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Earl Russell: I hope that the amendment will be taken to refer to those who may be reasonably suspected of being children. The Minister, the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn, whom I am glad to see in his place again, will remember the case of the Ramsbotham Report on Campsfield House. It indicated
Lord Hylton: I support all three amendments in this group. My noble friend Lord Sandwich made a valuable point about inspections. It seems to me that they are absolutely necessary as a precaution against abuses and malpractices. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn, will look with particular sympathy on the amendment in view of his previous experience of problems that have arisen in the past in children's homes in this country.
Before turning to Amendment No. 201, it would be very helpful, and would decrease the need for frequent inspections, if the Government could give an assurance that every child who is detained in the absence of his parents or other adult relatives will be referred immediately to the Official Solicitor. The Official Solicitor understands fully the needs of children, particularly those in dispute, those who are subject to official proceedings or those who are detained. He can ensure that staff take the appropriate action.
I turn to Amendment No. 201. It is almost ridiculous to expect the employees of private contractors who run detention centres, or prison officers, to understand what is involved in the proper care of detained children. That is why training is so necessary.
As to Amendment No. 203, the rules to be made should specify that where adults are present in this country the relevant children are always detained in the same place as those adults. On the other hand, if there are no adults the children should be accommodated, in so far as possible, completely separately.
Lord Cope of Berkeley: I begin by expressing sympathy for Amendments Nos. 199 and 200, both of which have already been spoken to effectively. In particular, I refer to Amendment No. 207, which is also part of this group.
The Lord Bishop of Bath and Wells: I rise briefly to support Amendments Nos. 198A and 201. Amendment No. 198A in no way suggests that visitor committees are not of great value. I am sure that noble Lords have observed the usefulness of those committees. I emphasise that this is a skilful business which requires sharpness on the part of the Social Services Inspectorate.
As was made clear earlier, sometimes matters that one believes should be on the face of the Bill because they are helpful and supportive to those who enter the system are left out and those which need not necessarily be on
Lord Cope of Berkeley: I apologise to the Committee. My attention momentarily wandered. I support Amendment No. 198A moved by the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, and the other two amendments in the group. The position of detained children is important. We all have sympathy with the intention and want to ensure that these children have the best possible conditions if it is absolutely essential to detain them.
Lord Williams of Mostyn: As to this group of amendments, we all share the concerns expressed in different ways but with the same degree of emphasis. We believe that where families or children are exceptionally detained--I emphasise "exceptionally"--the accommodation and surroundings must be suitable for their needs. The Committee will be aware that detention centre rules will be made under Clause 143. It is worth reminding ourselves that, under subsection (2), the,
Therefore, we shall be setting out, under Clause 143 rules, detailed provisions about accommodation and facilities to be provided for detained families and children. For example, separate living accommodation will be required. Staff coming into contact with children will have to have basic childcare training. One of the key functions of the visiting committees--a point raised by the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich--will be to monitor and report on the proper implementation of detention centre rules.
The noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, referred also, I believe, to Clause 142. That makes provision for the inspection of all detention centres by the Chief Inspector of Prisons. It is fair to say that his history indicates that Sir David Ramsbotham, as Chief Inspector of Prisons, is well known for his abundant willingness to involve specialist inspectors in this work. However, despite that, I undertake specifically to draw to his attention the anxieties which have been mentioned and suggest the involvement of social services inspectors, if necessary. He will, of course, be able to invite such further specialists as he thinks fit. His office will be under a statutory duty to report on the treatment of all detainees, including families, and on the condition of detention centres. I repeat that his past track record does not
I shall take on board the point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, about the automatic referral to the Official Solicitor. It is worth thinking about. I wish to reflect on that and possibly to write to him. If the point is referred to at Report stage I shall deal with it then.
I believe that these measures, together with the undertaking I have given about drawing the attention of Sir David Ramsbotham to the SSI inspectorate, will provide for independent and objective scrutiny of detention centres and an appropriate level of statutory regulation.
There is only one discrete facility at the moment for the detention of families. It was designed and developed in consultation with the local authority child protection officer. That was a point raised by two Members of the Committee. I can assure the Committee that the Secretary of State will continue to have regard to the views of the local authority child protection officer as regards any future provision of family accommodation.
I turn now to Amendment No. 201. I agree entirely that, where children are detained, those charged with looking after their well-being should have the necessary, appropriate level of specialist training. That is implicit in Clause 144(2)(b), which, as the Committee will have seen, requires training appropriate to the performance of the functions of detainee custody officers.
As regards Amendment No. 203, I assure the Committee that detention centre rules will contain special provisions in respect of children in a number of areas and one of them will be the present one. The objective of Schedule 11, paragraph 1, is to regulate the measuring and photographing of detained persons in detention centre rules. That will mirror the position in the equivalent context under Section 16 of the Prison Act 1952. The list in subparagraph (2) is illustrative only.
Perhaps I may say one further thing. Children are detained on their own only in the most exceptional and justifiable circumstances, such as arriving at an airport, perhaps late at night, and cannot be placed with a relative or the social services who are unable to look after the child immediately. That is only for as short a time as possible before the social services are able to take up their responsibility. I welcome the fact that these amendments were tabled and even more so that they were fully spoken to. I hope I have been able to give useful reassurance.
Lord Hylton: Before the Minister replies, he referred to Clause 144 which has the rubric Detainee custody officers. We all know what that means in the context of police stations. However, in the context of detention centres, does it refer only to someone who deals with admissions and discharges, or with the whole staff who may come into contact with children? It is the latter who so urgently need the training already referred to.
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