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Madam Speaker : Order. I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman knows that it is at my discretion whether he has a couple of minutes for a winding-up speech. I hope that he will now use those two minutes briskly.
Is not it clear that the divisions in the Conservative party and the Cabinet divide not only the Tory Government but Britain from Europe and from our best interests in the European Union ?
Mr. Hurd : Thanks in part to the right hon. Gentleman, as sometimes happens in the House, an occasion that is certainly important and difficult and might have been more difficult has become rather a pleasure. The right hon. Gentleman is so busy polishing his questions that he does not listen to the answers that they receive. He correctly quotes last December's declaration in Brussels, but was not listening to the answer that I gave to an identical question by one of his hon. Friends : the proposal coming back from the presidency also refers to the crucial question of the threshold-- the definition of the majority and minority. If, even on the second time, the right hon. Gentleman cannot understand the importance of that addition, he should go back to his homework. The right hon. Gentleman's leader signed a paper on 6 November which stated :
"For the first time we are fighting the European elections as the party of European Socialists . . . We want . . . majority voting within the Council to be the norm."
What on earth does that mean if it does not mean giving up unanimity ?
Mr. Max Madden (Bradford, West) : On a point of order, Madam Speaker. It relates to guidelines which have been issued by the Charity Commissioners and which make two disturbing points. The first is that charities must not conduct publicity campaigns indicating how individual Members of Parliament or parties have voted on a particular issue as a means of applying public pressure on those Members or on the Government. The second is that charities must not distribute pro-forma letters for people to sign and send to Members or Ministers.
It seems intolerable that a public body that is funded by the taxpayer should seek to limit the right of members of the public, including taxpayers, to know how Members of Parliament vote, not least on the distribution of moneys that have been contributed by taxpayers. Secondly, it must be equally worrying that a public body funded by the taxpayer is seeking to restrict the democratic right of taxpayers and other members of the public to influence Members of Parliament.
The guidelines have been issued with immediate effect and the Charity Commissioners, rather unusually I understand, are asking for comments after the guidelines have been implemented. I ask you, Madam Speaker, to reflect on those guidelines and the points that I made, with a view to making a statement on whether you deprecate the implications of the guidelines for the general public and a large number of charitable organisations.
Madam Speaker : As I understand it, the hon. Gentleman is complaining about legal advice given to charities by the Charity Commissioners. That matter is not for me, and it would be most unwise for me to comment from the Chair. The hon. Gentleman must find another way to pursue the issue.
Mr. Nigel Spearing (Newham, South) : On a point of order, Madam Speaker. I refer to a matter that may be of precedence, in relation to powers and privileges of the House. This morning, the Secretary of State for the Environment opened a new railway in the docklands that passes through my constituency. That event was well known and I believe that the right hon. Gentleman was well received.
However, the Secretary of State proceeded to a second event relating to the inauguration of a housing project ultimately designed to accommodate 5,000 people in 1,500 dwellings. It is known as an urban village, and is controversial. Unfortunately, the mayor of the borough was not informed of, or invited to, the inauguration of that large scheme, and neither was the Member of Parliament concerned.
Column 648I hope and expect that no such action by the Executive in relation to the people of this country represented in the House will recur, with such short notice or no notice at all being given.
Madam Speaker : It is a convention of the House that all Members of Parliament, including Ministers, inform other hon. Members when they are to attend a public function in a constituency other than their own. As it happens, my office always notifies a right hon. or hon. Member if I am to attend a function in his or her constituency. It is incumbent on Ministers to do likewise.
Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North) : On a point of order, Madam Speaker. You heard the Foreign Secretary say that the Cabinet will deal with the European Union voting issue tomorrow morning and that the result will be communicated to the Council of Ministers. The House will rise for the recess on Thursday, and Wednesday will be the last day to consider matters not related to Adjournment debates. Is it not essential that a statement on the Cabinet's decision is made to the House, not merely referred to during Prime Minister's Question Time ?
If it was right and proper--and it was--for the House to hear from the Foreign Secretary, how much more important it is that the House should know of the Cabinet's decision. Apart from anything else, it will be communicated immediately to the media, so why not to the House ? I trust that the Prime Minister or the Foreign Secretary will make a statement tomorrow.
Madam Speaker : I make it clear that it was I who granted today's private notice question and that the Foreign Secretary appeared at the Dispatch Box in response to that. As the hon. Gentleman must know, I have no authority to summon a Minister to the Dispatch Box to make a statement. I see that there is a collection of senior Ministers on the Treasury Bench, and no doubt they have noted the hon. Gentleman's remarks.
That, for the purposes of any Act resulting from the Criminal Justice and Public Order Bill, it is expedient to authorise the payment out of money provided by Parliament of any sums required by the Secretary of State
(a) for making payments in connection with measures intended to prevent crime or reduce the fear of crime ;
(b) for defraying or contributing to the costs incurred by local authorities in providing, or arranging for the provision of, accommodation for restricting the liberty of children ; and (c) for making payments in respect of the costs incurred by local authorities or probation committees in providing supervision for offenders subject to secure training orders.-- [Mr. Wood.]
As amended (in Committee and in the Standing Committee), considered.
. In section 51(3) of the Civic Government (Scotland) Act 1982 (which makes persons convicted in summary proceedings in Scotland of certain offences relating to obscene material liable, among other penalties, to imprisonment for a period not exceeding 3 months and persons convicted there on indictment of such offences liable, among other penalties, to imprisonment for a period not exceeding 2 years), for the words "3 months" there shall be substituted the words "6 months" and for the words "two years" there shall be substituted the words "3 years".'.-- [Lord James Douglas- Hamilton.]
Brought up, and read the First time.
In Committee, hon. Members on both sides--including the hon. Member for Greenock and Port Glasgow (Dr. Godman), who for many years has pursued the interests of safeguarding children--rightly expressed the view that the maximum penalties for certain offences of obscenity and indecency are inadequate. The Scottish Office has sympathy with that view and neither it nor the Government opposed an amendment to double to six months the maximum duration of the new custodial penalty for possession of child pornography.
Unfortunately, whether by accident or design, that amendment neglected to address the position in Scotland, with the result that the Bill introduces a three-month custodial penalty in Scotland and a six-month custodial penalty south of the border. The first reason for the new clause is that the Government intend to remove that discrepancy with an appropriate amendment to be debated later on Report. New clause 73 is, to a limited extent, consequential on that amendment relating to possession.
The new clause is consequential because, in our view, it would be wrong to leave the maximum summary penalty for trading in obscene material at three months' imprisonment under section 51 of the Civic Government (Scotland) Act 1982, when we are introducing a maximum summary penalty for simple possession of child pornography of six months' imprisonment under section 52A of that Act. So new clause 73 raises the maximum summary penalty for an offence under section 51 from three months' to six months' imprisonment. At the same time, it raises the maximum penalty on conviction on indictment from two to three years' imprisonment.
Column 650Whether a case is in the sheriff court or a higher court will depend on the severity of the circumstances. Were the law officers to consider that a case merited an indictment, of course it would go to a higher court.
The new penalties are in line with the penalties that already exist in England and Wales for similar offences under the Obscene Publications Act 1959. The equalisation of penalties for such offences north and south of the border is, in our view, sensible. It provides the second reason for new clause 73. We do not want to provide any incentive to set up this sort of business north of the border. Such an incentive might be provided if Scotland continued to have lower penalties than England and Wales.
The third reason for the new clause rests simply on its merits. We believe that the trade in obscene material is loathsome. I know that that view is shared by Opposition Members and the House as a whole. Children must not be exploited. They must be suitably protected in the interests of the well- being of our country. We believe that the new penalties will signal Parliament's revulsion, deter some who might otherwise be tempted to engage in that trade, and enable the courts in Scotland to deal appropriately with the worst offenders. So I strongly commend the new clause to the House.
Question put and agreed to .
Clause read a Second time, and added to the Bill .
. After section 61 of the Criminal Justice Act 1991 there shall be inserted the following section--"Cost of secure accommodation. 61A.--(1) The Secretary of State may, in relation to any costs incurred by a local authority in discharging their duty under section 61(1) above
(a) defray such costs to such extent as he considers appropriate in any particular case ;
(b) defray a proportion to be determined by him from time to time of such costs ; and
(c) defray or contribute to such costs in accordance with a tariff to be determined by him from time to time.
(2) The Secretary of State may require any person providing secure accommodation to transmit to him, at such times and in such form as he may direct, such particulars as he may require with respect to any costs to which this section applies.
(3) Payments under this section shall be made out of money provided by Parliament.".'.-- [Mr. Maclean.]
Brought up, and read the First time.
Amendment (a), in line 3, leave out may' and insert shall'. Amendment (b), in line 6, leave out
such costs to such extent as he considers appropriate' and insert all reasonable costs'.
Amendment (c), leave out lines 8 to 11. Government new clause 79 and Government amendments Nos. 53, 54, 52 and 57.
I hope that new clause 74 will command considerable support on both sides of the House. It demonstrates the Government's commitment to the proper financing of our policies. We are concerned that the normal methods of
Column 651local government finance are not necessarily the best way of distributing resources required to fund the revenue costs of local authority secure accommodation for remands.
The local authority associations have pointed out that the revenue support grant mechanism is not necessarily sensitive enough to reflect the differences between local authorities in terms of the potential numbers of young people who may in future be remanded to secure accommodation. Some local authorities might have large numbers of young people remanded in secure accommodation and others might have none. As hon. Members know, the costs of secure accommodation are high ; while the Government will be taking steps to contain them, it is important that the system of financing is as effective as possible.
The purpose of new clause 74 is to give central Government a power to reimburse costs incurred by local authorities in accommodating juveniles subject to court-ordered secure remands. The Government have not yet determined how the powers will be used in practice. A decision will be made after full consultation with the local authority associations. The Government have felt it important to use this opportunity to take the necessary powers. We expect the annual cost to be about £16 million per annum.
Therefore, new clause 74 is drafted in a way which gives central Government a degree of flexibility. There may be arguments in favour of meeting the full costs or the Government may consider it more appropriate to make a contribution. A tariff may be needed to reflect different costs in different parts of the country. As I have said, we will discuss the use of the powers in detail with the local authority associations.
As hon. Members know, the Government have embarked upon a substantial expansion of the secure accommodation estate in order not only to provide sufficient places for 15 and 16-year-old boys on remand who are currently sent to prison but to accommodate 12 to 14-year-olds who will be subject to secure remands. In all, we currently intend to create an additional 170 places. The Department of Health will shortly publish a plan explaining how the places will be supplied.
I expect the new clause to be welcomed both by potential purchasers and by potential providers of additional places, as it creates a framework in which revenue costs can be provided centrally. It also creates a framework in which the mechanism for providing payments can be amended in the light of experience gained in the operation of the system--hence the need for maximum flexibility.
I will try to anticipate what Opposition Members will say and comment briefly on their amendments to the new clause. Those amendments seek to restrict the degree of flexibility available to the Government in defraying the costs incurred by local authorities in complying with court-ordered remands of 12 to 16-year-olds to local authority accommodation with a security requirement. Amendment (a) would remove the Secretary of State's discretion to defray those costs, and replace it with a duty to do so. Amendment (b) would require the Secretary of State to defray all reasonable costs, instead of
Column 652"costs to such extent as he considers appropriate".
Amendment (c) would remove the provision for the costs to be defrayed on the basis--determined by the Secretary of State from time to time--of either a fixed proportion of the costs or a tariff. I recognise the concern that lies behind the amendments--concern that local authorities should not be put under undue financial strain in complying with court-ordered secure remands of 12 to 16-year-olds to local authority accommodation with a security requirement. The Government are sympathetic to the need, in the case of such remands, for direct central revenue support by fee payment to individual authorities : that is why we tabled new clause 74.
The Government will discuss in detail with local authority associations the use of the powers provided in new clause 74 before they come into operation. There may be arguments in favour of meeting the full costs, or the Government may consider it more appropriate to make a contribution. As I have said, a tariff may be needed to reflect different costs in different parts of the country. What is certain is that there can be no advantage in seeking to restrict the scope of our discussions with local authorities in the way sought by the Opposition amendments, and I urge the House not to support them. Amendment No. 52 is a technical measure to extend the scope of the expenses that could be provided for under the Bill to include those required by the Secretary of State to make payments under contracts entered into for the purpose of placing youngsters subject to secure training orders in accommodation other than secure training centres--that will be in section 2--or of the supervision by a designated person of youngsters under secure training orders after their release.
Amendment No. 53 inserts a new subsection (5A), which makes express provision for the reimbursement by the Secretary of State of the expenses of the probation committee--or, as the case may be, the local authority--in meeting its obligation to supervise an offender in accordance with clause 3 and any rules made under that clause. Amendment No. 54 adds a new subsection providing for payments to be defrayed out of money provided by Parliament. Amendment No. 57 makes an alteration to schedule 10, which amends the Probation Service Act 1993, to exclude the expenses of the probation committee incurred under clause 3 from the definition of qualifying expenses in section 17(2) of that Act. That prevents the Home Office from, in effect, paying for the supervision of offenders twice. I hope that the House will welcome the amendments as sensible measures to allow the probation service and local authorities to be paid directly by the Secretary of State.
New clause 79 is important. It would permit local authorities to contract out the management of secure accommodation in local authority and local authority controlled community homes. If he catches your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker, my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health will respond to any substantive points that hon. Members may raise about the new clause.
Mr. Alun Michael (Cardiff, South and Penarth) : I welcome the Minister's statement that he intends to provide a commitment to proper financing of the Government's policies. That makes him almost unique among Ministers. I hope that he will develop the principle
Column 653that he has enunciated when we debate crime prevention, drugs policy and many of the other important issues that the Opposition will wish to raise.
I should like to express some concern on my own behalf and on behalf of my hon. Friend the Member for Wakefield (Mr. Hinchliffe), the Opposition Front -Bench spokesman on these issues, in the context of health and social services. While welcoming some elements of the provisions that the Minister has introduced, we are concerned about the lateness of their introduction. It would have been beneficial if the discussions to which the Minister referred had taken place well in advance. That would have enabled the nature of the provisions to be worked out better.
The Minister is anxious to gain flexibility for central Government. That sounds to me like an attempt to secure the ability to stay within cost limits. The hon. Gentleman said that there would be detailed discussion of the means of reimbursement. What we want, and what our amendments seek to achieve, is that the Minister should honour his commitment to the provision of proper financing of Government policies and that he should be constrained to do so fairly.
The Minister says that the Government have embarked on an expansion of secure accommodation, but there has been no proper consultation about what is needed or of what would be effective and the Government have taken a long time to get around to this action. The cost of secure accommodation is certainly a problem for local authorities--it may be more than £1,700 a week and even sometimes over £2,000--but availability is also a problem, as illustrated by the scandalous case reported in the press and other media over the weekend. This is a day-to-day problem for those dealing with the most difficult youngsters.
I was a member of the Select Committee on Home Affairs which dealt with the criminal justice legislation of 1991. In February that year the Committee was promised by the then Minister that secure places would be made available for the purpose of ending the scandal of youngsters aged 16 and 17 being held in adult accommodation. That promise has not yet been fulfilled, lack of cash being the main problem. My own local authority experienced a lack of capital from the Welsh Office for this purpose.
The Select Committee, in its report of last July on juvenile offenders, said :
"While capital costs and part of the cost of commissioning of the building are met by central Government, revenue funding is met by local authorities, with authorities which do not have secure accommodation having to buy places from those who do . . . this puts a particularly heavy burden on local authorities in the start-up phase of a new unit, while the high cost of accommodation makes authorities very wary of planning secure accommodation unless they can ensure it will be filled."
At the conclusion of its comments the Committee said :
"We do not believe that it is appropriate for local authorities to bear the security costs of accommodating youngsters committed by the courts. We recommend that the costs of holding juveniles committed by the courts to local authority accommodation should be met from central funds."
The Committee did not say that those costs should be partly met from central funds. While I welcome the action that the Minister has taken, I have to say that it is only a partial step. The new clause is a step in the right direction, but we need a commitment that the Minister will seriously consider the possibility of meeting all costs.
Column 654Government new clause 79 appears to be designed to extend privatisation of parts of homes and contractorisation of whole and of parts of places in which young people are held. We argued in Committee that clause 19 is wrong in principle and that it is not appropriate for the private sector to run secure accommodation for this most difficult group of children, who require the highest degree of expertise.
In view of the very important debates ahead of us, we do not wish to prolong this one. I therefore ask the Minister to provide in detail the information that is available. Perhaps we might be given something like notes on clauses of the kind that would have been supplied had these provisions been included at an earlier stage. Hon. Members need to be fully informed about what the Government are seeking to do. Members of another place should also be informed of the full import of the Government's intentions so that they may debate the matter properly.
It would be nice if the Government would indicate acceptance of our amendments, as they would help to meet the high principles expressed in the first sentence of the Minister's introductory speech. I do not suppose that that will happen, but I hope that the Government will proceed further down this path.
New clause 74 is important because it deals with the provision of secure accommodation. The hon. Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth (Mr. Michael) referred to the discussions which have taken place over the past two years or so on the need to provide additional secure accommodation, and I confirm what he said. About two years ago, I led a deputation from the Police Federation to see the then Minister of State for Health on this very matter. The then Minister, now the Secretary of State for Health, was sympathetic to what we had to say but it was clear to me that she was considering the need to provide secure places mainly as an alternative to sending juveniles to prison. As the hon. Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth pointed out, we have not made the progress that we should have liked to make in providing the places that are so desperately needed.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Minister of State, Home Office, for what he said today about the Government's commitment to funding part of the substantial cost of providing secure accommodation. It is not right to leave it all to local authorities, and it is absolutely right that the Government should bear a share of what must be a fairly substantial expenditure item.
Additional secure accommodation is desperately needed. The thrust of the Bill is to ensure that it is provided to deal with juveniles, but I believe that the only way we shall get it is if local authorities across the country know that they can provide it in partnership with the Government. These are hard times for local authorities, for all the reasons with which we are familiar. I should like local authorities and the Government to work in partnership to fund and provide the accommodation as quickly as possible. The proof of the pudding will be in the eating and, knowing my hon. Friend the Minister as I do, I am sure that he will use his considerable energy to ensure that the programme is driven through. I therefore support the new clause.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health (Mr. John Bowis) : I shall certainly take on board the points made by the hon.Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth (Mr. Michael) and my hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Shersby). Financing is something that the Government will be discussing with local authorities to ascertain how the best progress can be made.
The hon. Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth asked a number of specific questions about new clause 79. As the House and he will be aware, the Bill already incorporates powers of de-monopolisation of the provision of secure residential children's homes. Those powers were introduced after full consultation with local government and the voluntary and private sectors. The new clause is simply a logical extension of that provision and will enable local authorities, if they so wish, to consider contracting out the management of secure accommodation in local authority community homes and with the consent of the board of managers of local authority controlled community homes. They would, if they so wish--I stress the discretionary nature of the new clause--be able to bring to bear the philosophy and experience of the voluntary sector, or the particular skills of the private sector, on the management of these homes ; the range of options would thus be extended in the search by local authorities for the most efficient and effective ways of providing the services. As my hon. Friend the Minister of State, Home Office, said, we are currently discussing with local authorities the need to provide an additional 170 places nation wide to enable the Government to meet their commitment under the Criminal Justice Act 1991 to abolish penal remand for 15 and 16-year-old boys and to meet additional accommodation requirements arising from the provisions of this Bill. The discussions are going well, and we welcome the local authorities' co-operation and willingness to help to meet the Government's target. I stress that there is nothing in the new clause to frustrate the efforts of local authorities to provide additional accommodation. The choice of whether existing and new accommodation should be managed directly by local authorities or other contractors will of course be a matter entirely for the local authorities.
Ms Ann Coffey (Stockport) : I am interested to hear what the Minister said about negotiations with local authorities going well, but may I press him on what he means ? In Stockport, my local authority last year had to pay a considerable amount of money for secure accommodation for which no provision was made in the standard spending assessment. I should not have thought that local authorities would believe that things were going well unless they had received a substantive commitment from the Government about the funding of secure training orders.
Mr. Bowis : What I said is what I meant. We have a commitment to create an additional 170 places nation wide ; we are in discussion with local authorities in various parts of the country and our discussions are going well. I am not able to announce today the conclusion of those discussions, but I expect the hon. Lady to be pleased with us when we are able to do so.
Column 6564.45 pm
Mr. Michael : The Minister has responded positively to some of the points that I made, but will he give an undertaking to put in writing the information that I requested ? In view of the three-year delay since the promise was made to provide secure places, will he give an undertaking to set a time scale for concluding discussions with local authorities ?
Mr. Bowis : We are not in the business of holding guns to heads but I can genuinely tell the hon. Gentleman that he should just wait and see. Good progress is being made with local authorities and I think that he will be pleased when we are able to make our announcement. In response to his request for notes on clauses or briefing, I am happy to give a commitment that they will be made available.
I can also give two further assurances. First, there is nothing in our proposals to weaken the existing safeguards covering the inspection and approval of secure accommodation. Secondly, local authorities will continue to be responsible for decisions about the placement of children in their care and they will have to have proper regard for the rights and welfare of those young people.
I also make it clear that it is the Government's policy intention at some future date to enable local authorities--again, if they so wish--to contract out the management of non-secure accommodation in local authority community homes.
The new clause is a useful option for local authorities and brings with it all the safeguards that the hon. Gentleman and I seek. Homes will continue to be subject to the the regulations relating to children's homes, with all that that implies for adequate staffing levels, the provision of suitable accommodation for each child, adequate facilities, food and clothing and record keeping. The secure accommodation regulations on procedural safeguards will also apply. Social services inspections will apply, as will the Secretary of State's power to order the closure of a home that had unsuitable premises or where the conduct was in breach of the children's homes regulations. The safeguards will continue as of now. It is a discretion--and only a discretion--that we offer as a half-way house to de- monopolisation under clause 19. I am confident that the House will support it.
Question put and agreed to.
Clause read a Second Time, and added to the Bill.
.--(1) The Secretary of State may by order direct that any provision of sections 29 to 33 of this Act shall apply, subject to such modifications as he may specify, to any proceedings to which this section applies.
(2) This section applies
(a) to proceedings whereby a charge is dealt with summarily under Part II of the Army Act 1955 ;
(b) to proceedings whereby a charge is dealt with summarily under Part II of the Air Force Act 1955 ;
(c) to proceedings whereby a charge is summarily tried under Part II of the Naval Discipline Act 1957 ;
(d) to proceedings before a court martial constituted under the Army Act 1955 ;
(e) to proceedings before a court martial constituted under the Air Force Act 1955 ;
(f) to proceedings before a court martial constituted under the Naval Discipline Act 1957 ;
(g) to proceedings before a disciplinary court constituted under section 50 of the Naval Discipline Act 1957 ;