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Lord Judd: My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that reply. However, while in no way underestimating the scale of the problem which this Government inherited on coming to office, does my noble friend accept that the uncompromising words of the chief inspector are really very sobering? He said,

Does my noble friend agree that it has not been rational to put young offenders in prison, in the sense that that has increased the cost and the number of victims in the future? Will he further agree that the real challenge to an enlightened Administration is how we win over the young to civilised behaviour and to a constructive place in society?

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Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, I agree with almost everything my noble friend said. The inspector said:

    "The current system is not a system at all. The chaos which surrounds the treatment of children and young adults in prison service custody leads me to the conclusion that separate arrangements for dealing with young prisoners are essential".

One of the functions of the new youth justice board--which will be set up under the Crime and Disorder Bill, which will have its Second Reading before your Lordships tomorrow--is to monitor carefully the standards of accommodation in which juveniles are held. Echoing the thrust of what my noble friend said, we believe that there should be a youth justice board specifically charged with dealing with these issues.

Baroness Masham of Ilton: My Lords, can the Minister say how many girls of 15 and 16 are in prison today? Is not their situation even worse than that of the boys? Is the Minister aware that in this country there are no young offender institutions for girls? Does he not think that they would be better in a school environment, where they would learn skills for life instead of crime for life?

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, there is accommodation within the prison estate which is designated as young offender institutions and which is capable of dealing with young women. At the moment there are about 270 15 and 16 year-olds in adult prisons. Not one of them is a young woman because they are in the accommodation designated, as I indicated. I agree that education is extremely important for young people in the prison estate, but it is not always possible to educate serious offenders in mainstream education as opposed to having some degree of protection for the wider public.

Lord Elton: My Lords, can the noble Lord tell us the ages of the youngest of each sex of juveniles in adult accommodation at present?

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, the youngest male and female juveniles held in prison custody are aged 15. Provisional figures for those in prison custody up to 31st October this year show the following: there were nine young women aged 15, but all those were sentenced and held in accommodation which, as I indicated a moment ago, is designated as young offender institutions. There were 232 young men aged 15, 66 were unconvicted or were convicted and awaiting sentence; 166 had already been sentenced. Of the 232 young men aged 15, 20 were in adult establishments--Cardiff, Doncaster, Hull and Norwich.

The Lord Bishop of Lincoln: My Lords, in the light of Clause 81 of the Crime and Disorder Bill, will the Minister confirm that it remains government policy to end the practice of remanding 15 and 16 year-olds to custody?

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Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, I believe that the right reverend Prelate will remember the precise terms of my Answer:

    "This Government's policy is to move towards a situation where it is no longer necessary to remand 15 and 16 year-old boys to prison".

I am happy to reaffirm that.

Earl Russell: My Lords, the Minister may perhaps be aware that I have been trying for about eight years to discover what proportion of 16 and 17 year-old offenders enjoy no visible legal means of support. Will the Government see whether they can do a little better than I have?

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, I am always willing to do my best to do better than the noble Earl.

Lord Judd: My Lords, as regards the review which the Government are undertaking, will my noble friend assure us that it will be possible for the Government to look at two other specific matters? One is the dreadful statistic that between 1995-96 and 1996-97, the number of suicides by young teenagers in prison increased from nine to 20--more than double. Also, there is increasing concern about the way in which young people, caught up in the complicated issue of seeking asylum, are similarly being placed in establishments which are at the very least suitable only for adults.

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, of course the question of suicide, particularly for young persons detained, is very grave. It is unfortunate that the suicide rate generally among that section of the population has risen, but it still cannot be tolerated that any death, self-inflicted, should occur in prison. I can assure my noble friend, as well as your Lordships' House, that we are deeply concerned about the matter.

There are difficulties about asylum seekers. The best we can do is to assure your Lordships that we wish to be as open, civilised and correct as we can in the treatment of young persons who seek asylum and who perhaps have to be detained, although no one would wish it to be that way if we were able to have a different regime. We cannot. Young people sometimes come to this country with false papers. They are then detained. It is necessary to make proper investigation as to their true age. No one can tell immediately what it is; we have to make inquiries. However, I stress that all young people ought to be particularly protected because, as the chief inspector said in his report, they are different--they are not just small adults.

Baroness Masham of Ilton: My Lords, perhaps I may return to the Minister's answer to me. Is he aware that I did not mean mainstream schools, but secure accommodation? Will he agree that that would be better for 15 and 16 year-old girls?

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Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, I am grateful for that supplementary question. What I said in my earlier reply was:

    "We have ... decided that the priority is to give the courts the right range of powers to remand juveniles to secure accommodation".

I hope that that meets the noble Baroness's point.

The Earl of Longford: My Lords, does the Minister realise that those concerned for many years with penal reform will never be satisfied until our Government, the Government to which I am loyal, repudiate totally the policies of the past few years and return to the earlier policies of Conservative and Labour governments?

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, without being unduly partisan, I indicated that the findings of the chief inspector in his report, which was published in October this year, made entirely the point which the noble Earl has just reiterated: that a chaos surrounds the treatment of children and young adults in Prison Service custody. I recognise that the noble Earl and I share this one view that over the past 18 years things have gone badly wrong in the Prison Service. But that is the basis of a challenge for the future, not reproach for the past. I hope that this Home Secretary will respond appropriately to that challenge, as your Lordships will be able to see at Second Reading of the Crime and Disorder Bill tomorrow.

Baroness Anelay of St. Johns: My Lords, as the Minister has referred to the Second Reading tomorrow, how does he justify the provisions of Clauses 80 and 81 of the Crime and Disorder Bill? Under them, children and young people will be remanded in custody while awaiting trial for an offence of which they may subsequently be found guilty. However, they cannot be given a sentence of detention for that offence.

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, I believe that the proper opportunity to scrutinise Clauses 80 and 81 will be tomorrow. However, perhaps I may say generally that this will be the first Bill which sets out plainly the purpose of the youth justice system. It will be described thus:

    "It shall be the principal aim of the youth justice system to prevent offending by children and young persons".

Skill Training for Young People

2.57 p.m.

Lord Evans of Parkside asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What steps they are taking to improve the skills of Britain's youth.

The Minister of State, Department for Education and Employment (Baroness Blackstone): My Lords, last week we announced a major new strategy, Investing in Young People, which will tackle under-achievement and raise the skill levels of Britain's young people. The strategy includes a new emphasis on work-related learning for 14 to 16 year-olds. We are also replacing

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youth training with national traineeships: high quality, work-based training developed in partnership with employers, including key skills. We are currently consulting about ways to ensure that key skills are incorporated in all 16 to 19 year-old programmes of learning. Those measures, combined with a growth in the highly successful modern apprenticeships, for which we have announced an additional £10 million to provide 10,000 extra places in 1998-99, will help ensure that young people have the opportunity to acquire the skills they will need for long-term employment.

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