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I return to the focus of the report: young people in the context of youth justice and the reforms over the past 10 years. For young people, a decade of reform, a decade of targets and a decade of moving acronyms are meaningless. These young people have been let down by their parents and carers, they have been let down by community and society, and they have been let down by the Government. The welfare state and the party that has claimed to wear its mantle have failed to ensure the welfare of the most vulnerable group in their charge.

1.53 pm

Lord Henley: My Lords, I start by offering what I was going to suggest were my commiserations to the Minister but I think that they should probably be my congratulations. First, he will have the pleasure of winding up this debate. It has been a very good debate with, as always in this House, input from speakers with a great deal of expertise. Secondly, I take it on myself to remind the House that the noble Lord has already answered one Question and that he will be replying to another debate after this one. We have to admire his diligence and hard work in coming to the

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House, and we are grateful for it. I note that he is leaving the Maximum Number of Judges Order 2008 to one of his colleagues and I think that he is right so to do. I trust that he will then possibly take the evening off, but if he has other plans that is a matter for him.

Secondly, along with others, I offer my thanks to the Centre for Crime and Justice Studies and my congratulations on its report. It is a very good report and the noble Lord would be well advised to study it, as I am sure would the noble Lord, Lord Warner. He asked that we should direct some of our comments at him and not just at his noble friend the Minister. I appreciate that the Minister’s noble friend Lord Haskel was not that keen on the report and did not like its use of statistics. However, one has to remind him that it is the Government who are a long and doughty supporter and a great user of these statistics and that they are, as he admitted himself, obsessed by targets. He pointed out the danger of using targets and the effect that they could have on how people operate.

Thirdly, I obviously offer my thanks to the noble Lord, Lord Thomas, for introducing this debate and for getting such a good list of speakers to come before us. In his opening remarks, he went back to the comments of the then shadow Home Secretary, Tony Blair, at a Labour Party conference just after the 1992 election, when he talked about being “tough on crime, tough on the causes of crime”. I do not want to go back quite so far. Tony Blair has now gone. He has been replaced as Prime Minister for more than a year by Gordon Brown—a Prime Minister who in that year has not made one speech on criminal justice and such matters which he might consider remedying in due course.

I should like to go back some 10 or 11 years to the time when Jack Straw, then Home Secretary—he is now Secretary of State for Justice and he has had quite a few other jobs in between—launched his White Paper, No More Excuses, and the subsequent Crime and Disorder Act 1998. I remember that I dealt with part of that Act, when it was a Bill, in this House as a shadow home affairs spokesman. I suppose that I have moved on to various other things and, like his honourable friend the shadow Secretary of State for Justice, have come back to justice in the end. At the time, I think that it was the late Lord Williams who took that Bill through this House.

As the noble Lord will remember, there were great expectations concerning the Crime and Disorder Act and the various other criminal justice and youth justice measures that followed over the years. As we have seen so often with this Government, following that there was a great expansion of expenditure of taxpayers’ money. We have seen expenditure on youth justice go up by some 45 per cent in real terms since then, which is more than on any other part of the criminal justice system. We would have welcomed that increase in expenditure if it had been effective; yet, 10 years on, as I understand it—the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, referred to some more recent figures—we still see that 70 per cent of male young offenders who receive a community sentence and 76 per cent who receive a custodial sentence reoffend, or, rather, they are reconvicted. Obviously the reoffending and reconviction rates are

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very different. One has to presume that the reoffending rate is considerably higher—if one can measure such a thing—than the reconviction rate. Perhaps the noble Lord will comment on that when he replies.

We were also told that there were targets to reduce reoffending—or, again, is it reconvicting?—by some 5 per cent a year. I do not suppose that the noble Lord will be able to argue that those targets have been met in any way, but perhaps in due course he would comment on them and tell us what has happened to the attempt to get reoffending down by 5 per cent a year.

In the few minutes available to me, I want to put a number of questions, as always, to the noble Lord, and I hope that in his usual diligent way he will try to respond to them in due course. First, the report from the Centre for Crime and Justice Studies says, in effect, that the Government’s approach has failed. The authors have highlighted the fact that we have seen this great increase in spending without any discernable improvement in the youth justice system. They state that most of the Government’s targets have been missed and they recommend that the time has come to re-evaluate the function and purpose of the youth justice system. Where have the Government succeeded in their approach to youth offending?

Why have they missed most of their recent targets for the number of children in custody? We have been given figures for how many there are and how that compares with other countries. The noble Lord, Lord Elystan-Morgan, said that we have more children in custody than France, Germany, Norway and the Netherlands combined. Again, the Minister should comment on that. I understand that the Government had a target—yet another—that there would be a reduction of 10 per cent. Since 2005, rather than seeing a reduction of 10 per cent we have seen an increase of some 8 per cent.

The report also states that the Government’s youth offending teams,

What assessment have the Government made of the effectiveness of those youth offending teams? I refer to an article that the noble Lord will be familiar with from the Observer of a week or so ago. It published details of an internal memo from within the Ministry of Justice which states that 5 per cent to 6 per cent of young offenders commit between 50 per cent and 60 per cent of all juvenile crime, with an average of 30 to 40 offences per year. The worst offenders have a 96 per cent reoffending or reconviction rate, with each costing taxpayers some £80,000 a year. The memo also states that reoffending rates are stubbornly high and have not significantly altered since 1997. Does the Minister agree with me that that again is an indication of complete failure on the part of the Government?

That internal memo also suggests that the youth justice system raises “barriers to effective resettlement” after young offenders have finished their sentences and that, by setting strict supervision conditions, it leads to an increasing number of children breaching their orders, which in turn triggers more custodial sentences. Why does the justice system raise those

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barriers to resettlement? Going back to the report from the Centre for Crime and Justice Studies, it states a somewhat depressing picture. It says that,

Does the Minister accept that view? Further, does he agree with my party that if youth justice agencies were properly incentivised to reduce reoffending, with clear, aligned objectives and lines of accountability, we could get a grip on the problem?

That should be enough for the noble Lord to be going on with for the moment. Again, I offer him my commiserations and congratulations. We appreciate the work he does in this House, particularly on a Thursday like this. I look forward to hearing his response. No doubt others will hear a second response in the second debate later on.

2.03 pm

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, for initiating the debate. It has been a real privilege to listen to the highly informed contributions. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Henley, for his sympathies. I am taking part in Thursday debates for the next few weeks so I look forward to his pleasant company there. I have not got the night off; my right honourable friend the Lord Chancellor is speaking at a dinner in Birmingham tonight and I think it is a career-enhancing move to make sure I hot-foot it back there. No doubt he will be talking about our youth justice strategy.

This has been a well-informed debate though I do not entirely share the assessment of the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, that this Government have failed, as he said, in all aspects. Nor do I agree with the noble Lord, Dholakia, who said that the youth justice system is not fit for purpose. Frankly, that is not my reading of the report. The noble Baroness, Lady Falkner, in her typically spirited speech, suggested that this Government are not interested in evidence-based research. Of course we are. My noble friend Lord Warner and I have boxed and coxed various jobs over the years. We were both responsible for a huge expansion in the NHS research and development budget, entirely focused on evidence-based research. I am responsible for research within my department now. We are looking at evidence the whole time which enforces and informs our policy.

Lord Thomas of Gresford: 42 days!

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: On the Counter-Terrorism Bill, I will not go there. We look forward with great interest to the debates that no doubt we will have over the coming months.

The reason I do not share the gloom of the noble Lord, Lord Thomas, about the report is that I have read it. It always differs from the press release and the way it was presented to us. In fact, I found it well written with a lot of research in it and it acknowledged that a lot of achievements have taken place over the past 10 years. There is the big increase in spending, the reduction in crime, more offences brought to justice, the big increase in police numbers, many drug targets met, and targets on speeding up court processes for

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young offenders. Of course it raises, properly, some serious questions about the relationship between criminal justice and complex social and economic problems. That is its conclusion and I echo that.

We have to tackle those fundamental, underlying issues we face as a society but that is what the Government have been doing and tackling in the past 10 or 11 years. What are the Sure Start programmes about or the huge expansion in education, the work of YOTs and our work with local authorities in general? The noble Lord, Lord Henley, asked about YOTs. They have a critical role in the work with young offenders and the relationships they have with local authorities and other agencies. We debated in the Criminal Justice and Immigration Bill the inspector’s report on YOTs. It clearly showed that YOTs had done enormously good work but that there are issues that still have to be tackled. The youth crime action plan is one area in which we will take that forward.

I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, and the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, about the poor outcomes of children in care and why we need early intervention. On the point of my noble friend Lord Judd, yes we should avoid knee-jerk reactions. We have to get the social context right. The noble Lord, Lord Elton, was particularly powerful in the sense of this problem of young people lacking love and our having to recognise that in the ways we respond to these questions. I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Miller, about restorative justice. I have noted her comment about the need for quicker rollout and will certainly ensure that that is considered.

On the accommodation issue, which is relevant to the underlying theme of the report on the social framework in which criminal justice has to operate, my understanding is that an accommodation indicator is included in the provisional set of local government indicators. We welcome that, as does the Youth Justice Board. Obviously we hope it will drive local authorities to improve access to accommodation for young offenders in the future.

My noble friend Lord Warner, who did such a great job at the Youth Justice Board, has explained the development of youth justice policy and the investment that has taken place. Some noble Lords have said of that investment that too much of it is spent on custody. They suggested that in a rather pejorative sense. We have to understand that much of that money has been spent on improving the educational programmes for those especially vulnerable people.

On mental health, which is a critical area, as we have all acknowledged in our debates during the past year, part of the extra resource has come from the Department of Health to support considerable improvements in mental health services, provision and assessment for young offenders. We have of course emphasised the need for greater integration between youth crime prevention and wider children's services. There is no argument between the Government and noble Lords about the importance of doing so. I refer to the aiming high in the 10-year youth strategy of the commitment to pool 10 per cent of the Youth Justice Board's prevention grant with local authority funding. That will be created through a three-year pilot to look

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at how youth offending teams can pool 100 per cent of their prevention budgets to strengthen support for young people and prevent reoffending. We accept that it is critical to get that relationship right.

I come to the whole question of targets. When the noble Baroness, Lady Falkner, cited the accusation of systematic managerialism and central control by the Government, my noble friend Lord Warner said, “If only, if only”. The debate on targets is very important. It permeates the whole relationship between central government and the spending on public services, often by other agencies. I will defend the targets. I have no doubt that without some of the targets in the National Health Service, we would not have made the hugely impressive improvements that we have. I also accept that we need focus and that if you have too many targets, it is too confusing.

I come to the question of the key targets that have been set in the criminal justice system. When one looks at the progress that has been made, one should not ignore the fall in crime, the reduction in reoffending and the increase in the number of offences brought to justice. Those are achievements. The noble Lord, Lord Henley, asked me about the 5 per cent reduction target. I suspect that he knows the answer already. The figure that we have is of a reduction from 40.2 per cent in 2000 to 38.4 per cent in 2005. Yes, we would like to have made further progress, but as my noble friend Lord Warner said, those targets were deliberately stretching; it is right that they should have been. It is clear that we need to work on that foundation. I was asked about the objectives of the Youth Justice Board for the 2008-11 CSR period. The aim is to achieve a continuing reduction in first-time entrants to the youth justice system, a continuing reduction in the frequency and seriousness of reoffending and to improve public confidence in the youth justice system. In that, I say that prevention and early intervention remain the cornerstone of our approach to reducing youth crime.

We do not need to redebate the Criminal Justice and Immigration Act, but I just point to the fact that that Act reinforced the emphasis on out-of-court diversions. There is a general view that the youth rehabilitation order, whatever our debate about various aspects of it, presents a helpful, constructive way forward.

The noble Baroness, Lady Miller, raised the issue of ASBOs and the whole question of demonisation of young people. I echo my noble friend: we must be very careful not to demonise young people; we need to recognise the contribution that so many of them make to our society and the greater pressure that I suspect that they are under than many of us were at that age. ASBOs are not about demonising young people. They must be seen in the context of the other actions that have been taken, such as Sure Start and the Every Child Matters programmes. But anti-social crime has to be tackled. What is often forgotten is that the victims of many of those crimes are young people themselves.

Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer: My Lords, I am terribly sorry to interrupt the Minister—I will be very brief—but he has just said exactly what our

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objection is. He referred to anti-social crime when talking about ASBOs. ASBOs are not about crime; they are about bad behaviour. That is what the Government invented them for, surely.

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, with respect, that is an entirely pedantic point and would be recognised as such by people who suffer the impact and the effects of it.

Lord Thomas of Gresford: My Lords, I cannot accept that. If it is crime, it should be brought before the courts and punished as crime. Anti-social behaviour orders are what they say they are; they put restrictions on people's behaviour. The courts are amply fitted and have been for centuries to deal with crime, so do not let us have any anti-social crime being talked about.

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: My Lords, I remind noble Lords that the Minister has limited time, as do other noble Lords.

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, I am enjoying this. We do not need to get into a cul-de-sac of pedantic argument about anti-social behaviour and the definition of crime. Noble Lords know quite well what I mean. I have said that this is not about demonising young people, but anti-social behaviour and crime which causes great problems to vulnerable people and to young people themselves also have to be tackled. One has to see the whole approach of ASBOs alongside out-of-court diversions and touch approaches to serious crime committed by young people. One has to see this in the round.

I say to my noble friend Lord Warner that of course one has to get the right balance on knife crime; there is no question about that. On mosquito noises, there is no government policy. That has not been endorsed, but a balance must be found between proper association and the problem of real intimidation by groups of youths, which has caused concern to many people, including young people themselves.

I turn to education and training, which is critically important for young people in custody. I pay tribute to the people who have been working in youth custody settings, who have done enormous work in the past few years to improve the general education and training programmes. The noble Lord, Lord Elton, mentioned literacy; of course it is important. I thought that the noble Lord, Lord Addington, made one of the most powerful speeches I have ever heard him make on this area. I visited Chelmsford prison last week, where staff paid great tribute to him for his work on dyslexia and young people, and people in general, in prison. Literacy is a very important part of our educational programme. I am informed that it is very much a focus of the special educational needs co-ordinators who have been introduced in our youth offending institutions, but there can be no complacency and I will ensure that the points raised by both noble Lords are fully considered by the Youth Justice Board and its educational partners. The actual number of hours for which young people are receiving education and training within custodial settings has increased impressively.

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I come to the question of the number of young people in custody. I have debated this with noble Lords several times. I understand the concerns that noble Lords have about the number of young people in custody. It stands, from my figures for March 2008, at 2,942. Of course, we want to deal with the young person in the community wherever possible, rather than removing him or her from it—the Government have said this. But we cannot lose sight of the fact that some young offenders’ behaviour is so serious that young people have to be placed in secure conditions. That is not a knee-jerk reaction or an impact of testosterone levels, as has been suggested. It is worth remembering that most under-18s in custody have almost reached adulthood. In April 2008—the last month for which I have figures—more than 50 per cent of the under-18 custodial population was aged over 17. By contrast, only 0.2 per cent were under 13. In the House of Commons two days ago, my right honourable friend the Lord Chancellor said in Oral Questions:

Custody for young people is a last resort, although it is a necessary option.

We have listened with interest to the comments of the UK’s four Children’s Commissioners. I say to the noble Lord, Lord Elystan-Morgan, that of course I noted the Welsh leadership in this matter, to which he was right to draw our attention. On the question of individual cases, as far as the English commissioner is concerned, this is quite consistent with some of the other decisions that we made about regulatory or inspectoral bodies in England. In general, the view has been taken that it is much better for the statutory agencies to deal with individuals—that is their responsibility—but with the regulator, the inspector, or in this case the Children’s Commissioner then able to comment on the generality of the performance and service offered. I recognise that there are differences of view. He pointed to some anomalies. At this early stage, perhaps it would be better to learn from these different experiences. I have no doubt that, then, adjustments can be made. The subject of Article 37(c) and the reservation is under review at the moment.

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