HL Deb 03 July 1997 vol 581 cc45-6WA
Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede

asked Her Majesty's Government:

What plans they have for Cookham Wood secure training centre.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Home Office (Lord Williams of Mostyn)

The Government are committed to ensuring, as a priority, that courts have appropriate powers to deal with the small group of persistent young offenders who wreak havoc in their communities. Our aim is to provide the courts with a more coherent and flexible set of powers to deal with persistent juvenile offenders than those left by the previous government.

In the meantime the Government have inherited a contract signed by the previous government in March 1997 for a secure training centre at Cookham Wood, Kent for persistent offenders aged 12–14. The contract involves significant monthly payments to the contractor from April 1998 whether the facility is used or not.

To avoid the waste of public money which would be involved in withdrawing from the previous government's commitment and to enable the courts to deal with those persistent young offenders, who fail to respond to community sentences, my right honourable friend the Home Secretary intends to continue with the contract to develop Cookham Wood. This will involve introducing the secure training order provided in the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994 and taking forward plans to procure four other centres to provide facilities across England and Wales. However, he is determined to ensure that Cookham Wood provides a high standard of education and training and that it helps young offenders to face up to their crimes and address their offending behaviour.

My right honourable friend is commissioning a review of the whole range of secure accommodation for young offenders, and he will be receiving advice on this issue, and on the nature of the custodial penalties available to the courts, from the new Youth Justice Task Force. He will ensure that plans for the four other secure facilities, and the use of Cookham Wood, are sufficiently flexible to be consistent with the outcome of this review.

The Government remain committed to ending prison remands for 15 and 16 year-old boys as quickly as possible and hope that their review of secure accommodation will help in this regard. The original commitment was made in February 1991. Although a building programme of 170 new secure local authority places is nearing completion, the number of 15 and 16 year-old boys held in prison has increased substantially since 1991. This makes implementation of the provisions in the Criminal Justice Act 1991 for court ordered secure remands, which would end the need for prison remands for juveniles, much more difficult.