HL Deb 23 October 1997 vol 582 cc855-74

5.39 p.m.

Lord Hacking rose to ask Her Majesty's Government, in the light of the Statement by the Home Secretary made in the House of Commons on 30th July, what are their proposals for the criminal justice system in England and Wales.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, on 30th July of this year on the day before we commenced our Summer Recess an important Statement was made by the Home Secretary in another place. It was not read in this House despite the crucial role this House played in the previous government's final penal statute which is now the Crime (Sentences) Act 1997. Therefore I believed, in tabling this Question, that we should have a short opportunity, as soon as possible after the Recess, to consider this vital part of the new Government's policies.

Law and order affect every citizen in the land. This debate also gives us the good fortune to hear the maiden speech of the noble Lord, Lord Hardy of Wath. I for one much look forward to that speech. I should make it plain that the decision that the Home Secretary's Statement was not read in this House did not rest with the Minister, nor with the government. For honourable reasons the leaders of my party decided that the other business of the House on that day—which was an important devolution debate—should take precedence and should not be interrupted by the reading of the Statement of the Home Secretary.

In opening this debate I do not wish to look backwards to the debates on mandatory sentencing and other issues that your Lordships discussed in the previous Session of Parliament. On the contrary, I wish to look forward to the development of the Government's policies on our penal system. But before I go forward I must make two points. I believe that the issues, and not simply the debates that were held on the Crime (Sentences) Bill, fell too heavily in the realm of party political point scoring. Further, some of the issues, particularly relating to mandatory sentencing, badly damaged, in my belief, the most important separation of power between Parliament and the judiciary. I elaborate briefly. Every responsible political party, and indeed every responsible citizen, wants a society freed of crime, and to have an effective penal system. Views may differ upon penal policies but political parties do not, or should not, cause crime.

Further, I believe that it was highly damaging for most senior judges—including the former, much missed Lord Chief Justice and the present Lord Chief Justice and other senior members of the judiciary—to have to come to this House to state that what Parliament was asking the judiciary to do was wrong. I hope that that will now change as a matter of intent on the part of all political parties. I wish to quote from the lecture given by the noble Lord, Lord Carlisle of Bucklow, who most regrettably cannot be present today. He has written to me to express his apologies for his absence. Your Lordships will remember that he played a significant part in our debates on the Crime (Sentences) Bill. In the James Kingham memorial lecture at Hertfordshire University the noble Lord said, The sentencing policy which the courts are required to impose and which Parliament lays down should as far as possible be separated from the party political debate. It should be a policy which commands support across the political spectrum and which has the approval of the judiciary whose duty it is to enforce it".

I believe that my party has every reason to be proud of its penal policy. Senior members of my party, both in and out of office, have been active in penal reforms. We have had some fine reforming Home Secretaries, including one former Home Secretary who is joining in this debate, my noble friend Lord Carr of Hadley. From my party we have had no fewer than three chairmen of the Parole Board. Members of my party head charities which are directly related to penal matters. I refer to the recent acceptance of the noble Lord, Lord Hurd, to become president of the Prison Reform Trust and to the work of the noble Lord, Lord Elton, for the Divert Trust. I remind your Lordships that the final act of the previous Home Secretary was to present to Parliament a White Paper entitled Preventing Children Offending, which had been prepared by the juvenile offenders unit of the Home Office. I am sure that the Minister has read that paper and I am sure that he has appreciated the wisdom of the advice which that paper contains.

Before I focus upon the Home Secretary's Statement I direct attention towards the Government's policy on sentences of imprisonment. During the debates on the Crime (Sentences) Bill we heard expressions of frustration and indeed anger as regards persistent offenders. It is quite understandable that there should be frustration and anger towards persistent offenders in communities which are beset by crime. However, we must ask what imprisonment does. In attempting to answer that question I refer to the previous government's White Paper of February 1990 which states at Chapter 3, paragraph 3.1, A custodial sentence places the severest restrictions on liberty. A custodial sentence removes an offender from his home, determines where he will live during the sentence and decides how and where he will spend every hour of each day. Imprisonment of any kind is likely to diminish the offender's sense of responsibility and self-reliance. Prisoners are fed, clothed and housed with no effort to themselves. They do not have to find a job and they do not have to look after their families. They arc admitted to a culture of dependence at considerable cost". In looking at the penal policy which this Government seek to establish and their intention to bring into force at least two of the mandatory sentence provisions of the Crime (Sentences) Bill, I ask them to focus their attention upon those wise words of the previous government in the White Paper of 1990.

The Home Secretary in his Statement to the House raised a number of issues which I hope will have much support and will gain a consensus among all political parties. He referred to the removal of delays in the criminal justice system. He spoke of better bail arrangements. He spoke, too, of dealing with juvenile offenders. His Statement contains some interesting suggestions; for example, the taking away of passports of those who are undergoing community punishments. He spoke, too, of reviewing the effectiveness of fines. There is much in that Statement which I believe commends support, as I hope it will—and, as I would like to say, I am sure it will—from all sides of this House, from all political parties and indeed from all citizens who rightly care about law and order.

I should be grateful for a reply from the Minister to a few specific questions. The House will be anxious to know about the Government's proposals concerning parole and the future of the Parole Board. In debates there was a difference of opinion between the Government of the day and the Opposition on the usefulness of parole. Noble Lords will remember the speeches by the present chairman of the Parole Board, the noble Lord, Lord Belstead, on issues relating to parole.

Perhaps the Minister can help in relation to a further item, which may be described as honesty in sentencing. Difficulties have occurred in relation to the communication of sentencing as a result of the application of other provisions which permit the prisoner earlier release than the period of imprisonment to which he was sentenced. The Crime (Sentences) Act contains a somewhat complicated provision. I understand that the Home Secretary is re-examining that provision and seeking to provide a different way of communicating the sentence, not only to an offender but to the public—and among the public the victim of the particular crime.

I now turn to a smaller point, but nonetheless an important one, relating to Section 39 of the Act, which carries the driving qualification punishment. I was certainly one of those who argued that it was unnecessary to include that provision in the Bill as it then was. There is already adequate provision for the taking away of a driving licence when a motor car has been used in some way or other in connection with the commission of a crime. I argued in Committee, but was unable to persuade my party to take a different position, that to have an omnibus right in court to take away a driving licence when the driving of a motor vehicle had no connection whatever with the commission of the crime was not a sentence that should be available. On the bottom line, the sentence should fit the crime.

Those are the specific issues that I draw to your Lordships' attention. However, the most important reason for introducing this debate, other than bringing to the fore the important statement by the Home Secretary, is to achieve a new era in penal policy—that is, a proper consensus between political parties.

5.52 p.m.

Lord Hardy of Wath

My Lords, I trust that the House will accept my expression of gratitude for the Question tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Hacking. It provides me with the opportunity to address the House for the first time. I hope that my speech will not be, or seem to be, too long and that it will not unduly trespass upon the convention of the avoidance of undue partiality.

I wish to express my support for the measures announced by the Home Secretary on 31st July. They represent a firm response to the serious growth in crime over the past 20 years—an increase greater than at any time during the whole period since records began, possibly greater than at any time since the Dark Ages. A firm response was needed. Indeed, the reality may be greater than records show. Very large numbers of offences committed now are not reported to the police, whereas 20 years ago there would have been no hesitation about such reference.

The scale of the increase in crime can be judged by reference to almost any local newspaper. The national press reports the more brutal murders and assaults and the bigger robberies. It has been apparent over the past few years that an enormous proportion of the space available for news in local papers has been devoted to reporting the daily dripping of deceits, dishonesties and deplorable behaviour.

There is fear in our communities—fear of crime, fear of violence, fear of giving evidence against criminals. There is fear inhibiting movement and freedom in our society—and there is such a thing as society, although it was fashionable to decry the concept not so long ago.

But there is absurdity, too. For example, police morale has fallen badly. That is not surprising since police officers are now almost three times more likely to suffer violence on duty than they ever were. At the same time, the penalty for such assaults sometimes seems astonishingly slight. I give the House one example, which I raised in the previous Parliament.

A local criminal was released, unlicensed, from prison. The police immediately had grounds to suspect that further offences were being committed, and four officers went to the scene of one crime. All four were assaulted. The man was promptly given bail, even though he had on previous occasions never surrendered to bail—and he did not do so this time. A few months later he was caught burgling a house in the South-East. He was taken back to Yorkshire and put on probation. Those police officers believed, as did the Member of Parliament at the time, that the man should have been returned to prison before his feet touched the ground.

There is another anxiety, concerning another case that has caused me distress over quite a long time and continues to do so. It relates to solvent abuse. A man in my community has, for the past few years, caused a great deal of trouble and anxiety. There is concern about the man as well as the problems he causes. He has disturbed schools, troubled the community in all kinds of ways and caused shopkeepers to feel menaced. He must have been in court some 80 times. One senior police officer said to me that that was an extremely conservative estimate. He has never once been given a sentence relevant to the case, which would have given him the chance to break his addiction. He did not receive such a sentence when he assaulted our community police constable—when we did see the law operating swiftly. Indeed, he was before the court and served his sentence before the community constable's facial wound had healed. That is an absurd situation.

I was so concerned about that situation that I visited the local office of the Crown Prosecution Service to protest and suggest that it should prefer proper and relevant charges. I left that meeting in despair because the Crown Prosecution Service was facing enormous pressure to cut expenditure at a time when crime was soaring and the proceeds of crime were increasing rapidly.

I do not claim any great expertise in these matters. However, before I entered the House of Commons in 1970 I was a senior schoolmaster in South Yorkshire. In those days when the boys I taught left school they started work. Indeed, at that time the National Coal Board was short of workers. The work ethic still applied and was deeply rooted in our society, but that is not the case now. The situation has changed.

When I entered the House in 1970 I occasionally drove home after the 10 o'clock vote on a Thursday so that I could be in my constituency on a Friday morning. When I left the motorway on the way home I would occasionally see a police car, and very little else. If I were to drive home tonight at the same time I should almost certainly see young people wandering the streets at 2 o'clock in the morning. To the unemployed youth 2 o'clock in the morning is not very different to 2 o'clock in the afternoon.

The Home Secretary is right to recognise that there should be a greater degree of responsibility in our society. There should be greater responsibility on the part of parents. It is absurd for us automatically to assume that children of 11 or 12, or 9 or 10, do not know the difference between right and wrong. They do. We should make sure that parents exercise responsibility. It would be an enormous help to our schools. It would help to raise standards in education. That is certainly necessary.

Macro-economic decisions are essential but we must also ensure that when they are considered the social consequences are not overlooked. For that reason I hope that in addition to the implementation of the policies which the Home Secretary announced in July we shall see some preventive measures by improving the meagre provision for public youth services. I hope we shall seek to develop more esteem and encouragement for the voluntary organisations for children and young people, because they are important.

I am gratified by the steps taken and the approach adopted by the Home Secretary. The one thing of which we can be proud is that it is not merely a question of promises because a large part of his proposals are already being implemented—17 are moving forward. If those bring success perhaps we may see a return to civilised conduct in many of our communities which have lacked it for a long time.

It is a fact that the attendance in our churches is still higher than the number of people in prison, but in many of our communities the difference is narrowing. That narrowing should end. If the Home Secretary and his colleagues in the Government can help to stop the narrowing by ensuring a greater sense of responsibility in our communities Britain will have cause for deep gratitude to them.

6 p.m.

Lord Carr of Hadley

My Lords, it is a great pleasure as well as a privilege to have the opportunity to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Hardy, on his maiden speech. Seeing him makes me feel quite young again. My mind goes back 23 years to the time when we overlapped in another place, I was about to leave and he had just come there. Another point that makes me feel young again is to be speaking for the first time for a good many years from this side of the Chamber. I am inclined to try to face the other way.

I congratulate the noble Lord on his speech and its content. I was glad to hear what he said towards the end of it about the importance of voluntary associations. Inevitably, when we talk about crime, law and order, we talk a great deal about imprisonment and punishment. We need to, but we must never forget the importance of constructive work in the field. For some years I had the privilege of being president of the Rainer Foundation and I know some of the work they were doing. Here I criticise past governments of all parties, but I hope not to have to do so so much in the future. We should have taken note of the successes which some of the voluntary bodies achieved in reducing rates of recidivism and avoiding young people going into custody in the first place, gaining local successes. If we had made it a major target to spread the experience gained in those examples on a nationwide scale, I believe that we would have a much happier situation on criminality in this country than we have at the moment. I shall return to that in my closing remarks. I hope that we shall hear the noble Lord often and that we shall continue to be in reasonable agreement with each other.

We owe this debate to my noble friend Lord Hacking, and I thank him for raising it. I very much share his hope that we can find our way back on this and other subjects to seeking a consensus on matters of national importance. When I first became a Member of Parliament in 1950, it was not uncommon that there should be great argument and differences but there were always subjects and areas where both sides in the other place sought a consensus when it was possible. I do not wish to apportion any blame, but I feel as an observer over recent years that our politics have become far too adversarial, far more so than necessary to air the proper differences of approach which men and women have towards the problems of our society and economy. So I share what my noble friend Lord Hacking said about seeking more common understanding in the field.

The short debate today is hung on the Statement made by the Home Secretary in another place at the end of July. I liked some of it, I did not like all of it. But one point that struck me was how similar it was in many ways to what had been said and put into operation by the previous Home Secretary. In a rather peculiar and uncontroversial way, no doubt, the two sides of the House have come closer together on many aspects of penal policy.

I suppose I am and always have been labelled a progressive. I do not complain about it, I am proud of the reputation, if it is one that I possess. But I believe and always have believed in the need for punishment. I feel that some progressives and progressive campaigners have sometimes, perhaps unintentionally and not according to their wishes, created the opinion among the public that do-gooding means being soft on criminals who do great harm to their fellow citizens. I agree with the implications of some noble Lords' remarks about the need for punishment and for the punishment to be seen and felt. I shall come back to that later on.

In the Statement on which we hung our debate, I welcome the efforts being made to speed up the process. There is no doubt that it must be accelerated in the interests both of justice and of safety for the public. I hope that that will go forward in continuation of something started by the previous Government.

I also welcome another announcement in the Statement that the judges in the Court of Appeal should give explanations about the levels of sentence for all major crimes. That too has been a growing practice and I am glad to see it further emphasised. There is no doubt that some of the problems with public opinion is a lack of understanding of what sentences really mean, what their purpose is and how they are carried out. We receive false impressions because sentences are not what they seem to be. So that is a good move.

I welcome the proposal that the courts should explain the sentences and make clear how much of the sentence is to be served in prison and for how long after custody an ex-prisoner should be under supervision and liable to recall. That is one of the most urgent needs. We see it in certain obvious areas like paedophilia, where it is absolutely wrong for prisoners to walk out of gaol and not be subject to supervision and recall. We are advancing along the right lines there.

On the other hand, reviving old controversies, I have to say that I still dislike as much as I ever did the idea of fixed minimum sentences. I believe that they are wrong in principle and will not work in practice. They will not promote good justice and they ought to be deplored. I wish they had never been introduced and I hope one day to see them removed. I am sorry that on this there is a similarity between the views of the last government and the present Government. I must not forecast what the noble and learned Lord, Lord Ackner, will say, but perhaps he will deal with that subject as well.

So here we are, with another criminal justice Bill ahead of us. I hope that we can make good sense of it and do so in as constructive a way as possible on all sides of the House.

In more general terms, I still feel a great sense of disappointment that governments—and I use the word in the plural—are still not producing a strategy with which to attack what I previously called in your Lordships' House the disease of criminality which afflicts our society. That does need a careful, well thought-out strategy and, although the criminal justice system has to be a very important part of that strategy, it is not enough on its own.

Here, the progressive label which I perhaps wear comes to the fore. We still think too much in terms of punishment and particularly in terms of punishment by imprisonment. Prison must be there, prison is a vital method of punishment. But what do we expect from treatment? We expect punishment, we expect reform and we expect deterrence. I have learnt from experience and by reading and talking to people, and I repeat what I have said several times in your Lordships' House, that imprisonment is the most expensive and the least effective way of achieving either reform or deterrence. I do not believe that longer sentences produce greater deterrence or greater reform.

Reform is clearly not easily achieved by imprisonment. If it were, we should have much more respectable recidivism rates. The number of people, young or old, who leave custody and go back to crime, is appallingly high, so we simply cannot look to custody as a means of turning people away from crime. What can we look towards in the way of prison as a deterrent? I think very little, for the simple reason that over 90 per cent. of all crimes remain undetected, or at least no one is ever accused of committing them or tried for doing so. If we are to deter people by punishment, or threat of punishment, we have to make them feel that at least 50 per cent. of them rather than 5 per cent. of them will be caught. This brings us back to the matter of the police and other expenditure.

Prison can produce reform, and sometimes does, but only if a substantial part of that imprisonment contains a large element of training and education for the future and proper preparation for a prisoner's release. That cannot be achieved in overcrowded prisons. Therefore, although it may seem a contradiction in terms and perverse in the public eye, I am sure that a major reduction in the population of our prisons is one of the first needs in tackling criminality in our society, and that cannot be done suddenly.

I am becoming more and more disturbed—and this was one of the main causes of my disagreement with the Home Secretary of the previous Government—by the fact that the more concerned we are with taking actions which lead to more people being imprisoned the further away we are from taking actions that will be needed to reduce the degree of criminality in our society. We must look at the resources. I go back to what I said earlier: prison is the most expensive and least effective way of achieving reform and deterrence. If we are to increase our rate of detection and arrest of criminals, we need to increase our resources. But there is a limit to resources.

Both sides of politics at the moment agree on the need for this uncomfortable but firm control of the total public expenditure. So if we are going to do new things we need to find more money. We have not only to perform each service more efficiently but I believe we must look at major areas of expenditure and consider the transfer of expenditure from one to the other.

In the field of treating criminality, one of the most urgent needs is to transfer some of the huge and ever-growing expenditure on prisons to other forms of treating criminals and preventing crime. I believe that whatever party may be in power, that ought to be one of the most urgent needs to be addressed. It is not only progressive, it is a highly practical step in increasing the protection which the public demand. This will not be achieved if we continue to spend on imprisonment alone such a high proportion of the very large amount of money devoted to the whole subject of crime. I beg the Government to look hard in that direction.

6.15 p.m.

Lord Ackner

My Lords, perhaps I may add my congratulations to Lord Hardy to those already spoken with elegance by Lord Carr. It seems only a matter of minutes ago that we witnessed his introduction and here we are enjoying this added wisdom which I hope will continue repeatedly hereafter.

On 30th July the Home Secretary informed the other place: My overriding priority is to secure the safety of the public"[Official Report, Commons: 30/7/97, col. 341.] That, of course, is the overriding priority of any sensible government. However, the deeply depressing and worrying fact is that the Government, by their policy and their actions in pursuit of that policy, so far from securing the safety of the public, are seriously prejudicing it.

In the next column (342) the Home Secretary uttered the following platitude: Prison is necessary for those whose crimes and behaviour require it". He then went on to say: before the end of this year, I will implement Section 2 of the Crime (Sentences) Act 1997 providing automatic life sentences for second time serious sexual and violent offenders". The Home Secretary mistakenly believes that that will assist in securing the safety of the public. Let me explain how it will have the very opposite effect.

In a White Paper already referred to, issued by the previous government in 1990 and entitled Crime, Justice and Protecting the Public, whose proposals, principles and policies were embodied in the Criminal Justice Act 1991, the following statement is to be found: The Government rejects a rigid statutory framework, on the lines of those introduced in the United States, or a system of minimum or mandatory sentences for certain offences. This would make it more difficult to sentence justly in exceptional cases. It could also result in more acquittals by juries, with more guilty men and women going free unjustly as a result. If "more acquittals by juries and more guilty men and women going free unjustly as a result" could be a consequence of mandatory life sentences as proposed by this Government, then of course it follows as night follows day that such legislation would not add but would detract from securing the safety of the public. Is the statement in that White Paper valid'? I believe it is and for the following reasons.

First, there will be occasions when, if the jury are aware, as they could well be, that the defendant faces a mandatory life sentence if convicted, they will for that very reason not convict. Secondly, there will be refusals by defendants to enter, as they should and would have, pleas of guilty. That will add enormously to the congestion of trial lists. It will be a source of great distress to victims who will be required to give evidence, particularly in sexual cases, and there will, of course, be cases where because of the heavy onus of proof, the guilty person will unjustly go free.

Thirdly, it is not difficult to imagine cases where witnesses, particularly those in close relationship with the defendant and knowing the consequences of a conviction, will either refuse to give evidence or will prove unreliable. Fourthly, there is the danger, which was referred to by both judges and politicians in the course of the debates on this legislation, of the victim being killed by the offender in order to avoid the risk of detection and subsequent life imprisonment. Fifthly, in order to be sure of obtaining a conviction, there will be cases in which the prosecution will find itself obliged to accept an unrealistic plea bargain. That is well known to be the case in America. Thus, the discretion in sentencing will be largely transferred from the judiciary, where it should be, to the prosecution.

I readily concede that there is a tiny minority of dangerous criminals with a history of serious offending who may, under existing procedures, be released when they still represent an unacceptable risk to the public. But that very problem was considered over 20 years ago by a committee set up and presided over by Lord Butler, to deal with mentally abnormal offenders. It proposed that there should be a "reviewable sentence"—a new form of indeterminate sentence which would be subject to statutory review at regular two-year intervals, release being dependent on the issue of dangerousness. On release, the offender would be on licence, the duration of which would be unlimited, again subject to statutory review. Why has that proposal or something akin to it not been adopted? Comparable provisions exist in Canada and Australia.

When, on 9th July, the noble Lord, Lord Williams, informed the House that the Home Secretary would implement Section 2 of the Act, I put to him that the reviewable sentence had the following advantages over the Section 2 mandatory life sentence provisions: first, it is not limited to repeat offenders. Secondly, it is not restricted to the narrow range of offences in the section, all of which, as the law now stands can be punished by prison for life. Indeed, it would settle many of the problems relative to paedophiles. Thirdly, it requires medical evidence before it can be imposed. Fourthly, it does not run the risk of the criminal deciding to "do in" his victim, so as to avoid a life sentence. Fifthly and lastly, it does not carry the false label of imprisonment for life which, in 99 per cent. of the cases, is not intended to be effective.

The noble Lord, Lord Williams, was generous enough to accept that there was "certainly virtue" in some of the advantages which I detailed, but he failed to answer my question as to why the reviewable sentence proposal had not been followed up. As he was answering a Starred Question, I did not have the opportunity of reminding him of what he said on 27th January—not many months ago—on Second Reading of the Bill with regard to that very sentence. The government then, and no doubt this Government today, say: "There is considerable discretion and injustice will not be done because the judge sets the tariff'—that is the period which the defendant has to serve by way, essentially, of punishment.

On Second Reading, the noble Lord, Lord Williams, said: The sentencing regime for which we contend should, as many noble Lords have said, be open and transparent; but it is nonsensical to invite a High Court judge to say, 'I am sentencing you to life imprisonment. By the way, you can expect to serve 18 months'. That is a perversion of the system. It will bring the whole system into disrepute. If it brings it into disrepute on that basis, it will have brought it rightly into dispute on that basis".—[Official Report, 27/1/97: col. 1063.] He was speaking as a Shadow Minister and, with the shadow removed, we shall, of course, hear a different story.

But the mandatory life sentence has a very serious knock-on effect. Taken together with the minimum sentence provisions, it reinforces the current harshness of the present approach to sentencing and results, as we have seen, in sharp and unexpected rises in the prison population. Mr. Richard Tilt, the director-general of prison services, in a "Panorama" interview in January 1997, said: The numbers [of prisoners] have been increasing dramatically. During 1996 they had gone up by about five or six thousand during the course of the year. We have never seen anything like that before and indeed at some parts of the year we have been going up at about a thousand a month…and what we have to do unfortunately to make sure that we accommodate everyone is to move very large numbers of prisoners around the country and take up available vacancies as they occur…there will be hundreds moving on some days each week. It has a very damaging effect because you are taking away staff who should be supervising the normal activity of the prison and sending them up and down the country escorting prisoners". At the same time as the prison population has been sharply rising, the Prison Service has been required to make substantial budget cuts. A combination of a rapidly rising prison population and budget cuts is damaging prison regimes and seriously reducing education and other constructive activities which the noble Lord, Lord Carr, so wisely emphasised as being one of the bases upon which one could hope for reformation.

In the conclusions of the very recent report, The Prison System—Some Current Trends, produced by the Penal Affairs Consortium, it is stated: there is a risk that the combination of increased over-crowding, lower staffing ratios, a lower proportion of experienced staff, more restricted regimes and more time spent in cells, will increase tension in prisons and threaten control. The reduction of education courses, other constructive activities and probation departments will reduce prisoners' ability to rehabilitate offenders and increase the risk of offending on release". With the greatest respect, I believe that the current policy on crime and punishment is in a mess. That is why I tabled a Motion to call attention to the case for the resuscitation of the Advisory Council on the Penal System, so that a penal policy which will ensure public confidence in the administration of criminal justice may be recommended. I have twice urged such a proposal on this Parliament. That urging has had the support on two occasions, in two lectures, of the Lord Chief Justice. His last comment was made when giving the annual lecture of the Prison Reform Trust in June this year. He said this: No one can be confident that we have all the answers, or even most of them, to the important and intractable problems which exist in this area of our national life. The beginning of a new Parliament is the ideal moment for such an initiative, [Royal Commission] which need not lead to inactivity pending its conclusions. Alternatively…the Advisory Council on the Penal System, set up in 1966 and later disbanded, might be revived. If such a Royal Commission or a revived Advisory Council were able, with the benefit of intensive world-wide research and consultation, to reach authoritative conclusions which commanded the respect of public and professional opinion, and if those conclusions were given legislative effect, this Parliament would earn an assured place in the history of this country". We must seek to try to get the Home Secretary off the unpleasant and uncomfortable hook on which he impaled himself, perhaps in order to obtain some electoral advantage. We must get him to realise the wisdom of the noble Lord, Lord Can, which I have heard expressed in a similar way in these terms; that is, that prison is a most expensive way of making bad people worse.

6.31 p.m.

Baroness Anelay of St. Johns

My Lords, I too congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Hardy, on his maiden speech. I do so with some diffidence because it is not quite a year since I made my own. Perhaps more than others, I can still remember what an ordeal it can be, though an ordeal tempered by the friendship in your Lordships' House.

I thank my noble friend Lord Hacking for giving us the opportunity to consider this matter. It may be remembered that my noble friend and I expressed differing views on occasions in the past during the consideration of the Crime (Sentences) Act. But I believe that our objectives have always been the same—to secure the safety of the public and reduce offending without causing undue interference in people's private lives.

As my noble friend pointed out, it is all too easy in political debates on the criminal justice system to engage in a slanging match over who is tougher on crime. I do not propose to do that. Crime is a real and all-pervasive problem for any society, and society has the right to expect that we, as responsible politicians, take a level-headed and practical approach to the resolution of that problem.

When the Home Secretary delivered his Statement in another place on 30th July he ranged over a wide number of issues. I shall refer briefly to just four of them: delay, technology, sentencing and youth crime. To attempt to do more than that would only be appropriate if we had a full-length debate.

One of the imperatives addressed by the Home Secretary was that of reducing delay in the legal system. He mentioned in particular that he would set new statutory time limits for the preparation of both adult and young offender cases. He said that he wants to strengthen the ability of magistrates' courts to manage cases more effectively. Those are laudable objectives indeed. However, as a workaday magistrate I want to know how they will be achieved. I am not going to throw up obstacles tonight in an attempt to defeat government policy. If the Government wish to reduce the incidence of crime, good; so do I. But I question, as always, as I did when my own party was in power, how it is to be done. Will it be effective? How much will it cost in time, money and emotional stress to the victims? After all, there is always a tension created in trying to speed up the hearing of criminal cases without at the same time making the process so quick that it ceases to be fair.

It seems only right that cases should be disposed of as quickly as possible after the arrest of the accused. If innocent, that person should not be kept waiting; if guilty, quick punishment has more impact. For the victim and the witnesses waiting, that waiting can be agony. It can also kill the accuracy of memory for details which may be vital at the trial to secure a conviction of those who are indeed guilty.

But some forms of delay may be a vital part of obtaining the just result; in making sure that the evidence we obtain is as accurate as possible; that the witnesses can be present and that interpreters can be available where needed. In my own experience, magistrates want to prevent somebody pleading guilty simply to get the case out of the way. I am afraid that it happens more often than we would like that people try to plead guilty because they do not want to wait for a trial; even a short wait is too much. Sometimes, therefore, speedy guilty pleas may lead to a miscarriage of justice, though they look good in the crime statistics.

The Home Secretary will discover that those involved in the criminal justice system—at least most of them (I hold no special brief as a magistrate, but perhaps I should have declared an interest on that basis)—are already trying their best to reduce delay. I see the efforts made by magistrates and court clerks to manage the court list effectively. We are all familiar with formal appraisal of our performance. Indeed, next week I shall go through my own chairmanship appraisal.

Another topic covered by the Home Secretary was the use of technological advances in the fight against crime—advances which have been developed over the past few years. Can the Minister tell us today whether the Government have started the pilot project which the Home Secretary mentioned of tagging those on bail? What budget has been set for that and in which department is that budget located? What timescale has been set to run the pilot and at what level will the success rate be set?

Also, will the Government take advantage of the other main technological advances which have been made; for example, the use of CCTV? That has proved to be an excellent tool in both deterring and solving crime. Over the past three years £37 million was provided to pay for more than 6,000 closed circuit cameras across the country. Can the Minister say what further plans the Government have to develop the use of CCTV? What financial contribution will they make to its development and use?

I turn to the third matter to which I referred; that is, sentencing. It has been discussed at length in today's debate. I welcome the Government's decision to implement the mandatory minimum sentencing contained within the Crime (Sentences) Act 1997 for second time serious sexual and violent criminals and third time criminals convicted of drug trafficking. The Home Secretary said that he would consider implementing the three-year minimum sentence for third time domestic burglars in the light of resources and the Prison Service's capacity—conditions that we laid down when we were in government.

Can the Minister tell us today what steps the Government have taken so far to allocate the necessary resources to implement that provision and at what stage in the future it is likely to be implemented? After all, burglary is a serious crime, certainly for the victims. For them it is often a crime of violence—violence upon their right to live private untroubled lives in their own homes. It is true that some victims of burglary take the intrusion remarkably well, but they are in the minority. For most it is a shattering experience which can undermine their self-confidence and even cause them to move home.

Effective deterrents are the knowledge that one will be caught and, when caught, kept out of circulation for a while. The public perceives imprisonment as an effective and serious punishment. My noble friend Lord Can of Hadley referred to the limitation of the usefulness of imprisonment as a punishment. I hear what he says; indeed, I respect his experience in his ministerial life and shall reflect upon his remarks. I hope also that the Government will reflect upon them.

The Home Secretary also made commitments with regard to changes in the youth justice system. So far we have had rather a drip-feed of leaks about possible policy changes on this. Not all have been helpful. I say that not in a party political sense, but leaks to the press are not helpful to the criminal justice system. I have been approached by lawyers and probation officers who are puzzled by the Government's apparent eagerness, as reported in the press, to lock up 12 year-old youths on remand awaiting trial for offences for which, if found guilty, they cannot serve a period of custody.

Like others in your Lordships' House, I am looking forward to reading the youth justice proposals which we are promised will be issued soon. When one has sat as a magistrate in a youth court and looked into the dead, unresponsive eyes of young people—so very young people—who already seem to have given up on their families and society, one is determined to look for answers to the problem of youth crime. But they must be answers which work and are equitable.

I thank my noble friend Lord Hacking for making this debate possible, short though it is. I look forward to future instalments on the same topic.

6.42 p.m.

Lord Williams of Mostyn

My Lords, this has been a short debate. I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Hacking, for introducing it. It has had the agreeable hallmarks of a civilised conversation rather than a party political partisan debate. On every occasion when I have stood at the Dispatch Box on these topics I have wanted to put that forward as the Government's approach.

I also congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Hardy of Wath, on his maiden speech. I underline his observations, which were echoed by other noble Lords, about the importance of voluntary organisations. We both have a connection as trustees of the NSPCC. That organisation does enormously valuable social work, including work to do with the prevention of crime and the protection of children in the criminal justice system in particular.

The noble Lord, Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank, is unable to be with us because a family problem arose almost as the debate started. I convey his apologies for his absence.

It is good to see two former Home Secretaries here, one who has spoken and one who has not. Everyone present has an enormous regard for the quality of the work which the noble Lord, Lord Hurd, did as Home Secretary, when partisan advantage—which is always short term and largely illusory—was not the motive spring of Home Office policy. In particular, we welcome his acceptance of the presidency of the Prison Reform Trust.

The first duty of a government is to provide the opportunity for a calm life for their citizens. We have to be firm on crime and, as the noble Lord, Lord Carr of Hadley, said, we must have a strategic approach. That is what the Government hope to be working on. There is not a single area of social policy or legislation which is an island unto itself. Our strategic approach is developing because we have been in government now only since May. Let me outline some aspects of the strategic approach which the Home Secretary and the Government are following.

First, we must ensure that the courts have the powers they need to sentence offenders properly. That does not simply mean long prison sentences. It means a flexibility of legislative approach which offers the sentencing courts what they need. I pay tribute to the magistrates' courts, which carry out 97 per cent. of the criminal work in this country. But flexible sentences need to be available. So often courts are abused—very often on a sketchy understanding of the facts, the offence, the offender, the victim or the witnesses—because they do not have the opportunity to sentence in a way they think appropriate and, in a deeper way, consistent with their judicial oath, whether as magistrates or judges.

A number of your Lordships have made the point. which I wholeheartedly endorse, about parental responsibility. Parents do have responsibilities. When the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay of St. Johns, spoke in moving terms about the dead eyes of young offenders, we are all familiar with that. They will be the long-term criminals of the foreseeable future—burdensome to the state, living and, ruined lives, without the opportunity for what most people want—a calm, ordered life, with the prospect that their children will be better off in all ways than they were.

The youth crime problem is horrendously expensive. We cannot simply look at it in terms of criminal justice, the criminal justice system or penal policy. Education has a fundamental role to play. As Mr. Blunkett has said time and again—and rightly so—we are presently failing children in our schools. Since the Butler Education Act, 50 or more years have gone by and still too many children are leaving school at the age of 16 without the basic skills of numeracy and literacy and therefore they do not have the opportunity to develop self-regard and self-respect; and a person without self-regard and self-respect is well on the way to crime.

We have to look carefully at the public perception of imprisonment. There are appropriate alternatives to prison but they will never work unless they have public support and confidence. The public need to understand and be sure and certain that a non-custodial sentence is not the usual "I got off'—which we are all familiar with—but "You did not get off. You are obliged to make reparation to society, to the victim. You must do constructive work. You must be directed. It will not be the soft option". For a large number of people that would be a good deal more disagreeable than sitting in prison for a short-term prison sentence—idle, vacant days, coming and going, with no incentive, no training in skills, education or prospects for when the offender comes out. It will take a good deal of work to convince the public—who, after all, are the injured and the assaulted—that alternatives to prison can work fruitfully and productively.

As the noble Lord, Lord Hardy of Wath, said, it is important that we deal with the problem of young children. It is easy to deride the Home Secretary on the basis that he wants to stop young children running loose and wild late at night, but that is a blemish on any civilised society—that parents think so little of their children that they are free to roam and wander at that time of night. We make no apologies for the focus that we shall put in part in this grand developing strategy on the fact that parents must be encouraged—they can rarely be made—to fulfil and be helped to fulfil their parental responsibilities.

I return to education. It is strange that a child can leave school without any real education in parenting. As soon as one uses the word "parenting" one is accused of social work jargon. It is not. It is a perfectly sensible idea that being a parent involves responsibilities which need to be taught, which need to be inculcated—they do not come with a cup of tea that you drink at lunchtime. We have a strategy, and I make no apologies for the proposition that it is bound to be a developing one.

Your Lordships have put so many questions to me that I cannot conceivably answer them all in the brief time available. I agree with the noble Baroness that this is a short time to cover such an enormous span of issues which concern us all.

The noble Baroness raised the question of CCTV. I entirely agree with her. It is a very useful tool. I had the great pleasure of going down to Carmarthen a few weeks ago to see what an effective and cheap tool it is for controlling public disorder, which is mindless violence in public late at night—the vice of our time. It is useful in terms of preventing those activities and it is extremely useful as evidence in court. As long as it is properly managed—that is to say, those who are surveyed know that surveillance cameras are there—I detect quite strong public support for it. I am happy to be able to say that there will shortly be an announcement in another place about the Government's continuing plans for CCTV.

The noble Lord, Lord Hacking, asked me about driving disqualifications. We think it is a useful tool within the discretion of the sentencing court even where the offence itself is not related to the use of a motor car. It is the deprivation of liberty. It is a taking away of choice from a convicted defendant. But many other choices are taken away from him as well; for instance, if he goes to prison or he is fined on a substantial basis. It is not an automatic requirement but it is a useful tool that can be used in some cases. We are piloting the scheme which we think to be appropriate. We shall publish the reports of the pilots when they are to hand. If taking a man's driving licence away is a true alternative to sending him to prison, there is much to be said for it. The noble Lord also asked me about parole. The Government have no plans to change existing policy or the role of the Parole Board.

Perhaps I may deal with one or two matters in a more general way. We fully recognise the independence of the judiciary. We believe that sentencing guidelines will enhance judges' professionalism and will increase public support for the judiciary, which is a useful goal in itself. They will be building on the work over the years of the Judicial Studies Board, which I believe has been an extremely useful and economically funded tool for the improvement of judicial performance. I had the pleasure of going to Cheltenham recently to address the seminar which was chaired by Lord Justice Judge. The work that body does is remarkable; for instance, in racial awareness and increasing judges' knowledge of different communities.

I am happy to say that we regard good relationships with the judiciary as paramount. We have already begun much closer liaison. We listen with care to the senior judges. We value their contribution. I do not put this in a partisan way, but it was a source of great disquiet and concern that, by the end of the previous Government's term, the senior judges were not able to feel that their voice was listened to with the decent regard to which they were entitled. It took the notable contributions of, among others, the late Lord Chief Justice to try to remedy that. No one who heard his contribution could fail to have been affected by it.

We also need to bear in mind when we talk about the criminal justice system the part that the substantive law plays. Unless the courts are able to have a body of substantive law which is operable, their task is almost impossible. We pay high regard to the work of the Law Commission in clarifying areas of law and providing solutions to particular difficulties. There is much work to be done in our substantive law in clarifying and codifying criminal law. It is sometimes very difficult indeed for the courts, juries and magistrates to come to sensible conclusions when so much of our law is out of date.

Specific questions were asked about the piloting of various schemes. Curfew orders enforced by electronic monitoring will be expanded. We want to pilot the use of community service and tagging for fine defaulters. Noble Lords have constantly said that the appropriateness of a prison sentence for someone who has not paid a fine is distinctly questionable. We want to make use of effective community punishment. At the risk of being pompous, there is a moral component to punishment if we live in the society that we do. Society is entitled to require punishment because it is a reflection of the deeper values of the society we inhabit—not harsh punishment for the sake of it, not unfeeling or unthinking punishment simply for revenge, but as part of how society feels it should protect victims.

We recognise that there are two significant factors which infect our present society. The first, as all noble Lords who have spoken have indicated, is the problem of youth crime. The second is, hand in hand with that, the problem of drug related crime. We have to be firmer on drugs in the sense that offenders who commit drug related offences will have to be subject to mandatory drug testing. That may, again, in some circumstances be a true alternative to imprisonment, because imprisonment for someone seriously addicted to hard drugs in prisons where, notoriously, sometimes hard drugs are available, with no obligatory therapy and with no check as to whether drugs have been given up, is no recipe for dealing with this problem.

The noble and learned Lord, Lord Ackner, asked about the Penal Advisory Council. We are certainly consulting regularly with the senior judiciary about the way ahead in terms of sentencing guidance, Court of Appeal guidelines and the general armoury of remedies that should be available. We are doing away with the repeat and inconsistent cautioning of youth offenders, which had almost become a cottage industry. People know how to play the game. If you caution, caution and caution again, the young offender is badly served, and what victims think I shudder to imagine.

One of the voluntary organisations of great worth—I have mentioned one already—is Victim Support. For too long we have not paid attention to the victims even on the simple short basis that a case where they are the complainant is their case. Adjournments given without warning and charges dropped with explanation or consultation: all of those things are literally—I use the word carefully—intolerable. That all forms part of the wider strategy to which the noble Lord, Lord Carr of Hadley, referred.

Unless we get the confidence of the public, which means all sections of it, including the media and victims, we shall get nowhere. What the Home Secretary is trying to do and what he will do in the Crime and Disorder Bill, which will be, we hope, commencing its legislative path by the end of the year, is quite a significant journey—to change the way that we deal with youth justice. The question is put: why should young offenders of 12 be locked up even if the ultimate sentence would not be incarceration? I turn the question around. What do you say to the elderly widow who lives in a street where all her elderly companions have their houses vandalised, their properties burgled and their possessions, scanty enough often, stolen when the child of 12 does it again, again and again, because there is no way of securely making sure that the child will not continue to do it time and again?

A child of 12 is a child, but some children of that age are deeply sophisticated in the ways of crime. It is a sad commentary, but it is true. If the Home Secretary's view is, as it is, that we must stop that, he must, and we shall, take the brickbats for appearing too severe. We are not.

Baroness Anelay of St. Johns

My Lords, I certainly was not in any way trying to criticise the Home Secretary for taking a stern attitude towards youth crime. The point raised with me by lawyers and probation officers was, strictly speaking, confined to those cases where young people had been arrested for offences which of themselves could not carry a custodial sentence. They were concerned that, pending trial, a person would be held in custody and that it would appear contradictory that, after trial, that person could not receive that kind of punishment. I do not put forward that example in any way as something that I approve or disapprove of; merely that it appears to be something of a contradiction at the moment.

Lord Williams of Mostyn

My Lords, I entirely accept that the noble Baroness is not being critical, and neither was I being critical of her observation. It is a perfectly legitimate question properly raised. I believe that my answer was a proper one to give. Sometimes there are circumstances when apparently draconian consequences are justified in the reasonable and legitimate public interest and are actually of benefit to young children who are otherwise drifting very fast indeed into drug-induced, drug-related crime and who will be prison fodder in years to come.

I have overrun my time by four minutes, for which I respectfully beg your Lordships' pardon. I shall review Hansard carefully in the morning. There will be specific matters which I readily recognise I have not dealt with because the questions came on me thick and fast and 19 minutes was simply not enough. I repeat again my gratitude to the noble Lord, Lord Hacking, for raising this matter. It is one that we shall return to time and time again in the currency of this Parliament. I reiterate that the subject is too important for political knockabout.

House adjourned at one minute past seven o'clock.