HC Deb 23 January 2003 vol 398 cc144-7WH
1.Simon Hughes (Southwark, North and Bermondsey)

What assessment the Government have made of the impact on reducing re-offending by young people of participation in schemes promoted or supported by the Youth Justice Board. [91805]

The Minister for Policing, Crime Reduction and Community Safety (Mr. John Denham)

The reconviction rates of offenders dealt with in July 2000, just after the national introduction of the main reform measures, were reduced by 14 per cent, compared with 1997.

A range of YJB funded programmes are also being evaluated. The results include a 25 per cent, reduction in re-offending following education, training and employment programmes, a drop of 29.5 percentage points in children offending after their parents had been on parenting programmes, and on the nine-month intensive supervision and surveillance programme pilot a drop from 160 to 47 offences.

Simon Hughes

It is a great pleasure to ask the first supplementary question. We all accept the success of the Youth Justice Board. Its programmes have been widely welcomed. Will the Minister guarantee that the funding will not only continue, but be extended for the splash programme, the youth inclusion programme, the intensive supervision and surveillance programme and, above all, the youth service, which has been badly cut back over the past decade? If funding is there, we know how to give youngsters positive alternatives to antisocial behaviour and boredom.

Mr. Denham

The YJB programme has been successful, although I do not have the details regarding that. We intend to repeat last summer's very successful programme of youth activities, and to do that in a way that frees money and brings it together into a single pot for local authorities and agencies to use.

We have already guaranteed the future of the youth inclusion programmes, which have been very successful in helping young people in high crime areas. I hope that we will shortly be able to give more details about the extension of the intensive supervision and surveillance programmes, which are effective in keeping young people out of custody and out of trouble.

The Under-Secretary of State for Education and Skills will talk about the youth service.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education and Skills (Mr. Ivan Lewis)

One of the problems in taking an integrated approach to the needs of young people has been the underfunding and undervaluation of the youth service over many years. A new vision for youth services and an understanding of how those services and others—such as Connexions—connect together are fundamental to achieving many of our objectives in respect of education, performance, antisocial behaviour, street crime and so forth.

Julie Morgan (Cardiff, North)

Because of the devolution to Wales of many matters that affect young people who offend, it is important that there are close links between the different Government Departments and between the Government and the Assembly in Wales. What progress is being made on an all-Wales youth offending strategy involving the YJB, and what is the value of such a strategy?

Mr. Denham

I will have to get back to my hon. Friend about our position on an all-Wales strategy, but it is important that people can see that the YJB has a strategy that ties in well with the other agencies that work with young people to reduce crime.

We liaise well with the Assembly: for example, the equivalent of an English regional crime reduction director is based in, and works with, the Assembly and helps to link the work of the local community safety partnerships with the YJB and other organisations. There is value in having coherent policies. I will write to my hon. Friend about the matter.

Mr. James Paice (South-East Cambridgeshire)

Conservative Members welcome this opportunity to cross-question Ministers—in this case, on youth policy.

Against a background of a huge increase in the number of persistent young offenders, the work of the YJB is essential; its great value has been mentioned. The Minister referred to intensive supervision and surveillance programmes, which are a step in the right direction. I understand that Oxford university is assessing those programmes and analysing their benefit. There is doubt about whether 25 hours over three months is adequate contact time, but we need to see the results. When does the Minister expect to hear from Oxford university? Will he be publishing that report?

Mr. Denham

The intensive supervision and surveillance programme is aimed at the 3 per cent, of young people who are estimated to commit about 25 per cent, of all crime. It is not the case that we have necessarily had a rise in the number of persistent young offenders. According to the figures that we have, the reconviction rate has fallen. The Oxford university study must be long term if its full effects are to be seen. It will be available in 2004. The interim assessment has shown a drop in the number of offences from 160 to 47 among young people involved in the programme. This is not just a matter of contact time, which is rather more extensive than the hon. Gentleman suggests. Offenders are also tagged and subject to curfew, so there is a mixture of intensive engagement and some limits on freedom, and the expense and problems that arise from young offenders institutions are avoided.

Mr. Paice

May I turn the Minister's attention to the issue of funding, which was touched on by the Liberal Democrat spokesman? I visited a youth improvement programme this morning. One of the facts that came through loud and clear was that although those involved welcomed the decision to extend the programme for another three years—we, too, are pleased with that decision—there is such a disparate range of sources of funds and requirements that the bureaucracy being imposed on those involved, who are basically youth workers, is insufferable. One such worker told me that they had turned down £150,000 because the bureaucratic burden that went along with the job in question did not make it worth while.

It is sensible to have a range of programmes. However, will the Minister consider whether he can bring together the various bodies—some charitable, some publicly funded—that are funding the programmes, whether they provide core funds or extra money? Could we put all the money together, so that those involved with programmes could concentrate on bidding in the first place and on dealing with youths, rather than constantly filling in forms and meeting different requirements for different forms of assessment?

Mr. Denham

That is a good point. Last summer, we increased the number of young people involved in summer activities from 25,000 to more than 90,000, but that was done at a great pace and involved some 12 different streams of money. Much work has been done, led by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, to bring that money together into a single pot—or as close as a single pot as we can get—so that it is much easier to administer next year. Much the same principles should apply to the youth inclusion programmes, for which there may be funding from the lottery, local authorities or the neighbourhood renewal fund. Bringing the sums together is a major exercise, but I accept the hon. Gentleman's point and we are working hard on it.

Mr. Hilton Dawson (Lancaster and Wyre)

Given the lamentable re-offending rates of those leaving young offenders institutions, would not the best idea to reduce youth offending be to ensure that the vast majority of young offenders did not go into custody? Given the recent decision of the High Court in relation to the application of the Children Act 1989 to young offenders institutions, what work is the Youth Justice Board doing to ensure that all young people who are locked up are supported by the provisions of the 1989 Act, and treated as children rather than criminals?

Mr. Denham

On the first point, the vast majority of young offenders do not go into custody. For every 100 young offenders, no more than four will go into custody. One reason for expanding the intensive supervision and surveillance programme is that it is targeted at a group of young people who might otherwise go into custody. If current success rates are repeated, the programme will have the benefit of protecting the public and being a satisfactory way of dealing with young people who have been carrying out serious crimes. However, there always will be some young people from whom the community needs to be protected. Every young offenders institution has a child protection co-ordinator and has established a child protection committee, and is in contact with the local area child protection committee structure, so there is a system for integrating what is happening in young offenders institutions with wider child protection arrangements.

Jonathan Shaw (Chatham and Aylesford)

The hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Simon Hughes) referred to the good work of the Youth Justice Board and mentioned some of its successes, one of which is its work with parents of young offenders. Is the Department for Education and Skills thinking about that work and considering working with the parents of young people who are truanting? Those young people often get involved in crime. Is there to be any debate on the lessons learned from the work of the Youth Justice Board?

Mr. Denham

Yes. We are looking at that while we draw up a new Green Paper on young people at risk. One of the things that we discovered was that parents who are required to attend parenting classes often react, after a time, by asking why the support was not offered before their children were in serious trouble. We are examining ways in which we can extend parenting support at an earlier phase of a child's life and give support to parents earlier. Money for families is available in the spending review from the parenting fund, and the Secretary of State for Education and Skills has talked about facilities at school to develop parenting contracts as a way of agreeing with parents how they can support the work done with their children. There will be more to come in the area that my hon. Friend talked about.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. It is not habitually the case that Ministers of the Crown are at a disadvantage, but I am advised that their microphones are dead. If they could use their own amplification, it would help those who are reporting our proceedings.