HL Deb 17 March 1993 vol 543 cc1490-530

5.28 p.m.

Lord Gisborough rose to call attention to the rising crime figures and to the case for additional support for the courts and the police to deal with crime; and to move for Papers.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, the police have been faced with an appalling problem caused by the uncontrollable, violent and sadistic behaviour of a small, hard core group of young people with whom they have inadequate powers to deal. All that the police can do is give warning after warning: the youths boast that the police can do nothing to them. Like anything else in life they become used to offending and one crime leads to a worse crime as they strain against non-existent authority. They provoke the police, taking up a position from the sunshine roofs of vehicles they have stolen and throwing rocks at police cars. Even dangerous youngsters who rape and use drugs have had to be released because of their age. They are then free to commit serious offences while on remand. No wonder the police and the criminals' victims feel frustrated! Many of these youngsters may well have disastrous backgrounds. But they should have been brought up in their tracks at a much earlier age.

In days gone by when a youngster offended he received immediate punishment from either a policeman or a parent, who were respected for taking such action. There may well have been cases of injustice but at least the young knew where they were. "Spare the rod and spoil the child" may now be an unfashionable saying, but it was not totally without merit. Over the past few weeks the Government have taken various actions to try to deal with juvenile offenders. It is high time they did so. The secure training orders will at least keep some of them off the streets for a while but the success of the scheme depends on the success of their reformation while in custody. That is the only thing that will stop them re-offending. Therefore the length of their sentences should suit their need for education and rehabilitation as much as, if not more than, the severity of their crime.

I understand there are only 200 places in secure accommodation. There are 150 hard core youngsters in my county alone. Many more places will need to be provided and staff of adequate calibre will also need to be found. Surely old army barracks would be ideal as a quick and temporary measure of accommodation. They could be managed perhaps by recently retired Guards NCOs with their known qualities of discipline, training and above all leadership.

One cause of public anger is that juveniles cannot be identified and the protection of anonymity is now extended to those aged under 18 rather than to those aged under 17. The right to anonymity has prompted people to ask, "How do we know who to watch out for? We do not even know if the cases are going to court". Frustration has created a trend whereby people take the law into their own hands. Known criminals and families with problem children have been attacked and forced out of their communities. There have been a number of reported cases of revenge attacks such as the case of Ronald Penrose, a regular thief, who was himself beaten to death by an enraged mob. His son was taken off and beaten elsewhere.

We are witnessing an expression of anger at inadequate policing and justice which is leading to the formation of vigilante groups. In some high crime housing estates volunteers are patrolling at night and are indeed reducing the crime rate on those estates. For those unwilling to become special constables, perhaps there should be reformed the aptly named Home Guard to provide the voluntary wardens with a degree of control and a degree of authority.

In the countryside youths sortie out to do unlimited damage to property and wildlife. They have no respect for person or property and offer violence to anyone trying to protect themselves. To try to arrest someone invites the risk of personal assault, or of being arrested oneself. I caught one young vandal red-handed and took him a mile to the police station. I asked the police to tell him to desist from his activities. About an hour later the police sergeant came to inform me that the parents of the boy had been dissuaded from prosecuting me for arresting the boy. Furthermore the police did not even dare to arrest the boy themselves. How can a boy grow up with any respect for the law if he knows that he can do what he likes with impunity?

Many people now carry knives and police officers are among those who get stabbed. But no one can now be stopped and searched just on suspicion. The police are frustrated by the restrictions and by the increasing complexity of the law under which they have to work as well as by inadequate resources to tackle crime. There have been some very few but very highly publicised cases of the distortion of evidence. That has done immense damage to the whole police force whose evidence is now suspect. It has resulted in the raising of the standard of proof to a point that is difficult to achieve, thus giving an enormous advantage to the defence. Defence can now demand so much more proof that many cases are simply not taken to court. The pendulum in favour of the offender has swung too far, even to the extent of the police having to disclose the names of informers. It must be reversed, but in turn every single member of the police must realise how scrupulously honest and careful he must be in the presentation of his evidence. If we are to crack crime, we must give the police the powers they need and we must be prepared to forgo, at least for a period, some of the niceties of civil liberties.

Once brought to court, the unit fine system introduced by the 1991 Act is proving in practice to be grossly unfair. Unemployed people, along with those who claim to have little income, are receiving derisory, small financial penalties. It is too easy for the well versed criminal to understate his income and he knows he will get away with it. Those who honestly admit that they are in work receive huge fines for the same offence. The vicious treatment of those who are in work will bring hatred and disrespect for the law and just penalise the diligent. Meanwhile, raising the maximum penalties has had no effect whatever in reducing crime. Before unit fines were introduced each court had a tariff as a guide, but these varied even between adjacent courts. The Home Office should lay down a tariff guide for the whole country and then leave it to the good sense of the magistrates to apply tariffs to each very different circumstance and locality. Fining can never be equal for all as no two cases are the same, but the magistrate or judge hearing the case is as likely as some social scholar in the Home Office to get it somewhere near right.

There has been an ever increasing movement over the years to stop corporal punishment on the argument that it breeds more violence. No one can condone the sadistic beating of children, but where young thugs break in and beat up an old lady in her own house, are they really likely to become even more violent? Some form of physical punishment is the only thing that some of these young thugs are likely to respect, whether it is a punishment drill, runs up a mountain, or the cane. It may make them heroes but that does not mean they want the punishment repeated. Physical punishment is over quickly and avoids all the well known disadvantages and the cost of detention.

Similarly, I am absolutely convinced that there must be the ultimate deterrent of the cane in school. It should be seldom used but it must be there as a last resort; for example, for persistent violence against other children.

Many cases before the courts expose dreadful cases of hardship. There is no money in the family; just illness and disability. Great sympathy is felt by magistrates for the distressing family situation, yet punishment has to be given for what are understandable human failings. It is always difficult to award people, already unable to manage on their social security benefit, fines that are adequate to deal with the offence. I give an example. Many people, usually women, are charged with having no TV licence and would usually be fined eight units. Under the Home Office rules, a girl earning £160 a week, or £4 per hour, would have to pay some £288, and clearly she has to devote earnings of 72 hours of her work towards paying the fine. That is presumably what the Home Office considered to be fair. However, lots of these offending girls are unemployed single parents with no skill and no chance of getting a job. They cannot manage on their income support and so take a chance with their licence.

Under the unit fine system they may only have to pay £30. That encourages them to save the £85 needed for the licence. Back again in court for the same offence they soon build up a long catalogue of fines which, along with the cost of now buying a licence and the inability anyhow to manage on their income in the first place, forces them either to starve themselves and the child, go and steal, or leave the child unattended and go out on the street on the game. I ask noble Lords what other alternative they have. All alternatives lead either to further crime and court appearances or to the NHS hospital. A way could be found to enable the unemployed girl to earn money by doing piecework in her home, without leaving the children, for the appropriate number of hours—like her sister who can work in her job—to pay the fine. This is not community service. It has nothing to do with community service. It is piecework rewarded with a cheque valid to pay the fine. A system of this kind, all the details of which have been worked out and given to the Home Office would reduce the number of people coming into court for repeat offences simply due to their inability to earn the money to pay their fines. It would give some hope to those in financial despair, without excusing them their penalties.

One of the problems singular to this country within Europe is that under 18 year-olds are allowed to gamble in amusement arcades. This soon becomes a habit and then an addiction for which only theft will provide the finance to continue. A study published last year showed slot machine gambling to be reaching epidemic proportions. Youngsters will steal to find the money in order to play the machines. Slot machines should be illegal for under age children as is the case in so many other countries.

It does not make sense to me that television companies can claim that advertising makes people buy goods and then say that portrayal of violence does not have a similar influence. I believe that the senses of youngsters, and of the not so young, are dulled, distorted and depraved by what they see on television and video nasties, by sex, violence and animal abuse, and in particular by dreadful pornography. We should stop pretending that children are all in bed by 9 o'clock. The law must be severely tightened up and the laws of arrest widened.

Peer pressure is important. For a youngster to stay in his group he has to comply with the norm. It may be a matter of wearing the same type of trainers, he may have to commit the same or a greater crime to stay in his group. Equally, peer pressure works the other way. The Americans have set up teen courts where, subject to safeguards, the young are tried by other teenagers. That has met with remarkable success. It is a project worth copying experimentally, but the Home Office has already rejected it. Presumably it is too innovative.

Peer pressure also applies to parents. It is therefore perhaps time for parents to be named in order to bring peer pressure on them to control their children. Since October the courts have had tougher powers to deal with juveniles and involve their parents. It is probably only peer pressure that can ever reduce the rate of illegitimacy or the cults of drugs, glue-sniffing and drink. That leads back to the matter of stigma so thoughtfully discussed in the past by my noble friend Lord Joseph.

The tendency to commit crime starts early, due to family background and upbringing. Therefore, the answer to law and order lies much deeper than in the courts. It involves such matters as one-parent families, child abuse, latch-key children, truancy, boredom—perhaps national community service would help here—education, unemployment, positive love, care and discipline both at home and at school, disciplined apprenticeship, and attitudes and example by parents and peers, along with better detection, home security, high-tech credit card authorisation, control of drugs and drink and a real fear of being caught and punished.

A whole range of positive actions is already in place: research into truancy, probation, intermediate treatment, and charities such as Divert. All deserve every support. That is where the effort must be directed to stop youngsters starting on the road to crime in the first place. Any improvement will take generations, as problem parents lead to problem children. However, attitudes are changing, even in the Home Office, and over the past few weeks action has begun. May it continue. I beg to move for Papers.

5.42 p.m.

Lord Hutchinson of Lullington

My Lords, I am not sure that I can follow the noble Lord as to the support which he suggests should be given to the courts, but I have no time to pursue that matter. I shall limit myself as regards "support for the courts" and shall concentrate on juvenile crime.

The noble Earl has listened patiently over the years to those of us who have urged the Government to concentrate their resources on that area. There is now a whole raft of additional support which could be given to those operating the Children Act and the Criminal Justice Acts, to which I shall refer in a moment.

Nothing winkles out the real worth of a politician more quickly than holding the office of Home Secretary. Within weeks Mr. Clarke had given a knee-jerk reaction to some much-publicised juvenile offending, when perhaps bending that limb might have been a more appropriate stance. He proposed the creation of yet another type of closed institution for 12 to 15 year-old children—secure training centres—so characteristically and revealingly described as locking up persistent, nasty little juveniles.

What would a modicum of modesty and inquiry have revealed to Mr. Clarke on arrival at the Home Office? First, he would have found a mass of research in the form of Green Papers and White Papers published over 10 years, culminating in complex new legislation. Secondly, he would have found a distinct and clear philosophy governing the treatment of juveniles, backed by a dedicated body of professional and voluntary workers in the field, with three other government departments intimately involved. Thirdly, such inquiry would have revealed certain undeniable facts: a reduction of 35 per cent. in juvenile crime by males in the past five years, 43 per cent. of those aged between 10 and 13; a 50 per cent. reduction in the number of those held in custody; a 50 per cent. fall in indictable offences by that age group; an 80 per cent. fall in motor car offences. Only 10 per cent. of those offences involved violence, and only 1.5 per cent. involved sex. Yet 70 per cent. to 80 per cent. of those leaving prison service custody re-offend within two years. Mr. Clarke would have found a commitment to abolish prison remands for 15 and 16 year-olds when sufficient secure places had become available.

That is a success story involving a real reduction in juvenile crime based largely on the provision to the courts of intense, supervised activity schemes in the community. The new Home Secretary would surely have wanted to pay tribute to his predecessors, Mr. Hurd and John Patten, and to the noble Earl and the enlightened staff in the Home Office.

He would also have found a mass of research and reports produced over the past 10 years on the outcome of detention of juveniles in closed institutions, approved schools, community homes, community homes with education, detention centres and young offender institutions. That research identified such institutions with 75 per cent. to 85 per cent. reconviction rates, abuse, bullying, contamination, suicides, and low levels of professional skill. That is an expensive way of making bad people worse, as Mr. Hurd described it.

With that evidence of failure and success, there could surely be but one policy for the new Home Secretary: support for the courts to build on what had been so laboriously and successfully achieved. If funds were available he should provide national availability of bail support schemes and ring-fenced central funding of supervised activity schemes. He should provide a national network of secure units and there should be a statutory duty to make provision for them. He should safeguard specialist rehabilitation centres and residential homes such as Peper Harow, and voluntary youth organisations, and stop the present haemorrhage of those homes due to lack of funds. He should provide hostel and transitional accommodation. He should establish nationally local consultation committees and local agencies to identify and target young offenders in each area and provide proper training for the staff.

However, all we have is confrontation. That is the Government's favourite stance. Every nationally known children's organisation from Barnardos to Save the Children is in total opposition to the proposal.

On what evidence are these penal institutions justified? What is the cost? Why has persistence rather than seriousness now become the criterion? Under-14s can attract a residential requirement in secure accommodation. If they are beyond control they can be taken into care until 18 years of age. The over-14s are subject to Section 53, with detention up to 12 months. What evidence is there that those units have failed?

This is an idea borne of ignorance and arrogance, mere posturing to an unnecessarily fearful public. It will do nothing but increase once again the re-offending of juveniles.

5.50 p.m.

The Lord Bishop of Ripon

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Gisborough, for raising this topical and important question. The causes of crime, the assessment of crime statistics and the nature of what the courts require are all complicated subjects. I should like to start therefore with a plea that this complexity should be recognised and that those who venture into this area should be humble enough to advance their opinions with some caution.

It is a subject which has been plagued by what I call an either/or approach. It is held that either the individual is to blame or that environmental and social factors are to blame. We hear that either people should be punished or they should be rehabilitated. The truth, surely, is that each of those aspects is important and needs to be taken seriously. No one should feel that to recognise the inherent tendency in each one of us towards weakness and evil, as well as good, somehow means that we should not recognise the role of parenting or of conditioning through the media and through the surrounding physical and spiritual circumstances, or through a host of other causes which may influence people for good or evil. Individual contributions from public figures, including Church leaders, may highlight particular aspects. But surely a polarised debate is of little help.

If the causes of crime are complex, then so also is the matter of sentencing. There is no one approach which has all the answers. We need a multifaceted pluralism of experimentation drawing on the skills and enthusiasms of a wide range of statutory and voluntary organisations and volunteers. We still have a great deal to learn about what kind of punishment, treatment or resource would be right for different offenders. We surely need the energetic commitment not only of the Government and statutory agencies at different levels but also from voluntary organisations including the Churches. One insight which has surely emerged from recent debate is that we are all in this matter together. We must share responsibility for finding a way forward.

Last week I read a report of a probation officer working in Leeds. He analysed possible reasons for the high level of crime on a particular housing estate. At the end he commented that although crime levels were high, the vast majority of the population of the housing estate were law-abiding citizens. No analysis in the end can determine why in two apparently identical sets of circumstances one person becomes a criminal and another does not. I believe that whatever causes there may be for criminal activity the element of personal responsibility for our actions remains. It is that matter which I wish to address today.

More than 15 years ago, I visited a bail hostel in Leeds run by a single individual. He belonged to a local church but was not part of any organisation. He rented a couple of houses in Chapeltown. He appeared in court, in particular when West Indian boys were before the magistrate. He offered to take responsibility for their reappearance in court and took them back to his unofficial bail hostel. When he had the youngsters back there, he would say to them, "You only have one life. Why are you throwing it away? Aren't you fit for something better?" It was an attempt to bring home to youngsters their own personal responsibility for what they had been doing. I regarded it as heroic work. Because it was unofficial, no analysis was made of its effectiveness. Nevertheless, it was an attempt to bring home to offenders their own responsibility for what had happened and the possibility of a changed pattern of behaviour.

Recently I visited a probation hostel, again in Leeds, supported by the Ripon Diocesan Council for Social Aid. The warden told me of a similar attempt in which he was engaged to bring home to youngsters the personal responsibility that they held for their offence. He gave me some details of the procedure which was followed. He spoke of offence analysis. That encourages an offender to look at what led up to the offence; to consider the consequences for other people; to understand the results of his or her action; and to consider what opportunities the offender had to alter the course of action. Other factors are then considered, such as relationships, peer pressure—to which the noble Lord, Lord Gisborough, referred—drink/drug abuse, how far the act of offending was within the offender's control, identifying why he was at risk, and attempting to create possible ways of reducing risk. Obviously such work depends on personal relationships. However, given that good relationships can be developed with offenders it is possible to confront those who offend with their behaviour patterns and lifestyle. They should understand that they are in control of their own lives, that they are responsible, and that offences do not simply happen; they happen because the offenders determine that they shall.

I refer briefly to the work of the Leeds Mediation and Reparation Service. It was set up on a firm basis and supported by the Home Office. It is one of four pieces of experimental work undertaken throughout the country in the 1980s. It involves bringing together both victim and offender with the intention that the offender shall realise the personal nature of his or her offence; and the victim is given some chance to explain to the offender just what the consequences were. Some research has been undertaken on reparation. I give your Lordships one set of figures only. The Leeds analysis shows that of offenders who were involved in reparation some 76 per cent. had no further convictions after 12 months and 57 per cent. had no further convictions after two years. Those figures contrast fairly sharply with figures for further convictions which the noble Lord, Lord Gisborough, gave earlier.

There seems to be some experience, based on a philosophy of understanding the importance of personal responsibility, that that factor is able to bring down offending levels. In the light of that experience, I ask the Minister whether there is any intention to continue that reparation scheme. Are the Government considering putting further resources into that area of experimentation?

I end by reiterating the point that I made earlier. Clearly the situation is grave and tragic. It requires insight from a great many of us if we are to make progress and improvement.

5.56 p.m.

Lord Knights

My Lords, I too thank the noble Lord, Lord Gisborough, for giving us the opportunity to discuss what is one of our major domestic problems today.

As the House will be well aware, the problem of crime and its containment has been regarded traditionally in this country as primarily one to be addressed by the police and the courts. Indeed, when the first paid, professional police officers stepped out onto the streets of London in 1829 they were told that: The protection of life and property, the preservation of public tranquillity and the absence of crime would alone prove whether the objects for which police have been appointed have been attained". Government merely shared with local authorities the responsibility for providing the necessary resources.

It follows from that that increased levels of crime could be held to indicate either that the police were inefficient or that the sentencing policies of the courts were too liberal or lenient—a view which I believe is still held by many today.

Such critics tend to overlook, however, that throughout the 19th century, and to a large extent the first 40 years of this century, the police and the courts were supported in their role by a raft of other social controls such as religion, custom, gossip, family relationships, public respect and "what the neighbours think", to name but a few. To a great extent those have disappeared as a consequence of the social revolution that we have undergone since the Second World War. I believe that that factor has contributed to our current problem more than unemployment or social deprivation.

I suggest that this is our first and major question. What can be done to reinforce some of the old, moral and ethical values? In that connection, I believe that the Church must have a role to play, as indeed must the schools. I accept entirely, of course, that schools should not be expected to take over the responsibility of parents. However, sadly, there are too many parents today not sufficiently skilled in the business of bringing up children. That is another problem which needs addressing. Clearly it is the young whom we must target if there is to be any long-term effect on the volume of crime in our society.

In recent years of course the old traditions to which I referred have given way to the belief that government should be more than simply a quartermaster and should be actively involved in devising crime prevention strategies. It is here that I believe we meet our second question. In seeking to respond to the pressures brought on by the higher political profile which crime has now achieved, I believe that the Government have not recognised sufficiently the part which local authorities can and should play in the matter. The answers are far more likely to be found, in my submission, in the communities where the crime is being committed than in Whitehall.

Some local authorities, I know, have responded very well, but not all. Perhaps the Minister could tell us today why the Government are so reluctant to impose a statutory role on local authorities to develop comprehensive strategic policies in a real partnership with all other relevant bodies, designed to tackle in a structured way the identified crime problems in their areas. From the evidence of what has been achieved in other areas in this way, often led by voluntary organisations, clearly that is the way ahead. They are under a statutory requirement to deal with road safety; why not safety from crime also? I believe that the question, "What are you doing about it?" would often be much better addressed to the town hall than to Whitehall and would be much more likely to achieve results.

Finally, perhaps I may return to the first point of the noble Lord, Lord Gisborough. I believe that a good many police officers today would say that the Home Secretary's recent Statement about juvenile criminals was addressed to the wrong problem. Of course there is a need for a form of secure sentence for a very few young criminals. But the feature which most worries the public today, particularly victims of crime, I believe, is the way in which some young criminals can continue to commit crime while on remand to an extent which makes the criminal justice system look ridiculous. Could the noble Earl tell us when we are likely to see the first additional secure places for juveniles on remand which were promised two years ago? That may not have a great effect on the level of crime in our communities but it will at least begin to give some satisfaction and confidence to the victims of it.

6.2 p.m.

Lord Elton

My Lords, the Motion moved with such machine-gun efficiency by my noble friend draws attention to the rising crime figures and does so just as everyone's attention is fixed on a handful of horrific crimes committed by children. Many members of the public therefore believe that the number of juvenile offenders is on the increase. It is not. I wish to draw your Lordships' attention to the dramatic fact that between 1980 and 1990 the number of juveniles cautioned or convicted for indictable offences actually fell by no narrow margin but by no less than 37 per cent. Between 1985 and 1991, the fall was 40 per cent. These figures are provided by the police; the figures are for offenders, not offences. They bring me into brief and, I have to say, unaccustomed agreement with the noble Lord, Lord Hutchinson of Lullington. It will not, I fear, last long.

When so many voices are saying that nothing ever works, it is important to point 'out that in this area of crime something does work and we are doing it. As the Government were Conservative for the whole of that period, I hope that mine is not the only Conservative voice to draw attention to that conspicuous achievement and to urge Her Majesty's Government to acknowledge and build on it.

When the Conservatives came to power in 1979, the country was at least as despondent about crime and the failure to control it as it is now, and with reason. The 1970s had seen a disenchantment with imprisonment or custody as the main response to offending by young people. In its place there was developing a range of responses which, being intermediate between fines and custody, came to be called "intermediate treatment", but which we now know better as "treatment in the community".

To their credit, in spite of electoral and media pressure simply to step up the punitive treatments, my colleagues then at the Department of Health and Social Security and the Home Office embraced that policy. The experiment of my noble friend Lord Whitelaw with the short sharp shock in 1992 did not diminish the drive towards intermediate treatment in the DHSS where, under Norman Fowler, I first encountered it, was convinced of its efficiency and gave it my support. Six months later, at the Home Office, I found that, even with the short sharp shock in full swing, my noble friend Lord Whitelaw as Home Secretary had accepted as an amendment to a criminal justice Bill in Parliament a clause which prohibited the courts from sentencing any young offender to custody until they had considered and rejected every possible lesser sentence.

It was the development of rigorous, demanding and closely supervised community sentences, largely from a clientele provided by that measure that dramatically reduced not just juvenile custody but juvenile offending, as the noble Lord, Lord Knights, perceptively reminded noble Lords, with more authority than I can ever command.

Of course, there is a problem with both some serious and some frequent juvenile offenders, but that is only 1 per cent. of the problem. Never forget the 99 per cent. and never forget that, apart from that measure of my noble friend and one by his successor directing the courts away from custody, the only really successful part of our whole response to crime was led by the DHSS, was applied to juveniles and was responsible for a reduction of indictable juvenile offending by 40 per cent. We cannot afford not to learn that lesson. It suggests that the increase of support is needed more here than even by the courts or the police. Here I diverge, with a sigh of not intellectual but emotional relief, from the line of the noble Lord, Lord Hutchinson of Lullington. The sensation of agreeing with him is so unfamiliar as to make me feel uncomfortable in his company.

We cannot ignore that much of that success depended upon the voluntary sector. Central funding reached it by a variety of routes and among the most effective was the Intermediate Treatment Fund, of which I have personal knowledge as chairman. To it, the DHSS—the DH as it now is—formerly devoted £500,000. That grant, I regret to tell your Lordships, was terminated and I came straight to the House from the final closing meeting of the fund this afternoon.

I gladly acknowledge the DH grant to its successor body, the Divert Trust, which I also chair, but that is just under £95,000. A generous £100,000 from the Football Trust leaves £310,000 to be found from other sources just to restore the work to its former level. It is heartening that the Home Office has come in with its own grant of £95,000, to extend this highly effective work up the age range to young adults. Just think of the impact on the quality of British life of the 37 per cent. reduction of their offending.

The Home Office partnership programme is full of promise in that direction. But to replicate in that area our work for juveniles would mean finding another £400,000 from charitable giving, on top of the £310,000 which I have already mentioned. So far, we have raised just £22,000 to meet the combined and urgent need.

Fund raising continues, but it is simply not realistic to expect us to find all that is needed on our own, when demands on charitable funding are rocketing and more and more companies are reporting depressing results.

Will my noble friend therefore please ask his colleagues in the Department of Health and in his own department to do two things? Will they give cogent support to our approaches for funds to business, industry and to other government departments which we can assist, such as education, the environment and the Welsh Office? It is in that direction, I repeat, rather than that of the police or the courts that the money is needed. Will the Government please start seriously considering whether, in 1994–95 and subsequent years, they can make a substantially greater commitment of the electorate's money to this proven, effective and economical means of achieving something which that electorate desperately wants and will vote for—the reduction of crime?

6.8 p.m.

Lord Allen of Abbeydale

Crime, my Lords, has increased, is increasing and ought to be diminished. But, when I read that the country is becoming engulfed in a tidal wave of crime and similar pieces of hyperbole, it seems to me that it is time to pause. We keep being told, without any qualification, that crime has doubled in the past 10 years. That is broadly what the police figures of reported crime suggest. But, for reasons that we have discussed in the past, the alarmist police figures are far from giving an accurate picture. The British crime surveys come a lot closer to what is going on. Last year's survey—the results of which are just becoming available—suggests that the increase over the 10 years, although bad enough, was about half that shown by the police figures. The disparity for crimes of violence was even greater, and that in a total which, by international standards, was really quite modest.

The police learn of only some of the crimes committed. The proportion varies but it is safe to say that considerably less than 50 per cent. end up as recorded crimes. Of that minority the police solved only 29 per cent. last year, so that for the great majority of crimes the perpetrator is not known. Perhaps it makes it easier to bear, that we do not see many headlines recording the facts to which attention has been drawn by the noble Lords, Lord Hutchinson, and Lord Elton, in regard to the decline in juvenile delinquency.

I can understand the frustrations which the police feel and the risks they now face of violent attack. But they have had fairly large increases in resources in the past 10 years and have always headed the queue for pay increases. Whether those resources are used to the best advantage will be a matter for argument. Long experience suggests that it is not, alas, justifiable to believe that to provide more police means less crime—just like that. Equally, although there may be a case for more powers for the courts —but not, I submit, for corporal punishment—it is essential to go carefully given the strong relation between custody and subsequent criminal behaviour.

In my career I have been involved with approved schools, borstal, detention centres, corrective training, preventive detention and so forth, without its being established that any single one of them helped to reduce crime. The latest proposals to deal with a small hard core of persistent offenders—though obviously from what we heard tonight not entirely free from controversy—coupled with the gradual impact of treatment in the community and the recent Children Act, may have a better fate. But I am in no doubt that, whatever is done in regard to the powers and resources of the police and the courts, that of itself will not go near to solving the problem. As the noble Lord, Lord Gisborough, said, it is much more complicated than that.

It seems to me that the prospects of progress involve restoring hope to many who feel despair and frustration; inculcating a greater sense of right and wrong among the young; trying in some measure to restore family values; reducing the impact of violence in films and television, and trying to counter the increasing coarseness of our culture —easy to list, but hard to achieve. The achievement of dealing with that problem is going well beyond the responsibilities of those in the front line—the police and courts; it is a responsibility which rests on us all.

6.13 p.m.

Baroness Faithfull

My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lord Gisborough for providing me with an opportunity to comment on four points on juvenile crime made by the Home Secretary in the Statement in another place and in your Lordships House on 2nd March 1993. First, the Home Secretary spoke of his concern about the apparent lack of powers for the courts to deal with the worst of young offenders. I can only say that I have received letters from magistrates in that regard. I do not have time to quote them but I will let my noble friend the Minister have them later if that would be of help.

Secondly, the Home Secretary said, We [the Government], must also take other measures to tackle the problem on a broader front".—[Official Report, 2/3/93; col. 560.] On that point I suggest that there is a diminution of support services and preventive measures at the grass roots. The youth service is being diminished; the grant for intermediate treatment, as so vividly described by my noble friend Lord Elton, ceased on this day; community training centres by NACRO have closed down, and in some areas youth training schemes are ineffective. The Department for Education, and to a lesser degree the Department of Health, and local authorities have allowed independent private schools run by charities, which deal with maladjusted delinquent children, to close. That is a serious matter. But at long last the serious situation of non-attendance in school is being dealt with in the Education Bill. I should say also that the social security system gives little help to young people who have no homes and are sleeping on the streets.

The Home Secretary suggested, thirdly, that there should be a secure training order for 12 to 15 year-olds, who will be sent to secure training centres. The secure training order will be different from anything that has ever been provided before—think of that, my Lords! Fourthly, the cost is estimated to be £10 million.

On those four points research has shown that persistent young child offenders are numerically small. The major problem lies with the 15 to 17 year-olds, not the 12 to 15 year-olds. That has been so for the past 20 years. How will the secure training order for 12 to 15 year-olds differ from the approved school order, the Borstals or the short sharp shock? The approved schools provided education, care and training. Home Office research and the research of the Dartington Research Unit shows that half the boys were back in custody after one year of discharge and two-thirds after two years. Relationships with their families after discharge were minimal. They lost contact with their homes and communities.

Does the Home Secretary realise that at the moment there are vacancies—yes, vacancies—at Glenthorne and St. Charles Youth Training Centres? I should point out that the cost is £2,700 per child per week. That was stated in the The Times of 3rd March. I agree that there should be secure units to which a child or young person can be sent. I agree with other noble Lords that they should be run by local authorities on a regional basis, using present community centres and intermediate treatment centres for the children who are showing improvement to go out to. Such centres should not number more than 25 and should be run as locally as possible.

At the conference of the Association of Chief Officers of Probation in 1992, a year ago, the then Home Secretary said that he had been exploring what more could be done to tackle crime at its roots. He concluded by saying that there was, a need to offer young people drifting into crime an alternative set of values. The need to offer personal enrichment to the young; to teach them how to deal with life; and above all, to instil a sense of responsibility and community". The sudden change of attitude on the part of the Home Secretary and the Home Office is alarming. Without consideration of past experience, the findings of research and the possibility of building on the good work already being done, as stated by my noble friend Lord Elton, both by the probation service, the social services and voluntary organisations, the idea of spending £10 million more is extraordinary. The voluntary organisations and the present excellent schemes that are running could do with that £10 million.

Finally, and perhaps most important, I ask my noble friend whether his right honourable friend the Home Secretary will consider presenting at least a Green Paper, to which thoughtful response could be made, on the prevention of and dealing with juvenile crime. At most, and even better, will he consider setting up a Royal Commission to look at the social policies of this country, preventive measures and at the needs of young offenders, their families and the communities?

6.20 p.m.

Lord Ackner

My Lords, I propose to focus my brief observations on the Criminal Justice Act 1991, which came into force in October of last year and which is greatly diminishing public confidence in the administration of criminal justice by seriously reducing a court's ability to protect the public from the persistent offender, both young and old. It is neither a pleasure nor a satisfaction to say to the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, "I told you so". It is not a pleasure or a satisfaction usually to say that, but particularly in his case because I sensed—although of course he did not say so—that he largely agreed with the criticisms which I sought to voice on those sections to which I will draw attention.

In August of last year, a few months before the Act came into force, there was a case in the Court of Appeal Criminal Division in which in the first half of 1991 the appellant managed to commit a total of 61 offences of dishonesty. The substantive offences for which he appeared before the trial judge included five burglaries, seven cases of taking somebody else's motor car without consent and one of escape from custody. He asked for no fewer than 42 other offences to be taken into consideration. They included another 10 burglaries and another 10 offences of taking other people's cars.

He was, in the view of the Court of Appeal Criminal Division, very properly and rightly sentenced to three years' detention but the learned judge, giving the judgment of the court, observed that it was a sobering reflection that after 1st October—that is when the 1991 Act came into force—it was going to be extremely difficult to deal with persistent offenders of that kind in a sensible and realistic way. That was because of two or three provisions in the Act upon which the Government insisted.

The first, in Section 1 (2), prevents the court, when considering whether a person should go into custody, considering more than the offence before it and one other offence associated with that offence. The other offence associated with it is defined as being an offence in which he is convicted in the proceedings or in which he is sentenced at the same time, or it is an offence which is taken into consideration.

The persistent offender who is brought before the courts on the basis of a specimen charge as, for instance, in the case of social security frauds or persistent dishonesty as an employee, may be charged with £5 or £10 as a specimen charge, when there are many many other charges which are part of the system. He cannot be sentenced for those charges. The offences which are taken into consideration are limited to one.

Section 29(1) of the Act provides: An offence shall not be regarded as more serious for the purposes of any provision of this Part by reason of any previous convictions of the offender or any failure of his to respond to previous sentences. That means, as the Lord Chief Justice observed recently in the case of Regina v. Bexley, that, familiar sentencing remarks before the Act such as 'You have a long history of committing offences of this kind', or 'You have been given every chance, fines, probation, community service, and here you are again', will no longer be appropriate. They would be statutorily irrelevant as indicators of seriousness in the instant offence. So much is clear from section 29(1). It is interesting to see how within the department itself there is a strange form of contradiction. Your Lordships may remember that ugly Act called the Aggravated Vehicle-Taking Act. There was a case called Regina v. Bird which came before the Court of Appeal Criminal Division last October. It was a terrible case of most dangerous driving, resulting in the end in some injury. The Act provides for a maximum of two years, or five years if there is injury done in the course of the taking. This was such a case: the sentence was 15 months. That occurred two or three months before the 1992 Act came into force and 15 months was a perfectly proper sentence. Once the 1992 Act came into force the maximum was one year, so the Home Office is providing legislation which provides up to five years for a juvenile for this type of offence, at the same time, in a subsequent Act, reducing it to 12 months.

I conclude only with this observation. I do not wish it to be thought at all that, as a member of the judiciary, I am seeking more and longer terms of imprisonment. I very much regret that "exceptional circumstances" have now to be found for the suspended sentence to be imposed. There are articles in learned journals, pointing out that this will result in more and more persons being sent to prison because the sentence of suspended imprisonment was very much resorted to. And very effective it was too. I therefore urge the Minster to bring back this Act for necessary amendment with all possible speed.

6.27 p.m.

Lord Bethell

My Lords, my noble friend Lord Gisborough is to be congratulated on having introduced so eloquently a matter of such importance and topicality. It is only a few weeks since your Lordships had the chance to debate in this House the question of police co-operation among the countries of the European Community: the new organisation known as Europol. I should like to begin these brief remarks by asking my noble friend the Minister whether there is anything further that he can add to what he said on that occasion about the development of Europol, whether any progress is being made in finding a permanent site for it and whether anything has been done to work out the extent of its activity and the type of crime that this sort of police co-operation will address.

I should at the outset confess that I have an interest in this in that I am a parliamentary adviser to the Police Federation of England and Wales. But I think that all your Lordships, and indeed the people I also represent in the European Parliament, will be particularly worried at this time about the question of crime and of young offenders which was emphasised by the noble Lord who introduced this debate.

People are worried also about the capacity of our criminal justice system to ensure that the perpetrators of serious crime have every chance of being caught and, when they are caught, of being convicted and suitably punished. It means that it is now in the offender's interest not to concentrate on committing one type of offence. I believe the previous speaker raised this point, with very great acumen. Because of recent legislation it happens that offenders may move from one type of crime to another type of crime—for instance, from burglary to dishonesty to violence against the person—and previous convictions, unless they are for the same type of offence, may not be taken into consideration by the person passing sentence. The criminal knows this and knows that he will be more leniently dealt with if he is astute and if he, so to speak, moves his type of offence from one to the other. That cannot be common sense. I hope that your Lordships will consider whether the legislation should be looked at again because, as the noble and learned Lord, Lord Ackner, pointed out, the situation has only just arisen.

The unit fines system has not got off to a very good start. The Government were well aware a long time ago that this aspect of the Criminal Justice Act would attract the attention of the media. It seems that it has burst like a bombshell upon certain sections of the media, with a number of individuals who have been unfortunate enough to be caught and to be shown to have high incomes having the very large fines that they have had to pay splashed across the press. This may be an important question but it is surely far less important than the question of those who have committed very serious offences who are now fined very small amounts.

I know of a case of a man who admitted stealing more than £20 to spend on drinking alcohol before being arrested for criminal damage amounting to £5,000, as well as drunken driving and assaulting the police. He was fined a sum which was less than that which he had spent on the drink which had put him in the deplorable condition. That cannot be a sensible system.

The Police Federation welcomes the Home Secretary's decision that persistent young offenders who have had the benefit of every opportunity to reform should face a custodial sentence during which they will receive education and training. Moreover, the police are unanimous in condemning the present system by which young offenders who need to be remanded to the care of a local authority are placed in children's homes where they are forced to associate with children who have not committed offences and who are in care for family reasons. Again it seems that the victim of society is suffering at the expense of the person who offends against society. The truth is, as the police know full well, that in many cases youngsters sentenced to a stay in one of these homes abscond at the first opportunity. There have been cases where young offenders have hopped out of the social worker's car on the first occasion that it stopped at a traffic light.

I know that this matter is of the utmost importance to your Lordships and that the Government are having great difficulty in tackling it. Clearly, the public are deeply concerned. I believe that my noble friend Lord Gisborough raised some important issues and had some interesting suggestions about how the question of young offenders should be tackled. I beg the Minister to take them seriously and to indicate, either this evening or at a future date, how he will tackle this question which is causing the British public so much grievous concern.

6.33 p.m.

Lord Henderson of Brompton

My Lords, I should like to thank the noble Lord, Lord Gisborough, for raising this matter today and enabling me to speak solely on the persistent young offender. I do so by reference to a seminar that was held at Cumberland Lodge only two days after the Home Secretary's announcement and was attended by 34 participants who all had expertise and experience in this subject. They ranged from chief constable to magistrates and criminologists. They included the noble Baronesses, Lady Faithfull and Lady Hilton of Eggardon, and indeed would have included the noble Baroness, Lady Mallalieu, only unfortunately she was otherwise engaged. It was a very knowledgeable group of people and they came to some conclusions which I should like to give to the House.

I shall repeat what the House, I suppose, knows—that the Home Secretary wished the courts to have a new power to make a secure training order in respect of juveniles aged 12 to 15, subject to certain conditions, and to establish new secure training centres in which such young people could be detained for periods of between six months and two years, with a period of close supervision after release, a point that has not been sufficiently mentioned. The Home Secretary's proposals were fresh in the minds of the 30 or so participants in the seminar. I should like to give the House the seminar's main conclusions. Quite a number of the minor conclusions very much coincide with the kind of ideas that the noble Lord, Lord Hutchinson of Lullington, gave to the House earlier in the debate.

First, there was no evidence of a substantial increase in juvenile crime—that has been supported by what the noble Lord, Lord Allen of Abbeydale, said—or of more frequent and serious offending by a small number of persistent offenders, but more investigation was needed.

Secondly, the main response to juvenile crime, both to its prevention and to identified offenders, must be through the existing range of services and facilities, with a greater emphasis on improving standards and filling gaps in provision, backed by more effective co-ordination of policies and programmes at national and local level.

Thirdly, some services and facilities which had the capacity to reduce crime and criminality were being curtailed or withdrawn because of financial pressure on local authorities and others. Here I should say that the noble Lord, Lord Elton, was quite right to draw attention to the withdrawal of government facilities from the intermediate treatment fund. That is certainly a retrogressive measure. I very much hope that the Government will think again and that they will come to support it for a long term and not merely for the three years in which they have agreed to fund intermediate treatment by the organisation known as Divert while it gets private funding.

Fourthly, secure accommodation was needed for some exceptionally difficult offenders, and some expansion was needed of that secure accommodation, possibly, but not necessarily, with a power for courts to require an offender to be placed in secure accommodation.

Fifthly, the case had not been made for a new custodial sentence or new custodial institutions; and if the Government intended to proceed with their proposals they should be the subject of the widest possible consultations. It was hoped that these consultations would be conducted by the Government with an open mind and a readiness to hear the points of view expressed by the seminar and to adjust their proposals in the light of the comments received.

This debate has thrown up a large number of important comments, such as those of the noble Lord, Lord Knights, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Ackner, and many others. The conclusions and recommendations of this influential seminar —at least I hope that it is an influential seminar; it was certainly a knowledgeable seminar—will be finalised, circulated and sent not only to the Home Secretary but also to the Secretary of State for Health.

I have had time only to summarise very briefly the conclusions of the conference and to say that unanimity was reached by the large and diverse group of people who attended.

6.38 p.m.

The Earl of Winchilsea and Nottingham

My Lords, I should like to add my thanks to those already expressed to the noble Lord, Lord Gisborough, for providing us with this opportunity of discussing these important issues. The debate comes at a very timely moment in the midst of all kinds of allegations flying around concerning police performance, rising crime and falling detection rates. However, it is a pity that such an important topic is limited to a paltry two and a half hours.

The noble Lord hit the nail accurately on the head with the thrust of his Motion—the keyword being "support". The word "support" conjures up, especially when used in conjunction with the police, financial support; and, indeed, nearly all of the currently fashionable media hype about our beleaguered police service tells us how well paid they are. And so they should be, considering the nature of the job that they do for us all. I gather that the police now cost every taxpayer £5 per week. Well, frankly, I do not begrudge them that. I think that they have more than earned it in the face of ever-increasing violence on our streets.

But support means more than just financial. Some of your Lordships may be aware that I spend a lot of my time on foot patrol with police officers all over this country, mostly in areas of urban blight and high unemployment and often on housing estates of mind-blowing squalor where those not already engaged in crime are forced to live in daily fear of it. The squalor is everywhere and it has a profound effect on people, their minds and attitudes, and how they look at life.

I am lucky. I can go to one of these appalling estates, walk around for eight hours enjoying the protection of one or two robust, experienced, policemen, recoil in horror at what I see and then retire to my comfortable 18th century ex-rectory in Somerset. The people who have to live—if one can call it that—in those dreadful places, of which there are thousands spread all over, from the north of Scotland to the south of England, have no Somerset escape. They have no escape at all; nor do they have any hope of one. They are condemned to serve their time there as best they can, just as if a court had sentenced them to prison. They are condemned to a life of scraping by, using whatever means possible, and that often means crime.

Is it any wonder that in those circumstances some youngsters turn to crime? I believe not. If I were a young man born and raised in one of those rotten estates no doubt I would turn to crime as well. A dedicated community policeman on Tyneside once said to me, as we were walking around one of the gutted, barricaded, torched, and litter and refuse-strewn estates up there, "This is not a policing problem; it is a social problem". He was right.

Endemic unemployment and severe social deprivation are the two main reasons why otherwise decent people turn to crime. Many of the problems are of our own making; passing and approving legislation without a true idea of how it will affect people. It is against that background of social and moral deprivation that we have to examine crime and how we as a society, not just the police, can cope with it.

It is so easy to lay the blame for crime at the boots of the police. It is about time that noble Lords heard what police constables out there on our streets have to say. Their views have been expressed to me over and over again: they must be listened to. This is what they say: "We are tired of acting as nursemaids to society, expected to deal with the mess resulting from well-intentioned but misguided legislation. Do the politicians know what they are doing? The sheer amount of paperwork that modern bureaucracy demands of us every time we make an arrest is mind-boggling and acts as a major deterrent to us. Every arrest made can easily result in up to eight hours' paper and office work which takes us off the street for the entire shift and beyond. The Crown Prosecution Service is in drastic need of overhaul. They will not accept a case for prosecution unless it carries more than a 50 per cent. chance of resulting in a successful conviction. We do all the basic spade work for them and then they throw it out. Offenders for certain types of crimes such as joy riding—aggravated car theft, to use its ludicrous title—burglary, house breaking, street crime, muggings, assaults, etc., are getting younger and younger thereby falling outside the penalty of the law. All we can do is caution them. They put two fingers up at us and we release them again to offend and offend and offend. One 14 year-old boy known to have committed hundreds of offences, said 'I don't regret being a thief. These have been the best two years of my life. I'll steal while I can because I enjoy it. I am addicted to it. It feels fantastic going into a shop, taking what you want, and knowing nothing can be done to you'".

Policemen might be excused for asking themselves the question: why bother? Offenders know all these things. They know that they will probably get away with it, so they commit the crime.

We can best support the police by helping them perform their difficult and often dangerous duties by removing some of the many hindrances we ourselves have placed in their path. I have mentioned a few. We need to treat the police as part of the local community which they serve. If we lose sight of that we are in deep trouble. We do not need to make police forces larger and therefore more remote from the local community. We need to make it easier for them to bring offenders to book for their crimes by making the punishment fit the crime and by paying much more attention to crime prevention in the first place.

6.45 p.m.

Viscount Tenby

My Lords, we are all grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Gisborough, for introducing this timely debate. It is a very large subject of great complexity and one on which many and varied opinions are held. I speak both as a magistrate and as a member of a large police authority. But time constraints prevent my covering all but a tiny part of the field and, even so, I fear that I may have to speak quickly and with constant reference to my notes, for which I apologise to noble Lords. I am accordingly confining my remarks to two aspects of court work, save only to say to the Government in passing, in relation to the police and as a sort of sideways swipe: please think very carefully indeed before you replace the democratically-elected council members of police authorities with quangos composed of local supermarket managers, systems processors, international oil executives and the like.

The two points that I would mention are on the subject of bail and government proposals to set up secure training centres, which I welcome. The Bail Act 1976 requires courts to grant bail unless there are quite specific and compelling reasons not to do so. Magistrates are daily criticised for carrying out Government wishes in that respect, which are chiefly prompted by the lack of appropriate secure accommodation for remand prisoners and by the likelihood that, owing to the inability of the legal system to get its act together, a prisoner who eventually may well be found not guilty would have already spent a year or so under lock and key.

There is a severe shortage of bail hostel places, and what there is patchily distributed throughout the country, to say the least. Better and more generous funding arrangements should be made with councils to ensure that there is adequate secure accommodation. An additional factor contributing to this unsatisfactory position—which I am glad to report is being actively investigated by a bail issues steering group—is the lack at times of good initial information on cases coming before the Bench. That requires the setting up of a workable, rapid response system between all the concerned agencies.

As magistrates we know, just as the police know, that many crimes are committed while offenders are on bail, particularly where offences against property are concerned. There has been a valuable and interesting pilot study on the subject under independent academic control, by the Northumbria police. But almost unbelievably there has been no national initiative to examine the trends in this area of criminality.

I come now to the second point; namely, the proposals for dealing with that small nucleus of hard core juvenile offenders. Let us away with all the hand-wringing about the adverse effect of locking them up in "universities of crime". Of course punishment within the community is overwhelmingly the best option for dealing with the great majority of juvenile offenders. I share the view of the noble Lord, Lord Elton, about spending priorities in promoting that very laudable objective.

In that context it seems to me that a great deal more could be done with the cautioning-plus policy so that the supporting services interview, and offer help to, the offender immediately after the first caution has been received. In that way courts will no longer be receiving, as they now do, first-time-up offenders who have already received two or three cautions at the hands of the police.

The brutal truth of the matter, however, is that in the criminal world universal redemption is pie in the sky. Some people will always re-offend, even if their prison officers are an amalgam of St. Francis of Assisi and Albert Schweitzer, and the community must be protected against them. I beg the Minister to bear in mind two points on that. First, the staffing in such establishments is of crucial importance. Discipline apart, the ethos in such places should be that of the demanding, personality-stretching boarding school. To echo the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Gisborough, it may well be, for example, that the slimming-down of the Armed Forces will result in a pool of suitable senior warrant officers becoming available; after, of course, appropriate training and provided they have the necessary temperament. I would look with grave suspicion at the prospect of the local authorities controlling these establishments.

Secondly, and arising directly from this, for the initiative to stand any chance Of success I believe that our sentencing perceptions must change. The original Government Statement said: The order might last … two years".—[Offictal Report, 2/3/93; col. 560.] Indeed, I hope that it might, for a three-month sentence will hardly benefit such offenders if, as I am sure we all want, the objective is to turn a no-hoper into a worthwhile member of society. For this we should surely be looking at a sentence of between one and two years.

It is essential that, this time round, we get everything right, and I would judge two years not a day too long to set up the scheme satisfactorily. But I must, ask the Minister this: "What are we to do in the intervening two years unless we tackle the secure accommodation/bail hostel shortage with the utmost vigour?"

We are living in a period of uncertainty and self-doubt. There are undeniable problems in the working of the new Criminal Justice Act, which have been referred to already in this debate, particularly by my noble and learned friend Lord Ackner. I am extremely grateful to him for dealing with that issue. The police await reorganisation and are assailed by criticism from all sides—some justified, much of it not. The magisterial service sees its independence increasingly threatened by Government and its morale is not what it once was. I must tell your Lordships that quite bluntly. The legal profession itself is under attack from the highest judge to the lowest junior. In the circumstances, can we perhaps stop congratulating ourselves on having the best legal service in the world, and instead try to make it so by our combined best endeavours?

6.51 p.m.

Earl Nelson

My Lords, I suggest that one of the best ways in which we could assist the police at present is to cut down the mountain of paperwork that they now have to complete for anything that they do. In the time that I am allowed I can draw attention to only a small number of the many problems and intend to concentrate on only two at this time. They are the disclosure of material to the defence and bureaucracy. In doing so, I shall draw your Lordships' attention to a number of horror stories from around the country and leave your Lordships and, I hope, the Government, to consider the implications of ever-increasing the burden of paperwork on the police, which I hope will demonstrate why the police are unable to do the job they want to do, and which the public want them to do, despite the great increases in manpower and resources which have already been made.

While the exercise of the right of silence has always hampered police investigations, particularly major investigations, another trend is beginning to emerge which is already having disastrous effects on the ability of the prosecution to secure successful prosecutions. The police service—particularly in the wake of a number of miscarriages of justice—states that it is happy to disclose material to the defence which is correct and relevant. However, the question of what is relevant is now being cynically abused at court-room level. Cases involving serious criminal offences are having to be discontinued as officers are not prepared to disclose information that would jeopardise the safety or confidentiality of an informant. Yet there is total acceptance in some quarters on the other side that the right of silence is used by offenders to protect others. In this case, what is sauce for the goose is certainly not sauce for the gander.

Additionally, some unscrupulous defence counsel—and there are some—are making unrealistic demands regarding unused material. Requests are also being made that necessitate unnecessary and extensive use of manpower and resources. Recently in the north-west of England detectives in a large fraud trial have been forced to release 1 million pages of material from their investigation. In a case in south Yorkshire the defence has asked for 510,000 pages of evidence. In a trial connected with the murder of P.C. Keith Blakelock it has been estimated that it will take 38 hours of printing-out time to provide the documents that the defence is requesting.

If this trend continues (and there is every indication that it will), the problem will become increasingly acute. The police service is anticipating a scenario whereby defence counsel will argue that police documentation such as computer-aided dispatch messages, Home Office major inquiry system discs and house-to-house inquiry proformas will become disclosure material, as well as police sickness records and personal files, as has already happened in at least one case. This issue is already a massive drain on resources which is set to grow, and once again it is the cynically abused adversarial system of justice which is the root cause of the problem.

It has been estimated that within the Metropolitan Police area alone at present a minimum of 65 detectives are required to do nothing but prepare disclosure material for major trials. That number could rise to 450 in a year or two if the trend continues. Incidentally, the money for all this comes from police budgets, to say nothing of the manpower that is taken up nationally in preparing all this stuff.

I turn now to bureaucracy. It is widely acknowledged that as a result of the pretrial issues working group, the amount of documentation required following arrest has significantly increased. One figure mentioned is that prior to the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 (which we all know as PACE) a simple matter that took one officer two hours to process is now estimated to take two officers six hours. It has been calculated that a simple arrest requires the completion of a minimum of 21 forms. Most of these requirements stem from Crown Prosecution Service demands. Noble Lords who read the press on Monday will no doubt know that as many as 68 forms are required up to conviction in some force areas.

In addition, recommendations regarding the integrity of evidence has meant that any officer, however minor his involvement in an incident, is now required to produce evidence. Although the laudable objective is to produce evidence of greater integrity, it is having the effect of removing larger and yet larger numbers of officers from the streets. In some cases it is alleged that officers are becoming more reluctant to get involved. Although it might not be a good thing to say, I say it nevertheless—"Who can blame them?"

I have said little about the extra burden placed on police by the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 or by the Crown Prosecution Service—time prevents that. But these indeed serve to create further horror stories when it comes to the drain on police time and resources.

I hope that what I have been able to say today will illustrate that the ever-increasing volume of paperwork and bureaucracy engulfing the police is slowly but surely bringing the guardians of law and order to a grinding halt and that a very serious situation has already developed. I fear that that situation will get progressively worse unless radical and fundamental changes are made in the very near future to reverse this worrying and time-consuming trend to ever more accountability—because that is what it amounts to. I suggest that doing that would go a long way to provide extra support for the police, and no doubt for the courts as well, without spending more money and providing yet more resources.

6.58 p.m.

Lord Northbourne

My Lords, I should like to deal with two problems relating to juvenile crime. I turn first to moral standards, to which the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, referred in the Statement on 2nd March when he said: It is the decline of those standards which results in much of the indiscipline and criminality which we now see".— [Official Report, 2/3/93; col. 571.] Sadly, I fear that he is right. The moral standards on many of the streets of our inner cities today are those of Fagin and the Artful Dodger. It is a question of what one can get away with, with the view being taken, "It is all right to steal as long as you don't get caught". With sentences of perhaps £8 under the unit system even after numerous cautions, the penalty for getting caught is not very great.

Many young people do not seem to be conscious that stealing is an offence. Perhaps I may tell your Lordships about a small incident that occurred recently in the Stepney Children's Fund, of which I am the chairman. A young lad of 14 whom I know approached the director saying, "Bob, I know that the fund is short of money. I've got a lorry with 4,000 plastic gnomes. If you can find me an outlet for them, the Stepney Children's Fund can have 50 per cent. of the proceeds". That is a reputable charity. If any of your Lordships is looking for plastic gnomes— Is the Minister satisfied that the national curriculum and the new schools inspections will ensure that all children are given a good grounding in citizenship and responsible parenting? If not, will he support the introduction of a mandatory course in citizenship within the national curriculum? There is no greater unkindness to any child than to fail to teach him or her the limits of acceptable behaviour.

I wish to turn to the subject of prevention. In January this year NACRO published a report on juvenile crime. It expressed reservations about the Government's proposals for new secure units but unreserved enthusiasm for the various schemes which exist for diverting young people from crime. The report said: It is of the greatest importance that such young people (that is, persistent juvenile offenders) and their families should receive effective, timely intervention of a kind likely to divert those young people from crime". It continues: Effective measures to prevent youth crime are more likely to reduce offending by juveniles than any number of alterations in the powers of courts to sentence young offenders". Such schemes can be cost-effective. Well-run befriending schemes are showing rates of reoffending within two years of less than 20 per cent. as against 80 per cent. of reoffending by young people who have not been through such schemes. That is an improvement of 60 per cent. Often it is the first time those young people have experienced kindness and encouragement from adults. I am chairman of a befriending scheme at Toynbee Hall. Our cost per young person is about £1,000 for six months of intensive befriending with follow-up for the next two years. Only half of that is funded by the taxpayer through the Safer Cities project. The cost therefore to the taxpayer is only £500 per child befriended. That should be set against the cost of a custodial sentence, which is between £1,500 and £2,700 per week (£140,000 a year).

Your Lordships may think that it would be obvious to the Government that such prevention is better for the young people concerned, and for the Exchequer, than letting things fester until there is need for custodial sentences. Alas, not so! The Government are cutting back, or allowing funds to be withdrawn from many proven crime prevention schemes. Perhaps I may give some examples. Over the next two years, through the closing down of the Safer Cities project the borough of Tower Hamlets will lose £250,000; through the ending of the urban programme it will lose £2.8 million; and as a result of the withdrawal of Section 11 funding it will lose £3 million. Because of SSAs, even if it wants to, the borough will be unable to increase its own expenditure to bridge that gap and so projects will have to be closed.

I shall take another borough. In this case it is the Conservative-controlled borough of Enfield. It has suffered cuts to its youth services of 80 per cent. of its total budget for last year and this year. It lost £300,000 last year and will lose a further £370,000 this year. A spokesman at Enfield said: Decision makers will only understand the effects of these cuts in June when the kids are on the streets". Together the inner London boroughs have lost 33 per cent. of their youth workers over the past two years. More cuts are in the pipeline. The Urban Aid Fund is to be cut from £240 million to £91 million over two years—a cut of 62 per cent. Out of that, voluntary agencies will lose direct grants of £60 million.

The pattern in Hull is interesting and shows the trend. The overall youth service cuts amount to 6.5 per cent., but grants to the voluntary sector are cut by 32 per cent. In many cases it is the voluntary sector which is suffering the brunt of the cuts. I have no doubt that the Minister will say that local authorities must decide on their own spending. I do not believe that that is the position in this case. The Home Office will have to spend enormous sums of the taxpayers' money on custodial sentences in the future unless small sums are spent on prevention now.

Will the Minister consider short-circuiting the local authorities and making grants direct to those voluntary organisations which can show proven success, on a pound-for-pound basis, matching voluntary and private sector funding? I am not asking for charity; I am asking for common sense. Will the Minister do a cost-benefit analysis and try to persuade the Treasury that meanness is not always the best way to save money?

7.6 p.m.

Lord Ashbourne

My Lords, I too thank my noble friend Lord Gisborough for putting down today's Motion and giving us the opportunity to discuss the crucial issue of law and order that causes us so much concern these days. Let me say straight away that I believe the real answer to the problem is to reform the potential troublemaker before it is too late, and thus close the stable door before the horse has bolted. I am not against increasing police resources to maintain law and order, as my noble friend so cogently argued, but it is only a second-best option and not the real answer.

We live in a sick society. We live in a society where James Bulger, aged two, was abducted and then murdered by two 10 year-olds; a society where nearly 40 per cent. of all marriages in this country end in divorce; a society where abortion is, in effect, available on demand; where degrading pornography is rife; where violence is commonplace; and where drugs are, in some areas, the norm.

What is the cause of this malaise? The fundamental reason for the sorry state of affairs in this country is the breakdown of the family. When the family is strong, the nation is strong. When the family life of a nation is under attack, the nation is weakened. Today in Britain the family has become a prime target for attack. It is visibly crumbling.

No strong voice of protest was raised in 1979 when the Gay Liberation Front issued its manifesto saying that its aim was to destroy the family. Again, there was little reaction in 1980 when the British Humanist Association, with its view of family life as an outdated institution, boasted: we helped erode the religious foundations of beliefs, attitudes and morality". Today we are experiencing the effects of that destruction and erosion as laws previously based on biblical absolutes and intended for the protection of the family have been cast aside. Old values, restraints and taboos have been swept away and new, humanistic laws voted in. Today the Department of Health gives the Terrence Higgins Trust (a sophisticated, highly articulate, homosexual organisation) substantial funding, and it has gained a marked influence on Government thinking. New permissive legislation has weakened the traditional family structure and children in particular have become vulnerable. The concept of the stable, two-parent family as the basic unit in society is fast disappearing.

I wish to say a word about where that all leads; it leads to crime among young people or youth crime. Whether the crime be theft, robbery, assault or murder, two common factors are always present: self-centredness and a lack of wisdom. First, self-centredness: crime is committed because, "I want. I want something. I want my own way. I want what you have got. I don't have it. I can't afford it. I will get it any way I can."

One early major role model for a child may well be the parent who insists on his or her own way, demands his or her own way and, when frustrated, gets it by whatever means he or she knows will work, including blackmail, threats and verbal or physical violence. Selfishness, self-centredness and an obsession with oneself can be and often are due to a fundamental insecurity and discontent with oneself; a diminished sense of personal value and self worth.

Secondly, I turn to the lack of wisdom. In the mind of the perpetrator of a crime there is always an inability or an unwillingness to consider the consequences of criminal behaviour for oneself and/or for the victim. Such consequences can be excluded from consideration by a concentration and focusing down upon only the specific desired consequence for the benefit of self. However that may be present or manifested, it betrays a basic lack of wisdom, a poverty of intelligent decision-making.

Those factors suggest that criminal tendencies can be prevented from turning into actual crime where the long-term effective befriending of children produces a combination of, first, the creation and encouragement of self worth and, secondly, the stimulation and enhancement of personal wisdom to a point where the more positively wise decision is taken at moments of peer group pressure, temptation or boredom.

There is in Britain a voluntary organisation which exists for the sole purpose of placing high-calibre, well-trained, highly skilled, full-time workers alongside young children. Workers are specifically trained to note the earliest symptoms of criminal tendency or waywardness and, at such a time, to endow with time the child at risk. Each worker is based in a local school as a befriender; as a dependable, reliable adult friend who is trained to be both proactive and reactive in establishing creative relationships with children, providing children with a trusted confidant.

The Department of Education is providing some assistance to that organisation in helping to fund its Berkshire Project during the next two years. The organisation has many supporters and encouragers both in your Lordships' House and in another place. It is called "Schools Outreach". I must declare an interest as I am chairman of the appeals committee of the charity.

The organisation is the only one of its kind in the United Kingdom and it deserves and needs much greater support. It has workers in Middlesbrough, Norwich, Birmingham, Slough, Swindon, Tipton and Redditch. The deservedly high reputation of its workers is creating interest and demand throughout the country. The only hindrance to growth and effectiveness is a lack of financial resources.

I put it to the House—indeed, I can assure the House—that Schools Outreach keeps our prisons less full than they would otherwise be and provides constructive and skilled help to those who desperately need it. Headmasters are crying out for trained workers to be put into their schools—

Noble Lords


Lord Ashbourne

My Lords, I beg your pardon, I must close. I urge the Minister to spare a penny or two from his department for Schools Outreach, which will be tremendously in his debt.

7.13 p.m.

Earl Baldwin of Bewdley

My Lords, we are all grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Gisborough, for initiating this debate. In the short time available I want to come at the problem from a quite different angle; one that I addressed exactly four years ago in similar circumstances.

Most people would not think of diet in the context of criminal behaviour, though they would be aware of the link with alcohol and drugs. But most people would probably not know of the increasingly persuasive research which appears to show a correlation between certain types of food or diet and deviant behaviour. The evidence has gathered force in the past four years, particularly in the field of childhood hyperactivity, and is to be found more and more in the medical journals.

The idea is not new

indeed, the newness of technological medicine, with the consequent downgrading of the role of nutrition, together with the rise of the social sciences, has tended to obscure it. I was amused to read recently an extract from the British Medical Journal of 100 years ago which began: One deplorable result of excessive meat eating in England is the ill-temper which is a chronic complaint among us". Come forward 99 years, and you find the San Francisco Heart Trial and the Edinburgh Artery Survey both linking low-fat intake with lowered aggression in their subjects.

Much of the evidence centres on junk diets—refined, highly-processed food with an excess of sugar, milk and artificial additives. The problem here appears to be a lack of nutrients in terms of the vitamins and minerals needed for proper brain function, and this is often compounded by the absorption of toxic substances such as lead from a polluted environment.

There was, for example, a 24 year-old man who came before the courts in 1990, for the 14th time, with a bizarre history of offending. He always took heavy goods vehicles without the owners' consent, always between 10.30 p.m. and 3 a.m., and drove them all over the country. I am indebted for that story to the charity Natural Justice, based in Cumbria, which was able to examine the man and draw the attention of the court to his extraordinary daily pattern of eating, which involved no food before tea-time, absolutely no vegetables, and about 100 teaspoons of sugar a day. Given a probation order and a change of diet his behaviour altered out of all recognition and he did not reoffend. The extra cost of his treatment was £4 a week.

Reactive hypoglycaemia was one of this man's problems—a matter of blood-sugar levels—as it was with 68 habitually violent offenders in a study in Finland in 1986. In the more recent Shipley project, a Yorkshire policeman, with help from the National Society for Research into Allergy, looked at the individual food intolerances of a group of juvenile offenders. Some of your Lordships may have seen the outcome on a "QED" programme entitled "Little Monsters" last April. Having smashed up the mini-bus and the laboratory on their visit to London for investigation, all nine of them became reasonably docile on an altered diet with food supplements, and offences thereafter dropped markedly. The cost of their criminal damage had been something over £100,000; the cost of investigation and treatment for all of them came to £2,000 at the outside.

I could give many more examples. On the scientific side, there is the 45 per cent. reduction in anti-social behaviour recorded among prisoners in Alabama on a wholefood diet, or the 44 per cent. in Los Angeles which resulted in a city-wide ban on highly-processed foods in juvenile institutions. On the anecdotal side, there is the lad who lives near us at home who is driven literally berserk by contact with milk, sugar or wheat, and steals cars and beats up his mother.

I have found an interesting result of drawing attention to this topic to be the chord it strikes with families and the general public. But not, it seems, with the authorities. Time is, alas, too short to go into why these ideas are not picked up, or are even opposed. There was an excellent article on this in vol. 3 of the Criminologist for 1987. It has much to do with people's training and the difficulty of crossing interdisciplinary boundaries. A distinguished scientist of my acquaintance puts it down largely to the separation of two cultures: an unwillingness to accept that social behaviour can have anything other than social origins. He also points out that this is about the only truly scientific route into the causes of crime.

I also suspect that the implications for the criminal justice system, for education, the food industry and medicine are of such an order as themselves to give rise to a certain resistance among the authorities in those fields. This is understandable, but unfortunate, because I do not believe that as a society we can go on dismissing evidence which could help us in however small a way to come to grips with crime figures, whether rising or not. Of course I need hardly stress that this is just one aspect of a huge field. There is no place here for the single-issue fanatic. But I do hope that the noble Earl the Minister can persuade his department to take an open-minded look at the area of research I have tried to outline.

7.20 p.m.

The Marquess of Aberdeen and Temair

My Lords, I am also involved with the charity Schools Outreach to which the noble Lord, Lord Ashbourne referred. I am chairman of the Berkshire branch. Schools Outreach carefully selects young men and women of interesting and intelligent character to receive skilful training in one-to-one counselling of troublesome schoolchildren—those children who are potentially tomorrow's criminals.

The counsellors are not employed by the school or by parents. They are employed by Schools Outreach. That is an extremely important fact because it means that their independence from authority and officialdom gives them an opportunity to obtain the confidence of the children.

The characteristic of rebellious misfits is self-centredness. Therefore, when the counsellors are friendly and confiding, a child is likely to unburden himself. Very often the solution to the child's previously bottled-up woes can be childishly simple. I give an example. In a school in Slough was a girl who was extremely aggressive. The counsellor—a young woman—gained the girl's confidence. By careful questioning she discovered that the girl was taking things out on her parents who would send her to bed supperless. Further questioning revealed that the parents were both working and when they came home, the girl was already there. The counsellor suggested to the girl that she should be kinder to her parents because they needed to relax. The girl had not thought of that; it had not occurred to her because she was too self-centred. She then thought that that might be a good idea and acted upon it. It worked. The girl was kinder to her parents. As I said, such matters can have a childishly simple solution.

The noble Baroness, Lady Faithfull, spoke about exclusions from school and implied that that is a problem. Since Schools Outreach counsellors have been present in that school, in 1989–90 there were 39 exclusions, in 1990–91, 50 exclusions and in 1991–92, two exclusions. So far, in the past school year there have been two exclusions. In the same period staff turnover has reduced from 90 per cent. to nought. It is interesting that two young girls acting as counsellors have made that amount of difference in one school.

Some of your Lordships may have seen the "Panorama" programme on which it was announced that in the United States the Burger King chain has given 2 million dollars to build centres for excluded children. We should love that to happen here.

The counselling provided by Schools Outreach does not work for everyone because unfortunately, from earliest times, there has always been a small minority of people who are born bent. Until medical science can discover why that is so and what to do about it, restraint and punitive measures are essential. However, the majority of potential criminals can be changed while they are still at an impressionable school age and it is a toss up as to whether they will become good or go bad. Prevention is much cheaper than cure.

Throughout the debate there have been discussions about the cost of crime. When I was speaking about exclusions I should have said that it costs thousands of pounds to look after children who have been excluded from school. Schools Outreach works on a shoestring. I repeat that I hope that Burger King can be persuaded to give 2 million dollars in this country.

7.25 p.m.

Lord Harris of Greenwich

My Lords, I join with others in thanking the noble Lord, Lord Gisborough, for initiating the debate which has been extremely useful. Like others, I propose to deal with one issue; namely, the problem of juvenile crime. In particular I wish to discuss some of the issues raised by the policy announcement by the Home Secretary on 2nd March that he proposes to introduce a new sentence for the courts; that is, the secure training order for 12 to 15 year-olds who have been convicted of three imprisonable offences.

I wish to ask a number of questions relating to that announcement. First, what is the first date upon which the new order can be introduced? The noble Viscount, Lord Tenby, asked that question. I am sure that we should all be extremely grateful if the noble Earl were to tell us. It has been suggested that it cannot be introduced before the summer of 1995. Perhaps he will tell us whether that statement is correct.

Secondly, it is suggested that a place in one of the new institutions will cost between £1,500 and £2,000 per week. At a time when we have a borrowing requirement of £50 billion, it would be helpful were the noble Earl to tell us whether the Home Office or the Home Secretary has Treasury approval for expenditure of that order.

If it is suggested—indeed, it has been—that the current difficulties which we are facing as regards young offenders are urgent and are being caused by a very small number of young offenders, why are the Government not taking more action to stimulate the number of secure places in local authority children's homes? When the Government came into office there were 329 such places. There are now fewer than 300. It seems to me extraordinary that we are talking about the establishment and creation of a new disposal for the courts at a time when the Government have failed to provide sufficient places in local authority children's homes and have indeed, allowed the numbers to decline.

It seems that a short-term programme aimed at providing more secure places in local authority homes is far more relevant than the creation of the new order which the Home Secretary announced on 2nd March. Again, it seems odd that the new order, which will not be available for another two years, is in some way preferred to the creation of new secure places in local authority children's homes. I believe that the new order sounds suspiciously like an approved school order. That collapsed because it simply did not work.

Next, what action has the Department of Health taken since the debate which we had in July of last year on the NCH, Police Foundation and Metropolitan Police report on child runaways? It was generally accepted that there are a substantial number of runaways from a limited number of children's homes. Many of those children become sucked into criminal activity. What action has been taken since the debate in July of last year to deal with that situation?

The other question which I should like to ask the noble Earl is related because it deals with a matter which was touched on by the previous speaker; that is, the alarming increase in the number of children who are being excluded from school. It appears that a consequence of the introduction of the philosophy of the market place into our education system and the publication of league tables, which are supposed to enable parents to distinguish good schools from bad schools, is that a number of schools are keen to rid themselves as quickly as possible of their more tiresome students. It has been estimated—I do not know the basis of the calculation—that between 25,000 and 60,000 children have been excluded from school as a result of this new development. That seems to me a pretty worrying matter.

We are talking about a situation in which children are thrown out of school and as a consequence receive only six to seven hours' tuition a week. What does the noble Earl and his colleagues think is likely to happen to these children, who themselves no doubt have committed offences against school discipline? Probably a significant number of them will also get sucked into criminal activities. What precisely do Ministers intend to do about that? Is there any discussion between the Home Office, the Department of Health and the Department for Education about creating some form of co-ordinated response to the situation? The issues which we have discussed tonight have led to a great deal of public anxiety, as we are well aware. Unless there is a common policy involving those three departments, the prospects of our successfully dealing with the situation are extremely limited.

7.31 p.m.

Baroness Mallalieu

My Lords, this debate, for which we are all indebted to the noble Lord, Lord Gisborough, has seen expressions of constructive insight from all sides of the House, as well, I am bound to say, as the resurgence of some arguments on penology which Noah would have thought were outdated.

This debate is not simply one about figures or statistics. It is a debate, or it should be a debate, about the collapse of public confidence in law enforcement. Notwithstanding the juvenile crime figures, people believe—I think, rightly—that crime has risen and is continuing to rise to a point where in some areas it is out of control. The public want to see their government not just condemning, not just huffing and puffing disapproval and imposing token measures designed to give an appearance of swift and stern response to the symptoms; they want to see a government who are genuinely trying to identify the causes and trying to deal with them so as to reverse the deterioration which all of us see wherever we live, not just in our inner cities.

What people want are better and safer communities everywhere throughout Britain. As a child I would wander off alone to play in the fields and woods of Buckinghamshire for hours until darkness fell. My children could never do the same today. Some 10 years ago I would leave my car happily in any of the local station car parks secure in the knowledge that when I returned it would be intact and I could return to it in personal safety at any time of the day or night. I cannot do so today. Five years ago violence was something I read about, heard about in the courts or saw on television. In the past six months I have been a witness to violent crime three times. The final occasion was last week. That did not occur in some inner city area by night but in the English countryside on a Saturday afternoon.

Crime affects the quality of all our lives. People have a right to go about their affairs without having their houses or their cars broken into. They have a right to go about their lawful business and pleasure without being threatened, abused, attacked and assaulted. They have a right to expect the police to be given the resources, the powers and the support to protect the public and to use those powers effectively, and the courts to be given the powers to deal adequately with those who engage in anti-social conduct. Society, in short, has a duty to bring those who commit crime to justice and a duty to the victims of crime to see that the punishment that is imposed properly reflects the seriousness of that crime.

But merely punishing the criminal, even with greater and greater severity as some noble Lords have urged, does not tackle the causes of crime, nor in the long term, as this Government's record of failure in this respect has unhappily shown, does it reduce offending, or ultimately protect the public. Being tough on crime is not enough; we must also be tough on the causes of crime. So why do people commit crime? Children are not born knowing right from wrong. They learn initially by example. They learn first from their families, then from their friends, then at school and ultimately from the community around them. Where those values and principles are not communicated within the family, the result is a failure to learn the initial lesson which all too often leads on to crime.

Statistics produced by the "Who Cares?" Trust—that is a charity that helps some 75,000 children who pass through the care system—speak more graphically than any words. Some 10,000 young people aged 16 to 18 leave care each year. They form only 0.6 of the total number of young people under 18, yet 38 per cent. of those in young offender institutions have a care background and 23 per cent. of the adult prison population have been in care. It is surely plain common sense that inadequate or unsatisfactory family backgrounds, poor education, bad housing, low employment prospects and drug abuse all affect the likelihood of young people turning to crime.

A child who has no security in his family and no sense of belonging to something more than just himself, and with an unsatisfactory education, too often grows into a young person and then an adult with no stake in his community, no sense of belonging and no respect for the lives and the property of others. Through the 1980s—this is continuing into the 1990s—there was a philosophy which tended to tell us that all individuals were free in a land of enterprise and opportunity to exploit their talents in our market economy, and that the concept of society with rights and entitlements and obligations towards others was discredited or out of date. We have seen, as a result of that philosophy, the growth of a discredited, disaffected underclass of mainly young people who have no job, no loyalties and no time for the rules of a society which excludes them from its benefits.

What can be done about that now? What will not work are instant solutions based on inadequate research and lack of understanding. Condemnation without understanding is doomed to fail and it results in the sort of changes of direction that we have seen over and over again in the policies of this Government from detention centres to approved schools, and to promises that are never fulfilled of more secure places. We are now faced once again with promises of five approved school-type units. Thrashing about in this way cannot work. There must be an overall strategy which is properly researched and which includes not just the police and the courts but also the social services, schools, families and the community as a whole.

There must be more help to ensure that children do not become offenders. There must be more support for those families most in need. Could not the £10 million earmarked for the new secure places be better spent on help for nursery education in the more vulnerable areas? Policing must be strengthened within local communities, with more men and women on the beat in partnership with local people and particularly with parents. Ideally, we should all know our local policemen. There should be no "no go areas" on housing estates. Some noble Lords have mentioned those.

The 15 million offences committed last year show that cosmetic and piecemeal action has been a miserable failure. All of us know that is the case, including the noble Earl, if he is frank with this House. If this Government would make a commitment to a concerted plan which recognises that individual responsibility for crime, for which this Government are a vociferous advocate, goes hand in hand with community action, they would have our wholehearted support and also our gratitude. If they will not do so, the numbers of people who suffer the misery of being victims of crime will continue to increase and the quality of life in this country, of which we were once so proud, will become a matter of shame.

7.39 p.m.

The Minister of State, Home Office (Earl Ferrers)

My Lords, the House will be grateful to my noble friend Lord Gisborough for providing the opportunity to debate this important matter of crime. I found myself in sympathy with much of what my noble friend said. Your Lordships will understand that, in a debate such as this with so many speakers, I cannot deal with every point which has been made, although I have listened to them all with interest and shall continue to absorb them.

The problem of crime is enormously complex. Were there an easy solution, someone would have found it years ago. Governments as such do not create crime; nor can they, on their own, prevent it or resolve it. They react to it and try to prevent it.

In his Motion my noble friend draws the attention of the House to the "rising crime figures". What do those figures tell us? In the 12 months to the end of June 1992, the police in England and Wales recorded 5.5 million crimes. Only 5 per cent. of all crime was violent crime and, curiously, that figure has remained constant over the last 30 years. Ninety-four per cent. of crimes were against property; over half of all crime was either theft of, or from, vehicles, or burglaries. The total amount of crime was 11 per cent. more than in the previous year. But the signs are that the rate of increase is slowing down.

We know, however, that the number of recorded crimes only partially reflects the real level of crime. The British Crime Survey, which asks people directly about their own experiences of crime as victims, suggests that some of the long-term increase in recorded crime is due to the fact that more victims are now reporting crime. Victims of crimes such as rape, domestic violence and child abuse have previously been reluctant to come out in the open. Now they are more willing to do so. The Government have encouraged this. That is good, but it does—if one can put it so indecorously—"inflate" the figures.

This apparent wave of crime is not a phenomenon which is peculiar to this country. Recent international surveys confirm that, compared with other countries, England and Wales are relatively safe places in which to live. There is, in fact, a greater chance of being a victim of a robbery in Italy, Spain, the United States of America, Canada and Australia than there is in England and Wales. However, we have the highest risk of having our cars stolen. My noble friend Lord Bethell asked about Europol. I cannot give him further information on that matter at present.

Although very often it is women and the elderly who are the most frightened of crime, those most at risk of being victims of violent assault are, contrary to what one might expect, young men aged between 16 and 24. Least at risk are those over 60 and under 10.

Behind each statistic, though, lies an individual story of fear and of misery. In trying to reduce both the fear of crime and crime itself, the police have a very important part to play. Over the last decade we have therefore provided the police with substantially increased resources. The numbers of police and civilians working with them in England and Wales have increased by 31,600. Spending on the police has risen by 81 per cent. in real terms. Since 1983, some 5,700 police officers have been released for operational duties by civilianising their posts, and the Government and individual forces are continuing to look at ways of using those resources more effectively.

I should like to pay a tribute to the police for the work which they do tirelessly on behalf of the public. It is work for which they are frequently criticised and vilified but which is becoming increasingly dangerous. To those police officers who have been subjected to the most appalling violence from the public—and I have seen some of those who have—the rest of us owe a great debt of gratitude.

There are perpetually calls for more police officers, and I understand why. However, sometimes one gets the impression that some people will not be satisfied until half the population of the country is in the police force and the other half is in gaol. In whatever sphere we operate—and public life is no different—we have to operate within given parameters. My right honourable friend the Home Secretary is at present looking at all aspects of the police service in order to see whether the resources which we are putting at the disposal of the police can be better utilised.

My noble friend Lord Nelson and others referred to the burden of paperwork. I agree that excessive paperwork is terrible. The Government are as anxious as the police to ensure that the paperwork involved is only that which is necessary for justice and no more. A working party on pre-trial issues has made recommendations aimed at improving the quality of police files, reducing delays and lifting the burdens on the police where possible. However, I am not aware that there are 68 forms which have to be dealt with.

We also have to provide the courts with sufficient powers to ensure that offenders are dealt with fairly and effectively. Over the last decade we have increased the powers of the courts to deal with the most serious offences. The Criminal Justice Act 1988 introduced, for the first time, a right of appeal by the Attorney-General against excessively lenient sentences for serious offences. Maximum penalties for child cruelty, attempted rape and trafficking in drugs have been increased. The Aggravated Vehicle-Taking Act 1992 provides tough new penalties to deal with what is now known as "death-riding".

The noble Lords, Lord Hutchinson and Lord Harris, the noble Viscount, Lord Tenby, and the noble Baroness, Lady Mallalieu, as well as my noble friends Lord Knights, Lord Elton and Lady Faithfull, all referred in various ways to the recent proposals of my right honourable friend the Home Secretary to deal with that small proportion of juveniles whose persistent offending makes them a menace to their community and ruins the lives of law-abiding citizens. I agree with my noble friend Lord Elton that the number of known offenders has gone down, but the average number of offences committed by offenders has risen. I am aware that this is a controversial subject: the fact is that certain children habitually and perpetually re-offend. They have to be put in secure places to take them out of the light and to make life better for others in the community whose lives and homes they are ruining.

My noble friend Lord Knights asked about the new secure places for juveniles on remand. The Department of Health aims to have the capital programme completed and the new secure accommodation in operation by the end of 1995. My noble friend Lady Faithfull also asked about the youth service. We agree about the importance of the youth service. The Government have increased support, through the Department for Education's GEST programme, in 1993–94 by spending £4 million on new youth action schemes. We have increased support for national youth voluntary organisations to £2.8 million and have doubled support for the innovative and developmental youth projects to £400,000.

My noble friend Lord Elton also referred to funding for the intermediate treatment fund. I shall take back to my colleagues both my noble friend's welcome for Home Office funding for what is known as the Divert Trust and his wish for continuing support in raising more funds for community treatment generally.

The noble Viscount, Lord Tenby, asked about the shortage of bail hostels. The Government are providing £8 million to fund bail hostels and bail support schemes, increasing the number to 113 bail hostels this year. The noble Lord, Lord Harris of Greenwich, asked about runaways. I recognise the problems with regard to children who run away from residential homes. The Department of Health is planning to strengthen the guidance to staff in residential homes on dealing with returned runaways and we are planning meetings between officials and practitioners to explore in more detail the options, which could include skilled intervention and more preventive measures. I agree that progress since July has been slower than we would have wished, but it is essential that all with an interest are consulted if any new strategy is to be successful.

The Government are aware of the concerns which have been expressed about some of the provisions of the Criminal Justice Act 1991, particularly Sections 18 and 29. My noble friend Lord Gisborough and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Ackner, mentioned those concerns. However, I do not need to remind the House that the Act includes many provisions other than those in Sections 18 and 29. It allows longer sentences to be passed for violent and sexual offences. It gives greater meaning to the custodial sentences which are passed by the courts. All offenders will have to serve at least half their sentence in custody, and those who serve 12 months or more will continue to be supervised for a period after release. The Act introduces a tougher range of community penalties. It places a duty on parents to take responsibility for their children's behaviour, and it makes it easier for child victims to give evidence in court. The Act has been in operation only for some six months and its effects are being carefully monitored. My right honourable friend the Home Secretary has said that he will re-examine the Act in the light of the information about how it is working in practice.

We also need to reduce the possibility that offenders will re-offend. Community and custodial penalties are therefore aimed at making offenders face up to the effect of their crimes and helping them to lead law-abiding lives. The probation service is being strengthened by 25 per cent. so as to supervise the community penalties.

The fact is that, if treated properly, many young offenders will not offend again whereas if they are sent to prison they mix with hardened criminals and often emerge more criminal than when they entered. In that respect it is interesting to note that 87 per cent. of those who are cautioned do not re-offend again within two years.

The noble Earl, Lord Baldwin of Bewdley, in an enormously interesting and unusual speech, raised the part which is played by diet. That is an area about which relatively little is known at present but which, I am sure, has an influence on some people. I am glad to be able to tell the noble Earl that the Home Office is negotiating with Dr. Jonathan Brostoff over a possible research study on the links between diet and crime.

The Government have done much too to promote the prevention of crime, and we shall continue to do so. The Neighbourhood Watch movement will continue to expand. The Safer Cities programme will spread to new areas. We are setting up a new national board on crime prevention, and we are reconvening the ministerial group on crime prevention chaired by the Home Office to ensure greater co-ordination of crime prevention policy within government. So much is being done.

Of course, in the fight against crime we need to confront not only the symptoms but also the underlying factors, the causes of crime. When one reads in the newspapers, or hears on television, of even children doing terrible things, everyone says, "What has gone wrong? Whose fault is it? What can we do to stop it?" As the noble Lord, Lord Allen of Abbeydale, said, everyone has a responsibility. We all have ideas as to causes of crime. Your Lordships have given some views today. The most reverend Primate the Archbishop of York gave some recently. He got uncomfortably tangled up with the media. I warned him that I might refer to it. He said that badness is often brought out of people by circumstances, by upbringing, by a sense of boredom and by a sense of hopelessness, and in some young people by a sense that they have no stake in society. That is a matter to which the noble Baroness, Lady Mallalieu, referred, as did the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Ripon.

The noble Earl, Lord Winchilsea, said that in part it is a social problem. I am sure that he is right. It is right to seek the causes of the troubles. But whatever the cause of crime may be, there can be no excuse for it. There can be no justification for it. Authority, whether of Church or state, or even of home or school, can only have meaning if the rule of law is accepted. It will only have meaning if those who break the law, and who thereby ruin for everyone else the society of which they themselves are a part, are condemned for their actions.

There are those who despise and reject any form of authority and who prefer the law of the jungle. But theirs is a selfish and self-centred attitude where licence replaces liberty and where indulgence replaces obligation. No society can run on those lines for long. Crime does not have to happen. As the noble Baroness, Lady Mallalieu, said, no one is born a criminal. It is true—I agree with the right reverend Prelate—that economic deprivation, whether of income or of housing; family criminality; parental misunderstanding; failure at school, whether that is because of low attainment or because the schools are ineffective; all have a part to play in a person's make-up and may be contributory factors to criminality. But they are not determining factors.

Not all people with those backgrounds become offenders, and plenty without them do offend. There are many who have suffered appalling deprivation yet who would never dream of resorting to acts of criminality. There are others who have had a better start in life but who nevertheless turn to crime. It is people who commit crime; it is not circumstances. People, whether the criminal or the critic, cannot shrug off the responsibilities for their actions. I believe that that is what the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Ripon meant when he referred to personal responsibility. That is what I believe my right honourable friend the Prime Minister meant too when he said that we want to understand less and to condemn more. It is pretty horrifying to realise that one in three males by the age of 31 has a criminal record, and that does not included traffic offences; that 50 per cent. of known offenders are under the age of 21; and that the peak age of offending is between 15 and 18.

When one looks at a tiny child aged six weeks who is dependent and reliant on others for everything, one wonders what can turn that baby into a criminal by the time he is 15 or 16. What happens to that child during his upbringing largely determines how he will turn out. It is like a potter who has a raw piece of clay. How he twists and moulds that clay determines to a large extent whether what emerges is a thing of beauty or an eyesore. A child is just the same. The influence to which he is subjected in the home and in the school plays a vital part. So do the parents. So do the teachers. So do television and videos. So do books and papers. What that child is allowed to see, what he is not allowed to see, the discipline of the home, the school, the church, and the willingness of the parents to submit that child to that discipline and to be a part of it, all play a vital part in what that child becomes. And we are all responsible for that. A child learns as much by a process of osmosis, by absorbing atmosphere and thought, as he does by being taught. But when, for whatever reason, one marriage in three ends in divorce, one wonders where lies the stability for the child. That is a point which exercised both my noble friends Lord Gisborough and Lord Ashbourne.

Statistics, of course, can never answer those questions. Truth, beauty and goodness can never be subject to statistical analysis. Nor can ill discipline, badness or evil. I remember a parson who was not greatly gifted in the pulpit saying some 20 years ago, "What will destroy this world is not the atom bomb or the hydrogen bomb but the inability to discern between right and wrong". I believe that he was right.

That is something about which parents, teachers, Church, social workers and even Government have a vitally important part of play and from which obligation not one of us can escape. We are part of the society in which we live. By our deeds we affect that society, and by our attitudes we create that society. Good needs to be cherished. Bad needs to be condemned; and the ability to recognise the difference needs to be taught.

There are two issues on which we might dwell. First, if we could restore a sense of morals into an increasingly godless age, then there would be a more regulated and law-abiding society, and more contentment too. Secondly, when we hear those great advocates articulating as they do with such subtlety that the boundaries of permissiveness and acceptability should be stretched yet further, and that it is in the interests of people not to be restrained within the rigid confines of previous precedent, it is as well to remember that civilisation is a very thin veneer. That veneer can easily be stripped off. When it is, it exposes only raw humanity in its place. It is no bad thing to remember the words of the late Lord Fisher of Canterbury, when he said, There is no unreasonable argument which cannot be proved reasonable by reason".

7.55 p.m.

Lord Gisborough

My Lords, it remains for me to thank the Minister for that excellent reply and all noble Lords who have contributed to the debate with such interesting speeches. I beg leave to withdraw my Motion for Papers.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.