HL Deb 21 July 1998 vol 592 cc751-68

4.56 p.m.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Home Office (Lord Williams of Mostyn)

My Lords, with the leave of the House, I shall now repeat a Statement made in another place by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Home Affairs. The Statement is as follows:

"With permission, Madam Speaker, I should like to make a Statement on the Comprehensive Spending Review and the criminal justice system.

"May I open by expressing my gratitude to the Liberal Democrats for accommodating this Statement on their Opposition Day, and say that I am making it not least in response to representations from them?

"In our election manifesto we promised to reform the criminal justice system, to tackle youth crime and to reduce levels of crime and disorder. I therefore welcome the outcome of the Comprehensive Spending Review which has targeted resources where they are most needed to deliver these manifesto commitments. The Home Office will receive an additional £3 billion over the next three years. This money will be invested in modernisation and reform to help us build the safer, fairer society to which we are committed. Across government, the Comprehensive Spending Review represents an end to short-termism and will allow departments to plan with greater confidence over a longer period.

"We need first to improve the performance and management of the criminal justice system overall. We have to provide clear, strategic direction to ensure that the different parts of the system work efficiently and coherently together. So, for the first time, the Government have agreed new over-arching aims for the criminal justice system. These are: to reduce crime and the fear of crime and their social and economic costs; to dispense justice fairly and efficiently, and to promote confidence in the rule of law.

"These aims will drive government policy and planning for the criminal justice system as a whole. To modernise the services we shall be: establishing joint strategic planning across the system as a whole; improving and integrating services' information technology; and aligning their boundaries more closely. I have today placed in the Library a copy of a more detailed statement about these plans.

"To oversee these structures, the Prime Minister has asked me to chair a new ministerial group, which will include my right honourable and learned friends the Lord Chancellor and the Attorney-General and my right honourable friend the Chief Secretary to the Treasury.

"But the criminal justice agencies cannot by themselves deliver the safer society we all want. If we are to make an effective attack on crime and its causes, we need to work in partnership right across government and beyond.

"The Crime and Disorder Bill therefore provides for statutory partnerships to analyse local crime problems and then draw up strategies to reduce crime and disorder at local level. The new antisocial behaviour order will tackle the problem of criminal anti-social neighbours, who can make life a misery for those who are affected by them.

"The Crime and Disorder Bill radically reforms the youth justice system. It establishes new multi-agency youth offending teams, a new police final warning scheme and new court orders. These will ensure that young offenders make reparation to victims or the community and their parents take greater responsibility for their offending behaviour.

"A new national Youth Justice Board will be established. This will administer a development fund for local programmes including bail supervision and mentoring. The board will set standards for the youth justice service.

"We will also be taking forward a programme of work to reform the quality and delivery of secure accommodation for sentenced and remanded juveniles. In the short term, this includes work which the Prison Service has in hand to improve the care and quality of regimes for young people held in young offender institutions. In the longer term, we aim to provide for greater coherency and efficiency in the delivery of secure accommodation through extending the role of the new Youth Justice Board for England and Wales to include the commissioning and purchasing of places. Additional resources are being made available for new secure facilities and to improve the constructive regimes for juveniles when our new detention and training order comes into force in 1999.

"As part of these changes we will deliver our pledge to halve the time from arrest to sentence for persistent young offenders. When we came to office we found it took on average 142 days from arrest to sentence. The Lord Chancellor and I have worked hard to persuade the youth courts to introduce fast track schemes and over 160 schemes have been introduced or are planned, compared with just 12 when we took office. We shall be using some additional resources to ensure our pledge is fully delivered within the next two to three years.

"In our manifesto, we said we would be tough on crime and its causes. Individuals have to take responsibility for their criminal behaviour. But we also recognise that crime breeds where there is family breakdown and social exclusion.

"For many years, governments have concentrated on the effects of crime, to the detriment of its causes. But we can only make a long-term impact on crime and disorder by concentrating on both.

"Since the 1920s, the underlying rate of crime has risen at about 5 per cent. a year. There have been two periods when it has fallen: one from 1948–53, the other since 1992. The first proved short-lived; the danger is that the second may too. Increases in crime have, to many, appeared inexorable. 'There is nothing you can do', is the claim; 'It is a fact of life'. The assumption has been that 'nothing works'—that nothing could be done to reverse this long-term rise in crime. I disagree.

"As part of the Comprehensive Spending Review, therefore, I asked the research and statistics department of the Home Office to undertake a thorough investigation of all the available national and international evidence to identify 'what works' to reduce crime and disorder. Its conclusions are included in a report, entitled Reducing Offending, which I am publishing today. This report provides concrete research evidence that we can make a difference. It shows that investing resources where it matters can have long-term benefits in reducing offending. It also shows that the most cost-effective strategy for reducing crime has three strands. These are: to promote a less criminal society, by preventing young people from becoming criminals, and investing in measures which reduce the opportunity for crime; to prevent crime in the community, by acting on the social conditions that sustain crime, and by effective policing; to use sentencing policy effectively to change the behaviour of offenders, including drug users.

"I am therefore pleased to announce today that the Government will be investing £250 million over the next three years on a crime reduction strategy which draws on the findings of this research. This will be the first time a centrally co-ordinated programme of such magnitude, based on comprehensive research evidence, and with built-in evaluation, has been put in place anywhere in the world. As a result we should be able to make a significant contribution to reducing crime and the number of victims.

"This programme will tackle the social causes of crime through long-term investment in children, families and schools. We will target crime prevention measures on crime hotspots, and reduce the opportunities for crime. There will be new investment to tackle burglary. We will help the police target their efforts to reduce the pattern of repeat attacks on the same victims. And where prevention has failed, the Prison and Probation Services will work with offenders to help cut reoffending rates.

"Some of these initiatives—for example, with children and families—will take up to 10 years to make an impact on crime. But even these programmes will have earlier impacts on the factors which predispose people to later criminality. But some measures will work quickly—for example, burglary prevention makes a speedy and tangible improvement to people's lives as the Safer Cities programme of the previous administration illustrated.

"As well as proposals to tackle crime and its causes, the Government will give more attention to the needs of victims and witnesses, particularly those who are vulnerable or intimidated. We will provide extra resources to improve services in the magistrates' courts and for the support of victims. The strategy I have described should do much to lessen the impact of crime and the misery it causes.

"The Comprehensive Spending Review for the Home Office also makes substantial additional provision for the Police, Prison and Probation Services. Currently, the police spend £7 billion a year. We will be allocating an extra £1.24 billion over three years. But this has to be accompanied by improved efficiency, with the savings recycled into frontline policing priorities. The police settlement will therefore include targets for efficiency improvements of 2 per cent. a year. Part of the additional funding for the second and third years will be dependent on the police achieving these targets.

"For the Prison Service the settlement provides an additional £660 million over the next three years. Some of this money will be used for additional prison capacity to meet the pressure of rising numbers, and to clear the backlog of urgent repair and maintenance.

"But prisons will only fully protect the public if they not only incarcerate prisoners securely during their sentence, but also reduce reoffending on release. So we are providing for a significant increase in purposeful activity in the next three years. There will be more sex offender treatment programmes; extensions of the welfare to work pilots in prisons; improvements in education for juveniles and adults; and increases in the number of probation officers providing throughcare support. To meet part of the costs of these initiatives, I am looking to the Prison Service to implement a new efficiency strategy. Every pound saved will go back into the Prison Service to help fund more programmes to reduce reoffending.

"For the Probation Service, next year there will be an additional £18 million of grant instead of the £6 million cut planned by the previous government. In total, the settlement gives an extra £127 million to the Probation Service over three years. This will enable the service to take up important new responsibilities under the Crime and Disorder Bill, such as extended supervision of sex offenders and involvement in the new youth offending teams. The service will be required to make further improvements in efficiency. This drive will be reinforced by improved joint working between the Prison and Probation Services. We will shortly be publishing a consultation document on our proposals.

"Taken all together, the measures I have announced today will help bind and strengthen our communities, build a safe, just and tolerant society and make Britain a better place to live".

My Lords, that concludes the Statement.

5.8 p.m.

Baroness Anelay of St. Johns

My Lords, I thank the Minister for repeating his right honourable friend's Statement. I wish to make a few general points and then I have some questions to put to the Minister. Naturally, I can agree with the proposition in the Comprehensive Spending Review that the job of the Home Office is to build a safe, just and tolerant society in which the rights and the responsibilities of all are respected. After all, that is exactly what my right honourable friends and noble friends sought to do while they were in office. I have some serious concerns as to whether this spending review has made it possible for the Home Office even to begin to meet this objective over the next three years.

There is a second, more general, but nonetheless vital issue of whether any of the spending review can be carried through effectively against the background of the economic downturn which has begun to hit the United Kingdom as a direct result of this Government's policies.

The Government inherited a healthy economy last year but are already squandering that inheritance. The report published by Ernst and Young points out that the Chancellor's ambitious spending plans will make it very difficult to reduce interest rates—all at a time when the UK economy is heading for a sharp downturn.

The Statement makes great play of extra funds to be allocated to Home Office responsibilities. Of course, I shall, along with other noble Lords, look forward to examining those figures more closely when time permits. I note that the presentation of figures in the spending review itself, which was published last week, is novel, to say the least. Pieces of the Home Office budget are dotted around all over the place in the document, making it very difficult to judge which sums are separate and which overlap or indeed duplicate each other.

I also note the reference to a new ministerial group which is being formed and that the Home Secretary has placed in the Library of the House a detailed statement of plans to modernise services. I am disappointed that we have not had an opportunity to see that statement along with this Statement. I hope that we shall have the opportunity to debate it at a later stage, perhaps in the spill-over of this Session.

There is much that I would welcome in the projects proposed by the Home Office both today in announcements made in another place and, I understand, announcements to be made by the Home Secretary at a special event at the Café Royal. I certainly welcome those projects and also those already announced in the Crime and Disorder Bill. It is sensible to encourage better parenting; it is sensible to try to reduce truanting. It is of course sensible to try to reduce anti-social behaviour. In all of those objectives it is sensible to involve local authorities, the Probation Service and the non-governmental organisations in all the crime reduction strategies. They all have valuable expertise to impart. It is not sensible to launch strategies such as this without a proper assessment of their costs, and that is exactly the trap which this Government have jumped into head first.

The Chancellor has combined being spendthrift in some departments with concealing the true costs of services in others. In the Home Office that means that costs have been off-loaded to service providers, many of them charities and non-governmental organisations. But there are serious implications, too, for the budgets of local authorities and of the Probation Service. I am aware of course that the Minister has referred to the additional £18 million which has been granted to the Probation Service. I welcome that. I am sure that it will make very good use of it.

The Statement also makes a passing shot—or attempts to make it miss its target—about the fact that, had we remained in office, there would have been an alleged £6 million reduction in budget. I happily accept that we were always prudent in setting budgets. The Minister might ask, "What is new?", in perhaps not going as far as allowing the Probation Service £30 million which it sought from this Government on this occasion.

What is new is that we did not, unlike this Government, seek to transfer to the Probation Service a huge raft of new tasks and then fail to fund them. The Statement refers to the fact that the extra £18 million is intended to cover the extra costs of tasks transferred under the Crime and Disorder Bill. I look forward to seeing precise costings of those because I suspect that at the moment they cannot be covered effectively by £18 million. After all, I note that last week the Probation Service itself was saying that the cost of supervising sex offenders for an extended period would be a great burden which would certainly require more than £18 million extra for their budget.

What is the Government's estimate of the extra costs which will be incurred by the provisions of the Crime and Disorder Bill and their other pronouncements on the work of the local authorities, including their social services departments and Victim Support? The noble Lord made reference very properly indeed in the Statement to the welcome changes that will be introduced—I hope in the near future—to the support given to witnesses in court. Certainly those extended services will put a strain on Victim Support. There will be costs loaded onto charities and on organisations like the citizens' advice bureaux.

In passing, as always, I make a statement of a small personal interest. It is small only because it is not paid but great because it is an interest as president of my local CAB. I have asked these questions throughout the passage of the Bill, but I have not as yet received any satisfactory answer.

I welcome the idea of mentoring announced today. The Youth Justice Board will fund this network of mentors—older friends and adults to act as role models. That is an excellent idea. That will be under the chairmanship of Mr. Warner, who is soon to join the Government Benches in this House. No doubt we shall welcome him here, especially as his recent experience as special adviser to the Home Secretary will no doubt give him a unique insight into the aspirations of the Government.

Mr. Warner will be responsible for leading the volunteer mentoring project. Volunteers are not free labour and they should not be cheap labour. Do the Government's estimates of the costs of the mentoring scheme include the full costs of the following: recruiting, security screening, goal setting, monitoring of performance and the outcome of the mentors' work? Volunteers work best when they are well managed and that costs money. For over half my life I have worked in the voluntary sector and I have learnt that to my cost at first hand.

As regards the police, how do the Government intend to achieve the efficiency savings referred to in the Statement? There has been reference to this on the ITN Newsline on the Internet. The implication there is that the Government have told the police forces that they are to prevent people retiring early and that they are not to go on sick leave. Has the Minister any information as to whether such advice has been given by the Government to the police?

The Government have already warned police forces, as mentioned in the Statement, that some of the projected cash increases will be withheld if efficiency savings of at least 2 per cent. are not achieved. What kind of efficiency savings will the Government insist on without jeopardising the security of the public? I notice in the Statement that there are references to hot spots and that police patrols should be targeted at times when crime is expected to occur.

I wonder what the Minister intends as regards those who live perhaps in bungalows in leafy streets in Hampshire. I carefully avoid the county in which my mother lives so that I can deal with the matter with impartiality. I wonder what the Minister intends for police patrols there where the incidence of crime is luckily much lower than it is in inner cities and where it is more difficult to predict where crime will occur; and it is certainly more difficult to predict repeat crime on the same victim. Will such areas and people perhaps not qualify as hot spots? Will they not receive the same attention and protection from the police as they currently do?

I noted in the spending review document itself that the large, real increase in the Home Office budget for 1999–2000 reflects the Home Office taking over responsibility for support costs for asylum seekers from the DSS and the Department of Health. I read that in paragraph 11.5 on page 61. I am being rather pedantic here. I mention that particularly because I noted earlier on that, when responding to the Statement in another place, the Home Secretary replied to my right honourable friend Norman Fowler that he was mistaken when he said that earlier on on the radio. But this is something stated in the spending review itself.

The Home Secretary went on to say that next week a White Paper would be issued on immigration and the asylum system, with full costings. I should be grateful if the Minister could give us some indication today as to the true situation concerning the budget that has been taken from the DSS and the DoH and transferred to the Home Office. I am confused as a result of what appear to be two different types of statement from the spending review and today's Statement.

I also note that the Home Secretary has said that he will make a Statement next week about the White Paper. In my two years here this is my first ever Statement. I find perhaps an embarrassment of riches if the Home Office is to impose two Statements in two weeks on me, but perhaps I still look forward to it.

As regards asylum seekers I note that in my previous incarnation as a spokesman on social security, noble Lords on the Government Benches, when they were in Opposition, criticised us vehemently for withdrawing income support from asylum seekers who did not make their claim at the point of entry. Do the Government intend to reinstate those benefits? If so, where do those costs appear in the spending review? Since, after all, the Home Office appears to have taken over those costs, they should be reflected in its budget if they are to be reinstated.

Any sociologist would tell the Minister that the behavioural changes upon which the Government are depending to achieve those efficiency savings are unpredictable at worst and take a long time to achieve at best. The Statement refers to 10 years. For the sake of the criminal justice system and the public, I hope that the Government achieve those objectives, but I fear that they may not. To me, the spending review remains a bundle of inconsistencies, contradictions and conjuring tricks. I believe that the country deserves better than that.

5.20 p.m.

Lord McNally

My Lords, I shall not tour the horizon quite as widely as the noble Baroness. Perhaps I may thank the Home Secretary for the tribute that he paid in another place to my colleagues there for their assiduity and interest in these matters.

The key to the Statement comes in paragraph 15, which states that for many years, governments have concentrated too much on the consequences of crime to the detriment of its causes. In that key statement we see a change of tack which we very much welcome. It is certainly a change of tack from the empty rhetoric of the previous Home Secretary. However, I shall not make party points because it is a welcome change of tack.

Perhaps I may ask the Minister a few questions. I understand that the new Grand Committee which is to oversee strategic planning will include the Lord Chancellor, the Attorney-General and the Chief Secretary to the Treasury, which is probably a very wise move. Will membership of that committee encompass also the departments of state relating to education and employment and the environment? Surely the input of such other departments at the earliest stage will be important in achieving the right answer.

Perhaps I may refer to the point made by the noble Baroness about promises of cost-effectiveness with regard to the police. The police should understand that, although Parliament and the public are willing to vote them extra resources, we want to see cost-effectiveness. The recent report of the House of Commons Select Committee on Public Accounts into police illness and early retirement shows certain deficiencies in terms of management and accountability which the public will rightly want to see put right if the police are to have extra resources for fighting crime.

Perhaps I may put to the Minister one point which is not covered in the Statement but which we on these Benches would very much like to see addressed as part of the review. There still does not seem to be any sense of urgency about bringing our ethnic communities within our system of justice in terms of police recruitment and—perhaps this is even more important—police retention of recruits. We also need to bring members of our ethnic minorities into the Probation Service and the judiciary. Our justice system must not be something that is "done to" our ethnic minorities; it must be something of which they are a part. About 20 years ago in another place, I asked questions about the efforts being made by the police to recruit members of our ethnic minorities. I still feel that all our police forces are lagging behind on that. That issue could well be considered as part of the review of the whole system.

My only other doubt about the review is that there is always an element of "up the down escalator" about putting more money into the Prison Service and arguing—we support this—that it should be for education and rehabilitation when at the same time we are piling more and more people into the prison system and when that overcrowding will eat up those extra resources. Anyone who wishes the programme well should ask Ministers to what extent they can retain the extra money that is going into the system for the good works that they want to see carried out rather than spending it simply on holding the system together.

The Minister will be well aware that we on these Benches have always been tough on cheap rhetoric and on the electoral causes of that cheap rhetoric! Therefore, we support the thinking behind the Statement. The Minister and, I am sure, the whole Home Office will have read today's Evening Standard, which reports that a recent poll shows that the present Home Secretary enjoys an almost unprecedented level of public support. I believe that that public support and confidence should be used by the Home Secretary to educate and to lead. If that is the intention behind the Statement—I believe that it is—we on these Benches welcome it as a step in the right direction.

5.25 p.m.

Lord Williams of Mostyn

My Lords, those were characteristically generous closing words from the noble Lord, Lord McNally. Part of the virtue of these proposals is that they were not produced simply as a knee-jerk reaction. They were carefully considered by my right honourable friend Jack Straw and his colleagues in opposition over a period of time. The noble Baroness is right that one of those colleagues was Mr. Warner, who has an extraordinarily distinguished record as a director of social services and as the producer of a notable report. I believe that the Home Secretary is fortunate to have an independent adviser of that quality.

It is true that the Home Secretary has had a good deal of public support. I believe that that is because people appreciate, as he undoubtedly emphasises whenever he may, that one of the duties of government is to provide a calm, settled life for people in all parts of our community so that they can have the opportunity to lead fruitful lives themselves and enjoy the legitimate hope that their children's lives may be better.

I do not deride or despise the calm leafy suburbs. People living in them have every right to proper consideration. However, we know that levels of certain crimes are much higher in inner-city areas than in the leafy suburbs. We owe a duty to those areas of our inner cities and to those who live in what are called, in that appalling phrase, the "sink estates". They have been overlooked in terms of practical consequence and results for a very long time. Their schools have been poorer. Their social services have been weaker. The delivery of the ordinary amenities and conveniences of every-day life has been lacking. The Home Secretary has said time and time again that he will not turn his back on those areas.

The joint statement was placed in the Library today. It is extremely important. Noble Lords will not have had the time to study it, but it is intended to show that we mean business. The group is chaired by the Home Secretary. One member is the Lord Chancellor, another is the Attorney-General and a further member is the Chief Secretary to the Treasury, so it is not pie-in-the-sky. Vast amounts of money are spent by the Home Office, the Lord Chancellor's Department, the Crown Prosecution Service, the Prison Service and the Probation Service—historically in rather competitive isolation, one against another. We shall not be able to do anything unless we move forward on an integrated basis.

The noble Lord, Lord McNally, is right that that ministerial group does not include the Department for Education and Employment or the other departments that he mentioned. However, as part of the crime reduction strategy, there will be a separate ministerial group which will have a much wider membership and include the Departments for Education and Employment and for Health. I take the noble Lord's point entirely. It is intended to be a focused, strategic group, but it is not intended to stand without assistance from other colleagues. I touch briefly on the work of that group, recognising that noble Lords will not have had a chance to study it. What is intended—it is a self-imposed discipline and is the only way in which to achieve results—is the production by that group of a three-year strategic plan, an annual forward business plan and, of critical importance, an annual report of performance against objectives. If we can make that work we shall take a very important step on this very difficult journey.

The noble Lord, Lord McNally, asked generally about ethnic minorities. In this country we have been shamefully slow in dealing with the problems of ethnic minorities for a very long period of time. We shall provide extra grants to organisations which are not limited to those available to local authorities under Section 11. We are consulting with the Commission for Racial Equality on its recommendations and encouraging the establishment of a European monitoring centre on racism and xenophobia. We have already abolished the primary purpose rule which was a cause of significant complaint.

Not least it is extremely important to recognise the significance of the step taken by the Home Secretary and its inevitable consequences. Knowing the difficulties, he set up a public inquiry into the murder of Stephen Lawrence. It is not for me to pre-judge or even guess at the conclusions and recommendations of that inquiry, but there is no doubt in my mind that as a matter of absolute moral certainty in five or ten years' time we shall look back at those recommendations, first, with a feeling of deep shame and, secondly, it is to be hoped with the ability to do better in future. For too long one has heard, "I do not have a racist bone in my body. Neither I nor my organisation is racist". I do not believe that there is any senior police officer in the land who disagrees that the police have a long way to go. Of course it is a matter of persuasion and changing attitudes. The first important step to changing attitudes is to get to the truth, which in the Lawrence case is deeply ignoble.

As to the Prison Service, the comments that have been made are well justified. Part of the extra money is to be spent on additional places. I have never been one to say that it is all the fault of the previous government. I simply observe the objective fact that custody as a sentencing alternative in the Crown Court has substantially increased. That form of sentence has also significantly increased in the magistrates' court. The Government have the constitutional obligation to provide prison spaces if independent judicial tribunals want to impose those sentences. As we have sought to do under the Crime and Disorder Bill, with the philosophy shortly set out in the spending review, it is much more fundamental to see whether we can stop small children of 10 years getting into a system which everybody in this House knows causes them to be recidivists, offers them no benefit and puts upon the public purse an enormous burden in terms of both finance and fragmented societies. We are however going to spend £79 million, which is quite a sum, on improving constructive activity including education, which so many of your Lordships have rightly stressed in recent times. An announcement will be made very shortly by my right honourable friend Mrs. Taylor about access to drug-testing and treatment programmes in prison. Perhaps that is best left for her announcement.

The noble Baroness began in a way to which I am well accustomed; namely, constructively and reasonably. However, she was led into social misbehaviour when she commented on the whole of the Comprehensive Spending Review and raised the question whether we had inherited a marvellous situation and whether Sodom and Gomorrah—doom and destruction—lay just around the corner. I do not think noble Lords would expect me to join that particular jousting, because the noble Baroness is a politician and I am not—presently.

Very important questions arise as to how resources are to be provided and divided up. On the transfer of resources from the DSS and Department of Health for asylum support, the costs are provisional at present and more work needs to be done on the details. As to the Probation Service, we do not anticipate that the full costs of the Crime and Disorder Bill will be incurred in year one. For that reason we have built in £18 million for the first year, £42 million for the second year and £67 million for the third year, making £127 million in total. We believe that that is sufficient to meet the additional burdens that are placed on the Probation Service.

It must be borne in mind that when the review of the Prison Service/Probation Service relationship is finally concluded there will be savings, in part because of efficiency and in part because if crime falls there will be a reduction in cost. It is impossible to state categorically the exact fall in particular crimes by year one, year two or year three. As the extremely important document Reducing Offending points out, some trends are underlying and cannot be pinpointed. I believe that this is the first time that such a comprehensive review of ways of dealing with offending behaviour and preventing it has been produced anywhere in the world.

The costs of monitoring and vetting offenders are covered in these estimates. A particular question was raised about police efficiency. That is a perfectly reasonable question. The noble Baroness asked how we would achieve the 2 per cent. efficiency savings. Part of the answer lies in the product of the Public Accounts Committee. The chairman of that committee, the right honourable David Davis, who has done notable work, points out that there is an enormous variation in the performance of police forces. The controller of the Audit Commission has said that more money does not always buy better policing. There are enormous differences in performance within similar forces which I find difficult to explain. For example, in 1996–97 Surrey received a 4 per cent. increase in expenditure per head of population. Kent received 2 per cent. However, Kent's detection of violent crimes and burglaries increased by 9 per cent. and 20 per cent. respectively, whereas in Surrey the detection of violent crimes and burglaries dropped by 5 per cent. and 18 per cent. respectively. I do not know the answer to that. I do not know the fundamental reason why a large authority like the Metropolitan Police has a considerable number of officers taking significant sick leave. Nor do I know why there should be an enormous variation between one constabulary and another in terms of how much of the annual budget is paid out for early retirement of officers. Many if not all of us find the figures extremely alarming. There is an enormous amount of work to be done, bearing in mind that we do not have or wish to have a national police force in this country. Nevertheless, police authorities and chief officers of police have a duty to account prudently, efficiently and appropriately for the expenditure of public money. I do not know all of the answers to those questions, but that there are serious issues that create great concern in the public mind cannot be denied.

I am grateful for the general welcome given to this matter by both the noble Baroness and the noble Lord, Lord McNally. The Home Secretary does not pretend or claim that this is anything more than a determined first beginning, but it certainly is determined. I do not believe that over the past 25 years such a beginning has been made in the Home Office. That is perhaps one of the reasons why at the moment—I strike out the words "at the moment"—the Home Secretary enjoys enormous public confidence and support.

5.38 p.m.

Lord Renton

My Lords, in developing this policy, will the Government bear in mind two matters in relation to young offenders? The first is that custodial sentences should be regarded by the courts as a last resort. The other factor closely related to the first—this is not a matter so much for the courts as for the Government and persuasion—is that the responsibility of parents should be increased. They should bear in mind that there are powers to make parents pay fines and compensation for damage or loss. I hope that those two factors might help.

Lord Williams of Mostyn

My Lords, I agree with everything that the noble Lord said. I know that we share the experience of having sentenced many young people. Most sentencers genuinely wish to look at a custodial outcome as the very last weapon at their disposal. The Crime and Disorder Bill is trying to go beyond the stage of sentencing what is still a child of 16 and to see what led that child to being in the dock, with a custodial sentence contemplated. That will almost inevitably be the final incident in a long history of offending. I think that most people would find that to be their sentencing experience.

If a child is running wild late at night, why is that? If a child is not attending school properly, why is that, and how can we deal with it? Because there is no doubt that poor school attendance and low educational achievement lead to a significant part of juvenile crime. That is how we have structured the Crime and Disorder Bill which, by and large, received a good welcome in your Lordships' House. There is no doubt that parents have to be involved, which is another significant and deliberate aspect of the Crime and Disorder Bill under which we can have parenting orders, where parents who may not be sufficiently equipped to be good parents will be encouraged rather than bullied or threatened to see whether, as I said earlier, their children's lives may not be better than were their own.

Equally—I take up the point made by the noble Lord, Lord McNally—this is not just a Home Office point, because it depends upon education. It is of great importance that my right honourable friend Mr. Blunkett is putting such emphasis on a broad education in schools to include parenting responsibilities. I know that that is jargon, but it is jargon that contains an important point. I agree with the noble Lord.

Lord Hylton

My Lords, the Minister mentioned the heavier use of imprisonment as a penalty, and longer sentences. We all know that that is what is happening. Will the Minister explain why the Statement makes no reference to non-custodial sentences, to getting mentally ill offenders out of prison, or the long-standing question of access by all prisoners to the NHS?

Lord Williams of Mostyn

My Lords, I did not say longer sentences. I said that Crown Courts and magistrates were using imprisonment more readily than they formerly did. It is not right to say that the Statement does not consider alternatives to prison, because it spends a great deal of time on increased investment in the Probation Service, for instance. It does not include the question of access to NHS facilities. I think that I answered that Question yesterday in a different context. There are arguments on both sides. The noble Lord is right: the Statement does not mention that point.

The whole of the Crime and Disorder Bill, which is the Government's flagship strategy in dealing with the prevention of crime, seems to me to devolve entirely upon alternatives to prison. The whole construct of the Bill is to try to deal with people at a young age, before they go to prison. The Statement has to be seen in the context of what we have already done and what your Lordships have, as I think I said earlier, almost unanimously approved.

We deal with children in a non-custodial way, but there are children who will go into custody and there are adults who will go into custody. It is our duty as a civil society to provide better régimes for them, not least productive activity and education. The Statement deals with that issue. There will never be a time in this country when some people will not be in prison. Our aim should be to have as few people in prison as is sensibly consistent with public confidence in the judicial system and public safety and security.

Lord Waddington

My Lords, will the Minister bear in mind that modest sums of money might make a difference in our prisons? While I do not suggest that this is one of the major issues, will the Minister look favourably upon charities such as Natural Justice which is looking at the link between diet and violent behaviour, particularly in prisons?

Lord Williams of Mostyn

My Lords, I can agree with two points that the noble Lord has made. I recognise his enormous experience in this area. First, volunteering and charitable work is important; and, secondly, it can be achieved at a relatively modest cost. We intend to provide over £5 million to support volunteering. I cannot deal specifically with the question of diet. I am aware that the noble Earl, Lord Baldwin, has frequently asked Questions, orally or in writing, about that. I cannot say that there is anything in the Statement that points to that. It is an important question, so I will have further research done and write to the noble Lord, if that is helpful, and put a copy in the Library.

Lord Waddington

My Lords, I hope that the Minister heard the name of the charity which is Natural Justice.

Lord Williams of Mostyn

My Lords, I did.

The Earl of Longford

My Lords, it would be churlish not to pay tribute to the Government for their good intentions, so ably expressed by the Minister. Without studying the proposals in detail, it would be imprudent to offer any view as to whether they represent a repudiation of the disastrous policies pursued over the past few years by various governments, which won almost universal condemnation in your Lordships' House, as illustrated in the debate initiated recently in your Lordships' House by the noble Lord, Lord Allen.

Lord Williams of Mostyn

My Lords, I believe that they are a repudiation. What has bedevilled us in the past is that every approach has been made piecemeal, often as an over-reaction to a limited problem. In the Crime and Disorder Bill we are looking at the causes of crime, and setting out the statutory purpose of that new regime; namely, to prevent people offending. The Statement of course does not recite the whole philosophy behind the Crime and Disorder Bill. I do not think that it could have. It is saying that we must look at the judicial system; the sentencing regime; the prison régime; the Probation Service regime; and alternative community disposals, all in the whole. I do not believe that that has ever been done before; it certainly was not done in the past 20 years.

Lord Mishcon

My Lords, perhaps I may be permitted to congratulate my noble friend the Minister on his ability to make this historic Statement, as I believe it to be, this afternoon. I pay tribute to the part that I know he played in making possible this Statement and the policy that is contained in it. Am I, as an amateur politician—my noble friend referred to his being in that category—permitted to dream for a moment, that the subject of crime, the causes of crime and how to deal with it, could be taken out of the political arena?

I do not think that the nation will enjoy the speech of the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay of St. Johns, from the Front Bench opposite. It is only fair that I allow her to hear what I am saying.

Baroness Anelay of St. Johns

My Lords, I apologise to the noble Lord. No discourtesy was intended. It was merely a matter of referring to the timing of the next Business. I do apologise to him that I was not paying attention.

Lord Mishcon

My Lords, no one would ever accuse the noble Baroness of being discourteous. However, I venture to suggest that she might refrain from making such political speeches in the future, which I do not think that the nation would appreciate in view of its great concern about crime, its causes, and the way to deal with it.

I have just two observations. I borrow a phrase used by my noble friend the Minister who said that he obviously would not wish to anticipate the results of the inquiry into the Lawrence case or the recommendations that might be made. The reputation of the police—the people who represent law and order to the man in the street—which in my youth was so high, is suffering a deterioration unworthy of the great traditions that the majority of the police still uphold.

Quite apart from enquiries being made into early retirements, sick pay, and so on, I hope that when communicating with the heads of the various police forces it will be emphasised by the Government that the conduct of the police is of supreme importance in connection with the battle against crime. I yearn for the day when the police were regarded as the friends of school children and others alike. They were the honoured guests of schools. Their bands played and school children and youngsters loved them. I wonder whether that position can be still be secured.

I have only one other question. Expenditure was mentioned in connection with much that would help with juvenile crime. However, I found no reference in the Statement to the encouragement and extra financing of youth clubs. One of the chief causes of crime is the lack of activity for youngsters, and especially the young unemployed. The youth clubs are doing a wonderful job. They deserve to be helped.

Lord Williams of Mostyn

My Lords, my noble friend is right: there was no specific reference to youth clubs. But again one goes back to the Crime and Disorder Bill, and considers the strategies with which local authorities, voluntary organisations, chief officers and police will be involved. I am happy to reaffirm that there is no doubt that all voluntary organisations, including youth clubs which do such useful work, will be included in that co-operative regime.

I can say no more about the inquiry into the murder of Stephen Lawrence except this. I do not think that it can be doubted that the present Home Secretary has an absolute commitment to doing away with that endemic vice, not simply in setting up that inquiry, but also in the introduction of the offence of racial harassment. Having listened with care to amendments that both my noble friend Lord Mishcon and the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, wished, we were able to respond in a firm and constructive way.

My noble friend Lord Mishcon referred to me as an amateur politician. I assume that he refers to the extremely modest remuneration that Ministers in your Lordships' House receive. It is not a perfect amateur but very close to it. I chided the noble Baroness gently because I am happy to say in all honesty that in every contact we have had across the Dispatch Box and, more importantly, in private letters and conversations, the noble Baroness has never sought to make these matters a party political football. I believe that she was led for a moment into temptation; and, as Oscar Wilde said, the one thing to do with temptation is to give into it.

Baroness Thomas of Walliswood

My Lords, I declare an interest, as I have done before, as a member of a probation committee. It is not a financial interest.

First, I welcome the reference in paragraph 30 of the Statement to increases in the number of probation officers providing throughcare support. That has varied over the years as prison officers manage their budgets. Are the Government telling us that they have some method of ring-fencing the budget for probation officers within prisons?

My second question relates to the additional annual grant to the Probation Service. At first glance it is an enormous improvement on the year on year reduction in real budget from which the Probation Service has been suffering. However, it would be useful if the Minister will tell us the likely percentage increase year on year. Is this a real increase, or is it an increase that has to be discounted by inflation?

Lord Williams of Mostyn

My Lords, it is a real increase. The figures I have given start at £18 million as opposed to a cut of £6 million increasing to an additional £127 million, with factors for anticipated inflation—the Treasury factors—taken into account.

As regards ring-fencing and further working, the relationship between the Prison Service and the Probation Service will be part of the review.

A consultation document will be published shortly. That will set out the Government's proposals more fully. I dare say that the question of funding, and whether or not specific funding should be ring-fenced will be addressed there. In effect, the provision for the service mentioned in the context to which the noble Baroness referred will be ring-fenced. However, one should wait, I think, for the fuller consultation document. The Home Secretary firmly believes that it is artificial in many ways, and certainly inefficient and often not productive, to have the Probation Service in one box and the Prison Service in another. The boxes are not different. It has always been my view that they are different aspects of the same spectrum of dealing with people who have offended. They are the same people who have offended, whether they are in prison or outside—sometimes as a result of a sentencing decision and sometimes not.

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