Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, I beg to move, That this Bill do now pass. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Henley, for his courtesy.

Moved, That the Bill do now pass.--(Lord Williams of Mostyn.)

7.15 p.m.

Lord Stoddart of Swindon: My Lords, we must say a few words before this Bill passes to the other place. I shall not speak for too long. However, over the past few weeks thousands of decent, law-abiding people have handed in their guns to police stations without any bother and without causing any hindrance to anyone at all. Many people have suffered the consequences of this legislation through clubs closing down, through businesses closing down and through other businesses making losses which they ought not to have made. Those are the consequences of this Bill and the previous Bill. I wish to draw attention to the fact that what we have done is not to hit criminals but to hit decent, law-abiding people who have obeyed the law without let or hindrance, without question and without causing problems to anyone at all.

The guns that are in the hands of criminals are still there. It is guns in the hands of criminals that are the cause of most murders. I remind the House, before we leave this legislation, of the figures for homicides in Scotland before Dunblane and before the firearms legislation was introduced. In Scotland there were 669 homicides between 1990 and 1995; 44 of those--only 44 of those--were committed with firearms. Of those 44, only three were committed with licensed firearms. In other words, out of a total of 669 homicides in Scotland, only .04 per cent. were committed with licensed firearms. Yet, we have had this legislation. How sorry I feel for all the people who have been so disadvantaged by the legislation.

I believe that the public reaction has changed. The public have now understood better what this legislation is all about. Many people believe that it is unjust legislation and that it has penalised the innocent because of the actions of one guilty man. I have said that before

27 Oct 1997 : Column 945

and I say it again. I am quite sure that I shall repeat it on many other occasions because I believe that this has been a disgraceful episode in the history of Parliament. It has introduced collective punishment into our law which I thought had gone out with the demise of the Nazi regime in Germany. However, as I said, the public reaction has changed and the Government might yet feel a backlash.

During the passage of this Bill two reasonable amendments were accepted by the House. I sincerely hope that what I am told by the media--that is, that the House of Commons will just throw those amendments out--will prove to be wrong on this occasion and that Members of the House of Commons will read the debates that have taken place in this House and that they will feel some concern not only for the disabled but also for this country's standing in sport abroad and in this country. If the House of Commons has regard to those matters, its Members will accept our amendments. But if they do not do so and the amendments are returned here, I sincerely hope that the House of Lords will have the guts to insist on its amendments.

I shall not weary your Lordships with my views any longer except to say that I believe injustice has been done. I do not believe that this will be the end of the matter. I fear that the Government may want to take things further. On the other hand it is possible to introduce legislation to repeal other legislation. I hope that in due course we might find the opportunity to introduce a Bill to repeal what I believe has been a bad piece of legislation not only on the part of this Government but also on the part of the previous government who started it all off.

Lord Monson: My Lords, I wish to thank the noble Lord, Lord Williams, for his great courtesy and patience towards those of us who oppose the Bill. On an earlier occasion he described us as libertarians. That is accurate enough in my case. However, our opposition to the Bill has nothing to do with the abstract, theoretical libertarianism propounded in university debating societies. Rather, it is motivated by anger at the great cost inflicted, without adequate justification we contend, upon respectable, law abiding citizens. I make no apology for repeating what the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart, said. I refer to the emotional cost to those suddenly deprived after 20, 30 or perhaps 40 years of the chance to practise their favourite sport. In particular, the disabled cannot easily switch to rifle shooting, if they can switch at all. I hope that the Commons will think very hard about throwing out that specific amendment of ours.

I refer to the staggering financial cost to dealers and part owners of gun clubs, many of whom face ruination financially. All that is for what statistically is likely to be a very small saving in terms of lives. The Gun Control Network, which seems to have an extraordinary influence over this Government, can see that the saving in lives may be small, but says in effect, "To hell with statistics. We must base our actions on instincts". That is a triumph of emotion over reason, the triumph of the

27 Oct 1997 : Column 946

current, hopefully ephemeral, touchy-feely syndrome over calm, measured objectivity. Heaven help us if all future legislation is framed on that basis.

Having said that, I conclude by again thanking the noble Lord for his courtesy.

Lord Swansea: My Lords, I underline what the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart, said. The Bill will do nothing to improve public safety. The criminal element will still be quite unaffected. They will be laughing their heads off right now. I shall not be at all surprised to see a continuation of crimes involving firearms held illegally. I hope that the Government will bear this in mind and will urge the police to do all they can to diminish that underground pool of illegally held weapons. They cannot wholly eliminate it, but I hope that that is what they will do.

Lord Henley: My Lords, as someone who arrived, as it were, half-way through the Bill, perhaps I may offer my thanks to my noble friend Lady Blatch who first dealt with the Bill for the Opposition and offered me help and advice during the latter stages. I give my thanks, too, to the noble Lord, Lord Williams, who has been eminently courteous the whole way through. He has taken a great deal of trouble over the amendments and to answer the letters that I have sent him as speedily as possible, bearing in mind the necessity of dealing with certain matters between the different stages.

I wish to touch on only one matter. It was referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart of Swindon. Two amendments to the Bill were moved by eminent Government Back-Benchers at the Report stage, supported by many on this side of the House. When I spoke to those amendments, I reminded the House that the Labour Party manifesto had promised a free vote on these matters. I very much hope that that will be borne in mind and that the colleagues of the noble Lord, Lord Williams, and the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart, will take seriously that manifesto commitment and the advice that the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart, gave about reading exactly what was said in this place on those amendments. I hope that another place will consider long and hard before it overturns those two amendments. I hope that those in the Whips Office in another place, who offer advice to their colleagues, will be as restrained as they might be in the advice they give to their colleagues bearing in mind the promise that this is a matter which should be left to a free vote; and one which, being left to a free vote, one would hope was properly "unwhipped".

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, I am grateful for what noble Lords have said. I reciprocate by saying that I have met with nothing but courtesy from the noble Lord, Lord Henley. This must be the only establishment in the known world where at our age we can still be called boys and girls when we are let off to go home reasonably early.

The background is well known. The noble Lord is right. We fought the last general election on a manifesto commitment for a free vote on whether the ban introduced by the last Government should be extended

27 Oct 1997 : Column 947

to all handguns. There was a free vote in another place. There was a majority of 203 in favour of the extension of the ban. I think that that view has been taken into account in the approach taken by your Lordships in speeches in this House.

We have had a full range of views expressed, many of which I do not agree with, and some of which I do agree with. Everyone has approached the matter on the basis that if one disagrees one can do so with courtesy

27 Oct 1997 : Column 948

and patience. In a moment or two, I hope that the Bill will start its journey back to another place. Whatever the views of that place about the changes your Lordships have seen fit to make to the Bill, I hope that the Bill can be introduced without delay to allow the ban on small calibre pistols to be in law by the end of the year. I commend the Bill to the House.

On Question, Bill passed, and returned to the Commons with amendments.

27 Oct 1997 : Column 949

27 Oct 1997 : Column 949

Penal Policy

7.26 p.m.

The Earl of Longford asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they will consider the case for a penal policy based on Christian and humanist values.

The noble Earl said: My Lords, I begin by thanking the highly qualified speakers who will take part in this short debate. I must also refer to the debate on matters not far removed from this subject which took place in this House on Thursday last. However, time does not permit me to try to cope in any way with those excellent speeches. I noted that the Minister, with his usual skill, appeared to be reserving himself for tonight's occasion. Certainly he abstained from replying to the severe criticism passed by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Ackner, on Thursday last. We now have this debate.

I remain an almost obsequious supporter of this Government. They have now been in office for six months. During that time I have sought to keep up an average of two visits a week to prisons. With increasing urgency, the question is asked of me, "Will this Government of yours"--the questioners associate the Government with me perhaps more closely than the Government would wish--"be any different from the recent Government? In particular, will the policy be different from that pursued by the recent Government during their last few years?" As we know, in that period a certain Home Secretary whose name I mention too often in this House--I shall not refer to it again--introduced us to the slogan, "Prison works". Whatever may be said in favour or otherwise of that policy, it was new. It was not the policy pursued by the Conservative Ministers in the preceding 14 years.

Will the present Government continue with the policy that prison works? In case I am cut short after my few minutes allowed have elapsed, I wish to be clear that that is the question I put. I do not expect a definite answer tonight because I know that the Minister will wish to give the matter proper consideration. In the prisons these are grave matters. My brilliant colleagues must have time to think them over. That answer is being received with increasing impatience. I am not sure that I shall be welcome if I continue to give it without further proof. At present I am rather like someone who has a beloved son at school. He receives first class reports but the rumour is that the boy is becoming interested in drugs. However, the father refuses to believe it. I refuse to believe that the present Government are pursuing the same policy as the last Government, but I should like some indication that that is not so.

The Question I tabled refers to Christian and humanist values, which may not be quite identical. When I talk of Christian values, I think for illustration of someone like the late Archbishop Temple; and for humanist values I think of my late lamented friend, Lady Wootton, whom I had the honour of introducing into this House. I remember the trouble at the Table when she asked for the alternative form of words, which was not so popular in those days as it is now. They were two great penal reformers--great influences. Archbishop

27 Oct 1997 : Column 950

Temple and other Christians would teach us to read yet again Matthew 25: "I was in prison and you came to me. In so much as you did it to the least of these my brethren you did it to me". That is the Christian inspiration. Lady Wootton would not have used those words; their formation was Christian. However, she would have agreed with the Christian leaders, at that time and since, that every human being who comes into this world is of infinite importance, whether or not we add the phrase, "in the sight of God". Any penal policy must take that into consideration, along with the safety of the public.

I ask the House to consider for a moment what an appalling legacy was left to this Government by the previous one. I do not speak in terms hostile to the Conservative administration in this respect over the past 18 years. We have had enlightened Conservative Ministers in this House. For example, the noble Lord, Lord Carr, spoke the other day, and the noble Lords, Lord Hurd and Lord Patten, have joined us recently. It is not a question of party politics. It is a question of a particular philosophy which was introduced in the last years of the recent Government, based on the phrase, "Prison works".

What do we find? In the past four years or so there has been an increase in the prison population of about 50 per cent. The official estimate is that the increase will continue rapidly. Meanwhile, the amount of money allotted to the Prison Service per prisoner has been reduced. The base of the service has been savagely cut. In the past few years the number of probation officers has been reduced by 10 per cent. It is reckoned that in the next two years or so it will be reduced by a further 10 per cent. The legacy is one of increasing numbers in prison, and at the same time steps being taken to economise on those who have to cope with prisoners, either while they are in prison or afterwards, or as an alternative to prison.

One may ask: why should it be officially calculated that the numbers in prison will go up and up? I do not expect a definite answer. The noble Lord is a skilled debater; he knows when to avoid a question that he does not wish to answer. Shortage of time will always come to his rescue. Why should that be the calculation? We were told by the previous administration that during the end of their period in government the number of crimes being committed was coming down. The latest figures that I have seen point in that direction. I do not necessarily take them at face value; however, we have to take what figures are offered to us. The total number of crimes in the past year seems to have come down. The total number of violent crimes, which I agree is highly relevant, has gone up considerably. It cannot therefore be argued that the forecast increase in the prison population in the next few years is due to an increase in crime. If so, I should be surprised if any Minister in the previous Government or this one argues that case. It is due to a more severe sentencing policy.

We may be told by the Government that sentencing is the affair of the courts; it is nothing to do with us. We need to study that answer very carefully. If a more severe sentencing policy is being applied by judges, it is certainly not the result of guidance from here. The

27 Oct 1997 : Column 951

Lord Chief Justice, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Ackner, and the other leaders of the judiciary are not responsible for such a policy. We must not associate them with it. I refer to the past; but of course it will happen in future and will be still worse if, as the noble and learned Lord, Lord Ackner, said recently, the new sentencing law comes into force. Taking a broad view, it is due to an atmosphere in which more severe sentences are passed. That atmosphere has come over the past few years from the government of the day. The question is whether this Government will repudiate the attitude that prison works which is producing the increase in the prison population. There is no ducking that question. It can be ducked tonight--though "duck" is an offensive word to use because it implies an act of cowardice, and I know that the Minister is a brave man. It can be postponed tonight, but it cannot be postponed for long. I leave that question in front of the Government. Will they follow the course that the Labour Party has traditionally followed of having some claim to being penal reformers? Will they in the end say, "No, we are going to follow the policy of "prison works"? In the last resort, the Home Secretary has a very heavy responsibility. On the one hand he is responsible to the public, who look to him to deal with crime at a time when there is great anxiety about it. At the same time, he is publicly known to be a Christian socialist. I cannot help reminding him that Christ came seeking to save those who were lost.

7.36 p.m.

Viscount Brentford: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Earl for introducing the debate. We all recognise his great practical experience in matters pertaining to the Question that he has posed to the Government. It is interesting just how significant this whole field of criminal justice must be, as this Question follows the debate last Thursday to which the noble Earl referred.

I find the wording of the Question interesting. It is a question about values. I accept that Christian values and humanist values are different in regard to penal policy. However, I do not believe that policy arising from Christian and humanist values is likely to differ very much. The reason is that God, when he set out Christian values--biblical values--provided them to be best for human beings. Therefore the principles arising from the Bible are likely to be fairly similar to those arising from humanists. I shall take the debate largely along the lines of the policy that I believe the Bible sets out.

I should like to begin by reading a summary of volume 6, No. 1, of the Cambridge paper that was published in March this year. It sets out clearly where my own views are coming from. It states:

    "The moral foundation of punishment is a problematic issue which has prompted several competing views. A biblical perspective is anchored in the principle of retribution: punishment is deserved in proportion to the seriousness of an offence. However, the biblical endorsement of retribution is qualified and carefully nuanced. The fundamental aim is not to inflict suffering on offenders but to reassert the existence of the moral order that governs human life. That moral order emphasises the connections between justice, right relationships and seeking after community wellbeing. For this reason, punishment should normally aim both at making reparation to victims and restoring offenders into the community".

27 Oct 1997 : Column 952

Punishment is important not because of suffering to the offender but to reassert the broken moral order lying behind the law. It is the final two questions arising from my quotation upon which I wish to comment.

Justice needs to be sought between the offender and the victim: I believe that that is a biblical principle. There is much in the Bible and Christian thought on the question of repentance by an offender. There are several commands in the Old Testament for reparation or restitution to the victim. The Bible often requires repayment of double or more for a theft.

I am concerned that today the offender very often does not understand the impact of his crime on his victim. It is important that the penal system should do what it can to make the offender realise what his or her victim feels and provide an opportunity, when agreeable to all parties concerned, for the offender to meet the victim. I quote from The Times of 18th October:

    "Young criminals who are forced to face their victims and hear the harm they cause are far less likely to reoffend, a pilot scheme has shown.

    After an 18-month trial, Thames Valley Police said that only 12 petty criminals had committed new crimes out of 350 who took part. Normally about 100 are likely to reoffend".

I have frequently expressed concern in your Lordships' House about the very high rate of reoffending. This scheme for bringing an offender face to face with the victim seems to have dealt a blow to the reoffending rate. Instead of 100, only 12 have reoffended. That gives me great encouragement. Perhaps I may conclude on this point with a further quotation from The Times:

    "offenders take part in a conference with the police and their families and meet the victim. Thames Valley Police found that many of the young criminals apologised and made reparation. In some cases they broke down in tears".
In this way I believe the penal system is working, in reducing the reoffending rate and reforming the offender.

The second point I wish to mention concerns reintegrating offenders into the community. This is aimed at reducing a rate of reoffending which is far too high. In the Old Testament punishment did not usually involve severing links between family and community. Very little imprisonment is mentioned; that is not the usual punishment. Clearly we need prisons, because we need to protect the public. That is a very important part of the penal system. Perhaps I may again quote from the Cambridge paper:

    "Imprisonment can lead to unmerited hardship for dependants, place great stress on family relationships, result in permanent job loss and multiply contacts in the criminal world".
I believe that those four results flow from imprisonment. We must have imprisonment to protect the public but I do not think it is the best way of dealing with offenders.

I have spoken before on the issue of community service. I am always grieved that the rate of reoffending by those who have received community orders seems to be very similar to that by those who are imprisoned. I believe that we need to do much more exploration in relation to community service.

27 Oct 1997 : Column 953

Ideally, prison should be seen as a pre-release centre. People should be placed in a prison as near to their home as possible--"community prisons" I believe the noble and learned Lord, Lord Woolf, called them. This has the great benefit that family can visit more frequently; there can be more meaningful visits from the local community; and programmes for reintegration into the community can be worked out from both sides, from both the prison and the local community. I believe that reintegration into the community stems from biblical values.

Education, about which the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn, spoke in last Thursday's debate, is important. Perhaps the noble Lord can say whether the amount of education in prisons, which was reduced last year, can be increased. Certainly the wider field of education is of help in penal policy, but education in prisons is an important point, too.

I hope that service in the community can be further explored with a view to reducing the high rate of reoffending. I believe that, if we get it right, that should happen, for the reasons I gave about its value.

With these points in mind, I hope that a biblical penal policy can lead to further improvement in the country generally.

7.46 p.m.

Lord Judd: My Lords, in what I say this evening I shall in some ways reinforce and respond to the very thoughtful observations of the noble Viscount, Lord Brentford. Before I come to that, perhaps I may say that it is always a privilege for us in this House to hear my noble friend Lord Longford who brings to this incredibly complex, challenging and emotionally highly charged area of public policy a concern for what society should strive to be rather than settling for managing society for what it is. I believe that is the challenge we all have to face in political life: we must, of course, govern well but we must never settle for political technocracy in handling affairs as they are as an end in themselves. We must always be thinking of how society could be better and how we can move towards that.

The noble Viscount, Lord Brentford, dwelt on the issue of reoffending. He also dwelt powerfully on the issue of enabling those who commit crime to understand the impact on those affected. The House should ponder those two important points very carefully.

In enabling the criminal--perhaps the young offender particularly--to understand the significance and consequences of the crime in which he has been involved, the approach to the time which that offender may spend in prison or some other institution is of vital significance.

As I said in a previous debate, I am privileged to be president of the YMCA in England. That organisation is doing some very interesting work with young offenders. We find, in the context of that work, that the reoffending rate is being significantly reduced. It is worth looking at why that is happening. First, tremendous emphasis is put within the institution on enabling young people to discover their own personality

27 Oct 1997 : Column 954

and their own personal significance, and to begin thinking of themselves as someone who could be respected. Out of that personality development can more easily flow a significance of the consequences of the social action in which that person may have been involved.

The other day I heard a very powerful story which deeply affected me. I was talking with a retired chief constable who happens to have been very much involved in the work in young offenders' institutions. He told me of speaking with a young man who was about to be released. While talking about his forthcoming release, the young man began to cry. The chief constable asked him, "Why are you crying? Why are you weeping at this good thing. You are about to be released. What is making you react in this way?" The young man said, "Because this is the first place in my life where I have found anybody who cared, anybody who tried to make relationships with me or anybody who took any sense of responsibility towards me, and to which I find myself responding." That seems to me to have a powerful message for us in society as a whole.

But it also emphasises the importance of the quality of the work within the prison or institution. I worry about the pressure that is now being put, for example, on the educational programmes and work designed to achieve rehabilitation. It seems to me that that is the very last thing that should be under pressure. To put it no higher, the economic cost--not just the human cost--of neglecting rehabilitation and the important work on the personality and personality development of people who find themselves in such a situation can be immensely high. To cut back on that can be a false economy when one considers the consequences that may follow.

There is one other point I want to make in supporting my noble friend who has introduced this subject tonight. I recall that in a recent debate the Minister, whom I deeply respect, was at great pains to emphasise that we should not approach this subject as a party political issue because it is not party political. It cuts across party political divides, challenges us all and should not be demeaned by being looked at in that way. I agree. I hope however that he agrees with me that it is central to our whole consideration of value systems. If we live in a society in which the premium in social conduct seems to be put on succeeding on an individualistic basis without too much worry about the consequences of self-aggrandizement, although one may reach the pinnacle of society and become a hero in that kind of society, it undermines one's authority in appealing to those who are faced with all the consequences of deprivation, hardship, bad schooling and very little opportunity. It undermines one's authority in appealing to those people if one says that the hallmark of a decent society is unbridled individualism.

If we are effectively to approach the issue of penal policy strategically, we have to relate it to the whole issue of our social value system. How far do we take seriously our responsibilities to each other and recognise that we can only build a decent society in the realms of environment, education, health and much of social

27 Oct 1997 : Column 955

policy, by working together rather than simply by looking after our own individual, perhaps narrow, family needs?

In that sense, although this is not a party political issue--I agree with my noble friend--it is important to recognise that it is central to what we believe is better in the prospect for society and what could be in society as distinct from simply what is in society. So I thank my noble friend yet again. We have to look not only at the whole issue of the pressures on our inner city schools, the exclusions and the pressure to succeed in those schools which leads to the difficult youngsters being excluded and thereby, perhaps, beginning to go down the road towards escalating criminal activity, but also at how one includes those young people in the system rather than excluding them. All those things come together.

In making those wider observations I hope that we remember also that in a sensitive and decent society we must not lose sight of the victim. Sometimes the pressures on the victim and the relatives and families of the victim are underestimated in our society. It may be treated sensationally, but the real psychological trauma which people encounter is, I believe, sometimes underrated. We need to do a great deal more in society to work on that. If we do not, it compounds prejudice and makes it more difficult to break out of the vicious circle of prejudice and incapability of taking a more enlightened and positive approach.

We also need to take very seriously the incredible pressure put on those who handle penal policy on our behalf in society, such as prison officers, those working in young offenders' institutions and the rest. It is easy for us to take strategic policy attitudes. But we must consider the sheer pressure, grind and demand made on ordinary men and women in the front line who are often very decent people trying to do the best job that they can. That cannot be underestimated. Therefore, we need to take our responsibilities in that quarter extremely seriously as well.

7.56 p.m.

The Lord Bishop of Oxford: My Lords, like other noble Lords I am grateful to the noble Earl not only for this debate but for his deep and long commitment to this crucially important cause.

If people are a danger to others, their freedom to do harm must be curtailed. They need to be kept in a secure place. So it is part of a Christian and humane penal policy that society as a whole has to be protected.

But are all those at present contained in prison a danger to others? The prison population has risen by over 50 per cent. since 1992. That increase is simply due to harsher sentencing. There has been no significant rise in the number of offenders appearing before the courts; rather, the climate of opinion has been created which favours sending more people to prison for longer periods. Overall, in all courts the proportion of offenders sentenced to custody rose from 16 per cent. in 1992 to 23 per cent. in 1996. In fact, only one in four of those sent to prison had committed offences involving violence, sex, robbery or drugs. Such numbers in prison

27 Oct 1997 : Column 956

are not felt necessary elsewhere. We place more people behind bars than any other nation in Western Europe. Out of 100,000 people, we have 120 behind bars, France has 89, Germany has 84 and Sweden has only 65. Yet despite all that, we are not a nation that feels safer or more law abiding.

Containment is not, in principle, contrary to a Christian and humane penal system; nor is punishment. But punishment is not revenge. Punishment means bringing home to an offender the consequences of his actions, so that he experiences for himself something of the harm that he has done to others. But how is that best done? Containing people in prison deprives them of their liberty and helps to instil in people a sense that choices have consequences and wrong choices have harmful consequences. But, in itself, it can hardly bring home to the prisoner the hurt that he has inflicted on others. That is why one of the most promising developments recently has been the move to confront criminals with their victims, as part of the whole process of restorative justice, helping the criminal to be aware of what he has done and in some way to begin to make amends for it. I agree with every word of the noble Viscount, Lord Brentford, when he stressed that.

So much crime is an unthinking, short-sighted failure of the imagination, a failure to see that the victims are flesh and blood who hurt and suffer. I very much hope that the move to bring home to a criminal some recognition of the damage that he has inflicted will be developed in sensitive but purposeful ways.

Again, an essential aspect of the Christian and humane penal policy is deterrence; that is, deterring the convicted criminal and others from perpetrating such crimes in the future. But it is well known that prison itself is a great deal less effective in that regard than actually being caught and convicted. What deters is the certainty that one will be apprehended and tried. Unfortunately there is little certainty at the moment about that. Reputable research indicates that out of every 100 offences committed, only 41 are reported to the police. Of the 41 that are reported, few lead to a criminal being apprehended and sentenced. So in the end only four out of every 100 offences committed lead to an outcome through the criminal justice system.

It is a mistake to think that prison itself will deter. Because the public feels insecure with the high crime rate, people understandably call for more and longer sentences. But people need to be educated to see that what is really needed is a more certain system of apprehending and convicting criminals. That is what will deter.

No less important for a Christian and humane penal system is the hope, however faint in the short term, that people can be changed; that relationships can be restored and that a person can mature. That is fundamental from a Christian viewpoint. In Christ, all human beings are potentially redeemable; that is, they can grow into the person God intended them to be, reflecting his own light and love.

Unfortunately, prisons are now much less able to focus on that aspect than once they were. More people are being sent to prison for longer periods and prisons

27 Oct 1997 : Column 957

are therefore overcrowded. In July 1997 11,000 prisoners were held two to a cell. At the same time, due to cuts in prison budgets, 1,100 prison staff took early retirement this year. Because of that there have been cuts in prison education and in time spent out of the cell in constructive activity.

Between 1995 and 1997 the time spent on education fell by 71 per cent. in prisons and young offender institutions. Again, in 1994 a prisoner could spend 26.2 hours each week in constructive activity; in 1996 it was down to 23.8 hours. There is less money to pay for education and constructive activity and fewer officers to oversee that work.

All that sets at risk the enormous gains made by the Prison Service in recent decades in terms of education, group therapy work, better living conditions and a general concern for rehabilitation. One aspect of that is the way that drug offenders are treated. They may well be committing more than one-fifth of all thefts and burglaries in this country. There needs to be a shift towards court order treatment and rehabilitation. At present two-thirds of government spending on drugs goes into enforcement and controls and only one-third into prevention, education and treatment. Yet current research into drug treatment programmes has shown that they produce large and rapid reductions in illegal drug use and related criminal activity.

It is good that the Government are advocating more court order drug treatment and it has been announced that there will be legislation for a new "treatment and testing order". There needs to be significant developments along those lines for the simple fact is that drug dependency leads inexorably to criminal activity. Simply locking drug-dependent criminals in prison bypasses the fundamental challenge which is to get such people off drugs.

All that points to the fundamental imperative of reducing the prison population. If people are in prison when they could be punished some other way because they are no significant threat to the community, then their imprisonment is inhumane and unchristian. If too many people are in prison, it makes it less likely that those who have to be in prison will receive the educational and rehabilitation programmes that they so desperately need.

A number of suggestions have been put forward as to how the prison population may be reduced without putting the general public more at risk. One important suggestion is that the Government should move urgently to lay down tighter statutory and non-statutory restrictions on the lengths of remands in custody. On any one day over 4,000 untried prisoners have been awaiting trial for over three months. An overall three-month time limit on custodial remands, together with accompanying limits on the various stages of the pre-trial process, could potentially have a substantial impact on the daily prison population.

The Government made a manifesto commitment to bring remand delays down to national targets. Again, we must look as a matter of urgency for improvement in that sphere. It is certainly a cause which is strongly supported by prison chaplains.

27 Oct 1997 : Column 958

Important suggestions have also been made in relation to custody for young offenders--a specific concern of the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury--and those prisoners with young children. As he said, the high rate of imprisonment,

    "reflects wide injustice to many prisoners and their families. Remand prisoners frequently lose their jobs and even their homes and get behind with the rent. Family relationships are damaged, sometimes irretrievably".

Another concern of the Church is the increasing use of prison for women. The female population in prison has risen twice as fast as the male population, from 1,353 prisoners at the end of 1992 to 2,799 last August. Around half the women in prison have dependent children. Most of them are non-violent offenders and many have committed minor offences. It is difficult to see how imprisoning them can be the best way of changing their behaviour and bringing about a right relationship both within their own family and with the wider society.

We must say that despite the good will and professional efforts of so many in the penal system-- I have been privileged to meet some wonderful governors and prison staff--the present criminal justice system cannot be described as either fully humane or Christian. If we look carefully at why we need containment, what constitutes punishment, how we can best deter and what we need in order to change people's behaviour, we see that there is a massive imperative to find an alternative to prison; to make prison itself a context in which people can be enabled to face up to the harm that they have done to others and where they can be helped to change their behaviour. From a Christian point of view we must never lose hope of that possibility.

8.7 p.m.

Lord Plant of Highfield: My Lords, I too thank my noble friend Lord Longford for introducing this short debate and echo the tributes that have been paid to him by other noble Lords this evening.

The debate in the terms in which he asked his Question concentrates on values. Values are extremely important when thinking about penal policy, for two reasons. First, it is at least arguable that some of the oscillations that we have seen in penal policy have been the result of not having a clear view as to what punishment is for. Any answer to that--whether it is for retribution, restitution, deterrence, rehabilitation or, more likely, a mixture--will need to confront quite deep questions in relation to moral values. We therefore need a greater degree of clarity as to what punishment is for.

Secondly, if we do not root our penal system in ethical values it will be buffeted about by political expediency. In addition, citizens who can discuss penal issues, imprisonment and so forth in terms of morality will find the field dominated by "experts". I do not doubt that there are experts in criminology, psychology and so forth; but they are not and cannot be experts in the purpose of punishment. That is ultimately a moral and ethical matter.

27 Oct 1997 : Column 959

I am worried that if we do not stress the moral dimensions of punishment the field will be taken over by various kinds of experts and our criminal justice penal system will become more remote from how ordinary people think and feel about it. The problem is that if those points are accepted--that morality is of vital importance when thinking about penal policy--how will we confront those ethical issues? We are often told that we live in a morally pluralistic society and can expect little in the way of moral agreement from people who have all sorts of faiths or indeed no faith at all. We cannot reason about the moral basis of punishment in an ethical vacuum--and we live in such a vacuum.

My noble friend suggested in the terms of his Question to Her Majesty's Government that there could be some kind of overlap between the Judaeo/Christian ethical tradition and the secular/humanistic tradition, though I hope that that applies to other religions also. If there is an overlap, it is to be found as other noble Lords said in the principle of respect for persons; that there are clear moral limits which should constrain how we deal with people, including those who have broken the law. The Christian roots of this doctrine, as the right reverend Prelate said, are to be found in the idea that human beings are created in the image of God, the secular idea rooted in the notion that human beings have qualities and capacities which are denied to other sorts of animals, not least the capacity for choosing between right and wrong. These distinctive human qualities are to be respected among those who have offended against the law; that is to say, respect for persons and some idea of human dignity seems to be the value that could be overlapping between both religious and humanistic approaches to this issue.

If that is correct, and some idea of human dignity and human respect is part of the overlap between Christian and non-Christian values, what might such a principle imply in relation to penal policy? The first and most important point is that those who have broken the law should be regarded as being properly responsible for their actions. It would be a very odd view of human dignity as the basis of human respect which did not count individuals as human agents capable of understanding the difference between right and wrong and the consequences of their actions. I say that because some approaches to penal policy would see the central concern of such policy in wholly therapeutic terms. I am not denying the relevance of a therapeutic approach in penal policy, but it can be overdone in so far as such an approach can displace the centrality of individual responsibility. If we see criminal behaviour as being a result of a pathological personality or as symptoms of some kind of mental pathology, there is a danger that we actually displace the idea of human responsibility. As I have already said, that sits rather ill with the notion of human dignity. We have to keep both of those in some kind of balance. The first thing that follows from the idea of human dignity is the centrality of the importance of human responsibility for one's own actions.

It also seems to me that the principle of respect would put quite clear limits on the role of deterrence in thinking about punishment. After all, the idea of

27 Oct 1997 : Column 960

punishment as deterrence is justified by the fact that we are prepared to inflict punishment on an individual for the sake of other individuals and for the sake of social welfare. No doubt that is an important element of punishment, but the idea of respecting people involves the notion of not treating people just as means to the ends and purposes of other people. Therefore, if we take the idea of respect seriously, there must be limits on the use of the idea of deterrence in the justification of punishment and at the very least a deterrent approach to punishment must be much less discretionary than it might otherwise seem to be. If we are to respect people, we should treat like cases in like manner.

From this value certain restrictions would flow on the notion of deterrence. We certainly ought to restrict the opportunity for passing exemplary or quirky kinds of sentences because the pressure to deter a particular kind of crime in a particular place by passing a sentence on a particular individual seems so strong. That is unjust and incompatible with the principle of respect.

If you take the principle of respect seriously, what kind of view of punishment might it justify? It justifies much more the idea of punishment as restitution, reparation and retribution. The idea of retribution has not had a good press over recent years because it seemed to be inhumane and uncivilised. That is a fundamental mistake. The central theme of retribution, if one looks at the nature of retributive thinkers in the penal context, is that responsibility is both a necessary and sufficient condition of punishment--that it is because someone is responsible and guilty that he should be punished. Questions of rehabilitation and questions of deterrence are secondary to the fact of responsibility and forcing people to face up to the responsibility for and consequences of their own actions.

That is what retribution classically means in the Western philosophical and religious tradition. It has nothing to do with vengeance. It is quite different from vengeance. The differences are quite marked. Retribution or restitution implies the principle of proportionality, that the reparation to be made should be proportionate in some sense to the crime. There is an internal limit on the reparation to be made. Vengeance is or can be unlimited. Secondly, retribution is exacted in an impersonal way. Vengeance is always personalised. Vengeance may involve taking pleasure in the pain the person feels. That is not true of retribution, which is impersonal. Reparation is general and universal in a way that vengeance is not. It embodies a commitment to the idea that like cases should be treated in like manner. That is not true of personalised vengeance. Vengeance and reparation are fundamentally different. It does not help clarity over our understanding of what punishment is for to assume without further argument that reparation and retribution are necessarily the same thing as vengeance.

My own view is that the principle of respect, which is this overlapping moral value--perhaps one of the few we have in society across different moral traditions--justifies the major principle of punishment in terms of reparation and restitution and that the role of deterrence

27 Oct 1997 : Column 961

and rehabilitation is important and indispensable but nevertheless secondary in terms of the nature of what justifies punishment.

The final point I would make--it very much echoes the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Judd, and the right reverend Prelate--is that if we are to have a criminal justice system that embodies some principle of respect, within prison the regime should be one that encourages respect both in terms of building up a sense of responsibility for actions on the part of the inmate and also in terms of the way in which the inmate is dealt with. When I first came to the House the topic of the day was the report of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Woolf, following the Strangeways riot. The regime that he laid down and argued for is the one we should go for and the one that would embody this principle of respect in prison regimes more than any other argument I have heard in the House over the past five years.

8.18 p.m.

Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank: My Lords, I am sure that over the years there must have been a number of occasions when a Private Secretary has gone into his Minister and said, "Minister, we have yet another Unstarred Question and it is also from Lord Longford", because the noble Earl has been nothing if not persistent over the issues we are discussing today. I am sure the whole House will agree with what the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Oxford said when he referred to the noble Earl's deep and long commitment. We have all gained immeasurably from that as we have from this opportunity to talk about some of these issues again today.

It is also true of the noble Earl, as the noble Lord, Lord Judd, said, that he is bipartisan and even-handed in his criticism. We shall find him as vigilant a hawk in following the behaviour of his own Government as he was a very fierce critic of what was done by Michael Howard in particular under the previous regime.

He is quite right to raise these issues on every possible occasion. We have already been struck by the number of occasions this evening when there have been references to the prison population. I make no excuse for making yet another one and making a reference to some different figures.

At the time of the debate on the gracious Speech on 19th May, there were 60,431 men and women in prison. Last Friday the figure was 63,174--an increase of nearly 3,000 in a little over five months. I remember that the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn, referred earlier in the year to the possibility that the prison population would grow to a figure of 68,400 by March 1999. That would be 2,600 more than the previous projection.

I do not necessarily expect a reply this evening, but at a later date. Does he still believe that, given the size of the increase in the past five months, that it is still realistic to talk of a prison population of 68,400 in March 1999? I confess that if matters proceed as they are now, I believe that there is a real possibility that the figure will be over 70,000.

27 Oct 1997 : Column 962

In the course of the debate on the Address, I said that I hoped it would be a target of the Home Secretary to reduce the prison population by 50,000 by the end of this Parliament. Very wisely, he has made no forecast to date. But the time is coming when he must demonstrate to the House and to the public that the present movement, which is all in the opposite direction, is going to be reversed. It is very important indeed that a major target for the present Home Secretary is to reduce the prison population.

The noble Earl, Lord Longford, was very critical--as he was this evening--of Michael Howard's formula that prison works. The truth is that sometimes it does, but more often it does not. It only works in the positive and obvious sense that it takes criminals off the streets for a while. But having been taken off the streets once, if the criminals continue to offend, then more harm may have been done by putting them in custody in the first place. I was very interested in the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Plant, about the nature of deterrence. Prison is only justifiable if it is an effective deterrent first; and, secondly, if it is also an effective way of turning criminals into honest citizens. That is why the remarks of the noble Viscount, Lord Brentford, about re-offending and reintegrating former prisoners into the community are very important indeed.

It ought to be possible that prisoners are given opportunities that will enable them to take their place in the community thereafter. Given the decline in education and other facilities and the amount of overcrowding in our prisons, to which the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Oxford referred and the extraordinarily high figure of 11,000 prisoners held in cells designed for one person, I cannot believe that the present state of the prisons will result in any form of redemption for those in them.

There was a further report today from the Howard League for Penal Reform which for so many years has been the champion for those who want to improve our penal system. It refers in particular to the number of girls aged between 15 and 17 years of age held in breach of the United Nations convention and who are not persistent offenders. It said that the inquiry which had been conducted by the league showed that the number of girls being held in prison had more than trebled between 1992 and 1996. The report states that girls are held in adult gaols alongside older women and in breach of the United Nation's Convention on the Rights of the Child. As we know, it states that the gaols are overcrowded and not equipped to deal with the complex problems of teenage girls. The regimes are barely rehabilitative, with no special regime for the under-18s, which is further confirmation of what has been said in your Lordships' House tonight. The report states that hard drugs such as heroin and crack cocaine are easily available and that girls are at risk of emotional bullying, physical assault and self-harm. It is an appalling story for a civilised society which for many years did much of which it could be proud in order to improve the circumstances of those held in custody.

In the criticisms made of the previous Home Secretary the noble Earl, Lord Longford, often said-- I certainly agreed with him and said it myself--that the

27 Oct 1997 : Column 963

previous Home Secretary was motivated mainly by good opinions within his own party. I very much hope that the verdict on the present Home Secretary will not eventually be that he was principally motivated by fear of the tabloid press saying that he was soft on crime.

I understand, as I believe do all Members of this House, his deep concern, which I believe to be wholly genuine, about the problems on the housing estates and crime among younger people, particularly young children. But these are circumstances in which it is necessary to keep a cool head and to ask whether punishment is the relevant answer, and if it is, what form it should take.

The noble Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn, in last Thursday's debate, which I am very sorry I was unable to attend, said that unless we get the confidence of the public, which means all sections of it, including the media and victims, we shall get nowhere. I agree if that is a statement for the longer term, meaning four or five years. But the Government must seek to educate public opinion and explain and argue the case and not simply follow what may be common parlance in the saloon bars. The previous government totally failed to seek to lead opinion except in the direction that they had already chosen to take. This Government have a very serious obligation to do something better.

The present Home Secretary said, I believe in the statement he made on 30th July in another place, that his overriding priority was to secure the safety of the public. That has rather become his mantra. But how? It is not necessarily by locking people up. I remind the Home Secretary of the memorable aphorism of the Prime Minister about crime. He referred to the need to deal with crime and the causes of crime. I shall be certainly very happy to judge this Government, when the time comes, by the extent to which they have genuinely acted both on crime and the causes of crime.

It cannot simply be a matter of blaming the families of delinquent children, expecting them to accept responsibility beyond their capacity to do so. Those who become criminals and those who are the parents of those who become criminals are what they are partly by the accident of birth; partly by the damage done to them in childhood; partly by the social and psychological consequences of events that they could not avoid; partly by deep changes in our society; and partly, it has to be said, by unemployment, poverty and the widening gap between rich and poor. These are matters which must be tackled if we are ever to find a solution to the very important questions which the noble Earl has raised tonight.

8.28 p.m.

Lord Henley: My Lords, like the noble Lord, Lord Rodgers, I have considerable experience and knowledge of the number of Unstarred Questions which the noble Earl, Lord Longford, has put down over the years, obviously not just on home affairs matters but on many other subjects. I remember some years ago the noble Earl putting down an Unstarred Question on

27 Oct 1997 : Column 964

universities and polytechnics, as they then were, and the desirability of allowing the latter to change their title to the former. I also remember with some personal feeling that I was put in as the hapless Whip to respond to the noble Earl on that occasion. It was not long after that that he achieved exactly what he desired because the government changed their mind and the polytechnics were allowed to begin calling themselves universities.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page