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Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, curiously enough, that was a question that I put to officials this morning because it was a matter of interest to me. No final decision has been taken upon it. The report is to be an unannounced one. Although I announce it today, I do not announce the date of it. For my part, I believe in publication as opposed to secrecy because that is one of the disciplines that improves performance. As much as can usefully be put into the public domain will be; if not, I am certainly always available to deal with the discussion and disclosure of reports with any of your Lordships on a private and confidential basis. Sometimes, but not usually, confidentiality is justified. I am happy to adopt that approach.
I do not believe that it is helpful for me to recite the criticisms. It is quite apparent from the debate that your Lordships have studied the report, which makes for gloomy reading. Certainly, there was a wholly unacceptable over-emphasis on physical restraint and what was in reality--there is no point in mincing words--the use of violence against young children many of whom regard it as a natural form of expression. There is a lot still to be done. Offending behaviour programmes are to be installed. The centre got out of control. I hope that when the new SSI report comes out it will show continuing improvement. All I can say is that there were significant failures that cannot be excused. We have a moral obligation to put matters right and I hope that we shall discharge that duty.
I turn to some of the questions posed during the debate. I am conscious that I have only a few moments left. The noble Viscount, Lord Bridgeman, asked about supervision in the community following the custodial part of sentences. Plainly, experience is limited. Social services departments now prove willing to play an active part in drawing up training plans which extend beyond the date of release from the STC. As to that I am in agreement with the noble Viscount. There are some difficulties in providing mainstream education for the reasons that so many noble Lords have touched upon: we are dealing with serial truancy or exclusion from school for other reasons.
The noble Viscount, Lord Brentford, referred to outside visitors to Medway and mentoring generally. We support the activities of voluntary mentors. Recently I had a most interesting meeting with SOVA to which another of your Lordships made reference. The chaplain at Medway has been active in encouraging outside visitors to that establishment. He makes arrangements, if young people desire it, with contacts in the outside world. Representatives of the Voice of the Child in Care meet those at the centre regularly to help them with any particular concerns or difficulties. Volunteer mentors are extremely important. We want to develop this idea on a co-operative basis with those who are willing to give their life in service in that way.
The noble Earl, Lord Listowel, asked about breaking down the larger units. I think it is unreal to talk about mini prisons. We are talking about 40. However, he asked an important question about smaller units. At Medway young people do live in smaller units of five. They have their educational and other activities in small groups.
The noble Lord, Lord Judd, focused my mind on what actually works and how one demonstrates it. We are now monitoring closely a number of persistent juvenile offenders. We are reviewing further demand for places from this group. Plainly the cost of secure accommodation is very high: I take his point. The cost of secure accommodation at Medway is actually a little
The noble Earl, Lord Baldwin, asked particularly about nutritional supplements, which he correctly differentiated from diet, as one normally speaks about it. I know of research which has been carried out on the effects of nutritional supplements on the behaviour of young people in detention. He rightly points out that one of the organisations carrying out that work is the charity Natural Justice. That was carried out at Aylesbury Young Offender Institution and it demonstrated some positive effects on the behaviour of the young offenders who took the supplements. In order to see whether that effect can be replicated, I have recently agreed that Natural Justice can approach a number of other prison establishments where young people are housed to repeat the research on a wider scale. I know that the noble Earl has raised this subject over a period of time and I think my answer today has been more positive than what he might perhaps have regarded as the rather lukewarm approach that I have been able to give him in the past--so I hope I have at least one satisfied customer this evening.
The noble Baroness, Lady Masham, mentioned a number of valuable points and, in particular, the Bridges Project. Of course we support alternatives to custody for a large number of reasons. They can be more effective, undoubtedly so in terms of cost, and very often they are helpful in a way that custody cannot be for individuals. However, I am afraid that we come back to my earlier melancholy proposition, that for some young offenders custody in a secure environment is necessary.
We want the new orders to be much more positive, partly training assistants in secure conditions; but we also want the ability to work towards restoring the individual back to the community so that restorative justice has a dual context and a dual aspect. That is really what the new structure is intended to give. I cannot dispute the proposition put by many of your Lordships that this is an extremely expensive remedy. We have obviously--your Lordships have spoken of it--a duty to the public purse to make sure that we get value for money. If these schemes do not give value for money, we obviously have a constant duty, even on that basis, to review them.
The noble Viscount, Lord Tenby, asked who determines who would go to a secure training centre. In the first instance the sentence is given by the court. Under the detention and training order, the new order, the precise details of the placement will be dependent on the arrangements which will derive from the proposed commissioning and purchasing role which the Youth Justice Board has, as described by my noble friend Lord Warner. The noble Viscount also asked about Huntercombe and Werrington. We have in fact given both institutions a total of £1 million extra in this
The noble Baroness, Lady Masham, asked about persistent young offenders, and the figure I have for 1997 is that according to our definition there were 8,400 persistent young offenders in that year, who between them would have been responsible for about 43,000 criminal offences.
The noble Lord, Lord Carr, was the most brusque in saying that these sentences would never work. This is a very new initiative. It has not actually been going even for a year yet. I think we can learn from what has gone wrong at Medway. There were significant mistakes: if we have an opportunity to develop and learn from those mistakes it may be that the noble Lord, Lord Carr, has been too gloomy in his prognostications.
A technical point was raised by the noble Viscount, Lord Tenby, about the consolidation of a large number of statutes. There is a continuing consolidation exercise being carried out by the Law Commission and we hope that will result in a powers of criminal courts Bill. I imagine that all those who have to deal with these matters will welcome that consolidation. I am glad to be able to give the noble Viscount a positive answer there.
The noble Lord, Lord Acton, asked about the contractor at Hassockfield. I am able to reassure him that the contractor has already appointed key staff who have considerable experience of dealing with difficult, challenging young people.
The noble Viscount, Lord Tenby, also asked about national standards. I can assure him that this will be part of the remit of the Youth Justice Board under the chairmanship of the noble Lord, Lord Warner. I do not think I need to say anything further because what I have had to say about 15 or 16 year-old girls not being kept in prison service accommodation has been welcomed. I knew when I said it last year that my neck was firmly on the block. I did it deliberately, being then young and innocent--and sometimes it is worth it, not being young and innocent but actually promising something.
I am conscious of the fact that I have trespassed on your Lordships' patience and I know that I have not answered some of the questions that have been raised. I should just really like to return to my earlier gratitude for the way in which we have dealt with these things. It is impossible to do justice to the topic, the themes and the contributions in this very brief reply of 23 minutes. What does hearten us all who work together--and I say this to all your Lordships in this field--is that, whatever contribution we have to make, I believe that the tide has changed. I believe that we have an opportunity for a new beginning and I do believe that we must constantly scrutinise ourselves with objective standards and objective tests, so that we can discharge what all your Lordships have rightly described, impliedly or explicitly, as a moral duty to deeply fragile young children who, although they are criminals, are, as the noble Baroness said, essentially children.
Viscount Tenby: My Lords, I rise to express my warm thanks to all those who have taken part in this debate. When I started, I said that I hoped the debate would be constructive and helpful, and the fact that the noble Lord the Minister described it as similar to a seminar gave me immense pleasure. I hope that both he and the noble Lord, Lord Warner, have been heartened by the support they have received for what they are doing from all quarters of the House.
Perhaps I may make two very small points. First, I can assure the noble Lord, Lord Mackenzie, that in no way am I against the use of custody. As a magistrate of many years' standing, I can assure him that that suggestion is right out! Secondly, I would say that this debate has not been about the individual staff at Medway, whose personal commitment in very difficult circumstances, then and now, has not been questioned. I am conscious that I have asked the noble Lord the Minister very many questions--a whole bucketful in fact--to add to his angst. I may say that this is a running joke between us--but I certainly do not propose to add to it at this late hour of the evening. I therefore beg leave to withdraw my Motion for Papers.