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House of Lords

Wednesday, 29 November 2006.

The House met at three of the clock: the LORD SPEAKER on the Woolsack.

Prayers—Read by the Lord Bishop of Manchester.

Young Offenders

Lord Northbourne asked Her Majesty’s Government:

The Minister of State, Home Office (Baroness Scotland of Asthal): My Lords, in 1996, 119,937 young people aged 10 to 17 were prosecuted, of whom 6,497 received a custodial sentence. In 2004, the latest year for which figures are available, 136,662 were prosecuted and 6,325 given a custodial sentence. In 2004, 172 fewer received a custodial sentence than in 1996.

Lord Northbourne: My Lords, I am most grateful to the noble Baroness for those figures. How many of the 6,325 who received a custodial sentence in 2004 reoffended? Can she tell the House about the National Offender Management Service? What is its status, is it fully operative, has it adequate funding and will its success be evaluated within the next two years?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, I do not have the precise number of reoffenders from the cadre to which I referred. Overall, however, about 60 per cent of those who offend reoffend within two years; for young offenders the figure is higher.

On the National Offender Management Service, the regional offender managers are in place, with the ability to contract. The National Offender Management Bill, which this House will consider in due course, will enable us to develop that service further. There are resources which will be attached to any such development.

Lord Davies of Coity: My Lords, I am sure that the thoughts and sympathies of the whole House will go to the fiancée of Tom ap Rhys Pryce as a result of his recent murder. The two who committed the murder were convicted yesterday. Is the Minister aware that a report this morning suggested that people kill in this country not necessarily for the value of the goods they get, but because they want to increase their “street cred”? To what extent does she think that is the case?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, I join my noble friend in expressing my sympathy to the family of Tom ap Rhys Pryce. The tragedy is that a multiplicity of reasons causes young people and

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others to offend. It is distressing to hear that one reason may be the extraordinary pleasure it seems to give, but we have no indication that that is a wholesale feeling. We continue to look at these issues carefully.

Lord Dholakia: My Lords, today’s figures from the Prison Service indicating that there are 80,000 inmates in British institutions are shocking for all of us. We have never reached that figure before. Would the Minister accept that those who are sentenced to serve one year or less do not receive probation supervision? What has happened to the Government’s custody plus programme, which was branded as being able to resolve some of those difficulties? It now seems to have been put on the back burner.

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, to correct the noble Lord, the figure is 79,908. However, I can certainly confirm that that is an all-time high, and I join him in expressing concern about it. We have made plain that we would like to introduce custody plus as soon as resources are available. The Probation Service is rightly concentrating on high-risk offenders. There is a huge role for the voluntary sector, perhaps, in helping and supporting those at the lower end of the scale. We will look at the efforts we intend to make to broaden that opportunity for engagement when we debate the National Offender Management Bill.

Lord Soley: My Lords, bearing in mind the Government’s recent moves on parenting, which are very welcome, will the Minister look at the possibility of linking up much more effectively, particularly with younger offenders who have committed a second offence or received a second caution—and of parenting assistance for those families? We have never got right the parenting issue along with support for a child in trouble.

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, I agree with my noble friend about the importance of parenting. Noble Lords will remember that the Department for Education and Skills indicated that it would commit £18 million to support parenting educative programmes, particularly for those struggling with a level of dysfunction in their children. That agenda is continuing, and we are looking very carefully at enhancing parenting skills; it appears to have a material impact on the way in which young people offend.

Baroness Howe of Idlicote: My Lords, many of us believe that children should not be in prison, but the fact that around a third of them are held more than 50 miles from their home can hardly help parenting initiatives. What do the Government intend to do to reduce that number?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, I reiterate the Government’s policy that sending young people to prison or to a youth offending institution should be the last resort. I hope that my Answer to the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, indicated that, notwithstanding the fact that we are catching and

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convicting many more offenders, the number of young people sent to custody is reducing. That is in line with the Government’s intention that only those young people for whom custody is the only safe alternative should go to prison.

Health: Specialist Nurses

3.14 pm

Baroness Masham of Ilton asked Her Majesty’s Government:

The Minister of State, Department of Health (Lord Warner): My Lords, the Government continue to support the development of a range of specialist roles within nursing. However, it is for local trusts to deploy specialist nurses in accordance with their local needs. There are more than 400,000 nurses working in the NHS, an increase of more than 85,000 since 1997. We recognise that there is now a much closer match between affordable demand for nurses and their supply. That is why we launched on 30 October a new framework for NHS employers for the NHS and social care to work in partnership for the benefit of displaced staff and new qualifiers leaving training.

Baroness Masham of Ilton: My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for his reply, but it is rather worrying. Is he aware that, before my husband died, we had the expertise of a special diabetic nurse, a Parkinson’s nurse and a stoma-care nurse, who gave vital help to the family and to the ordinary nurses? Specialist nurses are the vital link between the specialist units within the hospital and the community. If their numbers are cut—this is a serious situation, because PCTs are running out of money—it will be a disaster.

Lord Warner: My Lords, I am very pleased that the noble Baroness and her family had that level of support, which is testimony to the vital services that specialist nurses bring to people when they need them. More generally, we recognise the contribution that specialist nurses make, but we have to leave it to people at the local level to make decisions about priorities. It is right that they should continue to look at nursing establishments and how nurses are deployed and ensure that that represents the best way locally of using those skills.

Baroness Neuberger: My Lords, we all accept that local NHS organisations have to make decisions about how resources are allocated. Will not the Government nevertheless give a lead—particularly given that Brian Jarman’s research shows that specialist Parkinson’s nurses are cost-neutral to health services—so that we can ensure that the 11 quality

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requirements of the National Service Framework for Long-Term Conditions are met? I cannot see otherwise how we will be able to do it.

Lord Warner: My Lords, the fact that we issued a national service framework indicates that we gave a lead. We set out very clearly what the expectations were around the pattern of services for people with those particular conditions. We continue, as part of the standards for the Healthcare Commission to inspect against, to require people to work in accordance with both NICE guidance and the national service framework. So we have not resiled in any way from giving a lead in this area, but it is down to people locally to make the decisions on the detailed deployment of personnel.

Baroness Gardner of Parkes: My Lords, is the Minister aware that, with multiple sclerosis, the biggest improvement in the last 10 years is due not to any tablets or treatment but to the access that patients have had to specialist nurses? I understand that the various charities, such as the Multiple Sclerosis Society, make quite a financial contribution to the funding of these nurses. Is that money earmarked for multiple sclerosis patients?

Lord Warner: My Lords, it is true that the Multiple Sclerosis Society makes a valuable contribution in this area and indeed funds specialist nurses. The expectation in those cases usually is that the NHS will pick up the tab at the end of two to three years of funding from the charity. The overwhelming majority of those specialist nurses—and there are over 200 of them—are funded by the NHS as part of its services for people with multiple sclerosis.

Baroness Gould of Potternewton: My Lords, perhaps I may look at another illness—epilepsy. I declare an interest as chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Epilepsy. Epilepsy specialist nurses are being made redundant or are allowed to spend only 10 per cent of their time doing epilepsy work, with the rest on general work. That is in complete contradiction to the NICE guidance, which states:

I appreciate that decisions have to be made locally, but what advice and specific guidance are being given to ensure that the NICE guidelines are implemented?

Lord Warner: My Lords, I say to my noble friend what I said to the noble Baroness, Lady Neuberger: the national standards, against which all trusts are inspected, require PCTs, acute trusts and other trusts to adhere to national service framework advice and NICE guidance. It is no good the noble Baroness, Lady Neuberger, shaking her head. That is the Government’s policy; it is integrated into the standards and that is the system that operates. We cannot micromanage the NHS from the centre of London. We have to leave people to make their

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judgments and take the consequences if the quality of their services is found to be inadequate by the Healthcare Commission.

Lord McColl of Dulwich: My Lords, does the Government's advice include pointing out locally that, when a vacancy occurs in the NHS, all we have to do is to ask whether, if the vacancy is not filled, any patient or student will suffer?

Lord Warner: My Lords, we are consistent in saying that it is for clinicians locally to decide what is the most appropriate care for their patients. It is down to the NHS locally to take into account the needs and safety of patients when decisions on resource allocations are made. I draw the noble Lord’s attention to the report produced by the Healthcare Commission, which showed that there was no evidence whatsoever that you cannot combine good-quality management and good-quality services with financial health.

Lord Sutherland of Houndwood: My Lords, are there sufficient training programmes and places for specialist nurses to meet foreseeable future staffing needs?

Lord Warner: My Lords, I am aware that there is a diversity of training programmes for specialist nurses. It is important to emphasise that those training programmes continue to be applied for and filled and we continue to produce newly trained nurses across the board to take up employment in the NHS.

Crime: Rape

3.21 pm

Lord Campbell-Savours: I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name. I take this opportunity to thank the noble Baroness, Lady Scotland, and the noble and learned Lord the Attorney-General for the comprehensive replies on rape that I have received over the past few days.

The Question was as follows:

The Attorney-General (Lord Goldsmith): My Lords, the consultation paper issued earlier this year sought views on whether to reform four different aspects of the law as it affects rape trials, as part of a broader strategy to look for more effective prosecution and support for victims. It does not include any proposals to deal with the issue of false accusations, which, research indicates, represent only a small fraction of the cases reported to the police. I thank the noble Lord for what he said.

Lord Campbell-Savours: My Lords, but should not consultation include a review of statistical data on rape? Why should the rape conviction rate be

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calculated as a percentage of the total of reported rapes when we know from the Purdue University study in the United States of America that reported rape figures include a high level of false allegations? The Purdue study revealed that 41 per cent of allegations turned out to be false. That was on the basis of admissions by the complainants. Surely the 5.3 per cent conviction statistic in the United Kingdom is fiction and nonsense, and brings criminal justice statistics into disrepute.

Lord Goldsmith: My Lords, my noble friend may be surprised to hear that I do not agree with that last remark. I agree that the fact that the level of convictions of reported rape is only 5.3 per cent is a matter of concern. I cannot think that he is suggesting that the balance of those reported cases are false allegations. I certainly do not accept that.

I have taken the opportunity to read the Purdue University report, to which my noble friend has referred before. It was produced 20 to 30 years ago in relation to a small mid-western United States town. I doubt that it has much relevance to here. I also note that, rather surprisingly, the report states that someone thinks that the level of false allegations is 100 per cent. Home Office research much more recently comes up with a much more reasonable figure of 9 per cent or, more likely, 3 per cent.

Lord Thomas of Gresford: My Lords, with regard to the level of convictions, to which the noble and learned Lord referred, is he satisfied that the decision to prosecute is on the usual criteria of “more likely than not” that a conviction will be obtained? If more people are prosecuted than convicted, does it not follow that a lot of victims are men against whom false allegations have been made but who are named and shamed in the press nevertheless?

Lord Goldsmith: My Lords, the noble Lord draws attention to an important point. Rape is a very serious crime, which undoubtedly many women suffer. It is a difficult allegation to prove because often it is a question of one person’s word against another. That is why, in the consultation paper, we have been looking at whether there are aspects of the law—not the burden or standard of proof; no one is going to touch that—which may mean that those prosecutions can be brought more effectively. We hope to be able to announce the Government’s response to the consultation shortly, and I invite the noble Lord to see what we say then.

Lord Lloyd of Berwick: My Lords, has the rate of conviction for rape increased since we changed the law in 2003 to change the definition of the mental element in rape? The object of the change at the time was that it would show an increase in the conviction rate.

Lord Goldsmith: My Lords, the noble and learned Lord asked my noble friend Lady Scotland this question on a previous occasion. She said then, and I believe the answer still stands, that it is too early to

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tell, given when the 2003 Act was brought in. No doubt once there are reliable statistics, we will ensure that they are made known.

Baroness Gale: My Lords, does the Minister agree that any miscarriage of justice is a tragedy for all concerned? As a result of the consultation, will we see a better conviction rate, for example? Does he agree that most victims of rape are women, and that it is a terrible crime against women? Does he also agree that most women are very reluctant to come forward to report the rape? I hope that the consultation will give support, encouragement and advice to all victims of rape so that they can at least have some satisfaction, if that is the correct word, after the crime that has been committed against them.

Lord Goldsmith: My Lords, I agree with the very important points that my noble friend has made. We must strive hard to avoid any miscarriage of justice, but the fact remains, as she rightly said, that a large number of women are real victims of rape who are too afraid or reluctant to report it, and, as a result, prosecutions do not even take place. It is part of our responsibility to give them the confidence to report it so that it can be brought to the courts.

Lord Roberts of Conwy: My Lords, the Minister referred to the Home Office figures for false allegations as being between 3 and 9 per cent. Is that not an extensive range, and is it not possible to get a little more certainty?

Lord Goldsmith: My Lords, I gave those figures for this reason. The report called A Gap or a Chasm? by Kelly, Lovett and Regan looked at the level of false allegations. The police were applying the figure of 9 per cent to their statistics. The researchers examined the cases in detail and thought that the more accurate figure was 3 per cent. That is their preferred figure, but I gave the range for the reason that I have just explained.

Lord Campbell-Savours: My Lords, my noble and learned friend has dismissed the Purdue University research figure of 41 per cent of cases in which the women complainants themselves have admitted that their allegations were false. That is 41 per cent, compared with 9 per cent, compared with 3 per cent. Is there not a huge difference between the statistics, and does that not cry out for some new work to be done to establish what the real statistic is?

Lord Goldsmith: My Lords, of course it shows that there is a wide variation in the statistics, as the Purdue University report itself indicated by quoting figures for false allegations ranging from 0.5 per cent to 100 per cent. But, as I have indicated, that was an old report. The Home Office recently commissioned a report, which reported in 2005, and I have indicated to the House the conclusions that it reached.

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