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Baroness Mallalieu: My Lords, I congratulate the noble and learned Lord on bringing forward the amendment and thank him. Hard laws can be bad laws. I am grateful to the Government for taking the courageous view that it is right to reintroduce this discretion.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

[Amendment No. 40 not moved.]

Baroness Masham of Ilton moved Amendment No. 41:

After Clause 55, insert the following new clause--

("Young female offenders: detention
Detention of girls under 18

. An offender who is convicted of any offence punishable with detention and who is a girl under the age of 18 shall be kept separate from adults and shall be detained in a separate institution such as local authority secure accommodation, or in a separate part of an institution also holding adults, unless, after assessment and in exceptional circumstances, it is held to be in the best interests of the offender to be held with adults for a temporary period.").

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, I return to your Lordships about young girls in prison. I hope that the third attempt will be lucky.

At Report stage, the amendment came very late and some of the loyal supporters had had to go home. I was grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Mallalieu, who stayed to support and to speak to the amendment, especially as she was still recovering from 'flu, the noble Baroness, Lady Gould, who feels that it is an important matter, and the noble Lord, Lord Judd, who has supported it throughout.

The amendment would make it unlawful for girls aged under 18 to be held with adults in prison. This would bring the UK into line with the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, Article 37, to which the Government entered a reservation. I do not know why. It requires that juveniles and adults would be held separately.

The separation of the under-18s from the adults in women's gaols since the Howard League's report amounts merely to providing separate sleeping accommodation. Daily activities are still shared with adults except in the minority of cases. While these wings operate under the young offenders institution rules, in practice this has made no difference to the mixed regime culture and environment which the girls continue to experience. The YOI rules are virtually the same as the prison rules.

When I chaired the Howard League inquiry into young girls in prison, I went into it with an open mind. Having spoken to many governors, two only last week, and prison chaplains, I have not found one who said that the under-17 girls should be in adult prisons.

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Young males under 21 are held separately in young offender institutions. They do not go to adult prisons. Why then discriminate against girls? There are far fewer of them. Adolescent girls need skilled people to help them out of a very difficult period in their lives. Are girls pushed into prison and doomed to a life of crime, being institutionalised at the ages of 15 and 16 because they are a problem not worth bothering about?

I wonder how many of your Lordships agree with the Howard League and the Chief Inspector of Prisons that there are hardly any circumstances in which prison is a better option for a child than a secure local authority unit. If there should be specialised circumstances such as a young mother wanting to have her baby with her, or any special treatment, the amendment allows for this.

I am most concerned about 15 year-old and 16 year-old girls who are of statutory school age. When the Howard League visited a women's prison last week which has created a separate unit for the under 21s, it was found that maths, English, first aid and crafts were available from 9.30 to 11 a.m. and there was nothing specially available for young people under school leaving age, for those with special needs, or for those wanting to take exams such as GCSEs or NVQs.

It is a good idea that the Government are trying to get young people who have left school into training and work. Is this short period of education in prison going to fit these girls into a working life? Also, they are locked up in their cells by 5 or 5.30 p.m. until 8 a.m. on most days. What hope are they going to have when they leave prison? Some of them may be returning to school and, having been in an adult prison, what is that going to be like for them? In a secure unit a full day of education is provided. The national curriculum is available for children under school leaving age. Special needs teaching is available for those who need it. Older children can do A-levels if suitable. At the end of the school day various individual and group therapy work is provided, which covers offending behaviour, drug and alcohol abuse, anger management, bereavement counselling, and sexual and physical abuse counselling; and special help is brought in if needed for individuals.

The environment of a secure unit lacks the austerity, aggression and drug culture which exists in most of the prisons. Secure units have a wealth of experience of mixing children who are there on welfare grounds with children of different ages who have come to the unit via the criminal justice system. Most units encompass flexible usage and have the facilities to separate groups of children into living accommodation according to their suitability and compatibility.

There are some secure units which do not provide the high level of care that they should, but they rarely drop to the level of regimes provided in prison. If they do, the social services inspectorate has the power to withdraw the unit's licence to operate--a sanction which is not available for prisons. The chances are that the young girls will be nearer to their homes in a regional secure unit.

Last Wednesday, during a debate on prisons, concern was voiced about the increase in women going to prison; the figure seems to be growing all the time. Your

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Lordships will now have to decide whether prison is the best place for under-17 adolescent girls, who are the most complex, difficult and vulnerable group in the criminal justice system. I beg to move.

Baroness Mallalieu: My Lords, I wish again to support the noble Baroness, who, as I think all those who have listened to this debate will know--it has now taken place on three separate occasions--has championed a particular group who, frankly, are a blot on our penal system. Indeed, so long as the situation continues whereby we send these young girls to adult prisons, they will continue, I am bound to say, to be a blot on our Government, who have pledged themselves to equal treatment for men and women, boys and girls.

I say that, fully appreciating that the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn, both understands and sympathises with my remarks. In what I am about to say, in no way do I minimise the difficulties which he and the Home Office face in making suitable provision for these girls. I hope that my remarks are realistic. It seemed clear from earlier debates that there was no immediate prospect of this wholly unsatisfactory situation being resolved, and I very much appreciated the noble Lord's offer on the previous occasion to return to this House in due course and report progress. I hope that he may be able to go a little further than that tonight. If he cannot, perhaps I may simply say this. There must be real concern that, in the meantime, so long as this deplorable state of affairs continues, the girls who are detained in this way should at the very least not receive not less favourable treatment than their male contemporaries, at least in relation to education and training.

I hope that, at the very least, this evening the noble Lord may be able to go further than he has gone on previous occasions and give us some assurance that there will be an immediate improvement in relation to those matters. The costs, given the numbers of girls involved, cannot be that great, and it is surely the very least that we should be doing.

Viscount Tenby: My Lords, I rise to support the amendment in the name of my noble friend Lady Masham, if I may so describe her, and others. We surely all agree that to deny young girls in prison the facilities available to boys, as the noble Baroness, Lady Mallalieu, has just said--namely, accommodation separate from adults--is bizarre in the extreme. I am not persuaded by arguments about the usefulness of "mother figures" and by phrases like that. Of course these girls should not be in adult prisons at all. The fact that at any one time only a comparative few are involved does not in any way mitigate a sense of disbelief that such a state of affairs should exist in this country.

No one doubts the commitment and compassion of the noble Lord the Minister in these and related matters. Indeed, the care and detail with which, on Report, he produced the figures relating to the situation as it was as recently as the 10th of this month, is an indication of that concern. However, we have the extraordinary anomaly that, while girls detained under Section 53

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are, for the most part, housed in secure local accommodation, 13 out of 17 in the 15 to 17 age group--those charged with lesser offences--are in prison.

The noble Lord, faced as he is, I appreciate, with an inherited situation, with little money and the prospect of even less likelihood of additional funds, seeks to put a gloss on matters, extolling the virtues of flexibility and even going so far as to say, in the debate on 19th March,

    "not all local authority secure units provide as good a level of care as is desirable"--[Official Report, 19/3/98; col. 913.]
Be that as it may, they will almost inevitably be nearer a prisoner's friendly family and support probation service, and will additionally have greater educational resources--probably almost twice as many as will be available within a senior establishment. In passing, I might add that I found the noble Lord's remark very revealing and a justification for the remarks I made on Second Reading about the need for a national inspectorate and national standards so far as local secure accommodation is concerned.

All the arguments have already been advanced by this stage of the Bill. We understand the problems the Government have in this regard, but we believe that, if humanly possible, young females should be kept in local secure accommodation and, where that is not possible, should be housed in separate accommodation in adult prisons. Like other speakers tonight, I very much hope that the Minister will be able to give us some assurances.

9 p.m.

Lord Goodhart: My Lords, the noble Baroness, Lady Masham, has been most persistent in bringing forward the issue covered by this amendment which now comes before your Lordships for the third time. Her persistence is fully justified. She has been most persuasive; she has certainly persuaded me that we should not put 16 and 17 year-old girls in custody together with more mature women, many of whom will be experienced in crime and addicted to drugs.

It is a fundamental principle of several international human rights covenants that juvenile prisoners should not be detained together with adults. That principle has never been adequately recognised by British governments, of whatever complexion. I shall be very sorry if the present Government do not take the opportunity this evening to take a step in the right direction by accepting the noble Baroness's amendment.

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