Report (2nd Day)

Part of Criminal Justice and Courts Bill – in the House of Lords at 4:45 pm on 22nd October 2014.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Baroness Howarth of Breckland Baroness Howarth of Breckland Crossbench 4:45 pm, 22nd October 2014

My Lords, I had not intended to speak in this debate, which is unusual bearing in mind the subject matter. I am on my feet for two reasons. I have sat in at consultations and I do not think that we will get a change from the Government: the Minister has already had it made it clear to him that this is the way in which the Government wish to move forward. I am on my feet because, despite the difficulties that I recognise he has, I should like him to do all in his power to take the messages back to the Government on behalf of the young people who will face this regime.

I understand the good intentions of the Ministers who have visited some pretty appalling institutions. We have heard from others about the kind of regimes where young people are incarcerated. That does not make this right. We could do even better with £89 million, particularly for this group of children. I find it difficult to disagree with the right reverend Prelate, for whom I have a particular affection. As I have said in many speeches, education cannot always be the centre of a unit for young people who are so highly disturbed. Those working in the field have made it absolutely clear in all that they have said that it would take those six months to settle someone with serious mental health difficulties who has never known consistent care, probably has a brain injury that has not been diagnosed and probably has a series of physical illnesses that will have to be addressed.

I do not doubt for a moment that we need to change the regime and that it is possible to do it. I simply do not think that the answer to the problem is a huge building of 300-plus children. At the moment it will include girls and young children but I deeply hope that when we get to that debate we can at least make some movement on that. The Minister will have access to all the research and advice about small units near facilities where parents, however difficult, can visit. I am not naive. I have run places like this in my time and I have been a director of social services. I have seen these young people and worked with their families. These young people make improvement if they are not anxious about what is going on at home. However much bravado difficult young men show, they are usually very anxious about what is happening at home and in their local community.

Therefore, I ask the Minister to think about giving time. Some of us are not totally against an alternative that might have a number of high-quality facilities in one place in which some of these youngsters might respond. It is simply that this is too fast, as many noble Lords have said. We need much more thought. People have visited really poor, barred institutions; the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, talked about going through bars. In the consultation, the Minister said that he wanted a centre to be light and airy, and a good place to be, with play facilities and health facilities. We all would applaud that. But this would be too big and the culture would be difficult. If the Government have not thought through the staffing and the leadership, the proposal is doomed to failure before it starts. This Government have talked time and again about leadership, about skills and about good, thought-through approaches. We have to have and understand those before this can go through.

I am disappointed that there are so few noble Lords present. I do not doubt that, if there is a vote with a Whip, the amendment will be lost. It would be a travesty for children and young people were that to be so. All we need is time to get this right for the future. We will repent at leisure if we act in haste on this.