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Baroness Thomas of Walliswood: My Lords, perhaps I may make matters absolutely clear. I agree entirely with every word that the Minister has just said. I was attempting, perhaps not as cleverly, to make the same point.

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, I am most grateful for that. I believe that we have a duty to reassure and reinforce people who are carrying out very difficult jobs. They are vulnerable not only in the way described by the noble Lord, Lord Williams, which I recognise well, but sometimes they are vulnerable to criticism which might have been a little better considered and informed.

The trite observation, which I make despite its triteness, is that no one can say in how many cases skilled, dedicated intervention and work by the Probation Service prevented further offending. Of course, that news, which is good news, is never attractive because there is no headline which can be drawn from it.

Baroness Masham of Ilton: My Lords, does that point not illustrate very well that probation officers need extremely good training?

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, probation officers need very good training but I would not derive that moral from that story. The moral I derive from that story is that information is disseminated. One needs to put the good part of the story in the same context as the bad. I agree entirely with the noble Baroness that it is such difficult, skilful and stressful work that it obviously needs careful training. Indeed, prison officers' work is strained and stressful. It is very easy for those of us who go home after our day's work to forget that doing that sort of work, it is not easy to dissociate the rest of one's day or one's evening from that difficult work.

I hope that I have been helpful to your Lordships in this short debate. Nobody can pretend that it is an easy situation. The causes of that unease are not as relevant as the present remedies to which we must try to look. I believe, not simply because I stand here delivering the Government's view, that this review is of critical importance. It has the possibility of bringing about a sea change in how we deal with offenders.

Prison for some is bound to be the sanction that public safety requires and the public interest demands. It is not an appropriate sanction for all those who commit crime at every stage of their development. I believe that all speakers have agreed that if one catches potential offenders when they are young, one saves them the loss of wasted life, to use the phrase of the noble Baroness on another occasion when we discussed the matter. It saves enormous amounts of money; and, not least, it saves the anguish and heartache of so many victims whose interests also need to be carefully attended to. Sometimes those interests seem perhaps to be marginalised because we focus so much on how we deal with offenders. I respectfully suggest to your Lordships--I know that the noble Baroness and I are entirely at one on this--that while we must remember

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that criminals are victims of crime in a deeper sense, the innocent victim and his or her interests should never be overlooked.

I believe that I have trespassed a little on your Lordships' patience. However, in conclusion, I make the observation that in American rodeos a bur is sometimes placed under the saddle of the horse to make it restive. My noble friend Lord Longford never needs that because--and I mean this in all seriousness and sincerity--he has been absolutely indefatigable in the pursuit of what he believes to be right and just. I have never pretended that I agree with him on everything, but I salute the way that he never lets go and continually seeks the improvement of conditions within our society.

7.42 p.m.

The Earl of Longford: My Lords, I am most grateful to all speakers who have taken part in tonight's debate. I often tell people that we have the best debates in the world and the worst voting system. However, I shall leave the latter point on its own and stick to the first one; namely, that we have very high quality debates.

First, I should like to thank those who have spoken from all parts of the House. We have heard the chairman of the Labour Peers and their representative on the advisory committee; in other words, the two most representative Labour Peers available, apart from the Front Bench. They have spoken very strongly as liberal champions. The noble Baroness, Lady Masham, also took part. She has surpassed all of us in visiting nine women's prisons. I have visited more than nine prisons but not more than nine women's prisons, so that is a record.

All parts of the House were strongly represented and all speakers said roughly the same as I submitted in my convictions at the beginning of the debate: that there is no possible justification for the cuts in the Probation Service when this country is richer than it has ever been, and in view of the large increase in the prison population. I repeat: there is no possible justification for those cuts. No such justification has been provided, not even from the Front Bench. I did not exactly expect my revered friend the Minister (who spoke so kindly of me a moment ago) to do so. I realise that he is tied by his office. He is in a position where he has to say, to use the Irish phrase, "Mind you, I have said nothing". He is not in a position to commit the Government.

So far as concerns the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, I feel a great deal of sympathy for her. She referred to the fact that I called her "the maiden of darkness" in the past; but I have also called her "the angel of light" on other occasions. I listened to her speaking with such deep feeling, expressing such care for the Probation Service and wondered how someone who cares so much could share a large part of the responsibility for imposing such outrageous cuts. I have only one explanation: the noble Baroness did her best to resign, but her resignation was not accepted. That has happened to other people. When I was Minister for Germany 50 years ago I tried to resign but Clem Attlee knew the answer to that one. He wrote me a letter saying, "Dear Frank, I have received your note and will try to

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look into it later". So I am sure that that is the position of the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch. However, she is now approaching freedom because she will be joined by the noble Lords, Lord Hurd and Lord Patten, who are great penal reformers. Therefore, she will no doubt astonish us all very shortly.

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In conclusion, I should like again to thank all speakers who took part in the debate. I only hope and believe that this debate will have had a good effect. I beg leave to withdraw the Motion.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.

        House adjourned at fifteen minutes before eight o'clock.

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