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Youth Justice Board for England and Wales (Amendment) Order 2008

Volume 705: debated on Monday 17 November 2008

rose to move, That the Grand Committee do report to the House that it has considered the Youth Justice Board for England and Wales (Amendment) Order 2008.

The noble Lord said: The last decade has seen a complete reform of the way in which the justice system deals with young people who offend. At every stage of the process, the Government have introduced measures aimed at steering the young person away from offending behaviour and into more worthwhile and positive activities. At the pre-court stage there are now, depending on the seriousness of the offence, a range of alternatives to prosecution in the criminal courts for those under 18, which involve principally reprimands and warnings. When the young person does go to court, we have introduced the referral order and a new range of community interventions, which will be replaced with and, I believe, improved by, the youth rehabilitation order under the Criminal Justice and Immigration Act 2008. When custody is unavoidable, we have brought in the new two-part custodial/community order, the detention and training order; and we have transformed custodial provision for under-18s, setting up discrete custodial estates for boys, in 2000, and girls, in 2006.

At the heart of all these changes has been the Youth Justice Board; it was established by the Crime and Disorder Act 1998 with a wide remit to advise the Secretary of State on matters relating to youth justice. Its role was expanded in April 2000, when it assumed responsibility for purchasing and commissioning custodial places and general oversight of the secure estate for children and young people. Section 41(6)(b) of the Crime and Disorder Act provides that the Secretary of State may by order provide that any function of his which is exercisable in relation to the youth justice system shall be exercisable concurrently with the board. To enable the board to exercise effectively its new functions in relation to the secure estate, the Youth Justice Board for England and Wales Order 2000 designated a wide range of concurrent functions. These included, for example, power to contract for the provision and running of secure training centres and a number of the powers in the Secure Training Centre Rules relating to the day-to-day running of centres.

Secure training centres are not the only form of contracted-out secure accommodation in the under-18 estate. There are also two contracted-out young offender institutions—Ashfield, near Bristol, and Parc, near Bridgend. The contracts for these establishments have been managed by the Office for National Commissioning on behalf of the Secretary of State. In the case of Parc, we intend to continue that arrangement, as the establishment also accommodates young adults, by which I mean those aged 18 to 20, as well as adult offenders, although the Committee should be aware these offenders are kept separately from the under-18s. It makes sense for the ONC to retain the lead, with input from the Youth Justice Board on the management of the under-18 accommodation.

Ashfield is a different case, because it accommodates only those serving juvenile sentences and remanded young people under 18. We believe that the Youth Justice Board is better placed to oversee management of the contract of a purely under-18 establishment and the main immediate purpose of the order is to give the board the necessary powers to do that effectively. Article 2(3)(c) fulfils that purpose, among other things. In that article, the concurrent powers given to the board in respect of contracted-out young offender institutions mirror the powers which the board can exercise in relation to contracted-out secure training centres. It will of course enable the board to let and manage contracts for contracted-out young offender institutions.

The draft order also makes small additions to the concurrent powers that the board can exercise in relation to secure training centres. For instance, each centre is required to establish systems of privileges, incentives and sanctions appropriate to the classes of trainees and their ages, characters and circumstances. Each centre must also have a library and every trainee is allowed to have library books appropriate to his or her age and to exchange them. The systems of privileges, incentives and sanctions must be approved by the Secretary of State and the right to receive and exchange library books is subject to any directions he may give. These are operational functions for which the board is generally responsible and in relation to which it is well placed to exercise judgment.

The draft order also makes two changes to the board’s responsibilities for placing young people in custody. It already decides placements for the great majority of under-18s sentenced to custody—those who receive detention and training orders. The order will permit the board, additionally, to make placements of offenders sentenced to be detained during Her Majesty’s pleasure under Section 90 of the Powers of Criminal Courts (Sentencing) Act 2000 and to long-term detention under Section 91 of that Act.

In addition, under subsection (7A) of Section 23 of the Children and Young Persons Act 1969, young people whom the courts remand to the care of a local authority with a requirement that they be placed in secure accommodation may be placed in a secure training centre. Such placements at present require the Secretary of State’s consent. As the expertise on placements lies with the Youth Justice Board, it makes sense for the board to be able to give the necessary consent, so the order does this.

Article 3 of the draft order is very similar in effect to Article 2. It expands references to “the Secretary of State” in Rule 13 of the Young Offender Institution Rules, which specifies to whom the governor of a young offender institution may disclose certain information relating to trainees, so as also to refer to,

“an officer of the Youth Justice Board”.

We were advised that, as Rule 13 concerns the functions of the governor rather than of the Secretary of State, it was not a potentially concurrent function under Section 41(6) of the Crime and Disorder Act. It is therefore a consequential change. The effect of the change, however, is the same in that the information may be disclosed to the board in place of the Secretary of State.

Finally, the Youth Justice Board for England and Wales Order 2000 contains a number of references to provisions in the Crime and Disorder Act 1998. These have subsequently been consolidated into the Powers of Criminal Courts (Sentencing) Act 2000. Paragraphs (1), (2) and (3)(a) and parts of paragraph (3)(c) of Article 2 update those references. Article 2(3)(b) makes a similar updating in relation to Section 16 of the Criminal Justice Act 1982, where the provisions have been consolidated into the Criminal Justice Act 2003. I commend the order to the Committee.

Moved, That the Grand Committee do report to the House that it has considered the Youth Justice Board for England and Wales (Amendment) Order 2008. 29th Report from the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments.—(Lord Patel of Bradford.)

I start by welcoming the noble Lord, Lord Patel of Bradford, to what I think are the first statutory instruments that he has put before a Committee. I also welcome him to Ministry of Justice affairs. I trust that he will enjoy it over the years, and I hope that he understands the proceedings as well as I sometimes do—if I do manage to understand them.

I have only one question for the noble Lord. He drew a distinction between Her Majesty’s Ashfield young offender institution, which the Youth Justice Board will be able to take on and in respect of which it will be able to do the job of the Secretary of State in due course, and Parc young offender institution. Parc is also contracted out but, because it also deals with over-18s, he stated that it would not be suitable to be looked after by the Youth Justice Board. If other young offender institutions were created in the future that were similar to Ashfield and not conducted on the same lines as Parc—that is, as part of an over-18 institution—would the Youth Justice Board also be able to take them on, would we need a further order at that point or would this order deal with that? I can see why the noble Lord draws a distinction between the two contracted-out institutions, Ashfield and Parc, but I want to know what the position would be for a second Ashfield, rather than a second Parc.

I, too, join in welcoming the noble Lord, Lord Patel of Bradford, to his new role. Perhaps I may also thank him for the time he took last week, when we thought we would be discussing the order, to speak to me briefly about our concerns with it, or lack thereof, which is a perfectly valid interpretation to put on it as well. I do not have any great concerns with the order, but there are two or three things which I wonder whether I might be able to flesh out.

The Explanatory Memorandum to the order, as well as the Minister in his remarks, refers to Ashfield and explains how it is currently contracted out, but says that the Youth Justice Board wishes to take it under its remit. It says that it will be,

“more appropriate for management of the contract to transfer to the Board”.

That is vague terminology. For those of us familiar with the history of Ashfield—and it was only 2003 when the Youth Justice Board in shock and horror walked away from it, given its extremely alarming track record at that point in time—this seems to be rather cryptic. What does “more appropriate” for the management now mean? Why is it more appropriate now when it was not appropriate then?

Since we had a little bit of additional time, I took the trouble to look up the Ministry of Justice’s NOMS Nationally Commissioned Services annual report. The key performance targets for Ashfield show that of the targets missed, serious assaults cause most concern and continue to be actively monitored at the establishment. So there are still issues. We are not all there with Ashfield. Given the vagueness of how this provision is worded, and with the knowledge of Ashfield’s history, one wonders what is appropriate about doing this now.

Moreover, to be specific, in reading the literature around this, I cannot see the obvious benefit of this transfer. I say that with some reason. Previously, when we have had problems in Ashfield the accountability and the responsibility—particularly in terms of answering here, but generally the accountability—seems to have fallen between the cracks. Each body would say that that particular area concerned was not their responsibility and that it was the other body’s responsibility, whether it was the Probation Service, NOMS, the private contractors running it, or so on. Can the Minister tell us who will now be responsible and accountable the next time something goes wrong?

That was my broad point, and then I have one or two specific smaller queries. They concern Article 3, which makes a consequential change to the Young Offender Institution Rules. Where the board has entered into a contract for running young offender institutions for people under 18, it allows for the director of that establishment to make a disclosure of certain information to an officer of the board. That is a pretty wide purview. What is the relevant interest? Why do they need to be able to disclose this information to an officer of the board? It seems rather macro, individual level information. Why do the people whom the information concerns have to be identifiable? That is the way I read it—they are identifiable. What I am trying to say is, since you are identifying the individual, would this information be for statistical monitoring purposes? In that case, should it not be anonymised so that it is not evident who the particular individual was? Who is an officer of the Secretary of State? Again, there are concerns about data and privacy information here. Would it be any civil servant? If so, why would they need to have access to this information? What evades me in general is why somebody so far removed from the running of the estate should need to have that kind of information. Why would an officer of a young offender institution, rather than that particular youth offender institution, be involved in requiring and possibly storing this information, and how long would that information be kept?

We look forward to hearing what the Minister has to say. We have some sympathy with the broad outlines of what he is trying to do.

First, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Henley, and the noble Baroness, Lady Falkner, for their kind remarks in welcoming me to the Dispatch Box. After I finish answering their questions, I will probably be a bit calmer.

The noble Lord and noble Baroness both raised helpful points. Before I answer the noble Lord’s specific question about whether we need another order, it is probably worth putting it on record that despite the fact that Parc is not entirely run by the Youth Justice Board, the board will work closely with the ONC in respect of the under-18s estate. So while it does not have the power completely to manage Parc it still has a key role to play for the under-18s. We do not have to lay another order: this would do for any institution similar to Ashfield, should one come on board.

On the point raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Falkner, up to now Ashfield has been managed by the Home Office and NOMS. Until 2005, as I mentioned earlier, it accommodated over-18s, but now it has only under-18s. We feel that given all the Youth Justice Board’s expertise and work over the past number of years, it is the right organisation to oversee that contract. The noble Baroness rightly referred to accountability. The Youth Justice Board will be accountable to Ministers for Ashfield’s performance.

It is probably worth underlining some of the key issues at Ashfield. It re-roled in July 2005 to accommodate only under-18s; it has its own healthcare facilities and education department and a learning resource centre as well as good recreational facilities. It is seen to be performing well in providing education, with good weekend and evening programmes, and I was heartened to see that it provides 24-hour nursing care. There are good links to the local CAMHS provision, which is particularly important. Few around the country are really good enough.

Ashfield has developed restorative justice programmes and adopted therapeutic crisis intervention as a behaviour management technique. It has also closed its segregation facilities and now runs resettlement programmes from the unit. So we can see that there are some positive issues there.

As to why such information should be disclosed to the Youth Justice Board, it is important to realise that Rule 13 permits disclosure by a governor or director; it does not require it. We do not envisage frequent disclosure of such material, just as there is not at present frequent disclosure to the Secretary of State, but there may be instances in which it is appropriate. If the Secretary of State were managing the contract, this information could be disclosed. For example, the Youth Justice Board will have an obligation to ensure proper performance of the contract and value for money for the public purse, just as the Secretary of State has. That might be a useful area for advice. I hope that that answers the noble Baroness’s question.

It is useful, in considering the board’s role in relation to the under-18 secure estate, to think back to the position before the board was given responsibility for this oversight. The mixing of young people and adults was common, the amount of education provided in young offender institutions was very limited and the standards of the facilities were generally much lower.

It is generally accepted that standards have risen markedly during the past 10 years, and the Youth Justice Board deserves much of the credit for that. Of course, a great deal remains to be done, and the noble Baroness has a lot of expertise in this area. I am sure that there always will be a lot left to be done. But we should ask ourselves whether provision for young people under 18 would be better or worse if the Youth Justice Board had not been overseeing its management. The answer to that is clear.

The draft order represents a very limited addition to the wide powers given to the board in 2008. The order is needed to enable the board to oversee the management of Ashfield Young Offenders’ Institution effectively and other young offender institutions, should they be established. I commend the order to the Committee.

On Question, Motion agreed to.