|Previous Section||Back to Table of Contents||Lords Hansard Home Page|
I hope that the CRB will be prepared to give a sympathetic hearing to these sorts of proposals. However, the really depressing attitude and terrible situation is the frequent absence of any self-confidence and common sense among our fellow citizens on the value of CRB checks. The default option has become to have everybody checked every time, as if this somehow reduced risks. It does not reduce the risk in any way. It merely provides air cover for the company or organisation and shifts responsibility to somebody else. How often does one see, in the evidence about child abuse cases, for example, phrases like, "Oh, but we had him or her CRB checked", as if that were somehow an excuse.
That default option of asking for CRB checks puts off people and inhibits employment, and the CRB checks are not necessary. If you read the CRB regulations, they refer to "frequent and intensive contact" with children or vulnerable adults. That phrase is not given sufficient weight by employers, be they charities, central or local government, the NHS, schools or commercial companies.
We move in these circumstances from issues which are stupid and silly to other instances where they are absolutely malign. Noble Lords will have seen the story of the ladies in Gloucester Cathedral, arranging flowers. They have had to have CRB checks because, in executing their duties as flower arrangers, they come into contact with the choir, which of course contains young persons. The jobsworth who managed to think up that particular CRB check is hard to imagine.
More malign is the issue represented by a retired doctor, aged 67, wishing to give a couple of hours a week to helping out Alzheimer's patients, who had done so without trouble for several years. Then the decision was made that she should have a CRB check. As a matter of principle, she said they she was not going to do this. The society for whom she was working said that it would fill in the form for her. She said, "No, that is not the point. The society should trust me and recognise what I have done in the past, that I am a volunteer giving up my free time and that I am not 'frequent and intensive' in my association with the
21 Jan 2011 : Column 662
To conclude, of course I support my noble friend's Bill. I hope very much that it will have a speedy passage in one form or another to the statute book. However, there is a lot to do to change public attitudes in society among our fellow citizens on this important topic.
Baroness Warwick of Undercliffe: My Lords, I first congratulate those noble Lords who made three remarkable, riveting and very sensitive maiden speeches. I feel fortunate to be taking part in the same debate and I look forward enormously to hearing their further contributions to this House. I join other noble Lords in congratulating the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, on his tenacity in pursuing this issue, and on his determination to effect this long-outstanding reform. I will make only a brief intervention, to offer him my strong support in his efforts to achieve concrete change that will, I hope, receive support on all sides of the House.
Every study and piece of research on reoffending identifies stable employment as the surest way of preventing reoffending. However, studies and many contributions in the House today also highlight the fact that former offenders, although they may be determined to rebuild their shattered lives and those of their families, face huge challenges and often outright unfair discrimination from potential employers. Our reoffending rates in this country are a social catastrophe. As our prison population has increased-it is now one of the highest of any developed country-the proportion of those reoffending has not changed. An attempt was made by the previous Government to break away from all this. In 2002 they commissioned a review of the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974. That review made grim reading. More than a quarter of the working population had a previous conviction. However, it also went on to find that employment can reduce reoffending by between a third and a half, but that a criminal record can seriously diminish employment opportunities.
I looked in vain for any data that suggest things have changed. Most studies show that offenders face inevitable discrimination when they apply for jobs. As the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, pointed out, 60 per cent of the offenders who took part in surveys by the National Association for the Care and Resettlement of Offenders were refused jobs because of their criminal records. This has been made even more problematic by the increase in the length of custodial sentences since the 1974 Act, as my noble friend Lady Morgan emphasised. Offenders who would have received a sentence of two and a half years or less in 1974 receive between three and four years today. Quite rightly, a great deal of care has gone into identifying those jobs for which former offenders must be carefully vetted and from which they should possibly be excluded, particularly in relation to children and vulnerable people. However, those who are genuinely reformed-who
21 Jan 2011 : Column 663
I read with great interest the report on children and young people in the youth justice system from the All-Party Group on Children, which was published only two months ago in conjunction with the National Children's Bureau. It reported overwhelming disquiet about, among other things, the current age of criminal responsibility in England and Wales. It particularly commented on the apparent emphasis in the youth justice system on punishment rather than rehabilitation. It found that the most vulnerable and most victimised young people are most likely to be persistent offenders and that at least a third of young people in custody should not be there at all. It found that prison is poor value for money; community service with early intervention, and family and other focused therapies, are much better value. It also gave specific ways-for example, through the work of the Foyer Federation-in which reoffending could be prevented.
I cite this to demonstrate that our justice system is clearly failing vulnerable young people, and that there are well documented ways in which rehabilitation can achieve great success. I draw the conclusion that we should do everything possible to encourage this approach and to encourage potential employers, particularly, to look beyond the stigma of a custodial sentence. Employers can be persuaded. Indeed, one scheme with which I have had close association has had remarkable success. The National Grid Transco scheme is championed by its chairman, Sir John Parker, and rolled out by its remarkable director, Dr Mary Harris, first within its own industry, then through the gas supply chain and now in several other sectors. It has reduced reoffending rates among its participating offenders by 70 per cent. One has only to talk to the employers involved to know how much they value these committed employees.
The recent Green Paper from the Ministry of Justice seems to take the same view. In breaking what it calls the "destructive cycle" of crime and reoffending, it says that its priority will be to stop the reoffending that blights the lives of individuals and communities and to get offenders "into honest work". The proposals have been welcomed by NACRO. Its CEO, Paul McDowell, said:
I hope that part of the strategy of the Ministry of Justice will be to focus on increasing public confidence, and increasing public and employer awareness of the enormous economic and social benefits of such a policy.
Lord Bach: My Lords, I start by congratulating the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, on achieving this Second Reading. I greatly admire his persistence in championing this Bill. He has shown huge patience, enormous restraint
21 Jan 2011 : Column 664
We have heard three wonderful maiden speeches, which formed an extremely impressive trio. I do not know whether three maiden speakers have ever sat side by side in the Chamber. They make an extraordinarily formidable combination. I do not wish to go into great detail but I was impressed by the fact that all three maiden speakers in their different ways demonstrated a huge passion for rehabilitation and breaking the offending cycle, and that they have all, in their separate ways, done a great deal in this field, not just spoken about it. The House enjoyed all the speeches very much indeed and looks forward greatly to their further contributions not just on this subject but on others, too.
However, we should not forget the more experienced speakers who have spoken in this debate who have shown their experience and expertise in this subject. It is a subject in which this House is particularly interested-I say that in the broadest sense. Sometimes that can be slightly uncomfortable for a Minister, to put it mildly, although perhaps not today. However, the noble Lord, Lord McNally, indicates that that is the case today as well. Speaking from personal experience, I can say that a Minister can feel uncomfortable in these debates. However, that does not take away from the fact that this House is extremely knowledgeable and takes this subject extremely seriously.
On this side, we welcome the fact that the noble Lord is reintroducing this Bill, and are, of course, happy to support its Second Reading. At a later stage-I think that that the noble Lord will thank us for this, rather than criticise us-there may be technical details that we will want to look into, as obviously the House will want to, to get the Bill right. One matter that was referred to the last time there was a Second Reading on this was the position with regard to Scotland. The noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, will remember that the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act is a devolved issue. However, I am sure that, like us, he believes that it is desirable to have similar schemes on both sides of the border. I look forward to hearing, perhaps not today, about the work the noble Lord has done on having a dialogue with Scotland on this issue.
I can be fairly brief. The rehabilitation of offenders is a subject of immense importance for our society. We were rightly warned by my noble friend Lord Judd that rehabilitation properly done is very expensive indeed. That has to be appreciated by Governments. It is not enough for them to say they are in favour of rehabilitation; they actually have to be prepared to put the money aside in order to see it through.
In our time in government, we did much to encourage rehabilitation in a number of ways. However, we also placed, as do the present Government, great emphasis on victims of crime. I want to comment on the linking of these two. For a long time, not enough had been
21 Jan 2011 : Column 665
I have a couple of questions for the Minister. I promise him that there will not be a whole catalogue of questions for him to answer. The main question that the House really wants answered is: what do the Government intend to do with the Bill? Will they take it over and produce a government Bill, or make it part of a government Bill? Or will they give time to the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, in order that the Bill can complete its stages in this House and then pass on to another place? The other question is this: the debate has rightly been very much centred on young offenders, and stress has been placed on what we can do about them. How can the proposed abolition of the Youth Justice Board possibly fit in with the Government's clearly stated concern about rehabilitating young offenders and keeping them away from offending? The House deserves an answer. The Minister will know that there is a lot of concern around the House about the proposed abolition of the Youth Justice Board.
In conclusion, from this side of the House, we support the Bill in principle. We will do our very best to improve it, if it needs improvement. I congratulate the noble Lord once again. He can tell that there is widespread support for his Bill in this House and we thank him for moving the Second Reading.
The Minister of State, Ministry of Justice (Lord McNally): My Lords, I shall answer the questions first before going into the main body of my speech. I will attempt an impassioned peroration and I ask my noble friend Lord Dholakia to trust me. The Government intend to take on the main thrust of the Bill. We are in the process of consultation based on the Green Paper. Therefore, we would like to take on board the main parts of the Bill. I offer my noble friend full consultation on the form of government legislation. I do so with a sense of urgency and also in the full knowledge that if I do not deliver, he will be back with the persistence that he has shown already.
I turn to the question of Scotland. I am going there in about a month to talk to Scottish Ministers about their experience. The issue has been raised of bringing the work of the YJB into the MoJ. The matter will be fully debated in the Public Bodies Bill. I will explain to the House our intentions at that point. As I have said before at the Dispatch Box, the Youth Justice Board was one of the great achievements of the previous Government. It did a great deal to push the treatment of young offenders to the top of the agenda. However,
21 Jan 2011 : Column 666
It is good to end this turbulent week in the House by demonstrating both to ourselves and to the public what we do best, and by showing the side of the House that people most admire, which is our ability to draw on the experience and expertise of Members in a matter of public interest and concern. I fully share the view of the noble Lord, Lord Bach. His stewardship at the Ministry of Justice is still highly regarded, not least by me. I share with him the fact that in piloting a liberal approach to these matters, we have to carry with us people who have a genuine fear of crime and a genuine concern for its victims. There is not a great deal of difference between us. We are talking about getting the balance right between proper protection of the public and a genuine offer of the opportunity for rehabilitation and reform.
Before I go into the body of my speech, I will say that I take real pride in the fact that the three maiden speakers today all came from the Liberal Democrat Benches. They all demonstrated that the new intake maintains the reputation for quality on those Benches-a reputation that is appreciated on all sides of the House. Pause for those on all Benches to say, "Hear, hear".
As was pointed out, my noble friend Lord Dholakia has vast experience as president of NACRO and in the way that he has associated NACRO, UNLOCK and the Prison Reform Trust in this campaign. He has rightly argued that the rehabilitation periods in the current Act are far too long, and prevent rehabilitated ex-offenders from making a fresh start. The Government have sympathy with that position; we believe that one of the more effective ways to ensure that an ex-offender becomes re-integrated into society is to offer them the chance of stability which, among other things, means employment.
The Government are well aware that the Act has not been reformed since its introduction in 1974. The result is that it does not reflect current, more severe sentencing practice and it can, therefore, fail in its aim to help reformed offenders resettle into society. The long-standing criticisms of the Act include the fact that rehabilitation periods are too long, and they do not reflect the point at which the risk of re-offending reduces. Also, the threshold at which a conviction never becomes spent-that is, all those convictions which attract a sentence of more than 30 months-is seen as too low. At the same time, the exceptions order exempts a growing number of occupations from the Act. The legislation is also criticised for being over-complex and confusing, with the result that some people may not realise that they benefit from its application.
The Government are therefore looking at what can be done to address some of those criticisms and to get a better balance between rehabilitation and public
21 Jan 2011 : Column 667
The consultation paper also asks for views on how we do more for young offenders, a point referred to by several speakers, so that minor convictions as a juvenile do not blight their future prospects, and how offenders with minor convictions a long time in their past, but who are subject to full disclosure of their convictions, might be treated.
We share similar aims to my noble friend Lord Dholakia and are committed to bring in reform in this area. It will also be apparent from the overall thrust of the Green Paper that rehabilitation is very much at the heart of our approach. We believe that the right way to improve public safety and reduce the number of victims is to reduce reoffending, and that an important aspect of that is to ensure that rehabilitated ex-offenders are offered a chance to reintegrate fully into society.
I noted a number of points that noble Lords made. I will try to cover most of them in my reply, but I will also say that the consultation period ends on 3 March, so there is still a month and a half for individuals and organisations to respond to the Green Paper. I urge noble Lords with contacts with interested organisations or individually to make a response to the Green Paper. I assure noble Lords that the team within the MoJ working on our next steps in this area will receive the Hansard of this debate, as itself a constructive response to the problems that we are discussing.
The noble Baroness, Lady Morgan, together with a number of other noble Lords, pointed out that the whole question of criminal records needs to be looked at. A Home Office working party is considering the matter, including a number of the points that the noble Lord, Lord Hodgson, made about the system being over-prescriptive and over-bureaucratic. We are hoping that the outcome of the working party will enable us to clarify and simplify the matter. Anyone who is faced with these things, as I am, sees the same issues coming up time and time again. Getting to the bottom of some of these problems involves something less than rocket science, although of course there are dilemmas. The noble Baroness mentioned exclusion. There is the dilemma of the impact that exclusion will have on the excluded child, but there is also the dilemma of what not excluding the child does to the rest of the class or the ethos of the school. There is not always a simple solution.
I welcome the contribution of my noble friend Lord Addington, who reminded us how many of these issues are related to educational problems, including the area of his own expertise, dyslexia. This comes up time and again. Along with the Department of Health, we are trying to identify at an early stage the mental problems of one kind or another which are a factor in offending.
The noble Earl, Lord Erroll, asked me a question which I think was partly answered by the noble Lord, Lord Bach. He asked how many adults had a criminal conviction. The best answer that the Box could come up with was that about one-third of all men have a recordable conviction by the age of 30. That sounds like an enormous amount to me, but I think that the noble Lord, Lord Bach, said that research carried out in 2005 indicated that the figure was 25 per cent. I shall check the figure again, although I have heard it mentioned before. However, it is extremely worrying because it means that convictions leading to a criminal record are very widespread, and the blight might be wider than we think.
Lord McNally: That is a great relief. It probably brings the number of adults with a criminal conviction, other than for traffic offences, down to below 5 per cent. I worked for my noble friend Lord Ashdown when he was leader of the Liberal Democrats in the other place, and he would tell me that he was going to get back to Yeovil in a frighteningly short time. As a result, my noble friend is probably among those statistics, which just goes to show that offenders can be rehabilitated. The noble Lord has made an extremely helpful point but I do not think that it takes away from the fact that there is a considerable build-up of these convictions, and finding a way of getting them spent would be extremely helpful. I am grateful to the noble Earl, Lord Erroll, for his intervention.
The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Wakefield also made an extremely helpful speech, and I welcome his support for the Green Paper. Again, he emphasised that there should be a proportionate, not a vengeful, response in terms of the criminal justice system. Nobody denies that prison works in certain circumstances-for certain crimes for certain individuals. But-and this is an argument that we must win-so do the alternatives to prison. If we can get a proper debate about that-a proportionate response-then we have some success in moving forward.
I have already mentioned my noble friend Lady Kramer's marvellous maiden speech. I was interested by her endorsement, and that of the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, of Latchmere House, although I have not yet worked out how you find the space to make these visits-perhaps the noble Lord, Lord Bach, can advise me-other than by going into Opposition. Latchmere House looks an interesting place to go and have a look. On the question of not being re-elected, my noble friend might like to use a formula that I have used over the years. Whenever anybody asked me why I gave up being a Member of Parliament for Stockport South, I said that it was by public demand.
The noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, is another titan of this House in terms of this subject area and as president of UNLOCK. I thought that his comment about the chairman of UNLOCK, Mr Cummines, being given an OBE, was the living example of what we are trying to do. I hope that the Green Paper gives a real push to the work built on by the YJB of trying
21 Jan 2011 : Column 669
I have been warned that I am running out of time. Along with the noble Baroness, Lady Doocey, I certainly think that Project Daedalus in London is an example that should be followed. We are hoping for other projects of similar local initiatives to be tested.
I say to the noble Lord, Lord Judd, that we have instinctively been on the same side on so many occasions over the past 40 years, and I am really glad that we are once again shoulder to shoulder on this. The only thing that I would say-this goes back to the original point of the noble Lord, Lord Bach, on victims-is that it is true that some of these young people are victims of their circumstances. However, without playing the old soldier, I should also say that I was born into a working-class area and I can think now of two lads in particular who were born into disruptive, dysfunctional families and had all the disadvantages that we find in people in young offender centres today-I had better not say what their chosen careers were, because some clever journalist will go and identify them-but they both succeeded past those backgrounds and made good lives for themselves. A disruptive, dysfunctional family does not mean that criminality is an inevitability; neither does poverty mean that criminality is inevitable-there is a choice. That is why I am very interested in rehabilitation. Some people have gone through this experience and said that it can be life-changing also for the young offender actually to meet their victim.
I say to my noble friend Lord Loomba that it is so valuable to have him, with his experience of work on poverty at home and abroad, as a Member of the House. I say to the noble Lord, Lord Hodgson, that I thank him not only for his intervention but for his work. I hope that he can de-bureaucratise the setting up of charities and voluntary organisations. The other thing that has impressed me over the past few months is the fact that it is often the smaller charities and smaller voluntary organisations that are doing the interesting work in this field. So I say to the noble Lord: more power to your elbow.
Like the noble Baroness, Lady Warwick, who also asked about the YJB, I pay tribute to the National Grid Transco scheme. However, I had better finish before the noble Lord, Lord De Mauley, gets overexcited about what I am doing. I always think that it is rather funny that we have to stop when we actually have hours and hours of time, but, given the experience of the past few days, we had better stick to the rules, and I had better set a good example.
We are trying to build on some of the previous work, Green Papers and studies, and we are doing everything that we can to bring the research up to date. People are invited to read the Green Paper and to respond to the questions, and they have until 3 March to do so. As I said at the beginning of these remarks, I would like the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, to leave his Bill in abeyance because we are working urgently on the issue and will be introducing legislation. The Front Bench opposite knows how restricted I am in making
21 Jan 2011 : Column 670
Lord Dholakia: My Lords, I thank the Minister for his very positive statement, and of course I am delighted to be able to co-operate fully, as he has proposed, in the forthcoming legislation. In his actions he has also established a deep bond between the leader and the deputy leader of the Liberal Democrats, and long may it continue.
I cannot miss this opportunity to thank all noble Lords who participated. We have had a very hectic week and I do not wish to inflict further pain but I cannot fail to point out that we have heard some remarkable maiden speeches from my noble friends who participated in this debate. As my noble friend Lord McNally said, the House is at its best when, despite some serious disagreements on occasion, it deals with social issues. This debate is an example of the unanimity that we can achieve in a cause for which we are all fighting.
I intend at some stage to have discussions with the noble Earl, Lord Erroll, about his concerns and to see how those matters can be taken up in discussions with the Minister. I would also be failing in my duty if I did not thank my own-completely voluntary-Bill team: Paul Cavadino from Nacro and Julie Wright of UNLOCK. They helped me to shape the Bill. I must also thank the noble Lord, Lord Bach, for his compliments. He also mentioned Scotland. We deleted part of those provisions for the very reason he suggested-that it is a devolved matter. We have had discussions with them, and I am glad that my noble friend Lord McNally will be visiting Scotland. I hope he will be able to take the matter up with them. I therefore ask the House to give the Bill a Second Reading.
Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: My Lords, further to an intervention made by the noble Lord, Lord Redesdale, earlier about the Dog Control Bill, I wish to place on record that my noble friend Lord Grantchester tabled an amendment, about which he had been in discussion with Defra. It was known that it would not be a wrecking amendment. I want to associate myself with the words of the Chief Whip that Committee stage of the Dog Control Bill was postponed due to the number of speakers in this important debate on the Bill put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia.
|Next Section||Back to Table of Contents||Lords Hansard Home Page|