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ASBOs have not been effective as far as young people are concerned. One of the more telling quotes on them comes from Neil Wain, chief superintendent of Manchester police, who said:

dysfunctional families have a critical impact on young people—

When a police officer of his stature says that, we really need to take it very seriously, as the report concludes.

Many of the Government’s measures have failed. It is time to put the resources into other, supportive measures that would be effective in reducing offending and reoffending rates.

12.50 pm

The Earl of Listowel: My Lords, it is an honour to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Miller of Chilthorne Domer. I am particularly grateful to her for raising the issue of finding accommodation for young people leaving custody. I remember being involved in a report that highlighted the fact that many young people leaving custody said that they were moving back with their families. What actually happened was that they moved back for a day or two and then the arrangement collapsed and they were on the streets. These issues are complex and the issue of finding a home for young people when they leave custody is crucial.

Whatever the faults and virtues of the system since 1997, one has to recognise the achievements of the Youth Justice Board and the various policies associated with it; and particularly of the youth offender teams that have been so important and valuable. While one may wish to integrate their work better with the mainstream, one has to recognise the achievements that have been made. I also thank the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, for securing the opportunity to debate this important report.

The report concludes—I paraphrase—that Her Majesty’s Government have been taking money from hard-pressed mainstream social provision to develop a specialist system for youth justice. The authors point out that this new service is at one remove and therefore less well integrated. They question the effectiveness of such an approach. I felt a shock of recognition reading this. The scenario seems familiar. One might also say that we have developed a system of public care for looked-after children that drains huge sums from mainstream preventive provision, works far too much in isolation and provides disappointing outcomes. The Minister for Children, Beverley Hughes, told a meeting some time ago that the Government had increased their spending on looked-after children in the care of the state from £1.3 billion to £1.9 billion in just a few years and that they needed persuading that the money was making a difference—they had not yet seen the evidence. I believe that there have been improvements and I will come back to this point.

David Kidney, MP for Stafford and chair of the All-Party Group on Looked After Children and Care Leavers, recently reminded me that, at a meeting of

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experts in criminal justice from Spain and Germany last year, the failure to intervene early to prevent problematic behaviour developing was identified as an important flaw in our approach that contributed to our exceptionally high rate of child custody. Many noble Lords have already highlighted this fact.

The Department for Education, as it was, is to be highly commended for commissioning the Institute of Education to compare practice in foster care and residential childcare between England, Denmark, France and Germany. The striking difference is that Denmark, France and Germany intervene earlier and more effectively to prevent harm to children. Why is this and what relevance does it have to our debate? The Social Care Institute for Excellence confirmed to me this morning that the difference is partly one of workforces. It highlights the clear evidence that social workers in Belgium, Germany, France and parts of the US have a far higher status than social workers in this country and that, because of this, they are more effective in prevention.

Academics highlight the differences between our looked-after population and those of the neighbours that I have mentioned. Denmark takes a significantly larger proportion of children into care than we do. However, the children are less traumatised, and entering care is seen as an opportunity for them to improve their life chances rather then reduce them. A child in care is expected to do better academically than his peers. This may be explained by better early intervention to prevent harm, and then prompt later intervention if the child continues to be harmed. Half of Denmark’s looked-after children are in residential care, compared with 10 per cent of ours; but 90 per cent of its residential childcare staff have a degree-level qualification, compared with 20 per cent of our staff.

Pedagogy, the discipline applying to the care of vulnerable children, is one of the most popular university courses, and vacancy rates for staff in children's homes are minimal. In this country, there is no mainstream university discipline clearly applicable to this work. Social work is the closest, but is some way from the mark. Vacancy rates for staff in our children's homes are even higher than those for field social work—that is, very high indeed, among the highest in social care. Danish pedagogues have a large degree of autonomy in their work and can interact spontaneously with their children, for instance by giving them a hug when necessary. English pedagogues are controlled from the top down, keep endless records of their work and feel inhibited in their physical contact with children.

My sense is that what is true of Danish pedagogues in comparison with our residential childcare workers is more broadly true of Danish, German and French teachers, social workers and youth workers. If confidence in such professionals had collapsed in those countries as it had in ours, and if their status had reached the nadir that ours had, then their care system might be more similar to ours. Their preventive services might also be imperfect and permit preventable harm to children. Those children might then be catered for by another tier of provision, and the intense, incendiary needs of those children might also leave that service

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reeling. These countries might also be forced onto the back foot and find themselves spending vast amounts of money with limited effect.

I ask noble Lords to consider the comparative status of our social care workforce. Until very recently, our social workers were not required to have a degree. Originally, it was assumed that those wishing to become social workers would have a degree. However, that was not the case for a long time. Teaching is only just becoming a masters degree profession. The capacity of our early years workforce is decades behind that of many of our fellow nations. My noble friend Lord Dearing recently pointed out that, even if we achieved the targets of Her Majesty's Government with regard to vocational training, we would be catching up only with where Germany now stands, rather than with where it will be in years to come. We all recognise the failure to provide—and the lack of attention to—good quality vocational training in our schools. This is relevant here and perhaps I will come back to it.

It may be that the youth justice system is set up to address, to some degree, a symptom rather than an underlying cause. I agree with the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Warner. I pay tribute to him for his work as chief executive of the Youth Justice Board. I particularly recall what he did with parenting interventions, and how effective they were in reducing reoffending rates—a cheap and effective way of reducing young offending. He referred to the advent of this service. One has to remember that there were young people—and still are, to some degree—who caused endless harm to their local communities. The services to prevent that harm were not there, and it must have been hell for those communities. If I understand the history correctly, there was a vacuum for the reasons that I described of the long-term demoralisation of social services and those working in them. One can see why such a development was necessary.

I emphasise one further point from what the noble Lord, Lord Warner, said about public panic over particular problems. He mentioned the issue of mobile phones. I recall a poor young man, Joseph Scholes, who committed suicide in prison after being caught up in the hysteria over mobile phones. I hope that the Government will listen to the noble Lord’s request for there to be no similar knee-jerk response to knife crime.

Youth criminality may be due largely to a failure to provide the services that enable families to thrive and children to succeed. Our failure to invest in those working directly with these families may be heavily implicated in this predicament. I mean these comments to be constructive. If my understanding is correct, then much of Her Majesty’s Government's current policy is also correct. It is right that teaching should become a masters degree profession as proposed. Her Majesty's Government’s Teach First programme that incentivises high flyers to try the profession of teaching is right, and its success in persuading 50 per cent of those who are caught up in it to continue in schools is great news. It is right that Her Majesty's Government have now introduced a social work degree, and that courses are popular is great news. It is right that Her Majesty's Government are piloting newly qualified

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social work status so that this new intake has reduced case loads and increased supervision. It is right that the Government’s Children’s Plan makes building capacity in the workforce a sine qua non of success.

I see that my time is up, but I encourage the Minister to carry on doing what he and his colleagues have started. Many more of our children will have fulfilling, productive lives and become good parents of their own children if he succeeds.

1 pm

Lord Elton: My Lords, it is daunting to join a speakers list of so many experts on the subject. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Warner, is not going, because I wish him to hear my acknowledgement of the vision that he contributed to at the beginning of the present Government’s tenure of office in the building of a radically new approach, as was intended, to the juvenile justice system. It was full of good intentions. Sadly, the good intentions have not led to heaven, but neither have they led to hell. I endorse the opening paragraphs of the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, in which he listed the achievements that have been made and what the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, has just said about the importance of YOTs and the multidisciplinary approach. However, I have to agree with the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, that that approach will not be complete if the Department of Health is excluded from the infrastructure.

I am sorry that the noble Lord, Lord Judd, is not in his place to hear my admiration of his speech. He returned to the essential ingredient missing in our society when it approaches young people—what many of us are too embarrassed to call love. Such young delinquents as I have encountered in the early stages have quite clearly been starved of it, and the application of it has had astonishing effects. It is like when they ran a copper telephone cable across a desert in South Africa and suddenly there was a little line of green under the cable because what was missing was the trace element of copper in the soil below. That is the effect that love has on children. Not only children: we live in a society where you cannot call it love when you talk about adults because you get into all sorts of arcane and embarrassing suggestions of what it means.

The noble Lord called it tough love, but you can call it care or engagement. I remember a particular child at school who was going very fast in the wrong direction. I managed to convince him that I was personally concerned about what happened to him. I would not call that love in the context that I was expressing it, but that is what it was. He was an absolutely changed creature. From being a scruffy truant and somewhat abusive, he rapidly became well behaved and offered to help mark the register. He completed his school career without a blemish and I was able to give him a recommendation of good character. It cost me very little, but it was worth an enormous amount to him. We have to look at society as well as the actual criminal justice system.

However, the criminal justice system is what the debate is about, so we need to knit the two together. The Danes have done that, I understand from the

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noble Earl, Lord Listowel, and I hope to make an early visit to see how beyond the details that he gave us, but we have agencies in our society that are able to operate in a humane and non-bureaucratic way and a whole host of voluntary agencies. I remind the collective memory of Her Majesty's Government of a long ago predecessor of the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, at the Dispatch Box, Lord David Ennals, who in the last months of the Administration that fell in 1997 set up something called the intermediate treatment fund. It was devoted solely to two aims. The first was to go about magistrates’ benches, courts, police forces, probation services and so forth preaching the merits of non-custodial treatment of crimes requiring custody. I had personally seen them to be remarkably successful in reducing reoffending rates among young people.

The second aim was to go around with small handfuls of money finding beaten-up estates that were about to start going over the edge into criminal cess pits and find young enthusiastic adults prepared to start youth activities of any kind that engaged their enthusiasm so much that it would engage the enthusiasm of the young people. Through a grants application scheme, the programme also gave those adults the know-how to get funding from other sources at a ratio of five to one. One of my two complaints about the latter years of the Administration of which I was a part earlier on was the great cry that prison works. The other was the decision to wind up the intermediate treatment fund so that we had to find a voluntary way of doing it, which was not so easy or successful. Thought should be given to replicating it in some way or another.

The programmes for these agencies do exist and are successful. I refer to two that are carried out in Lambeth by what is still called Rainer. I declare an interest as having been a patron of Rainer for some time. The programme cut arrest rates among young people by an average of 65 per cent. In some areas where Rainer works, arrest rates have been cut by as much as three quarters. Unfortunately, as we see from the national figures, that is not replicated countrywide. Money of the sort that I mentioned could be profitably spent on such youth inclusion programmes.

The next thing relating to love is the family. We are at last politically aware of the family—rather late, I fear, in the process of decay of that institution. Where there is one, it is essential to retain connections between the offender and the family, which will be essential in getting him or her back on the rails. I join the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, with great enthusiasm, in saying that mathematics, geometry and geography all conspire to say that Titan prisons cannot be an element in that. I know the answer that the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, will give because I have heard it several times already. He will say, “Oh yes they are”, but I am afraid that he is wrong. I say, “Oh no they aren't”, although we must not turn this into a Christmas pantomime.

We must also avoid criminalising young people unnecessarily. By coincidence, I spoke in the Second Reading debate on Tuesday of the Education and Skills Bill. Noble Lords in this debate should be made aware so that they can be drawn into the debate in Committee of the proposal to criminalise truancy for children in the new compulsory education of children

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aged 16 to 18. It will be an offence taken to court if a child, after a series of processes, does not toe the line. I do not know how one can expect any constructive learning to be done by somebody who is in a room with an instructor only because he will be criminalised otherwise. However, if he does not go to school, the damage is even greater than if he is there, sulking and being made ever more resentful of society.

That brings me to my final point, which I raised at the Second Reading debate. I refer to the question of literacy. We all know of the very high rate of illiteracy among the prison population. It is somewhere between 40 and 50 per cent. The most conservative estimate is that 40 per cent of those are straight dyslexic cases. Astonishing changes can be made to the careers of children. One of the most common causes of, or routes into, criminality is the total frustration in school of people who are perfectly clever but are taught in ways that they cannot cope with because they have not been diagnosed. What this country must have, for the sake of future generations, is 100 per cent screening of children in their early years so that dyslexia is detected. In the very large number of cases where it can be got around with spectacular results, children will be diverted in numbers from the criminal path. That is what love demands, as the noble Lord, Lord Judd, in a good speech, said.

1.11 pm

Lord Haskel: My Lords, I, too, congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Thomas, on this debate but, like my noble friend Lord Warner, I am not sure that I thank him. Youth crime is not a topic on which I would normally trouble your Lordships. I do not have the experience or expertise of other noble Lords who have spoken, but it is a matter that has been troubling me. As this report came highly recommended by the noble Lord, Lord Thomas, I thought it would be a good read, and would perhaps satisfy some of my concerns. In the event, I found the audit exercise a bit pointless, but the authors seem to share my concerns.

In my other life, when I ran my business, even though we had accurate measurements of income and expenditure, and careful data on the volume of goods sold and made, I was still wary of audits. When you produce audits based on budgets and targets as this paper attempts, the results are pretty meaningless. The noble Lord, Lord Thomas, reminded us that the authors say that accurate statistics are difficult to come by and can, at times, be contradictory. We should be wary of the conclusions. At various points in the paper, the authors accuse the Government of overstating their record. Welcome to the world of accountancy, where overstatement and understatement are constantly debated and no two accountants agree. I am sure that the Minister’s justification for his data is as robust as the authors’ justification for theirs. As I said, welcome to the world of accountancy. The paper could have been more critical of the use of targets. The Minister does not need me to tell him that unless targets are used sparingly, and have a clear vision, they inhibit innovation and change because all the effort goes towards reaching the target, instead of doing a more effective and better job. It is a pity that the paper did not look more at the

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use of targets as a means of driving performance in youth justice. You have only to say that sentence to realise how incompatible they are.

However, the authors share my concern and—as the noble Baroness, Lady Miller, reminded us—those of the UK’s four children’s commissioners. They are concerned that there are too many children locked up, and that there is a disturbing trend towards locking up even more. I looked up the figures and the number has almost doubled in the past decade to 3,020. What troubles me, other noble Lords and the commissioners is that these are easily some of the most disadvantaged people in our society. Most show signs of personality disorder. The noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, gave us the details. He reminded us that many have the literacy and numeracy of the average seven year-old, or even younger. All this is at a time when, overall, crime figures are dropping. Nor does it seem to make financial sense. Custody is expensive, and there seem to be schemes that provide a cheaper alternative. I know of a scheme called the Archway Motorcycle Project. A police survey showed that this project in Thamesmead—which costs £200,000 to train 200 young people each year, and revealed a strong positive effect on attenders in trouble with the law—costs about the same as it costs the taxpayer to keep half a dozen youngsters locked up in a secure training centre. We constantly hear complaints that these youngsters are let out too early. David Ruffley MP complained about this on television only last week.

Fewer and fewer people feel that a crackdown is the answer, yet every burst of outrage in recent times seems to encourage this. Then the crackdowns tend to fulfil their own publicity through overreaction, as the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, told us. My noble friend Lord Warner reminded us that the public must be protected. He is right. I felt encouraged when Gordon Brown took over as Prime Minister and created the new Department for Children, Schools and Families. At that time the Secretary of State, Ed Balls, indicated a change in the balance—spoken about by my noble friend Lord Warner—when he declared it a failure on our part every time a young person gets an ASBO. He realised that in some cases ASBOs have criminalised children, and in other cases become a mark of esteem. He also toned down the “yob culture” rhetoric and the respect agenda, which the noble Lord, Lord Thomas, spoke about.

My right honourable friend Ed Miliband last year spoke of the need for the Government to do more, to rehabilitate young people and to end society’s perception that most teenagers are involved in crime and anti-social behaviour. This point was made not only by my noble friend Lord Judd and the noble Baroness, Lady Miller, but in the report of the four children’s commissioners. I realise that the number of children behind bars continues to increase, but my inclination is to give these new and young Ministers a chance. They are being helped by the Government’s attack on child poverty; by early intervention in the form of such schemes as nurseries and Sure Start; and by flexible working, after-school and breakfast clubs, and maternity and paternity leave. After all, these young Ministers have been brought up on a diet of social justice, and are committed to enabling people to make the most of

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themselves. They realise that our existing system of criminal justice for children is, perhaps, part of the problem, not the solution. My request is that we give them a chance to turn things around.

When will we know that they have succeeded? In my ideal world, prison custody would be abolished for all children, except those guilty of very grave crimes and who pose a serious danger. Ideally, they would be detained in local authority secure accommodation to maintain the family connection. Young people should be diverted from court and perhaps brought before a young people’s prosecutor. Interventions would be at community level and these would have to be expanded and improved, as would drug and alcohol treatment, and advice and support for parents. There should also be improvements in restorative justice and mentoring to help youngsters think through the consequences of their actions. All these services, including mental health provision could be improved, as many noble Lords have said. Perhaps equally important is the need to encourage a more vocationally orientated education system designed to bind children into society, rather than rejecting them. This is one of the points of the new Education and Skills Bill that we debated earlier this week.

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