Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Lord Richard: My Lords, it is a pretty imprecise leak. "That is bonkers", can mean a great deal. There was speculation on the Stock Exchange yesterday. Speculation and disclosure are, as the noble Lord, Lord Mackay, said, two entirely different things. We have no intention of setting up a Select Committee to investigate the statement, "The markets are bonkers".

2 Jul 1997 : Column 218

Youth Crime

4.13 p.m.

Debate resumed.

Lord Judd: My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Elton, has introduced a timely debate, but I start by joining with those who said what an immense privilege it has been to hear the outstanding maiden speeches of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Leicester and my noble friend Lord Evans of Parkside. We look forward to hearing many more such contributions from them both in the years ahead.

Criminal and anti-social behaviour by the young too often adversely affects those least well equipped to deal with it--the frail, the elderly, and the vulnerable, frequently trapped on housing estates. It is difficult to exaggerate the sheer hell it can mean for those who have no means of escape.

It is therefore encouraging that the Government have indicated their resolve to look beyond the immediate priorities and not to limit themselves to essential, firm reactive action alone, although that firm, reactive action is clearly essential. Understanding and the ability to ask, "Why?"--"Why is this happening?"--are the basis for taking effective and rational rather than emotional action. Rational action must lie in the realm of prevention--obviously the best lasting solution.

I am glad to be president of the YMCA in England. That brings no executive or trustee responsibilities, but it enables me to be a privileged witness of extensive practical community service. The YMCA has come to understand that an integrated social programme is imperative in its work with young people at risk. That includes housing, training, family services, preparation for, and support in, parenting, counselling--often drugs counselling--childcare, nursery school provision and sporting, health and fitness facilities.

It is essential to recognise what contributes to offending behaviour by the young and to address it at source. The London City YMCA, for example, focuses on detached youth work on estates at the edge of the city. Youth workers go where young people are likely to be, especially in the evenings, and build up relationships of trust, using informal education techniques to work on drug and alcohol misuse, on sexual health and on criminal behaviour.

Elsewhere, in all regions of England, the Foyer scheme has proved a highly relevant way of breaking the no-home, no-job cycle by providing accommodation, training, job search, and counselling under one roof. It has certainly been the experience of YMCA, with some 50 per cent. of the total Foyer projects, that that work has achieved significant success across the country.

Problems with the behaviour of young people can rapidly escalate out of control as a result of inadequate skills in parenting or lack of confidence on the part of parents in dealing with difficult behaviour patterns which could end up as criminal offending. The YMCA is therefore now starting programmes which will be designed to provide at community level at least some support and guidance for parents of teenagers.

2 Jul 1997 : Column 219

Where young offenders are in custody, the appropriateness of their treatment also requires close scrutiny. Punishment is important, but rehabilitation is the bigger challenge. There is no point in just producing fitter hardened criminals. I have seen some of the interesting pioneer work already being done by the YMCA in two young offender institutions. I understand that discussions are taking place with a view to extending that work to a further seven such institutions. The key to that work, as I see it, is to invest the offenders with a sense of personality, of personal worth, personal self-respect, and personal responsibility--certainly never to dehumanise them, for many of those young people have known little love or appreciation in their lives and may have never had the opportunity to sense what they might become.

The pre- and post-release training and personal development cover formal training--numeracy, NVQs and the like--and the informal training--life skills, handling and resolving conflict, team building and, most important of all, preparation for the harsh realities which will be encountered on release. The positive results from all those activities, as monitored in the post-release records of offenders, are already encouraging.

The vital strength which I detect in what I have been describing is the continuity of support through custody to post-release help with accommodation, training, and other support. That continuity is indispensable if we are serious about rehabilitation and reducing the risk of re-offending. There is a need to take the hand of the young offender, as there is of those of the young at risk, and walk with them through the trauma to a better life. We are very good at talking severely about the young, but where is our solidarity?

It has been suggested that young offenders should make reparations and apologise to their victims. That makes a lot of sense. We cannot be sentimental about anti-social or criminal behaviour. Society must be firm about its essential rules, but those rules have to be based on confidence and self-evident consistency about what are the civilised values which we embrace. Our deeds and vocabulary, our culture as a nation, have demonstrably to be those of integrity, responsibility, care, compassion and vision. We have to be able to say to the young, "Do as we do" not just "Do as we say".

As it is, it may be that society has itself to make reparation to many of the young and to apologise for its hypocrisy and inconsistency--too much greed at the apex of the social triangle--for the unemployment, the soulless estates, the abuse of the environment, the inadequate educational and recreational resources, parents overwhelmed by adversity and by the struggle to survive and the general hopelessness which confronts the millions of excluded. Indeed, to what will many young children be going home under a curfew? Sometimes, tragically, the streets may be preferable.

There is an urgent need for integrated social, economic, and employment policies which bring together all the key elements in a battle for the young rather than against them. In so far as the Government

2 Jul 1997 : Column 220

can set that direction, they should have our unqualified support. For that, surely, is the real, unsentimental road of hard-headed common sense.

4.20 p.m.

Baroness Warnock: My Lords, I am most grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Elton, for initiating today's debate. I am also very pleased indeed to be following two such outstanding maiden speakers as we have heard this afternoon. I should simply like to make one suggestion; namely, that we should ask the Government to think again, dispassionately and without prejudice, about the provision of boarding education for some children who, I believe, are children in severe need. What they are in need of is often not punishment, even though they have offended: they are in need of preventive care and, more importantly, education.

I am sure that no one will disagree with me when I say that education is at the heart of the question of preventing young persons from committing crime. Therefore, we ought to take that thought seriously and not allow ourselves to be prejudiced against boarding education which has fallen into decay largely because local authorities have not been able to afford fees for such schools as, for example, Peper Harrow, which is probably the best known of the schools for boys suffering from behavioural and emotional deprivation, or difficulties, at school. Many of those boys fell into crime through having been excluded from their normal schools.

I believe that such schools ought to be reinvented. The fact that we all know horror stories about boarding education ought not to entail the closure of such schools, thus shutting off this possible source of help for society; rather we should devise better and more efficient ways for inspecting such schools. It is impossible to blame local education authorities for not being able to afford the fees for those schools, which are inevitably very high because the student-teacher ratio has to be very tight.

I blame the situation on a policy which has made it impossible for local education authorities to take their duties seriously. After all, many of the young people about whom I am talking had statements of special need when they were thrown out of their schools and the local education authorities could not--and, indeed, have not been able to in the past--do what they had a duty to do; namely, to supply proper and suitable education for such children.

No one should be too much committed to keeping a child in the family when thinking about the kind of problems that we are discussing this afternoon. For one thing, and as we have already heard, many of the children who offend are already in care and have virtually left their families. However, for a large number of them, the difficulties that they have in concentrating, in being interested in anything or, indeed, in having any set of moral standards, stem from the family. Very often there is tremendous conflict within the family for which a steady, continuous and absolutely solid supportive school is the proper solution. I simply want to emphasise the great difference that I believe there is between

2 Jul 1997 : Column 221

punishment of offending children and the support that they receive from education. I should add that education for some of them must be a 24-hour process and not just a matter of going in and out of school, and often truanting.

I know that boarding schools for such offending children have to be secure, but that does not turn them into prisons. I say that because the intention behind all that they receive from those schools is not punitive; indeed, it is disciplinary and educative. One cannot exaggerate the importance that education might have in eventually turning these children away from crime.

I do not believe that such schools should be closed simply because they do not deliver the whole of the national curriculum. That argument has been used in the past as a reason for closure. Of course, the delivery of the whole of the national curriculum should be an ideal for such schools, but often the young people who attend them are in no position to learn anything at the beginning. It is a long process to prepare these offending children for education and thus enable them to benefit from it, especially if they are drug abusers, as many of them are. Therefore, if the schools are trying to deliver the national curriculum and have that aim very much in mind, but have much more at the front of their minds--namely, the preparation for education which, for example, drug abusers need--they should not be closed or subject to closure on academic grounds. I beseech the Government to look again at the policy of causing such schools to be closed based on the financial difficulties experienced by local education authorities in supporting such children and paying their fees.

4.25 p.m.

Viscount Caldecote: My Lords, in his excellent introduction to the debate, my noble friend Lord Elton emphasised the urgent need to prevent crime occurring. The detection, arrest and punishment of crime all indicate a failure to prevent it, and the cost is enormous; indeed, something like £4 billion a year is spent dealing with juvenile crime. One of the vital contributions to the prevention of youth crime is made at school. Those leaving school with a constructive outlook, who see life ahead as a great opportunity, will be unlikely to embark on a life of crime. However, maladjusted children leaving school with no clear purpose for their life in sight, and perhaps with some grudge against society stemming from an unhappy home, family neglect, poverty or drugs, can all too easily be led astray into a life of crime.

I believe that we should devote far greater efforts and resources to helping young people to leave school without such disadvantages. That involves pastoral care on a one-to-one basis. Although most teachers no doubt recognise the need for such care, they have no spare time for it in a very busy life. Experience shows that the best way of helping disturbed and disadvantaged children is through well-trained pastoral workers coming into the school by invitation of the head teacher and working closely with staff and parents.

A charity, Schools Outreach, is one organisation which carries out such work supremely well, as I know from connection with it over many years. The

2 Jul 1997 : Column 222

organisation gives very thorough training to pastoral workers. Its success is undoubted and well documented. I should like to give your Lordships two such examples, although there are many others. In 1992 Berkshire County Council approached Schools Outreach and a pastoral careworker was allocated to each of two schools which drew pupils from an estate beset with unemployment, social and drug problems.

The head teacher at one of those schools reported that before a Schools Outreach worker was appointed, pupils were running riot. She said:

    "We had a lot of very aggressive children, but having a resident pastoral care worker has changed the school. There is a sense of calmness now. Children come to school feeling a greater sense of security".

In another school, the headteacher reported on the outcome of the appointment of a Schools Outreach pastoral worker and said that, two years before the appointment, there were 38 and 50 temporary exclusions in each of those two years, one of which was permanent. Two years after, there were three temporary exclusions in one year and two in the next with, again, one being permanent. On staffing, the year before the appointment of a Schools Outreach pastoral care worker, there was a 90 per cent. staff turnover, while two years after there were no staff changes. I believe that that indicates the real success of the Schools Outreach workers in those very difficult schools. The report of that headmistress continued that the Schools Outreach project was of tremendous value to the school, to the children and community, enabling staff, parents and carers in the local community to work closely together.

Those are just two examples and they are very clear and decisive examples. They are surely convincing of the value of those pastoral workers and there is no doubt that a major factor in the success of those workers is that they are seen as non-official adult friends. They remove the reluctance of children to approach staff and, of course, they have the time available for that demanding work.

Workers like those can make a major contribution to ensuring that those young people leave school in a constructive, positive frame of mind without hang-ups. Therefore, they are far less likely to embark on a life of crime.

But of course, all that costs money. It costs some £20,000 to £25,000 per year per worker, including training costs. At present, the number of Schools Outreach workers is severely limited by lack of funding, with minimal support from the Department for Education and Employment and local education authorities.

Over the past five years, I have tried to persuade HMG to allocate more money. The Department for Education and Employment says that it is a matter for the LEAs and the LEAs say that there is no money to spare. Therefore, I tried the Home Office, for which it would be a marvellous investment because it would save some of the huge costs spent on juvenile crime later on. But the Home Office says it is a matter for the DfEE.

We now have one Secretary of State responsible for transport and the environment which is a very good idea. If we are to take seriously crime prevention among

2 Jul 1997 : Column 223

young people, surely we need one Minister with overall responsibility, for that is not just a Home Office or DfEE responsibility.

I urge Her Majesty's Government first to provide extra funding, rising to perhaps £100 million per annum over the next four years. That would fund another 4,000 pastoral workers among our 25,000 schools and would cover most of those in need of such workers. It is a drop in the ocean compared with the £4 billion which is now spent on dealing with juvenile crime.

Secondly, I urge the Government to clarify and concentrate responsibility in that field. If it is impracticable to give responsibility to one Minister, perhaps it could be shared effectively between the Minister of State responsible for criminal policy at the Home Office and the Minister responsible for school standards in the DfEE. Moreover, it would be absolutely essential to give them a budget specifically for that purpose.

I hope that the noble Lord who is to reply will be able to say something encouraging in that respect because I believe that it is of immense importance and a very good investment for the nation.

4.33 p.m.

Lord Graham of Edmonton: My Lords, I am conscious when the clock says seven minutes that time has been well exceeded and I do not intend to do that in my speech.

I begin by thanking most warmly the noble Lord, Lord Elton, for giving the House an opportunity to discuss what has been demonstrated clearly to be a very interesting topic. I want also to congratulate my noble friend Lord Evans. He spent most of his younger life on one side of the Tyne in Jarrow, whereas I spent most of mine in Scotswood Road, Newcastle, looking across there. For the past 25 years we have been comrades in the Labour Party at various levels. I know that he will make some down-to-earth contributions to our discussions.

I know that the Minister who is to reply is a caring Minister. I speak for the Association of London Government, of which I have the pleasure to be a joint president. In the past, there was a lack of cohesion and of an overall strategy. The previous government had many fine initiatives but they were disparate. My noble friend Lord Evans referred to the initiatives by the present Home Secretary where there is to be a co-ordinated effort to deal with the matter.

The size of the problem is not only sad; it is horrific. Many statistics have been introduced into the debate. But when I did my research what I found particularly sad was the enormous cost involved to family life, industry and the prospects of young people who have wandered into crime of one sort or another. However, I was interested that a research paper of March 1997, Preventing Children Attending, indicated that there were "significant family risk factors". Those factors relate to a child's environment, parental control, hereditary matters and many other aspects. Inherent in criminality among young people are factors such as poor parental

2 Jul 1997 : Column 224

supervision, parental neglect, harsh or erratic discipline, parental conflict, long-term separation from a biological parent and having a parent with a criminal record. While it is not suggested that those are the causes of delinquency, they are bound to have an influence on the youngster and whether he drifts into or is kept out of crime.

The two major institutions involved in whether a youngster drifts into or is kept out of crime are the family and the school. I am sure that none of us is brave enough to say which is more important. School risk factors include low educational achievement, disruptive behaviour, persistent truanting and permanent exclusion from schools.

When the dust dies down, I hope that the Minister will be able to give us a pointer in the right direction. Yes, we must look after the victims of crime but we must examine also the causes of crime. We must be fair and recognise that the issue is not black and white. It is not even a party issue and it is certainly not a party political issue because we are all members of the same community.

The House will be well aware that I have the pleasure to be associated with the retail business. I am secretary of the all-party retail group. The retail industry is extremely conscious of the enormous cost to industry of youth crime. Perhaps I may give one or two statistics. The Retail Crime Survey showed that crime committed against retailers cost the industry £1.42 billion. In addition, retailers spent £450 million on crime prevention. Therefore, the total for the year was almost £2 billion. That is paid for by other customers who subsidise those who do not pay for what they take from a shop.

I am glad to see the initiatives by Marks & Spencer, among others. There is a genuine programme of collaboration between retailers and schools in order to alert youngsters to the fact that they need to have more respect for property. They need to be well aware of the dangers when they go into a supermarket or a department store and look upon it as an Aladdin's Cave.

In order to keep to my earlier threat or promise, I shall deprive your Lordships of the very interesting tail end of my speech and sit down now.

4.38 p.m.

The Lord Bishop of Lichfield: My Lords, I add my congratulations to our two maiden speakers and also to the noble Lord, Lord Elton.

To the evidence from Gloucestershire, Jarrow, Newcastle and Cleveland, I should like to add evidence from the West Midlands. I come from a diocese covering a population of 2.5 million, including communities in Stoke-on-Trent, Wolverhampton, West Bromwich and other Black Country towns. This issue impinges heavily upon us also.

In the Stoke and Longton district, 3,100 offences were committed last year by 2,100 young offenders. Twenty-seven of these offenders were in the younger age groups and were responsible for about 20 per cent. of the offences. As regards the industrial, or in places

2 Jul 1997 : Column 225

post-industrial, West Midlands, I reiterate that the problem cannot be separated from other serious issues in the region, in particular youth unemployment.

I have learnt in this House the discipline of not depending on purely sociological analyses of human ills. However, the fact remains that in some of our Black Country senior schools, 20 per cent. of school-leavers fail to find jobs although they try to do so. That figure can rise to 30 per cent. among young Asian and Afro-Caribbean school-leavers. If there is a prospect of unemployment, that causes disillusion and absenteeism during the school process. In one of our urban boroughs the local education authority reports nearly 11 per cent. of pupils being absent on any one half day. In one senior school the figure can rise to 15 per cent. on any one half day.

Nor can we forget the overall impact of what has been called post-industrial shock. Much of the community life of our region was bound up with a large industrial workforce in which sons followed fathers and grandfathers into the foundries, the collieries and the large-scale manufacturing industries. For many that kind of community "glue" has gone, denting pride, security and self-respect, although marvellous human qualities of humour, courage and resilience remain.

However, the intention of this debate is positive: it is to call attention to the importance of the initiatives. I wish to mention two that are known to me. The first is closely connected with what the noble Lord, Lord Gisborough, has said about the Cleveland police. I wish to praise the policy and the efforts made in our region by the Staffordshire police not only for their support of a police inspector who has become a nationally respected expert on getting children back to school; not only for the work, which has already been mentioned, of police schools liaison officers who are out every day delivering training packages to counter drug abuse; but also--this was mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Gisborough--the setting up in our region of the Burslem Divisional Junior Consultation Panel for young people under 21. Police consultation panels exist but they are often for adults. This panel is made up of representatives from every school in that populous region of Stoke-on-Trent. It has gathered no fewer than 100,000 answers from young people aged 11 to 16 to questions about youth crime--the subject of this debate--and about how to improve the quality of life for young people in the region. That information is proving valuable and the consultation is fruitful.

Secondly--here I pick up what the noble Viscount, Lord Caldecote, said--I wish to praise a number of people, such as school outreach workers, who work alongside school welfare officers in Wolverhampton and the Black Country. They are committed to helping disaffected young people to re-enter both education and community life by re-establishing relationships. It is unstable relationships which are close to the heart of this problem. I support the views of the noble Baroness, Lady Warnock, the noble Viscount, Lord Caldecote, and the noble Viscount, Lord Brentford; namely, that families and workers must sustain these relationships because it is in relationships that personal responsibility and choice are nourished.

2 Jul 1997 : Column 226

But here, finally, comes the crunch. In one of the key boroughs where such schemes exist in my diocese a 10 per cent. cut in the education budget is expected. As the noble Viscount, Lord Caldecote, said, we need 4,000 pastoral workers of the kind I have mentioned throughout the country. When lottery funding or City Challenge funding comes to an end and school outreach projects find it hard to sustain the funding, how will those workers survive? Perhaps that question is being answered or not answered in another place this afternoon. I say to the Minister that it is too long to wait for the co-ordinating committee; we need these workers now.

4.45 p.m.

Viscount Tenby: My Lords, the House is grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Elton, for initiating this important topic at this particular time and for kicking off with a thoughtful and compassionate speech. We have also had the added bonus of hearing two excellent maiden speeches.

This is a big subject and the allotted time is short so I propose to concentrate on only one aspect of youth crime prevention; namely, the desirability of speeding up the time between the committal of an offence and the sentence. In this context I look forward with some expectation--as I am sure many do within the legal system--to the Government's "fast track" proposals in their forthcoming crime and disorder Bill. I hope I shall not be accused of any partiality if I own to a certain frisson of anticipation about this year's round of criminal justice proposals, particularly on the youth front--an experience which has been sadly absent for me in recent years.

Although I have been a magistrate for many years, and therefore declare an interest in these matters, I say with great regret that I have never sat on a juvenile panel. Nevertheless, it is a matter of some satisfaction and indeed pride to me that north Hampshire, my home Bench as it were, is one of the areas in which this speeding up process is being tested even now.

Facts about the present situation make pretty sombre reading. The average time between the committal of an offence and the eventual disposal is 128 days, but at worst can be as much as 170 days; that is, 24 weeks. We should just contemplate that. To take it to an extreme hypothesis, suppose that the offender commits only one offence per week during that period; by the time the original offence had come up for sentencing, 24 further matters would have to be taken into consideration. The main point, however, surely is this: the further the sentencing is from the commission of the crime, the greater the difficulty in making the offender face up to the implications of his or her behaviour. In some instances they even forget that they have been responsible for a particular offence. I know that is hard to believe but it is true.

Much time is also currently being lost, in the case of persistent offenders, in gathering up the various offences over what may be a period of some months, and often over a number of different court areas, into one sentencing parcel, if I may use that word. Admirable

2 Jul 1997 : Column 227

though this sentiment may be in sentencing terms, in the case of juveniles there is much to be said for dealing as rapidly as possible with only the case in hand so that the offender can be confronted with his or her anti-social behaviour when the event is still fresh in the mind and before the offender becomes irretrievably locked into a downward spiral of repeat offending. In this context the Audit Commission's recent invaluable report, which has already been referred to today, points out that only 17 per cent. of youth cases were sentenced on first hearing, the average requiring no fewer than four sittings of a court. So noble Lords will see what a mountain there is to climb.

A speeding up of the legal process is one arm of the fight against juvenile criminals but the other surely is the strengthening of effective means of dealing with the offenders themselves in order to ensure, so far as is possible, that they do not re-offend. Establishing multi-agency youth offender teams under the aegis of local authorities can provide the means for doing this. The creation of the Northamptonshire Diversion Unit, consisting of representatives of the police, the probation, social, health, youth and education services some three years ago, shows that such an initiative can produce results. For example, 76 per cent. of all compensation claims were paid against only 48 per cent. in an area without this innovative service. Most important of all perhaps, 76 per cent. of victims expressed themselves as either satisfied or very satisfied with these new arrangements.

The area of juvenile crime is a delicate one. A false move, an over-reaction, may result in an offender being lost to society for ever. There are 101 reasons why a young person may turn to crime: peer pressure; inadequate parenting; failure at school; lack of job opportunity; drug or alcohol abuse, and so on. But unlike adults, juvenile offending patterns can disappear almost overnight and for no discernible reason, we hope never to reappear. Accordingly, it is surely not too much to ask of ourselves as a civilised society that we use every endeavour, every scrap of our imagination and resolve, to deter young people from a life of crime; and by doing so we shall of course protect ourselves from the depredations of young people who account for some 40 per cent. of all indictable offences in this country today.

As the noble Lord, Lord Elton, said, we have lost far too much valuable time in dealing with this problem already. Let us now set to with a will and as a matter of urgency to attempt to solve it.

4.51 p.m.

Earl Kitchener: My Lords, I shall speak only about causes of youth crime, and indeed about only one of the many possible causes: that is diet. The harmful effect of lead, of which we consume more than did our more primitive ancestors, is now generally acknowledged, although not enough notice is taken of it. Much has been written about the effects on behaviour of minerals, vitamins and other nutrients, both in general and for particular individuals, and to my mind their importance

2 Jul 1997 : Column 228

is established. But policy statements by two of the professions most concerned, psychiatrists and psychologists, attach little or no importance to diet.

I must declare an interest as chairman of a charity, Natural Justice, which, with the University of Surrey, is running a double-blind trial on the effect of a fairly standard vitamin and mineral supplement on the behaviour of prisoners. The results are expected in a few months, and I shall be very disappointed if they are not positive. I am glad to say that the Home Office has promised a small contribution to that work. The Department of Health gives an annual grant to the Hyperactive Children's Support Group which has had successes with dietary changes, but in recent years that grant has been reduced. I hope that the new Minister will look at the work of this group and will decide whether the very hardworking mother and daughter team which runs it merits more support. Dare I hope that its gender base will commend it to the Government?

Why do the orthodox dismiss the importance of diet on behaviour? It is probably because doctors tend to concentrate on the things which only they can do, and because of the complexity of the interactions between different nutrients. Why should more attention be paid to diet? It is because action on it is cheap, effective and, with proper precautions, harmless.

4.54 p.m.

Lord Henderson of Brompton: My Lords, the noble Viscount, Lord Tenby, went further than the noble Lord who cut his speech so dramatically from six minutes to five. We now have a little extra time to speak if we wish to--but that might be rather unfortunate.

I thank the noble Lord, Lord Elton, for having raised the subject today. He is chairman of the Divert Trust which is the successor to the so-called IT Fund which the Government sponsored for five years on the initiative of Lord Ennals. He was before his time in taking that initiative. It is important that it should be followed up. As the noble Lord, Lord Elton, said, it is difficult to attract funds for this purpose unless the Government participate too. For that reason I ask for funding for the successor body, the Divert Trust, to be considered again by the Government perhaps for another £500,000. At £100,000 a year it seems chicken feed compared with demands that I have heard from others today. It would fund the body well into the next century and over the millennium.

Another small organisation related to the Divert Trust is the John Hunt Award Trust. It exists with pathetically small funds to reward new work aimed at diverting youngsters at risk and publicising that new work in local communities. Both organisations are well worth supporting.

Although the subject has been mentioned previously, I, too, wish to refer to the issue. The noble and learned Lord the Lord Chief Justice recently called for,

    "measures to be taken to divert young people from crimes at the earliest opportunity".

I was one of those who was fortunate enough to hear the noble and learned Lord give that lecture. I strongly endorse what he said. The powerful support of the

2 Jul 1997 : Column 229

Lord Chief Justice indicates that the Ennals initiative should be followed into the next millennium. I hope that it will be.

Now is surely the time to help the existing organisations about which we have heard in the impressive contributions today. All over the country small groups operate, some started by the police in small communities and others which have prospered and grown bigger. But the local initiative is what matters. I refer again to the Divert Trust, a body which should be supported with funding.

I hope that what I shall say is not party political in any way. I am impressed by the Government's election manifesto. It contains seeds to do just what we have all been urging. The first element is to place a new responsibility on local authorities to develop statutory partnerships to help prevent crime. Local authorities will then be required to set targets for the reduction of crime and disorder in their area. I cannot think of a better way of extending the work of Lord Ennals and the current activities of the Divert Trust. The second element is to get 250,000 young people under the age of 25 off benefit and into work by using money from the windfall tax--which I suppose by now is common knowledge and not mere speculation. The third element is to get the unemployed from welfare to work. That may have as its primary purpose the reduction of the burden on the social services budget. But it will surely work as a powerful incentive towards the reduction of youth-related crime as work replaces idleness. I congratulate the Government on all those elements in their election manifesto.

I conclude by endorsing the Lord Chief Justice's call for the Advisory Council on the Penal System to be revived. I believe that the suggestion was referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Elton, in his speech today. I wish to echo the words of the Lord Chief Justice that the beginning of a new Parliament is the ideal moment for such an initiative.

5 p.m.

Lord Rea: My Lords, it is very good that it is an incoming Government who, through the voice of my noble friend, are answering the noble Lord, Lord Elton, today. It gives my noble friend an opportunity to outline how the Government intend to deliver that toughness on the causes of crime which, as my noble friend Lord Graham said, was the second part of that famous slogan of my right honourable friend the Prime Minister when he was Shadow Home Secretary.

Before focusing on just one of many possible initiatives--namely the role of outdoor adventure education--I want to echo the words of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Lichfield and re-emphasise the relationship between youth unemployment and crime and between alcohol and drug abuse and crime. All of those have increased over the past two decades--I suggest as side-effects of the basic philosophy that seeking profit and wealth for oneself is the best way to benefit the whole nation. Unfortunately, that policy has left many by the wayside. While many of us, even the majority, may have attained entry to the

2 Jul 1997 : Column 230

culture of contentment, others have been excluded from the party. Sadly, that is not confined to the United Kingdom. It is a worldwide phenomenon where monetarist capitalism prevails, particularly in its very raw state in those countries where state socialism has failed.

My noble friend will probably point out that today's Budget will allow a significant first step to be taken in reducing unemployment among young people. Not to have even a small, useful role in society--noble Lords should realise that, since 2nd May, there is such a thing as society again--simply confirms the low self-esteem in which many school-leavers hold themselves. I use the term "school-leavers" in a double sense, since many who are at school are also school-leavers in the sense of truantism or exclusion. The noble Lord, Lord Elton, pointed out how crime is more common among school-aged children who are truanting or excluded. Drugs and crime provide a shield against the depressed, pessimistic outlook that many young people have today. Entry into the risky but exciting way of life of crime, as the noble Lord, Lord Elton, mentioned, is a way out of that.

Unemployment, lack of occupation, is not the whole problem. Many influences play their part. Poverty and poor housing affect the mental health of parents, and thus the parental love, attention, stimulation and good example that they can offer. Those factors may result in failure at school and subsequent unemployment. Crime or drug abuse is more common in some areas with the same degree of deprivation. In their remarks noble Lords have ranged over many contributory factors.

There are things that can be done here and now, as well as attending to the underlying social problems that lead to crime. As a group, young people have a great capacity for challenging physical activities. That fearless energy has been, and still is, used by tribal and national groups to do battle with neighbouring opposed groups or to hunt for food. Participative sports also utilise this risk-taking energy. But the only opportunity to be involved in these sorts of exciting activities in many deprived communities is to become involved in the drugs or crime scene, where ingenuity and nimble footwork can outwit the enemy--which is us, the affluent society, and its protectors, the police.

However, that energy can be tapped and diverted into benign activities. National service--"Put them in the Army"--is yesterday's answer, besides which, it comes too late, missing the most receptive age group, from 12 to 18. A number of imaginative schemes are now in place which include outdoor activities in their programmes for youth at risk. The co-ordinating body for such activities is the Foundation for Outdoor Activity, whose patrons include the great mountaineers, the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, and Sir Chris Bonington, and whose director is Roger Putnam, former principal of the Outward Bound Mountain School at Eskdale. The 1991 DES report on physical education stated:

    "The human need for excitement and challenge can, if unfulfilled, express itself in anti-social behaviour"--

the very topic of our debate this afternoon.

    "Outdoor and adventurous activities have the potential to satisfy the need for excitement and challenge in a positive way".

2 Jul 1997 : Column 231

The noble Lord, Lord Hunt, and Roger Putnam produced a report, In Search of Adventure, among whose pages is this statement:

    "The merit of the adventure approach may not lie so much in the activities themselves but rather in the unusual opportunity they provide for adults to work with young people outwith the normal constraints of their relationship".

I had intended to give examples of those sorts of activities but time is closing in. The Foundation for Outdoor Activity conducted a survey into the effects of outdoor adventure on young people at risk. It states:

    "Where delinquency results in disempowerment, alienation and delayed or disturbed psychological or emotional development, outdoor adventure may play a significant role. It may contribute to developmental approaches to prevention, to developmental and therapeutic approaches to rehabilitation and to the alleviation of adolescent disturbance".

I see that I have run out of time. I very much hope that my noble friend and his colleagues in the Department for Education and Employment will liaise with the Foundation for Outdoor Activity as part of the widespread package of measures which will augment their priority project of getting unemployed young people back into work.

5.7 p.m.

Lord Northbourne: My Lords, I am most grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Elton, for introducing this important debate. I support the noble Lord, Lord Rea, in his advocacy of outdoor projects for young people, with some of which I am involved.

Today, however, I want to address the Government's manifesto commitment to be

    "tough on crime and tough on the causes of crime".

I hope that, in replying, the noble Lord will tell us a little more about what the Government envisage as being the causes of crime.

I want to concentrate on just two of the most fundamental causes of youth crime today--young men with no hope of a job, and a society without shared values. I refer to young "men" without a job because, as I believe we all accept, after the age of 16 youth crime is mainly a problem of young men. In my experience that does not necessarily mean that girls are not involved in crime. However, they tend to switch either to prostitution, or to premature motherhood--which is perhaps not a crime.

There is a problem in relation to the role of men in our society today which needs to be examined in far more depth, for which there is not time this afternoon. I simply make the point that children, especially boys, need fathers.

Why do young men turn to crime? Is it really so surprising, if you have no hope of a job, if you are bored, as the noble Lord, Lord Elton, said, by unrestricted idleness--if you have nothing to do and nothing to spend? In our society today if you are a lavish consumer you are respected. To be poor is to be excluded. There are not many rich children involved in the kind of juvenile crime we are examining today. For a poor young man with no hope of a job, a career in

2 Jul 1997 : Column 232

burglary fulfils many of the roles of a job. It provides cash; it offers a respite from boredom; it is fulfilling; it offers good company; it is fun; you are a hell of a guy with your peer group; it is tax efficient. It is risky, but it is glamorous, and that perhaps makes up for the risk. When you are young, you do not, anyway, believe that you will be caught. Above all, there is a low threshold of entry, much lower than for any of the jobs that are available to many young men today.

So one of the first things we need to do if we want to reduce the rate of youth crime is to ensure that as many young men as possible have a viable and reasonably attractive alternative. We must reduce "unemployability". Employability depends on training and training depends on education. Success in both and in life depends on what is now fashionably called social and emotional literacy which, as I understand it, means building self-confidence--the ability and willingness to get on with others, to settle down, to learn and to work.

Those qualities begin to be learnt by a child from its earliest years. "A child's values are formed by the values of those around it as it grows up". They are normally learnt from parents who make a child feel secure and loved at home, stimulated and wanted, and they teach the child that there are boundaries to acceptable behaviour. Without those qualities, children, when they enter school, soon identify themselves as misfits and decide to rebel or to retreat into themselves. A lack of satisfactory early parenting and parental support is the most common cause of failure to thrive and to succeed at school and in life.

I welcome Jack Straw's paper on Parenting which was published before the election but which will, I assume, form the basis of the White Paper shortly to be published. He states:

    "We have to deal with the roots of offending".

One of those roots which he identifies is lack of appropriate parenting.

Nursery education for three and four year-olds will help but there is also an urgent need for more education, preparation and support for parents. Three essentials are: first, that all children (boys and girls, girls and boys) should be taught in school about the physical and emotional needs of young children and about the responsibilities of parenthood. They should have the opportunity to explore their own attitudes and expectations about becoming parents. "Parenting should always be a commitment not an accident".

Secondly, education for parenthood should be available during the period between school and parenthood. Thirdly, there should be support for young inexperienced parents in the form of home visiting, family centres, mutual support groups and specialist services where necessary. As Jack Straw said,

    "Some parents are desperate for help, others desperately need it".

The cost of those services would be minimal compared with the gigantic costs of youth crime. Again, Jack Straw said:

    "Good parenting is an investment in the future which society cannot afford to ignore".

2 Jul 1997 : Column 233

I now wish to turn briefly to the question of values. "A child's values are formed by the values of those around it as it grows up". For young offenders, I submit that crime is usually not a moral issue. Why should it be? They have grown up in a society which claims to believe in moral relativity. I have heard noble Lords in this House declare that we do not have to be guided by "outdated moral values". Of course, we must not be guided by outdated values, but we do not want to throw away the baby with the bath water. If moral relativity is all right for the rich, it is scarcely surprising that those who are less well off think it is all right for them too, provided they can get away with it.

Dr. Nicholas Tate of the Schools Curriculum and Assessment Authority, after very wide consultation, is working out for schools a matrix of shared values--values which are accepted by the majority of people in this country in all walks of life and which are essential for the survival of civilisation as we know it. When those shared values are finally published, I hope that we shall all forget moral relativity and focus on teaching our children--as a minimum--this set of shared values.

And let us not forget that the best way to teach children is by example.

5.13 p.m.

Baroness Masham of Ilton: My Lords, I hope that the number of your Lordships speaking in the debate today helps to illustrate the concern felt throughout the country about youth crime. The other night I was talking to a magistrate from Keighley in Yorkshire who told me that people were desperate to find satisfactory solutions to cope with young people who came before the courts and were deeply addicted to drugs and involved with drug abuse. She told me that the services in Bradford were fragmented and not really geared to children. Her pleas for more action and preventive initiatives were urgent. Heroin is at a very low cost and that fact is worrying. Addicts are not injecting at the moment, which is good as regards HIV, but there is little deterrent. Such people are chasing the dragon.

On Monday night I watched the television programme "Panorama" on BBC1. If the Minister did not watch it, I ask him to do so on video. The programme was from Blyth in Northumberland where many young people had died after taking methadone mixed with other drugs. The health authority has a community methadone programme, but some of the methadone has been sold on the streets illegally so that other drugs can be bought. That has caused many deaths.

The Government are carrying out many reviews. I ask the Minister whether he will institute a review of drug addiction among young people and children, what the services are and whether methadone is safe. I feel that the mothers of the dead boys and girls would welcome such an investigation. The problem of drug abuse has become so huge that it needs everyone to come together with a network of prevention and care throughout the country, with not so much fragmentation. Drug abuse contributes considerably to youth crime.

Early experimentation with drugs and alcohol is more likely to lead to addiction and other health problems than if it is postponed until the late teens. Prevention of

2 Jul 1997 : Column 234

addiction must surely be the aim of any society which values its young people. As I said years ago and repeat today, I feel that life skills and health education should be part of the core curriculum for all children in all schools. What is the point of education if they are going to kill themselves and others?

With my involvement with young offenders, and as a member of a board of visitors for many years, I have seen some very worthwhile initiatives. Some time ago, I helped with some holiday camps for very severely disabled patients from a hospital, using people from a young offenders' institution who volunteered. They camped in the Lake District and looked after the patients, feeding them, washing them and taking care of all their needs. They responded to the responsibility and challenge. They took them on boat trips, to the circus and even to the pubs. At one camp, a boy absconded on the last day of the camp. When he returned he was asked why he had not gone before. He said: "I did not want to let my patient down".

I have seen young people on community service orders taking disabled people on shopping trips in Birmingham. In Liverpool there is a project called Green Bank run by disabled people. Young people on community service orders enjoy working there. They feel that they are helping, which they are. We need our young people to understand that they are needed.

Those projects work when there is correct assessment, experienced leadership and supervision. But for many young people who have turned to crime for many different reasons, working with disabled people can make some of them realise that there are other people with more problems than they have. They can build relationships and help each other to learn to respect each other as people.

I thank the noble Lord, Lord Elton, for this debate but I wish to say to him that girls as well as boys need excitement and challenges in their lives. One in three young women aged from 15 to 25 admits committing an offence at some time. I feel that girls have been rather left out of this debate. At the moment I am chairing an inquiry into young girls in prison--a worrying situation. Some are only 15, but some have babies at that age.

There is a great deal to do. I hope that the Government, with great vigour, will tackle this problem with the many voluntary organisations.

5.20 p.m.

Viscount Brentford: My Lords, I certainly agree totally with what the noble Baroness has just said. It makes a great contribution to our debate. I should like to thank my noble friend Lord Elton for his most able and skilful introduction of this subject. I also congratulate the two maiden speakers. The real life experiences, so different in different ways, which both of them introduced also made a great contribution to our debate.

We are talking today about both the prevention of crime and the prevention of re-offending by young people. My noble friend Lord Elton pinpointed the

2 Jul 1997 : Column 235

difference between them. At the risk of re-emphasising what has been said, I must agree that this is a very important subject.

Generally, up to 90 per cent. of young people re-offend after they have been in prison. One noble Lord told us that there was an 88 per cent. rate of re-offending in, I believe he said, Gloucestershire. The amount and cost of youth crime are appalling. Figures have already been given to your Lordships.

I am glad that there is to be a government review of the youth justice system and procedures. I shall be interested to hear what the Minister has to say in response to the call from the noble and learned Lord, Lord Bingham, for a reinvestigation of the effects of punishment, particularly as it relates to young offenders.

I should like to make a few comments on the factors which tend to turn young people to criminal activity. Many of them have already been mentioned. Let me first mention one which I have not heard before and that is the evil tendency of the human heart, because of the world in which we live. I believe that only God can change that. Those of us who call ourselves Christians have a responsibility emanating from the Church to help to change people's hearts and therefore their attitudes. I do not lay that as a burden on the Government for them to take up. It is for those of us who call ourselves Christians to bring about a change of attitude in human beings.

I turn to the importance of the family, as the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Lichfield, presumably exercising his prophetic gift, earlier in his speech foretold that I would do. I believe that the breakdown of the family is a major cause of young people getting into a chain of action which ends in crime, probably with homelessness and unemployment playing their part along the way. I hope that the present Government will continue to support marriage and the family, as did the previous government. I believe, as has already been said quite rightly by the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, that the cost of supporting positive institutions such as the family and preventing youth crime represents a very cheap way into achieving the aims that we all have. Many noble Lords have spoken about that and I shall not say any more on that point.

I now refer to a subject which has already been touched on; namely, education and employment, both of which are very high on the Government's agenda. There is a necessity for moral teaching, again as mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, and a need for positive values, which I believe will play an important part in preventing youth crime. It is valuable to improve education, as the Government intend to do and as the previous government intended also. Education needs to continue to improve. It gives hope for employment. The whole range of those who are excluded from school or out of school and need occupation to keep them from crime has also been touched on.

Drugs are another problem that we need to face. Drug misuse is responsible for a significant minority of crime, as the noble Baroness rightly pointed out. About a fortnight ago, one of my friends was mugged on her

2 Jul 1997 : Column 236

way home by a young man wielding a knife. The police advised her that it was almost certainly a drug related crime. Drug treatment can be available at one-third the cost of imprisonment. Does the Minister have plans to extend drug treatment and also to encourage motivation in the young to receive it?

I believe that violence shown in films and videos is also a cause of crime. Many good measures to prevent it have been mentioned, in particular by the noble Lord, Lord Judd, who spoke about the YMCA. The Children's Society provides foster placements for teenagers who might otherwise face custody in an adult prison and helps to divert them from future offending. All those initiatives need encouragement. Judge Tumim asked for positive programmes to encourage prisoners to face up to offending. Efforts to build self-esteem and to rebuild interpersonal relationships are matters which have already been touched on. All those efforts will help to prevent youth crime.

5.26 p.m.

Earl Baldwin of Bewdley: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Elton, for introducing this debate. He will probably not be surprised to hear me pursue a line of thought, already referred to briefly by the noble Earl, Lord Kitchener, which I have put forward on previous occasions and which a growing body of evidence persuades me should be kept in front of the public eye. It does not, of course, provide "the" answer to juvenile delinquency. What does, my Lords? But it does offer a route that deserves more exploration.

On Saturday I found myself behind a family at the counter of the village shop. The young boy pointed hopefully at the rack of chocolates and sweets, but the rough looking father said, "If you have that, you'll be on a high for a month. You're allergic to half the stuff there". And I remembered the headline that I had seen in one of the tabloids in your Lordships' Library just the other day:

    "Sweets allergy turned my boy into a psycho".

Behind those two incidents lies a fair measure of scientific truth.

If noble Lords have difficulty with that concept, they might consider the effect on behaviour of alcohol and of certain classes of drugs, even medically prescribed ones. Why should other things which we take by mouth not also have some effect on our mental as well as physical behaviour? Given that we are all biochemically individual and that many features of the modern western diet are recognised as unhealthy, is it surprising that a sub-set of the population react violently to what they eat?

I have spoken before about the young man who was arrested not long ago, having for the fourteenth time taken and driven away a lorry between the hours of 10.30 p.m. and 3 a.m. His extraordinary pattern of eating came before the court. He had no food before teatime, absolutely no vegetables, and about 100 teaspoons of sugar a day. Given a probation order and a change of diet by the enterprising local probation service, his

2 Jul 1997 : Column 237

behaviour altered beyond all recognition and he did not re-offend. The extra cost of that young man's treatment was £4 a week.

In 1985, the Lancet reported a study from the Great Ormond Street Hospital which linked hyperactivity with children's diets. More recently, a group of juvenile offenders in Yorkshire were investigated in London for food intolerances. Having smashed up their minibus on the way, and the laboratory when they got there, all nine of them became reasonably docile on an altered diet with food supplements. They had caused damage amounting to over £100,000; their investigation and treatment came to less than £2,000.

Much of the evidence centres on junk diets and certain additives, which are particularly harmful at a period of peak growth, which, incidentally, equates with the age of peak offending. In formally conducted trials, a 45 per cent. reduction in anti-social behaviour was recorded among prisoners in Alabama who switched to a wholefood diet. A similar result in Los Angeles led to a city-wide ban on highly processed foods in juvenile institutions. More recent and rigorous research has confirmed those findings, although some institutions have found it hard to maintain the improvements--not because they tail off with time, but because of pressure from the food industry and unsympathetic professionals.

At a conference on this subject at the Royal Society of Medicine, which I attended last October as President of the Allergy Research Foundation, I was struck by two findings. Two-thirds of the major criminals in Britain and the USA appear to meet the criteria for hyperactivity in childhood, with all the implications for possible links with nutrition. And the cost to society--we have already heard about this--of a lifetime's delinquency is about £1 million.

Much of this is not new to the Home Office. It does raise the age-old question, however, why what is common knowledge to many families, and people in village shops, takes quite so long to filter through to the so-called experts. I believe we are now past the point where we can plead scarcity of evidence or poorly conducted studies. Resistance to new ideas plays a part, undoubtedly fuelled by a certain alarm at the implications on the part of the food industry, the criminal justice system, and the medical profession. There is also a conceptual difficulty among many criminologists in accepting that a psycho-social problem need not always have psycho-social causes.

Put at its lowest, there is a potentially valuable hypothesis here to be tested. Perhaps I may ask the Minister, when he comes to reply, to answer two questions. While grateful to his department for having made some limited funding available on this front, I should like to know whether he has plans to fund further projects. Secondly, does he subscribe to the view which I understand holds sway within the Home Office that it is unethical, as part of a trial, to offer young offenders a diet which conforms to the best possible current guidelines for healthy eating, and which might conceivably even lead them to stop offending? In bureaucratic correctness, that seems to me the very height of absurdity.

2 Jul 1997 : Column 238

I hope his answers will be favourable, since we have here a real chance (as I say, for a sub-set of the population) to get at some of the causes of disorder in a section of society, in a singularly cost-effective way. It could also provide a better platform for the success of the social measures of which other noble Lords have spoken.

5.32 p.m.

The Earl of Longford: My Lords, listening to the noble Earl, I could not help remembering a story told to me by the grandfather of the present Leader of the Opposition. As a young MP he approached the ancestor of the noble Earl--the Prime Minister--and said that he would like a few minutes to talk to him about co-partnership. Mr. Baldwin, as he then was, said, "My dear boy, I could talk to you about that for hours". When Lord Cranborne looked round Baldwin had vanished. I am afraid that is true of most of us. We could talk about this for hours but we have our six minutes--and I have been warned that I shall be given a warning after five, so I may leave out most of the important things I want to say.

One thing that I must say is how grateful we are to the noble Lord, Lord Elton. He is particularly well qualified to talk about these matters and speaks as a real Christian. I can only assure him that I can pay him a better compliment than any tribute I might think of. I have two guests here today; they are still with us. One is director of the New Horizon Youth Centre, which I myself had the honour of founding around 40 years ago. The other is now running a project for Camden borough which is relevant to this issue. The project is concerned with young people who are potential delinquents. They drop out of school and the project provides an alternative sort of education. They were both much struck by the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Elton, and their comments are more valuable than anything I can say.

We have to compress our remarks. Even in these few minutes I must refer yet again to the overwhelming importance of early treatment, as stressed by the noble Lord, Lord Elton, and other speakers. I shall take just two examples of the many I can offer. I can think of one young man who was 15 when he killed a policeman in the course of an armed raid. His accomplice was afterwards hanged but he was too young to be executed. He was dyslexic, though the son of a bank manager and from a good family. When he was in prison he learnt to read and write--that is when I met him--and later he turned into a good citizen. If he had been taken in hand and looked after earlier that terrible murder would never have happened.

Another case which is more up to date--he does not mind me mentioning his name--concerns a young man called Bob Turney. He again was dyslexic. I do not say that all young delinquents are dyslexic but those two happened to be. He got into serious trouble early. He was regarded as stupid and felt that everybody treated him with a certain contempt. He was in prison off and on for 17 years. Today he is a qualified probation officer and has written a book, of which I had the honour to write the introduction.

2 Jul 1997 : Column 239

Those are two examples where early treatment would perhaps have saved a terrible murder or half a life of crime. That is the most important contribution I want to make. I ought to say that I have had the pleasure--I hope it is a pleasure for others as well--of having won a place in the ballot, quite contrary to expectations. I shall therefore be introducing a Motion on probation a fortnight from now.

Another aspect of this matter arose when I was having dinner with a man who had been for 38 years a juvenile magistrate, and for most of that time as chairman. I am afraid he had rather a depressing message. He said that without substantially increasing funds, nothing much will happen. There it is. People who have been in the game all that time believe that we must put more resources into dealing with the problem. It cannot be solved on the cheap. I do not know what has been said in the Budget, but we cannot solve the problem on the cheap. I leave the matter there.

5.36 p.m.

The Marquess of Aberdeen and Temair: My Lords, the question of juvenile crime was debated in this House some four years ago. In that debate I emphasised that prevention was far cheaper than cure, and the noble Lord, Lord Elton, made that a key point in his opening speech. It is something we all think and others have said--"Catch 'em young".

In the previous debate I spoke about Schools Outreach, which the noble Viscount, Lord Caldecote, mentioned. I should like to say a little more about it. The charity is based in Birmingham. It makes a careful selection of young men and women and gives them rigorous training to act as what the Department of Education somewhat clumsily called, "the part of non-official adult friends of difficult schoolchildren with potential criminal tendencies".

I am chairman of the steering committee that has dealt with the Schools Outreach workers in Slough for nearly 10 years. I have come to know the girls who work for the charity, and more dedicated and highly trained people one cannot imagine. They get to know the children and the children know that the outreach worker is not employed by the local authority or the school. They are offering an open door to children who may feel isolated.

The first thing the outreach worker aims to do is to improve the child's understanding of his or her feelings and relationships. I was given an example by one of the workers. A girl was being difficult at school and the outreach worker asked what was the matter. The girl said, "I go home and I suppose I am rather disruptive and my parents send me to bed without supper". "What do they do?", said the outreach worker, "Do they work?". "Yes, they go out to work", said the girl. The outreach worker said, "In that case, when they come home from work surely they want to relax and have a happy, pleasant time, perhaps with you". The girl thought about that. She went back and the next morning was all smiles. She said, "It worked". That seemed to

2 Jul 1997 : Column 240

be such a simple explanation but it was achieved by the worker's insight into the child's unconscious need to find a solution.

The ethos of the outreach worker is brilliant and simple. The worker starts on a one-to-one basis and then gets a group together in co-operative friendship. They not only befriend the members of the group but the parents as well. The parents in their turn readily appreciate that here is no official visitor but someone bringing friendship and understanding from a private source. Outreach workers are trained to inspire positive attitudes in the whole family. As the noble Viscount, Lord Caldecote, said, the number of exclusions in those Slough schools has fallen dramatically and the turnover of staff has fallen too. That is all due to two attractive young girls who have sorted out so many of the troublemakers.

Schools Outreach is a charity like Crime Concern but, unfortunately, it does not have any great national fame. Furthermore, it cannot publish figures of how effective it has been because one cannot quantify crime that has not taken place.

We all know that the problem of young criminals is appalling. No one knows what to do. I make the analogy that if a man has an eruption of boils, like the prophet Job, the modern doctor does not treat each boil individually; he goes to the analytical chemist or whatever it might be to find out the root cause of the problem. That is what we have to do. By "we", I mean the whole of society.

I hope that all good people committed to the call of the noble Lord, Lord Elton, for attention to be given to the importance of youth crime prevention initiatives will take the initiative and combine to co-ordinate their work. Then we would go a long way to finding the solution to this wretched and so far unsolved social problem.

5.42 p.m.

Lord Addington: My Lords, in a debate like this there are certain duties to be performed. The first is to congratulate the maiden speakers. Both were very informed. To someone like myself who did not do very much before I came here in the way of public speaking, it seems a little of an affront to congratulate them but I nevertheless do so.

The debate is rather depressing in the fact that we have gone through some repetition. The noble Lord, Lord Elton, tangled with this problem directly and with information. The vast majority of noble Lords who have spoken subsequently have followed him. Youth crime has two causes: feelings of hopelessness and boredom. It predominantly affects the male. As the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, said, female crime is rising but, after the age of 14 or 15, female offenders tend to go into prostitution or become mothers. The only point one can make about that is that the two states are not mutually exclusive. Indeed, the number of young mothers who find themselves turning to prostitution to support their children is depressingly high.

Part of the problem of youth crime is that many youths feel that it does not matter what they do because they will not be caught. The reason they feel that is that

2 Jul 1997 : Column 241

they cannot see an alternative. The average middle class child knows that if he goes to school, works hard, keeps his nose reasonably clean, does not offend anyone too much and follows the educational pattern, a pot of gold, or at least a cash dispenser card with something behind it, is at the end of it all. It is the process of education, with parental backing, on to employment and some form of financial reward. That carrot is dangled in front of huge parts of our society at various levels.

However, if you turn round to someone from an inner-city area who has no tradition in his family of education, no tradition of anything other than unskilled work within that family in a society which is rapidly shedding its unskilled workforce, who suddenly finds himself confronted by a consumer society in which one is expected to have considerable spending power, how can you wonder why such a person looks to crime? He has no great incentive to keep his nose clean. If he is lucky there is a life watching television as opposed to the option of going out at night. At the junior level, as some noble Lords have said, if you go out, crime is exciting. In a recent television programme I heard the police say that joyriders would drive up to the police station, rev up the engine, shout out the window and wait to be chased, because that was exciting. If you do not address this major problem of such people having no reason to acquiesce with regard to what society wants from them, they will never do so, and you will fill your prisons over and over again.

It has already been said that no matter how much effort one puts into catching criminals one will always have crime. I have in mind low level crime such as burglary. I say "low level", but I remember that when my own flat was broken into I could quite happily have killed the person who did it. But it is very difficult to catch the people who carry out that activity. Indeed, with the best will in the world, if they are on a spree, the police, even if they know exactly who they are, may take time to apprehend them. After a week or so they may be several offences on. It is very difficult to stop that. Furthermore, because of the legal process it takes time for young offenders to reach the level of severity where they are locked up. That will not change no matter how good the new fast-track approach is. There will still be a problem of backlog. You will always have this idea that they will be able to get away with it for a period of time.

If you take the ideas of boredom and hopelessness and the fact that there is nothing else for them, you are bound to have a level of crime. The problem of bravado also comes into this which often leads to crimes against the person. Such crimes tend to be committed by young men on other young men they know and tend to be assaults, which may be exaggerated by the fact that people are more often carrying offensive weapons in the form of knives. But such crimes have always gone on. We do not even know if in fact the number of such crimes is increasing dramatically as people are reporting them more. The same is true of other types of crime such as the abuse of children. However, we can make an inroad into solving the problem if society is prepared to bite the bullet and try to get people out of the feeling that there is nothing else for them.

2 Jul 1997 : Column 242

One of the main difficulties in this area is that the problem is the responsibility of no one part of government. It is not the problem of the education service exclusively and it is not the problem of the Home Office or the social services exclusively. Every department has a part to play. During my time in opposition I have often gone to the wrong department to extract the right answer for a cause. One realises just how heavy the horizontal structure of government is. Departments do not talk to each other. I hope the Government will be able to give us some assurance that a higher level of communication will take place. What I am saying is not a direct jibe at the previous government. The problem is the way we have structured our government into departments. They are competing bodies for funding and prestige. They will always have trouble in talking to each other and they will do so only when they are forced to. That is a fact and I hope that there is a degree of agreement on it.

Unless we are prepared to try to bring all these groups together we will never address the real problem. We must try to make sure that the education and social services departments work together. We should try to encourage people to believe that there is an alternative. If we are not going down the road of massive investment to create lots of jobs for the unskilled--I believe that those days are gone and it may well be that ultimately that created more problems than were solved--we have to try to make people more flexible in their approach to employment by giving them greater skills. They should be helped to become more geographically mobile. We have to reach the young people involved. It will not be easy.

I have worked in young offenders' institutions and tried to train young people in how to go about a job interview. The difficulty in reaching the 16 and 17 year-olds was incredible. They did not need to know because they knew already. They were real, hardened criminals. They were not successful because some of them were at the institutions for the second or third time.

Unless we pursue the educational idea--and I use that term in the broadest possible sense--that there is another way forward, unless the carrot is dangled and, to use the undoubtedly politically incorrect term again, we follow the traditional middle-class route forward, and unless that route is available for everyone and they are shown how that can be done--rhetoric is not enough--we will always have these problems. Ultimately, we have the ability to solve many of them, but whether we have the will is something that all of us must look to.

5.51 p.m.

Baroness Blatch: My Lords, perhaps I may start by warmly congratulating and thanking my noble friend Lord Elton, not simply for the debate today but for all the work that he has done. He has worked tirelessly for young people, not just with the Divert Trust, but when he was a Minister and in so many other ways.

I also thank the noble Lord, Lord Evans of Parkside, and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Leicester for excellent maiden speeches. We look forward to

2 Jul 1997 : Column 243

hearing from them again. One of the joys of this kind of debate is the degree of consensus on all sides of the House. I certainly welcome that.

Perhaps I may repeat a comment which I made in a previous debate and simply put the rising crime rate in context with the period since the end of the Second World War. It is of course true that there has been a rise in crime since 1979, but the rise in crime from the end of the Second World War until 1979 was far greater than the rise from 1979 to the present day. We are now happily on a downward trend and we hope that will continue.

The one thing that can be said with certainty about this subject is that there is no quick fix. Any attempt to lay the blame for the increase in youth crime throughout the post-war years at the door of any government ignores the many and complex factors which have had an impact on the lives of our young people. For example, there is the breakdown in family life resulting in considerable insecurity and too many children growing up without the security of a loving, nurturing home life. There is also the growth of television, video and films where young people are exposed to sex, violence and bad language at too young an age. In addition, there is a street-wiseness beyond their years and a fearlessness which is unnerving.

There were the years of progressive ideas in education when the rule book was discarded in favour of encouraging children to "Do their own thing", as it was called; competition was deemed to be bad; children's work was not marked objectively; and discipline was considered to be overly oppressive. Basics in education were ignored especially in reading, and there was a tendency to be non-judgmental about the behaviour of children, which left many of them very confused. There was a time when political correctness reigned and all too often self-indulgence on the part of those educationists who promoted this nonsense. The children who suffered most were those from the inner cities and more urban areas. Children who came from insecure homes suffered a double jeopardy. Learning at mother's knee was not for many of them and there was no framework within which children could grow and develop. The only anchor in their lives was school.

We live at a time when one in three children are born out of wedlock and too many children do not enjoy the stability of living with the same parents into young adulthood. Therefore, I join with many others who have spoken in this debate in agreeing that the causes of juvenile behaviour are varied and very complex.

However, much has been achieved. Education is more structured now. A national curriculum was introduced almost 10 years ago designed to address academic, physical, spiritual, social, mental and cultural education and with concentration on basic skills. There is assessment and testing to identify strengths and weaknesses in children's learning. There is also regular inspection, not simply to assess the quality of teaching and learning, but also to observe and report on the management and ethos of a school. There are expanding opportunities for routes into educational training. There are GCSEs, national vocational qualifications and

2 Jul 1997 : Column 244

general national vocational qualifications. There are vastly expanded further and higher education sectors with record participation. There is greater choice in types of schools in order to provide for a wider range of abilities and aptitudes.

A thriving voluntary sector has been encouraged. The "Make a Difference" initiative involved hundreds of organisations and thousands of volunteers, especially young people, actively making a difference in their own local communities. The impressive work of the Prince's Trust is only one such example.

As a Minister I was privileged to have been responsible for the voluntary sector within my portfolio and saw at first hand so many projects, especially in the field of improving local communities and crime prevention. I fondly remember a project at Applecross on the west coast of Scotland, funded by the Home Office and in co-operation--if I may say so to the noble Lord, Lord Addington--with the Ministry of Defence. One thing I did as a Minister was to talk across all departments in government. I found that there was a willingness in people to discuss across departments.

At Applecross young people who had offended or who were at risk of offending, came together with young people of the same age from cadets, the youth service and potential leaders for a rigorous three to five weeks of outward bound activities with a very disciplined programme. When they returned home follow-up programmes were managed by Fairbridge, a voluntary organisation specialising in dealing with difficult young people. All the signs are that it is proving successful. I shall be very interested in the evaluation when it takes place.

There was the introduction of national standards for the Probation Service both to improve the management of the service and the quality and effectiveness of community service. I was also privileged to have been a sponsor Minister for Cleveland and Teesside for over five years. I absolutely agree with everything that my noble friend Lord Gisborough said. During that time the area underwent substantial economic and social regeneration. Again, I saw at first hand a whole community working in partnership with the private, public and voluntary sectors, including the churches and the schools. Everybody in the community was involved. Many of the programmes were designed to increase the involvement of young people and to divert them into healthy, law-abiding lifestyles and away from crime. The approach by many in the community and the work done by the Cleveland police force is exciting and the early signs of that work are promising.

In March this year, following the work of a ministerial group on juveniles, a consultation document was published. The group was established to examine ways of intervening effectively with young children at risk of offending in order to divert them from crime. That report catalogues many measures already in place and the millions of pounds committed across government to crime prevention. Examples include the Safer Cities programme, grants for educational support and training programmes on youth action schemes; the national lottery-funded programmes, support for Crime

2 Jul 1997 : Column 245

Concern, which is an organisation carrying out youth crime surveys, parenting education, working with families, creating youth action groups and support for caution-plus schemes. We also produced a report to address delays in the criminal justice system.

The consultation document makes it clear that the prime responsibility for children and their behaviour must in the first place be that of the parents. I believe that it was right that the courts were given powers to involve parents in their children's court proceedings and in supervising their punishment. Parents can now be required to attend court and to pay their children's fines. They can be bound over to exercise control over their children and to ensure that their children comply with any community sentence. The document contained a new proposal which would extend those powers to include the introduction of a parental control order, but the aim always was to involve the parents in working with the children to find solutions.

It is clear from all the evidence that early intervention is the key to prevention. Wrongdoing, disruptive behaviour and disaffection are all better nipped in the bud, preferably by parents. However, I wholly concur with the point so eloquently made by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Leicester on the importance of partnerships between parents, schools and many of the local agencies such as the police, the Probation Service, the social services and voluntary organisations. All can work together on crime prevention programmes. The previous government proposed the creation of local child crime teams which would maintain a register of local services and programmes, identify children at risk and refer them to the appropriate schemes for help. The intention was to run pilot schemes and to test and evaluate their effectiveness.

However, when all efforts to prevent offending fail, it is important to deal effectively with those who do offend. As has already been said, a small number of people are responsible for a very large proportion of juvenile crime. Those persistent offenders are at present the greatest challenge. That is why we proposed for the most persistent offenders the establishment of secure training centres to provide highly structured periods of up to two years, to include intensive education and training within a disciplined framework. I should be interested to know from the Minister whether those centres will come into operation and, if not, what the Government's plans are for dealing with the most persistent offenders.

Making allowances for wrongdoing does no service to young offenders. It only exacerbates the work of those seeking effective solutions to preventing crime. In our consultation document, we proposed a strategy which aimed to identify children at risk of offending at an early age and to refer them to programmes designed to help them to steer clear of crime. The strategy was based on research about the effectiveness of early intervention. It was to be delivered by local agencies working together in partnership in new local organisations which the Government envisaged would be known as child crime teams. That consultation document, together with the review of delays in the criminal justice system, with a full chapter and recommendations on improving the

2 Jul 1997 : Column 246

youth court system, shows a constructive way forward. I should like to think that this is one subject that would benefit from cross-party support and that both reports would form the basis of this Government's response to the important issue of preventing juvenile crime.

6.13 p.m.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Home Office (Lord Williams of Mostyn): My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Elton, for initiating this debate. I have listened with very great care to everything that has been said. Without exception, this has been a wholly non-partisan debate and I echo entirely what the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, said a moment ago: in a civilised society this subject ought to be the object of cross-party discussion and agreement. I for one endorse the approach which the noble Baroness set out and am most grateful for it.

We have heard two excellent maiden speeches which could be regarded as genuinely maiden speeches and one which was a quasi-maiden speech from my noble friend Lord Graham of Edmonton who was not able to assist your Lordships in the past because of the duties which he so well discharged as Opposition Chief Whip.

Perhaps I may make one small deviation from my speech to say that I noticed that our well respected friend the noble Viscount, Lord Tonypandy, was with us for a moment or two. I am sure that I echo your Lordships' views when I say--I hope that the noble Viscount will read this in Hansard tomorrow--how welcome it was to see him here if only for a short time.

I give the most solemn undertaking that I can that I shall give the most careful consideration to every syllable that has been uttered in this debate. There has not been a wasted sentence and there has been a very gratifying degree of consensus. This is not a party matter. Indeed, it would demean us all if it were and I turn my face resolutely away from trying to make this a party matter. I do not go into the history of crime since the last war because I do not think that that is our purpose this afternoon.

I echo what has been said that learning the difference between right and wrong when a child is the only fruitful start for a happy and successful life. Today's young offenders are self-evidently likely to be the adult criminals of tomorrow who will block up our prisons and penal systems. Too many young people are not being taught the lessons from which we perhaps all benefited in different times and in different social conditions. Indeed, as the noble Lord, Lord Addington, rightly pointed out, to one extent or another those conditions were privileged. I do not necessarily mean financial privilege; I mean the more important privilege of having a stable home with loving parents in whose hearts and minds was the resolution to set their child on the proper road. Many children these days do not have that; and I endorse entirely what the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Leicester said on that.

We are firmly committed to making young people aware of their personal and social responsibilities. Preventing them embarking on crime is a key part of our strategy, but it is not sufficient on its own. We

2 Jul 1997 : Column 247

cannot simply concentrate all our efforts on preventing the first offence. Our strategy is twofold: first, we must dissuade young people from committing that first offence, which is capable of being exciting and which is, as has been said, seductive in that it may be the only point of interest in a rather arid life; and, secondly, we must seek to help those who have already offended to confront their behaviour and to change it. It is trite but nevertheless important that we bear in mind what the research shows. Indicators of likely criminal behaviour by young people include low parental supervision, persistent truanting and peer pressure exerted by those who are already criminals.

There was a clear measure of support for the Home Secretary's strategy as it is beginning to be developed and set out. I am grateful for that--but not on any party basis because I repeat that this issue is more important than that. As a number of noble Lords have said, the key areas of family life and school life cannot be overstressed. Too many parents will not accept responsibility for the children that they have brought into this world. We propose parental responsibility orders to ensure that parents face up to their responsibilities. However, what is just as important is that we recognise that many parents need guidance, support and possibly sympathy when they fail or fall down. A new child protection order will ensure that unsupervised young children are kept off the streets and, more importantly, out of trouble late at night.

We are encouraging the work of the School Curriculum and Assessment Authority on values education. I know that these words sound like jargon, but I am happy to echo what the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, said because this is very important. I know that I shall be accused of using jargon and I do not care because I do believe that education in parenting skills is extremely important and should be a significant core of what we are doing. We shall be supporting local projects under the Truancy and Disaffected Pupils component of the Grants for Education Support and Training programme to the tune of £17.5 million in this financial year. If only I were Father Christmas I should be happy and your Lordships would be overjoyed as well as surprised: your Lordships are so eloquent and I am so naive---

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page