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Lord Henley: My Lords, perhaps I may start by correcting the noble Lord's figures. The amounts spent by local authorities over the last four years for which we have figures (up to 1994-95) have remained in real terms broadly consistent. I accept that the figures have fallen, as the noble Lord puts it, in particular in inner London. However, the amount spent per head is still considerably larger than the amount spent in other parts of the country.

We believe that it is for the local education authorities to decide how they should spend their resources. It is for them to assess their priorities and not for the Government.

Baroness Carnegy of Lour: My Lords, will my noble friend confirm that the answers he gave relate to England and Wales and not to Scotland? People sometimes are a little confused when the figures differ, the funding being different in Scotland.

Lord Henley: My Lords, although at the Dispatch Box we generally answer for Her Majesty's Government and therefore for the United Kingdom as a whole, on this occasion the figures relate to England and Wales, for which my department is responsible. If my noble friend wishes for either myself or one of my noble friends in the Scottish Office to write to her giving her appropriate figures for Scotland, we shall be more than happy to do so.

Lord Howell: My Lords, the demise of the youth service can be traced back to the decision to abolish the Youth Service Development Council. That led to the closing of many training colleges for professional youth leaders. It has had extremely unfortunate results, in particular in the inner cities, which demonstrate the results of so much boredom because no trained leadership or facilities exist. Would it be a good idea for the Government to re-establish something like the Albemarle Committee which a previous Conservative Government set up? It could review the serious situation existing in the youth service and come forward with recommendations which perhaps we could all accept as being pertinent to the problems facing young people today.

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Lord Henley: My Lords, again I start by correcting the noble Lord. There has been no demise of the youth service, which continues in all local education authorities throughout the country. Most authorities provide a good service; some are trying new, interesting and innovative ideas. As I made clear earlier, the amount of money spent by local education authorities has remained broadly consistent over the past few years. I dare say it will remain the same in subsequent years. It is a matter for the LEAs themselves to decide on their priorities. It would not be right for the Government to impose a diktat in the area.

Lord Wyatt of Weeford: My Lords, will the Minister give an assurance that in no way will the Government fund any kind of youth service by stealing £2 billion or £3 billion of shareholders' money from the privatised utilities--because that is the intention of the Labour Party in funding its youth scheme?

Lord Henley: My Lords, as I understand it, the party opposite has plans to steal a great deal of money from the privatised utilities and spend it not once, not twice but of the order of 10 times over.

Baroness Turner of Camden: My Lords, does the Minister agree that it would be a good idea if we spent more money than appears to be spent at the moment on the youth service? Is he aware that the Council of Local Education Authorities has advised us that the funding of the youth service is a continuing problem, as LEA grant settlements become less and less adequate? For an LEA with a priority in the area of teachers' pay--which is one of the first priorities--discretionary grants come much lower down the agenda. For that reason, I fear, the youth service advises us on this side of the House that it currently faces a severe crisis, particularly in London.

Lord Henley: My Lords, I am interested in that further commitment to spending from the party opposite. I dare say that the noble Baroness has checked it with the Shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer. I believe I can say that her party will probably spend the money it plans to raise from raiding the privatised utilities not 10 times but 11 times over.

We make considerable sums available to local education authorities for education. It is then up to those authorities to decide on their priorities. We increased the SSA for education by nearly £1 billion this year. It is therefore for the local education authorities to decide on their priorities. I do not believe that the party opposite would like me to start telling its members exactly how they should spend the money.

Lord Howell: My Lords, is the Minister aware that one cannot escape spending money? As a result of the Government not providing facilities, there is the cost of delinquency and hooliganism in our society which cannot be lost. It must be met by police committees and by the Government themselves. When the Minister makes such statements, will he please discuss the finely judged balance between the cost of providing youth facilities and the cost when the Government fail to provide such facilities?

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Lord Henley: My Lords, what the noble Lord said is simply nonsense. We are not failing to provide resources for the youth service. We provide money through the educational side of the standard spending assessment for local authorities. It is up to them to decide on the appropriate priorities, and they do so, because spending has remained broadly the same throughout the United Kingdom and throughout England over the past few years.

Female Offenders: Non-custodial Sentences

2.53 p.m.

Lord Hylton asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they will issue guidance intended to reduce to a minimum the imprisonment of women responsible for the care of young children and to encourage the use of non-custodial sentences.

The Lord Chancellor (Lord Mackay of Clashfern): My Lords, within the limits laid down by Parliament, it is for judges and magistrates to decide what sentence to impose. It would not be appropriate for the Government to give them any guidance on this. However, I know that judges and magistrates take account of the circumstances of the offender as well as the offence when considering the most appropriate sentence available to them. I am also aware that the Magistrates' Association is currently revising its guidance to magistrates on sentencing.

Lord Hylton: My Lords, the noble and learned Lord is well known for his care for the interests of children. Does he agree that the number of women in prison in the last three or four years has risen twice as fast as the number of men and that approximately half the women have dependent children? Does that not indicate a real need for more guidance than is currently available to magistrates' and other courts?

The Lord Chancellor: My Lords, I am concerned about the issues which the noble Lord raised. My understanding is that the pattern of sentencing for women, to which the noble Lord referred, is related to the nature of the crimes in respect of which women are sentenced. I am told that between 1991 and 1995 the numbers of women sentenced for violence against the person, robbery and drug offences rose by 46 per cent., 128 per cent. and 41 per cent. respectively. So it is not surprising that there should be some, perhaps not immediately corresponding increase, but an increase in the sentences of imprisonment.

Lord Irvine of Lairg: My Lords, will the noble and learned Lord confirm that in a recent case where a husband and wife had both been imprisoned because both had falsely claimed that she had been driving when he was the driver, the Court of Appeal, in quashing her prison sentence, emphasised that the courts are always reluctant to send the mother of young children to prison? Is the noble and learned Lord also aware that there is a disquieting number of cases throughout the country in which women who are responsible for the care of young

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children are being imprisoned because they are fine defaulters? That is happening to the great prejudice of the children. Will the noble and learned Lord take the opportunity of the Question to emphasise to the magistrates' courts that imprisonment must be regarded as a punishment of last resort and that responsibility for the care of young children is a major factor telling against a sentence of imprisonment?

The Lord Chancellor: My Lords, on the first matter, I confirm from my recollection what the noble Lord said about the case. On the second part of the question, it needs to be clear that imprisonment for fine default is in the nature of a last resort. The higher courts, the Divisional Court in particular, have emphasised the point to magistrates. That would be more appropriate than my doing so from this position. I do it, therefore, by reference to a quotation from the judgment in the Divisional Court of Lord Justice Simon Brown in the case of Cawley in November last year. It is not related particularly to women but generally to fine default. He said:

    "Of course there are occasions when detention is called for when the defaulter is cocking a snook at the enforcement system and this ultimate sanction is necessary to underpin it. But it really must be a last resort".

Baroness Williams of Crosby: My Lords, I accept what the noble and learned Lord said about the rise in serious offences among women, although he will agree that the numbers involved in the beginning were relatively small. However, perhaps I may press him further on fine defaulters. I believe he will confirm that quite a few cases of judicial review have set aside the decisions of magistrates' courts to send fine defaulters to prison. Given that prison costs £500 a week per person, and that many fine defaulters are inside for relatively tiny financial debts, could the noble and learned Lord consider any way in which he could draw the attention of magistrates' courts to the decisions of higher courts in many cases?

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