My Lords, the Government will consider the report in the context of our review of anti-social behaviour and the tools used to tackle it, as well as the comprehensive assessment of sentencing policy now under way.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply. I am sure he is aware that many of us who take a keen interest in the administration of the criminal justice system have been much encouraged by the intent announced by the Secretary of State for Justice in his rehabilitation agenda. One of the areas that gives us greatest concern is dealing with youth crime and anti-social behaviour. One of the tragedies of recent years is that there have been many reports and many recommendations on this, too many of which I fear are gathering dust on the shelves of the Ministry of Justice. Can the Minister assure the House that this excellent report drawn up by a glittering cast, containing many prescient and far-sighted analyses and recommendations, will be included in the Green Paper, which is shortly to come before us?
I share all the descriptions of the report that the noble Lord used. It has come at an extremely opportune moment. I cannot guarantee that every last recommendation will be in it but, as he said, it comes from a very good stable. I think that, in drawing up the Green Paper and carrying the debate forward, it will be reflected in many of the things that we want to say.
My Lords, perhaps I may say from these Benches that we too welcome the report and we look forward to the Government's response as soon as is possible. Does the Minister agree, first, that the decline in the number of children and young people in custody by around one-third, as the report mentions, is to be widely welcomed and, secondly, that in some cases, alas, custody even for those so young is necessary? Thirdly, will he assure us that the Government's policy is, as the report suggests it ought to be, that custody should be a last resort?
My Lords, I have no hesitation in endorsing those three points, in particular that the whole thrust of government policy-as I think that it was with the previous Administration-is to make custody for young people a last resort.
The use of ASBOs is about steady but we are looking at whether they are effective. There is evidence that in certain cases they are useful. Certainly, ASBOs can be used to help where disturbances by youths cause great distress to a wide group in the community.
The Minister will be aware that the commission describes the current levels of remand in custody as,
"unacceptable, unjust and unnecessarily damaging to the children and young people concerned".
What steps will the Government take to reduce the use of secure remands to the absolute minimum for the protection of the person concerned and the public?
One of the things that we are looking at very much is the use of restorative justice as an alternative. The pilot projects that have been used indicate that this could have a good impact on the need to send young people to prison. However, as the noble Lord, Lord Bach, emphasised, there are times when young people need to be in custody. But, as the report indicates, and as the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, indicated, it should be a last resort. We are trying to make sure that we get the balance right in restorative justice and in taking young people who are a danger to their community off the streets.
My Lords, the centres of Wakefield and other towns and cities in Yorkshire are at present prime focuses for urban and social renewal, but are being hampered by the sort of anti-social behaviour that we have been hearing about. In the light of similar situations, does the Minister agree with the Justice Committee of the other place that there is a need for the development of community based services to prevent potential offenders entering the criminal justice system and thus divert them from offending?
Certainly that is so. In fact, the whole thrust of the present Government's policy is localism involving voluntary organisations so that the community itself is involved in the fight against youth crime.
My Lords, the commission has recommended the disbanding of youth offender panels. Do the Government believe that the better way is actually for the community to become engaged in the decisions affecting young people who offend, particularly in the use of community penalties as alternatives to custody?
My Lords, I regret to say that that is still under review as far as the responses are concerned, but I hope that my replies have indicated that the whole thrust of the policy is one of localism and local community involvement, and a real attempt to avoid sending young people into custody.
My Lords, the commission's report states that the Crown Court is unsuitable as a venue for justice involving young people. Can the Minister say whether the Government will accept the commission's recommendation that prosecutions of all young people under the age of 18 should be heard in the youth court?
I am afraid I cannot give that guarantee because certain crimes that are committed by people under the age of 18 should go to the Crown Court.