HL Deb 06 February 1990 vol 515 cc726-39

4.26 p.m.

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, it may be for the convenience of your Lordships if I repeat a Statement which is being made by my right honourable friend the Home Secretary in another place about the Government's proposals for criminal justice legislation, which we are publishing today in the White Paper Crime, Justice and Protecting the Public: The Statement is as follows:

"In preparing these proposals for a coherent legislative framework for sentencing, our aim has been to ensure that offenders are punished according to the seriousness of their crimes and receive their just deserts, and to see that the public are properly protected. Really serious crime, particularly serious violent crime, has to be followed by really severe punishment and I am sure the House would agree that the right punishment for serious violent crime is a long prison sentence. But we know that prison can all too often reinforce criminal habits, and many more less serious offenders could be punished in the community where they can repay their victims and do tough and demanding work for the community.

"It is therefore important that the judges should, before passing a custodial sentence, satisfy themselves that no other course is right; and it is important that realistic options for punishment in the community should be available with those options presented clearly to the courts. We therefore propose, first, that the Crown Court should have a new power to impose a longer sentence on a persistent violent offender than would be justified solely by the seriousness of the immediate offence in order to protect the public from serious harm from him; but the distinction between violent crime and property crime should be more clearly marked by changes in the maximum penalty for theft from 10 to seven years and in the maximum for non-domestic burglary from 14 years to 10 years; the maximum for burglary from a persons' home quite rightly would remain at 14 years; secondly, that new legislation should require a court to consider whether the offence is so serious that only a custodial sentence is justified. For all but serious offences the court would be required to give reasons for passing a custodial sentence and would have to consider a probation report setting out options for punishment in the community before doing so.

"We further propose to increase the courts' powers to impose community penalties. There would be a new power to combine community service and probation. Community service ensures that the offender makes reparation to the community through unpaid work. Probation gives offenders an opportunity to sort out their problems and to lead a law-abiding life in future. We do not think that one should exclude the other. The courts would also, and additionally if appropriate, be enabled to make curfew orders, with monitoring, to keep offenders at home and away from their criminal associates, at particular times of the day.

"We plan new national standards for the most important aspects of the probation service's work, including preparing reports for the courts and running probation centres. We shall shortly publish consultation documents about some of these standards and about the future organisation of the probation service. We believe that the probation service should make more use of voluntary organisations and the private sector to carry out its increased responsibilities effectively. The probation service will, however, keep its central role in supervising offenders and ensuring that court orders are carried out.

"Many offences can be dealt with adequately by financial penalties. The priority should be offenders paying compensation to their victims. But fines could be used effectively for more offences if they were assessed in units according to the seriousness of the offence and then converted into money according to an offender's means.

"We believe that custody should be reserved for the most serious offenders. We can only justify spending well over £1,000 per month in housing, feeding and clothing a criminal, we can only justify depriving an offender of the opportunity to maintain his family, compensate his victim or make reparation to society when the offence is so grave that there is no realistic alternative to imprisonment. But when prison is the right and proper sentence then it is essential that the sentence served should be more closely related to the sentence passed and we are going to introduce new parole arrangements based largely on the recommendations of a committee set up to review parole arrangements in England and Wales and chaired by my noble friend Lord Carlisle of Bucklow. The Government are most grateful to my noble friend and his committee for their really valuable work.

"This would be the effect of the changes: first, remission, which at present reduces most sentences by a third and which is in addition to any parole granted, would be abolished. All prisoners would spend at least half their sentence in custody whereas at present most can be released after one third; secondly, those serving up to but not including four years' imprisonment would have to serve half their sentence, followed, except in the case of sentences under a year, by a period on licence under supervision; thirdly, those serving from four years up to but not including seven years would serve at least half their sentence and would then be eligible for release on a selective basis until they have served two thirds of their sentence. The decision on this would be delegated to the Parole Board. When released they would be under supervision until three-quarters of their sentence has expired; fourthly, those serving seven years or more would be subject to release on a selecive basis after half their sentence but the final decision will rest not with the Parole Board but with the Secretary of State.

"The decision whether or not to release a person on parole would be clearly based upon the risk to the public of that person committing a further serious offence. We intend to take new powers to give policy directions to the Parole Board so that we can lay down these criteria. This should make for greater consistency in the decisions to release, the conditions of the parole licence and the arrangements for supervising prisoners after release.

"If a released prisoner is convicted of a further imprisonable offence before the end of his sentence, the court would be able to return him to custody to serve out the remainder of that first sentence in addition to any sentence it gives for the new offence.

"There are important proposals in the White Paper about young offenders. The juvenile court would become a youth court and would deal with offenders aged 17 as well as those aged 16 and under. We intend to increase the powers of the courts to make parents take greater responsibility for the offences committed by their children under 16. In particular we intend to require parents to attend in all cases when their children are brought before the court on a criminal charge and we are going to make it possible for the magistrates to take into consideration the means of a parent in deciding on the appropriate fine.

"The Government firmly believe that in all we do we should have at the forefront of our minds the victims of crime and it is time to spell out what victims are entitled to expect and the help available to them and to consider what more needs to be done. We shall therefore on 22nd February, European Victims Day, publish our Victims Charter. But the proposals I have outlined today should make sure that criminals are properly punished.

"These proposals point to the most fundamental and far-reaching changes for at least half a century in the way we publish offenders in this country. They are part of our wider policies on crime with the greater emphasis we have given to crime prevention and more help and support for victims. They offer just deserts to the offender and reassurance to the law-abiding citizen."

My Lords, that concludes the text of the Statement.

4.35 p.m.

Lord Mishcon

My Lords, the House will be grateful to the Minister for repeating a most important Statement on a most important White Paper. The aims of that White Paper—namely, that those who commit violent crime should be adequately punished —must be right, and that part of the White Paper that deals with the protection of the public must be right. When I talk in terms of violent crime I obviously include violent sexual crimes as well.

We listened to this Statement and to the White Paper against a background that has been mentioned so often in your Lordships' House; namely that we have the largest number of prisoners in Europe both in absolute terms and in proportion to our population. The House will therefore be interested to see how far this White Paper deals with that problem.

The phrase at the beginning of the Statement is used correctly: we know that prison can all too often reinforce criminal habits". I looked in the Statement for a reference, presumably to be made in the White Paper, to what one does about the serious problem that we have of recidivism and in regard to our necessary task of rehabilitation. I found no reference to that important matter. I saw no reference to the afer-care of prisoners when they come out in order to try to stem the tide of recidivism. I wonder whether the Minister when he replies would tell us whether there are any progressive measures aimed to deal with that important matter, especially, as I have said, when one considers the numbers in our prisons.

The Carlisle committee —that presided over by the noble Lord, Lord Carlisle —was mentioned in the sense not only of dealing with remission but of making prison sentences more realistic in regard to the sentences imposed. We shall have to reflect upon that measure and again, as I say, look to see what effect it is going to have upon the overcrowded prisons that we have at the moment.

Probation officers have been mentioned. I think of them at once in regard to after-care and rehabilitation. Can we be quite sure that the role that is being set for probation officers will in no way demean their status and certainly not interfere with their very honourable and useful position in society as being the friends, and advisers and supervisors too of those who are in prison and come out of it?

I think that all of us are interested in the problem of juvenile crime. After all, it is unfortunately the juveniles, the young people, who contribute most to the numbers of criminals we have in this country, which is a very regrettable state of affairs.

We were all interested in the idea of the youth court incorporating those who are 17. That seems to me to be a useful step. There was reference to parents being brought into court and into the criminal situation which surrounds their children. That is absolutely right, not so much from the point of view of making parents responsible for the crimes of their children, unless the lack of parental care or the surroundings at home are responsible for the criminality of the children, but of trying to establish a partnership which could and should exist between court and parents in order to try to save juveniles from a life of crime. That is obviously an important measure.

Victims of crime were mentioned. I was happy to see that the Statement drew particular attention to that matter and to a celebration that will take place in regard to victims of crime. However, will the Government remember that the Criminal Justice Act 1988 reduced and in some cases removed compensation for victims of crime? Will the Government also remember that the minimum threshold for those entitled to claim compensation was reduced, thereby removing the right to compensation from some 10,000 people a year?

In drawing attention to these matters I do not wish it to be thought that my remarks are unnecessarily critical of a White Paper which has many good features about it. That is obvious from the Statement. However, there are matters to which attention should be drawn because they are so important. I end with the reference to consistency of sentence. The public, perfectly reasonably, are perturbed about the inconsistency and at times complete unreasonableness, as they see it, in the two extremes of too much leniency or too much severity. There does not appear to be a consistency which can be agreed. I say that most respectfully as regards the judges as I know they meet from time to time, indeed it would appear almost continually, in order to deal with sentencing policy.

If we are sincere, as I am sure the judges are, in saying that we want to protect the public, to reduce crime in this country, to ensure that our prisons are not overfilled and to ensure that justice emanates from the way in which sentences are imposed, should there not be a sentencing council which meets regularly and continuously and which would deal consistently with sentencing policy? That would not only afford justice but also help in reducing the shocking figures of crime in this country as all of us would wish.

Lord Harris of Greenwich

My Lords, I join with the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, in thanking the noble Earl for repeating this Statement. I, too, think that there are a number of sensible proposals in the document. However, it would obviously be premature to express an opinion on many of them without having had the opportunity of reading the White Paper. The White Paper deserves to be judged by three tests. The first is whether it will bring down the size of our inmate population. As the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, has observed, we have the highest prison population in Europe. That is, unhappily, nearly the only European league table of which this country is top.

Secondly, in aiming to give effect to that reduction in the size of the inmate population, have the Government put forward enough non-custodial alternatives to imprisonment, including parole, which will give some guarantee that many of those now held in custody could be transferred to the community? Thirdly, on the matter of victims, I welcome very much the fact that the Government will bring forward a victims' charter. They have, to be fair, made substantial sums of money available to the National Association of Victim Support Schemes. We all welcome that and look forward to the publication of the victims' charter.

That brings me to the references in the Statement to the Carlisle Committee's report. I should indicate some satisfaction that a number of the recommendations of the committee have been accepted. Is the noble Earl aware of our delight that it appears that the truly deplorable new parole policy introduced by Sir Leon Brittan when he was Home Secretary is no more? Many of us opposed that policy when it was introduced. The Government never found it possible to give any coherent explanation in this House or elsewhere as to why such a policy should be introduced by means of administrative fiat. We are delighted to see the end of that policy. I should say in passing that at a moment like this it is right to remember the member of the parole board, Dr. Julian Candy, who resigned publicly over the introduction of that policy.

Does the Minister recall that the Carlisle Committee drew attention to the fact that there was a risk that, even if all its recommendations were accepted, the numbers in prison could increase unless there were substantial changes in sentencing policy? It would be of immense help to us if the noble Earl could indicate whether the statistical branch of the Home Office has been able to give Ministers some outline estimate of the effects of the introduction of this policy. As we all know, Home Office statisticians have had that responsibility in the past when changes of criminal justice policy have been introduced. I should be grateful if the noble Earl could tell me whether they have been asked to make any estimate on this occasion.

On the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, have there been discussions with the judiciary to give some comfort to Ministers that the acceptance of many of the recommendations of the Carlisle Committee will not lead to an increase in the size of the prison population?

I must indicate also our welcome of the fact that, other than in the more serious cases, judges and magistrates will be required to give reasons for a custodial disposal rather than a non-custodial one. That is substantial progress and I very much welcome it. Is the Minister also aware that we unreservedly welcome the reduction in maximum sentences for burglary and theft? That is altogether admirable. We find it easy to do that given the fact that we introduced just such amendments to the last criminal justice Bill when we were firmly opposed by the Government. We welcome them as converts to our cause.

I have one question on sentencing. The noble Earl indicated that there would be a new power to impose longer sentences on those whom I believe he described as persistent violent offenders. Certainly all of us recognise that there is a need to deal with such offenders in a most vigorous fashion, but will the noble Earl indicate how this new penalty will be distinguished from the former sentence of preventive detention which had to be scrapped because it was an abject failure?

On the matter of probation, most of us welcome the fact that there are to be consultation documents on the future of the service. I should be grateful if the Minister could give me some indication of when those will be published. Will they be published before Easter, for instance? It would be helpful if the Minister could tell us that. He will realise that there is a particular reason for that question. Given the fact that relations between the probation service and the Government could hardly be described as particularly warm, the sooner there is some clarification of the future of the service the better.

Finally, it will be our desire to be as helpful as possible when the Bill on criminal justice eventually reaches this House, as I assume that it will in the next Session of Parliament. As we know, we have immense problems in our prisons. We also have extremely strained relations between the Government and our most important non-custodial organisation, the probation service. Nevertheless, having said that, we can all give a welcome to many of the proposals in the document which I believe will have beneficial effects.

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, I am most grateful for the welcome which the noble Lords gave to the Statement. I was particularly grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, for saying that the aims must be right and that the protection of the public must be right. That is clearly most important. He was concerned to know whether the large prison population is likely to be reduced as a result of the White Paper. All I can tell him is that we hope that it will, but it will take time to see how the changes work out. The intention is that people who commit less serious crimes should undergo their punishment in the community and not in prison. That should help to reduce the prison population.

The noble Lord was concerned about recidivism and rehabilitation. That is a matter which is always at the forefront of our minds. I remind the noble Lord that many steps have been taken, not least through the probation service, which exists to help in that respect. We believe that if people are able to serve their sentences within the community and not fall into the hands of professional criminals in prison the chances are that fewer will return to crime.

The noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, referred to sentencing councils. Obviously it is desirable that there should be a reasonable amount of continuity in sentencing. We do not believe that sentencing councils are the correct solution. A variety of guidance is available to judges and that will be supplemented by the framework that we propose.

The noble Lord, Lord Harris, referred to what were described as the Brittan proposals. He said that they had not been particularly liked by some. It is the Government's intention to abolish them because we believe that what we are setting up in their place will be much fairer.

Both noble Lords were concerned about the probation service. The noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, hoped that the roles given to the probation service would not demean its status. It is not our intention to demean the status of the probation service. We consider that it does an enormously important job of work. We should like to see its work expanded so as to cover the matters to which the White Paper refers.

I can assure the noble Lord and the noble Lord, Lord Harris, that the Government will be issuing a Green Paper in the near future. The noble Lord, Lord Harris, asked whether that would be before Easter. I can tell him that it will be in the near future and he will have to decide whether Easter comes within that category, but he may be surprised by how quickly it arrives.

The noble Lord, Lord Harris, also welcomed the proposed alteration in sentencing for burglary and theft. The reason for those changes is that in 1988 there were only two cases of non-domestic burglary in which the sentence was more than seven years. That is why we considered that it would be appropriate to reduce the maximum sentence from 14 years to 10 years. Similarly, very few people receive sentences of more than five years for theft. Therefore we regarded it as appropriate to reduce the maximum sentence from 10 years to seven years.

A number of other points were made, but in view of the other business of the House I believe that it would be inappropriate to answer all of them. However, I shall refer to compensation, which was mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon. Applications to the Criminal Injuries Compensation Board have more than doubled, from less than 23,000 in 1979–80 to an estimated figure of over 55,000 10 years later. It is our desire to see that people are adequately and properly compensated.

Both noble Lords referred to a number of other points. I hope that it will be acceptable if I write to them rather than delay the House in its consideration of the matter before it, which was interrupted by the Statement. I am grateful to both noble Lords. The Statement sets out a major shift of emphasis in criminal justice. It will be necessary for your Lordships to consider the White Paper in full because it is a far-reaching document.

Lord Boyd-Carpenter

My Lords, is my noble friend aware that a great many people who are deeply disturbed by the incidence of crime in this country —and most ordinary people are very worried about it —will welcome the Statement and the White Paper as indicating a determination by the Government to come to grips at least with some of the problems?

Is he also aware that some people —certainly myself—welcome the fact that the Government are now taking a grip on the parole system? He may recall that over many years I have raised the question, without getting much response. I am therefore delighted to see the action now being taken.

Is my noble friend also aware that it seems very good sense to require parents to attend court when young children appear on a charge? It is only remarkable that that has not been a compulsory provision for many years.

As I listened to my noble friend, my only doubt was whether it is wise to make the proposed substantial reduction in the maximum sentence for theft. I accept that, as he said, most theft charges carry a sentence well below that figure. However, there have recently been one or two spectacular thefts running into millions of pounds. I wonder whether it is wise, knowing that such thefts will continue, to reduce the maximum sentence and therefore possibly the overall deterrent effect. Is it not worth considering retaining the present level of sentence solely to deal with those exceptional but very dramatic cases?

Finally, perhaps I may echo what the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, said about consistency of sentences. I accept that many criticisms of inconsistency in sentences derive from lack of knowledge of the circumstances in a particular case. It is very easy to criticise sentences when one does not know the full facts. Nonetheless, is my noble friend aware that some people feel that there are extremes in sentencing, both ways, and that so me method of persuading the judiciary to adopt a somewhat more consistent line on sentences would be very acceptable to public opinion and undoubtedly in the public interest?

5 p.m.

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Boyd-Carpenter for his welcome of the Statement. I know that he has always been much concerned about the effects of crime. I am glad that in particular he approved of the proposal that parents should attend court. The purpose is to involve parents with what their children do, not only for the purposes of rehabilitation but also when the children offend against the community.

My noble friend referred to the reductions in sentence and asked whether it would be right to keep the maximum sentence. We thought it right to reduce the maximum sentence for the reasons that I gave; namely, that few people are at present given the maximum sentence. There therefore seemed to be relatively little point in keeping the maximum sentence at that level. However, combined with that is the hope that the sentences served will bear much more of a relationship to the sentences passed than has been the case heretofore.

I understand my noble friend's concern that sentences are not always apparently common as between one court and another. That matter always gives concern. The judiciary is also concerned about it, but, as my noble friend rightly said, it is a matter for the courts to sentence as they think appropriate. It is therefore difficult to be too dogmatic as to what the sentence should be. However, the judiciary and those involved with it are particularly concerned that there should be as reasonable an amount of commonality between sentences as is possible.

The Earl of Longford

On first hearing, I cannot make up my mind whether the proposals will do more good than harm. For reasons implicit and to some extent explicit in the remarks of my noble friend Lord Mishcon and of the noble Lord, Lord Harris, if judges persist in their present sentencing attitudes the proposals will undoubtedly increase the numbers in prisons. That follows from the Carlisle Report and other discussions. There is no question about that. The issue is whether the judges will not only be asked to be slightly more consistent, as suggested by the noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter, but whether they will be asked to pass less extreme sentences. It is not by accident that we have the highest prison population; it is because the judges in this country pass the most severe sentences. In view of the remarks of my noble friend Lord Mishcon and of the noble Lord, Lord Harris, what steps, if any, does the noble Earl propose to take?

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, I should have thought that of all people the noble Earl, Lord Longford, would have been pleased with the White Paper because it does what he has advocated for a great many years; namely, that people who have committed offences should serve much of their sentence outside prison rather than inside it. I could not resist a wry smile when the noble Earl said that the fact that we had the highest prison population in Europe was entirely due to the judges. They are responsible for sentencing, but those people who go to gaol usually do so because of what they have done, not because of what the judges have done.

I was surprised that the noble Earl said that he did not know whether the proposals would do more good than harm. No one can know that. However, it is the Government's intention that the White Paper will do a great deal more good than harm for the very reasons I have given; namely, that those who commit lesser offences will not become so much involved in prison with those who have committed greater offences and will serve their sentences outside. On the other hand, those who commit bad offences should serve their sentences more in keeping with the sentences which have been passed.

Viscount Whitelaw

My Lords, is my noble friend aware that anyone with experience of the Home Office over the years is bound to find that there is a great deal to welcome in the proposals put forward today? On the whole, I support them strongly.

However, perhaps I may ask my noble friend whether he appreciates that the importance of the state of our prisons today is crucial. If we do not pay attention to it, it will cause a great deal of trouble in the future. Over many years successive Home Secretaries of all parties have made strenuous efforts one way and another to improve our prisons. None of us can say anything other than that the prison population in this country has risen inexorably until it has reached the stage at which it is not only dangerous but wrong for our society. It is always worth remembering—perhaps my noble friend will comment on this point —that any nation which neglects the state of its prisons and of the prisoners in those prisons is not a society as it should be. We in this country must take that point seriously into account.

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend for his comments. It means a great deal to those who are in the Home Office that someone with his experience of the Home Office should welcome the Statement. I recognise the problem about prisons to which he referred; namely, that a state which neglects its prisons and those in the prisons is on a difficult course. We agree in toto with that point. A great deal, although not enough, has been done to resolve the problem about which my noble friend is so concerned for the very reason that, if those aspects of our society are neglected, they will cause more trouble later.

Lord Hunt

My Lords, perhaps I may add a brief word of welcome to the Statement on two grounds. The first concerns the reference in the Statement to the report of the noble Lord, Lord Carlisle. Here my reasons differ from those of the noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter. As I understand the Statement, the Government give substantial confirmation and support to the findings of the report. Speaking personally from a background at the Parole Board, I was delighted to learn that the work of the Parole Board over the years is to be confirmed and in certain important respects strengthened. In that connection, perhaps I may ask the noble Earl one question. According to page six of the Statement, for those prisoners serving more than seven years the final decision in the selective process for additional release on parole will rest with the Home Secretary and not with the Parole Board. May I take it —I hope that this is the case —that the advice of the Home Secretary regarding selection will nevertheless come from the Parole Board?

While I am on my feet, perhaps I may ask another question on a note of concern arising from the reference to the probation service made by the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, and the noble Earl. With regard to the social work skills and highly successful results of the probation service in helping prisoners to return to society, there is a reference on page three to the powers of the courts to make curfew orders and to monitor prisoners in the community at various times of the day. As the noble Earl well knows, that is a matter of great concern to the probation service as it appears to conflict with the service's social work. Have the Government in mind any alternative means by which those surveillance jobs may be done?

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, for his welcome and the fact that he approves of the confirmation of the report produced by my noble friend Lord Carlisle and his committee. He was concerned about the responsibility resting with the Home Secretary and whether those people serving longer sentences were to be released. The philosophy behind the proposal is that those released into the community, and the public hazards that might therefore be created are a responsibility for the Home Secretary who will of course take advice from the Parole Board.

The details regarding curfews and monitoring to which the noble Lord referred have yet to be worked out. If those who have committed certain offences are kept away from their associates at the time when they are looking to be re-associated with them through a curfew, for example, the chances of those people re-offending by getting back into bad company will be lessened. Obviously the exact details of how that will happen have yet to be finalised.

Lord Hailsham of Saint Marylebone

My Lords, I should just like to say two or three sentences to my noble friend. I do not know whether one can ever reform a man's character by depriving him of his liberty but I should have thought that it was extremely doubtful. What is quite certain is that a man's character can be debased by the conditions that he has to endure while he has lost his liberty.

I should like to reinforce the words of my noble friend Lord Whitelaw, who has far more experience than I. The conditions in our prisons are not simply a function of the numbers in them or even the numbers of prison places available. It is the actual conditions of the prison regime which in my opinion are degrading to the human character.

I should like to say a few words in favour of the judges, who seem to me to have been unjustly criticised. Those who say that we above any other country in Europe send more people to prison may be statistically correct. However, they must also ask themselves whether the pattern of crime that is being committed at this time on an increasing scale inside this country in some ways is not worse than that of many of our European neighbours.

Obviously judges need to pursue a consistent sentencing policy. No doubt my noble and learned friend on the Woolsack is the recipient of the same kind of postbag that I received from people, sometimes from Members of the House of Commons who ought to know better, who believe that the Lord Chancellor orders judges about like a regimental sergeant major telling them what to do. That is of course not the case. However, I received nine complaints of undue leniency to every complaint of undue severity.

I do not know the answer to these questions and I doubt whether many other people do either. My own conviction may be described in two precepts: first, the disposal of a criminal case can never be judged until, at the very least, the transcript has been read; secondly, the court of Appeal has and ought to perform the function of imposing —except in the case of a few eccentrics (who exist in any group of several hundred people) —consistency of sentences and the proper kind of disposal for particular crimes which is expected of judges.

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, I understand my noble and learned friend's doubt about whether a person's character can be reformed by depriving him of his liberty. It is something that is always very difficult to discern. However, society has a right to be protected from those who commit the most serious crimes. That is why such offenders have to be removed from society. My noble and learned friend is entirely right to say that, having removed them from society, they then have to be held in conditions which are acceptable to both society and themselves. That is desirable. My noble and learned friend will realise, as indeed will other noble Lords, that it is a vast task. However, it is one to which we have set our hands.

My noble and learned friend produced an image of the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor regimenting judges like a regimental sergeant major. I imagine that the Lord Chancellor would be given fairly short shrift if he tried to do that to any judge. However, my noble and learned friend is quite right to say that people expect consistency and therefore will write, I assume, to the Lord Chancellor of the day to complain when in their opinion the sentences passed have not been consistent. But I know, as do my noble and learned friends, that as a whole judges are concerned to ensure that there should be a reasonable degree of similarity in sentences passed for similar crimes; but within that judges must be free to pass whatever sentence they think is correct.

5.15 p.m.

Lord Carlisle of Bucklow

My Lords, perhaps I may apologise to my noble friend for the fact that I was not in the Chamber when he started to repeat this Statement. Having had an opportunity to look very quickly at the White Paper, I understand that he has accepted the vast majority of the recommendations of the committee which I had the honour to chair. I should like to thank him very much for that. In fact I believe that what the committee proposed with regard to parole is a far more coherent pattern for sentencing than exists at the moment.

I believe that we have removed substantially the disparity that existed between what the judge said and what happened in practice. I believe that our proposals give a meaning to the totality of the sentence that it did not have before. I remind my noble friend that so far as concerns shorter sentences, the committee believed that its proposals would restore judicial confidence in the release mechanism. However, it also believed that implementation should go hand in hand with a determined effort to reduce the length of the shorter sentences in view of the fact that meaning is now to be given to the whole of the sentence. I hope that the Home Office has not ignored that point.

Finally, with regard to longer sentences, I welcome, as I know all members of the committee will welcome, the acceptance by the Home Office of our recommendation that in future parole should be based on review of the length of sentence that the person had had passed rather than the type of offence of which the person was convicted.

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, I am very grateful to my noble friend for his remarks. I can assure him that the concern that he expressed has not been lost on the Home Office. He and his committee have produced a report that has enabled us to find the right way forward. We have accepted the majority of the committee's recommendations. Quite clearly it will be necessary for some of the sentences to be lowered; otherwise the prison situation will be even worse. However, that is a matter for the judges.

If my noble friend's thesis, on which the report was based, comes out correctly, we should end up with people serving sentences which are more appropriate to the sentence passed, the sentences being passed being slightly less than has been the practice before and many more people spending their "reforming time" outside prison than inside.

Lord Denham

My Lords, I think that it would probably be the wish of the House to resume as soon as possible the Committee stage of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill. I know that the noble Baroness, Lady Phillips, wants to speak. I suggest that she make her intervention and after my noble friend has replied we resume the Committee stage.

Baroness Phillips

My Lords, I follow the rules of procedure which, I am sorry to say, other noble Lords do not appear to have done. I understood that one puts questions on a Statement. I welcome the Statement. I should like to ask the Minister whether the Government will consider ensuring that the amount of money that they give to the resettlement of offenders will always be balanced against the money that they give to the victim support schemes? In every crime there is an offender and a victim. I regret that the noble Earl referred to "less serious offences". As I said before, to the person against whom an offence is committed, all offences are equally serious.

I hope that, in giving guidelines to the magistrates, the Government will be extraordinarily clear that it is becoming increasingly difficult for those who act in a judicial capacity to decide whether they are carrying out the sentence that the offence deserves or whether it is a sentence that will be acceptable to the Government.

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, I do not think that it is a question of the sentence being acceptable to the Government. I understand the noble Baroness's concern but I could not possibly give her an undertaking that the same amount of money being spent on the resettlement of offenders will be spent on the victims. The two things are not necessarily comparable in money terms, although I accept that they are highly comparable in human terms. The way in which victims are compensated cannot be equated in monetary terms with what is spent for the resettlement of offenders. However, I understand the noble Baroness's concern.