The Bill is an important reforming measure which sets out to increase society's confidence in the criminal justice and penal system and its effectiveness in dealing with offenders.
It creates a more coherent statutory framework for sentencing, based on the seriousness of the offence that has been committed. That, along with sentencing guidelines by the Court of Appeal, the power of the Attorney-General to take over-lenient sentences to the Court of Appeal and the work of the Judicial Studies Board, should make for much greater consistency in sentencing. I said "consistency" not "uniformity", which is argued for, extraordinarily enough, in the reasoned amendment. I put that down to no more than a schoolboy howler, because I cannot believe that that is what is intended.
The Bill reforms the parole system to ensure that those who are sent to prison will generally spend a greater proportion of their sentence in custody and will be supervised on release. The Bill contains proposals on children's evidence which will ensure that those who abuse children will not be able to hide behind difficulties that their victims now face in going to court.
The Bill also includes measures designed to reinforce parental responsibility and finally, and on a different theme, we are taking the opportunity to provide for the putting out to tender of police and prison escort duties and security in magistrates courts so that police and prison officers can concentrate on their real work; the Bill proposes to give the private sector the opportunity to tender for the running of the new remand centre at Everthorpe—now called Wolds.
Many of those proposals are radical, but all are built on firm foundations. As for the Bill's sentencing framework, we are in many respects setting out to extend over the whole age range the requirements imposed on the courts so far as young offenders are concerned in the Criminal Justice Acts 1982 and 1988, requirements which have already led to substantially fewer young people being given custodial sentences. The proposals on parole and children's evidence implement the recommendations of thorough and detailed reports of reviews held by Lord Carlisle of Bucklow and by His Honour Judge Pigot respectively. The proposals on private sector involvement in the remand system are also based on extensive research and consultation.
The Home Secretary referred to the involvement of private security firms. As the personnel policies of many of those companies are, to say the least, unsavoury, will he give an assurance that one of the requirements imposed by the Home Office will be that none of the companies should be subscribers to the Economic League and other black listing organisations and he will seek an assurance, before issuing contracts, that that will be the case?
I draw the hon. Gentleman's attention to the Bill, wherein are set out the most detailed provisions to ensure that the service provided is excellent and that, within the organisation, there will be a Government official, a monitor as it were, to ensure that the higher standards are maintained.
The circumstances of cases that come before the courts are almost infinitely various. Therefore, when one comes to sentencing, consistency of approach, rather than uniformity of outcome, must be the aim: therefore, I have had no difficulty in resisting any temptation to impose detailed and rigid sentencing rules upon the courts, such as would require particular offences to be sentenced within only a narrow range of options. But it is right that Parliament should guide the courts on the general principles to be adopted.
Fairness and consistency are paramount in the administration of justice. Therefore, there can be no place, in a criminal justice system worthy of that name, for any sort of discrimination on grounds of race, colour, creed or sex. Any such discrimination would be utterly inimical to the principles of justice on which the system is founded, and I believe that the more consistent framework provided in the Bill will enable those principles to be upheld. All the agencies that work in the criminal justice system are committed to policies and practices to achieve that aim.
I certainly have no objection in principle—how could one, if one were talking only of a clause in the Bill that was declaratory and stated what the present law was? Even if it went further than that, the subject is obviously something which could be usefully debated in Committee. I hope that the hon. Gentleman is satisfied with that.
Secondly, the aim of the proposals is to deal with offenders and stop crime more effectively. We expect our proposals to lead to a fall in the use of imprisonment and therefore to a fall in the prison population. This is obviously to be welcomed and I expect it to happen, although the numbers involved are, in the nature of things, difficult to estimate. But I do not want there to be any misunderstanding. This is certainly not a measure designed to achieve some artificial short-term reduction in prison numbers at the expense of proper protection for the public.
Instead, the Bill's proposals are part of the Government's wider strategy for tackling crime more effectively. The probation service will have a central role in implementing the Bill's proposals for pre-sentence reports, community penalties and post-custody supervision of offenders. We shall set national standards for these matters and our Green Paper, "Supervision and Punishment in the Community", published in February this year, set out a number of options for improving the responsiveness of the probation service to the demands that it is likely to face. We shall also support it with the necessary resources.
No one can doubt the effectiveness of the Government's support for other parts of the criminal justice system, given the investment of money and ideas that we have put into police manpower and resources, the prison service, crime prevention and support for victims.
The probation service is dealt with in the Green Paper and in the Bill, but I was at a conference of magistrates in Birmingham on Saturday at which delegates asked me about financial resources, given that the service attracts an 80 per cent. grant. They were worried that, because of financial restraints on local authorities, there will not be enough money to support the work of the probation service. Were they wrong?
There will be a 27 per cent. increase in funding over the next three years. I remind the right hon. Gentleman of an interesting passage at the back of the White Paper which deals with resources. We have always acknowledged that if these proposals succeed there will have to be an expanded probation service—not the reverse.
The Bill clearly states that the basic principle should be that the punishment should be commensurate with the seriousness of the offence, but our plain duty is to protect the public and in certain cases a tougher sentence than that warranted by the seriousness of the offence may be justified by the need to protect the public from serious harm—and that is provided for.
If an offender has already been punished for a previous offence it seems unfair and unjust to punish him twice over by increasing the penalty for a subsequent offence; it seems wrong that petty offenders should be imprisoned merely because they have committed petty offences previously. But we must face up to why such offenders sometimes finish up in prison now. That happens, I fear, because until now community penalties have often not been perceived as real punishments and so long as community penalties continue to be perceived as a bit of a let-off, sentencers will inevitably be tempted to say to the offenders, "Well, you got away with it last time, but you did not learn your lesson, so this time we will give you a taste of real punishment—prison."
I certainly do not blame sentencers who have sometimes taken this view in the past, since it is clear that in some respects community penalties have not been as rigorous as they should have been. Moreover, the range of community penalties has not been wide enough to provide suitable punishment for all offenders who could otherwise have been dealt with effectively in the community.
I find it difficult to understand why some of the people who are in favour of less use of custody do not seem to recognise that rigorous and demanding community penalties must be provided if that aim is to be achieved.
I shall give way to the hon. Member for Bradford, South (Mr. Cryer) in a moment, but I want to finish this passage because it is an important one.
The public certainly will not put up with a slap on the wrist as an adequate response to relatively serious offending. Hence, there will be a wider range of community penalties—and combinations of them—which can make tough demands on offenders and offer the courts what they and the public will recognise as an adequate response to criminal behaviour.
Does the Secretary of State accept that there is widespread support for community service in place of imprisonment? Does he agree that many people feel that the really big criminals operating in the City are not being pursued vigorously enough by the Government because of their insistence on the enterprise culture and their exaltation of greed and personal profit? The Government ought to set an example by pursuing the big criminals in the City with much more vigour than they appear to be doing.
Recent events do not bear out for a moment what the hon. Gentleman says. People have seen how serious offenders are dealt with when those concerned with financial matters are dishonest in their dealings.
Does the Secretary of State accept that the police in general feel that, because they are provided with inadequate resources, they are being neglected and that, therefore, they are unable to do their job properly? Community penalties are all very well, but the major problem is that inadequate resources have been provided over the years to implement them. The resources chapter in the White Paper deals with the provision of resources for specific penalties, but it says nothing about prevention. If the Government tackled properly the prevention of crime, many people would not get into the criminal system in the first place.
I do not know what sort of world the hon. Gentleman lives in. During the past 10 years, Neighbourhood Watch has grown to 81,000 schemes. Moreover, throughout the country there are safer cities projects and Crime Concern, funded by the Government, has blossomed. No Government have paid greater attention to crime prevention than this one. The hon. Gentleman must be living in a very odd world if he does not know that there are 15,500 more police officers now than there were in 1979. In addition, 10,000 civilians who were not employed in 1979 are now employed by the police thereby freeing police officers, who previously did desk jobs, to get out on the streets.
For the most serious offences, there is no doubt that a prison sentence will normally be necessary, and often a long one. Under the guidance of the Court of Appeal, sentences for offences such as rape and robbery have been getting longer in recent years and rightly so. The Bill confirms the appropriateness of heavy sentences for sadistic and brutal crimes, making it clear that long sentences can be given where the public may be at risk of serious harm from a sexual or violent offender. On the other hand, penalties that keep the offender in the community may often be better for offences of a less serious nature, particularly where violence is not involved.
There will be widespread support for my right hon. and learned Friend's statement that sentences for crimes of violence, including sexual crimes, are to be increased. Will he undertake to look closely at clause 25 which, it has been suggested, would increase the punishment for minor offences such as soliciting by men or women? If that is so, I am sure that many hon. Members would suggest that much higher sentences for those offences are not appropriate.
I do not believe that my hon. Friend can be right. Clause 25 does not refer to that. If he will have a word with me afterwards, I shall see whether there is anything that I can do to meet his point.
Despite all the good work that is done in prisons, the experience of prison is inevitably to make the offender used to living in an institution and to cut him off from his ties with the community. Instead of being made to face up to his responsibilities in the community, the offender is relieved of them. Less experienced offenders rub shoulders with the more experienced and, as often as not, they come out far worse than they were when they went in. A community sentence which makes the offender face up to his crimes and their effect on the victim can often make greater demands on the offender than allowing him just to loaf around in prison at the taxpayer's expense.
I shall not go through the whole Bill—but I will deal briefly with some of the main features.
Will the Secretary of State admit that over the past decade, as the large mental institutions have been emptied, many people with mental illnesses have ended up not homeless in cardboard boxes but in the prison system? Has not he missed a golden opportunity to do something for that vulnerable group of people who are not catered for in the Bill? Secure units for people with mental illness are in short supply and this is just a missed opportunity.
We have not missed a golden opportunity because this is the problem to which we have been addressing ourselves. The hon. Lady may know that in the past month we issued a circular that reinforced the opportunities that the courts have for diverting people of that kind from prison.
Clause 1 establishes that a custodial sentence is to be passed——
I was telling the hon. Member for Halifax (Mrs. Mahon) that within the past month we have issued a circular reminding the courts of all the opportunities that exist for sentences that divert people suffering from mental illness to places other than within the criminal justice system.
The right hon. Gentleman does not know what he is talking about and he had better read the circular.
Clause 1 establishes that a custodial sentence is to be passed only if the court is of the opinion that the offence is so serious that only a custodial sentence can be justified for it. This criterion is based on that which applies to young offenders under section 123 of the Criminal Justice Act 1988, but a little more flexibility is provided to cater for the case where the court is sentencing for more than one offence, and a second offence might tip the balance between custody being or not being justified.
Clause 2 requires the court to apply similar principles to determining the length of a custodial sentence, and clause 3 sets out the information to which the court is to have regard in forming its judgment whether a custodial sentence is justified and, if so, for how long. In all cases, a pre-sentence report is required. This will replace the existing social inquiry report, but in a form more closely adapted to the court's sentencing requirements.
Clause 3 makes it clear that the previous record of the offender, or his response to previous sentences, is not to be taken into account unless the previous offending behaviour is genuinely relevant to the new offence in the sense of making it more serious.
Will my right hon. and learned Friend confirm that there is nothing in the Bill that will affect or change a suspect's right to silence? Does he accept that the only people who benefit from the right to silence are those who have something to hide? Does he think that we should include in the Bill a provision whereby courts are allowed to take into account the fact that someone has refused to disclose what he or she was doing at a particular time?
My hon. Friend is right in believing that there is nothing in the Bill relating to the so-called right to silence. My hon. Friend might have an opportunity of discussing that when the Bill is upstairs in Committee. It is a pretty important subject which is in the remit of the committee now being presided over by Lord Justice May.
I was dealing with the relevance of previous convictions which might suggest, for example, that the offence before the court was the premeditated act of a professional burglar and not done on the spur of the moment. Clearly, in that case, the previous conviction would be relevant.
I am entitled to ask the hon. Gentlemen to consider the figures on the number of young people who have been sent to custodial establishments following the passing of the Criminal Justice Acts of 1982 and 1988. Interestingly, although those Acts put in place a similar regime to the one that we are proposing to extend across the age range, the number of offenders in that age group seems to have gone down rather than up. I am not attracted by the idea that we should cast aside these imaginative proposals, which have been tested as a result of the 1982 and 1988 Acts.
I cannot give way again; I must get on.
Clause 5 provides that community penalties should be imposed only in accordance with the gravity of the offence. It lists the various orders that are available, including the new combined probation and community service order. The maximum length of a community service order on a 16-year-old is brought in line with that for 17-year-olds —240 hours.
Community responsibility for offenders has been practised in many areas, including in my constituency. It is almost impossible to oversee those activities. More people are needed on the ground to ensure that young offenders are doing what they say they are doing. There has been an absolutely negative response in my area. I do not know whether my right hon. and learned Friend will allocate more funds to the overseers, but it is a problem.
This is an important point. We shall allocate resources, because we want effective community service programmes that make real demands of offenders. That is why there will be national standards on which much work has been done by my right hon. Friend the Minister of State.
The new curfew order is included in the list of community penalties. It could play a useful part in keeping offenders out of trouble, preventing them from mixing with their old criminal associates on a Saturday night, for instance, and drifting back into crime.
The House will recall the recent pilot schemes by which courts in three areas were able to use electronic monitoring to enforce curfews that were imposed as a condition of bail. Relatively few orders were made, because it was a condition of their use that the case was so serious that otherwise the magistrates would have remanded in custody. The orders that were made demonstrated the technical feasibility of electronic monitoring and I am bound to say that it completely baffles me why the press keeps insisting that the defying of the conditions of bail in some of those cases proves that monitoring does not work. If the authorities knew, as they did, that the conditions had not been observed, the monitoring was highly successful.
Does not evidence from America demonstrate the success of electronic monitoring? Those who are being negative and are suggesting that we should not proceed with a scheme, which is in its early days, whereby we can keep people who have done wrong in the community and monitor their activities are foolish. I endorse electronic tagging and hope that the pilot schemes will continue.
I am grateful for my hon. Friend's support. The opposition to the schemes is nonsensical. Those who oppose electronic nagging—[Laughter. ] I mean tagging—are the same people who are nagging me to try to keep people out of custody. Can one imagine anything more frivolous and ridiculous than the Opposition giggling and hallooing about electronic nagging—[HON. MEMBERS: "Nagging?"] It really is nagging. If the Opposition had their way, we would finish up with great pleas from them for more people to be punished in the community with not a single punishment available in the community. That is the sort of nonsense we invariably hear from the nagging gentlemen opposite.
I listened carefully to my right hon. and learned Friend and I congratulate him on what he said. The long title of the Bill would allow him to deal with some of the problems of hooliganism, particularly the problem of drinking alcohol publicly in the streets. Is my right hon. and learned Friend satisfied that the recommendations in the paper that has been issued by the Home Office to local authorities will be carried out? If local authorities do not, we should take positive action in the House to ensure that this is done nationally. Will my right hon. and learned Friend comment on this matter?
We approved a model byelaw and it is now up to local authorities to decide whether they want to use it. Under this procedure, it is not for us to say that they must use it. I hope that my hon. Friend will do his best to persuade his local authority that it is well worth its while to look into this aspect, but I cannot take the matter further than that.
Financial penalties are covered in clauses 15 to 21. The vast majority of criminal offences are dealt with now by fines—80 per cent. of offenders were punished in this way in 1989—and the proposals in the Bill would encourage the use of financial penalties in appropriate cases and set out to make their use more effective.
Clause 16 introduces a unit fines scheme which will enable magistrates to take account of the ability of offenders to pay and to fine in a way that makes equal demands on offenders of different means. Magistrates courts will be required to assess fines in terms of units, with the number of units corresponding to the seriousness of the offence and the value of each unit reflecting the weekly disposable income of the offender. One benefit of the new system should be a reduction in the number of people sent to prison for fine default and that should certainly be the effect of the new power in clause 21 for fines to be recovered by attachment of income support.
This part of the Bill includes the important proposal in clause 23 to reduce certain maximum penalties—the penalties for theft, which will come down from 10 years to seven years, and for non-domestic burglary, which will come down from 14 years to 10 years. The maximum penalty for domestic burglary remains at 14 years. Few people now go to prison for anything like seven years for theft and virtually no one goes to prison for as many as 10 years for burglary, but a reduction in maximum penalties is a useful way in which Parliament can express its view on the relative seriousness of, for instance, crimes of dishonesty and crimes of violence.
I see no mention of a proposal to do away with concurrent sentencing. Is it not about time that people who committed more than one crime served a sentence for more than one crime? Should not we do away with the nonsense and injustice of concurrent sentencing?
I do not think that we could do away with concurrent sentences. There could be absurd situations in which a person was before a court for 25 crimes, all serious, and the judge took the view that each crime warranted a sentence of 10 years' imprisonment. The judge would finish up sending the chap down for 250 years. Everyone would say that that was a bizarre and unusual punishment which was highly unlikely to be enforced.
Part II of the Bill introduces a radical reform of the arrangements for granting parole and remission. The present arrangements are not satisfactory. The interaction of the minimum qualifying period for parole and remission can lead to prisoners who have been given different terms of imprisonment serving the same time. At present, prisoners sentenced to 12, 15 and 18 months' imprisonment could all be released after six months. The first would be released with automatic half remission, the second would qualify for parole after six months and the third would become eligible for parole at the one third point in his sentence. Release at the one third point of sentence, which can occur if a person gets maximum parole and maximum remission, lead to an unacceptable erosion of the value of the sentence passed by the court. That is bad for respect for the criminal justice system.
The arrangements proposed in part II are intended to make the sentence served relate more closely to the sentence passed. No prisoner will be released earlier than the halfway point of his sentence, except on exceptional compassionate grounds. Prisoners serving fewer than four years will be released automatically at that point unless release is delayed by added days awarded for misbehaviour while in prison. Once released, those serving sentences of a year or more, and all young offenders, will be supervised by the probation service up to the three quarter point of their sentence as a means of protecting the public and to assist their reintegration into society. All such offenders will be liable to be returned to prison to serve the remainder of their sentences if they reoffend before the expiry of the original term.
The Government agree with the view taken by the Carlisle committee that a discretionary early release scheme for prisoners serving relatively short terms can no longer be justified. For those serving four years or more, the primary consideration in deciding whether parole should be granted should be risk to the public. The Parole Board will, of course, continue in existence to consider the cases of prisoners who are eligible for parole under the new arrangements. However, as there will be many fewer cases to be considered for parole than now, the present local review committees, which carry out the initial consideration of cases, will no longer be required. The Bill also makes it possible for the Home Secretary to delegate to the Parole Board the final decision in such classes of case as he specifies. It is my intention initially to delegate this responsibility to the board in cases where the prisoner is serving a term of fewer than seven years.
The Carlisle committee noted in its report that the meaning that will be restored to the sentence actually passed may well result in somewhat shorter sentences. I think that there is reason to believe that the changes proposed, when taken as a whole, will not result in an increase in the prison population and may lead to a reduction.
When will the commencement clauses come into operation? There is a problem that, although in future people will be sentenced under the legislation, existing prisoners will also be considered for parole under the Bill. Those in prison at present are uncertain whether the old or new parole conditions will apply to them.
There is no need for that concern. The Bill proposes that the release date of those already in prison should stand. Their position will not be prejudiced by the fact that they are in prison at the time of the introduction of the new system.
I now come to the very important proposals in clauses 42 to 45 with regard to the Pigot report and children's evidence. At present, children can suffer greatly as a result of having to give evidence in criminal trials. Furthermore, there are a number of obstacles in the way of their evidence being properly considered.
First, the present technical rules about the competence of witnesses result in many young children who have been abused, or have witnessed abuse, simply not being allowed to tell their story to a jury. The Pigot committee's view —and we agree with it—is that the old rules should be swept away and the age and maturity of the child should affect the weight placed upon the evidence, not whether he or she can be heard in the first place. Courts in many other countries work without a competency requirement and I am sure that we can do so as well.
I have no wish to tamper with the rules against hearsay that prevent people who have interviewed a child being able to repeat to the court what the child has told them. What is at issue is whether video recordings of interviews with the child should be allowed in evidence. We believe that they should and that they should be shown to the jury as the child's evidence-in-chief, subject to the judge being able to rule against the admission of any evidence if it does injustice to the accused.
Obviously we must ensure that the child's evidence can be properly tested and that the defendant's right to a fair trial is properly safeguarded. So the Bill provides that cross-examination can take place in its proper place at the trial by the advocate for the defendant, but the power in the Criminal Justice Act 1988 to enable the child to answer questions through a video link from outside the court room will be preserved.
I thank my right hon. and learned Friend for including those provisions. Will he join me in congratulating the many policewomen throughout the country who have been advocating the change that he has outlined for some time? They made their case to the Pigot committee and it accepted it. They have done a public service in enabling the Government to introduce a proposed amendment to the law.
My hon. Friend is entirely right. Congratulations are due to the police. Many teams of police officers carried out experimental schemes which worked so satisfactorily that they impressed Judge Pigot and his committee and reinforced his conclusions that there had to be a change in the law.
Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that in America, where the first interview with a child is recorded, 85 per cent. of defendants change their plea to one of guilty? Sometimes defendants would be ashamed to have the video played in open court and in other cases defendants are ashamed and full of remorse for what they have done to the child. This procedure would spare children from having to give evidence and, therefore, must be something which the House should support.
To the best of my knowledge, what my hon. Friend says about the American experience is entirely true. I take the view that the introduction of these new procedures will result in many more pleas of guilty and that is eminently satisfactory.
The remaining clauses of part III deal with parental responsibility. I have said before, and I say again, that it is nonsense to suggest that every time a young person comes before a court the parents are to blame. Sensible parents should thank their lucky stars that their own children have not fallen foul of the law. But parents have a key role to play in instilling in their children a sense of right and wrong and the Bill underlines that role. It places a duty on the courts to require the attendance of a parent or guardian unless it would be unreasonble to do so. Parents of children under 16 years of age are already normally responsible for the payment of any fine or compensation order that is imposed and to strengthen the impact of this the Bill makes clear that the courts, in deciding on the level of payment to be made, must take account of the parents' means and not only the means of the child. The courts' powers to bind over parents of offenders to take proper care of and exercise proper control over their children are also extended.
This part of the Bill also changes the way in which young people themselves are treated in the criminal justice system.
Does the right hon. and learned Gentleman agree that if someone is to be bound over it is important that everyone should know what he has to do in order not to forfeit his recognisance? What is envisaged in keeping proper control of the child? Does that mean that if the child reoffends the recognisance is almost automatically forfeited? If not, what are the rules?
I envisage a situation where the child and the parents appear before the court, the court is not impressed with the story told by the parents about the sort of supervision that they have been exercising over the child, the court comes to the conclusion that the child has been offending, going out late at night and the parents have not even known that that has been happening, the parents are bound over, return with the child and it then appears that the parents have not paid the slightest attention to the child's movements and have done nothing to try to find out where the child has been going at night. I do not suggest for a moment that there could be an absolute liability under which whatever the child did wrong was brought to the parents' door. That could not possibly be right.
Part III also changes the way in which young people are treated in the criminal justice system. It proposes that 17-year-olds should henceforth be treated as young persons rather than adults. Clause 53 renames the juvenile court the youth court.
The White Paper invited views about whether the sentence of detention in a young offender institution might be abolished for female offenders under the age of 18. Having considered the views expressed, we have concluded that a different approach would be better and therefore clause 49 proposes that the provisions for boys and girls should be brought into line. That will mean that neither boys nor girls aged 14 will be sentenced to detention in a young offender institution. Sometimes, however, children are involved in very serious offences and we have, I believe, got to keep the power in section 53 of the Children and Young Persons Act 1933.
One of the least attractive and least satisfactory aspects of prisons is the holding on remand of young boys aged 16 and 17. Will my right hon. and learned Friend, through the arrangements in the Bill, take urgent steps to ensure that 16 and 17-year-old boys are not held in adult prisons, particularly when on remand?
Will my right hon. and learned Friend consider youngsters aged 14 or 15 who play truant and, because of the time taken by the juvenile courts to deal with them, have actually left school before their cases are heard? Is not it time that we considered the whole process and that time was taken to deal with juvenile offenders who play truant, to ensure that they come to court as quickly as possible because they are the very people who are out on the streets committing burglaries during the course of the school day?
It is important that those young offenders should be brought to court quickly. Indeed, I believe that all offenders should be brought to court quickly. During proceedings on the Bill, we might discuss whether the present provisions in law about truancy are strong enough or whether the law should be reinforced perhaps once again by binding over provisions to bind over parents to ensure that their children do not play truant.
I hope that the Home Secretary will tell us a little more about his proposal for young offenders remanded in prison. He was right to say that his White Paper made specific proposals in that area and he was right to imply that his Bill does not reflect those proposals. With respect, it will not do for the Home Secretary to tell the House on Second Reading that some change will be made to the Bill sooner or later. He should give us some idea at least of the shape and size of that change.
The object is to devise a system that will not result in their going to prison and that must be worked out closely. We must bear in mind that some of those who are remanded in custody at the moment are remanded by the magistrates because the magistrates believe that it is necessary to remand them to protect the public. We must devise a system whereby secure accommodation will be available as a substitute for sending those people to prison. That is the difficulty, but there is no doubt about the aim. The right hon. Gentleman and I obviously agree about the aim, but we will make an announcement as soon as possible.
Part IV provides for the more efficient administration of the criminal justice services. Clauses 57 to 60 provide for the appointment of court security officers in magistrates courts with a framework of powers and safeguards that will resolve any uncertainty about the powers of court staff to deal with, or anticipate, disorder.
Clauses 61 to 71 give effect to the Government's proposals for involving the private sector in the operation of the remand system. Power is being taken to contract out court escort work and to put out to tender the running of new remand centres. If the proposals are accepted by Parliament, competitive tenders will be invited for the operation of the new remand centre currently being built at Everthorpe in Humberside.
If there is private sector involvement, the operation of the private sector body will be closely supervised; in the case of escort duties by a Government official called the monitor and by a panel of lay observers.
As to remand centres, any one that was contracted out would have permanently assigned to it a Government-appointed controller, who, rather than the private sector director of the establishment, would conduct disciplinary hearings, authorise a prisoner's removal from association, his confinement in a special cell, or the application to him of any other special control or restraint.
Finally, I should like to emphasise the importance of clauses 76 and 77. They fill a gap in the ability of probation committees to make grants to voluntary and other organisations that provide facilities for the supervision or assistance of offenders or defendants on bail. The discussion paper "Partnership in dealing with offenders in the community", which we issued in April this year, outlines a number of options for involving the voluntary and private sectors more extensively in support of the probation service's work.
I hope that this description of the Bill's main contents has confirmed what I said at the beginning—that the Bill consists of a coherent and well thought-out set of interrelated measures, all designed in one way or another to make the criminal justice system more effective and efficient in the way in which it delivers justice and deals with offenders, and that it will be able to respond yet more effectively to the challenges with which it is confronted. As such, it deserves, I believe, to be supported by all sections of the House and I commend it accordingly.
I beg to move, to leave out from "That" to the end of the Question and to add instead thereof:
this House declines to give a Second Reading to a Bill which, while making provision for appropriate custodial punishment for violent offenders, does not include any measures to encourage crime prevention; fails to take the steps necessary for a significant reduction in the imprisonment of minor offenders; largely ignores the scandal of remand prisoners; contains no code of standards which all prisons must observe; does not introduce a sentencing council to ensure uniformity of sentence; makes no provision for adequate examination of alleged miscarriages of justice; and will have little impact either on the efficiency of the courts or this country's unacceptably high prison population.
According to the White Paper that preceded the Bill and on which the Bill is said to be based, one of the objects of the legislation is that
a significant reduction in the number of offenders in custody
should come about, yet, when the Bill was published, the Home Secretary was explicit. He said:
I would not like anyone to presume this Bill is a measure designed to empty prisons.
He made the same point during the debate on the Queen's Speech, when he said:
it certainly would not be right to present our proposals as being designed to get rid of prison overcrowding."—[Official Report, 12 November 1989; Vol. 180, c. 353.]
Today, he made one of the blindingly obvious statements that we have come to expect from him—that it was not his intention to allow prisoners out of prison if they were a threat and danger to the community. Nobody expects that and nobody would support that.
The real question is whether the Home Secretary expects that, by removing custodial sentences from prisoners who are not a threat and danger to the community, he imagines that the Bill will result in a substantial and highly necessary reduction in the prison population. If, as the afternoon wears on, he comes to any firm conclusion about his intentions, perhaps he will let the House know.
I shall let the right hon. Gentleman know what the calculations are, but I still think that the point that I made is important. We really must not approach this matter as just an exercise in getting rid of prison overcrowding and getting people out of prison regardless of the protection of the public. Leaving out the parole changes, the new sentencing framework should lead to a reduction of 1,500. The parole changes should lead to a further reduction of 500, excluding any changes in sentence lengths or the return of persons to prison. A 10 per cent. return rate would lead to a net increase of about 300. A 20 per cent. return rate would lead to a net increase of about 1,100. A 5 per cent. reduction in the length of sentences of up to four years would lead to a reduction of 900, offsetting the increasee in numbers resulting from return during the recall period. The right hon. Gentleman will see how complicated it is.
I hope that it is as complicated as it sounds, because my fear is that it is not complicated at all but is simply a wild guess made in the anticipation that I would ask the Home Secretary to answer the question that I asked last Monday. I hope that the Home Secretary—knowing what a courteous man he is, I am sure that he will do this—will let us know the calculations on which those figures are based so that we can all examine them with the care that they deserve.
In the meantime, I have two comments. First, as I shall try to explain as my speech proceeds, I have some reservations about whether the changes in the parole system will have the result that the right hon. and learned Gentleman has described. I hope that they will, but they may not. Secondly, I hope that the right hon. and learned Gentleman understands that, by his own standards and according to his own criteria, reducing the prison population by removing from custodial sentencing men and women who are perfectly safe to be in the community is, in itself, a major blow against crime. It was the Home Secretary—not me—who wrote:
Prisons have become the universities of crime.
I hope that we can be consistent in our constant reiteration that in many ways crime is increased by sending to prison men and women who should not be there in the first place.
I make my position and that of my party absolutely clear. Of course, we share the Government's view that some crimes, especially violent and sexual crimes, should result in prison sentences. We also support the principle that many crimes should not carry a custodial sentence. If the object of the Bill is to keep out of prison those offenders who should not be sent there, it is absurd to say that reducing the prison population is not one of its principal intentions. The pretence that reducing the prison population is an irrelevant by-product could be forgotten if it were no more than a result of the Home Secretary's usual tenuous grasp of the subject or an indication of the need to guard his back. But if it is more than that, the inconsistency is worth a mention. I believe that the inconsistency has a deeper significance and that it is reflected in the ambivalence of parts of the Bill. That inconsistency results in confusions and contradictions. Worse still, it results in an absolute failure to introduce the procedures that would ensure the successful application even of the principle that the Government claim to support, which is that sentences should invariably be suited to the offence. The Government's continued obsession with punishment lies at the heart of their failure adequately to encourage crime prevention.
I take my first example of the confusion from clause 1, which is the keystone of the Bill and a proposition with which the Opposition are in wholehearted agreement. Clause 1 requires that a custodial sentence should be imposed only when the crime is too "serious" to justify anything else. Unfortunately, no attempt is made to define the word "serious". As the afternoon goes on, perhaps the Home Secretary will tell the House the way in which he believes that the word "serious" should be interpreted by the courts. What is more, clause 1 does not apply to persons who have already been to gaol and who are charged with indictable offences. One quarter of the men and women who are charged on indictment currently receive a non-custodial sentence, although many of them —the Home Office does not know how many, but has confirmed that there are many—have previously been in prison. Applying the consistency that we should like to see, we must therefore ask the Home Secretary what he expects to happen to such people in the future. One interpretation of the clause might result in custodial sentences being applied to offenders who are not now sent to prison and who are not, by any reasonable standard, appropriate for that sentence.
It is not for me to say whether the Home Secretary supports the right idea and has lost his nerve or whether he has watered down a better Bill that was bequeathed to him by his predecessor. However, whatever the reason, the ambivalence produces confusion that can only result in the supposed intention—appropriate sentences for appropriate crimes—being frustrated. I justify that assertion by referring to clause 3 which deals with the awarding of a custodial sentence. Subsection (2) states:
an offence shall not be regarded as more serious by reason of any previous convictions".
Those words implement the White Paper promise to ensure that sentences are awarded on the basis of specific convictions rather than records.
However, subsection (3) instructs the courts to take into account the circumstances of any offences for which the offender has been previously convicted. Those two adjacent subsections send messages to the courts that, through interpretation or misinterpretation, might be in conflict. The conflict, the misinterpretation and the confusion can be overcome in only one way—by the creation of a sentencing council, a subject to which I shall return in a moment. We deeply regret that that is not one of the Bill's proposals.
Even without the confusion that I have attempted to describe, there will be problems with persuading the courts to impose custodial sentences in the way and to the extent that is right and necessary. Those problems can be resolved only, as I have already said and now repeat, by the creation of a sentencing council to give courts advice —and I emphasise the word "advice"—on the range, extent and type of sentence that they should award. As far as I can determine, that idea is supported by everyone involved in the area, with the exception of the Government and the more archaic sections of the judiciary.
A sentencing council is essential because of discrepancies in sentencing. Even if the Home Secretary had not set himself the aim of sentences fitting convictions, such a council would be necessary. I shall outline some of the current discrepancies. The latest figures show that at Wood Green Crown court, 30 per cent. of convicted defendants are sent to prison, whereas at Mold, on a very similar crime pattern, the figure is 69 per cent. In Powys, 6 per cent. of convictions for theft carry a custodial sentence, but in Cheshire the figure is 17 per cent. In Gloucester, 29 per cent. of burglars go to prison, but in north Wales the figure is 54 per cent.
A sentencing council would help to smooth out such unacceptable discrepancies. It would also contribute to the eradication of the intolerable bias against black and Asian British, a bias which disgraces our criminal justice system. Some 16 per cent. of the prison population is black or Asian, compared with 5 per cent. for the population as a whole. That is not because they are less law abiding than their white colleagues and contemporaries, but because they are more likely, on equal terms, to be awarded a custodial sentence and to be refused bail. Having been remanded in gaol, they are more than twice as likely to be acquitted, proving that it is a question not of their criminality, but of the bias against them when bail is awarded.
A sentencing council is necessary to right all those wrongs. It is also essential if we are to strike the right balance between prison and non-custodial sentences.
The right hon. Gentleman is right to say that any bias in the judicial system against a particular section of the community is to be deplored, and every effort should be taken within the judicial system to ensure that that bias is obviated. We catch the general drift of his remarks, which is to avoid aberrant sentences in various parts of the country, but could he explain what is a real worry for some of us? How would his proposals materially improve the current position? The Court of Appeal issues sentencing guidelines, the Magistrates Association sets tariffs, and the present framework that offers advice and direction to courts disposing of offenders avoids what surely must be the great danger of a national sentencing council—that of, in effect, sentencing people by microcomputer. That would be very unsatisfactory, given the individual nature of each offence.
We do not advocate sentencing people by microcomputer. However, I am strongly in favour of an Asian British citizen and a white British citizen, who are being sentenced for the same crime, in the same circumstances, with the same background and with the same ameliorating factors, receiving identical sentences. The outcome will never be perfectly achieved, but there is a number of ways in which to approach the matter. The first is the declaratory statement in the Bill. I hope that the Home Secretary is as sympathetic towards that as he sounded when I caught his drift. I shall press him on that in Committee.
The sentencing council should have a force and influence that the guidelines do not have. Were the guidelines to possess such force, the figures I read out a
moment ago could not apply. The sentencing council would take stronger views than the guidelines on such matters and expose some of the enormities. It would embarrass those people who do not live up to the high standards that I genuinely believe the Home Secretary wants to see applied in court. The sentencing council would be a tougher instrument than the guidelines. It is not simply I and my party who believe that—nearly everyone in the system, apart from some judges and the Government, believe that such a council is right. In support of that contention I quote, as I quoted last week, but more briefly, what The Times had to say on the subject:
The transmission mechanism between Parliament, Home Office and judiciary is creaking and ineffective"—
I believe that the hon. Member for Epping Forest (Mr. Norris) read out one of those creaky and ineffective circulars.
Judges are notoriously their own creatures, disinclined through long exercise of power to heed outside influence".
In common with The Times, I believe that only a sentencing council can make judges more responsive.
I appreciate the right hon. Gentleman's desire to improve the sentencing process, which he has constantly elucidated to the House. If we had a sentencing council it would take over from the judgment of an individual judge in first instance and then from the Court of Appeal. The individual tribunal looks at the person before the court and judges consider the circumstances of that person, the offence and other related circumstances before passing sentence. The media and the House would look to the sentencing council to judge that that sentence does not fit. Surely the right hon. Gentleman accepts that that is not justice, but an interference in the process of law.
The sentencing council that I propose would not make adjudications on individual cases, as that would elevate its status into something quite different from what I intend. The sentencing council would look at court records and the records of individual judges.
Some weeks ago a recently retired judge appeared on television and announced that he always assumed one category of prisoner to be guilty because of that category of prisoner's private life and private conduct. I shall not describe that category or the language in which the judge described it. Somebody should study his pattern of sentencing, but, to date, that has not happened. Somebody should ensure that one individual does not, for one reason or another, abuse the extraordinary power which he, as a judge, possesses. I shall not speculate on the reasons behind that judge's decision.
Another important reason for setting up a sentencing council is that it is essential to improve the prospects—I put it no higher than that—of changing the sentencing climate and the ethos of sentencing. The tragedy of our criminal justice system is that we assume that the normal outcome of many convictions is a prison sentence.
Community service, which is fine, and probation are described in the jargon as "alternatives"—something different from the norm. Such are the words used, but prison should not be the norm, but the exception. It should be the sentence of last resort and the sentencing council would help to make it so. That point was also made by Her Majesty's chief inspector of prisons, Judge Tumim, in his report published a few weeks ago. He said that we should not judge prison in terms of retribution, gratification for the community or by whether it is nice or nasty to prisoners, but in terms of the criminality it produces and the pattern of society it creates. That is why it is so counter productive for the Home Secretary to use flamboyant language about slaps on wrists and the severity of punishment. That sort of language induces the wrong attitude towards what prison is supposed to be about and what sentencing is supposed to achieve. It is not simply about punishing people or gratification for those who have been wronged, but about building a different sort of society.
I have already spoken about the bias in our criminal justice system against black and Asian British. A week ago I asked the Home Secretary about the work done in his Department to prohibit and eliminate that bias. The Home Secretary said that he had no knowledge of such work, which was surprising, given the accounts about it which appeared in The Independent on 11 October and The Times on 13 October.
I shall explain what happened, although the right hon. and learned Gentleman may have found out by now. His civil servants discussed the inclusion in the Bill of a clause that prohibited discrimination in the criminal justice system. Such a clause does not appear in the Bill, but I give formal notice that we shall attempt to insert it in Committee. I say with gratitude that I believe that I interpreted some sympathy for the idea in one response that the Home Secretary gave, and I hope that we can build on the shred or degree of sympathy that I believe I detected. The absence of a clause on racial discrimination is not the Bill's only major omission.
I cannot allow the right hon. Gentleman to leave the matter there. During the debate on the Queen's Speech he made a number of allegations which did not have a vestige of truth in them. The right hon. Gentleman asserted that clauses dealing with racial discrimination had been drafted and approved by my officials. The innuendo was that I had intervened to prevent them from getting into the Bill. There never were any such clauses and I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will, for once in his life, apologise for a most disgraceful calumny.
There was no innuendo to the effect that the Home Secretary had prevented that from happening. There was the assertion, which I repeat, that a number of judges had said that they did not wish it to happen. I shall gladly send to the Home Secretary before the debate is concluded—
I shall not give way until I have answered his question. Before the debate ends, I shall gladly send the right hon. and learned Gentleman a letter sent by one of his civil servants to a participant at the meeting to which I referred. That letter talked about the discussion of inclusions in the Bill and it went on to say that, although those inclusions had been considered, it was decided that they should not appear in the Bill. It is not a matter of dispute. It is there in black and white. I am not speaking of a secret letter that has been leaked or stolen. It was sent to many of the participants in the discussions of potential clauses to be included in the Bill.
The right hon. Gentleman is being slippery. We are not talking about discussions but about an assertion that he made on 12 November, when he said:
The Home Secretary knows that while the Criminal Justice Bill was being drafted in the Home Office, officials … approved clauses to impose a duty on courts to end all racial discrimination in the criminal justice system … Those clauses were drafted in the Home Office.
Later, after I had told him that I knew of no such clauses, the right hon. Gentleman did not even then let go, but came back:
The Home Secretary says that he has not seen them, but that may be a confession of his incompetence. Is he telling me that they do not exist? If he is not, we can pursue the matter on Second Reading".—[Official Report, 12 November 1990; Vol. 180, c. 360.]
If that was not an allegation that clauses had been drafted and that I had refused to include them in the Bill, I do not know what the English language means. I ask the right hon. Gentleman to apologise for once in his life.
The right hon. and learned Gentleman may claim that it was a complete mis-statement, but when we last discussed these matters he claimed that he had never heard of the proposal. I repeat that I shall send him in the next couple of hours the letter from his civil servant discussing with those interested parties the possibility of the inclusion of such clauses. The idea that I should apologise shows how out of perspective the Home Secretary gets this side of his character.
There is a much greater issue of principle involved in this question than the semantic dispute in which the Home Secretary appears to be involving himself. My understanding of the facts to which the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) referred is that clauses were drafted——
"We plumb deep waters, Dr. Watson", someone once said. I can only repeat my assertion that I know that clauses were discussed, and the Home Secretary shall have the letter in question if that in any way consoles him. I repeat that I hope, despite his strange outburst, that the right hon. and learned Gentleman will be as sympathetic as he seemed to be only moments ago to the inclusion of such clauses when we submit them for consideration in Committee.
I am not pressing for an apology, because, although the right hon. Gentleman made a mis-statement of fact, he obviously will not apologise. But I repeat that obviously we shall discuss in Committee proposals put forward for such a clause. Indeed, I had discussions with NACRO in which it suggested that there should be such a clause. My reply at the time was that I did not see great value in a mere declaratory provision, as it was described by the hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Mr. Maclennan). Clearly, the matter can be discussed at leisure in Committee. That does not alter the fact that there has never been such a clause in the Home Office.
We are making progress. I welcome the attitude of the Home Secretary this afternoon, which is different from that which he struck during the Queen's Speech debate. We shall go on co-operating with him while he is in an emollient mood.
The absence of that clause is not the only major omission from the Bill. The measure does not even attempt to deal with the major miscarriages of justice that have scarred our criminal justice system in the recent past. The Guildford Four and the Maguires have been released and the release of the Birmingham Six is confidently expected. Yet the Government seem not to have noticed the failure of the Court of Appeal to respond to such cases with the speed and sensitivity which were demanded and which should be applied to the re-examination of contentious cases. The argument for new and additional appeal machinery, not solely in the hands of judges, is overwhelming, and we shall move to create such an institution in Committee.
I confess—I apologise for the fault—that I do not know as well as perhaps I should the details of the case that the hon. Gentleman cites. But if it is, as I suspect, a case which is overlaid by two considerations —first, political pressure in the widest sense of the word, when people think that a conviction is right, and, secondly, the apprehension of public opinion, which is saying to the police and the courts, "You must catch somebody quickly for this terrible offence," thus putting great strain on the judicial procedure—it seems an ideal case to refer to the new appeal machinery that we intend to set up. If the hon. Gentleman is a member of the Committee that considers the measure, I hope that he will support us in that endeavour.
Another omission concerns remand. The Bill could have provided a perfect opportunity to reduce the number of men and women remanded in our prisons. A major reduction in numbers would come about—and could still come about without the Bill—if the Home Secretary implemented throughout Britain the rule that trial must begin within 112 days of committal.
I asked eight days ago, and I ask again today, because my question was not answered earlier, why the 112-day rule is not being applied throughout Britain. I hope that, when the Minister replies, he will explain either why it is not being applied throughout the country or when it will be applied, particularly in London and the south-east, where the remand problem is acute.
In addition to that obvious step, the Bill could and should reduce the number of remand prisoners by tightening the Bail Act 1976, and I offer some suggestions about how that Act should be tightened. Surety should be used only as a last resort, and then should be related to ability to pay; courts should find suitable accommodation for bail defendants with psychiatric problems; and all individuals charged with non-imprisonable offences should be allowed bail unless they have a long history of absconding.
In 1977, remand accounted for 8·5 per cent. of the prison population; in the first quarter of this year it accounted for 20 per cent.—twice as much as 13 years ago, and meant that more than 10,000 men and women were in prison although they were innocent in law. They were often kept in prison awaiting trial for many months, but after trial, even of those who were convicted, only 52 per cent. of the men and 36 per cent. of the women were sent to prison, despite having been held in prison for weeks, sometimes months. The remand system in this country is a disgrace; it is a double disgrace because the Bill makes no attempt to tackle the problem head on.
One immediate step that we shall propose in Committee is the creation of a court inspectorate that examines and reports on the system and the way individual courts perform, and encourages in courts more concern for efficiency and less for judicial convenience.
The important matter of young remand prisoners has been mentioned. Some 60 per cent. of prison suicides are committed by remand prisoners, many of them young men. The most recent example was that of Simon Willerton, the young man who hanged himself in Armley. He was charged with a non-imprisonable offence, but was held in prison for 12 weeks. The simple fact is that he should never have been in prison. I take great hope and comfort from what I think the Home Secretary said earlier today. I assume that what he said in answer to my intervention means that he means, intends or at least hopes to implement the White Paper promise about getting young men out of remand prisons. If that is so, he will have our wholehearted support in that endeavour.
We applaud the emphasis that the Bill gives to community penalties, particularly when they can be related in the matter of compensation orders to providing restitution. Central to that emphasis are clause 7, which makes a probation order a sentence in its own right, and clause 10, which combines probation and community service orders. I have some sympathy for those combined penalties, subject to one major reservation that I shall set out later. I should like to see greater encouragement for fines and community service to be combined, as well as the other two combinations. It would be one way of meeting a problem described last week by the hon. Member for Birmingham, Selly Oak (Mr. Beaumont-Dark) during the debate on the Queen's Speech as white collar crime. In other countries, white collar crime is often combated by large fines combined with litter collection or other uncongenial and embarrassing tasks. There is much to be said for such experiments to be held in this country.
I have one other reservation about combined orders. Combined probation and community service orders could increase the prison population as a result of more frequent breaches. Without guidance, which a sentencing council could provide, combined orders might have the opposite effect to what the Government now intend. My reservations about probation becoming a sentence instead of the alternative to a sentence involves the best use of the probation service. Its role is not the administration of punishment, a word the Government often use when they should use the word "sentence". Probation officers are not warders and turnkeys, supervising what clause 5 wrongly calls "restrictions on liberty"—meaning restrictions on liberty within the community. If supervising some sort of punishment becomes their task, their more positive work of assisting the courts and offenders who might benefit will be destroyed. That is one of our objections to clauses 11 and 12.
I thought that all sentences of the court were intended as a punishment. Will the right hon. Gentleman say which sentences of the court he thinks are not punishments? That is not merely a semantic point, but is important to his argument, as it will be to mine.
Of course, all sentences are punishment in part. In the debate about the prosecution of alleged war criminals, I spent the first part of my speech describing what I regarded as the seven principles by which alleged offenders were brought to trial, and the reasons why trial and sentencing were right. One of the classic reasons is punishment, another is retribution. My complaint is that the Government talk as though punishment were the be-all and end-all of the process, not one seventh of the intention, but six sevenths or the entire operation. It is a complicated point, but, if the right hon. Gentleman thinks about it, I think that he will understand.
I am opposed to language such as "restrictions on liberty." If it becomes the task of the probation service to administer such punishment, its more creative activities will be harmed and possibly destroyed. That is one of our objections to clauses 11 and 12, though not our principal reason for opposing.
Electric tagging would be a farce if it were ever implemented in this country. We have read encouraging reports in serious newspapers that, while the Government feel that they must save face by going ahead with the clauses, they have no intention of implementing the proposal. I hope that the Minister of State, as I understand it, the only true begetter of the scheme——
—and true believer in the scheme. That is an admission which should be held against him when other offences are considered. I hope that the Minister of State, the true begetter of the scheme, will say when he winds up whether or not what we read and hope to find true is true.
My right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary explained at some length in his speech, to which I know the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) listened carefully, that electronic monitoring is part of the package of proposals that we intend to make available to the courts at the first available opportunity.
Now we have it—it is not being abandoned or held back; it will be implemented at the first available opportunity, but nobody knows when that will be. That is enormously encouraging to those of us who are critical of the scheme.
Let me tell the Home Secretary, who speculated on the subject, why we are sceptical of the scheme. First, we know of the unreliability of the technology. We know of the poor results from the pilot schemes, which include not simply the fact that the vast majority of the 50 individuals tagged absconded, breached the terms of their bail or committed further offences. We know that many of those people alerted the system even though they were obeying the rules set down for them. We know that they alerted the system due to malfunctions of the instruments. That seems to be an extraordinary way to administer a criminal justice system, but there is worse than that.
Our fear is that, if tagging is introduced, it will not be used for men and women who would otherwise have gone to prison, which should be its only justification. It will not be regarded as safe enough for that. Tagging will be used for cases that would not have qualified for non-custodial sentences. It will be used for people who would have been out of prison anyway, and will be an added imposition on them.
My right hon. Friend the Minister is not the only true believer. He is one of a great many who accept that, as long as the technology needs to be proven, there is little or no point in introducing such a system. I do not regard moving towards a fairly foolproof electronic system as any bar to using the device. What worries me is the assertion of the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) that the device will be used where custody would not otherwise be justified.
At paragraph 4.22 of the White Paper, specific reference is made to "any restriction on liberty" having to be justified. But the clear statement, with which I hope the right hon. Gentleman agrees, is that if restrictions are justified as part of a sentence,
most people would prefer electronic monitoring to a remand in custody or a term of imprisonment.
The White Paper seems specific about that. I have no doubt about the intentions of Ministers; what justification does the right hon. Member for Sparkbrook have for any different interpretation?
I shall return, to the points I was making on sentencing policy in general, when I thought that the hon. Member for Epping Forest was nodding. I am sorry to return to it again—without a sentencing council the judiciary is notoriously inclined to err on the side of over-severity by my terms and standards. On many occasions when I and other hon. Members would not use it, the system would be used by the judiciary.
I must press on, as I have already spoken for more than half an hour. In doing so I have set out our reservations about four major areas of the Bill. I want to deal with three other important topics—early release, young offenders and privatisation. But, before doing that, I must make it clear that we agree entirely with large parts of the Bill, or at least we agree with them enough to give them a qualified welcome.
We strongly support the proposed changes in the rules of evidence as they affect the testimony of children. We welcome proposals that courts must consider a social inquiry before passing sentence. We strongly support the requirement that courts must give their reasons for awarding a custodial sentence. We believe so much in that principle that we think that it should be applied to defendants charged with indictable offences who have already served a prison sentence.
We support the establishment of unit fines, as set out in clause 16, and we believe that the principle should be applied to Crown courts as well as magistrates courts. However, I must express one reservation about the proposals on fines. I appreciate that wrongdoers, no matter how poor, may have to face a sentence of some sort, but I have grave misgivings about clause 21. If fines are deducted from income support, the poor will become even poorer and, putting aside arguments of compassion, that is undesirable as increased poverty may be a stimulus to another offence.
In Committee we shall propose two amendments that would help to solve the problem that I describe. First, we shall suggest that when a fine is imposed on a wage earner in an income support family the courts must, on the model of custodial sentencing, be required to explain why it has chosen a fine rather than another form of non-custodial sentence. Secondly, we shall press for at least the examination of a system in which fines could be literally worked off—weekends and evenings spent in socially useful employment with payment not to the worker but to the courts. That, too, is a scheme which applies in many other progressive countries and we should examine it in the United Kingdom.
We endorse a proposal for a reduction of the maximum penalties for theft and non-domestic burglary and for the introduction of automatic release in place of discretionary parole for prisoners serving less than four years. Part II of the Bill makes changes in the general parole system, largely based on the Carlisle report. We believe that there is much to be said for those proposals. Unless the new proposals —parole after half a sentence has been served, automatic for shorter sentences and discretionary for others—are accompanied by parallel reductions in the length of sentencing, there may be difficulties. The new proposals may well increase, not reduce, the prison population. That was certainly not Lord Carlisle's intention and I hope that it is not the Government's either.
I do not believe that clause 23—limited reductions in some sentences—will be enough to compensate for this potential increase. That is why I ask the Home Secretary to supply the figures, which we can then examine in detail. I believe that Lord Carlisle's proposals will work only if his scheme for sentencing is applied in full. He said in the House of Lords that his proposals should be accompanied by a determined effort by the judiciary and those in politics to reduce the length of sentences—particularly in the middle band. The Bill does not endorse that determined aim, but we shall attempt to achieve it in Committee—again, not least by proposing the creation of a sentencing council.
We shall also examine the desirability of early supervisory release being set at a third rather than a half of a sentence and we shall resist proposals that early release prisoners should be at risk of return to prison until the date when their full sentences would have been served.
We are amazed by what we have just heard. Did the right hon. Gentleman say, entirely contrary to the suggestion by the Carlisle committee, that the Opposition propose that people should be released after serving one third of their sentence? The whole theme of the Carlisle proposal is that the sentence served should be more closely related to the sentence passed. Is that to be thrown overboard?
The right hon. and learned Gentleman has picked and chosen from the Carlisle report himself, so he cannot complain if others do the same. There is much to be commended in the report, and that we commend and support, but the right hon. and learned Gentleman was not listening when I quoted Lord Carlisle's words about the reduction in sentences that has to go with this scheme. We shall examine all these matters in Committee.
My next remarks are directed specifically to the Home Secretary. We all agree, for agreement is easy enough, that parents should take responsibility for their children. But that is not a policy: it is a cliche. The real question is whether legislation will encourage that process of responsibility. Many Conservative Members who deny absolutely that the law can change attitudes to race apparently believe that laws can alter attitudes to parental responsibility. For my part, I doubt whether juvenile offenders' parents who do not come to court voluntarily will be made more responsible by compulsory attendance. We certainly support the maximum age for consideration at youth courts, as they are to be called, being increased to 18. We also welcome clause 49 which ends custodial sentences for 14-year-olds, but we would go far further. We would abolish prison department custody for juveniles.
Finally, I turn to the twin proposals—twin because they are related to ideology, although by nothing more—for private remand centres and private escort agencies. I have already called for emergency action to reduce the number of remand prisoners in our gaols. Obviously and by definition, emergency action should be taken immediately, but a fundamental review of remand should have waited for Lord Justice Woolf to answer the Government's questions about—I quote from the terms of reference—the
number and conditions of remand prisoners".
Instead of waiting for their own inquiry to report, the Government have leapt in to answer the question with silly dogma.
The private remand centre has no rational justification. Whatever it achieves could be achieved in public centres if the Government willed that objective. Contradictions inherent in this policy can be demonstrated by two questions that I hope the Minister of State will be meticulous in answering. Are these private probation institutions to be subject to minimum standards of accommodation and treatment? Are minimum standards to be laid down for how they house and treat their prisoners? I assume that the answer must be yes, although I see that the Minister is busy finding out. I believe that it would not be possible to allow private contractors to operate in this area without some regulation.
I have a second question to which it seems the Minister will have to send for an answer as well. If minimum standards are to be laid down for private institutions, are they also to be laid down for Her Majesty's prisons? It seems strange that private contractors have to behave decently while prisons run by the Government can be as squalid——
It might be helpful if I answered the right hon. Gentleman now rather than later. It is clear that he has not conducted his reading of the Bill with due care and attention. From clause 65 onwards the right hon. Gentleman will find the answers to all his questions set out in the Bill. I urge him to look at it.
The Minister will not find the answer to my most important question set out there. I am happy to have the answer to my first question confirmed, because that means that he must now answer my second. I agree that the private institutions will have minimum standards. How does he justify their having minimum standards but not Her Majesty's prisons? [Interruption.] I shall ask the right hon. Gentleman another question and if he can tell me that the answer to it is in the Bill I shall be suitably humble and apologise.
Not humble—suitably humble. That is quite a different thing.
To pursue a point made by the Home Secretary about the control of these prisons, could we hear more about the controller's status and his position under the law? Under what powers will he operate and how are we to define exactly what his role should be? I should like to hear more, too, about the related matter that is combined with the previous proposal, only because of the silly dogma on which it is based.
I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman will do better than that when he winds up the debate. I hope that he will also do better when he answers the other question that I put to him.
In the second inquiry set up by the Government, Lord Justice Woolf examined the best method of fulfilling escort duties and court manning commitments. The Home Secretary answered the question for him in clause 61. There are to be private escorts to and from prison. I understand well enough the burdens that escort duties impose on prison staff and the problems that they create for prison governors as they try to make the best of their overstretched resources. Private escorts are not, however, the answer. They will be badly trained, if trained at all. The record of private security companies taking the place of police officers demonstrates and proves that point.
I take my example from the ports where the transfer of those duties from police officers to private individuals has resulted in the ports being protected by underpaid and undertrained employees who do a cheap, bad job as compared with the regular police. I have no doubt that that pattern will be repeated with the privatisation of the prison escort system. Prison escorts will be given the status of constable. That is necessary, but it is also intolerable. One of the features of private security systems is that untrained and unprepared men and women are made constables in order to give a vestige of respectability to the privatisation process. I cannot imagine the consequences, with such people supervising prisoners, if there should be a mass break-out between court and prison. With untrained and unqualified private escorts who are unable to deal with prisoners, the potential consequences are horrendous.
The Bill contains much that is objectionable and much that is confused and contradictory. It also contains, in some areas, the seeds of sensible reform. We shall do our best to improve it in Committee. I am sure that the Home Secretary will be the first to understand, however, that it will be a long and arduous process. We must all hope that something better emerges from that process.
Once again the Government show that they are a radical, reforming Government. Once again they show that they are far from running out of steam. So much steam is contained in the Bill that one could talk for hours about it. The House knows that that is no idle threat by me, but I respect the rules of the House, the fact that so many other hon. Members want to speak in the debate and your presence, Mr. Deputy Speaker.
I shall limit my observations to a few substantial issues. First, sentencing. The public want to be protected against the worst offenders. They must spend much time in prison. However, the worst offender does not mean just the most violent and dangerous offender. It also means those who are a perpetual menace because they continue to commit burglaries, to steal cars and other objects or to perpetrate serious City frauds involving large sums of money.
By all means judges should be made to state the reasons for custody. By all means probation reports should be required before custodial sentences are passed. However, we must ensure that resources are made available so that reports can be prepared quickly after a defendant has been found guilty. It is no use just saying that the probation service will perform; it already performs an outstanding service to society. A substantial increase in resources will be necessary if the probation service is to carry out all the work that is involved in the sentencing and after-care of offenders.
I am not happy about restricting the right of the courts to consider previous convictions only in very confined circumstances. It would often be impracticable for a sentencer to decide whether the "seriousness of the offence" applies or not in a particular case. It would also be undesirable in principle that a man's general propensity for evil should be ignored simply because it was a different kind of evil when last he offended.
Secondly, young offenders. I welcome the approach that seeks to keep young people as far as possible away from custodial sentences. Since 1983, I believe that the number of juvenile offenders given custodial sentences has halved, without any increase in juvenile crime. I hope that my right hon. and learned Friend will confirm that. It is a substantial achievement of law and order under this Government. I understand of course that prisons can become universities of crime, but I am unhappy that we appear to have given up the concept of the short, sharp shock for youngsters as well as adults which deterred many offenders from committing crimes. Is there any evidence that the short, sharp shock has been a total failure? If so, where is it? I do not believe that judges feel that it has been a failure. The experience of the courts suggests that it served a useful purpose, although perhaps its effects were not quite so extensive as in the days of the short, sharp shock of the glass house. It is a pity that we are letting it slip from our grasp.
Thirdly, custodial release. I am sure that the public want sentences served to bear more resemblance to the sentence that was actually passed by the court. The public would be aghast to know just how soon after a sentence some criminals are now released. I am also sure that the requirement that at least half the sentence should be served is a distinct improvement on the third of the sentence that now is all that has to be served. But instead of abolishing the automatic remission of a third of the sentence, which has the effect of ensuring good behaviour, why do we not consider abolishing the often unjust parole system? It should be replaced by the requirement that the prisoner must work his way out of prison, by earning remission for training, effort, productivity and dedication while in custody. I cannot understand why an arbitrary decision on release is consistently thought to be better than shifting some of the responsibility for early release on to the shoulders of the prisoner.
It is well known that the parole system works unhappily from time to time and causes immense resentment among prisoners. Sometimes they cannot understand, because they are not told, why they cannot have parole. In many cases it relates to their family circumstances for which they are not to blame.
Fourthly, the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) believes that a sentencing council would automatically right the wrongs of bias that he claims are proliferating throughout the judicial system. I do not accept that slur upon the judicial system. I do not accept that it ever happened but, if it did, there is no evidence that there is significant bias against black offenders or anybody else in our courts. If there is a predominance of a certain sort of offending resulting in a certain sort of sentence in a certain court area by, for example, black people, it is obvious that the sentences may have to be more substantial than in an area where that type of offending is less. Even if an element of bias existed, as is suggested by the right hon. Member for Sparkbrook, a sentencing council would have substantial disadvantages. It would delay sentencing and that is immensely undesirable. It would interfere with the need for the courts to respond to offences that are prevalent in a particular area. As my hon. Friend the Member for Epping Forest (Mr. Norris) said, it would be a step towards the sort of automatic sentencing which could be achieved much more easily by a machine or a computer placed on the judge's desk and which most of us would find totally undesirable.
The equality sought by the right hon. Member for Sparkbrook and the abolition of the racial bias that he perceives, wrongly, exists widely in the system is being achieved by the statutory framework now being introduced into the system, by the increase in the number of people who will no longer serve prison sentences, by the activities of the Court of Appeal in giving formal guidance that is strongly indicative to judges and upon which they all rely before they sentence in most cases and by the Attorney-General's power to refer over-lenient sentences to the Court of Appeal. In addition, there is the limitation of the maximum penalty that reflects the seriousness of offences.
I am not intervening to argue with the hon. and learned Gentleman about the powers of a sentencing council because that will come later. I want to press him on the existence or otherwise of racial bias in the passionate belief that unless we recognise and acknowledge its existence we shall never overcome it. If it does not exist, how does the hon. and learned Gentleman account for the disproportionate number of black and Asian offenders who are remanded in custody rather than granted bail when that is related to the fact that, having been remanded in custody, they are then acquitted? It is not that they are more criminal, but that they are remanded in custody in high proportions and are acquitted thereafter.
The test whether a man can have bail usually depends on whether he has a fixed residential address, whether he is in work and whether it is likely that he will appear for trial. Unfortunately, in our society there are areas of Britain in which black people are not in work, do not have a fixed address and do not have anybody to put forward as surety. Those are the considerations that a judge or magistrate must take into account when considering whether it is appropriate to allow bail. It has nothing to do with racial prejudice but everything to do with the tests laid down to ensure that the person attends for trial.
The right hon. Gentleman was not listening. When a judge is deciding whether a person should be given bail, one of the questions asked is whether he has a fixed address. Unfortunately—I hope that the time will come when things change—many of the blacks in our society——
Yes, and whites. Many of the blacks in our society do not have fixed addresses, do not have jobs or sureties. The preponderance of that in some areas accounts for the high proportion of black people who are remanded in custody. It has nothing to do with the colour of their skin but everything to do with their ability to persuade a court that they will turn up for their trial. If he asked, the right hon. Gentleman would discover that the incidence of those who abscond is also very high in sections of the community where the magistrates say, "All right, we do not want to appear to be racist and we do not want to use the lack of address, lack of work or lack of a surety to refuse bail. We shall grant bail on their own recognisance." Then, they are never seen again.
I apologise for not having been in the Chamber to hear the beginning of the hon. and learned Gentleman's speech, but I have heard the point that he is trying to make. My right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) mentioned the obvious distortion in the number of black people remanded in custody when related to the number of people who are acquitted. The hon. and learned Gentleman inferred that the black community was more likely to abscond or not to have a fixed address. I regret that more black people are not in the Strangers' Gallery to hear that extraordinary assertion. Can the hon. and learned Gentleman tell me the statistical basis for saying that black defendants are more likely to abscond or not to have a fixed address or a job? Is there any statistical basis, or is the hon. and learned Gentleman airing his prejudices?
I have no prejudices in the matter and the hon. Lady should do me the credit of knowing that if there is anybody in this place who has no racial prejudice, it is me. I do not put myself above others but I put myself no lower than the hon. Lady. If the hon. Lady would apply her mind, she would see that I was defending the judicial system from the false accusation made by the right hon. Member for Sparkbrook that the reason why coloured people are remanded in custody more frequently has something to do with the colour of their skin. Whether people are remanded in custody depends on whether they have a fixed address, work or sureties.
I shall not give way again because I am trying to make a relatively short speech and I do not want to be dragged down a blind alley that has nothing to do with the important matter that we are considering—[Interruption.] The hon. Member for Hackney, North and Stoke Newington (Ms. Abbott) is totally wrong and if she will keep quiet and listen to the rest of my speech, she will prevent herself from getting apoplexy.
Fifthly, children's evidence. I understand the wish to spare children the ordeal of giving evidence and the good sense of letting all children who can talk give admissible evidence. I understand, for obvious reasons, that the defendant should not be allowed to cross-examine the child witness. That should be done through an advocate. Those are all sensible and desirable improvements. However, I wonder whether we have got right the proposals for video-recording interviews with child witnesses. I understand the need for that in sexual and violent offences as it saves the child from a courtroom ordeal. Those of us who sit or practise in the courts understand that. However, we must not make it too difficult to test the evidence of children properly in examination-in-chief, where the jury is given an opportunity to see whether the child is likely to be telling the truth, or in cross-examination. We are dealing with a subject in which a jury's horror at the mere allegation of offences against children may be so great that the wrongful conviction of the innocent may occur more easily. I am thinking particularly of identification cases. Proper cross-examination is vital to test for the possibility of mistakes. Children are no less likely to make mistakes than adults and we know that in a high proportion of criminal cases mistakes have been made about identification. Therefore, we have improved things by changes to our rules.
I am uneasy that the Director of Public Prosecutions should be able to do away with the important filtering stage of committal proceedings in the magistrates courts. The precedent for fraud cases, for which it was considered sensible to do away with committal proceedings, is irrelevant because it is mainly concerned with documentary evidence, which would be very boring, tedious and unlikely to be challenged. However, when considering the correct identification of someone who is alleged to have perpetrated a serious offence, we must treat the proposal that there need be no committal proceeding with more care and perhaps with some unease.
I am uneasy that a child witness should not be examined in chief on any matter that is dealt with in recorded testimony. As the Criminal Bar Association observed in its comments on the Bill, the child witness has still to be judged according to his testimony, and if his evidence is limited that testing becomes impossible. The child must be able to establish himself as a witness, and the jury must be able to see whether the accused person may be innocent from hearing sufficient evidence.
Sixthly, I welcome the first gentle steps towards the introduction of an element of privatisation into the prison system. Provided that the same standard of security continues to apply to escort services, there is no reason why the prison service should be burdened and restricted by the immense amount of time and money that is expended taking prisoners to and from court. An enormous amount of time, energy and expense is involved. If some of it can be shifted to the private sector, the prison service will be relieved of a burden that it does not like and can certainly do without.
Provided security is maintained, I see no reason why there should not be an experiment with the private operation of a remand prison, where, after all, a high proportion of prisoners are presumed innocent and do not therefore require the same supervision or state control that most of us feel is necessary where there has been a sentence of imprisonment. If ever a matter were suitable for an experiment, this is it, and I commend it.
Seventhly, as most crime is committed by teenagers, it is wholly reasonable that parents should be made responsible for the wrongdoing of their children. I therefore welcome the measures to enforce some of that parental responsibility.
Eighthly, I welcome the rationalisation of community sentences.
Ninthly, I see no reason why those who would otherwise be remanded in custody should not be given the opportunity of being tagged while they are on remand if they so wish. Will my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State confirm that the pilot scheme met with some success and that it represents a reasonable expenditure of resources? Opposition Members are anxious to ensure that as few people as possible are kept in prison. Here is a positive measure that would be voluntary. If a prisoner feels humiliated or degraded by being tagged and would rather be in prison, the choice is his. It is such a sensible measure that I am sure that the right hon. Member for Sparkbrook was wrong to oppose it.
Finally, in my view and that of many of my right hon. and hon. Friends and the majority of people outside, one positive step that could be taken to reduce the incidence of serious crime, particularly the killing of innocent people, is the restoration of capital punishment. There is no such provision in the Bill because the Government have always taken the view that that is a matter not for Government but for private conscience. I intend to table a new clause to give the House the opportunity of reconsidering the matter, and I hope that my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State will ensure that that debate is taken on the Floor of the House so that the wishes of the people, who know as much about deterrence as any expert, can be taken properly into account and so that they may know that hon. Members take the matter seriously indeed.
The hon. and learned Member for Burton (Mr. Lawrence) made several comments that I found startling. When the Minister replies, we shall listen with care to see how many of them he endorses. I shall refer to some of them a little later, but I was particularly startled when he asked for evidence that recent Government policies, particularly the short, sharp shock, had failed. If he has a few minutes to spare later, he and I can study the criminal statistics since 1983.
I hope that I shall be forgiven if I confess to a feeling of deja vu. I have long lost count of the number of Criminal Justice Bill debates in which I have participated, but they all have two characteristics in common. The first is that they repeal provisions which in an earlier Bill were hailed as the complete answer to crime. I remember when the partly suspended sentence was greeted as a great penological breakthrough and was duly incorporated in the Criminal Law Act 1977. I do not think that it was a mistake. There are circumstances where it may be an appropriate step, but clause 4 despatches it painlessly into history.
The second characteristic is that each Criminal Justice Bill is a dog's breakfast of assorted provisions as Home Office officials clear their desks of the proposals that have accumulated since the last Criminal Justice Bill. Any connecting thread is invented long after the contents of the Bill have been assembled.
I make no comment on the right hon. Gentleman, for whom we have much respect and who does his best, but the Home Office does impose constraints on its Ministers. All I was saying is that it does not facilitate Second Reading debates.
I should perhaps add a third characteristic. A Criminal Justice Bill is usually a compromise between popular slogans and flat reality. The hon. and learned Member for Burton said that the Bill is full of steam. I would have said that there is a certain amount of wind in it rather than steam. I suspect that the compromise in this Bill is between the ringing declaration of the war on crime, which earned the Home Secretary a standing ovation at the Conservative party conference, and the need to reduce the prison population, on which everyone who has attempted to think about the subject, including those who drafted the White Paper, is agreed.
That duality of purpose gives rise to provisions which at best sit uneasily with one another and at worst are simply inconsistent. We are told in clause 2 that the punishment must be commensurate with the seriousness of the offence—a principle which can be delivered in dramatic terms at a party conference. If it means anything in clause 2, according to the ordinary rules of construction of the English language, it means that every sentence must be a tariff sentence and that there should be no individualised acts of mercy to take account of individual circumstances. In other words, the court cannot take account of mitigation.
I cannot believe that that is the intended meaning of the clause, otherwise the Bill would abolish probation and community service. I think that it was intended to mean that no one should be imprisoned for longer than he deserves, except in the specific circumstances outlined in the clause. But that would sound much less robust from a party platform.
While we are on that subject, we find that, under clause 4, section 28 of the Powers of Criminal Courts Act 1973 is to be repealed. Our unpopular friend, the extended sentence, is to be laid to rest. Now people are to be sentenced for what they have done, not for what it is feared that they may do. A fundamental principle of retributive justice is re-established: no one should receive a harsher sentence than he or she deserves. But scarcely is it carried out of the back door when, in clause 2(2)(b), as bold as brass and scarcely disguised, it comes swaggering back in through the front door.
With respect, I think that the right hon. and learned Gentleman would agree that the extended sentence which followed preventive detention provided machinery whereby someone could be given longer than the maximum sentence laid down by statute for an offence. That is what we are talking about in the case of an extended sentence. In clause 2 we are talking about the circumstances in which someone can get a longer sentence than that which would normally be justified by the offence, but still a sentence within the absolute maximum laid down by statute for that offence. It has nothing to do with extended sentences.
No. With respect, we are careful to say in clause 2 that, although one can impose a longer sentence than that justified by the gravity of the offence, in the interests of protecting the community that sentence must still be within the statutory maximum for that offence.
In each case, the principle is that, in certain circumstances, someone may receive a sentence that is harsher than he or she would otherwise have deserved, not because of the circumstances of the offence, but because of other considerations. No doubt we shall debate that principle in Committee.
I was only reminiscing to myself from a sedentary position, but I have been lured to the Dispatch Box by the right hon. and learned Gentleman. I was reminiscing about his performance in the Standing Committee on the last Criminal Justice Bill. I said sotto voce that I hoped that he would not be on this one, because I remember a few holes below the waterline. It sounds as though the right hon. and learned Gentleman is making threatening noises about serving again.
Far be it from me to hole the right hon. Gentleman below the waterline, but I think that in Standing Committee we might cause a certain amount of damage to his gun turrets.
The White Paper, with its promising title "Crime, Justice and Protecting the Public", begins by announcing that it proposes
a coherent legislative framework for sentencing".
That sounds hopeful. Perhaps there is to be a clear, logical set of proposals which the courts can have in mind. Perhaps it will be simpler, without a multiplicity of technicalities, to trip the courts, which have enough to occupy their minds getting through their lists, doing justice in individual cases, taking account of all the things they are told about the offence and the offender, without having to look out for an array of trip-wires.
Perhaps this legislative framework will clarify the relationship between the legislature, which lays down policy; the Court of Appeal, which offers guidelines from time to time, but understandably on a sparing basis; and the courts, which have to consider the individuals appearing before them. The Court of Appeal, of course, deals only with sentences which at least to some already appear too long, so it deals with a fairly self-selecting group of sentences.
In the event, the Bill does not really improve on the Mikado's rule of thumb that the punishment should fit the crime and, as in every Criminal Justice Bill, the trip-wires are moved about and rearranged, just as we were getting used to where they were left after the last Criminal Justice Bill.
Does not the right hon. and learned Gentleman realise that this Criminal Justice Bill differs from other ones because it builds on the success of other Bills which were passed only a short time ago? The central theme in the Bill is that we should extend over the whole age range the disciplines which were imposed on the courts in terms of young offenders in the 1982 and 1988 Criminal Justice Acts. I think that the right hon. and learned Gentleman would agree that those two Acts have been conspicuously successful—although not agreed by the Labour party—in that the number of young people sent to prison has decreased, as my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Burton (Mr. Lawrence) pointed out.
If the right hon. and learned Gentleman is dealing with the restrictions on imposing custodial sentences, he certainly will not face any objection from me, nor has he incurred any objection from Labour Members. If the Bill had confined itself to that provision, that would have been the end of the debate—unhappily, it did not.
The Bill fails to introduce greater consistency in sentencing. There may be reasons for the inconsistencies between Wood Green and Mold, to which my right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) referred, but those who have considered it find it puzzling. The Bill offers no solution. Is there not a case for the sentencing council proposed by my right hon.
Friend? It could offer carefully considered guidelines with a freedom which is not open to the Court of Appeal in individual cases. The hon. and learned Member for Burton, who is in his place but not really with us, was talking complete nonsense when he said that somehow this is to cast aspersions on the courts. To say that the courts cannot do more than a court can be expected to do is not to cast an aspersion.
Would this really be a total breach of the separation of powers, particularly if the sentencing council consisted primarily of judges, as I hope it would, although I hope that it would co-opt probation officers and a few academics, and possibly a Home Office Minister? I believe that many judges would welcome that assistance.
The proposal in clause 48 is that parents of young offenders may be bound over to exercise proper control, as though they were the criminals. That may have some populist appeal, but it raises some fundamental questions in theory and in practice. The Home Secretary is really proposing that parents who may have done their best and who do not understand where they went wrong—which he said was not his intention—are to be branded as a criminal family. There is some authority, at least in the Old Testament, for the proposition that the sins of the father should be visited on the children, but I know of no authority for the converse proposition.
If someone is liable to forfeit a large sum of money, surely it should be crystal clear what that person is required to do in order not to forfeit it. I found the Home Secretary's reply to my intervention unconvincing. How are parents to know what they must do not to be found to have failed to exercise proper control? Are they to watch their sons and daughters every waking moment? Are they to refuse to let them out of the house? Are they to follow them when they go out? If there is any room for misunderstanding, they may—in addition to all the other distress which they will suffer from a further conviction of a son or daughter—suffer what to them will appear as a personal fine. I hope that they will not be required in some way to produce evidence of the control which they have exercised over their children. That will do more harm than good.
Often one of the problems is that the two parents have different views on what exactly is the right behaviour for a youngster, and those conflicting views often cause difficulty for the youngster. Surely it is important that both parents know exactly what the courts require so that they can come to an agreement on how they will supervise their son or daughter.
I agree with my hon. Friend. All of us who have reared teenage children know that being too inquisitive can sometimes cause more problems than it solves.
Of course, the White Paper is right—we should take account of the needs of victims, actual and potential. I believe that the courts are making good use of compensation orders. There may be a case for considering how we could involve victims further in the disposal of criminal cases. And we need to protect potential victims. Surely the purpose of penal policy is primarily to reduce crime, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Sparkbrook said. If it could be shown that longer sentences had an appreciably deterrent effect, they would be a positive contribution to reducing crime, but we seem to be rather stronger on strident slogans than on hard evidence.
No one now believes that prisons have a reforming effect, especially when every attempt at education or at training is frustrated by the desperate undermanning of the prison service. But the public will not benefit if those who serve sentences return to liberty coarsened, brutalised and embittered, and having had the benefit of a refresher course on crime from other criminals. If our object were to maximise crime, we might design institutions exactly like the majority of our existing prisons. I do not believe that privatisation is an answer to that problem.
If the Government were serious about reducing crime, they should invest more resources in better public lighting, in replacing subways with pelican crossings, and in subsidising security locks and burglar alarms for elderly people. They could even provide the police authorities with the resources for which they are asking.
I shall not weary the House with what I have said many times before, but year after year the West Midlands police authority has calculated carefully the additional manpower it requires to carry out its statutory duties. Year after year, without explanation or argument, the Home Office has authorised only a small fraction of that additional manpower.
The Home Secretary implied earlier that there are more, not fewer, policemen on the streets of Britain. I recently had the honour of going out with our police in the seaside town of Barry to see how they deal with a crime rate which has reached epidemic proportions and which is affecting the quality of life of tens of thousands of my constituents. I was horrified to see how many policemen were on duty on a Saturday night. The figure is so bad that I am not at liberty to quote it because if the criminals in our town knew how many police were on duty they would riot.
I am sure that my hon. Friend is right and I wish that the Home Office would listen to police authorities when they tell it what manpower they need.
Most importantly of all, the Government should reflect on the fact that the most effective deterrent to crime for the potential offender is the disapproval of his peer group. Teenagers in deprived areas are encouraged to turn to crime because other teenagers in the area regard it as a status symbol. If such teenagers can be won over to the side of law and order, that would be the greatest protection for the victims of crime. The places where the environment is best protected and where vandalism is at a minimum are where local teenagers have been enlisted to clean up the area and will, therefore, ensure that their commitment is not wasted.
If the Government re-read the Scarman report, if they read "Faith in the City" for the first time, if they spared more resources for youth services before the young person. is on bail and if they encouraged school teachers to believe that their extra-curricular activities were properly valued, they could achieve a multiplicity of objectives. They could reduce the cost of vandalism, they could reduce the prison budget, they could save the time of the courts, and they could help to safeguard potential victims of crime.
The position would be helped if potential offenders saw the penal system as fair. It is not true, as the hon. and learned Member for Burton asserted, that the colour of one's skin makes no difference to how one is treated in the penal system. I will not repeat the statistic to which my right hon. Friend the Member for Sparkbrook referred, but if, as the hon. and learned Member for Burton said, the problem is that the majority of coloured people are unable economically to comply with the conditions required by the Bail Act 1976, would not that in itself be a reason for disquiet and would not it mean that the colour of a person's skin was related to his treatment in the penal system?
The right hon. and learned Gentleman is taking a pretty tough line with me. When he sits as a recorder, on what basis does he consider whether a person should be granted bail?
I apply the conditions in the Bail Act. However, I find that a fair number of black people are unable to comply with the conditions in the Act because they are homeless, jobless or have been discriminated against. If the hon. and learned Member for Burton finds that satisfactory——
I ask that the Government direct their mind to the fact that for economic reasons, among others, fewer black people than white people obtain bail. If we can agree on that, we may have made some progress and perhaps the hon. and learned Member for Burton will now talk to members of his own Front Bench.
I understand that the Home Secretary cannot achieve all those objectives without the co-operation of his colleagues in the Government. He is not the Prime Minister—although, by the end of this week, who knows? He could try to persuade his colleagues that there are more cost-effective ways of investing money in crime reduction than to keep offenders in prison without parole for longer periods. If he did so, he would not earn a standing ovation at the next Conservative party conference, but he might earn a place in history, and he would certainly earn the thanks of my constituents.
As the House knows, I am the parliamentary adviser to the Police Federation of England and Wales. I wish to declare that interest in participating in the debate.
The Bill is long and complex. I am not a lawyer, but I welcome some of its provisions and I have enjoyed listening to the right hon. and learned Member for Warley, West (Mr. Archer) and to my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Burton (Mr. Lawrence), who are lawyers. We all benefit from hearing their views.
I give a general welcome to the new framework for the sentencing of offenders. I support the provisions which are designed to protect the public from serious harm by offenders and the powers given to the courts in clause 2 which provide that the length of the custodial sentence is commensurate with the seriousness of the offence. My constituents have been pressing for longer sentences for violent crime and for sexual offences. They will be pleased that a Crown court may pass sentence up to the maximum for the offence. The House knows that the Government also wish to reduce the prison population and to deal with less serious offenders by means of non-custodial sentences.
However, on behalf of the police, I must say that in the opinion of the Police Federation—which I share—there is one offence for which there should be a mandatory custodial sentence. It should be passed on those convicted of assaults that have occasioned actual bodily harm to a police officer in the exercise of his duty. The federation called for that sentence at its 1987 central conference, reflecting the increasing concern among the police about the number of assaults, which is escalating to an unacceptable level. I call again today for a mandatory sentence for those who attack the protectors of the public so that such people may be in no doubt that if they attack a police officer they will go to prison.
I note my hon. Friend's point. I know, as I am sure he does, that the Home Office does not generally like mandatory sentences because it is concerned about the possible pressure to apply them to other offences. My hon. Friend has made the point well for me. However, if the Home Office view prevails, there must be at least one exception if the increasing number of assaults on the police is to be stopped. The federation is disappointed by the absence of such a mandatory sentence, so I will, therefore, press for its inclusion at later stages of the Bill. I hope that my right hon. Friend the Minister of State will give further thought to the serious problem of assaults on police officers and that he will consider most carefully the possibility of accepting such a provision being introduced into the Bill.
I recognise that the policy of my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary is not to encourage custodial sentences where community sentences can be used as an alternative. It will be interesting to see the extent to which probation orders and community service orders, or a combination of the two, or the proposed curfew order, as well as the supervision order or a period at an attendance centre, will be satisfactory alternatives to custodial sentences. I am sure that it is right to try them. There may be problems in implementing them, however, and one of the problems may be the additional burdens placed upon the police.
Before I was interrupted by that non-point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I was saying— this is an important matter and I hope that Opposition Members are listening—that it is important that the resource implications for the police in carrying into effect non-custodial orders are given the most careful consideration.
Clause 3 makes provision for pre-sentence reports to assist courts in deciding whether to impose a custodial sentence. I hope that my right hon. Friend the Minister of State will tell the House who will keep details of previous offences that must be taken into account. It is not always easy to provide that information.
Clause 8 deals with probation and discharge. I am somewhat puzzled by subsection (2). Perhaps my right hon. Friend the Minister of State will explain why payment of sums awarded by way of damages for injury or compensation for loss shall not be included among the additional requirements of a probation order.
The introduction of curfew orders and electronic tagging has already caused a good deal of discussion. I must tell my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary and my right hon. Friend the Minister of State that the federated ranks of the police need to be convinced of the merits of the innovation, about which they are less than enthusiastic. They take the view that it is difficult to operate and that the recent experiment was not particularly successful, due in no small measure to the ineffectiveness of the technology that is involved. Concern has been expressed to me also about the additional burden which could fall on the police, where manpower is already stretched to the limit. It will always be the police who have to pick up the responsibility for dealing with curfew orders and electronic tagging when the system goes wrong. They will have to bear the burden. Why have the Government decided to introduce these measures when the only information that the federation has from the forces that have tried them is that they are not especially successful?
Having made those comments in a spirit of friendly and constructive criticism, I say to the House generally that the police greatly welcome the inclusion in the Bill of part III, and especially the provision that evidence given by children can be unsworn. Equally welcome are the provisions in clauses 42 to 45, which will enable the use of video recordings of testimony of child witnesses.
The federation is slightly disappointed, however, that children will be required to give evidence under cross-examination via a live video link at the time of trial. The House will recall that the advisory group on video evidence, which was chaired by Judge Pigot, recommended that
arrangements should be made to hold a preliminary hearing in informal surroundings out of court as soon as practicable.
It may be that I have not fully grasped what my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary said when he commented on this part of the Bill during his opening remarks. If I have misunderstood what he said, I hope that my right hon. Friend the Minister of State will correct me. I wonder why the use of video recordings made out of court in informal surroundings is not included in the Bill. After all, the Pigot inquiry took evidence from every interested party, and it was unanimous in its recommendations.
I welcome the proposals in clauses 46 to 48 to require the attendance of parents at proceedings which involve their children when they, the children, are under the age of 16 years. The requirement is coupled with the power of courts to require the parents of 16 and 17-year-olds to pay their financial penalties, plus the power to bind over the parents of offenders who are under the age of 18 years to take proper care and exercise proper control of their children, and to fine parents who refuse unreasonably to be bound over. These provisions represent a powerful new set of deterrents to juvenile delinquents.
I listened with great care to the right hon. and learned Member for Warley, West when he referred to the innovations which I have just mentioned. It seems that the power of the courts to deal with parents who have unreasonably refused to be bound over will provide a good deal of flexibility within the system and should not lead to undue problems. The federation welcomes the innovations and hopes that they will be successful.
Having complimented my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary on the parts of the Bill which either the police or I, or both of us, welcome, I turn to the more controversial new provisions for court security officers, and for escort duties to be carried out by prisoner custody officers. It is right that I should tell the House that the federation is uneasy about these important duties being carried out by the private sector. The federation's main objection—it is a staff federation and the House will understand how it feels—is that the public may not feel as secure if these duties are not carried out by well-trained, tried and trusted officers who have operated successfully for a long time in the public sector.
When my right hon. Friend the Minister of State replies, I hope that he will tell the House what training the officers will receive. I hope also that he will outline the vetting that will have been carried out before their recruitment and appointment by whoever will be responsible for that job. I understand that in the borough which comes within my constituency the body responsible will be the borough council. How will these officers be accountable as police officers are accountable? These are important questions, and they need to be answered if the police are to move away from their present position of unease about the proposed changes. The public must be clear that they will not be put at risk as a result of the changes. I hope that my right hon. Friend will tell us what estimate has been made of the reduction in public expenditure that will be achieved by the proposed contracting out.
The federation is concerned about the concept of remand prisons being contracted out to the private sector. Its concern centres on the training and vetting that is to take place of the individuals who will be engaged and on the safety of the public. The director of a contracted-out remand centre is to be a prisoner custody officer. The new controller is to be a Crown servant. Perhaps my right hon. Friend the Minister of State will give more information to the House, either today or later, about the sort of training and the background that these individuals will have when it comes to them carrying out their responsible duties.
The duties are set out clearly in the Bill, but the Bill does not go into the detail which hon. Members will need if they are properly to assess the way in which the centres will work. There has been much criticism in recent months about some of the private security companies that operate. That has not been confined to the docks. There is a general feeling of unease. I hope that my right hon. Friend the Minister of State will be able to set that right.
Is it not a fact that unless there is regulation of the private security industry, which the Government have been shy to introduce prior to the Queen's Speech, in the Queen's Speech or in the Bill, cowboy operators will be able to tender for the contracts, with dreadful results? Regulations must accompany the proposed innovations.
That concern must be addressed and set aside. I supported the private Member's Bill in the name of the hon. Member for Walsall, South (Mr. George). There should be independent regulation of the security industry, and I am not ashamed to state that in this debate.
I welcome the Bill, which contains many good things. I wish it well in Committee and I hope to have an opportunity to contribute to it again later and to put forward proposals on matters that are of great concern to the police, particularly the question of assault.
The hon. Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Shersby) referred to the practical concerns of the police with regard to escort duties and the contracting out of remand centres. Several issues of principle are also troubling people. Those who are responsible for depriving a citizen of liberty should also ensure that the responsibility for the custody of those citizens lies in the hands of the state.
The Bill marks an important step forward for our criminal justice system. It is a major Bill and not all of it is uncontroversial. However, it provides a major change in a healthy direction, which should have a practical effect on sentencing in particular and move us closer to a society that is less dependent on custodial sentencing as the normal response to crime.
In particular, I welcome the requirement to give reasons for custodial sentences. I also welcome the proposal that there should be a pre-sentence report in the hands of the sentencer before sentence is announced. I particularly welcome the extension of the unit fine experiment to magistrates courts relating the penalties imposed to a defendant's ability to pay. However, I do not know why the Government have not extended that principle to Crown court proceedings, and perhaps the Minister will comment on that when he replies.
Having begun in that vein, it is inevitable in our customary adversarial proceedings that I should focus on the Bill's deficiencies and also refer to the matters that are omitted from the Bill. After the Home Secretary's rather robust remarks at the Conservative party conference, about victims, I was rather surprised that the Bill contained nothing to give effect to his proposals. I was surprised that the Bill contained nothing to ensure that victims know whether those alleged to have been responsible for their suffering have been caught and, if so, when and where they would be tried. At the Conservative party conference, the Home Secretary also spoke about ensuring that the courts were fully informed of the loss suffered by a victim and that the courts would have the necessary facts to make proper compensation orders. The Bill offered an apt opportunity to give effect to those proposals, which no doubt the Home Secretary believes to be important.
With regard to victims, back in February or March my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary issued a victim's charter, which contains a list of questions that are subject to consultation at the moment—the victim support world and others will give us their views about them. We have not yet reached a stage when we can form conclusions and so ensure that the matters to which the hon. Gentleman referred can be in such a state of grace as to be ready for inclusion in a Bill such as this. However, those matters are very much on our agenda for the future. I look forward to hearing the hon. Gentleman's views in due course.
It is becoming increasingly doubtful whether the right hon. Gentleman will have a future of that kind in ministerial office, so some of us will take that assurance with a grain of reserve.
The Minister sounds rather like the drone to my bagpipes.
The Bill marks an important step towards reducing the use of custodial sentences for less serious offences, and that cannot happen too soon. I want to refer once again to a serious incoherence in the legal framework of our criminal law, which the Bill, for all its virtues, does not systematically tackle.
Conservative Home Secretaries have a propensity to think up new crimes and to increase penalties to deal with every social evil. Following the recent Calcutt report on privacy, there was a proposal for a new crime of criminal trespass. Following the Taylor report on the Hillsborough stadium disaster, there were proposals for new crimes to add to the already quite remarkable battery of public order offences that were recently enacted. Following the Strangeways riot, the Home Secretary proposed a new crime of prison mutiny. All those proposals may lead to comforting headlines in the tabloid press such as "New Crackdown on Crime", but they do nothing to ensure that our criminal law matches the settled view of society and therefore the relative seriousness of different forms of anti-social behaviour.
Why have the Government taken no step towards the codification of the criminal law, the case for which has been advocated for many years, which was first put in hand by my right hon. Friend Lord Jenkins of Hillhead in 1968 and on which the Law Commission has been working? The Law Commission produced an extremely important report, No. 177, with a draft criminal code Bill attached, together with a detailed commentary on the proposals. It is the most exhaustive and authoritative work on the rationalising of our criminal justice system, but it has been almost ignored by the Government and by Parliament. I referred to it inevitably briefly in my contribution to the debate on the Loyal Address.
That codification should commend itself to the Government as the best starting point for the overhaul of our criminal law. The former Lord Chancellor, Lord Hailsham, commended the Law Commission's report and said that it could save a great deal of anxiety, obscurity, consumption of judicial time and so of costs. I attach particular importance to the reduction that speedier trials would make in the number of remanded prisoners in our overcrowded gaols. The proper parliamentary procedure for scrutinising such a proposed code would be the establishment of a pre-legislative committee to take evidence and report to Parliament on its contents. Until such a step is taken, our system in England and Wales will continue to suffer from the patchwork of more than 7,200 separate criminal offences being added to inconsistently. That is the major omission, not only from the Bill but from the Government's approach to the reform of criminal law.
However, several matters also merit being raised, and they flow directly from the Bill. Paramount among them is the absence of discussion of the necessary additional resources that must be made available to the probation service in particular and to the police if the Government's objectives in respect of non-custodial sentencing are to be achieved. Part of the patchwork of the inconsistency of sentencing may be explainable in terms of the patchwork of local resources in different areas. The non-availability, for example, of bail hostels in some cases may make it more difficult for sentencers such as the right hon. and learned Member for Warley, West (Mr. Archer) to deal with such matters in the manner that plainly is the objective of both sides of the House. Resources are integral to the success of the Government's proposals and it would be helpful to hear more than a few pious words from the Minister of State on that subject.
In an exchange between the two Front Benches, there was a rather helpful discussion of the possibility of taking forward the concerns that have been widely expressed about the existence of racial discrimination within our criminal justice system. Frankly, the hon. and learned Member for Burton (Mr. Lawrence) is a little unreal in his approach. I found the Home Secretary's attitude in response to my intervention in his speech a good deal more encouraging than that of his hon. and learned Friend. The case for a declaratory provision in the Bill is overwhelming —not simply one that sets out the law of the land as it is, but one that sets out the law of the land as it should be. It should go further and provide statutory requirements to monitor what is happening and to back up the provisions of the general principle.
I share the view that has been expressed on several occasions in the House, that the greatest defect in our sentencing structure at the moment is the inability of the Court of Appeal to produce not uniformity but some coherence in sentencing. The establishment of a sentencing council has merit. It would not supplant the role of judges, but it would help judges. That body would be not wholly judicial in composition, but would involve the participation of many who have knowledge of other parts of the criminal system and, indeed, lay people who could bring to bear upon matters public perceptions of sentencing needs and requirements.
In so far as it deals with problems in our prisons, the Bill does so only indirectly. It proposes little that would directly ameliorate the conditions of our outmoded prisons. I do not entirely blame the Government for that, for they are rightly waiting for the report of Lord Justice Woolf's inquiry following the Strangeways riots. But, given that the Government are holding out on several important reforms, they have decided to do one or two things of extremely doubtful use, not least the decision to allow the contracting-out of remand centres to the private sector, which seems at best irrelevant and, at worst, a surrender of the proper responsibility of the state. The administration of justice and the deprivation of liberty should not in principle be contracted out.
Comparable criticisms may be made of the proposals to privatise the prison escort service. I, like others, know well of the diversion of resources that the present arrangements cause, but the Government have embarked on the wrong solution to the problem. It is hard to justify the view that the Home Secretary propounded, that the experience of curfew and tagging has been successful. It has been described by penal reformers as a fiasco. I am bound to say that it has a minimal part to play at this stage in our penal system. If there is a case for continuing the experiment, that is all that one can say in favour of it. I do not think that it should have gone further until there was greater evidence of how it could work in practice. The Government sometimes claim credit for being essentially practical and take some pride in not having a principled approach, but, on practical grounds, I do not think that tagging has been demonstrated to work effectively.
There is an important confusion that the Home Secretary did not altogether succeed in dispelling. Clause 3 deals with whether previous convictions should be taken into account when dealing with a sentence before the court—[Interruption.] I sense a certain excitement, which, I am bound to say, has very little to do with the remarks that I am making.
I am surprised that there should be such excitement on the Benches at this time. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will continue.
I am glad to have my view entirely endorsed by you, Madam Deputy Speaker.
The hon. and learned Member for Burton made a powerful and important point, and I hope that the Minister of State will deal with it. Therefore, I shall make that point in my way, too. I refer to the avoidance of committal proceedings in cases involving sexual offences and violence against children, which will seriously curtail the rights of the accused. I have seen the argument of the Criminal Bar Association that the power of the Director of Public Prosecutions should not be capable of delegation, and that case requires to be answered.
The Bill makes extensive proposals to change the powers and operation of parole and early release. I shall make only a couple of brief points. The most important requirement is that parole should be reconstituted with proper regard to due process safeguards. Prisoners should be entitled to be heard and have legal representation. The Bill does not make those proposals. They seem to be a necessary part of our system. Unless the Bill's proposals for parole are accompanied by wider reductions in maximum sentences than are advanced, there is a serious risk that the prison population will rise.
The public is undoubtedly most concerned about the ineffectiveness of the Government's measures to prevent crime. The success or otherwise of the Bill will, to a degree, be judged by whether it contributes to a reduction in crime. The single most important step that the Government could take to reduce crime and the fear of crime would be to strengthen measures for youth crime prevention. Young people under 21 commit almost half all recorded crimes and three quarters of the burglaries in this country. The peak age of offending for boys is between 15 and 18. Young men and women are the most frequent victims of crime, contrary to the general perception that the elderly in our society are the most vulnerable. That perception was shared by the electors of Eastbourne who were reluctant to open their doors after 7.30 in the evening. I assume that the Minister of State has recently had that experience.
There is a considerable need to tackle the problem of youth crime more systematically than the Government have tackled it. We need greater positive recreational training and employment opportunities to be co-ordinated locally with the young themselves. Volunteers, as well as paid workers, should play an important part in that task.
The Minister is probably already familiar with the experience of the French Government at central, regional and local level and their striking success in tackling the problem of youth crime. They have programmes of summer activities for the young; youth centres in cities and towns; the positive involvement of ethnic minorities in mainstream social and sporting activities; and projects that are targeted at job acquisition, social integration and confidence building, as well as local crime prevention schemes. Those measures have had dramatic effects and the French crime statistics show encouraging downward trends, especially for the offences that are most often committed by the young.
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that he is wasting his breath making those points to this Government, because the schemes in France to which he referred involve a lot of money and resources and are locally controlled—two things to which the Government would never agree?
It would cost a great deal less to do those things than to keep people in prison. The Government should address that issue as a matter of practicality if they want to make public expenditure savings. Of course, I do not commend such measures only on those grounds, but because I believe that they would be effective in the interests of the young and of society.
The Bill deals with some matters affecting young people, especially—and controversially—the new provisions on parental responsibility. The clauses that increase the sanctions against the parents of young offenders are, in my view, mistaken and probably unworkable and, in their punitive nature, they are certainly unwise. The Home Secretary, who sometimes betrays a lack of awareness about what is going on in his own Department, should have noticed the findings of John Graham, which were published in Home Office research bulletin No. 26 of 1989, which states:
Since the ability of families to function effectively is thought to be a crucial determinant in preventing juvenile delinquency, there is an increasingly pressing need to determine how policies to support families and parents can be developed.
Clause 21, which provides that the courts may apply to have fines recovered by deduction from income support, puts precisely the kind of pressure on families that the research of the Home Office itself shows to be likely to lead to delinquency. If such deductions are tolerable, they should be considered, as in cases of rent default, only if they are voluntarily agreed by the defendant——
On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. I do not want to interrupt the hon. Gentleman's speech, but there has been a happening outside the Chamber, of which we are all aware, and which has enormous implications, especially for the people of Scotland. Parts of the Bill relate to the ability to pay certain fines. The right hon. Member for Henley (Mr. Heseltine) made part of his plea for the leadership of his party the question of the ability to pay the poll tax. There is clearly no majority in the House for that tax, which was imposed on the people of Scotland by an Act that was passed in this Parliament in 1987.I take it that the Government and the Opposition will move immediately to have that Act, which was imposed on the people of Scotland, removed from the statute book. We should take immediate steps to suspend the House——
On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. Have you had notice from the Leader of the House to announce the verdict of the election for the Conservative leader, in which the Prime Minister got 204 votes and the challenger 152? In the circumstances—in the absence of any clear Government—is not it time that the Leader of the House came to the House, announced a dissolution and called a general election?
Further to that point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. I quite appreciate the excitement on Opposition Benches—there is a fair amount on Conservative Benches. Anticipating catching your eye, Madam Deputy Speaker, and knowing of your experience on the stage, it reminds one of being the comic who comes on before the strippers at the Windmill. The Bill that we are considering is important—indeed, by common consent it is the most important of this Session—and it is entirely inappropriate to delay our further consideration—[Interruption.]
Order. While I am in the Chair, the business of the House will not be delayed. What happens outside the Chamber is, of course, interesting and a distraction, but it is not for debate in the Chamber. I call Mr. Maclennan.
Is it in order at this stage, Madam Deputy Speaker, to move, That the Question be now put, so that the Government and the Leader of the House can have an early opportunity to come before the House to make a statement about the Government's intention with respect to the poll tax because, obviously, the Government no longer have a majority for it in the House? If it is in order to do so, I should like to move the Question.
On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. You will know that this evening the Opposition have tabled a motion of no confidence in the Government. That motion reflects the national feeling that a Government who are split by bitter civil war should resign. The House is now put in a quandary. We know that Conservative Members no longer support the Prime Minister, but we do not know whom, if anyone, they will recommend to replace her. Tonight Britain is effectively leaderless. The House of Commons must clearly debate those unprecedented circumstances, and precedent requires that a debate on a no confidence motion be tabled at the earliest possible opportunity. I therefore ask that the date of the debate, and, for that matter, who will speak in it to defend the Government's position, be announced to the House at 10 o'clock tonight.
Order. I was about to say to the House that I am, of course, aware that a censure motion has been tabled by the Leader of the Opposition. I have more than an inkling that the usual channels will be hot-foot operating on it right at this moment and that a statement will be made to the House at the earliest opportunity.
On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. All hon. Members are aware of what is happening. My right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Spark brook (Mr. Hattersley) has read out a statement. Surely, in such circumstances it is not good enough for the Minister who happens to be on the Government Front Bench to say that he will draw the attention of the Leader of the House to the motion of no confidence in the Government. The Leader of the House should be here. I ask the Minister to ask the Leader of the House to come to the Chamber and make a statement about——
Order. We cannot continue with points of order that are irrelevant to the business before us—[Interruption.] Order. Hon. Members have heard what I had to say on this matter. It is being discussed through the usual channels. As soon as the Leader of the House is ready to make a statement, he will do so.
Further to that point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. Surely we cannot proceed with business as usual as though nothing has happened. We are in an unprecedented position because the Prime Minister does not enjoy the support of the majority of the House. We cannot continue as though nothing has happened. The Leader of the House has now come to the Chamber. Surely he has already prepared statement A and statement B to deal with all possible eventualities. The eventuality is now clear—the Prime Minister has lost the confidence of the House. We await an appropriate statement from the Leader of the House.
I am as anxious as anyone to proceed with the debate, and that can be easily achieved. The Leader of the House knows that we have asked for, and are entitled to, a date for the debate on the motion of no confidence, and for the names of those who will speak for the Government in that debate. The right hon. Gentleman has only to get up and tell us that, and we can then continue with the debate.
Further to that point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. I agree with the right hon. Gentleman that it is important to continue with this important debate. It may assist the House if I say that I intend to make a business statement at 10 o'clock.
Perhaps we can now proceed with the debate. I call Mr. Maclennan—[Interruption.] Order. Would those hon. Members who are leaving the Chamber do so quietly, so that we can at least continue with the business before us?
It was, perhaps, ironic that the moment that the hon. Member for Dunfermline, West (Mr. Douglas) raised his point of order, I was about to commend to the Minister the Scottish model and manner for dealing with parental involvement in the sentencing process, which should involve a round-table discussion by the children's panel. I believe that that proposal is greatly preferred to the new measures that the Bill seeks to impose on parents. In particular, the Bill's proposals for the binding over of parents of young offenders have not met with the widespread approval of many sentencers, so the Government should reconsider clauses 47 and 48.
It is a matter of the utmost urgency that we do not simply tinker with the remand and sentencing system for juveniles in the custody of the prison department. The Home Secretary intervened earlier to say that, as I understood it, the Government intended to move towards ending the remand and sentencing policy that has led to the appalling suicides of young people in our prisons—not only in Armley prison in Leeds, but in a number of other prisons. What has been happening is not simply an intolerable aberration from the high standards of our prison service, but something that calls into question the policies for the sentencing of juveniles and their detention within the prison system.
Most people are deeply shocked by what has happened. The report by Judge Tumim on Armley prison is confirmation, if that were needed, that the present system is badly in need of overhaul. I hope that, before the Bill is enacted, that matter will have been dealt with both adequately and terminally.
As I said, the Bill marks out a new policy and departs from the old policy in a way that could lead to the prison population falling to levels commensurate with those of comparable European countries. We are far behind them in that respect and we have a long way to go. In so far as the Bill assists that, it will enjoy the support of my right hon. and hon. Friends. Its deficiencies, which are more of omission than commission, will not lead us to vote against its Second Reading.
I wish first to deal with a matter that was raised by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Burton (Mr. Lawrence), and which was taken up by the right hon. and learned Member for Warley, West (Mr. Archer)—the existence or otherwise of racial discrimination in disposals. Contrary to the view expressed by my hon. and learned Friend, it is of great concern that the statistics published by the Home Office —and I stress the fact that they are published by the Home Office—show that there is troubling evidence of differential disposal methods for ethnic minorities. It does not greatly assist us to pretend that those differences arise simply for socio-economic reasons unrelated to race. I am sure that my right hon. Friend the Minister is greatly concerned about that and will do everything possible to ensure that that discrimination, if it exists, is eradicated.
I am concerned that Opposition Members who have adduced that evidence, and leapt from that to a sentencing council, have missed the point. The point is not the existence or otherwise of discrimination. If it exists, it is intolerable and should be immediately eradicated. I am sure that no Conservative or Opposition Member would tolerate such discrimination. However, we are considering whether the current mechanisms to oversee sentencing now need to be swept aside and replaced by a sentencing council, and of that I am much less sure. The right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) made it clear that his proposed sentencing council would examine the records of courts and judges, presumably to ensure that their sentencing and their disposals were broadly in line with what would be expected. Of course, that would simply identify exactly the same aberrations, such as they are, as are currently being identified by the Home Office and published by it. After all, the statistics on racial discrimination or otherwise have come from the Home Office.
More importantly, there currently exists a mechanism that includes the Court of Appeal's guidelines, the Magistrates Association's tariff guidelines and other guidelines on sentencing, of which courts are asked to take account. The problem is obvious to anyone who has had any experience of disposals in courts. Each case is rightly treated, either by lay magistrates or by professional judges, as an individual case. Judges rightly endeavour to fit the sentence to the crime.
In remand cases, for example, individual judgments must be made of the status of the individuals who are likely to be eligible for, or rather suffer from, remand in custody. What is much less clear, however, is that a sentencing council could effect remand disposals. If we extrapolate that into actual disposals after conviction, would that council provide us with any better framework than that which exists? I have an open mind on this issue and I look forward to the debates we shall have on it in Committee or on Report. I would support anything that positively prevented the present anomalies that occasionally occur in sentencing. I am, however, unconvinced of the merits of the sentencing council, even bearing in mind the serious situation that underpins the basic thrust of the argument.
I am happy to extend a warm welcome to the Bill. I believe that the restrictions on imposing custodial sentences—those which the White Paper accurately suggests are so serious that only a custodial sentence is justified—are a move in the right direction.
As chairman of Crime Concern, I speak to many audiences about crime and criminality in society. One of the most warming developments in recent years has been the universal recognition that longer sentences do not necessarily lead to a reduction in crime. It is right, however, to follow the evidence that suggests that sentences should be longer for violent offences. I am afraid that there is little or no evidence, however, to suggest that simply longer sentences do anything to prevent the resentment and the process of alienation that so often occurs when a prisoner is incarcerated for a long time.
When all the arguments about the function of punishment have been stripped down and we have gone through the elements of recrimination and society's need for catharsis, there remains one cardinal element in our criminal disposals and punishments—they must be designed to ensure that those who offend do not offend again. With that in mind, I greatly approve of my right hon. and learned Friend's proposals. I believe that they are a move in the right direction and, in many ways, they are overdue.
I warmly applaud the introduction of curfew orders and the attendant electronic monitoring. That is entirely right, as it is clear that we need a greater menu of creative disposals so that in appropriate cases—those convicted persons who should not necessarily be sent to an institution—people should be subject to restrictions on liberty that fall short of incarceration in an institution. I believe that there are many reasons why first offenders in almost every category should avoid being sent to an institution if possible. Such creative disposals would still powerfully demonstrate that the person concerned is subject to a special regime.
I have noted the argument that curfew orders and attendant electronic monitoring somehow infringe on civil liberties. I am one of the few Conservative Members to be an acknowledged supporter of the National Council for Civil Liberties. As the Conservative chairman of the Campaign for Freedom of Information, I first met my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary seven and a half years ago when we argued about the merits or demerits of the Data Protection Act 1984. We clashed on a number of occasions—to my personal cost ever since. With such credentials, spurious or otherwise, I see not one whit of evidence to suggest that electronic tagging and curfew orders in any sense infringe on civil liberties. I intervened earlier to cite the clear statement in paragraph 4.22 of the White Paper which states that it is only appropriate to use such a disposal when restrictions on liberty are justified by the offence. I am sure that my right hon. Friend the Minister of State would be the first to agree that it is vital that that precondition is attendant on every use of the curfew order. It should be an occasion on which some restriction on liberty is justified by the nature of the offence.
I hope that the House is listening with great care to my hon. Friend. Among hon. Members on both sides of the House, my hon. Friend, above all people, has a considerable reputation as someone who believes in civil liberties. Did my hon. Friend spot the muddle that became apparent as Opposition Members contributed to the debate? It appears that they believe that electronic monitoring is a punishment. But the sentence of the court is the punishment. Electronic monitoring is a way to ensure, with deadly and complete accuracy, whether the punishment is adhered to. It is not a punishment in itself.
My right hon. Friend is right. Curfew orders and the attendant electronic tagging would be one of a creative menu of disposals which would follow a conviction for an offence. It is spurious to believe that that would have a peculiar impact on individual civil liberties —an impact which, apparently, a sentence of imprisonment does not have. That is ludicrous nonsense and, in all honesty, I do not believe that it is intellectually sustainable.
I am surprised at the hon. Gentleman. In many respects, a number of us admire some of the things he does, especially in the work of Crime Concern. The hon. Gentleman must be aware, however, that, within the range of informed opinion, that organisation stands alone in favour of electronic tagging. All other reputable groups are against it.
Crime Concern does a lot of good work in social crime prevention and the hon. Gentleman knows that if one is to understand such crime prevention one must understand the nature of the offender's family. One of the reasons why we oppose tagging is that it is a sentence on the family, not the individual. If one considers individual rights to include the rights of family members, one must accept that tagging will——
Subject to your strictures, Madam Deputy Speaker, I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his remarks about Crime Concern. I have been asked by the director of Crime Concern to make it absolutely clear that, on this matter, I speak for myself. I am not speaking for the board of Crime Concern, which includes the hon. Gentleman's colleague, the hon. Member for Leicester, East (Mr. Vaz), or for the directorate of that splendid organisation with which I am privileged to continue my association.
I hope to refer to other aspects of social crime prevention later, but I would be as opposed as the hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr. Sheerman) to electronic monitoring and curfew orders if I did not see them as an alternative to custody. In particular, I believe that any prospect of allowing people to live in their own home is infinitely preferable to the often inadequate conditions for remand persons in prison. Those conditions are acknowledged to be among the worst in our system, rather than the best. I believe that it is an immense advantage to allow people to be remanded to their homes.
One is being short-sighted if one does not appreciate that there can be alternatives to either liberty or custody that allow us to deal with those persons for whom a restriction of liberty is an appropriate disposition which prevents them from joining the university of crime. In talking about social crime prevention the one thing that one must recognise about prison is that when young people go to prison for the first time they are taught how to avoid coming back a second time. They are not taught that that is achieved by not re-offending; rather, they are taught to be a little bit cleverer the next time. That university of crime impact is immensely damaging to our social fabric, and anything we can do in different ways to deal with people who would otherwise have their freedom restricted is desirable.
One must add a rider to such statements. Much has been made of the technical efficiency or otherwise of the tags that we employ at present. I spent some time in the United States examining the issue of tagging, and I heard no complaint about the technical quality of the equipment. So it is probable that we shall be able to develop equipment which is serviceable and capable of withstanding, so to speak, a little damage.
I am told that the Whips' Office has 372 versions on order, perhaps in the light of developments this evening.
I assure the hon. Member for Huddersfield that I would not approve of the wholesale use of this type of apparatus until it had been well tried and tested. But it is feeble to argue against the technology because there may have been a few technical failures in the first batch. While we must get the technology right, it is generally agreed that not the technology but the principle behind it is vital. The question is whether it is an appropriate instrument to use, and, having listened with interest to the remarks of the hon. Member for Huddersfield, I believe that it is a useful piece of apparatus, particularly for first-time and young offenders.
Unlike most interventions from Conservative Members, this will be a short one. Is the hon. Gentleman happy that children will be tagged and have to go to school wearing such obvious devices?
I am happy to rely on the section in the White Paper dealing with whether restrictions are justified, which is the important precondition. I am not sure that a schoolchild would be the subject of a monitoring device. But if the court decided that that was the desirable course, if restrictions on an individual's liberty are justified, most people would prefer electronic monitoring to remand in custody or a period of imprisonment. I do not see anything exceptional about that. In the spirit of trying to keep youngsters, in particular, out of prison, alternatives to custody are greatly to be welcomed.
We kid ourselves if we do not recognise that there will be difficulties in implementing alternatives to custody. As the right hon. Member for Sparkbrook said, there is in the probation service a culture that is particularly appropriate to probation. Although probation officers are to be invited to be part of alternative community-based sentencing, I am not sure that that is an appropriate way to use the probation service.
Probation officers have a special and separate role which should be respected. The cultural divide between that role and the necessary regimes for some community-based alternatives to prison would be too great for them to jump. Equally, I do not relish the idea of members of the Prison Officers Association staffing the new schemes.
In the end, we shall probably have to create a separate, third force, perhaps formed of ex-service personnel and others who understand the discipline necessary to handle these issues. Not only will such people appreciate the need to make the new schemes truly effective, but the public will know that they are not providing a soft option. That new force will act in a sphere between the probation service and the Prison Officers Association.
Community acceptance is the vital concept. Up to now, too many magistrates, particularly lay magistrates, have refused to use community service orders because, to borrow a phrase from the Secretary of State, they have been seen as a slap on the wrist. The result is that such orders have never achieved the value that should have been attributed to them.
While all the new moves, not forgetting the proposals on parental responsibility, are to be welcomed, the hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Mr. Maclennan) spoke about the crucial part of the Bill and, to some extent, its crucial weakness, and the statistics sum it up. During 1990 about 20 million offences will be committed in Britain. About a fifth of those—over 4 million—will be recorded by the police. The other 16 million will not be recorded by them. About 95 per cent. of those crimes will concern property and over half of them will be committed by young men aged 21 or younger. A larger number of them will be opportunistic crimes and be highly preventable. A third of all those convicted of criminal offences will be aged under 17. The peak age of offending, particularly if we strip out the impact of young people being cautioned, is still about 15 for both sexes. The average age of burglars is nearer 15 than 20 and the offences are usually committed within a mile or so of their homes. Over a quarter of all auto crime is committed by youngsters in the 10 to 16 age range. In urban areas, one young man in three has come in contact with the police on a criminal matter before reaching his 17th birthday.
Everything in the Bill, welcome though it is, will not avoid that situation continuing. It will help, but we have a long way to go yet and the path ahead is clear. The hon. Member for Huddersfield referred to the work of Crime Concern. I pay tribute to the Home Secretary, to the Minister of State and to the present Foreign Secretary for their unswerving support for that splendid organisation, which I am proud to chair but take none of the operational credit for. That work is due entirely to Nigel Whiskin and John Bright and the splendid team at Swindon.
They have developed some splendid ways of dealing with youngsters, preferably before they become criminals. The team has pointed the direction in which local authorities, police forces and voluntary bodies throughout the country can come to terms with crime in their communities. Only by dealing with these issues at the community level shall we come to terms with the problems of criminality in society.
At present, we rely on considerable funding from the private sector to accompany the more than generous grant from the Home Office. But it is generous only in the context of the work that we have done in recent years. Considering the cost of keeping people in custody—never less than £12,000 a year in any regime, however lenient, and up to £30,000 for offenders in close custody—all economic sense points to making a huge investment in youngsters at an early age.
We have an opportunity to break through the vicious cycle of criminality that begins virtually at birth and ends when the person concerned becomes a parent. To know where a 15-year-old develops the attitudes that cause him to become an offender, we must examine his environment, even before he can look over the dining room table. We are speaking of attitudes learnt at home, in school and while at play on street corners. The issue of how well they play, how constructively they employ their time and how they are kept from getting into trouble and becoming another statistic in the criminal justice system is absolutely vital.
In a splendid speech to the Conservative conference at Blackpool a couple of years ago, my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary drew a vivid analogy involving the tree that grows straight and the tree that grows crookedly. He said that the determining factor in whether the tree grew straight or crooked was how it was treated when it was a sapling. That analogy is as true now as it ever was. If we do not recognise that we must bridge resources from dealing with conviction and expensive disposal and start putting more of them into prevention, particularly youth prevention, all the evidence in the world shows that we shall not crack the problem.
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that if we were to include the statistics of stolen cars and thefts from vehicles in Northern Ireland, the figure would be well over 1 million? Does he agree that whichever Government are in power, they must continually press motor manufacturers to ensure that, as far as possible, there is greater security in all motor vehicles?
The hon. Gentleman is entirely right to draw attention to the problem of vehicle theft in Northern Ireland and the rest of the country. One point I never cease to make is that if we look at tables of crime and consider how we compare internationally, we see that Great Britain, particularly England and Wales, is virtually bottom of every league of crime. That is something about which we should say a great deal more. Unfortunately, the fear of crime in our society is greater than the incidence of crime merits. Hon. Members on both sides of the House should be responsible enough to promote that fact as much as possible. As the hon. Gentleman will know, the irony is that auto crime breaks all those rules and is probably higher in Britain than in any other country except the United States. The auto industry must do something about that.
I have talked about Government involvement in funding youth crime prevention, but I also mentioned that my organisation receives a great deal of support from private enterprise. As corporate citizens, private enterprise can do a great deal to help prevent opportunistic crime. Some 90 per cent. of auto crime is purely opportunistic. Until now, security has not been a selling feature. It has been better to put go-faster stripes on the side of a car than to make sure that the car is fitted with proper locks. It is incredible that it is still derisorily easy to open a modern car and take it away. Perhaps there is more evidence of felonious intent thereafter in Northern Ireland than on the mainland of Britain, but in each country such theft often results in considerable damage and cost to the victim of that crime.
I thank my hon. Friend for giving way to me a second time.
Does he agree that, notwithstanding the important points made by the hon. Member for Antrim, East (Mr. Beggs), in general terms, crime rates in Northern Ireland are considerably lower than those on the mainland when we set aside dreadful terrorist events? We should pay tribute to the population of the Province for what they have done to contribute to that and for the way in which they bring up their young people.
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for reminding the House of that. It is important to bear in mind that England and Wales are virtually bottom of all crime leagues and Scotland, identified separately, is at about the same level—occasionally below and occasionally above England and Wales. In Northern Ireland the position is much more complicated by the incidence of terrorist crime. In general, my right hon. Friend's observations are entirely correct. We must continue to reassure every section of the community. The constituents of the right hon. Member for Sparkbrook include elderly people who are made prisoners in their own homes entirely because of a fear of crime that is not justified by the crime rate around them. They are 14 times more likely to be the victims of road accidents than of muggings in any city centre in England and Wales.
I shall return to what was to have been the most platitudinous peroration on record in the House——
Perhaps it is not the most platitudinous. I, too, have listened to the odd speech of the right hon. Member for Sparkbrook.
We need constantly to remind ourselves that expense on detection, conviction and disposal is an admission of failure to have made enough young trees grow straight, of parental control, influence at school and social influence in the community on a young person's life. We can no longer continue to accept that failure. We must start doing something about it and the key to that is to invest more, both from the private sector and, at the risk of incurring the wrath of my right hon. Friend the Minister, the public sector. We must invest in youth crime prevention that is designed to reach the heart of criminality.
With that reservation, I extend a warm welcome to the Bill, which seems to have begun a trend in the creative management of criminality that has not been seen for many years. It is a considerable piece of work and I shall look forward to considering it in further detail during its passage through the House.
The Bill raises many issues, and I intend tonight to deal only with that section involving children's evidence.
While the law refuses to listen to the evidence of children in our courts, there can be no real justice in this country. Many Members of this House and of the other place, strongly supported by many organisations and individuals, have argued and battled to enable children's voices to be heard in our legal system. In the past three years great strides have been made that have been described as revolutionary in evidence law—not before time.
The Criminal Justice Act 1988 changed the law to introduce the system of video links so that children no longer had to appear in court in the presence of the person they were accusing, but could be cross-examined in another room, linked by a video camera. The Act also contains important changes in the law of corroboration in children's unsworn evidence that recognise that, by its very nature, child sex abuse takes place mainly on a one-to-one basis, most often out of sight of another adult.
I welcome the proposal in clause 42 which is designed to abolish the competency requirement as it now exists. That will mean that children will be allowed to give unsworn evidence. However, I reserve judgment on the wording of the clause until I hear the Minister's explanation of
the power of the court in any criminal proceedings to determine that a particular person is not competent to give evidence shall apply to children of tender years as it applies to other persons.
I am not certain that it has been recognised that children are different from adults and do not have the same capacity to understand words such as "duty to speak the truth." I certainly believe that all children should be listened to, regardless of their age or maturity.
Clause 43 allows the Director of Public Prosecutions to transfer cases, where sufficient evidence exists, directly to the Crown court rather than going through a magistrates court in the first instance, which is to be welcomed in principle. It would certainly reduce the time that cases take to come to court.
Clause 45 will prevent the person accused of child abuse from personally cross-examining the child, which must surely be welcomed by everyone. Clause 44 allows a video recording of an interview with the child to be given in evidence, subject to the court's power to exclude evidence that is inadmissible or, in the interest of justice, should be excluded. All that is good news, for it should make it easier to convict child molesters and, as has been proved elsewhere, it could lead to the accused person confessing after seeing the tape of the child's evidence. The tape will also mean that the child will not have to go through the trauma of retelling the story of the alleged abuse, often months after the initial interview.
The Bill, however, seems to suggest that video recordings can be available as evidence only if the child is available for cross-examination in court.
When other hon. Members and I first submitted amendments to change the law on the giving of evidence by children, during proceedings on the Criminal Justice Bills of 1987 and 1988, I was prepared to concede that in the interests of justice to the accused this was perhaps the only answer. I no longer think that it is. In 1988 the Home Secretary established an advisory group to consider the use of video evidence. It was chaired by Judge Thomas Pigot, and it reported in December 1989.
The report concluded that very young children ought never to be required to appear in public as witnesses in the Crown court. To overcome that, the report promised that once the prosecution was allowed to produce a video recording as evidence it should be allowed as of right to apply for the child witness to be examined and cross-examined at an out-of-court hearing which would itself be video recorded and later shown to the trial judge. I strongly support that suggestion. I understand that a similar procedure is widely used in America, where not only the video recording but also a transcript of the recording is presented to the jury. That seems very sensible.
Although I welcome the progress made in this Bill, I, together with many other people, much regret the fact that the Government have not seen fit to implement in full the Pigot report, for the reforms that it contained provided up-to-date justice in our courts. But there will be other days and other Criminal Justice Bills, and we will not go away until we are satisfied that children, regardless of their age, receive justice in our courts.
I welcome the opportunity to speak briefly, in the sure and certain knowledge that the increase in crime is causing grave concern to my constituents and other people in this country. The Bill introduces a new and more suitable framework for dealing with offenders in the light of that concern. The maintenance of law and order and respect for the law of the land are part of my political philosophy, and they are given high priority in the policies of the Government.
The growth in crime rates is not restricted to Britain; I am aware that the same problems exist world wide. We have one of the lowest overall crime rates, and the lowest incidence of violent crime in western Europe. Our society is generally much less violent than those of north America and Australia. But knowledge of those facts is no consolation to the elderly pensioner who dare not venture out of his or her house after dark; or to the parents of young children who fear for their safety on the way to or from school, or to and from other activities; or to those whose homes have been broken into and whose personal possessions have been removed—some of them irreplaceable because of their sentimental value.
We are all much more aware of the incidence of crime because of instant communications in the media. Watching the distressed mother of an abducted child appealing for its return on television makes a much greater impression than reading about the event in the newspapers the following day.
What are the causes of the increased level of crime? The psychologists tell us that poverty causes crime, yet today we enjoy a standard of living higher than ever before in our history. We are told that lack of education causes crime, yet our education system has never been so open or funded so generously. Opposition Members may disagree, but when the Labour party was in office it could not fund these services to the degree that they are funded today.
I am sure that the hon. Lady appreciates that the gap between the rich and the poor has steadily widened under this Government and that that is a major factor which has contributed to the present high crime rates.
I hear the hon. Gentleman's point, but the social security system is working much better. The hon. Gentleman may have meant his point genuinely but I hope to show other areas in which society has gone wrong and failed our young people. I shall, for instance, point to the statistics given by my hon. Friend the Member for Epping Forest (Mr. Norris), who spoke about the crimes committed by young people.
Crime is caused by several factors deeply rooted in our society. First, it is caused by simple greed. It is also caused by a lack of discipline and of self-discipline and exacerbated by the breakdown of the traditional family unit. That breakdown has been encouraged by liberal elements to the detriment of society, and by the fact that the difference between right and wrong is not inculcated in our children at home or at school to the same extent that it once was. The churches have contributed to that glaring omission because they have failed to promote and provide a strong moral lead for the nation.
Crime prevention has been successfully tackled and promoted by the Government. In my constituency as elsewhere the neighbourhood watch schemes have been a great success. However, people must not relax; they must be eternally vigilant about reporting suspicious behaviour to the police.
There are more police now and they are better paid and better served, but even so more are needed to present a higher profile in public places, reassuring the public of their presence. Moves have been made to release police from administrative and desk duties by substituting them in those tasks by others. That has resulted in more police being available for duties more commensurate with their skills and training. That, too, is to be welcomed.
Several clauses deal with major criticisms from the public, who want the sentencing of offenders to reflect the seriousness of their crimes. They want violent and sexual offenders to have their past records taken into consideration when they are sentenced. They want such offenders to serve their sentences. In the past, when criminals have been let loose on an unsuspecting public far too early—in some cases they have re-offended with tragic results—it has made a mockery of our criminal justice system.
I welcome the moves to differentiate more distinctly between crimes against the person and those against property. We do not want our prisons cluttered with offenders on whom more suitable sentences could be imposed. It is vital that community orders, probation and curfew orders be seen not to be the soft option: they must be rigorously enforced. If any punishment is to succeed in its purpose, it must make the offender deeply regret the crime committed, and that process must take place before any rehabilitation can be instigated.
I welcome the prison building programme, but I fear, from what I have seen on television about the insides of our new prisons, that life inside may well be too cushy. I have never believed in degrading members of the human race by overcrowding and by the insanitary conditions endured in our older prisons, but nor do I consider that prisoners should exist under anything but the most rigorous regime.
I welcome the provisions to make parents more responsible for their children, and I hope that other Government Departments will follow suit in their policies on this matter. I think particularly of the Department of Health, which has in the past undermined parental responsibility for under-age girls who may be the victims of illegal sexual activity. Either parents are responsible for their children or they are not. The Government cannot have it both ways. If parents are unwilling or unable to exercise authority over their children—that happens—others must be brought in to do just that.
Parents will respond positively to the Bill's provisions. Cruelty, neglect and violence to children, including sexual offences, must be considered to be among the most serious of all. Video evidence is vital if there is to be any conviction for crimes against small children. The sooner the child can have its reactions recorded the better. The sooner the case can be brought before the courts the better. The child cannot begin to rebuild its life and security until those traumas are over. The Bill's provisions will assist considerably in convicting those guilty of such horrific crimes as the sexual abuse of children, with the addition of the appropriate safeguards mentioned by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Burton (Mr. Lawrence).
There are some omissions from the Bill. Some crimes are so horrendous that civilised society has to to take what might be considered by some to be uncivilised action. The option of imposing the death penalty should be restored to the courts. In every vote on the subject since I was elected in 1983, I have voted in favour of the ultimate deterrent. I have not changed my mind. If there is an opportunity to do so, I shall remain consistent on that vital issue. My view is shared by millions of law-abiding citizens.
I do not agree with the remarks of the hon. Member for Congleton (Mrs. Winterton) at the end of her speech. I invite her, the Home Secretary and the House to look at what works when we try to find solutions to crime.
I have some knowledge and experience of certain matters covered by the Bill. I refer in particular to my experience with young people. Like my right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley), I welcome the fact that there are positive elements in the Bill that will command the support of all parts of the House. We all want sentencing to be effective. We want to prevent crime. We want the courts to operate more effectively. What, however, do those words mean? The Government still have not grasped the ancient wisdom contained in such ancient saws as
Prevention is better than cure",
The devil makes work for idle hands",
Don't spoil the ship for a ha'porth of tar".
The Home Secretary asked me earlier about the kind of world that I live in which has led me to my conclusions
about the crime problem. For two decades I worked with juvenile offenders. I have worked among inner-city communities that have experienced the worst effects of crime. I was chairman of the juvenile bench in Cardiff. It is one of the largest juvenile benches in the country. For many years I was a member of a probation committee. I was the first chairman of the Wales intermediate treatment forum, which sought to bring together police, magistrates, social workers, schools, youth workers and others to tackle the problems that the Bill is meant to address. I lived in a world where the lives of young people were ruined because of their involvement in crime.
What sort of world, I wonder, does the Home Secretary live in? He made me wonder about that when he spoke earlier this evening. To judge by "Dod's Parliamentary Companion", it seems to be a world limited to court experience. What happens in court is important for the prevention of crime, but it is important only if it is relevant and addresses experience in the outside world. It is important only if it works when seeking to deal with crime prevention and crime punishment. Experience teaches us that legislation is not enough. The court system in this country does not need a quick fix. Prevention is not a cheap option. Commitment and care are needed. In making those comments, I echo some of the points made by the hon. Member for Epping Forest (Mr. Norris). The Government must provide the resources and encourage a partnership approach if crime prevention and crime are to be tackled properly.
When I asked the Home Secretary about prevention, he prayed in aid his support of the expansion of neighbourhood watch schemes. That is a sensible response to a problem in a local community, but it is no substitute for proper, well-structured and targeted work in a community, or for the lack of a police presence. The Home Secretary said that police numbers had increased, but the police are frustrated by the increased amount of paperwork and by not having the resources to do the job. The Home Secretary will be responsible for undermining police morale even further if he ignores that fact. He appeared to ignore it when he spoke earlier.
I agree with recent remarks made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Sparkbrook. He said that crime prevention does not strictly fall within the definition of criminal justice matters. That is a major problem. It could, and it should. My right hon. Friend said:
in the minds of the general public, as in my own mind, we cannot divorce the way in which offenders are caught, treated and punished from the need to reduce the level of crime itself.
He commented on the crime epidemic that we are experiencing, but I agree with the hon. Member for Epping Forest who suggested that we should not overstate it. It is a comparative epidemic. I agree with his statistics.
The Home Secretary referred to chapter 9 of the White Paper on resources and costs. It does not refer, however, to prevention. Reference is made to resources to expand community penalties, but community penalties are under-resourced. Reference is made to £15,800 a year to keep an offender in custody, to the fact that the successful completion of 100 hours of community service costs less than £450 for each offender and to the fact that supervision under a probation order costs about £1,000 a year for each offender. The White Paper continues:
the more intensive the supervision, the greater the cost.
That is right, but the greater the cost, as long as the money is well used, the greater the effectiveness. The less
intensively that it is used the more likely is it that the community-based option will fail. Failure is inordinately expensive. The price of failure is the committal of further crimes and additional problems and burdens for our communities.
The Bill refers to additional resources for social inquiry reports. The cost is estimated at £2·5 million for the 11,250 reports that will have to be made. A request has been made for more information about the figures. We want to be sure that they have not been plucked out of the air.
A social inquiry report goes nowhere on its own. It must have a purpose and a target and must be made in the context of a court where creative actions are taken, particularly when young people come before it. The court atmosphere can be constructive. I know from my own experience that sentencing can be the result of a team approach when it is targeted at what will work for young people, thus avoiding the burden of additional crime as young people are tempted into further criminality. That does not necessarily happen. The Government are responsible for providing the resources and creating the context within which court experience can be positive, and not another negative experience for young people which is more likely to lead to an acceleration of their criminal careers.
The Bill ought to address probation, sentencing, punishment, the protection of the public and the diversion of young people from committing crimes. The Bill does not reflect any Government enthusiasm to make community-based options work effectively for the benefit of society as a whole. It contains references to curfew orders. Superficially, that is an attractive option. I can think of cases where curfew orders could be useful and effective, but most probation officers and others who work in the community with offenders regard measures such as curfew orders and electronic monitoring as misguided and unproductive. They believe that constructive measures are far more likely to divert offenders from committing further crimes. We ought to concentrate on measures that work, instead of getting hung up on electronic tagging. It is interesting to note that the courts appear to agree.
Curfew requirements have been available for juvenile offenders since 1983, but are hardly ever used. They are used only by the more creative sentencers in most particular circumstances. I hope that the Minister will ask why that is so. If we are to have this order, let us look at the expectations and the practice to be followed in its use. It appears that these are ideas devised by Ministers and lawyers. Such ideas do not necessarily work. They can play up to popular prejudice, but, in relation to juvenile crime in our society now, we need solutions that work. Above all, we need team work. There is mutual frustration among the police, magistrates, social workers, probation officers and others at working in a system which is so fragmented and which ultimately does not work. It needs the weight and authority of the Home Secretary and the Government to make a team approach work.
I was involved about 15 years ago in a project in South Glamorgan entitled "Working together for children and their families". The lessons learnt from that project are as valid today as they ever were. One thing that has not been done successfully is to create in each of our big towns and cities, particularly, the sort of teamwork necessary to combat crime. That will not be achieved simply by legislation. It must be achieved by placing resources in the right places.
I agree with the hon. Member for Epping Forest about the value of diverting young people away from ascending the ladder of crime into the universities of crime. In recent years, the most successful approaches to reducing juvenile crime have been constructive supervised activity schemes. Such schemes work to steer delinquents away from crime and—this is important in relation to the comments of the hon. Member for Congleton—to involve parents in taking more responsibility for their children's behaviour. It is not enough to say in law that parents should take responsibility for their children's behaviour. It is not enough to put it in an Act or for the Home Secretary to tell parents what to do. The atmosphere must be created in which parents are persuaded and enabled to take greater responsibility for their children. That approach has proved to be much more effective than punitive measures. We should concentrate on promoting positive approaches to working with delinquents and reinforcing parental responsibility, rather than relying on punitive measures which are fraught with problems and are likely to be counter-productive. I regret that the Government's approach smacks of the Prime Minister's approach, which is to tell everybody, whatever their professional knowledge and experience, how things should work, rather than recognising the reality of what happens in our community.
Resources must be used in that direction and I plead with the Government and Conservative Members to persuade the Home Secretary to do just that. There is a need for the resources referred to in the White Paper not just for probation but for several related agencies, because criminal justice is not an isolated activity. It takes place not on an island but in the society in which people live. The courts must relate to that society if they are to work effectively. For instance, there is an inverse correlation between the provision of youth service in a community and the amount of criminal activity. Therefore, it is sensible to ensure that our communities have good youth work provision. That is part of creating a healthy society and a healthy society is one in which crime is discouraged by the context in which people live.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for pinpointing precisely the point I wanted Ministers to hear today.
I worked in an inter-agency team in Cardiff for a number of years. We succeeded in identifying and working with youngsters before they got into trouble. We received a great deal of praise for our efforts. The annual report of the probation committee referred to the reduction in crime in that area. What happened? In the following year, probation resources were withdrawn because there were not as many young people offending. We had succeeded in doing what my hon. Friend the Member for St. Helens, South (Mr. Bermingham) suggested. We identified potential offenders at an early stage and provided positive alternatives in the community to divert them from ever needing to become involved in the criminal system. My hon. Friend the Member for St. Helens, South is right and I hope that Ministers will take that point on board. The probation service had to withdraw resources because fewer people were coming to court and the figures did not meet the requirements of the Government through the Home Office.
The Government now say that there are sufficient probation officers. That is in theory only. The Home Secretary said that sufficient support and the necessary resources will be provided to back up the Bill. The White Paper identified certain resources but did nothing to address the gaps in provision to which I and my hon. Friend the Member for St. Helens, South have referred. If the Home Secretary wants to provide the resources, for God's sake, let us ask him not to take an accountant's estimate or statistician's figure but to look at creative initiatives that have worked in the community and listen to those who have tried to make them work and take their advice on the resources and continuity required.
The Children Act 1989 referred to delay and pointed out that delay is prejudicial to the interests of a child. Will the Government take that on board in relation to young offenders? Anybody who has sat in a juvenile court for a considerable time will have seen a youngster who, when asked, "Did you plead guilty or not guilty?", says, "What is that?" When a description is given the youngster then says, "I don't know. I can't remember because it's so long ago." It is impossible to tackle the root of criminal activity if the case comes before the court so long after the event that the youngster, never mind the police and witnesses, has forgotten the activities that led to the court appearance. There is no mention in the Bill of the prejudicial nature of delay to young children. Will the Minister take that on board and consider an amendment in Committee to emphasise, for all those concerned with the criminal justice system, that delay is prejudicial to the young offender, the victim and potential victims if the offender continues a career in crime?
An academic who looked at the terms of the Bill identified the danger of an increase in the time taken as a result of the provisions in the Bill. Some of the measures that I regard as positive might contribute to that sort of delay and that would be a tragedy. Will the Minister consider that? I ask him please to consider repeating in relation to juvenile offenders the strictures of the Children Act 1989.
On contracting out, my experience in juvenile courts of replacing the police with the Crown prosecution service was a disaster. It removed one or two police officers who were regularly in the juvenile court. They understood young people and acted as a means of communication between those young people and their families and the police officers who had to bring cases before the court. They made a tremendous contribution to juvenile justice in Cardiff. The loss of those police officers from the court affected not just the presentation of the case but the whole well-being, efficiency and effectiveness of the court system. The policemen's presence and ability to anticipate problems and aid the smooth running of the courts was invaluable.
Has the Home Secretary or Minister of State been involved in escort duty or with some of the young people and adults of whom we are talking? I regret that within the Government there is a mistrust of professionals. Police and prison officers should be enabled to do a proper job and work with the system to use their professionalism and training to the best advantage. I regret that in recent year —this is why the Home Secretary's answer on numbers of police officers was unhelpful—the grain of the Government's changes has been to stand in the way of the effective use of the professionalism of police officers and prison officers.
Will prisoners be given a choice of private institutions? Presumably, a competitive regime is being proposed. Will they have the same ability as patients within hospital trusts to use competition and to wander the country with money following them in search of the right institution? The purpose of this nonsensical idea is to diminish the status of the service and, like the options for the health service, should be thrown out quickly.
The number of people on remand awaiting sentence undermines the remedial work of prisons, which become places of containment. The message that I have received from prison officers and from their representatives is that they want to do a proper job and to be involved in remedial work, but the present situation in prisons does not allow that.
Then there is the remanding of young people in prisons. The incident at Armley was mentioned earlier and there was an incident at Swansea as well. I hope that the Minister and the Woolf inquiry will carefully consider the evidence of the all-party panel on penal affairs, which includes several people with considerable judicial and judicious experience, because a number of members of the other place take part in its discussions. Its representations are related to both issues, as is the overall approach to tackling and preventing crime in our communities. If only the Government would tackle the entry point to a criminal career among children and young people, and if only they would prevent youngsters from moving up the ladder of a criminal career, many of our problems would become manageable, our prisons and institutions would become manageable and people could use their professional experience positively.
There is an inconsistency in the Bill about the admissibility of evidence from young people. A youngster under 14 does not need to be sworn. The Bill, therefore, acknowledges the special circumstances of young people in court, but it brings the 17-year-old and the 10-year-old together in court. Why is a child aged between 10 and 14 not a child when he is involved in a criminal case? I suggest most strongly that the separation of age groups should be made compulsory. Mixing youngsters who perhaps are charged for the first time with trivial offences and those who have offended repeatedly is bad practice. I ask the Minister to take that point on board and perhaps to accept an amendment to the Bill,
I know that the hon. Gentleman speaks with the authority of someone who sits on the bench as a justice of the peace. I am listening with care to him and apologise for not being present earlier, but I was eating a Mars bar preparatory to my reply to the debate. I followed with care the hon. Gentleman's point about the age range of 10 to 17. The Bill provides for a youth court to deal with those aged between 16 and 17. That will cause a separation between the juvenile court and the youth court, but I wonder how his interesting idea, which I am following with care and on which I have an open mind, would impact on the new division of ages that is introduced by the Bill.
I am grateful for the Minister's response. Other methods of separation would be beneficial to how age groups are treated within the court programming system. It is a point of detail, but the Minister has shown that he is open minded and I hope that there will be an opportunity to examine these matters further. I understand that my general point is supported by the Magistrates Association.
Does my hon. Friend agree that we must consider not only physical age but mental age? Someone who is 16 may have a mental age of 11. To lump him with someone who has a mental age of 16 can lead to injustice and unfairness.
I accept what my hon. Friend says. We must differentiate between criminal sophistication, because there are unsophisticated and very sophisticated 12-year-olds. That cannot be dealt with by simple rules, but only if the court structure is sensitive to such matters. I am grateful to my hon. Friend for pointing out those nuances and I hope that they will be considered seriously in Committee.
The encouragement of parental responsibility is a matter about which we are all concerned, because the method that is chosen is important. I ask the Minister to consider some of the comments that have been made on the White Paper by the Magistrates Association and others who are equally concerned that parental responsibility should be encouraged. I ask him to consider the dangers of introducing methods that place strictures on parents, that have harmful effects and that hasten the breakdown of family relationships. Parents may feel that they are being punished twice for their child's one offence. We must be careful to introduce not measures that pander to easy emotions on parental responsibility but ones that work and help. Again, I feel that I am echoing the comments of the hon. Member for Epping Forest.
My experience is that most children and young people do not need to be involved in crime. We can do much to improve the society in which they live, their training, their job opportunities and their image of themselves. Crime will not be ended by those measures, but it will be brought within manageable limits. That should be our first target, so that the group of individuals who in any society will be involved in crime is kept to a minimum and so that resources are targeted on those who need them and who need treatment.
I was pleased to hear the remarks of the hon. Member for Epping Forest on the differential in the sentencing of ethnic minorities. There is an allied need for constructive work in the community to identify problems and to try to anticipate them, not just in relation to sentencing. Positive, imaginative and preventive schemes in the community can cut crime drastically. Those schemes often depend on the high personal commitment of volunteers and professionals, who have been referred to in the professional circles as "the charismatic nuts". They can operate only for as long as they can keep up the momentum. Long-term success needs resources and long-term planning and teamwork in the community to ensure that the lessons of projects are learned, carried into the court structure and made univerally available where they are needed.
The Government have signally failed on that point and I appeal to the Minister and the Home Secretary to amend the provisions of the Bill that are weak or not justified by the facts and to complement its positive measures by providing resources for youth and community activity and for the preventive work of the probation service and community services to stop youngsters getting involved in crime. I ask them to ensure long-term success by providing those resources and long-term planning and team work in the community.
The Government have paid much lip service to the prevention of crime. In some of his responses, the Minister of State has shown a personal interest in making schemes work, but they cannot be seen as a cheap option and I appeal to the Home Secretary, who has not shown the same sympathy as the Minister, not to repeat mistakes but to make use of the professionalism, experience and evidence that is available on what preventive work can achieve and to build that into the Bill and into the measures that will accompany it when it is implemented.
I listened with great interest to the hon. Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth (Mr. Michael). The House has great respect for his knowledge of work with young people. I was particularly impressed by his argument about withdrawing police from courts because of the introduction of the Crown prosecution service, and I agree with him. I believe that many Conservative Members agree with his comments about the importance of getting community service right in terms of how it affects young people.
I part company with the hon. Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth on parental responsibility. The hon. Gentleman goes half way but, like the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) —who made some rather churlish comments about the entire Bill —he seems incapable of accepting parental responsibility as part of statute. Day after day, many people approach Members of Parliament and keep ramming that message home. Those of us with teenage children know the difficulties of exercising parental control. It is not an easy job, but that does not mean that it is open to any of us to abrogate responsibility and to say, "Let someone else carry on." But that message has come to us repeatedly from the Opposition
. Of course, we must make the right provision for young people. Of course, that must be part of a package of measures. If we ask young people to take part in community service, of course that service must be properly introduced, staffed and structured. But the bottom line is that parents must be required to take some responsibility for their children. That responsibility has broken down and, in part, has led to the increase in juvenile crime.
I should like to give an immediate and broad welcome to the thrust of the Bill. Unlike the right hon. Member for Sparkbrook, I believe that it is imaginative and far-sighted. It will take us another step forward in the sequence of Criminal Justice Bills that the Government have introduced.
The Opposition are not saying that parents should not take an interest in their children. We are concerned about the fact that some proposals in the Bill will fine parents for some of the misdemeanours in which their children take part. We believe that that could drive a wedge between young people and their parents and that it is not conducive to building the relationships that can alleviate crime.
The hon. Gentleman says only what so many Opposition Members said repeatedly for the greater part of the debate. I listened carefully to them. It is clear that they are prepared to will the end but not the means. In other words, as on so many other issues, they do not have the bottle for the job. I am not saying that every word in the Bill as drafted is perfect. I have served on the Standing Committees on two Criminal Justice Bills, and I hope to serve on the third. We revised those Bills in Committee. Of course, we shall look at every dot and comma and try to ensure that we have got this Bill right. There must be a fundamental commitment to the principle that parents must take responsibility. There is nothing wrong with enshrining that in law.
Our constituents will be extremely heartened by the balance that the Bill strikes between the crime and the punishment. We repeatedly hear from constituents how strongly they feel about the lack of appropriate punishment for violent offenders and sexual offenders. We repeatedly hear complaints about the fact that first-time offenders are sometimes given custodial sentences. My hon. Friend the Member for Congleton (Mrs. Winterton) said that prisons were cluttered with those on whom a more appropriate sentence could be imposed, and I could not agree more.
There is a general impression that prisons are universities of crime. There is a strong impression—this is another message that came across in the debate—that there are many people in prison who should not be there. Also, our constituents resent the fact that their taxes pay to keep in prison people who should be paying their debt to the community in the community.
It is nonsense to break up a home, send a man or woman to prison, support the family through every kind of benefit and impose on it the social stigma and social damage caused by removing a parent. The offender could and should much more properly serve his or her sentence and pay his or her debt to the community in the community in a way that is useful not only to the community but to the individual while maintaining the family unit. The Bill aims to draw that necessary distinction between crimes for which custodial sentences are appropriate and essential for the protection of the public, and crimes for which custodial sentences are not appropriate, except in extremis.
It is important that service to the community is constructive and not mindless. If we are to go down that road, it is vital that we make proper provision for the service that will benefit the community and the individual. Just digging ditches and filling them in is not the answer to anyone's problems. There are many jobs that can and should be done by people paying their debt to society.
I listened with interest to references to privatization of escort work and remand prisons. I was saddened by the response by the Opposition and some of my colleagues, particularly my hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Shersby). I understand the concern of the police, but surely every hon. Member believes that highly trained, experienced, efficient police officers should use their time to the best advantage to do police work. We no longer ask the police to do most point duty. We do not ask them to act as traffic wardens, except rarely, so i cannot understand why it is necessary to ask a highly trained policeman or policewoman to escort remand prisoners travelling on a bus between a remand prison and court.
I cannot understand why the Opposition seem unwilling to learn the lessons that have been learned in the United States and to try privatization of remand prisons. The authorities in the United States have gone much further down that road and have privatized penitentiaries. That works well. My hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge says that it is vital that the security staff who are employed are properly trained. We clearly need to give attention to that. To use the Opposition's words, we do not want any cowboys doing the job, but there is no reason why a cowboy firm should do the job, unless we let it.
At the Labour party conference, the senior director of the Group 4 company—which, I believe, is one of the most reputable security operations—told me about what he called a cowboy firm guarding submarine installations in Scotland and paying men £1 an hour. When will the Government do something about that system? If it can happen guarding submarines in a highly sensitive defence area, it can happen with the privatisation of remand services.
I appreciate the fact that much of the hon. Gentleman 's observation, like much of his policy, is based on guesswork and hearsay. Conservative Members try to go into matters more deeply and seriously. I am prepared to believe that there are private security firms that are not up to scratch, just as there are parts of the public service that, on occasions, are not up to scratch. That is no reason not to use some imagination and not to allow those who could do the job efficiently to do so and save the time of trained policemen and policewomen.
In looking at private remand prisons, are we prepared to consider the reintroduction of what was called the bridewell, the remand prison with the court room attached? It has been suggested that in inner cities that could be especially appropriate. It has been suggested that when we are considering new buildings—and it has been suggested that some high-rise blocks might be eminently suitable as remand prisons—it should be possible to build the court room into the same establishment, which would minimise travelling and, therefore, the amount of escort duty necessary. I hope that my right hon. Friend can comment on that in his winding-up speech or that he will say that we may be able to examine that idea during the Bill's progress.
I have studied with great interest the provisions dealing with probation and with release on licence. Clearly, those provisions will be the subject of debate in Committee. At this stage, I want to say to my right hon. Friend only that he may wish to comment on the extension of sentences and on the reduction of parole when prisoners behave badly or cause disturbances in prisons. The Bill seems to lay considerable emphasis on the terms of release on probation from prison, but it does not refer to sanctions that may be taken against prisoners who cause disturbances while in gaol. We have seen recently how dangerous such disturbances can be and how they can affect the welfare and lives not only of prison officers, but of other prisoners. The Bill provides an opportunity for us to address ourselves to the subject of disturbances in prisons.
Several hon. Members who are members of the Select Committee on Home Affairs are absent today because they are taking evidence on football hooliganism. It would be wrong for me, as a member of that Committee, to pre-empt its findings. However, I have been asked to make a couple of points that arise from the evidence that we have taken already. The Bill contains several new offences that may prove extremely appropriate in dealing with those who cause trouble inside and outside football grounds. The police who gave evidence last week to the Committee made the point clearly that the powers to search fans outside and, especially, inside grounds are woefully inadequate. We heard an appalling story from one police officer about a fan who, when arrested inside the ground, was found to have about his person a plastic rocket launcher which was designed to hurl missiles to the other end of the pitch and to explode among the spectators there. It is clear already that the provision that allows the police and others who are exercising crowd control inside football grounds powers of search is inadequate for them to do the job that they are required to do.
The police also suggested that their powers and those of the security teams who are used at football grounds are inadequate for the control of pitch invasions. It is often said that the police do not do enough to control crowds on the football pitch, but in view of the presence on the pitch of thousands of fans, it is abundantly clear that no amount of effort by the police or by the security teams will be sufficient to identify more than a few of the miscreants so that they can be brought to trial. I know that the Select Committee will want to make recommendations on that. I hope and believe that the Select Committee's report on policing football stadiums and on football hooliganism generally will be published while the Bill is in Committee and I hope that my right hon. Friend will be able to respond to some of the recommendations and, if necessary, to take appropriate action to legislate on them during the passage of the Bill so that time will be saved and the measures will be implemented as swiftly as possible.
I want to refer to issues facing the magistrates courts. Most of them are not referred to in the Bill, so a Second Reading debate may not be an appropriate stage at which to discuss them. However, this debate provides an opportunity to place on record some of the concerns felt by magistrates and by court officers such as about the sentencing of uninsured drivers. Formerly, those who drove uninsured were liable to a prison sentence, but that offence was then removed from the list of imprisonable offences because it was felt that simply not having insurance was not a sufficient reason for someone to be sent to prison—and, broadly speaking, I concur.
However, there is a strong feeling from the magistrates' benches that in removing the liability of going to prison from those who drive without insurance, several knock-on effects have been created. It is suggested that if uninsured driving was reinstated as an imprisonable offence, it would be possible for magistrates to award prison sentences in extreme cases and, in most cases, to impose community service, which they cannot now impose on the uninsured driver. My right hon. Friend may consider that the matter can be more properly considered when we discuss the Bill on road transport and if he cares to tell me that when he——
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend. Perhaps he will either make representations or encourageme me to make representations to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport, so that the matter can be addressed in the Bill on road transport. It is clear that the sentencing provision available to magistrates for uninsured drivers is inadequate at present.
Earlier in the debate, we heard much about release on bail, especially as it applies to members of the coloured community, and that is also a source of concern to magistrates' benches, although I do not wish to go through the arguments again. At present, the justification for surety and bail, as my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Burton (Mr. Lawrence) said earlier, is based on the likelihood to leave—in other words, whether the accused is likely to appear before the court. The court finds that extremely restrictive and the benches have suggested that bail could be used in a wider range of cases and circumstances, and imposed using criteria other than simply whether the accused is likely to reappear before the court. It is also suggested that the bail imposed is often worth more than the fine that would be imposed, so if the accused absconds, the court at least gets its money.
There is concern about the powers of the magistrates courts to commit people to the Crown court for sentence. It is felt that if the magistrates courts had a general power to commit for sentence to a Crown court when other matters were already under consideration before the Crown court, those cases and sentences could then be taken together in the Crown court, which would obviate the need for sentences to be imposed in the Crown court and for further matters then to go back to the magistrates court for final sentence. That would simply cut out the middle man——
The magistrates' clerks feel that their powers are not general enough for them to be able to refer cases for total sentencing from the magistrates courts at their instigation rather than at the instigation of the Crown court. I know that the hon. Member for St. Helens, South spends far more time in court than I am likely or hope to do. I am merely seeking to relay to the House the feelings of those at the sharp end who do another part of the job that the hon. Gentleman seeks to do. I know that the Bar has a view of those matters, but so has the bench and so have magistrates' clerks. It is right that the House should hear and pay attention to some of those views. Perhaps there are occasions when we do not listen enough to those who are at the sharp end.
Another area of concern is the non-production of prisoners before courts. The bench feels that there is a need for guidance. It is felt by many of those who sit on the bench that there is a need for an explicit provision in the Bill to cover what courts should do when prisoners are not produced before magistrates courts. That takes on a particular relevance if we are to move towards the privatisation of remand prisons. It is clear that the responsibilities of those running such establishments will have to be defined. We need to define how the courts are expected to react when the prisoners whom they anticipated dealing with are not produced before them.
Capital punishment has been raised yet again in the debate. My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Burton said earlier that he intended to table an amendment to the Bill with a view to reintroducing the penalty of capital punishment as the maximum available sentence for murder. My hon. Friend the Member for Ryedale (Mr. Greenway), who is a member of the Select Committee on Home Affairs and who is taking evidence at the moment, has told me that it is his intention to table such an amendment.
Like my hon. Friend the Member for Congleton, I have voted in favour of the reintroduction of capital punishment on every occasion when the House has debated the issue since I have been a Member of this place. I believe that capital punishment is a deterrent to murder. I believe also that the incidence of armed crime has risen since the abolition of capital punishment. That continues to place the men and women of the police force in an intolerably dangerous position. I hope and believe that the House will have a further opportunity to debate an issue that has the overwhelming support of the general public when we come to consider the Bill on Report. I shall support an amendment that seeks to reintroduce capital punishment.
Order. Unless more restraint is shown by hon. Members in the length of their speeches, other hon. Members will be disappointed by not being able to contribute to the debate.
I understand your stricture, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and I hope that those who wish still to contribute to the debate will bear it in mind. There have been some fairly long contributions and perhaps they have prevented some of us who have been in our places since the beginning of the debate from developing some of the arguments that we wished to advance on Second Reading.
As a Member who has been a member of a Committee that considered a former Criminal Justice Bill, and as someone who has considered our approach to criminal justice legislation over the past 10 years, I am rather like the right hon. and learned Member for Warley, West (Mr. Archer) in being circumspect in approaching a fresh Criminal Justice Bill. The main provisions of such a Bill are loudly trumpeted, well trailed and held before the House as the Government's final answer to rising crime rates.
It is claimed that the best way to stop criminals from profiting from their illegal activities is to support the provisions in the latest Criminal Justice Bill. The crime figures tell us, however, that crime has increased at a faster rate under this Government than at any time since the second world war. I refer to the seemingly endless increase in serious crime. The number of offences of violence against the person has doubled since 1979. There were 94,960 such offences reported in 1979, and 180,000 were reported in the year ending June 1990. The figure for 1990 was a 7 per cent. increase on the figure for the previous year. These are startling statistics when we have a Government who were elected on a law and order ticket.
Before dealing with the main provisions of the Bill, I wish to stress yet again the need for a new approach in dealing with crimes of violence. Over the years, as a practitioner in the criminal courts, it has sickened me to see the inconsistency of approach between crimes involving violence and crimes related to property. Motoring offences sometimes attract more serious sentences than those that are given for crimes of violence, and that worries me. I have never understood why theft or burglary should be considered more abhorrent than violence. Of course, theft and forcible entry of a dwelling must be adequately punished, but striking a person in anger, especially a child or a woman, is a hideous offence. It is an attack on a person's dignity. It is the intrusion of a person's privacy, and to that extent it is destructive. Our entire approach to sentencing should recognise that. To the extent that it is recognised in the Bill, it is welcome and long overdue.
There are other matters set out in the Bill that are welcome, and we have heard about them today. I have in mind the new sentencing framework, the proposal for unit fines and the abolition of sentences of detention for 14-year-old boys. There is a number of omissions, however, that should be highlighted, and we need to strengthen some of the proposals in the Bill.
We lack consistency in our approach to sentencing and the provisions in part I may well fall short of producing the consistency in sentencing that would give our criminal justice system greater credibility and authority. We have heard about the recent survey which showed that there were considerable variations in sentencing between courts. The average use of custody at Wood Green Crown court, for example, was 38 per cent., whereas it was 69 per cent. at Mold Crown court in Clwyd. In Powys, 6 per cent. of adults received custodial sentences for theft, yet 17 per cent. did so in Cheshire. At Gloucester, 29 per cent. of those sentenced for burglary received custodial sentences, while 54 per cent. did so in north Wales. That level of inconsistency is indefensible. The public do not understand why they are more likely to receive a custodial sentence in one part of the country than in another.
I have some reservations about the concept of a sentencing council. We should be able to avoid getting ourselves into the position of having to set one up. Unfortunately, however, the Government do not have sentencing policy right in the context of the Bill, and we may be driven to consider setting up such a council unless we achieve a consistency which gives greater credibility and authority to the criminal justice system.
One of the main omissions from the Bill is a coherent strategy for reducing the remand population. I introduced a Bill in 1988 which was aimed at achieving a consistent approach. Again, I commend the contents of the Bill to the House. Remand prisoner figures are staggering. In March, the remand population in England and Wales was 10,194, or 20 per cent. of the entire prison population. The proportion of remand prisoners to prisoners generally has more than doubled in the past 13 years. Remand prisoners are also often held in the worst conditions. All hon. Members should be worried about the fact that nearly 60 per cent. of self-inflicted deaths in prisons occur on remand. Prisoners are three times more likely to take their own lives than the rest of the population. However, if we consider the remarkable statistics about remand prisoners, it is clear that only 36 per cent. of female and 52 per cent. of male prisoners who are remanded in custody eventually receive a custodial sentence.
I welcome the acknowledgement that for most crimes punishment in the community is not only likely to be in the public interest, but would also increase the prospect of victims receiving compensation. That is a welcome development. It is important that the criminal justice system accepts the need to compensate the victim. If we can achieve that by ensuring that more people receive sentences in the community to do community work, that would help to create the proper system.
Conservative Members have spoken about the benefits of electronic tagging. However, I do not believe that the case has been made for tagging. I listened with great care to what has been said, but I am inherently against tagging. There have been only a few minor pilot schemes and I believe that there should be more of them before we enshrine the principle in legislation. It is dangerous to introduce the principle in primary legislation.
I am also worried about the extended powers to bind over parents of young offenders. I understand that we must make parents more responsible for the activities of children; that is a very strong point. However, my experience, and the experience in the courts generally, has shown that where current powers to make parents more responsible for the offences of their children are used, it can involve friction in families. We must strike a balance between the need to make parents responsible for the offences of their children and the need to bind families together instead of breaking them up and creating friction. The Government have not made a proper case in that respect in the Bill.
I am also worried about the privatisation of prisoner escort services and particularly for remand prisons. I have an inherent objection to that proposal. It is abhorrent that money can be made from the administration of criminal justice.
The Bill has some good parts and it contains some useful provisions. However, I believe that it has some completely unnecessary gimmicks and some glaring omissions which should be considered. I stress again that my main objection to the Bill is that it contains no coherent strategy for reducing the remand population. I recognise that that would entail the use of greater resources, but it is wrong that people who are mentally ill or suffer from drug or alcohol abuse should be kept in prison. Other provision should be made for them.
It was remarkable that, when the Home Secretary responded to a point about the code of guidance or memorandum, he could not tell us what other provisions there were for those people. He said that we should consider other provisions and ways of dealing with them, but he could not tell us how or where. When the Minister replies, I hope that he will tell us where those people are to be kept, because greater resources are involved. Until we have a coherent strategy for reducing significantly the remand population, we shall not have a proper approach to the criminal justice system.
I welcome this opportunity to speak and I regret the fact that Conservative Members have said once again that they want to see the restoration of capital punishment. The House has decided that issue decisively on three or four occasions over recent years. I believe that only two firm pieces of new evidence that should concentrate our minds have come to light since the previous debate. They are the acceptance that the Guildford Four were innocent and the acceptance by most people that the Birmingham Six should be released. Those are clear reminders that there can be miscarriages of justice and that the death penalty is final and makes it impossible to provide recompense for such miscarriages.
The Bill addresses a new situation in that we are now in a lame duck Parliament with a lame duck Prime Minister who can clearly restore her credibility in the country and overseas only if she opts for a general election. The likelihood is that during the passage of the Bill we will have a general election sprung on us. We shall then have from my right hon. and hon. Friends on the Labour party Front Bench new legislation of a very different nature or we shall get some of the non-controversial parts of this Bill enacted in the last few days before a general election. I hope that the Minister will try to get consensus from the Bill instead of confrontation.
The major issue at the general election will be the greed society which has been created over the past 11 years. I believe that it is odd that, having achieved a dramatic demographic change in the number of young people in the age group likely to commit crime, we have not seen a fall in the general crime statistics, although I welcome the fact that crimes among juveniles appear to be declining in line with demographic changes.
I measure the Bill against the effect that it will have on my constituents. They still suffer a great deal from petty crime, much of which is committed by their neighbours, and their greatest regret is that the Bill contains no clear measures to prevent crime. There is nothing about crime prevention. I hope that, as the Bill proceeds, the Government will bring forward measures to prevent crime.
In August the Minister of State tried to justify the large increase in the crime figures and he said that it was the public's fault because they did not deter opportunist crime. I accept that some members of the public could take a little more care of their property and could try to discourage some opportunist crime. However, in my constituency too much of the crime arises from people trying to earn small sums of money to pay for drugs and from boredom, neither of which leads to opportunist crimes.
If the Government want to stop opportunist crime, they should make more efforts in certain areas. The Government have suggested, with regard to credit cards, that people should have a discount for cash. Ministers should cast their minds back 10 or 15 years when one of the most common crimes involved armed bandits holding up petrol stations. That crime virtually disappeared because petrol companies improved security at their stations and the majority of people began to pay for their petrol by credit card. The amount of money available to be stolen in petrol stations late at night diminished dramatically. If the Government want to discourage criminals going after money and using violence, they should be encouraging credit cards, not discouraging them. I realise that credit cards increase fraud, but if we must choose between the two, I should prefer fraud to violent crimes involving people trying to take money.
The Government should also consider how the poll tax affects matters such as street lighting. It is clear that many local authorities have identified relatively cheap schemes to improve street lighting and make property more secure, but those schemes still cost money. It is extremely difficult for those authorities to get the money. Until recently, tower blocks in Brinnington in my constituency had fairly high levels of crime. The local authority put in surveillance systems—entry is gained only after identifying oneself—put in new door frames and carried out various other measures dramatically to improve the security of those tower blocks. The effect has been tremendously good for the people who live in the tower blocks. The only problem is that such improvements are expensive. If the Government want to prevent crime and, in the end, save money, they should make it easier for housing authorities to take those measures. We have already discussed the failure of car manufacturers to make motor vehicles secure.
The last point on crime prevention is that we should do much more to encourage the youth service—again, one of the services that are squeezed by the working of the poll tax or the community charge. The youth service is one way to avoid boredom.
There should be much more in this legislation about restitution to some of our constituents who lose out as a result of crime and then find that they get very small sums in compensation.
In the debate on the Queen's Speech I pressed the Home Secretary about what he will do about the disgraceful situation in Greater Manchester. He knows that there are far too many remand prisoners at the moment in police cells in the Greater Manchester area. We understand the problems that occurred at Strangeways, but it is ridiculous that a police station such as Stockport has inadequate cells and that those cells are cluttered up with remand prisoners.
I should have thought that the Home Secretary could use the problems of Manchester dramatically to cut the time that people on remand remain in prison or, in Greater Manchester, remain in police cells. All he does is say that it is the prison warders' responsibility. He is the Minister in charge. He should find some way of negotiating so that we could get remand prisoners out of police cells in Greater Manchester.
Also, the Home Secretary has to accept at least 112 days as a firm legal requirement in which to get people into court rather than to allow the conspiracy which seems so often to occur between the various people involved and which allows remand cases to run on and on.
There are many other points that I should like to make. No doubt I will have an opportunity to make some in Committee. However, we should look at prisoners' rights. I have made that point on many occasions. It is easy to give rights to people of whom we approve, but it is difficult to give rights to people of whom we disapprove. We should consider giving far more rights to prisoners. When a prisoner asked me whether he could have a copy of the prison rules, I sent him a copy, but he was denied access to most of them. He was told that they were not available to prisoners. I realise that there are difficulties with barrack room lawyers in prisons, but prisoners should be able to see the rules and have a clear understanding of them.
Parental responsibility has been pressed by Conservative Members. Parents should be much more responsible. It distresses me when I find my constituents encouraging their youngsters to go out on to street corners at night because they perhaps make too much noise in the house and the parents are pleased to see them go out. They do not ask questions about what they do. Young people sit around on street corners, annoy other people and, through boredom, get into crime. I should like more of my constituents to take a responsible attitude to their children, but we must be careful about demanding too much through the courts.
It is quite clear that many young people who appear before the courts do not have parents who are in a position to be supportive. They are looked after by, perhaps, a grandparent or a parent who is already struggling to have any control over them. It would be unsatisfactory to cause extra hassle for the person who is giving some support.
I hope that the Committee stage will be constructive and that, even if we have an early general election, we will be able to get something out of the Bill by the time the election comes.
Some of the things that I am about to say will not please the bleeding hearts, the do-gooders or the officials at the Home Office who seem to have a great influence—perhaps too great an influence—on the criminal justice legislation. I welcome the Bill in general terms because it takes us a stage further in dealing with crime and criminals.
I draw the attention of my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary to my intervention in his speech, which I think he handled in a rather flippant way. I asked about concurrent sentencing, and he made the point that if people commit two crimes and time was added on instead of the sentence running concurrently, they would be in prison for a very long time. People outside the House do not care at all about that. If someone commits a crime for which he goes to prison for five years, and he committed that crime five times in an evening, why should he serve the same amount of time as someone who has committed the crime only once? That seems illogical and unfair, and it does not reflect people's views.
Before Opposition Members smile, let me say that my views represent those of ordinary working class people in my constituency. You can bet your sweet life that they also represent the views of your constituents but which you are too scared to put forward.
The Bill mentions early release time. Why on earth should we have early release time? A sentence should be a sentence. If people do not behave in prison, we should add time on for bad behaviour, not take time off for good behaviour. There should be no question about it; if they are in prison, they are there to be punished, and that should be the beginning, the middle and the end of it.
Capital punishment has been mentioned. Of course we should have capital punishment. It is the only way to deter murder and it is the only way in which we can get our hands on and get rid of the terrorists in our midst. People say, "You can make one mistake and wrongly execute somebody." There are about 50 people walking free now who murdered once, served their time, were released, and then murdered a second time. For every person in respect of whom a mistake has been made, 50 people have been murdered who would not have been murdered had those who had committed the crime been executed the first time round. We must bear that in mind when we hear the wailing, whining and whingeing of those who say that capital punishment is not right in a civilised society. How can that be said when our society is not civilised because of the way in which terrorists behave in the streets of this country?
The Bill does not mention corporal punishment. The thug, the football thug and the lager thug know no other vision of life apart from violence. People would like to see dished out to those people the sort of violence and attacks that they dish out to decent people. There would be no compassion whatsoever from the ordinary chap in the street if the football thug got a dose of his own medicine —legalised, of course. Those are the rules that they live by, and they are the rules that they must face up to when they commit crime.
On parental responsibility, the do-gooders say, "Parents do their best; they cannot always be responsible." Why cannot they always be responsible? If they have children, they are their responsibility. Children of 12 or 14 have raped old ladies. If the punishment for those kids, had they been over 18, is 10 years, why the hell do we not give it to the parents? They are responsible for kids of that age behaving in that way. I am sick and tired of people saying that they cannot be responsible for the behaviour of their youngsters and teenagers. What a load of nonsense and rubbish.
On prison rioting, the public could not understand how the violent thugs in Strangeways were allowed to get away with it day after day. It is no good my right hon. and learned Friend telling me that he took advice from people in the Home Office who I believe never walk the streets of this country because they do not know what is going on. The ordinary chap in the street asks, "Why weren't they washed off those roofs? Why weren't they brought down?" To suggest that we had to be careful in case one of them was injured or another fell off is a load of nonsense. There would have been a massive cheer if we had taken tough measures to bring them down.
Of course we hear from the do-gooders and the bleeding hearts about prison conditions—"It is dreadful. There are 19 to a cell 23 hours a day and they have to slop out." If they did not slip in, they would not have to slop out, so what are they worried about? Another thing that we must always remember about prisoners is that all those in prison—I accept, of course, that there will be men who should not be there —are there by choice. Prisoners chose to go to prison when they decided to break the law. The ordinary chap in my constituency does not care about people in prison because they chose to go there. We must constantly bear that point in mind.
Why are we spending millions of pounds on improving prison conditions? The better we make them, the easier it will be for them to say, "I like going to prison." Old lags come out saying, "I had a good time. That prison is pretty good and that prison is even better."
Two years ago, I looked at the Christmas day menu at Gloucester prison. It was better than the menu enjoyed by many pensioners in my constituency day after day, let alone at Christmas. The priest in charge held a little service and said how sorry he was that the prisoners were away from their families at that festive time. If they had not broken the law, they would not have been apart from their families. I shall tell the House what I do when constituents come to see me and say, "Please, Mr. MP, my husband lives in this constituency but he is in prison in Hull. Could you arrange for him to be moved nearer to me because the family are in distress?" I say, "He should have thought of that before he broke the law and landed in prison. It is his fault. I will not waste my time on him or his circumstances."
I should like to bring rule 43 to the attention of my right hon. and learned Friend. It is strange that the most violent criminal in our midst—the child abuser or the sexual offender—gets 100 per cent. protection when he goes to prison whereas another violent man, a robber, has to live in the prison community. Because the other inmates might not like the sex offender—someone who violently assaults a youngster—or what he has done, we have to pull him to one side and protect him; but who protects the young kid whom he violated? Nobody. So why the hell should such a man be protected in prison? He should have to go to prison and face the consequences of his crime. If more such offenders realised the life that they would have in prison and the protection that they would not have, perhaps they would behave and think twice before committing such crimes.
As I have said, the Bill is a good contribution to improving matters, but it does not go as far as I would like. I re-emphasise the important point that I hope that we shall get another opportunity to debate and to vote on capital punishment. Opposition Members may well say that it is a free vote, but they know and we know that they are whipped in to vote against capital punishment—[HON. MEMBERS: "Rubbish."] It is not rubbish and Opposition Members know it. I have talked to some Opposition Members about it. The public will not forget the next time that Opposition Members—and those weak Willies among my hon. Friends—oh yes, we have a few——
The hon. Gentleman is being economical with the truth. I am simply saying that the people of this country will not forget Opposition Members and those of my hon. Friends who frustrate them in their demands for a tough line against murder. I remind my right hon. Friends on the Front Bench that, if they do nothing else when pushing this Bill through, they must give us an opportunity to vote once again on capital punishment.
Perhaps my hon. Friend will allow me to make just one comment on the hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington (Mr. Dicks), who casts insults without the intelligence or the knowledge to back them up. It is easy to play to the gallery, but we are talking about justice, human beings, the right to life and the liberty of subjects. If we could have a perfect system of justice that would not make mistakes, I should treat the hon. Gentleman's comments with little more than the contempt with which I treat them now.
There have been numerous examples, not just in our legal system, but in the legal systems of many other countries, of mistakes being made. When a mistake is made and a prisoner has been executed, the tragedy is that we cannot bring him back. He cannot be compensated. What if we had executed the Guildford Four who have now been cleared? How could we have compensated them? How, in a civilised society, can we descend into the language of the barbaric jungle, like the hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington, who casts such comments and criticisms because he cannot accept that those of us who have spent a lifetime in the legal system accept that it is capable of making mistakes and we dare not take those risks again?
We have learnt something over the past 100 years, and that is that we cannot always get it right. Sometimes the pressures on a court and on a jury are so great—sometimes the pressure on police officers to achieve results is so great —that mistakes can be made. I do not attack police forces because mistakes have been made, for I accept that police officers are human beings who are capable of verily believing that somebody is guilty and of verily believing that their evidence matches that. They can still be totally wrong, but wrong in an honourable and honest way.
I make this next comment while the Home Secretary is in his place. On Merseyside, we achieved a reduction in the crime rate last year simply because our police force there is increasingly efficient and is led by a very good chief constable, and the officers of the force are a credit to any society. However, this year we are to be capped by £7 million. I have written to the Home Secretary about this and I hope that he will bring pressure on his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment, because if £7 million is taken from the budget of the Merseyside police we will have a reduced number of police officers and we will not be able to afford the equipment that is necessary to re-equip the force. That affects the policing policy. It reduces the level of policing and the level of crime detection. It is utterly counter-productive. I hope that the Home Secretary can do something to help Merseyside because we deserve it.
I know that those comments do not fall within the scope of the Bill and I apologise for raising that matter, but the opportunity was too good to miss. I hope that I have made my point. I notice that the Home Secretary is smiling, so perhaps he will think about what I have said.
In some ways, the Bill is a tragedy. It does not address the real issue, which is not whether we have longer or harsher sentences or whether we attack parole or regrade juvenile crime, but how we attack crime itself. The real question is how we stop young offenders offending in the first place. If young people do not start to commit crime, there will not be any not-so-young people to continue those criminal ways, and there will not be any older people committing crime. If we can root out part of the juvenile problem, we can root out part of the criminal problem.
The tragedy, which most people seem to forget, is that when somebody robs, wounds, kills or embezzles, there is always a victim. Hon. Members have already said that we do not care enough about the victims in our society and that is more than true. Over the years, I have spoken in the House many times to promote the interests of victims. We have tried to get the Criminal Injuries Compensation Board procedure correct. Great efforts have been made by Lord Carlisle since he took control of the board and I pay due credit to him. We have tried to think how we can compensate in such a way as to put at ease the mind of the old lady whose house has been burgled. The easiest way of compensating the victims is to prevent the crime from occurring. Indeed, crime need not occur if we tackle the problem in the right way.
I intervened earlier in the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth (Mr. Michael) to suggest that we should go for earlier identification. I am well aware of the Cardiff experiment, which has been brilliantly successful, and I am equally aware of the Massachusetts experiment, which has been equally successful. In those experiments, the early identification of the criminal has led to preventive medicine—if I can put it that way—that may deter a sizeable proportion of young people from continuing in a life of crime. If we deter the young, that will reduce the number of older youths involved in crime and, therefore, the prison population.
The Home Secretary might care to study the German system. The Germans have suddenly found that they do not need to build new prisons because not as many people are being sent to prison. There has been a sudden downturn, and it might be interesting to discover why. A little investment in that area—nobody has a monopoly of wisdom—might produce massive dividends. It might lead to a position in which not so many prisons or remand institutions were needed. The police could again embrace the concept that, when a crime is committed, there are sufficient manpower and resources to detect it immediately. That requires investment. That requires not screams for longer sentences, more cruel conditions, this, that and the other, but the identifying of the cause of criminality. Once we have identified that, we may be on the road to solving the long-term, rather than the short-term, problem.
I await with interest what happens in Committee. It might just be that we find a measure of agreement that will lead us down the right path on this occasion.
It has been an interesting debate. Those of us who have listened to most of it will have learnt a great deal, unlike one Conservative Member who arrived, made an extraordinary speech and immediately left. Someone recently described the hon. Member for Epping Forest (Mr. Norris) as the soft underbelly of the Tory party on these issues. Perhaps the hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington (Mr. Dicks) is the hairy posterior.
I am sure that it is in order. Perhaps you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, would like to make a ruling.
During the months that preceded the publication of the Bill, much use was made of the term "twin tracking" to describe the Government's aims in sentencing reform. No one denies that the Government have a dual purpose in framing the legislation, but I prefer to use not that term, but the term "schizoid" to describe the conflicting aims behind the Bill.
There is a genuine desire to reduce the prison population and to introduce proposals to that end. However, there is also a dangerous mixture of punitive sentiment, dogmatic obsession and populist moralising seeping through the Bill's clauses. That heady mix threatens to undermine all the positives in the Bill. Its schizoid nature is revealed most clearly by the Home Secretary's speeches. Indeed, he appears to be unclear about the intention behind the Bill. On some occasions, he has suggested that the Bill aims to reduce the prison population, while on others—for example, at his press conference to launch the Bill—he denies that aim. He repeatedly highlights and hypes the punitive elements in a language that is liable to destroy any tentative steps towards a new sentencing climate.
Let us think about the right hon. and learned Gentleman's speech this afternoon. If he is serious about changing the climate of sentencing policy, it does no one any good to talk about slaps on the wrist. For an adult, a slap on the wrist can add up to 240 hours of community service. That is a strange slap on the wrist, if that is how the Home Secretary describes an existing alternative to prison. He also referred to prisoners loafing around in prison. Has he visited Armley and Brixton? Is loafing about in prison what it is all about? I cannot understand his use of that language. He obviously does not realise that it affects the climate in which we debate these serious issues. He does not understand the damage that he does to what is otherwise, sometimes, a sensible case.
There are positive aspects to the Bill, and my right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) outlined them. I shall quickly reiterate them, because we welcome parts of the Bill. We recognise the attempt to establish a statutory framework for sentencing although, as I shall explain later, the proposals to achieve that are weak and insufficient. We especially welcome the statutory criteria contained in clause 1. Such criteria have been beneficial for the under-21s, and it is only right that they should be extended. We welcome the attempt to ensure that the less serious offenders are sentenced for the offence before the court, and not on their previous records.
We support the proposals to introduce unit fines in magistrates courts, to reduce the maximum sentences for theft and non-domestic burglary, and to ensure that 17-year-olds are treated as young persons rather than adults. We wholeheartedly endorse the clauses that implement the Pigot report to reform the law on children's evidence and to provide protection for the child victims of sexual and violent offences.
Even some of the proposals of which we broadly approve, however, are deficient. Why are those who are committed for an indictable offence and have previously served a prison sentence unable to benefit from the criteria set out in clause 1? A parliamentary answer that I received in March revealed that, in 1988, a total of 2,752 offenders—a quarter of those found guilty of indictable offences—received non-custodial sentences. In October I attempted to discover how many of those offenders had previously served a prison sentence, but I was told that that information was not available. It is clear that many hundreds of offenders might be denied the protection of clause I for no good reason. If we do not receive an adequate response about that from the Minister tonight, I hope that we shall be able to discuss this matter in detail in Committee.
The attempt in clause 2 to achieve sentencing for the offence and not the record is hopelessly undermined by clause 3(3). I should be happy if the Home Secretary intervened now to clear up that confusion. Although the clauses may not be exactly contradictory, they are highly confusing. No doubt that kind of drafting gobbledegook will be interpreted by the courts in different ways and that will increase the inconsistency that characterises our present sentencing system. Some courts will use the confusion to increase sentences because of an offender's record. Clause 3(3) is unnecessary and it should be dropped.
Why are unit fines not to operate in Crown courts? I accept that far fewer of relevant cases will appear in such courts, but those fines should be utilised in all courts.
My major concern about the sentencing proposals is their weakness. The Bill is a lost opportunity and the Government have failed to grasp the nettle of sentencing reform at the appropriate time. They have failed to provide an acceptable mechanism to fulfil the aim of reducing the prison population. Despite the Home Secretary's comments to the contrary, that is an important aim.
We are excessively dependent on prison sentences. The United Kingdom imprisons more people in absolute terms and in proportion to its population than any other member state of the Council of Europe. The Government's White Paper "Crime, Justice and Protecting the Public" spelt out the limitations of prison clearly. It says that prison
can be an expensive way of making bad people worse … imprisonment provides many good opportunities to learn criminal skills from other inmates.
The Government should have the courage to propose a sentencing council, but instead they rely on hope. According to the White Paper, it is hoped that
the Court of Appeal will give further guidance building on the legislative framework".
So we are left to rely on a system which, over the decades, has failed this country.
In our view, a sentencing council is one of the ways forward and most people in the informed professional lobby believe that that could be a good alternative to the present system. A sentencing council could be established by primary legislation, which would lay down the sentencing principles to underpin its work.
The hon. Member for Epping Forest expressed doubt about a sentencing council, but that council would provide sentencing guidelines for the range of criminal cases in any interrelated structure. It would not just undertake monitoring, but would lay down guidelines. That system would be a great advance on current practices whereby the Court of Appeal issues guideline judgments on a limited number of serious cases, but does not provide a coherent and linked structure of guidance. It is vital that guidelines deal with the bulk of everyday offences that come before the courts.
Without a sentencing council, the Government are taking a huge gamble in the Bill. It may contain some good intentions, but there is no mechanism to deliver them. The combined probation and community service order is fraught with dangers. It is likely that that new order will be used in many cases where a simple, single probation order or a community service order would have been used. The Home Office recognises that problem. A recent Home Office costing paper contained an optimistic assumption that 50 per cent. of offenders placed on the combined order will be diverted from prison, half from community service and half from probation. Its pessimistic assumption is that the proportions will be one third, one third and one third.
The memorandum to the Bill suggests that the new order might reduce the prison population by a mere 450 to 750, and there is a further problem in relation to breaches of the order. If an offender who would have received a simple probation order or community service order breaches the new order, he is liable to end up in prison more quickly, since the two sentencing options will be used up in one go. The new order, with its multiple conditions, is more likely to he breached and to be the reverse of what the Government intended will take place. In other words, more people will end up in prison faster.
Without a sentencing council, there are dangers attached to clause 2(2)(b), which deals with violent and sexual offences. I want the Home Secretary to appreciate clearly that the Labour party takes the protection of the public from sexual and violent offences very seriously indeed. The sentences passed by the courts for such offences reflect the gravity with which they are viewed.
But there is an area of concern about the clause because of the failure to define the word "serious," as my right hon. Friend the Member for Sparkbrook pointed out, and there is a lack of mechanism in that matter. It is possible that some offenders who have committed a less grave offence within that category and who, in the public opinion, would not warrant a sentence above the normal range for the offence will receive a sentence usually reserved for graver crimes.
The implementation of the Carlisle proposals on parole is another risky leap in the dark. When I hear the Home Secretary describe the Carlisle report as a punitive measure designed to keep people in prison longer, I feel sympathy with the authors of the report—I understand that Lord Carlisle was listening to our deliberations closely earlier in the day—because they were a group of people with reform at heart who made it clear that they did not want the prison population to rise as a result of their proposals. They must wince to hear their work being abused by the Home Secretary, for the authors of the Carlisle report intended their proposals to go hand in hand with sentencing reforms to ensure that prisoners did not spend longer in custody.
In accepting Carlisle without making effective sentencing reforms, the Government will be responsible for the prison population rising perhaps by as many as 2,000. Many of the prison reform groups are arguing that, and if I were pitching the case for the reform groups. for which I have a high opinion, against the sort of back-up information that the Home Secretary has been receiving of late from his Department, I would back the lobby rather than the Home Office officials.
I remember precisely what the Carlisle report said. It expected the courts to reflect in their sentences the fact that the people concerned would, as a result of the changes in the parole arrangements, be serving sentences more closely related to those passed by the courts. There is nothing in Carlisle about setting up an involved system and a sentencing council. It is a simple proposition that it expected the courts to reflect in their sentences the fact that people would serve a larger proportion of their sentences, and I invite the hon. Gentleman to read the report.
I invite the right hon. and learned Gentleman to read what was said in the debate in the other place, when Lord Carlisle dealt with that point very strongly indeed. The Carlisle committee expected that its reforms would be accompanied by a change in sentencing policy, however delivered. The White Paper contains no mechanism to balance one against the other. The result is—I believe that Lord Carlisle holds this opinion—that we shall have a larger prison population as a result of our failure to act.
The Labour party believes that we should consider whether parole eligibility should remain at one third. The Home Secretary should listen, because he misunderstands our opinion on it. I am sure that he does not do so deliberately, but he distorts the Opposition's view of that important matter. The Labour party wants to consider whether eligibility should remain at one third, as it is now, until effective sentencing reforms are introduced.
When we debated that point after publication of the White Paper, the Home Secretary said that the Labour party proposed that violent offenders should be released after serving one third of their sentence. I can only assume that those comments were made as a result of complete ignorance of the parole system and how it works. The Home Secretary must surely be aware that those serving long sentences for violent offences are, rightly, the least successful in obtaining parole.
Statistics contained in the Carlisle report show that only 1 per cent. of those sentenced to more than five years in prison come out on parole before serving half their sentence—that is the truth of the matter. Only 13 per cent. of those serving between four and five years come out before the halfway mark. Many of them are likely to be serving sentences for non-violent offences. Violent offenders rarely come out of prison before serving half their sentence, under the arrangements we support. The Government's proposals for long-term violent offenders merely recognise the status quo. It is the short-term non-violent offenders who will be penalised.
The Bill is an enormous gamble. Its memorandum suggests that the sentencing proposals will reduce the prison population by a mere 1,500. But the parole proposals could well increase the prison population by 2,000. The figure of 1,500 gives every impression of being pulled out of a hat. During the Conservative leadership contest this week we have heard much reference to sums and scribbles on the backs of envelopes early in the career of one of the contenders. The figure of 1,500 seems to have been scribbled on the back of an envelope and it cannot be justified by any serious research.
I do not believe that the Home Office has any idea of the total effect of that package in the Criminal Justice Bill, which hardly inspires confidence in the proposals. The Home Secretary shakes his head, but most informed people think that the Bill's result in terms of prison population will be a total gamble. Most people argue that predicting the Bill's result is guesswork and that it could either reduce the prison population or increase it. We know for sure that no one really knows the answer. It is strange for a Government to be in that position when introducing a major Criminal Justice Bill, the intention of which was trailed as being a reduction in the prison population. They do not know whether the Bill will deliver that result.
The Government are also displaying a cavalier attitude to the probation service. No doubt the Minister of State, as he normally does, will refer to a window of opportunity for the probation service to enable it to expand its work. But quantity is not everything; quality is so vital in the work. Sometimes, as I sit listening to the Government's opinion of the probation service it makes me think that they want to kill the goose that lays the golden egg. On all the criteria, the service is pretty efficient, cost effective, saves an enormous amount of money and has a marvellous body of people working in it who deliver the goods. The Government constantly snipe at the service's morale and performance. The Government always want to change the qualities that have made the service so effective. Quantity is not everything; quality matters, too. The Government are happy to jettison some of the best traditions of the probation service. We believe that their plans will make it harder for officers to win the trust of offenders and will undermine the service's constructive and positive work with offenders—work which is a necessary component of community-based sanctions.
We believe strongly in the alternatives to prison, but we argue that many of the alternatives have not been tried by the judiciary or by the magistrates. We are in favour of expanding the range of options as long as they build on the central tradition of the probation service in a way that is not punitive in the sense in which the Government like to use that term.
The probation service has delivered a good service, but the Home Secretary tends not to say that in his speeches. He should give it a pat on the back, not a slap on the wrist. He should find out why the service is so successful and expand it within its traditions. The difficulty is that the Government are doing the opposite. They are abandoning the traditional spirit and principles behind probation work and replacing them with a punitive philosophy with which most probation officers will find it difficult to work. They believe that it will be much less effective than the system that has hitherto prevailed.
We very much like about 20 per cent. of the Bill and will support and improve that percentage in Committee. Fifty per cent. of it has some good sentiments and intentions, although the drafting is confused. We, as a responsible Opposition, will ensure that the Bill leaves Committee greatly improved. It is the Opposition who have policies, ideas and vision in this area and who can therefore improve the Bill. About 30 per cent. of the Bill is damnable —wrong in conception and in every possible way.
Let us start with one of the most objectionable parts —curfew orders and electronic tagging or monitoring. The Home Secretary talked about electronic nagging earlier in the most amusing part of his speech—I rather enjoyed that bit. We believe that electronic monitoring is a retrograde step. Measures such as these are misguided and unproductive. It pained me to hear the chairman of Crime Concern, the hon. Member for Epping Forest, speak of tagging in glowing terms. The Opposition have a high regard for Crime Concern, but I wonder whether the hon. Gentleman has examined the American experience. Has he seen the disaster that tagging has been in the United States? Has he looked at the research? I had thought that Crime Concern used proper research and then applied it. The small experiment in electronic tagging in this country was a disaster, and longer-term experiments in the United states have also been disastrous——
just for the record, let me say that I was expressing a personal view. I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman's kind remarks about Crime Concern, but I should be grateful if he made it clear that I am not speaking for that organisation.
Thanks to the courtesy of the American Government, I spent most of September in America looking at crime, particularly inner city crime, in at least two states: Texas and New Mexico. I was struck by the effectiveness of the tagging schemes there, although I agree that their usefulness has not yet been proven in the United Kingdom.
The hon. Gentleman ought to put this in context. It puzzles me when people troop off to the United States to learn about its criminal justice system and its drugs and imprisonment policies. The American criminal justice system is a total disaster. More than 1 million people are in prison over there, and the number is mounting. Schemes such as electronic tagging, which are designed to keep people out of prison, have resulted in a steady increase in the prison population. We need no lessons from the United States. Its criminal justice system is a disaster. I include in that description the use of privately owned penal establishments for remand prisoners.
We object strenuously to curfew orders. Negative measures of that kind are misguided and unproductive. Constructive measures are far more likely to deter offenders from committing further crimes. That view is shared by the courts. Curfew requirements for juveniles have been available to the courts since 1983. Nobody, however, imposes curfew orders. If they are hardly ever used for juveniles, why expand their use? Most magistrates do not impose curfew orders.
Electronic monitoring is a foolish gimmick, with important implications for civil liberties. The evidence from the United States is bleak, and the so-called experiment in this country was a complete fiasco. During the experiment, 50 offenders were tagged, 28 of whom breached the conditions. Faced with such a failure, any other Government would gracefully retreat.
No, I do not intend to give way during this part of my argument.
When I listen to the Home Secretary's arguments about tagging I remember that he was very much behind the short, sharp shock of 10 or 11 years ago. The Government loved it; they were all extremely keen on it. Research similarly found that it was a failure but, unperturbed, the Government expanded the scheme. Eventually, they were forced to jettison it because, time and again, research showed that it did not work. It was a long, hard lesson for them. We believe that tagging will suffer the same fate.
The sentencing proposals for children and young persons make depressing reading. The Government's schizoid tendancy comes through clearly. They want to reduce the number of young people in custody, but their punitive instincts get in the way. Sensibly, they suggest that 17-year-olds should come within the more constructive sentencing traditions of the juvenile court, but at the same time they are prepared to tamper with the juvenile system, which is one of the few bright spots in the entire criminal justice system. Why on earth alter a system that works? Why on earth increase the maximum period of community service for 16-year-olds?
The Government make unrealistic and populist suggestions regarding parental responsibility. Of course parental responsibility is important, but can one imagine that in families where there is enormous tension and stress between child and parent and where parents have lost control of their offspring a court bind-over would be effective? It is a ludicrous suggestion. It is far more likely to exacerbate tension and lead to family breakdowns.
The courts already have considerable discretion in these cases. They can use fines and bind-overs where their use seems to be appropriate. I hope that the Minister will tell us why he takes no notice of the Magistrates Association. It does not want these powers; it does not think that they will work. The Magistrates Association does not want the new clauses.
As for the inevitable privatisation proposals, who would have thought 10 years ago that privatisation mania would be extended to remand prisoners and prison escorts? Who would have thought that the Government would want to make money out of locking people up? The deprivation of liberty should be the unique responsibility of the state. We cannot allow the development of a powerful lobby with a vested interest in keeping the remand population high. It would be a disgrace. It is scandalous that the Government's only response to the remand crisis is to build private prisons. It is regrettable that the Government have pushed ahead with those daft ideas before receiving the full report of the Woolf inquiry. Lord Justice Woolf has made it clear that remand prisoners come within his remit. I hope that the Home Secretary will see sense and that Woolf will come through in time so that we can amend the Bill before it is too late.
There are so many things missing from the Bill. Where is the commitment to end the remanding and sentencing of juveniles to prison department establishments? All we have is a clause to end custodial sentencing for 14-year-olds. That is welcome, but it affects only 200 young people.
Where are the clauses to tackle racism in the criminal justice system? There is a hint of amnesia from the Home Secretary on that. Those are vital provisions if there is to be equality of treatment before the law. What a slap in the face—not a pat on the head—for the black community to be consulted in October and ignored in November The remarks of the hon. and learned Member for Burton (Mr. Lawrence) about the black and Asian community were disgraceful in a civilised society. It is a disgrace to suggest in the stereotyped way that he did that the black community has a tendency to criminality. I hope that the Home Secretary and the Minister will repudiate his remarks.
Where are the clauses on victims' rights and crime prevention? Many of my hon. Friends and some Conservative Members have talked about those enormous gaps. There is nothing on crime prevention, prisoners' rights or miscarriages of justice.
This is a weak and limited Bill. At its heart it lacks an effective mechanism to operationalise some of its good intentions. Its schizoid nature threatens to undermine its good parts. Sentencers are being sent a dual message. All our experience suggests that only the punitive message will prevail. That makes it a bad Bill.
I woke up on the morning after my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State launched the Criminal Justice Bill two Fridays ago to look at the leader columns in the Daily Mail and The Guardian. Both the leaders in those excellent newspapers praised my right hon. and learned Friend for the excellence of his Bill. That made me think that we may have got it more or less right. We welcome the approbation that we have received from most of the penal affairs groups. They may have quarrels over particular details—they may want sentencing councils or they may not like electronic monitoring—but they like the overall drift of the Bill. Such points were recognised by the hon. Members for Caithness and Sutherland (Mr. Maclennan) and for Ynys Môn (Mr. Jones). I hope that we shall hear the voice of the hon. Member for Ynys Môn in Committee.
I want to have a word with the hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr. Sheerman) because he made several important points. He seems to be screwing up his notes and destroying them. They deserve to be preserved for posterity. He wants the Bill to be improved in Committee. I intend to debate the Bill with the same seriousness as we debated the Criminal Justice Act 1988. During the passage of that Act I was pleased to have the opportunity to say publicly, for example, that some of the issues in the Act found their fountainhead in ideas that had been developed by the Labour party. In 1986, the hon. Member for Birmingham, Erdington (Mr. Corbett) took the first important step to ensure that victims of rape were not identified in the press, and we built on that in the 1988 Act. I hope that such an approach can mark our discussions on the parts of the Bill where there is no party political dissent. Many parts of the Bill have nothing to do with party politics and everything to do with sentencing practice, common sense and trying to ensure that offenders get their just deserts and victims are compensated. That is the way in which I hope that the Committee will approach the Bill.
In 1988, our approach to the Bill did not just stop with my occasionally tossing a bouquet to the Labour party Front Bench. There was even collusion between the Opposition Front Bench and the Conservative Front Bench. The hon. Member for Dewsbury (Mrs. Taylor), who now speaks on the environment, and I were under severe pressure from the hon. Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Mrs. Golding) to do something about children's evidence and video-taping. A Committee knows nothing more fearsome than the hon. Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme when she is enraged and putting people under pressure. Enormous strength of character was required for the hon. Member for Dewsbury and Ito resist her blandishments. That led to the Pigot report, and I hope that the encompassing of most of that report in the Bill will receive her approval. I shall return to her remarks because she made it clear that she wants us to go a little further on one or two points, which I look forward to with some trepidation.
The hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland rather generously mentioned one of the effects of the enactment of the Bill. On reflection, I thought that I was a little rude to him in the debate, but unlike some right hon. and hon. Members I am quite prepared to apologise and hope that he accepts it. In five, 10 or 15 years' time, the Bill may be seen as one of the benchmarks in the development of the criminal justice system. Until the 16th and 17th centuries, the purpose of prisons was not to punish but to hold people until they were produced in court. Generally, the capital sentence was passed on them or something disagreeable was done to their person. Prisons were not intended to punish, with the exception of debtors.
In the 16th and 17th centuries, we saw a great change in the system from executing or flogging people to imprisoning them. Prison has been seen as the right punishment throughout the 17th, 18th, 19th and 20th centuries. Everything else has been seen as an alternative to prison.
When the Bill is enacted—I do not know whether I am right or wrong, but time will tell—it will be seen as a benchmark and as a twin-track approach to crime and punishment that leads to fewer prisoners being imprisoned for longer for serious and violent crimes and people who used to be imprisoned for minor or petty crimes being punished more effectively in the community. That is the underlying principle of the Bill.
The hon. Member for Huddersfield made several points. First, he spoke of the drafting of the Bill. He should beware of being rude about parliamentary draftsmen, who, particularly in this country, excel in drafting Bills. A Bill is drafted under ministerial instruction, but it is a pity if the hon. Gentleman takes incitement from the remarks of a don that he heard on the "Today" programme this morning about sloppy drafting—a rather confused and eccentric don, and as I used to be one, I know one when I hear one. He said that the Bill was a load of codswallop because, for example, it contains no reference to mitigation. That don—I do not know his name, but if I did I would hope to forget it very quickly and would ensure that none of my children went to his college—had not got as far as clause 3, where "mitigation" is mentioned. President Routh of Magdalene college was the last of my constituents to wear a full-bottomed wig, rather like yours, Mr. Deputy Speaker. He told some young pupil, "Always verify your references." That comment applies to the remarks that have been made about the Bill and that have been picked up by the hon. Member for Huddersfield. If he does not verify his references, he should at least read the Bill.
My comments had nothing to do with The Guardian article but were based on what we all knew—that the Government set impossible demands for the parliamentary draftsmen. We know that they sent the Bill back and said, "This is awful and cannot be put into any framework that we know of." We know about the to-ing and fro-ing of the Bill. It is the Government's fault, not that of the parliamentary draftsmen.
I am afraid that the Labour party seems prone to making allegations without any foundation. The hon. Gentleman said something that is not a fact and made a grievous mistake. He clearly does not understand the way in which such a Bill should be drafted. He asked why the Bill did not contain any mention of "seriousness". No Bill, with all the schedules in the world, and no sentencing council, with all the wisdom in the world, could lay down for each conceivable crime every point that would have to be taken into account in judging seriousness.
The courts have been judging seriousness for years. In a domestic burglary case, a judge will consider the amount of property stolen, the fear felt by the occupier, the breach of trust involved and the element of premeditation. In each of those ways the courts are used to applying the principle of seriousness. The hon. Member for Huddersfield is asking for the impossible if he thinks that there is any possibility in any statute or on any sentencing council of completely defining seriousness.
I regretted a bit what the hon. Member for Huddersfield said about the probation service. He suggested that my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary and I did not value it and that the probation service did not look forward with interest to the challenges that the Bill and future reorganisations of the service might bring. That is not right. Do not just watch our lips; watch the cheque books. Look at the line in the public expenditure White Paper, which shows that, over the next three years, there will be a 27 per cent. real increase in spending on the probation service. Look at the extra 800 or 900 probation officers who will be employed. Look at articles in the past week or so by the chairman of the Association of Chief Officers of Probation. Of course, he does not like this or that part of the Bill, but the Bill presents an enormous opportunity for the probation service. I am convinced that the professionalism of the service, with its exercise of caring authority, will make some parts of the Bill work in a way that the hon. Member for Huddersfield thinks is impossible.
It was entirely characteristic of the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) that at no stage did he mention victims. He mentioned offenders and raised several questions, led by one about delays in remand. By spring next year, the 112-day limit on remands will be in place in London and in the eight other counties in the south-east where it is not in place now. Implementation has taken a long time because of differences in court practice.
Several questions about standards in private remand centres were raised. I understand why the House wants to ensure that prisoners on remand are kept in good conditions. The contracts will be kept open. There will be open competitive tendering. The prison service will be able to enter the bidding for private remand centres. A Home Office civil servant, probably prison officer grade, will be appointed as the controller in the different remand centres to ensure that standards are met. All the functions are set out clearly in clauses 66 and 68.
The right hon. Member for Sparkbrook asked why we were introducing minimum standards for remand centres but were not introducing minimum standards for prisons. We are concentrating on doing something about the prison estate, which, over the generations before 1979, fell into a shameful condition. There will be a record number of prisons. The new sanitation services being put in place will ensure that, by 1994, 75 per cent. of prisoners will have access to night sanitation. We are not talking about it; we are actually doing it. We shall provide straightforward—and certainly not soft—conditions. We are also waiting for the recommendations of Lord Justice Woolf, and my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary has said that he will wait for the recommendations of the Woolf committee to see whether there are any recommendations about the introduction of minimum standards.
The right hon. Member for Sparkbrook also raised an important point about the punishments available for white-collar criminals, which was a point that interested him. A cocktail of punishments is available for white-collar criminals outside prison. We are, of course, talking about minor criminals because major City fraudsters who breach a trust seriously and who are found guilty will probably be given a long prison sentence, as hon. Members of all parties would agree was right.
There are several ingredients for minor white-collar criminals, including compensation for the victim. When the courts decide to punish someone outside prison, they should put even the fine second to compensation for the victim. That is a cultural change in sentencing, which all of us want to see. The ingredients include, as I said, compensation plus—and I emphasise the word "plus"—a fine, plus community service for up to 100 hours, plus a curfew, plus attendance at the probation centre—the old attendance centre—plus a probation sentence as a sentence of the court. If all those ingredients were applied, some minor white-collar criminals might see that as a lot tougher than spending three or four months in gaol. I hope that it would be a lot tougher, and that it would lead to the rehabilitation of some of those people and, most importantly, to repayment for the victim. I am sometimes angry when minor criminals go to gaol because they are prevented from repaying victims. If the courts use compensation orders more, there will be far more satisfaction for victims.
The right hon. Member for Sparkbrook talked about our attitude to parental responsibility, and the argument on that swung backwards and forwards during the debate. My hon. Friend the Member for Congleton (Mrs. Winterton) feels strongly that much of the recent increase in crime is connected to the breakdown of parental responsibility. Opposition Members whose views I respect, such as the right hon. and learned Member for Warley, West (Mr. Archer), said that it would be difficult to use the criminal justice system alone to make parents responsible. My right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary recognises that and he said earlier that he did not expect the criminal justice system to cure all the problems of children offending.
The provisions about parental responsibility are just one limb of the Government's programme. We have introduced provisions in the Children Act 1989 on welfare to help children in trouble and to set up children's centres. My right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary and my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Science are also actively discussing whether we can do far more about truancy to ensure not that we punish children, but that we get them to school. A cocktail of provisions is coming from the Government, which together represent a far more integrated approach to dealing with children offending and with parental responsibility. The criminal justice measures are just one part of that mixture.
I now refer with considerable pleasure to the speech of my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Buxton——