Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page


Earl of Mar and Kellie: I have put my name down to Amendment No. 242 which seeks to eliminate the use of detention and training orders for children under the age of 12. I wish to ask the Minister about the expected scale of the use of subsection (2)(b) of Clause 60.

My maiden speech during the Criminal Justice and Public Order Bill focused--non-controversially, of course--on the creation of youth training centres on a regional basis. The centres were described as prisons for 12 year-olds. We now have a measure before us which appears to create the possibility of prison for under-12s.

3 Mar 1998 : Column 1102

I acknowledge that some children need secure accommodation. The environment of such accommodation must be of a very high standard, for these children have to be enabled to grow up in spite of being in secure accommodation. Security must be an important component in their care programme, but it must never become the dominant component. We want them to grow away from their offending behaviour rather than be confirmed in it.

3.30 p.m.

Baroness Hilton of Eggardon: My name too is attached to these amendments. I am astonished that the Government are seeking the power to gaol 10 to 12 year-olds, the sort of draconian measures we argued against so ferociously when we were discussing the Criminal Justice Bill in 1994. It saddens me to see the present Government going down the same draconian route that was pursued by the previous administration.

We tend to turn to America for examples of how to deal with offenders rather than to other parts of Europe which often have far more enlightened regimes. To add to the evidence of research provided by my noble friend Lady David, experience nearer home, in Northern Ireland, was that gaoling 12 to 15 year-olds led to a 90 per cent. reconviction rate. I really do not believe that this is an effective use of resources or a humane way of trying to secure reduced offending by young people.

There is also the danger, of course, that it is cheaper to put people into youth custody centres. The cost may be as little as £20,000 per offender per year whereas with other forms of detention--and certainly some young people do need to be kept in secure accommodation--it can rise to as much as £150,000 per place. There will therefore be pressure on courts and on local authorities to use youth custody rather than local authority places.

These financial pressures on the criminal justice system are to be deplored, particularly in relation to young people. I urge the Government to think again, particularly about seeking the power to gaol 10 to 12 year-olds which seems totally inhumane and counter-productive.

Lord Williams of Mostyn: I do not think that I disagree with any of the fundamental purposes identified by noble Lords who have spoken to these amendments. In respect of specific questions put by the noble Lord, Lord Windlesham, I entirely agree that great care will have to be exercised in deploying this power. I should like to set that in a context which will be profoundly different to what has gone before by virtue of other remedies--I use the word carefully--which we are offering in this Bill, which I think have been the general subject of approval. The noble Lord referred to consultation and asked when the DTO first appeared. It is true that the DTO was not in the first three consultation papers. It was, as he says, in the November White Paper.

On the review that the Government conducted, we came to the conclusion that previous custodial arrangements were really rather chaotic. They had

3 Mar 1998 : Column 1103

grown up piecemeal, perhaps without a coherent strategy. On assessing that situation we came to the conclusion that the DTO was the appropriate remedy to be available to the courts in some circumstances. We consulted the Home Secretary's task force. The noble Lord is quite right. But we went wider. We asked lay practitioners, the Association of Chief Police Officers, the Association of Directors of Social Services, the Criminal Justice Consultative Council and the Magistrates' Association. So even if the conclusion is not to universal satisfaction, our consultation was a decent and considered one.

The context I propose to spend a moment on, because I recognise the strength of feeling and indeed sympathise with it, is that we are not simply choosing piecemeal remedies and thinking that any of them is a perfect answer to these undoubted problems. We have to think of what we are offering as alternatives in this spectrum. No More Excuses, the White Paper of November, said that we wanted the courts to have a fully effective range of sentencing options, community based, I stress, as well as custodial, for all juvenile offenders. We must not overlook the action plan order; we must not overlook the reparation order. I take entirely to heart the observation of the right reverend Prelate. We do have what I think he would describe as moral duties to young people before incarcerating them. One way to discharge that moral duty, I agree, is to make the young offender realise what he or she has done. The action plan will deal with that; the reparation order will deal with that. It will be demonstrated to a child, however young, that he does have moral responsibilities though it is a child's responsibilities, not an adult's responsibilities.

I agree that we need to steer young people away from crime if we can. The melancholy truth is that for some children, a relatively small number, a degree of positive constructive custody has to be provided but only if we have discharged our community obligations to nip offending in the bud early and not simply allowed the system to be abused by delay, compounded by inappropriate penalties, so that although the child is not actually encouraged to continue to be a criminal he is not assisted to stop and sees no constructive purpose in stopping.

We believe that custodial sentences should not be regarded simply as an end in themselves but that they are sometimes needed to protect the public by removing the young offender. That, of course, is only a temporary relief. We are looking to positive, constructive regimes to prevent further offending but only at a stage when alternatives have been considered. That is why I accept the melancholy story that previous statistics point to. We have to bear in mind, however, that quite often reoffending rates often derive from a number of circumstances including the fact that no action plan order is at present available, nor any reparation order. And, of course, quite often in the past young offenders have been sentenced to custody--I say this with no harshness--at too late a point for it to be of assistance to them. If one leaves custody too late it does no service to the offender but simply increases the likelihood of further offending.

3 Mar 1998 : Column 1104

Where custodial sentences are clearly required for 12 to 17 year-olds, we need the detention training order to put in place a framework. That framework has stringent requirements, which appear on the face of the Bill, before custody can be imposed. The tests set out in the Criminal Justice Act 1991 must be satisfied. Either the offence must be so serious that no other sentence can be justified or, in the case of a violent or sexual offence, only custody is adequate to protect the public from serious harm from the offender.

It is a sad proposition but there are circumstances when custody is the only adequate remedy to protect the public from serious harm. That being so, I would suggest, with great respect, that there is another moral and social obligation that any government have; namely, to protect the public so far as is consistent with decent progressive regimes for those who have to be incarcerated.

No one wants to see what is, after all, a child under 17 incarcerated. If all were well, all came from good families, and all had the opportunities that we in this House have had, there would be no need for custody. But that is not the world in which we presently live.

I turn to the different question of the under 12 year-olds. It is not yet apparent that there is a need to introduce this order for 10 and 11 year-olds, and therefore that is my answer to the question put by the noble Earl, Lord Mar and Kellie, as to the likely take-up. The Bill, as it stands, as a number of noble Lords indicated, contains simply a power for the Secretary of State to extend the order to include this age group. If experience demonstrates that that is required to assist with a positive, constructive regime for offenders, even of that young age, or for public protection, we would have to give it very careful consideration before the Secretary of State were minded to introduce the power by order.

We propose to monitor the courts' use of detention and training orders for over-12s. We want to monitor carefully the underlying rate of offending by 10 and 11 year-olds. If the order were extended to 10 and 11 year-olds--no one would want to do that other than with a heavy heart--before imposing such an order the court would have to satisfy itself of three things: that the offending is serious enough to justify the use of custody under the tests of the Criminal Justice Act 1991; that the offender is persistent; and, additionally, that only a custodial sentence is adequate to protect the public from further offending by him.

These are not welcome responses to concerns which I recognise as sincerely held and legitimate. However, that is the Government's policy. I believe that it is a soundly based policy which should prove useful in assisting very young people and protecting the public.

Baroness David: I should like to thank very much the noble Lords and the right reverend Prelate who have supported me on these amendments. I was very interested to hear about the work of the Children's Society which is not being funded as it should have

3 Mar 1998 : Column 1105

been. I do not think the Minister responded to that or indeed to the right reverend Prelate's point about Europe. For us to be the worst country in Europe for detaining young people is something which we must all find quite abominable.

I thank the Minister for his long and careful reply, which will need to be read extremely carefully. All the evidence proves that detention, prison and custody do not work and I do not believe they will work any more now. I realise how much care will be taken before someone is put into custody but I firmly believe that it is wrong to put young children into custody. I know that it is only a power for 10 and 11 year-olds, but even so there is something really abhorrent in it.

I shall read carefully what the Minister has said, but I think that we shall almost certainly be coming back at the Report stage with further amendments on this subject. In the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 238 to 240 not moved.]


Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page