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19 Jun 2007 : Column 94

Noble Lords: My Lords—

The Minister of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Lord Rooker): My Lords, it is time to move on to the Topical Question.

Older People: Abuse

2.59 pm

Baroness Greengross asked Her Majesty’s Government:

The Minister of State, Department of Health (Lord Hunt of Kings Heath): My Lords, the report was commissioned and co-funded by Comic Relief and the Department of Health. We will introduce a new monitoring system to report the extent of abuse. We will also review the No Secrets guidance on developing and implementing multi-agency policies and procedures to protect vulnerable adults from abuse.

Baroness Greengross: My Lords, I thank the Minister and congratulate him on the Government’s part-sponsorship of this vital research. In demonstrating the prevalence of abuse and neglect of vulnerable elderly people, this is a great service to the majority of old people. Does the noble Lord agree that, following a clear indication that at least 4 per cent of people are abused or neglected in their own homes—not in institutions, care homes or hospitals, and not people suffering from any form of dementia—the actual prevalence is probably quite a bit higher, at least 6 per cent? The law must be reviewed urgently so that vulnerable adults have the same level of protection as abused children, such as the right of immediate access on suspicion of abuse. Older people must know about and have access to adult protection services, which is not happening at the moment. We still need to train staff much more in dealing with vulnerable older people. I look forward to meeting the Minister’s colleague in the other place to discuss that issue next week.

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, I assure the noble Baroness that the legislation will be studied as part of the work that we take forward. I agree with her about making older people aware of the adult protection arrangements in each local authority area. As we take the work forward, we will encourage local authorities to do more to make sure that their services are accessible to older people.

Lord Walton of Detchant: My Lords, does the Minister agree that, despite my noble friend Lady Greengross’s comments about this very valuable and notable report, there is clear evidence that some of those abused are in fact demented patients? Is it not therefore a major scar on the reputation of this country that individuals—elderly, defenceless and vulnerable—are being abused in this way?

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Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, the noble Lord is quite right. I also accept that the statistics in the report do not cover people with severe dementia or those in care homes. The report gives a snapshot of individuals living in their private homes or sheltered accommodation.

There can be no room for complacency. It is clear from the scale of the problem identified that this must be a major challenge for society; that is why we will look at the legislation and review the statutory guidance to local government. There is certainly no complacency on the Government’s part.

Baroness Neuberger: My Lords, given the lack of clarity about whether financial abuse counts as harm—some local authorities do not count it as such—can the Minister assure us that guidance will be sent to local authorities making it clear that the financial abuse of older people is indeed harm and should be treated as such?

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, we will make sure that that will be considered in the review of the No Secrets guidance. The statistics in this report show that financial abuse was reported in 0.7 per cent of respondents; it is a serious matter.

Baroness Gardner of Parkes: My Lords, in view of the fact that a home is always considered a very private place, how does the Minister propose to monitor this abuse, which is clearly going on in private homes?

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, the work just published is the result of a survey of more than 2,000 people. The Government’s intention is to establish a national monitoring system which will collate the reports made to local authorities under the local adult protection arrangements. It was also reported that 70 per cent of the older people concerned were able to report their concerns either to the authorities or a friend. That is encouraging, but we want to make sure that all older people subject to abuse are able to report it and that action will be taken where appropriate.

Lord Sutherland of Houndwood: My Lords, does the Minister agree that the sad conclusions of this report indicate that we must increase the value we place on family carers in particular, and the support we give them? Are the Government prepared to look at the volume of support for respite care, for example?

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, I could not agree more with the noble Lord about the importance of carers. He will probably be aware that a strategic review on carers is being undertaken. We hope that it will be published in due course. There is no question that the support that can be given to carers will be a very important part of it.

The Earl of Listowel: My Lords, will the Minister look carefully at the training, supervision and continual professional development of those who go into people’s homes? Does he recognise that, where there is a high turnover of such people because of a lack of training and support, that also is abusive?

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Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: Yes, my Lords, that is an important point, but the statistics in the survey show that 51 per cent of reported cases of abuse involve the spouse or the partner, 49 per cent involve another family member and 13 per cent the care worker. Although I certainly accept that there is work to be done with care workers, it is clear that much of it needs to involve programmes of education and support for the family members of people affected by abuse.

Baroness Howarth of Breckland: My Lords, the Minister has been referring to older people, but what does he intend to do for younger disabled people, particularly those with communication difficulties, who are unlikely to be able to make themselves understood and their abuse heard?

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, the principles behind tackling abuse of older people clearly apply to all parts of society, as much to vulnerable young people as to adults. The processes encompassed in No Secrets, while designed for adults, must apply to children as well.


3.06 pm

Lord Grocott: My Lords, with the permission of the House, we shall have two Statements this afternoon. The first, on the prison population, will be delivered by my noble and learned friend Lord Falconer immediately after this business Statement and will later be repeated in the Commons.

Noble Lords: Oh!

Lord Grocott: My Lords, we are a listening Government. We shall then start the Report stage of the GLA Bill. Then a Statement will be repeated here by my noble friend Lord Drayson, the subject of which is naval personnel detention by Iran.

Prisons: Population

The Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice (Lord Falconer of Thoroton): My Lords, with the leave of the House, I shall now make a Statement on the prison population.

The Ministry of Justice has been in existence for five weeks. I announced on 9 May my department’s approach to penal policy. I announced that we would continue to protect the public by providing prison places for those whom the courts determined needed custody, and that this would include us asking the Sentencing Guidelines Council to review its guidance; that we should make best use of the best community sentences where evidence showed that they reduce reoffending and offer more effective punishment; and that we would continue to deliver in line with the recommendations of the 2003 review of my noble friend Lord Carter, including end-to-end offender management and public service reform.

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Today, I shall provide details to your Lordships of how the Government will ensure that all those whom the courts send to prison can be accommodated. I will update the House on the detail of the inquiry of my noble friend Lord Carter into prisons, announce the building of further custodial places, and set out further measures to improve the functioning of our prisons and to reduce reoffending.

We have made the public’s protection from the most dangerous criminals a priority. We are bringing more offenders to justice than ever before—25 per cent more than when we came into office. Those who commit violent or sexual offences can now receive an indeterminate prison sentence. The length of time for which criminals are sent to prison has increased, with the average custodial sentence in Crown Courts rising by 25 per cent between 1995 and 2005. More people are being sent to prison than ever before. This means that, overall, there are 40 per cent more serious and violent offenders in prison than in 1997. Since 1997, the prison population has increased from 61,467 to 81,016 today, which is a record high.

Nationally, crime is falling. There are 5.8 million fewer offences than in 1997, but we know that we need to go further. We have been working intensively with 44 of our most deprived communities, where crime and disorder are highest, to reduce crime further. Early indications show that this work is making an impressive impact and that crime is falling in those areas at twice the rate of the national average. We are determined that the public be protected from dangerous offenders, and that court sentences and other orders be obeyed.

We have taken steps to increase resources spent on community punishments and interventions designed to address the causes of crime among offenders. The tough community sentences that we have developed have proved to be more successful in reducing reoffending. As I announced in May, we will therefore extend and expand such schemes.

We have built over 20,000 more prison places since 1997, with a commitment to 8,000 more by 2012. We have increased expenditure on probation by 70 per cent in real terms over the past 10 years and, as an example of our commitment to addressing the causes of crime, we have increased the expenditure on drug treatment programmes in prisons from £7.2 million in 1996-97 to £79 million in 2007-08.

To help accommodate the current pressures, I can announce today that Her Majesty's Treasury has made available new money to build an additional 1,500 places over and above the 8,000 already announced. We will be starting work immediately on 500 of those extra places. The first of these additional places will come on-stream in January 2008.

As I announced on 9 May, I have asked the noble Lord, Lord Carter, to look at the future of the prison estate and we will take decisions on the optimum timing and composition of the further 1,000 places announced today in the light of the noble Lord’s report. I am today publishing the terms of reference to his review; as they make clear, the noble Lord will

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look at the long-term future of the prison estate and the supply and demand of prison places.

These additional measures will bring on more prison places, which are much needed. The prison estate is near to full currently. To ensure that we can accommodate all those sent to prison by the court, as a temporary measure we will continue to rely on police cells and, when necessary, court cells. We are grateful to chief constables in England and Wales for making police cells available to us when necessary and to Her Majesty's Courts Service for over 100 court cells. The use of police cells may be necessary until the end of the year at the latest, pending the increase in capacity from some of the 8,000 coming on-stream, and then in the beginning of 2008 the additional prison places that I have announced today.

In addition to the increased prison capacity, I have today authorised the issuing of guidance to prison governors to allow them to make wider use of the prison rules provisions to authorise release on licence for offenders who are coming to the end of their sentence. The guidance will authorise the release on licence, in accordance with existing prison rules, up to 18 days before their release date to those who have been sentenced to a determinate prison sentence of four years or less. This is a temporary measure.

Release on licence is not the same as executive release. Releasing people on licence means their sentence continues and will be granted only to those who meet the eligibility criteria, set out in the guidance which I will place in the Library of the House. The criteria exclude offenders convicted of serious sexual or violent crimes, those who have broken the terms of temporary licence in the past and foreign national prisoners who would be subject to deportation at the end of their sentence. It will apply only to those who are not released on home detention curfew. While on licence, the offender will remain the subject of his sentence and will be liable to recall.

The guidance comes into effect on 29 June. I will keep the operation of the guidance under review.

In addition, yesterday saw the launch of a new bail accommodation and support service, which will enable the courts to make better use of bail in appropriate cases. The accommodation will also be available for prisoners who would be eligible for home detention curfew if they had suitable accommodation.

The measures that I have announced today are designed to ensure the Government will be able to accommodate all those the courts send to prison. We will respect and give effect to the orders made by the courts.

My Lords, that concludes the Statement.

3.14 pm

Lord Henley: My Lords, in thanking the noble and learned Lord for making that Statement to this House, I thank him—as the whole House implied earlier—for making it here first rather than repeating a Statement made in another place. However, I should have liked to have had a copy of the Statement a little earlier. I received mine at 2.30 pm, which was fine, but

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I then received a revised copy at precisely 3.04 pm, which did not give me much time to have a look at it before responding.

I congratulate the noble and learned Lord on resisting the temptation to appear on the “Today” programme to pre-announce the Statement and on making it in this House, although that does not seem to have stopped either him or his department briefing the press, as we read all about it in today’s Times and later in the Evening Standard. He might have been rather loath to appear on the radio or television following his interview on Sky only some five weeks ago during which he categorically denied that there would be any early release and said that the allegations were simply untrue. I hope that that is correct but if that is not the case the noble and learned Lord will correct me. I believe that interview took place about five weeks ago.

This is the first time I have responded to a Statement made by the noble and learned Lord since the creation of the new Ministry of Justice and his acquiring such extensive responsibilities. We very much hope that he will continue in his exciting new role for a considerable time. He is the fifth prisons Minister, after four Home Secretaries, since 1997. I think that we all agree that we need a period of stability in relation to prisons policy. Since the noble and learned Lord has managed this matter for all of five weeks, I think that the whole House would appreciate his staying in office for considerably longer.

When the noble and learned Lord became the first Secretary of State for Justice he issued a manifesto entitled, Justice—A New Approach, in which he talked of the department’s objectives. The document states:

I think that there are six objectives in all. He could have added a seventh—we will let out 2,000 prisoners early because we have so mismanaged the system that there are not enough prison places. I looked through that document, which has relatively little about prisons for the very good reason that the Ministry of Justice issued a second manifesto in June, Penal Policy—A Background Paper. The noble and learned Lord set out in that paper, as he has again today, exactly how many prisons places there are and how many new places we will get—8,000 by 2012. He announced another 1,200 today, following the receipt of more money from the Treasury. But at no point did he suggest that some 2,000 or more prisoners would be let out early. As I say, the noble and learned Lord became the new Secretary of State for Justice and took over responsibility for prisons policy only five weeks ago.

I have questions arising from the Statement. First, if the Government need to provide more temporary accommodation, why have they not—I appreciate that it was not the noble and learned Lord’s decision but that of his predecessor, the Home Secretary—found the prison ship which they sold at a loss not so very long ago? That could provide further accommodation. Why have they not looked to make use of redundant military camps—of which there is a large number, as the noble and learned Lord will

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know—former secure hospitals and other available accommodation? Why did they not do these things last year or even earlier? I appreciate that the noble and learned Lord was not in charge at that stage, it was his colleague the Home Secretary, but he must now get on with it.

The Government say that they will release prisoners early. They did that before with tragic consequences and there were far too many innocent victims. As they release inmates early from open prisons, will they not transfer unsuitable offenders from secure prisons to the open estate? Can the police and Prisons Service, already overstretched, keep their eyes on yet more offenders released on licence?

Lastly, the Statement was somewhat coy on the precise number who will be released early. The noble and learned Lord talks very firmly of this being release by licence not executive release and stresses how important that is. However, we need to know—the noble and learned Lord must tell us this—just how many will be released early. If he does not know that, he should.

3.19 pm

Lord Dholakia: My Lords, I thank the Minister for the Statement. Unlike the noble Lord, Lord Henley, I am not unduly bothered about what time I received it, although it was after 2.30 pm. Those of us who have spoken in debates in this House on prisons knew that sooner or later the Minister would make the type of Statement that he has made today.

I am sad that the Justice Minister, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer, now finds himself in the middle of a crisis situation that is not of his making. We have been complaining about the unacceptably high prison population. This is the worst record that the Government have faced. The situation will continue because there are not enough spaces for all prisoners; and Operation Safeguard, under which prisoners can be kept in police or court cells, has been implemented and will be the task for some time to come. The population continues to rise faster than prisons can be built, but the more prisons you build the quicker they will be filled until we look at the causes underlying the trend. The Home Office’s estimates suggest that the prison population could top 100,000 by 2012 unless a long-term strategy is put in place to stabilise and then reduce the prison population.

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