HL Deb 23 April 1991 vol 528 cc142-9

3.17 p.m.

The Minister of State, Home Office (Earl Ferrers)

My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now again resolve itself into Committee on this Bill.

Moved, That the House do now again resolve itself into Committee.—(Earl Ferrers.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

House in Committee accordingly.


Clause 50 [Custodial sentences]:

[Amendment No. 95 not moved.]

Clause 50 agreed to.

[Amendments Nos. 95ZA to 95ZD not moved.]

Clauses 51 and 52 agreed to.

Schedule 6 agreed to.

Clause 53 [Attendance centre orders]:

[Amendment No. 95ZE not moved.]

Clause 53 agreed to.

[Amendment No. 95A not moved.]

Lord Henderson of Brompton: moved Amendment No. 95AA: After Clause 53, insert the following new clause:

("Consultative Council on Youth Crime

.—(1) For the purpose of exercising the functions conferred on it by this section there shall be a body known as the Consultative Council on Youth Crime.

(2) Her Majesty's Government shall appoint not less than twelve members of the Council including representatives of the Lord Chancellor's Department, the Home Office, the Department of Health, the prison service, the probation service, the Association of Directors of Social Services, the Crown Prosecution Service and national non-governmental organisations.

(3) It shall be the duty of the Consultative Council on Youth Crime to co-ordinate policies to reduce crime among persons aged under 21, to draw up and issue minimum standards for services for young offenders, to establish local committees for the implementation of policies to reduce youth crime and from time to time to issue guidance to local committees established under this subsection.

(4) Local committees established under subsection (3) above shall include representatives of the magistracy, the judiciary, the police service, the probation service, social services departments, the Crown Prosecution Service, the Justices' Clerks' Society, the education service and voluntary organisations.").

The noble Lord said: This amendment relates to the insertion in the Bill of a consultative council on youth crime. At Second Reading I indicated that I would move this amendment. It is a proposal that Action on Youth Crime considers to be essential if the new proposals in the Bill, including a youth court, are to work efficiently and to best effect. A conference convened by Action on Youth Crime in December last year was attended by representatives of all those who will be concerned with the working of the youth court. They concurred on the need for a body of this kind. I do not wish to press for every dot and comma of it, but I am putting forward a proposal for consideration by the Government.

NACRO's Young Offenders' Committee is contemplating something on these lines although it has not yet reported. I also draw the Government's attention to the recommendations made by Lord Justice Woolf in paragraphs 10.57 to 10.88 of his report where he calls for a two-tier forum for consultation on much the same lines as my amendment but in more detail, and which should be applied across the board to the whole of the criminal justice system instead of to youth crime only, as I propose.

His proposal is that the new local committee structure should replace the existing regional liaison committees as part of the national council, which is the wider body and the main subject of those paragraphs. He regarded a council structure of this nature as being essential for the whole of the criminal justice system. I, and Action on Youth Crime, are concerned only with youth crime. We thought it appropriate to put forward this amendment to the Bill. Anything wider would be outside the scope of the Bill.

I do not expect that the Government's thinking on this matter has yet been formulated. It is an important subject. I wonder whether they are prepared to make a statement about the structure which I have put forward in the amendment. Perhaps they can give us some early thinking on the structure which Lord Justice Woolf proposes in paragraph 10 of his report. I beg to move.

Lord Richard

From these Benches I support this amendment. One of the defects that Lord Justice Woolf's report revealed was a failure of co-operation between the various agencies that are concerned with the operation of the criminal justice system. Perhaps I may quote very briefly from that report at paragraph 10.169 which states: We agree there is such a geological fault in the system. In our view it lies across all the agencies in the Criminal Justice System. It is a failure of co-operation. It shows itself in gaps in communication, in the necessary co-ordination, and in the wider consideration of developments in the Criminal Justice System". He recommended that the "fault" should be bridged. He said: The form of the bridge would have to be determined by those who would have the responsibility for setting it up". His proposal was that, a national forum should be established to consider at the highest level the interaction of each of the agencies to which we have referred. It should consider matters affecting either the Criminal Justice System as a whole or affecting more than one of the agencies which form a central part of that system". He proposes that it should be called a "criminal justice consultative council". Perhaps the title is not of any great importance. He also recommended the establishment of local committees and said: A Local Committee should, within its locality, primarily be concerned with practical problems thrown up because of the interfaces between the various services involved in dealing with crime". I draw the attention of the Committee to subsection (2) of the new clause which is designed to achieve precisely that kind of co-ordination and co-operation referred to in Lord Justice Woolf's report. The membership of this consultative council would include representatives, of the Lord Chancellor's Department, the Home Office, the Department of Health, the prison service, the probation service, the Association of Directors of Social Services, the Crown Prosecution Service and national non-governmental organisations". So it is precisely the kind of organisations which Lord Justice Woolf was referring to when he identified what he called the "geological fault" in the criminal justice system.

In subsection (3) of the proposed new clause it is stated that the duty of the consultative council would be to, co-ordinate policies to reduce crime among persons aged under 21, to draw up and issue minimum standards for services for young offenders, to establish local committees … That is a sensible proposal. It is certainly in line with the philosophy underlying the recommendations in the Woolf Report, though this amendment is probably of necessity somewhat narrower than the proposal which Lord Justice Woolf was making. If there is a gap of the kind which he has identified in the system, perhaps we should be thinking seriously about what we can do to fill it. This proposal goes part of the way.

Lord Hutchinson of Lullington

I also support this amendment. I hope that the noble Earl will be able to give the Committee some encouragement about it. This provision is very relevant to the present period when there is a prevention of crime week or month in progress. Everything depends very largely on the co-operation between agencies, which have been established by co-operation, in relation to juvenile crime which, as the Committee well knows, has been substantially reduced as a result of that co-operation. It also depends on a direct assault on youth crime because they are the people who commit the majority of crime in this country. They are the offenders who can be turned and changed and made not to repeat offences which they committed in the early years. I support this amendment most strongly and hope that the noble Earl will be able to give encouragement.

Earl Ferrers

The face of juvenile justice has changed beyond all recognition during the past 10 to 12 years. The number of known juvenile offenders under 17 years of age was lower in 1989 than at any time over the past 15 years. With our increased emphasis on cautioning and keeping young people out of the formal court system wherever that is possible, the number of juveniles it has been necessary to bring before the courts has fallen by two-thirds since the early 1980s.

We are all concerned that custody should be the last resort for young people. The use of custodial sentences for juveniles has fallen by three-quarters since 1981. I think that these are all very real and welcome achievements. I am sure that they are supported on all sides of the Committee. It is significant that it has not required a new statutory agency of the kind which is proposed in the amendment in order to bring about that situation.

There have been national initiatives to set the policy context. For example, in 1983 the Department of Health launched a funding initiative for intermediate treatment; and in 1985 the Home Office issued guidance on the cautioning of juvenile offenders. It is not necessary to have a national agency to have coherent national policies. Nor is it necessary to have a national agency or statutory local committees to ensure local co-ordination of policies. The successes I have mentioned have depended upon people working in a range of agencies and functions up and down the country. Close liaison among them has been necessary. Sometimes local committees of one kind or another have been established to inform and guide local practice. This is worthwhile and commendable, but it does not require statutory arrangements to bring it about. Flexibility to respond to local circumstances has been the key.

Similar initiatives are under way with the older 17 to 20-year age group building on the experience with younger offenders. In 1988 the Home Office issued an action plan on tackling offending which encouraged all local agencies to plan systematically together their work with young adult offenders. The probation service was in the lead, and encouraged to submit local action plans to the Home Office. Last year the Home Office issued national standards for cautioning. These specifically encouraged the police to apply to young adult offenders the principles and arrangements, including inter-agency liaison, that have worked so well for juveniles. The Home Office has also established a funding programme for voluntary sector projects working with young adult offenders. To ensure that the projects are integrated with other local arrangements the applications have to be supported by the local probation service.

The noble Lords, Lord Henderson and Lord Richard, referred to the recommendations of Lord Justice Woolf. The noble Lord, Lord Richard, is quite right that the amendment goes rather less wide than Lord Justice Woolf's recommendations. We shall give our considered response to all Lord Justice Woolf's recommendations, including that for a criminal justice forum, in the White Paper which my right honourable friend intends to publish later this year. It is important to be able to see all these recommendations in context as opposed to picking out various bits and pieces and inserting them in the Bill. Lord Justice Woolf's recommendations are very important and need consideration. Action needs to be taken on them in a concerted fashion.

Much relevant work is being done and has been going on for some time in respect of juveniles and juvenile offenders. The Bill will take us further. Of particular importance are the arrangements for dealing with 16 and 17 year-olds. These are very early days, but we are already beginning to see the impact. The number of known young adult offenders was lower in 1989 than at any time in the decade. The number cautioned has been steadily increasing. The number given custodial sentences in 1989 was lower than it has been for many years.

These changes mark real progress. They have been brought about without creating new agencies and invoking new procedures. The Government hope to continue in that way. We would not wish to be diverted from the task by the need to set up and run the arrangements which the new clause would impose. That could be counterproductive. For those reasons I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Henderson, will agree that it would be better at this juncture not to impose parts of Lord Justice Woolf's recommendations.

3.30 p.m.

Lord Donaldson of Kingsbridge

Before the noble Earl sits down, is he in fact saying that if something is recommended by Lord Justice Woolf we must not have it in the Bill? That is what his reply seemed to amount to. It cannot be what the noble Earl meant. I should like him to make it perfectly clear that it was not.

Earl Ferrers

I tried to make it clear to the Committee that Lord Justice Woolf produced an important report which included a great many recommendations. It is important to study the whole report to see how best to include those recommendations in the whole of the criminal justice system, and not pick out odd bits and pieces and insert them in the Bill. The Government intend to reply to Lord Justice Woolf's report in the fairly near future. I am suggesting that it would be better to wait until we have the whole concept of the reply rather than to act upon it piecemeal.

Lord Donaldson of Kingsbridge

The noble Earl is saying what I was afraid he was saying—that if Lord Justice Woolf makes a recommendation we cannot have it in the Bill.

Earl Ferrers

The noble Lord is not entirely correct. I think it would be better to wait until we see all Lord Justice Woolf's recommendations. We can then see how they can be incorporated in law and in the criminal justice system rather than pick out individual bits and pieces and put them into the Bill.

Baroness Phillips

I had the very exciting experience of speaking in crime prevention week to a crime prevention meeting in Wales. It was aimed particularly at the young. At the meeting all the agencies referred to in the amendment were represented. They were working together. It was so remarkable that one felt that this must happen all over Great Britain. The difference was that in Wales those involved had gone to the Welsh Office which had helped them to set this up. It is not much use having a crime prevention week and spending £4.5 million on advertising and telling people to set up these different groups and then giving them no help or resources. If something of this nature is officially prepared, such groups would be formed everywhere. If it is left to the unfortunate crime prevention officer who will have no extra resources and precious little time, it is unlikely that we shall see really good crime prevention exercises. That is what we want. We want crime prevented.

I would say in passing that in my area the local superintendent set up a splendid youth club four or five years ago. The youth club is now having to close in order to save money for the education service. It seems ironic that at the same time as the Government are calling for crime prevention exercises they are closing some of the very places where young people can go to avoid becoming involved in crime. This will not be a costly consultative council. It will be the national focal point which will stimulate the interest of all the different divisions and areas.

Lord Henderson of Brompton

I find it somewhat difficult to know what to do with the amendment. I see the force of the noble Earl's argument that we should wait for the Government's considered response to Lord Justice Woolf before embarking on perhaps a corner of one of his proposals. This proposal could not have been the complete Woolf proposal because of the Long Title of the Bill which narrows our scope to youth crime. That is why the amendment is so narrowly drawn.

The noble Baroness, Lady Phillips, was absolutely correct. There is a desire for this proposal all over the country among those who will have to work the system. They are ready to co-operate and want to but they do not have the funding. They are very concerned that the youth court will not be a success because machinery of this kind is not being proposed by the Government. They are very anxious about the funding without which they will be bound hand and foot.

I recall that earlier in our proceedings the noble Lord the Leader of the House gave an assurance that there would be no shortage of funds to put the proposals in the Bill into effect. That was a very welcome assurance. However, officers all over the country find that they are not being promised the kind of funds they want. For instance, the north east probation area, far from receiving more money for the new proposals, is being told that it will receive less money. That means at least one whole probation service within that north east area will have to close. That is the kind of discrepancy between what the people on the ground think they will need and what the Government say they will get. The Government would be able to obtain a better idea of the amount of funds local authorities will need if a structure of the kind suggested is set up.

I fear that if nothing of this kind goes into the Bill until the Government have made up their minds in regard to the Woolf Report, the people on the ground will be bereft of the necessary funds and consultatory machinery that they deem to be essential. When I say, "people on the ground" I mean not only the people from whom I am receiving information—the Association of Chief Officers of Probation and the Association of Directors of Social Services—but also NACRO and the principal voluntary organisations that will be involved in much of the effort in keeping young people out of prison. They include the National Children's Home and the Rainer Foundation. All those organisations are pressing for this kind of consultatory machinery, as well as Lord Justice Woolf.

I ask the Government to take the matter seriously. I appreciate the improvement in the juvenile crime statistics that has taken place over the past few years. That is a tremendous achievement. However, I do not want to say that it is complacent thinking; it is perhaps inadequate thinking to suggest that that happy result was brought about without machinery of the kind suggested. The way to look at the matter is that a better result would have been obtained if consultative machinery had been in existence.

Lord Elton

Can my noble friend say a little more about the principles behind the amendment? I realise the difficulty in regard to the timing of the Woolf Report and I welcome the improvement in statistics, which is impressive and definitely welcome. However, I have noticed, in an area in which the noble Lord, Lord Henderson of Brompton, and I are both active, that a contributory factor to the alleviation of the ills of juvenile offending and custody is the bringing about of co-operation and understanding between the various agencies listed in subsection (4) of the amendment.

Subsection (3) lays various spending duties on the new body, which I understand may be unwelcome to a spending Minister. However, if my noble friend were to examine subsection (4) separate from subsection (3) he could perhaps say something about the fruitful products of co-operation between those organisations which at present are conducted entirely ad hoc or at the instigation of such bodies as the Intermediate Treatment Fund. That organisation goes out into the field to bring the various agencies together, often for the first time, with the result that they develop initiatives which divert young people from custody and provide alternatives to custody when they have offended.

Many of us would be greatly encouraged if we felt that that was the aim the Government were pursuing rather than being told that we must wait to see whether or not it is an aim that they wish to pursue. I commend it to my noble friend as an aim that he should be pursuing.

Earl Ferrers

I assure my noble friend that it is the Government's aim to ensure that the agencies co-operate. In the criminal justice system there are a number of different agencies. They sometimes have overlapping powers and meeting points. It is important that they should not act in isolation. Inevitably, if one is not careful there may be areas where co-operation is not as good as it should be. I have always been amazed, when visiting different parts of the country, to see how good is the co-operation. That should be encouraged.

I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Henderson, for saying that he understands the Government's dilemma. It is not a dilemma which makes me wish to frustrate anything that the noble Lord or anyone else wishes to do in regard to the recommendations of Lord Justice Woolf. The inquiry was of enormous importance and we must study how best we can put together all the bits and pieces of it. However, we should be cautious before attempting to include bits and pieces of the recommendations—however worthy they may be—in the Bill.

I was concerned to hear the noble Lord, Lord Henderson, and the noble Baroness, Lady Phillips, say that there is a lack of funding. I shall certainly look at that point. I am bound to say that I have not found that there is a great lack of funding for crime prevention groups. The budget for crime prevention currently runs at around £16 million a year, which is not a n inadequate sum. However, I shall certainly look at the lack of funds which the noble Baroness suggests is occurring in certain areas.

Returning to the point made by my noble friend Lord Elton, I assure the Committee that it is the Government's desire—and a great deal of work is going into it—to ensure that the agencies co-operate.

3.45 p.m.

Lord Henderson of Brompton

I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Elton, for his intervention. I congratulate him on his ingenuity in introducing the Intermediate Treatment Fund and giving it a puff. I regard it as one of the most essential of all the proposals put forward for keeping young people out of the criminal justice system.

I ask the noble Earl to bear in mind, when he and his colleagues are considering the report of Lord Justice Woolf, that it is not merely the noble Lord, Lord Elton, and myself, and the responsible organisations listed, who want a council of the sort suggested; it is also the view of the conference held before Christmas which was attended by the Solicitor General. All those concerned with the youth court are of the unanimous opinion that some sort of council, as suggested in the amendment, is essential if the youth court is to work properly.

Having said that, I understand the Government's dilemma in regard to accepting the amendment at this stage. Therefore, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord Reay

I beg to move that the House do now resume.

Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.

House resumed.

Back to