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Public Bill Committee Debates

Draft Youth Justice Board for England and Wales (Amendment) Order 2008

The Committee consisted of the following Members:

Chairman: John Bercow
Burrowes, Mr. David (Enfield, Southgate) (Con)
Byers, Mr. Stephen (North Tyneside) (Lab)
Clwyd, Ann (Cynon Valley) (Lab)
Cruddas, Jon (Dagenham) (Lab)
Dunne, Mr. Philip (Ludlow) (Con)
Featherstone, Lynne (Hornsey and Wood Green) (LD)
Hain, Mr. Peter (Neath) (Lab)
Hanson, Mr. David (Minister of State, Ministry of Justice)
Hesford, Stephen (Wirral, West) (Lab)
Hewitt, Ms Patricia (Leicester, West) (Lab)
Howarth, David (Cambridge) (LD)
Lucas, Ian (Wrexham) (Lab)
McGuire, Mrs. Anne (Stirling) (Lab)
Ottaway, Richard (Croydon, South) (Con)
Penrose, John (Weston-super-Mare) (Con)
Stuart, Mr. Graham (Beverley and Holderness) (Con)
Mark Oxborough, Committee Clerk
† attended the Committee

Fifth Delegated Legislation Committee

Wednesday 12 November 2008

[John Bercow in the Chair]

Draft Youth Justice Board for England and Wales (Amendment) Order 2008

2.30 pm
The Minister of State, Ministry of Justice (Mr. David Hanson): I beg to move,
That the Committee has considered the draft Youth Justice Board for England and Wales (Amendment) Order 2008.
I welcome you to the Chair, Mr. Bercow. This draft order makes technical changes to the administrative responsibility for discharging the Secretary of State’s functions regarding the youth justice system. The Youth Justice Board for England and Wales Order 2000 enabled the board to exercise, concurrently with the Secretary of State, a wide range of functions in relation to youth justice and the youth justice system. This draft order adds other functions to that order, mostly relating to the letting of contracts for the provision and running of young offender institutions. The immediate need for the board to be given those powers relates to my intention to transfer management of the contract for the running of Ashfield young offender institution from the National Offender Management Service to the Youth Justice Board, shortly I hope, if the order is approved.
The draft order also makes what I hope are small additions to the concurrent powers of the board. Powers are added regarding privileges and incentives in secure training centres. The order also makes two changes to the board’s responsibilities for placing young people in custody. First, it deals with the sentencing of those who are detained at Her Majesty’s pleasure, and, secondly, it examines long-term detention issues. It makes minor amendments to the board’s responsibilities in those two areas. Finally, a minor amendment is made to the young offender institution rules on the receipt of information.
Richard Ottaway (Croydon, South) (Con): That last point about young offender institution rules relates, of course, to intercept. Is there any suggestion that that intercept will be used as evidence, and if so how does that square with the Chilcot report on that subject?
Mr. Hanson: I will certainly look into that for the hon. Gentleman.
Richard Ottaway: The Minister does not have long.
Mr. Hanson: I will do it in a moment. I am seeking advice. I was not aware that the order examined that issue. I will look at the matter in detail for the hon. Gentleman.
The issue of the young offender institution rules on the receipt of information brings together a number of points.
2.33 pm
Sitting suspended for a Division in the House.
2.48 pm
On resuming—
Mr. Hanson: Before the Division interrupted us, I was speaking about the fact that the order makes a minor amendment to the young offender institution rules relating to the receipt of information. I am pleased to tell the hon. Member for Croydon, South that the issue that he raised has no impact upon the order. The only change that we are making is to allow the governor to disclose information to the Youth Justice Board, if it is managing the contract. That does not affect authorisations to intercept, or how or when communications may be intercepted.
I hope that I have been able to give a brief overview of what the order does. It is of a technical nature and I commend it to the Committee.
2.49 pm
Mr. David Burrowes (Enfield, Southgate) (Con): It is a pleasure to see you in the Chair, Mr. Bercow. You may recall the spring of 2000, when this type of order, considering the function of the Youth Justice Board, was last before the House. That was a bright spring morning on 17 April, and looking at the record I see that the Chairman noted that it was very hot and gave us the discretion to take off our jackets. I do not think that that is necessary today, but, nevertheless, it is bright—
The Chairman: Order. I sometimes say it before the start of proceedings, but I had not anticipated that it would be necessary today. For the avoidance of doubt, if the weather causes the hon. Gentleman or any other hon. Member to want to take off his or her jacket, that hon. Member is very welcome to do so.
Mr. Burrowes: I am grateful, Mr. Bercow. In April 2000, the right hon. Member for Norwich, South (Mr. Clarke) particularly welcomed that direction, as he made clear himself at the time. But I will not avail myself of that great generosity.
We benefited from some sun today, but we also benefit from the experience of how the Youth Justice Board has functioned, not only since the original Youth Justice Board for England and Wales Order, which the Committee considered in April 2000 and which extended the functions in relation to the secure estate for children and young people, but since September 1998 when the Crime and Disorder Act 1998 came into force. That Act provided the architecture for the Government’s programme, as they put it, of reform of the youth justice system.
On that sunny spring morning in April 2000, hopes were no doubt high. The right hon. Gentleman set out four objectives which no doubt still form the context of the order before us today. He said:
“The first is 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.”—[Official Report, First Standing Committee on Delegated Legislation, 17 April 2000.]
We have to consider those aims and objectives and assume that this order, which is an extension of that order, shares them. The order was passed without dissent. Now, eight years on, we need to draw on the evidence of how the Youth Justice Board has worked and ask how well it has functioned in relation to the secure estate for children and young people. The main issue to consider today is whether it is right to give the Youth Justice Board a concurrent power with that of the Secretary of State to enter into contracts for the provision and running of youth offender institutions and to exercise effective oversight of the running of those institutions.
One could seek to dress the order up as a tidying-up exercise, a phrase that we have heard in other contexts. In fact, the order is described as an internal administrative one. One could suggest that it brings matters into line with powers that were there in the 2000 order as part of a transitional provision that has now reached its end zone; it is simply exercising what is there in relation to secure training centres and enabling the Youth Justice Board to have contract responsibilities in relation to YOIs, provided and run under contract by private companies, such as at Ashfield.
However, the order raises more fundamental questions about whether it is the right time to extend the functions of the Youth Justice Board, rather than address whether its present functions are being exercised effectively. We need to assess the performance of the Youth Justice Board. We need to look at that particularly in relation to the functions of the custodial estate over the last eight years, whether it is performing effectively and whether it merits having those functions extended in the area to which the order seeks to take us.
That is an important question given that two thirds of the Youth Justice Board’s budget is spent on the custodial estate, with 5 per cent. or so being spent on prevention. A whole lot of money is being sucked up effectively into the custodial estate. We need to judge how it is performing. But the Committee should not take only my words as a critique of what has happened. The Centre for Crime and Justice Studies highlighted the Youth Justice Board’s failure to reach its targets on the number in custody, stating:
“Since 2000-2001, when...the YJB had taken over responsibility for commissioning custodial places, spending on youth justice has increased in real terms by 45 per cent.”
Since the Youth Justice Board began commissioning secure accommodation in 2001, it has set various targets for reducing the number of children in custody. The CCJS states:
“Performance is deteriorating, with the numbers of children in custody rising by 207 from 2,676 in March 2005 to 2,883 in February 2008, an 8 per cent increase”,
and that figure has since increased. It went on to state:
“This is the first time there has been an overall increase in custodial numbers during a period when the YJB was aiming to achieve a reduction since the very first target was set.”
Another area relates to the targets for educational activity in youth offending institutions, which is no doubt close to your heart, Mr. Bercow. The target for educational activity is 25 hours a week, but one has only to go to Rochester to see that that is barely reaching six hours. The target for literacy and numeracy is an improvement of 80 per cent, but the Youth Justice Board is failing to meet those important targets. One could go through several targets and express concern about the failure to meet them.
In the context of the order, how does the Minister square the criticism of the Youth Justice Board with the order’s proposal to extend commissioning functions? The reoffending rates show that around 76 per cent. of young offenders are being reconvicted within two years, and the reoffending rates themselves are much closer to 100 per cent. What evidence is there to suggest that the order will help to reduce those sky-high reoffending rates?
Let us look at the Government’s terms of the argument and the recent youth crime action plan to see where they seek to take us on youth justice, because I am keen that there should be continuity between someone being in the custodial estate of a young offenders institution and their resettling, which does not exist in the youth justice custodial estates. How does the continuity that we need to see and that the Government seek to address in the youth crime action plan properly chime with the order? There seems to be a recognition, perhaps almost an admission or confession, within the youth crime action plan that the Government accept that there has been a breakdown in the relationship between what happens in the custodial institutions and what happens in the community, particularly when one moves to resettlement. Once they are out the door there is little contact to ensure that what good has taken place in the custodial estate is carried on in the resettlement and accommodation.
The Government supposedly addressed those concerns in their plan by stating that they wish to give new duties to local authorities. Those new duties include improving education and training in juvenile custody; placing new duties on local authorities to commission education and training in juvenile custody; and improving education and training by giving local authorities a statutory duty to fund and commission education services. For the first time, young offenders in custody will be brought under the education legislation regime, so there is a move towards improving the relationship between local authorities and the activities in custody. The question for the Minister is whether that move should be allowed full consideration following the plan, to see whether commissioning arrangements need to be more closely tied with the local authority rather than presently, as would be the case with this order, being put full square in the hands of the Youth Justice Board.
Mr. Bercow, you will be aware of perverse disincentives, particularly in the case of children in care. Once they reach the custodial threshold there is an incentive for them to be off the budgetary books of the local authority and into a custodial setting. A child with many deep needs and expensive problems would be off the local authority’s hands and, as we have often sadly seen, not properly picked up in custody. There is a concern that that link is not properly made and that a disincentive applies that leads to all too many—at least 30 per cent.—of those who have been in care being in custody.
In the context of the order, does the Minister recognise the criticism of the Government’s approach to youth justice, which many of us say is preoccupied with a managerial, centrally driven approach, and that this order takes us a step in that same—wrong—direction, when there are, perhaps, glimmers of light within the youth crime action plan? Is now the time to go against the flow of that plan? Has the Minister considered alternative commissioning arrangements, which involve local authorities to a greater degree? The explanatory notes suggest that this is an internal administrative matter not requiring any public consultation, but would this not be an appropriate time, when the youth crime action plan has been launched and when there are concerns that commissioning should move in other directions, for the Government at least to pause for thought and consultation with organisations involved in the welfare of children, to consider whether there is an alternative route?
Given the failings in the youth justice system and the criticisms I have outlined of the Youth Justice Board’s performance, particularly in relation to commissioning, the explanatory note’s case that the Youth Justice Board is best placed to exercise powers in this order is not made. I look forward to the Minister’s response but we are minded at this stage not to support the order.
3.3 pm
Lynne Featherstone (Hornsey and Wood Green) (LD): May I say what a pleasure it is to serve under your chairmanship, Mr. Bercow? I have five direct questions for the Minister and the answers will determine whether we support the order.
First, what is the relevance of disclosing such sensitive information to the board or other specified persons? If the information is needed for statistical monitoring, should it not be expressly given anonymously to safeguard the privacy of the young person?
Why is an officer of the Secretary of State included among the specified persons to whom this sensitive information can be disclosed, in article 3(1)(b)? Why is there no definition of who these officers are, either in this statutory instrument or in the young offender rules of 2000? Do they include civil servants and, if so, why do they need such information? Since the section entitled “Amendment to the young offender institution rules 2000” essentially restates the 2000 rules, except for the inclusion of the provision including the board within the specified persons, will the Minister tell me what use is being made of these provisions and whether they have been reviewed or whether they are simply being restated? Lastly, where is the evidence for the need to delegate the Secretary of State for Justice’s powers to the board? Why are not the provisions being publicised and debated on the Floor of the House?
3.5 pm
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Prepared 13 November 2008