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Westminster Hall

Thursday 23 January 2003

[Sir Alan Haselhurst in the Chair]

Youth Policy

2.30 pm

Mr. Deputy Speaker : Order. This being this first session of questions in Westminster Hall, I have a short statement about the procedure that I intend to follow. As happens in the House, I will call each hon. Member with a question in turn; as in the House the hon. Member should rise and respond "Question No. 1," and so on. I will then call a Minister to answer.

This session is different from questions in the House, in that we have four Ministers here, from four different Departments. The House has decided that questions in Westminster Hall should relate to an overall "cross-cutting" theme—on this occasion, youth policy.

After the Minister's initial answer, I will call the hon. Member in whose name the question was tabled to ask a supplementary question. It may be that one of the other Ministers present will want to come in to answer that supplementary question, either instead of, or in addition to, the Minister giving the original answer.

I will then call other hon. Members to ask supplementary questions, including, on some questions, Opposition Front Benchers. I may also call an hon. Member to ask a second supplementary question if I deem it appropriate.

Hon. Members should remember, however, that this is a question and answer session and not a series of mini-debates. I expect Ministers' answers and supplementary questions to be short and to the point. I hope to achieve a free-flowing exchange to allow us to make good progress through the Order Paper in the hour allotted to questions.

This is a novel procedure and I seek the co-operation of all hon. Members to help to make it a useful addition to our procedures for holding the Government to account. It is, inevitably, experimental at this stage. I do not intend any precedents to be set by my rulings today—except brevity—and I will be happy to receive, privately, any suggestions from colleagues for modifications.

I remind hon. Members too that sittings in Westminster Hall are governed by the same conventions concerning behaviour and mode of address as in the Chamber.

2.34 pm

Sitting suspended for a Division in the House.

2.48 pm

On resuming—

Mr. Deputy Speaker : Order. I had better mention that all the microphones are live, so it would be helpful if

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there were no background conversation to interrupt the main proceedings. I re-emphasise my point about brevity in case anyone has forgotten it in the past 18 minutes. Although it will become obvious later, for the convenience of hon. Members I shall tell them now that Question 5 will be answered with Question 3 and Question 10 will be answered with Question 9.

Oral Answers to Questions

The Government were asked—


1. Simon Hughes (Southwark, North and Bermondsey): What assessment the Government have made of the impact on reducing re-offending by young people of participation in schemes promoted or supported by the Youth Justice Board.[91805]

The Minister for Policing, Crime Reduction and Community Safety (Mr. John Denham) : The reconviction rates of offenders dealt with in July 2000, just after the national introduction of the main reform measures, were reduced by 14 per cent. compared with 1997.

A range of YJB funded programmes are also being evaluated. The results include a 25 per cent. reduction in re-offending following education, training and employment programmes, a drop of 29.5 percentage points in children offending after their parents had been on parenting programmes, and on the nine-month intensive supervision and surveillance programme pilot a drop from 160 to 47 offences.

Simon Hughes : It is a great pleasure to ask the first supplementary question. We all accept the success of the Youth Justice Board. Its programmes have been widely welcomed. Will the Minister guarantee that the funding will not only continue, but be extended for the splash programme, the youth inclusion programme, the intensive supervision and surveillance programme and, above all, the youth service, which has been badly cut back over the past decade? If funding is there, we know how to give youngsters positive alternatives to antisocial behaviour and boredom.

Mr. Denham : The YJB programme has been successful, although I do not have the details regarding that. We intend to repeat last summer's very successful programme of youth activities, and to do that in a way that frees money and brings it together into a single pot for local authorities and agencies to use.

We have already guaranteed the future of the youth inclusion programmes, which have been very successful in helping young people in high crime areas. I hope that we will shortly be able to give more details about the extension of the intensive supervision and surveillance programmes, which are effective in keeping young people out of custody and out of trouble.

The Under-Secretary of State for Education and Skills will talk about the youth service.

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The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education and Skills (Mr. Ivan Lewis) : One of the problems in taking an integrated approach to the needs of young people has been the underfunding and undervaluation of the youth service over many years. A new vision for youth services and an understanding of how those services and others—such as Connexions—connect together are fundamental to achieving many of our objectives in respect of education, performance, antisocial behaviour, street crime and so forth.

Julie Morgan (Cardiff, North): Because of the devolution to Wales of many matters that affect young people who offend, it is important that there are close links between the different Government Departments and between the Government and the Assembly in Wales. What progress is being made on an all-Wales youth offending strategy involving the YJB, and what is the value of such a strategy?

Mr. Denham : I will have to get back to my hon. Friend about our position on an all-Wales strategy, but it is important that people can see that the YJB has a strategy that ties in well with the other agencies that work with young people to reduce crime.

We liaise well with the Assembly: for example, the equivalent of an English regional crime reduction director is based in, and works with, the Assembly and helps to link the work of the local community safety partnerships with the YJB and other organisations. There is value in having coherent policies. I will write to my hon. Friend about the matter.

Mr. James Paice (South-East Cambridgeshire): Conservative Members welcome this opportunity to cross-question Ministers—in this case, on youth policy.

Against a background of a huge increase in the number of persistent young offenders, the work of the YJB is essential; its great value has been mentioned. The Minister referred to intensive supervision and surveillance programmes, which are a step in the right direction. I understand that Oxford university is assessing those programmes and analysing their benefit. There is doubt about whether 25 hours over three months is adequate contact time, but we need to see the results. When does the Minister expect to hear from Oxford university? Will he be publishing that report?

Mr. Denham : The intensive supervision and surveillance programme is aimed at the 3 per cent. of young people who are estimated to commit about 25 per cent. of all crime. It is not the case that we have necessarily had a rise in the number of persistent young offenders. According to the figures that we have, the reconviction rate has fallen. The Oxford university study must be long term if its full effects are to be seen. It will be available in 2004. The interim assessment has shown a drop in the number of offences from 160 to 47 among young people involved in the programme. This is not just a matter of contact time, which is rather more extensive than the hon. Gentleman suggests. Offenders are also tagged and subject to curfew, so there is a

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mixture of intensive engagement and some limits on freedom, and the expense and problems that arise from young offenders institutions are avoided.

Mr. Paice : May I turn the Minister's attention to the issue of funding, which was touched on by the Liberal Democrat spokesman? I visited a youth improvement programme this morning. One of the facts that came through loud and clear was that although those involved welcomed the decision to extend the programme for another three years—we, too, are pleased with that decision—there is such a disparate range of sources of funds and requirements that the bureaucracy being imposed on those involved, who are basically youth workers, is insufferable. One such worker told me that they had turned down £150,000 because the bureaucratic burden that went along with the job in question did not make it worth while.

It is sensible to have a range of programmes. However, will the Minister consider whether he can bring together the various bodies—some charitable, some publicly funded—that are funding the programmes, whether they provide core funds or extra money? Could we put all the money together, so that those involved with programmes could concentrate on bidding in the first place and on dealing with youths, rather than constantly filling in forms and meeting different requirements for different forms of assessment?

Mr. Denham : That is a good point. Last summer, we increased the number of young people involved in summer activities from 25,000 to more than 90,000, but that was done at a great pace and involved some 12 different streams of money. Much work has been done, led by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, to bring that money together into a single pot—or as close as a single pot as we can get—so that it is much easier to administer next year. Much the same principles should apply to the youth inclusion programmes, for which there may be funding from the lottery, local authorities or the neighbourhood renewal fund. Bringing the sums together is a major exercise, but I accept the hon. Gentleman's point and we are working hard on it.

Mr. Hilton Dawson (Lancaster and Wyre): Given the lamentable re-offending rates of those leaving young offenders institutions, would not the best idea to reduce youth offending be to ensure that the vast majority of young offenders did not go into custody? Given the recent decision of the High Court in relation to the application of the Children Act 1989 to young offenders institutions, what work is the Youth Justice Board doing to ensure that all young people who are locked up are supported by the provisions of the 1989 Act, and treated as children rather than criminals?

Mr. Denham : On the first point, the vast majority of young offenders do not go into custody. For every 100 young offenders, no more than four will go into custody. One reason for expanding the intensive supervision and surveillance programme is that it is targeted at a group of young people who might otherwise go into custody. If current success rates are repeated, the programme will have the benefit of protecting the public and being a satisfactory way of dealing with young people who have been carrying out serious crimes. However, there always

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will be some young people from whom the community needs to be protected. Every young offenders institution has a child protection co-ordinator and has established a child protection committee, and is in contact with the local area child protection committee structure, so there is a system for integrating what is happening in young offenders institutions with wider child protection arrangements.

Jonathan Shaw (Chatham and Aylesford): The hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Simon Hughes) referred to the good work of the Youth Justice Board and mentioned some of its successes, one of which is its work with parents of young offenders. Is the Department for Education and Skills thinking about that work and considering working with the parents of young people who are truanting? Those young people often get involved in crime. Is there to be any debate on the lessons learned from the work of the Youth Justice Board?

Mr. Denham : Yes. We are looking at that while we draw up a new Green Paper on young people at risk. One of the things that we discovered was that parents who are required to attend parenting classes often react, after a time, by asking why the support was not offered before their children were in serious trouble. We are examining ways in which we can extend parenting support at an earlier phase of a child's life and give support to parents earlier. Money for families is available in the spending review from the parenting fund, and the Secretary of State for Education and Skills has talked about facilities at school to develop parenting contracts as a way of agreeing with parents how they can support the work done with their children. There will be more to come in the area that my hon. Friend talked about.

Mr. Deputy Speaker : Order. It is not habitually the case that Ministers of the Crown are at a disadvantage, but I am advised that their microphones are dead. If they could use their own amplification, it would help those who are reporting our proceedings.

Drug Education

2. Jim Dobbin (Heywood and Middleton): What steps the Government are taking to improve drug education among young people.[91806]

The Minister of State, Department of Health (Jacqui Smith) : To protect young people from problematic drug use we must make sure that all young people, particularly the most vulnerable, have access to credible drug education and information.

Almost all schools now have a drug education policy in place and Ofsted reports that the quality of drug education in the classroom is improving year on year. Investment in training programmes for teachers and Connexions advisers, and the national healthy school standard are all providing an important boost to drug education. To build on improvements already made, the Government are implementing a five-year evaluation and research programme called Blueprint.

Jim Dobbin : Is the Minister aware of the excellent work that takes place in the voluntary sector on drug

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awareness in schools? An example of an organisation that does such work is the North-West Life Education Trust, which is funded by Rotary International in Great Britain and Ireland. It has put together an interesting programme of visits that take place throughout my constituency and Rochdale's local education authority area.

Jacqui Smith : Yes, my hon. Friend makes an important point. We recognise that the voluntary sector's contribution can be important in developing drug education. When young people are asked what they want from drug education, they often express an interest in using external visitors, for example. We welcome that contribution. We are aware of the work of Life Education Centres and its chief executive is represented on the advisory group for the Blueprint programme that I mentioned earlier. It is up to local schools to determine the extent to which their drug education policies use outside organisations and voluntary organisations. I certainly believe, and research suggests, that effective drug education is best provided by a partnership involving teachers, parents, voluntary organisations and pupils themselves in order to determine the programmes.

Mr. John Redwood (Wokingham): Are the Government giving consideration to, or undertaking studies on, cannabis liberalisation and the liberalisation of other so-called "soft" drugs?

Jacqui Smith : As I think the right hon. Gentleman is aware, research is being conducted on the health effects of using cannabis with regard to certain illnesses. The Government's position is now clear. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has proposed the reclassification of cannabis. The message for young people remains clear: cannabis is a harmful drug and taking cannabis is illegal—our drug education programmes are based on that message. We must also recognise that programmes should be credible and honest about relative health problems associated with different drugs. It is important that we continue to focus our attention and targets on ensuring that we reduce the use of class A drugs, which are clearly the most harmful drugs.

Mr. Lindsay Hoyle (Chorley): I wonder what role sports stars and sporting clubs could play in the fight for drug education. Could that role be further extended through schools in the future?

The Minister for Sport (Mr. Richard Caborn) : I think that my hon. Friend knows about the World Anti-Doping Agency. UK Sport signed off a memorandum of understanding supporting the agency in Moscow only a few weeks ago. UK Sport now has information available on its website or by other means. It is doing everything that it can to show the harmful effects of drugs and doping. We are trying to eradicate the use of drugs in competition, because it is cheating. We want to rid sport of cheating.

Mr. David Rendel (Newbury): The Minister will be aware that one drug kills more people than any other. That drug is tobacco, which kills roughly 300 people a

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day. Is the Minister aware that one in four young people can become addicted to tobacco after sampling just two or three cigarettes? Would it not improve education in our schools if the message to young people were not so much "Do not smoke" as "Do not even start smoking because you may become addicted very quickly"?

Jacqui Smith : The hon. Gentleman raises an important point that is being reflected in guidance and practice. We need to take a broad approach that covers illegal drugs as well as tobacco and alcohol. The Government are concerned about young people taking up smoking because of the problems that that can lead to in later life. That is why many of our education programmes deal with the harm that tobacco can do; it is also why we are taking action on banning tobacco advertising.

Youth Services

3. Phil Hope (Corby): What action is being taken to improve the statutory and voluntary youth service.[91807]

5. Alan Simpson (Nottingham, South): What assessment the Government have made of the need for a statutory policy for youth services.[91809]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education and Skills (Mr. Ivan Lewis) : On 18 December 2002, I published the Government's reform and investment plan for youth services and youth work over the next five years in a document entitled "Transforming Youth Work—Resourcing Excellent Youth Services". The document sets out, for the first time, the Government's vision for high quality, well managed and properly resourced services. It is an excellent document and I will circulate it to all hon. Members in the next fortnight.

Additional investment over the next three years means that there is now no excuse for local authorities to cut youth service budgets. Indeed, we expect to see significant increases in spending year on year.

The document also sets out, for the first time, a legislative basis to give the Secretary of State the power to intervene when a local authority is clearly failing to provide an acceptable level of service. He will not hesitate to use that power in circumstances where young people are being short-changed.

Phil Hope : May I record my support for this unique parliamentary occasion? It demonstrates that the whole House is committed to young people.

We would all agree that the youth service has been neglected for decades, under successive Governments. I very much welcome the document that was published in December. It was also welcomed by youth services and one leading practitioner described it as a "landmark document" and possibly the most important for 40 years. That is a tribute to the Government's proposals for the future. The document contains an excellent structure for better delivery of youth services, but when will we see a step-by-step implementation plan? Is the

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Minister confident that local authorities that have failed to spend on youth services in the past will deliver the kind of expenditure called for in the document?

Mr. Lewis : I would like to begin by paying tribute to my hon. Friend. Over the years, even when it has not been fashionable, he has been among the most passionate advocates of youth services.

For the first time, this framework allows us to tell local authorities what we expect of them. If local authorities are not delivering the high quality services that young people deserve, we will have the power to intervene. We will not hesitate to do that if we feel that local authorities are not providing an adequate or sufficient youth service. We believe that the resources that we are investing give local authorities no excuse.

My hon. Friend asked about implementation. When we produce strategies, the main issue is to get the delivery right. People in communities up and down the country—especially young people—must start to see a tangible improvement in the quality of services to which they have access. Every local authority will be required to produce a pledge to young people, setting out what young people in their area can expect. That pledge should involve young people in the development of services. There should be an approach to community cohesion that brings together young people from different cultures and backgrounds, so that we can build positive relationships.

We also want to see far more intergenerational work. One of the sadnesses in many communities is the breakdown in relationships between old and young. We are going to come forward with proposals on those issues—a new curriculum for youth work, the contribution of Connexions and, most important, the commitment to engaging with the voluntary and community sectors.

We must make it clear that local authorities cannot do it on their own. They have to make best use of innovative and imaginative voluntary organisations, which are particularly good at getting to some of the hard-to-reach people who find it difficult to access statutory services. At a national level, our priority for next year is to develop a substantive work force development strategy. We know that we have major recruitment and retention problems, and it is vital that we have highly skilled, highly qualified, high quality people on the front line of youth services, both as youth workers and in management positions.

Alan Simpson : I welcome the increased clarity of directions and resources that we are offering local authorities. However, we are ducking the central problem—the failure of Governments to place youth services on a statutory basis. It has always been one of the softer targets—one of the services that local authorities can cut. We would be better advised to grasp the nettle and place youth services on a statutory footing. Perhaps we should follow the lead of the French authorities, which have an audit duty; they have at least to define the range and condition of sports and leisure amenities available to the youth in their areas. Without such an audit, we do not even know the amenity base that we are working from.

Mr. Lewis : A central part of our strategy is that, for the first time, we have defined adequate and sufficient

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services in a range of areas. Now that we have done that, existing legislation gives the Secretary of State the power to intervene and direct local authorities that are not providing an adequate youth service either to provide those services themselves or to insist that another organisation better able to do so take over that responsibility. The proposals in the document effectively put youth services on a statutory footing for the first time. It gives us the power to intervene and direct; we hope that we do not have to use the power, but we shall not hesitate to use it if local authorities that are now being given significantly more resources for youth services fail to fulfil their responsibilities to young people.

Bob Spink (Castle Point): Is the Minister aware of the youth service policy, and does he agree with it, of having an arbitrary age limit of 25 years old, which excludes people from some clubs? Some of those with severe learning difficulties who are excluded have come to rely on those clubs or social activities; indeed, they bring an awful lot to the clubs by their attendance. Does the Minister agree that their arbitrary exclusion should be avoided, so that they can continue to bring something to the clubs? Is that not an area where common sense rather than prescription would be the best policy?

Mr. Lewis : I empathise with the point made by the hon. Gentleman. Before being elected to Parliament, I spent many years working with people who had learning disabilities. The point is particularly relevant, although I have to say that the idea of 25-year-old adults attending youth activities is entirely inappropriate and unacceptable. We must have leisure activities that are appropriate for their age.

I understand how people can feel if a service is withdrawn or if, as they get older, they no longer have access to the same quality of life support that they previously enjoyed. I understand carers' concerns about that, but the challenge is to create age-appropriate services that give those with learning disabilities the opportunity to fulfil their potential and to participate in a mainstream way in the life of their local community.

Mr. Deputy Speaker : Order. I have a short administrative announcement. Would Ministers please move two places to their right?


4. Mr Andrew Miller (Ellesmere Port & Neston): What plans the Government have to promote active citizenship among young people.[91808]

The Minister for Policing, Crime Reduction and Community Safety (Mr. John Denham) : The Government are committed to enabling our young people to voice their views and to take a full and active part in society. We are already encouraging young people to become more involved in the life of their schools and communities through a number of measures. Statutory citizenship education, which was introduced into the national curriculum last September, encourages young people to consider social and moral responsibility, community involvement and political literacy. The millennium volunteers programme offers young people a practical opportunity to get involved in

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their communities. Government Departments have made a commitment to involve young people in the development and design of their services and policies.

The UK Youth Parliament is also an excellent means of encouraging young people to be more aware of democracy and citizenship. I know that some members of the UKYP are here with us today. I am pleased to be able to announce that the Government will provide continued funding for UKYP next year at an enhanced level—tangible evidence of our commitment to encouraging active citizenship among young people.

We have done substantial work on getting young people involved and that is linked directly to new initiatives by the Electoral Commission to encourage young people to vote and to ensure that they are on the voting lists.

Mr. Miller : I welcome my hon. Friend's response. However, there are different problems in different parts of the country, reflecting the varying sizes and structures of local authorities. In my own local authority, which is a small district council, a great deal of positive work is being done to promote youth council work. It has been a tremendous success. Sadly, I have yet to find a little pot of gold that I can tap into—and I am looking at four here—to assist in the development of that programme. It is working. Those of us who represent constituencies that are a considerable distance from London find it very difficult to bring parties of young people down here. The Government should consider that problem. As my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Education and Skills said, local authorities cannot do those things on their own; they need help. I hope that the Government will consider that very carefully.

Mr. Denham : We need to be clear about what can be funded. Some activities are the responsibility of the Government to fund. For example, we will be funding the UK Youth Parliament with £110,000 of core funding. We will be providing £55,000 to support regional development, as we recognise that not everybody can partake in national activities.

I am strongly of the view that local youth councils and local youth forums should not be merely an add-on to local authority activity. Local authorities deliver services that will affect young people, and those services will be better if they consult the young people at whom they are aimed. It is unreasonable to expect central Government to pay for the development of local plans; we expect local authorities to do that as part of their business. Local authorities should build in support for youth participation and consultation during every working day rather than do it when there is an extra pot of money available.

Matthew Green (Ludlow): May I, on behalf of the Liberal Democrats, welcome these cross-cutting youth questions? It is a very positive way of re-engaging young people with the political process. The Minister wishes to promote active citizenship, but what would he say to a 16 or 17-year-old who is in work and paying income tax, national insurance and council tax but who cannot vote for the politicians who set those taxes?

Mr. Denham : I would say to the hon. Gentleman and to the representatives of the Conservative party that

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there has been consultation with young people on the voting age. It should be for the Electoral Commission to decide whether it wants to review independently the arguments for and against a change in the voting age. Several issues must be considered. One is rights, which affect how the question is framed, but we must also consider whether a change in voting age would make a significant difference to the declining participation of young people in the electoral process. We will consider all these matters when the Electoral Commission launches its consultation next month. I know that many young people will take an interest.

Claire Ward (Watford): Voting is just one of the responsibilities involved in active citizenship. Will the Minister review the ages at which children acquire rights to a range of things in Britain? On the national Youth Parliament and the Government's support for it, will the Minister and the Under-Secretary of State for Education and Skills ensure that all schools actively promote the opportunity for their pupils to vote in the elections for members of the Youth Parliament?

Mr. Denham : We would strongly encourage all schools and all local education authorities to do that—the level of involvement and commitment across the country is varied—and to do so in a way that represents a form of a democratic election. Within the last year, we have taken the powers to give statutory guidance to schools and school governors on how they should involve and listen to young people in the management of schools, sometimes by schools councils, sometimes in other ways. I would pushing the boundaries of this Question Time if I were to answer the wider question of whether there should be a total review of everything, from when somebody can drive to when they can pay tax, or own a firearm.

Mr. Charles Hendry (Wealden): Does the Minister agree that the Connexions service, which the Government set up to give young people advice, can play an important role in helping young people to become active citizens, by giving them information on volunteering opportunities? If so, does he share the concerns of many voluntary organisations that are increasingly frustrated by the fact that Connexions makes it harder to give such advice, because it acts as a block on their work? Can he confirm that, although the two are expected to work in partnership, this year Connexions has a budget of £334 million, yet it spent only £2 million with voluntary organisations? How do the Government think that they can encourage young people to get involved in more voluntary activity, when they are so evidently failing to develop a partnership with the voluntary sector?

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education and Skills (Mr. Ivan Lewis) : The hon. Gentleman makes an important point about the benefits of getting young people involved in active citizenship through voluntary work, and there is a consensus on that in the House. He did not refer to the millennium volunteers project, which the Government introduced, and which has been an incredible success in getting young people under 16 involved in voluntary work, and continuing with that voluntary work in later life.

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I agree that the Connexions service is a vital new youth service that, through work with other youth services, has the potential to transform the opportunities available to young people. It can provide universal high quality advice, information and guidance to young people, work in a more intense way with young people with serious problems who need a lot of support and mentoring assistance, and ensure that such young people have access to the right specialist services.

I share the hon. Gentleman's view on the Connexions service's engagement with the voluntary sector. There were difficulties in the early days, although Connexions has not been going very long. That is why we recently issued clear guidance to all the Connexions partnerships about how they are expected to work and engage with voluntary and community-based organisations. I shall monitor those partnership relationships and expect to see tangible improvement in the engagement between the partnerships and the voluntary organisations.

Dr. Phyllis Starkey (Milton Keynes, South-West): One aspect of active citizenship, as the Minister said, is having one's voice heard in the services that affect one. Will the Health Minister say what steps are being taken to ensure that young people's voices as patients and carers are heard through the forums?

The Minister of State, Department of Health (Jacqui Smith) : My hon. Friend makes an important point that is linked to the point made earlier that we should engage young people in the mainstream of public service development. She rightly referred to developments in the health service, such as the setting up of the commission for patient involvement and the patient forum, which are to be set up in every trust. We have already ensured that the consideration of how young people can be engaged in that work is an important priority for that commission. I expect to see efforts made in those patient forums to ensure that young people get a direct voice. We are now considering what we need to do nationally to ensure that there is a young people's voice in that commission for patient involvement. That will ensure that their voice can be heard.

My hon. Friend also mentioned young carers. Some important work is being supported by both the Government's carers initiative and local schemes to ensure that young carers benefit from the increased investment, and that their voices are heard alongside those of other carers. That work also includes giving advice to schools on identifying and supporting young carers in their important role.

Sport Action Zone (Stoke-on-Trent)

6. Ms Joan Walley (Stoke-on-Trent, North): What progress has been made in involving young people in a sport action zone in Stoke-on-Trent.[91810]

The Minister for Sport (Mr. Richard Caborn) : I had the opportunity to visit my hon. Friend's constituency to discuss the sport action zone. As she knows, Sport England, which is the Government's agent, is working on 18 further schemes. Twelve schemes are already operational, and a further 18 will be rolled out in the not-too-distant future.

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Sport England has been working closely with Stoke-on-Trent city council and the strategic partnership to develop a bid for the whole of Stoke. As my hon. Friend knows, there are two contenders for the region, and I understand that Stoke is making a strong case.

Ms Walley : I thank my right hon. Friend for that reply, and I hope that our bid will be even stronger as a result of this debate. We are desperately in need of extra support in meeting the city's health needs, although extra work is being done on employment and skills. We feel that the power of sport could transform the aspirations of the people of Stoke-on-Trent.

Will the Government look urgently at the merits of our case? We must encourage people to aim high, and sport can bring about a transformation. However, I am concerned because there has been a moratorium on decisions by Sport England since we submitted our bid last November. We had expected a result in January, but we understand that no further decisions will be made until April, because of the regional bodies that have been set up. Please can we have a decision—and the right one—as soon as possible?

Mr. Caborn : The new chairman of Sport England, Patrick Carter, has asked that there be no further expenditure for the next three months so that the organisation can take a total view. However, I do not believe that the sport action zones are under threat, and I hope that answers will be made available around April.

The involvement of young people in the Stoke-on-Trent scheme is important, and I commend the consultation. Young people have developed the scheme through a young people's local strategic partnership. Two of those young people will be on the main local strategic partnership, which is making the bid to Sport England.

There have been wide consultations with young people, which have been extremely well received. One of the scheme's dimensions therefore relates very much to young people. Indeed, in the real world, and in a practical way, the scheme is very much aimed at the young people of Stoke-on-Trent.

Mr. Malcolm Moss (North-East Cambridgeshire): Whether or not Stoke-on-Trent's bid is successful, sport action zones are a potential success. There are also encouraging early results from the Youth Justice Board's splash scheme, which shows a 5.2 per cent. reduction in youth crime in the participating areas. Has the Department factored those things into the cost-benefit analysis of bringing the Olympics to this country?

Mr. Deputy Speaker : Order. I remind the Minister that we are talking about Stoke-on-Trent.

Young Prisoners

7. Mr. Paul Burstow (Sutton and Cheam): What the Government's policy is on children in prisons.[91811]

The Minister for Policing, Crime Reduction and Community Safety (Mr. John Denham): With the support of the Youth Justice Board, the Government have provided a wide range of alternative sentences for

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juveniles and young offenders, including community sentences. However, the most serious or persistent young offenders should receive a custodial sentence.

The Prison Service has created discrete juvenile institutions, which are for juveniles only. There are also juvenile units in young offenders institutions. As a matter of policy, juveniles and adults are separated in Prison Service establishments. A small number of juveniles may, on occasion, be held outside juvenile institutions for security or medical reasons, or to be close to court. Where possible, they will be held separately from adults.

Mr. Burstow : I am grateful to the Minister. He will know that over the past 10 years the number of children in custody in adult prisons has doubled. The figure today stands at 2,609. He will also be aware of the report "Safeguarding Children" by the joint inspectors, which expressed many concerns about young offenders institutions. Can he and his colleague from the Department of Health comment on the situation since the judgment by the court in respect of the judicial review called by the Howard League? What extra steps are the Government taking to tackle what Mr. Justice Mumby described as

of children, to ensure that all children enjoy their United Nations convention rights? The judge in that case predicted that it was only a matter of time before there was a successful challenge under the human rights legislation. Can he comment on those matters, particularly in the light of the fact that it appears that the Home Office and the Department of Health do not have the same view about whether the Children Act 1989 applies within prisons?

Mr. Denham : There are two points there. It is misleading to talk about the number of young people in adult prisons without allowing for the segregation of those young people from adults. The number of young people who may mix with adults—meaning 18-year-olds and 19-year-olds—is much smaller than the figure that he gave. There is a small number of cases, for example, in the mother and baby unit at Holloway, in which young women may mix with older women. It is wrong to give the impression that there is a routine mixing of juveniles with ordinary adult offenders in our prisons. That is not the case.

Mr. Justice Mumby made it clear that one phrase in the guidance said that the Children Act did not apply. He was right to say that that was wrong in law. He also recognised that the philosophy of the guidance concerning young people in the prison system was in line with the aims of the Children Act. Child protection committees are in place, and we are training our staff. We are linking into social services work with young offenders. Some practical issues have to be tackled. If somebody is, say, 200 miles away from his home area—he might be there particularly to ensure that he is in a juvenile institution and not in an adult prison—it is difficult for there to be the necessary practical working links with the social services. We know that improvements are needed, but a substantial commitment has already been made and we shall build on that, following the judgment.

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Vernon Coaker (Gedling): As co-Chair of the United Kingdom Youth Parliament, some of the members of which are here, I welcome this session and the Minister's comment about funding—it is very good news. Can I ask the Minister about young people and children in prison? We are locking more and more young people up, for longer and from an earlier age. While that makes us appear tough, the re-offending rate is something that we are all concerned about. Can the Minister describe further what happens in prison to encourage those young people to turn away from crime and to reduce their re-offending? What structures are in place to support those young people and their families when they leave prison after three or four months and to stop them from going straight back into a life of crime?

Mr. Denham : We are aiming to improve the quality of the education and training that is provided in young offenders institutions. There is a new senior post of head of learning and skills in each establishment, and special educational needs co-ordinators and learning support assistants have been appointed on a ratio of one assistant for every ten prisoners. Each young person has an entitlement of 30 hours' education, training and personal development activity per week, as recommended by the social exclusion unit in its report "Bridging the Gap".

We have concentrated on basic skills. Many of those in young offenders institutions lack the most basic literacy and numeracy skills, and people in those institutions should receive recognition for their achievements—

Mr. Deputy Speaker : Order. Could the Minister speak up? He is not being heard at the back.

Mr. Denham : Some 2,000 young offenders achieved successes in basic literacy and numeracy skills last year. Those improvements in education within the service are enormously important. Equally important is the target that we have set to ensure that 90 per cent. of all young people coming out of custody are engaged in education, training or employment by April 2004. We expect not just those in the young offenders institutions but the youth offending team and the Connexions service to work with those young offenders to ensure that we have a high rate of successful placements when people come out of institutions.

Tim Loughton (East Worthing and Shoreham): We have heard that the number of children in prison has increased in 10 years from 1,328 to more than 2,600. Why does the Minister think that that has happened? Is it because we are better at apprehending young offenders? Is it because they are committing more serious offences—or is it because we are becoming worse at providing other and more appropriate forms of care and custody?

Mr. Denham : There are several reasons why the number of young people receiving custodial sentences is increasing. There has undoubtedly been an upward trend over a long period in the more serious forms of offending by young people. There are two ways in which to reduce the trend, the first of which is the development of successful alternatives to custodial sentences. We

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spoke earlier about intensive supervision and surveillance programmes targeted on those who would otherwise receive custodial sentences.

However, more preventive work must be done. In the majority of cases in which 15-year-olds were sent to young offender institutions there were signs much earlier in their lives—sometimes as early as five, six or seven years old—when they fell behind with literacy at school. No Government have succeeded in such early prevention, but I hope that the Green Paper on children at risk to be published in the spring will show the way forward.

New Deal

8. Mr Graham Brady (Altrincham & Sale West): If the Government will make a statement on the new deal for young people.[91812]

The Minister for Sport (Mr. Richard Caborn) : The new deal is providing individual young people with support to help them back into the world of work, such as education and so on. By the end of last September, 400,000 young people had moved into work since 1997.

Mr. Brady : I am sure that the Minister knows that one in four of the jobs provided to young people from the new deal has finished before its 13th week. One of the new deal's problems has been the failure to provide lasting long-term employment. He will also know that, in the second year of the new deal—in April 2000—45,930 young people had been through the new deal, and not just once—they had gone back into it. A revolving door had been established that was keeping people out of the unemployment figures, but they were not being provided with long-term work. Can he give me the up-to-date figure of how many young people have been through the new deal for young people twice, three times or more? How many of them have been through the new deal for young people and subsequently through the new deal 25-plus?

Mr. Caborn : The question shows a weakness in the arrangements, because such matters are not a departmental responsibility of the Ministers present today. I will write to the hon. Gentleman when I receive such information.

The new deal has been a great success. I represent an inner-city constituency, and the rate of unemployment of its young people has been reduced considerably. Furthermore, 79 per cent. of young people who have entered the new deal for a second time face long-term employment prospects. It has reduced the unemployment level of young people to the lowest level since the 1970s. By any standards, that must be successful. There can be argument about the statistics, but the hon. Gentleman is denigrating a highly successful scheme. Many young people have been given an opportunity in life that they would not have received, had it not been for the new deal.

3.39 pm

Sitting suspended for a Division in the House.

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3.51 pm

On resuming—

Mr. Deputy Speaker : Order. Hon. Members may note that a unique power has been established by the Chair in pushing four Ministers of the Crown to the Back Benches, but I hope that it will be for the convenience of hon. Members.

Victims of Crime

9. Mr. Martin Salter (Reading, West): What action the Government are taking to strengthen support for young people who are victims of criminal assaults by other young people.[91813]

10. Mrs. Helen Clark (Peterborough): What action the Government are taking to reduce the number of young people who are victims of crime.[91814]

The Minister for Policing, Crime Reduction and Community Safety (Mr. John Denham) : Young people are often the victims of youth crime. Actions such as the street crime initiative have not only reduced street crime overall; they have reduced the extent to which young people have been the victims of crime. In July last year, we introduced new support in the court system for vulnerable and intimidated witnesses, many of whom are young people required to give evidence. In addition, £2 million of the £28 million that we give to Victim Support is designed to support vulnerable and intimidated witnesses.

Mr. Salter : Considering that one in four permanently excluded school children admitted, in the 2002 MORI youth survey, to stealing a mobile phone, mainly from other young people, does the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education and Skills agree that further work is needed to deal with the problem of permanent exclusions to counter the traumatic effect of youth-on-youth crime?

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education and Skills (Mr. Ivan Lewis) : I sympathise with my hon. Friend's point. There is a direct link between permanent exclusion and street crime which we must address. We cannot duck the issue; behaviour and discipline have become a major issue in our schools. Teachers have difficulty with that, and it undermines the ability of young people to learn. There must be support for teachers and head teachers because, in some circumstances, the only option available to them is permanent exclusion.

What is different now is that from September we have insisted that any child who is permanently excluded must have access to full-time education and objective advice to get them reintegrated into mainstream education as soon as possible. In addition, we are putting a tremendous amount of resources into preventive work, so that young people's behaviour does not deteriorate to such an extent that permanent exclusion is the only option. In excellence in cities areas, learning mentors in units in schools allow teachers to withdraw young people for a short time to work on a one-to-one basis and get the behaviour sorted out before they return to class.

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We must also focus on teacher training. We must give teachers the skills and confidence to manage some of the behaviour and discipline problems that they have to face. In some circumstances, permanent exclusion is the only option, but we must make resources available for preventive work so that young people do not drift into criminal activities.

Mrs. Clark : I am grateful for that reply from the Under-Secretary, as well as for the reply by the Home Office Minister. Will they join me and, I am sure, hon. Members on all sides of the Chamber, in sending condolences to the family in Peterborough of Ross Parker, a 17-year-old killed about a year ago in an unprovoked attack by three young men older than him, who have now been convicted and sent to prison?

Will Ministers also join me in congratulating the Peterborough community in general, the police and the Jack Hunt school led by Chris Hilliard, where Ross was a student, on the tremendous way in which they have worked together to overcome the divisive effects of that tragic incident? Will Ministers visit Peterborough and the school, and perhaps meet Ross's family?

Mr. Denham : I certainly join my hon. Friend in sending condolences to Ross Parker's family. I know that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary spoke to them at the time of the murder. I pay tribute to Ross's parents for their clear commitment to ensuring that that tragic event should not prove to be a divisive event in Peterborough. My hon. Friend has said what needs to be said about the work that people have done locally. A huge effort has been made in Peterborough to prevent that event from being even more damaging. If my hon. Friend thinks that it would be of value to the community, I will certainly consider visiting her constituency.

Richard Younger-Ross (Teignbridge): Does the Minister accept that one of the best ways to help a young victim of crime may be to ensure that the period between the incident and the trial is as short as possible? Cases in my constituency have taken over a year to come to trial, and schools that have approached me on the matter are concerned about the impact of that on the victim's education, as well as the damage that the long-drawn-out period does to the perpetrator of the crime.

Mr. Denham : That is an important point. Members will be aware that when this Government were elected in 1997, it took 142 days on average for a case involving a young offender to come to court. We made that a priority, and for a number of months the average has been less than half that. Some cases will take less time to come to court, just as some will take more.

It is also important that we provide good support to young people who are required to appear at those trials, whether they have been victims of crime or are witnesses. Among other initiatives, including Victim Support, which we have discussed, I have talked to the Department for Education and Skills about ways in which the Connexions service could provide additional support to young witnesses who are about to go through

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the trauma of reliving their experience in court. It is important that we support young victims of crime through a very difficult time in their lives.

Mr. David Hinchliffe (Wakefield): What consideration are the Government giving in the development of their child protection strategy to assaults on children by their parents? Are the Government considering removing the "reasonable chastisement" defence in respect of physical punishment?

The Minister of State, Department of Health (Jacqui Smith) : As my hon. Friend knows, the Government carried out a consultation on the issue. Although I know that my hon. Friend and other colleagues disagreed with it, many people felt that the law should not be changed to achieve what people see effectively as a ban on parents smacking their children.

My hon. Friend referred to the defence of reasonable chastisement. After the changes to human rights legislation, it is necessary for any court in this country which is considering a case of assault against a young person in which the defence of reasonable chastisement is being used, to consider the age and, if necessary, gender of the child and the kind of assault that was undertaken. The court must seriously consider whether the case constituted assault.

With the exception of reasonable chastisement, exactly the same law applies to adults and children. My hon. Friend and others believe that we should make it impossible for parents to smack their children. As I have said previously, that would not help us in the important job, to which my hon. Friend rightly draws attention, of preventing serious abuse against children. There is a clear distinction between a parent smacking their child—something that many of us may deplore—and violence against a child. It does not help us to make that distinction by changing the law as he suggests. We have asked the Attorney-General to keep the defence of reasonable chastisement under review, and assure him that we continue to monitor the situation. I share his concern that we need to tackle abuse against children. That should be our top priority.

School Governing Bodies

11. Paul Holmes (Chesterfield): What plans the Government have to require schools to include pupil representatives as associate members of school governing bodies.[91815]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education and Skills (Mr. Ivan Lewis) : From 1 September it will be possible for pupils and others to be appointed as associate members of school governing bodies, enabling them to attend full governing body

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meetings and to be members of governing body committees. We have no plans to make it compulsory for governing bodies to make such appointments.

Paul Holmes : I thank the Minister for his reply. I welcome it, at least in part. When I was teaching at my second school in the 1980s, we had an effective series of pupil school governors. Unfortunately, Lady Thatcher's Government did away with them.

Many schools today have effective school councils; they use pupils to interview candidates for middle management and even for headship posts, as my last school did. Ofsted is now proposing to take evidence from pupils when doing school inspections. In the light of all that, and if promoting active citizenship is to mean anything, will the Minister assure us that the Government will reconsider the lack of urgency in, or commitment to, the matter of requiring all schools to allow pupils to become full, active school governors?

Mr. Lewis : If the hon. Gentleman was teaching in the 1980s, I could have had the privilege of being one of his pupils. The substantive point is that the Government are not neutral on that issue. We believe that it is part of the school standards agenda actively to involve young people in making key decisions about schools. How the schools do that must be left to them. It would be entirely inappropriate for us to prescribe the models that should be deployed in those circumstances.

If young people are to be motivated, the school environment should reflect their needs; young people should be turned on to learning, not turned off. Their active engagement and involvement in key roles and in the decision-making process is vital for the school community and for the skills that we want young people to develop for later life.

Another point is that the Connexions service actively involves young people in the recruitment policy; they recruit personal advisers and, in some circumstances, are involved in selecting chief executives. We are making significant progress. It is important to raise educational standards—the matter should not be treated as a sideshow—and to ensure that young people feel positively about their educational experience.

Mr. Deputy Speaker : Order. I thank hon. Members for enduring this afternoon's technical vicissitudes. I repeat that I would be delighted to hear privately from hon. Members about today's proceedings. It has been difficult to balance the need to achieve breadth with the need to ensure that penetrating serial questions are asked. We shall have to think about that and decide whether we should attempt to take fewer questions. I am sure that all those matters will be reviewed.

I also announce that there is to be a special meeting of the all-party children group with members of the Youth Parliament, now that the question session has ended. It will take place in Committee Room 21, and I understand that any colleagues who would like to go along for a discussion about what has taken place will be extremely welcome.

I propose suspending the sitting for two minutes to allow people who are not staying for the debate to leave.

Sitting suspended.

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