New Clause 24

Criminal Justice and Immigration Bill – in a Public Bill Committee am 5:30 pm ar 29 Tachwedd 2007.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Provision of attendance centres

‘(1) Section 221 of the Criminal Justice Act 2003 (c. 44) (provision of attendance centres) is amended as follows.

(2) In subsection (1) after “provide attendance centres”, insert “for offenders aged 18 and under 21; and through the Youth Justice Board to provide funding for attendance centres for offenders aged 10 and under 18”.

(3) After subsection (1) insert—

“(1A) Youth offending teams may provide attendance centres for offenders aged 10 and under 18.”

(4) In subsection (2) for “25” substitute “21”.

(5) In subsection (3) after “centres”, insert “for offenders aged 18 and under 21”.

(6) After subsection (3) insert—

“(4) For the purpose of providing attendance centres, youth offending teams may make arrangements with any authority or organisation for the use of their premises.”’.—[Mr. Heath.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

Photo of David Heath David Heath Shadow Leader of the House of Commons

I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

The new clause extends to youth offending teams the capacity to provide attendance centres for offenders aged 10 and under 18 and to make arrangements with any authority organisation for the use of their premises or to provide attendance centres for offenders aged 18 and under 21.

Photo of Edward Garnier Edward Garnier Shadow Minister (Justice)

We probably do not need this new clause, but it provides me with an opportunity to mention a matter of pretty widespread concern, namely the way in which we deal with teenage offenders. I do not want to say too much about this because we have discussed it before. I do not know whether the Minister knows this, but I regret to say that this morning a 15-year-old boy hanged himself at Lancaster Farms young offenders institution. He was the 30th boy of that, or that sort of age, to have died in custody since 1990 or it may even be since 2000. In any event, it is an appalling tragedy, irrespective of what caused that youngster to be in custody in the first place. It gives us a good reason to think carefully about how we incarcerate youngsters, while at the same time bearing in mind the need to protect the public from criminal activity. I do not need to say any more. I am sure that the Minister will have plenty to say.

Photo of Sally Keeble Sally Keeble Llafur, Northampton North

I also wanted to pick up on the same point either on this or a later new clause. It concerns the appropriate sentences and the provision of facilities for young offenders. The young person concerned had a sentence of only one month and 14 days and had been taken back to prison because of a breach of his licence. That such a short custodial sentence should result in the loss of life makes one wonder about sentencing policies, whether the alternatives to custody are sufficient and appropriate and exactly what we are doing with these young people. I was closely involved in an earlier case in which the death, sadly, was not suicide. If we are  sending young people to custodial institutions that are unable to ensure their safety for quite short periods of time, there must be general questioning of the type of sentence and the type of security that we provide for them. The loss of this young boy—the 30th since 1990—is completely disproportionate.

Photo of David Hanson David Hanson The Minister of State, Ministry of Justice

May I confirm to the Committee that Liam McManus was found dead in his cell at 7.45 this morning at Lancaster Farms. Liam, as my hon. Friend the Member for Northampton, North and the hon. and learned Member for Harborough have confirmed, entered the institution on 8 November and was sentenced to one month and 14 days following an earlier breach of his licence. He had not been identified as being at risk of self-harm and he was indeed in a single cell at the time of his death. Obviously, I regret Liam’s death and express my condolences to his family, who, I believe, are from the St. Helens area of the north-west of England. As is normal in these cases, the prison and probation ombudsman will be investigating and it would be inappropriate of me to prejudge that investigation still further, apart from giving the Committee the broad facts of Liam’s death this morning.

Obviously I remain concerned in general terms about the potential for self-harm, not just in young people’s institutions, secure training centres and elsewhere, but in the adult prison estate as well. My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Justice deals very closely with a suicide prevention group and is doing considerable work in the Department with such groups to try to reduce self-harm.

The Committee will understand that it is in nobody’s interests not to take adequate steps to prevent such self-harm. If there are lessons to be learned from the incident this morning and from other incidents, we will obviously seek to learn from them. My hon. Friend the Member for Northampton, North and the hon. and learned Member for Harborough will know that, in general terms, we have established a review of some aspects of the juvenile estate in terms of restraint at the moment. I am happy to receive representations from Members on any issues that they feel can be improved.

Photo of Sally Keeble Sally Keeble Llafur, Northampton North

Can my right hon. Friend say something about the assessment of whether somebody is considered a suicide risk? I have written to him about the case of another of my constituents, a young man whose mother fears for his mental health, even though the institution where he is being held says that he is doing fine. I am concerned about such discrepancies and about the robustness of the assessments that are undertaken. I have written to my right hon. Friend about this case. Could he just double-check who conducted the assessment and ensure that it is accurate?

Photo of David Hanson David Hanson The Minister of State, Ministry of Justice

I will certainly look at the case that my hon. Friend has referred to me. There is a professional judgment to be made about the potential for self-harm of any individual who enters the prison system, young offenders institutions or secure training centres.

In the case of Liam McManus, once again I do not wish to prejudge the prison and probation ombudsman’s report but my initial understanding is that he was not  identified as being at possible risk of self-harm. The ombudsman will investigate this case and make a report, as he does on every self-inflicted death. Obviously that report will be published and Members, including the Member of Parliament for Liam’s constituency, can comment on it then.

Photo of Edward Garnier Edward Garnier Shadow Minister (Justice)

May I make one request in relation to this tragic case? The coroner’s inquest into the suicide in 2005 of Gareth Price at the same young offenders institution, which I visited in October this year, only began earlier this month. Therefore, nearly two years have elapsed between the death and the beginning of the coroner’s hearing. There may be all sorts of good reasons for that delay in coroner’s proceedings, but it is one of the things that families of the deceased worry most about. If there is anything that the Minister or his officials can do to ensure that the necessary inquest that will follow today’s sad news can be expedited, I am sure that the young man’s family will be greatly assisted.

Photo of David Hanson David Hanson The Minister of State, Ministry of Justice 5:45, 29 Tachwedd 2007

Again, it is in everybody’s interests that such inquests take place as quickly as possible. The hon. and learned Gentleman will know that the inquest into Gareth Price, who was aged 16 and found dead in similar circumstances in Lancaster Farms young offenders institution in January 2005, opened on 5 November 2007 at Lancaster shire hall. Sadly, his was not the last such death; the last death on the under-18 estate was that of Sam Elphick, who died at Hindley Green young offenders institution near Wigan on 15 September 2005. Every such death is a tragedy and obviously we wish to see that the lessons are learned from them. I assure the hon. and learned Gentleman and my hon. Friend that we will consider the prison and probation service ombudsman’s report into that case and learn whatever lessons we can to prevent such incidents in the future.

I am not able to accept the new clause that the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome so ably introduced. It would have a direct impact on the ability of the courts to use attendance centres as a requirement under the adult community order and as an option for dealing with adult violent offenders. It might lead to greater use of custody, it would damage the viability of attendance centres, and its approach to the Secretary of State and the Youth Justice Board would not be helpful. Having said all that, I should like to tell the hon. Gentleman that a review is ongoing into the use of attendance centres, and we are examining where they should sit within the youth justice system, with regard to youth offending services and adult offender management. I hope that he will allow me to receive the review and make recommendations in due course to the House.

Photo of David Heath David Heath Shadow Leader of the House of Commons

My brevity in introducing the new clause was because I felt that we had dealt with many of its issues during the early aspects of the Bill. The response that the Minister has just given, however, suggests that, although the new clause would be a terribly bad idea and a disaster for the entire system, the ongoing review may actually recommend it as the right way forward, in which case his view will reverse. So be it. It was worth putting the new clause before the Committee.

I cannot but refer to the point that the hon. and learned Member for Harborough made, and which I intended to make under new clause 57, standing in my name, which deals with the custody of young offenders rather than with the provision of attendance centres. The situation under discussion is tragic. We had for the most part yesterday on the Floor of the House a good and reasoned debate about the prisons estate, the way in which we deal with young offenders and the fact that far too many young people serve custodial sentences. It is extraordinary that this country feels the need to imprison so many more young people than any comparable country—comparable, because there are other countries that imprison more. It is sad, too. It suggests a societal breakdown that we ought to regret deeply.

It is even more regrettable when a young person is put into a prison environment and they take their own life. It happens far too often, and every incident should be a scar on our collective conscience. We will deal with those issues later, when I shall have more to say about the later new clauses. At this point, however, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the motion.

Motion and clause, by leave, withdrawn.