HL Deb 30 November 1988 vol 502 cc307-76

3.19 p.m.

Lord Allen of Abbeydale rose to call attention to the state of the prisons in England and Wales, and to alternatives to custody; and to move for Papers.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I am grateful to all noble Lords who are taking part in this debate. I know that we are all looking forward, in particular, to the contribution from my neighbour in this House today, my noble friend Lord Tenby. I had the privilege of working with the noble Viscount's father, in part over prisons, and I am especially pleased that he has chosen this occasion to make his maiden speech.

The Motion that we are discussing today—and I shall speak mainly about the first part of it—touches one of the major social problems of our time. I think that the Government and all concerned share the same basic objectives; namely, to improve the state of our prisons and to make sure that rather fewer people go there. There are differences of view as to how those objectives might be achieved but they are not party differences, at any rate away from the conference rooms of Brighton and Blackpool. It is, I think, appropriate that the debate should start from the Cross-Benches.

There is certainly no shortage of material. I think that many of us will have seen a manifesto produced by 11 organisations concerned with penal affairs. From the Government we have two Green Papers, one on punishment, custody and the community and the other on the possible provision of remand accommodation by the private sector. We also have a forthright report from the Chief Inspector of Prisons. Now we have just had the report on parole by the committee chaired by the noble Lord, Lord Carlisle of Bucklow.

That report contains proposals which would greatly affect the prisons but the Home Office is giving time for comments. It is surely a report which will deserve a debate all of its own in due course. I myself shall not say very much about it, but it will be fascinating to hear what the noble Lord has to tell us about the report when he speaks later in the debate.

Imprisonment as a form of legal punishment is, in historical perspective, a comparatively recent development dating back not more than a century and a half. We have certainly come a long way from the day when it was the job of the assize judge to go round to "deliver the gaols"—that is to empty them, and not to fill them. But those were the days when transportation was available as a penalty. After all, Sydney owes its name to a Home Secretary whose fame might not otherwise be all that widely remembered. There is even a river in New South Wales named after an 18th century Permanent Secretary from the Home Office. I believe that it is quite a small river.

Prisons have to keep going 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. As well as places to eat and sleep, they have to provide workshops, hospitals, libraries, chapels and facilities for education, for association and for visits, all with regard to security. Each month some thousands leave prison and one is bound to consider the effect which imprisonment may have had on them and their families as they re-establish themselves in the community.

In the half century or so since I was first involved with the prison service there have indeed been changes for the better. It is always as well to start on the bright side. We now talk much more about the victims of crime and about crime prevention. The prison administration has been improved and brought more into central policy-making. A good deal has been done through the work of probation officers in the prisons and through pre-release training and employment schemes to prepare prisoners for their discharge. Above all there is much greater public awareness of the issues.

This Government sometimes talk as if nothing at all had happened until they took office. That is not quite so. Between 1958 and 1979 26 new penal establishments, including six security prisons, were, brought into use providing some 8,000 places. All the same, it is perfectly true that there could have been no possibility then of persuading the Treasury to provide the cornucopia from which money is now being lavishly poured for the prison building programme. Nor has there been public criticism of that expenditure. It is, I hope, fair to say that the public conscience has been stirred.

However, there is rather too much to be said on the other side. It is very important that the prison service itself should have a sense of purpose going beyond just humane containment. But the state of the overcrowded prisons has made it extraordinarily difficult to believe that in practice much can be done to enable a prisoner to lead a law-abiding and useful life, although I was delighted to see that the director general of the prison service reaffirmed the other day that that was indeed the aim.

Then there are some special problems which did not seem to arise to such an extent in my time. There are those arising from AIDS and all that that involves, from the ethnic minorities, from the 1,900 or so prisoners who have to be protected from other prisoners, and the 2,500 or so who are serving life sentences. Overshadowing everything there has been the remorseless rise in the numbers sent for custody. When I was appointed a Prison Commissioner in 1950 the population was around 20,000. In spite of a slight easing in recent months it stood on Friday last at 50,429, including 1,157 in police cells. Some 16,000 were housed two or three in a cell designed to take one person and not all that generously designed anyway. Nearly 11,000 were in custody awaiting trial with a substantial and highly undesirable overflow, as I have said, to police cells.

Conditions in some of the closed prisons are pretty appalling. Anyone who has been at the morning "slopping out" at a busy local prison may be forgiven for wondering if we have come all that far since John Howard's campaign two centuries ago. The chief inspector found dirt, slovenliness, litter, poor lighting and general squalor. I need not go on, except to say that persons accused or convicted of crime are still human beings entitled to some degree of dignity.

Following what the noble and learned Lord, Lord Elwyn-Jones, said the other day, I should like to ask what the Government's plans are for introducing a code of minimum standards with a timetable for achieving it. We thought that there was some prospect of that a few years ago but it seems to have melted away.

Could I ask, too, what proportion of the moneys available for building will be applied to modernising existing buildings? Do the Government see an end to "slopping out" by the end of this century? We hear a good deal about the number of additional places which the building programme will provide, but that seems to assume that all the present accommodation will be retained. Arc there not plans for taking out of use altogether some of the present buildings which are beyond hope? Touching on a controversial issue, I would not myself oppose plans for accommodation to be provided by the private sector provided that it is strictly limited to remand prisoners, although I know that there are many who are passionately opposed even to that. But may I ask whether those concerned would he put under a firm obligation to meet standards that come up to the very best international practice?

There are some other things which might be done to improve the quality of life in prisons. The chief inspector comments on the inadequate and sometimes insanitary state of the kitchens. One wonders whether, following the hospitals, Crown immunity should be lifted. Is there not room for improving the discipline procedures? There is no shortage of ideas as to how that might be done.

Although I would not go along with merging the prison medical services into the NHS, at present at all events, it looks as though there is plenty of room for improving co-operation. I see that the noble Lord, Lord Callaghan of Cardiff, is in his place and I cannot help recalling that this was a matter which gave him great concern during his distinguished period of service as Home Secretary. Certainly there are still those in prison who ought to be in hospital.

The complete solution to overcrowding cannot be simply to build more and yet more prisons. However, reducing the number of prisoners cannot be achieved by the prison service itself. It has to look after the people sent to it by the courts for custody or punishment, and I suspect that the noble Lord, Lord Graham of Edmonton, will have a point to make on that topic when he speaks.

It is to the courts that I now turn, not forgetting that the greatest contribution of all would come from a reduction in the amount of crime. The Court of Appeal has given guidance that sentence of imprisonment should be imposed only when truly necessary and if it is necessary the sentence should he as short as is consistent with the need to punish. All the same, in England and Wales a higher proportion of people go to prison than in any other European country, except possibly for Scotland, although apparently we do not have more crime. I am not questioning for a moment the need to pass severe sentences for crimes of violence or drug trafficking, and they have indeed become more severe, but many sentences are for crimes against property and I cannot avoid a lingering doubt that sometimes the courts may overdo things.

I should like to ask the Government whether they are yet satisfied that enough is done to train the judges, whole time and part time, in the art of sentencing. Is enough done by way of guidelines to help what I might describe as the lesser judiciary? I said that I would not discuss the report of the noble Lord, Lord Carlisle, but I should like just to rub in the message that the report gives; namely, that to act on the matters covered by its recommendations would necessitate the closest co-operation with the judiciary. I hope that it will be forthcoming.

I know that judges commonly explain why they are passing a particular sentence, but is there not a good deal to be said for imposing a statutory duty on all courts, at any rate for certain types of offences, to explain why they are sending the defendant into custody, just as is now done for those offenders under 21? Would it not be possible to provide that juveniles should no longer be held in prison at all on remand or under sentence and the responsibility instead be given to the social service departments? The numbers of juveniles given custodial sentences have been going down but unless I have misunderstood my figures, as I am quite capable of doing, it seems to me that there were still over 4,000 of them last year.

There is then a clutch of possibilities about remand prisoners. What are the Government doing to encourage greater use of the powers to send an individual for a report on his mental condition to hospital rather than to prison? Do the Government see the time coming when bail information schemes will be established in every large court? Will provision be made in the expanded bail hostel scheme for persons with alcohol and drugs problems? Will we in fact see within the next year or two the extension to the whole country of the fixing of time-limits for trials, with the incidental bonus of reducing the task of the prison service in producing prisoners in court?

I could continue on that theme but I turn now, if only quite briefly, to the second and equally important part of the Motion: ways of dealing with offenders otherwise than by custody. The two halves of the Motion are indeed inseparable. I shall leave to others the main discussion under this head but there are one or two points that I should like to raise.

In this country there is already a wide range of possible alternatives to custody—wider I think than anywhere else. The Green Paper makes suggestions for stepping up some of these present provisions, although there does not seem to be too much in it about providing extra money and resources for the purpose.

However, the Green Paper also canvasses new possibilities. One of them is a new supervision and restriction order. Under that proposal the court would be able to pick from an extensive menu of penalties, as it were, a selection suited to the needs of the particular offender and would then possibly supervise the order itself. Included in that menu might be new items such as curfew or house arrest and tracking, possibly by electronic means. Whether tagging would work and, if it did, whether under the Government's proposals it would be used for offenders who would otherwise be sent to prison, I am not sure. I confess that my present feeling is that I would not be against trying almost anything in our present parlous position.

There is, however, a serious underlying problem: how far these alternatives to custody are accepted by the courts and by the public as a punishment and not just as a soft option and how far it is possible to allay the apprehensions of the probation service and others who fear that too great an emphasis on the punitive aspect cannot easily be reconciled with the positive aspects of what I might call social regeneration. I tend to go along with what I understand to be the Government's view of punishment within the community, but I realise that it is far from straightforward.

I see that my time for speaking is nearly up. I am only too conscious that there are a number of important topics on which I have not touched at all and that I have touched only lightly on some of those I have mentioned. But before I sit down I should just like to say that the treatment of offenders must be one of the criteria by which to judge a mature and caring society. At present we do not pass the test with flying colours but I hope I have shown that the picture is not one of unrelieved gloom. The Government's reply to this wide-ranging debate may hold out a little more hope. We shall see. These are difficult and complex issues. There can be—there must be—no despair of humanity. My Lords, I beg to move for Papers.

3.39 p.m.

Baroness Ewart-Biggs

My Lords, the number of noble Lords taking part in this debate makes quite clear the importance of the subject. Speakers include many who have a very long involvement and great expertise in this field. That has been demonstrated by the noble Lord, Lord Allen, who introduced the debate with his usual elegance and competence. We also look forward to hearing the speech of the noble Viscount, Lord Tenby.

I feel that the concern shown in this House is reflected outside it. I believe that the issues relating to prison and penal matters have a very high profile among members of the public. One would have thought that this mounting preoccupation would have acted as a springboard for new initiatives to come from the Government. But here we are disappointed. Instead of taking effective action to bring down our prison population, improve prison conditions and lower reconviction rates, the Government's major response has been to increase their present building programme, as the noble Lord, Lord Allen, has mentioned. It is a programme which is expected to cost £51 million above the Treasury's Supply Estimates. Secondly, the Government's reaction has been to provide plans for privatising new remand centres. Thirdly, we have the Green Paper entitled Punishment, Custody and the Community, in which there is very little that is new apart from the electronic monitoring idea.

On this side of the House we should like to see the Government give their support to the aim of keeping people out of prison by publicly stating the case for non-custodial and shorter sentences. This is vital in order to counteract the attention given in the media to calls for tougher sentences. We should also like to see a greater emphasis on remedial and therapeutic treatment within prisons and the rehabilitation and after care of ex-offenders. Rule 1 of the Prison Service states that the purpose of the training and treatment of convicted prisoners shall be to encourage and assist them to lead a good and useful life. We should like to see that become a reality.

However, as the noble Lord, Lord Allen has said, we should always ask ourselves why we imprison more people than any other EC country. It must be remembered that at the same time we have more community-based options than any other country. The combination of these two factors would seem to present a paradoxical situation which requires an explanation.

We have heard from the noble Lord, Lord Allen, that last July the prison population reached an all-time high of 51,200 people. We have heard that there was a 17 per cent. increase in prisoners serving long sentences while the size of the unsentenced prison population rose by 4 per cent. to more than 10,000. Another very revealing statistic shows that as much as 70 per cent. of detected crime is carried out by as few as 5 per cent. of known offenders.

Propositions for change have come from many different quarters. The National Association of Probation Officers put up a strong argument for greater use of supervision within the community. I quote from a recent publication, which states: Many of those in prison should not be there, in particular, the mentally ill, the alcoholic, the homeless and fine defaulters. Many more are there only because they happened to commit their crime in a particular locality. In 1986, the use of custody by magistrates' courts sentencing adult males ranged from 8 per cent. in Rotherham to 39 per cent. in Tower Bridge, London.... Many more need not be there at all because probation and community service orders provide effective and proven alternatives to custody for a wide range of offenders who are currently imprisoned". Other suggestions as to how to reduce the prison population come from the joint manifesto for penal reform, agreed by the 11 organisations concerned with penal policy mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Allen. Among other things, they state: Statutory restrictions on the use of imprisonment for adults should be introduced, similar to those in the 1982 Criminal Justice Act restricting the use of custody for young offenders". That in itself brought a very great lowering of the number of young offenders in prison.

I am glad to see the noble Lord, Lord Elton, is in his place. On the 60 per cent. re-conviction rate, he had the following to say during the discussions on the Criminal Justice Bill: Nothing makes it more likely that a person will go to prison than the fact that he has been there before. For most who undergo it, imprisonment is not a constructive experience. It is not a rehabilitating experience, and it predisposes to reoffending".— [Official Report, 14/7/87; col. 947.] The same 11 organisations agree on proposals concerning prison conditions, prisoners' rights and prisoners' resettlement. These are organisations such as the Howard League, the Prison Reform Trust, NACRO, New Bridge—of which I am chairman —and organisations with a great wealth of experience and expertise regarding prison affairs. They have agreed that there should be, and have asked for, a code of minimum standards for penal establishments; that Crown immunity should be lifted from prisons; that censorship of letters and restrictions on their number should be ended for all but Category A prisoners and those on the escape list; that a prison ombudsman should be established; that the prison disciplinary system should be reorganised along the lines of the Prior Committee's recommendations; that the prison medical service should be brought under the auspices of the National Health Service; and, finally, that there should be a substantial increase in the number of after care hostels, training schemes and other resettlement facilities for ex-offenders in the community. For these 11 organisations to come to an agreement on such a long list of recommendations is a very strong argument in their favour.

It is always important to consider what is happening in other countries, especially those similar to our own. I should like to give the example of what is happening in West Germany. It is amazing to discover that since 1983 their prison population has fallen by almost 20 per cent., while in the same period ours rose by 12 per cent. The decline encompasses both remand and sentenced prisoners, juveniles as well as adults. The biggest proportionate reduction of 32 per cent. has taken place among juvenile prisoners. Almost as large is the reduction in the number of remand prisoners, which is 28 per cent.

Three major movements seem to have influenced what has happened. First, a growing number of projects have sprung up all over the country offering non-custodial alternatives. But we have those ourselves. Another factor in Germany is a movement for a more sparing use of remand in custody. The reduction in remand prisoners also seems to have contributed directly to the more sparing use of prison sentences. It is felt that the likelihood of a non-custodial sentence is greater when the offender comes to trial as a free person, possibly working, than as a remand prisoner.

Finally, the movement against prison construction may have had some influence. With the prison population going down, and the birth rate declining, a number of states have scrapped most of their expensive prison building programmes. It is right that we should look at the experience and the progress in West Germany, from which we might well be able to learn something.

I should like very briefly to ask the Minister whether it is yet possible to comment on the results of Fresh Start. Do the Government have plans to reassess Fresh Start, or do they have any new strategy to cope with the shortage of staff which is clearly suffered by some prisons? There is obviously a problem at Parkhurst. The Chief Inspector of Prisons reported that in the quarter preceding the inspection only 60 per cent. of activities planned for prisoners had taken place. Education classes were often cancelled and workshops frequently closed. This was precisely the anxiety expressed by many of us when the plans for the Fresh Start scheme were first disclosed. Perhaps the Minister will be able to comment on this.

I visited Strangeways in Manchester last week. This is an enormous and very old prison that was built to hold 950 prisoners. At present it holds 1,750. The governor is dealing with a difficult position as effectively and efficiently as he can. He reported a positive development. It was that the relationship between officers and inmates had improved since the beginning of Fresh Start, as the officers were now working in specific parts of the prisons and had time to get to know the prisoners. However, the effect of Fresh Start on the medical and nursing services was not so good because, due to lack of escorting officers, there were cancellations and postponements of outside hospital admissions and out-patient appointments. That worked adversely from the point of view of the discipline of staff. NAPO was also concerned that staffing levels were affecting visits which were having to be restricted to the absolute minimum of 30 minutes, and that official visitors were experiencing difficulties in seeing clients.

The other point that I was anxious about concerned the visitor centre which I know my noble friend Lord Dean will speak about. It looks as though it will run out of funds and that will be a great detriment to the prison.

I end by saying one word about women's prisons. I have spoken about this matter before; but I believe strongly that the effect of a custodial sentence is different for a woman than for a man. That is because a woman is often a mother, and that aspect is not taken into account. Sentencing policies should distinguish between men and women. The number of women in prison is increasing. In 1985 there were 3,348 females in prison. It is felt that there should be a change in the regime of women. One reason in particular is that they should be allowed to keep as close as possible to their children and therefore on release return to being as effective and good mothers as they are able to be.

Finally, I know that other noble Lords will be speaking about alternatives to custody; but most people will agree that little is achieved if measures intended to replace custody displace existing non-custodial options. The danger of the electronic monitoring scheme is exactly that. There is no shortage of options, but the weakness is that they do not have the confidence of the courts. Anything that can be done to create that confidence is what is needed. There is no doubt that by the end of the debate the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, will be left in little uncertainty about the great concern—and in some cases the near panic—felt by some about our prisons. I hope that he will reflect that concern in his response.

We believe that there is an urgency to replace present attitudes towards crime and punishment. Although the Government cannot change everything, they have a duty to give the lead in lifting society's attitudes away from a fundamental and primeval desire for punishment and retribution and more towards a commitment to deal in a more creative, constructive and humane way with those who contravene the laws.

3.55 p.m.

Lord Carlisle of Bucklow

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Allen of Abbeydale, was right to remind us that the problems of the state of our prisons and prison overcrowding are not new. Indeed, I vividly remember that the first submission I received as a junior minister in the Home Office in 1971 (when the noble Lord was Permanent Secretary) was one which had projections of future prison populations which were far more horrific than those which have actually occurred. I believe that the Criminal Justice Act 1972, which introduced community service, added a very useful weapon to the powers available to the courts to deal with people in ways other than imprisonment.

The state of our prisons depends not only on the number of people who are sent there, but upon the length of time which the individuals spend there. As the noble Lord has said, I have just had the honour of chairing a committee reviewing the whole of the parole system in this country. That published its report last week. If I may, I shall address my remarks to that report.

All the members of that committee strongly endorsed the principle of a system of early release for prisoners under supervision as being in the best interests not only of the individual prisoner, but of society as a whole. The fact is that all prisoners on determinate sentences are coming back into society. We believe that it is better that they should come out at a point during their sentences under a degree of supervision rather than at the end of it without any supervision at all. We believe that that is in society's interests because there is clear evidence that in the early years after release, those released on supervision tend to re-offend less than those who have not been released under supervision.

It means also that through the parole system over the past 20 years some 120,000 people have been in society at a time when they would otherwise have been in prison leading to immense saving of resources both in financial and human terms. It also means that at any day of the present year some 6,000 people are out on parole who otherwise would be in prison. If one looks at the figure overall, there is a very small percentage of failures. Therefore we supported and welcomed the system of early release.

Equally, we found that many criticisms of the working of the present system were wholly justified. The fact is that the judicial and political consensus that existed in favour of the parole system has broken down and the combination of parole at a third and remission at two-thirds has led to a situation where the gap between that which the judge sets and that which happens in practice has become too great. The public is then misled as to what is happening to the individual, which undermines the credibility of the sentence that has been passed. It also means, particularly at the lower end, that the differential is eroded between different length sentences passed by a judge and the working of the six months' minimum or one-third release so that many people sentenced to different periods of imprisonment come out on exactly the same day. That in our view cannot be right. It leads to feelings of unfairness among prisoners. We believe the whole attempt to introduce discretionary release for short-term prison sentences is flawed. It means that the Parole Board and the local review committee are looking at the same facts at which the judge looked at an earlier stage, and therefore it becomes merely an exercise in re-sentencing. That is not the task of the Parole Board.

At the upper end we believe that the continuation of review for parole at a third of the sentence—at the same time when one knows in practice that the vast majority of prisoners concerned will not come out until a far later stage in their sentence—has led to total cynicism among prisoners with the working of the parole system. It leads to enormous amounts of totally unnecessary work by the probation service and the prison service in preparing full reports for parole review at a third of the way through the sentence of people whom one knows under the general lines under which parole is being exercised at the moment will not come out until much nearer the two-thirds point.

We were told—and it was brought home to us—that it was positively damaging for many of the individual prisoners because it unrealistically and unfairly raises hopes of release with them and their families which in practice will not be achieved. We believe that both that policy and the bringing of parole down to the shorter end of the sentence have been shown by experience to be both flawed in principle and unworkable in practice. It is for that reason that we recommend wide-ranging changes to the Home Secretary. We have said in our report that we believe that in all sentences up to and including those of four years' imprisonment—that, I remind your Lordships, is the vast majority of sentences passed by the courts—parole and remission as we know it today should be removed.

We recommend that, instead, anyone sentenced to imprisonment should spend the first half of that sentence in custody. Then, subject to his good behaviour, he should be released after serving that 50 per cent. of his sentence. He should then be under supervision in society to the three-quarter point of this sentence and he should remain under conditional relase to the 100 per cent. point. If during the latter half of his sentence he commits any other offence he would be liable to be returned to prison to serve the outstanding part together with any new sentence which may be imposed upon him.

We believe that a system of that kind, which would replace the present parole and remission system, would be far better. We believe that it meets the wholly justifiable criticism of the judiciary about the effect of the erosion of differentials between different lenghts of sentence. We believe that it will be fairer as between individual prisoners and that it will be simple and more readily understandable. In saying that the second half of a sentence should be a release which is conditional upon the person's continuing good behaviour, we are providing additional protection for the public. Above all, we are restoring meaning to the sentence passed by the court in that the length of sentence referred to by the judge will have an effect throughout the whole of the time.

For those who are sentenced to periods of imprisonment beyond four years we believe that different considerations must apply and that a discretionary system of release is right. People sentenced to more than four years' imprisonment will be, by their nature, those who have committed serious crimes. Society should not be expected to accept their return at an early stage of their sentence without an individual assessment of the risk that they continue to present. We believe that the situation which exists half-way through a long sentence may be different from that which faced the judge at the time of passing sentence and that new considerations will be apparent. The Parole Board can act on those without in any way being a re-sentencing body.

We have stated that parole eligibility after one-third of the sentence is too early. For the reasons I have explained it is harmful in practice to all those involved. Instead, we recommend that parole eligibility should start after half the sentence has been served and that the test—and the only test—should be the risk of the person seriously re-offending in society at a time when he may otherwise still be in prison.

Finally, we are strongly of the view that all those poeple sentenced to long terms of imprisonment should be dealt with on the same basis. I suggest that it is wrong in principle to attempt to distinguish between different people who have received the same length of sentence on the basis of the type of crime for which they were convicted. Whether it is a crime of violence, sex or arson, details are taken into account by the court at the time of sentence. We believe that penalty should be a matter for the judge in open court and that people who have received a 10-year sentence should be dealt with on the same basis, whether it is for fraud or some other offence.

It is right that, when one is reviewing the question of whether a person presents a risk of seriously re-offending, the nature of his offence may well be one of the issues which the board must consider. An armed robber may be a much greater risk and therefore may be refused parole, while a man serving a similar sentence for fraud may be granted parole. We believe that it is wrong to attempt to differentiate between different categories of offender, even though they receive the same sentence, as we do at present.

In the last minute available to me I should like to make a final point. The scheme that we have put forward is in many ways tough. However, it is balanced and it aims to restore meaning to the sentence of the court. In our view, it is essential that its implementation—I hope that it will be implemented—should be accompanied by a determined effort by the judiciary and those in politics to reduce the length of sentences that are being passed, particularly in the middle band.

I should like to put the issue to your Lordships in a simple way. Surely it is better to pass a sentence of two years' imprisonment under which a man spends one year inside, six months under supervision and the whole two years under conditional release, rather than to pass a sentence of three years' imprisonment under which he serves one year inside and the sentence as a whole is ended after two years. Therefore, as the noble Lord, Lord Allen, has said, it is part of the package that our proposals should be accompanied by a review of the tariff of sentencing which has grown up in different conditions. It should take account of the realism which we believe we are returning to the sentencing proposals. I hope that, having had time to review our recommendations, the Home Office will consider them with care.

4.7 p.m.

Lord Donaldson of Kingsbridge

My Lords, in preparing my notes I had written that there are two hopeful developments. However, I now wish to say that there are three. None of us will judge what has been said by the noble Lord, Lord Carlisle, until we have read the report carefully. However, it is an enormous advance on anything that has been proposed in this House by any government for a long time—perhaps since parole was first started by my noble friend Lord Jenkins of Hillhead. I am grateful for the clear exposition from the noble Lord. I shall read the report with a much better chance of understanding it than I had before hearing him speak. However, it would be wrong for the House to debate it today. We shall demand a full debate at the proper time.

I am equally grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Allen, for the way in which he opened the debate. He has laid many threads for us to follow, but I shall follow only one. The breadth of a debate of this kind can destroy its value and I hope that noble Lords will be content to deal with only one or two points contained in the report.

Debates which have taken place in this House about the problems in prisons do not appear to have had much effect. I have looked back through perhaps a dozen debates which have taken place over the past 20 years. Basically they have all stated the same things and made the same recommendations. It is most noticeable that they have not been acted upon. In consequence, the situation has become steadily worse year by year. However, there are three differences (I was going to say one or two) in this debate. First, for the first time the prison department, speaking for the Government, has publicly asked questions which face the main issue. In the Green Paper entitled Punishment, Custody and the Community it asks the questions: Are we sending too many people to prison? Is imprisonment the best, or only, way to deal with recidivist burglars and thieves? Can the public he protected effectively by other means?". If the Green Paper had been dated 1968 instead of 1988 I should have said, "Good, at last the Home Office has asked the questions that we have been asking for the past 10 years". Now, 20 years later, I simply say, "Thank God. Now we can really speak the same language".

There is another difference. Some 11 organisations—and I shall not go into further details because the noble Baroness, Lady Ewart-Biggs, gave a fairly full description of this—have agreed on the immediate measures which they believe not only should but could be brought in immediately in order to make some improvement in the very desperate position of our prison population. When I say, "desperate", it is true that about one-third of prisoners are quite well housed, but two-thirds are housed in a way which is a disgrace to our nation. I believe that that is common ground between the Minister and ourselves. I do not believe that he defends those matters which we attack.

So much agreement on what should be done makes one wonder why so little is done. This is perhaps the moment to repeat what I always say on these occasions. We are not attacking the Home Secretary or the Minister or trying to put the blame on them. We are trying to attack the problem, which we know to be very real and difficult. However, as so many of us agree on the necessary steps, we think it worth presenting them to the Government and asking what the Government have against action along such lines. That is where I bring in the third point expounded by the noble Lord, Lord Carlisle, which leaves me full of hope.

The noble Lord, Lord Allen, has very forcefully deployed the conditions of which we complain, and I believe that that is common ground between us. The first step we have to take, as suggested in the Home Office question, is not to send as many people to prison in the first place. The prison population is made up from two sources: sentenced prisoners and prisoners on remand. Those are two different categories. I shall not deal with remand prisoners, although other noble Lords will, because the remedies are not exactly the same for the two categories.

As regards sentenced prisoners, some 66,000 were received into prison in 1986—the last figures available. Of those, no fewer than half were sentenced to six months or less. Of those, 19,000 including 1,000 women, were fine defaulters. We must ensure that in future no one is sent to prison for non-payment of a fine. We have to devise ways of dealing with those people in the community and we shall talk about that later.

Secondly, the largest and most difficult category of all are the petty offenders whom we cannot afford to punish through the wildly expensive method of imprisonment which nobody believes does them any good, in most cases does positive harm and fails to stop them reoffending when they come out having served their short sentence, which is all that the court can impose. I agree with the Association of Chief Probation Officers which stated in a recent paper: the experience of the probation service and the courts for many years has been that, for persistent offenders who commit relatively minor crimes the tendency for courts to use the penalty of last resort is almost irresistible. The implication of this is that the prison population would only be substantially reduced if the power of imprisonment were to be removed for a range of relatively minor offences". That is exactly what we are asking for.

However, one asks: how petty and how offensive? As the noble Lords, Lord Carlisle and Lord Allen, said, that would certainly exclude crimes of violence which constitute about 20 per cent. of all prison sentences. There are difficulties in definition but in my view they are manageable. The crucial issue raised by both the noble Lord, Lord Allen, and the noble Baroness, Lady Ewart-Biggs, is to convince the courts and the public that coping with petty offenders in the community can be at least as effective and I believe more effective than the ineffective use now made of prison. It must combine an element of reparation to society, of restitution to the victim and of rehabilitation and punishment of the offender. That is no easy task and I shall leave other noble Lords to put forward various ways of solving that problem.

The numbers are guesswork, but of the 33,000 sentenced to under six months imprisonment, it seems to me that probably the greater part would be better off not going to prison at all. Whether we can achieve a figure as high as that remains to be seen.

The noble Baroness, Lady Ewart-Biggs, gave a detailed explanation of what Professor Feest, who is the Professor of Criminology at Bremen, told us at the NACRO AGM a few weeks ago about how in the last five years, 1983–1988, West Germany has reduced its prison population. He explained that it was nothing to do with the population or demographic changes. It seemed not to be connected with economics because unemployment was worse in 1988 than it was in 1983. As the noble Baroness said, the scheme started by dealing with juveniles where there was a strong feeling that they should not be sent to prison; that figure was 32 per cent. The next highest category was remand prisoners—an area where we should like to avoid sending people to prison. That fall was 28 per cent. The average fall was about 20 per cent. overall and concerned about 5,000 people.

The truth of the matter is that if they can do it we can do it. However, Professor Feest thought that the only way he could explain it was through a changing attitude between the prosecution and the legislature. That is really what we are asking for. We are asking the Home Secretary, the Lord Chancellor and the Lord Chief Justice to accept, if not exactly what we put down in the manifesto, something along those lines and that they should speak to judges and magistrates and ask them to try it. I am sure that they will try it and I am sure that if they did so something remarkable might happen.

I believe that without great difficulty or unreasonable expense we could reduce the prison population by 20 per cent. as has Germany. That must be our main objective. One-fifth of 50,000—which is a good round figure—is10,000. If we ban prison as a punishment for fine defaulters and for thefts of articles or money under a certain amount we could expect to remove most of the 33,000 prisoners who have received sentences of less than six months from the daily population. We should then easily achieve the figure of 10,000, which is what we want to do.

That can be done only by spending quite a lot of money. However, we are so lucky because the noble Earl told us the other day that £372 million is earmarked for prison building. Clearly if one has 20 per cent. fewer prisoners one needs 20 per cent. less prison space. Therefore, we could certainly afford to take the last £74 million, which is one-fifth of £372 million, and spend it on alternatives to prison, which is what we have been crying out for over the past 20 years. I sit down looking forward very much to the maiden speech of the noble Viscount, Lord Tenby.

4.19 p.m.

Viscount Tenby

My Lords, it is with some trepidation that I rise to address your Lordships for the first time but I am heartened by your Lordships' well known generosity of spirit and sympathy on these occasions, which I hope may also be extended to me.

There are few more serious or urgent problems today than the state of the prison service and those we commit to its care. Accordingly, my noble friend Lord Allen of Abbeydale, whose thoughtful and constructive speech launched this debate and whose experience in this area is very great indeed, deserves our gratitude for raising this subject for discussion at this time.

I am aware of the need for brevity in what is nevertheless a large and complex subject. It strikes me as rather like asking a preacher to cut his sermon to two and a half minutes and omit any mention of the Almighty! However, I will endeavour not to blot my copybook on my first outing. At the outset I declare a personal interest in these matters in that I am a deputy chairman of the third largest Bench in Hampshire, consisting of some 90 magistrates. Of course, as such I have on occasion to send people to prison. However, speaking for this Bench—and, of course, that is all I can do—I can assure your Lordships that that course is only embarked upon with great reluctance and after all other options have been carefully considered and rejected.

I am sure that we all generally agree on two propositions. First, it must be right for the protection of the community that, as a rule, those convicted of serious crimes should be imprisoned. Secondly, there are many in prison who ought not to be there. Of course, some may have been sentenced by Benches who take a more draconian view of punishment than do the majority. It may also be that in some areas not enough attention is paid to the helpful guidelines suggested by the Lord Chancellor's office and by the Magistrates' Association. That is extremely regrettable.

Be that as it may, I must add that I suspect that many cases result in custody because magistrates have simply run out of any other options open to them under the law as it stands today. I give some examples. What can be done with a man who deliberately fails to comply with the provisions of a community service order, bearing in mind that such an order is made originally as an alternative to prison? What of those—I am afraid there are more and more of them nowadays— who persistently drive while they are disqualified? How do we protect the community from them? On a lighter note, what of those who refuse to be bound over to keep the peace—that most venerable of our legal sanctions—when imprisonment, your Lordships may be surprised to hear, is the only alternative? None of us wants the unedifying spectacle, I suggest, of someone being sent down over a dispute with his next door neighbour on the positioning of hedgerow clippings.

What do we do with those who have been fined but deliberately seek to avoid their financial responsibilities? It is difficult to see how the money can be obtained, save by at least the threat of imprisonment which I can assure your Lordships is most salutary in producing the desired result. Indeed, paradoxically, were that sanction to be removed Benches might be tempted to consider an alternative and less appropriate form of sentence in the first place, thereby providing a classic example of shooting oneself through one's own foot.

On the subject of fines, perhaps I may be permitted a small digression on the tariffs imposed. Many offenders are in low paid jobs or may well he unemployed. The tendency in the lower courts is to use Bench norms and to reduce those norms to make allowances for the offender's circumstances. I am sure that none of us quibbles about that. However, perhaps we should consider the reverse side of the coin and increase fines for those who can pay. After all, for some people £100 is a derisory figure but to others it may represent a financial Everest.

What is beyond dispute is that much more should be attempted to improve and expand non-custodial forms of sentencing. There should be a substantial increase in the use of community services orders through which, by constructive work, offenders repay their debt to society and which perhaps should be extended to include some offences for which imprisonment is not at present felt to be appropriate. That could be the foundation of any reform. There could be payment of realistic compensation, direct reparation, attendance at day centres, and restrictions of some kind or another on liberty. All those are initiatives which should be followed up and, if found to be practicable, adopted speedily because time is not on our side.

Nearly all such suggestions inevitably would place an additional burden on the broad shoulders of a dedicated probation service. It is not unrealistic to suppose that any increased injection of funds, which will surely he necessary, will he largely offset by the corresponding reduction in demands on the prison service. In short, the concept of punishment in the community is to be greatly commended as a practical way forward, both in reducing the prison population and in ensuring that offenders make restitution to the community at the same time as they avoid the moral and criminal contamination which I am afraid is always present in prisons, as re-offending statistics prove.

Another matter of great current concern is the number of prisoners awaiting trial and held in remand centres. The majority are kept in local prisons. Those are overcrowded and chiefly relics of the Victorian age. The conditions in them—as the latest report of HM Inspector of Prisons states—are entirely unacceptable. Due to chronic overcrowding, other prisoners are kept in police cells, many of which I have personally visited over the years—entirely innocently, I should like to add. I can assure your Lordships that they are simply not designed for the purpose. Of course, that imposes an additional burden on the already limited resources of the police.

That inevitably brings me to the question of bail. If more bail were to be granted, the problem would be alleviated, because in addition to what I have already said it would reduce the number of prison officers who have to escort prisoners to court for interim hearings and committals. The general rules under which bail is refused are clear. There is a presumption that bail should be granted unless there are specific grounds for not giving it. However, magistrates are often on the horns of a dilemma. Despite the justifiable pressure to reduce the prison population, as magistrates—I must stress this—our prime consideration must be the need to protect the community; in some cases it may even be to protect the defendant as well.

It has been suggested by various interested parties, as recently as last Monday, that much could be accomplished by the additional training of magistrates in this area. The disparity in the bail granting rate between one region and another is quoted in evidence. However, although in any human organisation inconsistencies occur, we would be deceiving ourselves if we accepted that as a quick and—what I believe people hope for—largely cost-free answer. No. the solution must lie in two specific initiatives.

First must be the building of more bail hostels; and, secondly, the adoption of bail information schemes by which greater information about defendants is made available to all interested parties. After present building plans, which are greatly to be welcomed, there will still be only 25 bail hostels in this country. Undoubtedly, more are needed. The debate on whether these might be contracted out to private organisations has already generated much heat, and it has only just begun. I merely say this. Give us these facilities and we will give you bail, provided we do not put the public at risk thereby.

I am aware that I have not been able to refer to the other main strand of the debate—the prison service. I regret that, as magistrates themselves have frequent opportunities to see various features of the prison system which may not be available to others. In that context. I conclude by briefly recounting an experience that I had when visiting Holloway Prison about two years ago.

I came across a woman crouching on the floor of a busy corridor with her hands held protectively over her face. On asking the totally committed and compassionate prison officer what the circumstances were, she replied that those who were mentally ill but had some chance of recovery were sent to Broadmoor and the like. The incurables were returned to Holloway—not, I must add, to mingle with normal prisoners, but returned nevertheless. Therefore it would appear that the world of Dickens lives on in a wealthy and, we are always being told, compassionate society at that. Is this really an acceptable way of dealing with such problems in the last decade of the 20th century? With varying skills and commitments we are all in the front line in the fight against crime.

I should like to leave your Lordships with this thought. Much future crime may be prevented by taking bold and imaginative decisions now over our existing sentencing options, and by making offenders constructively repay their debts to the society that they have damaged by their actions.

4.31 p.m.

Lord Soper

My Lords, it is my privilege to congratulate the noble Viscount on his maiden speech, and not least on the compassion that he displayed in his penultimate passage. We are all the more grateful that he spoke to us out of an experience of these affairs. The debate has been enriched by his comments and indeed by the attitude behind the comments which, if I may say so without impudence, I found most encouraging. We hope that he will enrich debates in the future as he has done today.

I declare an interest. I approach this question as a professing Christian, a very imperfect one, but nonetheless one who would endeavour to see the relationship of the community to the offender, and particularly to prisons, as one that has a foundation in moral principle. I say without any hesitation therefore that as far as I have had experience in these matters I do not believe that the prison system as such is compatible with the Christian faith either in its redemptive capacity or in its practical effectiveness.

I quite agree that there are many conditions—one has been referred to already by the noble Viscount —where some kind of incarceration is imperative. I began in 1926 when I was appointed the Methodist or Nonconformist chaplain at Pentonville prison. Recently I have paid a number of other visits to prisons. That gave me the opportunity of recovering something that I do not think I ever really lost, that is, the initial sense—if one likes to use an ugly phrase, the gut reaction—of having to do with prison life. Perhaps the most bizarre of all those associations was the conduct of worship. We had the privilege at that time of the organist of one of the premier cathedrals who played the organ with great dispatch and great comfort for those who listen to good music. It was the singing of the hymns that persuaded me of the utter irrelevance of what was being done in the attempt to communicate something that was out of place in the environment in which that service was taken—the choice of hymns, the black comedy of some of it. They were very fond of choosing the hymn "The church's one foundation", which contains the phrase, Brothers. we are treading where the saints have trod". They sang that with great enthusiasm. That could be a rather silly quip unless it gives the impression—I hope that I can share this with the House this afternoon —that the prison system is insufferable in terms of the ideas that are common to all those who profess a truly religious belief in life.

Let me deal first with one or two of the conditions that now prevail. I shall not add to what has been said about slopping out and the whole question of three in a cell. I shall not dilate upon the length of prison sentences. From my experience as a chaplain, after a certain period nothing but hardening follows, and those who suffer long sentences are less capable of turning themselves into responsible citizens when they get out. I should certainly feel that no sentence over four years was supportable.

I am going to say something about one issue that I am sure lurks in the minds of most people but is probably more difficult to describe than any other. Your Lordships will not doubt the fact that we are living today in an age of sexual explosiveness, particularly among young people. The old ideas either are tossed aside or in many cases are tolerated as the prejudices of the few. I wonder how often your Lordships have contemplated the kind of sexual problem that is inseparable from a long sentence suffered by a young man, or a young woman for that matter. Indeed, unless there are ways in which that discipline can be tolerable, then I believe that it is an unwarrantable and quite useless extension of the very punishment which, instead of being creative, becomes progressively more intolerable.

I believe that to extend that problem among married people where the husband or wife happens to be in prison is an even worse extension of this evil. I wish to ask the Government whether they would consider seriously the possibility of conjugal visits. I have no doubt that I shall be told immediately that all kinds of problems and difficulties would follow and that all manner of surreptitious comings and goings would take place. Nevertheless, I believe that if married people who are now in prison had an opportunity of conjugal relationships, however infrequently, that would do something to mitigate the separations that now take place and the almost inevitable consequence of breakdown.

I further suggest that in the present climate there are many ordinary relationships that are not spiritually blessed by the Church or even contracted in a registry office in which such a permission would do something to maintain the unity of such a fellowship and might save the marriage.

I know that this is dangerous, and I say no more about it except to give your Lordships my own experience. It is that this revolution in sexual matters is preserving in a situation that could have been bettered an attitude to the whole sexual function and exercise that I think is one of the great perils of our present society.

I say one other thing only, and it has to do with what has already been ventilated with considerable skill today—fewer people in prison. What are the alternatives to the incarceration of many of those who do not profit by going to prison, but indeed are the worse for having undergone that experience? I have had some experience in bail hostels. I was one of the first Methodist ministers to create one to deal with alcoholism. I will not boast of it except to say that it was one of the primary enterprises in this field. There are a great many people who feel that this is a dangerous alternative to incarceration and that it will present many more difficulties than it will achieve successes. I do not believe that. We could record—I do record, for I have taken the opportunity of looking up the records—that something like 50 per cent. of those who have come to us as alcoholics have had a reasonable chance and have exhibited a new trend in tolerance of the kind of teetotalism that so many people regard as stupid but which is the only alternative for an alcoholic. I do not believe that there is necessarily an insuperable problem in creating many more of these semi-custodial institutions.

Many people today feel that the Christian Churches have not enough to do and do not do very well the things which they do accomplish. That is probably a justifiable criticism. It will be for the infinite benefit of churchmanship in general if the Government made it financially possible for responsible undertakings of this kind to do much more the general social work of the Christian Church. It is in that spirit that I make my final comment.

Prisons are not likely to stimulate faith. I found very little love in them. But any prison, however depleted of ultimate moral values, can engender hope. I do not believe that we are ever justified in preventing the prisoner from seeing a lamp of light, even if it is far away at the end of a long tunnel. We must never say to a prisoner, whatever may be his particular crime, that there is no light at the end of the tunnel. It should be remembered that the light at the end of the tunnel will be dimmed after a period of years even if it is not a life sentence in the mandatory form. The longer he stays in prison the clearer it must be for him to see that light if some kind of redemption and improvement is to be found. I am much encouraged by the spirit and trend of this conversation this afternoon. If the Church is ready, as I believe it is, to play its part in non-custodial improvements, then may God bless it for I am sure that this will bless the nation.

4.41 p.m.

The Lord Bishop of Chester

My Lords, I should like to join in warmly congratulating the noble Viscount, Lord Tenby, on his maiden speech, which was fluent, competent and informative. He spoke of a preacher with two and a half minutes not mentioning the Almighty. I have 12 minutes and I shall mention the Almighty.

Bishops are often urged in many different places, not least in one notable newspaper, to speak out on moral and spiritual matters. I do and I shall. In the complicated problem before us, the management of the prison service can, I suggest, be only a partial solution; an important tool and element in care. But the problem is not a Home Office problem. It is surely a societal problem. The heart of that problem is, I am sure the House will agree, moral and spiritual.

This country is founded on Christian principles, with a belief in justice, yet also of mercy; a belief in mankind's bias to evil yet also mankind's enormous potential for good; a belief in the essential value of every human being. But how far do we apply those principles? Violent crime is an expression of extreme self-interest that devalues other human beings. It does not care about them. However, when Englishmen, whose homes were once called castles but now need to be fortresses, want all criminals locked away regardless of what happens to them, the same principle of self-interest is operating and the same devaluing of other human beings is being expressed. It was Winston Churchill who once remarked that the standards of society can be judged by the standards of its prisons.

It has been said that, compared with most European countries, imprisonment in Britain is nasty, brutish and long, resulting in the devaluing of the prisoner as a human being and the resultant hardening as a criminal to commit more offences when released. How does it devalue? We can quote activities such as slopping out, which is appalling. I shall quote Chuck Colson, the special counsel to President Nixon, who was incarcerated for his part in the Watergate affair. He was in no doubt about how prison devalued him. These are his words: You make absolutely no decision for yourself. Everything is decided for you. You have an overwhelming sensation of helplessness. Your individual identity is destroyed". Some of us have had a slight token of that when we have been in hospital and have been regarded not as a person but as the duodenal ulcer in bed three.

It was Archbishop William Temple who said: The supreme mark of a person is that he orders his life by his own deliberate choice". Of course prisoners cannot be treated as free citizens, but they must not be treated as robots. Imprisonment is necessary in very many cases, but dehumanising is not. Reference has already been made to the fact that 1,157 people are at present in police cells up and down the country. The tragedy is that they are often very far from their own homes, which causes strain on families who do not know where their relatives are. Their exercise is limited and pastoral care is negligible.

The noble Baroness, Lady Ewart-Biggs, referred to the recommendations of NACRO. I shall not repeat them but I believe that they are totally in accord with the Christian principles for which this country stands. I hope that they will be warmly received and acted upon. Rather than the new prisons being a way of extending the prison programme, the aim must be to eliminate or renovate the old prisons. Concern is not just for the prisoner but for the prison staff who have to cope with the situation.

The alternatives to custody in the United Kingdom are many. The development of these for youth offenders since 1982 is to be applauded. Organisations such as the Children's Society have done a splendid job in providing effective programmes to supervise work schemes for young offenders, remedial education, reflection on their offences and contact with parents. It has met with remarkable success. The society's scheme began to operate in Knowsley in Merseyside in 1985. In the first six months of 1985, 43 juveniles were sentenced to custody there. In the same six months in 1987, the number fell to seven. Much youth crime is a passing phase unless it becomes hardened criminality in custody. Certainly for 14 and 15 year-olds, and most young offenders, custody ought to become almost as rare as slavery. The aim must he to exercise justice and to endeavour to renew these young human beings.

This must also be our aim with adults convicted of crime. The use of custody for non-violent offences should he reduced, perhaps by sentencing guidelines drawn up by a sentencing council and issued by the Lord Chief Justice. In this respect, electronic tagging has pros and cons. The major con is that it could be too easy an alternative to compensation, probation and community service orders. It is to be hoped that this debate will spur forward the increasing use of good alternatives to custody whenever possible. However, noble Lords may ask about the part the Church is playing in the matter. It is in the vital context of the moral and spiritual aspects of conviction, punishment and imprisonment that everything possible needs to be done to encourage and develop first-rate chaplaincy activities.

It is to be regretted that Fresh Start, to which reference has already been made this afternoon, has been not an enhancement of life in prison but a reduction of it. The Home Office was certainly right to bring cost-led policies to an end. But now in some prisons prisoners often cannot go to chapel services as well as the other activities mentioned earlier in the debate. And more seriously, they cannot go to padre's hours or to classes because staff will not escort them, there being no overtime payment for the task. That has caused cancellation of classes and disruption of public worship. I believe that this is a matter of serious moral and spiritual concern, for moral and spiritual change go hand in hand. God can change the heart of man, as he did for Chuck Colson, and a changed heart means a changed life, which must be our highest objective in the treatment of offenders.

It is urgent that the prison chaplaincy service gets a huge reaffirmation, and not merely as a way of providing an extra social worker. To this end the Church is not sitting down waiting for something to happen. Looking ahead to chaplaincy service in the 1990s is the subject of a conference in January with the bishop in charge of prison chaplains, the Bishop of Lincoln, the senior chaplains of all denominations and the Home Office. Then in July, in Lincoln, a conference between the Church and the Home Office is to be held on the meaning of imprisonment. It will have the ideological, moral and spiritual aspects to the forefront. The conference will be looking at the psychological effects of imprisonment, human values in long-term imprisonment, alternatives to custody and human values in sentencing.

The Church hopes that there will be serious conferring and not a conference where involved and concerned Christian opinion is simply patronised. It could give a vital orientation to the involved and complicated issues touched on in today's debate; for, as I said earlier, the heart of the problem is surely moral and spiritual.

4.51 p.m.

Baroness Macleod of Borve

My Lords, I am very lucky to have the opportunity to follow the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Chester. He is known as one of the most humane and caring of all the bishops whom we have the privilege of welcoming into this House. I should also like to thank the noble Lord, Lord Allen of Abbeydale, for initiating the debate. With his wisdom and knowledge he is always worth a guinea a minute. That was the phrase we used to use; so, perhaps, it is two guineas now.

Like everyone else I had a vast postbag prior to the debate. Indeed, it was an enormous pleasure when I occasionally ran across a Christmas card; otherwise, everything was to do with the debate.

Noble Lords ask why crime has increased so much and why there are so many more people in prison. Of course, that is a big debate in itself. I should like to go into the matter in great depth sometime, but I can perhaps briefly comment that the standards of discipline are vastly different today than they were, say, 30 years ago. They are very much lower.

There is a growing lack of parental responsibility. There is frequently a breakdown in family life. And there is more divorce together with an increase in one-parent families. That inevitably leads to young people growing up without sufficient guidance and often without a home base. I, for one—like, I am sure, other noble Lords—look forward to reading the report which the noble Lord, Lord Elton, will bring to the Government's notice at the end of the year. I hope that we shall be able to debate the report in due course.

I am very worried about remand centres. I feel most strongly that they should not—I repeat "not"—be part of prisons; they should be separate establishments altogether. Those in remand centres are defendants too unruly to be allowed out, defendants on whom the judiciary needs reports, or defendants who are awaiting trial.

I feel so strongly about the matter that I should like to urge the Home Office to contact the DHSS. We hear that many hospitals are closing. Indeed, a large hospital for the mentally ill, in Epsom, Surrey, has closed. From what I know of that hospital, it would make an excellent remand prison, not only because of the way it is built but also because it is near to London and convenient for the whole of the southern part of the country.

When one realises that 23 per cent. of the prison population are on remand—the figure was only 13 per cent. 10 years ago—one realises not only how many more offences of crime there are, but also how many more of the magistracy and the judiciary are remanding people in custody.

I am told, and indeed I have read, that the main problem of remand centres is boredom. It is also the main problem in the prisons. If people have been bored to tears or bored sometimes, perhaps, to the point of suicide. then something should be done—far more than has so far been attempted—to prevent it happening among people who will not, one hopes, be on remand for long but who might learn something even in the short time that they are remanded.

The noble Baroness, Lady Ewart-Biggs, has confirmed that boredom is one of the problems. I wonder whether my noble friend the Minister can help me on one particular instance concerning Durham Prison. I understand that in H wing there are only four women in category A. That indicates to me that the four women will not have enough to do. I wonder whether the reports which I have read in the press are correct and that this is so. Perhaps the Minister can assist.

I have referred to suicides in prison. Of course, we do not know why people take their lives. What worries me is that the numbers have increased from 25 to 37 last year. Two were men involved in the Cleveland crimes. Far more must be done to use the time of prisoners on remand.

The first paragraph of Part II of the Green Paper states that the worst part of prison is the lack of liberty. As a rather long-in-the-tooth magistrate, I have always understood that what hurts people more than anything else—even separation from families or being without their football match, television, or whatever—is the loss of liberty. When that aspect is allied to boredom, we have a very difficult situation.

Four out of every five people in prison are convicted of non-violent offences. In England and Wales 86,153 people were in custody in 1986 but only 19 per cent.—that is, 16,371—had committed offences of violence, sex or robbery. Everyone in your Lordships' House will agree that the public must be protected from men who commit violent crime.

However, I suggest that in some cases —I go further than the noble Lord, Lord Carlisle—there should be much more use of suspended sentences. Indeed, I would go so far as to say that if a sentence of two years' imprisonment is passed on an offender and he is not known to be a violent criminal, then I believe that two or three weeks in prison, out of the two years, would be sufficient.

We know that prison, and the lack of liberty, is a deterrent. I would go further, as I said, than the noble Lord, Lord Carlisle. I had the privilege of sitting on the Parole Board for four years and I was a magistrate for 30 years, but I do not believe that that is on on my CV.

If, having been given only three weeks in prison out of two years, the defendant reoffends, he would be brought back to prison to serve the full term. That would be made clear to the defendant when he is given a suspended sentence. If he is allowed his freedom, it will not just save places and money; it will allow the person to contribute to society. If we go along this road, as I strongly advocate, we would have to have more people in the probation service, the social services and the voluntary services. They must all be better trained and better remunerated.

The public must have great confidence in the people who look after those who have been sentenced to prison and are in the community. Such people must be well qualified.

The Government have told us that they are providing more prisons. At one time I thought that that was a good idea. I do not now think so. We should do away with the antiquated prisons and build some new ones in their place, but not with a view to having more places in prisons, for the reasons that I have tried to give this afternoon. I do not believe that that will be necessary. I hope that future generations will be brought up with more discipline and will care more for other people, their neighbours, and all that goes on around them. If they do that, we shall have less crime in our society.

5.3 p.m.

Lord Hutchinson of Lullington

My Lords, perhaps I may say how much I enjoyed the maiden speech of the noble Viscount, Lord Tenby. It was a breath of fresh air from the South-West. I warmly welcome the Prison Reform Trust manifesto, written in admirably clear and simple language. It sets out most of the reforms that we on these Benches have advocated for years. I hope that the Minister will give us his considered views on that manifesto and not avoid the serious issues that it raises.

I also welcome, with more enthusiasm than the noble Baroness, Lady Ewart-Biggs, the Government's Green Paper (Cmnd. 424). Ministers at last have the message that it is crime prevention and dealing with offenders in the community which point the way to a successful policy of reducing crime and the prison population.

I wish to concentrate on what I suggest is the key area: the young adult offender of 17 to 21 years of age. The exciting feature of the Green Paper and of the Home Office strategy document Tackling Offending—an Action Plan is that the Government seriously intend to target the young offender; to try, as John Patten has so vividly put it, to divert young people from the three "Cs"—from crime, from court and from custody. It is a commitment that we in the House surely all support.

The under 21s are responsible for 50 per cent. of all indictable offences, and 91 per cent. of those offences do not involve violence. Of the 100,000 young people sentenced for indictable offences last year. no fewer than 20,000 were sent into custody. The Crown courts sentenced a higher proportion of young offenders to custody than they did male adult offenders; and one-third of all custodial remands are young adults.

The result of that oppressive approach to young offenders, most of whom, as the Green Papers says, will grow out of crime, has been a reconviction rate of 66 per cent. at a cost of £250 a week for each of those offenders, in contrast to £15 a week for a community service order or a probation order. That is a crazy system of justice. It is not a system at all. Under the banner of law and order, the state is actively breeding offenders. I fear that at this juncture, unlike my noble friend Lord Donaldson, I intend to attack the Government. What answer can the Minister give to that devastating indictment; that proof of political impotence and incompetence?

I return to young adults. The way forward here is clear. It is the route pioneered by the intermediate treatment initiative for juveniles begun by the DHSS, not the Home Office. Grants amounting to £15 million have spawned 110 schemes organised by voluntary organisations applying for funds through their local authorities. Success has come from the creation of local inter-agency bodies made up of social workers, the police, magistrates, teachers and so on, which formulate agreed policies for their own area.

Whenever a case arises where custody is a likely outcome, the court is presented with a clear, realistic alternative scheme incorporating supervised activity conditions, and arrangements for compensation, with an overall philosophy of causing the offender to face up to the consequences of what he has done. That, for the most part, is a far more demanding process which lasts longer than the negative, time-wasting, corrupting custodial sentence. It is not a soft option.

The agencies come to have confidence in one another; and the public, properly informed, also has confidence. The result, uniquely, is an unequivocal and substantial reduction in juvenile crime and custody. While the figures during the period of this enterprise for young adults have increased along with those for adults in the Crown Courts, there is the difference with 15-year-olds and 16-year-olds which arises merely because of this enterprising approach.

That success has all been brought about by £15 million when we hear that this year £360 million is being poured into the creation of even more prisons. Co-operation therefore is the vital factor. Mr. Patten, fresh from the DHSS and now at the Home Office, wants to apply that remarkable experience to the young offender, and how right he is. He wants to increase the age limit in the juvenile court to 17, and I agree with him entirely. The rigid demarcation between 16 and 17 is quite absurd.

Interagency steering groups of all key agencies should now he set up in targeted areas—perhaps those in the Government's safer cities programme. No doubt the money will have to go in this case to the probation service, but a positive role must surely be found for the voluntary organisations which have shown such flexibility and initiative in the juvenile operation. Indeed, it is the voluntary organisations which have made that enterprise so successful.

The National Association of Probation Officers can be a prickly organisation. I hope that the probation service will be open to new ideas so that the Government will not have to go for a new agency such as they tentatively put forward in the Green Paper. The NAPO briefing note that I and no doubt other noble Lords received was a most depressingly unenthusiastic document.

The CPS and the judiciary must form part of this enterprise. They are the key agencies. They were the key agencies in the successful West German experiment. The success of co-operation gives mutual confidence and respect. The problem will be how to get Crown Court judges to participate and equip themselves expertly. Juvenile court magistrates have done this, as the noble Baroness, Lady Macleod, well knows.

I suggest to the noble Earl and to the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor—if only he were here for this debate—that this can be achieved by creating, at no extra expense, a second tier of courts called, say, young adult courts, which would be known, no doubt, as YACs, presided over by an existing but newly trained judge and two experienced juvenile court magistrates. This court would sit physically as it sits at present. All 17 to 20 year-old cases would be sent to it and there would be no resource implications in this idea.

In that way the tribunal, at present in the Crown Courts woefully ignorant and ill-equipped to deal with these cases of the young adult, would become expertly qualified just as the juvenile court of magistrates now is. The judge, specially qualified, would be anxious to participate in interagency co-operation.

I hope that the noble Earl will give my suggestion serious consideration and perhaps make some comment upon it. I hope too that the Government will not overemphasise the use of punitive alternatives. Curfew, refraining conditions, tracking and tagging are all diversions. Experience shows that proficient courts seldom make use of the purely negative punitive measures that they already possess, so often are they counter-productive. We all understand that sops have to be thrown by Home Office Ministers to the Right-wingers in the other place. But let those sops be such as can lie dormant, only to be used at the discretion of the court.

I welcome the presence of two noble and learned Lords on the Cross-Benches who are taking part in this debate. That is indeed an advance and I look forward to hearing their constructive proposals put forward from the judiciary for reducing the numbers in prison. I should like to hear their explanation of why between 1980 and 1987 the proportion of adult offenders increased from 46 per cent. to 52 per cent. and why the average length of sentence rose from 16 months to 19 months, in spite of the guidelines issued by the Lord Chief Justice.

The presence of these noble and learned Lords is an advance, but it will only be, I suggest, when the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor himself attends and participates in these debates on prisons that we shall know that at last we are on the road to progress.

5.15 p.m.

Lord Henderson of Brompton

My Lords, it is particularly difficult for me to follow the noble Baroness and the noble Lord, Lord Hutchinson of Lullington, both of whom have spoken about the young adult, the subject on which I wish to concentrate. I agree very largely with what both of them have said and I have had to cut a number of matters from my speech in order to avoid tedious repetition. I propose to say nothing more than that I strongly endorse most of what has been said about the penal system. Also, I was delighted that this debate attracted the authoritative voice of the noble Lord, Lord Carlisle of Bucklow, on parole.

My reason for concentrating on the young adult is partly my horror at the thought that one in a hundred in this age group—that is roughly 16 or 17 to 21 years old—has been given a custodial sentence. Imagine yourself at school; you look around and find that one in a hundred of your fellows will go into custody, not in the future but while still of school age or on youth training schemes, or on post-school study of one sort or another. That is a horrible thought.

It is also true—though I do not wish to multiply the statistics we were given—that one-third of sentences in 1987 were for young people. It cannot be right. We must try to keep those young people from the criminal justice system altogether if we possibly can. To echo the words of Mr. John Patten, we must keep them from the three Cs that have been represented to us recently by the noble Lord, Lord Hutchinson.

I wish to make it abundantly clear that what I have to say applies solely to those who have not committed offences against the person. For the most part, I am concerned with those who have committed crimes against property. The Green Paper Punishment, Custody and the Community reminds us that those crimes comprise 95 per cent. of all crime.

It is imperative to reduce the prison population. We are all agreed on that, but the question is how. I find it a pleasant duty to congratulate the Home Secretary on his important initiatives in his Green Paper. Like the noble Lord, Lord Hutchinson, I find myself in almost unqualified support of what he is doing and it is a great and novel pleasure to be able to praise the Government for their initiative in this field. It is not only initiative. The Home Secretary has given ample time for views to be expressed on the proposal in the Green Paper. I also welcome the emphasis on the young adult age group of 17 to 20.

One theme that runs through the Green Paper is the need for, wide and careful public consideration and debate of these proposals in order to gain the confidence of the courts and the public in the concept of punishment in the community. As to the public, I believe it is far more ready than the Government or the courts allow or realise to tolerate and to approve non-custodial disposals for the less serious non-violent offences. No one likes being burgled; I still feel the affront of a burglary in my house in Cumbria almost exactly a year ago. Yet I do not want that offender to go to prison where he would soon learn the tricks of the trade and more sophisticated techniques to use on his release. I certainly would like restitution. I think that there should be an element of reparation to the community. But the main purpose of a sentence should surely be to ensure that, so far as possible, the offender does not offend again.

I believe that that is what most people want. That can most easily be achieved if sentencers do not tear the offender away from his family, his friends and society, but instead make much more frequent use now—I emphasise the word "now"—of the wide choice of non-custodial options that are already available. There is no need to wait for the Green Paper proposals to be translated into legislation. The process should start now to reduce what can only be called an over-use of custody for young adults.

Like the noble Lord, Lord Hutchinson of Lullington, I welcome the fact that two noble and learned Lords are to speak who represent the sentencers. I urge them and their colleagues in the rarefied upper echelons of the higher judiciary to consider the urgency of the need for practice directions from the Lord Chief Justice or Court of Appeal guidance—I do not know which is more appropriate—on the sentencing of young adults for non-violent offences. It should be emphasised in the guidance that there is a need for all courts of first instance to make repeated use of non-custodial sentences for repeated minor offences. Again I repeat that I am talking about non-violent offences.

The calm and considered words of the Green Paper state: Imprisonment is not the most effective punishment for most crime. I wish to ask the judiciary, or its representatives here today, if they can be content to continue to sentence young people to finish their studies in juvenile delinquency in custody.

I now turn to prevention which is also covered in the Green Paper. Clearly our ultimate aim must be to improve the quality of life. Here I agree most wholeheartedly with the noble Baroness, Lady Macleod of Borve. Our aim must be to create a social climate that is not conducive to crime. It is not deterministic to say that poor parenting, poor schooling, poor health care, poverty or lack of employment opportunity breed crime. So much prevention can be achieved in the home and at school with the co-operation of parents and the police and by diversion of young people from crime in locally based IT schemes, as we have recently heard.

I am glad to see favourable mention in the Green Paper of IT schemes and the proposal that such schemes should he extended to cover young adults, in addition to juveniles. Every effort should be made to keep young people from the courts. One way of doing so is to make much greater use of the police caution, especially for young adults. The caution is rather more than the traditional cuff over the ear by the police officer. It is a stern formal warning by a senior police officer in a police station, possibly before the young offender's parents. It is a very important and memorable occasion and not to be lightly dismissed.

There is a very interesting statistic regarding police cautions. High juvenile cautioning rates over the past few years have been accompanied by decreasing juvenile crime, while a low rate of young adult cautioning has been accompanied by rising young adult crime. Cautioning should be used with care. There is no statutory basis for it. It is used only where there is sufficient evidence to support, a prosecution, but it is thought not to be in the public interest to do so.

Unfortunately, there is a very wide variation in the use of the police caution from county to county and from area to area. I urge the Home Secretary to consider sending a Home Office circular to chief police officers drawing their attention to the low incidence of cautioning in some areas, and emphasising the desirability of a greater use of cautioning for young adults in view of the successful use of cautions with juveniles.

If time allowed I should like to talk about the CPS, ethnic sentencing and the special needs of young women who are in trouble with the police. I agree very much with the noble Baroness, Lady Ewart-Biggs; I think that the subject of young women in trouble with the police should be the subject of a separate debate. I should like to talk about electronic surveillance, which I am glad to see from the Written Answer of Mr. John Patten of yesterday is being treated with appropriate circumspection. I should also like to talk about mental health and the effect of social security changes on young people at risk. However, I shall only say two things in conclusion.

The Home Secretary has rightly placed emphasis in his action plan on the need for a "multi-agency approach", including voluntary agencies, at the local level. I applaud that emphasis. In my turn I should like to place emphasis on the need for a similar approach in Whitehall. As so many departments are involved, would it not be highly desirable to have a standing interdepartmental committee to consider the impact of any legislation or administration changes on those categories of people who are most at risk of offending? The lead department would clearly have to be the Home Office, but I think the interdepartmental committee should include at least the departments of health, social security, employment, housing and the Lord Chancellor's department.

I end by asking the Government to recognise that their proposals will cost money, but that significant savings can be achieved and that the cost can be offset by reducing the use of custody and by the promotion of the prison building programme. Reference has been made to the great DHSS initiative on IT in 1983 at the cost of £15 million. I cannot believe that the Government's present initiatives can cost less than that. In conclusion, I plead with the Government not to be mean and to be certain to earmark the money when they have received it from the Treasury.

5.28 p.m.

The Earl of Longford

My Lords, it is a pleasure, as always, to follow the noble Lord, Lord Henderson of Brompton, who succeeded me, amid general relief, as the president of the New Bridge for Ex-Prisoners, of which the noble Baroness is the very forceful chairman.

The noble Lord, Lord Donaldson, in yet another distinguished contribution to these debates, took rather a gloomy view of their value. He said that noble Lords had made many excellent speeches over the years, but that the situation had got worse and worse. That may be post hoc, but not I hope propter hoc.

I cannot help remembering an old friend of the noble Lord, Lord Donaldson, the late Evelyn Waugh, who is known to your Lordships as a famous writer. Evelyn Waugh was very acrimonious, or sharp, about people, including his friends. Someone once asked him why he was so nasty about everybody when he was such a great Catholic. Waugh replied that no one had any idea how nasty he would be if he were not a Catholic. I think that is the best way of looking at these debates of ours. One cannot tell how awful the situation would be if we had not been orating over the past 30 years. The situation is bad enough now; but it could have been much worse.

We must be grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Allen of Abbeydale, who knows this subject from so many angles and probably better than many of us. He was followed up so well by the noble Baroness, Lady Ewart-Biggs, and others.

I join the noble Lord, Lord Soper—not for the first time—in expressing my detestation of the present system. He said that it is quite incompatible with any form of Christianity. I hope that any non-Christians present and all ethical people will agree that it is incompatible with their humanistic principles. That is accepted and we can all agree that there are far too many people in prison and that we want to get them out. I want to concentrate on one topic—namely the Green Paper—which was dealt with so well by the noble Lords, Lord Hutchinson and Lord Henderson.

Before I come to that issue I should like to say a word about the very impressive report on parole produced by the noble Lord, Lord Carlisle. I was very struck by the fact that in the report itself and in the noble Lord's speech today he said that in a sense he regarded it as incomplete. That reminds me of the Beveridge Report. I was a bottle washer to Sir William Beveridge, later Lord Beveridge. He was asked to prepare a report on social insurance. In the event, he produced a report which produced a scheme for universal family allowances and for a national health service of the kind later brought into operation by the Labour Party.

The noble Lord, Lord Carlisle, has made it pretty plain that his report will not come up to his expectations in any way unless the Government and judiciary somehow or other bring about a system of much lower sentences. Having said that, perhaps I may say how enormously interested I have been in the report; and I shall return to it with quite a few criticisms on some other occasion.

Incidentally, I am very pleased to notice that quite recently the courts held that the action of a Home Secretary in overriding the Parole Board was unreasonable. The Parole Board had tried to release somebody, the Home Secretary had refused to release him and the courts have now held the action of the Home Secretary to be unreasonable. I have a slight bias in this instance since the junior counsel in the case is engaged to my grand-daughter. Apart from that fact, I am bound to say that it bodes very well for the future—I mean the future for everybody concerned.

So to the Green Paper. I cannot remember an occasion over all the years when I have found myself differing from the probation service, which we all admire. It may be that, as the noble Lord, Lord Hutchinson, hoped, it will think again and that its second thoughts will be wiser than its first. As I understand it, the service is opposed to or has many reservations about the Green Paper. I shall say nothing more about that except that I hope that the probation service will change its mind and develop its attitude later on.

I regard the Green Paper as a very hopeful document. I am not in favour of tagging—it sounds a rather revolting process. I shall not go into the details now; I am concerned with the philosophy. I am not sure whether the noble Lord, Lord Hutchinson, would go along with me; but I like the heading, Punishment, Custody and the Community. I like the way the document faces the fact that we intend to punish the people we are concerned with. For many years those of us who call ourselves penal reformers have advocated alternative remedies, ducking the question of whether offenders are to be punished or not. They are to be punished, obviously; they would regard it as punishment. I think that it is just as well that at last the cat is let out of the bag and we face the fact that that is what we are doing. I think that it will be easier for the public to understand, and it is more honest.

Twenty-seven years ago I published a small book called The Idea of Punishment. I believed it is still on the shelves of the Institute of Criminology at Oxford: I do not know about Cambridge. The last time I went there they had very funny ideas. My ideas were defeated by the eloquence of a lady called Madam Cynthia Payne, who some of you may have heard of. I do not know whether their ideas are sound there today. But at Oxford and in some other circles this little book of mine has stood its ground.

In that book I said what was traditional at that time. It was nothing very sensational: that a just punishment should include the elements of deterrence—prevention meaning keeping people out of circulation—retribution, or if you like, fairness, and reform. That is where I shall differ with the noble Lord, Lord Hutchinson—he has fled. I am bound to differ with him whether or not he is here. I consider that when we look at punishment we must not regard it as something which is purely negative: at its best it should contain a constructive element. That is as true now as when I wrote that little book 27 years ago.

Therefore, for once I have a kind word to say for the Government's proposals on penal reform. I actually approve of them. The noble Earl looks understandably sceptical in view of all the unpleasant things that I have said over the years. But this time I believe that the proposals are progressive and look forward.

Let us assume that we all want to see alternative remedies. We have all said for years and years—and will say it again with knobs on—that we have to face the fact that that involves supervision. That supervision has to be carried out by somebody. The question is: who is to carry out the supervision? We assume that it will not be carried out by the prison service or by the police. I would hope that it would be carried out by the probation service, although at the moment that does not seem very probable. I can only say that if that is not so we must fall back on one of the options which is laid down very clearly in the Green Paper—we should organise a new service. After all, the probation service was new once upon a time. It started, so far as I can remember, in my lifetime. So there is no reason why we should not organise a new service, and so far as I am concerned that is to be welcomed. There should by supervision, carried out if possible by the probation service but, if that is not possible, by a new service.

That is all I have to say except to add one point. I must add it because otherwise I may sound as if I had suddenly turned into a punishment man. Recently, I have been writing a book on forgiveness. The more one thinks about forgiveness, the harder it is to reconcile it in theory with punishment in prison. It is all very well to say to a prisoner that we forgive him, but that we shall send him to prison for a number of years where, if he is not protected by the staff, he may have a very bad time. So I think that we have always to think of that, as Christians and humanists. How do we combine the punishment which must be administered in the interests of the community with something approaching love? I raise that question. I think that I had better leave it there.

5.38 p.m.

Lord Henniker

My Lords, first, I should like to thank the noble Lord, Lord Allen of Abbeydale, for having initiated this debate, which I have found absolutely fascinating. I should also like to thank my noble friend Lord Hutchinson of Lullington for having made my speech for me. I have served on the Parole Board and been connected with prisons, but my direct concern in this debate stems from the fact that at the moment I am deeply concerned with alternatives to custody and with preventing people from ever being taken into custody. I am president of the Rainer Foundation which was the precursor of the probation service and was the old London police court mission. I am also chairman of the Intermediate Treatment Fund which sprang from the Rainer Foundation.

I am enormously encouraged. This year has been the 10th anniversary of the foundation of the Intermediate Treatment Fund by the DHSS. As it has been the 10th anniversary I have been speeding around the country to see what is happening. Everywhere the situation seems to be very encouraging and progressive. I have been to the North-East (to Sunderland, South Shields, Durham), to the North-West (Cumbria and Liverpool), to the Midlands (Birmingham), to Cambridge, and last week I was in Devon and Cornwall. I have also been to a number of London boroughs.

I take no credit for the system because my noble friend Lord Hunt was the first chairman of the IT Fund. He was also my predecessor at the Rainer Foundation. It started uncertainly, but everywhere this new form of alternative to custody has developed into something firm, with an almost uniform outline but diverse in many ways to deal with local circumstances in different places. It has been said—and some noble Lords have mentioned it in the debate—that it might be regarded as a soft option. I do not think that it is possible to regard it as a soft option any longer. In fact, the programmes drawn up as alternatives to custody are rigorous and becoming more so. In most places that I have visited they have the confidence of magistrates. Sometimes magistrates have not fully understood and in the Intermediate Treatment Fund it is our task gradually to bring intermediate treatment to the notice of everyone concerned and make sure that everybody understands exactly what it is.

There is considerable evidence to show that the young offender finds it very much harder to go through an intermediate treatment programme than to go to prison. In prison he shrugs off his offence and, perhaps in order to survive, joins the gang which looks on society with a hostile eye. He does not have to come to terms with his offence. The Intermediate Treatment Fund makes him come to terms with it and in most cases obliges him to make reparation in one way or another. It is not always in the form of direct restitution to the victim but it is reparation to society, which he has wronged.

We are talking about new systems and I want to stress that everywhere I went I was enormously impressed by the people who are handling the alternatives to custody. They possess quite an extraordinary level of dedication and knowledge and have a real belief in what they are doing. To me, having these two jobs has been perhaps the most satisfying work that I have ever done. I feel that we are on the right track. We are managing to find ways of looking after the young offender in the community.

The Rainer Foundation, which was the father of intermediate treatment, has for many years experimented with many different forms of alternatives to custody. The first intensive IT scheme that I saw was in Southend. The magistrates were wholly behind it. It was a rigorous programme and never took in people with whom it thought it could not deal. In Hampshire, where I have also been, it has given a new look to the whole question of juvenile justice. There are also schemes which deal with specialist problems, some of which have been mentioned today. We have a scheme in Lewisham which has been highly successful in dealing with 16 to 18 year-old young blacks, giving them education and training, which they may have missed, as well as housing and other advice. In Essex we have a scheme which has been very successful in keeping girls out of care. When I last visited it there was a success rate of 100 per cent. Every single girl who had been referred to it had not gone back into care.

The IT Fund deals only with juveniles; the Rainer Foundation deals also with older young adults. The aim and perhaps the chief value of the IT Fund is to encourage and spread its practice throughout the country. With small amounts of money it has managed to get whole communities working together on projects. It is often difficult for statutory services to work together. The fact that there is a neutral non-statutory body starting projects has meant that everybody can meet on neutral ground. The scheme brings together statutory services.

I have been enormously impressed in many cases—in Cumbria, Cornwall and Devon—by the imaginative and leading part taken by the police in developing these new alternatives to custody and new schemes of taking away from crime young people who are at risk, giving them new interests and new skills. The probation service also plays a part, as do a wide variety of voluntary bodies. Behind them all is a large number of volunteers, a fact which has enormously valuable consequences. The fact that the ordinary man in the street is involved in a problem that usually seems remote makes the schemes responsive to local conditions and to the possibility of failure and success. Events can be followed up much better in this way than if done by a distant and remote statutory body.

I think that the schemes are now very effective and have the confidence of those who use them. The figures indicate IT's success. In places where IT is taken on, figures for committals to custody are down by 50 per cent. In places where it is more recent, they are down by 40 per cent. No increase in crime follows from it.

I believe that it is enormously cost-effective. The whole of the IT Fund costs only £500,000 a year, of which £120,000 is from private sources, which is matched by the DHSS. We are able to attract large numbers of volunteers but volunteers do cost a certain amount of money. I sometimes hear it suggested that things can be done for free by volunteers. But volunteers have to be administered. They save a great deal of money but need a central administration, training and direction. However, I think that we have been enormously successful.

I too have very much welcomed the Green Paper of the Home Secretary. No-one could say more clearly or better how corrupting and counterproductive it is for young people to moulder in prison. Often involvement in the community fills one with enthusiasm. One sees young people who have had great troubles brought into their communities and finding everywhere that the community is willing to do its hit. I hope that when the new system comes into effect there will be a place for outfits such as the IT Fund and Rainer because they have skills which are very valuable in this field and which are almost unique.

We have a few worries about the Green Paper but on the whole warmly applaud it. It seems to justify everything that we have tried to do. The way forward must be to bring people into the community so that they can live productive, active lives, instead of being left out. We are a little worried that there is no mention of girls in the Green Paper and little mention of the special problems of young blacks who find their way into custody in disproportionate numbers. Personally, I am a little afraid that the more punitive aspects may defeat some of the objectives. I hope that they will not but I feel that they may divide the young offender from the rest of the community. The important thing, as we have shown, is to bring him into the community even if it is on very rigorous and fairly harsh terms. It is important to bring him into the community. I hope that there will be a place in the new dispensation for the experiments that have been undertaken.

I believe that we have help to offer. In particular, we have the ability as a charitable and informal organisation to attract money from private sources. Many interested private sources and trusts are a little afraid of the penal field because it appears to them too risky without great exploration. They give us money and allow us to spend it on these matters.

Finally, I hope that the scheme will remain local and retain its voluntary element. These are the factors that give the system its freshness, its inventiveness, and have led to its success. I believe that what has been done was a stroke of genius by the DHSS and has been a great success.

5.50 p.m.

Lord Ackner

My Lords, I rise significantly as the thirteenth speaker before your Lordships, having come here mainly at the suggestion or the noble Lord, Lord Allen, who thought that there might be some delicate hints during the course of the debate that (a) the judges were sending too many people to prison, and (b) that they were not properly educated in the subject of sentencing. I expected the delicacy from him. I did not expect it from my old friend the noble Lord, Lord Hutchinson. However, he committed himself on paper to The Times newspaper yesterday, and, in case he had not rubbed in his views sufficiently, we heard him on the breakfast programme on the radio this morning.

The noble Lord, Lord Allen, said, almost at the outset of his address to your Lordships, that there was this remorseless rise in persons sent into custody. He did not refer to the remorseless rise of those committing offences, perhaps because that was mentioned to your Lordships by my noble and learned friend Lord Elwyn-Jones last Thursday. Choosing, for obvious political reasons, 1979, he said: In 1979 there were 2,536,700 notifiable cases. In 1987 there were 3,892,200—a rise of 53 per cent". However, he continued: When one examines the breakdown of these offences the grim picture emerges of a considerable increase in some of the gravest categories of crime—those which cause the public the most alarm and, indeed, cause an increasing number of our people not to venture out of their homes at night. Crimes of violence against the person rose from 95,000 in 1979 to 141,000 in 1987. There has been a continuing growth in sexual crimes, in violent crimes and especially in robbery. There were 12,500 robberies in 1979 but 32,600 robberies in 1988".—[Official Report, 24/11/88; col. 108.] He referred to the very considerable rise in burglary. The point was taken up later in the debate by the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Greenwich, who referred back to those figures. He emphasised the extent to which the crime of robbery had risen in London—the crime which is most feared by members of the public. He also referred to the robberies on the London Underground more than doubling in the last six months.

The answer to the noble Lord, Lord Hutchinson, on why the average sentence has increased is simple. I quote from the report on the work of the prison service, April 1987 to March 1988, which states at paragraph 5 that the main growth in the prison population is in prisoners serving long sentences. That is, over four years for men and over three years for women. Their numbers increased by 17 per cent. on average. Between 1985 and 1986—these are the latest prison statistics that I have been able to obtain—there were falls in the population of males under sentence of immediate imprisonment for those offences for which shorter sentences are generally passed. There were falls of 1,250 for burglary, 650 for theft, handling and fraud, and 350 for other offences. By contrast the remaining offence groups were increased from 400 to 500 for violence against the person, for robbery, and for drug offences, and 250 for sexual offences.

A reference has been made to women and the number who are in prison. The same report continues: As regards females there were substantial increases in the numbers held for drug offences, violence against the person, and robbery, of 2,100, 1,100 and 1,100 respectively, and substantial decreases in the numbers held for theft, handling, fraud and forgery, and burglary, of 2,700 and 1,400 respectively". The answer therefore quite simply is this. The average has gone up because there has been a significant increase in the serious offences for which the public require—and this I understand to be common ground—and are entitled to receive protection.

The Home Secretary, speaking in another place this month, said that sentences for serious crimes were now increasingly severe and properly reflect the revulsion that we all feel about such crimes. Sentences for rape had increased by 30 per cent. in the last two years alone. Tougher penalties for drug trafficking had resulted in more women used as inconspicuous couriers by traffickers serving longer sentences. The trend is therefore one of which I imagine your Lordships approve: increased sentences for the very serious offences in order to protect the public and for the lesser, a decrease in the sentences handed out by the courts.

I join in the congratulations that have been uttered by noble Lords on the speech of the noble Viscount, Lord Tenby. It was an admirable maiden speech, and one which had the courage to say—and it is not said frequently enough—that the reason for sending people to prison is essentially to protect the public from them. The sentencer has the unattractive obligation, all other options having been explored, of coming down finally to a term of imprisonment. At all sentencing conferences there is emphasis laid upon the necessity of ensuring that all the options are considered before the final decision is taken.

There was a reference to guidelines, and the problem facing sentencers as a result of the population explosion in the prisons. It was taken up as long ago as 1980 in the reported case of Bibi. The Lord Chief Justice said: This case opens up wider horizons because it is no secret that our prisons at the moment are dangerously overcrowded. So much so that sentencing courts must be particularly careful to examine each case to ensure, if an immediate custodial sentence is necessary, that the sentence is as short as possible consistent only with the duty to protect the interests of the public and to punish and deter the criminal". In subsequent guidelines cases—in particular one involving breaches of trust by people fraudulently taking advantage of their position as an accountant, a solicitor, a bank employee or a postman—it was stressed that sentences must be significantly shorter than used to be the case when the noble Lord, Lord Hutchinson and I were recorders.

The Lord Chief Justice said that it was not long ago that this type of offender might expect to receive a term of imprisonment of three or four years—indeed a great deal more if the sums involved were substantial. More recently, however, the sentencing climate in this area had changed and the Lord Chief Justice went on to explain, having regard to what may be the sums involved, how very much shorter sentences of imprisonment could be imposed.

However, guidelines do not all go one way. The Lord Chief Justice had to remind judges not very long ago that, despite earlier guidelines on sentencing for rape, the sentences which judges were awarding did not appear to reflect the seriousness of those offences. He said in terms that of the 95 per cent. of those who received custodial sentences in 1984. 28 per cent. received sentences of two years or less. Those guidelines stressed the importance of increasing the sentence.

Another example was the offence of causing death by dangerous driving where the public was dissatisfied with the relatively short sentences, if any, of imprisonment which were imposed, and guidelines had to be given. Those stressed the need in the majority of cases for a sentence of imprisonment. Those guidelines are all published. One hears no criticism or comment in their regard: that they are inadequate in stressing the need for longer sentences or in not stressing the need for reducing them.

Finally, in my last minute I make this point. In his article and in his talk the noble Lord, Lord Hutchinson, seemed to suggest that judges were not receiving appropriate education. That is quite wrong. A judicial studies board was set up 10 years ago. Its function is to ensure that all new assistant recorders attend courses and that there are regular refresher courses attended by all judges. At those courses there are talks not merely from judges but from penologists, academics and the like.

My noble and learned friend Lord Griffiths—if he returns safely from his dental appointment and is still able to address your Lordships—will deal in some detail with the nature of the course which is provided and how the emphasis all along is upon the proposition that imprisonment should be the last resort and that you must be sure that you have exhausted all the other options before resorting to imprisonment. The reason for the aphorism of the noble Lord, Lord Elton, that the potential candidate for prison is always a person who has gone there, is merely an indication that as it is the act of last resort, its prospects of being successful are remote. But it preserves society from the person who otherwise would prey upon it. It preserves society from the burglar who in a very large proportion of cases has already been convicted on at least six occasions.

6.4 p.m.

Lord Elton

My Lords, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Ackner, has expressed with great eloquence and clarity what I regard as the centre of the philosophy attaching to the sentencing policy and the role of prison in society. I freely give him from my 12 minutes the one minute which he took extra on his speech in recognition of that. The impulse which drew me to my feet two places ahead of my proper place in the list was a reflex instilled in me during the two and a half years when I was the Minister responsible for prisons in the Home Office. That was that I was always put on a spot by the noble Earl, Lord Longford. I regret that he is not here now for me to thank him for introducing me to my period of office with a duty to reply to a full dress debate on a Motion in his name on the future of the prison service five days after I took over the prison service.

My learning curve was extremely sharp. I discovered that I had inherited a system which had stood almost completely still as regards the designed secure accommodation from the First World War until the Second and for most of the time after that. There was much other provision to which the noble Lord, Lord Allen of Abbeydale, referred which was creditable and I should like to thank him, with others of your Lordships, for introducing this important subject this afternoon.

Since I replied to that debate, successive programmes have been introduced, each of them the biggest in this century in this country; and the result (if I have not forgotten the figures) is to produce something like 22,000 new places by the middle of the 1990s. But that will not end either overcrowding or poor conditions. Those are the matters which are foremost in my mind since one can only have one matter at the front of one's mind in timed debate such as this.

Before I come to the principal observation that I wish to make, I should very much like to endorse everything that was said by the noble Lord, Lord Henniker, about the hope which resides in the intermediate treatment initiative. It is some time since I have been able closely to watch matters in this sector of our society; and I was very much seized as a junior minister then both by the fact that it offered almost the only alternative with a reduced prospect of recidivism that was available to us, and that it involved other members of society outside the prison and other punitive organisations altogether in the individual welfare of young people, all too many of whom appeared never to have felt themselves to have been the centre of adult care and direction in a structured effort. I thought that that was entirely admirable; and unless the recidivism figures have changed very much since I last saw them, I commend it to your Lordships and to Her Majesty's Government.

There is only really room for one point in a speech of this length. The point I should like to make is that it is plainly better to defend society and to prevent crime without putting people into prison than by putting them into prison. The Government clearly have that on board as comes through in both the Green Papers. I include that on the Private Sector Involvement in the Remand System. But it was the publication of that paper which drew my attention again to what I see as one of the very few relatively simple and inexpensive initiatives which could be taken to reduce the remand population. The remand population is different from the rest of the prison population in a number of respects. For a start it has privileges. A remand prisoner is entitled to his own clothes, to unlimited visits, to food being sent in—

Lord Hutchinson of Lullington

That is not so, my Lords.

Lord Elton

My Lords, I am being corrected in some matter, but the principle is nonetheless true that a remand prisoner's extent of privilege requires a greater degree of supervision from prison staff than does a sentenced prisoner. It is costed out at 25 per cent. more, and those resources are taken from the sentenced prisoners who therefore have their conditions that much depleted.

The remand prisoner is therefore a very expensive person and is not always a guilty person. The conditions in the remand wings are notorious, or were certainly when I was last concerned. Therefore it is a matter of concern that there should he so many prisoners detained in prison on remand. I understand that the reason that they are there in such large numbers is that there is a queue to bring their cases to court even when they are ready. I discount the prisoners whose lawyers perceive that the end of the story will be a conviction; that remand has certain attractions; that it will be counted against sentence, and therefore there is no hurry to bring the case. That certainly happens. However, the crown courts are heavily overloaded. In 1986–87 the average waiting for custody cases was over 10 weeks. Since 1981–82 it has risen from just over 9½ weeks in spite of an increase in the numbers of circuit judges and recorders. That was as a result of an enormous increase in the caseload of the crown courts.

The noble Lord, Lord Allen of Abbeydale, suggested that crimes against property might be given slightly less priority of punishment over other kinds of more personal crime. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Ackner, pointed them out as being crimes of violence against the person which cause the citizen the gravest disquiet and are regarded by the public as being the most serious.

In 1986 a Home Office publication showed that in London 10 per cent. of the crown court caseload and 8.8 per cent. of its time had resulted not only from crimes against property, not the person, but from cases of theft and the handling of goods worth less than £50. For reasons of inflation one can translate that to £100 today, and one will not be far wide of the mark. If those cases were removed from the crown court then in London it would be free to the tune of 8.8 per cent. of its time and 10 per cent. of its caseload to deal expeditiously with other cases for which defendants now languish overlong in gaol.

It is often argued against my proposal that that category of theft must be tried in the crown court because the sentence may be imprisonment and the social stigma of conviction for an imprisonable crime is so severe and indelible that a jury must be involved. I believe that with the current escalation of criminality—and violent criminality to which the noble and learned Lord, Lord Ackner, referred—there must be a case for recognising the change in the spectrum of offence with which we are dealing and saying that crimes of the theft of items of relatively small value—at least in the first instance—should not be imprisonable and need not be tried by a jury. Therefore they can be indictable and can give the noble Viscount, Lord Tenby—whom I congratulate on his admirable maiden speech—the added burden of dealing with them.

I accept that there are resource implications for the magistracy; but the crisis is in the prisons. There is a great deal to be said for a step which could, with a short clause in a Criminal Justice Bill, free some of the long queues in the remand wings of prisons; free the resources tied up therein; improve the conditions in both the remand wings and the rest of the prison; and reduce the demand for new places. And all of that at only the administrative and financial cost of increasing the capacity of the magistracy.

I said that as a vote of thanks for the way he expressed what I believe to be the central theme that we should have in our minds, I should give the noble and learned Lord, Lord Ackner, a solitary minute. I give him two minutes. I hope that Her Majesty's Government will look seriously at taking the opportunity of the next Criminal Justice Bill to introduce this modest but important reform.

6.14 p.m.

Lord Graham of Edmonton

My Lords, I am grateful, as are all noble Lords, to the noble Lord, Lord Allen of Abbeydale. He is a caring man and has demonstrated his zeal and zest to get things right in the prison service. He knows that all noble Lords who have taken part in the debate, and many people outside, are in his debt for having given us the opportunity to do so.

I admired enormously the speech made by the noble Lord, Lord Carlisle. I have listened to many sensible speeches made by the noble Lord for many years both in this House and in another place. I look forward to studying with care the proposals which bear his name. His comments certainly sounded sensible.

The debate provides an opportunity to impress the Minister from many parts of the penal estate. I speak with a knowledge of the views and with the authority of prison officers, and I declare that interest. However, it is quite clear from the debate that there is no exclusivity in prison matters. All who are associated with the penal estate are dependent on the good will not only of their colleagues but of many other groups. I am conscious of the fact that the prison situation is dependent on many issues. I do not intend to burden the Minister with the view that there are easy solutions for the prison service.

One of the ways in which the prison service can be improved immeasurably is for the Minister to say that he intends further to increase the number of trained prison officers who will be made available to the system. It is no good being told that many officers are being trained specially for the new prisons. We are concerned with the conditions in the old prisons. Over the past 18 to 20 months I have visited many prisons, including Dartmoor, Ford, Pentonville, Littlehay, Shrewsbury, Strangeways, Brendon, Cookham Wood, Brixton and Full Sutton. I do not need to tell the Minister what I found in those prisons.

I should like the House to listen with care to what HM Chief Inspector of Prisons said he and his team found in those prisons. It is right that the record should include his findings. He said: Physical conditions in many of the establishments we visited were unsatisfactory. This often resulted largely from overcrowding and the absence of integral sanitation … Poor conditions affect staff as well as inmates, and we found some correlation between shabby surroundings and low morale for both groups … The overcrowded and generally insanitary conditions in many establishments would be more tolerable if inmates could keep clean and had clean clothes, but this was not always the case … Overuse of adequate facilities and lack of proper cleaning maintenance meant that, for many inmates, the weekly bath or shower was taken in washrooms that had cracked and broken tiles, leaks, mould and mildew growth and even bird droppings as a result of infestation in the roof … In a number of establishments, kit changes were possible only once a week, and this again tended to correlate with inadequate sanitation and bathrooms …A great deal of time at all levels has been consumed with the design and introduction of Fresh Start, and it would be damaging and disappointing if its successful implementation were to be seriously threatened by bickering and hesitation over meeting agreed manning levels". I shall return to the phrase "agreed manning levels". The introduction of Fresh Start in many establishments during 1987 appears to us to have been handicapped similarly by a lack of full understanding about the real nature of Fresh Start and a consequent distrust of the Prison Department. The inability to meet the manpower required in many cases has not helped". Those are not the words of a prejudiced or biased witness; they are the words of someone who has been appointed by the Government and who carries the full authority and integrity of his high office. He is telling not only this House but the whole country that that is the state of our prison service, but not uniformly, because it is not uniform.

I went to the opening of Littlehay prison some weeks ago. That is a first-class penal institution originally budgeted to cost less than £10 million but which, when finally built, cost more than £25 million. Perhaps the Minister could tell us whether such close attention is paid to the escalation in the cost of building prisons as the Treasury and the department seem to apply when they are looking at other aspects of the costs of the prison service.

I should like to give some attention to a group which gives its professional skills to those inside our institutions. I refer to those who work in our special hospitals. Nurses who work in special hospitals are in my view being subjected to greater vilification because of their affiliation to a particular trade union; namely, the Prison Officers' Association.

Perhaps I may illustrate what I want to say by quoting from a report in the Nursing Times on a speech made by Mr. Louis Blom-Cooper at the Forensic Psychiatric Nurses' Association conference, which states: One big plus (in closing special hospitals) would be that the mentally ill offender would be formally in the realms of the NHS and, moreover, we would say goodbye to the POA". The report goes on: This final, almost throwaway, remark was later expanded when he added, 'Those of us who have had long dealings with the POA know there has not been any development unless the POA consented to it and they have not been agreeable to change and reform'. Then, to remove any lingering doubts about his views, he added, 'The more we set about professionalising the staff, the better. They (the POA) are the dead hand of Broadmoor'". On behalf of those officers—and I spoke to some from Broadmoor, Carstairs, Rampton and the Park Lane special hospital—I deeply resent the slur contained in comments of that kind.

One has to realise that nurses who work in special hospitals are special in every sense of the word. They are responsible for the care and treatment of the mentally disturbed—people so certified by eminent psychiatrists and judges. The patients in special hospital are not voluntarily in residence as are patients in NHS psychiatric hospitals. They are assessed as being a danger to themselves and to society. Therefore, nurses working in special hospitals are required to possess an expertise and to take responsibilities which are unique to the requirements of working in those establishments. They have to embrace fundamental considerations relating to security and surveillance which would be alien to their colleagues in NHS psychiatric hospitals.

In that light, Mr. Blom-Cooper's remarks appear rather naive if not irresponsible. He says that normal psychiatric hospitals should house patients from Broadmoor, Rampton, Park Lane and Moss Side and continues with the proviso that normal psychiatric hospitals should have their perimeters strengthened in order that special hospital patients can be housed. Why should psychiatric patients who are voluntary and represent no danger whatever to society be subjected to an oppressive tightening of the regime in which they live? I touch upon this subject because there is a correlation between the policy of the Government in removing patients from psychiatric hospitals and the so-called returning them to care in the community.

I envisage the following scenario of NHS hospitals being pressurised to discharge patients who are ill-prepared for the outside world in order to make space for mental patients transferred from special hospitals. In my view, the consequences would be twofold. First, mentally ill people cast adrift, bereft of the professional care and treatment they require, would be vulnerable to homelessness, illness and crime, be it as offender or victim. Secondly, there will be a destabilisation of the regimes in psychiatric hospitals brought about by the influx of dangerous patients. Therefore, I should be grateful if the Minister could say something which would help to rebut and, I hope, reject the arguments and ideas of the likes of Mr. Blom-Cooper on this matter.

Finally, I should like to say a few words about open prisons. I visited Ford open prison in the past two weeks. I was enormously impressed by what I saw there. Perhaps I may make a generality about my visit to that prison and many others. Almost uniformly, governors and men are united in their desire to improve the regimes in their prisons and they despair at the inability to persuade the Minister and his colleagues to improve staffing levels.

Perhaps I may give an illustration. Maintaining control in an open prison is much more difficult. There are no cells, no locked doors, and only a token fence. The officers who keep order—that is, grade 8 prison officers—are far too few. The prison department at Ford said, in July 1987 that 45 officers were needed to look after the 560 men there. The POA agreed to join Fresh Start on that basis and yet three months later the number was arbitrarily cut to 35.

In February this year, following a most detailed review of conditions at Ford, the chief inspector, Judge Tumim, addressed a special recommendation to the Secretary of State that the number of disciplinary staff should be increased. Yet now, nine months after the special recommendation was made, the complement is still only 35. I ask the Minister what notice he takes of recommendations of that kind from the chief inspector.

At weekends at Ford only eight officers are on duty to control 560 men. Obviously that is far too few. Regrettably my time is up but I ask the Minister to say something about the viability of open prisons because I understand that there are no new open prisons planned and that they do not figure very high in the desires of the prison department. However, I believe that they are very cost-effective and economical and that an extension of the open prison service would be greatly welcomed.

6.27 p.m.

Lady Saltoun of Abernethy

My Lords, I am also grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Allen of Abbeydale, for initiating this debate. It is with great diffidence in a House filled with experts on the subject that I address your Lordships at all. I am moved to do so because of the deep concern over the state of our prisons recently expressed to me by a friend who, for 15 years, has been a prison chaplain, first at a detention centre and, for the past 10 years, at Parkhurst and Camp Hill prisons.

I shall touch on three points: overcrowding, prison conditions and staffing levels. The noble Viscount, Lord Tenby, in a splendid maiden speech, has already said most of what has to be said about overcrowding—particularly serious in remand prisons which are often local prisons with no integral sanitation. It is ironic that remand prisoners, many of whom—39 per cent. of men and 58 per cent. of women—are later acquitted or given non-custodial sentences, should be kept in the worst conditions.

The number of remand prisoners has increased drastically in recent years up to about 11,000 in 1987, which is about 23 per cent. of the prison population. I understand that magistrates are sometimes under pressure from the police to remand in custody as that is more convenient for the police. If the Home Secretary could persuade magistrates not to remand in custody unless really necessary, that would be helpful.

Electronic tagging of offenders awaiting trial could also greatly reduce the numbers remanded in custody and assist the police to keep track of those granted bail. I wonder if the noble Earl could comment on that point. The announcement earlier this year of the building of nine new bail hostels was welcomed but I wonder whether or not that number can be increased.

The Home Secretary could use his existing powers to release low risk inmates early until the present gross overcrowding is reduced to an acceptable level. It is understandable that this would not be popular with the judiciary, but the present overcrowding crisis is ample justification for using the power which Parliament has provided. I do not suggest that the Home Secretary makes a habit of doing so—just once to bring the situation under control.

The noble Lord, Lord Donaldson of Kingsbridge, said that prison sentences should be reserved for violent and serious non-violent offences and not imposed on petty offenders such as civil prisoners, prostitutes, shoplifters, drunks, vagrants and fine defaulters. A considerable number of fine defaulters have little or no prospect of ever paying their fines owing to unemployment or other financial circumstances. The imposition of unrealistic fines on people with low incomes is to be avoided wherever possible. Much more use needs to be made of community service orders and probation. However, for that to be effective and to keep track of tagged offenders if tagging is to be used, which I hope will be the case, it means speedily recruiting and training many more probation officers or other supervisory persons.

A reduction in the prison population by such methods could enable more old, and particularly local prisons, to be closed temporarily, either in whole or in part, so as to install integral sanitation and improve washing and bathing facilities. I know that there are still people, both inside and outside Parliament, who take the view that if you land up in prison you have only yourself to blame and that the nastier it is the better, so let the slopping out continue. To those people I say this. It is not always their own fault that people land in prison. Often it is the parents' fault for not bringing children up properly. Or it may be due to circumstances outside the prisoner's own or even the parents' control. The causes are legion and can go back for generations.

It is a disgrace that Britain, which once led the world in hygiene and sanitation, should in 1988 still be keeping prisoners in conditions which have not been acceptable outside prison for many decades. To keep people who are in your power in foul conditions is degrading, not only for them but much more so for those who are responsible.

It is not easy to recruit good prison officers when they have to work in such unpleasant conditions. It is unpleasant for judges who have to sentence people, knowing that those are the conditions in which prisoners will be kept. Many offenders going to prison are not, in any case, over-fastidious in their personal habits. Part of their rehabilitation, which is essential if they are not to re-offend and if they are to become acceptable members of society, must be to teach them to be meticulous in matters of personal hygiene. This builds up their self-respect. The rule should be a daily bath or shower—not a weekly one—with clean clothes daily. The noble Lord, Lord Graham of Edmonton, has already touched on that aspect; I am most grateful to him for doing so.

I would give the utmost priority to the installation of integral sanitation and showers. That merits far higher priority than the building of new prisons which must be a slow business if only because of the problems of planning permission caused by the "not in my back yard" attitude.

Staffing levels, while improving, are in many cases not yet adequate to maintain an approved quality of regime as regards work, association, physical recreation, religious activities and, above all, education. Those are essential to avoid the build-up of tension to the point where rioting becomes inevitable, as happens where prisoners are locked up for long periods of up to 23 hours a day with nothing to do.

My noble friend said to me last year that many prisons were running only by the courtesy of the inmates. The situation is improving and should solve itself in the course of the next two years, but only if recruitment continues to take place as speedily as possible. It must continue until staffing levels are adequate—not just sufficient for day to day survival but providing a good regime in all prisons with special emphasis on education in its broadest sense. Prisoners need educating as citizens, as family members and as individuals if they are to have the remotest chance of avoiding crime in the future. As it is, about 60 per cent. of convicted offenders are reconvicted within two years of release. That situation must be changed.

6.35 p.m.

Lord Dean of Beswick

My Lords, I first express my appreciation to the noble Lord, Lord Allen of Abbeydale, for initiating this debate on a public service which I believe sometimes receives far too low a profile because, in the general sense, it is not looked at sympathetically by the public at large. It is an extremely timely opportunity to debate the prison service because it has such wideranging facets to it and this House is the best place to give it an airing.

I wish to deal solely with the question of visiting centres. However, before I begin my main comments I should like to place on record my respect for my predecessor who spoke on behalf of the organisation of which I now have the honour to be the president—Selcare—which operates in the Greater Manchester area for the care of people who have been to prison. This organisation seeks to help such people on the road back into society. It covers the complete age spectrum and does an excellent job. I pay tribute to my predecessor, a very distinguished Member of your Lordships' House, Lord Rhodes of Saddleworth, who was a personal friend and colleague of mine.

I should like also to express my personal appreciation to the noble Viscount, Lord Whitelaw, though he is not in his place, for the assistance he has given to that organisation in its early days, both as Home Secretary and also in his distinguished position as Leader of your Lordships' House. We are delighted that he accepted an invitation to become patron of that organisation and I place on record our appreciation in that respect.

I should like to draw attention to the general problems concerning facilities—or should I say lack of facilities—for prison visitors at the majority of our prisons. This problem is exacerbated in prisons where remand prisoners are kept who are eligible for daily visits. This problem has been highlighted by the Chief Inspector of Prisons in reports such as HM Remand Centre Report of April 1988. He said: A visitors' centre should he provided outside the establishment for visitors to inmates. I emphasise the words "should be provided" and "outside" because they are significant if that is to become part of the established prison service.

To illustrate the extent of the problem I dwell on the prison with which I am more familiar than other prisons. I refer to Strangeways, which is in my home town of Manchester, but the same arguments could be deployed for Armley in Leeds or Walton in Liverpool. In 1985, only three years ago, if one travelled past Strangeways prison between 9.30 a.m. and 1.30 p.m. one could probably see a queue of 200 people waiting to enter the prison to see relatives who were on remand. Many were young women with small children or babes in arms. I did not realise the extent to which society is punishing innocent people, in some respects without the general public being aware of it. These people had to queue in the open in the most inclement of weather; in sleet, snow or rain. Young women with babies had to feed them by the normal, natural process in the open if the child was discomfited and needed feeding. It goes without saying that they also had to change their nappies in the open. Who was society punishing? Quite a number of the husbands and boyfriends that people were going to visit might have been found innocent and so not convicted. The people involved thought that a very raw deal was being meted out to visitors and that something ought to be done. Some of the men and women going to visit their relatives had as much as two hours' travelling time to the prison, and then queued to see their relatives or friends on remand.

In 1985 a group of concerned agencies—the Selcare Trust, Save the Children Fund, the probation service, the National Association for the Care and Resettlement of Offenders, the local authority social service, Her Majesty's Prison, Manchester, the area health authorities and the Women's Royal Voluntary Service—joined together. Under the chairmanship of Mr. Peter Barry, and with the participation of the present director and secretary, Mr. Colin Woodall, and a host of people who were completely voluntary, Selcare was set up. By 1st December 1986 they had generated enough funding to purchase a building, staff it and run it for 18 months. The building is only 60 yards from the main gate. It provides somewhere for people visiting to sit in comfort. If they want, they can have a sandwich and a cup of tea or coffee. There are good toilet facilities and—this is very important—a creche with baby-changing facilities. Selcare happened to be one of the first establishments that I called on when I took on what I considered to be this worthwhile responsibility. I was delighted with what I saw.

Quite important was the co-operation with the prison itself. On entering the visitors' centre, visitors were given a numbered place for entering the prison in order of arrival at the centre. It was organised in an orderly fashion, and the prison authorities were very helpful. By November 1988, two years later, the number of visitors through the centre totalled 250,000. That means that 250,000 people wait in a dignified and humane environment, which in itself alleviates the harrowing stress of the visit by being outside the prison and without prison department officialdom. It is some yards from the prison. Therefore, although it is near enough to be convenient, it is far enough away to be detached from the ominous presence of the prison itself.

All this has been done by the agencies that I mentioned with limited funding, none of which came from the prison department. Money is now needed to continue the project. Time is growing very short. It has been stated by many well-known persons from Westminster of all political persuasions that the project is a credit to the organisations involved. The project is said to be of a standard that is necessary for other prisons. Money is now needed to continue the project after 31st March 1989. It must be an adequate amount to allow the centre to carry on with its worthwhile job. I understand that discussions are taking place with the Home Office on the question of funding the centre. I hope that the Home Office will consider sympathetically the request for funding, which in my view should be substantial.

I have been talking about Strangeways, but I hope that this concept will be extended to similar prisons in the United Kingdom which do not have such facilities but should have them. In the Manchester area it is our good fortune to have this dedicated group of people who have set up the project. They have worked hard and they want it to succeed. I believe that they are fully entitled to the financial support that is necessary to keep it going. If not, there will be a reversion to young women queueing in the street and trying to care for children in the street. I am sure that society as a whole and certainly Members of your Lordships' House would not want to see that return.

Beyond Strangeways, Manchester, the standard must be set at all prisons. I am sure that voluntary bodies are willing to help provide and manage the centres. We know this to be a fact. I urge the Government to give them this much-needed non-institutional flavour. They must be funded, and the funding should come from the prison department.

I am delighted to have tried to put the case on behalf of a section of the service that I think has been sadly neglected by everybody in the past. I do not apportion blame to any particular government. When people are visiting men and women in trouble who are not doing custodial sentences—including those remanded in custody awaiting trial—they should not be expected to stand out in the rain, snow and fog. They are worthy of better than that. Society has no right to punish them by allowing such conditions to continue.

I thank the noble Lord, Lord Allen of Abbeydale, again for giving me the opportunity to present this case to the Minister. I hope that he can respond sympathetically to the request for funding to allow this project to continue for the benefit of those involved.

6.47 p.m.

Baroness Seear

My Lords, first, I apologise to the House and in particular to the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, that I shall be unable to stay throughout the debate. Before I knew that I wanted to take part in it, I had accepted an invitation to undertake something elsewhere this evening.

In a debate of this length and given the time limit, as many noble Lords have said, it is possible to concentrate on one or two major points only. Other noble Lords have dealt at great length and successfully with many of the different aspects involved in keeping people out of prison in the first place, not least the noble Viscount, Lord Tenby, in a comprehensive and impressive maiden speech. Under the rules of the House, I know that at this stage in a debate one is not expected to congratulate the maiden speaker. However, I feel that I am in a special position because we on these Benches are very glad to congratulate any member of the noble Viscount's family—even if we may think that for the moment he is not sitting in quite the right place!

I want to make only one or two points in addition to those already made on the question of keeping people out of prison, or to emphasise points that have been made. I wish to stress particularly the question of people held on remand. Other noble Lords have mentioned this, some at considerable length.

I wonder whether the House and indeed the public are aware of the extent to which people are held on remand, and of the numbers involved. I should like to quote from the letter that the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, courteously sent to me this week in response to a point raised at Question Time. I asked him what numbers were involved. In this regard numbers are of considerable importance in order to know the scale of the matter and the extent to which overcrowding could be relieved if we dealt with the remand problem. The noble Earl said: About 30 per cent. of males and 44 per cent. of females who have been remanded in custody receive non-custodial sentences, including fully suspended sentences and hospital orders". That amounts to 17,800 males and 1,500 females. Those are very large numbers. In fact 1,500 females is almost the total number of females in prison at any one time.

That gives a measure of the importance of dealing with the remand question; in terms of justice, when we realise how many of these people do not receive custodial sentences; and in terms of prison space and cost. The cost includes not only the actual cost of keeping someone in prison but the consequential and social cost of dealing with the families. These costs have to be taken into account when a woman with children is removed from her home. I cannot underscore too heavily the importance of dealing with the question of people on remand.

The noble Baroness, Lady Ewart-Biggs, seemed to imply, although I may have misunderstood her, that in some way the sentencing of women should be different from the sentencing of men. Perhaps that is not what she meant to imply. I would not go along with the idea that women as such should be treated differently from men if they have committed the same offences. I am a committed egalitarian in these matters. One cannot claim to be treated differently as a woman if one has been indulging in burglary along with one's boyfriend. That argument would be difficult to sustain.

However, I should like to raise one point in connection with women. The noble Baroness, Lady Faithfull—I was about to say "my noble friend" but of course in the technical sense she is not—would have wished to raise this point had she been here although she has not asked me to do it. I refer to the imprisonment of women who are pregnant or have very young children.

Few of us would feel it desirable that women should be in prison with small children or that they should be separated from their young children. I have visited two establishments with women in that condition. The prisons were doing the very best they could and in some ways were giving rather good training to these young mothers. However, this cannot be a desirable way of doing things. Surely there must be some way of dealing with mothers with children. While they must bear the penalties that are imposed upon them, surely prison is not the right place for them. I leave that with a questionmark. It would be interesting to know whether the Government have any ideas about how they might deal more satisfactorily with women who bear children while they are in prison or have very young children when they are going into prison. They should be kept with them, but in satisfactory conditions.

The third group on which I should like to comment are the plainly mentally ill. I had an experience similar to that of a previous speaker when I visited Holloway. I shall not go into the details but it was crystal clear to me—and it was clear to the governor with whom I discussed the case—that it was quite inappropriate for the woman in question, who was plainly not in her right mind, to be in prison. It was quite unsuitable for her and quite unfair to ask women prison officers who had no training for dealing with difficult mental cases to take responsibility for a woman of this kind.

What is required is secure units in hospitals with properly trained nurses. I have discussed the matter with senior nurses. They say that it requires special training and special staffing because looking after such people is exacting work. However, given proper buildings and proper staffing, it can be done in hospital. That must be the right way to do it. Those three points on keeping people out of prison are the only ones I wish to make under that heading.

I should like to deal now with preventing people from going back into prison a second time. The noble Lady, Lady Saltoun, has already referred to this point but I think I am right in saying that 57 per cent. of men and 37 per cent. of women return to prison within two years of coming out. If we could do something in this area the number of people in prison would be reduced. What prisoners coming out of prison want is what all of us want—somewhere to live and some money. Some money normally means a job. Many prisoners have the greatest difficulty in finding somewhere suitable to live and some work. More hostels for after-care may be one solution. However, we know that to some prisoners such hostels are anathema. They do not want to go there. We must be able to find other ways of making accommodation available to people coming out of prison. Otherwise the chance of them staying out of prison will be very slight indeed.

People in prison have a great deal of time on their hands. It is about the one thing they have. Surely we should be doing very much more than we are at present to use the time in prison to train people so that they can he useful and wealth-creating in order that they can keep themselves when they come out. There are training and educational facilities, some of which are very good indeed. Yet one is told that prisoners have not been able to use them because there are not enough people to escort them to the training. That must be wrong. There are workshops where they can be employed on contracts from outside. They can work and learn how to work. However, we need an expansion of training in prison in order that prisoners can know how to get a job when they come out.

I speak as chairman of the Apex Trust whose job it is to help to train and place former offenders. It seems transparently obvious that this is one of the most important ways in which we can stop people going back into prison. But this requires special resources for training and special help and encouragement for people working in this field. The Apex Trust is grateful for the help and support it has had. However, help has to be reliable if the work is to continue. There must be provision for workshops, staff, premises, equipment and for training programmes. These must be a high priority if we want to cut down the prison population and to reduce recidivism. I urge the Government to give every possible help to ensure that this is done.

The probation service does remarkable work in the care and after-care of prisoners. However, the probation service was not set up to deal with employment questions. It needs to be linked into organisations which deal with employment. This is a different area from the one with which the probation service normally deals.

I should like to finish, as other speakers have done, with an anecdote to illustrate my point. I remember one of the Apex training centres in a bad area of Leeds where we have a good record of getting people into jobs and of reducing recidivism. One day three young men were in the lorry that is used by the centre. When driving along they saw smoke coming out of a warehouse. They got out of the lorry and (for all I know drawing on skills they had learnt in their previous occupation) broke into the warehouse and pulled out eight people who otherwise would have been in danger of being burnt. This was done at considerable risk to themselves and aroused the greatest gratitude, needless to say, from the people who had been pulled out.

I cite that incident because it illustrates that among many of our prisoners there are capacities which, with training and opportunity, could be put to very good effect. When I met those young men and heard the story I could not help but reflect that this was the kind of quality among our young paratroopers during the war. Surely among our prisoners there are people who, with training, could be converted to that kind of activity.

7 p.m.

Lord Griffiths

My Lords, I am worried that there may be an impression abroad that judges consider it their duty to pass sentence with a total disregard for the appalling problems of overcrowding in our prisons and that somehow they regard that as someone else's problem which is no concern of theirs and should therefore have no impact on the sentence they pass. There may also be an impression that judges somehow resent the operation of parole reducing the period of incarceration which they have considered to be appropriate.

My purpose in this debate is to try to correct that impression, because it is my belief that there is no section of the community more aware of or more anxious about the problems in our prisons today and of the need to seek every alternative in passing sentence to find some appropriate sentence other than imprisonment; but if imprisonment is inevitable to seek to pass as short a sentence as is consistent with their public duty and with the protection of the public. Further, we are trained to do that.

Professional criminal judges are recruited from the legal profession, from both barristers and solicitors. I suspect that before long there will be more solicitors. They will be men and women who have already spent half their lifetime in the practice of the law, the overwhelming majority of them practising criminal law. They come to the job not as tyros but as men and women with a wealth of experience, and of course a wealth of experience about sentencing because they have spent a great deal of time trying to forecast the likely sentence to be passed on their client and trying to minimise that sentence in their address to the judge.

Nevertheless, before such people are appointed as full-time judges they will first be invited to sit as assistant recorders; that is, part-time judges trying cases of the least gravity in the Crown Court. However, before sitting as an assistant recorder they must complete a study programme to the satisfaction of the presiding judge; that is, the High Court judge who is in overall charge of the administration of justice in their area.

The programme consists, in the first place, of being attached for two weeks to an experienced judge and sitting with him in court all day and every day. The assistant recorders are then required to visit a selection of penal institutions. That is not just a guided trot round the prison, perhaps like a cathedral visit—a 20-minute guided tour. It is not like that at all. They spend the day there and they are taken round the prison. In addition, they will have an interview with the governor. They will also talk to the prison officers and to the prisoners. They continue to do that throughout their careers as judges.

Shortly before I went to the Court of Appeal, I visited a prison in Portsmouth. One of the prison officers said, "Come here, I would like you to meet one of our star prisoners". He mentioned the name of the prisoner, who then came along. He said to him, "I would like you to meet Mr. Justice Griffiths". The prisoner looked at me and said, "Oh, I know Mr. Justice Griffiths". I recognised him then. He was the first man I had ever sentenced to life imprisonment for murder.

The Earl of Longford

My Lords, may we ask what he said to the noble and learned Lord?

Lord Griffiths

My Lords, he said nothing more.

Assistant recorders are also required to attend a three and a half day residential induction course. The course is aimed primarily at sentencing. Sentencing exercises, based on actual and hypothetical cases, are studied and discussed in small syndicates in which these new assistant recorders are mixed up with experienced judges. In that way they share views as to the correct sentences and compare them one with another.

When he sits for the first time, the performance of the assistant recorder is very carefully monitored. If he shows any symptoms of that dreaded disease "judgitis", I sincerely trust that he will not get any further. It is only if he proves that he can do the job that the next step will come, which is the offer of an appointment as a recorder. However, a recorder is still a part-time judge and there is a further opportunity for assessment of the man or the woman. It is only after he has served for a period as a recorder that he will finally be appointed as a full-time criminal judge; that is, either a circuit judge or a High Court judge in the Queen's Bench Division.

However, it does not end there. On appointment as full-time trial judges, judges of the Crown Court are expected to attend circuit conferences on sentencing every year. I say "expected" because strictly speaking attendance is voluntary; but it is voluntary in the finest army tradition—in other words, all are expected to volunteer. At the end of three and a half years of their appointment they are required to attend another in-house training session for three and a half days. That is repeated every five years of their appointment.

Again, those seminars concentrate primarily on sentencing, with contributions from academics, from the probation service and from the prison service. I should have said that we also have sessions, when we are assistant recorders, with the social services and with the probation service in order to discuss their problems with them.

Perhaps I may now turn to some of the end products of all this training and shared experience in so far as it affects the approach to sentencing. I have with me a document produced by the Judicial Studies Board, a special board headed by a High Court judge that has been set up for this training purpose. The document is issued to all newly appointed assistant recorders.

I should like to use my remaining few minutes to take your Lordships through the way sentencing is now approached. The section I am referring to is headed, "The Current Approach to Sentencing". It says: In every case, the following steps must be taken in the order in which they appear below. Can a non-custodial sentence be passed? If so, such a sentence must be imposed. If a non-custodial sentence is out of the question, is it possible to make a Community Service Order as an alternative to a short custodial sentence? If it is not possible to make a Community Service Order, is it possible to suspend the whole of the prison sentence which must inevitably follow? If so, your must suspend the whole of the sentence you impose, but remember that you must determine the length of the sentence on the merits of the case. It is wrong to increase the length of the sentence simply because you are suspending it. If it is not possible to supend the whole sentence, is it possible to pass a very short immediate sentence without any suspension? This is what is known as the 'clang of the prison gates' sentence —a week or so. If a short sentence is insufficient to meet the needs of the case, is it possible to suspend part of the longer sentence which must necessarily follow? If it is possible, then a partially suspended sentence should be imposed and you must decide what proportion of the whole must be served. If a partially suspended sentence is inappropriate, what is the least possible total sentence which can be imposed bearing in mind the circumstances of the case and the record of the offender? That is how we are trained to approach the matter. I assure your Lordships that the criminal judges are not, as it were, trigger happy in sending people to prison. No one wants to send anyone to prison. Furthermore, once one has sent a man to prison for the first time, one has lost the sanction of imprisonment. Judges are well aware of that fact.

I only wish that some logistic arrangement could be made so that if we are forced to send people to prison for the first time they go to a prison which is strictly confined to first offenders. The trouble with sending a man to prison is that he goes into the school of crime and learns quickly. If only we could segregate the "green" from the experienced it would be a great step forward. I appreciate that that may be difficult.

Under the leadership of the present Lord Chief Justice there has been a conscious shift in sentencing policy to reduce sentences for crimes against property, but to increase sentences for rape and other crimes of violence. I believe that to be the right policy and in accord with general public opinion, although I readily concede that it may not receive the support of many unfortunate victims of burglary.

In conclusion, I assure your Lordships that if resources are supplied by Parliament to provide alternatives to imprisonment, judges will be only too willing to use them. I should like to add my congratulations to the noble Lord, Lord Carlisle, on his report on the parole service. I am afraid that he did not adopt all the suggestions which I put before him. But, on reflection, I am driven to say that his ideas are in almost all cases better than mine.

7.12 p.m.

Lord Harris of Greenwich

My Lords, there will be general agreement that we have gained a great deal from the contributions of the noble and learned Lords, Lord Ackner and Lord Griffiths. We were especially glad to see the noble and learned Lord, Lord Griffiths, because we understood from his noble and learned friend that he was having a disagreeable visit to a dentist. I can think of no more unattractive preliminary to a speech in your Lordships' House.

I should like to say three things by way of introduction. First, it is normal to pay tribute to the noble Lord who has put down the Motion that we are debating; and I do that. It has been one of the most valuable debates that we have had on the subject. That is quite a statement in itself, given the fact that the House has, with remorseless enthusiasm, debated these issues on many occasions in the 14 years during which I have been a Member. It was especially valuable that the noble Lord, Lord Allen of Abbeydale, with his tremendous experience as a prison commissioner and as Permanent Under-Secretary at the Home Office chose to initiate the debate.

Secondly, I shall repeat the point made by my noble friend Lord Hutchinson of Lullington and give a broad welcome to the Government's Green Paper. It is an encouraging document. I do not have many major disagreements with it. I find it a bit depressing, to give just one example, that the National Association of Probation Officers denounced it in such ill-judged terms. It is a great mistake to go in for almost automatic denunciation of any proposal coming from the Home Office. I hope that on reflection it will change its position.

Lastly, I welcome the speech of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Chester. One of his predecessors, the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Exeter took an active role and interest in criminal justice questions. I very much welcome the fact that the right reverend Prelate had said that there is to be a conference at Lincoln between members of the Church and the Home Office. That is admirable, and I am sure that we all welcome it.

The issues that we have debated reveal a sombre situation. My noble friend Lord Jenkins of Hillhead, when Home Secretary, said that it would be unacceptable for the prison population to rise to 42,000. It is now at 50,000 and it is rising at a substantial rate.

Notwithstanding that fact, it is right, as the noble Lord, Lord Carlisle, said in his interesting speech, that on an occasion like this, it is necessary to point to some of the things that have gone right as well as to some of those which are still in something of a mess. Like him, I thought that the introduction of community service, in which we were both involved at different stages, was a most important initiative. As he said, it was a pioneering experiment when he was a Minister. Later of course it was extended to the whole country. I know from the discussions one had at the time with the Ministers of Justice in the European Community how interested they were in what we were doing, and how encouraged they were by it. Without it, the prison situation which we are now debating would be infinitely worse. Many thousands of additional people would be at risk of being in custody.

I shall come in a moment to the parole system to which the noble Lord, Lord Carlisle, referred. I shall comment upon a point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Ewart-Biggs. Fresh Start was an altogether admirable idea. It reflected great credit on the officials involved on working it out. It ended the pernicious system of a prison system which depended almost exclusively on massive overtime in a number of local prisons. It was altogether right for the Government to push ahead with it.

I am bound to say that I find it difficult to accept the repeated statements, some of which have been made in the debate today, that the prison system is short of prison officers. I have no doubt that is true in a number of establishments; but the ratio of prisons officers to inmates in 1948—one prison officer to 6.86 in male establishments, with similar figures in women's establishments—improved substantially in 1978 and there was a still further improvement in the autumn of last year when the ratio was not one to nearly seven inmates in male establishments but one to 2.72 inmates. With women prisoners the ratio is even less.

In short, it is not right for the House to assume that there is chronic understaffing in all parts of the prison system. That is untrue. Having said that, it is right to look at how we cope with the present difficult situation.

First, we all, I think, recognise that far too many people are being remanded in custody. That is why we have the alarming situation of 1,100 people still being kept in police cells, some of them not on remand but convicted offenders. Many months ago, I asked how much progress the Government were making on bail information schemes. A great deal of work has been done in a number of areas in which the police and the probation service have been involved. When will we receive some indication of what the Government are going to do about the scheme? We are well aware that a number of offenders are remanded in custody merely because the court has wholly inadequate information about them. I hope that the Minister will be able to tell us about that project.

The next point is tagging. I fear, that I do not wholly share the views of my noble friend Lord Hutchinson on this matter. I do not necessarily believe that tagging by itself will have a dramatic effect on prison numbers. If tagging is applied, as I understand there is some suggestion it may be, to people who would otherwise be remanded in custody, we would be making a serious mistake were we to reject it as a matter of principle.

Next I turn to parole. Like other noble Lords, I welcome the report of the committee of the noble Lord, Lord Carlisle. I think it is encouraging and I agree with most of its principal recommendations. But as the noble Lord will be aware from the evidence that I gave to his committee, on one matter I am afraid I am in total disagreement with the committee. Nevertheless, the report is a most encouraging document; and like the noble Lord I very much hope that we shall have some indication that the Home Secretary is prepared to look at it favourably.

I turn now to an altogether different issue. This is an appropriate day on which to say that I fear that one reason—though not necessarily one of the most important reasons—why the prison numbers are going up so remorselessly is what I may describe as "judge bashing". This is a fashionable sport in which a number of tabloid newspapers join, as do the television organisations. There was a case last night. A number of people raced to the cameras or to members of the parliamentary lobby to denounce the judge who has passed one particular sentence. They had no information on which to do so other than perhaps two or three paragraphs carried on a Press Association tape. I fear that this sport may have some significant effect.

There will inevitably be some judges who at the last moment flinch from giving the sort of sentence they think is necessary in the circumstances of the case. They may decide to edge the sentence up because of the risk of media denunciation. This is a great pity. It does damage to our criminal justice system.

The noble Baroness, Lady Macleod of Borve, referred to the prison building programme. I have in the past made it quite clear that I agree with the programme. A number of my noble friends do not share that view; but having said that, I agree with the noble Baroness's conclusion that the idea of just building and building and building and not closing prisons is unacceptable. We often talk about Dartmoor. There have been a number of discussions within the Home Office over the past two decades which have been aimed at closing Dartmoor down; but it is by no means the oldest of our prisons. I remember going to Lancaster which has been in use as a prison since the 18th century. The conditions there are outrageous, and I very much hope that when the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, replies to this debate he will deal with that issue.

Many of us believe that if prison conditions are to be improved there is clearly the necessity for an adequate prison building programme. The noble Earl must also recognise that we hope that the Government will give the clearest indication that first they are aiming to close some of the worst prisons; and, secondly, that they intend dramatically to improve the conditions in some of our oldest buildings. It is quite deplorable that we still have slopping out in our prisons. At the moment that is unhappily not one of the Government's most urgent spending priorities.

I welcome Mrs. Currie's statement yesterday (at I think a conference of MIND) that the Government are determined to avoid the situation which has arisen in a number of United States cities. There she said that mentally ill people had been discharged from hospital and left on the streets. As the noble Earl will be aware, we have had many debates on this problem in this House. I must admit that the situation with which we are confronted is extremely serious; 23,000 mental hospital places have been scrapped in the last 10 years. The National Schizophrenic Fellowship says that the situation is out of control. The Royal College of Psychiatrists says that community services are wholly inadequate. What are the Government going to do about this? If nothing is done, many of these people will be sucked into the prison system. They are being sucked into it now.

During debates in the summer this year we heard that seriously mentally ill people had been sent to police stations in all parts of England and Wales. I hope that the letter which the noble Earl assured me would be sent to the Department of Health on this matter has been sent, and that something is being done by that department.

I hope that all of us who have participated in the debate this evening agree with one proposition: that in the past 20 years prison conditions have deteriorated sharply. There still are 16,000 people living either two or three to a cell. Prison sentences in the period of over 20 years have become longer, yet at the same time crime has risen sharply and our streets have become far less safe. That is why many of us believe that the simplistic assumption that longer and longer sentences will make our country safer is less than the full truth. The point was made by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Ackner, that long deterrent sentences are necessary in serious cases. As regards the drug industry and armed robbery, there is no argument between us. But our prisons are full of hundreds if not thousands of people who could quite easily be dealt with in the community. Those of us who visit prisons regularly know that to be true. I hope that the Government accept that broad view, and that the noble Earl will have some message of hope and encouragement for us this evening.

7.26 p.m.

Lord Irvine of Lairg

My Lords, we have had a rich and full debate. The House must be grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Allen of Abbeydale, for bringing this Motion before us. It is a pleasure to wind up a debate of such quality from these Benches. It was heartening to read in the July Green Paper the implicit acknowledgement of what so many of us had been saying for so long, that we send too many people to prison for too long. But this debate has above all focused attention on the question: how do we build on the consensus to keep people out of prison?

I think at the outset I should make the point, only because the noble Lord, Lord Hutchinson of Lullington, in his otherwise full and balanced contribution, omitted to make it, that the judiciary are responsible neither for crime nor for the conditions in our prisons. Many noble Lords have called attention to the fact that the courts send too many people to prison for too long. The Government are ready to acknowledge that with a prison population of over 50,000 within a system designed to accommodate about 40,000, parts of the prison system "are miserably and dangerously overcrowded". Those words are not mine; they were spoken by the Home Secretary in another place on 5th May.

The noble Earl, Lord Allen, expressed himself in equally strong language. He asked a number of specific questions which we hope will be answered by the Minister when he comes to reply. Will the Government prescribe a code of minimum standards with a timetable for achieving it? Will slopping out end even by the end of this century? If the noble Lord, Lord Donaldson, is right that the Minister will not defend what we attack, then that can be judged by the answers which the noble Earl gives to these specific questions from Lord Allen of Abbeydale.

The Home Secretary also acknowledged on 30th March: It is certainly true that our courts send more people to prison than is the case in most European countries".—[Official Report, Commons, 30/3/88; Col. 1096.] The figures show that we are very high in the league table of punitiveness for Council of Europe states; for example, we are well above France and Germany.

I believe that it was the noble Lord, Lord Allen of Abbeydale, who called attention to the important judgment in 1980 of the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chief Justice in which he said: It is no secret that our prisons at the moment are dangerously overcrowded. So much so that sentencing Courts must be particularly careful to examine each case to ensure, if an immediate sentence is necessary, that the sentence is as short as possible, consistent only with the duty to protect the interests of the public and to punish and deter the offender. It is refreshing to read the emphasis put in the Green Paper on this important judgment. But it has to be recorded that since that judgment in 1980, the average length of sentences has increased from 17 months to 18.9 months in 1987. So essentially the problem is due to judicial action as more defendants are brought before the Crown Courts where sentencing is higher. There are higher sentences there for some more serious crimes and there is the increase in the remand population.

The proportion of adult male indictable offenders sentenced to immediate custody has increased from 16 per cent. to 21 per cent. between 1976 and 1986. As I have said, the average length of sentences imposed in the Crown Court has increased from 17 months in 1980 to 18.9 months in 1987. So the problem is acknowledged, but the question is: should the state step in and give a new direction to sentencing policy? The Government's basic position, as I understand it, is "hands off" sentencing policy. The Government consider that sentencing policy is for the judges, apart from a very few exceptional cases such as the statutory restrictions on custodial sentences for offenders under 21. The result is, therefore, that the prison problem has deepened, although it is recognised that in the public interest changes in sentencing policy should be brought about.

The Government's position is clear enough. It is that the Government's duty is to maintain the best balance achievable in the difficult equation between an ever-rising prison population—the open ended demand side—and the space available in prisons—the supply side. But what that involves is that it is for the courts, and not the Home Office, to decide how many convicted offenders should be sent to prison and for how long. The courts determine the demand side.

We on these Benches are ready to give the Government credit for their commitment to a prison building programme, while inviting the Minister to assist us in replying by telling us how much will be spent to replace old with new and how much will be spent on modernising the old. Can the Minister give us some information, in however broad terms? But while giving credit for the building programme, I am ready to predict that we are unlikely to build ourselves out of overcrowding unless we see major changes.

An important question concerns what action is required on the demand side—that is, the court side. In a graphic sentence the Home Secretary in another place, no doubt presaging the Green Paper, said on 30th March: I want to build up for the courts a wider menu or set of alternatives to custody for the non-violent offenders."—[Official Report, Commons, 30.3.88; col. 1092.] So the Government's position, which is reflected in the Green Paper, is that the courts' role in sentencing is such that the Government can do no more than provide sentencers with more persuasive options outside prison.

I wish to give a cautious welcome to the Green Paper because it gives a limited prod in the right direction. But, when all is said and done, and when such legislation as is envisaged by the Green Paper, if it comes, is carried into effect, I must say that I fear we may still be left with an imbalance between a rising prison population and the available space in prisons. After all, we already have a battery of non-custodial punishments and far too many people in prison. Time will tell, but is it not time to think seriously whether direct action should be taken on the sentencing policy of the courts?

Plainly the Home Office will have to consider closely the effect on the size of the prison population that acceptance of the report published by the committee of the noble Lord, Lord Carlisle, which has been generally welcomed, would have. Unless the judiciary revises its sentencing tariffs to take account of the changes in parole—a consideration which as I understood the noble Lord, Lord Carlisle, he himself contemplated as necessary—the undesirable consequence of the acceptance of the report would be to increase the problem of prison overcrowding.

I wish to make one thing absolutely plain from these Benches. Judicial independence must never be compromised. The courts must have their sentencing discretion in every individual case, subject to the statutory rules. That is not in issue, but surely judicial independence does not in principle require that sentencing policy is exclusively for the courts? I invite your Lordships to consider the following question. Is there any sound reason why the whole of sentencing policy and the role of imprisonment should not be rethought by the judiciary, higher and lower, together with those many others who have expertise in the administration of justice?

We should ask ourselves why the courts sentence as they do. Perhaps they believe they are at the sharp end of the war against crime. But here they must have a sense of proportion. At most it is only 7 per cent. of crimes actually committed that come before them. Some estimates put that even as low as 3 per cent. I do not deny some deterrence from sentencing, but it must be kept in proportion. We are in the area of the unprovable, but in the past few years there have been more and longer custodial sentences with no noticeable effect on the crime rate.

With great respect to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Ackner, whose notable contribution I enjoyed as ever, that fact does not support the proposition that longer sentences are especially deterrent. It must ever be remembered that sentences are but one of the many means of protecting the public from crime.

We on these Benches accept that really serious offences require severe punishment. The Government recognise that and we recognise that. At the same time the Government accept, as we accept, that: Imprisonment is not the most effective punishment for most crime. The Green Paper states that. The Green Paper also states: Most of those now in prison have not been convicted of violent offences. Let us take the case of repeat offenders. They should of course in general have longer sentences than first offenders, but here too a sense of proportion is required. A substantial proportion of the prison population consists of property offenders with three or more previous convictions serving between six months and three years. Where these offences are non-violent and non-frightening, surely the sentences being handed out are disproportionately high.

To the very important question posed by the Green Paper and referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Donaldson of Kingsbridge, as regards whether imprisonment is the best, or only, way to deal with recidivist burglars and thieves, I answer emphatically that it is not. The pat argument that society deserves a rest from them must be evaluated against the facts: the length of time that they actually spend inside and the fact that the great majority reconvict within two years. Non-custodial measures of the kind canvassed in the Green Paper have a good reconviction record and should be tried out on the more difficult offenders.

I do not believe that those questions should be questions about whether one is soft or tough on crime or on what side of the "macho" divide one falls. What is required is to consider rationally what is most likely to promise better social protection overall.

In our view the noble Lord, Lord Henderson of Brompton, accurately described a burgeoning public opinion that is ready to tolerate, as he said, more punishment in the community. It is for serious consideration whether we should not now introduce by legislation a sentencing commission consisting of judges and magistrates at all levels and all the others who are experts in the field, for example, prison governors and officers, probation officers and representatives of the interested bodies. Canada has done it with great success. The commission would examine the aims of sentencing and the proper use of imprisonment. It would fashion guidelines and principles for the courts, which would retain their discretion when applying them.

When inviting consideration of that proposal, which is gaining increasing support, I do not diminish the impressive development of guideline judgments by the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chief Justice. Their impact has been beneficial but necessarily limited. The guidelines are of the greatest assistance to sentencers. They promote uniformity in the cases to which they apply and it is no criticism of much that has been achieved by them to note that they cover only a small proportion of Crown Court cases and hardly any in the magistrates courts. They cover only a small proportion of the cases sentenced by English courts and a minority of custodial offences.

I should like to take the opportunity of saying that I endorse what has been said by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Griffiths, about the quality of the education for judges provided under the auspices of the Judicial Studies Board. I endorse what he said about the quality of the training programme for judges, the residential courses devoted to sentencing, and the assessment techniques for new judges. However, the suggestion that I put forward of a sentencing commission is intended to promote a critical evaluation of the view that sentencing is exclusively for self-regulation by the judges. The acceptance of the idea of a sentencing commission would do no more than involve the judiciary in rethinking sentencing policy along with others with expertise in the administration of criminal justice while maintaining their independence, which must never be questioned, in the actual sentences handed down.

I would welcome the Minister's reaction to that proposal. It may be that he will say that it falls to be rejected today under the law of unripe time. But its time will surely come if the aspirations of the Green Paper, when tried fail to produce the result—a very substantially reduced prison population—for which the Green Paper and this debate in this House clearly shows that there is now a national concensus, which is demanding results, not words.

7.44 p.m.

The Minister of State, Home Office (Earl Ferrers)

My Lords, the House will be indebted to the noble Lord, Lord Allen of Abbeydale, for introducing this debate. It is fashionable to use such phrases, but I mean that with great sincerity.

I believe that this afternoon's debate has been one of enormous interest and of great authority. A great many Members of your Lordships' House have taken part in the debate, and that alone signifies the interest in the subject. Those who have taken part have been very largely noble Lords who have great expertise in these matters. I felt great sympathy with the noble Lady, Lady Saltoun, when she said that it was very difficult for her as a non-expert to take part in such a debate. I know how she feels.

The debate was also significant for the fact that the Government received praise from the noble Earl, Lord Longford, the noble Lord, Lord Hutchinson, and indeed the noble Lord, Lord Henderson. In fact the noble Lord, Lord Henderson, prefaced his remarks by saying that it was a novel pleasure to be able to praise the Government. If I may say so, it is a novel experience to receive it. I hope that the noble Lord will continue in that happy frame of mind.

An interjection from a sedentary position and of an unparliamentary nature by the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Elvel, momentarily throws me off balance because I cannot understand why he should not wish the noble Lord, Lord Henderson to be in accord with the Government.

I find myself in some difficulty in trying to reply to the debate. Some noble Lords have bleated that they are sorry to have been limited to 12 minutes. I must say that I am rather glad that they were so limited; I should have found it easier to reply to the debate had the limit been five minutes. However, I shall do my best. I find it a great advantage that I do not feel that your Lordships consider the Home Office, of which I have the privilege of being an ornament, to be in the dock. As I understand it, we are not in the position of being a cockshy at which noble Lords can throw complaints. That has not been the tenor of the debate. It has been one in which your Lordships have seen a problem and together we have tried to find ways of getting over it. What I should like to do is try and explain what we in the Home Office are endeavouring to do as well as answer the points raised by noble Lords.

The noble Lord, Lord Irvine, referred very rightly to the fact that judicial independence must not be compromised. Of course it must never be compromised. He went on to refer to a sentencing commission. I find that an interesting subject. I take note of what he said and I shall give it consideration.

The problem throughout the debate has been trying to find a balance between retribution and society's abhorrence of crime. After all there is nothing wrong with the atonement or expiation of crime. On the other hand there is the individual person's life, indeed, I believe the right reverend Prelate said, a person's soul. The noble Baroness, Lady Seear, said that there are remarkable examples of good people in prison. Of course there are because they are human beings. To lock people up in prison can be regarded by some as wrong. But to allow out into society those who have offended in some terrible ways can also be regarded as wrong. Where is the balance between the rights of the individual and the protection of society?

One might ask: what value is prison if, as the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Chester put it, it destroys a person? What value is a lack of prison if, as a result, society is in peril? I think that what one might call a squiggling snake of conscience has been prevalent throughout the debate.

I am glad that we have had the privilege of two law Lords participating in the debate. I am glad too that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Griffiths, was not deterred by his visitation to the dentist from taking part. I felt that they were in the unusual position of being to some extent in the dock themselves this evening. Perhaps I may make the observation that they acquitted themselves magnificently, as one would expect.

The noble Lord, Lord Soper, referred to the problem of the sexual explosion in prisons. He told me that he would be unable to be here at this point but I can assure him that I know that he has touched on a very important and serious matter. He said, I think, that it was essential that prisoners should have hope and that there should be a lamp of light at the end of the tunnel. That is absolutely right.

The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Chester said that dehumanisation is not a part of prison and indeed it should not be. We must see that it is not. My noble friend Lady Macleod pointed out that hope for the future should lie in more discipline and more caring. I believe that she is right. Crime and action against crime as well as action for the individual and against imprisonment start in the home and in schools. I had to say that the other day and it was reported in a newspaper that I had given the customary Home Office lecture. I do not believe it t be a lecture; it is a fact.

That is why the Government are putting so much effort into crime prevention. Last year we spent £4.6 million on crime prevention publicity, £600,000 on the Home Office crime prevention police training centre in Stafford, and £340,000 on crime prevention research. Those are merely figures but they indicate that the whole philosophy is moving much more toward crime prevention.

The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Chester told us that prisoners were stopped from attending church services. I acknowledge that there have been difficulties. My right honourable friend the Home Secretary endorses the role of the prison chaplain. I hope that when Fresh Start has settled down, disruption will be avoided.

The House was lucky enough to hear the noble Viscount, Lord Tenby, make his maiden speech today. We are all grateful to him for his remarks. He spoke with great knowledge and experience. He said that the world of Dickens lives on, which is a rather frightening thought. It was a graphic phrase. We must ensure that in that respect the world of Dickens is not perpetuated.

My noble friend Lord Carlisle referred to his report. I do not wish to discuss the interesting and valuable proposals that he made because I know that there will be another opportunity to do so. I just mention that my right honourable friend the Home Secretary has made it perfectly clear that he wishes to have a proper opportunity to consider the report and any comments that may be made upon it before he comes to any decision on the future of parole in England and Wales. The noble Lord, Lord Donaldson, told us that in what he said he was not attacking the Home Secretary. I am grateful to him for saying that. It was useful to have his views on the matters on which he addressed your Lordships.

I should like to try to sketch out the strategy on prisons as we see it and the alternatives to custody. I should like to look forward, as your Lordships have done this evening. That does not mean that I shall ignore the present conditions of our prisons, to which many noble Lords have referred. Quite the opposite; no one could have been a Home Office Minister and not be only too well aware of the state of our prisons. A lot is being done. Some of our establishments are in an unacceptable condition. We all know that. However, the prison service is addressing its efforts to the huge problem which is posed by the two factors of high population levels and long-neglected buildings.

I was glad that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Ackner, reminded us why the prisons are so full; namely, because crime has been on the increase. If crime were not on the increase maybe the problem of prisons would not he so uppermost in our minds. Looking to the future we have to hold firmly to a basic principle that—and I think that almost every noble Lord said this, including both the noble and learned Lords who spoke—prison should be used only where necessary. The noble Lord, Lord Allen of Abbeydale, said that we cannot just build prisons. He is right. That is not a solution. However, it may be a necessity until we overcome the problems.

I agree with many noble Lords who said that we need to find the best deterrent and the most appropriate sentences especially for those who are less serious offenders. Parliament's responsibility is to ensure that the courts have available to them a range of penalties. The courts will wish to consider first whether a non-custodial sentence is appropriate, and only when the courts have ruled out such a sentence will they decide upon a custodial sentence. That was re-emphasised by both the noble and learned Lords. To limit the scope to decide upon a custodial sentence would be a sound recipe for undermining the confidence of the public in the rule of law. I do not think that any of us should underestimate the importance of that.

Almost every speaker said that too many people are sent to prison. Perhaps it is because prison is considered as the normal punishment for the criminal. However, as noble Lords have said, it should be the last resort for those for whom no other, better alternative can be found. The noble Lord, Lord Hutchinson, said—I think these were his words—that the Government were politically inept and incompetent to rely upon custody rather than non-custodial sentences. I see that the noble Lord is shaking his head. I am sorry if I misinterpret him.

Lord Hutchinson of Lullington

My Lords, my remark was made entirely in regard to the remand situation, which has grown worse over 10 years.

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, the moment the noble Lord made that remark I was considering his earlier observations. That particular Exocet shot over my shoulder. I am sorry if I did not quite meet the right mark. Perhaps I may just say in that respect that a great deal is happening. The noble Lord asked me in particular to comment on the NACRO report. We have found it interesting. It is being studied at the moment within the Home Office. He referred to the need for sentencing guidelines, as did the noble Lord, Lord Henderson. Within the powers given by Parliament, sentencing is a matter for the courts and not for the Government. The question of sentencing guidelines is one for the higher judiciary.

The noble Lord, Lord Allen, asked about the training of judges. The judiciary is committed to training and constantly reviews its methods. Sentencing practices receive particular attention.

The noble Lord, Lord Graham, referred to the report of Her Majesty's Chief Inspector of Prisons. Great notice is taken of the recommendations which are made by Her Majesty's Chief Inspector of Prisons and all the recommendations receive full consideration by the prison department, where necessary action being taken on their implementation. The noble Lord also referred to the staff complement at Ford. The chief inspector acknowledged that some of the staffing problems were transitional. Since the inspection the numbers of discipline officers and civilian instructors in the workshop have been increased. That will continue until they are back up to complement.

The noble Lord, Lord Dean, referred to Manchester visitors' centre. I endorse what he said. The centre has greatly improved the conditions for visitors. I am aware of the financial difficulties faced by the centre. We received a request from it for a grant and that request is at present being considered.

The noble Lord, Lord Harris, referred to mentally disturbed offenders. My honourable friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health is aware of the concern that has been expressed on the care in the community policy. I apologise to the noble Lord for the fact that he did not receive, as he should have received, an earlier reply, but work is in hand to determine whether that concern is justified.

Violent and serious offenders must have long prison sentences. Society has to be protected from them, even if punishment is disregarded. Less serious offences should be dealt with so far as possible within and by the community, as the noble Viscount, Lord Tenby, and others said. We should not be afraid to call that punishment in the community; but it must be punishment and it should not be, as the noble Lord. Lord Henniker, said, a soft option.

The noble Baroness, Lady Ewart-Biggs, said that we ought to get away from the primeval view of punishment and retribution. I was glad that the noble Lord, Lord Donaldson, said that prison should include retribution and punishment. That is part of the regime of prison life; there is nothing wrong with that. But punishment should be seen as retribution and as a discharge of what one might call iniquity against society as well as rehabilitation.

We have all been concerned with the growth of the number of remand prisoners. A number of noble Lords referred to bail hostels. In his Autumn Statement, my right honourable friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer announced finance for a provision of 500 extra bail hostel places for people who have no fixed address and who might otherwise be remanded in custody. The noble Lord, Lord Allen, asked whether these will be throughout the country. That is our intention. There will also be 20 bail information schemes. The number of people who were given custodial sentences in magistrates' courts in 1987 was the lowest since 1980. We agree that the use of custody should be reduced still further, in particular for 17 to 20 year-olds, and also for offenders of all ages who can safely be dealt with in the community.

The noble Lord, Lord Hutchinson, referred to young adult courts. This idea was addressed in the Green Paper, Punishment, Custody and the Community. It floated the idea of increasing the age limit of juvenile courts to include 17 year-olds and of introducing flexibility of sentencing of 16 to 20 year-olds. We are looking forward to receiving responses to this and will bear in mind the proposals that the noble Lord, Lord Hutchinson, has put forward.

More use can be made of existing non-custodial penalties. We have set out policies on these issues in our recent Green Paper. I was glad that so many noble Lords paid tribute to that and found it of value—the noble Lords, Lord Hutchinson, Lord Henderson, Lord Henniker and Lord Harris, to mention but a few. The Green Paper recognises that offenders must be punished for what they have done. But it makes clear that prison is not the only, nor necessarily always the best, form of punishment. Many offenders can receive their punishment and can be adequately controlled in the community. Many noble Lords have said so.

I was interested in the proposals that my noble friend Lord Elton made about how to relieve congestion in the courts. I shall certainly take note of what he has said and will see that it is studied.

It is a sad fact that when they are in custody, some offenders may learn criminal skills and may acquire confirmed criminal attitudes. To describe prisons as schools of crime is not novel, nor is it attractive. Unfortunately, it is often true. The noble Baroness, Lady Ewart-Biggs, referred to the remark of my noble friend Lord Elton to the effect that nothing is more likely to get a person into prison than the experience of having been there already. That is a terrible thought. The noble Viscount, Lord Tenby, in his maiden speech, referred to the moral and criminal contamination which takes place in prisons. Prisons ought not to do that but it is a fact that they do. It is a fact with which we all have to wrestle.

The noble Lord, Lord Allen of Abbeydale, asked about abolishing custody for juveniles. The Government agree that the use of custody for juveniles should be reduced so far as possible. Indeed, over the past six years it has halved from 8,000 in 1981 to 4,000 in 1987. But some juveniles commit offences that are so serious that the possibility for custodial sentence must remain available.

He also referred to the use of remands in custody for juveniles. Only 15 year-old and 16 year-old boys may be remanded in custody. Earlier this year the Government issued a consultation paper proposing tighter criteria for juvenile boys in custody. There was a good response but conflicting views. The Government are considering in the light of that how best to proceed.

The noble Lord, Lord Henniker, referred to the Rainer Foundation and the Intermediate Treatment Fund. The Government very much welcome the contribution which the Rainer Foundation and the Intermediate Treatment Fund have made in providing and encouraging community-based facilities for juvenile offenders. As the noble Lord will know, the Home Office is considering an application from the Rainer Foundation for funding for an experimental project, using a similar approval with young adult offenders.

We are trying to encourage the probation services and the courts to make the best possible use of the probation order and the community service order. In August we issued an action plan which would promote the better use of different methods of the treatment of offenders that are available in the local communities. The action plan calls on local statutory and non-statutory agencies to co-operate together to draw up local action plans. The idea of that is to tackle in the community offending which is done by the 17 to 20 year-olds about which the noble Lord, Lord Hutchinson, was concerned. The probation service is initially responsible but cannot be effective without the co-operation of the police, the Crown Prosecution Service, the courts and the voluntary sector. We have a solid basis of experience upon which we can build.

Intensive community-based work with juvenile offenders under 17 has contributed to a reduction of almost 50 per cent. since 1981 in the number of juveniles who are receiving custodial sentences. It is significant that this drop in the use of custody has not resulted in a rise in recorded juvenile crime rates.

Like all noble Lords, we should like to see more use of community service orders for offenders who at the moment are receiving custodial sentences. Community service is a penalty that makes the offender pay back something to the community against which he has offended.

For the longer term, the Green Paper seeks views on a possible new order which will enable the courts to combine together some elements of the existing and different orders. The idea is that this could be used repeatedly for persistent non-violent offenders. It would enable those sorts of people to be dealt with in the community rather than ending up in custody.

We need to provide decent accommodation for all those whom the courts send to prison. Overcrowding, and the poor condition of much of the prison estate, hamper us from achieving that objective. We have therefore committed unprecedented resources to building new prison places and to improving the existing stock. The scale of the Government's commitment to the prison service is substantial. Financial provision was made for the prison service in this financial year of £802 million. In addition to that a further £922 million was announced by my right honourable friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer in the Autumn Statement some four weeks ago which is to be spent over the next three years. This will allow for an expansion of the prison building programme to provide a further 3,000 places by 1992.

The noble Baroness, Lady Ewart-Biggs, questioned whether we should continue building. I think that there is no other alternative. It is much better to stop crime; but until that happens prison places need to be there.

A number of noble Lords asked specifically whether the money was being spent on new prisons or resuscitating old ones. The noble Lady, Lady Saltoun, referred to this. The noble Lord, Lord Harris, said that he wants old prisons closed. We cannot close old prisons until there is a satisfactory number of places available elsewhere.

The noble Lord, Lord Allen of Abbeydale, asked how much money was being spent on rehabilitating old prisons. The sum of £24 million was spent on the repair and maintenance of existing buildings during the year 1987–88. That is quite a substantial amount. With regard to slopping out, it is anticipated that by 1995 some 75 per cent. of all prison places will have integral sanitation compared with only 43 per cent. in 1979. The new schemes for buildings include integral sanitation.

The noble Lord, Lord Allen of Abbeydale, referred to vacating old buildings. Our present need is to make use of every available space and we shall also refurbish those where that is possible. The building programme now provides for 28 prisons, of which eight have been opened and 20 more are in various stages of construction. Between 1980 and the mid-1990s we shall have provided about 25,000 new prison places.

The noble Lord, Lord Allen, referred to prisoners in hospital. During 1987–88 there were 39,607 prisoners admitted to prison hospitals, an average of 4,440 reported sick each day. On 31st March 1988, 116 prisoners were considered by medical officers to meet the criteria for detention in hospital under the Mental Health Act 1963. In 1983, 198 were so considered. In 1987–88, 8,006 prisoners attended NHS hospitals as out-patients and 1,964 were treated as in-patients.

The noble Lord, Lord Graham, referred to the future of open prisons. They are a well established part of the prison system and play an important part. We are committed to their continuing use for suitable prisoners. He also asked how many prison officers there were. In 1979 to 1987 the number of uniformed officers increased by 22 per cent., the number of prisoners has increased by 15 per cent.; and 1,863 prison officers were recruited in 1987–88 and 2,500 will be recruited in 1988–89.

The noble Baroness, Lady Ewart-Biggs, referred to Fresh Start. I was grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Greenwich, for his welcome for that. We are taking stock of it at present and the evaluation report which was provided earlier this year showed that Fresh Start was on the right tracks, but it also showed that regimes had held steady in 1987–88 with an efficiency gain of 12 per cent. When Fresh Start has settled in it should provide a stable basis for regimes.

I am deeply conscious of the fact that many of your Lordships have taken part in the debate, and I do not wish to overstay my welcome at this Box, even though there are a few more minutes left to me. Now that the prison management systems are in place, we can consider the shape and the purpose of tomorrow's prison system. It cannot be run on containment alone. If we rely on those concepts to the exclusion of others, then prisons become negative places in which to live and work. There is an alternative. There is the prison where activity which has a purpose is the norm, a prison in which the prisoner's days are taken up with work other than regime activities. That kind of establishment offers the best hope for security and rehabilitation.

Today your Lordships have expressed—as you have on many occasions—concern about the plight of our prisons and those who are contained within them. Many of your Lordships are deeply knowledgeable and anxious about them. I appreciate that. Even though I may not have been able to reply to all the questions which your Lordships have asked and the remarks which you have made, I shall see that they are considered with great care. If there are matters to which I ought to reply—I am sure that there are many—I cannot guarantee to reply to them all, but I shall do my best to reply to some.

8.14 p.m.

Lord Allen of Abbeydale

My Lords, I shall try not to occupy the whole of the five minutes generously left to me. I said what now seems a very long time ago that this would not be a party debate, and that point has been borne out. We have had a fascinating and constructive debate with suggestions coming from all sides of the House; a debate enriched—to use Lord Soper's word—by an outstanding maiden speech and by two extremely interesting contributions from law Lords.

There is a great deal in the debate to be thought about and studied both by those who took part and by the Government. I cannot help ending with comparatively gloomy thoughts. First, from what the Minister said, slopping out will not be ended this century. Secondly, the fact remains that we send more prisoners to prison than any other European country in spite of all the training that we have heard about. Thirdly, although we are told about the extra places to be provided, the £922 million that the noble Earl referred to will still leave a gap in 1992 of over 3,000 on present estimates between the population and the approved prison places. There is still a great deal to be thought about. I beg leave to withdraw the Motion.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.

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