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Frankly, in my view and in the view of my honourable and right honourable friends in another place, Barry Sheerman MP, chair of the Education and Skills Select Committee, and John Denham MP, chair of the Home Affairs Select Committeeboth of whom are on record in the last year calling for the Government to find some way of ensuring a national rollout of this programmethe current position of total funding by private industry is not sustainable in the long run if the programme is to become larger, and particularly if it is to encompass and draw into its ambit small and medium-sized companies.
Over the past four or five years, the Government have spoken many warm words in support of this scheme but have seemed incapable of working across government to enable the rollout of this programme. I have no brief to speak for National Grid, but I know that what is being sought is not grant funding but a more imaginative use of the money that is available for skills and trainingor, indeed, the funding that is available through Jobcentre Plus to incentivise those employers who are not large corporations with the infrastructure to sustain and absorb the risk of employing offenders.
The problems seem not just to be an absence of Government funding for the programme but a desire in the Prison Service to invent a different way of doing a similar thing, involving the learning and skills councils, Jobcentre Plus and the whole panoply of state institutions.
Everybody we have spoken to from the Prison Service was positive about the initiative, but nothing seems to be happening. We need some central drive to make sure the model is spread.[Official Report, Commons, 17/11/05; col. 308WH.].
Indeed, my right honourable friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer said in his 2003 Budget Statement that the Home Secretary and the then Minister for Work were seeing how the programme could be rolled out nationwide. My understanding is that funding was discussed at that point, although it was three Home Secretaries ago. I expect that this commitment may have got lost somewhere in transition; to my knowledge, it has not materialised. Perhaps my noble friend the Minister might use her multiplicity of talents to find out what actually happened. It is a testament to the companies concerned that they went ahead and expanded the programme without government support anyway.
The programme finds employers who guarantee a job, which we know is often the key to preventing reoffending. The employers go through a recruitment process of finding suitable offenders for the position that they have to offer in the prison itself. Indeed, the training also takes place in the prison. One of the Ministers former colleagues from another place suggested to me that the programme was cherry picking because of this process. I find that a remarkable notion. It is true that the programme seeks offenders who would be motivated and who would be most likely to succeedclearly this will not be all offendersbut it is not aiming to be a panacea or a single answer. It seeks to
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The programme manages and minimises the risks for both employer and prison because of the way in which it is run by industry. The way this happens is by ensuring that there is a close relationship on the ground between the local prison, its governor and staff, and the employer, whether it is National Grid or one of the other companies that are participating in the programme. In other words, it is not national diktat, or even regional administration, that ensures success for an individual offender and a prospective employer.
When we say it so simply, we know it to be true and obvious. The foreman of the gas fitting team, or whatever, needs to be confident that the prison will fulfil its side of the bargain by making the offender available, in a timely fashion, to go to work without the potential impediments or demands of living in a large institution; and the prison governor and his or her staff need to know that the offender is in safe hands and not at risk of reoffending. They both know that together they will be able to overcome obstacles and difficulties because they have a positive and very direct relationship. In my view, this local relationship makes the programme work very well. The challenge to the Home Office is how to replicate that aspect. I have met many prison governors, offenders on the programme and, indeed, people for whom the offenders work, who regard this as very important.
The Minister needs, I believe, to look at the effect that the proposals for offender management might have on such schemes. I have already seen evidence of the unintended consequences of the drive to reduce offender numbers. One prison governor said that the instruction to move prisoners to an open prison would mean that an offender who has recently and successfully been on this programmewho has been released and is at home, in a well paid job and showing signs of succeedingwould be moved to an open prison, would not have a seamless transfer and would lose that important transition. A large body of evidence and research suggests that it is this seamless transition between custody and the community that makes for the most effective resettlement, and that where it does not happen there is a far greater likelihood of reoffending.
Surely the invest-to-save commitment of the Government must acknowledge that programmes such as this can make a great contribution to reducing reoffending. My honourable friend in another place, the then Minister, Fiona Mactaggart, indicated during the debate to which I have referred that the Government were not inclined to seek ways of accessing financial support for this programme. I wish to raise that as an issue that I hope can be addressed. The Government established a corporate alliance a year agoI was at the party at which it was launchedand it is a very important and admirable initiative. I should like to ask my noble friend how the alliance is progressing in its efforts to drive the reduction of reoffending.
I hope that my contribution will be seen for what it is. I have given this example to raise the broader issue of the importance of priority setting in the Home Office and the crucial importance of changing the culture of the way in which NOMS operates.
Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, the Chief Whip announced that if we wanted to meet our normal finishing time of 7 pm, Back-Bench speeches should be restricted to 10 minutes. Our two maiden speakers spoke wonderfully well and also kept within the time limit. Every other Back-Bencher has exceeded the 10-minute period. I just draw this matter to the attention of the House.
Earl Ferrers: My Lords, the noble Lord is perfectly right to have drawn the Houses attention to that matter. But this is not a time-limited debate and noble Lords may speak for longer than 10 minutes if they so desire.
Many of the contributions to the debate on the gracious Speech, particularly in earlier days, were very sombre, reflecting upon the very difficult state the world is in, and it occurred to me that it might seem rather insular to talk about Lords reform on this occasion. But the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor put me right on that because he made a substantial contribution, as did my noble friend and the noble Lord, Lord McNally, so I am bold enough to say a few words about it.
As has been pointed out, the gracious Speech was commendably short and clear: the Government will work to build a consensus on reform of the House of Lords. I am quite content with that. I recognise that in Jack Straw the Prime Minister has entrusted the task to the person best able to do the job. I wish him well. I was encouraged by the speeches of the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor, my noble friend and the noble Lord, Lord McNally. But let us not kid ourselves; the task will not be easy.
There are rumours that the kind of proposals the Government favour bear some resemblance to the report of the royal commission, which I had the honour to chair. Thus it might be instructive to look back to the aftermath of that report to see how we got on.
We produced a report which I always intended to be the basis for a consensus but, so far as I could judge, most people compared it with their own ideal solution. As a result, it was no surprise that most people found our report wanting. If there is a desire to make progress, it behoves everyone in both Houses
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One can be fairly blunt about what a consensus will have to look like if it has any reasonable chance of success. It will certainly be a hybrid House; I suggest that there will be no additional powers but no diminution of them either. The conventions remain substantially unaltered, as the excellent and unanimous report of the Joint Committee under the chairmanship of the noble Lord, Lord Cunningham, made clear.
As the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor said, the commitments given to recent newcomers to this House will have to be honoured. Bearing in mind that half of your Lordships have entered the House while the Prime Minister has been in office, the scope for additional new Members of this House by election or by any other means will be small if the House is not to become so big as to be unmanageable, certainly for a number of years. There will, in my view, be no consensus without an independent statutory appointments commission, and membership of this House and the peerage will be separated.
My report recommended an elected element, and I still think that that will have to be part of the solution. It is no secret that, when I started this exercise, I was not greatly attracted to that prospect, but I am now fully satisfied that there will not be a consensus without a significant elected element. However, we have to bear in mind two things: as my noble friend Lord Strathclyde said, an elected element will make it much harder to get those essential compromises between the two Houses that are necessary at the end of each Session.
Secondly, when the royal commission was taking evidence, I was very struck by the observation of the noble Lord, Lord Marsh, who is not in his place, that there is a danger that the only people who will stand for election to this House are the 4th XI. The 1st XI will naturally seek membership of the House of Commons, the 2nd XI will probably go to the European Parliament, and the 3rd XI will go to the regional Assemblies or Parliaments. As a result, if we do not prevent this happening, we will end up with a 4th XI. That is hardly a recipe for an effective revising Chamber that needs to be taken seriously by the House of Commons. All this can be taken into account, but it will not be easy.
Things have moved on since the days of the earlier legislation and the royal commission. I would proceed with caution; in my view, an essential element will be a long transitional period. My guess is that the 12 years I have seen mooted will not be long enough. The number of elected can grow only as the life Peers depart, and that will have to be on a voluntary basis.
Whatever elected element we have has to be for one election only. However, I would make those who have served their term as elected Members eligible for appointment for a further term. This would help to raise the standard of potential candidates and enable your Lordships to get the full value out of the experience.
From the rumours I have been able to pick up, I am fearful of the Cross Benchers position. The Bishops, I think, are safe, as the noble Baroness, Lady Thornton, recognised. But part of the original proposal was that a number of other faiths in this country ought to be recognised and represented in this House. A full-time salaried House militates against those very valuable Peers who are able to bring up-to-date, relevant experience of the real world, and many of those are Cross Benchers. I am not against Peers being paid, but I do not think that all should be on a full-time salary. I also consider that if they are included in any percentages of appointed and elected Peers, it will result in a squeeze on them which will over time reduce their numbers. Their numbers should remain at about 20 per cent and they should be left out of the rest of the calculations.
All this is very difficult and needs a lot of thinking about. It is particularly difficult now because the present reformed House is working rather well and a good many Members of both Houses who would not normally be averse to further change do not think this is quite the time for further upheaval.
Lord Avebury: My Lords, one of the consequences of a debate such as this, covering the whole of DCA and Home Affairs, is that it is somewhat disjointed. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Wakeham, will forgive me if I do not follow him in discussing House of Lords reform, except to say that if you reserve a certain number of places for faith communities, as he appeared to suggest, why should not the same be done for, say, the professions, the trade unions or any other group of people who play a significant role in our society? I hope that when we discuss the reform of the House of Lords, we will take that into consideration.
I would like to speak about what the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, referred to as the torrent of Home Office legislation coming down the track towards us, particularly the Home Office Bills dealing with crime and immigration at a time when the ink is not dry on the Acts that were passed earlier this year, to say nothing of the 50 Home Office Bills we have dealt with since 1997. When Mr Blair finally steps off on 26 July next year, he will have comfortably broken the record for the number of Bills passed, and if the criterion was the number of pages in the Bills, he would be miles ahead of all his predecessors put together.
What is the purpose of this immense ziggurat of paper? The number of people in prison, which was 60,000 when new Labour came into office, has zoomed up to 80,000 and counting today, with record rates of reconviction and a Probation Service which is staggering under the load of the numbers it is supervising. Prison and probation officers are never given a chance to catch their breath before another wave of customers hits them. There will be a loss of democratic accountability through the centralising
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Recently the Lord Chief Justice himself expressed concern about the increased length of sentences for serious offencesand then there was a predictable outcry from certain sections of the media. The pressure on the courts and the parole system created by the lurid accounts in these newspapers of a few crimes of violence committed by ex-offenders has such a harmful effect on sentencing practice. The only way of ensuring that no ex-prisoners go on to commit further serious crime after being released would be to lock them all up for the rest of their lives.
Twenty-five years ago, the Home Office found that a small proportion of violent offences were committed by persons who were classified as dangerous by reference to their previous history. Of those people, two-thirds had symptoms of mental disorder. Yet today we still find that the mentally ill or abnormal are clogging up the prisons when they should be in psychiatric institutions. I do not know whether the new definition in the Mental Health Bill that is coming before us will have any impact on that, but I hope that one feature of itthough others have been criticisedwill be that that definition enables more prisoners who are suffering from mental illness or disorder to be treated in appropriate institutions and not kept in prisons where nothing can be done for them.
Substance abusers and people with speech, language and communications difficulties to whom the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, referred six years ago should also be elsewhere. It is no wonder that reoffending is such an intractable problem, because prisons and YOIs are the wrong institutions for the special needs of a large proportion of their inmates. The local education authorities and NHS trusts simply do not have the resources even to assess those needs, let alone to provide remedial treatment. If the Government had genuinely set out to be tough on the causes of crime, as in the mantra that goes back to Mr Blairs speech at the Labour Party conference of 1992, the attributes that predisposed people to commit crimes would have been tackled vigorously by preventive action in the community.
The Home Office reported more than six years ago that alcohol misuse was involved in 76 per cent of assaults and 88 per cent of criminal damage, but it is
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I should also like an answer on the calculations that I submitted to the Home Office which showed that, since the date of the Cabinet Office survey on alcohol harm, the figure has increased by somewhere between £1.9 billion and £8.4 billion, depending on what index is used to measure it and why the Government still refuse to consider using price and availability, which are the only weapons that would effectively dam the torrents of alcohol that are poisoning millions of people.
On immigration and asylum, I very much regret, as the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, did, that there has been no consolidation four years after we first raised the matter and despite the assurance that the noble Baroness, Lady Ashton of Upholland, gave us in January that she would see whether it could be taken forward with the Law Commission. She undertook to discuss the matter with me or put a note in the Library after that discussion with the Law Commission. However, as I reminded her office on Monday, there has been no word about it since then. I hope that the Minister says something about that.
There has been no further news, either, about whether the Government have decided to exercise the power given them by an amendment to the 2006 Act to repeal Section 8 of the Asylum and Immigration (Treatment of Claimants, etc.) Act 2004 by which families with children can be deprived of all support at the end of the asylum process. The Minister said that a decision on that matter would be made when the evaluation of Section 9 had been considered, but again we have heard nothing since we discussed that in February or March.
In the new immigration Bill, the Government seek tougher powers to police the border. I wonder how that issue has arisen, given that the previous Bill left us only eight months ago. They say that it will make it easier to deport those who break the law, but the crisis has arisen through administrative flaws and not through a lack of legislation. The foreign prisoners scandal happened last spring because the IND displayed no effective or consistent approach and no coherent or timely planning for what needs to be done at the end of the sentence. Those are not my words; they come from the recent report of the Chief Inspector of Prisons. The INDs criminal casework team needs to be thoroughly overhauled, and that should be done before we have any further knee-jerk legislation of this type.
Like my noble friend Lord Dholakia, I hope that the Government will also have regard to what the JCHR had to say in its 32nd report about the legal rights of EEA nationals and the need for proportionality in deciding whether to deport non-EEA offenders.
Finally, as the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, also said, there is no sign of a coroners Bill which, as the Constitutional Affairs Committee said in another place, is long overdue. The committee had valid objections to the draft Bill but nine of its 16 recommendations have been accepted by the Government in whole or in part. The delays in hearing inquests of up to six years in the case of Oxfordshire, because of the additional responsibilities on coroners for examining deaths overseas, are utterly unacceptable. I hope that the Government will immediately provide extra resources for the coroners furthest in arrears and produce a revised draft Bill early enough in this Session for the Select Committee to be able to report on the subject again before next summer so that there can be a strong presumption of the final version appearing in next years Queens Speech.
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