My right reverend friend the Bishop of Derby made this point well in a previous debate on this matter: there are interconnected social and familial roots which combine to make us who we are. Here, the consistent teaching of the church is at odds with a society that by defining everyone as individual misses the deeper, interdependent influences and relationships that form our personhood. As my right reverend friend said:

“Human beings are formed through relationships”.

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Crime tends to happen, he said,

“when relationships go wrong or are handled destructively”.

Do not therefore curse the fruit if the soil in which the tree is planted is poisoned and unkempt. To jump to calling a 10 year-old a criminal may play well to the gallery of a certain sort of public opinion that too quickly craves a scapegoat and an easy answer, but misses what my right reverend friend then called,

“the science of social formation”.—[

Official Report

, 8/11/13; col. 483.]

That science is about where someone is made a person, particularly in the family but also in schools, churches and other faith groups and community groups.

Where this breaks down, criminal behaviour is of course not inevitable; but where crime occurs in those so young, these influences—or the lack of them—must be taken into account. Furthermore, as has been mentioned, neurological and other scientific advances illustrate that maturity in young people, especially boys, is slower than we may have thought. The male brain carries on developing until the age of about 25. Many of us wish that it would carry on for a bit longer still. To brand a 10 year-old as a criminal therefore fails to understand who that person is and who they are becoming, and our collective responsibility for that. It also risks excluding the possibilities of finding better ways to work with them to ensure that such crimes are never committed again, not just by that person but in the whole of our society. So to my mind even a move to 12, which I wholeheartedly support, is just a step in the right direction. As in France, where the age is 13, Italy, where it is 14, Denmark, where it is 15, and Spain, where it is 16, there are other steps which I believe we should take.

Jesus famously said of those who nailed him to the cross:

“Father forgive them, they don’t know what they’re doing”.

He was speaking to adults. How much more should those words apply to children? We can still abhor the crime. We can still, where necessary, impose compulsory measures of supervision and care, and in rare and extreme cases—like that of Jamie Bulger’s killers, which has been mentioned—we could still impose long-term detention in secure accommodation. But that would be part of a care and welfare proceeding, rather than a custodial punishment imposed in a criminal court. In other words, our starting point and our hope would be that as this child develops, because they are children and are still developing, they would come to a point where they would truly know what they had done and truly be enabled to live a different life.

Forgiveness is never just wiping the slate clean, as if a human being were simply a vessel to be emptied or, for that matter, something to be discarded or excluded—nor does forgiveness fail to take crime seriously. Instead, by holding and nurturing someone within a new set of relationships, it means believing that the future can be different. It is for that different future for children who offend that I support the Bill and hope that it is taken forward.

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1.30 pm

Baroness Massey of Darwen (Lab): My Lords, I very much admire the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, for his persistence with this Bill, which I support strongly. It has been very refreshing to hear, from all sides of the House, support for the Bill and sympathy for the approach of looking at children as children who need welfare, common sense and reason rather than just punishment. I welcome the very powerful speeches.

When distinguished organisations such as the Youth Justice Board, the Children’s Rights Alliance for England, the Prison Reform Trust, the Centre for Social Justice, the Howard League and others say that it is time for reform in this direction, we ought to listen. Children are not naturally psychopaths or criminals—they are children first. The noble Lord, Lord Cormack, pointed out very movingly that much happens in children’s lives which needs to be counteracted. Let us not blame the children and rush to prosecution, but remember that the welfare of the child is paramount, as the Convention on the Rights of the Child states. The noble Earl, Lord Listowel, mentioned the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Children, which I chaired, and I remember that we had discussions on the age of criminal responsibility as part of two of our inquiries. Those principles have not changed.

Let us look at the level of youth custody in England and Wales. We lock up more children than any other country in Europe. The earlier a child is drawn into the system, the greater the chance that they will reoffend. A low age of criminal responsibility indicates a society that views young people as criminals, and this has become self-reinforcing. The issue of problematic behaviour is a welfare and educational issue, not a criminal justice issue. Other countries look for alternatives to prosecution. In France there is educational intervention, and proceedings do not take place if it succeeds. In Italy, pre-trial supervision is used and, where it is successful, prosecution does not ensue.

When a young person is involved in criminal activities, we should be asking how and why the young person has fallen through the net—not criminalising them. I believe that our duty as a society is to safeguard and promote children in need, with a clear focus on the best interests of the child. The criminal justice system is not the starting point for this.

The noble Lord, Lord Ahmad, for whom I have enormous respect, stated in the 2013-14 Session, in responding to the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, on an identical Bill, that the Government had no plans to raise the age of criminal responsibility. He supported this by saying that the Government believe that children aged 10 were,

“able to differentiate between bad behaviour and serious wrongdoing and should therefore be held accountable for their actions”.—[

Official Report

, 8/11/13; col. 487.]

I do hope we have moved on from that stance.

We have heard the phrase “tough on crime”. That slogan should be tempered by common sense. Locking up young people is tough not only on young people but on the police, on the court system and on parents. Money is being spent on dealing with young children in ways that are not only counterproductive but expensive.

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A 10 year-old, under our current system, could be tried in a Crown Court and may be given a custodial sentence equivalent to that available in the case of an adult. Similarly, a child of that age who is co-accused with an adult will be subject to trial in an adult venue. As other noble Lords have said, these arrangements have been criticised by the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child, which says that our rules are not compatible with our obligations under international standards of juvenile justice.

The situation is described by the Youth Justice Board as “illogical” and “damaging”. I really cannot accept the argument that children of 10 can necessarily distinguish between bad behaviour and serious wrongdoing. Criminalising a young person will not automatically ensure that they think about their behaviour. In fact, criminalisation may lead to worse behaviour, rather than an improvement, as others have said.

A later age of responsibility can improve the lives of thousands of children and also prevent thousands of children ending up in the youth justice system. It should be noted that one-third of all children who enter the youth justice system reoffend within 12 months. What is the cost of all this not only in human lives but in money? I do not know. Maybe the Minister does.

The Children’s Rights Alliance for England argues for an approach to youth justice in which under-18s in conflict with the law are dealt with under a system that is completely separate and distinct from that for adults: an approach which is child-centred, complies with children’s rights standards and focuses on rehabilitation, education and proportionality. I agree.

As the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, said, the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child requires that states should establish an age below which children are presumed,

“not to have the capacity to infringe the penal law”.

Does the Minister have any evidence that a low age of criminal responsibility reduces crime? I very much doubt it. What the low age may do is criminalise children for minor offences which they will probably never commit again. Most children grow out of things, and bad behaviour is quite normal, as the right reverend Prelate indicated. The human brain is not fully developed in its capacity for cognitive and emotional functioning and abstract thought until young adulthood.

Our Government have to respond to the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child this year. The UN committee may well again recommend that the UK Government raise the age of criminal responsibility for children. I have not heard of any movement on the part of the Government to do so. Will the Minister say if their response is being considered and what the response will say? Perhaps he will write to me and other noble Lords to set out the Government’s approach. I hope that we will get some reassurance today on this important issue.

1.38 pm

Lord Brown of Eaton-under-Heywood (CB): My Lords, I join other noble Lords in congratulating the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, on his persistence in advancing this worthy cause, to which I add my support.

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First, I shall give a very brisk canter through the history of this question. Before 1933, the age of criminal responsibility was in fact seven. You were deemed to be what was called doli incapax—incapable of evil—until the age of seven; for the next seven years of your life— seven to 14—you were presumed to be doli incapax. The Children and Young Persons Act 1933 increased the age from seven to eight, therefore leaving a presumption from eight to 14. Thirty years then passed until 1963 when eight was increased to 10 and 10 to 14 became the age of presumed doli incapax. Thirty-five years then passed until the Crime and Disorder Act 1998 which abolished the presumption of not being criminally responsible and left it to the prosecution to prove criminal responsibility for that 10 to 14 group. The prosecution would seek to prove it by showing that the defendant knew his conduct was seriously wrong and therefore criminal as opposed to merely naughty.

That position, however, remained unclear for about a decade from the 1998 Act because it was thought by some that instead of the presumption having been abolished in respect of the 10 to 14 year-olds, it had merely been reversed. In this Chamber in 2009, in a case to which I was party, R v JTB—we sat in the February recess in 2009 at this end of the Chamber, at the Bar of the House—we decided, not as a matter of policy but as a matter of statutory construction of the 1998 Act, that indeed it had been abolished. Therefore, as we all now know, today if you are under 10 you cannot be convicted of a crime, but once you have reached the age of 10 then your particular age, whether you are 10, 11, 12, 13 or whatever, as a matter of strict law becomes entirely irrelevant except in so far as it would bear on the court’s assessment of how reasonably you had behaved if, for example, you were running a defence of self-defence, or if some question of subjective recklessness, foresight or intention—something of that sort—were involved. But the earlier all-important question between the ages of 10 and 14 of whether you knew what you were doing was seriously wrong was no longer being asked.

Enough of the history. As the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, has explained, internationally, even indeed within the UK, 10 is among the very youngest ages of criminal responsibility. Surely the critical question must be how as a society we deal with these youngsters to address their misconduct and wrongdoing. The word “criminality” would of course beg the very question. As I understand the position, the substantive disposal of these cases of wrongdoing—of a child in, say, the age group 10 to 12, which is that which we are focusing on today—really is substantially the same whether they are above or below the age of criminal responsibility. I repeat “the substantive disposal” because that is of course a very different question from whether one reaches that by way of the criminal justice system and through the criminal courts or by what is essentially a corrective welfare process. Obviously, whichever side of the line they are, these children will if strictly necessary be detained securely, but generally of course they will be subject to the sorts of welfare programmes that have been outlined by others today.

I shall make a very brief digression in parenthesis if I may. The GOV.UK website states that children under 10 who break the law but of course cannot be charged

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with a criminal offence can be given either a local child curfew or a child safety order. Actually, as the Library helpfully pointed out to me yesterday, having done a little research on it, local child curfews, introduced in 1998, were in fact repealed by the Policing and Crime Act 2009. One notes that the website perhaps needs correction.

Today, though, that is essentially by the way. Altogether more important are child safety orders and, if necessary, care proceedings and orders under the Children Act. Surely our central focus should therefore be on refining and extending the presently available welfare programmes and corrective steps, rather than on criminalising youngsters. The real and compelling reason to raise the age of criminal responsibility, as so many others have tellingly observed today, is to delay for that much longer actually criminalising these very young people. They are still developing as individuals, developing their identities and self-esteem, and if society—represented here, of course, by the criminal justice system it operates—characterises and brands them as criminals, unfortunately, that is how they will come to identify themselves. Alas, that makes it all the more likely—statistics bear this out—that they will thereafter indeed develop into criminals, perhaps career criminals. Surely we must strive to avoid that, above all. In short, we should keep these youngsters out of the criminal courts, protecting against the early acquisition of a criminal record which then will remain with them for ever.

Is the future of this issue to be regarded as settled for all time by that tragic, ghastly and appalling case of Jamie Bulger, which of course we all still remember so vividly? For my part, I fervently hope not and I wish the Bill well.

1.45 pm

Baroness McIntosh of Hudnall (Lab): My Lords, I am very grateful for the opportunity to speak briefly in the gap, and I will be brief, pausing only to say in passing that I have listened carefully to the debate, having had no thought of speaking in it, and am entirely supportive of the Bill that the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, has brought before the House.

I will pick up on one thing that came out of the speech made by the noble Lord, Lord McNally. He referred to his experience of having made what seemed to me as he reported it an entirely reasonable proposition in respect of the age of criminal responsibility, then subsequently found that the parents—or at any rate he referred to the mother—of Jamie Bulger had been contacted and asked whether she agreed that the age should be lowered such that his killers would, as I think the noble Lord reported it, “get away with it”. That anecdote—I do not mean to trivialise it by calling it an anecdote but it is an anecdote in the sense that it is the noble Lord’s recollection—rather points at something that I fear may be behind the kind of reaction we have had so far from government to the proposal, which has been supported all around the House and by everybody who has spoken so far in this debate, that the age of criminal responsibility should be raised. Politicians inevitably have that fear—that if they do something which appears to be liberal, they will be hounded for it and held to account in an entirely unhelpful and irresponsible way.

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I do not underestimate the fear that politicians have of being held to account by, as it were, the Daily Mail. However, is not the job of politics not just to follow public opinion as represented by the press but to lead it? When an issue of this kind is so unanimously held up as requiring reform as it has been today, and clearly is so viewed in wider society, it is important that politicians grow a backbone. I therefore address my remarks both to the Minister when he comes to reply and to my noble friend on the Opposition Front Bench, to ask them to consider that it is their responsibility to listen to the evidence and to make decisions that are clearly in the interests of the children whose lives we wish to protect, and not to be too frightened to make decisions, which may indeed result in the kind of press coverage that people do not like to get, but are none the less the right decisions.

1.49 pm

Lord Bach (Lab): My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, on bringing his Bill back before the House and on his persistence in a cause that he believes in passionately. I value my personal friendship with the noble Lord and admire him for his great knowledge and expertise in this vital area.

We very much support the Bill having a Second Reading today and that this debate—and it is a debate—should continue in a proper manner. Today, I cannot give my party’s full support to the noble Lord’s proposal, but I hope that he bears my words very carefully in mind. We are obviously considering policy on a whole range of issues—that happens after a general election defeat—and it applies here as it applies elsewhere. Although I cannot promise him full support on principle, I want him to watch this space closely.

A very strong and powerful case for reform has been made around the House. Sometimes in debates of this kind in the House I have been on the side of all those who have supported a particular project. It is a very comforting and enjoyable position to be in. I have also been in the position that the Minister might be in today—I am looking forward to hearing what he has to say—of being the only person to resist what seems a very powerful argument made in different ways around the House. I am not as enthusiastic or sure about my own position as practically all those who have spoken. I do not think it is cowardice for people who make laws to bear in mind that issues of this kind raise very powerful and genuine emotions and feelings, often from victims and their relatives. Frankly, it is not the duty of Parliament to ignore those feelings, saying that they can just be dismissed and that we know better. I wanted to get that off my chest. I had to say that in government and I say it in opposition, too. There is a real need for a continuous public debate on this far-from-straightforward issue.

Many who took part in the last debate will remember the contribution of the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, who referred to the Bulger case. What he had to say was as powerful then as it is today. All I can say is that my party will play its full part in the discussion that follows. For me, an equally, if not more, important issue than the age of criminal responsibility is how the system deals with these children, whether they are prosecuted or not.

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I was fortunate enough to be asked by the noble Lord, Lord Carlile of Berriew, to sit on an all-party unofficial committee of both Houses which produced, I believe, a very valuable and serious report on youth offending. It asked what society should do with those who commit offences at a young age, whether or not you call them criminals. The elephant in the room during those discussions and the argument that we did not take on was the age of criminal responsibility. We said, “No, that’s not relevant to what we’re looking at. We’re looking at what happens to those who have clearly committed wrong—and criminal wrong—in those circumstances”. It seemed to us from the powerful evidence that we had that the whole mood had altered from the situation when, for example, I was a very young lawyer doing criminal cases to looking at solutions that were welfare-based rather than punishment-based. That is true whether or not someone is taken to the youth court. Just because criminal responsibility exists for 10 year-olds, that does not mean that a welfare conclusion is not reached, and today it seems that it invariably is. Whether there is then a mismatch as far as the age of responsibility is concerned, I know not. However, I see the power of the arguments that have been made today from around the House suggesting that there may not be enough logic in taking someone to a youth court at a very young age and then coming up with a welfare conclusion.

What we do to prevent children committing offences and making victims’ lives hell—let us not forget that the effect on a victim of an offence committed by an 11 year-old can be every bit as painful for that victim as an offence committed by an adult—is a hugely important part of public policy. It is that issue that the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, quite rightly keeps raising with us. It is, I think, coming to a time when a conclusion must finally be made.

The point made about international comparisons is very powerful and has to be accepted by the Government, the Opposition and Parliament as a whole.

We do not deny the important principle behind the noble Lord’s Bill. We are delighted to support its Second Reading and hope that it encourages the national debate that we need on such an important and difficult subject. I do not think this is an easy subject, but it is one that the Government and the Opposition are now going to have to grasp.

1.56 pm

The Minister of State, Ministry of Justice (Lord Faulks) (Con): My Lords, I join other noble Lords in congratulating the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, on introducing this Bill and bringing this important debate to the House. I am grateful to all noble Lords for their contributions today. The debate reflects a long-standing commitment on the part of the noble Lord, and indeed there are many noble Lords who have considerable interest and experience in these matters.

In order to avoid any unnecessary suspense, I should say that the Government have no plans to raise the age of criminal responsibility from 10 to 12. I know this will disappoint the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia—but

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I hope he will at least be consoled by the fact that he will not have to embrace me, as was suggested by my noble friend Lord Cormack.

Although at the moment we are not able to accept that there should be a change, we none the less share the concern of the noble Lord, as indeed do all noble Lords who spoke, about the proper way to deal with young offenders. The Government believe that children aged 10 and above are, for the most part, able to differentiate between bad behaviour and serious wrongdoing and should therefore be held accountable for their actions. Where a young person commits an offence, it is important they understand that it is a serious matter. The public must also have confidence in the youth justice system and know that offending will be dealt with effectively.

The Jamie Bulger case casts a shadow over all our considerations in this area. That case was, I am glad to say, very unusual. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Brown, referred to the principle of doli incapax. There was a rebuttable presumption in 1993, at the time of the hearing, which was then removed in 1998. The court in that case specifically considered doli incapax and decided that both boys clearly knew that what they had done was wrong, and so the presumption was rebutted.

A number of points were made during the debate about whether or not the full panoply of a trial at the Old Bailey was really appropriate for boys of this age. I entirely understand that point. We have to bear in mind that this was an issue of national concern and, of course, an absolute tragedy for those connected to Jamie Bulger. It is difficult for a country somehow to balance the fact that we are dealing with very young people with, at the same time, acknowledging the seriousness of something of that sort.

Unusually, I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Bach—in two years, it is very rare that we have agreed on anything, at least across the Dispatch Box—that the Government do have a duty to respond to what the public want. With very great respect to the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh—who is now on the Woolsack: a somewhat different position from when she made the point—they are not simply responding to the Daily Mail, although the Daily Mail clearly has a capacity to influence policy in a number of respects.

The noble Lord, Lord Parekh, made the point that European countries do not share our view about the age of responsibility. Of course, other countries and different states in the United States vary. It is a matter for each country to make its own judgment. It is not simply a question of our following what others say.

It is important to note that serious crimes committed by children are mercifully rare and we do not want to see 10 and 11 year-olds prosecuted for minor offences. Indeed, most such offending will be diverted away from the formal criminal justice system. We have recently invested a significant amount, £3 million over two years, in restorative justice conference facilitator training for youth offending team staff—I know my noble friend Lord Cormack is an enthusiast for restorative justice—and referral order lay panel members to encourage support for and promote greater use of

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restorative justice conferencing. However, it is important that, where appropriate, serious offences can be prosecuted and the public protected.

The noble Earl, Lord Listowel, who has great knowledge of and concern for the welfare of young people, particularly those who make up much of the prison population—possibly as a result of the care system or the origin of their lives, which cause them to be in the care system—made a point about the expense this caused and asked me to give the costs of the full criminal process compared to more informal disposals. That is a factor but the real costs lie in where someone is sent for punishment. The average price per year in a secure children’s home is £204,000; in a secure training centre it is £163,000; and in an under-18 young offender institution it is £75,000. These are very large sums of money. Fortunately, we do not send nearly as many young people to any of those disposals as we used to. It is very much a punishment of last resort.

Returning to the question of 10 and 11 year-olds, between 2004 and 2014, the number of 10 and 11 year-olds who received a custodial sentence was 12. Maintaining the minimum age of criminal responsibility at 10 does not, however, lead to the prosecution of a large number of 10 and 11 year-olds. In 2014, only 136 10 and 11 year-olds were proceeded against at court compared to 6,860 12 to 14 year-olds, and 65 of those 10 and 11 year-olds were given community sentences. The others were found not guilty, fined or given a conditional or unconditional discharge. Many crimes committed by those aged 10 or over will not result in a prosecution at all.

We are keen to ensure that, whenever possible, children are not prosecuted as research shows that this can be counterproductive, as many noble Lords have said. The principal aim of the youth justice system is to prevent young people offending. We need to keep our focus on that.

Legislation specifically requires courts to have regard to the welfare of under 18s. Section 44 of the Children and Young Persons Act 1933 provides that every court, in dealing with a child or young person who is brought before it, shall have regard to their welfare. This is reinforced by detailed guidance contained in the sentencing guideline Overarching Principles—Sentencing Youths.

Having the age of criminal responsibility set at 10 years allows flexibility to deal with young offenders. If particular needs are identified in a youth offending team’s assessment of a child or young person, the multiagency youth offending team, which includes representatives from health, housing, children’s services and education, can refer the child on to other statutory services, such as children’s services departments and child and adolescent mental health services, for further investigation and support. That support can include addressing attendance and attitude to school, referral to speech and language therapy and, where appropriate, referring parents to parenting courses. A youth caution can also be given for any offence where the young offender admits an offence and there is sufficient evidence for a realistic prospect of conviction, but it is not in the public interest to prosecute.

Youth cautions usefully aim at a proportionate and effective resolution to offending and support the principal statutory aim of the youth justice system of preventing

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offending by children and young people. Youth conditional cautions require young people to take responsibility for their actions, including by agreeing to conditions that require them to put things right or seek help for their behaviour. The conditions that can be attached must include one or more of the objectives of rehabilitation, reparation and punishment. The rehabilitative conditions may include attending one or more of a range of interventions available to the youth offending team for addressing offending behaviour. Reparation can include apologising, repairing or otherwise making good any damage caused, provided that this is acceptable to the victim. Punitive conditions may include attendance at a specified place to undertake an agreed activity. I should however emphasise that in any case where the police or the CPS are considering offering a youth conditional caution or a second or subsequent youth caution, the case must be referred to the local YOT to provide a check on the appropriateness of the disposal and the interventions that should go alongside. This will all be well known to the noble Lord, Lord McNally, as chair of the Youth Justice Board.

When a young person aged 10 to 17 pleads guilty to an imprisonable offence, is convicted for the first time and does not warrant an absolute discharge, conditional discharge, hospital order or a custodial sentence, the court must give a referral order. A referral order is based on restorative justice principles and may be between three and 12 months in length. The offender is referred to a youth offender panel made up of trained community volunteers and a member of the youth offending team.

There is a great deal more I could tell the House about, but it is important to stress that in these and other interventions, custody of any sort is always very much the last resort. As the noble and learned Lord, Lord Brown, emphasised, very often the destination, as it were, is one that is reached in the interests of the child whether it comes by welfare provision or via the criminal justice system. Custody is available, admittedly at great expense, for 10 and 11 year-olds only if they commit a grave or serious crime, normally one where an adult would be liable to a maximum penalty of 14 years’ imprisonment or more. A child would only be placed in a secure children’s home with a strong focus on addressing their and their family’s needs as well as the offending behaviour.

Reference was made to the report being produced by Charlie Taylor, who I know is doing an extremely thorough job, as was confirmed by the noble Lord, Lord McNally. He is a former head teacher and an expert in child behaviour. His interim report is due to be published shortly and the final report will follow in the summer. We believe that, partly as a result of the legislation which has been introduced and other steps, this has all contributed to a significant fall in the number of under-18s being dealt with in the criminal justice system. The noble Baroness, Lady Massey, asked about the numbers. The legislative changes are not the only factor, and one clear contributory factor was doing away with the police target introduced under the last Labour Government for offences brought to justice, but which was very sensibly dropped by that Government in 2008. Since youth offending peaked in 2007, proven offences have fallen by 78% and there are

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64% fewer young people in custody. At the end of November only 991 under-18s were being held in the youth secure estate. However, we are not complacent. We recognise that there is scope to make the youth justice system better and to improve the experience of young people who the courts consider need to be detained. We will be better informed after Charlie Taylor reports.

In conclusion, the Government believe strongly that the current age of criminal responsibility is appropriate to hold young people to account for their actions if they commit an offence and reflects what is required of our system. We are of course most anxious to ensure public confidence in the youth justice system, and that communities know that young people’s offending will be addressed to counter the negative effects on victims and the community. We must, above all, however, ensure that young people are rehabilitated and educated if we want them to cease their criminal activities.

By bringing back his Bill, the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, focuses our attention on what we do about young offenders. He reminds us of the causes that often precede their arrival in the criminal court system. He and other noble Lords have emphasised that we must look at the problems that young offenders pose for society, as the right reverend Prelate did, in terms of our responsibility as a society, and we must react to that appropriately. In doing so, he does us and the House a great service. While we do not support the Bill, we very much support many of the expressions of concern for youths and the justice system that we have heard today. This has been a valuable debate and I congratulate the noble Lord and others on bringing these matters to our attention.

2.11 pm

Lord Dholakia: My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for his contribution to the debate and for the observations that he has made. I am of course disappointed that the Government are not prepared to support this very simple measure. I do not wish to take any longer than necessary; many noble Lords have given up considerable time to be present here on a Friday afternoon, so I shall be very brief. I just want to make one or two points.

The noble Lord, Lord Cormack, was absolutely right when he said that we are a civilised society, but

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we must also accept that in any civilised society, from time to time, there will be heinous and serious crimes and it is how we deal with such crimes that determines how civilised we are. In this respect, if there is one message I would like the Minister to take to the Secretary of State, it is that this time I have the church on my side: God is speaking on my behalf as well, so I hope there will be change at some stage.

My second point was made by the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh. I appreciate what my friend and colleague the noble Lord, Lord Bach, said: the Labour Party is reviewing this policy and it remains for its membership to influence it and say that there is substance in the arguments that have been put forward.

Let me give the Minister an example. Under the coalition Government, I persisted in bringing forward my Bill on the rehabilitation of offenders. My purpose was very simple. Welfare and rehabilitation go hand in hand on this sort of issue. I was able, with the support of the House of Lords, to discuss it on a number of occasions, but I did not get any support from either the Labour Party or, later, from the coalition. However, I was able to convince my noble friend Lord McNally to fix a meeting with the Secretary of State at that time, Ken Clarke. Together, we sat down and we were able to take forward, under the LAPSO Bill, a number of suggestions that came from my Bill. According to private research that has been carried out, the simple measure to amend the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act that I proposed now benefits more than 750,000 young people in this country. That is a tremendous strength that has come from legislation of this nature. We are not saying that people should not be dealt with or that people’s perception that youngsters will get away is wrong. All we are saying is that there are better ways of dealing with them and I hope we can pursue them.

At this late hour, I thank all noble Lords for their contributions. Sometimes the Government should remember that they assume wrongly that the public are as punitive as they tend to make out. They are not. It is better not to follow newspaper headlines but to see what is right and appropriate as far as the criminal justice system is concerned.

Bill read a second time and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.

House adjourned at 2.14 pm.