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Lord Campbell of Alloway: That I appreciate, but the primary legislation is amended by alternative procedures; namely, affirmative resolutions of each House. All noble Lords are aware of what happens on such occasions. Nobody is here anyway. It is a single-stage procedure and there is no substantive debate. The matter is dealt with in a manner which, quite frankly, is wholly inappropriate given the way in which primary law should be amended. I agree with the remarks of my noble friend Lady Carnegy of Lour.
Resolved in the negative, and amendment disagreed to accordingly.
Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, with the leave of the House I shall now repeat a Statement on youth crime which has been made in another place by my right honourable friend the Home Secretary. The Statement is as follows:
"Reform of youth justice--to make good years of mismanagement and underperformance--is an urgent priority. In the past, the youth justice system has mimicked a bad parent, being indulgent one minute, unexpectedly harsh the next. These are just the faults which foster youth crime; and to compound them the system suffers from endemic delays.
"Many honourable and right honourable Members will have seen the problems in their own constituencies: children whose misbehaviour goes unchecked and escalates into crime; children who offend repeatedly without any meaningful
"There must be no more excuses for youth crime. Before the election, we promised to halve the time from arrest to sentence for persistent young offenders as part of a fundamental reform of youth justice. This White Paper sets out how we will deliver those pledges. We will make a start through the Crime and Disorder Bill, to be laid before Parliament shortly.
"The aim of the youth justice system--preventing crime: one of the fundamental deficiencies of the youth justice system is that different agencies work to different, even conflicting, objectives. So, for the first time, the Crime and Disorder Bill will make clear that the principal aim of the youth justice system is to prevent offending by young people. All youth justice practitioners will be under a duty to take account of this aim.
"To tackle youth crime effectively, we must recognise that young people often start down the path of offending when they are very young. So the Bill will provide new powers to protect children under 10 from being drawn into crime. Local authorities--after consultation with the police and the community--will be able to set up local curfew schemes for the under 10s. And a new child safety order will help stop individual children under 10 from drifting into crime.
"Tackling the causes of youth crime: many factors draw young people into offending. Not attending school, through truancy or exclusion; having delinquent siblings or friends; coming from a family with multiple problems; and, for older teenagers, being unemployed--all increase the risks of juvenile criminality.
"The Government are taking action to tackle the causes of juvenile crime--by raising schools standards; by fighting truancy and under-achievement; by combating social exclusion; by helping families at risk; and by giving the young long-term unemployed a pathway from welfare to work.
"Families and responsibilities: we know that the single most important factor associated with youth criminality is the quality of a young person's home life--crucially, the relationship between parents and children, and the level of parental supervision. The parents of young people who offend or who are at risk of offending need particular support and guidance. They should also be made to face up to their responsibilities. A new parenting order will therefore require parents to attend guidance sessions and comply with requirements specified by the court to help them control the behaviour of their child.
"But families are about much more than preventing crime. They are the fundamental unit in our society, providing mutual care and support and helping to shape the values of future generations. At the Prime Minister's request, I am chairing a new
"Young people, too, should face up to the consequences of their offending. The rule of doli incapax can stand in the way of holding properly to account 10 to 13 year-olds who commit crimes. Young people of that age know that it is wrong to steal, vandalise or commit an assault. We will abolish this archaic rule to ensure that they are answerable for their offences.
"Final Warning: firm action is needed when young people begin to offend. But this does not happen at present. So we will replace repeat cautions with a new reprimand and final warning scheme to provide a consistent, graduated police response to youth crime, within a clear statutory framework.
"A final warning will normally trigger a tailor-made intervention programme with the offender and his or her family to tackle the causes of the offending. Once a youngster has had a final warning, the presumption will be that he or she will be charged with any further offence.
"Court orders: the Government will give the courts a wider range of powers to help change offending behaviour. Reparation and apology can bring home to young offenders the harm which their offending has caused. The Crime and Disorder Bill will provide a reparation order and make reparation available as a requirement of a supervision order. There will be a new action plan order providing an intensive programme of intervention with offenders and their families, combining punishment, reparation and rehabilitation, as an alternative to custody.
"Secure remands: custody is, however, necessary for the most serious and persistent young offenders; and for some young people it may be the only effective way of preventing offending while waiting trial. However, the courts' existing powers to remand young people to secure facilities are inadequate. The Crime and Disorder Bill will pave the way for powers for the courts to direct that 12 to 14 year-olds and 15 and 16 year-old girls who are charged with serious offences--or who have a history of absconding and offending on bail--are held on remand in secure local authority accommodation. The Bill will also enable the courts to direct that particularly vulnerable 15 and 16 year-old boys are held in local authority secure accommodation when a place is available, rather than remanded to prison.
"Detention and training order: for the minority of young offenders whose crimes require that they are sentenced to custody, public protection is best served if sentences and regimes work to change anti-social attitudes and behaviour and equip youngsters for a law-abiding life on release. The Crime and Disorder Bill will establish a new detention and training order in place of the current sentences of detention in a young offender institution and the secure training order. Detention under Section 53 of the Children and Young Persons Act 1933 will remain available for 10 to 17 year-olds convicted of the most serious crimes.
"The detention and training order will be made up of 50 per cent. custody and 50 per cent. community supervision, with provision for shortening or extending the custodial element to encourage young offenders to make good progress against agreed sentence plans. Orders will range in length from four months to two years and young offenders will be placed in the most suitable accommodation for their circumstances.
"Better structures: at the moment we do not have effective local and national structures to tackle youth crime. The Crime and Disorder Bill will rectify this, establishing local, multi-agency youth offending teams charged with planning and supervising community interventions. And to provide better national direction, the Bill will establish a new national youth justice board for England and Wales which will ensure consistent standards and monitor local performance. The board will also set and oversee standards for secure accommodation.
"Changing the culture of the youth court: I have spent a good deal of time over the past two years studying the operation of the youth court. Over the summer, I visited courts across the country and discussed problems and solutions with all those involved, including young offenders. Despite the obvious commitment of the people working in the system, the unavoidable conclusion is that it is simply not working. Offenders are rarely asked to account for themselves. They are bystanders in the process, at best bemused by the obscure theatre of the occasion. Parents are not confronted with their responsibilities; victims have no role; and the public is excluded. I am convinced of the need for fundamental change. We are already encouraging magistrates to allow victims into court to see justice done. And we will be asking youth court magistrates to use their discretion to lift reporting restrictions following a young person's conviction where this is in the public interest.
"I want to go further than this and integrate the best aspects of restorative justice into the youth court system. There has been a wide welcome for some remarkably successful schemes which bring young offenders face to face with the human consequences of their crimes. These schemes can bring significant reductions in re-offending. Victims too can benefit from this approach if they want to by telling offenders how the crime has affected them.
"Confronting young offenders with the damage they cause is in many ways much tougher than the present alternative. Today young offenders are spectators of legalistic, adversarial court proceedings and frequently hear lawyers making excuses for their offending. But with the restorative approach there is no way for youngsters--or their parents--to hide from their personal responsibilities.
"The White Paper proposes a radical new approach for young offenders coming before the youth court for the first time. First-time offenders pleading guilty would normally be referred after conviction to a youth panel. The panel would draw up a contract with the young offender and their parents which could last for
"These changes will require primary legislation. The Government will introduce this at the earliest suitable opportunity once the Crime and Disorder Bill has been enacted and in the light of comments we receive from this House and from those outside this House about the details of what we propose.
"Legal aid: currently there is no system of quality assurance to guarantee that legally aided lawyers in the youth court possess the right skills and experience for this work. Moreover, what they are paid depends on the length of time they take to complete cases, which can provide a perverse incentive and so adds to delay.
"The Government believe that a better approach might be for lawyers to provide services under block contracts. This would provide flexibility and a consistently high quality of legal representation. Contracts would discourage delay. Pilot trials will be run by the Legal Aid Board.
"Faster justice: delays in the youth court system impede justice, frustrate victims and only encourage more crime. A young offender who commits an offence today will have to wait on average until the middle of April to be sentenced. That is unacceptable. No parent and no teacher would wait that long to deal with misbehaviour by their children or pupils. Our first priority is to halve the time it takes between arrest and sentence for persistent young offenders, ensuring rapid justice for those individuals from whom the public most needs protection.
"Before we came into government, information was never collected to show how long it took to deal with persistent young offenders. Over the past few months, we have been collecting this data. I can now tell the House that it takes, on average, 142 days--almost five months--from the date of first arrest to sentence, during which time the victim receives no justice and there is neither punishment nor intervention to prevent re-offending.
"With the Lord Chancellor, I took immediate action after the election to combat delays. Provisional data for last month show that the average time to complete young offenders' cases once they reach court is 60 days compared with 68 days last October. The average number of adjournments has also fallen. I welcome these improvements, but this is only the start. In those areas which have already introduced fast-tracking schemes, the results are clear. In north Hampshire, for example, since October last year the average time taken between charge and sentencing for young offenders has dropped from 133 days to 89.
"The Crime and Disorder Bill will provide for fast-tracking for all persistent young offenders. There will be mandatory time limits for all young offender cases but stricter limits for those involving persistent young offenders. The time limits will be backed by
"Conclusion: one of the most depressing things about visiting this country's adult prisons is to hear how many inmates started offending as children. By nipping youth crime in the bud, we will be preventing today's young offenders graduating into tomorrow's career criminals. Our manifesto committed us to tackle youth crime and its causes. This White Paper sets out how we will do it.
"The measures which I have announced today should deliver a youth justice system which prevents youth crime, as well as punishing it; which deals directly with offending behaviour rather than simply processing cases; which reinforces responsibility; which delivers justice for victims as well as offenders; and which provides value for the taxpayer's money. I commend this White Paper to the House."
Lord Henley: My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for coming to the House--he was here already and will be here for some little time--and for repeating the Statement made by his right honourable friend in another place. There is much in the Statement with which we will agree and which we will find easy to accept. I could say that the Government have stolen our clothes, which could be described as a crime of a young government.
I have a number of questions, but there is much with which we can agree. I hope that when debating the legislation we will be able to offer our help and support where appropriate, but we shall wish to study the detail with great care. Perhaps I may say to the usual channels that I hope that before receiving the Crime and Disorder Bill we will have an opportunity to debate the White Paper. I have not yet seen it and I believe that a debate after having studied the White Paper will be more effective than the brief remarks one can make in response to a Statement of this kind. I very much hope that there can be such a debate.
We published our Green Paper, Preventing Children Offending, in March. It set out many proposals designed to intervene early, to prevent juveniles turning to crime by establishing new local groups, and by involving many different people within the community, including the parents. It also examined ideas for early identification of children most at risk of offending. That policy appears to have been followed by the Government in bringing forward their White Paper. For that reason, I look forward to reading it.
I wish to raise three points. I hope that the noble Lord will be able to respond to them, but if he is not perhaps he will write to me in due course. The first relates to a matter of detail, but it may be that I have misunderstood the Statement. At the end of the section of the Statement which referred to changing the culture of the youth courts, the noble Lord said that such changes would
The second point relates to secure accommodation. The noble Lord made it clear that he expects that on some occasions, where appropriate, greater use will be made of local authority secure accommodation. It is some time since I was involved in a local authority, but I understand that they now have much less secure accommodation. Therefore, they would have to provide considerably more secure accommodation in order to cope with the demands of such children. Will help be given to local authorities to provide secure accommodation where necessary?
I appreciate that the noble Lord may have preferred notice of my third point, but I shall be happy if he writes to me on the subject. He will remember the new regime which we introduced for 18 to 21 year-old offenders. It is being piloted at the Colchester military corrective training centre and at the Thorn Cross young offender institution. It placed a heavy emphasis on discipline and training. I should be grateful if the noble Lord could say how that regime is going, the degree of success it has achieved and whether the Government, who appear to have adopted a Conservative approach to these matters, will be prepared to continue with it.
Having given a general welcome to the Statement, I look forward to reading the detail in the White Paper and later in the Crime and Disorder Bill. I am sure that we shall have many late nights debating the detail of the Bill.
Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank: My Lords, we, too, are grateful to the Minister for repeating the Statement. It is no reflection on him that it was what one might have expected of a Second Reading speech on the Crime and Disorder Bill. Indeed, there were eight specific references to the Bill and, given speeches, briefings and previous Green Papers, there was nothing new. In those circumstances, I wish to save most of our comments of substance until the White Paper has been read and digested and until the Bill is before the House. In repeating what the Home Secretary said in another place, the noble Lord said that the Bill will be available shortly. Can he be more specific? Can we expect the Bill before the Christmas Recess? What possibility is there that it might begin in your Lordships' House rather than in another place?
We all agree that there is a serious problem of youth crime. I agree with the description of the problem in the Statement and in the White Paper. We must also agree that there is a need for innovation and a new approach. There are encouraging ideas in the Statement and the
The White Paper and the Statement refer to the causes of juvenile crime. However, they are inadequate and we on these Benches will make clear that the causes of juvenile crime are not only those listed in the White Paper and the Statement but include inferior housing, of which there is still far too much in this country; the neglect of inner cities, which is plain to us all when we travel around the country; the problems of one parent families, which are due not only to the failure of responsibility; and the incidence of sheer poverty, which the whole House hopes the Government will do more to remedy than appears to be their intention.
I wish to ask the noble Lord two questions. The first relates to the anticipated increase in the number of young people on remand. What new provision is being made to accommodate them in acceptable circumstances? The second relates to resource implications. I understand that there is no proposal that the changes should be financed from the National Lottery. If there is no such proposal, what will the costs amount to and where is the money to be found? We would not be happy if it were to be argued that the money will be found from existing budgets.
I shall look in particular at the role of local authorities which are to be responsible for local curfew schemes. Those schemes are to be permissive rather than mandatory and, as I read the White Paper, no additional resources are to be found. Does the Minister believe that in those circumstances the schemes will be widely taken up? I hope that they will because, despite what I said earlier, the experiment is worth examining. But without the necessary resources is it a serious proposition? There is also the issue of further resources for the police and the courts. The Statement did not spell out the resource implications, but perhaps the Minister will help us now.
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