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Teenage Prisoners

Volume 264: debated on Thursday 19 October 1995

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To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what was the average length of time teenagers were kept in adult prisons whilst awaiting court cases in the last year for which figures are available. [36505]

The average time spent in custody on remand in Prison Service establishments by defendants aged 15 to 19 who were awaiting trial was 44 days in 1994.

Is not seven weeks in an adult prison likely to have a detrimental effect on youngsters and teenagers who have not been tried? Is it not a scandal that we are proceeding so slowly on getting additional facilities? Is the Minister aware that in 1991 when I was chair of social services in Leeds, we agreed additional facilities—an extra nine places—which were to go ahead at some time, but that five years later that still has not happened and we are still waiting? Why has there been so little progress?

If the hon. Gentleman is so concerned that young people should not be held in adult prisons, why did he vote against the Criminal Justice Act 1991 and the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994, which provided more local authority—[HON. MEMBERS: "He was not here in 1991."] Let me rephrase my question. Why did the hon. Gentleman vote against the 1994 Act and his party vote against the 1991 Act? If he does not want young people to be held in adult prisons, why did he vote against the provision of more secure places in local authority accommodation?

Was not the real scandal the level of offending on bail? Although we want to provide as many alternative secure places as possible, the Government were absolutely right to tighten bail conditions because that will ensure that, in future, youngsters on bail will commit fewer offences.

Absolutely. It is also true of course that the Opposition voted against all our improvements to bail arrangements as well. I do not think that they have any grounds for castigating us on that subject.

May I remind the Minister that we would not have had the Bail (Amendment) Act 1993 were it not for the efforts of members of the Opposition Front Bench and the votes of the Opposition? Have Ministers forgotten that it is five years since the Government promised to end the scandal of young people of 15 and 16 years of age being held either in inappropriate adult prison accommodation or in secure local government accommodation? Will the Home Secretary now explain the Government's failure to keep that promise, or will he blame someone else?

We can justly blame the Opposition for all the difficulties that they gave us. We can justly say that we have plans for a new-build programme not far from the hon. Gentleman's constituency. We have introduced measures to try to reduce the number of young people being held in adult prisons. As usual, the Opposition will not welcome any of that because they always want to hear bad news and they will never give credit where it is due. They simply will not accept what we have done.