HL Deb 03 April 1996 vol 571 cc343-56

4.30 p.m.

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, with the leave of the House, I shall now repeat a Statement on crime and sentencing which is being made in another place by my right honourable friend the Home Secretary. The Statement is as follows:

"With permission, Madam Speaker, I wish to make a Statement about crime and sentencing. I am today publishing a White Paper, Protecting the Public, which sets out the Government's comprehensive strategy to tackle crime. That strategy is designed to ensure that everything possible is done to prevent crime; the police have the powers and resources they need to catch criminals; the innocent are acquitted but the guilty convicted; and criminals are properly punished.

"There is clear evidence that this strategy is working. Last week I announced that recorded crime has fallen for the past three years in succession. That has happened only twice before this century. In 1995 there were 468,000 fewer crimes committed than in 1992—the largest ever continuous fall in the number of annually recorded crimes.

"I pay tribute to the police, and all those local communities with which they work in partnership, for this achievement. But crime is still far too high. There is more to be done. That is why I announced a series of radical new sentencing proposals last October in Blackpool. They have one simple aim: to protect the public from dangerous and persistent criminals.

"First, honesty in sentencing. At present, offenders sentenced to less than four years in prison can expect to be released after serving just half their sentence. Those sentenced to four years or more can expect to be released after serving between half and two-thirds of their sentence. Automatic early release from prison enrages victims and undermines public confidence in the criminal justice system. I therefore propose to abolish it.

"Under our proposals there would be no more automatic early release. Prisoners who co-operated and behaved well would be able to earn up to 20 per cent. off their sentence. This will ensure that sentences actually served are much more closely matched to those handed out by the courts. In addition, it will give prisoners a strong incentive to behave properly in prison. On release, all prisoners serving 12 months or more would be supervised by the Probation Service for a period equivalent to 15 per cent. of their original prison sentence. The courts would be expected to take full account of these changes in the sentences they pass.

"Secondly, persistent serious sexual and violent offenders. The maximum penalty for crimes like rape and attempted murder is life imprisonment. The advantage of the life sentence is that the offender will be released if, and only if, the Parole Board is satisfied that it is safe to do so. But serious sexual or violent offenders rarely get life, even if they offend again. In 1994, 217 offenders were convicted of a second or subsequent serious violent or sexual offence. All could have received a life sentence, but only 10 did.

"Offenders who do not receive a life sentence have to be released from prison after serving two-thirds of their sentence, even if everyone working with them knows that they are likely to commit another serious crime on some innocent member of the public. And the sad reality is that many of them do. In 1994, around 40 serious violent or sexual crimes were committed by offenders who had already been convicted of a second such offence. I believe that this is indefensible. I therefore propose that anyone aged 18 or over who is convicted of a serious sexual or violent offence for a second time should be sentenced to life imprisonment.

"In these indeterminate life sentence cases, the trial judge, not Ministers, would set the tariff—the minimum period to be served for retribution and deterrence. Once that tariff had been served the Parole Board would decide whether it was safe to release the offender or not. If the Parole Board decided that offenders still posed a danger to the public, then they would remain in prison. Those considered safe would be released on life licence and subject to recall to prison at any time during the rest of their lives.

"Thirdly, drug dealers. Drug dealers are a scourge on society. They prey on the young and the innocent. They wreck people's lives. And because addicts often resort to crime to finance their habits they wreck the livelihoods of others. Dealers in hard drugs like heroin, ecstasy and cocaine usually receive prison sentences. But in many cases these prison sentences are not long enough for those who persistently commit this very serious crime.

"A recent sample showed that the average sentence for a third conviction of dealing in hard drugs was just over four years. And these offenders are automatically released after serving only two and a half years. We need to send a strong and clear signal that persistent dealing in hard drugs is not something we are prepared to tolerate. I therefore propose that anyone aged 18 or over who is convicted on three separate occasions of dealing in Class A drugs should receive a minimum sentence of seven years in prison.

"Next, burglary. All burglary is disruptive and costly. But domestic burglary is particularly distressing for victims who lose their treasured personal possessions and feel that the sanctity of their home has been violated. I believe persistent domestic burglars deserve long prison sentences. Yet they rarely get them.

"A sample of domestic burglars convicted in the Crown Courts in 1993 and 1994 showed that the average prison sentence for a first time offender was 16.2 months. Even after three or more convictions it was only 18.9 months. And after seven or more convictions it was barely higher at 19.4 months—and they actually serve just half of that. Indeed, 28 per cent. of offenders with seven or more convictions for domestic burglary in the Crown Court were not sent to prison at all. And in the magistrates' courts that figure was even higher at 61 per cent. I simply do not believe that this gives the public the protection they deserve. And these sentences do not deter career burglars for whom the occasional short stretch in prison has become an acceptable occupational hazard.

"That is why I propose a minimum sentence of three years for anyone aged 18 or over convicted of domestic burglary for a third time. In addition, I hope the courts will use to the full their new powers to seize burglars' assets. The prospect of long prison sentences, coupled with loss of their possessions, will, I have no doubt, deter many burglars altogether. Others will not be deterred. But at least communities will get a lengthy break from their criminal activities.

"There will be 5,000 more policemen to help catch burglars; new vigorous police tactics designed to take the offensive to the burglar; long sentences for persistent burglars; and the prospect of their own property being seized. These are my proposals to take on the burglar as never taken on before. I have no doubt that they will be warmly supported by the public.

"I accept that there may very occasionally be cases where it would not be reasonable for the court to impose the minimum sentence. I therefore propose that the courts should have the discretion not to impose it in genuinely exceptional circumstances.

"I summarise my proposals. Automatic early release from prison will be ended. Anyone convicted of a second serious sexual or violent crime will receive a life sentence. Persistent domestic burglars will receive mandatory minimum prison sentences of three years and those dealing in hard drugs, seven years.

"These are deliberately tough sentences designed to deal with serious persistent and wholly unacceptable offending by individual criminals. I accept that they are likely to lead to an increase in the prison population. The necessary prison places will need to be built and this will require extra resources. But I believe that we simply cannot afford not to take this action.

"I intend to phase in the proposals. The provisions to deal with second-time serious sexual and violent offenders and drug dealers will be implemented as soon as possible after Royal Assent. I intend to implement the provisions to deal with persistent burglars and honesty in sentencing two years later as new prison places become available.

"I intend to consult fully on the proposals set out in this White Paper. I shall carefully consider the points made. Having done that, I propose to introduce a Bill giving effect to my proposals in the next Session of Parliament.

"Madam Speaker, the first duty of government is to maintain law and order; to protect people's freedom to walk safely on their streets and sleep safely in their homes. We have taken action to ensure that the balance in our criminal justice system favours the law abiding public, not the criminal. The police have revolutionised the way they fight crime—targeting known and persistent criminals with impressive results. And the public are increasingly playing their part—through Neighbourhood Watch, Street Watch and the Special Constabulary.

"The proposals I have set out today are aimed at protecting the public from those who persistently commit offences which cause particular public concern—serious violent or sexual offences, drug dealing and domestic burglary. They will ensure that once caught and convicted, persistent and dangerous criminals are properly punished. The proposals are tough. And they should be. They are needed to protect the public and to build a safer Britain. I commend them to the House."

My Lords, that concludes the text of the Statement.

4.42 p.m.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, the House will be grateful to the Minister for repeating the Statement made in another place. I should introduce my remarks with a caveat. The Minister knows that, apart from 20 minutes, I have been in my place since 11.30 this morning. Therefore, I have had no opportunity to consult my honourable and right honourable friends in another place. Therefore, I preface my remarks with what I may call—in variation of a cigarette packet—an Opposition health warning. Any differences that are detected between my response and that of Mr. Jack Straw will be the subject of full and frank discussion in the future.

By any standards, this is an extraordinary Statement, and it is an extraordinary Statement to make on the day on which the House rises even for a brief Easter Recess. It starts with a series of statements which depart widely from the experience of ordinary people in relation to crime, and it fails to reflect at all the experience and incidence of crime over the period of 17 years of this Conservative Government.

The Secretary of State says that everything possible is being done to prevent crime. But he neglects to remind Parliament that it is the Labour Party which has emphasised throughout the importance of crime prevention and the relationship between the police and local authorities and local communities in crime prevention. The Government have resisted those changes.

The Secretary of State talks quite rightly about the powers and resources needed by the police, the need to ensure that the innocent are acquitted but the guilty convicted and that criminals are properly punished. Nobody disagrees with any of that but all that must be seen within the context of a free civil society. After all, that is the basis of our criminal justice system.

The Home Secretary talks about evidence that the strategy is working. He did indeed announce a fall in recorded crime; but it is noticeable that violent crime, including burglary—in other words, the kind of crime with which his proposed minimum sentences are concerned—has actually increased, as has all crime in the past six months.

I turn to the issue of honesty in sentencing. We must remind the House that the provisions for automatic remission were not invented by a Labour Government. They came out of the Criminal Justice Act 1991 which was put forward by this Government. This Government introduced the idea of automatic remission. They persisted in saying that that automatic remission is important from the point of view of discipline.

Throughout, the Labour Party has been in favour of honesty and truth in sentencing. We do not believe that there should be automatic remission at the half-way stage of a sentence. We believe that sentences should be adjusted to reflect the reality and that the parole system, rather than the remission system, should be used both to reward good behaviour, to keep discipline in prisons, and above all to ensure that there is the potential for release for those, and only those, who can safely be released into the community.

Therefore, we agree with the Home Secretary that automatic early release from prison is undesirable and we support legislation to that effect. But we must remind him that it is the Government's problem and not a problem which has been introduced by anybody else.

At the same time, we remind him that unless there is a change in sentencing guidelines to make sure that that does not result simply in a doubling of effective sentences, then the effect on the prison population will be dramatic.

The Home Secretary then turned to the issue of minimum sentences. First, he talked about persistent sexual and violent offenders. We share with him his concern about the increase in sexual offences in particular. But again I remind the House that the incidence of rape has increased four-fold since this Government first came into office in 1980; that the possibility of conviction for rape has been improved, in particular as a result of the possibility of DNA testing; and yet in absolute terms, there are fewer convictions for rape than there were 16 years ago. There is something seriously wrong with our law in relation to rape but it is the problem of failing to secure convictions for rape rather than the sentences which are important.

Instead of proposing minimum sentences or automatic life sentences for repeated rapists, we have a much more wide-ranging proposal which has been publicised in recent weeks by the shadow Home Secretary—that is, all sentences for sexual offences of this kind should be subject to review before release is made possible, even at the end of the sentence.

We recognise the genuine and proper concern about those who serve their full sentence for rape without receiving parole and who are released into the community not having been cured of their impulse for rape. I know that it is a difficult thing to do when there are normally determinate sentences but a way must be found to ensure that the protection which is possible when prisoners are released on parole is available also at the end of their sentences for those who have disorders of the kind which lead to rape and who would be a danger to the community if released. We are just as concerned as the Government about protection for the community from both sexual and violent criminals but we believe there are ways other than the imposition of minimum sentences to deal with that problem.

The Statement then goes on to deal with the issues of drug dealers and burglary. Of course, the Secretary of State is right to say that drug dealing is a dreadful scourge. He is right to say that dealing in Class A drugs is one of the worst ways of breaking up civil society in this country. He is also right, although perhaps to a lesser extent, about burglary. The shock and offence caused by burglary, even when the amounts are small, are very profound as anyone who has been burgled knows from personal experience.

I seriously wonder whether minimum sentences of the kind proposed by the Home Secretary are the right way to deal with the problems. After all, both drug dealing and burglary are conspicuous among offences which vary enormously in their seventy. Even drug dealing in Class A drugs could be on a very small scale while burglary might consist simply of putting one's hand through an open window to steal a milk bottle. Is it seriously proposed that there should be minimum sentences of the sort proposed for three separate offences of putting a hand through an open window to steal a milk bottle? I cannot believe that that would be the case. I am surprised that the Minister picked on offences where, very often, cautions are used rather than arrest to introduce the new concept of minimum sentencing.

Of course we must protect the public, but I do not believe that minimum sentencing of the sort proposed is the right way to do it. All the omens are against it. After the proposal was first mooted by the Home Secretary in his speech at the Conservative Party conference, the noble Lord, Lord Windlesham, wrote a very effective letter to The Times in October of last year in which described the situation in California. There is huge encouragement there for people to plead not guilty because a guilty plea automatically leads to imprisonment for life, 99 years or whatever it is, even for stealing a pizza. Indeed, that has actually happened in California. The courts and remand places in prison have become clogged up, the prison population has increased enormously and the prison budget is now greater than the higher education budget. That cannot be the right approach to the problem. I am sorry that it has not been possible for the noble Lord, Lord Windlesham, to be in his place today. I am sure that he would have delivered a withering attack on the proposals, as he did in October last year.

Similarly, Ministers now appear to be deriding the work of the Parole Board. I find that extraordinary when we consider that it was the noble Lord, Lord Carlisle of Bucklow, who carried out a review of the board. It has been suggested that prison sentences are not being served enough in custody and that that, apart from remission, is the responsibility of the Parole Board. Yet a review of parole procedures revealed that parole was not being used excessively and that it was essential not only for deterrence but also for securing a civilised regime and discipline in our prisons.

To make our sentences more literal than they are now will cause enormous difficulties for the Prison Service. I have in mind the effect of the proposals in terms of the prison budget. Estimates of the increase in the prison population vary greatly but none comes to less than about 10,000. That means that over the period to which the Home Secretary referred we are talking about at least £1 billion in capital expenditure, and a huge increase in revenue cost and budgets for the Prison Service. Can the Minister say from where—what other budget—that money will come?

The Statement represents a complete U-turn on everything the Government have said, especially on the Criminal Justice Act 1991. We are discussing a problem which has occurred and grown within the lifetime of the Conservative Government and which has been exacerbated by the lack of consistency and progression in sentencing which the Conservative Government have either encouraged, as they did in legislation, or allowed to happen. The Statement must be taken in the light of the complete failure of the Government seriously to tackle the problem of violent crime and to deal with the problem of the failure of conviction for violent crime. It is a deplorable Statement. I realise that the proposals will come before the House for scrutiny during the next parliamentary Session. Let us hope that the next Session is sufficiently curtailed to make it impossible for the proposals to become law.

Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank

My Lords, we on these Benches are also grateful to the Minister for repeating the Statement made in another place. In his concluding remarks, the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, implied that your Lordships would be satisfied—if that is the proper word—if a debate took place on the proposals on the Second Reading of the Bill which has been promised. Speaking from these Benches, I have to say that we would not be satisfied if we had to wait until the next parliamentary Session to debate the White Paper. It is a document of over 30,000 words and far more substantial, for inevitable and understandable reasons, than the Statement made by the Minister. I believe that the issues raised by the White Paper are of such importance and destined clearly to be the subject of so much public debate that we should have an opportunity to discuss them at a very early stage.

The White Paper refers to consultation. I shall return later to what that means. If there is to be consultation, the process should begin with Parliament. For that reason, if she is not able to give a positive reply today, I hope that the Minister will make known to her noble friends that a debate before the Summer Recess is highly desirable. I am sure that time could be found.

If not in the Statement made in another place, there are certainly many cadences in the White Paper of speeches made by the Home Secretary at Conservative Party conferences. Indeed, there is much about the White Paper that is more a manifesto than the sort of document that governments are expected to set before Parliament. Even the language is pejorative from time to time; for example, the heading "Honesty in sentencing" implies that in some way there is dishonesty in present policies as they are exercised and applied by the courts. I am sure that that was not the intention. But much of the language in the document is not language I would regard as parliamentary. It is meant principally to appeal to an audience outside.

In the Statement—as, indeed, in the White Paper—there is very plain reference to retribution and deterrence. I am not saying that retribution, although I find it a dangerous and ugly motive at all times, and deterrence have no place in our penal policies. But redemption and rehabilitation also have a part to play. There is nothing in what the Minister said, and very little that I have been able to find in the White Paper, which suggests that the policy towards those committing crime is other than, "Lock up the largest possible number and keep them there for the longest possible time." That is an inadequate policy. In her heart, I am sure that the Minister must know that.

The White Paper, though not the Statement, contains some of the information which I am sure the House requires about the additional number of prisoners we may expect and the quantum of "x" resources; in other words, how much all this will cost. I would be grateful if the Minister could answer the questions put initially by the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh: how many more men and women do we expect to be in prison as a result of the proposals? Is it a figure of 10,800, which I think is mentioned in paragraph 13.8 of the White Paper? What will be the cost? I understand from the White Paper that 12 new prisons will be required, but the figures in paragraph 13 are not at all clear to me. I am not sure whether they refer to capital cost per annum or capital cost over a period of time and whether there is any item included there for the current costs of this much larger prison population. If we do not have the facts straight today, this is a further reason for an early debate on the matter.

There is a reference in the Statement to the number of life sentences for persistent sexual or violent offenders. I believe that the figure for such offenders for the previous year for which figures were available was 217, of whom only 10 were given in effect a life sentence in the circumstances described by this White Paper. That suggests that another 207 new life sentences a year will be required for persistent sexual or violent offenders. If I have misunderstood the figures, perhaps the Minister would explain them. I mention that simply to illustrate the prospect of a much larger population than hitherto.

The noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, rightly referred to the nature of burglary. Of course it is offensive. It is an intrusion into privacy and it causes a great deal of pain, in addition to the harm that it does. I see the arguments within the White Paper repeated in the Statement today. However, to say that there will be a three-year minimum sentence for anyone over 18 convicted of domestic burglary for a third time is surely going too far. How many of the 38,000 people convicted of domestic burglary in 1994 would have gone to prison for a three-year sentence had the policy of the White Paper then prevailed? Under this heading also there is a reference to exceptional circumstances. It would be helpful to know what those exceptional circumstances are.

I referred earlier to consultation and the need to consult this House as part of that consultation, but it would be helpful to know where the Minister believes there is room for consultation. I said that the White Paper read a little like a manifesto. Certainly it reads like a White Paper and not a Green Paper, or even a White Paper with green edges. If there is to be consultation, where is that meaningful consultation to occur? The Minister may know about that and, if so, I should be grateful if she would inform the House.

The document is entitled Protecting the Public, but the greatest protection for the public would be afforded if those who go to prison come out less likely to commit a crime again. That surely must be the test of any policy of this kind. We want men and women who are released into the community to be those least likely to offend again. I do not believe that anything in the Statement—I have not yet found it in the White Paper—leads us to expect that the public will be faced with anything other than a larger and larger prison population costing the earth and quite unable to settle back into normal life on release. To use the jargon which is so common today, I do not see any value for money in that. This may be a robust, populist policy but I do not believe on the evidence that it is a balanced or responsible one. It will mislead the public that they will be better protected. It is an inadequate short-term response to a serious long-term problem.

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, I shall respond to the two Front Bench speakers. As regards the comments of the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, I should say at the outset that I accept the constraints on the noble Lord in terms of the time he has had to peruse this Statement, and also the fact that both he and I have been fairly preoccupied for most of today. Therefore I accept entirely what he has said. That leads me to the next point which has been made not only by the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, but also by the noble Lord, Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank, concerning how long we must wait for a debate. I hope that both noble Lords will realise that I personally cannot answer that question at the Dispatch Box. However, I have every sympathy with those who asked that question and I shall make sure that all the usual channels are aware that a debate on this White Paper is called for. Much of what the noble Lord had to say was by way of comments on the White Paper after a cursory scan through it.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, they were not comments on the White Paper as I had not even had a chance to open it; they were comments on the Statement.

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, I accept that they were comments on the Statement. We debated possible alternatives—in other words, we entered the debate about means to ends. I do not intend to pick up all the points that were raised by the noble Lord because the Statement introduced the White Paper but the intention is that it should be read more carefully and that we should all return to this matter with more considered views on it. We shall certainly welcome that.

The noble Lord made a number of points that lead me to say that the whole purpose of the measure is consultative. We look forward to what will be said and written in response to the White Paper. It is our intention to continue that exchange of views. It is certainly our intention to listen and to consider most carefully all that is said and written in response to the White Paper. My intention is to help Members of this House to understand our proposals.

I wish to put it on record that in the course of reading the Statement I did not deride the Parole Board. I believe the Parole Board has worked diligently over the years. The Statement referred to the fact that the Parole Board has a real place as regards the proposals, which is different from the place it has at the moment but nevertheless it will constitute an important part of the risk assessment process. The noble Lord got closest to asking a question—if he had questions at all—when he asked about the increase in the prison population and how the costs of that would be met. The noble Lord, Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank, also referred to that. Paragraph 13.8 sets out quite clearly our view of how we believe the number of prison places will increase. I hope that on reading that whole section about prison places, the noble Lord will accept that that is our guesstimate. As regards costs, we know that it will be costly and that there will be a considerable expansion of prison places. We seek in particular not to return to the days of three prisoners to a cell. We are still dedicated to a programme of reducing overcrowding. That leads to the need for new institutions. The Private Finance Initiative will meet some of this need. No doubt we shall debate the costs of the programme in far greater detail.

The noble Lord, Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank, in a slightly disparaging way said that the White Paper resembled party manifestos or party conference speeches. It is a genuine response to public concern. If the noble Lord, Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank, has not picked that up, I must tell him that I certainly have, and so too has my right honourable friend the Home Secretary. We have responded genuinely to public concern not just about crime but also as regards the confidence on the part of the public in the criminal justice system. Those two issues are being properly addressed in this White Paper.

I agreed with the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank, when he said that we should seek to protect the public. I certainly agree with that. He also said that we should concentrate on those who are less likely to commit crime again. Certainly there are initiatives to try to prevent crime which have arisen through work in our schools and in the community and through engaging in partnership with all sorts of people, including the community itself, in fighting crime. I believe that should be pursued with great energy. The noble Lord also said that we should release into the community those people who are least likely to commit crime again. That is precisely what is intended by the proposals: that people should be released into the community only after proper risk assessment. That risk assessment should take into account the likelihood of reoffending.

The law is not comprehensive in this respect. I have had personal examples given to me as I have visited prisons in my role as a Home Office Minister. All the people concerned with a specific prisoner—it may be prison officers, outside agencies or voluntary agencies working with him—say, "I know this person is a risk but they have come to the end of their sentence"; and the Prison Service, and even the probation service sometimes, have no locus in continuing supervision of that person. That needs to be addressed. We may argue about means to an end. But I believe from what the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, said—he nods from a sedentary position—that the issue needs to be addressed.

I conclude on this point. In the White Paper we are talking about violent and/or sexual offenders, persistent burglars and drug traffickers. I believe that those are the sort of people who should be in prison and should have more effective prison sentences.

5.11 p.m.

Earl Russell

My Lords, perhaps I may follow up the concerns expressed by my noble friend Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank about the meaning of paragraph 13.9. The sentence that concerns us is as follows: The cost of these prisons, together with the recurring current costs of new houseblocks and rebuilt prisons, would reach an estimated peak of £375m-£435m by 2011–2012". Will the Minister tell us whether that is a cumulative figure for the total cost over all those years? Is it an annual cost which will reach that peak level in that year? Are these capital costs? Are these recurrent costs? Above all, are those the total costs of the measures announced in the Statement? I appreciate that the noble Baroness has been extremely busy today. However, she is in a position to obtain advice. If it does not arrive in time, perhaps she will write to my noble friend and myself and place a copy in the Library. The point is of considerable public importance.

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, I am able to give the answer straightaway. They are the estimates of the running costs in that year. It is not the total cost.

Lord Monson

My Lords, I, too, am grateful to the noble Baroness for repeating the Statement. I welcome the new policy of honesty in sentencing. On earlier occasions in your Lordships' House I have deplored the enormous disparity between what one might describe as gross and net sentences respectively. It confuses the public and makes them cynical about the criminal justice system. It is good that the gap has been closed.

Having said that, I believe that it would be dangerous and undesirable if there were to be no remission for good behaviour. I am pleased to hear that the Government propose that remission of up to 20 per cent. can be earned.

I am uneasy about the proposal for imposing an automatic life sentence for a second serious violent or sexual offence. Exactly how does one define a serious sexual offence? Does it include, for example, rape within marriage, or what is colloquially known as date rape when a young man misunderstands the signals sent out to him by a young woman of his own age, or where the young woman having invited the young man into her bed suddenly changes her mind at the last moment? I believe that the general public would be quite horrified if young men were to be sentenced to life imprisonment for a second such offence. I shall he grateful if the noble Baroness will clarify that point.

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, I welcome the comments of the noble Lord in welcoming the honesty in sentencing proposals. It is certainly true that there is great confusion among the public about this. I also welcome his comments about remission. One of the beneficial moves on remission—it is already under way—is that it should be earned. We have moved from the days when remission was given in a relaxed way. It should be earned. I hope that that will have an impact on behaviour in prisons and make them more manageable places; and that those who are released are released on the basis of good behaviour.

I note the concerns of the noble Lord about the life sentencing policy. I also note that he has raised an important point. When the measure comes before the House for the purposes of legislation, it will be essential to have a proper definition of what we mean by serious and violent sexual offenders. In the meantime it will be a matter for consultation.

The Earl of Longford

My Lords, as I have said before, no one blames the noble Baroness for any policy of this kind that she announces. She is just the angel of light speaking on behalf of the prince of darkness. She does her best.

I agree with my noble friend Lord McIntosh, the acting Leader on our Front Benches, who called it a deplorable document. I would call it an evil document—he chooses his words possibly more carefully and perhaps more gently—and it will be so regarded throughout the Prison Service. The noble Baroness is highly intelligent. She must be aware that the policies of Mr. Howard, in contrast with the policies of the six preceding Conservative Home Secretaries, are viewed with detestation and contempt in the prisons. That is important in enabling the Prison Service to play a constructive part. The relationship between the Prison Service and the prisoners can be fatally undermined by such policies.

I had the honour of being chairman of a committee set up by the late Lord Wilson in 1964 which introduced parole. The Government are virtually destroying the parole system. It denies hope to prisoners in denying them the possibility of proving themselves to be much better people than they seemed at the time of their trial. There is no getting round that. One either holds out hope or one does not. The Government are virtually destroying that hope.

I have a positive question for the noble Baroness. The Government have said that they are cutting the amount of money going to the Prison Service. Will they still make those cuts to the Prison Service when introducing policies which will lead to a vast increase in the prison population?

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, I am tempted to say, "Please may I leave now", with the description of "angel of light" ringing in my ears. It is only a matter of days since the noble Earl referred to me as a maiden of darkness working for the prince of darkness; perhaps I have come a long way since last week.

The noble Earl makes an important point. It relates to a point made by the noble Lord, Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank. I refer to working constructively with prisoners in prison with educational programmes and rehabilitation programmes to address their offending.

We are committed to working with offenders to address their offending behaviour both inside prison and after their release. The intention is that they should be supervised after release. The noble Earl has had experience of those programmes in operation. The sex offender treatment programme is an excellent example of the work done with prisoners while they are serving their sentence. The White Paper makes it clear that all offenders serving 12 months or more will be supervised for a period after their release.

The noble Earl, Lord Longford, referred to cuts. We have had debates about that previously. The intention is that there will be an increase in management efficiency. There will be an increase in the effectiveness, efficiency and cost-effectiveness of running our prisons. It is a rather tense time at present. But the intention is that it should not affect the front-line services in our prisons; and it is our intention that it should not affect the programmes that we wish to be carried out in prisons which we believe will have a material effect on the quality of life of prisoners after they have served their sentences.

The Earl of Longford

My Lords, perhaps I may follow that up. I do not understand the answer. There will be a huge increase in the prison population. It may be 10,000; some people think that it will he more than 20,000. Does that mean that the cuts will still apply?

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, I referred to the extra places being made available to prisons now. That money is additional.

As the noble Earl knows, the efficiency cuts are 9 per cent. over three years and they are on the base budget of the prisons. But there will be extra money for extra places. There will be those sums of money to provide the new places and for the running of the prisons when they come on stream.