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House of Lords

Tuesday, 11 June 2013.

2.30 pm

Prayers—read by the Lord Bishop of London.

Small Businesses: Late Payments

Question

2.37 pm

Asked by Lord Harrison

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what steps they will take to amend the legislation on late payments to improve the cash flow of small businesses.

Lord Popat: My Lords, the Government take the issue of late payment very seriously. We recently transposed a European directive to combat late payment into UK law. The amended legislation came into effect on 16 March this year and builds on existing UK law. It further strengthens the legal obligation on payment terms, including a statutory obligation on public authorities to pay commercial creditors within 30 days.

Lord Harrison: My Lords, the prompt payment code has been a palpable and egregious failure. Only one in five of Britain’s limited companies and only two out of 42 police authorities have signed up to it, leaving most small businesses £45,000 short in their ability to invest. While it is welcome news that the Government are implementing the March 2013 late payment legislation, failure has occurred so far. Therefore, could the Government put teeth into the legislation prepared by the Labour Government? Secondly, will they consider encouraging credit capital markets to be available to small businesses in the same way as they are in America, to allow small businesses the ability to invest?

Lord Popat: My Lords, 75% of the FTSE 100 companies have signed up to the prompt payment code; something like 1,500 companies are now signing up to it. With regard to the public organisations, including police authorities, we are taking every action possible. My colleague, the Minister Michael Fallon, has written to them, giving them 90 days to ensure that they sign up to the prompt payment code. With regard to funding, the Government have a number of schemes to help SMEs finance their existing cash flow, including funding for lending.

Baroness Browning: My Lords, what assessment have the Government made of the potential for early payment schemes for the cash flow of small businesses?

Lord Popat: My Lords, the Government fully support early payment schemes, which offer suppliers the option of early payment in return for a discount or a fee, as long as that is offered in conjunction with fair payment

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terms rather than as a substitute. The Government’s view is that all businesses should agree fair payment terms at the outset of the contract and that they should pay their suppliers on time, according to the agreed times.

Lord Borrie: My Lords, why do the Government not empower a public authority, such as the Financial Conduct Authority, to take up cudgels on behalf of small enterprises, to ensure that prompt payment is made of cash that is due to them?

Lord Popat: My Lords, we have a voluntary organisation, the Institute of Credit Management, which oversees the prompt payment code on behalf of the Government. We do not need a statutory organisation to bring in prompt payment.

Lord Cotter: When the Government place contracts with large companies in future, will they ensure that it is a requirement that those companies sign up to the prompt payment code, and that they publicise their record on the payment of bills in their annual reports?

Lord Popat: My Lords, the Government are doing everything possible to encourage a culture of prompt payment. As I said earlier, 75% of FTSE 100 companies have already signed up to prompt payment.

Baroness Sharples: Can my noble friend say whether the ministries are paying their debts on time?

Lord Popat: The noble Baroness raises an important issue. The department is doing everything it can to speed up prompt payment, both for SMEs and for large companies.

Lord Mitchell: My Lords, the Government have been prolific in announcing new schemes designed to assist small businesses to grow. They all have one thing in common: not one of them is working. The money simply is not getting through. If large organisations could be shamed into paying within 30 days, small companies would benefit immediately. Here is an idea: why not make it compulsory for all organisations, public and private, to include payment performance in their annual accounts?

Lord Popat: My Lords, government departments are obliged to pay 80% of their invoices within five days. We are promoting a culture of prompt payment. We would not like to bring this in as part of legislation. In many ways, we inherited this particularly important and good legislation from the previous Government. We will now further enhance it by taking the European directive to make sure that UK suppliers are paid by member states of Europe.

Baroness O'Cathain: My Lords, I ask my noble friend whether it is a great thing that 75% of the FTSE 100 who actually pay have subscribed to this code. First, a code is a code, not a law. Circumstances are such now, with austerity in such a state, that we

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ought to look at this seriously. If 75% of the FTSE 100 pay on time, that still leaves one in four of our major companies that do not. I also support the point that my noble friend raised: is the Minister able to give us details of which government departments actually pay on time, not the ones that do not?

Lord Popat: My Lords, at least 80% of invoices are paid within five days by government departments. In March 2013, the biggest paid 97.1% of its invoices within five days. Although 75% of FTSE 100 companies have signed this code, we are doing everything possible to encourage and support the other 25% who have not signed. However, there is a good chance that these companies do not supply that many goods and services in the UK, even though they are FTSE 100 companies listed in the UK.

Lord Campbell-Savours: My Lords, why do the Government not promote invoice discounting and factoring more vigorously?

Lord Popat: My Lords, the discount depends on the supplier and the buyer. Quite often there is an agreement to make prompt payment, and if there is early payment a discount is offered by the supplier to the buyer. Factoring is very common; most banks like to factor invoices, rather than provide additional funding in the form of an overdraft. That is because factoring brings their capital back more quickly than an overdraft facility would.

Atmospheric Carbon

Question

2.45 pm

Asked By Lord Wigley

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what steps they will take to address the increase in the level of atmospheric carbon recently recorded by the monitoring station at Mauna Loa in Hawaii.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Energy and Climate Change (Baroness Verma): My Lords, I am aware that this spring, for the first time, atmospheric carbon dioxide levels briefly reached 400 parts per million in some parts of the world, compared with pre-industrial levels of approximately 280 parts per million. Domestically, the UK has committed to achieve at least an 80% cut in carbon emissions by 2050. Internationally, through the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, the Government are working towards adopting an ambitious and legally binding global deal in 2015, increasing mitigation ambition in the period up to 2020, and continuing to build a climate regime that will ensure that countries’ commitments are measurable, transparent and comparable.

Lord Wigley: My Lords, is the Minister aware that the last time atmospheric carbon hit the 400 parts per million level was 3 million years ago when the Arctic

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was free of ice and sea levels were 40 metres higher than they are today? Given the comments of the Environment Minister, Owen Paterson, on “Any Questions?” last Friday, which suggested that he is in denial about the contribution of carbon to climate change, can she give an assurance that the Government will stick by their policy and confirm that they recognise that the greatest contributor to climate change is in fact carbon? That is the opinion of the overwhelming majority of the scientific community. Will she put it to the Government that this issue should be high on the agenda at the G8 meeting next week in Northern Ireland?

Baroness Verma: My Lords, I agree with the noble Lord that a large majority of scientists around the world agree that there is evidence of global warming through carbon emissions. We as a Government remain committed to reducing carbon emissions and I hope that my first Answer gave the noble Lord some reassurance on that.

Lord Deben: Does my noble friend accept that we recognise the very fine record of the Government in sticking to their policies up to now? However, the important thing is this: how do we deliver from now onwards? It is very important that the explanations around the Energy Bill are clear, concise and very decided. Furthermore, we should have a carbon intensity target for 2030 if we are going to get the investment that Britain needs to ensure that we have a low-carbon electricity supply.

Baroness Verma: My noble friend is absolutely right to say that we need to ensure that there is certainty for investors. The Energy Bill, which is to come to your Lordships’ House next week, will set out exactly what the Government are doing through the electricity market reform project. We are working hard to ensure that there is certainty in the renewables sector and we are on target to meet our carbon emissions reduction goals. I think that noble Lords will find, during the passage of the Bill, that this Government plan to be one of the greenest Governments because of the measures they are currently taking.

Lord Soley: My Lords, I understand the interest in international agreements, but is there not an important factor here in the form of the science and technology sector, which is talking increasingly about extracting carbon from the atmosphere? Will the Government continue to give major support to the scientists and technologists who are working on the extraction of carbon, which is now being discussed increasingly as an option?

Baroness Verma: My Lords, the noble Lord has made an important point; it is one that has a great deal of technical and scientific evidence behind it. If the noble Lord will allow me, I will give a more detailed answer in writing and I will place a copy of that response in the Library.

Lord May of Oxford: I remind the noble Baroness that we are on target, but only by virtue of the recession. As I have rather unkindly remarked on a

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previous occasion, I trust that this is not our plan for remaining on target to 2050, although sometimes I wonder as I look at the current happenings.

Baroness Verma: My Lords, I reassure the noble Lord that it is not just because of the recession. We are, through the Energy Bill, putting in place a number of measures to ensure that we will be working towards reducing carbon emissions.

Lord Teverson: My Lords, to reduce carbon emissions we need a strong carbon price. Can my noble friend the Minister tell us what the Government are doing to boost the price of carbon in Europe, despite the fact that the European Parliament has recently voted against the backloading of current emission targets?

Baroness Verma: I agree with my noble friend. We continue to support the Commission’s proposal to backload and we hope for a more positive outcome in the forthcoming votes in the European Parliament at the next voting session. The Government are pushing for the adoption of a unilateral EU target for 2030 of a 40% reduction on 1990 levels, and, in the context of a more ambitious climate agreement for the period beyond 2020, the EU’s target should increase up to a 50% reduction on 1990 levels.

Baroness Worthington: My Lords, I return to the original Question from my noble friend. The Government are hosting the G8 meeting in Northern Ireland next week. Despite receiving requests from both the German and French Prime Ministers, our Prime Minister has been reticent about putting climate change on the agenda. Has he had cause to rethink this decision and will climate change be discussed next week in Northern Ireland?

Baroness Verma: My Lords, I can reassure the noble Baroness that it remains very much a commitment for all G8 leaders. This year, under our G8 presidency, the Foreign Ministers will consider the wider security risk presented by changing climate. It has not gone off the agenda. It will be discussed, but in a different forum.

Lord Howell of Guildford: Is my noble friend aware that Mauna Loa, mentioned in the Question, is, measured from the seabed, one of the highest mountains on earth, higher than Mount Everest? The top of it is often in the clouds and I am afraid that some of the discussion about this issue is in the same position. I am sure she is aware that the most rapid reduction in CO2 is being achieved currently in the United States, which has gone very rapidly from coal to gas. If we really want to get our CO2 emissions rapidly down once the recession is over, is there not a case for concentrating in the short and medium term on developing the gas economy as rapidly as possible, thus reducing CO2 emissions, cheapening our power and encouraging economic growth and recovery?

Baroness Verma: My Lords, my noble friend is right that gas will have an important role to play and will continue to make a contribution to our energy mix.

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Schools: PSHE

Question

2.53 pm

Asked By Baroness Massey of Darwen

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what is their assessment of the report by Ofsted Not Yet Good Enough: Personal, Social, Health and Economic Education in Schools, published on 1 May.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Schools (Lord Nash): My Lords, the Government are grateful for Ofsted’s report, which provides an important and valuable analysis of the strengths and weaknesses of PSHE provision in this country. We encourage all schools to focus on the areas for improvement outlined in the report and, in doing so, to access best practice identified by Ofsted.

Baroness Massey of Darwen: I thank the Minister for that response. I know that he agrees on the importance of personal, social, health and economic education in schools. Is he aware that not only is Ofsted concerned but so are parents, those who work with young people and young people themselves? Can he use his influence to suggest to the DfE that a simple addition to part 2 of the national curriculum framework could make explicit the link between existing statutory provision and personal, social, health and economic education?

Lord Nash: I am aware that the PSHE strategic partners group has written to my honourable friend the Minister for Education and Childcare calling for a more explicit link to be made in the national curriculum framework document between schools’ statutory requirements and the provision of PSHE education. I am grateful for the input of this group, which represents a wide range of PSHE stakeholders. I assure noble Lords, and the noble Baroness, that we are currently giving this full and proper consideration as part of the national curriculum review.

Lord Storey: My Lords, considering that in a fifth of the schools inspected it was found that none of the staff had any training in PSHE and that in a fifth of the schools the teaching was not good, what steps will be taken to improve continuing professional development in PSHE in both education and subject leadership?

Lord Nash: To support schools, we have asked Ofsted to publish specific examples of effective practice in PSHE to provide evidence for teachers when developing and delivering their PSHE programmes. We are also providing grant funding to the PSHE Association to undertake work advising schools on their teaching, including improving staff training. The PSHE Association will expand its chartered teacher programme, which recognises effective practice and encourages high-quality PSHE training.

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Baroness Howe of Idlicote: My Lords, the report says that improvement in the delivery of the sex and relationship side of PSHE is needed in as many of a third of schools; and, worse, that this means that particularly sensitive issues, such as mental health, sexuality, domestic violence and pornography, are either receiving too little attention or are frankly just being omitted completely because of teacher embarrassment. What steps are the Government proposing to ensure that teachers involved will in future have the necessary skills to teach these important subjects?

Lord Nash: The noble Baroness is quite right that we need to up our game in this regard, particularly in relation to internet pornography. As noble Lords will know, quite a lot is going on in relation to the internet at the moment. SRE in particular is a vital part of training, and we hope that the Ofsted examples will improve that. The draft science curriculum includes clear requirements for pupils to be taught about their bodies, physical development and reproduction.

Baroness Gardner of Parkes: Can the Minister tell me why there is no interest at all now in education on dental prevention in schools? Although children still have tests for eyesight, hearing and so on, the dental examination has been discontinued. Can he ensure that teachers will interest children in prevention? Hearing that Manchester has not only one of worst mortality rates but the worst dental health makes you think that it is rather important.

Lord Nash: My noble friend raises a very good point. All schools should focus on their pupils’ diet and health, including home health, because we know that so many pupils suffer from poor parenting. I will write to her more specifically about what we are doing in this regard.

Baroness Hughes of Stretford: My Lords, the worldwide campaign against violence towards women, along with recent criminal cases, has highlighted the danger that internet pornography presents to children and young people. The Children’s Commissioner’s inquiry shows that many young people are exposed to internet pornography through their schools and their friends. What guidance have the Government issued to schools to help protect children from exposure to internet pornography? Is this issue not a really good example of why we now urgently need statutory PSHE?

Lord Nash: I entirely agree with the noble Baroness’s point about the danger of internet pornography, which is a much bigger issue than just in schools. We are working with the industry, through the UK Council for Child Internet Safety, to make it easier than ever for harmful and inappropriate internet content to be filtered from home broadband and all devices. The top five ISPs have committed to having parental controls in place by the end of 2013. On 18 June, the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport will meet internet businesses to see what more they can do to tackle illegal online pornography. Further work is also going on in this regard.

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Lord Northbourne: My Lords, following on from the first intervention, is the noble Lord aware that there are no fewer than 10 references in this report to the inadequacy of specialist teacher training to prepare teachers to teach these subjects, particularly personal and social education, in schools? Surely the Government ought to do something to encourage teacher training colleges to provide better training and more of it.

Lord Nash: We are giving greater control to schools to decide how best to recruit teachers and expanding the teaching schools programme substantially. Good schools, in partnership with strong training institutions, understand the needs of their pupils and how staff should be prepared for this. As I have mentioned, we have funded the PSHE Association further in this regard.


Homeless People: Night Shelters

Question

3.01 pm

Asked by Lord Alton of Liverpool

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what provision they are making for homeless people left without access to night shelter provision following the Anglesey judgment on housing benefit and the funding of night shelters.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Work and Pensions (Lord Freud): My Lords, local authorities are best placed to make local provision for homeless people and have been allocated £470 million from 2011-12 until 2014-15 to prevent homelessness and tackle rough sleeping.

Lord Alton of Liverpool: My Lords, if there were no material changes in the Government’s regulations concerning night shelters, why are homeless people who were in shelters now on the streets? In the light of the Anglesey judgment is there not an urgent need for the Minister to issue new guidance to close a revolving door which has sent vulnerable people, many of whose lives were, in any event, in freefall, back on to the streets, sleeping rough on park benches or in shop doorways or seeking hospital beds, and which in Salford precipitated the closure of Narrowgate, the only night shelter serving Manchester and Salford, which has, in the past, helped more than 2,000 people? To protect the homeless, do we not need to rapidly hammer out a humane and just solution, with new guidelines issued to local authorities and to charities working with the homeless?

Lord Freud: My Lords, clearly homelessness is a priority of this Government and we are putting a lot of resource into prevention. The most important area in which we are doing that is the No Second Night Out policy, which is proving very successful and is being run out across the country this year. This is an isolated example of how particular shelters are funded.

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Lord Roberts of Llandudno: My Lords, how much consultation was there before this judgment was put into effect? Following the point of the noble Lord, Lord Alton, who has done tremendous work in this area, is it not time that we issued clear, simple guidelines? Will the Minister write to every local authority explaining that not only have benefits been paid in the past but, in spite of the judgment, they can be paid now and that no one need lose their place in a night shelter?

Lord Freud: My Lords, the actual finding was that a particular night shelter in Anglesey could not be treated as a dwelling because it was, basically, a converted hall. There was no reserving and the people there came on a first come, first-served basis every night. It was a particular finding which might apply to a few other places. However, that is about how local areas find the best possible funding for their support for homeless people.

Baroness Armstrong of Hill Top: My Lords, I declare my interests stated in the register. I know that the Minister understands that many homeless organisations are trying to move as many people as possible from hostel accommodation in to independent living. However, does he realise that that is now being put at threat because of the changes to the benefits system and, of course, the bedroom tax? In Newcastle, the local housing company has had to warn the Cyrenians, which is the biggest supplier, if you like, of work with the homeless, that it is coming to the stage where it will not be able to allocate any properties to the homeless because it will have to use them for people being transferred within their own estate.

Lord Freud: My Lords, that is clearly a very wide question and I find it hard to answer the specific point. On the point about hostels for the homeless, our best estimate is that there are about 9,000 bedrooms for people who are rough sleepers. A proportion of those may be affected by this particular provision. Authorities need to look at the other sources of funding, including the Supporting People programme, which received £6.5 billion in this spending review.

Lord Brooke of Sutton Mandeville: My Lords, can my noble friend remind your Lordships’ House how many spare bedrooms there are in the social housing sector and how many families live in overcrowded accommodation?

Lord Freud: My Lords, there are approximately a quarter of a million people living in overcrowded accommodation and 1 million spare bedrooms in homes lived in by people who receive benefits in the social rented sector.

Lord Avebury: My Lords, the noble Lord said that this was an isolated incident, but is he aware that local authorities are already cutting off housing benefit and that shelters are closing down? When will Homeless Link and Crisis have a reply to the representations that they made to DWP asking for an urgent clarification of this ruling?

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Lord Freud: My Lords, this is a very particular ruling on what is a dwelling for which housing benefit is payable. Clearly, there are other ways to provide support for night shelters where they are not dwellings. As I said, that is in the Supporting People programme and in the homelessness prevention budget, which are the two large budgets. There may be a small number of the 9,000 or so bedroom spaces where one has to look carefully at what is the appropriate funding, but a large amount of effort is going into supporting rough sleepers and to make that provision. If the effect of this is to upgrade the provision of beds for those who are sleeping rough, that might be a rather good outcome.

Lord McKenzie of Luton: My Lords, the Minister said that homelessness was a priority for the Government. It is interesting to note that, after years of declining trends, 2010 marked the turning point when all forms of homelessness began to rise. Does the Minister accept that for many, a period of stay in a shelter is the first step to being able to obtain and keep a home? It is an environment where they can begin the transition from a chaotic lifestyle to something more stable. In those circumstances, why does not the Minister take up the suggestions that noble Lords have made to look specifically at statutory guidance or a tweak in the regulations so that the types of provision caught by this ruling are put back in the position where people assumed that they were before the judgment was made?

Lord Freud: My Lords, I emphasise that there is absolutely no change here in what is the kind of home for which housing benefit is appropriate. Where that is, in the case of Anglesey, a hall where the showers for those people are half a mile away, it may be that other forms of support, such as the Supporting People programme or homelessness prevention are more appropriate. The No Second Night Out programme, which is now being introduced throughout the country, is beginning to make some impressive moves to make sure that people in the state of rough sleeping are caught early and got back on to the path, as the noble Lord said, out of a chaotic lifestyle into something where they can get themselves organised.

Planning Act 2008 (Nationally Significant Infrastructure Projects) (Electric Lines) Order 2013

Motion to Approve

3.09 pm

Moved by Baroness Verma

That the draft order laid before the House on 10 April be approved.

Relevant document: 1st Report from the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments, considered in Grand Committee on 4 June.

Motion agreed.

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Representation of the People (Northern Ireland) (Amendment) Regulations 2013

Justice and Security (Northern Ireland) Act 2007 (Extension of duration of non-jury trial provisions) Order 2013

Motions to Approve

3.10 pm

Moved By Baroness Randerson

That the draft regulations and draft order laid before the House on 8 May be approved.

Relevant document: 1st Report from the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments, considered in Grand Committee on 4 June.

Motions agreed.

Education: Reform of GCSEs

Statement

3.10 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Schools (Lord Nash): My Lords, with your permission, I should like to repeat a Statement on the future of examinations. The Statement is as follows.

“There is now a widespread consensus, underpinned by today’s authoritative report from the Education Select Committee, that we need to reform our examination system to restore public confidence. That is why today we are publishing draft details of new GCSE content in core academic subjects and the independent regulator Ofqual is publishing its own consultation on the regulation of reformed GCSEs.

We are publishing the draft content in English, maths, science, history, geography and modern and ancient languages alongside this Statement. We will consult on that content over the next 10 weeks. We expect that these subjects, with the exception of languages, should be ready for first teaching in September 2015, with the first exams being taken in the summer of 2017. Languages and other subjects should follow soon after with first teaching from September 2016 and first exams being taken from the summer of 2018.

The new subject content published today has been drawn up in collaboration with distinguished subject experts, many of whom have expertise and experience in teaching, and we would like to thank them all. In line with our changes to the national curriculum, the new specifications are more challenging, more ambitious and more rigorous. That means more extended writing in subjects such as English and history, more testing of advanced problem-solving skills in mathematics and science, and more testing of mathematics within science GCSEs to improve progression to A-levels. It also means more challenging mechanics problems in physics, a stronger focus on evolution and genetics in biology and a greater focus on foreign language composition so that pupils require deeper language skills.

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The higher level of demand should equip our children to go on to higher education or a good apprenticeship. We can raise the bar confidently knowing that we have the best generation of teachers ever in our schools to help students achieve more than ever before. Our education reforms, the growth in the number of academies and free schools, the improvements in teacher recruitment and training as well as sharper accountability from improved league tables and a strengthened Ofsted are raising standards in state schools. This means that new GCSEs will remain universal qualifications—accessible, with good teaching, to the same proportion of pupils as now.

The specifications that we are publishing today also give awarding organisations a clearer indication of our expectations in each subject. Under the previous system specifications were too vague. This caused suspicion and speculation that some exam boards were ‘harder’ than others, undermining the credibility of the exam system as a whole. Including more detail in our requirements for subject content should ensure greater consistency and fairness across subjects and between exam boards. We hope that by reducing variability in the system we can ensure that all young people leave school with qualifications respected by employers, universities and further education.

While making GCSE content more rigorous we must also correct the structural problems with GCSEs that the coalition Government inherited. As today’s report from the Select Committee confirms, the problems with English GCSEs generated last summer proved beyond any doubt that the current system requires reform. Both the Select Committee report and Ofqual recognise that controlled assessment, which counted for 60% of the English GCSE qualification, undermined the reliability of the assessment as a whole. That is why I asked Ofqual to review the regulatory framework for GCSEs, to judge how we might limit coursework and controlled assessment and to reflect on how we could lift the cap on aspiration by reducing the two-tier structure of some GCSEs. I have also asked Ofqual to explore how we might reform our grading structure, better to reflect the full range of student ability and reward the very best performance.

Ofqual’s consultation sets out how reformed GCSEs can be more rigorous and stretching and encourage students to develop and demonstrate deep understanding. It is proposed that coursework and controlled assessment will largely be replaced by linear, externally marked end-of-course exams. It is proposed that the current two-tier system will end except where it is absolutely essential, in maths and science. In those subjects, Ofqual is consulting on how to improve the current arrangements to deal with the concerns that we have expressed about capping aspiration. Ofqual is also consulting on a new grading system which gives fairer recognition to the whole ability range.

Young people in this country deserve an education system that can compete with the best in the world, a system that sets and achieves higher expectations. Today’s reforms are essential to achieve this goal. By making GCSEs more demanding, more fulfilling and more stretching, we can give our young people the

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broad, deep and balanced education that will equip them to win in the global race. I commend this Statement to the House”.

3.16 pm

Baroness Jones of Whitchurch: My Lords, I thank the Minister for repeating the Statement today. He will know that the department and the Secretary of State have a rather chequered history on education reform—less about linear reform and more about stops, starts and U-turns. It has been difficult for politicians to keep up with his thinking, let alone the head teachers who have to plan for the changes, the teachers who have to deliver those changes and the parents who would like to understand what is to be expected of their child. As a result, a great deal of cynicism and anger has developed about the mixed messages coming out of the department, the pace of change now being demanded and the lack of engagement with the profession prior to the curriculum changes being published.

For example, the Minister talked about the involvement of distinguished subject experts in drawing up the subject content, but he will know that there is a great deal of discontent among those very advisers that their advice was ignored and that they did not recognise the final subject drafts being published. There was even some suggestion that the Secretary of State had removed some of the advisers at a late stage and taken on the task himself. What reassurance can the Minister provide that the draft subject content is genuinely based on the best external advice available and receives their broad support?

Secondly, there is a real concern that the views of parents were not properly sought before these changes were announced. Most parents are passionate about their children’s education and well positioned to know what excites and inspires their child at school. They want to know that standards will apply across the sector—not one rule for academies and another for maintained schools; they worry that unqualified teachers are being allowed back into classrooms by this Government; and they want to be reassured that any new curriculum will provide their child with the qualifications and skills to get decent employment in the future. What steps have been taken to give parents a real and powerful voice in the final shaping of these proposals before they are agreed?

Thirdly, the Minister will know that in the past business leaders and the CBI have expressed concerns that the emphasis on learning and repeating facts that is now being proposed, rather than understanding the importance of collaborative working and creative thinking, are taking the curriculum proposals in the wrong direction and not producing young people with the soft skills necessary in today’s business world. To what extent have the future employers of these young people been involved in drafting the curriculum proposals, and do these now meet with their approval?

Fourthly, the Government are already committed to raising the participation and school-leaving age to 18. This is a policy that we also endorse. However, these proposals cover only the teaching provision to 16. Does the Minister agree that it would have been better to review the curriculum and assessment provisions

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in a streamlined way through to school-leaving age, rather than approaching it in this piecemeal way? What thought is being given to providing a meaningful education to young people who do not want to study the traditional academic A-level route and who would prefer a quality vocational offer, particularly those in the 16-to-18 range? How does this fit in with these proposals?

We all share the determination to have high standards and rigour in our teaching and assessment of young people. We are proud of our record of driving up standards in the past—the Secretary of State has previously acknowledged our record in this regard—and we support the reform of controlled assessment of coursework in examinations. Clearly, everyone has to have confidence that assessments are carried out objectively and rigorously, but we very much oppose the move back to assessment purely at the end-of-course exams. The Minister spoke of a “cram and forget” culture in exams, but that is the inevitable feature of measurement by exams.

A three-hour exam can never give a child a chance to show all they have learnt over a two-year course, nor can it show the depth of understanding that they can demonstrate in a well-structured piece of coursework. A minority of children will have an innate talent for learning and regurgitating facts. Good for them; we wish them well; but that is not how most children learn or show their abilities, and these are not necessarily the skills that employers want either. The answer has to be a mix of assessment methods to ensure a fair outcome. Can the Minister therefore explain the evidence by which this major change in assessment has come about and what consultation will continue to take place on whether it is fair and viable?

Once again the department has been guilty of rushing out proposals which have major consequences for the next generation of young people. There should be a national debate on the implications and a genuine commitment from the Government to listen and change. Sadly, this department does not have a great record on meaningful consultation, but I hope on this occasion the Minister can reassure this House that there will be a full opportunity to influence the eventual outcome of these changes within both this House and the country before a final decision is taken.

3.22 pm

Lord Nash: I am grateful for the noble Baroness’s comments. I was rather surprised to be asked to make this Statement because it seemed to be one more opportunity to highlight the grade-inflation confidence trick that the previous Government pulled on the public of this country. It is true that grade inflation has been going on for a long time. According to a detailed study by King’s College London and Durham University, over the past 30 years-plus in maths the attainment levels have hardly moved, yet the number achieving grade C in maths GCSE has gone up from 22% to 55%. Between 2006 and 2009 achievement at grade C in English and maths increased by eight percentage points, defying all international evidence about the actual levels of achievement. We all know that the current system suffers from dumbing down and grade inflation and that the modular system has

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much more potential for manipulation. The blowing up of English last summer was the last straw in providing evidence in relation to this. It is not a question of whether we should do it; we must do it, and we must do it now if we are to render our education system competitive in the international world.

We have listened and we will continue to listen. This is a genuine consultation. We have consulted numerous experts, from Dr Anthony Ashmore, Dr Helen Drury, Lynne McClure, Professor Black, Eleanor Rawling to Charlie Stripp and many others. We have consulted parents and businesses. Businesses have been consistent in their claim that the curriculum is not fit for purpose—42% of employers have to provide remedial training for school leavers; eight out of 10 small businesses do not believe that school leavers are ready for work. The Institute of Directors has confirmed that the value of a GCSE has declined, and the British Chamber of Commerce says that school leavers’ literacy and numeracy are inadequate. In science, the Royal Society of Chemistry has called the decline in science a “catastrophic slippage”. Again, there is no doubt that we have taken this on board. Businesses want pupils to have better literacy and numeracy skills, which these more rigorous exams will provide.

Vocational training is right at the top of the Government’s priorities. The first thing we did when we came to power was to commission Professor Alison Wolf to do an analysis of the over 4,000 vocational subjects, many of which were so-called “equivalents”; this equivalence was another attempt to make the education system look better than it was. We have rigorously gone through those qualifications and reduced them to fewer than 200: those which are seriously valued by employers. We are introducing the TechBac, and have consistently compared our exam system with international systems and found it wanting.

We must drive stimulus in the system for better education. By doing that, in two years alone we have increased the take-up of the English baccalaureate from 22% to 48%. It is absolutely clear that our pupils are capable of far more than we have hitherto asked of them. Nothing I have seen has made me think anything other than that. It is high time that we reformed these exams. We have been accused of doing too much too fast. We have fallen so far down the international league tables that, in order for our education system and our country to be competitive, we must move to make substantial changes now.

3.26 pm

Lord Sutherland of Houndwood: My Lords, I welcome the Statement from the Minister, and the fact that it has come now. Generations of students should benefit as soon as possible from the potential progress that we have marked here.

On a specific point, I welcome the attention to assessment, reflecting the whole range of ability and achievement in our school population. We have been failing to do this, which has been a disincentive to some of our most able pupils. The Minister will be aware of the success of Finland in the PISA international comparisons. Is he equally aware that one of the elements

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contributing to that success has been an attempt to ensure that the curriculum is more rigorous and detailed? I assume that these are the principles underlying what we have heard today.

Finally, can the Minister reassure us that the policy issues raised here will in fact be assessed, and that evidence as to whether or not they work will be presented to the House in due course?

Lord Nash: I am grateful to the noble Lord for his comments; I know that he is extremely well informed on these matters. I was aware of the success of Finland. We believe that Ofqual, particularly after its performance on the English exams, is now a rigorous organisation. The various assessment techniques it is consulting on—one in particular—will be rigorous.

Lord Storey: My noble friend is absolutely right to say that we need to have a rigorous examination system in which employers, universities, parents and even pupils have confidence and which is as challenging as that in any other country. I am delighted that we are not going back to a two-tier system; that was important to my colleagues.

I have two questions. An exam is hugely important to the pupil sitting it. It can make or break their life chances and expectations. At the moment you go into an exam, you might have great emotional problems. Young girls or young women can be starting their period, which can be devastating for them when they sit their exam. I hope that Ofqual will look at giving support to those pupils in terms of resits.

My second question follows on from the comments made by noble Lords opposite. How do we consult with parents? We bandy around the phrase, “We must consult with parents”, but how is that consultation carried out? Have we ever thought of consulting pupils themselves? They have great experience of exams.

Lord Nash: I am very interested in my noble friend’s comments. I know that he has vast experience as a teacher. On his last point, I recently read a very interesting report from America, which said that lesson observation was not the best way of working out whether teachers were teaching well; the best way to do that was through exam results and pupil feedback. My noble friend makes a very good point. In relation to pupils who maybe experience particular difficulties with resits, I will take this away for consideration.

Baroness Wall of New Barnet: My Lords, I welcome the Minister’s Statement. I am involved in skills and in working with employers, and as late as yesterday I hosted an event here for employers who deal with STEM subjects. The information the Minister shared with us is very much in tune with what is being experienced out there.

My first point follows on from the comments about how we engage parents. A key thing that came out from the meeting yesterday was how we persuade parents that the vocational route is as good, as well qualified and as valuable as the academic route, which my Government and previous Governments have

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endeavoured to take more people through. That is hugely important. When young people look at apprenticeships, very often their parents will suggest that they are the least best option, let alone the message that comes from schools, where career advice is now non-existent, and Connexions has gone—not that I was a great admirer of it; it had lots of faults. However, if we are to get UK plc working in the way it should do, and being as productive and profitable as it needs to be, employers need to know that they have support from parents as well as government and themselves, ensuring that the skills and vocational techniques that apprentices require are just as important.

Secondly, although the Minister has been very sceptical about equating GCSEs with vocational NVQ qualifications, that has made a difference, because it has allowed parents to measure in some way, however accurate the measurement, the value of what their children are learning. I hope that they will also be brought to a productive employment future.

Lord Nash: The noble Baroness makes some very good points. It is essential that we now make sure that our vocational qualifications are seen by all— employers, parents and students—as being as rigorous as academic qualifications and equally valuable. The Alison Wolf review, which suggests that we focus down on a core—although still substantial—number of vocational qualifications, is helpful here. However, we started from a very low base. You could get a diploma in a subject—I will not mention the name—which required no examinations at all because it was assessed entirely by continuous assessment. That counted as four GCSE equivalents. We clearly had got to a point where the system of equivalents was out of control. However, we need to see more rigorous vocational qualifications—and the UTC programme is very focused on this. We are seeing pupils, aged 14 and 16, going to UTCs which offer extremely rigorous vocational qualifications, and we need to spread this practice into schools as well.

Baroness Coussins: My Lords, I declare an interest as chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Modern Languages. I welcome the Government’s intention to introduce more rigour in foreign languages at GCSE. However, there seems little point in improving the system if very large numbers of pupils are effectively disfranchised from access to it. What can the Minister tell the House about the Government’s intention in relation to the pupils in the 20% of state schools that have condensed key stage 3 into only two years, meaning that there are tens of thousands of pupils who do no languages at all after the age of 13, and who therefore have no chance of taking a language at GCSE, improved or otherwise?


Lord Nash: Yes, there are quite a few schools that take GCSEs over three years. It is a technique that troubles me a bit personally because we all know that if key stage 3 was better and not the kind of desert it can be, more pupils would do it. The noble Baroness makes a very good point: we are short of language teachers. We have put bursaries in place to encourage language teachers with good degrees into the system, but I will take her points on board.

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Lord Quirk: My Lords, further to same point, if the new GCSEs are to have a fair chance, will the Government ensure that the timetable for their introduction fully respects the need for teachers right across the board—not just of foreign languages—to be brought up to speed wherever necessary? Is the Minister satisfied that the revised GCSEs respect the special importance of maths and English as underpinning all the other subjects in the examination system?

Lord Nash: The noble Lord makes a very good point. On the timetable, we are now consulting on the subject content and Ofqual is consulting on the regulations. The consultation on subject content ends on 20 August and Ofqual’s consultation ends two weeks later. We plan to publish final versions of both in September or October. The awarding organisations then have about six months to develop their detailed subject specifications and it will take approximately six months for those to be accredited by Ofqual. The full subject specifications should, therefore, be available in September 2014 for first teaching in September 2015 in all the subjects we have mentioned except languages, where first teaching will not be until September 2016. We believe that is ample time for teachers to prepare.

On the point about English and maths going through the curriculum, spelling, punctuation and grammar are worth 5% of marks in history, geography and English literature, and we have increased that to 20% in English language. In science, we are making sure that maths is much more prevalent.

Lord Elton: My Lords, coursework is a very valuable and flexible means of teaching but it is notoriously difficult to moderate, certainly in history and geography and doubtless in other subjects. The decision to withdraw weight from that element of examination marking is very welcome. The period chosen for the forthcoming consultation coincides with the most disrupted period of timetabling in the secondary sector and the peak workload of the examination authorities, on whose contribution there should also, presumably, be consultation. It also, of course, coincides with the holidays. Is the noble Lord certain that this period is long enough?

Lord Nash: We believe it will be long enough. It is important that schools can see the full picture of reform to GCSEs, A-levels, the curriculum and the accountability framework at the same time. As I said, we do not think it is fair on pupils to continue with the current system for any longer than we need to.

Lord Addington: My Lords, would my noble friend agree that certain groups, such as those with dyslexia or other learning difficulties—I declare an interest here—find coursework a much easier way of accessing an exam result? If it is to be downgraded, will my noble friend give me an assurance that the Government have done a detailed study of what assistance has to be given in examinations, which account for more and more of the marks, to enable this group to pass basic examinations and to access further and higher education, where they have proved that they can succeed? If my

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noble friend can tell me what has happened, I will be very happy. If he cannot, perhaps he will give me an idea of what type of consultation will be done so that the most modern and up-to-date techniques, such as voice to text and text to voice, might be used to allow these people to access exams on an even footing. We have already heard that we are taking spelling into account. Will the Minister give some indication of what we are doing for this very big group in our society?

Lord Nash: My noble friend makes a very good point. We have consulted with organisations representing SEN groups. The points he makes, particularly in relation to voice and text, are technical and something that we should discuss in detail on a separate occasion. It is very important that we make sure that we have consulted all the right people on this difficult matter.

Lord Sanderson of Bowden: Will my noble friend tell me whether in his consultation he will consult the devolved authorities in Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland, and whether there is the slightest chance that they will go along with our plans?

Lord Nash: We intend to consult and we would like to reach a consensus. However, it will take all parties to achieve it.

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: My Lords, I record an interest as having been, many decades ago, an unqualified teacher. I may tell the Minister that in that job I was not equivalent to a professionally qualified teacher and doctor, who was given the pupils with learning and behavioural difficulties to keep him out of the way. I worry about the Government’s approach to professional training for teachers. Like other noble Lords, I am sure, I came across people who were trained after the Second World War, straight out of the forces. Some of them became good teachers, but many of them became dreadful teachers because they knew little about the education process or the development of children.

Will the Minister also be prepared to listen to representations on the problems of summer-born children and their ability to resit examinations, because they can be a full year younger than the rest of the cohort?

Will the Minister give an answer to another question, even if he is not able to reply now? There is deep concern in agriculture and horticulture that the department removed the qualification. How quickly will it be brought back?

Finally, will the Minister insist that when the consultation goes ahead, it will take into account the interests of pupils, and with the right timing for the training of teachers? Even if we all agree that the changes are right, the turnaround time can be damaging to the group of children who are going through the key years when the changes are taking place.

Lord Nash: I thank the noble Baroness for her comments. It is true that we now have the best generation of teachers that we have ever had. However, clearly we

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need to do more to improve teacher training, which in this country is very patchy. We need both to improve our TT colleges’ standards generally and have more training in schools.

I am aware of the issue of summer-born children and have seen the statistics, which are stark. I would be delighted to discuss the matter further to make sure that this is properly taken into account. The same goes for the agricultural and horticultural industries.

We believe that the turnaround time is long enough, but we will make sure that all head teachers are aware of the issue of the crossover turnaround time.

Lord Bew: My Lords, I thank the Minister for his earlier reply, in which he said that there will be discussions with the devolved Assemblies on the implications of these important reforms. May I ask him about the underlying spirit of these discussions? The Minister for Education in the Northern Ireland Executive—ironically, in this context, a Sinn Fein Minister—has said that he wants to see uniformity of standards maintained throughout the whole of the United Kingdom. Will the Minister reassure the House that this will also be the approach of the Government of the United Kingdom? These will be difficult discussions, but I hope the Minister can shed some light on the principles with which the Government will approach them.

Lord Nash: The noble Lord makes a good point. The principles will be based on a strong attempt to achieve a uniformity of standards, consistent with our belief that this system of standards must be a rigorous one.

Offender Rehabilitation Bill [HL]

Representation of the People (Northern Ireland) (Amendment) Regulations 2013

Committee (2nd Day)

Relevant document: 1st Report from the Delegated Powers Committee.

3.45 pm

Amendment 24B

Moved by Lord Marks of Henley-on-Thames

24B: Before Clause 12, insert the following new Clause—

“Presumption in favour of community sentence orders

(1) Section 152 of the Criminal Justice Act 2003 (general restrictions on imposing discretionary custodial sentences) is amended as follows.

(2) After subsection (2) insert—

“(2A) Where a court has discretion to pass a custodial sentence or impose a fine or a community sentence, the court must not pass a custodial sentence for a term of less than 12 months unless it is of the opinion that—

(a) the requirements of subsection (2) are satisfied, and

(b) there are special reasons which justify a custodial sentence,

and has had regard to the provisions of section 256AA.

(2B) A court passing a custodial sentence for a term of less than 12 months must state in open court the reasons for its opinion that there are special reasons which justify the sentence.”

(3) In subsection (3), after “(2)” insert “or (2A)”.”

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Lord Marks of Henley-on-Thames: My Lords, this amendment, in my name and that of my noble friends Lord Dholakia and Lady Hamwee, builds upon the general principle embodied in Section 152 of the Criminal Justice Act 2003, which is, in the words of the section, that:

“The court must not pass a custodial sentence unless it is of the opinion that the offence, or … offences … was so serious that neither a fine alone nor a community sentence can be justified for the offence”.

That is a sensible principle that is soundly based on the wealth of evidence that short sentences are not only unhelpful but in many cases profoundly damaging. That evidence has been commissioned by the Howard League for Penal Reform and by many others. The findings are well known to the House. Short sentences are disruptive. They cut offenders’ ties with their communities, with their jobs if they have them, and with their families. They introduce offenders, particularly first-time offenders, to a culture where reoffending is the norm.

It is of course to be hoped that the impact of this Bill will reduce the reoffending rates of this cohort of prisoners by introducing periods of supervision, but balancing a hoped for mitigation of damage against the evidence that we have of actual damage still leads to the conclusion that short sentences are to be avoided.

Our amendment goes a stage further than Section 152 and is an attempt to address the risk that was identified by several noble Lords at Second Reading. The risk is that the availability of short sentences of imprisonment that will carry an automatic period of supervision upon release will make short sentences more attractive to sentencers. The point was put succinctly in particular by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Woolf, who said:

“The Bill will create problems, as has already been indicated, as there will be a temptation in some courts to undermine the objective of the Bill by seeing the proposals for dealing with reoffending as justifying short sentences”.—[Official Report, 20/5/13; col. 653.].

A little later he said:

“What can be achieved by a short sentence in prison can always be better achieved, in my experience, by a community sentence”.—[Official Report, 20/5/13; col. 654.]

The existing provision in the Criminal Justice Act deals with the seriousness of the offence or offences. The suggested provision in our amendment would make it very clear to sentencers that the availability of a period of supervision should not lead to or encourage the imposition of short sentences. The court would have to be satisfied not only as to the seriousness of the offence or offences themselves but that there were special reasons to justify a custodial sentence, and those reasons would have to be stated in open court. The principle would be strengthened that short sentences are to be avoided unless they are really necessary in an individual case. I beg to move.

Lord Williamson of Horton: My Lords, I have a favourable approach to this amendment, which would be a substantial change in practice. However, it is important that we do not present the question of short custodial sentences and community sentences simply in terms of hard or soft sentencing, although that is what actually happens in the media comment on some

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of these issues. For me, the real question is what arrangement is more likely to protect the public against continuing crime. That is the issue that we face in this amendment. At present, we have short custodial sentences, which do of course protect the public for a short period, but because the reoffending rate is high we also have periods when the public are not protected because we get a continuation of crime. The question is: can we do better?

The amendment does not take away the power of a court to impose a short custodial sentence where there are special reasons for doing so. Like the noble Lord who presented the amendment, I think that part of it is well drafted and correct and that we should concentrate on the special reasons. Furthermore, it requires the court to explain its decision in such cases. Over a period, such explanations will provide a good basis for assessing the effectiveness of the proposals. It is certainly possible—in my view, probable—that the proposal in the amendment, with a presumption for community sentences, will reduce crime and thus benefit law-abiding citizens. Therefore, I have a favourable presumption for the presumption.

Lord Dholakia: I am delighted to support this amendment, which sets out a new clause before Clause 12 and deals with the presumption in favour of community sentence orders, as has been rightly pointed out. This is very much a probing amendment to see how the Minister will react. I will be brief. My noble friend Lord McNally, the Minister, is aware that every time we have discussed legislation on sentencing, particularly lower-level sentencing, I have advocated a cautious approach in favour of community sentence orders in place of custody.

Prison sentences of less than 12 months are the argument that we are putting forward. We all know that under the present provisions, custodial sentences of less than 12 months achieve very little corrective behaviour. On the contrary, we have seen that the impact on an individual without supervision can be very damaging indeed. We want to avoid this risk. Our amendment would help guard against the risk that the welcome provisions of the Bill for post-release supervision for short-term prisoners could lead to the courts imprisoning more people. At present, courts may decide in borderline cases not to imprison an offender because supervision in the form of a community sentence is more likely to divert him or her away from offending. However, with the new supervision arrangements, the court might feel that by imprisoning the offender for a short period it can get the best of both worlds—both the punitive impact of imprisonment and supervision of the offender when he or she is released.

We have discussed similar provisions in previous legislation. The custody plus provision that we introduced at one stage is history now, but we know what happened to it. This would be a short-sighted view as even a short period of custody can lead to an offender losing accommodation and a job and fracturing family links, all of which make it more likely that he or she will reoffend, which is contrary to the provisions that we will discuss in our debate on rehabilitating offenders. Sentences of less than 12 months are too short for a sustained attempt at rehabilitation in custody but are

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long enough to damage the community ties which those supervising offenders can build on in trying to prevent them reoffending.

There has been a dramatic increase in the number of options available to the courts when dealing with offenders. We know about simple things, such as matters of conditional discharge and fines. There are also community service orders, probation orders and attendance orders. These are just a few of the alternatives, yet prison remains at the heart of our criminal justice system, with other penalties often referred to as alternatives to custody. I believe that my noble friend Lord McNally is on the right track in the way in which this Bill deals with rehabilitation. He is right in putting the emphasis on society to try and deal with more offenders in the community rather than in prisons. That is not in doubt. We are now seeing the impact, which is less use of prison and a drop in the crime rate—a remarkable achievement by the coalition Government. No longer does the argument apply that prison works.

We are not suggesting that grave offences should in general attract other than long sentences, but past experience has led us to believe in two important principles of sentencing. This is not original, radical or revolutionary. In essence, it fits in with many Court of Appeal judgments over the years. First, the court should send to prison only those whose offending behaviour makes any other course unacceptable. Secondly, those who are sent to prison should stay there no longer than is strictly necessary. The amendment is designed to meet the Government’s objective on matters of rehabilitation. We should do this by avoiding the unintended increase in prison sentences. This would be an important discipline that would help against that unintended consequence. This probing amendment would make it possible for my noble friend the Minister to discuss the merit of our proposal with the Sentencing Council and to examine the possibility of setting up some indicators so that the process is adequately monitored.

Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede: My Lords, I support the amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Marks. As he said, the current position is that an offence has to be so serious that a custodial sentence is imposed, but his amendment would put in place a presumption in favour of a community sentence. The additional part of his amendment is that special reasons have to be given in open court. My question to the noble Lord, Lord Marks, if it is appropriate to ask him, is: what might those reasons be? Would a breach of previous community orders be a special reason for it to be announced in open court that a custodial sentence will be passed? While I am sympathetic to the objectives of the amendment, I am open-minded about how it will be applied in court.

The Government’s impact statement highlighted the potential risk of increasing custodial sentences of less than 12 months because the sentencers themselves know that there will be a licence followed by a supervision period, which might be attractive to them. The noble Lord, Lord Marks, referred to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Woolf, making that same point in an earlier debate. My experience is that magistrates and

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district judges are always reluctant to commit an offender to prison and understand very well the current wording of the guidelines that an offence has to be so serious that only custody will do.

Nevertheless, it is an interesting amendment, which, as I said, I support. It will be for the practicalities of the Government to see whether there is a change in sentencing behaviour if the Bill goes through unamended. I am doubtful whether sentencers will change their behaviour; there will not be more custodial sentences because of the additional supervision period. Can the noble Lord, Lord Marks, give an example of the special reasons, to which he alluded, that might be appropriate for a custodial sentence?

4 pm

Lord Marks of Henley-on-Thames: My Lords, before my noble friend replies, having been asked direct questions, perhaps I may reply briefly. I envisage that there would be a wide range of special reasons. As the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, suggested, they would include a history of breach of previous supervision requirements. However they might also encompass areas of special risk to do with the particular offender. The shortcoming of the Criminal Justice Act 2003 at which this amendment is aimed is that under Section 152 only the seriousness of the offences is taken into account. There may well be reasons to do with the offender that could justify a custodial sentence, but the point of the amendment is to make it quite clear that in the absence of such special reasons, whether they are to do with history, special risk or other reasons, the presumption in favour of a community sentence should apply.

The Minister of State, Ministry of Justice (Lord McNally): My Lords, I have found this to be an extremely helpful debate, and as the movers have indicated that it is a probing amendment, I will take it away to consider, but in my reply I will make it clear that we do not think the amendment is necessary at this moment.

I understand the points that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Woolf, has quoted, and that my noble friend Lord Dholakia mentioned, that the Bill might encourage judges to go for the best of both worlds by passing a short sentence that will immediately qualify for the 12 months of rehabilitation. I certainly share my noble friend Lord Dholakia’s view that short sentences are too short to rehabilitate, but just long enough to disrupt, the life of the person sent to prison and introduce them, perhaps for the first time, to all the bad influences that can be found in a prison. On the other hand, as the noble Lord, Lord Williamson, rightly recognised, we face media and—to a certain extent—public opinion that sees community sentences as somehow softer than prison sentences. Part of the aim of our reforms is to position community sentencing and the rehabilitation process that goes with it more positively in the eyes of the public, so that they have greater confidence in it.

I was grateful for the words of the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede, in his intervention, because there are two things that become one. He put firmly on the record that in his experience, judges will not be

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tempted to go down the road that my noble friends fear. I think that he has said before—certainly other magistrates have—that sometimes for a repeat offender or somebody whose circumstances make setting them back into the community even more dangerous to themselves and the community, a short custodial sentence can be of benefit, so the idea of ruling them out entirely is not the way forward.

As my noble friend has explained, Amendment 24B would create a new clause in an attempt to bolster what is often referred to as the “custodial threshold”: that is, the test set out in Section 152(2) of the Criminal Justice Act 2003, to which my noble friend referred, with which all courts must comply when imposing a custodial sentence.

It is perhaps worth noting again what Section 152 says:

“The court must not pass a custodial sentence unless it is of the opinion that the offence, or combination of the offence and one or more offences associated with it, was so serious that neither a fine alone nor a community sentence can be justified for the offence.”

It is an onerous test. It means that a court cannot impose a custodial sentence unless the offence was so serious that a fine or community sentence will not do; in fact, it cannot be justified. It is also worth noting that this test has to be read in conjunction with Section 153 of the 2003 Act. That requires a court when imposing a custodial sentence to ensure that the sentence is for the shortest term commensurate with the seriousness of the offence.

My noble friend’s amendment would add to the existing provisions a requirement, where a court intended to impose a custodial sentence of less than 12 months, that there be “special reasons” which justify the custodial sentence of less than 12 months. We have already heard in debate that magistrates and judges do not believe that they impose custodial sentences other than as a last resort. It is natural to ask what are these special reasons or circumstances that are not covered by the original test. Could the special reasons relate to a history of previous convictions? If so, the current custodial threshold test already applies because, under Section 143 of the 2003 Act, a court must consider relevant and recent convictions as an aggravating factor which makes the offence more serious. It is seriousness that is the key driver in determining the nature of the sentence and meeting the custodial threshold test.

I suggest to my noble friend that the special reasons he may have in mind must already be considered when the court decides on the sentence and whether a custodial sentence is merited under Section 152. So although of course I appreciate what my noble friend is attempting to achieve—that is, a statutory presumption against sentences of less than 12 months—I am not convinced that the amendment would actually do what is intended.

Let me make the point that the Government do not intend or expect that sentencers will change their current behaviour in any significant way in response to the provisions in the Bill. We do not expect to see an increase in the number of short custodial sentences. Offenders who do not meet the custodial threshold should receive community orders or fines. I hope that noble Lords and noble and learned Lords who have

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judicial experience will agree that it would be wrong for any judge, and contrary to the provisions of the existing law, if a sentencer decided to “up-tariff” an offender into custody so that they could receive 12 months of supervision.

I should also deal briefly with the second part of the amendment, which would require the court to give an explanation of the special reasons that merited a custodial sentence of less than 12 months. I point out to my noble friend that the current law already requires all courts imposing any sentence of any length to give reasons for the sentence passed. That is contained in Section 174 of the 2003 Act. Invariably, a sentencer will begin their explanation of a custodial sentence by setting out why the offence is so serious that it merits a custodial term. The further provision is, I suggest, unnecessary. I understand the good intentions behind the amendment. No one in this House wants to see short custodial sentences passed for offences that do not justify them, but that is why we have the current threshold test and a right of appeal against sentence.

We need to provide sentencers with a range of sentences in which they can have confidence. That is why we made the changes to community orders in the Crime and Courts Act 2013. We have to stop offenders reoffending to such a degree that they end up having to be considered for short custodial sentences in the first place. We also have to realise that some offenders will merit short custodial sentences. We need to focus on making those sentences more effective at rehabilitating offenders so that not only are they imposed as a last resort, they should be the last sentence that the offender receives.

I acknowledge the efforts of my noble friend on this amendment, but, although I recognise his intention, I ask him to withdraw it. Given the spirit in which it has been moved, I will discuss the matter further with the Lord Chancellor and others, but I suspect that our position as I have just set out will remain unchanged.

Lord Marks of Henley-on-Thames: My Lords, I am very grateful to my noble friend for that detailed and helpful response, and for the indication that he will consider the matter with us. The question really is whether the existing safeguards are sufficient in the light of the additional supervision requirement and whether there is ground for the concern expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Woolf, that there might be a temptation for sentencers to err. In that spirit, I withdraw the amendment at this stage.

Amendment 24B withdrawn.


Clause 12 : Officers responsible for implementing orders

Amendment 24C

Moved by Lord Beecham

24C: Clause 12, page 11, line 41, after “services” insert “that is a public sector provider or a person commissioned by a public sector provider”

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Lord Beecham: My Lords, this amendment is the identical twin of Amendment 7A, which I moved last week in relation to Clause 2. As I said then, the effect would be to require the necessary supervision to be carried out either by a directly employed public service provider or by a person commissioned by such a public sector provider. I do not think it is necessary to rehearse the arguments again. I suppose that it is unlikely that the ministerial sinner will be in a repentant mood this afternoon, but I live in hope and I beg to move.

Lord McNally: My Lords, I am like St Augustine; I want to give up sin, but not yet. I will deal briefly with Amendment 24C. It would mean that the responsible officer for the supervision of offenders subject to community orders and suspended sentence orders would have to be a public sector probation provider. As the noble Lord, Lord Beecham, said, this is essentially the same amendment applied to community orders as the noble Lord tabled on the first day of Committee for supervision of custodial sentences. As I said then, the Government are committed to providing new supervision for those released from short custodial sentences. To achieve this aim, we, as a responsible Government, have to be able to afford this additional supervision. To do that, we need to reduce the current costs of dealing with offenders.

We also want to encourage innovation among providers of probation services dealing with this group of offenders serving community sentences and suspended sentences. It is important to ensure that we continue to improve the reoffending rates of this group of offenders, as well as of those serving custodial terms. Paying providers in full only where they are successful at reducing reoffending will not only make savings; it will drive down our reoffending rates. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Beecham, will withdraw his amendment now that I have clarified what the Government’s intentions are.

Lord Beecham: My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for the repetition of the stance that he took the other night. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 24C withdrawn.

Clause 12 agreed.

Schedule 4 agreed.

Clause 13 : Rehabilitation activity requirement

Amendment 25

Moved by Lord Woolf

25: Clause 13, page 12, line 9, at end insert—

“(2A) In sections 177(1) and 190(1) (requirements that may be imposed as part of a community order or suspended sentence order) after paragraph (j) insert—

“(ja) a restorative justice requirement (as defined by section 212A),”.”

Lord Woolf: My Lords, this amendment is grouped with Amendments 27, 27A, 28 and 29. The group is separated by Amendment 26, which is to be moved by

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the noble Lord, Lord Marks, and others after we have dealt with these amendments. As I have said before, I welcome this Bill’s emphasis on the rehabilitation of offenders. Those who have been involved in the criminal justice system as long as I have are in no doubt that reoffending is one of the most serious problems that it faces. We have been, until now, extremely unsuccessful in tackling it. Here and there, we have made some progress, often because of initiatives not of the big battalions but of the small ones, which concentrate on conduct directed towards the offender which changes his habits. We know, from experience, that employment, the home and the family are all important elements in determining whether reoffending will take place.

4.15 pm

One of the improvements that have occurred in that field in recent times is restorative justice. To hear me talk about restorative justice in this Chamber is nothing new. We have made progress thanks to, among others, the opposition Front Bench, and I am delighted that I speak with the support of the noble Lord, Lord Beecham, who joins me in making the proposals in certain of the amendments in this group. We are also grateful for the Government’s change in emphasis in relation to restorative justice. They now accept that it is something which has qualified to appear in legislation and, indeed, to be part of the panoply of action which can be taken to deal with offending.

The most important aspect about restorative justice is that it is strongly supported by victims who have experienced what it can achieve. My most important point in support of these amendments is that victims find that restorative justice does more for them than probably anything else that happens within the criminal justice system. Because the increased status of restorative justice is only recent, legislation was passed in 2003—the Criminal Justice Act—which made no mention of it. If one looks at both Sections 177 and 190 of that Act, one finds a menu of actions which can be taken by a court to help ensure that what happens in court achieves a cessation of reoffending. The amendments I am speaking to now are simply designed to remedy, or bring up to date, those provisions by ensuring that one of the programmes that can be availed is restorative justice and designed to do so in a way which will achieve the maximum benefit.

Amendment 29 proposes adding a new Section 212A to the 2003 Act, which would give,

“an opportunity to a victim or victims to talk about, or by other means express experience of, the offending and its impact”.

We have learnt that the fact that victims have that opportunity to face the offender and give them their views, if they wish to do so, is one of the most important elements in the success of restorative justice. In those circumstances, I urge the Minister to look sympathetically upon these amendments.

In considering what his action should be, perhaps I may be bold enough to give the Minister the benefit, I hope, of my experience in trying to achieve a change in culture. I believe that the Act, which we hope this Bill will become, dealing with offender rehabilitation requires a change of culture. You will attain a change of culture only if those in the criminal justice system

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give you their support. The first of those is the victims. If victims do not believe that this programme is to their benefit, they will not support it. In addition to victims, it is also important that the Bill has the confidence of those who have to apply it in the magistracy and the more senior courts. I should also mention, wearing my hat as life president of the Butler Trust, those who work in our prisons. They do not get much praise, but the Butler Trust gives them praise when it is deserved, and it is important that they should see what is proposed here as beneficial to the criminal justice system.

With the support of the main players in the criminal justice system, the Bill can achieve a great deal. Bringing in restorative justice in the places proposed in these amendments will help to achieve that end.

Lord Beecham: My Lords, I commend again the noble and learned Lord for the tenacity with which he has pursued this important area of penal policy. I am entirely in agreement with the thrust of his amendments and I am sure that they will commend themselves to other Members of your Lordships’ House. However, I have one difficulty with his amendment.

Lord Woolf: I hope I will be forgiven if I intervene to say that, with great perception, the noble Lord, Lord Beecham, seeks in Amendment 27A to alter the proposal in Amendment 27. I should make it clear that I support Amendment 27A in preference to my original proposal.

Lord Beecham: I am obliged for the noble and learned Lord’s intervention but perhaps I should decode what is happening for the benefit of those who do not understand—it took me some time—the effect of the amendment as originally drafted.

As originally drawn, the amendment would have removed from Clause 13(7) reference to,

“activities whose purpose is reparative”,

and substituted “restorative justice activities”.

The two things are not the same. Reparative justice will involve doing work, for example, of the kind that I came across when involved in a justice reinvestment project in the north-east. In fact, there were two significant projects: one led to the effective reconstruction of Albert Park in Middlesbrough and the other at Saltwell Park in Gateshead, both Victorian parks which had become very run down. Offenders were brought in to work on these and benefited from being taught skills, which it is to be hoped will be useful later. They made a visible contribution to the communities which they had damaged by their offences. It was a very good scheme.

Taking that out would exclude work of that kind. As the noble and learned Lord said, Amendment 27A reinstates that in addition to restorative justice so that the complete range of options would remain available. I hope that the Minister will accept the noble and learned Lord’s amendment, as amended by my restoration of the paragraph in the original Bill. It would be extremely disappointing, given that the Government are supportive of the principle of restorative justice, if

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statutory recognition was not incorporated in the Bill at this time and the opportunity not taken in its passage to lend weight to the growing support up and down the country for the concept in our system.

Baroness Hamwee: Not having come with a long speech, I want to register my support and that of my noble friends on these Benches for these amendments and, as the noble Lord, Lord Beecham said, the growing support for the concept of restorative justice. The more I hear about that, the more it seems a very important part of rehabilitation. It has many aspects and one of those fits neatly within the thrust of this Bill and in the new Section 200A. Among the things it can achieve is redirecting offenders who can be described, as many noble Lords have done at previous stages, as having chaotic lives. Being able to put the chaos of one’s life into the perspective that this kind of activity can help achieve is an important objective of rehabilitation.

Lord McNally: My Lords, first, I pay tribute to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Woolf, for the very long campaign he has fought to put restorative justice on a statutory footing. Although I am sure he is right to pay tribute to and thank the Opposition for their support, it is also worth pointing out that it was this Government who actually did that. In the battle to do so, I pay tribute to the former Prisons Minister, Crispin Blunt, who joined battle with me within the department to make sure that we got the first foothold as far as restorative justice is concerned.

I am glad that we have the eagle eye of the noble Lord, Lord Beecham. Of course, reparative and restorative justice are not the same thing. I fully associate myself with the points that the noble Lord made about the value of reparative justice. It can be very significant, in not only what it does but also getting the confidence of the community—the point made by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Woolf. The community sees a derelict site cleaned up or some piece of community work restored as part of reparative justice and has confidence that it is worth while.

I also fully agree with the noble and learned Lord, Lord Woolf, about what we are trying to do in this Bill. We are doing a little smoke and mirrors with the money we have available—I freely confess that—but even if we had all the money we wanted, it would still require that change in culture to which the noble and learned Lord referred.

I hope that we can make this work and carry it through. I am not sure whether we will ever carry the great British press with us. My office always gets very perturbed when I attack the British press. I merely observe that the regular comments on this area of policy always leave me in despair, not about humanity but about journalists.


4.30 pm

However, I am sure we will get a change of culture from a public that sees results. I think we will get support from victims. I went to Thames Valley to have a look at the restorative justice operation that is supported by the noble Lord, Lord Blair. Meeting victims there left me in no doubt that they found it an extremely

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restorative exercise in coming through the trauma of crime. I fully associate myself with the work of the Butler Trust. Anyone who goes around a prison knows what a difficult job we ask our prison officers to do. That change of culture is certainly part of what we want to do.

Both today and on other occasions in this House, noble Lords have made the powerful case for the importance of restorative justice. It is clear that there is little that divides us on this. As I say, anyone who has met victims and offenders who have taken part in restorative justice will know the positive impact it can have. For victims, it offers an opportunity to have their voices heard. For offenders, it provides an opportunity to face the consequences of their actions and the impact that they have had on others. The Government are firmly committed to ensuring that more victims and offenders can take part in restorative justice. I am particularly proud that in the Crime and Courts Act the Government were able to put pre-sentence restorative justice on to a statutory footing.

Let me deal with Amendments 27, 27A and 28 first. Taken together, Amendments 27 and 28 would make explicit that a rehabilitation activity requirement can include restorative justice activities. They would do this by removing the reference in Clause 13 to rehabilitation activities including those whose purpose is reparative. Amendment 27A does much the same, except it would retain the current provision that activities can include those whose purpose is reparative—what I would call the “Beecham sticking plaster”.

In response, I start by reassuring noble Lords that it is absolutely the Government’s intention that restorative justice should be delivered under the new rehabilitation activity requirements. Given the good evidence of the impact that restorative justice can have on reoffending, I am sure that many providers will want to make use of restorative processes in appropriate cases. We would not want to stand in the way of that, and Clause 13 is certainly not intended to prevent that—quite the reverse.

It may be helpful here if I explain what the current Clause 13 provides for. It creates a new Section 200A of the Criminal Justice Act 2003. Subsection (7) of new Section 200A makes clear that activities an offender is required to participate in can include those whose purpose is reparative as well as rehabilitative. The clause is drafted in this way to refer back to the statutory purposes of sentencing. As noble Lords will know, the making of reparation to persons affected by their offences is one of these purposes. Restorative justice—as a process that can deliver various positive outcomes—is not a purpose of sentencing in itself, but by linking the new requirement to both reparation and rehabilitation, our firm intention is to give scope for providers to deliver restorative activities that can benefit offenders and victims. It is also worth noting that the same link to reparation applies to the activity requirements available under the top-up supervision created by Clause 2 of the Bill.

Schedule 1 to the Bill makes clear that if an offender released from a short custodial sentence is required to take part in activities, key parts of new Section 200A also apply, including the provision that activities can deliver reparation as well as rehabilitation.

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In short, Clause 13 already gives scope for delivery of restorative justice activities. None the less, noble Lords have made a good case for bringing greater clarity to the types of activities that supervisors might require offenders to do, both as part of a rehabilitation activity requirement under a community order or suspended sentence, and as part of an activity requirement during post-release supervision. I am therefore happy to take this point away further to consider it and bring it back to the House.

Taken together, Amendments 25 and 29 would create a new stand-alone restorative justice requirement that could be imposed as part of a community order or a suspended sentence order. Noble Lords will know that courts can and do already order restorative justice activities to take place as part of a community order or suspended sentence order. This is currently done through the activity requirement, which provides for activities to include those with a reparative purpose. Although Clause 13 replaces the existing activity requirement, as I have already explained, it maps across this provision to allow for restorative justice activities to continue to take place under the new rehabilitation activity requirement. When the Government consulted on restorative justice as part of community orders in 2012, respondents did not identify that there was a major gap in the use of restorative justice as a requirement of non-custodial sentences. That was why, in the Crime and Courts Act, we focused on making provision for restorative justice pre-sentence.

While I therefore support the noble and learned Lord’s intention in tabling these two amendments, I do not believe that they are necessary. I hope that in the light of the undertaking I have given to take away the issues raised by Amendments 27, 27A and 28, and my explanation of the other amendments, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Woolf, and the noble Lord, Lord Beecham, will agree to withdraw the amendment.

Lord Woolf: My Lords, I apologise for my failure to refer to Amendment 27A when I spoke to the amendment that was being moved. I should not have made that mistake.

I am very conscious that my successor as the Lord Chief Justice, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Phillips of Worth Matravers, is in his place. If my memory is correct, one of the first things that he did on taking office was to get himself clad as though he was an offender and go off with other offenders to do reparative duties. On that occasion he had very favourable mentions in the media, which were fully deserved, although I understand that he did not find the reparative tasks particularly demanding. The noble and learned Lord has strange tastes when it comes to spending what leisure time he has; he continually indulges in activities that I would have thought were really not for Lords Chief Justice or, may I say, budding presidents of the Supreme Court.

That brings me to the only point that I wish to mention specifically in respect of what the Minister has so ably said about the proposed amendments: wherever possible, you always need clarity and certainty. The fact that I would not have the imagination to do some of the things that the noble and learned Lord

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does perhaps indicates why, even when you have experienced judges, it is a good thing to have clarity and certainty. Therefore, I ask the Minister to reconsider the amendments carefully and, if he sees fit at a later stage, to come back and tell the House that he welcomes them. That would give a very good signal to the world outside about the seriousness of this Government in tackling reoffending. In the circumstances, I am happy to beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 25 withdrawn.

Amendment 26

Moved by Lord Marks of Henley-on-Thames

26: Clause 13, page 12, line 16, at end insert—

“(1A) In giving any instructions to the offender under subsection (1), the responsible officer shall have regard to—

(a) the suitability of any appointments having regard to any caring commitments the offender may have and the compatibility of activities with the offender’s family circumstances;

(b) the suitability of activities and place specified under subsection (5) if the offender is responsible for a child and it is desirable that the child accompanies the offender.”

Lord Marks of Henley-on-Thames: My Lords, I will speak also to Amendment 30 in the same group. Amendment 26 concerns rehabilitation activity requirements, which are essentially instructions to an offender to attend appointments or to participate in activities. These are imposed as part of a community order or a suspended sentence order by a responsible officer, defined for these purposes as a probation service provider.

This amendment will ensure that such requirements do not conflict unnecessarily with the caring commitments or family circumstances of the offender concerned. That object will be achieved by requiring the responsible officer to have regard first to,

“the suitability of any appointments having regard to any caring commitments the offender may have and the compatibility of activities with the offender’s family circumstances”,

and, importantly, by,

“the suitability of activities and place specified … if the offender is responsible for a child and it is desirable that the child accompanies the offender”.

This may well be the case for people who have responsibility for children, cannot simply leave them and have to take them along to the activity.

Amendment 30 is designed to achieve a similar outcome for any other requirement that might be imposed as a result of such an order. It would amend Section 217 of the Criminal Justice Act 2003. That section currently requires the court to ensure that such requirements avoid conflict with, under Section 217(1)(a), “the offender’s religious beliefs” and, under Section 217(1)(b), the times at which the offender,

“normally works or attends any educational establishment”.

It would be entirely reasonable and desirable to add to that list of matters that are not to be conflicted with a requirement that orders avoiding conflict with the offender’s caring responsibilities. That is what Amendment 30 seeks to achieve.

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These amendments are consistent with the Government’s desire to ensure that rehabilitation measures in this legislation are targeted particularly at helping women offenders, who often face particular difficulties within the criminal justice system. They would make the Bill more sensitive to those difficulties and to the demands of family life. The amendments are primarily aimed at avoiding conflict for women offenders who are the subject of community orders or suspended sentence orders, and are designed to enable them to fulfil the requirements of such orders without making it unduly difficult for them to meet the demands of caring for families. However, the amendments are gender-neutral, as you would expect, because many male offenders have similar commitments. It is important that appointments and activities can be arranged in a way that does not interfere unduly with family commitments, be those commitments to take children to school, to be at home when children are at home without alternative childcare or to look after elderly or disabled relatives. The same goes for all requirements, whether unpaid work requirements, curfew requirements or any others. I beg to move.

Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede: My Lords, I support the general thrust of the amendments tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Marks. As he said, they would oblige a responsible officer to have regard to the offender’s caring commitments when arranging a community sentence.

My understanding of the present position is that in probation reports, done by what will be the National Probation Service, probation officers will take into account personal circumstances when making recommendations to the court on the likely sentence. It would be the responsibility of the responsible officer that the sentence is completed as required by the court and in a timely manner.

4.45 pm

At present, the probation service, together with its own local service providers, will have a whole system of non-statutory guidance on how to deal with particular circumstances. The noble Lord, Lord Marks, has highlighted one aspect and referred to other matters, such as religious convictions, education requirements and the like. Although the amendment is quite specific, it raises a much wider question about how questions of judgment on behalf of the responsible officer will be implemented by the organisation for which the responsible officer is working. It is not too much to imagine a commercial organisation having particular requirements of a responsible officer which may be at odds with that responsible officer’s judgment.

I was thinking, with my commercial hat on, about what a commercial approach might be to this cohort of offenders. I have come up with a fairly crude approach which I will outline to noble Lords. I divide the cohort into three. The first group I call the “no-hopers”: people who are fully expected to reoffend or to breach, and so would need minimal input from the responsible officers. The second group I refer to as “worth a try”, which is where the bulk of the effort would go; there would indeed be a genuine effort to

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rehabilitate this group. The third group I describe as “easy money”, where there is every expectation that they will not reoffend and will therefore need minimal supervision.

Although I am sympathetic to the amendment as described by the noble Lord, it raises a wider question of how current best practice as provided by our probation service might be superseded by the commercial interests of the provider, particularly given that that provider will be paid by results, and when we are led to believe that the results bonus will be less than 5% of the total value of the contract. That raises a fundamental question about the judgment which the responsible officers must make and how that may come into conflict with that of their employer.

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon: My Lords, I thank both noble Lords who have taken part in the debate, in particularly my noble friend Lord Marks for highlighting in his contribution the importance of both family matters and, of course, sensitive issues of faith, which is also relevant to a fair percentage of our prison population.

This group of amendments would place an additional duty on responsible officers instructing offenders under the new rehabilitation activity requirement created by Clause 13, and would also place a new duty on the courts when imposing community orders and suspended orders more generally. To address first the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, about organisations’ or providers’ commercial interests right away, it would be wrong and totally inappropriate for those to supersede any other offender requirements. The whole point of rehabilitation is putting the offender at the centre.

I do not agree with the noble Lord’s three cohorts—the groups he put together. Even the no-hopers are worth a try. We need to ensure, in all the reforms we put forward, that anyone—even people whom society at large perceives as no-hopers—is worth a try. We should seek to assist them to become productive citizens of society.

Noble Lords may also find it helpful if I briefly explain what Clause 13 provides. It creates a new rehabilitation activity requirement that will combine key elements of the existing supervision and activity requirements available under community orders and suspended sentence orders. At present Section 213 of the Criminal Justice Act 2003 provides for a supervision requirement that may be imposed as part of either order. The requirement involves attending appointments during the period of the order with either the responsible officer or another person determined by the responsible officer. Section 201 of the 2003 Act provides for an activity requirement as part of either order. Under an activity requirement, an offender must first, present himself to a person specified in the order for a specified number of days, and secondly, participate in activities specified in the order for a specified number of days.

Clause 13 repeals both those requirements and merges them into a single rehabilitation activity requirement. Under the new requirement, offenders must comply with any instructions given by their responsible officer to attend appointments, participate

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in activities, or both. These instructions must be given with a view to promoting the offender’s rehabilitation, although they can serve other purposes as well. The effect of the clause is to allow the probation provider who is the responsible officer, rather than the court, to decide the exact details of what appointments or activities the offender should take part in to maximise their chances of turning away from crime.

Amendment 26 would require a responsible officer who is instructing an offender to attend appointments or participate in activities under this new requirement to take account of the offender’s family circumstances and, of course, any caring responsibilities that the offender might have. That would mean ensuring that appointments were suitable, that activities were compatible with the offender’s family circumstances, and that any place to which the offender was sent to take part in activities was suitable if the offender needed to take a child with them.

Amendment 30, although inserted into the clause about programme requirements, would apply to all requirements under any community order or suspended sentence order. It adds to the provision in Section 217 of the Criminal Justice Act 2003 that already requires a court to avoid, as far as possible, any conflict with the offender’s religious beliefs and any interference with his or her work or education. The amendment would add to Section 217 a new duty requiring the court to avoid—again as far as is practicable—any interference with the offender’s ability to carry out any caring responsibilities that he or she might have.

As I am sure that noble Lords will appreciate, the criminal justice system at all points endeavours to accommodate the personal circumstances of an offender. Courts will always sentence an offender in the light of their individual circumstances, together with the circumstances of the offence. Indeed, the law requires, where a court imposes a community order, that the requirements chosen must be, in the court’s opinion, the most suitable for the offender.

In addition to these general requirements, I can assure all noble Lords that there are already important safeguards in place to address childcare and other caring responsibilities where an offender is sentenced by the courts. These issues are covered in the assessments carried out when compiling pre-sentence and other reports that are considered by the courts before sentencing.

Probation staff will also respond to requests by the courts for specific information about family circumstances and courts will sometimes adjourn briefly so that such issues can be considered. If an offender is reluctant to divulge information about their children for fear that they may be taken into care, a post-sentence interview will often elicit the necessary information or the offender might tell their lawyer. If necessary, liaison will take place with local authority safeguarding authorities, or social security emergency duty teams, to safeguard the child or vulnerable person in question. In addition, the Sentencing Council has made it clear in its guidelines that:

“Where the offender is the sole or primary carer of the victim or other dependants, this potentially should be taken into account for sentencing purposes, regardless of whether the offender is male or female”.

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Both courts and responsible officers are public authorities within the terms of the Human Rights Act 1998. This means that they are required to balance the need for the offender to attend appointments and take part in activities in order to secure his rehabilitation against his right under the Human Rights Act to respect for his private and family life. This point was well made by my noble friend Lord Marks.

What this adds up to is a clear indication that the courts already take all possible steps to avoid, as far as is practicable, any interference with the offender’s ability to discharge any caring responsibilities that he or she may have. For this reason, I argue that Amendment 30 is unnecessary. With these assurances and clarifications, I hope that my noble friend will be minded to withdraw his amendment.

Lord Marks of Henley-on-Thames: My Lords, I am again grateful for that helpful explanation of the Government’s position. The difficulty, as I see it, is something that I hope that we can consider between now and Report. As the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, pointed out, we are entering an entirely new era in the provision of probation services. The Minister is entirely right to say that best practice and sentencing guidelines require the courts and responsible officers—who are now in the public sector probation service—to have regard to caring responsibilities. However, there is a risk that in the new regime, which is a new world for probation provision, there will be a departure from best practice or, at any rate, a temptation to depart from it. I hope that, by amending the Bill in a similar way to our amendments, we could send out the message that family commitments have to be taken into account just as faith and education commitments are. In those circumstances, I invite the Government to consider these amendments carefully and sympathetically before we come back. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 26 withdrawn.

Amendments 27 to 29 not moved.

Clause 13 agreed.

Schedule 5 agreed.

Clause 14: Programme requirement

Amendment 30 not moved.

Debate on whether Clause 14 should stand part of the Bill.

Lord Beecham: My Lords, my intention is purely to probe for information. Clause 14 seeks to amend Section 202 of the Criminal Justice Act 2003 which, as the Explanatory Notes make clear, is about programme requirements for community orders and suspended sentence orders. As drafted, the clause removes from the Act the provision that an offender can only participate in accredited programmes in places approved by the local probation board or local provider of probation services. My purpose here is to obtain from the Minister an elucidation of what the implications of the amendment to Section 202 of the 2003 Act would actually be. What sort of programmes will be encompassed within

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the new arrangements? Will they be accredited and who will the providers be? It is as simple as that. If the noble Lord is not able to deal with those questions today I would quite understand, because the clause is not particularly revealing of its purpose. I would be happy to receive a letter which could be placed in the Library, if that would be of assistance.

5 pm

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon: My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Beecham, for that clarification. His reasoning may not have been clear when he notified his intention to oppose the Question that the clause stand part, but it was in his explanation. It may be helpful to reiterate what Clause 14 intends to do. Currently an accredited programme can take place only in premises that have been approved by a probation trust or other provider of probation services. There is therefore a slightly redundant step built into the process for delivering accredited programmes, whereby trusts currently have to set up premises for programmes and then approve those premises themselves before courts can require offenders to attend. Clause 14 removes this requirement. Although probation providers will still want to satisfy themselves that a programme’s premises are suitable for those attending, as a result of the amendment there will no longer be a formal requirement in law for them to ratify or sign that off internally before courts can require offenders to attend.

Parliament has already approved a change in the law that means that the responsible officer, who is the person responsible for delivering the requirement, now chooses the accredited programme that the offender must follow. This was previously in the gift of the court. This change was made by the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 and commenced in December last year. As a consequence, the court no longer specifies where the offender must go to participate in the programme but simply imposes a programme requirement and sets the number of days on which the offender must take part.

The detail of the requirement is now in the hands of the provider, who is best placed to know which programme is the most likely to promote rehabilitation. This also means that where it emerges that a different programme would work better—for example, the offender starts on a cognitive programme but it becomes clear that a domestic violence programme would be better—the responsible officer can switch the programme without taking the order back to court. The amendment in Clause 14 merely furthers the principle of operational discretion for providers by removing the largely redundant requirement for formal approval of a place as suitable for offenders subject to a programme requirement.

In closing, I reassure noble Lords that the Government see a continued place for accredited programmes under our new framework for delivering services for offenders. Accredited programmes are evidence-based and developed from the academic literature on what works. Where interventions have a substantial degree of evidence for their effectiveness, it is important that we build on that success. Those advising the courts through pre-sentence reports will continue to be able to recommend a programme requirement where a particular intervention is available locally, and where probation professionals

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believe that it is the right way of dealing with the causes of an individual’s offending. Based on that clarification, I urge that Clause 14 should stand part of the Bill.

Lord Beecham: I am very grateful to the Minister for his clarification. It occurs to me to ask whether it would be envisaged that a provider of services in respect of the premises to which the noble referred could require, for example, repair work to be carried out for the benefit of the provider. That potentially would create a conflict of interest. I do not ask for an off-the-cuff response, but I would be grateful if the Minister would look at it.

Clause 14 agreed.

Clause 15 agreed.

Clause 16 : Duty to obtain permission before changing residence

Amendment 31

Moved by Baroness Hamwee

31: Clause 16, page 14, line 21, after first “The” insert “only”

Baroness Hamwee: My Lords, I will speak also to Amendment 32. I suspect that on Amendment 31 I am in for a little more teasing from my noble friend Lord McNally. The noble Lord shakes his head; that is a shame. In that case I am in for more teasing from the noble Lord, Lord Ahmad.

Clause 16 would insert a new section into the Criminal Justice Act 2003, with regard to the permission that is required before an offender who is the subject of a relevant order may change residence. In new Section 220A(4) we are told that there are two grounds available to either the officer or the court, which in effect is the appeal body here from a responsible officer’s decision. I would like to be completely sure that these are the only grounds. I am sure that they are, but I wanted to make the point.

We also wanted to add another provision which would, in effect, alter the presumption in these circumstances. When refusal was given, there would not simply have to be an opinion that a change of residence would be likely to prevent compliance with a requirement or hinder rehabilitation; it would go further. The purpose of the requirement or the rehabilitation would have to be significantly less likely to be achieved if the offender were to change residence. The reason is that a restriction on moving one’s home or one’s household—possibly having to move because of family problems such as the offender and partner splitting up, or because there are job prospects somewhere easier to reach from a new home—are all extremely important and part of rehabilitation. I am not convinced that every possible circumstance is covered by subsection (4)(a) and (b) of new Section 220A. I beg to move.

Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede: My Lords, the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, raised some interesting points about the role of the responsible officer when an offender

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applies to change their residence. When considering this amendment, I immediately thought of all the potential problems that might arise. There is also the general point about the level of independence of judgment of the responsible officer when considering these applications. Two questions came to my mind. What would be the position if somebody with a series of convictions for domestic violence wanted to move into a house with a new girlfriend? That might hinder rehabilitation; it would be a judgment that would have to be made by the responsible officer. I do not know what the result might be. I am not sure that the responsible officer would necessarily be told that that was the situation.

Conversely, what would happen if the girlfriend wanted to move into the offender’s current address? If told about it, the responsible officer may have a responsibility to the new girlfriend to ensure that she is informed of the offender’s previous convictions. These are difficult matters which need a lot of expertise to be able to deal with them and there needs to be guidance—maybe non-statutory guidance—for the officers. In general, I am sympathetic to the amendments which the noble Baroness has moved, but I am conscious that there may well be many problems with making those decisions.

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon: My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lady Hamwee for moving her amendment and the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, for his contribution.

Before responding to the substance of the two amendments, it may be helpful if I briefly set out the purpose of Clause 16. In essence, it would place a new duty on offenders serving community orders or suspended sentence orders to seek permission from their responsible officer or from a court before changing their residence. It replaces the existing requirement for offenders simply to notify their responsible officers after they have moved. It is intended to deal with cases where an offender moving from one probation trust puts at risk the effectiveness of their rehabilitation. For example, a move to a different area may bring to an end an established relationship with the offender’s supervisor. Instead, they may have to start again with a new supervisor from a different probation trust or, in the future, a different rehabilitation provider.

Noble Lords will know that the personal relationship between offenders and their supervisors is important to reducing reoffending. Evidence suggests that offenders with a positive relationship with their offender manager are less likely to offend. This will be particularly important with a move to a through-the-gate model of support, where an offender may have had contact with the same mentor or supervisor before and after release. Another example is a case where a specialist programme that the offender is attending is not available in the area that the offender is proposing to move to. In such cases, a court or responsible officer may consider that ending participation in that programme may set back the offender’s rehabilitation.

Clearly, there are many reasons to support, rather than prevent, an offender changing residence. For example, an offender may be moving to live with family or to take up a new job. We recognise that there will be many cases where a move would not have any

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negative impact on rehabilitation or on compliance with the order. For example, it may be a move of only a short distance which does not prevent the offender attending required appointments. Even with a long-distance move, programmes may be available in the new area that are equally as appropriate as those in the old area. We recognise this and have built it into the way that the clause is structured. The clause limits the circumstances in which a court or responsible officer can refuse permission to change residence to only two scenarios: where the move is likely to prevent the offender complying with a requirement of the order; or where the move would hinder the offender’s rehabilitation.

Amendment 31 would make explicit that these are the only grounds on which a court or responsible officer can refuse permission to change residence. However, the effect of the way that the clause is drafted is to provide already for these two circumstances, and only these two circumstances, to be grounds for refusal. I am very happy to make that clear to my noble friend Lady Hamwee. I hope that, on that basis, she will see fit to withdraw the amendment.

The noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, who always comes to these matters with great experience and expertise, gave the example of an offender who had been committed for domestic violence. This situation would require a subjective assessment to be made and it would be for the responsible officer to weigh it up in the risk assessment. This is the sort of decision that professionals make on a daily basis. I listened with great care to the noble Lord’s suggestion about looking at the guidance. I am sure that we will look at it, and I take on board the comments that he made in that respect.

Amendment 32 would provide that a court or responsible officer cannot refuse an application to change residence unless the offender’s rehabilitation or compliance with a requirement of the order would be significantly less likely to be achieved. I hope that I can reassure my noble friend on a number of points. First, even if a move is likely to prevent compliance or would hinder rehabilitation, courts and responsible officers will still have to balance this with other factors. For the purposes of this clause, both courts and responsible officers, whether probation staff or from the voluntary or private sectors, are public authorities within the terms of the Human Rights Act 1998. This means that they are required to balance the impact of the proposed move on rehabilitation or compliance with the order against the offender’s interests in making such a move. They will have to consider the availability of rehabilitative support in the area that the offender wishes to move to, and the extent to which an offender could comply with a requirement in the new area. They will also have to consider the offender’s Article 8 rights. For example, an unemployed offender may wish to move to take up a new job or for family reasons—for example, if their partner is taking up a new job or if a parent is unwell and they need to provide them with care or support. In many cases, factors like these would outweigh concerns about compliance with a requirement or continued rehabilitation. It would be open to a responsible officer to take the order back to court to ask for it to be varied or revoked to suit the offender’s new circumstances.

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I would also point out that the clause provides the safeguard of allowing offenders to apply to the court for a decision in cases where the responsible officer has refused permission to change residence, so in cases where offenders feel there are compelling reasons to move which outweigh any potential impact on compliance with a requirement or rehabilitation, they would be able to apply directly to the court to reconsider their case. I hope that these points reassure my noble friend, and, indeed, all noble Lords, that this clause provides a means of supporting the continuity of rehabilitation in cases where a change of residence could put it at risk without impinging on offenders’ wider family or work commitments. With those reassurances, I hope that my noble friend will feel able to withdraw the amendment.

5.15 pm

Baroness Hamwee: My Lords, of course, I shall not pursue the amendment. The points made by the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, are very interesting, but I do not think that my amendment would alter the situation either way. He has no doubt made us all start to look at this from a different perspective, which is extremely helpful. The problems raised go wider than just this situation.

When the Minister started to explain some of the reasons that might be behind a decision here, I rather felt that we were going a little close to what might be for the convenience of the provider rather than to the benefit of the offender. I fully accept the importance of the relationship between the offender and the individual who is undertaking the supervision, but that could easily tip over from a company looking at this from a commercial point of view to what might tick the right boxes for that provider.

I was glad to hear the Minister say that there might be many reasons to support a move, but the provisions of Article 8 of the Human Rights Act would seem to provide higher obstacles to a challenge on the part of an offender than would be the case if something of the sort of my amendment on the issue of balance were written into the clause. The amendment would give much more straightforward, less expensive grounds for appeal, as it were, from the decision of the responsible officer to the court. Of course, Article 8 will apply whether we say so or not, but I know that the Minister would accept that praying it in aid to the extent of a challenge to a decision is quite heavy. I will read the Minister’s explanation, as well as having listened to it, but for the time being at any rate, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 31 withdrawn.

Amendment 32 not moved.

Clause 16 agreed.

Clause 17 agreed.

Amendment 33

Moved by Lord Woolf

33: After Clause 17, insert the following new Clause—

“Provision for female offenders

(1) Section 3 of the Offender Management Act 2007 is amended as follows.

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(2) After subsection (2) insert—

“(2A) Arrangements under subsection (2) shall require providers of probation services to make provision for the delivery of services for female offenders which take account of the particular needs of women.”

(3) After subsection (5) insert—

“(5A) Arrangements under subsection (5) shall make provision for the delivery of services for female offenders which take account of the particular needs of women.””

Lord Woolf: I have the advantage of moving this amendment with the support of the noble Baroness, Lady Howe, and the noble Lord, Lord Beecham. It deals with provision for female offenders, which is another area in which the criminal justice system has slowly—painfully so in this case—moved forward to recognising that female offenders have particular needs. The recognition of those needs, which are very great and cannot be disputed, is of the greatest importance if we are to achieve the purposes of the Bill with regard to avoiding reoffending.

There will always be a greater risk of females committing offences if their particular needs have not been taken into account. Of late, great strides have been made—I pay credit to the Government for this—in trying to give positive attention to this problem. There is now a Minister who has particular responsibilities here. Those in the criminal justice system who know her have great confidence in her, and I apprehend that what the amendment seeks to do is something the spirit of which both the department and the Government as a whole would support.

It is something that was considered very ably by the noble Baroness, Lady Corston, in her well known report dealing with female offenders, which has not been given sufficient attention until now. I hope that one result of the new approach indicated by the Offender Rehabilitation Bill will be to enable the Government to acknowledge the importance of that report and give effect to its provisions, as suggested in these clauses. They require that the Offender Management Act 2007 should be amended to require providers of probation services to make provision for the delivery of services for female offenders that take account of particular needs of women with regard to Section 3(2) and (5) of the 2007 Act.

It would be a huge encouragement to those who have been involved in trying to improve the facilities and arrangements for female offenders if this amendment were to be accepted. I hope the Minister will give it careful consideration in due course. The noble Lord, Lord Beecham, and, in particular, the noble Baroness, Lady Howe, drew attention to the importance of this at Second Reading. I mentioned the matter as well. I hope that enough has been said on this subject in recent times to enable the Minister to respond positively to these proposals. I beg to move.

Baroness Howe of Idlicote: My Lords, it is a great pleasure to support the noble and learned Lord Woolf’s amendment, which is an important one. The best thing about this whole Bill is the emphasis on keeping people out of prison if you possibly can, dealing with their problems and the rehabilitation required to get them back into society, where they can play a useful role. It is very much at the heart of what we are trying to achieve.

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However, I have to say that we are all puzzled about why women and their special needs are not part of the original Bill. They have been rather brushed to one side. The document, Transforming Rehabilitation: A Strategy for Reform, notes that quite a high proportion of the consultees themselves specifically wanted the special needs of women to be delivered on. The more one thinks about it, the more surprising it is that women have been put to one side, at least for the moment, despite the fact that the strategy makes the point also made by the Prison Reform Trust, with all its expertise, that,

“the review of the women’s custodial estate … will also strengthen services for women released from prison”.

However, it does not go on to explain how that will be done.

I want to emphasise several points before I sit down. Although I accept entirely the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Marks, that carers come from both sexes, the vast majority of those caring for the children in a family and the heads of single-parent households are women. We know that many women prisoners themselves come from chaotic backgrounds and are likely to be have been abused in their own childhoods. As regards drug trafficking, quite a number of them—certainly the ones I have met in women’s prisons—have been used as mules for the purpose of transporting drugs at the request of their partners. All this shows that the one thing that must not happen, if it is humanly possible—of course there are exceptions where prison must play its part—is to send women to prison. It should be the last resort because it is the children who suffer. Often in such circumstances, the children have to be taken into care because the family home is broken up or the landlord can no longer accept the household.

I hope that we will be given an explanation of why specific attention has not been paid to women’s needs in this Bill. I know that we have been told that we will be given something later, but not taking these issues into account as the various plans unfold is something that I and others find puzzling and rather worrying. I shall give an example. A women’s prison is to be closed down because it is to be used to provide for the special needs of young offenders. That is fair enough, because those young offenders may well have special needs, but yet again one more place will no longer be available for women. No doubt it means that if they have to be sent to prison, they will be located even further away from their families.

I hope that all this will be taken into account and that we will be given an explanation of why women have been left to one side. I think that we need this more than anything else. I do not believe for a moment that the Government are thinking of women as second-class citizens, and yet that is very much the impression given by the fact that at this point, when we are looking at an important and valuable Bill, their needs are not being taken into account.

5.30 pm

Lord Ramsbotham: My Lords, I, too, support the noble and learned Lord, Lord Woolf, on this amendment. Like my noble friend Lady Howe, I am sorry that yet

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again we should be coming to an important Bill like this and raising the issue of women as something that has been admitted, rather than actually trying to discuss in more detail exactly what should be done with and for women.

We have discussed frequently women in prison, but we have not discussed women in the community so frequently. On several occasions when it has come up, I mentioned the need for specialist women offender teams around the country. We have also mentioned the possibility of a women’s justice board, which would be responsible, like the children’s justice board for children, for looking after both women in custody and women in the community. I hope that the Minister will recommend to his colleague, to whom the noble and learned Lord, Lord Woolf, referred, that she should look very carefully at this because there will be a need for somebody to keep oversight over the cohorts of women around the country who are being subjected to myriad different providers, and there will need to be consistency as well as quality in the content of what is done for them, so I hope account is taken of that in considering this amendment.

Baroness Corston: My Lords, I am delighted to support the amendment tabled in the name of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Woolf. It is 15 months now since we had the first vote specifically on this issue that I can remember. At that time there was a tied vote and we were promised a strategy. Subsequent attempts to amend legislation to provide for gender-specific services have failed.

My reading of the current government policy on transforming rehabilitation is that we are going back 10 years, because we are going to have an offender strategy that can be tweaked for women, rather than asking what kind of strategic priorities we need for women offenders. Those are missing. We have a two-page statement, not a strategy, from the Government about what is going to happen for women. If this was a serious undertaking, this kind of amendment would have formed part of the Bill. It would not be up to Members of the House to try to put it into the Bill.

The other thing that I found very troubling during the course of my review was how many women knew that their lives were spiralling out of control but knew that there was nowhere they could go to get assistance. That is what was so amazing about the seed-corn money, although it was £15 million, that the previous Government put into keeping women out of prison by providing women’s centres as alternatives to custody. I know that the Minister has visited at least one, and I am sure that noble Lords who are interested in this area will have done the same. You hear stories of women who have gone through a period of the most amazing redemption because they have had these gender-specific services from people who understand the reality of women’s lives and the centrality of family and children. They understand that when women go to prison, unlike men, there is no one to keep the home fires burning, and they usually lose their children and do not get them back.

All these issues can be dealt with easily if you make provision statutorily for gender-specific services, because people have to think about it. It is not a question of

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women being an add-on. I accept that, given the overall prison population—there are about 86,000 men in prison and 4,000 women—you could say that women are an add-on. However, given that some 17,000 children a year are affected by their mothers’ imprisonment, and a significant proportion of those children end up in prison themselves, such provision seems to me to be the most important preventive strategy. I cannot for the life of me understand why the Government are so reluctant to have this in the Bill, because it would be a matter of pride to do so. I know that the Minister will tell me how much has happened, and I will listen with patience but with some irritation, because, given my experience in the 21 years since I first set foot in a women’s prison, I know that it will not be enough. So I say to the Government: if this amendment is not accepted, we really want to see something that will work.

Baroness Hamwee: My Lords, my noble friend Lord Marks spoke on the needs and importance of specific services for women. I hesitate to follow the noble Baroness because I cannot be nearly as powerful as she was, but I cannot keep silent either. I spoke on the issue on the previous day in Committee. I appreciate that this is a different amendment that addresses a different matter from those that we have looked at before. On short sentences and a period of supervision, I want to make one specific point before I come to the more general. Unless the supervision requirements are appropriate, for all the reasons that we have talked about, the likelihood of a breach of the requirements by the offender must be higher, and that will mean that she is back in custody. That is exactly what we want to avoid.

I know how strongly my noble friend Lord McNally feels about this, and I know that we are going to hear that work is under way, led by his colleague, Helen Grant. However, I will make one point and ask one question. My point is that a marker of some sort should be put down that shows the importance with which this House regards this issue—like the noble Baroness, one finds it difficult to find the words, but they are not specialist services, because they are not an add-on; they are a different group and they need different services. Furthermore, the marker should acknowledge the importance with which this issue is regarded outside this House by, I think, everyone in the offender management penal reform field to whom I have spoken.

My question to my noble friend, who is probably at least as frustrated as I am, is what amendment, if this is not accepted, would put down that marker, get past the Treasury, if that is where the problem is, and not restrict the progress of work done in the MoJ but enable us to make the point? Many noble Lords have put down a string of amendments. If none of those is going to get a tick from the Minister, can he help us—I know that he is on side—by suggesting what would take the matter forward at this stage?

Baroness Linklater of Butterstone: My Lords, I, too, cannot remain silent. I am so glad that we are privileged to have the noble Baroness, Lady Corston,

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to add her voice to this debate. The crucial thing is that we have not managed to listen hard enough before. There is no question that women are different from men. They are not just differently shaped; they have particular needs and they are absolutely specific. We have known this for years. It is possibly boring but quite graphic to look at just a few of the facts and figures. Women serve very short sentences on the whole, with 58% serving six months or less and many only four months, or a matter of weeks. The sentences are for non-violent offences; we do not need to be protected from these women. Some 81% are for shoplifting, and we know that most shoplifting is for food for their children or for drugs. About 60% of the women, in fact, are drug users.

The final thing, which the noble Baroness, Lady Corston, also mentioned, is that the collateral damage of the imprisonment of women is absolutely unquantifiable. If more than 17,000 children a year experience and suffer separation from their mothers, that damage does not really take a lot of imagination to assess. Some terribly graphic reports have been published. For many children, to be separated in this way from their parents is like a bereavement: in their eyes, their mothers have died. This is a terrible thing to have to experience, but this is what we are doing to this primarily non-violent, very vulnerable, group of people from whom we do not need to be protected.