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(1) Within six months of Royal Assent, the Secretary of State shall publish regulations under which the police may administer a caution to offenders under the age of 18 years, the terms of which may include such arrangements as are considered appropriate for their supervision and support.
(2) The terms of arrangements set out in any caution made under subsection (1) above shall require local arrangements to
(a) be drawn up in consultation with and require the consent of the local authority ; and
Column 234(b) require the consent of the child or young person and their parent or guardian.
(3) A caution under this clause shall be administered by a police officer of the rank of inspector or above in the presence of a social worker or other appropriate representative of the local authority. (4) Cautions shall normally be administered under this section only when the child or young person has previously been cautioned under existing arrangements.'.-- [Mr. Michael.]
Brought up, and read the First time.
The initiative contained in the new clause should have been at the heart of the Bill if the Government were really interested in cutting crime. Our proposal would lead to faster intervention when youngsters start to commit crime, instead of what the Government have been doing--waving a big stick and doing far too little, too late. Of course, it is necessary to have punishments available for those who carry on offending and flout the law, but a sensible society intervenes quickly to prevent matters getting out of hand. We need to tackle the causes of bad behaviour as well as the behaviour itself, which is what our proposal would do.
For some time, the Labour party has demanded action to stop inappropriate repeat cautioning. Young people need to know that something will happen when they break the law. But the Home Secretary has simply put a cap on cautioning without putting anything effective in its place. Cautioning usually works--according to Home Office figures, 85 per cent. of those cautioned are not convicted of a further offence within two years, compared with just 19 per cent. of 14-year-olds discharged from custody. We need a fast, firm, fair and effective mode of action to deal with the 13 to 15 per cent. of young offenders who do not respond to a caution.
Most people would agree that when their own children do something wrong, they punish them, correct them or take action
immediately--today rather than tomorrow, or even next week. They do not let things drift on for months, which is what happens far too often under our criminal justice system.
We have put forward a three-point plan for dealing with young offenders. First, we propose to speed up the process so that youngsters are given a formal caution by being brought before a senior police officer in days rather than weeks. Secondly, we propose a new "cautioning plus" system, with positive action to divert youngsters away from criminal activity, and to help parents and teachers get a grip on the roots of lawbreaking. Thirdly, we propose to speed up the juvenile justice system so that, where cautioning fails or serious offences are involved, youngsters are brought to court and dealt with in weeks rather than months.
We have pressed the Government on that on a number of occasions. Unfortunately, the Government did not respond positively to that suggestion in Committee.
The new clause would require the Home Secretary to build on best practice and publish regulations that would encourage and develop the process of "cautioning plus". I have seen such schemes in a number of places around the country, including South Glamorgan in my area, and there is evidence of such schemes in Newcastle and East Sussex. Schemes are starting to work well, based on inter-agency co-operation and direct communication between police officers, social workers, schools and youth workers rather than a bureaucratic paper chase.
Column 235We need the Government to recognise the need for that system to be made available everywhere. The Government should agree to a mechanism that can be triggered immediately where the police have evidence of reoffending by a youngster who has already been cautioned once only. Details of the offence and the youngster's own circumstances should be discussed between the police and a senior social worker, as well as with the child and parents. If it is a suitable case for "cautioning plus", a proposed programme should be designed for that individual, taking into account home circumstances, school attendance and any other relevant factors.
The requirements of the programme that follows should be tailored to the individual and, in some circumstances, might involve close monitoring of school attendance, and involvement in leisure-time and weekend activities. There should be treatment or help for problems involving drugs, alcohol or solvent misuse--far too often, solvent misuse is overlooked. As long ago as when the Standing Committee was dealing with what became the Criminal Justice Act 1991, I was pressing the Government to accept the need for action. Solvent misuse is often associated with offending. Special attention should be paid to overcoming lack of achievement at school. A variety of other approaches could also be adopted.
Instead of allowing the youngster to be drawn into the criminal justice system and allowing delay, as soon as a second offence occurs it should trigger action. That action should involve intervention to make the youngster and the family face up to the fact that offending behaviour has started and take a grip on the causes and roots of that behaviour.
In those circumstances, provided that the youngster admits the offence and he and his parents undertake to follow the proposed programme, the caution would be administered by a senior police officer in the presence of parents and the social worker who would oversee the programme. It might be appropriate for other persons, such as somebody from the youngster's school, to be involved. Such flexibility would not be difficult to arrange.
It would be made clear to the youngster and to his parents that they have the right to refuse the programme and/or to deny the offence, in which case prosecution in the youth court would follow in the usual way and nothing would be lost. The advantage of formalising such an approach in the way that the new clause seeks is that there would be far quicker intervention in dealing with the root causes of offending behaviour, instead of waiting until it is too late. The majority of cautions are given to first-time offenders. Home Office figures indicate that 79 per cent. of cautioned juveniles are first offenders. In some cases--this is where the new clause would help--a second caution can be justifiable when combined with additional action to divert the young person from further crime. I have worked with youngsters in a number of inner-city and council house areas and specifically with young offenders, so I know from experience that it is possible to divert many youngsters from criminal activity. Many would not offend if something was done early enough to deal with the conditions in which they are growing up and the influences that bear on them. Often, it is not enough to say that it is for parents to deal with the situation. We know
Column 236the day-to-day pressures on ourselves and our children. I speak as a father of five children, and I know of the pressure that society places on us.
In an inner-city area or on an estate, drugs, glue sniffing or truancy can be the norm rather than the exception. The parents themselves may be inadequate or subject to a variety of pressures. There may be poverty in the family, as happens all too often. In such circumstances, fast and positive intervention is a blessing to society as well as to families. Initiatives could include referring the young person and his family to family support organisations for help and guidance, the encouragement of an apology and, where practicable and desired by the victim, some form of reparation. Help could also be given with accommodation or basic education problems, pre-employment training and alcohol or drug abuse.
Such assistance can make an enormous difference to offending and in helping to avoid the increase in the number of victims that will occur if a youngster's offending behaviour is allowed to blossom in the way that is all too often allowed at present.
The involvement of young people in constructive youth and leisure activities can offer something more attractive than offending behaviour-- not as a reward for punishment but as a challenge, to draw youngsters into adopting more positive activities.
The use of befriending by adult volunteers can help to exercise a positive influence on the young person. It is not developed earlier enough or often enough in dealing with offenders.
The new clause does nothing to diminish the alternatives and options available to courts in the punishment of young offenders as they go up the scale. It does nothing to undermine secure accommodation or other forms of institutional treatment, when those are necessary. It will enable those facilities to be targeted more quickly and directly at youngsters who fail to respond to the approach that I propose.
Research shows that 87 per cent. of youngsters respond to a caution by not reoffending. If we could cut from the 13 per cent. who offend a second time and more a further proportion of youngsters, as I believe we could, that would leave fewer young people in society to be punished, which would allow more effective targeting.
Last year, the Home Office said that crime among young people was decreasing, and that evidence was initially put to the Select Committee. It later received evidence confirming Labour's assertions that there is a major problem with offending among young people--particularly in respect of burglary and car crime, which constitute 53 per cent. of offences recorded in this country. Reducing the number of youngsters caught up in those activities is an endeavour worth pursuing. The new clause presents a cost- effective way of approaching the problem, and I strongly commend it to the House.
Mr. Maclean : There is no doubt that young people who offend can benefit from support of the sort that local authorities, probation and education services and others can offer. The earlier that such support is forthcoming, the better--and it may well be a valuable adjunct to a caution. For that reason, our guidance to the police on the use of
Column 237cautioning encourages them to liaise with these agencies as to how they might help young people who are given a caution.
We also asked the police to monitor the effectiveness of existing caution- plus schemes of the sort that the hon. Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth (Mr. Michael) mentioned, under which offenders who are cautioned co -operate with local agencies. Those schemes sometimes involve an element of compensation to the victim or reparation to the community.
We shall examine with interest the outcome of that monitoring exercise. It may show that supported cautions are worth while, but I suspect that the voluntary nature of the existing schemes is an important factor in their apparent success. The caution is not conditional on the offender agreeing to participate. Arrangements that are pressed on young offenders as a condition of their receiving a caution, like those for which the new clause provides, may not attract the same level of commitment. They may be less effective as a result.
One objective of our new guidance is to bring multiple cautioning under control. There will be circumstances in which a second caution may be appropriate. They are defined in the guidance as where the second offence is trivial, or where the lapse of time since the first caution was given suggests that the first one had some effect. As a rule, offenders should not expect to be given more than one chance to avoid prosecution. The new clause would undermine that principle by providing that the supported caution should be given only after an offender has previously received a simple caution.
I am opposed to the development of tiered cautioning, whereby offenders receive a series of extra-judicial penalties before being taken to court. For that and the other reasons that I outlined, I am not minded to accept the new clause.
Mr. Robert Maclennan (Caithness and Sutherland) : The Minister gave an extremely disappointing reply to a constructive proposal that merited more detailed response. He simply produced a mechanistic response quite unsuitable for dealing with the problem of young people who do not respond to a first caution. The Minister's idea that the presumption should always be that if one caution has failed, a second will fail and that a different response must come from the criminal justice system is deeply flawed. It corresponds with no evidence from any part of the criminal justice system that such a presumption would lead to a diminution in offending or enable the police to respond as they see fit to particular threats to the public in certain parts of the country.
That is yet another example of the Government seeking to impose from the centre operational guidelines on the police and criminal justice system that are wholly inappropriate. I do not imagine for a moment that the Government considered the consequences for those services, which are bound to try to pick up the pieces, or what pressures would be placed on the custodial system, social work departments, prison officers and others afflicted by the ill-judged, knee-jerk reaction of the Home Office and Home Secretary. But it is too late in the passage of the Bill to expect serious thought to be given to any serious propositions. It is a matter of great regret that this proposal, which has been worked out with some care, should have had such a cursory and scant response.
Mr. Michael : With the leave of the House I wish to speak again. I am grateful to the hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Mr. Maclennan) for his comments. I wish that the Government were equally constructive. The Minister does not need to wait for evidence. If he looks at the evidence that is available to, and produced by, his own Department, he will have information coming out of his ears which shows the value of such approaches. He does not need to be afraid of putting some pressure on young people and their parents, especially if that pressure is positive and effective. I am rather surprised that he is so lax that he feels that these matters should be tackled only if people feel like tackling them. The new clause would place some pressure on youngsters to get out of offending and avoid getting deeper into the criminal justice system.
For God's sake, let this House act to nip things in the bud and stop young people doing damage to themselves, their victims and communities. In view of the totally unsatisfactory response of the Minister, I wish to press the new clause to a Division.
Question put, That the clause be read a Second time :
The House divided : Ayes 247, Noes 283.
Division No. 199] [5.20 pm
Abbott, Ms Diane
Adams, Mrs Irene
Ainsworth, Robert (Cov'try NE)
Anderson, Donald (Swansea E)
Anderson, Ms Janet (Ros'dale)
Beckett, Rt Hon Margaret
Beith, Rt Hon A. J.
Benn, Rt Hon Tony
Bray, Dr Jeremy
Brown, Gordon (Dunfermline E)
Brown, N. (N'c'tle upon Tyne E)
Bruce, Malcolm (Gordon)
Campbell, Mrs Anne (C'bridge)
Campbell, Menzies (Fife NE)
Campbell, Ronnie (Blyth V)
Campbell-Savours, D. N.
Clark, Dr David (South Shields)
Clarke, Eric (Midlothian)
Clarke, Tom (Monklands W)
Clwyd, Mrs Ann
Cook, Frank (Stockton N)
Cook, Robin (Livingston)
Corston, Ms Jean
Cunningham, Jim (Covy SE)
Cunningham, Rt Hon Dr John
Davies, Bryan (Oldham C'tral)
Davies, Rt Hon Denzil (Llanelli)
Davies, Ron (Caerphilly)
Donohoe, Brian H.
Eagle, Ms Angela
Evans, John (St Helens N)
Ewing, Mrs Margaret
Field, Frank (Birkenhead)
Foster, Rt Hon Derek
Godman, Dr Norman A.
Golding, Mrs Llin
Grant, Bernie (Tottenham)
Griffiths, Win (Bridgend)