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House of Lords

Wednesday, 6 February 2008.

The House met at three o'clock (Prayers having been read earlier at the Judicial Sitting by the Lord Bishop of Southwell and Nottingham): the LORD SPEAKER on the Woolsack.

Young Offenders: Review of Restraint

Lord Judd asked Her Majesty’s Government:

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Ministry of Justice (Lord Hunt of Kings Heath): My Lords, INQUEST made the suggestion earlier in a letter to my right honourable friend the Lord Chancellor. My right honourable friend gave detailed consideration of the proposal in his reply. He concluded that the major questions are already being addressed; for example, by the joint review of the use of restraint in juvenile secure settings. For that reason, a public inquiry would not be justified.

Lord Judd: My Lords, does my noble friend not agree that to have a justice system in which, since 1990, 30 children in custody, and therefore in the care of the state, and 201 young people aged 18 to 19 have died, and where victims’ families have had to wait up to two years to secure an inquest, suggests that there has to be an urgent, fundamental, root-and-branch review of what we are doing with our youth justice system and whether we are not manufacturing criminals?

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, my noble friend would acknowledge that, notwithstanding many of the issues and problems that he raised, considerable emphasis has been placed on improving the youth justice system in recent years and ensuring that, as far as possible, young people are given programmes that help them to be rehabilitated and prevent reoffending. Any death of a child in custody is of course very much to be regretted. The aim of the Youth Justice Board is to do everything it can to ensure that that does not happen in the future and that those children are properly cared for and protected.

Baroness Linklater of Butterstone: My Lords, the review of restraint has been awaited with considerable interest by those of us who are concerned about the use of restraint on children. Will the Government publish the review and, if so, when? Given that the review was set up in response to concerns that emerged during the inquest on the restraint-related death of Gareth Myatt, why have the Government still not formally responded to the rule 43 report by the deputy coroner, Judge Pollard?

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Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, as the noble Baroness will know, the review of restraint was established following the debate in your Lordships’ House last summer on the statutory instrument which concerned the use of restraint. I understand that the review is due to report to Ministers by April this year. The chairs are consulting a wide range of stakeholders before reporting. Ministers will then consider the conclusions and make any decisions regarding what action needs to be taken and any publication.

Lord Henley: My Lords, we spent much of yesterday— in fact, virtually the whole of yesterday—debating the entire youth justice system. We have now had a request from the noble Lord, Lord Judd, for a further inquiry into these matters following the Government’s own review of restraint and other matters. Bearing in mind the chaos that seems to exist in the Minister’s department, the Ministry of Justice, does he not think that it might be better if we just took away the whole of the Criminal Justice and Immigration Bill, went home early, and the Government thought out these matters slightly better and came back with some considered proposals?

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: No, my Lords. The Ministry of Justice is an excellent department, which is making a great deal of sense in co-ordinating its different responsibilities. We should not ignore the improvements that have been made in relation to young people in the criminal justice system. As I said yesterday, over our many happy hours of debate, there is a lot more that also needs to happen. However, I think that the Bill is perfectly ordered and rounded and we should proceed swiftly to take it through your Lordships' House so that we can get it on the statute book.

The Archbishop of Canterbury: My Lords, I take it that the Minister would agree that it is quite indefensible that different standards should prevail in our national criteria to do with the care and protection of children and in the criminal justice system. I invite him also to agree that that means that the use of strip-searching and segregation in the criminal justice system for children is something that needs a very sharp examination, as the noble Lord, Lord Carlile of Berriew, recommended in his report for the Howard League a couple of years ago.

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, I am grateful to the most reverend Primate for that question. With regard to strip-searching, I understand that the Youth Justice Board plans to have a review of it very shortly—and obviously we would be very interested to see the outcome. The principal objective of the youth justice system has to be the prevention of offending, because it is within the criminal justice system. However, alongside that, of course the welfare considerations of the child must also be considered.

Lord Ramsbotham: My Lords, later this year the United Kingdom will be visited again by the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman

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or Degrading Treatment or Punishment. The last time that it came here, it produced an absolutely devastating report and an indictment of the way in which we were looking after young people. In view of all that has been said in relation to the Bill and other aspects, is the Minister confident that this time we shall receive a clean slate from the committee?

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, I shall not forecast the conclusions of that visit. All I will say is that in relation to restraint we have established the review, and we should see what the outcome is. We have debated the issue extensively and I suspect that this afternoon we will debate it more. We are committed to a youth justice system that has as its principal aim the reduction and prevention of offending. It does take account of the welfare of the child, with a lot of emphasis on rehabilitation, and resettlement in the case of those young people who have gone into custody, but with much more emphasis on community sentences when that is appropriate. That is very much the way forward.


3.07 pm

Lord Rotherwick asked Her Majesty’s Government:

The Minister of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Lord Rooker): My Lords, in fulfilling its statutory role in licensing non-native releases under Section 16 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act, Natural England assesses any actual or potential impact on native species and the environment. For example, before granting a licence to release grey squirrels, Natural England takes into account geographical information on the presence or likely presence of the red squirrel.

Lord Rotherwick: My Lords, I thank the Minister for his Answer. In his reply to the Question on grey squirrels asked by the noble Lady, Lady Saltoun, on 23 January, he emphasised that only six squirrels have been released. However, is he aware of Joan Ruddock’s letter to Mr Adam Afriyie in another place on 18 December in which, as Minister with responsibility for policy in this area, she states that Natural England granted licences for 257 greys to be released in 2007? Releasing six grey squirrels is surely a very different thing from granting licences to release 257.

According to figures from Defra and the Forestry Commission, 257 breeding greys will produce about 1,800 squirrels in one year—about the same number as that managed by the employee whom I employ to kill squirrels in protecting SSSI woodland. So why in another place has the Minister with responsibility for policy in this area gone against the published views of Defra, Natural England, the Forestry Commission and our legal obligations under the Berne convention and the EU habitats and birds directives?

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Lord Rooker: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord. When I answered the Question a couple of weeks ago, I answered the Question I had been asked about how many licences had been issued. I went on to talk about how many squirrels had actually been released. The two things are not necessarily the same. In 2006, for example, 147 squirrels were permitted to be released, but only six were released. The figure which the noble Lord gave on the number of licences issued does not necessarily represent the number of squirrels released under those licences. Natural England may not have allowed it for some reason. So there is probably no problem at all with the figures; one has to look at what one is asking. The latest year for which we have figures on releases of squirrels is 2006, and the figure is six, but more than six licences were issued.

The Lord Bishop of Portsmouth: My Lords, I wonder if any impact studies could have a special focus on the Isle of Wight, which is an exclusive and much cherished safe haven for the red squirrel? Any thought of releasing grey squirrels on the Isle of Wight might make the islanders rise up in rebellion. In asking this supplementary question, I should perhaps declare an interest as the owner of a border terrier which is allergic to all squirrels irrespective of colour.

Lord Rooker: My Lords, I wrote “Isle of Wight” on the front of my brief because, the last time I was asked about this, a noble Lord told me in the Corridor, “Next time, make sure you give a plug to the Isle of Wight”. So if anyone wants to see red squirrels, the Isle of Wight is the place to go. There are no greys on the Isle of Wight and, what is more, no greys are allowed. That is the reality.

Lord Clark of Windermere: My Lords, I declare an interest as chair of the Forestry Commission. I sympathise with the Minister’s view and hesitancy about taking action against red squirrels in most of the south of England. But in the north of England it is a different problem. Does he agree that we need to create buffer zones in the vicinity of the red squirrels so that they might survive? Has he had time to review my suggestion that no licences for the release of grey squirrels should be issued in the four northern counties, parts of north Yorkshire and the county of Lancaster?

Lord Rooker: My Lords, I think that my noble friend meant grey squirrels when he said red. However, with regard to what he asked me a couple of weeks ago, I can inform the House that Natural England and the Forestry Commission have looked into the matter, which is hardly surprising given that my noble friend is chairman of the Forestry Commission. Natural England has now decided to make a change on a precautionary basis and to increase the buffer zone around the nearby refuges in the north of England. The change will come into force immediately and any existing licences that cover that area will be reissued. I am grateful to my noble friend for asking the original question.

Lord Redesdale: My Lords, the Minister will be happy to know, since Defra funds the project, that since this Question was last raised, in the past two and

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a half weeks, we have taken out—I refrain from using the word slaughter after the publicity last time—more than 1,200 squirrels. It is quite possible that Northumberland will be totally free of grey squirrels by the middle of the summer. In the light of this success, will he say whether Defra will review its policy on the eradication of grey squirrels in large parts of the country?

Lord Rooker: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord: it seems that this is one area where Defra can really claim to be getting value for money in regards to wildlife. We are certainly happy to review that success. We need to build on it. However, since I last answered the Question, I have also discovered the famous Wild Boar Hotel at Crook near Windermere. It is doing very well in serving up grey squirrel canapés and pancakes.

Lord Crickhowell: My Lords, why are licences given at all for the release of these nasty little pests, which do enormous damage?

Lord Rooker: My Lords, they are released only on welfare grounds, and only six were released out of a population of 2 million. I think that that is not unreasonable. They are released only in areas where they are not a danger to songbirds, to forestry or to red squirrels, and welfare grounds are taken into account when licences are issued. As far as I know, there has been no adverse reaction to the release of those six.

The Countess of Mar: My Lords, can the noble Lord say how many staff are employed in this business of issuing licences and performing the impact studies? In view of the reduction in staff that Defra is seeking, would it not be a good idea if the Government decided that squirrels are vermin and that they should not be saved under any circumstances, thereby saving a great deal of staffing in Defra?

Lord Rooker: My Lords, I do not know how many staff work on this, but it is minimal. Natural England is the operator of the Wildlife and Countryside Act and it is a non-departmental public body. It deals with all kinds of wildlife, both in licensing and in determining what action should be taken. Frankly, this probably adds up to a few paragraphs of work a day for someone. I repeat, however, that more licences are issued than squirrels released.

Local Government: Representing the Future

3.15 pm

Lord Greaves: My Lords, I declare an interest as an old, white, middle-class, male councillor. Despite that, I beg leave to ask the Government the following Question:

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The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Communities and Local Government (Baroness Andrews): My Lords, the Councillors Commission report was published in December. The Government welcome the report and the stimulus to debate that it provides. We are examining the recommendations in more detail and are consulting on the issues it raises. An overall government response to the report and recommendations will be published after Easter.

Lord Greaves: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply and look forward to the government response. Is it not the case that if the Government want to get a more diverse range of people actively involved on councils, rather than using gimmicks such as issuing local gongs, qualifications and degrees in being a councillor, redundancy payments, pensions, exit interviews and even free focus leaflets—if I read the report correctly—for councillors to distribute in their wards, they ought to return to local authorities the powers and status that they had 30 years ago? Within local authorities, they should return to councillors the powers, respect and status that they had 10 years ago.

Baroness Andrews: My Lords, we did much of that in the Local Government Public Involvement in Health Bill, which the noble Lord and I had the pleasure of debating at inordinate length last year. We should give credit to the councillors who are trying so hard to address a very serious problem. We have very little diversity now; much less than we used to have. For example, only one-third of councillors are women and only 4 per cent of councillors come from black and ethnic minority groups. We really need to do more. The Councillors Commission’s report is excellent; it has a range of very serious recommendations, which we will look at very positively.

Lord Dixon-Smith: My Lords, it is a matter of regret to me that a very serious report seems to indicate that the ideal of serving one’s community is no longer enough motivation to get people who are of sufficient quality properly to do the job of councillor. Will the noble Baroness tell the House what the cost of these proposals would be if they were implemented in full? Would that not properly be a charge exclusively borne by the ratepayer, or would it become part of general expenditure, which would then be eligible for a government grant?

Baroness Andrews: My Lords, it is interesting that the report reflects that the majority of councillors say that they derive enormous satisfaction from their roles. The report ends by asking, “Why don’t they say so?”. That is surely the best incentive to get people into local government. In terms of how much it would cost, there is a range of proposals, from reducing the voting age to 16 to much else, which will be considered in due course, perhaps by a Speaker’s Commission. When we review these, we will look at affordability, together with all the legal and other implications that the recommendations hold for us.

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