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22 July 2008 : Column 1662

I should like the Minister to ensure that officials communicate with committee staff with the aim of providing more human rights information on at least some SIs. I repeat that I am talking about SIs which have significant human rights implications, not the whole generality of subordinate legislation. Given that the Minister will himself or herself have to check that these things are human-rights compliant, it is not very much to ask that these matters should be reported publicly.

I welcome the fact that the Government are meeting our recommendation to place in the Libraries of both Houses every six months detailed statistics about the number of restraint incidents. It was difficult for the committee to access this information during the inquiry; this will enable it to continue scrutinising the issue.

Can the Minister suggest how Parliament can assess whether force is always being used legitimately? Can the detailed statistics promised to Parliament include a short commentary on the circumstances in which restraint was used, without going into too much detail about individual cases?

It is regrettable that the Government will not place in the public domain the manual of constraint techniques. They say that that could be dangerous, but I am not sure that I follow their reasons. Surely having this information in the public domain would allow proper scrutiny and assessment of the physical controls to help to ensure that force did not turn into illegitimate violence.

I believe that the Joint Committee on Human Rights has done a public service in producing the report and highlighting the needs of a small number of extremely vulnerable people. We believe that using violence against people who were subjected to violence before being put into detention can only breed violence. It can hardly lead to them coming out in a more peaceful and less violent frame of mind. The evidence shows that when young people come out of these centres, the likelihood of their reoffending is very high. I look forward to the Minister’s response. I beg to move.

Moved, That this House takes note of the report of the Joint Committee on Human Rights on The Use of Restraint in Secure Training Centres (11th Report, HL Paper 65).—(Lord Dubs.)

12.14 pm

The Lord Bishop of Ripon and Leeds: My Lords, I am very grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, for that powerful defence of human rights and for expressing how we need to ensure that the regime in secure training centres leads to people coming out of those institutions better equipped to fulfil their life within society. I am also grateful to him for giving this House the opportunity to discuss in detail the Joint Committee’s report and the Government’s response.

I shall concentrate on two fine lines, which are revealed in the debate between the Joint Committee and the Government. The first fine line revealed is that between restraint and violence. The semantic debate between the committee and the Government on the distinction between force and violence demonstrates how difficult it is to make these distinctions. I hope

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that the Minister will confirm that any action that can be construed as violence has no place in a secure training centre.

One problem is that restraint can so easily slide into violence. I have considerable admiration for those who undertake the care of challenging children and young people, and I know something of the pressures on them from my visits as a parish priest to such institutions. That makes it all the more crucial that there is clarity that violence is not a part of the sanctions available to them in their work. The quality of care needs to be constantly reinforced by training and by support for front-line staff. I very much welcome the emphasis of both the committee and the Government on the need for training and the improved training now available.

I hope that the Minister will say more about the personal support that is, and must be, provided to staff. They need encouragement to develop a caring relationship with those for whom they are responsible, many of whom have experienced very little care or love in their own lives. They need to do all that they can to ensure that STCs are not themselves bleak and unloving institutions.

In that context, I was particularly pleased to see in the Government’s response a reference to restorative justice, whereby in one of the institutions, at least, staff review the incident of restraint along with the young person concerned. This taking of responsibility by the young person is very much to be welcomed, and I hope that the Government will agree to encourage such developments in the other secure training centres so that restorative justice becomes one of the principles by which relationships are developed and love is shown in STCs.

That taking of responsibility by the child or young person is necessary if we are to maintain another fine line, between restraint and punishment. Again the Government are clear that techniques of restraint are not used as punishment, yet I wonder whether it feels like that to the young person concerned. The difficult examples given by the committee, and to which the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, has referred, sound to me as though the children involved received that treatment as punishment—and undeserved punishment at that. We need to be clear that violence by a child upon child or staff will not be tolerated, but we need to be still more aware that what is perceived as violence by staff upon a child is more dangerous still. This quickly becomes the violence of authority escalating within the secure system and then beyond.

I am currently attending the Lambeth conference of Anglican bishops from all over the world. Indeed, when I asked for consent to be here yesterday and today, the conference asked me to bring its best wishes to all in your Lordships’ House. I would not want noble Lords to think that my presence here means that either I or the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Lincoln were not invited to Lambeth or that either of us declined to go. Among the events in Canterbury is one organised by the Churches’ Network for Non-violence, which campaigns for an end to violence against children throughout the world and to whose work I am delighted to pay tribute.

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The conference gives us the chance to reflect on the violence of our world, as we pray alongside bishops from Zimbabwe and the Sudan, for example—as we speak with them, eat with them and share with them. People at the conference speak time and again of how easily violence becomes part of a culture in our contemporary world, becomes endemic in a society.

We are not immune to that danger. We need to affirm that violence needs to be outlawed in all circumstances in our society, not least within the narrow world of the STCs, which we are talking about today. There needs to be a greater determination to do away with those restraint techniques which are or could become violent and to stress the importance—which has hardly been mentioned here, but which I hope the Minister will talk about—of relationships of personal care between staff and children. If the quotations in the committee’s report from the training manual about techniques of “hair grab”, “strangle against the wall” or “kicks on the floor” are accurate, they are alarming. I hope that the Minister will be able to speak of positive moves towards better relationships in STCs and to an ending of such practices.

12.21 pm

Baroness Falkner of Margravine: My Lords, I, too, am enormously grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, for giving us, even on this last day of term, the opportunity to turn our attention to this most important report concerning the use of restraint in secure training centres.

I am somewhat puzzled that the Ministry of Justice is not dealing with this issue. The Minister was in the Chamber earlier. I recognise the locus of the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, in this matter, given that the Department for Children, Schools and Families is involved in the treatment of young people—I am sure that the noble Lord will give us a most excellent exposé of what the Government are doing—but one would have expected the relevant ministry, the ministry to which we address our scrutiny in our Questions on a regular basis, to deal with the issue. It is the ministry that dealt with the Joint Committee on Human Rights; it is the lead ministry; and it is the one that issues the guidance. It is extraordinary that it has chosen not to be involved. At this stage, we are carrying out parliamentary scrutiny of one sort or another.

We are also aware that the Ministry of Justice and the Department for Children, Schools and Families have agreed a joint review of the situation—the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, mentioned that. I re-emphasise his question. The review was due to report on 4 April this year. As far as we are aware, we have not been shown the findings of the review, nor have we seen the Government's response. Can the Minister tell us when we can expect to see that?

I turn to the report of the Joint Committee on Human Rights. I should say that I was a member of the committee when the previous report on deaths in custody was produced—I believe that it was during the 2004-05 Session. We brought up some of the issues that arise in this report. Some years have now passed, but I fear that we do not see much movement.

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The noble Lord, Lord Dubs, said that the Government’s response came out on Thursday 17 July. The noble Lord may naturally seek to be kinder in his comments to the Minister than I might be from the other side of the Chamber. If it came out on Thursday 17 July, I should say that some of us have been abroad. I came back last night, and the only opportunity that I have had to read the Government’s response has been this morning. The way in which the debate is treated is indicative of the importance given to this issue.

The report is eminently sensible. It recognises the difficulties involved on all sides. We accept that the trainees—the young people who are detained—and the staff have to maintain a level of order whereby these young people can be detained for the prescribed period in the best possible way. I think people on all sides accept that there must be an element of pragmatism. The committee, however, seeks to influence the Government’s report in several significant ways. That is what it is there for. We on these Benches agree wholeheartedly with its conclusions and its criticisms, and we were disappointed—briefly, as I scanned it—with the Government’s response to it.

First, the order to extend the scope of the use of restraint was passed without parliamentary debate. We are told that it is a statutory instrument and so cannot be subject to parliamentary debate, and that that is how the system works. That is all very well, but an order that broadens so widely the application of restraint—the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, commented on what it does in practical terms and I will not take up any more time discussing it—passes without debate, and the Government’s response is that they do not believe they should answer the question about the provision’s compatibility with the Human Rights Act or provide any scope for consultation. I would have expected the Explanatory Notes, as did the committee in its report, to cover whether this new expansion of powers was compatible with the Human Rights Act.

Let me go further. We know that, historically, black and ethnic minority young people are subjected to restraint in larger numbers than their white counterparts. According to the Howard League for Penal Reform, prison monitoring shows that restraint is used disproportionately on young black men. Will the Minister say whether the Ministry of Justice will give us a broader view of whether the expansion of powers is compatible with human rights? The Ministry of Justice also needs to carry out a race impact assessment when members of a particular population within the secure training estate are affected in higher numbers than their white counterparts. We need to know why this is happening.

Still on the theme of scrutiny, will the Minister say whether he will take up the committee’s recommendation that every six months the Ministry of Justice should provide Parliament with figures on the use of restraint? If the answer is yes, will he say when we can expect the latest set of figures to be released? The report was published in April, so I would expect that by the time we return after the Summer Recess we might have sight of some figures to know whether the expansion of powers has resulted in a decrease, increase or whatever in the use of restraint for maintaining order.

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The general tone of the Government’s response to the JCHR’s scrutiny is incomprehension that expanding the use of restraint should trouble anyone. Perhaps the absence of a Minister is proof of the priority given to this debate; this is not a high-order issue. The incredulity extends to all sorts of legal contortions that we are presented with, such as why UK ratification of the convention matters, but not the inspector’s comments. In other words, the findings of the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child are dismissed because its conclusions are not narrowly, legally binding. Another legal contortion is the definition of violence. I pay tribute to the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Ripon and Leeds who spoke so passionately about these distinctions and how one perceives violence in legal terms, the exact legal definition of the use of force, and so on.

In the Government’s eyes, violence is the “unlawful or unjustifiable” use of force, which is the narrowest possible definition that one might imagine. People who speak plain English might not think of that definition when they encounter the word “violence”. I looked up “violence” in my college dictionary, which is excessively detailed and academic. The most commonly understood meaning is “swift and intense force”. The next most common definition is,

It is only at a third tier of usage where violence is an,

I labour that point because, if you are a young person at the receiving end of violence or force—call it what you will—that causes you intense physical pain and discomfort, not to mention the psychological humiliation that no doubt will follow and be alongside that, it matters little that the state, in its wisdom, defines violence in a different way from how you see it. That is evidenced in the suicide note and the testimony given by Adam Rickwood, who, as we know, tragically took his own life.

Finally, I come to the comments made by the Minister in his testimony to the committee. He referred to:

We hear that all the time. In the terrorism legislation, we are hearing about the importance of the balance that needs to be struck between security and liberty. I would argue that to imply a balance is to suggest that there is a trade-off in terms of a scale, a measurement, and that there might be a little more or a little less here or there.

On the use of violence by the state against its own young people, to imply a balance is to approach the problem from the wrong philosophical mindset. It is not a balance. The state has a duty to be extremely careful in its dealings with these people. There should be overt, explicit, transparent commitments that the agents of the state will not use violence against children except in highly and extraordinarily well defined circumstances.

There is little left to be said other than that the extension of these powers in this manner, without adequate consultation and scrutiny, is wrong. It was wrong when it was dealt with then. But, furthermore,

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the way in which it was dealt in response to the Joint Committee on Human Rights report and findings, and the Government’s response, was wrong. I shall conclude by quoting the opening paragraph of the conclusions of the committee’s report, which says it all. We would wish to see that reflected in the way the Government deals with it. The report states:

I hope that the Minister responding today will not leave us in that state of frustration.

12.35 pm

Viscount Bridgeman: My Lords, I, too, join other noble Lords in thanking the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, for initiating this important debate. If my reply is on the short side, it is only because I share so much of the sentiments articulated by the noble Lord and the noble Baroness, Lady Falkner. This is a very sensitive and sometimes distressing area of the criminal justice system, but that is all the more reason why we should deal with it in a careful and thoughtful way.

The Joint Committee has produced its report, which can be added to the growing list of reports that have dealt with youth justice. Of course, we have the anchor document of the noble Lord, Lord Carlile, in his inquiry on behalf of the Howard League and I share the concern of several noble Lords that we await the very long delayed government response to that. That inquiry, and the subsequent rule changes, followed the death of a young man, Gareth Wyatt, in circumstances involving the use of restraint. This important area deserves the full attention of all of us in Parliament, because failure can have such tragic consequences.

We have been reminded that secure training centres were set up to accommodate young offenders between the ages of 12 and 17 who were too young or too vulnerable to be in young offender institutions run by the Prison Service. As ever, a fine balance must be struck. It is a sad reality that staff in secure training centres are sometimes confronted with a risk or threat of violence from those whom they are charged to oversee, which always must be borne in mind when criticising the service. They are compelled to maintain a certain standard of behaviour and discipline among a group of offenders, who in many cases are very disturbed characters

On the secure training centres, it is a salutary thought that England and Wales—Scotland is excluded because it does not have secure training centres—is just about the only jurisdiction in Europe which employs restraint by force in this way. The staff in these centres are, by and large, underpaid and, even more seriously, under-trained. It is the view of bodies such as the Howard League that restraint should be used only in exceptional circumstances where all else has failed and that there should be an on-the-spot inquiry after each incident.

One of the more radical suggestions in the report from the noble Lord, Lord Carlile, was that the child—I emphasise the word “child”, although the Government persist in calling them trainees—should be involved in

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the inquiry. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Ripon and Leeds referred to that when he talked about restitution. I also share the concern that the guidelines for the use of restraint are not published. I shall be very interested to hear the Minister’s response to that. Obviously, with the volume of occasions on which restraint is customarily used, it is not possible to implement suggestions that there should be an inquiry every time.

The committee was extremely critical of the Government’s attitude to the report. It contended that the Minister appeared to distinguish between the use of force or restraint and the application of violence, which has been the subject around the House today. It pointed out that no such distinction features in human rights law and, while the Government do not sanction violence against children, that is exactly what current legislation permits. The committee found that the Government suggested in their response that they are not obliged to comply with the general comments of the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, but simply with the convention. That is not satisfactory. It is messy. Strictly speaking that is true, but it ill behoves this country to be seen to be complying with our obligations so grudgingly. We should be concerned about applying the most rigorous standards, not about getting away with the barest minimum. I hope that the Minister will feel able to expand on that point.

The committee also raised concerns about the use of the term,

in the rules. This term appeared in the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994, it was absent from the 1998 rules, but has made a reappearance in the 2007 rules. The Joint Committee criticised this phrase as,

and its view will increase confusion rather than clarify what is allowed. Can the Minister explain why that term was not considered appropriate to be included in the 1998 rules? If the Government are so sure that it is now necessary, I hope that they will take careful note of the committee’s comments. I shall be interested to hear from the Minister exactly what he proposes to do about that. I want also to ask him whether the circumstances in any of the four training centres since the rules came into force have required the restraint to be used to maintain “good order and discipline”. If so, how many times? Is he in a position to tell the House whether these situations could have been properly resolved under the pre-2007 rules?

I end by quoting the further observations of the committee in referring to the phrase “good order and discipline”:

I shall be very interested to hear the Minister’s comments.

12.41 pm

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