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Lord Laming: My Lords, I speak in support of the amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, who made such a powerful case that there is little that I could reasonably add. One of the strengths of the Green Paper consultation document, Every Child Matters, was its inclusiveness and concern for all young people. Surely, these young people are among the most vulnerable. The degree of self-harm and attempted suicide among this group of young people should cause us all concern. I hope that the Minister will give an encouraging response, at least in respect of links with the Youth Justice Board.
Lord Elton: My Lords, when I became Minister with responsibility for the Prison Service, I remember the great horror with which I discovered that a number of juveniles were kept in adult accommodation. We made strenuous efforts to bring that practice to an end and I am even more saddened to discover that this evil continues. It is essential that this statute is in place to limit it and bring it to an early conclusion. I will certainly support the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia.
Baroness Howe of Idlicote: My Lords, I will also be brief, because the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, has expertly expressed the concerns. I very much hope that this problem can be dealt with sympathetically. The rise in the numbers now in prison is appalling. All that is being asked is that a record is kept during the period of custody and a report made. Something of that nature would certainly keep our minds on the subject to make certain that the situation is reviewed regularly.
Lord Chan: My Lords, I rise to support the amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, particularly in relation to the mental health service for children and adolescents. I know that that issue falls within the National Health Service mental health framework. However, as prison health is now part of
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the National Health Service, will the Minister assure us that such services will also be made available for those unfortunate children in custody?
The Earl of Listowel: My Lords, I apologise for missing the opening statement of the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, but it may be helpful if I draw the House's attention to a recent Parliamentary Question by Paul Goggins. Apparently, in 200001 some 50 children were identified as vulnerable and placed in young offender institutions. Most recently, that number has risen to about 350 or so. That is more than a six-fold increase in vulnerable young people being placed in young offender institutions. I hope that that is appropriate to what is being discussed and that I have not missed the point that was being made.
Baroness Ashton of Upholland: My Lords, many noble Lords have spoken, rightly, with real passion about this issue. I was extremely grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Stern, for coming to see me to talk through these issues in detail. As noble Lords will know from Committee stage, this is not an area in which I have great expertise. Indeed, it is an area in which our two departmentsthe Home Office and the Department for Education and Skillsare collaborating and co-operating. It was extremely important to have that discussion.
I share with the noble Baroness and with the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, a concern that the mother of Joseph Scholes, in particular, should feel that from that terrible tragedy something may come which would enable other children to be cared for more appropriately and ensure that such a tragedy never happens again. That should be the ambition of all of us for her sake. The noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, said in his closing remarks that he was looking for positive assurance. I shall try to give to him and to other noble Lords who have spoken that assurance about this area of policy.
We accept entirely the principle behind the amendment that young people in custody should be accommodated in the most appropriate setting, with full account taken of any issues that may make them particularly vulnerable. However, we are not persuaded that the Bill is the right way in which to achieve that. The noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, referred to the role give to the Youth Justice Board. We all recognise that, in fulfilling that obligation, the board has to consider many issues, including age, any special needs of the young person, closeness to homewhich could be particularly importantand any risk of harm to the young person or to others. We believe, as I am sure do all noble Lords who have spoken, that good decisions will be made by taking account of all relevant factors.
My fear is that in taking decisions we would run the risk of seeing the issue discussed under the amendment in isolation. I am concerned that with Amendment No.
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48A that could be the case. For example, in the great majority of cases, closeness to home is very important and, indeed, conducive to a young person's welfare. But there may be other factors in particular cases which are important, and we want to ensure that those factors are taken into account. If there were a local authority secure children's home on the doorstep of a 17 year-old boy convicted of a serious offence of violence, but within that home there were vulnerable 12 and 13 year-olds, it might not be the most appropriate placement. Our consideration must be to ensure that all issues can be taken account of in determining not only the vulnerability of the young personwhich, as noble Lords will know, is not a clear-cut issuebut also the vulnerability of other children and young people who may be affected.
We believe that it is important to ensure that secure accommodation is safe. The Bill already places a duty on young offender institutions and secure training centresand, via local authorities, on local authority secure children's homesto make arrangements for ensuring that their functions are discharged, having regard to the need to safeguard and promote the welfare of children. I do not believe that the amendments will add more to that. We have already captured a crucial part of what the noble Lord seeks.
What I can say to reassure the noble Lord is that not only have we captured the essence of that part of his concern but we are in constructive discussion with the Home Office, which is very keen to move forward on the matter. In the department's role of looking right across the agenda for children, we want to ensure that we do not do one thing in isolation but approach the matter appropriately, by looking across the needs of all our vulnerable children. Children within secure accommodation fall into a number of different categories.
I hope that I have reassured the noble Lord. It is my intention to continue discussing the matter with the noble Baroness, Lady Stern, and the noble Lord, and to keep both of them up to speed and up to date with what is happening in this area of policy. I can say categorically, howeverand I was not in this position in Committeethat having talked to the noble Baroness, Lady Stern, and understood the issues, and having talked to colleagues in the Home Office and brought officials together, we shall make good progress on the matter and address the issues. In the spirit of wishing the matter to be taken forward appropriately, I hope that the noble Lord will withdraw the amendment.
I do not have much confidence in the way in which the Home Office deals with this matter. Following the coroner's request for a public inquiry into Joseph Scholes' death, I immediately wrote to the Home Officein early Mayand to this day I do not have an acknowledgement or a reply. That does not build much confidence in the promises that the Home Office
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is making in such matters. However, I shall discuss the Minister's response, which has been fairly positive, with the noble Baroness, Lady Stern. If need be, we shall return with the amendment on Report. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
We had a long debate in Committee on the issue of safeguarding and promoting. The amendments that dealt with safeguarding and promoting children's well-being attracted a number of speakers, all of whom clearly considered that in some way or another the existing wording in the Bill was not strong enough. The noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, stressed the need to separate administration from practice and ensure that safeguards were strong enough to protect children, as opposed to the sort of theory which might he subject to a series of tick-box questions. The noble Baroness, Lady Stern, who is not in her place, referred to those who work away from the public eye and who need strong unambiguous law to lean on in taking decisions affecting the treatment of children and thereby their welfare.
The noble Baroness, Lady Barker, made a most telling point when she alluded to the gap between the perception of authorities concerned with the provision of services to the elderly and the appalling standards actually achieved. It is that balance between what is perceived and what is achieved that brings me back to this group of amendments.
In her response the Minister seemed more concerned that safeguarding children might conflict with other duties of the agencies affected. I hope that I have not shorthanded her, but that is the impression that I got and I have reread her response again since. It was almost as though she felt that in many situations one can pursue only one course or another. She cited the conflict between the criminal system and the need to safeguard children's well-being where those convicted are parents. I would prefer to see it in terms that the parent has done wrong. In other words, the system demands punishment, but the system also demands that the needs of the affected child or children be given priority in determining how the prisoner will spend his or her time, and how visiting will be arranged and rehabilitation progressed.
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Similarly, if agencies are compelled by law to prioritise children's well-being alongside their normal duties they will be more likely to succeed than if the duty of safeguarding is only something to which they must have regard. I am told of many walks of life in which a requirement to have regard to a particular set of circumstances means very little more than to discuss them at a meeting, agree that the arguments against are stronger and get on with ignoring them. That was expressed very clearly in Committee and concerned many noble Lords.
"Creating a duty of 'having regard to' means that an administrative test is applied to the undertaking of functions. It does not provide the clear legal framework for a positive test as to whether actions taken are consistent with safeguarding of children and the promotion of welfare".
"We also have similar concerns for the arrangement to safeguard and promote welfare in Clause 7. As the contracts are nationally negotiated there would need to be direction to the national negotiators to include this in the new contracts. Otherwise PCTs may not be able to comply with the direction to make local alterations. We are also unsure how this will be built into the contracts given that the GMS contract for GPs, for example, has already been signed".
Many noble Lords were concerned about this issue in Committee. I read what the Minister said very carefully and, coming down on the train this morning, I tried to make more of it. But I could not. I found that her answer did not allay my fears. I beg to move.
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