Youth Justice

– in the Scottish Parliament at 9:30 am on 13th June 2002.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of George Reid George Reid Scottish National Party 9:30 am, 13th June 2002

Good morning. The first item of business is a debate on motion S1M-3194, in the name of James Douglas-Hamilton, on youth justice.

Photo of Lord James Selkirk Lord James Selkirk Conservative

Last Friday, I had the good fortune to meet representatives of the children's panels of Edinburgh. They raised a number of issues. In particular, they confirmed that they would have no problem with the idea of the children's panel system being given more powers and resources to underpin panels' jurisdiction. In their view, there is nothing wrong with examining the deeds and the needs of young offenders at the same time.

From their standpoint, something has to be done, and it is their conviction that the interests of children are paramount, but the public interest is also very important. That interest must be properly taken into account. In making disposals, an appropriate balance must be struck between the interests of the child and the need to protect the public.

Youth justice is a critical subject, and we have sought to set the agenda and highlight what is needed in that connection.

Photo of Lord James Selkirk Lord James Selkirk Conservative

I have only just begun. The member will get plenty of chances before the debate is finished.

We have repeatedly warned that a shortage of secure accommodation places prevents children's panels from making the disposals that they would wish to make. That cannot be in the public interest. It is not in the public interest for a young offender to be sent to prison because of a shortage of secure accommodation, and it is not in the public interest for young offenders who have committed persistent and serial offences to be dealt with leniently on the ground of lack of accommodation. The need for more resources for secure places, whether they are provided under the education budget or the justice budget, is of the utmost importance.

Dissatisfaction with the present situation is not restricted to our own representations. Youth crime is a growing problem and accounts for 40 per cent of all offences. When a young person is arrested by the police, they cannot be detained unless they are unruly. Because of that, as young offenders learn to work the system, they quieten down when arrested and are consequently released, leaving the police to complete the paperwork while they go free to commit more offences.

In approximately 80 per cent of cases involving young offenders, the reporter to the children's panel takes no action on the offence. That is often because the child has been referred on other grounds, including social grounds, which can obscure the gravity of the offences.

I understand that places have had to be found in Liverpool and Newcastle because of a shortage of secure accommodation in Scotland. Police officers have had to be taken off the streets to escort young offenders. The lack of secure accommodation simply must be tackled.

At a time when a great many people feel that the powers of the children's panels should be strengthened, the Executive is seeking to pass a bill that would enable 16 and 17-year-olds to be sent to children's panels. Those provisions have caused considerable alarm among the children's panels themselves. They believe that the present resources could be inadequate and that the panels might well need more powers.

Photo of George Lyon George Lyon Liberal Democrat

Will Lord James clarify whether he supports the proposals contained in the Criminal Justice (Scotland) Bill to refer 16 and 17-year-olds to the children's panel system?

Photo of Lord James Selkirk Lord James Selkirk Conservative

Most certainly not. I wish to make it absolutely clear that we regard such a step as the wrong signal to send. The children's panels have many extremely difficult cases to deal with as it is. Furthermore, it is not unknown for panel members to be assaulted. They believe that it is undesirable for them to give their addresses out, as that practice has led to exchanges of a disagreeable nature. Those who appear before panel members know their home addresses. That matter requires to be addressed.

In the Scottish Daily Mail on 2 May, Jackie Baillie MSP said this about 16 and 17-year-olds being sent to children's hearings:

"These sorts of cases must end up in courts - they cannot just go to Children's Panels. Local communities are really concerned about youth disorder and vandalism. By all means give youngsters a chance - but we need to get the right balance. I don't think the Bill does that as it stands."

Similarly, Paul Martin MSP was quoted as saying—

Photo of Lord James Selkirk Lord James Selkirk Conservative

Just let me finish. I am quoting Labour MSPs. George Lyon has yet to join the Labour party, but I can tell him that Labour MSPs speak with a great deal more authority on this issue than members of his party.

Paul Martin MSP said:

"I don't think sending 16 and 17 year olds who repeatedly break the law to the Children's Panel will help."

Paul Martin and Jackie Baillie were right, as was Johann Lamont, who has referred to a meeting attended by some 700 of her constituents.

Jack Urquhart of the Association of Scottish Police Superintendents said on 14 April in the Mail on Sunday in Scotland:

"People aged 16 and 18 are adults ... fully aware of their circumstances. If they are put before a children's hearing, particularly those who are persistent offenders, they will simply laugh at the justice system".

Graeme Pearson, an assistant chief constable of Strathclyde police, said:

"Nobody likes to lock up children, but sometimes an offender needs to be taken out of the environment in which they have been offending to protect the community and him or herself."

Photo of Mike Rumbles Mike Rumbles Liberal Democrat

So far, we have heard what Lord James is objecting to, but we have not heard what the Conservative party's proposals are. Phil Gallie is not here this morning, but two weeks ago he proposed

"a referendum ... on the issue of bringing back the birch."—[Official Report, 28 May 2002; c 12160.]

Is bringing back flogging what Lord James is now proposing?

Photo of Lord James Selkirk Lord James Selkirk Conservative

With the greatest respect, it is easy for the member to mention alleged quotations by Phil Gallie when he is not here, but I understand that he has made no such assertion.

Photo of Lord James Selkirk Lord James Selkirk Conservative

If the member would exercise just a little bit of patience, I will come to our proposals in a moment.

On 3 May, no less a person than the First Minister chose to raise the matter in an interview with the Daily Record. He said that there are

"Youths out on the street causing violence, causing disorder, causing vandalism, graffiti and terrifying not just older people but other young people. I am absolutely determined to tackle that and we will be putting in place the policies that will deal with it."

We have chosen youth justice as the subject for this debate because we think it right that the First Minister and the Executive should have the opportunity to clarify their policies.

When we last called a debate on youth justice, on 20 September last year, the current First Minister was the Minister for Education, Europe and External Affairs. He chose not to participate and to leave it to his Liberal Democrat colleagues, so we look forward to the contribution of Cathy Jamieson, the Minister for Education and Young People. We would like to know, for example, whether all the talk about youth courts was merely a bit of sabre rattling—with an impending election in mind—or whether the Executive will actually introduce appropriate amendments to the Criminal Justice (Scotland) Bill.

It is somewhat preposterous that the Executive is willing to amend bills to cover wildlife crimes but seems less interested when it comes to youth crime. What is the point of pledging to act later if the Executive has the power to act now? Perhaps it comes down to the First Minister's difficulty in getting his ideas past his Lib Dem deputy who appears to be considerably softer on crime.

Photo of Johann Lamont Johann Lamont Labour

Does the member agree that his motion pre-empts the serious debate that is being held in the Justice 1 Committee and that it might be appropriate to reflect on what it has to say on the serious issues that he has to address, particularly those relating to 16 and 17-year-olds?

Photo of Lord James Selkirk Lord James Selkirk Conservative

That debate is being held by the Justice 2 Committee. I very much hope that the question whether the Executive intends to lodge appropriate amendments, or at least support them, will be clarified in due course. That would offer a healthy way forward.

We have put forward a number of clear and unequivocal proposals, and I will now proceed to answer Mike Rumbles's question. We have made it clear that we strongly support an increase in the number of secure accommodation places, so that children's panels can make the disposals that they wish to make effectively.

Detention is a punishment that is widely used in schools. Similarly, children's hearings could order a young offender to attend a school or similar establishment in the evenings and on weekends, with parents being responsible for picking up their children afterwards to take them home. Children could be encouraged to bring school books with them and could be denied the use of computer games and television. Although resources would be required, supervision could be carried out by retired police officers, for example.

We also suggest that young offenders be required to work on a similar basis to those subject to adult community service orders and supervised attendance orders. We are attracted by the notion of restitution of damaged property. That is particularly appropriate in cases of vandalism and graffiti. We propose an amendment to legislation that would require parents to keep children in the house or have children accompany them when they go outside. We support more substantial policing of neighbourhoods where that is appropriate. We have argued that far more police officers should be available for community policing and that they should have a visible presence in neighbourhoods that are badly affected by youth crime and disorder. Their role would be to detect and deter crime and to work with parents, young people, schools and ethnic and community groups to encourage a greater sense of citizenship and good behaviour among young persons.

Photo of Kenneth Gibson Kenneth Gibson Scottish National Party

Does that mean that the Conservatives now accept the SNP's proposal on the introduction of an extra 1,000 police officers in Scotland?

Photo of Lord James Selkirk Lord James Selkirk Conservative

We believe that there should be a substantial increase in the number of police officers wherever they are needed. The size of the increase would be dependent on local circumstances. After the 1997 general election, the Labour Government reduced substantially the number of police officers. It has only just restored—and marginally exceeded—the level of policing that obtained in 1997. We say that that is insufficient. In recent years, there have been far too few police officers. In neighbourhoods where there is a need for a visible police presence, that should and must be provided. Many police officers have to attend courses and have other duties, so they are not necessarily on the beat and visible in neighbourhoods, as is required.

We want a return to safer communities, safer streets, safer homes and peace of mind for everyone. We want to establish in Scotland a way of life free of crime and the fear of crime.

I move,

That the Parliament notes with concern that there are youths out on the street causing violence, causing disorder, causing vandalism and graffiti and terrifying not just older people but other young people; acknowledges that the problems of youth disorder must be given a high priority if the right to peace and security at home and in the community is to be protected; further notes that diverting 16- and 17-year-olds to the Children's Hearings System will only defer effective deterrents and place an extra burden on a process which is already overstretched and not respected by the young offenders, and therefore calls upon the Scottish Executive to introduce an increased range of disposals, including weekend and evening detention, expansion of supervised attendance orders and community service and grounding, coupled with an increase in secure accommodation and a substantial increase in the number of community police officers to help make our streets safer.

Photo of Cathy Jamieson Cathy Jamieson Labour 9:43 am, 13th June 2002

I welcome the fact that Lord James Douglas-Hamilton is looking forward so much to my speech. I remind Parliament that last December, in the first speech that I made as Minister for Education and Young People, I launched the youth crime action plan. It is not true that nothing has happened on this issue since Jack McConnell was responsible for it.

The Parliament should have no doubt that the Executive is determined to reduce youth crime. We are also determined to tackle the problems that are associated with youth disorder. However, first we need to recognise that the majority of young people in this country are not involved in crime. Only a minority of young people are involved in serious disorder. Many young people are the victims of crime. The vast majority of young people in Scotland want to be valuable members of their communities and are critical of young people who take part in criminal activities. I want us to be absolutely clear about where the problems lie.

We know that only a small proportion of young people are involved in offending behaviour. Each year, less than 2 per cent of Scots children under 16 are referred to the children's hearings system on offence grounds. That is lower than the figure from three years ago and significantly lower than the figure for youth offending at the time when the children's hearings system was established.

We need to ensure that, either through children's hearings or the adult courts—I recognise that there is overlap between the two—the youth justice system can deal effectively with young offenders before their behaviour becomes entrenched. The evidence shows that minimal intervention will lead many young people to stop offending. If young people get involved in trouble and steps are taken to divert them from that, they will not continue to offend.

We know that some young people do not stop offending, and we should focus our action on that group. There should be a particular focus on the 800 or so young people who were referred to children's hearings in 2000-01 because they had committed at least 10 offences. Only one young person in 1,000 falls into that category, but that small minority causes mayhem in local communities and people really fear the consequences of its actions. It is right that our top priority in tackling youth crime should be to ensure that actions against persistent offenders are effective. That will have an impact on how safe our communities feel and will reduce the economic and social cost of crime. It is not acceptable that elderly or young persons in a community should feel that they cannot walk the streets safely.

This debate also relates to activity by some young people that does not amount to serious offending but causes considerable disruption in local communities. From responses to the Scottish crime survey, we know that, overall, fewer people than before have concerns about youth disorder, which is a good start. However, that is not the situation in all communities. I am concerned about those communities in which the fear of crime is highest, in which people's lives are being made a misery and at which effective action must be targeted, so that they are made safer.

Youth disorder is not an issue for the youth justice system alone. As Lord James Douglas-Hamilton recognised—although his focus was different from mine—making some of the changes that we want will require effort from parents, schools, the health service, local authorities, local communities and young people themselves.

We know that there are factors that can make a difference. Sometimes physical environment and lifestyle play a part. The Executive needs to take a strategic approach. We need to take action on community safety. Social inclusion partnerships and the better neighbourhood services fund have a role to play. The physical design of communities can make a difference. Tackling social exclusion can make a difference. The introduction of closed-circuit television and making police officers visible in local communities have helped in the fight against crime, especially in the most disadvantaged communities.

Innovative projects are under way. In Alloa, for example, the social inclusion partnership has implemented an award-winning community police project that aims to cut crime and the fear of crime. Recently I visited Aberdeen where, in conjunction with the police, Northfield Academy has come up with the innovative solution of having a community police officer based in the school, to work alongside young people and to tackle some of the issues that I have mentioned.

We must also consider taking action to reduce truancy. There is concern that, if young people are not in school, as they should be, they will be on the streets, which is not appropriate. We are implementing the recommendations of the discipline task group.

We know that we need a range of measures to provide constructive activities to divert young people from hanging around the streets because there is nothing better for them to do.

Photo of Christine Grahame Christine Grahame Scottish National Party

The Justice 1 and Justice 2 Committees received evidence that the budget for diversion from prosecution services is just under £1.5 million for each of the three years from 2001-02 to 2003-04. However, in evidence, representatives of South Lanarkshire Council said that it would cost them £250,000 simply to deal with substance misuse. How can £1.5 million deal with Scotland's problems when South Lanarkshire Council alone requires £250,000?

Photo of Cathy Jamieson Cathy Jamieson Labour

As I have already indicated, we are not tackling youth offending simply through one strand of the justice department's budget. Through joined-up working, we are attempting to ensure that all the programmes that deal with young people and children—whether in schools or in the justice system—focus on youth offending. I want to talk about the things that we need to do as part of that strategy.

At the end of January, the First Minister and I launched the action programme to reduce youth crime. That programme established the key priorities that we need to pursue. A top priority is to tackle persistent offending. We recognise that the best way of doing that is to ensure that effective disposals are available to the children's hearings system.

Photo of Johann Lamont Johann Lamont Labour

Does the minister agree that there is a problem with non-referral to children's panels and with cases' being marked "no further action" when they reach panels? Does she agree that there is a huge lack of trust in the children's hearings system, and that it is necessary not just to say that the system is working, but to have a review that proves that, so that where it is not working its failures can be addressed?

Photo of Cathy Jamieson Cathy Jamieson Labour

Johann Lamont makes a relevant point about the way in which information is passed back to local communities and to victims about what happens as a result of referrals to the children's hearings system. We will consider the issue. It is important to ensure that members of the children's panels have confidence that programmes exist on to which they can put young people, that those programmes will be effective and that they will be evaluated. We can get more from the existing principles of the children's hearings system by being more focused on specific requirements added to supervision orders. I could give a list of projects that are currently under way, but other members will do that.

People are concerned about secure accommodation. For some young people, secure accommodation is the correct place, because they are a risk either to themselves or to others in their community. We must recognise that there are problems in the system.

An issue in which Roseanna Cunningham takes an interest is the difficulty of finding systematic data on the use of secure units. The secure accommodation advisory group found that to be a problem, as we have in the Executive. We know that panels made 194 recommendations for secure accommodation last year. On average, young people stay in secure accommodation for between 14 and 16 weeks. We also know that we have almost twice the proportion of young people in secure accommodation in Scotland as there is in England, and almost three times the proportion that there is in Wales. We know from local government that, by and large, the required number of places has been available when they have been needed during the past couple of years. However, we know from anecdotal evidence—which does not always match the statistical evidence—that places are not always available at the time that they are required. In some cases, young people wait for places when there are other young people in secure units who cannot move on because no appropriate place has been identified for them. It is not good enough.

I want to wait to examine more fully all the recommendations in the secure accommodation advisory group report to ensure that, when we introduce proposals to tackle the provision of secure accommodation places, we have the right number of places available in the right locations. It will be part of an overall strategy. That is the right way to proceed rather than grabbing quick headlines. The strategy will put in place effective measures that will reduce the fear of crime, reduce crime and make our communities safer places.

I move amendment S1M-3194.2, to leave out from first "notes" to end and insert:

"recognises the problems faced by those local communities where a disproportionate amount of crime and disorder is caused by a small number of persistent offenders; considers it a priority to reduce youth disorder and youth offending; welcomes Scotland's Action Plan to reduce youth crime and the establishment of Youth Justice Teams in each local authority; believes that effective disposals and programmes must be available to the Children's Hearings System which make young offenders face up to the consequences of their behaviour; supports all parties involved in the youth justice system to play a full role and be accountable for their actions, and welcomes the Executive's continuing focus on improving the youth justice system in order to reduce youth crime, the fear of youth crime and build safer communities."

Photo of Roseanna Cunningham Roseanna Cunningham Scottish National Party 9:52 am, 13th June 2002

The motion in Lord James's name was hysterically worded and a little inappropriate.

Photo of Roseanna Cunningham Roseanna Cunningham Scottish National Party

If David McLetchie wants to impress in Parliament, he should use more parliamentary language than he used in that rant. There is scope for populist appeals, but we must be careful, because youth crime and disorder tend to be in one's face.

We must deal with that difficulty. We are talking about the graffiti scarring our urban environment, the groups of under-age drinkers or drug-takers losing their inhibitions and respect for the law in public places and the petty vandalism that people see daily. It is not behind closed doors; it is out on the street and that is the biggest problem with which we are dealing. We have reached the stage at which any group of youths, however law-abiding, causes emotions ranging from basic nervousness to genuine fear and alarm in passers-by. We must accept that that is the response of ordinary people.

The sight of police on the street restores confidence. It is a rare sight, as many of our constituents tell us, yet visible policing is the most effective deterrent to disorder and we must return to it. I suspect that all members who are present agree. We must address the perception in society that youth crime is on the increase, despite what the statistics might tell us, and that the system is not dealing well with young offenders, if at all. That is another apprehension of ordinary people.

So what is being done? As ever, there has been much talk but little action. There has been a ministerial committee and there is now an advisory group on youth crime, an action plan—10 months late—and another ministerial committee. What all that has produced amounts to precious little—a great deal of talk but few practical results.

I know that people from urban areas have particular concerns, but even small rural towns simply do not know how to cope with the problem. The children's hearings system seems to be so under-resourced that there has been a complete collapse of confidence in the system—among the public and the police. That is damaging. While concern about the resourcing of children's hearings remains, the Executive's current proposals are a little premature. If we have a children's hearings system that is not coping, giving it more work will not help. Again, there has been much talk, but no action.

The Executive's confusion on youth crime appears to go right to the top. On 15 May, Jack McConnell suggested the creation of a juvenile courts system for 14 to 18-year-olds—an idea that was rejected the next day by the ministerial group on youth crime. Of course, children can already be prosecuted from the age of eight and special provisions already exist for juvenile courts for under-16s. However, as a matter of Executive policy, decreasing numbers of children are sent to juvenile courts.

Photo of Pauline McNeill Pauline McNeill Labour

As Roseanna Cunningham has mentioned juvenile courts, will she tell us her party's view on them? Has the party assessed their effectiveness in England and Wales, where they now operate?

Photo of Roseanna Cunningham Roseanna Cunningham Scottish National Party

Juvenile courts are probably a very good idea indeed, but the point that I am making is that Jack McConnell did not seem to realise that we can have such a system right now. We do not need to introduce the idea as a brand new policy.

While the Executive dithers, a real problem faces the youth justice system—the problem of secure accommodation, which Cathy Jamieson spent a little time on in her speech. From time to time, but with increasing regularity, I am contacted by the press for a comment when a child, perhaps as young as 14, has been held in an adult jail because of insufficient places for young people in secure accommodation. Ministers have repeatedly acknowledged the problem and, before the Parliament even existed, it was pledged that sending children to adult prisons would be a thing of the past. However, here we are, still having to talk about it.

The lack of places means that children under the age of 16 are being sent to secure units in England, placed in adult prisons, or given other wholly inappropriate disposals. That is not good for them and it is not good for society. On 29 April this year, Colin MacKenzie, the convener of the Association of Directors of Social Work, while talking about 13 children awaiting places in secure accommodation, said:

"This does not simply translate into a need to have 13 new places. What is required is a range of residential placements with the capacity to provide varying levels of security depending on the particular needs of the child."

That is precisely what the SNP is calling for.

In the longer term, the focus surely has to be on intervention—long before placing a child in secure accommodation seems the best option. That is why the SNP has proposed the option of parental compensation orders. That would put responsibility for the actions of a child on his or her parents as well. It would also introduce an element of restorative justice to the system. That is a workable idea and one that is already being made to work in many other countries.

Photo of Cathy Jamieson Cathy Jamieson Labour

Does Roseanna Cunningham accept that one of the key points in our youth crime action plan was to ensure that every local authority in Scotland had a youth justice team to ensure that, in each local authority area, there was a restorative justice project or some form of reparative project? Does she accept that such projects are being put in place across Scotland?

Photo of Roseanna Cunningham Roseanna Cunningham Scottish National Party

That is an interesting comment, but the reality is very different. Again we have the difference between talk and action.

The parental compensation order idea is being made to work in 10 other countries—from Canada right through to Italy. The idea has not simply been pulled out of nowhere. It would make a difference in Scotland, especially to the perception that, when a young person commits a crime, no one seems to take any responsibility—neither the young person nor their parents. Responsibility is the key to the issue—getting young people to take responsibility for their actions and getting their parents to take responsibility too. That does not seem too much to ask in 2002.

I move amendment S1M-3194.1, to leave out from first "notes" to end and insert:

"recognises continuing public concern about the levels of youth crime; regrets the failure of the Scottish Executive to take effective action to tackle such crime; believes that tackling youth crime effectively and appropriately is a key element in reducing overall levels of crime and fear of crime, and calls upon the Executive to introduce practical measures to prevent youth crime and to ensure that there are sufficient places so that those young offenders who, for their own sake, need to be looked after in secure accommodation are held in conditions appropriate to their age."

Photo of George Lyon George Lyon Liberal Democrat 9:59 am, 13th June 2002

On behalf of the Scottish Liberal Democrats, I welcome the opportunity to debate the serious issue of how to tackle youth crime in Scotland. The past few weeks have seen youth crime become part of a bidding war that our Opposition parties, the Tories and the SNP, have entered into. Their only interest in the issue would seem to be in winning votes rather than in proposing solutions to the problem.

We should examine the facts. According to the Scottish Children's Reporter Administration, youth crime has fallen in the past 30 years. In 1974, there were 28,184 referrals. By 2001, the figure had dropped to 26,766. Those are the facts. During the past 10 years, the figure for the number of children with one to three offences coming before the children's system has remained almost constant. The Scottish Liberal Democrats recognise that there is a real problem in the area of children and youths with more than 10 offences. That area has grown by over 40 per cent.

Photo of Johann Lamont Johann Lamont Labour

Does the member accept that there is a problem of hidden offending in our communities? The police have told me that often cases are not referred to the panel. No matter what the statistics show, the problem for our communities is that the issue is not being addressed.

Photo of George Lyon George Lyon Liberal Democrat

We have to use the statistics that the Executive presents to us. If there is a problem with the statistics, Johann Lamont should highlight that so that we can get better reporting of them.

There is general agreement—

Photo of George Lyon George Lyon Liberal Democrat

I am going to make some progress. I do not have a lot of time, but I will get back to the member.

There is general agreement that the real problem area is the small number of habitual offenders. We want to see action taken to tackle that problem. The crime that is committed by youngsters who are constantly in trouble is not a problem that is confined to our major cities, as some have suggested; it is a problem that also exists in rural Scotland. Roseanna Cunningham rightly made that point. We should not get lost in thinking that the problem is one only for Edinburgh or Glasgow; it is also a problem throughout our rural communities.

Photo of John Swinney John Swinney Scottish National Party

I am glad that George Lyon has made the point that the problem is not only an urban problem, as was articulated by Johann Lamont and other members, but a rural problem. On Tuesday evening, I met more than a hundred people in the small village of Newtyle in my constituency. Although the village has a low level of recorded crime, there is a high perception of unease in the community because of an insufficient visible policing presence. If Mr Lyon contributed something to the debate, rather than simply condemning those who are bringing ideas to it, the Liberals might have something more to say for themselves.

Photo of George Lyon George Lyon Liberal Democrat

I agree that there is a general perception of fear in our communities, but that is not helped by politicians who engage in bidding wars and talk the issue up and out of proportion.

Photo of George Lyon George Lyon Liberal Democrat

I have taken quite a number of interventions and I need to make some progress. I hope that the Presiding Officer will allow me additional time for those interventions. However, seeing that it is David McLetchie, I will give way.

Photo of David McLetchie David McLetchie Conservative

Can Mr Lyon tell us whether the First Minister is or is not a participant in what he calls the bidding war?

Photo of George Lyon George Lyon Liberal Democrat

I cannot speak for the First Minister—I will allow others to do that. [Interruption.] I would like to make some progress. What I will say is that I welcome the statement from the First Minister and Cathy Jamieson that they have ruled out some of the more ridiculous propositions that were made by Mr McLetchie's party and others.

I will move on to the subject of solutions. The Tories say that the answer to the problem is to lock up young offenders, throw ever greater numbers of them in jail and get rid of the children's hearings system. However, according to evidence that was given by Kelly Bayes of Barnardo's:

"There may be a perception that the children's hearings system does not work and that custody does, but that is a myth and we have a duty to the public to explode that myth. ... We also have to explode the myth that custody works. It takes young people out of circulation ... However, when they are taken back out of secure accommodation or custody the reoffending rate is phenomenal".—[Official Report, Justice 2 Committee, 22 May 2002; c 1406-08.]

In other words, to throw youngsters in jail for three months increases the reoffending rate; it does not decrease it. The Tory answers to youth crime would make matters worse and not better.

Photo of George Lyon George Lyon Liberal Democrat

I will allow the member an intervention, but I hope that the Presiding Officer will allow me more time.

Photo of Lord James Selkirk Lord James Selkirk Conservative

One of the strong criticisms of the present system is that young offenders are sent to prison because secure accommodation is not available. Will the member tell us whether in all seriousness he thinks that that is right? I do not think that it is.

Photo of George Reid George Reid Scottish National Party

Mr Lyon has another three minutes remaining to him in his speech.

Photo of George Lyon George Lyon Liberal Democrat

In her speech, the Minister for Education and Young People indicated that she was tackling that problem and that she would be proposing solutions to it.

We have heard from the Westminster Government that the parents of youth who commit crime should be thrown in jail. The SNP has restated that it wants to see fines for the parents of youth offenders. Those policies were described recently by Barnardo's:

"'Sending parents to jail is ridiculous and fining people already in poverty smacks of stupidity.'"—[Official Report, Justice 2 Committee, 22 May 2002; c 1404.]

At a recent meeting of the Justice 2 Committee, Barnardo's, Save the Children and Children 1st condemned the fining and jailing of parents as a proposal that would make matters worse and not better. I am glad that, following the first meeting of the ministerial committee on youth crime, the Scottish Executive decided to shy away from such policies. I welcome the enlightened view that the Executive is taking.

The Scottish Liberal Democrats believe that the Executive should give a high priority to tackling youth offending. Solutions exist and they can be used to tackle the problem. Those solutions include the new directions project, the Freagarrach project and the challenging offending through support and intervention—CHOSI—project. All of them are run by Barnardo's, in partnership with local authorities.

The Justice 2 Committee heard evidence that the projects tackle offending through support and intervention. The project evaluations show a reduction rate in offending of between 50 and 80 per cent. The Scottish Liberal Democrats want to see such projects extended to other areas of Scotland. The problems are serious and we do not need to hear the silly slogans that we have heard from the Opposition parties. I challenge all the Opposition parties to engage in a serious debate on the issue. They should stop trying to outdo each other for electoral advantage.

Photo of David McLetchie David McLetchie Conservative 10:06 am, 13th June 2002

It is symptomatic of how out of touch the Executive is that it has only just woken up to the fact that, for many people living in many of Scotland's communities, life is being made intolerable by young hooligans and thugs who are committing acts of vandalism, theft and disorder. Indeed, the Executive has become seriously interested in the problem of youth crime only because certain Labour back benchers have been made aware in no uncertain terms by their constituents that they want to see action on the issue. For the past three years in the Scottish Parliament, the Scottish Conservatives have, of course, been demanding action on the problem. However, it is typical that Labour has woken up to the fact only when an election looms on the horizon.

To try to hide the fact that the Scottish Executive has not done enough to address the problem of youth crime, the First Minister is now going around making a lot of noise on the issue. However, his Executive will remain the proverbial empty vessel until it ditches the ludicrous proposal that is included in the Executive's Criminal Justice (Scotland) Bill to extend the children's hearings system in certain areas to 16 and 17-year olds, at a time when the system is patently failing to cope with younger offenders.

I repeat my claim that Scotland would become the only country in the world where a 17-year old could be sent to a children's panel for assaulting his wife.

Photo of David McLetchie David McLetchie Conservative

Let me explain. In a previous debate in Aberdeen, Dr Simpson loftily dismissed the statement. He is at it again today. In Aberdeen, Dr Simpson said that the statement was stupid, utterly absurd and utter nonsense. However, it was telling that he was afraid to take an intervention from me on the subject. Let me explain the line of reasoning to him today.

Point number 1: I have in my hand a list of the top 40 categories of offences that are committed by under-16s, which are referred to the children's reporter. The list was obtained from the Scottish Children's Reporter Administration. For the information of the Deputy Minister for Justice, assault is at the top of the list and is followed by breach of the peace and vandalism. Those three categories represent just over 50 per cent of the 26,766 offence referrals made last year. I note, however, that the list includes robbery, serious assault and rape.

Point number 2: Section 44 of the draft Criminal Justice (Scotland) Bill deals with the youth crime pilot study and not one of the categories of offence is excluded specifically from referral. In essence, every offence committed in the pilot areas for which a 15-year-old can be referred to the children's reporter will apply to a 16 or 17-year old.

Point number 3: In Scotland, people of 16 can get married. Point number 4: a 17-year-old assailant could be married to his victim. Sadly, such cases of domestic abuse are all too common. Ergo, under the minister's plan, a 17-year-old could be sent to the children's reporter and then to the children's panel for assaulting his wife. If that line of reasoning is wrong, perhaps Dr Simpson or Cathy Jamieson will tell us why. I am happy to give them an opportunity to do that.

Photo of Cathy Jamieson Cathy Jamieson Labour

I have a point to which Mr McLetchie will perhaps want to respond. Domestic violence is a serious issue. It should not be trivialised in the way that Mr McLetchie has done. We are talking about proposals to examine how to deal with domestic violence. It is not helpful to take a scaremongering approach and to suggest that 17-year-old people who beat their wives will be referred to the children's hearings system.

Photo of Cathy Jamieson Cathy Jamieson Labour

Is Mr McLetchie aware that the courts have the power to deal with offenders who are under 16 and who commit particularly serious offences? The courts regularly sentence young people, while taking into account the advice of the children's hearings system. Will Mr McLetchie take those issues seriously and withdraw his scaremongering about 17-year-olds who beat their wives being dealt with by the children's hearings system? That is not the intention and it never has been.

Photo of David McLetchie David McLetchie Conservative

If it is not the intention, will the minister introduce an amendment to section 44 of the Criminal Justice (Scotland) Bill to exclude offences of that category from referral to the children's panel system? If she will not amend that section, will she exclude such offences in one of the regulations that she has the power to make under section 44? While she is excluding referrals in cases of domestic violence, will she also exclude them in cases of rape, assault with intent to ravish, indecent assault, serious assault, robbery and assault with intent to rob, all of which are offences for which 15-year-olds can be referred to the children's panel system? How many of those categories of offence will the minister exclude from referral, either in the bill or in regulations? Please tell me that.

Photo of Richard Simpson Richard Simpson Labour

The Lord Advocate will review the matter and ensure that serious cases are treated appropriately. Cases must be considered individually to determine whether they should be referred to a children's panel. For example, an individual with severe but temporary mental health problems might be sent to a panel. Is David McLetchie saying that such cases must go to the courts? Should not the family be involved, as happens in the children's hearings system? David McLetchie's point is spurious.

Photo of David McLetchie David McLetchie Conservative

My point is not spurious, it is substantive, and neither of the ministers has refuted it. Not one line of argument has been given to counter the reasoning that I set forth earlier.

Photo of David McLetchie David McLetchie Conservative

No. I have taken loads of interventions and I must move on.

Some of Mr McConnell's ministers will not back up his rhetoric, never mind try to turn it into meaningful action. It comes as no surprise that most of those ministers are Liberal Democrats. That party has always adopted an attitude of high-minded disdain for the concerns of ordinary people. George Lyon's speech epitomised that attitude.

It is unfortunate that a Labour minister—Dr Simpson—seems to have more in common with the Liberal Democrats than he does with some of his Labour colleagues such as Jackie Baillie, Johann Lamont and Paul Martin, who, to their credit, recently voiced concerns that are similar to those of the Conservatives. Of course, those members represent an older Labour party—the one that knew the difference between mushy peas and guacamole. Dr Simpson does not know the difference.

It is Scotland's misfortune that our two justice ministers seem more concerned with the interests of young offenders than with those of their victims, who are often the most vulnerable members of society and who live in our most vulnerable communities. I urge the ministers to take a reality check and to think again.

Photo of Pauline McNeill Pauline McNeill Labour 10:14 am, 13th June 2002

I do not intend to have a go at Mr McLetchie during my speech. We will see whether I can resist the temptation.

Youth crime and disorder is a complex and serious issue; it is not a laughing matter. The issue is fast becoming one of chest beating for many members, who want to appear to be the toughest on youth crime. Sadly, many commentators also assume that the issue for members is whether their party or their constituency think that they are doing the right thing. I genuinely believe that MSPs from all parties listen to what is happening and that the Parliament will provide a solution.

We must move away from some of the jargon that we have heard during the past few months. That jargon comes not only from politicians but from professionals, who should know better when they are trying to explain clearly why the system must be changed. The freedom to examine the problem as Parliament sees it is fundamental to finding a solution that is free of slogans, jargon and statements that are not backed up by evidence.

I have a point for Mr McLetchie about the mechanics of section 44 of the Criminal Justice (Scotland) Bill. I will not comment on whether that section should be amended, as that will be dealt with in the Justice 2 Committee's stage 1 report on the bill. As I understand the matter, procurators fiscal will decide whether it is appropriate to refer particular offences to the children's hearings system. I do not believe that procurators fiscal will refer cases like the one that David McLetchie mentioned to the children's reporter. If fiscals do that, I will want to know why.

Photo of David McLetchie David McLetchie Conservative

Will the member support an amendment to section 44 that will preclude referrals to the children's panel in cases like the one that I mentioned, so that we can be absolutely certain that that will not happen?

Photo of Pauline McNeill Pauline McNeill Labour

Mr McLetchie will see from the Official Report of Justice 2 Committee meetings that I have expressed concerns to the Executive and asked it to clarify which offences should be referred. That is not a secret.

I turn to the real issue, which is tackling the causes of youth crime. That is fundamental to providing safety for our communities. Many ordinary young people are alarmed that their entire generation is written off in the debate. Members know that we are talking about only a small number of people. As well as discussing our attitude to youth crime, we must consider a proper strategy for all young people of all ages. I have written to the First Minister to demand action on that point.

I do not hold up my hands in horror at the thought of young people going to prison. Sometimes that is appropriate. However, I agree with Roseanna Cunningham's point—which both the justice committees have also made—that young people who are under 16 should never be in prison. Correctional work has a place and we should commend the work of HM Young Offenders Institution Polmont.

The figures tell us something about the need for joined-up thinking in our approach to youth crime. In 1997-98, 82 per cent of prisoners had played truant from school, 83 per cent had been suspended from school, 41 per cent had been to special schools and 63 per cent had committed a crime while under the influence of alcohol. Literacy rates are also extremely poor. We must analyse the statistics to discover the extent of the problem.

There are no easy answers to the complex problem of youth crime. I urge more cross-party work on the big issues such as whether Parliament should take more powers and review offenders institutions. The way in which our criminal justice system treats victims is revolutionary. That should be no different when it comes to victims of youth offending.

There should be a review of all accommodation for offenders and not just of secure accommodation. I do not support a doubling of secure accommodation, because we often put the wrong people in such places, but there should be an increase in that accommodation. Also, places of safety for young people and getting young people away from children's homes are fundamental to the system.

Many members believe in the children's hearings system. As Johann Lamont said, although a lot of time and resources are rightly spent on dealing with children who are at risk, appropriate resources must also be available to tackle children's offending. If we get that right, that will be an important start.

Photo of Christine Grahame Christine Grahame Scottish National Party 10:19 am, 13th June 2002

We should refer to the debate as one on youth issues—which is how the police asked me to refer to it—because most youngsters are not involved in crime, even though at times they appear threatening, as my colleagues have said. As we get older, we forget what it was like to assemble in large numbers and make a lot of noise, although I am afraid that some members, such as Bill Aitken, did not do that. The police are taking practical measures such as providing skateboard parks, dry dock facilities for youngsters and youth shelters in certain areas. Although such measures should be commended, I do not see why the funding for them should come out of the police budget.

I want to talk about secure accommodation, because there is some confusion about this issue. I understand that there are two categories of placements in secure accommodation. A small number of placements are funded through the justice budget and are for young people who have been convicted of serious crimes. However, the vast bulk of placements in secure accommodation are funded by local authorities through the social work budget. As evidence given on the budget at the joint meeting of the Justice 1 Committee and Justice 2 Committee made clear, that is not a happy way to organise funding. Extreme pressure was placed on local authorities that did not have any secure accommodation. It is my information that six or seven secure places are needed in the Borders, and the area does not have them.

Sometimes such accommodation is for a youngster who is simply not getting on at home and runs away. For example, a youngster from Penicuik ran away to Edinburgh and was not seen for four days. The police in Edinburgh managed to pick them up and, although it was a social work referral, five hours of police time was spent trying to find secure accommodation. None could be found, not even in England, and in the end the police had to persuade the runaway to go back to the home that they had left in the first place. The youngster then moved back into that particular cycle.

Photo of Richard Simpson Richard Simpson Labour

If runaways have committed serious offences, they should be put into secure accommodation. However, I am concerned by the member's suggestion that runaways should go into secure accommodation. That is not what it is for.

Photo of Christine Grahame Christine Grahame Scottish National Party

I am coming to that point. We seem to talk about secure accommodation as though it is one particular thing. Instead, we should have a range of secure accommodation with different facilities. The Association of Directors of Social Work told the justice committees:

"We do not just need the kind of secure accommodation that we have already; we need secure accommodation that incorporates health and social care as well as containing the youngsters. We need a different kind of secure accommodation."—[Official Report, Justice 1 Committee and Justice 2 Committee (Joint Meeting), 1 May 2002; c 171.]

As the witness pointed out, we should not have a one-size-fits-all accommodation.

As for the youngster who had run away to Edinburgh for four days, the police wondered how they had managed to survive in that time. They might have committed petty crimes simply to keep going. Such problems can be exacerbated: the child who is deprived or has trouble at home might become a criminal. We know that there is a link in that respect.

In the very short time that I have left, I want to highlight another serious point that the ADSW raised about the range of secure accommodation. The association said:

"The needs of young women in secure accommodation are not well met at the moment and we often have vulnerable young women in with young men who have very aggressive and sometimes abusive behaviour."—[Official Report, Justice 1 Committee and Justice 2 Committee (Joint Meeting), 1 May 2002; c 172.]

If that is the case, why has such a situation been allowed to continue throughout the three years of this Parliament? That issue has never been raised with me before, and I want the minister to address it. It is disgraceful.

Photo of Christine Grahame Christine Grahame Scottish National Party

No, I am on my last few seconds.

The budget report by the justice committees recommends that the budget for secure accommodation come through the justice budget and that it then be designated to other departments to ensure that we have a clear funding stream. I hope that the minister will take up the point. Local authorities that deal with the bulk of what people loosely term as secure accommodation do not have the funding. If we had one clear funding stream, we would know how the money was operating and would perhaps be able to prevent children who have been put in secure accommodation for their own good because they are runaways from going into the other kinds of secure accommodation because they have committed serious criminal offences.

Photo of Mike Rumbles Mike Rumbles Liberal Democrat 10:24 am, 13th June 2002

In 1847, a House of Lords select committee inquired into the treatment of juvenile offenders. The great majority of committee members favoured imprisonment with hard labour and whipping. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the Conservatives do not appear to have evolved much beyond that kind of hardline rhetoric, which even 150 years ago was associated with the "hang 'em and flog 'em" brigade. However, I am deeply disturbed by the ease with which the other political parties, except the Liberal Democrats, appear to have adopted that draconian theme.

Photo of Mike Rumbles Mike Rumbles Liberal Democrat

I will come back to the member in a moment.

Two weeks ago in Aberdeen, Phil Gallie continued the "hang 'em and flog 'em" theme when he called for a referendum to bring back birching. I asked David McLetchie then and Lord James Douglas-Hamilton this morning whether that was now Conservative party policy. However, even though they see the absurdity of such an approach, they repeatedly refuse to reject Phil Gallie's demands.

The Tories have lodged the motion because they seem content to play on the worries and concerns of ordinary people who day after day see politicians exaggerate and peddle myths about the success of our youth justice system in Scotland. Indeed, we have seen the same thing today.

Photo of Mike Rumbles Mike Rumbles Liberal Democrat

No, I will not.

Let us examine a few facts. Over the past three years, the number of children referred on offence grounds to children's hearings has fallen by 19 per cent. I should repeat that figure: referrals fell by 19 per cent. Moreover, the average number of offences for each of those children fell from just over three to just under three between 1990 and 2000.

I accept the evidence that suggests that a few young people are responsible for a significant proportion of offences and that the number of young people committing several offences is increasing. Indeed, the number of children who have committed more than 10 offences has increased 40 per cent within the same period. That narrow group of people is causing the problem, and it is quite wrong to imply that a particular rise in youth crime is not being addressed.

I want to turn to the issue of youth courts. It has been suggested that if adult courts were given the same powers of disposals as children's hearings, they could offer the same kind of service through youth courts. I am not convinced that we need youth courts. The ethos behind the children's hearings service is the best way of dealing with the needs of young offenders precisely because it is child-centred. There is no suggestion that so-called youth courts would be as effective in addressing offenders' behaviour. That is the issue.

Although there is no doubt that there is a difficulty in resourcing the children's hearings system, we do not believe that that is a justification for changing or scrapping it. Indeed, I wonder whether scrapping the system is the hidden agenda of the Conservatives and the SNP.

It is worth repeating some of the evidence that George Lyon mentioned and that was given by a witness from Barnardo's to the Justice 2 Committee. She said:

"There may be a perception that the children's hearings system does not work and that custody does, but that is a myth and we have a duty to the public to explode that myth. We need to shout about the success of community options and the hard work that young people have to do in that regard. We also have to explode the myth that custody works. It takes young people out of circulation for a short while and that is all."—[Official Report, Justice 2 Committee, 22 May 2002; c 1408.]

The Scottish Liberal Democrats support a sympathetic yet effective approach to youth crime. We are the only mainstream political party not to have succumbed to the populist bidding war that has escalated between the other three parties and that we saw again this morning. That is because we are not afraid of putting principles and pragmatism before cheap headline-grabbing stunts. Youth crime is too important an issue to be used in such a way by the Tories and we have no hesitation whatsoever in opposing their neanderthal and ignorant motion.

Photo of Lyndsay McIntosh Lyndsay McIntosh Conservative 10:28 am, 13th June 2002

I speak in support of my colleague Lord James Douglas-Hamilton's motion, which notes concerns about youth justice. Not unexpectedly—given that we are less than a year from the elections—politicians from most parties are upping the ante. I hasten to add that some are coming to the debate a little later than others; indeed, some are not coming to the debate at all, including the unnamed Liberal Democrat MSP who was quoted as saying that the coalition partner's policies were "absolute and total rubbish" and that they "can get stuffed". Oh, really? As I told the Minister for Justice in Aberdeen, it is possible to have too much of some people's company; perhaps that realisation is dawning on the coalition partners.

It has been clear to me for some time that the problem lies with hardcore repeat offenders—the mini crime waves who account for so much misery and destruction. Every one of us will have a story about them. A couple of weeks ago, I spent some time on a vehicle patrol shift with Strathclyde Police in Motherwell. I have to say that the acting divisional commander was very accommodating; in fact, he was so keen that I should see part of a typical night's work that I got the newest patrol car.

The greatest excitement was when we responded to a robbery-in-progress call at Fir Park stadium. The intruder, who was possibly a youngster, was suspected of being in the catering and hospitality outlets—the pies were at stake rather than the silverware. Almost every other call to which we responded involved youth disorder. I will give examples. There were youngsters with mini-motorbikes and trail bikes in a park. They were unlicensed, uninsured and unhelmeted. They knew exactly where they could ride to cause maximum disruption and torment to the local community and park users, who would tackle them at their peril. The two cops whom I accompanied commented that the youngsters see the police coming in their car to the surrounding barriers and know that the police cannot catch them on foot. The youngsters as good as thumbed their noses at the police, who can do little or nothing. Calls of complaint keep coming from the residents. What can be more soul destroying than that?

The number of youths loitering outside commercial and domestic premises with bottles of a locally popular elixir—Buckfast—was worse still. We saw and spoke to many of them crossing the pedestrian bridge and at Motherwell station. When they saw the car, they simply put their bottles down and walked away. Others were recognised by the police in a housing scheme that we happened to pass. They had cans of lager and bottles of tonic wine—I would say that they were uncorked, but the stuff comes in screwtop bottles. They were already well oiled and just short of getting lippy with the police. They were searched and questioned about their conduct and allowed to go on their way.

A larger group was assembled on the steps of a local church in a quiet residential area. At their feet were opened bottles and cans that belonged to no one in the group. They were also searched and questioned about their plans for the rest of the evening and they were moved on. The officers and I emptied the contents of the containers on to the grass purely as a safety measure, but that provoked sufficient back chat almost to justify lifting them. However, they knew just how much they could get away with. That is what the police must deal with on a daily basis. Most of those youngsters will graduate to become full-time nuisances but, as the cops said, a minority are saveable.

Safeguarding Communities and Reducing Offending in Scotland, youth justice services such as mediation services, restorative justice measures and victim awareness services could assist them; I have not turned my face away from the contribution that those could make, but what is the Executive's answer? It is an unreconstructed children's hearings system. What does it expect to achieve by that? The Executive has the opportunity to take action now through the Criminal Justice (Scotland) Bill if it is really committed to tackling the problem. Why wait for an election?

Photo of Paul Martin Paul Martin Labour 10:33 am, 13th June 2002

First, I want to comment on the so-called revolt against the Minister for Justice, Jim Wallace. My problem is not with Jim Wallace, but with the devastation that youth crime causes to every community in Scotland. We must consider proposed solutions to that problem.

I want to record in the Official Report that I have difficulties with some proposals in respect of the extension of the children's panel to 16-year-olds and 17-year-olds.

Photo of Alex Neil Alex Neil Scottish National Party

Perhaps the First Minister shares the member's concerns, which is why Mr Wallace was offered a different portfolio.

Photo of Paul Martin Paul Martin Labour

We should deal with the issue at hand and take politics out of the situation. We should bring forward solutions. I have shared with the Minister for Justice and the First Minister ideas from throughout the UK about how the problem can be tackled. The people of Glasgow Springburn and Scotland demand that possible solutions be suggested, rather than that we share stories of what is happening throughout Scotland. Many of us are well aware of the issues.

In England, there are child safety/parenting orders. Parents are required to attend parenting courses with their children. That is a fundamental issue and we must deal with it. We must consider ways in which to support parents who have difficulties with the social skills that are required to be parents. I am not a parent, but if I ever become one, I would be happy to attend a parenting course if I thought that it would be helpful. We must all consider supporting parents.

The acceptable behaviour concept—ABC—programme that was run in Islington should be considered. In that programme, the council and a police officer visit a home at an early stage of youth offending to meet the youth and his or her parents. A contract is set up to ensure that the youth's behaviour is corrected. If the contract is broken, the family's home could be taken from it. The project has been successful in Islington and we should consider it.

A fundamental problem that we face concerns information sharing. I have met Strathclyde police a number of times and have been told that information cannot be shared about juveniles who are causing tens of thousands of pounds worth of damage throughout the Glasgow City Council area. We should share information about persistent offenders in Scotland—that is considered to be good practice in England—and we should examine the Crime and Disorder Act 1998 to ensure that we can address that serious issue.

We should ensure that agencies work together. They talk a good game and many are interested in working together, but they do not form partnerships to ensure that effective and helpful intelligence is shared.

Agencies should also consider sharing premises. Why are social work offices disjointed from local police offices? Why are local housing associations disjointed from them? We should consider the concept of a police office, a social work office and a housing office sharing facilities in our communities. None of the agencies is considering that concept and the Executive should take a lead on the issue. Good ideas about good practice in our communities should be shared and we should ensure that we take the politics out of the matter and deliver for our local communities.

Photo of Kenneth Gibson Kenneth Gibson Scottish National Party 10:37 am, 13th June 2002

It is totally unacceptable that a minority of youths—only a minority are involved, as the minister pointed out—should inflict so much physical and psychological damage on communities and vulnerable people. Reports of youth disorder must be taken seriously and acted on swiftly. I am sure that all members know of elderly people who have contacted the police to report acts of vandalism or public drinking, only to receive a visit from the police as much as a day or two later.

It is somewhat crass of Liberal Democrat MSPs to impugn the motives of MSPs across the party divide on the issue. I say to George Lyon that if he had given the speech that he gave today at the meeting that Johann Lamont and I attended in Cardonald on 23 April, he would not have got out alive. MSPs from all parties acknowledge the real concerns of people in their communities, but the complacency of George Lyon and his colleagues should be condemned. The Labour party has a better grip on the issue than he and his colleagues do.

Long ago, the SNP recognised the need for an increased and more highly visible police presence. The north British parties have wrung their hands on that issue, but do not support the SNP's commitment to recruit another 1,000 police officers. This morning, even Lord James Douglas-Hamilton appeared to believe that redeployment is the solution rather than recruitment of more officers.

Photo of Kenneth Gibson Kenneth Gibson Scottish National Party

I will give way to the member in a second, as he had the courtesy to give way to me.

We said that we should move officers from less troubled areas to more troubled areas. That is happening in parts of Glasgow—Johann Lamont will know that that is happening in her constituency. However, the neds also move from one area to another. There must be an increased police presence throughout Scotland.

Photo of Lord James Selkirk Lord James Selkirk Conservative

We believe that in Scotland a substantial increase in the number of police officers is necessary in particular neighbourhoods. The increase will depend on local circumstances. Perhaps more or fewer than 1,000 officers will be needed. That requirement is absolutely necessary, but has not been delivered by the Administration to date.

Photo of Kenneth Gibson Kenneth Gibson Scottish National Party

I accept that that is not being delivered, but rather than producing guesswork, the Conservatives should examine the matter in more detail and suggest to Parliament—perhaps in their winding-up speech—what police numbers should be. We should, for example, at least have police forces that are fully up to strength.

Young people are more likely to be victims of crime than are other age groups. Young people have told me that if they play in their local park they often get victimised or attacked by gangs, who have travelled from far away. Lack of facilities for young people is an important issue. More than 100 community facilities have closed in Glasgow in the five years since new Labour came to power. That shows the low priority that the Government gives on young people in the city. An 800-house estate has been built in Crookston, but it has no play area for young children. That is storing up problems for the future, as the young people there will have nothing to do.

Children's panels have been discussed. There has, since 1990, been a year-on-year increase in referrals from 28,000 to 63,000, but resources have not kept pace. Incidentally, I say to Richard Simpson that those figures came from Jack McConnell. Because the children's panel has a backlog, some children do not go before the panel for several months, so they often do not realise why they are before it. They might have committed more offences and moved towards criminality in the intervening period.

I acknowledge the issues that Paul Martin raised. I believe that consideration should be given to what has been done in England and suggested in Scotland by the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities, such as bringing in youth anti-social behaviour orders. It is important that parents and young people are forced to consider youth disorder interactively. I certainly believe that the success of the projects in England should be examined and that they should be brought to Scotland.

I am aware of time constraints, Presiding Officer. Without further ado, I shall allow the next member to speak.

Photo of Murray Tosh Murray Tosh Conservative

That was very graciously done, Mr Gibson. I express my regrets to the two remaining members who wanted to make speeches in the open part of the debate, but I must now move to closing speeches.

Photo of Robert Brown Robert Brown Liberal Democrat 10:42 am, 13th June 2002

As members have said, there has been a lot of debate in recent weeks about youth crime. It is true that there are differences of throughout the chamber and among members—not necessarily between the parties—of the coalition parties in the chamber. That indicates that there is recognition of the seriousness of the problem and a desire to deal with it adequately. As Cathy Jamieson said, genuine public concern exists and it must be allayed.

Some people are frightened to go out of their houses. They have been assaulted or robbed, have had stones thrown through their windows or have had large groups of threatening youths in their streets. People with those experiences are not interested in statistics. They are not particularly interested in the facts that some members have gone on about, such as the reduction in the crime statistics and all the rest of it. They are not particularly interested in the competing claims about the numbers of police, although—to answer Kenny Gibson's point—police numbers are currently at their highest recorded level. It is not just a matter of police resources, although there are no doubt issues about deployment. People are concerned about their safety and that of their families and—understandably—they want something done about the problem.

Most youth crime is at the nuisance level. It is certainly alarming and concerning, but it is at such a level that very few of those concerned are likely to be locked up and the key thrown away. In any event, there is an 80 per cent reoffending rate for those who undergo custodial sentences, so custody does not work, except from the point of the view of the temporary protection of the public, and it is hugely expensive.

Other members have discussed issues that clearly exist about community policing, controlling disorder and catching offenders. I will concentrate in my summing up on how we deal with youth offending once we have caught the offenders.

I ask members to consider one or two other important factors. In the UK as a whole, more than 50 per cent of young men on remand have a diagnosable mental disorder. Another large-scale survey revealed that 90 per cent of imprisoned young offenders showed evidence of mental disorder or substance abuse. Although statistics are harder to come by in other areas, it is clear that many—if not most—significant repeat offenders can be identified before the age of eight because of serious care concerns about them as children and babies. Certain things follow from such statistics. It is increasingly evident that one component of youth offending is children whose parents have chaotic drug lifestyles. It follows from that that phrases such as "cracking down on young thugs" and "complete collapse of confidence in the system", which we have heard in recent weeks, are not helpful.

I applaud the Scottish Executive's commitment to tackling the causes of youth crime at its roots through measures such as early intervention, targeted responses, tackling truancy, involving victims, promoting good practice and investing in a network of community-based programmes. The centrepiece of that is the children's panel system, which has a child-centred ethos.

Photo of Johann Lamont Johann Lamont Labour

Does Robert Brown think that a young man of 17, who bullies and intimidates his own family and his community, regards himself as a child? Does Robert Brown regard him as a child?

Photo of Robert Brown Robert Brown Liberal Democrat

I regard him as a child. Much evidence exists of the problems that young people go through. We are rightly concentrating on the effects on communities. I accept that and I accept the evidence that members such as Paul Martin and Johann Lamont gave about the problems that they deal with in their constituencies.

Photo of Robert Brown Robert Brown Liberal Democrat

No. I want to continue.

Having got hold of the people who have the problems that Johann Lamont talks about, the problems must be tackled at source. Something must be done about them. The causes of their offending must be tackled and efforts must be made to sort it out. Intensive intervention is required at the right time, preferably long before such children reach the age of 17. There are serious problems in terms of the resources that the children's panel system has, or the resources that youth courts, adult courts or whatever would have to deal with those matters, so we must provide the resources. We must deal with the problem of the lack of social workers and we must deal with the fact that only 32 per cent of children in care in Glasgow have a care plan. That is against the background—of which we are aware—that the most significant amount of subsequent reoffending is among children who come out of care. Worries about resources must be tackled.

I have had to deal very quickly with some of the issues. I will finish by saying that we can create all we want about crime levels and all the rest of it, but we must tackle the matter at source. We must deal with the problems and the root causes and we must put in place mechanisms that will solve the problem. Let us get away from populist answers to the problem and deal with the central issues.

Photo of Michael Matheson Michael Matheson Scottish National Party 10:47 am, 13th June 2002

An interesting aspect of the debate is that it has illustrated the difference of opinion between the two Executive parties on how we should deal with youth crime.

A consistent theme has been concerns about the way in which the children's hearings system operates. Historically, our children's hearings system has been held up as an example that many other countries should seek to follow. It has served its purpose in a number of ways, but there is an increasing feeling that it is untouchable and that we should not change it. Our society was different when the children's hearings system was established and a clear need exists for us to address concerns about the way in which the system currently operates.

Johann Lamont highlighted a number of concerns about cases being marked "no progress", or cases not being referred to the children's panel. We have all witnessed the frustration of constituents who complain at our surgeries about what they see as the failure of the system to address the problem of persistent young offenders in our communities. We have also heard complaints from police officers. They become fed up when they lift people, the referral is passed on to the children's panel system and the case is marked "no progress". The problem demoralises communities, the people who are trying to improve their local environment and the police officers who are trying to address the concerns of the community. If we are to have an effective children's hearings system, it is essential that we move on and ensure that it reflects the complex problems that exist in our society.

A number of members have mentioned secure accommodation. Christine Grahame highlighted the concerns that have been expressed to the Justice 1 Committee and Justice 2 Committee about the lack of available places. It is unacceptable that young people are being placed in adult prisons. The most recent statistics that are available, for 2000, show that 14 under-16s were held in adult prisons. That is 14 too many. Last week in a meeting with me, the director of social work in Falkirk Council highlighted the problem of having to seek secure accommodation places in the north of England. That is unacceptable, because it breaks the family link for the individuals concerned.

Photo of Richard Simpson Richard Simpson Labour

I accept that 14 young people in adult prisons is too many. However, those young people are placed there for only a very short time, until they can be placed in secure accommodation; it is a holding situation. I accept that that is unacceptable, but in most instances it is for only a short time.

Photo of Michael Matheson Michael Matheson Scottish National Party

I acknowledge that it is for only a short time, but it is still unacceptable that any young people should find themselves in such an environment.

A colleague mentioned the provision of services at HM Young Offenders Institution Polmont. I visited there recently and, when I went into the metal workshop, I found the inmates playing cards because there was no work for them to do. If we are to address their offending behaviour through remedial programmes such as work provision in young offenders institutions, we must ensure that there is work for them to do.

Photo of Cathy Jamieson Cathy Jamieson Labour

Does Michael Matheson accept that some of the work that is being done at Polmont—especially on numeracy and literacy—and the employment of a youth worker at the prison have made a significant difference? Will he also accept that there should be more such joined-up working to meet the needs of young offenders and change their behaviour?

Photo of Michael Matheson Michael Matheson Scottish National Party

The throughcare provision at Polmont has improved considerably. However, when I met the director of social work of Falkirk Council, she highlighted her frustration at the on-going tendering process that the council must engage in with the SPS to provide social work services. I hope that we will see an end to that.

I am conscious of the time, but I want to mention programmes. Freagarrach has been mentioned as a programme that works with young offenders, and Paul Martin highlighted programmes that are being run in Islington. We hear often about programmes that operate effectively in communities, but the problem—similar to that which was identified in our debate about alternatives to custody—is that those programmes are not rolled out across the country. We must ensure that the success of Freagarrach is reflected in other parts of Scotland.

The programmes often deal with those who have committed offences. However, the Cluaran project in Falkirk is multi-agency based and involves community education, social work services and all the other services working together with families whose children are at risk of committing offences. The root causes of much youth offending are poverty and lack of opportunity. Unless we are willing to address the fundamental causes of the problem, youth crime will not be dealt with effectively. With child poverty increasing, the likelihood is that youth crime will, increasingly, be a problem in our society.

Photo of Richard Simpson Richard Simpson Labour 10:52 am, 13th June 2002

On the whole, the debate has been useful. Members have made many valuable points. We must take a cool and considered look at the problem. It is important that we do not talk about soft or hard alternatives; we need to talk about what is effective in addressing the problems that we face.

Roseanna Cunningham got it absolutely right when she talked about the problems of petty crime—graffiti, litter, eggs thrown against walls and balls kicked against windows—and the harassment and abuse that adults who remonstrate with offending youngsters experience. Such actions do not come through into the system as offending behaviour—that is one of the problems. They are not major offences, but youngsters who act in that way are committing offences against the society in which they live. They represent the sort of low-level problems that are sometimes not even logged by the police. If they are logged, they are not taken through the system. That is a problem.

At the other end of the scale, there is another problem to which George Lyon and James Douglas-Hamilton referred, which is the issue of serious and persistent offenders. The number of people who commit 10 or more offences has risen by 40 per cent in the past 10 years. We do not know whether those are repeated offences or a series of one-off offences—the statistics are not good enough to give us that information. To our Conservative colleagues, I say that the increase has been only 5 per cent since 1995 and that the bulk of that increase came during the last major recession in the Tory years. It is a problem that we must all now face and have to deal with. However, we should not deal with it through the use of secure accommodation. I thought that Michael Matheson's speech was excellent; I could not disagree with most of what he said. Nonetheless, to double the amount of secure accommodation is not the answer. That would cost between £10 million and £15 million a year to run, when the outcomes from secure accommodation are, to be frank, not much better than those from young offenders prisons. There would still be high levels of recidivism.

As Christine Grahame said, we must provide a range of accommodation and facilities—which must be mainly community based—such as the intensive supported fostering to which Liberal Democrat colleagues alluded and which is run by Barnardo's in my constituency. That initiative takes children who would have been placed in secure accommodation and keeps them in the community and in a family setting with massive support. Christine Grahame made a point about funding streams and funding arrangements; we are considering those. Several units are already separating young men and women, and we are beginning to address that issue.

We must re-examine carefully the secure accommodation system and consider what will work and what is appropriate. However, I do not think that the answer is to double the number of places in secure accommodation.

I have very little time and it is difficult to cover all the issues. Several members raised the issue of confidence in the hearings system and in the police, which is being eroded because of the problem level of petty offending to which I referred. At the moment, "no action" is recorded in 70 per cent of cases that are referred to the children's hearings system. However, that does not mean that no action is taken; it means that there is diversion by the reporter into programmes or referral to social work services. Indeed, even before young people enter the children's hearings system, there are police restorative justice systems. We have established a programme to develop restorative and reparative justice systems and 16 local authorities are carrying out mediation and reparation programmes.

Photo of Robert Brown Robert Brown Liberal Democrat

A particular difficulty seems to exist in Glasgow, where children's panels refer people back for hearings three months after the initial referral, in order to check that the social work and follow-up supervisions are in place. That is one of the difficulties that result from the lack of resources.

Photo of Richard Simpson Richard Simpson Labour

Kenny Gibson also mentioned the speed that is necessary in justice systems for young people. If they are to address their offending behaviour, they need to remember what their offending behaviour was. However, 60 per cent of those who are referred to the hearings system do not return to it; therefore, to say that it does not work is wrong. There is no doubt that we need to re-examine the system carefully, but we will have better information to allow us to do that.

To our Conservative colleagues, I say that there is little that a court can do that the children's hearings system cannot do by way of disposals—the difference between the two is minimal. We do not have time to debate the question of 16 and 17-year-olds, but I will go on record on two issues. First, I do not want a system in which the procurator fiscal and the reporter do not have the opportunity to discuss a case and decide on an individual's vulnerability. The people I want to see in the pilot schemes are vulnerable people, petty offenders and people who have significant problems that could be dealt with better in a family setting, with their family being brought together.

Secondly, although juvenile courts might be an alternative I inform our Conservative colleagues that the juvenile courts system in England is a disaster. Even with fast tracking, it is an absolute disaster, and they look with considerable envy at the hearings system, even with its flaws. England looks with considerable envy at our children's hearings system, despite its flaws. To suggest that courts are going to be the solution is not the answer.

I am out of time and I am sorry that I have not been able to address the points that were raised by other members. I conclude by saying that we must have effective programmes. There are lists of them; those that were brought to my attention by Paul Martin and Duncan McNeil when I visited their constituencies are excellent. We will examine what works and we will use programmes that work. We have given a commitment that by 2007—although that date might need to be reviewed—there will be programmes for every persistent offender. We will have evaluated those programmes and they will work. The Executive is committed to changing the situation. It has put considerable funds into that and will continue to do so. I urge members to support our amendment.

Photo of Bill Aitken Bill Aitken Conservative 10:59 am, 13th June 2002

Pauline McNeill said that there were no easy answers to the question that we are debating. However, the issue today is the questions that we should be asking. We should be asking questions that have a much sharper focus and are much more penetrative than they have been.

The bottom line is that the way in which we deal with young offenders is simply not working. Michael Matheson was right to point out that the children's hearings system, which, as I recall, was set up in 1968, comes to us from a much different era.

Photo of Bill Aitken Bill Aitken Conservative

But it was provided for in the Social Work (Scotland) Act 1968. In any event, it is of considerable antiquity.

For many years, to suggest that the system was other than the epitome of a successful system of juvenile justice was regarded as sacrilege. However, those who spent most of their time piling paeans of praise on to the system were those with a vested interest. Those who are the victims of the present upturn in youth crime view the system as totally inept in dealing with young offenders. In that respect, the emperor is seen to have no clothes.

The evidence that the Justice 2 Committee has been taking on the Criminal Justice (Scotland) Bill has demonstrated a disappointing set of statistics with regard to the efficacy of the children's hearings system, particularly on reoffending. The situation in Glasgow is particularly concerning. Mike Rumbles said that there had been a reduction in the number of cases in Glasgow, but the reason for that is that many cases of offending in Glasgow cannot get near the children's hearings system because of the under-resourcing of the social work department.

The frustrations that are attached to serving on a children's panel are well known. Members of children's panels give willingly of their time and resources. It is appalling that, every year, one in four of those members resigns because they are frustrated and disappointed, and feel that they are doing absolutely no good. We have to find out why they feel that the system is not effective.

Photo of Mike Rumbles Mike Rumbles Liberal Democrat

The member keeps referring to statistics, but he has not challenged the other statistics that I talked about. Those statistics show that the average number of offences per child has fallen from more than three to less than three in the past 10 years and that, on offence grounds, the children's referrals have fallen by 19 per cent.

Photo of Bill Aitken Bill Aitken Conservative

I do not know where Mr Rumbles got those figures from, but they contradict the evidence that was given at the Justice 2 Committee two weeks ago. I refer him to the Official Report of that meeting, in which he will see that the figures that he quotes do not agree with the ones that were given at that meeting under fairly close questioning.

I will outline our position on this matter quite clearly, as there have been attempts—sometimes deliberate and, on the part of the Liberal Democrats, malicious—to portray a Conservative position that simply does not exist.

We do not wish to string up youngsters by the thumbs. We do not wish them to have to face cruel and unusual punishments. All that we want is for them to stop committing crimes and offences. That is surely not too much to ask. To stop them committing crimes and offences, we seek to give added powers to the children's hearings system. Those powers would be realistic and acceptable to every member of the public. Is it wrong to expect those who have carried out acts of vandalism to rectify the damage that they have done? Is it wrong to suggest that after-hours and weekend detention might bring home to those who are prepared to commit disorder that their acts cannot go on? Is it wrong to suggest that parents should be forced to keep their children off the streets where there has been a record of disorder? It is not wrong. That is what we are saying, pure and simple.

Like a number of Labour members, we speak for communities. If the ministers are not prepared to take my advice or accept my evidence that, in many parts of Glasgow, people are living in a constant state of not only annoyance and irritation but downright fear and alarm, they should listen to Johann Lamont, Paul Martin and others. Those members are working in their constituencies and know the difficulties that are faced.

Photo of Cathy Jamieson Cathy Jamieson Labour

Does the member accept that the children's hearings system has powers to impose specific conditions in a supervision requirement order that would do most of the things that have been suggested? Systems such as those that require young people to attend supervised programmes after school, at weekends and in the holidays have been in existence for a number of years. We have allocated the appropriate resources to ensure that those programmes are available in each local authority area.

Photo of Bill Aitken Bill Aitken Conservative

I concede that some of the proposals are available, but the fact is that, due to the appalling lack of resources in the system, few of them are ever imposed.

As the debate has gone on, I have been appalled by the complacency that has been shown by the members on the Executive front bench, the vast majority of whom do not have a clue about what is going on. Ministerial visits to study police operations are always well guarded and secure, and the minister—accompanied by half a dozen civil servants—does not see what is going on. If ministers want to see what is really happening, they should leave the ministerial limo in the garage and travel on a Glasgow bus. Better still, they should walk the streets. I would be happy to provide a conducted tour for Jim Wallace or Richard Simpson through the streets of Glasgow to allow them to see the extent of the problem.

Photo of Richard Simpson Richard Simpson Labour

The member is being slightly unfair. Paul Martin and Duncan McNeil will tell him that, in the first two constituencies that I visited after becoming a minister, I walked the streets, I had no civil servants with me and I was not cordoned by police. What Bill Aitken is saying is completely untrue. In the next few weeks, I will visit a further three constituencies, where the same arrangements will pertain.

Photo of Bill Aitken Bill Aitken Conservative

I am pleased to hear that and I acknowledge what the minister says. However, I will not acknowledge that any action has been taken as a result of those visits. The ministers should speak to the victims.

Photo of Paul Martin Paul Martin Labour

When Richard Simpson visited the Dennistoun area of my constituency, he listened to the local people with regard to the matter that we are discussing. He advised me that he would write to me with proposed action for dealing with many of the points that were raised.

Photo of Bill Aitken Bill Aitken Conservative

I happily acknowledge those points, but we are still faced with a total lack of meaningful action or urgency.

The Liberal Democrats are beyond redemption on this issue and some of their comments demonstrate that they are wired to the moon. They should not be listened to, and I address my comments to those who have a more realistic grasp of what is happening.

If ministers have started walking the walk, they should stop talking the talk. They have to move forward. If they mean to do something about the problem, they should not include it in next year's election manifesto but amend the Criminal Justice (Scotland) Bill to introduce realistic disposals for the children's hearings system and dismiss the nonsensical idea that 17-year-old thugs should be dealt with as children. If that is done, perhaps we can start to make some progress.