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Lord Northbourne: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for giving way. Does he agree that even when a child is in full-time education he or she spends only 27.5 per cent of his or her waking hours in school?

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Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, I have three school-age children. I have not checked the percentage of time they spend in school. My guess is that the noble Lord is not far off the figure. They receive urgent instructions from their father and mother for the rest of the time when they are in waking mode.

The Government are clearly committed to reducing crime. The widely respected 2001 British Crime Survey showed that overall crime in England and Wales has fallen 21 per cent since 1997 and that the chance of becoming a victim of crime is now at its lowest for 20 years since the survey began. All noble Lords will agree that that is welcome news and reflects well on the hard work of the police and their partners in tackling crime across England and Wales.

However, arresting more offenders and thereby reducing crime does have clear consequences for the criminal justice system. On Friday 22nd March 2002, the prison population was 70,243, the highest ever. At one level we should seek to take no pride in that fact. It is symptomatic of a wider range of problems and of failures and pressures within our society. Although recent rises in the prison population are likely to have been due to increased police activity since Christmas and a rise in the custody rate, the Government are strongly committed to finding effective solutions to the rising prison population to ensure that sentences are more effective in addressing the aims of punishment, crime reduction and reparation—three important principles.

The debate on sentencing has been well-informed by the proposals in the Halliday report, to which the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, referred. The noble Lord, Lord Windlesham, focused his comments on sentencing, as did the noble Lord, Lord Fellowes. We welcome the debate that that has stimulated. The report acted as a catalyst for the Government to examine what is done, and why, and the contribution that sentencing can make towards preventing and punishing offending behaviour. That includes means of giving offenders the chance of rehabilitation in the forms of custody and community punishment. We want to create an experience that puts individuals back on the straight and narrow and that helps them away from offending behaviour during the whole period of an offender's sentence. Halliday helps us in that regard.

By creating what some call a "toolbox" of sentences that enable sentencers to gear the sentences that they impose towards correcting offending behaviour as well as punishing the offender, the new framework, towards which Halliday points us, should have much greater scope for reducing re-offending. In our view, for example, current prison sentences of under 12 months have nothing but a detrimental effect on crime. Evidence shows that an offender released into the community after he has served half his time in custody, with no support or effort at re-integration, is much more likely—as several noble Lords have said—to return to a criminal lifestyle. Custody plus, with its minimum period of six months supervision in the community, should correct that. The noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, made the point. Work undertaken to model

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the impact of the proposed sentencing reforms has shown that the new framework could bring considerable benefits in terms of crimes saved.

The proposals under active consideration are designed to ensure that the risks of the prison population rising dramatically—as it has done recently—are minimised. During the debate, welcome has been expressed for the Home Secretary's reconsideration of the way in which the prison population is moving and the way in which sentencing can have an important impact upon that.

One issue to emerge is the creation of a new generic community sentence to replace the current series of non-custodial sentencing orders. That will be made up of a menu of interventions from which the sentencers can select to meet the needs of a particular case. Thus it will be possible to put together an intense package of activities comprising a supervision programme and compulsory work and treatment that may form a more effective alternative to a custodial sentence. The flexibility that the new community sentence will provide will allow for that.

Whatever the prison population pressures, in certain circumstances the Government have to be uncompromising in regard to serious and dangerous offenders. I suspect that the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, was trenchantly making that point in his traditional way. There must be a real commitment to protect the public. That should take place in a secure environment, I think we would all agree. Communities must be protected from serious offenders. It is clear that sentencers require a range of clear and sensible sentencing options which enable them to deal effectively with offenders in a way which protects the community and reduces the risk of further offending.

Reference was made to home detention curfew, otherwise known as tagging. There was active support for that from the noble Lord, Lord Carr. The noble Lord, Lord Windlesham, described it as "extremely successful". The noble Baroness, Lady Buscombe, cast some question over her party's support for home detention being expanded, although in the past the Conservative Party has supported HDC, as it is known in the business.

It is worth reminding ourselves just how successful the scheme has been. Over 44,000 prisoners have been released on HDC in the past three years with less than 2 per cent offending during their time under curfew. I do not think that we should underestimate the importance of that, particularly given, as a number of noble Lords suggested, the general recidivism rate among those leaving prison .

The Home Secretary announced last week that from the beginning of May prisoners serving sentences of between three and 12 months, with the exception of those convicted of violent or serious drug offences and those with any history of sexual offending, will be released on HDC. Their movements will be electronically monitored for the latter part of their sentence unless there are compelling reasons not to do so.

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Lord Windlesham: My Lords, perhaps I may interrupt the noble Lord. Will that be automatic release or selective release?

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, my understanding is that it will be selective. The noble Lord, Lord Windlesham, attributed the success of the scheme to the focused way in which governors have advised on the release of particular individuals. "On a case-by-case basis" was the expression used by the noble Lord. I certainly see the strength of that argument. That has been the received wisdom in the past.

I could take noble Lords through the process of monitoring. The detail is important. The monitoring centres are staffed 24 hours a day. The contract is managed by three private sector companies contracted to the Home Office. That process has been very successful and the public can have great confidence in it.

Many practitioners have pointed to the positive effects of combining a curfew order with other community penalties. These include knowing that a person is not offending during curfew hours and bringing routine to what are often chaotic lifestyles.

The Government have spent much time seeking to reduce levels of crime. We are committed to reducing the specific types of crimes which cause society most concern. These include acquisitive crimes, such as domestic burglary and vehicle crime, and violent crime, especially street robbery. I shall say more about that shortly. Since 1997, according to the British Crime Survey, domestic burglary has fallen by 35 per cent. That has been echoed by falls in police recorded domestic burglary which is down 30 per cent. Over the same period, vehicle-related crime has fallen by 24 per cent according to the BCS and recorded vehicle crime by much the same rate, about 22 per cent.

Since 1998 the Government have invested in some 1,400 projects aimed at crime reduction. There are now some 686 more CCTV schemes and 250 anti-burglary projects covering two million homes. Those schemes are founded on best evidence from the UK. We have invested an extra £3 billion in the criminal justice system over that time to ensure that we adopt programmes and processes that work to cut crime.

Reference was made to the numbers of police officers. Our record over the last few years has been second to none. The statistics demonstrate our commitment to the desire that we all have to see more police officers on the beat. By April 2004, policing will have benefited from record investment under this Government—a three-year rise of 21 per cent in cash terms, which is 11.8 per cent in real terms and 6 per cent in cash terms next year alone. That has already led to a record rise in the numbers of police now available to tackle crime. On 31st January, there were some 128,748 officers in England and Wales, 458 more than the previous record in March 1993. Between March 2001 and 31st January 2002 police numbers increased by 2.4 per cent. That is 3,066 officers. With the help of the recruitment funded by the Crime Fighting Fund

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our aim is to have a target figure of 130,000 matched and met by spring 2003. Civilian support staff are also at record levels. There were some 56,644 in post in September of last year.

Despite this increased police investment and officer strength, and previous investment, the public is very concerned about rising levels of street robbery. We are determined to tackle this and to build on the Metropolitan Police's safer streets initiative. A new initiative is aimed at reducing the level of street crime in the 10 hardest hit areas of England and Wales. That programme will focus on curbing the rise in street robberies and will also tackle wider street crime as well as the adoption of fast-track prosecutions to raise the conviction rate.

The 10-force street crime reduction initiative will be sharply accelerated to begin in April. It will be supported by a new cross-government action group to tackle any obstacles to cutting street crime. Chaired by the Prime Minister, the street crime reduction initiative provides an opportunity for the police and all those involved in the criminal justice system to identify immediate short-term solutions to deliver better results ahead of the Government's broader reform package.

The initiative is bringing forward plans already in progress to ensure co-ordinated action across government. It builds on local crime reduction plans already in place and takes advantage of the record number of police officers now established.

Street crime is concentrated on a few, largely urban areas, and 10 police forces deal with 82 per cent of all robbery in England and Wales. Mobile phones are now stolen in some 28 per cent of robberies, compared to 8 per cent just three years ago. This increase is partly due to the 600 per cent increase in mobile phone ownership since 1995.

The police and criminal justice agencies will work together to target and fast-track all robbery offenders. The initiative aims to increase the detection rate for robbery cases; increase the number of offenders charged and brought to justice; speed up the process between arrest and sentence; and deal with offenders effectively at every stage of the criminal justice process and ultimately reduce the number of robberies in the 10 force areas.

The key feature of this initiative is the involvement of departments and agencies across the whole of the criminal justice system. Each government department, the Department for Education and Skills, the Department of Health, the Department for Work and Pensions, the DCMS and the Department for Transport, Local Government and the Regions will all play their part in having an impact upon street crime and seeking to tackle it, whether through supporting truancy sweeps, putting in place drug treatment provision, ensuring that training and employment opportunities are there for young offenders or ensuring that there are diversionary schemes, such as the SPLASH scheme referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Elton, or ensuring that local authorities have the

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resources to improve security on transport, and so on. They will all play their part in attacking what is a profound problem.

The cost of crime to our society is estimated at roughly £60 billion per year, which represents some 7 per cent of GDP. As many of your Lordships have said, the cost is not just in financial terms, but also in terms of the impact on communities, the division and despair that it brings, and of course the physical, emotional and material impact of crime on its victims. Those obviously are not just deserving of our sympathy, but deserve most support. For that reason, the Government have considerably increased their aid and support, not just through victim support schemes but to victims of crime themselves.

The desire was expressed from all sides of your Lordships' House that we tackle effectively youth crime and break the cycle of offending which often leads to prison, if unchecked. It is sadly the case that in London 40 per cent of street robberies are committed by 10 to 16 year-olds.

A plea was made, especially by the noble Baroness, Lady Linklater, for a more diverse range of treatments than simply incarcerating people in youth offender institutions. Of course, we are fully signed up to that and have adapted a much more strategic approach—using targeting and so on—ensuring that when young offenders are picked up, they do not just meet the full weight of the criminal justice system but are helped, guided and advised. Of those picked up, 96 per cent are in the first instance given warnings and non-custodial sentences, but the public must feel protected.

Early in our first term, we took the view that it was important that there was greater certainty. The Crime and Disorder Act 1998 introduced a range of new interventions and punishments to enable early, targeted intervention to deal with anti-social behaviour and divert young people from crime. Among those schemes were child safety orders, anti-social behaviour orders, parenting orders, local child curfews and so on.

The noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, made an especially strong plea for support for parents. That is how we envisage parenting orders working. Between July 2000 and June 2001, 1,224 such orders were made. Signs from our initial research are that parenting orders give parents greater support, encouragement and confidence in dealing with the young people in their care to direct them away from a life of crime.

I have mentioned many initiatives that the Government have rolled out. We intend to maintain those initiatives, but we have no blind spots about looking at new ways of working or new methods of controlling crime in our society. Diverting people away from crime is clearly one such important strategy.

I have enjoyed the debate; it has been most useful and timely. We in government must press ahead with the range of initiatives that I have outlined to reduce crime. We must bring those initiatives together to bear on this major issue of our time to reduce crime and

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also, ultimately, to reduce the size and cost of the prison population. The Government are committed to ensuring that the delivery of justice will be enhanced by the many measures that I have described. I commend them to the House as part of the answer to ensure that we control and contain our prison population, turn out more useful young people in future and, in as much as we want prison to work to produce the better society to which we all aspire, ensure that prison works well.

8.23 p.m.

Lord Elton: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that full reply. In giving my warm thanks to all those who have contributed, I shall start with the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Gloucester, because I know that he has a train to catch. In particular, I thank him for his reference to the DIVERT Trust. I did not declare an interest because the DIVERT Trust has now merged with the RPS Rainer Foundation and, until I have had a discussion with its chairman and chief executive in a few days time, we are uncertain what the relationship will be.

The Minister will no doubt want to draw the attention of his noble friend Lord Rooker to our debate. The first thing to point out is that we have heard from my noble friends Lord Chadlington and Lord Pearson and from the noble Lords, Lord Fellowes and Lord Dholakia, that 60 per cent of prisoners are under the influence of heroin when they offend; 40 per cent of them are mentally ill when they are in prison; and 60 per cent of them are below level 1 educationally before they are released. That is a fruitful area for investigation and the noble Lord, Lord Dearing, in a most important speech, provided a sensible idea of what might be done about it.

Many speakers—about half of them, I think—made comparisons with what is occurring in foreign countries, saying that all the way from Croatia to Singapore and America, things are going better than here. There is scarcely time to pick out the points from every speech to which we should pay attention. In particular, I thank my noble friend Lord Carr for lending distinction as well as experience to this debate. I spoke about education without warning him because I thought that it was one area about which I might know a fraction—but only a fraction—more than he did.

The noble Baroness, Lady Stern, was extremely kind in what she said about me. I must say in humility and honesty that her contribution in the field has been about 10 times that of mine. I therefore return her compliments magnified. My noble friend Lord Hurd of Westwell evoked a most poignant and unhappy memory of the stresses in a crowded prison system—I visited so many when I was a Minister with responsibility for the Prison Service. I hope that the Government will heed the warning of the immense damage that that does to the rehabilitative effort.

It was inevitable that this debate would concentrate on reaction to people after they become criminals. In fact, we should go further upstream and react to them before they become criminals. I should like to touch on

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one point in the Minister's speech. The generic community sentence must draw back from the position that obtained when a community sentence was seen as a soft option in which little actually happened. It must be something tough and it must work.

I can see that the noble Lord on the Woolsack is ready to leap to his feet and that the sand is running out of the glass. I therefore thank your Lordships and beg you to think that it is better to have fewer criminals than more prisons and more policemen—and to put your money where your mouth is. I beg leave to withdraw the Motion for Papers.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.

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