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Juvenile Offending

3.30 pm

The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Kenneth Clarke) : With permission, I should like to make a statement about the Government's plans for strengthening our response to the problem of juvenile crime.

A comparatively small number of school-age children are responsible for a high proportion of crime, particularly burglary and car crime, in many parts of the country. I spoke last autumn of my concern about the apparent lack of powers for the courts to deal with the worst of these offenders, and I have since repeatedly made it clear that I am preparing proposals to close what I perceive to be a gap in the law. I believe that it is not in the interests of school-age children that they should be left at large in the community if they are out of control, playing truant from school and repeatedly committing criminal acts against the general public.

The Government are determined to continue to strengthen the powers of the courts to deal with persistent offenders. We must also take other mesures to tackle the problem on a broader front.

The courts already have some powers to sentence juvenile offenders to custody, subject to their age and the offence of which they have been convicted. They also have powers to order them to be supervised in the community, with a wide range of additional requirements, some of which involve extensive restrictions on their liberty. Those powers are necessary and sensible for the great majority of juvenile offenders, but I have decided that they are insufficient to deal effectively with that comparatively small group of very persistent juvenile offenders whose repeated offending makes them a menace to the community.

The courts will be provided with a new sentence, which for the present I am calling a secure training order. The order will be available for 12 to 15- year-olds who have been convicted of three imprisonable offences and have proved unwilling or unable to comply with the requirements of supervision in the community while on remand or under sentence. A court would be empowered to impose such a sentence only when it was satisfied that such an order was necessary to protect the public from further offending by that juvenile and when a place in a suitable facility was available. Before making an order, the court would be required to take account of a pre- sentence report. The order might last for up to two years.

The challenge for the new secure training centres will be to provide high standards of care and discipline and opportunities for the juveniles in their care to develop as individuals. Regimes in the new training centres will embrace education and training provided in ways that tackle the individual's offending behaviour. After release from the secure training centre, the order will ensure that the juvenile remains under close supervision unless and until his behaviour has altered and those responsible can be confident that he is no longer a threat to society.

It is absolutely imperative that the supervision in the community be rigorous, consistent and firmly delivered. For those persistent offenders discharged from the new training centres, supervision in the community must build on the work done inside the centres themselves.

National standards are required in this area. My Department and the Department of Health, together with

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the Welsh Office, last year jointly issued "National Standards for the Supervision of Offenders in the Community". These standards will need to be supple-mented to ensure the effective post- release supervision of 12 to 15-year-olds. Work on this will proceed as a matter of urgency.

The secure training orders will be different from anything that has ever been provided before. I envisage that the centres will be provided through agreements with suitable organisations. They may come from the public, voluntary or private sectors, provided that they can demonstrate the ability to meet the standards we shall be setting and to give value for money. Central Government will act as the purchaser of this provision.

To enable the private and voluntary sectors to provide secure accommodation, my right hon. Friends the Secretaries of States for Health and for Wales will amend the present regulations under the Children Act 1989.

The care and social work activities of the centres will be inspected by the social services inspectorate, and their educational provision by inspectors of education.

The Government will also be considering whether the existing powers of courts in sentencing juvenile offenders should, in some cases, include a power to require placement in secure accommodation. The Government will bring forward legislative proposals to give the courts new powers at the first opportunity.

In working up detailed plans to implement our proposals, we will be having discussions with a wide range of agencies and institutions which may be capable of providing the new centres. Provision will be made for the cost of the new arrangements in the course of the public expenditure planning exercise which is now under way.

In recent years, local authority social services, the probation service and many voluntary organisations have shown that sensible and constructive schemes for supervising young offenders in the community can be successful in preventing crime and diverting young people from the penal system. It is of course important that that policy should continue, and that parents should be involved in the responsibility for the upbringing and behaviour of their children. The existing policy will be strengthened by the measures which my right hon. Friends the Secretaries of State for Education and for Health will also take in their respective fields.

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health will be reminding social services that their responsibilities for young people who offend, and those on the brink of offending, should stress control as well as care. There should be no soft options. My right hon. Friend will shortly issue guidance on the control regimes in secure and other forms of children's residential accommodation. That guidance will take account of the lessons learned in protecting children from abuse, such as in the pindown regime. It will also address the serious concern that staff must be able to exercise proper authority over the children in children's homes. They need sanctions if children misbehave. They should also have the necessary powers to prevent children who are detained by order of the courts from running away.

My right hon. Friend will also ensure that social services departments take a consistent approach towards the control of juvenile offenders. There must be a joint approach with the education authorities, the police and probation service and other agencies. My right hon.

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Friend the Secretary of State for Education will also be taking measures in support of our general strategy for tackling the problems of juvenile offenders.

Schools must prove effective in instilling discipline through adherence to civilised values and by encouraging and supporting respect for other people and their property. From the earliest possible age, schools, supported by parents, must sharply discourage behaviour which may lead to a life of crime. There is no longer any place in our schools for the discredited philosophy of allowing children to develop in their own way, regardless of right or wrong. Schools must promulgate the values we as a society want to pass on to the next generation.

The national curriculum requires schools to prepare all pupils "for the opportunities, responsibilities and experiences of adult life."

The newly independent office for standards in education will be introducing a much more rigorous inspection regime, which will include explicit reporting on behaviour and discipline in schools and on how the school functions.

Action must also be taken to ensure that pupils do attend school. My right hon. Friend now requires schools to keep proper records of truancy. Parents have to be told when their children do not turn up. From next autumn, school performance tables will have to show how well they are doing in making truancy a problem of the past.

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover) : Why not start here?

Mr. Clarke : I wish some people would play truant more often. The attack on truancy must come from the Government and from parents. The Government have established a £10 million programme to help schools in 74 authorities to get to grips with the problem. Parents must get their children to school on time and make it clear that they must stay there.

Disruptive pupils must be dealt with more effectively. Significant numbers of children behave so disruptively that schools have had to exclude them. So often, of course, disruptive behaviour, if left unchecked, leads on to offending.

I am able to announce today that, following extensive consultation, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education proposes to bring proposals before Parliament to place local education authorities under a new statutory duty. They will be required to develop comprehensive plans to educate pupils who are not attending school. The aim will be to provide courses tailored to the needs of the individual to prepare excluded pupils for re-entry into school. I do not lightly commend to this House proposals which, in part, have the serious effect of depriving children of their liberty and removing them from their families. The Government, as I have shown, will continue to support proved and effective ways of dealing with children of this age without resort to custody in all cases where non- custodial measures have a reasonable chance of succeeding. Many first offenders will continue to receive a formal caution from the police, but we will shortly be strengthening our guidance to the police about the criteria for cautioning, including a warning about excessive and repeated use of cautioning in cases where it will plainly be ineffective.

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The range of measures I have outlined today is designed to deal more effectively with juveniles on the fringes of criminality, as well as the hard-core offenders who have shown that they cannot or will not respond constructively to supervision in the community. These measures are urgently needed to deal with this problem, and I am confident that the House will support them.

Mr. Tony Blair (Sedgefield) : We welcome at least the recognition that we have been pressing upon the right hon. and learned Gentleman for months that, after 14 years, it is time that the Government took responsibility for the situation. Does he understand that the protection that we require is not just against the menace of persistent juvenile offences, but against all types of criminal offences, which have more than doubled under this Government in the past 14 years?

Coming to the central proposal, we agree that the stress should be on care and education and training in secure accommodation. The Secretary of State believes that that accommodation is best provided in entirely new institutions. We believe that it is best provided by building on the secure accommodation already available at the local level. I will put our case for this and ask him to answer three specific points.

First, will the right hon. and learned Gentleman confirm that under his proposals not one of these places will be in operation until 1995 or 1996 at the earliest? I remind the House that two years ago a Home Office Minister promised 65 extra places of secure accommodation, and not one has yet been built. We have learnt today--perhaps the right hon. and learned Gentleman will confirm this--that not one has even had the capital funding for it accepted. Does he not understand that it is now that people require action against the rising tide of crime?

Secondly, on the issue of standards, I do not know whether the Secretary of State is aware that the Home Office has just filed evidence with the Home Affairs Select Committee to the effect that local secure accommodation is of a higher standard and leads to less reoffending than is the case with young offenders' institutions. Does he or does he not accept that?

Thirdly, will the Secretary of State listen to the universal advice that it is far preferable to isolate young offenders from their peer group and work with them to lead them to face their responsibilities than to put them in the company of 40 or 50 other persistent young offenders? What we need, in other words, is schools of responsibility, not colleges of crime.

I believe that many people will be surprised at the very narrow nature of the statement. Where, for example, is the action on support and help to make cautioning more effective, as the Association of Chief Police Officers has asked? Where is the review of section 29 of the Criminal Justice Act 1991, which is causing confusion in our courts? Where is the guarantee that early intervention on young offenders, which has been proved to work, will be available in all parts of the country, because it is not available at the moment? Given that there is a conviction or caution for only one in 25 crimes, where is the national strategy for crime prevention that is absolutely essential? Above all, where is the acceptance that we do not have to choose--as the Prime Minister says--between condemning crime and understanding it, but that we should both condemn crime and try to understand its underlying causes?

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Is not part of that understanding stopping other Government Departments from doing the very things that undermine the fight against crime? Will the Home Secretary today commit the Government to reversing the policies which have resulted in 75 per cent. of youth services facing cuts this year ; which have destroyed more than 100, 000 training places for the young and unemployed ; which have shut drug projects and closed residential homes for young people ; and which have reduced the number of education welfare officers dealing with truancy?

On the Secretary of State's extraordinary statement about truancy, can he explain why he has come forward with the proposals now when the Elton report recommended more than three years ago that the number of education welfare officers should be increased to one for every 2,500 pupils? Can he confirm, in consultation with his colleague if necessary, that today there is only one to every 6,000 as a result of the cuts?

If we are to understand the problems, would not it be sensible to understand the effect of withdrawing benefit from 16 and 17-year-olds and driving them on to the streets? Does he therefore agree categorically that of course there is never any excuse for crime and that those who commit crimes must face justice, but that if children grow up in a world without hope or opportunity, with poor education or housing, with no prospect of work or training, with no stake in the society that demands respect from them, is it not common sense that crime is more likely to breed in such conditions?

Will the Home Secretary understand that we require not a belated response to headlines that damage the Government, but a coherent and thought-out policy to tackle crime and its causes, as they threaten the nation, so that people in our communities can live in their homes and walk the streets of our country free from fear and the threat of crime as they used to be able to do?

Mr. Clarke : I shall not join in too many exchanges about who has been thinking about the problem for months. The Government can demonstrate that not only have we been speaking about it for months, but that three Departments of State have prepared today's proposals, which cover a range of problems--persistent juvenile offenders, absence from school and the regime that needs to be applied by social services departments which have children in their care.

If the hon. Member for Sedgefield (Mr. Blair) thinks that we are moving closer together on such matters, the proof will come when we witness his reaction to our solid proposals. He began by suggesting that we should build on the secure accommodation that we already have, and that is a good starting point. Local authorities can provide secure accommodation for children as long as they act within the criteria of the Children Act 1989 and can comply with our proposals in the Criminal Justice Act 1991. The Opposition were somewhat resistant to both Acts.

For philosophical reasons, most local authorities are reluctant to provide secure accommodation for juveniles and I hope that the hon. Member for Sedgefield and his team will use their influence to get rid of that reluctance. I hope that he will welcome the fact that when courts impose supervision orders, as they now do, the

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Government propose to go beyond the Criminal Justice Act to enable the courts to make it a condition that the person placed under supervision should be held in secure accommodation by a local authority, which will have to provide such accommodation if it does not already have it.

The hon. Member for Sedgefield says that we committed ourselves to 65 specific places. He probably knows that we did so for a particular reason-- to replace the remanding to gaol of 15 to 16-year-olds. We have made the capital money available. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health has been discussing it with local authorities and it has been difficult to persuade them to take the money for providing secure accommodation. [Interruption.] I am glad that some sinners have come home to repent ; I am glad that we are making progress. My right hon. Friend is well on course to providing those places by the target date of 1995. I hope that the Opposition will urge reluctant Labour authorities to work with us and take the capital money that we now have available.

Those two issues have led to the continued uncertainty of the hon. Member for Sedgefield on two points. I hope that we can still persuade him to follow up his recent rhetoric with support for our proposals. First, the hon. Gentleman will not say whether the courts should have the power to impose sentences on persistent juvenile offenders which require them to be sent to secure accommodation. For so long as the courts lack that power, they lack the ability to protect the public.

Secondly, the hon. Gentleman cannot decide whether he is in favour of the institutions of the kind that I have described. One moment he welcomes them, saying that we have been laggardly, the next minute he compares them with young offenders' institutions, which deal with older and more hardened delinquents. He has also suggested that we should not put all the offenders together because that would create a university of crime. There is a gap in the law, however, because currently the courts do not have adequate powers to deal with the persistent juvenile offender. The institutions do not exist to which those people can be sent to be looked after better, educated and trained and where their offending behaviour can be tackled. The message in the hon. Gentleman's speeches is obscure, and I am not sure whether he has taken on those points.

The hon. Gentleman also referred to truancy. We have been acting on that for some time, going on from the recommendations in the Elton report. Some authorities take the problem more seriously than others. We are now requiring that schools should produce, for the first time, school-by-school figures on truancy levels. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education is about to produce performance tables that will compare school by school, a concept resisted bitterly by the Labour party when we proposed it. I have just announced a package of measures, including a £10 million programme, to tackle truancy, and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education is fully prepared to tackle truancy in our schools. The hon. Member for Sedgefield also referred to crime prevention programmes, but their scope goes well beyond juvenile offenders. We have developed a system to encourage crime prevention that includes the safer- city project, the neighbourhood watch scheme, and other crime prevention programmes such as car crime prevention year, which ran in 1992, and other operational activities

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undertaken by the police to reduce burglary and car theft in target areas. We will continue to launch such programmes.

It is right to comment on those problems in a society that provides a breeding ground for crime. It is also right to comment on the conditions in some of our cities, which the Government have been tackling for many years. Our proposals for city challenge and the inner-city task force are far in advance of anything that the Opposition have suggested. However, those projects cannot be used as an alternative to tackling crime. If we are agreed on the rhetoric and we are close to agreeing on the analysis of the problem, the Opposition should recognise that the Government have brought forward a solid body of proposals. The hon. Member for Sedgefield has no proposals of his own. He cannot yet make up his mind whether he will support that which we have put forward, but I am sure that the House will.

Mr. Kenneth Baker (Mole Valley) : Does the Home Secretary accept that his proposals today to deal with persistent offenders between the ages of 12 and 15 and the other comprehensive measures that he has introduced will be widely welcomed in the country? Does he also accept that, if a boy is a persistent offender by the age of 12, his slide into delinquency will probably have happened between the ages of 5 and 10, which is below the age of criminal responsibility? As a former Education Secretary, does my right hon. and learned Friend appreciate that powers exist in the Education Acts to ensure that disruptive and emotionally disturbed children are sent to special schools and taken out of mainstream education? Will he ensure that the supply and quality of those schools is improved?

Mr. Clarke : My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education has measures to tackle truancy and disruptive pupils of every age. My right hon. Friend the Member for Mole Valley (Mr. Baker) is right to say that powers already exist to make provision for particularly disruptive pupils, even of a very young age. We will certainly remind local authorities, education authorities and school governing bodies of those powers. My right hon. Friend also says that there are people out in the field with considerable expertise and skill in dealing with difficult, disturbed and disruptive children. We need to draw on such expertise to provide facilities for older children.

Mr. Robert Maclennan (Caithness and Sutherland) : Does the Home Secretary accept that, in proposing the new secure training centres for the young, he is adding to a range of options that is too limited for the magistrates and those with sentencing responsibilities? By his own admission, he is dealing with a minor part of the problem of young offending, which has become clearer and clearer as we have had 14 years of Conservative administration and a whirligig of Home Secretaries revolving their particular nostrums to tackle the problem. Does the Home Secretary also accept that, at a time when a royal commission is sitting on the criminal justice system, it would be appropriate to look at the need to establish a separate youth justice system with courts--perhaps parallel to the system in Scotland--gearing their responses to young offending in a more apt way?

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Mr. Clarke : The Government have introduced youth courts. Throughout their period of office they have progressively introduced a range of powers and disposals for the courts that are effective for the vast majority of juvenile offenders. Only recently, when we took the Criminal Justice Act 1991 through the House, we gave magistrates more powers than they had previously enjoyed to impose conditions on the supervision orders that they could make for juvenile offenders. Today, I have announced that we are considering giving magistrates additional powers to make stronger conditions on the supervision orders to require that the local authority supervises the child in secure accommodation. We shall also provide an entirely new disposal for the hard core of persistent offenders for whom there are currently no adequate provisions.

I do not believe that our proposals are an ad hoc search for solutions. They constitute a well-balanced package of measures to give the youth courts, which the Government have established, the range of powers which they need and which they tell us they require.

Dame Jill Knight (Birmingham, Edgbaston) : Is my right hon. and learned Friend aware that experienced junior, and even infant, teachers are quite capable of saying at a very early age which children are liable to grow up to be criminals? Does he agree that it is not just a matter of truancy? Schools need to return to the understanding that it is essential to discipline a child to live peaceably in a disciplined world. The constant efforts of the Labour party to allow teachers fewer and fewer disciplinary powers are dangerous.

Mr. Clarke : I agree strongly with my hon. Friend. As far as it was relevant to do so, I mentioned in my statement the need for schools to accept responsibility for maintaining a properly disciplined and structured atmosphere in which to teach the national curriculum and also introduce children to the values that they need in a society such as ours. The direction of our education reforms underlines that need. We are steadily restoring a more structured atmosphere in our schools and becoming clearer about what schools should be teaching. The national curriculum includes the references that I made to general teaching of the standards required for life in a civilised society. The fact that we are giving more power to parents to influence what goes on in schools will also underline our policy. We are addressing precisely the problems about which my hon. Friend was worried. I agree that it is extremely important to consider the problem as a whole. The initial causes of criminality are just as important as the disposals that the court can make in relation to the hard-core offenders with whom we have failed.

Mr. Stephen Byers (Wallsend) : Does the Home Secretary recognise that his statement addresses only one small part of the overall problem? Does he accept that there need to be changes to the criminal justice system to make it far more effective, which it clearly is not at present? In particular, will he take urgent action to repeal section 29 of the Criminal Justice Act 1991 so that previous convictions can be taken into account when an offender is being sentenced? After 14 years of Conservative Government and a crisis of confidence, why will not the main proposals in his statement take effect for another two to three years?

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Mr. Clarke : I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his comments about the Criminal Justice Act 1991. It came into effect only last October, so we have barely five months' experience of its operation. That legislation was taken through Parliament at the request of the courts and was supported by both sides of the House. It makes provision for the previous convictions of offenders to be taken into account in certain circumstances. There is now widespread dissatisfaction with the 1991 Act, and I am quite prepared to re-examine it--[ Hon. Members :-- "Hear, hear."] However, after only five months' experience of a provision that I think every right hon. and hon. Member supported only 12 months ago, we need a little time to make sure that everyone has that Act's provisions working as they were intended to work before embarking on any possible changes.

Mr. Michael Shersby (Uxbridge) : As a secure training order will be made only after a juvenile has been convicted of three imprisonable offences, and as my right hon. and learned Friend is to strengthen the police cautioning criteria, will he take account of the widespread disillusionment among the magistracy, Members of Parliament and everybody in public life with the Criminal Justice Act 1991 and allow courts to be told about similar offences?

Can my right hon. and learned Friend tell the House how it is proposed that

"Schools must prove effective in instilling discipline through adherence to civilised values"?

Do the Government propose to bring back corporal punishment?

Mr. Clarke : I have already described the range of offences that we will be covering, and they do not relate only to persistent juvenile offenders. We will strengthen the guidance on cautioning to make sure that persistent use of cautioning is not resorted to where it is plainly ineffective. The police can then take children before the youth court, and the Criminal Justice Act 1991 enables for the first time the parents of children to be brought before the court and to be bound over to be responsible for the good behaviour of their children. In certain circumstances, the parents can be required to pay their children's fines. Supervision orders are available, which are the next appropriate step with a juvenile who is going out of control.

The 1991 Act extended the range of conditions that justices can impose on supervision orders. We are now proposing to go a step further and are considering giving justices the power to make a supervision order subject to a condition that the child lives in secure accommodation. On top of that, we are introducing a new power to allow a sentence to be imposed on persistent offenders, sending them, under a secure training order, to one of the new secure training centres. There is no need for the police and magistrates to be disillusioned. The 1991 Act--which is certainly worth reviewing but is being too widely attacked--strengthens the powers of the youth courts in a number of key ways.

The Government have been working for months--long before the recent publicity--on ways of strengthening the powers of the courts yet further. It is important to back up the work of the police and of the schools--and it is important to back up the work that should be done by all responsible parents if juvenile crime in this country is to be brought down to a tolerable level.

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Mrs. Bridget Prentice (Lewisham, East) : The Home Secretary was singularly unprepared to answer the question of my hon. Friend the Member for Sedgefield (Mr. Blair), but will he comment on a letter that I received today from a constituent who is on the management committee of the Young Lewisham project? That project concerns itself specifically with dealing with young people before they become persistent offenders. The letter states :

"I find it at least ironic and at worst callously indifferent to hear members of the Government and Ministers bemoaning the lack of social responsibility among young people and expressing concerns about juvenile crime, when the consequence of their policies on local government spending is that something as worth while as the Young Lewisham project is forced to close."

Will the Home Secretary ask his Cabinet colleagues to ensure that funding is available for ventures such as the Young Lewisham project? Will he also say when the measures that he has announced will be implemented?

Mr. Clarke : We have greatly expanded the finance available to social services departments, the police and the criminal justice system over the past 12 or 13 years. We continue to direct ourselves to how those resources can best be used. In the case of voluntary bodies supported by local authorities, provision is ultimately local, and must be determined by local authorities--along with their voluntary bodies--in the light of their own priorities, although the Government provide the funds.

How far and how rapidly we progress with the ideas that I have announced today will depend on the availability of parliamentary time, and on the progress of the discussions that I now propose to have about the development of the regime with all those who have expertise in the field. We need to define the cost of providing the necessary centres. We have every intention of pressing on as quickly as possible. I am glad to say that the Government identified the problem at an early stage, and we intend to introduce the new provisions as fast as is reasonably possible.

Mr. Roger Sims (Chislehurst) : Is my right hon. and learned Friend aware of the frustration felt by the magistracy and the police about the present state of the law, which states that a child under the age of 10 is incapable of a criminal act, and that, in the case of a child aged between 10 and 14, the onus is on the prosecution to prove that the child knew it was doing something criminal? Is there not an argument for stating--in the light of common knowledge of children and the way in which they mature nowadays--that the court should make its own judgment about whether a child knew that it was performing a criminal act, and should deal with that child accordingly?

Mr. Clarke : My hon. Friend is right about the way in which children over 10 are dealt with. I have no doubt that there has been controversy for generations, in the House and elsewhere, about the age of criminal responsibility. Plainly, there comes a point at which a child cannot be placed before a court : we would not put before a court a seven-year-old awaiting sentence for a criminal act. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Mole Valley (Mr. Baker) has reminded us, however, that does not mean that there is nothing that anyone can do about disruptive children.

It may not be suitable to put before a court a seven-year-old who has carried out violent, dangerous or

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dishonest acts, thus beginning his criminal career and the list of his criminal convictions. Nevertheless, steps must be taken, by the education authority or, if necessary, the social services department, to deal with the disruptive behaviour of that child. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Dame J. Knight) that the earlier such potentially criminal behaviour is addressed, the better it may be for society as a whole.

Mr. David Alton (Liverpool, Mossley Hill) : The Home Secretary has placed a great onus on parents and teachers. Does he accept, however, that contradictory and confusing messages are sent to many homes because of the high level of television violence and the easy availability of snuff videos and video nasties, as well as the powerful effect of drugs as a pressure for crime?

Does the Home Secretary recognise that much of the problem is due to the fact that many of the children involved come from broken and unloving homes, where there are no fathers, where brothers and sisters often have multiple partners and where the steadying influence of grandparents does not exist? Does he accept that, although hon. Members on both sides of the House wholeheartedly support his call for children to be able to choose between right and wrong, that is virtually impossible while parents and teachers have to struggle with their current dilemma? They tell a child, "Thou shalt not kill, mug, maim, burgle or destroy" ; at the same time, those actions feature, dressed up as entertainment, on virtually every televison programme that that child sees at home.

Mr. Clarke : I agree with some of what the hon. Gentleman has said about the material to which children are frequently exposed on television, in videos and elsewhere. It is less easy to come up with remedies on which the House can agree, but the House--and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for National Heritage--should continue to address the problem.

I agree strongly with what the hon. Gentleman said about drugs. We are seeking to develop yet stronger policies to deal with the abuse of drugs. It is one of the causes of crime that society has the ability to control, as long as we back up the police, the voluntary agencies and every other agency to try to contain it.

As for the hon. Gentleman's point about support and affection in the home, obviously the best defence for a child is a good, supportive home where that child is given

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affection, and is also taught to distinguish between right and wrong. The new centres that I propose for persistent juvenile offenders will be secure accommodation : the offenders will be locked up and prevented from escaping. They will be made to go through the process of education that they need at that age, and they will be trained ; but I suspect that many will also receive more care, affection and personal attention than they received in their own homes. That is one of the many gaps that we shall fill when imposing a sentence that will usually be necessary in the offenders' interest, just as much as in the interest of the public.

Mr. Peter Thurnham (Bolton, North-East) : I welcome my right hon. and learned Friend's important statement. May I urge him not to delay the implementation of these necessary measures? Will he call on local authorities to use their existing powers much more effectively? Was it not noticeable that the Opposition spokesman had little to say about the many failures of local authorities in that respect?

Mr. Clarke : I shall be introducing legislation as soon as is reasonably possible, although, at the moment, the parliamentary timetable is peculiarly difficult to anticipate. However, this is an urgent priority. I have already said that we shall be making the necessary financial provision in this year's public expenditure round and we are now moving on to the detailed planning with the would-be providers of the centres that we require. I certainly accept my hon. Friend's strictures on the urgency of putting the measures in place. I also agree with what he said about some local authorities. In some parts of the country there is a dearth of secure accommodation for juveniles, sometimes because the local authority social services department has a philosophical objection to providing it. If the climate of public opinion is changing generally, it should also change among such local authorities. If there has been a conversion among our opponents, that should help to produce a similar conversion by local government.

Several hon. Members rose --

Madam Speaker : Order. I am bringing questions on the statement to a close. The guillotine on the Education Bill falls in less than two hours, and we have private Members' business before that.

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Points of Order

4.12 pm

Mr. David Blunkett (Sheffield, Brightside) : On a point of order, Madam Speaker. I seek your guidance about asking the Secretary of State for Health to tell the House this afternoon whether it is true that she is about to announce a dramatic increase in prescription charges, which will constitute a rise of 2,000 per cent. since the Government said in 1979 that prescription charges would remain at 20p. She is prepared to tax the sick, not the rich

Madam Speaker : Order. The hon. Gentleman is now making a speech. I understood his point of order about the Secretary of State for Health, but I have not been informed that she wishes to make a statement to the House. We shall now proceed with today's business.

Mr. Derek Enright (Hemsworth) : On a point of order relating to the Education Bill, Madam Speaker. I wish to complain about the intolerably short time that we have had to examine new clause 22. Hon. Members such as myself who live in the north and who go home to their constituencies at the weekend have not been allowed time to table an effective amendment.

Madam Speaker : That is very much a matter for the Government. It is not a point of order for me. I dealt with the amendments in good time and under the normal procedure.

Mr. Jim Marshall (Leicester, South) : On a point of order, Madam Speaker. I in no way seek to call into question what happened on the statement, Madam Speaker, but may I draw your attention to the fact that members of the two Front Benches took well over half of the 40 minutes we had for questions, leaving insufficient time for Back Benchers such as myself, whose constituencies suffer from these problems, to raise specific constituency issues? I realise the difficulty that you faced today, but could you perhaps bring pressure to bear indirectly on members of the Front Benches to make them

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more aware of Back Benchers' problems in future and perhaps arrange for an urgent debate through the Leader of the House?

Madam Speaker : I am delighted to have the hon. Gentleman's support. I face such problems every day. I can assure him that every time there is a statement in the House I make a note of how long the members of the two Front Benches take and that I deal with the situation in the best way that I can. Today I have to strike a balance because of the guillotine on the Education Bill. I know that the hon. Gentleman and the House understand that.


Carrying of Knives etc. (Scotland)

Mr. Phil Gallie, supported by Mr. Raymond S. Robertson, Mr. Bill Walker, Mr. George Kynoch, Mr. Jim Wallace, Mrs Margaret Ewing, Dr. Norman A. Godman and Mr. Robert Hughes, presented a Bill to provide, as respects Scotland, for it to be an offence to have in a public place an article with a blade or point ; and for connected purposes : And the same was read the First time ; and ordered to be read a Second time upon Friday 12 March, and to be printed. [Bill 147.]

Education (City Technology Colleges Appeals Procedure)

Mr. Simon Hughes presented a Bill to allow for a right of appeal by pupils or parents refused admission to a City Technology College : And the same was read the First time ; and ordered to be read a Second time upon Friday 12 March, and to be printed. [Bill 148.]


Motion made, and Question put forthwith pursuant to Standing Order No. 101(3) (Standing Committees on Statutory Instruments, &c.) .

Official Secrets

That the draft Official Secrets Act 1989 (Prescription) (Amendment) Order 1993 be referred to a Standing Committee on Statutory Instruments, &c.-- [Mr. MacKay.]

Question agreed to.

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