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Lord Lloyd of Berwick: The sentencing advisory panel proposed in Clause 67 of the Bill is welcome. It will have two effects. First, it will provide consistency and stability in the sentencing area. Secondly, it will have the effect of removing the political influence on sentencing which, regrettably, has been so apparent since just before the general election.

The amendment proposed by my noble and learned friend Lord Ackner will extend that principle to the whole realm of criminal justice in this country. For that reason, I lend my wholehearted support to the amendment. It will have the result of producing stability over the criminal justice system, as the advisory panel will in sentencing. It will, one hopes, remove once and for all from the realm of criminal justice the urge of the political say. I can see no disadvantages in the amendment and, with any luck, it will provide enormous advantages to our system of criminal justice.

Lord Merlyn-Rees: I support the general tenor of the amendment tabled by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Ackner, and notable others. I want to support it completely, but there is, I suggest, a different direction in which the proposal might go.

I still visit prisons. I am a vice-president of the Butler Trust, which was formed in honour of a great Home Secretary, whom I admired greatly. We operate in prisons and we reward what is done in prisons. I should tell the Committee that an enormous amount of good work is done in prisons. We know the bad things that go on in the prisons because we see them reported in the press. But a great deal of good work is done not only by prison officers but by civilians of all kinds. Their work is rewarded. I am a trustee of NACRO and of APEX. I keep in touch with the prisons, although I am no longer heavily involved.

In the work I have done as a politician, my involvement in prisons as Northern Ireland Secretary was greater than it was as Home Secretary. I speak on the basis of that experience. The old Advisory Council on the Penal System was extremely valuable. Sir Louis Blom-Cooper, who was a member of the ACPS from 1966 to 1978, commented in the Guardian on 2nd July 1997 that it,

The Library provided me with a list with some of the ACPS's selected reports. The noble Lord, Lord Carlisle, has a similar list. They include: The regime for long-term prisoners in conditions of maximum security; Detention centres; Reparation by the offender; The length of prison sentences: interim report; Powers of the court dependent on imprisonment; Sentences of imprisonment: a review of

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maximum penalties--history repeats itself. In a pamphlet published by the Prison Reform Trust, Sir Louis Blom-Cooper and Sean McConville concluded:

    "However helpful the ACPS was (and it issued some indifferent reports, as well as some outstanding ones) it ... was not intended to provide the authoritative overview [that a Royal Commission could provide]".

My query is whether the resuscitation of this body will provide the overview that is required, copying the Gladstone Report of 103 years ago. I suggest that we need something that takes the overview far more than the ACPS could have done.

The pamphlet published by the Prison Reform Trust states:

    "The case for a Royal Commission is compelling".

It must be broad in its terms of reference, not the individual selective reports on particular issues to advise the Home Secretary, or the Northern Ireland Secretary, or whoever it might be. As was pointed out by the noble Lord, Lord Hurd, it is then up to the Home Secretary or the Northern Ireland Secretary whether to accept the advice. The overview should be provided by a different body from the ACPS. The pamphlet goes on:

    "It is quite impossible to bring any sense to penal policy without analysing how offenders are sentenced, and equally impossible to understand that without considering how offenders are selected for the criminal process by policing resources and priorities".

These are some of the general inquiries that might be carried out: the principal causes of changes in rates of offending; effective means of reducing certain crimes; maximising public benefits in repressing crime; the role of the police and prosecution; what punishment can and cannot achieve.

My query is whether a repeat of the old organisation is the right way to do what the noble and learned Lord, Lord Ackner, and his noble friends have been putting to the Committee. We need the broad view of what is happening in society; how it is changing; the crime in schools and the crime in inner cities. I represented an inner city area of a great northern city. Inner city crime is something unto itself. It is unnoted by many people because the middle classes do not live there. The teachers and the doctors come in like missionaries every day. An authoritative report on inner city crime would be extremely valuable as a general view of what is happening to society.

I support the amendment but I believe that we should give this matter a little more thought. To me, the old organisation worked at one time. I found that very valuable. But that was for one purpose. We should have a Royal Commission or something like it and resuscitate the old organisation. I support the noble and learned Lord, Lord Ackner, in his amendment.

Lord Mayhew of Twysden: I should like briefly to endorse what the noble Earl, Lord Longford, said, that this amendment is likely to help the Home Secretary. I would add that it would be likely to help all succeeding Home Secretaries.

The trouble with the great issues of crime and punishment with which the amendment, the Bill and the Committee are wrestling is that they attract powerful

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opinions which derive from prejudices and from what are sometimes called instincts. They are seldom faintly held prejudices or instincts. That makes life extremely difficult for Ministers, who are elected by many who hold these prejudices and instincts as well as others and who also have to face party conferences and form and shape their party's policies.

Some excellent phrases have been uttered in this short debate. The one on which I fasten is that uttered by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Bingham, "a reservoir of wise, informed, objective and non-partisan advice". That was echoed by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Ackner, "dispassionately, authoritatively and constructively" advising. It is not just Ministers who find life very difficult by reason of the very strong feelings--sometimes pejoratively called "instincts and prejudices"--which spring up from these great questions. Judges, too, have to exercise whatever discretion is allowed them. Does that not contract and expand according to the fashions of the politics of the day that Ministers and Parliament have given them?

I believe that if there were to be a council of this character it would--by reason of what that reservoir would contain--help to inform the public in a way which is lacking at the moment. It would also inform Ministers which would be of great help to them and to Parliament. The function of a reservoir, of course, is to be drawn on. I hope that it will be drawn on if we create this reservoir as I very much hope we shall.

6 p.m.

Lord Lowry: I promise to be brief. I speak as a former Lord Chief Justice in a much smaller jurisdiction. In that capacity I was not entirely unacquainted with politics. There was one important issue which I need not discuss, but which could easily have become a political football. On that issue I counted myself fortunate to enjoy the support of two Prime Ministers, two Lord Chancellors, a succession of dedicated law officers, one of whom has just sat down, and at least two Secretaries of State, one of whom has just addressed the Committee.

But it is not primarily from Northern Ireland that I draw the inspiration to support this amendment. My view is based on what, in recent years, has been said and done in this jurisdiction. The Committee has heard examples and I shall not repeat them. The Committee has also heard the noble Lords, Lord Carlisle, Lord Hurd and Lord Mayhew, who speak from experience and, in my respectful view, they speak wisely. Whatever precise solution is adopted, a way must be found to remove from the party political sphere the kinds of issues, examples of which have been given to the Committee. I say "party political" because the issues mentioned will often merit vigorous debate in this House and in the other place and will remain proper political issues in that sense. I support the amendment.

Lord Elton: After hearing from so many who carry so much more seniority that I do, I hope that it is not an impertinence if I join in a debate which I had no

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intention of joining until I came into the Chamber and discovered that the Committee was discussing something about which I feel with such passion.

For three years I was the Minister responsible for the Prison Service, although at a more junior level than that of other noble friends who have spoken and therefore, possibly, a little bit closer to the workface. I visited a great many prisons. The noble Earl, Lord Longford, must be right. Something must be wrong with a system which allows the current rate of growth in the prison population to persist. It cannot be right. The arguments that I used to advance as long ago as 1985 for the reason that our prison population compared so ill with those of other European countries, cannot survive in the face of the growth that has taken place since then.

Our prisons are filled with people, most of them young by the Committee's standards. As regards the millions of crimes committed by people under the age of 25 years, if Members of the Committee look at the report of the Audit Commission of November 1996--and I speak from memory and therefore subject to correction--one will find that only about 2.5 per cent. of all those criminals actually received any corrective treatment whatsoever even including the police caution. Yet those who are corrected cost a staggering amount. The effect on young people who go to prison is not rehabilitative. I wonder whether the aim of rehabilitation has been almost lost sight of by the Prison Service in the face of the weight of numbers now pressing within the cell doors.

But those people are put there for containment and punishment. That is unproductive, but produces hardened, more expert and more frequently offending criminals. They push up the statistics. That moves me. It is a tragedy because most of the people in prison need never have been there if they had received the right treatment in their early days.

All of us start more or less level. It is our experience, the way in which we exploit it and the way we are guided which decides whether we are to become criminals whether of the fraudulent, well-heeled sort of the City or of the ill-shaven, thuggish sort of the back streets. Children do not become criminals by chance but because of the effect on them of events and the failure of adults to guide them away from criminality, usually through a lack of love.

It is late. I had not intended to speak at all. Any amendment which takes the decision on imprisonment in particular out of the political forum, as my noble friend Lord Hurd said, must have my support. I beg the Minister to give it his.

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