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Line 31, at end add--
'( ) The committee shall have power to appoint a sub-committee, which shall have power to send for persons, papers and records, to sit notwithstanding any adjournment of the House, and to report to the committee from time to time.
( ) The committee shall have power to report from time to time the minutes of evidence taken before the sub-committee.
( ) The quorum of the sub-committee shall be three.'.-- [Mr. Pearson.]
Line 40, before the word 'European' insert the words 'Environmental Audit Committee or with the'.
Line 50, before the word 'European' insert the words 'Environmental Audit Committee or with the'.
Line 52, at the end insert the words:--
'(4A) notwithstanding paragraphs (2) and (4) above, where more than two committees or sub-committees appointed under this order meet concurrently in accordance with paragraph (4)(e) above, the quorum of each such committee or sub-committee shall be two.'--[Mr. Pearson.]
(1) this House approves the First Report from the Procedure Committee, Session 2000-01 (HC 47); and
(2) the Resolution of 5th June 1996 on the Language of Parliamentary Proceedings be amended accordingly by inserting, after the word 'Wales,', the words 'and at Westminster in respect of Select Committees'.--[Mr. Pearson.]
Mr. Tim Collins (Westmorland and Lonsdale): This petition represents a strong cross-party consensus in my constituency. Indeed, there is near unanimity among the population of south Cumbria, who want Helme Chase maternity unit to stay in place and to provide into the long-term future a full range of services for the whole community. I was delighted to meet earlier today those behind the petition, including Audrey Hawkes, the representative of the midwives at the unit, and Nicola Kaye, the Kendal mother who started the petition. Particular importance is attached to what the petition says about elective caesareans.
Declares that the Helme Chase Maternity Unit is a much-loved public service which is admired and respected nationwide, provides a Quality of care which is not matched anywhere else in our area, and continues to be needed on the grounds of safety, travelling time, Public affection and local tradition.
The petitioners therefore request that the House of Commons encourage the Morecambe Bay Health Authority to heed public opinion in South Cumbria, Provide for a long-term secure Future for the Unit, and enable a full range of service including elective caesareans to continue to be provided there.
And the Petitioners remain, etc."
Mr. Brian H. Donohoe (Cunninghame, South): I am delighted to present a petition signed by more than 6,500 residents of the west of Scotland, including more than 2,000 of my constituents. The Strathclyde Elderly Forum
Declares that giving free TV licences to pensioners over 75 is to be welcomed but is discriminatory to pensioners under 75.
The petitioners therefore request that the House of Commons urge the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport to grant free TV licences to all pensioners over 60.
And the petitioners remain, etc."
Mr. David Heath (Somerton and Frome): I have pleasure in presenting a petition signed by my constituent Mr. C. N. Barrow, of Styles close, Frome and by 676 other residents of Frome who are rightly concerned about the imposition of a mobile phone mast on an urban part of the town. They are anxious about the consequences for themselves and their families, as well as for the amenity value of the area. They draw attention to the need for proper planning controls on the erection of mobile phone masts.
That mobile phone masts and base stations should not be sited amongst built-up areas, particularly not near houses or schools, due to the health implications, the loss of amenity, and the negative effect on property values.
Wherefore your Petitioners pray that your honourable House will take such measures as lie within its power to ensure that phone masts and base stations will always need 'full planning consent' and no longer enjoy 'permitted development rights'; that health concerns will be considered a valid reason for refusal of planning consent, and that the 'precautionary principle' be adopted and practised by the planning authorities.
And your petitioners, as in duty bound, will ever pray etc."
Mr. A. J. Beith (Berwick-upon-Tweed): Young offenders institutions, such as Castington in my constituency, play a crucial role in the criminal justice system. Young offenders who serve periods of custody in those institutions have many years of life ahead of them when released. The staff do valuable work with difficult youngsters to attempt to steer them away from a long life of crime, which could have a great impact on their communities if they return to it on release.
Excellent work is done in Castington, especially in the Oswald unit, where there is a high ratio of staff to trainees. Particularly difficult youngsters are dealt with in those special conditions. Castington is one of the few parts of the prison estate that is currently under-used. There is spare capacity, a little more of which is currently used for trainees from further away. Its work is generally recognised as valuable in the Prison Service.
The problems that I shall describe have arisen as a secondary effect of an initiative that is designed to reduce reoffending: the detention and training order. It came into operation on 1 April 2000 through the Crime and Disorder Act 1998. I want to focus on the consequences of its introduction in Castington. It is widely acknowledged that the order is a worthwhile initiative, which will prove to be a good method of dealing with young offenders. However, some aspects of it have created serious problems in young offenders institutions.
Between April and October, 10 incidents of multiple cell damage occurred in Castington. A total of 32 cells were damaged, and many more incidents have occurred since then. In the first few months after the introduction of the detention and training order, there were 25 assaults on officers, mainly punches and kicks, which would not go to court, and were previously tackled under a governor's power to award extra days.
In September, an officer was assaulted by two trainees in education and attacked with a metal chair. That case went to court. One trainee received a two-month concurrent sentence, which had no effect on his time in custody, and the other received a conditional discharge. In October, a trainee threw boiling water over another trainee and got a conditional discharge. There was also a serious assault, which involved a trainee under section 53(2) of the Children Act 1989. That regime can present similar difficulties of providing a suitable punishment. Two or three alarms happen every afternoon in the large part of the institution that deals with those on detention and training orders.
Drugs policy is undermined by the absence of a real deterrent to misbehaviour and violence. That extends to failing the mandatory drugs test, which, when there is no deterrent, becomes simply a collection of statistics, not a means of influencing trainees' behaviour.
Newspaper reports detail similar occurrences in other young offenders institutions. They refer to a 700 per cent. increase in attacks on officers in one institution and a £200,000 bill for damage. At Huntercombe, it was reported that 16 cells a week were being damaged. At Stoke Heath, six cells a week were damaged. Has the
In the past, governors would have awarded additional days for lesser offences. That power has gone. It is no longer possible for a governor to extend the sentence and use the threat of extension as a deterrent to misbehaviour in prison. The power could not be reintroduced in the old form without measures to ensure that the judicial process complied with the European convention on human rights. The loss of the additional days procedure has meant the loss of a major disincentive. However, the situation is more complicated than that under the detention and training order. Magistrates courts are presented with a problem. The maximum sentence that they can impose, including the community portion, cannot exceed the sentence that an adult would be given for the same offence.
For criminal damage valued at under £5,000, a detention and training order cannot be imposed at all. It is quite difficult--in fact, it is virtually impossible--to do more than £1,000 worth of damage to a cell. To do £5,000 worth of damage to a cell is pretty much beyond the means of a prisoner, even one using as much violence as he possibly could towards everything around him. The magistrates therefore end up imposing a conditional discharge, which is no deterrent whatsoever to the trainee.
Fines can be imposed, but what meaningful fine can one impose on a trainee who earns £5 a week? If one does impose fines, the bullies--often the people carrying out this violence--will get the money from other trainees. Their regime of fear and intimidation--of which cell violence and assaults on officers are all a part--will enable them to extract the money from other trainees, so the fine becomes meaningless to them.
The Secretary of State has powers to apply to a youth court for a late release from the custodial part of the sentence. Those powers--clearly rare, last-resort powers--are heavily circumscribed in the guidance that the Home Office has given the Prison Service. They involve a lengthy procedure and, crucially, the Home Office circular of 9 February on the detention and training order states:
Only overall progress towards the individual's objectives can bring about late--or, for that matter, early--release. That sends a clear signal that the mechanism of late release is not intended to be used in the way that the old sanctions were used to deter and punish people who behave in a wholly unacceptable way that is damaging to other trainees and officers and to the interests of the taxpayer, as in the case of this very expensive cell damage.
I am not aware of the Home Secretary's powers being used in the way that I have mentioned. If the Minister has any examples to suggest that the power is being used to help in the situation that I have described, I should be interested to hear them. That might represent a case for some revision of the circular, to make it clear that progress towards objectives must be discounted by behaviour of this kind. If someone wrecks his cell or
I still believe that the procedure is slow and cumbersome. I shall not read out the enormous list of consultations and meetings that have to take place to bring it into effect. The feeling among prison officers is that, by the time it has been invoked, the offender will long since have left the institution and be half way through the non-custodial part of his sentence.
I understand the thinking behind the detention and training order, which is designed to ensure that the custody period and the community period are both carefully structured to develop the young person's understanding that they have done wrong, to change their attitude and to equip them to redirect their lives away from crime. The whole process--the time spent in custody and the time spent in the community under supervision--is meant to contribute to the same objectives and should, therefore, be planned so that such time is used and not spent idly sitting around for several months in an institution. The time should be structured, and there should be an overall plan. That is the essence of the scheme.
To accept that, I do not think that one has to accept that it is impossible to extend the sentence period as a deterrent in some circumstances. To have to face two or three more weeks of custody would not, if someone had behaved badly enough to have threatened the achievement of their objectives, undermine the essential process.
In the early stages, the Youth Justice Board may have got a bit hooked on the belief that it must in some way preserve the integrity of the concept of the detention and training order, rather than addressing some of the problems that have arisen under it. I do not think enough attention was given to the need for an effective deterrent to disruptive and violent behaviour, or to the needs of prison workers, including both discipline officers and education and other professional staff.
Prison workers must be able to maintain order and stop violent trainees from posing a danger to the rest. They must maintain an atmosphere in which trainees are not prevented by the violence and intimidation of other trainees from benefiting from their time in custody--but that is what will happen: those who are trying to meet the objectives that are part of their sentence will find their ability to do so disrupted if the atmosphere inside the institution is violent, and if they are themselves constantly subject to intimidation. It is much harder to resist a bully when an officer cannot be looking in one's direction than it is to worry about whether there is a mark against one's progress in the assessment that is made as part of a detention and training order.
I have been raising the issue for some time, which is why I felt it necessary to raise it here tonight. In a letter dated 29 August 2000, the Minister of State told me that the Youth Justice Board was
What has been the result of the process? Certainly there has been no result so far that has been noticeable to prison officers, professional staff or governors. The concern felt by prison officers is shared by those of governor grade, who must try to maintain good order in their institutions. The difficulties that I have described are recognised at all levels in the service.
The ability to add to a sentence is surely needed for the worst cases, but if that mechanism is not to be used, the Minister and the Youth Justice Board must come up with alternatives. Mere withdrawal of privileges, or a few days without television, will not be enough. In any event, we are talking about people who wreck television sets, and everything else in sight, when an atmosphere of violence develops. Something that actually deters must be found. At present many prison officers are saying "They can do what they like and they still walk out of here on the same day"--and the force with which they say it is an indication of the deep concern that is felt.
Prison officers now say that they would be much happier working with those over 18, because more sanctions are available and the working atmosphere is better, or even with those under 18 who are on remand. Very few are being remanded to young offender institutions, but they too are not subject to the same regime. In the case of detention and training orders the sanctions have gone, or whatever little remains is not really intended to be used as a sanction as we normally understand the term.
Ministers and the Youth Justice Board must come up with an answer. If they do not, the value of detention and training orders will be undermined by a violent and intimidating atmosphere for all trainees, and the ability of prison officers to do the challenging job expected of them will also be constantly undermined by assaults, by the absence of officers who are off sick as a result of assaults, and by a feeling that they cannot exercise sufficient control to do the positive work that they value.
Prison officers achieve most when they are able to interact positively with the people in their charge. I have seen that happen, and I have seen its effectiveness. It should be borne in mind that many youngsters who are the subject of these orders have had great difficulty in relating to others in a civilised way. If the young people have had a family background, it may have been a severely disrupted one. Many of them may have been in and out of local authority homes and had no stable background. Others have been exploited, and many of them have been abused physically or sexually. Therefore, many of them have had a lifelong problem with relating to other people.
If those young people have prison officers who genuinely care for their welfare and relate positively to them, it would be a real advantage. However, that advantage cannot be deployed to the benefit of the youth justice system if there are not sanctions to prevent intimidation, violence and other pressures that make it very difficult for officers to perform the basic order and security aspects of their job, let alone the rehabilitative work in which they all want to engage.