Clause 27

Offender Management Bill – in a Public Bill Committee am 11:30 am ar 23 Ionawr 2007.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Escort arrangements

Photo of Edward Garnier Edward Garnier Shadow Minister (Home Affairs)

I beg to move amendment No. 23, in clause 27, page 19, line 34, at end insert—

‘(3A) After paragraph 1 there is inserted—

“(1A) In making the arrangements under paragraph 1 the Secretary of State shall have a duty to ensure that young offenders’ safeguarding and welfare needs are addressed during transport.”.’.

In moving the amendment, my hon. Friends, the two hon. Gentlemen from the Liberal Democrat Benches and I wish to highlight a troubling matter, which I discovered on my prison visits over the last 18 months or so—the transport of young offenders from court to prison or to young offenders institutions or other place of secure accommodation. To cite an example, I went to Hollesley Bay, which is in Suffolk, just beyond Ipswich, and is, to all intents and purposes, a humane and well-run young offenders institution. At the time there was a thoughtful, intelligent governor, although he may have retired by now. Within the estate, there was also a very secure unit for long-term young offenders, which I thought was an excellent establishment. Next door, there is Warren Hill, a category D prison.

As I met the prison officers who deal with the reception area—those who receive the young offenders as they come from the various courts—I was told that they are often receiving young offenders as late as midnight and that often the young offenders will have travelled hundreds of miles in the vans used to transport them to the institution, travelling from 4 pm, or 4.30 pm. I was told about one youngster who had been sentenced at Norwich in the morning. He was held in the cells underneath the court throughout the day and then put in a van and driven, with adult prisoners—he was not in the same compartment as the adult prisoners, but he was in the same van—around East Anglia while the adult prisoners were dropped off. He was the last in line to be dropped off. It was nearly midnight when he was finally received.

That example is not one of a young offender being carried in the back of a police car, or in a coach—it is a young offender in a sweatbox. They are called sweatboxes because they are little biscuit tins into which individuals are placed. There are no windows, obviously; there is some form of ventilation. There is a bench or a chair, but the area in which the prisoner is transported is not much bigger than the top of the table in front of me; that is the floor space in which the individual travels. I would estimate that the top ofthat table in front of the Minister is about 2 ft 6 in by2 ft 6 in. Inside a cube of approximately that sizesits this young offender. When he emerges into the reception area of the prison, he is distressed enough as it is, having been sentenced and removed from anything that he understands to a place that he may never have been to before.

One may say, “It serves him jolly well right—if he had not committed the crime, he would not have been sentenced and he would not have been transported in those extraordinary conditions to a place far away from his home”. I accept that argument up to a point, but if we are going to treat people decently within the criminal justice system, I am not at all sure that putting them in a biscuit tin and shunting them around the country is the best way to do it.

Glen Parva is the young offenders institution in my constituency. I share the estate, as it were, with myhon. Friend the Member for Blaby (Mr. Robathan);it is partly in my constituency and partly in his constituency. It is two or three miles south of the city of Leicester. Young offenders who are sentenced in the north of England sometimes have to travel for hours in these sweatboxes before they are received into Glen   Parva late at night. I dare say that other young offenders institutions also receive young offenders late at night after they have travelled in those ridiculous conditions.

It is bad enough that these young offenders institutions are taking in people who are miles and miles away from their home, their families and so forth. That is perhaps not germane to this debate, but if we are going to have youngsters transported such long distances, I urge the Government to ensure that their welfare needs are addressed during transportation. As I understand it—I may be wrong, and the Minister will correct me—there are no toilet facilities for those youngsters during their journeys. Whether the van stops at pre-arranged times in order to allow the youngsters to get off and go to the lavatory, I do not know.

It strikes me as strange that, in the 21st century,we transport people, particularly youngsters, long distances in such conditions. If we transported animals in those conditions, I suspect that people would want to know about it and do something about it. It is not the Minister’s fault personally, but he is politically accountable for this aspect of public policy. I urge him to ensure humane arrangements for the transportation of youngsters, and indeed for the transportation of adults. I say that not because I have sympathy for the criminal as a criminal, but because we should not treat human beings inhumanely.

Photo of Gerry Sutcliffe Gerry Sutcliffe The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department

I am grateful to the hon. and learned Gentleman for the way in which he moved the amendment. He raised issues that clearly need to be resolved. I want the decency agenda to be further developed from its good beginnings in recent years.

The clause clarifies the statutory position in relation to the journey between relevant premises, such as courts, police stations, hospitals and custodial establishments, that is made by young people who have been sentenced or remanded in custody. The amendment would place a statutory duty on the Secretary of State. Although I understand the motivation for it, I believe that it is unnecessary, both legally and practically.

Under the Children Act 2004, there is a legal obligation on the governors of secure training centres to safeguard and promote the welfare of children in their custody. In addition, paragraph 3 of schedule 1 to the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994 places an express duty on custody officers carrying out escort functions to attend to the well-being of persons in their care, which includes their transportation between premises, for example between court and youth detention accommodation. The amendment would not go as far as the provisions to which I have just referred.

The amendment is also unnecessary from a practical point of view. The Youth Justice Board has been seeking to improve escort arrangements for children and young people and has invested about £5 million every year to make separate arrangements for young people travelling to and from young offender institutions. The board also has a separate contracting arrangement for children and young people who are sentenced or remanded to secure training centres or secure children’s homes, which accommodate the youngest, most vulnerable group.

While I was listening to the hon. and learned Gentleman, I took the opportunity to go through the contracts for escort arrangements. I will check with the officials to see whether they can be made available to the Committee. That will depend on commercial confidentiality. The contracts set out what should happen in relation to comfort stops, which I accept might not have happened on occasion. I would like to examine the issues that the hon. and learned Gentleman has raised.

Photo of Edward Garnier Edward Garnier Shadow Minister (Home Affairs)

I do not want to know anything that will interfere with proper security and I do not want the Minister to make announcements in public that would compromise prisoner transport security. Generally, escapes take place not from within the prison but during transit, either between prison and hospital, as we saw the other day, or between court and prison. The Minister need not worry. I do not need to know the terms of the contract, though it is kind of him to offer me that opportunity. I want to be assured that he, as the political master of this aspect of public policy, realises that there is a problem that he needs to look into and do something about.

Photo of Gerry Sutcliffe Gerry Sutcliffe The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department 11:45, 23 Ionawr 2007

I am grateful to the hon. and learned Gentleman. I want to give the Committee as much information as I can, because I agree that the issue needs to be examined. I hope that he is reassured by what I have said about the investment that the Youth Justice Board is making. I will pursue the individual cases to which he referred, because such practices are clearly not acceptable. The contracts contain provisions for comfort breaks and protection for individuals, but if they are not being observed, that must be addressed.

I believe that clause 27 is entirely sensible. The hon. and learned Gentleman’s amendments would not meet his requirements and fall short of existing provisions. With the assurance that I will look into the matter, I hope that he will withdraw his amendment.

Photo of Edward Garnier Edward Garnier Shadow Minister (Home Affairs)

I shall ask leave to withdraw the amendment, but I stress that this was not simply a debating exercise. There is an important point about humanity here that I think all Committee members want addressed. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 27 ordered to stand part of the Bill.