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Column 300trying with great difficulty to deal with changes that society has thrown at them. It is an extremely challenging task to which there are no simple answers.
Clearly, in some cases there are arguments strongly in favour of the smaller local authority home with secure places. A larger institution may offer less prospect of building up stable relationships with staff for children of 12 or 13 who have had no stable home relationships and for whom a purely institutional environment with no stable relationships with other people may offer no way out of the way in which they have traditionally reacted to the lack of stability in their lives.
Mr. Stephen: As the right hon. Gentleman knows, local authorities have had secure accommodation for quite some time. Could he explain why they have not so far succeeded in solving the problem?
Mr. Beith: I do not think that anyone has the solution to the problem; that is the burden of what I am saying. Nor should the Home Secretary pretend that he has the solution. One result of our discussions is that it will be possible and accepted for local authorities to apply greater security in their own secure accommodation places, and the new institutions, when created, should also be secure, but that says very little about the effectiveness of the regimes within them.
Young people will not be in those places for long. Two years later, they will be out in the community with the possibility of committing many more crimes. Indeed, they will be entering the peak ages at which young people commit crimes and they will pose a threat to many more potential victims of crime if they do not come out with a better attitude than that with which they went in. That is why, in particular cases, the court is entitled to examine whether it is likely that a particular young person might be better placed in a small local authority home, which has secure accommodation with the prospect of building up stable relationships, than in a large institution where that child might become the prey of many other hard young offenders, perhaps with greater criminal experience and tendency than him or her.
There is also the problem of distance. The secure training units will be limited in number and may be so far from the homes of some young people that making plans to readmit them into the community at the end of the order or sentence will be difficult. Parental, family or friend contact, which may be crucial in getting them back into society, cannot be achieved.
Clearly, the circumstances may vary. The Lords amendment is asking only for the opportunity for the court to choose in the light of the various circumstances. Indeed, it provides the opportunity for the court to be convinced by the initial experience of private sector secure training units that they offer a better regime for certain youngsters. I remain to be convinced of that, but there seems no good reason why the court should not have the option to place the child in one or other type of institution.
I return to the point that I made to the Home Secretary in an intervention. His resistance to the Lords amendment is driven by the belief that he has to offer the private sector a tempting deal. He has to be able to say to the private sector, "Do not worry. The courts will not be able to send them anywhere else. They will have to send them to you, so your capital will not be at risk. You will have a guaranteed number of places." That is one of the
Column 301difficulties--and there are a number--about relying on the private sector to provide crucial facilities for custody and for taking away liberty because someone represents a threat to society.
We have great reservations about the privatisation process in the prisons. Taking away people's liberty for the good reason that their liberty poses a threat to society is something that the state does in limited circumstances and over which the state ought to exercise firm authority and control on everyone's behalf.
The Lords amendment is a reasonable compromise with the Government's position. The associated amendments, which provide opportunity for subsequent movement from a local authority place to a secure training centre or vice versa, represent a useful element of flexibility for the court, but not for the Home Secretary or social services departments.
If the Home Secretary were not so worried about the need to offer the private sector a financially reliable deal, he would accept the Lords amendments and recognise that his faith in the secure training units could be tested against the possibility of local authority places being more appropriate for some youngsters.
Sir Ivan Lawrence: Was not the response of the Opposition to my right hon. and learned Friend's exposition of the justification for secure training orders amazing? It was utterly wide of the mark, it was wrong in comprehension, and one can only assume that it was delivered in a state of panic, because the words of their leader--"tough on crime, tough on the causes of crime"--is so manifestly contrary to the way in which the Labour party has behaved in the House over the past 15 years.
If the Labour party were tough on crime and tough on the causes of crime, it would have supported the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984, it would have supported the various Criminal Justice Acts, Public Order Acts, and Prevention of Terrorism Acts. The embarrassment of the Labour party is in realising that it has opposed all those measures because it can not carry its supporters in the House, while the public are totally on the side of stronger action being taken to reduce terrorism and crime in all its forms. That embarrassment causes the Opposition to behave in a totally illogical and incomprehensible way when we propose reasonable, sound and sensible suggestions.
Mr. Michael rose --
Mr. Bermingham rose --
Sir Ivan Lawrence: I shall give way to the hon. Gentleman in a moment. He must have an opportunity to respond. I should like to hear whether his response is any different from the responses we have heard when the same accusation has been made before.
Labour opposition to the secure training centre and to the secure training order shows that the words "tough on crime, tough on the causes of crime" were just an act; they are just empty words meant for television.
Mr. Michael: I wonder whether the hon. and learned Gentleman can summon up rather greater accuracy than he has so far. Will he explain why he followed the Home Secretary into voting down a variety of proposals that were made in Committee--such as the idea of a national strategy to deal with drugs and drug-related crime and
Column 302measures to deal with weapons and a variety of other issues? His case is the one that the Conservative central office puts out, but it is not accurate.
Sir Ivan Lawrence: When the Government make proposals, they make practical proposals. When the Opposition make proposals, they make absolutely impractical proposals, which are often complete and utter nonsense, even though they continue saying that they will be tough on crime.
I would not be allowed to take up the time of the House in replying in detail to what the hon. Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth (Mr. Michael) said, but so many of the proposals are completely impracticable nonsense. If they had had any merit, the Government would have supported them. Proposals are not made by the Labour party only; the Government always consult many organisations before reaching conclusions.
We have just heard nonsense about the Home Affairs Committee report. There has been a total misunderstanding. It shows that the Labour party is flailing again. It is as though members of the Labour party think that, by flailing their arms about and trying to attack, they give the impression that they are being tough on crime. I do not know whether the hon. Member for Hornsey and Wood Green (Mrs. Roche), who no doubt will make her contribution, confused herself, but certainly the hon. Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth confused himself.
When we proposed a new national agency to manage the custody and supervision of persistent juvenile offenders and other people who receive custodial sentences, we were suggesting its introduction over a longer period. It was not meant to be an immediate replacement for our suggestion of secure training orders. We made that clear in our report:
"on the assumption that the Government does intend to press ahead with its present plans for secure training orders, there are a number of points which we believe to be crucial."
We then suggested ways in which the secure training orders might be improved; some of the suggestions have been taken up by the Government. We suggested that there should be a qualifying threshold and we suggested certain provisions, some of which the Government have adopted.
We spoke about the size of the centres and concluded that "there should be a wide spread of units each containing no more than 15 inmates, though in large centres of population it may be possible for more than one unit to be sited together."
We spoke about intensive staffing of those secure training centres, recommending that
"a staffing ratio of at least two staff to each inmate should be the norm."
We spoke about education and training in the secure training centres, and we said that we believed that
"the emphasis of any custodial regime for young people must be more educational and therapeutic than punitive."
We spoke about the length of time to be served and we recommended that
"there should normally be a minimum period of six months served in custody" --
a recommendation which was rejected by members of the Opposition--
Column 303"following which, according to his or her response, the individual should be . . . freed to intensive community supervision". We spoke about aftercare in the secure training orders, recommending
"intensive supervision for those sentenced to secure training orders as soon as they are judged fit to return to the community". We recommended
"that the Home Office learn from the lessons of private sector involvement" --
I emphasise that--
"in the prison service before granting any contracts to the private sector to run centres where secure training orders will be served."
All that is on the basis that there is to be a secure training order. It is not on the basis that there should be no secure training order. It is nonsense to suggest the contrary, and it misleads anyone who is listening to the debate.
Mrs. Roche: I am grateful to the hon. and learned Gentleman for giving way, but it is obvious that he is completely muddled himself--not for the first time. If the hon. and learned Gentleman reads the report carefully, he will see that, leaving aside the issue of secure training orders, which the Committee did not consider one way or the other, the Committee entitled that section of the report on the new national agency "A more radical" approach.
I asked my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth (Mr. Michael) why we had not heard from the Government and the Home Secretary when they would implement that more radical approach, which they appeared to have welcomed cautiously when our report was published. It appears that the hon. and learned Gentleman has completely muddled the entire subject.
Sir Ivan Lawrence: If that is what the hon. Lady intended, it is not what she said. Certainly, it was not what the hon. Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth understood the hon. Lady to say. If she is going on to say that we did not even consider the secure training orders, I have just read out page after page of our report in which we suggest certain measures that the Government may take with their secure training orders.
Furthermore, the hon. Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth has the effrontery to take the position that the Government should respond to the youth agency proposal, when his party refuses to commit itself to that. If one wants a classic example of the Labour party's total confusion and flailing about, what better example than that? The hon. Gentleman asks why the Government do not accept the proposal of the Home Affairs Select Committee to create that agency and, when asked whether he would implement it, refuses to answer the question, simply because he cannot say yes, will not say yes and does not want to say yes. If the Opposition believe that the public will be impressed by that performance, they have another think coming to them.
The basis of our proposal for secure training orders is that the public are fed up with the hard core of persistent juvenile offenders who have gone on and on committing offences, and the magistrates and Crown court judges have asked repeatedly for a means of tackling the problem. Local authority provision has never been adequate to deal with hard-core persistent juvenile offenders, of which there are not many.
Column 304When the Home Affairs Select Committee went to America, we asked, "How do you deal with your hard-core persistent juvenile offenders?" They asked us, "How many are you talking about?" We said, "Two or three hundred." They asked, "Which town are you talking about?" We said, "That is in the whole of the country," and they said, "We have 300 or 400 hard-core persistent juvenile offenders in every town and city in the United States of America."
However, we learned from the Massachusetts experiment, which we went there to watch. We drew conclusions, and we recommended that, in the fullness of time, one agency should control the sentencing of all young offenders. However, we cannot implement that in the short term.
Opposition Members ask why we have not implemented all that already. It will take even longer if we follow an agency route, which will take many years to develop. I hope that we shall do that in due course. The Government have not ruled it out.
Mr. John Greenway: Was it not also the case that, under the Massachusetts experiment, any youngster, from the age of 12 or 13, who was sentenced to one of the orders, which would put them under the control of that agency, would be under the control of that agency until the age of 18, and could be recalled to custody by those who ran the agency at any time during that five or six-year period? Would not that be a radical departure from everything that Labour Members have said this afternoon?
Sir Ivan Lawrence: Another radical departure would be the recommendation--with which we do not agree--that one cannot re-programme children's minds, if they are going badly wrong, in as little as six months. One may need years. We may have to bite that bullet in due course. Young offenders who are taken out of circulation because they are persistently evil and go off the rails time and again may need longer than six months, even under secure training orders, for the full weight of re- programming facilities to be brought to bear effectively on them.
However, that is for another time. For the moment, let us do what we can, as efficiently and as effectively as possible, to tackle the public's worry about the persistent hard core of juvenile offenders who have committed so many of the appalling crimes that we have heard about recently, and for which the secure training order is a positive solution.
Dame Elaine Kellett-Bowman (Lancaster): What really upsets my constituents is that so few people commit so many offences, and that, while they are not in custody, they are leading local gangs. One per cent. of those in the age group commit 60 per cent. of offences. In a market town in my constituency, a custodial sentence was imposed on some youngsters which meant that they were out of circulation. While they were out of circulation, they were not committing burglaries. If they have a tough custodial regime, they come out not as the Opposition would suggest, but with pride in themselves, because they have learnt something. They
Column 305have become healthy. They have found that they can do something and achieve something in life. That is the point--
Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Geoffrey Lofthouse): Order. That is a long intervention.
Sir Ivan Lawrence: But it was a good intervention, with which I agree.
Mr. Walter Sweeney (Vale of Glamorgan): Will my hon. and learned Friend note that, in the Vale of Glamorgan, close to the constituency of the hon. Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth (Mr. Michael), there is a council home from which young offenders have been able to wander at will and commit further offences, such as taking without consent? My constituents are crying out for the provision of secure units to which young offenders can be sent. When a couple of offenders from Llantwit Major in my constituency were sent away by the court to an institution in England, there was an immediate dramatic drop in the offender rate in that small town.
Sir Ivan Lawrence: I agree with my hon. Friend. It touches on another point that we learned in Massachusetts. One of the important requirements for giving secure training to young offenders is the need to separate them from their bad influences, from the gangs and perhaps from their bad families. It is all very well having institutions close to where their families and friends with bad influence can visit, but Massachusetts told us that they must be put a long way away, so that they are totally removed.
The Government are not proposing to do that. They have a humane attitude to this--although they may have to adapt that attitude in due course. I am not saying that our suggestions are 100 per cent. perfect. That kind of change may be needed if what is proposed does not work. As we say, we will suck it and see.
Perhaps the Government are right and Massachusetts is wrong. If the Government are right, we can carry on with such close co-ordination between the secure training centres and the family homes from which the young offenders come. That is an important point, which I hope my right hon. and learned Friend will bear in mind.
We have said, "This is the problem, and this is a positive solution, which has general support." When we go round and explain it to our constituents, whether Conservative or not, they say, "Good, excellent, splendid." They simply cannot understand the Opposition being opposed to it.
Mr. Nick Hawkins (Blackpool, South): Does my hon. and learned Friend agree that those who are calling most for such a provision are judges, recorders, assistant recorders and magistrates, as well as the rest of the population? They have been crying out for years for more secure accommodation for the worst of the young offenders.
Sir Ivan Lawrence: Yes, of course. I am sorry that I put that point so badly earlier that my hon. Friend had not accepted it then. The Lords amendments will undermine a provision which is sensible, practicable, and which has the support of the overwhelming majority of people, including the judges. The amendments suggest what the Labour party has always suggested, which is that its own power base,
Column 306the local authorities, where it is often in a substantial majority, can deal with the question of young offenders much more effectively than any other institution. Apart from the fact that that has never been proven in the past, which is one reason we have come to this situation, it is totally impracticable.
Opposition Members do not seem to have grasped the point that what we want to do with young offenders, to re-programme their minds by education and training and one-to-one hands-on help, cannot be done in local authority care. One reason is that local authority institutions are not just for persistent hard-core juvenile offenders: they are for all other kinds of juvenile offenders, who might be much less to blame and have done much less wrong than the hard-core persistent offenders.
To put the two together in the same institution will only make the less bad worse, because the persistent hard-core juvenile offenders are what we say they are--hard-core, hard-bitten; it has gone into their souls. We must somehow get hold of their souls and change them. They will be the strong ones influencing those who have done wrong, but not so much wrong.
Those local authority institutions have children in care who have done no wrong. Why should they be locked in secure accommodation with hard-core persistent offenders who will teach them their bad ways? There is no way under the existing situation, preferred by Opposition Members and Members of the other place who supported the amendments, that we can hive off those who are less guilty of crime and those who are guilty of no crime at all from those who are persistent hard-core juvenile offenders, unless one has a new institution for the last group.
It is not just that that is impractical; it is that the heart of local authorities has never been in dealing with the worst kind of offenders. When one goes round, they say, "We are local authorities. We are social services. We are not here to punish the bad. We are not even here to educate. We cannot. We do not have the resources, the powers or the facilities to do so." Their heart is not in it. Their solution to the hard- core persistent juvenile offender has too often been to give them a holiday, send them to Center Parcs or on safari; let them see what the good life is and perhaps they will be good in order to get the good life rather than bad. But as so many offenders have said when they have come back from such holidays, "They must be joking. Whoever thought that I would change after I had been to Center Parcs or on safari somewhere in Egypt? They must be mad."
Mr. Bermingham: What has that got to do with the amendment?
Sir Ivan Lawrence: That is the kind of attitude that the local authorities have to dealing with persistent juvenile offenders. It is no good, it does not work and it is not what the public want. It is certainly not the sort of remedy that judges, whether magistrates or Crown court judges, want to pass by way of judgment.
Mrs. Teresa Gorman (Billericay): Is my hon. and learned Friend aware that this very day listening to this debate is a group of parents who have come all the way down from Scotland, from the Strathclyde and
Column 307Dumbartonshire area, where 500 young children have been killed in the past five years by dangerous drivers, many of whom are juveniles? They think that six months' detention is a totally inadequate punishment for the bereavement that they have suffered.
Mr. Bermingham: On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. The hon. Lady has clearly not read the Bill. It does not apply to Scotland.
Mr. Deputy Speaker: That is not a point of order for me.
Sir Ivan Lawrence: Yes, but my hon. Friend was making a point which applies as much to England and Wales as to Scotland and Northern Ireland. It is a general point. People are concerned, and it is because of that concern that the Government are doing something concrete which the Opposition do not wish to see done.
Not only is the local authorities' heart not in it, but we can see that local authorities are not anxious to be involved from the interesting point that my right hon. and learned Friend made about the meeting of the Labour- controlled local authorities in February 1993 at which they suggested action by July but nothing happened. No action is being taken because their hearts are not in it. They do not believe that local authorities or social services exist for that purpose. Members of the Home Affairs Select Committee visited some facilities. At one of them, we were told that the cost to the local authority of caring for one person was in excess of £3,000 per week. If that is the best that a local authority can do with taxpayers' money in dealing with hard-core, persistent juvenile offenders, it requires another think, more management and a different organisation.
The Government do not intend to introduce a new form of borstal, approved school or glasshouse--all of which institutions, I agree, have not proved successful. They propose nothing less than the re-programming of children's minds when they have gone off the rails. That requires education, training, care and love, as well as punishment and discipline. That cannot be done by local authorities, but only by a specially dedicated organisation, which the Government are establishing.
Opposition Members say that local authorities could provide a satisfactory alternative, but all the evidence shows that that alternative has never been and can never be satisfactory. Their proposals would only undermine what the Government will achieve by taking a positive step to deal with hard-core, persistent offenders. It may not be 100 per cent. good, but it is 80 per cent. good. We can continue to improve it, and it will work. To do other than to reverse the amendments and to give the plan a chance would be madness.
Ms Ann Coffey (Stockport): The amendments would give a court making a training order the discretion to specify that the period of detention should be served in local authority secure accommodation rather than in a secure training centre. That appears to be a reasonable and flexible amendment. Clause 2(2) seems to allow the court to commit an offender, if a place is not available at a secure training centre, to a local authority- registered children's or voluntary organisation home. It does not
Column 308stipulate that it should be a secure place. I am sure that it would not go down particularly well with some hon. Members if young people sentenced to a secure training order were, because of a lack of sufficient appropriate accommodation, placed in children's homes. That would create the problems complained of this afternoon. Perhaps the Home Secretary will clarify whether that could happen. The Government are trying to deal with the complex problem of juvenile crime with a simplistic solution and are paying little attention to its likely effectiveness. To put juvenile offending in perspective, the number of juvenile offenders in Stockport in 1990 totalled 1,600 and in 1993, 1,400. The major offences were shoplifting, youth car crime, public order transgressions and nuisance--basically, kids on the street. A small group was involved in drug dealing and protection. All those are of great public concern--especially car crime and shoplifting, which cause higher insurance premiums and food prices.
A study by Stockport's Youth Justice team of all juveniles who appeared before Stockport juvenile and Stockport youth courts between 1 January 1990 and 31 March 1994 revealed that from a total of 1,500, four boys legally fitted the terms of the secure training order. At the time of sentencing, the magistrates could have imposed a custodial sentence on three of the boys but did not do so. That leaves only one boy who could have been committed to a secure training centre, which would have made little impact on Stockport's crime statistics and would not have greatly improved its residents' quality of life.
A fraction of the juveniles who come before the courts merit supervision orders. I mention that because breach of a supervision order is one precondition for a secure training order.
Youth offenders have complex problems. School exclusions have rocketed and there are high illiteracy rates, complex problems at home and lack of parental control. Parents who seek help have little preventive support until the problem becomes so acute that there is statutory intervention. It is largely a question of resources being applied to stop juveniles offending. Perhaps statutory
responsibilities on local authorities under the Children Act 1989 need to be properly funded and monitored. One cannot disentangle the provisions of that Act from legislation on juvenile justice. The Home Secretary announced new national standards for supervision orders.
Mr. John Greenway: Good for him.
Ms Coffey: Exactly--well done, but making sure that supervision orders work is labour intensive and time consuming. The Home Secretary has not put the necessary resources behind those new standards, which is a pity because supervision orders can be effective. Some 80 per cent. of those who serve custodial sentences reoffend, but only 55 per cent. of those who undergo non-custodial treatment do so. One does not need to be a genius to know why. If children are kept in a normal environment, they will mature. If they are placed in an institution that contains a criminal sub-group, all that they will learn are further criminal attitudes and values. That is why community treatment is much more effective than custodial sentencing.
Mr. Stephen: Does the hon. Lady agree that one reason why juveniles who serve custodial sentences reoffend is
Column 309that in this country, a young person is not placed in custody unless he or she has exhausted almost every other way of being dealt with? We are dealing with the hard core who are put into custody, and it is hardly surprising that they reoffend.
Ms Coffey: Even in the case of hard-core offenders, all the statistics show that placing them in prescriptive custodial care does not help them in the long run, if one wants to avoid such offenders spending their juvenile lives in custodial care and their adult lives in gaol-- something that no hon. Member wants.
Mr. Edward Garnier (Harborough) rose --
Ms Coffey: I must press on. Crime must be tackled early. Children must be kept in education, because their exclusion from school is not helpful. A preventive duty on local authorities must be given high priority, bail support schemes should be properly funded, and youth provision must be re-examined because that is a cornerstone in crime prevention.
Perhaps children should be placed in children's homes as part of a preventive strategy. I view that as community treatment, in an effort to stop children offending before they become eligible for custodial sentences that include secure training orders. However, local authority children's homes are closing because of budget pressures, and recommendations to improve residential care in the public and private sectors, national standards and training have not been implemented by the Government. Perhaps the Home Secretary will talk to the Minister with responsibility for children's homes about introducing new standards for them, to complement the right hon. and learned Gentleman's national standards for supervision.
Unless standards improve and there is increased availability of appropriate places to meet children's needs, the amendments--welcome as they are--would still compel local authorities to place children hundreds of miles from their homes, with placements dictated by cost rather than needs. The cost of crime to the public is high. Preventive measures also cost money, but crime prevention is complex, and the measures that I have mentioned will reduce crime, to the benefit of the community. That is what it is about. Opposition Members know that there are children who need control, who need to be placed away from home, and who need to be in secure accommodation, but let not Conservative Members pretend that that is a solution to the problem of juvenile crime. It is not and it is not enough.
Mr. Bermingham: I sought to intervene some six times on the Home Secretary to ask him a simple question: what if the miscreant needed more than two years' retraining? He did not let me intervene. I suspect that he guessed that the question was coming. My hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth (Mr. Michael), who is the Opposition spokesman, allowed me to intervene, and he did know the answer. It does cover it. That is the problem with this part of the Bill.
I have been on the Home Affairs Select Committee for the best part of 10 years. I have been a practising barrister and declare an interest. In that time, I have had the opportunity to look time and again at the problem of juvenile crime. In 1986, the Committee went on a trip to America. When we announced where we were going--to
Column 310Massachussetts, to look at how juvenile crime was dealt with there--the Home Office sent the Minister of State, with a couple of officials, to have a look. Nothing happened. We produced a report on drugs and other things. On another occasion, the Home Affairs Select Committee went again. Things had moved on a bit in the years since I was there. I did not go that time, because I did not want to see, at the expense of the state, something that I had already seen--once officially and two or three times privately. But back came the information. Things had changed slightly in Massachussetts, but what had not changed there was the effectiveness of the programme. It reduces reoffending.
In his speech at the Blackpool conference last year, the Home Secretary made 27 points. One has been implemented so far, and one of them was to be tough on crime. I have a suspicion that the Home Secretary will not like what I am about to say. On Second Reading--I did not serve on the Committee that considered the Bill--I made the point that the Home Secretary has still not got it right. He has tinkered with it. He has gone for it on the cheap. He has not gone for it effectively. There are not 200 persistent young juvenile offenders in this country; the figure is probably nearer 500 or 600. Not a single institution has been built to provide the treatment necessary. When will he provide an institution to deal with the first 12 or 15? Please, Home Secretary, tell me, because I have an awful feeling that it ain't going to be for quite some time.
The Home Secretary was, in his day, a very good planning lawyer, but his Department cannot even pay its planning fees, we hear, so it has not even started. One would have thought that the Home Office would think about what society wants. It is all very well for the hon. and learned Member for Burton (Sir I. Lawrence), who is Chairman of the Home Affairs Select Committee, to go on and on in his 20 minute-plus speech. If one says something, at least try to make a point. The point is that there is a persistent problem. There are people from Scotland in the Gallery whose children have died. If we are to protect the children of England, we must contain the persistent offender.