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Baroness Lockwood: My Lords, what proportion of taxpayers are not required to submit a tax return on the basis that their income is so low or so stable that it is not necessary for them to do so? Is it not likely that the

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people to whom the noble Lord, Lord Mackay, referred would be in the category of not having to complete a tax return?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, my noble friend has asked two questions. One relates to the number of people who are excluded because their income is too low for them to pay tax. I am afraid that I do not have the figure available at the moment. On the question of those whose income is, as my noble friend put it, more "stable", the answer is that two-thirds of taxpayers do not have to submit tax returns. Tax returns are required from directors of companies, the self-employed and those such as pensioners or others with complex financial arrangements.

Lord Brooke of Alverthorpe: My Lords, is my noble friend aware that the staff do not share his view that staffing is adequate to cope with self-assessments? Is he also aware that, today, staff representatives are meeting at a special conference in London to complain about their inadequate numbers and the service that they give to taxpayers generally? Does my noble friend share my view that in the circumstances the Government's decision to reduce the number of staff by 1,500 next year should be reviewed before they proceed down that route?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, my noble friend is not quite correct. It is not a decision to reduce the number of staff, but an estimate that fewer staff will be needed at that time. One of the objectives of the self-assessment programme is, quietly rightly, cost savings. We estimate that there will be savings of approximately £70 million in due course. As to consultation with the staff and the trade unions, my noble friend is right: we must continue to consult.

Unemployment Figures: Accuracy

3.11 p.m.

Lord Dormand of Easington asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What proposals they have to improve the accuracy of the unemployment figures.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, from April a single news release each month from the Office for National Statistics will present a coherent picture of the labour market. First, information from the Labour Force Survey, now to be released monthly, based on an average of the latest three months' data, will include unemployment estimates according to internationally agreed definitions set out by the International Labour Organisation. It will also include data on employment and other measures of economic activity. The Labour Force Survey is of course a sample survey and is subject to sampling variability and measurement and estimation issues. Secondly, ONS will continue to publish the claimant count series, which is a comprehensive count of claimants of unemployment-related benefits.

Lord Dormand of Easington: My Lords, is my noble friend aware that the new system that he has just

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announced, which I understand will come into operation tomorrow, has been very widely welcomed? In particular, can my noble friend confirm that the new system will place greater emphasis on the International Labour Organisation's measure of unemployment which is fundamentally more important than the claimant count? Does my noble friend agree that it is difficult to obtain figures for those who are said to be economically inactive? Is this aspect being looked at?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, I am grateful for my noble friend's comments about the internationally accepted figures. It is important that we have a proper basis for making comparisons with other figures. But I believe the implication of his further question is also valuable. With the publication of the Labour Force Survey figures, we shall increase our emphasis on employment and not just unemployment. It is important to recognise the approximately 2 million people who want to work but who are not looking for or are unable to take up jobs. That is the thrust of our policies under the New Deal and welfare-to-work.

Lord Marlesford: My Lords, has the Minister had an opportunity to look at the useful analysis of unemployment by constituency which came out about a week ago? If so, is he aware that that shows that there are now no fewer than 350 constituencies with unemployment at less than 5 per cent., 158 with full employment (in the Beveridge sense of 3 per cent.), and only 56 with unemployment in double digits? Is the noble Lord prepared to give credit where credit is due for the healthy state of the economy which these figures indicate?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, the noble Lord refers to claimant count unemployment. We must apply to what the noble Lord has said all of the precautions of claimant count unemployment which have already been expressed. We cannot produce from a sample survey ILO-defined employment figures for individual constituencies. It is true that claimant unemployment figures have been going down for a number of years, and credit must be due to anyone who has been responsible for that--if governments are ever entirely responsible for these matters.

Lord McCarthy: My Lords, perhaps we could return to the Question asked by my noble friend Lord Dormand of Easington. My noble friend Lord McIntosh referred to the 2.2 million people who want to work but who are not actively seeking work. It is known, is it not, that the great majority are women, and in particular single parents? Will the Government use the Labour Force Survey to discover why these people say that they want to work but cannot work? Is it because there are no child-care facilities, because they cannot get decent jobs, or because they get the sack whenever they have to leave to look after their children? What are the reasons? Surely, the Labour Force Survey can be used to find out why those who want work cannot get work.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, my noble friend asks some very proper questions. He is right to

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say that the Government should investigate the matter. Whether that can be done in the context of the Labour Force Survey, which already contains 100 questions, I am not certain. The Government's recognition of the problems that my noble friend has identified is evidenced by the fact that under the New Deal and welfare-to-work they propose to spend £3.5 billion over the next four years on exactly that problem.

Baroness Carnegy of Lour: My Lords, when the Government move to the new internationally recognised system and away from the claimant count, will they consider the number of people at any time who are between jobs? If not, whatever may be the international system, it will not tell us what we need to know.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, it is not a new system; it has been in use for many years in many countries. The ILO definition of unemployment includes availability to start work in the next two weeks and whether the individual has been actively looking for work in the past four weeks or has found a job and is waiting to start. If the noble Baroness asks for figures relating to those who are between jobs, she rather assumes that the interviewer and interviewee will know whether or not the individual will find another job in the next few weeks. That is impossible.

I have not sat down. I apologise to the noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish, for having spoken a second or two longer and deprived him of the opportunity to rise to speak in all four of the Questions this afternoon.

Crime and Disorder Bill [H.L.]

3.17 p.m.

Read a third time.

Lord Ackner moved Amendment No. 1:

Before Clause 1, insert the following new clause--

Standing Advisory Council on Criminal Justice and the Penal System

(" .--(1) There shall be constituted a body to be known as the Standing Advisory Council on Criminal Justice and the Penal System ("the Advisory Council") for the purpose of--
(a) advising the Secretary of State on the adequacy and effectiveness of the criminal law and procedure of the criminal courts;
(b) advising the Secretary of State on such aspects of the penal system as he may from time to time refer to it; and
(c) at the request of the Sentencing Advisory Panel referred to in section 71 below, providing such advice and assistance as may enable the panel the better to discharge its functions.
(2) The Advisory Council shall consist of--
(a) a chairman appointed by the Secretary of State, after consultation with the Lord Chancellor and the Lord Chief Justice, from among the members of the Advisory Council; and
(b) such other members, not exceeding eighteen in number, as the Secretary of State may appoint having regard to qualifications referred to in subsection (3).

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(3) At least two-thirds of the members of the Advisory Council shall be persons who appear to the Secretary of State to possess knowledge or experience of any aspect of the criminal justice system or the penal system including, in particular, the prosecution of offenders and their care and treatment in prison and the community.
(4) The Members of the Advisory Council shall hold and vacate office in accordance with the terms of their respective appointments and shall, on ceasing to hold office, be eligible for re-appointment, but any such member may at any time, by notice addressed to the Secretary of State, resign his office.
(5) The Secretary of State may, out of moneys provided by Parliament, pay the members of the Advisory Council such remuneration and such allowances as may be determined by the Secretary of State with the consent of the Treasury.
(6) The Secretary of State shall provide the Advisory Council with such officers and such accommodation as may be appropriate.
(7) The Advisory Council shall make annual reports to the Secretary of State with respect to its functions, and the Secretary of State shall lay any such report before each House of Parliament.
(8) The Advisory Council shall separately report to the Secretary of State on any matter referred to it, or sanctioned by the Secretary of State for advice; and the Secretary of State shall publish any such report.").

The noble and learned Lord said: My Lords, four weeks ago, on 3rd March, noble Lords debated for about an hour in Committee the merits of setting up a standing advisory council on criminal justice and the penal system. The function of the council was to address the important issues of criminal and penal policy dispassionately, authoritatively and constructively. In the words of my noble and learned friend the Lord Chief Justice, the purpose of the amendment,

    "is to provide the Home Secretary and the Government with a reservoir of wise, informed, objective and non-partisan advice on the important and intractable problems which confront him".--[Official Report, 3/3/98; col. 1132.]

Those who spoke in favour of the amendment in addition to my noble and learned friend the Lord Chief Justice were: the former Lord Chief Justice, my noble and learned friend Lord Lane, and the former Chief Justice of Northern Ireland, my noble and learned friend Lord Lowry, who has recently retired as a Law Lord. Those who spoke in favour of the amendment included two former Home Secretaries, the noble Lord, Lord Hurd, and the noble Lord, Lord Merlyn-Rees, and former Ministers of the Home Office, the noble Lords, Lord Carlisle and Lord Elton.

The amendment was further supported by the noble Earl, Lord Longford, the noble Viscount, Lord Tenby, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mayhew, the noble Lords, Lord Thomas and Lord Goodhart, and the noble Baroness, Lady David. The only Member of your Lordships' House who spoke against the amendment was the noble Lord, Lord Henley, who recognised the uncomfortable position that he was occupying by likening himself to a character in a Bateman cartoon which would have been entitled, "The man who spoke against the amendment".

The noble Lord was typically frank. He said that he was filled with alarm by the very idea that party politics should be taken out of the criminal system. He considered that the council which we propose would look like an attempt to imprison and impose constraints upon the Home Secretary when he comes to make policy. He appeared totally to overlook that what is proposed is a purely advisory council.

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While the Home Secretary will no doubt consider the advice, he may or may not accept it. The distaste of the party of the noble Lord, Lord Henley, for independent advice was strikingly demonstrated towards the end of the previous Parliament when the Government resisted an amendment to give a right of appeal against tariffs set in murder cases--the same right of appeal as exists in the case of discretionary life sentences.

The amendment, which in no way limited the Home Secretary's ultimate right to set the tariff, was carried in this House but reversed in the other place. The noble Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn, accepted that the amendment raised a number of issues which were worthy of further consideration. On the very day that the amendment came up to be considered on Report, I was provided with a copy of a lengthy letter from the Home Secretary to the Lord Chief Justice, explaining why he resisted the amendment. In order the better to answer the points made by the Home Secretary, and anticipating, as indeed was the fact, that the amendment would be reached at some time after 10 p.m. I did not move the amendment.

I turn now to the Home Secretary's letter. In essence, he contends that there is a formidable array of bodies from which he can obtain all the advice that he needs. I propose to comment seriatim on "known bodies", but before I do so I should like to emphasise that however formidable those bodies are, the Home Secretary has not begun to tackle the ever-increasing overcrowding in prisons.

On 24th March of this year I had the advantage of listening to an address given by Joyce Quin, Minister of State at the Home Office, on the Government's plans for the Prison Service. That address was given to the Parliamentary All-Party Penal Affairs Group. The following day I listened to and, indeed, took part in the Motion moved by the noble Lord, Lord Allen of Abbeydale, calling attention to the problems facing the Prison Service in England and Wales.

Both Joyce Quin and the noble Lord, Lord Hoyle, who summed up on behalf of the Government in the debate to which I have just referred, recognised the very serious overcrowding which exists currently, with a prison population of just over 65,000. They accepted the projection by the Home Office statisticians in January that the figure could well rise to nearly 83,000 within seven years. A worst-case scenario put the figure at 92,600, which means 24 new prisons at a cost of £2 billion.

Sadly, I do not believe that the worst-case scenario is altogether unrealistic. The new mandatory life sentences and the new minimum sentences are bound to put up the prison population, and the obligation upon judges in future to explain that, generally speaking, only half the sentence imposed will be served in prison will fuel public criticism of the sentences, and will probably result in an overall increase.

Both Joyce Quin and the noble Lord, Lord Hoyle, were emphatic that overcrowding in prison must be reduced; that the trend to over-use custody must be reversed; but neither suggested that that could be achieved; neither advanced any strategy for softening the current harsh climate of public opinion.

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There was, what the lawyers may refer to in a different context, a settled hopeless expectation that the rise would continue. Over the past 12 months, the prison population has risen by over 6,000--an average of about 115 per week. At that rate of increase, a prison of the size of Dartmoor would be needed every five weeks to accommodate that rise without increasing overcrowding.

It must however be startlingly obvious that the public and the media need to be re-educated as to the value of imprisonment: what it costs; what it achieves, or fails to achieve; and what are the alternatives; what are their costs, their success and failure rates, and so forth. There must be a wider understanding of the limited contribution imprisonment can make to an effective law and order policy.

The public must be made aware of the very limited extent to which rehabilitation can be achieved where serious overcrowding is on the increase, and where budget cuts have reduced, if not eliminated in some establishments, the provision of constructive time, designed to enable the prisoner to leave the prison establishment better equipped to earn his living and behave in a responsible manner towards society.

There is of course a world elsewhere. We need extensive research into the penal systems of other European countries in order to discover why their prison populations are significantly lower than ours; how they have managed to persuade their public to accept punishment within the community. Here public opinion, to a very large extent, condemns community penalties and crime prevention programmes as being soft and woolly. That opinion needs to be effectively challenged and altered. Non-custodial sentences of the right kind are not a weak or soft option. New schemes are having considerable success with non-violent offenders.

I believe that the standing council, unlike the various bodies referred to by the Home Secretary to which I shall now turn, could provide the Home Secretary with vital material to reverse the trend, but that of course is just one area in which the standing council could produce an effective contribution.

I turn now to the formidable array of bodies referred to in the Home Secretary's letter to the Lord Chief Justice. First, a general comment: an important virtue of the proposed standing council is that it takes criminal policy out of the political arena; secondly, it centralises the source of advice in one body whose function it is to survey the whole scene rather than spreading it over a series of committees.

The first source of advice identified by the Home Secretary is the Criminal Justice Consultative Council. Its function, as I stated in the debate on 3rd March, is to reconcile the potentially conflicting aims of the disparate agencies of the criminal justice system. For instance, the police, the Crown Prosecution Service, the Probation Service and the Prison Service. Its terms of reference, set out in Annex A of the summary of its activities in 1996-97, is to promote better understanding, co-operation and co-ordination in the criminal justice system, in particular by considering reports about developments in and affecting criminal justice; considering other information about the operation of the

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system; and overseeing the arrangements and special conferences. I should have thought that committee is hardly within the context of an advisory committee concerned with the whole penal and criminal justice system.

The next body is the Trial Issues Group. It is a Home Office body concerned essentially with trial procedures; for example, the potential limitations on the right of cross-examination by the accused acting in person of an alleged victim of rape. It deals with only a tiny segment of the criminal justice and penal system.

The next reference is to Her Majesty's Chief Inspectors of Prisons and Probation. They are concerned with policy issues within prison. Their function is not to advise on the criminal justice policy or the penal policy. The Home Secretary then referred to the Law Commission. Its concern is the substantive criminal law; bringing the law up to date and getting rid of anomalies. It is not concerned with criminal justice policy or with the penal system.

Next the National Audit Office. It is involved in the financial supervision and monitoring of activities, bodies or organisations to ensure efficiency, effectiveness and value for money. It does not focus on that with which we are concerned.

There is then a reference to the Youth Justice Task Force, but it is concerned with practical suggestions to improved the quality of justice relative to young offenders. The Youth Justice Board is referred to in Clause 35 of the Bill. It is primarily a monitoring body. Of course, the Sentencing Advisory Panel will be an important source of advice, particularly in relation to the Court of Appeal Criminal Division, but it will not research the wider policy issues that the standing advisory council is designed to do. It is unlikely to communicate with the public or the media, or to seek to remedy public misapprehensions such as that all judges are soft on crime. It will not be concerned with policy questions: for example, whether it was wise to get rid of the partially suspended sentence, or whether the reviewable sentence recommended some 25 years ago by the Butler Committee is a sentencing option which should be available in order to cater for an offender who, if given a determinate sentence, is likely to be discharged while still a danger.

In the course of the debate in Committee, the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn, said:

    "The real question is: would an advisory council of the sort proposed give further value?".--[Official Report, 3/3/98; col. 1144.]
I submit that the answer is an emphatic yes. I beg to move.

3.30 p.m.

Lord Hurd of Westwell: My Lords, I commend the amendment tabled by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Ackner. He returns to the point which we discussed in detail in Committee. I do not need to rehearse all the arguments because he has produced them again most succinctly.

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I, too, have been privy to the Home Secretary's explanation of his reluctance to agree to the amendment. I am grateful to him for explaining in such detail the wide range of bodies which stand behind his shoulder or at his elbow. He ranged wide in his search for bodies which could conceivably be described as relevant to the matter, and he produced a long list. I am not in favour--I do not believe that many of your Lordships would be in favour--of multiplying such bodies without need. It may be good for every Secretary of State from time to time to examine the bodies which stand behind his shoulder or at his elbow to see whether any should be wound up and some made brisker and briefer.

However, the amendment raises a different issue: whether any of them do the job which the proposal is designed to meet. Two bodies appear at the outset prima facie to be relevant; but, on examination, I do not believe that they are. The Sentencing Advisory Panel does not advise the Home Secretary; it advises the Court of Appeal on sentencing guidelines. It operates entirely within the existing law, whatever that may be. It does nothing in respect of new sentences or maximum sentences, and nothing outside the existing body of statutes. Therefore, that body does not meet the case we have in mind.

The Criminal Justice Consultative Council was set up as a result of the Woolf Report, although it does not have a statutory base. It has a distinguished chairmanship and membership. Has it fulfilled the kind of purposes which we discussed in Committee? I have no criticism of the body, but perhaps the reason why it has not fulfilled all expectations relates to its membership. Perhaps that is a shade defensive and by nature inclined to be affectionate to the status quo, whereas those of us who support the amendment believe that in this respect the status quo is not working well.

Perhaps I may rehearse the amendment's two main purposes in lay language. The first is to provide Parliament and the public with a time for reflection on particular proposals, perhaps after some tragedy or some drama. The case for having that time for reflection appears to have been made in practice over and over again. The advisory council would not be a decisive or executive body nor would it have powers of decision. It would simply provide advice and a time for reflection so that Parliament--this place and the other place--could reach calmer and wiser decisions.

The second purpose is to prevent discussions on criminal justice matters degenerating into adversarial squabbles. I would not adopt the same phrases as my noble and learned friend. It is inevitable that these matters are political and it is right that they should receive more parliamentary discussion in both Houses, because they acutely and sensitively touch the lives of citizens. The question is not whether there should be parliamentary discussion, but whether it should take an adversarial form, as it has tended to do in the past few years, or whether it should be treated more like discussions on foreign and defence affairs when the convention in both Houses of Parliament is that different views are held across parties, the aim being to reach a

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solid decision out of parliamentary discussion. I believe that the advisory council proposed in the amendment could help that discussion.

Those are the two main aims of the amendment. I do not believe that they are met by any of the bodies in the wide spectrum which at present advise the Home Secretary and therefore I continue to support the amendment.

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