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Lord Ackner: My Lords—

The Lord Bishop of Worcester: My Lords—

Noble Lords: Bishop!

The Lord Privy Seal (Lord Williams of Mostyn): My Lords, I hear the call of the Lord—it is the Bishop!

The Lord Bishop of Worcester: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble and learned Lord the Leader of the House for identifying my wish to speak with the voice from above. I know that the Minister is as concerned as many of us about the effect of the rate of reoffending on prison numbers. I know that a great deal of attention is being given to that issue. Would he be prepared to look at the issue of confidentiality between the various agencies involved in resettlement? There is some concern that it would not be possible for the necessary level of co-operation to occur between and among the agencies concerned with resettlement. That would affect the ability of the resettlement programme to achieve the reduction in reoffending which, for example, the Social Exclusion Unit report—and I am sure that the noble and learned Lord himself—would wish. Will the Minister let it be known what, if any, obstacles to co-operation inter-agency confidentiality might present?

Lord Falconer of Thoroton: My Lords, yes, the Government would be prepared to look at that extremely important issue. If the employment service, the housing authorities, the social services, the prison authorities and the probation service can share information within the law, that would frequently help

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the resettlement prospects of the individual offender. One of the great difficulties is that the precise law is incredibly complex and there is no confidence among many agencies as to exactly when they can share information. It is an issue which needs to be considered. It has been highlighted in the Social Exclusion Unit report on how best to promote resettlement and it is something that we are considering.

Lord Ackner: My Lords, I have two short questions and that is why I sought to speak before the right reverend Prelate. First, what proportion of those in prison have been found guilty of offences within two years of leaving prison? Secondly, what is the average length of prison sentence now? Has it gone up, remained the same or gone down?

Lord Falconer of Thoroton: My Lords, in terms of the rate of reoffending within two years of release—let us assume 1998 is the date of release—for all prisoners, the reoffending rate is 59 per cent; for adult male prisoners, it is 55 per cent; for young male prisoners, it is 74 per cent; and for all female prisoners, it is 52 per cent. I cannot tell the noble and learned Lord off the top of my head what the average length of prison sentence is but I shall write to him.

Lord Dholakia: My Lords, will the Minister explain why, when the crime rate is falling, the prison population is rising? Does he know that we are now top of the league in terms of prison population in western Europe?

The noble and learned Lord just gave the figures in respect of offenders. Eighty-four per cent of juvenile offenders are reconvicted within a period of two years. What advice can he offer to sentencers to ensure that intensive training, supervision and severance programmes are in place and that the probation service has sufficient resources to deal with these youngsters?

Lord Falconer of Thoroton: My Lords, first, as regards the relationship between the increasing number of people being held in prison and a reduction in the crime rate, I think that everyone is unclear about whether there is a link and, indeed, what it is that makes the crime rate rise or fall. However, it is not beyond the bounds of possibility that there is some connection between the two.

Secondly, the noble Lord asked me what advice I would give to sentencers. Obviously I would advise that one of the most important roles played by sentencers is to meet the need to reduce the rate of reoffending. Seeking to reduce the rate of reoffending helps society as a whole. More resources must be provided for the probation service. Since 1997, the amount of money given to the service has risen in excess of 50 per cent because this is such an important issue.

Baroness Trumpington: My Lords, did the original figure quoted by the Minister include people being held on remand as opposed to convicted prisoners? If

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it did not, can he tell me how many people are being held on remand? They might end up not going to prison, although in the meantime they are occupying prison space.

Lord Falconer of Thoroton: My Lords, the figure did include those being held on remand. In my response, I broke down the figures. The total figure was 72,890. Sentenced prisoners—that is, those who have been convicted of a criminal offence—total 59,991. Those being held on remand—that is, awaiting trial—total 12,897.

Local Food Producers

2.51 p.m.

Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What action they will take as a result of the report commissioned by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Local Food—A Snapshot of a Sector.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, this report was produced by a cross-departmental working group on local food and published three weeks ago, on 9th April. The group's aims were to consider the evidence relating to the impact of local food initiatives and the wider issues relating to local food so that government policy in this area could be developed. A number of government departments and agencies are considering what action they need to take in the light of the report. DEFRA will produce a policy paper on local food by the end of June.

Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply. I am glad that, as a special birthday treat, the noble Lord's colleagues at DEFRA have given him an opportunity to answer my Question. I urge the Government to address this issue. Will the policies to be developed and subsequent actions taken be those that favour the small producers identified in the report as extremely important to the local food sector? Over the past five years, small producers have been disadvantaged by the implementation of almost every government policy covering issues concerning both food and farming.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, I am glad to be able to answer the Question, not least because during the briefing session officials were able to tell me where my nearest farmers' markets are here in London. As a devotee of such markets, I shall be taking advantage of that information.

As regards small producers, while of course I cannot anticipate what we shall say in June, I could not conceive that any policies we may choose to adopt would not be in favour of small producers. That is the essence of the entire local food movement. I am sorry to hear that the noble Baroness, Lady Miller, thinks

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that government policies have discriminated against local food. That certainly is not the lesson I draw from the recently published report.

The Countess of Mar: My Lords, I declare an interest as a small producer of goats' cheese. I can reassure the Minister that despite all the regulations, provided that one works carefully with the environmental health officer, the trading standards office and the dairy inspection unit, one can get on very well. Provided that one obeys the rules, there are no problems. It is those who sail a little close to the wind who are suffering. They are in need of extra care from the regulating authorities.

Given that we are considering food safety, does the noble Lord agree that very few small food producers in the farming sector are responsible for causing outbreaks of food poisoning and that these are much more likely to emanate from the catering sector?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, I am greatly reassured by the comments of the noble Countess with regard to small food producers, based on her own experience. I do not have evidence on where outbreaks of food poisoning originate as between producers and later stages in the food chain. However, my gut feeling—perhaps I should not use that expression—is that it is much more likely that such outbreaks would occur at later stages of the food chain rather than at the level of small producers.

Lord Jenkin of Roding: My Lords, does the report take account of the astonishing fact that a higher tax is paid on a lorry-load of tomatoes being transported from Suffolk to London than is paid for an entire jumbo jet full of tomatoes flown in from South Africa?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, airport taxes are a little wide of this Question. The issue of food miles, to which I believe the noble Lord is referring, is an important element considered in the report. A number of examples are given. This is a very practical report, citing real case histories of what has been successful. A reduction in food miles is good not only in terms of freshness of the produce, but also from a transport point of view.

Lord Mackie of Benshie: My Lords, how many small abattoirs have been closed down over the past five years? Given that they are enormously important to small producers trying to market their produce, what are the Government's plans for reversing the process of closure?

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