Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Lord Dholakia : My Lords, perhaps I may say straightaway that we support the creation of the Youth Justice Board in the Crime and Disorder Act 1998. I am delighted with the number of new initiatives announced by the Minister in this order.

We welcome the number of initiatives taken by the chairman, the noble Lord, Lord Warner, who I am delighted to see in his place. We particularly welcome the board's new responsibility for purchasing all secure places for young people held on remand or sentence in secure facilities. The Youth Justice Board is an innovative project undertaken by the Government. Its early intervention will certainly prevent offending by young people; let us hope that is so.

It would be beneficial to have answers to questions regarding some of the initiatives taken by the board. For example, what are the commissioning plans of the board? I understood the Minister to say that there is now a copy in the Library. I shall try to access that but it would be helpful to have it circulated at some stage. What will be the priorities of the board? Will it end the remanding of 15 and 16 year-old young people in prisons? What plans does the board have for the controversial secure training centres which have often been criticised?

This week I tabled a number of Questions to the Minister about the need for adequate indicators and ethnic and gender monitoring of the functions of the Youth Justice Board. My purpose is to ensure that all those involved in the work of the board have confidence in the way it performs its task. Nowhere is that more important than with the position of young black people who feature in the offending pattern and where new ways of working together need to be established.

I shall watch carefully to see how the board meets its obligation to assess future demand for secure accommodation for sentenced children and young persons. The priority and success of the board will depend not upon assessment of future needs. If it is successful in diverting young people away from offending, it will have served a useful purpose. To that end, we wish the noble Lord, Lord Warner, much success. If, however, we fail to stem the rise in young people offending, much of our effort will have been wasted.

Lord Cope of Berkeley: My Lords, under the chairmanship of the noble Lord, Lord Warner, the Youth Justice Board has made an energetic start. We shall see in due course how successful it is but we certainly wish him well in what he has done so far and in increasing considerably his activities as a result of this order.

Not only does the board increase its responsibilities; it moves into a much more executive role in dispensing contracts and effectively running detention centres,

13 Apr 2000 : Column 369

secure training units and so forth. We particularly wish the board well in that function. It is important that young offenders' institutions and all the other institutions concerned should be well run and effective in attempting to turn young people away from crime, which is the object of all the efforts of the noble Lord.

I should like to raise one or two points on the order. First I am not sure when things will take place. The press release from the Youth Justice Board dated 30th March stated that the board took over responsibility for purchasing all secure places from 1st April. That was a little premature. It cannot do so until after the order comes into force, the day after it is passed by Parliament. In this instance, the order is being discussed in another place after your Lordships' House rather than before.

I see, slightly to my surprise, that the order provides that if the board thinks it expedient for the operation of the youth justice system, it will take over responsibility for accommodation for people over the age of 18. I am not sure if it is expected that that will be done to any great extent. However, it would be helpful to know--if necessary by letter; not immediately--how much it is anticipated that that power will be used in the near future.

Article 4 of the order provides for a whole series of functions to be run concurrently between the Secretary of State and the Youth Justice Board. I appreciate the necessity for that, particularly in the transition period when the board will be taking over the different functions. Am I correct in thinking that most of the functions listed in Article 4 are expected, in due course, to be taken over completely by the Youth Justice Board? It may lead to confusion if some matters are at the same time the responsibility of both the board and the Secretary of State. I appreciate that about two-thirds of the secure places to be provided will be in the Prison Service. Presumably they, at least, will be subject to reports from Her Majesty's Chief Inspector of Prisons, as they are still part of the Prison Service. Will the other secure places being provided by local authorities or private providers also be subject to inspection by the Chief Inspector of Prisons? From the reaction of the noble Lord, Lord Warner, to my remarks, that seems likely. I am grateful for that informal confirmation.

No financial memorandum is provided with the order. However, I understood from the Minister's speech that the expenditure on secure places is expected to be about £190 million. Am I correct to suppose that it is not expected that there will be a considerable saving or additional expenditure as a result of the transfer of responsibility? I do not argue that there should be; I am concerned with the facts. We hope that the money will be spent more effectively and that there will be more co-ordination. The object of the Chancellor and, to a certain extent, the setting up of the Youth Justice Board is to bring about greater co-ordination across the whole field. I believe I am right in saying that compared to the present arrangements, the financial effects are not large. However, as with the Home Office at present, to a certain degree the amount that the Youth Justice Board needs to spend will

13 Apr 2000 : Column 370

depend on the courts and on how many people they sentence and for how long. Alternatives to custody are being vigorously developed. If effective, a saving may flow in due course. However, I do not look for that at present. These things take time to develop.

The transfer of responsibilities to the Youth Justice Board is a great challenge. However, I have no doubt that the board will rise to the occasion and do its best to deliver them in the public interest.

Lord Warner: My Lords, it may be helpful if I say a few words--and I am grateful to the noble Lord for his kind remarks--on a couple of points that have arisen.

There will be arrangements for inspecting all the facilities, whether they are secure training centres, juvenile facilities in the Prison Service or local authority secure units, by a mixture of Her Majesty's Inspector of Prisons and the Social Services Inspectorate. They will be working together in the inspection programme and there will be monitors appointed by the Youth Justice Board who will maintain more frequent contact with the facilities in order to ensure that contracts are applied and the arrangements for safeguarding young people are appropriate.

It may be useful if I apologise if we were a little too energetic in the press notice that we issued. We were trying to ensure that there was a degree of certainty for providers in anticipation of this order so that they knew where they stood. We were entering into letters of intent with all those providers so they could begin the process of ensuring that they could provide the right services for young people as the new detention and training order came into effect.

Lastly, perhaps I can assure the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, that we do have a strategy for ethnic monitoring. It is being led by a member of the board who is from the ethnic community.

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Warner, not least for his energetic efforts for the Youth Justice Board, which are greatly appreciated by all corners of the House, and for more than adequately answering questions. I was busy scribbling notes to try to answer them and he has saved me a great deal of trouble.

I thank both the noble Lords, Lord Cope and Lord Dholakia, for their constructive approach to this order. Everybody recognises that what the Government are doing in this field is not just ground-breaking, but will leave us with a system that genuinely begins to address the needs of young offenders and begins to remove them from the prison system.

The noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, asked a question in relation to 15 and 16 year-olds on remand. It is our intention to remove them from the prison system as soon as we possibly can. Currently, my understanding is that 15 and 16 year-old girls on remand are generally held in local authority secure units. We have made it clear that our intention is that girls under 18, sentenced to a DTO, should serve in non-Prison Service accommodation. We feel that is very important.

13 Apr 2000 : Column 371

Similarly, 15 and 16 year-old boys on remand are usually placed in local authority secure units where places are available and we wish to extend that process.

The noble Lord also asked about STCs. He said that they were controversial. We take issue with that. We feel that in certain circumstances they can provide highly effective regimes and do so. There have been suggestions in the past that the Government may wish to close STCs. We have no intention of doing that. My noble friend Lord Warner has made that patently clear in the past. We want to see effective regimes that provide good training, good quality education and reduce the likelihood of those who go through the STCs coming out the other end and committing further offences. The whole thrust of government policy in this field, as is now widely understood, is to make a contribution through these institutions to reducing offending rates. Places like Thorn Cross adequately show what can be done with that sort of regime when it focuses on matching the needs of young people; ensuring that they are literate, that they are numerate and that they have the requisite skills to make a contribution in the labour market.

The noble Lord, Lord Cope, has had his answer on the implementation date. I am sure he will happily accept that. He asked a question about over-18s. It may be that there is a role in that regard for the Youth Justice Board. It is one of those issues on which it will

13 Apr 2000 : Column 372

be exercising its energies. He made a point about there not being a financial memorandum. That is the case. But the noble Lord also asked what the savings and the costs would be. Generally speaking, we see this as being cost neutral. We have put further additional funding in place to ensure that we can secure the objectives of the Youth Justice Board. But I have been impressed by the fact that it has been able to negotiate considerable savings in seeking placements and accommodation, particularly in discussions with the local authorities who currently provide secure units. The commitment is that the savings that are made will enable reinvestment back into the estate to provide those better quality regimes that we all desire.

I trust that I answered the points not covered by my noble friend. If there are unanswered issues, I am more than happy to return to those in correspondence. In saying that, this order is ground-breaking; it is thorough; it will provide for good quality regimes and make a marked difference to the outcomes we can expect from this part of the prison estate--former prison estate, as it will be--and the way in which it seeks to guide those young offenders who have stepped out of line and had to be incarcerated for however long. I therefore commend the order to your Lordships.

On Question, Motion agreed to.

        House adjourned at twenty-four minutes before eight o'clock.

13 Apr 2000 : Column 371

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page