HL Deb 04 October 2000 vol 616 cc1564-89

(" .—(1) In the Protection of Children Act 1978

  1. (a) in subsection (3) of section 2 (evidence); and
  2. (b) in subsection (6) of section 7 (interpretation), for the word "16" there shall be substituted the word "18".

(2) In the Protection of Children (Northern Ireland) Order 1978—

  1. (a) in paragraph (2) of Article 2 (interpretation); and
  2. (c) in paragraph (1) of Article 7 (evidence), for the word "sixteen" there shall be substituted the word "eighteen".").

The noble Baroness said: This amendment concerns the age of a child in proceedings relating to indecent photographs of children. The rise of public concern about the sexual exploitation of children has been on the increase over the past few years. One of the ways in which children are exploited is through being sexually abused. The record of such abuse may be captured on film, video or computers to be watched repeatedly and distributed around the world. Like the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, I too remember the exhibition shown just off Westminster Hall. I had to leave before I completed my tour of the exhibition because I found some of the material so disturbing that it still haunts me.

Such early experience of sexual activity often leaves deep emotional scars on a child which can damage future relationships. Furthermore, the child must live with the permanent knowledge that pictures of the abuse are still circulating.

There would be few who would defend child pornography, but disagreements arise over what we mean when we refer to a "child" for the purposes of legislation as well as at what age children should slip out of the net of protection offered to them by the law. Currently, the Protection of Children Act 1978, the law that makes it an offence to produce or distribute an indecent photograph of a child, defines a child as someone under the age of 16. This same definition is automatically applied to the legislation that makes possession of child pornography an offence; namely, Section 160 of the Criminal Justice Act 1988. The same definition also applies in Northern Ireland. Yet for the purposes of the Bill, Clause 25 states that, an individual commits an offence against a child if … he commits any offence", listed in Schedule 4. Clause 37 of the Bill defines a child as, a person under the age of 18".

The offence of producing and distributing child pornography is already included in Schedule 4 and Amendment No. 82 would add possession of child pornography to the list of offences. This amendment proposes that the same definition of a child should be applied to the offences related to child pornography.

The Government have recognised that children remain vulnerable and in need of protection up to the age of 18. In the Sexual Offences (Amendment) Bill, children up to the age of 18 are protected from those in a position to abuse their trust. Children up to 18 years old should be protected from those who wish to take indecent photographs of them. This protection would be in line with that conferred by the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, which defines a child as someone under the age of 18. Article 34 of the convention refers in particular to child pornography and says that, State parties undertake to protect the child from all forms of sexual exploitation and sexual abuse", including, the exploitative use of children in pornographic performances and materials".

In part because of the increase in child pornography on the Internet earlier this year, the United Nations issued a new optional protocol to the children's convention on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography. These offences are described as of a "grave nature" and governments are urged to take firm action to protect children. Can the Minister tell the Committee what is the Government's view of the new protocol and whether they will sign it?

Voting in favour of this amendment would bring our legislation into line with Article 34 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, increase protection for teenagers and signal our continuing commitment to taking firm action against child pornography.

I hope that the Minister will have sympathy with this amendment. I beg to move.

6 p.m.

Lord Monson

The noble Baroness, Lady Seccombe, will know that I very often support her and her noble friend Lady Blatch on Home Office matters. But I am afraid that I cannot do so on this occasion.

For decades, if not centuries, 16 and 17 year-olds have been deemed legally capable of consenting to most forms of sexual activity. There is one particular form of sexual practice which is not only capable of being psychologically damaging but is also undoubtedly physically dangerous which is the exception to this rule, and where the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child is indeed germane. We may return to this point before long.

But, taking indecent photographs with the consent of the subject—conceivably the enthusiastic consent of the subject—hardly comes into that category. The amendment does not confine itself to photographs taken for commercial reasons. It could catch two 17 year-olds who took photographs of their activities by remote control for their own amusement.

Secondly, paedophiles—against whom most of these amendments are aimed—are not interested in boys and girls as old as 16 or 17. Finally, there is a practical objection, given that few people carry their passports around with them at all times. Whereas it is usually possible to distinguish between a 14 year-old and a 16 year-old, it can be far more difficult to distinguish between a 16 year-old and an 18 year-old. Many people of 16 or 17 look two, three or even four years older than their true age.

For all those reasons, I believe that the amendment, although well intended, is misconceived.

Baroness Masham of Ilton

Perhaps I may put a question to the Minister, one that I wanted to put on a previous amendment. Is an international committee examining the problem of paedophiles? We were shown some truly horrific photographs by an organisation called Care. The pictures were of children who were much younger. The pictures even showed intercourse being conducted with babies. It was quite revolting. It is impossible to imagine how terrible are these things. The matter needs to be addressed.

Lord Bach

This is a sombre debate. The noble Baroness, Lady Seccombe, and others who have spoken to the amendment have all pointed out that this is a serious matter that affects children more and more these days. Clearly all Members of the Committee will share that view.

The issue here is whether the specific amendment moved by the noble Baroness is appropriate. I have to tell the noble Baroness that the view of the Government is very much that which has been expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Monson.

The effect of the new clause outlined in the amendment would be to raise the maximum age of a person considered to be a child for the purposes of an indecent photograph of a child under the Protection of Children Act 1978 from 16 to 18.

We are sympathetic to the concern behind the amendment. Who could not be? However, the amendment ignores the age of consent and we believe that the proposed new age extension to 18 is impractical and unrealistic. Indeed, there is perhaps a large number of people who are lawfully married or involved in personal relationships at the ages of 16 and 17. As the noble Lord pointed out, some of them may choose to take personal photographs of each other. Surely it would be wrong to criminalise such activity. That would take the law far further than it should reach in this very difficult field.

The more extreme kind of material involving individuals between the ages of 16 and 18—the age group to which the noble Baroness has rightly drawn attention—is already covered by the Obscene Publications Act 1959; namely, if the material was deemed to be obscene under the terms of that Act, then the law would bite and a criminal conviction would follow.

The police may well face difficulties when trying to distinguish between people of 16, 17 and 18 when considering cases for prosecution.

The noble Baroness mentioned the United Nations protocol. I am afraid that I shall have to write to her separately on that point. I shall do so as soon as I can and I shall ensure that a copy of the letter is placed in the Library of the House.

So far as concerns international work, a point raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Masham, there is apparently a great deal of work being undertaken in this area in which the British Government are participating. Perhaps I may cite by way of example the international cyber-crime committee. If the noble Baroness would like more details, again I shall ensure that she is given them in writing. She nods; I take that as acceptance.

I have said all that I want to say on the amendment. While we are sympathetic to the thinking behind it, because of the practical consequences and the effect it would have on people conducting their own lives in their own ways, quite lawfully, we believe that the amendment is not appropriate and I invite the noble Baroness to withdraw it.

Baroness Seccombe

I am grateful to the Minister for his understanding of the amendment and thank him for it. I shall read what has been said very carefully and carry out some more background research. In the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 37 agreed to.

Clause 38 [Probation orders renamed community rehabilitation orders]:

Lord Bach moved Amendment No. 110: Page 21, line 7, after ("orders)") insert ("whenever made").

The noble Lord said: In moving Amendment No. 110, I shall speak also to government Amendments Nos. 111 and 112. I shall then invite other noble Lords to speak to their amendments in this group and reply to them in due course.

Amendments Nos. 110, 111 and 112 are minor amendments which would have the effect of changing the names of probation orders, community service orders and combination orders to, respectively, community rehabilitation orders, community punishment orders, and community punishment and rehabilitation orders—and this is the point—regardless of the date when the original orders were imposed. That is the purpose of the three amendments. Making the names of all the orders the same, irrespective of the date they were imposed, would help remove the possibility of confusion as to any differences between them. No doubt the issue of the change of name will arise during the course of the debate on amendments tabled by other noble Lords. I beg to move.

Lord Dholakia

As the Minister rightly pointed out, these amendments are grouped with Clause 38 stand part of the Bill, Clause 39 stand part of the Bill and Amendment No. 113, which is tabled in the names of my noble friend Lord Thomas of Gresford and myself.

Clauses 38, 39 and 40 concern the renaming of probation orders, community service orders and combination orders. We had an interesting debate on this matter during Second Reading. There is a fairly informed opinion among those who are responsible for operating these orders as to whether there is any necessity for changing the emphasis at this stage of the Bill.

There is quite often a tendency to look at the failures of some of the orders rather than to build on the successes of a large number of probation orders and community service orders which are actively and properly carried out up and down the country. I know—and I am sure that a number of others who have sat as magistrates know—that many times, when such orders are made, it is quite clear that a number of people perform their tasks in a fairly orderly manner and benefit from the order imposed by the court.

I believe that it is unnecessary at this stage to change the terminology. The phrase "probation order" has international recognition. Indeed, I understand from a number of people working in the probation field that some eastern European countries are currently setting up probation services, with probation orders based very much on the model in this country. The changes are presumably being introduced in order to enhance public knowledge and confidence. The term "community rehabilitation order" is far less clear than "probation order". The term "probation order" is positive; it suggests that the person on the order has a distinct period of time to prove themselves and to make changes to their lifestyle. As I have explained, a large number of people benefit from them.

Clause 39 concerns community service orders. Community service has a higher profile than I suspect the Home Office would care to admit. The community service order has been in existence in this country for the past 25 years. We do not believe that the public see it as voluntary work. This was apparent when community service orders were made last year on a number of high profile offenders. The public knew that those convicted persons were carrying out work for the community as an act of reparation, not punishment. We have always believed that community service should be positive and that the person on the order should see an increase in their self-esteem as a result of their contribution. If it is seen purely as negative and a punishment, this will not be achieved and it will be harder to engage with offenders on work schemes.

As regards Clause 40 and Amendment No. 113, we believe that the term "combination order" is clumsy and needs refinement. If the proposed name is used it will lead to those employed in supervising the order being held up to ridicule. They will become "punishment officers". The term is negative and punitive and will not assist in increasing the offender's self-esteem and, therefore, his chances of reintegration into society. We suggest that the combination order be renamed the "probation and community service order", which meets precisely the aim of these particular orders.

Baroness Hanham

The names of my noble friends are attached to Amendment No.158 and to the notices of intention to oppose Clauses 38, 39 and 40 standing part of the Bill, to which the noble Lord has just spoken.

"What is in a name?", I think is the question behind these amendments. We think that all the names proposed are disappointing; they are very clumsy and they do little to explain what the orders represent. In fact, they probably do less to explain than the current orders.

I understand that at the moment a review is being undertaken of the renaming of sentencing orders as part of a review of the sentencing framework. It seems pointless to rename these orders at this stage and then possibly have to rename them again later on. The review may also allow an opportunity for better thought to he given as to what the orders should be called—if indeed it is necessary for the names to be changed. Perhaps the only reason to do so is to clarify the emphasis behind them.

We contend that renaming them at this stage does nothing to enhance the nature or the purpose of the orders. If the orders are to be reviewed anyway, this is an inappropriate moment to change names. I hope that the Minister will agree at least to delay the commencement until the results of the review can be taken into account.

Lord Elton

I intervene briefly to reflect on the enormous difficulty of legislation and the huge task required to introduce any change into legislation on any piece of law, particularly at a time when Parliament had to sit all night last night in order to get the work done. Changing law is an expensive, protracted and delicate operation—and here we have three whole clauses devoted simply to changing the names of three orders.

To engage first the department and then the parliamentary draftsman in this task, at great public expense, must have some great motivation. Some great benefit must be expected to flow from it. All I pause to do is to ask the Minister to tell us what that is. It is not apparent from what he has told us and it seems a pity to waste statute on doing something with no visible benefit.

Lord Laming

I support those who have said that the case for changing the names of the orders has not been made. The early part of the Bill is about changes in the Probation Service. The service will retain its present name—and rightly so—but the case for changing the title of the orders has not been made. I strongly support those who want to retain the existing names, which are well-established and understood.

Earl Russell

The noble Lord, Lord Elton, has said everything that I had intended to say and I shall not say it again. I thank the noble Lord.

Lord Bach

On this occasion I cannot agree with the comments that have been made by a distinguished group of noble Lords on this issue. The Government are convinced that there are sound arguments for changing the names of the three orders.

Lord Elton

Let us hear them.

Lord Bach

If the noble Lord will contain himself, it is my intention in the next few minutes to put the Government's case and he must consider it in his turn.

Perhaps I may turn, first, to the review mentioned by the noble Baroness in speaking to the amendment. There is a fundamental review of the 1991 Act framework, not merely in regard to the names of these orders. We believe that if we are to change the names, we must do so in this Bill, because we have to move forward in this field.

The Probation Service is a law enforcement agency. Its aims are the proper punishment of offenders, reducing reoffending and protecting the public. Of course, an important part of its aim is the rehabilitation of offenders. Community sentences, whether they be existing probation orders or community sentence orders, are penalties with the purposes both of punishing and of rehabilitating offenders. That may be understood by noble Lords in this House, with their experience of the world. But it is too little understood by the public, who can be unclear about the work of the service and who, frankly, often see community orders as a soft option. The Government are determined that community orders will be used, and that they will not be a soft option.

It is vital, therefore, that everyone—the wider public, offenders and the service itself—understands both the role of the service and the purposes of community sentences. Re-naming community orders in order both to explain their primary purpose and to underline the aims of the service is necessary to promote greater confidence in our criminal justice system. Of course, we are aware that some members of the present service—of which I am a huge admirer; indeed, part of my maiden speech in this place was devoted to praising one particular probation service—do not welcome the change. They claim that the current names are well understood. That is true so far as concerns professionals who work within the criminal justice system. But our concern—a real concern—is to make the system more transparent for members of the general public. Too often, they are left in the dark as to what is happening and therefore, not surprisingly, express dissatisfaction with the criminal justice process.

By way of example, the expression which everyone now agrees should go—namely, "combination order"—was not clear to me, as a practising barrister defending and prosecuting offenders. I did not understand what the phrase meant for quite a while once it had come into being. What was a "combination order"? What on earth did it mean? What did it mean to the general public when they read in the newspaper that someone had received a combination order? In my view it meant absolutely nothing. It told them nothing, except that the miscreant had escaped prison. It did not even tell them that the miscreant had escaped prison often by the skin of his teeth. So the expression "combination order" should never have been written into legislation. Everyone in this Chamber seems to agree: Amendment No. 113 suggests a different title for the combination order. That is the most glaring example of how the orders have not been understood by the general public, and for good reason.

A "probation order" emphasises rehabilitation. Of course, it has a punishment element as well. The punishment element is the restriction on freedom that is involved in having to report to a probation officer and do what he or she reasonably demands. But it is much more a rehabilitative order. That is shown in the number of modern probation orders that have conditions attached to them to take part in programmes. The attempt is to rehabilitate the offender. What can be wrong in describing the true position of an existing probation order by the use of the term "community rehabilitation order"? That is precisely what it is.

As to "community service order", the phrase implies that the offender is being asked to do some kind of voluntary work. It may be that some members of the public look rather askance at someone who has pleaded guilty to and been convicted of quite a serious offence being given a community service order. It has never been a voluntary activity. The point about a community service order is that it is not voluntary; it is compulsory. A community service order in practically every case is a direct alternative to prison. There is a rehabilitative element to it, but it also emphasises punishment: the restriction on freedom, often for many hours—up to 240 hours over a period of a year—during which time the offender must do work for the community; if he does not, he will be brought back to court and will often, under the present law, receive a prison sentence. It is a punishment.

That is why we believe that the expression "community punishment order" is entirely appropriate for what has been called up until now a "community service order". If that is right, it follows that the present "combination order" should be called a "community punishment and rehabilitation order"—a joining together of the old probation element and the old community service element in the new title. I do not claim for a moment that it is poetry. It is not supposed to be. But it describes to the general public what the courts are doing with these particular offenders.

Of course the Government want to see the rehabilitation of offenders. That is no doubt the reason why judges and magistrates make these orders in the first place. But the Committee should recognise that when such orders are imposed they are a mixture of rehabilitation and punishment. It is our view that the titles that we have arrived at are the appropriate ones and that it would be wrong to revert to the present titles.

Lord Thomas of Gresford

I congratulate the noble Lord on a careful and well-argued response; but in the end it was disappointing. He says that the Government's purpose is to make the aims of the orders more transparent for members of the public. What this amounts to is that the Government want to toughen up the language for public consumption. If one needs any proof of that one has only to look at the comments of Mr Boateng in Standing Committee Gin another place. He said: We are moving away from a social work type befriending model, and no one should be under any illusions about that".— [Official Report, Commons; Standing Committee G, 4/4/00; col. 33.] He went on, at col. 36: No one should be under any illusions about the nature of the change and of the culture shift that we expect. It is a philosophical change". Therefore, according to Mr Boateng, it is a "philosophical change".

The toughening up of the language has a downside. I have had long experience of seeing probation officers in operation and of reading their reports. In the past, I recall that a good probation officer would look for that gold nugget in the most unlikely individual. He would attempt to bring something out of the offender, to try to bring him into society and mend his ways. As a result of the sort of rhetoric that we have been hearing in relation to this Bill, I have noticed that today's probation officer—I have in mind a recent case—is less ready to do so; indeed, he is more ready to go along with the idea of punishment, and so on.

The suggestions that used to be found in probation orders as regards the various ways of "disposal"—to use the word that I absolutely abhor—have now been reduced. The effect on the probation officer and on the offender is more important than simply toughening up the language for the greater benefit of the public who read the tabloid newspapers. That is the crucial relationship with which the Probation Service should be concerned: the relationship between the probation officer and the individual. I believe that the renaming of these orders will have a much more important and far-reaching effect than the Government realise.

6.30 p.m.

Lord Laming

I should like to thank the Minister for what I thought was an extremely helpful and thoughtful response to the points made. I wonder whether he will agree with me in two respects. First, none of us in this Chamber regards any of these orders as being a "soft option". The noble Lord used that phrase. The thought that we would want any of these orders to be perceived as a soft option is far from being in any of our minds. Secondly, does the noble Lord agree that that perception arises as a matter of practice and not because of the name being used? Whatever the name of the order, it is essential to ensure that it is implemented in a robust and thorough way. That is the point that we should like to make.

Earl Russell

I congratulate the Minister on the care and eloquence with which he tried to make his case. However, I am afraid I do not believe that he succeeded. First, I think that his case rests on a false factual premise. He argued that the word "probation" was not understood. In fact, it has passed into the language. The phrase "on probation" is so well understood that it is even used in reports on cricket or football team selection. Further, if the Minister is afraid that that may appear to be a soft touch, I should remind him that when it is used in that way it carries a very distinct suggestion of the "male" fist inside the velvet glove. It is not at all a soft phrase.

I am not convinced by the case for putting such expressions into tabloid language. But if we are to do so, we might as well do it properly. Let us take, for example, the phrases in the Bill and imagine them being put into a draft for an article that is to appear in the Daily Mirror. I shall begin with, the "community rehabilitation order". I think that the blue pencil would come out at once. Alternatively, we could take a "community punishment order". It seems to me that the blue pencil would ask whether this is punishing the community. There is also the "community punishment and rehabilitation order"—far too many words! If the Government are going to try to put this wording into popular language so as to change the impression generated by it, they might make a better fist of it than they have done here.

Secondly, as my noble friend just said, this proposal is an attempt to change the language in order to change the impression given, without changing the substance. In my view, that is something that hardly ever works. It must lead to one or the other of two conclusions: either nothing changes—in other words, neither the image nor the substance will change—or, alternatively, the substance is changed in order to justify an attempt to change the image. Either of those would cause a number of us on all sides of the Committee very considerable concern.

The question as to whether or not this renaming will work reminds me of a story that my father used to tell me—I do not know whether or not it is a shaggy dog—about the naming of Iceland, a name which, he said, deterred potential settlers. Therefore, the next time that people discovered a piece of land in that quarter of the globe, they chose to name it Greenland in order to make it sound rather more attractive. However, I do not believe that the settlement in Greenland ever justified that. The renaming in this Bill will, at best, be a case like Greenland. In fact, I shall think of these provisions as the "Greenland clauses".

Finally, name changing can cause a great deal of confusion; indeed, since I became a Member of this place 12 years ago, I have completely lost count of the number of names that have been given to the body that once upon a time used to be known as the University Grants Committee. I tend to refer to it by a name at least two names out of date. If we do this to the public, they may manage to cap that yet.

Lord Elton

The noble Lord's expression does not suggest to me that he is liable to take this matter way and think about it. However, if he does so, I hope that he will look with care at the syntactical point made by the noble Earl, Lord Russell. The noble Lord is actually going contrary to the structure of the present language. In a community service order, it is the community that is served. That is the verbal interpretation that is now current among all who have encountered this document. The noble Lord is now proposing a "community punishment order" and wants to reverse the process so that it is the community which does the punishing. In the other case, the community is not being rehabilitated, it is rehabilitating. If the object of the exercise is to get the process understood, the language used has to be unambiguous; this is not.

Lord Dholakia

I am grateful to the Minister for what he said. However, I was not in the least bit surprised. He made great play of the new terminology. Perhaps I should remind him that a Minister flew to America and on his return used the terminology "a correctional service", which I believe was the title that the Government originally had in mind for the Probation Service. However, when a protest was mounted, that suggestion was immediately withdrawn. I believe that this renaming will provoke a similar reaction. I warn the Minister that we shall certainly take this on board when we reach Report stage.

My main concern here is the expression that the Minister keeps using. He repeatedly said that the public do not understand. But when have members of the public been consulted on the issue? I give way.

Lord Bach

What I meant when I spoke about the public not understanding is that they have considered for a long time—indeed, perhaps they have even been right—that those who are made the subject of a probation order have really "got off" easily for what they did. That has been the trouble with the expression "probation order" in the past. I speak from long, personal experience in the field. If one of my clients received a probation order, it would be a victory for me; but, in his mind, it would often be a let off for him. That is a truth, which is often not expressed.

Therefore, because the Government believe that community orders—whether they be probation or community service orders—have a real function in the criminal justice system, we are determined to ensure that they are seen to work—

Baroness Blatch

I am grateful to the Minister for giving way. I, too, held the job in the Home Office of being responsible for the Probation Service. In my experience, wherever there was a misunderstanding about the role of the Probation Service and whether or not it was effective, it had nothing to do with the name; it had everything to do with the practice of the Probation Service in a particular area. If the public saw people on probation loafing around, leaning on their shovels or not doing what they should be doing, their perception of the local service was diminished. It was never a question of the connotations of a name, but rather the public's perception of how the service operated.

Much has changed in the Probation Service since then. Good practice is now spread throughout the service. The noble Lord is wrong to believe that a change of name will change the culture of the service. The service is a good one, irrespective of the names of its provisions.

Lord Bach

Part of the process of changing the culture of the service involves changing its name. In some places the name became associated—sometimes wrongly, sometimes rightly—with defendants effectively being let off their offence. No one considered the punishment or rehabilitation elements; a probation order was often considered to be a let off. That is how we believe the general public have often viewed probation orders. The danger is that if the general public have that perception, the whole concept of community sentences becomes devalued. For that reason the Government are making it quite clear that the purposes of community sentences are reduction in reoffending; protection of the public; and proper punishment of offenders. This is not a case of adopting a hard line policy for the sake of it. The alternative to having acceptable community sentences is to send all offenders to prison. That is not something that the Government or any noble Lord present would want. As the term "probation orders" has unfortunately become devalued, we believe that it is essential to change it.

Lord Dholakia

I return to the remarks I made before giving way to the Minister. It appears that we are talking at cross purposes here. I sat as a magistrate for 14 years. I issued probation orders, community service orders and so on. The defendants did not have an easy time of it. Their lawyers pleaded their case and the individuals concerned pledged to obey the terms of the order. The problem is that the Government play down the success of community service and of the Probation Service.

A similar thing happened in the case of the Parole Board. No problem arises in 95 per cent of parole cases. However, if one isolated incident arises, everything is blown out of all proportion. Likewise newspapers do not report the conditions that attach to probation orders in articles on the Probation Service. It is up to the Government to explain to the public what probation orders involve. One gets the impression that the Government, through this Bill, are saying to the general public, "Law and order are high on our agenda and we are trying to be tough". As I said earlier, we shall certainly return to this matter on Report.

Lord Elton

Clearly we do not want to spend too long on this matter, but does the noble Lord seriously expect us to accept the proposition that the word "probation", which has three syllables and is well-known and understood, will carry less impact than the word "rehabilitation", which has six syllables, is not generally understood, and is unfamiliar to the criminal classes?

6.45 p.m.

Lord Renton

I must apologise to the Committee for having missed the first part of this discussion as I had to attend an important meeting upstairs. I should disclose that I did quite a lot of judicial work—about 30 days. I was a Recorder for eight years and a relief judge at the Old Bailey for two years. I also sat as a deputy chairman of quarter sessions, in early days in Kent and in later days in Essex. Therefore I have a lot of experience of the effect of putting people on probation. I must say that I admired what the Probation Service did. There is no doubt about that. I am not a die hard so far as legal reform is concerned, as many noble Lords know, but I think that we should avoid change if it is not really necessary. I do not think that it is necessary in the case we are discussing.

Also there is a practical argument against what is now proposed. If Members of the Committee look at the expressions "probation orders" and "community rehabilitation orders" on page 21 of the Bill, they will find that the expression "probation orders" consists of only five syllables. The expression "community rehabilitation orders" consists of 12 syllables. What a mouthful for the people in the courts to have to use and to absorb!

I agree that there is not much difference between the terms "community service orders" and "community punishment orders"—there is an increase of only one syllable there. However, if Members of the Committee compare the term "combination orders" on page 22—which has only six syllables—with the term "community punishment and rehabilitation orders", they will find that the number of syllables is doubled to 12. I cannot see any advantage in changing the old expressions. If there are no advantages, we should bear in mind the disadvantages of imposing unnecessary mouthfuls on the people who work in this field. I implore the Government to think again about this matter.

Earl Russell

May I just remind the Minister of the previous time this place was abolished? A second chamber was recreated under the protectorate of Oliver. Cromwell. They had an immensely long argument about what to call it. They decided that they could not call it the upper house so they decided to call it the other house. That made precisely no difference.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 38, as amended, agreed to.

Baroness Hanham

I rise to oppose the Question that Clause 38 should stand part of the Bill.

Noble Lords


Baroness Hanham

I apologise. I understand that the Question has already been spoken to.

Clause 39 [Community service orders renamed community punishment orders]:

Lord Bach moved Amendment No. 111: Page 21. line 28, after ("orders)") insert ("whenever made").

The noble Lord said: This amendment has already been spoken to. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 39, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 40 [Combination orders renamed community punishment and rehabilitation orders]:

Lord Bach moved Amendment No. 112: Page 22, line 9, after ("orders)") insert ("whenever made").

The noble Lord said: This amendment has already been spoken to. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

[Amendment No. 113 not moved.]

Clause 40, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 41 [Exclusion orders]:

Lord Dholakia moved Amendment No. 114: Page 22, line 42, at end insert— ("( ) shall only he made if the offence is one which is specified in schedules by order of the Secretary of State and

The noble Lord said: This amendment concerns exclusion orders. Unfortunately the Bill does not explicitly state that the exclusion order will be used in limited circumstances. We fear therefore that because the offences are not prescribed there will be net-widening and that it will be used in a range of non-predatory situations.

We also believe that the scheme must be carefully monitored to ensure that it delivers the stated objectives. If the scheme is introduced it should also be used in conjunction with supervision and treatment if necessary. It would be helpful, therefore, to include a schedule to the Bill which can then include offences relating to racial hatred, sexual harassment, domestic violence and offences against children. In effect, that will determine the limitation of that clause without necessarily giving much wider powers to the Government. I beg to move.

Baroness Blatch

Amendments Nos. 115, 118, 121 and 124 in this group stand in my name. As drafted, in Clauses 41, 42, 45 and 46 the Bill allows for the Secretary of State to use secondary legislation to extend the parameters of sentences. The Delegated Powers and Deregulation Committee recommended strongly that these powers should be removed. The second report of the committee states in its final recommendation: The Committee has drawn attention to the powers in clauses 41, 42, 45 and 46, each of which allows for the amendment of the bill to increase the severity of a sentencing power. The Committee recommends that these powers should be omitted. If those powers are to remain, which would be contrary to our recommendation, the Committee suggests that they should be subject to affirmative procedure". Following my reference to the issue at Second Reading, I received the following day a letter from the chairman who wrote on behalf of the committee. He said: The Committee thought that I should point out, however, that our recommendation was not that the powers in Clauses 41, 42, 45 and 46 should be subject to affirmative procedure, but that they should be omitted. It was only if the House disagreed with the view that we considered that they should then he made subject to affirmative procedure". Therefore the letter from the chairman on behalf of the committee makes it clear that its firm recommendation to the House is that the powers should be omitted and that only if the House takes the view that they should not be omitted, then the affirmative resolution should be referred to. I believe that the Minister is going to settle for the affirmative resolution. I believe that he should allow the House to take a view on whether that is acceptable.

Under this Government and the former government, the House enjoys an unbroken record of accepting the advice of the Delegated Powers and Deregulation Committee since its inception. I recommend strongly that this Bill should not be made the exception. The committee has served the House well. Its work is highly regarded and I suggest that this is no time to reject its advice. I beg to move.

Lord Bassam of Brighton

I deal first with the government amendments and then the amendments grouped with them. The government amendments, Amendments Nos. 116, 117, 119, 122 and 125, are minor amendments. They close a small loophole in the Bill.

The Secretary of State already has powers, or will have powers under the Bill, which enable him to alter by order the maximum period of curfews, exclusions and drug abstinence orders. The amendments simply ensure that where the maximum period for such orders has been altered by the Secretary of State and a court is considering amending the terms of an individual order, this can be done with reference to any new maximum periods. For example, if a court is minded to extend the length of an exclusion order, on application by the offender's probation officer, the Bill as it stands precludes the total exclusion period from lasting longer than one year. But if the Secretary of State had exercised his power to increase the maximum length of exclusion orders generally to, say, two years, it would seem reasonable in the circumstances for the court amending a particular order to be able also to extend its duration—

Baroness Blatch

I am grateful to the Minister for giving way. If the noble Lord wishes to give the courts power to extend sentences, why not use primary legislation to extend the parameters within which the courts can operate? That is the proper way, and it is the way in which the Delegated Powers and Deregulation Committee recommends that it is done: by using primary and not secondary legislation—and not, as described by the noble Lord, secondary legislation on the hoof.

Lord Bassam of Brighton

We have the greatest respect for the advice we receive from the Delegated Powers and Deregulation Committee and listen carefully to it. The noble Baroness knows perhaps better than I do—she has been attending this Chamber far longer than me—just how difficult it is to obtain legislative slots. We seek to persuade the Committee that some flexibility is essential here. I do not think that that is unreasonable in the circumstances.

Perhaps I may return to the point on the argument. It seems reasonable for the court amending a particular order to be able to extend its duration to two years. This would be achieved by the amendment.

The amendment also enables the Secretary of State to amend the periods which apply to the warning provisions when he has used his power to alter the maximum length of an exclusion order and a drug abstinence order. Again, this is simply to provide consistency in the Bill.

These amendments, therefore, do nothing more than provide a consistent approach to the length of curfews, exclusions and drug abstinence orders, should the Secretary of State make new maximum periods available.

I turn to the amendments tabled in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch. Amendments Nos. 115, 118, 121 and 124 would remove from the Bill the power of the Secretary of State to make an order substituting a new period of time for exclusion orders, and curfew and exclusion conditions and drug abstinence orders. Primary legislation, as the noble Baroness acknowledged, would therefore be required in order to make such changes to the maximum available length of these orders and requirements.

The delegated powers which are the subject of these amendments have already arisen as part of our evidence to the Delegated Powers and Deregulation Committee of this House. We have considered carefully all the pros and cons relating to the nature of these powers and their exercise, and have paid particular attention to the committee's recommendations. Our thinking has led us to the conclusion that it is appropriate in these circumstances to provide such powers for the Secretary of State, although I shall of course explain why and of what kind.

These amendments concern the power to make changes to the periods of exclusion orders, as I have described. It seems evident that the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, disagrees with the interpretation we have placed on these matters. The Delegated Powers and Deregulation Committee has recommended deleting these powers from the Bill; or, as I understood it, if the House accepts the need for the powers, making the procedure draft affirmative. We believe that this would be much better. That process would provide adequate parliamentary scrutiny and flexibility. We think that that is a strong and powerful argument.

However, I believe that these powers should be delegated for the reasons of flexibility and the existence of precedent. I deal with those points in turn. These orders are experimental in nature and are due to be piloted before implementation. The department cannot be absolutely sure about the most effective period at the time of legislating—that is, now. The proposed periods in the Bill are based on the best available evidence to date. If the pilots which are currently due to commence next year give an early indication that different periods would be more effective, it would be preferable to test those periods as well before national roll-out.

The maximum length of the exclusion order has been set at a year, partly on the basis that exclusion is less intrusive than the curfew order, the maximum period of which has been set at six months. However, that may be too short to act as an effective deterrent to a stalker or a perpetrator of domestic violence.

No doubt all members of your Lordships' House support the intention behind the orders, but, if there is no delegated power to amend the periods, their full potential may not be effectively tested. A suitable vehicle for primary legislation may not be available at the time. That is an important consideration.

There are precedents for increasing the maximum period of a community order by secondary legislation. They were identified in the oral evidence given to the Committee. In addition, the minimum and maximum periods for drug treatment and testing orders can be changed by secondary legislation under Section 58 of the Powers of Criminal Courts (Sentencing) Act 2000. My proposals are not unprecedented. That is a relevant consideration in the decision to use secondary legislation. That I why I believe that it is appropriate to retain the powers.

That does not mean that I do not recognise and appreciate the point made by the noble Baroness and by the Delegated Powers and Deregulation Committee. I accept that all the relevant order-making powers should be subject to the affirmative resolution procedure. I am proposing amendments to that effect at this stage. For the sake of consistency, I am also proposing amendments to the Powers of Criminal Courts (Sentencing) Act 2000 so that changes to the period of the curfew order are made subject to the affirmative resolution procedure, rather than to the negative resolution procedure, as at present.

I hope that I have demonstrated the need for the delegated powers and the serious consideration that we have given to the various points that have been raised, not least by our action on the important issues. While I respect the arguments and concerns that underlie the amendments, I do not think that it would be appropriate to accept them.

The amendments tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, would restrict the availability of exclusion orders and the exclusion requirements of community rehabilitation orders to offences specified in an order made by the Secretary of State. That could curtail the availability of exclusion orders and requirements, thereby depriving the courts of the ability to use the powers in deserving cases. The nature of the sentence does not demand such checks.

We are introducing new powers of exclusion so that courts have available to them an additional means of protecting those who could be at risk from an offender in the community. We recognise the public concern about such issues. In future, a court sentencing an offender for any offence that warrants a community penalty that is not fixed by law will be able to consider exclusion as an option. If it is important that the offender be excluded from certain places, the court may prohibit him from entering.

The court will also be able to order that the exclusion requirement is electronically monitored. Any breach of the requirement would register at the electronic monitoring control centre and appropriate action could then he taken. Electronic monitoring will provide better enforcement and better protection for the public. We regard it as a valuable new power for the courts. Of course, it will be for the courts to use such powers as they deem appropriate. We see no advantage in restricting their use to particular offences or offenders. We do not believe that it would be in anyone's interests to restrict the courts' powers in the way proposed.

Noble Lords may be concerned that exclusion orders or requirements might be used in inappropriate or unsuitable cases, but there can be no reason for courts to impose exclusion if it is not necessary.

In contrast, curtailing the availability of the power might deprive a court of the ability to protect a particular member of the public who was at risk from an offender, just because his crime had not been listed by an order. Any attempt to restrict a sentence in that way risks making it unintentionally unavailable in highly deserving cases.

Exclusion will not be an arduous imposition on the offender. All that he has to do is comply with the requirement not to visit the prohibited place or places. That should not be too difficult. For those reasons, we are not able to accept these amendments.

7 p.m.

Baroness Blatch

I heard what the Minister said about the Delegated Powers and Deregulation Committee. I am deeply disappointed that he will be the first Minister of either party to break with the convention of accepting the committee's advice, which in this case was unequivocal. It said that even the affirmative resolution procedure would be contrary to its advice.

The Minister referred to precedent. On page 3, the report says: The Home Office identified two precedents (sections 45 and 50 of the Powers of Criminal Courts (Sentencing) Act 2000)"— one of this Government's Acts— but they readily admitted that these were not an exact parallel". Even the Home Office admits that the cases may well be precedents, but they are not parallels with the powers that are now being taken. The report goes on: we consider that, in principle, the length of a sentence should not be extended by secondary legislation, and that this order-making power should be deleted from the bill". The Minister said that it was difficult to get parliamentary time for new legislation. Having been in the department, I agree, although the Home Office does not have a bad record this year. This is the sixth Bill currently going through Parliament and there have been 14 Home Office Bills accepted since the Queen's Speech. We have parliamentary time now, because the Bill is before the House. If the Minister says that the Government may need to extend to two years, why not take a power to do that? The courts do not have to use it. It will be there to provide flexibility. If the department does not have time to draft such amendments, perhaps I shall do so on Report. As the committee suggests, the Home Office can give the courts flexibility under primary legislation.

Let us be clear about what is happening. The maximum sentences that courts can dispense are to be extended. The Minister has described very urgent circumstances in which a court says that it would like a bigger sentence at its disposal and the Home Secretary passes an order through Parliament. The parameters for sentencing are an important matter that should be dealt with in primary legislation. The House should take a view on whether to accept the unequivocal recommendation of the Delegated Powers and Deregulation Committee.

Lord Bassam of Brighton

As I have explained, there are precedents. The Criminal Justice Act 1991—which was Conservative legislation—gave the Secretary of State the power to extended the maximum length of curfew orders by order, using the negative procedure. This territory has been trodden before. I understand the power of the noble Baroness's case, but we are trying to strike a balance to secure flexibility should it seem sensible, after the pilots have finished, to have longer sentences.

That is an eminently sensible way to proceed. We have met the Delegated Powers and Deregulation Committee half way by picking up on the point about the need to make such orders subject to the affirmative procedure. In some respects, it could even be argued that we are going further by applying affirmative procedures in the curfew order provided under Section 12 of the Criminal Justice Act 1991.

So we understand the argument. We can see part of its import. We take a judgment that we require the flexibility. There are precedents already in place in legislation not put through Parliament by our own party but by Members from the party opposite.

Therefore, although, obviously, we must have great respect for the committee and its work, on this occasion we are trying to strike an important balance. For that reason, I think that we are right to proceed in the way in which we are.

Earl Russell

The Minister said that he had met the committee half way. I cannot help feeling that that savours of what paediatricians describe as a "space perception defect".

We have here a major constitutional principle. There are not very many things in this House which we assume regulations cannot do. Since I arrived here, I have been told by a great many people that extending the length of criminal sentences was one of those things.

I accept the point that the Minister makes about 1991. Almost always, where a question comes up about the limits on executive power, we find that at least once the executive has done it before and got away with it because perhaps we were busy looking at something else. So the fact that there is one precedent in what I remember was an extremely large Bill is not necessarily persuasive.

In conceding a small point of practice, even if one of some substance, while trying to hang on to the whole of the constitutional principle, the Minister is meeting the committee a long way short of half way.

I listened with growing surprise as his answer developed. The points about parliamentary time no doubt have substance. But he seemed to me to be saying that the existence of Parliament is inconvenient to Ministers. No doubt it is. It is meant to be. He is not the first Minister who has said that by a very long way. Parliament has had a rather perverse habit of finding that argument somewhat less than persuasive.

I do not say that there is an iron force in the convention about regulations. I of all people am in no position to say that. But when we voted on a regulation on the Greater London freepost, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Simon of Glaisdale, and many others had laid the ground for that change over a period of upwards of 10 years. The issue had been very carefully considered over a very long time and debated a great many times in this Chamber before anyone moved to leaping over the chasm.

I have heard no equivalent debate on whether we should relax the principle that regulation does not extend to length of criminal sentences. If that is indeed going to happen, it would call for very careful consideration by the whole of this House and another place over as long a period as we spent on the question of whether regulations could be voted upon.

Bringing it through just because it might be for the executive's convenience is very far from sufficient. This is a matter of the standing of this House and of the standing of Parliament as a whole. That issue needs a great deal more consideration than we have yet given it.

Baroness Blatch

I am grateful to the noble Earl for that intervention. I shall go back to the Hansard of 1991 to see exactly what happened at that time. However, if it was wrong, two wrongs do not make a right. We did not have the benefit of the Delegated Powers and Deregulation Committee. That has been a remarkable addition to the work of this House. It has been extremely helpful to those of us who deal with Bills as they go through the House.

The committee has given this matter very careful consideration. As I said earlier, it has been absolutely unequivocal in its advice and I believe that it should be heeded.

Lord Dholakia

I listened to the Minister carefully and I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 115 not moved.]

Lord Bassam of Brighton moved Amendment No. 116: Page 24, line 38, at end insert— ("(3) An order under subsection (2)(a) above may make in paragraphs 2A(4) and (5) and 19(4) of Schedule 3 to this Act any amendment which the Secretary of State thinks necessary in consequence of any substitution made by the order."").

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 41, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 42 [Drug abstinence orders]:

Lord Bassam of Brighton moved Amendment No. 117: Page 26, line 2, after ("(2)") insert (", (3A)").

On Question, amendment agreed to.

[Amendment No. 118 not moved.]

Lord Bassam of Brighton moved Amendment No. 119: Page 26, line 15, at end insert— ("(5) An order under subsection (4) above may make in paragraphs 2A(4) and (5) and 19(6) of Schedule 3 to this Act any amendment which the Secretary of State thinks necessary in consequence of any substitution made by the order."").

On Question, amendment agreed to.

7.15 p.m.

On Question, Whether Clause 42, as amended, shall stand part of the Bill?

Lord Dholakia

This clause relates to drug abstinence orders. As far as we can see, this new order serves no purpose at all. The clause introduces a new drug abstinence order requiring an offender to abstain from misusing Class A drugs.

The Government recently introduced drug treatment and testing orders. So far up to half of offenders placed on those orders have completed the treatment without regressing. Given the difficulty of working with addictive drug users, that must be seen as a very positive outcome. Treatment can also be made as a condition of an existing probation order. The difficulty with that provision is that often there are delays of two to three months before treatment can be made available. There is no presumption of treatment with drug abstinence orders. Class A users will not stop using the drugs because a court tells them to.

It is envisaged that there will be three pilot studies and that about 3,500 orders will be made every year. If that measure is rolled out nationally, we are talking of between 40,000 and 50,000 abstinence orders which are likely to be made each year. In our view, the offenders are being set up to fail. They will not face automatic custody but will be dealt with for those breaches in the normal way.

A recent study conducted by the Inner London Probation Service into the outcomes of breach proceedings during 1998–99 showed that 21 per cent received a custodial sentence. If that outcome were repeated with this group, the prison population would increase, it is estimated, by up to 10,000 per year.

There are other amendments in this grouping in the name of my noble friend Lord Thomas of Gresford and myself. Perhaps I may speak to them at this stage.

The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Lord Cocks of Hartcliffe)

Perhaps we should deal with the Question whether Clause 42 shall stand part of the Bill.

Clause 42, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 43 [Pre-sentence drug testing]:

Lord Dholakia moved Amendment No. 120: Page 26, line 23, at end insert— ("( ) A court shall not order a drug test unless it has been notified by the Secretary of State that arrangements for treatment are available in the relevant area.").

The noble Lord said: Amendment No. 120 is concerned with pre-sentence drug testing. Clause 43 enables a court, when considering passing a community sentence, to order a drug test. In most cases it will be known to the court, through reports and other notes, whether or not an offender is misusing Class A drugs. To order a further test would therefore he a questionable use of resources.

The key issue is treatment. Currently, there is often a delay of as long as two to three months before treatment becomes available to those who wish to engage in recovery. It is essential that the Government put aside funds to enable agencies to provide relevant treatment properly and promptly as a response to the order of the court for a test. I beg to move.

Baroness Masham of Ilton

I am rather worried about this in case it delays the procedure in court. There are so many drug users now, many of whom are Class A drug users. I believe it is important that drug users are tested so that they become aware; otherwise they will simply go further down the slippery slope. It is possible that they will be sent to a place such as Phoenix House, which deals with drug rehabilitation, instead of being sent to prison. I feel that this amendment might hold up the procedures.

In addition, some prisons now have drug rehabilitation units and it is possible that users will be sent there instead of to other places which would not rehabilitate them. I have worked with young offenders. Over the years I have been appalled at how young the users are and how large the drug population has become. It is very big and I believe that it is necessary to find out whether young people are taking drugs.

Lord Bassam of Brighton

This group includes two government amendments. I shall speak to those and pick up the points arising from Amendments Nos. 120 and 131 which are, to all intents and purposes, the same in effect.

I turn to the government amendment first. Amendment No. 130 clarifies why the disclosure of drug test results from testing carried out in police detention should be undertaken. The main purposes of disclosure will be several-fold: to inform any decision taken about granting bail in criminal proceedings; to inform any decision regarding supervision where the person is in police detention, remanded, committed to custody or released from custody into the community or has been granted such bail; to inform any decision about appropriate sentence or supervision where a person has been convicted of an offence; or for the purpose of ensuring that appropriate advice and treatment are made available.

Clarification for the purposes of disclosure will ensure that the sensitive nature of that information is respected and that the individual's rights are preserved in line with the Human Rights Act. It will provide for appropriate disclosure to ensure the safety both of the individual and of the public.

Research has shown that there is a clear link between drug misuse and acquisitive crime. The Government are absolutely determined to take all necessary steps to break that link. Drug testing will be a primary tool in the identification and monitoring of drug misusers. In order to maximise the benefits of drug testing, it is essential that appropriate disclosure is provided across the criminal justice system and relevant external agencies to inform sentencing and supervision and to allow for appropriate treatment to be made available to the individual.

We believe that, while an offender is within the criminal justice system, we have a duty of care towards both him and the wider community. We feel that we would be failing in that duty if we withheld relevant information which could impact on the safety of individuals, those responsible for their supervision and the general public.

As the drug testing programme develops, particularly during its pilot phase, the circumstances in which it is appropriate to disclose a drug test result will be assessed very carefully. We have defined disclosure by purpose to ensure that full disclosure provision is available in all appropriate circumstances in the future.

Our Amendment No. 140 establishes the authority of the Secretary of State to regulate the provisions of samples for the drug testing of offenders released on licence. We see drug testing as an integral part of monitoring compliance to licence conditions.

It is our intention to pilot drug testing, including the testing of prisoners released on licence, in three areas from spring 2001. Drug testing technology continues to develop and we shall use the pilot phase to determine which systems are most effective. It seems to us to be appropriate that the authority for issuing rules for regulating the provision of samples is held by the Secretary of State. That will ensure that the rights of the individual are protected and that effective and consistent drug testing systems are in place across the criminal justice system.

The amendment brings the regulation of arrangements for testing on licence into line with the authority required for regulating the provision of samples at other points in the criminal justice system already set out in the Bill.

I turn to opposition Amendments Nos. 120 and 131. As a result of Amendment No. 120, courts would be prevented from ordering a pre-sentence drug test to inform a decision on the most appropriate community sentence unless notified formally that provision for treatment was available within that area. In our view, pre-sentence drug tests will help to identify offenders with a propensity for drug misuse and will assist the courts in deciding on the appropriate community sentence. Here, treatment availability is not the only issue.

It is important that, if necessary, the courts have the power to require an offender to undergo a drug test for specified Class A drugs prior to sentence. However, court decisions to order pre-sentence drug testing should be comparatively rare. Drug testing on charge will already have helped to identify offenders who are misusing drugs, and steps will have been taken to encourage them into treatment at that point.

It is also likely that the pre-sentence report provided by the Probation Service will comment on the part played by drug misuse in an offender's criminal activity. However, on occasion it will be useful to ascertain whether an offender is currently using Class A drugs. A pre-sentence drug test will also provide for occasions when a drug test at charge was felt to be inappropriate. That may be particularly relevant where the offender was deemed to be unfit. A drug test result could help a court to decide whether a drug abstinence order or abstinence requirement is the most suitable disposal.

A pre-sentence drug test should not depend on a declaration to the court that treatment is available. The two are not necessarily linked. Enabling a court to order a drug test is an integral part of the new regime and, we argue, should be retained. In cases where a drug treatmentand testing order is considered appropriate, treatment will be provided through a service level agreement agreed and funded by the Probation Service.

There will be a number of cases where, although an offender tests positive for Class A drugs, treatment is not appropriate. In such cases, the requirement may well be to monitor behaviour by random drug testing as part of a community sentence, and treatment availability will not be an issue.

It is perhaps worth reminding the Committee how much the Government are investing in the treatment of drug misusers. Research has shown that effective intervention can be made at each stage of the criminal justice process. Initiatives include the introduction of arrest referral schemes, with joint funding providing £20 million over three years. Arrest referrals will be available in all custody suites from 2002.

Evaluation of drug testing and treatment orders is now complete and a national roll-out has already begun. The Government will be investing £54 million over two years towards drug treatment costs. The Government are also providing £28 million for development of the CARATS scheme within prisons in order to support the rehabilitation of offenders. It is intended that by March 2002 20,000prisoners per year will be assessed and that 5,000 will undergo drug treatment.

However, drug treatment is not yet complete. Although considerable resources are being put into treatment, there is still a shortage of capacity. Those difficulties are being addressed. Both the Department of Health and the Home Office are co-ordinating a recruitment campaign for drugs workers. By April next year up to 685 drugs workers will have been recruited and trained. We shall, of course, ensure that a major change in our delivery of treatment to drug misusers is established with the creation of the national treatment agency. That agency will be set up in April 2001.

By 2003–04 we shall be investing more than £400 million annually in drug treatment services—an increase of more than 70 per cent over the amount being spent in the current year.

I believe that I have made a powerful case for what we are endeavouring to achieve. For many years I have travelled around the country and met workers in agencies which attempt to help drug abusers. Those workers have said that there is an insufficient supply of services and support for drug abusers. We believe that pre-court testing, testing later through the criminal justice process and, of course, in prison and on release for those who are on licence is most helpful in this regard. We believe that our package is the most comprehensive and coherent to have been put together to help drug abusers and misusers. We see a better future for those people so that we can turn them away from a world of involvement in crime.

Amendment No. 131 would prevent the police from ordering a drug test at charge for the purpose of identifying those offenders who misuse specified Class A drugs unless notified formally that provision for treatment is available within that area. The arguments against Amendment No. 131 are much the same as the arguments against Amendment No. 120.

I hope that the noble Lord will feel able to withdraw his amendment.

Baroness Masham of Ilton

Before the noble Lord decides what to do, I want to congratulate the Government on what they are trying to achieve. It is a difficult task.

Lord Dholakia

I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 43 agreed to.

Lord Bach

I beg to move that the House do now resume. I suggest that the Committee stage begin again not before 8.31 p.m.

Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.

House resumed.