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Mr. James Clappison (Hertsmere): The amendments tabled by me and my right hon. and hon. Friends relate to important issues regarding young people and custody. Before speaking to them, I should like briefly to comment on what the Minister rightly said about the Government's amendments. He specifically mentioned Government amendment No. 24. He was generous and fair enough to acknowledge that it was perhaps inspired by Opposition arguments in Committee. We are glad that the Government have seen sense on this issue because it is important.

As the Bill stood, it would have been possible for victims of crime to receive reparation from offenders, but that reparation would not have included financial compensation. We believe with some force that many victims, particularly the less well-off, would like financial compensation more than any other form. It is sensible that victims will be able to receive reparation from offenders, which is a useful concept, and financial compensation.

I hope that we shall have a similarly positive response from the Minister on our amendments when he has heard our full arguments--I always live in hope--because we intend to keep arguing on this important subject. Sending a child or young person to custody is a significant decision. Sadly, sometimes courts have to make such a decision, but it has to be carefully made. The subject must be dealt with on the basis of reason and evidence rather than rhetoric. I hope that that approach will not be obscured by too much rhetoric about nipping trouble in the bud. Sending children or young people into custody in inappropriate circumstances or sending them into an inappropriate form of custody is likely to store up trouble for the future rather than to nip it in the bud.

Amendments Nos. 65 and 66 relate to very young children. The Bill establishes a sentence of detention and training for 12 to 17-year-olds and contains a power for the Secretary of State to extend it to 10 and 11-year-olds. As the Minister has just said, the Government are proposing a change to allow that by an order under the affirmative resolution procedure. I am not satisfied by what the Minister said. We need to examine why the Government are seeking such a power.

We have been told that the Government are actively considering establishing a sentence of detention for 10 and 11-year-olds, and intend to make it possible for such a power to be introduced in the way that the Minister has described. The courts already have the power to send children of that age into custody for grave offences. Sadly, some 10 and 11-year-olds need to be sent into custody for grave offences. There is a long-established power under section 53 of the Children and Young Persons Act 1933 allowing children convicted of grave offences to be sent into custody.

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Why do the Government want to go further and send 10 and 11-year-olds to detention alongside older offenders for less serious offences? The Government say that they will introduce such a sentence only if necessary. Where is the evidence that such a power is needed? According to a written answer that I received recently, the number of convictions of 10 and 11-year-olds carrying a custodial penalty went down between 1986 and 1996. I have seen further research in which children were asked about the offence of taking and driving cars. Only a very small proportion of the total started their criminal career at that age. The 10-year-olds did not register on the statistics and the figure for 11-year-olds was only 3 per cent. Against that background, why are the Government proposing such a power?

In opposition, Labour greatly criticised the provision of secure training orders for 12 to 15-year-olds. The current Prime Minister, when shadow Home Secretary, said:

That is what the Prime Minister said then. We will come to the Government's record on local provision shortly, but, in the meantime, I observe that a Government who are considering sending 10 and 11-year-olds not to local provision, but to the very same institutions that were denounced as a sham have some explaining to do.

Although the centres have been given a new name--detention and training, rather than secure training--and although they probably have been given a lick of paint, and possibly some spin as well, those are the same institutions which, for 12 to 15-year-olds, the Labour party denounced as a sham as recently as the last Parliament. We do not question the availability of the centres for 12 to 15-year-olds, but we wonder about sending 10 and 11-year-olds to them. That measure was not included in the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994.

Our concern about sending children of such a young age to such institutions is increased by the fact that this Government, unlike the previous one, are apparently prepared to contemplate 10 and 11-year-old boys being mixed in those institutions with 15, 16 and 17-year-olds. That should give rise to concern, even among those who spoke about "colleges for crime" in the context of secure training centres in the last Parliament. If there is an element of sham about the matter, it is not on the Opposition side of the House.

We need to know more from the Minister than we heard in his opening remarks. He referred to the criteria that would be used for sending very young children to custody. However, the criteria in the Criminal Justice Act 1991 are the same criteria which must be fulfilled before any offender of any age--including an adult offender--is sent to custody.

The second limb of the criteria to which the Minister referred--that of further offending--did not even carry with it the qualification that it would have to be offending which, for example, caused serious harm--a criterion used in previous criminal justice legislation. It merely suggests further offences of any type that would carry a sentence of imprisonment in the case of an adult. Those are relatively relaxed criteria, and we need to ask more

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serious questions of the Government. We are not satisfied that they have made out a case for sending 10 and 11-year-olds to custody. We would ask for the evidence and the research that justify taking that power.

That brings me to the subject of the remands of 15 and 16-year-old boys to adult prisons. It has been widely accepted that the remand of 15 and 16-year-olds to adult prisons is undesirable, and the Minister--quite fairly--accepted that in his opening remarks. Certainly, the previous Government accepted that view, and the Criminal Justice Act 1991 provided for the ending of that practice in due course. More local authority secure accommodation was to be provided to do that, and a programme of providing more places in secure accommodation was set in train.

A total of 171 places were to be provided. For the benefit of the Minister, I will say that the figure was later revised to 170--so we do not need an argument about that one place. One hundred and seventy places were to be provided to bring the practice to an end. That was firmly set as an objective by the previous Government, and it was enshrined in criminal justice legislation that the practice of sending 15 and 16-year-old boys to adult prisons was to end.

In the last Parliament, the previous Government were criticised by the Opposition, in effect for not getting on with the job quickly enough. When he became shadow Home Secretary, the present Prime Minister chose to campaign strongly on the issue, criticising both the number of places being provided and the length of time it was taking to provide them. Labour's submission to the Home Affairs Select Committee report on juvenile offending, called "Getting a Grip on Youth Crime", made a particular point on that matter. [Interruption.] The Minister says that it was an excellent document. I should like to remind him of some of what it said. It described the practice of sending 15 and 16-year-olds to adult prisons as "scandalous" and something which had to be ended at once. The Minister said that he campaigned in favour of that--I do not doubt his good faith--but the tragic aspect is that the Government are doing precious little to bring to an end what they described in opposition as a scandal.

On Second Reading of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994, the Prime Minister--then the shadow Home Secretary--said that local authorities were "urgently requesting" more places in local authority secure accommodation. He said--he had done his research--that there was a huge demand:

He made it clear that he regarded the provision of more local authority secure accommodation as the way in which to end the remand of 15 and 16-year-olds in adult prisons, and had every confidence about the time scale. He said:

    "Let me tell the Home Secretary the advantages of dealing with the matter in that way. First, the places could be achieved without delay. This country does not want to wait years before the problem is dealt with. It wants it dealt with now. Secondly, it allows the provision to be both local and integrated, as everybody . . . has asked for."--[Official Report, 11 January 1994; Vol. 235, c. 39-40.]

What have the current Government done to address an issue that the Prime Minister said could be dealt with "without delay"?

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