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Lord Bach: My Lords, I spoke only the truth. Individual sentencing decisions are, and must be, for the courts to decide. My noble friend is right to the extent that governments have a role in setting out the parameters of sentencing policy--this Government will be no different from any previous government--and that what Home Secretaries say and do plays a part in sentencing patterns. But--and this is critical--it is up to the court to decide in each individual case what the appropriate sentence should be.
Lord Avebury: My Lords, further to what the Minister said about the number of women in prison for drug offences as a result of being influenced into offending by partners, does he think that an amendment to the legislation is required so that where a woman is convicted but the court is satisfied that she committed the offence because of the influence of an undesirable or criminal partner, there should be provision for a lower sentence?
Baroness Carnegy of Lour: My Lords, the noble Lord rightly explained that many women are in prison because of dealing in drugs in some way, but many, many more are in prison because of the effect of taking drugs or of drinking too much. For those people, we know perfectly well that prison is neither a disincentive to their behaviour nor a cure. Do not the Government have it in their heart to say that they will come to Parliament with a measure that will lead to fewer people going to prison? They should not shuffle this matter off onto those who carry out the sentencing. It is not good enough simply to say that the Government have a role. Something must happen. The figures are disgraceful. I am very glad that my noble friend has raised the matter.
Lord Bach: My Lords, the Government, too, are glad that this subject has been raised because it is a very important and worrying one. I remind the noble Baroness that under the provisions, which still apply, of the Criminal Justice Act 1991 an offence has to be so serious that only a custodial sentence is appropriate. That is still the law. At the same time, it is right to say that a good deal is going on in terms of rehabilitating drugs offenders, both women and men. But the noble Baroness is quite right to say that a large number of women are in prison first and foremost because they are drug addicts. It is vital that, whether it is inside prison or, it is to be hoped, outside prison, something positive is done about that.
The Lord Bishop of Wakefield: My Lords, is the Minister aware that New Hall prison in Wakefield is designated as an officially overcrowded women's prison? One of the particular problems concerns sanitation. Women are put together in cells which were not designed to be shared. They are locked up for 12 to 14 hours at night and have to share the one lavatory between them, which is unpleasant and degrading. Is the Minister able to give any indication as to whether that can be avoided in the future?
Baroness Blatch: My Lords, is the Minister able to account for the more than 50 per cent increase in women prisoners? Is it that women are committing more crimes or that the crimes they are committing are more serious?
The Minister of State, Department for Education and Employment (Baroness Blackstone): My Lords, we believe that, especially when linked to jobs with employers in a given area, intermediate labour markets have an important role to play in moving long-term unemployed people from welfare into work. We are using intermediate labour markets within the New Deal, and in other programmes, all of which are being, and will continue to be, fully and independently evaluated.
Lord Sheppard of Liverpool: My Lords, I thank my noble friend the Minister for that very encouraging answer. Does she agree that the New Deal is the most determined and serious attempt yet to get third-generation unemployed people into work? Does she agree with me that there are areas where unemployment is still high and where the New Deal will be discredited, as earlier training programmes have been, if programmes such as, for example, the Sheffield intermediate labour market, warmly praised by David Blunkett, are not created and pay a proper wage? Are they to be part of what the 15 new employment zones are to offer?
Baroness Blackstone: My Lords, I am most grateful to my noble friend for his support of the New Deal. It is the most determined and serious attempt to tackle the problems to which he referred. Long-term unemployment is at its lowest for nearly 20 years. While I agree that there are blackspots where unemployment is still high, the spread of unemployment around the country at regional level is relatively even compared with the position in the 1980s. My noble friend mentioned the New Deal intermediate labour market in Sheffield. That provision is certainly helping New Deal participants to gain valuable work experience in a whole range of skills. It will be looked at within the overall evaluation of the New Deal. On my noble friend's final point, I reiterate that local intermediate labour markets will be used in the new employment zones to help those
Baroness Miller of Hendon: My Lords, given that most people taking part in the New Deal are involved with the employment and training sector, does the Minister share my disappointment that, according to the latest figures, only one in 10 of those involved in that sector complete the course and that only 8.5 per cent go on to get full jobs as opposed to going into the other three sectors? Can she say what the Government will do to motivate more of them to take full advantage of the scheme?
Baroness Blackstone: My Lords, I certainly would be very disappointed if the figures given by the noble Baroness were accurate and correct, but I do not believe that that is what the figures show. Around 42 per cent of those who are on the education and training option go into jobs. That is what the statistics collected by the Government indicate. I would accept that even 42 per cent is a lower proportion than should be the case. It is important that we continue to work on evaluating this option and that we provide rather more help to young people with regard to the kind of jobs they can get and how to get them. In other words, it should not be an option that simply provides employment and training; it should provide good guidance and proper preparation for work.
Baroness Blackstone: My Lords, I am happy to check the source but I think that what the noble Baroness is describing is a slightly different figure. I am advised that 42 per cent of those who come through that option find employment. However, I accept what lies behind the noble Baroness's question: that those on the education and raining option have to be given more help and preparation in terms of getting a sustainable job.
Lord Brooke of Alverthorpe: My Lords, on the subject of statistics, can my noble friend the Minister advise us just how much youth employment has fallen since the Government came to power? What further plans and ideas are being considered by the Government to ensure that this trend is maintained, especially in the pockets of high unemployment which were mentioned earlier?
Baroness Blackstone: My Lords, the number of JSA claimants aged 18 to 24 has fallen by 21 per cent over the past two years. Youth unemployment is now at its lowest level for 25 years. That is a substantial achievement. However, we cannot be complacent about it. We have to continue to invest in the New Deal and continue to make sure that the maximum number
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