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Persistent Juvenile Offenders

6.21 p.m.

Viscount Tenby rose to call attention to the problems of dealing with persistent juvenile offenders, in the light of the report by the Social Services Inspectorate on the Medway Secure Training Centre; and to move for Papers.

The noble Viscount said: My Lords, I imagine that some Members of this House believe that a disproportionate amount of time is spent in discussing prisons and prison policy. That may be so, but the whole area of crime and its effect on our society is, surely, one of the most pressing and fundamental problems with which we are faced today. Accordingly, I make no apology for treading this well-worn path once again, but I ask noble Lords to bear in mind that what I very much hope will be a constructive and helpful debate is pitched at the precise target of young repeat offenders and how we can best deal with them, not the subject of prisons and offenders in general.

It is perhaps timely to have this particular debate today not only because of the recent publication of the report about events at Medway but because the youth justice Bill has just ended its journey through this House. I confess to a small frisson of triumph akin to winning the lottery, and with approximately the same odds against, since it is not always possible (to put it mildly) to anticipate the parliamentary timetable with any degree of confidence. This time I appear to have picked the lucky number.

The peg on which this debate is hung is the recent publication of the report by the Social Services Inspectorate of its inspection of Medway Secure Training Centre which took place largely in September of last year. Noble Lords will recall that the concept of secure training centres (STCs as they shall be called henceforth) was promoted by the previous administration against a chorus of disapproval from many quarters. In today's changed circumstances one may say that some of it was embarrassing. The concept

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of locking up in one place the worst 12 to 14 year-olds, inevitably in some cases far from their homes and local communities, and subjecting them to a strict but fair regime, coupled with what can only be described as a crash course in citizenship, certainly appealed to the tabloid tendency and also offered popular and political appeal. Offenders committed to STCs must have been convicted for persistent offending of a serious nature, in the majority of cases burglary and theft and aggravated car theft. Sentences might be anything from six months to two years, although in reality over 12 months is rare. Half the sentence is spent in an STC with the second half in the community under supervision.

In answer to a Written Question from the noble Lord, Lord Acton (I am pleased to see that he is to take part in the debate) who inquired whether previous experience in working with difficult and delinquent children would be a pre-condition for success in the tendering process, the then Home Office Minister referred to the advertisement that had been placed which required,

    "potential bidders to give details of any work undertaken in the previous three years demonstrating capability in the provision of services for young people".--[Official Report, 29/2/96; WA 113.]
On this and other criteria Rebound, a subsidiary of Group 4, was appointed, although as reported by the press its subsequent surprise at the warmth of the reception that it received from some inmates might have given rise to reservations in official quarters about the precise depth of knowledge in this field that it had claimed to possess.

Be that as it may, Medway opened in April 1998. The sorry tale of the ensuing months is detailed in the report of the inspectors: two senior managers and 30 per cent. of operational members of staff left in the first months; the cost of damage repair following rioting stands at £150,000; two inmates escaped; there was no detoxification programme in place; there were incidents of bullying and self-harm; a so-called restraint squad had to be brought in; and neck and wrist restraints were used on at least 135 occasions. That is an interesting development in view of best medical evidence that such methods should not be used in the case of youngsters and the fact that only 12 per cent. were there for offences of violence.

It is a catalogue of incompetence which, to its credit, the company has largely admitted. It must also be stated that there was fault on both sides and that some of the official specifications--for example, for doors and windows--were contrary to what Rebound believed was appropriate for the task. In short, it has become clear that there was insufficient grasp on both sides of the enormity of the task which faced any pioneering company in this minefield. If there is any comfort to be had it is that Onley, which is due to open in May, will not be given the go-ahead until the Government are satisfied that it will be run properly. That promise was made in another place by the Minister. In defence of the Government, there were contractual obligations that made the opening of Medway and Onley inescapable. That may well also be the case with Hassockfield, which is due to open in the autumn under other, and as yet untried, management. Accordingly, is the Minister

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satisfied that this company is competent to run an STC and that it, too, has taken on board the lessons of Medway?

I come to the last two, Sharpness and Ranby, for which the Government have applied for outline planning permission; in other words, they have accepted the concept of STCs and so the road to Ranby has become their road to Damascus. Therefore, the STCs are with us. Those who try to calculate how many additional places in secure local accommodation could be created were, at the very least, those last two projects to be cancelled, must go on dreaming; just as those who believe that to take the really bad eggs out of national colleges of crime and disperse them throughout the country in small units, although marginally a little more expensive on a per capita basis, nevertheless provides the best answer to the problem, will never have the chance to find out--at least in the foreseeable future.

Before finally leaving the subject of STCs, I must quote from the Government's response to last year's Home Office Comprehensive Spending Review:

    "and in anticipation of the Detention and Training Order, to allow these centres (STCs) to accommodate juveniles of all ages".
What exactly do those ominous words mean? Do they include children perhaps as young as 10? If such is the intention will there be appropriate facilities for them within the STC? Who determines who goes to an STC? Is it the Secretary of State or his nominee; that is, the Youth Justice Board? Will the juvenile court have any jurisdiction in the matter or will it merely sentence juveniles to a period of custody, leaving where that is in the air?

If they do have this discretion, how will they know whether there is a place available were they minded to commit to an STC? The answer may be, "Well, it's only the trouble of a phonecall from the court after all." But what happens if it is early evening in a court which is far away from any of the five STCs? Will the court have to ask for a bed for the night from the nearest available secure local accommodation? I should be grateful if the noble Lord the Minister would answer some of these questions when he winds up the debate.

I believe it is fair to describe the final years of the last administration as being a period without a coherent national strategy to deal with persistent juvenile offending. Measures were seemingly brought in on an ad hoc basis, often in response to tabloid pressure or to reassure party activists. Much has changed since then and I, for one, congratulate this Government and the noble Lord the Minister, whose caring credentials I know to be as good as anyone's in this field, on finally coming to grips with this immense problem.

Having said that, we now appear to have gone from famine to feast. The late Baroness Faithfull, whose indomitable spirit surely hovers approvingly over this debate, would undoubtedly be pleased by our discussing these matters. However, at the risk of pouring a little cold water over the proceedings, I have to say that the rapid succession of Acts, reports, advices, responses and the like over the past two years is inclined to make the establishment of what is or is not the exact penalty,

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sentence and its administrative execution a little confusing, although some of the Minister's answers to this debate will no doubt clarify the situation.

Perhaps it is too much to hope that we could have the plethora of Acts introduced over the past few years finally consolidated into one all-embracing Act. These, however, are relatively minor considerations when set against the implementation of a country-wide strategy, which takes account of all the problems relating to juvenile crime, attempts to deal with them sensibly and, most important of all, seeks to include those members of our community most intimately connected with them--namely, the police, magistrates, teachers and the social services--in their solution.

While on the subject of a grand strategy, I refer to the general in day-to-day charge of the campaign. I must record how grateful I am to the noble Lord, Lord Warner--I do not think he has made it yet--for coming all the way from an important engagement in Sheffield today to take part in this debate. As chairman of the Youth Justice Board, his contribution will be of very great value indeed, and I hope he arrives in time.

The board will play a central role in the constructive fight against juvenile crime nationally. The new detention and training order being implemented in April next year, together with the setting up of youth offending teams, are the foundations of the Government's strategy. A comprehensive survey of the juvenile secure estate will precede the assumption of the responsibility by the board for all secure accommodation for those under 18 years old. This will be complemented by the Prison Service's review of its juvenile estate. Thereafter the Youth Justice Board will act as the purchasing body for all forms of secure accommodation for juvenile offenders. I must here own up to the fact that though I can understand the theory and the economic and administrative rationale for this initiative, I am still puzzled as to how it will work in practice. Perhaps the noble Lord the Minister, or the noble Lord, Lord Warner, will be able to help in this respect. Together with monitoring the relevance of sentences, the board will determine the constructive execution of those sentences. In other words, it will ensure that all the constituent players in the correct discharge of a sentence fulfill their responsibilities--a matter of particular importance in the second, non-custodial part of the sentence.

Let me take this thought a little further, if I may. The first STC, as we have heard, has now been in existence for nearly a year. If the directorate, despite all the problems identified by the inspection, has achieved some sort of success with the inmates--particularly, let us say, in education--and despite the report's observation that the quality of education provision was unsatisfactory, it will be vital that that success story is continued in the non-custodial part of the sentence. After all, it is no good making a breakthrough at Medway if the ensuing local programme is unimaginative and limited in its horizons. The need for the national monitoring of local individual programmes, presumably the responsibility of the Youth Justice Board, will thus be of immense importance. It is

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comforting to know that pilots are already in hand at Werrington and Huntercombe, and perhaps the noble Lord the Minister will tell us how long they are planned to last and exactly who will be involved in them.

I turn briefly to the question of accommodation. Whose is the responsibility for the maintenance of national standards in secure local accommodation where there is more than one provider? Is it the Prison Service or the social services departments of local councils? Also, as seems only reasonable and desirable, will the Youth Justice Board have the last word in the setting and evaluation of these standards, irrespective of who the providers are? For years I have gone on about the need to have specific national standards for secure local accommodation in view of the inevitable disparity between the perceptions of one council and another, to say nothing of the budgetary considerations affecting all of them. Consequently, I welcome wholeheartedly the promise, implicit in the Youth Justice Board's remit, of across-the-board inspections and standards.

I know that other noble Lords will have their own concerns which they will wish to air. Shortage of time has precluded my mentioning the place of girls in this new order and of the urgent need to remove them completely from senior prison service accommodation. I would also have wished to have talked more about the need for meaningful education programmes as a means of giving youngsters the chance of a new life.

What of the future? It has been suggested that a halfway-house solution, as between a totally secure and a non-secure unit might be worth consideration but, at the risk of being labelled a pessimist, I cannot enthuse over such a suggestion, certainly not at the present time. No, I would rather look to the Youth Justice Board and the youth offending teams together with the promotion of the fast track approach aimed at nipping trouble in the bud. If there is one ray of light in all this, it is that behavioural patterns in the young can change almost overnight and often for no discernible reason. I am sure that the parents among us can confirm this, and although I would not exactly build a mountain of hope on this observation, to some extent it has to be true of criminal behaviour as well.

This Government have embarked upon a major initiative to replace a system which was chaotic, irrational and unable to deliver a constructive answer to juvenile crime, let alone to stop its excesses, and to replace that system with a comprehensive range of proposals involving all relevant sections of the community. Some may work and some may not but I, for one, wish them well, for if they do not succeed the implications for our society and for future generations will be grave indeed. I beg to move for papers.

6.37 p.m.

Lord Acton: My Lords, I should like to congratulate the noble Viscount, Lord Tenby, on introducing this most timely debate. I should also like to congratulate my noble friend Lord Warner, who has arrived with the bloom of Sheffield on his cheek.

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The inspectors' report on Medway above all invites caution for the future. I suggest that the inspectors return to Medway forthwith to see whether it is still "facing a crisis". They could assess how many of their 38 recommendations have been successfully implemented, and make further necessary recommendations. Remembering that Rebound is supposed to open Rainsbrook STC in May, the inspectors could report whether Rebound now seems competent to run an STC. If and when the inspectors approve launching Rainsbrook, I would advocate a precautionary inspection there within three months of opening.

The third site, Hassockfield, is due to open in September. Can the Minister say what experience its contractor, Premier Prisons, has had with difficult and delinquent children? Again I would suggest a precautionary inspection within three months, and then further regular inspections of all STCs.

I come to the last two proposed STCs at Sharpness and Ranby. After the experience with private contractors at Medway, I wonder whether caution does not suggest to the Government that secure training centres are not an appropriate field for the private sector and therefore that they should abandon plans for the final two privately run STCs.

I turn to last July's Home Office document on secure accommodation for juveniles. Dealing with medium-term objectives, it states that the Youth Justice Board,

    "would then commission a particular number of places from the providers of such accommodation--central government, local authorities and the private sector".
I emphasise "and the private sector".

In its preliminary advice to the Home Secretary of 17th December the board goes further. At paragraph 100 it states:

    "Over time there should be a different balance within the juvenile estate between prison and non-prison service providers. The aim should be to encourage a wide range of providers such as not-for-profit organisations and private providers to become more involved in the juvenile secure sector".
The paper gives no explanation for that recommendation. Given Rebound's record, I am puzzled by that advice. Why does the board advocate private providers? Surely caution says stick to, improve, and expand the Prison Service juvenile estate and the local authorities' secure units.

As an example of private enterprise, the board states at paragraph 75:

    "In addition Prime Life plc, venture capitalists, have said they intend to build 5 secure units of 48 beds. The first is planned to be in place by early 2000".
What is that company's experience with difficult and delinquent juveniles? And where is it building its first secure unit?

Having voiced my special concern about the private sector, perhaps I may stress in general how much I welcome the Government's attempt to bring coherence to the key area of secure accommodation for young offenders. Perhaps I may stress how grateful I am to the Minister for the announcement on 8th March in an Answer to a Written Question concerning girls in prison

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under the age of 17. He made a promise, and he has indeed done it. The noble Baroness, Lady Masham, will take up the matter. However, I wish to repeat how grateful we are to him for making that promise.

6.42 p.m.

Lord Carr of Hadley: My Lords, I, too, wish to thank the noble Viscount for bringing this subject before us today. It is timely that we should have this discussion. I welcome also the questions that he put to the Minister. I shall not take up any of my six minutes in repeating them. In the latter part of his speech, the noble Viscount referred to the survey about the problems and needs of future developments for treating young offenders. In my six minutes I feel it necessary to concentrate on the rather narrow field of the problems raised by the special training centres.

I was one of those--was it three years ago?--who met the suggestion with considerable scepticism and, to be honest, severe criticism. It was not a party political matter. I was among noble Lords from all parts of the House. I believe that this first report confirms that our fears were well justified. I do not wish to spend time saying "I told you so", but we must consider carefully the principles on which the decision was based.

I do not wish to criticise the policy of secure training orders. I said at the time, and I repeat now, that in principle the sentence is a good one. Unlike some, I accept that, while we should do everything possible to avoid custodial policies, in particular for the young, there is a small but nevertheless significant number of young children for whom, sadly, custody is necessary. What I objected to then in prospect, and object to even more strongly now in the light of experience, is custody in institutionalised groups in training centres holding 30 or 40 people. That always was a dangerous policy. I believe that our fears about it being a fatal policy have been confirmed.

In addition, many of those young children are taken miles away from not only their own homes--some of their homes are bad--but also from schools and institutions in the home area which might have some influence on them. I believe that that is a wholly wrong policy. Our experience from these first centres proves it.

I very much hope, although it seems a forlorn hope, that the Government will now pause and consider before opening any further centres as at present planned. With respect to the noble Lord, Lord Acton, I am not interested in whether those centres are in the public or private sector. They are wrong in principle and should not be developed. It is a waste of good money--money which could be spent more effectively on treatment for the avoidance of crime.

I accept the need for custody. However, when custody is necessary it must be in very small numbers indeed on a local basis. Therefore at the heart of the problem is the urgent need to spend money and undertake administrative organisation--there are difficulties about that--to build a larger supply of good, small, local custodial facilities.

Another part of the sentence which I like is that half of it is to be spent in supervision in the community. If the custodial part is in small numbers locally and the supervision in the community is also in the same locality, then we might get somewhere. But to continue along the

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present approach, no matter who owns or builds the centres or however much we approve them, is wrong in principle and should not be pursued--inconvenient and difficult though it may be to start in another direction.

It is a huge subject and one could continue for long time, but I must not do so. I conclude with this germane point. It refers to the general approach to crime in this country. Most of us involved in politics get fed up with the tabloid approach whereby one is either soft on crime or tough on crime. That is absolute nonsense. What matters is to be effective in tackling crime. Effectiveness must be brought into the front line. I repeat: I think that the sentence is a good one. However, it will only become effective if the custodial part is undertaken locally, in very small numbers, followed by good local supervision. If we pursue those lines, we shall get somewhere.

We foresaw the practical difficulties and, alas, our fears have proved correct. I hope that we can now turn away from the concept. If those sentences are to be effective, we have first to catch people. While nine out of 10 know that they will not be caught, any other deterrents are nonsense. We must be effective in catching them, effective in punishing them and effective in reforming them. The special training centre is the wrong approach in principle. It must be stopped, even if it is expensive to do so.

6.50 p.m.

Baroness Linklater of Butterstone: My Lords, to many of us who have been involved in one way or another with young offenders, the setting up of the Medway Secure Training Centre was an initiative which was doomed to failure. That was because it was a strategy which all evidence and past experience have shown could not have a successful outcome in terms of reducing reoffending rates or of impinging on the causes of persistent offending behaviour.

What we are discussing today is children whose behaviour is anti-social, extremely challenging, disruptive, often violent and difficult in the extreme; but children nonetheless. They are children whose lives are almost always completely chaotic, with "disproportionate experiences of loss", as one report puts it--a phrase I find quite heartbreaking--as well as the predictable poor relationships with parents or step-parents, or no parent at all, exclusion from school, heavy involvement with drug and alcohol abuse, as well as exposure to sexual and other abuse. It is this knowledge which must inform decision and strategies on how to deal appropriately with them.

We are also discussing a very small group of children whose behaviour makes a disproportionate impact on the people and areas where they live but whose activities have as a result caused lurid headlines and a demonology created around them.

The facts about Medway have been well catalogued: excessive use of force, which only served to justify the children's own aggressive and destructive behaviour; unsatisfactory education provision; inadequate numbers of inadequately qualified staff; a lack of effective, experienced managers; programmes which were

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designed to tackle offending behaviour which had "simply failed"; some locked up without exercise or fresh air for 24 hours a day. This experience is likely to make the children even more criminal in their attitudes. It is an horrific catalogue of failure for a regime which would not have been tolerated in an adult prison, yet here we are talking about children.

Before Medway was built, we knew that community-based options had the greatest chance of success in terms of reoffending rates, as well as being significantly cheaper: it costs £2,400 per week to keep a child in Medway, whereas in a community-based project I know in Scotland called Freagarroch, it costs £330 per week. We knew that local authority secure units are smaller, more professionally run and have better outcomes. We knew that strategies involving families, local agencies and programmes well focused on offending behaviour were the only ones that had some hope of effecting change--something which is especially true for children. The Lisnevin Training Centre in Northern Ireland, which takes 10 to 17 year-olds, a rough equivalent to Medway, was found to have reconviction rates as high as 100 per cent. in the secure unit, whereas in Freagarroch the reoffending rate is less than 40 per cent., and yet four more STCs are planned to open.

Furthermore, there are important statutory duties that we must not forget regarding the welfare of the child and a duty to ensure that penalties are proportionate both to the seriousness of the offending and the age and circumstances of the offender. The serious anomaly is that while local authority units must comply with the Children Act, STCs or YOIs in the prison service do not.

I have had the privilege of serving as a panel member on a children's panel in Edinburgh for eight years. This system ensures that children remain the responsibility of the local authority at least until they are 16, and if they are already on a supervision order, that responsibility can be extended to 18. In this way children are for the most part prevented from finding their way into a penal establishment, although occasionally 15 year-olds have been held in YOIs for very short periods. Never has a 12 to 14 year-old been held in Medway-type custody.

The provision of local authority run secure accommodation, however, has always been an important resource, the problem being inadequate numbers of places, which currently in Scotland are about 90 in five establishments. Attached to them are some close support units which offer an extremely effective half-way house, as alluded to by the noble Viscount, Lord Tenby.

The overriding objective is to address the child's need, to involve the family and all relevant agencies as a matter of course and to do everything possible to keep a child out of the courts. I have used secure provision on several occasions when it has been manifestly needed and a child has indeed needed security. I have been greatly impressed by what has been achieved for the child and society in this way and have witnessed very successful outcomes, sometimes in a short space of time. Those children are very persistent offenders. I am without doubt that a Medway regime would have been

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wholly inappropriate in each and every case with which I have had to deal. Why the children's panel system was not adopted in England continues to baffle me.

Like the noble Viscount, Lord, Tenby, I hope to dream that the Government, will reconsider their approaches to the problems presented by this small group of very difficult children and avoid unnecessarily compounding the misery and unhappiness they both experience and inflict on others.

6.57 p.m.

Baroness Masham of Ilton: My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lord Tenby for bringing to your Lordships this problem of all problems--the persistent juvenile offender. The Medway Secure Training Centre makes one ask whether it is wise to open more secure training centres until Medway is improved and able to do its job with satisfactory results or whether damaged and difficult youngsters are going to be made worse in unsatisfactory conditions.

How many persistent juvenile offenders who commit numerous offences are we speaking about? The increasing numbers of children between the ages of 12 and 14 and even younger who are persistent offenders should be a considerable concern to the whole country.

This debate, following the previous debate on marriage, is pertinent. Children who offend characteristically have disrupted and chaotic lifestyles, disproportionate experiences of loss, truancy or exclusion from school, heavy alcohol and drug use and poor relationships with parents or step-parents. Many may have been battered and abused.

The social services inspectorate found a catalogue of problems when undertaking its report, which includes excessive use of force applied towards children, unsatisfactory education provision, inadequate numbers of staff, inexperienced and incompetent staff who have not been adequately trained, and a lack of effective and experienced managers. Programmes designed to tackle offending behaviour had simply failed. Some children had virtually no access to fresh air and exercise, leaving them in an enclosed environment for 24 hours a day. It concluded that:

    "The combination of the excessive use of force and ineffective treatment seemed to strengthen the criminogenic behaviours and outlook of the trainees".

Will the Minister comment on the Bridges Project in Sheffield set up in 1995 as a community alternative to a secure training order? It has shown success in reducing the offending of 60 per cent. of the children in its care. The project was established by a partnership of the police, social services and probation in Yorkshire. It was a direct response to the proposals to create the secure training order and takes children who would otherwise be subject to such an order. It costs just £10,000 per year per child as opposed to the secure training centre annual cost of more than £110,000.

The project provides a highly structured and individualised programme as part of a supervision order lasting for between two and three years. A child attends the programme five times per week and the staff work

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to establish a structure for the child's life as well as tackling the offending behaviour. That enables the children to understand the impact of what they have done to the victim. That would often include reparative work involving the victim, where appropriate. Education is accessed and project staff support the child; for instance, by taking him to school, helping with homework, and so on. Where possible, parents are involved but, as so often is the problem, there is conflict with their children. Project staff try to help families resolve such conflict. Volunteers are used to help with leisure activities.

The effectiveness of the programme is due to the fact that it supports the child and family over an extended period of time, unlike custody which simply removes the child only to dump him or her back into the same problems on release.

Unfortunately, the programme is due to close because of lack of funding. Local authorities are reluctant to pay for an expensive community sanction. If a child goes to a secure training centre, the Home Office pays the bill. So there is no incentive for the local authority to keep the project open, despite its encouraging results. For the children who do not have a loving, united family, surely we need a variety of projects to see which would have the better results.

I have always been made aware that violence breeds violence. We must do all we can to avoid a more violent society. We need to catch these youngsters before they get deeper and deeper into crime. I hope the Government will look very positively into the training of teachers and all staff involved so that they are equipped to deal with this problem, as so many of the parents are not suitable role models. I thank the Minister for releasing the 15 and 16 year-old children from adult prisons. As prison Minister, he has done exceedingly well.

7.1 p.m.

Lord Mackenzie of Framwellgate: My Lords, having spent most of my working life as a police officer dealing with young offenders, I thank the noble Viscount, Lord Tenby, for initiating this important debate. The problems caused by juvenile crime need to continue to be addressed. It is the duty of the state to defend citizens, whether from attack outside or, indeed, from attack by criminals inside.

Juvenile crime is the seedbed of criminality for the future. Anything that can be done to stem it at a young age is to be welcomed and is in everybody's interests. It has been estimated to cost something in the region of £3 billion per year and causes tremendous problems.

I was delighted to hear the noble Baroness, Lady Masham, mention victims for the first time. It is the police officers, at the sharp end, who deal with victims and their wrath. The noble Lord, Lord Carr, mentioned "the tabloid tendency". That, of course, generally reflects the views of the average chap in the pub, the one who bends the policeman's ear and demands action on various issues, not least the one we are discussing.

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I am from the north-east of England. Northumbria police had a particular problem in that area; I do not know why. Perhaps juvenile criminals in the north-east are of a peculiar type. I know not; but we had a series of offenders who were given nicknames by the tabloid press: "Blip Boy", "Rat Boy" and "Boomerang Boy". For some reason, they all seemed to be from my neck of the woods.

Northumbria Police conducted a survey of 35 juveniles under the age of 17 who had committed 1,300 crimes and had been arrested 639 times. That was extremely frustrating for the police officers at the sharp end and, of course, even more frustrating for the victims.

Parental responsibility is very important. We know that the background and domestic life of many juvenile offenders make it virtually impossible for them to have a normal existence, as we would understand it, as part of growing up. I recall visiting the homes of juveniles as a police officer. I was able to tell, simply by the home environment and the response from the parents, whether the youngster would be coming to the police station again in future.

I began my police service in a small town of which noble Lords have probably heard called Jarrow. Even now, I read the newspapers in the north and recognise the names of offenders--relatively young people--as being from the same criminal families I dealt with as a young detective two generations ago.

In many circumstances it is extremely important to remove youngsters from that sort of environment. It is easy to say that detention centres and training centres are universities of crime. However, the very environment in which such youngsters are brought up, including some housing estates, are equally universities of crime. There is a balance to be struck. As the noble Lord, Lord Carr, commented, we are talking of a small but nonetheless important minority of youngsters and quite often the ones who will, unfortunately, graduate to far more serious crime in later years.

The Crime and Disorder Act is important and brings the right approach. For far too long police would caution youngsters time after time. They would go before the courts time after time. The perception would arise, not least among the youngsters, that nothing would happen to them. Those youngsters were not stupid. Word got round. We would see them on television galavanting around in balaclava helmets, challenging authority simply because they knew that nothing could be done; no one could touch them. There was no secure accommodation. We had a phrase for that in the north-east: "Revolving door justice". The police would arrest them and they would be released into the community almost immediately to continue reoffending. That gives rise to the view quite often taken that it is not the punishment that deters but being caught. That is not true. It clearly is both. As the noble Lord, Lord Carr, rightly said, we have to catch them first. However, if word gets out that once they are caught nothing will happen in consequence, they will take that as a licence to continue to pillage and reoffend. That is the last thing that any of us in this House would want.

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I conclude by saying that I believe the way forward is by training and education, whether local, national, private or public. I am no expert, but one thing I do know: for this small nucleus of offenders that has to be in secure accommodation.

7.7 p.m.

Lord Windlesham: My Lords, yesterday at the Third Reading of the Youth Justice and Criminal Evidence Bill, we debated a novel disposal for young offenders and one which, in the general view of the House, deserves to succeed; that is, the power of a magistrates' court to refer young first offenders to a youth offender panel.

Today we are debating what was another novelty in its day but one that has clearly failed. The secure training order, although enacted as long ago as 1994, was not brought into force until April 1998. Its failure was widely forecast. When the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994 was in Committee in the House of Lords, Baroness Faithfull, whose name has already been mentioned by the noble Viscount, Lord Tenby, moved to delete completely the clause containing the secure training order. In a memorable speech, she stated:

    "History, experience, and research have proven that incarceration in residential secure units, far from the parents, the home, and the community, fails in its objectives".--[Official Report, 25/4/94; col. 459.]

I thought perhaps I should refresh my memory today. I recalled being present at that debate. Indeed, I spoke and voted for Lady Faithfull's amendment. I believe that some other noble Lords, including the mover of this debate, did the same, but none was more emphatic in his denunciation of the proposal for the secure training order than the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh of Haringey, speaking from the Opposition Front Bench. I simply mention that lest there is any risk of deviation from the line taken previously when the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn, replies to this debate.

The report of the inspectors on the Medway Secure Training Centre makes sorry reading. There is no need to repeat again what has been said already in this debate about the acute problems caused by the behaviour of some of the most difficult and disruptive inmates; nor about the excessive force used by inexperienced and inadequately trained staff in restraining them.

In the interests of time, I shall confine myself to making only one other point. I refer to an issue that has come up often in our debates on penal matters. I refer to the differentiation, or to the alternatives, of concentration and dispersal. It is sometimes argued that the most disruptive and the most dangerous inmates, and those in custody who are the most likely to attempt to escape, should be concentrated together in conditions of maximum security, with a harsh regime. The noble Lord, Lord Carr, will remember Lord Mountbatten's report after a spate of escapes in the 1960s. He recommended a single fortress into which all of the most difficult and high risk inmates could be put. Although it sounds attractive in a way, the practical experience and evidence (and not just in this country) do not support

24 Mar 1999 : Column 1356

such a proposal, whether the inmates are adults or juveniles. All the evidence is in favour of dispersal. Whether the perspective is from the standpoint of internal control and external security, or of training and the prospects for rehabilitation, the policy of dispersing problem prisoners has proved the more effective.

The secure training orders will have had a mercifully short life. They came into effect only last year and they will be superseded by the new detention and training orders in a few months' time. Perhaps I may put a question to the Minister. Once the secure training orders are replaced by the detention and training orders, why will there be a need for any further secure training centres? The custodial element of such an order covers only a short period. When no further secure training orders are passed, why should there be a need for four or five centres, each holding 40 people? It would be helpful to those of us taking part in this debate to have an answer to that question, of which I give due notice so that the noble Lord will be able to obtain a reply in good time for the end of the debate.

7.13 p.m.

Earl Baldwin of Bewdley: My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend for introducing this debate. He is aware of the line I intend to take, and has been good enough to encourage me even though he has heard me take it on a number of occasions in recent years. I wish to draw attention to the growing body of evidence linking the diet of persistent offenders with their criminal behaviour. In so doing I am bound to cover a bit of old ground.

One of the problems in this whole area, I believe, lies in an unspoken assumption. It is that psychosocial behaviour, such as we have seen at Medway, will have had psychosocial causes. There is no reason why this should be the case, but the reality is that this has been an area for social services, for the police and the courts, for psychiatry, and for education. None of these admirable and hard-pressed professions has training in nutritional approaches to health, whether mental or physical, nor do they read the relevant literature. Even doctors have largely lost sight of nutrition in this age of high-tech medicine. So that while the evidence continues to mount, people have been slow to see and accept it. Besides, there is always an element of territorial resistance to an innovation which might threaten existing practice.

There is no difficulty with the notion that alcohol can affect behaviour; similarly drugs, both medical and recreational. What has become clear in the past 20 years is that so too can many other things that we take by mouth. I have spoken before of the boy who lived just down the road from me in Oxford who was driven literally berserk by contact with wheat, milk or sugar: he beat up his mother, started fires, stole and smashed up cars. Similarly, there was the young man in Cumbria with a bizarre history of offending: after the 14th time of taking heavy goods vehicles without consent--always between the hours of 10.30 in the evening and three in the morning--and driving them all over the country, the courts uncovered his no less bizarre pattern of eating. This involved no food before tea-time, no vegetables

24 Mar 1999 : Column 1357

ever, and about 100 teaspoons of sugar a day. This was enough to scramble his brain pretty thoroughly; but as soon as he was given a probation order contingent on a change of diet he became a different person and did not reoffend. I am told that the cost to society of a lifetime's delinquency is about £1 million; this man's treatment cost £4 a week.

I also wonder whether my noble friend's observation that behaviour can change overnight, as he put it, for no discernible reason, may possibly find its answer in that kind of direction.

Those examples are from the extreme end of the scale. Of more help to policy-makers are the published studies, mostly from America, showing, for example, a 45 per cent. reduction in antisocial behaviour among prisoners given an additive-free whole-food diet, and a 44 per cent. decrease in offending in Los Angeles which led to a city-wide ban on highly processed foods in juvenile institutions. The Home Office has been involved in a study, not yet published, at Aylesbury Young Offenders Institution whose results, based on giving simple nutritional supplements to a group of persistent offenders, seem to confirm the hypothesis in striking fashion.

I hope that the noble Lord the Minister may refer to this when he winds up. We have corresponded on this topic in the past, particularly over what the evidence appears to show. It is a complex matter involving allergies, toxic influences, and lack of nutrients needed for proper brain function, but by now there is enough that is relevant to the problems my noble friend is addressing in his Motion today to offer possibilities for further studies along the lines of those already published.

I should like briefly to refer to the problem of childhood hyperactivity. At a conference two years ago of the Allergy Research Foundation, we heard that two-thirds of the major criminals in Britain and the USA appear to meet the criteria for hyperactivity in childhood. A prison governor once said to a friend of mine:

    "Practically all my prisoners are hyperactive".
I am convinced by what I have heard and read, first, that this is a condition that responds well to dietary intervention--leading practitioners reckon that about three-quarters of children benefit--and, secondly, that many of today's hyperactive children become tomorrow's criminals. And yet apart from a landmark dietary study published in the Lancet in 1985, there is little professional work being done on this front, while the use of the drug Ritalin with its unknown long-term side effects rises alarmingly, and psychosocial treatments make limited headway.

The only body consistently active in restoring children of the Medway age-range and younger to normality by nutritional means is the Hyperactive Children's Support Group, which has had a track record of success culminating in the recent confirmation of its theory about the deficit of essential fatty acids in the brain. The Home Office could do a lot worse than give positive backing to an effective group which has operated for years on a shoestring and is now in danger of having to close.

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The report on the Medway Secure Training Centre speaks of drawing lessons from research, but, alas, not this research. The nearest it gets is in reference to meeting dietary requests which have nothing here to do with nutritional quality, and the need to help with detoxification; but the notion of weaning off a junk diet is not considered. Perhaps the training centre itself has a junk diet: I do not know! The POST Technical Report 92, Treating Problem Behaviour in Children, does only marginally better.

I believe we have here a possible solution to some of the problems of juvenile offending which is reasonably simple, low-technology, and almost absurdly cost- effective compared with the alternatives. This is not of course "the" answer to crime. But for quite a lot of offenders, and especially young offenders, it appears to be part of the story, and I very much hope the Home Office will put its weight behind further trials and will give some support to those struggling charities such as Natural Justice and the Hyperactive Children's Support Group which are doing such sterling work in the face of considerable discouragement.

7.19 p.m.

Lord Warner: My Lords, I too am grateful to the noble Viscount for creating this opportunity for us to debate issues concerned with juvenile secure facilities. I am grateful, too, for him letting me know in advance what he was going to say in case our great and glorious privatised railways did not get me back from Sheffield in time. I am not sure whether what I ate on the train would necessarily have met the stringent requirements of the noble Earl in his final remarks.

Although there are some important lessons to be learnt from the experience of Medway Secure Training Centre, I want to address my remarks to some of the wider problems concerning those young offenders who the courts have decided need to be locked up. I should like to inform the House of a little of the thinking on this issue by the Youth Justice Board for England and Wales, which I chair.

I accept that things went wrong in Medway. I suspect that Group 4 under-estimated the difficulty of the young people it would be dealing with. It probably decided too many things before the centre's manager was appointed. There were certainly centre design and staffing problems. But we have to remember that this was the first such centre in the country and it was receiving very difficult young people from all over the country. Though there was excessive use of restraint, the usage was properly documented and there were Home Office monitors on site.

I do not believe the evidence suggests that secure training centres cannot work well, particularly if, as is intended, their age range is increased from 12 to 16 and there is a better distribution of the facilities so that the young people placed in them are closer to their home areas. It is a delusion to believe that there are not some 12, 13 and 14 year-olds who need to be trained so one can work with them on the deep-seated problems which contribute to their offending.

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The trouble with concentrating too much on Medway is that it is only a small part of the juvenile secure estate. At any one time, there are nearly 3,000 young people under 18 locked up in secure facilities. Around 2,500 of them are 15 to 17 year-olds in prison establishments. That is almost double the number held in prison in 1993. The big increase in that number, I am glad to say, occurred before this Government's term of office. Fewer than 100 of those young people are female, so we are talking about a problem largely relating to young men. Approaching 300 young people are in local authority secure accommodation and only around 60 or so in Medway and the Department of Health's Youth Treatment Centre at Glenthorne. It is the young people in all those facilities about whom we should be concerned, not just those in Medway.

There is little point in mincing one's words about the present arrangements; they are a mess. Those are not just my views; they are the views of the Youth Justice Task Force, the Home Office Comprehensive Spending Review and Her Majesty's Chief Inspector of Prisons. The position was put well in Sir David Ramsbotham's thematic report, where he said,

    "It is the plight of children that alarms us most, not least because of the conditions in which they are held in prison service accommodation ... More damage is done to immature adolescents than to any other type of prisoner by current conditions. The vast majority of young people in custody need individual attention given to the problems, which produced their criminal behaviour. If all they get is akin to being stored in a warehouse, then the chances of their re-offending, creating yet more victims, is very great".
Those remarks have nothing to do with Medway.

The juvenile secure facilities have been bedevilled by four key problems areas. First, the absence of a clear aim for those working with young offenders; secondly, the lack of clarity and purpose about the sentencing framework for those in custody; thirdly, the poor linkage between custody and community supervision of young offenders and, fourthly, the huge disparity in funding and performance of the different facilities. I am glad to say that those issues are now being tackled.

First, with the principal aim for all those working with young offenders, including those in juvenile secure facilities, we now have the prospect as laid down in the Crime and Disorder Act that people working with those youngsters will have a clear focus for their work. Secondly, for convicted young offenders there will be a clearer sentencing framework. People have already drawn attention to the improvements that will be provided by having the new detention and training order. I am glad that the Home Secretary accepted the recommendations from the Youth Justice Board that the DTO should come into operation in April 2000 when the local structure of youth offending teams is brought into effect nationally. That should ensure a fairly short life for the secure training order.

Thirdly, the DTO and youth offending teams provide the opportunity radically to improve the linkage between secure facilities and community supervision. There will be scope to shift the balance in the DTO between community and custody. Half the sentence will normally

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be spent in community facilities and half in custodial facilities, but there will be an opportunity for people who co-operate and make progress in their custodial setting to move to community supervision faster.

Fourthly, an issue which will not go away is the disparity of funding and performance in different institutions. The Government asked the board to provide advice on regimes, placement arrangements and how the board might take on the role of commission and purchaser for all juvenile secure facilities. That provides us with an opportunity to make real changes in this area. That is why the board will be moving quickly to provide advice on national standards, which we hope will change the culture of many juvenile secure facilities.

Before closing, I want briefly to respond to the point made by my noble friend Lord Acton as to why, in our advice to the Home Secretary, we drew attention to a venture capitalist organisation. We were not trying to say whether it was a good or a bad thing; we were drawing attention to the fact that other people were interested in providing these facilities. It is important to approach this issue on a non-doctrinal basis. We are interested in having competent providers, whether they come from the public, private or not-for-profit sector. We need people who can meet the national standards and provide regimes in their facilities that will change behaviour.

I am grateful to the noble Viscount for raising this debate and look forward to changes coming about in these facilities which will change the behaviour of young offenders.

7.27 p.m.

Lord Elton: My Lords, I too am grateful to the noble Viscount for raising this compellingly interesting subject. I am glad to welcome much of what the present Government are doing in addressing the juvenile crime problem, which is different from what was done under the last administration. I am tempted to speak about that, but as long as secure training centres are seen as a part of the solution to the problem, it is necessary to look closely at the report and at how it follows on from what so many of us predicted three years ago. I was one of those who spoke and voted against my own party on every possible occasion on this issue, and I remain convinced that this is not the solution to our problem.

As the noble Baroness, Lady Linklater, said in a moving speech, we are talking about children, the oldest of whom (and there are only three) are only 15; 37 are 14 years old and the youngest, 12. But they are highly disruptive children and anyone who has taught such children will realise that the effect of concentrating them in one place is the same as the effect of concentrating nuclear active elements in one reactor; they reinforce each other and a dangerous situation arises. It can be controlled by expert and experienced staff, but we read at paragraph 6.1,

    "A major theme running through this report is about what we judge to be the inadequacy in numbers and competencies of the staff group".
The result of that can rapidly be seen in the way in which, within six months, those children had almost entirely wrecked the expensive new accommodation and

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equipment. The bedrooms and living areas of this establishment, particularly in four units, had been subject to major vandalism which left unacceptable physical conditions in the units. We saw destroyed beds, cupboard doors off their hinges, security cameras torn from their seatings, windows smashed and graffiti. There was a programme of work underway to refurbish.

At this point we must pause to realise that we are not talking about an experiment in a laboratory, but about people doing jobs. I am very anxious that what is said during this debate should not have a completely demoralising and debilitating effect on the staff still working in the establishment. There are people there who are doing a good job. Indeed, some of the teachers have been warmly complimented, as has the chaplain. No doubt that also applies to others in their respective lines. I would not want them to think that they were being thrown out, as it were, because they are in crisis. However, crisis is what they are in.

I believe that the noble Baroness, Lady Masham, referred to what I regard as the "killer" paragraph in the document. I have to find it because there is a word there which she found very difficult to pronounce and it is one that I shall find impossible to pronounce unless I actually see it in written form. The paragraph says:

    "We concluded that the combination of the excessive use of force and ineffective treatment seemed to strengthen the criminogenic behaviour and outlook".
That means that they were being reinforced as criminals. This huge amount of money is spent on setting up a building which they destroy and then they emerge from it more committed to crime than they were when they went in. That cannot be a rational or a compassionate answer to the situation. It seems to me to be the result of the logic of the whole system and not simply the breakdown of an organisation quite unprepared to cope with it. If you concentrate malefactors of this ingenuity youth and energy in one place, you will make it impossible to reform them, which is what this is for. Therefore, however much it costs, these places should not merely not be added to; they should be closed.

Having said that, I have said what lies closest to my heart. However, I add to it a plea that the Government again remember how much more effective it is to reach children before they get to this stage and divert them from offending. The more we study, the earlier that moment of intervention appears to be. You can go down to two years old and predict a criminal if he or she is denied certain essential nurturing. This is a big problem.

I have one minute left to speak. I welcome the Government's effort to get all the aspects of the control of juvenile criminal offending together across the departments, across the disciplines and across the local and other authorities concerned. However, I beg of them to think of these children with compassion and put such resources in as early in their careers as they can. Not only will they salvage many lives and turn them into happy and constructive experiences which can support others, but they will also save vast amounts of government money--that means taxpayers' money.

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7.33 p.m.

Lord Laming: My Lords, perhaps I may also thank the noble Viscount, Lord Tenby, for initiating this debate. I should declare an interest in that I was the former chief inspector of the Social Services Inspectorate. For that reason, I will not draw in detail on this inspectorate report but rather I should like to make a few brief comments about persistent juvenile offenders. As is well known to your Lordships--and this was referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Mackenzie--criminal statistics show that a small number of young people are responsible for a very high proportion of offences. Even when not committing criminal acts, some young people can be menacing in their behaviour to the general discomfort of the public.

It is therefore important that we all take seriously offending and unacceptable behaviour by young people. I am sure that the Minister will agree that everything should be done to speed up the process between apprehension and investigation and the process of prosecution. Time delays in these processes can be taken as a signal of lack of concern or that society is willing to tolerate or excuse anti-social behaviour. That is not so.

It is a coincidence that the earlier debate today concentrated on,

    "the economic and social role"
of the family. During that debate reference was made to the need for young people to experience the security and well-being which flows from being part of a loving and stable family unit. Sadly, many young people do not enjoy those advantages. Many of them have been let down by the adults in their lives and they experience considerable disruption and uncertainty. They have poor role models and poor experiences during their early years. In such circumstances it is perhaps understandable that many of these young people become suspicious and angry and very challenging in their behaviour, especially to those people in authority. They lose self-confidence and often fall behind in their education, which simply compounds their lack of self-esteem.

To understand some of these matters is not however to seek to excuse unacceptable behaviour. Rather, it is to provide us with pointers about how to approach the remedial task. There is no denying that, as we have already heard, some of these young people can be very destructive of property, of other people (even those who are there to try to help them) and of themselves. Some are very aggressive and some are dependent upon alcohol and drugs.

It is the case that many young people in secure accommodation experience for the first time in their lives a structure in daily living. Therefore, this framework can provide a focus for a range of purposeful activity aimed at helping the young person to become better equipped to live successfully in society.

The deprivation of liberty is the punishment. It is not sufficient simply to contain young people as, sooner or later, they will return to live in the community. It is for this reason that security and safety need to be matched by a programme of activity which is both active and remedial and which challenges in a constructive way

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inappropriate attitudes and unacceptable behaviour. Helping young people to manage their anger and frustration and to overcome their poor self-image requires great skill, courage and determination. I agree with the previous speaker that the staff who work in these centres deserve our support.

Does the Minister agree that in the best secure units there is an individual assessment of each young person and an individual care plan devised which has achievable goals set for each young person where achievement is celebrated and deteriorative behaviour confronted in a positive manner? The programme of activity in these centres is designed to help each young person to face the reality of his circumstances and to face up to his behaviour in ways which help him develop his potential. This is important because for many of them the facade of aggressive bullying behaviour camouflages what in many instances is the fearful child within, unable to cope with the demands of living successfully in the community. Helping these young people develop better ways of coping--and greater self-esteem--can be among the greatest benefits of time spent in a secure unit. That is as much in the interests of the young person as it is in the interests of society.

Some young people do need to be in secure accommodation, but I hope that the Minister will agree that the time spent in these units should be put to good effect. For that reason, I hope that the Minister will be able to continue to support inspections by the Social Services Inspectorate and other inspectorates in order that we can learn from the experience that we are gaining in helping these young people, and most of all ensure that money spent in these units produces a good result for society in general and a good result for young people in particular.

7.38 p.m.

Lord Judd: My Lords, I, too, should like to congratulate the noble Viscount, Lord Tenby, on having introduced today's debate. I believe that the analytical and challenging way in which he made his speech this evening puts a case which has to be taken very seriously by us all, not least the Government. As always in these debates, I have to declare an interest in that I am national president of the YMCA and we work with young offenders. I should also like to associate myself very strongly with what the noble Baroness, Lady Masham, said. I believe that we have a Minister who listens and acts. Therefore, I hope that anything I say in the few moments available to me will encourage him to continue to listen and act in the way that he is so commendably already doing.

My noble friend Lord Warner was quite right to emphasise to us all that there will always be some young people for whom secure accommodation is essential in order that work can be done in depth on the problems which surround them, and often on the psychological problems of which they are victims. However, I am sure my noble friend would agree with me that we have to be satisfied that the emphasis is on that work and not on the custodial dimension. I am sure he would also

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agree with me that there is a public education job to be done as regards the meaning of the word "secure". I believe that sometimes that word is interpreted by people in a way that I do not think most of us who are participating in this debate would understand.

I hope that my noble friend the Minister will forgive me for being blunt about why I wanted to speak in this debate this evening. There are some of us who still see a yawning gap in what drives penal policy between what seems to be responding to a public, popular, press-fed demand for tough action, and what really produces results. So often the two are in contradiction. We in the YMCA certainly find this. We find that repeatedly the youngsters with whom we are dealing come from the most appalling social backgrounds, have overwhelming social and personal difficulties with which to contend and, as has been said tonight, live in the most unfavourable environment. What is necessary therefore is to provide these youngsters with an opportunity to start to build their own characters; to start to discover themselves and to be able to move towards positive citizenship. From the experience of our work we suggest that this is best done in a total context rather than in a limited context of custody, because one has to work with the community from which these youngsters come.

People may say that is all very idealistic stuff coming from the YMCA working with a small programme among young offenders. However, I was struck by the excellent briefing that I received from that highly respected organisation, the Howard League for Penal Reform. That briefing appears to coincide almost exactly with what we are discovering ourselves. The Howard League points out that,

    "The most authoritative research available, commissioned by the Home Office Research Planning Unit, found that children arrested 3 times or more in one year represent less than 10 per cent. of the population of young offenders. This suggests that the persistent offender as portrayed in the media exists only rarely and that the planned 200 places in new secure training centres are unwarranted".
I should be glad if the Minister will deal with that point when he replies to the debate.

My noble friend Lord Mackenzie of Framwellgate, with all his unrivalled experience, talked of "Spider Boy", "Rat Boy" and "Blip Boy". I hope he would agree with me that the trouble with this kind of language--which, again, is fanned by the press--is that it stigmatises young people and leads the public demand for incarceration and tough action that I have described, rather than a demand for appropriate action. It denies the logic of looking at the situation in a social context.

I was also struck by the following point in the Howard League briefing; namely, that the evidence of the effectiveness of community-based programmes is pretty convincing. The briefing states,

    "Studies of the Intermediate Treatment Initiative run between 1983 and 1989 showed that two-year re-conviction rates were significantly better at 45 per cent. and 55 per cent. compared with those of between 70 per cent. and 80 per cent. where the young people had been sentenced to custody".
That is hard evidence. Again, I should be glad if the Minister would address that evidence when he replies to the debate.

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The other point on which I think we need some reassurance from the Minister is the issue of cost. Why are the Government committed in their future programme to these new centres which are so formidably expensive when the practical evidence shows that for a fraction of the cost much more constructive work can be done in more locally based accommodation with the right people working with young people? It seems to me that all this illustrates a contradiction. I hope that my noble friend will not regard me as incorrigibly unreconstructed. However, I believe that in public policy there is a balance to be struck between public service and the private sector. I would be the last to suggest that the private sector has no contribution to make here. However, how far can profit driven--that must be what the private sector is about, for if I am a shareholder I want to be sure that my company is producing good results in terms of profitability--private sector provision in this most sensitive area of social policy, of rehabilitation and not just punishment and custody, have an appropriate role to play? What real, hard-headed analysis is being done in depth within his department on the relative merits of public service provision and private sector provision in this work?

7.45 p.m.

The Earl of Listowel: My Lords, I have worked with young people from housing estates in Camden, Southwark, Greenwich, Kensington and Chelsea, and Westminster. I have worked in an intermediate treatment centre, an educational establishment for under 17 year-olds who have been expelled from normal schools.

Why do some young people and children offend repeatedly? Repeated, extremely anti-social behaviour is symptomatic of an underlying illness, malaise or problem. The young person is trying to send a message. That message may be that he or she has been ignored, his existence has not been acknowledged by his carers or his parents. He may be sending a message that he needs to be listened to, to be looked at, and he needs to be made to feel that he matters. He may be sending a message that he has been maltreated and that he needs to make others realise what it tastes like to be physically or sexually abused. Or, there may have been an expectation among the young person's teachers, school mates or parents that the young person will always do badly, and that nothing he can do is good. Or, again, the young person may not have experienced any rules in his life. He may have experienced parents or carers who say one thing but do another. He may have been told one day that he is making too much noise, that he is talking too much, and then asked the next day why he is so sullen and silent.

The beliefs of such young people may not be rooted in reality. Things may not be as bad as they believe, but they start to believe that they will always be bad and that they will always be ignored. These beliefs need to be challenged or they will blight a young person's life. He will be like a person who perceives sunshine only as revealing that the streets are dirty. These young people cannot articulate these messages to themselves or to

24 Mar 1999 : Column 1366

others and consequently they mime out their messages in crime. The people who work with these young people need to be tuned in to hearing these messages so that they can respond appropriately and can reassure the young people that there is both good and bad in them, and that if they ask for attention in an appropriate way they will receive it. They need ears to hear and they need to be able to develop close relationships to build up trust and to enable the young people to experience good treatment. In my experience if young people experience good treatment, they respond to affection and kindness and will take on board rules and instructions and will behave better.

Challenging, interesting and varied activities are important. They are a good way to build self-confidence. Learning to read, to write and to count are good for the self-worth of young people. Of course it is good for their job prospects later.

Finally, let us consider what these young people need. They need care. The lack of care has been mentioned. That leads to immaturity in these young people. They are hard on the outside but soft on the inside. They may perform acts that many adult criminals would blanch at, but for 14 year-olds they are very childish. Although there are many alarming aspects to the report, I am particularly worried that the majority of staff have not had previous experience of working with young people. I am concerned about the use of disproportionate force to control the young people; that the bullying of these young people is not prevented; and that so many of them come from the north-east and have to come down south and are separated from their families and their home areas, to which they have eventually to return. I know that many experts believe that that is quite wrong.

As far as concerns looking after young people, small is beautiful. A family-sized group would be ideal; certainly not a group the size of a prison. In small groups young people can learn to trust and to experience understanding from those who work with them. Can the Minister say whether an attempt is being made to set up smaller groups within the secure training centres, something perhaps slightly akin to the house system in public schools?

I hope that the Government will watch over this model of a secure training centre to ascertain whether these are more than teething problems. It would be a good idea for SOVA, an organisation of volunteers who work with young people and young offenders, to continue to work with these young people in the community when they return to it. I hope that consideration will be given to that.

7.52 p.m.

The Earl of Longford: My Lords, I hope that the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, will forgive me when I say I have an almost morbid interest in his development. I told him on an earlier occasion that I admired his father so much; the only socialist at Eton, a school of a thousand boys. The noble Earl knows that already. But what has that led him to? It has led him to idealism. So let us call him Mr. Idealism.

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Having visited the Medway training centre, I wish to speak in a slightly more practical way. I have been there; I wonder how many other Peers have been there. It was very interesting, although I did not spend a long time there. I was very lucky. I was entertained by a most gifted man who knew the whole scene of youth training, youth work, youth welfare and youth crime; he knew as much as anyone could possibly know. He looked after me, he took me round and I met other people. So I have had first-hand contact with the place we are talking about and I can only say that I was very much impressed by him.

I am not going to bother to question whether these people are the perfect people to run the centre. Perfect people to run such centres do not exist. If I may say so, perfect people to run the House of Lords do not exist either. Putting aside the idea of perfection, the centre is run by good, idealistic people; 100 of them for 30 patients or inmates, whatever one wants to call them. That is an extraordinary ratio, but people tell me that in youth centres it is not abnormal. It would be a very strange ratio in a school. I went to Eton where there were 1,000 boys--there will be more than that now--but, at the same ratio, there would be 3,000 masters. It is unbelievable. The whole idea of 100 people looking after 30 boys makes one think.

I am not going to bother about questions of qualifications; there are good people running the centre. But is it worth while; is there any point at all in this place? I am told that similar places will be set up. It is not a question of whether these people are doing a good job, but whether there is any point in it at all. That is the issue. I will of course leave that subject because it will not be settled tonight.

I hope that people will not say that the setting up of the centre was obviously right because the previous government decided on it. The Government are not usually slavish in their adherence to such matters, but a commitment had been made. They were under contract to set the centre up and they did so--and they are left with the situation of 100 good people looking after 30 not-so-good young people.

The man in charge, who introduced me, was exceptionally well gifted. He was from Group 4. The director was not there, but I am told he is beyond criticism. But I am not bothering with individuals, I am talking about the whole set up. The question is: what is its point? I know that the Minister, who is a former chairman of the Bar Council, will produce an answer, but it will not be an answer to satisfy me. Of course I will pay attention to him, but what is the point of this place and similar places?

While I was there, a young man--the only one I met--was selected to talk to me. He was just 15; he had been there for three months; he would be leaving three weeks later. Someone told me that he had committed 100 burglaries--somebody told me that I had wrongly thought that he had committed 140--but even 100 burglaries make him a congenital young criminal. He was sent there for three months and three weeks--and no doubt he is being well looked after--but when

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he leaves he will go back to Nottingham. The place we are talking about is in Kent and this fellow came from Nottingham. When he goes back to Nottingham, the people in Kent will not be able to do anything for him apart from some sort of nominal contact. The idea of taking someone from Nottingham and sending him to Kent for three months--at enormous expense--and then sending him back is ludicrous. My frank opinion is that the whole idea should be abandoned. In theory, it should be abandoned, but I fear we shall have to put up with it. But for heaven's sake make sure that something is done about these young people when they leave this centre so remote from their homes.

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