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Mr. Michael: The 170 places to which the hon. Gentleman referred--I am glad that the process of education is working--had still not been provided seven years after they were promised; indeed, they have still not been completed. Will he say what the Conservative Government did to revise the estimate that was given in February 1991?

Mr. Clappison: I remind the Minister who is in government now and who bears the responsibility. He criticises us over the fact that not all the 170 places have been provided, but, as he will be able to confirm when he asks those who provide him with information, 160 of those places have been provided, and the balance of 10 will be provided this summer.

The Minister mentions seven years, but if he wants to talk about the rate at which local authority secure accommodation is being provided, how does he judge the record of his Government? They have been in power for one year, but, so far, all that they have planned is the provision of an extra six places. He has said that the 160 or 170 places over seven or eight years is insufficient--he seems to be receiving further conformation of the figures--but that rate of progress was better than the current Government's achievement of six places in one year, with no plans for further provision. As shadow Home Secretary, the Prime Minister put his personal authority behind the issue, and said that further provision had to be achieved "without delay".

Mr. Michael: Will the hon. Gentleman kindly report the figures accurately? The six places are additional to those planned by the previous Administration in their arrangements and in their spending plans.

Mr. Clappison: The previous Government's plans were for the 170 places, which the Minister has denounced as insufficient. This Government are providing an additional six places, and I can tell the Minister exactly where they will be: four in Oxfordshire, and two in Merseyside. So much for the local provision for which the Prime Minister called--unless one lives in Oxfordshire or Merseyside, those places are not much use. The Government are providing only six places. We do not think that that is good enough, and we register our discontent.

Our alarm is further increased by the fact that the Bill provides for the continuation of the remand of 15 and 16-year-olds in adult prisons, subject to a screening process that we do not think adequate. I shall listen with interest to the Minister's response to the sensible amendments tabled by my right hon. Friend the Member for Fareham (Sir P. Lloyd), which would provide for an assessment of whether 15 and 16-year-olds are likely to be bullied--the Bill does not seem to provide for such an assessment--and which would allow them to be transferred, when they had been sent to prison, to local authority secure accommodation when a place became available.

The Minister will need to say a little about those matters, and he must try to get himself out of the hole that he has dug himself into through his interventions. I do not blame him personally, because I know his real views on the subject, but, as in so many aspects of the

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Government's programmes, even when Ministers have had good intentions they have been torpedoed by other forces within the Government and they are not getting the necessary resources to carry out those intentions. This is a case in point. What is so very worrying is that it is something which the Government set so much store by in opposition. If we cannot trust them on something like this, which the Prime Minister put his personal authority behind, what can we trust them on?

A salutary lesson is there to be learned. The Bill amounts to a retreat from the position taken by the previous Government, who tried to end the practice through their legislation. This Government owe it to 15 and 16-year-olds and to the criminal justice system in general to end it and to make good the commitments that they set out in opposition.

Mr. Richard Allan (Sheffield, Hallam): I support amendments Nos. 67 to 71, to which I and some of my hon. Friends have added our names. In Committee, a joint liberal alliance formed on the Opposition Benches to seek an enlightened and sensible penal policy. The amendments reflect a common view about how the policy should work.

This is the age-old battle between a sensible policy and the resources required to deliver it. We strongly believe that all sensible people would agree that 15 and 16-year-olds should not be held in adult prisons--by all sensible people I mean the Liberal Democrats, the Conservatives on this occasion, the Labour party in opposition, the Howard League for Penal Reform and the chief inspector of prisons, whose thematic report on young prisoners clearly recommended that prisoners under the age of 18 should be held within a separate estate. Our view is along those lines--that the appropriate separate estate for 15 and 16-year-olds held on remand is a place in local authority secure accommodation.

The Government, and the Minister of State in particular, would probably agree with the general principles that I have outlined, and many Labour Members would also agree that it is unacceptable in 1998 to hold 15 and 16-year-olds in adult prisons. However, we are left with the problem of finding the resources for a suitable local authority estate, which will have sufficient capacity to cope. We are concerned that the likelihood of doing so will recede yet further, because of the general growth in prison numbers and the requirement to find capital funding for new prisons in general as a result of the huge explosion in the prison population, which has far exceeded any predictions made by the previous or present Governments.

If we pass the Bill unamended, we will not give the Government any incentive or legislative kick up the backside to find the resources to put into the local authority secure estate for that vulnerable and important group of people held on remand. The money will continue to be diverted into the gaping chasm that is the demand for new prison places.

All Committee members learned that the hon. Member for Hertsmere (Mr. Clappison) is the world expert on local authority secure accommodation. I will certainly not tangle with him or enter into the debate about whether it is 170 or 171 places, or whether it is six new places, eight new or however many. The hon. Gentleman's research has been extensive, and I am sure that the Minister's

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officials will have looked at it with as much vim and vigour. Whether we are talking about six or eight, here or there, the net effect is that there are simply not enough places. That is apparent to everyone. By passing the amendments, we would give the Government the incentive that they need to ensure that they provide the places.

The general thrust of the Bill is to tackle youth crime and ensure that young offenders in particular are dealt with appropriately. That thrust will be diverted if we do not take this important step towards getting them out of adult prisons and into their own secure estate, where their needs and requirements can be dealt with.

The adult estate clearly does not have the training, time or resources to deal properly with young offenders who, if their criminal activities are not resolved at that age, are likely to commit significant offences. They are part of the Government's target group.

In case the Minister does not see the light and accept the amendments, we have some questions about the proposals for dealing with vulnerable offenders, which are the Government's way of saying that they can cope with the problem. Our view is that all 15 and 16-year-olds are potentially vulnerable, but the Government say that they can isolate a specific group of the vulnerable. We want to know how screening will work. Bullying has been mentioned already, but we should all be concerned at the number of remand prisoners who--sometimes fatally--commit acts of self-harm. Many of those individuals have passed through screening systems, and I should not like the House to have to receive reports of teenage suicides or self-harm among people who have slipped through a process designed to seek them out.

Are the Government serious about the recommendations of the chief inspector of prisons? Is there a long-term policy commitment, when the Iron Chancellor allows it, to spend the money required to build a youth estate? Or will the Government maintain the status quo, even if resources are available? Is it a question of resources, or of a change of policy?

Will the Minister estimate how many years it will take to achieve the removal of 15 and 16-year-olds from prisons? We hope that the Home Office has made some estimate of the number of 15 and 16-year-olds who will be affected by the proposals, and has some idea of how long it will take to deal with the problem. How will the policy of building a larger secure estate in the local authority sector deliver the goods? At what point can we expect to see the numbers come down significantly?

We await the Minister's response. It is important to set down a marker from the Opposition Benches to show that we are extremely unhappy that 15 and 16-year-olds go into the adult prison estate in 1998. All the evidence from everyone who has considered the problem seriously shows what a significant problem that is. We all want to tackle youth crime and to help individual young people to break out of the pattern of offending into which they have unfortunately slipped.

Sir Peter Lloyd (Fareham): I shall confine myself largely to my amendments, Nos. 98, 99 and 100. My hon. Friend the Member for Hertsmere (Mr. Clappison) put a powerful case for an end to remanding juveniles to prisons. The Minister should seize the opportunity, if only to set a date. There are 170 or so new places, which is

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quite enough for him to be able to set a date, particularly given the arguments that I remember him advancing before the election.

A date must be set if the problem is to be resolved. One reason why so many young offenders are remanded in prison custody is that local agencies do not work together sufficiently effectively to find an alternative while a juvenile is actually in court. To set a date would not only concentrate the mind of the Government, but tell the local agencies what they should be doing--in some areas, they are already doing it, and there is no problem--so that the poor performers can be brought up to the level of the best.

By seizing this opportunity, the Minister would do the criminal justice system a power of good. He would do what I know that he knows to be right. It is what he wants to do. He would eliminate a potent source of harm to young offenders remanded in prison, and, although it is seldom said, he would relieve hard-pressed prisons of a difficult and time-consuming responsibility that they could well do without.

I was not totally optimistic before the debate that the Minister would find himself free to do the right thing, as I know he would wish to do. Indeed, I was pretty certain some months ago, after the Minister courteously received me with a delegation from the Juvenile Remand Review Group and he said that he did not think that he would be able to put such a measure in the Bill. I tabled my three amendments in case my pessimism, and his earlier remarks, were justified.

Even with the restraints upon the Minister, I believe that he could find amendment No. 100 useful, although I can see that it would have to be redrafted in another place. I hope that he will accept it with that in mind, and that I have better luck with this suggestion than I had with new clause 8 yesterday evening. I understand why he is apprehensive that there will not be sufficient places in local authority secure accommodation to meet the needs of the courts and local authorities, given the new activities with which the Government are pressing forward. Amendment No. 100 accepts that, and the position from which I believe he starts.

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