Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page


8.14 p.m.

Baroness Macleod of Borve: My Lords, I feel that I have spent the whole day with my pads on waiting finally to get to the wicket. However, I shall perhaps only make one run because the hour is late and I do not wish to take up any more of your Lordships' time. I wish to touch on one part of the gracious Speech which states:


I am deeply grateful to my noble friend Lady Blatch for what she said on the subject on behalf of the Government. She certainly gave great heart to all of us who were worried about young people and drugs as to what the Government intend to do in the future. Before hearing her speak, I had intended to say a little about drugs and I am afraid I shall still do so, without taking up too much time.

We are all aware of the grave damage that drugs can do to our young people, in particular the 15 to 16 age group. One always hopes that they will not become addicted and a senior doctor at the Maudsley Hospital said that many young people will experiment with drugs but the majority will stop before drug use becomes a problem. He said that the earlier a child starts taking drugs the more likely it is that the drug taking will become serious. That is why I hope to persuade the Home Office and the Department for Education to allow outsiders to go into all schools for the over 12s and warn pupils of the damage and consequences of drug taking. The outsiders must, of course, take samples of the drugs with them to show the pupils, otherwise it will have no effect. I realise that this is done already in a large number of schools but I am anxious that no child should grow up without being warned. If young adults become addicted there are many organisations and groups to whom they can turn. Although he is not in his place, I wish to pay a tribute to my noble friend Lord Mancroft for all the work that he is doing in this sphere.

In this context, the most important people to the children are not the teachers but the parents. The parents are the people who see their children on a daily basis and can look out for the tell-tale signs of different behaviour and the various other ways in which anyone who has contact with young people can tell whether or not they are on drugs. I say "parents" in the plural because I firmly believe that every child has the right to the guidance and love that both parents can provide. There again, I say "guidance".

If children are in trouble they must be able to go to their parents who, in turn, must take an interest and show a caring concern. I understand that many children start drug taking when they are truanting from school and have nothing to do. To give some idea of the amount of drugs involved, I have been in touch with the Customs and Excise which has given me the approximate figures for drugs seized in 1993. They are: LSD, 150,000 doses. I could not quite make out why it was "doses" and not "kilos", but that is what it is. They

22 Nov 1994 : Column 229

seized: cocaine, 680 kilos; heroin, 540 kilos; herbal cannabis, 12 tonnes; cannabis resin, 39 tonnes; amphetamines, half a tonne. That is only what the Customs and Excise have been able to seize as the drugs were on their way either through the country or when they were landed at the ports of entry. It gives some idea of the enormous amount of drugs that are already in the country and are available to children or adults.

I want to express my worry--pointed out to me many times --about a new level of pseudo-official people who are known in this country now as counsellors. They have sprung up like mushrooms. It seems that the public can and do receive counselling about everything from car crashes and losing money to mourning the loss of a kitten. I should like to know who employs them; how much they are paid; what qualifications they must possess; and why, quite suddenly, it is assumed that people are in need of completely strange shoulders to cry on. I am sure that my noble friend the Minister will not need counselling after my few remarks, but I should be grateful if she could write to me as I have had a great number of representations on this subject.

8.20 p.m.

The Earl of Longford: My Lords, I am always happy to follow the noble Baroness, if only because of her long and devoted service as a juvenile magistrate. She will forgive me if I do not follow her this evening on the subject of drugs, although I absolutely agree that it is one of the most acute issues of the day.

My first duty is to say how pleased I am to think that we shall now struggle with the eloquence and dialectics of the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, who has assumed the grave responsibilities of Minister of State at the Home Office. Anything that is good news for her is good news for me. I have saluted her before as a fine Christian woman in education. She will, of course, have her work cut out in the Home Office. I am afraid that I have called her chief, as she knows, the Prince of Darkness. It is a little difficult to describe her role in a way that is not embarrassing to one of them. I see her as an angel of light; and let us hope that she will somehow or other be inspired to lighten his darkness. I am afraid that the omens are not as good as I could wish, because since she has arrived on the scene he has been involved in one or two appalling episodes. I mention, to start with, the fact that he is now cutting home visits by 40 per cent. That has been rightly denounced by my noble leader for today, my noble friend Lord McIntosh, in his powerful speech. Really, it is a sort of test case as to whether or not the present Home Secretary is on the side of penal reform. Or is he--as I am bound to think--the enemy of penal reform? I would not like to call the noble Baroness the enemy of penal reform. But, as the angel of light, will she throw her beam over this scene?

The penal reform organisations have with one accord denounced the proposal as a terribly retrograde step. One of the consortia includes the prison governors, always thought of as penal reformers. Mr. Howard may draw consolation from other quarters. The Sun newspaper of course says, "Lock 'em up". But then, the noble Baroness may say that Mr. Howard never reads

22 Nov 1994 : Column 230

the Sun. He may possibly disregard it. But what does the Daily Mail, which, we assume, is the staple diet of most Conservative politicians, say about the matter? I have the words here if noble Lords want me to quote them. I shall paraphrase. It says, thank heaven that the penal reformers are being told where to get off; they are the cause of all the trouble.

You cannot be on the side of the Home Secretary and on the side of penal reform. He is the declared enemy of penal reform. I do not know whether the Minister, whom we welcome to these discussions, will take the side of penal reform or of Mr. Howard. You really cannot be on both sides--unless the Daily Mail has completely misunderstood Mr. Howard's purposes.

Mr. Howard may be in trouble on his own account now. We are told by the courts that he is guilty of gross illegality. I suppose he may find himself in custody. I do not see why not. And what will happen then? He will be denied home visits to his much-admired family and he may have to fall back on do-gooders like myself. Whether he will welcome our visits, only time will tell. However, that is not the main subject of my speech today. I had intended to talk about life prisoners. The most important issue here --I shall not deal with it tonight save in a few sentences --is whether in the near future Mr. Howard will say to a number of life prisoners that life will mean life. That is a big issue. If he does say that, the penal reformers are bound to come out very strongly against him. It would be an unprecedented step. Possibly the Daily Mail and the Sun will back him. But if he takes that step an honourable man will cover himself with dishonour for ever. The matter will arise in the next few weeks.

I cannot speak strongly enough about the matter. Mr. David Mellor has, of course, championed the idea that some sins cannot be forgiven. No doubt he is an expert on the subject. As he has decried me as a notorious do-gooder, I feel that I may be biased in my comments, so I leave that former Home Office Minister for other speakers to cope with and turn to the topic on which I planned to speak, though briefly of course. I was going to say how much I admired the speech of the noble Baroness, Lady Gould, but there is not much point when she is not in her place. She must take that as understood.

In the debates on the criminal justice Bill I put forward three amendments. The first one I shall not deal with, save merely to mention it. It proposed that murder should no longer produce a mandatory life sentence--an idea that has been repeatedly affirmed in this House. Yet curiously enough, when I supported it and introduced an amendment to that effect, it received very little support. Noble Lords cannot blame me entirely as I was ready to let the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chief Justice speak to it instead of me but for some reason that was thought injudicious. I am quite happy about the long-term future. I am sure that the matter will be put right eventually. I am sure that when the Labour Party comes to power and is committed to it it will be rectified. I shall not therefore detain the House on the subject tonight.

The next matter is one that the House has probably never studied. In saying that, I do not insult Members of this House, because, after 50 years of being interested

22 Nov 1994 : Column 231

in penal reform, I had never studied it until quite recently. It is the question of the recall of prisoners. I am thinking particularly of the mandatory life sentence. I gather that there are 3,000 life prisoners but that 80 per cent. of those sentences are mandatory--and it is the mandatory life sentences to which I refer at the moment. I take the case--it is one I raised in the summer, and I have given the noble Baroness plenty of notice--of a prisoner I know who was arrested (re-arrested one might say) because it was alleged that after being freed from prison he had after a number of years harassed a woman. Her story was accepted; he was never allowed to put his side of the matter. He has been in prison since March; it is now November. That is shocking. He has never been allowed to state his case or be represented before any tribunal. I shall not deal with the matter at length because I have asked the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, whether she will see me and allow me to discuss not only that personal issue, but the general issue of the recall of mandatory life prisoners. I understood from her rather cryptic letter that she would be ready to see me, so I hope to discuss the subject with her in the near future.

I shall deal with only one other subject tonight; namely, judicial review after a number of years. At present, a prisoner can be imprisoned for many, many years and never have a chance to state his or her case or be represented before any kind of independent tribunal. I shall take the case of Myra Hindley, but I should also like to mention two other cases.

With someone like Myra Hindley, we are told "Oh well, Myra Hindley, you cannot imagine the Home Secretary letting her out, can you?" That is what people say to me. Incidentally, when I spoke to someone the other day, his secretary replied, "Oh, I know you, you are the Myra Hindley chappie, aren't you?" I said, "Well, I have done a few other things." She said, "Well, I haven't heard about them." So I do realise that one has a certain reputation there. But I will not deal only with that case.

Myra Hindley has been in prison for 29 years. Her release depends on the goodwill and the political antennae of the Home Secretary of the day. I regard that as iniquitous--quite iniquitous. But it is not only her. If you go to Maidstone prison in the near future--and I go to many prisons--you will find a couple of prisoners there, one of whom has done 29 years and the other, Reggie Kray, who is rather well known to the public, who has done 25 or 26 years. His brother, Ronnie Kray, is in Broadmoor. They have never been allowed to appear before any tribunal.

I say that we fallible human beings are performing something unworthy of human beings if we keep people in prison for 25 or 30 years, or whatever it may be--still more, of course, for life--because the Home Secretary of the day does not feel that it would be politic to let them out. After a number of years--I say 15,

22 Nov 1994 : Column 232

although there is nothing magical about it--they should come out; otherwise it will continue to be a disgrace to a civilised country.


Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page