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Baroness Seccombe: My Lords, I am sure that we all agree that detection is vital in fighting crime. But I understand that about 20 per cent of those young offenders are now getting away without punishment from either the police, youth offending teams or the courts. How does the Minister propose to deal with that problem?

Lord Rooker: My Lords, the noble Baroness's figure is slightly inaccurate. It is true that not everyone gets caught, but the survey showed that there has been an improvement. I must distinguish between those at school and those who have been excluded—the figures are given separately and they are dramatically different. That is why we need to get those who have been excluded back into mainstream education—school—as quickly as possible.

The proportion of those pupils in the survey—which consisted of about 6,000 pupils—who have not been apprehended or not suffered any punishment has fallen to 16 per cent from 22 per cent. In other words, 78 per cent of those at school were being apprehended and punished; that proportion is now 84 per cent. For those outside school, the proportion is up from 88 per cent to 94 per cent. So there has been an improvement even in the past year in the proportion of those receiving a punishment of some kind that they knew about and admitted to in the survey.

Lord Dholakia: My Lords, has the Minister read the report from Her Majesty's Chief Inspector of Prisons published this week on Onley and Hindley—two young offender institutions? Does he agree with its findings that there are impoverished regimes; that youngsters have to take their meals in their cells; that there is no evening association; and that they are locked up for up to 20 hours a day? How are the prisons' objectives of rehabilitation to be met if 60 per cent of those who reoffend in that age group leave prison without any rehabilitation process?

Lord Rooker: My Lords, I have glanced at the report, but I must tell the noble Lord that the Question relates to the MORI survey of young children aged between 11 and 16 who have committed a crime in the past year. To be honest, I am much better briefed to answer questions on that—even though I shall probably get some of the answers wrong—than I am to deal with the prison inspectorate's report, which is vital in respect of both the women's prison and the young offender institutions on which it reported.

Lord Alton of Liverpool: My Lords, when considering the reasons why young people between the

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ages of 11 and 16 commit crime, does the Minister agree that the powerful drugs culture prevalent in so many urban areas is a major factor? Recent data show that about 800,000 children now no longer have contact with fathers, which is another contributory factor. Does he agree that we need to devote more time and resources to those areas?

Lord Rooker: My Lords, the noble Lord is right regarding drug culture. It is an interesting aspect of the survey that young people sometimes exaggerate their drug use. I do not know whether this was done in the previous three surveys, but to determine whether young people exaggerated their reported drug use, the Youth Justice Board added a false drug to the list in this year's survey and 2 per cent of young people claimed that they had taken it.

Lord Corbett of Castle Vale: My Lords, can the Minister confirm that young people are the main victims of crime? Will he also explain what efforts the Home Office is making, and encouraging other agencies to make, to involve young people in new initiatives to deter and detect crime?

Lord Rooker: My Lords, my noble friend is right. The survey is extensive, and I have here only an executive summary, but I can say that young people are the victims of crime. The proportion of young people in school who are victims is much greater than the proportion of those out of school. It is as though they are targeted because they have something: an education.

The survey brings out young people's attitudes to crime and to what is right and what is wrong. The difference in attitudes to right and wrong between those in school and those out of school is surprising. I shall not read out the findings; they are appalling, and I do not want to add to the problem. However, between last year's survey and this year's, the movement has been in the right direction. More people, regardless of whether they are in school or out of school, agree on things that are wrong in any circumstances. That is the result of the work done by the Youth Justice Board and the voluntary agencies working on this important issue.

Lord Elton: My Lords, I ask the Minister again whether the Government would not be better advised to direct more of their energy to getting to children before they become criminals. To that end, there should be core funding for the many voluntary agencies who do that with great dedication.

Lord Rooker: My Lords, before I answer the noble Lord, I shall apologise to him for the way in which I answered his topical Question last week. There was a glitch between the House and the Home Office, and I had the wrong Question. I had one that the noble Lord did not ask. I apologise for that. The problem was that someone had attempted to make the Question into a topical one, without telling the noble Lord. I have also written to the noble Lord.

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The noble Lord has made a vital point, and we come back to the issue of youngsters who are out of school, whether the work that is done with them is done by the voluntary agencies or the education authorities. The work includes the truancy project, which involves the police with local schools, and the truancy sweeps. From September, all permanently excluded pupils will have access to full-time education. Similar measures for children who are temporarily excluded will be piloted, involving the further education sector, home tuition or pupil referral units.

I do not mind whether those schemes are run by the local education authority or by the voluntary sector, which plays a vital role. Reducing the number of young people out of school is bound to mean less crime among young people.

Lord Dixon-Smith: My Lords, as the Minister has indicated, the report is like the curate's egg. It has good and bad in it.

One of the more depressing conclusions that one might draw from the report is that children who are suspended from school are likely to become intermittent criminals, while children who are excluded from school are likely to become endlessly repetitive criminals. Without wishing to start an inter-departmental debate, which would be easy to do, I must say that it is exceedingly rash to exclude children from school and put them into the open environment of the streets. There should be discussions between the Home Office and the Department for Education and Skills to see whether we can rationalise the situation and prevent so many of those children becoming perennial criminals. Will the Minister comment on the possibility of such discussions?

Lord Rooker: My Lords, to answer the noble Lord, I could repeat what I have just said. That situation is the reason why Parliament recently passed legislation that will mean that, from September, excluded pupils will be put into mainstream education. That is crucial.

There is enormous variation in the rates of offending and in the likelihood of being caught. By and large, the key offenders are white, male and aged between 15 and 16. In some ways, that knocks some of the myths on the head. The highest offending rates are in the South East, the North East and London, and the clear-up rate in London is lower than that for anywhere else for reasons that we all understand. That is why street crime initiatives have been targeted on those areas, particularly London.

Lord Pilkington of Oxenford: My Lords, does not the Minister think that creating more referral units to deal with children who misbehave would help? If they are sent back into mainstream education, they are often the rotten apple in the barrel. Why should we not have more referral units?

Lord Rooker: My Lords, as I have said, from September, permanently excluded pupils will have access to full-time education. However, there is no automatic assumption that they will go back to the

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schools from which they have been removed. Sometimes, there is a good reason for that: they stop the other 30 or so pupils getting an education. We should make no bones about that.

We know that exclusion has important consequences. Pupils may be placed in a further education college, where the regime is slightly different. Perhaps, we can get them an education that way. It is not a question of all or nothing. It will be a combination, perhaps involving home tuition, in extreme circumstances. One way or another, they will all have access to full-time education. There will be no excuse for letting them loose to commit crime.

Lord Mackie of Benshie: My Lords, the surveys purport to cover the whole country. Do they also show where the situation is really bad? That would be valuable.

Lord Rooker: My Lords, they do. I shall not go over all the regional figures, but I can say that offenders are more likely to be caught in Wales than anywhere else. There is a message for people committing crime there. The number of pupils being caught and detected is also high in the North East. I shall not play one region off against another; it is a national issue.

It is also a generational issue. If we can nip it in the bud now and cut into the spiral, we can make sure that the next generation of youngsters does not suffer as the present generation is suffering.

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