HL Deb 21 November 2002 vol 641 cc516-54

3.31 p.m.

Debate resumed.

Lord Corbett of Castle Vale

My Lords, as a matter of pleasure rather than duty, I join other noble Lords in congratulating the right reverend Prelate on his maiden speech during this debate. He simply. directly and eloquently brought us to the heart of the issues in the Bills that the Government have included in the gracious Speech covering this area. As a mere layman, I feel slightly exposed at being preceded and followed by such a galaxy of noble and learned Lords. I am happy to declare an interest as chairman of the All-Party Group on Penal Affairs.

It is clear that our criminal justice system needs to work much better to respond to the concerns of too many local communities that they have had their safety and security stolen from them. That is why I welcome the measures that the Government want to put in place in these Bills. The day-to-day activities of the yobs, the graffiti sprayers and the anti-social louts are contemptible to neighbours. neighbourhoods and communities. As my noble and learned friend said in opening the debate, in the past few years, many types of crime have fallen on the back of much higher and sustained investment in the number of police officers, in their equipment and in more effective policing. But too many people know that darker nights and school holidays mean extra disturbance around their homes. People whose lives are ruined and wrecked by petty crime and anti-social behaviour will be impatient of lawyers who do not recognise this and who defend current measures and give the impression of resisting change. They will simply not understand it if Parliament, councils, police and the community safety partnerships that they have formed do not respond and demonstrate that we are all on their side.

There is progress, and it is important to acknowledge and learn from it. I have been involved in efforts to regenerate a rundown council estate at Castle Vale in my former Birmingham constituency. I also have the privilege of chairing, at residents' request, the neighbourhood management board, which links service providers and users in preparing for when the successful Housing Action Trust ends its work in about three years' time. One major, important key to sustainable development on Castle Vale is recognition of the need to tackle the causes of crime, trying to prevent it and to engage residents in that process. We have been slow to learn that neither the police nor any other agency can do this alone. There must be a partnership involving residents of those communities. They must feel safe in taking part in that process.

The Housing Action Trust has won massive resident support for making sensible use of anti-social behaviour and eviction orders against a handful of anti-social and criminal residents. If that had been contemplated by Birmingham City Council 10 years ago, there would have been close to a riot among residents and tenants on the estate. Years on, through the work of the Housing Action Trust and the partnerships that it has built, the residents were wholly behind what the trust did. The HAT uses CCTV and neighbourhood wardens to show residents three things: it is on their side, it is now more difficult to commit crime in that community, and it is much more likely that those doing so will be caught and prosecuted. The Housing Action Trust also funds a home-school liaison officer to help young people under threat of exclusion and to try to divert them from crime. In partnership with the Home Office, it funds ;.in arrest referral officer to assess and fast-track into treatment residents arrested on criminal charges who have a drug dependency.

The Government need to better spread this successful practice and to find new and more effective ways of involving the main victims of crime in its prevention and in combating it. The main victims of crime are young people. Perhaps we can learn in partnership with organisations such as the Scouts and the Guides actively to involve young people in such work. It is right that we should acknowledge the fall by 14.6 per cent in juvenile reoffending since the Youth Justice Board started to implement changes in the system two or three years ago. It is also important that we do not overlook the fact that, for every young hooligan. another 99 young people respect their neighbours and community, and, like their families, want to live in peace and security in and around their own homes. As Sir Peter Hall, professor of planning at University College London, said earlier this month in the context of the problems of litter and anti-social behaviour: Maybe…the answer is to get the kids—natural authoritarians, if organised—to police the other kids and to maintain their own zero tolerance regime". That is a useful thought.

We also need to find better ways of reaching out to those mainly young men in urban and rural areas who do not see themselves sharing in the better life and prosperity, and who feel it beyond their reach in any event. This lies at the heart of alienation. disconnection and much anti-social behaviour. The criminal justice system is also failing, to combat crime and to offer offenders more fulfilling lives.

As we hold this debate, there are around 73,000 people in our overcrowded gaols—the highest per-capita population in the European Union. According to Martin Narey, the director general of the Prison Service, in 18 months that figure is likely to reach 80,000. In the past year, the prison population has risen by 5,000—around an extra seven in every 100. The remand population of around 13,000 has increased by 1,300, or 11 per cent, in the past year alone. As Professor Rod Morgan, the Chief Inspector of Probation, reminds us, the proportion of offenders sent to prison has almost doubled, from 17 in 100 to 30 in 100, in the decade from 1990. Your Lordships will have noticed that it was not in that decade that crime fell year on year. It is falling now, and we all hope that that continues. Around three out of every four young offenders whom we send to prison are back behind bars within two years. That is not very successful.

We need to make two changes. If half :hose prisoners sentenced to six months or Less—that is 8,000 prisoners, or about 11 in every 100—were given community sentences, where appropriate, the prison population would fall by about 4,000. I hope your Lordships will join me in saying that politicians and the press have a responsibility to challenge those who argue that community sentences are somehow a soft option. They are not. They are sentences and, when they are well targeted and well resourced, they offer a much better prospect of stopping people reoffending. In those circumstances, they are much better at that than simply locking people away. We share a duty with the press and the media to make that clear to: hose among the public who have doubts.

An astonishing 75 in every 100 prisoners are sentenced to just 12 months or less. Even more astonishingly, 14,000 prisoners get one month or less and 40,000 get three months or less. How is the Prison Service supposed to fulfil its duties in helping these young offenders to lead better lives if they are with the service for such a short time? That collides and conflicts with the education and drug treatment roles that the Prison Service is now about.

It would be useful if my noble and learned friend could also explain what action the Government propose to take to transfer to the health service those 5,000 prisoners who are profoundly mentally ill. They do not belong in prison and need expert care and treatment that the Prison Service is not equipped to provide.

As I have told your Lordships' House, I am all for the much wider use of community sentences for those convicted of non-violent offences. However, Ministers must listen and respond to the concerns of Professor Rod Morgan, who heads the probation inspectorate. In an interview in the Guardian on 13th November, he said that, the probation service is facing the same overloading crisis as the prisons". If, as I believe, the Government's ambition is rightly that more sentences should be served in the community, they must do even better than they have done so far with the probation service. That is in spite of the fact that an extra 2,000 probation officers have been recruited since the national probation service was put together two or three years ago and its funding in the period up to 2005 is going to increase by 80 per cent. If we are going to lay extra duties on the probation service to make a better success of the use of community sentences— which is what I want, and I suspect that a number of your Lordships agree—the resources must be provided to the probation service to enable that to happen. That would be money well invested, because cutting the large number of repeat offences is good for society and produces an economic benefit, as well as the benefit for the individuals concerned.

Professor Morgan and Martin Narey, the Director-General of the Prison Service, believe that the collapse in the use of fines by the courts has partly fuelled the rise in the prison population. There is a strong case for going back to the system of tying fines to the ability to pay, but using that fine system as an alternative to sending people to prison for short sentences. Those short sentences need to be replaced by well designed, staffed and funded community penalties. There is a rare collection of views on that now. It is the view of the Home Secretary, of my noble and learned friend on the Front Bench, of my noble and learned friend the Attorney-General and of the Lord Chief Justice. All the big players have said that. The Government now have a responsibility to ensure that it happens.

I hope that my noble and learned friend will assure me that these views have been heard and will be acted on. The Government's response to proper concerns about anti-social behaviour will be helped by a stronger emphasis on community sentences and extra funds for the probation service to make them more effective. That will give the Prison Service a better opportunity to carry out what I believe is its main role, which is not punishment, but the prevention of further crime. In that sense, the emphasis must properly be on rehabilitation.

As the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, said earlier, there are lots of people whose lives are blighted, maybe not by offences that are criminal in the normal sense, but by everyday nuisance and disturbance in going about their business. We must collectively find answers to that. I hope that the Government will achieve that in their measures.

3.45 p.m.

Lord Mayhew of Twysden

My Lords, like the noble Lord, Lord Corbett, I, too, know that it is no longer the convention for speakers to say something nice about a preceding maiden speech. However, I want to say that it was a privilege to hear the speech of the right reverend Prelate. For far too long, too many backs have been turned on what goes on in the prisons—on those who are inside them and on the often self-defeating regimes that are pursued there. The right reverend Prelate will do much to correct that.

I hope I shall be forgiven for not following the extremely important speech just made by the noble Lord, Lord Corbett. I intend to limit my remarks to criminal trials for serious offences. Governments have always faced a critical dilemma. On the one hand, they have to be seen to address the public's anxiety and anger about crime. They have to show that they are on the case. Procedural reform is temptingly available to them for that purpose. On the other hand, they realise that they are the custodians of a precious framework of individual liberties, containing safeguards that, once curtailed, are seldom, if ever, restored. They certainly are part of our national heritage and I believe strongly that preserving them has far more than a mere historic or antiquarian importance. Establishing a fair and practicable balancing of those objectives has always been part of the art of governing this country. The Government are in danger of getting it wrong.

In the few minutes available, I shall focus on trial by jury. As we all know, the right to trial by jury has been adjusted more than once in modern times. Yet trial by jury for serious offences remains a fundamental feature of the balance that we strike, as it has for centuries. We have always placed it in the scales on the side of freedom. The question is whether it still carries weight there. I believe it does. I can think of one fairly recent case in which a jury's apparently eccentric acquittal led promptly and directly to the drastic revision of the absurdly catch-all law on official secrets. That is one example. The point is that juries are able to do what seems to them to be right. If they think that a prosecution or the law on which it is based is wrong or unfair, they are impregnable against the displeasure of the executive when they acquit accordingly. They do not have to give reasons, as, for example, is the case with a Diplock court in Northern Ireland.

I should like to cite a line or two from the response to the White Paper, Justice for All, prepared by the Bar Council and the Criminal Bar Association. I do so because they make the point so well: Juries keep the law honest…because they oblige lawyers and judges to deal with what is right and wrong by the standards of the general public, as well as what is the letter of the law". These days, I detect a tendency in the Home Secretary to say impatiently of the Bar Council, and of others in relevant practice, "Oh, them!", thereby implying special pleading on their part.

I suppose I should declare an interest here in that I am a retired barrister, with a son practising at the Bar. But in the Bar's response to the White Paper, I do not detect anything of the nature of special pleading. All I would urge upon your Lordships is that the language that I have cited is surely perceptive and reflective language. As such, surely it is worthy of being heeded with respect. To draw upon special knowledge is not necessarily to indulge in special pleading.

We should never forget how devastatingly invasive can be the exercise of the state's jurisdiction to prosecute people. In its powers it is quite unmatched by anything that is made available to the subject, the individual, who is at the receiving end. In these days when it is. rightly, fashionable to seek public "ownership"—the modern phrase—of public processes, I cannot believe that it has somehow now become right that, in even a single category of serious crime, the ownership of the outcome of a trial should be removed from the public, represented as they have been for centuries by a randomly selected jury. That cannot be right. It is important for us to know from the Government the justification for doing so, at any rate in serious fraud cases; and, indeed, in the other categories of case to which it may be applied in the future.

Yet, again, one understands the Government to say that there is a case for this action. At least in the case of serious fraud they agree with the Roskill Commission, of some 15 years ago, which thought that such cases were too difficult for juries and recommended special tribunals. I confess to having a previous record in this respect—some form—that I suppose Ministers would feel should be disclosed to them. When the government of whom I was a member rejected that Roskill recommendation, I, for one, was not disappointed. I later established the Serious Fraud Office, answerable through its director to the Attorney-General.

When he concludes the debate, will the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor confirm that over the past three years the conviction rate of individuals prosecuted by the Serious Fraud Office has been, as I understand, no less than 86 per cent? If that is correct, does it not, as the Bar Council's response rather modestly puts it, provide a proper basis for having substantial confidence in the present system"? I hope that there is no evidence at all—indeed, I would not expect there to be— that in formulating its prosecutions the Serious Fraud Office has failed to bring out the full criminality of a case out of a desire to temper the wind to an unskilled jury, as the Government suggest in the White Paper. But if such evidence exists and is causing concern, is it not remarkable that Lord Justice Auld did not refer to it and rely upon it? Perhaps the noble and learned Lord could also deal with that issue.

What jury trial for serious fraud certainly does is to oblige the prosecution to explain its case in a way that the layman can understand. And why not? Fraud is dishonesty. No one should be convicted of it without his peers being enabled to understand from the way in which the prosecution has put the case the basis upon which dishonesty is alleged. That is not asking too much. If the prosecution team cannot manage it, there is either something wrong with their case or with them. I thought that we were all agreed that we need to take the mystery out of the language and the processes of the law. I suggest that we do not want criminal trials conducted and resolved between experts in arcane jargon that no one outside their craft can understand. Keeping jury trials for serious fraud cases will safeguard us against that.

Both the DPP and the director of the SFO must, by statute, be superintended by the Attorney-General, who is answerable to Parliament. That, in itself, is part of the public ownership about which I have spoken. The Attorney-General is the guardian of the public interest. I warmly agree with the remarks made by my noble and learned friend Lord Rawlinson of Ewell earlier today about the practice that this implies in real life for the Attorney-General and the two directors. I should emphasise strongly that the Attorney-General does not have to be asked for his advice by a director before it can be right for him to give it. Some of the answers given by the noble and learned Lord the Attorney-General when recently questioned about the Burrell case could have given rise to that impression, which would be wrong.

Of course we have to take into account our experience of the Diplock courts in Northern Ireland. I have never had anything but admiration for them. But they were introduced solely by reason of the intimidation of juries, as was the special court in the Republic. I cannot speak for them, but I greatly doubt whether any of the Northern Ireland judges, who have to act as both judge and jury, would not prefer, if circumstances permitted. that the system reverted to what it was. I should also be surprised if they are not irked by the assertion able to made by some defendants that they are obliged to suffer their cases being the subject of a fundamentally exceptional procedure. Incidentally, the rates of conviction and acquittal in the Diplock courts compare very closely indeed with those in cases where jury trial still obtains.

In my few remaining minutes I should like to say a few words about proposals for disclosing previous convictions. I agree with the comment made by the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, in this respect. What is the theory behind this proposal? What weight is it said may properly be given to disclosed previous convictions? How will this affect prosecution decisions? Guidelines to the Crown Prosecution Service require that a prosecution shall only be brought where there is a realistic prospect of a conviction. Will the service be advised that, notwithstanding that other evidence—if you can call it "evidence"—is insufficient, the ability to disclose a previous conviction is nevertheless capable of tipping the balance, which would mean more prosecutions than is the case at present? It is enough simply to ask that question. For the moment, I hope merely to receive a reply. The time for comment will come later.

In reviewing in this Session what will be but the latest tranche of the Government's recurring Bills on law and order, I am sure that we shall return time and again to the proportionality of their impact upon the liberties of those individuals who make up the very public whom they are intended to protect. For my part, I can think of no subject more worthy of your Lordships' most vigilant attention.

3.59 p.m.

Lord Phillips of Sudbury

My Lords, I wish first to apologise to the House for failing to be present in the Chamber for the opening speeches. I must confess to falling victim to the new sitting hours. I extend my sincere apologies to those concerned.

The Home Office must be the most uncomfortable ministry to occupy for reasons we all know well. Before launching into a series of criticisms of the Queen's Speech, I pay tribute to the Home Secretary, an admirable man and an experienced Minister who has his feet planted firmly on terra firma.

I shall say a few words about prisons and policing, a few words about law-making, a few words about magistrates' courts and even fewer about the criminal justice Bill on which many noble Lords have already spoken with great eloquence, experience and knowledge. I add my voice to the concerns expressed with regard to fraud juries, or the lack of them, previous convictions, double jeopardy rules, and some of the reforms proposed to sexual offences, especially rape.

The bias towards the avoidance of all wrongful conviction, which lies at the very root of our criminal justice system, has uncomfortable consequences that neither we nor the press do much to explain to the public. There is a choice to be made, and we in this country have made our choice as to where the bias should lie. We must, for no reason, move from that foundation.

With regard to prisons, it is a mystery that we have, by so great a margin, the biggest prison population per capita in the whole of Europe, bar Turkey. We let ourselves off the hook as to why that is so. The public perhaps blame politicians more than they should, and we do not always do our best to avert that blame by putting the problem back in front of the public, as we often should. The seedbed of the extraordinary level of criminality in this country, of the bizarre proliferation of anti-social behaviour, for which we are now notorious throughout not just Europe but the world, is composed of many highly complex matters. Sometimes, we should try to return to the causes of that sad state of affairs, although we are much more inclined to plunge into the particularities of legislation designed to cope with it.

A fortnight ago, I spent the morning at Feltham Young Offenders Institution, a place that has received more than its fair share of bad news coverage in recent years by dint of an exceptional number of suicides there. Happily, it is now functioning much more effectively. It has an exceptional governor in Nick Pascoe. I thought that it would interest your Lordships to hear a few of the brute facts about that place.

At present, it holds 680 prisoners, of whom 330 are young offenders aged 18 to 21, and 350 are juveniles aged 15 to 17. For those 680 prisoners, there are 1,050 staff, of whom 380 are prison officers. Even with that complement, they are 50 short. The cost per year of a young offender is £21,000; for a juvenile, nearly double at £41,000. Ten per cent of the inmates have mental problems; 70 per cent are re-offenders; 23 per cent are not British; and 60 to 70 per cent—this is shocking—are illiterate or near illiterate. Ninety-nine per cent were unemployed when they committed the offences for which they were imprisoned. The noble Lord, Lord Corbett, referred to the fact that their average stay is but two months. Perhaps most devastating of all, even in that enlightened institution, where so much good, hard work has been done, they spend 17 to 18 hours a day in their cells.

The Queen's Speech states: Sentencing will be reformed to ensure that the punishment is appropriate for the offender. New types of sentence will be introduced to protect the public from dangerous offenders, help reduce offending and deal with young offenders". The one certain way of not reducing re-offending is currently to put anyone into one of our prisons. They will return to society less fit to play a constructive role than when they entered prison. That is a commonplace—a notorious one—that we continually ignore. It is one that the public will not face—or, perhaps more fairly, are not called upon to face.

I am not sure that the public really understand the facts. If they understood that the direct cost of keeping people in one of our young offenders institutions or prisons was more than that of sending them to Eton or of giving them their own personal full-time tutor and that the cost of their criminality adds several times to the annual cost of their incarceration, the public would not be as retrograde as they sometimes seem.

To expect the police to deal with that parlous state of affairs is unfair and unrealistic. It is notable that the massive reduction in criminality in New York was achieved by a near doubling of the police force. Its police force was originally roughly equivalent per capita to ours in London at present. When we realise that the direct cost of crime to this country in the most recent year for which we have records was £65 billion, for us to continue with the current extraordinarily modest accretions of manpower to the police is bizarrely short-sighted.

The cost of doubling the size of the Metropolitan Police would be well under £1 billion, but we are discussing an annual direct cost to society of £65 billion. If anything like the savings experienced in New York as a result of reduction in criminality and in damage and anxiety to citizens were achieved in London, we would save not £1 billion but £10 billion or more.

Lastly, I shall say a word about law-making. During last year's debate on the Queen's Speech, I suggested that the flow of legislation promised to us was liable to be counter-productive. We had already had about 15 criminal justice Acts since the present administration came to power. I looked up the legislation for 1902. Primary legislation took up 147 pages of small A5 sheets. Interestingly enough, it included the first Licensing Act, a subject with which we shall now grapple again. Secondary legislation took up 976 small sheets. For 2001, which is the most recent year for which the Library could give me records, primary legislation took up 2,063 pages; while secondary legislation took up 10,693 pages; a total of nearly 13,000 pages. That is roughly 25 times more than in 1902.

Things have changed, but we are now legislating with a voluminousness and complexity that has become totally self-defeating. It is self-defeating for us, because so much legislation is not scrutinised at all either here or in the other place; and it is self-defeating in the extra burden that it places on those who are supposed to use it. Let us consider the police. Every new piece of criminal legislation with which they must deal wraps up the police force in an ever-greater subjection to bureaucracy. It confuses and deters the magistracy. Out in the streets of this wonderful country, more and more people have given up—they have ceased trying to understand what we are doing in their name— and they do not pretend even to understand the broad purport of the legislation which pours forth from this place like so much sophisticated effluent.

The Licensing Bill which thumped onto our desks last week totals nearly 200 pages. The first crucial landmark Licensing Act consisted of 12. The Bill includes—I hope that the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor will take note of this—a "Framework" for future guidance which is 11 pages long. Clause 177 will entitle the Home Secretary, in effect, to fill in the substance of the Bill itself. All the crucial criteria for the operation of the Bill are to be provided, not by way of statutory instrument, which we can at least in theory challenge, but by way of guidance, which we cannot. This is a recipe for the final side-stepping of this Chamber and the other place. That should not be accepted.

However inconvenient it may be, we should say to the Government—and, indeed, to ourselves—that too much legislation is counterproductive; that too much law makes for more unlawfulness; that the more complex the law the less (and the less fairly) it will be implemented; that trying to manage a democratic society by legislation will eventually make it unmanageable; that imperfect laws which are accepted are better than sophisticated laws which are not; and that w here we, the legislators, cannot understand our own legislation, the public certainly will not do so either. In dealing with the legislation to come, I hope that we will be able to make some impression upon it.

4.12 p.m.

Baroness Stern

My Lords, I welcome very warmly the maiden speech of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Worcester. I am sure that noble Lords will agree that we need a strong, eloquent bishop of prisons who talks about compassion. We had one, and I am glad to see that we now have another.

I should like to make some broad comments about the direction of the Government's policies in criminal justice generally, particularly in relation to the first and third of the six Bills listed this morning, and I should also like to say something about balance. Much has been said about balance and, as the Bills were enumerated earlier, it struck me that the anti-social behaviour Bill has a title that we could never have accepted here 15 years ago because laws against anti-social behaviour were the prerogative of the totalitarian countries under the thumb of the former Soviet Union. As the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy, said, our historical memory can be very short.

I am reminded of a talk with the chief prosecute r of a former communist country not so long ago. We asked, "How many acquittals do you have?". He said, "That is an odd question, but I shall find out". He sent someone away, who came back and whispered in his ear. He said to us, "Well, out of the last 5,000 cases we had two people who were acquitted. Of course", he said, "if we had more acquittals than that it would suggest that the police were arresting the wrong people. Our police are very good and they never arrest the wrong people".

The Government talk about rebalancing the criminal justice system in favour of the victim. I am not sure whether that includes the two children referred to by the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, today—disturbed children needing compassion— who were sent to prison in our name and who killed themselves there.

I should like to talk about three other rebalancing acts. The first is between the criminal justice system and other ways of responding to social disorder, family breakdown, drug addiction and conflicts in communities. Governments make choices about where their resources are spent. There is a path that can be taken where the criminal justice process grows ever larger, where more and more social problems are swept up into the machinery of police, courts, prisons, and more and more small time nuisance and petty criminal behaviour is dealt with through the criminal system.

Unfortunately, I fear that that is the path the Government are taking— more and more prosecutions. No doubt there will be targets and that to reach the targets the CPS will be prosecuting more and more poor confused souls who break windows or steal cans of beer from upermarkets—prosecutions that will not be in the public interest at all.

The most effective and cost-effective way to deal with low-level anti-social behaviour is through social measures. In the excellent debate initiated by the noble Lord, Lord Elton, on 27th March this year, the House looked at the balance between punishment and prevention; at prosecution versus an appropriate social intervention. Figures were brought before the House which showed that, compared with very similar countries, our per capita spending on health and education is lower and on the machinery of crime control is higher.

If the Government were really serious about effectiveness and about reducing crime and the number of victims of crime, they could well have considered a quite different proposition—that is, that prosecutions should be brought only when they are in the public interest, and that the very large number of pathetic, troublesome, addicted people, whose crimes are petty and whose problems are huge, should be referred to social agencies for action.

I remember well some 20 years ago that most distinguished Law Lord, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Scarman, speaking of his conclusions after he investigated the Brixton riots of 1981. He said: There can be no criminal justice without social justice". The second rebalancing I wish to refer to is the balance between prison and non-prison sentences, an issue on which the noble Lord, Lord Corbett, made some very cogent points. The statement in the White Paper, Justice for All, that, prison must be reserved for serious, dangerous and seriously persistent offenders", is very welcome. However, that admirable statement cannot be implemented merely by saying it. It requires an enormous amount of action. One major action that it requires is to make the alternatives to prison more visible, more credible and more clearly effective.

In the Criminal Justice and Court Services Bill 2000, we legislated for a national probation service and for a change of name of the community penalties. The noble Lord, Lord Bassam, argued that these measures would make them, truly effective and credible alternatives to custody".—[Official Report, 3/7/00: col. 1287.] No-one can claim that this has been the outcome. The opposite has been the outcome.

Community penalties have fallen in their use as alternatives to prison and increased in their use as alternatives to each other. The noble Lord, Lord Corbett, has already mentioned the article in The Times on Tuesday by the very distinguished and scholarly Chief Inspector of Probation, Professor Rod Morgan. He makes it clear that probation and community service—I have never been able to get my tongue around the new names and I hope that your Lordships will forgive me for not using them—are now being used not for those on the borderline of prison but for those who would in the past have been fined. This is a very expensive business and a totally non-cost-effective use of resources.

Community penalties are delivered by the Probation Service. I used to be very much in favour of a national probation service. I envisaged that a national service would get rid of local variations and weaknesses in the provision of community sentences, and would enable talented probation staff more scope. I imagined that there would be a strong high-profile chief probation officer who would be on television and in the newspapers frequently, pointing out the successes of community service orders and probation work, reporting how satisfied local people were with the work done and reporting how happy victims were to see a useful outcome as the result of an offence. I imagined that there would be a central, strong research office looking at results and publicising outcomes.

I now believe that I was quite wrong. The National Probation Service does none of those things. The result of abolishing the local probation structures and pulling all the probation services into the Civil Service has been that the good local services that did those things have been swallowed up by Home Office bureaucracy and have all become invisible. No one is promoting community sentences and trumpeting their successes. I therefore urge the Home Secretary to have another look at the National Probation Service and think about the possibility of a reconfiguration. The work of supervising released and life-licence prisoners, managing risky people when they leave prison—I am sure it is being done very well at the national level—should continue to be done by the National Probation Service. It is my view that the provision of credible community punishments will be successful only if there is a strong local base. That aspect of the work should be returned to local areas.

That leads me to my third rebalancing suggestion, which is about the relationship between the national and the local in criminal justice and the relationship between meeting national targets and dealing with crime successfully in the places where people live and where they experience it. The Minister for prisons and probation recently made a speech warmly welcoming the achievements of the Probation Service in reducing re-offending by 3.1 per cent. No one would wish to question such an achievement, even while wondering what those figures actually mean. But for the people living in areas where crime blights their lives, the meeting of such a national target is completely meaningless. Crime is experienced locally. There are targets that might mean something to the people who experience that crime.

It is clear that, rightly, the Government want to have an impact on those areas where crime is worst and where people cannot afford the protective devices, nor the insurance policies that we have to protect ourselves from crime. Targets, for example, might be the number of residents in such an area who say, "I feel much safer than I used to"; the number of elderly people who decide that it is possible to go out at night to the local community centre; and the number of young people who have committed crimes, have apologised to their victims and made the victims feel that they have been listened to and understood. A place where many people who appear in court, are convicted and go to prison is not necessarily a safer or a happier place.

The deeper penetration of the criminal justice process into more anti-social acts can have the opposite effect. Local people begin to feel that they are not responsible for what happens around them. When anything has to be controlled the police should do it; when disapproval has to be shown towards certain behaviour the courts will do it; when anyone has to be corrected and made to reconsider their behaviour, the probation officers will do it. The more low-level antisocial and petty criminal behaviour that we hand over to the criminal justice system and the more young people who are dealt with by the official agencies, the more we weaken the capacity of local communities to take responsibility and exercise social control. I urge the Government to reflect on whether the approach that they are taking will lead to a safer society. I fear that it will lead to a more controlled and a more fearful society.

4.24 p.m.

The Earl of Onslow

My Lords, the speech of the noble Baroness, Lady Stern, was certainly an argument for the life peerage of the Cross Benches. "Lovely" is all I can say! I also want to say "lovely" to the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Worcester. He rightly drew attention to the vital role of rehabilitation in prisons. If we do not rehabilitate prisoners, they will return to prison. It is as simple as that. My historical sense draws me to remind him of a contrast. The only time that the whole of the Episcopal Bench voted as one was on a case in the 1830s when it was proposed to remove the sentence of capital punishment from those who wrote their names on London Bridge. All the Bishops voted against its repeal. What a pleasant contrast that was.

I sincerely hope that the noble and learned Lords, Lord Falconer, Lord Irvine of Lairg and Lord Goldsmith, start their pupilage again, sitting in awe in the chambers of the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy of The Shaws. She gave them all a lecture. All governments, not only this one—sometimes even that of the noble and blessed Baroness, Lady Thatcher, as the noble Lord, Lord St John of Fawsley, used to call her—need lectures on the difference between the rights of individuals and the liberty of the subject. The liberty of the subject cannot be stopped except by order. Rights have boundaries.

By nature, this Government is a bossy and an illiberal government, and worse so than most. One only has to look at what they are trying to do to the licensing laws. Instead of saying, "Let pubs open", they produce reams of regulations about how people should do this, that and the other and how the local authorities are to organise matters. One only has to consider their attitude to hunting. It has nothing to do with cruelty; it is about bossing people about and salving the conscience of Gerald Kaufman, an act in which no government should ever indulge.

The Anti-terrorism. Crime and Security Bill was riddled with illiberalities. The football hooliganism Bill was riddled with illiberalities. Now they say—this may not be accurate—that they want to carry-over Bills from one Session of Parliament to another. That is another way of making life easier for our lords and masters so that they can boss us about. In these Houses we should stop our lords and masters, however clever they are. No one is cleverer than the noble and learned Lord, Lord Irvine of Lairg. I say that with complete truth and no irony whatever. They must be stopped and held to account.

It is crazy to believe that we need any more criminal justice Bills. Since I have been in your Lordships' House we have had umpteen millions of them, one after another. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer, says that crime is falling. As my noble friend Lady Anelay said, if crime is falling what is wrong with the system. "No, crime is falling so we have to abolish double jeopardy; we have to allow hearsay evidence; and we have to allow records of previous convictions to be allowed in evidence".

It seems to me that the fault is not so much in the law as it stands, but in the way in which it is enforced. There have been horrendous cases of miscarriages of justice. People have been let out after 25 years in prison because the police have hidden evidence. We had the case of that pathetic man whose name I cannot remember, but whose features I can, who was accused of killing someone. He was let out only after serving 15 years but died six months later. The other day we had a case in which a man had said that he did not do it—and he had not done it—and so wrongly stayed in prison for another 10 years. There have been miscarriages of justice.

So the Government now suggest that we should make it easier to make mistakes and convict such people. But what is hearsay evidence other than gossip? Let us assume for the sake of argument that someone came up with DNA evidence showing that the Birmingham Six or the Guildford Four were guilty. Would the Crown dare to prosecute them again? Of course it would not, and rightly so, because those might be regarded as political crimes.

A very learned friend of mine—whom I would not dream of identifying as he said this in the social context of a conversation—said that although the police had a perfect defence against the charge of institutional racism in the Lawrence case, it was the one defence that they could not run. It was, "We are always as inefficient as this in our murder inquiries". Cases such as that of Damilola Taylor make one believe that there may be some truth in that. The CPS has not done us all that well. I cite Taylor again and I cite Burrell, both very high-profile cases.

We should not in any circumstances make it easier for people to cover up their mistakes. However, that is what the abolition of the protection against double jeopardy and of the right to trial by jury would do. We should not abolish the right to trial. by jury in any circumstances, either at the top, in fraud cases—because the Government are so patronising and believe that the plebs are too incompetent to understand fraud trials—or at the bottom. The Government are actually saying that the legal profession cannot get its act together and make the case sufficiently good to stick. As the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy, said, the abolition of these liberties is a sure and gentle way to tyranny.

The other day, between half past twelve and one o'clock, I heard a rather interesting interview on the wireless with a man who had been a community policeman in Windsor. He said that in the rather grotty areas of his beat there had been a lot of the unpleasant, nasty and mucking-about sort of crime such as the banging of doors, graffiti, the harassment of old people and general shouting and mayhem. He used to go round his area on a bicycle and crime levels had decreased. When he retired, however, the police were not getting convictions and crime levels rose. His job had been to prevent crime.

The Government rightly complain about anti-social behaviour. I did not know that fly-tipping was not illegal. I had not realised that spraying something nasty about someone on a white wall with a spray can from Halfords was not illegal. I had thought that such behaviour was illegal.

We have to stop people doing those things. However, we shall do so by ensuring that they are caught. We do not need to change the law. It is already not legal to spray the word which Kenneth Tynan used on television in relation to the Lord Chancellor on a white wall; that is illegal. However, we have to catch the chap doing it. If he is caught, he may not do it again. Extra legalities will not stop him. Fly-tipping is already illegal, as I know to my own cost. There are beds, lavatories and other bits and pieces of detritus at the edges of my woods at the end of the A246 and the A247, but I cannot catch those who put it there. I wish I could catch them. I wish that Plod could catch them, but he cannot. The problem may be slightly worse because of something called a landfill tax which makes it more expensive to put things into landfill.

We have to get a grip of the forces of law and order. We have to get a grip of the police who in many cases still assume that 30 days' sick leave is the right of any policeman. We have to get a grip of the Prison Service so that it does not allow drugs to run riot in prisons. We have to get a grip of our present system rather than abolish the ancient and well-established rights and liberties of British subjects for which we have fought and died for so many hundreds of years.

4.36 p.m.

Lord Lloyd of Berwick

My Lords, I regret to say that I cannot be present at the end of the debate, for which I apologise to noble Lords. My reason is much less impressive than that given by the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy of The Shaws. May I, however, take the opportunity to wish her luck with her Hamlyn lectures. It is indeed a great honour to have been asked to give them. My reason is simply that I have to be in Cambridge tonight on behalf of the Inner Temple, of which some of your Lordships may have heard, and I do not feel that I can let them down.

I, too, want to return to the figures given by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer, at the very beginning of his speech. I think that those very remarkable figures should have informed the whole of this debate. The fact is that all forms of crime have decreased steadily since the Government came to power in 1997, as they had done even before then. The Government are entitled to take credit for that, for sure it is that they would have been given the blame had it been the other way round.

The figures are remarkable. According to the British Crime Survey—to which reference has already been made, particularly by the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford—crimes of violence have decreased from 3.7 million in 1997, to 2.9 million in 2001, a decrease of 22 per cent. Burglary, of all things, has decreased from 1.6 million to under 1 million—990,000—in 2001, a decrease of 39 per cent. Even vandalism has decreased from 2.9 million to 2.7 million, a decrease of 6 per cent.

The figures may seem surprising: they are surprising only because we are so used to thinking in terms of recorded crime. Recorded crimes of violence have indeed increased—the number has doubled since 1997—but the figures for recorded crime mean almost nothing in this context, and they are certainly no guide in identifying trends. The reason is that only half of all crimes of violence are reported at all, and less than half of those are recorded by the police.

Recording practices are constantly changing. Thus, what appears to have been an increase of 8 per cent in recorded crimes of violence last year was in fact—and should have been shown as—a decrease of 5 per cent. So the levels of recorded crime which often appear in newspapers as showing an incipient crime wave mean nothing. What is left is the survey, which shows beyond any doubt that there is no evidence of a crime wave; indeed, quite the opposite.

I turn to the obvious question asked by so many: why do we need a new criminal justice Bill at all? Unless it be—this is only a tentative suggestion—that the Home Office, faced with two massive new reports (the massive and impressive reports of Sir Robin Auld and Mr John Halliday) feels that it ought to do something about them. Why do we need all these new provisions that are said to redress the balance in favour of the victim—provisions that are bound to prove controversial as they proceed through this House, when what we really need, and what would do the victim far more good than anything else, is a better rate of detection? That is the key point. Detection was scarcely mentioned, if, indeed, it was mentioned at all, by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer. I echo very much what was said by my former pupil—if I may refer to him as such—the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford. I must have taught the noble Lord well as he keeps on anticipating what I am about to say. He did it in the Iraq debate and he has done it again today. In future, I shall have to try to speak before rather than after him.

I repeat the figure that the noble Lord gave. Of the 5 million recorded crimes last year, less than a quarter were detected. That is not just a one-off result. Detection of recorded crimes has gone down steadily since 1997. I refer to an obvious point: unless criminals are detected, how can they be brought to court? Before we point the finger too critically at the courts and at their procedures. let us do what we can to increase the rate of detection. What would be the best way of doing that? Again, it is obvious; it is to have more police on the beat and to have police who are better able to detect crimes.

I turn to another point and echo what was said by the right reverend Prelate in his remarkable maiden speech. When I became a judge there were 42,000 men and women in prison. We thought then that if the number increased to 45,000, it would be the end of the world. Here we are with 73,000. I regard that total as a national scandal in the full sense of the word. How has it come about? We all agree that there are people in prison who ought not to be in prison. That is easily said; it is often said. And it is true. But there is a perhaps more significant explanation. More and more defendants are being sent to prison for longer and longer. I take the example of the crime of causing death by dangerous driving. When I became a judge the going rate for that crime was a fine or, in a bad case, a prison sentence of perhaps nine months or a year. I refer to the leading case of Guilfoyle in which the judgment was given by Lord Justice Lawton.

I tried just such a case at the Old Bailey at the end of the 1970s that involved a young man returning from a rugger dinner. He had had a lot to drink and his car mounted the pavement killing three women whose three husbands were walking immediately behind them. It was an awful case. I worried about the sentence for a long time. Finally, I sentenced the man to either a year or possibly 15 months. It was certainly not more than that.

A few years later the noble and learned Lord, Lord Lane, then Lord Chief Justice, gave new guidance in the case of Boswell. He said that a year was not enough and that, for a bad case, the sentence should be two years or more. Parliament then intervened and increased the maximum sentence from five to 10 years, so judges felt that they had to follow suit. Now sentences of five, six and even seven years are common. I do not necessarily criticise those sentences. However, I point out the insidious way in which sentencing practice has led to increased sentences over the years. There is almost a form of inflation in that regard. I refer to an increase in the length of a certain sentence from one year to six or seven years in a period of less than 25 years. The same is true of other areas of the law.

If Parliament continues to create new crimes, to raise maximum sentences and to contrive new ways of increasing sentences that have already been imposed, the prison population is bound to increase with all the deleterious consequences to which the right reverend Prelate referred. What can be done to decrease the prison population? The proposal, as I understand it, is that in serious non-violent crime such as drug dealing, fraud and the rest, half the sentence will be served in the community. That has been tried before. It did not work, and I do not like it. I consider that it constitutes a deception of the public. The public think, and are entitled to think, that when a man is sent to prison for four years, that will actually mean four years, subject only, of course, to remission for good conduct.

My solution is much more radical and I believe that it may be worth trying. I would want to persuade the judiciary—I would even compel them, if it were at all possible—to determine the sentence they would impose in any given case under the existing guidelines and then cut that sentence in two. I believe that that could work. Of course, it would be criticised as sending entirely the wrong message, but it would be an honest message. It would make people serve what they appear to be sentenced to. I believe not only that it would work hut that a strong government could put it into effect. Quite how one would persuade the judiciary to do that is a subject we would have to consider but that should be the objective. Something of the sort was tried as an experiment in Germany some years ago. I do not have the details. All I remember is that the effect on the crime rate of halving sentences was imperceptible. I shall leave to another occasion what I intended to say about double jeopardy.

I say, finally, that one of the objections I have to this method of legislating is the kind of piecemeal codification that it appears to involve. I happen to be a great supporter of codification of the entire criminal law. It was suggested in a brilliant draft prepared by Professor Sir John Smith some years ago. I am glad to note that Sir Robin Auld agrees entirely with that view. There is a task worthy of the Home Office to which it should set its mind. What we have at the moment is the worst of all possible worlds: codification bit by bit. The criminal law ought to be accessible to the intelligent layman. What we are getting at the moment—piecemeal codification—is exasperating beyond belief to the professional and is wholly inaccessible, and therefore wholly incomprehensible, to everyone else.

4.49 p.m.

Lord Judd

My Lords, it is daunting to follow the noble and learned Lord, Lord Lloyd of Berwick. I am no lawyer; I am an ordinary member of society who looks to the protection of the law. As such, however, I am convinced that the decent, secure society we all want to see can be built only by a holistic approach to positive social policy and will not be achieved by law and courts alone.

For this, a transparently consistent value system is essential. I fear we cannot have a decent society if greed, selfish opportunism and damaging social irresponsibility are too often the name of the game at the top of the social pyramid while we preach social responsibility to those at the bottom faced with a desert of deprivation.

We need practical and generous support for the deprived young. We need to listen to them in our heartbreaking council estates, rather than have a too ready overreliance on punishments and penalties with all the attendant danger of institutionalised criminalisation in increased numbers. Of course life on those estates is hell for too many, not least ethnic minorities, the elderly, the frail and the vulnerable. But let us get to the origins of the social disease so that we can cure it rather than just reacting to the symptoms. That is the way to durable protection of the community.

Last weekend, like many noble Lords, I was saddened by some of the media reaction to the death of Myra Hindley: the culture of the mob of centuries ago. Do we believe in redemption and rehabilitation? Are we determined to find the potential for good in people and build on that, however grim the challenge that presents itself? Myra Hindley's crimes were truly terrible. Or is our civilisation in danger of imploding in a catastrophic lack of self-confidence?

With their large majority our Government have the opportunity to lead us into an age of penal enlightenment. If they have the confidence to take that road they will deserve our full unbridled support

Much of our coming year will be taken up with deliberations on the administration of justice. As a layman, I hope that we will constantly keep in mind certain pillars of our legal culture as we have painstakingly built them in our social history. Citizens are innocent of any alleged crime unless and until they are proved guilty. Court proceedings should therefore concentrate on the evidence concerning the crime in question. In reaching a verdict, what may have happened before must never be allowed to take the place of hard proven evidence.

However, in deciding an appropriate sentence, the situation is altogether different and obviously the past becomes highly relevant. We need to make the needs and plights of victims far more central to our social policy. But that is not the same as overplaying the role of the victim in deciding how to treat the criminal. Objectivity is essential. Having said that, it is good to see restorative justice coming into its own. That makes a great deal of sense. There is a lot to be said for bringing delinquents face to face with the consequence of what they have done.

It has been a long struggle in history to establish our society based on freedom and justice. Those freedoms, especially in an age of terrorism, could be too easily eroded. We must be vigilant and remember all the time what has made our civilisation worth protecting. In recent years, the coming to light of past miscarriages of justice inescapably presents us with a challenge.

The Howard League for Penal Reform has told us that the prison system is in crisis. That argument is underlined by the work of the Prison Reform Trust, by the recent riots in Lincoln and by the wise words of the Lord Chief Justice, and it has been powerfully put today in the outstanding maiden speech of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Worcester.

According to the Howard League for Penal Reform's statistics, since May 1997 the prison population has increased by 20 per cent—more than 12,000; from over 60,000 to over 72,500. Sixty-four per cent of our prisons are overcrowded. The number of women in prisons has risen from 1,500 or more in 1992 to 2,600 or more in 1997 to almost 4,500 last month; an increase of 180 per cent in the past 10 years.

Last month, 11,732 young people under 21 were in prison in England and Wales. Of these, 2,981 were under 18. At the beginning of last month there were 13,095 remand prisoners in England and Wales; a 12 per cent increase over the previous 12 months. Yet significantly in the year 2000, less than 50 per cent of male remand prisoners and only 36 per cent of female remand prisoners went on to prison sentences. Indeed, 23 per cent of men and 21 per cent of women remanded in custody were acquitted or proceedings against them were terminated early.

There are disturbing variations across the country in the rate of custodial sentences imposed. In Lincolnshire, 0.8 per cent of offenders are sent by magistrates to prison. In Greenwich the rate is 31.6 per cent. That must inevitably raise questions about any increased presumption to remand offenders into custody in so-called high crime areas.

England and Wales have the highest imprisonment rate in western Europe; 134 people per 100,000. The cost to the taxpayer per prison place in the last financial year was more than £35,784, yet in the year 2001–2002 the Prison Service failed to meet six of its own key performance targets. For example, only 46 per cent of prisoners met the purposeful activity target. In Belmarsh, the average time of such activity per prisoner was only 11 hours per week. How does that dismal record assist in rehabilitation?

Suicides have been tellingly described in the debate. There have been 80 suicides so far this year in prisons in England and Wales; sadly, two by young people under 18. That figure is up from 72 in the whole of last year. How can that record be acceptable in a civilised society?

I turn to reconviction. Fifty-eight per cent of prisoners released in 1997 were reconvicted of another crime within two years. Thirty-six per cent went back to prison. For 18 to 20 year-olds the figures were 72 per cent and 47 per cent respectively. Little wonder that the Social Exclusion Unit has noted, Prison sentences are not succeeding in turning the majority of offenders away from crime". As my noble friend Lord Corbett has argued, the priority must be rehabilitation. Anything else amounts to wasted lives and economic nonsense, particularly if the system is counterproductive and produces hardened criminals, with all the consequent costs to society.

It is clear that there must be a huge change if the policy commitment—I do not doubt that it exists— to the prison system is to become effectively positive. It will require strong leadership and a new culture, and it will cost money. But we cannot afford not to invest that money if we are not to be swamped by the costs of social disruption aggravated by a penal system that is helping to generate those costs. Education and training for prisoners are indispensable priorities.

It is also clear that as a priority we must develop a wider range of constructive alternatives to prison. In this context we all know that many of those in prison should not be there at all. Inadequacy, psychiatric illness and family breakdowns are frequently the real issues. We are increasingly concerned about the protection of our children from sexual harassment and abuse. That must be right, although we must be careful not to produce a neurotically inhibited society in which warmth, affection and freedom for our children have no place. That too would be a nightmare.

In this context, the Howard League for Penal Reform and a number of leading children's charities have emphasised how vulnerable children in prison are. Too many have suffered physical and sexual abuse; half have previously been in care; and the majority have been assessed as having special needs. Those children require more, not less, protection from the state than children in other institutional settings.

In our preoccupation with protecting children, we must be honest with ourselves about the paradox. We must face the uncomfortable fact that the United Kingdom has recently been criticised by the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child for the treatment of children in our criminal justice system. Its concern included: our low age of criminal responsibility—10 years—which is much lower than in most European countries; 12 to 14-year olds being routinely deprived of their liberty; increasingly high numbers of children in custody at earlier ages for lesser offences and for longer sentences; the absence of adequate protection and help in young offender institutions; the poor staff/child ratio; high levels of violence; bullying; self-harm; and, tragically, suicide.

I should declare an interest as honorary president of YMCA England. We are doing an increasing amount of what is proving to be encouraging work with young prisoners. I asked the national secretary for a few points that I might cite. I shall share them with noble Lords. He wrote: The work maintains a primary focus on the young person. We like similar organisations use our expertise and network of opportunity in various fields including housing, training and positive recreational activity in order to provide resettlement for young people leaving prison, through in our case 150 centres, 7,200 bedspaces and 2,500 training places. We are able to build relationships with young people while in prison prior to working with them post release. Our independence and non-judgmental style means we are approachable in a way in a which the prison is not. We work in prisons in a way which is nationally significant and locally relevant. Organisations like ours are able to make a major positive impact on the culture within prisons". The Government are determined to be tough on crime and, as we heard again in this debate, on the causes of crime. But what are the causes? Too many who should know better would still have us believe that the cause of a crime is simply the person who commits it. 'That superficiality is unworthy of a civilised society. The real causes and origins include poverty, deprivation, exclusion, inadequate parenting, broken families, abuse, poor education and the rest. There are no shortcuts. If we want to succeed, we must have an holistic social approach. I wish that the gracious Speech had emphasised that—I know that my noble friends on the Front Bench understand that—as much as it emphasised a crackdown.

We desperately need policies that reflect self-confident, civilised values and which, at the same time, are based on sound analysis, experience, common sense and what has proved to work in place of policies that extravagantly pander to prejudice.

I hope that noble Lords will forgive me if I conclude with one anecdote. I referred to my role in the YMCA. We have a former chief constable who has done outstanding work over a considerable period with some young offenders in our programme. He tells the story of how he was talking to a young offender who was about to be released when the young offender began to weep. He said to the young offender, "Why are you weeping? You are about to be released''. The offender said, "Because I am frightened. This is the first time in my life that anybody has cared for me, spoken to me, discussed my life with me and begun to discuss the future with me. It is the first opportunity that I have had to begin to understand myself as a person".

That says a great deal about the chief constable and the youngster; but it also says a very great deal about our society. The challenges are complex and we shall be judged by how we deal with the complexities, not by the oversimplifications that may tempt us.

5.4 p.m.

The Earl of Dundee

My Lords, regarding crime and the attempt to deal with it, one revealing comparison, as has already been mentioned, is our poor performance against other European states. First, there is the inconsistency when our Prison Service is compared with those elsewhere. We spend less than our European partners on health and education but we spend much more on prisons. Yet our recidivism level has not been reduced as a result of that increased expenditure. Nor has it decreased below the European average.

Secondly, there is the anomalous relationship between custodial and non-custodial sentences. For a number of years, there has been a steady application of non-custodial sentences, but they have not effected a proper reduction in custodial sentences. They have even coexisted with a significant rise in the number of custodial sentences and with a large increase in the number of prisoners, from 46,000 in 1991 to more than 72,000 at present, with a predicted figure of 83,000 by 2008. Despite the availability of non-custodial sentences, there are still too many—both below and above the age of 17—who are in prison for minor crimes and who should not be in prison at all. Far too many young people are still detained and in the majority of cases, as several noble Lords have stressed, their detention is as futile as it is counterproductive.

Thirdly, paradoxically enough, there is even the worrying anomaly, or its prospect, relating to the pursuit of much better practice. The Government already seek improved practice within prisons. Their aims include better education, improved employability and reduced drug and alcohol dependency. However, those schemes will work properly only if the vast number of prisoners is reduced. Otherwise, resources will remain too overstretched for prison staff to fulfil all of those objectives.

The Government may say that prison numbers will now really begin to come down and will do so following the substance and measures of co-ordination between the services currently proposed in the Queen's Speech. Certainly, that direction is much to be welcomed, not least where new guidelines for sentencing policy are concerned. The Government should also be encouraged to build upon and develop further their successes, which may have recently proved their worth. Those include the youth justice supervision scheme and, to some extent, detection and training orders.

During the passage of this year's criminal justice legislation, as has already been emphasised, there is likely to be much cross-party co-operation and good will. No doubt there is also consensus about the fact that no constructive purpose can be served through political wrangling or jockeying for position. Previous mistakes, when made in office by both the Labour and Conservative Parties over criminal justice, have coexisted, if ironically so, with well-meaning intentions and quite often with the implementation of sensible short-term expedients. However, broadly speaking, the mistakes and failures of both political administrations have derived from an apparent unwillingness or inability to form proper long-term plans which could be carried out with patience and determination.

As the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, and others have pointed out, such effective long-term plans must go well beyond legislation itself, however much that can and should be improved and co-ordinated. Through education, employment, the home and the community, the challenge must also always be to deter, guide and inspire in order to promote well being and to prevent crime in the first place. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Worcester encapsulated that objective when he referred to the culture of demanding compassion. I join with others in congratulating him on his extremely good speech.

How should the Government and the criminal justice system proceed to make matters better, and a lot better? There must now be a much sharper focus. The past 30 years have witnessed the steady development of size, cost and crisis within the Prison Service. At any time over that period, we have been told by every government that their policies were working and that overall results were improving. Overall, however, they were never improving. This time, we should make sure that they actually do so. That must mean a constant focus on the evidence about whether the situation is really improving and, if so, which combined measures rather than others are causing it to do so.

Connected to that, and secondly, our criminal justice service must be prepared far more than it is to analyse, adjust to and learn from not only the evidence of the effect of its own practices but also that from a variety of different sources. Not least is such useful information disseminated through research bodies, including the institutions associated respectively with the noble Baroness, Lady Stern, and the noble Lord, Lord Corbett of Castle Vale, whose excellent contributions we have just heard.

Within the United Kingdom there is the guidance which comes from the Scottish criminal justice service. Per head of population, much better results are now produced in Scotland than in England and Wales. Among many public servants who have assisted that process, I want to mention, in particular, the Chief Inspector of Prisons for Scotland, Mr Clive Fairweather, who retired last month.

As already indicated, comparisons should always be made between our performance and that of other countries. Good guidance can, of course, often come internationally and from a number of different European states. Curiously enough, and despite their recent civil war, certain states in the former Yugoslavia already reveal encouraging criminal justice results which, in several respects, stand to give good guidance to ourselves and to other European states. Two such are Slovenia and Croatia.

The Croatian service provides a clear example. It has comparatively low numbers of prisoners per head of population and it demonstrates comparatively high levels of civilian prisoner rehabilitation. And, of course, the process of shared information will work in each direction. As chairman of the UK Parliamentary Group for Croatia, and as a Council of Europe parliamentarian, I was able to introduce our own Home Office overseas service to the Croatian prison service. That has led to the establishment of a training centre by Zagreb for the training of prison governors and other staff.

It goes without saying that the attainment of best practice in the field of criminal justice, as well as all others, must come from a full assessment of relevant sources, including those within international comparison and co-operation. In this context, and as a British parliamentarian who addressed the issues of drugs, community stability and the problems facing young people both here and overseas, I pay tribute to the significant achievements of Tim Rathbone, who died earlier this year.

In summary, current poor results from criminal justice lower our reputation for competence nationally and internationally as they undermine confidence and morale within the country. The Government's intentions to do much better are to be welcomed. The aims must include a dramatic reduction in reoffending and in the prison population. The means must not he confined to legislation. They should also bring in the home, education, employment and the community in order to prevent crime in the first place. This time, the resolve must be to achieve proper results where the past 30 years have failed, and to do so for the benefit of our own stability and, by example, for the benefit of that elsewhere.

5.12 p.m.

Lord Goodhart

My Lords, criminal justice is very much at the top of the Government's agenda for this Session. That is understandable. Crime is a cause of a great deal of public distress and alarm. I refer not only to violent crime but also to the kind of minor crime that makes some parts of our native cities intolerable places for many people who live there: vandalism, graffiti, noise and drunken behaviour. The noble Lord, Lord Corbett of Castle Vale, made an admirable speech on that subject.

This has been a valuable debate. I do not agree with my noble friend Lord Dahrendorf on the subject of elections to your Lordships' House. But I agree wholeheartedly with what he said about the legislative process. I also agree with what the noble Lord, Lord Wakeham, said about that. The Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Bill was an extreme example of bad process when we ended up with more than 300 government amendments in your Lordships' House—some of them important amendments introduced at Third Reading.

I heard the noble and learned Lord, Lord Ackner, with interest and a good deal of sympathy. However, I believe that the real answer to the problem that he raised about over-reaction in self defence is to replace both murder and manslaughter with a single crime of culpable homicide, carrying a maximum, but not a mandatory. penalty of life imprisonment.

We very much welcomed the speeches on prison issues from the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Worcester, in his admirable maiden speech, from the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, from my noble friend Lord Phillips of Sudbury, and from the noble Lord, Lord Judd. We also welcomed the speeches on probation and other issues from the noble Baroness, Lady Stern, and on sentencing from the noble and learned Lord, Lord Lloyd of Berwick.

I turn briefly to the subject of civil justice. There is not much primary legislation in the Queen's Speech on that subject. I do not complain about that because in the last Session we had two big Bills: one on commonhold and one on land registration. Furthermore, the Government are now making use of regulatory reform orders to achieve some technical legal reforms; for example, in connection with the rule against accumulations and the law on the execution of deeds and other documents. I consider that to be very much the kind of issue that is appropriate for a regulatory reform order, and I believe that my noble friend Lord Dahrendorf will agree with that.

Finally, we on these Benches have continuing concern about the working of the conditional fee system in civil actions. Given two years' experience of the system. I should like to see the Lord Chancellor's Department carry out a full review of how it is working.

I return to the subject of criminal justice. We have what I believe can only be described as a "jumble" of Bills, some, but not all of which, have been published. There is, first, a courts Bill. We shall support a single administrative structure for the Crown and magistrates' courts, but we believe that it is necessary to have a high degree of devolution to local management committees. The present magistrates' courts committees work well and ensure local input. It is essential to maintain those local links in any new system.

Then there is the Crime (International Co-operation) Bill. Again, we support that in principle. At a time of organised cross-border crime, it is very important to maximise co-operation between the judiciary and the police in different countries, especially in the European Union. We welcome the extension of the jurisdiction of the United Kingdom courts to prosecution of terrorist acts committed outside the United Kingdom by or against United Kingdom nationals. We welcome the mutual application of driving disqualifications within the European Union—surely something that is obvious and, indeed, long overdue.

The right of hot pursuit is the most controversial element in this Bill, although I suspect that it will not be much used in relation to the United Kingdom because it is more relevant to the land borders of the mainland states. We shall not object to the right of hot pursuit in principle, but it must be without firearms and it must involve surveillance and not powers of arrest or detention or anything that would require a judicial warrant in the United Kingdom. I hope that the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor will be able to assure us that that is the case.

We support the objectives of the anti-social behaviour Bill but we doubt how effective the process will be. The Crime and Disorder Act 1998 introduced orders which have had a distinctly limited effect, Antisocial behaviour orders—ASBOs—have been used only some 200 times a year and are expensive to obtain. Parenting orders are used even less, and the child curfew orders, of which we were highly critical at the time of the debate on the Act, have not, in effect, been used at all.

Fixed penalties have attractions for minor offences. They save time and bureaucracy for the police and leave the offender without a criminal record. But they raise a number of difficult questions which will require answers. First, who can impose the fines? And—perhaps a particularly difficult question—will they be effective against young people who cause many problems of this kind but who clearly will not be in a position to pay the fines? If that is the case, can any substitute be provided for a fixed penalty in those cases?

I hope, as my noble friend Lord Dholakia said, that the Government will encourage the use of acceptable behaviour contracts for children and young people who show signs of becoming troublesome, as pioneered by Islington Borough Council.

Then there is the Extradition Bill, which introduces the European arrest warrant within the European Union and takes some steps to simplify and speed up extradition in non-EU cases. We welcome that in principle. The United Kingdom's extradition process is exceptionally slow by comparison with most foreign states and provides too many opportunities for delay. I remember one case where someone was fighting extradition to Hong Kong. He was detained in prison for a period of six or seven years. That was a far longer time in prison than he would have served if he had agreed to go straight back to Hong Kong.

In principle, we believe that it should be as easy to send residents of the United Kingdom for trial in another EU state as it is to send a resident of England for trial in Scotland.

The European arrest warrant will make it easier for-the United Kingdom to obtain extradition from other states—in particular, Germany and Austria—which until now have refused to extradite their own nationals. But in order to justify the use of the European arrest warrant we need to have confidence that the extradited person will have a fair trial in the state to which he is sent. There are problems in some states with, in particular, interpretation facilities and with legal aid. We believe that the Act resulting from the Bill should not be brought into force until there is an effective agreement on minimum standards across the European Union.

The sex offenders Bill is welcome. We would be wrong to convict of rape a man who reasonably believed that consent to intercourse had been given. But we accept that unreasonable belief in consent should not result in an acquittal. We also welcome the Government's decision not to open the paedophile file to the public.

The draft corruption Bill again is clearly welcome. I hope that the noble and learned Lord will be able to confirm that the Bill will cover corrupt acts involving Members of Parliament and Members of your Lordships' House, who clearly are the holders of public office.

I turn to the Criminal Justice Bill, described by many people as the "flagship Bill". I have to say that if this is the flagship, it cannot be much of a fleet. This is not the occasion for a Second Reading speech, especially as the Bill—and a massive Bill it is—was only published today. But it is controversial, to say the least.

There are a number of aspects of the Bill that should be welcomed, such as making it harder to avoid jury service. We agree that the Crown Prosecution Service should be involved at an earlier stage and should take over from the police the responsibility for charging.

We believe that greater assistance for victims is desirable, although many steps do not require legislation: for example, segregating defence and prosecution witnesses within the court building; laying out the courtroom so that the prosecution witnesses cannot be intimidated by the defendant's friends in the gallery; and some new sentencing powers—for instance. "custody minus"—are innovative and helpful. But the Government intend to challenge four long-established principles of criminal procedure. First, they will extend the right for the prosecution to use hearsay evidence; secondly, they will allow evidence of previous convictions to be disclosed in many more cases than at present; thirdly, they will create exceptions to the double jeopardy rule; and, fourthly, they will exclude jury trials in some cases.

It is not surprising that this challenge has roused a hornets' nest and that these proposals have been attacked from all sides of the House by the noble and learned Lords, Lord Rawlinson and Lord Mayhew, by the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy, and by my noble friend Lord Thomas of Gresford.

I do not propose to add anything to what has been said on the first three proposals. That will be a matter for the Second Reading and subsequent stages of the Bill. But I shall say something briefly about juries. The jury system is central and essential to our system of criminal justice. That is not because jurors have some special wisdom that is not given to judges. I do not believe they have. Non-jury courts for serious offences can work well. Indeed, as the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mayhew, pointed out, the Diplock courts in Northern Ireland have operated with remarkably little criticism. Juries are vital because people feel they own the jury system. They feel that criminal justice is the justice of the people and not the justice of the elite. Any limitation on jury trials is unacceptable if it damages public confidence in the criminal justice system. That is the test that must and will be measured against the government proposals.

I finish by talking about a few things that are not in the gracious Speech. First, we regret that there has been no change in the law of corporate manslaughter. The law should be extended to make corporate bodies liable where the death has been caused by a serious failure on the part of the corporation as a whole, even if that results from the accumulation of minor failures by a number of individuals, none of which is itself sufficient to justify a charge of manslaughter against the individual responsibility.

Finally, I raise two more fundamental issues, not for the first time because they are points that have been made on many previous occasions from these Benches. We have long argued that the Lord Chancellor should cease to be responsible for the appointment of Queen's Counsel and the judiciary. Year by year it becomes more obvious that that role is inconsistent with the Lord Chancellor's role as the Minister of justice. This is not intended as any criticism of any individual who has been appointed by the present holder of that office or his recent predecessors. All those people appointed are unquestionably fit to hold the offices to which they have been appointed. But the process must be seen to he independent of the holder of Cabinet office.

The noble and learned Lord took a wise step in creating a Judicial Appointments Commission to monitor the appointment process. That commission is doing good work. It has produced a valuable and not wholly uncritical report. But the creation of the Judicial Appointments Commission should be the first step only and should be followed by a transfer to it, or to a replacement body, of responsibility for the appointment of judges.

The other fundamental issue is the separation of the legislative and judicial function of your Lordships' House. We are of course moving towards reform of your Lordships' House. Whatever shape that reform takes, I believe that within a few years, if not at the beginning, your Lordships' House will lose its role as the supreme court of the United Kingdom. That separation has already been supported in public speeches by the senior Law Lord, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Bingham of Cornhill, and by his colleague the noble and learned Lord, Lord Steyn. I believe that that separation is right. It is inevitable, and it will come sooner rather than later.

5.28 p.m.

Lord Kingsland

My Lords, I know that your Lordships' House is eagerly awaiting the speech of the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor. I shall therefore keep your Lordships' period of anticipation as short as possible by saying the minimum necessary in my closing remarks.

First, I congratulate the right reverent Prelate the Bishop of Worcester on his outstanding maiden speech. It was not only a very moving occasion; but he made a series of remarks, of considerable perspicacity, about the state of our Prison Service. I just warn the right reverend Prelate that advertising himself as the new representative of the Bishops' Bench on prison matters might well lead to adverse remarks being made should he ever choose to absent himself on the occasion of a debate which touches on this highly sensitive subject; and as the right reverend Prelate will be aware, there are many occasions in your Lordships' House to consider Home Office matters.

I begin by reminding your Lordships' House that at the end of July we considered the White Paper that lay behind not only the Criminal Justice Bill but, I suspect, a number of the other measures that will represent the Home Office contribution to your Lordships' debates this Session. I hope that your Lordships will forgive me, if I refer to a paragraph that I contributed to your Lordships' debate: As I understand it, the organising theme of the White Paper is to marshal all the component parts of the criminal justice system into a successful integrated force. I think that that is a wholly admirable objective. Indeed, it is only common sense. If the police do not successfully do their job of detecting crime, the courts will not have any prisoners to try. If the CPS is not properly resourced and does not do its job of bringing the right charges in relation to the right people, prosecutions will fail in the courts. If the courts are too biased towards the accused, many victims will not get justice. Equally, if they are too biased against the accused, we will find ourselves living in a totalitarian society. If we do not get our sentencing policy right, we will never rehabilitate criminals. So all these parts are crucially linked together. If one of these links in the chain fails, all the others will be mortally wounded. So, the philosophy behind this White Paper has to be the right one".— [Official Report, 17/7/02; col. 1246.] In his closing remarks, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer of Thoroton, kindly said: He"— by which the noble and learned Lord meant Lord Kingsland— said that the philosophy underlying the White Paper, which he described as right, was marshalling all of the component parts of the criminal justice system into an effective fighting force. I would not quarrel with that description of one of the very important foundations of the White Paper".—[Official Report, 17/7/02; col. 1250.] So, your Lordships are entitled to ask the noble and learned Lord to what extent the programme that the Government have laid out reflects the aspirations of the White Paper.

We have just had sight of the Criminal Justice Bill, and I have barely had a chance to look through the index. I have, incidentally, already noticed that the Bill is 273 clauses long. From a superficial reading, it seems that the main body of the Bill deals with procedures in criminal courts. There are, of course, also certain sentencing matters, and your Lordships have already heard the reflections of the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, on certain changes in the operation of the Crown Prosecution Service.

However, as I understand it, the thrust of the Bill is court-related. So, your Lordships are entitled to ask the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer of Thoroton, about the other component parts of the aspirations set out in the White Paper. They are essential to ensuring that the system of criminal justice delivers what we would wish of it.

The noble and learned Lord, Lord Lloyd of Berwick, touched on one of those component parts, when he talked about the rate of detection. Your Lordships are entitled to hear more from the Government about their plans in that area. We read little about it in the Criminal Justice Bill.

Then again, there is the question of the CPS. As far as I understand it, the Government do not intend to entertain an inquiry into the aftermath of the case R v Burrell. There is no doubt that important questions arise out of it over the way in which the CPS operates and from its relationship with the Law Officers, something to which my noble and learned friend Lord Rawlinson of Ewell so eloquently drew attention. The noble and learned Lord made a speech of conspicuously high quality, as one would expect from one of the great Law Officers of the post-war era. Your Lordships are entitled to know more—if not today, in the immediate future—about the conclusions that the Government draw from the recent conduct of the CPS in that regard.

At the other end of the spectrum were the cogent and germane remarks made by the noble Lord, Lord Corbett of Castle Vale, about the probation service. The Government, rightly, aspire to reduce numbers in our prisons, on the one hand, and, on the other, to introduce sentences that are effectively rehabilitative. In order for that to be achieved effectively— I take entirely the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Stern—it is vital that substantial resources be directed towards the probation service.

The noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor may not be able to deal with that matter today, but I am keen to know the Government's future plans in that respect. Certainly, the Government's rhetoric suggests that probation is a crucial part of their vision of a successful criminal justice system. If that is so, the Government must explain to your Lordships exactly how that will be resourced.

Every Home Secretary is presented with the not inconsiderable temptation of populism when dealing with matters of crime and punishment. I am sure that every Home Secretary is equally aware of the dangers of giving in to it. They are dangers not only of principle but of common sense.

Populist solutions to criminal justice problems, while having short-term attractions, will, invariably, fail in the long run. There has been a theme running through some—not all—of the Government's remarks that much of the problem faced by the criminal justice system today can be solved by reducing—if not eliminating—the opportunities for what the Government might be pleased to call clever defence lawyers to exploit the court system. Many of those clever defence lawyers feature on the Liberal Party Benches, and I greatly admire their skills.

I hope—I am sure—that the Government will not give in to that temptation. First, as I said, it will not work. Secondly, it is wrong in principle. The noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy of The Shaws, referred to authoritarianism in an Armani suit. I must confess that the image of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer of Thoroton, does not spring immediately to mind, when I reflect on that observation. At any rate, he appears today to be the Milan representative of the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy, or wherever Mr Armani plies his trade on earth.

Therefore, it is legitimate for the Opposition Front Bench to remind the noble and learned Lord that these great components of our court system—jury trial; not putting in evidence other than that which is before the jury relating to the particular case that is under review; the refusal to entertain hearsay evidence; the rules of double jeopardy—are legal principles that were hard-won in our constitutional history after brave battles fought by doughty lawyers. They have stood our criminal defence system well for several hundred years.

It strikes me as being a bit rich for a Government who are, after all, elected for only a few years—although their mindset may be somewhat different—to come along and simply jettison all those great principles. I trust that the noble and learned Lord will pay particular attention to the speech of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Rawlinson, in that regard. It may well be that ill-prepared prosecutions play a considerably greater part in the acquittal rate than the existence of all these opportunities for defence lawyers.

A number of other important issues have been discussed today. I applaud the Government's intention to introduce anti-social behaviour legislation, although I entirely share the views expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Judd, about the difficulties of solving such problems simply through the criminal law. The fact of the matter is that we did not have such problems as a society 50 years ago because children were brought up in a different way by families and were educated in a different way in schools. And so the kind of behaviour that manifests itself by the arrival of a child's mid-teens was hardly visible 40 or 50 years ago.

While the aspirations of anti-social behaviour legislation are wholly admirable, I am sure that the Government will be bearing in mind the context in which they are legislating and will think carefully about their relationship to their wider legislative programme.

My biggest concern of all about these legislative measures relates to the European arrest warrant. That may come as a surprise to those noble Lords who have heard me make speeches on other European matters in your Lordships' House. But there are two matters of deep concern about that piece of legislation which are likely to make it the most controversial Home Office measure of the whole Session. It will be manifested in the form of the Extradition Bill which is now in another place.

The first concern is that the European decision which lies behind the measures which will appear in the Extradition Bill was made without the participation of any democratic national legislature or indeed by the European Parliament. It was conceived by national civil servants sitting behind closed doors; endorsed by COREPER sitting behind closed doors; and finally rubber-stamped by the Council of Ministers sitting behind closed doors. It is an example of intergovernmentalism in the European Community at its worst. It is the worst of both worlds. The legislation is neither endorsed by national parliaments, nor by the European institutions which, for all their weaknesses, would at least have achieved some public debate.

The result is that under the Extradition Bill we will be presented with a virtual fait accompli. That has mattered less in the case of most European legislation because most of it touches on commercial interests— interests which do not go to the heart of the liberties of the citizen. But here we are going to be asked to extradite people on the basis of some crimes abroad which are not crimes in this country. Furthermore, we will be asked to do so without knowing whether or not the fundamental protections in our criminal law will be respected in those countries to which British citizens will be extradited.

I, for one, consider that unacceptable. I suspect that there will be many Members of your Lordships' House sitting behind the Government Benches who will also find it unacceptable. The great difficulty for the Government is that there is little they can do about it because the damage is already done; the agreements have already been made in the European Community.

Whatever the outcome of our deliberations on the Bill, it is crucial, in future, that, in considering intergovernmental decisions made by the European Community, your Lordships' House has the earliest possible warning from the Home Office about what it is up to, and that your Lordships' committees have the power to ensure that Home Office Ministers appear regularly in front of them to give an account of the progress of discussions and deliberations with the other member states, otherwise, noble Lords will once again be presented with precisely the same terrible dilemma as they will discover in the new year.

I am delighted that the noble Lord, Lord Grenfell, has become chairman of the European Union scrutiny committee. He now has the challenge—to which I am sure the noble Lord will be equal—of making sure that the committees exercise this power over government Ministers in future to make sure that intergovernmentalism operates as democratically as other forms of legislation in this House.

I have one final reflection—on the question of drugs. Perhaps the most original contribution that my right honourable friend Mr Letwin has made in another place as Shadow Home Secretary has been to examine, intensely and creatively, the difficulties that lie behind solving the dreadful problems of drug-taking in our country. The recommendations that he has made have, in my submission, not been taken seriously by the Government.

The best way to solve much of our crime problem—burglary in particular—is to solve the drugs problem. One of the most effective ways in which we can get on top of this is by following the advice of my right honourable friend. I hope that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer, and his colleagues will look very seriously at what has been achieved by Mr Letwin and will report back to this House.

5.46 p.m.

The Lord Chancellor (Lord Irvine of Lairg)

My Lords, your Lordships have covered an exceptionally wide range of important subjects in high-quality debates over the past live days. Today, we have heard a notable maiden speech from the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Worcester and a distinguished contribution from the noble Lord, Lord Dahrendorf, on the quality of the statute book.

The gracious Speech has at its heart a balance between rights and responsibilities: the right to feel safe in our own homes; the right to justice; and the responsibilities that we have as citizens to respect others and the environment in which we live. As my noble and learned friend Lord Falconer outlined in his opening remarks, reform of the criminal justice system is key to achieving this balance. We need to ensure that the system is refocused on its basic purpose: to reduce crime and deliver justice to victims, witnesses and communities. But that must not be at the expense of the rights of the defendant. The criminal justice system must certainly convict the guilty and acquit the innocent. The presumption of innocence is at the heart of Article 6 of the European convention, and we firmly believe that our reforms do nothing to impair that principle.

In dealing with contributions to the debate, I turn, first, to that of the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford. He certainly provided the most fetching image of the debate when he declared his pride in hewing coal at the same coal-face as the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy. But my prize for the most entertaining speech goes unquestionably to the noble Earl, Lord Onslow. I comforted myself when listening to his attack on the Government with the reflection that the noble Earl almost certainly has a healthy disregard for all governments.

I return to the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford. Dealing first with previous convictions, when he studies the Bill as published, he will discover that judges will have a discretion to let juries hear about defendants' previous convictions and other misconduct where relevant to the case and provided that their probative value is not outweighed by their prejudicial effect.

On the matter of double jeopardy, the abolition of the rule will apply only in very rare circumstances, but we do riot believe that offenders who have committed very serious crimes should be able to escape justice where there is compelling new evidence of their guilt.

The Earl of Onslow

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble and learned Lord for giving way. How many cases does he foresee as likely to happen?

The Lord Chancellor

My Lords, it will be a small number of cases. Of course, I do not predict a specific number. But no matter how many these cases are, they are an affront to justice if there is compelling new evidence of guilt and they are not retried. An important consideration will be whether the evidence could reasonably have been available for the first trial. There will also be the safeguard that a defendant will be retried only where the Court of Appeal is satisfied that there is new and compelling evidence and that a retrial is in the interests of justice.

Earl Russell

My Lords, will the noble and learned Lord explain how, if the Court of Appeal has already reached this decision, the defendant can thereafter have a fair trial?

The Lord Chancellor

My Lords, I have no difficulty whatever with that. The Court of Appeal is acting as a sieve to decide whether it is proper that there should be a further trial. The evidence will appear to be compelling. It will be made absolutely plain to the jury at the trial that they must assess the evidence for themselves, and it will be challenged. But it must appear to be compelling.

In response to the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay of St Johns, and the noble Lord, Lord Thomas. the right to elect for jury trial in either way cases will remain. The noble Baroness said, wrongly, that we were going to abolish jury trial in serious cases. Not so. Our proposals are confined to serious fraud cases and very complex and lengthy cases that the judge thinks would be unduly burdensome for the jury to try. It will also apply to cases of jury intimidation. No doubt, your Lordships will wish to scrutinise these provisions closely in Committee. But I do not think that they amount to the end of the world for legal verities. On the contrary, they are limited and well-judged proposals. We will demonstrate that by argument in Committee.

I have to say to the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy of The Shaws, in her unavoidable absence, that her opposition to the Bill is not made good by generalised castigation. The expressions she used were, "authoritarianism", "unworthy of this Government", "loss of enthusiasm for civil liberties" and even, "receding into comfortable middle age". I plead not guilty to all these unparticularised charges. We will make good by argument in Committee the case for these limited changes. Those who trumpet a liberal position must always be on guard against falling into the conservative error that no change is ever possible in setting the balance between the protection of the public interest and the protection of the interests of the individual.

We can achieve the improvements that the criminal justice system so desperately requires only if all the relevant agencies work together towards a common purpose. The Courts Bill will bring the administration of all the courts below the House of Lords—civil, family and criminal—into a new single. modern organisation accountable to Parliament through my department and offering a better service to court users.

I can reassure the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, on one point. He talks of the need to maintain local links. I agree. The new agency will combine the best qualities of the Magistrates' Courts Committees and the Court Service. A strong centre will set a framework of clear national standards and strategic direction. It will work in co-operation and partnership with local court administration councils. These councils will not be mere consultative bodies. Their role, which will be embedded in statute, will be to involve fully the local community—meaning magistrates and others—in decision-making, including on key issues such as the location of services and court facilities. The councils will enable decisions to be taken at a local level wherever possible, so improving local accountability and responsiveness to local needs.

The agency will also embody a degree of what is fashionably called earned autonomy. The better performing areas will have more freedom to innovate, with less intervention from the centre and a light-touch inspections regime. The centre will be left freer to concentrate on areas where performance is poor, there exercising a greater degree of control and ensuring that best practice is spread.

New structures that facilitate rather than hamper agencies' attempts to work together will be complemented by an entirely new case progression system. Often, administrative changes to delivery on the ground can achieve as much as—and perhaps even more than—legislation, if there is the will to promote and accept cultural change. That is the aim of the case progression project, led by my department, which will see that cases progress more quickly and more smoothly through the criminal justice system. Judges will assume overall supervision for case progression. The judge will agree with both sides at the outset what the issues are, what action is required and within what time-scale, so giving case progression a clear structure, timetable and momentum. Together with clearer responsibilities for all involved, tough enforcement of case progression targets and more certain listing so that cases go ahead when planned, this will help us to bring more offenders to justice, give victims and witnesses a better deal and cut down on delay.

We remain as firm as ever in our belief that delay in the criminal justice system is the biggest impediment to justice. As Lord Denning famously said, "delay turns justice sour". Delay reduces the commitment of witnesses, gives further opportunities for witness intimidation, demoralises victims and plays into the hands of the guilty, who wish only that cases will go away. Tackling delay has been a success story since 1997. Magistrates' courts' waiting times have been reduced by 20 per cent. Delay in the youth courts has fallen from 87 days to 57 days last year. We have cut the time from arrest to sentence for persistent young offenders from 142 to 63 days.

My right honourable friend the Prime Minister famously said: tough on crime; tough on the causes of crime". Let me add that being tough on crime means being tough on delay in the prosecution of crime.

Convicting the guilty is not the end of the story. Sentencers must have adequate means at their disposal to make the punishment fit the crime. The Criminal Justice Bill will reform the sentencing process. Those who are a danger to the public, who commit violent or sexual offences, must expect stiff prison sentences. Those who persistently offend must also expect to face a prison term. The Sexual Offences Bill will make this crystal clear. In particular, it will ensure that those who prey on children will face tougher sentences. I know that child protection agencies support the creation of a new offence of "grooming" a child. I welcome the support also expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, last Wednesday for our moves to give children greater protection.

The Government's position on sentencing is clear and will be reflected in our reforms. Protecting the public from violent, sexual and other serious offenders is our priority. But the courts must strike the right balance between the need to deal effectively with serious and violent crime and the need to keep prison as a last resort in other cases. The Home Secretary and I have twice now issued statements to this effect. In doing so, we have been echoing the words of the Lord Chief Justice: imprisonment only when necessary and for no longer than necessary.

I assure the right reverend Prelate that we shall recognise that rehabilitation and crime reduction are as important as punishment as aims of sentencing. He will see that enshrined as a statutory purpose of sentencing in the Criminal Justice Bill.

I can assure the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, that our doubling of magistrates' sentencing powers is not intended—I say this loud and clear—as a spur to send more people to prison for longer. The new sentencing framework will encourage full use of tough new community sentences, aimed not only at punishment that is proportionate to the crime but also at preventing reoffending, and encouraging rehabilitation.

The Criminal Justice Bill will establish a sentencing guidelines council to promote greater sentencing consistency, and to ensure that local justice does not mean unequal justice.

Both the Courts Bill and the Criminal Justice Bill will stay faithful to the principle of local justice. This legislative programme puts the interests of local communities at the heart of the Government's reforming agenda with measures to tackle anti-social behaviour. The noble Baroness, Lady Williams of Crosby, put it so well last Wednesday: such behaviour makes people's lives almost unbelievably hard to endure; indeed, the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, made the same point. We all have a responsibility to respect our neighbours and our environment. Anti-social behaviour orders already provide a powerful weapon in the fight against persistent and serious anti-social behaviour. For that reason, the Government will do much more to address such issues, especially as regards those who ignore their responsibilities, with new measures in the civil and in the criminal law to tackle truancy, aggressive behaviour, vandalism, litter, graffiti, and nuisance. Every local authority will have a comprehensive plan to tackle anti-social behaviour, tailored to the specific needs of that community. That will involve public, private, and voluntary sectors to the full.

Some mention has been made of House of Lords reform. It is a subject about which your Lordships remain fascinated—and rightly so. However, only the noble Lord, Lord Wakeham, spoke specifically on the matter today, although the noble Lord, Lord Dahrendorf, made some observations in that respect. As the gracious Speech said, we look forward to considering the report of the Joint Select Committee. But, first, we await completion of that report, followed by the free votes in both Houses that we have promised. We all recognise what a vexed issue this is. The Joint Committee has already been working on the matter for four months. That the report has not yet been completed should not detract from the fact that this Government have progressed much further down the road of reform of this House than any of their predecessors.

However, I noted with interest the observation made by the noble Lord, Lord Dahrendorf, that your Lordships' House makes its unique contribution to the legislative process because it is not elected. We have certainly always taken the view that one of the most important questions to be asked of any proposal that any proportion of your Lordships' House be elected is what effect that would have on Parliament as a whole, and on this House's role in the legislative process. Composition should flow from consideration of this House's proper role and powers, and not dictate it.

The legislative programme set out in the gracious Speech furthers the Government's radical programme to reform and modernise public services. It is an enabling agenda. It removes the barriers that frustrate those agencies working together in the interests of service to the public, whether in the criminal justice system, the National Health Service, or in education. It is a programme designed to protect rights and promote responsibility. I commend it to the House.

On Question, Motion agreed to nemine dissentiente; the said Address to be presented to Her Majesty by the Lord Chamberlain.

House adjourned at six minutes past six o'clock.

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