HL Deb 26 March 2004 vol 659 cc947-1003

The Archbishop of Canterbury rose to call attention to the social purpose of sentencing; and to move for Papers.

The most reverend Primate said: My Lords, the present situation of the penal system of this country gives occasion for recognising a high level of paradox. The proverbial Martian observer, perhaps a more likely character in the light of recent exploration than we might once have thought, would doubtless be rather surprised by what they might see.

No one appears to be satisfied with the present situation. We are familiar with the question of the expense involved in custody; the figure of £37,000 per annum as the cost of maintaining a prisoner in custody is frequently quoted. It is as frequently noted that this is a multiple of what it costs to keep a child at Eton during a year. The unsatisfactory outcomes of the system in terms of re-offending rates are likewise statistically easily demonstrable, and there are human rights issues about the treatment of prisoners in custody to which attention has been drawn by successive inspectors of the prison system.

While we might expect that inspectors of the system would he critical, it is rather more surprising, indeed shocking, to hear the views of practitioners in the system. It is some 20 years since the then governor of Wormwood Scrubs wrote in a letter to the Times: I did not join the Prison Service to manage overcrowded cattle pens … nor did I join to be a member of a service where staff that I admire are forced to run a society that debases". Similar sentiments are strongly echoed by more recent practitioners in the system, often at a high level of seniority. There is consensus not only among those concerned with criminology and the practice of the law, but across the political parties, that our present system needs to be reviewed. However, that review seems extraordinarily slow in coming. I am most grateful to your Lordships for affording the opportunity for this debate. Many of the points that I shall make this morning, and doubtless others will be making, have been made for 20 years or more.

We stand at a point of some significance and some opportunity. We have the aforesaid consensus across the parties, within the academic side of criminology, and among practitioners in the penal system. We have strongly flagged a number of concerns from government about restorative justice and non-custodial options. The 2003 paper from the Home Office on restorative justice and government strategy, the Carter report of this year and the Halliday report of 2002 make the points amply.

We also now have a Sentencing Guidelines Council in process of formation, and we have significant changes, and improvements, moving forward in the youth justice system. This is, in short, a moment of some hopefulness in the system.

However, issues persist around communication, both within the penal system—the sharing of good practice—and about the system, in the countering of tabloid clichéabout custodial practice and its effectiveness. It is important in this debate to be conscious of the distorting effect that populist debate may have on serious consideration of these issues, and it is important to register that facile point-scoring on this subject, and the wish to appear tougher, actually cut corners and beg questions to a degree that is lethal to the proper reform of our system. Let me return for a moment to the issue of communication within the penal system. Many institutions exercise admirable practice in the education, socialisation and rehabilitation of prisoners. However, with the high mobility of the prison population—just one factor among many of the overcrowding that is prevalent in the system—national parity in delivering programmes is virtually impossible. The sharing of good practice is made much harder.

It is in the light of all this that I wish to raise the question of the social functions of sentencing. As the Sentencing Guidelines Council gets into its stride, it is all the more important for there to be an articulated consensus around this matter. Part of the emerging agreement around penal policy and sentencing has to do with the recognition that punishment does not have to do simply with retribution, and that punitive practice alone will not address motivation. A failure to address motivation is a failure to address the problem of re-offending. The most serious question appears to be how the broken relationships involved in criminal activity are to be restored by a sentencing policy capable of being justified to victim and offender.

The point was put dramatically by Michael Ignatieff some years ago in an essay on the subject, when he described humane punishment as: A contract in which the state is bound to respect institutional conditions of justice, and the prisoner gives his consent to the pain and deprivation of liberty he is to suffer". That is a strong statement, as Ignatieff admits, which may seem uncomfortably abstract and remote in the context of current practice. Yet, a penal policy that makes provision for the recognition by the offender of the nature of an offence, and therefore begins to address issues of motivation, is a penal system worthy of the name. Prisoners do not stop being members of society. As a distinguished predecessor of mine in the Primacy, Archbishop William Temple, observed in the early 1940s, a prisoner is never simply a prisoner.

In addition to that, however, it is important that we note that the system, as currently practised, does little to achieve what is fashionably called closure for the victim. If re-offending is still a problem in the system, if issues of motivation are not addressed and if questions of reparation and restorative justice are not foregrounded, the victim is left worse off than before. I am not appealing for a review of penal policy that is slanted towards offender, rather than victim; I am arguing for a system and a policy that recognise both as members of society needing reintegration into something like normality.

Excessive expectations of the rehabilitative function of imprisonment or any other legal penalty may lead to imbalance. There is no case for infinitely extendable rehabilitative programmes. Natural justice intervenes at that point. But if the purpose of sentencing is to contribute positively to a well functioning society, rather than just to achieve control and damage limitation, those elements of restoration, reparation and rehabilitation are imperative. I welcome, therefore, the definition of sentencing offered in last year's Criminal Justice Act, in which the five purposes of sentencing were spelt out with clarity: the punishment of offenders; the reduction of crime, partly through the deterrent effect of penalties imposed; the reform of offenders; the protection of the public; and reparation for offences committed. Any practice of sentencing must now take those purposes fully into consideration, and the guidelines council will need suggestions and steerage about how precisely, in practice, those are to be achieved.

That raises the question of the necessary involvement of a sentencing authority with prison management and others in the construction of a sentence plan before sentence is passed. At present, there are uncomfortable hiatuses in the system, and it becomes impossible to construct a balanced sentence plan prior to sentencing. The possibility of a mixed pattern of custody and supervised work and restorative exercises must be considered and balanced before a final decision is made. That involves time and skill and, therefore, training and expense. We must consider, however, whether the expense involved in that is greater or less attractive than the expense involved in our present, fairly prodigal approach.

Central to much of this, of course, is the principle of the responsibility of the offender. The 2001 report constructed under the leadership of Stephen Pryor, The Responsible Prisoner, sets out the assumption that it is possible for an offender to make different choices from those that they have hitherto made. Approaching it as a Christian, I feel that that principle ought indeed to be fundamental to our approach to sentencing policy. Dignity, choice, the possibility of change and the necessary involvement of a community in building individual lives all seem to go necessarily with a Christian approach to the dignity of victim and offender alike. Such an approach is also, arguably, the only one that does not ultimately make the offender a simple outcast from the social process. It has been well said that our present policy and practice is tantamount to a sentence of banishment and little more. A philosophy of straightforward expulsion does little to help the victim. The point has been put with characteristic eloquence by the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy of The Shaws, who has spoken of our present system as the warehousing of large portions of our population, including—a point that she underlined—children.

Specifically, what are we looking at, as we consider the social purposes of sentencing and the possible guidance that Members of your Lordships' House and others would wish to give to those reconstructing a sentencing policy? I have mentioned the significance of sentence plans and the importance of the involvement of the sentencing authority with others, prior to sentence being passed. I have also mentioned—I want to underline it strongly—the need for parity in the delivery of rehabilitative programmes throughout United Kingdom penal institutions. Most importantly, however, we need a change of philosophy that takes us steadily and inexorably away from believing that a custodial sentence is, so to speak, the default position for every offence or, in some ways worse still, a measure of the seriousness with which an offence is taken. Many have insisted—rightly, I believe—that regarding certain patterns of restorative justice as an easier option than custody is false.

We need involvement and investment in restorative justice models, as argued in the Home Office paper of July last year to which I referred. I note in that paper the commitments to work across the boundaries of the criminal justice system and other systems; the possibility of the further significant development of community justice centres; and a general exploration of means of diversion from prosecution in the first instance. That will go forward only if there is also caution at the highest level in the country about creating new criminal offences with custodial tariffs. Reading this week about a parent gaoled for collusion with her child's truancy, I found myself asking, not for the first time, whether we understand anything about the social effects of custody on family life. I note also the development—particularly in Berkshire, I believe—of the Canadian model of circles of support and accountability as a means of dealing with that most difficult and challenging of subjects, the treatment of sex offenders.

In short, I heartily endorse the much quoted remark made by Winston Churchill in 1912; that the level of civilisation in a society is to be judged by how it treats its prisoners. Our current situation gives us little cause for self-congratulation on our level of civilisation.

What I have said should also underline the tragedy, to which I alluded briefly at the beginning of my remarks, that those exercising great dedication and skill within our present penal system deserve a better vision to realise than that which they are now obliged to attempt to implement. Again, I refer to a remark made by Governor John McCarthy, who said that he did not join the Prison Service to manage overcrowded cattle pens.

What we are looking for is very simple. It is a sentencing policy that takes responsibility for the social fabric and assumes responsibility in both offender and victim. It is a policy that considers that the actions of the courts and the penal system alike are there to provide constructive guidance for society; guidance that can be justified to victim and defender alike. It is also a system that incidentally addresses problems of prodigality and waste in our present practice. I hope and pray that it is a system that will look to and deal with the human rights abuses that still prevail within so many areas of our penal practice. I beg to move for Papers.

11.21 a.m.

Lord Woolf

My Lords, judges have the heavy responsibility of sentencing. They will be most grateful to the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury, first, for arranging this opportunity to debate the subject and, secondly, for the words that he has just uttered, with which I find myself in total agreement. He is also right when he indicates that there are reasons for hope.

I appreciate his references to the Sentencing Guidelines Council, which is now in existence and has had its first meeting. I am its chairman, and as its chairman I have come here to listen and to find out what should be the true purpose of sentencing. It is right that the Criminal Justice Act gives an indication of what that true purpose should be. The most reverend Primate referred to the words of the statute itself. Section 142 identifies the purpose.

It is right also that the mandate given by the Criminal Justice Act to the sentencing council provides some assistance in Section 170(5). It provides that where the council decides to frame or advise sentencing guidelines, the matters to which the council must have regard include—perhaps that word is important—the need to promote consistency in sentencing; the sentences imposed by the courts for offences to which the guidelines relate—that is, as I understand it, past practice; and the cost of differing sentences and the relative effectiveness in preventing re-offending. Then, there is the need to promote public confidence in the criminal justice system, and the requirement that it should take into account the advice of the Sentencing Advisory Panel. The Sentencing Advisory Panel is, of course, an expert body that has already improved sentencing practice and sentencing guidelines and is having a beneficial effect on the sentences imposed by the courts.

The establishment of the Sentencing Guidelines Council gives reason for hope. However, as has been indicated already, many different aspects cause deep concern. Again, those have been identified by the most reverend Primate. He referred, of course, to overcrowding. That is undoubtedly, as I have described it before, a cancer of the system. Resources that could and should be used so much more beneficially elsewhere are swallowed up in what is correctly described as warehousing of prisoners.

I therefore welcome the fact that, for the first time, so far as I know, legislation is indicating that the cost of different sentences—the cost which was mentioned—and the relative effectiveness of those sentences in preventing re-offending have to be taken into account. If that is done sufficiently when sentences are passed, it seems that the inevitable consequence must be that we reverse the present trend.

At the time that I made my Strangeways report, which is not so many years ago—the 10th anniversary was two years ago—the prison population was 42,000 and falling. It is now, alas, over 76,000 and rising. There are hopes for providing more prison places, but the indications are that those extra prison places certainly will not meet the needs that now exist. The Prison Service is straining to find ways of housing more prisoners. At present, that is a primary objective of the Prison Service.

The primary objective of the Prison Service should be otherwise. So much can be achieved, first, in the community, if there are properly resourced alternatives; and, secondly, in prison, if it can devote itself to doing the tasks that it can do well. That includes addressing the lack of education of many of the inmates, their health problems, their problems of finding accommodation when they are released from prison, and their problems of obtaining employment.

In that regard, I should like to refer briefly to the very successful short-term prisoner project in Her Majesty's Prison in Canterbury, which is within the most reverend Primate's own diocese. I should disclose the fact that the prison was acknowledged by the Butler Trust—of which I am president—as justifying the Woolf award. Although I was not responsible for determining who should receive the award, if the award has any merit, the prison deserved it. It focused on the most difficult inmates within the prison system; that is, those serving a sentence of less than 12 months, who constitute the maximum number of persons within the system, at 66 per cent of the adult prison population in 1999. A way was found of addressing their problems and ensuring that they would benefit from the steps that were taken, not only while they were in custody, but when they were returned to the community afterwards.

The prison itself, Thanet police, the Kent probation service, the active support and co-operation of the employment services, the Benefits Agency—now Jobcentre Plus—the Kent Council on Addiction. Thanet District Council, the Mount Zeehan Alcohol Unit, Thanet social services and the East Kent Community and National Health Service Trust—all those who should be involved in analysing the problems of offenders and what needs to he done to tackle their re-offending—came together to make an in-depth risk assessment. They were then able to make plans for prisoners to be returned to the community, thus reducing the likelihood of re-offending as far as that is possible. Activity did not terminate the moment prisoners arrived in the community, it continued within it. In my view, that is all important.

The result was not dramatic, but there has been a significant reduction in re-offending. It is just one example of what can be achieved by those involved with offenders when they get together and seek to provide a way of ensuring that offenders' needs., ones which could cause them to re-offend in the future, are taken into account.

The process also involves the offender himself. He must take responsibility for his behaviour when he returns to the community. Further, while he is in prison, other prisoners must communicate with the different agencies making the necessary arrangements. I repeat, this is only one example of the positive things that can be done. Unfortunately, they do not happen as often as they should.

The Sentencing Guidelines Council must he given the responsibility for encouraging a different approach to sentencing practices in this country so that agencies operating within the community can be properly resourced in order to achieve what I believe it is possible to achieve. The public will be protected when re-offending is tackled.

Of course, the interests of victims have to be taken into account. We need to look after victims better than we do at present. However, it serves no purpose to provide a punishment—the announcement of which often reflects only to a very limited extent the reality of the punishment served by the prisoner—if, on release from prison, the prisoner re-offends. Nothing can be more destructive of the confidence that we need to foster in our criminal justice system if that should be the result. I hope that this debate will accelerate the process that I believe we would all like to see, one that leads to our operating an efficient, effective and more desirable Prison Service.

It is my belief, based on my experience, that we have reason to be proud of the way that the agencies to which I have referred seek to tackle the problems they now face. The sad fact is that, because of overwhelming numbers and the consequent lack of resources due to those overwhelming numbers, they cannot achieve what they should be able to do, and what in other circumstances they do achieve.

11.34 a.m.

Baroness Massey of Darwen

My Lords, I congratulate the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury on securing this debate. I am always impressed by his eloquence on issues of social concern. It is exciting to be taking part in a debate involving others with such a wealth of experience, and who no doubt will touch on a variety of issues. It is also a great honour to follow the noble and learned Lord, Lord Woolf, and to precede the noble and learned Lord, Lord Ackner.

I shall confine my remarks to the problems faced by drug misusers who end up in the criminal justice system in large numbers. I declare an interest as chair of the National Treatment Agency for Substance Misuse, a body set up as a special health authority in 2001 with the intention of increasing the numbers in treatment, increasing the time they stay in treatment, reducing waiting times for those wanting treatment and developing the workforce to address the increased numbers of those requiring treatment. I propose to give a little background to the problem and reflect on the challenges.

Let me say first that much good is happening in relation to drug treatment. There is more money in the system. Only yesterday the Government announced an extra £50 million for young people's services. There are more staff and better organisation. The Criminal Justice Interventions Programme integrates systems, while drug action teams work across agencies at the local level to improve those systems. But some areas of drug treatment need further emphasis; consistency needs more emphasis. The Prison Service in particular is one of the areas which is in need of more action.

I turn to the size of the problem. The use of hard drugs such as heroin and crack cocaine has increased from an almost zero base in 1960 to around 250,000 people today. The most common age for presenting for treatment is between 20 and 29 years, and most of those people are men. Many drug users have chronic health, social and economic problems; many have mental health problems. Families become devastated by drug use. Around half of all crime is drug related. However, over a quarter of those in prison have been through our care system, which is a sad indictment of it.

The aim of treatment set out in the updated drug strategy produced in 2002 is to enable people with drug problems to overcome them so that they can lead healthy, crime-free lives. The key performance target is to double the numbers accessing drug treatment from a baseline of around 100,000 to 200,000 by 2008. The criminal justice system is part of this story, although not the whole story. Substance misuse is a public health issue involving the interrelationship of housing, gender, class, ethnicity, employment and education.

Treatment can work. The National Treatment Outcome Research Study calculated that for every pound spent on treatment, £3 in benefits could accrue in relation to the criminal justice system. It is estimated that the annual cost to society arising from the most serious drug use is over £4 million.

One social purpose of sentencing is to enable people to be drug free, not just because of their criminal behaviour, but in relation to the health and welfare of those individuals and their families. Drug use is increasingly complex, and is associated with mental health problems and poor educational achievement. I recognise that those working in the criminal justice system have an enormously difficult job in tackling this issue. However, they have a vital role to play. In prisons, primary care trusts will soon be in charge of prisoners' health. The National Treatment Agency is currently developing initiatives which will examine how treatment in prisons might be improved.

Prison can provide in-patient detoxification, but it costs around £35,000 per person and has a failure rate of about 70 per cent. Residential detoxification outside prison costs much less and enjoys a higher success rate. The obvious answer is to try to get people into treatment fast, before they become prisoners, or to have good systems of treatment in prison—a worthy social purpose.

As I have said, treatment consists of accurate assessment of the problem, appropriate treatment and appropriate aftercare. In relation to criminal justice, aftercare is an area which is frequently not given enough attention, resulting in a return to drug use, re-offending and family crises.

The National Service Framework "Models of Care", developed by the National Treatment Agency and the Department of Health, places emphasis on the need to oversee individuals presented for care until and after they are functioning well. The social purpose of sentencing should be to help solve problems, not to reinforce them or to create new ones.

There are examples of good drug treatment programmes in prison—programmes which focus on life skills, parenting skills and practicalities such as getting a job and education—but there are not enough of them. Too often early intervention is lacking and aftercare, involving a range of agencies, is inadequate. There are many stories of people who take up drugs in prison.

Let us look at some case studies. A woman—let us call her Deirdre—a drug user and former prostitute, was locked up for shoplifting. There was no family support and her children were taken into care. They are now reunited, but the children were traumatised by the separation. Deirdre said, "All I wanted was some help and treatment with my addiction. Instead, I was punished and so were my children". More than 60 per cent of women prisoners have children under the age of 18. Another woman said, -Punishment did not work for me. What did help was a decent job". She is now a trainee drug worker.

Many people in prison for drug-related crimes say that their families have difficulties in visiting—either because of having to travel long distances or because of poor facilities for relatives—and yet it is known that family support is invaluable in helping prison to succeed in rehabilitation. A survey of young fathers in prison, carried out by Dr Gwyneth Boswell and Professor Peter Wedge for the Department of Health, showed that young fathers felt that to improve the parenting role inmates should have better access to education and employment training; better access to services which support a specific need, such as alcohol or drug rehabilitation; better access to their families; telephone helplines; and better use of community services— inreach as well as outreach. Their views would be echoed by many prisoners.

Clearly there needs to be a message to society that there are consequences to offending. Those consequences will differ depending on the person concerned and the severity of the crime. For some offenders, sentencing has a role to play in protecting the community. This is true of more serious crimes. However, these form a small proportion of drug-related crime, although crack cocaine use may be amplifying the rate at which these crimes are committed. For most, conviction and sentencing probably works best as a warning that unless there is a change of behaviour then prison will result. For a great number of people, the threat of prison may propel them towards treatment. However, treatment in prison needs to be geared to the individual; too often it is "one size fits all".

Let me say a little more about prison aftercare. If a person entered one of the small number of therapeutic regimes on a drug-free wing, much is undone when the offender is discharged, with no care plan, into a hostel or breakfast accommodation filled with people actively using drugs. Some people who are engaged in destructive behaviour, both to themselves, their families and communities, value prison as the only way to escape drugs. However, prisons have often been the places least able to address their complex needs, leading to a spiral of failure to rehabilitate.

The answer to the question of punishment or rehabilitation is surely that it can be both. A trend which may be leading to unintended consequences is the move to establish expanded and more effective drug treatment responses within the prison system. The transfer of prison healthcare to the NHS, the introduction of counselling, assessment, referral, advice and throughcare teams and the greater availability of structured programmes can make a custodial sentence seem like an attractive option to the sentencer by killing the punishment and rehabilitation bird with one stone.

Up until now, this has proved a false hope due to the lack of aftercare for released prisoners with drug problems, which means in many cases that the gains made in custody disappear on release. The introduction of comprehensive throughcare and aftercare soon may address this gap. But it may also provide further encouragement to use the custodial option. It remains to be seen whether the introduction of the National Offender Management Service will create a more seamless and integrated system, matching the aspiration of the courts, which impose the sentence, with those who seek to deliver.

Drug treatment and testing orders have also sought to combine punishment with rehabilitation. These sentences seek to target the chronic drug-misusing offender and have been seen as an alternative to custody which offered court-mandated drug treatment. However, in an attempt to offset the accusations of "soft option", the order contained a requirement that the offender attend daily drug treatment for a minimum of 20 hours a week, supported by a tough drug-testing regime. Unfortunately this approach often backfires because the rigid and demanding nature of the order and tough enforcement measures lead to high breach rates, which in turn end up with offenders in custody.

We certainly need good collaboration between agencies, for example, arrest referral schemes, drug treatment and testing and prison-based drug treatment. Lack of a shared approach can result in duplication and lack of follow-up. Treatment bottlenecks can occur due to a gearing towards identifying, assessing and referring to treatment with insufficient treatment at the end of it.

This may sound somewhat depressing, but that is because I care so much about the issue and want to see better social purpose to drug treatment in the criminal justice system. I am hopeful that things will improve with the changes in the system that I mentioned earlier—the transfer of prison health to the NHS and the setting up of a new national offender management service—but can the Minister say how these changes will serve the criminal justice well? I feel, as a non-expert, that we are at a crossroads with the criminal justice system. We have to make it work better for individuals, families and society as a whole. This applies also to drug-using offenders. That is why the debate is so important and will serve to remind us of the purpose of social sentencing.

11.48 a.m.

Lord Ackner

My Lords, it was my privilege to congratulate the noble Baroness on her maiden speech. I forecast that we would have the advantage of many more helpful and learned observations. How right I was. It is an honour to speak in a debate introduced by the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury.

In 1940, the Home Office made the obvious observation that people's attitudes to crime and punishment seemed to vary with the pace of time. That applies equally to governments and to the media. Forty years ago, I was appointed the Recorder of Swindon. It was the first appointment and I was duly happy about it, although a little saddened to see that, in answer to the memorial addressed by the Borough to the Lord Chancellor, he considered in relation to my pay that two-thirds of what had been suggested was quite adequate.

I immediately went to the governor of the Bristol prison for advice. He said, in quite a relaxed manner, "Don't send too many people here if you can avoid it". I thanked him and asked why. He said, "Prison is a very good deterrent until you impose it, and that's the end of that". He also said, "They very soon find it's much more comfortable here than they expected". That was the advice I received.

A few years later, I was appointed as a High Court judge to run sentencing seminars. It was a ticklish job because the Bar, or the judges, did not recognise that you could teach anything on the subject matter of sentencing. That view was supported, incidentally, by Lord Devlin. It soon became apparent that it was a pleasurable occasion, and I believe more alcohol was consumed in the evenings at the girls' school at Roehampton than on any other occasion.

I was asked on occasion to visit prisons, which I did, always with a small number. We visited Scrubs on one occasion. The governor said, "We are not a therapeutic prison, but there are occasions when we have a sort of amateur group therapy session. All the oddballs are brought together so they can chat about their views. I would like only one volunteer to attend our session today". Being used to being obliged to volunteer, with a name that begins with "A", followed by "c", I, as a conditioned reflex, volunteered. As we marched across, a terrible thought hit me, and I said to the warder, "It is appreciated that I am going to be merely a spectator?", to which the answer was, "Oh, indeed, sir".

We arrived at what was the conversion of three cells into one. The warder in charge saluted and said, "I have told the assembled company we can adjourn our usual session because we have a High Court judge present who will answer all your questions". One of the questions immediately asked was, "How does it feel when the likes of you sentence the likes of us". Thinking as quickly as I could, I said, "Take a suspended sentence—you know before I enter the cells that you are going to go to prison". And on we went. Then, suddenly, the prisoner interrupted, and said, "I thought that answer of yours was most unfair". I asked, "What was unfair about it?". He said, "If I'd known more about this, I would not have come here". I said, "Are you suggesting that the judge should have taken you by the scruff of the neck, pushed you through the prison doors and said, 'Smell that'?". He said, "Yes, and if he had, I wouldn't be here".

This reminded me of what used to occur on assize, when experienced judges such as Mr Justice Humphreys would have up on the first day those who pleaded guilty—young men, usually. He would say, with great seriousness, "Well, I think this is a very difficult case. I shall remand you in custody till the end of the assize and then I will see what is the right disposal". It was only a matter of a week or two, because we travelled around to many small places. He did not have the slightest intention of sending the young man to prison, but he thought a little experience—a week or two at the most—would do quite a useful job. It did, but you cannot do that any more because you have a statutory obligation to grant bail. But I thought that that was an interesting indication of what one can learn from the past.

I studied the various options with care. It was quite clear that the Criminal Justice Act 1991, which had to be amended because it put judges into an impossible straitjacket in sentencing, was absolutely right to make it clear that prison was the penalty of last resort. Judges had to go through all the options, as they are taught to do, ticking off those that they thought could not apply.

I remember doing that in one case and imposing a suspended sentence. I always imposed a suspended sentence with a monetary fine, so to speak, to go with it, so that the person should not be considered to have got off with the soft option. I have told this story before, but perhaps I may be allowed to tell it again.

I had to sentence a Welshman who was the pillar of his local society. He was in the choir, he was on the church advisory board. He really was, so it seemed, a very upstanding member of the community. He was a milkman, known as Jones the Milk. He had a cunning scheme: when the Milk Marketing Board came along to put 1,000 gallons of milk into his tank, he had a runnel system, which ran off 200 gallons. So, to fill his tank, the Milk Marketing Board had in fact to put in 1,200 gallons.

I thought long and hard about his sentence; I gave him a suspended sentence of 18 months on each charge, to run concurrently, and then a fine of £750 on each charge—three times £750. When I came back to the lodgings, I said to my brother, Mr Justice Tasker Watkins, VC, "Tasker, have I done the right thing?" "God, boy", he said, "he'd rather have gone to prison any day". So I reckoned that perhaps I had done the right thing.

On a more serious note, I turn to the present sentencing arrangements. Before the Sentencing Guidelines Council came into existence, there was a sentencing panel. It consisted of a variety of experts—non-lawyers, academics, probation officers and a number of people who had a lot of knowledge of the world and the type of person who came before the courts. This was three or so years ago. These people provided the Court of Appeal with the benefit of their views. The Court of Appeal took those into account and, as a result, something like a dozen crimes have been the subject matter of the guidelines.

The guidelines themselves were set by the Court of Appeal—and, I believe, very properly so. Sentencing is a judicial function. Although the Court of Appeal should be open to, and take, such advice as is appropriate, it is its function to issue the guidelines. But the present Home Secretary was not content with that, so in the Criminal Justice Act 2003 he provided that the guidelines would no longer be dealt with by the Court of Appeal but by a Sentencing Guidelines Council, on which a variety of persons, fully qualified to serve on the panel, would provide advice.

My noble and learned friend the Lord Chief Justice is a man of extreme tolerance and he, protestante, accepted the measure. But much worse was to follow. Before the Sentencing Guidelines Council was set up, while the Bill was still a Bill, the Home Secretary was so furious at being deprived—by reason of the European legislation that this Government were so keen to incorporate—of his right to set the final period that a person convicted of murder should serve, that during the Report stage, with basically no prior consideration, he provided for Schedule 17. Now Schedule 19, it provides the minimum starting rate in all murder cases; those sentences are about 50 to 100 per cent higher than the guidelines issued by my noble and learned friend the Lord Chief Justice as a practice direction about a year earlier, having taken the advice of the panel and having got the concurrence of the Home Secretary and the Attorney-General.

That provision, having become law, has obliged the Sentencing Guidelines Council to follow a course that is quite contrary to what it considers is just, because it had already agreed on what those guidelines were a year previously. In addition, one cannot up murder as an offence without a knock-on effect on all other serious crimes. So if they all go up by 50 per cent plus, the prisons will not be able to accommodate them.

Within Schedule 19, there is a discretion, and the noble Baroness, Lady Scotland, argues fervently that it lets the Lord Chief Justice off the hook. I very much hope that is so but, as someone who has had a little more to do with draftsmen than the noble Baroness, I strongly doubt it. We have asked over and over again that it should be specified separately in the legislation that the discretion does relate. The discretion, as I see it, is only a discretion within the framework of Schedule 19. One cannot turn one's back on the schedule, as one should be able to do.

I end my submissions on that sad note, though with 100 per cent—even 101 per cent—confidence in my noble and learned friend the Lord Chief Justice so that all will come well in the end.

12.5 p.m.

The Earl of Listowel

My Lords, it is a great pleasure to follow my noble and learned friend Lord Ackner. As he spoke, I was reminded of what the noble Lord, Lord Warner, said, when he was head of the Youth Justice Board and introduced all those welcome reforms, which he undertook while in that role. He said that he found himself rather in the position of someone pursuing a bus and, each time he approached the bus, it accelerated away. I am afraid that, in the same way, the increase in numbers in prison works against improving what can be done there to reform prisoners.

I should also like to thank the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury for allowing this opportunity to debate. It is a debate that some of our colleagues may find particularly timely, as this week we have been reminded by visitors from United States that more than 2 million United States citizens are in prison. That is a real problem for local communities, which have to cater for the needs of elderly former prisoners who return, having been institutionalised. State funds are so pressed that local communities are now being encouraged to ask whether they would like to use the money that is being spent on incarcerating these prisoners to develop facilities that would benefit the prisoners and the local community. Of course, these prisoners normally come from the most deprived areas, with the poorest facilities.

I should like to concentrate on the aim of the criminal justice system to reform prisoners, and how the training of prison officers affects that aim. The training of the prison officer now lasts nine weeks, which is a reduction from 14 weeks. A prison officer who wishes to work with children is trained for a further two or three days. It almost makes me weep to think of this; it is deplorable and totally uncivilised.

A senior prison governor told Members of your Lordships' House that he had toured Europe and seen the training there, which for the most part is far in advance of what we have in this country. He particularly noted the success in Germany. In Norway, prison officers receive one year's probationary training and then go to a college for prison officers for one year. They have a mock-up of a prison where they can practise role-play, and they can work on the theory of prison officer work. They are also encouraged and funded to travel abroad—and they often come to this country—to see how other prison services work. They are also obliged to do some voluntary service in the community before they are given responsibility in prisons for prisoners.

If I may, I should like to put the matter in context by considering what is being done in Sure Start and in other areas. I hope that noble Lords will bear with me while I do that. The Government are being very tough on crime and the causes of crime, and I do welcome that. One of the most apparent successes in that area is their Sure Start programme, whereby a quarter of the most poor families in this country have benefited from support. In a recent project in Camden, a child psychotherapist has worked with parents to help them better to understand their children, and to help the workers in that environment, which can be so challenging, to engage with those families better. That project helps to create those early bonds between parent and child, which are so important, in order to see those children fulfil themselves but also to avoid them becoming involved with the criminal justice system later in life.

There are real parallels between what happens in the Prison Service and what happens in other areas, such as working with children. One must bear in mind that many of the children in prison—60 per cent of them according to the National Audit Office—have come through the care system. My noble friend Lady Howe pointed out that 39 per cent of under 21 year-olds in prison have come through the care system. In the adult prison population, 25 per cent had been through the care system. Only 10 per cent of children taken into care have had any experience with the criminal justice system, but over 50 per cent have experienced abuse or neglect, which is why they entered the care system. One must think about the extraordinarily high level of personality disorder in the adult prison population, which the National Audit Office put at around 65 per cent in 1998. We know that a chief source of personality disorders is early childhood experience and poor family upbringing.

We need to recognise that for many adults or children going into prison, being involved with a prison officer is the first time they have had the experience of a father. This was reinforced to me by a visit by the head of the Prison Service. A prison officer is in many ways similar to a parent. Just as a child is utterly dependent on his parents, so a prisoner is utterly dependent on a prison officer for food and for being able to move from place to place. There are important parallels, which we should bear in mind.

We also need to think about how we have neglected parents in this country in the past. I welcome Sure Start and investment in the National Health Service so that we can, for instance, recruit more midwives for maternity services so that they can do the extremely important work of ensuring that mothers and children bond well at the start of the child's life. I appreciate the investment in increasing the numbers of health visitors who do a crucial job in ensuring that children get the right start. I also refer to housing: some of the housing in which we expect families to live have moisture running down the walls and are overcrowded. I pay tribute to the Government for reducing the number of families in bed-and-breakfast accommodation. But when that support was not there, many of the prisoners in our prison system have experienced the most adverse circumstances at the starts of their lives.

Prison is an opportunity. First of all we need to contain such people and then, perhaps, we can also work with them. But if prison officers are not adequately equipped to work with these children and adults, we are not helping them to achieve much in these situations. If we wish to be tough on crime, we do not wish to have prisoners warehoused in prisons. We want them to be doing some useful work while they are there and for useful work to he done with them. Challenging a young person or a child about his behaviour and helping him to form, perhaps for the first time, a close, positive, constructive relationship with an adult is challenging. That is challenging for the child and is hard work; it does not involve being soft on the child or adult.

I welcome many of the initiatives that the Government are taking, such as the Children Bill. I welcome the fact that youth offending teams are being encouraged to work in partnership with local authorities to deliver better outcomes for children. I welcome the new duties on prison governors in the Children Bill. But we need to think again about the workforce. Many years ago, I worked with young people in an intermediate treatment centre. It was extremely hard work. I am concerned that we have previously neglected social workers and people in residential childcare working with children. Until recently, 80 per cent of them had no relevant qualifications for working with these difficult children.

Just as we neglected these people in the past we have also neglected prison officers until now. I hope that the Government will continue the impetus towards improvement and will look at them again, especially if they want prison officers to work more closely with the probation service. A probation service officer normally has a postgraduate certificate to do his work. Questions must be asked about how effectively they can work in partnership if a prison officer has only nine weeks' training. Again, it has been hard for people in the residential childcare sector to work in partnership with schools and other agencies because most of them had no relevant qualifications. I am very grateful that the Government are now seeking to remedy that. I hope that Minister will keep it under review and I look forward to hearing from her department shortly on the issue of training. I also look forward to dialogue on this in the future.

I again thank the most reverend Primate for initiating this debate and I look forward to the Minister's response.

12.15 p.m.

Lord Lucas

My Lords, I wonder whether, when the most reverend Primate was proposing this debate, he did not feel a bit exposed standing so close to the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor. Our autolytic Lord Chancellor is so keen on disposing of himself and casting the Lord Chief Justice into the outer darkness, or at least out of this House, did the most reverend Primate wonder whether he was next on the list, whether his time here was, perhaps, a little limited? If he did, I am extremely grateful that he should have chosen this subject for debate as it is very close to my heart.

As many noble Lords know, I have a close relationship with a charity called Safeground that works in prison education. When I told people there that I was going to speak in this debate they said that the first thing I must say is how dedicated, supportive, effective, useful and altogether wonderful the prison chaplains are in all the prisons in which they work, especially Wandsworth where they spend a lot of time, and that they would extend that compliment to the imams. The support and help that such people provide to prisoners is immense. It is a great tribute to the Church that it chooses to send people of such quality into such difficult missions, rather than giving them the easier and more social life outside.

There is a cutting on a wall of the pub I use at weekends that says, "a short word can be better than a long sentence". I see that as an echo of what the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, was saying and what my right honourable friend the shadow Chancellor has called the "neighbourless society". We have become detached from people who are troublesome or difficult in our society. We seem to think that they are problems to be sorted out by other people. Parents are taking less responsibility for their children. Schools are taking less responsibility for dealing with the difficult kids that they have. We all take less responsibility for misbehaviour and bad behaviour that we see going on around us in society. Very few of us make a real contribution: certainly I would count myself as somebody who does not make a real contribution to helping children in care, who are those who need the most help in finding their way back into a stable relationship with society. It is a problem for all of us. It is not a problem of the sentencing system as such. For many people who end up in prison, the problem starts much earlier and it is up to all of us to do a bit to deal with it.

I shall concentrate mostly on prison because that is where I am least ignorant. Prison serves three functions: it removes from society people who we simply do not want around for a bit; it is retribution for the crimes that they have committed; and it is an opportunity to reform them. We do removal well. We do not hear of escapes on any large scale now. Prisons are secure places. Retribution has really come down to containment. We do not have the treadmill or similar things any more. The punishment is one of isolation from society. We aid that by sticking prisoners in cells for long periods, forcing them to watch television, which must be a terrible punishment after a while—I am delighted to get away from the thing—but, worst of all, by allowing them easy access to drugs. There is not only a very serious problem of illegal drugs in prisons, but the prescribing of drugs in prisons is at an extraordinary level. That is done to keep them quiet, but it has the overall effect of dehumanising them, removing them from society and making the whole business of getting them back into society afterwards much more difficult.

It I were to start to tackle that problem anywhere in particular, I would have a real blitz on the drug problem in the hostels that prisoners go to after release. Prisoners are really fearful—particularly those who have had drug problems and have made some progress in tackling them in prison—about going into a hostel environment where drugs are just everywhere and there is no longer any protection for them against getting reinvolved with drugs. That would be one of the earliest changes that I should like to see made.

Most of my concerns have been with the process of reform. There are some things that a government—I certainly do not address myself to a government of any particular colour—could do to improve the situation. The first thing I would do is to make sure that we have a prisons Minister who is in place as a prisons Minister for a good long time. One of the good things that John Major did was to leave Ministers in post. It was one of the real faults of the Department of Agriculture, in which I was involved, that Ministers came and went as fast as they absolutely could. It was just a step in their promotion.

Responsibility for prisons is an unfashionable, unsexy, generally dangerous post that is uninteresting to the electorate and belongs to a Minister who really cares about that kind of thing and is going to be there long enough to make a difference. The post should, to my mind, be filled by a Lords Minister it possible because you are not so encumbered by ambit ion if you are a Minister in this place. Not that I want to sentence the noble Baroness to the post, but as her noble and learned friend is so keen to vacate his, perhaps we could move her sideways.

The other thing I would do is ensure—if you have a prisons Minister—that he or she, and the people working for him, have real experience of prison. They should not just have visited prisons but have actually spent some time there. The Minister could have an office in Wandsworth or Brixton and absorb something of the atmosphere and understand what prisons are about. It takes a fair time before you really understand how the whole thing works. There is a difficulty with bureaucracy. Although you meet lots of people in the Prison Service who are dedicated to making prison work, making it a better place and looking after the prisoners for whom they care, the people involved in the bureaucracies are much more divorced from that. Very few people in the bureaucracies have experience of prison and you do not get that same sense of involvement, direction and ambition. That has to come from the Minister. That is the only way you will get that into the bureaucracies, or indeed make sure that there is much more flow between people who actually work in prison and those who work in the administration side.

I would also make sure that prison governors are in post for at least five years in their individual prisons. I spend a lot of my time looking at schools. A school that changed its headmaster every two years would be dead after 10. The whole system and spirit of the school would have fallen apart. It cannot be a surprise that changing governors as often as we do has that effect on prisons. That is an easy change to make, but no one has made it. It just requires determination and it is a matter to which a strong Minister should address himself.

We should be much better than we are at recording what is going on in prison, the progress made by prisoners and the effects of the various initiatives that are taken. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Woolf, referred to an initiative that had been taken in Canterbury. What has been done to record how good that has been? What has been done to enable that to be spread to other locations? If I am to judge by what else happens in the Prison Service, probably nothing. There are lots of these little initiatives but they very rarely get through to being something national. We should not just think of the benefit in terms of reoffending rates—that is so far away. For some of these prisoners it will be years before you can measure that sort of thing. It is probably another three years on their sentence and then two years before you know whether they have reoffended. We really ought to be measuring things which are much easier to see in the ordinary course of events—whether they have become more co-operative prisoners; whether they have changed their status from standard to enhanced; and whether they have become more involved in education programmes, just so that we develop an evidence base.

One of the great problems with things that are done in prison is that very rarely do you get a proper scientific study. You cannot develop a control group in the same way as you would hope to outside, particularly with the way prisons are at the moment—there is such a churn rate, and prisoners are moving round at such a rate that you do not get a long enough look at anyone. The only way we shall measure how well things go is by collecting data on everyone and then looking at it, as it were, as an epidemiological study and get some worth from it and get to understand which of the great things that are being done in prison really work and we should support, and then get behind them and support them. That would be a key to progress.

One of the other key areas, of course, is making sure that prisoners stay in touch with the outside and that relationships with families are maintained. One of the things I should like to see more of—I believe that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Ackner, referred to this—is the use of prisons and prisoners as an example to people who are not yet there. A very good project called. "Prison? Me? No Way!" involves prisoners going into schools and talking to schoolchildren about how they went wrong and what it is like in prison. That has been extremely effective, but more could be done. There are opportunities for children to visit prisons to see what they are like. Again, that is difficult due to the overcrowding that exists at present but it should exist as an ambition.

We should focus on the problems that are so common in prisons and are so badly dealt with. An awful lot of people in prison have special educational needs, and there really is not the quality of provision for that that there should be. They have reached the point where they have fallen completely out of education. We know how effective tackling special educational needs is in schools. Once you start to tackle that problem with prisoners, you can achieve a transformation in their attitude to society. That kind of thing takes time, dedication and focus and requires ministerial input in a sustained way over a long period.

12.27 p.m.

Baroness Gibson of Market Rasen

My Lords, I, too, begin by thanking the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury for placing this important and very thought provoking issue on our agenda today.

In our busy lives we sometimes forget to ask ourselves the more basic questions of not just what we are doing but why we are doing it. The question of what is the social purpose of sentencing must be fundamental to our approach to the criminal justice system. As the Archbishop reminded us, it has been said that a society can be judged by its approach to the criminal justice system. If that is so, we must look at ourselves and our society most seriously.

When the Labour government came into power, just as other governments before them, they had well proclaimed views on the criminal justice system. With many of these I agreed. "Tough on crime and tough on the causes of crime"—who could disagree? But did we ask the more fundamental questions about crime? Were we clear who should be imprisoned and who should not? Did we ask how the complex interrelationship between the various courts, the prisons, both public and private, the sentencing policy and the probation and prison services—now to be seen as one—actually work in practice? I fear not, or not in enough depth. It is that lack of an overall integrated strategy that is producing a rising prison population and, too often, a short-term reaction to the long-term problem of overcrowding and its unhappy consequences. In turn, that therefore produces the frustration of the well meaning policies, hopes and desires of the Government.

Unfortunately, there was an example of that earlier this month. On the same day on which the Home Office published its action plan to tackle women's offending—a much-welcomed strategy—we heard that the work of the first European women's therapeutic community prison, based in Winchester prison, was to be disrupted because, I understand, the unit is to be transferred to Her Majesty's Prison Send, which is in Woking in Surrey. I also understand that that is because the women's unit in Winchester prison is needed to hold male prisoners.

I want to concentrate my remarks on women and prison. In doing so, I recognise that I can scratch only the surface of the complexities involved. However, it seems vital when we consider the social purposes of sentencing that we consider the very disturbing and special social consequences of imprisoning women. It does not take much imagination to understand why that is so. Women are still, in so many homes, the mainstay of the family unit. When the woman is removed, the fragile family structure collapses and the consequences are dire. For those women prisoners who are primary carers, the suffering is extended to their children in particular. Home Office research has found that 66 per cent of female prisoners are mothers, and that each year up to 17,000 children are separated from their mothers by imprisonment. Further research has shown that only 5 per cent of the children of women prisoners remain in their own homes after their mothers have been sentenced.

At the end of last year, three-quarters of all women in prison were held more than 100 miles away from their homes, thus making visiting them extremely difficult. It is little wonder, therefore, that the pain of separation and the many obstacles which prevent women maintaining family relationships often have a damaging impact on the woman's health, both physical and mental. The whole question of women's mental health and the instances of suicide and self-injury are worthy of a speech devoted entirely to that important subject. Suffice it to say that women are almost 18 times more likely than men to self-injure in prison, and a considerably higher number of women than men enter prison with mental health problems. That number continues to rise.

Government figures show us that there are now more than 4,500 women in prison—an increase of 194 per cent in the past 10 years. For me, one of the most worrying factors surrounding women's imprisonment is the reasons given for it. Most female prisoners are held for non-violent offences. In 2002, the offence for which women were most often sentenced was theft from shops. Shoplifters accounted for nearly one-third of all women sentenced to immediate custody. The majority of women serve very short sentences. In 2002, 40 per cent of women prisoners served a sentence of three months or less, and the overall average sentence was 10 months.

I do not wish to make light of crimes committed by women if they are violent, involve a great deal of money, or are connected with drug or human trafficking. But do we really need to incarcerate women who steal goods worth a small amount of money? Why are women's sentences getting harsher? Why is a woman convicted at the Crown Court for theft or handling twice as likely to be imprisoned today as she would have been in 1991? Why have the chances of a woman receiving a custodial sentence risen sevenfold in 10 years?

I recognise that the Government have made strenuous efforts to alleviate the special problems that women face in prison. Earlier this year, I visited Holloway prison, and was agreeably surprised at the improvements since my previous visit a number of years ago. The reception area was transformed; the mother-and-baby unit was brighter; the obviously caring staff were helping the mothers; the playgroup was in action; and the whole atmosphere was much lighter for all the women prisoners. Although there is, of course, still something rather chilling about seeing babies and small children being raised behind bars, I came away with the feeling that improvements had been and were being achieved.

The Government must be sincerely congratulated on their action plan, which is intended to halt the disturbing rise in the female prison population. Initiatives such as community sentences, which have already been mentioned, and improvements in the provision of mental health and drug treatments for offenders, so that on their release they have a better chance of integration and survival back in the world outside, are to be greatly welcomed. The closer working relationship instigated by the Government last year between the Prison Service and the NHS is a long-awaited change which is both positive and practical. I look forward to hearing how the new initiatives are working in due course. However, we all recognise that there is still a long way to go, and that even more initiatives are needed.

If we ask ourselves the question with which we started—what is the social purpose of sentencing?—surely the answer must not be punishment alone. Yet for many women prisoners, it means just that. We cannot isolate the social purpose of sentencing from the world in which we live, nor from women's lives within that world. If we start from the premise, as I do, that too many women are being imprisoned, we have to look for alternatives to imprisonment and actions to support women prisoners as they serve their sentences. For example, are we considering placements for women as near as possible to their homes? Are we staffing visitor centres with facilities for prisoners' children, as I saw in Holloway? Are resources being invested in a range of community sentences for those who are no risk to public safety? Perhaps above all, are we monitoring those who sentence and asking why they send women to prison rather than using other penalties in the community?

The Prison Reform Trust has been extremely helpful to me during my preparation for the debate, and I believe that Juliet Lyon, its director, is absolutely right when she observes: As long as there is a crisis driven prison system, vulnerable women are at the bottom of the heap". I shall end by quoting from a statement by a government department. It said: The best way to reduce women's offending is to improve women's access to work; to improve women's mental health services; to tackle drug abuse by women; to improve family ties: and to improve the life chances of young women at school and in the community". I am sure that my noble friend will agree with that approach, because the source of my quotation is none other than the Home Office.

12.38 p.m.

Lord Elton

My Lords, I join all noble Lords in thanking the most reverend Primate for a golden opportunity to pool a great deal of impressively accurate knowledge and very sound philosophy on the sentencing and treatment of people who offend against the criminal code. As he made clear, the purposes are set out in Section 142 of the Criminal Justice Act 2003. Having accepted that list, we can ask ourselves whether what we have been doing for the past 20 years has been working. Punishment is the first requirement, and anyone who has been in prison can safely say that it is a punishment. Of course, not all sentences involve prison.

What about the reduction of crime? One indicator is the prison population itself. In 1983 it was 36,300, and a fortnight ago was 75,000 plus a few. The Home Office says in a paper that a quarter of the working-age population of the country actually have a previous conviction. Like the noble Baroness, whose speech I commend, I rely on that as a good authority.

What about rehabilitation? Has that worked? The present rate of re-offending is 58 per cent overall, is much higher for juveniles and most people who re-offend are returned to prison.

Is prison protecting the public? I sought a more unusual and dramatic figure to illustrate this. The Library has kindly provided me with the figure for "999" calls received by the police in a year, which now stands at over 10 million. In the Metropolitan Police it is 2.5 million. In Surrey it is 1,400 per day; in the West Midlands it is 1,800 per day. So I do not believe prison is working in that direction.

What about reparation? That is the last heading that has been tried thus far. Let us hope that something comes of it.

However, have we tried to make the system work in the past? We certainly started by building more prisons and ending the practice of slopping-out. When I became Minister for the Prison Service in 1982 I discovered, thanks to dear Frank Longford's Unstarred Question, which I had to answer within six days, that I had inherited an estate in which not one brick had been put on another for any adult secure accommodation since the end of the 19th century. That is where we started from. Prisoners were two to three in cells designed more than half a century before to hold one. So building more prisons has not worked.

What about the switch to long custodial sentencing as a priority? I endorse the welcome given by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Ackner, for the fact that prison is now the last resort. As the most reverend Primate and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Woolf, suggested, and as has been proposed in legislation, what about connecting the cost of sentencing and the people who do the sentencing with the people who pay for the sentencing? When I was Minister for prisons I had a lovely pipe dream that the judicial service should be made responsible for the prisons. I was not brave enough to suggest it to Willie Whitelaw but I thought that it would bring home this issue. Of course the idea was not feasible. Then there was the question of whether there would be savings by handing out non-judicial sentences. I thought that there would be, until I read the Answer to a Question tabled by my noble friend Lord Marlesford, in which the noble Baroness, Lady Scotland, who I am glad to see will answer this debate in her usual lucid and convincing style, said, The average weekly cost per prisoner during the financial year 2002–03 was £697. However, she continued: The average cost of an offender completing 40 hours of community service in the calendar year for 2002 was £706".— [Official Report, 11/3/04; col. WA 190.] I see heads shaking, as did my noble friend's, and he was sorry that he could not be here long enough to make that point himself, but I hope that the noble Baroness the Minister will address the matter in her reply or in written material later.

Have we tried to improve the regimes? Yes, indeed, we have. I welcome concentration on education and I hope that there is now sufficient escort power available among prison officers to ensure that prisoners who have an education programme in one part of a prison can actually get there from another part. Often we are proudly told how many hours of education provision is available and how many people there are to teach it, but the prisoners are locked up because there is no one there to escort them.

We have tried to provide meaningful occupations for prisoners. I was somewhat depressed when I discovered in the prisons that I visited that prisoners were assembling light switches or pulling a lever on a machine that shaped plastic forms so that a sandal or a pen case came out at one end with powder going into the other. They were monotonous occupations and I discovered that what counted was not the meaningfulness of the occupation but the opportunity to talk to other prisoners—to associate—which they naturally stopped doing as soon as I came around the corner.

We have tried by legislation. Have we not tried? The Criminal Justice Act 2003 was no less than the 17th criminal justice Act that we have had since the present party came to power. I say that not to make a political point but because that happened to be the relevant date in my statistics. During that period—although I do not doubt that my party was also an offender in this regard—there have been an average of no less than 150 new offences created each year. We are providing a growing spider's web in which to catch the unfortunate criminals—if, indeed, they are unfortunate, and we need to examine that, too.

One is beginning to ask, "If sentencing doesn't work, would something else?". We have tried at least keeping people out of the mainstream with restorative justice, which I believe is extremely important. Noble Lords will know a great deal about that. It evolved, surprisingly, from the tribal practices of the Maoris, which came via America to this country, and we should be grateful to them. Restorative justice provides an opportunity for the offender and the victim to be reconciled. Here, I am on the most reverend Primate's ground, because it falls exactly within our instructions to turn the other cheek and pray for our enemies. That may sound a strange and anachronistic suggestion but my medical friends tell me that one can see the benefits to the forgiver in the immune system of the forgiver. I do not know whether that is a good preaching point, but, for example, I harboured for years a deep grudge against someone who had done me a great harm. I realised that it was shrivelling me inside and the moment of forgiveness was a moment of release for me. A system should be available to people so that assistance is provided by the community for members of the community when they fall out.

Before dealing with what I believe is fundamentally wrong with the whole system, I point out that keeping people out of the system altogether must be the most intelligent option. What is the point of catching 10 per cent of criminals at prices that beggar the Exchequer, when one could spend a tenth of that money on stopping them becoming criminals? Others have addressed ways in which that could be done and I shall not repeat them. I refer to one invention by a noble Lord who sat on these Benches, when in opposition, during his last years; before that he was a Minister in the previous Labour government, which fell in 1979. He was then David Ennals, later to be Lord Ennals. In the last weeks of that government he invented the intermediate treatment fund. I declare an interest, because I was its chairman for a while. It did two unusual and important things. One of those was to travel around looking for run-down estates where there was nothing for the kids to do. That is the real principle—most people fall into crime because they have nothing better to do. There are many others who take up crime for other reasons, but it is a principle inducement for young people to start wrecking things, creating mayhem, wanting to hear the police siren behind them and so on.

The fund had to identify areas that lacked social amenities and locate in them youngish adults who saw what was happening, wanted to reverse it, and had an interest, whether it was a jazz band, rock climbing, water colouring, hiking, orienteering or, very often, football. The fund could pass on their enthusiasm and allow it to catch fire in the hearts of the young people. With little money, seed corn grants were provided to give them football strips, goal posts, guitars and so on. That had a remarkable impact and I could tell noble Lords stories to prove it, but there is insufficient time.

The other half of what the fund did, before the criminal justice system evolved with teamwork across disciplines, was to call together all of the people concerned with, particularly juvenile, justice, the probation service, magistrates and so on, sit them down and say, "These are the resources available to you—magistrates please listen—which do not involve sending people to prison, will actually work better than sending them to prison and will cost a great deal less".

That system, under those circumstances, was appealing. I am sorry that it was stopped and I hope that it will be started again. However, it could not address the underlying flaw that I see, which is this: when a person is convicted, he becomes a prisoner and ceases to be the responsibility of the community from which he comes. There is discontinuity because no one in his home community is responsible for him. When such people return, everyone is afraid of them but no one is responsible for them either—it is the state.

There needs to be some continuity between the treatment of offenders and the communities in which they live. I was greatly encouraged earlier this week to read of a new system being evolved in the United States called "Justice Reinvestment". I am afraid I have lost my piece of paper so I cannot give your Lordships the precise figures. I am not sure that they matter, except that they are jaw dropping. An analysis was done of various states and that of Oregon remains in my mind. It was possible to calculate the money which the state spent in locking people in the different geographic locations. It was also possible to focus on individual communities in individual towns and for the state to say, "That block there is costing us X hundred thousand"—sometimes X million—"dollars a year. How would it be if you had to pay for that?".

A system was evolved whereby the state remitted to the county the cost of incarceration in return for the county supervising the people sentenced in meaningful employment for the community. That was an enormous saving to the counties because they were able to put those people into community work which benefited the local society—the parks, the canals, the roads and everything one cares to mention. And they had money over to improve the amenities and provide preventive services. The rate of incarceration of juveniles from, I believe, Deschutes County was cut by 73 per cent in one year.

That is a spine-tingling figure and it turned around the community. Instead of having strangers coming back to threaten the community, it had young people who had acquired dignity, who had done something useful and who could point to what they had done. And on the way they learnt a trade. That is a reversal of how we do it and I beg your Lordships and Her Majesty's Government to give it close attention. The organisation whose publication I have been remembering— but not, unfortunately, its charts—is the United States Open Society Institute.

I am deeply obliged to the most reverend Primate for giving me the opportunity to say something of which I hope many people will take note.

12.53 p.m.

Lord Parekh

My Lords, too, am deeply obligated to the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury for initiating this extremely important debate. In his eloquent speech, he referred to Winston Churchill's remark to the effect that the quality of a nation's prisons is a barometer of its moral fibre. I should like to supplement that with a similar remark by Mahatma Gandhi who, unlike Churchill, spent five years of his life in Her Majesty's prison in colonial India and had the opportunity to see what prison can do to a man of his quality and calibre. He also had the opportunity to interact with ordinary criminals. He said that the nation's prisons were a measure of its quality of civilisation. More importantly, he said, having seen ordinary prisoners go out of the prison, "I can't remember any who came out either with his pride or with his humanity intact". Prison means not just loss of liberty, as we keep saying; it is also a loss of some portion of one's humanity and pride.

Prison represents a twofold failure on the part of society. First, it indicates that society has failed to raise citizens with a sense of responsibility and some measure of self-discipline. And it also represents a second failure; that when it produces such citizens, it cannot think of better ways of dealing with them than locking them up for a certain period of time.

As prisoners are, by definition, invisible because they are locked up in a remote corner of our society, we tend to ignore them and prefer not to think about them. Prison represents an unflattering reflection of ourselves. In this context, the most reverend Primate is right, both as a Christian and as a sensitive human being, to alert our attention to this extremely important question about which we would rather not talk.

Let me start in a boring academic manner with certain basic facts about our prisons. Today's total prison population is 74,594. According to the Carter report, it is likely to rise to 80,000 by the end of the year and to 93,000 by the end of the decade. Contrast that with the operational capacity of our prisons, which is in the region of 75,291. In other words, we are just about reaching the outermost limits of our operational capacity.

In England and Wales, our prison population averages out at 141 per 100,000 members of the national population. Sad to say, that is the highest in the European Union. In Germany, it is 98 per 100,000; in France it is 93; and in the Netherlands it is 100. By and large, in many of the Protestant and Anglo-Saxon countries, the average, for reasons I do not quite understand, tends to be higher. If ours is 141 per 100,000, New Zealand beats us by 151 and Australia comes close with 120.

It is not just the average that bothers me, it is also the composition. A large number of our prisoners are female. As my noble friend Lady Gibson of Market Rasen points out, that is an extremely disturbing feature partly because of the havoc it causes to the family and partly because of the damage it does to the women concerned. What is even more disturbing is the fact that two-thirds of those women prisoners are there for dishonesty or minor offences which could have been dealt with in many other ways.

I am also worried about the proportion of young people in our prisons. Young offenders in our prisons number about 8,000 and nearly 75 per cent of them are there for 12 months or more. I need not emphasise the proportion of ethnic minorities. The Afro-Caribbeans, who number about 1 per cent in the population at large, account for 12 per cent of the prison population. That is staggering and nothing whatever to do with the genetic structure or the original sin of the black Afro-Caribbeans; it has a lot to do with the way that offences are defined, with poverty and with many other factors. Although we are not here to debate that, there is also evidence that there is a systematic increase in the Muslim population in our prisons. That, too, will be a subject of considerable concern in months and years to come.

The Carter report states that a person is five times more likely to be given a custodial sentence for shoplifting today than he was 10 years ago. If the point of prison is to reform, sadly, it has not been very successful. About one fifth of the prison population commit crime again—if not the same, of some other kind. While prisoners are kept away during the time of their imprisonment, the weekly cost, according to my noble friend Lady Scotland of Asthal in one of her Answers to the House, is £697 simply to maintain them. That averages about £37,000 per year.

Locking up young people, in particular, is counter-productive because they have very poor educational opportunity and, not surprisingly, a disproportionately high rate of illiteracy. They have little chance of obtaining employment once they come out of prison and, therefore, there is a far higher rate of recidivism among the young than among adults.

Having presented this picture, I ask: what should we be doing? I know that the Government have been trying out, or are planning to try out, all kinds of progressive and sensitive measures, and I welcome them. Electronic tagging, serving gaol sentences at weekends or at night, and community services are all useful ideas. But my own feeling is that they largely involve tinkering with the problem rather than taking a radical and thorough-going, critical approach to the whole system.

Many noble Lords who have spoken before me in the debate have proposed interesting ideas and many others who follow me will do the same. In that spirit, I want to end with four simple suggestions. First, poverty is obviously an important factor and it calls for well targeted programmes of economic development. As I said, we spend around £37,000 per prisoner per year. If that is multiplied by the 74,000-odd prisoners we have, we reach the astronomical cost of something like £2 billion a year in our prisons alone. If we can spend even a quarter of that amount on helping people who are caught up in the cycle of deprivation, we shall reduce not only the cost of maintaining prisons but also the enormous waste of human potential that occurs when we lock people up.

Secondly, our concern should be to reintegrate offenders with their communities—a point brilliantly made by the noble Lord, Lord Elton. Therefore, we should not treat offenders as isolated individuals, uniquely and exclusively responsible for their deeds, but we should see them as members of communities and should involve their communities in finding the best ways to deal with them. Families and relatives and even schools and religious organisations should be involved in taking responsibility for the offenders.

Thirdly, prisons should become schools of reintegration and reform. That means that they should be less punitive, less humiliating and less distrustful, and that they should be conducive to self-reflection, fostering awareness of social responsibility and restoring pride and self-respect. Therefore, prisoners need to be trusted more than is the case at present so that, when they let us down, we can induce in them a sense of guilt and even perhaps a sense of shame. The more you trust people, the more you are likely to get the best out of them.

As Scandinavian and other experiments have shown, it would also help to introduce some form of democratic self-government into our prisons by asking the inmates to tell us how they would like to be treated. They would then go out as finer human beings than they were when they entered prison. In any case, we should stop brutalising people and subjecting them to degrading treatment because that is the surest way to destroy all sources of pride and self-respect.

The social life of which prisoners were once a part and of which, eventually, they will again be a part should be reproduced within prisons. Prisons need not be bleak places where isolated individuals live out their allotted time. We should try to introduce within prisons some semblance of community life: wives, children, friends, relations and others should be allowed to visit more often than is the case now and they should be able to interact more freely with the prisoners. A little love, encouragement and gentle pressure on prisoners can have a far greater effect than a system of coercion and humiliation.

My fourth suggestion is of a slightly different order. In this country, given the speed with which we industrialised ourselves and did so with the enormous power of the state, we have built up a certain deep-seated tendency in our social and political culture to rely on force and coercion and to lock people up in a spirit of retribution. That culture needs to be drastically reassessed. As the most reverend Primate the Archbishop said, prison is a default position to be used only when all other methods have failed, and then, too, it should be used with a sense of regret.

The subject of today's debate is: what is the social purpose of sentencing? I would put that in the plural and say that the social purposes of sentencing are threefold. The first is justice—that is, a crime, not a criminal, deserves to be punished and the victim needs to be reassured that his suffering has not been in vain. The second is reform so that people go out as better human beings than when they entered prison. The third is reintegration within the community. Every offence implies a disruption of the ongoing life of the community, and our job should be to restore the sense of community which has been temporarily broken. Therefore, reintegration within the community and helping individuals to rebuild their broken and fragile selves are important.

Three objectives must become the guiding principles of our policy, and every policy either within the prison or outside must be judged by those three criteria. Does it do justice to the person who has been guilty of committing an offence? Does it reform him? And does it eventually succeed in reintegrating him with the community of which he was once a part and of which he will become a part again?

When we follow those principles, we build public confidence in our system of justice so that people are not tempted to take the law into their own hands. We also reduce human wastage and—a point which has not really been discussed so far—the enormous amount of moral wastage in our prisons, where souls are mutilated and human beings come out broken and fragile. Lastly, we also create in society at large, just as we do in the prisons, a sense of humanity so that we begin to treat each other with respect, affection and pride. If we can show that kind of attitude to our prisoners, there is no reason why we should not be able to show the same spirit in our relations with each other.

1.7 p.m.

The Lord Bishop of Worcester

My Lords, as has been said by several noble Lords, there are many signs of hope. When, before taking office, the most reverend Primate gave his Dimbleby lecture, he remarked that our expectations that government will, as a primary objective, steadily increase our prosperity make it difficult to keep prison reform and such subjects on the agenda. He was, of course, right. But the fact that he has launched this debate is itself a sign of hope.

Although he is not in his place, the Lord Chief Justice, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Woolf, is himself a sign of hope of humane rationality in this very difficult area. I am sure that in his role as chairman of the Sentencing Guidelines Council, he will have in mind what is said in this debate, and that, too, is a sign of hope. The attentiveness of the Minister who is to reply to the debate is also, I believe, another sign of hope: there is attentiveness in government about these issues. None the less, we know that all is not well and there are many things that we need to pick up.

I am particularly grateful for the speeches of the noble Baronesses, Lady Massey and Lady Gibson. They drew attention to a matter on which I was intending to spend some time, but shall not now need to do so—that is, the issue of the relatively faster-rising number of women in prison. After some years in my present diocese, I still find visiting Her Majesty's Prison at Brockhill—a women's prison—the most searing experience that it is possible to have. One is aware of the enormous burden of suffering that lies behind the often very drained and glazed faces that one sees in such institutions. Of course, it is true that those who work in the Prison Service include some of the most dedicated and committed people—especially when they join idealistic people—that it is possible to meet.

However, in the face of what is stacked against them, it is not surprising that many become cynical and lose heart. Women's prisons highlight in the sharpest possible way the philosophical difficulties inherent in our sentencing process and in the thinking behind it.

I am grateful for the remarks of the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, and for the passion which he brings to the issue of children and young people in our criminal population and the way in which they are treated. Whatever conclusion can be drawn, once people reach their mid to late twenties, thank goodness many of those with criminal tendencies grow out of them. That also raises questions about what we were doing in the years before then.

The noble Lord, Lord Parekh, did not dwell on the issue of ethnic minority communities in our prisons. However, it is important to recognise that their proportion of the prison population is rather too high and among victims of crime is far too high. For many members of ethnic minority communities that represents a kind of "corporate" punishment being meted out to them. It is not that I ascribe to individual sentencers a kind of prejudice or discrimination, but the social process that operates in the incarceration of many members of ethnic minority communities is a serious matter.

The noble Lord, Lord Parekh, commented on the number of Muslims in prison. That leads me to say that it is extremely heartening that the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, should mention the work of the chaplaincy, which is another sign of hope. In many ways our chaplaincies are ahead of our communities in pioneering inter-faith dialogue and co-operation so that what could be a source of serious conflict, both in our prisons and in the communities, is moderated by humane and co-operative activity.

Some initiatives have proved to be extremely dated. The most reverend Primate mentioned the notion of indeterminate sentencing. My introduction to the Prison Service was in the State of California in the mid-1960s where indeterminate sentencing was the fashionable idea of the time. That resulted in inmates working out whether Alcoholics Anonymous or attendance at bible study was more likely to secure them an early release. I am not in a position to say which it was. It produced a lot of fruitless effort on the part of convicted criminals in working out what it was the system wanted them to do, and then doing it without it necessarily affecting the deeper levels of their conscience and motivation.

I suggest a reason why we need to think of alternatives to custody and to major on restorative justice, which so far in the debate has not been mentioned. Mention has been made of the number of cases of self-harm and suicides. In recent months and years there seems to have been an epidemic in my diocese. That points to something which we do not easily face. Most of us understand that the effect of imposing a fine on someone will depend on how much money that person has. Obviously, the £60 speeding fine is small change to someone who is very wealthy and rather more serious for someone who is very poor. What we do not recognise nearly so easily is that incarceration, the loss of liberty, has an extraordinarily variable effect on individuals.

The noble Baronesses, Lady Massey and Lady Gibson, pointed out the unequal effect on the families of women who are locked up. However, I suggest that the effect on the individuals is very unequal. It is a hugely different experience for someone aged 19 or 20 to be locked up than for someone aged 55. As happens in many cases, the former may be so shocked by the experience that they are brought to the edge or even over the edge, of suicide. The middle-aged person may have become institutionalised and has come to regard prison as the only safe place. Those are not equal punishments.

The punishment visited upon a woman who is incarcerated is not the same as for a man of the same age. Until we face the fact that custody is not an equal punishment, we shall not come to terms with the fact that alternatives to custody need to be devised—that means restorative justice in its various forms—that have the capacity to fit what is demanded to the actuality of the convicted person. Unless and until that is done we shall fail not only to rehabilitate people but to dispense justice.

Restorative justice, processes of mediation, which admittedly, are labour-intensive, are ways of putting people in touch with the nature of their offence; with the offended person if the offended person is willing for that to happen, and with the offended community. That is the only way to make people equal before the law and to face equally the consequences of their criminal behaviour.

That brings me to the question of drugs. It has been said several times that behind much of the difficulty in our criminal justice system lies drugs. The percentage of crime which is drug-related is now enormous. Behind the drugs lies the drugs industry. Behind that lies the international trade mechanisms that promote it. That takes us well beyond the confines of the debate. However, one of the social purposes of sentencing must be to lay bare before all of us our involvement in the context that leads people into crime. If we do not notice that, if we simply put people out of sight and out of mind we shall not be facing the responsibility that rests on all of us to create a climate in which crime does not flourish.

We are in a situation of very considerable hope. I suggest that the launching of this debate by the most reverend Primate is part of a longstanding tradition. The move from sheer dungeons to the modern Prison Service is something in which people of faith in this country have played a particularly strong part since the 19th century. I look forward to taking from this debate to the General Synod of the Church of England next July the insights that will lead to a further debate on restorative justice. It is the task of people of faith and goodwill everywhere to keep this matter on the agenda. I am glad that we have a government who are willing to keep it high on the agenda. We must play our part in supporting that attentiveness and those who have the difficult job of making the individual decisions which together make up our sentencing policy.

1.19 p.m.

Baroness Stern

My Lords, I too am grateful to the most reverend Primate for initiating this important debate, to which it is an honour to contribute. Perhaps I may say how grateful I am to the noble Lord, Lord Parekh, who compressed all the profound volumes on penal reform that have been written into 13 magnificent minutes. It was very good to hear it and to remember how compelling it is.

When the debate was first announced, I thought what an excellent opportunity it would be to pick up on what many noble Lords have alluded to as the "hope agenda"; to talk about a new vision of criminal justice with restorative sentencing; with local communities taking more responsibility for the crime in their midst; with sentences that mean something to the convicted person and to her or his community; and which do not waste so much money unproductively on locking people up and making them work.

However, I am afraid that recent events have made me feel that I should talk about something else. I want to concentrate on one area, which is the amount and use of punishment in England and Wales today. I want to ask whether we are content with the amount of punishment we as a society inflict on those convicted of wrong-doing, and whether we feel we are inflicting it appropriately and justly.

I must start by noting the substantial increase in the amount of punishment that we as a society have chosen to impose over the past decade. The noble Lord, Lord Elton, whose experience on these matters always illuminates our debates, gave some facts about the increase in the number of criminal offences. The amount of punishment has not increased proportionately to the amount of crime, which has been falling, or to the growth in the population of the country, or to the growth in the numbers of the crime-prone age group; that is, young men. It is an absolute increase.

The Chief Inspector of Probation, Professor Rod Morgan, in a lecture last December said, a growing proportion of offenders is becoming mired deeper and deeper within the criminal justice system for doing less and less". In other words, more and more people are being convicted and punished more severely for perpetrating less serious acts. Sentencing is about punishment—penalties. Punishments in this country are quite punishing. Imprisonment is the most severe penalty available to the courts. It implies the loss of many basic human rights: the loss of freedom of movement; the loss of the right to enjoy family life, as we do not, unlike some countries, allow prisoners to have private visits with members of their families. There is no freedom of association; no freedom to work and carry on a business; and there is a gross loss of privacy. Many experiences, such as body searching and urinating in front of other people for drugs testing, however well the prison staff carry out the procedures—and they usually do it so well; it is a credit to them because the work requires great human sensitivity; and they do it well in spite of the poverty stricken amount of training they receive—assault and destroy self-respect.

For many years afterwards there are the disabling effects of the stigma of a prison record, preventing access to many parts of the labour market and making it difficult to get insurance or credit. Prison is a hugely socially exclusionary penalty. It clearly marks out the convicted person as different from others and continues to put that person at a disadvantage for many years, sometimes for ever.

As the most onerous penalty available to us that may well be right. There has to be a penalty that makes clear society's abhorrence of terrible crimes. But if that is so, it should be used proportionately.

Other penalties available to courts are also punishing. They require convicted persons to follow the requirements of probation officers and supervisors; to spend their time in a prescribed way; to submit to the judgments of others about their personal deficits and how they should change themselves; and perhaps to wear a stigmatising electronic device. Even carrying out work for the benefit of the community is a real restriction on freedom, although it may bring consolation by the feeling that someone is benefiting.

For those on low incomes a fine—the least intrusive punishment—means more hardship. There is much more use of these punishments. Our imprisonment rate is 142 per 100,000, as of last week, compared with an EU average of 102. England and Wales has 5,445 life sentence prisoners, more than the rest of the European Union put together. Sweden and Italy have no juveniles in prison; Denmark has 12; Hungary has 161; Spain has 172; France has 775; and England and Wales has 2,498.

It seems that we are less reluctant than we used to be to impose these punishing penalties on people whom life has already punished severely in other ways. Examples are always more telling than statistics. The noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, is still hoping to have a debate in this House about the sad case of Joseph Scholes. He was the 16 year-old boy whose short life was shaped by abuse and mental illness who, while waiting for his trial, cut his face with a knife 30 times, creating so much blood that his room in the children's home had to be completely repainted. He was sent to prison for two years for being out with a crowd of youngsters from the home and stealing three mobile phones. The judge made a recommendation, as he sent the boy down for two years, that he should be "looked after". Nine days into his sentence at Stoke Heath prison for young people he killed himself.

I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Massey, for her compassionate and well informed contribution about the tragic women suffering from drug addiction, who are sent to a prison with no detoxification facilities and who kill themselves there.

I want to refer to the grossly uncompassionate treatment of Mrs Amos. She is the mother whose daughter Jackie will not go to school. Her right to privacy is totally denied. She has been made into a national scapegoat and media symbol—the symbol of feckless parents everywhere, although according to press reports her two elder daughters are both doing very well. She is undertaking methadone treatment to deal with her drug addiction. I can find no example of a jurisdiction anywhere in the world that convicts mothers of the criminal offence of not sending their children to school and then sends them to prison. I am deeply ashamed that that is what we do in this country.

Mrs Amos is a well known example. There are many others. Information about the people who are given these punishments shows that they are dramatically disadvantaged. They are a subset even of a disadvantaged population. On every indicator, those in prison are 13 times more likely to have been taken into care as children; 10 times more likely to have truanted from school; and at least 40 times more likely to have three or more mental disorders. Women are particularly disadvantaged; and I am most grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Gibson, for her very thought-provoking contribution on our imprisonment of women.

These people seem not to have benefited or received access, as they should, to the health services, the social services or education and a chance to go to university. However, when the time comes for them to be punished there is no shortage of punishment and no rationing.

Why is that happening? Why is a sentence to punishment becoming a substitute so often for social and welfare services? With great respect, I suggest to the Minister that that is the direct consequence of a set of government policies. I suspect that she will say in reply, "It is nothing to do with us. Sentencers do the sentencing; they are the people who punish, not the Government". But in fact many government policy decisions have led us to a more punishing society. I have time to cite but one.

The Criminal Justice Bill that we discussed here last year, had as one of its aims, "to close the justice gap". Closing the justice gap, it turned out, had a meaning that I found rather shocking. I thought that it might have something to do with some of the problems that we have been discussing today, but it turned out that closing the justice gap means prosecuting more people. The National Policing Plan for 2004–07 sets out the Home Secretary's key priorities for policing. One of those is: Narrowing the justice gap by increasing the number of offenders brought to justice". That does not mean serious offences or particular offences that do great harm, just offences. So shoplifting will do; drug-addicted women selling small amounts to their neighbours will do.

That policy gets worse, because there is a target. The Government require that 1.2 million more offences are brought to justice by 2005–06. I note in passing that according to the plan, 13 police areas have not yet met their targets to prosecute more people. One wonders whether, instead of that, they have been listening to their local community, taking up local priorities and using their judgment to make decisions more likely to create social peace and a feeling of security.

In the light of our current crisis in the prisons, I might say that that policy is surely mad. However, as we do not use such language in this House, I shall say that that policy may be a trifle ill-advised.

The Minister is deeply respected in this House not only for her formidable intellect but for her strong ethical approach to the issues with which she deals. Could she therefore tell me whether, from that ethical perspective, she is satisfied by the extent to which punishment has penetrated so deeply into social policy and has become so skewed against the poor and the disadvantaged? Has she any doubts about how we have treated Mrs Amos and all her daughters? Does she really think that communities will be safer and happier when we close the justice gap and prosecute another 1.2 million less serious offenders?

1.33 p.m.

Lord Faulkner of Worcester

My Lords, it is a particular privilege to participate in a debate initiated by the most reverend Primate. As have all the other speakers, I warmly congratulate him on arranging this debate, and on the breadth of wisdom and compassion contained in his excellent speech.

There are many Members of this House who know far more about criminal justice than I do—I admit that at the start of my remarks. Indeed, one of them has just spoken in one of the most powerful speeches that I have heard in this Chamber for many, many months. I take this opportunity to thank the noble Baroness, Lady Stern, for inviting me to the meeting earlier this week at which speakers from the United States Open Society Institute, to which the noble Lord, Lord Elton, referred, were able to address five noble Lords who have put down their names to speak in this debate—one was the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, and the meeting was chaired by the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia.

We received an eye-opening account of how restorative justice can make a real difference. I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Elton, on almost getting the figure right. The restorative justice service programme in Deschutes County reduced youth incarceration in state facilities by 72 per cent—a national high, according to the National Centre for Juvenile Justice.

Lord Elton

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for that correction. May I take the opportunity to say that I forgot to include in my remarks that Deschutes had to pay for any people who did go to prison so it was not one-way traffic?

Lord Faulkner of Worcester

My Lords, it is helpful to have that on the record.

I should like to make one or two points not as a great criminal justice expert but as, I hope, an informed citizen and layman. I shall deal also with a particular aspect of the criminal justice system where I believe that the policies and practices that we follow in this country are well behind those adopted in other advanced, civilised societies.

The most reverend Primate is right to remind us that there must be a social purpose to sentencing—something that can be forgotten if one relies on most of our tabloid newspapers to set the agenda for criminal justice issues. They see punishment and retribution as the primary purposes. Indeed, if you read what Charles Murray has argued in the Sunday Times, you will see that the solution is simple: concentrate on retributive punishment and forget about the rest. According to him, it is all the fault of the liberal intellectual elite for making the situation so difficult.

Undoubtedly, if punishment and retribution were to disappear entirely, there would be a real danger of damaging public confidence in the system. But punishment should be no more severe than the offender deserves, as the Criminal Justice Act 2003 reminds us.

What alarms me is that public feeling, the media and some politicians have tended to make that a floor rather than a ceiling. We seem to be working on the principle that punishment must be severe enough to satisfy the public or public confidence will be entirely lost. I should like the courts to be able to observe the spirit of the Act, rather than be guided by the language of politicians who are afraid of what the Daily Mail or the Sun may say.

A distinctive feature of the Criminal Justice Act is its emphasis on creative possibilities for sentences—or rather, the programmes operated under sentences—to change lives and benefit individuals and communities. As my noble friend knows, an area of public policy that concerns me greatly is the law on prostitution. I first raised concerns about the way that the law treats women who work in the sex industry during the passage of the Criminal Justice and Police Act 2001. I did so again when we debated Section 56 of the Sexual Offences Act 2003; and on an Unstarred Question that I initiated last October on recommendation 53 of the Home Office paper Setting the Boundaries, which stated: There should be a further review of the law on prostitution". I raised those concerns most recently in a Starred Question on 2 February when I asked when the review would be set up.

At the end of January, I was invited by the Metropolitan Police to join its street offences and juvenile protection unit on patrol in Brixton. The officers were conducting a four-week intensive campaign on street soliciting. The evening started with a briefing at a police station in Camberwell, two walls of which were covered with photographs of prostitutes known to work in the area. I was told, matter of factly, that it was certain that a number of those women would be arrested for soliciting during the course of the night—which was exactly how it turned out.

One of them was a 23 year-old known as Judy. As a known prostitute, she was arrested walking down a side street in a red light district of Brixton. She had a string of convictions for soliciting and a reputation for never appearing in court unless taken straight there from a police cell. She worked in the sex industry to fund her cocaine habit. What I found particularly disturbing was that no one appeared to make any attempt to get her off drugs. Instead, she was in a cycle of soliciting, arrest, a court appearance, a fine, and then more soliciting to pay the fine and buy the drugs.

Another woman was called Susan, aged 47 and a grandmother. She was arrested while waiting at a bus stop, where, she said, a client was supposed to have picked her up. She told me that she could not work from home because her daughter and grandchild lived there. They thought that she went out in the evening to work in a bar. She, too, will have been taken to court and tined. If she did not pay the fine, she would have gone to prison. But for what purpose? How can it be sensible for the criminal justice system to be used in that way? I have not the slightest criticism of the way in which the police officers went about their work. Indeed, I was enormously impressed by how caring and sympathetic they were when dealing with the women they arrested and subsequently charged in the police station at Sutton. But is that a job that they should be doing at all? Should it not be social workers skilled in dealing with drug dependency who are in the front line?

The one hopeful development in this very bleak landscape is the work carried out by a Christian organisation called Trust, based at Christ Church in Brixton Road. There the project manager, an impressive and interesting woman called Diane Martin, offers a court diversionary service for women arrested for soliciting or loiter prostitution in the borough of Lambeth. When I visited her, she explained to me how it works. A women's criminal justice worker employed by Trust attends Camberwell Magistrates' Court each Wednesday and gives women due to appear there on prostitution charges the chance to opt on to a scheme that involves the making and keeping of two appointments with her over a four-week period. That allows the case to be discontinued and avoids a conviction.

Trust's aim is to engage women with the services that they need to support changes in their lifestyle. By offering alternatives to crime, homelessness and street prostitution, they hope to reduce re-offending rates and improve the community areas most affected by prostitution. In time, Trust hopes to be able to offer accommodation for those women who choose to exit prostitution and to recover from life on the streets. That organisation is positively helping women in a very important way and providing support for those who need detoxification and rehabilitation.

The Fawcett Society has kindly forwarded to me a copy of an e-mail message that it has received from Sue Jago, the Home Office official who is preparing for the review of the law on prostitution. One of the most encouraging things that she says is that the Home Office is looking primarily at women working on the streets, which is where exploitation is most obvious and widespread. I have Sue Jago's permission to quote from the e-mail. She says that, we are looking at good models of outreach etc. to support women to leave prostitution, and exploring the levers available to us to ensure that local Crime Reduction Partnerships address the issue where it is a local problem. Since we won't eliminate street prostitution, we are also looking at ways to minimise the impact on local communities, in a way that does not stigmatise those involved in prostitution even further". The e-mail continues: We will be looking at the law. The street offences don't seem to achieve a great deal. They neither succeed in taking women off the streets to please local residents, nor do they deter women or help with any exit strategy/drugs rehab etc. I suggest to the Minister that the work that Trust does in Lambeth could well provide the outreach model for wider application elsewhere. I am sure that her team in the Home Office will look at that. If I can jog the Minister's memory when she replies, perhaps she will bring us up to date on the long-promised review of prostitution law and tell us when it will be announced, what are its terms of reference and how people can make representations to it.

I hope that the review of the law in this area will be mirrored by new approaches to sentencing more widely. The establishment of the National Offender Management Service (NOMS) is an opportunity for a fresh start. Its success depends on being able to match sentences to capacity. It also depends—this is just as important—on the culture, will, morale, efficiency and leadership of NOMS itself. Martin Narey deserves all our good wishes, as he is doing his best in a very difficult climate. Noble Lords who heard him on the "Today" programme this morning will agree with that assessment. I can understand why the Government are in a hurry and want to be seen to be getting quick results. But mistakes made now, or simply things overlooked, will be difficult to put right later.

There are a number of important considerations. For example, there must be proper communication with the courts so that they have an input to the commissioning process. There need to be genuine partnerships with the voluntary and community sector. The approach can genuinely contribute to programmes of civil renewal—what the Churches are attempting to achieve in Lambeth in respect of street prostitution and soliciting is very much part of that.

"Contestability" must be applied in a generous and creative spirit, and should not be seen simply as a means of driving down costs. There must be full consultation with staff, with the aim of creating a sense of ownership and commitment. Local communities must be involved so that they, too, can have some sense of ownership and confidence, even pride, in what is being done on their behalf.

There is an important role for probation boards, or their successors, and a link with the Home Secretary's plans for civil renewal. There is a critical role in all that for the Sentencing Guidelines Council and its advisory panel, which must be given adequate support. Furthermore, there will need to be mutual confidence between the judiciary and the executive.

The whole process must be supported by a programme of research, as distinct from limited short-term evaluations. Evidence-based policy needs to replace policy-based evidence.

1.46 p.m.

The Lord Bishop of Portsmouth

My Lords, as this week's duty Bishop I hope that I can crave the indulgence of your Lordships' House to make a small contribution to a debate inaugurated by my friend the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury. The debate is timely in every sense. Many noble Lords have expressed their gratitude to the most reverend Primate for this opportunity to look at an important issue from such a rich and inter-disciplinary perspective; I add my name to that long list.

I should like to confine myself to three issues. First, the sometimes almost deterministic way in which a criminal reaches the point of standing before a judge and awaiting sentence. The best way in which I can illustrate that is by describing a lunchtime address given by a judge in a church that I once served. Hypothetical crime was described in some detail, but much more time and detail was given to describe the perpetrator with every conceivable disadvantage—home life, lack of proper parenting, family history, education or lack of it, emotional instability and friendships with people who dominated rather than liberated him. It was not a list of clichés; it felt very real, as they say. All the tramlines from birth had led him to that moment in time. The address ended just before the judge had to find an adequate sentence. We, the audience, were left in mid-air. A few seconds' silence followed, and then a spontaneous, very deep burst of applause. Although we do not applaud in this House, noble Lords know the different kinds of applause that can be offered on different occasions, and this occasion was unforgettable. I think that everyone present on that Friday lunchtime occasion went away, not wondering what the sentence might have been, but how we would have coped had we been the judge—that is, without turning ourselves into unfortunate armchair experts.

The second issue is the importance of programmes to help offenders from re-offending. Here I pay tribute to the words of the noble Lord, Lord Parekh. I wish to use an example from Portsmouth to illustrate the point. In 1998, Portsmouth City Council took a careful look at some statistics produced by Hampshire Constabulary, to the effect that 76 per cent of local crime was committed by a small number of juveniles. That attracted much local publicity at the time, although there is no reason to suppose that those statistics were necessarily radically different from those anywhere else.

The Portsmouth Preventing Youth Offending Project—PYOP—was born. A suitably qualified manager was appointed, with money both from the city council and from the local SRB round 4. PYOP decided to take a holistic approach from the start, working with whole families and not just the offender. This involved such things as parenting classes, anger management, counselling, healthy eating programmes—I dare not mention that in the lunch hour—as well as support for non-offending siblings. In all the evaluations that are monitored—as is the whole project—by the rigours of the department of criminology at Portsmouth University, one theme stands out. It is not one single part of the programme that produces results; it is the holistic approach. This is a fruitful, innovative project, but it will take years to deliver its fullest potential. The constraints of SRB funding; too age-specific and too geography-specific, mean that in the long term it may run out of money.

There will be an opportunity to look at the area of children in the coming weeks as we consider the Children's Bill. The Children's Society, whose president, the right reverent Prelate the Bishop of Leicester, is unable to be here today, would want me gently to register some alarming facts. At any given moment, 3,000 children are in prison. In England and Wales from the age of 10, and in Scotland from the age of four, children are held criminally responsible. This figure of 3,000 has almost doubled in the past 10 years. It is surely an example of what the noble and learned Lord, Lord Woolf, described as the cancer of the present system. The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child is watching the situation carefully, with an eagle eye on the extent to which such sentencing really is the last resort. I am thinking of the earlier remarks made by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Ackner.

I return to that lunchtime address by that judge, perhaps as a way of qualifying any seemingly episcopal arrogance that might be construed from comments such as these on sentencing. Of course sentencing is a policy matter that concerns everyone. Here, as elsewhere, I pay tribute to my friend the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Worcester, who is also Bishop to Her Majesty's prisons, and for whose wisdom on this matter, as on so many things, I am very grateful. On the other hand, it is the judge, in an isolated and sometimes unbearably lonely role, who must pass the sentence. Thank heavens that we are not applying the principle of letting the punishment fit the crime in the bizarre manner of WS Gilbert's burlesque figure, the Mikado. We are, rather, in the business of trying to find new ways of letting the punishment fit the criminal, if I may use my lay language; and the relationship between the criminal and those who have been specifically offended—here I echo the words of the noble Lord, Lord Elton—over and above society as a whole.

That whole area has much in common with the pioneering work of one of the most reverend Primate's predecessors in the Lady Margaret chair at Oxford a century ago. Robert Campbell Mobaley pushed away at the boundaries of thought on the relationship between personality and justice and the nature of both. For him—though I fully appreciate that it is not accepted by everyone—the figure of Christ becomes the perfect penitent, in whom are placed the twin and mutual demands of justice and mercy, not only to construct a healthy theology, but to construct a healthy society. For my money, the one is useless without the other.

If the depth and realism that have been the hallmarks of this debate can be translated into both attitude and practice in the community at large, we have some cause for hope.

The Earl of Listowel

My Lords, before the right reverend Prelate sits down, will be permit me to add one further fact to the list of information that he provided on children in prisons? I omitted it from what I said. I welcome the recent decrease in the number of children in prison. Yet, the National Audit Office report points out that the number of children on remand is increasing. This is a concerning matter, because these are the most vulnerable children in prison. I hope that the right reverend Prelate will forgive me for introducing that additional fact.

The Lord Bishop of Portsmouth

My Lords, I promise to take cognizance of it when the Children's Bill comes here. Thank you.

1.55 p.m.

Lord Mayhew of Twysden

My Lords, I seem to be alone among your Lordships. I had hoped this morning to find my name on the list of speakers, but by some mishap, for which gracious apologies have already been given, that did not occur. I hope that the most reverend Primate will allow me to say that I found the experience extremely good for my soul. I venture into the gap briefly, only to pay respectful tribute to the speeches—without exception, distinguished—that have been made by those whose names were on the list, in particular, the speech made by the noble Earl, Lord Listowel. I thought that his strictures on the inadequacy of training for prison officers and the heartbreaking shackles imposed on their primary task of rehabilitating offenders, strictures that were delivered with tremendous knowledge and passionate, well merited indignation, were enormously impressive.

The theme of this debate has long been close to my heart; namely, that we must reach back to what may be called the springs of criminality and find out what influences were implanted, nearly always at an early stage in the life of an offender, that constituted those springs. It is not enough to deal in terms of party conference language, which has been totally absent from our debate today, with these enormously intractable problems. The noble Baroness, Lady Gibson of Market Rasen, mentioned Her Majesty's Prison at Send. I remember many years ago when I was a Home Office Minister, visiting Send when it was an experimental detention centre. It was in the days when it was thought sensible—understandably so—to administer a short, sharp, shock to young offenders. It had limited success. When I visited it, I was met by a splendid person who was the chairman of the local liaison committee for the community. She said, "We are so proud, Mr Mayhew, of the young men we send out from here. You can always tell them. When they next appear in court, they stand to attention and address the chairman of the bench as 'sir'". That was a start. I ventured to suggest, but unfortunately, the recidivism rate remained obstinately in the region of 80 per cent. That experiment was discontinued. It taught us that there was much more to the role of the sentencer than that.

I thought the strictures of the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, chimed exactly with the theme of every speech in this debate, namely that the primary social role and purpose of sentencing must be rehabilitative. Of course, there remains a place for what the Book of Common Prayer calls the, punishment of wickedness and vice", but the rehabilitation of the offender must come first. That has been the theme of every speech and it would have been of mine.

1.59 p.m.

Lord Dholakia

My Lords, we now come to the concluding part of this important debate. I am looking forward to the contribution of the Minister, the noble Baroness, Lady Scotland, who has often shared her concern about prisons and the prison population. She is the best hope to impress on the legislator to ensure that they should never forget the human lace of our criminal justice process. A distinguished list of speakers was led by the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury, whose brilliant analysis set out the framework for our discussion today. I hope very much that we will have opportunities in future to have his lead on such matters in your Lordships' House.

Noble Lords

Hear, hear.

Lord Dholakia

My Lords, on that point, I add that it was very refreshing to have the views of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Woolf, and all other noble Lords who contributed to the debate. That includes the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mayhew of Twysden, who made the right use of the gap in the speakers' list.

I shall start on a sad note. Your Lordships heard the precursor of this story from the noble Baroness, Lady Stern. Joseph Scholes was a deeply disturbed boy who had disclosed a history of alleged sexual abuse from an early age. On 24 March, 2002, he hanged himself in his cell at Stoke Heath young offender institution in Shropshire. His death occurred just nine days into his two-year sentence for street robbery. Joseph's death and other tragedies like it raise serious issues about the ability of the present system to cope with society's most vulnerable young people and provide them with a safe and secure environment. The question that arises is how we can best identify any systematic failings and the lessons that ought to be learnt from them.

It is important to bear in mind that we are talking about a disturbed boy who had had an unhappy childhood. It included his parents' acrimonious divorce; severe sexual abuse by family members; and suicidal thoughts and mutual self-harm. At the end of the process, political posturing about street crime and how crime involving mobile phones was distorting the statistics resulted in a two-year detention and training order. The rest is history.

Almost everything went wrong in Joseph's case. Two suicides a week: that is the shameful statistic. I have tabled an Unstarred Question that will provide the occasion to probe the Government further on why we fail Joseph Scholes and others like him.

As has been said again and again, we have the highest prison population in the European Union. The question is not, "Why have we incarcerated such a large number?"; the question is, "Where, in the criminal justice system, have we produced such discrepancies?". How do we explain the increased use of incarceration? I quote the Carter report: Generally, the increased use of prison and probation could reflect a combination of three factors: an increase in the number of offenders caught and sentenced; an increase in the overall seriousness of the crimes brought to justice; an increase in sentencing severity for specific offences". The increased use of prison and probation in the past six years reflects the increased severity of sentencing for specific offences. The Carter report expresses the view that sentencing should always be driven by the need for justice. How do we ensure that the process is proportionate and balanced? Justice is not only for the victim; it is also for the perpetrator.

David Faulkner, at one time a senior civil servant in the Home Office and now at the Centre for Criminological Research at Oxford, highlights the point in his response to the consultation: There is an awkward ambiguity about the notion of punishment. To most people it implies something unpleasant, something which anyone would naturally try to avoid. In criminal justice, a distinction used to be made between the sentence of the court, which was punishment, and the offender's treatment under the sentence, which was not. The distinction reflected an essentially retributive view of sentencing and a utilitarian or rehabilitative view of the offender's treatment (or management, as it would now be called). On that view, conditions in prison should not be made deliberately harsh or austere, and programmes under community sentences should not be a deliberately unpleasant experience. On the contrary, if offenders are to be guided towards a better life—and that has usually been the intention, although with varying degrees of optimism—they need a degree of respect and motivation that cannot be achieved under conditions of continuous punishment. That view allowed a convenient distinction between the functions of the judiciary and those of the executive; it protected judicial independence; and it was part of the basis for criminal justice policy for most of the twentieth century". How do I see the social purpose of sentencing? I am guided by a number of experiences that I have had over the years, as a member of a board of visitors, as a member of a police authority, as a magistrate, as a member of the parole system review body and now as president of the National Association for the Care and Resettlement of Offenders. The four most commonly advanced purposes of sentencing are punishment, deterrence, rehabilitation and reparation. I argue that, although all four of those purposes have a legitimate place in sentencing, we need to place a much greater emphasis on rehabilitation and reparation, if sentencing is to be effective in its overriding aim of reducing crime.

I shall first consider punishment. Society has the right to punish offenders as a means of protecting the weak; namely, the victims of offences. That point was ably made by the noble Lord, Lord Parekh. To be more legitimate, punishment must include a sense of proportionality, in which the sentencer tailors the severity of the punishment to the seriousness of the offence and the culpability of the offender. If sentencing involved no notion of punishment or just deserts, it would be not a system of justice but a method of social engineering devoid of moral content.

In choosing an appropriate type of punishment, sentencers have a duty to consider what practical good their sentence will do. For example, most of the offenders who are sent to prison in this country receive sentences of less than 12 months. As half the sentence is normally served in custody, most prisoners are, in practice, released after a maximum of six months in prison. In most cases, such short sentences do no good. They do not provide significant public protection, they are too short for significant rehabilitative work to take place, and they are followed by high reconviction rates.

Most such offenders would be better dealt with through supervision programmes in the community. We have an increasing number of intensive and rigorous community programmes that place demands on offenders and significantly restrict their liberty. They are a genuine punishment, but they hold out more hope of preventing re-offending than a short prison sentence.

There are two kinds of deterrence—general and individual. All the research evidence suggests that the general deterrent impact of sentencing—in other words, its capacity to deter other potential offenders—is greatly overrated. Many offenders commit their offences thoughtlessly, impulsively or under a range of pressures. Rational calculation of deterrence does not come into it.

Those offenders who plan and calculate their offences in a premeditated way plan not to get caught. They plan to avoid detection and believe that they can. Increasingly, the level of punishment will have little deterrent effect on them whereas increasing the likelihood of conviction can.

Research into recent trends of falling crime in the United States of America has found that falls have been no greater in states that have increased the severity of punishment, but that there is a strong correlation between improvements in detection rates and greater reductions in crime.

The second deterrence is individual—in other words, deterrence of the individual being sentenced from doing it again. Here again, research does not back up the idea that the most effective punishments are the harshest ones. The types of sentence that has the best impact on reducing re-offending are those that involve highly focused work on attitudes to offending, help offenders to restrain impulsive and aggressive behaviour, increase their empathy with victims, develop their employment skills and provide help with drugs and alcohol problems. That kind of work is usually better carried out in the community than in custody.

In contrast, research into more punitive approaches, such as boot camps in the United States, has shown that the highest re-offending rates resulted from those regimes that concentrated solely on punitive approaches and had no element of education or drug rehabilitation.

The third purpose of sentencing is rehabilitation of the offender. All the evidence shows the importance of rehabilitation to protect the public from further offending. According to one recent study, providing offenders with basic skills education cuts the likelihood of reoffending by two-thirds. Getting offenders into jobs reduces their likelihood of re-offending by between one-third and one-half, depending on which research study one looks at. Getting ex-offenders into stable accommodation reduces their rate of re-offending by between one-fifth and one-half. Offenders who get into and stay in a drug rehabilitation programme have an average rate of re-offending that is one-fifth of their previous level. Ex-offenders who have support from their family are reconvicted at a rate that is between one-sixth and one-half of similar offenders without family support.

In view of that overwhelming weight of evidence, we must ensure that sentencing gives a high priority to the rehabilitation of offenders if we are serious about wanting to reduce crime. That means taking seriously the adage: first, do no harm. Imprisonment does a great deal of harm to the prospect of rehabilitating offenders. It is not just the criminal contamination effect; that is, what offenders do not know about crime when they go into prison, they will have learnt by the time they come out.

It is also the fact that of those prisoners who previously had jobs, two-thirds lose them as a result of imprisonment. One-third of those sent to prison lose their homes as a result, and more than 40 per cent lose contact with their families and friends during the sentence. Yet, having a job, stable accommodation and support from family makes re-offending less likely. Imprisoning offenders causes direct damage to the prospects for rehabilitating them. That is another argument for minimising the use of custody and aiming to use community punishments wherever possible.

The fourth purpose of sentencing is reparation and restitution. A number of noble Lords identified the extension of restorative approaches throughout the criminal justice process—which I, too, strongly support—and, in appropriate cases, as an alternative to it. Restorative justice has a range of powerful advantages over other forms of sentencing. It involves the victim in a much more positive way than the conventional justice system, which often uses the victim merely as an aid to the prosecution in proving the offender's guilt.

In a restorative justice setting, many victims value the opportunity to tell the offender about the full impact that the offence had on them. They also value the opportunity to ask the offender questions, the answers to which can set their mind at rest; for example, whether they had been watched over a. period of time and deliberately targeted. Many victims also value the opportunity to take part in a process that can help to rehabilitate the offender. Restorative justice can have a salutary effect on many offenders, confronting them with the impact of their actions on victims. There is persuasive emerging evidence of its effectiveness in reducing reconviction rates.

We need a different mindset in sentencing. Instead of simply asking, "Will this sentence punish the offender enough?", we should be asking, "What good will this sentence do?". Evidence shows that if we want to do the maximum good in reducing the rate of re-offending, sentencing needs to give a high priority to the aims of rehabilitation and restoration.

Another matter has not yet been identified. We have talked about prisoners participating in the affairs of prisons—again a point identified by a number of noble Lords. I shall go a step further. The European Court of Human Rights may soon decide that convicted prisoners should be given the right to vote, as elsewhere in Europe. This is a way to ensure that practitioners pay attention to what happens in our prisons.

In conclusion, all contributors to today's debate point out that we should look at where things have gone wrong. The ultimate success of our criminal justice process and the credibility of the Government will be judged not by following soundbites generated by tabloid newspapers, but by how we can reduce our prison population—and reduce it drastically.

2.14 p.m.

Viscount Bridgeman

My Lords, it is always a privilege to follow the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, with his unrivalled experience of the justice system. I, too, want to take this opportunity to thank the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury for initiating this debate. We had expected much in the way of deep thought and broad coverage of this issue and we have not been disappointed. Moreover, his particular contribution has provided the stimulation for many speakers in the debate.

As the noble Lord, Lord Parekh, said, this country has the unenviable distinction of being the gaol capital of Europe. He went on to cite very depressing statistics, including the fact that we are now within a few hundred of the operational usable capacity. I should add that the benchmark of that in itself includes a degree of overcrowding. I would go further than the noble Lord by saying that the projections for the end of the decade suggest that the prison population will be between 91,000 and 110,000. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Woolf, commented that when he produced his report on Strangeways 12 years ago, the prison population stood at 42,000. The comparison is marked.

Several factors contribute to overcrowding in prisons, one of which is the huge number of remand prisoners. What amounts to a minor scandal is the number who are acquitted. Of the approximate number of 58,000 people held on remand at any one time, around 12,000 will be acquitted. As noble Lords will be aware, it is remand prisoners who are the cause of the insidious practice of "churning". Sentenced prisoners have to be moved from gaol to gaol to make way for remand prisoners who have to be accommodated close to the court in which they are to appear. The effect on the family lives of sentenced prisoners who are moved is obvious.

Out of a prison population of around 75,000, no fewer than 16,000 are thought to be "doubling" in cells designed for one. My noble friend Lord Elton said that the position has improved since at least there are not three to a cell now. The noble Lord, Lord Corbett, who was in his place earlier, for whose work and that of his colleagues on the All-Party Parliamentary Penal Affairs Group the House is greatly indebted, said on launching its report on prison overcrowding: Prison overcrowding—which occurs because courts send more people to prison for longer—squeezes out education and training and impedes efforts to offer a route to a more useful life". Let it not be thought that building new prisons is a solution to overcrowding. Of the 13 prisons built over the past 10 years, nine are already classified as overcrowded.

That brings me on to the subject central to this debate—that of sentencing. We are particularly grateful to the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chief Justice for his informative exposition of the work of the Sentencing Guidelines Council. I take the opportunity to say how much we appreciate the Canterbury initiative which he described. My noble friend Lord Elton remarked that such initiatives should be much more highly publicised. I also refer to the Berkshire initiative outlined by the most reverend Primate.

The report funded by the Esmée Fairbairn Foundation by South Bank University's Criminal Policy Research Unit found that while overall crime rates and the number of offenders appearing before the courts have both fallen since 1991, over the period there has nevertheless been a 71 per cent increase in the adult prison population. Several noble Lords have referred to this development. The research unit came to the conclusion that this has come about as a result of the increasingly punitive climate of political and media debate about crime and punishment, a climate which has almost subliminally drawn along with it our magistrates and judges. Courts are now more likely to imprison offenders who, 10 years ago, would have expected to receive either a community penalty or a fine.

I shall cite one example. People convicted of petty offences such as theft and the handling of stolen goods are three times more likely to go to prison than they were in 1991. My noble friend Lord Elton and the noble Baroness, Lady Gibson, both referred to this increase in penalties.

"Tough on crime and tough on the causes of crime" is, in many ways, a laudable sentiment, but it has contributed to a mindset on the part of the media and the general public into which magistrates have been almost subliminally drawn. It is a major contributor to the rise of the prison population. There is a climate of intolerance, which leads to the assumption by large sections of the population that prison is the default option. We shall all listen with interest to the Minister's reply to the electrifying speech of the noble Baroness, Lady Stern, which was followed by equally informed comments from the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia.

There is disturbing evidence that the courts are using prisons as kinds of holding centres, a matter referred to by the most reverend Primate, who quoted the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy of The Shaws, talking about "warehousing". I heard one example of an offender who was sent to prison as a way of speeding up a psychiatric assessment which would otherwise have been delayed.

In the admirable volume produced by Andrew Coyle entitled A Human Rights Approach to Prison ManagementHandbook for prison staff, which was sponsored by King's College in the Strand and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, he states: It is the responsibility of prison administrations to make legislators, the judiciary and the public aware that prison should only be used as a place of last resort"— a phrase referred to by many noble Lords today— in cases where there is no other reasonable disposal. In all other cases it should be possible to make use of alternatives to custody". Several noble Lords have spoken about these alternatives and the factors that can directly or indirectly contribute to a reduction in prison numbers.

Perhaps I may comment on the remark of the noble Baroness, Lady Stern, that there is surely a difference between prison and the alternative sentences even though they all fall into the generality of punishment. Community service, rehabilitation programmes, home detention curfew, purposeful activity and restorative justice have all been commented on by noble Lords today. Many of these are treated with a degree of scepticism and suspicion, but they are, every one of them, laudable in their object and it is vital that they are persevered with; jointly and severally they are capable of addressing the serious problem of re-offending.

Community service does not have a good name with the general public. There is a general impression that any offender on community service can work the system and that proceedings for breaches of a community sentence take place against only a small proportion of offenders. However, the Youth Justice and Criminal Evidence Act has given a welcome stiffening to community service conditions.

Community service works well and effectively in many other countries and I urge the Government to put resources behind it so that it may play an ever increasing role as an alternative to prison or as a part of the graduated sentence framework instituted by the Criminal Justice Act 2003.

On the subject of rehabilitation programmes, I again refer to Andrew Coyle. He describes a rehabilitated prisoner not as one who learns to survive well in prison, but as one who succeeds in the world outside prison on his release. It is an enormously important part of the prison regime and one which can so easily be moved down the list of priorities when prison resources are put under strain for any number of reasons, of which overcrowding is probably the prime example.

The Rehabilitation of Offenders Act has been in operation for 25 years and we await legislation to simplify the procedure for disclosure of convictions on release. The end aim must be to give the released prisoner the greatest chance of reintegrating with society, of obtaining employment and to be less of a re-offending risk. The Government announced their response in April 2003 to the paper Breaking the Circle and I shall be grateful if the Minister can tell the House what progress is being made in implementing its proposals for rehabilitation disclosures.

Perhaps I may again refer to restorative justice, which has been well covered today. This is in its early stages. The institution of the referral order was established under the Youth Justice and Criminal Evidence Act. Under it, the offender is referred to a youth offenders board, where an essential feature of the contact between victim and offender is reparations to the victim or wider community and a programme of activity to prevent further offending.

It is a sensitive operation, for it should include an element of what is called "reintegration shaming"—that is, of shaming the offender before his family or peer group, and by making him aware of the consequences of his own offending behaviour by hearing victims talking about the harm done. There is still much to be learnt, inter alia, about its effect on communities and how appropriate it is for different offences such as sex crimes, domestic violence and racially motivated crimes. It is an interesting comparison with the Oregon experience referred to by several noble Lords, which I have no doubt is complementary.

We very much welcome the fact that restorative justice in police cautioning has been given statutory basis in the Criminal Justice Act, building on the success of techniques developed by Thames Valley Police. The Government have made a very good start in their restorative justice strategy which was published last year. I hope the Minister can assure us that we can look forward to early implementation, as this has the capability of playing a vital role in saving many offenders from the courts and in preventing re-offending.

I should like to refer to the speech of the noble Baroness, Lady Massey of Darwen. I recently visited a prison where the waiting room very closely resembled, in size, an airport waiting room. It was manned by two prison officers and there were about 70 people there. I stood by them and saw that there was a huge amount of space where people's activities could not be seen. I think that it was probably one of the great exchanges for drugs. A prison officer told me that there was a CCTV camera but that it did not work and he thought the prisoners and their visitors probably knew that. I hope that this is not an indication that the service is throwing up its hands regarding the introduction of drugs.

Several noble Lords have paid tribute to prison chaplains. I have the privilege of being chairman of a hospital, and we have as our chaplain a former prison chaplain. The experience in pastorality which he brings from the Prison Service is vital in a very complementary occupation. I have only just learnt that the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Worcester is the bishop responsible for prisons, and I would like him to know that.

I will leave this debate with one remark that sticks in my mind. As the noble Lord, Lord Parekh, said—referred to not for the first time in this debate—no prisoner leaves prison without leaving some of his humanity behind. Against that, I would also cite the much more hopeful remark of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Worcester. I think that that should be the tone of this debate.

Once again, I thank the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury for initiating this valuable debate. As I said at the beginning of my remarks, this country has the highest proportion of prisoners per head in Europe. If for no other reason, we owe it to our communities to ensure that we have the most effective, enlightened and humane sentencing policy that it is possible to achieve.

2.28 p.m.

The Minister of State, Home Office (Baroness Scotland of Asthal)

My Lords, it is a very great privilege to respond to this debate initiated by the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury in which so many extraordinarily distinguished noble Lords have spoken. Looking down the list of speakers, it was rather like a roll call of honour. It reminded me very much of the speech in "Henry V" when he lists the names. In our case it would be Canterbury, Woolf, Massey, Ackner, Listowel, Gibson, Elton, Parekh, Worcester, Stern, Faulkner of Worcester, Portsmouth, Mayhew, Dholakia, Bridgeman— in our cups these names will be long remembered.

I say that because we have had one of the insightful and important debates that this House has been privileged to listen to. It deals with an issue that is sensitive and important to each person who has spoken. I listened with pleasure to the most reverend Primate and the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chief Justice, and felt that there was not only a synergy between what those two great pillars of our community had to say, but an echo around the Chamber from all other noble Lords—and there was little with which I could disagree.

This is a moment of great hopefulness. We have embarked on a journey that started a long time ago, but which is based on the empirical data that we have culled from the past. It would be too easy to say that all that we have done before lacked utility, humanity or purpose. That would not be so, because from those lessons we have learnt much.

The most reverend Primate outlined some of the things that have happened—the genesis of what we are doing now. He mentioned, rightly, if I may respectfully say so, our paper on restorative justice, the Carter and Halliday reports, the creation of the Sentencing Guidelines Council, and the improvements in the youth justice system. All those things were created not on a whim but as a result of will. I express pleasure and some modicum of satisfaction that the crafters of some of those instruments or tools were, in part, Her Majesty's Government.

The noble Baroness, Lady Stern, was right to outline in her powerful speech some of the real challenges with which we are faced. Our humanity is very much on trial in this regard. However, in seeking to narrow the justice gap and bring offenders to justice, the Government's purpose is not to increase the number of people in prison but to make sure that those who cause harm to individuals and to the community are brought to justice. I say very clearly to the noble Baroness that we believe and reiterate the statement that prison is the course of last resort.

We do not believe that community punishment is a soft option. There are those who say that the softer option is to allow a young man to lie on his back in prison 23 hours a day watching television and doing little more. Many of our young men have grown accustomed to that activity outside prison. We demand much more from them: we demand change and positive creative restoration.

The system that we have put in place in the new Criminal Justice Act 2003 enables sentencers to do something that they have longed to do for many a year. There is now a palette from which a sentencer can choose, and the criminal justice agencies can also choose. If one looks at the availability of caution with conditions, for example, there is a question to be asked: which is the most efficacious course? Should one caution an offender, imposing appropriate conditions that will attack the offending behaviour and address that pattern, or charge and prosecute through the system and come to a conclusion that may be less effective?

The noble Lord, Lord Lucas, alighted on this point as well as saying that we need a prisons Minister who is dedicated and skilled and who will stay in post for some time. I believe that my honourable friend Paul Goggins is such a skilled prisons Minister. It is my privilege and pleasure, as the Minister of State at the Home Office, to work with him to create what we hope to be a proper understanding of what our response in this area should be. I join the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, in saying that I hope Paul Goggins remains in situ.

Lord Lucas

My Lords, my only worry is that he will not be there long.

Baroness Scotland of Asthal

My Lords, that is not within my gift and it is not within the noble Lord's gift. I am hopeful that those who make those decisions may listen to this debate.

This debate concerns the social purposes of sentencing. For the first time, the Criminal Justice Act lays down in statute the purposes of sentencing. I was very pleased that both the most reverend Primate and the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chief Justice applauded the fact that the purposes have now been consolidated and put into statute so that it is clear what they are.

The justice system should not exist simply to punish offenders. We need an holistic approach that addresses the harm caused by crime and drives down crime in a sustainable way. That means focusing on restitution and restoration and getting offenders to make amends; for example, through community service and, where appropriate, through restorative justice. It means focusing on rehabilitation, which was underscored by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mayhew. It means minimising recidivism by helping offenders to address their behaviour and tackle their problems so as to minimise the risk of re-offending.

Reparation, accepting responsibility, and giving victims a greater voice are key to that approach. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Worcester was right to emphasise that aspect. That is why we want to maximise the use of restorative justice where we know it works well, and ensure that a good quality service is delivered to victims. We have firm evidence that at least 75 per cent of victims who take part in restorative justice processes are glad that they did so. Restorative justice can be used at various stages in the criminal justice system. In appropriate cases, and only if both parties consent, victims will meet offenders. This gives victims the opportunity to voice their feelings and to express the effect the crime had on them, while offenders have the chance to face up to their actions, to apologise and to make amends in a meaningful way, either to the victim, should he want this, or to the community.

I had the privilege of watching one such restorative justice session and I can reassure noble Lords that the healing aspect of forgiveness mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Elton, was very clear in that instance. The victims felt that the restoration that took place was not simply a restoration for the offender but was very much a restoration for them. Satisfaction is a matter of great importance.

I have mentioned rehabilitation. We now know more about the factors that are vital to maximise offenders' chances of rehabilitation. Prisoners are much less likely to re-offend if they get and keep a job on release. That is why we have been investing £14.5 million a year, since April 2003, in the Custody to Work initiative. This is linked to a target of 31,500 prisoners getting a job, an education or training place on release in 2003–04. We are currently conducting a resettlement survey to help to measure progress against this.

The new National Offender Management Service will be seeking to increase the number of offenders securing jobs or training places and stable accommodation as key contributions to reduced reoffending. In April 2003, 30 per cent of released prisoners had a job or training place to go to and 71 per cent had accommodation arranged. We want the new service to improve on these outcomes. The noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, was right to emphasise those as very important ways of curing the ill that brings about recidivism, delay and decay.

The noble Lord, Lord Elton, spoke about the prison system. I reassure him that the prison system has delivered 42,348 basic skills awards up to the end of February 2004 against a yearly target of 36,631. In 2002–03, 896 basic skills qualifications were achieved by offenders supervised by the National Probation Service. In the first three quarters of 2003–04, 1,659 qualifications were achieved. So it is getting better.

We have a substantial agenda of action in hand to deliver stable housing for released prisoners. This includes: statutory changes to underpin the importance of this in local authority decision-making; the development of prison-based housing advice and support services; the development of regional and local links between prisons and housing authorities and other housing providers; and the Supporting People programme which, from April 2003, has been pulling together on a multi-agency basis the planning and development of all supported housing. The kind of initiatives that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Woolf, spoke about in Kent will not be a one-off; we hope that that working together will spread right across the country.

We recognise that the number of people in prison has to be addressed. Noble Lords will know that the figures fluctuate on a daily basis, but today the figure is 75,167. The goal of reduction of crime through the reform and rehabilitation of offenders is hindered where prisons are overpopulated. A number of noble Lords have made that absolutely clear. We shall address this by a complementary package of measures: in the shorter term we are expanding prison capacity—there will be 3,800 more prison places by 2006. But, and this will have greater long-term significance, we shall work with sentencers to ensure appropriate, consistent and well-targeted use of sentences through the Sentencing Guidelines Council which was established in the Criminal Justice Act 2003, and which the noble and learned Lord, Lord Woolf, chairs. I agree with what was said by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Ackner, who has probably the longest experience of sentencing of any of us who have spoken in this debate. If I may respectfully say so—

Lord Lester of Herne Hill

My Lords, I am very grateful to the Minister for giving way. Does she agree with my noble friend Lord Dholakia that if the European Court decides shortly that prisoners have a right to vote in general elections that would concentrate the minds of Ministers and the prison authorities wonderfully on the need to do something about their conditions?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal

My Lords, it would probably be safer for me to say that I hear what the noble Lord says.

I was about to agree with the noble and learned Lord, Lord Ackner, when he expressed confidence in the ability and humanity of our Lord Chief Justice. That confidence is very well placed. The role of the judiciary in exercising discretion in a way that is proper will be much enhanced by the work done by the Sentencing Guidelines Council. We look for parity of treatment; we look for equality; we look for fairness. We believe that in the Lord Chief Justice's Sentencing Guidelines Council we shall find all those qualities well reflected.

The issues raised by my noble friend Lady Massey of Darwen in relation to drugs were well made, as were those by the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, and my noble friend Lady Gibson of Market Rasen about women. Those are issues to which I would very much have liked to spend some little time responding, and I hope that noble Lords will forgive me if I do so in a much more staccato form than I would ideally like.

Before I come to those specific issues, I should make something clear on the point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Elton, about how much we spend and the difference between community and prison. I do not know whether he believed that the figures indicated that it was more expensive to put someone on a community-based sentence or in prison. I reassure him that the £697 figure is per week how much we spend per prisoner. The cost of a 40-hour community punishment, the longest period on which someone can be put on community punishment at the moment, is only £706. I think that the noble Lord, Lord Parekh, gave the figure of £37,000 spent in prison compared to a community sentence of £706. The anxiety of the noble Lord, Lord Elton, on that was misplaced.

My noble friend Lady Massey talked about the transfer of responsibility for prison healthcare to the Department of Health and the Welsh Assembly. We agree that that will raise the standard of healthcare in custody to that provided in the rest of the national health system. Through staff training standards, continuity of care is enabled from custody into the community. The outcomes so far already prove the fruitfulness of that approach. Community resources are being taken into custody. We have an extra 26 sites in 2002–03. The new health reception screening process across prison is working well, and there is £10 million of improvement in prison healthcare. Prison healthcare is included in the National Health Service guidance, and a national service framework is established.

A comprehensive framework of drug interventions continues to be provided, including detoxification, counselling, assessment, referral advice and thorough service provision, together with intensive drug treatments. The Criminal Justice Intervention Programme aims to get drug-misusing offenders out of crime and into treatment, just as my noble friend indicated. There is significant new funding for that, with £447 million made available over the next three years to help the local and national partners to play their part. Real benefits are coming our way.

The noble Earl, Lord Listowel, made a very important point about the training of our prison officers. Last year, the Prison Service delivered 310,376 days of in-service training, the equivalent of more than a week—6.8 days—per officer. The establishment of a single national offender management service will allow for enhanced joint training of those managing and working with offenders in custody and the community, promoting consistency of standards and shared learning.

I have had the privilege of going to a number of prisons and talking to prison officers about what is happening. I assure noble Lords that one of the most exciting things that I have seen is that those long experienced in the Prison Service—I will not call them "old lags"; that is not the language that we use in the House—have expressed excitement about what is happening. They say that they have never expressed that in the past. That gives me great courage and hope.

The Earl of Listowel

My Lords, very welcome new programmes are taking place in prison. I visited Wormwood Scrubs and saw the work of officers with sex offenders. They were enthusiastic and seemed very positive. However, a psychiatrist later told me that she had seen some of the programmes. She really felt that they were far less effective than they might have been, because the people who were implementing them originally had such a poor basic training. So I welcome the prospect that the Minister holds up and hope she will keep it firmly under review.

Baroness Scotland of Asthal

My Lords, I can reassure the noble Earl that training is kept very much under review, but also that is why partnership working is so important—having health provision provided by health professionals, common training programmes between probation officers and the Prison Service, enhancing hand-over provisions so that we improve the skills of individuals and that we do not ask them to exercise an inappropriate method of working and expertise that they may not have. Those matters are in our minds. The noble Earl, Lord Listowel, also mentioned the number of children on remand. The figures are not going up, they are going down—albeit more slowly than we would like—and that is an issue for some rejoicing.

My noble friend Lady Gibson of Market Rasen was right to highlight the plight of women. My noble friend properly referred to the new strategy that we hope will make much difference. I reassure my noble friend that a great deal of energy and commitment is going into that strategy and we hope that the benefits that we will see flowing from it will be real and concrete.

My noble friend Lord Faulkner of Worcester raised the issue of prostitution and of what will be contained in the new prostitution review paper. The review will look at policy and practice in relation to prostitution and it will develop a national strategy, reduce exploitation, protect communities and address the links with serious crime, particularly the illegal use of class A drugs. Those issues very much played into the story that my noble friend told us this afternoon. We will also examine what further changes to the criminal law are needed and hope to publish a paper for public consultation later this year. My noble friend will know how difficult and wide ranging that review has to be, because it will be a fundamental review, which has not taken place for almost 50 years, of all issues arising from prostitution. The time is now right for that mature debate.

The issue of deaths in custody was raised by the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, and I agree with him that one death in custody is frankly one death too many. The figures are going down. We are tackling prisoner suicides and self harm. It is an important area, but I would agree that we need to push that agenda hard and we will be doing much. I have a number of figures that I could give your Lordships but I will save them for another day.

The issues raised by the right reverend Prelates, the Bishop of Portsmouth and the Bishop of Worcester, were powerfully made and echoed a number of the themes that came out from other noble Lords who have spoken. May I say how pleased I was that the echo came from all sides of the House, particularly in the response by the noble Viscount, Lord Bridgeman? It was important that we had from the Benches opposite a reassertion of what we have all said in relation to prison; first, on it being a place of last resort; and secondly, on the efficacy of restoration, rehabilitation and, in essence, forgiveness. It was warming to hear those views coming from the Benches opposite, because it echoes so clearly what everyone else has said. Therefore, the most reverend Primate was right to say that this is a moment for hopefulness.

I hope that all noble Lords who have participated in this debate will use their energies to make sure that the journey upon which we are now embarked is not one from which any of us retires. However, we will support each other to ensure that what the noble Baroness, Lady Stern, would like to see happen to our criminal justice system—namely, that it is one of fairness and justice for the victim and for the offender—takes place.

2.52 p.m.

The Archbishop of Canterbury

My Lords, I have listened with the deepest appreciation to the debate and I want to express gratitude to all those who have contributed to it, particularly those who have put enormous experience at the service of our discussions today.

I am particularly grateful for the emphasis placed on two points. First, a number of speakers have referred to the impact of custodial sentencing on family life and have clearly noted the impact of that on the wider community. Secondly, the importance of restorative justice has been accepted across all the divisions in the House and has been recognised and applauded. I can only echo the Minister in hoping that what has been said on all sides of your Lordships' House will become a reality and that there will be no retiring from the positions advanced.

I repeat my gratitude to the business managers of your Lordships' House who have made the debate possible. While I do not believe that we should underrate the difficulty of the changing mindset which we are all committed to seeking, it would be wrong to conclude the debate without reiterating the notes of optimism, which have been repeatedly sounded, and the sense of being at a moment of opportunity and growth.

I want to express personal thanks for the appreciative remarks made about the prison chaplaincy. It has been a great pleasure to hear these tributes being paid to men and women whom I know only too well to be at the forefront of their ministerial profession. In the light of all that, I beg leave to withdraw the Motion.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.

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