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Mr. Garnier: I would be grateful for a little explanation. Is the hon. Gentleman advocating, in principle, support for the provision of secure training units, but regretting their lateness in coming? I am confused by the difference between his opinion and that of the Labour Front Bench.
Mr. Bermingham: If the hon. Gentleman had waited a little longer, he would have found the answer to the question. It is very simple: there is a need for containment of the persistent offender, who can be as young as eight, nine or 10. Let us not walk away from it. Anyone who has practised-- my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth, who has much experience in these matters, will agree with me--recognises the existence of the problem. The question is how to deal with it. This measure, for reasons that I will come to in a moment, is not the answer. It is a partial answer, but, unfortunately, it will not be effective in the weeks and months that lie ahead. The persistent young offender may, for various
Column 311reasons, have problems that cannot be ironed out in six months, nine months, 12 months, 15 months or two years. It may even take longer.
Mr. Stephen: Is the hon. Gentleman therefore saying that he would have supported the amendment that I tabled on Report and Third Reading, which would have made secure schools available to children from the age of 10 to 18?
Mr. Bermingham: I go back to the point that I have made constantly in the House over 10 years. Provision needs to be made for the persistent offender to be contained. Then, as they progress in the training, retraining and education, they earn their way out of it. So the containment becomes less stringent as one goes forward, until ultimately one is rehabilitated into society. That is what happens in Massachussetts--or did 10 years ago. The outcome was not 74 per cent. reoffending, which this country had at that time, but 28 per cent. That is an enormous amount of crime solved. I am saying that, if we had that system, the hon. Member for Sedgefield [Laughter.] Not Sedgefield-- [Hon. Members:-- "Forgotten him already!"] No, it is the face of the hon. Member for Ryedale (Mr. Greenway) which beams across the Committee Room at me week after week. His was the constituency I sought to remember. His example at York would have been dealt with by the system that I have been advocating for 10 years.
Let us take what the Government have now proposed. I have said that it was a hurried measure, hurriedly thought out and hurriedly implemented. It produces a two-year package some time in the future. It will not become effective with the Royal Assent, because the Home Secretary has not had the units built. The money for that is not available yet. I am hoping that he will say that he will have the first unit available on 1 January next year. I suspect that he cannot.
There is a little nasty in the Bill--put out to private tender. Why does the Home Secretary object to the amendment? It has positive benefits.
Mr. Bermingham: It is not. If the hon. and learned Member for Burton would occasionally try to understand that some people do things for a non- political purpose, because they care about the safety of citizens in this country, I would be grateful.
The amendment enables the court, whether it be a judge or magistrate, to select the option. They could be in a position--they have had all the reports--to select accordingly. If the amendment is passed, the Home Secretary will know, from the date of Royal Assent, that courts can bring secure training into effect simply by using the local authority avenue. It is a possibility.
So, once again, the Government have not thought through the matter of dealing with persistent offenders, which society demands. They have brought a measure to the House which they cannot implement immediately, and we are left with no solution to the problem for some time
Column 312to come. The Home Secretary will tell me that the bulldozers are moving, the bricklayers are working, the money is pouring in, and the training units--
Mr. Howard indicated dissent .
I am sorry to say that the measure is a sham, designed for publicity. It is not a practical, working measure that could be brought into effect tomorrow. The Lords amendments give us some hope that something can be done. I urge the House to support the Lords tonight.
Mr. Peter Bottomley (Eltham): I apologise for not being able to listen to all the speeches at the beginning of the debate. This is not the time to go into a full review of juvenile justice or why people offend. We should accept that the reason for the clauses and amendments that we are discussing is the fact that a small minority of people behave abominably: they may be troubled children, but the trouble that they cause to society is enormous. I do not want to open up the issue of whether children should be sent to the equivalent of gaol, which is also a debate for another time; I will say that, if the secure training centres are established, there will be nothing like the concentration of numbers that has occurred in institutions set up in the past. I welcome that. I have some doubts about whether a total of up to 50 people will be manageable, but I do not wish to delay the debate by going into details.
I speak as a former chairman of the Church of England Childrens Society, which used to look after some most troubled children, and I have observed how difficult and important it is to achieve progress in individual children. We are not concerned now with what to do with children for six months or two years; we are concerned with helping to reconstruct their lives--with redemption and resurrection, and the re-creation of a life of worthwhile activity.
Only five centres will be available to the courts. I may receive advice from more knowledgeable people, but I hope that it will not be possible for magistrates to send young offenders to those centres for periods of at least six months; I hope that such offences will be deemed serious enough to warrant a Crown court hearing.
Are we right in regarding at least Lords amendment No. 15 as a wrecking amendment? I do not think that it is. I am convinced by those who argue that it extends the powers of the courts, and I do not think that we should limit those powers if Lords amendment No. 15 contains additional opportunities. Unless I hear convincing arguments to the contrary, I intend to support Lords amendment No. 15 or an equivalent to it.
Mr. Gunnell: It is welcome to hear positive comment from a Conservative Member. Part of the problem during the debate has been their persistent confusing of local authority children's homes and local authority secure accommodation. The hon. Member for Ryedale (Mr. Greenway) suggested that a young criminal in York had escaped from local authority secure accommodation; I think that that is most unlikely. That young person was probably in a children's home. As the Home Secretary knows, the regulations governing children's homes,
Column 313introduced by the present Government--I think that the latest regulations were introduced in 1990--insist that children cannot be locked up in such homes.
The hon. and learned Member for Burton (Sir I. Lawrence) painted a farcical picture of local authorities. It was, in fact, a serious criticism of the Home Secretary's expenditure. The Home Office is paying for more than 20 of the occupants of a local authority secure home that I know in Leeds, and was involved in the capital expenditure involved in its creation; it would not be paying some £70,000 a year per child for the accommodation unless it was effective. In Committee, the Minister of State said that he had visited that facility in Leeds and accepted that it was doing a good job. Leeds also runs the "bed bureau" dealing with local authority secure accommodation throughout the country, and knows about the nationally available facilities.
Lords amendment No. 15 puts the point very clearly. Why is the Home Secretary not prepared to allow choice? The hon. Member for Blackpool, South (Mr. Hawkins) said that judges and magistrates did not like the proposal, but that is nonsense: it will allow them to choose the accommodation that they consider suited to the individuals with whom they deal, knowing their offences and background and how far they live from the five available centres.
Why does the Home Secretary say that magistrates and judges should not have the power to decide? In my view, there are only two possible answers, one of which was given at the outset by my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth (Mr. Michael). Either the Home Secretary does not trust magistrates to make the right decision, or he believes that, if they have the powers to make that decision, there will not be enough clients for his centres. As the right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith) suggested, he needs to bolster the numbers.
We must eliminate the notion that local authorities provide accommodation that is not secure, and houses a multiplicity of types of children. As the Home Secretary knows, to enter secure accommodation young people must have committed offences for which they would receive a 14-year custodial sentence: the offences must be very serious. The children in secure accommodation in Leeds have indeed committed grave offences--offences as grave as murder in some cases. They are in secure accommodation because society and the local authority rightly believe that they need to be there, and that the public need to be protected from them.
I do not think it right to categorise local authority secure accommodation as collecting all sorts of young people, and to suggest that those entering it are likely to corrupt or be corrupted by those already there. I support the amendments because I believe that the "colleges of crime" argument is a strong one, and that we are creating another cause of crime when we put together 40 serious juvenile offenders in care that is at the very least untried, because we have not tried privatising accommodation for children of that age who have committed such offences. I believe that we should give magistrates the choice, and I believe that the Home Secretary's real reason for not wanting to give them that choice is less that he does not
Column 314trust them than that he does not think that the new centres will get off the ground unless a clientele is collected fairly promptly. We should be concerned not just with the period of accommodation, but with rehabilitation and the prevention of persistent reoffending. My hon. Friend the Member for Stockport (Ms Coffey) gave the statistics--figures of 80 per cent. and 55 per cent. for two different types of treatment. I feel that we are opting for the type which, so far, has been shown to have the worse record.
If the private sector is to bid not only to provide accommodation and care but to provide aftercare, the position will become extremely difficult. If an offender is given a secure training order, say, in Cornwall and then goes to Oxfordshire--that being the site of the nearest centre--how will the same person in authority be able to provide aftercare back in Cornwall, where I believe the regulations state that the offender would have to be seen just once a month? How will it be possible to provide the level of aftercare needed to integrate the offender back into the community? If he stays distant from his community, the chance of his reoffending will be all the greater.
I feel that the Lords amendment gives us a chance to improve the Bill, and to improve the position for many of the young offenders who will come before the courts. I am very sorry that the Home Secretary seems determined not to let it stand.
Mr. Hawkins: I shall speak very briefly, just to deal with a matter which Opposition Members raised time and again in Committee, and which has now been raised again by the hon. Member for Morley and Leeds, South (Mr. Gunnell). He suggested that different past treatments for offenders showed differences in reoffending rates, but he was not comparing like with like. Opposition Members repeatedly make that mistake. Often the most serious juvenile offenders, whom I used to prosecute over many years at the Bar, received the most serious sentences. They were precisely the hard-core offenders who would reoffend. One is not comparing like with like because those who commit less serious offences are given supervision orders and are less likely to reoffend.
In order to deal with the most serious juvenile offenders, we need sensible, secure provision. The only Labour Member who seemed to understand that is the only one with real experience over many years at the Bar, the hon. Member for St. Helens, South (Mr. Bermingham). He recognises that there is no point in sending the most serious young offenders on safari holidays because it simply sends a signal to those offenders that they are being rewarded for their crimes. What about the law-abiding children whose parents cannot afford to send them to Center Parcs or on safari holidays? We need secure training centres because while those juveniles are in those centres they are not breaking into old ladies' houses and that is what the public want to see.
We knew that we would have to make allowances for the hon. Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth (Mr. Michael). We knew that he would go to any lengths to curry favour in the elections taking place today. Clearly, his approach is that the best way to perform effectively in those elections is to put as much distance as possible
Column 315between the truth and the remarks one makes. That was the principle that he adopted and, for all I know, it may be the most effective technique for election to the shadow Cabinet.
The hon. Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth suggested that the Opposition have always adopted a constructive attitude to these matters. Has he forgotten that in another place the Labour party, led by the noble Lord McIntosh, voted to take out of the Bill the whole of part I which would have deprived the courts of any powers to send young offenders to secure institutions of any sort? The hon. Gentleman responded enthusiastically to an intervention from his hon. Friend the Member for St. Helens, South (Mr. Bermingham), who suggested that there should be scope for a longer period to be spent in a secure training centre. He had no answer to the point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Hertfordshire, North (Mr. Heald), who pointed out that the only amendment from the Labour party in Committee was designed to shorten the time to which people could be sentenced to a secure training centre, not to lengthen it. The hon. Gentleman behaved disgracefully--there is no other word for it--to my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Burton (Sir I. Lawrence), the Chairman of the Select Committee, who gave him chapter and verse on how the Committee recommended an agency in addition to the provision of a secure training centre. Without the slightest foundation, he accused my hon. and learned Friend of twisting and turning when my hon. and learned Friend was simply pointing out the truth.
The reality behind the approach of the Labour party and the hon. Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth was revealed when in his closing remarks he said that one of the things that are wrong with the provision is that it assumes that anyone who has committed three offences is a persistent offender. That is the attitude which the Labour party brings to consideration of these matters and it is as well that everyone should know about it.
We heard an interesting speech from the right hon. Member for Berwick-upon- Tweed (Mr. Beith). I welcome him, somewhat belatedly, to his new responsibilities. I hope that he holds that position on the Opposition Benches for a long time, particularly if he makes a habit of making the sort of speech that he made today. He attributed to me opinions that I have never expressed, he attacked me for arguments that I have never advanced and he constructed his speech on a basis that did not deal with the points that have been made in the debate. We had splendid speeches from my hon. Friend the Member for Ryedale (Mr. Greenway) and my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Burton, who explained precisely why the provisions are necessary and why the amendments from another place should be rejected.
The hon. Member for Stockport (Ms Coffey) advanced statistics on reoffending that have been comprehensively answered in an intervention by my hon. Friend the Member for Shoreham (Mr. Stephen) and by my hon. Friend the Member for Blackpool, South (Mr. Hawkins). The hon. Lady attacked our proposals for secure training centres on the basis that they are not the whole solution. I accept that they are not the whole solution and we have never advanced them as the whole solution. However, they are an important part of the solution and we have to have them. We shall have them as soon as possible.
Column 316Local authority secure accommodation is no alternative, for the reasons that I gave in my opening speech. It is no use pretending that there is local authority secure accommodation available that would enable the courts to pass sentence the day after Royal Assent. It is not available in sufficient quantities. It is not available largely for the reasons that I put to the hon. Member for Durham, North-West (Ms Armstrong). I gave her the specific example of Labour local authorities in the north-east that have not been providing the accommodation and she had no answer to that point. She replied with the pathetic point about non- payment of the planning fee and I shall deal precisely with that issue.
It is true that we have not paid the planning fee in respect of our application for planning permission for a secure training centre. We have not done so because it would be improper for us to do so before we obtain Royal Assent. Had we sought to disburse moneys before Royal Assent, the Labour party would be the first to complain that we were flouting the will of Parliament, behaving improperly and seeking to spend taxpayers' money without proper permission to do so. That is the simple truth. I would that we could make greater progress, but we must abide by the proprieties, as we always do. That is why the planning fee has not been paid.
Ms Armstrong rose --
Mr. Howard: We are not allowed to spend money until we have Royal Assent-- [Interruption.] It is extraordinary that the Labour party, which tells us daily of its aspirations to government, is so completely unaware of what the proprieties demand in relation to these matters.
The hon. Member for St. Helens, South criticised us for not yet having a secure training centre in being. Of course we do not have such a training centre. That is what the legislation is about. We want the legislation in order to be able to provide secure training centres. That is why we are here.
I am sorry that my hon. Friend the Member for Eltham (Mr. Bottomley) was not here at the beginning of the debate. I hope that, had he heard my opening speech, he would have understood why we are not prepared to accept the amendments from another place. We believe that we are dealing with a discrete group of persistent young offenders. We believe that they need a particular remedy that is tailor-made for them. They need a high-calibre regime of training and education, which we intend to provide in our secure training centres. That is why we think that that is the right sentence for the courts to pass on them. That is why we think that the amendments that were passed in another place should be rejected.
For those reasons and for the reasons that I gave in my opening remarks, to which the Labour party has not responded, I invite the House to reject the amendments.
The laughter that greeted so many of the Home Secretary's comments showed the ridicule into which he has brought his high office. I suppose that we should be
Column 317pleased that the Home Secretary returned the loyalty of the Chairman of the Select Committee. However, he is as inaccurate as the Chairman in the account that he gave of these matters.
I remind the House that a vote against the Lords amendments is a vote to refuse discretion to magistrates and a vote against a commonsense approach to the prevention of reoffending. That is what it is about.
Question put , That this House doth disagree with the Lords in the said amendment:--
The House divided: Ayes 298, Noes 272.
Division No. 306] [6.00 pm
Column 317Ainsworth, Peter (East Surrey)
Aitken, Rt Hon Jonathan
Alison, Rt Hon Michael (Selby)
Allason, Rupert (Torbay)
Arnold, Jacques (Gravesham)
Arnold, Sir Thomas (Hazel Grv)
Atkinson, David (Bour'mouth E)
Atkinson, Peter (Hexham)
Baker, Nicholas (Dorset North)
Baker, Rt Hon K. (Mole Valley)
Banks, Matthew (Southport)
Banks, Robert (Harrogate)
Beresford, Sir Paul
Biffen, Rt Hon John
Body, Sir Richard
Bonsor, Sir Nicholas
Bottomley, Rt Hon Virginia
Bowden, Sir Andrew
Boyson, Rt Hon Sir Rhodes
Bright, Sir Graham
Brooke, Rt Hon Peter
Brown, M. (Brigg & Cl'thorpes)
Browning, Mrs. Angela
Bruce, Ian (S Dorset)