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The Earl of Longford: My Lords, I rise again to offer my strong support for the amendment. It would help the Home Secretary in his all-important task of re-educating the public in penal affairs. We are all aware that the Home Secretary is a high-minded man and a Christian democratic--even a Christian socialist--and is afflicted with an appalling dilemma which will haunt him for the period of his much valued stewardship. Is he going to do what is right, or what is popular? We have been told by a famous man, the late Lord Butler, that politics is the art of the possible; but a famous poet, Crosland--nothing to do, I believe, with our much-lamented Secretary of State--once said,
There is a problem for the Home Secretary. He must know what is right--of course he knows what is right. He knows that the present policy, adopted by the previous government in their last fatal phase, is wrong. But of course, his duty is to maintain what is called the confidence of the public. We had a very impressive debate in this House. Apart from those who were instructed elsewhere, everyone agreed that the present policy is wrong--the policy adopted from our friends opposite. That was the situation following the debate here.
But what were we told by the noble Lord, Lord Baker? He told us that it would have been difficult to imagine such a debate in the House of Commons. He said that on such an occasion Labour MPs would have found it difficult to criticise their own Government, and Conservative MPs would not wish to appear soft on crime. Therefore, there is presently a conflict between the two Houses. It is not the traditional conflict of a lot of reactionary old landowners against enlightened young people in the other place. Rather, it is knowledge against ignorance. That is the present situation between the two Houses.
What shall we do about it? We have a Home Secretary to whom we wish everything good, since he is a good Christian Socialist and a high-minded man. What is he going to do during his few years in office? He does not want to go down in history as a man who made no effort at all to deal with the situation. Being a Christian, no doubt he will go back to St. Augustine, who told us that we must hate the sin and love the sinner. That is very difficult to carry out, particularly when we are all moved by the sufferings of the victims and their relatives.
What is he to do about it? He has that terrible problem. It is not made any easier by the Sun newspaper, which is read by millions of people every day, including myself, although not many other noble Lords. The Sun, writing about certain paedophiles, referred to them as "such hyenas", and said that they have no rights. That is what millions of people are being taught--that certain human beings have no rights and therefore we can "give them hell". That is the teaching.
What happens as a result? I visit a prisoner regularly. He told me that in a cell close to his he heard the sudden noise of a chair dropping to the floor. The prisoner, a sex offender, was committing suicide because he was to shortly leave prison and would have to face the hatred inspired by the Sun newspaper and other tabloids. That is the situation.
I do not say that there is an easy solution. Most of us, when faced with serious crime, are horrified, shocked and revolted. It is very difficult indeed to strike the perfect balance indicated by St. Augustine. However, we look to the Home Secretary, a high-minded man, to do his best. He recognises his responsibilities. This amendment will help him, and he will be assisted by a group of powerful advisers, who I hope will command great public confidence. They will help him to do his Christian duty.
Lord Thomas of Gresford: My Lords, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Ackner, used three words to describe the approach of an advisory council. It would consider the issues that arise in relation to the criminal justice system, "dispassionately, authoritatively and constructively".
Perhaps I may take each of those words separately; first, the word "dispassionately". It must surely be obvious that the debate about the criminal justice system over the past five or six years has been marred by "adversarial squabbling", to adopt a phrase from the noble Lord, Lord Hurd, between the political parties at a time when all the parties are concerned about the rise in crime and what to do about it. One would have hoped for a constructive consensus that would receive the support of all parties which considered those issues seriously.
The next word is "authoritatively". The Home Secretary, in a letter to the Lord Chief Justice, referred to a number of agencies, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Ackner, set out those agencies. I shall refer to just two of them. The Criminal Justice Consultative Council sounds a very important body. It is chaired by the vice-president, Lord Justice Rose, who is a person of great distinction. I have no doubt that the council does extremely valuable work. However, if one reads its latest newsletter, published in February 1998, what comes across strongly is that it is a body which responds to issues that are brought to it. For example, the main heading in the newsletter refers to the publication by the Home Secretary of the first report on ethnic monitoring by the police. Indeed, a Home Office research study, Ethnic monitoring in police forces, was brought to the Criminal Justice Consultative Council for it to consider, which it undoubtedly did. It said what a good paper it was and the item in the newsletter ends in these terms:
At a national criminal justice conference, that same body was addressed by a number of people and there was discussion about the serious conflict of interest between confidentiality and the sharing of information. It was concerned with the definition of "dangerousness", a matter which arises from time to time in discussion on the criminal justice system.
The Trials Issues Group, the second body referred to by the Home Secretary, also produced a newsletter in February 1998 concerned with the standard of witness care, prosecuting minor road traffic cases, joint performance management between the CPS and the police and a manual of guidance for the preparation, processing and submission of files which the police provide to the CPS. I am sure that that is extremely valuable work; however, it does not add anything at all to the consideration of criminal justice policy, which is the purpose behind the council as suggested by the noble and learned Lord.
Finally, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Ackner, used the word "constructively". It is a fact that an impossible situation is arising in the prisons which is bound to erupt in danger and violence. The Government do not really seem to appreciate that. As the noble and learned Lord said, it is not possible to have the equivalent of Dartmoor built every five weeks to house the projected increase in the prison population.
As the noble and learned Lord said--and I support this to the hilt--the public and the media have been led astray over the past four or five years. They have to be re-educated and they have to consider the cost as opposed to the result--in other words, how much they are paying and what are the re-offending rates. They must consider keeping people out of prison and encourage them to become constructive citizens for the future. "Constructively" is the word that I would endorse. We are indeed discussing a council which could pool together all the strands and take out of politics, and out of the adversarial squabbling, these very important issues which will give rise to trouble in the future. I support the amendment.
Lord Henley: My Lords, I rise briefly and with some trepidation to speak again on the amendment. I say, "trepidation", because when I spoke to the amendment on the last occasion, as the noble and learned Lord, Lord Ackner, reminded the House, I was the only one
I suspect that I achieved relatively little when I spoke on the last occasion. Indeed, all that I seemed to achieve was to inspire the noble Baroness, Lady David, to come out in support of the amendment. I imagine that she is still in support of it and that she will be siding with the noble and learned Lord when he presses the amendment to a Division. However, that is obviously a matter for the noble Baroness, and for her alone.
The noble and learned Lord very kindly reviewed my arguments and I have no complaint about the manner in which he did so. I have to say that they have not changed and I shall not, therefore, repeat them today. However, the noble and learned Lord seemed to imply that I had overlooked the advisory nature of the standing council that he suggests. I have to tell the noble and learned Lord that I did not overlook the advisory nature of the council. I believe that that was something which I dealt with in response to my noble friend Lord Renton. I made it quite clear that, from my own experience, "advisory" could be interpreted in a number of different ways. Indeed, some Ministers could find themselves more bound by an advisory body than the noble and learned Lord seemed to imply. Certainly the constraints that he is hoping to impose on Ministers by taking these matters, as he puts it, out of party politics--that is, out of adversarial politics--would seem to suggest that he is hoping that such a committee could be a constraint on a Home Secretary and one who is, after all, responsible to Parliament.
As I said, I spoke against the amendment on that occasion and I do so again now. We shall of course listen most carefully to what the Government say in response. I must make it quite clear that I cannot offer my support to the noble and learned Lord in his amendment. However, I believe that it is a matter for the Government to make their case as to why they oppose it. Certainly we on these Benches--or, perhaps I should say, I myself--will not be supporting the amendment; nor will we be supporting the Government in the Division Lobby.
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