Examination of Witnesses (Questions 80-99)|
MONDAY 18 NOVEMBER 2002
MP AND MS
80. I am going to move on and it will be my
final question to deal with the issue of the protection of young
offenders from committing suicide and self harm in custody. Is
it not fairly clear that prisoners on the juvenile estate need
more staff and staff need better training and more appropriate
practices need to be implemented and conditions need urgent improvement?
Is the government going to take remedial action very quickly?
The numbers of suicides are very high.
(Mr Denham) They are high. There have only been two
this year in the under 18 estate but that is clearly two deaths
too many. We are implementing currently a three year strategy
to reduce suicide and self harm which the Home Secretary announced
in February 2001. That is being piloted at the moment in five
institutions. As I said a moment ago it includes better screening,
better risk analysis, more support for the first night in accommodation
and so on. More generally there are other strategies in place,
including counselling, support groups, psychological supports
and a number of other institutions. The work that the YJB did
with the prison service in 2001 looked specifically at juvenile
self harm and suicide. I understand that the recommendations for
its report are being implemented now across the under 18 prison
service. I think there is a substantial programme of work in place.
It might be helpful, Chairman, if I could write to the Committee
giving more details in the area. It is not one that I deal with
on a day to day basis but I think there is a fair amount in train
but none of us is complacent and there is more we want to do.
Vera Baird: Thank you. We will be very glad
to receive your letter.
81. Before we move away from the subject of
juvenile justice, the 1998 Crime and Disorder Act abolished the
principle of doli incapax which put the burden on the prosecution
to prove that any defendant aged between ten and 13 understood
that the offence committed was seriously wrong. Do you know whether
the Home Office has made any assessment of the effect of the abolition
of doli incapax on defendants of that age?
(Mr Denham) No, I do not. Perhaps I could write to
you on that, Chairman, but I do not have that information.
Baroness Perry of Southwark
82. I want to go to a slightly broader question
about the prevention and cure, so to speak, of crime amongst young
people. Obviously the incarceration of children does raise very
different issues from the incarceration of adults. I am sure the
government is committed, as the conservative party is committed,
to trying to find ways of getting at children much earlier to
prevent them getting into the life of crime. Do you think we could
create the most effective route through better education and training
opportunities? Do you feel this is the best route?
(Mr Denham) I think that education and training is
one of the essential elements. There is quite a high correlation
between young people, particularly young men who fall behind in
their early years of primary education and future offending behaviour.
There is quite a high correlation obviously between truancy and
absence from school generally and offending. So ensuring we are
successful with young people in schools has to be part of our
own overall preventive strategy. At the same time I think what
we need to recognise, also, is there may be reasons for those
problems which are showing up in school, in the wider family,
the wider community, the peer group the young people have got.
The reason we are putting such an emphasis on trying to join up
different serviceseducation, probation, the police, social
services and so onis to make sure we try to address the
problems that a young person has got in the round. I think that
at the moment most people would accept that different agencies
find themselves trying to deal with a part of a complicated problem
and are probably less effective than they could be because of
that. Education and training is critical but probably unless we
deal with some of the other issues in the background as well we
are not likely to be wholly successful.
83. Coming on then to the cure, the children
who do find themselves in prison. The Howard League report made
some pretty astonishing findings about how poorly the access to
education was which was offered to such children and indeed the
quality of the education they were offered was often inadequate,
particularly in the light of the fact many of them do have special
(Mr Denham) Yes.
84. As they do not come under the Education
Department at all they are still under the Home Office, so to
speak, when they are offered any kind of education in prison it
does seem as if the opportunity to get them out of the cycle of
crime through education is being missed through the time they
are in prison. Do you have any thoughts on how the situation could
(Mr Denham) I think we are a bit disappointed in this
area that some of the changes we have made have not been picked
up more widely. The responsibility for providing education for
young people in custody has been transferred to the Prisoners
Learning and Skills Unit which is part of the Department for Education
and Skills and they fund the Youth Justice Board now to provide
education. It is on the back of that the majority of juveniles
in custody now have access to 15 hours of learning a week and
that will increase to 30 hours a week by the end of March. Special
education needs are important. It is true that many offenders
have learning difficulties or other disabilities and the DfES
is developing a special educational needs policy in partnership
with prisons and also juveniles in custody. I understand that
special educational needs co-ordinators and learning support assistants
with a ratio of one to ten are being appointed now in all young
offender institutions which are caring for juveniles. I think
there is progress in this area.
85. Do you know, Minister, how many children
there are under the statutory school leaving age in custody and
how many are receiving full-time or part-time education in line
with the national curriculum?
(Mr Denham) The numbers under the statutory leaving
age, I would have to come back to you on. I have the overall numbers
of young people, I have the numbers, also, in the local authority
estate but I am not sure I have precisely the number you are after.
Could I perhaps come back to you on that?
86. Do you have any feel for how many of the
numbers you have are receiving full or part-time education which
is covered by the national curriculum?
(Mr Denham) The figures that I have overall tell me
about the overall access to learning. I would rather check I think
on those under the statutory leaving age and come back specifically
with figures on that. I think that would be more helpful than
me trying to extrapolate from the figures I have in front of me.
87. Perhaps you would come back with that and
also figures on how many have special educational needs and what
provision is made for that?
(Mr Denham) Yes.
Lord Lester of Herne Hill
88. I wonder if I could just ask a supplementary.
When you are doing it, Minister, it would help me, certainly,
if you could indicate what difference there is in the treatment
of children in custody in terms of education and children not
in custody having regard to Article 2 of the First Protocol to
the European Convention and Article 14, the effect of discrimination.
If you take those as standards it would help very much if these
figures could be related also to the difference in practice between
what children receive by way of education who are not in custody
and children who are in custody and what the justification is
for any difference between them?
(Mr Denham) Right. We will do that, certainly. I have
to say that I do not think I will end up justifying a difference
in practice on the basis of any principle. We are making progress
in this area but we would all recognise, for example, that the
same provisions have applied for some time for young people who
are excluded from school. It is only in the last year, since September
indeed, that we have been able to guarantee full time education
to those permanently excluded from school and that has been driven
by the deliberate act of government policy recognising the need
to provide more effectively for those young people. There are
areas where if there is a shortfall in provision it is more likely
to arise from the fact that government has not made the progress
we want to yet.
89. Would you not be very vulnerable to legal
challenge on that basis by someone who said "Look, I am a
victim of discrimination"? How do you justify it?
(Mr Denham) I imagine we may have been legally vulnerable
certainly in the area that I have talked about, exclusion from
schools. The reality is governments have recognised the problem
and dealt with it.
Baroness Perry of Southwark
90. Before we move off this topic, you have
said that the welfare, care and needs of young people in young
offender institutions are central to what the government wants
to achieve. Are you prepared to say the government will take action
to provide that the Children Act applies in these circumstances?
(Mr Denham) Again, that is currently subject to legal
challenge so I would rather stay off that one if I may. Whilst
I recognise that there is progress still to be made, when we have
talked about implementing the spirit of legislation, I think if
you look at the work that we have done that I have promised to
write to the Committee about, on self-harm, if you look at the
work that we have done to improve educational provision, the refurbishment
of facilities at Feltham, for example, I think that is a recognition
that the Government is aware of its responsibilities to young
people who are in its care in the young offender institutions
and I believe that will remain the same whatever the final determination
is about the legal position in relation to the Children Act.
91. I want to talk about physical punishment.
Could I clarify some parts of the Government's position on this?
First of all, do you acknowledge that physical punishment is a
human rights issue for children or do you view it as a different
(Mr Denham) We certainly believe, and I think this
is the established position, that physical punishment is covered
by the European Convention on Human Rights and that has been tested
against the domestic law as it then was of reasonable chastisement
and it was ruled that the European Convention limited the use
of reasonable chastisement so clearly there are issues of human
rights around the issue of corporal punishment, yes.
92. Have you talked to children about this?
Can you tell us what they said?
(Mr Denham) Yes, I have. What I will say is that in
my experience it is pretty low down children's list of priorities
compared, for example, with their experience of being victims
of crime more generally in the streets. I think that is quite
important, to get the priority in this area right.
93. Would you put the physical punishment of
children within the culture of responsibility or do you think
it helps in the agenda of respect of rights? How does it sit with
(Mr Denham) Let me be quite clear. Personally I abhor
smacking. I have got two children and I have never smacked either
of them, so I am not going to appear in front of this Committee
defending as it were the benefits of smacking. However, we have
taken a view as a government that this is not an area in which
we should seek to criminalise activities by parents because that
is unlikely to assist in moving things forward. I personally would
put the emphasis much more strongly on the positive measures we
can take as a government through programmes like Sure Start, for
example, to promote good parenting. An intrinsic part of that
work is to support parents in understanding alternatives to corporal
punishment as a way of disciplining their children.
94. That is very interesting. I was thinking
of asking you later about government initiatives to support families
who would like to have less violent forms of punishment. Perhaps
you could say a little bit about that.
(Mr Denham) Sure Start is probably the largest programme
aimed at supporting parenting of younger children between 0 and
five and that will be extended in future. We also support the
National Parenting Institute, the ParentLine service, all of which
you will find on examination gives support to good parenting,
parenting that avoids the need for corporal punishment. It may
be an opportunity to say that one of the things I find slightly
disappointing about the UN approach here was how much of the emphasis
of the UN approach was about the somewhat arcane wording of a
piece of Victorian legislation and how little of their approach
was the extent to which governments have programmes in place to
support good parenting which might have the effect of minimising
the use of corporal punishment. That is personally where I think
the debate and the discussion should be.
95. You differentiate between the obligations
of those who stand in the place of parents and teachers, who are
not allowed to smack What is the basis of this?
(Mr Denham) Because the view of government has been
that this is at the end of the day a parental responsibility and
therefore, as the law stands at the moment, the decision, for
example, to allow a child minder to smack is one that should be
consciously taken by a parent; it is not one that should simply
go by default, so there are responsibilities on parents who exercise
corporal punishment and so there is that differentiation between
parents and others.
Baroness Whitaker: I think the view of the European
Commission is slightly different, if I am right, that Article
8 is not engaged in such a case.
Lord Lester of Herne Hill
96. I think the position is that when it is
state schools it is quite clear that they cannot administer corporal
punishment in breach of the Convention. When it is private schools
it is pretty clear too, that there is a positive obligation on
the state there, and when it is with regard to parents, if it
reaches a certain degree of severity then the state would also
be responsible for that. While I have got the floor could I just
add one question, which is this. Mr Denham, I do not know whether
you are aware of this but, looked at through non-British and Irish
eyes, we are very much out of step on corporal punishment vis-a-vis
the rest certainly of western Europe. Corporal punishment is known
I think as le vice anglais by our continental counterparts,
so when you say you are disappointed by the UN Committee it may
be a cultural matter, that they really are looking at us as being
out of step with most other advanced democracies.
(Mr Denham) The reason I was disappointed was more
that, given certainly my view that it would be desirable to minimise
the use of smacking, the really practical question is, are we
doing things that would minimise it and supporting parents to
bring up their children in different ways, and very much it seems
to be looked at in terms of what was in the legislation alone
and the relationship between that and the UN Convention or the
ECHR rather than that broader context. I think that is significant
because, having had the chance to discuss this issue, for example,
with the Swedish Children's Minister last May I was given the
very strong impression that this was a law that had never been
enforced in Sweden, and so it is other mechanisms that brought
this about. One of the difficulties that I have in this area is
that I do not think we have a particular tradition in this country
of passing legislation that we do not intend to implement and
it may be that other countries have used symbolic legislation
to give a sense of direction in a way which we are not used to
doing, certainly in my time in the House of Commons. Usually,
if legislation is passed, we expect somebody to enforce it.
97. Minister, we do have a problem with domestic
violence in our society. I am sure nobody would support a concept
of reasonable chastisement of a husband or a wifebut do
you think there is any connection between violence against women
and violence against children?
(Mr Denham) I will have to familiarise myself with
all the evidence but a number of things are clear. One is that
in relationships where there is domestic violence there is a much
higher than usual chance of the children subsequently being the
victims of violence. I believe that I am right in saying that
there is quite a strong correlation between boys being brought
up where their fathers abused their mothers and the likelihood
of them carrying out domestic violence later in life, so the correlations
are there and it is why domestic violence is a very important
issue to raise and for us to make a lot more progress on than
we have done so far. What concerns me, because I have not seen
the evidence here, is that the sort of mild smack that most parents
have in mind if they are talking about smacking their children
is not of the same order that we see in domestic violence, nor
have I as yet seen evidence from any organisation that suggests
in a sense that there is no distinction and once there is a smack
you are in the same category as the person who is beating up their
wife in the home or beating up their children. I think it is quite
important that we do not tend to lump this in as all being indistinguishable
violence and therefore all bad in the same category because I
think we lose contact then with the common sense of most people
in the world outside who do not understand what we are talking
98. It is very interesting you say that because
there was a MORI poll in 1999 in which 73% of those polled said
that they would back a change in the law to abolish physical punishment
if they could be sure that parents would not be prosecuted for
trivial smacks. Like you, Minister, I abhor physical punishment
but I would not swear that I have never delivered the odd clip
on the ear.
(Mr Denham) Certainly the results of the Government's
own consultation in 2000 was that it would be better and it was
the preference of parents for us not to change the law in this
area. One of the great difficulties, and I think that some of
the devolved administrations are looking at this themselves, is
trying to write a law that would adequately define what it was
you meant was acceptable. There are some real difficulties in
doing that. People are talking about should it be legs or should
it be hands or around the head or whatever, or what age. It creates
its own problems and whilst the MORI poll may well reflect a view
that is out there amongst parents one of the things that I think
we need to consider is how easy would it be to construct a law
which drew those types of distinctions and which people could
understand. The Government's view is that as a result of the ECHR
ruling in a case that was taken to them the law is sufficiently
clear as it stands.
99. There is a related matter which is commented
on by the UN Committee, the absence of separate statistics for
crimes against children. Would the Government consider collecting
data on crimes of violence committed against children that were
reported to the police, including perhaps whether there is the
defence of reasonable chastisement, under the Human Rights Act?
(Mr Denham) We certainly need to do more to capture
statistics about young people as victims of crime but I would
say, having talked to a lot of young people about this, that smacking
is not the issue they are talking about. They are talking about
other types of violence, the way they suffer from anti-social
behaviour, their fears of getting around on transport and so on,
and that is an issue which is a very important issue because it
indicates that if we are talking about listening to young people
we really do need to listen to them. There has been a lot less
pressure on government to deal with young people and support young
people as the victims of crime than there have been in lots of
other circumstances. I think that is reflected in the fact that
although crimes are recorded by the police, whatever the age of
the victim, they are not recorded by age. It is not a question,
as the UN Committee put it, of the crimes not being recorded.
They are recorded, but the data systems the police have do not
enable us to distinguish by age. We are improving the data systems
with the police. In time we will be able to do that but I have
not got a deadline for it. The second problem we have is crime
survey, which is distinguished from recorded crime where individuals
are asked about their experience of crime. That, for I suppose
historically methodological reasons, has only been 16 upwards.
We are doing a one-off extension of that initially which will
capture 10-15 year olds and that is under way at the moment and
we should have the results next year. My personal view is that
we need to do much more in years to come to focus on young people
as the victims of crime and I think we will need the data to back