HL Deb 24 June 1992 vol 538 cc504-38

7.1 p.m.

The Earl of Longford rose to ask Her Majesty's Government whether they have any plans for improving the treatment of young offenders.

The noble Earl said: My Lords, I am happy to think that I shall be followed immediately and throughout the debate by a considerable list of highly expert speakers. I am glad also that we shall not lack spiritual guidance. I do not say that such guidance will come only from the Episcopal Benches, but it will certainly come from there.

Perhaps the House will expect me to explain who I am talking about in the phrase "young offenders". I am referring to two groups—to young adults who are presently aged between 17 and 21, and to juveniles who are aged between 10 and 16. When the Criminal Justice Act comes into force in October, 17 year-olds will be transferred from the first group to the second, and the juvenile court will become a youth court. However, I am considering the situation as we find it today.

The House does not need me to stress the seriousness of this discussion. Many of your Lordships will be aware that crime in general doubled between 1979 and 1991. But perhaps not so many of your Lordships will be aware that 47 per cent. of the offenders were under 21 in 1989, the last year for which the official figures are available—or, at any rate, available to me.

The House has debated penal questions many many times since the war. We have touched on the issue of young offenders in many debates, including the notable one that was initiated by the noble Earl, Lord Russell, on 9th June this year. I cannot, however, trace any debate that was devoted exclusively to young offenders. I am sure that everyone will agree that it is high time that we had such a discussion. It is long overdue.

A number of us in this House have criticised the existing penal arrangements again and again and again. We have said that far too many people are sent to prison and that when they are there, they are not treated in a way that is worthy of a Christian country. I shall not go over that general ground again today. As I have said, I shall deal with young offenders specifically. Although it would be a profitable topic on which to do so, I shall not spend time today on the question of why there is a general and prevalent idea that young offenders should be treated better than older offenders when they commit the same crime. I have said that there is an idea that young offenders should be treated better than older offenders. There is also a widespread idea that young offenders are treated better than older offenders, but that can hardly be said to be the case for young adults—that is, those between the ages of 17 and 21.

I have visited the young offenders' institution at Feltham twice in the past few weeks. The governor is a man of wide experience and much insight. I asked him whether the conditions not only in his particular young offenders' institution but in young offenders' institutions generally could in any sense whatsoever be said to be better than those in comparable adult institutions. He said no, that it was impossible to say that the young people were treated better. Indeed, he has allowed me to say something rather stronger than that. I should now like to quote the words of the present governor of Feltham, who has stated: It is my belief that with the developments within the Prison Service we have actually thrown the baby out with the bath water. We have lost the all-important vision for change which formed the core of the young offenders system".

No doubt he was thinking of the old borstal philosophy. He continued: In spite of the new legislation, we have now created prisons for young people which have neither vision nor a soul, and we are in danger of producing nothing but warehouses for young people".

Those words should go on record as the considered opinion, which he asked me to quote, of the governor of a young offenders' institution who has exceptionally wide experience.

At the moment I am dealing with the theory that young people should in some way be treated better than adults. It has long been recognised in theory that young people are more sensitive to both good and bad treatment. There is also a general view among the public that young people are less reprehensible than their elders when they commit the same crime. Although those views are widely held and one would like to think that they are given effect to, they are not given effect to at present.

However, I shall not strike too depressing a note tonight because, as the House may be aware—the experts gathered here will certainly know this, but perhaps not everyone who reads Hansard—there has been a very remarkable reduction in the number of young people, and particularly juveniles under the age of 17, held in penal custody in recent years. As I said earlier, we so-called "penal reformers" have bela-boured the Government times without number because of the large and increasing number of people held in prison in recent years.

One must give credit to the Government in so far as they deserve it and, on the face of it, credit must, indeed, be given to them for the part that they have played in reducing the number of young people in custody in what are called the "Thatcherite years". to which reference was made in an earlier debate more enthusiastically than I should make it. However, we must not congratulate ourselves too soon because my next figures may not he so widely known. In the Home Office Statistical Bulletin of 28th May 1992—only the other day—it is estimated that the sentenced adult male population is projected to rise from 28,500 in 1991 to 35,000 by the year 2000. That point does not concern us immediately. However, the population of sentenced male young offenders is projected to rise until by the year 2000 it will be 6,400, compared with 5,700 in 1991.

If those projections are correct—and they have been issued officially on behalf of the Home Office —the decline in the number of young people in penal custody will not continue. In fact, it will be reversed and the number of young people in custody will increase. No one can be sure whether those projections will prove to be correct—one hopes that they will not —but at any rate the House should be made aware of them.

NACRO, which is well known to all of us, has played a leading part in promoting from outside the reduction of penal custody for young people. I give full credit to NACRO. It has been considering in a number of documents the possibility of a further reduction in the custody of young people. Its clearest recommendation is as follows: The Government should raise the minimum age at which the young person should he sentenced to detention in a penal institution from 15 to 16 years".

It would mean that 15 year-olds would no longer go to a penal institution. That is the clear recommendation of NACRO and it is supported by the Howard League and other bodies interested in penal reform.

NACRO wishes the possibility to be explored of keeping all young offenders under 18 out of penal custody. That would mean that 15 year-olds, 16 year-olds and 17 year-olds would all be excluded from young offender institutions, of which Feltham is just one example. The Government have accepted that 15 and 16 year-olds should not be held in penal custody on remand and they are following up that policy in various ways, which I welcome.

I have a number of questions to put to the Government of which I have given them full notice. Perhaps I may say how happy I am that the noble Viscount, Lord Astor, is handling this debate. As I may have remarked before, he cannot do better than consult his uncle, Mr. David Astor, who is doing more for penal reform than any other private individual. I hope that the noble Viscount has not neglected his guidance.

My first question is as follows. How far do the Government accept, at any rate as aspirations, the proposals put forward by NACRO? I should add that the numbers are not large in the case of 15 and 16 year-olds. According to my figures, which may be superseded by any figures that the noble Viscount can produce—but not by much I suppose—the number of 15 year-olds in custody is 109 and the number of 16 year-olds is 246. The numbers become a good deal larger if 17 year-olds, who, on my figures, number 1,225, are included. I should like to know what the Government propose to do about the 15, 16 and 17 year-olds who now go to penal custody.

But that is, in a sense—although I support it—a negative policy. It is a minimum requirement but it is in a sense negative. It is deciding not to do something damaging to these young people which is being done now. The more interesting question and, intellectually, the more difficult question is: what is to be done to these young people who now go to penal custody? During my recent visit to the governor of Feltham, news came through that three boys of 15 had just been convicted of raping a girl of 13. I do not know whether they did or did not go to Feltham, but it seemed likely that they would. Under the policy which I and others are advocating, they would not go to penal custody. However, they would have to go somewhere. I do not think anyone is saying "Go, and sin no more". The question arises of what to do with people who commit very serious crimes but who do not go to penal custody.

I know that many extraordinary cases come up, but on 11th June I read about a young man of 26 who had just been given a life sentence for raping and strangling a young woman. When he was 15 he began his misbehaviour. He was put under supervision for a number of indecent assaults. Even with hindsight it is not easy to say what should have been done when he was 15. It is part of my thesis that he should not have been sent to any kind of prison. But what should have been done with him? As this is the first debate that we have ever had on this question I think one is entitled to raise such questions. At any rate we have to think hard about what to do with people who commit terrible crimes at that age.

I shall take a less extreme case because I accept the point that there may not be many cases like that. I was sitting in a magistrates' court hearing juvenile cases the other day. A humane atmosphere prevailed and the young offenders were called by their Christian names. There was a most enlightened atmosphere. A young man of 16—a boy of 16—had been convicted of stealing on this and a number of other occasions. The magistrates were anxious to do all they could in his best interests. They withdrew and were out of the court for a long time. I had plenty of time to talk to the social workers involved. They nodded their heads rather sadly and said, "It looks like custody this time". It was not custody, as a matter of fact. It turned out that the magistrates decided to give him another chance and he was going to come back in a month's time.

Let us suppose that it had been custody. He was 16 and had committed a number of offences. What could be done? I may be told that there are local government secure units. I have visited several of those. Noble Lords may say that there are highly specialised youth treatment centres. There are only two of them, with about 30 young people in each. At any rate places exist where people can be sent. But let us not suppose that we are not talking about custody. When we talk of custody we use the word in a very ambiguous way. It is custody if one is put in a secure unit. One cannot go out and about. Whether it is run by local government or the Department of Health, it is still custody. Whatever word one uses, enlightened people—I am not authorised to speak on their behalf but I know quite a number of them—will be inclined to say that, as long as the young people concerned are cared for by qualified social workers, they will be better looked after than they would be in prison, if only because the qualified social worker, whether he is a probation officer or a local government social worker, has two years' training whereas the prison officer has only a few weeks' training. There is a presumption that fully qualified social workers will be better able to care for these people than prison officers. In some cases—certainly in the case of youth treatment centres—the ratio of staff is very much higher. So it may be the case that they will get much better treatment there.

I should like to make one point in passing. In the residential homes, which I was prevented from discussing when I was taken ill in February, the vast majority of staff are unqualified. We must be careful that wherever young people go they are looked after by qualified social workers.

That is one main issue that I want to raise. I am sorry to complicate the discussion but I have become attracted by the view that these alternative forms of custody, as I insist on calling them, can best be provided by the probation service. I leave that issue and the whole question of what they call intensive probation for the moment. I repeat that I believe that, for those who are too young to go to penal custody, the future should lie more with the probation service than with local government staff.

However, I have a second question for the Government of which, again, the noble Viscount has had notice. If we are talking about these enlightened institutions to which such young people who are spared penal custody should go—we are not talking about very large numbers—someone will have to build them and some resources will have to be devoted to them. Is the noble Viscount prepared for the Government to put up the resources to enable these more enlightened facilities to come into existence?

I shall return briefly to another topic. I am so pleased that the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, is taking part in tonight's debate. However, I must say a word about intermediate treatment. Perhaps the noble Lord will be able to tell us much more as he has played a very large part in the whole movement. I have visited a number of the centres. I think that the noble Lord will agree that it is impossible to generalise about them. There is such an enormous variety of them. At any rate, in the ones that I have visited it would be wrong to think that they are primarily intended for people who have been found guilty of offences and who are sent there by the courts. I visited one which was devoted entirely to offenders. But others are also devoted to all sorts of different people. It is possible that the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, will raise the question of the Government's attitude to the intermediate centres. So far as I can make out, the Government have cut off their supplies. Therefore, one would like to know something about that. However, I shall leave the topic of intermediate treatment to the noble Lord.

It may be said that we do not want people to go into any institutions at all. Certainly many progressively-minded individuals want to keep people out of all institutions, whether penal, local government or anything else. For example, the distinguished chairman of the Howard League, Mr. Andrew Rutherford, has set out to teach us that in the end most young people grow out of their offending, or their delinquency, and that we must do everything we can to look after them in the community. I entirely agree with that view in broad principle as an aspiration, but I must leave it to others to discuss the question of how far you can really avoid sending young offenders to institutions of any kind.

I see that I have now been speaking for a long time; indeed, it is a long time since I spoke for so long. My limit is usually about five minutes. However, before I close, I shall say a few words about young offender institutions. In 1989 there were still over 9,000 young people housed in them. The Chief Inspector of Prisons made fairly scathing remarks about the kind of regime which exists in such institutions. He recently published an interim report on one particular young offender institution —namely, Feltham—which, as I mentioned earlier, I recently visited more than once. He was pretty scathing about the situation there. In passing, I should like to point out that newspapers which try to present a horrific picture of places like Feltham may think that they are doing a good turn to someone. But they must realise that they can exaggerate—as, indeed, they do on occasions—the painfulness of the situation. They cause untold distress to the staff and the families involved.

However, be that as it may, let us take the example of Feltham, which is very much in the news with several suicides having taken place in the fairly recent past, three of them in the remand wing. Three-fifths of the prisoners are housed in that wing and there is no doubt that a very unpleasant life is led by most people who are sent there. One problem is bullying. It was only recently that it occurred to me—although it is a fairly obvious point if one thinks about it—that bullying is likely to be worse in young offender institutions than in adult prisons. Therefore, when we talk about trying to make life better in young offender institutions, we must realise that, in that respect, it is likely to be worse and more frightening to the timid and weak.

The governor at Feltham recently set up a special unit to deal with bullies. Of course, I do not know what happens to the bullies when they are closeted together; perhaps they bully each other or die of inanition. At any rate, the special unit has been set up and surveillance cameras have been installed, and so on. So the authorities are trying to cope with the situation. I should like to pay tribute to what the governor and his staff are trying to do throughout the prison. I have in mind one particular unit, the Nightingale Unit. I could dwell on that subject had I not already spoken for 24 minutes. I could of course speak for a further 24 minutes and other people may speak for 24 minutes on the Albatross Unit.

Great work is being done in those places but the governor of Feltham is no magician. He cannot do anything in a very big way to improve conditions unless he is given more resources. He has publicly, and more than once, called for another 40 staff. Are the Government prepared to make it possible to live up to their protestations—protestations that we have all made at one time or another—to the effect that young offenders ought to be treated better than adults?

Despite my lengthy disquisition, I have left out almost as many subjects as I have touched upon. One example is the whole question of women. There are also the issues that were discussed in the recent debate relating to the treatment of 16 and 17 year-olds and, in a general way, topics such as the restrictions on social security, lack of training and many others. However, I hope that I have said enough to launch this first debate. The central point to ask ourselves is whether we are prepared to let things go on now with conditions in some of the young offender institutions which are probably more unpleasant than in any adult prison. Are we prepared to do something really important about the situation?

7.27 p.m.

Lord Elton

My Lords, when I was catapulted by the invasion of the Falkland Islands into the Home Office, almost the first task I had to perform—and it appeared to be required of me within a matter of hours rather than days—was to reply to a Question tabled by the noble Earl, Lord Longford, on the entire condition and future of the prison service. It is a great pleasure to follow him many years later and to acknowledge the persistent and beneficial effect that his kindly inquiries have had on the custodial system in this country.

There is much to be done. The noble Earl draws our attention to a starkly worrying aspect. After all, it is many years since the death penalty was abolished for even the most serious crimes. Yet the suicide figures of which he has just reminded us mean that in some individual cases people are dying in custody as a result of committing much less serious crimes. That is the most stark way of emphasising my concern which flows from three years' responsibility in the prison service and which resulted in a determination to spend my spare time trying to keep people out of prison; hence my interest in this evening's debate.

Under those circumstances it seems to me that three things need to be done. The first is to reduce the use of custodial sentences not only in young offender cases but in all cases. As regards young offenders, that was accomplished by legislation some 10 years ago. Consequently, there is now a statutory requirement on any court to consider every possible disposal for all age ranges before it gives a custodial sentence; indeed, the decision has to be recorded.

Next we need to intervene to prevent offending before it takes place. The noble Earl has referred to part of the spectrum of treatment that now comes under the not very descriptive name of intermediate treatment designed for that purpose. I think he spoke as if he was expecting to find only offenders. It is intended now for potential offenders, those at risk of offending as well. There was in fact the beginnings of reference to this in the debate which has just concluded. In that debate we were discussing parenthood, the necessity of good parenthood, the need to provide assistance through voluntary agencies for families under pressure where parenthood has broken down and that when the chain by which good moral, ethical and behavioural standards are passed down from one generation to another has been broken in one way or another it is then necessary to repair the chain.

Offending can be prevented by intervention at various stages in a person's life. In a recent inquiry into discipline in schools which I chaired in 1988 it became clear that behaviour of pupils in school had an affinity with their behaviour in society as a whole. There was an urgent necessity to establish good disciplinary systems in schools in order to obtain the good behaviour in social terms of the pupils attending the schools as well as to protect their academic achievements.

That is work for both the academic and the administrative staff of schools. There is work there for the dinner ladies and for the school caretakers as well as for the academic staff. There is also room for work by voluntary agencies. As that has been fully covered in the last debate, I would merely urge the noble Earl and the Government to read it.

I shall now pass on to what has to be done next, and that is to see that where there is an offence and where there is a sentence that the sentence is not purely retributive but that it is rehabilitative. Until lately we were allowed to talk about alternatives to custody because we saw ourselves being in the position of providing for the Bench or for the court a disposal which was not a custodial disposal but which had the intention of correcting the misconduct of the person concerned.

It began, I believe—and I shall listen with great respect to the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, as a prime mover of this—as describing that which was intermediate between a fine and custody. It is now a variety of provisions designed to afford for people who have committed offences an experience which will make it less likely that they will offend again. This is very often achieved by introducing them to something which they have not actually experienced earlier in their lives, which is work for a defined purpose within an understood framework of discipline and under the personal supervision of a caring adult with very few other offenders under his care. That is another way of saying that they are introduced for the first time to an ordered life in an atmosphere which in younger years one would have called loving and which in their years one would call affectionate but firm.

This is a method which can be found in many guises. The noble Earl, Lord Longford, is quite right to say that there is no single word to embrace them, except that they are all designed to divert the individual either from offending or from re-offending. It is on the theme of diversion that the intermediate treatment movement focuses.

The noble Earl has suggested that he would like this effort to rest in the hands of the probation service. I give full credit to the excellence of that service, its dedication, its experience and its wide extent. But it has two disadvantages under which the voluntary sector does not labour. The first is that it has an inelastic number of people working for it constrained by finance. The people who do probation work are probation officers, full stop. The people who do voluntary work use varying amounts of their time and come with a myriad of different specialisms and experiences to bring to the myriad different cases with which they have to deal.

The Earl of Longford

My Lords, perhaps I may intervene. I certainly was not suggesting that all voluntary work—all youth work, for example, and everything that tries to help young people—should be taken over by the probation service. But I had better not say any more. I have talked enough this evening already.

Lord Elton

My Lords, the noble Earl is one of the few Members of your Lordships' House of whom I can honestly say that I do not actually mind if he talks too long, but I exonerate him of any such charge. The advantage of the voluntary sector that I am seeking to stress is first of all that it has an enormous range of skills and a very large number of people who will work part time. Therefore the range of skills is extended. The other point is that it is not part of the system. If one is a probation officer, one is part of the system; if one is an educational social worker, one is part of the system; if one is a school attendance officer, one is part of the system. That applies also to a school teacher, a policeman or a magistrate. But a voluntary worker is not.

The people that we are talking about, the offenders we wish to divert from offending, have usually reached the condition where they regard the system as the enemy—something to be resisted, outwitted and not in any way to be co-operated with. So the voluntary worker has an enormous initial advantage in being able to come forward and say, "Look, I am here as your friend. I am not prejudiced and I am not committed against you. I am not paid by people who in another uniform would lock you up, keep you from home in detention or whatever". Those are two considerable advantages.

The difficulty that the charitable organisations are always under and always will be under is that of funding. If they are fully funded by government they will eventually be seen as an arm of government and able to be discounted as an arm of government. Further, the skills that one wishes them to apply are not the skills of fund-raising. They are the skills of negotiation, supervision, control, sympathy etc. — whatever is needed in the case.

In the last debate—again I shall not repeat it because your Lordships can read it and I hope that you will—there were three interesting inventions, one of them by my noble friend Lady Faithfull, who I see has the temerity to speak twice on one day, and another by my noble friend Lord Caldecote, who does not. Other noble Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, in particular, referred to the great difficulty that voluntary organisations have in acquiring funding for their own management. It is relatively—not very but relatively—easy to go to the great charitable trusts and foundations and say, "We are doing great work. We wish to pass on your money to this organisation or to that organisation", or a whole range of efforts, and to get that money. But if one asks for even a small proportion of it to be devoted to the central expense of that effort, then almost as one they draw back in horror and say "Not So".

I speak with a little experience of this subject as chairman of what is now called the Intermediate Treatment Fund of which the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, can speak with greater authority than I. It was set up in 1979 to act as a voluntary arm, but an arm of government in the sense that it was funded by government, to discover, assist, encourage and impart grant aid to a large number of small local voluntary organisations for the purpose of intermediate treatment which I have already described. It is operating still, but the Government have seen it as an arm of government. It was funded by the Department of Health, and the department regards it as no longer an area of priority. It is true that custodial sentences for juvenile offenders have diminished enormously over the past 10 years. That body also receives substantial funding from the Football Trust, which is one of the great charitable foundations of which I spoke and which is prepared to provide grant for distribution but not grant for central management.

The case I am making on behalf not just of the Intermediate Treatment Fund but of all voluntary bodies which are now available to the Home Office in its new revision of policy for the partnership in the treatment of offenders in the community is that the Government should be aware that the core funding of those bodies is a valuable investment for them. If it is not available, the cost of dealing with young offenders will be great. I believe that I am right when I say that the cost of keeping a non-violent young person in custody is in the order of £36,000 a year. Multiplying up figures of that order shows what an enormous cost to society the custodial treatment of offending is and what an enormous saving there is in prevention or finding an alternative to custodial treatment.

The body of which I have knowledge (the Intermediate Treatment Fund) recently carried out an exercise to see how effective had been the grant it had given to other bodies. It discovered, before it stopped going through the figures, that the other bodies said that they had been able to raise a minimum of £5 for every £1 of government money which the fund had passed to them. That must be a good investment. If it is directed at keeping people out of prisons, it is not just a good investment for the Government in economic terms, it is a humane one.

I have spoken, as I said, relatively briefly and informally on a subject which is close to my heart. I hope that my noble friend the Minister will pass on to the Home Office the central message that I am anxious he should take to it, which is that there are considerable diverse resources available to it in the voluntary sector provided that they are prepared to tap into them. Those organisations are anxious to help provided that they can have the minimal support necessary to enable them to function as the aides and lieutenants of government in achieving their overall policy of the reduction of crime and custody. As the noble Earl, Lord Longford, has said, that must be a lasting aim of great priority.

7.45 p.m.

Lord Hunt

My Lords, I too thank the noble Earl for putting down a Question on this important subject. I wish that I could also feel grateful to him, which I am afraid I do not, for persuading me to speak. I nearly used the words "twisting my arm", but that would not look too good in Hansard. I thank him also for his generous remarks. I am conscious of being increasingly out of date. I am conscious too, looking at the list of speakers and after listening to the noble Earl and the noble Lord, Lord Elton, that there is a wealth of knowledge and experience tonight which makes anything I have to say more or less superfluous. I speak because of my abiding respect and admiration for the noble Earl and his continuing interest in, and care for, young people in particular.

The noble Earl's Question is widely drawn. It can include all young offenders under the age of 21, as he pointed out. I propose to limit my remarks to the lower age bracket, partly because those of 17 and over are now catered for as regards the Government's intentions in the Criminal Justice Act 1991 which will become operative on 1st October. My main reason for speaking about young offenders is that they are giving rise to such anxiety. As all in the Chamber know, the age of criminal offending has now slipped down to 10 and even below. At that period in their lives most of them have not yet entered the criminal justice system. It is vitally important and highly desirable that they should not do so.

I shall speak about non-custodial measures. I shall follow the lead of the noble Lord, Lord Elton, and speak briefly about intermediate treatment as it exists in the community. I understood that the noble Earl intended to make some critical remarks about schemes that he had seen or heard about on his travels: he has not done so. It is true that around the country community-based schemes for young offenders and those at risk of offending vary in quality and content. I should like to give a reassuring report—a contrary impression—about intermediate treatment, as I found it, as president of the Rainer Foundation and chairman of the Intermediate Treatment Fund between 1978, when the intermediate treatment scheme was first launched, and my departure in 1985.

I know from the reports of those two bodies that the facts, as I and my colleagues then found them, are still true today. The Intermediate Treatment Fund, of which the noble Lord, Lord Elton, is now the distinguished chairman, made grants annually to more than 100 projects out of a much larger number of applications for support. I assure your Lordships that our criteria were strict and clear: the programme had to be relevant, realistic, constructive, and adequately supervised. Members of the staff monitored the schemes that we grant aided, and the staff, the chairman, and several members of the committee, travelled widely to see some of the schemes. That policy has been continuing.

I know that the Minister is considering the future of the Intermediate Treatment Fund. I can tell him that, unlike some who are critical, we found most schemes that we saw most impressive and the degree of local co-operation most heartening. Can the Minister confirm that the Intermediate Treatment Fund has set high standards, has improved inter-agency cooperation, and has drawn in a great deal of help from individual members of the public as volunteers and, because of that, has built good relationships between young offenders and those at risk and private citizens who have befriended and guided them? Those are the main attributes and values of intermediate treatment.

Particularly impressive in my time were some of the schemes set up after 1983 by the DHSS under Circular LAC 83/3 to deal with the more serious young offenders—intensive intermediate treatment, as it was called. It may be helpful to mention one such scheme in Basingstoke, pioneered by the Rainer Foundation which I visited several times. Its success was such that it was adopted by the probation service in Hampshire for wider application throughout the county. The county has now been characterised as a "custody-free zone" for 14 to 16 year-old offenders. In the criminal statistics for 1988 I noted that schemes in Surrey and Birmingham—two dissimilar areas—resulted in falls of between 35 per cent. and 45 per cent. in their crime rates of young offenders going through the intensive intermediate treatment.

A further question I wish to put is whether such intensive IT schemes which numbered over a 100 in 1983 and onwards are still widely available following the end in 1988 of the £15 million grant which set them up. Can the noble Viscount also confirm that the schemes have done much to increase the confidence of the courts in the probation and social services?

I wish to say a word about the content of the IT schemes. Home Office Circular 42/83 stipulated that supervised activities should provide, a wide variety of recreational, educational and socially valuable activities". A notable feature of those now on offer is the great diversity of the interests for which they cater. Among them I select two which have proved particularly popular and have provided effective results. The first category consists of activities with an element of adventure which appeals to the spirit of daring among many young people, particularly boys. That in turn accounts for much juvenile crime. Such is the importance that I attach to this element in human nature that I believe that opportunities should be created through our education and training programmes, as well as in leisure provision, for every young person in the United Kingdom to experience adventure in one form or another as part of outdoor education and training programmes.

Intermediate treatment also includes motor projects which are designed to deal with car-related crimes. As people probably know, car-related crime now accounts for nearly one-third of all reported crime. Such is the success of the schemes that there is now a National Association of Motor Projects, established by the police, to which a growing number of projects are linked. From my own observations, they capture the enthusiasm and imagination of young tearaways who have an absolute obsession with driving away cars.

A survey in 1988 by the Home Office standing conference on crime prevention showed that in that year, of 4,500 participants in motor schemes fewer than 100 committed offences during the period of training. The Home Office has designated 1992, I understand, as "Car Crime Prevention Year". Can the noble Viscount confirm that the schemes make a useful contribution to the drive against car crimes?

Prevention was mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Elton. It is an appropriate note on which to conclude my speech. It is obvious, but the point needs constant repetition, that there is a necessity to prevent young people offending in the first instance and entering the criminal justice system if they do offend. Police cautioning has long been normal practice for under 14 year-olds and has been used increasingly in recent years for the 14 to 16 year-old offenders with considerable success. Seventy per cent. of those cautioned do not re-offend.

However, there appears to be a good deal of disparity among local authority areas in the practice of cautioning. For example, figures for 1988 show that Staffordshire cautioned only 28 per cent. of 14 to 16 year-old young offenders whereas neighbouring Northamptonshire cautioned 82 per cent. Can the noble Viscount tell the House whether such disparities have since been reduced? It is obvious that they should be.

I have been impressed by the use of what is termed "cautioning-plus" or "extended cautioning". It means that the police officer giving a caution encourages the young offender to consider taking part in one or other of the wide range of activities which are provided in his or her neighbourhood. Volunteer agencies, working in collaboration with the police, follow this up by making contacts, if possible with the support of parents. Such agencies now exist in a number of places. I have personal contact with two in the North East. In the city of Sunderland, for example, there has been an encouraging drop in juvenile re-offending of 21 per cent. among those who took part in activities from 1985 to 1989. That is twice as big a reduction in juvenile crime as for the whole of Northumberland.

Home Office Circulars 14/85 and 50/90 encourage the extension of cautioning among the 17 to 20 year-old age group, hitherto used only sparingly by the police. Can the Minister say whether this is now on the increase?

My approach to crime among young people is correctional rather than punitive. It is all too easy to be swayed by emotion and put the emphasis on punishment. Of course there have to be exceptions for some serious young offenders of the kind mentioned by the noble Earl. I believe profoundly however that programmes of activities in which young people are encouraged or required to take pain under supervision —whether through IT or other community orders—should be introduced with the accent on their interest and usefulness rather than on punishment. Those activities can and should make demands on the participants. But the more that young offenders are enabled to take part, along with other non-offending groups, and can become integrated into the local community without being labelled offenders, the more likely they are to grow out of crime and change for the better.

7.58 p.m.

Lord Henderson of Brompton

My Lords, I wish to congratulate the noble Earl who made a distinguished speech and who has attracted two speakers from the previous debate, which was in many ways akin to this. It was gallant of the noble Baroness, Lady Faithfull, and the noble Lord, Lord Elton, to speak in both debates: they add lustre to this one.

Two speeches on intermediate treatment from the noble Lords, Lord Elton and Lord Hunt, complemented each other in such a way that I need do no more than congratulate both on their speeches. I have a close interest in IT and all measures to prevent young people going to prison or to divert them from coming before the courts. Those speakers have put the case for intermediate treatment in such powerful terms that I shall not comment further on it.

I wish to compliment the Government on the Criminal Justice Act 1991. Significant changes were made in that Act, equalled only by the changes made in the 1948 provision. That 1991 Act is not yet in force and it will come into force in October. I believe the new youth court will be one of the great engines for change. As has already been said, the court will, for the first time, deal with 17 year-olds, but it is the philosophy behind the court that is so important. There is to be a new emphasis on tougher community sentences and on rehabilitation in probation orders. It is explicitly designed and implicitly the intention of the Act that its provisions should result in a reduction of custody for the young. That is warmly to be welcomed and the Government are much to be congratulated on that.

The working of the youth court will need careful monitoring and evaluation and could well provide material for making further progress in non-custodial disposals by the courts. A further reduction in pressure on young offenders' institutions could be achieved, as the noble Earl has said, by ending the sentencing of 15 year-olds to prison service custody. I strongly support that proposal and hope that the successful working of the 1991 Act will mean that custodial sentences will diminish in number and therefore that the pressures upon young offenders' institutions will be that much less. However, that cannot take place unless there is sufficient space in local authority secure units for the small hard core of 14 to 17 year-olds who cannot be released as they constitute a danger to the public. The noble Earl gave graphic examples of the kind of young person who clearly has to be held. I would hope that such a person would be held in secure units rather than in prison custody.

Will the Government consider the construction of far more local authority secure units for young people who can be much better treated by local authorities through the probation and social services than they can be in a young offenders' institution? My proposal would result in better treatment for young people and would relieve pressure on the young offenders' institutions so the latter could deploy a more constructive regime and, for instance, guard against the horrifying bullying and "taxing" that we hear about, and offer far more in the way of preparation for release. That relief, together with the extra staff asked for by Feltham and no doubt by other young offenders' institutions, would go a long way towards curing the ills which have been singled out in the commissioners' short report on Feltham.

Ideally and in the long run I believe that young offenders' institutions should themselves be phased out and ultimately closed. Even in the best of them young offenders have a 70 per cent. or higher rate of return to crime after two years from their date of release. Alas, that is a measure of their success. What is to be put in their place? I place my faith in the development of much of the philosophy behind the Criminal Justice Act 1991 and the youth court. Treatment, and where necessary custody, should be above all local and preferably in the hands of the probation service and social services. I would add that intermediate treatment has a great part to play in treating those young people who can safely be given non-custodial sentences.

I do not believe the noble Lords, Lord Elton or Lord Hunt, mentioned my next point. Magistrates very much want an increase in the number of IT centres where young people can be sent for non-custodial, disciplined treatment.

I wish to say a few words now about persistent young offenders. I shall go right back to 1953, as this problem has been with us for a long time but little has been done about it. Many Home Office statistical bulletins have been mentioned. I wish to refer to Home Office Statistical Bulletin 35/85 entitled Criminal Careers of those born in 1953: Persistent Offenders and Desistence. That is the first time I have come across the word "desistence" but I believe its meaning is clear. The bulletin shows that a majority of the offences committed in 1953 were committed by a small number of young offenders. Those young offenders are clearly an important group who deserve study. Such research as has been carried out on that group in the late 1970s and throughout the 1980s has been done mostly in the United States. It suggests that such offenders should be treated in the community using community resources.

First, the treatment should specifically concern their offending behaviour and should help offenders to develop models of other ways of organising their lives and solving their problems. Secondly, the treatment should concentrate on developing good relationships, based on trust, between the offenders and those working with them. Thirdly, offenders should be taught personal and social skills. I do not think I need elaborate on those skills. Fourthly, there should be restitution and community service to help young people reintegrate into their communities. They need to recognise the wrongs they have done to individuals and to society.

Fifthly, there should be family intervention, where there is a family, and parents should be taught methods of dealing with their child's offending behaviour. Sixthly, there should be job training or studies leading to work.

I am sure that a whole range of responses is needed for these persistent young offenders. Different methods are effective with different offenders. However, I have given a range of methods that should be tried. I hope they would succeed. I hope those suggestions will be taken seriously by the Home Office. The paper of 1953 I have just referred to was taken seriously at the time and many years have passed since then. I believe strongly that that paper's contents should he reconsidered.

Those studies—mainly American—have indicated that approaches aimed primarily at deterrence appear to be relatively ineffective in reducing subsequent delinquent and criminal behaviour in young people. Of course, in dealing with persistent young offenders, as one would expect, the wider social environment is relevant. It is young people who live in the most deprived areas, with few facilities and little chance of employment, who are most likely to be at risk and become persistent offenders.

Noble Lords will recognise that many of those methods of treatment are just the ones which prison governors in young offender institutions want to carry out, and they are the ones which are being carried out at Feltham in the Nightingale Wing. However, the success of treatment far from home in a prison environment and frequently interrupted because ill-resourced is a wan hope. In another environment, in the community, such treatment might succeed. Let us try it, if only by means of an experiment in the first instance.

8.11 p.m.

Baroness Faithfull

My Lords, I join with others in thanking the noble Earl for initiating the debate. I speak in the debate in order to seek information. The Unstarred Question asks whether Her Majesty's Government have any plans for improving the treatment of young offenders. I asked the noble Earl what he meant by young offenders and whether he meant young people up to the age of 18 or the age of 21. He told me that it was up to 21, and he mentioned that in his speech. Therefore, I should like to work backwards and talk about the 17-to-2l age group, with particular reference to joyriders and football hooligans.

Research has been undertaken at Leicester University which shows, strangely, that joyriders and football hooligans do not come from a socially deprived background. They have money; they have jobs. Indeed, how could the football hooligans go to Sweden if they did not have money and jobs? If they do not have jobs, where do they get the money to go to Sweden?

We have to consider whether those offenders form a separate group or whether our earlier methods of treatment have failed. It is extraordinary and somewhat worrying, but I am told that there is a network; that the offences are not spontaneous but are well thought out. I was not in Liverpool when the joyriding broke out there but I am told that notices appeared on lampposts indicating that it was to take place that night. That means that a plan had been prepared by gangs or groups of young people. Equally, I am told, and I have not been able to prove it, that football hooliganism occurs on a network basis.

Who initiates the networks? Who is running the networks? In Oxford, where I come from, the main joyriding episodes did not occur in poor areas. They were carried out on the Blackbird Leys estate where there is only 5 per cent. unemployment. The estate has a swimming bath and two leisure centres, playing fields, a church and a health centre and the houses are very well built. One asks whether those are isolated phenomena in society or are linked to the fact that we still do not have the right treatment. I ask the noble Viscount whether research has been conducted on individual cases of joyriding and football hooliganism which are brought before the courts to show whether they are isolated incidents or are linked to the failure of our earlier systems.

Turning to the earlier systems, I fully support those noble Lords who have already spoken on the question of treatment in the community. Some people seem to think that treatment in the community is a soft option. Properly run, as it often is, it is not a soft option, as I believe the noble Lords, Lord Hunt and Lord Henderson, will agree. I have had some involvement with intermediate treatments run, for example, by Barnardos. They are not soft options. The young people live at home but they have to follow a strict programme in the evenings after work or after school. They also have counselling, which some of them have found difficult.

I heard a speech at a Howard League meeting in the House of Commons by the American author of a recently published book. In his area institutions have been closed and programmes in the community have been introduced for extremely difficult cases. However, perhaps in this country we have not reached that stage. I know that very good work is done at Glenthorne, St. Charles, Aycliffe and Feltham. I congratulate those four institutions on their work. However, I agree that we should work towards treatment in the community.

Looking back at one's own youth one remembers that on Saturday afternoons practically everyone played games and formed gangs to play football, cricket etc. In our schools and our education system are we helping young people to use their leisure time? A great deal is said about the curriculum, but what about leisure time? How much is that taught in schools? It is sad that so many of our schools have no playgrounds and have no games in the curriculum.

I make this very short speech to ask my noble friend the Minister what research has been done into joyriding and football hooliganism and into whether they reflect badly on our earlier form of treatment or are separate problems.

8.18 p.m.

The Earl of Clanwilliam

My Lords, I too thank the noble Earl for introducing this interesting debate. Other noble Lords have spoken with great authority on the subject and I shall therefore not take up much of your Lordships' time.

The previous debate has already been mentioned. It was very much to the point in bringing out the need for parental responsibility and family security and the mutual support to be gained from that. That is necessary to prevent young people from wrongdoing and to reduce the pressure on our penal system.

Perhaps I may digress for a moment to tell your Lordships that I was unable to listen to the whole of that debate because I was taking part in your Lordships' yacht club's race against the yacht club of the other place. It was not a great event; it was fairly short, but I am glad to say that I crewed for the noble Lord, Lord Greenway, who was first over the line. It would be a very good thing if some form of sailing and boatwork could be introduced as a therapy for all young people. Being on the water induces a great sense of self-control and responsibility. It would be good if that could be introduced.

As the noble Earl, Lord Longford, said, it is wrong to put 15 year-olds in prison. They are subject to enough pressures at home already. It would also be both expensive and unconstructive. Moreover, they are subject to bullying and taxing, which is a new subject that I had not heard of before. I understand that it is the closest thing to fagging at Eton—something which I did not go through myself. Undoubtedly it is more vicious than that system, but much the same.

There is obviously an important need for segregation both by age and between new remands and "old lag" remands, let alone convicted prisoners. I recognise the valuable work that is being done at Feltham, although I do not think it is universally praised. I should be very glad to hear from the noble Lord, Lord Henderson, how progress as a privatised prison is being made at Everthorpe, or the Wolds, as I believe it is called now.

The courses that are introduced need to be wide-ranging in skills and particularly the three Rs. There is not enough educational input into the courses that are run and perhaps much more emphasis should be put on that. The noble Lord, Lord Henderson, mentioned the necessary requirements that should be put in place for training. However, he did not say where those training routines should be put in hand.

There is here the possibility for positive reform, which I have mentioned in this House on previous occasions, on much the same principle as the training programmes that exist at the moment. It can weed out those who are convicted and ready to reform themselves from that body of hardened criminals who expect to do time. There could be regular courses in all the fields already described and discussed.

The point is that the proposed sentence of the court could be reduced by half or even three-quarters, say from two years to six months, so long as the individual accepted the responsibility to take part in a remedial programme. It would be voluntary. The penalty for absconding would be that the original sentence would be reimposed. The threat of reimposing the original sentence would perhaps be salutary and to a large degree remove the necessary security, barbed wire and guarded gates. This point may be a little away from the point at issue for the remand prisoner, the short-term inmates; but it is an alternative for the 15 to 18 year-olds sentenced to prison for whatever reason.

Community work is the standard stand-by as an alternative. However, it is extremely difficult to monitor. I understand that 800 new probation officers are to be introduced following the implementation of the 1991 Act, but will that be enough? The work of probation officers is incredibly difficult. They work under very difficult circumstances and are dedicated and devoted people. But they find it extremely difficult to be effective. They certainly have their work cut out to make sure that their charges are gainfully employed or at school or whatever.

We have a great responsibility in respect of young citizens who come from damaged homes and live in various forms of insecurity, becoming involved in crime. Many of them may be hardened criminals but there are others to whom we owe a great duty—those who are young and first offenders who need our help. We have a duty to them to repair the damage of the broken home and other factors which have caused their offence. I urge the noble Viscount on the Front Bench to pursue these reform activities to the best of his ability.

8.25 p.m.

The Lord Bishop of Ripon

My Lords, like other noble Lords I am grateful to the noble Earl, Lord Longford, for tabling this Question and introducing the subject in such a clear and compassionate way. I, too, pay tribute to his long involvement in this field and all that he has achieved.

I believe that in recent years there have been some improvements in the treatment of young offenders. A non-custodial approach, particularly to juvenile offenders, has brought about a marked improvement, so that the number of receptions into prison service custody for sentenced juvenile offenders fell by 70 per cent. between 1981 and 1989; from over 7,500 to just over 2,000.

There are a number of reasons for that fall, but chief among them perhaps has been the recognition of the limitations and disadvantages of a custodial response in terms of reform or rehabilitation, particularly where the young are concerned. At the same time there has been a recognition of the advantages of dealing with offenders in the community wherever possible. Community methods have both reduced reoffending and offered adequate levels of public protection. By comparison, reoffending rates after prison custody have remained high and there has been steadily increasing concern about the conditions in which young people are held in custody.

Common sense would lead us to expect that. Common sense would lead us to think that if young people are held in custody with those who are rather older than themselves they might well be initiated into what one might term a criminal culture. By contrast, if they are treated within the community it is more likely that they will be encouraged to become responsible members of that community. That is consistent with the view expressed in the Government's Green Paper Punishment. Custody and The Community, published in 1988, which said: Most young offenders grow out of crime as they become more mature and responsible. They need encouragement and help to become law-abiding. Even a short period of custody is quite likely to confirm them as criminals". Along with other noble Lords, I should like to ask whether that process of reducing custody for young offenders can be taken further. I welcome the forthcoming implementation of Section 63 of the Criminal Justice Act 1991 which abolishes the sentence of detention in a young offender institution for 14 year-olds. Nevertheless, 15 year-olds continue to be held in those institutions.

Fifteen year-olds are in many ways still children. They are open to being the objects of bullying and intimidation, without having the resources to respond or cope with such experience. I have visited young offender institutions in my diocese. I have seen the difficulties that the prison staff have in providing adequate oversight, particularly where the buildings are unsuitable. I have seen the great cross-section of youngsters that there are in those institutions. I find it not surprising that 15 year-olds find it difficult to cope; indeed, so difficult that some of them attempt and even succeed in committing suicide. Not only are those youngsters placed in situations of tremendous pressure but there is little or perhaps nothing to be gained by placing them there. They are not diverted from criminal activity. Indeed, they are more likely to be initiated further into such activity.

One may even ask: have their offences merited such a sentence? Of the 428 15 year-olds committed to custody in 1990, 81 per cent. had committed non-violent offences. It is true that 19 per cent. had committed what are termed violent or sexual offences, but none of them involved serious violence. Of those committed, 36 per cent. had committed burglary, but it seems to me that there is little point in giving those young people a sentence which is almost guaranteed to he followed by further offences. A range of non-custodial options is open for 15 year-olds. Some have already been referred to in the debate. They include fines, compensation orders, attendance centre orders, suspension orders and the intermediate treatment which has received such good coverage today.

I refer to one other possibility. It is the use of reparation and mediation: that is, the bringing together of offenders and victims. That too involves voluntary help. It involves voluntary counsellors being trained to handle the meeting between offender and victim. I believe that such a method needs further exploration. It is to me particularly attractive because it has a profound Christian base. It brings together those who have offended and those who have been victims and restores the relationship, through the sense of hurt being expressed on one side and of oppression on the other, with the forgiveness that can follow when those sentiments have been openly acknowledged.

I give one example from the city of Leeds in my own diocese. It involves an adult rather than a juvenile. An adult who had burgled a house at night was eventually persuaded to meet the woman whose house he had burgled. She was eventually persuaded to meet him, as a result of the work of the counsellor involved. The woman lost her temper with the young man. She exploded at him and told him just what he had done by invading her house. She told him of her sense of outrage and invasion and the profound difficulty that she now experienced in sleeping at night. Faced with the tremendous outburst of temper, he realised that he had offended against a person and that what he had done was not an impersonal act but one that had profoundly disturbed and damaged someone else. Out of that exchange there was a coming together of the two persons. I hope that the aspect of reparation will not be forgotten when we consider how best to help young people.

Over the past five years courts have increasingly used such non-custodial options. Some courts never pass custodial sentences on 15 year-olds. Should that not now be the case for all courts? Is it not right that 15 year-olds should never be sent to young offender institutions? Furthermore, should we not also consider abolishing custody sentences for 16 and 17 year-olds? Many more young people continue their education at 15 and 16. There is less expectation that they will leave school and enter the workplace at that age. To draw the line between 17 and 18 years would be consistent with the age of majority being reached at 18.

However, the proposal to abolish custody sentences for 15, 16 and 17 year-olds would involve a form of custody, as the noble Earl, Lord Longford, said. That would presumably be in what are termed local authority secure accommodation units. I believe that there is a core of young people whom it would be necessary to place in such accommodation. Young offender institutions, in common with other prisons, are served by a prison chaplaincy staff. In my experience the work of prison chaplains is often highly regarded by other members of the prison staff and by the youngsters themselves in the young offender institutions. We might wish to express the contribution that chaplains make by referring to the spiritual work that they undertake. But often those in the institutions speak of a humanising contribution that chaplains are able to make. They treat people as people. How is a chaplaincy service to be provided in local authority secure accommodation? If youngsters of 15 are to be sentenced to spend time in such places their need of a chaplaincy service will be as great as, if not greater than, the need of those already in young offender institutions. How will such a chaplaincy service be provided?

I make two further brief points. The first refers to the variation in sentencing which occurs in different parts of the country. I believe that on average 8 per cent. of those who are sentenced in juvenile courts are given custodial sentences. In some courts the proportion is nil. In one court the proportion is 15 per cent. Such a wide variation may be explained because of the type and content of youth crime in different areas. But in part it is surely attributable to different practices in different areas, and the way in which magistrates are encouraged to sentence. Would it not be possible to introduce some levelling of practice?

My second point has not been referred to today. It relates to the position of black offenders. I quote from the NACRO Young Offenders Committee policy paper which states, In 1986, over 10 per cent. of male prisoners and over 14 per cent. of female prisoners were drawn from ethnic minority communities. The statistics also showed a higher proportion of black prisoners serving longer sentences although they had substantially fewer convictions than white prisoners … The proportion of young offenders sentenced to terms in excess of 18 months who were from ethnic minorities was … 20 per cent. This over-representation cannot be explained in terms of more serious offences of offending histories … The 1991 Criminal Justice Act includes a provision whereby the Secretary of State will publish information each year to facilitate 'the performance by [persons engaged in the administration of criminal justice] of their duty to avoid discriminating against any persons on the ground of race or sex or any other improper ground"'. I believe that there is some evidence on the figures that such discrimination continues.

Much has been achieved. I join other noble Lords in encouraging the Government to press forward with further reforms so that young people can be steered away from, rather than into, criminal activity and can become useful and contributing members of the society to which they belong.

8.37 p.m.

Lord Harris of Greenwich

My Lords, I join other noble Lords in thanking the noble Earl, Lord Longford, for having introduced the debate. I touch upon a point made by the right reverend Prelate. I should like to deal with the issue of 16 and 17 year-olds which was referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Henderson of Brompton, and the noble Earl, Lord Longford. I want to mention a case referred to by Judge Tumim, the Chief Inspector of Prisons, in the interim report on the young offender institution remand centre at Feltham. I propose to discuss the report in detail.

The preface records that Her Majesty's Coroner to Surrey had just written to the judge following the inquest he had held on a boy of 15 who hanged himself recently at Feltham. Judge Tumim explained that the coroner made two points that he would report and endorse. First, the boy was sentenced to 188 days by magistrates in Norfolk. That is about 200 miles from Feltham, which was nevertheless the nearest available place for him. He received no family visits as a result. When a relative died he was too far away to attend the funeral. Then, at weekends, as a juvenile, he had only two periods of daily association, one hour in the morning and two hours in the afternoon. From 4.30 p.m. each day he was locked up and isolated for some 16 hours. That was the way we treated a child of 15 in Britain in 1991. In my view it represents a truly scandalous situation.

I ask the noble Viscount who will reply a specific question on that matter. It was dealt with by the right reverend Prelate. In the statement by the Home Secretary on the inspection report at Feltham—the point was raised directly in a number of speeches which have been made today —he repeated that the Government's aim as provided in the Criminal Justice Act 1991 was that all under-17s remanded in custody by the courts should be held in local authority secure accommodation and not in the prison system.

We all agree with that. When, specifically, will that happen? Noble Lords raised that issue on a number of occasions during the passage of the Criminal Justice Act 1991 but secured no satisfactory answer. I should be grateful if we could be told when the local authority secure accommodation will become available.

I turn specifically to the report on Feltham compiled by the Chief Inspector of Prisons. The recent report is the result of a short inspection there. In my judgment the document was deeply disturbing. The background to that inspection can be stated briefly. A full inspection of Feltham took place in December 1988 and the report was published in June 1989. It was sharply critical. In March 1991 two inspectors paid an unannounced one-day visit to Feltham. Their main findings were that the regime had developed little since the earlier report and that there was over-reliance on the use of control and restraint techniques.

We are, therefore, in the position of discussing the third critical report on Feltham published within a period of three and a half years. I hope that on this occasion the noble Viscount will be able to reassure the House that steps have been or will be taken to deal with the various criticisms made in the reports. I further hope that we shall not have to wait for a fourth report on Feltham before those are addressed—

The Earl of Longford

My Lords, perhaps I may intervene. Does the noble Lord realise that the inspectors' latest criticisms are based on anxieties expressed by the governor and the staff? They did not dig them out independently.

Lord Harris of Greenwich

My Lords, if the noble Earl had contained himself he would have found that I was about to turn to that issue. It would be wrong to suggest that everything that happens at Feltham is a hideous mess—it is not. A great deal of admirable work has been done by the governor and the staff. I was about to make that point when the noble Earl intervened. An example of the work that has proceeded satisfactorily is that which involves boys and their families in discussions about their future.

Judge Tumim's report has identified a number of serious shortcomings in the establishment and I now propose to deal with some of them. I have given the noble Viscount notice of those issues so that he is forewarned. I am aware that the establishment contains a considerable number of volatile and criminally-sophisticated young men. However, I find it surprising that almost 3,000 adjudications took place during the first 10 months of last year. That was when the roll on the day of the inspection was 764, which was below the CNA. The report stated that there was also an excessive use of unfurnished rooms and control and restraint techniques. Those were used in more than 200 cases in 1990 and in 196 before during the time when the inspection took place. In other words, there was a greater use of those techniques last year than in the previous year. The inspectors added these significant words: Violent and disruptive behaviour is often associated with boredom and frustration. There is little in the current regime at Feltham to engage the interest of young men, many of whom have a low boredom threshold". I should be grateful if the noble Viscount would give a direct answer to what is a pretty harsh judgment. What precisely is to be done to deal with that situation which was analysed by the inspectorate?

I turn to the issue of escorts and the courts. An extraordinary situation exists and I have read nothing like it in any other report. That is not to say that a similar situation does not exist elsewhere; I merely admit that I am unaware of it. I find it odd that so many productions at court do not take place at all. During the first nine months of last year no fewer than 722 inmates failed to be produced in court. Feltham was unable to accede to production orders in 590 cases. In 132 other cases it was unable to deliver prisoners even in response to court warrants. Again, I should be grateful if the noble Viscount would tell the House what is to be done in order to deal with that situation. From time to time the phrase "value for money" trips off Ministers' lips. Can the noble Viscount explain how such a situation can arise? Apart from all other considerations it is costing immense sums of public money. Let us consider all the lawyers who turn up at court assuming that their clients will arrive from Feltham. In hundreds of cases their clients do not arrive. Let us consider the hours of police time that are wasted and the effect on court officials. Why has this situation been allowed to develop? Now that it has been described in such a way, how do the Government propose to deal with it?

Furthermore, we are told that the Citizen's Charter is to be extended to all courts. I welcome that; I am not a cynic on the issue and I believe that the Citizen's Charter is a good idea. Therefore, I welcome its development in the courts. If the object of the charter is to make the system as a whole more user-friendly and to improve its quality, no doubt the noble Viscount will explain to the House how those admirable objectives can be related to the non-production of prisoners on such a scale. It causes great tension to many of those young men and a great deal of anxiety to their families—

Baroness Faithfull

My Lords, I hope that the noble Lord will forgive me for interrupting. I must point out that the legal aid situation is also serious. Everyone is worrying about legal aid, but all those solicitors are being paid out of legal aid funds for doing nothing.

Lord Harris of Greenwich

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness. In view of press reports about the anxieties which are being expressed by the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor, I hope that his department will take an interest in what has been happening at Feltham. It is clearly a matter of considerable importance.

I turn to a different issue. It was mentioned by the noble Earl, Lord Longford, and is of considerable concern. It is the issue of bullying. I do not believe that in that regard Feltham is unique; the problem exists in many other similar institutions. The staff told Judge Tumim's colleagues that the issue was one of their principal areas of anxiety. We read in the report that as a result of the high level of bullying some of the more frightened inmates attempted to have the minimum level of contact possible with their colleagues. Some wanted no contact at all. It must be remembered that we are talking about young men in a custodial environment. It appears to me that the matter is of serious concern. We also read that some of the young men elected to remain locked up. Others committed disciplinary offences in the hope of being segregated. A smaller group resorted to self-injury in order to be admitted into the prison hospital. I am sure we all recognise that this is a difficult matter. There are no simple solutions; I accept that. However, I should be grateful if we could be told what is to happen.

I turn now to the physical features of Feltham. The inspectors said that the positive features of the wings such as the large communal areas available for leisure activities were under-used because the population was locked up for most of the day. There were indications of vandalism, graffiti, damage to equipment; some cells were without mattress covers and others were without pillows. Outside the window there were discarded items, cell equipment, blankets and articles of clothing. The main association and minor games area in the remand wing had, said the inspectors, an uncared for look despite the fact that it was only three years old.

I fear that one could continue with that depressing analysis. The morale of the catering officers was low. There were poor working conditions. Education classes—that is, education classes for children in many cases—were cancelled regularly on a Friday because discipline staff were not available.

I believe that I have said enough to demonstrate the gravity of the report. It is true that there is one matter that I have not mentioned; that is, the issue of staffing. The governor has said on a number of occasions that Feltham is significantly understaffed. The Home Secretary in his statement on the inspectorate's report said that there is no immediate prospect of an increase in staff numbers. I do not believe that it is either sensible or responsible to join in that particular argument unless there is far more information available. Obviously, more staff would be welcome to the governor and could undoubtedly have an effect on the regime. But we must accept also that the number of prison officers has risen dramatically in the past 20 years. The ratio between staff and inmates has improved notably. I believe that it is for the judgment of Ministers and the Director General of the Prison Service as to how those staff should be allocated.

However, with or without those extra staff, urgent action is now needed to deal with the disturbing reports on three successive occasions by the prisons' inspectorate. We expect to hear from the noble Viscount what action the Government propose to take to deal with the problem.

8.52 p.m.

Lord Richard

My Lords, I begin by echoing the thanks which many noble Lords have expressed this evening to my noble friend Lord Longford for initiating this debate. It has been a useful airing of a very difficult and sensitive subject. The way in which intermediate treatment has figured largely in the debate has been extremely useful. When the noble Earl, Lord Clanwilliam, made his contribution, initially I thought his combination of water treatment and quasi-fagging at Eton was a somewhat muscular approach, but as he went on I realised that he had positive matters in mind.

This is an extremely difficult and sensitive issue. It is difficult for the Government to know how to deal with the problem. It seems to me that the argument for removing 15 year-olds from the kind of custody to which they are now liable, if the court thinks it right, becomes almost unanswerable. I do not wish to delve into the Feltham argument on whether the governor needs more staff. But if 15 year-olds are taken out, the chances are that he will be able to manage better with the staff he has than if the 15 year-olds are left there.

I suppose that the arguments are both humanitarian and pragmatic. It is clear that many youngsters just cannot cope with the intimidation and other problems which they face in prison. Youngsters who do learn to cope with it receive an education in criminal life which stands some of them at least in all too good stead later on. The youngsters are often sent far away from their families, the very people with whom they either have to rebuild their lives or maintain a strong relationship if they are to stand any chance at all of becoming respectable, normal citizens when they come out. I echo the words of the right reverend Prelate from the Government's Green Paper. Most offenders grow out of crime as they become more mature and responsible, but even a short period in custody is quite likely to confirm them as criminals.

I wish to deal with the three specific instances of suicide, one of which has been referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Harris. The first is the case of Jeffrey Horler. He was aged 15 when he was found hanging in Feltham. He came from Great Yarmouth and his mother could not afford to visit him because of the cost of the 200-mile journey. Feltham was the only place to which he could be sent. He had just been refused permission to attend his grandmother's funeral by the social services. A prison officer told the inquest that he had found Jeffrey sobbing in his cell when he heard that his grandmother had died. He was only 15 years and four months old. What was he doing there? He was serving a four-month prison sentence for arson and car crimes. He died alone in his cell in September 1991.

Philip Knight hanged himself in Swansea prison. He had been charged with stealing a handbag. Why was he in Swansea prison? He was in Swansea prison because there was nowhere else to put him. No appropriate place could be found for him outside the prison system. Indeed, he was there for two weeks before sentencing. This is a terrible case. How old was the child? The child was 15 years old.

Craig Walsh hanged himself in Glen Parva. He was a disturbed youth. He had been placed at Glenthorne Youth Treatment Centre for some 18 months. He absconded from the open unit at that centre and committed a robbery at knife-point against his aunt. He was arrested and spent approximately two and a half months on remand at Glen Parva. When he came to be sentenced, he was sentenced under Section 53 of the 1933 Act which, as noble Lords will know, gives the courts greater powers in relation to young offenders. There were no clear recommendations in the social inquiry report as to his disposal but it was indicated that a place at Glenthorne, which was the home at which he had been, would again become available to him. A sentence of 30 months' detention was imposed. Did he go to Glenthorne? No, my Lords. There was no room there and there was nowhere else to which he could be sent. Therefore, he went to Glen Parva, the Section 53 reception centre for the area, where at the age of 15 years he hanged himself.

I find it intolerable that children of that age should be placed in that position under that kind of pressure in this day and age. While I understand all the arguments about how difficult it is because there is no money and so on, I believe it is time that the Government accepted a definite commitment. We should be quite relaxed as regards the timetable and how long they take provided that they show a definite movement in the right direction that this House and the country can see.

I wish to make two other points. Most organisations involved with prison— and this is an interesting test—want to see an end to the practice of keeping 15 year-olds in custody. The list is a long one and it includes the Prison Officers' Association, the Association of Chief Probation Officers and the Prison Governors' Association. The Government are out of step with that consensus if they refuse to move on this point. I welcome the fact that they moved on the position of 14 year-olds, but why do they not accept that 15 year-olds should also be excluded? Fifteen year-olds cannot leave school and the minimum age for probation orders is 16. It is a strange anomaly that a 15 year-old should be considered too young to be put on probation because 16 is the minimum age at which a probation order can be imposed but old enough to be locked up in a penal establishment containing older, tougher and more experienced offenders up to the age of 21. That makes no sense at all.

Those of us who have listened to the debate—and in particular my noble friend Lord Longford—want and urge upon the Government to give an outward and visible sign of movement in the direction in which they have nominally accepted that they wish to move. I am afraid that the present situation is not acceptable. In Europe, the United Kingdom, after Ireland, has the highest number of young offenders under the age of 21 in custody as a proportion of the prison population. That is an indictment of our penal system and society. We look to the Government to do something about it.

9 p.m.

Viscount Astor

My Lords, like previous speakers I am grateful to the noble Earl, Lord Longford, for initiating this debate. As he rightly said, it is an important issue. I say to him straightaway that I took the advice that he gave me in our last debate on a similar subject. I went to see my uncle: in fact, I had dinner with him last night.

It is a commonplace to say that young people are this country's future. But it is no less true for that. We owe it to ourselves as much as to the young people who sadly become involved in crime to find the best way of dealing with them. Clearly, the response must match the seriousness of the offence and the need to protect the public. But consistent with that the objective must be to find ways of dealing with the young people which offer the greatest prospect of encouraging them to lead responsible, law-abiding lives in the future.

That has been, and continues to be, the thrust of the Government's policies towards young offenders. Before looking to the future and dealing with the noble Earl's questions, of which, with his customary courtesy, he gave me notice, I think it helpful to spend a moment summarising the very real achievements of the past decade.

Our approach has been that young offenders, and juveniles in particular, should be dealt with in the community wherever possible. To this end we have encouraged greater use of police cautioning. The proportion of juveniles and young adult offenders who are cautioned has increased substantially in recent years. There are some who say that cautioning is over done. But subsequent conviction rates—admittedly, a rather crude measure of effectiveness —are encouraging. Home Office figures show that 87 per cent. of people cautioned in 1985 were not subsequently convicted of a serious offence within two years.

I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, that the use of cautioning for young adults has been increasing over the past two or three years. That is very welcome. Although he is not here, I can confirm his comments about the contribution of major projects. As my noble friend Lord Elton reminded us, when young people come to court the emphasis has been on avoiding custodial sentences wherever possible. The Government believe that custody should be used very much as a last resort. We recognise the effect custody can have on offenders. It can make them more rather than less likely to go on offending. Custody must remain available to deal with the most serious or dangerous offenders. But we believe that the great majority of young offenders can be dealt with properly in the community.

The success of these policies is clear. The number of juveniles under 17 years of age sentenced to custody fell from about 8,000 in 1981 to about 1,600 in 1990. For young adults aged 17 to 20 years the use of custodial sentences fell from about 21,500 to about 13,300 over the same period. There are a number of reasons for that drop. Not the least important is the provision, with financial help from central government, of constructive and demanding programmes for young offenders in the community. These are the intermediate treatment and intensive probation programmes to which the noble Earl, Lord Longford, referred. He asked whether the Government will support such programmes. We have, and we shall continue to do so.

The Government fully endorse the comments of my noble friend Lord Elton on the valuable contribution that the voluntary sector can make in work with young offenders in the community. In the 1980s the Government made £15 million available from the DHSS to the voluntary sector for work on intermediate treatment. The present supervision grant scheme, which is worth about £7 million in this financial year, is also channelled through the voluntary sector.

That brief historical survey sets the context for future developments, and in particular for the introduction on 1st October this year of the Criminal Justice Act 1991. That Act builds on the very real success of the 1980s. Previous criminal justice legislation introduced statutory restrictions on the use of custodial sentences for offenders under 21. That was another of the factors influencing the reduction in the use of custody for these young people. The Criminal Justice Act focuses those restrictions more closely and extends them to offenders of all ages. Under the Act, custodial sentences will be available only where they are justified by the seriousness of the offence or where they are necessary to protect the public from violent or sexual offenders. The Act enhances the role of community sentences so that they can be used to give a proportionate response to the offence without the need for courts to use custodial sentences where that is not justified by the seriousness of the offence. We expect courts to wish to make greater use of community sentences than they have in the past. The probation service has an important role to play in supervising the orders. That is one of the reasons why we are substantially increasing the number of probation officers.

The new sentencing framework applies to young people in the same way as it does to adults. But the Act gives special emphasis to dealing with young people in the community. It extends the jurisdiction of the youth court, as the juvenile court will be known in future, to include 17 year-olds. They will thus be subject to the special sentencing arrangements and the welfare ethos which now apply in the juvenile court. That is a significant recognition by the criminal justice system that all those under 18 years of age (the formal age of majority) should be subject to similar sentencing arrangements. Under the Act 16 and 17 year-old offenders will be treated as a coherent group. Special sentencing arrangements will apply to them. Courts will be able to select from both the adult and juvenile range of community penalties according to the stage of development of the young people. That means that a wider range of community sentences will be available for 16 and 17 year-olds than for any other group. Courts will be able to select the most suitable community penalties and thus have the greater chance of sparing the risk of an unnecessary custodial sentence. That is a measure of the importance that we attach to the avoidance of custody wherever possible in dealing with young people.

The noble Earl, Lord Longford, and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Ripon also mentioned NACRO's proposals for the abolition of custodial sentences for 15 year-olds, and for 16 and 17 year-olds in the longer term. We always listen carefully to what NACRO says—and, indeed, to what your Lordships say on this subject—not least because very often it is the Government who have provided NACRO with the statistics which of course it uses as a stick with which to beat us. We certainly share with NACRO the objective of keeping the use of custodial sentences for juveniles to the minimum. That is why the Criminal Justice Act 1991 abolishes the sentence of detention in a young offender institution for 14 year-old boys. However, the 1991 Act is not yet in force. We must make sure that it is implemented successfully and that it works as intended. As we monitor its effect we shall be able to form a clearer view of the need for further developments.

Let me say a word about the juvenile remand arrangements, which a number of your Lordships have mentioned, including the noble Lords, Lord Henderson of Brompton and Lord Harris of Greenwich. The Government recognise the undesirability of prison remands for juveniles and are fully committed to their abolition. The 1991 Act makes the necessary provision. In future courts will be able to remand direct to local authority secure accommodation. However; this change will not take place immediately. More secure accommodation needs to be provided. We are anxious to end prison remands as soon as we possibly can. Secure accommodation is a specialised resource which takes a long time to plan and build. We are pressing on as quickly as we can but realistically we are unlikely to be in a position to end juvenile prison remands before 1995. In the interim the Act tightens the criteria for juvenile remands. Custody will be used only for those juveniles from whom the public need protection against serious harm.

Many juveniles who are convicted of the most serious offences are already held in local authority secure accommodation. The Government provide a 100 per cent. grant for the capital cost of providing secure accommodation. The Government also provide additional secure accommodation to meet our objective of ending prison remands for 15 and 16 year-old boys.

We are taking other steps to reduce the need for custodial remands. The Government believe that greater use can be made of conditional bail for juveniles instead of custody. That is why we are making available grants for the development of juvenile bail support schemes. These schemes support juveniles in the community and are aimed at keeping remanded juveniles out of custody.

Turning to the circumstances when young offenders unfortunately have to be given custodial sentences, the Government's policy is that the regime provided should be directed toward preparing them for resettlement in the community. This is to be achieved through activities designed to promote self-discipline and a sense of responsibility and through positive relationships with members of staff. These are high purposes, and I am grateful to the noble Earl, Lord Longford, for recognising that. They are not easy to achieve, but in many young offender institutions the staff are enthusiastically playing their part as personal officers, getting to know the young people, who look to them for advice and help.

The Government are not complacent. We know that there are difficulties in some young offender institutions, and in particular at Feltham, where the governor and staff are working together to find ways of improving the regime. They are also taking action to control the problem of bullying, which a number of noble Lords have mentioned this evening, by installing cameras in areas that are difficult to supervise, by taking robust action when bullying is detected and by segregating the worst bullies in a separate unit. A mixture of counselling, casework and firm control will be used in the unit. But the key to the problem is good staff-prisoner relations and of course close supervision.

I fully agree with noble Lords who have said that young offenders need an active regime, and this is central to the Government's policy. This means that effective use has to be made of prison staff, who are of course an expensive resource, so that they are available to supervise activities. Governors and their area managers have been analysing their staffing arrangements against the work that they need to do so as to ensure that their staff are used in the most effective way and that when bids are made for additional staff it is clear that they are really needed.

At Feltham this analysis has been carried out particularly carefully. More staff would obviously enable more to be done but that must await decisions to be made in the public expenditure round to see what can be afforded. It is important that I pay tribute to the imaginative way in which the governor has deployed his staff so as to ensure the best possible regime within the resources available. He has put strong emphasis on teamwork and is involving the new group of prison visitors and the friends and families of inmates so as to enrich the regime and strengthen the links with the community.

There is already an active suicide prevention management group at Feltham. In addition, the governor recognises the widespread concern about recent deaths at the establishment and has chaired a special group to identify what more can be done. The group is taking forward a range of initiatives, including a review of induction procedures and of measures to curb the incidence of bullying. Staff have been given refresher training in suicide prevention and a training pack has been produced for future use. Case conferences are held each week to manage prisoners identified as being at risk. A prison visitor scheme has been set up to support those who do not receive regular visits. Links have been made with the local branch of the Samaritans. The establishment is also continuing to develop its policy of encouraging regular contact between prisoners and their families, particularly where there is concern about the prisoner's welfare. A steering group at the prison service headquarters will review all the research on bullying. These lessons will be spread around the service.

The noble Lord, Lord Harris, asked me about control and restraint techniques. Staff have been made aware of the importance of ensuring that control and restraint techniques are used in accordance with the prison service instructions. The governor is examining the reports of each incident where control and restraint methods have been applied so that he can be satisfied that no unauthorised use is made of these techniques. The area manager will also investigate the use of unfurnished rooms and special cells and control and restraint techniques as part of the review of his contract with the governor and will report to the director of custody.

The noble Lord, Lord Hunt, and other noble Lords mentioned intermediate treatment. The great majority of these schemes, set up under the intensive intermediate treatment initiative, continue, most with local authority support. The schemes have certainly made a contribution to the reduction in the use of custody for juveniles over the past decade. I must endorse noble Lords' comments about the Intermediate Treatment Fund.

My noble friend Lady Faithful] asked about research into football hooliganism and joy-riding. There is a widespread body of research on the nature of crime and its causes which includes both of these, but it is all part of our general ongoing research.

The right reverend Prelate asked me about spiritual welfare in secure accommodation. We recognise the importance of the role of the chaplaincy. If there was a move to secure accommodation in place of prison service custody for convicted offenders we would need to consider how best to preserve this contribution. The right reverend Prelate also asked about secure accommodation and children's homes. The children's homes regulations require that children should be enabled to follow their religion while they are in the home. But I do not know whether there are any chaplains to any of the secure accommodation units.

The noble Lord, Lord Harris, asked me about what is being done to reduce the number of adjudications. There has been a small reduction in the number of adjudications this year compared with the period mentioned by the chief inspector in his report. A study of adjudications is being conducted by the psychology department. It is hoped that this can lead to identifying any training need and the best way of tackling the problem.

The right reverend Prelate also asked about the variation of sentences. Some courts use custody more than others. That is why there is a need for consistent national standards for community sentences to be used to reduce courts' reliance on custody. The Home Office has produced draft national standards for consultation.

My noble friend Lord Clanwilliam asked me about Wolds remand prison. This is the first purpose-built remand prison. It has about 320 places and takes adult male remand and convicted prisoners. It took its first prisoners on 6th April and is building up to full capacity in September. Its current population is 150. Wolds is the first prison to have its running contracted out to the private sector under the provisions of the Criminal Justice Act 1991. The prison is therefore run under prison rules. Instead of standing orders and circular instructions its running is governed by a contract between the Home Secretary and Group 4 Remand Services. Copies of the operational specifications which contractors are required to meet for Wolds were placed in the Libraries of both Houses.

The Earl of Longford

My Lords, in order to avoid misunderstanding, Wolds is not concerned with young offenders.

Viscount Astor

My Lords, my noble friend Lord Clanwilliam asked me about Wolds prison. I am attempting to answer as many questions as I am able to.

The noble Lord, Lord Harris, asked me about the court delivery of prisoners. Feltham, like many other local prisons and remand centres, cannot meet all the requests from courts and has to make decisions according to staff availability on the day. The governor arranges productions to courts in accordance with local priority guidelines which have been agreed with the area manager: those required for the Crown Courts, those where the warrant expires on the date of production, those required on lodge warrants and production orders.

The catchment area for the over 17 year-olds at Feltham will be reduced when Woodhill opens later this summer. Woodhill will take responsibility for the St. Albans catchment area. Plans are being developed to reduce Feltham's catchment for juveniles. We wish to transfer responsibility for Devon, Cornwall and East Anglia to other establishments. A cellular vehicle has been provided for Feltham. That should aid the production of prisoners in courts in the London area.

Lord Harris of Greenwich

My Lords, perhaps I may return to that very point. Does the noble Viscount realise the full extent of what he has just said— namely, over 700 inmates not produced in court? As I pointed out, there are substantial public expenditure implications involved. Has any explanation been offered to the Lord Chancellor's Department, when the noble and learned Lord constantly expresses concern about the costs of the legal aid bill? Surely there is a need to look again at the matter to see whether there can be dramatic reductions in this very disturbing incidence of non-production of inmates.

Viscount Astor

My Lords, I have said that we are doing something about the matter. Of course, as the noble Lord, Lord Harris, has pointed out, it is a serious problem and one which we take seriously. We shall indeed look at it. I do not know the answer to his question about the Lord Chancellor's Department.

But I must tell the noble Lord that it is something that we take very seriously and which we shall try to improve.

I hope that I have answered the points made by the noble Earl, Lord Longford, and those made by other speakers. It has been a most interesting debate. As the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, said, there is a wealth of knowledge and experience on the subject in your Lordships' House. The Government are committed to effective and humane treatment for young offenders, aimed at preventing further offending so far as is possible and encouraging their reintegration into the community as law-abiding citizens.

House adjourned at twenty-two minutes past nine o'clock.