Report (2nd Day)

Part of Criminal Justice and Courts Bill – in the House of Lords at 3:58 pm on 22nd October 2014.

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Photo of Lord Ramsbotham Lord Ramsbotham Crossbench 3:58 pm, 22nd October 2014

My Lords, I shall speak also to Amendments 111 and 121.

Last Thursday, the noble Baroness, Lady Tyler, initiated a debate to take note of Her Majesty’s Government’s social justice strategy in which I quoted the words of the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, Iain Duncan Smith, who, in launching the strategy in 2012, said that social policy could not be conducted in discrete parts, with different parts of government working on discrete issues in isolation. A strategy had to have a fundamental vision and driving ethos, without which it would be narrow, reactive and unworkable. As a result, a Cabinet committee has apparently been set up to ensure that all government departments drive forward the aims of the strategy. I say “apparently”, because I can find no evidence that it has passed judgment on the proposal in respect of a secure college that is the subject of my amendments.

Mr Duncan Smith listed five principles of the strategy: a focus on prevention and early intervention; concentration on recovery and independence, not maintenance; promoting work as the most effective route out of poverty; most effective solutions being designed and delivered at local level; and intervention providing a fair deal for the taxpayer. He also listed a number of key indicators of success or failure, of which number 3 is a reduction in the number of young offenders who go on to reoffend.

On 11 March this year, I tabled a sunrise amendment similar to Amendment 108, asking that implementation of the Secretary of State for Justice’s proposals for probation reform, which appeared to be being rushed through before they had been properly thought through, be conditional on the proposals being laid before and approved by both Houses of Parliament. The Minister, as befitting an advocate of his distinction, bravely defended the Government’s position, convincing the House that contract management of transparent reforms, which were not being rushed, was secure. As the Minister knows, all is not currently well with the now delayed reforms for a variety of reasons, many of which were raised in this House and of which I could list a number but do not have time to do so.

Yet again, Parliament is being asked by the Secretary of State for Justice to rubber-stamp a rushed and un-thought-through discrete proposal whose intent I and many others support but whose details remain shrouded in mystery. This time, he also appears to be in defiance of the Government’s social justice strategy. I hope that he noted the almost total opposition to his proposal by anyone who has any knowledge of the practicalities of dealing with young offenders and how they respond to youth custody, expressed in a letter to the Daily Telegraph signed by 29 such people last Monday. I understand that some of them were summoned to a meeting with Ministers last night, it being made abundantly clear to the five who were able to attend that the Government were not prepared to give one inch to their concerns.

On the one hand, we have a Secretary of State with no experience of the management of young offenders claiming that he can improve the dreadful track record of the current system, on which I reported adversely many times as Chief Inspector of Prisons, by providing young offenders with better opportunities, particularly in education, at less cost because of the economies of scale on a large site which is a young offender institution by another name. On the other hand, we have experienced experts saying that his proposals are bad for children, bad for justice, and bad for the taxpayer. Both cannot be right.

Noble Lords will no doubt remember that in “Henry IV, Part Two”, as Henry IV lies dying with the crown beside him on his pillow, Henry IV takes and tries it on in an adjoining room, being berated by his father with the words:

“Thy wish was father, Harry, to the thought”.

In this case, I feel that “wing and prayer” is more appropriate than “thought”, because, far from having a coherent and costed plan, which bidders are expected to deliver for a stated and realistic fee, the Secretary of State is hoping that inexperienced providers will come up with cost-saving innovations that experienced ones, both private and public, have tried and failed to find over many years. The winning bid, in a large institution, rejected as impractical by the rest of the world, will then be adopted as secure college policy. No business would dare to operate like that, or it would very soon be out of business.

We have already had deep discussion of this in Committee, which I do not intend to repeat. However, I shall repeat, and ask the House to reflect on, some statements that have been made by the Minister and others since then. There is an added urgency to my Amendments 111 and 118, which seek that further development of the secure college proposal should be put on hold until the draft of the secure college rules instrument have been laid before and approved by both Houses of Parliament. Only last Thursday, the Secretary of State, in launching a consultation on the rules for his pet secure college project, which closes on 27 November, announced that he intended the Bill to receive Royal Assent before the end of the year, two months before the Government are required by statute to publish the consultation response. In other words, he appears hell-bent on bulldozing through proposals, which will be binding on successive Governments for the next 10 years, without parliamentary approval and before the election. What is extraordinary is that, with presumed assent only a few weeks away, he says in the consultation document that no decisions have yet been made about who will be accommodated in the secure college.

For heaven’s sake, how can you possibly make or cost any realistic plans, if you do not know for whom you are making them? This smacks to me of contempt of Parliament, which will, quite rightly, be held to blame by the public, if something that it has approved fails to provide, or proves to cost more than forecast, which this proposal undoubtedly will. Bearing in mind that it will be held to blame, Parliament has not only a right but a duty on its own behalf and that of the taxpayer to ask the Secretary of State for proof of how he can deliver or justify the following claims and statements, before vast sums of money are committed, over 10 years, against all the evidence and advice that has been given to him. He has said that secure colleges are,

“a new form of youth detention accommodation with innovative education provision at its core which will equip young offenders with the skills, qualifications and self-discipline they need to turn away from crime”.

How do you do self-discipline? It has also been stated that,

“secure colleges must deliver a full and quality curriculum that motivates and challenges all young people”.—[ Official Report , 21/7/14; col. 1034.]

There is no argument at all with the intent but there is a question mark over the practicality. It has been stated:

“The Government’s vision is that young people will receive a full day of education and training, rehabilitative intervention and enrichment activity, with sufficient flexibility to respond to the individual needs of young people”,

and that,

“secure colleges … will foster a culture of educational development and provide enhanced rehabilitation services while also achieving savings”.—[ Official Report , 23/7/14; col. 1187.]

You do not deliver all those activities without people, and people cost money. Another statement claims:

“It is the Government’s view that setting out information about individual training courses and the standard to be reached in respect of such courses in secondary legislation is not appropriate.”—[Hansard, 21/7/14; col. 1036.]

Why on earth not?

“We are confident that the operating cost of the pathfinder will be lower than £100,000 per year, but the exact cost will be determined by competition”.

Surely the exact cost is determined by the provision and what you want.

“We believe that it is right to focus on the educational outcomes that the establishment achieves rather than the staff it employs”.

I have to say that I found that last statement really awful.

At the other end of the educational ability spectrum, is there any indication that at last the Ministry of Justice will accept the offer of masterclasses for the few very bright inmates, provided by Tomorrow’s Achievers, about which there has been a deafening silence since they were first offered in 1999?

Regarding the use of restraint, I note that the comprehensive list of conditions listed by the noble Lord, Lord Marks, in Amendment 120A, specifically, and thankfully, excludes any mention of “good order and discipline”, which anyway is banned by the ruling of the Supreme Court. My Amendment 121 is in accord with the recommendation of the Joint Committee on Human Rights, which I recommend as being both simple and clear.

I know that the Secretary of State does not put the interests of staff as high on his list as educational outcomes, but I could not disagree with him more. As countless governors and staff of YOIs and other places of detention know only too well, their selection, training and support is the most crucial factor in any establishment. What is interesting to me is that all the most successful establishments, such as those run by Diagrama in Spain, which I described in Committee, and Orchard Lodge, the secure children’s home containing children with severe mental problems that when run by Southwark Council presented limited use of seclusion by staff whose average length of service was 11 years, staff must know, and be trained and regularly assessed in, any skills that they are allowed to use.

When I met the Minister for Prisons recently, I reminded him that the special hospitals and others, including the police, had rejected Prison Service restraint training because its techniques were not suitable for either patients or children. I hope that the National Health Service will be consulted over this and staff left in no doubt as to what is appropriate and when, as soldiers were in Northern Ireland with the yellow card for opening fire.

I could go on and on but I will not. I am asking the House whether it is satisfied that the persuasive generalisations offered by the Government are backed up by sufficient evidence to allow it to agree that the Secretary of State for Justice may proceed with his expensive, uncosted and unproven assertions, and that he can revolutionise one part of the youth justice system—namely, the custody of 320 of the most damaged, vulnerable and challenging young offenders—at less cost than that for which they are now confined, in defiance of all the known facts about dealing with and caring for these young people. Or does the House think, like me, that this proposal should not necessarily be cancelled but should be parked so that it can be examined in the context of improving the whole youth justice system against all other necessary improvements, including the question of diversion, work in the community and the all-important transferring back into the community? The Secretary of State appears to be unwilling to commission the research that would, for example, give him a set of criteria against which he could judge individual bids to deliver a special contract, but I thought that parliamentary scrutiny was what parliamentary democracy was all about. In that spirit, and in appealing to all the parents, grandparents, uncles and aunts on the political Benches, I beg to move.