Clarke crackdown 'risks creating crime colleges': MPs call for further action on young offenders

Click to follow
TONY BLAIR, the Labour spokesman on home affairs, warned the Home Secretary he risked creating 'colleges of crime' after Kenneth Clarke announced plans for a new generation of secure places for 12- to 15-year-olds as part of a package of measures to crack down on young offenders.

Mr Blair said it was preferable for young offenders to be isolated from their peer group and not to be in the company of 40 or 50 others. 'What we need is schools of responsibility, not colleges of crime,' he said. He accused the Government of failing to provide any of the 65 extra places in local authority secure accommodation that had been promised, and said more such accommodation was needed: 'It is now that people require action against the rising tide of crime.'

But Mr Clarke said the local authorities had refused to take up the money provided for additional secure accommodation: 'You can't make up your mind whether you support the proposals or not.'

The main points of the new package were: legislation to provide a new sentence, called a secure training order, lasting up to two years, for 12- to 15-year-olds convicted of three imprisonable offences; a new generation of centres for young offenders to be held in secure accommodation, run by private or voluntary operators; new Department of Health guidelines to tighten up control of children in residential accommodation run by local authority social services departments; guidelines to the police against over-use of cautions; and legislation to place a statutory duty on education authorities to tackle truancy.

The package was welcomed by Tory MPs led by Kenneth Baker, the former Home Secretary. But Mr Baker sought an assurance that places were available to deal with children aged 5 to 10 who were disruptive and below the age of criminality.

Michael Shersby (Con, Uxbridge) underlined Tory unrest about the working of section 29 of the Criminal Justice Act, which is preventing magistrates from taking into account previous offences when sentencing young offenders. He said it was causing 'widespread disillusionment' among magistrates. Stephen Byers (Lab, Wallsend) was cheered by Tory MPs when he also complained about the Act, but Mr Clarke offered no prospect of any early action as it had been in effect for only five months.

Robert Maclennan, for the Liberal Democrats, said there had been a 'whirligig of home secretaries revolving their nostrums' for 14 years. It was now time for a Royal Commission to look at the youth justice system, he said.

Mr Clarke had given the Metropolitan Police approval to conduct trials with the controversial expandable baton, 'subject to the outcome of a full scientific evaluation of its wounding potential', the Commons was told. The US-style baton can extend from 7in to 21in in three sections with a flick of the wrist. MPs campaigning for tough action on crime support its introduction.