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Lord Carlisle of Bucklow: We come towards the end of the Committee. I hope that many feel, as I do, that the issues that we have raised have often crossed party lines. I am bound to say that many of the sentencing provisions of the Bill are not proposals that I would wish to see. I do not believe that the Government have thought out their effect on resources, as my noble friend Lord Hunt has said.
The minimum requirements on the length of murder sentences that judges should hand down, which are double the present standard, will increase the prison population. The proposal on dangerous offenders is bound to increase the number of indeterminate sentences, as well as life sentences. All of that will put enormous pressure on the Prison Service. Prisons are overcrowded and do not have the capacity to meet the new intentions of the Bill.
I realise that the Government are tryingalthough they are making a poor fist of itto counteract overcrowding by changing the rules for those serving more than four years and by dispensing with parole and releasing prisoners automatically, but without admitting to the public that that is what they are proposing to do. Imposing supervision on sentences of less than 12 months will create greater demands on the resources of the probation service. That will inevitably lead to a larger number of people going to prison for a breach of those conditions.
Therefore, I share the concerns expressed by my noble friend Lord Hunt. I do not wish to make a party political point. I just do not believe that the Government have thought through the effect on their resources of that which they are doing in that area. I know that the noble Lord, Lord Thomas, and myself would align ourselves in attacking other matters elsewhere in the Billthat is for another daybut we are discussing only the matter of sentencing. On that issue, the Government have not taken account of the drain on resources that their proposals will cause.
Baroness Scotland of Asthal: I hope that I will be able to reassure noble Lords that the amendment is not necessary. I note the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Carlisle of Bucklow, echoed by the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, about our failure to take those matters into account. However, that would do the Government a disservice. We have thought about those matters carefully. We are seeking to put in place
However, I understand the concerns that have been expressed this evening and I assure noble Lords that we are alert to them. It is in not in the Government's interest to implement any of the provisions in a way in which they could not be delivered effectively.
Assurance has been given in another place that we will need to ensure that the new sentencing structure is properly resourced. Final decisions about implementation have not been made. However, we shall phase the introduction of the provisions to ensure both that they are fully affordable and that the necessary additional resources can be deployed to ensure that the provisions are delivered effectively.
The Home Office is committed to ensuring that the probation service is resourced to deliver successful interventions in the community, to reduce re-offending and to protect the public. Funding for the service has increased by more than 50 per cent since 1998. The probation service will in particular need to be well resourced to deal with custody plus. Staging implementation will enable the probation service to reach the capacity needed in order to implement the reforms effectively.
We earlier discussed the provisions we are seeking to introduce in relation to home detention curfew and the success we have had with that so far. That is an opportunity that will increasingly be available to us. The costs will be met from within departmental settlements. However, we will keep a careful eye on phased implementation to make it work.
There is already much that we have done. For instance, we hope that the Sentencing Guidelines Council will be set up relatively rapidly. We are looking to set up the council as soon as possible. The first tranche of guidelines should come out around April to support implementation of the Sexual Offences Bill. We have intermittent custody pilots40 male and 40 female places will be available to use either in the week or at the week-end in two purpose-built prisons in Kirkham and Morton Hall. By the end of 2004 it should be possible to implement the generic community sentence, the structural changes, the sentences over 12 months and the new sentences for dangerous offenders. The target is for 2005 in relation to custody minus.
Members of the Committee will already know about the pilots we have already sought to implement. We will analyse the results, hone the system and ensure that we discover the wrinkles, if I may put it colloquially, before we implement across the piece. We anticipate that in 2006 and 2007 we will be able to be
The exact timing of these measures will depend on the build-up of resources. Training is taking place even now and we are greatly helped by the massive investment that the Government have made; I believe that it is £1.6 billion in CJIT. Members of the Committee will know that having an IT connection between all the criminal justice services should enable us to make some real savings and progress.
Contrary to what has been said, the Government have looked carefully at the issue of resources and have that much in mind. We will bring forward the introduction and implementation of these procedures when the resources are available to ensure that they are fully and properly implemented.
Lord Hunt of Wirral: Before the Minister sits downI caught her in mid air before she sat downshe omitted to deal with the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chief Justice and his description of her calculations as being "totally erroneous". I await her response.
Baroness Scotland of Asthal: I had actually sat down, but I appreciate that that makes little difference on these occasions. The noble and learned Lord the Lord Chief Justice set out his views very comprehensively in that letter. I have said on a number of occasions that we are not as pessimistic as the noble and learned Lord in relation to those issues. We do not believe that the ratcheting up to which he refers will occur. We have examined the history of the way in which sentencing in relation to murder and other generic sentences takes place, I hope that Members of the Committee will accept that one does not tend to pollute the other. Therefore, the racheting up that is described is not evidenced by the empirical data that we have at present.
In relation to the other matters, I have made it absolutely clear that mitigating and aggravating features will be considered within the discretion of the judge. The judge will have the opportunity to look at those matters and determine how justice can best be done. The judge will now have a much greater palette from which to choose than ever before and we believe that for the first time the sentences will be able to address offending behaviour as opposed simply to the individual offence.
The accumulation of all those matters leads us to the informed view that on this occasion perhaps the noble and learned Lord does not have as comprehensive a view of the system as do we. We beg to differ with him.
Lord Hunt of Wirral: The Minister has given a response at the Dispatch Box to some of the criticism of the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chief Justice. No doubt with the co-operation of his judicial colleagues, the noble and learned Lord has, very carefully, submitted a detailed and analytical memorandum. It may well be that the Minister and her ministerial colleagues have already responded in detail
Baroness Scotland of Asthal: The noble Lord will know that, when the noble and learned Lord made his speech in this Chamber, he said that he accepted that the answers to the details given in his letter would be dealt with as we went through our deliberations on the Bill. The noble Lord will know that, throughout Committee, noble Lords have raised the intricate details of the statement of the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chief Justice. I believe there is not one iota, one dot, or one tittle of that letter that we have not discussed at some stage in Committee. After 11 or 12 days in Committee, I say to noble Lords with humilitythough is it 11 days?
Baroness Scotland of Asthal: Noble Lords give me joy: nine-and-a-half days in Committee. I invite noble Lords to take the whole of the Hansard report of the Committee stage as my answer to the questions raised by the noble and learned Lord.
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