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House of Lords

Monday, 31 March 2008.

The House met at half-past two: the LORD SPEAKER on the Woolsack.

Prayers—Read by the Lord Bishop of Carlisle.

Prisons: Population

Baroness Stern asked Her Majesty’s Government:

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Ministry of Justice (Lord Hunt of Kings Heath): My Lords, taking into account the measures being introduced to manage demand for prison places as recommended in the report by my noble friend Lord Carter of Coles, we expect the prison population to exceed 85,000 in the second quarter of 2009.

Baroness Stern: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply. Is he aware that tomorrow marks the start of the new shorter prison day? To save £60 million, prisoners will be in their cells most of the time between noon on Friday and Monday morning, with no educational or rehabilitative activities. Is he also aware that the chairman of the Prison Governors Association has said that, with these changes, the average time spent out of cell each week for each prisoner is at its lowest for nearly 40 years? In the light of this reduction and the expected further cuts in expenditure next year, how many hours of rehabilitative activity per week will prisoners have in 2009 when the prison population reaches 85,000?

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, the Prison Service has had to meet spending targets. Reducing the core day in the way in which the noble Baroness rightly said will be done will help the Prison Service to live within its budget. The aim is also to ensure that activities and programmes that reduce reoffending are protected. Of course we will want to ensure that over the years ahead we invest properly in reoffending and rehabilitation programmes. That is all part of the policy that the Government are taking forward.

Lord Henley: My Lords, last Friday the Government released two terrorist prisoners early; no doubt they chose Friday because the House was not sitting. What commitment can the Government give that they will not grant any more terrorists automatic release half way through their sentences?

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, as the noble Lord will know, the number of terrorism-related cases that are likely to fall within the ECL criteria is very small. In the light of those cases, the Justice Secretary has decided to change the criteria for the ECL scheme so that any prisoner convicted under terrorism legislation would not be eligible in the future.

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Lord Dubs: My Lords, will my noble friend confirm that, when the prison population reaches 85,000, the rate of imprisonment per 100,000 in Britain will be 154? The comparable rate in France is 91. Do we not have something to learn from the French? What about the entente amicale?

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, we are always prepared to learn from our neighbours, as we are from other countries. Countries such as the US have much higher prison population rates. One reason why we have seen an increase in our prison population is that more offences are brought to justice. At the same time, we are seeing a reduction in crime in this country. Those are the outcomes that the public want.

Lord Lloyd of Berwick: My Lords, does the noble Lord agree with Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Prisons that a major cause of the present overcrowding of prisons is the indeterminate sentence for the protection of the public, which this Government invented in 2003? Is he aware that the number of those serving such sentences will soon be over 5,000, is estimated to be increasing at the rate of 1,800 a year and is further estimated according to the Home Office to reach the staggering figure of 12,500 in 2011? Is he satisfied that he is doing enough to meet that serious situation?

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, we have to remember that the provisions were brought in to secure public protection. However, the noble and learned Lord is right to point to some of the issues that have arisen. He will know that in the Criminal Justice and Immigration Bill, which is before your Lordships at the moment, there are provisions to make modifications to that scheme. Those modifications will secure public protection but release some of the pressure on the prison population.

Baroness Falkner of Margravine:My Lords, the noble Lord will have seen the article in the Observer yesterday stating that the population of women prisoners has doubled between 1997 and 2006, with 90 per cent convicted for non-violent offences. All he has done is set up yet another review, an interdepartmental one on this occasion. Can he see why reformers such as the Howard League for Penal Reform call that response,

Can he give the House hope that there will be some action on these matters instead?

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, I do not share that analysis. The review by my noble friend Lady Corston was excellent. The noble Baroness, Lady Falkner, will know that we have accepted virtually all my noble friend’s recommendations and that we have set up a working mechanism to look at the development of small units. Of course we regard custody for women as a last resort. We are committed to seeing improvements. I am confident that the work being taken forward by my honourable friend Maria
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Eagle is the way to ensure the kind of changes that I am sure the noble Baroness, Lady Falkner, like me, wishes to see.

Baroness Trumpington: My Lords, does the noble Lord not think that 85,000 people being virtually out of work is rather a large number? Why cannot the work that they are given be productive? Why cannot the profit thereof go to the people whose lives have been injured by the prisoners? In Changi jail, for example, the prisoners make marvellous garden furniture and the profits go to the families of those who have suffered through the misdoings of their relations. One always knew what was going on in Bedford jail if the gnomes had bad-tempered faces, because that meant that the prison was in a bad temper that day.

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, I certainly agree that reparation and restorative justice offer great hope for the future. I should say to the noble Baroness that Prison Industries employs about 10,000 prisoners a day, which provides some 12 million hours of activity per year. I very much understand and endorse the value of work for prisoners. Great progress is being made; more needs to be undertaken. As for the method of paying prisoners, we do not agree with the argument that is always being put forward that they should be employed on minimum rates, because the Prison Industries cannot be regarded as employers in the normal sense.

Lord Elystan-Morgan: My Lords, does the noble Lord agree that, as the noble Lord, Lord Carter, makes clear at page 42 of his report, the projections of the size of the prison population in the past six years have all been understated?

The Lord President of the Council (Baroness Ashton of Upholland): My Lords, we are into the ninth minute. Noble Lords need to be aware that that means that we have done eight and are on nine. I am afraid that we are out of time on that Question.

Economy: Manufacturing

2.45 pm

Lord Steinberg asked Her Majesty’s Government:

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform (Baroness Vadera): My Lords, we are the world’s sixth largest manufacturer. Manufacturing accounts for 13 per cent of national wealth, 50 per cent of exports and 75 per cent of business research and development. Recent assessments from the CBI and the Engineering Employers’ Federation show a positive outlook for the sector in the face of very challenging global economic conditions. The
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Government continue to support the sector through a range of measures including the Manufacturing Advisory Service, sector skills councils and the National Skills Academy, R&D tax credits and the science and technology programmes.

Lord Steinberg: My Lords, I thank the Minister for her reply. I have no doubt that she is aware that one of our big manufacturing industries is about to be sold to an Indian company. Has protection been placed on the employees of the two companies involved? Given the problems that we face with our balance of payments, internationally we must go further to see how much exporting we can do to help the balance of payments.

Baroness Vadera: My Lords, the Tata Group has not significantly changed any of the employees’ terms and conditions and, indeed, has approved the current management’s business plan and product plans. We are, of course, incredibly proud of the fact that we are the number one European choice of location for manufacturing inward investment. The noble Lord is quite right to point to export potential, particularly as emerging markets will add a billion new customers in the coming years. We are very well placed to do this because we have increased the productivity of manufacturing by 50 per cent since 1997 and manufacturing exports have risen by about 36 per cent in volume. So we are very well placed in relation to the important point made by the noble Lord.

Baroness Wall of New Barnet: My Lords, when looking at and assessing the state of British industry, will my noble friend take into account the figures of the SBAC, the Society of British Aerospace Companies, which show a 20 per cent increase in productivity and growth this year, due to the Government’s initiatives on skills and investment in those companies—British Aerospace, Rolls-Royce and others?

Baroness Vadera: My Lords, I very much agree with my noble friend, but I should also point out that the recent contract placed for Airbus aircraft will provide a significant boost for British manufacturing and that it is, in fact, the biggest ever American contract to be placed in Europe.

Lord Razzall: My Lords, I join the House in commiserating with the noble Baroness for being described on the annunciator as Lord Digby-Jones when she rose to speak. That has now been corrected. I assume that the noble Lord is stuck in Terminal 5, like many others.

Bearing in mind the current exchange rate and the fact that manufacturing represents such an insignificant proportion of our industry, does the noble Baroness not agree, although possibly not many of your Lordships will agree, that now might be the time to look again at membership of the eurozone?

Baroness Vadera: My Lords, it would not be fruitful to talk about entry into the eurozone. However, I should like to point out that it is not valid to say that
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manufacturing is just an insignificant part of this economy. It is the largest provider of productivity increases, with 75 per cent of the R&D gain. We have the best pharmaceuticals, aerospace and electronics industries and are now manufacturing twice as many cars as we were 25 years ago. Therefore, if I may say so, rumours of the death of manufacturing are somewhat premature.

Lord Soley: My Lords, does my noble friend agree that the previous question is a classic example of how we undersell ourselves with regard to manufacturing? That is the case not just with aviation but also with car manufacturing, where we are ahead of most of Europe, and sub-sea platforms in the North Sea, where we are world leaders, having led previously on oil rigs. Eighteen per cent of our GDP relates to manufacturing and it is the highest paid sector in British industry. If my noble friend agrees with me, would it not be a good idea to start getting this message out so that we do not get other questions suggesting that we are underperforming when in fact we are doing exceptionally well?

Baroness Vadera: My Lords, I totally agree with my noble friend and I am pleased to say that in the review of the manufacturing strategy, which will be published in late summer, we will be doing exactly that.

Baroness Wilcox: My Lords, we all know that the cost to business of extra regulations introduced by the Government over the past 10 years is £65 billion and rising. Will the Minister, who brings to the House a fresh eye and a powerful intellect, tell me what is the effect of these regulations on UK manufacturing?

Baroness Vadera: My Lords, we have discussed regulation at length and I look forward to the noble Baroness’s support tonight during our debates on the Regulatory Enforcement and Sanctions Bill in the interests of improving regulation for manufacturing. We believe that manufacturing has increased productivity by 50 per cent but I fail to see how it would be able to do that in the face of an overwhelming burden of regulation from this Government. Of course, this Government have produced a manufacturing strategy, which a previous Government might have done more to do. If they had, we might not have inherited a manufacturing industry that needed revival.

Lord Harrison: My Lords, will my noble friend note that, following the sale of Rolls-Royce and Bentley Motors to BMW and Volkswagen in the former county of Cheshire, they have gone from strength to strength? Indeed, Bentley Motors has a productivity rate of 3,000 per cent.

Baroness Vadera: My Lords, I am delighted to hear those figures, and I will ensure that they are put in our review of the manufacturing strategy.

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2.53 pm

Lord Hannay of Chiswick asked Her Majesty’s Government:

Lord Bach: My Lords, the regime appears intent on resisting the UN Security Council’s call for a meaningful dialogue with the Opposition. It maintains that position, despite the fact that only an inclusive political process stands any chance of bringing stability and national reconciliation to Burma. UK humanitarian aid to Burma will increase from £9 million in 2007-08 to £18 million a year by 2010-11. The United Kingdom is one of the country’s biggest donors. In addition, the EU programme for Burma in 2007 was €19 million.

Lord Hannay of Chiswick: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply, depressing though it is. It illustrates well why we should not allow events in Tibet to distract us from the plight of the long-suffering people of Burma. Does it not serve to show that the Burmese regime’s dialogue with the UN Secretary-General’s special representative is little more than a sham designed to gain time while the regime rams through its own constitution? What is the international community going to do about that? On the question of humanitarian aid, the Answer was certainly more encouraging. We have imposed targeted sanctions but do we not need more, together with more targeted humanitarian aid designed to reach those who need it most?

Lord Bach: My Lords, we believe that the United Nations should continue to play a leading role in resolving this crisis. We welcome the personal engagement of the Secretary-General. He has the support of the entire Security Council and the wider international community in taking forward his good offices mission. I agree with the noble Lord this far: we are very disappointed by the outcome of the latest visit of the UN special envoy, Mr Gambari. No progress appears to have been made by the regime in meeting the reasonable expectations of the Security Council.

Lord Howell of Guildford: My Lords, does the Minister recall that on 10 March the European Union announced its new upgraded sanctions on the Burma regime? What is his opinion of those? Is there not a danger that they will hit mostly smaller enterprises which have nothing to do with the unpleasant regime in Burma and leave untouched the generals who are awash with petrodollars and who are developing trade, through their businesses, with China and Thailand? What is his opinion of that?

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Lord Bach: My Lords, we do not agree with what the noble Lord suggests. We believe that EU sanctions send an important and clear message of our determination to seek change in Burma and the new sanctions are specifically designed to target senior members of the regime and their business associates. There have been constant regime calls for them to be lifted and some anecdotal evidence of their impact: for example, Air Bagan, the airline closely linked to the regime, has had to suspend operations. I emphasise that they are just one part of a broader strategy towards Burma. Another part is to increase humanitarian aid, not through the regime, but through the United Nations and NGOs.

Lord Anderson of Swansea: My Lords, China is obviously the key influence on the Burma regime and now it must surely be on the defensive, not only because of the events in Tibet and in Darfur, but also because of the Olympics. Is not now the appropriate time for the European Union to press China to intervene more positively in respect of Burma?

Lord Bach: My Lords, we encourage and we expect China to use its great influence positively and constructively to urge reconciliation and genuine reform in Burma. My noble friend knows, of course, that China supported the UN Secretary-General’s good offices mission and signed up to the clear demands for progress in the very significant 11 October Security Council presidential statement. We look to China to maintain the pressure for change and my right honourable friends the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary raised Burma with the Chinese leadership during their visits in February.

Lord Avebury: My Lords, in the circumstances, what will the Government do to follow up the recommendation of Sergio Pinheiro, the UN special envoy, that the Human Rights Council should find a means of following up its recommendations? In particular, will the United Kingdom at least draft a resolution for presentation to the Security Council, considering that presidential statements have previously been ignored? On the humanitarian front, will the Government take steps to increase the supply of cross-border aid to affect the tens of thousands of people who are displaced by military action by the regime in the border regions?

Lord Bach: My Lords, on the UN and the Security Council resolution, we are in discussion with our partners about options for that. Whether we take it forward will depend on how much progress the Secretary-General and his envoy, Mr Gambari, are able to make towards establishing a reconciliation dialogue. It is very important that we understand that the regime has not really moved at all.