Mr. Blunt: What a treat is the opportunity to debate youth justice! Of course, we owe the privilege to the passing of amendments in another place, having failed so conspicuouslygiven the programmingto engage in substantive discussion of any youth justice provisions here.
Mr. Blunt: It was indeed disgraceful. The only good thing to be said as we begin our very brief and, sadly, tangential discussions is that this is an appropriate time at which to welcome the hon. Member for Eastwood (Mr. Murphy) to the Government's Northern Ireland team. Unfortunately he is not present to hear this paean of praise, but I would like to tell himhe being a Whipthat things can only get better from our point of view, after the shocking way in which the first part of this process was managed.
The arguments in favour of the amendment have focused on the establishment of a set time within which a child who was, as it were, at the wrong end of the provisions would wait for the identification of non-compliance and of the reasons for it. It is just possible that if the Secretary of State lays down a timetable that is too tight, and the bureaucracy that will inevitably surround youth conference orders bogs down the limited number of people who will administer the systemthus preventing them from meeting the timetablewe will inadvertently let off offenders who have not complied.
Mrs. Calton: I welcome the amendments, which go a long way towards meeting the concerns of, in particular, the Liberal Democrats. We tabled a series of amendments on youth justice. I am especially pleased to note the amending of clause 55 in Lords amendment No. 13(3)(g).
The introduction of article 45 deals with many of the issues that concerned me. It ensures that there will be an opportunity for review; it requires the views of the child to be taken into account; it provides for a review of the suitability of accommodation; it informs the child of his rights; it ensures that he is kept informed; it ensures that arrangements are monitored; and, most important, it requires the establishment of a complaints and representation procedure to include the child and others with an interest in his welfare. I am also pleased to note that an independent person will take part in the representations and follow up discussions.
Lords amendment No. 14 responds to some of the worries about children under 14 being given youth custody orders for up to 30 days. In some cases that may take them to the age of 14. I am glad that the amendment will allow the sentence to be varied.
As the Minister said, Lords amendment No. 15 allows the Secretary of State to make procedural rules for youth conferences. I am pleased that the Minister concerned will have an opportunity to ensure that young people's needs are full met. I am also pleased that Lords amendment No. 16 tightens the requirement for a report on compliance with the youth conference plan, and will ensure that there is no drift in procedures.
I think that we are closer to recognising that although young offenders should be given a chance to reform and make restoration, and while it may occasionally be necessary to protect the public from them, they will often be in need themselvesin need of the protections afforded to children in the care system generally. Their human rights must be protected.
Mr. Browne: I am glad that the hon. Members for Reigate (Mr. Blunt) and for Cheadle (Mrs. Calton) welcome the proposals. As the hon. Member for Reigate probably knows, I share his regret that we could not
The hon. Gentleman made a limited but, I think, important point about the timetable, suggesting that if it were too tight it might not be met. He said that that might be detrimental to the young person involved, because if there was not enough time for administration that would be taken to constitute his failure to comply.
I think that the hon. Gentleman accepts that it would be unfair to allow the threat of prosecution to hang over a child for an unspecified period. The establishment of a timetable is more consistent with our intentions in regard to the various stages of the conference process. In setting limits, however, we will bear in mind the issues that the hon. Gentleman has mentioned. I will specifically ensure that as the programme is introduced progressively, with pilot schemes, we regularly take account of the inevitable tension caused by demands on administration, along with the need to ensure that young people are given enough time to carry out the requirements of an order.
Lords amendment: No. 18.
"(h) local community safety partnerships.","
The amendment is designed to clarify policy and to put our intentions in this regard beyond doubt. We have already taken steps to clarify the policy in discussion and in correspondence, and we have taken the opportunity of the amendment to set out the policy in statute. The amendment will allow the relevant organisations exercising statutory functions, such as district councils and the Police Service of Northern Ireland, to be included. Lords amendment No. 19 provides that the Secretary of State must publish or require a local community safety partnership to publish the plans and reports produced by the community safety partnerships.
Lords amendment No. 20 will add local community safety partnerships to the list of organisations set out in schedule 3 of the Northern Ireland Act 1998. This will pave the way for them to be devolved along with other criminal justice functions once a decision has been taken to transfer responsibility for such matters to the Northern Ireland Assembly.
A similar amendment was made in this House in respect of the other new bodies created under this Billthe criminal justice inspectorate and the new Northern Ireland Law Commission. It makes sense to treat these partnerships similarly. It is essentially a technical amendment designed to facilitate the devolution of these bodies in due course and, as such, I trust that it will meet with the approval of the House.
Amendment (a) is in the name of the right hon. Member for Upper Bann (Mr. Trimble) and it seeks to add the words "community safety", rather than "local community safety partnerships", to schedule 3 of the Northern Ireland Act 1998, which sets out the list of reserved functions. The term "community safety" covers a wide range of functions and activities. Many of them are already devolved to the Northern Ireland Administration. For example, the provision of street lighting and traffic-calming measures is the responsibility of the Department for Regional Development.
Social services have a statutory responsibility to divert young people from crime. It would therefore be inconsistent with the devolution of these functions to include a generic term such as "community safety" in the schedule. The local community safety partnerships are being added to the schedule to facilitate their being devolved when the time is right. I do not think that we need to extend the provision more widely, so I ask that amendment (a) be withdrawn.
Mr. Blunt: Her Majesty's Opposition welcome Lords amendments Nos. 18 and 19 as significant improvements to the Bill. We shall support them, as we understand that they were the product of informal discussions between the Government and the Opposition. They are a satisfactory way to proceed.
However, it is appropriate to remind the Government that their approach to community safety receives the support of only a minority of parties in Northern Ireland. We continue to have serious concerns about the continued overlap between district policing partnerships and community safety partnerships. That concern is shared by all parties to the Policing Boardthey do not want separate partnerships establishedand by the review that took place. I shall not delay the House by reading out paragraph 11.61 of the review, as the Minister will be familiar with its contents. The recommendation there is precisely the opposite of the Government's intended action. Indeed, recommendation 196 of the Government's implementation plan is put down for further consideration.
I invite the Government to continue to give the matter further consideration. The plethora of bodies in Northern Ireland and the different duties placed on district councils, in particular, and on the bodies to which the councils have to nominate people is a strong argument for the Government to find a way of simplifying the way in which they establish community safety. They should do that within a proper partnership for community safety and by using the institutions of the district policing partnerships.