Prisons: Overcrowding - Motion to Take Note

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 1:23 pm on 7th September 2017.

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Photo of Lord Elton Lord Elton Conservative 1:23 pm, 7th September 2017

Your Lordships have subjected me to conflicting tensions of great hope and great despair. The great hope arises from the number, the intellectual force, the charity and the authority with which you have spoken on a subject of vital importance. My despair arises because with the exception of about three speakers, including the noble Lord, Lord Bird, it has been assumed that the problem that needs to be solved is how you treat criminals. But the problem would be solved with much less expenditure and much greater effect if you focus on how you treat children so that they do not become criminals.

In the three years, 45 years ago, that I was Minister for Prisons, I walked into a similar and, in fact, more intense crisis than the present one. I had a chart on the wall showing that if 12 more people had been given custodial sentences we would have had to trigger executive release—to let people out before the end of their sentences. Willie Whitelaw—the late Viscount Whitelaw—was my boss, so I was a very anxious man, but we avoided it. When I resigned from the Government some years later I founded a charity to keep children out of prison. I discovered that by spending small amounts, mostly through voluntary agencies, to give young people the vent for their enthusiasm, energy and enterprise which they do not get without help, before it drives them into criminality, you can prevent them becoming criminals. Some £50 spent there can save £50,000 later. Can the Government get their collective act together and have the Treasury preside over a review about how to stop this catastrophic nonsense and tackle the problem where it actually begins? I will die a happy man if they do.