§ Mr. Boateng
Specific figures are not available for the number of persistent young offenders dealt with in the youth court. However, in 1997 in England and Wales a total of 79,151 persons (provisional figures) aged 10 to 17 were found guilty of offences in magistrates' courts and the Crown Court combined—including the youth court. Also, an exercise carried out in 1997 to establish the average length of time taken to deal with persistent young offenders from arrest to sentence identified a total of 16,090 occasions on which persistent young offenders were dealt with. Taken together, these figures, which are on a broadly comparable basis, suggest that persistent young offenders account for 20 per cent. of occasions on which young offenders were dealt with by the courts in 1997.
§ Mr. Syms
To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what are the basis and methodology of the calculation of the benchmark figure of 142 days, against which progress to halve the time from arrest to sentence for persistent young offenders will be measured; what progress has been made to date; and what definition will apply of persistent young offenders. 
§ Mr. Boateng
The calculation for the baseline figure of 142 was based on a representative sample of almost 1,500 occasions during 1996, at which slightly over 900 persistent young offenders were sentenced for almost 4,500 offences across England and Wales. The dates on which the sampled persistent young offenders were sentenced were obtained from the Police National Computer, Phoenix. Because Phoenix does not generally hold information on arrest dates, arrest dates were390W surveyed directly from police forces. For offences where there was no arrest, dates of laying of information were collected instead. The arrest to sentence time for each occasion on which a persistent young offender was sentenced was then calculated as follows. The date of arrest for the sentencing occasion was defined as the earliest date of arrest (or date of laying information where there was no arrest) related to the offences for which a sentence was passed. The time from arrest to sentence is then the difference (in calendar days) between the date of sentence and the date of arrest. The national baseline was calculated as the mean arrest to sentence time for the sampled sentencing occasions.
The data for 1997 show signs of improvement. The annual figure for 1997 as a whole shows a reduction to 141 days, while improvements from 1 May 1997 reduced the average time to 138 days. To monitor progress towards the pledge the Government have put systems in place to produce regular data on the time between arrest and sentence for persistent young offenders. These will produce usable data from late 1999.
The Government have asked all youth courts to set up fast-tracking schemes for persistent young offenders, and last month set demanding performance targets for all stages up to and after trial. The Crime and Disorder Act 1998 will also enable statutory time limits to be set in cases involving young offenders.
A persistent young offender is defined as a young person who has been sentenced on three or more separate occasions by any criminal court in the United Kingdom for one or more recordable offences, and within three years of the last sentencing occasion is subsequently arrested or has an information laid against him for a further recordable offence.