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26 Mar 2008 : Column 603

I feel—optimistic is not the right word, because I would rather that I was not now in this position at all. However, I hope that we have taken all reasonable steps to ensure that taxpayers’ money is properly used and that the interests of the rehabilitation of offenders are properly balanced with that. I hope that the House understands that the Government support education and training for prisoners, but that taxpayers cannot be asked to support the maintenance of prisoners who are full-time students and already maintained at public expense. It was important that my right honourable friend John Denham took swift action to close this loophole of a long-standing and unjustifiable use of public funds and, in so doing, protected the taxpayers’ interests. I hope that, after my contribution, the noble Lord will consider withdrawing his Motion.

Lord Lucas: Well, yes, my Lords—protect taxpayers’ interests. However, the trouble is that the department’s view of taxpayers’ interests is excessively narrow and purely financial. I thought that one of the promises when this Government came into office was joined-up government. Looking after prisoners and their rehabilitation particularly requires joined-up government, care and thought. The noble Baroness has said that 25 prisoners who have been or will be released this year will receive no further maintenance payments.

Baroness Morgan of Drefelin: My Lords, I actually said 11, and suggested that those prisoners had already received maintenance payments that they would not be able to use until their release. My assertion was that they should be able to draw on those funds that they had already received in this academic year.

Lord Lucas: My Lords, how does the noble Baroness know? She does not know the individual case histories and nor does her department. The department has not taken the right thing to do for these individuals into consideration in drawing up its regulations. It did not even know how many individuals there were: the noble Baroness was only able to tell me yesterday how many were involved, and has given me further information today.

In correcting what I think the whole House agrees is an anomaly that needed correcting, it is important that Ministers’ wishing to move fast does not involve trampling on the efforts of many others, in other departments and the voluntary sector, to try and make society better and save it larger amounts of money in other ways in the future. One of these young men, or whoever they are, going wrong in the future will cost a great deal more than £20,000. This is an area where doing things carefully and right can save a great deal of money. Hasty regulation is presumably only saving the summer term’s maintenance payments, because they will have already received the amount due for the spring by 28 February.

This is not a pattern of regulation-making that I would hope to see repeated. I asked a couple of questions. If the noble Baroness can write to me, I would be grateful. In looking at future plans, the Government have said that when a prisoner comes out, they intend that he should be entitled to maintenance

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payments for the time that he is out of prison, so that he can move into the university and find some accommodation, pay for books and be funded like an ordinary student when that happens. But what will be the effect of the intended regulations on prisoners already at university who spend time on remand, or who are in prison for a short sentence? Are they, as I suggested, going to find themselves saddled with a debt for accommodation which they have no way of avoiding and for which the Government will deny them maintenance payments? After all, if prisoners are on remand and go back to university, they have presumably not been charged or have been found innocent. People who have done nothing wrong will find a chunk of their maintenance charges shot away if the pattern outlined by the Government so far is taken forward. There is obviously no particular hurry, but I would like to know—when or before we see the next set of regulations—how these students’ interests will be looked after. For the moment, however, I beg leave to withdraw the Motion.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.

Baroness Crawley: My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now adjourn during pleasure until 8.37 pm.

Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.

[The Sitting was suspended from 8.07 to 8.37 pm.]

Criminal Justice and Immigration Bill

Consideration of amendments on Report resumed on Schedule 1.

Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer moved Amendment No. 14:

“Emotional and intellectual maturity

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, this amendment considers the issue of emotional and intellectual maturity. The Minister will recall that we moved similar amendments in Committee.

The amendment reflects the concern that further safeguards are needed in the YRO framework to ensure proportionality and prevent overloading of sentences. We fear that a court’s decision to address relevant welfare issues alongside reoffending ones in sentence conditions could even be the straw that breaks the back of the child or young person in terms of his capacity to comply. While we recognise the Government’s good intentions, we want a little more reassurance about the proportionality of YROs to the emotional and intellectual capacity of the young offender. This is another attempt to take the legislation further down the road of applicability to young people, recognising that we are essentially still operating in a criminal justice system that has been designed for adults and adapted to young people. That is why we have retabled this amendment and those grouped with it. I beg to move.

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Lord Ramsbotham: My Lords, I am very glad that the amendment has come back. In Committee, when we were discussing the subject of emotional maturity, we drew attention to a notorious case, which the world knows as the Venables and Thompson case, involving the murderers of young Jamie Bulger who, although aged 10 with developmental ages of four, were tried in what was virtually a High Court. That was a clear example where the maturity of the young offender had not been taken into account.

I realise that there is a borderline, which has already been mentioned this evening, between being too descriptive in legislation, putting too much down, and not putting enough, and whether we should put some things in the Bill or in legislation or regulations that go with it. I understand that a whole body of advice goes out to sentencers in a variety of ways instructing them to take those aspects into account. However, one finds a number of cases in young offender and other institutions of people suffering from serious mental health problems that have not been identified during the process until then, because there has not been a diversionary scheme in place.

In that regard, I welcome the inquiry being carried out by the noble Lord, Lord Bradley, to whom I have spoken and pointed out that, quite apart from the problems in arranging diversionary schemes for adults, that will be far more difficult for youngsters because of the shortfall in forensic psychiatric nurses and doctors in the system who will be able, first, to carry out the diversionary scheme and, secondly, to make certain that there is treatment to follow up whatever is assessed to be a need. I support the amendment because, in view of that, it is essential to make certain that those aspects of dealing with that very vulnerable group of young people are always put before people who have to make a decision—not to allow them to resort merely to referring to the offence and whether it is prevalent but to remind them that each one of those people is an individual whose needs have to be assessed.

The Earl of Onslow: My Lords, at yesterday's meeting, some people called CAMHS, of whom I had never heard before, floated into my vision. I am told that they are in the child and adolescent mental health services. I am also told that in some parts of the country, they are absolutely terrific; in other parts, they are practically nonexistent. I am also told that they come under the budget of the Department of Health. The noble Lord, Lord Hunt, having left the Department of Health, is in a situation rather like Churchill and the Home Secretary when they switched sides over dreadnoughts in 1908, when the hats change and a different voice says the same thing. We will put the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, as a Churchillian First Lord of the Admiralty, saying, “We want eight for dreadnoughts”—or, otherwise, CAMHS.

What happens is that the Department of Health budget goes up and the benefit goes to the Ministry of Justice, which finds that it is saving money by looking after people’s mental health properly rather than having to lock them up in prisons. The Minister would then have some money for his legal aid people,

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which he says he does not have—we will let him get away with that. There is a wonderful example here of the failure of one part of government to talk to another. I am in no way saying that this would not happen under a Conservative Government, because of course it has and it will; there is no doubt that these sorts of things are inherent in the structure of government.

My name is on Amendments Nos. 19 and 22 in the group, and I am very pleased that I put it on them, even though I can see what I think was called the Denman argument that if you include too many lists, it rather defaults from it and puts in some pecking order. We were, however, right to bring it up and to press it, and we are right to see whether we can get from the Minister a little picture of how CAMHS works. I rang the Minister’s office this morning, so he has had advance warning and I am sure he will thrill us with his answer.

8.45 pm

Baroness Butler-Sloss: My Lords, I add to what the noble Earl, Lord Onslow, said about CAMHS, as that has been mentioned. I endorse what he says. Indeed, I think I was the one who brought it up at the meeting with the Minister yesterday. CAMHS is an excellent institution. It provides an excellent service where it is sufficiently resourced and in the places where it is doing well, but it is, as far as I know, inadequate in certain areas. I know from my previous experience as a judge that there were areas where children and young people who needed help had to wait sometimes 12 to 15 months. No group of young people is more in need of help than those who are going through the criminal justice system and who can be diverted from a lifetime of crime if their very real mental health needs of a wide variety can be met early on. It will be very costly to the country and devastating to the young person if those needs are not met early enough to prevent years and years of criminal offending that starts with a mental health problem that has not been met.

I know that the Minister understands this, and that he knows from his previous experience at the Department of Health exactly what I am saying, but we on this Bill need the help of the Department of Health to push for the better resourcing of CAMHS so that there is far greater opportunity to access it much more quickly, because however much it is needed in the family field, it is needed in the criminal justice field even more.

Baroness Howe of Idlicote: My Lords, I too shall add a few words here. I was at the meeting last night and was impressed by the attention that the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, paid to this issue. I see the argument against putting everything into the Bill. It can be argued that this would push certain other areas of great importance if not out of sight then lower down the pecking order, but we have heard again and again—my noble friend Lady Butler-Sloss pointed this out earlier in our debates—that some 60 per cent of those in care who are in institutions are suffering from mental health problems. That is a pretty

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appalling figure. If there is some way in which this can be drawn to the attention of those with greater resources and made a higher priority for the National Health Service in its budgets, and if more research can be done into finding out exactly where these gaps are, that would be a great help and a step in the right direction, because this is something that we all want to tackle. It is pointless to treat children who have learning difficulties and mental health difficulties as though they were fully in command of their faculties, because quite clearly that is not justice.

Lord Judd: My Lords, I am glad to support the amendment for the straightforward reason that it is about rehabilitation. It is as plain as a pikestaff that it is not possible to tackle the task of rehabilitation unless you have looked carefully at the person for whom the rehabilitation is being provided. The rehabilitation must meet the needs of that individual. Therefore, the maturity, the intellectual ability, the ability to learn and the rest of the youngster concerned are absolutely crucial and central to the task. While I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Howe, that it is not possible to include everything, this seems to be essential. If one is talking about rehabilitation being in the Bill, one should be talking about this, because rehabilitation without this is a nonsense.

Baroness Stern: My Lords, I support these amendments, which get to the heart of one of our concerns about youth justice legislation. To a certain extent, that concern has been understood and answered by the Minister, but there is still some way to go. A number of times we have raised the point that in some cases we are punishing children for whom punishment is quite inappropriate because their lives until now have been nothing but punishment.

There is a large body of evidence on the strong link between the past abuse of children and their subsequent disturbed behaviour. The Minister may be aware of the history here. The Youth Justice Board commissioned a report on the past abuse histories of children in custody and then decided not to publish it for a considerable period, although that decision was later reversed. I am sure that the Minister had a hand in that in some way.

Recently, I attended a conference of people who were supposed to be, and seemed to be, the leading experts on the consequences of a childhood of growing up in a home where there is domestic violence and the children experience abuse, violence, sexual abuse and so on. It should not be concluded that all children from such backgrounds go on to behave violently. However, many children who behave violently come from a background of abuse, violence and suffering. At quite a large conference of youth justice workers, there was a feeling that past abuse does not figure enough in assessments and decision-making.

From that perspective I welcome these amendments. As other noble Lords have said, they attempt to look at each child as an individual, to take more account than we seem to have been able to of what has brought them to the position that they are in, and to consider, as the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, said, what is likely to get them to a point where they

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might be able to throw off their past experiences and to lead a law-abiding life. I support these amendments, which attempt to remind us that many of the young people whom we are dealing with are from such backgrounds.

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, that was an interesting discussion. What might have been a rather technical debate has proved to be a debate of great substance. I am sure that, in relation to the practice of sentencers and the interrelationship between mental health services in general and children and adolescent mental health services in particular, the argument for the recognition of the importance of early access to high-quality CAMHS for these young people is wholly persuasive. I hope that I can convince noble Lords that the Government recognise that. Indeed, we are taking action to ensure that this happens.

I know that there is concern that the sentencing process may not sufficiently take into account what is described as the intellectual and emotional maturity of the young person, but we should recognise that we have embraced a lot of different factors within that term. We believe that, as far as the technical answer is concerned, a young person’s age and maturity are factors that are embedded in general sentencing practice. We also believe that the court should take into account factors such as age and emotional maturity when making any sentencing decisions. They are important factors, which a court always ought to take into account when deciding which interventions should be made and for how long, as the noble Baroness, Lady Stern, said. The courts will always consider the extent to which age and maturity may be a mitigating factor. More than this, they will often amount to mitigation. The Court of Appeal stated in the Queen against Howells in 1991 that youth and immaturity, while offering no defence, will often justify a less vigorous penalty than would be appropriate for an adult.

Youth offending teams, in courts up and down the country, will be key in ensuring that this is implemented effectively. As part of the assessment process, a youth offending team must look at the age and maturity of the individual to determine what their needs are and how those needs can best be met. This applies across the piece. It also ought to inform any breach action that may be taken.

I assure the noble Baroness, Lady Miller, that we will ask for factors of age, maturity and other matters of personal mitigation for a person aged under 18 to be addressed in the sentencing guidelines that will be provided to sentencers before the youth rehabilitation order is brought into effect. I know that the noble Baroness has, in general, welcomed the consideration that has led to the YRO being brought forward in this legislation; nevertheless, she has concerns about how this might impact in practice. Clearly getting the guidelines right will be important in ensuring that we get the benefits of the proposals without some of the perverse incentives that she and other noble Lords have referred to in our days of debate. We will ensure that the Sentencing Guidelines Council is asked to produce these guidelines, which will be subject to wide consultation before they are brought into effect.

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The comments that noble Lords have made about diversion and the role of mental health services are crucial to the debate. The noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, referred to the review being undertaken by my noble friend Lord Bradley into diversion generally in mental health services. It is an important review, which I hope will help to deal with the long-standing problem of people within custodial settings being in the wrong place when they ought to be within appropriate NHS facilities. A great deal of progress has been made over the past few years, but clearly more needs to happen.

I agree with the noble Earl, Lord Onslow, on the budgetary points that he made. Unlike with his rather ambitious ideas for my legal aid budget, he is right that, if more money can be invested up front in appropriate mental health diversions, that must have a wholly beneficial impact on many of the people whom we are talking about and, it is to be hoped, on the resource position of my department. That is the very meat of the review that is being undertaken by my noble friend.

I am grateful to the noble Earl for giving me notice of this because I have been able to obtain some information for today’s debate. The performance indicator for youth offending teams is to ensure that all young people who are assessed as manifesting acute mental health difficulties are referred by youth offending teams to CAMHS for formal assessment, commencing within five days of receipt of their referral, and that non-acute mental health concerns are referred by the youth offending teams to the appropriate CAMH service, where assessment and engagement should commence within 15 working days of referral. The figures that I have show that, during 2006-07, 91.2 per cent of young people with both acute and non-acute diagnoses were referred to services within the target timeframe. Five hundred and twenty-three people were reported to be manifesting acute mental health difficulties, of whom 477 were referred within the required five working days.

9 pm

The Earl of Onslow: My Lords, the Minister has said that there are very serious geographical differences. Have those been identified and what can we do about them?

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, I do not think that I said “very serious”; I said that I thought that there was a patchy performance. It is clear from the figures that I have quoted that, in the main, the initial targets are being met, but within that there is a proportion of areas where they are not. That issue has to be confronted.

I was going to say that, in addition to the performance assessment, the Children’s Plan, published last December by the Department for Children, Schools and Families, contains a commitment to commission an externally led review of CAMHS. The commitment is to carry out a review of how it can be ensured that mainstream universal settings are meeting the educational care and support needs of children and young people at risk of, and experiencing, mental health problems, as well as meeting the needs of children and young people with severe and complex needs in a more integrated way. That is an excellent basis on which to take this forward.

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