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Baroness Kennedy of The Shaws: My noble friend Lady Massey could not be present, but I wish to take the opportunity to support the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley. I pay tribute to the noble Baroness for the wonderful way in which she champions in this House the rights of children. I support the amendment. I wish to reinforce the three principles to which the noble Baroness has spoken.

I was involved in the launch, in July 2003, of Scope, an umbrella group of most of the children's charities, including the National Children's Bureau, Barnardo's, the NSPCC and others. The real concern of those organisations in coming together was to address the very issues that the amendment highlights. The concern is that we are not living up to our international obligations. We are talking about the human rights of children. We should see the distinction between children and adults. I would have thought that it was very much in keeping with the Government's thinking.

The Green Paper published recently is a very positive document welcomed by many of us concerned with children's rights. Clearly, it still has some way to go, but that such work is being done on so many fronts is a welcome innovation. I hope that the Government will listen to the principles in the amendment, that they will take the amendment to heart and include it in the Bill.

6.15 p.m.

Lord Hylton: The noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, has made a very powerful case in setting out the amendment. It forces us to think about the numbers and the position of children under 18 who are still held in adult prisons. That has been the subject of at least one report by the Howard League, chaired by, I believe, my noble friend Lady Masham of Ilton. It has been discussed in your Lordships' House on several

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occasions. I ask the noble Lord, Lord Bassam, how many children under 18 are held in adult prisons? If they are still there, are they at least held in wings separate from adult prisoners? It is regrettable that relatively little progress has been made on the issue. I hope that the noble Lord will have some good news for us today.

Lord Bassam of Brighton: I am extremely grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, for moving this very constructive amendment. I suspect that, ultimately, there is not much difference between our objectives and views. I am sure that the noble Baroness will wish to join me in paying tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Warner, for his important work as chair of the Youth Justice Board before he moved on to his current ministerial responsibilities. The work of the Youth Justice Board has enabled us to make progress in how children and young people are treated and regarded in the criminal justice process. It has perhaps broadened perspectives on how the criminal justice process works in the interests, and supervises the interests, of children and young people caught up in the criminal justice system.

I echo the tribute that the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy of The Shaws, paid to the important work carried out by the noble Baroness, Lady Massey, in that field. I recognise the vigour with which the noble Baronesses have argued and advanced their case.

We established in the Crime and Disorder Act 1998 that the principal aim of the youth justice system is to prevent offending by children and young people. That has proved to be of great value, acting as a focus for previously disparate agencies and services and enabling us to face up in a pragmatic, non-judgmental way to the problems that crime causes to society. By focusing on offending behaviour by children and young people, we are acting in their interests because we are trying to get behind the issues relating to that pattern of offending.

The welfare of young offenders has long been a very important issue in the criminal justice system and has a long history. The noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, referred to legislation going back to 1933—the Children and Young Person's Act 1933—which obliged those involved in government and the provision of services to have regard to the welfare of juveniles when sentencing them. Welfare considerations are therefore firmly rooted in legislation.

Let us also be clear, however, that child welfare is not the only consideration in the justice system and cannot be the main consideration. The justice system exists to tackle crime; welfare issues arise as a consequence of the need to tackle crime. We must also have proper regard to the needs and interests of victims and the wider community. We have a duty to ensure that justice is delivered and that the needs and interests of victims are not lost in the process. It is also our view that preventing offending is, as I said earlier, in the best interest of the child or young person and does not undermine the interests of the victim and the wider public.

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Praise has already been heaped on the Green Paper, Youth Justice—The Next Steps and the main children Green Paper Every Child Matters, both of which were published on 8th September. In those documents we propose a single main sentencing purpose of preventing offending. Currently, the sentencing of young people is subject to several different statutory aims and principles—a point that was underlined by the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, in her contribution to the debate. As such, the relationship between and the relative strength of preventing offending, taking account of welfare and ensuring just desserts is not entirely clear.

We propose a single main sentencing purpose of preventing offending to put the main priority beyond doubt. We propose that that main purpose would be supported by requirements for sentencers to take into account the extent to which punishment is needed; whether, and if so how, there needs to be public protection because of the seriousness or persistence of the offending; the individual's age and vulnerability; whether there should be a restorative or reparative approach or obligations on the young person; and what particular interventions have been tried if the person has been sentenced before and what would be appropriate now or in the future. It is a holistic approach that takes on board many of the concerns raised in this debate.

With regard to welfare, what we are proposing through this formula is a more up-to-date, pragmatic equivalent of age and vulnerability, which is less value-ridden and focuses on the actual issues that can require special protection for a young person. It is selective and highlights the practical points. We propose that other sentencing considerations, along with their cost and evidence of their effectiveness, will be set out by the Sentencing Guidelines Council.

We should welcome views on this proposal, and, indeed, on all the other proposals outlined in the consultation document. Those views should be forwarded by 1st December. We do not consider it sensible to make changes in law to the principles of juvenile sentencing in advance of that consultation process. That would be approaching it from the wrong end. That brings me to the remaining part of the noble Baroness's amendment to this Bill—minimising deprivation of liberty. Such a measure should, of course, be used only as a last resort in respect of all individuals and should not be taken lightly. It is particularly important that children and young people do not get sent to custody or other secure accommodation by the courts if there is a more appropriate alternative sentence.

In Youth Justice—The Next Steps, we have put forward proposals on introducing more intensive sentences as the main response to the serious and persistent offending of juveniles. Intensive supervision and surveillance—a highly supervised community programme involving close attention from supervising officers, full-time daytime programmes and electronic monitoring—is currently being expanded to 4,200 places in England and Wales by January 2004, three-quarters for sentenced juveniles and a quarter for

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bailees. However, custody would still need to be available when the offence or offences are so serious that only a physical restriction of liberty can be justified. It is finally for the courts, and rightly so, to use their judgment when choosing the most appropriate sentence for an individual young offender.

We are happy to undertake to look seriously at building the thinking behind this remaining element into future strategic sentencing purposes for youth justice. However, it is not our intention to tinker now. We have fallen into that trap too often in the past. We want to stimulate and hear a full debate on the proposed general purposes and put together a properly integrated formula for new legislation. Our minds are therefore open on the issue and we are delighted to have stimulated debate on it, of which this discussion is an important part. Tinkering with the process of sentencing at this stage, however, would be wrong and inappropriate.

The noble Lord, Lord Hylton, asked about the numbers of juveniles in custody in adult institutions. My figures suggest that, at the end of August 2003, there were 2,760 juveniles held in secure facilities of which 2,270 were held by the Prison Service. Only around 100 of those juveniles mix with over-18s when there are genuine reasons and in strictly controlled conditions. I am sure the noble Lord will be aware that the Prison Service has a distinct estate for 15 to 17 year-old boys. They are in 13 juvenile-only establishments on their own sites or on sites shared with, but separate from, young offender institutions for 18 to 20 year-olds. I hope that that provides some context.

We are beginning to witness a reduction in the number of young people held in custody. The numbers peaked in October 2002 at some 3,175. Since then, they have fallen back to 2,760 in August this year. That is a decrease of just over 13 per cent. I am sure that that reduction after a period of increase will be welcomed by all. I hope that that answers the statistical point raised by the noble Lord earlier. Following my comments, I hope that the noble Baroness will feel able to withdraw the amendment.

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