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Baroness David: I shall need to read that response carefully. It seems to me that perhaps the Minister has the same horror that I have of 15 and 16 year-olds being in prison, and particularly 15 year-old girls. I am quite horrified at 12 to 14 year-olds having to be kept in secure accommodation, although I know that some of them can be real tearaways and need to be kept in secure accommodation, at least for a time. I hope that the Minister will not pay too much attention to public opinion. It seems to me that parliamentarians should lead public opinion and not bow down to it. Capital punishment would not have been got rid of if parliamentarians had not led public opinion. I think that too much attention has been paid to that lately. That is a great pity.

I was extremely grateful for the right reverend Prelate's speech in which he said everything better than I did. I remind my noble friend the Minister that all the children's associations, not only the Children's Society, feel strongly about a great deal of what is happening in this Bill. I have had an interesting response and I am happy to read it. Therefore, temporarily at least, I can only withdraw this amendment; but I am not committing myself to not coming back to it on Report. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Viscount Colville of Culross moved Amendment No. 260:


Page 67, line 39, at end insert--
("( ) In subsection (5) of section 23 of the 1969 Act, for the words "serious harm from him" there shall be substituted the words "the risk of his committing further serious offences".").

The noble Viscount said: I offer this amendment to the noble Lord, Lord Williams, in the hope that it may be helpful. He knows my views about the adequacy of local authority secure accommodation and the number of occasions on which it can be used. I was extremely interested to hear what he has just said about the review that is being carried out. He told me last week--if I

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understood him rightly--that the youth court has a duty to remand children and young people to local authority secure accommodation. It is indicative of the muddle into which this legislation has arrived--it was discussed in the major debate earlier today--that had the noble Lord been talking about Section 23 of the Children and Young Persons Act 1969 which was inserted by the Children Act 1989, he would have been right. Another Section 23 has since been inserted by the Criminal Justice Act 1991. That does not put any duty on the youth court to remand children and young persons to local authority secure accommodation.

In the Bill we look forward to consolidation. That is the purpose of Schedule 6. At present, two places in the 1991 Act refer to the expression "protect the public from serious harm". The first is in Part I. The reference goes back to the provision for longer than normal sentences under Section 2. The interpretation is found at the end of Part I.

Very sensibly, I think everyone would agree, the Court of Appeal said that before sentencers pass longer than normal sentences they require some fairly extensive reports, often of a psychiatric nature, or at the very least a substantial pre-sentencing report before such sentencing is justified. The same phrase has been inserted into the new Section 23 of the Children and Young Persons Act 1969. Technically speaking, it does not occur in the 1991 Act. It has merely been inserted retrospectively into the 1969 Act. Nevertheless, the phrase is exactly the same.

We want to make a differentiation. It is difficult enough for youth courts to remand children and young persons to local authority secure accommodation. Since it is a matter of remand instead of bail, the matter has to be dealt with urgently. Therefore there should be no reference to having to obtain reports for psychiatric assessments or anything of that kind at that stage. That requirement comes when sentencing or other disposals are required.

In advance of consolidation, I suggest that we should use a different phrase. I believe that the words I have put forward mean exactly the same but they do not carry the overtones of longer than normal sentences in Part I of the 1991 Act. Equally, they would not carry the overtones of requiring extensive and complicated reporting before the powers were implemented. I beg to move.

Lord Williams of Mostyn: I am grateful to the noble Viscount for his explanation. Indeed, he had notified me of the intention behind the amendment.

The background to the secure remand criteria is that the 1991 Act has within it a test for remands to local authority secure accommodation which has two criteria: one related to the alleged offence; the other to the need for public protection.

The offence-related criterion has two elements. The young person concerned must have been charged with or convicted of a violent or sexual offence, or an offence punishable, were he or she an adult, with imprisonment for a term of 14 years or more. The second element is that the person has a recent history of absconding while

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remanded to local authority accommodation, and is charged with or been convicted of an imprisonable offence alleged or found to have been committed while he was so remanded. The first covers the more serious offenders. The second limb covers young people who, while on remand to local authority accommodation, continue to cause problems.

We believe that court-ordered secure remands should be restricted to the most serious cases. The seriousness of the offence or the persistence of the offending behaviour is not itself a sufficient justification for such a remand whether this be to prison or to local authority secure accommodation. In addition, therefore, the Act requires the court to be of the opinion that only such a remand would be adequate to protect the public from serious harm from the young person. In relation to sexual or violent offences, "serious harm" means death or serious personal injury, occasioned by further such offences committed by the young person. "Serious harm" is not defined in relation to other offences. However, the definition for sexual and violent offences gives an indication of the gravity of the harm to which the public would have to be exposed from a young person in other circumstances before the test is likely to be satisfied.

The amendment is to substitute the risk of his committing serious further offences. We are not entirely clear what "further serious offences" would be found to mean. The courts are, I think, familiar with the term "serious harm" but there is no real guidance about what "further serious offences" would mean. The existing criteria are designed to apply to the most serious cases. As we discussed earlier today, local authority secure accommodation is a limited resource. We believe that it should be limited to the most serious and persistent offenders. We think that there would be a danger that the noble Viscount's amendment would lower the threshold so that it would be applied to young persons who could and should be remanded to alternative and more appropriate accommodation more commensurate with their alleged offences.

We recognise that placing a young person in secure accommodation is a serious step. That is why in sentenced or remand cases we believe that secure accommodation should be reserved for the most serious and persistent offenders. I recognise the intention behind the amendment, but we are not prepared to support it.

Viscount Colville of Culross: I do not seem to have explained myself very well. The noble Lord tells the Committee that the test which now appears in Section 23(5) of the Children and Young Persons Act 1969 is the same as appears in relation to longer than normal sentences. I never believed that that was the case. The definition for the purposes of longer than normal sentences applies only to Part I. The new section inserted into the 1969 Act does not occur in Part I. It is true that the same expression is used. However, since that legislation was enacted the Court of Appeal has dealt with the tests for the purposes of Part I. It has said nothing about the Children and Young Persons Act 1969.

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I agree with the noble Lord that these are exceptional cases. We certainly do not want to devalue the seriousness that attends upon sending someone on remand to local authority secure accommodation. However, I am considering the consolidation point. I do not believe that the noble Lord's advisers have foreseen the problem that will arise when these exactly similar expressions occur in a single consolidation Act and have to be interpreted by a court in accordance with different criteria.

I seek only to help the noble Lord. I am not trying to devalue or reduce the thresholds. I wish only to make it possible in a suitable case for the youth court rapidly to remand someone to secure accommodation without having to obtain a lot of reports. I should have thought that it was a helpful and constructive suggestion. If the noble Lord does not like my wording, so be it; one never gets the wording right. But I should have thought that he would accept the idea underlying the amendment in particular in the light of the forthcoming consolidation. Is the noble Lord really not prepared to think about the matter again?

Lord Williams of Mostyn: I understand the intention because the noble Viscount and I have been in correspondence. We believe that the present wording is better. I am receiving contrary legal advice from the noble Viscount and officials. I may need to look at the issue again. I am always willing to do so. If the noble Viscount says I have got the law wrong, I shall recheck it. The answer may be found in Section 23(13)(c) of the 1969 Act. I readily agree that I may have got it wrong and the noble Viscount may be right. Perhaps he will give me the opportunity to reflect. I recognise that his intention is simply to be helpful, and I am seeking to respond in that way.

Perhaps the noble Viscount will allow me to revisit Section 23 of the 1969 Act. Whatever my conclusion is after revisiting the legislation and taking further advice, I shall write promptly to him.


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