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As I say, I have some reservations about the second amendment, but I wholly endorse the first one. This is a matter that we need to continue to evaluate, but above all we need to ensure that the probation service in particular is given the resources that it needs to work with offenders so as to avoid not only the social and individual harm that is done but also the enormous cost to the public purse of reoffending, where the rates remain unduly high.
Lord McNally: My Lords, I am extremely grateful to all those who have contributed to this debate. It has been an extremely useful one. I am also grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Judd, for reminding us that this is the 200th birthday of Charles Dickens, who gave us the most well-known phrase about the law: "The law is an ass". He also gave us the best example of the futility of litigation in Bleak House. Dickens was certainly not in awe of the law, and very few of his legal characters are particularly warm.
Lord Bach: The noble Lord is being a bit unfair towards Charles Dickens himself. I may be wrong about this, but I think he put the expression, "The law is an ass", in the mouth of Mr Bumble in Oliver Twist. He is hardly the most sympathetic character in the whole of Dickens.
Lord McNally: I live and learn. I shall make the point, though, that the phrase, "The law is an ass", is used more widely than just in terms of the marital relations referred to by my noble friend Lord Thomas. But I digress.
Lord McNally: Yes, I started it, but in terms of the quality of the debate, to have a sitting magistrate and a former Lord Chief Justice along with everything in between reflects the range of the debate we have had. I can only say to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Woolf, that providing a copy of Hansard for every judge and magistrate would, in these straitened times, be beyond the Ministry of Justice. However, it is an
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Where I can follow the noble Lords, Lord Judd and Lord Ramsbotham, and others, is in paying tribute to my noble friend Lady Linklater. She invites the term "do-gooder", and it is a proud badge to wear. She is a wise, realistic and practical do-gooder, and that is why I personally benefit from her advice, as does this House. I should also say that my own commitment to both the magistracy and the probation service is as strong as that of any Member of this House. I believe that both are very important parts of our criminal justice system.
I listened to what my noble friend said about the need for information to be shared between probation officers and magistrates and of course I agree that that is important. But coming back again to a comment made in our earlier debate, I am not convinced that this aim actually requires a legislative provision. I welcome and encourage the sharing of information by probation trusts with magistrates. This already happens in a number of ways. Some are formal and relate to individual cases. For example, when probation supplies a pre-sentence report, the probation staff will outline for the court the suitability of an offender for a particular programme or requirement and the availability of that programme in the local area. There are existing liaison arrangements at both national and local level. At national level, a forum meets quarterly, bringing sentencers, probation and Ministry of Justice officials together to allow for the sharing of information on the national picture.
I was interested to hear of the experience of noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, of local liaison meetings. I hope that the noble Baroness, Lady Linklater, will not mind me saying that, in private conversation, she has expressed the view that such local liaison meetings have fallen into disuse.
Baroness Linklater of Butterstone: Perhaps I could put the record straight. It is not that they have fallen into disuse, but that they are no longer common practice throughout the country. The noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, is nodding his head. There are some areas where they are alive and well, and others, probably in the majority, where they are either very poor or non-existent.
Lord McNally: I am grateful for that clarification, because I think that such meetings are important. When we discussed this matter previously, it was suggested that a bar to the effectiveness of the meetings might be that magistrates who engage with the work of probation trusts are unable to claim expenses to attend liaison or other meetings with probation. I am happy to say that Her Majesty's Courts and Tribunals Service is already looking at, and plans to consult on, some of these issues relating to magistrates' expenses. I suggest that a better approach, working with the Magistrates' Association, Bench chairs and the senior judiciary, would be to come to a practical solution rather than create more statutory requirements
There are arrangements for local liaison meetings, and I hope that what I have just said helps to plug some of the gaps that the noble Baroness just referred to. The arrangements are governed by a protocol issued by the senior presiding judge setting out the parameters for any discussions between magistrates and probation. A protocol exists because there is a need to ensure that there is no suggestion that sentencers have been influenced by probation priorities or resourcing decisions. The existing arrangements therefore allow for flexibility, with due propriety, as to what should be discussed.
I am not aware of any particular problems with probation trusts supplying information to the judiciary. If any noble Lords are aware of any problems, I would be grateful for details which I could follow up. I certainly think that magistrates should be encouraged to visit both prisons and probation regularly and not just as part of their initial training. I am not aware of any obstacle to them doing so. I do not therefore consider that there is any need for a new statutory duty on the Lord Chancellor to make arrangements for magistrates to visit.
Amendment 176ZB seeks to deal with the different issue of the use of short custodial sentences. The amendment would place a duty on courts to consider all alternatives before imposing a short custodial term. It would also require the court, if imposing a short custodial sentence, to explain why alternative sentences were not considered appropriate. I understand the intention behind the amendment. As the noble Baroness, Lady Linklater, has argued, short custodial sentences can be less effective in tackling reoffending than community sentences. They can mean that an offender during their short time in prison loses their employment and accommodation, all of which is a hindrance to their rehabilitation.
We are about to start a consultation on the effectiveness of community sentences. We are not simply pushing them as a replacement for prison but are hoping to provide sentencers with a much improved community sentence, offering a robust and credible punishment that will have the confidence of sentencers, victims and the public. Although I understand the points that the noble Lord, Lord Judd, made about the treatment of sentencing in some of our media, unless we have public confidence in non-custodial sentences we will have criticism of them. We have to win that public confidence. We will publish a consultation document shortly. We are also running payment-by-result pilots, looking at ways to support offenders on release from short custodial sentences.
There are now shorter programmes on drug and alcohol treatment requirements as part of a community order. The Bill gives more discretion for dealing with breaches of orders; for example, allowing for fines for minor breaches. The system is therefore not as rigid as might be suggested.
It must be clear that the Government have never advocated that short custodial sentences be not available to a court where the offence or the offender merits such a sentence; for example, where the offence is so serious that only a custodial sentence, even a short
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Like many noble Lords, I came to this issue initially with great suspicion of short sentences because of the inability to build into them any kind of rehabilitation content. However, it has been put to me on my travels and in this House that a short sentence sometimes gives a community respite from somebody who is making their life hell, and the clang of the prison door, referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Faulks, may just straighten that person out. It has also been put to me that, in certain cases of persistent domestic violence, a custodial sentence may give a wife-usually-the chance to rebuild and reorganise her life. Therefore, although the case against short sentences is strong, we intend to retain them.
Lord Phillips of Sudbury: I do not quite follow my noble friend's reasoned argumentation, because Amendment 176ZB, put forward by my noble friend Lady Linklater, does not prohibit short sentences but states that if a short sentence is imposed a court must give reasons. That seems in line with what the Minister was saying previously.
Lord McNally: That is why the amendment is not necessary. Since a number of noble Lords had referred to the damaging elements of short sentences, I thought that it was worth putting on the record that, as a lay man in all this, I have had pointed out to me by people with considerable experience areas where the short sentence is effective. I certainly acknowledge that my noble friend said as much in her introduction. Her amendment is not an attempt to prohibit short custodial sentences; rather it seeks to create a kind of presumption that a short custodial sentence will not be imposed unless the alternatives are considered and found to be inappropriate. Such a statutory provision already exists. Section 152 of the Criminal Justice Act 2003 places restrictions on imposing discretionary custodial sentences. Section 152(2) sets out what is sometimes called the "custodial threshold", the test that has to be met before a custodial sentence can be imposed:
"The court must not pass a custodial sentence unless it is of the opinion that the offence, or the combination of the offence and one or more offences associated with it, was so serious that neither a fine alone or a community sentence can be justified for the offence".
I welcome a reminder of the importance of imposing short custodial sentences in essence as a last resort. I see, as I have always done, the full importance of rehabilitation. However, I do not think that this amendment adds significantly to the current law. I hope that the noble Baroness will feel able to withdraw her amendment.
Lord Dholakia: My Lords, would the Minister seriously consider the suggestion by my noble friend Lady Linklater about the proper liaison between the probation service and the magistrate? I chair a commission by
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Lord McNally: If there is anybody I take even more notice of in these matters than my noble friend Lady Linklater, it is my noble friend Lord Dholakia. I will take away that suggestion. As I said, we are looking at the question of expenses in helping to grease the wheels of better liaison. If my noble friend's suggestion is feasible, I am sure that we can take it forward. I will certainly take it away and think about it.
Lord Thomas of Gresford: My Lords, I would be interested if the Minister could encourage the presiding judges of each circuit around the country to carry out an audit of what the situation is in their particular circuit. The presiding judges have a great deal of influence and control over the way that the judicial system works within their bailiwick. Requiring each presiding judge to be in charge of such an investigation is a better way to go about it than starting from the centre-from London-and working outward.
Lord McNally: I am not sure what my powers are in instructing, advising or making requests of presiding judges. I suspect that the present Lord Chief Justice might start breathing down my neck. I note what my noble friend has suggested and I will take that back to think about.
Baroness Linklater of Butterstone: My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have taken part in this extraordinarily interesting and well informed debate, which is really important for how we will take things forward in future. I will whizz through some of the very helpful comments that were made.
The noble Lord, Lord Judd, is always very wise. He said such nice things about me that I could only cap them with my endless admiration for him. He pointed out how important the individual is-the hand held out to lead somebody out of a dark place where we have possibly stuck them. Sharing experiences is of unbelievable importance. I must get the Dickens quotation from him. I know exactly what he means about the press exacerbating the problems of crime.
The noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, is the voice of such wisdom and experience. The idea of a prospectus across the services is very good. Is it not interesting that we do not have such a thing? If sentences were linked to behavioural progress, that would make those kinds of targets meaningful instead of being independent of each other.
The noble and learned Lord, Lord Woolf, is my hero. He said that he knew that sentencing was not working well when he was in charge. That showed great honesty and insight. Of course, we both agree that there are times when certain sentences, including custody, are the one appropriate disposal. We accept that. The idea that some of these arguments could make a difference is a wonderful and extraordinary thing. I hope that everybody heard the range of the arguments we have had today.
I thank the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, for what he said. I am not sure that I entirely approve of the idea of using custody as the appropriate sanction for a breach. If a community sentence is not working, maybe the community sentence could be reviewed rather than saying, "This has not worked; we must go for breach".
Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede: I certainly think that community sentences can be reviewed and beefed up in some way. We have very clear guidelines on that point. The only point I made was that the vast majority of short custodial sentences that I give are for breaches and maybe multiple breaches. That was my only point.
Lord McNally: My noble friend Lady Linklater was on the point about community sentences made by the noble Lords, Lord Ramsbotham and Lord Ponsonby. Probation staff can take back to court offenders who have made significant progress on their requirements in a community sentence. Provision in Clause 62 clarifies the position when community orders come to an end and requirements have been completed. It is already there for community sentences. As I said, we will also consult more on making community sentences effective.
I listened to and heard what the noble Lord, Lord Beecham, said on the importance of post-prison support. He suggested that the clang of the prison door might have some effect. I do not really believe that, and the evidence for it is not substantial enough to actually influence policy. I have gone into a cell and heard a prison door clang on me. Even when I have not-to my knowledge-done anything too terrible, that is unpleasant but I question whether it changes the lives of people who are probably already in a very bad place.
Finally, I respond to the Minister. I am not very happy with "do-gooder", if he does not mind. I am glad that he is pro magistrates and probation. I reiterate that there are some places where liaison committees exist and work well. Yet, if the reality was that the provision was in place and working well, I would not be here, nor would the Magistrates' Association, the Probation Service and all the others behind me. There is a real sense of a need to beef up and put on some statutory basis the provision that will facilitate this and make the things that we know we need to have in place happen properly. If it was adequate as it is, I would not be here; the fact is that there is a severe deficit in what we are trying to do to make this society a safer and better place, and to make the way we work
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Lord Carlile of Berriew: I apologise for not being here for the earlier part of the debate. Would my noble friend agree that one should insert an additional factor into the argument-that the vast majority of people who are sentenced to short terms of imprisonment have mental health issues? If we had a stronger community mental health sector, they should not be in custody; they should be in residential or community mental health care.
I have listened to what my noble friend Lord McNally said, and am delighted to hear that further investigations into certain things on the justice front, such as community sentences, are being taken forward. That will be very important. I will ponder what he has said until we return at Report. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Lord Ramsbotham: I shall be very brief. Sub-paragraph (1)(c) of Paragraph 9 of Schedule 8 to the Criminal Justice Act 2003, to which these two amendments refer, allows a court to sentence an offender to custody for breach of a community order even though the original sentence was non-imprisonable. Figures published in 2009 show that 3,996 people were received into prison for a breach of such a community sentence-
Lord Bach: This is an important point that the noble Lord is making, but I wonder whether he is right in saying that sub-paragraph (1)(c) refers to being in breach of a community order. It refers to a person who,
Lord Ramsbotham: I am very grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Bach. I am speaking about the breach, and I will come to my conclusion if I may. I am not talking about inconsiderable numbers. There is nothing meaningful that can be done in prison to prevent a person from breaching a community order, so what such people are doing merely exacerbates the main problem facing our prisons at considerable expense and to no good effect.
I am very conscious of the problems facing the magistrates. Those problems were very ably set out by the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby. I refer particularly to the effects of this on the Prison Service ever since the 2003 Act and the increased numbers of people in prison merely for breaching a community order. I personally welcome the flexibility that Clause 63 allows, in that a court dealing with breaches now has new options of taking no action or fining. However, the clause does not provide enough protection for the Prison Service, which is why I am tabling the two amendments, deleting the sub-paragraph and inviting the Minister to consider that the powers to resentence someone to custody for breach should be awarded only if the original sentence was an imprisonable one. I beg to move.
Lord Bach: My Lords, in many of his amendments I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, and I hope to do so later this evening, but on my understanding of his argument here I find it difficult to accept the amendment on behalf of the Opposition.
I shall make a general point. This is not a government amendment-but when there are government amendments dealing with a different Act, as in the case of this Bill, where we are amending the Criminal Justice Act 2003, Keeling schedules, which set out what the amended 2003 Act would look like if we passed this legislation, are incredibly helpful. Indeed, when we were in government, the opposition on all sides used to ask us where the Keeling schedules were-and they were often there. In this Bill, later on tonight or whenever we reach the 17th group, there are very helpful Keeling schedules in important government amendments. But they do not exist elsewhere, as far as I can see, although the Minister has been helpful in writing to noble Lords about government amendments. There is a value in having Keeling schedules in that the House can understand what is being amended.
"If it is proved to the satisfaction of a magistrates' court before which an offender appears or is brought under paragraph 7 that he has failed without reasonable excuse to comply with any of the requirements of the community order, the court must deal with him in respect of the failure in any one of the following ways".
I know that the noble Lord has no objection to those provisions, as amended by this Bill. It is sub-paragraph (1)(c) that his complaint is with. That sub-paragraph is not just about a breach. It refers to,
"has wilfully and persistently failed to comply with the requirements of the order ... by dealing with him, in respect of that offence, by imposing a sentence of imprisonment for a term not exceeding",
Provided that the Bill reads "may" rather than "must", I can see nothing wrong with that. The danger is that someone who is given a community service order for an offence for which there is no imprisonment can get away for ever in breaching community service orders to the extent that he wilfully and persistently fails to comply, and the court will never have the power to deprive that person of their liberty. I agree with the Minister's point from earlier that if community orders are to succeed-we want them to succeed because they are vital-they must be, in the words of the noble Baroness, Lady Linklater, "robust" community orders. There must be something there, eventually, if someone wilfully and persistently fails to comply with them. It is not just a breach in sub-paragraph (1)(c), but a wilful and persistent failure to comply, which is a step beyond a breach. Clearly, it is more than one breach; one breach would not be enough. Two might be-three might well be. In those circumstances, my case-I may be wrong about this-is that if we agree to these amendments, the result would be that someone who was given a community order for an offence that was not in itself subject to imprisonment could never be sent to prison, however wilfully and persistently he failed to comply with it. On this issue, which I concede is not a major one, I do not agree with the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham.
Baroness Northover: My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Bach, for his support on this, the first group of amendments that I am dealing with on this Bill. That is extremely welcome. Maybe the issue to which he refers rather reflects upon the quantity of legislation that this House has dealt with over a number of years. I absolutely take his point about the need for clarity and for linking Bills one to another.
I will seek to clarify what we understand these two amendments would do and why we resist them. They would repeal some of the provisions giving powers to both magistrates' courts and the Crown Court to deal with breach of a community order. The provisions that the amendments propose to repeal give the courts the power to imprison offenders for serious breach of community orders which have been imposed for offences which do not carry imprisonment. Noble Lords agree on that.
As it so happens, community orders cannot currently be imposed for offences which do not carry imprisonment, so these provisions may appear to be redundant and I can appreciate why the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, might have tabled these amendments. However, they were certainly needed in the past and it was only in 2008 that the community order stopped being available for non-imprisonable offences. Before then, a community sentence could be imposed for a non-imprisonable offence. When that happened, these provisions were the only way that a breach could be dealt with-by sending the offender to prison-so however serious the breach, there would have been no custodial disposal without these measures. As I have noted, since 2008 there has on the face of it been no further need for them to remain on the statute book because they are, in practice, no longer necessary.
However, it is not quite as straightforward as that, complex though that may seem. There is an unimplemented provision in Section 151 of the Criminal Justice Act 2003 which, if it were commenced, would allow the courts to impose a community order on a persistent offender, in the way that the noble Lord, Lord Bach, has spelt out, who has at least three previous fines, even if the offence they committed was not serious enough to cross the community sentence threshold. If that provision in Section 151 were to be implemented, it would become possible once more for a community order to be imposed for an offence which did not carry imprisonment.
It follows that we would therefore need the provisions which the noble Lord's amendments would repeal to ensure that a persistent offender who gets a community order because they have received at least three fines could be penalised by imprisonment in case of breach. Effectively, these two measures go together. While we retain the sentencing power, even if it is not in force, we also need the breach power. I should perhaps say that we have no intention at present to implement the sentencing power but, as I have explained, while this is still an option, we need the breach power against the possibility that it might happen in the future.
Lord Bach: I follow the noble Baroness's argument, which she has made very clearly. Indeed, I was not aware that the law was changed in 2008 so that non-imprisonable offences could not receive a community order, but I see the noble Baroness's way around that. However, to describe it as a breach power seems to be wrong on the basis of how the 2003 Act is phrased. It refers to a person who,
In one sense, that is about a breach but not a breach on one occasion. It is the court having to find that there has been a wilful and persistent failure to comply and I hate to see that lessened to a mere breach, if I may call it that.
Baroness Northover: I heard what the noble Lord said and was very interested in the points that he made. Perhaps it is best if I come back to him to clarify that point. In the mean time, I hope that after this incredibly clear explanation-
Lord Carlile of Berriew: My noble friend will recall that it was part of the vaunt of the coalition that the statute book would be tidied up so that there were far fewer redundant statutes. There are in fact hundreds and hundreds, possibly thousands, of redundant statutory provisions-I have a book of them upstairs by my desk. Given that this has not been brought into force now for nine years, in the spirit of clear statute-making would it not be better simply to repeal the original provision and, if the Government wished to have something like it in the future, to introduce that in a proper way in a Bill?
Baroness Northover: My Lords, that is exactly what I asked and I was assured that in fact the Government wanted to keep the possibility of this being implemented. We therefore need to make sure that it is, as it were, complete.
Lord Carlile of Berriew: My noble friend clearly did not understand what I was suggesting: that it is, to put it plainly, senseless to have something on the statute book nine years after it was enacted, with absolutely no intention of bringing it into force.
Lord Carlile of Berriew: No, this provision is from 2003 and it has not been brought into force for nine years. Is the right answer to this not to repeal the 2003 provision in question? If the Government then have some constructive suggestions for imposing imprisonment, if it be merited, on people who have been given a community sentence, why do we not start again with those provisions? In reality, my noble friend is not going to suggest for one moment that the Government will bring this redundant provision into force.
Baroness Northover: I assure my noble friend that in fact I understood him very clearly the first time. I asked, as this was introduced in 2003, changed in 2008 but not complete, why we would not seek to repeal it. However, I was told that the Government wish to retain this, in the possibility that it might be implemented-although with no intention of doing that at the moment. I fully support what he says about trying to rationalise legislation in all areas, and I worked very hard on the companies legislation, the first elements of which were finally rationalised relatively recently, after 100 years. I realise that these things can take a long time, but I take very much the point that legislation needs clarity. However, I hope that in this instance the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, will understand what I am arguing here and be willing to withdraw his amendment.
Lord Avebury: May I ask my noble friend what may be a naive question? If the provision to which this is attached has not been brought into force but the Government require it to remain on the statute book in case it is necessary at some future date, why is the provision that we are discussing not also subject to a statutory instrument to bring it into force at the same time?
Baroness Northover: In answer to my noble friend, I expect that it will be necessary that this is in legislation, whereas the implementing would not require further legislation. This is therefore a time to tidy up something which was left untidy.
Lord Ramsbotham: My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for that response and intrigued with the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Bach. I am grateful to him for those and for the intervention of the noble Lord, Lord Carlile. As I rather suspected, this simple amendment has disclosed that there is a need to examine the clarity of the legislation regarding breach, while absolutely accepting the problems faced by magistrates. I very deliberately did not include "wilfully and persistently" regarding a breach, because that was not what I was after. Wilful and persistent was covered deliberately by the noble Baroness, Lady Linklater, in her contribution.
There is merit in doing this, though; as I said, we are talking about the sentences but we must also consider what is going to happen to the person who has committed the breach and what the impact will be on the prison service. In our overcrowded prisons, there are currently vast numbers of people serving sentences for a breach since the 2003 Act. It was a small number before but it has become large, and there is nothing meaningful that can be done with them. That really is a waste of time and money, accepting that the magistrates have to do something. This should be thought through, which I hope is what the Minister will take away from this short debate. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Baroness Linklater of Butterstone: My Lords, Clauses 67 and 75 refer to the maximum extension of curfews from 12 hours to 16, and from a maximum period of six months to 12, the first of the two referring to adults and the second to children and young people. I have a particular concern over Clause 75, which refers to children, although there are issues common to both it and Clause 67, which, as I have just said, refers to adults.
The background to this is that curfews are one of the requirements of a community order where the offender is required to remain at a specified place for a specified period and is monitored by a tag that is administered by one of two private companies. The MoJ estimates that about 24,000 people are being electronically monitored at any one time, of whom it is estimated that-this is all I can say at this point-a significant proportion are children.
The application of a curfew can be used selectively by magistrates, who have the power to split the times across the day-for example, when children are coming out of school-or to prohibit an offender from a football match, from being out in the evenings or from being with a group of troublemaking friends. It therefore gives the court the opportunity to use the sanction in a selective and targeted way. As such, we support the current curfews as having a useful role in the armoury of the available sanctions, particularly for adults.
The official reason for these clauses and the extension of hours and months is to increase significantly the punitive element of the sanction, supposedly giving the public a sense of greater security and safety, and in the expectation that this would not restrict employment unduly. All of that I find unconvincing, particularly, as I said earlier, as punishment must also have a positive purpose.
The new propositions leave many questions unanswered about the need and whether any real added value is entailed that would justify such a draconian change or the potential difficulties or damage likely to be encountered on the way, and whether there is any evidence of how it is likely to reduce reoffending.
A curfew is sometimes described as a form of house arrest. The new provision could in theory allow a person on a curfew to leave home for up to only eight hours a day for a whole year. Does that sound possible or proportionate? I think not. We need to know more before such potentially draconian measures are adopted. Without such evidence, I urge the Minister to delete these clauses from the Bill.
Proportionality is part of our system of law. It is fundamental that we do not tinker with our criminal justice system simply to be more punitive or tough for its own sake. The Government argue that a more punitive order would serve as a suitable disposal as an alternative to custody for more serious offenders, but the Ministry of Justice has not yet produced any evidence that such a disproportionate sanction-a year-long sanction-would work, what offences it might be relevant for or whether magistrates would in fact use a longer curfew as part of a community sentence for those offenders whom they could currently sentence to custody. It is much more probable that, over time, the timescales of 12 hours and six months could slide up to 16 hours and 12 months, but either way the case has simply not been made. For adults, this is likely significantly to disrupt employment opportunities or caring responsibilities, and for those with drug and alcohol issues, maintaining treatment or support will become seriously more difficult. These are the people affected by Clause 65.
I turn to Clause 75, an identical clause that applies to children. As with adults, one of the problems is that comprehensive data on curfews are not available. However, a piece of work published by the Prison Reform Trust called Into the Breach-this might have been relevant to our earlier discussions-which looked at the enforcement of statutory orders in the youth justice system, found that in one YOT 23 per cent of orders were breached and the proportion for breach of curfews was 70 per cent. That was just one sample, but breach is the clearest evidence of whether any sanction has been succeeding, so it is important.
I understand that there are some unpublished data from an electronic monitoring provider showing that from a sample of 3,902 children fewer than 50 per cent completed their curfew without breaching and, of those who breached, three-quarters had been absent from the address that they were tagged to. Also, the longer the length of the curfew, the higher the breach-thus a curfew of up to 14 days had a compliance rate of 62 per cent, but that fell to 23 per cent for a curfew of 90 days or more. This seems to be enough to suggest that much more comprehensive evidence is needed before decisions are taken to extend a sanction that we know so little about.
What we know already is that children who get caught up in the criminal justice system are those who are already dealing with a range of deficits in their lives. Their home lives are often chaotic and their performance and attendance at school is often poor, many being excluded or at risk of exclusion and finding learning problematic. Gang life in these situations becomes more likely, while drugs and drink are available. Those children who are in hostels or some sort of independent living will find a curfew particularly difficult with no support at home.
Unsurprisingly, we know that where parents are actively involved in helping, children are more likely to succeed. That might mean keeping notes about meetings, getting the children up in the morning or having their friends over when they cannot go out. The problem with curfews is that, while they remain a useful short-term sanction for the courts, they are really difficult for children whose lives are already so difficult at home, when the reason they are on the streets in the first place is to avoid home. Equally tragic is when children who are in care on a voluntary accommodated order try to visit their own home and are breached because the address for their tag is the children's home. What an irony. Curfews do not address difficulties such as why the children have offended or, more importantly, how to help them to stop. Curfews control their movements, but there is no automatic, external support along with the tag to comply with the curfew, or any proactive involvement from youth offending teams. This is a proposal which sets them up to fail-nothing more and nothing less. In accepting it, we would be failing our children.
The evidence demonstrates that while curfews are a useful way of using a community-based sanction in the selective and targeted way that magistrates do at present-which is, anyway, more relevant to adults but carries the same caveats-it would be a serious mistake
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As they stand, the clauses could theoretically mean that a child would have to be at home for 16 hours a day for a whole year. That is hardly proportionate, nor, I suggest, rational. If there is little expectation that such provisions will really be used, they should not be in the Bill in the first place. For children and adults alike, the likelihood that such sanctions will create rather than solve problems and inevitably be unsustainable is inescapable, thereby making breach, reoffending and the whole cycle ratchet up as we set the bar impossibly high.
I say to my noble friend the Minister that as the evidence is lacking-in particular, where children are concerned, the risk of further failure is very real-will she seriously consider deleting Clauses 67 and 75 from the Bill?
Lord Ramsbotham: My Lords, I put my name to the stand part debate for exactly the reasons that the noble Baroness, Lady Linklater, has outlined. In his letter to us of 12 December, the Minister said that a curfew can be an effective tool in punishing offenders, preventing reoffending and giving respite to victims. At the same time, the National Audit Office said in a report that such curfews were a problem for employment and could pose real barriers to people finding work. That seems to be the antithesis of preventing reoffending through helping people to live purposeful lives.
I have two comments, one about Clause 67 and one about Clause 75. There is a particular problem with women who are disproportionately affected by such increases, especially if they have children. I cannot believe that this has been thought through.
The other people I am particularly concerned about are those with mental health problems. They certainly do not need to be locked up under virtual house arrest-they need the stimulus of company and everything that goes with it. Again, I do not think that extending such a curfew for a year would serve any useful purpose.
I will always remember visiting young offender institutions where the youngsters were locked up all day, and watching what happened when they were let out for an hour at about 6 pm. They were just like puppies, all over each other. The prison staff, who did not know how to handle this, called it assault. It was not-it was the letting off of the adolescent steam which is a normal part of growing up. Locking up youngsters who come from a dysfunctional family, living in a small number of rooms, surrounded by others, for 16 hours a day for a year, is not a civilised way of coping with the problem. It is punishment, punishment, punishment, to the exclusion of civilisation.
The present system, which has a 12-hour curfew lasting six months, is in many ways causing the problems which the National Audit Office has commented on. Therefore, an extension would make things worse. As
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Baroness Stern: I support the proposal that the clauses should not stand part of the Bill and the comments of the previous two speakers. Liberty has sent me a very helpful brief which I will be using. I declare my interest as a trustee of the Civil Liberties Trust.
Liberty points out in its brief that the Green Paper which led to this Bill envisaged that if there were tougher community sentences, prison would be used less because those sentences would be used instead. This is indeed a worthy idea, but I point out to the Minister that it is supported by absolutely no evidence whatever. Making community sentences tougher instead of making them more positive, rehabilitative and socially useful, simply adds to the number of such sentences and leads to more failure and imprisonment.
On the extension of curfews, it is hard to envisage a beneficial effect on the normal life of a curfewed person. How can a curfewed person become interested in going to work or jobseeking? How can they become involved in caring for a relative or in some activity which will take them away from crime? A curfew is a very blunt instrument with very little penal value. Has thought been given to the effect on the rest of the family? What will the effect be on the other siblings who may be on the straight and narrow and have to spend all their time in the house with the one member of the family who has been deemed not to be on the straight and narrow? What will be the effect on the family if it is the father who has to stay at home for 16 hours for 12 months? That person may spend his time at home drinking, so what happens to his wife and children? These points apply especially to the impact of curfews on children. Surely this measure will be a real hindrance to normal teenage development. It is hard to envisage anything else.
What is the objective of these clauses in terms of ensuring a more effective criminal justice system? In the other place, the Minister said that they would give courts more flexibility. But the flexibility to increase a curfew from 12 hours to 16 or six months to 12 seems more like punitiveness. If it is to give an impression of toughness, I would counsel the Minister against this. The public will not register the difference between 12 and 16 hours and six and 12 months. As a result, more people will fail and the public will then say, "There you are-he should have gone to prison. These non-custodial sentences never work".
Finally, it might also be worth bearing in mind the cost. These proposals come with a price tag. In terms of change, rehabilitation, giving up drugs and alcohol and developing a social conscience, they add nothing. There are many better ways of spending money.
Lord Beecham: My Lords, I strongly endorse the proposal of the noble Baroness that both clauses should be deleted from the Bill and the criticisms of the clauses that she and other noble Lords have made.
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I have yet to hear of an evidence base for this proposed change. What has persuaded the Government that a change of this kind will be effective? For that matter, what leads the Government to think that the present system is all that effective? We have heard from my noble friend Lord Ponsonby-no doubt rightly-that he spends much of his time dealing with breaches of community orders, of which this would be one, and sending people to prison for short sentences. It seems that the effect of these amendments would be to place a larger number of people on a conveyor belt to his court and other courts, and thence to prison, with consequences that have hardly been calculated.
A 12-hour curfew is difficult enough. It would be very difficult for anyone with a job, voluntary work or training to fit them in with a 16-hour curfew. It would make it virtually impossible for anyone to travel any kind of distance to work or some other establishment. That cannot be consistent with the aim of getting people-in this case mainly adults-into employment, which is one of the principal ways of avoiding reoffending.
As the noble Baroness, Lady Stern, has pointed out, the curfew is effectively a negative form of community sentence. For community sentencing to be effective it ought to be positive, for example through community pay-back and restorative justice, which we will come to on later amendments. This is simply temporary containment. Indeed, one wonders what the effect will be of children being cooped up in the dysfunctional homes from which too many unfortunately come, and which are probably at the root of their problems in the first place.
I do not know whether the Government propose any assessment of the impact of the current system, let alone-if these clauses stand part and the Bill goes unamended-of the lengthened periods that these two clauses would impose. A proper evaluation should be made before proceeding with any change in either direction, but I am not aware that any such evaluation has taken place or is being planned. Perhaps the Minister could enlighten us. The figure for the number of breaches that the noble Baroness, Lady Linklater, cited at the beginning hardly suggests that the system is all that effective, particularly for children.
This is very much a retrograde change. The noble Lord, Lord McNally, referred to Dickens earlier. I feel that this is almost a Dickensian proposal and one that we should not be developing in the bicentenary of that
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Baroness Northover: My Lords, Clauses 67 and 75 would enable a court to impose longer curfew requirements as part of a community order, a suspended sentence order or a youth rehabilitation order. The clauses would allow the court to impose a curfew of up to 16 hours a day for a duration of up to 12 months. Enabling the courts to impose longer curfews in this way will make the community order capable of being more punitive and attractive as a suitable disposal for more serious offenders, possibly some who might otherwise have gone to prison. It will also increase the confidence of the public, who too often see community sentences as insufficiently demanding. No doubt these issues will be much debated in this House, but I am very glad that noble Lords support the principle of doing what we can to keep people out of prison. We all know the drivers of that.
We believe that increasing the maximum number of hours of curfew per day will give the courts more scope to use community orders imaginatively to punish offenders, protect the public and encourage compliance.
Baroness Northover: Perhaps we should leave that to those who are curfewed. For example, a curfew period of 16 hours will enable courts to curfew offenders for 12 hours overnight, as often happens now, but also to add a further period. This is designed to ensure that the offender is at home immediately before a community pay-back session to increase the likelihood of their turning up on time. More seriously, that illustrates the point that I just made about how this could be teamed with something else that the court wishes to achieve. If the curfew is timed so that the person will be at home before the community pay-back session, that is an imaginative way of using it. A young person attending school will need less restriction during the school week but could have their movements more tightly restricted at weekends, when they are at greatest risk of reoffending. That is another point.
I am aware that the Prison Reform Trust does not share this view and believes that the courts already have sufficient flexibility to impose curfews. I know that this belief has been endorsed by the Bar Council. Both have commented on their particular concerns about the impact of these changes on children. While I understand these concerns, it should be remembered that the new curfew limits are maxima. They will be imposed only where such a requirement is, as the law requires, the most suitable for the offender and where the sentence is proportionate to the seriousness of the offence. In respect of under-18s, we expect the longer curfews to be used sparingly and that courts will take their age into account. It will be the court that decides whether and how to use this option.
My noble friend Lady Linklater makes the case for when lengthy curfews would be disproportionate. Doubtless the court would see that in the relevant cases. The kind of aspects that my noble friend mentioned would be raised in court and taken into consideration.
Compliance with curfew is normally monitored electronically through the offender wearing a tag. This will not change. Indeed, we are exploring ways of making more use of electronic monitoring as the technology becomes more sophisticated and robust. None of the existing safeguards will change. Courts will still be required by law to ensure that the restrictions on liberty imposed by any community order are commensurate with the seriousness of the offence, so longer curfews may be more suitable for more serious offenders. It will remain the case that before imposing a curfew requirement, the court will have to consider what the effect of the curfew might be on the person themselves and their individual needs and circumstances and on other people living at the curfew address. With longer curfews being available, it will be even more important that the courts take account of the needs and views of the family members before setting the curfew hours. Youth offending teams will assess the suitability of the home address for curfew purposes. They will make a recommendation to the court on what length of curfew is appropriate. We would expect that any longer length and duration of curfew would be focused on older children where the alternative might be custody.
The point was made that longer curfews would interfere with work and children's education. The law requires that all community order requirements, including curfews, should, as far as possible, avoid interfering with an offender's work and education. I hope that that will reassure people. We believe that giving courts the power to impose longer curfews will contribute to realising the aim of making non-custodial sentences tougher and more demanding. In doing so, we hope that they will command greater confidence among sentencers and the public.
Baroness Linklater of Butterstone: I thank everybody who has participated in the debate. Consensus on this issue has broken out loudly and strongly with one unfortunate exception. I understand entirely where my noble friend is coming from and I do not envy her taking that position. Graphic arguments have been put forward regarding the reality of the lives of the people we are discussing. I respectfully suggest that the people who have framed these conditions have not been able to imagine what it is like to be in a house you cannot bear to be in for 12 hours a day for up to a year. Some sort of assessment by the Government in advance of imposing such restrictions on people who are already in trouble might be a good idea. Perhaps some sort of evaluation is in place that could be looked at. I do not know whether that is the case. Of course, it is a good idea to find alternatives to custody and for more serious offending but not, I suggest, if it hastens the route to custody. I cannot imagine how this measure will not lead to more reoffending. If there are more serious offenders around, it will simply result in more serious offending because these sanctions will be almost impossibly difficult to adhere to.
Once again, I thank everybody who has participated in the debate. I say to my noble friend that I hope that the arguments that have been made this evening will be taken away and considered very carefully before we come back to the matter on Report.
Baroness Northover: My Lords, the amendments in this group are minor, technical amendments to ensure that the extent of court-imposed foreign travel prohibitions includes territories as well as countries. I beg to move.
Lord Bach: Whenever I was sitting where the noble Baroness is sitting now and I began my speech on government amendments by saying that they were minor and technical, those sitting opposite me used to look doubly hard at those amendments to see whether they really were minor and technical. I am not saying that I have looked doubly hard at these amendments but they are clearly minor and technical and we have no objection to them.
(a) not consume alcohol,
(b) for the purpose of ascertaining whether there is alcohol in the offender's body, provide samples of such description as may be determined, at such times or in such circumstances as may (subject to the provisions of the order) be determined by the responsible officer or by the person specified as the person to whom the samples are to be provided, and
(c) pay such amount of no less than £1 and no more than £5 in respect of the costs of taking and analysing the sample as may be specified in the order.
(a) it is satisfied that-
(i) the offender has a propensity to misuse alcohol and the offender expresses willingness to comply with the alcohol monitoring requirement, or
(ii) the misuse by the offender of alcohol caused or contributed to the offence in question, and
(b) the court has been notified by the Secretary of State that arrangements for implementing the requirement are available in the area proposed to be specified in the order under section 216 (local justice area to be specified in relevant order).
(3) A relevant order imposing an alcohol monitoring requirement must provide that the results of any tests carried out on any samples provided by the offender to the monitoring officer in pursuance of the requirement are to be communicated to the responsible officer.
(a) regulating the provision of samples pursuant to an alcohol monitoring requirement, including hours of attendance, interval between samples and the keeping of attendance records;
(b) regulating the provision and carrying on of a facility for the testing of samples;
(c) determining the maximum and minimum fee that may be specified under subsection (1)(c), and the frequency of such payments;
(d) regulating the functions of the monitoring officer; and
(e) making such supplemental, incidental, consequential and transitional provision as the Secretary of State considers necessary or expedient.
Baroness Finlay of Llandaff: My Lords, this set of amendments concerns an alcohol monitoring requirement and is modified from those tabled in Committee on the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Bill. The alcohol monitoring requirement requires an offender to abstain from alcohol and be regularly tested to ensure compliance as part of any community or custodial sentence. It would provide an additional option-a new tool-for the courts.
These amendments would not stop responsible social drinking. They aim to deal with irresponsible, anti-social alcohol abuse and its devastating consequences. When I tabled these amendments previously, the Government's response was that they would pilot the idea in October, using existing legislation for low-level crimes. October has come and gone. Where is the pilot? Anyway, this is needed for middle and high-level crimes, not just low-level crimes.
I should explain why we need primary legislation to undertake a proper pilot. London wants to do a pilot and will fund that pilot. The proposal has wide support. London Councils, which represents all 32 London boroughs, has written to Ken Clarke supporting the scheme. The chair of London Councils is Mayor
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Today, I spoke to Bernard Hogan-Howe, the Metropolitan Police Commissioner, who is "fully supportive" of the proposal. He commented that alcohol is a precursor to crime in about 80 per cent of crimes in London and that after six o'clock at night you can smell the problem in the police cells. Violence against the person offences account for 64 per cent of Metropolitan Police alcohol-flagged offences and criminal damage accounts for some 11 per cent of alcohol- flagged crime. We should remember that only about 10 per cent of offences get flagged as alcohol-related even though, in recent British Crime Surveys, victims believe offenders to be under the influence of alcohol in about half of all violent incidents. The commissioner wants this to be a mandatory scheme. Voluntary schemes do not work because you need to support those who most need it and who are unlikely to recognise that need without compulsion. He wants this measure to act as a driver for better health as youth binge drinking is now a common cause of end-stage alcohol-induced liver failure in those aged under 25. We have a major social and health problem.
The Metropolitan Police view this measure as an additional tool against drink-driving and domestic violence. The proposed alcohol monitoring requirement has the potential to reduce reoffending for alcohol-related crime, particularly drink-driving and domestic violence, and contribute to long-term behavioural change of offenders.
Data in the US, where the scheme has been in place for eight years, show that reoffending rates at three years after alcohol monitoring more than halved when compared with traditional sentences of fines or custody. There in the US, 99 per cent of tests are negative, and two-thirds of those on an alcohol monitoring scheme have perfect compliance throughout the whole period of the scheme.
Courts need a different sentence to tackle alcohol-related crime because what we have is just not working. Custody tears families apart and single large fines damage the children in the home more than the offender. Neither custody nor fines address behavioural change. London wants to pilot this scheme in relation to offences of violence against the person, drink-driving and domestic violence. It is recognised that developing a scheme in relation to domestic violence would require particular care to ensure that the safety of the victim, including any dependants, was an integral part of the scheme.
These amendments will enable the court to take enforcement action on alcohol-related violence and to monitor compliance, particularly regarding middle-level offences such as common assault, offences against the person, threatening behaviour and domestic violence.
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Evidence suggests that the period needs to be 12 weeks to achieve real behavioural change. The court would order the offender to pay for each test-usually £1, which is less than such offenders are paying for their drinks. Let us get this in proportion: £2 a day is less than the cost of one pint of beer in a pub or two pints from many supermarkets. The cost of the monitoring to the offender is very low compared with the amount that they are normally spending on their huge alcohol intake-even when that is irregular. Testing would be done by either a private company or voluntary third-sector agency using paid staff, not volunteers. It will not tie up police constable time.
For the pilot, test centres would use existing court and probation premises near transport hubs. The initial alcohol test would be taken with a standard breathalyser. If it is positive, a second test would be taken with evidential standard equipment and mouthpiece. Breaches, which might be through a positive breath test, non-attendance or non-payment, would be dealt with using standard processes, with a swift and modest sanction such as an extension of the monitoring period in the first instance. Non-payment will need a flexible approach, particularly for those on benefits, and will be specified in the protocol. I have gone through the draft protocol but I shall not delay the debate by going through its minutiae.
The amendments are compatible with our human rights law-in particular, Articles 5 and 8, and habeas corpus. Let me be explicit: there is no compulsion on an officer to arrest a person for non-compliance and no compulsion to detain on arrest. An officer may arrest a person only when it satisfies the test of reasonableness and proportionality in Article 5.1(b).
In London alone, almost 9,000 cases would be suitable for the scheme. Between half and a quarter of these are people who are employed. The scheme would allow them to present for testing on the way to and from work, without any risk to their job. For offenders with anger and aggression issues, counselling and family support have the greatest chance of success when the participants are sober.
Existing orders that relate to offences for low-level crimes and have been used in cases of alcohol abuse do not have a success story attached to them. The alcohol-monitoring requirement would be appropriate for medium to high-level offences that require appearance at a court for sentencing. Existing orders were discussed with the Home Office and Ministry of Justice officials, but were considered inappropriate by those who want to pilot this scheme in London because, for example, drink-banning orders keep people out of an area but do not halt the abuse, and are non-enforceable. Conditional cautions need to be voluntary, involve an admission of guilt and are managed by the police. The police do not want to use conditional cautions because they do not have the manpower and do not feel that such cautions
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I am sure that the Minister will say in response that the Government plan a pilot under community sentencing, just as they did previously for low-level offences, by using tagging for secure continuous remote alcohol monitoring-SCRAM devices that detect alcohol in sweat. These devices are not yet type-approved by the Home Office. They are bulky, are fixed around the ankle, and make a buzzing sound every 30 minutes as they sample the sweat. The offender cannot travel without prior permission because they have to be near the base station to download data daily. The wearer has to connect the device to the mains to recharge and cannot bath, use household cleaning or personal hygiene products that contain any alcohol at all, because that would give a false positive reading-and the device is in place for three months. As for the collection of the £1 test cost, the principle of hypothecation locally is already in place for asset seizures. The police can already hypothecate when the money is there.
We have an epidemic of alcohol abuse in this country. We cannot carry on doing what we are doing. It just is not working. These amendments would allow a full pilot to take place in a small area. London wants to do that to discover how well it works or not, and to iron out any problems. These amendments are essential to allow that pilot to happen. I beg to move.
Lord Avebury: My Lords, anyone who has spent time in an accident and emergency department on a weekend evening will recognise the truth of what the noble Baroness has just said-that we face an epidemic of alcohol-related crime that is clogging up the A&E departments every weekend, with people being brought in with serious injuries sustained as a result of alcohol-related violence. I declare a personal interest, having been taken into St Thomas's after suffering a burst colon as a result of being knocked off my bicycle in Millbank. It was on a Saturday night after a delayed reaction to the accident. I was taken in at 4.30 am and had to wait six hours before I received attention, and the whole of St Thomas's A&E department was filled with people who had suffered alcohol-related injuries on the streets.
I echo the noble Baroness in saying that we have signally failed in attempting to find an effective way of dealing particularly with persistent offenders who commit their crimes under the influence of alcohol. London Councils has drawn our attention, as the noble Baroness said, to the fact that almost half all violent crime is fuelled by alcohol, and that each year more than a million alcohol-related hospital admissions occur-and that figure is increasing by 8 per cent per annum. The Home Office estimates that the cost of alcohol-related crime is somewhere around £10.5 billion a year, which does not even count the costs imposed on other departments such as health or justice.
These amendments therefore provide a new approach that has been tested and found to be highly effective in reducing serial alcohol-related offences of all kinds, including street violence, driving under the influence, domestic violence, burglary and theft.
In South Dakota, where the scheme was pioneered, alcohol-related motor vehicle fatalities were reduced by 60 per cent after the scheme had been in operation for five years. The system has now been extended to neighbouring states and will, I believe, be imminently tested in Strathclyde.
I was very impressed by the presentation given to some of your Lordships in a Committee Room upstairs by Professor Humphreys on the behavioural science associated with the Dakota system and why it works. The statistics certainly show that it is highly effective. The essence of the system is that the offender must sign up to total abstinence from alcohol and undergo regular testing to ensure that he adheres to the undertaking.
If the test is positive, that leads to a further confirmation test, and if that too is positive the breach leads to an immediate court appearance, which could mean a night spent in custody-it mandatorily leads to a night in custody in the case of South Dakota, whereas in the case of the London experiment, which is supported by all the London councils and the GLA, it means an extension of the alcohol monitoring requirement. In the South Dakota pilot, I understand that immediate 24-hour imprisonment was mandatory but, in the review of the proposal, the sentencing power of the courts in the proposed Greater London scheme is far more flexible. The case is overwhelming that we should try this experiment, and I very much hope that the Minister will accept the noble Baroness's amendment.
Baroness Jenkin of Kennington: My Lords, it is a pleasure to speak to the amendments and to support the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay. To me, the points made by the two previous speakers are unanswerable. We know that we have a very serious problem with alcohol, and the current solutions are not working. Those problems are leading to enormous costs not just for stretched hospital and police services but for the health and well-being of those concerned. We heard about some of the London statistics, but I hope that your Lordships will forgive me for repeating them because they are so shocking.
In 2010-11, there were more than 1 million alcohol-related hospital admissions, and the figure is rising by about 78,000 each year. Alcohol accounts for an estimated 40 per cent of A&E attendances. London has the highest rate of alcohol-related crime in England. In 2010-11, there were 11.7 alcohol-related crimes recorded per 1,000 population, compared with 7.6 countrywide. Last year, the police alcohol-flagged offences for London showed 18,403 violence against the person offences, 3,612 criminal damage offences, and 2,136 theft and handling offences. London also had the highest rate of alcohol-related violent crimes and sexual offences, which is why the impact on violence against women has been incorporated within the proposal, initially for domestic violence.
It is not surprising that, as we have already heard, the proposals have the enthusiastic support of the Metropolitan Police and the mayor, who wish to trial the scheme. But what do the general public think about the proposals? ICM research conducted a survey on behalf of the GLA in November last year which showed that 69 per cent support the idea of the courts having the option of banning an offender from consuming alcohol if they have been found guilty of committing an alcohol-related offence. There is also support of nearly two-thirds for the courts having the option of banning someone who has been given bail from consuming alcohol.
I wish to make a few further comments as a family member, as a mother, on behalf of hundreds of thousands of anxious parents who spend sleepless nights waiting for a call from A&E or the police station, waiting for the door to slam, for the sound of stumbling up the stairs, for the retching in the bathroom, hoping not to see, the following morning, another black eye or more bruised knuckles.
The current measures fail. These proposals ensure three months of enforced sobriety and would provide a window of opportunity for reflection, for peace for the whole family unit to work together to help a young person to take responsibility for his or her-and we all know the shocking statistics now of how many "hers" are getting into trouble-own behaviour. These proposals would provide families with a lifeline to cling to at a time of enormous stress and strain in their lives.
I say to my noble friend that 69 per cent of the public support the proposals. The mayor is prepared to fund a pilot scheme and every London borough wishes to run that pilot. Members of your Lordships' House with tremendous expertise and experience support the proposals. I so hope that the Government are prepared to do so too.
Lord Carlile of Berriew: My Lords, I, too, support the amendment, which was moved so ably by the noble Baroness, who has done a great deal of work in bringing it to the attention of your Lordships. I shall make four points briefly.
The noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, said that this is an epidemic affecting the nation. She is of course right, but it is not a new epidemic. It is absolutely shameful that this epidemic has been affecting the nation to a greater and greater extent for, perhaps, the past 150 years. My noble friend Lord McNally got into a little difficulty earlier when he mentioned Dickens to the Committee, and probably rather wished that he had not. I think I will not be controverted if I say that Dickens describes the effect of drink on young and, in many cases, very poor people in London very graphically in a way which has developed over the years. It is absolutely shameful that this epidemic has been allowed to continue for so long and it is about time that we did something about it. This proposal promises a great deal.
My second point is about the experience of the courts. The Metropolitan Police Commissioner, Mr Hogan-Howe, who supports the amendment at least in principle, came to London after a gap following a period when
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I do not want to sound sanctimonious about this. Teaching people responsible drinking is a very good idea. We want families to teach their children responsible drinking, which you will have seen in fairly large measure after Wales's victory over Ireland at the last gasp of the match last weekend-I knew that that would provoke my noble friend Lord Thomas from his slumber in front of me.
My point is that in every magistrates' court and every Crown Court-this goes to serious levels of offending -although we tend to talk a great deal about the effect of drugs, believe me, the effect of drink is ubiquitous. Any of us who has practised or has sat in those courts knows that it attracts every kind of crime and affects every class in society and every age group, but particularly the young.
Thirdly, I mention legal aid. We have spent a lot of time in this Committee trying to find ways to save money without removing legal aid. If there is one sure way to save money on legal aid, it is by reducing the incidence of serious crime by the introduction of this kind of measure. I confess my interest as president of the Howard League and feel that I can put my hand on what passes for my heart and say to my noble friends on the Front Bench: if there is one guaranteed way of saving a great deal of money on legal aid in the very serious and middling sectors of crime, it is by adopting this kind of measure.
My fourth point is about the revolving door of imprisonment. In one connection we heard earlier from the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, about 3,000 people who found themselves in prison because they were in breach of an order made in respect of a non-imprisonable offence. That is just one example of a huge cohort of people who find themselves in prison for breaking the law, although not terribly badly, relatively speaking. There is no cause of that door revolving at high speed greater than the misuse of alcohol. I believe that it would be completely irresponsible if we were not to seize this opportunity provided by the noble Baroness and have some serious pilot projects of the kind described in the amendment. I respectfully suggest to my noble friend on the Front Bench that in fact Liverpool would be a very good place to have a pilot because it has the community court, which was introduced by the previous Government. It is working extremely well and has won plaudits all around the world. In partnership with the community court, this kind of system could offer something towards reducing crime.
There is an analogy here. Drug treatment and testing orders-DTTOs-administered by judges, have been extremely effective in reducing drug-taking at a relatively low level. I have spoken to a number of circuit judges who have had to administer these orders and to a man
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Baroness Hayter of Kentish Town: My Lords, I start by giving the apologies of my noble friend Lord Brooke of Alverthorpe, whose name appears on the amendment. Unfortunately, he had to leave for another engagement.
I very strongly support the initiative set out by the noble Baroness. As has been said by others, it is a real recognition of the role that alcohol plays in crime, especially in domestic violence. The link between alcohol and domestic abuse is well known, as is the link between alcohol and cases of child protection. Alcohol Concern has demonstrated how often the criminal behaviour is repeated if the alcohol abuse is not tackled. As more than one of its clients has said, "He only hits me when he's been drinking". But as the alcohol support worker would reply, "If you knew you were going to hit the person you most loved once you were drunk, do you think you'd have that first drink?".
The fact that so many men continue to take that first drink shows how valuable an intervention aimed at offenders could be. The sobriety scheme could play a role in this. I do not think that it is enough on its own, as I think that there needs to be some alcohol referral work to go alongside it. People who fail to tackle their misuse themselves are likely to need some assistance to work in parallel with breath-testing. That may involve some fairly brief intervention by experienced staff, and I believe that this scheme, working in parallel with the provision of such help, could make a real difference. The running of a pilot scheme, as suggested, is just the way to see whether this would work and whether, together with some brief interventions, it could help to deal with people who have a drink problem but who, by themselves, simply cannot get it under control. It could make a difference to the continued problem drinking of those who have broken the law.
I am no longer a magistrate, unlike my noble friend, but when I was a magistrate I would have loved the possibility of a rehabilitation order to monitor alcohol consumption. I believe that we should place victims centre-stage when we assess these amendments. Not only is most domestic abuse-that is the phrase used, although we used to call it "wife battering"-alcohol-fuelled but so, as we have already heard, is violence on the streets and against property, and there would be considerably less of that without the addition of drunkenness. When are we going to take action, as this House could do tonight, and do what ordinary, decent people want, which is to reduce the alcohol-related disruption to their lives?
This is an enabling measure. It does not require courts to impose it. It is an opportunity for someone with a propensity to misuse alcohol in a way that
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My noble friend Lord Brooke of Alverthorpe was very anxious to make the point that a sunset clause could be added to a provision for such pilots so that, if they had not taken place after a year, the provision would not be needed on the statute book. Might that help the Government to accept the proposal? I very much hope that they will grasp with both hands this excellent idea of a pilot.
Baroness Howe of Idlicote: My Lords, I must admit that when I started to listen to this short and interesting debate, I was somewhat puzzled by it and I certainly did not think that this proposal had much of a part to play. However, the more I listened, the more interested I became. Having heard the very good speeches of my noble friend Lady Finlay and the noble Baroness, Lady Jenkin, setting out the support that exists, and indeed the practical support from the mayor, I am now convinced that this is a possible area for action. However, I have a question. When an assessment of alcohol consumption was made, could a test also be carried out to see whether drugs were involved and, if they were, could drugs also come under the treatment required? We all know that, alas, the consumption of drugs, as with alcohol, is rife. Equally, I totally accept that the amount of alcohol consumed by the young today is huge compared with what young people drank in the past. I am talking about quantities, because one sees how much is drunk by the younger generations. Having heard the noble Baroness, Lady Hayter, I also agree that it might be a good idea to have a sunset clause. Somewhat to my surprise, I am quite attracted to this idea and I shall be very interested to hear what the Government have to say.
Baroness Finlay of Llandaff: It may be helpful if I respond briefly to the question about drugs. Drugs can be tested using this model, as has happened in Hawaii. However, this is about alcohol monitoring. The drug problem involves a much smaller number of people and there is not the same level of gratuitous violence as one gets with alcohol. Also, drug-testing usually requires a urine sample, whereas here we are talking about a breathalyser which will pick up alcohol levels. This is exactly why a pilot is important. One can find out the problems that can occur and the pilot could be rolled out further if it was successful. This is about alcohol monitoring, and we are dealing with alcohol because it is the biggest problem that we face. In conjunction with that, of course, there is lots of support on offer to people. The problem is that they do not take it up.
Baroness Newlove: My Lords, I had no intention of speaking in this debate but having listened to noble Lords, especially the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, I could not sit any longer. I am speaking because I
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Lord Harris of Haringey: My Lords, I do not want to detain the Committee for long partly because I agree with virtually every word that all noble Lords who have contributed to the short debate have said. The speeches made by the noble Baronesses, Lady Finlay, Lady Jenkin and Lady Newlove, and the speech of my noble friend Lady Hayter encompass all the arguments.
I have to disagree, however, with one point made by the noble Baroness Lady Finlay, which was the dismissal of possible technical solutions. Quite fortuitously, after the debate on a similar amendment to the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Act, I met some manufacturers of equipment who, in passing, referred to equipment they have developed-I gather that three or four other manufacturers have done similar things-that enables remote alcohol monitoring. It would be wrong to dismiss that as an option. The equipment that I saw when I asked further about this-I understand that it has been shown to the Home Office, although I do not know the outcome of those discussions-clearly did not have all the disadvantages that the noble Baroness described.
I hope that the Government will respond to the views that have been overwhelmingly expressed in the Committee today and recognise that this point should be taken on board. This is a permissive proposal that will allow the pilots to take place. It is not mandatory either on magistrates or the police in terms of the action that they take. About 40 per cent of violent crimes have an alcohol component to them, so if this demonstrates that you can do something useful to reduce the level of alcohol-fuelled crimes, reduce the number of people who have to be admitted for longer periods or reduce the numbers at the revolving door into penal establishments, then it has to be in the interests of society as a whole. I hope that the noble Baroness who will respond to this debate has been briefed to say that the Government will support the scheme, and that they will either accept the amendment or table a suitable one on Report or Third Reading that will put this on to the statute book and enable these pilots to go ahead.
Lord Bach: My Lords, the problems of drugs in this country are always in the news. The arguments about whether they should be legal, illegal or somewhere in between are a constant source of debate among talking
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We have heard some extraordinarily impressive speeches in a very impressive debate. From the opposition Front Bench we welcome the amendment and will support it all the way. I can be brief, as I know that people are waiting for other business to begin, but the facts are truly terrifying. There are 1.2 million alcohol-related violent incidents a year, including about half of all violent crimes. There are 360,000 incidents of domestic violence, a third of which are linked to alcohol misuse. There are all those arrests for drunkenness and disorder. The noble Lord, Lord Carlile, talked about medium and serious crime. There are 530 drink-driving deaths-what a waste that is. There is also the appalling statistic that 58 per cent of rapists reported drinking, no doubt to excess, beforehand. They are horrifying figures for a civilised society and more needs to be done.
We are living in a time of austerity-it does not matter whose fault it is for these purposes-when more people are unemployed and people are probably poorer than they were. The figures for relationship breakdown are not exactly encouraging. Those are all factors that have been associated in the past with heavy drinking. We cannot be careless about the issue now. The cost each year is absolutely huge-£8 billion to £13 billion a year, as estimated by the Home Office in 2010. We have heard about the National Health Service and the ridiculous amount of money that it has to spend on people who constantly get drunk and then get hurt.
Of course I claim that the previous Government did useful and good things in this field, and no doubt the Government before that one did too, but that is no argument in itself. We have to do more and we have to take slight risks. We have to do more than we would otherwise think of doing. It is not a matter for some bureaucracy to decide that we can move forward on this step but not that one. This suggestion has been well discussed by the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, and her supporters, and I pay special tribute to the noble Baroness, Lady Newlove, who speaks with such effect on all these matters. The argument has been so one-sided that is very hard to see any argument at all against the Government supporting, at least in principle, what has been suggested. I hope that they will support the amendment. We certainly support it-it would be a crying shame not to. It is, after all, a pilot that is being proposed. It is not a dramatic implementation across
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Baroness Northover: My Lords, in responding to these amendments I am aware that these proposals were discussed previously in the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Act last year. I am very glad to say that we very much support the principle of the intention of the noble Baroness and other noble Lords who have contributed to this debate. It is very clear that alcohol-related offending causes a great deal of harm and there is an undeniable logic in tackling alcohol-related offending by preventing an offender from participating in the activity that has given rise to or exacerbated their criminal conduct.
The noble Baroness makes a very cogent case, and we all know how very damaging the abuse of alcohol can be. I can therefore confirm to the Committee that the Government will shortly be establishing two pilot schemes to test the principles and effect of enforced sobriety schemes as part of our effort to tackle and reduce alcohol-related crime, drawing on the success of similar schemes that have been trialled in the United States.
At the time of the policing Bill, the Government committed to testing sobriety schemes as part of conditional cautions within existing legislation. Since then, the Ministry of Justice and the Home Office have developed further proposals to pilot sobriety as part of community orders within the existing law. There will be two pilots using tags and breathalysers because it is extremely important to assess the practical advantages and disadvantages of schemes such as this. The conditional caution pilot will focus upon offenders who commit high-volume alcohol-related offences, such as drunk and disorderly, common assault and criminal damage. Offenders will face the tough choice of accepting sobriety conditions or facing prosecution and the prospect of receiving a drinking banning order on conviction. Anyone failing to comply with these conditions would be prosecuted for the original offence.
The second pilot will test sobriety as part of community orders, which will target a range of more serious offences where alcohol is a contributing factor. We will be looking at making use of the latest technology through which to monitor an offender's compliance with the terms of the sobriety requirements. Breach procedures will exist as they currently do. We will set out further details of these pilots in the Government's forthcoming alcohol strategy.
We want to hear the views of the judiciary, professionals within the criminal justice system and the public on the proposals. We will therefore be consulting in parallel with the pilot schemes to ensure that we give full consideration to the purpose, effect and benefit of sobriety schemes as we develop work further. The noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, as a medical scientist, knows how important it is to evaluate evidence. In her introductory remarks, she flagged up some of the complexities in this area. It is extremely important that we learn from these pilots in order that we can take forward what works best.
Alongside this we are taking a range of other measures to tackle alcohol-related offending. Pricing is one crucial lever for tackling alcohol misuse and its
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The noble Baroness has done a great deal to bring this issue to the Government's attention, and I congratulate her for it, but as I have said, it is extremely important that we are certain of the effectiveness of this policy before it is put in statute, which is why I am very glad that we can take forward the pilots under current legislation so that the practical aspects can be properly assessed. There are some concerns not about the principles of the amendment but about the design of some of the elements. We feel that some safeguards are not quite as they should be.
The noble Baroness mentioned questions over the tagging equipment. It will be assessed, but I flag up that in 45 states in the United States it has been used for more than 5,000 offenders and has the confidence of the US judiciary and so on. There are a number of things that I can write to the noble Baroness about in regard to that, but as the noble Lord, Lord Harris, said, there are different views on some of the equipment which are slightly at variance with what the noble Baroness said. That shows how important it is to pilot and to see how these various approaches work.
On the issue of compelling an offender to pay for the test, while there are mechanisms for courts to administer and collect financial penalties, no mechanism exists for a criminal court to require an offender to pay the costs of delivering a non-financial penalty in this way. Furthermore, since the fine would be a punishment in its own right, this would add considerable punitive weight to the nature of the sentence and the court would factor that in. Therefore, we feel that the offender-pay element in the noble Baroness's pilot proposals should not be taken forward. It is not an essential part of them, and we feel it is very important to see how other aspects of the proposals work.
There are a number of other concerns about the proposed amendments-for example, the proposal to give a constable a power of arrest without warrant, without warning and, more importantly, without appropriate consultation with the responsible officer, either a probation officer or a youth offending team worker. If the intention is to bring an offender immediately back to court, it would achieve little because there is no power to detain the offender, who would have to be released pending any breach hearing. There are some complexities in that.
Various noble Lords mentioned domestic violence. In piloting this, we do not feel that it is the first area in which we want to use this. We have reservations about sobriety schemes being applied to domestic violence offenders because, if you like, alcohol does not cause domestic violence although, of course, it may very
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I am not at all surprised that there has been huge public interest in this. Like the noble Baroness, Lady Jenkin, I am a mother, and I know the impact on my children of alcohol-their own consumption, that of their friends and that of their adversaries. I have been in A&E with broken bones and in hospital with one of my children who chose to swim the Thames when drunk at midnight and ended up with something like typhus. Thus far, my children have survived, and I have not faced the awfulness of what the noble Baroness, Lady Newlove, had to face.
These are very important proposals and we have given very serious thought to them. We are very grateful to the noble Baroness. She is very persistent in arguing her case, and she is right to be so. That is why I am very pleased that we are taking forward the principles of the amendments in the pilots that I have laid out. The noble Baroness, Lady Hayter, and the noble Lord, Lord Harris, should be reassured that we can take this forward under current legislation, so we do not need to think about sunset clauses and whether we are putting something flawed into the Bill.
Baroness Finlay of Llandaff: I will be grateful if the Minister will tell the Committee under exactly which parts of current legislation these pilots can be conducted. The legal advice that I have had is that it is only low-level offences. I have also been advised that breathalysers cannot be used under current legislation, so it would be helpful if she could specify which legislation they would be used under. Will she tell the Committee whether devices that detect alcohol in sweat are Home Office-approved and, if they are not, when she anticipates that approval will come through so that the pilots can start? Where will these pilots be conducted? When will they start? For how long will they be conducted? Who is funding them? Without that information, it is very difficult to accept at face value what sounds like a great idea, but we have heard it before, last summer, and I am afraid that no action has been seen since then.
I agree that alcohol does not cause domestic violence but I would be grateful if the Minister could tell us why alcohol-fuelled domestic violence is fundamentally different from other forms of domestic violence. Perhaps it is because it is witnessed by children in the family, who will bear those scars for their whole lives; at least if there is a drunken brawl out in the streets at midnight, it is not witnessed by children where their parent is
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Baroness Northover: I have to dispute what the noble Baroness says about downgrading the importance of domestic violence-we have not. It is because we recognise that it is a very complex and dangerous form of violence that we are separating it out from the assessment of the practicalities of this scheme in these pilots. It is something that has to be addressed across the board and in a much more complex way than whether or not you breathalyse or tag somebody and decide whether or not they have breached various conditions.
The noble Baroness has made her case extremely clear. We absolutely accept the principles. We are taking this forward in the pilots that I have mentioned. I realise there is another debate coming on. I am very happy to engage with her, as is my noble friend Lord McNally, and give her the answers to all the questions she has raised. I will not detain everybody at this point, and I hope that she will be prepared to work with us to take this further forward. As my noble friend Lord Carlile said, this is a very intractable, long-standing problem, but anything we can do to try to resolve the elements that we can, we should do; that comes overwhelmingly from people in this debate. We are taking forward these pilots-I give her that commitment-and let us discuss the details after the sitting.
Baroness Finlay of Llandaff: I am grateful to the Minister for having responded in that way, for offering to meet me and work through all the details. I am also extremely grateful for the support that I have had from all sides of the House, unequivocally. I make it clear that I am not against the tagging process; I am not against anything that deals with this problem effectively. What I am worried about is that if these schemes are not approved this problem will be kicked into touch for yet longer, as the noble Lord, Lord Carlile, said, and we just cannot do that. Like others, I also pay particular tribute to the noble Baroness, Lady Newlove, who has spoken movingly and has committed her life to trying to bring some good out of the tragedy that she personally suffered.
With that, I will not press my amendment tonight, but I look forward to further discussions, and I must warn the Government that if I do not get satisfactory answers I intend to bring this back on Report.
Lord Shutt of Greetland: My Lords, before the debate commences, I have two things to say. First, in order to accommodate your Lordships, particularly those who are taking part in this debate, arrangements have been made for the splendid services of the Long Table to be available until 9.05 pm. Secondly, I remind noble Lords that this is a timed debate and that apart from the noble Baronesses, Lady Hooper and Lady Stowell, participants are limited to five minutes, and that when you see the number five it is the time to sit down.
Baroness Hooper: My Lords, when this Question was tabled, it was very topical. Now, almost two years later, having been retabled and having awaited a suitable time slot, I think it is still topical. The point is that bananas are very important to all of us. I am told, and I am quite prepared to accept without further research, that bananas are the most eaten fruit in the world and that the European Union market is the world's largest consumer of the fruit. It is also well known that bananas provide a very healthy component of our diet, being rich in potassium.
On a personal note, I can well remember as a small child in post-war Britain eating my first banana. They were a rarity then, which seems incredible now, but I have always loved bananas since then and taken an interest in policies affecting them. Imagine my good fortune when the time came for me to take up a postgraduate fellowship in international law and economics at the Universidad Central del Ecuador in Quito, only to discover that Ecuador was a major producer of bananas. To this day, I find Ecuadorian bananas have a special taste, and it is one that I enjoy-with no disrespect, of course, to other producer countries.
As I said at the outset, this Question was tabled in 2010, following the historic Geneva Agreement on Trade in Bananas. The agreement came to be known as "the end of the banana saga". The long-running trade conflict that preceded it has been described as,
the World Trade Organisation. The bone of contention lay in the fact that the big American companies like Chiquita and Dole, the "dollar banana" producers, which farmed large plantations in Ecuador, Venezuela, Colombia and elsewhere in Latin America, were able to undercut the prices of the smaller banana producers, which were covered by the ACP-African, Caribbean and Pacific-policies of the European Union, which gave preferential trade terms to these small countries and imposed high tariffs on the Latin American exporters.
In talking of the ACP countries, I am referring to the 10 main banana-exporting countries: Belize, Cameroon, Côte d'Ivoire, Dominica, the Dominican Republic, Ghana, Jamaica, St Lucia, St Vincent and the Grenadines, and Suriname. It is an exotic roll call, and I know that in this short debate we shall hear in more detail about specific countries.
The deal between the European Union, Latin American banana producers and the United States aimed to comply with WTO policies and settled the 15 years of
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I believe that it is fairer to have a policy of social support for poor producing countries than to introduce a system of quotas, which encourages everyone to have a go. I am in favour of that policy. My main question to the Government and the Minister is on whether these arrangements are working. Is there fair and free access to European Union markets for Latin American bananas and the ACP product? Have the ACP countries been able to keep up the viability of their small-scale production without the preferences that they previously enjoyed? Have the special measures intended to help the ACP countries adapt to the effects of changes in the EU import regime really worked?
Given that the integration of all developing countries into the multilateral trading system and the global economy is a key European Union development objective, have the banana accompanying measures, which are known as BAM, been adequate? Has the €190 million budget been enough to meet the needs? These measures were due to last for four years from 2010 to 2013. Perhaps this is a good moment to ask whether there is an intention to review and renew these measures.
In considering these issues, it must always be remembered that bananas are crucial to the livelihoods of millions of people and a major source of export revenue for many developing countries-not only for the small countries, but also for the people working in the large plantations who are equally dependent on bananas as a source of livelihood. However, I recognise that the Caribbean countries have a special case. In particular, many of these small island nations previously produced sugar cane but, as a result of European Economic Community-as it was then known-policies which supported the production of sugar beet, they had to diversify. Because of climate and other weather conditions, bananas took over as the only suitable alternative crop.
As I have a few moments left, perhaps I may mention a couple of somewhat unrelated points. There may be other ways to use bananas in order to increase the size of the market-for example, as an alternative energy source. The foliage and fibre, which comes at the end of the production of the fruit, could be used to create biomass energy rather than simply being burnt off as it is currently. Research would have to be initiated to analyse its viability. Perhaps the University of the West Indies could consider doing something on those lines.
Most bananas carry a country-of-origin label and you know whether you are buying Colombian, Costa Rican or Ecuadorian bananas. But fair trade bananas
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As a postscript, I say that over the years your Lordships' House has had many opportunities to debate the subject of bananas, largely because of the long-running trade dispute. That situation may happily have changed and the future may not hold so many banana debates. I cannot resist mentioning the last occasion on which we had such a debate-I think it was in 2006-which the noble Viscount, Lord Montgomery of Alamein, introduced. It is good that he is here today to give continuity.
I also remember a much earlier debate when the late Lord Pitt of Hampstead participated. He spoke on behalf of the producers in Grenada. Therefore, I am very happy to see his noble kinswoman, the noble Baroness, Lady Howells of St Davids, will be lending her voice to today's proceedings. I thank all of your Lordships who are joining in the debate and I look forward to listening and learning from all the contributions, and from the Minister's reply.
Lord Foulkes of Cumnock: My Lords, I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Hooper, on obtaining this debate at last and on her eloquent introduction. I declare a non-pecuniary interest as president of the Caribbean Council. Bananas are still a very important source of income and employment in many parts of the Caribbean, particularly the eastern Caribbean. St Lucia, for example, has 1,500 farmers in the banana sector but it has seen a huge decline. In its heyday, 30,000 people worked in the banana sector.
We have seen rapid liberalisation of long-standing preferential trade agreements taking place. When that happens, they need to be replaced by financial support and capacity-building measures to make sure that people whose livelihoods are being swept away are able to become more competitive or to find employment in other sectors. The banana accompanying measures, which were agreed by the European Commission, will go some way to achieving that by extending the earlier banana support programme with an additional €190 million. While that money is of assistance it covers support only until 2013 whereas, depending on the progress with the Doha round, we expect tariff reductions to continue until 2020. Therefore, there is a gap.
It is particularly scandalous that, due to a stand-off between the EU institutions, there has been a delay between the agreement to dramatically lower the preferential tariffs and agreeing the funding mechanism. In fact, the Geneva agreement on bananas, to which the noble Baroness referred, was signed in December 2009. Now, more than two years later, the European Parliament has only just passed a resolution allowing the banana accompanying measures to proceed and the funding has not even started to flow yet. In her reply, will the Minister give us an assurance that our Government will do everything in their power to ensure that the European Commission gets this money flowing as quickly as possible?
Turning to other sectors, although there has been a lot of discussion on bananas because of the dispute, which remains an important element, we need in the Caribbean to see a movement away from sugar and
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It is vital that everything possible is done to help to protect these success stories. Industries such as Caribbean rum are already heading in this direction. It is of the highest quality and now is entering a wide range of markets around the world through improved branding and the use of a quality market. Other industries, such as creative and cultural industries, financial services and high-quality cocoa and coffee, all have the potential with the right support to be globally competitive and successful contributors to the economies and employment across the Caribbean region.
I urge the Minister to ensure that her Government and the European Commission continue to promote the ongoing diversification of the Caribbean economy, and to support this very encouraging trend of developing and growing new and existing industries where the value-added element stays in the Caribbean rather than elsewhere.
Finally, the economic partnership agreement was signed in October 2008 in good faith by the Caribbean Governments, who understood that they would be locked in for the long term. Many of the preferential benefits in terms of market access and development support were going. Those previous certainties now seem to be disappearing before their eyes. The EU has opened negotiations in quick succession, making bilateral agreements with countries in Central America, South America and now with India in products that are of key importance to the Caribbean. In these negotiations, many of the special concessions that were granted to the Caribbean in the EPA are being watered down or nullified as greater market access is granted to producers in other parts of the world. Some assistance is being provided, but much of it still exists only in theory. Several years down the line, Caribbean Governments are now beginning to have to reduce their duties against European products without the benefit of the aid-for-trade assistance which was promised.
I conclude by asking the Minister and the noble Lord, Lord Shutt of Greetland, to tell us the extent of the aid-for-trade support that has been provided by the United Kingdom and the European Commission to the Caribbean since the EPA was signed; and whether she agrees that more needs to be done to help the Caribbean, and that it needs to be done quickly.
Baroness Benjamin: My Lords, I, too, thank my noble friend for securing this debate. We must never forget the vast wealth that the Caribbean provided for Europe, yet EU agreements and those that will be negotiated in years to come will further erode the benefits that the Caribbean has enjoyed as a preferential trading partner of the UK and Europe because of these historic and cultural ties.
This leaves one wondering whether the UK and Europe actually care about the Caribbean any more. Policy decisions taken in recent times on sugar, bananas and more recently on tourism in the form of the unfair UK air passenger duty, seem to reflect a lack of understanding or perhaps interest in the impact of UK and European policies on Caribbean economies and Caribbean people. That is what seems to be happening once again with the new EU trade deals involving bananas. There is a real threat facing the banana growers of the Caribbean who are desperately trying to make an honest living for themselves and their families. The agreements already in place are harming small island states in the Caribbean, especially the Windward Islands, which in the 1990s provided around 40 per cent of the UK's bananas, but now only 8 per cent. The figure has gradually been whittled away by the import of lower-cost bananas from Latin America, picked by low-paid workers. This will only be made worse with the new EU trade deals with Columbia and Peru.
While the EU has not stood by its commitment to protect the region's banana growers, the organisation Fairtrade has helped thousands of farmers to protect their livelihoods by securing a market for their bananas. This market has grown from 30 per cent in 2004 to over 90 per cent in 2009. The challenge now is to maintain sales to the UK's Fairtrade banana market as well as developing additional markets for other fruit products from the islands. But there are now only around 3,500 farmers compared with 27,000 in 1992. High unemployment, youth unrest and poverty are real threats now facing the island communities. The islands have also been hit by a series of natural disasters, but the resilience of the farmers has meant that banana production could continue because they were able to turn to the Windward Islands Farmers' Association and use the disaster fund they had put aside as a result of Fairtrade premiums. Thanks to Fairtrade, farmers have been given a lifeline and are now empowered. They also receive more money for their bananas, helping them to diversify and develop sustainable livelihoods for themselves and their children in the future. It is morally wrong for us to be part of a regime that takes all this away from them. It has been a struggle for survival. Income has declined from just over £1.5 million in 2009 to £150,000 in 2011. So the key to helping their survival is for companies, retailers and the public to buy Fairtrade Windward Island bananas. We can all make a difference in our own way.
What can the UK Government do to help? It was good to hear Foreign Secretary William Hague hint at the 2012 UK Caribbean Forum that he wants a new era promoting prosperity, growth and development between the UK and the Caribbean, but this will be difficult for Caribbean banana farmers as the EU has offered just €190 million to all banana farmers across three continents to be shared between nine countries as compensation for going back on commitments. This is clearly insufficient to cover the costs of adjustment. And astonishingly, almost two years after the money was promised, there is still no sign of it. Also, the banana accompanying measures resources are now being given directly to Caribbean Governments, which means that small farmers in the Windward Islands
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The Caribbean needs sustainable economic development to create the jobs and growth that will assist the transition from developing to developed countries. They want a hand up and not a hand out. Let us not take away with one hand and give aid funding with the other. People need to retain their dignity, pride and self-worth. Therefore we need to consider what can be done to support the Caribbean in adapting to new trade regimes. I would like to ask my noble friend the Minister what action the Government have taken, first, to ensure rapid payment of the elusive banana accompanying measures. Secondly, they should support the transfer of BAM funds directly to producers in the Windward Islands. Finally, they should top up the outstanding amounts from unallocated money from other EU funding programmes.
Bananas were first brought to the Caribbean by the Europeans to feed the enslaved workers-my ancestors-500 years ago. Today they are a source of income for the Caribbean people, so let us show some compassion and consideration for our long-term loyal Caribbean friends and supporters by continuing to buy their bananas.
Lord Palmer: My Lords, gosh, what an act to follow. We have heard a very emotional speech from the noble Baroness, Lady Benjamin. I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Hooper, for introducing so succinctly this incredibly important subject. She has asked several very important questions, and I was most interested in her ideas for biomass in terms of renewable energy, something that is close to my heart. As usual I have to declare an interest as a residual beneficiary of a banana plantation on the Caribbean island of St Lucia, and my comments are going to be strongly related to that island. I am very grateful indeed for the help I have had from the St Lucian High Commissioner.
All noble Lords taking part in the debate are by and large singing from exactly the same hymn sheet. Some 100 years ago, there were over 6,000 banana plantations on St Lucia, while today there are fewer than 2,000, which is a dramatic drop. Twenty years ago, the island produced a massive 135,000 tonnes of bananas, which has dwindled to a mere 6,000 tonnes today. This has been caused mainly by the new European Union trade regimes coupled with the huge increase from Latin American producers who, with their geographical terrains, can harvest their crops at a fraction of the cost of the ACP countries, and this is due especially to the much cheaper labour and the size of their farms/plantations. As such, the lovely island of Grenada, which I have been lucky enough to visit, has ceased exporting altogether. This has caused great hardship to those who live in the countryside and who are not involved in the slowly developing tourism industry, which, of course, is being hampered by the grossly unfair APD-the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes, made this point particularly forcefully. It really is madness that to fly to Hawaii is cheaper in APD than to fly to the Caribbean, particularly given that Hawaii is slightly more than double the distance of the Caribbean from London.
I have one very serious point to make on diversification for the small producers, many of whom live on our property in St Lucia. They need to earn a living. Their easiest option is to turn to growing the likes of cannabis, which is dead easy to grow in such a lovely climate and all of which will make its way to the nearest port in the United States of America. This surely cannot be a sensible state of affairs. It would encourage an increase in drug trafficking, which in turn would lead to a huge increase in organised crime. I urge Her Majesty's Government to do all they can to avoid this ghastly scenario.
Baroness Howells of St Davids: My Lords, I, too, thank the noble Baroness, Lady Hooper, for raising this debate. I feel sure that Lord Pitt, wherever he is, will be pleased to know that the noble Baroness remembered his contribution on this topic some years ago. I know that his wife and family will be very pleased, too. I am unclear as to whether I should declare an interest. My grandfather was fortunate enough to purchase the estate on which his great-great grandfather was enslaved. Our family became growers and exporters of bananas.
Despite the lack of landmass and the loss of markets in spices and sugar cane, with its by-products of rum, sugar and molasses which had brought wealth to the islands, bananas remained the only real export after the islands became independent nation states. It is our belief that Caribbean bananas are the best in the world, but their history has been well told this evening.
Since the formation of the common market, meeting upon meeting has been held to decide what is to happen to the banana. Most of those meetings have done one important thing-not so important to us, but important to Europe: weakening the sale of bananas and, in some cases, the obliteration of their position in the Caribbean as a wealth-producing entity.
For well over five decades, bananas became the main source of revenue in the Caribbean. They kept the islanders in employment and were to some extent the mainstay of political stability. The growing of cannabis in the islands has already been referred to. What else can they do? Illegal it may be, but everything else has been taken away. I urge the British Government, in their meetings with the EU, to look one more time at this issue.
Small farmers could depend on the Geest boats coming in to collect bananas, which not only maintained their living standards but kept whole villages in employment. Wholesale love and care was lavished on bananas to get them ready for export, so that Britain would get the best quality.
At that time, preferential treatment was given to all the ACP countries. That treatment was in recognition of the relationship which the United Kingdom had with those small island states when they were colonies. During the past 20 years, the Latin-American countries, spurred on by their US-based companies, have made complaints to the World Trade Organisation about what they describe as preferential treatment for ACP countries. In 1996, Guatemala, Honduras, the USA and Ecuador issued a legal complaint citing three
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There began a series of meetings, got together to discuss bananas. Most of this was done without the input of the Caribbean or even the African countries. We heard of the imposed deadlines for exploration of preferences, ending with the EU adopting a two-stage approach to what they saw as a problem. At the end of those lengthy discussions, the Caribbean was forced to agree to an economic partnership.
Other Members have mentioned the various conventions that we have. Then came the Doha ministerial meetings and the creation of the ACP group, which signed up to a comprehensive EPA covering goods, services, trade-related rules and development co-operation. Throughout those years of negotiations, ACP Governments and campaigners expressed serious concerns about the feasibility of free trade between an established, wealthy trading bloc like the EU and the poor economies of the smaller nations. They were right to point that out.
Viscount Montgomery of Alamein: My Lords, I join others in congratulating the noble Baroness, Lady Hooper, on introducing the debate. I opened the previous one in 2006 and it is a pleasure to follow the noble Baroness in this great saga of the banana. I seem to have been in the banana debate for many years. In fact, the noble Baroness, Lady Howells, who I follow, mentioned Lord Pitt. He was a great friend of mine. We had many discussions about bananas together in the bar from time to time. I am glad that she mentioned him. We certainly owe him a great debt. He and I were together in that activity.
The problem is that I am once again a lone voice in speaking about Latin American bananas as opposed to ACP bananas. Latin American bananas are unsubsidised and are grown on a much bigger scale. They are of just as good quality as any other bananas, as the noble Baroness, Lady Hooper, pointed out from her experience in Ecuador. I, too, have lived in certain banana-producing countries. I was a resident of El Salvador for some years. Central American republics produce bananas on a very big scale and enjoy a tariff system that is reducing all the time. It will eventually be reduced by 2020 to 75 euros a tonne.
It is understandable that Latin American bananas are voluminous because they are grown on a plantation scale. It is not correct, as has been alleged, that the workers are persecuted and hard done by. For instance, in Colombia the banana plantation workers average 75 per cent above the minimum wage. They are well paid and not a persecuted minority. It is important that we realise that Latin American bananas, which are very good quality, should be allowed to arrive here in reasonable quantities. The central American republics
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I appreciate that the Caribbean countries have special problems. As has been pointed out, they need to diversify their economies and exploit their rights in tourism. As the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes, pointed out, the Caribbean beaches are of fantastic quality. Tourism is surely a method of improving their quality of life and providing equal numbers in employment. Hotels are built continuously and require large labour forces to service them. I think the future of the Caribbean lies more in tourism than in producing bananas on small-scale, family-owned smallholdings which inevitably cannot be of the same quality as those produced on a large scale in Latin America.
I welcome a newcomer to this debate, in the shape of the noble Baroness, Lady Stowell. I wish her well in her endeavours to take up the banana cause. I have no doubt that it will not be the last time that we hear about it.
The Earl of Sandwich: My Lords, once upon a time, only 12 years ago, the UK among 15 European Union states signed the Cotonou agreement with the 78 ACP countries, which was designed to guarantee former colonies access to EU markets for their primary products. I well remember the preamble-I expect that the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes, will remember it from his time-solemnly committing Europe not only to meet its trade obligations but to eradicate poverty and to ensure continued development, including alternative forms of livelihood. Then came globalisation and liberalisation, the free trade winds blew through the WTO, and a series of interim economic partnership agreements were signed with a number of countries towards the end of 2007. A more comprehensive EPA with the Caribbean countries was signed in October 2008 but, as we have heard, it has been watered down since.
Meanwhile, the WTO, led by the US-let us not forget-on behalf of Latin American banana exporters such as Ecuador, has long complained to the EU that the old preferences were still there and discriminating against them. So two years ago, Europe caved in and let them in. But, as the noble Baroness, Lady Benjamin, and others have asked, what has happened to the protection for growers in the smaller, vulnerable states in the Windward Islands, so carefully established for them in the Cotonou treaty? The answer is that the UK, the EU and the whole world have let them down.
While UK sales of bananas have risen dramatically, the increased volume entering from other sources last year has driven down prices in the supermarkets, with a devastating effect on growers. As the noble Baroness, Lady Benjamin, said, the only bright future lies with the producers linked with the Fairtrade movement. I was pleased to see the familiar blue and yellow logo on the bananas in the Bishops' Bar today. Fairtrade accounts for at least a quarter of UK banana sales. Through the
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Certifying bananas as Fairtrade ensures that banana farmers in Africa and the Caribbean receive a decent price, but this is undermined by supermarkets engaging in banana price wars. A few years ago the price of loose bananas fell below 84 pence a kilo, down to as low as 67 pence a kilo. That was low enough. Last year, Asda cut the price of its loose bananas to 38 pence a kilo, its sixth cut in six weeks and a move that placed acute pressure on rivals to follow suit.
Since 1992, some 20,000 of the 24,000 farmers in Dominica, St Vincent, St Lucia and Grenada have gone out of business altogether, and the future for its remaining farmers looks bleak. I am not sure that the suggestions of the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes, and my noble friend Lord Montgomery will be enough for those growers.
So what are our Government doing at this end to stop the banana price wars that are so harmful, especially to growers least able to cope with squeezed margins in the supply chain? What happened to the decision to appoint a groceries code adjudicator, which they were once so keen about, but which seems to have got stuck in the system? Finally, what happened to the development objectives in the Cotonou agreement? Have they been jettisoned in the name of the WTO and free trade? The agreement states:
As a consolation prize, I am hoping that the noble Baroness will tell us how many banana-producing ACP countries who are not LDCs benefit from other arrangements, such as the "Everything But Arms" agreement and any titbits left over from the generalised system of preferences and other forms of concessional trade.
I conclude by thanking the noble Baroness, Lady Hooper, for introducing the debate and I dedicate these last few words to the late Lord Walston, a Labour Peer and personal friend who was a farmer in Cambridgeshire and St Lucia and who would most certainly have joined in this debate.
Lord Liddle: My Lords, on behalf of the Opposition, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Hooper, for bringing forward this debate and for the charm and conviction with which she introduced it. In the debate, we have had many notable contributions. My noble friend Lord Foulkes made me dream of the white beaches and turquoise oceans, but he also spoke with great knowledge and experience from his time as a Minister at international development. We had the passion of the noble Baroness, Lady Benjamin, while other noble Lords, including the noble Viscount, Lord Montgomery, the noble Lord, Lord Palmer, the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, and my noble friend Lady Howells were speaking from personal knowledge.
Regarding my own knowledge of this issue, I suppose I should declare an interest. The part of my life in which I came across this was while I was in my noble friend Lord Mandelson's cabinet when, as Peter Mandelson, he was Commissioner for trade. This was one of the issues that came across one's desk then, and it is one of the longest running trade sagas in the history of the European Union. Its origins go right back to the start, when the French won preferences for their colonies against the resistance of Germany. When we joined the Common Market, we were able to get preferences for our colonies, which led to the formation of the ACP group. Since then, however, the brutal facts and realities of free trade have caused great difficulty for the vulnerable communities that have depended on these preferences.
There is an irony here. It is a tragedy that some of the general policies for which we, as a country and as the Labour Party, have fought-for instance, the idea that there be multilateral, supranational jurisdiction on trade issues-are good things but that is what, since 1993, has led to the EU having to abandon its preferences. Similarly, we want a general liberalisation of agriculture. We want to break down the protectionism of the common agricultural policy. So while we want liberalisation of agricultural trade, again, the harsh facts in this case mean very great difficulties for people to whom we owe a moral obligation.
This has been going on a long time. The EU fought a valiant battle to prevent this happening. The first case by the United States was brought in 1993 and the Geneva agreement was reached only in 2010. We stalled for years, first by fighting the idea that we had to give up on the preferences in Europe and then by saying that we proposed a tariff that was quite high in terms of protecting the Caribbean and other producers. Ultimately, because of the pressure from the WTO jurisdiction system, we have had to give way.
I turn to my questions for the Minister. First, what is her assessment of the banana market? What has the impact been? How serious is it in the countries that are affected? What is the Government's view of what can be done to help? Secondly, the papers refer to the safeguard clauses that are allowed into the EU/Andean association agreement. How have they been implemented? Have they helped to protect the vulnerable producers? Thirdly, as many noble Lords have mentioned, what are we doing to ensure that the €190 million of special support is being wisely and properly spent? How can we ensure that that help is speeded up? What additional help will we be fighting for beyond 2013? I hope that we will regard this as a priority for the EU budget. Lastly, on a point that the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, made, what pressures are we putting on our supermarkets to try to support fair trade standards in the retailing of bananas, which would help the most vulnerable producers?
Baroness Stowell of Beeston: My Lords, I have found this debate fascinating, and I congratulate my noble friend Lady Hooper on her patience, as I know she has waited a long time to secure it. Her thoughtful
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It was clear from the contributions by the noble Baroness, Lady Howells of St Davids, and my noble friend Lady Benjamin that this topic arouses a lot of passion and emotion because of our ties with the part of the world that we are discussing. In my response I will try to do justice to the points that have been raised. I thank the noble Viscount, Lord Montgomery of Alamein, for his welcome to me on this topic, which is one that I know noble Lords in the Chamber today have debated on previous occasions.
As set out in our White Paper, Trade and Investment for Growth, published last year, this Government uphold fully the principles of free and open markets. Free trade reduces the cost of goods and inputs to consumers and manufacturers. It stimulates competitiveness and spurs innovation. Most importantly, free trade, especially at this time, supports sustainable and balanced growth which is, to state the obvious, essential to the global economy. As well as free trade, we believe in non-discrimination between countries at a similar level of development. The European Union's Geneva Agreement on Trade in Bananas, introduced in 2009, supports both these principles.
Prior to that agreement, the high tariffs placed on bananas imported into the European Union from countries other than the so-called ACP group-Africa, Caribbean and the Pacific-were plainly discriminatory. Not only did that restrict market access and opportunities to banana producers in Latin America and elsewhere, it also raised the price of bananas for consumers in Europe. As I think most noble Lords would agree, those outcomes were not fair, reasonable or economically sensible. By contrast, the Geneva agreement will reduce discriminatory tariffs by 2018, and that reduction will bring considerable benefits.
I shall start with the benefits for the consumer. As my noble friend Lady Hooper has summarised in her remarks, bananas are the most widely bought fruit in the UK. Indeed, in 2010 they accounted for 27 per cent of all fresh fruit purchases. Incidentally, we buy more fair trade bananas than the rest of the world combined. My noble friend asked about the labelling of fair trade bananas and why they did not identify their country of origin. I imagine that the boxes in which the bananas are carried into stores will state their country of origin. I am not sure of the answer to the question about their individual packaging, but I will write to my noble friend. It is true that we are the main source for fair trade bananas. I was interested to hear that earlier today the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, spotted fair trade bananas in the Bishops' Bar.
The price of bananas has fallen by around 10 per cent over the past 10 years, due to more efficient production and distribution. Further reductions on tariffs should help maintain this trend. The noble Earl asked what the Government were doing to combat a banana price war. The market will always determine the price of commodities; it is not the role of Governments to seek to control that.
The Geneva agreement will also support the industry, as the more efficient producers will be able to compete more fairly. I will come shortly to support for the
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While removing discriminatory tariffs is the right approach, of course I recognise that adapting to a new set of circumstances brings a number of challenges to producers in Africa and the Caribbean, as has been identified by noble Lords this evening. It is therefore right that countries are given time to adjust, and it is why the Geneva agreement will take up to nine years to be fully implemented.
My noble friend Lady Hooper asked whether the agreement is working. It is too early to assess the full impact of the agreement on both the Latin American and ACP producers. It is worth pointing out that since 2009 when the agreement first came into force, the share of the EU market has in broad terms remained unchanged in that the Latin American countries have retained about 70 per cent of the market. My noble friend Lady Benjamin gave specific statistics regarding individual ACP countries; I am afraid that I do not have them in front of me, but the total figure in terms of region has remained steady. That said, when the agreement was finalised, the Commission clearly assessed its potential impact. It calculated that the tariff changes were unlikely to have any major macroeconomic impact on the ACP group of countries as a whole. However, the Commission's analysis also concluded that there could be significant loss of export revenue for some, in particular for Dominica and St Vincent. There could be consequences for some individual producers if cost-saving measures were not introduced, leading to job losses and localised social difficulties-in other words, if those producers did not or could not increase their efficiency in order to compete.
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