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I accept the point made by my noble friend Lord Harrison, and reinforced by the noble Lord, Lord Luke, about journalists' training. There is no doubt, as we know, that a significant proportion of those who reach the high ranks in journalism in this country, particularly in political journalism, have done so through the ranks of local reporting, so there is concern that if those opportunities decline, the structure of training and the development of skills in journalism will also decline. I emphasise that the Government are concerned about this. There has been an inquiry into journalism skills and an expression of the need to examine those skills and how they should be nurtured. There is no doubt that this is an issue of real concern, and I am grateful to noble Lords who have emphasised the need in the case of the regional and local press.

The Publishing Skills Council carried out a skills survey last year that identified real gaps in training, which noble Lords have reflected in this debate. The skills sector has since produced an action plan that is now being implemented, so I can say that the Government have anticipated the concerns that have been reflected in this short debate and that action on the necessary training of journalists is in hand.

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It is clear that there is real and significant pressure on local and regional newspapers at present. The decline in advertising and in circulation is real and urgent. There are two factors. We cannot disregard the recession and the fact that the decline in resources in our communities has an effect on the public's purchasing of newspapers as well as of other goods over which people have a choice. The downturn in the economy means that much less advertising is available to support newspapers. We know how important advertising is. We should not underestimate the concerns that are caused by the downturn in the economy, but we can look to the recovery from that, and we hope that local newspapers survive so that they can participate in that recovery.

My noble friend Lord Harrison emphasised the principle underlying cause in his opening contribution, and the noble Lords, Lord Roberts and Lord Luke, reflected it in their remarks: the growth of the internet and online advertising as a direct competitor to newspapers and the news media. I shall cite some statistics. The value of regional newspaper advertising fell from £2.8 billion to £2 billion between 2002 and 2008. At the same time, the value of internet advertising grew from £0.2 billion to £2.8 billion. That is a real competitive challenge, which is having a dramatic effect on newspapers and helps to explain a great number of difficulties that they face.

Nevertheless, many local and regional newspapers across the country continue to remain viable and to provide an essential service for their readers. Noble Lords have been kind enough in their contributions to reflect on their local press. I will not miss this opportunity to reflect that the Oldham Chronicle is an evening daily that has been going for over 150 years. I attest to the obvious fact made by other noble Lords that, were an organ of such significance to go, so would a crucial linchpin of local democracy and community. Fortunately, despite its financial difficulties, the Chronicle is presently still printing each weekday.

There have also been amalgamations. We note that Trinity Mirror has announced that three of its west London titles are to be distributed free, extending their reach to far more homes than their current, paid-for editions. Noble Lords implied that it is all right for big companies to sustain free editions and that this shows that the market has declined for paid newspapers across the country. However, these are important initiatives in the areas where they are viable, where the advertising is significant and the group is big enough to sustain the position to extend a local newspaper.

We have been concerned to take certain steps in what is a genuine problem with local and regional news media. We are concerned about opportunities to introduce local and regional news consortia that can deliver an innovative and multi-platform news offering. That is clearly going to need some support, which is why the Government have identified the underspend on digital switchover of the BBC licence money. It is important that these consortia provide effective, accurate and dispassionate local news in their areas. There is no doubt that otherwise the pressures could prove so great that some areas would be devoid of that service.

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We are also inviting the Office of Fair Trading to examine whether the media merger rules and market definitions properly reflect the current state of converged media. The OFT has amended its guidance to ensure improved synergies between itself and Ofcom in their approach to media markets. We are concerned with increasing Ofcom's sensitivity to the challenges to the industry. We are bringing forward at the earliest opportunity proposals to address media ownership rules. These proposals, which will of course be subject to scrutiny by both Houses, follow Ofcom's review last November. The noble Lord, Lord Luke, emphasised this point, raised also by my noble friend Lord Harrison. We are looking at the Audit Commission's recent review of local authority publicity and how the Government's code of recommended practice on local authority publicity might be amended. My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for the DCMS, on whose behalf I am speaking at this Dispatch Box today, has written to his counterpart in the Department of Communities and Local Government, drawing his attention to this important question.

I do not want to exaggerate the issue. None of us would deny the right of local authorities to communicate effectively with their local communities on the services they provide. However, when these perhaps stray into more tendentious comment and are sustained by advertising which, as the noble Lord, Lord Luke, hinted, might otherwise be available to local news media, then an element of unfair competition might come in. We are concerned about the relatively small number of cases. The number of local authorities where the line has been overstepped is not much more than a handful. We are asking the Secretary of State with responsibility for local government to look at practice and to evaluate the position against this changing situation. I have no doubt that if emendations are effected, local authorities will pay due regard to any changes in advice.

As is his wont, my noble friend Lord Harrison has raised an enormously important issue. A debate of this short duration and limited participation can scarcely do justice to a linchpin of local democracy. However, I emphasise that the Government are fully seized of the financial and economic challenge to local and regional press. It is important that action is taken to sustain local news as effectively as we can. None of us has any doubts that this is the basis of effective participation in local democracy and local interest, and is at the heart of the greater democracy represented by Parliament. That is why we need to cherish the grass roots of our democracy. I am grateful to my noble friend for having introduced this important debate.

4.10 pm

Sitting suspended.

Prisons: Howard League Commission

Question for Short Debate

4.30 pm

Asked By Lord Carlile of Berriew

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Lord Carlile of Berriew: My Lords, I declare an interest as president of the Howard League for Penal Reform. I welcome the opportunity today to debate the report from the Howard League's Commission on English Prisons. I look forward to a constructive reply by the Minister and am grateful to the distinguished noble Lords who have put down their names to speak in this debate.

The commission was an independent review of the prisons crisis by some of the country's leading experts and practitioners who were asked to look radically at the purpose and limits of our penal system early in the 21st century. The final report, Do Better Do Less, was published last July. Key ideas in the report, such as introducing a model of localism in the criminal justice system and advocating the concept of justice reinvestment -to which I will return later-have been echoed in subsequent reports by the All-party Parliamentary Group on Local Government and a recent report from the Justice Select Committee entitled, Cutting Crime: The Case for Justice Reinvestment.

The time is now ripe for urgent reform. In summary, the report advocates a new approach of penal moderation and fundamental reform. One headline is a significant reduction in the prison population and the closure of establishments. Another is localisation, of which more later. Thirdly, there is the replacement of short prison sentences, which achieve little if anything, with community-based responses. Fourthly, there is the dismantling of NOMS, including the break-up of the centrally managed prison service, save for retaining some centralisation for the most serious and dangerous offenders.

The commission's signal contribution to the debate was to link the penal crisis in our prisons to wider economic conditions and requirements. This was not new, but it re-emphasised that radical reform of the prison system can provide value for money-and save money. With prison numbers almost doubling in the past 15 years, it is fair to say that the imprisonment industry has been booming. Yet, as with many bad businesses, booming turnover has been accompanied by a bust in profit. Our prisons, groaning under the weight of more men, women and children than ever before, are simply unfit for purpose, particularly in being able to achieve any goals other than containment.

The commission identified that the need to reduce public spending over the coming years brought with it an opportunity to inject some sanity, permanence and stability into the penal system. The message at the heart of the commission's report is in its title: Do Better Do Less. Instead of more legislative hyperactivity in the field of criminal justice and ramping up ever higher the use of costly imprisonment, the commission argued with force for a principle of moderation.

At the core was some well founded research, for plenty of information is available abroad. In its visits to other countries, the commission found that it was entirely realistic to have less crime, safer communities and fewer people in prisons. Surely that is the formula that we should adopt, yet here we are, bumping along towards 85,000 in prison, a figure that will increase as a result of the announcement, which I understand has already been made in another place today, that the early release scheme is to cease in March.

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Germany, with 20 million more people than the United Kingdom, jails around 72,000 people, France only 64,000. Yet in both those countries campaigners say that there are too many in jail and call for reform. Are the English and Welsh really any more criminal or likely victims of crime than the French and Germans and our other neighbours? Why do we feel the need to imprison so many more people and what does it achieve?

Worse still than the sheer numbers, the prisons have become warehouses for dumping people with problems that should have been dealt with elsewhere. I would highlight the number of mentally ill people in prison, practically none of whom are dealt with in the way in which they would be in the community, were they to go through conventional clinical systems. In an overcrowded and overwhelmed prison system, those people will never get the help that they need to move on beyond the ever-revolving door. Reoffending rates speak for themselves; for young people leaving prison, the rates rise as high as 75 per cent.

The commission espouses the vision of less crime, safer communities and fewer people in prison. The real key to that lies in the communities approach. The commission advocated a more localised criminal justice system, particularly for communities where crime is of most concern and the public simply do not understand why things are as bad as they perceive them to be. The commission's report advocates devolving criminal justice spending and giving local authorities in partnership with the police the lead role in the fight against crime. It argues that localism should lead to less money spent on process and more on actions, which produce beneficial outcomes for the whole community. What is missing, among other things, is a sense that the public and those elected to represent them have any local ownership of the criminal justice system, a feeling that would be especially useful in producing effective restorative justice.

A more responsive devolved system would allow local areas to shift resources smoothly from funding prison places to funding community needs. That is what is described as justice reinvestment, a concept that has come from the United States of America. Some states were unable to balance their budgets because of the very extensive use of prison. Those budgetary crises opened legislators to cross party lines and share new ideas. They mapped neighbourhoods to prison populations, and as a result experts were able to identify what have been called "million-dollar blocks", so called because it costs $1 million a year to incarcerate a high proportion of the block's inhabitants. The question that justice reinvestment asks is why we should not spend that $1 million not on prisons but on the area. In states that are pioneering justice reinvestment initiatives, that means reducing the use of prison and closing jails to free up funding so that it can be spent on dealing with the underlying causes of crime in these neighbourhoods. The Government have shown enthusiasm for the community court initiative in Liverpool-and I am delighted to see the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Liverpool in this Committee. It has proved to be very successful. The same can occur if they show similar enthusiasm for localisation of imprisonment.

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Justice reinvestment is not about alternatives just within the criminal justice system; it is about making partnerships within and outside the criminal justice system. It recognises that the criminal justice system as we have it can be a very blunt instrument, and nowhere is that felt with more frustration than by judges and magistrates as they send people to jail and know that they will be back again, certainly in magistrates' courts in city centres, probably within a few weeks.

Justice reinvestment, as advocated by the report, also enables localities to tackle issues of education and training, poor mental health and better public amenities, even stairwells, playgrounds and safe places for young people to hang out. Justice reinvestment, as advocated by the Howard League commission, advocates new local strategic partnerships and involves trusting local authorities and communities with responsibility but, I would argue, trusting them with the responsibilities and opportunities that they are best at. Thus, prison and probation budgets would be devolved to their control, giving them funds for justice reinvestment initiatives. If pilot projects were created, as has happened in the United States, I can see no argument contrary to the view that we would see benefit. I urge the Government, and the Minister in his response, to recognise that this report has made a useful and constructive contribution to the debate and that not to adopt it, at least on a test basis, would be an act of neglect.

4.41 pm

Lord Mackay of Clashfern: My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Carlile of Berriew, on initiating this debate as president of the Howard League for Penal Reform and on the report, which was supported by the Howard League. It is extremely valuable and worthy of a discussion at least as long as the one we will have.

I shall deal with the point mentioned in paragraph 1.14. The page is headed "Wales" and has a green paragraph about Wales, but I do not see much connection between that paragraph and what happens later. It may be a compliment to the president to do it that way, but I am not sure. The point is about the terrific increase there has been in the number of 10 to 14 year-old children in custody in the period studied: 1996 to 2006. There has been a 550 per cent increase in the number of children in custody in that time. That is a very sad and extraordinary situation and, like the report as a whole, it requires urgent attention from Her Majesty's Government. The independent president of the commission was the president of Barnardo's during part of her time at the commission. I am a member of Barnardo's, and my wife was on the council for a considerable number of years, although she retired a considerable number of years ago. I take an interest in what Barnardo's says. As your Lordships will know, the chief executive of Barnardo's is Martin Narey. He was a senior official at the Home Office, and therefore speaks with a great deal of authority.

Over the period referred to, the number of 10 to 14 year-olds in custody increased by 550 per cent. The principal reason for that is that the detention order, which was introduced in the Bill of, I think, 2000, has greatly opened the possibility of custody for young children and not for serious offences only. For example,

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you can find yourself in custody for failing to turn up at the times fixed by the board for interviews. The cost of keeping a young person of this order in custody rises up to about £185,780 per annum. As someone remarked, you could have a student at Eton College for six years for that amount, and I humbly believe that, notwithstanding the criticisms that have been made of that venerable institution, the benefits of being there are probably rather greater than those of being in Her Majesty's custody for a year.

The answer to this question is quite difficult, but the majority of young people in this position have been in the care of the local authority or under the charge of the social services, so people who have already been failed by the system are being failed again, at great cost to the nation. The sooner this stops, the better.

4.45 pm

Lord Wallace of Saltaire: My Lords, noble Lords will recognise that I am in no way an expert on the prison system. I have only two locus standi for being here. First, I chair my party's working group on localism and how to decentralise Britain. Secondly, I was involved in the Offender Management Bill some years ago, and spent some time talking to people in prisons and probation services around Yorkshire on what the Bill would mean for the prison system. I became less and less convinced of the case for NOMS as we went through the Bill, and more and more sceptical of the entire ideology of new public management.

I viewed with immense enthusiasm a quotation from Geoff Mulgan, of all people, in this report:

"There were never any serious theoretical, empirical or popular arguments in favour of centralisation ... overcentralisation tends to be associated with poorer performance, and decentralisation with better performance".

That is one of the more important messages of this report.

The other important message is that giving way to what the report calls "penal populism", and which I would call the clamour of the Daily Mail simply to lock people up and forget about them, leads to greater expenditure and worse outcomes. I note that the United Kingdom now has the highest spending on law and order in the entire OECD-a point to consider when we think about future cuts in spending. Social care is cheaper; probation is cheaper. Above all, local management not only is cheaper but has much more effective outcomes. Many of us have seen local magistrates' courts being knocked down and moved away from towns to regional centres.

The whole process of justice and social care is becoming less and less local, and it is now quite evident that we need to localise justice, offender management and looking after those who have started in care and are likely to go on being in care until they enter the prison system. I met a number of people in Leeds prison who were called POPOs-prolific and persistent offenders whom the prison officers assured me they had seen before and expected to see again and who would go on being recycled through the prison system until, in their mid to late 30s, they would finally grow out of it. I was also shocked to discover how much prisoners were moved around the system out of

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their own region. They lost touch with their families and were therefore likely to come out of prison without the framework that they needed to prevent reoffending.

I strongly support the report. I particularly support the whole idea that the offender must be seen not just as an individual but as a member of a community, and must be encouraged to go back into that community. That community also needs to be involved in the whole process. Liverpool has been mentioned. I should also mention Chard in Somerset, in which the Liberal Democrat-led council has done a great deal to experiment usefully with restorative justice. That seems to all of us to be the way forward. We welcome the report. Sadly, we also welcome its condemnation of one of the greatest failures of new Labour over the past 12 years.

4.49 pm

Lord Ramsbotham: My Lords, I, too, congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Carlile, and, like other Members of this House, I am very grateful to the Howard League for producing this report. I also welcome and support the remarks made by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay, about children, about which we have had many debates on the Floor of this House.

When I read the report, I could not help reflecting on the fact that, in the Army, if you were told that you had to write a report on something, the first thing you did was go to the library and look up all the other reports on the same subject. You looked up all the recommendations that had been made, what had happened to them, and why, after all those other reports-there were usually a dozen-you still had to do the same thing.

The first thing I opened was the bibliography. I looked in vain for two documents which I very much hoped would be there: one was the wonderful report on the riots in Strangeways Prison and 23 other prisons, written by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Woolf, in 1991, and the other was a White Paper, Custody, Care and Justice, agreed to by all political parties, which took the Prison Service into the 21st century, based on a real crisis. I looked for those documents because there were 12 objectives in that report with which, at the time, everyone agreed. I shall quote four of them: to end overcrowding; to improve co-operation with other services and institutions by working closely with the probation service and by membership of a national forum and area committees; to increase delegation of responsibility and accountability to all levels with clear leadership and a published annual statement of objectives; and to develop community prisons which will involve the gradual realignment of the prison estate into geographically coherent groups, serving most prisoners within that area.

That was 19 years ago and absolutely nothing has happened. Here we are with another report saying exactly the same sort of things, but bringing them up to date with justice reinvestment, which I support, with the dreadful story of the hyperactivity of new Labour, with all its Bills, its new crimes, its overcrowding and more prison places but no progress other than an increased reconviction rate. I welcome the four ideas, including the significant reduction in the prison

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population; investment in localities, exactly echoing that; and the replacement of short prison sentences with community-based responses.

Three weeks ago, I was in Libya advising the Libyans to do exactly the same thing. The Libyans have now gone further than we have as a result of our advice based on this document. To the dismantling of the National Offender Management Service I say, "Hear, hear"; it is a monster and it is a bureaucratic disaster. However, I have one problem with the break-up: it is about to appoint a new chief executive. It is very dangerous to appoint a new chief executive to an organisation which has clearly failed without being quite clear what that chief executive is to do, particularly as the Conservative Party has already announced that it intends to do something about NOMS as well. That is another matter.

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