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Commons Chamber

Volume 181: debated on Tuesday 20 November 1990

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House Of Commons

Tuesday 20 November 1990

The House met at half-past Two o'clock


[MR. SPEAKER in the Chair]

Private Business

Adelphi Estate Bill

London Docklands Railway Bill

Considered; to be read the Third time.

Heathrow Express Railway Bill Lords

Order for Second Reading read.

To be read a Second time on Thursday.

Oral Answers To Questions


Children Act


To ask the Secretary of State for Health what progress he is making in the implementation of the Children Act 1989.

Our major programme of regulations, guidance and training continues to make good progress. We hope to launch the bulk of the guidance early in the new year.

Will my hon. Friend tell the House a little more about her Department's plans for the Act's training support programme?

I am able to announce a substantial increase in the amount of money for training in social services generally. The training programme for the implementation of the Children Act is making good headway. I am pleased to be able to inform my hon. Friend that we are arranging training through the National Children's Bureau for those involved in the national health service. The first training event took place in East Anglia only last week. I hope that it will soon be available to NHS workers in my hon. Friend's constituency.

I am always glad to hear from the Minister that there are training programmes. However, as £3,000 million of Government money is to be used to offset the effects of the poll tax, can she assure the House that sufficient resources will be available fully to implement the Children Act in October 1991?

I can give the hon. Gentleman that assurance. There has been a very good settlement for local authority personal social services this year which amounts to a 23·4 per cent. increase on last year's standard spending assessment. In addition, the training resources are ring-fenced. They go out in the form of specific grants for child care and for the implementation of the Children Act. We shall implement the Children Act in 327 days' time.

Is my hon. Friend aware that I heard with some concern from a group of my constituents that the consultation documents sent out by her Department on the running of day nurseries were received in Cleveland only on the day that they were due to be responded to? Will my hon. Friend look into that and, if necessary, extend the time?

I shall certainly look carefully at my hon. Friend's point. Only last month I attended a seminar in Newcastle at which local authorities, voluntary organisations and the private sector discussed precisely that guidance—that they should have inspected provision for child minders in play groups within three months and for day nurseries within six months. New guidance is important. We are funding the National Children's Bureau to produce material on that part of the Act. I certainly assure my hon. Friend that I shall look into the matter as it affects his part of the country.

Elderly (Day Care)


To ask the Secretary of State for Health if he will publish the number of day care places per 1,000 of the elderly and very elderly population, by individual local authorities.

This information was published last July. A copy was placed in the Library.

In view of that almost inadequate reply, will the Minister examine the responses from Labour-controlled county and shire councils and those from Tory-controlled county and shire councils? He will find that Labour-controlled county councils provide a far better service for the elderly. Does he understand that the Royal College of Nursing has expressed concern about inadequate transport arrangements and respite care, as well as the inadequacy of provision for those who live in rural areas?

I did not give every figure, because the hon. Gentleman asked for a figure for every local authority in England and Wales which would have taken some time to read to the House. He asked whether I am aware of the development of the service. He may know that the total number of day care places has risen by nearly 30 per cent. in 12 years and that the resources available to the Northumberland social services departments has risen by 55 per cent. in real terms in 12 years. The way that those resources are used is a matter for social services departments.

Does my hon. Friend agree that the most important thing is to ensure that old people can get about rather than be in day care? Is my hon. Friend aware that, unfortunately, elderly people in south Devon are hobbling about because the chiropody service has been cut and fewer sessions are available? Will my hon. Friend have a word with the chairman of the area health authority and say that before it cuts services at the sharp end, it should have a look at its own bureaucracy?

My hon. Friend is right to highlight the importance of chiropody services. They constitute an important part of proper community care. The exact prioritisation in an area is a matter for the health authority.

Does the Minister accept that as a result of the Government's postponement of their community care programme the number of day care places in the community may be declining? Is he aware that in Birkenhead, for example, the Vincent Harkness day care centre will be closing? What message would the Minister like me to take home to my constituents who may have only one choice—going into residential care—as a result of the Government's postponement of their plans?

I have already said that we recognise the importance of day care places and welcome the fact that over the past 12 years there has been an increase of 30 per cent. in their availability. They are a vital part of any proper community care policy. I do not accept that the phased introduction of community care need have a direct impact on the availability of places or on the way in which social services departments continue to use resources already at their disposal.



To ask the Secretary of State for Health by what percentage the cost of transferring neurosciences from Shooter's Hill to Denmark Hill has risen since the decision was taken; and what proportion of the South East Thames regional annual capital budget this represents.

Nineteen per cent, Sir. The costs are borne over a period of time and not solely by the regional health authority.

Would I be right in saying that the capital budget for South East Thames is between £50 million and £60 million and that the cost of moving neurosciences four miles is between £50 million and £60 million? There are already six or seven neuroscience units in the inner London area and people in my constituency and further out would prefer to have services available to them. Will my hon. Friend confirm that, or shall I take up this matter with the chairman of South East Thames regional health authority before going to independent auditors?

My hon. Friend should take up any discontent with the chairman of the regional health authority. He should be aware that the reasoning for the concentration of neurosciences on the Maudsley site was that it was a more efficient use of clinical resources and involved lower cost. I suspect that neither of those considerations will have changed.

Hospital Beds


To ask the Secretary of State for Health what steps he is taking to avert the closure of hospital beds throughout the United Kingdom.

It is for health authorities to determine the mix of health provision—including the number of hospital beds—which best meets the needs of their local population using the increased resources which the Government have made available to them. Next year will see the largest-ever increase in NHS funding, enabling the health service to continue to treat more people and expand its services.

The Secretary of State is no doubt aware of the recent report of the National Association of Health Authorities and Trusts which forecast some 3,500 bed closures between now and next April. He is probably also aware that all hospital consultants in Sheffield have been told not to prescribe on to general practitioners' budgets in order to save money. Is not it a fact that the Government are passing the buck to health authorities, which are no longer accountable, and are blaming them for the cuts when the Government are simply not providing adequate funding for health authorities to carry out their duties?

No, Sir, I do not accept that. As the figures show, the number of people treated goes on increasing from year to year. As the hon. Gentleman knows, the number of day care surgery cases has doubled since 1979 for medical reasons. That is largely why the beds continue to close.

May I congratulate my right hon. Friend on being appointed to his new position? When considering bed and ward closures, does he recognise that many of us believe that what is important is the treatment of patients, not furniture? Will he assure the House that when wards close and beds are moved, patients who need care will be taken care of elsewhere?

I am grateful for my hon. Friend's welcome. The figures support what she says. The national health service, thanks to its employees, who do so well for us, continues to treat more patients every year, including in my hon. Friend's area.

Does not the Secretary of State realise that the report of the National Association of Health Authorities and Trusts, and the survey carried out by The Independent the day before, showed clearly that, in anticipation of next year's managerial structural changes, health authorities were being forced to close beds? It is quite false for him to say that the key indicator is the number of patients being treated, because all too often health authorities have moved patients from hospital care, sooner than normal, back into the community. Many of them have had to be re-admitted because they did not have sufficient hospital convalescence following surgical treatment. Should not we examine that figure, rather than the platitudes that the Secretary of State is offering?

I read the surveys with care. It is worth noting that the report of the National Association of Health Authorities and Trusts to which the hon. Gentleman referred showed, by any inflation indicator, a real increase in resources available for the health service this year. That contradicts what Opposition Members have often said. The medical advice is against the hon. Gentleman. Before we took office the trend was already to keep people in hospital for less time. That is medically right.

I join in welcoming my right hon. Friend to his new position and express my pleasure that having me as his Parliamentary Private Secretary did not impede his career for too long—or at least I did not damage him as much as I did some of my other right hon. Friends. The reality of bed closures is often the opposite of that suggested by the hon. Member for Barnsley, Central (Mr. Illsley). Beds have been closed in my health district and much public distress has been expressed as a result. But those bed closures are being announced now to achieve required budget savings by next April. The main reason is not a shortage of funds from the Department of Health but the inadequacies of the management of individual health districts. More health districts should address themselves to the subject.

I am grateful for my hon. Friend's kind words. It is true that he has lost one or two Secretaries of State along the way, but he and I had a better relationship. What he says is perfectly true. It would be wrong for well-managed areas—Barnsley health district is managing well within its resources and has closed no beds for financial reasons—to be made to transfer resources to areas that may have tackled their problems with less resolution.

May I congratulate the Secretary of State on his appointment to the Cabinet and share the hope that he will still be in it after 6.30 pm? While he is still with us, will he try to face the realities? Has no one told him that some hospitals will not carry out any routine surgery for the rest of the financial year? Has no one told him that the NAHAT survey found that only 2 per cent. of closures were planned rationalisations and that 98 per cent. were emergency closures to balance the books in time for next April's changes? As those changes are doing so much harm to the national health service, why does not he take the opportunity of this interregnum to put back the lid on changes which came in with the present Prime Minister and should go with her?

I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman's welcome, although I am not so grateful for the fact that he is playing the old gramophone record which he has been playing for the past two or three years and will continue to play for the next two or three years from the position that he now occupies. Every year the health service goes on treating more people. I shall not deny that in some places in the health service beds are being closed for financial reasons, but it would be wrong for us to say that those who are trying to achieve their planned budget spending should not be encouraged to do so, because that is the basis of a well-managed service.

I warmly welcome my right hon. Friend to his new job and I know that he will be a great success. Does he accept that the best way to prevent bed closures is for the money to travel with the patient—which I hope will happen from next April? Does my right hon. Friend accept that he will have to take some tough decisions, particularly in the Thames region where the capital programmes have collapsed? My right hon. Friend must understand that constituencies such as mine, which has the worst waiting lists in the country and where children's wards are being closed, must be assisted if the excellent reforms that will come on stream next year are to mean anything.

My hon. Friend is right. The reforms will help to take the money to where the patients are and will help to reward hospitals that are successful and treat many patients. The present system works in exactly the opposite direction. I am well aware—this is the first thing of which anyone holding my office would be aware—that there is, as usual, a special London problem which has not been sorted out for decades. We shall have to sort it out before too long.

Health Service Funding


To ask the Secretary of State for Health what steps he is taking to ensure that adequate resources are available to meet the need for (a) health service provision and (b) community care as a result of demographic changes.

We shall increase resources for the national health service in the United Kingdom by £3·2 billion in 1991–92. At the same time, the standard spending figure for local authorities' personal social services will rise by 23 per cent.

Does the hon. Lady recognise that Ministers are continually playing the old record which was left behind by the Secretary of State's predecessor? Since 1982, inflation in the health service has been 49·9 per cent., compared with a less than 35 per cent. increase in the retail prices index. Do the Government recognise that the health service is treading water where it is not drowning, that demographic changes and the increasing numbers of elderly people are flooding over our services and that it is not enough to mouth platitudes? Resources are needed if community care is to be more than merely moving people out of institutions and if it is to mean providing adequate services for carers and those who are cared for in the community. Can we have the resources so that the job can be done?

This is the largest ever increase in resources for the national health service—a cash increase of one third over the past three years. I recall that when the Labour party was last in power, long ago, the total cost of the health service was £8 billion. There has been an extra £8 billion in the past three years alone. As for demographic factors, over the past 10 years the number of elderly people has increased by 8·4 per cent. Hon. Gentlemen might like to know that over that period the number of geriatric in-patients increased by 75 per cent.

Order. There is an air of excitement this afternoon which I fail to understand.

I am grateful for the reception by the House, but I am not on the ballot paper upstairs——

Does my hon. Friend agree that it is unacceptable for 50 beds to be closed in a relatively new, modern district general hospital in Macclesfield when there are surgeons and consultants waiting to carry out treatment and operations, theatres available for those operations and waiting lists of people wanting operations? The Mersey regional health authority has allocated insufficient resources to Macclesfield, given the growing number of elderly people and the growing population of the area.

The enemy of the health service is waste. It is a waste not to have people fully using the skills that they have been trained to deploy. It is a major challenge to health authorities to live within their resources. We take great pride in the substantial increase in resources that we have provided for the health service, but we do not underestimate the financial and management skills that health authorities need to deploy so that they do not let their work outstrip the resources to meet that work. We need further improvements in that area.

The Minister will agree that the demographic changes make a difficult situation far worse, so it is more important than ever to look at the way in which resources are moved about. How is it possible that Exeter health authority seems to have lost £60 million, which was released by the sale of two psychiatric hospitals at Digby and at Exminster, not £1 of which has gone into community care for the mentally ill? How is it possible that the Midland nerve hospital has closed a psychiatric ward with a staff of 15 who have been replaced by only three staff working in the community? Where have all those resources gone? Local people cannot find the information and they have been told that it is not available locally. We presume, therefore, that the information is available centrally. Can we be told?

I welcome the hon. Gentleman to his new role. He will know that there is concern about the extent to which provision for the mentally ill has kept up with our wishes and expectations. That is why my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State has responsibility for the specific grant for the mentally ill which will commence next April. Next year, £30 million will be spent by local authorities, with the agreement of health authorities, to ensure that there is close collaboration in the provision of services for the mentally ill. Over the past 10 years, there has been almost a doubling in the number of places in homes for the mentally ill. We believe that there is scope for further provision by social services to ensure that they do as well with the mentally ill as, in many cases, they have with the mentally handicapped.



To ask the Secretary of State for Health what is the number of in-patients being treated by the national health service at the present time; and how many were treated in 1979.

Almost 7·5 million in-patient cases were treated in 1989–90 compared with just over 6 million in 1979. That is a rise of almost 25 per cent.

I thank my hon. Friend for that answer because it nails the nonsensical assertion from some Opposition Members, and from my hon. Friend the Member for Macclesfield (Mr. Winterton), about cuts in the health service. It shows that there has been a dramatic increase in the health service provided to the people of the United Kingdom. Will my hon. Friend also nail that lie, for the benefit of my constituents, by telling me the figures for Scunthorpe health authority?

My hon. Friend is exactly right. The figures demonstrate that the national health service is growing each year that the Government are in power. I am pleased to be able to tell my hon. Friend that the number of patients treated in his constituency has risen at a compound rate of 5 per cent. per annum.

Does the Minister accept that although there has been an increase in the number of in-patients treated, there may have been an even greater demand? Are those in need of in-patient treatment receiving the treatment that they need or are they being turfed out of hospitals before they are ready and being directed towards private health care provision in a way which they would not have been in 1979?

In 1979, the in-patient waiting lists was 5 per cent. higher than it is now. It simply is not true to say that the shorter time in a hospital bed is a reflection of the fact that peope are being pushed out into the community. It is a reflection of the refinement of medical practice and of less traumatic medicine which means higher-quality patient care.

Is not it a fact that the improvement in medical techniques to which my hon. Friend referred means that many treatments that involved in-patient care in 1979 can now be achieved through out-patient care? Are not the out-patient figures even more relevant to the arguments on this point and on the whole question of hospital beds?

My hon. Friend is precisely right. There is also an interim category of day cases—people who would previously have had to stay in hospital, in many cases for several days, and in some cases for several weeks. They are now treated as day cases. The number of day cases treated by the national health service has more than doubled since 1979.

Dental Treatment


To ask the Secretary of State for Health what action is being taken by his Department to ensure that all areas have access to national health service dental treatment.

The Department operates a scheme offering financial incentives to dentists to set up in shortage areas.

Will the Minister guarantee the people of the north-east of England a dental service within the health service or are we seeing another way of privatising the dental service?

Is my hon. Friend aware that many dentists are wrestling with their consciences while considering whether they should go for more private practice than NHS practice? My dentist is one of those who finds himself in that predicament. There must be more inducement for dentists to stay with the NHS than there has been previously. They are very inclined to go private.

I read the same newspaper articles as my hon. Friend and I am obviously concerned by them. We have a choice between believing the Daily Mirror or the British Dental Association. The BDA has stated:

"the public should have no difficulty in finding an NHS dentist in any part of the country."
That surely is the important assurance that I gave the hon. Member for Blyth Valley (Mr. Campbell).

Will my hon. Friend take it from me that in the north-east of England there is an adequate supply of dentists, and excellent dentists? The thing that is putting off dentists at present is the amount of paperwork that they are having to complete in accordance with their new contracts. Will my hon. Friend consider that? The system needs streamlining urgently.

I entirely agree with my hon. Friend that we should always be reviewing the paperwork and bureaucratic requirements of the NHS to ensure that they are at the minimum. We must ensure also that there is a sufficient flow of information to allow management to discharge its tasks effectively.

Is the Minister aware that the terms of the new dental contract make it increasingly uneconomic to practice NHS dentistry in London and that the majority of dentists in London and the south-east voted against the contract for that reason? My constituents are finding increasingly that their dentists are moving over to entirely private work. Is the Minister further aware that many dentists and many other members of the public feel that the Government are trying to introduce the privatisation of the dental service through the back door?

I repeat not my words but those of the BDA, which stated that

"the public should have no difficulty in finding an NHS dentist in any part of the country."
The hon. Lady is an unlikely exponent of the point of view that £30,000 a year is not a decent living wage.

Hospital Trusts


To ask the Secretary of State for Health if he will visit those hospitals in Liverpool which have made proposals for hospital trust status in order to obtain at first hand the views of the staff.

I have no immediate plans to visit the hospitals in Liverpool that have applied for trust status.

How can a Government who claim to believe in democracy ignore the wishes of the Liverpool people, as shown in a recent survey carried out by the Liverpool community health council? It revealed that 88 per cent. of staff in hospitals in Liverpool and over 92 per cent. of the public in Liverpool find the concept of opted-out hospitals entirely alien to their idea of a health service. Might not the Prime Minister, if that is what the right hon. Lady remains after 6.30 pm, try out her new-found belief in referendums by going to the people of Liverpool and carrying out a referendum in that city, where no councillors and no Members of Parliament believe in the Government's extreme right-wing doctrines?

It would be absurd to have referenda on management changes within the NHS. It is not surprising that the hon. Gentleman and his colleagues have managed to scare many people in Liverpool, as others have scared people elsewhere. For example, the hon. Member for Peckham (Ms. Harman), who I think is an Opposition Front-Bench spokesman, issued a press handout about hospitals opting out of the NHS. No hospitals are opting out of the NHS.

Given the misunderstandings that many have about opting out or trust status, is not there a need for the Secretary of State to go to places such as Liverpool to explain his plans? Many are fearful that if the Liverpool royal hospital in my constituency or the Alder Hey children's hospital, which has an international reputation, were in some way to be separated from the NHS, they would not be available to ordinary people and would not provide them with the care that they have always provided in the past. If there is a misunderstanding, why does not the Secretary of State come to Liverpool to explain in person the proposals to those who will be affected by them?

There are 66 applications for trust status and we must approve them or not approve them shortly. It would not be practicable for me to visit all those hospitals before I have to take those decisions. It is important that the hon. Member for Liverpool, Mossley Hill (Mr. Alton) accepts, as I hope that the hon. Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Mr. Wareing) accepts, that it is his duty to get rid of the nonsense that has been spread around. I am sure that the hon. Member for Mossley Hill, who is an independent-minded man, will help us to do that.

General Practitioners


To ask the Secretary of State for Health what is the average number of patients and income of general practitioners in England and Wales; and if he will make a statement.

On 1 October 1989, the latest date for which information is available, the average number of patients on a GP's list in England and Wales was 1,962—14 per cent. fewer than in 1979. The intended average net income for GPs is currently £33,280 and will rise to £34,680 from 1 January 1991.

Will my right hon. Friend confirm that since the introduction of the new contract and over the past few years, GPs have had fewer patients on their lists and will therefore have more time to treat them? Will he also confirm that as a consequence of the new contract, GPs' incomes will increase, so in no way can it be said that their standard of living has been eroded?

I can confirm what my hon. Friend says. I remind the House that many statements were made about the effect of the new GP contract and a lot of words will have to be eaten, particularly by Opposition Front-Bench Members. The figures already coming through show dramatic rises, for example, in the immunisation of children, which I do not think would have been achieved without the contract, which is already working well.

How many applications have there been from general practices in England and Wales for budget-holding status? How many of them came from rural areas? When will the Secretary of State make an announcement about those that he will approve?

The number is about 350, with a similar number, or rather more, expressing interest for the future. I cannot give the hon. Gentleman the breakdown between rural and urban now, but I shall write to him about that.


To ask the Secretary of State for Health what has been the effect of the new general practitioner contract on the amount of time spent in consultation with patients.


To ask the Secretary of State for Health what recent representations he has received about the new contract for general practitioners.

A recent survey published in the medical press suggested that 54 per cent. of GPs have spent more time in patient contact since the introduction of the GPs' new contract. In recent months there has been a dramatic reduction in the volume of correspondence received on the GP contract.

When the new contract was negotiated, doctors expressed much concern about targets for cervical cytology and immunisation. Does my hon. Friend have figures to show the percentage and number of doctors who are achieving those targets? Has the number of home visits undertaken by doctors personally rather than through agency services increased since the new contract was agreed?

My hon. Friend rightly highlights the misleading and mischievous statements that were made at the time. The hon. Member for Livingston (Mr. Cook) said:

"The targets … for screening for cervical cancer—are so heroic, so far beyond the present figure for most practices, that there is a danger that many doctors will simply give up trying."—[Official Report, 25 July 1989; Vol. 157, c. 960.]
That shows, as ever, that the Opposition think so little of people and are the doom-mongers and gloom merchants.

I shall give my hon. Friend the figures that he requested: 54 per cent. of GPs are already hitting the higher target for cytology—the majority are hitting the higher target. A further 35 per cent. are hitting the lower target as well and that is very encouraging. A similar story applies to immunisation. The remuneration on home visits, whereby if a GP carries out his own home visit at night, he receives about £45, but if he uses a deputising service, he receives £15, has meant that GPs are more willing to undertake their own home visits.

Does my hon. Friend agree that one of the likely reasons for the reduction in correspondence on this subject is that the contract is now a great deal more popular and more widely accepted, not only among GPs but among patients, than it was when it was first proposed? Is not one of the reasons for that that patients have more information about the services that are available to them than they have ever had before? [Interruption.]

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Could we have some quiet? There is a lot of last-minute canvassing on Conservative Benches. These are important Health questions.

I have to say that the noise comes from the hon. Member's side of the House as well—[Interruption.] However, I thank the hon. Member for drawing his point of order to my attention. It gives me the opportunity to say that we should listen to Health questions in silence.

The GP contract is a great success, partly because it has been backed by resources. In the part of the world of my hon. Friend the Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Hague), there has been a 20 per cent. increase in practice staff over the past year and a 65 per cent. increase in practice nurses. He will know that in his part of the country the average GP list size has come down from 2,000 to 1,700. Certainly, his point is important. The GP contract means that more information is made available through practice leaflets and the local directory of services. Patients are better informed. They are treated like partners by the GPs. It is a success for the GPs and a success for the patients.

The Minister mentioned cervical cancer a moment ago. Is she aware that the research unit at Hammersmith hospital, which is looking into breast cancer, now faces closure because of the inability to get £150,000 a year to continue its work, when her Department spent £147,000 on hospitality last year? Will not she say that it is a most inappropriate use and misallocation of resources and that she will keep the Hammersmith breast cancer unit open?

Clearly, as the first country in the European Community with a national call and recall system both for cervical cytology and for breast cancer, we are determined to reduce the number of avoidable deaths by cancer, particularly cancers affecting women. We have not had an application from the Hammersmith unit. We have been in touch with it to see whether there is any way in which we can assist.

Child Abuse


To ask the Secretary of State for Health what steps he is taking to protect children from abuse and neglect.

We are deeply concerned about all incidents of child abuse and attach a high priority to tackling it. Legislation that clarifies and simplifies the existing child care law is on the statute book. It will be implemented in October 1991.

Does my hon. Friend accept that child abuse is a problem which causes appalling conflicts between local authorities and families—conflicts which are often insoluble? Does she accept the need for up-to-date practice guidance to help with those problems?

My hon. Friend hits exactly the point about child abuse. The new Children Act 1989 ensures that there is proper, paramount consideration of the needs of the child and also recognition of the responsibilities of parents and the role of local authorities. Our guidance document, "Working Together", which was produced after the Cleveland report, clarifies and provides advice for the various agencies in their co-operation together. We shall be updating it in the new year and, in particular, drawing attention to the need to recognise the role, responsibilities and rights of parents.

Will the Minister please look again at the possibility of the establishment of a national centre for research into the abuse of children and sexual abuse, in particular—[Interruption]—so that perpetrators and victims can be examined in great depth?

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I cannot hear because of the noise.

Will the Minister look at that question, which I first raised with the Prime Minister two years ago, so that, for a small amount of money, we can ensure that real progress is made on that important issue?

I shall certainly give high priority to the development of services for those who have been abused and, indeed, for abusers. A major training programme is under way. We work in collaboration with a great number of voluntary organisations, for example, the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, the National Children's Bureau, the National Children's Home and many others. Only recently we identified an additional sum, particularly for the development of services for those who have been the victims of sexual abuse and for the perpetrators of abuse.

Does my hon. Friend agree that a lot of heartache has been caused to parents, because some of the guidelines contained in "Working Together" are still not being observed either by local authorities or by the professional organisations representing some of the professionals involved in case conferences? When she reviews "Working Together", will she ensure that the new guidance is strictly observed by local authorities and professional organisations?

Yes, that is correct. Those involved in child abuse cases should give paramount consideration to the welfare of the child. Many children's lives were lost some years ago because the workers were so busy working with the parents that they almost forgot to focus on the child. The pendulum has now swung the other way and there is concern that parents' interests are not being properly regarded. I can most certainly give my hon. Friend the assurance that the new issue of "Working Together" will properly identify the on-going responsibility of parents.

Residential Care


To ask the Secretary of State for Health what steps he is taking to ensure that persons in residential care are enabled to have individual rooms if they so desire.

That is a matter for local authorities. To assist local authorities, we have issued guidance that makes it clear that residents should have the choice of single rooms wherever that is preferred and practicable.

Is the Minister aware that thousands of residents in care homes have to share a room and that in some cases there are four or five people to a room? How would she like to have to share a room in her old age with four or five other people? What is she going to do about it? Is she aware of the two major reports that have been published, the Wagner report and the Home Life report, which both state that it is highly desirable that elderly people should have individual rooms? Is she further aware of the representations that have been made by organisations such as the Royal College of Nursing, which said that in old age, residents of such homes need choice, dignity and to be cared for properly? What will the Minister do about all this?

It is my intention and hope to share my room with one person in my old age, but perhaps with no more. We are intent on improving standards in residential care homes. We have a training initiative to improve the quality of care. New inspection units were established by local authorities this April and it will be important that local authorities meet the standards that they have been setting for the private sector for many years. Our community care plans should ensure that proper support is provided in the community as well as residential support being provided, where appropriate, for those who need it.

Prime Minister


Questions to the Prime Minister—[HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear".]—Order. No. 1, Mr. McAvoy.


To ask the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Tuesday 20 November.

The Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons
(Mr. John MacGregor)

Mr. Speaker —[Interruption.]

I have been asked to reply.

My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister is attending the conference on security and co-operation in Europe, in Paris.

Does the Leader of the House accept that with the Tory party split from top to bottom in an orgy of bitterness, animosity and hatred, it is proving that it is patently unfit to govern? Bearing in mind the present Prime Minister's new-found enthusiasm for referendums, will the Leader of the House urge him to resign and call the only referendum that matters—a general election—to give the people an opportunity to elect a Labour Prime Minister?

We have just had the debate on the Address and the legislative programme in which the Government secured a very large majority of 108. That is a firm rebuttal of the hon. Gentleman's point. We have a full and important legislative programme and we shall be getting on with it, as the House wants us to do. I do not know why the hon. Gentleman raised that point, because when the general election comes and the focus turns to his leader and the Labour party's policies, I have no doubt that the Conservative party will have a fourth considerable victory.


To ask the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Tuesday 20 November.

I have been asked to reply.

I refer my hon. Friend to the reply that I gave some moments ago.

Can my right hon. Friend confirm that the excellent European arms reduction treaty could not have been achieved under the weak, indecisive and divided policies advocated by the Opposition? Can he further confirm that the defence of the realm remains a key objective of the Government and that the aerospace workers in Lancashire will have a full part to play in that?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right in what he says. It was because the Government—under the leadership of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister—and other Governments in the west were resolute about defence and maintained an effective nuclear deterrent that the Soviet Union realised that it could not win militarily. When a Soviet leader arose with the courage and vision of Mr. Gorbachev, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister was the first to recognise that and to encourage him in the process of reform and disarmament, which was so triumphantly sealed yesterday. That treaty is of major significance for the future of Europe. My hon. Friend is also right to stress the role of British Aerospace. I am sure that it will continue to have an important role.

I can tell hon. Members exactly what my right hon. Friend is doing—he is enjoying the undivided support of his party.

Will the Leader of the House accept our congratulations on the Government's refusal to provide £10 million to fund the city technology college in the Prime Minister's borough? When shall we have a statement on the Government's general climbdown on CTCs?

There is no climbdown on city technology colleges. We have a clear programme—15 have been either announced or are well in the pipeline. What is more, the CTCs already in existence are proving not only extremely effective in raising standards in inner-urban areas, but extremely popular with parents. They all have very large waiting lists.

If there is no general climbdown on CTCs, what significance should we read into the Prime Minister having been picked out for special punishment in that particular? Is not it true that the Government's policy is in shambles in yet another area and that the country now faces all the problems of a lame duck Prime Minister leading a lame duck Government?

That was a shambles of an attack. Our CTC policy is continuing and the CTCs are proving very popular. As the former Secretary of State for Education and Science, I recently announced consultations on a new CTC—which I believe will be very good—in the Bristol area. In each case, we must consider the obtaining of sufficient funds from sponsors and the matching of sponsors with sites in appropriate inner-urban areas. It is not true that the CTC programme is crumbling.


To ask the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Tuesday 20 November.

I have been asked to reply.

I refer my hon. Friend to the reply that I gave some moments ago.

Has my right hon. Friend noticed the absence of the Leader of the Opposition? Could he possibly be attending any summit meeting and, if so, would he be advocating his policies of 1983 or his policies of 1990?

Not the least of the achievements of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister is that the Opposition have changed so many of their policies—for example, on Europe, on the economy and in many other respects. That is a clear sign of the Government's success with our policies during recent years.

I know that the Leader of the House must be worried about matters other than Question Time, but will he address himself to the position from which he was recently removed, that of Secretary of State for Education and Science? Does he realise that the CTCs, which were mentioned by my right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley), together with the assisted places scheme, are costing more than the £500 million that he recently wrung from the Treasury? Does he accept that both those schemes are an insult to British education? Only a few parents are lucky enough to feel able to support them, while the remainder of education suffers from the siphoning off of public money into private education.

For a start, the hon. Gentleman's figures are completely wrong. The two programmes to which he referred cost a good deal less than £500 million. I know that he will have noticed the proposals in the autumn statement to increase spending on education next year by more than £3,000 million. That is a clear sign of the priority that we give to education. The CTC programme and the assisted places programme are two of the many means by which we are raising standards and extending parental choice.


To ask the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Tuesday 20 November.

I have been asked to reply.

I refer my hon. Friend to the reply that I gave some moments ago.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the Government's policy towards Europe has been vindicated by the success of the conference on security and co-operation in Europe, held in Paris? Does he further agree that the direction of future policy must lead to greater co-operation across the entire continent of Europe rather than to a retreat into a tight economic unit covering less than half of it?

I very much agree with my hon. Friend. As my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said in Paris yesterday

"We would hope to see east and central European countries join the Council of Europe. And in the slightly longer term we would also hope to see them join the European Community when they are ready and want to do so".
My hon. Friend is also right to talk about a wider, open Europe. As a former Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, I believe that the lead that my right hon. Friend gave—[Interruption.] I was pleased to play my part in the reform of the common agricultural policy. The lead that my right hon. Friend gave in trying to get a united European position on the GATT Uruguay round has been most important.


To ask the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Tuesday 20 November.

I have been asked to reply.

I refer my hon. Friend to the reply that I gave some moments ago.

Is the Lord President of the Council aware that my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) was outside Committee Room 12 this morning at 10 o'clock when he conducted a most authoritative exit poll of a certain contest? Among the first—[Interruption.]

Order. The hon. Gentleman may well have been there, but the hon. Member for Coventry, South-East (Mr. Nellist) should relate his question to Government responsibilities.

Among the first 200 Tory MPs who emerged, 200 admitted to voting for the Prime Minister and 200 admitted to voting for the right hon. Member for Henley (Mr. Heseltine). With all the duplicity and general savagery of the past few days, does the Lord President agree that it would be better to follow the advice of my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Rutherglen (Mr. McAvoy) and call a general election? Instead of 350 Tory Members of Parliament deciding a political talent contest, 40 million people could pass verdict on the past 11 years of Thatcherism.

I have already dealt with the general election point. The hon. Gentleman has highlighted the fact that, as ever, the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) not only gets his facts and dates wrong, but has an extremely vivid imagination.

We shall see.

I am grateful to the hon. Member for Coventry, South-East (Mr. Nellist), as he has reminded me that I have still to vote, which I hope to do in about five minutes.


To ask the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Tuesday 20 November.

I have been asked to reply.

I refer my hon. Friend to the reply that I gave some moments ago.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the fact that in excess of 7 million people have already registered to buy electricity shares demonstrates the continuing and overwhelming public interest in popular capitalism, as espoused by the Conservative party alone under the leadership of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister? Does he also agree that today's 11 million popular capitalists have everything to fear from the return of an expropriating Labour party?

I agree with my hon. Friend. There is no doubt that one of the many successes of the past 11 years of Conservative rule has been the wider spread not only of share ownership but of property ownership. It has been clear for many years that the wider spread of ownership is not a concept in which the Opposition believe.

Following the earlier remarks of the Leader of the House about Labour party policy, may I ask whether he is aware that at the weekend the Prime Minister accused the right hon. Member for Henley (Mr. Heseltine) of pursuing Labour party policy? Could that be why the right hon. Gentleman is so much further ahead in public opinion than the right hon. Lady?

That was a reference—[Interruption.] If one reads what the Prime Minister said one sees that it was a reference to one or two aspects of economic policy in relation to intervention in industry. If one examines the totality of our policies on the economy, one sees that my right hon. Friend the Member for Henley (Mr. Heseltine) in his remarks was totally in support of the Prime Minister and that in a wide range of other policies there is a great deal of unity on Conservative Benches and a great deal of opposition to the policies being pursued by the Labour party.


To ask the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Tuesday 20 November.

I have been asked to reply.

I refer my hon. Friend to the reply that I gave some moments ago.

Does the Leader of the House agree that one of the many achievements of the Prime Minister has been to set up the Audit Commission? Does he further agree that it is extraordinary that the Opposition want to abolish it simply because it is exposing massive waste and inefficiency in town halls, with over £1·3 billion of savings already identified?

I wish that I could agree with my hon. Friend that it was extraordinary behaviour on the part of the Labour party. Sadly, it is all too typical, and I was horrified by the reputed remarks of the hon. Member for Sheffield, Brightside (Mr. Blunkett), that the Audit Commission's

"unhelpful undermining of local authority initiatives undoubtedly mean its days are numbered".
The Audit Commission has shown how local authority services can be improved, with the charge payer being saved about £1·3 billion, and has shown how waiting lists in hospitals can be cut by a third at no extra cost. So Labour's action over the Audit Commission carries this single message for charge payers and taxpayers everywhere, "It has money to burn—yours."

Orders Of The Day

Criminal Justice Bill

Order for Second Reading read.

3.31 pm

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

I have selected the amendment standing in the name of the Leader of the Opposition.

The Bill is an important reforming measure which sets out to increase society's confidence in the criminal justice and penal system and its effectiveness in dealing with offenders.

It creates a more coherent statutory framework for sentencing, based on the seriousness of the offence that has been committed. That, along with sentencing guidelines by the Court of Appeal, the power of the Attorney-General to take over-lenient sentences to the Court of Appeal and the work of the Judicial Studies Board, should make for much greater consistency in sentencing. I said "consistency" not "uniformity", which is argued for, extraordinarily enough, in the reasoned amendment. I put that down to no more than a schoolboy howler, because I cannot believe that that is what is intended.

The Bill reforms the parole system to ensure that those who are sent to prison will generally spend a greater proportion of their sentence in custody and will be supervised on release. The Bill contains proposals on children's evidence which will ensure that those who abuse children will not be able to hide behind difficulties that their victims now face in going to court.

The Bill also includes measures designed to reinforce parental responsibility and finally, and on a different theme, we are taking the opportunity to provide for the putting out to tender of police and prison escort duties and security in magistrates courts so that police and prison officers can concentrate on their real work; the Bill proposes to give the private sector the opportunity to tender for the running of the new remand centre at Everthorpe—now called Wolds.

Many of those proposals are radical, but all are built on firm foundations. As for the Bill's sentencing framework, we are in many respects setting out to extend over the whole age range the requirements imposed on the courts so far as young offenders are concerned in the Criminal Justice Acts 1982 and 1988, requirements which have already led to substantially fewer young people being given custodial sentences. The proposals on parole and children's evidence implement the recommendations of thorough and detailed reports of reviews held by Lord Carlisle of Bucklow and by His Honour Judge Pigot respectively. The proposals on private sector involvement in the remand system are also based on extensive research and consultation.

The Home Secretary referred to the involvement of private security firms. As the personnel policies of many of those companies are, to say the least, unsavoury, will he give an assurance that one of the requirements imposed by the Home Office will be that none of the companies should be subscribers to the Economic League and other black listing organisations and he will seek an assurance, before issuing contracts, that that will be the case?

I draw the hon. Gentleman's attention to the Bill, wherein are set out the most detailed provisions to ensure that the service provided is excellent and that, within the organisation, there will be a Government official, a monitor as it were, to ensure that the higher standards are maintained.

The circumstances of cases that come before the courts are almost infinitely various. Therefore, when one comes to sentencing, consistency of approach, rather than uniformity of outcome, must be the aim: therefore, I have had no difficulty in resisting any temptation to impose detailed and rigid sentencing rules upon the courts, such as would require particular offences to be sentenced within only a narrow range of options. But it is right that Parliament should guide the courts on the general principles to be adopted.

Fairness and consistency are paramount in the administration of justice. Therefore, there can be no place, in a criminal justice system worthy of that name, for any sort of discrimination on grounds of race, colour, creed or sex. Any such discrimination would be utterly inimical to the principles of justice on which the system is founded, and I believe that the more consistent framework provided in the Bill will enable those principles to be upheld. All the agencies that work in the criminal justice system are committed to policies and practices to achieve that aim.

Will the Home Secretary say whether he has any objection at this stage to accepting the recommendation of the criminal Bar that there should be a declaratory provision to ensure that his objectives on racial discrimination are met?

I certainly have no objection in principle—how could one, if one were talking only of a clause in the Bill that was declaratory and stated what the present law was? Even if it went further than that, the subject is obviously something which could be usefully debated in Committee. I hope that the hon. Gentleman is satisfied with that.

Secondly, the aim of the proposals is to deal with offenders and stop crime more effectively. We expect our proposals to lead to a fall in the use of imprisonment and therefore to a fall in the prison population. This is obviously to be welcomed and I expect it to happen, although the numbers involved are, in the nature of things, difficult to estimate. But I do not want there to be any misunderstanding. This is certainly not a measure designed to achieve some artificial short-term reduction in prison numbers at the expense of proper protection for the public.

Instead, the Bill's proposals are part of the Government's wider strategy for tackling crime more effectively. The probation service will have a central role in implementing the Bill's proposals for pre-sentence reports, community penalties and post-custody supervision of offenders. We shall set national standards for these matters and our Green Paper, "Supervision and Punishment in the Community", published in February this year, set out a number of options for improving the responsiveness of the probation service to the demands that it is likely to face. We shall also support it with the necessary resources.

No one can doubt the effectiveness of the Government's support for other parts of the criminal justice system, given the investment of money and ideas that we have put into police manpower and resources, the prison service, crime prevention and support for victims.

The probation service is dealt with in the Green Paper and in the Bill, but I was at a conference of magistrates in Birmingham on Saturday at which delegates asked me about financial resources, given that the service attracts an 80 per cent. grant. They were worried that, because of financial restraints on local authorities, there will not be enough money to support the work of the probation service. Were they wrong?

There will be a 27 per cent. increase in funding over the next three years. I remind the right hon. Gentleman of an interesting passage at the back of the White Paper which deals with resources. We have always acknowledged that if these proposals succeed there will have to be an expanded probation service—not the reverse.

The Bill clearly states that the basic principle should be that the punishment should be commensurate with the seriousness of the offence, but our plain duty is to protect the public and in certain cases a tougher sentence than that warranted by the seriousness of the offence may be justified by the need to protect the public from serious harm—and that is provided for.

If an offender has already been punished for a previous offence it seems unfair and unjust to punish him twice over by increasing the penalty for a subsequent offence; it seems wrong that petty offenders should be imprisoned merely because they have committed petty offences previously. But we must face up to why such offenders sometimes finish up in prison now. That happens, I fear, because until now community penalties have often not been perceived as real punishments and so long as community penalties continue to be perceived as a bit of a let-off, sentencers will inevitably be tempted to say to the offenders, "Well, you got away with it last time, but you did not learn your lesson, so this time we will give you a taste of real punishment—prison."

I certainly do not blame sentencers who have sometimes taken this view in the past, since it is clear that in some respects community penalties have not been as rigorous as they should have been. Moreover, the range of community penalties has not been wide enough to provide suitable punishment for all offenders who could otherwise have been dealt with effectively in the community.

I find it difficult to understand why some of the people who are in favour of less use of custody do not seem to recognise that rigorous and demanding community penalties must be provided if that aim is to be achieved.

I shall give way to the hon. Member for Bradford, South (Mr. Cryer) in a moment, but I want to finish this passage because it is an important one.

The public certainly will not put up with a slap on the wrist as an adequate response to relatively serious offending. Hence, there will be a wider range of community penalties—and combinations of them—which can make tough demands on offenders and offer the courts what they and the public will recognise as an adequate response to criminal behaviour.

Does the Secretary of State accept that there is widespread support for community service in place of imprisonment? Does he agree that many people feel that the really big criminals operating in the City are not being pursued vigorously enough by the Government because of their insistence on the enterprise culture and their exaltation of greed and personal profit? The Government ought to set an example by pursuing the big criminals in the City with much more vigour than they appear to be doing.

Recent events do not bear out for a moment what the hon. Gentleman says. People have seen how serious offenders are dealt with when those concerned with financial matters are dishonest in their dealings.

Does the Secretary of State accept that the police in general feel that, because they are provided with inadequate resources, they are being neglected and that, therefore, they are unable to do their job properly? Community penalties are all very well, but the major problem is that inadequate resources have been provided over the years to implement them. The resources chapter in the White Paper deals with the provision of resources for specific penalties, but it says nothing about prevention. If the Government tackled properly the prevention of crime, many people would not get into the criminal system in the first place.

I do not know what sort of world the hon. Gentleman lives in. During the past 10 years, Neighbourhood Watch has grown to 81,000 schemes. Moreover, throughout the country there are safer cities projects and Crime Concern, funded by the Government, has blossomed. No Government have paid greater attention to crime prevention than this one. The hon. Gentleman must be living in a very odd world if he does not know that there are 15,500 more police officers now than there were in 1979. In addition, 10,000 civilians who were not employed in 1979 are now employed by the police thereby freeing police officers, who previously did desk jobs, to get out on the streets.

For the most serious offences, there is no doubt that a prison sentence will normally be necessary, and often a long one. Under the guidance of the Court of Appeal, sentences for offences such as rape and robbery have been getting longer in recent years and rightly so. The Bill confirms the appropriateness of heavy sentences for sadistic and brutal crimes, making it clear that long sentences can be given where the public may be at risk of serious harm from a sexual or violent offender. On the other hand, penalties that keep the offender in the community may often be better for offences of a less serious nature, particularly where violence is not involved.

There will be widespread support for my right hon. and learned Friend's statement that sentences for crimes of violence, including sexual crimes, are to be increased. Will he undertake to look closely at clause 25 which, it has been suggested, would increase the punishment for minor offences such as soliciting by men or women? If that is so, I am sure that many hon. Members would suggest that much higher sentences for those offences are not appropriate.

I do not believe that my hon. Friend can be right. Clause 25 does not refer to that. If he will have a word with me afterwards, I shall see whether there is anything that I can do to meet his point.

Despite all the good work that is done in prisons, the experience of prison is inevitably to make the offender used to living in an institution and to cut him off from his ties with the community. Instead of being made to face up to his responsibilities in the community, the offender is relieved of them. Less experienced offenders rub shoulders with the more experienced and, as often as not, they come out far worse than they were when they went in. A community sentence which makes the offender face up to his crimes and their effect on the victim can often make greater demands on the offender than allowing him just to loaf around in prison at the taxpayer's expense.

I shall not go through the whole Bill—but I will deal briefly with some of the main features.

Will the Secretary of State admit that over the past decade, as the large mental institutions have been emptied, many people with mental illnesses have ended up not homeless in cardboard boxes but in the prison system? Has not he missed a golden opportunity to do something for that vulnerable group of people who are not catered for in the Bill? Secure units for people with mental illness are in short supply and this is just a missed opportunity.

We have not missed a golden opportunity because this is the problem to which we have been addressing ourselves. The hon. Lady may know that in the past month we issued a circular that reinforced the opportunities that the courts have for diverting people of that kind from prison.

Clause 1 establishes that a custodial sentence is to be passed——

The Home Secretary talked about diverting people. Who diverts them and where are they diverted to?

I was telling the hon. Member for Halifax (Mrs. Mahon) that within the past month we have issued a circular reminding the courts of all the opportunities that exist for sentences that divert people suffering from mental illness to places other than within the criminal justice system.

Since the Home Secretary cannot bring himself to give us an answer, let me tell him. They are diverted to sitting about in the streets with nobody to look after them.

The right hon. Gentleman does not know what he is talking about and he had better read the circular.

Clause 1 establishes that a custodial sentence is to be passed only if the court is of the opinion that the offence is so serious that only a custodial sentence can be justified for it. This criterion is based on that which applies to young offenders under section 123 of the Criminal Justice Act 1988, but a little more flexibility is provided to cater for the case where the court is sentencing for more than one offence, and a second offence might tip the balance between custody being or not being justified.

Clause 2 requires the court to apply similar principles to determining the length of a custodial sentence, and clause 3 sets out the information to which the court is to have regard in forming its judgment whether a custodial sentence is justified and, if so, for how long. In all cases, a pre-sentence report is required. This will replace the existing social inquiry report, but in a form more closely adapted to the court's sentencing requirements.

Clause 3 makes it clear that the previous record of the offender, or his response to previous sentences, is not to be taken into account unless the previous offending behaviour is genuinely relevant to the new offence in the sense of making it more serious.

Will my right hon. and learned Friend confirm that there is nothing in the Bill that will affect or change a suspect's right to silence? Does he accept that the only people who benefit from the right to silence are those who have something to hide? Does he think that we should include in the Bill a provision whereby courts are allowed to take into account the fact that someone has refused to disclose what he or she was doing at a particular time?

My hon. Friend is right in believing that there is nothing in the Bill relating to the so-called right to silence. My hon. Friend might have an opportunity of discussing that when the Bill is upstairs in Committee. It is a pretty important subject which is in the remit of the committee now being presided over by Lord Justice May.

I was dealing with the relevance of previous convictions which might suggest, for example, that the offence before the court was the premeditated act of a professional burglar and not done on the spur of the moment. Clearly, in that case, the previous conviction would be relevant.

Is the Secretary of State aware of the worrying growth among young people of car theft and dangerous speeding around residential estates, which led to the death of a 10-month-old baby in my constituency last week? Does he believe that the law on such crimes should be tightened?

I am entitled to ask the hon. Gentlemen to consider the figures on the number of young people who have been sent to custodial establishments following the passing of the Criminal Justice Acts of 1982 and 1988. Interestingly, although those Acts put in place a similar regime to the one that we are proposing to extend across the age range, the number of offenders in that age group seems to have gone down rather than up. I am not attracted by the idea that we should cast aside these imaginative proposals, which have been tested as a result of the 1982 and 1988 Acts.

I cannot give way again; I must get on.

Clause 5 provides that community penalties should be imposed only in accordance with the gravity of the offence. It lists the various orders that are available, including the new combined probation and community service order. The maximum length of a community service order on a 16-year-old is brought in line with that for 17-year-olds —240 hours.

Community responsibility for offenders has been practised in many areas, including in my constituency. It is almost impossible to oversee those activities. More people are needed on the ground to ensure that young offenders are doing what they say they are doing. There has been an absolutely negative response in my area. I do not know whether my right hon. and learned Friend will allocate more funds to the overseers, but it is a problem.

This is an important point. We shall allocate resources, because we want effective community service programmes that make real demands of offenders. That is why there will be national standards on which much work has been done by my right hon. Friend the Minister of State.

The new curfew order is included in the list of community penalties. It could play a useful part in keeping offenders out of trouble, preventing them from mixing with their old criminal associates on a Saturday night, for instance, and drifting back into crime.

The House will recall the recent pilot schemes by which courts in three areas were able to use electronic monitoring to enforce curfews that were imposed as a condition of bail. Relatively few orders were made, because it was a condition of their use that the case was so serious that otherwise the magistrates would have remanded in custody. The orders that were made demonstrated the technical feasibility of electronic monitoring and I am bound to say that it completely baffles me why the press keeps insisting that the defying of the conditions of bail in some of those cases proves that monitoring does not work. If the authorities knew, as they did, that the conditions had not been observed, the monitoring was highly successful.

Does not evidence from America demonstrate the success of electronic monitoring? Those who are being negative and are suggesting that we should not proceed with a scheme, which is in its early days, whereby we can keep people who have done wrong in the community and monitor their activities are foolish. I endorse electronic tagging and hope that the pilot schemes will continue.

I am grateful for my hon. Friend's support. The opposition to the schemes is nonsensical. Those who oppose electronic nagging—[Laughter. ] I mean tagging—are the same people who are nagging me to try to keep people out of custody. Can one imagine anything more frivolous and ridiculous than the Opposition giggling and hallooing about electronic nagging—[HON. MEMBERS: "Nagging?"] It really is nagging. If the Opposition had their way, we would finish up with great pleas from them for more people to be punished in the community with not a single punishment available in the community. That is the sort of nonsense we invariably hear from the nagging gentlemen opposite.

I listened carefully to my right hon. and learned Friend and I congratulate him on what he said. The long title of the Bill would allow him to deal with some of the problems of hooliganism, particularly the problem of drinking alcohol publicly in the streets. Is my right hon. and learned Friend satisfied that the recommendations in the paper that has been issued by the Home Office to local authorities will be carried out? If local authorities do not, we should take positive action in the House to ensure that this is done nationally. Will my right hon. and learned Friend comment on this matter?

We approved a model byelaw and it is now up to local authorities to decide whether they want to use it. Under this procedure, it is not for us to say that they must use it. I hope that my hon. Friend will do his best to persuade his local authority that it is well worth its while to look into this aspect, but I cannot take the matter further than that.

Financial penalties are covered in clauses 15 to 21. The vast majority of criminal offences are dealt with now by fines—80 per cent. of offenders were punished in this way in 1989—and the proposals in the Bill would encourage the use of financial penalties in appropriate cases and set out to make their use more effective.

Clause 16 introduces a unit fines scheme which will enable magistrates to take account of the ability of offenders to pay and to fine in a way that makes equal demands on offenders of different means. Magistrates courts will be required to assess fines in terms of units, with the number of units corresponding to the seriousness of the offence and the value of each unit reflecting the weekly disposable income of the offender. One benefit of the new system should be a reduction in the number of people sent to prison for fine default and that should certainly be the effect of the new power in clause 21 for fines to be recovered by attachment of income support.

This part of the Bill includes the important proposal in clause 23 to reduce certain maximum penalties—the penalties for theft, which will come down from 10 years to seven years, and for non-domestic burglary, which will come down from 14 years to 10 years. The maximum penalty for domestic burglary remains at 14 years. Few people now go to prison for anything like seven years for theft and virtually no one goes to prison for as many as 10 years for burglary, but a reduction in maximum penalties is a useful way in which Parliament can express its view on the relative seriousness of, for instance, crimes of dishonesty and crimes of violence.

I see no mention of a proposal to do away with concurrent sentencing. Is it not about time that people who committed more than one crime served a sentence for more than one crime? Should not we do away with the nonsense and injustice of concurrent sentencing?

I do not think that we could do away with concurrent sentences. There could be absurd situations in which a person was before a court for 25 crimes, all serious, and the judge took the view that each crime warranted a sentence of 10 years' imprisonment. The judge would finish up sending the chap down for 250 years. Everyone would say that that was a bizarre and unusual punishment which was highly unlikely to be enforced.

Part II of the Bill introduces a radical reform of the arrangements for granting parole and remission. The present arrangements are not satisfactory. The interaction of the minimum qualifying period for parole and remission can lead to prisoners who have been given different terms of imprisonment serving the same time. At present, prisoners sentenced to 12, 15 and 18 months' imprisonment could all be released after six months. The first would be released with automatic half remission, the second would qualify for parole after six months and the third would become eligible for parole at the one third point in his sentence. Release at the one third point of sentence, which can occur if a person gets maximum parole and maximum remission, lead to an unacceptable erosion of the value of the sentence passed by the court. That is bad for respect for the criminal justice system.

The arrangements proposed in part II are intended to make the sentence served relate more closely to the sentence passed. No prisoner will be released earlier than the halfway point of his sentence, except on exceptional compassionate grounds. Prisoners serving fewer than four years will be released automatically at that point unless release is delayed by added days awarded for misbehaviour while in prison. Once released, those serving sentences of a year or more, and all young offenders, will be supervised by the probation service up to the three quarter point of their sentence as a means of protecting the public and to assist their reintegration into society. All such offenders will be liable to be returned to prison to serve the remainder of their sentences if they reoffend before the expiry of the original term.

The Government agree with the view taken by the Carlisle committee that a discretionary early release scheme for prisoners serving relatively short terms can no longer be justified. For those serving four years or more, the primary consideration in deciding whether parole should be granted should be risk to the public. The Parole Board will, of course, continue in existence to consider the cases of prisoners who are eligible for parole under the new arrangements. However, as there will be many fewer cases to be considered for parole than now, the present local review committees, which carry out the initial consideration of cases, will no longer be required. The Bill also makes it possible for the Home Secretary to delegate to the Parole Board the final decision in such classes of case as he specifies. It is my intention initially to delegate this responsibility to the board in cases where the prisoner is serving a term of fewer than seven years.

The Carlisle committee noted in its report that the meaning that will be restored to the sentence actually passed may well result in somewhat shorter sentences. I think that there is reason to believe that the changes proposed, when taken as a whole, will not result in an increase in the prison population and may lead to a reduction.

When will the commencement clauses come into operation? There is a problem that, although in future people will be sentenced under the legislation, existing prisoners will also be considered for parole under the Bill. Those in prison at present are uncertain whether the old or new parole conditions will apply to them.

There is no need for that concern. The Bill proposes that the release date of those already in prison should stand. Their position will not be prejudiced by the fact that they are in prison at the time of the introduction of the new system.

I now come to the very important proposals in clauses 42 to 45 with regard to the Pigot report and children's evidence. At present, children can suffer greatly as a result of having to give evidence in criminal trials. Furthermore, there are a number of obstacles in the way of their evidence being properly considered.

First, the present technical rules about the competence of witnesses result in many young children who have been abused, or have witnessed abuse, simply not being allowed to tell their story to a jury. The Pigot committee's view —and we agree with it—is that the old rules should be swept away and the age and maturity of the child should affect the weight placed upon the evidence, not whether he or she can be heard in the first place. Courts in many other countries work without a competency requirement and I am sure that we can do so as well.

I have no wish to tamper with the rules against hearsay that prevent people who have interviewed a child being able to repeat to the court what the child has told them. What is at issue is whether video recordings of interviews with the child should be allowed in evidence. We believe that they should and that they should be shown to the jury as the child's evidence-in-chief, subject to the judge being able to rule against the admission of any evidence if it does injustice to the accused.

Obviously we must ensure that the child's evidence can be properly tested and that the defendant's right to a fair trial is properly safeguarded. So the Bill provides that cross-examination can take place in its proper place at the trial by the advocate for the defendant, but the power in the Criminal Justice Act 1988 to enable the child to answer questions through a video link from outside the court room will be preserved.

I thank my right hon. and learned Friend for including those provisions. Will he join me in congratulating the many policewomen throughout the country who have been advocating the change that he has outlined for some time? They made their case to the Pigot committee and it accepted it. They have done a public service in enabling the Government to introduce a proposed amendment to the law.

My hon. Friend is entirely right. Congratulations are due to the police. Many teams of police officers carried out experimental schemes which worked so satisfactorily that they impressed Judge Pigot and his committee and reinforced his conclusions that there had to be a change in the law.

Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that in America, where the first interview with a child is recorded, 85 per cent. of defendants change their plea to one of guilty? Sometimes defendants would be ashamed to have the video played in open court and in other cases defendants are ashamed and full of remorse for what they have done to the child. This procedure would spare children from having to give evidence and, therefore, must be something which the House should support.

To the best of my knowledge, what my hon. Friend says about the American experience is entirely true. I take the view that the introduction of these new procedures will result in many more pleas of guilty and that is eminently satisfactory.

The remaining clauses of part III deal with parental responsibility. I have said before, and I say again, that it is nonsense to suggest that every time a young person comes before a court the parents are to blame. Sensible parents should thank their lucky stars that their own children have not fallen foul of the law. But parents have a key role to play in instilling in their children a sense of right and wrong and the Bill underlines that role. It places a duty on the courts to require the attendance of a parent or guardian unless it would be unreasonble to do so. Parents of children under 16 years of age are already normally responsible for the payment of any fine or compensation order that is imposed and to strengthen the impact of this the Bill makes clear that the courts, in deciding on the level of payment to be made, must take account of the parents' means and not only the means of the child. The courts' powers to bind over parents of offenders to take proper care of and exercise proper control over their children are also extended.

This part of the Bill also changes the way in which young people themselves are treated in the criminal justice system.

Does the right hon. and learned Gentleman agree that if someone is to be bound over it is important that everyone should know what he has to do in order not to forfeit his recognisance? What is envisaged in keeping proper control of the child? Does that mean that if the child reoffends the recognisance is almost automatically forfeited? If not, what are the rules?

I envisage a situation where the child and the parents appear before the court, the court is not impressed with the story told by the parents about the sort of supervision that they have been exercising over the child, the court comes to the conclusion that the child has been offending, going out late at night and the parents have not even known that that has been happening, the parents are bound over, return with the child and it then appears that the parents have not paid the slightest attention to the child's movements and have done nothing to try to find out where the child has been going at night. I do not suggest for a moment that there could be an absolute liability under which whatever the child did wrong was brought to the parents' door. That could not possibly be right.

Part III also changes the way in which young people are treated in the criminal justice system. It proposes that 17-year-olds should henceforth be treated as young persons rather than adults. Clause 53 renames the juvenile court the youth court.

The White Paper invited views about whether the sentence of detention in a young offender institution might be abolished for female offenders under the age of 18. Having considered the views expressed, we have concluded that a different approach would be better and therefore clause 49 proposes that the provisions for boys and girls should be brought into line. That will mean that neither boys nor girls aged 14 will be sentenced to detention in a young offender institution. Sometimes, however, children are involved in very serious offences and we have, I believe, got to keep the power in section 53 of the Children and Young Persons Act 1933.

One of the least attractive and least satisfactory aspects of prisons is the holding on remand of young boys aged 16 and 17. Will my right hon. and learned Friend, through the arrangements in the Bill, take urgent steps to ensure that 16 and 17-year-old boys are not held in adult prisons, particularly when on remand?

My hon. Friend will know that there is a very important passage about that in the White Paper. I assure him that an announcement will be made about our proposals during proceedings on the Bill.

Will my right hon. and learned Friend consider youngsters aged 14 or 15 who play truant and, because of the time taken by the juvenile courts to deal with them, have actually left school before their cases are heard? Is not it time that we considered the whole process and that time was taken to deal with juvenile offenders who play truant, to ensure that they come to court as quickly as possible because they are the very people who are out on the streets committing burglaries during the course of the school day?

It is important that those young offenders should be brought to court quickly. Indeed, I believe that all offenders should be brought to court quickly. During proceedings on the Bill, we might discuss whether the present provisions in law about truancy are strong enough or whether the law should be reinforced perhaps once again by binding over provisions to bind over parents to ensure that their children do not play truant.

I hope that the Home Secretary will tell us a little more about his proposal for young offenders remanded in prison. He was right to say that his White Paper made specific proposals in that area and he was right to imply that his Bill does not reflect those proposals. With respect, it will not do for the Home Secretary to tell the House on Second Reading that some change will be made to the Bill sooner or later. He should give us some idea at least of the shape and size of that change.

The object is to devise a system that will not result in their going to prison and that must be worked out closely. We must bear in mind that some of those who are remanded in custody at the moment are remanded by the magistrates because the magistrates believe that it is necessary to remand them to protect the public. We must devise a system whereby secure accommodation will be available as a substitute for sending those people to prison. That is the difficulty, but there is no doubt about the aim. The right hon. Gentleman and I obviously agree about the aim, but we will make an announcement as soon as possible.

Part IV provides for the more efficient administration of the criminal justice services. Clauses 57 to 60 provide for the appointment of court security officers in magistrates courts with a framework of powers and safeguards that will resolve any uncertainty about the powers of court staff to deal with, or anticipate, disorder.

Clauses 61 to 71 give effect to the Government's proposals for involving the private sector in the operation of the remand system. Power is being taken to contract out court escort work and to put out to tender the running of new remand centres. If the proposals are accepted by Parliament, competitive tenders will be invited for the operation of the new remand centre currently being built at Everthorpe in Humberside.

If there is private sector involvement, the operation of the private sector body will be closely supervised; in the case of escort duties by a Government official called the monitor and by a panel of lay observers.

As to remand centres, any one that was contracted out would have permanently assigned to it a Government-appointed controller, who, rather than the private sector director of the establishment, would conduct disciplinary hearings, authorise a prisoner's removal from association, his confinement in a special cell, or the application to him of any other special control or restraint.

Finally, I should like to emphasise the importance of clauses 76 and 77. They fill a gap in the ability of probation committees to make grants to voluntary and other organisations that provide facilities for the supervision or assistance of offenders or defendants on bail. The discussion paper "Partnership in dealing with offenders in the community", which we issued in April this year, outlines a number of options for involving the voluntary and private sectors more extensively in support of the probation service's work.

I hope that this description of the Bill's main contents has confirmed what I said at the beginning—that the Bill consists of a coherent and well thought-out set of interrelated measures, all designed in one way or another to make the criminal justice system more effective and efficient in the way in which it delivers justice and deals with offenders, and that it will be able to respond yet more effectively to the challenges with which it is confronted. As such, it deserves, I believe, to be supported by all sections of the House and I commend it accordingly.

4.21 pm

I beg to move, to leave out from "That" to the end of the Question and to add instead thereof:

this House declines to give a Second Reading to a Bill which, while making provision for appropriate custodial punishment for violent offenders, does not include any measures to encourage crime prevention; fails to take the steps necessary for a significant reduction in the imprisonment of minor offenders; largely ignores the scandal of remand prisoners; contains no code of standards which all prisons must observe; does not introduce a sentencing council to ensure uniformity of sentence; makes no provision for adequate examination of alleged miscarriages of justice; and will have little impact either on the efficiency of the courts or this country's unacceptably high prison population.
According to the White Paper that preceded the Bill and on which the Bill is said to be based, one of the objects of the legislation is that
"a significant reduction in the number of offenders in custody"
should come about, yet, when the Bill was published, the Home Secretary was explicit. He said:
"I would not like anyone to presume this Bill is a measure designed to empty prisons."
He made the same point during the debate on the Queen's Speech, when he said:
"it certainly would not be right to present our proposals as being designed to get rid of prison overcrowding."—[Official Report, 12 November 1989; Vol. 180, c. 353.]
Today, he made one of the blindingly obvious statements that we have come to expect from him—that it was not his intention to allow prisoners out of prison if they were a threat and danger to the community. Nobody expects that and nobody would support that.

The real question is whether the Home Secretary expects that, by removing custodial sentences from prisoners who are not a threat and danger to the community, he imagines that the Bill will result in a substantial and highly necessary reduction in the prison population. If, as the afternoon wears on, he comes to any firm conclusion about his intentions, perhaps he will let the House know.

I shall let the right hon. Gentleman know what the calculations are, but I still think that the point that I made is important. We really must not approach this matter as just an exercise in getting rid of prison overcrowding and getting people out of prison regardless of the protection of the public. Leaving out the parole changes, the new sentencing framework should lead to a reduction of 1,500. The parole changes should lead to a further reduction of 500, excluding any changes in sentence lengths or the return of persons to prison. A 10 per cent. return rate would lead to a net increase of about 300. A 20 per cent. return rate would lead to a net increase of about 1,100. A 5 per cent. reduction in the length of sentences of up to four years would lead to a reduction of 900, offsetting the increasee in numbers resulting from return during the recall period. The right hon. Gentleman will see how complicated it is.

I hope that it is as complicated as it sounds, because my fear is that it is not complicated at all but is simply a wild guess made in the anticipation that I would ask the Home Secretary to answer the question that I asked last Monday. I hope that the Home Secretary—knowing what a courteous man he is, I am sure that he will do this—will let us know the calculations on which those figures are based so that we can all examine them with the care that they deserve.

In the meantime, I have two comments. First, as I shall try to explain as my speech proceeds, I have some reservations about whether the changes in the parole system will have the result that the right hon. and learned Gentleman has described. I hope that they will, but they may not. Secondly, I hope that the right hon. and learned Gentleman understands that, by his own standards and according to his own criteria, reducing the prison population by removing from custodial sentencing men and women who are perfectly safe to be in the community is, in itself, a major blow against crime. It was the Home Secretary—not me—who wrote:
"Prisons have become the universities of crime."
I hope that we can be consistent in our constant reiteration that in many ways crime is increased by sending to prison men and women who should not be there in the first place.

I make my position and that of my party absolutely clear. Of course, we share the Government's view that some crimes, especially violent and sexual crimes, should result in prison sentences. We also support the principle that many crimes should not carry a custodial sentence. If the object of the Bill is to keep out of prison those offenders who should not be sent there, it is absurd to say that reducing the prison population is not one of its principal intentions. The pretence that reducing the prison population is an irrelevant by-product could be forgotten if it were no more than a result of the Home Secretary's usual tenuous grasp of the subject or an indication of the need to guard his back. But if it is more than that, the inconsistency is worth a mention. I believe that the inconsistency has a deeper significance and that it is reflected in the ambivalence of parts of the Bill. That inconsistency results in confusions and contradictions. Worse still, it results in an absolute failure to introduce the procedures that would ensure the successful application even of the principle that the Government claim to support, which is that sentences should invariably be suited to the offence. The Government's continued obsession with punishment lies at the heart of their failure adequately to encourage crime prevention.

I take my first example of the confusion from clause 1, which is the keystone of the Bill and a proposition with which the Opposition are in wholehearted agreement. Clause 1 requires that a custodial sentence should be imposed only when the crime is too "serious" to justify anything else. Unfortunately, no attempt is made to define the word "serious". As the afternoon goes on, perhaps the Home Secretary will tell the House the way in which he believes that the word "serious" should be interpreted by the courts. What is more, clause 1 does not apply to persons who have already been to gaol and who are charged with indictable offences. One quarter of the men and women who are charged on indictment currently receive a non-custodial sentence, although many of them —the Home Office does not know how many, but has confirmed that there are many—have previously been in prison. Applying the consistency that we should like to see, we must therefore ask the Home Secretary what he expects to happen to such people in the future. One interpretation of the clause might result in custodial sentences being applied to offenders who are not now sent to prison and who are not, by any reasonable standard, appropriate for that sentence.

It is not for me to say whether the Home Secretary supports the right idea and has lost his nerve or whether he has watered down a better Bill that was bequeathed to him by his predecessor. However, whatever the reason, the ambivalence produces confusion that can only result in the supposed intention—appropriate sentences for appropriate crimes—being frustrated. I justify that assertion by referring to clause 3 which deals with the awarding of a custodial sentence. Subsection (2) states:
"an offence shall not be regarded as more serious by reason of any previous convictions".
Those words implement the White Paper promise to ensure that sentences are awarded on the basis of specific convictions rather than records.

However, subsection (3) instructs the courts to take into account the circumstances of any offences for which the offender has been previously convicted. Those two adjacent subsections send messages to the courts that, through interpretation or misinterpretation, might be in conflict. The conflict, the misinterpretation and the confusion can be overcome in only one way—by the creation of a sentencing council, a subject to which I shall return in a moment. We deeply regret that that is not one of the Bill's proposals.

Even without the confusion that I have attempted to describe, there will be problems with persuading the courts to impose custodial sentences in the way and to the extent that is right and necessary. Those problems can be resolved only, as I have already said and now repeat, by the creation of a sentencing council to give courts advice —and I emphasise the word "advice"—on the range, extent and type of sentence that they should award. As far as I can determine, that idea is supported by everyone involved in the area, with the exception of the Government and the more archaic sections of the judiciary.

A sentencing council is essential because of discrepancies in sentencing. Even if the Home Secretary had not set himself the aim of sentences fitting convictions, such a council would be necessary. I shall outline some of the current discrepancies. The latest figures show that at Wood Green Crown court, 30 per cent. of convicted defendants are sent to prison, whereas at Mold, on a very similar crime pattern, the figure is 69 per cent. In Powys, 6 per cent. of convictions for theft carry a custodial sentence, but in Cheshire the figure is 17 per cent. In Gloucester, 29 per cent. of burglars go to prison, but in north Wales the figure is 54 per cent.

A sentencing council would help to smooth out such unacceptable discrepancies. It would also contribute to the eradication of the intolerable bias against black and Asian British, a bias which disgraces our criminal justice system. Some 16 per cent. of the prison population is black or Asian, compared with 5 per cent. for the population as a whole. That is not because they are less law abiding than their white colleagues and contemporaries, but because they are more likely, on equal terms, to be awarded a custodial sentence and to be refused bail. Having been remanded in gaol, they are more than twice as likely to be acquitted, proving that it is a question not of their criminality, but of the bias against them when bail is awarded.

A sentencing council is necessary to right all those wrongs. It is also essential if we are to strike the right balance between prison and non-custodial sentences.

The right hon. Gentleman is right to say that any bias in the judicial system against a particular section of the community is to be deplored, and every effort should be taken within the judicial system to ensure that that bias is obviated. We catch the general drift of his remarks, which is to avoid aberrant sentences in various parts of the country, but could he explain what is a real worry for some of us? How would his proposals materially improve the current position? The Court of Appeal issues sentencing guidelines, the Magistrates Association sets tariffs, and the present framework that offers advice and direction to courts disposing of offenders avoids what surely must be the great danger of a national sentencing council—that of, in effect, sentencing people by microcomputer. That would be very unsatisfactory, given the individual nature of each offence.

We do not advocate sentencing people by microcomputer. However, I am strongly in favour of an Asian British citizen and a white British citizen, who are being sentenced for the same crime, in the same circumstances, with the same background and with the same ameliorating factors, receiving identical sentences. The outcome will never be perfectly achieved, but there is a number of ways in which to approach the matter. The first is the declaratory statement in the Bill. I hope that the Home Secretary is as sympathetic towards that as he sounded when I caught his drift. I shall press him on that in Committee.

The sentencing council should have a force and influence that the guidelines do not have. Were the guidelines to possess such force, the figures I read out a moment ago could not apply. The sentencing council would take stronger views than the guidelines on such matters and expose some of the enormities. It would embarrass those people who do not live up to the high standards that I genuinely believe the Home Secretary wants to see applied in court. The sentencing council would be a tougher instrument than the guidelines. It is not simply I and my party who believe that—nearly everyone in the system, apart from some judges and the Government, believe that such a council is right. In support of that contention I quote, as I quoted last week, but more briefly, what The Times had to say on the subject:
"The transmission mechanism between Parliament, Home Office and judiciary is creaking and ineffective"—
I believe that the hon. Member for Epping Forest (Mr. Norris) read out one of those creaky and ineffective circulars.

"Judges are notoriously their own creatures, disinclined through long exercise of power to heed outside influence".
In common with The Times, I believe that only a sentencing council can make judges more responsive.

I appreciate the right hon. Gentleman's desire to improve the sentencing process, which he has constantly elucidated to the House. If we had a sentencing council it would take over from the judgment of an individual judge in first instance and then from the Court of Appeal. The individual tribunal looks at the person before the court and judges consider the circumstances of that person, the offence and other related circumstances before passing sentence. The media and the House would look to the sentencing council to judge that that sentence does not fit. Surely the right hon. Gentleman accepts that that is not justice, but an interference in the process of law.

The sentencing council that I propose would not make adjudications on individual cases, as that would elevate its status into something quite different from what I intend. The sentencing council would look at court records and the records of individual judges.

Some weeks ago a recently retired judge appeared on television and announced that he always assumed one category of prisoner to be guilty because of that category of prisoner's private life and private conduct. I shall not describe that category or the language in which the judge described it. Somebody should study his pattern of sentencing, but, to date, that has not happened. Somebody should ensure that one individual does not, for one reason or another, abuse the extraordinary power which he, as a judge, possesses. I shall not speculate on the reasons behind that judge's decision.

Another important reason for setting up a sentencing council is that it is essential to improve the prospects—I put it no higher than that—of changing the sentencing climate and the ethos of sentencing. The tragedy of our criminal justice system is that we assume that the normal outcome of many convictions is a prison sentence.

Community service, which is fine, and probation are described in the jargon as "alternatives"—something different from the norm. Such are the words used, but prison should not be the norm, but the exception. It should be the sentence of last resort and the sentencing council would help to make it so. That point was also made by Her Majesty's chief inspector of prisons, Judge Tumim, in his report published a few weeks ago. He said that we should not judge prison in terms of retribution, gratification for the community or by whether it is nice or nasty to prisoners, but in terms of the criminality it produces and the pattern of society it creates. That is why it is so counter productive for the Home Secretary to use flamboyant language about slaps on wrists and the severity of punishment. That sort of language induces the wrong attitude towards what prison is supposed to be about and what sentencing is supposed to achieve. It is not simply about punishing people or gratification for those who have been wronged, but about building a different sort of society.

I have already spoken about the bias in our criminal justice system against black and Asian British. A week ago I asked the Home Secretary about the work done in his Department to prohibit and eliminate that bias. The Home Secretary said that he had no knowledge of such work, which was surprising, given the accounts about it which appeared in The Independent on 11 October and The Times on 13 October.

I shall explain what happened, although the right hon. and learned Gentleman may have found out by now. His civil servants discussed the inclusion in the Bill of a clause that prohibited discrimination in the criminal justice system. Such a clause does not appear in the Bill, but I give formal notice that we shall attempt to insert it in Committee. I say with gratitude that I believe that I interpreted some sympathy for the idea in one response that the Home Secretary gave, and I hope that we can build on the shred or degree of sympathy that I believe I detected. The absence of a clause on racial discrimination is not the Bill's only major omission.

I cannot allow the right hon. Gentleman to leave the matter there. During the debate on the Queen's Speech he made a number of allegations which did not have a vestige of truth in them. The right hon. Gentleman asserted that clauses dealing with racial discrimination had been drafted and approved by my officials. The innuendo was that I had intervened to prevent them from getting into the Bill. There never were any such clauses and I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will, for once in his life, apologise for a most disgraceful calumny.

There was no innuendo to the effect that the Home Secretary had prevented that from happening. There was the assertion, which I repeat, that a number of judges had said that they did not wish it to happen. I shall gladly send to the Home Secretary before the debate is concluded—

I shall not give way until I have answered his question. Before the debate ends, I shall gladly send the right hon. and learned Gentleman a letter sent by one of his civil servants to a participant at the meeting to which I referred. That letter talked about the discussion of inclusions in the Bill and it went on to say that, although those inclusions had been considered, it was decided that they should not appear in the Bill. It is not a matter of dispute. It is there in black and white. I am not speaking of a secret letter that has been leaked or stolen. It was sent to many of the participants in the discussions of potential clauses to be included in the Bill.

The right hon. Gentleman is being slippery. We are not talking about discussions but about an assertion that he made on 12 November, when he said:

"The Home Secretary knows that while the Criminal Justice Bill was being drafted in the Home Office, officials … approved clauses to impose a duty on courts to end all racial discrimination in the criminal justice system … Those clauses were drafted in the Home Office."
Later, after I had told him that I knew of no such clauses, the right hon. Gentleman did not even then let go, but came back:
"The Home Secretary says that he has not seen them, but that may be a confession of his incompetence. Is he telling me that they do not exist? If he is not, we can pursue the matter on Second Reading".—[Official Report, 12 November 1990; Vol. 180, c. 360.]
If that was not an allegation that clauses had been drafted and that I had refused to include them in the Bill, I do not know what the English language means. I ask the right hon. Gentleman to apologise for once in his life.

The right hon. and learned Gentleman may claim that it was a complete mis-statement, but when we last discussed these matters he claimed that he had never heard of the proposal. I repeat that I shall send him in the next couple of hours the letter from his civil servant discussing with those interested parties the possibility of the inclusion of such clauses. The idea that I should apologise shows how out of perspective the Home Secretary gets this side of his character.

There is a much greater issue of principle involved in this question than the semantic dispute in which the Home Secretary appears to be involving himself. My understanding of the facts to which the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) referred is that clauses were drafted——

I have seen the drafts and they were submitted. Although they were not drafted by Home Office officials, they were nevertheless seen by the Home Office, so the right hon. Member for Sparkbrook is right.

"We plumb deep waters, Dr. Watson", someone once said. I can only repeat my assertion that I know that clauses were discussed, and the Home Secretary shall have the letter in question if that in any way consoles him. I repeat that I hope, despite his strange outburst, that the right hon. and learned Gentleman will be as sympathetic as he seemed to be only moments ago to the inclusion of such clauses when we submit them for consideration in Committee.

I am not pressing for an apology, because, although the right hon. Gentleman made a mis-statement of fact, he obviously will not apologise. But I repeat that obviously we shall discuss in Committee proposals put forward for such a clause. Indeed, I had discussions with NACRO in which it suggested that there should be such a clause. My reply at the time was that I did not see great value in a mere declaratory provision, as it was described by the hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Mr. Maclennan). Clearly, the matter can be discussed at leisure in Committee. That does not alter the fact that there has never been such a clause in the Home Office.

We are making progress. I welcome the attitude of the Home Secretary this afternoon, which is different from that which he struck during the Queen's Speech debate. We shall go on co-operating with him while he is in an emollient mood.

The absence of that clause is not the only major omission from the Bill. The measure does not even attempt to deal with the major miscarriages of justice that have scarred our criminal justice system in the recent past. The Guildford Four and the Maguires have been released and the release of the Birmingham Six is confidently expected. Yet the Government seem not to have noticed the failure of the Court of Appeal to respond to such cases with the speed and sensitivity which were demanded and which should be applied to the re-examination of contentious cases. The argument for new and additional appeal machinery, not solely in the hands of judges, is overwhelming, and we shall move to create such an institution in Committee.

The right hon. Gentleman referred to the Guildford Four and the Birmingham Six. Does he agree that, in view of the apprehension in regard to the case of the UDR Four in Northern Ireland, there is need to make sure that an early appeal is made possible in that case as well?

I confess—I apologise for the fault—that I do not know as well as perhaps I should the details of the case that the hon. Gentleman cites. But if it is, as I suspect, a case which is overlaid by two considerations —first, political pressure in the widest sense of the word, when people think that a conviction is right, and, secondly, the apprehension of public opinion, which is saying to the police and the courts, "You must catch somebody quickly for this terrible offence," thus putting great strain on the judicial procedure—it seems an ideal case to refer to the new appeal machinery that we intend to set up. If the hon. Gentleman is a member of the Committee that considers the measure, I hope that he will support us in that endeavour.

Another omission concerns remand. The Bill could have provided a perfect opportunity to reduce the number of men and women remanded in our prisons. A major reduction in numbers would come about—and could still come about without the Bill—if the Home Secretary implemented throughout Britain the rule that trial must begin within 112 days of committal.

I asked eight days ago, and I ask again today, because my question was not answered earlier, why the 112-day rule is not being applied throughout Britain. I hope that, when the Minister replies, he will explain either why it is not being applied throughout the country or when it will be applied, particularly in London and the south-east, where the remand problem is acute.

In addition to that obvious step, the Bill could and should reduce the number of remand prisoners by tightening the Bail Act 1976, and I offer some suggestions about how that Act should be tightened. Surety should be used only as a last resort, and then should be related to ability to pay; courts should find suitable accommodation for bail defendants with psychiatric problems; and all individuals charged with non-imprisonable offences should be allowed bail unless they have a long history of absconding.

In 1977, remand accounted for 8·5 per cent. of the prison population; in the first quarter of this year it accounted for 20 per cent.—twice as much as 13 years ago, and meant that more than 10,000 men and women were in prison although they were innocent in law. They were often kept in prison awaiting trial for many months, but after trial, even of those who were convicted, only 52 per cent. of the men and 36 per cent. of the women were sent to prison, despite having been held in prison for weeks, sometimes months. The remand system in this country is a disgrace; it is a double disgrace because the Bill makes no attempt to tackle the problem head on.

One immediate step that we shall propose in Committee is the creation of a court inspectorate that examines and reports on the system and the way individual courts perform, and encourages in courts more concern for efficiency and less for judicial convenience.

The important matter of young remand prisoners has been mentioned. Some 60 per cent. of prison suicides are committed by remand prisoners, many of them young men. The most recent example was that of Simon Willerton, the young man who hanged himself in Armley. He was charged with a non-imprisonable offence, but was held in prison for 12 weeks. The simple fact is that he should never have been in prison. I take great hope and comfort from what I think the Home Secretary said earlier today. I assume that what he said in answer to my intervention means that he means, intends or at least hopes to implement the White Paper promise about getting young men out of remand prisons. If that is so, he will have our wholehearted support in that endeavour.

We applaud the emphasis that the Bill gives to community penalties, particularly when they can be related in the matter of compensation orders to providing restitution. Central to that emphasis are clause 7, which makes a probation order a sentence in its own right, and clause 10, which combines probation and community service orders. I have some sympathy for those combined penalties, subject to one major reservation that I shall set out later. I should like to see greater encouragement for fines and community service to be combined, as well as the other two combinations. It would be one way of meeting a problem described last week by the hon. Member for Birmingham, Selly Oak (Mr. Beaumont-Dark) during the debate on the Queen's Speech as white collar crime. In other countries, white collar crime is often combated by large fines combined with litter collection or other uncongenial and embarrassing tasks. There is much to be said for such experiments to be held in this country.

I have one other reservation about combined orders. Combined probation and community service orders could increase the prison population as a result of more frequent breaches. Without guidance, which a sentencing council could provide, combined orders might have the opposite effect to what the Government now intend. My reservations about probation becoming a sentence instead of the alternative to a sentence involves the best use of the probation service. Its role is not the administration of punishment, a word the Government often use when they should use the word "sentence". Probation officers are not warders and turnkeys, supervising what clause 5 wrongly calls "restrictions on liberty"—meaning restrictions on liberty within the community. If supervising some sort of punishment becomes their task, their more positive work of assisting the courts and offenders who might benefit will be destroyed. That is one of our objections to clauses 11 and 12.

I thought that all sentences of the court were intended as a punishment. Will the right hon. Gentleman say which sentences of the court he thinks are not punishments? That is not merely a semantic point, but is important to his argument, as it will be to mine.

Of course, all sentences are punishment in part. In the debate about the prosecution of alleged war criminals, I spent the first part of my speech describing what I regarded as the seven principles by which alleged offenders were brought to trial, and the reasons why trial and sentencing were right. One of the classic reasons is punishment, another is retribution. My complaint is that the Government talk as though punishment were the be-all and end-all of the process, not one seventh of the intention, but six sevenths or the entire operation. It is a complicated point, but, if the right hon. Gentleman thinks about it, I think that he will understand.

I am opposed to language such as "restrictions on liberty." If it becomes the task of the probation service to administer such punishment, its more creative activities will be harmed and possibly destroyed. That is one of our objections to clauses 11 and 12, though not our principal reason for opposing.

Electric tagging would be a farce if it were ever implemented in this country. We have read encouraging reports in serious newspapers that, while the Government feel that they must save face by going ahead with the clauses, they have no intention of implementing the proposal. I hope that the Minister of State, as I understand it, the only true begetter of the scheme——

—and true believer in the scheme. That is an admission which should be held against him when other offences are considered. I hope that the Minister of State, the true begetter of the scheme, will say when he winds up whether or not what we read and hope to find true is true.