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The Earl of Dundee: My Lords, within two years of their release from prison 75 per cent. of young men are reconvicted. Does the Minister agree that one of the key challenges facing the prison system is to reduce recidivism by improving the management of rehabilitation within prisons? Does the noble Lord accept that plenty of evidence demonstrates that some programmes and methods adopted within prison work considerably better than others? Will he encourage the UK Prison Service to identify and develop such best practice in order to achieve much more in this country and to set a useful example for other states in Europe and elsewhere?

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, the noble Earl is right in everything he says. In fact, the new education contract which came into effect in January of this year means that education for a prisoner will be an integral part of the sentence plan throughout. There is no doubt that education of prisoners, job opportunities, home connections and ties in the community are the best positive indicators against recidivism.

Lord Acton: My Lords, have the Government taken any action on the finding of the Chief Inspector of Prisons that many women are remanded in custody for brief periods, only to be given bail on a second court appearance without any fresh information?

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, the treatment of remand prisoners within the prison estate has concerned me. Accordingly, I have asked the Chief Inspector of Prisons to carry out a thematic review of all remand prisoners within the prison estate.

Lord McNally: My Lords, the Minister spoke some pious words about education in prisons. Is it not a fact that education provisions have fallen by one-third in the past four years? Furthermore, is there not a great deal of leeway to make up within the Prison Service? Rather

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than dismissing suggestions such as those made by the right reverend Prelate, is there not a need for an open mind on how to break into the vicious upward spiral of the prison population? In terms of crime and punishment, it is clear that prison is not the only solution and in some cases it is not the best solution.

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, I have not said anything pious and therefore I am not suggesting that the right reverend Prelate has--

The Lord Bishop of Lincoln: My Lords, not on this occasion!

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, the right reverend Prelate obviously holds on to his day job! What I said was not pious or platitudinous. We are devoting a substantial amount of new money, £226 million, to improve the regimes. We have to attack the cancer of drugs either in the community or in prisons. We have to find more positive regimes. I have visited prisons to see them working and I know that miraculous work is being done with limited resources. It is not only cash that is required; it is intelligence, imagination and determination. I pay full tribute to those in the Prison Service who fully exhibit those qualities.

Lord Cope of Berkeley: My Lords, have pressures on the Prison Service eased as a result of fewer people being convicted, shorter sentences or earlier releases?

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, a complex series of causes bring about an easing on the prison regime. One easement has resulted from the success of the home detention curfew. Since 28th January, 775 prisoners have been released and only 14 have been recalled. There are 749 still on tag and others have successfully completed that useful scheme. I believe that everyone recognises that until we get prison numbers at a manageable level, one way or another, we will not be as productive as we all hope in ensuring that people do not reoffend. Training them properly and giving them structured prospects is of profound assistance to them.

Lord Laming: My Lords, can the Minister indicate the Government's response to recent inspection reports of young offender establishments which has been critical of the reduction in training and education opportunities for young offenders? Is it possible that the contracts to which the Minister has referred apply also to young offender establishments?

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, yes we will set particular targets so that we can ensure that by 2001 50 per cent. of those who leave will have at least level 2 literacy and numeracy qualifications. That is the bare essential required in order to have sensible prospects of work opportunities.

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Supermarket Pricing: OFT Report

2.54 p.m.

Lord Razzall asked Her Majesty's Government:

    When they anticipate that they will receive the Office of Fair Trading report on supermarket pricing.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, the decision to undertake an inquiry into supermarket profitability was taken independently by the Director-General of Fair Trading. It is a matter for him how and when he makes his findings public. I understand that the Office of Fair Trading will announce its conclusions within the next month.

Lord Razzall: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that Answer, which was anticipated. Does he agree that the issue touched on by the inquiry goes significantly wider than competition-related issues? Does he also agree that, in addition to consumer interests, other interests are involved? I refer to the interests of farmers, who as we speak are bleeding from the reduction in costs; the interests relating to genetically modified food, which we read about during the weekend; and planning issues? Irrespective of the OFT report, would it not be appropriate for the Government to set out a clear statement of policy, including action points, so that we know that the issues can be dealt with?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, of course the noble Lord is right. A wide range of issues is involved, including the issue that he raised in the Question. However, surely it is right, first, to receive an answer from the Office of Fair Trading about the competition issues, to link that with the introduction of the competition Act in March next year, and then to take into account all the other issues he rightly raised.

Dartford-Thurrock Thames Crossing: Toll Charges

2.56 p.m.

Lord Dixon-Smith asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What is their latest estimate of the date on which the Dartford-Thurrock crossing of the River Thames will become toll-free.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions (Lord Whitty): My Lords, the current legislation provides for tolling to continue for the purposes of meeting the financial objectives of the concessionaire and allowing a further year in which the Secretary of State may establish a maintenance fund. After engineering assessments have established the need for substantial maintenance work to be carried out by the concessionaire, it is now predicted that these purposes will be met by September 2002. This is about nine months later than the estimate we gave last June.

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In the integrated transport White Paper, A New Deal for Transport: Better for Everyone, published last July, the Government stated that they would consult on whether and how continued charging at the Dartford-Thurrock crossing could contribute to integrated transport objectives.

Lord Dixon-Smith: My Lords, does the Minister agree that the financial arrangements for that crossing, which mirror those for estuarial crossings throughout the United Kingdom, have been a justification for using specific revenues to provide infrastructure which would otherwise not be attainable? Does he not further agree that having achieved those financial objectives there is a moral obligation in that the original intentions of those who created the crossing--Essex and Kent County Councils under the then existing legislation--was to allow it to become toll-free?

Lord Whitty: My Lords, as regards the noble Lord's first point, I agree that the crossing has been a great success in the financial terms set out at the time. My congratulations to Essex and Kent County Councils would be appropriate. Although I said that the estimate we gave last June has been put back for nine months, the original time estimate for meeting the financial obligations has been brought forward by three years.

Further tolling has become part of a wider assessment. We are examining whether tolling would be appropriate on motorways either for new constructions or more generally in terms of road-user charging. At an appropriate point, we will consult on that in relation to Dartford and more generally.

Baroness Masham of Ilton: My Lords, could we go back to the prison Question as we have time left?

Noble Lords: No!

Baroness Seccombe: My Lords, does the Minister agree that it was a specific intention of the Bill that there would be a maximum of 20 years before there would be toll-free passage for everyone travelling over the bridge and through the tunnel? Does he further agree that if that were not to be adhered to it would be a breach of trust unless legislation was brought before both Houses of Parliament and agreed to?

Lord Whitty: My Lords, were we to go down the road of future tolling on the Dartford-Thurrock crossing or anywhere else, this House and another place would have to consider new legislation. It would not be possible, nor would the Government intend, to extend tolling in any such circumstances without bringing forward new legislation. We will consult on that in relation to the Dartford crossing and elsewhere.

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