New clause 9 - Remands and committals to secure accommodation etc

Criminal Justice and Police Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 6:30 pm on 6th March 2001.

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`.—(1) Section 23 of the Children and Young Persons Act 1969 (remands and committals to local authority accommodation) shall be amended in accordance with subsections (2) to (4) below.

(2) In subsection (5) (conditions for the imposition of a security requirement), for paragraph (b) and the words after it there shall be substituted—

``(b) he is charged with or has been convicted of one or more imprisonable offences which, together with any other imprisonable offences of which he has been convicted in any proceedings—

(i) amount, or

(ii) would, if he were convicted of the offences with which he is charged, amount,

to a recent history of repeatedly committing imprisonable offences while remanded on bail or to local authority accommodation,

and (in either case) the condition set out in subsection (5AA) below is satisfied.''

(3) After that subsection there shall be inserted—

``(5AA) The condition mentioned in subsection (5) above is that the court is of the opinion, after considering all the options for the remand of the person, that only remanding him to local authority accommodation with a security requirement would be adequate—

(a) to protect the public from serious harm from him; or

(b) to prevent the commission by him of imprisonable offences.''

(4) In subsection (6)(a) (statement in open court that the court is of the opinion mentioned in subsection (5)), for ``(5)'' there shall be substituted ``(5AA)''.

(5) That section as it has effect pursuant to section 98 of the Crime and Disorder Act 1998 (alternative provision for 15 and 16 year old boys), shall so have effect with the further modifications set out in subsections (6) and (7).

(6) For subsection (5AA) there shall be substituted—

``(5AA) The condition mentioned in subsection (5) above is that the court is of the opinion, after considering all the options for the remand of the person, that only remanding him to a remand centre or prison, or to local authority accommodation with a requirement that he be placed and kept in secure accommodation would be adequate—

(a) to protect the public from serious harm from him; or

(b) to prevent the commission by him of imprisonable offences.''

(7) In subsection (6)(a) (statement in open court that the court is of the opinion mentioned in subsection (5)), for ``that subsection'' there shall be substituted ``subsection (5AA) above''.'.— [Mr. Charles Clarke.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

Photo of Charles Clarke Charles Clarke Minister of State, Home Office

I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

Photo of Jimmy Hood Jimmy Hood Chair, European Scrutiny Committee, Chair, European Scrutiny Committee

With this we may discuss the following: Government new clause 10—Monitoring of compliance with bail conditions.

Government new clause 11—Monitoring of compliance with conditions of non-secure remand.

Photo of Charles Clarke Charles Clarke Minister of State, Home Office 6:45 pm, 6th March 2001

These new clauses will extend to the court a balanced package of options to deal with young people who defy the courts and commit repeated offences while on bail or in non-secure accommodation.

Photo of Oliver Heald Oliver Heald Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

On a point of order, Mr. Hood. Is the Committee considering new clause 12, too?

Photo of Jimmy Hood Jimmy Hood Chair, European Scrutiny Committee, Chair, European Scrutiny Committee

It has been drawn to my attention that we should also be discussing new clause 12. You are right, Mr.Heald. The notes about what new clauses were to be discussed were on my left-hand side, not my right-hand side.

With this new clause, we will also be taking Government new clause 12—Arrangements for detention in secure training centres.

Photo of Charles Clarke Charles Clarke Minister of State, Home Office

If you always keep to your left, Mr. Hood, you will be well served—as long as there is no divergence to the right at any time.

Photo of Mr Nick Hawkins Mr Nick Hawkins Conservative, Surrey Heath

It is to the right that we look, and it is no doubt where the nation looks.

Photo of Charles Clarke Charles Clarke Minister of State, Home Office

The hon. Gentleman will find that the nation looks through the eye of the Chair of the Committee, not through the eyes of members of the Committee. We are humble. The Chairman is the person who gives us our orientation in all important respects.

Photo of Charles Clarke Charles Clarke Minister of State, Home Office

The hon. Member for North-East Hertfordshire is jibbing at that rather general description.

As I said, the purpose of the new clauses is to extend to the court a balanced package of options to deal with young people who defy the courts and commit repeated offences while on bail or in non-secure accommodation, but who cannot currently be remanded into custody because their individual offences are not serious enough. The new provisions will enable courts to deal more effectively with medium level, persistent juvenile offenders. That is one reason why it fits in well with the general approach that is being taken under the Bill. It will help the members of the public who fall victim and help reinforce public confidence in the criminal justice system.

New clause 9 extends the criteria by which courts may remand a child or young person aged 12 to 16 years into secure detention. It will enable courts, in addition to their current powers and subject to appropriate tests, to place any such person on secure remand when they are of the view that the child or young person has a recent history of repeatedly committing imprisonable offences while on bail or in local authority accommodation. Such offences include theft, assault and criminal damage.

New clause 10 sets out a series of safeguards. We do not argue that any offending on bail would justify a remand into secure accommodation. The clause confines the new power to imprisonable offences, which catches the sort of offences about which we so often hear. The existing power requires the court to be satisfied in every case that only a secure remand will protect the public from serious harm from the child or young person. It adds an alternative condition that the court must be satisfied that only a secure remand would be adequate to prevent the commission of further imprisonable offences.

Most important, the clause will require courts to consider all the possible options before deciding whether to remand the child or young person into secure accommodation. There is a significant range of alternatives to custody that we have strengthened in order to ensure that community alternatives are used whenever possible. We would therefore expect the courts to use that power to put the youngsters into secure remand only as a last resort. The whole thrust of our youth justice proposals is to establish a range of different options that are available to the court to ensure that the young person can best deal with the situation.

New clauses 10 and 11 give the courts the option of using electronic monitoring of bail conditions and those in local authority non-secure accommodation as an alternative to secure detention. That also strengthens the range of options and we believe that that will ensure that the situation can be addressed more constructively.

New clause 12 allows local authorities to arrange for 12 to 16-year-olds who are remanded by the courts into local authority secure accommodation to be placed in a secure training centre if the local authority so wishes. However, the local authority must first seek the consent of the Secretary of State. The purpose of the clause is to give greater flexibility to the operation of the juvenile secure estate. That is consistent with the philosophy of local authority secure remands as an alternative to Prison Service custody for younger and more vulnerable juveniles. STCs operate under contract to the Youth Justice Board and the standards that they operate to and meet are fully consistent with those of the local authority secure units. I have tried to summarise relatively briefly the purpose of the new clauses, which I have pleasure in commending.

Photo of Mr Nick Hawkins Mr Nick Hawkins Conservative, Surrey Heath

Let me say straight away that we do not oppose the new clauses, but we have one or two questions about them. The issue of secure accommodation for juvenile offenders has, as the Minister and one or two other members of the Committee may already know, been a long-standing personal interest of mine, not least because when, in the late 1970s, my hon. Friend the Member for North-East Hertfordshire and I both worked at the Bar in the midlands, and often prosecuted in juvenile courts, major problems were often encountered because of a lack of sufficient secure accommodation for the most serious juvenile offenders.

The Minister said that the new clause provides a last-resort disposal. Unfortunately, in my experience over several years, several juveniles would regularly come before the courts with page after page of previous convictions. The most serious offenders would regularly escape from the only secure accommodation then available in the midlands. My hon. Friend may remember that there was a place called Tiffield, from which the most serious juvenile offenders used repeatedly to escape. He nods—like me, he remembers those cases.

Going around the courts in the midlands, we frequently found that the courts were desperate for such a last-resort provision. As we believe that there is a need for the provision, and feel that it may be used rather more than the Minister's speech implied, Opposition Members are especially worried about whether he will be able to say that he has the authority of the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Deputy Prime Minister and that specific extra resources will be provided.

In discussing an expansion of secure accommodation, my hon. Friend the Member for Reigate (Mr. Blunt) and I, as Surrey Members, are bound to observe—we have been part of a delegation to see this very Minister—that Government funding is severely lacking for shire counties such as ours. I shall not detain the Committee with all the details—you would rule me out of order if I were to do so, Mr. Hood—but it would not be right for me to let the opportunity of the Minister discussing new provision for local authorities pass without at least mentioning the fact that both district and borough councils and our county council are crying out for resources. Whenever extra duties are placed on them, no extra funding is provided.

The Minister knows that our police authority has not yet received the full reimbursement that the Home Secretary promised on record, on television and radio and in the press, for the cost of policing Senator Pinochet, which the Government imposed on Surrey police authority. In a written answer, he accepted that that cost at least £750,000, but only £200,000 has yet been paid.

In dealing with secure accommodation, we want the courts and local authorities to have the full range of disposals open to them. We recognise, however, that the chief inspector of prisons has repeatedly expressed anxiety over the past few years about other accommodation for juveniles. We want the Minister to say when he responds to what will undoubtedly be only a short debate that he will give an undertaking that all the anxieties that have been expressed by Sir David Ramsbottom and others will be met as and when the new secure accommodation is provided and that the new accommodation will not fall into the same traps as the chief inspector has, unfortunately, commented on in places such as Feltham. Another absolutely damning report to which my right hon. and hon. Friends will have paid attention came from Sir David as recently as last week.

We have some anxieties. We recognise that the Government are trying to toughen matters up, and we believe that that will be helpful. Without the money and commitment to standards that back that up, however, it will not work. I hope that the Minister will give us an assurance on the record, on which we and the public can rely in the future. We look forward to his response on those crucial points.

Photo of Simon Hughes Simon Hughes Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

These are important new clauses, although they are a self-contained group within the rest of the Bill—

Photo of Oliver Heald Oliver Heald Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

It is five minutes to seven, there are nine new clauses, 24 clauses and 42 amendments to go, and we have an hour and 35 minutes. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that there has been no time wasting today, and that the number of clauses that we were scheduled to get through is absolutely unrealistic? Will he join me in putting pressure on the Minister to think again about the Committee having a last sitting on 13 March in order to allow proper time to consider the Bill?

Photo of Simon Hughes Simon Hughes Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

I share that view, as does my hon. Friend the Member for Taunton (Jackie Ballard), who is available to talk to the Government Whip and the Conservative Whip to try to reach an agreement. We have made the point before that although we have sat later than 7 o'clock on some occasions, the time taken by Divisions, for instance, means that there have been few extra minutes. It does the legislative process no service if we go as quickly as we possibly can through such important new clauses, some of which we may not reach. Whole amendments and clauses might not be debated until Report stage.

New clause 9 depends on secure accommodation being available locally. I understand that the provision relates to persistent young offenders rather than young offenders generally. Will the Minister assure me that local secure accommodation exists in each area of the country? One of the benefits of the regime is that it is local. It is no good sending youngsters a long way away—those in custody benefit from having their family visit them. All the evidence—not only from the chief inspector of prisons—suggests that having family nearby is hugely important in rehabilitation. Will the Minister undertake to supply a list of the accommodation available in each local authority area?

Subsection (6) continues to provide the option of youngsters being remanded to prison. I thought that remanding 15 and 16-year-olds to prison was going to end, and that we were moving towards a more intelligent and enlightened regime. What has happened to the Government's commitment to avoid that practice, for which they and their predecessors have been sufficiently rebuked?

Photo of Mr Nick Hawkins Mr Nick Hawkins Conservative, Surrey Heath

Does the hon. Gentleman accept that there is a respectable alternative perspective on the question of where the most serious young offenders should go into secure accommodation? I accept that there is a view that such accommodation should be close to the offender's family, but others in the criminal justice system take the view—as do I—that taking them away from their criminal associates and the places on which they have preyed can sometimes be better. Does he accept that both views are respectable?

Photo of Simon Hughes Simon Hughes Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

I understand that, although for those in custody the only implication is in relation to people who visit under visiting orders and so on. If a person is in custody at the other end of the country, his peer group is unlikely to be there and his family are even less likely to be. However, my point is in relation to local secure accommodation. The question is still pertinent.

On new clause 10, I seek confirmation from the Minister in relation to the preconditions. My hon. Friend and I do not have a problem if certain preconditions are required. For young people to be tagged for monitoring on bail, they must be 12 or older, their offence must be serious, they must have a history of offending, and they must be approved by the youth offending team. Those seem to be the right conditions. However, tagging appears to be less successful for young people than for older people, as many more young people than older people see it as a game. I would be grateful for a ministerial reflection on whether it has been very successful, successful or of indeterminate success.

Sitting suspended.

On resuming—

Photo of Simon Hughes Simon Hughes Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs) 8:30 pm, 6th March 2001

I was reflecting before the break on the demands made on us. An example of that is the fact that, during the break, I gave a talk on Isaiah 35 and 40 at the Jewish Book Week festival 2001, organised by the Jewish Book Club—

Photo of Charles Clarke Charles Clarke Minister of State, Home Office

Was the hon. Gentleman blasphemous?

Photo of Simon Hughes Simon Hughes Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

No, I was not. I regarded it as something that I could just about squeeze in when I saw what my diary for today looked like and, mercifully, even London traffic allowed me to get back on time.

Photo of Mr Nick Hawkins Mr Nick Hawkins Conservative, Surrey Heath

Has the hon. Gentleman remembered the name of the Manchester-based crime writer that he was asking me and other hon. Members about after we broke for dinner?

Photo of Simon Hughes Simon Hughes Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

No. I will let other members of the Committee into the secret later. I ask for only 30 seconds' indulgence, Mr. Hood—and only because we sometimes need encouragement in this job. The thought of that writer was prompted by the question that someone once asked about which biblical character people saw as a role model. A woman whose name I should not have forgotten—a famous Manchester-based crime writer—said Moses, because she loved mountain walking and because he came down with a best-seller.

Before the break, I was commenting on new clause 9 and asked the Minister a couple of important questions on behalf of my hon. Friend the Member for Taunton and myself. I sought reassurance on new clause 10. New clause 11 seems very much in the same vein as new clause 10 and deals with a tagging regime—which is a perfectly acceptable option on non-secure remand. I would like to ask questions about new clause 12, which deals with the famous secure training centres. Unless my memory fails me, Labour vigorously derided and opposed secure training centres a couple of years ago when they were in opposition and called them colleges of crime, saying that they were unacceptable features of the criminal justice system. Lo and behold, they now make a Labour-endorsed appearance. In addition to that opposition from Labour, they had a very troubled start—you and other members of the Committee, Mr. Hood, may remember reading of the unhappy history of the Medway secure training centre. The fact that such centres were so doubtfully welcomed by Labour and that they were not performing well means that my hon. Friend the Member for Taunton and I need some persuading to accept that they have suddenly become something that we need to be setting up through new clauses.

Secure training centres are meant to be an alternative to remand in secure local authority accommodation. It is always better for young people in this category to be held in suitable secure local authority accommodation, provided that it exists. The question for the Minister that flows from that is whether the proposal for secure training centres, in spite of their unhappy start and Labour's original lack of support for them, is being made because in many parts of the country there is no local authority secure accommodation. In what areas is provision lacking and who is to blame—the Government for not funding or planning it or councils for not fulfilling Government expectations, despite funding and planning? We need to be told why a regime for which the Government argued only a few years ago is not happening, while a regime that they opposed a few years ago is happening.

We now have the Youth Justice Board, which is largely regarded as having done good work in England and Wales. It is a key player in all the policy decisions. Has the board given advice on the new clause? Does it fully support it? Can we see a record of its support? Are there letters from Lord Warner to the Minister, saying what a good thing secure training centres are? What reassurance is there that they will not be like the Medway centre, which has not been successful? Has the Medway failure been remedied? If not, will it be? Is the Medway centre now working perfectly? Everyone concerned needs to know that we are not being asked to sign up to a new clause for a regime that does not work.

On the issue of what we do with young persistent troublemakers who cannot be kept in the community, we have had a bad record in recent years in dealing with young people in custody. Most of them go on to reoffend regularly when they come out. If we are to detain and lock up young people, we need significantly to improve the regimes that we offer. They all come out bar a handful, and pretty quickly. Before signing up to the new clause, we need to be reassured that the proposed centres are likely to be effective parts of the criminal justice system, not colleges of crime, and that they will both deter and rehabilitate young people, provide them with all the opportunities that they need while in custody and be better than the alternatives currently available.

Photo of Charles Clarke Charles Clarke Minister of State, Home Office

At the outset, the hon. Member for Surrey Heath said, rightly, that there were two important issues at stake: money and standards. The hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey has concluded by talking again about standards. We are entirely committed to proper standards. I cannot honestly say that we have proper standards throughout the whole system, but we have a major programme to drive up standards in all forms of detention for all the reasons that he gave.

The hon. Gentleman talked about the entirely new regime. It is no secret that the establishment of the Youth Justice Board has changed our attitude to the various approaches. From 1 April 2000, the board assumed responsibility for the budget for purchasing secure accommodation for those under 18 who were sentenced or remanded in custody. Places are purchased from the providers of such accommodation: the Prison Service, local authorities and the private sector. The board pays for those places according to costs agreed in a contract for a service level agreement each year or over a longer period, which also sets out the standard of accommodation and the regime to be provided. Those arrangements will help to ensure that there is an appropriate volume and geographical spread of places for different categories of children and young people requiring secure accommodation. I shall return to that in a moment. I am prepared to circulate a list of accommodation and where it is, as the hon. Gentleman asked.

The purpose is to bring greater clarity to bear on what is being achieved with public money spent on secure accommodation and, over time, to obtain better value for money by monitoring service delivery against clear standards. Now one body—the Youth Justice Board—can focus clearly on the needs of children and young people in custody. We are at the beginning of the process. As I said, the board was formally given responsibility for the budget less than a year ago. There is a great deal of work to be done.

The hon. Gentleman also asked about consultation of the Youth Justice Board. We consulted it at meetings. The provision has been developed in full consultation with the board. I have discussed the matter with Lord Warner on a number of occasions. There is no formal documentation in the form of letters that I can circulate, because that is not how we discussed matters, but it is fair for me to give the Committee the unequivocal assurance that the hon. Gentleman seeks: our proposals have the full support of the Youth Justice Board. I agree that that is important and it is part of the overall approach that we have set out.

The hon. Gentleman also asked, in relation to new clause 10, whether the hierarchy must be identified—for example, the individual must be over 12; the offence must be serious; there must have been a history; and there must be approval by the youth offending team—and the answer is yes.

The hon. Gentleman also asked about the regime. In 1998, we introduced provisions for vulnerable 15 and 16-year-old boys to be remanded to local authority secure accommodation. Non-vulnerable boys are held in the under-18 juvenile estate managed by the Prison Service; they are not held in adult prisons. Children aged 12 to 14 are not remanded to Prison Service accommodation.

I concede that there is a long way to go before I can put my hand on my heart and say that we have established a system in which I can have confidence. The hon. Members for Surrey Heath and for Southwark, North and Bermondsey referred to the reports of Her Majesty's chief inspector of prisons, which have shown that serious problems remain. Through the Youth Justice Board regime, however, and the measures in the Bill, we can steadily improve the position—for example, in respect of money and the availability of places, as mentioned by the hon. Member for Surrey Heath.

We are planning to increase the number of places in secure training centres by several hundred over the next few years, and we expect 64 places to become available next year. That will enable the centres to take additional sentenced juveniles and some juveniles remanded into local authority secure accommodation. We are planning to expand because there is currently a shortage. Has the Chancellor signed up to this? I should not need to tell the hon. Member for Surrey Heath that no proposal would be advanced in Committee unless the Chancellor were committed to it, both formally and actually. We recognise the hon. Gentleman's point—that the provision must be funded if the operation is to succeed as we would wish.

Photo of Mr Nick Hawkins Mr Nick Hawkins Conservative, Surrey Heath

How much net extra funding will the Government provide to local authorities? If the Minister cannot tell us tonight, will he write to us later?

Photo of Charles Clarke Charles Clarke Minister of State, Home Office

I cannot give the figures off the cuff, as the hon. Gentleman acknowledges, but I undertake to write to him and other members of the Committee with a full statement of the resource position, explaining what public commitments have been made and where we are seeking to go.

Photo of Simon Hughes Simon Hughes Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

Is it Government policy that, at some stage—I accept that the Minister may not yet have a date or a target—placing 15 and 16-year-olds in prison will end? If so, is there a target or aspiration date? Will he also explain the troubled start to the secure training centres, the Medway experience and associated problems?

Photo of Charles Clarke Charles Clarke Minister of State, Home Office

I cannot make a definitive statement on the first point. It is not that the Government do not have a view on the right way to go, but there is little value in making absolute statements about targets. We are trying to deal seriously with the problem through the Youth Justice Board proposals. I hope that we will soon be more coherent on the subject than I can be now. I cannot immediately give the hon. Gentleman the assurance that he seeks.

As to the troubled start to the process—in Medway and elsewhere—we are seeking to manage it effectively in order to end the problems as soon as possible. The complicated tapestry of different organisations—secure centres, local authority centres, prisons and so forth—has been unsatisfactory, and we need to use tagging and other measures. The Youth Justice Board approach should enable us to move towards a more coherent position. The truth is that we have further to go before I can say that we have arrived.

I hope that the Committee will approve the new clauses, which will significantly improve the Bill.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause read a Second time, and added to the Bill.