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Orders Of The Day

Volume 181: debated on Tuesday 20 November 1990

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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.

My right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary explained at some length in his speech, to which I know the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) listened carefully, that electronic monitoring is part of the package of proposals that we intend to make available to the courts at the first available opportunity.

Now we have it—it is not being abandoned or held back; it will be implemented at the first available opportunity, but nobody knows when that will be. That is enormously encouraging to those of us who are critical of the scheme.

Let me tell the Home Secretary, who speculated on the subject, why we are sceptical of the scheme. First, we know of the unreliability of the technology. We know of the poor results from the pilot schemes, which include not simply the fact that the vast majority of the 50 individuals tagged absconded, breached the terms of their bail or committed further offences. We know that many of those people alerted the system even though they were obeying the rules set down for them. We know that they alerted the system due to malfunctions of the instruments. That seems to be an extraordinary way to administer a criminal justice system, but there is worse than that.

Our fear is that, if tagging is introduced, it will not be used for men and women who would otherwise have gone to prison, which should be its only justification. It will not be regarded as safe enough for that. Tagging will be used for cases that would not have qualified for non-custodial sentences. It will be used for people who would have been out of prison anyway, and will be an added imposition on them.

I shall give way, but then I must get on. If I am not careful, I shall go on as long as the Home Secretary did.

I have given way to the hon. Member for Lancashire, West (Mr. Hind) once. I shall now give way to the hon. Gentleman from another constituency.

My right hon. Friend the Minister is not the only true believer. He is one of a great many who accept that, as long as the technology needs to be proven, there is little or no point in introducing such a system. I do not regard moving towards a fairly foolproof electronic system as any bar to using the device. What worries me is the assertion of the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) that the device will be used where custody would not otherwise be justified.

At paragraph 4.22 of the White Paper, specific reference is made to "any restriction on liberty" having to be justified. But the clear statement, with which I hope the right hon. Gentleman agrees, is that if restrictions are justified as part of a sentence,
"most people would prefer electronic monitoring to a remand in custody or a term of imprisonment."
The White Paper seems specific about that. I have no doubt about the intentions of Ministers; what justification does the right hon. Member for Sparkbrook have for any different interpretation?

I shall return, to the points I was making on sentencing policy in general, when I thought that the hon. Member for Epping Forest was nodding. I am sorry to return to it again—without a sentencing council the judiciary is notoriously inclined to err on the side of over-severity by my terms and standards. On many occasions when I and other hon. Members would not use it, the system would be used by the judiciary.

I must press on, as I have already spoken for more than half an hour. In doing so I have set out our reservations about four major areas of the Bill. I want to deal with three other important topics—early release, young offenders and privatisation. But, before doing that, I must make it clear that we agree entirely with large parts of the Bill, or at least we agree with them enough to give them a qualified welcome.

We strongly support the proposed changes in the rules of evidence as they affect the testimony of children. We welcome proposals that courts must consider a social inquiry before passing sentence. We strongly support the requirement that courts must give their reasons for awarding a custodial sentence. We believe so much in that principle that we think that it should be applied to defendants charged with indictable offences who have already served a prison sentence.

We support the establishment of unit fines, as set out in clause 16, and we believe that the principle should be applied to Crown courts as well as magistrates courts. However, I must express one reservation about the proposals on fines. I appreciate that wrongdoers, no matter how poor, may have to face a sentence of some sort, but I have grave misgivings about clause 21. If fines are deducted from income support, the poor will become even poorer and, putting aside arguments of compassion, that is undesirable as increased poverty may be a stimulus to another offence.

In Committee we shall propose two amendments that would help to solve the problem that I describe. First, we shall suggest that when a fine is imposed on a wage earner in an income support family the courts must, on the model of custodial sentencing, be required to explain why it has chosen a fine rather than another form of non-custodial sentence. Secondly, we shall press for at least the examination of a system in which fines could be literally worked off—weekends and evenings spent in socially useful employment with payment not to the worker but to the courts. That, too, is a scheme which applies in many other progressive countries and we should examine it in the United Kingdom.

We endorse a proposal for a reduction of the maximum penalties for theft and non-domestic burglary and for the introduction of automatic release in place of discretionary parole for prisoners serving less than four years. Part II of the Bill makes changes in the general parole system, largely based on the Carlisle report. We believe that there is much to be said for those proposals. Unless the new proposals —parole after half a sentence has been served, automatic for shorter sentences and discretionary for others—are accompanied by parallel reductions in the length of sentencing, there may be difficulties. The new proposals may well increase, not reduce, the prison population. That was certainly not Lord Carlisle's intention and I hope that it is not the Government's either.

I do not believe that clause 23—limited reductions in some sentences—will be enough to compensate for this potential increase. That is why I ask the Home Secretary to supply the figures, which we can then examine in detail. I believe that Lord Carlisle's proposals will work only if his scheme for sentencing is applied in full. He said in the House of Lords that his proposals should be accompanied by a determined effort by the judiciary and those in politics to reduce the length of sentences—particularly in the middle band. The Bill does not endorse that determined aim, but we shall attempt to achieve it in Committee—again, not least by proposing the creation of a sentencing council.

We shall also examine the desirability of early supervisory release being set at a third rather than a half of a sentence and we shall resist proposals that early release prisoners should be at risk of return to prison until the date when their full sentences would have been served.

We are amazed by what we have just heard. Did the right hon. Gentleman say, entirely contrary to the suggestion by the Carlisle committee, that the Opposition propose that people should be released after serving one third of their sentence? The whole theme of the Carlisle proposal is that the sentence served should be more closely related to the sentence passed. Is that to be thrown overboard?

The right hon. and learned Gentleman has picked and chosen from the Carlisle report himself, so he cannot complain if others do the same. There is much to be commended in the report, and that we commend and support, but the right hon. and learned Gentleman was not listening when I quoted Lord Carlisle's words about the reduction in sentences that has to go with this scheme. We shall examine all these matters in Committee.

My next remarks are directed specifically to the Home Secretary. We all agree, for agreement is easy enough, that parents should take responsibility for their children. But that is not a policy: it is a cliche. The real question is whether legislation will encourage that process of responsibility. Many Conservative Members who deny absolutely that the law can change attitudes to race apparently believe that laws can alter attitudes to parental responsibility. For my part, I doubt whether juvenile offenders' parents who do not come to court voluntarily will be made more responsible by compulsory attendance. We certainly support the maximum age for consideration at youth courts, as they are to be called, being increased to 18. We also welcome clause 49 which ends custodial sentences for 14-year-olds, but we would go far further. We would abolish prison department custody for juveniles.

Finally, I turn to the twin proposals—twin because they are related to ideology, although by nothing more—for private remand centres and private escort agencies. I have already called for emergency action to reduce the number of remand prisoners in our gaols. Obviously and by definition, emergency action should be taken immediately, but a fundamental review of remand should have waited for Lord Justice Woolf to answer the Government's questions about—I quote from the terms of reference—the
"number and conditions of remand prisoners".
Instead of waiting for their own inquiry to report, the Government have leapt in to answer the question with silly dogma.

The private remand centre has no rational justification. Whatever it achieves could be achieved in public centres if the Government willed that objective. Contradictions inherent in this policy can be demonstrated by two questions that I hope the Minister of State will be meticulous in answering. Are these private probation institutions to be subject to minimum standards of accommodation and treatment? Are minimum standards to be laid down for how they house and treat their prisoners? I assume that the answer must be yes, although I see that the Minister is busy finding out. I believe that it would not be possible to allow private contractors to operate in this area without some regulation.

I have a second question to which it seems the Minister will have to send for an answer as well. If minimum standards are to be laid down for private institutions, are they also to be laid down for Her Majesty's prisons? It seems strange that private contractors have to behave decently while prisons run by the Government can be as squalid——

It might be helpful if I answered the right hon. Gentleman now rather than later. It is clear that he has not conducted his reading of the Bill with due care and attention. From clause 65 onwards the right hon. Gentleman will find the answers to all his questions set out in the Bill. I urge him to look at it.

The Minister will not find the answer to my most important question set out there. I am happy to have the answer to my first question confirmed, because that means that he must now answer my second. I agree that the private institutions will have minimum standards. How does he justify their having minimum standards but not Her Majesty's prisons? [Interruption.] I shall ask the right hon. Gentleman another question and if he can tell me that the answer to it is in the Bill I shall be suitably humble and apologise.

Not humble—suitably humble. That is quite a different thing.

To pursue a point made by the Home Secretary about the control of these prisons, could we hear more about the controller's status and his position under the law? Under what powers will he operate and how are we to define exactly what his role should be? I should like to hear more, too, about the related matter that is combined with the previous proposal, only because of the silly dogma on which it is based.

I know that this is not a Committee stage but a Second Reading debate, but if the right hon. Gentleman looks at the eight subsections of clause 68, he will find a precise reference to the powers of a director, controller or monitor.

I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman will do better than that when he winds up the debate. I hope that he will also do better when he answers the other question that I put to him.

In the second inquiry set up by the Government, Lord Justice Woolf examined the best method of fulfilling escort duties and court manning commitments. The Home Secretary answered the question for him in clause 61. There are to be private escorts to and from prison. I understand well enough the burdens that escort duties impose on prison staff and the problems that they create for prison governors as they try to make the best of their overstretched resources. Private escorts are not, however, the answer. They will be badly trained, if trained at all. The record of private security companies taking the place of police officers demonstrates and proves that point.

I take my example from the ports where the transfer of those duties from police officers to private individuals has resulted in the ports being protected by underpaid and undertrained employees who do a cheap, bad job as compared with the regular police. I have no doubt that that pattern will be repeated with the privatisation of the prison escort system. Prison escorts will be given the status of constable. That is necessary, but it is also intolerable. One of the features of private security systems is that untrained and unprepared men and women are made constables in order to give a vestige of respectability to the privatisation process. I cannot imagine the consequences, with such people supervising prisoners, if there should be a mass break-out between court and prison. With untrained and unqualified private escorts who are unable to deal with prisoners, the potential consequences are horrendous.

The Bill contains much that is objectionable and much that is confused and contradictory. It also contains, in some areas, the seeds of sensible reform. We shall do our best to improve it in Committee. I am sure that the Home Secretary will be the first to understand, however, that it will be a long and arduous process. We must all hope that something better emerges from that process.

5.12 pm

Once again the Government show that they are a radical, reforming Government. Once again they show that they are far from running out of steam. So much steam is contained in the Bill that one could talk for hours about it. The House knows that that is no idle threat by me, but I respect the rules of the House, the fact that so many other hon. Members want to speak in the debate and your presence, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

I shall limit my observations to a few substantial issues. First, sentencing. The public want to be protected against the worst offenders. They must spend much time in prison. However, the worst offender does not mean just the most violent and dangerous offender. It also means those who are a perpetual menace because they continue to commit burglaries, to steal cars and other objects or to perpetrate serious City frauds involving large sums of money.

By all means judges should be made to state the reasons for custody. By all means probation reports should be required before custodial sentences are passed. However, we must ensure that resources are made available so that reports can be prepared quickly after a defendant has been found guilty. It is no use just saying that the probation service will perform; it already performs an outstanding service to society. A substantial increase in resources will be necessary if the probation service is to carry out all the work that is involved in the sentencing and after-care of offenders.

I am not happy about restricting the right of the courts to consider previous convictions only in very confined circumstances. It would often be impracticable for a sentencer to decide whether the "seriousness of the offence" applies or not in a particular case. It would also be undesirable in principle that a man's general propensity for evil should be ignored simply because it was a different kind of evil when last he offended.

Secondly, young offenders. I welcome the approach that seeks to keep young people as far as possible away from custodial sentences. Since 1983, I believe that the number of juvenile offenders given custodial sentences has halved, without any increase in juvenile crime. I hope that my right hon. and learned Friend will confirm that. It is a substantial achievement of law and order under this Government. I understand of course that prisons can become universities of crime, but I am unhappy that we appear to have given up the concept of the short, sharp shock for youngsters as well as adults which deterred many offenders from committing crimes. Is there any evidence that the short, sharp shock has been a total failure? If so, where is it? I do not believe that judges feel that it has been a failure. The experience of the courts suggests that it served a useful purpose, although perhaps its effects were not quite so extensive as in the days of the short, sharp shock of the glass house. It is a pity that we are letting it slip from our grasp.

Thirdly, custodial release. I am sure that the public want sentences served to bear more resemblance to the sentence that was actually passed by the court. The public would be aghast to know just how soon after a sentence some criminals are now released. I am also sure that the requirement that at least half the sentence should be served is a distinct improvement on the third of the sentence that now is all that has to be served. But instead of abolishing the automatic remission of a third of the sentence, which has the effect of ensuring good behaviour, why do we not consider abolishing the often unjust parole system? It should be replaced by the requirement that the prisoner must work his way out of prison, by earning remission for training, effort, productivity and dedication while in custody. I cannot understand why an arbitrary decision on release is consistently thought to be better than shifting some of the responsibility for early release on to the shoulders of the prisoner.

It is well known that the parole system works unhappily from time to time and causes immense resentment among prisoners. Sometimes they cannot understand, because they are not told, why they cannot have parole. In many cases it relates to their family circumstances for which they are not to blame.

Fourthly, the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) believes that a sentencing council would automatically right the wrongs of bias that he claims are proliferating throughout the judicial system. I do not accept that slur upon the judicial system. I do not accept that it ever happened but, if it did, there is no evidence that there is significant bias against black offenders or anybody else in our courts. If there is a predominance of a certain sort of offending resulting in a certain sort of sentence in a certain court area by, for example, black people, it is obvious that the sentences may have to be more substantial than in an area where that type of offending is less. Even if an element of bias existed, as is suggested by the right hon. Member for Sparkbrook, a sentencing council would have substantial disadvantages. It would delay sentencing and that is immensely undesirable. It would interfere with the need for the courts to respond to offences that are prevalent in a particular area. As my hon. Friend the Member for Epping Forest (Mr. Norris) said, it would be a step towards the sort of automatic sentencing which could be achieved much more easily by a machine or a computer placed on the judge's desk and which most of us would find totally undesirable.

The equality sought by the right hon. Member for Sparkbrook and the abolition of the racial bias that he perceives, wrongly, exists widely in the system is being achieved by the statutory framework now being introduced into the system, by the increase in the number of people who will no longer serve prison sentences, by the activities of the Court of Appeal in giving formal guidance that is strongly indicative to judges and upon which they all rely before they sentence in most cases and by the Attorney-General's power to refer over-lenient sentences to the Court of Appeal. In addition, there is the limitation of the maximum penalty that reflects the seriousness of offences.

I am not intervening to argue with the hon. and learned Gentleman about the powers of a sentencing council because that will come later. I want to press him on the existence or otherwise of racial bias in the passionate belief that unless we recognise and acknowledge its existence we shall never overcome it. If it does not exist, how does the hon. and learned Gentleman account for the disproportionate number of black and Asian offenders who are remanded in custody rather than granted bail when that is related to the fact that, having been remanded in custody, they are then acquitted? It is not that they are more criminal, but that they are remanded in custody in high proportions and are acquitted thereafter.

The test whether a man can have bail usually depends on whether he has a fixed residential address, whether he is in work and whether it is likely that he will appear for trial. Unfortunately, in our society there are areas of Britain in which black people are not in work, do not have a fixed address and do not have anybody to put forward as surety. Those are the considerations that a judge or magistrate must take into account when considering whether it is appropriate to allow bail. It has nothing to do with racial prejudice but everything to do with the tests laid down to ensure that the person attends for trial.

The hon. and learned Gentleman said that the judge has to take into account whether a person is likely to abscond. Is he saying that black and Asian Britons are more likely to abscond than their white neighbours?

The right hon. Gentleman was not listening. When a judge is deciding whether a person should be given bail, one of the questions asked is whether he has a fixed address. Unfortunately—I hope that the time will come when things change—many of the blacks in our society——

Yes, and whites. Many of the blacks in our society do not have fixed addresses, do not have jobs or sureties. The preponderance of that in some areas accounts for the high proportion of black people who are remanded in custody. It has nothing to do with the colour of their skin but everything to do with their ability to persuade a court that they will turn up for their trial. If he asked, the right hon. Gentleman would discover that the incidence of those who abscond is also very high in sections of the community where the magistrates say, "All right, we do not want to appear to be racist and we do not want to use the lack of address, lack of work or lack of a surety to refuse bail. We shall grant bail on their own recognisance." Then, they are never seen again.

I apologise for not having been in the Chamber to hear the beginning of the hon. and learned Gentleman's speech, but I have heard the point that he is trying to make. My right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) mentioned the obvious distortion in the number of black people remanded in custody when related to the number of people who are acquitted. The hon. and learned Gentleman inferred that the black community was more likely to abscond or not to have a fixed address. I regret that more black people are not in the Strangers' Gallery to hear that extraordinary assertion. Can the hon. and learned Gentleman tell me the statistical basis for saying that black defendants are more likely to abscond or not to have a fixed address or a job? Is there any statistical basis, or is the hon. and learned Gentleman airing his prejudices?

I have no prejudices in the matter and the hon. Lady should do me the credit of knowing that if there is anybody in this place who has no racial prejudice, it is me. I do not put myself above others but I put myself no lower than the hon. Lady. If the hon. Lady would apply her mind, she would see that I was defending the judicial system from the false accusation made by the right hon. Member for Sparkbrook that the reason why coloured people are remanded in custody more frequently has something to do with the colour of their skin. Whether people are remanded in custody depends on whether they have a fixed address, work or sureties.

I shall not give way again because I am trying to make a relatively short speech and I do not want to be dragged down a blind alley that has nothing to do with the important matter that we are considering—[Interruption.] The hon. Member for Hackney, North and Stoke Newington (Ms. Abbott) is totally wrong and if she will keep quiet and listen to the rest of my speech, she will prevent herself from getting apoplexy.

Fifthly, children's evidence. I understand the wish to spare children the ordeal of giving evidence and the good sense of letting all children who can talk give admissible evidence. I understand, for obvious reasons, that the defendant should not be allowed to cross-examine the child witness. That should be done through an advocate. Those are all sensible and desirable improvements. However, I wonder whether we have got right the proposals for video-recording interviews with child witnesses. I understand the need for that in sexual and violent offences as it saves the child from a courtroom ordeal. Those of us who sit or practise in the courts understand that. However, we must not make it too difficult to test the evidence of children properly in examination-in-chief, where the jury is given an opportunity to see whether the child is likely to be telling the truth, or in cross-examination. We are dealing with a subject in which a jury's horror at the mere allegation of offences against children may be so great that the wrongful conviction of the innocent may occur more easily. I am thinking particularly of identification cases. Proper cross-examination is vital to test for the possibility of mistakes. Children are no less likely to make mistakes than adults and we know that in a high proportion of criminal cases mistakes have been made about identification. Therefore, we have improved things by changes to our rules.

I am uneasy that the Director of Public Prosecutions should be able to do away with the important filtering stage of committal proceedings in the magistrates courts. The precedent for fraud cases, for which it was considered sensible to do away with committal proceedings, is irrelevant because it is mainly concerned with documentary evidence, which would be very boring, tedious and unlikely to be challenged. However, when considering the correct identification of someone who is alleged to have perpetrated a serious offence, we must treat the proposal that there need be no committal proceeding with more care and perhaps with some unease.

I am uneasy that a child witness should not be examined in chief on any matter that is dealt with in recorded testimony. As the Criminal Bar Association observed in its comments on the Bill, the child witness has still to be judged according to his testimony, and if his evidence is limited that testing becomes impossible. The child must be able to establish himself as a witness, and the jury must be able to see whether the accused person may be innocent from hearing sufficient evidence.

Sixthly, I welcome the first gentle steps towards the introduction of an element of privatisation into the prison system. Provided that the same standard of security continues to apply to escort services, there is no reason why the prison service should be burdened and restricted by the immense amount of time and money that is expended taking prisoners to and from court. An enormous amount of time, energy and expense is involved. If some of it can be shifted to the private sector, the prison service will be relieved of a burden that it does not like and can certainly do without.

Provided security is maintained, I see no reason why there should not be an experiment with the private operation of a remand prison, where, after all, a high proportion of prisoners are presumed innocent and do not therefore require the same supervision or state control that most of us feel is necessary where there has been a sentence of imprisonment. If ever a matter were suitable for an experiment, this is it, and I commend it.

Seventhly, as most crime is committed by teenagers, it is wholly reasonable that parents should be made responsible for the wrongdoing of their children. I therefore welcome the measures to enforce some of that parental responsibility.

Eighthly, I welcome the rationalisation of community sentences.

Ninthly, I see no reason why those who would otherwise be remanded in custody should not be given the opportunity of being tagged while they are on remand if they so wish. Will my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State confirm that the pilot scheme met with some success and that it represents a reasonable expenditure of resources? Opposition Members are anxious to ensure that as few people as possible are kept in prison. Here is a positive measure that would be voluntary. If a prisoner feels humiliated or degraded by being tagged and would rather be in prison, the choice is his. It is such a sensible measure that I am sure that the right hon. Member for Sparkbrook was wrong to oppose it.

Finally, in my view and that of many of my right hon. and hon. Friends and the majority of people outside, one positive step that could be taken to reduce the incidence of serious crime, particularly the killing of innocent people, is the restoration of capital punishment. There is no such provision in the Bill because the Government have always taken the view that that is a matter not for Government but for private conscience. I intend to table a new clause to give the House the opportunity of reconsidering the matter, and I hope that my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State will ensure that that debate is taken on the Floor of the House so that the wishes of the people, who know as much about deterrence as any expert, can be taken properly into account and so that they may know that hon. Members take the matter seriously indeed.

5.34 pm

The hon. and learned Member for Burton (Mr. Lawrence) made several comments that I found startling. When the Minister replies, we shall listen with care to see how many of them he endorses. I shall refer to some of them a little later, but I was particularly startled when he asked for evidence that recent Government policies, particularly the short, sharp shock, had failed. If he has a few minutes to spare later, he and I can study the criminal statistics since 1983.

I hope that I shall be forgiven if I confess to a feeling of deja vu. I have long lost count of the number of Criminal Justice Bill debates in which I have participated, but they all have two characteristics in common. The first is that they repeal provisions which in an earlier Bill were hailed as the complete answer to crime. I remember when the partly suspended sentence was greeted as a great penological breakthrough and was duly incorporated in the Criminal Law Act 1977. I do not think that it was a mistake. There are circumstances where it may be an appropriate step, but clause 4 despatches it painlessly into history.

The second characteristic is that each Criminal Justice Bill is a dog's breakfast of assorted provisions as Home Office officials clear their desks of the proposals that have accumulated since the last Criminal Justice Bill. Any connecting thread is invented long after the contents of the Bill have been assembled.

I make no comment on the right hon. Gentleman, for whom we have much respect and who does his best, but the Home Office does impose constraints on its Ministers. All I was saying is that it does not facilitate Second Reading debates.

I should perhaps add a third characteristic. A Criminal Justice Bill is usually a compromise between popular slogans and flat reality. The hon. and learned Member for Burton said that the Bill is full of steam. I would have said that there is a certain amount of wind in it rather than steam. I suspect that the compromise in this Bill is between the ringing declaration of the war on crime, which earned the Home Secretary a standing ovation at the Conservative party conference, and the need to reduce the prison population, on which everyone who has attempted to think about the subject, including those who drafted the White Paper, is agreed.

That duality of purpose gives rise to provisions which at best sit uneasily with one another and at worst are simply inconsistent. We are told in clause 2 that the punishment must be commensurate with the seriousness of the offence—a principle which can be delivered in dramatic terms at a party conference. If it means anything in clause 2, according to the ordinary rules of construction of the English language, it means that every sentence must be a tariff sentence and that there should be no individualised acts of mercy to take account of individual circumstances. In other words, the court cannot take account of mitigation.

I cannot believe that that is the intended meaning of the clause, otherwise the Bill would abolish probation and community service. I think that it was intended to mean that no one should be imprisoned for longer than he deserves, except in the specific circumstances outlined in the clause. But that would sound much less robust from a party platform.

While we are on that subject, we find that, under clause 4, section 28 of the Powers of Criminal Courts Act 1973 is to be repealed. Our unpopular friend, the extended sentence, is to be laid to rest. Now people are to be sentenced for what they have done, not for what it is feared that they may do. A fundamental principle of retributive justice is re-established: no one should receive a harsher sentence than he or she deserves. But scarcely is it carried out of the back door when, in clause 2(2)(b), as bold as brass and scarcely disguised, it comes swaggering back in through the front door.

With respect, I think that the right hon. and learned Gentleman would agree that the extended sentence which followed preventive detention provided machinery whereby someone could be given longer than the maximum sentence laid down by statute for an offence. That is what we are talking about in the case of an extended sentence. In clause 2 we are talking about the circumstances in which someone can get a longer sentence than that which would normally be justified by the offence, but still a sentence within the absolute maximum laid down by statute for that offence. It has nothing to do with extended sentences.

In each case, the statute prescribes a maximum and then says that, in certain circumstances, one can exceed the maximum.

No. With respect, we are careful to say in clause 2 that, although one can impose a longer sentence than that justified by the gravity of the offence, in the interests of protecting the community that sentence must still be within the statutory maximum for that offence.

In each case, the principle is that, in certain circumstances, someone may receive a sentence that is harsher than he or she would otherwise have deserved, not because of the circumstances of the offence, but because of other considerations. No doubt we shall debate that principle in Committee.

I hope that the right hon. and learned Gentleman will not be on the Standing Committee.

I was only reminiscing to myself from a sedentary position, but I have been lured to the Dispatch Box by the right hon. and learned Gentleman. I was reminiscing about his performance in the Standing Committee on the last Criminal Justice Bill. I said sotto voce that I hoped that he would not be on this one, because I remember a few holes below the waterline. It sounds as though the right hon. and learned Gentleman is making threatening noises about serving again.

Far be it from me to hole the right hon. Gentleman below the waterline, but I think that in Standing Committee we might cause a certain amount of damage to his gun turrets.

The White Paper, with its promising title "Crime, Justice and Protecting the Public", begins by announcing that it proposes
"a coherent legislative framework for sentencing".
That sounds hopeful. Perhaps there is to be a clear, logical set of proposals which the courts can have in mind. Perhaps it will be simpler, without a multiplicity of technicalities, to trip the courts, which have enough to occupy their minds getting through their lists, doing justice in individual cases, taking account of all the things they are told about the offence and the offender, without having to look out for an array of trip-wires.

Perhaps this legislative framework will clarify the relationship between the legislature, which lays down policy; the Court of Appeal, which offers guidelines from time to time, but understandably on a sparing basis; and the courts, which have to consider the individuals appearing before them. The Court of Appeal, of course, deals only with sentences which at least to some already appear too long, so it deals with a fairly self-selecting group of sentences.

In the event, the Bill does not really improve on the Mikado's rule of thumb that the punishment should fit the crime and, as in every Criminal Justice Bill, the trip-wires are moved about and rearranged, just as we were getting used to where they were left after the last Criminal Justice Bill.

Does not the right hon. and learned Gentleman realise that this Criminal Justice Bill differs from other ones because it builds on the success of other Bills which were passed only a short time ago? The central theme in the Bill is that we should extend over the whole age range the disciplines which were imposed on the courts in terms of young offenders in the 1982 and 1988 Criminal Justice Acts. I think that the right hon. and learned Gentleman would agree that those two Acts have been conspicuously successful—although not agreed by the Labour party—in that the number of young people sent to prison has decreased, as my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Burton (Mr. Lawrence) pointed out.

If the right hon. and learned Gentleman is dealing with the restrictions on imposing custodial sentences, he certainly will not face any objection from me, nor has he incurred any objection from Labour Members. If the Bill had confined itself to that provision, that would have been the end of the debate—unhappily, it did not.

The Bill fails to introduce greater consistency in sentencing. There may be reasons for the inconsistencies between Wood Green and Mold, to which my right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) referred, but those who have considered it find it puzzling. The Bill offers no solution. Is there not a case for the sentencing council proposed by my right hon.

Friend? It could offer carefully considered guidelines with a freedom which is not open to the Court of Appeal in individual cases. The hon. and learned Member for Burton, who is in his place but not really with us, was talking complete nonsense when he said that somehow this is to cast aspersions on the courts. To say that the courts cannot do more than a court can be expected to do is not to cast an aspersion.

Would this really be a total breach of the separation of powers, particularly if the sentencing council consisted primarily of judges, as I hope it would, although I hope that it would co-opt probation officers and a few academics, and possibly a Home Office Minister? I believe that many judges would welcome that assistance.

The proposal in clause 48 is that parents of young offenders may be bound over to exercise proper control, as though they were the criminals. That may have some populist appeal, but it raises some fundamental questions in theory and in practice. The Home Secretary is really proposing that parents who may have done their best and who do not understand where they went wrong—which he said was not his intention—are to be branded as a criminal family. There is some authority, at least in the Old Testament, for the proposition that the sins of the father should be visited on the children, but I know of no authority for the converse proposition.

If someone is liable to forfeit a large sum of money, surely it should be crystal clear what that person is required to do in order not to forfeit it. I found the Home Secretary's reply to my intervention unconvincing. How are parents to know what they must do not to be found to have failed to exercise proper control? Are they to watch their sons and daughters every waking moment? Are they to refuse to let them out of the house? Are they to follow them when they go out? If there is any room for misunderstanding, they may—in addition to all the other distress which they will suffer from a further conviction of a son or daughter—suffer what to them will appear as a personal fine. I hope that they will not be required in some way to produce evidence of the control which they have exercised over their children. That will do more harm than good.

Often one of the problems is that the two parents have different views on what exactly is the right behaviour for a youngster, and those conflicting views often cause difficulty for the youngster. Surely it is important that both parents know exactly what the courts require so that they can come to an agreement on how they will supervise their son or daughter.

I agree with my hon. Friend. All of us who have reared teenage children know that being too inquisitive can sometimes cause more problems than it solves.

Of course, the White Paper is right—we should take account of the needs of victims, actual and potential. I believe that the courts are making good use of compensation orders. There may be a case for considering how we could involve victims further in the disposal of criminal cases. And we need to protect potential victims. Surely the purpose of penal policy is primarily to reduce crime, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Sparkbrook said. If it could be shown that longer sentences had an appreciably deterrent effect, they would be a positive contribution to reducing crime, but we seem to be rather stronger on strident slogans than on hard evidence.

No one now believes that prisons have a reforming effect, especially when every attempt at education or at training is frustrated by the desperate undermanning of the prison service. But the public will not benefit if those who serve sentences return to liberty coarsened, brutalised and embittered, and having had the benefit of a refresher course on crime from other criminals. If our object were to maximise crime, we might design institutions exactly like the majority of our existing prisons. I do not believe that privatisation is an answer to that problem.

If the Government were serious about reducing crime, they should invest more resources in better public lighting, in replacing subways with pelican crossings, and in subsidising security locks and burglar alarms for elderly people. They could even provide the police authorities with the resources for which they are asking.

I shall not weary the House with what I have said many times before, but year after year the West Midlands police authority has calculated carefully the additional manpower it requires to carry out its statutory duties. Year after year, without explanation or argument, the Home Office has authorised only a small fraction of that additional manpower.

The Home Secretary implied earlier that there are more, not fewer, policemen on the streets of Britain. I recently had the honour of going out with our police in the seaside town of Barry to see how they deal with a crime rate which has reached epidemic proportions and which is affecting the quality of life of tens of thousands of my constituents. I was horrified to see how many policemen were on duty on a Saturday night. The figure is so bad that I am not at liberty to quote it because if the criminals in our town knew how many police were on duty they would riot.

I am sure that my hon. Friend is right and I wish that the Home Office would listen to police authorities when they tell it what manpower they need.

Most importantly of all, the Government should reflect on the fact that the most effective deterrent to crime for the potential offender is the disapproval of his peer group. Teenagers in deprived areas are encouraged to turn to crime because other teenagers in the area regard it as a status symbol. If such teenagers can be won over to the side of law and order, that would be the greatest protection for the victims of crime. The places where the environment is best protected and where vandalism is at a minimum are where local teenagers have been enlisted to clean up the area and will, therefore, ensure that their commitment is not wasted.

If the Government re-read the Scarman report, if they read "Faith in the City" for the first time, if they spared more resources for youth services before the young person. is on bail and if they encouraged school teachers to believe that their extra-curricular activities were properly valued, they could achieve a multiplicity of objectives. They could reduce the cost of vandalism, they could reduce the prison budget, they could save the time of the courts, and they could help to safeguard potential victims of crime.

The position would be helped if potential offenders saw the penal system as fair. It is not true, as the hon. and learned Member for Burton asserted, that the colour of one's skin makes no difference to how one is treated in the penal system. I will not repeat the statistic to which my right hon. Friend the Member for Sparkbrook referred, but if, as the hon. and learned Member for Burton said, the problem is that the majority of coloured people are unable economically to comply with the conditions required by the Bail Act 1976, would not that in itself be a reason for disquiet and would not it mean that the colour of a person's skin was related to his treatment in the penal system?

The right hon. and learned Gentleman is taking a pretty tough line with me. When he sits as a recorder, on what basis does he consider whether a person should be granted bail?

I apply the conditions in the Bail Act. However, I find that a fair number of black people are unable to comply with the conditions in the Act because they are homeless, jobless or have been discriminated against. If the hon. and learned Member for Burton finds that satisfactory——

I am prepared to debate the matter with the hon. and learned Gentleman on another occasion.

In the circumstances to which he has referred, would the right hon. and learned Gentleman give bail for serious offences, such as mugging?

I ask that the Government direct their mind to the fact that for economic reasons, among others, fewer black people than white people obtain bail. If we can agree on that, we may have made some progress and perhaps the hon. and learned Member for Burton will now talk to members of his own Front Bench.

I understand that the Home Secretary cannot achieve all those objectives without the co-operation of his colleagues in the Government. He is not the Prime Minister—although, by the end of this week, who knows? He could try to persuade his colleagues that there are more cost-effective ways of investing money in crime reduction than to keep offenders in prison without parole for longer periods. If he did so, he would not earn a standing ovation at the next Conservative party conference, but he might earn a place in history, and he would certainly earn the thanks of my constituents.

5.55 pm

As the House knows, I am the parliamentary adviser to the Police Federation of England and Wales. I wish to declare that interest in participating in the debate.

The Bill is long and complex. I am not a lawyer, but I welcome some of its provisions and I have enjoyed listening to the right hon. and learned Member for Warley, West (Mr. Archer) and to my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Burton (Mr. Lawrence), who are lawyers. We all benefit from hearing their views.

I give a general welcome to the new framework for the sentencing of offenders. I support the provisions which are designed to protect the public from serious harm by offenders and the powers given to the courts in clause 2 which provide that the length of the custodial sentence is commensurate with the seriousness of the offence. My constituents have been pressing for longer sentences for violent crime and for sexual offences. They will be pleased that a Crown court may pass sentence up to the maximum for the offence. The House knows that the Government also wish to reduce the prison population and to deal with less serious offenders by means of non-custodial sentences.

However, on behalf of the police, I must say that in the opinion of the Police Federation—which I share—there is one offence for which there should be a mandatory custodial sentence. It should be passed on those convicted of assaults that have occasioned actual bodily harm to a police officer in the exercise of his duty. The federation called for that sentence at its 1987 central conference, reflecting the increasing concern among the police about the number of assaults, which is escalating to an unacceptable level. I call again today for a mandatory sentence for those who attack the protectors of the public so that such people may be in no doubt that if they attack a police officer they will go to prison.

Is not everyone entitled to that protection? Should it be restricted only to police officers?

I note my hon. Friend's point. I know, as I am sure he does, that the Home Office does not generally like mandatory sentences because it is concerned about the possible pressure to apply them to other offences. My hon. Friend has made the point well for me. However, if the Home Office view prevails, there must be at least one exception if the increasing number of assaults on the police is to be stopped. The federation is disappointed by the absence of such a mandatory sentence, so I will, therefore, press for its inclusion at later stages of the Bill. I hope that my right hon. Friend the Minister of State will give further thought to the serious problem of assaults on police officers and that he will consider most carefully the possibility of accepting such a provision being introduced into the Bill.

I recognise that the policy of my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary is not to encourage custodial sentences where community sentences can be used as an alternative. It will be interesting to see the extent to which probation orders and community service orders, or a combination of the two, or the proposed curfew order, as well as the supervision order or a period at an attendance centre, will be satisfactory alternatives to custodial sentences. I am sure that it is right to try them. There may be problems in implementing them, however, and one of the problems may be the additional burdens placed upon the police.

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. As the ballot for the leader of the majority group in the House has now finished, do you think that the House should be suspended while we discover who is now to be the Prime Minister of Britain?

I think that we would be better advised to get on with the debate.

Before I was interrupted by that non-point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I was saying— this is an important matter and I hope that Opposition Members are listening—that it is important that the resource implications for the police in carrying into effect non-custodial orders are given the most careful consideration.

Clause 3 makes provision for pre-sentence reports to assist courts in deciding whether to impose a custodial sentence. I hope that my right hon. Friend the Minister of State will tell the House who will keep details of previous offences that must be taken into account. It is not always easy to provide that information.

Clause 8 deals with probation and discharge. I am somewhat puzzled by subsection (2). Perhaps my right hon. Friend the Minister of State will explain why payment of sums awarded by way of damages for injury or compensation for loss shall not be included among the additional requirements of a probation order.

The introduction of curfew orders and electronic tagging has already caused a good deal of discussion. I must tell my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary and my right hon. Friend the Minister of State that the federated ranks of the police need to be convinced of the merits of the innovation, about which they are less than enthusiastic. They take the view that it is difficult to operate and that the recent experiment was not particularly successful, due in no small measure to the ineffectiveness of the technology that is involved. Concern has been expressed to me also about the additional burden which could fall on the police, where manpower is already stretched to the limit. It will always be the police who have to pick up the responsibility for dealing with curfew orders and electronic tagging when the system goes wrong. They will have to bear the burden. Why have the Government decided to introduce these measures when the only information that the federation has from the forces that have tried them is that they are not especially successful?

Having made those comments in a spirit of friendly and constructive criticism, I say to the House generally that the police greatly welcome the inclusion in the Bill of part III, and especially the provision that evidence given by children can be unsworn. Equally welcome are the provisions in clauses 42 to 45, which will enable the use of video recordings of testimony of child witnesses.

The federation is slightly disappointed, however, that children will be required to give evidence under cross-examination via a live video link at the time of trial. The House will recall that the advisory group on video evidence, which was chaired by Judge Pigot, recommended that
"arrangements should be made to hold a preliminary hearing in informal surroundings out of court as soon as practicable."
It may be that I have not fully grasped what my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary said when he commented on this part of the Bill during his opening remarks. If I have misunderstood what he said, I hope that my right hon. Friend the Minister of State will correct me. I wonder why the use of video recordings made out of court in informal surroundings is not included in the Bill. After all, the Pigot inquiry took evidence from every interested party, and it was unanimous in its recommendations.

I welcome the proposals in clauses 46 to 48 to require the attendance of parents at proceedings which involve their children when they, the children, are under the age of 16 years. The requirement is coupled with the power of courts to require the parents of 16 and 17-year-olds to pay their financial penalties, plus the power to bind over the parents of offenders who are under the age of 18 years to take proper care and exercise proper control of their children, and to fine parents who refuse unreasonably to be bound over. These provisions represent a powerful new set of deterrents to juvenile delinquents.

I listened with great care to the right hon. and learned Member for Warley, West when he referred to the innovations which I have just mentioned. It seems that the power of the courts to deal with parents who have unreasonably refused to be bound over will provide a good deal of flexibility within the system and should not lead to undue problems. The federation welcomes the innovations and hopes that they will be successful.

Having complimented my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary on the parts of the Bill which either the police or I, or both of us, welcome, I turn to the more controversial new provisions for court security officers, and for escort duties to be carried out by prisoner custody officers. It is right that I should tell the House that the federation is uneasy about these important duties being carried out by the private sector. The federation's main objection—it is a staff federation and the House will understand how it feels—is that the public may not feel as secure if these duties are not carried out by well-trained, tried and trusted officers who have operated successfully for a long time in the public sector.

When my right hon. Friend the Minister of State replies, I hope that he will tell the House what training the officers will receive. I hope also that he will outline the vetting that will have been carried out before their recruitment and appointment by whoever will be responsible for that job. I understand that in the borough which comes within my constituency the body responsible will be the borough council. How will these officers be accountable as police officers are accountable? These are important questions, and they need to be answered if the police are to move away from their present position of unease about the proposed changes. The public must be clear that they will not be put at risk as a result of the changes. I hope that my right hon. Friend will tell us what estimate has been made of the reduction in public expenditure that will be achieved by the proposed contracting out.

The federation is concerned about the concept of remand prisons being contracted out to the private sector. Its concern centres on the training and vetting that is to take place of the individuals who will be engaged and on the safety of the public. The director of a contracted-out remand centre is to be a prisoner custody officer. The new controller is to be a Crown servant. Perhaps my right hon. Friend the Minister of State will give more information to the House, either today or later, about the sort of training and the background that these individuals will have when it comes to them carrying out their responsible duties.

The duties are set out clearly in the Bill, but the Bill does not go into the detail which hon. Members will need if they are properly to assess the way in which the centres will work. There has been much criticism in recent months about some of the private security companies that operate. That has not been confined to the docks. There is a general feeling of unease. I hope that my right hon. Friend the Minister of State will be able to set that right.

Is it not a fact that unless there is regulation of the private security industry, which the Government have been shy to introduce prior to the Queen's Speech, in the Queen's Speech or in the Bill, cowboy operators will be able to tender for the contracts, with dreadful results? Regulations must accompany the proposed innovations.

That concern must be addressed and set aside. I supported the private Member's Bill in the name of the hon. Member for Walsall, South (Mr. George). There should be independent regulation of the security industry, and I am not ashamed to state that in this debate.

I welcome the Bill, which contains many good things. I wish it well in Committee and I hope to have an opportunity to contribute to it again later and to put forward proposals on matters that are of great concern to the police, particularly the question of assault.

6.10 pm

The hon. Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Shersby) referred to the practical concerns of the police with regard to escort duties and the contracting out of remand centres. Several issues of principle are also troubling people. Those who are responsible for depriving a citizen of liberty should also ensure that the responsibility for the custody of those citizens lies in the hands of the state.

The Bill marks an important step forward for our criminal justice system. It is a major Bill and not all of it is uncontroversial. However, it provides a major change in a healthy direction, which should have a practical effect on sentencing in particular and move us closer to a society that is less dependent on custodial sentencing as the normal response to crime.

In particular, I welcome the requirement to give reasons for custodial sentences. I also welcome the proposal that there should be a pre-sentence report in the hands of the sentencer before sentence is announced. I particularly welcome the extension of the unit fine experiment to magistrates courts relating the penalties imposed to a defendant's ability to pay. However, I do not know why the Government have not extended that principle to Crown court proceedings, and perhaps the Minister will comment on that when he replies.

Having begun in that vein, it is inevitable in our customary adversarial proceedings that I should focus on the Bill's deficiencies and also refer to the matters that are omitted from the Bill. After the Home Secretary's rather robust remarks at the Conservative party conference, about victims, I was rather surprised that the Bill contained nothing to give effect to his proposals. I was surprised that the Bill contained nothing to ensure that victims know whether those alleged to have been responsible for their suffering have been caught and, if so, when and where they would be tried. At the Conservative party conference, the Home Secretary also spoke about ensuring that the courts were fully informed of the loss suffered by a victim and that the courts would have the necessary facts to make proper compensation orders. The Bill offered an apt opportunity to give effect to those proposals, which no doubt the Home Secretary believes to be important.

With regard to victims, back in February or March my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary issued a victim's charter, which contains a list of questions that are subject to consultation at the moment—the victim support world and others will give us their views about them. We have not yet reached a stage when we can form conclusions and so ensure that the matters to which the hon. Gentleman referred can be in such a state of grace as to be ready for inclusion in a Bill such as this. However, those matters are very much on our agenda for the future. I look forward to hearing the hon. Gentleman's views in due course.

It is becoming increasingly doubtful whether the right hon. Gentleman will have a future of that kind in ministerial office, so some of us will take that assurance with a grain of reserve.

The Minister sounds rather like the drone to my bagpipes.

The Bill marks an important step towards reducing the use of custodial sentences for less serious offences, and that cannot happen too soon. I want to refer once again to a serious incoherence in the legal framework of our criminal law, which the Bill, for all its virtues, does not systematically tackle.

Conservative Home Secretaries have a propensity to think up new crimes and to increase penalties to deal with every social evil. Following the recent Calcutt report on privacy, there was a proposal for a new crime of criminal trespass. Following the Taylor report on the Hillsborough stadium disaster, there were proposals for new crimes to add to the already quite remarkable battery of public order offences that were recently enacted. Following the Strangeways riot, the Home Secretary proposed a new crime of prison mutiny. All those proposals may lead to comforting headlines in the tabloid press such as "New Crackdown on Crime", but they do nothing to ensure that our criminal law matches the settled view of society and therefore the relative seriousness of different forms of anti-social behaviour.

Why have the Government taken no step towards the codification of the criminal law, the case for which has been advocated for many years, which was first put in hand by my right hon. Friend Lord Jenkins of Hillhead in 1968 and on which the Law Commission has been working? The Law Commission produced an extremely important report, No. 177, with a draft criminal code Bill attached, together with a detailed commentary on the proposals. It is the most exhaustive and authoritative work on the rationalising of our criminal justice system, but it has been almost ignored by the Government and by Parliament. I referred to it inevitably briefly in my contribution to the debate on the Loyal Address.

That codification should commend itself to the Government as the best starting point for the overhaul of our criminal law. The former Lord Chancellor, Lord Hailsham, commended the Law Commission's report and said that it could save a great deal of anxiety, obscurity, consumption of judicial time and so of costs. I attach particular importance to the reduction that speedier trials would make in the number of remanded prisoners in our overcrowded gaols. The proper parliamentary procedure for scrutinising such a proposed code would be the establishment of a pre-legislative committee to take evidence and report to Parliament on its contents. Until such a step is taken, our system in England and Wales will continue to suffer from the patchwork of more than 7,200 separate criminal offences being added to inconsistently. That is the major omission, not only from the Bill but from the Government's approach to the reform of criminal law.

However, several matters also merit being raised, and they flow directly from the Bill. Paramount among them is the absence of discussion of the necessary additional resources that must be made available to the probation service in particular and to the police if the Government's objectives in respect of non-custodial sentencing are to be achieved. Part of the patchwork of the inconsistency of sentencing may be explainable in terms of the patchwork of local resources in different areas. The non-availability, for example, of bail hostels in some cases may make it more difficult for sentencers such as the right hon. and learned Member for Warley, West (Mr. Archer) to deal with such matters in the manner that plainly is the objective of both sides of the House. Resources are integral to the success of the Government's proposals and it would be helpful to hear more than a few pious words from the Minister of State on that subject.

In an exchange between the two Front Benches, there was a rather helpful discussion of the possibility of taking forward the concerns that have been widely expressed about the existence of racial discrimination within our criminal justice system. Frankly, the hon. and learned Member for Burton (Mr. Lawrence) is a little unreal in his approach. I found the Home Secretary's attitude in response to my intervention in his speech a good deal more encouraging than that of his hon. and learned Friend. The case for a declaratory provision in the Bill is overwhelming —not simply one that sets out the law of the land as it is, but one that sets out the law of the land as it should be. It should go further and provide statutory requirements to monitor what is happening and to back up the provisions of the general principle.

I share the view that has been expressed on several occasions in the House, that the greatest defect in our sentencing structure at the moment is the inability of the Court of Appeal to produce not uniformity but some coherence in sentencing. The establishment of a sentencing council has merit. It would not supplant the role of judges, but it would help judges. That body would be not wholly judicial in composition, but would involve the participation of many who have knowledge of other parts of the criminal system and, indeed, lay people who could bring to bear upon matters public perceptions of sentencing needs and requirements.

In so far as it deals with problems in our prisons, the Bill does so only indirectly. It proposes little that would directly ameliorate the conditions of our outmoded prisons. I do not entirely blame the Government for that, for they are rightly waiting for the report of Lord Justice Woolf's inquiry following the Strangeways riots. But, given that the Government are holding out on several important reforms, they have decided to do one or two things of extremely doubtful use, not least the decision to allow the contracting-out of remand centres to the private sector, which seems at best irrelevant and, at worst, a surrender of the proper responsibility of the state. The administration of justice and the deprivation of liberty should not in principle be contracted out.

Comparable criticisms may be made of the proposals to privatise the prison escort service. I, like others, know well of the diversion of resources that the present arrangements cause, but the Government have embarked on the wrong solution to the problem. It is hard to justify the view that the Home Secretary propounded, that the experience of curfew and tagging has been successful. It has been described by penal reformers as a fiasco. I am bound to say that it has a minimal part to play at this stage in our penal system. If there is a case for continuing the experiment, that is all that one can say in favour of it. I do not think that it should have gone further until there was greater evidence of how it could work in practice. The Government sometimes claim credit for being essentially practical and take some pride in not having a principled approach, but, on practical grounds, I do not think that tagging has been demonstrated to work effectively.

There is an important confusion that the Home Secretary did not altogether succeed in dispelling. Clause 3 deals with whether previous convictions should be taken into account when dealing with a sentence before the court—[Interruption.] I sense a certain excitement, which, I am bound to say, has very little to do with the remarks that I am making.

I am surprised that there should be such excitement on the Benches at this time. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will continue.

I am glad to have my view entirely endorsed by you, Madam Deputy Speaker.

The hon. and learned Member for Burton made a powerful and important point, and I hope that the Minister of State will deal with it. Therefore, I shall make that point in my way, too. I refer to the avoidance of committal proceedings in cases involving sexual offences and violence against children, which will seriously curtail the rights of the accused. I have seen the argument of the Criminal Bar Association that the power of the Director of Public Prosecutions should not be capable of delegation, and that case requires to be answered.

The Bill makes extensive proposals to change the powers and operation of parole and early release. I shall make only a couple of brief points. The most important requirement is that parole should be reconstituted with proper regard to due process safeguards. Prisoners should be entitled to be heard and have legal representation. The Bill does not make those proposals. They seem to be a necessary part of our system. Unless the Bill's proposals for parole are accompanied by wider reductions in maximum sentences than are advanced, there is a serious risk that the prison population will rise.

The public is undoubtedly most concerned about the ineffectiveness of the Government's measures to prevent crime. The success or otherwise of the Bill will, to a degree, be judged by whether it contributes to a reduction in crime. The single most important step that the Government could take to reduce crime and the fear of crime would be to strengthen measures for youth crime prevention. Young people under 21 commit almost half all recorded crimes and three quarters of the burglaries in this country. The peak age of offending for boys is between 15 and 18. Young men and women are the most frequent victims of crime, contrary to the general perception that the elderly in our society are the most vulnerable. That perception was shared by the electors of Eastbourne who were reluctant to open their doors after 7.30 in the evening. I assume that the Minister of State has recently had that experience.

There is a considerable need to tackle the problem of youth crime more systematically than the Government have tackled it. We need greater positive recreational training and employment opportunities to be co-ordinated locally with the young themselves. Volunteers, as well as paid workers, should play an important part in that task.

The Minister is probably already familiar with the experience of the French Government at central, regional and local level and their striking success in tackling the problem of youth crime. They have programmes of summer activities for the young; youth centres in cities and towns; the positive involvement of ethnic minorities in mainstream social and sporting activities; and projects that are targeted at job acquisition, social integration and confidence building, as well as local crime prevention schemes. Those measures have had dramatic effects and the French crime statistics show encouraging downward trends, especially for the offences that are most often committed by the young.

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that he is wasting his breath making those points to this Government, because the schemes in France to which he referred involve a lot of money and resources and are locally controlled—two things to which the Government would never agree?

It would cost a great deal less to do those things than to keep people in prison. The Government should address that issue as a matter of practicality if they want to make public expenditure savings. Of course, I do not commend such measures only on those grounds, but because I believe that they would be effective in the interests of the young and of society.

The Bill deals with some matters affecting young people, especially—and controversially—the new provisions on parental responsibility. The clauses that increase the sanctions against the parents of young offenders are, in my view, mistaken and probably unworkable and, in their punitive nature, they are certainly unwise. The Home Secretary, who sometimes betrays a lack of awareness about what is going on in his own Department, should have noticed the findings of John Graham, which were published in Home Office research bulletin No. 26 of 1989, which states:
"Since the ability of families to function effectively is thought to be a crucial determinant in preventing juvenile delinquency, there is an increasingly pressing need to determine how policies to support families and parents can be developed."
Clause 21, which provides that the courts may apply to have fines recovered by deduction from income support, puts precisely the kind of pressure on families that the research of the Home Office itself shows to be likely to lead to delinquency. If such deductions are tolerable, they should be considered, as in cases of rent default, only if they are voluntarily agreed by the defendant——

On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. I do not want to interrupt the hon. Gentleman's speech, but there has been a happening outside the Chamber, of which we are all aware, and which has enormous implications, especially for the people of Scotland. Parts of the Bill relate to the ability to pay certain fines. The right hon. Member for Henley (Mr. Heseltine) made part of his plea for the leadership of his party the question of the ability to pay the poll tax. There is clearly no majority in the House for that tax, which was imposed on the people of Scotland by an Act that was passed in this Parliament in 1987.I take it that the Government and the Opposition will move immediately to have that Act, which was imposed on the people of Scotland, removed from the statute book. We should take immediate steps to suspend the House——

Order. I ask the hon. Gentleman to resume his seat. That is not the matter before the House. I call Mr. Maclennan.

On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. Have you had notice from the Leader of the House to announce the verdict of the election for the Conservative leader, in which the Prime Minister got 204 votes and the challenger 152? In the circumstances—in the absence of any clear Government—is not it time that the Leader of the House came to the House, announced a dissolution and called a general election?

Further to that point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. I quite appreciate the excitement on Opposition Benches—there is a fair amount on Conservative Benches. Anticipating catching your eye, Madam Deputy Speaker, and knowing of your experience on the stage, it reminds one of being the comic who comes on before the strippers at the Windmill. The Bill that we are considering is important—indeed, by common consent it is the most important of this Session—and it is entirely inappropriate to delay our further consideration—[Interruption.]

Order. While I am in the Chair, the business of the House will not be delayed. What happens outside the Chamber is, of course, interesting and a distraction, but it is not for debate in the Chamber. I call Mr. Maclennan.

May I have an assurance that this does not relate to points that I have already dealt with?

Is it in order at this stage, Madam Deputy Speaker, to move, That the Question be now put, so that the Government and the Leader of the House can have an early opportunity to come before the House to make a statement about the Government's intention with respect to the poll tax because, obviously, the Government no longer have a majority for it in the House? If it is in order to do so, I should like to move the Question.

It is in order to move that Question, but it is not in order for me to accept the motion at this stage.

On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. You will know that this evening the Opposition have tabled a motion of no confidence in the Government. That motion reflects the national feeling that a Government who are split by bitter civil war should resign. The House is now put in a quandary. We know that Conservative Members no longer support the Prime Minister, but we do not know whom, if anyone, they will recommend to replace her. Tonight Britain is effectively leaderless. The House of Commons must clearly debate those unprecedented circumstances, and precedent requires that a debate on a no confidence motion be tabled at the earliest possible opportunity. I therefore ask that the date of the debate, and, for that matter, who will speak in it to defend the Government's position, be announced to the House at 10 o'clock tonight.

Further to that point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. I shall draw the right hon. Gentleman's remarks to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House.

Order. I was about to say to the House that I am, of course, aware that a censure motion has been tabled by the Leader of the Opposition. I have more than an inkling that the usual channels will be hot-foot operating on it right at this moment and that a statement will be made to the House at the earliest opportunity.

Order. The hon. Member for Bradford, South (Mr. Cryer) has already raised one point of order with me——

On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. All hon. Members are aware of what is happening. My right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Spark brook (Mr. Hattersley) has read out a statement. Surely, in such circumstances it is not good enough for the Minister who happens to be on the Government Front Bench to say that he will draw the attention of the Leader of the House to the motion of no confidence in the Government. The Leader of the House should be here. I ask the Minister to ask the Leader of the House to come to the Chamber and make a statement about——

Order, As I have already explained, the Leader of the House—[Interruption.]

Order. We cannot continue with points of order that are irrelevant to the business before us—[Interruption.] Order. Hon. Members have heard what I had to say on this matter. It is being discussed through the usual channels. As soon as the Leader of the House is ready to make a statement, he will do so.

Further to that point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. Surely we cannot proceed with business as usual as though nothing has happened. We are in an unprecedented position because the Prime Minister does not enjoy the support of the majority of the House. We cannot continue as though nothing has happened. The Leader of the House has now come to the Chamber. Surely he has already prepared statement A and statement B to deal with all possible eventualities. The eventuality is now clear—the Prime Minister has lost the confidence of the House. We await an appropriate statement from the Leader of the House.

Order. The hon. Gentleman deploys arguments that should be deployed during the debate on the motion of no confidence.

I am as anxious as anyone to proceed with the debate, and that can be easily achieved. The Leader of the House knows that we have asked for, and are entitled to, a date for the debate on the motion of no confidence, and for the names of those who will speak for the Government in that debate. The right hon. Gentleman has only to get up and tell us that, and we can then continue with the debate.

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

Further to that point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. I agree with the right hon. Gentleman that it is important to continue with this important debate. It may assist the House if I say that I intend to make a business statement at 10 o'clock.

Perhaps we can now proceed with the debate. I call Mr. Maclennan—[Interruption.] Order. Would those hon. Members who are leaving the Chamber do so quietly, so that we can at least continue with the business before us?

It was, perhaps, ironic that the moment that the hon. Member for Dunfermline, West (Mr. Douglas) raised his point of order, I was about to commend to the Minister the Scottish model and manner for dealing with parental involvement in the sentencing process, which should involve a round-table discussion by the children's panel. I believe that that proposal is greatly preferred to the new measures that the Bill seeks to impose on parents. In particular, the Bill's proposals for the binding over of parents of young offenders have not met with the widespread approval of many sentencers, so the Government should reconsider clauses 47 and 48.

It is a matter of the utmost urgency that we do not simply tinker with the remand and sentencing system for juveniles in the custody of the prison department. The Home Secretary intervened earlier to say that, as I understood it, the Government intended to move towards ending the remand and sentencing policy that has led to the appalling suicides of young people in our prisons—not only in Armley prison in Leeds, but in a number of other prisons. What has been happening is not simply an intolerable aberration from the high standards of our prison service, but something that calls into question the policies for the sentencing of juveniles and their detention within the prison system.

Most people are deeply shocked by what has happened. The report by Judge Tumim on Armley prison is confirmation, if that were needed, that the present system is badly in need of overhaul. I hope that, before the Bill is enacted, that matter will have been dealt with both adequately and terminally.

As I said, the Bill marks out a new policy and departs from the old policy in a way that could lead to the prison population falling to levels commensurate with those of comparable European countries. We are far behind them in that respect and we have a long way to go. In so far as the Bill assists that, it will enjoy the support of my right hon. and hon. Friends. Its deficiencies, which are more of omission than commission, will not lead us to vote against its Second Reading.

6.47 pm

I wish first to deal with a matter that was raised by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Burton (Mr. Lawrence), and which was taken up by the right hon. and learned Member for Warley, West (Mr. Archer)—the existence or otherwise of racial discrimination in disposals. Contrary to the view expressed by my hon. and learned Friend, it is of great concern that the statistics published by the Home Office —and I stress the fact that they are published by the Home Office—show that there is troubling evidence of differential disposal methods for ethnic minorities. It does not greatly assist us to pretend that those differences arise simply for socio-economic reasons unrelated to race. I am sure that my right hon. Friend the Minister is greatly concerned about that and will do everything possible to ensure that that discrimination, if it exists, is eradicated.

I am concerned that Opposition Members who have adduced that evidence, and leapt from that to a sentencing council, have missed the point. The point is not the existence or otherwise of discrimination. If it exists, it is intolerable and should be immediately eradicated. I am sure that no Conservative or Opposition Member would tolerate such discrimination. However, we are considering whether the current mechanisms to oversee sentencing now need to be swept aside and replaced by a sentencing council, and of that I am much less sure. The right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) made it clear that his proposed sentencing council would examine the records of courts and judges, presumably to ensure that their sentencing and their disposals were broadly in line with what would be expected. Of course, that would simply identify exactly the same aberrations, such as they are, as are currently being identified by the Home Office and published by it. After all, the statistics on racial discrimination or otherwise have come from the Home Office.

More importantly, there currently exists a mechanism that includes the Court of Appeal's guidelines, the Magistrates Association's tariff guidelines and other guidelines on sentencing, of which courts are asked to take account. The problem is obvious to anyone who has had any experience of disposals in courts. Each case is rightly treated, either by lay magistrates or by professional judges, as an individual case. Judges rightly endeavour to fit the sentence to the crime.

In remand cases, for example, individual judgments must be made of the status of the individuals who are likely to be eligible for, or rather suffer from, remand in custody. What is much less clear, however, is that a sentencing council could effect remand disposals. If we extrapolate that into actual disposals after conviction, would that council provide us with any better framework than that which exists? I have an open mind on this issue and I look forward to the debates we shall have on it in Committee or on Report. I would support anything that positively prevented the present anomalies that occasionally occur in sentencing. I am, however, unconvinced of the merits of the sentencing council, even bearing in mind the serious situation that underpins the basic thrust of the argument.

I am happy to extend a warm welcome to the Bill. I believe that the restrictions on imposing custodial sentences—those which the White Paper accurately suggests are so serious that only a custodial sentence is justified—are a move in the right direction.

As chairman of Crime Concern, I speak to many audiences about crime and criminality in society. One of the most warming developments in recent years has been the universal recognition that longer sentences do not necessarily lead to a reduction in crime. It is right, however, to follow the evidence that suggests that sentences should be longer for violent offences. I am afraid that there is little or no evidence, however, to suggest that simply longer sentences do anything to prevent the resentment and the process of alienation that so often occurs when a prisoner is incarcerated for a long time.

When all the arguments about the function of punishment have been stripped down and we have gone through the elements of recrimination and society's need for catharsis, there remains one cardinal element in our criminal disposals and punishments—they must be designed to ensure that those who offend do not offend again. With that in mind, I greatly approve of my right hon. and learned Friend's proposals. I believe that they are a move in the right direction and, in many ways, they are overdue.

I warmly applaud the introduction of curfew orders and the attendant electronic monitoring. That is entirely right, as it is clear that we need a greater menu of creative disposals so that in appropriate cases—those convicted persons who should not necessarily be sent to an institution—people should be subject to restrictions on liberty that fall short of incarceration in an institution. I believe that there are many reasons why first offenders in almost every category should avoid being sent to an institution if possible. Such creative disposals would still powerfully demonstrate that the person concerned is subject to a special regime.

I have noted the argument that curfew orders and attendant electronic monitoring somehow infringe on civil liberties. I am one of the few Conservative Members to be an acknowledged supporter of the National Council for Civil Liberties. As the Conservative chairman of the Campaign for Freedom of Information, I first met my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary seven and a half years ago when we argued about the merits or demerits of the Data Protection Act 1984. We clashed on a number of occasions—to my personal cost ever since. With such credentials, spurious or otherwise, I see not one whit of evidence to suggest that electronic tagging and curfew orders in any sense infringe on civil liberties. I intervened earlier to cite the clear statement in paragraph 4.22 of the White Paper which states that it is only appropriate to use such a disposal when restrictions on liberty are justified by the offence. I am sure that my right hon. Friend the Minister of State would be the first to agree that it is vital that that precondition is attendant on every use of the curfew order. It should be an occasion on which some restriction on liberty is justified by the nature of the offence.

I hope that the House is listening with great care to my hon. Friend. Among hon. Members on both sides of the House, my hon. Friend, above all people, has a considerable reputation as someone who believes in civil liberties. Did my hon. Friend spot the muddle that became apparent as Opposition Members contributed to the debate? It appears that they believe that electronic monitoring is a punishment. But the sentence of the court is the punishment. Electronic monitoring is a way to ensure, with deadly and complete accuracy, whether the punishment is adhered to. It is not a punishment in itself.

My right hon. Friend is right. Curfew orders and the attendant electronic tagging would be one of a creative menu of disposals which would follow a conviction for an offence. It is spurious to believe that that would have a peculiar impact on individual civil liberties —an impact which, apparently, a sentence of imprisonment does not have. That is ludicrous nonsense and, in all honesty, I do not believe that it is intellectually sustainable.

I am surprised at the hon. Gentleman. In many respects, a number of us admire some of the things he does, especially in the work of Crime Concern. The hon. Gentleman must be aware, however, that, within the range of informed opinion, that organisation stands alone in favour of electronic tagging. All other reputable groups are against it.

Crime Concern does a lot of good work in social crime prevention and the hon. Gentleman knows that if one is to understand such crime prevention one must understand the nature of the offender's family. One of the reasons why we oppose tagging is that it is a sentence on the family, not the individual. If one considers individual rights to include the rights of family members, one must accept that tagging will——

Subject to your strictures, Madam Deputy Speaker, I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his remarks about Crime Concern. I have been asked by the director of Crime Concern to make it absolutely clear that, on this matter, I speak for myself. I am not speaking for the board of Crime Concern, which includes the hon. Gentleman's colleague, the hon. Member for Leicester, East (Mr. Vaz), or for the directorate of that splendid organisation with which I am privileged to continue my association.

I hope to refer to other aspects of social crime prevention later, but I would be as opposed as the hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr. Sheerman) to electronic monitoring and curfew orders if I did not see them as an alternative to custody. In particular, I believe that any prospect of allowing people to live in their own home is infinitely preferable to the often inadequate conditions for remand persons in prison. Those conditions are acknowledged to be among the worst in our system, rather than the best. I believe that it is an immense advantage to allow people to be remanded to their homes.

One is being short-sighted if one does not appreciate that there can be alternatives to either liberty or custody that allow us to deal with those persons for whom a restriction of liberty is an appropriate disposition which prevents them from joining the university of crime. In talking about social crime prevention the one thing that one must recognise about prison is that when young people go to prison for the first time they are taught how to avoid coming back a second time. They are not taught that that is achieved by not re-offending; rather, they are taught to be a little bit cleverer the next time. That university of crime impact is immensely damaging to our social fabric, and anything we can do in different ways to deal with people who would otherwise have their freedom restricted is desirable.

One must add a rider to such statements. Much has been made of the technical efficiency or otherwise of the tags that we employ at present. I spent some time in the United States examining the issue of tagging, and I heard no complaint about the technical quality of the equipment. So it is probable that we shall be able to develop equipment which is serviceable and capable of withstanding, so to speak, a little damage.

I am told that the Whips' Office has 372 versions on order, perhaps in the light of developments this evening.

I assure the hon. Member for Huddersfield that I would not approve of the wholesale use of this type of apparatus until it had been well tried and tested. But it is feeble to argue against the technology because there may have been a few technical failures in the first batch. While we must get the technology right, it is generally agreed that not the technology but the principle behind it is vital. The question is whether it is an appropriate instrument to use, and, having listened with interest to the remarks of the hon. Member for Huddersfield, I believe that it is a useful piece of apparatus, particularly for first-time and young offenders.

Unlike most interventions from Conservative Members, this will be a short one. Is the hon. Gentleman happy that children will be tagged and have to go to school wearing such obvious devices?

I am happy to rely on the section in the White Paper dealing with whether restrictions are justified, which is the important precondition. I am not sure that a schoolchild would be the subject of a monitoring device. But if the court decided that that was the desirable course, if restrictions on an individual's liberty are justified, most people would prefer electronic monitoring to remand in custody or a period of imprisonment. I do not see anything exceptional about that. In the spirit of trying to keep youngsters, in particular, out of prison, alternatives to custody are greatly to be welcomed.

We kid ourselves if we do not recognise that there will be difficulties in implementing alternatives to custody. As the right hon. Member for Sparkbrook said, there is in the probation service a culture that is particularly appropriate to probation. Although probation officers are to be invited to be part of alternative community-based sentencing, I am not sure that that is an appropriate way to use the probation service.

Probation officers have a special and separate role which should be respected. The cultural divide between that role and the necessary regimes for some community-based alternatives to prison would be too great for them to jump. Equally, I do not relish the idea of members of the Prison Officers Association staffing the new schemes.

In the end, we shall probably have to create a separate, third force, perhaps formed of ex-service personnel and others who understand the discipline necessary to handle these issues. Not only will such people appreciate the need to make the new schemes truly effective, but the public will know that they are not providing a soft option. That new force will act in a sphere between the probation service and the Prison Officers Association.

Community acceptance is the vital concept. Up to now, too many magistrates, particularly lay magistrates, have refused to use community service orders because, to borrow a phrase from the Secretary of State, they have been seen as a slap on the wrist. The result is that such orders have never achieved the value that should have been attributed to them.

While all the new moves, not forgetting the proposals on parental responsibility, are to be welcomed, the hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Mr. Maclennan) spoke about the crucial part of the Bill and, to some extent, its crucial weakness, and the statistics sum it up. During 1990 about 20 million offences will be committed in Britain. About a fifth of those—over 4 million—will be recorded by the police. The other 16 million will not be recorded by them. About 95 per cent. of those crimes will concern property and over half of them will be committed by young men aged 21 or younger. A larger number of them will be opportunistic crimes and be highly preventable. A third of all those convicted of criminal offences will be aged under 17. The peak age of offending, particularly if we strip out the impact of young people being cautioned, is still about 15 for both sexes. The average age of burglars is nearer 15 than 20 and the offences are usually committed within a mile or so of their homes. Over a quarter of all auto crime is committed by youngsters in the 10 to 16 age range. In urban areas, one young man in three has come in contact with the police on a criminal matter before reaching his 17th birthday.

Everything in the Bill, welcome though it is, will not avoid that situation continuing. It will help, but we have a long way to go yet and the path ahead is clear. The hon. Member for Huddersfield referred to the work of Crime Concern. I pay tribute to the Home Secretary, to the Minister of State and to the present Foreign Secretary for their unswerving support for that splendid organisation, which I am proud to chair but take none of the operational credit for. That work is due entirely to Nigel Whiskin and John Bright and the splendid team at Swindon.

They have developed some splendid ways of dealing with youngsters, preferably before they become criminals. The team has pointed the direction in which local authorities, police forces and voluntary bodies throughout the country can come to terms with crime in their communities. Only by dealing with these issues at the community level shall we come to terms with the problems of criminality in society.

At present, we rely on considerable funding from the private sector to accompany the more than generous grant from the Home Office. But it is generous only in the context of the work that we have done in recent years. Considering the cost of keeping people in custody—never less than £12,000 a year in any regime, however lenient, and up to £30,000 for offenders in close custody—all economic sense points to making a huge investment in youngsters at an early age.

We have an opportunity to break through the vicious cycle of criminality that begins virtually at birth and ends when the person concerned becomes a parent. To know where a 15-year-old develops the attitudes that cause him to become an offender, we must examine his environment, even before he can look over the dining room table. We are speaking of attitudes learnt at home, in school and while at play on street corners. The issue of how well they play, how constructively they employ their time and how they are kept from getting into trouble and becoming another statistic in the criminal justice system is absolutely vital.

In a splendid speech to the Conservative conference at Blackpool a couple of years ago, my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary drew a vivid analogy involving the tree that grows straight and the tree that grows crookedly. He said that the determining factor in whether the tree grew straight or crooked was how it was treated when it was a sapling. That analogy is as true now as it ever was. If we do not recognise that we must bridge resources from dealing with conviction and expensive disposal and start putting more of them into prevention, particularly youth prevention, all the evidence in the world shows that we shall not crack the problem.

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that if we were to include the statistics of stolen cars and thefts from vehicles in Northern Ireland, the figure would be well over 1 million? Does he agree that whichever Government are in power, they must continually press motor manufacturers to ensure that, as far as possible, there is greater security in all motor vehicles?

The hon. Gentleman is entirely right to draw attention to the problem of vehicle theft in Northern Ireland and the rest of the country. One point I never cease to make is that if we look at tables of crime and consider how we compare internationally, we see that Great Britain, particularly England and Wales, is virtually bottom of every league of crime. That is something about which we should say a great deal more. Unfortunately, the fear of crime in our society is greater than the incidence of crime merits. Hon. Members on both sides of the House should be responsible enough to promote that fact as much as possible. As the hon. Gentleman will know, the irony is that auto crime breaks all those rules and is probably higher in Britain than in any other country except the United States. The auto industry must do something about that.

I have talked about Government involvement in funding youth crime prevention, but I also mentioned that my organisation receives a great deal of support from private enterprise. As corporate citizens, private enterprise can do a great deal to help prevent opportunistic crime. Some 90 per cent. of auto crime is purely opportunistic. Until now, security has not been a selling feature. It has been better to put go-faster stripes on the side of a car than to make sure that the car is fitted with proper locks. It is incredible that it is still derisorily easy to open a modern car and take it away. Perhaps there is more evidence of felonious intent thereafter in Northern Ireland than on the mainland of Britain, but in each country such theft often results in considerable damage and cost to the victim of that crime.

I thank my hon. Friend for giving way to me a second time.

Does he agree that, notwithstanding the important points made by the hon. Member for Antrim, East (Mr. Beggs), in general terms, crime rates in Northern Ireland are considerably lower than those on the mainland when we set aside dreadful terrorist events? We should pay tribute to the population of the Province for what they have done to contribute to that and for the way in which they bring up their young people.

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for reminding the House of that. It is important to bear in mind that England and Wales are virtually bottom of all crime leagues and Scotland, identified separately, is at about the same level—occasionally below and occasionally above England and Wales. In Northern Ireland the position is much more complicated by the incidence of terrorist crime. In general, my right hon. Friend's observations are entirely correct. We must continue to reassure every section of the community. The constituents of the right hon. Member for Sparkbrook include elderly people who are made prisoners in their own homes entirely because of a fear of crime that is not justified by the crime rate around them. They are 14 times more likely to be the victims of road accidents than of muggings in any city centre in England and Wales.

I shall return to what was to have been the most platitudinous peroration on record in the House——

Perhaps it is not the most platitudinous. I, too, have listened to the odd speech of the right hon. Member for Sparkbrook.

We need constantly to remind ourselves that expense on detection, conviction and disposal is an admission of failure to have made enough young trees grow straight, of parental control, influence at school and social influence in the community on a young person's life. We can no longer continue to accept that failure. We must start doing something about it and the key to that is to invest more, both from the private sector and, at the risk of incurring the wrath of my right hon. Friend the Minister, the public sector. We must invest in youth crime prevention that is designed to reach the heart of criminality.

With that reservation, I extend a warm welcome to the Bill, which seems to have begun a trend in the creative management of criminality that has not been seen for many years. It is a considerable piece of work and I shall look forward to considering it in further detail during its passage through the House.

7.15 pm

Mrs. Llin Golding