HL Deb 25 October 1994 vol 558 cc446-62

1 Clause 1, page 2, line 16, at beginning insert ("Subject to subsection (2A) below")

The Commons disagreed to this amendment for the following reason:

1A Because the Commons consider that a court should always order an offender subject to a secure training order to be detained in a secure training centre.

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, I beg to move that the House do not insist on their Amendment No. 1 to which the Commons have disagreed for the reason numbered 1A. For the convenience of the House I shall speak at the same time to Amendments Nos. 2, 3, 4, 5, 7, 8, 10 to 18, 21, 188 and 189 to which the Commons have disagreed for the reasons numbered 2A to 5A, 7A and 8A, 10A to 18A, 21A, and 188A and 189A.

This is the first of three issues on which another place has chosen to disagree with this House without offering an amendment in lieu. We shall, of course, be turning to look at the other two issues—the provision of gypsy sites and criminal injuries compensation—later this afternoon.

It is worth recording at this stage the considerable impact that your Lordships have had on the Bill and how much agreement there is between both Houses. Many amendments were proposed by Members on all Benches and accepted by this House, and other amendments were proposed by the Government in response to anxieties expressed on all sides of this House. In another place all but three were either accepted in whole or modified in such a way as to address the principal concerns of your Lordships. Therefore this House can be well satisfied that it has lived up to its reputation as a revising Chamber. Subjects which were amended to take account of your Lordships' concerns include imputations on character, the right of silence, juries, child evidence, public order, classification of videos, sexual offences, homosexual acts in the Armed Forces, confidential information, closed circuit television, ticket touting and probation. That adds up to a substantial list of areas where your Lordships have had an influence.

I should like to record my thanks to those noble Lords who have been in correspondence or who have met with me and my right honourable friend the Home Secretary during the Recess to discuss issues relating to the Bill. I certainly found it most helpful. However, it is in the wider context that those issues on which the House of Commons disagreed with your Lordships should be viewed. On each of those issues your Lordships' amendments invited colleagues in another place to reconsider their original stance. After full consideration by the Government and full debate in another place, it was decided that the amendments should not be accepted.

I now turn to your Lordships' amendments to the Government's proposals concerning secure training orders. The Government believe that all of those awarded the secure training order should serve the secure part of the order in the new secure training centres. That is also the view of another place, as is made clear in the reasons which they have given. The arguments on each side have been rehearsed many times and are well known to your Lordships. It is, perhaps, important to make it clear that courts will continue to enjoy a great deal of flexibility in sentencing persistent juvenile offenders. We have always made it clear that the secure training orders will be introduced in addition to the existing powers of the courts, to deal with a specific group of offenders for whom those existing powers are not effective. The full range of the existing court powers will remain, as will local authorities' powers, to place children in secure accommodation. None of those options will be lost. The secure training order makes an extra provision available to the courts; it gives the courts the powers they need to deal with young offenders.

There is deep public concern about the problem of persistent young offenders, concern which the Government share and which, I know, many of your Lordships share also. Much of that concern is based on the fact that a relatively small but significant number of young persistent offenders are not responding positively to the range of measures available to the courts. The Government's proposals will not only give communities a respite from those offenders but will also provide the offenders with high quality education and training to tackle their offending behaviour in a secure training centre.

The Government have listened and I think allayed some of your Lordships' fears and concerns. Another place, at your Lordships' invitation, reconsidered the issue of where a secure training order should be served. The other place decided that a court should always order a youngster subject to a secure training order to be detained in a secure training centre.

I hope that your Lordships will accept that careful consideration and, indeed, reconsideration has been given to the amendment and accordingly I commend to your Lordships' House the Motion not to accept Amendment No. 1.

Moved, That the House do not insist on their Amendment No. 1 to which the Commons have disagreed for the reason numbered 1A.—(Baroness Blatch.)

Lord Carr of Hadley

My Lords, I deeply regret the advice given by my noble friend the Minister to this House, though I realise of course that she is doing no more than her absolute duty in giving that advice, given the fact that the other place considered the matter again and came to the decision which it did. However, I fear that experience will prove the Home Secretary's advice to the other place, which the other place accepted, to be misguided when we see the order executed in practice.

Perhaps it would be convenient to your Lordships for me to state my position at the outset. I am sorry that what I shall say will disappoint many of those who supported my amendment at Committee stage. But having discussed the matter at length on two occasions, personally with the Home Secretary during the Recess— I am grateful to him for finding the time for that—and also having exchanged long letters with him about it, I am convinced that he will not change the advice that he will wish to give to the other place. Moreover, having listened last week to the whole of the debate in the other place I am convinced also that the other place will not change its mind unless the Home Secretary gives different advice. Therefore it seems to me of no value to ask Members of another place, who have already thought again once, to think again for a second time; indeed, I feel that constitutional damage may be done by that rather than good.

Regretfully I came to that decision and that is the reason I did not table an amendment to the Motion, and also why I shall not vote against the Government should there be a Division at the end of the debate; but nor shall I vote for them. I shall therefore abstain if there is a Division. I feel so strongly that the Home Secretary is wrong in the advice that he gave that I wish to place on record—though I assure your Lordships briefly—my main reasons for that view.

There are two strictly practical reasons. The first concerns the refusal to allow children sentenced to this order to be kept in custody in any place other than one of the new centres, when they are created. In my view that will inevitably lead to fewer children receiving the sentence. Children who should receive it will not receive it because local courts, particularly in areas far removed from one of the centres, will not feel it right to sentence children to serve sentences so far away from home. The first practical effect, therefore, is that fewer children who should be treated will not be treated and that is a serious practical objection.

Secondly, we must face the fact that if we are to depend entirely and only on the use of the new centres, nothing can be done until they are built and made operational. That seems to me to mean a delay of at least one year and more likely two years before the new sentence can operate at all. That need not have been the case if use of local accommodation could have been contemplated on some basis or another even for a trial period or in certain types of case. So there are these two great practical objections to the line which the Government have taken and which the other place has taken on the Government's advice.

Perhaps I may also give some reasons of more fundamental penal policy. The Home Secretary's case, which I have heard him make in public as well as in private, is that we are dealing here with a relatively small, discrete group of tearaway children who need a special tailor-made treatment and who can only be dealt with successfully by such a special tailor-made treatment. One could question, although I shall not take your Lordships' time today, whether he is right in his diagnosis of this being a discrete, definable group. I suspect that there are as many different types as there are numbers of children behaving in this way. I do not think that they can be grouped but I shall put that on one side.

Let us assume that it is right. Supposing they do need custom-built institutions created specifically for the purpose and that they must have this tailor-made, custom-built treatment. What is it to be? We have not been told. I have before me a splendid document. It is called Invitation to Tender and deals with tendering procedures for the establishment of these new institutions. It sets out splendid objectives. One could criticise here and there; but, by and large, I think that they are fairly splendid objectives. But they are objectives, not methods. There is no indication as to what the methods will be for achieving these objectives other than that they are to be in five special new centres, each holding up to, but not more than, 50 young children. When I asked the Home Secretary—I was delighted when he told me this: I am not giving away any confidences because I know that he has said this publicly as well as to me privately—whether the treatment will be precisely the same in all five centres, he said, "No, each successful tenderer, provided he is seeking these objectives, will be able to develop his own methods of achieving those objectives". Excellent; they are not going to be five standard centres, all doing the same. So we shall have, within the strict limits of working in these institutional centres, some experiment; and my goodness, experiment is needed!

However, if there is to be experiment in treatment within the different centres and if there is not to be a uniform tailor-made treatment in the centres, on what possible grounds is it right to rule out experiment with locally organised secure treatment as well? We are not going to have this uniform tailor-made treatment. If there is to be experiment, it ought to be a wider experiment. That must be the case if we want effective results from the way we are trying to deal with this problem. We ought to recognise that none of us— certainly not I—has a real clue as to what will bring these tearaway persistent offenders into normal living in the community. Whatever we do, it will be an extremely difficult task. We are bound to meet enormous disappointments. We are bound, I suspect, to meet a high degree of recidivism after this treatment. If that is so, we must be able to experiment and to compare. I think it is a shame and a great mistake to limit the experiment to within national institutions and not to bring in local experiment as well.

Moreover, and finally, I wish to draw your Lordships' attention to another aspect. The last half of the sentence proposed is to be served locally. Therefore, we start off by breaking the local bonds by sending these recalcitrant children away from home and away from all their home influences and then we bring them back, at which point we shall have to re-establish those bonds. That may be worth while in the case of long sentences where one could have this special treatment for, say, a year and one could try to change, as I heard it put in another place, the souls of some of these recalcitrant children. But I cannot believe that that could be done in three months. The shortest sentence is six months. Break the bonds for three months and bring them back for only three months, when a large part of the time will be spent re-establishing the local bonds. I should have hoped that the Government would at least have compromised to the extent of allowing the shorter sentences to be served locally or allowing local treatment in a case where a court was situated 100 miles or more away from the nearest centre.

I could go on but I must not go on. However, I want to put on record why, on the severely practical ground of relieving the public of this ghastly menace which they are suffering, the Government are making a big practical mistake in insisting on this monopoly for operating what I believe is a hopeful new sentence. It is a great pity that we should be reducing the chances of this important new sentence operating successfully for the safety of the public.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, the House will have listened with respect to the thoughtful and honourable speech which we have just heard from the noble Lord, Lord Carr of Hadley. We know how strongly he feels about this matter and we know how effectively he spoke and argued on the matter when it came before your Lordships in the summer. I start by saying, as the noble Lord did, that I do not believe that this is an issue on which we should seek to contradict the Commons in the conclusions to which they have come, although I say that with the same degree—indeed perhaps in some ways a greater degree—of regret as that which he expressed. That is the judgment I make about what view we on these Benches should take. It is not in any way an expression of agreement or sympathy with the view that another place took on this matter. It is a much wider principle to which I adhere, which is the principle of the primacy of the elected Chamber. However, when we look at the reasons—the so-called reasons—which have been given to us by another place we realise the extent to which the consideration it has given to the matter is inadequate. These are not reasons at all. They are simply assertions.

The reason says: Because the Commons consider that a court should always order an offender subject to a secure training order to be detained in a secure training centre". It does not even start to say why. It just says, "That is what we believe. You had better like it or lump it". Indeed, it is worse than an assertion. Since it is repeated on 20 occasions, it becomes a mere asseveration. The reason why there is no reason in the Commons reaction to our amendment is extremely clear. They cannot admit—and perhaps we were chary of saying too openly when we considered the matter before—that the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Carr, would have driven a coach and horses through the secure training order provision.

We know, although no one dares quite say so, that very few magistrates, given the choice, would choose to send a child to a secure training centre perhaps many hundreds of miles away from their home in a regime which cannot, as the noble Lord, Lord Carr, explained, even be defined as it is up to the tendering procedures of those who are putting in for the privatised contract. No, my Lords, everyone knows that, given the choice, magistrates would much rather send a child to local authority secure accommodation, and everyone knows in their heart that if the Government had only observed the promises they gave some years ago to provide the funds for an increase in the number of local authority secure places then; would have been no need for this provision. In other words, what we are faced with is not a penal judgment of the Home Secretary. What is being made is purely a political judgment.

Even as a political judgment it is deeply defective. What is the effect of the Commons rejecting the amendment? The effect is that nothing will happen for three years. If our amendment had been passed there would have been secure training orders; all the provisions which the Government had wished to make for more concentrated attention on the problem of young tearaways aged between 12 years and 14 years would have come into effect very much more quickly. By the way, I am not going to pay any attention to anybody who says, as a radio interviewer said to me recently, that it is our fault that the implementation of this Bill has been delayed until October. That was because the Government wanted the House of Commons to rise before Tony Blair was elected leader of the Labour Party. If they had wanted to, the Government could have perfectly well dealt with our amendments in July. The Bill could have returned here and it could have become law before the end of July.

So, from every point of view, from the deep reasoning of the noble Lord, Lord Carr of Hadley, on penal and political grounds, the Commons rejection of our amendments is deeply regrettable. As I say, it is only because of our more profound and wide-ranging constitutional beliefs that we do not invite your Lordships to divide on the matter.

Lord Hailsham of Saint Marylebone

My Lords, perhaps I may say a few words in rather a different sense. Of course I respect and admire the constitutional point taken by my noble friend Lord Carr and repeated in slightly different. words by the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh of Haringey. It would be wrong for this House to enter into a constitutional battle with the Commons on this particular issue. I feel sure that the House will be wise for one reason or another—there will be argument in what follows—not to dissent from the Commons refusal to accept the amendment which was passed here.

It will also be remembered that, with great diffidence and in the face of very powerful and highly respected opinions of noble friends and Members on the opposite side of the House, during the debate in your Lordships' House I took a somewhat different view of the merits of the amendment which was subsequently passed although I voted against it.

I am now addressing the merits of the case and not the constitutional issue. We have to bear in mind that what is proposed in this part of the Bill is a new form of custodial sentence and treatment applicable on the order of a court to a limited group of offenders—I shall call them "persistent offenders" for the sake of compendiousness. Two things can be said. First, almost everything that was said by my noble friend Lord Carr and by the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh of Haringey, could be said as an argument against this experiment, because experiment it is and a novel one.

It can be said that it is not desirable partly because of some of the grounds which have been put forward and partly because there will be a number of places too far removed from the special centres for the treatment to be fairly applicable at all. So be it: it will be an experimental treatment and at first it will be limited to a few places. If I were sitting on a bench either as a judge or magistrate and it was said that this measure would be for a comparatively short time and that someone would be sent 250 miles, or whatever, from home, I would simply make the ordinary order which is still applicable to deal with persistent offenders under existing law. Therefore, it is basically an argument against the experiment.

The other factor we need to bear in mind is this. The Bill has been very carefully and rightly drafted for the court to make the order for a secure training order and a new form of custodial treatment in pursuance of its discretion as a sentencing body. It is obviously true that if that is to be so the actual exercise of the treatment, like any other form of custodial penal treatment, must be under the control of the statutory limits which are set but, like any other form of custodial sentence, it is still part of the ordinary right for penal treatment in custody which is the responsibility of the Home Secretary under the authority of Parliament.

The idea of making a half-way house between the new form of very highly specialised treatment and the distance from home which may make it totally unsuitable is a muddled idea about the real purpose of what is proposed in Part I of the Bill. I can well understand someone voting against Part I of the Bill on the basis that it is far too imprecise and ineffective and probably unequal in its application to different parts of the country. However, I cannot understand the idea that one can set up a great deal of argument basically designed against the penal treatment and saying that the provision should not be for the Home Secretary, as is every other form of custodial treatment. That is the only way to make the matter accountable to Parliament.

Therefore I suggest that not only is the constitutional point the correct argument, which I highly respect, coming from my noble friend and the noble Lord opposite, but that there is a powerful argument in favour of the merits of the Home Secretary's original policy which has commended itself to the Commons.

3.45 p.m.

Lord Allen of Abbeydale

My Lords, as my name was attached to the original amendments perhaps I shall be allowed to make a brief comment. I do not regard the amendments as being in any way muddled. I am sorry to say that I find this rather a sad occasion. It is especially unfortunate that discussion of the amendments made by your Lordships has been coloured by widespread ignorance and misapprehension of what the noble Lord, Lord Carr, actually proposed. I refer in particular to suggestions which were repeated to me only today; namely, that it would mean the children being sent to children's homes from which it would be easy to abscond or even to be sent on safari.

I do not want to go over all the ground again, but it bears repeating that, on the contrary, it would mean the courts being given power for the first time and, where suitable, to send children directly to secure units which are indeed secure and have an excellent record of preventing escapes. There are units, too, where, with the resources of the local education authority, it is possible to provide a high standard of education, as I have seen for myself. It is a standard which, I believe, the new centres will find hard to match.

The point has been taken that it would also mean that in an appropriate case the child could be detained near his or her family, doctor and social worker. That would not always necessarily be appropriate. It might be suitable to get a child well away from his family. But where it was suitable it would greatly help in the important arrangements for aftercare, to which the noble Lord referred. It is quite extraordinary that the Government are prepared to move murderers to Northern Ireland so that they can be near their families but condemn children from Wales, say, to be detained miles from home where family visits at best will be very hard to manage.

It is also claimed that these are children for whom everything has been tried and it has all failed, but one has only to glance in the Bill to know that the entry qualifications fall a long way short of any such requirement. The Government do not regard this as an experiment in the general sense, as I understand it, but think that the new centres will be such remarkable institutions and will provide such a high calibre regime of education and training that they will at last achieve the results of rehabilitation and reform which have eluded all the other attempts that have been made over the years. The details may still be a bit hazy, but at last it seems to the Government that they are about to win the glittering prize for which so many have contested for so long and hitherto always in vain.

That is one view, but another view that is held by quite a lot of people is that, even for children, detention in a prison-like institution is an expensive way of making bad offenders worse and that by sending children to a prison environment at an early age the courts (now with no alternative open to them) will be starting children off in a criminal culture with every opportunity to learn new tricks from their fellows and with the likelihood, it is feared, of a criminal career to follow. Time will show which of those views is right.

I respect the decision which the noble Lord, Lord Carr, reached today and I much admired his dignified speech. However, speaking for myself, I still have to hear any argument which comes near to persuading me that the noble Lord's amendment was mistaken.

Lord Harris of Greenwich

My Lords, I very much agree with everything that the noble Lord, Lord Allen of Abbeydale, has just said. I believe that it is accepted by all of us (in whatever part of the House we may sit) that a number of children who have repeatedly committed significant offences require to be detained in secure accommodation. That is common ground. Indeed, the case of a number of us against the Government is that for far too long they have chosen to ignore the problem despite the fact that concern has been expressed repeatedly by the courts.

The Government have allowed the number of places in local authority secure accommodation to decline below the level it had reached before the present Government came into office, as was demonstrated in a number of Written Answers given in this House. I shall take as an example what has happened in the London Borough of Wandsworth, the local authority that we are told that we must admire because of its record. Wandsworth closed all its units of secure accommodation, thus contributing to a significant rise in the number of burglaries and other offences committed by young people who could not, as a result of Wandsworth's policy, be detained in secure accommodation in that local authority area. Now, having ignored the anxieties expressed by many magistrates, the police and by many in Parliament, the Government have introduced proposals which have been opposed by the majority of those who have expert knowledge in the area.

Faced with that situation, the noble Lord, Lord Carr, speaking on the basis of his substantial experience as a former Home Secretary, came forward with a sensible and balanced amendment. It did not alter the Government's proposed new sentence of secure training orders in any way. It merely allowed a court at its discretion to direct that the requirement of the secure training order could be carried out in the secure accommodation provided by the local authorities, which is now belatedly being increased.

The Government have, as we all know, used their majority in the House of Commons to reject that modest proposal, just as they have rejected a number of other amendments carried against them in this House, many of which were supported by noble Lords on all sides of the House who possess a lifetime's experience of criminal justice policy. I thought that that was most regrettable.

But worse has been the remarkable language used by Ministers to attack this House for fulfilling its constitutional responsibilities. I noted that the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, said a few moments ago that the House has lived up to its reputation as a revising Chamber. That is what the noble Baroness said today, but the Chancellor of the Exchequer used remarkably different language when he appeared on a television programme with Sir David Frost on 25th September. Referring to this Bill, the Chancellor said that the Government and Mr. Howard had been opposed all the way not only by sections of the press and the opposition parties, but also—I quote his words from the transcript which I have obtained—by, the rather limp-wristed establishment in the House of Lords who blocked his Criminal Justice Bill". That is presumably how the present Government see this House —as a "limp-wristed establishment". Those are interesting words to use, and I remind the Government that that "limp-wristed establishment" included a substantial number of the noble Baroness's noble friends as well as seven noble and learned Lords who are either present or past Lords of Appeal in Ordinary.

That was the language of abuse that was used by the Chancellor of the Exchequer towards this House when we were merely fulfilling our constitutional responsibilities. I find that an interesting commentary on the Government's attitude. They appear to resent any expression of opinion by this House which does not coincide with the opinion held by Ministers. However, at the same time, they attack those who advocate any change in the composition of this House. If we are indeed a "limp-wristed establishment", why do Ministers insist that the composition of this House should remain precisely as it is today? No doubt the noble Baroness will be able to assist us.

Lord Elton

My Lords, as the first of your Lordships to put his name to the amendment that was tabled by my noble friend Lord Carr of Hadley, perhaps I might raise my limp wrist for a moment in defence of his position.

There are two questions before the House at the moment. The first is constitutional and can be dealt with swiftly although not entirely as noble Lords have so far suggested. I entirely agree that it would not be proper to test for the second time the opinion of the other place in exactly the same terms as we tested it before, but we need not have been in this position. Indeed, had I not been forced to spend the past four days in hospital, it is a position that I should have striven to avoid because we could have offered an amendment in lieu of that proposed. However, that opportunity has passed us. I therefore agree with my noble friend that we should not now seek to resist the proposal although we may disagree with the terms in which it has been put.

During my four days of enforced inactivity, I spent some time wondering how I might sugar the pill of accepting a policy decision with which I am profoundly uncomfortable. It seemed to me that it would be possible to be comforted on the grounds that the Government have shown that they are absolutely convinced and confident that the new sentence (and the means of administering it) will work, but we have not heard their grounds for saying that, which is perhaps why we do not share their confidence.

I therefore spent my time preparing 10 questions to ask my noble friend the Minister, of all of which I have given her notice and which I hope she will be able to answer in terms which show that that confidence is indeed well founded. The proposal is for a secure regime for groups of 40 children aged 12 to 14 whose time, we are told, will be fully allocated to education with emphasis being placed on training as a separate issue. My first question is: may we please have a definition of "training" as distinct from "education", of its component parts and of how its achievement will be assessed?

The first problem facing the people in charge of these institutions will be one of control. That can be achieved, in part, by the use of rewards and punishments. Can we be told what rewards and punishments will be available to the contractors' staff? These children will be among the most difficult in the land to teach. Each of them will have defeated every teacher in whose hands he or she has been placed before being sentenced. May we know, as my third question, how it is proposed to ensure that the contractors recruit only staff of the outstanding calibre needed for this challenging work and retain them in it?

Fourthly, what will be the numerical ratios between the children and staff generally, and between children and security, administrative, education and training staff severally? Fifthly, will those criteria be set by the department universally for all STCs—I understand from my noble friend Lord Carr that they will not—or will they be negotiated in the bidding process? If the latter, what assurance have we that the Home Office will give sufficient weight to those items in relation to straight financial considerations? I have not given my noble friend notice of this small sub-question, but if there are to be different criteria may we know what the minimum criteria will be throughout?

My next question is, with the current steady and regrettable rise in female offending at all ages, will my noble friend tell us whether all the STCs or only some will be equipped to deal with the minority of female children to be expected? The experiment will in any case be costly. My noble and learned friend is speaking contrapuntally, and I find it difficult to keep my thread which will be shorter if it is not interrupted.

The crucial point about the success of this experiment, as it is universally accepted to be, is: will it be possible to take children out of the community and out of their schools, in so far as they are in them, put them through the process and reintroduce them to the schools and the societies from which they have been taken in a way in which they can adapt successfully to an orderly life, and pick up their educational threads at the point which the school to which they are reintroduced has reached in its curriculum?

My next question is: how will the contractor be apprised of the educational and other achievements, if any, of these children, and how will the contractor be enabled to ensure that such children are returned to mainstream education, whether or not through an offsite unit, at the point the rest of the community in the school has reached? If that does not happen, this will not work. What similar arrangements will be made to secure continuity with the social work and probation services?

That was the ninth question, your Lordships will be relieved to hear.

Noble Lords

Hear, hear!

Lord Elton

My Lords, I am not sure that I am encouraged by that noise, but I shall nevertheless ask my tenth question which is a crucial one: what overall system will there be for the appraisal of the performance of the STCs in terms of the effect they have on children as well as financially, and to disseminate best practice, and how will their findings be publicised? 1 have heard mutters of, "beside the point". It is not beside the point.

Lord Hailsham of Saint Marylebone

My Lords, it is wholly.

Lord Elton

My Lords, it is not beside the point. Whether that rejection is made sitting or standing, it is not beside the point. We are talking about 200 children of the age of 12 —the height of that Dispatch Box— annually for the next 10 years; the well-being of 2,000 children depends upon this experiment being properly thought through and properly launched. Your Lordships have a duty to see that it is if we are to stand aside, as I still hope that I may be able to do, and have undertaken to do—I hope that we may all be able to stand aside— when the Question is put.

Baroness Seccombe

My Lords, two weeks ago while sitting in court, my colleague and I decided that a defendant should go to prison. I was in the chair and had to announce that decision with, of course, the reasons. I cannot tell your Lordships how much I hate having to do that. My heart thumps as I am aware of the enormity of our action in depriving someone of his liberty. I know that many of my colleagues feel the same, but I know also that that is the responsibility we accept when we are appointed. I mention that because I am anxious to allay thoughts that I might be seen as heartless and thoughtless.

I feel that this stage of the Bill is not the time to rehearse old arguments but to augment those arguments with new facts. Since we last debated the matter in your Lordships' House, there have been further examples of mayhem caused by some of these persistent young criminals. For example, there has been much publicity over the case of a boy who, having been placed in local authority care, brought chaos to a holiday park where he was enjoying a break with his social workers. At last the "safari holiday boy" who has already been referred to, having reached an age when he can be named, has been sentenced for the crimes that he has committed since his holiday abroad.

We delude ourselves if we do not listen to the majority view of the public in these matters. People are fed up with their lives being disrupted by the comparatively few hardened young offenders who bring such misery to their communities. Members of another place are being told constantly by their constituents that something must be done. Your Lordships' decision has been reversed, and I believe that we would show a total lack of awareness and judgment if we did not support that decision.

Last week, a taxi driver told me his view of the House of Lords. "You see," he said, "I believe that it is the conscience of the nation". We must not abuse such trust. Young people who cannot and do not learn in any other way should not be allowed to terrorise the lives of a few vulnerable and elderly people, particularly, but also decent and law-abiding people who want to live a peaceful life.

I cannot sit down without expressing again my revulsion over the use of local authority secure accommodation for these delinquents. I just cannot understand how anyone, however well intentioned, can believe that it is right to place these young hooligans among vulnerable young people, many of whom have committed no crime, but are in need of care and protection. I believe that it is criminal to do so. I urge your Lordships to support the Commons amendment.

Baroness Faithfull

My Lords, I shall speak briefly. On 16th May, I moved an amendment in your Lordships' House that there should not be secure training units. Many people have written to me to say that they have read the reports in Hansard. They felt that the argument was won but that the vote was lost, perhaps on constitutional grounds.

On 5th July, I supported my noble friend Lord Carr. Like him and some other noble Lords on this side of the House, on the grounds of consistency and professional integrity, I shall not vote against Her Majesty's Government today when the Question is put to the House.

I wish to make just two points. My noble and learned friend Lord Hailsham said that this was a new form of treatment and a new form of custodial sentence. It is no different from the old approved school system. The approved schools were closed in 1962. The research of the Home Office, the Dartington Research Unit, and many criminology departments show this to be so. I have looked also at the specifications of the new units. They are no different from the old approved schools that we had way back in 1962.

Perhaps I may take the opportunity to thank my noble friend the Minister for giving me so much of her time and for discussing this whole question with me. Perhaps I may ask one question of which I have given her notice and to which I do not expect an answer today. Is there any possibility of the Home Office funding voluntary organisations which provide education, discipline and a structure to some of the most delinquent, disturbed and disruptive children referred to them by local authorities? I cite the Caldecott Community and the homes of the Charterhouse group, the Hesley group in the North of England and other voluntary homes. Many of these homes and schools, which give a sound service, are having to close down as local authorities are unable to pay the fees. Such homes and schools have staff with experience of such children who come from fragmented families known to social services. The social services are helping to support and assist those families.

As my noble friend the Minister is well aware, under Section 25 of the Children Act 1989 local authority social services departments can place a child in a local authority secure place. If the child needs to be held for longer than 72 hours the local authority can apply to the magistrates at the youth court to hold the child in a secure unit run by a local authority. After assessment, some such children may need longer terms in residential homes, of which there are many. It is intended that over five years £30 million will be spent on secure training units. Surely the Home Office can be asked to support some of the voluntary homes. That would help and would provide a secure service, good discipline and trained staff in a difficult area. Will the Minister tell the House where the trained staff for the secure units will come from?

Lord Williams of Mostyn

My Lords, reference was made to a constitutional principle, most notably by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hailsham. I do not dissent from that. However, there is another constitutional principle for which I contend. It is that it is best always not to seek to limit the discretion of the sentencing tribunal. I believe that the underpinning of the amendment put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Carr, is entirely directed to that proposition. If magistrates, who have a whole body of knowledge and an informed view when dealing with children as young as 12, believe that the children whom they sentence can appropriately be dealt with at least for part of the sentence in local authority secure accommodation, why on earth do the Government, with their whipped majority, seek to take away that discretion from the judiciary? That is an important constitutional principle.

I have only one question to ask. With my limited education, I cannot stretch to 10. Is it correct that there will be no secure training centre in the whole of the Principality of Wales? If so it is undoubted that local magistrates will be exceptionally reluctant to impose appropriate sentences, dragging children from community, social worker, parents and home 250 or 300 miles away. The proposal simply will not work and no one to whom I have spoken with any knowledge of dealing with the problems of such disturbed children believes that it will.

4.15 p.m.

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, my noble friend Lord Elton asked a number of specific questions and I am grateful to him for giving me notice. I shall attempt to answer them because they touched on many of the points raised by other noble Lords, including my noble friend Lord Carr. We are talking about the new system of secure training centres. Many of the questions have centred on the modus operandi of how they are to be run as opposed to whether they will be run. I am grateful to all noble Lords who have respected the constitutional position that perhaps we should not resist the Government's proposal.

My noble friend is rightly concerned about the education and training which juveniles will receive in secure training centres and during the second half of the secure training order which is served in the community. For each juvenile received in a secure training centre an

individual plan will be drawn up setting out his or her needs for education and training. That might include training in social skills or anger management or, in the case of older juveniles, vocational skills such as computing; never forgetting not to neglect basic skills.

In drawing up the plan, the secure training centre will be expected to make every effort to obtain information about the youngster's previous educational experience through court reports prepared by social workers and the schools themselves and details of the educational record from the trainee's local education authority.

In implementing the plan, my noble friend is right to emphasise the need to recruit staff of a high calibre. It will be for the provider of the secure training centre to recruit the necessary staff and to ensure their retention. I am baffled by the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Allen of Abbeydale, that, for some reason I know not, secure training units run by local authorities can provide quality training but the secure units cannot. There is no evidence to support that view. Many skilled and appropriate people are sufficiently professional to provide the service.

As part of the invitation to tender a schedule has been produced which gives advice on staff selection, training, qualification and certification. It also includes guidance issued by the Department for Education in respect of teachers. It is expected that the staff of the secure training centre will be multi-disciplinary with the appropriate qualifications necessary for their respective professions. It will be for potential providers to satisfy the Home Office that their proposed staffing arrangements are appropriate and acceptable.

As regards the ratio of staff to trainees, that will be a matter for potential providers to decide in the formulation of their bids to the Home Office. The number of staff required will be determined by the type of regime proposed. I can reassure my noble friends that the number and type of staff proposed will need to satisfy the Home Office requirements set out in the operational specification and the rules for the secure training centres. Education will need to provide a broad and balanced curriculum in line as far as possible with the national curriculum.

As regards rewards and punishment, the service provider will be required to provide a just and fair system which recognises and takes account of the legitimate rights and expectations of both trainees and staff and to propose a system of rules, incentives and sanctions which will be published, explained and understood by staff and trainees. The system should reward good behaviour by allowing trainees progressively more privileges and the chance to exercise control over aspects of their lives in the secure training centres. That should be accompanied by a counselling and informal warning system which supports and enforces the environment of good order and discipline.

As your Lordships know, the secure training centres will be subject to inspection by both the social services inspectorate and the Department of Health, which will look at the general regime, and by Ofsted, the educational inspectorate, which will concentrate on the educational components. The reports of the inspections will be published. I believe that that goes a long way to allay some of your Lordships' fears.

My noble friend has also drawn attention to the importance of continuity between the secure part of the secure training order and return to the community. The person who will be responsible for supervision after release will be appointed as early as possible during the secure part of the sentence, will become involved at an early stage in developing the trainee's individual training plan and will also take part in a continuing review and assessment process in order to give the best possible chance of successfully reintegrating the trainee into the community on release.

One of the objectives of the educational part of the training plan will be to enable reintegration of the trainee into mainstream education on his or her return to the community. Successful reintegration will also be the main aim of the second part of the sentence. This does not describe an institution which in any way compares with the old Borstals or institutions referred to in the debate.

As your Lordships know, supervision can be undertaken by a local authority social worker, probation officer or any other person designated by the Home Secretary. The cost of supervision will be directly reimbursed to whichever organisation provides supervision by the Home Office. Each secure training unit will be required to provide accommodation for female trainees. Under the terms of the operational specification for a secure training centre female trainees must be located in sleeping accommodation which is physically separate from that of male trainees. The service providers will also have to take into account the possible need for female trainees to undertake education and training separately from male trainees and make provision for such a situation.

The noble Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn, asked about provision in Wales. My understanding is that on current plans, it is not intended that there should be a secure training centre in Wales.

I believe that there is a feeling in the House that somehow social services provision is more cost effective; but it is worth recording for the purposes of the debate that it costs between £1,700 and £3,000 per week for local authority social services provision. While cost will be a consideration, the quality of the regime to be provided will be a serious consideration when bids are submitted to run the centres. Therefore, I am able to assure and reassure my noble friend that that must be a very real consideration.

I am most grateful to my noble friend Lady Faithfull for her remarks. I undertake and put on record that I shall write to her in detail on the points that she raised. Should any noble Lord wish to see a copy of that reply, I shall place it in the Library.

Baroness Seear

My Lords, the noble Baroness referred to cost. Will she assure us that when the bids are submitted, it will not always be the lowest bidder who secures the contract?

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, the noble Baroness makes an important point but I have just said that the quality of the provision, which is part of the tendering process, will be given very serious consideration, alongside costs. The noble Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn, described the measure as limiting the discretion of the courts. We are adding to the discretion of the courts. This is an added facility.

My noble and learned friend Lord Hailsham was right to say that there is no guarantee that this will work. However, it is a very real and genuine attempt to address the incidence of young persistent offenders. The centres will provide programmes dedicated to the rehabilitation of such children with the objective of getting them back into mainstream education and the community. After the full consideration that has been given to this issue, I invite the House to support the Government, and I recommend to your Lordships that the House do not insist on the amendment to which the Commons have disagreed.

On Question, Motion agreed to.