Criminal Justice and Police Bill

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mr. Simon Hughes: These are important new clauses, although they are a self-contained group within the rest of the Bill—

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

7 pm

Sitting suspended.

8.30 pm

On resuming—

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

Mr. Clarke: Was the hon. Gentleman blasphemous?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 
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Prepared 6 March 2001