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8.15 pm

Baroness Morris of Bolton: My Lords, the report of the all-party parliamentary inquiry into anti-Semitism makes disturbing reading and the Government were absolutely right in their response when they compared the current rhetoric about Israel and Zionism with ancient forms of hatred towards Jews. Anti-Semitism anywhere is unacceptable, but it is particularly disturbing when it is found on our university campuses. Higher education institutions are nothing if they do not nurture the fair, open and inquisitive exchange of ideas and development of thought. This can be achieved only in an environment of tolerance and respect for one another.

Vice-chancellors should be given every possible support to assist them in rooting out intolerance. Can the Minister tell us what discussions have been held to help them with this? We hope that in this task, universities will harness the passion of the National Union of Students, which has a long tradition of standing up against oppression and has the knack of putting its finger on uncomfortable truths. The union has a large part to play in promoting openness and generosity, which, I am sad to say, is in stark contrast to a handful of lecturers who seem to have hijacked their union. It is quite wrong that there should be any question of banning contacts between Israeli and British academics. It makes us look unfairly biased and petty-minded, and plays into the hands of radical fanatics on campus, allowing them to stoke up anti-Semitic feeling. Such conduct can only serve to diminish the standing of British academic life.

There is a time and a place for teenage gesture politics; this is not it. This is a time for building bridges, opening up dialogue and promoting tolerance. I fervently hope that the moderate members of UCU will seize back their union.

8.17 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Education and Skills (Lord Adonis): My Lords, the House is grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Deech, for raising this important issue, and to the large number of other speakers in this short debate. On the issue of the threatened boycott of Israeli universities, let me say this. The Government unequivocally deplore any proposed boycott. Not only is a boycott wrong in principle, undermining the integrity of relations between bona fide centres of learning, but in practice its only likely effects would be to weaken the progressive forces within both Israel and the Palestinian Occupied Territories.

My honourable friend the Minister for Higher Education visited Israel over the weekend and made clear our explicit opposition to a boycott. He had meetings with, among others, Mrs Livni, Vice Prime Minister and Foreign Minister, and Yuli Tamir, the Minister of Education. He also visited the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, where he met academics and students, and the Palestinian Al Quds University in East Jerusalem, where he had discussions with senior Palestinian academics. In statements that were prominently publicised in the Israeli media, my honourable friend made clear that the Government were strongly opposed to an academic boycott. Not only would a boycott be inconsistent with the spirit of openness and tolerance that should inform public life, it would also be counter-productive. Education plays a vital role in developing and aiding understanding between different people, and it is therefore all the more important to keep open channels of communication between academics and education institutions in the Middle East during these difficult times.

My honourable friend went on to make it clear that, in our view, the majority of academics in this country were opposed to any form of boycott, and that the National Union of Students had condemned calls for a boycott in very strenuous terms. My honourable friend was accompanied by Drummond Bone, president of Universities UK and vice-chancellor of Liverpool University, who made clear the opposition of universities to a boycott and the collective determination of universities in this country to work constructively with Israeli and Palestinian academics. My honourable friend also announced our intention to host a seminar in London involving UK, Israeli and Palestinian academics, and we will be developing the programme for this event over the coming weeks.

Let me now turn to the wider issues raised by the report of the All-Party Parliamentary Inquiry into anti-Semitism. The Government’s view on this is equally unequivocal: we are appalled that a tiny minority of people in our society feel they can physically harm or threaten others, due either to race hatred or perhaps to a misguided view that individuals here share responsibility for the actions of groups or states abroad. The recommendations in the report are addressed primarily to vice-chancellors and others in the higher education sector in recognition of the fact that our higher education institutions are independent. However, the Government have a responsibility to encourage and to support higher education institutions in making clear that racism and discrimination have no place whatever in higher education, and we will discharge that responsibility at every available opportunity, including this debate today.

Britain has in place one of the strongest legislative frameworks to protect people from harassment and abuse and, specifically, racial or religious persecution. This legislation protects Jewish people alongside other racial and ethnic groups. The Race Relations Act 1976 imposes on public authorities, including higher education institutions, a positive duty to eliminate unlawful racial discrimination, to promote race equality and to promote good relations between different racial groups. Public institutions also have specific duties under the Act which are designed to help them meet these requirements, for example, the gathering of ethnic minority monitoring data and assessing the impact of the institution’s policies on different racial groups. This enables higher education institutions to challenge and prevent racism and discrimination, to promote good relations and to create a climate which values diversity and respects difference.

Part III of the Public Order Act 1986 also makes incitement to racial hatred a crime. It is an offence to use threatening, abusive or insulting words or behaviour with the intention or likelihood that racial hatred would be engendered and, as the House will know, Jews have been included as a group under this legislation, along with Sikhs, by the courts. The Government extended the 1986 legislation in 2001 to include incitement of hatred against groups abroad, so hatred of nationalities cannot be used to hide racial hatred. It is therefore unlawful to incite hatred against Israelis however strong one’s condemnation of their Government’s actions and policies. The Act was further strengthened by the Racial and Religious Hatred Act 2006.

The Crime and Disorder Act 1998, which introduced specific racially aggravated offences, also acts as a deterrent against hate crimes. The Employment Equality (Religion or Belief) Regulations 2003 and the Equality Act 2006 also outlaw discrimination on grounds of religion and belief.

From the summary of the relevant legislation, I hope that I have made sufficiently clear to the House that we have strong legislation in place which empowers higher education institutions to tackle anti-Semitism on campus. I would like to be equally clear on this basis: the Government are not seeking to further regulate universities in this area. We look to universities to act responsibly, and indeed they are doing so.

But, of course, addressing anti-Semitism and other forms of racism is not only about the law. The policies that universities have in place and how those policies are implemented on campus are all important. There are very many examples of good practice I could highlight in addition to those mentioned by the noble Baroness, Lady Deech, and others. For example, the Institute of Cancer Research is implementing a system of recording racist and other equality-related incidents called the equality-related incident log. The log will allow the institute to monitor incidents, identify trends and deal with the activity noted.

There are also excellent examples of creating shared spaces through multi-faith centres and dialogue groups to help build constructive relations between different groups on campus. The University of Derby’s well established multi-faith centre has promoted cohesion through a number of specific events; the University of Glasgow recently established a new inter-faith facility on site; and a Jewish and a Muslim student at Manchester University have set up a dialogue group to enable open discussions between Jewish and Muslim students on a range of topics, including political issues. These are just a few examples of universities acting in partnership with students and other bodies to promote harmonious relationships.

Nevertheless, it is widely acknowledged, not least by universities themselves, that there is bad and inconsistent practice alongside this good practice. As my noble friend Lady Warwick said in her capacity as president of Universities UK, Universities UK is due to meet the all-party parliamentary group to discuss existing activity and the recommendations in the reports. In 2005, guidance was issued by the higher education representative bodies and their equality challenge units on promoting good campus relations dealing with hate crime and intolerance. This guidance provides practical strategies to deal with instances of hate crime and intolerance. It also discusses the balance needed between academic freedom and freedom of expression and the need to ensure that these are not used to harm or to restrict the freedom of others. This guidance is already being widely used and it will be updated in June.

Universities UK, with the Association of Managers of Student Services in Higher Education, will be hosting a conference that will explore tackling discrimination on campus, including anti-Semitism and Islamophobia, as well as institutional approaches to good campus relations. My department has also acted in this area. We published guidance last November for higher education institutions and colleges to help them deal with extremism in the name of Islam and to help build community cohesion. The guidance is intended to ensure that freedom of speech is not used by those wanting to bully others, incite others to violence or encourage other illegal behaviour on our campuses.

I will reply to the many other points in writing because my time is up. I conclude by noting that there is significant action in train to address anti-Semitism in universities, and the Government will continue to treat the issues raised in the all-party inquiry into anti-Semitism with the utmost seriousness.

Baroness Crawley: My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now adjourn during pleasure for five minutes.

On Question, Motion agreed to.

[The Sitting was suspended from 8.25 to 8.30 pm.]

Offender Management Bill

House again in Committee.

Lord Ramsbotham moved Amendment No. 128:

“Rehabilitation of offenders

The noble Lord said: This is another amendment where I can almost predict what the reply will be but there is purpose to it because, the more one looks into the whole business of rehabilitation, the more one realises that the present Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974 is not fit for purpose, which is a considerable concern to all those involved in the resettlement process.

A great deal of work has already been done within the Home Office on this subject. It is possible that if there had been a revision of the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act, a lot of the problems that we have been foreseeing would have disappeared. Recently the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, obtained a short debate on this subject so there is no need to go over the whole ground again. I have put it in the Bill because, as I have mentioned before, what is marked in the Bill about the management of offenders is really what is not in the Bill about the management of offenders. One of the things I shall be seeking in a further amendment is a revisiting of a lot of the issues which need to be in a proper regime for the management of offenders, including this. Therefore, by having it on the record as an amendment that we discuss in this House, I hope it will be drawn to the attention of those who will have to go through and see what needs to be put in to strengthen the Bill, particularly as we spent the first three days talking about the importance of rehabilitation, for which this Act is a very important tool. I beg to move.

Baroness Stern: I support my noble friend Lord Ramsbotham in calling for a review of the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act. We have spoken a lot about reducing reoffending and have heard that the purpose of the Bill is to reduce it. I revert to some research that I mentioned on the first day of Committee, which seems an awfully long time ago. I described the eight points that that research gave us—“Eight Principles for Supporting Desistance in Criminal Justice”, or what actually helps people to give up crime. I mentioned two of the principles on that occasion and promised some more. I would now like to quote the eighth, which is to “promote redemption”:

The Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974 is very important to the aims of the Bill in reducing reoffending. If people are ostracised for years, if they have to declare convictions for years and therefore cannot get work, they stay in the outcast part of society and crime is not reduced. I very much support the amendment.

Baroness Linklater of Butterstone: I, too, support the amendment. I love the inclusion of the notion of redemption—it is really important. One of the constant themes of our discussions on the Bill so far has been the central objective of rehabilitating offenders, which should be the goal of everything we are trying to achieve.

It is well known to all who work in this field that there are three core prerequisites for a person to be able to establish themselves in society on release, which is also part of one of the objectives of the prison rules. Those are a roof, a relationship and a job. More often than not, these are the three things that imprisonment takes away from people and why community-based penalties are so important. They can be very difficult to re-establish.

Resettlement programmes can be crucial to this, both in prison before someone is released and then continued outside. We at the Butler Trust have frequently recognised excellent programmes in prisons, but the real test is how someone can find their feet in these three areas on release when they make the crucial transition from being an offender or an ex-offender to a citizen.

Housing is a major issue. All too often, people are released with nowhere permanent to go, even from YOIs. Without a place to stay, it is all too easy for a person to get into trouble again.

The Home Office recently reviewed the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974 and published a report in 2002 called Breaking the Circle,which recognised the well known fact that employment can reduce reoffending by between a third and a half. It also recognised the need for new arrangements to be introduced as quickly as possible. That was in 2002; now in 2007, perhaps—just perhaps—we have a new opportunity to do something.

The review has developed a scheme where all sorts of useful recommendations have been included, such as formulae around disclosure of a conviction, the requirements which should apply in various situations, a code of practice for employers, and so on. I hope that the Government will take this forward.

Baroness Howe of Idlicote: I support the amendment. The idea of rehabilitation is at the back of what we are all trying to achieve, and to hear what conclusions the review has come to would be very helpful.

I should like to draw attention to something I heard about when visiting Downview, a women’s prison. When one woman there had served a proportion of her sentence—it was very long, as far too many of the sentences given to women are—she was allowed to work in the local Asda. She did brilliantly and got a prize. It was filmed to show the potential of so many people who have been in prison. The real problem was that other branches of Asda, all around the country, still held the view that if someone had been to prison they were much too dangerous to be employed and that other people working in the store would not like it. There was no central direction on the issue from Asda.

This is exactly where the Government, with all their influence, can play such an important role. They have done so already, with the list of employers they have got to join together to help with the rehabilitation scheme. The basis is there for the future. The example I have given struck me as a particularly good illustration of just how much prejudice there still is, and how much one needs to sell the idea that people can be reclaimed and rehabilitated after having been to prison. It is in everybody’s interests that that should happen.

Lord Hylton: My impression is that the 1974 Act has worked only moderately well in England and Wales and may have disappointed those who first promoted it. I shall bring a Northern Ireland dimension to the debate. The rehabilitation of offenders in that jurisdiction is perhaps even more important than it is here, because many of them over past years have been politically motivated.

We still encounter problems over basic matters such as former offenders being allowed to have public service vehicle licences, heavy goods vehicle licences, taxi-driving authority and, in general, getting work within the public sector, which is very prominent in Northern Ireland. I mentioned NIACRO earlier. I am glad to say that that organisation has been active in educating potential employers about the risks involved in employing people who have had convictions. We have seen some success in that direction. I hope that it will be emulated in England. My noble friend was right to bring forward the amendment.

Viscount Bridgeman: We have heard from all sides of the Committee that the proposals in the report of 2002 have not been implemented and that there must be uncertainty about the Government’s direction on this matter. There can be no doubt that the task is not easy. It is essential that a careful balance is struck between the potential risks to the public and the criminal disclosure scheme, along with checks on those working with children and the vulnerable. That goes for those working both in and out of the Prison Service.

Life after prison has become increasingly difficult to manage—in some cases, perhaps rightly so. The noble Baroness, Lady Linklater, rightly reminded us of the three basic requirements of roof, relationship and job. It has been further complicated by the introduction of the Criminal Records Bureau and the Safeguarding Vulnerable Groups Act. Public safety must come first, but we must not ignore the fact that it can be enhanced only by the effective rehabilitation of offenders.

Lord Bassam of Brighton: This has been another short, valuable debate where there has been a great comity of view among its contributors and a general willingness to make further progress on the vexed issue of rehabilitating offenders. The amendment does what it says on the tin and asks the Government to conduct a review of the 1974 Act and publish their findings. We have learnt from the contributors to the debate that the Government have already conducted such a review in 2002, Breaking the Circle, to which the noble Baroness, Lady Linklater, and others referred. However, as the noble Viscount, Lord Bridgeman, said, there are problems in implementing it because of the necessary checks and balances that one understandably has to put in place to ensure that, in rehabilitating offenders, one does not put the general public at risk through somebody reoffending.

Breaking the Circle proposed modifying disclosure periods for offences and other changes to the operation of the Act. In 2003, the Government agreed that the proposals had merit and proposed to legislate when parliamentary time allowed. That remains the position. However, as I have already said, it is clear that the disclosure landscape has changed to some extent since 2003. The Safeguarding Vulnerable Groups Act 2006, which followed the Bichard report, changes the situation for ex-offenders in many areas of employment. Consideration is required as to whether the Breaking the Circle proposals need updating in the light of these new arrangements. The Government will consider that in due course.

I want to make it clear that the Government are fully committed to improving opportunities for employment for ex-offenders. I entirely agree with all those who say that employment is a key route out of offending—that is plain for all to see. The cross-government document Reducing Re-offending through Skills and Employment: Next Steps focuses on the need to improve employability, to link skills training to labour market needs, and to provide offenders with a direct route into employment and with employment support. Those key elements are all there and in place. There are three key priorities in this work: engaging employers through the Corporate Alliance for Reducing Re-offending; building on the new offender learning and skills service, including through the campus model; and reinforcing the emphasis on skills and jobs in prisons and probation.

8.45 pm

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