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The project, now in its second year, has served around 250 women. It neither applies a “one size fits all” policy to the women, nor forces them into rehabilitation programmes. Rather, the project aims to deliver simple, practical, often low-tech solutions to the real problems faced by the women. I shall give an example. Yesterday a project officer received a phone call from one of the women as she needed to collect her crisis loan payment by 4.30 pm, but had no transport. So a helper at the Women's Turnaround Project lifted her into town to collect the money.

About 65 per cent of women re-offend upon their release from prison, so resources should be focused on schemes that help women to pull themselves out of the criminal downward spiral. I look forward to hearing how the Government will ensure that resources are targeted at efficacy of outcome, not just at processing numbers.

7.59 pm

Lord Low of Dalston: My Lords, I want to come at this issue from a slightly different angle. To that extent, I may be thought to be adding what is essentially a footnote to the central thrust of the debate, so it is perhaps appropriate that I should be speaking immediately above the gap. I hope that what I have to say may not be without importance, none the less.

When we discussed the Offender Management Bill some 18 months ago, I moved an amendment to subject the prisons to the specific disability equality duties. At the time, the treatment of prisoners with physical, sensory or mental disabilities was governed by a Prison Service order, PSO 2855. It left a good deal to be desired, as did the treatment of disabled prisoners.

In April last year, the Prison Service published a new and much enhanced version and, if practice follows policy, things will improve. The new Prison Service order was the Government’s alternative to my suggestion of imposing the disability equality duty on the prisons.

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There are also PSOs dealing with race and, coming to the present topic, gender. These are all areas where the Prison Service continues to struggle and where it can seem that the only way to get equal treatment is through the courts. Later this year the equality Bill will be introduced, which will eliminate the current gender, race and disability equality duties and create a new single public sector duty. The question is, does it make sense for the Prison Service to continue to deal with the issue under separate and disparate frameworks rather than be subject to the new duty and able to take an integrated approach?

If we take PSO 4800, entitled Women Prisoners, we find sections dealing with race, age and disability. That is welcome, as multiple discrimination is hard to tackle. However having distinct policy frameworks for the different areas does not help. Furthermore, the requirements of that order and of PSO 2855, which covers disabled prisoners, are quite different. Yet each is meant to reflect the equality duty. Although I cannot demonstrate this in detail, it seems fairly clear that when the equality duties are harmonised one or both will be out of step with the new public sector duty. Therefore, I should like to ask the Minister whether the Government are now prepared to recognise that the new single equality duty, which offers the best legal framework for implementing the recommendations of the Corston report, will effectively supersede the system of Prison Service orders and apply that duty to prisons.

During the passage of the Corporate Manslaughter Bill, the Government accepted the principle that prisons should not be exempted from the provisions of that Act. It seems hard to maintain that they should not be similarly subject to the public sector equality duty.

8.03 pm

Baroness Linklater of Butterstone: My Lords, we must all be extremely grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Howe, for bringing forward this debate. The Corston report insists that radical change is urgently necessary. Prisons are designed for men, and women’s needs must be met differently. The arguments are overwhelming and the Government reaffirmed last December that 40 of the 43 recommendations of Corston have been accepted in principle.

The debate rightly challenges the Government and the Minister to dispel our doubts and to commit to a timetable of change. So far, progress takes the form mostly of relatively small-scale local pilots, projects or simply recommendations, excellent though many of these are. What is needed is determined action nationally, backed by the necessary funding, instead of any more evidence showing us what we already know—what works and what needs to be done. That means gender-specific, community-based provision, which can focus on individual needs and causes of offending. It must be of a range and quality which represents effective, appropriate alternatives to custody, available to every court in the land.

The role and approach of sentencers, who make the decisions on custody or its alternatives, are key to change. I declare an interest as chairman for the past seven years of Rethinking Crime and Punishment. An inquiry we commissioned in 2005, called Crime, Courts and Confidence, was drawn on by Corston. It discusses

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the crucial place of alternatives to custody and concludes that it is vital that sentencers have first-hand experience of what they consist of and that they are available to them in their area. Without such contact, it is impossible to have a proper understanding of, let alone confidence in, the appropriateness of the community penalties on their doorstep. The Corston recommendation quotes from our inquiry and states that,

and designed to take account of their particular circumstances.

Of course, we welcome the funding for Together Women in Yorkshire on pre-sentence reports and Women’s Turnaround Project reports for the courts in Wales. But it is the commitment to such provision nationally and to engagement with the alternatives that is of the essence. The £40 million made available to the Probation Service to develop robust alternatives is welcome but is a drop in the ocean without national implementation and realistic resourcing.

The Government’s response makes reference to the work we did at RCP over three years in the Thames Valley, Cheshire and London with Crown Court judges, magistrates and district judges, demonstrating what connecting sentencers successfully with their local alternatives can achieve; namely, that judges and magistrates become deeply interested and involved in what they find on their doorsteps. As the response states, this work and the findings have been written up as a handbook. It is a model for government.

In their response, the Government say they will,

I ask the Minister to tell us how this will be implemented and precisely how,

Ultimately, it is a question of political will. The knowledge of what works and is needed is there, as is acceptance of the urgency of what should be done. Have the Government the will to see it through?

8.07 pm

Lord Henley: My Lords, I hope, like all other speakers, to be brief in my response to the debate introduced by the noble Baroness, Lady Howe of Idlicote. I start by saying that I hope the noble Lord will have noticed that nine Back-Bench speakers have wished to speak in the debate. I hope he will take that back to the Government Chief Whip and suggest that this subject might warrant a further debate in due course. It is a matter that should be discussed with the usual channels because obviously it is something that more time could be devoted to in due course. I have two points to put to the noble Lord.

My first point—one on which the noble Lord has heard from me before—relates to Titan prisons. He has heard about that from the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, and, this evening, from the noble Baroness, Lady Howe. We all have our doubts about how Titan

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prisons will work. However, we have even greater doubts about how Titan prisons will work as regards women prisoners. Bearing in mind that there are fewer women prisoners, how on earth will the Government be able to provide suitable coverage throughout the country? We have to ask whether that is the right approach. The noble Lord will want to reflect on that and will no doubt give us an answer in due course.

My second point is where is Corston? Obviously, I do not mean by that where is the noble Baroness. She obviously has other things on today, and we all appreciate her being here on other occasions. What we want to know from the Government is when they are going to give us a proper update on the implementation of her very excellent report, which came out last summer. What has yet to be implemented, and can the Minister set out a timetable for carrying out those reforms?

I hope those brief questions will be sufficient for the noble Lord. He will have a whole host of other questions from other speakers in this debate. From these Benches, we are now looking forward to hearing what the noble Lord has to say on this matter.

8.09 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Ministry of Justice (Lord Bach): My Lords, I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Howe of Idlicote, on securing the debate and thank her for choosing this subject. I take the opportunity of thanking all other noble Lords who have spoken on this very important subject, albeit that in many cases their speeches were too truncated. This is an important debate. As ever in discussing penal policy, your Lordships’ House is at its best. It has a wide variety of experience and expertise on which to call. This is an area to which the Government are committed and I argue that we are making, if not significant progress—however, I argue that we are making significant progress—certainly some progress, which, I believe, some noble Lords have acknowledged.

As has been said, this debate comes just five weeks after the Government made their second Written Ministerial Statement on progress in their response to the deservedly praised report of my noble friend Lady Corston, Women with ParticularVulnerabilities in the Criminal Justice System. That Statement focused on our continued progress in delivering the commitments made in the Government’s response to that report, and on the wider work we are planning to drive this agenda forward beyond those original commitments. Today’s debate invites us to look ahead to progress over the coming year within the context of the women whom the courts have committed to prison.

Two important principles underpin the Government’s response to the Corston report. The first is that women should not end up in prison unless it is absolutely necessary. Statistics show that the majority of women offenders—70 per cent, compared with 47 per cent for men—are imprisoned for non-violent offences and that they are serving short sentences. That point was made powerfully in this short debate. Indeed, 2006 figures show that 75 per cent of women prisoners served less than 12 months. That is why the Ministry of Justice is committed to providing additional resources this year to divert from custody vulnerable women

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who are not serious or dangerous offenders. We plan to reduce the number of women in prison. I say in passing, although this is just one figure, that at 9 January 2009 the number of women in prison was 3 per cent down on that of a year ago. I do not make huge claims for that figure but the House should be aware of it. However, I accept that in previous years the figure has risen.

As I say, we plan to reduce the number of women in prison and to provide additional services in the community for women offenders and women at risk of offending. In addition to all the other powerful arguments, there is a strong economic argument for diverting women from custody. These resources are preventive. They will be used to build the capacity of the one-stop shop at women’s centres, which my noble friend fully supported in her review, and to develop further bail support services to better meet the needs of women. It is proposed to invest in existing third sector providers to enable them to work with courts, police, probation and other statutory agencies to provide support to vulnerable women.

This work builds on the significant progress we have already made to improve services for women offenders in the community. In October last year a probation circular was issued providing guidance and encouraging greater use of female approved premises. It introduced flexibility into the admissions criteria to include women who may not present a high risk of harm to others. We are expecting to see an increase in the number of women accessing them in the near future. The Offender Management Guide toWorking with Women Offenders was officially launched last month and will not only provide advice on how the guidance links with the national framework for women offenders but will inform various agencies about the full range of appropriate interventions, including supportive mainstream community services available for vulnerable women caught up in the criminal justice system.

For example—I am grateful for what the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, said in this regard—the Ministry of Justice has financially supported the continued development of the one-stop shop Women’s Turnaround Project in Wales. A full evaluation of phase 1 of the project, published in October last year, found that the project was making excellent progress. Noble Lords will have heard the noble Baroness’s comments in that regard. The Ministry of Justice-funded Together Women demonstration projects in the north-west and Yorkshire and Humberside regions are also being evaluated. The first phase of the evaluation, published in August 2008, found that, overall, Together Women had been efficiently implemented and welcomed by stakeholders and service users alike. The Together Women centres are also part of pilots on a conditional caution specifically for women, developed in co-operation between the Government, local police and prosecutors. The pilots present a chance for diversion at an early stage. They are running in Leeds, Bradford, Keighley and Liverpool for six months and early indications are positive. The condition attached to the caution commits the woman to attend a Together Women centre for a full needs assessment.

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The second important principle embedded in the Government’s response to Corston is that the services we provide to women prisoners should reflect the nature and characteristics of that group and meet their gender-specific needs—an essential part of what my noble friend argued. I am afraid it is a sad fact of life that many women entering prison have been physically or sexually abused or have a history of mental health problems, combined often with histories of self-harm and drug abuse. Others face the anxiety and pain, even agony, of being separated from their family and children. I stress that the Prison Service is thoroughly committed to meeting the challenges presented by those needs. I visited Holloway last week for the first time and was hugely impressed by the dedication of the staff, whom my noble friend Lord Judd praised. I met staff and prisoners. There have undoubtedly been great improvements in that prison over the past few years.

During 2008, the National Offender Management Service published the Prison Service Order 4800, incorporating gender-specific standards for women prisoners, and 2009 will see us bringing to fruition a great deal of work building on those foundations. We believe that the introduction of gender-specific standards is a momentous development in the history of the women’s prisons estate. For the first time we have laid down nationally produced standards covering every major aspect of regime provision, designed to ensure that women prisoners receive as much benefit as men from the services delivered to them while they are in custody. All 14 women’s prisons are required to implement the standards by this coming April. Alongside the implementation of the standards, or as part of it, NOMS centrally will be driving through major improvements across the women’s prisons estate during the year.

New arrangements for the full searching of women prisoners were published in October last year, following successful pilots, which the noble Baroness, Lady Stern, was kind enough to mention. This new model search, again a key Corston commitment, dispenses with the need—often, of course, distressing for the women concerned—to remove their underwear unless there is intelligence or suspicion at any stage that an item has been concealed.

The new arrangements also involve reducing the frequency of full searches—which is itself important—in favour of an approach relying on intelligence about when a search might be needed. This is a radical departure from previous policy and practice, and it underlines our commitment to meeting gender-specific needs. The new full search arrangements are already in place in six women’s prisons, and the remainder will be on stream by 1 April this year. I am conscious of the time; I realise that I have at most three or four minutes to finish.

The Government have already put in place seven “pathways to resettlement” in the reducing re-offending national action plan for men and women. Now there are two additional pathways for women: support for women who have been abused, raped or who have experienced domestic violence, and, secondly, support for women who have been involved in prostitution. I

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must move forward quickly. Many other national decisions and actions have been taken which I do not have time to talk about tonight.

The newly developing offender health strategy, referred to by the noble Baroness, Lady Bottomley, which is led by the Department of Health, will have a distinct pathway for women offenders and will look at improvements in health provision throughout the criminal justice process, from arrest and in court to more generally in the community. My noble friend Lord Bradley’s report and the Government’s response to it will be published during the first few months of this year. I know that the House is eagerly awaiting what he has to say.

Staff training on working with women prisoners will receive a considerable boost this year. The two-day women awareness staff programme was developed, as a result, to meet the awareness needs of newly qualified staff in the women’s prisons estate, as well as existing women’s estate staff and volunteers. Following an initial pilot, that programme is now being delivered across the women’s prisons estate. Those are some of the nationally run initiatives. I can mention local ones that have been referred to in the debate, but I cannot answer all the questions asked. The noble Lord, Lord Low, gave me good notice of his question about the single equality duty. That duty is being developed; if and when it is enacted it will apply to NOMS. In anticipation of that and to ensure full compliance with the existing gender equality duty, NOMS will publish a single equality scheme by 1 April. This will include an assessment of organisational priorities on gender equality and a programme of work to address them.

Women will not be housed in prison clusters and what others call Titans, which the noble Lord, Lord Henley, and the noble Baroness, Lady Howe, asked about. That is not new information, but it is important that I should give it in this debate, as I was specifically asked to do so.

The projects to which I have referred are not exhaustive, but they underscore the programme of change in 2009, which will be a significant year, providing better quality and more gender-specific services not only for women offenders and women at risk of offending in the community but for what is a small but very significant part of the prison population. The noble Baroness, Lady Linklater, asked whether we had the will to see it through. I assure her that we do, and I have no doubt that if we, as it were, slip on the way, this House will remind us of what we have said tonight and on previous occasions.

I have been asked to continue for a moment or two, and I make no apologies for doing so. It gives me the chance to talk about one or two of the local initiatives that will be rolled out during the coming year, which will have an impact across the whole women’s prison estate. Eastwood Park prison will enhance its drugs treatment provision by opening an additional facility for women who require structured methadone maintenance and detoxification—we heard tellingly about those problems—in effect creating a dedicated residential rehabilitation facility.

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Two prisons, Bronzefield and New Hall, will be combining their segregation units with their healthcare facilities to provide a more holistic and integrated approach to supporting women in need in those areas. Lastly, very much in the spirit of Corston, Morton Hall will be opening a 13-bed independent living unit outside the main prison, providing open conditions in which the women will work either in the community or in prison projects.

I have spoken for long enough. Undoubtedly we will come back to this subject. I thank the noble Baroness.

Banking Bill

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Expanatory Notes
DPCommittee: 1st Report

Committee (2nd Day) (Continued)

8.26 pm

Amendment 40

Moved by Baroness Noakes

40: Clause 22, page 10, line 16, after “agreement” insert “to which the bank is a party”

Baroness Noakes: I shall also speak to the other three amendments in this group. There are two pairs of identical amendments here; Amendments 40 and 44 amend Clause 22, which deals with termination rights in relation to share transfers, and Amendments 65 and 69 are in a similar form and amend Clause 38, which deals with termination rights in relation to property transfers. The amendments have been suggested to us by one of the leading City law firms and have been supported by the representative banking bodies. I am sure that the Treasury is aware of them.

Clauses 22 and 38 do not restrict contractual overrides to default event provisions in contracts to which the failing bank is a party. As drafted, they appear to apply to contracts that reference the failing bank, even where the failing bank is not a party. This can arise in a number of derivative products, for example, credit default swaps, equity derivatives, bonds options and forward contracts. The failing bank may be the “reference entity” or the “underlying share” in respect of a contract between two other parties not connected to the failing bank.

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