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House of Lords

Tuesday, 2nd May 2000.

Reassembling after the Easter Recess, the House met at half-past two of the clock: The CHAIRMAN OF COMMITTEES on the Woolsack.

Prayers--Read by the Lord Bishop of Bradford.

Lord Gueterbock

Anthony Fitzhardinge Lord Berkeley, having been created Baron Gueterbock, of Cranford in the London Borough of Hillingdon, for life, took the oath.

Lord Lyttelton of Aldershot

Thomas Orlando Viscount Chandos, having been created Baron Lyttelton of Aldershot, of Aldershot in the County of Hampshire, for life, made the solemn affirmation.

Tiger Conservation

2.37 p.m.

Lord Hardy of Wath asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What action they are taking in the international community to ensure the survival of the tiger both in India and in Sumatra.

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: My Lords, last year the Deputy Prime Minister announced government funding of £50,000 for tiger conservation which went to projects in India to support direct action against poaching and illegal trade in tigers, and to Indonesia to help to save the Sumatran tiger. We plan to match this in the coming year in support of tiger conservation projects, bringing spending on tigers over three years to over £150,000.

Lord Hardy of Wath: My Lords, I thank my noble friend the Minister for that reply which appears to confirm that the Government remain in strong support of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species. However, will the Government join in efforts to persuade the governments of Asian countries to advise their populations that tiger parts have no value as aphrodisiacs?

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: My Lords, this January the United Kingdom became the first non-range state to join the Indian-based Global Tiger Forum. We hope that this will encourage other countries to join. As chair of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species Standing Committee, the UK earlier this year led high-level missions to tiger-range and consumer countries. My noble friend may be pleased to hear that through DNA testing it is now possible to trace where tiger parts have

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been used illicitly. My noble friend will, of course, be aware that those who may in the past have felt the need to rely on tiger parts may now in certain circumstances benefit from Viagra prescribed through the National Health Service.

Baroness Gardner of Parkes: My Lords, have any of the tigers in the areas we are discussing been bred in captivity? I have read that tigers from zoos in certain countries have been reintroduced into the wild. Has the UK been involved in any such project?

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: My Lords, London Zoo is involved in such a project. We seek to do everything we can to help in this matter. At best, between 5,000 and 7,000 tigers remain in the wild, of which between 2,000 and 3,000 are in India. Any appropriate tiger project will receive government support.

Prisons: Female Population

2.40 p.m.

Lord Hurd of Westwell asked Her Majesty's Government:

    How many women were in prison in England and Wales in March 1996; how many in March 2000; and what plans they have to forestall a further increase.

Lord Bach: My Lords, in March 1996 the number of women in prison in England and Wales was 2,120. In March 2000 the figure was 3,392. The size of the female prison population depends on the individual sentencing decisions of the courts, in which the Government cannot, of course, intervene. However, the Government take seriously the needs of women in the criminal justice system, and keep them under review in the context of sentencing policy and when considering new initiatives.

Lord Hurd of Westwell: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply, but is not this a thoroughly dismal increase? Does he agree that there is something particularly sad and destructive about a women's prison with its air of families destroyed and children abandoned? Instead of spending millions of pounds on two new prisons for women which are planned for England and Wales, will the Government look again at this whole subject in the light of the fresh ideas set out in Professor Wedderburn's recent report and focus in particular on the possibility of devising effective means of punishment outside prison which would avoid some of these disastrous consequences?

Lord Bach: My Lords, we welcome the Prison Reform Trust's report, Justice for Women and the Need for Reform as a major contribution to the thinking on the treatment of women in the criminal justice system. As the noble Lord will know, the Prison Service and

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the Home Office supplied the trust inquiry with data about women in the criminal justice system and information on regimes in prison.

The noble Lord will know, too, that a working group has been established to develop a strategy in regard to the treatment of women in prison which will provide an opportunity for wide consultation on this issue. Its next meeting will be on the 15th of this month.

The serious recommendations made in the report will be considered extremely carefully by the Government. The noble Lord would not expect me at this stage--it being less than a month since the report was first published--to say which proposals may or may not be accepted. The noble Lord's record in this field is extremely well known and his remarks are taken very seriously.

Baroness Masham of Ilton: My Lords, how many girls under the age of 17--particularly 15 and 16 year-olds--are still in prison? Does not the Minister agree that they would be better off in full-time education rather than learning more criminal skills before they come out of prison?

Lord Bach: My Lords, I cannot give the noble Baroness the exact figure. She will know that at present females under the age of 18 are held in a number of young offenders' institutions. But, under the detention and training order, from April of this year we have begun to place them in non-Prison Service accommodation. That is a step which I believe the noble Baroness and the whole House will consider to be progress.

Lord Dholakia: My Lords, does the Minister accept that the proportion of women with no or few previous convictions who are sentenced to imprisonment is higher than for men in similar situations? Does he further accept that most women do not commit serious violent crimes and that more than 8,000 children are affected by the number of women in prison today? Will he look back at the 1991 report of the Probation Inspectorate which stated that women would benefit more from intensive probation and community service orders rather than imprisonment?

Lord Bach: My Lords, it is important that we bear in mind that sentencing women to prison presents particular problems, largely to do with children. A large proportion of women sentenced to prison are the mothers of often very young children, so the noble Lord makes a good point. However, there are offences that women commit, alas, which are dangerous to the public, even if they are not violent offences. For example, a large part of the increase in the offences for which women are sent to prison is connected with drugs. That does not mean possession of drugs but the selling of drugs, dealing in drugs and, sometimes, the importation of drugs. There can often be some mitigation for women--they can, for instance, be

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under pressure from male partners--but these are serious offences which are a danger to other women and to other people in general.

The Lord Bishop of Bradford: My Lords, is the Minister aware of the excellent report published last summer by the Catholic Agency for Social Concern, with the support of the Church of England and other Churches? Does he agree that ensuring the best possible care for the children of mothers serving custodial sentences should be firmly on the Government's agenda, as recommended by the report? Does he further agree that sometimes there are unsatisfactory arrangements for the children of women in prison, partly because the mothers do not think they will receive a custodial sentence and do not make any provision for them? Would it not be a good idea to look at the Dutch proposal for deferring sentence for a few days to ensure that proper care is in place?

Lord Bach: My Lords, the answer to all the right reverend Prelate's comments is "Yes". These are all matters that need to be looked at seriously and with speed. As I said, there are particular problems involved in sending women into custody which revolve around children. The children of course suffer--but sometimes the courts are left with no alternative.

The Earl of Longford: My Lords, does the Minister agree that the Government cannot absolve themselves of all responsibility for the level of sentencing, whether of women or of men? In the era of the former Home Secretary, Michael Howard, the prison population went up by 50 per cent in four years because of his pronouncement that prison works. Will the Minister look again at his answer that the Government are not accepting responsibility for the level of imprisonment of women or of men?

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