It is now well over 30 years since Scotland's system of juvenile justice was set up. On that basis alone, a review is long overdue. When the Social Work (Scotland) Act 1968 established the children's hearings system, that approach was hailed as progressive and effective in dealing with young offenders. However, since those days, there have been many changes in society, of which not all have been for the better. Therefore, it is essential for our entire approach to juvenile justice to be reviewed, in the light of both experience and changing attitudes in society.
As the system has evolved over the years, the work of children's hearings has changed radically. Children's panels face many of the unfortunate and frequently tragic problems in contemporary society, the most obvious of which is the scourge of drugs. The children's hearing system deals not only with offending and criminality among young persons, but with children who are at risk, usually from either abuse or neglect—sometimes from both. Against that background, it is unsurprising that the system has become geared almost totally to doing what is best for the child, following the basic principle that the child's interests are paramount. No other view can be taken when the deliberations of a hearing concern a child who is at risk. Many depressing tales emanate from children's panels, reflecting the way in which our society has deteriorated since the idealistic days of 1968. A child at risk is a problem that we must all share.
Frequent offending and child-at-risk syndrome are often manifest in the same cases. A young offender often comes from a background of abuse and neglect that has contributed significantly to his or her behaviour. Nevertheless, in some cases of offending behaviour and criminality the interests of our wider society become subordinate to the
Over the summer, I carried out a study of the operation of the hearing system. I spoke to panel members and attended hearings. I also spoke to police officers, social workers and people who work with and have experience of the system. I found that there is almost universal unease about the way in which the system operates and that there is an almost unanimous view that, if the system is to retain credibility, an urgent review of its operation is necessary.
The police are becoming increasingly frustrated and concerned by the failure of the system to cope with consistent and persistent offenders. It is not unknown for youngsters to be detained two or three times in 24 hours. They are arrested following a theft or attempted theft, taken to the police office and released when a parent comes to collect them. The same depressing thing then happens again and they are arrested a few hours later. One can well understand the concerns of the police. The public now feel that it is a waste of time to report to the police acts of disorder or minor crime involving youngsters. The word has got through to members of the public that nothing happens and that if they report youngsters to the police there will be only one effect: their home, car or they themselves will be targeted. That, too, is unacceptable.
Social workers and reporters are committed to the system, but they too see the system breaking down due to a lack of resources. They advance the argument that the system is so geared up to dealing with the problems of children who are at risk that offending behaviour cannot be dealt with timeously, if at all. Their plea is for more resources. Although that plea is a regular clarion call from anyone who is involved in public service, there seems to be genuine justification for their complaints.
Panel members not only share the frustrations of the social workers, but have disappointments of their own. I have been very impressed by those who serve on the panels. Our society is fortunate to have people who give so willingly of their time and effort to try to help, but we are in real danger of sickening them. Frequently, they know that the only answer is to place a child in secure accommodation, but such accommodation cannot be found. They can make a supervision order, but sometimes weeks can pass before a social worker is assigned to the case. Increasingly, panel members feel that their range of disposals is inadequate and that some action must be taken to impress on the child the seriousness of the situation and to increase the level of parental interest, which is sadly lacking in many cases.
The most damning indictment of all, perhaps, is the attitude of offenders to the panel system. They hold it in derision and contempt. Youngsters openly show no respect at hearings, telling the police officers who are in charge, "You can't do anything to me—it's only the panel." They have sussed out the fact that the present system is, in many respects, a joke. It must be recognised that a 16-year-old in 1968 was a completely different animal from a 16-year-old or a person of 15 years and 11 months today. We have some suggestions of ways in which matters may be improved and credibility may be restored to the system.
We recognise that there must be greater provision of secure accommodation. It is no light matter to consider locking up a young person, but, sadly, in a growing number of cases there is no alternative. The Executive must recognise that there is no balance in much of its law-and-order policy. The interests of the perpetrators of crimes are often regarded as the only priority, with victims and society in general receiving scant support. That must stop. Many youngsters adopt a serious pattern of offending and Lothian and Borders police have recently highlighted the fact that a handful of young people can create mayhem in a community.
The Executive must also ensure that when a panel makes a supervision order, social work departments respond timeously and effectively. The current situation, in which weeks can elapse prior to the allocation of a case social worker, is simply not acceptable. We must also consider more innovative and effective ways of dealing with youngsters who offend and efforts must be made to force parents to take responsibility for the behaviour of their children. The SNP's idea of imposing fines that are payable by the parents has a degree of superficial attraction, but in common with many other realistic approaches to criminality, it is precluded by the European convention on human rights. It would also result in parents going to prison because of unpaid fines and I suspect that the SNP would not be too relaxed about that.
We suggest that there should be evening and weekend detention. Children's hearings could order a youngster to attend detention at a school or other premises from 5 o'clock in the evening until 9 o'clock, or from 9 o'clock in the morning until 5 o'clock on Saturday or Sunday. Parents would be required to pick up their children from those places and take them straight home. Such a detention system would have resource implications, but bearing in mind the limited number of youngsters who would be attending, the supervision could be carried out by retired police officers on a sessional basis.
All things change in this world. The situation was not nearly so acute in 1995 as it is today. I am sure that Tavish Scott will agree that things move on.
At the detention sessions, youngsters would be allowed to bring books or school work, but nothing else—no televisions, videos, Game Boys or Pokemons. The youngsters would be required to sit in silence and get on with what they had to do. For many, that would be an uncomfortable experience that would leave its mark.
We also suggest that there would be merit in making a community-service-type disposal available to the children's panels, which would require youngsters to work on a similar basis to that of an adult community service order. We are especially attracted to the restitution of damaged property. The orders would be made not as a diversionary process, but on the basis of an order from the children's hearing.
One of the sanctions that can be most effective within a family is grounding, whereby the child is required to stay in the house. We propose an amendment to legislation, whereby parents would be required either to keep children in the house or to accompany them when they go outside during certain periods. It is possible that that might run into ECHR-compliance problems but it is certainly worth consideration in any review.
In all of these considerations, we must recognise that the actions of the Executive have left parents with considerable difficulties with regard to how they may discipline their children. Last week, for example, we had a debate on the efficacy and desirability of corporal punishment. Personally, I express no view on the matter. How parents discipline their children is a matter for them and I will not comment on that.
The fact that the member takes no view on the matter indicates that he did not listen to the debate. There was no debate about the efficacy of corporal punishment; there was a debate about a set of proposals—we were also concerned about them in so far as they had not been published—which related to abusing children by striking them with implements and in other ways. I presume that he is not saying that he thinks treating children in such a way is wise. Not even his colleagues said that.
I have no wish to rehearse the arguments that were advanced last week. Personally, I do not agree that striking a child on the head is in any way an acceptable way to discipline the child. However, I do not regard it as
The member should not put words in my mouth. I was particularly careful to make the point that I expressed no view on the matter. In my reply to Mr Russell, I said that striking children about the head with implements was, to my mind, unacceptable. However, in general terms, how parents discipline their children is a matter for them, not for me or Karen Whitefield. If the sanction of smacking is removed, it will be hard for parents, in extreme situations, to control the wilder elements. In that respect, the Executive would be wise to distance itself from the proposal.
The children's panel system is a sensitive and appropriate approach to dealing with children at risk, but its credibility in dealing with offenders is open to question. The Executive must examine ways in which the system can be toughened up to recognise the much more serious problems that exist involving youth offenders. If the Executive does not do so, the system will fall into disrepute and what was an innovative and exciting experiment will be seen to have failed.
That the Parliament recognises that the Children's Hearings system as at present constituted is manifestly failing to deal with criminal and offending behaviour and calls upon the Executive to carry out a full review of Scotland's system of juvenile justice, such a review to include consideration of giving Children's Hearings an increased range of disposals.
We are all agreed that crime and the fear of crime blight the lives of many individuals and communities. We accept the scale of the problem. According to Audit Scotland's recent report on youth justice, one in 12 young people in Scotland between the ages of eight and 21 have either offended or are being dealt with for allegations of offending. In some areas, those young people account for more than 40 per cent of crimes such as housebreaking, vandalism and car theft.
However, the vast majority of those children offend only once. The real problem lies with the tiny minority of children who are repeat offenders. According to one study, 3 per cent of the young offenders—around 2,300 children in Scotland—are responsible for a quarter of all offences committed by that group. Tackling that minority is
Of course. I will shortly talk about the work that we have already done to improve the effectiveness of the system.
The key reason for setting up an advisory group on youth crime was to examine ways to reduce offending—and particularly reoffending—by young people. The group involved the police, Victim Support Scotland, local authorities and other bodies—in fact, all the bodies that Bill Aitken said he had spoken to over the summer. Its report was unanimous in its support for the children's hearing system and its unique role in Scotland's justice system.
There was also remarkable consensus on how our children's hearings could be developed to tackle the problem of persistent young offenders. A hearing already has the freedom to attach any condition to a supervision requirement. Those conditions include contact with a social worker; participation in specific programmes to address offending behaviour and anger management; a requirement to stay away from certain places or people; and the removal of the child from home and their placement in foster care, a residential home or secure accommodation.
Those measures are encouraging and worth while. However, there is a deeper, more sinister issue involved: many children, from an early age, are displaying no understanding of right and wrong. That may be an axiom that has previously been stated, but is it not the case that we need to examine our education system to ensure that children receive some instruction in our schools on the basic rights and wrongs of life and on the need to have a regard for civic responsibility, however simply those concepts can be explained to them?
In my speech, I am focusing on the children's panel system, but the member is right that aspects of education, deprivation, poverty, parental unemployment, chronic illness, alcohol abuse and drug misuse are factors in the problem. The Scottish Executive wants to tackle
The advisory group decided that children's hearings needed more, and more effective, community-based programmes to be available, to which young offenders can be referred to try to divert them from crime. If Mr Aitken has other suggestions to make, we will be happy to consider them, but I am not sure whether he was suggesting other disposals or conditions for supervision. We should clarify that point.
That is helpful. Many studies and research projects in Scotland, other parts of the UK and internationally highlight the fact that programmes that are developed to allow offenders to confront their behaviour and that involve their families, communities and—as Annabel Goldie suggested—schools are, in many cases, more likely to prevent reoffending than the placement of the offender in secure accommodation. That is true even among the most persistent reoffenders.
Two Scottish examples that have been or are being funded by the Executive demonstrate that point. The Freagarrach community-based project, which covers Falkirk, Clackmannanshire and Stirling, reduced the overall offending rate of its young people by up to 50 per cent by targeting the top 20 offenders in a particular area. A three-year invest-to-save project, the matrix project, which is run by Barnardos, covers the same geographical area. It targets children who are exposed to factors that might lead them to offend in the future. A package of support is offered to the children, who are aged between eight and 11, and work is carried out with their families. The project is a joint partnership between the police and education and health services. Joined-up working is a key part of such projects. As well as reducing re-offending, such programmes are more cost-effective than secure accommodation.
We have learned from examples such as the ones that I have mentioned and from projects in other parts of the United Kingdom. Local authorities have now been allocated more than £20 million over three years from April this year to enhance their programmes and develop more. The aim is to make young offenders stop reoffending and face up to the consequences of their actions and their impact on the community and individual victims.
The new initiatives must be challenging and must force young offenders to recognise what they have done. They must operate over a period of months, if not longer. They must be effective in the
We need to be tough on the children who cause misery to their neighbours and communities. The programmes that I have outlined are the way to do that. I emphasise that they are not easy options. Scotland's unique system of children's hearings serves us well. The network of local authority departments, the reporters, the police, health service staff and—primarily—the volunteers on whom the system depends deserve our praise, thanks and support. I thank Bill Aitken for his support and praise for the volunteers. Our hearing system provides an excellent framework within which the needs of the child can be assessed and acted on. A great deal more can be done to get the system right—greater partnership is needed. Let us build and reinforce that system.
I move amendment S1M-2205.2, to leave out from "recognises" to end and insert:
"confirms its support for the principles of the hearings system in dealing with children who are at risk whether through offending or anti-social behaviour or are in need of care and protection; considers that the children's hearings system provides the best framework within which to identify the needs of vulnerable children and young people and to determine the most appropriate response; praises the commitment and skill of the volunteers who are appointed as members of Children's Panels and Children's Panel Advisory Committees; welcomes the consensus achieved by the Advisory Group on Youth Crime and confirms its support for the Group's recommendations for reducing and stopping youth crime; further welcomes the increased expenditure by the Executive on children's services and Youth Crime Review to support targeted services in local authorities; supports the Executive in its drive to reduce re-offending rates among children and young people, as set out in Working Together for Scotland, as this will benefit communities, victims and young people, and encourages local authorities, service providers and other partners to develop programmes and services which seek to address the offending behaviour and underlying contributory factors in the lives of young people who offend."
I say to the Conservative party that society, not the children's hearing system, is, in the words of that party's motion,
"manifestly failing to deal with criminal and offending behaviour".
Youth offenders are young people with problems. We are failing to deal effectively with the causes of their difficulties.
I also remind the Conservatives that the Kilbrandon welfare principle, which underpinned
Perhaps the challenge is to bring justice and welfare together in new ways. The issue is not the system; it is the need for constructive engagement with young people, their families and communities. We need to shift thinking and resources.
We accept that the hearing system has to have at its disposal adequate and effective resources for young people who offend, but many referrals could be avoided if there were a greater emphasis on what are called preventive measures, but are in reality ordinary activities such as sport, leisure and drama.
We need a range of general recreation and sport provision for children and teenagers. Much of that has been eroded over the past 10 or 20 years. Children in deprived areas have less access to constructive leisure activities. School and community halls are shut. Sport and other activities are expensive. Football pitches are non-existent in most inner-city areas.
It is no exaggeration to say that the lack of facilities and transport infrastructure to access facilities is an overwhelming concern of many young people. That is confirmed time and again when the cross-party group on children and young people goes out to meet young people. If young people had opportunities for challenge and adventure, there would be less youth crime.
We also need diversion strategies. We must work with children and young people who are in danger of entering the crime world. We must identify them early and ensure that proper voluntary measures are available to them and their parents. We must also ensure that children's services plans—as well as education, health and other provisions—meet their needs.
For serious offenders, we need effective intervention. That means robust, evaluated and tested programmes under statutory supervision.
Little of what I have suggested differs much from the recommendations of the youth crime review. It produced good proposals, which achieved a wide consensus. The Scottish National Party supports those proposals broadly and they have already been accepted by the Executive.
The Scottish Executive's response to the review agreed to the calls for a national strategy, which was due to be in place by April 2001. We are still waiting for the draft consultation on that strategy. I ask the minister to confirm whether the strategy will proceed without delay.
We know what works. There are excellent
Barnardos, which the minister mentioned, is also keen to reduce offending behaviour and provide intensive, community-based programmes that offer a positive alternative to secure accommodation, referral to the criminal justice system and—ultimately—custodial sentences. The most well-known Barnardos project for persistent juvenile offenders is probably the Freagarrach project. In the first 12 months of the Barnardos new directions project in Aberdeen, there have been clear indications that that cost-effective service is also having a positive impact and reducing offending. The project is a partnership initiative with Aberdeenshire Council and Aberdeen City Council. It is important to recognise that a multi-agency approach is required if a project is to be effective in addressing the offending and needs of young people.
Such schemes are not a soft option. They are a successful means of confronting what is going wrong and providing a challenging and effective alternative. We know what works. We should use what is known from research to contribute to improvements in practice and policy in Scotland by having a proper national strategy to resource and quality-assure the services evenly throughout Scotland. That provides the best prospect of helping young people to move towards a more positive future and to contribute to a safer community.
I move amendment S1M-2205.1, to leave out from "as" to end and insert:
"has served society and Scotland's children and families very well and that it will continue to do so in the future, provided that adequate and effective resources are applied to the system to help young people who offend, and calls upon the Scottish Executive to bring forward without further delay the national strategy and framework arising from the youth crime review in order to set out national programmes for effectively working with young people to prevent crime, ensure that measures are in place to support those at risk of offending and recommend proven intervention strategies for offenders."
I take exception to the notion that, because someone is 15 years and 11 months old, and a child in the eyes of the law, they should be
When we talk about working with young, vulnerable people, it is simply not the case that we can immediately differentiate between those who have been abused or suffered neglect in their homes and those who offend. Unfortunately, life is just not like that. It is later discovered of many young people who present because of offending behaviour that they have been subject to abuse.
I am afraid that Bill Aitken did not take that argument to its logical conclusion in the disposals that he wanted to be made available to the children's hearing system. I will come on to that.
Many young people involved in low-level offending behaviour may, as the minister said, be involved on only one occasion or a couple of occasions and can be diverted from further involvement in the criminal process. I have no difficulty in saying that we should remove from the community those persistent offenders who clearly require to be removed for their safety or that of the community. However, it is simply not the case that, by increasing the number of secure unit places—at huge cost—and by locking young people up, we will tackle the problem. Nor will we address the problem by enacting Bill Aitken's suggestion for a disposal that is some kind of weekend or after-hours detention in which children are made to sit with books and nothing else.
I am sure that educationists would suggest that making books a punishment is not the way to engage young people and is not the way to get them to face up to the damage that they do in their communities. We can be a bit more imaginative. For a number of years many schemes have been operating that bring together children, young people and adult volunteers from the local community in order to tackle projects that give something back to the local community. They make young people face up to their offending behaviour rather than making them sit in silence.
Nor do I think that we should be considering alternatives that put further pressure on parents. Sometimes parents are struggling to make ends meet. Sometimes parents themselves have not had a particularly good experience of life and might need support. Projects that take a holistic approach to the child in the family and community setting will have more value than simply removing
When the children's hearing system was set up, it was a radical departure from the way that youth justice had been dealt with previously. Scotland ought to be proud of the children's hearing system. Yes, the system might need changes and revision. However, the fundamental principles of putting the best interests and the welfare of the child first, have stood and will stand the test of time.
We need more imaginative ways of working with young people than spurious proposals for grounding them under the supervision of retired police officers. I am sure that some of those police officers would be useful to the process, but some of them may not want to be involved. Let us look at some of the projects that are currently under way and are giving young people opportunities to be involved in outdoor activities, sport and leisure activities and to make a contribution to their communities. They must be given the opportunity to be part of the solution rather than being described consistently as a problem.
I hope that we will consider the good work that has been done as part of the youth crime review. We will begin to examine how we can provide better opportunities within the children's hearing system for 16 to 18-year-olds. As Jack McConnell has already agreed, we will look at the inappropriate facilities in some of our secure units and consider upgrading them. We will, however, keep at the forefront of our minds the fact that the majority of young people in Scotland are not criminals and are not a problem. A small minority of young people cause the problems that the Tories have highlighted today. We ought to keep the matter in perspective. The children's hearing system has stood the test of time and it will continue to do so.
It saddens me that Cathy Jamieson started her comments by making an attack on Bill Aitken. She was wrong to do so. Bill Aitken's motion is positive and looks at the issues that Cathy Jamieson commented on at the end of her speech. It addresses the issues that surround a small minority of youngsters who create mayhem in society. On that basis, Cathy Jamieson was wrong to have a go at Bill Aitken right from the start. Perhaps that is customary for her, but she should listen a little more to what is said.
I will come back to Cathy Jamieson in a moment.
I listened intently to what Irene McGugan had to
We should consider the money that has been directed towards young people in priority treatment areas. Many young people, without looking for excuses, have the opportunity to pick themselves up and make something of their lives, no matter how bad their circumstances have been.
I will give way to Cathy Jamieson before I go on to talk about children's panels.
Children's panels are not a subject of criticism in Bill Aitken's motion. He commends the people that work on those panels. They have cared for people and are intent on the best interests of children—that is their remit. However, the members of children's panels are also frustrated. At times, when they have persistent young offenders before them, they know that there is nothing that they can do with those offenders that will protect society.
The panels can say that the offenders should go into secure accommodation, but that makes no difference if the secure accommodation is not there. Our motion addresses that issue—Bill Aitken picked it up and decided that we should examine it urgently. The amendments to the motion are good, but they are waffly. They do not recognise the urgent need for action against the small number of persistent offenders.
An example of the situation in Ayr a few years ago demonstrates the difficulties—15 youngsters committed 700 criminal offences in less than a year. The police are fed up to the back teeth with pulling in youngsters and having to release them, knowing full well that 24 hours later they will have to go out, find them and bring them in once more.
I commend Bill Aitken's motion. I suggest that all members can identify with his intentions and could sign on to them. I recommend that members sign on to the motion at decision time.
Sometimes we wish that Phil Gallie was still signing on.
Like many on the left—perhaps too readily—I succumb to the soft bigotry of low expectations of the right. I hope that that is the only bigoted view that I hold. Unfortunately that view, which is reinforced daily, is today backed up by the ready recourse of the Conservative party to more secure unit places. "Lock them up" is what their motion is about.
The problem is that we have evidence—perhaps, for once, too much evidence—that that approach just does not work. The failure of sending more youngsters into the adult court system and of making the juvenile system more formalised and adversarial is played out across the Atlantic, where adult and youth crime and incarceration are increasing.
I suggest that the fact that the United States, on a per capita basis, has the largest adult prison population might be one glaringly obvious example of that failure.
I welcome what the minister had to say about targeted action on persistent offenders and I recognise the substantial work that has been done in that connection. I want to pay tribute to the initial work on youth crime by the First Minister's policy unit and to the substantial work of the advisory group. I hope that the minister will comment on that.
We will tackle persistent offending by interventions. No one in the chamber is suggesting that there is not a real problem with persistent offenders. The issue is how best to address that. I suggest that interventions must be measured against their efficacy in addressing the issues affecting individual children in trouble and their efficiency in ensuring the safety of the community in which a child resides. That integrated approach to addressing the difficulties of children in trouble is the essential characteristic of our system. We should not be smug about Scotland's children's panel system, but neither should we be shamefaced.
There is some merit in Annabel Goldie's remarks on right and wrong. I grew up in Priesthill, one of Glasgow's toughest working-class areas, although at that time the Conservative party was in the business of taking work out of the working class. I am conscious of the direct and indirect effects that led me to the more legitimate end of the law and to this place and that kept me out of
No—I am being nice about my parents at the moment. They were in work, together and cared for their children.
I hope that the Tories will raise their game and reduce their rhetoric, not least by acknowledging the blindingly obvious. The social characteristics of the core cohort of young, persistent offenders are the most telling problem demanding our attention, and we can only tackle that through determined, challenging interventions for such children. We must take account of the fact that the overwhelming majority of those youngsters are boys. We do not need much more evidence about the best ways of reducing offending among boys. They include providing the prospect of a decent job and of a supportive environment and, some say, the prospect of a demanding girlfriend.
That is why most Labour voters in Scotland are convinced, not just that we are tough on crime—the public are not stupid and know that the causes of crime are of particular importance. People in my constituency are prepared to give children a second chance. They want them to take that chance. I support the Executive's amendment.
I find it surprising to say, but I agree with almost everything that I have just heard from Brian Fitzpatrick—except perhaps, at 10.10 in the morning, concerning demanding girlfriends.
Bill Aitken opened by saying that society has deteriorated since the children's hearing system was put in place. Many of us would agree. If we were students of government, we would quickly work out that, of those 30 years, the Tories were in power for 21. Much of the responsibility for a deteriorating society and for the difficulties that young people face, which Irene McGugan, Cathy Jamieson and Brian Fitzpatrick spoke about, lies at the Tory benches. It might have been wise had Bill Aitken remembered that on his way to the chamber, before giving us such bizarre spectacle.
I was struck that Brian Fitzpatrick accused the Tories of just wanting to lock young people up. He may not have noticed it, but I did: there were nods on the Tory benches. That is what the Tories want to do. It is a policy born of fear. Cathy Jamieson was right to say that any member who talks about young children as animals, or about a policy that is, from what I heard, very similar to reintroducing the workhouse, is devising policy out of fear. Mr McLetchie used the word "protect" or "protecting" more than once.
It is, and considering how far to the right Mr McLetchie is drifting, he will in fact soon be Mr Gallie.
Mr Gallie used the word "protect" more than once. What we have heard in Tory members' speeches and what we see in their motion is a policy of fear. It is the exact opposite of how we should be helping young people.
Would Mr Russell accept that the phrase that I used was "a completely different animal"? I could, for example, describe him as a quite different animal from Mr Stevenson, who is sitting beside him, meaning no offence to either of them.
I think that Mr Aitken's choice of word was significant. I took it to be significant, as did Cathy Jamieson. I think that those who listened to him found it significant.
Last week, the Education, Culture and Sport Committee visited New Lanark. I am sorry that its Tory member did not join us, because there was a lot to be learned there about what we are discussing today. When Robert Owen established New Lanark, there was a view that young people—and indeed many other people—were merely animals that had to be disciplined and kept in order and that workhouses were a good way to achieve that. What Robert Owen did at New Lanark was to look at things in the opposite way, saying that, if we help and support people, show kindness and encourage the best in people, we get a better society.
It is a great pity that those messages have not yet spread fully in this country and this society. It is, however, an interesting object lesson—despite dating back 200 years—of how a policy that does not focus on the needs of supporting individuals is bound to fail, not just socially but economically. Such a policy is wrong for all reasons: socially, politically and economically—yet the Tories have learned nothing. We do not need more of what Bill Aitken is talking about, but an emphasis on individuals.
When I listened to Irene McGugan, I was listening to someone who has been at the sharp end of working with difficult children, unlike Bill Aitken, who was on the bench judging them. That was the difference between their speeches. On the one hand was somebody who has worked with children and knows that we need more focus on individual children, on the choices in their lives, on the difficulties that they face and on poverty. We
What we heard from Bill Aitken today was the broad-birch approach, which is absolutely unacceptable, certainly to this party and hopefully to most of the chamber. The Tories, now in the era of Iain Duncan Smith, are lurching wildly to the right—we have seen more signs of that today; fortunately, the people of Scotland are not.
I share Mike Russell's sentiments, particularly those of his latter comments. I am pleased to follow his contribution—and that of the distinguished former member of the First Minister's policy unit. I do not believe for a moment that
"the Children's Hearings system as at present constituted is manifestly failing", to use the words of the Conservative motion. I think it curious that the Conservatives' approach today consists, as others have pointed out, of illustrating the fact that the problems of society have got immeasurably worse since 1995. That was, of course, when Lord James Douglas-Hamilton piloted the Children (Scotland) Bill through Westminster. The resulting act made, as I understand it, no great changes to, and in fact endorsed the Kilbrandon report's principles as far as the children's panel system was concerned—it made only a number of procedural changes. The Conservatives' approach today is at best curious—as Mike Russell said, it simply serves to point out that they were in power for 21 of the past 30 years—yet all has supposedly gone so wrong since 1995. That is typical of Conservative thinking.
The Conservatives' motion is superficial, and tries to appear tough on crime, as they often seek to appear in the chamber. There were nods on the Conservative benches adjacent to me when the idea of "locking 'em all up" was raised. It is deeply dispiriting to juvenile justice and to the related issues affecting our society that that is the approach emanating from a so-called serious party in the modern political world. That policy and emotion come through blue-tinted glasses, and that is inherently unsuitable for the Scotland that I believe in and that I want to develop.
There are one or two points on which I agree with Bill Aitken. He said that the panel system was "progressive and effective", if I have quoted him correctly, and that the basic principle is that the child's interests are paramount. With the Conservatives, however, that would obviously not
The panel system has not been set in stone, as the Conservatives have tried to suggest. To suggest that the system and panel members have remained stagnant, and that only the children have changed, is a bizarre argument. Irene McGugan and Cathy Jamieson were right to raise the issues of the education of parents and of society as a whole. We need to take those issues seriously and develop them—instead of the superficial nonsense that I heard to my very far right.
I was interested in what the Lord Advocate said in response to questions on the children's panel system at yesterday's joint meeting of the Justice 1 Committee and the Justice 2 Committee, under Pauline McNeill's convenership. He clarified the point that the general policy is that children should be kept out of court as far as possible, and that only in exceptional circumstances should a child be prosecuted. That was what the Lord Advocate said. If I remember rightly, Bill Aitken and Lord James Douglas-Hamilton were last week defending in a spirited manner the Lord Advocate's independence from the legislature and the executive. They might recognise the importance of being consistent about their arguments.
I wish to make three brief points about the panel system itself. I share the views of the Deputy Minister for Education, Europe and External Affairs and of others regarding the importance of the work that volunteers do, particularly on staffing panels, as well the importance of the on-going national recruitment. However, will the minister comment on a point made to me by the children's panel in my constituency, concerning the difficulty of recruiting men in the 30 to 50 age group? Such men are invariably in work and, given the time commitment that the panel requires of them, may find it difficult to serve. A number of people who are involved with the children's panel in Shetland and to whom I spoke yesterday on the telephone said that that is a crucial issue.
Another point relates to the ECHR. I am sure that the minister will want to make clear exactly when guidance will be sent to panels, as such clarification is needed.
My final point is arguably the most important and was made to me yesterday by the chairman of the children's panel advisory committee in Shetland. It concerns the importance of early intervention—about which Irene McGugan spoke. We need to pool the resources available for early intervention measures.
I hope that in his response to the debate the minister will clarify some of the issues that I have raised.
Earlier this year I had the honour of chairing a debate at the University of Edinburgh. The audience was made up of 50 to 60 Lothian and regional children's panel members. On my right were members of the legal profession and on my left were members of the panel. The subject for debate was the problem posed for children's panels by the ECHR and the possibility of legal representation on children's panels becoming standard practice. I should have thought that the Conservative party would have wanted to debate that today.
I ask the minister to inform us at the end of today's debate whether the Executive is considering making legal representation on children's panels standard practice. Although the panel members won the debate on a vote—because the idea of creating an adversarial atmosphere on children's panels was not welcomed—the arguments presented by the legal profession were compelling. The issue of legal representation needs, therefore, to be addressed.
I turn now to the points made by Bill Aitken. My experience of a children's panel in 1985 was that we faced then exactly the same problems that the Conservatives are now flagging up as new. At that time there were shortages of secure accommodation. There were children of 15 and 16 who behaved quite atrociously at panels. People of that age are young men and women—they are no longer children. It is not surprising that those who have passed through the system have been failed all the way up. That is nothing new.
I was interested in what Nicol Stephen had to say and found it extremely encouraging. The Falkirk experiment, which produced a 50 per cent reduction in repeat offending, should be replicated as soon as possible throughout Scotland, provided that the results are sound. Will £20 million produce the same effect throughout Scotland within the next two or three years? That, rather than the measures suggested by Bill Aitken and the Conservative party, is the way forward.
I endorse the points that were made by Irene McGugan. The reduction in play spaces and free areas for children in Scotland is becoming a serious problem. Over the past 20 years in Edinburgh, there has been a 50 per cent reduction in access to free, open-air space for young people. I would like to pay tribute to projects such as the Canongate youth project and similar projects in Pilton, Wester Hailes and Craigmillar for the contribution that they make. Nicol Stephen is keen to encourage initiatives of that sort. However, all is not rosy. A new initiative called B-Friends, which allocates young people as friends to younger people with problems, and which has been extremely successful, has had to reduce the
Finally, I want to support what Cathy Jamieson said. We need activities for young people that will help them to bolster their self-confidence and give them skills that they can take away with them. That means considering schemes such as outward-bound projects.
Today's motion says more about the current state of the Conservative party than it does about the real debate that is taking place on juvenile justice. In my view, today's motion is a rather obvious, if somewhat desperate attempt by the Tories to find some solid ground in Scotland.
What ground seems more solid than the real concern in our communities about juvenile crime? What more obvious way could there be to attack—or should I say exploit—the problem than by implying that fault lies with an overly liberal children's hearing system? However, the people of Scotland and the people whom Labour members represent will not stand for a party that plays politics with such a serious issue.
As Tavish Scott said, I am sure that many of my colleagues want to know why, if it had concerns about the juvenile justice system in Scotland, the Tory party failed to address them during the 18 years that it was in Government. If it had the answers, why did it not do anything? Why in the 18 years during which it destroyed our communities in Scotland did it preside over ever-increasing youth crime? We are talking about a party that believed that there was no such thing as society. It is ironic that it has now decided to challenge anti-social behaviour.
No doubt referring to our esteemed former leader Margaret Thatcher, the member alleges that the Conservative party believed that there was no such thing as society. Does she accept that Margaret Thatcher in fact said that individuals are responsible for their actions and cannot pass the blame for them on to society?
It is nice of Mr Monteith to take the time to join us at the end of the debate. Maybe if he had been here earlier he would
In many communities there is real concern about the disproportionate disruption and violence that is caused by a very small number of young people. As many members said, there is a demand for effective action.
"prison is one of the most costly and least effective methods for reducing offending".
The same report points out:
"Significant reductions in prison population have been achieved in Finland, with no associated rise in offending."
In North Lanarkshire, where my constituency is situated, a project called the children's hearings over-16 initiative—CHOSI—challenges young people's offending behaviour. With appropriate education, training and employment opportunities, it has achieved a 78 per cent reduction in offending by those young people who participate in the project. That is a truly effective solution to youth crime.
No system is perfect and there will always be a need to develop innovative responses to youth crime. Unfortunately, it will always be necessary sometimes to take custodial action. Bill Aitken's real interest is not in alternative disposals, but in locking children away, while failing to address the underlying problems that may have led to those children's offending behaviour. This morning he quoted the report by Lothian and Borders police. He failed to point out that, according to the authors of the report, it is impossible to separate victims and offenders on children's panels, as 75 per cent of those referred to panels have been subjected to child abuse or domestic violence. Surely it is more appropriate to deal with those children in a non-adversarial justice system such as the children's hearing system?
The Labour party is concerned with changing our communities for the better and with responding to the concerns about youth crime that are expressed by the people whom we represent. Tackling youth crime effectively is not about locking children away nor is it about making political capital out of a real issue, but that appears to be the Conservative's priority this morning.
I have been fascinated by the speeches made by members on the SNP benches—I found much to agree with. Karen Whitefield also has my
However, I am extremely puzzled. I have come to the conclusion that the Tory party has become dangerously left-wing. The two Tory motions for debate this morning appear to call for increases in spending. Bill Aitken may correct me if I am wrong, but I am sure that I heard him say that he wants more resources for the children's panel system and, in the next motion for debate, the Tories are looking for more resources for health.
It is all right, though—I soon recovered and the Tory party reverted to type. Bill Aitken wants to send the right signals to his new master in London, Mr Duncan Smith. Bill Aitken is a moderate man and would never physically abuse one of his children, or any other child in his house, but he would, on behalf of the Tories, permit others to do precisely that.
I am grateful to the member for giving way. He referred to the fact that implementation of the Tory party's motion could add costs. Those costs are linked to an increase in the number of places in which to remove and confine the small minority of offenders who create a lot of mayhem in society. Does Stewart Stevenson acknowledge that the cost of those young offenders' crimes is quite considerable and that, overall, there would be a saving to society if young offenders were confined?
I am obliged to Mr Gallie for confirming that the Tories want an increase in resources. It is already well known that incarceration is the least cost-effective solution to the problems caused to society by our youngsters. That view is shared across the chamber.
That is all a bit of a sideshow. We come to the meat of the 50 or so words of Bill Aitken's motion and the bit at the end, where he talks about disposals. We heard from him and from other Tories about restitution and incarceration. Phil Gallie just confirmed that more secure accommodation is at the core of his demands. That is a move in a totally different direction from the child-centred system that was put in place originally.
It is curious to note that the Tory motion also includes a plea for yet another review. Audit Scotland is conducting such a review and will publish its findings in late 2002. In the Executive's response to the youth crime review, it mentioned that six reviews were on-going. That is why Irene McGugan, who drew up the SNP amendment, focused on taking action now. Reviews are fine, but when I was in business, I once helped to set
I was slightly surprised that no one referred to the Protection from Abuse (Scotland) Bill, which is being considered by the Justice 2 Committee. I am sure that we will come back to the bill, because it may well affect how young people are dealt with, as it will affect them in the same way as it will affect adults. We will need to watch the effects of the bill carefully.
We have all been felons at one time. Those who disagree with that assertion should indicate so now.
I will start by examining the big picture and then I will focus in, as that is vital.
We must not forget the factors that affect offending. All the statistics show that the children and young people who are at greater risk of offending are those who grow up in environments with high levels of deprivation, poverty and unemployment and whose family life is chaotic and difficult because of illness and high levels of alcohol and drug misuse. That is the negative side, but on the positive side, we know that access to good education, out-of-school activities, community centres, drop-in facilities, sport—which Irene McGugan mentioned—drama and other activities will help lower offending rates in society. Such activities are provided not only for that reason, but because they help society in general. Young people need to be motivated, encouraged and inspired.
The Executive is determined to tackle juvenile offending and is doing a lot of work on both the negative and the positive aspects. We must do much more to help and support families, communities and individuals at an earlier stage. Initiatives should target not only youths who have reached secondary school age; they must target younger children.
The minister's comments are helpful. Will he guarantee that the Executive will put real resources into helping the voluntary sector, councils and other organisations to provide the facilities that he mentioned, to try to win over disaffected young
I cannot announce new spending this morning, but I guarantee that the Executive is putting more money into those areas. We believe that the voluntary sector has an increasingly vital role to play in achieving success, both in the projects that I mentioned and those that I am about to speak about in relation to targeting.
As Mike Russell said, we must focus on the individual. That means that we must take a range of approaches, including a focused approach, to identify the persistent offenders.
The advisory group on youth crime confirmed that the powers of the children's panel system are sufficient and wide-ranging. It also advised that more community-based programmes must be developed to confront the problem of persistent reoffending.
It would be complacent of me to say that we are getting everything right. The statistics that I quoted in my earlier speech emphasise the scale of the problem that we face. That is why we have acted on several recommendations already, including the investment of £20 million from April 2001 in the three-year initiative. That will allow local authorities to roll out partnership initiatives and multi-agency programmes. We do not want only local authorities to deliver services; we want to involve the voluntary sector and other agencies.
I am sorry but I am rapidly running out of time. I have given way to everyone who has asked me to, but I must draw the line.
We are considering the feasibility of conducting pilot projects to divert 16 and 17-year-olds from the adult criminal justice system, where appropriate, along the lines of the proposal in the youth crime review.
We have much to learn about youth justice from the children's panel system, but the operation of the system must be improved. It must be timely at all stages if it is to be effective. Concerns exist about the delays that arise at various stages. Those concerns must be tackled and they are being addressed by the time intervals monitoring group, which is a multi-agency working group.
The Executive will receive the first report of that group later this year. The sum of £12 million is being made available to the Scottish Children's Reporter Administration to develop a new information technology system that will, among other things, help to identify trends and provide profiles of children who offend. Currently, such information is not as good as it should be. Officials are working closely with Audit Scotland on its study into value for money in youth justice. We
We want to work with others across all the agencies to get this right. We must get better. We recognise the excellent work of volunteers in the children's panel system, but more young people and—as Tavish Scott highlighted—more men need to be involved. A recruitment campaign is considering how to tackle those issues.
We need to respond to the ECHR judgment and we will do that. I emphasise that the judgment confirmed the fundamentals of the children's panel system. We will not create a new adversarial adult justice-style system.
We are reviewing the need for secure accommodation places and the other specialist services that are at the extreme end of the range of disposals that are available to panels. We want those to be available across Scotland. Some of the secure accommodation facilities need significant improvement and the working group that is considering the issue has agreed that the need is for greater quality and availability of secure accommodation places rather than for extra places.
Ministers recognise that we must maintain momentum. More projects, more research and more investment are needed. Most important of all, we need more effective results.
I sum up today's debate on the children's hearings system by saying that there have been a large number of lively speeches that have been refreshing to listen to.
The Conservatives believe that the approach to juvenile justice should be to protect the best interests not only of the child but of the community as a whole. I take issue with Tavish Scott, who said that the Children (Scotland) Act 1995 was relatively insignificant. That act was significant because it not only laid down the rights of the child but clarified procedures. I remember being severely disciplined on the floor of the House of Commons by Miss Betty Boothroyd for having too many amendments at the report stage. When I pointed out that they were concessions to Labour members who had made constructive proposals, she recognised that my actions were well meant. I believe that the Children (Scotland) Act 1995 will stand the test of time and will be well regarded in years to come.
What I said about the Children (Scotland) Act 1995 was said in the context of the paper from the Scottish Parliament information centre. I quote:
"the first major reform of Scottish child care law since 1968, the Children (Scotland) Act 1995 preserved the Children's Hearings System largely unchanged, although some procedural alterations were made by the Act."
That was my point.
I am grateful to the member for clarifying his remarks.
The minister made a strong, constructive speech, in which he recognised the case that we have proposed. Let me give an example. In mid-July, the Evening News reported that some 10 children between the ages of 9 and 15 were responsible for a mini crime wave. One nine-year-old was responsible for 40 offences. The children were found guilty mainly of theft, driving offences, housebreaking or of picking on vulnerable groups such as the elderly.
The increase in youth crime has resulted in the number held in secure accommodation rising from 83 in 1998 to 87 in 2000. In due course, I would be interested to know from the minister whether the 200 young persons whom children's panels recommended for secure accommodation were in fact given that disposal. There is a reasonable apprehension that there may be an insufficiency of secure accommodation. I recognise that the disposal is a very serious one, but if a young person is creating mayhem in the community, recognition should be given to the interests of the community as well as to those of the young child concerned. The minister recognised that point, as did Phil Gallie and Brian Fitzpatrick.
I will give a reason why that correctly touches a raw nerve. A recent study in central Scotland showed that about 20 per cent of youth crime is committed by less than 2 per cent of offenders. The cost of youth crime in Scotland is some £730 million per year, which is about the same as the budget for the Scottish police. The minister said that there is room for significant improvement. I welcome his constructive approach.
The second point that I want to make in the brief time available is that there may, in certain circumstances, be a case for extending community service orders and—perhaps more appropriately—supervised attendance orders. Members are right to stress that each case must be weighed on its merits and that a comprehensive approach should take all the circumstances into account.
Had the member listened more closely to what my
I believe that Scotland's system of criminal justice is rightly regarded as one of the best in the world. It has a great deal going for it. In fairness to the children's panel system, it should be recognised that it has succeeded extremely well in situations in which children are at risk. MSPs such as Irene McGugan, Kay Ullrich and Cathy Jamieson have played a part in that process. However, there is a problem with persistent reoffending by a small minority. That is why we call for a review. Even the best system in the world needs improvement. As Karen Whitefield said, no system is perfect. I reinforce her words. Even the best system in the world needs to be kept updated in the light of changing circumstances.