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Delegated Legislation Committee Debates

Draft Youth Justice Board for England and Wales Order 2000

First Standing Committee on Delegated Legislation

Monday 17 April 2000

[Mr. Jimmy Hood in the Chair]

Draft Youth Justice Board for England and Wales Order 2000

4.30 pm

The Minister of State, Home Office (Mr. Charles Clarke): I beg to move,

    That the Committee has considered the draft Youth Justice Board for England and Wales Order 2000.

The Chairman: Order. Hon. Members may, if they wish, take off their jackets.

Mr. Clarke: Thank you, Mr. Hood, for your order on jackets, which I appreciate. Those of us who are slightly larger than others sometimes find at this time of year that removing our jackets makes life more comfortable.

The Government are engaged in a major programme of reform of the youth justice system, and the draft order implements important new elements of that reform programme. In particular, it seeks to overhaul arrangements for the provision of juvenile secure accommodation by establishing the Youth Justice Board as the body responsible for commissioning and purchasing, and for overseeing placement. The board was established in September 1998 under the Crime and Disorder Act 1998 to drive up standards and promote good practice within the youth justice system. The draft order now extends the board's role in the key area of youth custody to bring greater coherence to what has been a fragmented and unco-ordinated part of the youth justice system.

I should like briefly to describe the context of those changes, to set out the improvements that we believe that they will bring and to refer to the provisions of the draft order.

First, the Government have made reform of the youth justice system a key priority. New multi-agency youth offending teams are now in place across England and Wales. New powers under the Crime and Disorder Act 1998 for the police and courts to intervene earlier and more effectively in a young person's offending career will be rolled out nationally on 1 June, and the Youth Justice Board is administering a development fund of more than £80 million over three years to strengthen the programmes available locally to reduce youth offending.

It is essential that the courts have the powers necessary to protect the public in dealing with the most serious and persistent young offenders. They include the option of remanding and sentencing young people to custody, which in turn requires a consistent and coherent range of secure accommodation for juveniles with regimes that tackle offending behaviour and meet the educational and other needs of those young people. That is why the 1998 Act also gave the courts new powers to remand and sentence young people to custody. New secure remand powers have been in operation since 1 June 1999. Detention and training orders are the new main custodial sentence for juveniles, and they came into force on 1 April. The DTO is a more constructive and flexible sentence with a clearer focus on preventing further offending, which should be the ambition of the system. Generally, half of a detention and training order will be served in custody and half under supervision in the community. The custodial part can be served in whatever form of available secure accommodation is appropriate to the age, maturity and needs of the individual young offender.

To complement those changes in the powers available to the courts, the Government undertook a review of all forms of juvenile secure accommodation—Prison Service, local authority and private sector—and published the outcome in July 1998. That review found little positive to say about the present arrangements. It found that regime standards were inconsistent and often poor, that costs varied considerably and that there was no effective oversight of long-term planning for juvenile secure accommodation as a whole. In practice, there was no definable juvenile secure estate. The review concluded that fundamental change was needed and felt that there was a strong case for a central co-ordinating body to commission, purchase and have oversight of all forms of secure accommodation for remanded and sentenced children and young people. After consultation, the Government decided that the Youth Justice Board should take on that function from April 2000.

That is the context of the order, which has four key objectives. The first is to enable a strategic overview to be taken of the juvenile secure estate in the context of the youth justice system as a whole and to ensure that there is a clear focus on preventing further offending by children and young people who are sentenced to custody.

The second objective is to ensure that juvenile custodial facilities deliver accommodation and regimes of a high standard, and better value for money. The third objective is to ensure that those who are remanded or sentenced to custody are placed in appropriate accommodation. Fourthly, the board's commissioning and purchasing function is expected to ensure the appropriate type, volume and geographical spread of juvenile secure places. Those are the specific purposes and improvements to which we hope the draft order will give rise.

The specific provisions of the draft order are in two main parts. Article 3 will confer several new functions on the Youth Justice Board. They will enable the board to enter into agreements for the provision of secure places. Initially, the board will deal with the Prison Service, local authority secure units and secure training centres. Secondly, the new functions will enable the board to help local authorities to make secure remand placements by facilitating arrangements with authorities that operate secure units. Thirdly, they will enable the board to draw up an annual rolling three-year commissioning plan for secure accommodation, to be approved by the Secretary of State. That will achieve the strategic overview that we believe is essential.

Article 4 will enable the Youth Justice Board to exercise a number of the Secretary of State's functions that relate to its commissioning and purchasing role. Enabling the board to exercise those functions concurrently with the Secretary of State will allow it to oversee the provision and operation of secure accommodation, but the Secretary of State will retain ultimate responsibility for contracts, standards and welfare. We believe that that will be an effective and efficient system.

The Youth Justice Board will take over from the Home Office responsibility for the day-to-day management, monitoring and enforcement of contracts for secure training centres and related escort contracts. The board will also take the lead in future procurement of new centres under the public-private partnership. The Secretary of State will retain responsibility for matters relating to safeguarding the treatment of trainees.

Through its placement clearing house, the board will authorise the placement of those sentenced to a DTO, and deal with the placement of those subject to prison remands. In respect of juveniles, it will also deal, transitionally, with secure training orders and detentions in young offender institutions imposed before 1 April. On the Secretary of State's behalf, the Prison Service will continue to place those detained for grave crimes under section 53 of the Children and Young Persons Act 1933. The Prison Service will use the board's clearing house to assist in making appropriate placements.

Finally, on 27 January, the Government announced in a written answer that the Youth Justice Board will take over from the Home Office responsibility for overseeing the provision and operation of junior attendance centres under section 16 of the Criminal Justice Act 1982. Young offenders are required to attend and undertake constructive activities in those centres, which usually operate in local schools on Saturday afternoons. We believe that the board will be better placed to ensure that the work of junior attendance centres is properly integrated with wider youth justice reforms, particularly the new local youth offending teams.

The changes in the draft order reflect the Government's intention that, as with a community sentence, time spent in custody should prevent future offending in the long term. That is our principal aim, which is central to the objectives of the youth justice system. In respect of secure accommodation in that system, we believe that the new role for the Youth Justice Board will help to ensure that that aim is achieved. For those reasons, I commend the draft order to the Committee.

4.38 pm

Mr. David Lidington (Aylesbury): As the Minister said, this is an important order, and I am sure that he shares my disappointment that neither of the two Liberal Democrats who were nominated as Committee members has been able to attend this afternoon's proceedings.

Mr. Clarke: They've been caught bang to rights.

The Chairman: Order.

Mr. Lidington: I have a number of questions for the Minister, but I should preface them by pointing out that the Opposition are watching the Youth Justice Board's establishment with interest and hope. The chief constable of Thames Valley police, which covers my constituency, is a prominent member of the board, and he believes that it has an important part to play in making our youth justice system more effective. My party will be pleased if it turns out to be the success for which the Government hope. We have expressed scepticism about the detail of detention and training orders and have suggested alternatives that, we felt, would have been more effective, but the practical proposals before us will give effect to the provisions of the Crime and Disorder Act 1998. The order will amend that primary legislation, under the enabling provisions contained therein.

Will the Minister say more about the nature of the contracting arrangements into which it is proposed that the Youth Justice Board will enter? The assumption underlying the order, as I read it, is that although the Youth Justice Board will have responsibility for managing the Government's budget for the provision of secure training places, the operators of those secure institutions should be organisations from outside the state sector. I may have misinterpreted what the Minister said, but it seems to be implicit—both in what he said and in the text of the order—that the Government envisage that the Youth Justice Board will negotiate contracts with organisations such as Group 4 or Securicor, or perhaps with other such private or voluntary sector organisations, to provide the secure accommodation. If that is the case, I welcome it and am pleased that the Government have been persuaded of the virtue of enlarging and enhancing the work of the private sector in our prison and correction services. Will the Youth Justice Board have responsibility for decisions on planning applications for new accommodation, or will it be left to contractors to sort that out? Will the Youth Justice Board negotiate with local authorities? Will the board have a power of compulsory purchase, enabling it to insist that a particular site be made available?

The Minister's opening remarks did not make it clear how the Government see the future of the existing estate. Will the Youth Justice Board, over time, assume responsibility for accommodation that is, at present, the responsibility of local authorities or other agencies, so that one national body will be responsible for the administration not only of new accommodation, but of all accommodation?

What will happen to trainees when they reach the age of 18? Does the order relate to the proposals that the Government put forward for consultation in last year's White Paper on detention in young offender institutions for 18 to 20-year-olds? Article 3(b), on page 2 of the order states:

    no agreement shall be made under this paragraph in relation to accommodation for persons who have attained the age of 18 unless—

this is the important point—

    it appears to the Board that it is expedient to enter into such an agreement for the operation of the youth justice system.

It is unclear from that wording whether this is a sensible provision for exceptional cases that will enable people legally to remain at a secure training centre if, for example, they reach their 18th birthday a month before they are due to finish their term of detention there. Alternatively, does it signal a Government policy to allow a greater number of young people convicted of offences to remain in the youth justice system beyond their 18th birthday, rather than transferring them to young offender institutions or to the adult prison system?

That is an important policy issue, and I hope that the Government are not trying to sneak through a major change of policy under cover of this statutory instrument. However, the wording of that article appears to leave open the option for the Youth Justice Board to decide that it would be in the general interest of the youth justice system that people reaching the age of 18 who had been convicted and sentenced to custody for a particular category of offence should remain within that system rather than transferring to a YOI or the prison system. I hope that the Minister will say more about that in his response.

Will the Minister also say a few words about who carries responsibility for regimes in the secure accommodation units? Will the Youth Justice Board ultimately be responsible for approving regimes and for laying down acceptable standards of reward and penalty relating to the conduct of trainees in those units, or will the Home Secretary retain that responsibility? I understand that, because the Youth Justice Board is a non-departmental public body, its chief executive is responsible to the accounting officer at the Home Office and, through him, to the Public Accounts Committee, for the board's handling of its budget.

Will the Minister explain the proposed relationship between the board and Ministers in relation to what goes on within secure accommodation units? If there were, for example, a case in which one aspect of a regime in a particular unit were thought to be at fault, would the chief executive of the board or the Home Secretary ultimately be held responsible? To whom should Members of Parliament and others make their complaints in such circumstances? I hope that the Minister will answer some of those questions in his response. If he is unable to reply to some of the detailed points as comprehensively as he would wish, he might prefer to write to me some time in the next few days.

4.48 pm

 
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