20 Jun 2007 : Column 209

20 Jun 2007 : Column 209

House of Lords

Wednesday, 20 June 2007.

The House met at three o'clock (Prayers having been read earlier at the Judicial Sitting by the Lord Bishop of Coventry): the LORD SPEAKER on the Woolsack.

Criminal Justice: Rehabilitation of Offenders

Lord Judd asked Her Majesty’s Government:

The Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice (Lord Falconer of Thoroton): My Lords, one of the six core aims of the new Ministry of Justice is to reduce reoffending and to protect the public by combining punishment with rehabilitation. We are committed to reducing reoffending by 10 per cent by the end of the decade. At the heart of our vision is end-to-end case management for offenders and a strong focus on commissioning the most effective interventions for men and women which will best support the management and rehabilitation of offenders.

Lord Judd: My Lords, I thank my noble and learned friend for that reply. Does he agree that as his new ministry sets out on course, it is terribly important to send an overriding message that the key priority in policy should be rehabilitation? Of course, protecting the public is crucial, but, if rehabilitation helps to protect the public from future crime, it just does not make sense, economically or socially, to have anything else as the purpose and reality of the Prison Service or other parts of penal policy because of the social and economic costs if we fail. Does my noble and learned friend further agree that there is a tremendous job to be done in building up a culture among all concerned that rehabilitation is the priority that matters and that we have appropriate institutions, not just prisons, in which successful rehabilitation can be undertaken?

Lord Falconer of Thoroton: My Lords, I agree that the priority for the penal system must be public protection. One way to do that is to reduce reoffending; one critical way to reduce reoffending is by stopping offenders committing further offences, which means rehabilitation when they are in the community.

Lord Henley: My Lords, if rehabilitation is so important, why does not the manifesto of the noble and learned Lord’s new department, Justice—A New Approach, say much about it? He states that that is one of his department’s principal objectives but there is very little in the document about it. How will releasing 1,200 prisoners early assist rehabilitation?

20 Jun 2007 : Column 210

Lord Falconer of Thoroton: My Lords, those prisoners are being released 18 days before the end of their sentences. It is part of the existing prison rules, which allow temporary release on licence at the end of a sentence to try to improve family ties and to reintegrate someone into society. Adult reoffending has been reduced by 6.9 per cent when comparing 2004 figures with 1997. Perhaps I did not mention this enough in my manifesto because we are doing it.

Baroness Masham of Ilton: My Lords, is the Lord Chancellor aware that many young offenders have drug and alcohol abuse problems? If they are released in the middle of their rehabilitation because their crime may not have been too serious, what will happen? Will there be a co-ordinated continuation of their rehabilitation in the community? The BMA is very worried about this problem.

Lord Falconer of Thoroton: My Lords, I accept that it is a real problem. In too many cases there is not a continuation, which is why end-to-end offender management is so important in order to ensure that when someone is in prison and then goes out into the community, there is co-ordination between what has gone on in prison and what then goes on in the community, including drug rehabilitation.

Lord Thomas of Gresford: My Lords, does the noble and learned Lord recall what Anne Owers, the Chief Inspector of Prisons, said in her 2006 annual lecture? She said:

What provision is made for the treatment and rehabilitation of those who are filling up the jails because they have breached anti-social behaviour orders so that they can be prevented from anti-social behaviour in the future?

Lord Falconer of Thoroton: My Lords, health treatment in prisons has increased considerably since 1997, in part as a result of arrangements made with the Department of Health. But all noble Lords would accept that not enough is being done for those with mental health problems. As the ministry made clear at the outset, we are trying to ensure that those with mental health problems who are in prison get the best treatment.

The Earl of Listowel: My Lords, is the noble and learned Lord aware that not all probation officers are receiving proper supervision? Will he consider reducing the targets for the Probation Service to allow more time for such important activities? I apologise to noble Lords for speaking from this position.

Lord Falconer of Thoroton: My Lords, I am rather disappointed in the apology, if I may say so. I am not sure whether the noble Earl is talking about probation officers supervising offenders or—

20 Jun 2007 : Column 211

The Earl of Listowel: My Lords, I am talking about probation officers being supervised.

Lord Falconer of Thoroton: My Lords, probation officers are subject to proper supervision arrangements. If there are problems, I should be grateful if the noble Earl would let me know and I will deal with them.

The Lord Bishop of Coventry: My Lords, I assume that the whole House welcomes the principle enunciated by the Government on many occasions of involving faith communities and voluntary organisations in the process of offender rehabilitation. Can the noble and learned Lord assure the House that the groups that are involved in that work can look forward to a stable funding regime in the future?

Lord Falconer of Thoroton: My Lords, we are keen to encourage both voluntary organisations and faith groups to play an appropriate part in the rehabilitation of offenders, in particular in relation to interventions both in custody and outside. We cannot fund all interventions, but we will evaluate them and fund those that we think are effective.

Lord Low of Dalston: My Lords, if the noble Earl can speak from the Government Benches, perhaps I can get in a word from the Cross Benches. The outgoing chairman of the Youth Justice Board, Rod Morgan, has raised concerns about the police practice of charging children with very minor offences—a recent case involved stealing a tube of toothpaste costing 49p—so as to meet government targets for offences brought to justice. Has the Minister any plans to encourage diversion from prosecution in such minor cases so that children do not end up with a criminal record?

Lord Falconer of Thoroton: My Lords, we are as keen as we possibly can be to divert people from the criminal justice system altogether where it is appropriate to do so, and that means in relation to very minor offences. I do not know the details of the case the noble Lord has referred to, but if it was a first offence of stealing a tube of toothpaste, it sounds eminently like a case for diversion from the criminal justice system.

Lord Elton: My Lords, does the noble and learned Lord recognise that no matter how heroic the efforts at rehabilitation in prison may be, all will be undone within hours if a prisoner is discharged with no arrangements for resettlement into the community? This is what happens habitually with young people coming out of young offender institutions. There is delay in their getting benefits, so they have no income; there is delay in getting them training, so they have no job; and often they must first travel home 50 miles or more with hardly a penny in their pocket. What is going to be done about that?

Lord Falconer of Thoroton: My Lords, I agree completely with the noble Lord’s analysis. He will have read the National Reducing Re-offending Plan, published in November 2005, on which I am sure it is based. It is delivering that plan which will make the difference.

20 Jun 2007 : Column 212

Crime: Search Powers

3.08 pm

The Earl of Onslow asked Her Majesty’s Government:

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, the power of search without warrant is granted under individual enactments by Parliament to ensure that the purpose of such legislation can be effectively enforced. We would consider removing any enforcement powers if they were no longer considered relevant or appropriate, but there are no current plans to reduce the number of bodies exercising their statutory powers of search without warrant.

The Earl of Onslow: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that information, which is more or less what has been given before. I have a book from the Library of the House called The Law of Entry, Search and Seizure, which I admit I have not read from cover to cover. Two or three chapters cover different powers of entry for different bodies. The number has increased, is increasing and should not go on increasing. Surely there should be logic throughout the whole search and entry procedure rather than the gobbledegook of different powers that I have read about in this fascinating tome?

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, I have some sympathy with the noble Earl on this; it is for that reason—not my sympathy personally but for the reason that he enunciated—that we propose to review some of these powers in the context of the PACE review, which was announced in March this year. Previous Governments have attempted to rationalise matters in the way suggested by the noble Earl, going back as early as the 1980s, and there has been some success in that regard. But, obviously, this is work in progress.

Lord Mackenzie of Framwellgate: My Lords, is my noble friend aware that the use of search powers without warrant has led to some very important arrests, not least those of Peter Sutcliffe—the Yorkshire Ripper—and the Oklahoma bomber, Timothy McVeigh? Does he agree that the use of stop and search is a very real deterrent when people are carrying knives and handguns on the streets, provided, of course, that it is carried out lawfully?

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, stop and search is a rather different issue but the noble Lord makes an important point with regard to law enforcement. He is absolutely right that a search without warrant is essential in many instances, not least to protect life, limb and property. It is for that reason that those powers exist.

Lord Henley: My Lords, I am advised that the Ministry of Justice does not keep any records of the number of warrants for entry that have been issued by magistrates. Can the Minister tell us why that is the case?

20 Jun 2007 : Column 213

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, the Question relates to entry without warrants. I do not have a precise statistical answer to the noble Lord’s question but I shall be more than happy to contact my colleagues in the Ministry of Justice and ensure that we do provide an answer.

Lord Thomas of Gresford: My Lords, is there at least a requirement that a report of every use of the power should be recorded centrally at the Home Office? What safeguards are there to ensure that the exercise of the power on a particular occasion was for a legitimate object, and was necessary and proportionate to the achievement of that object, in order to satisfy Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights?

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, that is an extremely important article, as are the PACE codes that govern these issues. As part of the review we intend to keep a careful eye on PACE powers and procedures so that they reflect what we need for law enforcement in the 21st century.

Baroness Gardner of Parkes: My Lords, is the Minister satisfied that people who have the right to search without a warrant fully identify themselves to the householder whom they are approaching? Many elderly people are very concerned about, and taken in by, people who are not legitimately entitled to enter their premises. How can the Minister be confident that householders are satisfied that the person entering their property is legitimately entitled to do so?

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, there is a general instruction that, whatever form of officialdom needs to have access to premises and property, its officials should identify themselves to the owner and occupier. That will not always be the case, of course, in the kind of situations referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Mackenzie of Framwellgate, but, by and large, one can fairly say that powers of entry are exercised reasonably.

Lord Tebbit: My Lords, how many such bodies are there?

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, I think the noble Lord is asking me how many bodies have powers of entry. I do not have a precise figure for that and a central record is not kept. A central record was not kept when the noble Lord was part of a Conservative Government.

The Earl of Erroll: My Lords, when we had this problem in the electronic world, the Government very sensibly introduced the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act, which rationalised the situation for most bodies. Does the Minister agree that there is a very good case for doing the same now so that citizens know where they stand when someone turns up to the door and says that they are entitled to come in? If you have done it already in one place, do it again.

20 Jun 2007 : Column 214

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act was a rather more extensive piece of legislation than the noble Earl described it. There is a benefit, clearly, in knowing who has what powers and where and how they are exercised, but that is part of the more extensive review that is being conducted currently.

Baroness Walmsley: My Lords, can the Minister assure me that no one but a police officer will be given permission to search a private motor car, even in relation to some technological development of the congestion charge?

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, I do not think I can offer that assurance. I am intrigued by the noble Baroness’s question; there is obviously something else behind it.

Lord Elton: My Lords, will the Minister kindly give a Written Answer to the question of my noble friend Lord Tebbit when he knows how many of these bodies there are?

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, I shall endeavour to do so.

Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts: My Lords, if the Minister undertakes a survey of bodies that can interfere without warrants, will he also look at information gateways, which are increasing in number, whereby information obtained about a citizen can be passed from one government department to another without the citizen being aware that it is being so passed?

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, there are Data Protection Act protections against such activities, but there are occasions when it is important to communicate such information and there is a legitimate reason for having done so.

Railways: Paddington Crash

3.15 pm

Lord Bradshaw asked Her Majesty’s Government:

The Attorney-General (Lord Goldsmith): My Lords, it was clearly in the public interest to prosecute. The independent inquiry by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Cullen, described there having been,

to deal with the recognised problem of signals passed at danger in the Paddington area. Thirty-one people were killed in the crash. The Crown Prosecution Service applied the Code for Crown Prosecutors and held that it was in the public interest to prosecute. I entirely agree with it.

20 Jun 2007 : Column 215

Lord Bradshaw: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply. The crash happened when Railtrack was in charge of the network, but the network is now governed by Network Rail, so totally different people were prosecuted. The operator that failed to train its driver was fined, and I have no quarrel with that, but since the accident Network Rail—or should I say the taxpayer?—has spent £500 million on installing a train protection and warning system to prevent such an accident from happening again. I want to press the Minister on whether there was any guilty mind on the part of the people who were prosecuted, because it seems that the mens rea in this case was absent.

Lord Goldsmith: My Lords, the defendant pleaded guilty to the offence. That seems to me to be quite significant. As the noble Lord will know, the responsibilities of the former body were passed to the new body. I see no difficulty with this at all.

Lord Snape: My Lords, given that the layout at Paddington was devised by British Rail prior to privatisation, that it was approved at the time by the Health and Safety Executive, that it was installed by Railtrack or its contractors and that the prime cause of the accident was, as the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, implied, the tragic failure on the part of a driver to stop at a red light, how is the public interest best served by prosecuting Network Rail, which was in no way involved, and in effect fining the taxpayer?

Lord Goldsmith: My Lords, so far as the cause of this terrible event was concerned, it emerged that in the Paddington area there had been no fewer than eight occasions when that signal had been passed at danger. Those responsible for the infrastructure ought to have held signal-siting committees to determine what to do about that so as to avoid what ultimately came about, which was that a driver missed that red signal with terrible consequences, as we know. The issue of fining public bodies arises from time to time. Where a serious crime is committed, even by a public body, it is right to mark that and bring some degree of accountability. It is also right to impose a penalty to deter not just that body but others from committing similar offences in the future.

Lord Thomas of Gresford: My Lords, who determined the public interest in this case? Was it the Health and Safety Executive, which brought the prosecution, or the CPS? Were the law officers consulted and, if so, did they give their opinion on what was in the general public interest, having regard to the history of corporate failings to which the noble Lord referred?

Lord Goldsmith: My Lords, as I understood it, the noble Lord actually referred to the failings of the driver, not to corporate failings. The decision was taken by the Crown Prosecution Service, which prosecuted the case. The service consulted the law officers and me. As I have made clear to the House, I agreed with its view.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page