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The Earl of Longford: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Viscount for giving way. This is a fundamental question. What is the point of taking a young offender from Nottingham and giving him a few months in Kent?

Viscount Bridgeman: My Lords, I thank the noble Earl, Lord Longford, for that intervention. The regime is designed to provide a combination of custody and imaginative treatment.

As your Lordships know, the trouble had been there from the beginning and reached its climax in June when there was, in effect, a riot. I congratulate the Government on taking prompt steps to set up an inquiry team composed of highly qualified individuals from Ofsted, H. M. Inspectorate of Prisons and the social services. The inquiry took place in September and October and reported in January. The recommendations are clear, fair and constructive. Many of your Lordships will have received briefing from Rebound indicating that it is taking steps to address the criticisms.

We are dealing here with very small numbers. It is an experiment which deserves to be given further time. It should be treated as a pilot scheme. I very much hope that the Government will continue Group 4's contract. The intentions which Group 4 and Rebound have shown are very worthy and should be given rein. It gives them the opportunity to put right many of the matters subject to criticism. We welcome other initiatives in connection with youth offenders and in particular the creation of the youth offender panels under the Youth Justice and Criminal Evidence Bill which has just completed its passage through your Lordships' House. It has the support of these Benches. It is not an easy problem, but I believe that the Government have taken the right course in identifying the problems through the SSI inquiry and addressing the criticisms and recommendations. They have our support in that. I look forward to hearing what the Minister has to say.

8.23 p.m.

The Minister of State, Home Office (Lord Williams of Mostyn): My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lord Tenby for giving us this opportunity and all other noble Lords for the contributions that have been made. I believe that the tone of our discussion has been similar to that of a seminar. I did not detect any hectoring or point-scoring of any sort. It is sometimes difficult to disagree with what is said by almost every speaker. Of course there are differences of emphasis. I do not believe that our fundamental views and aims differ from whatever part of the House the contribution has been made.

I have been given by generous business managers 20 minutes in which to reply to this debate. In that time I cannot even answer all the questions that have been legitimately put to me. In the usual way, I shall respond in writing to those points that I cannot deal with orally this evening. I shall put copies of my replies in the

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Library. I hope it does not sound too pompous, but I have the duty of dealing with the questions which have focused particularly on Medway. The public has a right to know what is happening, which will mean that the wider questions, which are relevant, of great interest and fascination, cannot be dealt with entirely without ignoring Medway.

The noble Baroness, Lady Linklater, is quite right. A disproportionate amount of crime is committed by young people. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Elton. We have to deal with offending children with early intervention. I do not believe that the noble Lord is exaggerating when he says that the indicators of likely criminal behaviour can be detected in the very young. It is a deeply depressing point to recite, but it is true. I am making no party political point because it is unworthy and it never works--which is an unworthy comment of itself.

We have now begun to adopt a rather different approach to crime. I caution your Lordships against placing undue focus on the secure training centre or the new detention and training order. We are deliberately, consciously thinking this out as part only of the changing spectrum that we intend to introduce. Although it is a public duty for your Lordships to look at what happened at Medway and to discuss what went wrong there, one needs to bear in mind that that is only part of the picture.

It is our aim to have swifter and earlier intervention; to achieve the swifter administration of justice; more effective early intervention in the community; to look to restorative justice, to reparation for victims and to the reinforcement of personal and parental responsibility. I believe that we discussed all those themes in some depth and length when debating the Bill which passed through your Lordships' House on Third Reading yesterday.

I entirely agree with what noble Lords have said, but it is a melancholy fact that some young offenders are among the most difficult children to deal with, if not the most difficult. There will have to be a custodial option available for some children. The aim ought to be, not simply cosmetically recited, to limit that number to the absolute minimum.

It was genuinely helpful to hear from the noble Lord, Lord Warner. I shall not go over the material with which he dealt. This evening he has been able to describe exactly the developing thinking of the Youth Justice Board which he chairs. If we have secure places, we have to provide security and a constructive and ordered regime. I have always believed, and continue to maintain, that these young children require as an absolute necessity a sense of order and, if one can introduce it, some degree of calm in lives which have been violent. I do not mean necessarily physically violent. What the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, said is perfectly right in many ways.

I did not take my noble friend Lord Judd to be chiding me but, as always, I took what he said in the constructive way in which it was offered. In the Home Office we are concentrating more and more on--it is a

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jargon phrase, but a useful one--evidence-based practice. In other words, rant and shibboleth have no part in the formation or development of policy. The noble Viscount, Lord Bridgeman, was quite right in saying that the secure training centres were set up by the previous government to provide custodial facilities for persistent young offenders between the ages of 12 and 14. The contract was signed in March 1997 and the centre was opened in April 1998. More than 150 secure training orders have been made so far. As the noble Lord, Lord Windlesham, rightly pointed out, by April 2000 the secure training order will have been consigned to history. We shall then have a more flexible sentence, a detention and training order designed for offenders between the ages of 12 and 18 years.

In response to the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, it is very important to underline that the placement of those who are committed to secure training orders will include the opportunity to go to local authority secure accommodation. The reason that we are continuing with these secure training centres--I refer to the particular question posed by the noble Lord, Lord Windlesham--is that local authority secure accommodation and secure training centres will be part of the new juvenile estate to deal with the relatively small number of young children who are sentenced to these new orders. The critical factor is that the new juvenile estate is to be overseen by the Youth Justice Board. That is extremely important.

For some young children who offend local authority secure accommodation will be more appropriate than secure training centres. The opposite is also true. The noble Earl, Lord Longford, asked the noble Viscount, Lord Bridgeman, what was the point of sentencing a child from Nottingham to go to Kent? In some circumstances there may well be a point. Not every child is best served by remaining in the immediate locality of its home, bad influences and the location of the commission of the crime.

The Earl of Longford: My Lords, since the noble Lord has referred to me perhaps I may intervene. I asked what was the point of sending a child there for three months or three weeks? He will not have his whole life corrected by that, will he?

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, I do not believe I ever suggested that he would have the whole of his life corrected by that. I deal with the particular point that, as long as it is done with care and discretion--I have in mind the words "compassion and thought" used by the noble Lord, Lord Elton--in some circumstances it may well be in the best interests of a young child not to be kept in secure custody in the immediate locality of its family. That may be unpalatable to the noble Earl but it is a fact. In the case of the young man to whom the noble Earl referred, he is going back to his home area and his supervising probation officer is from that area. The duty of the supervising officer is to manage his return back to the home area. I do not believe it is possible simply to ask blunt questions of the kind posed by the noble Earl or expect the whole matter to be resolved with what are perhaps sometimes over-simplistic questions.

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I return to Medway. Difficult offenders have been there. It is true that the SSI report discloses a lamentable catalogue of failure. The company that runs Medway does not dispute that. Plainly, it is a reproach to everyone who has had any responsibility for it. I agree entirely with the noble Lord, Lord Laming, that no one can suggest that any punches have been pulled. I believe that a good piece of work was done there. But it is now for me to bring your Lordships up to date. Serious shortcomings occurred. The recommendations provide the opportunity for a constructive framework. Improvements in management, the implementation of good practice in care and control and the raising of standards of education and training were required. I do not believe that it necessarily depends on whether the mismanagement was in the public or private sector. The point is that the centre was mismanaged. A comprehensive action plan has been drawn up and agreed between the contractor and the Home Office.

I return deliberately to the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Laming, because I regard it of critical importance. This is something about which the public are entitled to know. First, the SSI is closely monitoring progress against an agreed timetable; secondly, the director is required to provide monthly information on performance; thirdly, the SSI is to undertake a further inspection shortly to evaluate progress. It is to evaluate the effectiveness of the action already taken. That further report will go directly to the Home Secretary. I believe that that reflects some of the concerns raised by the noble Lord, Lord Acton, right at the beginning; in other words, continuous monitoring and reporting of those who have responsibility in this matter is required. I return to one of my hobby horses: unless there are in place the structural mechanisms for monitoring and reporting, systems cannot be trusted. The report also revealed that there was insufficient staff.

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