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4.15 pm

Amendment No. 100 simply requires that, when a young offender is remanded in prison, the local authority should continue to look for suitable secure accommodation, and that the prison should automatically transfer the young person to it if and when it is found. If, as the Minister fears, there is not room in the local authority system, the young prisoner will stay put. If there is, he will be transferred without delay, cutting through the very inertia in the youth justice system that I know rightly causes the Minister much concern.

Mr. Hilton Dawson (Lancaster and Wyre): Would not the right hon. Gentleman's amendment attend to the regrettably common situation whereby young people appear at short notice before the courts and have to be remanded because, given the paucity of resources, there is often no time to find appropriate secure accommodation?

Sir Peter Lloyd: The hon. Gentleman is right to say that amendment No. 100 would meet that situation.

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A court on, say, a Saturday morning, has no alternatives in front of it, and therefore remands to prison if a remand in secure accommodation is necessary. I spoke earlier about better co-operation between agencies locally. It is a fault of the system that courts can meet at short notice with a young offender perhaps arrested the previous Friday night but not be aware of opportunities to place the offender if it needs to remand in secure accommodation. Amendment No. 100 gives the court the knowledge that, if it remands to prison, the system will not then subside, but will be obliged to continue to search for a place.

My amendment is at fault--I would like it to be changed--in using the word "deemed", which is unsatisfactory. I believe that a court remanding to prison should specify in its remand order a move to suitable local authority accommodation if it becomes available, and require only that it be informed if it were done. That would be clear on the court order. Indeed, it would be the court's wishes that were being carried out.

I hope that the Minister will reflect carefully on the matter, because it is something which he can do within what he regards as his present constraints. It would be a real help, and would overcome the undoubted inertia in the system that frustrates him and all of us who have been involved in the system, as well as the very people who are part of it. Not merely would they prefer a date to which they can work for remands to prison for juveniles to be ended, but they would appreciate the pressure put upon them by the amendment to continue to seek secure accommodation outside prisons for those whom the courts, regrettably, have had to send there.

There are two other brief amendments in my name. Amendment No. 98, to which my hon. Friend the Member for Hertsmere referred, would insert in proposed subsection (5A) the words

One important problem--probably the major problem--of remanding a young person to custody in prison or a remand centre is bullying, which can be enormously damaging. Subsection (5A) says that a young person cannot be remanded to a prison or a remand centre

    "if the court is of the opinion that, by reason of his physical or emotional immaturity or a propensity of his to harm himself, it would be undesirable".

The Minister may believe that the reference to physical and emotional immaturity covers the prospect or likelihood of being bullied. If it does, I am surprised that the Bill must include the words

    "propensity of his to harm himself".

A young person who was physically well grown and emotionally well balanced could be bullied, but he would have to be emotionally fairly immature and have other emotional problems if he had a propensity to harm himself.

When closely read, subsection (5A) does not seem to cover bullying. If the Minister can assure me that it undoubtedly does, and that bullying is a reason for which the court can determine that the young person must be held in local authority secure accommodation, not in a prison or a remand centre, I will rest easy. However, if there is any doubt, he could use the simple remedy of inserting into the Bill the words in amendment No. 98.

There is a third amendment in my name, No. 99, which I am not particularly keen to press on the Minister, although I should like him to explain the meaning of a

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rather complicated part of the Bill. The amendment would insert in line 7, page 80, after "apply" the words

    "or if paragraph (a)(i) above applies, but paragraph (a)(ii) does not apply."

The Minister has probably already considered the amendment, and I shall not explain it in detail, because that would take a long time and I would probably muddle my meaning in the process. It is designed to make explicit the flexibility in the choices that the courts have.

I am unsure whether that flexibility is already assumed to be there. If it is, I am not sure that the words allow it. If the Minister has deliberately avoided including such flexibility, I will rest easy. I interpret the Bill as stating that if a young offender falls under subsection (5A), he will go to local authority secure accommodation or he will not be held securely at all, because neither a prison nor a remand centre will be open to him.

Will the Minister explain exactly what the Bill means, and whether it is intended to include that flexibility, which my amendment would make clear? However, if he says that he does not want any remanded young person who falls under subsection (5A) to go to either a prison or a remand centre, I will be content, as I am sure will my hon. Friends.

Mr. Edward Leigh (Gainsborough): The remand of 15 to 16-year-olds to adult prisons is a scandal, and a stain on our national character. Both sides of the House should unite in trying to deal with it.

The numbers involved are small. I believe that the latest Home Office figures are that,

were held

    "in adult prisons, making a total of 248."--[Official Report, Standing Committee B, 2 June 1998; c. 670.]

Surely that is not too high a figure for the Government to deal with.

I remind the Government that, in opposition, the Labour party said:

I should have thought that it would be possible for the Government, if they are prepared to provide adequate resources, to move very quickly indeed to remove all 15 and 16-year-olds from adult prisons.

I remind the Minister that he said of the Bill:

some time. He said:

    "some of us drew attention to the scandalous remand of 15 and 16-year-old youngsters into adult prison accommodation. I repeat that that is a long-standing scandal."

Those are not my words, but those of the Minister of State. He continued:

    "Another scandal was the remand of young offenders to inappropriate and insecure local authority accommodation, where they disrupted the lives of vulnerable youngsters."--[Official Report, Standing Committee B, 2 June 1998; c. 665.]

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The Minister has waxed eloquent in his denunciation of the former Conservative Minister of State, Lord Patten, for his apparent inactivity on this matter, but Lord Patten did give the initial undertaking to end the scandalous remand of youngsters to adult prisons.

The Minister must live according to his own words. When in opposition, he made it his personal crusade to end this scandal. He now has the power to end the remand of 15 and 16-year-olds into adult prisons, and he must deliver on that pledge; otherwise, he will be found wanting by the House, and he will have reneged on an absolutely specific pledge that he made in opposition.

As I said, the numbers involved are relatively small, although there is some debate about the figure of 170. Will the Minister say exactly how many places are needed? In Committee, he told me that the figures varied. He said:

Bearing in mind the figures we have about the number of youngsters currently in prison, and the figure of 300 that the Minister gave me in Committee, it is clear that we are talking about relatively low numbers. As we heard, the Conservatives provided 170 places; the Government have provided an additional six.

Given that the Minister made such a virtue of his support for the provision of extra places when in opposition, is he proud of his record of providing just six extra places? If he tells the House that that extra provision is meeting the problem, I shall be satisfied with that, but he cannot possibly maintain that six extra places are adequate when, according to his own figures, at present,

We want some pretty clear details now of what the Government intend to do to fulfil the pledge they made in opposition. We want to know the cost of the extra places, where they are planning to provide them, and the length of time for which they will be provided. As the Minister said when in opposition, it is much better that youngsters are held near their homes.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Woking(Mr. Malins) said, unfortunately some 15 and 16-year-olds have to be locked up. In Committee, he quoted some facts and figures, which are worth repeating:

Therefore, sadly, the public do need to be protected from these youngsters. No one likes locking them up, but the public must be protected. Equally, it is scandalous that, despite the need to protect the public, these young people--who, although they have committed crimes, are vulnerable--are being put in the same institutions as much older men, and they are presumably thereby being led astray.

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