Schedule 8

Criminal Justice and Immigration Bill – in a Public Bill Committee am 9:00 am ar 22 Tachwedd 2007.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

The Commissioner’s deaths remit

Amendment made: No. 314, in schedule 8, page 160, line 26, leave out from first ‘under’ to end of line 27 and insert ‘—

(a) the Immigration Act 1971 (c. 77);

(b) section 62 of the Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Act 2002 (c. 41); or

(c) section 36 of the UK Borders Act 2007 (c.30).’.—[Maria Eagle.]

Photo of Maria Eagle Maria Eagle The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice

I beg to move amendment No. 315, in schedule 8, page 160, line 30, after ‘premises’ insert ‘or in Scotland’.

Photo of Nicholas Winterton Nicholas Winterton Ceidwadwyr, Macclesfield

With this it will be convenient to discuss Government amendments Nos. 316, 302, 304, 317 and 310 to 312.

Photo of Maria Eagle Maria Eagle The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice

This is a series of technical amendments to clarify the extent of the provisions in part 4. Much of the commissioner’s remit with respect to deaths will be confined to England and Wales but, as immigration matters will remain the responsibility of Parliament and are not devolved to Scotland and Northern Ireland, the commissioner’s complaints remit in respect of such matters will extend throughout the UK. Deaths in immigration custody in Northern Ireland will also come within the commissioner’s deaths remit. The amendments preserve the primacy of the Lord Advocate in the investigation of deaths in Scotland. The amendments ensure that the dividing line is drawn in the right place. I am happy to answer any challenges that hon. Members may have, and to explain the extent and purpose of each amendment. However, the purpose of all of them is to clarify the extent of the commissioner’s power.

Photo of Sally Keeble Sally Keeble Llafur, Northampton North 12:00, 22 Tachwedd 2007

Will my hon. Friend confirm whether the commissioner will have powers to investigate deaths in secure training centres? It says that in the schedule, but when I asked in the House I received a different reply. I should be grateful if my hon. Friend would confirm the position.

Photo of Maria Eagle Maria Eagle The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice

That is in the Bill. There has been some discussion between the Youth Justice Board and the Department about whether it should remain that way. At present, though, that is how the Bill works.

Photo of Sally Keeble Sally Keeble Llafur, Northampton North

Does that include the prison establishments for children and young people as well as secure training centres? Will my hon. Friend say a bit more about the debate. Obviously, I want to see those institutions retained in the Bill, which is why I brought the matter up. When I asked our right hon. Friend the Secretary of State in the House, he said that secure training centres would not be covered, so I was a bit surprised to see them in the Bill.

Photo of Maria Eagle Maria Eagle The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice

My understanding is that there has been some debate between the Youth Justice Board, the commissioner and the Department about whether that is the appropriate way to deal with deaths in secure training centres. At present, it is in the Bill and no amendment has been tabled to remove it. Clearly, there will be an opportunity to do so later if there is some change of view on the matter. To my knowledge, though, there is no reason to think that that will happen. However, discussions are ongoing at a technical level between the Youth Justice Board and the commissioner. I am not promising at this stage that there will not be some further clarification in respect of this, but no amendment has been tabled to change this. I realise that my answer might not be as helpful as my hon. Friend might like, but that is the current position.

As I said, I could read out the technical detail of each amendment, and I am happy to do so if people have particular questions about them. Their general intent is to clarify very precisely the extent of the commissioner’s powers and to ensure that there are no mistakes, which could be very sensitive when we deal with the devolved administration. The amendments ensure that there is no error in the precise way in which these matters are set out in the Bill. They cover minor technical matters. On that basis, I commend the amendments to the Committee.

Photo of Sally Keeble Sally Keeble Llafur, Northampton North

I apologise for not being here at the start of the meeting, but I was caught up in traffic. I strongly support the proposals as they stand and urge that they are not amended. I had considered tabling an amendment to this section to include secure training centres and other youth establishments in the list of institutions that were to be under the remit of the commissioner, which was why I raised the matter with the Secretary of State. To my astonishment I found that they had been listed in here, which was contrary to what I had understood from his response to me. It is really important that children and young people have at least the same level of protection as other offenders. Preferably I want them to have more protection. Having unfortunately had to deal with one of those cases, and being aware of a number of others, I believe that it is important to have a visible, clear and centralised mechanism for investigating such deaths. At present, I understand that most of the protections for children come through the local authority and the safeguarding children board, so if something happens the case goes back out to the local authority.

The problem is that the local authority may be some distance from the institution concerned. In the case of Gareth Myatt—I know, Sir Nicholas, that you are familiar with that case and my concerns about it—the local authority was a long distance from the institution concerned. I am sure that the local authority is perfectly competent to safeguard children’s issues, but  the fact remains that Gareth’s family did not have quite the access to the local authority that they might have had because of their personal circumstances. The level of scrutiny that should have been applied in that case does not seem to have happened until very much later. At the inquest, a whole pile of information came out that strictly speaking should have been dealt with much earlier; it quite properly had to deal not only with the circumstances of the death but the treatment leading up to it. I imagine that the commissioner will look at much more closely at that, as it is really important.

I also have some qualms about references being made from secure training centres to local authorities, because the follow-through is not always rigorous. That is partly because of the vulnerability of the young people and their families and partly because they are not always able to pursue their complaints. All who support such families know perfectly well that some of them have real difficulties in pursuing their complaints through the local authority via existing mechanisms.

Another important factor is that people who are used to dealing with care issues seem to have some difficulty in dealing with what goes on inside prisons or secure establishments and working out whether it is good or bad. I think, for example, of the monitoring and management of restraint. At the inquest into the death of Gareth Myatt, the Home Office monitor clearly expressed his difficulty in challenging some of the decisions made and some of the practices going on at Rainsbrook. That is very telling. It is important that those looking into the deaths of children and young people in prisons and secure training centres should have the skills necessary to deal with custodial matters, such as the use of force and physical restraint. They should understand the culture of what happens in prisons. The same safeguards should be put in place for children and young people.

I strongly support the proposals as they stand. If my hon. Friend is thinking of watering them down, I very much hope that such suggestions will be resisted. I hope that the Bill goes through unamended.

Photo of Edward Garnier Edward Garnier Shadow Minister (Justice)

I am grateful to the hon. Member for Northampton, North for returning us to this subject. It is one that she introduced on the Floor of the House in an Adjournment debate towards the end of the last Session. The Minister of State responded to that debate and I, too, was present as the shadow Prisons Minister.

The hon. Lady and I have a constituency interest in that in the case involving the death of her constituent in a secure training centre, one of my constituents was one of the officers who could have been prosecuted had the case been found to have a criminal tinge to it. Fortunately, for my constituent, it did not. Of course, that does not take away the appalling nature of the incident that led to the hon. Lady’s constituent dying and the tragedy that it caused the family.

Before we conclude on the deaths remit, I should like to remind the Minister of what the Prison Reform Trust said to us in its written submissions during the evidence sessions. It wanted to be assured that the deaths remit would extend to people held in police and court cells under Operation Safeguard, to children held in local authority secure children’s homes—that  question may have been partly answered already—and to people who die within 72 hours of their release from custody.

The last point is particularly important, because the rate of self-harm and suicide in the first few days after release from prison is very high and far higher than it is in the ordinary population, if I may call it that. The period immediately after release is one of the most difficult periods for people. Approximately three quarters of prisoners who are released are suffering from some form of substance abuse that was not dealt with while they were in custody. They very often have nowhere to live and no job to go to. They have lost contact with their families; indeed, they are utterly lost and alone. That is not to suggest that they should not have been in prison—quite the contrary. For a great many people who are in prison, it is right that they went to prison. There is a proportion who perhaps should not have gone to prison, but there we are.

Whoever comes out of prison needs to be looked after by someone in many cases, but in many cases they are not and they die. They die from drug overdoses and suicide and, in my submission, the numbers are far too high. Can the Minister therefore confirm that the commissioner’s remit in matters of death does not stop simply because the death occurs outside the prison walls as opposed to inside the prison walls, so long as the period within which the death occurs is sufficiently and reasonably proximate to the date of release from custody?

Photo of Maria Eagle Maria Eagle The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice

I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Northampton, North, who, as other Committee members have made clear, has exercised a vigilant and extremely proper interest in this matter, particularly as it relates to the experience of her constituent and the family of Gareth Myatt. I want to make it as clear as I can that the remit will include, and is intended to continue to include, deaths, whatever the discussions between the Youth Justice Board, ourselves and the commissioner. The debate is about whether it should include complaints in secure training centres. My hon. Friend made points about that, which I will certainly pass on, so that they inform that debate.

The only question is whether the issue of complaints in secure training centres should still be dealt with by the new commissioner or whether that is better dealt with in other ways. We will come on to the issue of complaints, but I think that it is appropriate for me to say this now, with your indulgence, Sir Nicholas. Complaints from children detained in young offender institutions are included in the commissioner’s remit. Complaints from children held in secure training centres are included in the Bill. However, a debate is taking place between the commissioner, ourselves and the Youth Justice Board about whether that is the appropriate way to deal with complaints in secure training centres. The board is considering what changes may be needed in its system for investigating complaints in secure training centres and whether the commissioner should have a role. That has not quite been sorted out yet, but there is no question of deaths being taken out of the new commissioner’s remit. I hope that that assists hon. Members.

The hon. and learned Member for Harborough made points following on from the evidence that we had from the Prison Reform Trust. He set out the points that the trust made, so I will not go over them again. If there is a death in circumstances in which prisoners are held in court cells or police cells under Operation Safeguard, it will be investigated by the Independent Police Complaints Commission. Any deaths occurring among those recently held in court cells, who were in the custody of the Prison Service at night and escort contractors during the day, would fall within the commissioner’s remit under paragraph 2 of schedule 8. In the event of a death occurring after release from prison or immigration custody, the commissioner would have discretion to investigate it if he or she believed that it was linked to events that occurred during custody. The hon. and learned Member for Harborough made some comments about proximity in time and circumstances, and it would be for the commissioner to take a view on that matter, but if he thought there was good reason to investigate he would certainly be able to.

Photo of Sally Keeble Sally Keeble Llafur, Northampton North 9:30, 22 Tachwedd 2007

Will my hon. Friend deal with the issue raised by the hon. and learned Member for Harborough about secure local authority children’s homes?

Photo of Maria Eagle Maria Eagle The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice

My hon. Friend has anticipated me; I was just coming on to secure children’s homes, which are, of course, under local authority control rather than that of the Youth Justice Board. They are not provided primarily for criminal justice purposes; they are provided for welfare purposes in the main. There is already statutory guidance, “Working Together to Safeguard Children”, and the local safeguarding children board has a responsibility, with the local authority that places children, to make sure that the children’s welfare is looked after. Complaint and investigation arrangements are in place, including and up to serious case reviews if things go very wrong.

We do not at present accept that secure children’s homes should be included in the provisions, because they exist for a different purpose and have a panoply of arrangements that link the responsibility of the local authority in placing children in the homes for welfare reasons with the investigation of complaints on matters up to and including death.

Amendment agreed to.

Amendment made: No. 316, in schedule 8, page 160, line 38, after ‘premises’ insert ‘or in Scotland’.—[Maria Eagle.]

Schedule 8, as amended, agreed to.