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Baroness Carnegy of Lour: Can the Minister tell us what sort of papers will have to be prepared for the panel when it meets? I am trying to put myself in the shoes of the people who will serve on the panel, who will be asked to attend on a certain date--inevitably at short notice. Whatever the Minister thinks about the amendments, I repeat that it will be at short notice. What preparatory work will have to be done? Will the members of the panel have the papers before them or will they simply respond to verbal discussion?

Lord Warner: The Youth Justice Board for England and Wales will be considering the work of the youth offender teams. It would be precipitate at this point to commit them to specific deadlines by timetabling their meetings. I am the last person to speak against speed in the system, but this is not about speed in obtaining a decision on what is to be done with the young offender. The important point is that something effective happens as a result of the meeting. Frankly, a meeting held within three working days would simply be a symbolic getting together of people without having done enough work with the young offenders and their families--in some cases, without having gathered enough information about them--to make the meeting productive.

There is a danger that if we specify three days, the first meeting will be merely a ritual meeting. That would send out bad signals to the young offenders and their families. We need to learn more about the way in which youth offender teams work, which is why they are being piloted at the moment, before we commit ourselves to a particular timescale on the face of the Bill. I support the principle of having some guidelines at a later stage on the deadlines for such meetings and on agreeing programmes of intervention with young offenders and their families.

Lord Mackay of Clashfern: It is fairly plain that Amendment No. 27 is not in relation to a meeting but to the appointment of the personnel to form the panel. My noble friend's amendment relates to the first meeting of the panel. A period of 14 days is suggested. I can see that for a while it may be difficult to know how long it may take. I would be the last person to say that it is sufficient to have a formal meeting at which nothing happens. It is quite difficult to establish a youth offender panel without having some idea of when it will meet. Often the people one would expect to serve on the panel will have other things to do, so we need to specify a particular day when the young offender can meet them. I suggest that it is more practical to put a limitation on the period of time before the first meeting, if that is possible, although I can see that there may be some difficulty about being too precise at this stage. At that juncture, speed is also important.

Lord Williams of Mostyn: One needs to focus particularly on the terminology of Clause 6. Clause 6(1),

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as the necessary precursor to the establishment of the youth offender panel and the arrangement of the first meeting, refers to,

    "Where a referral order has been made".
Therefore, the point about "immediate speed" relates to bringing a first offender who pleads guilty to court virtually immediately. I must chide the noble Earl a little for talking about delays. That is where the initial delay begins. I repeat that in the case of a straightforward guilty plea, we intend the first appearance to be on the first available court day following charge. One has decision and speed at that stage. The court can then make a referral order, so there is no delay there. Then, as the noble Lord, Lord Warner, with his vast experience and chairmanship of the Youth Justice Board pointed out, a certain amount of research is needed.

I feel that three days is too short a period and that 14 days may be too long. I refer to the question of the noble Baroness who asked about the sort of papers that the panel would need and the preparatory work that would need to be carried out. Those questions are extremely important. It is important, if not essential, that in most cases there should first have been contact with the victim. That must be handled with great sensitivity. Indeed, one might well be unable to hold the first meeting within a three-day period because the victim's unease, continuing trauma and sensitivities have to be borne very carefully in mind. But in order to have an effective first meeting, rather than a token one as pointed out by my noble friend Lord Warner, some contact would certainly have been required with the victim and, possibly, a paper report provided for the panel. The panel would need to have the court papers detailing the nature of the offences and it would need to consider who should attend the meeting. Therefore, one needs a certain amount of preparatory work for this first meeting.

My noble friend Lord Warner is right to say that this is precisely the sort of issue one needs to work through in pilot schemes. We shall discuss with all relevant professional groups the sort of guidance we want for such schemes. We shall then evaluate time limits to ascertain what is realistic and what truly takes into account, among other things, the needs of the victim and his or her sensibilities and susceptibilities.

Following that process we would then be looking for national standards to be approved by the Youth Justice Board under the chairmanship of my noble friend Lord Warner. What one is looking for is as immediate a court hearing as possible, and that can be done in the first available court. The referral can then be made in many cases. Thereafter, one needs to pilot in practice what sort of guideline one requires. At this stage I believe that one is stabbing in the dark: three days is probably too short a period, whereas 14 days would very often be too long. However, I think that we ought to await experience in practice and in evaluation before we set such national targets.

6.30 p.m.

The Earl of Mar and Kellie: Every time I move an amendment I learn much more than I intended. I have

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to admit that my commitment to the children's panel system in Scotland has not served me well here, because such panels do not get involved with the victims. At the same time I have certainly attended a children's panel within 24 hours of the commission of the offence. So the system does have some merit in that it can get on with the business.

I made a mistake in the drafting of the amendment. In fact, I intended it to refer to the first meeting within three days. I can now see the merit of not doing so. I am extremely glad to note that the Youth Justice Board is working on the issue. In the circumstances, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 28 not moved.]

Lord Cope of Berkeley moved Amendment No. 29:

Page 6, line 6, leave out from ("with") to end of line 7 and insert ("regulations made by the Secretary of State, a draft of which has been laid before, and approved by resolution of, each House of Parliament").

The noble Lord said: In moving this amendment, I shall speak also to Amendment No. 65. It seems odd that the Secretary of State can prescribe who the members of the panel will be in terms of qualifications, and so on, through a statutory instrument--it is restricted at least to that extent, although it is subject to the negative resolution procedure--but that he will prescribe how the panel will be constituted and how its members will go about their business by means of guidance, which appears to be substantially private. It will certainly not have the formal content or form of a statutory instrument, but it will still be statutory guidance; in other words, it is guidance provided for in statute. As Clause 6(2) makes provision for it in that way, I assume that the panels will have to obey it.

Nonetheless, if it is provided in that kind of private way, it will be difficult for other people to know the nature of the guidance, apart from the panel members who will be guided by their clerk or the equivalent adviser. The defendant and any advisers he has may have knowledge of the guidance if they are extremely well informed, but it will be rather difficult for them. Therefore, it might be better if the Secretary of State were to give this statutory guidance a rather more formal effect by putting it into regulations.

Amendment No. 65 is a similar amendment which applies to Clause 14 and also deals with private guidance being given to the panels. In that case too, it seems to me that the guidance would be better set in the form of regulations. I beg to move.

Lord Renton: My noble friend's amendment is very worthy of consideration. Guidance is to be given by the Secretary of State "from time to time". That means, presumably, that it may vary from time to time. That is a little vague. Surely, it is important that the youth offender panels should be the same all over the country and that their constitution, the number of members and the way they carry out their work should be the subject

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of ministerial direction rather than mere guidance. If it is to be mere guidance, can the Minister tell us in what way the guidance will be given?

Viscount Brentford: Can the Minister say whether the guidance will in fact be the same throughout the country, as implied by my noble friend Lord Renton? For example, will the make-up of the panels be different depending on the people who live in certain areas? Will the guidance include the ethnic make-up of the panels which I am sure will vary from area to area? Perhaps the Minister can enlighten us in that respect.

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