HL Deb 02 March 1993 vol 543 cc558-71

4.35 p.m.

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, with the leave of the House, I should like to repeat a Statement about the Government's plans for strengthening our response to the problem of juvenile crime which is being made in another place by my right honourable friend the Home Secretary.

The Statement is as follows:

"A comparatively small number of school-age children are responsible for a high proportion of crime, particularly burglary and car crime, in many parts of the country. I spoke last autumn of my concern about the apparent lack of powers for the courts to deal with the worst of these offenders and I have since repeatedly made it clear that I am preparing proposals to close what I perceive to be a gap in the law. I believe that it is not in the interests of school-age children that they should be left at large in the community if they are out of control, playing truant from school and repeatedly committing criminal acts against the general public.

"The Government are determined to continue to strengthen the powers of the courts to deal with persistent offenders. We must also take other measures to tackle the problem on a broader front.

"The courts already have some powers to sentence juvenile offenders to custody, subject to their age and the offence of which they have been convicted. They also have powers to order them to be supervised in the community, with a wide range of additional requirements some of which involve extensive restrictions on their liberty. Those powers are necessary and sensible for the great majority of juvenile offenders, but I have decided that they are insufficient to deal effectively with that comparatively small group of very persistent juvenile offenders whose repeated offending makes them a menace to the community.

"The courts will be provided with a new sentence which for the present I am calling a secure training order. The order would be available for 12 to 15-year olds who have been convicted of three imprisonable offences and who have proved unwilling or unable to comply with the requirements of supervision in the community while on remand or under sentence. A court would be empowered to impose such a sentence only when it was satisfied that such an order was necessary to protect the public from further offending by that juvenile and when a place in a suitable facility was available. Before making an order, the court would be required to take account of a pre-sentence report. The order might last for up to two years.

"The challenge for the new secure training centres will be to provide high standards of care and discipline and opportunities for the juveniles in their care to develop as individuals. Regimes in the new training centres will embrace education and training provided in ways that tackle the individual's offending behaviour. After release from the secure training centre, the order will ensure that the juvenile will remain under close supervision unless and until his behaviour has altered and those responsible can be confident that he is no longer a threat to society.

"It is absolutely imperative that the supervision in the community is rigorous, consistent and firmly delivered. For those persistent offenders discharged from the new training centres, supervision in the community must build on the work done inside the centres themselves.

"National standards are required in this area. My department and the Department of Health, together with the Welsh Office, last year jointly issued National Standards for the Supervision of Offenders in the Community. These standards will need to be supplemented to ensure the effective post-release supervision of 12 to 15-year olds. Work on this will proceed as a matter of urgency.

"The secure training orders will be different from anything that has ever been provided before. I envisage that the centres will be provided through agreements with suitable organisations. They may come from the public, voluntary or private sectors provided that they can demonstrate the ability to meet the standards we shall be setting and to give value for money. Central government will act as the purchaser of this provision. To enable the private and voluntary sectors to provide secure accommodation, my right honourable friends the Secretaries of State for Health and for Wales will amend the regulations under the Children Act 1989.

"The care and social work activities of the centres will be inspected by the social services inspectorate and their educational provision by inspectors of education.

"The Government will also be considering whether the existing powers of courts in sentencing juvenile offenders should in some cases include a power to require placement in secure accommodation.

"The Government will bring forward legislative proposals to give the courts new powers at the first opportunity.

"In working up detailed plans to implement our proposals we will be having discussions with a wide range of agencies and institutions which may be capable of providing the new centres. Provision will be made for the cost of these new arrangements in the course of the public expenditure planning exercise which is now under way.

"In recent years local authority social services, the probation service and many voluntary organisations have shown that sensible and constructive schemes for supervising young offenders in the community can be successful in preventing crime and diverting young people from the penal system. It is important that this policy should continue and that parents should be involved in the responsibility for the upbringing and behaviour of their children.

"The policy will be strengthened by the measures which my right honourable friends the Secretaries of State for Education and Health are taking in their respective fields.

"My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Health will be reminding social services that their responsibilities for young people who offend, and those on the brink of offending, should stress control as well as care; there should be no soft options.

"My right honourable friend will shortly issue guidance on the control regimes in secure and other forms of children's residential accommodation. This guidance will take account of the lessons learnt in protecting children from abuse such as in the Pindown regime. It will also address the serious concern that staff must be able to exercise proper authority over the children. They need sanctions if children misbehave. They should also have the necessary powers to prevent children who are detained by order of the courts from running away.

"My right honourable friend will also ensure that social services departments take a consistent approach towards the control of juvenile offenders. There must be a joint approach with the education authorities, the police and probation service and other agencies.

"My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Education will also be taking measures in support of our general strategy for tackling the problems of juvenile offenders.

"Schools must prove effective in instilling discipline, through adherence to civilised values and by encouraging and supporting respect for other people and their property. From the earliest possible age schools, supported by parents, must sharply discourage behaviour which may lead on to a life of crime. There is no longer any place in our schools for the discredited philosophy of allowing children to develop in their own way, regardless of right or wrong. Schools must promulgate the values we as a society want to pass on to the next generation.

"The national curriculum requires schools to prepare all pupils 'for the opportunities, responsibilities and experiences of adult life'.

"The newly-independent Office for Standards in Education will be introducing a much more rigorous inspection regime, which will include explicit reporting on behaviour and discipline in schools and on how the school functions.

"Action must also be taken to ensure that pupils do attend school. My right honourable friend now requires schools to keep proper records of truancy. Parents have to be told when their children do not turn up. And from next autumn school performance tables will have to show how well they are doing in making truancy a problem of the past.

"The attack on truancy must come from the Government and from parents. The Government have established a £10 million programme to help schools in 74 authorities to get to grips with the problem. Parents must get their children to school on time and make it clear that they must stay there.

"Disruptive pupils must be dealt with more effectively. There are significant numbers of children who behave so disruptively that schools have had to exclude them. So often, of course, disruptive behaviour, if left unchecked, leads on to offending.

"I am able to announce today that following extensive consultation my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Education proposes to bring proposals before Parliament to place local education authorities under a new statutory duty.

"They will be required to develop comprehensive plans to educate pupils who are not attending school. The aim will be to provide courses tailored to the needs of the individual to prepare excluded pupils for re-entry into school.

"Madam Speaker, I do not lightly commend to this House proposals which have the serious effect of depriving children of their liberty and removing them from their families. The Government will continue to support proven and effective ways of dealing with children of this age without resort to custody in all cases where non-custodial measures have a reasonable chance of succeeding. Many first offenders will continue to receive a formal caution from the police. But we will shortly be strengthening our guidance to the police about the criteria for cautioning, including a warning about excessive and repeated use of cautioning in cases where it is plainly going to be ineffective.

"The range of measures I have outlined today are designed to deal more effectively with juveniles on the fringes of criminality as well as the hard core who have shown that they cannot or will not respond constructively to supervision in the community. They are urgently needed to deal with this problem and I am confident that the House will support them".

My Lords, that concludes the Statement.

4.46 p.m.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, the House will be grateful to the Minister for repeating the extensive Statement made in another place. I hope that the Minister will forgive me if I describe the Statement as a nugget of new information in a vast amount of gift wrapping. The nugget of new information is the provision of a secure training order. Our response to the suggestion will be dependent on the detail, who is to organise it and the provision for care and discipline. The Statement indicates that there will be high standards of care and discipline. So there should be. But the balance between the two and the extent to which the proposal is different from the existing provision will be the basis on which we shall make our final judgment about whether such a new provision is to be welcomed.

We must ask the Government how far the new secure training order differs from the provision already made. All we have in the Statement is a simple assertion that the powers which exist are not applicable to a small number of persistent offenders. What is the difference between the secure training order and the existing provision for supervision in the community, which can be extremely secure? What is the difference between the new provision and intensive probation such as that provided by Sherbourne House, described in detail in a recent book by Mr. Roger Graef? What is the difference between the proposal and the secure provision made by local authorities? Above all, what is the difference between the new provision and the type of provision which has been proved time after time, year after year, not to work; that is, putting young offenders together so that they learn crime rather than rehabilitation and come out with a high possibility of recidivism?

It will be obvious why, in the absence of detail, it is difficult to give the proposal an unalloyed welcome or accord it disapprobation. However, we note that legislation will be required. When is that legislation likely to be introduced? When is the new provision likely to take effect? If the legislation is to be introduced in the next Session, is it not the case that it will probably not come into effect until April 1996? Can we afford to wait until that time?

Looking at the various aspects of the gift wrapping rather than the kernel of the Statement, we see that it is proposed that education authorities shall have a new statutory duty to combat truancy. We welcome that: we are all in favour of that new statutory duty. But what about the statutory duties which have been taken away—the statutory duty to provide nursery care and, above all, the statutory duty to provide an effective youth service. Over the years those statutory duties have proved effective in reducing juvenile crime, yet the whole thrust of the Government's activity is to take that away rather than to add to it.

I was disappointed, in the part of the Statement which refers to the education system, to hear the phrase, the discredited philosophy of allowing children to develop in their own way, regardless of right or wrong". I should have hoped that by this time the Government would cease to put up such irrelevant and untrue Aunt Sallys. There may be criticisms of progressive thinking in education but those criticisms must not extend to claiming that those who propose a more progressive and libertarian view of education do so regardless of right or wrong. If that point were put to A.S. Neill of Summerhill, he would deeply resent the suggestion that however libertarian his regime might have been, it was regardless of right or wrong.

Those subsidiary matters can be dealt with by Parliament when legislation is proposed. However, we are looking for a much clearer idea of whether there is, in the proposal for a secure training order, any real new thinking or whether it is simply a panic reaction to recent events. Our experience of panic legislation in recent years has not been happy. I hope that this will not be another example.

Lord Harris of Greenwich

My Lords, like the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh of Haringey, I thank the noble Earl for repeating the Statement. I agree with the noble Lord's view that the rhetoric is admirable and the detail rather less impressive.

As the noble Earl will recall, some of us have been anxious about this issue for a substantial period of time. Will the noble Earl recall the debate which we had in July of last year on child runaways? I have written to him in the past few days asking what progress has been made since that debate took place. I shall return later to that matter.

Precisely how will the new training order differ from secure accommodation provided now by local authorities? What, in detail, is the difference? I believe that we are entitled to a specific answer to that question.

Is the noble Earl aware that some of us are more than a little disappointed that, at a time of rising crime, the Government have allowed the number of secure places in England and Wales to decline from 329 in January 1980 to 288 in January of last year? That does not seem to many of us to be a very impressive example of how seriously the Government are taking the problem.

The noble Earl will be interested to know that more than half of that decline took place as a result of a decision taken by the London Borough of Wandsworth—a local authority which we are constantly asked to admire—which closed 28 places. The result has been the creation of some of the problems which the noble Earl identified this afternoon.

I return to the debate of July of last year. The noble Earl will recall that it took place as a result of a survey carried out by the National Children's Home, the Metropolitan Police and the Police Foundation. Will he recall that the report showed that about 43,000 young people had run away in Great Britain in 1990? A disturbingly high proportion of those young people were from residential establishments. As I understand it, residential establishments are the responsibility of the Secretary of State for Health. I shall return later to questions of ministerial responsibility. However, 30 per cent. of the runaways came from residential establishments, although less than 1 per cent. of children in this country reside in them? In one case, a home with 72 places recorded no less than 565 such incidents. Many of those children became involved in criminal activities. Is the noble Earl aware that the police have warned the Government, not over months but over years, about the development of that situation and about the consequences of them allowing the number of secure places in residential establishments to decline? Notwithstanding that, the decline has taken place.

Given the rhetoric of the Home Secretary's Statement, why have the Government failed to ensure an adequate number of secure places? I should be extremely grateful if the noble Earl will explain that to us. I recognise that it is the responsibility of the Secretary of State for Health rather than the Home Office but I believe that we are entitled to receive a reply to that question.

I now ask specific questions to which I should be grateful for answers. First, how will the new secure training order differ from the short, sharp shock which was introduced after the present Government took office in 1979? As the noble Earl will recall, that collapsed in abject failure. As Home Secretary Mr. Hurd decided that he was not prepared to entertain any more short, sharp shocks. Given the fact that when that policy was introduced, the language was remarkably similar to that used by the noble Earl this afternoon, I hope we shall have a clear answer to that question.

Secondly, how will the new system differ from the old approved schools system, which also collapsed as a result of its failure? I hope that the noble Earl can explain that.

Thirdly, which department of government will be responsible for the new order? As I pointed out, residential establishments are the responsibility of the Secretary of State for Health. The Home Secretary made the Statement this afternoon. Does that mean that the Home Office will be responsible for the new order and the new establishments, or will that be the responsibility of the Secretary of State for Health, whose record has not been very impressive?

Fourthly, what is to be the timescale? The noble Lord, Lord McIntosh of Haringey, raised that question. The implication of today's Statement is that the problem is urgent. The Home Secretary says that legislation will be needed to give courts new powers at the first opportunity. What is the first opportunity? Will that be in this Session and if not, why not? If the problem is as urgent and dramatic as the noble Earl suggests in the Statement this afternoon, does it not seem odd that we are not to be presented with legislation in the current Session?

Finally, all those who have looked at this problem over a period of time accept that it is a real problem as regards a small minority of children. If the problem is as acute as we all recognise it to be, then we should still like an answer to the question which I posed at the beginning. Why have the Government allowed the number of secure places to decline in the way that they have done?

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Greenwich, said that he welcomes the principle of the Statement although it was short on detail. If I might say so, the observations which he made were not short on questions. I do not know whether I can reply to all of the many questions he asked. He referred to child runaways and to a debate we had way back in July. That matter is rather a long way from the Statement. However, the noble Lord asked me what had been done about that matter.

Lord Harris of Greenwich

My Lords, it is precisely the same issue. The noble Earl referred to secure accommodation in the Statement this afternoon.

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, the debate last July concerned child runaways from all kinds of different places. However, I shall not take any further issue with the noble Lord on that matter. Only last week I had a discussion with my noble friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health about this matter and it is being pursued with the Department of Health and the Department of Education.

The noble Lord asked why the measure we are discussing is any different from the short, sharp shock treatment. This measure is totally different. Under the short, sharp shock treatment young people were obliged to expend a great deal of physical effort, energy and exercise. A policeman has said that one of the results of that was that when they came out of the units they could run faster than policemen.

The object of the secure training orders is to remove from the community certain young people who are offensive to the rest of the community. That must be done to allow the remainder of the community to live in peace. Those young people will be placed in secure accommodation and while they are there great efforts will be made with the aid of training and teaching to try to make them better people so that when they are released they will, we hope, be better. They will, of course, be supervised on release. The noble Lord asked who would be responsible for the secure units. The prime responsibility will lie with the Home Office but the units will be administered in association with the Department of Health and the Department of Education.

The noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, asked to what extent the secure training orders would differ from present provisions. As I explained, the secure training orders constitute a totally different concept. They are based on the concept that certain young people have to be removed from the community and placed in secure units. That provision is not available at present.

The noble Lords, Lord McIntosh and Lord Harris of Greenwich, asked when legislation would be introduced on this issue. I can only say that it will be introduced at the earliest possible opportunity. I was surprised to hear the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, say he disapproved of the expression that education should be carried out in a way which was not regardless of right or wrong. Knowledge of the difference between right and wrong is a fundamental principle and one by which any child should be brought up.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, I said no such thing. I said the suggestion that progressive education denied the difference between right and wrong was a total calumny. That is a quite different thing.

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, if I have misconstrued the comments of the noble Lord, I apologise. I was trying to take down some notes on what he said and the notes I took down were the ones that rather impressed me. I am sorry if the inference I drew from what he said was incorrect. The fact is that the ability to discern between right and wrong is a fundamental part of education and of bringing up children. That is what we wish to encourage, whether in the home or in schools.

The noble Lords said that the Statement did not contain a lot of specific detail. That is perfectly true. Much work has still to be done. It is difficult to decide where the units should be located and how they are to be financed until my right honourable friend has made an announcement on those points. I cannot tell the noble Lords when that is likely to occur but it will occur as soon as possible.

5.5 p.m.

Viscount Whitelaw

My Lords, is my noble friend aware that the Government must be congratulated on their determination to tackle what for a long time has been an intractable problem? I hope that Members in all parts of the House, and indeed in all parties, will share the great humility that I personally feel through having tried to do something to deal with the problem but failed. I hope there will be no suggestion that this is a matter which should not be looked at on a broad basis throughout our whole political system.

I ask my noble friend to ensure that the Government take as many people as possible with them as regards their plans on this matter. It is desperately easy to criticise any plan that has been made or thought of. Nearly every proposal to solve this problem put forward so far has failed. If that were not the case we would not be in the position we are in today.

I hope the Government will take all the parties with them in seeking to obtain the right answers. I hope that Members in all parts of the House, and particularly the Opposition, will take this opportunity to work with the Government to solve this problem. We shall only solve this problem, or even go any way towards doing so, if there is a united effort in our country. That united effort is visible everywhere but no one ever reaches agreement on how to tackle this matter. It is the task of the Government to lead on this matter and it is the task of the Opposition parties to help the Government in their task.

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, I am most grateful to my noble friend Lord Whitelaw for that intervention. He mentions the fundamental principle of all that we should be trying to achieve. He is quite right to say that most steps that have been taken to deal with this problem have failed for one reason or another. If there were a simple answer, it would have been found before now. I can assure my noble friend that we shall take as many people as possible with us on our new provisions.

I have visited a number of areas in the country and senior policemen have told me that they know of a few people who are responsible for the chaos and the trouble on various estates. The rest of the communities on those estates have been subjected to that chaos but it has often not been possible to deal with it adequately. There are some young people who must be removed from society to enable other people to lead normal, peaceful lives. While those young people are in secure accommodation, we must do the best we can to discourage them from their wrong ways.

The Earl of Longford

My Lords, I speak as a Back-Bench Member of the Opposition who has carried out a great deal of specialised work on this issue. I had better not mention the fact that I have just written a book on the subject as that might be considered bad form. Is the noble Earl aware that many people who are involved with this problem think it is a fatal step for the Home Office to take the main responsibility for it? If we are to offer these young people a genuine educational and therapeutic rehabilitation, will the noble Earl take it from me that many people who are involved with these young people believe with all their hearts that the responsibility for this matter should lie with the Department of Health?

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, I take note of the noble Earl's view.

Lord Elton

My Lords, the success of the new institutions will result very largely from the way they are run. I hope my noble friend recognises that this tide of offending which we now face does not have its origin in the moment the offence is committed but rather way back in the histories of the young people who commit the offences. The most effective thing that can be done is to divert young people from offending very much earlier in their careers. This can be done in a number of ways, some of which have already been mentioned in your Lordships' House and one or two of which have been mentioned in the report of a committee, which I chaired for the former Secretary of State for Education, into discipline in schools.

One of the recommendations in the report was that there should be not only stringent supervision but also severe penalties for those who break regulations that concern the employment of young people during school hours when those young people are of school age. I hope my noble friend will encourage his colleagues to pursue that policy in parallel with the policy put forward in this very important Statement.

A second point which I should like to draw to my noble friend's attention is too complicated to advocate to your Lordships in detail. Broadly it is this. Young people in our society are increasingly deprived of benefits with which noble Lords and their contemporaries were amply supplied by their families and the societies in which they were brought up and in the workplace, namely discipline, caring and affection. Those are now in short supply for many young people in deprived areas. They can be and are supplied by the voluntary sector, working with young people in a whole range of institutions designed to bring out their qualities in challenging circumstances and under close supervision.

The voluntary sector is normally supported in that task by local authorities. As became clear in the Statement by the Secretary of State for Wales yesterday, that support is now diminishing. I ask my noble friend to ask his colleagues to look favourably on approaches from organisations in the voluntary sector directed to supporting what local authorities can supply in diminishing volume.

I declare an interest as the chairman of a new charity which was founded this month for that very purpose, the Divert Trust. It is directed specifically to enabling small local groups of concerned adults to set up local schemes, staffed by recognised adults known to the children concerned. They are not uniformed members of organisations of the state. They are not probation officers or social workers. They are not "them" but "us". Help given in that direction would be immensely powerful in supporting the policy which my noble friend has put forward.

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, I remember well my noble friend's report on schools. He is quite right to refer to the importance of both supervision and penalties. This is one of the matters which is giving my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Education cause for great concern and consideration. He is anxious to see that children in school are brought up in the correct way and with the correct form of discipline.

My noble friend Lord Elton referred to the voluntary sector. He is quite right; a great deal of care, affection and discipline can be provided by the voluntary sector, although nothing replaces the value of the home. Certainly we would wish to see the voluntary sector able to do as much as it can. My noble friend referred particularly to the charity of which he is chairman, the Divert Trust. I know that it does excellent work. I note his plea for more money for the trust and for other causes, but I shall not go further at this stage.

Lord Stoddart of Swindon

My Lords, this is just one measure coming forward to deal with the rising tide of crime and lawlessness in this country. Are we to have a review of the Criminal Justice Act, which has been so much talked about? Secondly, will the Government be doing anything to deal with the vicious and often sadistic violence which appears night after night on our television screens, often at times when young children are not yet abed?

In connection with the Statement, when social reports are received will social workers take a realistic view of what is happening? I do not wish to malign social workers, but all too often in the past it has appeared that social workers are totally opposed to children being sent to secure accommodation. Can the noble Earl comment on that point?

Finally, while I very much welcome the statutory duty which is to be placed on local authorities in relation to truancy, can the noble Earl assure me that local authorities will be in a position to employ truancy officers? In Berkshire only last week one truancy officer was sacked in order to meet spending targets. Will the noble Earl take that on board? I appeal to him to get in touch with Berkshire, and any other local authorities which are sacking truancy officers in that way, to reconsider the matter. Will he tell local authorities that he will make financial assistance available to them to enable them to employ sufficient staff to deal with truancy?

5.15 p.m.

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, the noble Lord asked four questions. He asked whether the Criminal Justice Act will be reviewed. Of course all such measures are constantly under review. However, the noble Lord will understand that, as the Criminal Justice Act has only recently been brought into operation, it is a little early to consider altering it. The principle behind the Criminal Justice Act is to keep less bad offenders—although all offenders are bad—out of prisons where they would become more hardened prisoners. That is the philosophy behind the Bill and it is not an unreasonable one. However, the Act will be kept under constant review.

The noble Lord mentioned television programmes. I agree with him that a great deal of what people read, see and hear affects them. It affects children. It moulds their minds in the same way as conditions in their homes and the attitudes of their parents mould them. That is why there are very strict rules and regulations about what is shown on television and when it is shown. The noble Lord, Lord Stoddart of Swindon, will be the first to appreciate that it would be wholly improper for the Government to say what should be shown when. There are public bodies which carry out that undertaking. If the noble Lord thinks that they do not carry out that responsibility correctly he ought to inform them. He will know that there are guidelines which tell those bodies how to carry out their responsibilities.

The noble Lord said that social workers were opposed to secure accommodation. They may be. A lot of people may be. However, when a few people can ruin the lives of everyone in an area it is necessary that they should be removed from society because it is intolerable that they should ruin other people's lives.

I do not know the position with regard to truancy officers in Berkshire but I note the noble Lord's point.

Lord Hailsham of Saint Marylebone

My Lords, I realise that this may be a little wide of the Statement, which is limited to the treatment of juvenile offenders. I am sure that the House will wish to support the Government in recognising that there are people who have to be removed from society, ineffective as that treatment has often proved. Does my noble friend agree with me that the whole of the discussion has to be seen in the context of the appalling decline in recognition by the nation as a whole of moral values? That is not confined to juveniles or criminal offenders. From the top of the intellectual world to the lowest and most miserable drop-out there has been a decline in respect for moral values. Can we consider this Statement in that context?

Earl Ferrets

My Lords, I am certain that my noble and learned friend is right. Nobody would feel that there has not been a substantial decline in moral standards. If those standards decline it is very difficult for younger children to pick up standards of high morality which may not be apparent in their parents or grandparents. There has been a decline and we have to seek to improve those standards from all points of view. But governments cannot do that. That can only be done by homes, churches and, to a large extent, by schools.

My noble and learned friend is quite right. I agree with him. It is the decline of those standards which results in much of the indiscipline and criminality which we now see.

Lord Murray of Epping Forest

My Lords, the noble Earl referred to conversations he had with chief police officers relating to the number of young offenders. He said that we are speaking of relatively small groups. I am sure that that is right. Can the noble Earl give us any idea of the numbers which the Government have in mind as requiring such preventive detention? Are we referring to 200 or 500? What numbers are we talking about? The numbers may be small but they need to be dealt with.

The Minister referred to the fact that after sentence those people will continue to be supervised in the community. That is right and proper. However, he gave the impression that it would be an indefinite supervision order. Is that so? If it is, is it not rather dangerous when one considers concentrating the young offenders' minds on the end of the sentence in terms of finality and purpose?

Finally, I welcome what he said about the maintenance and development of alternatives to custody schemes. We much value the support that the Home Office has given to the development of such schemes in the community. From what he said, can we expect yet more sympathy from the Home Office in response to applications for support for the development of those schemes within the community?

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, on the noble Lord's last point, we shall consider with sympathy all cases that are put to us.

He asked how many places will be required. It is too early to say at present. Much work has to be done to find out exactly how many places will be required, where they ought to be and the size of units.

The noble Lord referred to the fact that I indicated that supervision orders might be of an indefinite nature. Our thought at present is that they should be for two years.

Baroness Faithfull

My Lords, perhaps I may ask the Minister this question. Are the Government aware that under Section 1 of the Children Act the welfare of the child is paramount, but that the parents too carry a responsibility for their children? If the centres are spread widely over the country it will not be possible for parents to be in touch with their children. Furthermore, when looking after such children, I have found that a great deal of work could be achieved with parents taking part and talking to the children. If we separate the parents from the children, we shall still be in trouble. I take up the point made by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Brightman. Such a scheme would help families to keep together.

Secondly, I refer to accommodation. I say this with the utmost diffidence when the two Ministers are seated on the Front Bench. However, the Department of Health and the Department for Education have allowed the closure of a number of homes in the charitable voluntary sector which were doing good, preventive work with difficult children. Even at this moment schools are closing. Such closures have been bad for the children and mean the loss of a resource. If money is to be used to build new homes or to acquire new properties when there are already good properties available, that seems a waste of resources. Perhaps I may put a plea to the two Ministers: that the Government undertake a survey of the present residential accommodation so that the best can be preserved, thus preventing a number of children getting into serious trouble.

Thirdly, a number of community projects—I refer in particular to one in Hampshire—could be run in conjunction with a residential secure unit. I believe that that should be considered.

Lastly, the success of the scheme will depend on the people who run it. However, the training of people who work with children in residential establishments is lamentable both from the Department for Education and the Department of Health. Unless a good training scheme is set up the scheme will fall.

5.25 p.m.

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, my noble friend said that she was anxious about parents keeping in touch with their children. She is quite right about that. Much of this criminality has come about where, for one reason or another, parents have not succeeded in bringing up their children. We shall certainly seek to ensure that family ties are strengthened, in particular when the children return home under supervision.

My noble friend referred to homes which have been allowed by the Department of Health and the Department for Education to close. That is a matter of detail. We shall see whether existing schools can be adapted for those new places. Obviously the subject is wide. It will have to be considered not only by the Home Office but by the Department for Education and the Department of Health.

My noble friend is quite right when she says that training is important. It is another subject which must be given a great deal of attention before we come up with firm proposals.