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Crime Reduction

– in the House of Lords at 5:27 pm on 27th March 2002.

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Photo of Lord Elton Lord Elton Conservative 5:27 pm, 27th March 2002

rose to call attention to the available means of reducing the level and cost of crime and thereby reducing the size and cost of the prison population; and to move for Papers.

My Lords, there are now more than 70,000 British citizens locked up in prison in England and Wales, at taxpayers' expense. That is more than 23,000 more than there were in 1982. Those 70,000 have been put there by huge and costly effort to catch, convict and punish a few of those responsible for crimes that are now being recorded at a rate of 5,200,000—I stress that figure—per year. Reliable surveys show that if we could add unrecorded crime to that figure, it would be vastly larger.

The cost of crime rises at least in proportion to its volume. The Association of British Insurers put the insured cost of domestic, commercial and car theft together at £242 million in 1982. By 2000, the figure had risen to £1.126 billion. Londoners should note that the Home Office calculates the full current cost—not just the insured cost—of all recorded crime in the Metropolitan area alone to be almost £3.5 billion. Adding in a calculation for unreported crime brings the figure to just over £10 billion. Everywhere we look, the trend is upwards.

Recorded crime is now up by 1.7 million cases since 1981, when it stood at roughly 3.5 million. I deliberately chose 1981 as my example in case noble Lords thought that everybody else was getting the same bad results. By coincidence, the numbers recorded in that year in France were also roughly 3.5 million. By the end of the 1980s, when our total was heading for 5 million, theirs had fallen to about 3 million.

The 70,000 who are now in prison were not the only contributors. They are just the ones who are unlucky enough not only to be caught but to be charged, brought to court, given a full trial, sentenced and given custodial punishment. At each of those six stages of that journey to prison, many more luckier ones left the train. NACRO tells me that in 1999 only 14 per cent of the 5.2 million serious crimes resulted in a charge or summons. From even that small proportion, just over one-third were either acquitted or had their cases dropped. Of all 492,000 charged with serious crimes, only 16 per cent ended up with a custodial sentence.

And yet, none the less, there are 70,000 of them in our prisons today. That is a substantial tip of an iceberg of astonishing size and astonishing cost. The stated net cost of the Prison Service last year was £1,502,770,000. That works out at a cost per place of £22,890. The actual cost to taxpayers is more because that is net of contributions from other public bodies that taxpayers also pay for, such as the Youth Justice Board which contributes substantially.

If, as a result of serving their sentences, all those 70,000 emerged as upright citizens, fitted to earn an honest living, the cost might be worth while. It would mean in a famous phrase that, after all, "prison works". But it does not. Within only two years, 58 per cent will re-offend and be back in prison. Both the level and the cost of crime are unacceptable. What we are doing currently to reduce the level and the cost is simply not working. I am one of those who has been doing the things that have not been working.

The cost alone must surely lead any sane person to recognise that what we need is not more prisons, but fewer criminals. That would not only save the cost of their crime and punishment, but would also mean that we would gain the contribution of their honest activity in the national economy. Once we had fewer criminals we could perhaps reduce our efforts to recruit yet more policemen and, controversially, community support officers and the like as well.

A means of identifying those at risk of becoming criminals would be an enormously useful tool. In his report to the Metropolitan Police Authority last week, the commissioner identified, and gave weightings to, 14 risk factors and four protective factors to be used in establishing which juveniles are most likely to offend. That sits well with, and perhaps refines, the identification process established for youth inclusion projects—YIPs. I am also encouraged by his saying that the Met is not the right body to hold that information. We cannot have the police thinking that they know, in advance, who will commit crimes on their patch tomorrow. The right body is the Youth Offending Team—YOT—and the right regime is information shared in rigorous confidentiality.

In a speech last November, the deputy commissioner referred to criminals as people being swept along by a fast flowing river. Like him, I think that we should stop relying on wading in to catch them when they reach us and move up stream, to stop them falling or jumping in. Referring to the 18 per cent rise in street crime in the year to March 2001, he pointed out that between half and three-quarters of all street crime was down to juveniles.

So, while others will be talking about the treatment of offenders and prevention of re-offending, I want your Lordships and the Government to concentrate on the prevention of first-time offending. A great deal is already afoot, and I give the Government the credit for a broad range of initiatives. Indeed, one of my concerns is that if they all impact on a single unfortunate individual at the same time, he will not be so much saved as stunned—hit on the head by the lifebelt.

Another, and more serious concern is that, in the useful analogy, we are still standing far too far downstream. Youth inclusion programmes, for example, which I regard as one of the best targeted and best structured initiatives, cannot look at a youth to see whether he is at risk of offending until he is 13 years old. That is up to two years after he has arrived in his secondary school. Keep that secondary school in mind because I shall return to it.

The deputy commissioner gave a chilling reference to a recent survey by the Met which found:

"It is not an exaggeration to note that, for some of these children, street gangs provided a safer and more caring environment than their homes or their classrooms".

So, back in that secondary school, in which a child is to be a pupil for up to two years before becoming eligible for the protective and supportive interest of a youth inclusion programme, he feels himself to be less safe than in a street gang. The deputy commissioner went on to say:

"We need better to understand the environment in which they find themselves".

Indeed we do.

To begin to acquire that better understanding, a week ago last Saturday, I went to a conference convened by Diane Abbott MP, on what is happening to black children in London's schools. Mine was one of at most a score of white faces and there were many hundreds present. As a result of what I heard, I have been talking to a range of people, black and white, who have first-hand professional experience of what is going on. After all, if, to any of those children, a criminal gang feels safer than a school, we have an urgent need to find out what is going on there.

Wondering whether I was in the right place to trace the origins of much violent crime, I was brought up short by a parent who, from the platform, asked, "What is it that is turning the little cherubs we held in our arms with so much love into gun-gangsters?". That was a cry from the heart that we must note.

Ever since my first interest in education, I have been aware of the intensely destabilising effect on young people of frustrated educational ability. I do not believe that many people yet realise what an enormous pressure of frustration there is among London's black schoolchildren and their parents. We need to analyse the causes. A major one is that under present arrangements a pupil's academic progress is heavily dependent on a teacher's assessment of his or her ability. I shall illustrate that. The GCSE examinations were introduced to replace two separate examinations for different ability ranges to give every pupil a chance to score the best grades of which he is capable. The position has now changed and most subjects now require candidates to be entered for one of two tiers in the same examination and their entries are made for them, by their teachers, on the teachers' assessment of their ability. Very often that is done without the knowledge of the pupil or the parents.

Higher tier candidates can score anything from an A star to a D. If they miss the D they fall straight into failure, which is a different problem. Foundation tier candidates, no matter how well they perform, cannot achieve better than a C grade. In mathematics there are now three tiers: higher, with possible grades of A star to D; intermediate, yielding only B to E grades; and foundation with only D to G grades. Selectors for many, indeed most, courses leading to the qualifications required for many, if not most, professional and white collar jobs simply will not interview any candidate who does not have better than a C in maths. The same is true of other levels in other subjects. So, a teacher's assessment can, without his or her knowledge or that of the parents, make a final and virtually irreversible career decision while a pupil is still only 13 years old.

But teachers, you may say, are unprejudiced judges of ability. I was a teacher and I thought that I was an unprejudiced judge of ability. I am sure that they believe that and I am sure that we hope that they are. But listen to the experience of a senior lecturer at a British university, who happened to be black. When engaged on preparing his tenth book for publication, he attended a parents' day and was told by his son's teacher, "He's really doing very well. If he keeps on like this he may even get 5 GCSEs. And you can help by always seeing that there are some books in the house!" The son now has a bachelor's degree with honours from one British university, and a doctorate from another.

That is not a one-off. A white researcher from an institute of education of high regard tells me that, in the schools that he has been studying over the years, all black parents say that if they visit the school without first putting on a business suit and tie, or the female equivalent, they are automatically taken either as single parents or cleaning staff. White parents can wear what they like. I am certain that the discrimination about which black parents and black pupils complain is not deliberate, but, unconscious though it is, it has the appearance of being systematic. That suggests to a large, important and talented part of our population that they are being kept down on purpose. That is wholly unacceptable and it must be addressed.

I regret that I did not have time to give warning that so much of my speech would refer to education. I also take this opportunity to express regret that the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, cannot be with us. He has written to me and I understand and sympathise with his difficulties, as does the rest of the House. I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Bassam of Brighton, will do his best in his place.

It may be a delicate subject but it is a crucially important one. Speaking personally, I have a high regard for anyone with the guts to try teaching in a big inner city secondary school, which is 10 times harder now than when I did it back in the 1960s. I also admire anyone who sticks it for more than a couple of years and so gives some continuity of care to the pupils. But, that said, I believe that in inner cities with large black populations the job can be done better and easier if a substantial proportion of the staff are themselves black and so on the right side of the cultural divide when it comes to assessing and providing for their black pupils.

My subjective view is that too many schools with mostly black pupils on the roll are managed and supervised by people of a different colour. We need objective figures. I ask the Government to give priority to a survey of the ethnicity of inner city school pupils and their staffs which includes a survey of the ethnicity of school governors and—this is particularly important—of schools' exclusion panels.

Others better qualified than I will tell me if I am right. My view is this: no matter how well informed and benign these bodies may be, if they are entirely or overwhelmingly white they will never convince a 75 per cent black clientele of parents and pupils that they are free from ignorance of or prejudice against them. That is a barrier to trust that must be removed.

I have focused on one key sector. But schools are not the only breeding grounds of crime. First, there are those excluded from school. I gladly acknowledge the progress made towards providing 25 hours of supervised work for all excluded pupils in the next school year. If that is accomplished it will be a notable achievement. In the school year 1999-2000 about 20 per cent of the 8,323 permanently excluded pupils were provided with home tuition. Regrettably, home is the starting place of much school trouble, and home tuition provides only five hours tuition, not 25. Will the Minister Lord please write to me, and copy his answer to the Library, to say how that will be dealt with?

Secondly, we have truants out of school in school hours. That is a constant source of anxiety and a constant point of reference to all, myself included, who point to it as a fertile source and reliable predictor of crime. Ofsted reports, however, that in a whole range of truancy sweeps around 80 per cent of truants have been found in the company of an adult, usually of a parent. That should be remembered when considering the home as necessarily a good influence.

Thirdly, children have long holidays. The French tackled their crime in part, and very successfully, by making generous public provision for them. Please may we include our own schemes, including the admirable SPLASH schemes, about which I am sure the noble Lord has been briefed?

That leads me to a wider consideration still. The behaviour of the parents revealed by that report seems to me to reflect something going wrong in society as a whole. I think that we have become utterly fixated on the rights that individuals can expect—and exact—from society, and just about forgotten the duties that they owe to it and to each other. The human rights legislative saga that has pre-occupied this House, and some notable Members of it, to the exclusion of so much else, seems to have done subtle, but very real harm. It is time to redress the balance.

In this redressing we can look for help from, among others, the Churches. I look to the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Gloucester to stir his brethren about this and about one other issue. We have seen how crucial is the role played by our schools. Certainly they can do great and unintended damage, but that is only because they are in a position to do such enormous and such badly needed good. Where the need is so great, surely the clergy should be encouraging young men and women to be alert to a vocation to work in that field. If the other faiths could follow suit that would be all to the good. I beg to move for Papers.

Photo of Lord Thomas of Gresford Lord Thomas of Gresford Liberal Democrat 5:43 pm, 27th March 2002

My Lords, I am sure that the whole House will join with me in thanking the noble Lord, Lord Elton, for introducing this topic at what I consider to be a very important time. It is a time when there is a change in prison policy. Matters appear to be moving in directions of which I entirely approve.

I followed the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Elton, with a great deal of interest. I took issue only at the end of it when he referred to the human rights legislation. He says that he thought I would. I do so for this reason: the whole purpose of the human rights legislation is to prevent innocent people from becoming victims. When we demand fair trials that is to prevent the innocent from being convicted. We are certainly entirely in favour of the guilty being properly dealt with and properly punished. I do not think that anyone should ever suspect that people who are engaged in the human rights field have any sympathy for guilty people.

Going back to the end of the 1980s, I recall a sentencing conference that I attended in Cardiff. It was a conference for judges and for recorders. A very senior judge addressed us. He said, "Look here, boys"—it was Wales of course, and there was only one lady present among those 60 as one would expect of judges in Wales. "You hear about the Home Office saying don't send people to prison". That was the policy at the time. "You don't pay any attention to that. If you feel in your judgment that people should go to prison, you send them there".

That was the climate at that time. It was the time when the noble Lord, Lord Hurd, was saying—and I entirely approve of what he said—that prison is an expensive way of making bad people worse. But then in 1991 there was a change. The Act of that year placed an emphasis on heavier punishments. The noble Lord, Lord Elton, has already referred to 1993 and Mr Michael Howard. His announcement was that prison works. It worked in the sense that it kept people locked up. Naturally, that was a short-sighted policy. Unless one locks people up for the rest of their lives they will come out at some time. The question is, in what condition will they be returned into society?

In the following five years the prison population rose some 50 per cent. That was not as a result of a direct instruction to judges, but because judges do reflect what they hear on the airwaves, read in the press and what politicians and commentators say. I think that perhaps it is right that they should do so. But sentencing increased to a very marked degree. The judges followed the existing guidelines and tariffs, but after a very short time, the pressures from the press and the politicians started to drive up sentences.

There was a competition, which your Lordships will remember well, between Mr Howard and Mr Straw to "out-tough" each other. They thought it necessary to be perceived as being tough on crime and on the causes of crime in order to win the 1997 election. I recollect that the criticism from these Benches of the kind of cock-fighting that on prior to the 1997 election was treated with derision.

More recently, each side has claimed credit for the recent fall in the figures of recorded crime. But it is not prison nor policing that has worked. It is investment in increased security measures which has made it much more difficult to break into cars and homes that has caused the fall in recorded crime, while violent crime has increased. Until mobile phones are automatically rendered useless when they are stolen, we shall continue to have the kind of robberies that we have heard about more recently.

With this increased emphasis on prison over a whole decade, did we end up with the most successful criminal justice system in Europe? No, we did not. Over 70,000 people are locked up—about 130 for every 100,000 people. In Europe, only Portugal gaols a higher proportion than we do. For example, it is double the proportion of people locked up in Scandinavian countries. One has not heard of crime running riot in those countries. As for re-offending, 55 per cent of adults and 75 per cent of youngsters are back before the courts within two years of their release.

The Home Office declared that,

"a change in the use of custody of 25 per cent would be needed to produce a 1 per cent change in the level of crime".

So the policy that has been followed over a period of 10 or 12 years of locking people up for longer has failed. Hence we now have new thinking. For us on these Benches there is great relief that the competition to out-tough each other appears to be over.

Mr Oliver Letwin has brought new thinking to the Conservative Party. The Shadow Home Secretary now appears to be more open to a change of policy. What are the reasons for that? First, the prisons are full to overflowing. Secondly, the cost, running at about £24,000 per year per prisoner, is enormous. Thirdly, it is impossible to carry out the innovative rehabilitation programmes that exist. Fourthly, the Halliday report has pointed the way forward. I am sure that your Lordships have read that report. It states:

"Sentencing serves the purpose of crime reduction and reparation as well as punishment".

So those two additional elements have entered the thinking on sentencing.

In addition, as the noble Lord, Lord Elton, mentioned, there has been the work of the Youth Justice Board. Youth offending teams and youth inclusion programmes have been created. Investment in the Plus programme, which is a literacy and numeracy initiative, is yet to show results, but is heartening. The youth offending panels which have been set up to deal with referral orders come on stream shortly. I give the utmost credit to the noble Lord, Lord Warner, with whom I have often disagreed, and his staff, who have fought for and obtained the necessary funding for those intensive supervision and surveillance programmes.

But there remains a major task: to cause the public to rethink. Due to the sensationalism of the press, it has been entrenched in people's minds that any sentence falling short of a harsh experience is a let-off. Courts are lenient, so people think; repeat offenders deserve harsher sentences, and so on. But it is my experience that if I ever come across a group of people who complain that the courts are lenient, talk to them about the most recent case in which I have been involved and ask them what sentence they would pass, it is inevitably much lower than the sentence actually passed by the courts.

I must not exceed my allotted time. Prisons hold dangerous people, and it is right that they should do so. But, overwhelmingly, they hold damaged people: people who have gone through local authority care, suffered from unemployment, exhibited truanting, or faced exclusion from school, drug dependence or low educational attainment. A whole raft of matters must be tackled before we can solve the problem of crime in our society.

Photo of Lord Carr of Hadley Lord Carr of Hadley Conservative 5:52 pm, 27th March 2002

My Lords, I want first, as I am sure we all do, to congratulate my noble friend Lord Elton on introducing a debate on criminal policy in terms which enable us to deal with the subject in a broad way. Although there is certainly no reason why he should have told me, I must confess that I had not expected him to make his speech so educational. That is not my forte, and I regret that I cannot reply as I should wish because the points he raised are extremely important.

However, I cannot help commenting on the packed Government Benches. Our previous debate on an extremely important subject attracted not a single Government Back-Bench speaker; I am glad to say that this debate has now attracted one listener. It is most extraordinary on a subject of this vital nature for everyone in this country—of all ages, sexes and parties—to witness the degree of interest shown by the Labour Party in this House. Frankly, I regard it as a disgrace; I hope that the Labour Party learns from it and will see that it never happens again.

I have a problem with part of the wording of my noble friend's Motion. I am not sure that the total cost of the prison population can or should ever be reduced. The number of criminals in prison can and should be reduced by more use of alternative forms of punishment, but those in prison may cost us more if we are to improve their treatment. It is after all results that concern us rather than total cost. I seriously believe that the cost of our prison service needs to rise rather than fall, even though it may be applied to a smaller number of people.

A year or two ago I was dismayed to hear a statement, presumably of reassurance, from a recent Home Secretary that we know that prison works. I found that extraordinary. It is clear that the present prison system has not been working. As I have said many times over the years, imprisonment is often the most expensive and least effective way to reform a criminal. This requires serious consideration.

Of course prison is essential. Punishment is essential, and that must include imprisonment. But overcrowding in prisons must be reduced if prison is to be an effective sentence. Both the quantity and quality of education in prison must be significantly improved, as must provision for and counselling of prisoners before release if we are to settle them successfully in employment. All that is expensive—perhaps very expensive—but it would produce much better value for money.

I therefore qualify my approval of and support for my noble friend's Motion with the caveat that we may well need to spend significantly more money but on—this is the vital proviso—a significantly smaller number of people. Of course, we cannot dictate to the courts, but we must seek, by advice, help and information, to reduce the size of our prison population so that those who need to go to prison get a higher standard of education, training and preparation for the day they come out. To walk out of prison at 8 o'clock one morning and be left in the labour marketplace is a recipe for disaster for both the people concerned and the society in which they work.

More effective prisons may mean a more expensive prison system, even though a smaller one, but one providing much better value for money, leading to a significant reduction in the total cost of crime to the community. It is the total cost of the penal system and value for money that really matter.

It is important to give more impetus to the development of non-custodial sentences. I know that they have been considerably developed, but I should like to see a further strong advance in both their quantity and quality.

Incidentally, but importantly, community service sentences will require the extensive use of electronic tagging—a matter which has caused some controversy. However, if properly used, these can be of immense help in developing the greater use of non-custodial sentencing. In the end, giving service to one's fellow members of the community is the most effective expiation that a criminal can make, both for his own personal good and for re-establishing a position of responsibility within the community. In money terms, community sentencing can also be easily the cheapest form of treatment. It is much cheaper than putting people in prison and it is also much more effective. But it needs a continuous effort behind it, to see that it is expanded and improved.

To accompany what I hope will become a smaller but much more effective prison service, the stronger development of community service sentences will clearly lead to the thoughtful and extensive development of tagging. I remember writing a letter to The Times when the matter first arose, thinking that I was making an unoriginal and not very controversial remark. I was astonished by the post that I received objecting to the whole idea of tagging. I simply do not understand that. Tagging enables more people to be kept out of prison, and it helps more people to re-establish themselves in the community in the best possible way from their own point of view and from that of their fellow community members.

This an important debate. I welcome the greater attention given to the educational aspect. That must be at the root of reducing the number of criminals. I leave other speakers to take up, support and perhaps enlarge on the proposals put forward by my noble friend Lord Elton, who has done the House a great service by raising this matter.

Photo of The Bishop of Gloucester The Bishop of Gloucester Bishop 6:02 pm, 27th March 2002

My Lords, there was some discussion earlier today about the travel arrangements for some noble Lords. I, too, have difficult travel arrangements this evening. Because of the need for my presence in my cathedral tomorrow morning, Maundy Thursday, I have to catch the last train to Gloucester tonight. I very much hope to be present for the whole of the debate. However, if that proves impossible to reconcile with getting to Paddington station on time, I apologise in advance to the noble Lords, Lord Elton and Lord Dholakia, the noble Baroness, Lady Buscombe, the noble Lord, Lord Bassam of Brighton, and other noble Lords.

This is a topical debate, and one in which there will be a great deal of interest. I, too, am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Elton, for initiating it. It is a matter of great concern to the Churches, and that is why I am pleased to have the opportunity to speak in this debate. Like many churchmen, I have three points to make which I believe are central; namely, the manner in which we treat young people, the issue of minority ethnic groups and their numbers in prison, and the use of custody.

I turn first to the question of young people. This is an area in which the noble Lord, Lord Elton, has devoted a great deal of his time and energy in terms of his support for the DIVERT Trust. The trust has set up mentoring schemes for young people who are in trouble with the law, and provides good role models for them. I am glad to say that a number of Christian organisations have followed the example of DIVERT: in particular, the Roman Catholic De Paul Trust, which is run by a Catholic priest who is also a chaplain at a young offenders institution. In addition, there have been initiatives from the Diocese of Rochester and several others. It is important that young people are not patronised, but that they find someone who is able to relate to them and provide a definite incentive for them to change.

There is a great deal of material available on how deprived is the background of many young people who end up in custody. Perhaps I may give one example. The Prisons Inspectorate produced a report in November 2001 on the educational needs of those under 18 who are in prison. Seventy-three per cent described their educational achievement as "nil"; 84 per cent had been excluded from school; 52 per cent had ended their school career at 14 or younger; and 49 per cent had been in care at some time.

These are young people who have committed crimes, and no one is making an excuse for that. However, the sad reality is that for many of these young people education can only be described as a disaster zone. They are unemployable at present, and almost inevitably they will experiment with drugs, alcohol and other ways of combating the boredom and frustration that loom ahead of them.

I am sure that young people who commit robbery, muggings and burglary, to say nothing of vandalism, present a picture which is often horrifying, frightening and offensive. However, these young people are trapped in an educational cul-de-sac which offers them nothing for the future. I am glad to commend the work of the Youth Justice Board, which is well aware of the problem and is putting its greatest efforts into seeking a solution.

My second point is that there is an alarmingly disproportionate number of black people in prison. They represent 18 per cent of all prisoners, compared to the 3 per cent of the general population who are from black communities. Even allowing for social conditions, no one seriously believes that black people commit six times more crime. So this suggests that black offenders are more likely to end up in prison than white offenders.

Different research gives different conclusions about how far that figure is due to discriminatory decisions in the criminal justice process, and at what stages along the line discrimination may take place. However, it is clear that the need to reduce the prison population must include effective work with black and Asian communities. I welcome the initiatives which the police service has taken to build good relationships with those communities. Too often in the past there has been suspicion on both sides. The independent police complaints authority that was announced in the current Police Bill should very much help matters here. But ultimately there is a need to reduce unemployment in such communities to the same level as that in the rest of England. I commend the work of the Church Urban Fund, which has undoubtedly played a part in this area.

My third point relates to the use of custody. There has been a sharp increase in the number of people being sent to prison by both magistrates and Crown Courts in the last decade. It is not as though crime has increased; it has actually fallen. In France, the prison population fell from 51,000 in 1995 to 46,00 in 2001. But the prison population in this country went the other way—from 46,000 to 70,000 in roughly the same period. It is important that we take at least two steps to respond to this growth.

First, there is a need to try to ensure that those who are presently in prison do not re-offend. More positively, they need help with resettlement. The forthcoming social exclusion report will be of great importance in this regard. The Churches, ecumenically, through the Churches Criminal Justice Forum, now employ two full-time Salvation Army officers working on nothing but resettlement issues, thanks to the generosity of the Salvation Army. They work with prison chaplains, volunteers and local churches in helping with resettlement. Secondly, we must surely explore other ways of sentencing people to punishment. Community sentences are another way forward. Again, the Churches Criminal Justice Forum, thanks to a grant from the Esmée Fairbairn Re-thinking Crime and Punishment initiative, is employing a development worker for two years to help churches to debate the issues and to encourage church members to get involved practically.

This is a subject of great importance for the future of our society. Of course, we must defend law and order, but we also have a duty to young men and women who, for one reason or another, are educational failures. We must provide a better way for them than the prospect of years of imprisonment. The churches are keen to play their part in that ongoing debate.

In response to the direct question that the noble Lord, Lord Elton, asked me at the end of his speech, I say that I agree entirely that teaching is an enormously important and honourable profession. I have no doubt that all parochial clergy spend much of their time, week by week, supporting the schools in their parish. They also encourage appropriate young people to consider seriously the possibility of taking up teaching as a career. I shall make certain that that continues in my diocese.

Photo of Baroness Stern Baroness Stern Crossbench 6:11 pm, 27th March 2002

My Lords, I also thank the noble Lord, Lord Elton, for initiating the debate. He has made such a contribution over the years to keeping our criminal justice system civilised. His constant reminders of the cruelty that we inflict on children in the name of crime control have long been an inspiration to me and, I am sure, to many other noble Lords. It is characteristic of him that he spent a weekend at a conference on under-achievement among black children.

I am glad that we are talking about reducing the level and cost of crime. Preventing crime must be better than dealing with it after the event. Preventing unnecessary incarceration is worth talking about for moral, financial and social reasons. Noble Lords have mentioned the fact that this month saw the passing of a milestone: 70,000 prisoners. That is a rise of 5,000 since 15th March last year. Only Thailand, in the whole world, can match that rate of increase.

I have watched the prison population since 1977. Like share values, it has gone down, as well as up—mostly up. In 1994, the Home Office thought that, by now, we would have 56,600 in prison. I admit that I did not expect to see the figure at 70,000. There are well known, proven ways of reducing the use of prison, as the noble Lord, Lord Hurd of Westwell, knows. He used them to great effect. I would have expected that, by now, any government would use them.

I shall concentrate on comparisons with other countries in Europe. We do things differently here, and it is worth asking whether we do them better. As an interesting comparison, we are now top of the EU league table of rates of imprisonment. I must tell the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, that we are now joint top with Portugal, at 131 per 100,000. Portugal will soon reduce the use of prison because of a brave and imaginative method of dealing with drug possession. Possession of up to 10 days' supply of an illegal drug has become an administrative offence rather than a criminal offence. Those who are apprehended are linked to treatment rather than punishment.

We are at 131. That is more than Bulgaria, Turkey and Albania. There is a great gap between us and our neighbours. France is at 78, Belgium at 85, the Netherlands at 87 and Denmark at 62. Those are not marginal differences. They signify a different approach and attitude. Why is that so? The Minister should consider whether the balance that we have struck between punishment and prevention in dealing with crime is wrong. Are we running too fast after more punishments and making more acts criminal instead of reflecting and working on how to prevent crime? If the Minister were to agree that more emphasis on prevention is right, he would have the public with him.

I am pleased that the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Gloucester mentioned the Re-thinking Crime and Punishment project run by the Esmée Fairbairn Foundation. I must declare an interest as an adviser to the foundation. It recently commissioned a study from MORI, asking some interesting questions. Members of the public were shown a list of possible interventions and asked which two or three on the list would do most to reduce crime in Britain. The top three answers were: better parenting; more police on the beat; and better discipline in schools. All those got more than 40 per cent. The option of putting more offenders in prison got 8 per cent. Some 53 per cent felt that most people came out of prison worse than when they went in, whereas 14 per cent disagreed with that. When asked how they would spend £10 million on dealing with crime, 31 per cent said that they would set up teams in 30 large cities to identify and work with children most at risk of getting into crime. The proportion that would spend it on keeping 400 adult offenders in prison for a year was 2 per cent. Prevention is popular.

How do we compare with other countries in striking a balance between punishment and prevention, between social measures that give people the opportunity to lead a better life and measures of criminal justice control? It is difficult to make such comparisons, but they are often made when spending on health and education is compared. I have figures in US dollars for expenditure per capita on health. France spends over 2,000 dollars, Germany 2,400, the Netherlands over 2,000, Sweden 1,750 and the United Kingdom 1,400. I know that there are similar figures for education, to which, perhaps, the noble Lord, Lord Dearing, will refer later.

I also found some figures in the journal of the Institute for Fiscal Studies, comparing expenditure per capita on prosecution, judiciary, police and prisons. The figures show that expenditure in England and Wales is much higher than in France, Sweden, the Netherlands and Germany. We underspend comparatively on health and education, and we spend more than other countries on criminal justice. Is government policy going in the wrong direction when we make decisions about spending priorities in creating a safe and good society? Do we invest in closed circuit television as a substitute for measures to promote good neighbourliness? We lead the world in CCTV surveillance; there are more cameras per head of population here than in any other country.

Last week, in the House, there was a discussion about a government amendment to the Police Reform Bill. It concerned something called ASBOs, which are, in fact, anti-social behaviour orders. I know that the Minister will say that they are popular, and I am sure that they are when people are at the end of their tether, living with a terrible family in their street and are not offered any other option. However, what is being stored up for the future by that method of social control? What is the future for an ASBO'd young person? Having such a label at such an age makes a future of crime, more victims and prison almost inevitable. Compared with that, the cost of an alternative approach to the doubtless horrendous and appalling young person who is ASBO'd—it may be mediation, social support and family support—is cheap. Furthermore, it is right.

I know that the Home Office has an economics and resources analysis unit, based in the research branch, which researches the outcomes of various measures to deal with crime. I wonder whether the Minister will be able to tell us whether there is any information from that unit about the outcomes of investment in CCTVs, ASBOs and curfews as compared with community strengthening, the mediation of disputes, programmes which challenge young people, good schools, good mental health services and support for families.

Photo of Lord Hurd of Westwell Lord Hurd of Westwell Conservative 6:20 pm, 27th March 2002

My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lord Elton for initiating the debate. Our House has a particular responsibility in pursuing the matter. We debated it last July and should do so from time to time.

I declare an interest as president of the Prison Reform Trust, though I have handed over the important job of chair to the noble Lord, Lord Fellowes. We look forward to hearing the noble Lord speak later in the debate.

In my office, there is a photograph of six former Home Secretaries—all Members of this House—gathered around a bust of Sir Robert Peel celebrating the second centenary of his birth. We all feel a certain solidarity in as much as we all had to tackle a difficult job. One of the former Home Secretaries—the noble Lord, Lord Jenkins of Hillhead—tells us from time to time that being Chancellor of the Exchequer is like living through a long dark winter night—he was of course talking about being Chancellor in a Labour government—whereas at the Home Office, the occupant is subject to being struck by sudden storms coming out of a clear summer sky.

The present Home Secretary is certainly beset by several storms coming from different quarters of the compass, if that is possible. They are immigration and asylum, police reform, street crime and now the onrush of prison overcrowding. I am not sure whether the calm and thoughtful nature of the debate reflects what is happening daily in our prisons.

The Home Secretary, realising that, is in public leaning hard on the Chancellor of the Exchequer for more money. In my experience, that is a rather dodgy tactic, but I wish him luck in it. However, I want briefly to deal with the need to ensure that the Home Secretary, within the resources which he currently has, gets his priorities right. I urge that in the turmoil, which is greater than has yet emerged in the debate, the expenditure on prisons—in particular the expenditure on purposeful activity in prisons—should not sink to the bottom of the list.

I have a reason for saying that. I vividly remember what happens when overcrowding ceases to become just one of many worries and comes to the top of the list as a result of the courts' decisions. What suffers is not the negative business of keeping prisoners in gaol behind bars; what suffers is the positive side of prison life. What suffers is the attempt to reduce the risk of re-offending. What suffers is the effort to reach prisoners and help them reshape their futures.

The whole emphasis becomes one of coping simply with the documents, with the inflow of prisoners and with the arrival and departure of vans. The prisoners cease to be individuals and they shrink to the status of statistics. They are bussed across the country from one prison to another—to whatever will hold them—far from their homes.

The rise is fairly recent but the chief inspector is already aware of it. As a strong admirer of the previous chief inspector, Sir David Ramsbotham, I believe that the new chief inspector, Anne Owers, has made a wholly admirable start. She recently said:

"What we are seeing now is a game of musical cells, more like a game of pinball where prisoners merely touch a prison and need to be moved away swiftly to accommodate the next lot. The courses and programmes which they may be involved in are disrupted. The crucial work on resettlement is not being done".

That is the chief inspector's preliminary assessment of the present situation.

I want to put to the Minister one or two specific examples. If they are inaccurate, I hope that he will write to me. I am told that at Wandsworth the refurbishment of E-wing has been scrubbed. The refurbishment of E-wing is crucial. It is the creation of cells which will be safer for prisoners who are tempted or liable to commit suicide. Why has it been put in ice? Because it requires space to decant the 100 or so prisoners who are presently there. There is not the space in Wandsworth, and presumably elsewhere in London, to do that, so E-wing remains as it is—with the risks.

From the young offenders prison at Feltham, which we all know is full, young prisoners are being shunted to Wetherby out of reach of their families and the whole array of voluntary services now available at Feltham. Three prisons have been converted to use by women because of the sharp rise in the female prison population. At Buckley Hall, that change has meant the closing of a particularly good housing advice centre.

Many cells in prisons across the country designed for two people are occupied by three. The chief inspector drew attention to what it must be like to eat your meals day in, day out, sitting on a lavatory. A letter written to the Prison Reform Trust from a prisoner in that situation states that because there is only one table in a cell for three he cannot write, read or study and he is becoming bitter, dirty and hostile.

Sixty-five per cent of the overcrowded prisons fail to meet the target of 24 hours per week of purposeful activity. Twenty-four hours a week is not a lot but that target is not being met. Behind that figure lie hundreds, perhaps thousands, of such incidents cell by cell.

That is bad news. It is bad news for the prisoners but it is bad news for all of us. I increasingly feel—I did not always feel it—that the most important moment in the cycle is the day when the prisoner leaves prison. My noble friend Lord Carr of Hadley referred to that. He leaves—I call him "he" because most prisoners are men—a way of life in prison which is harsh in one sense but easy in another because all decisions are taken away from him and he is protected from all the hazards which come with free choice. Now he is physically free again, but free for what? Down the road are his old friends; down the road are the drugs and the drink; and down the road is the temptation to commit crimes to finance the drugs and the drink.

In the balance on his side could be—can be—new ideas and skills acquired and stimulated in prison to help resist the hazards of a free life. They can help him find a home and help him obtain and hold a job. We all know that such help is already skimpy and shaky and is not matched by all the services available on release. But overcrowding weakens, strains and even destroys that help because of the pressure on budgets. I ask the Minister to urge the director general and the Home Secretary to grip the situation. They must not allow the positive efforts prison by prison to wither away—efforts in prison and efforts after release. We must constantly remind the Government how vital such positive effort is not only to prisoners but to the society which one day they will re-enter.

Photo of Lord Northbourne Lord Northbourne Crossbench 6:28 pm, 27th March 2002

My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Elton, most warmly not only on initiating the debate but on his brilliant introduction. The incidence of violent crime in this country is growing and many noble Lords have drawn attention to that. We know that there are many causes of violent crime and it is generally held that the individual's criminality is triggered not by one cause but often by a cluster of malignant factors.

Today I have time to draw the attention of the House to only one of those root causes. It is one which recent research has shown to be extremely important. It is, surprisingly, the way in which a child's brain develops during the critical period between conception and the age of three. Those early years are now known to be critical to the child's later social and emotional development.

Recent advances in brain scan technology have enabled neurologists to gain a much clearer understanding of the way the human brain develops. The research has shown that the 100 billion brain cells, called neurons, which a child will ever have are formed during the first half of pregnancy. After that, the synapses—the connections—between those brain cells begin to develop. By the time the child is born, about 50 trillion synapses have been made. Over the next three years of a child's development, that number increases 20 times to 1,000 trillion. Today, scientists accept that that is much too large a number to be specified by genetic factors alone. It is now generally believed that these new synapses are formed, or at least moderated, by the child's experience in the womb and during the first three years of life.

Two other important factors have emerged. Synapses which are used regularly tend to become "hard wired"; that is, they are hard to shift later. This means that what is learnt early, and the behaviour that corresponds to that learning, may be very resistant to change later on. Synapses which are not used early tend to atrophy or may be diverted to other uses in the brain. In practice, the brain in a young child develops in a "use-dependent" fashion. External and environmental experiences during the latter part of pregnancy and in the first three years can affect the development of a child's brain for life.

I shall go into a little more detail. During pregnancy, the development of the foetal brain can be influenced by drugs in the mother's bloodstream, including alcohol and nicotine, or by the mother's fear, depression or stress. It is worth mentioning that between 1991 and 1997 there was a rise of over 300 per cent in the acknowledged use of alcohol among pregnant women. During the first three years following birth, abuse, violence, parental stress and depression can influence the way in which the child's brain develops. So can abandonment or neglect. The very structure of an infant's brain can be altered by such dramatic experiences.

The baby who has a healthy relationship with its mother learns how to calm himself from the way his mother calmed him. From having learnt what pleases or displeases her, he can weigh up the consequences of his actions. The child from a violent family has none of these checks and balances. An infant, who, as he grows up, is deprived of the natural stimulation of a loving relationship with his parent, may lose the use of some of the synapses most important for establishing good human relationships in later life. Furthermore, he may lose others which are important for successful learning.

Many of these outcomes have been confirmed by physical evidence. The brains of abused children are significantly smaller than those of non-abused children. The limbic system governing the emotions is some 20 to 30 per cent smaller and tends to have fewer synapses. Similarly, the hippocampus, responsible for memory, is also found to be smaller in abused children. Changes causing increased activity occur in the locus coeruleus, responsible for hair-trigger reactions and alertness, as one might expect in violent families.

From society's point of view, the most dangerous feature of these brain-damaged children is that so many of them grow up angry, frustrated and aggressive. Many more grow up ill equipped to succeed at school. The importance of success at school has been emphasised by a number of noble Lords.

I do not want to imply that remediation is not possible, but I have to say that, from my own experience as a trustee of the Caldecott Community which works with seriously damaged children of this kind, I know that the treatment is both difficult and expensive. Furthermore, the outcomes are very uncertain. If any noble Lord would like more information about the research that I have outlined, I have a reading list which I would be most happy to make available.

If it is true that early parental care is so very important in avoiding crime, disaffection and exclusion, then there are things which any government ought to be doing. For example, local authorities should not be allowed to house vulnerable young parents with babies and toddlers in bed and breakfast accommodation or, indeed, in lonely single-room flats without any support. Antenatal clinics, which we ought somehow to persuade or even bribe all parents to attend, should teach mothers during pregnancy—a time when they are most receptive—about the social, emotional and cognitive needs of children. Trained staff are needed to do that job. Health visitors should also be trained follow up the training and be given more time to support vulnerable young parents.

Education in schools should take seriously the preparation of young people for future parenthood. In my opinion, it should form a key element of the citizenship curriculum. Every community should have an accessible centre where parents can go with their baby or toddler and find a welcome there, find other parents to talk to, and find help if they ask for it—including respite child care. Finally, government tax and benefit structures should recognise and encourage parents, and those extended families which are prepared to make a commitment, to work together for the welfare of their child.

However, there are tougher issues than those; they are the easy ones. There are issues concerning society's values in relation to the responsibilities of parenthood which I do not have time to discuss in detail. However, I should very much like to return to those matters on a future occasion.

Before I finish, I must give the Government credit for their Sure Start and Early Learning initiatives. Both are greatly to be welcomed. But now we need to see those schemes operating and delivering effectively right across the country. Much more needs to be done. The cost of prevention will be tiny in comparison with the cost of violent crime.

Photo of Lord Windlesham Lord Windlesham Conservative 6:37 pm, 27th March 2002

My Lords, I add my voice to the tenor of this debate which has been so well and opportunely moved by my noble friend Lord Elton. In the time available I should like to concentrate on only two matters. The first is sentencing—that is, the process that leads to imprisonment—and the second is the home detention curfew.

The background to what is happening in sentencing at the moment, as I see it, is that ministerial statements, exacerbated by the tabloid press—to which they often seem specifically to be aimed—inevitably have an effect on the attitude of sentencers in the courts. Yet it is the courts which have to determine what is a fair and proportionate response to the harm that has been done. The flexibility which results is one of the great virtues of the common law system. Aside from setting the maximum sentence, the penalty is not prescribed by law. However, the decision on the actual sentence imposed within that maximum is taken by the individual judge or magistrate.

It is true that the courts can be guided, but it is vital, for the reason of separation of powers and other reasons of principle, that it should be the judges and not the politicians who determine sentencing policy. In particular, it is the judiciary which should determine the sentences passed in individual cases. The higher courts have not been slow or reluctant to set an example of what can be done.

Two recent, well-publicised judgments in the Court of Appeal Criminal Division, by the present Lord Chief Justice, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Woolf, demonstrate this. The first was the case of R v. Lobban and others, in which the Lord Chief Justice, referring to the theft of mobile phones—this was not accurately reported; or at any rate the perception reflected in news reports was, I suspect, not what he intended—stated that,

"we are not intending to set guidelines . . . we are seeking to draw together the principles which are already clearly established by the reported decisions of the court".

He went on to deal with a range of penalties which would be appropriate for the widespread affliction of the theft, sometimes robbery, of mobile phones.

Some more general comments of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Woolf, on sentencing policy were contained in his judgment in the case of Kefford in the Criminal Division of the Court of Appeal as recently as 5th March. The court heard an appeal against a 12 month gaol sentence for theft and false accounting. In substituting a four month sentence, the court said that with prison overcrowding only those who needed to be imprisoned should be and for no longer than necessary. For economic crimes, imprisonment was not necessarily the best sentence, especially where the offender was of previous good character. That is clear guidance coming from the courts to sentencers; and it is a correct procedure which should be followed. Politicians should be kept at arm's length from attempting to influence levels of sentencing by the courts.

I turn next to home detention curfew by way of electronic tagging. This is a relatively new innovation, although the technology has been known for several years. It originated in the United States. However, partly because of faulty systems, and partly perhaps because of reluctance within the Home Office and the penal system generally, tagging has only become commonplace within the past two or three years. As an innovation it has been successful, allowing numbers of low-risk offenders to be released early, subject to a curfew—that is, to remain at their home address, if they have one, or at some other known address—during evening hours; with any breach of that obligation being recorded electronically so that the offender can be brought back into custody without placing the public at any risk.

The decision to release a prisoner subject to curfew is taken by the prison governor. It has turned out to be a wise procedure. A governor gets to know quite a lot about an individual prisoner during the time that he or she has been in custody. It is for the governor to make an informed decision, after a careful assessment of the risk of reoffending. The policy has been a cautious, but successful, one. Levels of reoffending have been very low. I believe that only in the order of 2 per cent of those released early on HDC have reoffended. That figure compares with a reoffending rate of 58 per cent for the prison population as a whole. So we see here a successful selective process.

Word is coming from the Home Office that the Home Secretary is considering making home detention curfew automatic, saying "There won't be much risk to the public because very few prisoners who have been released on HDC have reoffended." But if the system is widely extended, the risk of reoffending will rise sharply, with the result that this successful selective scheme will be jeopardised. I hope that the Minister will make a careful note of these comments, and take them back to the Home Office in the hope that no decision has yet been taken. Although there has been some press comment on the issue, I am not aware that any decision has been taken or announced.

Photo of Lord Hylton Lord Hylton Crossbench 6:44 pm, 27th March 2002

My Lords, I join in the universal thanks to the noble Lord, Lord Elton, for initiating the debate. I should like to draw on experience from Northern Ireland and some other countries to try to outline a nine point strategy for preventing and reducing crime in particular neighbourhoods—one might almost say for the drying up of the supply of new criminals.

I start with community development, which is greatly needed, most of all in areas of high youth crime. This kind of development aims to enable local leadership to emerge. It will help identify local needs and raise local morale by initiating self help and mutual help.

I turn to parenting skills. My noble friend Lord Northbourne has mentioned the issue often in your Lordships' House. Help with these is vitally important for unsupported couples and single parents. Different skills are needed for coping with babies and later with teenagers. Acceptable advice can be the key when problems occur in families.

Crime prevention aims to create safe neighbourhoods. In Northern Ireland this starts with pre-school playgroups. It continues with after-school clubs and drop-ins, and youth sport and art groups, all with maximum involvement of parents. Anything which helps young people to relate to each other and to adults seems to be worth trying. Where gangs are a problem, ex-gang members should be brought in to act as mentors and mediators. I understand that this has improved things in some of the toughest parts of Los Angeles.

Youth facilities, such as clubs and swimming pools, also have a part to play. Simple points such as opening play areas at weekends and evenings are most important.

Truancy, dropping out and suspension from school have been mentioned, notably by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Gloucester. This is where trouble so often begins and leads on to serious trouble. Systems are needed to provide alternative education and personal development with mentoring so that ideally no one loses a single day of schooling. The noble Lord, Lord Elton, mentioned the current target of 25 hours a week home tuition. I hope that that target will be pursued very determinedly and will soon be reached. We have a long way to go.

Better management of social housing can make a big contribution. That includes providing caretakers for blocks of flats, better lighting, closed circuit TV and the prompt removal of unlicensed cars, rubbish and graffiti. Above all, better management will avoid placing all problem families together on "sink estates". I hope that that process has started; it is greatly needed.

Local community restorative justice has been shown to work in at least three continents, including England and Northern Ireland. It can take much strain off the police and the courts. It deals with anti-social behaviour, neighbours' disputes and young people "hanging out" in a threatening way. It can reconcile victims and offenders. Training will normally be necessary for those involved to ensure fairness and good practice.

Youth offending teams have been mentioned. They already exist in many places. Police and public liaison committees exist in some. Those bodies should help statutory and voluntary agencies to work together but they need the support of all groups in the community as well as information coming from individual.

Finally, I come to visible policing. This reinforces all the earlier eight points. Wherever possible, it should provide a beat system so that individual constables come to know the local people and are known by them. Local police surgeries can help; so also can police auxiliaries and special constables by providing supervision of known trouble spots and problem areas.

Your Lordships will have noticed that the first seven points I have mentioned hardly involve the police at all. However, they do depend on all components of the community working together for a safe and harmonious village neighbourhood or town. That will be achieved only by good co-operation between statutory and voluntary bodies, together will all community organisations. When the police also are deeply involved, there is a chance of making real progress. I very much hope that strategies of this kind will be applied in each of the five high crime police priority areas which have been identified in England and Wales. I note that two of these are in south London. Without full community co-operation, I fear that extra policing effort by itself will only drive crime into other areas. That would not solve very much and our prisons would be just as full as ever.

Photo of Baroness Linklater of Butterstone Baroness Linklater of Butterstone Liberal Democrat 6:51 pm, 27th March 2002

My Lords, I, too, am very grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Elton, for initiating this debate. I welcome any opportunity for discussion of what is one of the most difficult as well as the most important of public policy areas; namely, how to deal with crime and criminals and in particular how to use imprisonment as one of our tools of punishment and public protection.

I declare an interest as the chairman of the initiative referred to by two speakers. It is called "Rethinking Crime and Punishment", funded by the Esmee Fairbairn Foundation of which I am a trustee. It is a three-year strategic initiative designed to raise the level of debate about prison and alternative forms of punishment through funding initiatives which inform, educate and involve the public, press, politicians and sentencers in the realities of prison and the alternatives for dealing with offenders. Today's debate represents an important contribution to what we are trying to achieve and for that I am very grateful.

Overall, the crime rate is dropping—a surprising fact given much media reporting—although there is worrying evidence of a rise in street crimes in particular inner urban areas. But over the past five years 50 per cent more offenders were sent to prison despite fewer crimes being committed.

I would like to look at what is happening to young people and children who offend. In a generally depressing picture of the outcomes of imprisonment—I endorse what the noble Lord, Lord Hurd, said about the impossibility of the task landed on the Prison Service, with the catastrophic overcrowding that exists in our prisons—the younger the prisoner the higher the rate of re-offending and the greater, therefore, the failure of the system to do its fundamental job of protecting the public. If prison deterred, the prison population should be plummeting. The reality is that 58 per cent of prisoners discharged in 1997 were re-convicted within two years. Among young male offenders the figure for re-offending was 76 per cent.

Along with many others, I believe that children under the age of 18 should not be held in prison. David Ramsbotham, the ex-Chief Inspector of Prisons, said that the Prison Service is essentially an organisation for adults and is neither structured nor equipped to deal with children. Yet figures produced by the Council of Europe in September 2000 showed England and Wales top of the European league with over twice the number of prisoners under 18 of Germany and three times more than France. What does that tell us about our system as regards children?

It is absolutely clear to me that we must develop community alternatives to prison if we really wish to reduce crime, reduce costs and reduce the numbers in prison, especially children and young people. More than eight out of 10 15 and 16-year olds leaving YOIs are re-convicted within two years, yet it costs £40,000 a year to keep them there. By contrast, the most intensive community supervision schemes run by the Youth Justice Board cost £12,000 a year.

Here is the challenge to sentencers who are responsible for the disposal and the politicians responsible for providing the alternatives: to fund, promote and use what really works.

I have mentioned before in your Lordships' House one community-based initiative I know in Scotland for dealing with children who offend at what is called the "heavy end" of persistent young offenders. It is called Freagarrach, one of several in this field, run by Barnardos on whose Scottish committee I sit. Freagarrach costs a mere £1,500 a year and the rate of re-offending or return to some form of incarceration by these young people was 12 per cent last year.

An assessment by Lancaster University judged that there were direct savings to the community of up to £158,000 annually. Everybody is gaining. Equally impressive is an alternative to custody for high tariff young male offenders aged 18 plus called the Airborne Initiative in the Scottish Borders. I am a patron of that organisation. As an alternative to a prison sentence these young men undertake a nine-week intensive course involving a combination of group work and outdoor activity. Of those who complete the course, coupled with intensive follow-up support, 60 per cent do not re-offend. The cost is approximately £1,000 a week. Again, it shows what can be achieved with high risk offenders to the benefit of all concerned and at vastly lower cost.

However, my greatest concern is that despite the evidence of the failure of incarceration to stop re-offending, the number of ever younger children we are imprisoning in the three secure training centres now in existence is growing. Currently, there are 203 children in the juvenile secure estate who are under 15 years of age and over half of them are in the STCs, the rest being in local authority secure units. It costs £2,500 a week and the re-offending rates are enormous. One assessment showed 67 per cent had been re-arrested following further offences even before the second half of the sentence in the community had been completed. This is a very similar client group to the persistent young offenders in Freagarrach, and although the latter agree to attend the project—and who would not if the alternative was custody miles from home?—it shows just how counter-productive in cash and human terms is the punitive detention of children.

I visited the Medway STC where part of the points system for earning privileges enabled the "trainees" to earn the privilege of another cuddly toy. Lest we forget: these hoodlums and tearaways are children. The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child also seem to be forgotten here.

Not only are Rainsbrook and Medway going to virtually double in size by June and November respectively in order to relocate some of the 100 or so girls currently held in prison, but I have learned that new, hugely expensive STCs are planned so that there will be 400 new places for children by 2005. How can we tolerate this?

Today, we have 2,800 under-18s in some form of custody. There is a prediction that the figure will rise to 4,000. Can the Minister truly say that he can endorse these plans and measures? Should we not be investing in the development and improvement of local authority secure units where children who clearly require secure provision can go rather than making the huge investment which the STCs will require and where the outcomes are so damaging? I ask the Minister to visit, investigate and see what is possible through community alternatives, and then, with that knowledge, ask himself whether it is still right that we continue to lead the whole of western Europe in the incarceration of children.

Photo of Earl Ferrers Earl Ferrers Conservative 7:00 pm, 27th March 2002

My Lords, the Motion of my noble friend Lord Elton refers to a deeply important and complex matter. One could almost truncate it by asking what has gone wrong with society and how do we put it right. If anyone had the answer to that, I doubt whether we would have found ourselves in the appalling mess we find ourselves in now. That is not a political point. It is merely a reference to what every government have faced over the past 40 years. I agree with my noble friend Lord Hurd that the calm measured nature of this debate does not necessarily reflect what goes on outside.

Crime—its physical effect on people, its mental effect on people and its concomitant fear—haunts everyone. They do not like it; they want it ended; and the Home Secretary, like his predecessors before him, knows that and he does his best. But why do we all fail? I have not taken part in debates on prison and crime since I left the Home Office because I felt that I was not sufficiently knowledgeable or expert on the subject. Your Lordships may feel that is the most sensible judgment I have ever made. I may not swim along with the general drift of the debate, but I do not think that this somewhat philosophical Motion necessarily requires one to be an expert. It is the job of Parliament—and the Government as the executive—to protect society and the people within it.

I have always taken a fairly robust view of crime. A criminal ought to be punished. No one has to commit crime. One has to be responsible for what one does. The fact that a person decides to go against the law, to go against the society of which he or she is a part—and which, if everyone else were to do the same thing, would end in absolute mayhem—requires its own condemnation. It requires punishment to which a person does not readily take and which can bring its own shame. Rehabilitation, restitution and education not to re-offend are all fine—they should all take place—but they should follow and not over-ride punishment.

That does not justify the appalling prison conditions to which many noble Lords have referred. I have never found any difficulty with the concept of prison, although I wish it was not necessary and that prisons were better. I did, though, have personal difficulty when, as a Home Office Minister, I managed from time to time to visit prisons. One would look through a spy hole at a person who was entrapped in a cage, with locks and bolts and metal doors, like an animal in a zoo. One's conscience then turned like litmus paper into, "Poor person. There is almost something inhuman in this. What can be done for him?". That sentiment has rightly exercised penal reformers over the years.

One of the real tragedies is that many prisoners are released early only to re-offend. The Sunday Telegraph gave some horrifying figures only 10 days ago. I think that it was the previous government who originally had the idea of tagging and carried out the trials. But in the three years from January 1999, when the Government's tagging scheme first started, to December 2001, as a result of prisoners who had not completed their prison sentences but were let out early, 1,456 new crimes were committed. These included four rapes, 38 serious woundings, 82 serious assaults, three kidnappings, 19 muggings and 223 other thefts. Seven offenders threatened to kill people, two offenders were found with guns, 14 were found with knives and there were 123 drug offences. As one police officer put it, "We are letting convicted criminals out to cause mayhem". Those offences were committed by people who had been let out early and who had not completed their sentence.

When a person is released early and re-offends, there is an innocent person who becomes the subject of a most appalling experience, from which he or she may never recover, and who would not have received that experience had the offender been detained inside to his full term. Heaven knows, it is a difficult enough subject, but I find it intolerable that innocent people become victims—even raped or sometimes killed—because criminals are let out of prison before the end of their sentence. Every time an innocent person becomes a victim as a result of this, we—whether the prison governors, the Probation Service, Ministers or Parliament which passed the laws—carry a heavy responsibility for having wrecked that person's life.

I remember a Member of Parliament asking me whether the Home Office had any money because he was trying to help to set up a sports centre for people in his constituency. I replied that the Home Office did not have any money. He said, "It's a funny thing, isn't it, that when you try to do something to prevent people offending you can't get anything, but once they have offended and are sent to prison, there are all the facilities available to them?".

Why is it that we have so much crime? Over the past 40 years, despite all the worthy efforts that everyone has made, the position has become immeasurably worse. Now we have women and girls doing it. Only on Monday, the Daily Mail reported that gangs of four year-olds are doing it. Schools find that children often become uncontrollable. The other day a young boy punched a pregnant teacher in the stomach. Teachers often find that they cannot cope with the viciousness of the pupils and, if they take any action, they often find that they themselves are accused of breaking the law.

A doctor's surgery near to where I live has a notice saying, "Please do not be aggressive to the Staff. We are doing our best". The accident and emergency departments of some hospitals have a police post within them in order to protect doctors and nurses from aggressive patients. Why has all this happened? The solutions seem almost impossible. Everything that people try does not seem to work.

Yet it does not have to happen. Look at Singapore. It has the lowest crime rate in the world. It is a crowded island but you can walk out at night; you can go into the tube, at night or during the day, and feel completely safe. You never see a policeman. Admittedly, when you arrive you are given an immigration form to complete which states, in clear red letters, quite simply,

"The penalty for importing drugs is death".

I expect that that slows some people up. But if the country is without drugs and without the misery that drugs produce, is it not the better for that? The circumstances of Singapore may be different, its culture may be different, but so are the results.

I have always thought that the power of television has had no small part to play. Agatha Christie's murders were always jolly good fun—Who Dunnit? But when you get murders and stabbings on the television, with all the details being shown of how to do it—knives being held at people's throats, blood going all over the place, people lying on the floor being kicked by a gang in the stomach and in the head—I defy anyone to say that that does not have any effect on people and that it does not put ideas into their heads.

The power of television is enormous. That is why industry spends millions of pounds each year trying to influence people's ways of thinking into buying its products. But you can equally influence people's ways of thinking in other directions. Great responsibility for the effect of what is and is not put on the television lies with the television companies and their producers.

In the end, I come back to the real difficulty. How do we bring up our families? How do we teach our children? How do we put them into a society of good influences?

Photo of Lord Fellowes Lord Fellowes Crossbench 7:10 pm, 27th March 2002

My Lords, I am especially grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Elton, for initiating this debate. I must begin by declaring my interest. Last autumn, I had the honour to take over the chair of the Prison Reform Trust from the noble Lord, Lord Hurd. Since then I have endeavoured to learn as much as I can in a short time about a subject in which I have always been interested but whose problems I see becoming less and less tractable. The only certainty I have acquired in my all-too-short education is that prison reform is not an option, but an absolute and urgent necessity. I am delighted by the encouraging signs that the Home Secretary has come to the same conclusion, at least as far as concerns the size of the prison population.

I need hardly underline the urgency. The figures, in all their horror, speak for themselves. So, too, do the banner headlines in some newspapers calling for more and more prisons to be built, and for more and more prisoners to be locked up in them. What is left unsaid is that from those prisons, under our present regime, would issue more and more young people, 76 per cent of whom, as we heard, would re-offend within two years. Is that really the way to deal with crime?

There are, rightly, many who tell us of overcrowding in prisons and its evils, of drugs in the prison system, of the lack of purposeful activity, of the number of people held on remand and their treatment, and so on. There are critics, also often with justice, of the Prison Service—that body of people who, by and large, are dedicated and professional, and broadly committed to the cause of reform but whose standing can be so easily tainted by one incident or one poorly-administered gaol.

I should like to concentrate today on an aspect that I have found especially shocking and moving in my visits to prisons; namely, the number of sufferers from mental illness who are, by any humane standard, quite wrongly held in prison. They should be held in establishments that are designed to treat them, to look after them, and, if possible, to make them better. A supposedly comprehensive National Health Service should surely provide such conditions, both for those who require security and for those who pose no threat to anyone except, all too frequently, themselves. It is a gross imposition on the prison system to ask it to care for them instead—a job for which it is unqualified and ill-equipped, and for which it is not funded.

Of course funding is, as so often, at the root of the problem. But while the NHS declines responsibility for these people and the prison system, now stretched to the limit, bears the burden, those wrongly imprisoned continue to suffer. I shall use only one further statistic as an example: 10 per cent of sentenced young offenders in prison and 8 per cent of those on remand suffer from serious mental illness, such as schizophrenia. The prison system is simply not designed to cope with that, try as it might—and it does try.

This is callous treatment of those for whom we should feel nothing but compassion. The present situation is bad for them, bad for other prisoners, bad for the members of the Prison Service who are required to look after them, and an undeserved blot on the reputation of a prison system already in grave difficulty. I hope that we in the Prison Reform Trust can do something to put it right.

Photo of Lord Chadlington Lord Chadlington Conservative 7:13 pm, 27th March 2002

My Lords, the topical debate so brilliantly introduced by my noble friend Lord Elton—I join others in thanking him for bringing the debate forward—searches for the virtuous circle of reduction in numbers and reduction in costs both of crime and of prison. A few months ago, when speaking on a Radio 4 programme, the Governor of Bullingdon addressed the issue in a stark manner. He said:

"We know that if drugs were taken out of the system, out of the equation, that Bullingdon would be half empty. So if we can do something to cut down on drug use, we can do something to cut down on the amount of inmates that actually come into places like Bullingdon".

The governor's views are graphically supported by the statistics. According to the research that we have undertaken at Action on Addiction (where I am chairman), in collaboration with the National Addiction Centre that we co-fund, 60 per cent of all crimes in the United Kingdom are now drug related. The experience of the police confirms that 57 per cent of those in custody last year admitted to taking heroin in the past month, while 52 per cent admitted to taking crack cocaine and 13 per cent admitted to taking cocaine. Those found guilty of crime readily recognise that drug-taking and crime are causally connected. Nearly 50 per cent—something over 46 per cent—believe that their addiction caused them to commit the crime.

Heroin is a major factor in many of these cases. For 25 per cent of the men in prison, heroin addiction was a major problem before imprisonment. Although there is only one woman for ever 20 men in prison in the UK, some 50 per cent of those women had heroin addiction problems prior to their imprisonment. The National Treatment Outcome Research Study (NTORS) showed that 655 drug users, mainly heroin addicts, committed 70,000 crimes in the three months pre-treatment.

The litany of these statistics could be continued, but that would serve little purpose. Whether the percentage of addicts committing crimes is slightly more or slightly less matters little in the context of this debate. What matters is this: if we could substantially reduce the number of people addicted to drugs and manage more effectively those whose addiction proves unbreakable, we would reduce the level and cost of both crime and prison. So how do we do it?

I wish to suggest a five-point agenda to the Minister. In doing so, I acknowledge, like other noble Lords, that much good work has been accomplished, particularly in the recent past. However, I believe that much more is possible in several specific areas. The first of these is research. We just do not know enough about drug addiction and the behaviour that it fosters. At present, 75 per cent of the UK drug budget is spent on law enforcement and the prevention of drug trafficking—laudable activities. But Customs and Excise estimates that it only intercepts 5 per cent to 10 per cent of the drugs coming into this country.

I believe that there is a real need for a private/public fundraising partnership to raise matched funds to provide research into the causes of addiction, especially in the very young, and the relationship between that addiction, criminal behaviour and the appropriate medical treatment. Action on Addiction—and, I am sure, other addiction charities—would co-operate enthusiastically with the Government in such a programme. We are woefully light on such scientific, defensible and robust research on all these issues. We are literally flying blind, and putting the problems out of sight behind locked and barred doors.

Secondly, we need well-documented case studies, which show that treatment works. Perhaps I may give noble Lords an example. We know that heroin addiction directly causes acquisitive criminal behaviour. However, when we treat heroin addiction the levels of criminal behaviour drop markedly—not always by 100 per cent, but certainly by 75 per cent to 80 per cent. Once in treatment, this change in behaviour is almost immediate; indeed, often within the first month of methadone treatment.

Thirdly, we need more information on the comparable costs of treatment versus imprisonment. We know already that methadone treatment is roughly 30 per cent of the costs of imprisonment. But we need to expand the toolkit of such treatments, particularly with regard to crack cocaine, to agree the full range of comparable costings. Fourthly, I acknowledge that the new drug treatment and testing orders are a welcome development. They are an effective alternative to prison. However, I cannot help but wonder whether those processes should be administered by those with primarily criminal justice skill sets and interests. Could not this be more effectively delivered through the NHS?

Finally, my fifth point relates to the post-release period, recidivism and overdosing after a prison sentence. Release from prison is a time of high risk of relapse. Relapse leads to crime, crime to prison. We need better pre-release planning for addicts to make the transition into a world where drugs are available. We need the transition to be less traumatic and more manageable. We also need to provide help for the family and friends of an addict returning to life in the outside community. For example, we could pilot test pre-release methadone maintenance programmes and provide overdose training for inmates, family and friends, including, perhaps, supplies of naloxone.

The secret to unlocking the virtuous circle, for which the noble Lord, Lord Elton, searches, is to be found in addressing the drug issue and drug-caused criminal behaviour. To do that, we need more research, preferably through private/public partnership, backed by specific case studies. Treatment will reduce costs, but we need to expand the toolkit of treatment. Can we make the drug treatment and testing orders even more effective? Finally, can we reduce recidivism by preparing addicted prisoners more effectively for the outside world?

All that will reduce the level and cost of crime and the size and cost of the prison population. The programme also has the distinct added advantage of addressing the key fear of every parent, whatever their social or economic background—namely, that drug abuse will blight the lives of their sons and daughters.

Photo of Lord Dearing Lord Dearing Crossbench 7:21 pm, 27th March 2002

My Lords, as so often, I find it a great privilege to listen to debates in your Lordships' House and I rise with considerable diffidence. I shall offer some thoughts on reducing the numbers who commit crime and the numbers who, having committed crime and suffered imprisonment, return to crime.

I venture to make a contribution because of some remarks made in a debate on 11th March by the noble Baroness, Lady Howe, whom I see in her place. Like the noble Lord, Lord Elton, she said that it would be much more sensible to spend £5,000 to £6,000 on a child at school rather than £25,000 on an adult in prison. She went on to say from her experience as a magistrate in juvenile courts that by the time a young offender is first tried for a criminal offence, he or she almost invariably—I think she said 99 times out of 100—has an established and irreversible practice of truancy associated with disruptive behaviour at school. Does not that give warning signals that are identifiable in school before children get to a juvenile court? We should respond to those warning signals.

We spend £2,300 a year on our children in primary schools and £3,700 a year on older children in secondary schools. That is the lowest of any of the G6 countries. For example, it is 50 per cent less than in Japan or the United States. There is a clear economic case for increasing expenditure, but I am concerned with human lives and the wellbeing of our civil society. We need to raise our expenditure on those children and young people when we see the gathering clouds to the kind of figures that the noble Lord, Lord Elton, mentioned. They need to be given caring time and teaching time, particularly in the last year at primary school, which is the last chance before they move on to the open seas of a secondary school where, instead of having a class teacher who is the good shepherd, they are on the high seas, moving from teacher to teacher. We all know that there are great dangers in the first year of secondary school. Most children, unless they are able, regress in adapting to the new world. How much more is that the case for those children who have a genetic inheritance, an environmental inheritance or a family background that does not equip them with that other stability to enable them to navigate a passage?

My first suggestion to the Government—which will not help David Blunkett in his sea of troubles today, but which will deal with the causes of that sea of troubles—is to increase their investment in such children in primary and secondary schools.

My second suggestion concerns those who are already in prison. We know that on release they have the disadvantage of a criminal record when they look for a job. In the great majority of cases, they also have an educational deficit. For many of them, 90 per cent of jobs are said to be closed. No wonder they regress back into crime with those difficulties facing them. However, when they are in prison for more than a short sentence there is an opportunity to re-engage in remedying the deficiencies of the investment in their intellectual and emotional capital and equipping them to be better parents and better partners through education.

One of the first thoughts that occurred to me when I was the chairman of the University for Industry was that distance learning is the way of getting into prisons and to individual prisoners. I am glad that the Home Office is now running an experiment in four prisons using that material, with a view to expanding it to 100. However, that is only one device. There are some evil men who cannot be rescued and who are best in prison, but the great majority have something that can be rescued. It is imperative for our society to reduce the figure of 57 per cent returning to prison. We must give those men and women a chance through education.

That costs money. I wrote to the noble Lord, Lord Davies, the other day with a thought on the money side. We could give prisoners an incentive to engage in learning by saying to them, "Chum, let's talk this through. Suppose you commit to this learning programme and suppose you succeed. We would be prepared to think in terms of reducing your period of incarceration because you have equipped yourself better and done something useful with your time". If it cost £25,000 a year and the prisoner got six months' remission, that would chop £12,500 off the bill, which is a very good return for a small investment. What is more, it would reduce the chance that they would come back, which is another return on the investment. There is an economic as well as a social and human concern that justifies thinking again about our approach to education in prisons.

To sum up, I have two thoughts to offer the Government. Because the warning signs are so evident early on, they have an opportunity to anticipate and to seek to remedy the risk that young people will move into crime by following the advice of the noble Lord, Lord Elton, and spending £5,000 a year now rather than £25,000 a year later. Secondly, to the extent that that does not succeed, we should invest in people in prisons in the expectation that there will be some return, because they will be enabled to come back into society better equipped to contribute to it.

Photo of The Earl of Dundee The Earl of Dundee Conservative 7:29 pm, 27th March 2002

My Lords, I join in congratulating my noble friend Lord Elton on introducing this debate and providing its focus, which connects reduced measurements for crime with those for the prison population. As background to that focus, the first anomaly concerns value for money when our own prison service is compared with others elsewhere. We spend less than our European partners on health and education, but we spend much more on prisons. Yet our recidivism level has not been decreased as a result of increased expenditure. Nor has it been decreased below the European average. My noble friend highlighted this inconsistency when he compared costs and measurements between ourselves and Europe.

Secondly, there is the anomalous relationship between custodial and non-custodial sentences. We have seen the introduction and steady application of non-custodial sentences. Yet these have failed to effect a proper reduction in custodial sentences. They have even co-existed with a large increase in the number of custodial sentences and a large increase in the number of prisoners, from 46,000 in 1991 to an estimated 73,000 by July 2002 and a predicted figure of 83,000 by 2008. Despite the availability of non-custodial sentences, there are still far too many both below and above the age of 17 who are in prison for minor crimes and who should not be in prison at all. In particular, it is still the case that far too many young people are detained. In the majority of cases, the detention of young people is as futile as it is counter-productive.

Thirdly, paradoxically enough, there is even the worrying anomaly, or at any rate its prospect, which relates to the pursuit of much better practice. This arises from current government plans for the Prison Service, the police service and new sentencing guidelines for courts. Much of this planning is to be welcomed. Equally, however, a great deal of it may not have been sufficiently thought through in order that it can lead to better rather than worse results.

Recently, however, the Government appear to have expressed all the right sentiments. Within prisons, they seek to address systematically the task of rehabilitation. Their aims include better education, improved employability and reduced drug and alcohol dependency. However, such schemes will work properly only if the number of prisoners is reduced; otherwise, resources will remain too over-stretched for prison staff to fulfil all these objectives.

Regarding the police force, a real improvement in value for money will depend upon a genuine increase in detection rates. Sadly, these have deteriorated from 45 per cent in 1971 to 25 per cent in 2000. For those crimes now of greatest public concern, such as burglary, theft and robbery, detection rates have even fallen below 20 per cent. The Government say that they will increase police numbers. Unfortunately, that alone will not necessarily increase the efficiency of the police force or its detection of crime.

There are a number of proposals and aspirations for altering the approach and direction of court sentences. Ironically, it is just where these may now appear to be particularly balanced and helpful that they could prove instead to be particularly damaging and unhelpful. In other circumstances, weekend prisons, for example, now advocated by the Government, might well prove to be effective if they did not exacerbate—which in our case they would—the burden of an already overstrained Prison Service. In theory, while any measure of co-ordination between police, courts and prisons on crime and its cost control is only too desirable, in practice much of what we have heard so far under the heading of co-ordination, unless it is thought through much more carefully, may threaten to make matters worse.

How then should the Government and the criminal justice service proceed to make matters better, and a lot better? The key may well be the terms of reference of this debate and, within that context, the guidance from so many noble Lords who have spoken today. Clearly, each of the services—whether it be the courts, the police or prisons—can deploy measures from a wide selection of available means. The first point, therefore, is that the three services should act in concert to a far greater extent and seek to deploy combined measures to achieve the same purpose. That goal is as outlined by my noble friend Lord Elton: to reduce the level and cost of crime and thereby the size and cost of the prison population.

Secondly, our criminal justice service should be prepared to adjust far more than it does to evidence from elsewhere. Not least is useful evidence disseminated through the various research institutions associated respectively with the noble Baronesses, Lady Stern and Lady Linklater, and my noble friends Lord Fellowes and Lord Hurd, all of whose excellent contributions we have heard today. Within the United Kingdom there is the guidance that comes from the Scottish criminal justice service. Per head of population, and within the context of this debate, considerably better results are now produced in Scotland than in England and Wales. Among many public servants who have assisted that process I should like to mention the current chief inspector of the Scottish Prison Service, Mr Clive Fairweather.

As already indicated, guidance can also come internationally and from a number of European states. Curiously enough, and despite their recent civil war, certain states in the former Yugoslavia already reveal encouraging criminal justice results which in several respects stand to give good guidance to ourselves and to other European states. Two such are Slovenia and Croatia. The Croatian service provides a clear example. It has comparatively low numbers of prisoners per head of population, and it demonstrates comparatively high levels of civilian prisoner rehabilitation. As chairman of the UK parliamentary group for Croatia, and as a Council of Europe parliamentarian, I was able to introduce our own Home Office overseas service to the Croatian prison service. This has led to the establishment of a training centre by Zagreb for the training of prison governors and other staff.

In summary, current poor results from criminal justice lower our reputation for competence nationally and internationally, as they undermine confidence and morale within our communities. The Government's intentions to do much better are to be welcomed. As yet, however, their prescriptions may not have been sufficiently thought through. Within the police force, and whether or not it increases, detection rates must improve. From the courts, effective non-custodial sentences must replace a significant proportion of custodial ones, particularly for young people. Then, within the prison population itself, already thereby much reduced in size, re-offending rates may at last begin to fall through a new competent delivery of rehabilitation and a new sense of hope and purpose given to prisoners.

Photo of Lord Pearson of Rannoch Lord Pearson of Rannoch Conservative 7:37 pm, 27th March 2002

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Fellowes, said that the Prison Service should not be asked to look after the mentally disordered. Some three or four years ago, when he was at the Home Office, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn, estimated in answer to a Starred Question that 40 per cent of the prison population were officially classified as mentally disordered. Mental disorder is of course a broad category, but it clearly includes the mentally handicapped and the mentally ill, such as schizophrenics, as the noble Lord, Lord Fellowes, mentioned. Noble Lords will be aware that I should declare an interest as the father of a mentally handicapped daughter, now aged 21, and also as the honorary president of the National Society for Mentally Handicapped People in Residential Care. I speak with less authority about mental health, but some of what I have to say about mental handicap applies to mental health as well.

One of the main reasons for this unfortunate state of affairs in our prisons is that many of these individuals are forced to live under community care without sufficient support when they could be far happier, better cared for and cheaper to support if they lived in a village community, of which there are excellent examples, or some other suitable residential provision. This damaging process can begin at school when mentally handicapped or ill children are forced into mainstream schools without adequate help when they would be far better educated at a special school. I regret to say that the signs are that the Government's new Special Educational Needs and Disabilities Act 2001, with its shift towards mainstream schooling, is already showing signs of making the situation worse, as many noble Lords said it would when it was being passed.

The noble and learned Lord, Lord Williams, agreed at the time of his answer that it would make sense for the Home Office to sit down with the Department of Health to look at the problem to which I and the noble Lord, Lord Fellowes, have referred. In subsequent correspondence, it was agreed that the problem could not really be addressed unless social services, the Department for Education and the Treasury also contributed their areas of expertise to the discussion. I mention the Treasury because village communities and other residential provision are not only the preferred option for the majority of families with a mentally handicapped relative but are also very care effective and cost effective. Yet they are under threat from local health and social services which prefer to keep control of their clients under community care even if that care is sometimes gravely inadequate with the result that these people end up in prison.

I ask the Minister whether any progress has been made towards the joined-up government to which I have referred? Have the Home Office, health and social services, the Department of Education and the Treasury yet sat down together to address this important aspect of our prison population? If not, will the Minister do his very best to encourage it?

Photo of Lord Dholakia Lord Dholakia Party Chair, Liberal Democrats 7:40 pm, 27th March 2002

My Lords, we come to the concluding part of the debate. I add my thanks to the noble Lord, Lord Elton. His record in terms of dealing with the criminal justice system and young people is second to none. At least four other noble Lords with Home Office experience have participated in this debate. That includes two former Home Secretaries. Against that I see that the noble Lord, Lord Bassam, is the lone fielder for his side. It would have been so nice to hear the reformist views of his Back-Benchers, who do not appear to be present today. However, I am not trying to make a political point because this is a serious subject.

No one can fail to argue that there is a crisis in our prisons. It is for that reason, and the failure of the criminal justice system to address that problem, that the chairs of the Howard League for Penal Reform, the Prison Reform Trust—I was delighted to hear the contribution of the noble Lord, Lord Fellowes—the Penal Affairs Consortium and myself as chair of the National Association for the Care and Resettlement of Offenders wrote to the Home Secretary. We state:

"The Prison Service is again facing a crisis of overcrowding, on a scale which it has not seen for 15 years. Apart from the prospect of again having to use police cells, the Service has to deal with higher levels of stress among staff, and to face a higher risk of disturbances among prisoners. It is less able to ensure the safety of staff, or of vulnerable prisoners among whom ethnic minorities, women and juveniles are especially at risk. It is prevented from providing the constructive programmes which can help to reduce re-offending and which the Government and the Youth Justice Board are rightly keen to promote. The situation will become more serious as offenders are brought into the system as a result of increased rates of detection and conviction. Simply to build more prisons is a wasteful and short-term solution.

No government can responsibly allow such a situation to continue for more than a few weeks without the prospect of early relief. We welcome the emphasis that the Home Secretary and his Ministers have placed on the need to use non-custodial sentences for more non-violent offenders. We consider that the Government must now take immediate action to prevent any further increase in the prison population, and to reduce and then hold it at a stable and manageable level".

Will the Minister arrange for a copy of that statement to be placed in the Library so that other noble Lords have the opportunity to read it?

The degree of disadvantage and distress among the young offender population has been emphasised by a number of key studies in recent years and was clearly identified by a number of noble Lords in this debate. In 1997 the Chief Inspector of Prisons produced a thematic report on young prisoners. This showed that over half of juvenile prisoners had a history of being in care. Over half had been excluded from school, many more had regularly truanted and two-thirds had no educational qualifications. Two-thirds had been unemployed before entering and one in five had no idea where they would live.

Similar results were found the following year, 1998, in a NACRO study of juveniles entitled, Wasted Lives. Some 86 per cent of the sample had been school absentees, truants or had been excluded; 46 per cent had no skills or qualifications; 60 per cent had unstable living conditions; 60 per cent had experienced family conflict and 37 per cent had been neglected or abused. Other studies have found a high level of mental health problems among young offenders in custody.

The first and most important way of reducing the number of young people in custody is to prevent them from getting into trouble in the first place. I welcome the suggestion made by the noble Lord, Lord Dearing, in that regard. Preventing youth crime must involve tackling the social factors which so clearly contribute to the criminal behaviour of persistent young offenders. The evidence shows that every pound spent on schemes to provide support for families under stress saves £6 in costs to the care and welfare system by reducing the number of children becoming delinquent, welfare dependent or being taken into care. Every £1 spent on pre-school education programmes involving parents in disadvantaged areas saves £7 in later costs of delinquency, drug abuse and welfare dependency. Young offenders commit three times as many offences during periods of unemployment as when they are in a job or training.

Drug prevention education programmes for primary school children which empower them to resist peer pressure result at the age of 14 in more negative attitudes to drugs and a lower likelihood of having used illegal drugs than other children. Youth activity programmes for at risk young people in disadvantaged, high crime areas can cut different types of crime by between 25 and 75 per cent in local areas. We need more investment in all these areas of social crime prevention.

The second way of reducing crime is to prevent reoffending by young people who have offended. This means using effective supervision programmes to tackle offending behaviour. The most effective programmes involve highly focused work on attitudes to offending, develop empathy with victims, help young people to restrain impulsive and aggressive behaviour and to resist peer pressure, train them in practical skills and offer them help in tackling drug and alcohol abuse. These programmes are more effective when carried out in the community than in custody, but, if offenders are sent into custody, such programmes carried out in prison can also reduce reoffending substantially on release.

There is a great deal of evidence of what increases reoffending after custody. Released offenders who have not received education in basic skills are 40 per cent more likely to reoffend than those who have. Unemployed ex-prisoners are twice as likely to reoffend as those who get and keep a job. Homeless ex-prisoners are two-and-a-half times as likely to be reconvicted as those with homes to go to. Drug dependent offenders who return to drug use commit five times more offences than those who enter drug treatment programmes. Released prisoners without family support are between twice and six times more likely to reoffend than those with support from a family. We therefore need a much greater investment in the resettlement of prisoners as a central part of crime reduction policies.

In all of this education is crucial. Some 60 per cent of the prison population is below level 1 in basic skills, which rules them out of over 90 per cent of new jobs. Those young offenders who are at the higher end of the intelligence spectrum often have no qualifications, which makes it much harder to get a job and role in society commensurate with their abilities. Overall, 80 per cent of young offenders under probation supervision have no qualifications whatsoever. We therefore need a carefully planned strategy to provide an education programme which can assist in this exercise. In short, a strategy to reduce the prison population by reducing crime must include a strategy for prevention, a strategy for effective community supervision and a strategy for rehabilitation which combines work on offending behaviour with practical resettlement help.

Our statement to the Home Secretary which I mentioned earlier sets out necessary conditions for success. They include: strong and unambiguous leadership at national level from government, the courts and the police, as well as from the prison and probation services, in promoting the new approach and in "talking down" the prison population, as well as promoting the strength and efficacy of alternative sentences; strong local support and a sense of "ownership" from communities and from the courts, police and those outside the criminal justice system whose contribution is essential to the resettlement of offenders; funding arrangements which are reasonably generous and flexible, which are not too bureaucratic or prescriptive and which allow some discretion and leadership for local managers and stakeholders; and a stable prison population, and stable caseloads, which are within the capacity of the Prison Service and the probation service and of the accommodation and the programmes that they can provide.

For those conditions to be satisfied, mechanisms must be developed that will provide strong leadership and arrangements, nationally and locally, that enable sentencing practice and the provision of resources to be planned together. There have been several recommendations, including the establishment of a criminal justice consultative council and an extension of area strategy committees. They have never fully performed that role but they or their successor bodies might still be able to do so.

Other structures have been added over the years, such as the Youth Justice Board, the various formations for strategic planning within government and the correctional services board. Their development has, however, been piecemeal and ad hoc, and the time may be coming when their structure should be comprehensively reviewed. That would fit in with Lord Justice Auld's proposals for restructuring some of those bodies.

So far, we have seen the Government's strategy of being tough on crime. Is it not time now to deal with the causes of crime, which so many noble Lords have discussed?

Photo of Baroness Buscombe Baroness Buscombe Conservative 7:51 pm, 27th March 2002

My Lords, I join other noble Lords in congratulating my noble friend Lord Elton on initiating this important debate.

It is said that, "The true cost of crime is more than the sum total of its parts". Few would doubt that, when people feel unsafe in their streets and homes, communities suffer both economically and socially. The greatest social cost of crime is that it acts as a catalyst for the disintegration of communities.

Crime destroys communities. It brings fear to neighbourhoods and leads to a siege mentality. As well as frightening the old and vulnerable, it makes neighbours suspicious of neighbours. Crime gives a signal to the public that the streets are unsafe. They gradually withdraw from neighbourhood activities and associations. The more that we withdraw from our neighbourhoods, the more the criminal takes over. That is a downward spiral that we now need to address by working to rebuild a neighbourly society.

A neighbourly society is the most important defence that we have against crime. A neighbourly society is built on strong and supportive relationships within families, between neighbours and throughout the wider community. A united, concerned and vigilant community not only guards against the attacks of the established criminal but turns young people away from the path of crime.

But what chance does the neighbourly society have when the young learn that thuggery goes unpunished while good people live in fear? How can we expect communities to form and flourish when the streets are overrun by vandals and drug dealers? We need to understand that crime and community are two opposing forces. Crime has weapons at its disposal—above all, violence and the threat of violence.

In the face of such a threat, the peaceful community can only retreat, ceding more ground to the criminal and exposing young people to values that are wholly opposed to those of the neighbourly society. Thus, neighbourhoods decay; the young are corrupted; people who can, get out; and people who cannot live blighted lives. All of that happens because decent people are afraid.

Crime is not just about the headline offences of rape and murder, or even the more common offences of mugging and burglary. It is about the everyday crimes, conveniently filed away under the term "social disorder": graffiti, vandalism, petty theft, fly-tipping, drug dealing, intimidation, bullying, racial abuse, the corrupting influence of gangs and the underlying, but entirely viable, threat of violence against anyone who stands up to the wreckers. Yes, people do of course fear the headline crimes but in many neighbourhoods there is another kind of fear, which is closer to despair and born of the knowledge that we must limit our lives or become victims anyway; that the street is owned by the criminal, not by the citizen; that vandals can do what they will, even if everyone knows who they are; that thugs may torment their neighbours and only retaliation guarantees a decisive police response; that, as my noble friend Lord Elton said, the gang is a stronger influence on our children than the school; that in the front line against fear no one is on our side; and that we are right to be afraid.

This is a struggle between crime and community. It is a struggle that the community is losing—the evidence of defeat can be seen most starkly in Britain's poorest neighbourhoods. There is something desperately wrong with our society when the people who we put in the front line against fear are those who are least able to stand up to the thugs—the poor, the very old and the very young. They need someone to fight for them, not just holding the line against fear but taking back the ground that has been lost to the forces of disorder.

Who will take on that role? We believe that it must be the police. What we want is the kind of policing that takes back the streets from the muggers and the drug dealers and makes them safe for the decent, law-abiding people of this country. We call that "neighbourhood policing", and it is the foundation on which we will rebuild the neighbourly society.

We believe that neighbourly policing is critical. That means that we need policemen walking the streets, patrol cars patrolling small areas on a continuous, 24-hour basis, and teams that are ready and available to move in behind the "beat cops" and the patrols to tackle crime on the street. But that is not enough.

We believe that the criminal justice system needs to change. The commissioner of the Metropolitan Police was right. There is not much point in catching criminals if it takes months to conduct trials and if they are bailed back on to the streets to commit more crime during those months. We need to find means of instilling a sense of urgency into our criminal justice system.

Our prisons are another problem. Fifty-eight per cent of all prisoners are caught re-offending within two years of release. For prisoners under the age of 21, the record is much worse—75 per cent of all young offenders who are sentenced to custodial sentences are caught re-offending within two years. It would be otiose of me to attempt to suggest why that may be so, when my noble friend Lord Hurd of Westwell has already done so with eloquence and conviction.

The figures about our prisons are simply unacceptable in a civilised society. How can we accept that a young person, once a criminal, is always a criminal? How will we ever have safe streets and a neighbourly society if we continue to accept it? I agree with my noble friend Lord Carr of Hadley, who pressed the need for education and training within prisons and for counselling prior to release. The Motion calls attention to the cost of the prison population. The crisis of overcrowded prisons has led the Lord Chief Justice to call for judges to bear overcrowding in mind when sentencing, and the Home Secretary has announced plans to extend the home detention curfew scheme, which was discussed by my noble friend Lord Windlesham.

Under the proposed changes, those serving less than 12 months would automatically be released on the scheme, and the maximum length of early release with tagging would be increased from two to three months. However, it has been reported that prison governors say that they do not have the resources to implement the scheme and anticipate being blamed for any re-offending that is committed by those who are freed before the end of their sentence. That undermines the fundamental principles of criminal justice. When a judge sentences a criminal, it is the responsibility of the Home Secretary to ensure that the criminal in question can serve the sentence in question. That illustrates why the Home Secretary should be engaging in properly co-ordinated policies rather than moment-to-moment "initiatives". That is not responsible government.

In the next few months, Conservatives will bring forward radical proposals for reform of the youth justice system—proposals that are designed to take young criminals off the conveyor belt to crime. We also need radical proposals to prevent young people from getting on to the conveyor belt in the first place. To do that, we have to have effective neighbourhood policing and a fast, effective court system. We have to break up the gangs when they are committing crime and we have to prove to young people that crime can and will be stopped in its tracks. We have to clean up our neighbourhoods, in which graffiti, fly-tipping and vandalism have reduced the quality of life to a level at which crime seems natural. We have to make a reality of co-operation between the police, schools, local authorities, the Drug Advisory Service and other agencies, to spot the youngsters who are most at risk of becoming criminals, and to intervene effectively before they get on to the conveyor belt to crime. Nor will the state be able to do everything that needs doing.

A great part of the responsibility for rebuilding our communities will have to be borne by volunteers, charities and by what my noble friend Lord Hurd of Westwell called "active citizens". Conservatives believe in active citizenship; they always have done.

In the next few months, as we come forward with specific policy proposals on neighbourhood policing and reform of the criminal justice system, we shall also bring forward specific policies on the voluntary sector, to widen and to deepen voluntary effort to lead our young people away from the conveyor belt to crime.

In conclusion, this brief debate has attracted 19 speakers. It is an important debate and one to which I believe we should return. However, if we are serious about reducing crime, why is it that only three Back-Benchers—not one from the Labour Back Benches—contributed to the Second Reading debate on the Proceeds of Crime Bill, a Bill that is intended to make a real difference? It is a Bill that introduces new powers and enhances existing anti-terrorism measures to crack down on terrorist finance and organised crime. It is about fighting the drug barons and deterring those highly organised criminals who are responsible for and who are driving a culture that is doing so much damage to our society— serious crime that in one way or another touches us all, particularly drug related crime. I entirely support the five-point plan of my noble friend Lord Chadlington for fighting drugs.

As the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Gloucester said, we have a duty to our young men and women who are educational failures. I agree with so much of what has been said about education and its importance. I agree with other noble Lords that we must go further upstream if we are to keep our children—our future—away from crime. We must look to the beginning, to parenting, and build from there.

Photo of Lord Bassam of Brighton Lord Bassam of Brighton Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Home Office, Government Whip, Government Whip 8:01 pm, 27th March 2002

My Lords, I join in the general praise for the noble Lord, Lord Elton, for putting this important debate on our political agenda and for stimulating a wide-ranging debate. We have heard an impressive range of contributions. I tried to make some notes of what noble Lords said. I was greatly impressed by the breadth of interest expressed and the range of subjects touched upon. Many plans of differing numbers of points have been put forward. We had a nine-point plan from the noble Lord, Lord Hylton; a five-point plan from the noble Lord, Lord Chadlington; a three-point plan from the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Gloucester; and I have probably just listened to a 10-point plan, and much more, to be delivered in the future. I look forward to that.

It is important that we have such wide-ranging debates so that we can—not depoliticise—see where the areas of consensus are and find ways of usefully progressing. My understanding of what has happened over the past five or six months is that we have begun to develop a much more grown-up approach to the debate on law and order, the size and shape of the prison population and where we are going with the criminal justice system. The better informed that debate, the better we shall be able to tackle some of the wide-ranging and difficult matters that have been raised .

I shall not try to summarise what every noble Lord has said but instead pick up some of the points that have been made. I shall also try to deal with one or two specific points. One big issue is the importance of education. The noble Lord, Lord Elton, said that he would concentrate on education. That was echoed by the noble Lord, Lord Dearing. We should increase the level of education expenditure so that we prevent the circumstances in which crime develops among people with low levels of skills, low ability and low confidence.

Photo of Lord Northbourne Lord Northbourne Crossbench

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for giving way. Does he agree that even when a child is in full-time education he or she spends only 27.5 per cent of his or her waking hours in school?

Photo of Lord Bassam of Brighton Lord Bassam of Brighton Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Home Office, Government Whip, Government Whip

My Lords, I have three school-age children. I have not checked the percentage of time they spend in school. My guess is that the noble Lord is not far off the figure. They receive urgent instructions from their father and mother for the rest of the time when they are in waking mode.

The Government are clearly committed to reducing crime. The widely respected 2001 British Crime Survey showed that overall crime in England and Wales has fallen 21 per cent since 1997 and that the chance of becoming a victim of crime is now at its lowest for 20 years since the survey began. All noble Lords will agree that that is welcome news and reflects well on the hard work of the police and their partners in tackling crime across England and Wales.

However, arresting more offenders and thereby reducing crime does have clear consequences for the criminal justice system. On Friday 22nd March 2002, the prison population was 70,243, the highest ever. At one level we should seek to take no pride in that fact. It is symptomatic of a wider range of problems and of failures and pressures within our society. Although recent rises in the prison population are likely to have been due to increased police activity since Christmas and a rise in the custody rate, the Government are strongly committed to finding effective solutions to the rising prison population to ensure that sentences are more effective in addressing the aims of punishment, crime reduction and reparation—three important principles.

The debate on sentencing has been well-informed by the proposals in the Halliday report, to which the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, referred. The noble Lord, Lord Windlesham, focused his comments on sentencing, as did the noble Lord, Lord Fellowes. We welcome the debate that that has stimulated. The report acted as a catalyst for the Government to examine what is done, and why, and the contribution that sentencing can make towards preventing and punishing offending behaviour. That includes means of giving offenders the chance of rehabilitation in the forms of custody and community punishment. We want to create an experience that puts individuals back on the straight and narrow and that helps them away from offending behaviour during the whole period of an offender's sentence. Halliday helps us in that regard.

By creating what some call a "toolbox" of sentences that enable sentencers to gear the sentences that they impose towards correcting offending behaviour as well as punishing the offender, the new framework, towards which Halliday points us, should have much greater scope for reducing re-offending. In our view, for example, current prison sentences of under 12 months have nothing but a detrimental effect on crime. Evidence shows that an offender released into the community after he has served half his time in custody, with no support or effort at re-integration, is much more likely—as several noble Lords have said—to return to a criminal lifestyle. Custody plus, with its minimum period of six months supervision in the community, should correct that. The noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, made the point. Work undertaken to model the impact of the proposed sentencing reforms has shown that the new framework could bring considerable benefits in terms of crimes saved.

The proposals under active consideration are designed to ensure that the risks of the prison population rising dramatically—as it has done recently—are minimised. During the debate, welcome has been expressed for the Home Secretary's reconsideration of the way in which the prison population is moving and the way in which sentencing can have an important impact upon that.

One issue to emerge is the creation of a new generic community sentence to replace the current series of non-custodial sentencing orders. That will be made up of a menu of interventions from which the sentencers can select to meet the needs of a particular case. Thus it will be possible to put together an intense package of activities comprising a supervision programme and compulsory work and treatment that may form a more effective alternative to a custodial sentence. The flexibility that the new community sentence will provide will allow for that.

Whatever the prison population pressures, in certain circumstances the Government have to be uncompromising in regard to serious and dangerous offenders. I suspect that the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, was trenchantly making that point in his traditional way. There must be a real commitment to protect the public. That should take place in a secure environment, I think we would all agree. Communities must be protected from serious offenders. It is clear that sentencers require a range of clear and sensible sentencing options which enable them to deal effectively with offenders in a way which protects the community and reduces the risk of further offending.

Reference was made to home detention curfew, otherwise known as tagging. There was active support for that from the noble Lord, Lord Carr. The noble Lord, Lord Windlesham, described it as "extremely successful". The noble Baroness, Lady Buscombe, cast some question over her party's support for home detention being expanded, although in the past the Conservative Party has supported HDC, as it is known in the business.

It is worth reminding ourselves just how successful the scheme has been. Over 44,000 prisoners have been released on HDC in the past three years with less than 2 per cent offending during their time under curfew. I do not think that we should underestimate the importance of that, particularly given, as a number of noble Lords suggested, the general recidivism rate among those leaving prison .

The Home Secretary announced last week that from the beginning of May prisoners serving sentences of between three and 12 months, with the exception of those convicted of violent or serious drug offences and those with any history of sexual offending, will be released on HDC. Their movements will be electronically monitored for the latter part of their sentence unless there are compelling reasons not to do so.

Photo of Lord Windlesham Lord Windlesham Conservative

My Lords, perhaps I may interrupt the noble Lord. Will that be automatic release or selective release?

Photo of Lord Bassam of Brighton Lord Bassam of Brighton Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Home Office, Government Whip, Government Whip

My Lords, my understanding is that it will be selective. The noble Lord, Lord Windlesham, attributed the success of the scheme to the focused way in which governors have advised on the release of particular individuals. "On a case-by-case basis" was the expression used by the noble Lord. I certainly see the strength of that argument. That has been the received wisdom in the past.

I could take noble Lords through the process of monitoring. The detail is important. The monitoring centres are staffed 24 hours a day. The contract is managed by three private sector companies contracted to the Home Office. That process has been very successful and the public can have great confidence in it.

Many practitioners have pointed to the positive effects of combining a curfew order with other community penalties. These include knowing that a person is not offending during curfew hours and bringing routine to what are often chaotic lifestyles.

The Government have spent much time seeking to reduce levels of crime. We are committed to reducing the specific types of crimes which cause society most concern. These include acquisitive crimes, such as domestic burglary and vehicle crime, and violent crime, especially street robbery. I shall say more about that shortly. Since 1997, according to the British Crime Survey, domestic burglary has fallen by 35 per cent. That has been echoed by falls in police recorded domestic burglary which is down 30 per cent. Over the same period, vehicle-related crime has fallen by 24 per cent according to the BCS and recorded vehicle crime by much the same rate, about 22 per cent.

Since 1998 the Government have invested in some 1,400 projects aimed at crime reduction. There are now some 686 more CCTV schemes and 250 anti-burglary projects covering two million homes. Those schemes are founded on best evidence from the UK. We have invested an extra £3 billion in the criminal justice system over that time to ensure that we adopt programmes and processes that work to cut crime.

Reference was made to the numbers of police officers. Our record over the last few years has been second to none. The statistics demonstrate our commitment to the desire that we all have to see more police officers on the beat. By April 2004, policing will have benefited from record investment under this Government—a three-year rise of 21 per cent in cash terms, which is 11.8 per cent in real terms and 6 per cent in cash terms next year alone. That has already led to a record rise in the numbers of police now available to tackle crime. On 31st January, there were some 128,748 officers in England and Wales, 458 more than the previous record in March 1993. Between March 2001 and 31st January 2002 police numbers increased by 2.4 per cent. That is 3,066 officers. With the help of the recruitment funded by the Crime Fighting Fund our aim is to have a target figure of 130,000 matched and met by spring 2003. Civilian support staff are also at record levels. There were some 56,644 in post in September of last year.

Despite this increased police investment and officer strength, and previous investment, the public is very concerned about rising levels of street robbery. We are determined to tackle this and to build on the Metropolitan Police's safer streets initiative. A new initiative is aimed at reducing the level of street crime in the 10 hardest hit areas of England and Wales. That programme will focus on curbing the rise in street robberies and will also tackle wider street crime as well as the adoption of fast-track prosecutions to raise the conviction rate.

The 10-force street crime reduction initiative will be sharply accelerated to begin in April. It will be supported by a new cross-government action group to tackle any obstacles to cutting street crime. Chaired by the Prime Minister, the street crime reduction initiative provides an opportunity for the police and all those involved in the criminal justice system to identify immediate short-term solutions to deliver better results ahead of the Government's broader reform package.

The initiative is bringing forward plans already in progress to ensure co-ordinated action across government. It builds on local crime reduction plans already in place and takes advantage of the record number of police officers now established.

Street crime is concentrated on a few, largely urban areas, and 10 police forces deal with 82 per cent of all robbery in England and Wales. Mobile phones are now stolen in some 28 per cent of robberies, compared to 8 per cent just three years ago. This increase is partly due to the 600 per cent increase in mobile phone ownership since 1995.

The police and criminal justice agencies will work together to target and fast-track all robbery offenders. The initiative aims to increase the detection rate for robbery cases; increase the number of offenders charged and brought to justice; speed up the process between arrest and sentence; and deal with offenders effectively at every stage of the criminal justice process and ultimately reduce the number of robberies in the 10 force areas.

The key feature of this initiative is the involvement of departments and agencies across the whole of the criminal justice system. Each government department, the Department for Education and Skills, the Department of Health, the Department for Work and Pensions, the DCMS and the Department for Transport, Local Government and the Regions will all play their part in having an impact upon street crime and seeking to tackle it, whether through supporting truancy sweeps, putting in place drug treatment provision, ensuring that training and employment opportunities are there for young offenders or ensuring that there are diversionary schemes, such as the SPLASH scheme referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Elton, or ensuring that local authorities have the resources to improve security on transport, and so on. They will all play their part in attacking what is a profound problem.

The cost of crime to our society is estimated at roughly £60 billion per year, which represents some 7 per cent of GDP. As many of your Lordships have said, the cost is not just in financial terms, but also in terms of the impact on communities, the division and despair that it brings, and of course the physical, emotional and material impact of crime on its victims. Those obviously are not just deserving of our sympathy, but deserve most support. For that reason, the Government have considerably increased their aid and support, not just through victim support schemes but to victims of crime themselves.

The desire was expressed from all sides of your Lordships' House that we tackle effectively youth crime and break the cycle of offending which often leads to prison, if unchecked. It is sadly the case that in London 40 per cent of street robberies are committed by 10 to 16 year-olds.

A plea was made, especially by the noble Baroness, Lady Linklater, for a more diverse range of treatments than simply incarcerating people in youth offender institutions. Of course, we are fully signed up to that and have adapted a much more strategic approach—using targeting and so on—ensuring that when young offenders are picked up, they do not just meet the full weight of the criminal justice system but are helped, guided and advised. Of those picked up, 96 per cent are in the first instance given warnings and non-custodial sentences, but the public must feel protected.

Early in our first term, we took the view that it was important that there was greater certainty. The Crime and Disorder Act 1998 introduced a range of new interventions and punishments to enable early, targeted intervention to deal with anti-social behaviour and divert young people from crime. Among those schemes were child safety orders, anti-social behaviour orders, parenting orders, local child curfews and so on.

The noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, made an especially strong plea for support for parents. That is how we envisage parenting orders working. Between July 2000 and June 2001, 1,224 such orders were made. Signs from our initial research are that parenting orders give parents greater support, encouragement and confidence in dealing with the young people in their care to direct them away from a life of crime.

I have mentioned many initiatives that the Government have rolled out. We intend to maintain those initiatives, but we have no blind spots about looking at new ways of working or new methods of controlling crime in our society. Diverting people away from crime is clearly one such important strategy.

I have enjoyed the debate; it has been most useful and timely. We in government must press ahead with the range of initiatives that I have outlined to reduce crime. We must bring those initiatives together to bear on this major issue of our time to reduce crime and also, ultimately, to reduce the size and cost of the prison population. The Government are committed to ensuring that the delivery of justice will be enhanced by the many measures that I have described. I commend them to the House as part of the answer to ensure that we control and contain our prison population, turn out more useful young people in future and, in as much as we want prison to work to produce the better society to which we all aspire, ensure that prison works well.

Photo of Lord Elton Lord Elton Conservative 8:23 pm, 27th March 2002

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that full reply. In giving my warm thanks to all those who have contributed, I shall start with the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Gloucester, because I know that he has a train to catch. In particular, I thank him for his reference to the DIVERT Trust. I did not declare an interest because the DIVERT Trust has now merged with the RPS Rainer Foundation and, until I have had a discussion with its chairman and chief executive in a few days time, we are uncertain what the relationship will be.

The Minister will no doubt want to draw the attention of his noble friend Lord Rooker to our debate. The first thing to point out is that we have heard from my noble friends Lord Chadlington and Lord Pearson and from the noble Lords, Lord Fellowes and Lord Dholakia, that 60 per cent of prisoners are under the influence of heroin when they offend; 40 per cent of them are mentally ill when they are in prison; and 60 per cent of them are below level 1 educationally before they are released. That is a fruitful area for investigation and the noble Lord, Lord Dearing, in a most important speech, provided a sensible idea of what might be done about it.

Many speakers—about half of them, I think—made comparisons with what is occurring in foreign countries, saying that all the way from Croatia to Singapore and America, things are going better than here. There is scarcely time to pick out the points from every speech to which we should pay attention. In particular, I thank my noble friend Lord Carr for lending distinction as well as experience to this debate. I spoke about education without warning him because I thought that it was one area about which I might know a fraction—but only a fraction—more than he did.

The noble Baroness, Lady Stern, was extremely kind in what she said about me. I must say in humility and honesty that her contribution in the field has been about 10 times that of mine. I therefore return her compliments magnified. My noble friend Lord Hurd of Westwell evoked a most poignant and unhappy memory of the stresses in a crowded prison system—I visited so many when I was a Minister with responsibility for the Prison Service. I hope that the Government will heed the warning of the immense damage that that does to the rehabilitative effort.

It was inevitable that this debate would concentrate on reaction to people after they become criminals. In fact, we should go further upstream and react to them before they become criminals. I should like to touch on one point in the Minister's speech. The generic community sentence must draw back from the position that obtained when a community sentence was seen as a soft option in which little actually happened. It must be something tough and it must work.

I can see that the noble Lord on the Woolsack is ready to leap to his feet and that the sand is running out of the glass. I therefore thank your Lordships and beg you to think that it is better to have fewer criminals than more prisons and more policemen—and to put your money where your mouth is. I beg leave to withdraw the Motion for Papers.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.