13 Jan 2010 : Column 501

13 Jan 2010 : Column 501

House of Lords

Wednesday, 13 January 2010.

3 pm

Prayers-read by the Lord Bishop of Chichester.

Prisons: Search and Restraint


3.06 pm

Asked By Baroness Stern

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Ministry of Justice (Lord Bach): My Lords, the Government are currently reviewing full search practice in the under-18 secure estate to ensure that it is proportionate and appropriate, and they will fully consider any recommendations that arise from the review. Physical restraint in the under-18 secure estate is to be used only as a last resort where all other options have not succeeded or could not succeed in bringing a violent or potentially dangerous situation under control. A new system of restraint for use in the under-18 secure estate is currently being developed.

Baroness Stern: I thank the Minister for that reply. Does he agree that this report from the Council of Europe committee echoes what has been said in your Lordships' House many times-that the deliberate infliction of pain as a method of controlling young people in custody is unacceptable? Does he recall that in December 2008 the Government said that the technique of inflicting pain on the nose in prison institutions for juveniles would be replaced with a safer alternative within six months? That was 13 months ago. Can the Minister tell the House what has happened to that commitment and when he expects this dangerous practice to be stopped?

Lord Bach: My Lords, I start by saying what is probably obvious to Members of the House: unfortunately, but in the real world, the behaviour of some young people in custody is extremely challenging and can put their own safety and that of other young people and staff at serious risk. We have to be realistic about this. We have accepted the recommendation from the independent review of restraints that the nose distraction technique should be withdrawn from use in the under-18 estate. The technique has been withdrawn from secure training centres and will be withdrawn from young offender institutions once a suitable alternative is in place. The decision not to withdraw it prior to that is based on the need to have in place a technique that enables staff to deal quickly and effectively with incidents of violence by young people where they may be biting a member of staff or another young person.

13 Jan 2010 : Column 502

Baroness Walmsley: Will the Minister join me in regretting the decision by the YJB to appeal the decision by the Information Commissioner that the restraint manual should be published? Parents at the very least, if not the wider public, should certainly know what is happening to their young people. Will the Government go further and follow the model of the Australian department of corrections, which involves parents in planning the management of young people following serious incidents?

Lord Bach: I am afraid that I do not agree with the noble Baroness on that. The general part of the manual is already in the Library of the House. The part that has not been disclosed is the detailed description of the specific techniques. We believe that a detailed knowledge of the techniques, as applied, would allow those being restrained to take countermeasures that would reduce the effectiveness of the techniques and put trainees, staff and other persons in the secure establishment at risk. As the noble Baroness says, the Information Commissioner's decision on this is being appealed, and we will just have to await the result.

Baroness Corston: My Lords, perhaps I may draw the attention of my noble friend the Minister to one of the recommendations in my report on women in prison, the effect of which was to abolish routine strip-searching in women's prisons from 1 April 2009, and its replacement by a new system whereby strip-searching was done on an intelligence basis rather than as a matter of routine. I understand that the effect has been wholly beneficial. Might not that be considered in the light of this review of routine strip-searching for young people?

Lord Bach: I am very grateful to my noble friend for reminding us that her report led to that change, particularly with regard to female offenders aged 17. One of the matters that we are looking at hard, with the Youth Justice Board review about to go to the relevant Ministers, is whether intelligence-led searching is not a better way forward.

Baroness Howarth of Breckland: My Lords, I am sure that the Minister would not necessarily agree with me on the matter of placing our young people in penal establishments rather than in establishments that deal with their development and their particular difficulties. However, I have been responsible for some of the establishments that have had some of the most difficult young people in them, and it is my experience that changing from a regime that looks at their development and difficulties to one that places the majority of them in penal establishments leads, in fact, to a deterioration in their behaviour. Would it not be better to look more strategically at where young people are placed and at how we look at their future, rather than considering the matter piecemeal as we address this very difficult issue of inflicting pain?

Lord Bach: My Lords, I agree with a great deal of what the noble Baroness says. Unfortunately, young people occasionally need to be remanded in secure accommodation or, at a particular age, in a young offender institution. I hope she will agree that a huge change has taken place in the way in which training

13 Jan 2010 : Column 503

and education occur in those establishments-which are crucial to trying to ensure not only that young offenders are punished but that, when they come out, they can avoid crime in the future. I want to reassure her that the ideas that she has put forward are very much our ideas too.

Lord Campbell of Alloway:May I, for once, rather support the Government? In this particular situation, where gangs of children have taken charge of our streets and our cities, it is no easy problem. We are not obviously dealing with it in the right way, but it is difficult to criticise at this time, unless anyone can suggest a way in which to deal with the gangs of children on our streets.

Lord Bach: I am grateful to the noble Lord for his support. As the House will know, these are deeply difficult and sensitive issues. No one wants to punish children unnecessarily, but there are young people who need to be locked away for a while, as long as they are educated and trained and every effort is made to ensure that they do not reoffend when they come out. That is what we are trying to do. A huge effort on all sides is going into trying to deal with the difficult issue of young people in custody.

Further Education: Capital Investment


3.15 pm

Asked By Baroness Garden of Frognal

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (Lord Young of Norwood Green): My Lords, the Learning and Skills Council's 16-19 capital policy and associated fund applies equally to school and college projects that lead to the expansion of 16-19 provision. This may be a result of 16-19 competitions or an identified strategic need for increased 16-19 places. In addition, the Department for Children, Schools and Families has contributed £40 million from its 16-19 capital fund for 2009-10, and £40 million from 2010-11, to the LSC's FE college capital programme to support the growth of 16-19 places within FE college capital projects.

Baroness Garden of Frognal: My Lords, I thank the Minister for his reply. On 21 December, we heard that the Learning and Skills Council announced that it was to spend allocations for the 16-19 capital fund on four schools and two colleges. That decision was taken based on guidance written in 2007 and did not take into account that, since then, the recession has vastly increased the demand for education and training and the disastrous collapse of the LSC's capital funding scheme, which has left colleges in so many difficulties. The Government declare a strong commitment to work-based learning for 16 to 19 year-olds and, as FE colleges provide the vast majority of those places, can the Minister give some assurance that there will be

13 Jan 2010 : Column 504

additional funding from the 16-19 capital fund or elsewhere, which can help the colleges meet their commitments?

Lord Young of Norwood Green: My department, through its FE capital fund, will spend £1.7 billion on college buildings in the current comprehensive spending review, with a further £900 million already earmarked for the next spending period. This government policy has meant that since 2001, 700 projects and nearly 300 colleges have been funded, transforming the FE estate for learners. I remind the noble Baroness that in 1997 not a single penny was earmarked for college building developments. Indeed, the NAO described it as a crumbling infrastructure. We have spent an enormous amount and will continue to spend on FE colleges in the light of the recommendations of the Foster report.

Lord De Mauley: Will the Minister take this opportunity to provide an update on the ministerial Statement of 26 June, which disclosed that only 13 of the 144 college building projects which had had their funding frozen had by then been given the go-ahead, every one of which happens to be in a Labour-held constituency?

Lord Young of Norwood Green: My Lords, that was an unfortunate remark-I give the noble Lord the benefit of the doubt in describing it as unfortunate. The 13 were chosen following a robust and thorough assessment by independent consultants against prioritisation criteria agreed with the sector, which built on Sir Andrew Foster's recommendations.

Baroness Walmsley: Why does it take so long for the LSC to process capital funding applications? It took nearly 12 months for the NSA Creative & Cultural Skills application to be processed. It then required the money to be spent within just over a year. Then, apart from two directors, the majority of the staff of the LSC got bonuses.

Lord Young of Norwood Green: Right. Perhaps I should deal with the second issue first before we get carried away in imagining that LSC staff are receiving bankers' bonuses, of which I am sure some noble Lords on the other side are so fond. LSC staff improved on the number of people who were successfully in learning, so they met a number of their targets.

In relation to the noble Baroness's first point on the National Skills Academy for Creative & Cultural Skills, we are supportive of that project. There was some delay, but we always made it clear to Creative & Cultural Skills that the money was budgeted for and had to be spent by the end of March 2011. We should not forget that the Government are providing a £5 million investment. We regret the delay in the first instance and we make it clear that we urge the National Skills Academy for Creative & Cultural Skills to work with the LSC to discuss how these issues can be resolved to mutual benefit.

Baroness Walmsley: The Minister said that the LSC met its targets. Is 12 months to process a capital application within the normal targets for that organisation?

13 Jan 2010 : Column 505

Lord Young of Norwood Green: In referring to the targets in relation to bonuses, I was referring to the targets of the number of learners who have been taken successfully through the learning programmes. I have already made it clear that there were some problems with that budgetary allocation, but surely the main point, which I would have thought the noble Baroness would be pleased with, is that there is a guaranteed £5 million of government investment towards this project. The main objective ought to be, I am sure she will agree, that it ought to work with the LSC in ensuring that it can resolve this issue.

Public Expenditure


3.21 pm

Asked By Lord Sheldon

The Financial Services Secretary to the Treasury (Lord Myners): My Lords, from 2011-12, the Government will reduce the rate of spending growth. Public sector current expenditure will grow by an average of 0.8 per cent a year in real terms from 2011-12 to 2014-15, and public sector net investment will move to 1.25 per cent of GDP by 2013-14 and will be maintained at that level in 2014-15.

Lord Sheldon: I thank my noble friend for that reply. It is clear that maintaining the levels of public expenditure has been a sensible element in the economy in the past year, but if there is to be a pre-election Budget, should it not reduce, or even further limit, the level of public expenditure?

Lord Myners: Maintaining the level of public expenditure, and indeed bringing forward public sector investment into the current period, has undoubtedly helped to ameliorate the worst outcomes of the recession, as a result of which we have seen much lower unemployment, much lower business failure and much lower levels of repossession. It is the judgment of the Chancellor that it is still too soon for us to reduce the fiscal push from which the economy continues to benefit. Whether there will be another Budget between now and the election is not a matter for me to determine.

Baroness Noakes: I notice that the Minister has difficulty in getting the words "expenditure cuts" out, a little like the Prime Minister, although the Prime Minister has now owned up to the fact that, because certain budgets will be protected, there will be very significant cuts to other budgets of anything up to 19 per cent. Since the Government are now partially owning up to the fact that there have to be cuts, is it not now time for a Comprehensive Spending Review, which would give planning certainty to all those on whom these cuts will have to fall?

13 Jan 2010 : Column 506

Lord Myners: There have been five Comprehensive Spending Reviews since 1997, covering variable periods. The current CSR07 continues to apply until April 2011. My right honourable friend, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, has quite rightly concluded that, in an environment in which there is still poor global visibility about whether the recovery is well rooted and established, it would be inappropriate to carry out a CSR. I feel that the noble Baroness at times comes with her questions so well prepared that she may not listen carefully to what I say. I very clearly said that we will be reducing the rate of spending growth.

Lord Bilimoria: My Lords, I am sure that the Minister would agree that we now have record levels of public sector employment. On the other hand, we seem to have lost a sense of balance in that the old understanding was that the public sector had jobs for life, high pensions and job security, but relatively low pay. Today the public sector earns, on average, more than the private sector and has gold-plated pensions. Is not the public sector now having its cake and eating it too? Does the Minister feel that we can afford this unfair situation any longer?

Lord Myners:The first point I would make to the noble Lord, Lord Bilimoria, on unemployment is that the United Kingdom has lower levels of unemployment than the United States and many of our major competitor EU countries. That is precisely because of the policies that this Government have so successfully followed in dealing with this global recession. In identifying areas where savings can be made in public expenditure, we have been very clear that one of the areas we will be targeting is public sector employment costs. In particular, the Chancellor of the Exchequer has referred to the need for a 1 per cent cap on public sector pay entitlements in 2011 and 2012, which will save £3.5 billion a year, and for reforms to public sector pensions, which will save in excess of £1 billion a year from 2012 onwards.

Lord Howarth of Newport: My Lords, would we not have been obliged to cut public expenditure earlier and more deeply if the Prime Minister, when he was Chancellor of the Exchequer, had not had the wisdom to keep us out of the euro? Can my noble friend help me understand why any political party would want to inflict that kind of damage on public services gratuitously?

Lord Myners:It is not for me to explain the policies of Her Majesty's Opposition in this respect. I cannot dream up the arguments that would choose to bring an increase in unemployment and destroy the prospects of smaller companies in this country at such a fragile time in our economic recovery. However, the Chancellor of the Exchequer at that time, through his prudent stewardship of our economy, ensured that we went into the recession with the second-lowest borrowing as a percentage of GDP of any G7 country. Even on our worst case estimates of the outlook over the next four or five years, we will still have borrowing in line with, or below, the average of the world's major developed countries when expressed as a percentage of GDP. That is sound and prudent economic management for you.

13 Jan 2010 : Column 507

Lord Brittan of Spennithorne:My Lords, does the Minister not agree that the only argument is about the timing of cuts, not about their necessity? If that is the case, would he not further agree that if a programme of cuts is not to be botched and therefore arbitrary, it needs careful planning and that it is not a moment too soon to begin the process of planning those cuts?

Lord Myners: The Chancellor of the Exchequer has been very clear that the next spending round will be the toughest for the past 20 years. We are going to have to look very carefully at all elements of public expenditure to ensure that programmes that do not represent priorities or for which there is not an immediate need are reprioritised, but that we continue to support programmes that are consistent with the Government's values: programmes about supporting British families, a fair society and a society of opportunity. I can assure the noble Lord, Lord Brittan, that thinking around those priorities is constantly taking place.

Lord Newby: The Minister said that it is too soon to reduce the fiscal push. Could he explain why the Government have recently announced major cut-backs in expenditure for higher education? Does he not think that that will be very damaging, not just to the overall fiscal position but to producing a flow of highly skilled young people into the workforce in future?

Lord Myners: In the most recent PBR, one of the areas that we gave significant priority to was to continue to invest in the provision of funds to support the education system. Of course, the scaling back of support for universities in the immediate future comes after a period of quite exceptionally strong growth in investment in that sector.

Lord Kinnock: My Lords, was not the Governor of the Bank of the England right to say to a committee of this House that the speed of deficit reduction should be contingent on the state of the economy? Is it not plain that sustained recovery requires gradual, deliberate deficit reduction on the path being followed by Her Majesty's Government and not the precipitate cuts that would sabotage the recovery that is being promised by the Opposition?

Lord Myners: I absolutely agree with my noble friend. That is why we are committed, through the deficit reduction plan, to halve the deficit as a percentage of GDP over a four-year period once recovery is firmly established. However, we will not place at risk the recovery.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page