Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Viscount Colville of Culross: I am very much obliged to the noble Lord. I understand the reference to Section 23(13)(c). However, I am wondering whether he has thought about the impact upon people aged 12 and 13 who will fall within the new Clause 80 as now proposed. I should have thought that it is the wrong test. I am not trying to devalue the provision. If the noble Lord is to re-examine the issue, I am grateful, and I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

7.30 p.m.

Baroness Anelay of St. Johns moved Amendment No. 260A:

Page 68, line 2, at end insert--
("( ) It shall be the duty of the local authority to provide accommodation for the purpose of any remand order made by the court.").

The noble Baroness said: In moving this amendment, with the leave of the Committee, I shall also speak to Amendment No. 260B grouped with it. I can be brief,

3 Mar 1998 : Column 1163

the Minister having already given in some detail, in response to discussion on two previous amendments, the facts about the government review that is taking place with regard to the juvenile estate. It always seems that we use the most remarkable words to describe the facilities that will hold young people in custody. I am pleased to hear that such a review is going on. I hope that it may come to a fairly swift conclusion. I wish to make one or two points with regard to the problems of secure accommodation.

Amendment No. 260A would insert into Clause 80 the requirement:

    "It shall be the duty of the local authority to provide accommodation for the purpose of any remand order made by the court".

Clause 80 deals with remands and committals of young people, about which so much information has been given. As stated, remands involve a speedy need to find accommodation for young children. We are talking about a circumstance in the near future where the numbers of such young people who require secure accommodation will presumably increase. I know that the Minister hopes that this provision may be precautionary rather than a measure that has to be implemented. However, one has to face the reality that these provisions, in the short term, if not in the long term, will lead to a larger number of young people requiring to be found secure accommodation.

Amendment No. 260B is included because, if one makes sure that secure accommodation has to be provided by the local authority, then line 22, after the word "applies", ceases to be relevant. The court does not first have to ascertain whether secure accommodation is available if we have already stated that it must be provided prior to action by the court.

My reason for proposing the amendment is based on experience of having to make an order committing a young person to secure accommodation in the knowledge not only that it might be difficult to find such accommodation locally--in the case of young people, surely that is what we must try to achieve, if nothing else--but also that it might be impossible to find secure accommodation anywhere within reasonable travelling distance. On occasions, that has happened simply because, within some local authorities, a position of political dogma has determined that there should be no provision at all of secure accommodation. That has meant children being sent outwith their county districts in order to find secure accommodation.

I hope that the government review has taken into account the "patchwork quilt" of provision that has heretofore existed and the resistance, on a dogmatic basis, of some local authorities to providing secure accommodation at all. I hope that the Minister is able to assure me that these matters have been taken into account. I beg to move.

Viscount Tenby: I support the amendment moved by the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay. In many ways, all these amendments on custodial sentences for young offenders are linked. Had it not been for the fact that others more distinguished than I spoke to the earlier amendment moved by the noble Baroness, Lady David,

3 Mar 1998 : Column 1164

I could indeed have spoken to it as I supported it too. Since the amendments are linked one must be careful not to be repetitious or to make a Second Reading speech. It used to be said that Queen Mary, when she died, had Calais written on her heart. I sometimes think that if a future pathologist cuts me open, he will find written on mine, "secure local accommodation".

The Minister may reasonably reply to the spirit of the amendment--which is, after all, a probing amendment--that this condition cannot be made if such accommodation is not available. Under present trends I have to say with a heavy heart that that may be all too likely. With the power now to remand children over 12 direct to local authority accommodation, 15 and 16 year-old girls to local secure accommodation, and 15 and 16 year-old vulnerable boys also, one wonders how they will all fit in, despite the extra 170 places which are now available.

In that context, the review of juvenile secure estate is very much to be welcomed. I appreciate the Minister going to the trouble to spell out the meetings that have taken place as an indication of the commitment that the Government have in relation to this problem. We can only hope that the government survey will spotlight the need for more local secure accommodation and that ring-fenced funds will be made available for the purpose.

I know that there are competing demands on government finances. I know that health and education have an almost insatiable appetite. I know that there are few political brownie points to be won by expressing concerns about our prisoners and prisons, especially in the juvenile sector. Nevertheless, it is quite simply the sign of a civilised society that we should care about these matters, as indeed I know the Minister does. I therefore warmly support the amendment.

Lord Williams of Mostyn: Perhaps I may deal with Amendment No. 260A very briefly, as I believe the noble Baroness recognises that Section 61 of the 1991 Act already places a duty on local authorities to ensure that they are in a position to comply with any security requirement under Section 23 of the Children and Young Person Act 1969. So that amendment would not be of any practical utility.

Amendment No. 260B would in effect remove the requirement that in cases where the courts have adjudged a boy to be vulnerable--we discussed these matters earlier--a place has to be identified in advance. We understand that there is a case to be made for saying that there should be no limitation on the courts' powers to apply the legislation. However, we cannot overlook one of the reasons that has brought us to have the review referred to.

We are having to proceed step by step. I agree that a good argument can be made for matters to proceed more quickly. However, we have to have the review. We are dealing with the most vulnerable. For a court to decide to remand a most vulnerable boy or girl, it will need to have quite a lot of information: from the Probation Service, a social worker, a member of the youth offending team, and other information which it might

3 Mar 1998 : Column 1165

think appropriate. Then an assessment has to be made by the probation officer, the social worker or the youth offending team member in advance as to whether the boy concerned is likely to come within the definition of subsection (5)(a).

We believe that it is in the interests of the probation officer, social worker or team member to have established in advance of the remand hearing that there is indeed a suitable secure place available. If one does not have that requirement, the whole exercise is pointless. I believe I was guilty of a slip of the tongue when I said "boy or girl." I meant "boy", of course, not "girl". I realised as soon as I said it that I had made a mistake. We believe that this requirement is necessary. It ought to be an essential part of the assessment process. If the amendment were agreed to, it would place the courts in a very difficult situation.

The noble Baroness was kind enough to say that I had already dealt in part with the review of the juvenile secure estate. Perhaps I may expand. It is a review of the whole range of secure accommodation for young people, including local authority secure units. What we are trying to achieve is that all the resources employed in the accommodation and care of accused or convicted juveniles who need secure accommodation are used to best effect. It includes educational needs and tackling offending behaviour. I can assure the noble Baroness that the review, which is of pressing urgency, is casting its net very wide indeed. It is, of course, within the context of a comprehensive spending review, and the noble Viscount, Lord Tenby, pointed to the fact that there are financial constraints.

I repeat what I said earlier: we wish to see an end to the practice of remanding 15 and 16 year-old boys to prison custody. I can speak with some personal knowledge of these matters because the case mentioned by the right reverend Prelate of Phillip Knight, who killed himself in Swansea Prison, formed part of an inquiry which I conducted. I can only reiterate our policy and our determination to see an end to the practice.

Baroness Anelay of St. Johns: I am grateful to the Minister for that response. I shall consider carefully whether we need to pursue the matter further at Report stage. I accept that Amendment No. 260B does not achieve the objective which we had intended and shall not wish to return to that.

I am grateful to the noble Viscount, Lord Tenby, for his comments. He underlines what is felt by all those involved in the sentencing process with regard to young people. Any decision taken to put a young person into any form of custody is a decision taken with a very heavy heart and one where sentencers need to feel that suitable accommodation is available for that young person, particularly in the context of this Bill.

Having heard the words of the Minister tonight, I shall at this stage beg leave of the Committee to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 80 agreed to.

3 Mar 1998 : Column 1166

Clause 81 [Remands and committals: alternative provision for 15 or 16 year old boys]:

[Amendment No. 260B not moved.]

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page