House of Lords
Thursday, 15 July 2010.
Prayers—read by the Lord Bishop of Chester.
Introduction: Lord Stevenson of Balmacara
Robert Wilfrid Stevenson Esquire, having been created Baron Stevenson of Balmacara, of Little Missenden in the County of Buckinghamshire, was introduced and made the solemn affirmation, supported by Lord Haskel and Lord Evans of Temple Guiting, and signed an undertaking to abide by the Code of Conduct.
Introduction: Lord Shipley
John Warren Shipley Esquire OBE, having been created Baron Shipley, of Gosforth in the County of Tyne and Wear, was introduced and took the oath, supported by Baroness Maddock and Baroness Scott of Needham Market, and signed an undertaking to abide by the Code of Conduct.
Introduction: Baroness Newlove
Helen Margaret Newlove, having been created Baroness Newlove, of Warrington in the County of Cheshire, was introduced and took the oath, supported by Lord Strathclyde and Baroness Warsi, and signed an undertaking to abide by the Code of Conduct.
Women: Public Bodies and Listed Companies
My Lords, I pay tribute to the noble Baroness’s contribution in raising this important issue and to her continued work in the field of equalities. The Government share her concerns on these issues and that is why we have pledged to take action to promote gender equality on the boards of listed companies. However, we have more to do on the detail and in due course will be making an announcement setting out our future direction.
I thank the Minister for her nice comments and for her very helpful reply. However, what action do the Government intend to take to challenge recruiters and encourage them to ensure diversity in the membership of boards? Allied to that, how are the Government going to respond to the growing demand for specific places to be designated for women on boards and in public bodies?
My Lords, it is all about engaging with business and business organisations. We will engage with all relevant partners in developing our programme to fulfil the commitment in the coalition agreement. Head-hunters and recruitment companies will be aware of the stronger provision in the revised UK Corporate Governance Code, published on 28 May this year, on the importance of boardroom diversity. On the noble Baroness’s second question, we are working very hard to encourage people to work with us, rather than enforce an extra regulatory burden.
My Lords, is the Minister aware that almost 30 years ago, when I first came into this House, there was an all-party group whose aim was to get more women onto public bodies? This has been quite successful, although the situation relating to major companies is rather different. Is there not a bit of a parallel with the Equal Pay Act 1970 here, in that it takes years to change cultural attitudes, even though the law has changed?
My Lords, as well as making every effort, as I suspect she will, to get more women on to the committees and boards of public bodies, will the Minister also consider publishing a yearly report on the public bodies for which each government department is responsible, listing the number of women on the boards of each of them and, in particular, the number of women who are chairmen and chief executives?
The noble Baroness raises an issue that we are looking at very seriously. As I said in previous responses, we are considering how to encourage all departments to take on board the importance of ensuring proper representation not just from women but from other under-represented groups.
My Lords, does the Government’s commitment to gender equality extend to great national institutions such as the Church of England? Furthermore, does the Prime Minister intend to have a word with right reverend Prelates and most reverend Primates in order that we may have some female Bishops in this House before the end of this decade?
My Lords, does the Minister agree that despite aspirations with regard to greater gender equality, the appointment last week of the first all-male Monetary Policy Committee is not the right signal to send out? Why were no women economists deemed worthy of joining that body?
My Lords, my noble friend raises a really important issue. The point of this debate is to ensure that, on organisations such as the Monetary Policy Committee and other major organisations, there is better representation. The view will have to be taken that all stakeholders involved are willing to sign up to this.
My Lords, does the Minister agree that the distance, both in salaries and status, between those at the top of large companies and at the bottom has grown alarmingly? Richard Lambert, director-general of the CBI, has said that people are living in a different galaxy. Would women representatives include women workers’ representatives, including on remuneration committees?
My Lords, I think the noble Lord’s question is slightly outside my briefing. The gender pay gap has fallen over the past 30 years but it still persists. There is lots of work to be done, but we are taking a range of measures to end discrimination in the workplace.
My Lords, my noble friend may recall that some of the shortcomings of the report of the Senior Salaries Review Body on the work of this House might have been avoided if some women had been members of that review body. Can the Minister tell me whether anything has been done to put right that rather shameful state of affairs?
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for his question. It is a fair question. We have seen an increase in women MPs and we shall ensure that we support those MPs to become Ministers and Cabinet Ministers, but there is a lot of work to be done and, of course, it is up to the Prime Minister to do it.
My Lords, I declare an interest as a head hunter. Does the Minister accept that the recruitment industry takes this issue extremely seriously and that it is standing by to partner government and industry in seeking to ensure the proper representation of women on boards?
Schools: Special Needs and Disabilities
My Lords, the Government are committed to supporting those with special needs. This is demonstrated by our commitment to the full assistive technology package for those with special needs, as part of the home access programme. As we manage the closure of Becta, we will work closely with it to ensure that appropriate frameworks continue, and we will of course look with particular care at the requirements of those with special educational needs and disabilities.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for his response, but I would ask for a few more details. The home access programme, as I am aware, ceases to be funded after March 2011. Can the Minister guarantee that it will continue beyond that time? On the question of local authorities being made more responsible for technological services for people with disabilities, is he aware that the House of Lords’ ruling some time ago has meant that local authorities can take resource implications into account when considering their duty to provide support? So, if they are short of funds, which they are likely to be at the moment, a disabled child can literally be without a voice. Is that the Government’s wish?
No, my Lords, it clearly is not the Government’s wish that that should happen. On the noble Lord’s first question, as the whole House will know, I am not in a position to give forward commitments on funding, because we have to go through the spending review first. However, as I think the noble Lord will know, because my honourable friend Sara Teather announced it at the launch of a campaign with which I think he was associated, there will be a Green Paper in the autumn particularly to do with children with special educational needs and disabilities, and the raising of educational attainment is one of the specific issues we want to look at in connection with that. I am sure that he will make representations on that. I completely accept the thrust of his question, that as we look at what will come after Becta, we need to make sure that absolute priority is given to ensuring that children with special educational needs get the help with technology that they need.
My Lords, will the Minister assure us that the help needed and the legal obligations entered into are seen as priorities in any new negotiations? Will he also bear in mind the expense of giving assistance in terms of man hours as opposed to the comparatively cheap technology packages which are available at the moment? Will he also please remember that any reorganisation can become a cock-up—look at what happened to the student loans scheme?
I will very much bear in mind the noble Lord’s warnings as we work our way through the replacement arrangements for Becta. I also accept his point about the advantages of technology in delivering assistance to our neediest children. We have under way a number of pilots to test approaches, particularly for blind, visibly impaired and dyslexic children, and those are demonstrating the powerful effect that technology can have.
My Lords, the Minister spoke of frameworks being developed to ensure a smooth transition between Becta closing and future delivery. Can he say a little more about that and tell us what stage of development that has reached? In particular, can he say how technology will be supported in schools? I declare an interest as the chair of Livability, which has two colleges and one special school for children.
With regard to children with special educational needs, do the Government accept the view of the House, which was overwhelmingly carried earlier this week, about special educational needs provision in the Academies Bill? Secondly, will he give his view on the fact that Becta played an important role in child safety on the internet in our schools—not just for those with special educational needs but for all children? What will happen to the role that Becta fulfilled as regards child safety on the internet?
I will take the noble Baroness’s second point first. As regards child safety and many other functions that Becta has delivered, we will look at ensuring that there are appropriate arrangements for the important bits of the job that it did. There is widespread acceptance that Becta has done very useful work over a long time and we will certainly take that into account. On the noble Baroness’s first question, the House made its view very clear and it is now for the other place to decide what happens next.
My Lords, is the Minister able to assuage the fears of families with children with disabilities and special educational needs that the reforms in health and education and on the issue that we are discussing now will make it more challenging for them to meet the needs of those children? I declare an interest as a grandfather of a child with special educational needs.
My Lords, I think that it is fair to say that the Government are extremely aware of and sensitive to the issues to which the noble Lord refers. He is probably aware that a group has been set up including the Prime Minister and the Deputy Prime Minister, which was launched at a meeting at Barnardo’s by the Deputy Prime Minister. That made clear that one priority of that group, looking generally at children and family life, was a specific focus on the challenges faced by and support necessary for children with special educational needs and disabilities.
My Lords, there is a general courtesy in the House that we allow the bishops to take priority at Question Time.
My Lords, will the Green Paper to which the Minister referred include proposals to make it easier for schools to obtain funding for structural alterations, in order that children with special educational needs can attend and play a full part in the life of those schools?
The Green Paper to which I referred is a very pale shade of green at the moment. It will be brought forth in the autumn. I invite the right reverend Prelate to feed his views into the review and into the Green Paper; I am sure that we can take them into account.
My Lords, the costs of running the referendum will be similar to the costs of a general election. The costs of the boundary review will depend on the task set for the Boundary Commission in the legislation.
My Lords, at least the noble Lord does not surprise: he did not answer the Question, which I have to say is becoming a habit from his department. We need to know the figures; I think that we are entitled to know them and it should be possible for the Government to give them to us. This is particularly surprising because last week, as he will remember—indeed, he repeated the Statement—the Deputy Prime Minister was proudly telling the House that there would be savings associated with some of these constitutional reforms: £12 million from reducing the number of MPs and £17 million from holding the referendum on the same day as other elections. How can he be precise about the savings but not have the remotest idea of the costs? It is becoming increasingly clear that this series of constitutional experiments is of interest only to people in this House and not of remote interest—certainly paying for them is not—to the vast majority of people out there in the real world.
My Lords, I fully appreciate that the noble Lord, Lord Grocott, is a small “c” conservative on constitutional reform. The coalition is committed to this programme. When I say “similar to the costs of a general election”, the previous general election cost £82 million. When I say that we will have to look at the precise proposals for the Boundary Commission, the last Boundary Commission review cost just under £14 million. I point out that legislation will be brought forward very shortly and, at that time and thereafter, the House will have ample time to explore these matters, including the costs.
My Lords, as referendum campaigns are sometimes dominated by issues that are not directly connected with the question to be decided by the electorate, will the Government consider commissioning and circulating to every elector who will participate in the referendum an objective account of how the alternative systems work, so that the alternative vote is properly understood before a big response is made by the public?
My Lords, does the Minister agree that, in relation to Boundary Commission proposal, it is imperative in the interests of equity and justice that every opportunity should be given for interests and persons to be heard at a public inquiry? Will he give an assurance that there will be full budgeting with regard to time and financial resources in relation to such a principle, in respect of which I suspect that nearly all of us are conservatives with a small “c”?
Of course we are going to give the time. The last Boundary Commission review took seven years and came into practice after nearly nine years, so there is clearly an opportunity to find a more efficient way of undertaking the task. The legislation will bring forward proposals that will then be thoroughly examined by both Houses.
My Lords, has the Minister had the opportunity to look at the costings in the recent Labour Party manifesto, which pledged the party opposite to hold a referendum on the alternative vote, as those costings may have guided him in his Answer to the Question asked by the noble Lord, Lord Grocott? In relation to the Boundary Commission processes and the saving of costs, will the Minister consider allowing the Boundary Commissions to conduct some of their consultation using online methodologies, which may be rather more effective and rather cheaper in terms of consulting people about their deliberations?
On the last point, I will certainly pass that suggestion to the Deputy Prime Minister, who is working on this legislation. On whether the Labour Party’s proposal had been fully costed, I have some experience of Labour Party manifestos, so I am sure that it was fully costed. If the Labour Party would like to send us the outcome of that costing, I will feed it into the preparations as well.
My Lords, in view of the coalition Government’s desire to save public money at every possible opportunity, would my noble friend not agree that an expenditure of the amount that he referred to on a referendum is a complete waste of money and that nobody understands the alternative vote system or any of the other proportional representation systems? They all understand first past the post, so why do the Government not drop this policy?
My Lords, we were deeply shocked to hear of these attacks, and I offer my heartfelt sympathies to the families and friends of those who were killed or injured. I echo my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary's condemnation of these terrible events. The UK is supporting Uganda in its investigations and stands ready to do more. We remain committed to promoting peace and stability in east Africa and support all efforts to tackle the threat from Somalia.
My Lords, I am very grateful to the Minister for that reply. Have the Government had any contact with the Ugandan authorities regarding the 20 or so Somali and Ugandan people who have been identified as being involved with the bombings? Are the Government aware of the growing concerns about the re-emergent Allied Democratic Forces in the DRC linking up with al-Shabaab and creating terror across the region? Finally, are the Government reviewing the deployment of United Kingdom resources and personnel to assist with counterterrorism training across the Great Lakes region?
The answer is yes to all three of my noble friend’s questions. The Foreign Secretary has spoken to Mr Kutesa, the Ugandan Foreign Secretary, here in London. My honourable friend Mr Bellingham, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, will be in Kampala next week and will also discuss matters with the Ugandan Government and with Mr Kutesa. We are aware of precisely the worries that my noble friend describes. If, as it claims, al-Shabaab is behind this, and if, as it appears, it is quite friendly with al-Qaeda and other sinister forces, there is a real worry about security which should concern us all. As for supporting Ugandan efforts, particularly through the AMISOM force, we have said that we will do everything that we can to support that, and indeed will do more than we are doing now.
My Lords, will the Minister join me in saluting the bravery of the Ugandan troops who serve in Somalia and the tens of thousands of other troops from the poorest countries in the world who serve in United Nations peacekeeping missions in some of the most dangerous parts of the world? Will he confirm to the House that the United Kingdom and Uganda continue to work together in the United Nations Security Council and elsewhere to improve the effectiveness of those peacekeeping missions and the involvement of troop-contributing countries in the decisions about peacekeeping missions and their execution?
Yes, I can confirm what the noble Lord rightly says. AMISOM consists predominately of Ugandan troops but also has Burundian troops. There is no doubt in my mind that the UN generally needs a stronger and more co-ordinated strategy to deal with the Somalia threat. However, we do not take the view that this is the right time yet for a full-blown UN peacekeeping force, because frankly there is no peace there to keep. Supporting and reinforcing AMISOM is therefore our declared preference at the moment.
My Lords, does this incident not indicate that there is a continuing, and indeed an increasing, threat of terrorism from Somalia as well as from al-Qaeda in other parts of the world? Notwithstanding the fact that there is to be a comprehensive spending review, will the Minister give this House a categorical assurance that there will be no cutbacks in the money available to our security and intelligence services?
I cannot anticipate the fine detail of the strategic defence review, but I can certainly say that it is clearly and rightly a supreme priority that we look after our security and that we have the wider reach necessary around the world to safeguard our security and prevent the growing development of sources and activities that may lead to horrors being visited on our own country.
My Lords, is the Minister aware that European Union advisers, under a Spanish commander, are currently training Somalis loyal to the Government in Mogadishu and that they are being billeted with the Ugandans? That was not mentioned. Will he confirm the Government’s support for this programme, and indeed for the need to ensure that they receive a salary to avoid the risk of any defection among those European Union-trained troops when they go back to Somalia?
I was not aware of the detail which the noble Baroness, who is very well informed in this area, has put to me of that arrangement, but I confirm that we want to support all efforts, particularly those of the Ugandans, who seem undeterred by this horror and who are determined to maintain and indeed reinforce AMISOM, to ensure that the Transitional Federal Government in Mogadishu are supported and that the forces trying to overthrow them are minimised. It requires efforts on all fronts, I fully agree.
I will look into that. This will affect not only Somali communities but Somaliland communities, and it is very important to bear in mind that there are those two communities here. I will certainly pursue the matter which the right reverend Prelate raises.
I think I am right in saying that there is no hard evidence but it seems a possibility and a likelihood. A great many sinister things are happening in that part of the world. It could well be that resources from piracy are going in that direction and, similarly, that the piracy is being supported by those who wish to destabilise the whole area.
Terrorist Asset-Freezing etc. Bill [HL]
A Bill to make provision for imposing financial restrictions on and in relation to certain persons suspected of involvement in terrorist activities; to amend Schedule 7 to the Counter-Terrorism Act 2008; and for connected purposes. The Bill was introduced by Lord Sassoon, read a first time and ordered to be printed.
Business of the House
Timing of Debates
Criminal Justice System
My Lords, I declare an interest as a practising member of the criminal Bar. I have had three interesting experiences this year. First, a man charged with murder was held on remand. Until his arrest, he was a complete alcoholic who consumed at least a bottle of vodka a day and was permanently drunk. You would not have wished to meet him in the street. He did not enjoy that way of life but he could not get out of it: indeed, he was open to attack on the evidence in his drunken state. Prison had transformed him. Now, he was sober and he made sure he avoided the drugs scene in prison. Since he was intelligent and with a sense of humour, he was given the responsibility of teaching fellow prisoners to read and write, and he was enjoying it. He had a new purpose in life. It was sad to contemplate that on his release he would have no support, no job, no wife and no money, and that the only way open to him would be the bottle and probably a dismal end on the pavement.
Another, who had held managerial responsibility in a large firm, found prison interesting. He had met people inside with such schemes and plans for making easy money that he wondered why he had spent his life working so hard for promotion within his company. When he got out, he felt he would not need to work again. The prison had asked him to help fellow prisoners complete their examination papers so that they could present good results for their educational schemes: the prison feared that it might lose funding from the Government if the results were bad. He felt, “Everybody’s doing it. Why not me?”.
The third, a first-time prisoner, told me: “That fellow Clarke was right. Prison does not work”. In his view, what happened inside was that each prisoner learnt to go up a grade in criminality: he would graduate out of prison ready for action. It was not a particularly uncomfortable regime. One elderly and homeless man who had hit a policeman over the head with his stick was held on remand. He had nowhere to go and no intention of leaving prison, if he could help it. There was no work to do inside, the food was good and delivered on time, and there was a 70 inch telly to watch the World Cup. He said that when England scored, there was very little reaction but that when Chile scored the place erupted with joy.
This is what we are paying for. According to Ministry of Justice figures, 2007-08 saw £22.7 billion spent on the criminal justice system in one context or another. Spending in 2009 on prisoners in real terms increased by 42 per cent over 1997; that is, £48,000 per year for each prison place.
Last year saw 61 per cent of prisons officially overcrowded with 25 per cent of the prison population being detained in overcrowded conditions. As the Criminal Justice Alliance has put it in its helpful briefing:
“Prison overcrowding damages every positive aspect of the work of the Prison Service. It results in prisoners being held in inhumane and degrading conditions, compromises work to rehabilitate prisoners and contributes to high reoffending rates, with 49% of ex prisoners and 61% of those serving sentences of 12 months or less reoffending within a year of their release”.
That can be compared with the reoffending rates in 1993, when Kenneth Clarke was last Home Secretary. Then there were fewer than 45,000 prisoners and reoffending rates were 53 per cent, but over two years, not one.
“Tough on crime and tough on the causes of crime”.
A major cause of crime has been the policy of the previous Government to warehouse offenders in prisons with insufficient resources of time and money to tackle their offending behaviour; to create universities of crime, such as the one I have talked about, where they can improve their criminal skills; and to release them into the community with inadequate support—inadequate because the resources have been spent on building more prisons. It has been entirely cyclical.
The supporters of this policy argued that at least when criminals were locked up, they could not offend. The logic of that argument was that offenders should be locked up more often and for longer and longer periods. That is exactly what happened. I once complained to a very senior member of the judiciary at a function in the River Room here that when we knocked about at the Shrewsbury Assizes and Quarter Sessions in our youth, we would never have believed that the courts would impose the sort of sentences that are now routinely handed out and upheld in the Court of Appeal. His response was that although judges were not elected, they naturally responded to the pressures of the media and the direction of political travel. But reoffending is a serious matter because reoffenders are likely to commit more serious crimes.
In December 2007, I was pleased to be appointed to Lord Justice Gage’s Ministry of Justice working group on sentencing which contained a cross-section of the judiciary, magistrates, the criminal Bar, experienced solicitors and criminal justice professionals. I felt I was among friends who understood the system. I discovered that we were set up following the recommendations of the noble Lord, Lord Carter of Coles, in his July 2007 report, to consider the feasibility of a structured sentencing framework, in effect a grid system, which would automatically deliver the appropriate sentence to the sentencer. It was based on the system adopted in the state of Minnesota. I learnt that the introduction of the system in that state had driven up imprisonment at a rate of 6.6 per cent annually—the numbers were on their way to doubling—but there was no prison overcrowding because more prisons had been built. The statisticians from the Home Office wanted, through our working group, to have a tool which would predict future rates of imprisonment more accurately so that more prisons could be planned in time to house the units who would be sent to them from the courts.
I do not recognise units. Like all practitioners, I see people with all their faults—grave or less grave, usually the product of poverty and deprivation, poor education and collapsed home lives. I became something of a nuisance on the committee, intervening too often and with too much emotion. Although I was not actually asked to do so, I resigned. Without any input from me, however, Lord Justice Gage and his working group roundly rejected the formulaic, Orwellian approach of the statisticians and recommended the setting up of the Sentencing Council.
We now have a Lord Chancellor who also knows what he is talking about. I have no doubt that he knocked about the Assizes and Quarter Sessions of the Midland Circuit in his youth. We wholly welcome his call for “intelligent sentencing”. We fully support his drive to switch resources into,
“rigorously enforced community sentences that punish offenders”,
at the same time as helping them to get off drugs and alcohol and into work. Perhaps we may be permitted to emphasise that he has adopted everything that his coalition partners, we on these Benches, have been saying for years. I fell out of bed when I heard the Lord Chancellor say on the “Today” programme that the key question was “What works?”.
The political rhetoric of the past 20 years has distorted the pursuit of a rational strategy for the effective use of resources. The rabid article in today’s edition of the Daily Telegraph, in addition to being ludicrous and more defamatory than even my noble friend Lord Lester would wish in his defence of freedom of expression, illustrates precisely how criminals are demonised. In the eyes of that contributor they are beings from another planet who must be locked up or society as we know it will fail.
We must no longer talk about which political party is harder or softer on crime and criminals; we must ask what is the most effective use of scarce resources to reduce offending and reoffending. The Justice Committee of the House of Commons, in its report Cutting Crime: The Case for Justice Reinvestment, called for a policy to drive down prison numbers to a safe and manageable level—perhaps two-thirds of the current prison population based on the 1991 recommendations of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Woolf, and on comparable figures from other western European countries.
Of course serious and violent offenders must be locked up to protect the public—no one would dispute that—but the majority of those locked up today do not fall into that category. Here is the challenge for the Sentencing Council: how can sentencers be given a better understanding of what works to reduce reoffending and offending, and thereby ensure justice and public protection? That should be its aim. The policy announced by the coalition Government means a wider use of restorative justice for young people and as a response to low-level offending. It benefits the victim as well as the offender. It means the development of drug and alcohol treatment programmes within community sentences. It means identifying and treating mental illness in offenders, as recommended in the review of the noble Lord, Lord Bradley, with its policy of diverting people with mental health problems from the criminal justice system to more appropriate treatment in the community.
In August 2009, a prisoner serving a short sentence for possession of a knuckle duster in his car said to his social worker:
“I would like to have a psychiatrist, a psychologist, have a word with me regularly, on a regular basis, to see if there’s somewhere underlying like where I have a problem that I haven’t seen. If I’m at fault myself in any way, I’m open to all kinds of suggestions”.
That was Raoul Moat. He had no such treatment.
The policy that we are putting forward means investment in prisoner education, to improve literacy, to develop skills and internet technologies which will lead to jobs on release. It means the effective resettlement, employment and housing of prisoners, with advice in prison and “through-the-gate support” on their release. It means the abolition of the iniquitous indeterminate sentence for public protection as recommended by the Chief Inspectors of Prisons and of Probation—a sentence which is fundamentally flawed in principle, unworkable in practice and, above all, unjust.
Others in this debate will speak of the specific problems of women offenders, children and young adults and I shall not venture into those areas. However, there is light: there is before us the hope of a progressive and radical reform of penal policy, comparable to the enlightened era of Roy Jenkins, our former leader in this House. I am sure that his watching shade will nod approval to our aims.
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, for initiating this debate. I had the great good fortune of being led by him in the Brighton bombing trial back in 1986, when he was the most glamorous of silks sweeping through the Old Bailey and I was a mere junior. I should emphasise immediately that age has not reduced his elegance or his glamour. I learnt much from him then. I learnt that the legal system has to remain stalwart and principled in the face of provocations, particularly terrorism but also other serious crime. I have continued to learn from him ever since, particularly through debates in this House.
The criminal justice system can never rest on its laurels. It must constantly review its workings to ensure that justice is done. What was right at one time is no longer right when society changes. Things that were once acceptable become recognised as unacceptable. Marital rape is a perfect example; the old law on homosexuality is another. Law must adjust to altered times and to different mores but, at the same time, it must not become susceptible to the whim of the day. Reform of the law has to be rooted in principles—the great principles that have made our legal system admired throughout the world.
Changing law in response to public clamour, newspaper campaigns or police demands is a folly unworthy of good government. However, there is always a pressure on politicians to do precisely that. Governments become sorely tempted to legislate after every catastrophe, every shooting, every child’s death and every terrorist atrocity. The political instinct is to reach for yet more legislation when anything goes wrong in an endeavour to show that something is being done and, of course, to win popular support. However, criminal justice should not be the subject of a Dutch auction—as we have seen in a way that is new—where, as the noble Lord, Lord Thomas, described, parties compete to see who is being tougher on crime.
We are living through a period of high anxiety, with people fearful about their jobs, their pensions, their security and their future. When there is a high degree of fear, people often become more punitive and more demanding of law and order. They say that they want tougher responses to crime and more imprisonment. Government can very easily read this as a blank cheque for repressive action, which I am afraid we have seen in recent years. Yet when we have more reflective discussion with the public about crime, it has always been my experience that people recognise that there is very little purpose in simply jailing a person who has a drug problem, a mother who has young children or a young person who really just needs a job. When you have a proper discussion with the public about crime, you see that they recognise that alternatives to prison are often a better way.
It was a source of great regret to me that we saw such a considerable erosion of liberty under successive Home Secretaries, law officers and Lord Chancellors. I was deeply depressed at the ratcheting-up of prison sentences and the doubling of prison numbers in the past 20 years, so it is with relief that I hear that there is to be a restoration of many of the eroded liberties and a review of short prison sentences.
I have been fortunate over the years to have been involved in different penal reform organisations, from the Howard League to Nacro. I have led inquiries; I have written articles in books on criminal justice; and I have made television and radio programmes on the subject. I am the patron of a great charity, Make Justice Work, led by a wonderful woman, Roma Hooper, which looks closely at alternatives to prison. It has become clear to me that forever increasing the prison population makes impossible the rehabilitation of those who really are in need of serious work, because of overcrowding. Prison governors will tell you that they cannot conduct those rehab programmes effectively because they cannot move prisoners to workshops. In other cases, they cannot make available the programmes in the first place, because the numbers make it impossible.
We ought to be addressing crime at the lower end of the scale, or crime—sometimes it may even be violent crime—where the offender is new to the courts and can be diverted. The alternatives to short-term sentences are particularly important when we are dealing with young people. As we know, most crime is committed by people between the ages of 14 and 25. Once you have lost them to the prison system, it is very hard to retrieve them.
The second group is of those who seem hardened but who, when something happens in their life that takes them to the cusp of change, with the right kind of support can resist the old pressures to offend. I refer to people who, for example, suddenly meet someone whom they want to marry and live with—or perhaps they have a child, or a job comes on offer. What they need is real help to make something of those opportunities.
The third category is women. It is important to recognise that 68 per cent of women in prison are there for non-violent offences. Half the women in prison have suffered domestic violence; one-third have been sexually abused. Most women in prison have a dependency of some kind or a mental illness. Half of all self-harming that takes place in prison is done by the women, wretched about their circumstances, yet they represent only 5 per cent of the prison population. The majority of women in prison are mothers and one-third of them are lone parents. It is important for us to realise that very few of those women are ever supported on the outside by men; only 9 per cent of the children of imprisoned mothers are cared for by fathers. Men often do not stay the course in the way that women do when their partner ends up in jail. Eighty-five per cent of mothers in prison are separated for the first time from their children and the trauma to children is immeasurable. Sixty-five per cent of mothers in prison are receiving their first custodial sentence. Just think of the impact on those children—on their mental health, their behaviour and their chances in education, and the anger that it creates in them to lose their caring parent. Think of the cost to them and then the cost to society.
I shall mention three alternatives to prison. One is the intensive alternative to custody order, which has been piloted in seven places around the country and aims to reduce offending. It is about having close monitoring of an offender, which brings better outcomes. That means that the offender manager—we used to call them the probation officer—must have really close contact and that all offenders must be involved in meaningful activity, such as study, training, apprenticeships or work. Offenders must have support to run their lives, which so many have had little help in doing, getting rhythms of work established to help them into good habits of getting up in the morning. Sometimes it is just a matter of acquiring an alarm clock. It is important to work with families so that they support the person who is trying to change their ways; without that, they are likely to fall back into old practices. There is victim awareness and there are programmes and workshops to introduce people to what their wrongdoing does to others. That often produces interesting accountability letters from offenders as well as voluntary restitution—wanting to give something back. It is about taking responsibility for offences that have just been committed but also ones from the past.
One problem is that alternatives to prison sometimes do not operate at weekends. The offices close on a Friday afternoon, but you need outreach officers available to contact at weekends, too, when people are most tempted. There should be a coming together of the multiple skills of the probation service with the police and people who can work on therapy for some of these offenders. In Greater Manchester, only four orders have been revoked out of 70 in the past two years. The subject of one of them, a man called John Hankey, has even written about how gaining the qualification and licence to become a fork-lift driver has changed his life. However, it is not always so easy, so we must really address some of those problems. I could mention other programmes, but all of them deserve our examination.
I want to deal with what has been said about the importance of looking at the views of victims. It is wrong to turn the system into an adversarial contest between offenders and victims. Rebalancing should not be an excuse for more inappropriate punishment. We should have the effects of crime on victims clearly within our sights, of course, but victims are better served by our seeking methods for turning people away from their offending behaviour.
I shall make three quick, radical proposals. First, we should look at the abolition of imprisonment for all minor offences. It is difficult to find a definition, but we could do that. We should make it clear to the courts that minor offences should not involve imprisonment. Secondly, we should have women’s courts. It has been recognised that most women coming before the courts have multiple social problems. If we could have a one-stop shop in major conurbations for women offending at the lower level so that their offending and social issues were addressed, we would divert many of them from crime. Thirdly, I suggest that we re-examine, and have a serious debate about, the issue of drugs. Much reoffending is due to people having addiction problems, which we should address as health rather than penal issues. These may be radical suggestions, but I hope that noble Lords consider them sensible.
I applaud any government effort to reduce prison populations. I therefore hope that any suggestions coming from the Government will have the support of my Benches, too.
My Lords, I thank my noble friend for introducing this important subject. I declare an interest of a lifetime of working with prisons and prisoners’ families. Many of us were astonished and delighted by the Secretary of State for Justice’s speech when he called for the reduction of the prison population, particularly the use of short prison sentences for low-level crime. Some of us have been asking for this for years as we watched the prison population rising exponentially, by 66 per cent over the past 10 years, while crime actually dropped and the numbers found guilty by the courts fell from roughly 1.5 million in 1991 to 1.3 million in 2008.
These levels of imprisonment are simply unaffordable in financial, social or human terms. Financially, it has cost us approximately £44.4 billion in 2009-10, and an average of £45,000 per prison place per annum. It has cost us socially, because an average of about half— 49 per cent—reoffend, while in the case of short sentences it is 61 per cent and, most terribly, where children are concerned, it soars to just under three-quarters.
If the purpose of imprisonment—apart from punishment and protecting us properly from dangerous, violent and prolific offenders—includes, inter alia, preventing reoffending, which means public protection, the figures that I have mentioned demonstrate expensive failure. The human cost and damage continue through to the next generation since the children of offenders are more likely to become the next generation of offenders themselves; 160,000 of them lose a parent to prison each year, which is often experienced as a bereavement.
Ken Clarke’s clarion call for recognition of this unacceptable situation is greatly welcome, as is his support for the development of alternatives to custody with far better outcomes for those low-level offenders for whom alternatives are more appropriate and successful. Rehabilitation and reparation are key in sentencing if we are serious about reducing reoffending and making society safer. As Churchill exhorted, the,
“constant heart-searching by all charged with the duty of punishment”,
should be coupled with,
“a desire and eagerness to rehabilitate”.
That is what short sentences do not do but alternatives can.
For seven years I chaired an initiative called Rethinking Crime and Punishment, where we looked at the uses of custody and its alternatives and funded a range of 60 projects and organisations in the field, developing some of the best practice, including that by Roma Hooper. We set up a commission of inquiry chaired by Lord Coulsfield, whose report, Crime, Courts and Confidence, concluded that the sentencing framework should restrict the imposition of custody and,
“review the need for short custodial sentences because these have little or no deterrent or rehabilitative value”.
It is a model of analysis and wise recommendation that I hope that Ministers will consult.
Crucially, we worked with sentencers and members of the public in developing more knowledge and understanding of the reality of the alternatives currently available to them, thus developing greater confidence in their use. Sentencers, after all, are the people who make the decisions and will choose either prison or an alternative. Knowledge of and confidence in what is available to them on their patch is essential. One judge said about his local visits that,
“there really is no better way to find out what someone is doing than to see them at work and to talk to them and ask questions. No amount of reading of reports can convey the same amount of information so efficiently”.
The noble and learned Lord, Lord Phillips, who was then Lord Chief Justice, commented on his visits, which we arranged:
“I am convinced of their value”.
He also did a day’s unpaid work.
This is hardly rocket science but the opportunities available to judges to get out and do this regularly are rare. Given the constantly changing landscape of provision, it would deepen their understanding of their options if they could do more. Despite very busy lives, it was not difficult for us to arrange, as we did in the Thames Valley, Cheshire and London, and the rewards were immense. Another judge said to me, with some astonishment after visiting his local drug programme and a domestic violence programme: “I had no idea it was like that”. His sentencing decisions will now be better informed in the future. If this was regular, rather than an occasional practice, it would do a great deal for the confidence of sentencers in alternative provision. Confidence is essential in the field of criminal justice. I will be interested in the Minister’s comments.
The same applies to public knowledge and attitudes. That offenders should pay back something to the community against which they have offended is part of natural justice, but it should be visible and better understood. However, there is little public confidence in our criminal justice system today, despite this country’s vigorous use of custody. The Government’s community payback initiative is not known about enough, but there are myriad projects across the country where local people can have a say in how offenders do unpaid work and this, too, is important in developing confidence in alternatives. Rethinking Crime and Punishment funded the publication of a booklet which describes outstanding examples of community programmes all over the country. It is important reading for those interested in understanding more. I give just one example, though all show a reduction of reoffending rates and some are significant. Circles of Support, based in Hampshire and originally funded by the MoJ, works with particularly difficult high-risk sex offenders. It uses local groups, or circles, which work with professionals, and in the past five years there had been no reoffending.
However, there are worries about the implementation of the new plans. While we are told by Crispin Blunt that there is no new money, not only will all those offenders who will now—increasingly, under the new policy—serve their sentence in the community have to be provided for, but that provision must be part of some new strategic framework. A significant growth of new localism does not just happen. It has to be choreographed with all the local agencies and providers. The social investors by whom the Minister sets such store are one part of the picture of providers at the point of need as the courts deliver them, but only one part. Some are very impressive, such as National Grid. There is a real challenge here for all those agencies that are expected to be involved to develop their partnership roles effectively.
This is where the probation boards could have a pivotal role; where the spread of people, experience and knowledge of local partnership working is already there on the ground; and where links with the range of providers from the statutory, voluntary and private sectors are already established. Probation trusts are now responsible authorities, tied to their local authorities more closely. Crucially, they work with individuals, which is the great strength of the service, creating those human connections which are pivotal in the reduction of reoffending. Localism is indeed what they offer, and there is now a need to rethink their position under NOMS, which is perceived to be inhibiting, centralising and overbureaucratic. Ministers would do well to look at the Scottish experience, where a centralising NOMS-type option was examined and rejected in favour of the local option. Now the country is divided into eight criminal justice authorities with which we in Scotland are very happy.
The real fear is that if sentencers find that the provision of alternatives is not available at the point of need, or not up to scratch, they will not use them. That loss of confidence, so necessary to ensure that the Government’s new approach is a success, would be tragic and hard to restore. Poor alternatives are worse than none at all. Since the savings from reduced imprisonment will not be directly available for this kind of core provision, will the Minister clarify the Government’s thinking on how the gap is to be filled?
I had intended to speak on the problems of children and young people in custody, but time is against me. Therefore, I end by reminding noble Lords of the famous lines from Julius Caesar:
“There is a tide in the affairs of men,
Which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune;
Omitted, all the voyage of their life
Is bound in shallows and in miseries”.
Now, I think, is such a moment; we need no more shallows and miseries.
My Lords, I, too, congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, on bringing this subject forward for debate. After his magisterial address, which covered the ground so comprehensively and with such style, one is tempted to give up at this point. I fear that I shall inevitably repeat many of the points which the noble Lord and the noble Baronesses, Lady Kennedy and Lady Linklater, have touched on. However, I hope that I may be able to shine a sidelight on at least one or two of the points which have been, or will be, made by other noble Lords. All the same, it is probably a good job that I come relatively high up in the batting order, or there really would be nothing left to say.
This is the second debate we have had on this subject in the space of three days in your Lordships’ House, the other being specifically on the Government’s policy on prisons. Both are extraordinarily timely in that, as I think the noble Baroness, Lady Linklater, has just suggested, we are witnessing a conjunction of circumstances which mean that, if we play our cards right, we might—just might—have a once-in-a-generation opportunity to get off the treadmill of penal policy which has been taking us nowhere for the past 15 years.
It would not be difficult to demonstrate that the system is not working and needs to be reformed. Indeed, the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Thomas, has amply demonstrated this already, and I am sure that other noble Lords will do the same. This week the Prison Reform Trust published its latest prison fact file. Nearly every page contains examples of how the system is not working. I do not wish to weary the House by labouring the point, I simply mention the following sobering statistics. As the prison population accelerated after 1993, reoffending rates worsened to the point where two-thirds of prisoners are now reconvicted within two years of leaving prison. Sixty-six per cent of people entering prison serve less than one year. They leave after a few weeks or months, homeless, jobless, out of touch with their families, further in debt and ready to offend again. It is little wonder, then, that 61 per cent of them are reconvicted within a year of being released.
In 2008, 74 per cent of children reoffended within a year. In fact, every time a person is sent to prison, he is more likely to reoffend on release. In one sample, 25 per cent of those with no previous custodial sentence reoffended. After one previous custodial sentence, this figure jumped to 40 per cent, and so on until 76 per cent of those with 11 or more prison sentences offended again. This seems to me to give the lie to those who say that the increased use of prison is responsible for the reduction in crime which has undoubtedly taken place in the past couple of decades. At best, prison is a short-term expedient, just as a credit card is a short-term solution to debt, but it catches up with you in the end, with interest.
If we go back to first principles, it has to be admitted that the point at which to make the greatest impact on these problems may have less to do with the criminal justice system than the social pressures which lead people into and trap them in a life of crime. The proportion of prisoners who were taken into care as a child, truanted from school, ran away from home, were homeless or have used drugs is up to 30 times that of the general population; 71 per cent of children in custody have been involved with or in the care of the local authority; 40 per cent have previously been homeless; 23 per cent of young offenders have learning difficulties; 36 per cent have borderline learning difficulties; and half all offenders are at or below the level expected of an 11 year-old in reading, 65 per cent are below that level in numeracy and 82 per cent in writing.
Sentencing has very little impact on factors such as these, except perhaps where the child’s situation has been aggravated by sending a parent to prison. All the same, when sentencing offenders, we should constantly have in the front of our minds where the problem really lies and be trying to address that, as opposed to going through the mechanical ritual which sentencing so often degenerates into. Seven out of 10 prisoners suffer from two or more mental disorders. It therefore seems obvious that one way of tackling the problem of prison overcrowding should be the creation of more mental health facilities—not necessarily custodial—rather than prisons. Crime reduction strategy should focus on factors such as these, rather than increasing sentences, which seems to have all-too-little effect.
The most important factor in preventing reoffending is what happens after the sentence. Does the offender have a home or a job to go to, and other forms of support? These are also matters for the community at large, not just the criminal justice system. That system, especially prison, often only makes things worse. It stigmatises people so that it is harder for them to find a job afterwards. Hardened criminals are hardened in prison. It separates them from people who might be a good influence and herds them together with others like themselves with too little to do, often introducing them to drugs. There is a high incidence of bullying and self-harm, and there are too many suicides—often by young people.
It would be easy to conclude that the system was broken beyond repair and that we were locked into a cycle of rising prison numbers, leading to the building of more prisons, which are already oversubscribed by the time that they are built, and in turn to another round of prison building and so on. If we follow the analysis of Professor Nicola Lacey of the LSE in her recent Hamlyn lectures, it may be that regularities about the political economy and social culture of our society make it difficult to escape from this “prisoners’ dilemma”, as she calls it. Why else would we have rates of imprisonment more like those of eastern Europe than those of our western European neighbours?
However, after listening the other evening to the reflections of Dame Anne Owers, Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Prisons, on her nine years in that job, one has to draw a more nuanced conclusion. There has been progress—patchy, to be sure—and there is more prisoner activity, education and rehabilitation, but that remains extremely fragile and could easily be set back by savage expenditure cuts. Where better to make cuts than on prisons? As she said, imprisonment is loved but not prisons. What we need are savings, not cuts, reinvested in putting the escalator into reverse so that it starts going down, rather than relentlessly upwards, for a change. In this, reducing prison numbers is the key. Custody should be reserved for the most serious cases of danger to the public. Community measures are generally less costly and no less effective, and ideas of restorative justice, as the noble Lord, Lord Thomas, pointed out, which has also been shown to reduce reoffending, enable the victim’s perspective to be taken on board.
I have long wondered why we do not carry out research into the systems that they have in places such as France and Germany, which put so many fewer of their criminals in jail. Would our penal policy not be informed if we knew the solutions that they have found for their criminals that we are obviously not finding? What do they do with the people that we put in jail but they do not? The answer to these questions would be highly informative as we move forward with penal policy.
This is where we have the historic conjunction of circumstances that I referred to—tenuous but discernible —that might make this possible. We have an economic crisis that creates a paramount need to make savings and trumps penal ideology. We have a Government with a secure parliamentary majority who are determined to make savings, and a Secretary of State for Justice who understands the folly of the treadmill that we have been on and the opportunity that the economic crisis gives him.
The coalition’s programme for government said that the Government believe that we need radical action to reform our criminal justice system, and that this means introducing more effective sentencing policies as well as overhauling the system of rehabilitation to reduce reoffending and to provide greater support and protection for the victims of crime. They promise to introduce a rehabilitation revolution that will pay independent providers to reduce reoffending, with the costs met by the savings that the new approach will generate in the criminal justice system; to conduct a full review of sentencing policy to ensure that it is effective in deterring crime, protecting the public, punishing offenders and cutting reoffending; and to explore alternative forms of secure, treatment-based accommodation for mentally ill and drug-addicted offenders. This is talking. It reflects many themes that the noble Lord, Lord Thomas, alluded to. I hope that the coalition will be up to it, and that it will enjoy bipartisan support from the Opposition and not be torpedoed by being dragged back into another round of the perennial auction staged by the parties in recent years to outbid one another and show who can be toughest on crime.
My Lords, I declare an interest as Bishop to Prisons in England and Wales. We have had many debates in this House, and many questions, about the criminal justice system. This debate is timely and we on these Benches are grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Thomas, for initiating it. We also very much look forward to the contributions of the noble Baroness, Lady Hussein-Ece, and the noble Lord, Lord German, to the debate and to the House. I pay tribute from these Benches to Dame Anne Owers, who retired this week, and recognise the outstanding work that she has done in her nine years as Chief Inspector of Prisons.
It is not just the economic climate that prompts the rethink on our penal policy. However, there is a cohort of people within the criminal justice system who believe that the time has come for a major rethink about what we do with offenders and prisons. The question is summed up in words that I heard when I first met regional chaplains. They asked me: “Are prisons warehouses to store the incorrigible, or will they become greenhouses to restore the redeemable?”. That summarises the debate and our expectations of what can happen when people who have offended are sent to prison or alternative custody.
At a recent meeting of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Penal Affairs, the question was asked: what percentage of people need to be in prison for the protection of society? The answer was less than 12 per cent of men and less than 4 per cent of women. That begs the question: are there not other ways for us to punish, reform and rehabilitate those who offend against society?
The Prison Act 1952 reinforced the legal requirement for a chaplain in every prison. The first prisons were in fact built on a monastic model, with the philosophy that you put a person there in order for them to contemplate their life, reform and then rejoin society. To this day, the chaplaincy of NOMS is at the forefront in developing programmes of what is known as desistance, enabling offenders to change their behaviour. For the past couple of years, the chaplaincy has been at the forefront of the SORI programme of restorative justice. The programme is currently being evaluated and a report will be made to NOMS next month on its effectiveness. Next year, the chaplaincy will pilot a brand new, six-month course called “Belief in Change”, whereby prisoners who are about to be released will elect to live in community and explore the need for change in their lives, drawing on both their faith and their psychology, in an attempt to equip themselves to live more effectively on the outside. My noble friend the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Guilford will be exploring some of these areas in his speech.
In the limited time that we have today, I want to address the issue of funding. We on these Benches warmly welcome the Lord Chancellor’s initiative in challenging us all to think again about the purpose and effectiveness of prison, but we also know that this is a time of economic restraint. I know that the Minister is aware of the hundreds of voluntary organisations working with offenders on both the inside and the outside, many of which are faith-inspired. However, if ever you wanted to find an example of the big society, it can be found in the hundreds and hundreds of volunteers who work in the community and in prison with offenders. This resource for our society comes in two strands. One is the operational charities, such as the St Giles Trust, Kainos Community, iTunes or the Prison Fellowship; the other is the foundations and trusts whose wealth is directed towards these and other initiatives.
I know that the Minister for prisons intends shortly to hold round-table discussions with the operational charities, and I very much welcome that. I know, too, that NOMS has appointed someone as a liaison officer to act with the trusts and foundations which bring millions of pounds to this enterprise. However, in this debate, I urge the Minister to take a step further. Without interfering with the independence of the trusts and foundations, there is now a need to establish the Government’s priorities and to indicate them to the trusts and foundations, because at the moment their engagement with NOMS completely lacks focus. If the ministerial priorities are, say, restorative justice and alternatives to custody, will the Minister tell the trusts and foundations, and invite them to give to these priorities and then co-ordinate their giving, thereby maximising the potential of the money that comes from this direction? I believe that that will help the Government to deliver their own priorities. I should be glad to hear the Minister’s views on integrating the trusts and foundations with the work of NOMS.
My Lords, it is a great privilege to speak for the first time in your Lordships’ House. I have been humbled by the extraordinary welcome and support from my sponsors, my noble friends Lady Scott and Lady Garden, and from other noble Lords across the Benches. They have shown me great kindness, welcoming me and guiding me on the ways of the House. I also thank the dedicated staff, who serve this House so well, for their unfailing help and support. They are always on hand literally to point me in the right direction. For someone of my background, it is a huge privilege to serve in your Lordships’ House, although some have assumed that by taking the title of Highbury I was somehow able to get tickets to Arsenal matches.
My father, a Turkish Cypriot and a Muslim, came to this country in 1948 as a young man from Cyprus to seek work. He had served as a policeman during the 1940s, when Cyprus was a British colony. My mother arrived in 1952 to stay with her brother, who had settled in the UK after serving in the British forces during the Second World War. He had been captured by the Nazis and held in a prisoner-of-war camp until the end of the war. My maternal grandfather, Abdullah, was the son of a slave, who was captured as a young man in the Sudan and sold to a Cypriot merchant. In later life he was given his freedom and went on to marry my Turkish great-grandmother.
My parents were married in London. They brought with them the extraordinary work ethic that many post-war migrants shared when they came to Britain. I was born in Islington, well before it became a byword for the chattering classes. I went to school with children from some of the most deprived backgrounds and spent my school holidays with my family in Turkey and Cyprus. My early formative years have left me with a lifelong passion for, and commitment to, championing the cause of a more equal society. Islington is still a place with extremes of poverty and wealth and, in common with other London boroughs, great inequalities. I hope therefore to contribute to future debates on the rich social diversity of modern-day Britain.
The topic today is of immense importance and one that presents our society with huge challenges, so I am very grateful to be able to make a contribution to this debate. The London Borough of Islington, where I served as a councillor until May this year, has two prisons—Holloway and Pentonville—the latter, I was told, being the largest prison in Europe. I had the opportunity to visit these prisons on a number of occasions and to talk to both staff and offenders. I was a member of the PCT board when it took over responsibility for primary healthcare in those prisons.
As has already been mentioned, the prison population in England and Wales stands at a record high. Overwhelming evidence highlights that there are now more people in prison with long-standing mental health problems and learning disabilities than ever before, as mentioned earlier by my noble friend Lord Thomas. Many of these people end up in prison because, as the staff told me, there is simply nowhere else to send them. Many prisons lack the resources that they need to conduct full psychiatric assessments of those they receive, while a wider concern is that too often prisons use segregation units to hold people who are seriously ill until a transfer can be arranged.
Of ongoing concern is the over-representation of prisoners from minority ethnic groups—just under 27 per cent of the prison population, many of whom had undiagnosed mental health conditions until they came into contact with the criminal justice system. Furthermore, research carried out in the past few weeks by the University of Leicester has revealed that the number of women in prison is growing at a much faster rate than the number of men. This is despite their crimes often being less serious, with 94 per cent convicted for minor offences, compared with 76 per cent of men. Women often serve shorter sentences for lesser offences, which means that prison is far more disruptive for them, and usually for their children. Women are normally the primary carers for elderly relatives and children, as mentioned earlier by my noble friend Lady Kennedy. Around 55 per cent of women in prison have a child under the age of 16, and 20 per cent are lone parents. Because of the relatively small number of women’s prisons, and due to their geographical location, women tend to serve their sentences further from their homes than male prisoners. This can place additional pressure on important links with family.
We know that around 71 per cent of children in custody have been involved with, or have been in the care of, social services before entering custody and that less than 1 per cent of care leavers go to university. As the noble Lord, Lord Low, mentioned earlier, a recent survey found that over 90 per cent of prisoners had poor reading skills. These figures are of huge concern.
As Islington’s cabinet member for health and social care during my time as a councillor, I was for a period responsible for the looked-after children in the council’s care. As a corporate parent, I met regularly with young people in our care, and I also did some mentoring. I was struck by something that a young man who had spent most of his life in care said to me. He said: “You”—meaning the council—“are my parents, and like other parents, aren’t you supposed to make sure I get a good education and a job?”. Of course, he was right. Most of us who have children do all we can to ensure that they receive a good education and then eventually take up meaningful employment and reach their full potential. As the largest employer in the borough, as most councils are, I pulled together a senior-level board of all departments and partners to work together to improve the life chances of children and young people in our care. The Corporate Parenting Board met monthly and required every council department at the most senior level, and the council's key partners, to set aside apprenticeships and trainee posts for Islington's care leavers. This project was emulated by other councils across the country and proved to be quite groundbreaking at the time.
To effect real change in the way that we deal with offenders we have to look at investing more in diversionary and preventive methods, not only for people with mental health problems but for the way in which we as a society support children who are placed into care. Too often I was told by the young people in the council's care that they felt that no one really cared. Of course we are all too well aware that in the present climate there are pressures on budgets and other restrictions that might prevent a more consistent approach across the country, but society will end up paying one way or another. The cost to the public purse for each prisoner is around £40,000 per annum and the cost of a young person leaving the care system who ends up offending further down the track is enormous. Is it not better to invest in that young person’s education and training?
I believe that instead of expanding prisons we should be looking at meaningful ways to reduce the prison population. Mental health trusts in partnership with local authorities should be compelled to allocate adequate resources to treatment and to divert offenders with mental health and drug and alcohol problems to those appropriate healthcare services. Reoffending would surely be reduced with investment in increasing literacy skills. Practical and consistent rehabilitation is surely a better investment.
My Lords, it is my very pleasant duty to welcome my noble friend to the House as a full Member, now that she has made her maiden speech. She has told us about her background. This is one case where not only has immigration enriched society but it has also enriched our Chamber in a very direct way. She has had a very distinguished local government career and having been in touch with issues outside the House, that will have an effect on this Parliament and beyond. She knows what she is talking about. I am not sure whether those on the Front Bench will always be grateful for that knowledge and detail, but that should be cherished by the House. Very few of us would disagree with what she said in her speech as it was based on fact and the experience of those who have had something to do with the system. It is a good beginning and I look forward to hanging on to her coat tails in many a debate to come.
As with anything to do with our criminal justice system, one is confronted by the fact that the system mops up what the rest of society fails to deal with. Ultimately, the criminal justice system and the health service deal with most of the failures in our society and that is where you find things that have gone wrong. Invariably, the criminal justice system gets the first bite at this: it tends to deal with people who have failed educationally and thus in employment. It is not surprising that one discovers very low levels of literacy and numeracy in the prison system and it is not surprising that one finds an incredibly high number of people with educational problems within that group.
When I speak of dyslexics in the prison system, for once, I am not talking about a minority. Approximately 50 per cent—some estimates are higher than that—of the prison population are in the dyslexia spectrum. That means that one in two prisoners has a problem, which means that they cannot process written material and the educational process easily, and one wonders why they are at higher risk of offending. They do not have access to jobs because of interview processes and qualifications. One has to take into account the fact that they come from what used to be called a working-class background. We are now discovering that often there are entire generations of dyslexics in families: families where the idea of reading a book or passing an exam is anathema to their entire social structure. You wonder why the problem is so entrenched.
What can we do about it? There are no dyslexic deniers here today—they are usually quite a free hit. If people with such problems are coming through the system, what can we do to lessen the impact? First, we must try to identify them early. The age of 14 seems to be when young men, who end up in the prison system, have stopped their education, having refused to attend or having been excluded from school. Often they have not been identified within the school system and I am sure that, when my noble friend returns, he will acknowledge that the Government intend to implement a programme of better identification. However, even if it were implemented tomorrow, we would still have 10 to 15 years of pupils in the school system who will not receive the benefit of being identified as dyslexic or as having other special educational needs, to say nothing of the entire population outside the school system. I hate to say it but I doubt whether any system devised by man will catch everyone. We need a process of identification to give people the right kind of help throughout the criminal justice system.
Young dyslexic men may resent any kind of authority, usually because of a bad school experience, and we have found that they tend to do badly under cross-examination in court. They may have short-term memory problems which means that they cannot identify things like numbers, dates and sequences. Eloquence was displayed by the first two speakers in the debate. However, if dyslexics find themselves in court, they are more likely to be convicted more regularly than others. For different reasons, those with Asperger's syndrome also handle that process badly.
What can we do to make the entire system aware of these problems and that probably the majority of their client base has them? How will we start to address this? Will we take this on board and work it in? If we do not, we will have a slow process of a series of assessments. Prisons are very good at assessing people who present themselves. People who move around the prison system are often assessed eight or nine times for being dyslexic; they do not actually get much help beyond that. I suggest to my noble friend and to our colleagues in Government that we look at a process of identification and explanation for those who are found to be dyslexic.
A while ago, I found an excellent scheme in Chelmsford prison for those who never go to the education unit. If you have had a bad experience when being taught literacy and spelling at school, and someone says, “Go to the education unit; they’ll teach you to spell”, unsurprisingly you will avoid it. How many noble Lords who hated games at school force themselves to go jogging three times a week? Take that example and spice it up a bit. Will we have programmes in the system for identifying people with literacy problems early on? The majority with literacy problems will already have taken that on board. Can we identify them and tell them why they cannot spell or write, which is still seen by society as a way of judging someone’s intelligence? A dialogue could then be opened. When I visited the prison in Chelmsford, the warders said to me, “Do you know what has happened where the scheme works? We have cut down on the number of assaults”. The level of tension has been removed and a lot of money has been saved in reducing the number of man hours required to process assaults. Can we therefore have a recognition that this area has to be examined not because it is a special, concentrated group but because it is part of the mainstream?
If we start to address the problem properly, we may be able to make considerable savings and make it far easier for those in the justice system to access the help on offer. I suggest that this really is one of those no-brainers in theory—in practice it will require thought and a degree of prejudice-kicking measures. I look forward to hearing about them.
My Lords, bishops are frequently in prisons, usually attempting to obey the Lord’s command to visit the prisoner rather than for less honourable reasons. Everyone taking part in this debate would wish that there were fewer people in our prisons. Your Lordships’ House debated some of the questions recently. I draw attention to the debate initiated earlier this year by the noble Lord, Lord Carlile of Berriew, asking Her Majesty’s Government for their response to the Howard League Commission on English Prisons Today.
It would be well worthwhile revisiting Hansard for 22 February this year. Why do we have more men, women and, scandalously, children in prison proportionally than other countries in western Europe? My diocese of Guildford is twinned with the French diocese of Evry, just south of Paris. Bishop Michel Dubois is the French bishop responsible for prisons—the French Catholic equivalent of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Liverpool, whose speech today I strongly support. On a visit to my Guildford diocese, Bishop Michel visited Send women’s prison with me. He was surprised at the length of custodial sentences for women, as compared with those in France, largely for offences as “drug mules”. A month ago, my own diocesan synod responded to a request from local parishes for an informed and compassionate debate about the special problems of the families of women prisoners who sometimes have to travel the length and breadth of the country, as alluded to earlier today, to visit daughters, wives, partners or mothers in prison. More generally, my clergy conference has engaged in penal matters through a visit of Dame Anne Owers, whose valedictory lecture has also been well referred to today.
The short debate in February in your Lordships’ House called attention to what prison governors call the “revolving door”—discharge from prison, return to sink estate and old company, the drug habit again, theft and/or assault to get money to feed the habit, arrest, court and back again through the revolving door to prison. Community chaplaincy can prevent returning. This involves official liaison with the prison and particular offenders before discharge. That is essential. Then supportive connections are made through carefully selected and trained volunteers largely, though not exclusively, from faith communities, so that offenders do not have to go back to an environment that will almost certainly mean return.
Proven results in terms of a significant decline in reoffending have long been demonstrated, going back to pilot schemes originating within the Canadian penal system. There are, I believe, about 20 such schemes operating throughout the country. I was involved in the establishment of one, linking the Dana—Shrewsbury prison—with the churches and mosques of the city of Stoke-on-Trent. Such schemes work, as rigorous academic assessment can show. Your Lordships’ House was alerted to the benefits of community chaplaincy by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Exeter way back in 2006. Experience has only further confirmed what he then said. I therefore particularly welcome the speech of the Secretary of State for Justice on 30 June in which there was a fresh emphasis on the voluntary sector in rehabilitative work.
I must also flag something already mentioned in your Lordships’ House today—restorative justice programmes. I have taken part in more than one in the prisons of my diocese. Typically, offenders agree to a contract to take part in a programme in which they meet a victim of the type of crime they have committed—not of course their personal victim, but a real victim none the less.
Picture a group of women who have been sentenced for drug offences—characteristically, as I said, as “mules” carrying drugs for their male, frequently abusive, partners. They meet another woman whose son died of drug abuse in his early 20s. For the first time, these young women recognise the consequences of their actions in terms of people, not by listening to the moralising of a bishop’s sermon but by meeting a woman who has cried over her dead son’s body. Restorative justice programmes, which many prisons would like to have but have no money to commission, can also be implemented as a legal alternative to prosecution and a court appearance if an accused person so opts and the police agree.
Finally, in my diocese we run in conjunction with Surrey Police a scheme called the Surrey Appropriate Adult Volunteer Scheme. Selected and trained volunteers come on a 24-hour, seven-days-a-week basis to any police interrogation where parents or others cannot or will not attend—and without such a presence, there can be no legal interrogation and thus no prosecution, as some parents, I am afraid, are cannily only too well aware. Such a pool of volunteers, stressing partnership with the voluntary sector, is a precious resource of wise and skilful persons. Many, I know, would also wish to work with restorative justice schemes. A very modest investment in terms of financial resourcing can turn round lives and potentially hugely reduce the number of men, women and young people in our prisons—not by being soft but by being just.
My Lords, I intend to restrict my remarks to the matter of children and young people in custody.
There are too many children in custody; England and Wales have the highest rate in western Europe. In the last 20 years, the number of children sentenced to custody has risen by nearly 800 per cent. However, I am pleased to say that the number is declining. In March, the number was 416 less than the previous year. It is now the lowest since 2000, which is good news.
Prison is costly and does not work for most children. Each year, the Government spend £415 million on placing children in custody. Reoffending rates are high. Three-quarters of those released in 2007 reoffended within a year. These are children with problems and they are not being sorted out by locking them up. Half of them have spent time in care; 40 per cent of girls and a quarter of boys have suffered violence at home; one in three girls and one in 20 boys have suffered sexual abuse; and nearly one-third have mental health problems.
We cannot say that we have not had early warning about these children. Nine out of 10 have been excluded from school. That tells us that there have been severe behavior problems earlier in their school career. Children who behave like this need early intervention and help. If we do that, we will save them from having miserable lives on a downward path and we will save ourselves a lot of money. Violence in the home has a lot to answer for. What sort of example is that? Children learn from their parents—unemployment, offending examples and violent, disrespectful behavior. We need to intervene in these families for the sake of the children.
There is evidence that early intervention works. Parenting programmes and individual home-based programmes are very cost-effective, saving up to £160,000 per case by reducing reoffending. Family intervention programmes and youth inclusion programmes run by Catch22 and Barnardo’s are demonstrating notable and cost-effective impacts, which have been independently assessed, in reducing anti-social behaviour and criminal offending.
Many of these children should not be in custody at all. In 2007-08, 513 children aged 12 to 14 were sentenced to custody. Under the sentencing rules in place until 1998, only 48 of them could have been imprisoned— 48 out of 513. In any case, Barnardo’s has evidence that a lot of young people in custody had not met the threshold for the seriousness of the offence or for persistent offending. We must look at both the sentencing guidelines and the adherence to those guidelines.
We also need to use more non-custodial sentences. There are many effective alternatives. The new youth rehabilitation order is a generic order in which the sentencer can combine up to 18 separate requirements and tailor it to the needs and problems of the offender. It can include education, drug-testing and treatment, fostering, mental health treatment, and so on. However, there is evidence from the Centre for Crime and Justice Studies that they are not always properly resourced, making them unavailable to sentencers. Therefore, the child goes into custody.
I very much welcome the recent statement by the Lord Chancellor that he wants to refocus the criminal justice system on what works. I suspect that his statement is not just a conversion to Liberal principles but a very pragmatic response to the straitened economic times in which we live, because the evidence is that high-quality and properly resourced non-custodial interventions are far cheaper and work far better than prison. Restorative justice programmes have been mentioned. They work better for the offender and give satisfaction to the victim. One of the problems with custody is what we do, or do not do, with the offenders while they are in custody. My noble friend Lord Addington mentioned that. Many education departments do their best, and some do a good job, but they do not have the young person for very long. In a survey of youth offending teams, only 6 per cent said that children had been able to continue education started in custodial units once they left prison. That must change. We must have joined-up thinking about the matter.
On top of that is the way in which the behaviour of young people in prison is managed. We have had the outrageous situation that children in private prisons have been subjected to painful restraint techniques, which breach their human rights and, in a few cases, have resulted in injury and even death. For years the organisation Children’s Rights Alliance for England has been trying to get hold of the instructor’s restraint manual in use in the country’s four privately run child prisons. Until recently, the Youth Justice Board resisted, claiming that full disclosure of the manual would threaten the safety of prisoners and custody officers. The parliamentary Human Rights Committee and the Court of Appeal have asked for that document to be released, but, until recently, the Youth Justice Board intended to appeal. It seems that it has now withdrawn its appeal and said that it will release the document. However, to my knowledge it has not yet done so, so I call on it to do so immediately. We have a right to know what is being done in our name, especially when there is strong evidence that it breaches the human rights of young people.
I turn to another matter. The Scottish Parliament has said that it will raise the age of criminal responsibility in Scotland from eight to 12, so the English age of 10 is now the lowest in the UK and one of the lowest in the western world. In the Scandinavian countries, the age is about 14 and all young people up to the age of 25 are treated differently from adult prisoners. Offending behaviour is treated rather than punished. Rehabilitation is the norm. That is the way we need to turn in this country. I call on the Justice Secretary to review the age of criminal responsibility as part of his review of the system.
I now mention a group of children who are extremely vulnerable to being drawn into contact with the criminal justice system. These are the UK’s street children. We have all heard of street children in India, Africa and Latin America, but it happens here, too. The charity Railway Children has just conducted a piece of research, Off the Radar, where the researcher carried out in-depth interviews with 103 children and young people who had been on the street for at least a month. One had been on the street for five years, from the age of 12 to the age of 17. Those children are referred to as “detached”. They have run away from home, a foster home or a children’s home.
The police reckon that about 100,000 children a year go missing, but most researchers believe that many more are never reported. Their families do not care enough, or they do not want the authorities involved. They are the most vulnerable. Four of them were asked about crimes that they had committed in order to survive. Home Office figures were used to calculate the cost to the public of those crimes; the answer was £500,000 each, which is £2 million from just four children.
All that could have been prevented by early intervention. The common factors in the research were stark. The problems of all the children could have been spotted and addressed early if well resourced and trained professionals had been there to help them and their families. Indeed, it became clear that part of the problem was that nobody listened to the child. The researcher, in thanking the girl whom I mentioned who had been on the streets since the age of 12, apologised that she did not know what to recommend to her, so severe were her problems. “No, don’t apologise”, said the girl. “You’re the only person who has ever listened to me in my whole life”. That is a terrible state of affairs. If we do not listen and respond to our children when their families are failing them, how can we expect them to live normal, law-abiding lives? They have no example, no guidance and no protection.
I will say a word about sport. I had a very interesting conversation yesterday with the noble Baroness, Lady Campbell of Loughborough. She was telling me that specialist sports schools are the fastest-improving schools in our school system at the moment. Bear with me, as this is relevant to the subject that we are talking about today, and I will come to it very soon. For those of your Lordships who are not familiar with them, most secondary schools are now specialist schools. They have a specialism. They develop particular expertise in an area of the curriculum and are supposed to spread that among other local schools. Those who have taken sport as their specialism are using it as a platform for school improvement. If you think about it, that is not too surprising, because sport develops teamwork, good health, social skills, dedication, determination—all sorts of skills that are good for people in the world of employment. I used to teach teenage boys and I know that teenage boys do not like sitting still. I am sure that they do not like sitting still in prison. Will my noble friend consider using sport as a platform for prison reform, as well as for school improvement?
My Lords, I, too, thank to the noble Lord for calling this timely and important debate today. The noble Baroness, Lady Massey of Darwen, regrets withdrawing from the debate. She is attending a funeral today.
I shall follow the maiden speech of the noble Baroness, Lady Hussein-Ece, and talk about how to keep young people looked after by local authorities out of the criminal justice system—how to avoid unnecessarily criminalising young people in local authority care. I highlight one critical point. We need to ensure that all children's homes have good-quality consultancy from an appropriate mental health professional. That is one thing that the Government could address and it would make an important difference to the number of young people from care entering prison. I hope soon to discuss that point with the Minister’s colleague, Mr Tim Loughton, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education. I declare my interests, which are in the register.
Twenty-four per cent of adults in the criminal justice system and 40 per cent of children in custody have experience of local authority care. We need to do more to avoid young people entering custody from care. However, the vast majority of young people entering care do not go into custody, and many are very successful. Only 0.3 per cent of young people entering care have any experience of offending. The vast majority— 60 per cent—have experienced neglect or abuse, and a further 10 per cent have experienced family dysfunction, so the vast majority are there for their own protection. So is the fault that of the care system? Research on similar cohorts of children taken into care and not taken into care indicates that those taken into care will have better outcomes than those who have had no intervention, which suggests that it is not.
The previous Government made a significant investment in the care system. A number of initiatives, such as Quality Protects, were very welcome, and over the past 10 years there has been a 900 per cent increase in the number of children leaving care and going to university—a ninefold increase. The previous Government can be very proud of achieving that. There have been good investments, and the system is improving, but we are starting from a very low base.
In particular, there has to be concern about children’s homes. From memory, there are, very approximately, 6,000 children in children’s homes, which is about 10 per cent of the looked-after population. According to the 2004 report by the Office for National Statistics, 68 per cent of these children have a recognised mental disorder and in the region of 40 per cent of them have a conduct disorder that may involve a compulsion to thieve or other actions. They have a very high level of need. I say this not to stigmatise them, but to stress that it needs to be identified. These homes have improved. There are now minimum standards where there were none before. The training of staff has improved. The previous Administration introduced the National Centre for Excellence in Residential Childcare, which is a good step forward. However, we still have the “inverse care” law: our most vulnerable children are often being cared for by our poorest paid, most poorly supported staff. Many wonderful and committed carers are working in difficult circumstances. In recent years, the market in children’s homes has changed. Now it is dominated by private providers. While in the past there was a good yield on capital investment in children’s homes, that has dropped, so the larger providers have largely departed from the scene, which has left many owners who have worked in the residential care system and are committed to the welfare of their children finding that in a climate of recession with a lack of resources they are struggling to meet the needs of these children.
What needs to be done? Two things are essential. First, the specialist mental health services for children looked after by local authorities that have developed in some areas over the past 10 years need to be preserved. They are expensive to run, but the investment there saves money many times on later costs, and they need to be expanded. Secondly, the recommendation by the noble Lord, Lord Warner, in his report on children’s homes in the mid-1990s, Choosing with Care, needs to be implemented. He looked to the continent for the model to follow and found that children’s homes there consistently have an ongoing relationship with a mental health professional—a psychiatrist, a child psychotherapist or a clinical psychologist—who meets regularly with the manger and the staff to help them reflect on their work with their children. The noble Lord strongly recommended this, and I know that he regrets that it has not been fully implemented. I hope to speak to the Minister’s colleague, Mr Loughton, about these matters. Perhaps the Minister will acknowledge in this debate that we need to stop criminalising young people in care or coming out of care.
I warmly welcome the principle behind the review of short sentences and acknowledge the huge cost that they entail and the disruption to the lives of those being taken into custody, particularly women. However, I have some concerns, particularly about the credibility of any attempt to make a change and the light the Government and those who support the thrust of such a policy will be seen in. Iain Duncan Smith, the Centre for Social Justice, the Good Childhood inquiry which was instituted by the Anglican Church, and UNICEF’s report into child welfare put the UK lowest in the league in the developed world in terms of child welfare.
Many of our children are living in poverty, not only financial poverty but emotional and educational poverty. Experts such as DW Winnicott and Anna Freud pointed out that where there is insufficient caring in the home and an insufficient educational system, behaviours in adolescents and young people outside in society can be very disruptive. The noble and learned Baroness, Lady Scotland, and her colleagues made very clear in previous debates on anti-social behaviour orders that young people’s behaviour can blight some communities, such as Durham or Nottinghamshire, where many families have generational issues of unemployment.
My concern is that we do not get this right and do not ensure sufficient investment. My noble friend Lord Low of Dalston referred to Germany and France. One important difference between them and us is that they have the professionals and the social workers. Social work is a high-status profession in France. They have what they would call éducateurs socials in France or pädagogen in Germany, who are specialist professionals who work with children and young people. We do not, I think, have that infrastructure. Any move has to be very well considered and gradual, and there needs to be investment in professionals to make it work, otherwise the approach may make the Government and those who wish for change lose credibility and there may be a backlash in which there will be a push for even more imprisonment. I hope that the Minister will answer that concern in his reply, which I look forward to.
My Lords, you took a very brave step in allowing a German to be introduced into your Lordships’ House just a few days after England’s defeat in the World Cup. The extremely generous-hearted way in which I have been received has, however, received a few knocks in my first week or so. Just last Friday, my noble friend Lord Lester, in his Defamation Bill, talked of the German ad hoc balancing law. I know the Liberal Democrats favour fair representation, but it made me wonder who I was to be balanced with. Then this week, in questions about your Lordships’ murals, there was a request for the German specialist to be brought in.
I realise that I am to be very careful indeed to observe the frequent exhortations coming my way, but I can tell noble Lords that this German is not German, and neither is he English. The name derives from a 5th century bishop called Germanus, who came from Auxerre; he was dispatched by the Pope to the western parts of this country to return the people to the authentic Christian fold and his followers took on his name. Spelling was not a strong feature of 5th century Britain, so many derivations of the name survive today. There is a street in London named after one of them—Jermyn —and there are Jermin, Germaine and the like. It is reported that the bishop Germanus won the people over to the Augustinian teachings of divine grace by using his superior rhetoric, so no pressure there.
I am privileged to join the growing number of Members of your Lordships’ House who have been Members of the devolved Assemblies and Parliaments. I am the first Member of the National Assembly for Wales not to have been to the other place, and I look forward to using that experience to help the Assembly to develop and to questioning my noble and learned friend Lord Wallace of Tankerness on his new responsibilities for my country.
I wish to say something about my experience of prisoner education and the problems with it. There are two prisons close to my home. They are in the area that I represented until just a few weeks ago. One, at Usk, is a secure Victorian building that was built on the monastic level, which the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Liverpool talked about earlier. It houses many medium and long-term sentence offenders. The other, in nearby countryside, is an open prison. Both have the same management team, and both represent different ends of the spectrum of prisons in our country.
A few years ago I received a request from the head of training and skills at these prisons to assist them with the qualification structure of the training programmes that they could offer offenders, and to see whether they could be made more appropriate to the world of work. This was my first introduction to the link between reoffending and reintegration, and the importance of skills to that link. It soon became clear to me that much needed to be done to improve both reoffending rates and the level of ex-offender reintegration into the community.
For those who seek level 2 vocational qualifications and beyond, it is nigh on impossible to achieve them while in prison. The NVQ requires an element of work-based on-the-job experience that cannot be provided in a closed prison environment. These NVQs are needed to provide a ticket to a place of work. City and Guilds-type qualifications are used as a route to the NVQ, but no matter how well a prison can simulate the workplace, this will be insufficient to provide the necessary qualification.
On a visit to a very large prison in Doncaster, I saw a two-storey house that had been completely built from scratch by offenders inside a former aircraft hangar. It had fully functioning plumbing and central heating and a fully fitted kitchen, and it was tastefully decorated. After it had been built, it was completely demolished. Even the construction of the finished object was insufficient to gain an NVQ in any of the craft skills needed such as plumbing, plastering, carpentry, construction, electricals and so on. The examining bodies will not accept a fully constructed building in an aircraft hangar as appropriate on-the-job training.
The only solution to gaining these types of qualification is to get an appropriate work placement following release, and these are not easy to come by. As a report last year from the Prisoners’ Education Trust revealed, 87 per cent of offenders surveyed believed that few employers recruit ex-offenders, although there are notable examples of good practice such as National Grid Transco, which employs ex-offenders and takes them on on training programmes. The evidence from employers is clear; core skills are a very much needed element in the mix of skills to be learnt on the job, even though a start can be made in simulated surroundings. Punctuality, working with others, literacy and numeracy are key to success in holding down a job.
There is much research now on the nature of the support that is needed on release to lead to possible successful reintegration into society. In essence, it can be summed up in four words: family, roof, job, and cash—reintegration into some form of family life, a secure home, a job or work placement, and help to manage on a limited income. A Select Committee in the other place recommended:
“If the purpose of providing education and training in prisons is to reduce reoffending by enabling prisoners to gain secure employment, then the continuation of support and programmes on release is essential. The Government needs to: produce an overarching resettlement strategy for prisoners; commit to the continuity of provision of education and training on release”.
My experience was that much more needs to be done if we are to succeed in resettling ex-offenders effectively. For some, perhaps many, prison is not the right solution for reintegration. We are told that reoffending costs the taxpayer £10 billion a year, that there are no robust statistics on those who are successfully reintegrated into society, and that an overarching resettlement strategy will be expensive. This leads me to conclude that we must punish the wrongdoers, but we must also ensure that we help them to get on to the straight and narrow. Not doing so will contribute further to the fracturing of the social fabric of our country.
Finally, I thank all the officials, colleagues and Members of this House for the great kindness that I have been shown in the past few weeks. There is so much to learn, and everyone has gone out of their way to introduce me to the work and operation of this very kind and friendly place.
My Lords, I congratulate my noble friend Lord German on his admirable maiden speech, and thank him very much for delivering it neither in German nor in Welsh. Wales is a nation that is famous for its singers and its orators. I know that he must be a fine singer, as his earlier career was as head of music in schools in Cardiff. He is certainly a fine orator, as I can vouch having heard him at many party conferences and again today. As a Member of the National Assembly for Wales from its inception until this year, he can among other things give us very good advice on coalitions, because he was a Minister in the Labour-Lib Dem coalition in the Welsh Administration from 2000 to 2003. I also congratulate my noble friend Lady Hussein-Ece on her very moving speech, and I look forward very much to hearing both of them often in the future.
I will concentrate my remarks on the subject that I raised in a debate a few months ago during consideration of one of the massive criminal justice Bills which the previous Government used to introduce every six months or so—indeterminate sentences. Those sentences are known as IPPs—imprisonment for public protection. They were created by the Criminal Justice Act 2003 and modified by the Criminal Justice and Immigration Act 2008.
For the most serious crimes, the maximum sentence is life imprisonment and is usually subject to release on licence. For crimes that are not quite so serious, there is an upper limit to the length of the sentence, or there was until the Criminal Justice Act 2003. That Act introduced IPPs, which are in effect a form of life sentence. They mean that prisoners who have been convicted of certain violent or sexual offences may be retained in prison beyond the maximum duration allocated to the sentence for that particular offence, and will not be released until they have served first the tariff prescribed by the judge and then until the Parole Board is in due course satisfied that the risk of further serious offences has been reduced to an acceptable level. That may sound worthy, but in practice IPPs have turned out to be an expensive failure. The figures are quite startling. As of 4 June this year, the number of people who are currently subject to the IPP was 6,189. Only 93 of these were released on licence; the rest remain in prison. As of 5 July 2010, 2,860 prisoners subject to IPP were still in detention even though they were past the end of the tariff period which had been allocated to them. Assuming that there were no significant differences between 4 June and 5 July, only 3.5 per cent of those eligible for release have been released, which is extraordinary. What is the reason for this surprisingly small number of releases?
In theory, it could be that prisoners on IPP are a particularly wicked lot, and with some of them that is true, but a very powerful report, published 18 months ago by the Chief Inspectors of Prisons and Probation indicated that there were several other causes. They include the difficulty in identifying which prisoners present a serious risk of repeating their crimes, with the result that a good many prisoners are on IPP who should not have been there to begin with; the difficulty of providing training courses which have to be undergone by prisoners before they can be released on licence; the frequent movement of IPP prisoners from one prison where training is available to another where it is not; the failure to provide adequate expert evidence to the Parole Board to enable it to reach fair judgments of the risk of release of a prisoner on licence; and, finally, the delays in bringing cases before the Parole Board.
I should like to pay again a short tribute to Dame Anne Owers after her nine years of exceptional service. She was a worthy successor to the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, who will be speaking in a few minutes. I have known her since 1990 when I was chair of a committee which appointed her the director of Justice, a job she filled with extraordinary success.
That however is not the only relevant report. Only a few days ago, the Prison Reform Trust published a report called, Unjust Deserts. The foreword to the report was written by my noble friend Lord Hurd of Westwell. That is a name of great distinction in this field because the noble Lord was an outstanding Home Secretary. The conclusions of the report state that the Ministry of Justice needs as a matter of urgency to review social and financial costs and benefits of IPP sentences; there needs to be much better provision of training courses for IPP prisoners; there must be additional resources for parole hearings to enable hearings to be held shortly after the prisoner reaches the tariff date and becomes eligible for release; and there must be training guidance for Parole Board members because the justice system needs to provide better public understanding about the levels of risk involved.
At present, IPP is not just a failure, it is an expensive failure. There are far too many people in prison at great expense who should never have had an indeterminate sentence to begin with or who should have been released on licence at an earlier date. To make IPP work properly would involve further expense, which could not be justified in present circumstances. There may be a case for keeping a small number of IPP prisoners where there is a real probability—not just a possibility—that they will commit serious offences if they are released. The Prison Reform Trust report recognises that IPP in its present state must surely go. It is clear that it was a great mistake in its form. It would be extremely expensive to set that form right. The only real solution for the time being is to get rid of it.
I am very glad that we have chosen the reform of the criminal justice system and its effectiveness as the subject for this debate. I am even more glad that the present Lord Chancellor has shown interest in reducing the number of people in prison. That is entirely different from the successive Home Secretaries of the previous Government who one after the other ratcheted up the length of sentences and invented new offences at every opportunity.
My Lords, I, too, thank the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, for initiating this debate. I am in gratitude to him for forcing us to come to a place where we address the issues that are filling the newspapers and troubling us on the airwaves at the moment. I am reminded that nearly four years ago in my maiden speech to this House I talked about that subject. I did so from the position of chairman of Crime Concern, of which I had been a trustee for 21 years and chairman for 15 years. Two years ago we merged Crime Concern with the Rainer Foundation, creating Catch22.
Putting two organisations together of equivalent size, both of which have been involved in crime prevention commitment—in the case of Crime Concern since 1988 and in the case of the Rainer Foundation for more than 100 years—created a very big charitable organisation. Even now—I declare an interest as vice-president of Catch22—we are but a tiny dent on the difficulties of the problem. I also declare an interest as an ambassador for Make Justice Work, a new organisation bringing together the themes of crime prevention and policing, and seeking to address a different route out of the problem.
When I made my maiden speech I spoke in a debate initiated by the noble Lord, Lord Turner, in response to his report on pension reform. My point then, and I will make the point again—it has already been referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Thomas, in his opening remarks—was that the cost of the deficit in the pension problem identified by the noble Lord, Lord Turner, was about £23 billion. The cost of the intervention systems that we have at the moment that fail so miserably, according to the 2007 figures given by the noble Lord, Lord Thomas, was £22.7 billion. There is a correlation between issues that need solving in wider society and the costs that we spend on failure, and how we are prepared to address those two things.
I will not add in any way to the spray of statistics that we have had in this debate. It has been illuminating. Anyone reading Hansard will discover every conceivable nuance of the issue. I shall focus on one option as an alternative and then make some suggestions. I was taken by an article in last week’s edition of Time magazine entitled “Sentence to Serving the Good Life in Norway”. For those who have not managed to read it, I am sure that it would be available through the Library. It is a review of Norway’s criminal justice system. We have already had reference from the noble Lord, Lord Low, as well as from others, that we might learn wisely from the ways in which our continental partners, particularly the Germans and the French, manage to keep many people out of prison. The article on Norway’s criminal justice system looked in particular at its open prison system.
It is important for the sake of the House if noble Lords would bear with me while I read a small part of this article because it is extremely illuminating. The principal point is simply that treating inmates humanely causes them to come out better people. The article states:
“In an age when countries from Britain to the U.S. cope with exploding prison populations by building ever larger—and, many would say, ever harsher—prisons, Bastoy”—
the leading Norwegian prison—
“seems like an unorthodox, even bizarre, departure. But Norwegians see the island”,
“as the embodiment of their country's long-standing penal philosophy: that traditional, repressive prisons do not work, and that treating prisoners humanely boosts their chances of reintegrating into society. ‘People in other countries say that what Norway does is wrong,’ says Lars, who is serving a 16-year sentence for serious drug offenses. ‘But why does Norway have the world's lowest murder rate? Maybe we're doing something that really works.’
Countries track recidivism rates differently, but even an imperfect comparison suggests that Norway's system produces overwhelmingly positive results. Within two years of their release, 20% of Norway's prisoners end up back in jail”.
I shall repeat that—20 per cent.
“In the U.K. and the U.S., the figure hovers between 50% and 60%. Of course, Norway's low level of criminality gives it a massive advantage. Its prison roll lists a mere 3,300 inmates, a rate of 70 per 100,000 people, compared with 2.3 million in the U.S., or 753 per 100,000—the highest rate in the world”.
We all know the figures for our own here in the UK.
What is the core of the answer? The article illuminates it extremely well. The men and in a very few cases the women who have to become necessary prisoners—we have all discussed the difference between what is necessary detention and what is casual detention for the sake of a failing criminal justice system—with harsher, long-term sentences for more serious crimes, are treated as the citizens whom they will become in wider society after their sentence. The whole point of the Norwegian prison system, exemplified by the new prisons that have been built, is that it humanises the prisoner. It deals specifically with aspects of mental health and drug addiction, absolutely locks in on prevention and care for the offender beyond prison, and deals with skilling to enable the prisoner to succeed outside. That humane approach, which may have its critics upon analysis, is one dimension that I suggest we need to look at.
I just want to put before your Lordships seven additional options for thinking about this problem, many of which have already been addressed in our debate. First, we should agree with and enable the Lord Chancellor to end custodial sentences of under 12 months and we should mandate community sentences, where reasonable. Secondly, we should aim to institute reparations for victims by offenders and institute restorative justice. Enough debate on the issue has taken place. We know it works and we just need to do it. Thirdly, we should get serious about mental health and drug treatment intervention outside as well as within prison, and we should know how to deal with those issues by making the investment necessary in our mental health and care services in advance of an offence.
Fourthly, as has already been pointed out so brilliantly by the right reverend Prelate, we should invest in front-line NGOs like the Catch22s, the Nacros and a long list of many others who have been dealing with these issues from a preventive position for generations—but know their minor place, feel their scrabble for resources, fight for their voices to be heard, and consistently address the issues with Ministers who always say how vital they are and then bypass them to the standard solution. The time has come to stop messing around with the importance of front-line NGOs and charities, to see the dignity of their offer and to get serious about crime prevention activity. It is far better to stop the crimes than worry about the problems of prisoners afterwards, but both must be taken into account.
Fifthly, we must dignify our necessary prison system. I have visited a number of prisons over many years. Some look good and others are places of despair and desperation. We all know that, and we need to reform what “Her Majesty’s pleasure” really means and looks like. We need to be prepared to invest in humanising the way in which we treat criminals. That is an uncomfortable message but, from the experience of other countries which all of us could learn well, I can tell the House that if we treat prisoners as potential and in fact actual future citizens of our society we could have them as effective future citizens of our society. Sixthly, we definitely need to enshrine family-based intervention at the earliest possible point. Building the big society means recognising intelligently who all the social service modelling tells us the problem people and communities are, and gathering together the resources of voluntary agencies and statutory organisations to make the interventions necessary because of the benefits they bring.
Lastly, we must allocate the necessary resources now and invest up front in order to cut costs in the long term, and to give back to society the sense of freedom of knowing that the criminal justice system is there both for the protection of those who are potential victims and for the preparation of those who have been criminals to be normal citizens of the future. That investment is small-scale when compared with the costs of failure.
My Lords, I too welcome the debate, the sharing of thoughts and a trail, perhaps for the future, by the Secretary of State for Justice. It is no surprise, given how much in tune it is with the thinking of my colleagues, that there have been such splendid speeches from these Benches, particularly of course by the two maiden speakers. Kenneth Clarke will not be surprised about being attacked by the press for his thoughts. I wrote down the Daily Mail this morning, but immediately one should say the Daily Telegraph, and the attack by Stephen Pollard. I do not know whether Mr Clarke was surprised to read of the attack not just on him, but on the Thatcher and Major Governments, which were described as a “penal liberal’s dream”. That is not an analysis that I could easily come to.
Imprisonment has a place, but one thing that I am both instinctively and, I hope, logically opposed to is building more and larger prisons for containment. It is obvious that crime prevention is desirable, and shortly we will have a debate on the funding of the police in which their role in prevention will be discussed. It is also obvious that a thoughtful approach does not mean going soft. I declare an interest as a past chair of Refuge, the domestic violence charity. It has talked to me about the need for education and early intervention through appropriate training as key to preventing domestic violence happening in the first place. It states that it knows that,
“rigorous arresting, charging and sentencing, in accordance with the crime, acts as an effective deterrent … and sends a strong public message”,
because domestic violence is of course a crime. The charity,
“has found that encouraging clients to write a Victim Impact Statement has in some cases resulted in more appropriate sentences”,
and urges the Government to,
“collate and evaluate data on the types of sentence”.
It goes on to say that the probation service does,
“not seem to have integrated this data to produce any meaningful outcome measures”.
I could have talked at greater length about the work of Refuge, but I am sure that there will be other occasions to do so.
I have no doubt that the need for savings was one of the prompts for the remarks of the Lord Chancellor and it is one of the prompts for the Government’s work. Not only does the cost of imprisonment exceed that of an Eton education, it provides an excellent education in all the wrong things. Reference has been made to the voluntary and private sectors which do such good work, and I was delighted to see that this has been acknowledged by Kenneth Clarke. He has said that they will be crucial to success and that the Government want to make far better use of their enthusiasm and expertise to get offenders away from the revolving door of crime and prison, which has already been mentioned.
I want to applaud the work of one of the organisations, conscious that it is almost invidious to single out just one, but I will do so. I refer to the St Giles Trust which,
“aims to break the cycle of re-offending. It creates safer communities by turning lives around and preventing the children of offenders becoming the next generation involved in the criminal justice system. It puts offenders at the centre of the solution and believes they have the power and will to change, given the right support”.
A recent piece of work by the charity, Through the Gates, was funded for one year by London Probation and offered intensive one-on-one support for people leaving prison to help them settle back into the community and stay away from crime. It worked with individuals returning to 14 London boroughs—that is almost half of the London boroughs—from prisons across the UK. During the 16 months it was running, it worked with more than 1,500 people, housed more than 1,000 and assisted many more with other issues such as sorting finances and accessing other services. The work of helping the difficult transition from custody to community was largely carried out by case workers—many of them trained—who were reformed ex-prisoners. In the crucial early days they helped, as I have said, with accommodation, finances, employment support— all factors which affect the likelihood of someone reoffending—training and education, access to support to deal with drugs and alcohol, meeting licence restrictions and reintegration into the community. Ex-offenders were credible to those leaving custody and were trusted by them.
Clearly this was of huge importance to the many individuals concerned, but its impact was far wider. Through the Gate was assessed by Pro Bono Economics, working with Frontier Economics. Pro Bono Economics encourages economists to work pro bono, as one would expect, in the charity sector, helping charities, for instance, to measure performance and results in a way which ensures that resources are allocated efficiently and to secure funding by demonstrating effectiveness. The CBI has estimated that crime committed by ex-prisoners costs the economy at least £11 billion a year. So the maths are that reducing the reoffending rate by 10 per cent could save more than £1 billion for the UK economy.
There is not time to go through the report in detail but, as well as describing the services rendered to reduce reoffending and assessing the reduction in the reoffending rates of Through the Gate clients—40 per cent lower—the report gives a rigorous analysis of value for money. I recommend it to my noble friend on the Front Bench. Meeting clients at the prison gates and, as it were, holding their hand through the first few days to ease the transition—literally sticking with them for the first 24 hours if necessary—not leaving anyone homeless or unsupported and keeping them away from old associates and negative influences should, as well as satisfying the bleeding hearts—which is by the by—also satisfy the hard heads.
My Lords, I, too, thank the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, for obtaining this timely debate, coming as it does between the landmark speech by the Secretary of State for Justice on 30 June and the promised Green Paper setting out how his aims are to be achieved. Since that speech there has been a noticeable smile on the faces of those who take an interest in the criminal justice system, alongside optimism among those who have had meetings with the new Minister for Prisons and Probation, Crispin Blunt, because it appears that notice is being taken of the voices of practitioners. That is not to say that all that the previous Government did was bad. However, they did pass on two millstones—a system that, while not necessarily broken, was failing to protect the public; and a dire financial situation.
Perhaps I may make a small diversion before moving to my contribution. On Tuesday evening, in her valedictory speech at the end of her most distinguished time as Chief Inspector of Prisons, Dame Anne Owers— I join others in paying credit to her—said:
“The political game of ‘my prison system is bigger than your prison system’ has been profoundly unhelpful”.
All too often this is expressed in terms of how much more money has been put into something than the previous Government provided. In terms of outcomes, that is meaningless. Perhaps I may therefore respectfully ask the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Scotland, not to repeat her remarks about the 70 per cent increase in probation funding, because whatever it was spent on, it was not spent on face-to-face time with offenders. That has gone down to 24 per cent, including time on the telephone, which means that probation officers can spend only 10 to 15 minutes per week with medium-risk offenders and none with low-risk offenders. Frankly, I would keep quiet about the spending of money on such an outcome.
The criminal justice system is made up of four separate parts, each of which has its own distinct role—the police investigate, the courts sentence, and the prisons and probation administer that sentence. I shall limit my contribution to the reform of the latter two, which are currently called the National Offender Management Service but which I hope will be renamed the national offender management system, as that is a better description of what it is.
I start with the aim. If I understand Ken Clarke correctly, by announcing the “rehabilitation revolution” he means that he has changed the aim of the criminal justice system to one of protecting the public by preventing reoffending. One of the lessons that I was taught early in my Army career was the need to turn disadvantage into advantage. Were I a Minister in the Ministry of Justice, I would let everyone know that there are no sacred cows in the criminal justice system and that every function and job is to be examined against the criterion of whether it contributed to achieving that aim.
One of Ken Clarke’s announced intentions is to reduce the numbers in our overcrowded prisons. I have always equated the position of prisons in the criminal justice system to that of hospitals in the National Health Service—they are the acute part where treatment takes place, and no one should go there unless they need the treatment that only prisons or hospitals can provide. Although neither has any control over who comes in, both have to make people better, always conscious of the fact that the treatment will never be completed in the prison or hospital but will have to be continued in the form of aftercare. Today’s debate is about the alternatives to custody, the subject on which I shall now concentrate.
If he is to achieve this aim, Ken Clarke must find alternatives for those whom he seeks to get out of prisons, including women, children, the mentally ill, asylum seekers and immigration detainees. He must also ensure that there are sufficient alternatives to custody in which the public have confidence. One way to do this would be to give both prisons and probation the same aim and require them to do the same things with and for offenders. Therefore the aim of the national offender management system should be to help those committed by the courts to live useful and law-abiding lives. This would unite the 1983 Prison Service statement of purpose and the original purpose of probation, which was to assist, advise and befriend.
Armed with the same aim, both services should carry out the same sequential activities with every person they are required to help. First, they should assess what it is that has prevented them from living a useful and law-abiding life thus far. Secondly, they should turn that assessment into an individual programme, prioritised by the severity of the symptom and the time available. An assessment of law-abiding will include an assessment of risk as well as of criminal tendencies. An assessment of usefulness should include five subjects: first, education, including reasons for low attainment; secondly, job skills, including an aptitude test; thirdly, personal skills, including an assessment of the person’s ability to look after themselves and their dependants; fourthly, mental and physical health; and, fifthly, substance abuse. Such assessments should be standard to both services because there is no reason why such programmes should not be conducted in the community. Indeed, the best youth programme I saw in America, in the state of Massachusetts, had offenders spending half the day on education, including physical education, and half on community reparation, of which more later. The third sequential activity is that they should plan and implement transition programmes from prison to probation or the community, and from probation to the community, with the aim of continuing whatever treatment has been begun.
What I am describing boils down to nothing more nor less than putting appropriate and trained helpers face to face with people in need of their help. Those helpers, who can come from the public, private or voluntary sectors, need to be trained and resourced to carry out their tasks and require an organisational structure to deploy and support them. I suggest that all current managerial structures be examined and ruthlessly pruned to eliminate any parts that are not contributing to that purpose, such as those departments which are responsible for measuring process and overwhelming practitioners with unnecessary bureaucratic demands.
To take advantage of the savings that will inevitably accrue from this process and exploit the added value that comes from including local people and organisations in the resolution of their own problems, I recommend consideration of the following: first, the abolition of the post of chief executive of NOMS and the reappointment of separate directors-general of the prison and probation services, who will be responsible for professional leadership of their services and professional advice to Ministers; secondly, the appointment of regional offender managers who will be responsible for co-ordinating prison and probation services in their region, each with prison and probation deputies, but also with responsibility for population management and deciding when and where prisoners should move—this will save literally millions of pounds and ensure that people are not moved in the middle of courses or to places where courses do not exist; thirdly, the regionalisation of prisons so that, with the exception of high security, prisoners never leave their region; fourthly, the appointment of directors of each type of prison and prisoner to ensure consistency of treatment and conditions in every prison of the same type throughout the country, and with responsibility for turning good practice somewhere into common practice everywhere; fifthly, the giving of set aims to every prison, allowing them to concentrate on particular activities rather than requiring them to do a little of everything, which can mean that too much is not done very well; sixthly, the localisation of probation within regions, including the introduction of adult offender teams, male and female, alongside youth offending teams—each local area should be responsible for determining the community reparation part of every community sentence appropriate for that area; seventhly, the appointment of criminal justice system voluntary sector co-ordinators in every region and co-ordinators in every prison and probation area; and, lastly, laying down the principle that all contracts involving the voluntary sector should be for not less than three years, and preferably for five years, to allow investment.
The benefit of prison and probation using the same programmes is that the public are more likely to believe that they are appropriate alternatives to custody. As someone who strongly supports Ken Clarke’s intent and wants it to succeed, I know that there are sufficient motivated people and organisations to enable it to happen, but they need to be welcomed and helped to help, which means eliminating many of the impediments that are currently in their way.
My Lords, I thank the House for allowing me to speak in the gap. After listening to the very interesting speech given by the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, and the very informed debate that has followed, I should like, at the risk of sounding ridiculous, to address a somewhat naive question to the House.
Is it not the moment in time to bring back sin—yes, sin? No matter whether one is a believer or a non-believer, there is no doubt that by following the guidance of the code of practice as outlined in the 10 commandments, we could help to reduce crime and almost make prisons redundant. I know that this sounds like a very simple plan, but if we look around we will find that there is no code of practice for the treatment of prisoners around the world. I suggest that your Lordships give some thought to my question.
My Lords, I must declare my interest as patron of the Corporate Alliance Against Domestic Violence and as the current chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Domestic and Sexual Violence. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, for initiating a fascinating debate. I listened particularly to my noble friend Lady Kennedy of the Shaws. I am sure that the House agreed with her about the noble Lord’s elegance and attraction, particularly perhaps to his noble kinswoman Lady Walmsley.
I also congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Hussein-Ece, and the noble Lord, Lord German, on their fine maiden speeches and welcome them from these Benches to the House. I am sure that they will make an invaluable contribution and that all of us look forward with interest to everything that they will say. I also join those who have thanked Dame Anne Owers for her contribution and sterling work as Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Prisons.
This debate has formed around a great deal of consensus. I say straightaway to the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, that his plea for a “what works” model was adopted and applied by the previous Government. Much of what he called for was—as I am sure he will acknowledge—done. The transfer of responsibility for education and health from the Prison Service to the Department of Health and department for education was an important step. A number of noble Lords have commented on its importance. I thank the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, for his comments about what the previous Government tried to do.
We learnt a number of very valuable lessons. Education, as the noble Lord, Lord Addington, mentioned, has to be meaningful to those who are invited to engage. The need for employment is of critical importance. All noble Lords have spoken about the need to work together. The three alliances that were created in 2005—the corporate alliance, the social alliance and the faith-based alliance—to reduce reoffending have all played their part. I commend what was said by the right reverend Prelates the Bishop of Liverpool and the Bishop of Guildford about the importance of allowing those in the private sector, the third sector and the faith groups to walk with those who have transgressed so that they can be healed and return to the fold.
However, it is important for us to acknowledge that the proof of the pudding is in the tasting. When we look at “what works”, we have to look at the results and the outcomes, as the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, would ask us to do. A number of noble Lords spoke about initiatives. The creation of initiatives such as the Diamond Initiative, which was succeeding in addressing the issue of those sentenced to less than 12 months with no statutory intervention, has brought about significant reductions. We know that reoffending was reduced by 47 per cent in the first year. Figures released today show that investment in the criminal justice system by the previous Government has resulted in the lowest level of crime since 1981. That is according to all the surveys. I hope the Minister will take this opportunity perhaps to apologise for the misuse of the previous crime figures. Crime overall is down by 43 per cent. Year on year, it is down by 9 per cent in every category. There has been no recession-led crime. The increase in police numbers and the safeguarding of front-line services has undoubtedly had a beneficial effect. Alongside the increased investment in police, probation, the Crown Prosecution Service and prisons, we have also radically changed during the past 13 years our approach to the way in which we reduce crime. I am sorry to have to disappoint the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, in saying that the increase in the Probation Service between 1997 and 2008 by 70 per cent was very important. Without those increases in services, I very much doubt that we would have been able to make the reductions that we have seen.
I ask the Minister at this stage to clarify whether what we have read in the Guardian today is true and that it is proposed to cut the money given to the Crown Prosecution Service. I read with some alarm that the CPS told the Attorney-General’s office that its 25 per cent budget cut would damage front-line services and delay and possibly deny justice, according to a draft submission that has been given. I would very much welcome the noble Lord’s comments on that.
How can crime be reduced? Certainly, through our time, we knew that government could not do it alone but must work hand in hand with local authorities, the third sector, business and faith groups if it was to make the improvements that it sought. Early intervention was, rightly, touched on by the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, and the noble Lord, Lord Hastings. The multiagency response is crucial if we are to save money and lives. But working together has to have a structure. Noble Lords will remember that we created the National Crime Reduction Board, the National Criminal Justice Board, strategic and local partnerships and the multiagency risk assessment conferences for domestic violence. All that working together was what worked. Under Labour, we saw a reduction in burglary, vehicle-related crimes and all household crimes. Domestic violence was reduced by 64 per cent. The number of first-time entrants under 18 was reduced by 20.7 per cent over the past two years. The number of young people in custody was reduced by more than 25 per cent since the end of 2008. I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, for acknowledging those changes.
Domestic violence is one of the starkest crimes. It is at the root of much family dysfunction, which in turn affects adults and children. Domestic violence is still the greatest cause of morbidity in women; 70 per cent of female homicides are committed by a partner or ex-partner. There are an estimated 120,000 high-risk victims in the United Kingdom and 70 per cent of them have children. Domestic violence in this country now costs £16 billion, down from £23 billion in 2001. So although we have saved £7 billion, there is much more to do. But this has resulted from proper specialist service provision. Domestic violence, despite the serious and significant impact that it has on our society and the criminal justice system, did not receive one mention in the coalition agreement. Will the Minister assure the House that the significant achievements over the past seven years to combat and reduce the instance of domestic violence will not be reversed under the new Government, despite omitting to mention it in the coalition agreement?
Your Lordships will know that we made a commitment when in Government to complete the 80 multiagency risk assessment conferences—we already have 220—so that there is national coverage. Will the Minister say whether that commitment will be retained? For every £1 spent on a MARAC, the services save £6 in direct costs, potentially saving us £740 million every year. The work committed to by noble friends such as my noble friend Lady Corston is incredibly important. Will the Government continue the commitment to the violence against women and girls strategy, and will it be fully implemented? Corston sets a way forward as to how we can help those women who are in prison to find a better way forward. Implementing their recommendations, as the last Government intended to do, will be of critical importance.
So much has been said by so many, much of which I wholeheartedly agree with. I am conscious that times are to be held to, so I shall not comment on all the other matters, but noble Lords will anticipate that I shall return to them on other occasions.
My Lords, I found the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Scotland, in a strangely combative and defensive mood today. I shall not follow her. I think that it is probably best to let history and the memoirs decide on the record of the Labour Government. We will certainly remain committed to the report of the noble Baroness, Lady Corston. Of course, in many of the areas that the noble Baroness raised, we are dealing with a spending review and it is not possible for Ministers to deal with every pre-emptive strike via a leak to the Guardian or wherever to explain what terrible things will happen to this or that service. I was listening to a similar exercise by the police service this morning. We are carrying out an exercise to try to bring public spending under control. Certainly, in all aspects and departments of government, matters are being reviewed.
I was delighted by the intervention of the noble Baroness, Lady Howells, because in an earlier debate and in her usual very gentle, quiet way she said, “My Lords, if prison worked, wouldn’t we be building fewer of them rather than more?”. It was one of those questions that stick in the mind.
I was also pleased by the intervention of the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, welcoming the launch of this great debate by my right honourable friend the Lord Chancellor. I can only say that I feel proud to serve in the Ministry of Justice at this time. This is a “seize the moment” moment. Certainly, the economic situation has caused a rapid revaluation of policies and programmes, but this is driven by other factors, too, which I welcome. I look forward to using this debate for the thinking that will carry forward to the Green Paper that has been promised in the autumn.
The twin responsibilities of this or any Government are defence of the realm and protecting the public. The public rightly expect to feel safe in their homes and on their streets. They expect to live a life free from crime and the threat of crime and they expect criminals to be punished. We want a criminal justice system that is effective in protecting the public and punishing offenders and, as part of that, in preventing crime and cutting reoffending. We also have to be realistic. These are difficult times and any changes that we make have to be set within the context of the public finances. Cuts will have to be made and, in some instances, they will be painful. However, we have no intention of cutting indiscriminately. We want policies that are properly thought out and that make sense in light of the evidence. The test of an effective criminal justice system is not how much money is poured into it but whether it achieves what the public want and expect it to achieve. Having less money is clearly going to mean making some difficult decisions, but it also helps to concentrate the mind and gives us a good opportunity to think from first principles about how we deliver public services most effectively and what it is that the taxpayer should be paying for. It is an opportunity to transform the criminal justice system in this country.
Short sentencing has been a recurring issue. Of course, anyone who read my right honourable friend’s speech will know that he did not rule out short sentencing under all circumstances. When we had a debate on this the other night in the Moses Room, one of the contributors made a point that a number of others have made: the impact of a short sentence can often be extremely useful in breaking the cycle of domestic violence. It is not, as has sometimes been suggested, that the Lord Chancellor is throwing the prison gates open.
Noble Lords have mentioned the Telegraph and the Daily Mail. This issue is an example of how difficult it is to get a proper and rational debate in this country about the criminal justice system, given the media. I presume that what appears in the media is written by well educated men and women, yet editors, journalists and newspaper owners seem to condone an approach to this issue that is crass in the extreme. The knee-jerk reaction to any proposed change to the system is to find a recent victim of crime and to get them to say how terrible it would be to let prisoners out. That becomes depressing. I often wonder whether, when they have done their day shift on the newspaper and gone back into the real world, journalists think sensibly about the kind of emotions that they are stirring up and the rational debate that they are preventing on these issues.
My noble friend Lord Thomas of Gresford opened this debate with the kind of wide-ranging and authoritative speech that I have come to know and appreciate. He raised a number of issues that were repeated throughout the debate—restorative justice, drug and alcohol programmes and mental health problems. Although I have just been complaining about the media, my approach is that the antidote and counterpoint are the kind of debates that we have in this House, which draw on the vast experience here and can feed back into departmental thinking. I assure noble Lords that that is particularly true of this debate.
The noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy, reminded us of the important matter of the number of women in prison. We are certainly looking at that as part of the sentencing review and in response to the Corston report. It will be dealt with in the Green Paper, as will the issue that she raises of the 14 to 25 age group, which is when most people come into the criminal justice system for the first time. I noted the noble Baroness’s point that we cannot have a Dutch auction on this. I hope that we can approach this matter in a cross-party way. Anyone who has ever dealt with this system knows that any political party claiming a monopoly of wisdom on it is treading on dangerous ground. We must learn from things that have worked. We must look abroad and see what is working well and what lessons we can learn. We must deal with this in a rational way as far as is possible.
I share many of the concerns that have been expressed about how we deal with young offenders. The noble Baroness, Lady Linklater, mentioned that in her speech. The idea of getting judges out to look at the alternatives to sentencing should certainly be encouraged. We all tend to get imprisoned by our jobs and I am sure that judges are no exception. The more they can go and look at alternative programmes in relation to drugs, domestic violence and such, the better.
The noble Lord, Lord Low of Dalston, gave us some frightening statistics. He should not apologise for putting them on the record. The Hansard of this debate will prove to be a valuable input for the department as it moves towards a Green Paper. The noble Lord was one of the first to raise two recurring themes. The first is the debt that we owe to Dame Anne Owers, a sentiment that I certainly endorse. The other, which I have always worried about and which was also mentioned by my noble friend Lady Walmsley and others, is the worrying failure with regard to children who are held in care and who then go out into society and enter into criminality. It is extremely worrying. The noble Baroness, Lady Hussein-Ece, said in her excellent maiden speech that we are their family. We have ultimate responsibility. We want to look carefully at how we might break that cycle.
The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Liverpool raised a recurring issue that will be a major theme of the Green Paper: how, in a time of public expenditure restraint—but not only because of that—can we involve the voluntary sector in addressing these issues? A number of noble Lords, including the noble Lord, Lord Hastings, and the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, as well as to the right reverend Prelate, pointed out that we have an amazing range of capacities and experience in the voluntary sector, which we may—force majeure—have to turn to now, but which it is also common sense to turn to anyway.
My noble friend Lord Addington raised the interesting issue of whether dyslexia and similar challenges are being properly addressed. We have followed the review of the noble Lord, Lord Bradley, and are trying to ensure that in young offender institutions, and elsewhere, there is a broadening of the assessment when people come into contact with the authorities. Indeed, a new screening tool is being developed by Dyslexia Action to see whether we can identify this problem earlier. Returning to this area, we see that the link between illiteracy and crime is so overwhelmingly clear that we must look at it.
The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Guildford reminded us how many of the women in prison are not there for any kind of violent crime. Many are drug mules or in prison for debt-related reasons. When we debated drugs a few weeks ago, the link between drugs, prostitution and criminality was sadly clear. We must look again at different ways of addressing the issue.
Restorative justice was mentioned by the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, the noble Lord, Lord Hastings, and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Guildford. The Government recognise the value of restorative justice; we want to see more offenders making practical reparation for the harm that they have caused.
The noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, raised the issue of indeterminate sentences. There is no question but that we must protect the public from the most dangerous criminals in society. The sentencing review will certainly look at this. There has been widespread criticism of the IPP system. NOMS has implemented a range of measures for the prisoners, including £3 million of support work to improve assessment and access to interventions. The issue raised by the noble Lord is certainly taken to heart.
I want to give the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, a chance to respond. Since I have, as usual, another half-hour’s worth of points raised to answer, I assure those who have spoken that every word of this debate in Hansard will be studied in the department. I have found the contributions that have been made very helpful. We have an agenda. As I have indicated, we carry forward some of the work that was done by the previous Administration, although we deal with it in the context of a constrained financial climate, as any Government would have had to. I hope that the Secretary of State has demonstrated in his two interventions—one to the judges the other night and his earlier lecture—that he wants to initiate and spur on a debate in this area and hear fresh ideas and thinking to enable the Green Paper in the autumn to be a platform for real reform. In this respect, this debate will have fulfilled all his desires and expectations. I thank all noble Lords for taking part.
Finally, I thank the two noble Lords who made their maiden speeches—the noble Baroness, Lady Hussein-Ece, and the noble Lord, Lord German. It makes me, in my other capacity, feel that I have a couple more stars of the future on the team.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for his response and all noble Lords who have contributed to this wide-ranging and fascinating debate. We have covered many topics, particularly in relation to the problems of women and young people in prison. We have listened to the plan of action of the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, which I commend to the Government for their consideration. We have heard from people with great experience of all sides of the criminal justice system. I also commend my noble friends Lady Hussein-Ece and Lord German for their maiden speeches. I have known the noble Lord, Lord German, for more than 30 years. He is a great addition to the Welsh voices in this Chamber and we look forward to hearing more from him. I am sure that the noble Baroness, Lady Hussein-Ece, with her great experience in local government, will have a great deal to say.
The Minister called for rationality in criminal justice policy. That is what we need. That is what we have been after. We want to get away from the red mist that arises among newspaper editors and sometimes the public. It creates a climate of fear. We live in a country that does not need fear of crime. We should be able to deal with the problems that arise; we should cope and not for ever be worried about the risk that somebody will do terrible things to us. It has been a great debate. I beg leave to withdraw the Motion in my name.
My Lords, we move on to the debate about the British uplands and highlands. They are, broadly speaking, more than half the country. They are an essential part of the great diversity of Great Britain and England. They are at the very centre of our history, culture, economy and society. They include most of our national parks and are the place people often refer to as “the great outdoors”. I declare an interest as a member of the Access, Conservation and Environment Group of the British Mountaineering Council.
We forget that, many years ago, before the Industrial Revolution, many of these places were great industrial areas. They were areas where copper, zinc, lead and other minerals were mined, and where small mills made all kinds of goods. Later, they missed out on the Industrial Revolution to the coal mining areas. The coalfields were often based in areas that were on the fringes of the highlands and uplands. They drew a huge amount of population to the new industrial areas in the 19th century from the old industrial areas in the uplands. Nowadays the coalfields suffer the same kind of decline and the uplands themselves continue to suffer multiple problems. They are more remote, their soils are less fertile and the terrain is difficult. There is a shortage of jobs and low wages, combined with an often higher cost of living and housing costs, exacerbated by second homes and people moving to these beautiful areas to retire. Very often there are also declining services, an ageing population and problems of access to modern services, whether they are traditional, such as railways and motorways, or more modern, such as broadband. However, these areas are full of opportunities which we could seize.
Where are the uplands? I will talk mainly about England. My noble friend Lord Roberts will talk about Wales. I hope other noble Lords who are taking part in this debate—I thank them all—will talk about Scotland. Traditionally the uplands are much of the area that lies to the north and west of the geological Tees-Exe line. They are the areas of the old Paleozoic rocks, although that is a rough and ready assumption. The Lancashire plain and the Cheshire plain are on one side and the North York Moors on the other. The point about the uplands is that you know you are there when you are there. You recognise them instinctively because you know what they are.
Last year Natural England produced the first of two reports which I want to refer to this afternoon—Vital Uplands: A 2060 Vision for England’s Upland Environment. It used the boundary of severely disadvantaged areas to define the uplands. As such, it defines them on the map as rather detached blocks of moorland and fell. I think the uplands are widely considered to be wider than this. They are sub-regions and smaller areas which have these areas of higher land at their core but include the valleys and market towns, and the communications going past.
I do not know what has happened to this vital uplands report. It may now be on the shelf with the change of government. When it was produced, there was a lot of concern that it had downplayed the importance of food production as opposed to environmental goods in the uplands, and substantial changes were made to it while it was in gestation to make it more balanced in the direction of food production. However, it includes a useful checklist and puts forward 10 top changes—not in order—which it wanted to see implemented in the uplands. The first is stabilised soils, which is vital. The reserves of upland peat and blanket bogs are absolutely crucial because of carbon sinks and carbon reserves. Secondly, it looked forward to diverse, open uplands with a distinctive landscape. This is important. These are decisions which as a society we can, and must, make. Do we want our upland areas to continue to be the open areas they are now, with not a lot of forestry in most parts, and what forestry there is concentrated in the valleys and on the slopes? Is it the open views, the wide open spaces which we want to see? To what extent are we prepared to allow wind farms to disturb this? These are crucial questions which continue to deserve debate.
The third item is grazing systems that produce food and much more. We have to remember that the great wide open spaces of the Lake District, the Pennines, Dartmoor and Exmoor and all the rest of the uplands would not be as they are if they were not grazed. Not everybody understands this, but it is the sheep, cattle, deer and other animals on the moors which maintain them as they are. Food production is not just important in itself but for landscape reasons as well.
The fourth item is more and better managed woodlands, carefully planted and located. The fifth item is green energy. It is not just wind farms to which the uplands can contribute. The sixth item is the importance of low-carbon growth in these areas in transport, tourism and the footloose businesses which, with modern communications—if they are available—can operate from anywhere. Provided you have your broadband and your communications, you can operate from Upper Teesdale or a valley in Exmoor just as well as you can from the middle of London, and you might have a much higher quality of life. Businesses, which are the other side of the coin, I suppose, can develop using local materials.
I must move on but an important vision of the report was the need for reward and recognition of what the uplands contribute to this country. It refers to the need for upland farmers and land managers to be,
“rewarded for providing a range of vital environmental goods and services”.
It is not just this country where this debate is taking place; it is happening in Europe as well. Last year, the Agricultural and Rural Development European Commissioner, Mrs Fischer Boel, launched a debate and investigation into mountain farming in Europe. We missed out on that as we were not considered to have proper mountains such as they have in Europe. However, the nature of agriculture and of communities in our uplands is exactly the same as in the much higher mountain ranges of the Pyrenees, the Alps and other parts of Europe. In a speech at Alpbach in Austria last December, Mrs Fischer Boel said that,
“in looking after the countryside, farmers and other people in mountain areas are actually providing a service of value”.
By carrying out their normal economic activities, farmers are contributing much more than simply farming.
A further report has come out very recently from the Commission for Rural Communities, which, ironically, is about to be abolished. The report, High Ground, High Potential—a Future for England’s Upland Communities, is excellent. I commend the whole of it, not just the summaries, to your Lordships. It was set up to provide policy recommendations,
“to enable and equip them”—
that is, the uplands,
“to move towards more secure, economically prosperous and sustainable futures”.
One of the benefits of this report is that it starts by setting out the assets. It does not start by saying how dreadful everything is and listing all the problems; it sets out the natural and cultural assets of the uplands, which are closely interrelated. As I have said before, the landscape in the uplands—our wonderful hills, fells and moors—would not exist were it not for the social and economic activity that takes place there. The report lists as assets the biodiversity of the uplands, supplies of drinking water, the upland peat lands and the necessity to use them better as a means of flood control, the producers of products and services, food and woodland products, fuel, energy, tourism and recreation. The foot and mouth outbreak really brought home to people that in many rural areas where people go for recreation and tourism, such as the Lake District, the tourism economy is far more important in terms of the amount of income it raises than is farming. I say from memory that in the whole of Cumbria the ratio is 2:1—tourism is twice as important as farming in Cumbria. I could not get the figure for the Lake District, but the ratio must be 10:1 or higher—perhaps a lot higher. However, those ratios do not in any way downgrade the agricultural industry in those areas because, as I have said twice—I think—without the activities of the farmers, particularly the hill farmers in the Lake District, the landscape would be very different.
The CRC report goes on to say:
“The greatest threat to these valuable assets, however, arises from a lack of recognition that these are embedded in social and economic systems—in other words, their sustainability is reliant on the sustainability of upland communities”.
The benefit of this report is its stress on upland communities because without sustainable communities the whole system will collapse—the ecosystem and the economic and social systems will collapse. At the heart of it all is hill farming. At present, we have the transitional period in which the upland entry level stewardship scheme is replacing the old hill farm allowance. There are alarming figures of the proportion of hill farmers who have not yet signed up to the new scheme. The Minister may have some figures on this and, if he does not, perhaps he can write to us with the up-to-date figures.
As we know, the whole of the common agricultural policy is due to be recast in 2013 in ways that are not yet known, although it is highly likely that there will be a substantial transfer from Pillar 1 to Pillar 2. The vital thing in my view is that this transfer, and whatever happens to the common agricultural policy in terms of its total allocation in this country, should not in any way disadvantage farmers in upland areas because without substantial subsidy in these areas, farming will simply not be viable.
The report talks about the representation and governance in upland areas that my noble friend Lady Scott of Needham Market will discuss. It also talks about local services in upland areas and the difficulty of keeping them going. Bus services, affordable rural housing, normal council and health services and village services such as schools and post offices will be severely at risk, along with a lot of other local services, in the present round of government cuts. I hope that the Government will reinvent the term which was all the rage two or three years ago—rural proofing—and severely rural proof the cuts to local authorities which will take place. Local authorities in rural areas are often not particularly strong in terms of lobbying and are often not particularly influential. Many of them comprise small districts and small counties. They do not have the clout of the Manchesters, Liverpools or London boroughs, but it is vital that services in these areas are, as far as possible, kept going.
The report sets out a whole series of useful recommendations that I do not have time to go through. I am very concerned, not about the future of the CRC as a quango, but about the future of its work. The emphasis that it has given to research into and action on rural poverty and deprivation has been essential, because these aspects are very often overlooked. In those areas, they do not come in chunks, like they do in inner cities, but in small pockets here and there—but they are vital. Poor and deprived people in rural areas are very often the people whose families have been living there for ever.
I am pleased to propose this Motion. The uplands are special places and I look forward to the debate.
My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, on securing this debate and on initiating it so comprehensively and engagingly. In the spirit of the coalition, I say that long gone is that joke of yesteryear when torrents of Liberal oratory were said to pour down from Welsh hills and leave deposits on the English plains. I also congratulate him on his serendipity in attracting speakers from all corners of the realm, except Northern Ireland. I cannot personally fill that gap, but Ulster also has its remote uplands in the mountains of Mourne, the Sperrins and the north Antrim hills in the constituency of the noble Lord, Lord Bannside. I am, however, conscious that the Commission for Rural Communities’ paper on England’s upland communities, helpfully provided today in the Printed Paper Office, is, by the laws of devolution, confined to England. I hope that my noble friend the Minister in his reply will indicate how upland experience is compared throughout the United Kingdom, especially as the Northern Ireland economy is so concentrated on agriculture.
I also congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, on having attracted the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Chester to the speakers list. One of the great practical arguments for retaining the Lords spiritual in your Lordships’ House is that they are by definition regional voices for their dioceses. The canvas that the noble Lord offered us is very wide, but I always think that community shops are a particularly vivid index of the communities referred to in the Motion—doubly so, because they serve the community and derive that service from the community itself.
I shall not dwell with latitude on any particular one of the many standard rural issues—housing, jobs, energy costs or communications in all senses. However, I want to reiterate from earlier debates in your Lordships’ House on planning and housing that the present habit of urban and suburban incomers to seek immediately to marry more than one dwelling into a single one, or to seek planning permission for extensions, is not the most sensitive way of entering their new community, not least when they reduce the supply of apposite and/or affordable housing among their neighbours. If the coalition were to contemplate changing the right of housing association tenants to acquire their properties, I hope that it would think long and hard first about rural communities and the protection that will be needed for such housing in them.
On jobs, the Minister responded to the debate on the economic aspects of the Queen’s Speech and I shall not weary him by repeating what I said then about broadband, which is important to rural areas for multiple direct and indirect reasons. However, it is noticeable how social entrepreneurs in remote areas can enhance social capital there. Alston in Cumbria is far from where I live in south-west Wiltshire, but I am struck by the way in which it not only has embraced and exploited broadband in its community, but also, until recently, provided national publicity for homes “in the sticks”—the title of its magazine—all over the nation to increase the ubiquity of such entrepreneurs all over the country.
The noble Lord, Lord Cameron of Dillington, who will follow me, will speak more eloquently and comprehensively about the particular issues of the south-west than I can, but I am struck by how the scale of the heritage, measured by scheduled monuments, listed buildings, parks, public gardens and conservation areas, enlarges the further west you go. It is noticeable that the counties of Somerset, Devon and Cornwall, which are more remote, have a significantly larger part of the heritage than those counties directly to the east. This has a powerful effect in encouraging and providing jobs in the heritage skills industries, when agricultural labouring, with all its historical richness in country lore, is dying out so fast. I declare an interest as president of COTAC, an acronym that conceals the Conference on Training in Architectural Conservation. We are doubly blessed in the heritage by what it does for tourism and thus the economy.
I vicariously congratulate the right reverend Prelate who is to speak later and the noble Baroness, Lady Andrews, who is proving to be so dynamic and imaginative a chair of English Heritage, for the emphasis that they place on the health of rural churches, both in fabric and in their communities. Anyone who expresses anxiety about the Church of England and other traditions in rural areas should unblind themselves to how much rural life is built around our churches and chapels, which also provide the setting for much extracurricular culture.
I close with a scattergun of unrelated questions for the Minister and shall of course be content if he answers only one of them today. I should first declare an interest—or, more precisely, a responsibility—as the former government Whip on the 1981 Wildlife and Countryside Bill, which featured in the recent case brought by the Badger Trust on the legality of the Welsh Assembly’s badger cull. My question is of a supplementary nature. Can my noble friend tell us how much of the massive anxiety about the health of our bee population is caused by the liking of badgers, like the liking of Winnie the Pooh, for treating bees’ nests as a direct source of honey and how far that weighs in any consideration of the badger population? Secondly, given the coalition’s announcement on building in gardens, how satisfied are the Government about the clarity of the present definition of brownfield sites? Thirdly—I join the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, in this—given that my understanding is that the Commission for Rural Communities is itself threatened by a cull, is it intended to substitute some alternative form of rural advocacy to fill the gap? If I may hark back to my references to churches and chapels, let me remark on the fact that the mode of address of the chairman of the commission, Dr Stuart Burgess, conceals that he is a clergyman by background—how apposite that has been to his pastoral role within a national community that still feels a little beleaguered. I am delighted that his contribution on our behalf has so rightly and recently been honoured.
My Lords, I must first declare an interest as a farmer and countryman. It is very easy to stand up and moan about the way in which the countryside is treated by government. There is, after all, a lot to moan about. First, there is the shortage of affordable homes. Families are being torn apart by the unaffordability of housing. Secondly, public services are more expensive to deliver and, without the proper resources, sometimes fall short of urban standards. Primary education, for example, costs 24 per cent more than in the towns, due to small schools and larger distances. Health costs are also greater because you need smaller and more frequent health centres and hospitals. We also have proportionally more of the expensive over-65s living in the countryside, while refuse collection costs between 70 per cent and 90 per cent more than in urban areas, and so on. However, what creates the imbalance is that, in spite of these extra costs, central government support for local councils, LEAs and rural health authorities can be as low as half the amount given to the urban equivalents per head of population. Frankly, that is absurd.
As I said, it is easy to moan on behalf of our rural communities, especially the remoter ones, but there is a lot that is good about country living. As one might expect, we enjoy better health. Also, in spite of the extra costs, our kids appear, from the results, to get a marginally better education. Rural families and friends tend to pull together more, thereby cutting the cost of social services and making better and more sustainable communities. There is a wonderful amount of self-help in our rural population. Locals of all ages and backgrounds team up to manage and maintain their village hall, church, playground and shop. They help their Scouts and Cubs and watch out for their elderly.
Rural communities are also entrepreneurial. The fabric of our countryside depends on successful businesses—not only farming but other businesses whose wages or rents often keep farming families going. There are more manufacturing businesses in the countryside than in the towns. There are also more service businesses. There are more businesses altogether per head of population in the countryside than in the towns. The statistic that I am most proud of, even if it is a few years since I saw it, is that, of those below the poverty line in the countryside, some 22 per cent are self-employed, whereas the equivalent figure in towns is a mere 8 per cent. In other words, where there is hardship in the countryside—and this is all too easy to find—and where finding a paid job is difficult, people do not just put out their hands for welfare but try to make ends meet through their own efforts.
Having pointed out that rural communities have a lot to moan about but on the whole do not moan, I realise that in these economically difficult times it is unlikely that government funding for our big problems will materialise. Rural communities are great at surviving—and the more remote they are, the better they are at it. However, one or two things could be done that do not involve spending much money. We could start with the fabric of our countryside.
Because of farmers’ vital management of the countryside, the UK should argue in the EU for all stewardship payments to come under Pillar 1. This would mean a reduction in the normal single farm payment but, rather than just receiving handouts, most farmers would prefer the state to reward them for doing something. At the moment, stewardship payments come from Pillar 2, where there is little money to go around. Pillar 1 would make such payments more widespread and certain. The CLA proposes that in this way our designated less favoured areas—mostly our uplands and more remote countryside—could become environmentally favoured areas, from which the whole nation could benefit.
As for other businesses, and indeed affordable housing, it is often a matter of planning rather than of funding. Every village should have its own workspace and its own affordable housing. Perhaps the time has come when local parishes should be able to demand the provision of space for such facilities from their local planning authority and to use the planning system to enable that development to take place. Rural planning should not be about saying no; it should be about facilitating local communities to plan their own future. If that means converting and using redundant farm buildings, so much the better.
The other essential feature for rural businesses and society is a fast broadband connection. I am afraid that this comes with a price tag, but it is cheaper than more roads, more public transport and more daily delivery of a variety of public and commercial services. If rural citizens can easily access all services through a modern IT network and get the training to do so, many rural disadvantages could evaporate. This would be a clear case of spend now to save later.
My final point concerns rural proofing, a subject mentioned by the two previous speakers. There is no doubt that, if you wish to improve the quality of life in the countryside, it is departments other than Defra that matter. It is vital that all civil servants understand the problems of the countryside: the distances and difficulties of travel and the deprivation that exists in what most people—certainly most civil servants—think of as a chocolate-box existence. Apart from the obvious problems of delivery of health and education, can BIS, for example, deliver an efficient advisory service to the large number of businesses that exist in remoter Britain? Can the DWP provide rural careers advice, having reduced the number of rural jobcentres by 56 per cent in the past decade? Does the DCMS realise that school sports and drama usually happen after the departure of the school bus, thus making these facilities available only to families whose car is not monopolised by the breadwinner? More flippantly, has the Ministry of Justice worked out how witnesses and even felons can get to the more and more distant courts system without stealing a car?
Getting these departments to think about their remote and badly served rural customers in an understanding way is vital, particularly now that further cuts are being made. Having tried to do the job of rural proofing, I am acutely aware that you need to be well informed, confident, tough, provocative, independent and sometimes even threatening. I am also aware that none of those adjectives is easily applied to Defra staff. So how, with the imminent demise of the CRC, do the Government propose that this essential rural-proofing crusade will continue? Perhaps we should have a rural-proofing committee in this House. I am sure that we could stir up a few departments.
In conclusion, in a period of cuts the countryside will survive. Life is not perfect and deprivation will become more widespread, but most people will get on with it, rally round and help one another. However, the Government have to show that they care, which nowadays involves every department having an understanding of the difficulties of remote rural living and positively promoting agendas to overcome them.
My Lords, the Motion refers particularly but not exclusively to uplands and remote communities in our country. I will broaden the perspective from my own diocese in Chester. It includes the western slopes of the Pennines and I look over the River Dee to the promised land of the uplands of Wales. However, the diocese is primarily on the Cheshire plain. It might be thought that the problems there would be quite different from those of the upland areas, but it is surprising how they overlap, particularly at a time of economic marginality for so many farmers, not least dairy farmers, through a long agricultural recession.
The advent of a new Government provides an opportunity to rethink rural policy in general, partly because the great majority of Labour MPs represent urban constituencies and the impression has been given in our flatland and upland rural areas that policy-making in recent years has defaulted too easily, and perhaps in unintended ways, to an urban bias. I often heard that view expressed in my diocese. The diocese of Chester consists almost equally of urban, suburban and rural communities. The rural areas often feel a bit neglected after a period in which urban renewal has been a government priority—perhaps understandably and rightly, provided that the issues facing rural communities are not neglected or ignored.
I will speak partly from my direct experience of rural Cheshire. I have read the recent CRC report and agree with everything that the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, said about its excellence, and about the wider work of advocacy that the commission has performed. I will begin with an obvious point: farming, and milk production in particular, have been through a prolonged and very difficult recession. I have seen the consequences at first hand. The farm-gate price of milk has been at or below the cost of production for around 10 years. After a rise in the past couple of years, it has slipped back again. Many farmers in Cheshire have gone out of business and there has been much rationalisation as less efficient producers have been taken over by more efficient producers, and production facilities aggregated. To some extent, that is inevitable and even right; but too easily the net effect is simply to increase supply further and maintain the downward pressure on prices. That is why recessions in agriculture last so long compared with those in other parts of the economy.
Alongside general economic pressures, the farmers of Cheshire have had to contend successively with BSE, foot and mouth and the increasing incidence of bovine tuberculosis. It is little wonder that the suicide rate among farmers has increased to such a worrying level. Life often seems to be lived on a knife-edge: a cow is taken ill or goes down and you lose at least a month’s profit. It is one of the laws of the Medes and Persians that farmers always complain, but it is easy then to deafen one’s ears to the very justified complaints of recent years. The problems have been genuine, and not only for hill farmers.
The churches in Cheshire have employed a full-time rural crisis officer—a Salvation Army captain who comes from a Cheshire farming family. He does marvellous work providing pastoral support for farmers all round the diocese. We have recently expanded that work and taken on an assistant for him, and that has been supported by the local primary care trust, which sees the benefits that the work brings to community health. I ask the Minister what the Government’s broader strategy is for supporting our farming industry, and not only in our upland areas—particularly, as has been mentioned, with the review of the common agricultural policy now in its determinative stage.
The second issue that I wish to raise is the future of planning policies as they affect rural areas—upland and elsewhere. I recognise that these are complex issues, not least near and in the national parks. However, in recent years I have been quite worried by the effect of planning policies, particularly the requirement for density of dwellings. That has produced highly dense developments, often on the edge of rural areas. That is certainly the case in the diocese of Chester, where there has been a proliferation of three-storey town houses with small gardens, which look to me like the slums of the future. These developments are often right next to rural areas.
On the other hand, planning policies in rural areas seem to be far too restrictive. Our rural communities, upland and lowland alike, need to breathe, with a degree of development and an influx of people to all types of housing. There is a case for affordable housing in particular but there is also a case for all types of housing. Young and old alike want to live in rural locations and will put up with the inconveniences that were mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Cameron. It is wrong to constrain this artificially. Increasingly, people are able to work from home in any area, but that underlines the case for high-speed broadband in rural areas being a policy priority. Of all the priorities that the Government could address, it seems to me that that one will be absolutely essential. The plans to finance this were withdrawn quite recently, but it is vital that it goes forward because more and more people will be able to work from home. I should be grateful for the Minister’s comments on that.
Finally, building on what the noble Lord, Lord Brooke, said, I offer a comment on the role of churches in rural areas. There are nearly 10,000 rural parish churches in England alone and several thousand chapels and churches of other denominations. Many of the buildings have a special and significant place in their communities, and by no means only for those who regularly worship in them. Communities hold tenaciously to their churches—sometimes to the surprise of the bishop. A suggestion that a particular church should close is liable to spark a revival. I sometimes think that I should propose that all 360 churches in my diocese should be considered for closure and simply sit back and watch the results.
Church buildings in rural areas are often the last community building left open. One challenge facing the churches is to regain a proper sense of the local church building as being for the wider community. That used to be more the case before Victorian times, when churches tended to narrow their use to worship alone as other buildings were provided in the community. Nowadays, rural churches are used for post offices or even farmers’ markets. This, to me, is an entirely good development which we should all encourage. Therefore, I ask the Minister how government policy will support rural communities—particularly but not exclusively in upland areas—because it is only when communities in the totality are supported that rural communities will flourish.
I, too, thank my noble friend for tabling this Motion for debate today. I want to address my remarks to rural areas in general rather than specifically to upland areas. I am a country dweller. I have lived in Suffolk for many years and my village has about 120 inhabitants. Like many people in your Lordships’ House, I carry out a weekly shuffle between where I stay in London and my home in Suffolk. The journey from Liverpool Street to Stowmarket takes around 80 minutes by train—or at least it does if National Express East Anglia is having a good day—yet that short 80-minute ride takes you from one world to another.
I guess that we are privileged in a number of ways, particularly because every week we see urban and rural living very much side by side. Certain things strike you about the way that public policy is developed—for example, there is lots of discussion about choice in public services. When I walk from the flat that I rent in London to the House, I probably pass eight schools, so choice there is a very real concept. In a rural area, passing eight schools might involve an hour’s drive and, in more sparsely populated areas, perhaps a two-hour drive. Therefore, questions about choice in public services are very different in rural areas. That reminds us that a lot of policy-making and decision-making is very much London-centred, which is something that people in rural areas notice and feel every day.
I was struck very much by the fact that a lot of the public service investment that took place under the previous Government was tied up in central administration, management and target-setting. I am philosophically allergic to that but it has also created a problem in rural areas. Centrally driven solutions are highly ineffective in dealing with rural problems, because there the solutions often lie in local, small-scale actions which are very individual and do not respond well to central control. Therefore, 20 years after I first became a district councillor, we are still talking about the same problems in rural areas—those of housing shortages, post office closures, deprivation and so on—and we have not really made any headway in tackling them.
I want to pause to recognise the role of the voluntary sector, certainly in Suffolk, although I am sure that it is the same in all rural counties. As well as some of the large national voluntary organisations, many hundreds of small organisations work tirelessly, some of them just generally to improve the quality of life—for example, the local project that cleans up the river in Stowmarket, or HomeStart volunteers who visit people in their homes and, in particular, help young mothers with post-natal depression. Those are key services which are targeted, offer good value for money and are highly effective. For us on these Benches, localism is not just about devolving power down to smaller arms of government, although that would be welcome, but down to communities and individuals who know best what they need in their area.
That needs to be balanced by effective strategic planning—not micromanagement from Whitehall. Although I have no particular regard for and am not sorry to see the dismantling of the unelected regional development agencies, we should look out for areas such as planning for water, waste, transport and other key services. Having been both a county and a district councillor, I am a fan of county councils for delivering that sort of strategic function. After all, counties are based on historic boundaries which carry a certain amount of public support with them. They are also democratically elected.
A good county council will understand the complex interplay between rural areas, market towns and the larger centres of population. A simplistic playing off of one against the other leads to bad policy-making and poor service delivery. For the same reason, I have never been very convinced by the previous Government’s imposition of so-called strong leaders in local councils. A well functioning cabinet or even the old-fashioned committee system would be better suited to large rural authorities because then representation would come from right across the council area, from town as well as country.
Despite the appearance of timelessness, our rural economies are changing. There are some very impressive rates of new business start-ups which, in many cases, are driven by new technologies. Between 1998 and 2005, the growth in knowledge-intensive business services has been at twice the rate in rural areas than in urban. This is despite the patchy provision of broadband services offering reliable speeds. Can the Minister say something about the Government’s plans for improving broadband in rural areas?
Rural businesses face certain problems. Surveys tell us that many small rural businesses rely on home loans and credit cards for their business finance rather than formal business loans. Thus they are more vulnerable to high overdraft charges or extortionate terms and conditions. There are 500 face-to-face debt advisers, funded by BIS, but only 24 are located in rural areas and so waiting times for business advice have increased to about three and a half weeks.
If we are to have a private sector-led recovery, the rural areas will be part of the driver for that, but they need help. We need to get the banks lending again where appropriate. Last year, Stuart Burgess, chairman of the possibly doomed Commission for Rural Communities, published a report stating that the size of the rural economy could be doubled if some actions were taken to unleash enterprise. I think the Government need to pay that some attention, particularly with regard to young people in rural areas who may wish to improve their skills and qualifications but who do not get the proper advice that they need. Often, they will either move away or fail to reach their full potential.
I shall finish by agreeing very strongly with comments made by the right reverend Prelate and the noble Lord, Lord Cameron, about planning. I welcome the notion of moving away from a heavily target-driven system to one which responds better to local needs. In my experience, parish councils are not nimbys. Most of them are very pragmatic about the need for development which can genuinely create more sustainable communities. They want to have their say, but they do not pull up the drawbridge. Therefore, the accusation that devolving planning to a more local level will somehow lead to nimbyism is completely misplaced in these rural areas. My only plea to the Government is to ensure that any incentive system which they give to housing reflects real need and is not just “cash for sprawl” but rewards the development of genuinely sustainable communities and sustainable homes.
My Lords, I join others in thanking my noble friend Lord Greaves for gaining this important short debate. I remind noble Lords of my family farming interests, although we have no upland connections at all, and of our membership of the NFU, the CLA and the National Trust.
In preparing for this debate, I reread the Natural England 2009 publication which my noble friend Lord Greaves highlighted and the recent Commission for Rural Communities report of June 2010. I also went back to the EFRA Select Committee report on the potential of England’s rural economy. Certain themes emerge in common. First, as the noble Baroness stated, no one size fits all. These rural areas are very diverse and the needs of one will not necessarily be reflected in others. Taking up the noble Baroness’s point about planning, I was particularly taken with page 8 of the EFRA Select Committee report, which posed the recommendation that Defra carries out a review of the planning decisions by the national parks authorities, assessing whether they reflect the correct balance between protecting the natural environment and ensuring that communities located within national parks are sustainable and will survive long term.
Other noble Lords have touched on things that are generally accepted but, in an age dominated by urban majorities, it is perhaps worth repeating the message so that it gets home. There are extra costs when living in rural areas: it costs more to provide services there; housing is more expensive and out of reach of some of the youngsters who want to enter farming or take up other rural careers; the provision of broadband is inadequate and in some places inaccessible; post offices have closed; jobcentres are difficult to visit; and village shops and pubs have also closed. Yet the rural local government areas receive a significantly lower level per capita of public investment than their urban equivalents. Sparsity has not been taken into account and I hope that my noble friend will be able to tell us more about the Government’s plans for that.
I read with interest the report of the Commission for Rural Communities, published in 2010. At page 50, the hill farming key facts give a stark warning about the future viability of farms in those areas. They state that approximately half of upland farmers are in debt and that, of those who borrow, 11 per cent report that it is becoming much more difficult to obtain external finance. Furthermore, 21 per cent expect their businesses not to go beyond the next five years. That highlights the need for urgency in tackling the problems that we face.
If world populations continue to expand as predicted, we will need to produce more food rather than less. Hill farming has an important contribution to make and one should not forget that less favoured areas in England make up 17 per cent of the total farmed area in England. While some farmers are able to make a viable return, many cannot as they are subject to disadvantages resulting from farming in areas of natural handicap.
As others have suggested, the agri-environmental payment schemes are crucial to their future. I understand that a revision of the less-favoured-area designations across the EU is now ongoing, with the objective of establishing more consistent EU-wide physical criteria for these areas. Defra’s new upland entry-level stewardship scheme is to set a minimum stocking density on moorland, reflecting the importance of grazing animals and the need to avoid undergrazing. My goodness, if we had had this debate a few years ago, we would have said exactly the opposite. I also understand that the EU Commission has suggested that scheme payments should be made annually, not half yearly as they currently are. I would like the Minister to comment on that because, if it is so, it will hugely affect some of our upland farmers who rely on a half-yearly payment. The total income of some of them is just about £6,000, which is minimal.
I have three questions for the Minister. First, will the Treasury’s contribution to the £3.9 billion England rural development programme be cut, and, if so, by how much? What has happened to the underspend of £420 million, reported in June 2009, for Defra’s RDP schemes? Secondly, does the Minister know how many tenant farmers with fewer than five years to run on their tenancy have failed to obtain their landlord’s countersignature on an application for an upland entry-level scheme and what is the aggregate loss of funding as a result? Thirdly, is Defra monitoring the expansion of the densely growing bracken? It is a huge problem in Wales and other areas, and unless we keep livestock on the land we risk it getting totally out of hand.
The Natural England report published in 2009, Vital Uplands—A 2060 Vision for England’s Uplands, states that our uplands are a national asset, prized by many people as places of inspiration and enjoyment as well as a source of vital benefits such as food and clean water. It later states that our healthy upland environment, with its outstanding wealth of habitats and cultural landscapes, is crucial to everyone’s well-being. It is indeed. But agriculture and food production are equally key. Surely the primary purpose of uplands will remain food production—a source of high-quality meat and breeding stock for lowland producers. The one set of farmers relies on the other, and the chain between them is an important link that should not be broken. It is worrying that there has been destocking of livestock in some areas. For example, the raising of livestock units on Dartmoor fell from 46,000 to 9,000 between 1996 and 2006. If that is repeated elsewhere, that is worrying.
How will the Government resolve the many demands placed upon them in our uplands areas? Will environment schemes continue, and how will they be regarded to include the public good? Other noble Lords have spoken about the need for a rural voice and the work of the rural advocate. Will the Government create a cross-government public service agreement if the CRC is to be dissolved, rather than the existing departmental strategic objectives, because some of us would consider the former better than the latter? Again, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, and I look forward to hearing the response from my noble friend.
My Lords, I, too, am pleased to join this important debate, which covers such important issues as communities and remote parts of the country, and to have the opportunity to address a Minister who not only is involved in farming but comes from a fairly remote area. I also farm and run small businesses in tourism and printing in an LFA almost six hours’ travel from this House, and I declare an interest in both farming and those businesses.
Although I am based in Scotland, and many of my activities fall under the Scottish Government, remote and upland issues tend to be similar throughout not only England but the devolved regions, and Westminster is still our link with Europe. It is true that, often, the uplands and remote communities of the United Kingdom are forgotten in the rush of modern life, and come to the attention of the public only when there has been a sad case of an errant gunman, or foot and mouth disease.
However, the uplands play an important part not only in the agricultural sector but in tourism and small business. The diversity of business is often less than in other regions and often has considerably lower income levels—through either market forces, restrictions on development by planning authorities, or simply the weather. Notwithstanding that, the weather is now contributing to the uplands economy through the proliferation of wind farms, balanced by the impact on often unspoiled countryside. Upland farming tends to be extensive by nature, not a high-income generator, and a low employer.
However, in industry, uplands create the base for a wide spectrum of business, from suppliers to small manufacturers and niche businesses. Sadly, that often means that the size of the business is too small to sustain whole families, and low incomes are often the cause of the drain from rural communities to centres of population. Rural enterprises often also lose out because they are unable to compete due to simple things such as broadband provision and transport links. As a result, many younger members of the community often feel obliged to move. That depopulation does not help the retail sector either, and many small shops are forced to close. The convenience shop used to be in the village but increasingly the large supermarket or store, in the eternal quest for territorial domination, now sweeps many small shops in rural towns aside. Sadly, that is increasingly seen in towns, with rows of closed shops moving the heart of town centres to the peripheral areas. Indeed, that is so bad in some rural towns that closed shops have large landscaped photographs placed in the empty windows to try to camouflage them.
To my mind, the solution should be fairly straightforward. I am aware that the enterprise networks in Scotland have been changed, and I believe that there are alterations in England. I am a great supporter of forward-thinking and effective enterprise and development agencies to help to support and advise on business start-up and development. That needs to involve proactive and experienced advisers and focused funding for support with a degree of flexibility.
The noble Lord, Lord Greaves, made some interesting points about foot and mouth disease in the Lake District. I am not aware of what went on in the rest of the country but, without a doubt, the fast reaction of our local council in Dumfries and Galloway, along with the enterprise network, to source funds for loan support for small business, prevented many of the non-agricultural small businesses from going under at a critical moment.
I am aware that there are initiatives in Scotland, and I assume that there are initiatives in England, to supply broadband to outlying exchanges. My noble friend Lord Cameron covered the need for broadband very well. However, I recently heard of a business local to me that received a quotation in excess of £10,000 to complete the link from the exchange to the business. That is not an incentive for a business to develop in a remote area.
I also want to cover transport, but would prefer to come back to it later.
Over the next few years, the single farm payments system is being reviewed, along with other European funding. I urge the Minister to focus on discussions with the devolved Governments to discover exactly how remote communities can be best served before accepting any agreement from Europe, to ensure that we can rebuild our remote communities and stop further deterioration. Too often schemes are produced that focus not on the business but on the community, which can often result in an excessive supply of play areas and similar things, but without the business development there will be no young people to enjoy the playground. Without a doubt, successful communities rely on successful business. Perhaps we should look at local abattoirs built on greenfield sites and subject to full, up-to-date European regulations, which would demonstrate a complete interlink between upland food production and would, without doubt, be better for the welfare of the animals, which are otherwise transported for long distances.
Returning to transport, I ask the Minister to indulge me because he will know that the town I am talking about is in Scotland, which is under a devolved Administration. Stranraer is two hours west of Carlisle, is surrounded by sea on three sides and is in an area dominated by farmland. The only industrial employment comes from a cheese factory and two ferry ports. It definitely qualifies as a remote community. However, my example can be applied to many remote towns and villages, where the formula can be adjusted but the results are the same if one of the principal employers ceases. About five years ago, an economic assessment was commissioned to study the effect of the withdrawal of the ferry services on that route. Stranraer already had an unemployment rate of over 5 per cent, and it was predicted that unemployment would rise to almost 15 per cent.
The key to the survival of Stranraer was the ferry ports, and the withdrawal of the ferry companies was a real possibility, entirely due to the condition of the road approach. There are other crossings to Ireland, but none as short and therefore as fast. The road to the town and port is the A75, which is also a trans-European network link from Ireland to mainland Europe through Scotland and England. Although of European merit, it is funded by the devolved Scottish Parliament, which did not consider it to be a priority. As a result of lobbying the Scottish Parliament, some road-widening improvements have taken place, but not nearly enough. However, Stena Line, one of the ferry operators, now has the confidence to invest almost £240 million in the sea route, securing for the time being the future of this one remote community. This money has been spent on building a new port facility and purchasing two new ships. It demonstrates the welcome and continued interest in the British maritime industry of Dan Sten Olsson, the managing director of Stena.
While not asking the Minister to respond on what has happened in the past in Scotland, I ask that, when the Government reorganise whatever may follow the Barnett formula, special attention is given to funding for devolved issues that affect all the regions of the United Kingdom—for example, road links—and that may not be a priority for the devolved Government. If not, other remote communities caught in the middle will continue to suffer.
My Lords, I will follow the thinking and questioning of those who have already spoken this afternoon. I come from a very beautiful seaside resort: Llandudno in north Wales. I get no commission whatever from any tourist authority for mentioning that. When I go home, I see such a change. Shops on the very attractive main street and on secondary streets are often boarded up. The reason is out-of-town shopping centres, which have a great attraction because they have easy parking and a wide variety of goods for sale—far more than high street shops used to have. You now see the change and the problem of what to do with those empty shops, apart from putting postcards in the window to show what they might be like.
This is happening not only in the towns. This earthquake of change has also hit the valleys, because naturally young people want more life than they will get in a rather sleepy village, and they will travel to the town. Rarely is there any trouble when they come on a Friday and a Saturday to the more youthful areas. I live very much on the edge of the youthful areas, by the way. There is no real problem. For older people—I include myself, of course—bus passes have been wonderful, because they take you to the shopping centre and the town and away from the sleepy village. My folk were shopkeepers in the Conwy valley. There were things on the shelves, but nothing like what you will get in your major supermarkets. We can see the change.
This is not only changing the towns but emptying the villages. After the war, there were 39 shops in one village that will be nameless. Some of them were small. There were bakeries, two chip shops, two pubs and a number of chapels and churches. Now what do you see there? There is not one shop. The post office has gone and one pub lies derelict. You look around and see that the church has closed, most of the chapels have closed and people have gone. The hub that used to be no longer exists. Some of the villages become suburbs to the larger town and are no longer individual, independent entities. That is fine because you can travel—for entertainment and for work—but it leaves a countryside that is empty of people. You wonder how on earth we can reinvigorate that countryside.
I have some strange ideas that I doubt anyone will ever pick up. Could not the big stores that have emptied and closed the village shops commit to some sort of franchise arrangement in local villages? Could we not ask the Government to instigate conversations with these large supermarkets, with their multimillion-pound chains, to see what could be done to bring some of their sales, their retail outlets, to the villages that have been emptied by them? That might at least bring some hope.
The Plunkett Foundation is a national organisation that helps rural communities, through community ownership, to set up retail outlets in village churches, pubs and halls. That is something that we could do. Let us also put a halt to the closure of small post offices. Some 2,500 post offices were closed when the previous Government were in power. We, as a coalition, must look to keeping villages unique and with some sort of hub. The post office is one. It has sales; it is a small shop. I heard of one this morning that does bed and breakfast as well. It serves the community in many different ways. Let us ask the post office to do one other thing. When a postmistress or postmaster retires, there should be a review of the situation in that locality. Retirement often means an erosion of the hours and the services that are provided. Let us have a real look at that situation.
Indicative of the decline in villages is the reduction in the number of whole-time agricultural workers. Some are family farms but some used to employ workers. In 1950, there were nearly 38,000 agricultural workers in Wales. By 1970 that was down to 13,500, and in 1990 to 5,881. The latest figures indicate that there are 2,779 agricultural workers. They are no longer in the countryside. In my part of Wales, local quarries used to be part of the community. Where they used to have thousands of workers, they now have very small workforces. Young people have left to work elsewhere.
I have looked at local baptismal registers. One hundred years ago, the people who were baptising their children there were from that parish or community. There is still some of that, but in the registers now one sees a person from Australia, another from Milan, Italy, and even some from England who have brought their children to be baptised in those areas. The community has scattered, so some of the young people have been lost. But new people are coming in. On Monday, the local Daily Post quoted a report from a Bangor University survey which stated:
“Rural villages are dying out across North Wales as the young quit a region which is failing to provide them with decent jobs … Meanwhile hundreds of older people … are pouring in, seeking”—
some sort of paradise—
“and hastening the decline”.
It is not a new story, but it is a story that continues.
How are we to tackle this? If only I knew, and if only we had a magic wand. Could we not think of local action areas? Perhaps we could ask the community council or the parish council if they would be willing to lead a local action area scheme for special support for regeneration.
We also have to look at what the future holds. The local bus service has been saved by passes for older people. The routes have been saved and people’s lives have been enhanced. How will that continue in a time when there are serious cuts in local government and in Welsh Assembly subsidies? Where will the money come from? I hope that the Minister will listen. How will we tackle these problems in a time of difficulty?
I thank my noble friend Lord Greaves for initiating this debate on rural communities. It is appropriate that I should declare an interest as deputy chief executive of the Countryside Alliance and as a member of the National Farmers’ Union. My maiden speech was last Thursday and I look forward to a continuing affection for the Thursday country. A positive future for rural communities goes to the very heart of what we all seek to promote. I welcome this opportunity to draw particular attention to the role agriculture and game management in the uplands play in ensuring a dynamic countryside and helping to address the challenges of climate change.
I would, however, like to make a few general comments on rural communities and the threats they face to their long-term sustainability. Rural communities are often at the sharp end: there is a lack of affordable housing; they suffer poor public transport provision; they have an ageing population; and they are often the last to achieve broadband connection, which can limit the creation of new enterprises and jobs. This is something that we should all worry about and we should help to promote a positive resolution.
Each aspect of rural life is interdependent and the challenges facing communities must be tackled together. If there are no houses and jobs, communities lose young families, which in turn means that there is no longer the critical mass to support local schools and shops. People in rural areas travel around 10,000 miles per year to access essential services, which is 43 per cent more than in urban areas. The greater distances make families more reliant on having a car and therefore disproportionately affected by increases in fuel prices. The problem is exacerbated by the loss of local garages. Some people now have to travel up to 30 miles to their nearest forecourt.
I turn more specifically to the uplands. Farming remains central to the character of these tightly knit and resilient communities, but requires a new generation of young people who want to take over the farms and businesses. Somehow we need to address the exodus of young people from upland communities by ensuring that there are positive prospects for those who want to make their lives there. Yet still many upland farmers are now living below the minimum wage. We need to ensure that planning authorities, particularly in the national parks, have the flexibility to enable sustainability to be implemented in the broadest sense, to allow sensitive development of affordable housing and businesses to thrive while respecting the landscape and environment.
British farmers not only produce food to some of the highest standards in the world, but also play a vital role, as they have done for many centuries, in shaping and maintaining the very landscape for which Britain is so famous. Hill farming is an essential element of managing moorland habitats and contributing to the cultural identity of many upland communities, which in turn makes them attractive places to visit. Some 45 million visits are made per year to national parks in England alone, with tourist spending of more than £2.2 billion. The economic value of tourism in the uplands is underpinned by the essential land management currently being carried out by farmers and gamekeepers. Land abandonment surely must not be an option, and policies must be developed to continue to reward farmers adequately for the stewardship they undertake for the benefit of the nation.
The uplands are home to habitats of international conservation value and some of the most spectacular scenery in the UK. They are places that offer solitude from the stresses of modern life, a quality which attracts many visitors to enjoy a range of activities and brings in vital income. Those who visit the uplands are rightly attracted to these areas because of their natural beauty, and that beauty has been much enhanced by long-standing management practices. The fact is that heather moorland, an iconic upland habitat, is rarer than rainforest. Some 75 per cent of this moorland is to be found in Britain. Through sensitive grazing, managed heather burning and revegetating bare peat, hill farmers, gamekeepers and land managers continue to provide benefits to both the environment and the public.
Much of the uplands have been given special protection under EU conservation designations because of their biodiversity attributes. Moorland managed for grouse has been shown through scientific research to support greater diversities of breeding waders, in particular at Otterburn, which looked at the breeding successes of curlew, lapwing and golden plover. It was found that 60 per cent of these bird species fledged on keepered land compared with only 16 per cent on non-keepered land. Some 47,000 people a year participate or are involved in grouse shooting, which puts £190 million into local economies. This economic engine drives notable conservation benefits.
Perhaps I may focus on the role the uplands also play in providing wider environmental benefits. Approximately 70 per cent of UK drinking water flows from upland catchments. In this context, I draw your Lordships’ attention to the land management practices used by gamekeepers that help to ensure clean water supplies. By revegetating bare and damaged peat and blocking drainage channels, gamekeepers stabilise the peat and reduce erosion. These practices reduce sediment loads, discolouration and contamination of water. It is in the uplands where the greatest opportunities for mitigating climate change lie. Peatlands are the single largest carbon reserve in the UK and researchers have estimated that if all the peatlands in England and Wales were maintained in pristine condition, they could absorb approximately 400,000 tonnes of carbon a year. Land managers therefore have an essential role to play in ensuring that the uplands act as carbon sinks.
The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs in the other place has requested a review of farming regulations. This has been widely welcomed by rural communities. Over the years they have seen a complete onslaught of regulations. The benefit of the lighter touch should not be underestimated; we should trust people more. The Minister has a considerable knowledge of rural communities and the uplands in particular. There is a strong team of Ministers at Defra with a track record of rural roots. The countryside looks forward to hearing more of their vision of the future.
Our country faces testing times; we can, and must, rise to the challenges. The rural communities across the uplands of all parts of the United Kingdom may be small in numbers, working in tough conditions, yet they are in the front line for us all, helping to address the ever present challenges of climate change, energy supply and food security. They deserve our respect and support.
My Lords, as someone who was brought up in East Anglia—indeed, in Norfolk, which, as a talented playwright said, is very flat—it is with some trepidation that I join a debate on the uplands. However, the main problem for rural areas and the uplands is the same: small communities are losing their heart because of the better transport facilities that are made available to people by the car. When enough people take their economic activity to other places, the small local community tends to wither and, as has been said by many people, local shops disappear, which leads to a loss of local casual employment. If you have not got access to transport—usually a car—you cannot get a job; this in turn means that you have to leave, which leads to a contraction of the community. The further up and the more difficult the hills, the worse the problem gets. It is an underlying social problem.
I do not know how many noble Lords have a holiday cottage, but those who do are adding to the problem because they have an economic reason for ensuring that that house is not available to the local community for people to rent or buy at an economic level.
There is a series of problems that are not effectively addressed by the way in which modern society is organised. It all comes down to the way we use transport. What we can do to counter the current trend is the only real question. We have talked about information technology and broadband and whether it will encourage people to work in the knowledge-based economy at home. Potentially it will—many do—but do people want to be isolated and spend all their time working at home? Many people want to spend some time at home and some time being interactive with people face to face. Are we providing enough incentives and encouragement to enable people to be by themselves or to spend virtually all their time within the family unit? We have not got there yet. There is still the problem that, if you are by yourself, you will still be dependent on your car and may have to travel slightly further and so on. Unless public transport is easily available at a mass level, we are always going to have these problems; people will become isolated in a modern community.
We do not know how affordable car transportation will be in the future. In the debate yesterday on the low-carbon economy, the question was posed whether the electrical car would prevent us from being priced off the road in private small boxes. We do not know yet. The Government should encourage the private sector —or do it themselves—to take on the role of ensuring that there is some kind of accessible public transport available to rural areas. This is a fundamental problem for rural communities in any part of the country.
The uplands of our society have become a recreational resource for much of the rest of the country—I thought that I might be the first person to touch on this after my noble friend Lord Greaves, but the noble Lord, Lord Gardiner, has just done so. That recreation takes the form of country sports, such as shooting, walking, mountain-biking, which is on the increase, and other forms of outdoor activity. Here, the uplands seem to have a real role. The problem, as has been pointed out to me, is that people may go there, have their sport and leave, but the economic spread is not as high as it could have been. Do we encourage people instead to go for several days’ walking or mountain-biking—those activities have slightly greater potential for this—to seek accommodation locally and to have at-leisure spend, for the pub or restaurant, after the main activity of the day? Are we doing enough to encourage this? Are we doing enough to encourage people to want go out there?
My noble friend Lord Greaves said that if we leave our hills spare, many of them will be covered in scrub woodland. Scrub woodland may look pretty, but just try walking or riding a bike through it. It is very easy to get lost in a wood. Will we have to invest in mountain rescue and more complicated forms of support if we do not maintain the type of landscape that has encouraged rural recreation? Walking over a comparatively open stretch of land with great views is a pleasant experience that has obvious health benefits. It is also a form of activity that is non-competitive, although one can often be very competitive with oneself, saying, “I’m going to try to get over that hill, see that view and get back again”. If we can encourage that type of activity, linking into the idea of making public transport more readily available, we would serve those communities. Local businesses, as my noble friend said, used to rely on a great pool of agricultural workers, who are simply not there now—modern agriculture seems to rely far more on mechanics than on people who have any great knowledge of the land. If we are going to encourage this type of activity, we have to make sure that we help rural people to be able to take on the business.
I will leave it there, because other noble Lords have dealt with this matter with considerably greater skill than I shall ever be able to manage. However, unless we start to look at this in the round and realise that recreation is also important to the survival of local communities, we will be missing a trick.
My Lords, I rise to speak in the gap because I was too late to put my name down for the debate last night. I shall be concise. I should like to declare the interests that I have put in the register.
I begin with the Commission for Rural Communities’ proposition that the uplands are an opportunity. That is because of the many changes taking place in the direction of the world—in digital technology, food security, the environment, climate change and tourism. I define rural communities in this context as being land-based, as opposed to being commuter-based near conurbations and towns.
The starting point for land-based areas in the UK is farming. Prosperous agriculture is the basis of prosperous uplands. We live in a controlled market for farming defined by the common agricultural policy, which is intended to take into account the public goods that it produces. In these circumstances, agriculture could perhaps accept that it should get the same rate of return on assets employed as the Treasury expects of government, while those engaged in agriculture should receive an equivalent at least of the minimum wage. Furthermore, as part of this, public goods should be paid for on a value basis, not a cost basis—after all, nobody expects Lucian Freud to sell pictures on the basis of the cost of materials and labour at an art teacher’s hourly rate.
The uplands contribute great value to tourism, ecology and the environment, and those should be recognised as the basis on which the rewards are distributed. The system that the Government deploy to deliver their policy requires complete overhaul, as we all know, which would save them and the farming community money. The development of digital technology provides huge new opportunities and I should be interested to hear what my noble friend the Minister has to say about that. I commend the initiatives of the honourable Member for Penrith and The Border. This is important, because this technology can improve the quality of life of those in the uplands and widen the scope of the business that can be conducted from them. In parallel, it is also vital that the planning policies recognise this change at the same time as honouring the requirement to protect—
My Lords, like others who have spoken this afternoon, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, on bringing forward this important subject for debate today. His commitment to countryside issues, including access to our countryside, is well known. His characteristically knowledgeable introduction of the debate set a welcome tone from the outset, which has been followed by a number of important contributions as well as a large number of issues for the new Government to consider in the whole area of rural policy.
I was personally glad that the noble Lord chose the particular focus of the debate to be the future of our upland areas in particular, not least since I live in one of our most beautiful upland areas, the Northumberland national park. My nearest small town is Rothbury, which of course suddenly found itself at the centre of both police and world media attention recently because of the dramatic events surrounding the hunt for Raoul Moat. Perhaps I can take this opportunity to pay tribute to the people of Rothbury, which, in most normal circumstances, is a very safe and caring community, deeply committed to the future of our countryside and our rural way of life. Indeed, it is a good place to live for those of us lucky enough to live there; for that reason, I was pleased at the points that the noble Lord, Lord Cameron, made in putting forward some of the positive aspects in relation to our countryside, as well as some of the problems and issues rightly raised by noble Lords this afternoon.
It was also good that a UK-wide perspective on our upland areas was evident in the debate. Despite the devolutionary age in which we live, or perhaps because of it, it is very good to share experience across the UK. Learning of good practices and what is happening in other parts of the UK is very important in a debate such as this.
Not surprisingly, reference was made right from the start, in the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, to recent reports about our upland areas, including from Natural England and the very recent one from the Commission for Rural Communities, High Ground, High Potential. This report deals with many of the themes raised by noble Lords today. The national importance of our upland areas is highlighted in the report. For example, 75 per cent of our uplands are designated as national parks or areas of outstanding natural beauty, and there are 40 million visitors to England’s upland national parks each year, with correspondingly important effects on spending in those areas and on the health of our tourism industry across the UK as a whole. The report deals with the importance of hill farming to the uplands, and measures to secure the future of hill farming as well as the challenges that people living in the uplands face in the modern world. The report’s recommendations are ones that we should all, including the Government, take very seriously.
As the Minister knows, I and the Opposition generally were concerned about the decision of the Government to abolish the Commission for Rural Communities and raised this with the Minister at Question Time last week. In reply, the Minister said that he would say something about this in due course, so I hope that he recognises that today is an excellent opportunity to make such a comment—and in particular to pick up on the point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Brooke of Sutton Mandeville, on how to ensure that there is an independent rural voice on many of the important issues that we have debated today.
The importance of payments and subsidies for upland farmers has been mentioned. Looking at one of the recent NFU bulletins, I see that there are concerns, which I hope will be addressed by the Government. In particular, there are worries that upland farmers, who will be particularly reliant on the upland entry-level stewardship scheme following the loss of HFA, might be put under additional financial stress as a result of the proposed changes to the payment cycle for stewardship agreements. The NFU urges transitional payments, at least, to mitigate against this possible problem. Having said that, I have also looked at the information supplied by Natural England on the need to boost uptake of uplands ELS and the welcome advice given by Natural England to encourage take-up, to streamline the process and to avoid as many delays as possible.
I feel nervous taking issue with any statement from the Bishops’ Bench today. Indeed, I agreed with many of the right reverend Prelate’s points. However, when the Labour Government were elected in 1997, the size of the majority meant that many Labour MPs represented substantial rural areas. I assure the right reverend Prelate that when I was a Minister at the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, I was lobbied as intensively on countryside issues by Labour Members as by Members of all other parties, including, of course, Members of your Lordships’ House.
In December’s debate in this House initiated by the noble Baroness, Lady Byford, who also spoke in today’s debate, I paid tribute to how British farmers have increasingly adopted an environmentally sensible approach to farming. By doing so, farmers are providing a public good beyond the traditional and essential public good of providing food. Farmers who I know in my area increasingly appreciate and enjoy environmental responsibilities as part of their overall work.
Following some of the comments by the noble Baroness, Lady Byford, I would like assurances from the Minister that the environmental schemes that have benefited farmers and rural areas more generally will continue and receive a proper level of funding. This is one area of policy where we want to continue making progress and not sacrifice many of the gains that have been made.
That leads me on to biodiversity, which was mentioned in the debate by the noble Lord, Lord Gardiner of Kimble. It is an important issue in our rural areas. This is the international year of biodiversity. I was glad that in the Secretary of State’s first debate in the other place she said:
“We are absolutely committed to reversing the trend in the reduction in biodiversity”.—[Official Report, Commons, 27/5/10; col. 405.]
However, reversing the trend will not be easy. There are many worrying examples within our own country. My area of Northumberland is an important habitat for red squirrels, but we feel increasingly beleaguered by the encroachment of grey squirrels from both north and south. Local people of all backgrounds and professions feel passionately about this issue. Indeed, I chivvied my own Government about this on many occasions, so I assure the Minister that I will continue to chivvy him and his colleagues.
There are other well loved species that we are concerned about—the dramatic drop in the number of nightingales, for example, or the number of water voles in our streams or rivers. We certainly cannot preach about the virtues of biodiversity abroad if we fail to protect and enhance biodiversity at home.
This debate has, quite rightly, ranged more widely than agriculture. Indeed, it has looked at a number of issues currently affecting rural communities. My noble friend Lord Knight drew to my attention concerns in Cornwall about the lack of future convergence funding projects, including business technology and transport initiatives. Cornwall is one of our least well-off rural areas. What are the Government’s plans for the convergence funding scheme? Will the Minister at least write to me if he is not able to give me that information immediately? It will be of concern to many Members.
Rural buses were mentioned, not least in the transport issues referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Addington. If there are to be cuts in rural bus subsidies, we need to know how these will affect the upland areas in particular. The situation concerning broadband was also quite rightly mentioned by several Members. There is still concern about progress in ensuring that this is fully provided in rural areas. I know from my own area that mobile communications, too, are an issue. Many upland areas still have either no or very poor access to mobile communications. However, there is a great deal of initiative and enterprise in our rural areas, which we should recognise. I have seen many impressive examples of farm diversification and rural initiative.
In conclusion, I echo the points that have been made. To ensure the future of our rural areas, while the role of government is vital, we also need a good partnership between local government, the private sector, the voluntary sector and all those involved in our local areas if the priorities that have rightly been identified today are to become reality.
My Lords, I also declare my interests as set out in the register. I echo the remarks of the noble Baroness, Lady Quin, who referred to the recent unhappy events in Rothbury, in paying tribute to the Northumbrian police for all that they had to endure in dealing with that matter.
In closing, the noble Baroness asked me a couple of extra questions. I have had rather a large number of questions put to me in the course of the debate, ranging from bees to bracken and brownfield sites to badgers, and then to bees and badgers. I have not had to deal with bees and badgers together before. The A75 from Carlisle to Stranraer came up, along with a whole host of other matters, including red squirrels. I do not think that I will be able to address all these matters now but suspect that I will be quite busy writing letters next week. However, I give the assurance that I will, as always, write to all noble Lords on individual points that need an answer.
I offer my congratulations to my noble friend Lord Greaves on introducing this debate and attracting such a high-quality list of speakers. It was good to be reminded of the industrial nature of some of our upland areas in the past. I think of the lead mining areas around Alston or the Lakes, or the coal mining areas in my part of north Cumberland, which has changed a great deal over the years.
I begin by stressing that the Government’s and my department’s remit for rural communities extends only to England. My comments will relate largely to English matters, rather than to those which relate to Wales, as mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Roberts; to Scotland, as raised by the noble Earl, Lord Stair; or to Northern Ireland, which we are grateful to my noble friend Lord Brooke for raising. There are three matters that are not devolved—forestry, hunting and EU farm policy. Other matters are devolved, therefore it would not be right for me to deal with them for Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. I can give an assurance that we talk to colleagues in the devolved Administrations about these matters. We certainly listen to what they are doing, and I hope that they will listen to us. Obviously one wants to share good ideas and practices. I will certainly ensure that comments on matters for the devolved Administrations are referred to them in due course.
The first point that I will deal with is the abolition of the Commission for Rural Communities. I start by stressing that the Government’s number one priority, because of the position we are in, must be to reduce the deficit. However, that cannot and will not be achieved by neglecting or ignoring our rural communities —quite the reverse. We are committed to taking on a focused and active leadership role on rural issues within the Government. That means two things: first, we will work closely with the rest of government to ensure that everything we do fully and appropriately reflects the needs and interests of rural people. We will in effect ensure that things are rural-proofed. Secondly, that makes clear that there can no longer be a need for the Commission for Rural Communities to operate as a paid external adviser, watchdog and advocate.
As I have made clear, we are committed to doing what we can to ensure that people in rural areas and the uplands receive fair treatment, but we do not believe that policy advice should generally be carried out by individual departments’ arm’s-length bodies—that is a job for the department. Defra will be the Government’s rural champion and we will ensure that it is. I give an assurance that all Defra Ministers have a reasonably rural background. I stress my own, coming from north Cumberland. I am fully aware of the problems that the rural and upland areas face. I appreciate that this will be difficult news for the CRC staff. We are very grateful for all the work that they do and this action is not in any way a reflection on the commitment and quality of work that they, the commissioners and particularly the chairman, Dr Stuart Burgess—he has been referred to—have done over the past four years. As I say, we will certainly ensure that we continue to offer that role within government and throughout government.
The Government recognise that all issues affecting rural people, businesses and communities are important, but I want to highlight a few of them where we feel that particular effort is needed. The noble Lord, Lord Greaves, was the first to mention the whole question of broadband in rural areas and the need for it to help create employment as society changes. This was echoed by a great many other speakers. We believe it is essential that rural communities and businesses not only get a basic level of broadband service as quickly as possible but that they are given equal priority as the next generation of high-speed broadband is rolled out in the future. Certainly my right honourable friend the Secretary of State and my colleague Richard Benyon, the Minister for Rural Affairs, are working closely with other ministerial colleagues, particularly in BIS, who lead on the wider broadband issue, to ensure that rural areas receive the basic broadband provision that they rightly want and expect as soon as possible; and that their interests are also fully recognised and addressed in the rollout of superfast broadband across the country in coming years.
The noble Lord, Lord Cameron, and many other speakers referred to housing difficulties in rural areas. Those areas are some of the least affordable places to live in this country. We need to ensure that our rural towns and villages have the freedom to determine the scale and type of development that they want and need. We will certainly be working with the Department for Communities and Local Government to ensure that rural people and rural communities benefit from the Government’s new approach to housing and planning. The Government agree that local communities should be free to decide what they want to build, and want to make it easier for them to do so. This is part of our whole spirit of localism.
The noble Lord, Lord Greaves, underlined the need for rural transport and the noble Lord, Lord Addington, stressed how important it was to ensure that people could get around. Transport is regularly cited by people in rural areas as their single biggest concern. It is fundamental to so many other matters affecting people’s lives in rural areas. We will be working with the Department for Transport to explore ways in which the best examples of local authority practice in terms of bus services and other transport provision can be replicated by others, and how the excellent examples of community-based transport schemes that are benefiting people in rural areas all over the country can be supported, promoted and emulated in other places.
The same is true of rural community services. I think it was my noble friend Lord Brooke who talked about the importance of shops, pubs and post offices. The noble Lord, Lord Cameron, stressed the extra cost of providing schools in rural areas. I certainly remember from my time as a county councillor in Cumbria the problem with one of the primary schools whose roll reduced to merely two. I gave up trying to defend it when most of the parents had moved their children away. Very often, parents want to move their children further in, to a bigger school that will offer greater services. That small school should have had between 20 and 30 pupils on its roll, but the other parents did not think it had a future. They left, and I have to say that it was very difficult to make much of a case for fighting for the school. The noble Lord can imagine the cost of a school with only two pupils. We understand that there are problems with not just schools but all other services, because fewer people use them. However, we also accept that all shops, pubs, post offices and village halls are very much the heart and soul of rural areas. Again, to identify and promote ways to maintain, support and improve these, we will work with partners in local government, local authorities and the civic sector.
It is obviously early days for us in government and there is much to do, but we will come forward with more detailed plans of how we intend to address these and other issues in the future—perhaps I should say “in due course”. The noble Baroness, Lady Quin, will upbraid me if I do not do that soon enough. However, we will certainly get on to it.
Perhaps I may say a little more about localism—something which I know the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, and I feel strongly about. I want to reassure him that we are committed to localism both in planning and in other areas. We should not be frightened that this will lead to attacks of so-called postcode lotteries. I remind noble Lords that the uplands are not just one area but a series of different areas, all of which face very different problems and are different in their needs. By localism we mean that we want all levels of local authority—whether unitary, town, parish, county or district councils—which are democratically elected to know what their areas want and how to deliver it.
I give one example from my portfolio within the department—the question of waste and how it is collected. It is quite obvious that the service that will be offered in Westminster, where I live for part of the time, will be very different from the service offered in the remote parts of north Cumberland, where I live the other part of the time. It is quite right that the two authorities—the City of Carlisle and the City of Westminster—should offer a different service, because the populations in those areas need and require different sorts of collection. It is also quite right that if we do not like the service we receive, we have a democratic chance of disposing of that authority.
There are other benefits from pursuing that policy of localism, despite the so-called dangers of a postcode lottery. Those are the advantages that, by operating in different ways, different authorities can produce different solutions which can then be copied by other authorities as appropriate. One could almost describe that as the Maoist approach of letting 1,000 flowers bloom—not that Mao necessarily in the end followed his own advice in these matters. Anyway, that policy should be followed by local authorities. Rubbish collection is just one example, and I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, will welcome that.
I turn now to hill farmers, the support that they need and the changes that will come about in the CAP. We fully recognise the vital role that hill farmers play in upland areas. I take this opportunity to welcome the recent announcement of the Prince’s Countryside Fund, which will provide an important additional means of support for hard-pressed farmers. The Government are committed to rewarding hill farmers for the environmental and landscape benefits that they provide. They provide numerous social and environmental benefits and are not fully rewarded by the market for the goods that they produce. We intend to ensure that they will receive the support that broadly reflects the value that they bring to society, and which will encourage them to remain farming in the hills so that all of us can go on enjoying the uplands in future. As has been made clear recently, we will try to reduce the regulatory burden on farmers by moving to a risk-based system of regulation, and will develop a system of extra support for hill farmers.
The uplands entry-level stewardship, which is the successor to the hill farm allowance, has now been introduced and recognises the role of upland farmers in shaping some of our most iconic areas, while better targeting funding for the delivery of those environmental and landscape benefits. If we achieve the maximum uptake on uplands ELS, that will take funding to £31 million per year. I understand that interest is in line with expectations. Some 1,800 applications have been received and 1,200 agreements are now in place. In response to a question from the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, I tell him that the area of eligible land is more than 200,000 hectares—nearly 40 per cent of England's target for uptake by March 2011. I say to my noble friend Lady Byford that we recognise that there would be an impact on farmers if the payment ceased to be half-yearly and became yearly, and I assure her that we will look at that.
Lastly, I will say a word or two about CAP reform, which is an important and very difficult matter that we will have to deal with in Europe over the next two years. We want to see a competitive, thriving and sustainable agricultural sector that is able to rise to the challenges and opportunities of the future. That means that we need genuine reform of the CAP to deliver good value for farmers, taxpayers, consumers and the environment. That will be difficult to achieve, but we are committed to working together with the European Commission, the other member states, the world of farming and all others to achieve reform of the CAP.
I conclude by saying that the rural areas of England, including the uplands and other more remote places, have been marginalised for too long. By forcing Whitehall to recognise and respect rural needs and interests, and by empowering rural citizens to solve their own problems, the Government believe that they will restore these prized national assets to their rightful place at the heart of our nation.
My Lords, I have time to make only two brief comments in response to the debate. First, I thank everyone who has taken part—particularly noble Lords who put quite a lot of flesh on the bones of what I initially set out to be a very broad and general introduction to the subject, rather than an attempt to cover everything. I am extremely grateful for the very high quality of the speeches of all those who took part, including the noble Lord, Lord Inglewood, who jumped rather rashly into the gap but seems to have survived. I thank everyone and hope that the record of this debate will be something that people, including the Government, can use in going forward with rural policy.
I particularly thank the Minister for his very comprehensive reply. I always thought that the little red book that he had in his pocket was the Companion. It turns out to be the Thoughts of Chairman Mao, so perhaps I shall become more adjusted to calling him my noble friend after all.
The other point that I want to make concerns advocacy.
House adjourned at 4.35 pm.