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The Countess of Mar: My Lords, I fear that the noble Baroness, Lady Williams of Crosby, is trying the patience of the House a little. Education was part of Monday's debate, as was the environment. Today's topic is health. I ask the Leader of the House whether it is reasonable to expect a Minister who speaks for health to speak on all the subjects when there have been previous days for debate on those topics.
The Lord Privy Seal (Baroness Jay of Paddington): My Lords, I believe the noble Countess, Lady Mar, will find that at the beginning of the speakers' list the major topics of debate are stated. For example, home and health affairs are the topics to be debated today. However, as is always the practice in your Lordships' House and particularly in this five-day debate, it is within perfectly acceptable bounds for speeches to be made on any issue.
Baroness Williams of Crosby: My Lords, perhaps I may say to the noble Countess, whom I greatly respect, that I did of course take advice before deciding to speak on topics other than health and home affairs. I attempted to explain that to the House at the beginning of my remarks today.
I return for a moment to education. The gracious Speech refers directly to education. It is, it says, the Government's first and overwhelming priority. In view of that, it is puzzling that, under this Government, the share of gross domestic product being spent on education has declined and remains below that of the previous Conservative government. It is worth noting that fact because over the past three years in no single year has education expenditure fallen
However, that is not the end of the story. There is a serious problem of recruitment both in respect of teaching and of nursing--to return to today's chosen debate. There is a current shortage of 15,000 nurses. There is a shortage of teachers in crucial areas such as foreign languages, mathematics and science. To be blunt, we cannot expect to recruit public servants to health and education if we not only underpay them but also consistently undervalue them and spend a great deal of time criticising them despite the gallant efforts that the great majority of them make. It is legitimate to say that poor teachers and inadequate doctors should be assisted to leave the profession. However, that applies to only a small minority. We on these Benches believe it is high time that public service in this country was respected, admired, and, indeed, rewarded along the lines expected in the private sector.
Yesterday also the Foreign Secretary referred in a speech to the danger of this country steadily losing its influence if it remains half-in and half-outside the European Union. We passionately believe that Britain's influence in the Commonwealth, in the European Community and in NATO is for the good. We therefore deprecate anything that would essentially marginalise our country in the creation and shaping of the world of the 21st century.
I should like to say to the Government how profoundly we welcome the commitment to ratify the International Criminal Court. It is high time we gave a lead in that respect. Those noble Lords who have read the terrifying and blood-curdling account by the United Nations special envoy, Mr David Harland, about the fall of Srebenica--one of the most miserable chapters in the whole history of the interventions of the West in the affairs of the Balkans--will know how desperately that court is needed.
We shall be throwing away a great tradition in our pursuit of modernisation for its own sake if we throw away trial by jury. As one who welcomes some of the things that the Government are doing, I simply beg them to think again on this issue.
Baroness Stern: My Lords, I am aware of the honour of speaking in your Lordships' House for the first time, and of the high standard set by those who have spoken before me for the first time in your Lordships' House during the past few days of this debate. I am grateful for the kindness shown to me since I arrived here in July by your Lordships and by all those who work here. It is difficult to intervene at this stage following such distinguished, telling and wide-ranging contributions. I believe that my best contribution would be to draw to your Lordships' attention some interesting developments in the area of crime and justice of which I have personal knowledge.
I declare an interest in that I am connected in a voluntary capacity with a world-wide organisation called Penal Reform International. It was set up in this country exactly 10 years ago by a group of like-minded people from around the world who wanted to support each other and work across national boundaries to promote new and better ways of dealing with crime and securing access to justice. The very first funds received by the organisation came from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office when it was under the distinguished leadership of the noble Lord, Lord Hurd of Westwell. Much good came of that small, pump-priming grant. Penal Reform International is now working in 50 countries.
Through my connection with that organisation I have been privileged to come into contact with many people in different parts of the world who are looking for new and better ways of handling those difficult matters. It is often said that the British criminal justice system is the best in the world. Indeed, that is a widely held view. Even so, it might be possible for us to learn from what is being done in other countries and other jurisdictions.
The introduction of a scheme of community service orders as an alternative to prison in Zimbabwe comes to mind as one example. The scheme is becoming well known around the world. It has a number of interesting features. First, the programme is inspired and shaped by the judges and the magistrates, who
Secondly, those who set up the scheme put the highest priority on gaining the confidence of the public in the new sentence. They work hard to show that it benefits the community in the short term, through the value of the work done and the good effect on the criminal, and in the longer term through reducing the damaging effects of imprisonment. I have visited the scheme twice and I am continually impressed by its capacity as an engine for changing public thinking on punishment, retribution and restitution. The project in Zimbabwe has been supported by successive British Governments since 1993, by the Overseas Development Administration, as it was until 1997, and by the Department for International Development since then.
A second example from a very different country may also be of some interest to your Lordships. I refer to a project from a small town in Russia called Ardatov. The church in this small town struck up a relationship with the local juvenile prison where many youngsters aged under 18 are held. The original intention of the people from the church was to go to the prison with the Christian message. However, when they arrived they discovered other basic needs, such as food, medicine and protection from violence. Many of the young people had no families to bring them things from outside or to see to their welfare. On leaving the prison the young people face a grim future.
The church has now adopted the juvenile prison. With the help of a grant from the Human Rights Fund of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office they have set up a training workshop in the prison to teach the young people motor mechanics and have persuaded the local bus company to take them on as workers when they have been trained. There is perhaps something for us to learn here about the relationship between citizens and the young people whom we choose to exclude from society and lock away.
Finally, I want to draw to the attention of your Lordships an interesting experiment which is under way in Vermont in the United States which I have had the opportunity to study. It may be felt that one does not normally look to the United States for lessons in criminal justice. With its remarkably high prison population and the gross disproportion of people from racial minorities who are incarcerated, the United States might seem to be a model to avoid rather than to copy.
However, in the state of Vermont an entirely new approach to dealing with convicted criminals has been developed. Those found guilty of less serious crimes are dealt with by citizens' reparative boards. The boards are made up of a small number of local people. They can include those nominated by community groups; victims who have had experience of the reparative process, and perhaps ex-offenders who have been through the process themselves. The groups decide on a punishment that involves reparation and aims to integrate the ex-offender back into the community.
Lord Warner : My Lords, I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Stern, on her excellent maiden speech. I know well her work with NACRO and internationally over many years. I have the highest respect for her judgment and humanity, which she revealed today. This House is indeed fortunate to have the wise counsel and shrewd insights she will present to our debates. I believe that she will help us to find our way through some of the difficult issues of crime and justice that are dealt with in this House.
I should like also to congratulate the Government on the coherence and vision of the legislative programme for this Session. I use those words advisedly. The rather petulant wording of the amendment tabled by the Conservative Front Bench reveals how out of touch they continue to be. It reflects their understandable embarrassment that the Government's programme tackles a range of important issues which the Conservatives simply ignored when in government.
A good example is the reform of the Child Support Agency. Having created this mess--comparable, I suggest, to the poll tax--the problems of the CSA were left to get worse, despite their serious impact on thousands of families. This House recently debated the problems and importance of fathers. However, the failure to tackle the CSA debacle has made it more and more difficult for non-resident fathers to stay in contact with their children. This Government are not only tackling the problems of the CSA; they are also reforming the Family Court Advisory Service this Session in another piece of legislation which will help families and children.
As a former director of social services, I know how incoherent the system of regulating social care has been for well over a decade. This affects millions of people whose elderly or disabled relatives are in residential care or receive domiciliary care. The regulation of children's homes, especially small homes, has been unsatisfactory for years despite numerous inquiries, including one I chaired for the previous government as long ago as 1992. Only now will we be getting the kind of care standards Bill from this Government that is needed. This will set up, at last, fully independent arrangements for regulating residential care and nursing homes for elderly or disabled people, children's homes, domiciliary care, fostering agencies and other services.
It will also, for the first time, properly regulate private and voluntary hospitals and clinics. In addition it will, at long last, establish a general social care council to oversee the standards and training of the one million-strong social care workforce that looks after so many vulnerable people.
Another Bill I particularly welcome is the Children (Leaving Care) Bill. I was pleased to hear the noble Earl, Lord Howe, express his support for this Bill. For far too long young people have come out of the care system ill equipped to cope with the world in which they are required to survive. No wonder they end up homeless, unemployed and disproportionately represented in our prison service. These problems have been known for a long time. It has taken this Government to produce legislation that will provide for all young people leaving care to have a pathway plan mapping their route to independence, covering education, training, career plans and support. A personal adviser will be responsible for keeping in touch with them and overseeing the plan. At last this rather unfashionable group of young people are receiving the attention they deserve.
It was a Labour Home Secretary who took through Parliament the Race Relations Act 1976. This is an area in which the previous government were not too keen to become involved. Indeed, I remind your Lordships' House that they refused to set up an inquiry into the murder of Stephen Lawrence. I welcome the decision of the Government to have a race relations amendment Bill this Session which will implement one of the key recommendations of the Macpherson report. The Bill will make it unlawful for public authorities to discriminate in carrying out any of their functions, including law enforcement. In particular, chief constables will be vicariously liable for acts of racial discrimination committed by any of their police officers.
The crime and protection of the public Bill will take forward much-needed reform in the area of probation which, again, was sadly neglected by the previous government. They cut the budgets of the Probation Service and abolished the service's professional qualification. This Government have established the new professional qualification and increased budgets. They have done much to get the Probation Service focused on what is effective in delivering community punishments. I welcome the decision to go further and create a unified Probation Service which will more effectively ensure that the terms of community punishment are complied with and reassure the public that community sentences work.
I should like to make one comment on the Government's intention to re-introduce the Sexual Offences (Amendment) Bill. There would have been no need to take up further time in this House on this issue if the Opposition had not behaved so irresponsibly in July. It was clear then, as it is clear now, that if the United Kingdom Government did not
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