Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Lord Lawson of Blaby: My Lords, is the Minister aware that, even if these disks have not gone astray, and we all hope that they have not, there is also the scandal that individuals' personal financial details,

5 Dec 2007 : Column 1700

which were given to a government department under confidentiality that has hitherto always been observed, were sent to the National Audit Office even though the National Audit Office has made it clear that it did not need them? It is important that we know which Minister authorised this unprecedented disclosure. Can the noble Lord guarantee that this will not happen again?

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, the noble Lord will recognise that he has largely reiterated what the Chancellor relayed to the House in October. As for guaranteeing the situation for the future, action is already being taken to increase security of the information. If he is asking me to say that any Government can guarantee that no mishap will ever occur, I am not able to do that. However, I can assure him that we have put in place processes that clearly ought to have been followed when this event occurred. Those processes have been reinforced and re-established so that everyone in the Civil Service is aware of the new constraints. Those are the protections for the information that is given to government. Of course I agree with him that, when the public give this information to government, they expect it to be protected.

Political Parties: Funding

3.25 pm

Lord McNally asked Her Majesty’s Government:

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Ministry of Justice (Lord Hunt of Kings Heath): My Lords, the Electoral Commission’s own response to the 11th report of the Committee on Standards in Public Life indicated that it saw its key priorities for the next five years as building its effectiveness as the regulator of party and election finance. The Government have repeatedly made it clear, more recently in their response to the Committee on Standards in Public Life, that they strongly support the Electoral Commission and will work with it to enhance its role as an effective regulator.

Lord McNally: My Lords, does the Minister agree that these recurring scandals of party finance diminish us all and diminish our democracy? Is it not time for all parties to return to Sir Hayden Phillips’s report on party funding and put in place a tight cap, some firm regulations and an Electoral Commission with teeth to enforce them?

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, there is much in what the noble Lord has to say. Let me be clear that corruption is remarkably absent from British politics. However, noble Lords will know that all political parties have encountered some problems which have been well documented.

We had the Hayden Phillips work, and the proposals were published in March. There were then cross-party discussions. I urge the party opposite to come back and work through that, so that we achieve a consensus which would undoubtedly be in the public interest.

5 Dec 2007 : Column 1701

Lord Strathclyde: My Lords, is the Minister not aware that the Conservative Party is happy to rejoin talks if the Labour Party is happy to negotiate realistically on the scandal of affiliation fees to trade unions, whereby if people opt out they get no rebate or if they want affiliation fees going to other parties they do not get them? Is that not the sort of reality we need to debate in future?

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, the Conservative Party’s submission to the Neill committee in 1998 said:

The Conservative Party does not believe that it is illegitimate for the trade union movement to provide support for political parties. The facts are that trade union affiliation and donations are subject to rigorous regulation and that 10 per cent of the affiliated members opt out, so those provisions provide. I say to the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, that the Hayden Phillips proposals none the less provide the basis for discussion between the parties. I urge him and his party to come back to those discussions.

Baroness Golding: My Lords, is the Minister aware that more than a year ago I wrote to the Electoral Commission about an election agent being dismissed by a candidate without said agent having been informed and the election expenses having been submitted without the legal expenses incurred by said election agent being part of the return, which is totally against election law? Its reply stated:

Is it not a disgrace that something as important as election law is not treated seriously by the Electoral Commission?

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, I am sure that the Electoral Commission will take note of that, but I want to pay tribute to its work.

Lord Tyler: My Lords, does the Minister recall that as long ago as January the Committee on Standards in Public Life recommended that there should be a strengthening in the powers, resources and responsibilities of the Electoral Commission? This has not therefore blown up recently. Does the Minister also recall that, in that report, the committee wanted to ensure the integrity and public confidence in the system of political party funding and campaign expenditure? While the latest delay has undoubtedly been due to the Conservatives pulling the plug on the Hayden Phillips inquiry, there could surely have been action to strengthen the powers and role of the commission long ago if the Minister and the Government had been prepared to take this matter seriously.

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, of course the Government take it seriously. We had a process, and we have had the recommendations of the Committee on Standards in Public Life. I have already said that we are responding to that. The Hayden Phillips work shows that we are serious in intent; I wish other parties were as serious.

5 Dec 2007 : Column 1702

Lord Trimble: My Lords, on the commission’s powers, the House will recall the Prime Minister saying that the Labour Party is going to return Mr Abrahams’s money to him. Will the Minister confirm that under the existing legislation parties cannot return donations after 30 days of those donations being made, but the commission has ample powers to forfeit those funds? Is that not what the commission should be doing in this case?

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, my understanding is that the Labour Party is continuing discussions with the Electoral Commission about how to return the money. I wish the party opposite was as open in its scrutiny as this party.

House Committee: First Report

3.31 pm

The Chairman of Committees (Lord Brabazon of Tara) rose to move, That the first report from the Select Committee be agreed to. (HL Paper 13)

The report can be found at http://www.publications.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, the House Committee has over the past few months been reviewing the system of internal governance of the House of Lords. The noble Lords, Lord Hunt of Wirral and Lord Tordoff, kindly produced a report that covered the relationship between the House Committee and the domestic committees. The House Committee accepted the recommendation in the report that its terms of reference should be modified better to reflect its role as a non-executive strategic body overseeing the administration. It also accepted the report’s recommendation that the terms of reference of the other domestic committees should be amended to reflect the strategic role of the House Committee.

With reference to domestic committees, I draw your Lordships’ attention particularly to paragraph 7 of the report, which states that the domestic committees should,

If this report is agreed to, these new terms of reference will come into effect immediately. I beg to move.

Moved, That the first report from the Select Committee be agreed to (HL Paper 13).—(The Chairman of Committees.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

Prisons: Carter Review

3.32 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Ministry of Justice (Lord Hunt of Kings Heath): My Lords, with the leave of the House, I shall now repeat a Statement made in another place by my right honourable friend the Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice

5 Dec 2007 : Column 1703

on the report on the prisons review carried out by my noble friend Lord Carter of Coles.

“Lord Carter was asked in early June of this year to undertake his inquiry jointly by my right honourable friend the Prime Minister, as Chancellor, and my predecessor as Lord Chancellor, my right honourable and noble friend Lord Falconer. I am extremely grateful to Lord Carter and his team for all their time, expertise and professionalism. “Lord Carter’s report proposes a large increase in prison building. It says that there is urgent need for an improved long-term mechanism for better balancing supply and demand for prison places. It puts forward far-reaching proposals for a judiciary-led sentencing commission and for efficiency and organisational changes.“Mr Speaker, let me first give the context of the review. For half a century—from the end of the war—crime rose inexorably. As each successive Government left office, crime was higher than when they came in—significantly higher in the case of the 1979 to 1997 Administration. In sharp contrast, this is the first Government since the war under whom crime has not risen, but has fallen by a third. Violent crime is down, burglary and vehicle crime are down, and the chance of being a victim of crime is now lower than at any time since 1981.“These improvements are due to many factors: the police; local communities; local authorities; industry; stronger powers to deal with disorder; substantial youth justice reform; and greatly increased investment in law enforcement, with 14,000 more police. In turn, these improvements have led to many more serious, persistent and violent offenders being brought to justice—60 per cent more—and being sentenced for longer. The result has been a very rapid growth in the prison population, up by one-third since 1997, from 60,000 to 81,500 last Friday.“During the same period, reoffending rates have improved, while the physical condition of prison has been transformed, as has security. Here I would like to pay particular tribute to prison officers, probation officers and staff at all levels. They do a difficult job in often difficult circumstances. “The whole House is agreed that, wherever appropriate, offenders should be punished in the community. Overall, investment in probation services is up 72 per cent in real terms over the last 10 years. We shall be extending the testing of intensive alternatives to custody, providing sentencers with more rigorous non-custodial regimes. But, of course, the House and the country are clear that prison has to be used for violent, serious persistent and dangerous offenders.“With so many factors in play, forecasting the future trend of the prison population has always been complex and uncertain. Predictions for this summer over the previous seven years have put the prison population 20,000 above and 12,000 below its actual level of 80,600. But there is no doubt that the prison population will continue to rise over the next few years, given the increasing effectiveness of

5 Dec 2007 : Column 1704

the system in bringing more offenders to justice. To meet previously anticipated demand, a programme for 9,500 extra places is already under way. An extra 1,600 new places have come on stream this year, as will a further 2,300 next. “In the light of Lord Carter’s recommendations, I can now announce that, to secure the long-term availability of prison places, I have agreed with the Prime Minister and the Chancellor additional funding of £1.2 billion on top of the £1.5 billion already committed, to deliver a further and extended building programme that will bring an additional 10,500 places on stream by 2014.“We will act on Lord Carter’s recommendation to build up to three large ‘Titan’ prisons, housing around 2,500 prisoners each. The extra capacity will help to modernise the prison estate, close some of the older inefficient prisons on a ‘new-for-old’ basis and reconfigure some of the smaller sites to accommodate female or juvenile offenders. This building and modernisation programme is aimed to bring overall net capacity to just over 96,000 places by 2014. “To provide additional capacity in the short-to-medium term, we intend to convert a former Ministry of Defence site at Coltishall in Norfolk into a category C prison, provide further places through expansion on existing prison sites, convert Her Majesty’s Prison Wealstun into a closed prison and bring forward projects from the building reserve list. My department is also actively looking at securing a prison ship.“On women in prison, my right honourable friend the Minister for Prisons will tomorrow publish the Government’s detailed response to the report of my noble friend Lady Corston. Also, I have today asked my noble friend Lord Bradley to carry out a review, reporting jointly to the Department of Health and the Ministry of Justice, into diverting more offenders with severe mental health problems away from prison into more appropriate accommodation.“Lord Carter has made important recommendations about the operation of NOMS and the Prison Service to improve the focus on service delivery and offender management. We will streamline corporate services costs in headquarters and regional offices in NOMS and the Prison Service and establish a programme of performance testing. “Contrary to myth, there have in fact been fewer criminal justice Bills in the last 10 years than in the preceding decade. However, it is inevitable that in this field measures have to be kept under constant review. Indeterminate sentences of imprisonment for public protection introduced in the Criminal Justice Act 2003 have proved an effective way of dealing with the most serious and dangerous offenders. However, as my right honourable friend the Member for Sheffield Brightside has confirmed to me, these sentences were never intended to target those who would have received tariffs of less than two years. Notwithstanding this, the drafting of the legislation has meant that they have been used for very short tariffs—in one case as short as 28 days.

5 Dec 2007 : Column 1705

“As recommended by Lord Carter and by the chairman of the Parole Board, Sir Duncan Nichol, we will therefore table amendments to the Criminal Justice and Immigration Bill to introduce a minimum tariff of two years below which IPPs and extended sentences cannot be given. I want to make a particular point here about sentences for rape. It is very rare for rape offences to receive less than two years’ tariff, and any sentence for a serious offence effectively below a two-year tariff would be open to appeal by the Attorney-General on grounds of undue leniency. All of that will ensure that IPPs are focused on the most serious and dangerous offenders.“In addition, we are accepting Lord Carter’s other recommendations to align release mechanisms for offenders sentenced under the 1991 Criminal Justice Act with those for offenders sentenced under the 2003 Act. Offenders sentenced for non-sexual, non-violent offences committed since April 2005 are now eligible for release at the half-way point of their sentence, remaining on licence to the end of their sentence, rather than being eligible for parole at the half-way point and automatic release at two-thirds, being on licence to three-quarters only. We propose to introduce a similar regime for prisoners sentenced for non-sexual, non-violent offences under previous legislation.“Decisions about the sentence to be handed down in a particular case must be a matter of judgment for the trial judge or magistrates. Respecting the independence of sentencers to pass the sentence that they believe appropriate in individual cases is fundamental to the integrity of the judiciary in a free society. However, Parliament has a critical role to play in setting the framework for sentencing and in deciding on the taxpayers’ money to pay for the prison places and probation services that arise from that framework. “During the past decade, much progress has been made to develop a more coherent and transparent sentencing framework, with the Sentencing Advisory Panel in 1999 and the Sentencing Guidelines Council in 2004. Lord Carter now highlights the need for a mechanism—a sentencing commission—that will allow for the drivers behind the prison population to be addressed and managed in a transparent, consistent and predictable manner through the provision of an indicative set of sentencing ranges. Such a commission would have an ongoing role in monitoring the prison population and reporting on the impacts on the prison population and penal resources of all national policy proposals and system changes. I emphasise that the proposal has nothing to do with linking individual sentences to the availability of correctional resources. The debate relates to the linking of resources to the overall sentencing framework.“I am pleased to accept Lord Carter’s recommendation to establish a working group to consider the advantages, disadvantages and feasibility of a sentencing commission, which will lead and inform the public debate on these issues.

5 Dec 2007 : Column 1706

“Prison is, and will remain, the right place for the most serious offenders. Custodial sentences, and therefore prison places, must also be available for less serious offenders when other measures have failed or are inappropriate, and we must have in place a rigorous and effective framework of community penalties where they are the right course.“The measures that I have announced today will fulfil our aims in this important area. They will bring many more prison places on stream with agreed funding and a delivery programme. They will allow for a rational debate on sentencing that recognises that, as with any other public service, resources are finite. Above all, they will fulfil our commitment to provide a modernised prisons system that protects the public from the most serious offenders. I commend the Statement to the House.”

My Lords, that concludes the Statement.

3.43 pm

Lord Henley: My Lords, I start by thanking the noble Lord for repeating the Statement. I echo his remarks about those who work in the Prison Service, probation officers and all others concerned in the field. I also offer my congratulations to his department on getting copies of the Statement to the Opposition in reasonable time and on letting us see the Carter report itself in a timely manner. Obviously we will have to have a proper debate on the Carter report in due course, given the mess that the Government have got themselves into in this field. I hope that the Minister will lend his voice to mine and others’ when his noble friend the Chief Whip and the usual channels are approached about ensuring that we get a proper debate on the report, because merely debating a Statement on it will not be enough.

I should also offer my congratulations to the Minister on his sheer bravado in repeating claims about the fall in crime, and violent crime at that, since his party came to office. Can he really say with his hand on his heart that knife crime and gun crime are down, or has his department, the new Ministry of Justice, having taken over from the Home Office, dreamt up new definitions of these crimes that allow them to be conveniently massaged downwards? I would very much welcome a response from the Minister in due course. More important, can he again say honestly with his hand on his heart that fear of crime, which is as important as crime itself, is down since May 1997? Again, I doubt it very much.

I will accept one statistic that the Minister gave in the Statement that he had the honour of repeating—the statistic on prison numbers, which he said were up from some 60,000 to 81,500. We all know that prisons are bursting at the seams and that the numbers are greater than the actual capacity of the prisons. As he knows—this is far more important than the numbers in prison—that means that the prisons cannot do the job that they are supposed to do. We discussed only recently the whole question of meaningful work and training in prisons. The Minister knows full well that it is very difficult for prisons to offer any meaningful work, training or education when they are as full as they are now. If they cannot manage that, I very much

5 Dec 2007 : Column 1707

doubt that they can hope to play their part—I appreciate that others have a part to play here, too—in preventing reoffending and encouraging those who are inside to go straight when they come out.

I have several questions to put to the Minister and no doubt a great many others will come from the noble Baroness, Lady Falkner of Margravine, who will speak from the Liberal Benches, and from others in this House who know far more about prison matters. I will put just a number of these questions to the Minister. My first question is a repeat of my earlier request that there should be a debate, in government time, as soon as possible on this report and on the whole question of prison numbers and sentencing.

Secondly, the Minister tells us that there will be more places. He mentioned some 10,500 more places. I think that the Government already offered 9,500 places in earlier announcements; no doubt these places will be announced time and again in due course in the manner in which this Government manage to announce their figures again and again. That makes some 20,000 new places on offer from the Government. Is that figure gross or net? How many places are likely to disappear? I think that the Minister talked about there being some 96,000 places in the end, so he seemed to be implying that there would be some 16,000 new places.

That leads us to my third question, which is about overcrowding. I am told that some 17,000 prisoners double up. Will they still do so after these 16,000 net places or 20,000 gross places come in? If the Minister is talking about a total of 96,000 places and prisoners will still double up, that seems to imply that we will not really go forward at all. Perhaps he can assist me. Perhaps I have misunderstood his explanation.

Fourthly, overcrowding is important. What does the Minister think of the recommendation made by the noble Lord, Lord Carter of Coles, on the scope for increasing overcrowding? Overcrowding is already at a fairly horrendous rate. I mentioned the figure of 17,000. In fact, the prisons are beyond capacity, but the noble Lord, Lord Carter, seems to think that there is scope to increase overcrowding. I hope to hear more on that from the Minister in due course.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page