that secure accommodation.'.

Amendment No. 70, in page 80, line 30, leave out 'or prison'.

Amendment No. 98, in page 80, line 35, after 'himself,' insert 'or the likelihood of him being harmed by others.'.

Amendment No. 71, in page 80, line 36, leave out 'or a prison'.

Government amendments Nos. 29, 89, 58 to 60 and 90 to 97.

Mr. Michael

Grouped with new clause 9 are many amendments dealing with our programme for reform of the youth justice system. I gather that the hon. Members for Hertsmere (Mr. Clappison) and for Sheffield, Hallam (Mr. Allan)—both of whom participated in the Committee's detailed debates on the matter—are largely content with some of the amendments that we have tabled. I shall therefore speak as briefly as possible on the Government amendments and new clause, so that we can move on to dealing with matters that require more debate.

Some of the Government amendments are simply technical, to deal with the necessity of straightening out an anomaly that we have discovered, whereas others are simply a response to points raised in Committee. I shall give two examples.

First, new clause 9 sets out the arrangements that courts will have to follow when sentencing someone who is already under a custodial sentence to a further period of custody under the new detention and training order. The new clause deals with situations in which, for example, a subsequent sentence is to run concurrently or consecutively with the original sentence when that subsequent sentence is passed in either the custodial phase or post-release supervision phase of the original sentence. Some of the amendments deal with technical matters, on which I shall be happy to respond if there are queries. However, I do not believe that it is necessary to delay the House by dealing with those matters now.

Secondly, amendment No. 24 follows up the Committee's debate on whether a compensation order should be available to a court when it is making a reparation order. There was a good deal of discussion on the matter in Committee, in which Opposition Members argued that a compensation order should be available with a reparation order. We listened to the arguments. After the debate, we decided that those arguments were correct and that courts should have the option of using both orders. Amendment No. 24 therefore sets in train that provision.

I think that those examples give the flavour of the Government amendments and new clause.

Opposition amendments Nos. 65 and 66 would make the detention and training order unavailable for young offenders under the age of 12. As I said when we debated the issue at some length in Committee, that would be unhelpful. Having that provision in the Bill enables the Government to introduce those orders for the under-12s if evidence of the relevant behaviour and demand justifies that in the fulness of time.

Again, we have recognised that the matter needs to be subject to scrutiny, and a Government amendment makes any such implementation subject to the affirmative resolution procedure, so there would be scrutiny by the House. I think that that deals with the concerns expressed in Committee, but it also means that if there is a case for such an extension, it will not require primary legislation. I hope that what I have said gives a flavour of the way in which the Government have approached the issues.

We appreciate that some people expressed concern at the idea of extending detention and training orders to 10 and 11-year-olds, but I remind the House that, even if we did come forward with evidence of their necessity and satisfied the House through the affirmative resolution procedure, the court would still need to satisfy itself that the offending was serious enough to warrant the use of custody under the Criminal Justice Act 1991 test—that the offender is persistent and that only a custodial sentence is adequate to protect the public from further offending by him. I hope that we can set behind us the debates in Committee, as we have tried to respond to the points that were raised.

We had an extended debate in Committee on the matters covered by amendments Nos. 67 to 71, and I think it fair to refer hon. Members to the Committee Hansard to see how they were debated at some length. However, I shall summarise the issues.

In February 1991, the previous Government outlined their intention to stop prison remands for 15 and 16-year-old boys, but failed to provide the means to that end. Seven years after the commitment was made, the new places are still not fully available to fulfil that promise. The number of 15 and 16-year-olds remanded to prison has increased significantly in the 1990s. Indeed, the number of 15 and 16-year-old boys on remand has not fallen below 200 since January 1996; at the beginning of June, it stood at 228, but it has been as high as something over 300. It would therefore be unsafe to change the remand arrangements for those boys at this stage.

Our policy, set out in the Bill, is to make effective use of the planned accommodation that we inherited and to give the courts the range of remand power that they believe they need. That is why we are introducing court-ordered secure remand to local authority secure accommodation on an incremental basis rather than in the way originally advocated.

The Bill will give the courts the power to remand 12 to 14-year-olds, 15 and 16-year-old girls and "vulnerable" 15 and 16-year-old boys, if a place has been identified in advance, direct to local authority secure accommodation. The existing arrangements for the remaining 15 and 16-year-old boys will continue for the time being, although we wish to move to a position where the practice of prison remands for such boys is no longer necessary. As someone who has campaigned on that issue before and since entering Parliament, I am keen that we should succeed in that.

I hope that, by speaking briefly to the extensive list of Government amendments and by addressing the concerns that I believe Opposition Members wish to raise, I have helped the House to speed towards the matters that I know several hon. Members wish to take rather longer to debate.

Mr. James Clappison (Hertsmere)

The amendments tabled by me and my right hon. and hon. Friends relate to important issues regarding young people and custody. Before speaking to them, I should like briefly to comment on what the Minister rightly said about the Government's amendments. He specifically mentioned Government amendment No. 24. He was generous and fair enough to acknowledge that it was perhaps inspired by Opposition arguments in Committee. We are glad that the Government have seen sense on this issue because it is important.

As the Bill stood, it would have been possible for victims of crime to receive reparation from offenders, but that reparation would not have included financial compensation. We believe with some force that many victims, particularly the less well—off, would like financial compensation more than any other form. It is sensible that victims will be able to receive reparation from offenders, which is a useful concept, and financial compensation.

I hope that we shall have a similarly positive response from the Minister on our amendments when he has heard our full arguments—I always live in hope—because we intend to keep arguing on this important subject. Sending a child or young person to custody is a significant decision. Sadly, sometimes courts have to make such a decision, but it has to be carefully made. The subject must be dealt with on the basis of reason and evidence rather than rhetoric. I hope that that approach will not be obscured by too much rhetoric about nipping trouble in the bud. Sending children or young people into custody in inappropriate circumstances or sending them into an inappropriate form of custody is likely to store up trouble for the future rather than to nip it in the bud.

Amendments Nos. 65 and 66 relate to very young children. The Bill establishes a sentence of detention and training for 12 to 17-year-olds and contains a power for the Secretary of State to extend it to 10 and 11-year-olds. As the Minister has just said, the Government are proposing a change to allow that by an order under the affirmative resolution procedure. I am not satisfied by what the Minister said. We need to examine why the Government are seeking such a power.

We have been told that the Government are actively considering establishing a sentence of detention for 10 and 11-year-olds, and intend to make it possible for such a power to be introduced in the way that the Minister has described. The courts already have the power to send children of that age into custody for grave offences. Sadly, some 10 and 11-year-olds need to be sent into custody for grave offences. There is a long-established power under section 53 of the Children and Young Persons Act 1933 allowing children convicted of grave offences to be sent into custody.

Why do the Government want to go further and send 10 and 11-year-olds to detention alongside older offenders for less serious offences? The Government say that they will introduce such a sentence only if necessary. Where is the evidence that such a power is needed? According to a written answer that I received recently, the number of convictions of 10 and 11-year-olds carrying a custodial penalty went down between 1986 and 1996. I have seen further research in which children were asked about the offence of taking and driving cars. Only a very small proportion of the total started their criminal career at that age. The 10-year-olds did not register on the statistics and the figure for 11-year-olds was only 3 per cent. Against that background, why are the Government proposing such a power?

In opposition, Labour greatly criticised the provision of secure training orders for 12 to 15-year-olds. The current Prime Minister, when shadow Home Secretary, said: To weaken the provisions in local communities and then to claim that building the new secure training centres will help to prevent juvenile crime is a sham. We know that and I believe that the Government know that as well."—[Official Report, 11 January 1994; Vol. 235, c. 41.]

That is what the Prime Minister said then. We will come to the Government's record on local provision shortly, but, in the meantime, I observe that a Government who are considering sending 10 and 11-year-olds not to local provision, but to the very same institutions that were denounced as a sham have some explaining to do.

Although the centres have been given a new name—detention and training, rather than secure training—and although they probably have been given a lick of paint, and possibly some spin as well, those are the same institutions which, for 12 to 15-year-olds, the Labour party denounced as a sham as recently as the last Parliament. We do not question the availability of the centres for 12 to 15-year-olds, but we wonder about sending 10 and 11-year-olds to them. That measure was not included in the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994.

Our concern about sending children of such a young age to such institutions is increased by the fact that this Government, unlike the previous one, are apparently prepared to contemplate 10 and 11-year-old boys being mixed in those institutions with 15, 16 and 17-year-olds. That should give rise to concern, even among those who spoke about "colleges for crime" in the context of secure training centres in the last Parliament. If there is an element of sham about the matter, it is not on the Opposition side of the House.

We need to know more from the Minister than we heard in his opening remarks. He referred to the criteria that would be used for sending very young children to custody. However, the criteria in the Criminal Justice Act 1991 are the same criteria which must be fulfilled before any offender of any age—including an adult offender—is sent to custody.

The second limb of the criteria to which the Minister referred—that of further offending—did not even carry with it the qualification that it would have to be offending which, for example, caused serious harm—a criterion used in previous criminal justice legislation. It merely suggests further offences of any type that would carry a sentence of imprisonment in the case of an adult. Those are relatively relaxed criteria, and we need to ask more serious questions of the Government. We are not satisfied that they have made out a case for sending 10 and 11-year-olds to custody. We would ask for the evidence and the research that justify taking that power.

That brings me to the subject of the remands of 15 and 16-year-old boys to adult prisons. It has been widely accepted that the remand of 15 and 16-year-olds to adult prisons is undesirable, and the Minister—quite fairly—accepted that in his opening remarks. Certainly, the previous Government accepted that view, and the Criminal Justice Act 1991 provided for the ending of that practice in due course. More local authority secure accommodation was to be provided to do that, and a programme of providing more places in secure accommodation was set in train.

A total of 171 places were to be provided. For the benefit of the Minister, I will say that the figure was later revised to 170—so we do not need an argument about that one place. One hundred and seventy places were to be provided to bring the practice to an end. That was firmly set as an objective by the previous Government, and it was enshrined in criminal justice legislation that the practice of sending 15 and 16-year-old boys to adult prisons was to end.

In the last Parliament, the previous Government were criticised by the Opposition, in effect for not getting on with the job quickly enough. When he became shadow Home Secretary, the present Prime Minister chose to campaign strongly on the issue, criticising both the number of places being provided and the length of time it was taking to provide them. Labour's submission to the Home Affairs Select Committee report on juvenile offending, called "Getting a Grip on Youth Crime", made a particular point on that matter. [Interruption.] The Minister says that it was an excellent document. I should like to remind him of some of what it said. It described the practice of sending 15 and 16-year-olds to adult prisons as "scandalous" and something which had to be ended at once. The Minister said that he campaigned in favour of that—I do not doubt his good faith—but the tragic aspect is that the Government are doing precious little to bring to an end what they described in opposition as a scandal.

On Second Reading of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994, the Prime Minister —then the shadow Home Secretary—said that local authorities were "urgently requesting" more places in local authority secure accommodation. He said—he had done his research—that there was a huge demand: We have made inquiries of the national bed bureau within the past few weeks. It says that there is a huge surplus of demand for secure accommodation by local authorities over supply. He made it clear that he regarded the provision of more local authority secure accommodation as the way in which to end the remand of 15 and 16-year-olds in adult prisons, and had every confidence about the time scale. He said: Let me tell the Home Secretary the advantages of dealing with the matter in that way. First, the places could be achieved without delay. This country does not want to wait years before the problem is dealt with. It wants it dealt with now. Secondly, it allows the provision to be both local and integrated, as everybody …has asked for."—[Official Report, 11 January 1994; Vol. 235, c. 39–40.] What have the current Government done to address an issue that the Prime Minister said could be dealt with "without delay"?

4 pm

Mr. Michael

The 170 places to which the hon. Gentleman referred—I am glad that the process of education is working—had still not been provided seven years after they were promised; indeed, they have still not been completed. Will he say what the Conservative Government did to revise the estimate that was given in February 1991?

Mr. Clappison

I remind the Minister who is in government now and who bears the responsibility. He criticises us over the fact that not all the 170 places have been provided, but, as he will be able to confirm when he asks those who provide him with information, 160 of those places have been provided, and the balance of 10 will be provided this summer.

The Minister mentions seven years, but if he wants to talk about the rate at which local authority secure accommodation is being provided, how does he judge the record of his Government? They have been in power for one year, but, so far, all that they have planned is the provision of an extra six places. He has said that the 160 or 170 places over seven or eight years is insufficient—he seems to be receiving further conformation of the figures—but hat rate of progress was better than the current Government's achievement of six places in one year, with no plans for further provision. As shadow Home Secretary, the Prime Minister put his personal authority behind the issue, and said that further provision had to be achieved "without delay".

Mr. Michael

Will the hon. Gentleman kindly report the figures accurately? The six places are additional to those planned by the previous Administration in their arrangements and in their spending plans.

Mr. Clappison

The previous Government's plans were for the 170 places, which the Minister has denounced as insufficient. This Government are providing an additional six places, and I can tell the Minister exactly where they will be: four in Oxfordshire, and two in Merseyside. So much for the local provision for which the Prime Minister called—unless one lives in Oxfordshire or Merseyside, those places are not much use. The Government are providing only six places. We do not think that that is good enough, and we register our discontent.

Our alarm is further increased by the fact that the Bill provides for the continuation of the remand of 15 and 16-year-olds in adult prisons, subject to a screening process that we do not think adequate. I shall listen with interest to the Minister's response to the sensible amendments tabled by my right hon. Friend the Member for Fareham (Sir P. Lloyd), which would provide for an assessment of whether 15 and 16-year-olds are likely to be bullied—the Bill does not seem to provide for such an assessment—and which would allow them to be transferred, when they had been sent to prison, to local authority secure accommodation when a place became available.

The Minister will need to say a little about those matters, and he must try to get himself out of the hole that he has dug himself into through his interventions. I do not blame him personally, because I know his real views on the subject, but, as in so many aspects of the Government's programmes, even when Ministers have had good intentions they have been torpedoed by other forces within the Government and they are not getting the necessary resources to carry out those intentions. This is a case in point. What is so very worrying is that it is something which the Government set so much store by in opposition. If we cannot trust them on something like this, which the Prime Minister put his personal authority behind, what can we trust them on?

A salutary lesson is there to be learned. The Bill amounts to a retreat from the position taken by the previous Government, who tried to end the practice through their legislation. This Government owe it to 15 and 16-year-olds and to the criminal justice system in general to end it and to make good the commitments that they set out in opposition.

Mr. Richard Allan (Sheffield, Hallam)

I support amendments Nos. 67 to 71, to which I and some of my hon. Friends have added our names. In Committee, a joint liberal alliance formed on the Opposition Benches to seek an enlightened and sensible penal policy. The amendments reflect a common view about how the policy should work.

This is the age-old battle between a sensible policy and the resources required to deliver it. We strongly believe that all sensible people would agree that 15 and 16-year-olds should not be held in adult prisons—by all sensible people I mean the Liberal Democrats, the Conservatives on this occasion, the Labour party in opposition, the Howard League for Penal Reform and the chief inspector of prisons, whose thematic report on young prisoners clearly recommended that prisoners under the age of 18 should be held within a separate estate. Our view is along those lines—that the appropriate separate estate for 15 and 16-year-olds held on remand is a place in local authority secure accommodation.

The Government, and the Minister of State in particular, would probably agree with the general principles that I have outlined, and many Labour Members would also agree that it is unacceptable in 1998 to hold 15 and 16-year-olds in adult prisons. However, we are left with the problem of finding the resources for a suitable local authority estate, which will have sufficient capacity to cope. We are concerned that the likelihood of doing so will recede yet further, because of the general growth in prison numbers and the requirement to find capital funding for new prisons in general as a result of the huge explosion in the prison population, which has far exceeded any predictions made by the previous or present Governments.

If we pass the Bill unamended, we will not give the Government any incentive or legislative kick up the backside to find the resources to put into the local authority secure estate for that vulnerable and important group of people held on remand. The money will continue to be diverted into the gaping chasm that is the demand for new prison places.

All Committee members learned that the hon. Member for Hertsmere (Mr. Clappison) is the world expert on local authority secure accommodation. I will certainly not tangle with him or enter into the debate about whether it is 170 or 171 places, or whether it is six new places, eight new or however many. The hon. Gentleman's research has been extensive, and I am sure that the Minister's officials will have looked at it with as much vim and vigour. Whether we are talking about six or eight, here or there, the net effect is that there are simply not enough places. That is apparent to everyone. By passing the amendments, we would give the Government the incentive that they need to ensure that they provide the places.

The general thrust of the Bill is to tackle youth crime and ensure that young offenders in particular are dealt with appropriately. That thrust will be diverted if we do not take this important step towards getting them out of adult prisons and into their own secure estate, where their needs and requirements can be dealt with.

The adult estate clearly does not have the training, time or resources to deal properly with young offenders who, if their criminal activities are not resolved at that age, are likely to commit significant offences. They are part of the Government's target group.

In case the Minister does not see the light and accept the amendments, we have some questions about the proposals for dealing with vulnerable offenders, which are the Government's way of saying that they can cope with the problem. Our view is that all 15 and 16-year-olds are potentially vulnerable, but the Government say that they can isolate a specific group of the vulnerable. We want to know how screening will work. Bullying has been mentioned already, but we should all be concerned at the number of remand prisoners who—sometimes fatally —commit acts of self-harm. Many of those individuals have passed through screening systems, and I should not like the House to have to receive reports of teenage suicides or self-harm among people who have slipped through a process designed to seek them out.

Are the Government serious about the recommendations of the chief inspector of prisons? Is there a long-term policy commitment, when the Iron Chancellor allows it, to spend the money required to build a youth estate? Or will the Government maintain the status quo, even if resources are available? Is it a question of resources, or of a change of policy?

Will the Minister estimate how many years it will take to achieve the removal of 15 and 16-year-olds from prisons? We hope that the Home Office has made some estimate of the number of 15 and 16-year-olds who will be affected by the proposals, and has some idea of how long it will take to deal with the problem. How will the policy of building a larger secure estate in the local authority sector deliver the goods? At what point can we expect to see the numbers come down significantly?

We await the Minister's response. It is important to set down a marker from the Opposition Benches to show that we are extremely unhappy that 15 and 16-year-olds go into the adult prison estate in 1998. All the evidence from everyone who has considered the problem seriously shows what a significant problem that is. We all want to tackle youth crime and to help individual young people to break out of the pattern of offending into which they have unfortunately slipped.

Sir Peter Lloyd (Fareham)

I shall confine myself largely to my amendments, Nos. 98, 99 and 100. My hon. Friend the Member for Hertsmere (Mr. Clappison) put a powerful case for an end to remanding juveniles to prisons. The Minister should seize the opportunity, if only to set a date. There are 170 or so new places, which is quite enough for him to be able to set a date, particularly given the arguments that I remember him advancing before the election.

A date must be set if the problem is to be resolved. One reason why so many young offenders are remanded in prison custody is that local agencies do not work together sufficiently effectively to find an alternative while a juvenile is actually in court. To set a date would not only concentrate the mind of the Government, but tell the local agencies what they should be doing—in some areas, they are already doing it, and there is no problem—so that the poor performers can be brought up to the level of the best.

By seizing this opportunity, the Minister would do the criminal justice system a power of good. He would do what I know that he knows to be right. It is what he wants to do. He would eliminate a potent source of harm to young offenders remanded in prison, and, although it is seldom said, he would relieve hard-pressed prisons of a difficult and time-consuming responsibility that they could well do without.

I was not totally optimistic before the debate that the Minister would find himself free to do the right thing, as I know he would wish to do. Indeed, I was pretty certain some months ago, after the Minister courteously received me with a delegation from the Juvenile Remand Review Group and he said that he did not think that he would be able to put such a measure in the Bill. I tabled my three amendments in case my pessimism, and his earlier remarks, were justified.

Even with the restraints upon the Minister, I believe that he could find amendment No. 100 useful, although I can see that it would have to be redrafted in another place. I hope that he will accept it with that in mind, and that I have better luck with this suggestion than I had with new clause 8 yesterday evening. I understand why he is apprehensive that there will not be sufficient places in local authority secure accommodation to meet the needs of the courts and local authorities, given the new activities with which the Government are pressing forward. Amendment No. 100 accepts that, and the position from which I believe he starts.

4.15 pm

Amendment No. 100 simply requires that, when a young offender is remanded in prison, the local authority should continue to look for suitable secure accommodation, and that the prison should automatically transfer the young person to it if and when it is found. If, as the Minister fears, there is not room in the local authority system, the young prisoner will stay put. If there is, he will be transferred without delay, cutting through the very inertia in the youth justice system that I know rightly causes the Minister much concern.

Mr. Hilton Dawson (Lancaster and Wyre)

Would not the right hon. Gentleman's amendment attend to the regrettably common situation whereby young people appear at short notice before the courts and have to be remanded because, given the paucity of resources, there is often no time to find appropriate secure accommodation?

Sir Peter Lloyd

The hon. Gentleman is right to say that amendment No. 100 would meet that situation. A court on, say, a Saturday morning, has no alternatives in front of it, and therefore remands to prison if a remand in secure accommodation is necessary. I spoke earlier about better co-operation between agencies locally. It is a fault of the system that courts can meet at short notice with a young offender perhaps arrested the previous Friday night but not be aware of opportunities to place the offender if it needs to remand in secure accommodation. Amendment No. 100 gives the court the knowledge that, if it remands to prison, the system will not then subside, but will be obliged to continue to search for a place.

My amendment is at fault—I would like it to be changed—in using the word "deemed", which is unsatisfactory. I believe that a court remanding to prison should specify in its remand order a move to suitable local authority accommodation if it becomes available, and require only that it be informed if it were done. That would be clear on the court order. Indeed, it would be the court's wishes that were being carried out.

I hope that the Minister will reflect carefully on the matter, because it is something which he can do within what he regards as his present constraints. It would be a real help, and would overcome the undoubted inertia in the system that frustrates him and all of us who have been involved in the system, as well as the very people who are part of it. Not merely would they prefer a date to which they can work for remands to prison for juveniles to be ended, but they would appreciate the pressure put upon them by the amendment to continue to seek secure accommodation outside prisons for those whom the courts, regrettably, have had to send there.

There are two other brief amendments in my name. Amendment No. 98, to which my hon. Friend the Member for Hertsmere referred, would insert in proposed subsection (5A) the words or the likelihood of him being harmed by others. One important problem—probably the major problem—of remanding a young person to custody in prison or a remand centre is bullying, which can be enormously damaging. Subsection (5A) says that a young person cannot be remanded to a prison or a remand centre if the court is of the opinion that, by reason of his physical or emotional immaturity or a propensity of his to harm himself, it would be undesirable".

The Minister may believe that the reference to physical and emotional immaturity covers the prospect or likelihood of being bullied. If it does, I am surprised that the Bill must include the words propensity of his to harm himself". A young person who was physically well grown and emotionally well balanced could be bullied, but he would have to be emotionally fairly immature and have other emotional problems if he had a propensity to harm himself.

When closely read, subsection (5A) does not seem to cover bullying. If the Minister can assure me that it undoubtedly does, and that bullying is a reason for which the court can determine that the young person must be held in local authority secure accommodation, not in a prison or a remand centre, I will rest easy. However, if there is any doubt, he could use the simple remedy of inserting into the Bill the words in amendment No. 98.

There is a third amendment in my name, No. 99, which I am not particularly keen to press on the Minister, although I should like him to explain the meaning of a rather complicated part of the Bill. The amendment would insert in line 7, page 80, after "apply" the words or if paragraph (a)(i) above applies, but paragraph (a)(ii) does not apply. The Minister has probably already considered the amendment, and I shall not explain it in detail, because that would take a long time and I would probably muddle my meaning in the process. It is designed to make explicit the flexibility in the choices that the courts have.

I am unsure whether that flexibility is already assumed to be there. If it is, I am not sure that the words allow it. If the Minister has deliberately avoided including such flexibility, I will rest easy. I interpret the Bill as stating that if a young offender falls under subsection (5A), he will go to local authority secure accommodation or he will not be held securely at all, because neither a prison nor a remand centre will be open to him.

Will the Minister explain exactly what the Bill means, and whether it is intended to include that flexibility, which my amendment would make clear? However, if he says that he does not want any remanded young person who falls under subsection (5A) to go to either a prison or a remand centre, I will be content, as I am sure will my hon. Friends.

Mr. Edward Leigh (Gainsborough)

The remand of 15 to 16-year-olds to adult prisons is a scandal, and a stain on our national character. Both sides of the House should unite in trying to deal with it.

The numbers involved are small. I believe that the latest Home Office figures are that, in January, 75 15-year-olds and 173 16-year-old boys were held in adult prisons, making a total of 248."—[Official Report, Standing Committee B, 2 June 1998; c. 670.] Surely that is not too high a figure for the Government to deal with.

I remind the Government that, in opposition, the Labour party said: When juveniles do need to be detained, the secure accommodation system has advantages over any new order proposed by the Government. It offers flexibility since it can be used for a variety of offenders, both sentenced and on remand. It is designed as a local provision, and when adequately resourced will not result in young people being removed to institutions miles from their home. I should have thought that it would be possible for the Government, if they are prepared to provide adequate resources, to move very quickly indeed to remove all 15 and 16-year-olds from adult prisons.

I remind the Minister that he said of the Bill: It breaks the logjam that has been in existence for some time. He said: some of us drew attention to the scandalous remand of 15 and I6-year-old youngsters into adult prison accommodation. I repeat that that is a long-standing scandal. Those are not my words, but those of the Minister of State. He continued: Another scandal was the remand of young offenders to inappropriate and insecure local authority accommodation, where they disrupted the lives of vulnerable youngsters."—[Official Report, Standing Committee B, 2 June 1998; c. 665.]

The Minister has waxed eloquent in his denunciation of the former Conservative Minister of State, Lord Patten, for his apparent inactivity on this matter, but Lord Patten did give the initial undertaking to end the scandalous remand of youngsters to adult prisons.

The Minister must live according to his own words. When in opposition, he made it his personal crusade to end this scandal. He now has the power to end the remand of 15 and 16-year-olds into adult prisons, and he must deliver on that pledge; otherwise, he will be found wanting by the House, and he will have reneged on an absolutely specific pledge that he made in opposition.

As I said, the numbers involved are relatively small, although there is some debate about the figure of 170. Will the Minister say exactly how many places are needed? In Committee, he told me that the figures varied. He said: On some occasions about 250 or 260 places were required. On some occasions as many as 300 youngsters were held in prison accommodation."—[Official Report, Standing Committee B, 2 June 1998; c. 666.]

Bearing in mind the figures we have about the number of youngsters currently in prison, and the figure of 300 that the Minister gave me in Committee, it is clear that we are talking about relatively low numbers. As we heard, the Conservatives provided 170 places; the Government have provided an additional six.

Given that the Minister made such a virtue of his support for the provision of extra places when in opposition, is he proud of his record of providing just six extra places? If he tells the House that that extra provision is meeting the problem, I shall be satisfied with that, but he cannot possibly maintain that six extra places are adequate when, according to his own figures, at present, 75 15-year-olds and 173 16-year-old boys are held in adult prisons, making a total of 248." —[Official Report, Standing Committee B, 2 June 1998; c. 670.]

We want some pretty clear details now of what the Government intend to do to fulfil the pledge they made in opposition. We want to know the cost of the extra places, where they are planning to provide them, and the length of time for which they will be provided. As the Minister said when in opposition, it is much better that youngsters are held near their homes.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Woking (Mr. Malins) said, unfortunately some 15 and 16-year-olds have to be locked up. In Committee, he quoted some facts and figures, which are worth repeating: One in four defendants granted bail by the courts committed crimes while free… For juveniles, the proportion was one in three, according to the latest Home Office research." —[Official Report, Standing Committee B, 2 June 1998; c. 663.] Therefore, sadly, the public do need to be protected from these youngsters. No one likes locking them up, but the public must be protected. Equally, it is scandalous that, despite the need to protect the public, these young people—who, although they have committed crimes, are vulnerable—are being put in the same institutions as much older men, and they are presumably thereby being led astray.

Ms Sally Keeble (Northampton, North)

Does the hon. Gentleman accept that the solution to the problem of juveniles repeatedly offending while out on bail is not to lock them up but to process the cases through the courts more quickly in order to get those young people into whatever plan or punishment it is hoped will solve the real problem? The Bill has the correct aim of speeding up the process rather than simply locking up children.

4.30 pm
Mr. Leigh

I agree entirely. Anyone who has practised in the criminal courts knows that the worst way to deal with youngsters is to delay sentencing and the expeditious tidying up of cases. It is ridiculous that some cases involving young people can drag on again and again, with several remands. Anyone who has practised in the criminal courts will know that lawyers are as guilty as anyone when it comes to remanding cases continually.

Of course I pay tribute—if that is what the hon. Lady seeks—to current and previous Ministers for their efforts in trying to speed up the criminal justice system. We have been trying to do that in this country for the past 50 years. However, every Government who have tried it have made matters worse. We live in hope that, despite the Bill's high-sounding words, this Government will achieve something.

In answer to the hon. Lady's point, the Minister told us that the House of Lords decision in R v. Khan is relevant. He talked about nipping matters in the bud, and seemed to imply that it would be possible for the Government to reduce the number of places needed by ensuring that there was a quicker justice system, and that—I do not know how—fewer youngsters will come before the courts.

It all seems rather vague. I wish the Government well, but we have heard it all before. The practicalities are quite clear: in the recent past—presumably it will be the same in the future—we have needed to lock up about 300 15 and 16-year-olds in this country in order to protect the public. When in opposition, Labour gave a clear commitment to ending the scandalous detention of those 300 young people in adult prisons. The Minister must now stand at the Dispatch Box and deliver on that promise.

Mr. Michael

I find this debate slightly amusing. The shadow spokesman, the hon. Member for Hertsmere (Mr. Clappison), said that he did not want to hear any more about nipping offending in the bud. The hon. Member for Gainsborough (Mr. Leigh), released from the vow of silence under which he had laboured while on the Government Back Benches before the last general election, came out with a load of total garbage about the efforts that have been made to reduce delay in the youth justice system. He seems to think that there has been a consistent effort over the past 50 years to reduce delay in that system, but that is untrue.

The hon. Gentleman does not seem to remember that, when the Conservatives were in government, he marched through the Lobby time after time to vote against practical proposals advanced by the then Opposition, particularly against the principle that justice delayed is justice denied. That is true of youth justice more than any other aspect of justice. The hon. Gentleman is condemned by his own voting record, and he has the arrant cheek to come to the House today and attempt to make a mild criticism of present Ministers.

I assure the shadow spokesman that he will hear a lot about nipping offending in the bud and about speeding up youth justice and preventing some of the evils that the youth justice system has encouraged in recent years. The hon. Gentleman referred to amendments Nos. 65 and 66, but I answered the point about the need for the age of 10 to be the minimum cut-off in law. I made it clear that we do not intend to implement the use of the detention and training order for 11 and 12-year-olds unless young people exhibit behaviour that is damaging to the security and safety of the community. The House will have an opportunity to decide that matter through the affirmative resolution procedure.

The hon. Gentlemen who have spoken reminded the House of our criticism when in opposition of the way in which the previous Government dealt with secure training places and the secure training order. We were right to criticise, because it was not a targeted use of scarce resources. We are having to sort out the shambles that we inherited, and the Bill contains the means to do that.

I have to tell those hon. Gentlemen who feel free to comment now that they are in opposition that there is some time to go before they can expect not to be reminded of the failings of the previous Government. Just before the general election, after 18 years in office, the Conservative Government excused all sorts of faults and misdemeanours by saying that the previous Labour Government had done this or not done that. After a mere 14 months in office and constrained by the financial arrangements inherited from the previous Government, we have some justification for laying the blame, fairly and squarely, on the shoulders of the previous Home Secretary and his predecessors.

On some issues, especially those relating to persistent young offenders who do tremendous damage to the community, I am worried about some of the approaches advocated by Opposition Members. If we were not being so polite and gentle today, I might accuse the hon. Member for Hertsmere of turning into an old softie as a result of the time spent in the Standing Committee on the Bill.

Mr. Leigh

Would it make the Minister's life easier if I apologised for the lack of action on the part of the previous Government in dealing with 15 and 16-year-olds? Can we dispose of that matter now? I apologise; we did not do enough. Now that we have resolved that, will the Minister tell us what the Government are going to do?

Mr. Michael

That makes life easier for me, even though it might make it slightly more difficult for the hon. Member for Hertsmere. However, it does not change the situation we inherited. It might have been better if the hon. Gentleman had issued his apology formally, and not started this debate.

In February 1991, the promise—which I remember clearly, because it was given to me as a Standing Committee member by the then Minister—was to do away with the remand into adult prison accommodation of young offenders aged 15 and 16. I have never blamed Lord Patten, who came forward genuinely with what he believed was a necessary reform, but the fact is that the Government as a whole failed to provide the places necessary to turn that undertaking into a reality. For seven years after the making of that promise, which I and other hon. Members welcomed, the reality failed to keep up with the rhetoric. I hope that the hon. Member for Gainsborough will give us credit for having acted immediately on entering government to reform the whole youth justice system, including the system of court orders and the secure estate. I have to tell the hon. Member for Sheffield, Hallam (Mr. Allan) that we do not need a legislative kick up the backside; we have given the system such a kick with the changes that are contained in the Bill unamended. I am rather surprised at the hon. Gentleman: in Committee, he took care in preparing of his arguments, but now he tells us not to confuse him with facts, and prefers to depend on the research of the hon. Member for Hertsmere.

We are getting on with the job in a variety of ways. We are confronting young offenders with the effects of their behaviour; making them face up to the way in which it damages other people, including their victims; nipping offending in the bud—yes, I shall repeat that for the hon. Member for Hertsmere; diverting youngsters from criminal activity; intervening early; and making sure that mechanisms are in place to deal with young offenders if they continue to offend and to damage the wider community. We have also acted to improve regimes within the prison estate, and to tackle several other issues.

Hon. Members will be aware of the work of the Children's Society; I went to Feltham to see some of that work to move young people who had been remanded in custody out into non-custodial remands. That is an excellent approach, which not only helps individual youngsters, but influences the way in which local authorities and other bodies undertake disposal of young offenders who are awaiting a court hearing.

Also in the Bill is a matter that has not been debated, I presume because hon. Members approve of it—the requirement of bail support schemes, so that we reduce offending while on bail by youngsters who currently have to wait far too long to be dealt with by the courts.

The effect of that should be, first, to reduce the amount of reoffending, and therefore the number of victims created by youngsters whose pattern of offending behaviour continues after they have been brought before the court and remanded. Secondly, it will reduce the likelihood that, because of reoffending, they will have to be remanded into a custodial placement. It is necessary to look at the entire system to understand the way in which the Government are approaching both supply, in terms of the young offenders who require secure placement, and demand, in terms of the courts as well as the availability of places.

The right hon. Member for Fareham (Sir P. Lloyd) is a serious advocate of progress in youth justice matters. He used his best endeavours as a Minister to deal humanely with the system for which he had responsibility. I acknowledge that in opposition he is using his time to examine ways of practically affecting and improving situations. I give credit for that, and it would be a great pleasure for me if I were able to accept the right hon. Gentleman's amendments. However, I cannot do so, and I need to explain why.

Amendment No. 99 relates only to subsection (4)(b) of clause 96. The effect of the amendment would be that a court could decide to remand to a remand centre if only the first limb of subsection (4) is met; that is, that the juvenile meets the definition of "vulnerability" under new subsection (5A). Currently, it seems that the court will be required to consult the local authority or the probation service of the youth offending team before it can remand a 15 or 16-year-old to custody at all. The local authority would be able to advise the court at this stage whether the boy is vulnerable because he is immature or likely to harm himself. That is the screening that is required.

Currently there are no remand centres designated for the purpose of receiving such persons on remand. In practice, therefore, if the court is unable to remand under subsection (4)(a), the remand shall be to prison under subsection (4)(c). The amendment does not affect the ability of the court to remand a 15 or 16-year-old boy to prison. It has no practical effect, and is therefore unnecessary.

Amendment No. 100 introduces a new subsection which imposes a duty on a local authority social services department, in the case of a juvenile remanded to prison, to inform the court if local authority secure accommodation subsequently becomes available. On the receipt of such a notification, the court will order that the person be transferred from prison to local authority secure accommodation.

I understand the point that the right hon. Gentleman is making. He raised a similar point when I met him and others in December last year to discuss these issues. He knows that I believe that the amendment is not a necessary provision.

Sections 128 and 128A of the Magistrates Court Act 1980 allow a court to remand a juvenile in custody in the first instance for a period of up to eight days. That seems a reasonable time scale. The social worker, and later the youth offending team, when such teams are brought in under the Bill's provisions—that is not catered for in the right hon. Gentleman's amendment—will need to identify a suitable local authority secure place. Once that has been done, an immediate application can be made to the court. That which the right hon. Gentleman seeks to do is not prevented by existing legislation when viewed in the context of the Bill.

4.45 pm

Second and subsequent remands can be for a period of up to 28 days, but a Home Office circular issued last year informed practitioners of changes made to the Magistrates Courts Act by the Criminal Procedure and Investigations Act 1996. It reminded them of their obligation to ensure that they take proper account of the welfare of the juvenile. This involves, in particular, the need to keep cases involving juveniles remanded in custody under constant review. That is what the right hon. Gentleman is seeking, and he is right to encourage that approach. I share his view.

The circular also made it clear that the changes did not affect the general right of defendants to make bail applications before the end of the remand period, or the fact that courts were free to set shorter remand periods if, in the circumstances of the case, they judged that desirable. I am happy to reinforce that message. As the right hon. Gentleman knows, I am happy to work with him and others to try to ensure that we get the best possible disposal consistent with the protection of the public.

Mr. Dawson

Does my hon. Friend agree that, while Home Office circulars are important documents, it would surely be more effective to have what I think is generally accepted as a worthy aim enshrined in law? Would my hon. Friend also accept that continuing to remand 15 and 16-year-olds in custody is in contravention of the Utting report, and will give the Government considerable difficulties when faced with making a report on the implementation of the United Nations convention on children's rights? It is generally accepted as wrong. Should we not be trying to make every possible endeavour to ease the situation, to deal with it and to improve it?

Mr. Michael

My hon. Friend makes a number of points, and has asked a series of questions, most of which I have already answered. They are generally answered by the Bill. Ideally, 15 and 16-year-olds should not be remanded in prison accommodation. The fact that they are reflects the lack of other secure accommodation to take them on remand. I campaigned before and after entering Parliament for that system of remanding 15 and 16-year-olds to be ended. However, the Criminal Justice Act 1991, by providing for that to end, did not provide for the means of so doing. It allowed only an all-or-nothing end to the remand of 15 and 16-year-olds.

In the Bill, we allow for the progressive ending of such remands. First, we take out vulnerable 15 and 16-year-old boys. Similarly, we take out girls. We then proceed to 15-year-olds. Progressively, we move to the objective which I wanted to see for eight years, and which my hon. Friend commends to the House. That is the objective, but asking for it is not the same as meeting it. As the previous Government proved, requiring it and putting it in law is not the same as meeting the objective.

I make the same point with the Home Office circular. Working with prison authorities and voluntary organisations, encouraging the work of voluntary organisations to reduce the non-custodial remand of youngsters and encouraging bail support are the way to implement the circular practically. Putting something on the face of the Bill does not necessarily do anything. I think that my hon. Friend would accept that doing it is more important than talking about it.

Mr. Allan

I thank the Minister for giving way. I hesitate to provoke him further in debates that we are trying to keep concise. I was interested to hear him say that he sees the Bill as part of a progression towards getting rid of 15 and 16-year-olds in prison. Can the hon. Gentleman say that the Government are committed to building the 300-odd places to which the hon. Member for Gainsborough (Mr. Leigh) referred?

Mr. Michael

The hon. Gentleman misses my point, which is that it is necessary to examine the requirements and to ascertain why they exist. The right hon. Member for Fareham has made the point about the way in which youngsters can be remanded in non-custodial ways that address the evil of reoffending while on bail. I have referred to the prison work being done by the Children's Society to try to demonstrate ways in which that can work, which is proving quite successful. There are some custodial disposals that we should be able to avoid without increasing the amount of reoffending. There is more than one way of dealing with some of the problems.

The progressive ending of the remand of 15 and 16-year-olds in prison is one of the Government's objectives. That is one reason why, right at the beginning, we stated our intention of reviewing the secure estate. On the advice of the youth justice task force, and looking forward to the establishment of the Youth Justice Board, we are examining the best use of that estate in a more flexible way. That is allowed for in the Bill.

I hope that Opposition Members will recognise that we have before us proposed legislation that should not be seen in isolation, but which fits into a pattern of positive activity both to reduce offending by young people, which is the aim of the youth justice system as a whole, and to ensure that custodial and non-custodial disposals are used for that purpose. I am trying to be brief, because hon. Members want to move quickly on to other debates, but I must give way if the right hon. Member for Fareham wants me to do so.

Sir Peter Lloyd

The Minister is seeking to answer my points, but I do not quite follow his answers. I think that he said that there is a duty on local authorities to continue to seek appropriate local authority accommodation for young offenders in their areas who had been remanded to prison, but I am not certain.

The Minister also said, "The process is almost as I would like. They have to go back to the court when they have found a place." Does the juvenile himself have to go to court, and does the court have to sit? My amendment would avoid such pressure on the courts; indeed, it would free them up, and enable the system to work more speedily. I would be unhappy if the paraphernalia of the court had to be called into action, even though the result would be the same.

Setting a date is hugely important. I wish that the previous Government had set a date for ending juvenile remands to prison in the same way that they set a date for the ending of slopping out. They set that date even though everyone who knew anything about it said, "You can't be certain when it will be ready, there are all sorts of expenditures, you won't know how many prisoners there will be, and you will have to release cells so that they can be converted." It was only because a date was set that it happened.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Alan Haselhurst)

Order. The right hon. Gentleman is going on far too long for an intervention.

Mr. Michael

I may have to speak for another hour and a half to respond to the right hon. Gentleman's questions. I shall content myself with promising to write to him, but we take no lessons from members of the previous Government on those issues. He wants dates to be set, but we consulted on legislation last autumn, within a couple of months of coming into government; set in train the establishment of the Youth Justice Board, which will oversee the secure estate and the way in which orders are used; and are bringing coherence to the way in which young offenders are dealt with in every part of the youth justice system. We are setting ourselves clear targets, and meeting them.

The right hon. Member for Fareham should reflect on the experience of the previous Government and his period in office before suggesting that we simply set dates by pulling them out of thin air. We are establishing a board which will have responsibility for oversight of the coherence of the secure estate, the way in which youth offending teams operate, and making sure that we achieve the aim of the youth justice system set out in the Bill—reducing offending.

I have tried to be brief, but that has been difficult because I have been provoked by Conservative Members, who occasionally made partisan points and moved on without receiving a response. I hope that I have responded adequately to the debate, and that the Government amendments will be supported, because they will improve the Bill. I also hope that the Opposition amendments will be resisted, because, although some are well intentioned, they would not improve the law.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause read a Second time, and added to the Bill.

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