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Lord Henley moved Amendment No. 245:

Page 50, line 1, at beginning insert ("Subject to subsections (1A) and (1B) below").

The noble Lord said: I will speak also to Amendment No. 247 and to Amendment No. 246, in the name of the

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noble Baroness, Lady David. Both my amendments and the amendment of the noble Baroness are designed to prohibit the placing of children under the age of 15 in Prison Service custody under a detention and training order. It first appears as though the noble Baroness's amendment is a more elegant way of achieving that objective, as it is easily comprehensible. It states exactly that,

    "where the offender is under the age of 15, such accommodation shall not include a young offender institution".

I have approached the matter differently, by excluding Clause 62(7)(b), to keep young offenders out of Prison Service custody, while, for the over 15s, I have excluded subsection (7)(a), respecting a secure training centre. My reasoning is that I think it appropriate that there should be some way of ensuring that over-15s do not overlap with under-15s, allowing the risk of cross-fertilisation, if I may put it in those terms, with the over-15s corrupting the under-15s. However, I shall no doubt be informed that that is not the right way to set about it.

I do not want to rehearse some of the arguments that were put forward earlier when we discussed the question raised on Clause 60 by the noble Baroness, Lady David, on when custody is appropriate for under-15s. Although custody might be appropriate, there are occasions when Prison Service custody would not be appropriate. That is why we have tabled these amendments in their current form. I beg to move.

Baroness David: The noble Lord, Lord Henley, has described the purpose of my Amendment No. 246 as being to prohibit the placing of children under 15 in Prison Service custody. The current minimum age for being sent into Prison Service custody is 15. However, as it stands, Clause 62(7) apparently enables a child of any age who has been given a detention and training order to be placed in a Prison Service young offender institution. That could mean a child as young as 12 or even, if the lower age range of the order is reduced from 12 to 10, a child as young as 10. Presumably, it cannot be the intention of the legislation that young children should be placed in Prison Service accommodation. I believe that that should be made absolutely clear on the face of the Bill.

Lord Windlesham: The abolition of child imprisonment is one of the great causes of penal reform in the 19th century although the main changes did not come until the Children Act 1908. It would be a sad day if, nearly a century later, we were to see the clock being set back.

The principal objection towards which Amendment No. 246 is directed is not really to the notion of confinement where that is unavoidable above the age of 15, but is essentially to the place of confinement. We can all agree with the Home Secretary's opening words in the preface to the White Paper:

    "Today's young offenders can too easily become tomorrow's criminals".

We can all agree with the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn, that destructive behaviour by some teenagers regrettably can, and at times does, cross the line between

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what is anti-social and what is criminal. In those circumstances, the young person concerned needs to be confronted with the consequences of his or her behaviour. If a custodial sentence is justified, it is the "how" and the "where" that is crucial.

Several Members of this Committee will remember the highly charged debates during the passage of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994 on the secure training orders and, in particular, the part played in those debates by the late Lady Faithfull. At that time I recall Labour Front Bench spokesmen arguing vigorously for persistent young offenders to be detained in local authority secure accommodation rather than in one of the proposed new training centres. There were supposed to be five national training centres, containing no more than 200 young people--that is, 40 in each--which would be managed by the Prison Service or by private contractors. That was three-and-a-half years ago. Where are we now? Not one of them is in operation. One has been constructed and is, I believe, due to be opened this April. So, here we have the next major criminal justice Bill and the innovation of one government being superseded by the innovation of another before it has come into effect.

But the lesson is the same: prison department establishments (whether young offender institutions or secure training centres) are the least effective of all the available disposals if measured in terms of preventing reoffending. We entirely accept what the noble Lord, Lord Williams, said--indeed, it is implicit in the Government's approach as set out in the White Paper--that much of this legislation is aimed at the need to prevent reoffending.

All forms of institutional care and institutional custody for young offenders unhappily have high reconviction rates; but 89 per cent. of juveniles leaving Prison Service custody are convicted again within two years, and that is a staggering percentage. I strongly support the amendments.

4.15 p.m.

Baroness David: Perhaps I may follow what the noble Lord, Lord Windlesham, said about the philosophy of this Bill. I am afraid that my government seem to go against so much that went on in the last century and much more recently. I remember--I am sure that older Members will remember--Lady Wootton, who was very much in the vanguard of thinking on all these matters. I well remember in 1994 how the late Lady Faithfull fought for children not to be sent to prison but to have secure accommodation available. It saddens me that we are now going into reverse on all this.

Lord Williams of Mostyn: In this order we want to offer flexibility in the arrangements for dealing with young offenders. We want to be able to place individual young offenders in accommodation according to their individual needs and maturity. That is why the order at present provides for the placement of young offenders in a young offender institution, a secure training centre,

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local authority secure accommodation, a youth treatment centre or other accommodation which may be directed by the Secretary of State. The result of these amendments would be to restrict the options.

No one wants to see a child deprived of liberty. I would suggest that very often different children mature at different rates and that chronological age is not always a good indicator of either maturity or, just as importantly, vulnerability. The consequence of these amendments would be that one could not put a vulnerable offender who had just turned 15 and was subject to, for instance, a four-month detention and training order, in a secure training centre, whereas a less vulnerable 14 year-old, just a few weeks younger but subject to a full two-year detention and training order, could be placed in a secure training centre until release, possibly after his 16th birthday, but not in a young offender institution.

I concede that those are extreme examples, but they indicate that one does not want to look to limiting discretion to place young offenders in the secure accommodation which is most suitable to their needs. We do not believe that restricting flexibility is the way we should be going.

I take up a point which my noble friend Lady David made earlier about secure accommodation for holding young people on remand. We are reviewing the range of secure accommodation to hold young people on remand or when they have been sentenced and how we can make best use of it. That review should be completed quite soon and will inform consideration of how to deal with the very difficult question of juveniles in secure accommodation.

Lord Henley: I am grateful to the noble Lord for giving way. He said that the review would be completed quite soon. Can the noble Lord say whether "quite soon" means that the review will be completed before the Bill leaves this House or while the Bill is in another place having completed its passage through this House?

Lord Williams of Mostyn: I doubt that the review would be completed before the Bill left this House, bearing in mind the nature of the review. If I am given any specific details I shall in the usual way write to the noble Lord.

One does not want legislative inflexibility built into the regime. If a child has to go into custody of whatever kind that should be related sensibly and flexibly to the needs of that individual child. Children can vary quite significantly. There are some bold, sophisticated, subtle young people who are well versed in crime at the age of 13 or 14. Equally, there are lost souls who are rather vulnerable and easily led and need to be dealt with differently and not on the basis of chronological age.

I hope that I have set out clearly the Government's position and that the review of the secure accommodation is of some comfort to my noble friend. On that basis I ask the noble Lord not to press his amendment.

Lord Henley: I apologise for intervening to ask the noble Lord what he meant by "quite soon". Many noble

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Lords on various occasions speaking from the Dispatch Box for the Government have used the words "soon" and "quite soon". According to my understanding, those words can have a variety of different meanings. I have the impression that on this occasion the "quite soon" is not as soon as all that and it is quite likely that we shall not have the benefit of this report before the Bill leaves this House and goes to another place.

I shall read very carefully what the noble Lord said. I am sure that the noble Baroness, Lady David, will do likewise. I have a sneaking suspicion that both I and the noble Baroness will wish to return to these issues at Report stage and possibly Third Reading so that they can be explored further. With that warning, perhaps the noble Lord will do his utmost to ensure that the "quite soon" in relation to the review is genuinely "quite soon" and that the review will, with a little luck, arrive in time to assist noble Lords at a later stage. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 246 and 247 not moved.]

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