HL Deb 19 February 1996 vol 569 cc857-60

2.46 p.m.

Lord Allen of Abbeydale asked Her Majesty's Government:

What is the present state of the programme for providing five secure training centres under the provisions of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994.

The Minister of State, Home Office (Baroness Blatch):

My Lords, tender proposals for the first two secure training centres were received on 12th June 1995. Contracts will be signed as soon as the terms of the contractual agreement have been settled. An invitation to negotiate in respect of a third site will be issued shortly, and for the other two sites once outline planning permission is obtained.

Lord Allen of Abbeydale

My Lords, I am much obliged for the information given in that reply. However, since I remain opposed to the concept of these penal-type institutions for 12 to 14 year-olds, I feel that it does not fall to me to express disappointment at what seems to be a rather slow and patchy progress. But some important issues are raised. If just one centre is working or a second centre starts working a little later, as appears to be the case, what will the catchment area be? Will some of these children find themselves detained hundreds of miles away from their families, with all the difficulties of visiting, and hundreds of miles away from the professionals who will be concerned with that part of the sentence which is to be served under supervision in the community? Are there not real difficulties ahead?

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, the noble Lord is right that there are two issues here. One is the policy, to which, as we all know, the noble Lord is opposed; the second is the progress that is being made. As to the specific answer to the question posed about implementation of the policy, that will be a matter for the terms of the secure training order when it is put into place. Therefore, I cannot give an answer except to say that there will be 12 to 14 year-olds who are persistent offenders for whom this sentence will be appropriate.

Baroness Faithfull

My Lords, perhaps I may ask my noble friend whether my right honourable friend the Home Secretary is fully aware of the position with regard to local authorities' secure training units, which are of course near to the children's homes. There are already 257 such places, which is obviously not enough. The Department of Health's capital programme is designed to increase the number of places by 170. I understand from the local authorities that many are already under construction, have planning permission and will be open by the end of the year and that another 62 will be open next year. Is this not of concern to us all? Are the two departments working against one another or with one another? How is it that £30 million a year will be spent on the secure training units run by the Home Office under private control which will be far from the children's homes while at the same time the local authorities are increasing the number of their places? Are we not wasting money?

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, the policies are certainly not in conflict. It is true that there are to be 170 new places in local authority secure accommodation, most of which will be in place by the end of this year. These places are not always appropriate because they are very scattered. The young people falling into the specific category of persistent juvenile offenders aged between 12 and 14 years will be very scattered and in very small numbers. There are also economies of scale in the new units. The needs of this particular category will be met by putting them into units of 40 in five institutions, with a very concentrated and highly disciplined programme of education and training. I believe that they are different from the provision made by local authorities.

Baroness David

My Lords, can the Minister tell me when the Home Office is going to pay local authorities for the children who are sent to local authority secure units by the courts? I understand that there was some agreement between the Home Office and the local authorities that it would pay for those children, but so far no payments have been made.

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, there is money in the system for sending young people to secure training units. That is already taking place. No one is saying that there is not always tension about what can be provided. Therefore, I do not know what specific question the noble Baroness is asking.

Baroness David

My Lords, I am sorry that I did not make it clear. I understood that when the courts send children to local authority secure units the Home Office had agreed to pay the necessary fees.

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, when the courts send a person to a secure training unit that will be the arrangement.

Lord Acton

My Lords, is the Minister aware that there has been speculation that the contracts for the secure training centres are for 15 years? Can the Minister give any information about that?

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, I cannot enter into detail about the particular negotiations for the contracts because we are in the throes of doing that at the moment. What is very important is that the contract should cover a reasonable length of time because the private sector is putting up the money to provide them.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, in her first reply the Minister said that tenders had been received on 12th June 1995. As I understand it, she is now saying that the negotiations are continuing. Does that mean that the contractors have been asked to submit revised tenders and, if so, does that mean that the planned opening dates of autumn 1996 for Gringley and March 1997 for Cookham Wood will no longer apply and will have to be delayed?

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, that is an appropriate question because the tenders that were received were non-compliant with the specific terms of the specifications. What is being negotiated at this moment is a contract which is agreeable to the Government and the contractors.

Lord Williams of Mostyn

My Lords, can the Minister tell us what provision for secure training centres is to be made for Wales?

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, none of these five units will be located in Wales. They will all be located in England.

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton

My Lords, is the Minister aware that the local authority increase in the number of places is matched by an increase in the number of staff training under the auspices of Caldecott College? What plans do the Government have to ensure that they will have found trained staff for the new Home Office secure units when they open?

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, when the secure training units are opened they will be properly staffed. That is in the terms of the contract.

Lord Harris of Greenwich

My Lords, can the Minister say what will happen if Parliament subsequently decides to end the practice of having secure training centres? Do I understand that the agreement between the contractor and the Home Office is for 15 years? If that is so, what will happen if, during that period, Parliament decides to remove itself from this very unsatisfactory arrangement?

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, it will be a matter for any subsequent government to look at the terms of any contract arranged by a previous government. It will be for that government to consider whether there are penalties for reneging on any previous contract or bringing the terms of the contract to an end. Perhaps I may also say to the noble Lord and all noble Lords opposite who opposed this particular policy, that we have in this country a small, hard-core of young and very persistent offenders. We should not wring our hands and say, "What shall we do about them?". The Government have taken courage to do something about them. I wish them well in finding a successful policy to rid ourselves of this daily menace.