HL Deb 13 March 1979 vol 399 cc494-6

2.48 p.m.


My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government when the members of the Advisory Council on the Penal System will be appointed, and what questions will be referred to them.

The MINISTER of STATE, HOME OFFICE (Lord Boston of Faversham)

My Lords, my right honourable friend the Home Secretary has the question of the reappointment and work of the Advisory Council on the Penal System under active consideration and hopes to make an early Statement.


My Lords, while thanking the noble Lord for that encouraging reply, would he not agree that this body, constituted by people of exceptional experience and knowledge in penal matters, has built up a remarkable record of service over the last 11 years and that, with the exception of its most recent report, all its major reports have been implemented in full or in part; and that its suspension for the last 12 months has denied the Government and the public a most valuable contribution in penal matters in a period of anxiety about crime and punishment? May we hope that the noble Lord's statement will be implemented very quickly?


My Lords, so far as the first part of my noble friend's supplementary question is concerned, I will certainly confirm what he has said about the importance and value of the work of the Advisory Council and of its members and, without going into specific detail, I can confirm that some of the nine reports in particular which have come out over the past 12 years or so, have led to substantial changes and improvements in policy matters.

So far as the further point of my noble friend is concerned, I am happy to be able to confirm what I have already indicated: that a Statement by my right honourable friend is hoped to be made quite soon. So far as the delay that has occurred in recent months is concerned, there had been an intention, as my noble friend will know, to invite the council to consider a particular matter concerning prisons, but there has intervened in the meantime the report of the sub-committee of the Expenditure Committee in another place which led directly in part to the appointment of the May Committee of Inquiry. Both of these bodies are dealing with those matters.


My Lords, may we not have a sweepstake on which of these stalled horses is going to win the race: the Shapland Report, the Falkland Islands hydrocarbons, the taxing of ACAS or the Advisory Council on the Penal System?


My Lords, I regret to have to confess to the noble and learned Lord that I am not a betting man; but there is one Member of your Lordships' House who is frequently here who perhaps can give us both advice on this important matter.


My Lords, referring to the original Question, may I ask whether the questions which will be referred to the council will include the whole of the penal system, in view of its absolute failure today, the number of recidivists, the crowded prisons and those prisons which ought to be pulled down now as being utterly unable to deal with the problem of crime?


My Lords, so far as prison matters directly are concerned and the particular points in relation to those that my noble friend has referred to, many of those matters are within the remit of the inquiry now being conducted by Mr. Justice May. I am afraid I am not able to say precisely what the council, when reconstituted, will be invited to consider; but I can go so far as to indicate that it is likely to be a non-custodial matter in character. One possibility which has been suggested by the Advisory Council itself has been connected with financial penalties. Without pre-empting anything that my right honourable friend may decide, I believe that is one of the matters he is considering as a possibility. I shall bear in mind what my noble friend has said.