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Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, let me say straightaway that the noble Lord is right: the challenges which lie ahead for Zimbabwe are by no means over. However, we need to respect the voice of the people of Zimbabwe--in the end, it is they who must choose who will lead them--and whether Mr Mugabe goes or stays will depend very much on his behaviour and how it is received by the people of that country. We continue to talk with our African partners about the acute situation in Zimbabwe. We should draw some comfort from what the African leaders are doing and from the conversations they are having. We welcome the initiative started by Mr Mbeki in South Africa. The government there have appointed a team of Ministers to work with their Zimbabwean counterparts in pursuit of economic recovery and stability in the region. Our African partners take this issue very seriously--and rightly so.
Lord Pilkington of Oxenford: My Lords, would the Minister care to comment on the report in the newspapers that the EU Commission, in reporting the elections, felt that the Commonwealth had been rather inadequate in its response to the abuse which occurred?
Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, I have not seen that report. However, we were warmed by the amount of support we received across the board for those initiatives and in connection with the anxieties that we were expressing. There was international agreement in that regard. I should not like to voice a criticism of the efforts made by the Commonwealth as a whole, which were significant.
Lord Tebbit: My Lords, if it was right for the people of Zimbabwe to have their choice of leader accepted, which choice was made in a broadly fiddled election, why was it wrong for the people of Austria not to be allowed their choice of leader in a free and fair election?
Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, as I have said before from this Dispatch Box, Her Majesty's Government do not choose which leaders are elected or appointed by any given country. Austria chose its leaders; Austria will abide by the consequences of that.
Lord Dormand of Easington: My Lords, is my noble friend aware that, despite everything that has been done by the Government for the northern region, there is little sign of improvement in the area itself? I have to say to my noble friend that in this Labour heartland there is still considerable concern about the position. For example, is he aware that unemployment in the region remains as high as ever? Can he confirm reports that this month's spending review is to include millions of pounds for other regions? Will the North receive special consideration in view of the fact that all the indicators show that it is the worst hit of all the regions in the country?
Lord Whitty: My Lords, I am aware that in certain respects the northern region has not fully shared the prosperity of the rest of the country in terms of both employment and standard of living. That is one of the reasons that we are engaged in an active regional policy in support of the RDAs, the local authorities and local business in the northern region. My noble friend would not expect me to anticipate the spending review. It is a matter for the Chancellor, who I am sure is aware of the problems of the North East.
Lord Shore of Stepney: My Lords, is it not self-evident that the beneficial effects of regional policy in the North are being largely wiped out by the adverse effects of the exchange rate? Is it not also self-evident that a major adjustment is needed? The present misalignment may be temporary, but surely the Government recognise that the misalignment is gross and that it is having damaging effects on employment, particularly in manufacturing industry in the North. One has only to consider the latest report about Nissan and its future intentions. Does my noble friend agree that it is really time that the Chancellor addressed himself to this issue and took those actions which are available to him to nudge downwards the exchange rate of the pound?
Lord Whitty: My Lords, for one surreal moment I thought that my noble friend was advocating our joining the euro! It is true--there has been news this morning--that the high dependence of the northern region on manufacturing compared with certain other regions means that the exchange rate has a particularly acute effect. However, we believe that the measures we are taking, both nationally and in relation to the northern region, will attract and retain inward investment and ensure that we make best use of the skills, facilities and the attitude to work which are clearly there in the northern region and which should
Lord Brabazon of Tara: My Lords, following on from the question asked by the noble Lord, Lord Shore, is not industry in the North East asking about the Government's present policy on the euro? It is seeking clarification on the issue. Can the noble Lord say to which Ministers industrialists in the North, and indeed elsewhere, should listen regarding policy on the euro?
Lord Whitty: My Lords, I am sorry to have to repeat yet again from the Dispatch Box, as have many of my colleagues, that our policy on the euro remains as it was announced by the Chancellor in the autumn of 1997--we recognise that when the criteria are met there is a case in principle for joining the euro. Decisions on that will await a recommendation from the Chancellor at a later stage. I do not think that the problems of the North East, raised by my noble friend Lord Dormand are resolved by the Opposition, or anyone else, looking at the minutiae of euro policy. This is a structural policy--
Lord Whitty: My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Brabazon, claimed that there were textual differences between one Minister and another. The point I am making is that the policy is clear, always has been clear and remains clear. The issue addressed by my noble friend Lord Dormand was the need for structural measures to improve the relative competitiveness of the North East within this economy.
For too long, community sentences have been regarded by offenders, courts and public alike as a soft and ineffective option. That is why the proposals in the Bill to strengthen the enforcement of community sentences are so important. We need to improve public confidence in the value of community sentences as integral parts of an effective response to crime.
As well as promoting a tough, targeted and effective approach to crime, a number of measures in the Bill focus on improving public protection, particularly for some of the most vulnerable in society such as children. In addition to the introduction of an integrated system for preventing unsuitable people, such as sex offenders, from working with children, the Bill also excludes all sex offenders convicted of offences subject to the Sex Offenders Act 1997 from the home detention curfew programme.
The Government have rightly focused many of their efforts to date on tackling crime committed by young people. The Bill builds on earlier youth justice reforms. It is absolutely essential that criminal and anti-social behaviour committed by young people is addressed firmly, effectively and, above all, early to divert them from a lifetime of crime. Measures in the Bill to improve parenting orders, the final warning scheme and to compel parents to address their children's truanting are all important parts of a wider youth justice and social exclusion strategy. We will not give up on these young people.
I should now like to outline some of the main themes and measures of the Bill. The need to improve the effectiveness of the criminal justice system is very much at the heart of this Bill. The establishment of an effective and focused probation service is central to this Government's determination to modernise the criminal justice system and to improve its ability to reduce crime through a range of measures. These include the consistent use of an evidence-based "what works" approach; more effective joint working; the development of local strategies to address local crime reduction priorities; and the efficient use of resources to provide the public with better value for money.
The Probation Service does an incredibly important job. Its staff take a dedicated and professional approach to this vital work and I trust that this House will join me in paying tribute to them. A prime example of the professionalism that characterises the Probation Service is the way in which the Association of Chief Officers of Probation (ACOP) commissioned its own
ACOP has been working in close co-operation with the Home Office to improve enforcement rates. By April of this year, a second audit found that for cases dealt with in September 1999, 62 per cent of those who broke their orders or licences were breached. This is a welcome and significant improvement, but enforcement rates are still too low: the key performance indicator target is 90 per cent.
The restructuring of the Probation Service will improve both its efficiency and focus and will enable it to provide a better and more consistent service. This will be achieved through the establishment of the national probation service for England and Wales. This unified and centrally-driven service will comprise 42 local areas, matching police force boundaries. As well as improving its overall efficiency, this restructuring will enable the service to build on the best of past experience and to concentrate more effectively on its core tasks: the enforcement of sentences and public protection.
The restructuring will promote close working with police and other criminal justice agencies. New local boards will be more representative and will have a key role to play in working with others to develop effective local approaches to crime reduction.
The new service will also develop, adopt and disseminate evidence-based approaches to community punishment and public protection. At the moment, the Probation Service is a fragmented organisation with only limited accountability to central government and its local communities. This new structure will allow greater consistency and should, over time, force up standards. The new boards will be fully accountable for service delivery in their areas.
As a part of this restructuring, the aims of the national probation service will be clearly identified as: protecting the public; reducing reoffending; and the proper punishment of offenders in the community.
In order further to clarify the aim and focus of the Probation Service, the Bill will also rename probation, community service, and combination orders as, respectively, community rehabilitation, community punishment, and community punishment and rehabilitation orders. Although I understand the concerns that some may have about renaming orders, I firmly believe that the new names more accurately reflect and describe the purpose of these community sentences. I also believe that the new names are more understandable to a wider public. That can only improve confidence in community sentencing.
As I mentioned earlier, the more effective enforcement of community sentences is a key aim of the Bill and, although great strides have been made recently to improve performance, more needs to be done if community sentences are to be regarded as truly effective and credible alternatives to custody.
It is absolutely essential to have timely and effective enforcement of community sentences. There should be no doubts about the consequences of non-compliance. That is why, under the new regime, where an offender over 18 is not immediately returned to court after the first unacceptable failure to comply with an order, there will be a duty on the Probation Service to issue a warning and then return him to court on the second unacceptable failure within any 12-month period, or within six months for a curfew order. If the offender is found to be in breach, other than in exceptional circumstances, he will be sentenced to up to three months' imprisonment, or longer if the original offence would have merited a longer term of imprisonment. This Bill sends a clear message that community sentences are not a soft option.
The establishment of the children and family court advisory and support service (CAFCASS) is designed to improve the service provided to children and families involved in family court proceedings. This new service will focus on the needs of children and families going through the court system by taking on the functions currently carried out by the Probation Service's family court welfare services, the guardian ad litem and the reporting officer service, and work with children undertaken by the office of the Official Solicitor.
The aim of this new service will be to put children first and to offer a fast, flexible and consistent service. The establishment of this separate service will also enable the new national probation service to concentrate on its core task of law enforcement.
I should like briefly to mention two other measures in the Bill which will improve the effectiveness of the criminal justice system. The first is the proposal to enable the police to have bulk access to driver licensing records for the purposes of road traffic enforcement. This is a relatively small measure, but it will significantly enhance the ability of police officers to carry out roadside checks to increase the speed at which they will be able to process accident and traffic offences. This will also result in increased convenience to the public, as in the vast majority of cases, motorists will no longer have to produce their driving licence at a police station as checks will be carried out on the spot. It will also offer the benefit of freeing up police resources that could be usefully deployed elsewhere.
Another such measure, but this time in a custodial context, is the proposal to abolish the separate sentence of detention in a young offender institution (DYOI) for 18 to 20 year-olds. I know that concerns have been expressed about this proposal, but I firmly believe that this separate sentence has become anachronistic and that its removal will enable the Prison Service to address more effectively the needs of younger and more vulnerable prisoners. The Prison
Although post abolition those 18 to 20 year-olds given a custodial sentence will be sentenced to a term of imprisonment, this does not mean that they will be sent as a matter of course to what are currently adult prison establishments. Young offender institutions will continue to exist physically and will continue to provide constructive regimes specifically developed for younger offenders. Far from abandoning the 18 to 20 year-olds to fend for themselves, we have a positive commitment to develop programmes which better prepare them for release.
The abolition of the separate sentence also brings the important benefit of enabling young people to be located closer to home than they are at present, thus improving the maintenance of vital family ties and aiding eventual resettlement. A small, segregated estate of some 6,500 18 to 20 year-olds inevitably places limitations on the extent to which the Prison Service can pursue its aim of locating prisoners closer to home. This is particularly true for the 300 or so female young offenders held in the small women's estate.
As well as helping to ensure tougher and more consistent enforcement of community sentences, the Bill will also enable the Probation Service, the police and others to harness new and existing technologies in their efforts to reduce crime.
The proposals to introduce mandatory drug testing on charge in the police station, pre-sentence, as part of a community sentence, and on release from prison, represent an important step in our efforts to combat drug-related crime. When examining these proposals, it is essential to bear in mind the scale of the problem we are attempting to address and how they fit into the Government's wider drugs strategy.
A drug testing of arrestees research programme found that more than three out of five people arrested tested positive for an illegal drug. In some places the total was almost four out of five, with in some areas one-third testing positive for heroin and more than a quarter for cocaine. We know that between 50,000 and 60,000 problem drug misusers are arrested and prosecuted every year. Those in this group alone may each commit 150 crimes a year--roughly 7.5 million offences. This is the terrible scale and cost of drug-fuelled crime, and this is why as part of our wider strategy to combat drug misuse we are introducing drug testing at various stages of the criminal justice system.
These measures will help to identify drug-misusing offenders who need treatment, to monitor their progress and to deter further drug misuse. Drug testing will complement other programmes such as the drug treatment and testing order, which has been successfully piloted in three sites and is to be rolled out nationally from October; £60 million will be made
We are also investing £20 million over three years to ensure the spread of drug arrest referral schemes. Initial take-up indicates that 90 per cent of all custody suites in England and Wales will have arrest referral schemes by the end of the year.
Around £100 million has been earmarked from 1999-2002 to tackle drug misuse among prisoners. This includes the establishment of a basic treatment service in every prison and the creation of more than 50 rehabilitation programmes to which prisoners requiring more intensive interventions can be referred.
We are aware, however, that the new resources are exposing a shortage of capacity in drug treatment services. The Government are addressing this problem, and a national recruitment campaign for drug workers, funded by the confiscated assets fund, will result in nearly 700 drug workers being recruited and trained by next April. In addition, the Home Secretary announced on 8th June that consideration is being given to developing a new national treatment agency to oversee a pooled national treatment budget, bringing together money currently being spent on drug misuse treatment by the Department of Health and the Home Office.
The Government have listened carefully to concerns expressed about the application of these new drug-testing measures. They will be piloted and, together with all the relevant agencies, we shall be able to gauge their effectiveness and ensure that the right balance is struck between individual civil liberties and the right of other individuals and communities to be protected from drug-related crime.
As with drug testing, electronic monitoring is another technology that has already proven its worth in the fight against crime, with a successful completion rate of 90 per cent. Electronic monitoring is a valuable tool to improve public protection. As well as creating an exclusion order which will require an offender to stay away from certain places at certain times, and which could be particularly useful in cases of domestic violence and stalking, the Bill will allow for electronic monitoring of a range of community sentences and electronic monitoring of conditions of release on licence. These new uses of electronic monitoring will make compliance with community sentences far easier to monitor.
I should like to make it clear that these measures are directed solely at improving public protection. They do not make any prisoner eligible for release earlier than at present, nor do they change the basis on which the release decisions are made. Early release decisions will always involve careful and thorough risk assessment. It is absolute nonsense to criticise the electronic monitoring of people who are released from prison, where the only alternative is for them to be released without the added protection provided by electronic monitoring.
I fully understand the concerns that have been expressed about the early release of serious sex offenders. Perhaps I may make the Government's position absolutely clear: we are amending the Bill to exclude all prisoners convicted of offences subject to the Sex Offenders Act 1997 from the current home detention curfew scheme. It is essential that all necessary steps are taken to protect the public, but we should not lose sight of the fact that with a 94 per cent completion rate, HDC has been a great success and has made an important contribution to the safe resettlement of many offenders.
The Government are totally committed to improving public protection, particularly the protection of children from those who may wish to harm them. The Bill builds on the Protection of Children Act 1999 to create an integrated system for preventing unsuitable people, such as sex offenders, from working with children. This system will be backed up with a new criminal offence of applying for, or accepting, work with children while banned. In developing these proposals, once again we have been mindful of the need to balance the rights of individual civil liberties with the rights of others to be protected from abuse. As part of these proposals, a new review process for all of those banned is to be introduced.
Strengthening the protection of children from those who would wish to exploit them is at the heart of the Government's policy. That is why we set up the review of sex offences, which had increasing the protection of children as its central task. That review was not asked to look at the offences relating to pornography, or at the growth of the Internet as a medium for child pornography. I know that we all find this extremely worrying and we are concerned about the increase in the number of offences under the Protection of Children Act 1978. It is vital that the courts have the powers to deal appropriately with this vile trade which starts with child abuse.
That is why the Government welcomed proposals by the Opposition in another place to increase the penalties for various offences relating to child pornography. We need to ensure that the penalties available reflect the seriousness with which society regards these sorts of abhorrent offences.
I shall therefore be tabling amendments in Committee to increase the maximum penalty for simple possession of indecent images of children under 16 from six months' imprisonment, or a fine, or both, to a term not exceeding five years' imprisonment, or a fine, or both.
While possession itself is a serious crime, there can be no doubt that taking, making, distributing, showing and possession with a view to distribution are even more grave offences. To this effect, the Government will table amendments in Committee to increase the maximum sentence for these crimes from three years, or a fine, or both, to 10 years, or a fine, or both.
Experience has shown that the effect of a reprimand or final warning can be significantly enhanced by delivering it as part of a restorative justice process involving the young offender, his or her parents and, where appropriate, the victim. We propose to remove the existing requirement for reprimands and final warnings to be delivered in a police station, in order to introduce greater flexibility, allowing reprimands and warnings to be given in the most appropriate and accessible locations instead.
Parenting orders provide an important new means of supporting parents in exercising proper responsibility for their children's behaviour--particularly where the child or young person has been convicted of an offence or where he or she is not attending school regularly. The Bill will extend the range of persons able to serve as a responsible officer under a parenting order to include local education authority staff working outside youth offending teams.
The Bill also increases the penalty for parents who fail to ensure that their child attends school regularly, raising the penalty to a fine of up to £2,500 with the risk of imprisonment for up to three months. This proposal is the result of consultation undertaken by the DfEE last year through the document Tackling Truancy Together. Responses to the consultation were largely supportive of the proposal to increase the penalty for school attendance offences.
As this measure attracted a degree of concern in another place, I should like to state clearly that the purpose is not to imprison parents who are already struggling, but it resolutely is about challenging the culture which tolerates the absence of children from school, and it reflects the serious impact that truancy can have on a child's future prospects in life. At the moment, the fine (level 3 on the standard scale; maximum £1,000) is in the same bracket as non-possession of a TV licence or vehicle road licence. That cannot be right.
The purpose of this measure is to compel parents to attend court or risk arrest, as courts will have the power to issue a warrant. Currently, 80 per cent of parents summonsed under school attendance offences fail to attend trial. If parents are required to attend courts, magistrates will have the opportunity to reinforce the seriousness of the offence. They will also be able to consider passing alternative sentences, such as community service orders and the new parenting orders. This measure will reinforce the message that every child has the right to education and every parent has the duty to ensure that his or her child is educated.
One last measure in the Bill that I should like to mention is the proposal that sentencing courts should be able to set the tariff in cases where young offenders under the age of 18 are sentenced to be detained during Her Majesty's pleasure as a result of committing murder. This measure brings our law into line with a key aspect of the judgment of the European Court of Human Rights in the case of Thompson and Venables.
Taken together, the measures in this Bill will modernise the criminal justice system to make it more effective in reducing crime and improving public protection. It will create a more flexible criminal justice system that can deal with each offender in the most appropriate way, be it in the community, in custody or a combination of both. These proposals help to pave the way for seamless sentencing--a principle that is to be taken forward through the recently announced sentencing review.
At the heart of this Bill is the clear message that we are getting even tougher on crime by providing the Probation Service, the police and others with the tools needed to reduce crime and improve public protection, which is something that we should all support.
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