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The Earl of Longford: My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for that personal achievement.

Lord Henley: My Lords, it was nothing to do with me, but with the coincidence of time.

I put that example forward merely as a warning to the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn, who will no doubt be answering many more such Unstarred Questions, of what he will have to expect over the coming years. Indeed, the noble Lord is already experienced in these matters. We had a similar debate only last Thursday when he was asked, following the Statement made on 30th July in another place, about Her Majesty's Government's proposals for the criminal justice system in England and Wales. On that occasion, my noble friend Lady Anelay spoke from these Benches; tonight it is my turn. One hopes that the noble Lord's simple answer to the Question is that, broadly speaking and bearing in mind our Christian traditions, our penal policy, which is a major part of our criminal justice system, is broadly based on Christian and, dare I say it, humanist values. I speak with less qualification with regard to the latter. I believe that that was true of the basis of the policies that we pursued when we were in government until 1st May and I trust that it will be true of the values pursued by the current Government.

I turn now to the question of finding a precise definition of a "Christian" penal policy. I say "Christian" rather than "humanist" because I do not precisely know what a "humanist" penal policy might comprise. Speaking as a Christian, it is clear that the definition of such a policy might vary considerably from speaker to speaker. I am grateful that we have heard tonight from such a range of different speakers, including the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Oxford.

I think that the noble Earl would agree that there are certain absolute values--values that do not change over the years, to which I hope that we remain constant and to which we hope that our children will remain constant, just as our fathers and their forefathers were constant to them. However, I am sure that the noble Earl would be the first to agree that it is undeniable that views have changed over the centuries and that what were regarded as acceptable punishments in one era--and sometimes even seen as good, honest, Christian punishments, even being accepted by the Church--have now been abandoned because we have changed our minds about what is acceptable. I remind the right reverend Prelate that we no longer burn heretics. I am sure that he is well aware of that fact and considers it to be a move in the right direction. Indeed, we no longer burn witches although I understand that that was not so much a matter of punishment as an action in pursuit of evidence and

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that if the "witch" survived the drowning, she would be burned. We have moved on from the stocks, whipping and branding and, dare I say this from these Benches, we have moved on from hanging for virtually every crime except, as I understand it, for burning the Queen's dockyards. All of those punishments have gone and I think that there is genuine consensus that most of them should have gone. I understand, however, that that is not always necessarily true with regard to hanging and capital punishment and that many people in this country and beyond hold other views, but tonight is not the occasion to embark on a debate about capital punishment. I merely make the point in order to outline the fact that our views about what is acceptable change from era to era.

I should now like to comment on one or two of the points that have been made. I shall try to keep my remarks fairly short so that the noble Lord, Lord Williams, has sufficient time to respond. First, the noble Earl attacked the concept that "prison works". He referred to the vast increase in the numbers held in prison, as did the noble Lord, Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank. I accept that there has been an increase and that it is largely because many now go to prison for longer periods. I also accept that over the years there has been a steady rise in the number of crimes being committed--that is, until four or five years ago when we began to see a decline in the number of recorded crimes. One must ask whether the fact that some people stay in prison longer is making a difference to the crime figures because they are unable to commit crimes by virtue of being locked up.

The second point to which I should like briefly to refer was addressed first by my noble friend Lord Brentford and then by the right reverend Prelate. I refer to the idea that the offender often does not realise the effect of his crime on the victim. My noble friend referred to a report which I also saw in The Times about two weeks ago. I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Williams, will be aware of it. It referred to a pilot scheme in the Thames Valley. His right honourable friend has made much of its effects. All that I have seen so far is that report in The Times and I am sure that like myself my noble friend Lord Brentford and others would like to hear a great deal more about it. Exactly what sort of offenders are involved? What sort of offences were committed? How does the scheme work? In what way are the victims being involved? Bearing in mind the time constraints on the noble Lord, Lord Williams, I do not expect to be given a detailed answer tonight--I see the noble Lord nodding his head in some relief--but I ask him, if possible, to make available to us a paper from his officials about exactly what effect the scheme has had. Many of us would like to know more about it.

My third point relates to the question of drugs, to which the right reverend Prelate referred. He made the simple point that dependency on drugs leads to crime. I accept that. The right reverend Prelate said that he would like to see a greater move away from enforcement and towards education. I would welcome that. We have heard that there is to be a new drugs

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co-ordinator who, for some odd reason and absorbing something from across the Atlantic, is to be called the "drugs czar". However, the messages coming out of the Government are distinctly confused at the moment and the matter needs to be addressed. We have heard that, on the one hand, the Government want to appoint the so-called "drugs czar" to deal with the problem, but at the same time--this is deeply to be regretted--we have heard that leading role models for young people, people who have positively advocated the use of drugs, have still been invited to receptions at No. 10. The appointment of a drugs czar, on the one hand, and the issuing of such invitations, on the other hand, send out a very mixed message to a great many people. I believe that perhaps the Prime Minister himself should address that point.

I should now like to return briefly to some of the issues relating to penal policy which were addressed by my noble friend Lady Anelay last Thursday. Obviously, we are grateful that the Government have agreed to implement part of the mandatory minimum sentencing provisions of our Crime (Sentences) Act, particularly for third-time serious sexual and violent criminals and those convicted of drug trafficking. We would also like to see some movement on third-time domestic burglars. I suppose that we live in hope. Nevertheless, can the noble Lord address my noble friend's direct questions and tell us whether the Government will implement those proposals when the resources are available and when he thinks that that will be?

Secondly, I was left in some degree of confusion by some of the noble Lord's responses last week. I wonder whether he can clear up that confusion following his attempts to deal with my noble friend's question relating to 12 year-olds who can be locked up on remand awaiting trial for offences for which, if found guilty, they cannot then serve a period in custody. What is the answer to that? I was confused by the Minister's responses, which started at col. 872 of last Thursday's Hansard, and would be grateful for some light in that area. Again, I should be more than happy if the noble Lord were to write to me on that issue.

In due course we are to have a major crime and disorder Bill. I give the noble Lord due assurance that this House will examine the Bill in great detail. I imagine that when the Bill goes through this House the Benches on all sides will be considerably fuller than they are tonight. I look forward to that examination.

I end by putting to the noble Lord a question that I am not sure he can answer. One hears that that Bill is likely to be introduced some time in November. Is the noble Lord aware at this stage whether it will be introduced first in this House or whether it will start its passage in another place?

8.40 p.m.

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lord Longford for this debate. He is right to question and continually review the basis of our policies. I believe that the Government's policies as they develop are firmly rooted in the established deep values, of whatever origin, that lie at the heart of a civilised

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society, identified, in words with which I entirely agree, by my noble friend Lord Judd. Crime is not the infringement of impersonal law. It is an offence against other individuals and the community at large. Often it blights communities and wrecks lives. We believe that to look to the criminal justice system to protect and nurture our fellow human beings and their quality of life is of itself a moral basis for penal policy.

My noble friend Lord Judd and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Oxford spoke of values. We believe that fairness is one of the most important. We therefore intend to continue to develop monitoring arrangements across the penal system to ensure that there is no discrimination on any improper grounds. Furthermore, we intend to publish information to ensure that the system is seen to be fair. No more will there be any secret statistics. In December we intend to publish the results of the first year of ethnic monitoring of police activity. It is extremely important that the material be gathered and just as important that it be published.

The noble Lord, Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank, is quite right. As of last Friday there were 63,174 people in prison, which is the highest figure recorded. The noble Lord asked me about projections for the coming year. Those projections are being constantly re-examined and assessed. I have no more definite figure than that, but as soon as it becomes available I shall write to the noble Lord.

Simply to try to tackle crime and to treat people on the same basis of fairness is not enough. We are eager to defend the rights to freedom from arbitrary arrest and detention, to a fair trial and not to be subjected to torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. Our penal policy is not one solely of retribution. A question was raised about the determination of the Home Secretary. It is he who has played such a significant part in bringing forward the White Paper on the incorporation of the European Convention on Human Rights and in the drafting of the Bill which has recently had its First Reading in your Lordships' House. The Home Secretary is determined to do what he believes to be right, which does not include bowing to the temporary pressure of any particular interest group. I believe that he has the capacity and ability to be a great Home Secretary.

My noble friend Lord Longford, in his gentle way, invited me not to duck or postpone. I hope therefore to follow his injunction. I believe that of all noble Lords he is entitled to have stated unambiguously in his presence that the Government's strategy is not based solely on prison. There will be some for whom prison is the only appropriate response. Prison is an expensive form of punishment that may not be the best or most effective option for less serious offenders whose crimes can be adequately punished by fines, community penalties or other alternatives. We want to give the courts the opportunity of imposing a range of tough community punishments that are not only effective but in which both they and the public generally can have confidence. We want penalties that work in terms of both reducing reoffending and reassuring the public.

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For some people, prison is inevitable. However, when its use is required it should not be wholly punitive and negative. We want to provide constructive regimes for prisoners to ensure that they confront their offending behaviour. I should like to slot in at this point my response to the request of the noble Lord, Lord Henley. As soon as the full report is to hand I shall send it to him and other noble Lords who have expressed interest in this matter. I shall return to that in a moment in a rather fuller form.

We want to determine whether or not prison can offer constructive regimes. The Prison Service--I pay tribute to those who work in it--has enormous pressures. The current level of overcrowding undoubtedly reduces the quality of prison regimes. We have provided another £43 million for this year and next. I recognise that that is only a first step. We have national programmes to determine whether or not reoffending can be reduced. The sex offender treatment programme compels the relevant offender to recognise that his behaviour is wrong and teaches techniques to control relapse back into offending. The cognitive skills programme deals with the self-centred and impulsive way in which offenders make decisions. It attempts to teach them skills that they lack. We are developing a third programme targeted at violent offenders. Furthermore, developments that we have in mind--I hope that this is of reassurance and interest to, and has the support of, my noble friend Lord Longford--include specially designed programmes for women prisoners and integrated regimes for all prisoners which relate offending behaviour programmes to their day-to-day experience.

I echo the words of my noble friend Lord Plant. To focus solely on retribution denies the humanity and dignity of both offenders and victims. We believe that punishment is a moral necessity to signal society's disapproval, but that is a component and not the entirety. I agree with those noble Lords who have said that we must focus on changing the behaviour of offenders. That is particularly so with young offenders whose offences account for a quarter of all crime in this country. We have to do a good deal more than we have done in the past. We must be much more positive in dealing with youth crime and drug offending, as I mentioned a few days ago.

I agree with your Lordships that much anti-social behaviour and petty offending is born of selfishness, thoughtlessness and boredom. Often young offenders do not appreciate the effect of their behaviour. We want to make young people accept their responsibility, understand the harm that they have done and focus their minds and hearts on the fact that they cannot behave irresponsibly forever.

The Thames Valley Project is an example of the Government's strategy for tackling youth crime. The reparation order to be introduced in the Crime and Disorder Bill is designed by the Home Secretary deliberately to make young offenders see close up the effect of their acts on others so that they can learn a lesson from experience and be less inclined to act thoughtlessly in future. The Thames Valley project is simply an example of what the Home Secretary has in

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mind. We believe that the reparation order can be an extremely fruitful weapon that will have your Lordships' support in due time.

We are particularly concerned about the family and the quality of relationships between parents and children. The level of parental supervision has led us to the conclusion that courts must have the opportunity to make a parenting order. Parents need assistance, support, guidance, and possibly direction sometimes, to provide effective supervision of their children.

We are replacing cautioning which has become wholly abused with a statutory final warning scheme. Young people who have a final warning will be referred as of necessity and direction to a youth offender team for a programme of intervention to address their offending behaviour with the intention of preventing further crime. There is such a multiplicity of agencies to deal with different aspects of the behaviour of young people that they need to be co-ordinated and brought together.

We know that drug abuse is at the heart of much crime, particularly for young people. That is the purpose of the anti-drugs co-ordinator, Mr. Hellawell, the chief constable. That is why we wish to have a drug testing and treatment order in the new crime and disorder Bill. The courts have been powerless to deal with those who are addicted, beyond the short stay that some of them have in penal institutions.

We need welfare to work extended to those who leave prison. Getting and keeping a job is the best means of keeping away from crime. That is why, under welfare to work, all young people leaving prison will have direct access to the new deal for young unemployed, with intensive job search assistance and a guaranteed place on one of the new deal options.

I agree with my noble friend Lord Judd and the noble Lord, Lord Rogers, that unemployment is a significant contributory factor to crime. Those who are excluded from work lack the discipline which everyone wants. They lack the opportunity for self-advancement which everyone needs. They lack, as I said the other day, self-respect and self-regard--two essential tools if they are to avoid crime. That is why we have set up the new social exclusion unit in the Cabinet Office to attend to

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those deep, underlying problems. We will be drawing together welfare to work, educational disadvantage, public health, social housing, youth justice and job creation.

The influence of the family, as I said a moment ago, is critical. It is central in our belief. That is why the Home Secretary is bringing together Ministers from different government departments to take forward the development of policies in support of the family, finding out where the greatest problems arise, examining the effectiveness, coherence, and therefore expense, of existing policies and looking at the best aims and means for the Government to adopt.

I cannot stress too firmly our commitment to the victims. Within six weeks of taking office, in fairly straitened financial times, we increased the annual grant to Victim Support by £1 million. It is now £12.7 million per year.

Delays, to which the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Oxford referred, are a dreadful vice, not just for those who are incarcerated pending trial; they are a monstrous abuse and insult to victims who also remain in a different uncertainty. I endorse his view. We wish to press forward with the victim's charter. Many of its standards of service have been incorporated into the criminal justice system. Performance is being monitored. We believe that victims have a moral right to information. If charges are to be dropped, if cases are to be adjourned, the victims, the complainants, the witnesses, need to be fully informed.

Concern for others is a value shared by many different faiths. Some call themselves humanists, some Christians, some have no formal adoption of any particular religion, philosophical or moral stance. I hope that I have demonstrated briefly how the Government's approach reflects the essence of those values which my noble friend has so ably championed. If my noble friend Lord Longford is asked, on his frequent visits to prison, what the Government intend to do, how will they be different, what changes will we see in the next five to seven years, I hope that I have offered at least one or two acceptable suggestions as to what my noble friend might legitimately say to those who are the victims of crime and those who are the perpetrators of it.

        House adjourned at six minutes before nine o'clock.

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