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6.15 pm

Lord Ramsbotham: My Lords, I support the noble Lord, Lord Carlile. I had the privilege of being a member of his review. I remember with interest that some of the recommendations that we made about restraint were subsequently rejected by the Government, and here we are again. Therefore, I have to declare that I very much share the sentiment of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Worcester in wishing that we were here to discuss the annulment of this statute, when in fact as I understood it we are discussing it rather in the context of the offering of a review. All I add, because many noble Lords have put all the things that I would like to have said, are the words that I have seen today for the first time of his honour Judge Pollard, sitting as assistant deputy coroner for the county of Northampton. He was responsible for the inquest into Gareth Myatt. He has used his power under the Coroners Rules 1984 to report to those who have the power to take action to prevent a recurrence of similar fatalities. He has written a 17-page letter to the Secretary of State, particularly stressing the absolute need, as the noble Lord, Lord Carlile, said, to

I would like to quote from two paragraphs. The first states:

which are local authority secure units and local authority secure children’s homes. Judge Pollard continues:

physical control in care and secure training centres. He goes on:

Youth Justice Board,

Judge Pollard then says that, at the inquest:

That is why I am concerned that we have yet another review. As the Minister will find, an absolute torrent of evidence is available now to justify a firm decision that, as the coroner said, the methods that have been used are being overused for all the wrong reasons. That is something it is our duty to prevent.

The Earl of Listowel: My Lords, I offer my support to the noble Lord, Lord Carlile, and join in paying tribute to the officers working in these settings with these vulnerable and most challenging young people.

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I have a specific question for the Minister. Will the review look at the professional framework within which officers in these settings work, which has been mentioned by several colleagues today? Before entering this work, many of them will have had no experience of working with children. After eight weeks of training, which will emphasise mostly physical restraint, they will be expected to work with, as my noble friend has said, some of our most vulnerable children and young people.

We can move so far forward with this. In Denmark, 84 per cent of the staff in settings such as children’s homes have degree qualifications for that work, while in Germany the figure is 50 per cent. In this country, only one-fifth of such staff have those qualifications; the others are less well qualified than those in these other settings, but they are working with far less vulnerable young people. I am sure that we accept that many of these incidents could be avoided if staff were given the right professional framework. It is to do with managing relationships with the young people, the expertise of the staff and the way in which they are supported.

We also know that, historically, the turnover of staff in secure training centres has been high. I hope that that is now beginning to improve, but what my noble friend Lady Stern said about Oakhill suggests that that is not the case. When there is a high turnover in those settings, expertise and experience cannot accrue and be passed on to enable officers to respond in the most constructive way.

I draw the Minister’s attention to the welcome proposals in the White Paper, Care Matters: Time for Change, including those on residential care, which emphasise a more pedagogic approach and contain some thinking that would be relevant to any consideration of how the situation might be improved. For instance, will the Minister look at the supported supervision of officers in secure training centres, where they are given time on a regular basis to reflect on the work with their supervisor? He might wish to contact the National Centre for Excellence in Residential Child Care, based at the National Children’s Bureau, where there is a great deal of expertise in terms of best practice in residential work with young people. I hope that we can move towards a far better professional framework for officers in these settings.

Baroness Howe of Idlicote: My Lords, as has been said, the material that we have had sent to us has been frankly horrendous to read. The evidence is so considerable that we must all be waiting to hear reassurance from the Minister in his new role, to which we welcome him. I hope that he will consider that these methods of restraining children can be done away with. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Dearing, that that aspect needs looking at very closely.

We have heard again and again that there is far too much use of this kind of restraint. It cannot be justified, even as a last resort. Whether it is justified at all is highly doubtful. As a chairman of a juvenile court for over 20 years, I know just how vulnerable so many of these children are. This is clearly not the right way to treat them. It is interesting, too, that so many girls have shown up as being subjected to this

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form of treatment. One wonders what sort of upbringing they have had and how vulnerable their whole background has been.

Some of the new ideas that we have heard about smaller centres, where a completely new approach is taken, must surely be the right direction to go in. One thinks again of the Corston report, which talked about smaller units nearer children’s homes when dealing with women prisoners. I wish that we had had time to discuss that in the recent end-to-end offender Bill.

I am not going to say any more. I hope that the Minister will be reassuring. The noble Lord, Lord Carlile, with all the work that he has done in this field, deserves to be given a very clear answer about a new way forward.

Lord Dholakia: My Lords, a while ago in Grand Committee, the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, and I were talking about the impact of Section 9 on the children of destitute asylum seekers. Now here we are in the main Chamber, talking about the impact of some of the measures affecting children in our secure training centres.

I listened carefully to the arguments advanced by the noble Lord, Lord Warner. I shall put my side and explain what I think are the problems. There are two central issues regarding the statutory instrument. The first is whether physical restraint should be used against children to reinforce staff instructions in circumstances that do not involve the risk of harm to people, damage to property or escape. The statutory instrument would allow the use of physical restraint when none of those issues applied, for reasons of “good order and discipline”.

The second issue is whether techniques involving the deliberate infliction of pain to the nose, ribs or thumb should be used in circumstances where none of those risks applies. The statutory instrument would also allow that to happen. The Government argue that staff should be able to use physical restraint as a last resort to enforce staff instructions in some circumstances. To reassure their critics, they point to the Youth Justice Board’s code of practice, which says at paragraph 10.4:

However, the code of practice does not have statutory force. The statutory instrument does, and its phrasing would allow the use of restraint merely to secure compliance with staff instructions. It would legalise the use of restraint to ensure “good order and discipline” without any further definition or restriction of the scope of that phrase.

In a Written Ministerial Statement in another place, Bridget Prentice MP stated:

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However, none of that is spelled out in the statutory instrument, which simply legitimises the use of restraint to ensure good order and discipline. Even if the Government’s view as reflected in that Statement were incorporated into the statutory instrument, it includes the phrase,

which could be used to justify the use of force in just about any situation in which a young person refused to obey an instruction.


In a stakeholder briefing on 27 June 2007 entitled “Restraint in Secure Training Centres”, the Youth Justice Board argued that in such circumstances a refusal to comply with staff instructions could put other young people at risk of physical harm. But those circumstances are already covered by the present law, which allows restraint to prevent injury to the young person or other people.

The briefing then goes on to argue that restraint could be justified if a young person refused to stop swearing at a teacher because of the disruption caused to the education of other young people. This is an astonishing proposition. Pupils in urban comprehensive schools not infrequently disrupt the class by swearing at teachers, but their staff are not empowered to use physical restraint techniques against them as a way of preventing disruptions.

Why does the Government’s stance on this matter cause such acute concern to so many practitioner organisations, including Nacro, of which I am the president? The first reason is that dealing with young people in ways that involve the use of force in situations where they do not pose a risk to people or property seems a disproportionate response, as spelled out by many noble Lords. Secondly, it sets an example that force is the way to resolve situations, which runs counter to the messages that we should be imparting to young offenders. Thirdly, a high proportion of young people in secure training centres have suffered physical or sexual abuse from adults in the past. Manhandling them through physical restraint can cause them extreme distress, bringing back memories of what they have suffered at abusive adults’ hands.

Let us turn to the specific issue of painful methods of restraint. The Youth Justice Board’s stakeholder briefing appears to agree with its critics that painful distraction techniques should not be used where there is no risk of harm to the young people or others. The briefing says:

However, there is nothing in the statutory instrument to restrict the use of painful techniques to these circumstances. If the Government’s stance is the same as that of the Youth Justice Board as stated in the stakeholder briefing, why do they not amend the statutory instrument to make it clear that distraction techniques cannot be used unless there is risk of harm to a person? It cannot be right to frame restraint powers in such a manner that they would legally allow practices of which the Youth Justice Board rightly says it does not approve.

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A number of noble Lords have talked about Adam Rickwood. His suicide followed a few hours after he was instructed, not because he was threatening to assault someone or injure himself, but because he was refusing to go to his room. Unless the statutory instrument is withdrawn or amended, it will enshrine in law the right of staff of secure training centres to behave in the same way to other vulnerable young people with predictable and potentially tragic results.

Lord Elystan-Morgan: My Lords, I support everything that the noble Lord has just said and the remarks made by the noble Lord, Lord Carlile.

The rules are defective in that they refer to “good order and discipline”. That phrase should be totally rejected because it gives the wrong impression and sends out the wrong statement about what the ethos of a training centre should be. I may be assisted by other Members of the House on this matter, but I am not aware of any criminal statute that refers to good order and discipline as such, or of any classic judgment that refers to it. I believe that the phrase laces the Queen’s regulations for all the armed services—it is none the worse for that—but it is a catch-all provision, dealing with a plethora of offences, some of them very minor indeed.

The idea that you should be allowed to use substantial force and pain as an instrument is quite wrong. Would you use pain to train a dog or horse? Why should you use pain to train a child? There will of course be circumstances when force has to be used. I accept that. But the bar should be set very high and the rules should be made absolutely clear, possibly by defining the circumstances or by giving illustrations of the sort of circumstances where such force would be justified and where one could act ejusdem generis with that list. Such a list would make it obvious that force could be used only where there was imminent danger of violent disorder or of substantial injury and so on. If we are talking about cases of minor infractions of good order and discipline—nothing more than an institutionalised system of disobedience—then most certainly this should be changed. That cannot be done in this debate tonight, but I suspect that the Minister will be able to say that, if the evidence convinces him—and I agree with noble Lords who say that the evidence is totally overwhelming—he will be prepared to replace the rules with something more humane and civilised.

Lord Kingsland: My Lords, not for the first time the noble Lord, Lord Elystan-Morgan, at the end of a debate and before the winding-up process is completed, has made a devastating point. The fact of the matter is that the real implication of those words is that the rule of law will not apply in these institutions. It is quite impossible, given those words, for a court to know whether an individual applying physical restraint is acting within or outside the rule of law. That is an additional matter to which I hope that the noble Lord—to whom I, too, express the sympathy that has been extended by so many of your Lordships when making their interventions today—will address his considerable intellect.

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In the context of the tragic circumstances of recent individual deaths in STCs, the text of this statutory instrument is, on the face of it, inexplicable. Of course there will be occasions when restraint will be necessary. But they should be, as so many of your Lordships have stated today, only a matter of last resort; and then only if we are clear about what the consequences of any technique used are likely to be.

In the case of Gareth Myatt, the jury expressly found that there had been an inadequate assessment of the safety of physical controls generally, and in particular an inadequate assessment of the technique of the seated double embrace used on him. They went on to say that that inadequate assessment caused or contributed to Gareth’s death. What steps have the Government taken to make such an assessment of the existing techniques used; and have such assessments been made of the techniques foreshadowed in the statutory instrument?

The noble Lord, Lord Carlile, referred to a number of officers who were too ready to use violence. No doubt there will always be individuals like that. They do not belong in the secure training centre service. But most members of the service are fundamentally decent people who use certain physical restraint techniques out of ignorance. That ignorance flows partly from a lack of training and partly from the absence of a clear set of procedures that permit physical restraint only when all other options are exhausted. I turn again to the noble Lord, Lord Elystan-Morgan, for I believe that that is fundamentally encapsulated in the remarks that he made.

There is powerful evidence that there is a woeful lack of proper training in the service. As the noble Lord, Lord Carlile, said, a high percentage of the children inclined to violence were themselves the victims of violence as young people. This is, as your Lordships are so well aware, an exceedingly complex matter, which needs managing by individuals who are well versed in the origins of child violence. What steps are the Government taking to improve the quantity and quality of training? I should also be interested to learn from the noble Lord what non-physical control techniques are being taught to handle the behaviour of individuals who are potentially capable of violence.

I must confess that, like the noble Baroness, Lady Linklater of Butterstone, I am uneasy about these children being in institutions run by the private sector, where the conduct of the supervisory staff is determined by the law of contract, not by the ethos of public service. STCs ought to be about making young people fit to return to society to play a constructive role. Their management ought not simply to be required to fulfil a series of contractual obligations as a response to levels of violence. I hope that the Minister can reassure your Lordships that the private sector is capable of playing the constructive role to which I refer.

More transparency—again, a matter underlined by the noble Lord, Lord Carlile—would have exposed these deep-seated problems much earlier. As it turns out, it is tragedy that has uncovered them. The Government must now develop a strategy that will transform this sombre scene so that these harrowing losses of life will not have been in vain.

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The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Ministry of Justice (Lord Hunt of Kings Heath): My Lords, like other noble Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Carlile, for the opportunity he has given us, by praying against the statutory instrument, to have a serious and sober debate on these very important issues. I am very grateful to him for his constructive approach and for the discussions that have taken place in the past week between him, my right honourable friend Mr Hanson and officials in my department. I also thank all noble Lords who have spoken in this wide-ranging and important debate.

We all have in mind the tragic deaths of Adam Rickwood and Gareth Myatt. I reassure all noble Lords that the safety of young people in custody—and custody for young people should, in my view, always be a last resort—is a priority for my department and the Youth Justice Board. The noble Baroness, Lady Linklater, described a lack of horror at these cases. I have not discovered that in my very preliminary dealings with the department and the service generally.

I visited Rainsbrook secure training centre last week, where I talked to young people and the staff. I found it very informative and, indeed, moving. I have also read the noble Lord’s report, which was very well written and clearly expressed. The right reverend Prelate talked about the essential requirement for training in the training centre. I was impressed with the education centre there and the outcomes that I hope it will produce for those young people.

I understand fully the concerns that noble Lords have expressed but I do not believe that this statutory instrument will turn back the clock. I know that the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Worcester did not like the word “clarification” and thought that it had an Orwellian aspect, but the amendment to Rule 38 is being introduced because, in terms of the inquest, there is a lack of clarity. That is what the SI is designed to do—nothing more. It is not an attempt to put back the clock or open the door to the inappropriate use of restraint.

6.45 pm

The primary legislation governing the establishment and running of secure training centres is the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994. I was rather surprised when the noble Lord, Lord Kingsland, referred to the use of the private sector, and I shall come back to that in a moment. He will recall that the Act provides for the centres to be run by either the public or the private sector and makes special provision for any centres that are contracted out. All four of the centres that have so far been established are contracted out.

Section 9 of the Act is headed:

Subsections (1) and (2) deal with officers’ powers to search offenders or other persons at the centre. Subsection (3) lists the duties of officers as respects offenders detained in the centre. These are: to prevent their escape from lawful custody; to prevent, or detect and report on, the commission or attempted commission by them of other unlawful acts; to ensure

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good order and discipline on their part; and to attend to their well-being. So the phrase,

is already on the statute book and was placed there in relation to this aspect in the 1994 Act.

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