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The Earl of Longford: I rise to support strongly the amendment. The main points have already been made but, following a few remarks, I shall make a point which comes best from someone on these Benches.
We surely all recognise the extraordinary difficulty of the position in which the Home Secretary, that high-minded Christian socialist, finds himself today, when all enlightened opinion is on one side in these discussions and the passions of the so-called multitude
I wrote an article for The Tablet newspaper headed, "If I were Jack Straw". It was rather impertinent to make such a suggestion and to conceive of such a fantasy. When I became Leader of this House in 1964, I had been chairman of the relevant Labour Party committee, whose main proposals were put into law a few years later. Six of the members of that committee were in the Labour government. My old friend Evelyn Waugh, a famous writer, wrote to another old friend that he was glad I was not going to be Home Secretary because otherwise we would all be murdered in our beds. Apart from the fact that I was a Member of the House of Lords, I do not believe that that was ever likely. Today the Home Secretary has his problems, and we are trying to help him.
The main facts have been pointed out. We have been told that it is reckoned that between 1993 and 2005, a period of 12 years, the prison population will double. Why? Does anyone know any reason why it should double? Someone arriving from Mars might say, "I suppose there has been a great increase in crime". According to official statistics, there is no increase in crime; there has been a decrease in crime in the past four years. If one applies to the Home Office--where, curiously, one department seems to deal with crime and another with prisons--for projections, there are not any, at least as far as I can discover.
Nevertheless, let us assume that crime will stay where it is, yet in the course of 12 years the prison population will have doubled. Some tremendous philosophy or, if you like, some bogus philosophy, must lie behind this extraordinary change in policy. We are all aware that when Mr. Michael Howard came to the Home Office he soon announced that prison works. That idea, of prison as a salvation of humanity, has been adopted all too brutally. It would be nice to say that with this enlightened Government of ours, the Labour Government, something different will come into operation, but there is no sign of it yet. I personally hope and believe that this high-minded Government will introduce some new atmosphere altogether, but there is no sign of it yet. We hope they will. We have been hoping for 10 months, but still we go on hoping. That is the situation.
I want to add a further thought. The Labour Party won a great election victory, and one of the important slogans was, "We are going to be tough on crime and tough on the causes of crime". No new meaning has yet been given to that in practice but it could be very important if interpreted in the right way. If we think of the 64,000 prisoners that there are now, we are all too well aware that a high proportion of them will offend again. We are also aware that the degree to which they offend and the extent of their offences will depend quite a lot on how they are treated in prison. So if we are looking for the causes of crime, we can find one cause, which is the maltreatment of prisoners in prison. That is something that gives a lot of meaning, in my opinion, to the attack on the causes of crime.
So there it all is. I entirely agree with what has been said. An advisory committee would strengthen the hand of the Home Secretary, the well-meaning, Christian, socialist Home Secretary, in doing his duty. All alone, it is very hard to face public opinion and do something unpopular--on the face of it unpopular until the public is re-educated. I do not think that word was actually used today but the noble Lord has used it to me before now: the re-education of the public on penal matters. That is the essential task today, and I believe that that task will be very much facilitated by the amendment of the noble and learned Lord.
Lord Hurd of Westwell: I would like to join those who support this amendment. Of course, as my noble friend Lord Carlisle has pointed out, there was such a body in the past. As he has also pointed out, it did valuable work; in fact it was largely responsible, as he said, for the introduction of the CSO. I do not think anyone could deny how useful, admirable indeed, a form of punishment outside prison that has been. The death of that earlier body is best recorded in the account by my noble friend Lord Windlesham in his classic work Responses to Crime. He wrote:
And so the word went out that the temple should be cleansed. I seem to remember that my noble friend Lord Renton wielded a particularly vigorous broom in that campaign, and not just the money lenders and those who sold doves but the runners of quangos were expelled from the temple. It can be noted that some of the quangos have crept back into the temple since then, but not this particular one.
I think a very strong case has been made for a body of this kind with a rather wider remit, as is now proposed, than the old ACPS, for two reasons, one of which has been given and one of which has not. It is desirable to move criminal justice policy to some extent from the sudden flash floods of emotion which follow a particular disaster or tragedy. It is silly to decry such emotion because we all share it and it is perfectly natural and human that there should be such very strong high feelings in the aftermath of a disaster. But it does not necessarily follow that these high feelings should dictate the future substance of the law.
There is an overwhelming case, it seems to me, for a pause for reflection and experienced advice. I speak as someone who was an actor in one debate, a spectator in another, the two debates following the firearms tragedies at Hungerford and Dunblane. That is the first point.
The second point is that I believe a body like this would be a good precaution and safeguard against the wear and tear which is imposed on a criminal justice system by too much adversarial argument. I join others
Of course, Parliament has a duty to society, a duty to protect society, and a duty to the victims of crime. So those of us who are interested in this subject should encourage and not stifle discussion. The question is not whether there should be discussion but whether it is sensible that it should be divided on mainly or principally party lines. I do not believe that the contest as to which party is toughest on crime is essentially a meaningful contest. I believe that those who strive for that prize are likely to find that its laurels fade quite fast.
I believe that there is now a chance for a reasoned truce because the heat, to some extent, has died out of this debate. In some political matters the line of debate seems to me to fall naturally between the parties: the role of the state, the balance between spending and taxation. These are, in a way, left/right issues and it is natural enough that they should be debated between parties as armies, as regiments, organised, divided on a left/right basis. But for foreign affairs and defence, as your Lordships know, as practised also in the other place, there is a different convention, for excellent reasons. These are not usually matters where the lines of debate are the same as the lines between parties. I believe that that should be true of debate on the criminal justice system.
The Home Secretary has to deal with, the Government has to deal with, we all have to deal with, very large numbers of people involved in making this system work. They are not servants of government and they certainly do not feel themselves to be adherents of a particular political party: the judge, the magistrate, the police officer, the prison officer, the probation officer. All these stand in somewhat different relationships to the Home Secretary and they are none of them creatures of government.
In the past few months, by good fortune, I have had occasion after a long gap to renew acquaintance with a good many of them as they go about their jobs. They are under great pressures from the nature of crime, the increase in crime, the nature of our society, the difficulties in dealing with these problems. We should not add to these people the extra pressures which come if we in Parliament tackle these matters on an adversarial and point-scoring basis. It is simply not fair
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