HL Deb 24 March 1999 vol 598 cc1368-81

7.58 p.m.

Viscount Brentford

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Viscount, Lord Tenby, for introducing the debate. Its timing is interesting, as it follows the debate on marriage. Undoubtedly, as many noble Lords have said, the breakdown of marriage and the family is often a root cause of youth offending.

First, I wish to make one or two comments on the report. I attempted to find out from the Home Office whether there is any update on the extent to which the criticisms in the report have been met. I was told that there was no information at all on progress. Perhaps the Home Office was concealing the information from me in order to give all the ammunition to the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn, when he replies. I certainly failed to find out anything about action that has been taken as a result of the report. I hope the noble Lord will tell the House what progress has been made. I shall not set out the criticisms as they have already been referred to.

The noble Earl, Lord Listowel, referred to the use of volunteers. I wonder whether volunteers are coming into Medway to build relationships with the young people there. I appreciate that they are there for a maximum of one year, but it is important for them to be able to build a relationship with an outsider, particularly as many are a long way from home.

Secondly, I wish to touch on the question of education. Clearly it needs improving at the STC. But what interests me more is the problem of the lack of education that so many young offenders have experienced. I wonder whether in the STC sufficient attention is paid to the learning aptitudes of the young offenders. Perhaps the noble Lord will tell the House whether an assessment is carried out to check whether each young offender is an abstract conceptualiser; a concrete experiencer; an active experimenter; or a reflective observer, or whatever combination of learning aptitudes they may have. That will clearly affect the education programme in the STC for different individuals there.

Paragraph 9.3 of the report refers to the fact that many of the offenders have been out of school for considerable periods of time. Perhaps I may quote John Harding, Chief Probation Officer for Inner London. He said: We know that two thirds of school aged offenders sentenced in youth courts had either been excluded from school or had significant truancy records. Attention needs to be focused at the onset of behaviour disorder in schools by the youth offending teams so that an action plan is drawn up by the team, the school and the parents that ensures the pupil is still in receipt of full time education and the family supported through the crisis". I have a daughter who works as a primary school teacher in the field of special needs. She deals particularly with violent children younger than the age of those in the STC. That is the age when it is crucial for such children to be helped. If they are not helped in school when they are below the age of 12, they will run into the youth offending climate.

But schools do not have the money to pay for special needs teachers to deal with violent children in particular. I am delighted that the Government are planning to reduce the amount of exclusion from schools. Please will they provide more financial help for special needs teaching? It will save them money in the long term. Money needs to be spent in that area in order to stop offending before it starts, as my noble friend Lord Elton vividly portrayed.

My third point relates to mentors for these young people. They so often need role models. We have talked about visitors, volunteers coming into STCs. But I want also to raise the question of mentors on a wider basis, before young people offend and also during the period of community service. Many of these young people lack fathers, a point that was mentioned particularly in the previous debate. They do not have the role models, whether they are boys or girls, that fathers provide when they are living in the home. There is an excellent scheme under which local people are used as volunteers to offer time to single parents with hyperactive children. There are also mentors from business who work with welfare-to-work trainees. I read of a magistrate offering her home. Are the Government planning to encourage the further use of mentors and foster homes in the future?

8.5 p.m.

Lord Dholakia

My Lords, I, too, extend my thanks to the noble Viscount, Lord Tenby, for introducing this debate. It was also a great pleasure to listen to the very positive contribution of the former Home Secretary, the noble Lord, Lord Carr of Hadley.

This debate is not only about the Medway Secure Training Centre. As many noble Lords have demonstrated, it is about much more than that. It is about how we treat persistent young offenders who commit a disproportionate number of crimes and often wreck the lives of many law-abiding citizens.

We often delude ourselves that by locking up such youngsters we shall solve the problems caused by youth crime. That may create a temporary respite. But unless we have clear objectives about the purpose of secure training centres, we might as well admit defeat now.

We also delude ourselves that prison works. That was central to the thinking of the previous government. I am surprised that it still finds favour with the present Government.

We have begun only recently to address more fully the reason why so many youngsters offend and why some persist in re-offending again and again. Many of them have never had the right to a decent childhood. They are the products of chaotic and disturbed family lives. Many are still to be found among the poor, the unemployed, the homeless, those who come from homes where people have never worked, those who under-achieve in schools and those excluded from schools, and victims of violence and physical and sexual abuse.

Against that background we welcome the many initiatives of the present Government in which they are attempting to address the problems. Only yesterday the passage of the Youth Justice and Criminal Evidence Bill was completed in this House. The Bill has at its heart for the first time provisions to address offending behaviour.

The crime reduction strategy announced last week by the Home Secretary deals with major reform of the youth justice system. Targets are now being set to give local people the means to monitor the effectiveness of the police and local authorities in reducing crime and disorder in their area. There is also the new anti-social behaviour order under the Crime and Disorder Act which will commence on 1st April 1999. No one, irrespective of their political affiliations, can fail to appreciate the positive measures introduced by the Government. They have the general support of all parties in this House.

We now have time to rethink some of the false assumptions that we made in 1994. We must accept that we have been wrong in looking to instant solutions in eradicating offending behaviour. We have only to look at our history of borstals, approved schools and detention centres. It is no exaggeration to say that within a short period of their release a large number of youngsters offend again; 60 to 70 per cent. of youngsters fall within that category.

When the legislation creating secure training centres was going through this House in 1994, the House carried an amendment with all-party support which could have given the courts an alternative power to sentence 12 to 14 year-old offenders to be held in local authority secure units instead. This amendment had official Labour Party support as well as the support of the Liberal Democrats and many Conservative and Cross-Bench Peers. It was reversed by the then government when the legislation returned to the other place Line after line of the recent report by the social services inspectorate on the Medway Secure Training Centre justifies and reinforces the view that the House took in 1994.

First, the report found, as has been cited by many noble Lords, that there was an, absence of an experienced, highly skilled staff group". It may be that this was the first possible experiment to be carried out, but why were inexperienced people appointed? The report spoke of the extreme difficulty of trying profoundly to alter the outlook of some of the most challenging young people in the country with a largely unqualified and inexperienced staff. Yet it was always obvious that putting the care of difficult young offenders in the hands of private companies which had no experience of childcare provision was an indefensible way to deal with disturbed and vulnerable children. Such young people would be far better off dealt with in secure units run by local authority social service departments and staffed by trained care workers.

Secondly, the report found that the quality of education at the Medway centre was unsatisfactory. It said: Half the lessons observed were less than satisfactory, with unfocused discussion, lack of suitable resources, and a poor learning environment. Teachers lack specialist knowledge and skills in the subject". There can be no doubt that these young people would have received a better standard of education in local authority secure units. Even before the 1994 legislation was passed, Home Office research comparing local authority secure units with Prison Service young offender institutions had shown that the former provided more and better quality education, gave more help and advice with young people's problems and equipped young people with more qualifications, training and work experience.

Thirdly, the report on the Medway centre found that: Other major matters such as diversion from offending programmes, an element of the establishment's work which is fundamental to its success, have simply failed". One of the reasons for this failure was the trainees' reaction to the use of violence, which has been spelt out again and again by a number of noble Lords.

Stripped of the jargon, it is quite simply that the experience at Medway had made these young people even more criminal in their attitudes and even more likely to re-offend than when they first arrived. In contrast, the Home Office research study referred to earlier found that local authority secure units had a significantly lower re-offending rate than Prison Service young offender institutions for serious young offenders. Local authority units would be more likely to succeed with 12 to 14 year-olds than a 40-place mini-prison like the Medway centre.

Up to a point it is understandable (although wholly wrong) that inexperienced and inadequately trained staff should react with excessive force to the difficult and disturbed behaviour of these children. The inspection team encountered, numerous instances when good order had broken down". The report is full of references to, the very disturbed behaviour, abusive language and challenges which the trainees present". One result was that, The level of damage to living units, the education block and the dining room was such that safety features were compromised". It was a vicious circle, with the inspectors observing that: The breakdown in the care system is leading to reinforcement of cycles of deprivation". It has been pointed out, and I reiterate, that what we found in the Medway centre report is that the youngsters found that the inside world very much replicated the outside world from which they came. All this underlines the folly of the whole idea of placing as many as 40 disturbed and difficult children in one institution. Local authority secure units hold many individual children who are as difficult as the Medway's trainees, but these units are not plagued by the problems which have arisen from placing so many repeat offenders in one centre.

Secure training centres are too big and run by the wrong organisations. They are also in the wrong place. Even when all five planned centres are built, many young people will still be held a long way from their homes. This makes it difficult to maintain close links, through regular visits, with families and social workers from their home areas—links which are vital for the young persons' eventual resettlement when they leave the secure institution.

The secure training centre policy is a blight on the Government's otherwise largely admirable youth crime policy. The positive and constructive elements of this policy include the establishment of inter-agency youth offending teams in every area; a requirement placed on local authorities to produce youth justice plans and provide a range of diversion and supervision programmes for young offenders; increased financial support for the development of bail support schemes; supervision programmes and preventive work; and new sentences such as reparation and action plan orders which could help to steer many young people away from re-offending.

I have no hesitation in strongly supporting the vast majority of the Government's plans to tackle youth crime. However, the decision to press ahead with the previous Government's plans for secure training centres was a serious mistake. It is not too late to halt the plans to build more secure training centres. If the resources which would otherwise be spent on these centres were used instead to provide more local authority secure places and intensive community supervision programmes, this would do much more to reduce juvenile crime.

Is it not time that we discontinued plans for other secure training centres? There are better ways of spending £120, 000 per child per year and this debate has highlighted that. No one disputes that a small number of people commit a disproportionate amount of crime. The point at issue is that secure training centres have done little to address their behaviour. It is time we looked at other alternatives.

8.15 p.m.

Viscount Bridgeman

My Lords, I too wish to thank the noble Viscount, Lord Tenby, for initiating this debate. His experience in juvenile magistrate work is second to none.

As noble Lords know, the secure training centres were instituted under the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994 and they represented a laudable and imaginative initiative by the last Government to steer a balanced course between the frankly penal short sharp shock regimes and the wholly community-based ones. If one reads the specification in the appendix to the report, one sees that the accommodation, education, vocational, health and recreational standards are high. I will come to that in a moment.

I feel that several noble Lords have not done justice to these centres, for two reasons. The first is that they are designed to be part of a package: the custodial punishment basically in the first half of the sentence, and the rehabilitation under close supervision in the community in the second. We have very little experience of the second half of that and I shall welcome any news that the Minister can give us on it. I also hope he can say whether the proportions of the custodial and rehabilitation aspects can be varied. Presumably in serious cases, the second half could be eliminated altogether.

The defects of the Group 4/Rebound experience have been chronicled by several noble Lords. I find it easier, even with the privilege of this House, to refer to them, simply because they have been largely acknowledged by the contractors. It is clear that there was a total underestimation, on their own admission, of the problems posed by the trainees. They underestimated the difficulties of obtaining staff and training them in matters like staff communication, reporting, simple procedures like fire drill and dealing with violent trainees, leading inevitably to bullying. They should have known about that. We know that two managers departed, which left the management structure largely in tatters. The staff were badly fazed by two escapes, which made them possibly over-concerned with security. There were obvious mistakes on the Government's side in that the specifications were not nearly robust enough and that led to the most terrible vandalism. There should have been provision for more imaginative security which would have avoided some trainees being virtually denied fresh air.

Perhaps I may return to the trainees themselves. They come from the most difficult section of juvenile society. The report gives statistics showing that the average number of previous convictions is seven; the average time spent out of mainstream education is four years; and 25 per cent. arrive with criminal charges outstanding and with histories of great violence. I wonder whether local authority secure accommodation, referred to by many noble Lords and with particular knowledge by the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, is suitable for this class of young offender. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Mackenzie, that surely there must be no alternative to taking these children out of society even for a short time.

The Earl of Longford

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Viscount for giving way. This is a fundamental question. What is the point of taking a young offender from Nottingham and giving him a few months in Kent?

Viscount Bridgeman

My Lords, I thank the noble Earl, Lord Longford, for that intervention. The regime is designed to provide a combination of custody and imaginative treatment.

As your Lordships know, the trouble had been there from the beginning and reached its climax in June when there was, in effect, a riot. I congratulate the Government on taking prompt steps to set up an inquiry team composed of highly qualified individuals from Ofsted, H. M. Inspectorate of Prisons and the social services. The inquiry took place in September and October and reported in January. The recommendations are clear, fair and constructive. Many of your Lordships will have received briefing from Rebound indicating that it is taking steps to address the criticisms.

We are dealing here with very small numbers. It is an experiment which deserves to be given further time. It should be treated as a pilot scheme. I very much hope that the Government will continue Group 4's contract. The intentions which Group 4 and Rebound have shown are very worthy and should be given rein. It gives them the opportunity to put right many of the matters subject to criticism. We welcome other initiatives in connection with youth offenders and in particular the creation of the youth offender panels under the Youth Justice and Criminal Evidence Bill which has just completed its passage through your Lordships' House. It has the support of these Benches. It is not an easy problem, but I believe that the Government have taken the right course in identifying the problems through the SSI inquiry and addressing the criticisms and recommendations. They have our support in that. I look forward to hearing what the Minister has to say.

8.23 p.m.

The Minister of State, Home Office (Lord Williams of Mostyn)

My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lord Tenby for giving us this opportunity and all other noble Lords for the contributions that have been made. I believe that the tone of our discussion has been similar to that of a seminar. I did not detect any hectoring or point-scoring of any sort. It is sometimes difficult to disagree with what is said by almost every speaker. Of course there are differences of emphasis. I do not believe that our fundamental views and aims differ from whatever part of the House the contribution has been made.

I have been given by generous business managers 20 minutes in which to reply to this debate. In that time I cannot even answer all the questions that have been legitimately put to me. In the usual way, I shall respond in writing to those points that I cannot deal with orally this evening. I shall put copies of my replies in the Library. I hope it does not sound too pompous, but I have the duty of dealing with the questions which have focused particularly on Medway. The public has a right to know what is happening, which will mean that the wider questions, which are relevant, of great interest and fascination, cannot be dealt with entirely without ignoring Medway.

The noble Baroness, Lady Linklater, is quite right. A disproportionate amount of crime is committed by young people. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Elton. We have to deal with offending children with early intervention. I do not believe that the noble Lord is exaggerating when he says that the indicators of likely criminal behaviour can be detected in the very young. It is a deeply depressing point to recite, but it is true. I am making no party political point because it is unworthy and it never works—which is an unworthy comment of itself.

We have now begun to adopt a rather different approach to crime. I caution your Lordships against placing undue focus on the secure training centre or the new detention and training order. We are deliberately, consciously thinking this out as part only of the changing spectrum that we intend to introduce. Although it is a public duty for your Lordships to look at what happened at Medway and to discuss what went wrong there, one needs to bear in mind that that is only part of the picture.

It is our aim to have swifter and earlier intervention; to achieve the swifter administration of justice; more effective early intervention in the community; to look to restorative justice, to reparation for victims and to the reinforcement of personal and parental responsibility. I believe that we discussed all those themes in some depth and length when debating the Bill which passed through your Lordships' House on Third Reading yesterday.

I entirely agree with what noble Lords have said, but it is a melancholy fact that some young offenders are among the most difficult children to deal with, if not the most difficult. There will have to be a custodial option available for some children. The aim ought to be, not simply cosmetically recited, to limit that number to the absolute minimum.

It was genuinely helpful to hear from the noble Lord, Lord Warner. I shall not go over the material with which he dealt. This evening he has been able to describe exactly the developing thinking of the Youth Justice Board which he chairs. If we have secure places, we have to provide security and a constructive and ordered regime. I have always believed, and continue to maintain, that these young children require as an absolute necessity a sense of order and, if one can introduce it, some degree of calm in lives which have been violent. I do not mean necessarily physically violent. What the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, said is perfectly right in many ways.

I did not take my noble friend Lord Judd to be chiding me but, as always, I took what he said in the constructive way in which it was offered. In the Home Office we are concentrating more and more on—it is a jargon phrase, but a useful one—evidence-based practice. In other words, rant and shibboleth have no part in the formation or development of policy. The noble Viscount, Lord Bridgeman, was quite right in saying that the secure training centres were set up by the previous government to provide custodial facilities for persistent young offenders between the ages of 12 and 14. The contract was signed in March 1997 and the centre was opened in April 1998. More than 150 secure training orders have been made so far. As the noble Lord, Lord Windlesham, rightly pointed out, by April 2000 the secure training order will have been consigned to history. We shall then have a more flexible sentence, a detention and training order designed for offenders between the ages of 12 and 18 years.

In response to the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, it is very important to underline that the placement of those who are committed to secure training orders will include the opportunity to go to local authority secure accommodation. The reason that we are continuing with these secure training centres—I refer to the particular question posed by the noble Lord, Lord Windlesham— is that local authority secure accommodation and secure training centres will be part of the new juvenile estate to deal with the relatively small number of young children who are sentenced to these new orders. The critical factor is that the new juvenile estate is to be overseen by the Youth Justice Board. That is extremely important.

For some young children who offend local authority secure accommodation will be more appropriate than secure training centres. The opposite is also true. The noble Earl, Lord Longford, asked the noble Viscount, Lord Bridgeman, what was the point of sentencing a child from Nottingham to go to Kent? In some circumstances there may well be a point. Not every child is best served by remaining in the immediate locality of its home, bad influences and the location of the commission of the crime.

The Earl of Longford

My Lords, since the noble Lord has referred to me perhaps I may intervene. I asked what was the point of sending a child there for three months or three weeks? He will not have his whole life corrected by that, will he?

Lord Williams of Mostyn

My Lords, I do not believe I ever suggested that he would have the whole of his life corrected by that. I deal with the particular point that, as long as it is done with care and discretion—I have in mind the words "compassion and thought" used by the noble Lord, Lord Elton—in some circumstances it may well be in the best interests of a young child not to be kept in secure custody in the immediate locality of its family. That may be unpalatable to the noble Earl but it is a fact. In the case of the young man to whom the noble Earl referred, he is going back to his home area and his supervising probation officer is from that area. The duty of the supervising officer is to manage his return back to the home area. I do not believe it is possible simply to ask blunt questions of the kind posed by the noble Earl or expect the whole matter to be resolved with what are perhaps sometimes over-simplistic questions.

I return to Medway. Difficult offenders have been there. It is true that the SSI report discloses a lamentable catalogue of failure. The company that runs Medway does not dispute that. Plainly, it is a reproach to everyone who has had any responsibility for it. I agree entirely with the noble Lord, Lord Laming, that no one can suggest that any punches have been pulled. I believe that a good piece of work was done there. But it is now for me to bring your Lordships up to date. Serious shortcomings occurred. The recommendations provide the opportunity for a constructive framework. Improvements in management, the implementation of good practice in care and control and the raising of standards of education and training were required. I do not believe that it necessarily depends on whether the mismanagement was in the public or private sector. The point is that the centre was mismanaged. A comprehensive action plan has been drawn up and agreed between the contractor and the Home Office.

I return deliberately to the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Laming, because I regard it of critical importance. This is something about which the public are entitled to know. First, the SSI is closely monitoring progress against an agreed timetable; secondly, the director is required to provide monthly information on performance; thirdly, the SSI is to undertake a further inspection shortly to evaluate progress. It is to evaluate the effectiveness of the action already taken. That further report will go directly to the Home Secretary. I believe that that reflects some of the concerns raised by the noble Lord, Lord Acton, right at the beginning; in other words, continuous monitoring and reporting of those who have responsibility in this matter is required. I return to one of my hobby horses: unless there are in place the structural mechanisms for monitoring and reporting, systems cannot be trusted. The report also revealed that there was insufficient staff.

Lord Elton

My Lords, can the Minister say whether, when the report goes to the Secretary of State, it will be published?

Lord Williams of Mostyn

My Lords, curiously enough, that was a question that I put to officials this morning because it was a matter of interest to me. No final decision has been taken upon it. The report is to be an unannounced one. Although I announce it today, I do not announce the date of it. For my part, I believe in publication as opposed to secrecy because that is one of the disciplines that improves performance. As much as can usefully be put into the public domain will be; if not, I am certainly always available to deal with the discussion and disclosure of reports with any of your Lordships on a private and confidential basis. Sometimes, but not usually, confidentiality is justified. I am happy to adopt that approach.

Baroness Masham of Ilton

My Lords, is there to be a strict policy on bullying? Bullying is fiendish and sometimes it is the younger element who bully most.

Lord Williams of Mostyn

My Lords, I agree that that is a particular feature. I return to the words of the noble Earl, Lord Listowel. Quite often those who bully other children are deeply damaged and fragile and— I hope that this is not jargon—their way of expressing that wounding of themselves is to bully others. I entirely endorse that. That is a very important feature of the report and the action plan.

I do not believe that it is helpful for me to recite the criticisms. It is quite apparent from the debate that your Lordships have studied the report, which makes for gloomy reading. Certainly, there was a wholly unacceptable over-emphasis on physical restraint and what was in reality—there is no point in mincing words—the use of violence against young children many of whom regard it as a natural form of expression. There is a lot still to be done. Offending behaviour programmes are to be installed. The centre got out of control. I hope that when the new SSI report comes out it will show continuing improvement. All I can say is that there were significant failures that cannot be excused. We have a moral obligation to put matters right and I hope that we shall discharge that duty.

I turn to some of the questions posed during the debate. I am conscious that I have only a few moments left. The noble Viscount, Lord Bridgeman, asked about supervision in the community following the custodial part of sentences. Plainly, experience is limited. Social services departments now prove willing to play an active part in drawing up training plans which extend beyond the date of release from the STC. As to that I am in agreement with the noble Viscount. There are some difficulties in providing mainstream education for the reasons that so many noble Lords have touched upon: we are dealing with serial truancy or exclusion from school for other reasons.

The noble Viscount, Lord Brentford, referred to outside visitors to Medway and mentoring generally. We support the activities of voluntary mentors. Recently I had a most interesting meeting with SOVA to which another of your Lordships made reference. The chaplain at Medway has been active in encouraging outside visitors to that establishment. He makes arrangements, if young people desire it, with contacts in the outside world. Representatives of the Voice of the Child in Care meet those at the centre regularly to help them with any particular concerns or difficulties. Volunteer mentors are extremely important. We want to develop this idea on a co-operative basis with those who are willing to give their life in service in that way.

The noble Earl, Lord Listowel, asked about breaking down the larger units. I think it is unreal to talk about mini prisons. We are talking about 40. However, he asked an important question about smaller units. At Medway young people do live in smaller units of five. They have their educational and other aclivities in small groups.

The noble Lord, Lord Judd, focused my mind on what actually works and how one demonstrates it. We are now monitoring closely a number of persistent juvenile offenders. We are reviewing further demand for places from this group. Plainly the cost of secure accommodation is very high: I take his point. The cost of secure accommodation at Medway is actually a little less than local authority secure accommodation— perhaps about £400 less: not the £2, 900 but perhaps the £2, 500 that has been spoken about. I think it is too early to comment on reconviction rates because I do not have the material. That research is continuing. I agree with what the noble Lord implied, that we have been a little late in the day—that is to say, I think the Home Office generally has been late—in beginning that research.

The noble Earl, Lord Baldwin, asked particularly about nutritional supplements, which he correctly differentiated from diet, as one normally speaks about it. I know of research which has been carried out on the effects of nutritional supplements on the behaviour of young people in detention. He rightly points out that one of the organisations carrying out that work is the charity Natural Justice. That was carried out at Aylesbury Young Offender Institution and it demonstrated some positive effects on the behaviour of the young offenders who took the supplements. In order to see whether that effect can be replicated, I have recently agreed that Natural Justice can approach a number of other prison establishments where young people are housed to repeat the research on a wider scale. I know that the noble Earl has raised this subject over a period of time and I think my answer today has been more positive than what he might perhaps have regarded as the rather lukewarm approach that I have been able to give him in the past— so I hope I have at least one satisfied customer this evening.

The noble Baroness, Lady Masham, mentioned a number of valuable points and, in particular, the Bridges Project. Of course we support alternatives to custody for a large number of reasons. They can be more effective, undoubtedly so in terms of cost, and very often they are helpful in a way that custody cannot be for individuals. However, I am afraid that we come back to my earlier melancholy proposition, that for some young offenders custody in a secure environment is necessary.

We want the new orders to be much more positive, partly training assistants in secure conditions; but we also want the ability to work towards restoring the individual back to the community so that restorative justice has a dual context and a dual aspect. That is really what the new structure is intended to give. I cannot dispute the proposition put by many of your Lordships that this is an extremely expensive remedy. We have obviously—your Lordships have spoken of it—a duty to the public purse to make sure that we get value for money. If these schemes do not give value for money, we obviously have a constant duty, even on that basis, to review them.

The noble Viscount, Lord Tenby, asked who determines who would go to a secure training centre. In the first instance the sentence is given by the court. Under the detention and training order, the new order, the precise details of the placement will be dependent on the arrangements which will derive from the proposed commissioning and purchasing role which the Youth Justice Board has, as described by my noble friend Lord Warner. The noble Viscount also asked about Huntercombe and Werrington. We have in fact given both institutions a total of £1 million extra in this financial year. That is specifically directed, I hope to your Lordships' approval, to the improvement of regimes for those who are held in custody.

The noble Baroness, Lady Masham, asked about persistent young offenders, and the figure I have for 1997 is that according to our definition there were 8, 400 persistent young offenders in that year, who between them would have been responsible for about 43, 000 criminal offences.

The noble Lord, Lord Carr, was the most brusque in saying that these sentences would never work. This is a very new initiative. It has not actually been going even for a year yet. I think we can learn from what has gone wrong at Medway. There were significant mistakes: if we have an opportunity to develop and learn from those mistakes it may be that the noble Lord, Lord Carr, has been too gloomy in his prognostications.

A technical point was raised by the noble Viscount, Lord Tenby, about the consolidation of a large number of statutes. There is a continuing consolidation exercise being carried out by the Law Commission and we hope that will result in a powers of criminal courts Bill. I imagine that all those who have to deal with these matters will welcome that consolidation. I am glad to be able to give the noble Viscount a positive answer there.

The noble Lord, Lord Acton, asked about the contractor at Hassockfield. I am able to reassure him that the contractor has already appointed key staff who have considerable experience of dealing with difficult, challenging young people.

The noble Viscount, Lord Tenby, also asked about national standards. I can assure him that this will be part of the remit of the Youth Justice Board under the chairmanship of the noble Lord, Lord Warner. I do not think I need to say anything further because what I have had to say about 15 or 16 year-old girls not being kept in prison service accommodation has been welcomed. I knew when I said it last year that my neck was firmly on the block. I did it deliberately, being then young and innocent—and sometimes it is worth it, not being young and innocent but actually promising something.

I am conscious of the fact that I have trespassed on your Lordships' patience and I know that I have not answered some of the questions that have been raised. I should just really like to return to my earlier gratitude for the way in which we have dealt with these things. It is impossible to do justice to the topic, the themes and the contributions in this very brief reply of 23 minutes. What does hearten us all who work together—and I say this to all your Lordships in this field—is that, whatever contribution we have to make, I believe that the tide has changed. I believe that we have an opportunity for a new beginning and I do believe that we must constantly scrutinise ourselves with objective standards and objective tests, so that we can discharge what all your Lordships have rightly described, impliedly or explicitly, as a moral duty to deeply fragile young children who, although they are criminals, are, as the noble Baroness said, essentially children.

8.49 p.m.

Viscount Tenby

My Lords, I rise to express my warm thanks to all those who have taken part in this debate. When I started, I said that I hoped the debate would be constructive and helpful, and the fact that the noble Lord the Minister described it as similar to a seminar gave me immense pleasure. I hope that both he and the noble Lord, Lord Warner, have been heartened by the support they have received for what they are doing from all quarters of the House.

Perhaps I may make two very small points. First, I can assure the noble Lord, Lord Mackenzie, that in no way am I against the use of custody. As a magistrate of many years' standing, I can assure him that that suggestion is right out! Secondly, I would say that this debate has not been about the individual staff at Medway, whose personal commitment in very difficult circumstances, then and now, has not been questioned. I am conscious that I have asked the noble Lord the Minister very many questions—a whole bucketful in fact—to add to his angst. I may say that this is a running joke between us—but I certainly do not propose to add to it at this late hour of the evening. I therefore beg leave to withdraw my Motion for Papers.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.

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