HL Deb 12 October 1993 vol 549 cc87-8

2.58 p.m.

Lord Campbell of Croy asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether they approve of public expenditure by local authorities on holiday excursions abroad for young offenders in care or at rehabilitation centres.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Health (Baroness Cumberlege)

My Lords, under the Children Act 1989, it is for local authorities to determine the appropriate treatment for children in their care, taking account of their individual needs.

Lord Campbell of Croy

My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend for her Answer. However, did she see the report in The Times of 14th August that £20,000 was being spent on a holiday for a juvenile car thief? Although there may be some therapeutic effect, is it wise or acceptable for such expenditure to take place when most local authorities state that they are short of money for basic social services?

Baroness Cumberlege

My Lords, in reaching those decisions, local authorities should examine whether the purpose of such trips could not be achieved in a more cost-effective way. If it is thought necessary to send children on Outward Bound courses or abroad, they should consider whether those activities could not be carried out just as well in Snowdonia or the Cairngorms.

Lord Renton

My Lords, how much of our people's money has been spent on these excursions abroad, for example, in the last 12 months for which figures may be available?

Baroness Cumberlege

My Lords, I am afraid that the figure is not available. However, when one looks at the cost of secure accommodation, which is often the alternative to trips abroad, it can reach up to £2,000 a week.

Lord Orr-Ewing

My Lords, will my noble friend draw the attention of local authorities to the desirability of having organised sports for such people and of using under-used school playing fields during vacations?

Baroness Cumberlege

My Lords, these children often need to be employed full-time. They are very active. Sport has a lot to offer in terms of building teams and respect for other people. It is a very good suggestion from my noble friend.

Lord Hunt

My Lords, does the Minister agree that the term "holidays abroad" is somewhat outdated in the context of modern Europe? The word "holidays" may be used in connection with a constructive and useful project which may be positive and effective in preventing further crime. Is the Minister aware that I have knowledge of a number of so-called such trips abroad by young offenders under supervision which have done them enormous good and prevented their going wrong again.

Baroness Cumberlege

My Lords, I am sure that that is very true in a number of cases. But local authorities must be very careful when they embark upon such schemes to ensure that the trips they arrange are not interpreted as a reward for bad behaviour rather than as something that is therapeutic treatment.

Viscount Mountgarret

My Lords, are not these events a classic example of sparing the rod and spoiling the child?

Baroness Cumberlege

My Lords, local authorities have to act as any parent would. It is often the case that parents see benefit in taking their children abroad, but, as I said, it is important that local authorities should be satisfied that there are not alternative arrangements which are more acceptable to those who meet the cost of courses or trips abroad.

Lord Campbell of Croy

My Lords, on the point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, is my noble friend aware that the term "holiday abroad" was the one used in the press report? Instead of acting as a deterrent, does not the prospect of such a free excursion add to the temptation to commit street crimes or burglary?

Baroness Cumberlege

My Lords, these children are extremely difficult children to deal with. Very often they have been in secure accommodation and that has failed. Therefore local authorities look to alternatives. But as public bodies they need to give careful consideration to how resources are used.