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Baroness Masham of Ilton: My Lords, what about rehabilitating them?

Baroness Blatch: My Lords, if I may, I shall come to rehabilitation.

There are many ways of ensuring that we do not have so many people going to prison or on to community sentences. I pose the question to the Minister. The Narey Report--it is an important report which was welcomed--said a great deal about ways of reducing delays and the number of people who end up on remand in the system. The Narey Report made 33 recommendations to speed up the criminal justice system and reduce delay. By reducing delay in the criminal justice system, time spent on remand would also be reduced. The recommendations in the report would mean that almost all defendants appeared in court the next working day after they were charged; and that

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about 50 per cent. of those defendants, possibly more, would be convicted the day after they were charged, compared with 3 per cent. at present. That kind of recommendation can only be a good thing.

At one time the previous Government had a trial issues group, again doing important work. The trial issues group sought to identify reasons why cases do not meet time guidelines, particular attention being paid to the impact of the time guidelines on custody cases; to look at opportunities for further categorisation of cases for fast-tracking and/or special treatment some of which would include custody cases; to spearhead a drive to enable prosecution files to be prepared more swiftly by simplifying the requirements for their preparation; and to improve the efficiency of the prosecution process by improving the co-operation between the police and the Crown Prosecution Service. The Criminal Procedure and Investigations Act 1996 also contained provisions which would assist in that regard.

The noble Baroness, Lady Masham, referred to rehabilitation. It is an important point. I refer to unemployment courses, job clubs, and recreational classes. In 1995-96 17,309 NVQs were gained by prisoners, which was a 25 per cent. increase over the previous year. I refer to rehabilitation courses on drugs, alcohol, household management, child care, debt counselling and basic education and skills. As the Minister visits prisons and prison establishments, I hope that he will be as impressed as I am with much of the very good work that is being done in our prisons. Perhaps I may say this to the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Lincoln. I saw some of that impressive work. Young people are working. About 8,000 prisoners are working in prison industries producing goods and services worth about £345 million. Lincoln Prison is one such prison.

Perhaps I may refer again to the achievements of the previous Government which will help towards detection and keeping people out of prison. They are better technology, fingerprint schemes, the Phoenix computerised database of criminal records, rapid search facilities, the QUEST system, and the DNA database which will be enormously important. I refer to closed-circuit television, and faster justice. I referred to the Narey Report and delays in the system, and proposals to cut the time in bringing young people to court. There is closer liaison between police and the CPS. As regards Action on Juveniles, local child crime teams identify vulnerable young people. There are parental control orders and secure training centres to deal with persistent young offenders. What does the Minister intend to do about that? Questions have been posed about curfew orders for 10 to 15 year-olds; minimum sentences and new prison places.

Crime prevention schemes include Neighbourhood Watch; special constables; civilian posts, many in order to release operational policemen; victim support schemes; the National Crime Squad; the National Criminal Intelligence Service, and so on. There are many ways of improving the system.

Just how tough and how effective will the new Home Secretary be? As regards repeat violent or sexual offenders, we had a celebrated case this weekend. The

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police pleaded for something to do with prisoners who have to be released from prison when everyone in the system--prison officers, the Probation Service and the police--know that the person is dangerous. But the Minister will know that the Government have turned their face against our proposals to deal with repeat violent offenders. If our policy was not good enough, what will the Government do about persistent burglars? What will happen about persistent traffickers in hard drugs?

Much has been said about overcrowding. A great deal was achieved by the previous Government. I hope that that will be recognised. Three prisoners to a cell has been eliminated; slopping-out is a thing of the past; two to a cell built for one has been very substantially reduced. There is an almost infinitesimal number of fine defaulters in prison now. A huge reduction in fine defaulters in prison was achieved by the previous Government. But alternatives to prison were not supported by noble Lords opposite. I refer to electronic tagging, curfew orders, tougher community sentences, more effective and tougher community sentences and parental control orders. Do the present Government support the previous Government's prison building programme, the refurbishment programme and the programme of extension to provide extra places? What is the future of the ship that is moored off Portland?

Much has been said about the care and resettlement of criminals. That is important. However, I pay tribute to the previous Government for putting the concerns of the victims of crime and their shattered families at the centre of policy-making. Not a word has been said in the debate so far about victims of crime.

The Earl of Longford: My Lords, perhaps I may interrupt.

Baroness Blatch: My Lords, perhaps I may finish. My time is very tight. This is my last sentence. Letting criminals off and letting them out is not a policy that I and my noble friends on this side will support.

7.10 p.m.

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, the noble Earl began this debate, for which we are all indebted to him, with a critique of "Howardism". He did not define it. Perhaps he thought it had certain aspects of being unthinking, uncooperative, mulish, uninquiring, willing to parrot formulae rather than to listen to informed argument and--almost the worst in this new brutalism--totally ignoring of other people's views, such as those of the judges, prison governors, prison staff and probation officers. If that is what the noble Earl had in mind by "Howardism", I join him in rejecting and condemning it. It was not just Howardism I heard on one occasion, but perhaps Bourbonism--"I have learned nothing and I have forgotten nothing". The history of the Bourbons after Waterloo was not entirely impressive.

What I can say in the presence of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Ackner, and in the regretted absence of the former Lord Chief Justice, is that this is a

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Government and a Home Secretary who will restore and publicly underline and reaffirm a decent regard for the judiciary. That alone would be worth a long journey.

The noble and learned Lord, Lord Ackner, invited us to pay careful attention to the views of those who administer the system, whether it be the criminal justice system and service or the prison system and service. We shall do that. We now have a Home Secretary who believes in listening to other people's views. He wishes to see the informed, organic development and improvement of the Prison Service and the criminal justice system. It will not be done over night. We have inherited what we have inherited.

I entirely endorse the thrust of the remarks of the right reverend Prelate, added to one or two remarks--to move ahead in time--of the noble Baroness when she spoke of "chronicles of lost youth and wasted life". My noble friend Lord Graham of Edmonton, who has had to be silent now for a very long time, made some extremely important and valuable points. Not least, he raised the question of remand delays, many of which come about as a result of abuse of the system. They clog up prison accommodation, distort the proper operation of the courts and, not least, wound additionally those who are victims. I do not need any lessons about proper regard for victims; nor do I believe that previous speakers need them either.

The noble Baroness asked me specific questions. With her invariable courtesy, she invited me to write to her, which is prudent since I wish to be as precise and helpful as I can. Perhaps I may adopt the same course with the noble Lord, Lord Acton. At least two of the issues mentioned by the noble Baroness and the noble Lord are very much in our minds. I discussed them, as one is expected, and rightly ought, to do with Mr. Tilt only this morning. However, I need to write definitively to the noble Baroness and the noble Lord.

I very much welcome on behalf of the Government the constructive approach taken by the noble Lord, Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank. As he and I are agreed--although in the past we have had shades of difference as to nuance--this is not a matter to be kicked about the gutters of party political warfare. The noble Lord has never adopted that approach, as I hope I have not in my dealings with him. Many of his questions are of extreme importance: education and training; a halt to changes with the weathercock wind for short-term advantage; and questions about the quality of the educational system in prison. Quite a number of us in this Chamber have experience of the prison system in one way or another. A large component of people in prison have to be there for reasons of public security. A significant component are being let out worse than they went in. They are unskilled, untrained and uneducated, and therefore can be properly described as a danger to the public and a menace to themselves.

The situation is not good in terms of projected figures. Since December 1992 the prison population has risen by 19,974--that is, 49 per cent. The projections are extremely gloomy. My information is that the long-term projections suggested are: a rise in 1999 of 2,000 to an annual prison population of 65,800. If present trends

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continue, that is likely to be a substantial underestimate. The population could rise to 62,000 in October this year; 63,700 in March next year; and 68,400 in March 1999. I believe that that simply confirms the pattern to which the noble Lord, Lord Rodgers, referred.

Funding is not being cut. That is a misapprehension. Current expenditure is set to increase this year and the following two years by an average of 7 per cent. a year compared to the forecast out-turn for last year. There will not be any more money available. We must therefore look for increasing efficiency. We have to look to the proper, scrupulous, considered allocation of resources. Even if there were unlimited resources available--and there are not--we could not reverse overnight the historic trends to which I referred.

The noble Lord, Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank, said that he will return to this matter at the end of the year. I dare say that he will chide me (generously, I hope) that I still do not have perfect answers to all the questions that he will put. However, I repeat that I recognise the fact that the noble Lord has recognised publicly that the present Home Secretary has substantial mountains to climb and that it will take a long time. We believe in co-operation. We believe in the full involvement of staff and hope to demonstrate that that will be a characteristic of the new Home Office under the present Home Secretary.

I do not seek to enter into any bandying about of figures. As was pointed out in a debate on the Queen's Speech, the election is over and we need to administer the Home Office, its duties and priorities in a constructive way. It is true, as the noble Baroness

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said, that "slopping-out" has gone, as has "trebling"--the holding of three prisoners in a cell designed for one. How are we to deal with those problems? Partly by an attack on delay; partly by an attack on remand; partly by a necessary use of the new prison ship, which will come into commission on a partial basis on Wednesday this week; and partly as a result of the present provision made, so that over the next 12 months or so 5,000 additional places will become available for use--1,600 new places at existing prisons; 1,900 places at the new prisons, Bridgend, Fazerkley and Lowdham Grange. Refurbished wings will come back into use at Leeds, Brixton and Pentonville, which will provide a further 1,500 places. I have already mentioned the prison vessel, HM Prison-Weare.

It may well be said by the noble Earl that simply providing more accommodation is not a conclusive answer to the problem. I agree. There are serious questions that should be seriously addressed as to what we want prison to do, what we expect the Prison Service to provide and how it is to liaise appropriately with the criminal justice system. When people leave prison, what do we hope to have achieved for them? In other words, what do we hope they will do better and differently? Those are the philosophical and moral questions that the new Home Secretary must address. He has made a good start. However, he knows perfectly well--at least, on reading Hansard tomorrow he will--that he is on probation and that this House will carry out its proper duties of scrutiny, which I welcome.

        House adjourned at twenty minutes past seven o'clock.

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