HL Deb 15 December 1993 vol 550 cc1438-50

8.30 p.m.

The Earl of Longford rose to ask Her Majesty's Government whether they are satisfied with progress on the development of community service orders.

The noble Earl said: My Lords, I am sure that we are all happy to see the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, back in fighting form in the front line. He has defended many positions in this House, sometimes contradictory, but he has always defended them with charm and much parliamentary skill. I hope that tonight he will have an easier task than he sometimes does.

I believe that everyone will agree that it is high time we had a debate on community service orders. The truth is that this is a rather elusive subject. Many years ago I wrote a little book on humility. I met an Anglican bishop and explained that I was writing a book on humility. He said: "Humility? A very elusive subject", and he vanished before I could look round. It is an elusive subject and that is why there are not many speakers tonight, although those we have are of the highest quality.

It is hard to examine and investigate community service orders. I have tried more intensively recently but over the years I have tried hard. It is much easier to investigate prisons, schools, or even the House of Lords; any institution is easier than going round seeing what a few people may be up to, whether they are useful or whether they are being spoilt. It is hard and therefore it is high time we had this debate.

I begin by quoting a short extract from the foreword written by the noble and learned Lord, the Lord Chief Justice, to a booklet produced to celebrate 20 years of community service. I shall quote the noble and learned Lord, Lord Taylor: Since its introduction in 1973, the community service order has grown to be one of the most durable and effective sentencing options available to the court". He went on to say: In 1992 43,000 community service orders were made; 10 per cent. of the total of all sentences and 13 per cent. of the sentences [passed] by the Crown Court". So we can start from there. The order has become an important part of our penal system in the past 20 years.

I take the opportunity to say—and old friends of Lady Wootton will agree with me when they read this—that more credit goes to her than to any other individual because she was chairman of the crucial committee which produced the recommendation which led to the setting up of community service.

I do not believe that anyone would quarrel with what was claimed in the book to which the noble and learned Lord, Lord Taylor, wrote the introduction. It stated that the Criminal Justice Act 1991 made significant changes to the sentences framework in regard to community service orders. I do not think that anyone will disagree that the 1991 Act placed increasing emphasis on the use of community service orders. That is where we begin, and it has developed over the 20 years. But since 1991, new emphasis has been placed on the Act which has so often been defended in all its comings and goings by the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers. I offer that comment tonight and I shall make the point rather too often in my brief remarks. Can we take it that the emphasis has not been changed?

I cherish a dream of a time when community service will figure much more largely than now in our penal arrangements. In my dream, I see thousands of people who would now be sent to prison doing community service. Noble Lords may say: "How will that be done without interfering with ordinary employment, public or private?" That is a real question which will arise when the time comes, but it is a long way off. I am assured by everyone who knows anything about it that at present there is no great difficulty in finding community work which does not interfere with what would otherwise be commercial work.

I am told that it is estimated that one could double the amount of community service without interference, but the time will come when it will be a great issue. It is not, however, the issue I raise tonight. I am making a more modest claim, simply asking the noble Earl to reassure us, to allow us to go away believing that the emphasis on community service in the 1991 Act will be maintained. It may be asked: "Why should it not be? It was in the 1991 Act which was passed by a great Conservative Government, why should they not stick to the Act?" I am afraid that since it was passed we have had the emergence of Mr. Howard. I wish to be careful because I called him "The Prince of Darkness" last time I spoke and I shall not say anything worse about him tonight. I shall not be extravagant in my criticism of him. However, he has introduced a new emphasis in penal policy. No one doubts that Mr. Howard has done that. At the Conservative Party Conference, I believe that he received hysterical applause; there, at last, was a man who would get tough with criminals and that was what they wanted. Mr. Howard did not actually say that criminals should be hanged and flogged, but no doubt many people would have been delighted if he had said it.

At any rate, no one can doubt that Mr. Howard has introduced a new emphasis in relation to penal policy. If anyone does doubt it, he or she may look at what I quoted in an earlier debate; I shall not dwell on it. It is an article written by a gentleman who was in charge of the most relevant department of the Home Office for many years and who resigned in 1992. He said that there had been a complete reversal of policy; that is, the policy defended with such eloquence by the noble Earl over recent years. We have had at least five Home Secretaries in five years and, so far as I remember, the noble Earl waxed equally eloquent about them all.

Now we have Mr. Howard, a new broom with a new emphasis. The Times was, of course, pleased about it and said that there had been a new emphasis and so much the better. The newspaper thought that it discredited the 1991 Act. I hope and believe that that is not what the noble Earl will tell us tonight.

Thus, we must pin our hopes on the possibility that in that area at least Mr. Howard will not introduce a new policy but will stick to the policy that the noble Earl has defended so well over the years.

Have I any reason to be suspicious? Of course, Mr. Howard's speech at the Conservative Party Conference aroused great suspicion among everyone concerned with penal reform, including judges who were not previously regarded as penal reformers. They, together with prison governors, probation officers, social workers and prison officers were horrified by Mr. Howard's speech at that conference. One of the worst and most shocking things he said was—and he has his admirers no doubt—that prison worked. That is anyway disquieting, but he went on to indicate that he looked forward—I shall not say with pleasure, but with equanimity—to a large increase in the number of people in prison. Are we to take that as being due to the fact that he stood for a more effective policy of prosecution?

One cannot object in principle to that. One objective is the desire to prosecute guilty people more effectively, so I leave out that aspect. But is it due to the fact that under Mr. Howard's scenario perhaps thousands more people would be sent to prison who would otherwise have done community service? Is that the position? I am entitled to put that question to the noble Earl, who had full notice and knows exactly what I am going to say. He has therefore had time for consultation. He may even had had time to have a word or two with the great Mr. Howard. I do not know whether that is possible in these difficult times. Will that policy of having more people in prison mean fewer people being sentenced to community service?

Here I must become a little theoretical. Thirty years ago I wrote a small book called The Idea of Punishment. I have always been interested in the theory of sentencing—one might say too interested, since in England people have a distrust of theoreticians. I distinguished then the four recognised (traditional) elements in a just punishment: prevention, which means keeping people locked up so that they cannot do anybody any harm while they are in prison; reform; deterrence; and retribution. No doubt reparation should also be added to the list. It has been to some extent added since, but to an inadequate extent. Those traditional ideas are still basic to my thinking, and when I read about this and that sentence, I always ask how those various categories apply. But when it comes to the point, one cannot simply add up those categories. One has to reach a decision; for instance, whether to give Mr. Levitt community service or imprisonment. It is no good looking in the textbooks. In the end a practical decision has to be made. Nevertheless, I believe that those elements lie behind a just settlement.

How does community service come out in relation to those elements? I believe that it can be fairly argued—and I shall in a moment suggest—that community service scores heavily under the heading of reform. On the whole, people are more likely to be made better people than if they went to prison. Nothing of that sort can be proved conclusively. Nothing ever can be. But all the evidence (which I cannot summarise now) points that way. So community service scores on reform. It also has an element of reparation, if not for the individual, then in work for the community. So it scorer there also. But under all the other headings—prevention (locking people up), deterrence (frightening people off), and retribution (giving them hell because they have behaved very badly)—it might be thought to be too soft.

Therefore, if we are discussing this matter seriously—and this might be the beginning of many discussions of community service—we have to ask ourselves whether community service is too soft an option. I do not say anything about the merits of the decision, but when Mr. Levitt was given community service there was a great outcry. People said that the sentence was too soft and he ought to have had a very much more painful sentence. That can always be argued in any particular case. But I suggest to noble Lords that there are two arguments here (there are three altogether, but two come into one's mind immediately).

There is the argument that some valuable work is done for the community by the offender who is doing community service. I think it could be accepted that he is doing more that is valuable than he would ever do in prison in the like time. That is certainly one argument. I shall not try to press the statistics too hard because I think that all statistics lack coercion, but it seems on the statistics that the benefit is more likely than if the offender goes to prison.

I do not claim that there is any magic in community service. I have talked recently to quite a few people who have done community service about their past, and they would say that it is not a soft option at all. They would say that it is quite hard work. It is particularly painful if one has not done that sort of work before. Although they would say that it is not a soft option, one has to ask oneself what it amounts to. Undoubtedly, here one gets some variation.

The other day I happened to have a long discussion with a young man who had done 200 hours of community service some time ago. He was an educated man who had, as he himself said, become a naughty boy. He was given community service, which he thought he deserved. He enjoyed it. He did painting for various institutions, work which would not otherwise have been done. At the end of the time he was asked to become a supervisor of other people who were doing community service. So in his case it was a success. He said that he knew many other people who would speak in the same way about their community service.

But it is admitted that it does not succeed with everybody. Two-thirds of those who do community service apparently complete their sentence. About one-third do not, and those people must be thought of as the failures of the system. So we have to weigh matters up and ask whether on the whole, and taking any particular case, it will be beneficial to the man and to the community. My conviction comes down strongly in favour of community service when in doubt. I do not say that it is applicable to everybody. I do not for one moment suggest that when somebody has done something absolutely appalling community service is the answer.

I have another very obvious thought: community service is of course very much cheaper. I have been given the figures and I have no reason to doubt them: community service costs £20 a week per head; prison costs £365 a week per head—18 times as much. So community service is obviously very, very much cheaper. We do not want to run our penal treatment on the cheap. That is not the objective. But assuming that a certain amount of money is allotted—I believe that the Government are not ready to allot enough money to prisons, but that is another issue—we ought to try to find the way of spending it to best advantage.

Last week I attended a memorable press conference at which that great Christian governor, Mr. Joe Whitty, who is soon to retire from Feltham, gave an address which will always stay in my memory. He described the improvements that had been made in Feltham and the ideals that he was working for. We must bear in mind that Feltham has had a worse press than any other prison in the country and has had quite a number of suicides. He emphasised the fact more than once that those ideals could never be realised unless more resources were available. We had a fairly bleak reply from the gentleman who is now Director-General of the Prison Service. (I shall not say anything about his qualifications; that would be another story. In his own way he is a very reputable man.) He explained that there is no more money available.

Let us take that argument for the moment and assume (which I do not accept) that no more money is available for penal work. The question then is: how should it be spent? I submit to the House, and to the Government in particular, that it would be far better for the community if we sent far more people to community service and far fewer people to a prison, where it costs 18 times as much to keep an offender.

Before I close I should like quickly to make just two other points. First, under the Act of 1991—and I am glad to think that there is some controversy here—community service can now be combined with probation. That is a big subject in its own way. Personally I welcome that. On the face of it community service is, as it were, a constructive punishment since it may help the offender and do some good to the community. But it remains a punishment, and it does not involve any positive decisions on the part of anybody for the offender. The offender on probation is befriended and counselled, and if all goes well is very much assisted through the good offices of the probation service to lead a normal life. The combination of those two is an invaluable step forward. I welcome things which have been done, if I may put it that way, long ago by the Government.

Finally I pay my tribute to the probation service. If we say that community service has been a success, as I certainly think it has, that success must be largely attributed to the probation service. I should like that to go on record.

I end where I began. Perhaps I may ask the Minister, the respected Earl Ferrers, a question. Is he ready to assure us that we need not worry, and that the emphasis on the 1991 Act, which led to a 35 per cent. increase in community service sentences in the following year will be maintained; or are the Government going to go back on it? It is a very simple question. I hope that we shall receive not too diplomatic an answer. I hope that we shall get a straightforward answer from the noble Earl.

8.50 p.m.

Lord Henderson of Brompton

My Lords, I do not intend to range quite so widely as the noble Earl. I wish to say principally that I agree with what he said, especially about the 1991 Act and the probation service. It was well said and well deserved.

I am sure that the House, or what remains of it, will give an extra expression of gratitude to the noble Earl for raising the subject today, especially because, as he mentioned, it was a distinguished member of this House, Lady Wootton of Abinger, as chairman of the old advisory council on the penal system, who was largely responsible for the community service order.

To the best of my recollection, the community service order was introduced originally as a constructive alternative to the fine, especially for the fine defaulter who had no alternative but to default because he was unemployed and had no money except, no doubt, state benefit, from which he could not hope to pay a fine without rendering himself and his family destitute. A prison sentence for a man in those circumstances was hopelessly inappropriate, ineffective and counter-productive as well as being extremely expensive. That was a startling and radical but highly necessary reform which we owe very largely to Lady Wootton of Abinger.

I am happy to say that now the order is much more widely used by both magistrates and the Crown Courts. It is not by any means confined to fine defaulters. I am told that it has now been extended to theft, handling stolen goods, motoring offences, burglary, fraud, forgery and even violence. That is a very good index of how that small acorn has grown into a big tree. However, I have little confidence that my wish, which is that the growth should continue, will be fulfilled. I very much support the noble Earl's plea that the 1991 Act shall not be adversely affected by government policies in this Session.

This very valuable order, which is now 20 years old, is likely to become, if it is not already, a favourite non-custodial disposal available to the courts. I suppose that it is used because it has a greater punitive element than a probation order or the combination order to which the noble Earl referred. It would be a very considerable advance from the original purpose of that kind of order, and no bad thing at all, if it were developed in the future as it has developed over the past and made more use of both by the Crown Courts and by magistrates.

But any such development clearly needs to be monitored and questions asked. In particular, it should be asked whether it is suitable or appropriate for the community service order to encroach on the probation order, for instance, or the combination order. It was originally intended to be an alternative to a sentence of custody, not to be an alternative to a sentence of probation. I should have thought that that ought to be looked at if there is to be any review of the community service order.

I should like to see revived the old advisory council on the penal system. I can think of no better body to monitor the development and make any recommendations. There is an equivalent council for the social services and it has proved to be immensely valuable in the reports that it gives. I should like to see the old council on the penal system revived for that purpose, to assist the Home Secretary in coming to such conclusions as he may eventually reach. I have little confidence that that wish of mine will be granted, because the present Home Secretary does not seem too keen on taking advice. But I should very much like to hear whether the suggestion that I have just put out might at least be considered by the Home Office.

I should like to see an extension of the use of the community service order because, as the noble Earl said, it is cost effective. My statistic is that it costs £700 for a completed order in the inner London area, which is far cheaper than a custodial sentence. It is much more constructive and much less expensive than prison; and at least in some cases it causes offenders to reform as a result of giving something back to society by means of the order. Unfortunately, it does not do anything to compensate the victim, where there is one. I suppose that a possible but more expensive alternative would be a day's prison or a day at a training centre, which I believe is available to the courts but is not much used.

On the whole, I should leave well alone. The order has proved itself over the years in 20 years of growth and 20 years of acceptance by the courts. I should not like to see its growth impeded in any way. I should allow the system to expand subject to one exception, to which I have already referred; namely, that the community service order should not be used where a probation order would be more suitable. Perhaps the Home Secretary would very kindly give a shove in that direction, if I may dare suggest it.

9 p.m.

Lord Mishcon

My Lords, at this time on a cold night any conceivable popularity a speaker may have in your Lordships' House is speedily dissipated if his speech is overlong, but the subject of the Unstarred Question, to which my noble friend has spoken with his usual sincerity and specialist knowledge is of such importance that I shall, I hope, be forgiven if with reasonable brevity I address myself to a few aspects of community service orders.

We are all worried about the increase in crime, about the preponderance of young offenders in criminal statistics, about recidivism, about overcrowded prisons and about punishment fitting the crime but yet giving the criminal a reasonable chance of rehabilitation. They are issues which have been frequently debated in your Lordships' House. I venture to suggest that community service orders have considerable relevance to each and every one of those matters.

Perhaps I may from this Bench add my tribute to that which was paid by my noble friend Lord Longford to the probation service throughout the country and to all those who have worked with community service, which has had 20 years of real achievement and progress since it was introduced in 1973. It was then an experiment and it has without doubt proved itself. It has provided a very acceptable option in suitable cases for those who have the responsibility of imposing sentences by combining some deprivation of liberty, obtaining a contribution of useful work for the community and preserving the principle of reparation. They are, as has been said by the noble Lord, Lord Henderson of Brompton, and by my noble friend Lord Longford, cost-effective and effective, too, in other respects.

Last year 72 per cent. of all community service orders were completed satisfactorily, and in the 20 years of the existence of these orders more than 60 million hours have been ordered and worked. It is no wonder that other countries have found these schemes of value. Twelve other European countries and more than 40 countries worldwide now have them. As the Howard League for Penal Reform puts it in an article on the subject: It is not a universal answer to crime, but it has earned its place as a valuable part of a rational sentencing policy. It would be unrealistic to suppose that offenders will stop offending simply because of the experience. Mass unemployment and the circumstances in which they live all too often make it depressingly certain that they will be at risk long after the order finishes—but for some it is a sufficiently important experience to have that effect. For others it puts a gap in their offending, helps their growing up and stops the destructive effect which prison so often provides". And talking of young adult offenders, let us remember that by 1986, 44 per cent. of all orders were in respect of those between the ages of 17 and 20. We are therefore dealing tonight with a matter which is critical to the anxious question as to how to reduce rapidly the growing number of young adults in the prison system.

I was interested to learn the range of work and I made some inquiries. It includes large-scale environmental projects in national parks and on canal restoration and riverside walks, shopping and lunch clubs for the elderly, special groups for the mentally handicapped, which not only provide one-to-one care but give a well-earned day's break to those who would otherwise be the carers, and the maintenance of footpaths, church halls, adventure playgrounds and graveyards—all this while preserving the cardinal principle that these schemes should not replace paid labour.

What of the future, a question that the previous two speakers have asked? I hope that we shall hear from the Minister that there will be no tinkering with community service orders in what has been heralded as some change of policy at the Home Office in regard to penal matters. My noble friend Lord Longford and the noble Lord, Lord Henderson of Brompton, asked that anxious question, and I repeat it. I hope indeed that we shall have promises tonight of encouragement and even greater support for the probation service in supervising these orders—and encouragement too to the judiciary at every level to utilise them. One also hopes for some greater consistency in their use. The Home Office Statistical Bulletin of 24th June 1992 points out: Although some improvement in consistency was achieved in 1990, probation areas differ considerably in the use made of CSOs from South Yorkshire where 4.8 per cent. of offenders were given a CSO in 1990 to Inner London and Dyfed where 1.7 per cent. of offenders were given a CSO". Has the Minister any later information on consistency in the various areas which would encourage us?

Perhaps I may end by quoting from a Council of Europe document of 1986 which described community service as, probably the most progressive alternative measure introduced in European criminal law in the last 10 years, the one which seems to offer the most possibilities and the one which raises the most hopes". My noble friend Lord Longford performed a community service by bringing this subject before the House tonight.

9.8 p.m.

The Minister of State, Home Office (Earl Ferrers)

My Lords, the House will be grateful to the noble Earl, Lord Longford, for giving us the opportunity of reviewing the progress of community service orders this evening. I was grateful for the kind remarks that he made at the beginning of his speech when he hoped that I was fit and well and ready for battle. I must admit that some of his comments made me feel like joining him in battle, but I shall desist from so doing for the time being.

We all know the noble Earl to be passionate about prison reform and the way in which prisoners are treated. And that —if I may say so—is wholly commendable, even if the noble Earl will understand that I cannot follow him step by step in all of his aspirations and his conclusions. The noble Earl said that one of his dreams was one in which thousands of those who are sent to prison at present will instead be given community service orders. That is one of the areas in which I slip my moorings with the noble Earl.

Prison should be reserved to deal with the most serious of offenders. The noble Earl asked on two or three occasions, as did the noble Lords, Lord Henderson of Brompton, and Lord Mishcon, whether the Government stood by the 1991 Criminal Justice Act. The answer is that they do. The whole philosophy behind that Act was that those who were the worst offenders had to be sent to prison, both for the nature of their crime and in order to protect the public. And I would remind the noble Earl that the protection of the public is a prime responsibility for any Home Secretary and indeed for the courts. In that respect, I cannot share the noble Earl's dream that all those people should not go to prison.

The dream that I would share with him is that those who have the responsibility for children—the parents, the teachers, both moral and spiritual, and all those involved with the young—would so bring up the children of the future that they would not end up in prison and never commit crime. Maybe that dream—like the noble Earl's—will never become a 100 per cent. reality. But it is an aim to strive for.

The other part of the philosophy of the 1991 Act was that those who had not committed the most offensive crimes should not be sent to prison where they would hob nob with those who are the worst offenders in society and would learn the tricks, as one might say, from the old dogs—that is an expression, of course, and not a description. But, instead, those lesser criminals should be punished—and I mean punished—within the community, where they are separated from the worst offenders but where they may do some useful work; learn, possibly, some form of remorse; understand—a little—the effect which their crimes have had on society; give back, by reparation to the community, a little of that which they have removed. So, in that respect, the philosophy of the 1991 Act remains now as it was then. But nothing can be fossilised. Life is, if nothing else, a moveable, vibrant entity. It is like an ant hill. It is always moving. And laws and attitudes must adjust and react to circumstances as they change.

The noble Earl, Lord Longford, said that he did not want to be more offensive to my right honourable friend than he was last time, when he called him the "Prince of Darkness". I find it impossible to imagine how much more offensive one can be than that, particularly at Christmastime. I shall resist the temptation to argue with the noble Earl. However, he is quite rightly concerned about crime. People in the country are concerned about crime. My right honourable friend is determined to take action to deal with crime and to give the courts sufficient powers. It is up to the courts to do the sentencing.

And when the noble Earl castigates my right honourable friend for saying that prison works, I would just remind him that for all the inconveniences—the restrictions, the incarceration, the wastefulness, the shamefulness, which is a concomitant part of prison life—it does actually remove the offender from society, and while he is in prison, it prevents him from continuing to perpetrate his offences.

From the point of view of the society, which has been so violated by the offender, prison works. Whatever else, while he is in prison, that society is protected from the attention of the prisoner. And, when in prison, if the offender can be improved physically, psychologically, emotionally, technically—and all those things can happen in prison—prison does work.

But I agree with the noble Earl that it would be much better if that person was not in prison in the first place. But that is his choice. He has chosen to be a criminal. No one has to be. And he must live with the consequences of his actions. And he must be responsible for them.

The undoubted success of community service schemes as a sentencing measure over the past 20 years, is best illustrated by the remarkable statistic that, since 1973, some 60 million hours of useful and unpaid work by offenders has been ordered by judges and by magistrates. There can be no doubt that many organisations and individuals have benefited from these offenders and from the work which they have done.

There has been much greater emphasis recently on the use of community sentences such as community service orders. In part, this is because community service is seen to be, and is designed to be, punishment within the community. If the noble Earl still harbours doubts that the provisions of the 1991 Criminal Justice Act will be emasculated, let me remind him that in 1992—only last year—43,000 community service orders were begun. This is the highest total ever. It represents 10 per cent. of all the sentences which were passed in 1992; and it represents 13 per cent. of all those sentences which were passed by the Crown Court. This trend has continued throughout the first half of 1993, when 23,000 community service orders were begun. This is an increase of 7 per cent. over the same period in 1992.

So when the noble Earl gets frightened, for some reason best known to himself, that the use of community service orders will be whittled away, I would just advise him not to be like the terrified Protestant who feared that he would "find the Pope of Rome behind every bush", although I daresay the noble Earl would think it a very good thing if we did find the Pope of Rome behind every bush. I recognise that that is not a very good analogy for the noble Earl, but it is my rather pedantic way of suggesting to the noble Earl that he should stop fussing.

Both the noble Earl and the noble Lord, Lord Henderson, were anxious that community service orders should continue and that the Government should not seek to ensure that they are used less. I remind both the noble Earl and the noble Lord that the law allows the use of the community service orders but, of course, it is up to the courts—and not the Government—whether or not they use them. Parliament has provided that facility and they seem to be using them—and that is a good thing.

The Criminal Justice Act 1991 now allows community service to become available for offenders who are aged 16 or over and who have been convicted of an offence which is sufficiently serious to warrant such a sentence. The Act also had the important effect of introducing, for the first time, the combination order. This combines a probation order with a community service order, which is, one might say, a double whammy. And this, of course, is another choice for the sentencers. I am glad that that at least received the noble Earl's approval.

New national standards for the supervision of offenders in the community were produced to coincide with the implementation of the 1991 Act. The new standards set minimum standards for good practice in all areas of probation service work with offenders. This included community service and combination orders.

The noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, was worried about the consistency of the use of community service orders The national standards are now due to be revised, and this should be done by September 1994. They will then give even clearer guidelines to the managers of the Probation Service on the minimum standards which will be expected both of probation officers and of community service staff.

The object of the community service order is to reintegrate the offender into the community. This is done by giving him clear, demanding, but unpaid work to do in the community and, by doing that work, enabling him thereby to provide some reparation to the community for the harm and distrust —and fear—which, by his antisocial and illegal behaviour, he has created both in the community as a whole and among some of its individual members.

Part of the success of community service orders has been their ability to create some form of reparation which can be directed to a greater or lesser degree to the victims of the crime. Offenders might, for example, be required to repair, repaint and rebuild their local community hall. The noble Earl, Lord Longford, gave an instance of that and the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, gave a number of examples, and those are good.

Very often, offenders who have come from a disorganised and unstable background can begin to become part of society again and can begin to have a stake in it. The fact is that many offenders have a history of unemployment or of casual labour, and, as a result, they lack the discipline to report regularly and on time for work. I think that that is a pathetic reflection of our society, education, home life, or what you will—but it is a fact. A requirement to report regularly and on time under a community service order may, therefore, form quite a stepping-stone back into the reality of a more ordered life.

Other offenders may find communication difficult. Working in a team on a group project may help both to overcome this and to give them some form of self-confidence, which in the present ghastly jargon of today is sometimes called "developing basic social skills". That really means learning to behave properly and not anti-socially.

Nothing succeeds like success, and with success goes confidence and self-confidence. If a person can show that he has been successful with his community service order then his self-confidence can begin to grow. That is one of the most important benefits of a community service order. Another good effect is that many ex-offenders continue with voluntary work at projects which they performed as part of their community service, a point made by the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon.

At a time when there is considerable public concern about the level of crime in society, and when the Government are looking afresh at all sentencing options, including the use which is made of custodial as well as of non-custodial sentences, it is important that we should be able to demonstrate publicly that community sentences are a worthwhile option. They must be good for the offender. They must be good for the community. They should not be considered as an intellectual and inadequate reaction to the perpetrators of crime. They must not be soft. They must be demanding.

I am not as generous as the noble Earl, who is renowned for his understanding of the criminal. I do not have quite that sympathy. No one has to be a criminal. No one has to misbehave. Everyone has a responsibility for what they do. And if a person misbehaves, in my book he has no one to blame other than himself. Meanwhile others suffer, sometimes even for life.

In my book, therefore, the offender should be subject to the full rigours of the law, which should include punishment as well as reparation. If that punishment can be fulfilled within the community, without the disadvantage of exposure to the more criminal elements within prison, and if it can be done to the material improvement of the criminal, then that is fine. But it must not be regarded, nor must it be, a soft way out of the proper deserts of criminal behaviour.

The noble Lord, Lord Henderson of Brompton, asked whether we would re-establish the Advisory Council on the Penal System. We have no plans to do so, but we now have the Criminal Justice Consultative Council, with wide representation from the criminal justice agencies and the relevant professions. It was brought into being following the Woolf Report and is regarded widely as having a key role to play in advising the Government and improving the criminal justice system.

I hope that the noble Earl will feel content that any anxiety which he may have felt about the continued use of community service orders has been misplaced, and that his debate, if it has done nothing other than reassure him about that, will have been worth while.

House adjourned at twenty-three minutes past nine o'clock.