|Previous Section||Back to Table of Contents||Lords Hansard Home Page|
Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank: My Lords, we on these Benches are also grateful to the Minister for repeating the Statement made in another place. In his concluding remarks, the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, implied that your Lordships would be satisfied--if that is the proper word--if a debate took place on the proposals on the Second Reading of the Bill which has been promised. Speaking from these Benches, I have to say that we would not be satisfied if we had to wait until the next parliamentary Session to debate the White Paper. It is a document of over 30,000 words and far more substantial, for inevitable and understandable reasons, than the Statement made by the Minister. I believe that the issues raised by the White Paper are of such importance and destined clearly to be the subject of so much public debate that we should have an opportunity to discuss them at a very early stage.
The White Paper refers to consultation. I shall return later to what that means. If there is to be consultation, the process should begin with Parliament. For that reason, if she is not able to give a positive reply today, I hope that the Minister will make known to her noble friends that a debate before the Summer Recess is highly desirable. I am sure that time could be found.
If not in the Statement made in another place, there are certainly many cadences in the White Paper of speeches made by the Home Secretary at Conservative Party conferences. Indeed, there is much about the White Paper that is more a manifesto than the sort of document that governments are expected to set before Parliament. Even the language is pejorative from time to time; for example, the heading "Honesty in sentencing" implies that in some way there is dishonesty in present policies as they are exercised and applied by the courts. I am sure that that was not the intention. But much of the language in the document is not language I would regard as parliamentary. It is meant principally to appeal to an audience outside.
In the Statement--as, indeed, in the White Paper--there is very plain reference to retribution and deterrence. I am not saying that retribution, although I find it a dangerous and ugly motive at all times, and deterrence have no place in our penal policies. But redemption and rehabilitation also have a part to play. There is nothing in what the Minister said, and very little that I have been able to find in the White Paper, which suggests that the policy towards those committing crime is other than, "Lock up the largest possible
The White Paper, though not the Statement, contains some of the information which I am sure the House requires about the additional number of prisoners we may expect and the quantum of "x" resources; in other words, how much all this will cost. I would be grateful if the Minister could answer the questions put initially by the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh: how many more men and women do we expect to be in prison as a result of the proposals? Is it a figure of 10,800, which I think is mentioned in paragraph 13.8 of the White Paper? What will be the cost? I understand from the White Paper that 12 new prisons will be required, but the figures in paragraph 13 are not at all clear to me. I am not sure whether they refer to capital cost per annum or capital cost over a period of time and whether there is any item included there for the current costs of this much larger prison population. If we do not have the facts straight today, this is a further reason for an early debate on the matter.
There is a reference in the Statement to the number of life sentences for persistent sexual or violent offenders. I believe that the figure for such offenders for the previous year for which figures were available was 217, of whom only 10 were given in effect a life sentence in the circumstances described by this White Paper. That suggests that another 207 new life sentences a year will be required for persistent sexual or violent offenders. If I have misunderstood the figures, perhaps the Minister would explain them. I mention that simply to illustrate the prospect of a much larger population than hitherto.
The noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, rightly referred to the nature of burglary. Of course it is offensive. It is an intrusion into privacy and it causes a great deal of pain, in addition to the harm that it does. I see the arguments within the White Paper repeated in the Statement today. However, to say that there will be a three-year minimum sentence for anyone over 18 convicted of domestic burglary for a third time is surely going too far. How many of the 38,000 people convicted of domestic burglary in 1994 would have gone to prison for a three-year sentence had the policy of the White Paper then prevailed? Under this heading also there is a reference to exceptional circumstances. It would be helpful to know what those exceptional circumstances are.
I referred earlier to consultation and the need to consult this House as part of that consultation, but it would be helpful to know where the Minister believes there is room for consultation. I said that the White Paper read a little like a manifesto. Certainly it reads like a White Paper and not a Green Paper, or even a White Paper with green edges. If there is to be consultation, where is that meaningful consultation to occur? The Minister may know about that and, if so, I should be grateful if she would inform the House.
The document is entitled Protecting the Public, but the greatest protection for the public would be afforded if those who go to prison come out less likely to commit a crime again. That surely must be the test of any policy
Baroness Blatch: My Lords, I shall respond to the two Front Bench speakers. As regards the comments of the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, I should say at the outset that I accept the constraints on the noble Lord in terms of the time he has had to peruse this Statement, and also the fact that both he and I have been fairly preoccupied for most of today. Therefore I accept entirely what he has said. That leads me to the next point which has been made not only by the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, but also by the noble Lord, Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank, concerning how long we must wait for a debate. I hope that both noble Lords will realise that I personally cannot answer that question at the Dispatch Box. However, I have every sympathy with those who asked that question and I shall make sure that all the usual channels are aware that a debate on this White Paper is called for. Much of what the noble Lord had to say was by way of comments on the White Paper after a cursory scan through it.
Baroness Blatch: My Lords, I accept that they were comments on the Statement. We debated possible alternatives--in other words, we entered the debate about means to ends. I do not intend to pick up all the points that were raised by the noble Lord because the Statement introduced the White Paper but the intention is that it should be read more carefully and that we should all return to this matter with more considered views on it. We shall certainly welcome that.
The noble Lord made a number of points that lead me to say that the whole purpose of the measure is consultative. We look forward to what will be said and written in response to the White Paper. It is our intention to continue that exchange of views. It is certainly our intention to listen and to consider most carefully all that is said and written in response to the White Paper. My intention is to help Members of this House to understand our proposals.
I wish to put it on record that in the course of reading the Statement I did not deride the Parole Board. I believe the Parole Board has worked diligently over the years. The Statement referred to the fact that the Parole Board has a real place as regards the proposals, which is different from the place it has at the moment
The noble Lord, Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank, in a slightly disparaging way said that the White Paper resembled party manifestos or party conference speeches. It is a genuine response to public concern. If the noble Lord, Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank, has not picked that up, I must tell him that I certainly have, and so too has my right honourable friend the Home Secretary. We have responded genuinely to public concern not just about crime but also as regards the confidence on the part of the public in the criminal justice system. Those two issues are being properly addressed in this White Paper.
I agreed with the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank, when he said that we should seek to protect the public. I certainly agree with that. He also said that we should concentrate on those who are less likely to commit crime again. Certainly there are initiatives to try to prevent crime which have arisen through work in our schools and in the community and through engaging in partnership with all sorts of people, including the community itself, in fighting crime. I believe that should be pursued with great energy. The noble Lord also said that we should release into the community those people who are least likely to commit crime again. That is precisely what is intended by the proposals: that people should be released into the community only after proper risk assessment. That risk assessment should take into account the likelihood of reoffending.
The law is not comprehensive in this respect. I have had personal examples given to me as I have visited prisons in my role as a Home Office Minister. All the people concerned with a specific prisoner--it may be prison officers, outside agencies or voluntary agencies working with him--say, "I know this person is a risk but they have come to the end of their sentence"; and the Prison Service, and even the probation service sometimes, have no locus in continuing supervision of that person. That needs to be addressed. We may argue about means to an end. But I believe from what the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, said--he nods from a sedentary position--that the issue needs to be addressed.
I conclude on this point. In the White Paper we are talking about violent and/or sexual offenders, persistent burglars and drug traffickers. I believe that those are the sort of people who should be in prison and should have more effective prison sentences.
|Next Section||Back to Table of Contents||Lords Hansard Home Page|