HL Deb 18 November 1986 vol 482 cc134-45

Debate resumed on the Motion moved on Wednesday last by Lord Mowbray and Stourton—namely, That a humble Address be presented to Her Majesty as follows:

"Most Gracious Sovereign—We, Your Majesty's most dutiful and loyal subjects, the Lords Spiritual and Temporal in Parliament assembled, beg leave to thank Your Majesty for the most gracious Speech which Your Majesty has addressed to both Houses of Parliament".

3.7 p.m.

The Minister of State, Home Office (The Earl of Caithness)

My Lords, first, I should like to add my congratulations to my noble friends Lord Mowbray and Stourton and Lord Arran, the proposer and seconder of the gracious Speech, for the most excellent speeches which they made last week. They both have wide and deep knowledge of the subject, particularly my noble friend Lord Mowbray and Stourton, who has set us on the right track for the debate on the gracious Speech.

I reopen this debate and outline our programme for the new Session today concentrating on home affairs and the environment. I hope your Lordships will forgive me if, in the limited time available, I am unable to cover everything that I might on such a wide topic for debate.

We look forward to hearing the views of your Lordships' House—in both the contributions of my noble friends behind me and those of noble Lords opposite. In particular, I am sure that the whole House will look forward with eager anticipation, as I do, to the maiden speech of the noble Lord, Lord Bonham-Carter, who gave such great service to this country in times of war and who, in subsequent years, has made a notable contribution. I know that my noble friend Lord Skelmersdale will answer as many as possible of the points raised by your Lordships during the course of our debate.

The new Local Government Bill will make local authorities expose a number of their activities to competition. Those activities will include those proposed in our February 1985 consultation paper—refuse collection, street cleansing, catering, vehicle maintenance, building cleaning and ground maintenance. We also hope to include one or two other services, such as leisure management and waste disposal.

Authorities which continue to carry out the activities themselves will be required to reach financial targets, and persistent failure to do so may ultimately result in the Secretary of State removing their power to carry them out in-house.

Authorities will be required to invite competitive tenders from the private sector for the provision of these services. Failure to comply, or unfair competition designed to protect the in-house operations, may again result in sanctions, possibly including complete closures of the operation.

The purpose of this part of the Bill is to help remove waste and inefficiency in the provision of services; prevent local authorities from engaging in anti-competitive practices; provide opportunities for the private sector to break open the in-house monopoly on service provision; and give ratepayers everywhere the same relief from funding over-priced services as is presently enjoyed by the ratepayers of Wandsworth, Merton and other progressive councils.

We shall also outlaw non-commercial contract conditions which are carried out under the name of contract compliance. Authorities which introduce irrelevant considerations of this sort distort fair competition and disregard their duty to obtain value for money for ratepayers. They also use the contractual process as a wholly inappropriate vehicle for political posturing.

We shall be introducing a short Bill to end the current practice of grant recycling. Under the present rate support grant system, most authorities lose grant as they increase spending. Any grant underclaimed as a result is recirculated to all authorities on a common rate poundage. This system has several disadvantages. Individual authorities have no certainty as to their grant entitlements because these depend not only on their own spending decisions but on those of all other authorities. The Government can only provide estimates of the likely amounts available from recycling at a date which is too late to ensure that authorities take the extra grant into account when setting their budgets and rates, and finally the grant is recycled to high and low spenders alike.

The removal of this practice will give local authorities much greater certainty as to their grant entitlements. It will increase authorities' accountability to their ratepayers as these entitlements will more clearly depend on authorities' spending decisions. It will provide a greater incentive to authorities to maximise grant by keeping spending down and it will end the incongruous system whereby excessively high spending authorities can gain on the swings what they lose on the roundabouts.

The Government have been increasingly concerned at the volume of complaints from people living in privately-owned blocks of flats about the management of the buildings in which they have their homes. A committee chaired by Mr. Edward Nugee QC looked into these problems, and we propose to introduce legislation to implement the main thrust of its findings so as to strengthen the rights of flat-dwellers. This will provide: a procedure for asking a court to appoint a receiver and manager where the block has been neglected; a right of first refusal where the landlord wishes to sell; a right in leasehold blocks to apply to a court for the purchase of the block where the ground landlord has failed in his duties; tighter control over service charge funds and insurance; and a right to be consulted about the appointment of managing agents. These measures should improve the position of many flat-dwellers who suffer at the hands of bad or indifferent landlords.

Orders to establish four new urban development corporations will be laid during the forthcoming Session. The first of these will be based on Trafford Park in Greater Manchester. The others will be in the Black Country, on Teesside and on the banks of the Tyne and the Wear. The precise areas and other details are currently the subject of further study and consultation. This is a bold step to tackle large areas of derelict and disused land. It will extend the approach already so successful on Merseyside and in the docklands of London.

We have today introduced a Bill in another place to establish a new statutory authority for the Norfolk and Suffolk Broads. This will provide a durable statutory basis for the future management of the land and water space of the Broads which we believe is essential if the continuing deterioration in the ecology of the area is to be reversed. The new authority will not only take over the functions of the existing Broads Authority but will also assume the navigation management functions of the Great Yarmouth Port and Haven Commissioners over most of the Broads' rivers system. The Bill will thus bring the management of the land and water areas of the broads for the first time under the control of a single body. The Bill will give it a status similar to that of a national park—grant-aided on the same basis—but with additional features to suit the special circumstances of this unique area.

We will be introducing tomorrow before your Lordships' House a Consumer Protection Bill. The Bill will significantly improve protection for consumers on product safety, price claims and bargain offers. On product liability the legislation, which implements a European Community directive, will ensure that consumers will be able to secure compensation for personal injuries caused by defective products without, as at present, having to prove that the producer is negligent. The Bill will also require suppliers to ensure that all consumer goods are safe, not just those that are covered by specific safety regulations. This will fill an important gap in our consumer safety regime and facilitate quick and effective enforcement. Finally, the legislation will give consumers greater protection from misleading price indications; for example, bargain offers where there has been no real price reduction, and hidden extras added on to the quoted price.

We will be introducing a Bill to provide for a third Dartford crossing, and legislation will come before your Lordships for the construction of the Channel tunnel. The Bills will provide for both crossings to be built and operated by the private sector, creating jobs and bringing enormous benefits to the traveller at no cost to the taxpayer—splendid examples of private enterprise working for the public good. The Pilotage Bill was introduced in your Lordships' House on 13th November. It will result in a long-overdue reform to meet modern pilotage requirements, make our ports more competitive and reduce costs to our hard-pressed shipping industry.

Your Lordships will not need reminding of the unfair and unsatisfactory nature of the domestic rates system. The Green Paper Paying for Local Government, published in January, proposed a concrete and workable alternative—a flat-rate community charge payable by all adults over the age of 18. The Government have considered very carefully all the comments made on those provisions in the Green Paper which affect Scotland and we are now ready to introduce a Bill embodying our proposals for Scotland.

The system which the Bill introduces will have three cardinal virtues—accountability, simplicity and fairness. It will improve local authority accountability. It will greatly simplify the local taxation system by providing for a flat-rate bill for every resident. And it will greatly improve the fairness of the system by sweeping away the injustice whereby a single person may have to meet the same local taxation bill as a family with several working adults living next door. Help will of course continue to be available for those on low incomes who might otherwise find it difficult to meet the full charge. The Bill will also contain proposals for the freezing and index-linking of non-domestic rates, so that businesses in Scotland will no longer have to face the uncertainty of rate bills which vary widely and unpredictably; and it will make the grant system simpler and easier to understand.

In Scotland, the present arrangements for warrant sales of a debtor's goods have long been regarded as causing unnecessary suffering and distress. A Bill will be introduced to abolish the most resented aspects, particularly the forced sale in a debtor's own home, and the advertisements for the sale which publicly identify the debtor. The Bill aims to create a more humane system of debt enforcement in Scotland but one which will still be effective in obtaining payment from those who can, but will not, pay their debts. In addition, the Bill will set up new systems for arresting earnings, bring in new court orders giving debtors time to pay their debts, and tighten up the control and discipline of sheriff officers and messengers-at-arms.

Last Session saw the enactment of the Law Reform (Parent and Child) (Scotland) Act 1986, giving effect to the report of the Scottish Law Commission on illegitimacy. My noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor introduced last Thursday a Family Law Reform Bill which will make similar provision for England and Wales, giving effect to the two reports of the English Law Commission on the same subject.

One fifth of the children born in England and Wales last year were illegitimate. The Bill aims to remove, so far as possible, the legal disadvantages from which they still suffer, and to give them as normal a family life as possible by allowing their fathers to apply to the courts for the grant of a wide range of rights which a married father automatically acquires. When deciding whether or not to grant such an order the court will naturally have to the forefront of its mind the welfare of the child, but the views of the mother will also play a significant part. This Bill, once enacted, will significantly improve the lot of the very many children who, through no fault of their own, are born illegitimate.

The Government also intend to introduce a Bill to achieve a more effective use of existing fire service resources in securing precautions against fire, and to improve the safety of spectators at sports events. The present statutory arrangements for regulating fire precautions- in Great Britain are contained in the Fire Precautions Act 1971. One of the key provisions of the new Bill will be an amendment to the 1971 Act to allow fire authorities to exempt certain low-risk premises from the requirement to have a fire certificate. Exemption will reduce the burden on the occupiers of premises and, equally important, safety standards will be improved by permitting fire services resources to be devoted to higher risk premises. Other premises will be brought under better and more appropriate safety controls and there will be regular reinspection programmes.

Your Lordships will not need to be reminded of the tragic events of 11th May 1985 at the Valley Parade ground, Bradford, as a result of which 56 people lost their lives. The recommendations of the Committee of Inquiry set up under the chairmanship of Mr. Justice Popplewell were considered in a consultative document issued in June, and form the basis of our other proposals. The Bill will introduce a new system of safety certification at grounds not designated under the Safety of Sports Grounds Act 1975 but which have covered accommodation in stands for 500 or more spectators; it will give local authorities powers to issue prohibition notices to restrict the use of spectator accommodation where there is a serious threat to safety; and it will extend entertainments licensing legislation to cover the use of certain indoor premises for sporting events.

The Bill's proposals will reduce substantially the risk to spectators attending all major sporting events. We may hope that we shall never again witness a tragedy of the kind which took place in Bradford. The proposals on fire safety in the Bill should be welcomed by enforcement authorities and the business community alike, and will ensure the maintenance of high standards of fire precautions.

Finally, I turn to what many will consider to be the major piece of legislation which we are to consider in the coming months, the Criminal Justice Bill, which was introduced in another place by my right honourable friend the Home Secretary on 13th November. Its main provisions equip the courts to deal more effectively with the large-scale criminal; bring the victim to the forefront of the criminal justice system and maintain and strengthen the integrity of the jury system.

The Bill seeks to ensure that big-time criminals will no longer serve their sentence knowing that the proceeds of their crimes await them on their release. We propose to extend to all highly profitable crimes the power to order confiscation of the proceeds of offences which was introduced for drug trafficking offences by last Sessions's Drug Trafficking Offences Act. That Act was an exceptional measure and was justified by the threat caused by the drugs menace. So the new more general powers are not so extensive. They will apply only to offences from which proceeds of at least £10,000 have been made. The court will be empowered, rather than required, to make an order. The power to confiscate will relate only to the proceeds of offences charged or taken into consideration for sentencing purposes. Unlike the Drug Trafficking Act, there will be no assumption that the offender's assets are the proceeds of crime. Once a confiscation order has been made, any of the defendant's available assets can be realised to satisfy the amount imposed, and if he refuses to give up known assets he can be sentenced to prison in default—for long periods—in addition to the term imposed as a penalty for his offences.

Major criminals will also find it more difficult to find a refuge abroad because of the proposals in the Bill to overhaul our extradition law. These will enable us to ratify the European convention on extradition, and thereby make a substantial step forward in coordinating the response to major crime. To do this the Bill abolishes the overriding requirement that any foreign government requesting extradition should show a prima facie case against the defendant under United Kingdom law. The prima facie requirement represents a considerable impediment to extradition from the United Kingdom for countries outside the common law tradition. Our concern is with other Western European countries where there is no doubt about the integrity of the criminal justice system. Moreover, we frequently have to establish a prima facie case in foreign courts which are unfamiliar with the concept. We have as a result failed to extradite some very serious offenders from abroad, while at the same time creating here a haven for others wanted abroad. The Bill will give us the powers to remove the prima facie requirement selectively; new treaties may waive it, but ad hoc arrangements and existing treaties will continue to contain it.

The committee of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Roskill, reported a year ago on the need to deal effectively with the large-scale fraud. As your Lordships will know, my right honourable friend has decided not to take up, for the moment at least, the committee's proposal that a special tribunal should be established to try serious frauds. But the Bill acts on almost all the other recommendations. A new serious fraud office, bringing together powers and expertise from various departments, will be set up to investigate and prosecute the most serious cases. There will be streamlined court procedures in serious and complex fraud cases to allow such cases to be transferred by the prosecutor direct to the Crown Court and to allow for preparatory hearings to identify the agreed facts and the points at issue before the trial proper begins. The rules of evidence will be changed in criminal cases generally to allow the readier admission of business documents and to enable the courts to commission evidence from abroad or to hear evidence from witnesses abroad by video.

These changes, and in particular the new preparatory hearings, should ease the task of the jury in understanding the complex evidence which is frequently at issue in fraud cases. The Bill also contains measures applying to all cases to make juries more properly representative of the community. First, it abolishes the peremptory challenge of jurors by the defence. It seems wrong in principle for jurors to be removed without reason being given, and the Bill is the culmination of the progressive reduction over the years in the number of challenges allowed. The concern that has been expressed about the potential of peremptory challenge for distorting the composition of the jury—particularly where large numbers of defendants are involved—should not go unanswered. We believe that the abolition of peremptory challenge is now long overdue and will serve to strengthen public confidence in juries. So will the extension from 65 to 70 of the upper age limit for jury service, which allows some 2¼ million more citizens the chance to serve.

The Government are showing, with hard cash, their commitment to improving the lot of the victim. As was announced in the Chancellor's Autumn Statement, we are making an extra £114 million available for the criminal injuries compensation scheme over the next three years. We have also set aside £9 million over the same period to assist local victim support schemes. We have supported the National Association of Victim Support Schemes since its inception in 1979 and our grant to it has trebled in the past three years.

The Bill will take our concern further. Two measures are of particular significance. Courts are to be required to give reasons for not making a compensation order in any case where they have power to do so. And the criminal injuries compensation scheme will be put on a statutory basis, so for the first time victims of violent crime will be entitled to compensation as of right.

I have inevitably skimmed the surface of a large and complex piece of legislation, the details of which we look forward to debating in your Lordships' House. Its relevance to the Government's strategy on crime will be clear. There are other parts of our programme and initiatives we plan to take that I have not had time to mention.

We cannot rely on legislation, or just on the criminal justice services, to tackle crime effectively. The Government are playing their part. We have increased spending on the police in real terms by 36 per cent. to some £3 billion: spending on prison building has more than doubled; the number of staff in the prison service has risen by a fifth and the number of probation personnel by more than a quarter. Throughout the country individual citizens, who might previously have thought there was nothing they could do to help prevent crime, are also becoming involved: in neighbourhood watch schemes (of which there are now more than 15,000); in victim support schemes; in crime prevention panels and in police and community consultative groups. This public involvement is absolutely essential.

All I have outlined will, I trust, show that this Government are maintaining their resolve in making this a strong, secure, decent and fair society.

3.28 p.m.

Lord Elwyn-Jones

My Lords, I begin by joining the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, in welcoming the presence among us of the noble Lord, Lord Bonham-Carter, an old colleague in another place, whose contributions there indicated that he will add to the value of this House in the course of our pending debates. We welcome him warmly.

I shall not follow the noble Earl in his courageous endeavour to cover so much ground. With regard to his initial incantation against local authorities, I shall leave that to my noble friend Lord Underhill to cope with. I shall concentrate on what has indeed been described by the noble Earl as the most important piece of legislation that we can expect; namely, the Criminal Justice Bill. I shall concentrate, as I suspect will many of the speakers on the long list, on that theme and on the theme of law and order.

As to that, I should like to begin with some no doubt carefully chosen words which read as follows: A Government that cannot protect its own citizens from attack in the streets of its towns and cities, that cannot protect property from damage or homes from intrusion, has failed to face up to the basic duties of government". Those are not my words. They are the words of the noble Viscount, Lord Whitelaw, speaking in another place ten years ago. I remember the occasion well. What is happening now in the streets of our towns and cities unhappily is far, far worse. Figures which were published by the Metropolitan Police last Friday and recorded in last Friday's issue of The Times showed, Muggings in London rose by 17 per cent. and sexual offences by 10 per cent. during the first nine months of this year". The force recorded 573,000 notifiable offences, an increase of 34,000 over the equivalent period last year. Almost all categories of crime increased during this period, including robbery, which was up by 12 per cent. That is the London scene.

Our country as a whole is suffering from the worst crime wave it has ever known. In 1985, 4,073,853 serious crimes were committed. Violent crime, burglaries, vandalism and criminal damage, alas, have all increased substantially. Riots in and out of our prisons must be added to the sombre picture. The increase in crime is accompanied by increasing fear of crime. Our people are becoming afraid of going out at night. They are fearful—and, in view of what has been happening, rightly so—of letting their children out of their sight.

In spite of the best and dedicated efforts of the police, they cannot cope with crime of those dimensions. The increase in crime is indeed not the only cause for concern. The situation is made worse because of the amount of crime while the detection and conviction rates have substantially decreased. Yet, greater probability of arrest and conviction is surely the most likely way to deter the criminal. In 1985, nearly two out of every three criminals got away with their crimes. Five out of seven burglars escaped with their loot.

One matter which was brought to my notice this morning is the ready availability of dangerous knives. Flick knives are dealt with already by the law, but I was told this morning by a doctor working in the East End of London that some gangs of youths now carry dagger-like knives, some 18 inches long, as part of their macho image. They are readily available on sale in shops, particularly, I am told, at cigarette shops. I wonder why.

In response, decent youths who would otherwise not have such knives have felt it necessary to carry them for self-defence. A dangerous cycle is being created. I have no doubt that the police will do their best to cope with the situation. The problems in the field of crime are inevitably worse in the heart and centre of several of our great cities. In February last year, the Prince of Wales said: The desperate plight of the Inner City areas is well known with the cycle of economic decline leading to physical deterioration and countless social problems. It is only when you visit these areas … that you begin to wonder how it is possible that people are able to live in such inhuman conditions". Indeed, what has been happening in recent years has shown that we are not immune from serious civil disorder, riots and public tumult. America has had the same experience. As President Johnson said in the report of the Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders in 1968: The only genuine, long-range solution for what has happened lies in an attack—mounted at every level—upon the conditions that breed despair and violence. All of us know what the conditions are—ignorance, discrimination, slums, poverty, disease, not enough jobs. We should attack these conditions because there is simply no other way to achieve a decent and orderly society in America". The noble and learned Lord, Lord Scarman, in his report on the Brixton riots, agreed with those words of President Johnson when he said that they are, as true of Britain today as they have been proved by subsequent events to be true of America". This is particularly so bearing in mind the volume of unemployment in our country. The social consequences of unemployment, especially among the young, were underlined—I am sure that he will not mind my quoting him upon this—by a speech of the noble Viscount, Lord Whitelaw, in a debate which we had in the House of Commons, again some years ago (in 1978) when the levels of unemployment were only half what they are here today. He said: Let no one have any doubt about the danger that has been created in terms of crimes of all sorts, violence and vandalism. If boys and girls do not obtain jobs when they leave school, they feel that society has no need of them. If they feel that, they do not see any reason why they should take part in that society and comply with its rules. That is what is happening, and wherever we sit in this House, that is what we have to recognise". What I ask is whether the measures that are now proposed by the Government in this critical situation go anywhere near to deal with the problems that have to be faced. The disturbing conclusions of the report of the Archbishop of Canterbury's Commission on Urban Priority Areas suggests that nothing like enough has been, or is being done.

It is becoming evident that existing priorities will have to be re-examined if crime is really going to be tackled. Local authorities are making their own investigations and proposals in conditions of difficulty, and it is good that, for instance, the involvement of the Society of Local Authority Chief Executives, with NACRO, in a seminar for chief executives on crime prevention showed that many in local government have wished to make a contribution to crime prevention. The joint initiative of the Home Office and the Manpower Services Commission to involve unemployed people in crime prevention activities through the community programme and the establishment by the Home Office of five experimental local schemes to co-ordinate crime prevention efforts are, I concede readily, worthwhile developments.

However, they do not begin with the scale and gravity of the problems that we face. As was said by the chief probation officer of the West Midlands recently: Of course it is sensible for people to lock their doors and their cars; and it is important to prevent drugs coming into the country. But if we disregard more difficult, more long-term dimensions, we stand every chance of simply defending ourselves in the short-term, and doing nothing to relieve the stresses, personal and social, which may lie behind a crime. Sir Kenneth Newman, the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, has stated recently: the volume of reported crime is an indicator of the health of society generally". Report after report of commissions like that of the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Commission for Racial Equality have shown that crime on its present scale has its roots in the nature of our present society in which, according to the Child Poverty Action Group, one-third of the nation's children live in poverty or on its margins.

I now turn to the Criminal Justice Bill, which apparently—it is the great adornment of the Queen's Speech—is to be the centre of the Government's legislative programme in 1987–88. I gather from press reports that the Bill is to go to another place first because it is less likely to be amended there than in your Lordships' House. We shall see. In my view the Bill makes little response to the grave crime scene that I have mentioned. It makes no difference that is detectable to the run of the mill crimes that affect people most—the burglaries, the muggings, vandalism, petty theft and so on.

We welcome, of course, many of its proposals, like those that have been mentioned to tackle fraud, which is causing so much damage to individuals and to society. We will examine in detail these and other proposals, like those to make reliable documentary evidence more readily available in criminal proceedings, and other changes in the rules of evidence.

Especial and, I know, sympathetic care will be given by the House to the proposal for evidence to be taken from children by video in respect of certain assaults and sexual offences. Our society has almost suddenly become aware of the extent to which our children are lacking protection and of the need to give them more help and support. In this connection, I broadly welcome the Family Law Reform Bill to which the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, referred, but I share the regret expressed by the Family Courts Campaign—and it may well be that we shall hear more of that from the noble Baroness—that the social need to reform family jurisdiction and to have a family court is not provided for in the Bill.

The proposals to reduce the log-jams in our Crown Courts by requiring various classes of case to be dealt with summarily will, like so much in the Bill, need careful study, as will the proposals for dealing with sentences thought to be disproportionately lenient. They raise important questions of principle that will no doubt be dealt with at length in due course. I welcome the intention to take further steps to recover ill-gotten gains from fraudsters and criminals. I welcome also the provisions placing the existing non-statutory criminal injuries compensation scheme on a statutory basis.

There are many other provisions in this mixed bag of piecemeal proposals that will, I fear, give the House yet another potential summer, if not of discontent, of prolonged labour, to which we have recently become very accustomed. Perhaps the worst fault in the Bill's proposals is that they will do little or nothing to tackle another blot on our society, namely, the gross overcrowding of our prisons and the treatment of many of our prisoners. On 11th April this year—I take the figure from the report of the all-party Penal Affairs Group—46,687 people were in prison in England and Wales. I understand from the noble Lord, Lord Donaldson, that he, with his knowledge as President of NACRO, will be dealing in some detail with the crime consequences that result from that gross overcrowding.

The United Kingdom now sends more people to prison both in absolute numbers and relative to its population than any other major West European country. It also has a higher average daily prison population than any other West European country except Turkey.

This country's excessive use of custody is also shown by the fact that our readiness to gaol offenders has indeed increased over the last decade. The proportion of adult males convicted of indictable offences in England and Wales who were imprisoned rose from 15 per cent. in 1974 to 20 per cent. in 1984 and 1985. Fewer than one in five of those who have been sent to prison have committed crimes involving violence, sex or robbery, crimes for which the public would expect terms of imprisonment, and lengthy ones at that. Of the 92,810 sentenced offenders entering custody in 1984, only about 14,000 or 16 per cent. Had committed those crimes. Therefore, as to the illusion that the prisons are full of those who deserve every day of their punishment because of the wicked, violent crimes they have committed, I am afraid that is not the picture.

A saddening feature of the prison scene is that 58 per cent. of male offenders and 39 per cent. of females leaving penal establishments are back before the courts within two years. Reoffending rates are higher for young offenders, two-thirds of whom are reconvicted within two years of release. Alas, one of the claimed purposes of prison, rehabilitation, just is not happening. How can it happen in the conditions that prevail in the prisons, despite the best efforts of those who are there looking after the inmates?

Despite that factual picture, the Bill's sentencing provisions will increase rather than reduce the use of custody, yet time and again prison and borstal governors and members of their branch of the Civil Service have drawn attention to the gravity of the position. A letter from Mr. Norman Brown, the governor of Strangeway Prisons, Manchester, was published in the Daily Telegraph not many years ago. He said: We just cannot go on locking men and women up, many for 23 hours a day. Why do the warnings continually given by the prison service go ignored? … Is it not time that the necessary legislation be introduced to reduce our prison population and restore the morale of the prison staff, allowing us to operate a system with decent standards and dignity, or must we go on being ignored by Parliament and the courts while they carry on talking about overcrowding for yet another 30 years? That is a cri de coeur from a man in the front line in facing these consequences. The consequences are shaming; the consequences are dangerous.

In 1910, that distinguished former Home Secretary, Sir Winston Churchill, said this in another place: The mood and temper of the public with regard to the treatment of crime and criminals is one of the unfailing tests of the civilisation of any country. A calm, dispassionate recognition of the rights of the accused, and even of the convicted criminal against the state; a constant heart searching by all charged with the duty of punishment towards the discovery of creative and regenerative processes; unfailing faith that there is a treasure, if you can only find it, in the heart of every man. These are the symbols which mark and measure the stored up strength of a nation … proof of the living virtue in it. Our duty is to enhance and not to imperil that living virtue.

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