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Youth Justice

Volume 702: debated on Thursday 12 June 2008

rose to call attention to the Centre for Crime and Justice Studies paper, Ten Years of Labour’s Youth Justice Reforms: An Independent Audit; and to move for Papers.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, it is good to hear that the Counter-Terrorism Bill is to be with us shortly. I am sure we shall have many happy hours with that.

It all started back in 1992. Your Lordships will remember the pledge of the shadow Home Secretary at the time, Mr Tony Blair, to the Labour Party conference when he said that the Labour Party would be,

“tough on crime and tough on the causes of crime”.

He pledged a shift away from what David Blunkett later called,

“the social disaster brought about by the neo-liberal period”.

Jack Straw pledged curfews for 10 year-olds. It was Labour’s response to the disaster of the 1992 election—a repositioning that would put them well to the right of the noble Lord, Lord Hurd, who in his period as Home Secretary had argued that the British prison system did not work effectively and called for more rehabilitation of offenders and alternative sentencing. Mr Michael Howard, however, appointed as Home Secretary in 1993, coined the phrase “prison works” and ratcheted up the rhetoric in a competition for “toughness”, which has led us to the position where we are today, with prisons bursting and the Home Office seeking to devise new wheezes, through Titan prisons and offshore hulks, to contain by far the highest prison population per capita in Europe.

In the 1997 election, one of Mr Prescott’s five pledges on his little pledge card was to halve the time it took from arrest to sentence for young offenders. The manifesto said that,

“youth crime and disorder have risen sharply, but very few offenders end up in court, and when they do half are let off with another warning”.

So it was that in government new Labour sought to tackle youth offending through the criminal justice route. The deep-rooted social problems which various studies had identified were to be solved not through investment in mainstream local authority children’s and young people’s provision and more effective children's services, but through punishment. The White Paper No More Excuses, published in 1998, stated that,

“punishment is important to signal society’s disapproval of criminal acts and to deter offending. It is the appropriate response to children and young people who wilfully break the law”.

Any plans to tackle the complex economic and social factors that cause youth offending were put on the back burner. The flagship Bill in 1998, which your Lordships will recall was the Crime and Disorder Bill, abolished the principle of doli incapax—one of the principles of this country that nobody under the age of 13 could be assumed to be guilty. It also established the Youth Justice Board, created locally accountable youth offending teams, replaced cautions with a new reprimand and final warning scheme and restructured non-custodial penalties. It also introduced the ASBO, the rationale for which was described by Hazel Blears MP in these terms:

“Disorder causes police the most problems. If police are to deal with serious crime, they cannot constantly be on the streets trying to control behaviour in the community. Orders dealing with anti-social behaviour will be most useful in dealing with that type of situation. They will apply to anti-social families, who often roam the streets of my city with impunity, causing misery and mayhem to the decent people who are trying to uphold standards”.—[Official Report, Commons, 8/4/98; col. 414.]

She praised ASBOs for introducing the civil burden of proof, making it easier for orders to be obtained and welcomed the punitive sentence of five years’ imprisonment, which could be imposed for their breach. There was a relish for the punishment of young people in Labour ranks for conduct that was not criminal at all. Those feelings were extended and deepened by successive Home Secretaries from David Blunkett to John Reid, whose frustration at the courts’ insistence on the legal traditions of fairness and justice was self-evident.

Between 1998 and 2001, four separate Acts of Parliament dealt with aspects of youth crime and in the Criminal Justice and Immigration Act recently passed, it has all been overhauled again. The report, which is the subject of the debate, Ten Years of Labours Youth Justice Reforms, is an independent audit by the Centre for Crime and Justice Studies at King’s College London, and its two authors, Enver Solomon and Richard Garside are the deputy director and director respectively. They focused not on the philosophy or principles behind the Labour Government’s initiatives, but on the implementation, examining whether the Government and the YJBs hit the targets that they set themselves, as set out in business plans, public service agreements with the Treasury and Labour manifestos. They say that assessment has been difficult. They have been struck by the lack of consistent and robust data on which any measurement of progress can be made. Employment levels, relative levels of income inequality, demographic breakdown, cultural practices and technological progress will all have an impact. Indeed, that echoes the report of the Prime Minister's Strategy Unit that 80 per cent of the reduction in the official crime rate since 1997 was due to economic and not criminal justice factors. On page 13, the report states:

“More fundamentally, it is far from clear what impact the youth justice system, however reformed, will have on levels of youth crime and levels of safety and victimisation”.

Therefore, it does not seek to quantify the distinctive and particular contribution made by the various youth agencies to levels of youth crime. It does not have the material on which to make that assessment. The report’s most significant finding is the move away from a welfare approach to dealing with children and young people, to one which relies far more on punishment. “New Labour, new punitiveness” is a phrase that has been coined to describe it.

Secondly, the report concludes that the Government sought to introduce a more managerialist approach to tackling youth crime, focusing on “processing” young offenders from arrest to sentence. The only target it set that has been hit has been from Mr Prescott's little five pledges card getting children quicker through the courts and into custody.

Thirdly, the report finds the focus on early and rapid intervention by the criminal justice system has led to an expansion of that system into areas outside its remit—parenting programmes and youth inclusion and support programmes to identify children at risk of offending. I have commented before to your Lordships on this Government's perversion of the criminal justice system, which developed over the centuries to deal with crime and punishment, to a new function: social engineering, a tool for risk management. Go into your local magistrates’ and risk managers’ court; turn left for the beaks and right for the risk managers. This has been commented upon on a number of recent occasions.

On the topic of finance, total Youth Justice Board spending on youth justice has increased since the year 2000, when the youth offending teams first became operational, by £267 million to £650 million, a real-terms increase of 45 per cent, so additional money in real terms has been made available. A significant proportion of that money, 31 per cent, has been drawn from the budgets of social agencies: health, education, local authorities, and above all social services. They have been raided. Has the money gone to positive programmes? No, the bulk of that £650 million, 64 per cent, has gone into purchasing secure accommodation, some provided by the private sector in secure training centres, and some by local authorities in secure children's homes. Sixty-four per cent goes on locking children up. Five per cent is spent on prevention programmes, two per cent on community education, and 16.5 per cent on youth offending team funding, including money for substance abuse programmes and other interventions, such as anger management courses, education training and employment projects. Ten times more is spent on custody than on preventing crime by young children. The Youth Justice Board recognises that. In a presentation to a seminar on 5 April this year, the YJB representative said of its prevention strategy:

“Until 2005, our resources were limited, and the only significant medium term funding was for the Youth Inclusion Programme—around £7 million per year between 1999 and 2005”.

The report concludes that substantial sums have been transferred from policy areas that are critical to tackling the causes of youth offending, with a corresponding reduction in investment in social responses to youth crime and disorder. Punishment comes first—that is where the money goes.

Was it money well spent? The Government may point to the report’s conclusion that targets for the reduction of vehicle crime, burglary and robbery were on course to be met, but there have been no figures on performance against those targets since the publication in 2004 of the Youth Justice Annual Statistics 2002-03. Those are the last statistics that are available. The targets on self-reporting offending have not been met, nor is it possible to measure current youth crime levels satisfactorily by any other means. The report concludes:

“At best, all that can be said is that the wide-ranging reforms have contributed to a continuing stabilisation of self-reported youth offending at the level the government inherited when it came to power in 1997”.

Therefore, youth offending has not been reduced by all the additional resources that have been put into it. The report’s verdict is that the target for reducing youth offending is modest—to maintain stability, rather than reduce it. However, even that target has not been met, despite the significant investment, focus and political energy expended. The report says that youth justice agencies can do little more than regulate youth crime and that they have an extremely limited impact, if any, on reducing it.

When it comes to the use of custody, targets have been set, revised, reduced and altered over the years. The fact is that no targets for reducing the number of children in custody have ever been met. More children are now imprisoned and for longer. The number of custodial sentences imposed in 2004 was 60 per cent higher than in the early 1990s, and the average custodial sentence for burglary increased from four months to 9.5 months in the 10-year period to 2004. Many more young people have been criminalised and dragged into an environment which destroys them and ruins their life chances.

One young man whom I have tried to assist was sent to custody at the age of 14 for three and a half years and, after his release, was charged with murder. He told me, “It took me a week to become the king of the remand centre that I was sent to because of my previous experience”. We are sending young persons to be influenced by people such as that. In my view, it is a particularly cruel system that drives children into custody, where they will be under the influence of people such as that, through the imposition of ASBOs for conduct which, in itself, may never have been criminal. In its report of February last, Make Me a Criminal: Preventing Youth Crime, the Institute for Public Policy Research highlighted the failure of the policy.

The cost in human lives has been terrible: 30 children have died in custody, mostly through suicide. But does incarceration work? The report indicates that, despite claims by the YJB, which again have had to be revised and reduced, the rate of reoffending has not significantly improved. Therefore, we are looking at a distressing policy failure. The Government’s youth justice policy has failed in all aspects. It is wrong in principle to use the courts of justice for social engineering, and it has proved useless in practice. The so-called reforms of 1998 are not value for money and they have diverted funds from fundamental social issues which are the causes of crime.

Mr Rod Morgan, the former head of the YJB who resigned last year, said on 21 May, when the report was published:

“I agree wholeheartedly with the King's College report that the centre of gravity of spending is distorted. It is precisely some of the trends they are talking about—the increased use of criminalisation, the number of youths we have in custody—that led me to resign. If we are serious about preventing youth crime, it has something to do with the youth justice system, but it has much more to do with broader social policies relating to the family, relating to education and housing etc”.

He called, as I do, for a shift from the excessive use of custody and criminalisation to work with parents and work in the community to engage with young people who are falling out of mainstream services. I beg to move for Papers.

My Lords, I suppose that I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, for the opportunity that this debate provides us to look back on what I would describe as the considerable achievements of the Government’s wide-ranging reforms of the youth justice system, which were initiated in the Crime and Disorder Act 1998.

At the outset, I declare my considerable personal involvement in those changes. I confess to having written the pre-1997 policy paper on youth justice reform, building on—the noble Lord did not mention this—the scathing 1996 Audit Commission report, Misspent Youth, on the failures of the then youth justice system. I confess to having invented the basic architecture of the current scheme, the local multi-agency youth offending teams, or YOTs, and a national Youth Justice Board, the YJB, at arm’s length from a government department. I make no apologies for that. I chaired both the steering committee that brought the new system into being in 1998 and the YJB itself for four and a half years before becoming a Health Minister. If any noble Lords want to take a pop at this basic architecture, they should probably direct that at me rather than at my noble friend the Minister.

Your Lordships will be astonished to know that my take on the history of the last 10 years is considerably different from that of the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford. He was somewhat selective in the quotes that he gave us. I shall give a rather different perspective. We redesigned the youth justice system because before 1997, as the Audit Commission report clearly showed, little effective action was being taken with young people who offended. If you do not know how many are offending and you do not have any programmes for tackling that offending, of course you will not have criminalised anybody—you did not know about them. That is a good take on a lot of what was happening pre-1997. The public were up in arms about the lack of action by public agencies in respect of young offenders, especially in some of the poorest areas in the country. The dilatory way in which the criminal justice system dealt with persistent young offenders was a scandal, which is why the Government pledged to speed up the system. They delivered on that pledge.

The problem with the Centre for Crime and Justice Studies report is that it gives no context or explanation of why the new system was established. There was no pre-new Labour golden age of youth justice and crime prevention from which resources were redirected, as the centre’s study seems to suggest. Instead, there were few effective programmes for preventing offending or reoffending, whether in the community or in custody. The system provided little effective public protection from serious and persistent young offenders and those who were caught took for ever to be processed by the criminal justice system, often committing more crimes while they were bailed and awaiting trial.

I acknowledge that the centre’s study is strong on the needs of young offenders; I totally agree with that aspect. Yet it totally fails to acknowledge the needs of public protection that the Government’s reforms tried to address. There is a balance to be struck between the needs of young offenders and the protection of the public. Our new system for the first time brought a wider range of agencies, including health and education, to bear on youth offending at the local level in a more co-ordinated way. It is pure fantasy to suggest that these changes diverted huge sums of money from other worthwhile programmes. Money may have been diverted from those budgets, but it was certainly not all being spent on worthwhile programmes dealing with young offenders. For the first time these reforms gave the system a clear statutory aim to prevent offending by children and young people. That was enshrined in the 1998 Act.

To maintain that focus, a national body, the Youth Justice Board, was set up. I pay tribute to the people who served on that board then and those who have succeeded them. They have put in a lot of effort and time and have achieved a great deal of progress, along with all the staff. Let me give some examples. National standards and good practice guidance have been put in place where none existed before. Parents were engaged for the first time in parenting programmes to try to help the parents of young offenders and young people at risk of offending. The Youth Justice Board pioneered restorative justice, which introduced reparation and making amends to victims and communities. Research programmes and better data collection were introduced. I have to say that the centre would have struggled to write its report without some of that better information, data and research that the Youth Justice Board provided and commissioned.

I acknowledge that the Youth Justice Board has set itself stretching targets. We set stretching targets and we knew at the time that we were probably not going to achieve them all, but we thought that it was worth having a go. The fact that we have not met them all does not mean that the services and programmes provided have not been hugely beneficial compared with what I may describe as the shambles that preceded the reforms. In any case, my understanding is that the Youth Justice Board intends to meet its target to reduce first-time entrants into the system, but perhaps my noble friend will be able to confirm or throw more light on that when he replies. For the first time—this is the most significant issue—there was real engagement of the youth justice system with the sentencers. It is not politicians but sentencers who send children into custody. The Youth Justice Board made the first real effort to engage with sentencers and to publish information court by court on the use of custody relative to community penalties.

The report makes it absolutely clear that it does not like preventive programmes being provided through the youth justice system. However, it is worth reflecting on the reason for using the Youth Justice Board and YOTs to distribute money for summer programmes and the youth inclusion and support programmes. Great consideration was given to that by departments across Whitehall. The reason why we used the YJB and the YOTs was that that was the most effective way of directing money to reach the young people most in need and most at risk.

Universal prevention programmes, to which I suspect the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, is very attached, have consistently failed to reach those young people most at risk of offending. That is a brute fact of experience in this area. I know that this is controversial territory because I know many of the practitioners in social services, health and education who do not like targeting in these programmes, but I ask your Lordships to reflect that, if we are to have effective earlier intervention to prevent offending, we have to target the young people most at risk and we have to have the multi-agency data systems that support that. One should always remember before the cry of “Stigma!” goes up—and I have heard that cry in this area many times, believe you me—that those young people are already stigmatised. One of the most revealing factors in why young people end up in the criminal justice system is that they come from criminal families. If we do not target the people at risk, we are not likely to succeed in this area.

I accept that there may be better ways of bringing programmes to bear than were available in 1997 and 1998. I am sure that the new joint unit for youth justice between DCSF and the Ministry of Justice will help, as well as the YJB’s new scaled approach for targeting effort and resources. We still need to do more in substance abuse programmes, employment and training, and we need to improve our accommodation and resettlement services for young offenders, as the centre’s report rightly indicates, but we should not overlook the huge improvements that have been made in these areas by the Government’s investment policies. That is where a lot of the extra money has been spent, particularly in custody.

I will say a few words about custody. Page 48 of the report shows that custody was coming down in 2003, as it certainly was. Part of my project was to get it to come down and, when I left—I was succeeded by Rod Morgan—we were succeeding. The report says that the use of custody has been relatively stable. It has certainly been stable in contrast with what has happened in the adult prison population. In large part, that improvement has been achieved by the development and use of more robust community penalties, especially the intensive surveillance and support programme, which was devised by the Youth Justice Board. Although that has not reduced the use of custody as we would all have liked, it has reduced reoffending. It has certainly reduced the frequency and seriousness of the reoffending that has taken place. We must not lose our nerve in our approach to more robust community penalties. We need to progress those even further. Much of the extra money that the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, said was spent by the Youth Justice Board on custody was spent to improve the programmes that these young people experienced when they were in custody.

Lastly, I will say one or two words about panicky responses to surges in crime by young people. We got it wrong in the David Blunkett era over mobile phones. There was an excessive response, which led to more young people going into custody than was perhaps necessary. We run the same risk in relation to knife crime. I hope that we will have a balanced response, rather than being too moved by screaming newspaper headlines.

My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lord Thomas of Gresford for introducing the debate.

The Government are going through some difficult times. Look at some of the unpalatable news this week: the four commissioners for England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland have reported to the United Nations that children in Britain are criminalised, subjected to violence and discriminated against. The low age of criminal responsibility, ASBOs, public discrimination and marketing pressures are blamed for creating bleak childhoods. While crime dropped between 2002 and 2006, the number of children prosecuted rose by 26 per cent. Too many children are being criminalised and brought into the youth justice system at an increasingly young age.

On Monday, the noble Lord, Lord West of Spithead, in an answer to the noble Baroness, Lady Sharples, said that 12,000 ASBOs were issued up to December 2006, half of which—50 per cent—were breached. About 63 per cent of those who break an ASBO will end up in a custodial sentence. On Tuesday, in an Answer to a Question from the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Liverpool, the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, said that 55 per cent of people come into prison with a serious drug problem.

The Government must accept that, despite the plethora of criminal justice legislation, the situation remains that we have the worst prison record in Europe and that those working in this field are demoralised. So what needs to be done? The report from the Centre for Crime and Justice Studies has performed a valuable service in drawing attention to the deficiencies of the Government's youth justice strategy and the need for a change of direction, if the youth justice system is to have a real chance of tackling the causes of youth crime. I accept some of the good practices identified by the noble Lord, Lord Warner, but although the Government have introduced some welcome and sensible reforms of the way we deal with young offenders, our youth justice system overall is unfit for purpose.

Before setting out the ways in which the youth justice system needs radical reform, it is right to give the Government credit for a number of important changes for the better. First, we have seen the introduction of some valuable new preventive programmes, particularly youth inclusion programmes which work intensively with the 50 juveniles in their area who are judged to be most at risk of offending. An independent evaluation of youth inclusion programmes carried out for the Youth Justice Board has found that they reduce offending or maintain non-offending for around two thirds of the young people involved in them. Some of the youth inclusion programmes run by Nacro—and I declare an interest as president of this organisation—have even more striking success rates of more than 80 per cent. Despite these encouraging developments, 10 times more of the youth justice budget is spent on custody than on preventive programmes.

Secondly, where young offenders are diverted from court and given reprimands or final warnings, a much higher proportion are now involved in diversion programmes designed to engage their energies in a more positive direction than was the case under the previous system of cautioning, and this is something we all welcome.

Thirdly, the Government have introduced the referral order which is now applied to the majority of young people who appear in court for the first time. These orders place a strong emphasis on reparation and restoration and the research shows that they work well. The rate of reoffending for young people given referral orders is lower than the rate which would have been expected if they had been given other forms of sentence.

Fourthly, although there is still a great deal wrong with the custodial regimes for young people, the additional resources which the Youth Justice Board has put into custodial establishments have undoubtedly improved these regimes compared with the position a decade ago.

Fifthly, inter-agency work with young offenders is now stronger than when the Government came into power, and I pay due credit to the noble Lord, Lord Warner, for his time as chairman of the Youth Justice Board. This is particularly obvious in the work of youth offending teams in which staff seconded from police, education, health and social services backgrounds work together with young offenders and young people at risk of offending. The Government have ensured that every youth offending team has an accommodation officer, and this has increased the proportion of young people in stable accommodation from 83 per cent in 2002 to 93 per cent currently.

Despite these genuine improvements, the youth justice system remains seriously unfit for purpose. No youth justice system can significantly reduce youth crime unless it gives a high priority to meeting the welfare needs of young offenders. Half the prisoners in young offender institutions have a history of contact with the care system compared with 2 per cent of the general population; a quarter have suffered violence in the home; many, including a third of girls in custody, have suffered sexual abuse; many more have suffered emotional abuse through parental neglect; nearly half have literacy and numeracy levels below those of an average 11 year-old, more than a quarter having levels below those of a seven year-old; and 85 per cent show signs of personality disorder, 10 per cent showing signs of psychotic disorder.

In a study called Wasted Lives in which Nacro researchers interviewed a sample of juveniles in young offender institutions, the authors drew up a list of 11 risk factors often associated with offending by young people. These included physical abuse, sexual abuse, parental neglect, unstable living conditions, misuse of alcohol or drugs, school exclusion and family conflict. The study found that, on average, the children in the sample had six of the 11 risk factors. Any system dealing with children who offend must have at its centre effective approaches for meeting the welfare needs which are almost always at the root of serious and persistent child offending. Far from having such a system, we still process young people through a watered-down version of the adult criminal justice system. This is wrong and the sooner there is a radical appraisal, the better.

As the Children's Commissioners have pointed out this week, we use the criminal justice process too much. Our age of criminal responsibility in England and Wales is 10, which is astonishingly low by European standards. In France, the age is 13; in Germany, Austria and Italy it is 14; in the Scandinavian countries it is 15; in Spain and Portugal it is 16; in Belgium it is 18; and in eastern Europe it ranges between 14 and 16. If we are to replace our system with one geared to the needs of vulnerable children, the age of criminal responsibility should be raised to at least 14. Below that age, child offenders should be dealt with as children in need of measures of care, and where a court needs to be involved, it should be a family court, not a criminal court.

We also use prosecution too much. In 1996 the Audit Commission produced a report called Misspent Youth which proposed that 20 per cent of juveniles who were then prosecuted should instead be dealt with by diversion programmes outside the court system. Yet since then the Government have introduced tighter restrictions on the number of times children can be dealt with by diversionary measures before being brought before a court. This has produced a striking increase in the number of children prosecuted for minor offences which would previously have been dealt with by informal warnings. In 2006, 61 per cent of young offenders were diverted from court compared with 73 per cent in the early 1990s. Research consistently shows that unnecessarily prosecuting young people can increase rather than reduce their chances of reoffending by officially labelling them as offenders, a label which all too often they then seek to live up to in order to create a hard image and status in front of their friends.

Above all, we use custody too much for young offenders. Around 3,000 young people under 18 are currently in all forms of custody, and more than 2,500 of these are in Prison Service custody. Many of the young people we currently detain would be better dealt with by programmes of supervision in the community that work to tackle the problems which are at the root of their offending. Since 1997, the Government have changed the law to make it easier for the courts to detain children both before and after sentence at increasingly younger ages and for less serious offences. They have done this despite the evidence showing that around 80 per cent of these young people are reconvicted within two years of leaving custody. This country’s high use of custody means that most of the Youth Justice Board’s resources, around 64 per cent, are absorbed by the cost of custody alone. These are resources which would be far more effective in reducing youth crime if they were spent on strengthening and expanding community supervision and prevention programmes.

I welcome the fact that the Government have set targets to reduce the number of first-time entrants to the youth justice system and to reduce the number in custody, but they have set targets to reduce the use of custody before and failed to achieve them. If we genuinely want to reduce youth crime, we need a radically reformed, less punitive youth justice system that better meets the welfare needs of children who offend. A reformed system should include a higher age of criminal responsibility, a much stronger emphasis on dealing with minor offenders outside the court system and tighter restrictions on the use of custody for young people. Such an approach would not just be better for young offenders, it would also better protect society from future offending by difficult, disturbed and vulnerable children.

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, for obtaining this important debate. It is always a privilege to follow the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, with his long experience and great wisdom on these matters. I was also interested to listen to the noble Lord, Lord Warner, and to be reminded of those days in 1997 when, among others, I was very excited at the thought of what might follow what I thought was going to be the focus on tackling crime and the causes of crime. At the time, as the Chief Inspector of Prisons and working on a report on young prisoners, I was very pleased to find the noble Lord, Lord Warner, working on the setting up of the Youth Justice Board and youth offending teams, both of which I have strongly supported ever since. We were able to work together and share some of our practical experiences on the ground in order to set up a procedure by which the Youth Justice Board and the prisons inspectorate would work closely together on the inspection of young people ever since.

I also welcome this report, although it is slightly unfortunate that, as is so often the way of these things, the timing of its publication is both late and premature. First, it came out about three days before the publication of the reconviction figures for the years up to 2005; that was the only time that they could be measured because they are measured two years after release. The figures for 2005 show that there had been a reduction of some 16.4 per cent in the reconviction rate among young offenders over the last period. That did not appear in the report, which is slightly unfortunate, because, armed with those figures, there might have been a different representation.

Secondly, it is slightly unfortunate that we have not had all the details of what the Government are going to put in their youth crime action plan, which is to be published next month. I look forward to it with considerable interest. Having had a discussion with the new chairman of the Youth Justice Board and found the sort of things that she is looking for, I suspect that this plan is perhaps going to answer some of the problems, at least in intention. For example, the plan is said to include: early identification of future prolific offenders; giving chaotic families the support and challenge they need; ensuring that courts have the range of disposals and alternatives to custody; early targeted intervention from other agencies; the need to make the most of short periods in custody; and improving resettlement and continuity of care for young offenders.

All I can say is, “Hear, hear, to all that”. If that really is in there and it results in improvements it is perhaps premature to dwell too much on the past until we have seen the content of that plan. Having said that, it is appropriate to consider what might come against what is there now in terms of the machinery that is there to deliver those good intentions. I was particularly interested to hear the chairman of the Youth Justice Board say that she was about to embark on discussions with the Prison Service to see whether there could not be someone appointed to be in charge of young people who are in the hands of the Prison Service; that person would be responsible and accountable for what happened to those young people while they were in custody.

I was particularly glad to see that because that is one of the main props that I called for in my report for young prisoners. It has been a serious deficiency in the system ever since, because unless we have one person responsible and accountable for overseeing what happens, things will not happen. That is the way of the world. I refer not only to the criminal justice system but to industry and to schools, hospitals and the Armed Forces. I wish that this point had been listened to before, particularly in terms of young people. I am also concerned that in addition to the question of timing there remains a disconnect in the overall direction that the Government are taking in relation to youth justice and other parts of the criminal justice system.

We have had recently a classic example of this disconnect. The excellent report of the noble Baroness, Lady Corston, into how women should be treated in the criminal justice system—that they ought to be held in small establishments around the country near their homes so that local conditions can apply in their rehabilitation—was immediately followed by another report, which has been accepted by the Government, for the building of Titan prisons, which are completely the opposite of what the noble Baroness, Lady Corston, was calling for for women.

At the same time as acknowledging that there is an enormous social content and mental health problems attached to the young people who come into the hands of the criminal justice system, we have the dismemberment of the Commission for Social Care Inspection. This has been split into two so that the part looking after children is now submerged under Ofsted, with its tick-in-the-box approach to education, and the adult element, which will include people over the age of 18 who, in many ways, should come under the youth justice system, being under the Healthcare and Mental Health Commissions. I suspect that will mean that social care for adults will be submerged as well.

While the Home Office, the Ministry of Justice and the Department for Children, Schools and Families will be involved in drawing up the youth crime plan—which is absolutely right because the Minister for Children is in the DCSF—I am worried that there is no mention of the Department of Health, which is responsible for social care and mental health care, being involved. If we acknowledge that the causes of crime lie in social conditions, and that that is where prevention must start, it is an error to leave out of the discussions the people who are most responsible for that environment. They should not be left out of the drawing-up of the plan for what is called “resettlement”, but which, all too often, I fear, is settlement because you are dealing with people who are not settled.

I hope that everything that is said in the debate today, based on this very good report, will be taken into account. I refer particularly to the last paragraph of the conclusions, which states,

“the time has come to reappraise the role and purpose of the youth justice system and to consider what it can realistically achieve in addressing youth offending”.

Not all is wrong, not all is right, but the accumulated wisdom of organisations such as the Centre of Crime and Justice Studies ought not to be disregarded and I welcome the opportunity to have its report drawn to the attention of Members of the House.

My Lords, it is always good to listen to the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, with all his experience participating in these debates. I pay tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, who consistently keeps flying in this House the flag of civilised values in the administration of justice. I also pay tribute to my noble friend who will reply to the debate. I know that he is as concerned as any of us that we get the policy right on this front. His whole life gives evidence of his personal commitment to the young and to the quality of our society. Anything I say today, therefore, will be in the context of helping those who carry immense responsibility on our behalf to get it right. I, too, look forward to the publication of the youth action plan because it may hold great hope for the future.

Perhaps I may say a word about perspective. We concentrate an awful lot on the challenges presented by the young who have gone off the rails, but I think we live in an age of unprecedented quality in the younger generation, who have a social commitment and effective engagement in society the like of which we have never seen before. Their political maturity often finds it difficult to accommodate what they see as the political immaturity of the conventional political system. This is exciting and we need to keep it in perspective. We also need to keep in perspective that much of the consequences of youth crime sometimes grotesquely affect the most deprived societies in our community. Those who have more than their fair share of social disadvantage and social challenges with which to contend in their daily lives have the added acute burden, every day and every night, of misbehaviour of one kind or another in their midst.

If we are concerned about these things, it is important that we avoid knee-jerk emotional reactions and that at all costs we avoid appeasing prejudice, particularly where it exists in the more irresponsible sections of the media. There is a counterproductivity about wanting to make ourselves feel more satisfied by showing a macho response to what is wrong, thereby exacerbating the difficulties with which we are dealing. I am one of those who holds that a hallmark of a civilised society is the ability not simply to react to what confronts it but to ask, “Why does this confront us?”. I can think of no area of policy where this is more important than the one we are deliberating today.

I have shared with this House before, and I hope I will be forgiven for doing so again, two anecdotes that have profoundly affected me as an individual. One concerned the former chief constable who was involved in an imaginative programme in a young offender institution in the north. He was talking to a young man who was about to be released, and to his surprise the young man started to weep. The young man said, “I am weeping because I’m terrified about what I am going to encounter when I leave this place. This is the first place in my life where I have felt secure, where I have begun to discover myself as an individual and to recognise my potential, and where I have felt that there are people who are concerned about me, which has awakened a concern on my part about other people. I really am petrified of what I am going to return to in society”.

The other anecdote concerns the late Joan Lestor, who was a great personal friend of my family; in fact she was the godmother of one of my children. She was a strong advocate of children’s interests. She was not given to exaggeration, though; she was a realist. I shall never forget her coming to our home just having visited one of the young people who had been involved in the dreadful murder of James Bulger, that awful event that shocked the nation. She was unspeakably distressed. Why? Because, she said, speaking of one of the youngsters who had committed the crime, “That youngster has never been loved in his life”.

When we are dealing with justice and the young and delinquent behaviour by the young, we have to ask ourselves about our own values, our own society and the context within which it is all happening. If we have a society that is dominated by greed, by so-called success—as if all that matters is getting to the top of the pile with not too many questions about how you get there—where is our authority? Where is the example to set the context for society as a whole?

There are other issues that impinge acutely on this matter. There has been reference to education, but if our education system is increasingly dominated by league tables that talk about “success” and use the language of “failed schools”, what happens to the young who are part of all that failure? I am conscious that there are schools in this country where staff are doing some of the most imaginative, highly relevant work with young people who are excluded and who have no parental support—but their only reward is to be told that their school has failed because it is not performing against the league tables and the conventional measures of success. We really have to think about these issues and what their relationship is. We have to do some integrated thinking about different aspects of our policy if we are to get it right. We also have to recognise that in deprived areas of our country there is an absence of hope and social and educational aspiration. If we are going to get this right, the regeneration of our deprived areas cannot be too high a priority.

The noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, with his usual wisdom, was right to emphasise the fact that we have to take the whole issue of mental health far more seriously. I speak with some sensitivity on this matter because one of my daughters leads a team of people working with women with mental health problems in deprived communities. She becomes exasperated because of the shortage of resources. Everyone makes referrals to the team, but where are the resources to do the work? We need to give higher priority to all that.

My general message today is that what is needed is a new culture. What I shall be looking for in the youth action plan is not just a set of management proposals but a regeneration of culture and of what our society should be, a reassertion of the importance of muscular love in our social policy. That does not mean sentimentality. I get infuriated in my older age by those who go around talking about—I do not use the term in its political sense—“bleeding-heart liberals”, when those who say that sort of thing are the weak people who are betraying society while so often the wet-nosed “liberals” are the people who are thinking hard and sensibly about what needs to be done to get it right. We have to recognise that and become more assertive about why it matters that there is a different concept of how things should be.

Of course we must be clear about what is right and wrong and about what is acceptable behaviour and what is not, but it will not do to go around telling the young how they should behave unless that is evidenced in our own behaviour. We have to set an example. We have to demonstrate our own social responsibility and the fact that it takes precedence over our egocentric, material preoccupations.

We should be working for a situation in which the young are enabled to fulfil their potential. The success stories are there. When I was president of the YMCA, I saw the stories of youngsters who had been involved in some quite shocking crimes but went on to get PhDs once people really began to relate to them and see what could be done. We should be concentrating on how we enable the young to make something of their stunted and distorted lives and to recognise that, after the experiences that many of them have been through, it would be an absolute miracle if they were not caught up in criminal activity of one kind or another. We must get the social context right, and that means integrated thinking by a whole range of government departments.

My Lords, it is a privilege to follow the noble Lord, Lord Judd. He is right that we need to have hard-headed thinking, and when he uses the word “liberal” I know that he uses it quite rightly. I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Thomas of Gresford for introducing the debate today and for the opportunity to speak on a report that speaks very strongly for itself. The report, in combination with the fact that the UK Children’s Commissioners are presenting to the UN this week in Geneva and with the most recent UNICEF report, draws a pretty grim picture of childhood and youth in the UK. It is not a picture we can be pleased with.

The noble Lord, Lord Warner, reminded us that before 1997 things were far from good. He suggested that my noble friend took a pop at the architecture. I think it was a justified pop. The noble Lord is right that things were not good before 1997, but in many ways they have got worse. I accept that some of that can be laid at the door of society in general, but some of it should be laid at the door of the Government in the way they have chosen to proceed with measures that they put in place in good faith, but which by and large have failed. It is time to take another look.

The report highlights the failure of all but one of seven measures: the only area of improvement has been a reduction in arrest-to-sentence times. The Government have failed in six other objectives. I shall speak about one of them: to improve accommodation. I shall then speak about demonisation of young people and ASBOs.

On improving accommodation, the Government’s target was to ensure that all young people subject to community intervention or released from custody had appropriate accommodation when they left. However, that accommodation is not provided. Many young people do not know where they are going to go when they leave custody. In its survey, Youth crime briefing: housing and accommodation issues for young people in the criminal justice system—it was conducted in December 2005, but I understand that the situation has not changed—Nacro found that homelessness can significantly increase the likelihood that a young person will break the law. Moreover, homelessness can affect the way in which young people are treated in the justice system. For example, they are less likely to receive bail if they have no permanent address. In 2004, the Audit Commission showed that up to 1,000 young people are remanded to secure facilities each year because they do not have a suitable address for bail. Has that figure increased or decreased? This problem is further compounded by the fact that young people without accommodation are more likely to receive custodial sentences. When they are released, many of them will find it even harder to find somewhere to live, either because of deteriorating family commitment, which may have meant that they were in trouble in the first place, or because of the social stigma that goes with the prison sentence. Fewer than half of the young adults surveyed by Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Prisons—a survey referred to in its annual report of 30 January 2007—said that they knew where to get help to find accommodation, drug treatment or continuing education when they left prison. Those are exactly the contributory factors that make it so hard for those young people to proceed in society in any positive way.

The noble Lord, Lord Warner, made an outstanding contribution to a short debate on restorative justice that I introduced in your Lordships’ House. He said:

“There is a myth around that RJ is in some way a soft option because it does not involve enough punishment. The research shows that offenders find it tougher to face their victims than to go to court. Another myth is that it is costly. Even the most expensive RJ conferences—those for serious crimes—cost only £800, compared with the £35,000 a year that we pay to keep someone in prison. It is time for us to stop endlessly studying and evaluating RJ and to use it much more widely in the areas where it has proven value”.—[Official Report, 26/11/07; col. 1104.]

I am very grateful to the noble Lord for that comment, because RJ is being rolled out not nearly fast enough and it is young people who can benefit from it the most. I have been into schools practising restorative justice. It is quite astonishing how young people who have gone through any kind of restorative process have developed a completely different view of themselves and how they relate to the world. That does not mean that they will stop being troublemakers overnight, but they are on a different track to a more positive outlook and start to relate to authority far more constructively. I hope that the Government will think about resourcing restorative justice much more positively.

I turn to the demonisation of young people. The Children’s Commissioner’s report found that children are being demonised by a society that is locking up too many of them. The Government’s measures have contributed to the demonisation of children. For example, they have largely accepted the “buzz off” or “mosquito” system, which disperses any groups of young people that may be hanging about by emitting a high-pitched noise that only they can hear. I accept that young people hanging about in a group can occasionally be threatening, but often they are not. They are disruptive to some degree and might cause one to get off the pavement; they are loud and raucous; but very often they are not threatening. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Judd, that the media have contributed to an unconstructive and dangerous view of any assembly of young people. The Government could have another look at the ethos underpinning mosquito systems, because they affect all young people and not just those who cause difficulties. If one walks past such a system with one’s eight or nine year-old child, they suffer as much as the one or two young people who might be causing a difficulty outside a shop. The system is making places unpleasant to be for a whole generation of young people. It is an appalling thing to do to our young people.

I turn finally to ASBOs. The use of ASBOs risks contributing to, rather than reducing, the criminalisation of young people. They represent a crossover from civil to criminal proceedings. A young person can now be given an order, as they have been, for playing music too loudly, which is a non-criminal offence. If they breach the order, it is treated as a criminal offence and the young person can end up with a custodial sentence for actions that did not initially constitute a criminal offence.

ASBOs have not been effective as far as young people are concerned. One of the more telling quotes on them comes from Neil Wain, chief superintendent of Manchester police, who said:

“It was evident from my interviews that many of those people subject to ASBOs had underlying problems such as drug and alcohol dependency, mental health issues or dysfunctional families”—

dysfunctional families have a critical impact on young people—

“and most originated from socially deprived housing estates. Yet little or no support had been offered. Efforts to divert young people into positive activities were lacking”.

When a police officer of his stature says that, we really need to take it very seriously, as the report concludes.

Many of the Government’s measures have failed. It is time to put the resources into other, supportive measures that would be effective in reducing offending and reoffending rates.

My Lords, it is an honour to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Miller of Chilthorne Domer. I am particularly grateful to her for raising the issue of finding accommodation for young people leaving custody. I remember being involved in a report that highlighted the fact that many young people leaving custody said that they were moving back with their families. What actually happened was that they moved back for a day or two and then the arrangement collapsed and they were on the streets. These issues are complex and the issue of finding a home for young people when they leave custody is crucial.

Whatever the faults and virtues of the system since 1997, one has to recognise the achievements of the Youth Justice Board and the various policies associated with it; and particularly of the youth offender teams that have been so important and valuable. While one may wish to integrate their work better with the mainstream, one has to recognise the achievements that have been made. I also thank the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, for securing the opportunity to debate this important report.

The report concludes—I paraphrase—that Her Majesty’s Government have been taking money from hard-pressed mainstream social provision to develop a specialist system for youth justice. The authors point out that this new service is at one remove and therefore less well integrated. They question the effectiveness of such an approach. I felt a shock of recognition reading this. The scenario seems familiar. One might also say that we have developed a system of public care for looked-after children that drains huge sums from mainstream preventive provision, works far too much in isolation and provides disappointing outcomes. The Minister for Children, Beverley Hughes, told a meeting some time ago that the Government had increased their spending on looked-after children in the care of the state from £1.3 billion to £1.9 billion in just a few years and that they needed persuading that the money was making a difference—they had not yet seen the evidence. I believe that there have been improvements and I will come back to this point.

David Kidney, MP for Stafford and chair of the All-Party Group on Looked After Children and Care Leavers, recently reminded me that, at a meeting of experts in criminal justice from Spain and Germany last year, the failure to intervene early to prevent problematic behaviour developing was identified as an important flaw in our approach that contributed to our exceptionally high rate of child custody. Many noble Lords have already highlighted this fact.

The Department for Education, as it was, is to be highly commended for commissioning the Institute of Education to compare practice in foster care and residential childcare between England, Denmark, France and Germany. The striking difference is that Denmark, France and Germany intervene earlier and more effectively to prevent harm to children. Why is this and what relevance does it have to our debate? The Social Care Institute for Excellence confirmed to me this morning that the difference is partly one of workforces. It highlights the clear evidence that social workers in Belgium, Germany, France and parts of the US have a far higher status than social workers in this country and that, because of this, they are more effective in prevention.

Academics highlight the differences between our looked-after population and those of the neighbours that I have mentioned. Denmark takes a significantly larger proportion of children into care than we do. However, the children are less traumatised, and entering care is seen as an opportunity for them to improve their life chances rather then reduce them. A child in care is expected to do better academically than his peers. This may be explained by better early intervention to prevent harm, and then prompt later intervention if the child continues to be harmed. Half of Denmark’s looked-after children are in residential care, compared with 10 per cent of ours; but 90 per cent of its residential childcare staff have a degree-level qualification, compared with 20 per cent of our staff.

Pedagogy, the discipline applying to the care of vulnerable children, is one of the most popular university courses, and vacancy rates for staff in children's homes are minimal. In this country, there is no mainstream university discipline clearly applicable to this work. Social work is the closest, but is some way from the mark. Vacancy rates for staff in our children's homes are even higher than those for field social work—that is, very high indeed, among the highest in social care. Danish pedagogues have a large degree of autonomy in their work and can interact spontaneously with their children, for instance by giving them a hug when necessary. English pedagogues are controlled from the top down, keep endless records of their work and feel inhibited in their physical contact with children.

My sense is that what is true of Danish pedagogues in comparison with our residential childcare workers is more broadly true of Danish, German and French teachers, social workers and youth workers. If confidence in such professionals had collapsed in those countries as it had in ours, and if their status had reached the nadir that ours had, then their care system might be more similar to ours. Their preventive services might also be imperfect and permit preventable harm to children. Those children might then be catered for by another tier of provision, and the intense, incendiary needs of those children might also leave that service reeling. These countries might also be forced onto the back foot and find themselves spending vast amounts of money with limited effect.

I ask noble Lords to consider the comparative status of our social care workforce. Until very recently, our social workers were not required to have a degree. Originally, it was assumed that those wishing to become social workers would have a degree. However, that was not the case for a long time. Teaching is only just becoming a masters degree profession. The capacity of our early years workforce is decades behind that of many of our fellow nations. My noble friend Lord Dearing recently pointed out that, even if we achieved the targets of Her Majesty's Government with regard to vocational training, we would be catching up only with where Germany now stands, rather than with where it will be in years to come. We all recognise the failure to provide—and the lack of attention to—good quality vocational training in our schools. This is relevant here and perhaps I will come back to it.

It may be that the youth justice system is set up to address, to some degree, a symptom rather than an underlying cause. I agree with the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Warner. I pay tribute to him for his work as chief executive of the Youth Justice Board. I particularly recall what he did with parenting interventions, and how effective they were in reducing reoffending rates—a cheap and effective way of reducing young offending. He referred to the advent of this service. One has to remember that there were young people—and still are, to some degree—who caused endless harm to their local communities. The services to prevent that harm were not there, and it must have been hell for those communities. If I understand the history correctly, there was a vacuum for the reasons that I described of the long-term demoralisation of social services and those working in them. One can see why such a development was necessary.

I emphasise one further point from what the noble Lord, Lord Warner, said about public panic over particular problems. He mentioned the issue of mobile phones. I recall a poor young man, Joseph Scholes, who committed suicide in prison after being caught up in the hysteria over mobile phones. I hope that the Government will listen to the noble Lord’s request for there to be no similar knee-jerk response to knife crime.

Youth criminality may be due largely to a failure to provide the services that enable families to thrive and children to succeed. Our failure to invest in those working directly with these families may be heavily implicated in this predicament. I mean these comments to be constructive. If my understanding is correct, then much of Her Majesty’s Government's current policy is also correct. It is right that teaching should become a masters degree profession as proposed. Her Majesty's Government’s Teach First programme that incentivises high flyers to try the profession of teaching is right, and its success in persuading 50 per cent of those who are caught up in it to continue in schools is great news. It is right that Her Majesty's Government have now introduced a social work degree, and that courses are popular is great news. It is right that Her Majesty's Government are piloting newly qualified social work status so that this new intake has reduced case loads and increased supervision. It is right that the Government’s Children’s Plan makes building capacity in the workforce a sine qua non of success.

I see that my time is up, but I encourage the Minister to carry on doing what he and his colleagues have started. Many more of our children will have fulfilling, productive lives and become good parents of their own children if he succeeds.

My Lords, it is daunting to join a speakers list of so many experts on the subject. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Warner, is not going, because I wish him to hear my acknowledgement of the vision that he contributed to at the beginning of the present Government’s tenure of office in the building of a radically new approach, as was intended, to the juvenile justice system. It was full of good intentions. Sadly, the good intentions have not led to heaven, but neither have they led to hell. I endorse the opening paragraphs of the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, in which he listed the achievements that have been made and what the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, has just said about the importance of YOTs and the multidisciplinary approach. However, I have to agree with the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, that that approach will not be complete if the Department of Health is excluded from the infrastructure.

I am sorry that the noble Lord, Lord Judd, is not in his place to hear my admiration of his speech. He returned to the essential ingredient missing in our society when it approaches young people—what many of us are too embarrassed to call love. Such young delinquents as I have encountered in the early stages have quite clearly been starved of it, and the application of it has had astonishing effects. It is like when they ran a copper telephone cable across a desert in South Africa and suddenly there was a little line of green under the cable because what was missing was the trace element of copper in the soil below. That is the effect that love has on children. Not only children: we live in a society where you cannot call it love when you talk about adults because you get into all sorts of arcane and embarrassing suggestions of what it means.

The noble Lord called it tough love, but you can call it care or engagement. I remember a particular child at school who was going very fast in the wrong direction. I managed to convince him that I was personally concerned about what happened to him. I would not call that love in the context that I was expressing it, but that is what it was. He was an absolutely changed creature. From being a scruffy truant and somewhat abusive, he rapidly became well behaved and offered to help mark the register. He completed his school career without a blemish and I was able to give him a recommendation of good character. It cost me very little, but it was worth an enormous amount to him. We have to look at society as well as the actual criminal justice system.

However, the criminal justice system is what the debate is about, so we need to knit the two together. The Danes have done that, I understand from the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, and I hope to make an early visit to see how beyond the details that he gave us, but we have agencies in our society that are able to operate in a humane and non-bureaucratic way and a whole host of voluntary agencies. I remind the collective memory of Her Majesty's Government of a long ago predecessor of the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, at the Dispatch Box, Lord David Ennals, who in the last months of the Administration that fell in 1997 set up something called the intermediate treatment fund. It was devoted solely to two aims. The first was to go about magistrates’ benches, courts, police forces, probation services and so forth preaching the merits of non-custodial treatment of crimes requiring custody. I had personally seen them to be remarkably successful in reducing reoffending rates among young people.

The second aim was to go around with small handfuls of money finding beaten-up estates that were about to start going over the edge into criminal cess pits and find young enthusiastic adults prepared to start youth activities of any kind that engaged their enthusiasm so much that it would engage the enthusiasm of the young people. Through a grants application scheme, the programme also gave those adults the know-how to get funding from other sources at a ratio of five to one. One of my two complaints about the latter years of the Administration of which I was a part earlier on was the great cry that prison works. The other was the decision to wind up the intermediate treatment fund so that we had to find a voluntary way of doing it, which was not so easy or successful. Thought should be given to replicating it in some way or another.

The programmes for these agencies do exist and are successful. I refer to two that are carried out in Lambeth by what is still called Rainer. I declare an interest as having been a patron of Rainer for some time. The programme cut arrest rates among young people by an average of 65 per cent. In some areas where Rainer works, arrest rates have been cut by as much as three quarters. Unfortunately, as we see from the national figures, that is not replicated countrywide. Money of the sort that I mentioned could be profitably spent on such youth inclusion programmes.

The next thing relating to love is the family. We are at last politically aware of the family—rather late, I fear, in the process of decay of that institution. Where there is one, it is essential to retain connections between the offender and the family, which will be essential in getting him or her back on the rails. I join the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, with great enthusiasm, in saying that mathematics, geometry and geography all conspire to say that Titan prisons cannot be an element in that. I know the answer that the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, will give because I have heard it several times already. He will say, “Oh yes they are”, but I am afraid that he is wrong. I say, “Oh no they aren't”, although we must not turn this into a Christmas pantomime.

We must also avoid criminalising young people unnecessarily. By coincidence, I spoke in the Second Reading debate on Tuesday of the Education and Skills Bill. Noble Lords in this debate should be made aware so that they can be drawn into the debate in Committee of the proposal to criminalise truancy for children in the new compulsory education of children aged 16 to 18. It will be an offence taken to court if a child, after a series of processes, does not toe the line. I do not know how one can expect any constructive learning to be done by somebody who is in a room with an instructor only because he will be criminalised otherwise. However, if he does not go to school, the damage is even greater than if he is there, sulking and being made ever more resentful of society.

That brings me to my final point, which I raised at the Second Reading debate. I refer to the question of literacy. We all know of the very high rate of illiteracy among the prison population. It is somewhere between 40 and 50 per cent. The most conservative estimate is that 40 per cent of those are straight dyslexic cases. Astonishing changes can be made to the careers of children. One of the most common causes of, or routes into, criminality is the total frustration in school of people who are perfectly clever but are taught in ways that they cannot cope with because they have not been diagnosed. What this country must have, for the sake of future generations, is 100 per cent screening of children in their early years so that dyslexia is detected. In the very large number of cases where it can be got around with spectacular results, children will be diverted in numbers from the criminal path. That is what love demands, as the noble Lord, Lord Judd, in a good speech, said.

My Lords, I, too, congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Thomas, on this debate but, like my noble friend Lord Warner, I am not sure that I thank him. Youth crime is not a topic on which I would normally trouble your Lordships. I do not have the experience or expertise of other noble Lords who have spoken, but it is a matter that has been troubling me. As this report came highly recommended by the noble Lord, Lord Thomas, I thought it would be a good read, and would perhaps satisfy some of my concerns. In the event, I found the audit exercise a bit pointless, but the authors seem to share my concerns.

In my other life, when I ran my business, even though we had accurate measurements of income and expenditure, and careful data on the volume of goods sold and made, I was still wary of audits. When you produce audits based on budgets and targets as this paper attempts, the results are pretty meaningless. The noble Lord, Lord Thomas, reminded us that the authors say that accurate statistics are difficult to come by and can, at times, be contradictory. We should be wary of the conclusions. At various points in the paper, the authors accuse the Government of overstating their record. Welcome to the world of accountancy, where overstatement and understatement are constantly debated and no two accountants agree. I am sure that the Minister’s justification for his data is as robust as the authors’ justification for theirs. As I said, welcome to the world of accountancy. The paper could have been more critical of the use of targets. The Minister does not need me to tell him that unless targets are used sparingly, and have a clear vision, they inhibit innovation and change because all the effort goes towards reaching the target, instead of doing a more effective and better job. It is a pity that the paper did not look more at the use of targets as a means of driving performance in youth justice. You have only to say that sentence to realise how incompatible they are.

However, the authors share my concern and—as the noble Baroness, Lady Miller, reminded us—those of the UK’s four children’s commissioners. They are concerned that there are too many children locked up, and that there is a disturbing trend towards locking up even more. I looked up the figures and the number has almost doubled in the past decade to 3,020. What troubles me, other noble Lords and the commissioners is that these are easily some of the most disadvantaged people in our society. Most show signs of personality disorder. The noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, gave us the details. He reminded us that many have the literacy and numeracy of the average seven year-old, or even younger. All this is at a time when, overall, crime figures are dropping. Nor does it seem to make financial sense. Custody is expensive, and there seem to be schemes that provide a cheaper alternative. I know of a scheme called the Archway Motorcycle Project. A police survey showed that this project in Thamesmead—which costs £200,000 to train 200 young people each year, and revealed a strong positive effect on attenders in trouble with the law—costs about the same as it costs the taxpayer to keep half a dozen youngsters locked up in a secure training centre. We constantly hear complaints that these youngsters are let out too early. David Ruffley MP complained about this on television only last week.

Fewer and fewer people feel that a crackdown is the answer, yet every burst of outrage in recent times seems to encourage this. Then the crackdowns tend to fulfil their own publicity through overreaction, as the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, told us. My noble friend Lord Warner reminded us that the public must be protected. He is right. I felt encouraged when Gordon Brown took over as Prime Minister and created the new Department for Children, Schools and Families. At that time the Secretary of State, Ed Balls, indicated a change in the balance—spoken about by my noble friend Lord Warner—when he declared it a failure on our part every time a young person gets an ASBO. He realised that in some cases ASBOs have criminalised children, and in other cases become a mark of esteem. He also toned down the “yob culture” rhetoric and the respect agenda, which the noble Lord, Lord Thomas, spoke about.

My right honourable friend Ed Miliband last year spoke of the need for the Government to do more, to rehabilitate young people and to end society’s perception that most teenagers are involved in crime and anti-social behaviour. This point was made not only by my noble friend Lord Judd and the noble Baroness, Lady Miller, but in the report of the four children’s commissioners. I realise that the number of children behind bars continues to increase, but my inclination is to give these new and young Ministers a chance. They are being helped by the Government’s attack on child poverty; by early intervention in the form of such schemes as nurseries and Sure Start; and by flexible working, after-school and breakfast clubs, and maternity and paternity leave. After all, these young Ministers have been brought up on a diet of social justice, and are committed to enabling people to make the most of themselves. They realise that our existing system of criminal justice for children is, perhaps, part of the problem, not the solution. My request is that we give them a chance to turn things around.

When will we know that they have succeeded? In my ideal world, prison custody would be abolished for all children, except those guilty of very grave crimes and who pose a serious danger. Ideally, they would be detained in local authority secure accommodation to maintain the family connection. Young people should be diverted from court and perhaps brought before a young people’s prosecutor. Interventions would be at community level and these would have to be expanded and improved, as would drug and alcohol treatment, and advice and support for parents. There should also be improvements in restorative justice and mentoring to help youngsters think through the consequences of their actions. All these services, including mental health provision could be improved, as many noble Lords have said. Perhaps equally important is the need to encourage a more vocationally orientated education system designed to bind children into society, rather than rejecting them. This is one of the points of the new Education and Skills Bill that we debated earlier this week.

I do not think that my wish list is impossible to achieve. Perhaps it reflects the change in culture that my noble friend Lord Judd described. Some progress will be made if we comply with the children's rights convention. But there is a real problem of perception. There is outrage when a child suffers through the negligence and viciousness of others, but where is the outrage when last year a UNICEF study of children’s well-being in rich countries put us at the bottom of the list? Now there is a worthy target if we want one—to climb from the bottom to the top. A paper on how to do that would be a much better read.

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for bringing this issue to the attention of the House. I agree with him that one of our major problems is that the way in which we deal with crime and the young has become the most testosterone-driven part of the political debate. Politicians tend to beat their chests and say how tough they are going to be and then have a crackdown. Once they have finished having their crackdown, they forget about it. The problem re-emerges in a slightly new way in a slightly new fashion and there is another crackdown. The press likes this, because it does not have to think very much, either. It calls for a crackdown and it gets one. It is a horrible cycle. As we have gone through this process, we have seen that it tends to swamp the good work that is done, where it exists, and tends to cover up the bad practice. We have to do more. This is one of the major problems that the Government and everyone involved will have to square up to in the next few years if we are to make any real impression.

I wish to draw attention to a large group within our offender system—the dyslexic. The noble Lord, Lord Elton, who is becoming rather quicker on the draw than me in this area, has already referred to this group. When I made my first speech in your Lordships’ House a little more than 20 years ago, I spoke about dyslexia. The change of tone about this condition has been massive. People used to say, “Oh, the poor little middle-class boy genius”—among sufferers, there is a 4 to 1 ratio of males—whereas now the problem is being appreciated and manifesting itself most strongly in our criminal justice system. The noble Lord said that the figure in that area was about 40 per cent. Most of the statistics that I have seen put the figure at about half.

Although most people in prison or the youth justice system come from the lower socio-economic groups, we are not finding and supporting those who have dyslexia within those groups. Some 10 per cent or 12 per cent have this problem to varying degrees. Calling it one problem is probably a misnomer. Dyslexia is a spectrum that covers a large percentage of, predominantly, the male population. It would be astounding if there were not a high number of dyslexics in the prison population.

When I worked for Apex Trust, which is not as big as it was, we dealt with getting offenders into jobs. It was the first time ever that I had sat down in a group where my literacy skills were above average. What can we do about these people who do not achieve? The noble Lord, Lord Elton, said that, if we have 100 per cent screening of children going through the education system, we could largely deal with this problem. He may be right, but even with a good screening process at the right age and for the right group, we will probably still miss a few people, whose problems will come out earlier or later. Also, even if we do that now, we are still between 10 and 12 years from dealing with the problem in the population. There is no great appetite for the huge expenditure and change to our education system that what he suggests would require, although perhaps there should be. So what do we do?

We have people who are, as a result of their social context, not being picked up on their way through the system. Noble Lords should not worry; I will soon get around to considering something that is the Minister’s departmental responsibility. As we go through this process, we find people who offend because they are educational drop-outs, because the education system is not friendly to them and they come from a background where you do not find out why you have failed in the education system. It is just accepted that you are no good at school. I am afraid that that is another reality that we have to accept.

What can we do when we get people into controlled environments, particularly custody, that allow us to identify the problem and then deal with it? The thrust of what I would like to concentrate on is the practicality of what one does after identifying the dyslexic—and there are good diagnostic systems. In the adult prison population, many people are assessed as being dyslexic every time they go to a new prison. They are half way through an education system, but then they leave or give up.

Let me take, as a common analogy, someone who hated sport—we are not short of such people in the political class. We tell that person, “You will not only play sport, but you will play it in the most unpleasant way possible for you. You did not like the cold and wet; let’s roll you around in a muddy field and play a sport that you have absolutely no aptitude for and make it as unpleasant as it conceivably can be”. We say to the dyslexic young offender, a person for whom school was a memory at 14, “Let’s teach you to spell properly again”. To be perfectly honest, someone who does that really deserves the odd punch on the nose. We are taking a thoroughly unpleasant, hideous and degrading experience and making the person go back through it; even suggesting that they might is bad enough.

I ask the Government what evidence there is and what good examples there are of taking that person, sitting them down and telling them, “The reason why you cannot do this is because you have this condition. It comes down to this: the short-term learning capacity in your brain is different, but you have other compensating traits—better lateral thought and being able to tackle subjects sideways”. I feel sorry for Hansard when I occasionally go off and do that myself. That approach would be a valuable first step.

It must be remembered that this is a disability in your differently constructed brain. If you are late in tackling this, you will never hit key stage whatever. That is very common. We should concentrate on making sure that these individuals are given a series of coping strategies. A basic one is explaining that you have a problem. If you are told that you have to fill in a form, you may need to say, “Can I have two, because I will make mistakes on the first one?”. There is something that I still do, even as a large white male with a posh voice who happens to be a Member of the House of Lords: I still have the odd run-in with authority. I do not like doing what I am told. When you consider someone for whom every form of officialdom is basically unfriendly, is it any wonder that people just give up and go away? Will we take the first step by explaining not only to society as a whole but to the person involved that they can deal with this problem? It will never be easy—they will never be like everybody else—but they need to take that step forward.

The Youth Justice Board is probably a good place to start running these models and projects. It will not be about passing a certain level of literacy, because often the moment is gone. That is not always so; sometimes it is a marginal problem that needs some support, but often it will be a social problem or it will be because learning capacity is either not there or has slowed down. Will the Government give us some answers on what they will do? Unless they explain the problems so that they can be understood by other people in such groups, education and understanding will not be there. When communication breaks down, we have to start again.

How can someone apply for housing and benefits if he cannot handle the form? If he does not know how to ask for that help, which is now provided in legislation, how will he get it? The practical task is getting the Government to accept that they have to take a slightly different approach. They should invest in this group to explain about living in the world as it is and not how it should be according to statistics.

My Lords, I join all noble Lords in congratulating the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, on initiating this debate, which touches on one of the most crucial areas for which government can be responsible in any community. At the same time, I say how much I admire the youth justice campaigns that he has so valiantly fought over the years. Having paid those two deserved tributes to him, I beg leave perhaps to doubt the grave indictment that he levelled at Her Majesty’s Government of total and abject failure in this field.

I apologise to the noble Lord, Lord Addington, for not following in the same terms the most moving appeal that he made in his address to us. I have the greatest respect and sympathy for his case and I am sure that his speech contributed substantially to the discussion in your Lordships’ House today. As the last of the speakers on the list not from the Front Benches, I shall touch on a document that has been referred to more than once in this debate: the report published some days ago by the children’s commissioners for England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland on the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. I am glad that Her Majesty’s Government require the commissioners to report once every five or six years—I am not sure which—as that, as much as any exercise, focuses attention on this issue. When the previous report was submitted, in 2002, there was only one commissioner—the one for Wales. Now we have commissioners for England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. The others have followed, if I may say so with some pride, the pioneering and progressive attitude of the Welsh Assembly in this matter.

I shall make some general remarks, the first of which concerns the mandate of authority that the four commissioners have. In Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, the mandate is founded on the rights of the child as declared in the convention. The situation is slightly different in England, where the mandate is based on the five aspects of well-being that are highlighted in the White Paper Every Child Matters. This is not logic chopping or hair splitting: there is a world of difference between rights based on basic human rights as interpreted in the international convention and what, with the best will in the world and with the most genuine intentions, is declared as an instrument of government policy.

The remits of authority differ. The commissioners for Wales and Northern Ireland have every right to deal with individual cases, which is the most important feature of their function. That right is not enjoyed by the commissioners for England and Scotland. The English commissioner has a right of entry to premises where a child is in care or is being catered for, but that right is not enjoyed by the other three commissioners. Devolution has reached different levels in the Celtic countries, which means that certain anomalies apply. For example, in Wales immigration is a reserved, non-devolved matter, which is different from the situation in Scotland and Northern Ireland. When a child in Wales seeks asylum, the commissioner cannot intervene. Ironically, it would not make any difference to pass the case over to the English commissioner, because he would not be allowed to intervene. These matters deserve considerable attention.

The House will know that under Article 4 of the convention it is incumbent on all Governments who have signed up to and ratified it to incorporate its contents in domestic law. We have not done so. The Minister may be able to tell the House whether there is a genuine intention to do so and on what timescale.

The convention report is chequered. Much of it is encouraging and much is disquieting. Certain matters constitute a considerable blot on the conscience of our community, particularly on criminal matters. The noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, touched on the age of criminality. We are entirely out of line with the European Community in this case. Our age of criminality is 10; it is eight in Scotland. In nearly every other European country, it is 13 or 14. I think that France has an age of criminality of 16. The Children and Young Persons Act 1969, which as a junior Minister in the Home Office I had the pleasure of taking through the House of Commons almost 40 years ago, had a provision enabling the age of criminality to be raised from 10 by affirmative order of both Houses of Parliament. I well remember the late James Callaghan as Home Secretary saying how progressive a measure that was and how much he hoped that the initiative would soon be taken. He was a man of fairness and toughness. Unfortunately, that provision subsequently disappeared from the statute book.

Many of your Lordships have touched on the number of children in custody. In February this year, apparently 2,837 children were held in custody. The figure given by the noble Lord, Lord Haskel, was slightly different. He adumbrated the principle that accountancy gives many facets to the ordinary, common truth. Be that as it may, the figure is disgracefully high, whether it is his or the one that I cited from the commissioners’ report. As I have said many times, in the United Kingdom more children are in custody than in Germany, France, the Netherlands and Norway put together. That is the situation that stares us in the face. Only one or two circumstances can reasonably be responsible for that. Either our children are more wicked and have a greater predilection to serious offences than children in Europe, or we have a different attitude towards sentencing. Clearly, it is the second factor that is responsible.

I accept that there are some children of such dangerous calibre and viciousness that they have to be incarcerated. I also accept that it is a serious matter to injure a person with a knife or to carry a knife in a situation where that is kept as an option. However, I do not believe that the answer lies ultimately with punishment or prosecution. It lies more in managing to inculcate a culture in the home, school and community at large, whereby it is regarded as a disgraceful, cowardly and barbaric thing to carry a knife. That is easier said than done. Clearly, it is only in that direction that any solution lies.

I am rapidly running out of time, but let me make a point that has been touched on by many noble Lords in this debate. There is a danger that we, as a society, have a punitive attitude towards our children and young persons. They are getting a bad press. The media have a negative attitude towards them. There is a grave danger that we might be seen, as a society, to be at war with our young people. We heard from the noble Baroness, Lady Miller, about the way in which in many areas young people are dispersed by the use of what I think is called the mosquito bleeper, a high-pitched resonance that disperses children as if they were pariah dogs.

Our children are the greatest material treasure that a community could have. Let us remember, as far as the attitude of society is concerned, that old men—and old women now and again—over the centuries in this land and no doubt in the civilisations of China, Sumer, Greece and Rome, have always been telling one another how decadent the young are. There may have been a morsel of truth in it, but I doubt it. I believe that it has had more do with the attitude summed up by that jealous and cynical remark made by Bernard Shaw:

“Youth is wasted on the young”.

My Lords, I, too, thank my noble friend Lord Thomas of Gresford for the opportunity to have this debate. It is also gratifying to see that a number of notable experts in this House on this subject have taken the time to speak today and have brought their wise, personal perspectives to the subject.

A decade is a long time, but in the life of a young person it is, critically, a period of enormous change. Unlike adults, it is a period when the foundations for their physical and mental well-being are established; when their knowledge-base and interests are cultivated; and, most importantly, when their life chances are determined. It is through this decade from age eight to 18 when the future of that person will be cast in the direction of success or failure. Fortunately, most succeed on the measures of well-being that we consider relevant in our society. We produce people who are relatively well educated, relatively healthy and make a positive contribution to society. It is those who do not contribute, those who tripped up at some point early on in their lives, who are our concern today. Moreover, those who encounter problems early on are seldom the sole protagonists of that error. As many noble Lords have illustrated, to a large extent broader circumstances contribute to offending behaviour in children.

We know the circumstances. We have looked at them not only today, but did so recently in the Criminal Justice and Immigration Bill as it made its way through this House. However, the more depressing aspect of this saga is that 10 years and several billions of pounds of funding have resulted in so little being achieved. On most of the measures which could constitute success on youth crime—take first entrant rates, reoffending rates, or reductions in custodial sentences—there has been an expansion of the youth justice net, rather than a reduction in the crimes being committed.

The report before us today—Ten Years of Labour’s Youth Justice Reforms: An Independent Audit, published by the Centre for Crime and Justice Studies at King’s College—shows that if one takes a broader look at the system, the picture is even bleaker as these reforms over the decade have singularly failed to address the needs of the most vulnerable children and young people. For significant numbers of young people supervised by youth offending teams, the system has failed to meet the most basic test of a safety net; that of providing suitable accommodation—the proverbial roof over the head—without which stability is impossible to attain. When it comes to preparing them for later life, one-third are found not to receive full-time education, training or employment. Substance misuse or the provision of mental health interventions are ever the Cinderella of the service, whereby, according to this report, none of the targets for substance misuse, screening, assessment, intervention and mental health referral has been met.

Many expert noble Lords spoke in this debate, but I want to respond to the words of the noble Lord, Lord Warner. I pay tribute to his ongoing and prevailing involvement in youth justice. His record is such that we in this House can be proud to have been party to it, even at a stage once removed. I will also resist the invitation of the noble Lord, Lord Warner, to take a pop at him for his involvement in the current system—in a very direct fashion, that is. There is a problem with the noble Lord’s refutation of this study in that he believes it is based on the fallacy that the report is comparative, looking at a previous golden age and then finding the present age to be wanting. That is not what it sets out to do. The report, which is written by independent experts, using empirical data and tried-and-tested methodology to arrive at their conclusions—unwelcome as they may be to the Government—is one that stands up to peer review and to other independent expert analysis.

I touch on this because it is symptomatic of a larger problem to do with evidence-based research within the Government and their supporters. They do not like it. There was a fine illustration of this only last night with the Counter-Terrorism Bill and its odious proposal of detention for 42 days—noble Lords knew I would come to this, did they not? When the head of the Metropolitan Police was asked for evidence to support his enthusiastic response to 42-day detention without charge, his response was that there was none. He just wanted to keep the power in his back pocket in case he needed it. The fundamental problem is having powers in case you need them at some point, rather than looking at the research as it exists. My noble friend Lord Thomas of Gresford has spoken of risk-averse management. For those who might suggest that we are just making political weather out of this, let me quote Professor Simon Hallsworth, a former adviser to the Government on gun crime. He criticises the Government for their “deeply sinister” abandonment of their policy to be tough on the causes of crime, only in order to replace it with a policy which is concerned with the “management of risk”.

I move now to the Government’s current response. Almost all the experts agree that a more robust preventive strategy employing social and welfare-based interventions is the way to tackle potential risk-prone individuals before they enter the criminal justice system. Indeed, the Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families almost said as much in his article in the Independent on Sunday on 8 June 2008, when he plugged the new youth crime action plan. He tells us that we need,

“a ‘triple track’ approach, with tough enforcement accompanied by early intervention addressing the root causes of violent or anti-social behaviour, and support to help troubled youngsters to get their lives back on track”.

In fairness to him, he also goes on to say:

“We must do a great deal more to intervene early to tackle the causes of disadvantage and vulnerability”.

The point is that all these things are rendered mere aspirations unless they are accompanied by strategic and real-time resources. As my noble friend Lord Thomas of Gresford said, when 10 times more is spent on offending, versus preventive measures, it is no wonder that the outcome does not measure up.

As the report points out, a key element of the Government’s approach has been a reliance on,

“systemic managerialism and central control”.

This finding is supported by others. Professor Hallsworth, the director of London Metropolitan University’s Centre for Social Evaluation Research, dismisses the Home Office’s Tackling Violence Action Plan as anti-social criminology. He adds that it is “hardly evidence-driven policy”. He describes the policy as,

“a cold, soulless, administrative, technocratic programme for mapping and managing risks wherever they appear: a post-welfare programme fit for the emergent national security state”.

I can only refer again to last night and to the debate that will probably ensue. Moreover, Professor Rod Morgan, the former head of the Youth Justice Board for England and Wales, says that he was,

“incensed … by the incomprehension and arrogance regarding the research process which some administrators displayed”,

when he headed the YJB.

We hope that these concerns will prove unfounded when it comes to the Government’s new action plan and that the track of prevention alluded to by Mr Balls will be prioritised. More broadly, we hope that the Government will reflect on the findings of this report and reassess whether the strategic focus of government agencies to work with and support young people at risk is the more effective way forward.

I return to the focus of the report: young people in the context of youth justice and the reforms over the past 10 years. For young people, a decade of reform, a decade of targets and a decade of moving acronyms are meaningless. These young people have been let down by their parents and carers, they have been let down by community and society, and they have been let down by the Government. The welfare state and the party that has claimed to wear its mantle have failed to ensure the welfare of the most vulnerable group in their charge.

My Lords, I start by offering what I was going to suggest were my commiserations to the Minister but I think that they should probably be my congratulations. First, he will have the pleasure of winding up this debate. It has been a very good debate with, as always in this House, input from speakers with a great deal of expertise. Secondly, I take it on myself to remind the House that the noble Lord has already answered one Question and that he will be replying to another debate after this one. We have to admire his diligence and hard work in coming to the House, and we are grateful for it. I note that he is leaving the Maximum Number of Judges Order 2008 to one of his colleagues and I think that he is right so to do. I trust that he will then possibly take the evening off, but if he has other plans that is a matter for him.

Secondly, along with others, I offer my thanks to the Centre for Crime and Justice Studies and my congratulations on its report. It is a very good report and the noble Lord would be well advised to study it, as I am sure would the noble Lord, Lord Warner. He asked that we should direct some of our comments at him and not just at his noble friend the Minister. I appreciate that the Minister’s noble friend Lord Haskel was not that keen on the report and did not like its use of statistics. However, one has to remind him that it is the Government who are a long and doughty supporter and a great user of these statistics and that they are, as he admitted himself, obsessed by targets. He pointed out the danger of using targets and the effect that they could have on how people operate.

Thirdly, I obviously offer my thanks to the noble Lord, Lord Thomas, for introducing this debate and for getting such a good list of speakers to come before us. In his opening remarks, he went back to the comments of the then shadow Home Secretary, Tony Blair, at a Labour Party conference just after the 1992 election, when he talked about being “tough on crime, tough on the causes of crime”. I do not want to go back quite so far. Tony Blair has now gone. He has been replaced as Prime Minister for more than a year by Gordon Brown—a Prime Minister who in that year has not made one speech on criminal justice and such matters which he might consider remedying in due course.

I should like to go back some 10 or 11 years to the time when Jack Straw, then Home Secretary—he is now Secretary of State for Justice and he has had quite a few other jobs in between—launched his White Paper, No More Excuses, and the subsequent Crime and Disorder Act 1998. I remember that I dealt with part of that Act, when it was a Bill, in this House as a shadow home affairs spokesman. I suppose that I have moved on to various other things and, like his honourable friend the shadow Secretary of State for Justice, have come back to justice in the end. At the time, I think that it was the late Lord Williams who took that Bill through this House.

As the noble Lord will remember, there were great expectations concerning the Crime and Disorder Act and the various other criminal justice and youth justice measures that followed over the years. As we have seen so often with this Government, following that there was a great expansion of expenditure of taxpayers’ money. We have seen expenditure on youth justice go up by some 45 per cent in real terms since then, which is more than on any other part of the criminal justice system. We would have welcomed that increase in expenditure if it had been effective; yet, 10 years on, as I understand it—the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, referred to some more recent figures—we still see that 70 per cent of male young offenders who receive a community sentence and 76 per cent who receive a custodial sentence reoffend, or, rather, they are reconvicted. Obviously the reoffending and reconviction rates are very different. One has to presume that the reoffending rate is considerably higher—if one can measure such a thing—than the reconviction rate. Perhaps the noble Lord will comment on that when he replies.

We were also told that there were targets to reduce reoffending—or, again, is it reconvicting?—by some 5 per cent a year. I do not suppose that the noble Lord will be able to argue that those targets have been met in any way, but perhaps in due course he would comment on them and tell us what has happened to the attempt to get reoffending down by 5 per cent a year.

In the few minutes available to me, I want to put a number of questions, as always, to the noble Lord, and I hope that in his usual diligent way he will try to respond to them in due course. First, the report from the Centre for Crime and Justice Studies says, in effect, that the Government’s approach has failed. The authors have highlighted the fact that we have seen this great increase in spending without any discernable improvement in the youth justice system. They state that most of the Government’s targets have been missed and they recommend that the time has come to re-evaluate the function and purpose of the youth justice system. Where have the Government succeeded in their approach to youth offending?

Why have they missed most of their recent targets for the number of children in custody? We have been given figures for how many there are and how that compares with other countries. The noble Lord, Lord Elystan-Morgan, said that we have more children in custody than France, Germany, Norway and the Netherlands combined. Again, the Minister should comment on that. I understand that the Government had a target—yet another—that there would be a reduction of 10 per cent. Since 2005, rather than seeing a reduction of 10 per cent we have seen an increase of some 8 per cent.

The report also states that the Government’s youth offending teams,

“do not appear to be able to successfully meet the complex needs of children and young people”.

What assessment have the Government made of the effectiveness of those youth offending teams? I refer to an article that the noble Lord will be familiar with from the Observer of a week or so ago. It published details of an internal memo from within the Ministry of Justice which states that 5 per cent to 6 per cent of young offenders commit between 50 per cent and 60 per cent of all juvenile crime, with an average of 30 to 40 offences per year. The worst offenders have a 96 per cent reoffending or reconviction rate, with each costing taxpayers some £80,000 a year. The memo also states that reoffending rates are stubbornly high and have not significantly altered since 1997. Does the Minister agree with me that that again is an indication of complete failure on the part of the Government?

That internal memo also suggests that the youth justice system raises “barriers to effective resettlement” after young offenders have finished their sentences and that, by setting strict supervision conditions, it leads to an increasing number of children breaching their orders, which in turn triggers more custodial sentences. Why does the justice system raise those barriers to resettlement? Going back to the report from the Centre for Crime and Justice Studies, it states a somewhat depressing picture. It says that,

“youth justice agencies can do little more than regulate youth crime”.

Does the Minister accept that view? Further, does he agree with my party that if youth justice agencies were properly incentivised to reduce reoffending, with clear, aligned objectives and lines of accountability, we could get a grip on the problem?

That should be enough for the noble Lord to be going on with for the moment. Again, I offer him my commiserations and congratulations. We appreciate the work he does in this House, particularly on a Thursday like this. I look forward to hearing his response. No doubt others will hear a second response in the second debate later on.

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, for initiating the debate. It has been a real privilege to listen to the highly informed contributions. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Henley, for his sympathies. I am taking part in Thursday debates for the next few weeks so I look forward to his pleasant company there. I have not got the night off; my right honourable friend the Lord Chancellor is speaking at a dinner in Birmingham tonight and I think it is a career-enhancing move to make sure I hot-foot it back there. No doubt he will be talking about our youth justice strategy.

This has been a well-informed debate though I do not entirely share the assessment of the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, that this Government have failed, as he said, in all aspects. Nor do I agree with the noble Lord, Dholakia, who said that the youth justice system is not fit for purpose. Frankly, that is not my reading of the report. The noble Baroness, Lady Falkner, in her typically spirited speech, suggested that this Government are not interested in evidence-based research. Of course we are. My noble friend Lord Warner and I have boxed and coxed various jobs over the years. We were both responsible for a huge expansion in the NHS research and development budget, entirely focused on evidence-based research. I am responsible for research within my department now. We are looking at evidence the whole time which enforces and informs our policy.

On the Counter-Terrorism Bill, I will not go there. We look forward with great interest to the debates that no doubt we will have over the coming months.

The reason I do not share the gloom of the noble Lord, Lord Thomas, about the report is that I have read it. It always differs from the press release and the way it was presented to us. In fact, I found it well written with a lot of research in it and it acknowledged that a lot of achievements have taken place over the past 10 years. There is the big increase in spending, the reduction in crime, more offences brought to justice, the big increase in police numbers, many drug targets met, and targets on speeding up court processes for young offenders. Of course it raises, properly, some serious questions about the relationship between criminal justice and complex social and economic problems. That is its conclusion and I echo that.

We have to tackle those fundamental, underlying issues we face as a society but that is what the Government have been doing and tackling in the past 10 or 11 years. What are the Sure Start programmes about or the huge expansion in education, the work of YOTs and our work with local authorities in general? The noble Lord, Lord Henley, asked about YOTs. They have a critical role in the work with young offenders and the relationships they have with local authorities and other agencies. We debated in the Criminal Justice and Immigration Bill the inspector’s report on YOTs. It clearly showed that YOTs had done enormously good work but that there are issues that still have to be tackled. The youth crime action plan is one area in which we will take that forward.

I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, and the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, about the poor outcomes of children in care and why we need early intervention. On the point of my noble friend Lord Judd, yes we should avoid knee-jerk reactions. We have to get the social context right. The noble Lord, Lord Elton, was particularly powerful in the sense of this problem of young people lacking love and our having to recognise that in the ways we respond to these questions. I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Miller, about restorative justice. I have noted her comment about the need for quicker rollout and will certainly ensure that that is considered.

On the accommodation issue, which is relevant to the underlying theme of the report on the social framework in which criminal justice has to operate, my understanding is that an accommodation indicator is included in the provisional set of local government indicators. We welcome that, as does the Youth Justice Board. Obviously we hope it will drive local authorities to improve access to accommodation for young offenders in the future.

My noble friend Lord Warner, who did such a great job at the Youth Justice Board, has explained the development of youth justice policy and the investment that has taken place. Some noble Lords have said of that investment that too much of it is spent on custody. They suggested that in a rather pejorative sense. We have to understand that much of that money has been spent on improving the educational programmes for those especially vulnerable people.

On mental health, which is a critical area, as we have all acknowledged in our debates during the past year, part of the extra resource has come from the Department of Health to support considerable improvements in mental health services, provision and assessment for young offenders. We have of course emphasised the need for greater integration between youth crime prevention and wider children's services. There is no argument between the Government and noble Lords about the importance of doing so. I refer to the aiming high in the 10-year youth strategy of the commitment to pool 10 per cent of the Youth Justice Board's prevention grant with local authority funding. That will be created through a three-year pilot to look at how youth offending teams can pool 100 per cent of their prevention budgets to strengthen support for young people and prevent reoffending. We accept that it is critical to get that relationship right.

I come to the whole question of targets. When the noble Baroness, Lady Falkner, cited the accusation of systematic managerialism and central control by the Government, my noble friend Lord Warner said, “If only, if only”. The debate on targets is very important. It permeates the whole relationship between central government and the spending on public services, often by other agencies. I will defend the targets. I have no doubt that without some of the targets in the National Health Service, we would not have made the hugely impressive improvements that we have. I also accept that we need focus and that if you have too many targets, it is too confusing.

I come to the question of the key targets that have been set in the criminal justice system. When one looks at the progress that has been made, one should not ignore the fall in crime, the reduction in reoffending and the increase in the number of offences brought to justice. Those are achievements. The noble Lord, Lord Henley, asked me about the 5 per cent reduction target. I suspect that he knows the answer already. The figure that we have is of a reduction from 40.2 per cent in 2000 to 38.4 per cent in 2005. Yes, we would like to have made further progress, but as my noble friend Lord Warner said, those targets were deliberately stretching; it is right that they should have been. It is clear that we need to work on that foundation. I was asked about the objectives of the Youth Justice Board for the 2008-11 CSR period. The aim is to achieve a continuing reduction in first-time entrants to the youth justice system, a continuing reduction in the frequency and seriousness of reoffending and to improve public confidence in the youth justice system. In that, I say that prevention and early intervention remain the cornerstone of our approach to reducing youth crime.

We do not need to redebate the Criminal Justice and Immigration Act, but I just point to the fact that that Act reinforced the emphasis on out-of-court diversions. There is a general view that the youth rehabilitation order, whatever our debate about various aspects of it, presents a helpful, constructive way forward.

The noble Baroness, Lady Miller, raised the issue of ASBOs and the whole question of demonisation of young people. I echo my noble friend: we must be very careful not to demonise young people; we need to recognise the contribution that so many of them make to our society and the greater pressure that I suspect that they are under than many of us were at that age. ASBOs are not about demonising young people. They must be seen in the context of the other actions that have been taken, such as Sure Start and the Every Child Matters programmes. But anti-social crime has to be tackled. What is often forgotten is that the victims of many of those crimes are young people themselves.

My Lords, I am terribly sorry to interrupt the Minister—I will be very brief—but he has just said exactly what our objection is. He referred to anti-social crime when talking about ASBOs. ASBOs are not about crime; they are about bad behaviour. That is what the Government invented them for, surely.

My Lords, with respect, that is an entirely pedantic point and would be recognised as such by people who suffer the impact and the effects of it.

My Lords, I cannot accept that. If it is crime, it should be brought before the courts and punished as crime. Anti-social behaviour orders are what they say they are; they put restrictions on people's behaviour. The courts are amply fitted and have been for centuries to deal with crime, so do not let us have any anti-social crime being talked about.

My Lords, I am enjoying this. We do not need to get into a cul-de-sac of pedantic argument about anti-social behaviour and the definition of crime. Noble Lords know quite well what I mean. I have said that this is not about demonising young people, but anti-social behaviour and crime which causes great problems to vulnerable people and to young people themselves also have to be tackled. One has to see the whole approach of ASBOs alongside out-of-court diversions and touch approaches to serious crime committed by young people. One has to see this in the round.

I say to my noble friend Lord Warner that of course one has to get the right balance on knife crime; there is no question about that. On mosquito noises, there is no government policy. That has not been endorsed, but a balance must be found between proper association and the problem of real intimidation by groups of youths, which has caused concern to many people, including young people themselves.

I turn to education and training, which is critically important for young people in custody. I pay tribute to the people who have been working in youth custody settings, who have done enormous work in the past few years to improve the general education and training programmes. The noble Lord, Lord Elton, mentioned literacy; of course it is important. I thought that the noble Lord, Lord Addington, made one of the most powerful speeches I have ever heard him make on this area. I visited Chelmsford prison last week, where staff paid great tribute to him for his work on dyslexia and young people, and people in general, in prison. Literacy is a very important part of our educational programme. I am informed that it is very much a focus of the special educational needs co-ordinators who have been introduced in our youth offending institutions, but there can be no complacency and I will ensure that the points raised by both noble Lords are fully considered by the Youth Justice Board and its educational partners. The actual number of hours for which young people are receiving education and training within custodial settings has increased impressively.

I come to the question of the number of young people in custody. I have debated this with noble Lords several times. I understand the concerns that noble Lords have about the number of young people in custody. It stands, from my figures for March 2008, at 2,942. Of course, we want to deal with the young person in the community wherever possible, rather than removing him or her from it—the Government have said this. But we cannot lose sight of the fact that some young offenders’ behaviour is so serious that young people have to be placed in secure conditions. That is not a knee-jerk reaction or an impact of testosterone levels, as has been suggested. It is worth remembering that most under-18s in custody have almost reached adulthood. In April 2008—the last month for which I have figures—more than 50 per cent of the under-18 custodial population was aged over 17. By contrast, only 0.2 per cent were under 13. In the House of Commons two days ago, my right honourable friend the Lord Chancellor said in Oral Questions:

“Very few young people are ever put into custody. The only reason that they are put into custody is that they have committed very serious offences. The number of children aged 12 in custody is seven. The bulk of those young people who are put into custody are aged 16 and 17—they are not children; they are often large, unpleasant thugs, and they are frightening to the public. In my judgment, the courts have been quite right to ensure that they are locked up, and locked up for a long time where they have committed grievous offences”.—[Official Report, Commons, 10/6/08; col. 155.]

Custody for young people is a last resort, although it is a necessary option.

We have listened with interest to the comments of the UK’s four Children’s Commissioners. I say to the noble Lord, Lord Elystan-Morgan, that of course I noted the Welsh leadership in this matter, to which he was right to draw our attention. On the question of individual cases, as far as the English commissioner is concerned, this is quite consistent with some of the other decisions that we made about regulatory or inspectoral bodies in England. In general, the view has been taken that it is much better for the statutory agencies to deal with individuals—that is their responsibility—but with the regulator, the inspector, or in this case the Children’s Commissioner then able to comment on the generality of the performance and service offered. I recognise that there are differences of view. He pointed to some anomalies. At this early stage, perhaps it would be better to learn from these different experiences. I have no doubt that, then, adjustments can be made. The subject of Article 37(c) and the reservation is under review at the moment.

I will briefly come to the youth crime action plan, to which the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, referred very eloquently. This gives us great hope for the future. It is a partnership between my department, the Department for Children, Schools and Families and the Home Office. I take his point about the importance of health. I assure him that the Department of Health has been closely involved, as have other government departments. He is absolutely right to remind the House of the importance of health considerations. I suspect he particularly meant mental health considerations because of the experience—of which we know—of many young offenders and their mental health problems.

The report was, as I said, a very helpful document. It was well written and is very useful for us to consider in the context of the youth crime action plan. I do not agree with the analysis of some noble Lords as to its conclusions, but I suspect that we will take what we will from it. It highlights both achievements and the major challenges that we face. We have made considerable progress in the last 11 years. There is still much to do. We still need to ensure that we have the kind of co-ordinated programme that noble Lords have suggested. The youth crime action plan is clearly the vehicle for us to take that forward. I have no doubt that we will debate again very shortly when that plan is published in your Lordships’ House, with the same degree of expertise as we have heard this afternoon.

My Lords, I am most grateful to all noble Lords who have taken part in the debate. I note that the report has been accepted and welcomed. Indeed, just a moment ago, the Minister paid tribute to the analysis in the report of the problem. Only the noble Lord, Lord Haskel, begged leave to differ because of the lack of proper statistics, on which I will not comment at this stage. Of course, the report does not stand on its own; it is supported by the report of the commissioners to the United Nations, to which the noble Lord, Lord Elystan-Morgan, and my noble friend Lady Miller referred. In particular, it is supported by a person who is very much at the centre of the Youth Justice Board, namely Mr Rod Morgan. I have already quoted to your Lordships how much he agrees with the findings of the report and says, in terms, that it was these failures of policy which lead to his resignation from the chairmanship of that board.

Having presented the case for the prosecution, as it were, I am delighted that we have heard possible solutions emerging in the debate, focused very much on the contribution of the noble Lord, Lord Judd. He sought a new culture. The culture behind the present situation was contained in that White Paper, No More Excuses—I do not know whether the noble Lord, Lord Warner, contributed to it—which put punishment at the forefront. As I said to your Lordships, that was the purpose—the criminal justice service was to be used for that purpose. But the noble Lord, Lord Judd, refers to—and we accept—the muscular love that liberals have always indicated. That theme was echoed by the noble Lord, Lord Elton, in a very interesting speech. Of course, various solutions for early intervention have been put forward by the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, and in an excellent speech by my noble friend Lord Addington. Early intervention and treatment and dealing with young people’s problems before they get clawed into the criminal justice system—the youth justice system—whether through ASBOs or any other way, are all being rehearsed. That points the way forward to a new culture away from punishment—to the use of welfare social solutions to the problems that have affected young people in this country.

When the noble Lord, Lord Warner, produced his schemes in 1998 I thought that there was great promise in them. The idea of multidisciplinary youth offending teams was a way forward, and I do not think that there was a golden age before that. He put a great deal of drive and energy into it, but I am sure he would be the first to admit that he cannot be satisfied with the way in which we criminalise and throw into custody our young children, as we do now. I am most grateful for all contributions. I beg leave to withdraw the Motion for Papers.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.