House of Lords
Friday, 21 January 2011.
Prayers—read by the Lord Bishop of Wakefield.
Arrangement of Business
My Lords, I must inform the House that, owing to a considerable increase in the number of speakers who signed up for the Second Reading of the Rehabilitation of Offenders (Amendment) Bill over the course of just yesterday, and owing to the tabling yesterday of additional amendments to the Dog Control Bill introduced by my noble friend Lord Redesdale, it has been agreed with my noble friend that we will look to reschedule the Committee stage of his Bill to a later date rather than proceed with it today. That is in order to ensure that today the House can rise no later than the conventional time of three o’clock. Of course, I regret the inconvenience to any noble Lords who were hoping to participate in proceedings on my noble friend’s Bill today and I am grateful to him for his co-operation in this matter.
Marine Navigation Aids Bill [HL]
My Lords, before the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, is able to make his speech, it falls to me to make the following statement. I see one or two puzzled faces opposite, but this is very much a normal matter.
I have it in command from Her Majesty the Queen and His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales to acquaint the House that they, having been informed of the purport of the Marine Navigation Aids Bill, have consented to place their prerogative and interest, so far as they are affected by the Bill, at the disposal of Parliament for the purposes of the Bill.
My Lords, I am grateful to the Chief Whip for that introduction. The predecessor to this Bill had its Second Reading nearly a year ago, on 5 February 2010, and I refer noble Lords who are interested to col. 432 of Hansard for that date. In its present form, this Bill is in exactly the same format as the Bill that I introduced then and noble Lords will be pleased to hear that I do not intend to make the same Second Reading speech.
I am grateful for that show of support. However, in many ways things have moved on on the navigation aids front. There has been progress, with developments, and I believe that it is a good idea to bring the Bill forward again.
I remind noble Lords that I introduced the Bill last year because, in the previous year, the Government of the time had increased light dues—the dues that ships pay to enter any British port—by 67 per cent, which in the middle of a recession I thought was a bit steep, to say the least. I can go through all the reasons for that, but I think that it is enough to say that they can be found in the Hansard of a year ago. I maintained then, and still do, that such an increase is frankly unaffordable. We are talking about a unique structure, where the Government set the charges for ships based on what the three general lighthouse authorities say that they need, and the ship owners have to pay up.
The main problem arises when you compare that with all the cost-cutting that the Government are making at the moment. There have been some enormous cost-cutting measures, which we have been debating here and will continue to debate, particularly in the Public Bodies Bill. Basically, the Government are saying, “You have to cut the costs. Do it how you like but this is the way that it is going to end up”. Uniquely, I think, in this case, the Government still set the charges but the taxpayer does not pay; the ship owner pays. I shall repeat just one quotation that I read out a year ago from Stephen Bracewell, the chief executive of the Harwich Haven Port Authority. He said that, as a result of the increase in the light dues,
“no less than four major container services have ceased calling at the Haven Ports”.
That is a pretty serious change to ship movements, involving a loss of revenue and a loss to the economy.
In the ensuing year, I have consulted a number of people and organisations about this light dues issue. The problem is still as bad, but I believe that there are simpler solutions. I have come across a number of examples elsewhere of how costs have been slashed for maintaining the lights, which of course has resulted in lower charges. The best example that I found was in Australia. A couple of weeks after my Second Reading speech last year, I received an e-mail from someone in Australia whom I did not know saying that he had been reading Hansard the previous night. I felt chuffed about it but I wondered why someone in Australia would be reading my speech in Hansard. However, the person concerned had been the director of the Australian lights authorities and, over the past 10 years, had achieved a saving of 50 per cent in the maintenance of the lights all the way round Australia. I went to Australia in April and arranged to meet him. I was extremely impressed with him because he also knows the UK waters very well. He was adamant that similar savings could be made here and a number of his articles were published in Lloyd’s List. One of the elder brethren at Trinity House, Michael Grey, wrote in saying that Australia was nothing like the UK. He said that it was a square country and needed only a lighthouse at all four corners. I am exaggerating slightly, but it was that kind of thing. Mr Davidson responded by saying that he knew all about the UK waters and that he stuck by his arguments.
I also heard more recently that the Hong Kong authorities are reducing light dues by 20 per cent. They are bringing in similar efficiencies. I understand that in many of the old colonies, shall we say—they are now independent—where a similar structure of lights occurs, there is the potential to make similar reductions.
Since last year, the new Government have made a lot of progress and I am pleased that they have. First, they have made progress on what we have come to call the Irish question. Since 1922—or since for ever, actually—ships entering UK ports have contributed to the cost of maintaining the lights around the Republic of Ireland. I remember putting down a Starred Question about that a few years ago. The noble Baroness, Lady Crawley, answered it by saying that the Irish Government were not keen to negotiate. Well, they wouldn’t be, would they, if they would have to spend somewhere between £15 million and £20 million more because ships coming into British ports no longer had to contribute to the maintenance of the lights around Ireland. After all, they do not contribute to the lights around France, Belgium, Germany or anywhere else.
The present Shipping Minister, Mike Penning MP, has reached agreement with the Irish Government to stop this transfer of funding by the end of this Parliament. I certainly welcome that. He will need all the support that he can get given the state of the Irish economy. I believe that the Irish Minister whom he met a week or two ago resigned yesterday, so I hope that the agreement will still stand.
The Government have also finally started to tackle the costs of running the three lighthouse authorities around the coast. I understand from a letter from the Lights Advisory Committee that the Government have set the GLA the target of making cuts of 17 per cent over the next five years. That is welcome—it is a major step forward—but they could go further. Anyone in the position of being a monopoly supplier, effectively government-funded in the way that it operates, could cut costs a lot more.
I have already written to the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, and other speakers whose names were on the list when I wrote the letters to tell them that, if the Bill is given a Second Reading by the House today, I will introduce amendments to make it much simpler. These amendments would do two things. They would require the Government to reduce light dues for ships entering the UK ports by codified reduction targets annually for a five-year period—probably by 50 per cent in five years, which is achievable. I would also support the present Shipping Minister in his work in dealing with the Irish Government by requiring the Government to cease payments by a certain date.
My Lords, I know from my time at the receiving end as Transport Minister that my noble friend is extremely knowledgeable and an assiduous campaigner on these issues—rightly so, given their importance to a seafaring and trading nation. Is he in a position to estimate the deleterious effect on trade of such a large increase over a short period of time, even if only in very round figures?
My Lords, that is an interesting question. When I quoted the chief executive of the Harwich Haven Port Authority, I quoted only part of what he said. He also said:
“This action by four major carriers has already deprived the General Lighthouse Fund of £2.4M in annual light dues”.
He did not estimate the reduction in business for the Haven ports, but the noble Lord will appreciate that, if four major container lines cease coming into the UK but go to the continent—Rotterdam, Antwerp or Hamburg—and feeder across, there will be a serious and significant reduction in jobs. Of course, shipping lines take extremely seriously even small changes to the amount that they have to pay.
I am grateful to noble Lords. I was about to come to what I intend to remove, which will be a significant part of the Bill. I will replace it with what I would call an output specification, which, as I said a moment ago, would be a clause that would require the Government to reduce light dues, to codify reduction targets by probably 50 per cent over five years and to cease providing the Irish subsidy.
I was proposing to leave in the clause on pensions, because that came from the draft Marine Navigation Bill, for which the previous Government did not get round to finding parliamentary time. I wrote to the Shipping Minister asking whether he thought that it was a good idea to leave it in or whether he wanted anything else to be put in. As the noble Lord will know, there is already a Commons Private Member’s Bill, promoted by Therese Coffey, on wreck removal. So it is for me to have further discussions with the Minister, and a substantial reduction in the Bill’s scope will be proposed. However, I have checked with the Clerks and they seem happy with that. I have also been advised that in Private Members’ Bills in your Lordships’ House we can propose reductions in charges, costs or anything else, but we are not allowed to propose increases. That is the advice that I have had from the Clerks. Again, however, we can debate that.
All organisations that are under pressure will say that they have squeezed their efficiencies as far as they can and that they cannot do any more without compromising safety. However, we have seen in many areas that, when push comes to shove, they can do it. I believe that a bit more pushing on the GLAs will enable them to reduce costs. They will have to reduce costs and it will not compromise safety.
I welcome the Government’s action in particular in respect of the Irish question. However, I think that it would be useful for the Government to have some legal support in the shape of this Bill in case the Irish want to change their mind at any time. I have talked to many people in the shipping industry, as I said, who have confirmed the view that Mr Davidson has suggested—that reducing the costs of the GLAs by 50 per cent is reasonable and achievable and that, if the costs come down, the charges will come down. I very much look forward to noble Lords’ comments and, no doubt, if the Bill is given a Second Reading, to further discussions. I beg to move.
My Lords, I declare my interest as Minister for Shipping from 1985 to 1986 and from 1992 to 1994. I did not take part in the Second Reading debate last year because I thought that the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, was wasting the time of the House. At that time a major report into the lighthouse authorities was due and it would have been a much more efficacious use of the House’s time had he waited for the report to be published before putting his Bill before the House for Second Reading. I fear that this year the noble Lord is abusing the House. He has told us that he will substantially revise his Bill—and that he is entitled to do. The Bill comprises 14 clauses and one schedule. From what I managed to elicit from him a moment ago, only one of the clauses will remain, Clause 12, on the pensions funding, and he will introduce some other clauses. Those of us taking part in this debate have spent a lot of time doing preparation on the Bill as it is before us, but that time has been completely wasted.
The noble Lord had the courtesy to write to my noble friend Lord Attlee on 14 January advising him what he was going to do. He did not write to me until 19 January, and I got the letter only this morning. I was very lucky to receive a copy of the letter that he sent to my noble friend Lord Attlee. Why did the noble Lord not write to those of us who are taking part in this debate at the same time as he wrote to my noble friend Lord Attlee, on 14 January? Why has he allowed us to waste our time in this fashion? I fear that this is an abuse of the House. Perhaps he should do the right thing, withdraw this Bill and bring forward for Second Reading a Bill that he actually intends to pursue through the House. I do not dispute that his proposed amendments will make the Bill a lot better, because there are amendments that I would wish to put forward anyway, but I feel that I have wasted a considerable amount of my time, as has everyone else taking part in the Bill, because the noble Lord has not had the courtesy of letting us know exactly what he is going to do.
When the noble Lord spoke he repeated much of what he said last year, and of course he told only one-half of the story. He mentioned the increase in light dues. What he did not tell the House is that the light dues are the same in absolute terms as they were when I was Minister for Shipping in 1993, and that it is a 32 per cent reduction accounting for inflation. So, far from a massive increase, there actually has been a substantial reduction. He wants a 50 per cent reduction; well, he has got a 32 per cent reduction since I was Minister for Shipping. So the situation is not nearly as bad as the noble Lord has tried to portray to the House.
What was wrong—and what I fear my honourable friend the Minister of Shipping is wrong to do—was to freeze the light dues. That is why there was such a substantial increase. There was no increase from when I was Minister for Shipping until the increases were made in the past couple of years, and the Minister for Shipping has said that he will not increase light dues for the next three years. I think that that is unfair on the shipping industry. It is far better to have gradual increases—or, one hopes, reductions—rather than having a period of a freeze. Labour Ministers were very wrong to do that, because it then catches up with you: you get a deficit and you suddenly have to have what appears to be a substantial increase.
I do agree with the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, in congratulating my honourable friend the Minister for Shipping on getting an agreement with the Irish Lights. This is an old problem which I tried to deal with in 1985-86 and in the early 1990s, but that was not a sensible time to try to negotiate that sort of agreement with the Irish. It is very good that the Irish Lights cover the whole of Ireland—I think that it is the Irish rugby team, the Irish Lights and a third organisation which I cannot remember that cover the whole of Ireland. I agree that the partial subsidy that we gave towards the Commissioners of the Irish Lights will be phased out by 2015-16.
The noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, also said that there ought to be a continuing reduction in light dues. Of course he probably has read the Atkins report; and he probably knows that all the lighthouse authorities are currently working on a reduction and that, this year, all the running costs in real times will be decreased by at least 3 per cent. They have to meet, over a five-year period, an RPI-X formula, and they are well on their way to doing that.
There is now a joint strategic board at non-executive director level which is a result of the Atkins report and I think that it is a sensible way forward. This board is for the first time looking at all the corporate plans for the three separate lighthouse authorities. It is interesting to recall that the Atkins report did not recommend that the three GLAs should be merged into one, but said they would operate much more efficiently as three individual bodies. That is certainly beginning to prove the point.
The strategic board has a lot more to offer in the running of the lights. When something as new as that is introduced, of course it takes a bit of time to settle down. The Northern Lighthouse Board, Trinity House and the Commissioners of the Irish Lights are trying to get together. I think that there were some difficulties early last year but they seem to have worked their way out of the system and the board is now doing a very good job. I wish that I had been able to do something like that when I was the Minister for Shipping.
With the work that has taken place with the lighthouse authorities since the Atkins report—the reductions in the light dues and the continuing RPI-X indices—the running costs are coming down. In fact, the running costs will be reduced over the next four years by more than 17 per cent. That is not quite the 25 per cent that some would have liked, but it is very good over four years. That is fairly comparable to the Department for Transport’s CSR outcome of 14 per cent.
I hope that given perhaps a more balanced view of where we are with light dues, the noble Lord will not pursue this Bill. I would repeat only that, as far as I am concerned, he has behaved extremely badly towards the House and all of us who are taking part in this Second Reading debate.
My Lords, I am sure that the whole House will recognise the tenacity and commitment of the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, to this important issue. I am sure that he will understand that for the reasons expressed by the noble Earl it is difficult to have a debate today in anything other than general terms on the important question of the UK system of providing aids to navigation.
However, it is useful to have such a debate at this time. It is also refreshing to have a debate on shipping in your Lordships’ House because it is a topic that we seldom cover, which is interesting when we consider how important the shipping industry is to this country’s economy and to our maritime heritage. I believe that it is timely to revisit the question of light dues. We are the only country in the world to have a user-based scheme for the funding of light dues. While that is not in itself a reason to change the system, it should at least give us the opportunity for pause for thought and to reflect on why we are the only country left which does it in this way.
Clearly, money is the essential driver, as it so often is. The budget shortfall within the General Lighthouse Authorities can be dealt with only in the way that any organisation deals with budget shortfalls; that is, you increase your income, you cut your costs or you do both. The original proposal to increase the budget at a time when all other departments were slashing theirs was ill advised. I am very glad that the Government have stepped in and have given some firm guidance that this is not acceptable.
I very much agree with the point made by the noble Earl that having a stop-start approach to light dues where they are frozen for many years and then increased very fast is not a sensible way to treat the shipping industry, which now has far more options available to them. As we have heard, a large number of companies are simply deciding to go to Rotterdam or to Antwerp and to use feeder ships to try to ship. This is having a serious effect on the maritime industry generally and has the effect of making the budget crisis within the GLAs even worse because they are trying to bring more money in and actually are bringing in less. They then get into a vicious circle from which it is difficult to escape.
The Government need to reconsider the principle of whether a 41p per tonne levy on ships in UK waters is still an appropriate way forward, given that it is described as a user tax, when there is no mechanism for measuring whether these ships are using the lights at all. With modern navigation and so on, things have moved on. The Chamber of Shipping is adamant that this is a tax on trade. We need some clarity of thinking as to whether that is what it is.
The budgetary problems will be eased by the recent announcement of the agreement with the Irish Government that they should take on responsibility for their own lights. I congratulate the Minister, Mr Penning, on achieving what previous Governments said was impossible. Therefore, either Mr Penning has been very persuasive or we have a lot of extra leverage after having written some large cheques to the Irish Government lately. Whichever way it is, we certainly seem to have made progress that has eluded us before.
I understand that the subsidy to the Irish Lights this year is around £12 million, which will come as a significant benefit to the budget. Will the Minister say whether this saving will in part or in whole be reflected in reduced fees to the ship operators or will simply disappear into the lighthouse funds to help to deal with the pension deficit?
The issue of operating costs is important. I know that the Government are working with all sectors of the transport industry to look at why UK costs are much higher than overseas comparators. They are doing that for rail, roads and so on. I suspect that this is as much of a problem with marine navigational aids as with any other sector. As we have heard, an article in the Lloyd’s List of 23 August 2010 by the former chief executive of the Australian Maritime Safety Authority has highlighted how Australia transformed its lighthouse system during the 1980s, improved service quality and reduced costs. I know that a lot of other countries are looking at the Australian model and I hope that our Government are too.
On 14 January, the Government in Hong Kong announced that they will reduce fees for a range of maritime services, including lights, by about 20 per cent. Clearly, there is a wealth of international experience on which to draw. That is appropriate because shipping has well established international organisations, including the International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea in this area.
The noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, has done the shipping industry a service by bringing this forward today, although I hope that he will accept the difficulties of scrutinising a Bill that has disappeared before our eyes. Nevertheless, I thank him.
My Lords, I declare an interest as chairman of the Northern Lighthouse Heritage Trust and as a former commissioner of the Northern Lighthouse Board.
As other speakers have recognised, we have been here before—the same Bill had its Second Reading less than a year ago—but, nevertheless, like my noble friend Lord Reid, I pay tribute to the tenacity of my noble friend Lord Berkeley in bringing this issue of lighthouses before the House. As has been said, shipping is a vital part of our trade and it is important that these issues are looked at properly.
Much has happened since the Second Reading last February. First, there has been an agreement between the British and Irish Governments on the so-called subsidy to the Commissioners of Irish Lights. The Minister, Mr Penning, can take real credit for having reached that agreement, particularly in the face of the difficulties that the Irish Government face. Of course, the Minister was building on work that had been done by his predecessors, but, nevertheless, to have secured that deal last week is significant.
The second major thing that has happened since last February is the publication in March 2010 of the Atkins report. I am sorry that my noble friend did not say more about that, given that the new Government quickly accepted most of the report’s recommendations, which have now been implemented or are in the process of being implemented. The report was established by the previous Government to look at the structure and funding of lights in the UK and the efficiencies that could be made by the general lighthouse authorities. We now have a joint strategic board, which I understand has settled down well after a shaky start and is producing real benefits. The authorities are now monitoring each other’s business plans with a view to co-ordination. Another recommendation that has been accepted is the rationalisation of the buoy yards, with a buoy yards study addressing significant overcapacity in Harwich and Swansea.
The RPI minus X formula, which is designed to produce a year-on-year reduction in running costs, has also been accepted. Each GLA has its own value for X because they start from different bases. The Commissioners of Irish Lights, as I understand it, has accepted a target of just over 6 per cent given the need to achieve a significant reduction in manpower. For the Northern Lighthouse Board, the target is just over 3 per cent. To be clear, that means that, if the RPI is under 3 per cent—which may be just a hope at the present time—there will be real and absolute savings through efficiencies. The savings will be 17.4 per cent over the next four to five years. I understand that the recommendation on light dues was not accepted by the Government, but Mr Penning has made it clear that there will be no increase in light dues for at least the next three years, which is to be welcomed.
What should happen to this Bill? First, I commend my noble friend on his decision to drop the restructuring of the general lighthouse authorities and the establishment of a marine navigation aids commission and office of marine navigation aids regulation. For various reasons that I will not go into now, I believe that to be the right decision. However, I will make one comment, which is that, given the deal that has been reached between Mr Penning and the Irish Government, it is important that we bolster the Minister and make sure that we are not accused of bad faith by trying to restructure the general lighthouse authorities.
My noble friend has informed the House that he contemplates a radical restructuring of the Bill. Of course I bow to the Clerks and the House authorities on whether those changes are within the scope of the Bill, but I draw to the attention of noble Lords that the purpose of the Bill is to,
“Establish a Marine Navigation Aids Commission; to establish an Office of Marine Navigation Aids Regulation; to amend the Merchant Shipping Act 1995; and for connected purposes”.
We are now informed that the purpose of this Bill is to be significantly altered. However, I make no complaint that I did not receive the letter, as I did not put my name down to speak in this debate until yesterday and the letter was in fact passed on to me by friends in the Northern Lighthouse Board, so I was aware of it.
As I understand it, there are two elements to the amendments that my noble friend wishes to make to the Bill. The first would require the Government to reduce the light dues for ships entering UK ports by codifying reduction targets annually for a five-year period. The second would require the Government to cease providing the Irish subsidy by a certain date. In my submission, the second proposal is now otiose, given the agreement between the UK and Irish Governments. I do not see any merit in providing some sort of legal backbone to the agreement, because there is no reason to suppose that the Irish Government will renege provided that we keep our side of the bargain. On the proposal to issue some kind of reduction target, I have to say that I am always sceptical of attempts in legislation to impose rigid budget constraints, which require us to attempt to look into the future to see how financial circumstances may or may not change.
A better method would be to give some stability in the setting of light dues—I have already welcomed the announcement of the freeze that is to apply for at least the next three years—and to ensure that operating costs are reduced so that efficiencies are obtained. We have already seen that with the progress that has been made on implementing the Atkins recommendation on RPI minus X. That will produce real and significant savings. I accept that progress has to be monitored, which will happen through the lights users committee and the work of the department.
Mention has been made of different funding methods such as those that are used in Australia. It is clear that our system of funding is now unique—in other countries, the funding comes out of general taxation—but I think that we should be careful when we seek to draw analogies between different systems of funding. It may be that there is time to look at whether the current method is the right one for the future, but I have to say that many of us would be concerned if we moved away from the principle of the user pays to placing a burden on the general taxpayer. However, that is a debate for another day on a different Bill.
I believe that the right course for my noble friend would be to withdraw this Bill and to bring forward legislation in a more proper form that we can debate on its merits.
My Lords, I agree totally with what the noble and learned Lord, Lord Boyd, and the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, have just said. We have discussed this Bill once before, so it is rather extraordinary for us to discuss it again in its original form when the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, was good enough to write to us all to tell us that he is going to change it substantially. I declare an interest as an elder brother of Trinity House, which is an unpaid position. In view of the wise remarks that have already been made, I will confine my own to just a few points.
My first issue, which I did not raise when we discussed this almost a year ago, is that “Marine Navigation Aids Bill” as a short title is, strictly speaking, not correct because marine navigation aids include any aids that you might find on the bridge of a ship, including radar and so on. The correct title should be “Marine Aids to Navigation Bill”, which would limit it to the work done by the general lighthouse authorities, which is what the noble Lord is concerned about.
The noble Earl, Lord Caithness, has already taken issue with the general cost of light dues. It is true that such dues were reduced five times between 1993 and 2006, in which year the previous Administration reduced them by a further 13 per cent at a time when shipping was enjoying the best boom that it had had for years. With hindsight, that was unfortunate, because of course the time came to raise the dues again as the General Lighthouse Fund had in effect been running at a loss. In 2009, there was a large increase, which was followed by a second increase a year later in April 2010. As the noble Earl said, those increases came when we were in recession and shipping was going through a hard time. I can understand ship owners’ resentment, but they did slightly ignore what had been happening over the previous 10 to 15 years.
We have always collected light dues under the user pays principle. That is not unique to this country. Things may have changed a little but, as I mentioned on the previous occasion, quite a number of other countries collect light dues either in whole or in part in the same way, so it is not correct to say that our system is unique. Governments of both persuasions have supported the user pays principle. The problem is that our charges are transparent and ship owners can see them when they get their bills, whereas in other ports around the world the charges are either covered by government funds or included in port charges. There is no evidence to suggest that it is any more expensive for a ship to call at our ports than ports on the continent.
I also take slight issue on how business has been affected by the recent rises. The figures that I have seen do not suggest that there has been any reduction in ships calling at our ports. Some individual ports may have been affected, but container lines are notorious for switching from port to port as it suits them. A lot of them now work in consortia, so any decision—for example, to switch from Felixstowe to Southampton or vice versa—may be strategic.
Much has been said about the Atkins report, which is now in the process of being implemented. Reductions in costs are in the pipeline. Certainly, Trinity House has committed to reduce costs by 26 per cent over the next few years, which is broadly in line with departmental cuts. I think that it is safe to say that light dues will have to remain stable for the next three years so that one may see how the situation pans out. Let us give Atkins a chance. We all agree that the Atkins report was very useful. Let us see how its implementation works out before we think of any further changes to light dues. I feel certain that dues will come down in time, but the increased efficiencies now being made in the general lighthouse authorities will ensure that the reduction can be made in time. It would be unwise to think that any reduction could be made within the next three years.
One aspect of the Bill that the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, has introduced that is in many ways welcome is the proposal to give lighthouse authorities increased power to use their ships for commercial purposes. Under existing powers, such ships can undertake commercial work, which brings in more than £3 million a year that is paid into the General Lighthouse Fund. Any means of increasing that ability would be most welcome. In view of what has happened, that is one the few aspects of the Bill that would be welcomed. However, as the noble Lord mentioned, there is the problem of another Private Member’s Bill in another place that seeks to deal with wreck removal. Both those matters, as well as the pensions issue that has been mentioned, were included in the draft Marine Navigation Bill. Although we are all disappointed that the Government did not bring that Bill forward, it would now seem sensible for them to do so at the earliest opportunity. That would be the best course of action and would make the noble Lord’s Bill and the Bill in the Commons unnecessary.
My Lords, my noble friend Lord Berkeley should be congratulated on his persistence in introducing this Bill again. It gives us a further opportunity to look at the important matter of the safety of seafarers and the maritime environment. We can, as has already been done, note the progress made since we last debated this matter on 5 February last year.
It is a pity that we could not have had this debate in a few days’ time, because we could then have marked a very important anniversary in aids to navigation: the lighting of the Bell Rock lighthouse, the oldest sea-washed lighthouse still in commission anywhere in the world. Now, like all UK lighthouses, it is automated, but tonight, as on every other night apart from some nights in both world wars, it will give one white flash every five seconds. It will have done so for 200 years on 1 February.
I have a long interest in shipping and aids to navigation. I was born and brought up in the lighthouse service. I was for a few years a fourth-generation lighthouse keeper. Before joining the service, my dad was a merchant navy officer. I have a stepson who is a senior engineering officer and a cousin who is a deck officer in the Royal Fleet Auxiliary. I can say to my noble friend Lord Berkeley that I know a little bit about Australian lighthouses as well. My brother was a serving light keeper for the Northern Lighthouse Board and then, for most of the rest of his career, a lighthouse keeper in Australia. From what I gather from him, there is little or no comparison between looking after Orkney, Shetland, the Western Isles and the Pentland Firth and looking after Australia, except perhaps for the Bass Strait. You can go along almost the whole coast of the south of Australia and see not a single light anywhere.
My noble friend’s Bill seeks to abolish the three GLAs and replace them with a new commission and a regulator. The role of the Secretary of State will be replaced in relation to his responsibilities for the lighthouse authorities and the General Lighthouse Fund. It also seeks to cast adrift the Republic of Ireland, which has always been an inherent part of the present tripartite GLA structure.
There is no doubt that shipping companies complain about light dues. They did it when I was a light keeper all those years ago; they have complained about the size of light dues for most of the history of the general lighthouse authorities. They would prefer Governments to abandon the principle of user pays and for the taxpayer to pick up the bill. As has already been said, that would not be terribly popular, particularly among parties opposite. I do not think that it would be popular with anyone else either, except for the shipping companies.
Shipping is a tough business—I understand that—and one which is of great importance to this country. Clearly, ship owners and charterers have to have a close eye on their financial bottom line. However, as has already been well said in the House, they have enjoyed a long holiday from increases, which has included substantial reductions in light dues. For people who enjoy holidays, there is always a day of reckoning, as I, as a pension fund trustee, know to my cost, having not persuaded employers to keep on paying in the good times so that we might have avoided the sudden problems that crop up.
If memory serves me correctly, there was not an increase in light dues for some 15 or 16 years, until 2008 or 2009, with dues being about one-third lower in real terms than in 1993. Of course, that has led to a deficit in the General Lighthouse Fund and to the consequent and recent increases about which there has been so much complaint. However, as we have also heard, there is to be no further increases in light dues for the next three or four years, which should bring some stability.
No doubt ship owners will continue to have issues, and not just about light dues. I know that they have issues about other charges such as port costs, ship dues, mooring costs, conservancy costs and pilotage—you name it and ship owners will have something to say about it; for example, discharging and loading costs, including craneage. In reality, light dues are a relatively small part of the whole in terms of inward and outward trade to and from this country.
My noble friend seeks to deal also in his Bill with the so-called subsidy of the Commissioners of the Irish Lights. That has, I agree, been a running sore for a very long time and is happily on the way to being resolved. We now know that it has been decided that the funding of the Republic of Ireland aspect of the CIL will cease by 2016 at the latest. That work has been going on for many years and I agree that the Shipping Minister should be commended on the agreement which has been reached. It is good to see that the British Chamber of Shipping has welcomed the agreement. It will be interesting to see in the fullness of time whether the campaign to end the Irish subsidy will lead to an increase in trade into the UK, which the shipping industry has promised.
The new intergovernmental agreement destroys any further argument about the disbanding of the Commissioners of the Irish Lights as presently constituted. The CIL has always been a cross-border body and responsible for Northern Ireland coasts as well as those of the Republic. I am pleased that the Shipping Minister confirmed this week that the existing structure of the three lighthouse authorities is to be maintained. That is sound common sense.
What has changed since we discussed this matter last year? I suggest that there are two big issues. The first has been discussed already: the Atkins review, which was published in March and has brought forward a whole host of recommendations, many of which are already in train. The most important of them are: the establishment of the Joint Strategic Board to drive far greater co-ordination between the GLAs; the recommendation to centralise monitoring and to look at the rationalising, as my noble and learned friend Lord Boyd, said, of the number of buoy depots, of which there are presently four—Trinity House has two, at Harwich and Swansea; the Northern Lighthouse Board has one at Oban; and the Irish Lights has one at Dun Laoghaire; to reduce running costs in real terms using the RPI minus X formula; and to look at the GLF funding of costs incurred by the Commissioners of Irish Lights.
The Atkins report did not recommend any amalgamation or change in the present structure. As I said on 5 February last year, the review found that financial costs would outweigh any benefits of a merger of the lighthouse authorities. It also stated that the operation was too small to justify a separate office of regulation.
The Joint Strategic Board has been set up. It is relatively early days but it now appears to be working well and includes, for the first time, the close questioning and examination of each other’s corporate plans. It would seem, therefore, that the Joint Strategic Board can do much or all of the job that my noble friend envisaged for his Office of Marine Navigation Aids Regulation.
The three monitoring centres will be centralised for out-of-hours working and at weekends. This has been found to be a better alternative to complete centralisation. As my noble and learned friend Lord Boyd said, the buoy depot issue is under close examination to see what further savings can be made. The three GLAs have worked out what their X is in the RPI minus X formula which will lead to reductions in running costs in real and absolute terms over the next four or five years.
The noble Earl, Lord Caithness, said that the Shipping Minister sought a reduction of 17 per cent—I thought it was 25 per cent—over the next three or four years. If that cannot be done, the GLAs will have to tell the Minister why it cannot be done. That will concentrate minds at all three headquarters. So the GLAs are not being spared the scrutiny of this Government despite the fact that the savings will not accrue to the public purse.
I have no doubt that these savings can and will be made through further developments in technology, such as e-Loran and the potential of the Galileo system to name but two. The GLAs will move forward, review and desperately try to be more efficient, but that must be done in a way which must not compromise the safety of the mariner or the marine environment. It is always wise to recognise that there is a tension between safety and costs, which is why, of course, we have the international SOLAS conventions, and it is our obligation as a state to adhere to these.
There is a view among many ship owners that costs can be reduced by the decommissioning of more and more lighthouses because of the use of global navigation satellite systems, electronic charts, AIS and so on. I agree that the continued development of e-navigation represents much of the way forward, but if you talk to the masters of the ships rather than the owners, they will tell you that for the foreseeable future there have to be lighthouses as a back-up, as a secondary system, as a failsafe. Reduced manning on ships in recent times has led to very poor watch-keeping practices on far too many vessels. There is too much reliance on GPS. There is no such thing as a completely safe radio-based navigation system. For example, GPS can be interfered with and readily jammed—cheap jammers can be obtained which can readily jam GPS signals and make them unavailable for many kilometres; and, beyond a 30 kilometre range, can interfere with a signal with potentially disastrous results—and so it is necessary to keep the secondary system of lighthouses, certainly for the foreseeable future.
GLAs do not exist in a vacuum; they work with shipping interests. There is a continual review by all three GLAs as to what lights may be decommissioned or have their ranges reduced. In some cases even today, new hazards are being lit. That process has continued since we last debated the Bill at Second Reading last year, with a further number of lighthouses being decommissioned, including one not terribly far from the territory of the noble Earl, Lord Caithness. Clythness lighthouse was decommissioned a few months ago. Costs are continually being reduced through more reliable technology, less maintenance and fewer visits by ships and helicopter. Other stations are now subject to review, many where, only a few years ago, it would have been unthinkable for that part of the coast to be unlit. I hope the Minister will acknowledge that there is no useful purpose in a merger of GLAs and a new regulator, which will not and cannot produce anything more than is already being done in the existing structures.
I hope the Minister will also acknowledge that, as a result of the Atkins review, there has been considerable progress in terms of more co-ordination, closer working, achievable savings being made and a positive response from the GLAs to the Government’s requirement to shadow the CSR and the working of the RPI minus X formula. These, together with the road map to resolve the Republic of Ireland subsidy issue, go much, if not all, of the way to meeting the concerns and outstanding issues raised by my noble friend Lord Berkeley.
I hope that my noble friend will recognise this and not seek to take the matter further. A more useful way forward would be to concentrate our energies and try to persuade the Government to bring forward the draft Marine Navigation Bill. It has received pre-legislative scrutiny and has been considered by the Transport Select Committee in another place. That draft Bill has been gathering dust ever since, with neither the previous Government nor the present coalition Government seeming to find time for a Bill that is non-contentious but very useful legislation. I hope the Minister will say something about the possibility of it being brought forward in the near future.
I again thank my noble friend for giving the House the opportunity to discuss this important matter. It may be esoteric to some, but it is of significant importance to all who use our seas for business or pleasure.
My Lords, I intend to speak briefly in the gap—as does the noble Lord, Lord Prescott—to thank the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley. I came into the Chamber at the beginning of the debate as an innocent and out of interest. I find myself likely to leave it at the end as a much improved person with greatly enhanced knowledge, not least about the Irish question, of which, in this context, I had never heard.
Two things prompted me to intervene. First, I was born and brought up in Harwich in the days when the port was rather less important. Certainly, the massive port opposite, Felixstowe—now the country’s largest container port—was in those days a home for rather spectacular flying boats which, as a boy, I used to watch from across the estuary. My interest was sparked when the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, referred to the haven ports. He made a point, on which I hope my noble friend will be able to comment, which was not picked up in the rest of the debate: that, whatever the other lines of argument, trade is being lost to British ports as a result of the present situation. I did not hear anyone follow that up, but it is an important point which may be of interest to the noble Baroness, Lady Scott, who cannot live very far from Felixstowe.
Secondly, having strayed into the Chamber as an innocent and despite thanking the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, I want to put on record that an overwhelming case has been made by almost all noble Lords for him not to push the Bill too hard. In addition, an equally overwhelming case has been made for the Government to bring forward a wider Bill to embrace these and other issues. I hope we shall hear a clear-cut response on that matter.
My Lords, I start with an apology; I did not realise that the Bill of the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, was before the House until I came in, switched on my television and heard him speaking. I declare an interest having spent 10 years as a merchant seaman and having been a Minister for merchant shipping in the previous Government.
Having heard the argument’s today, I should say that ship owners have always been concerned about cutting costs. But we are talking here about a very small part of their operating cost. Whether right or wrong, whether it should be paid by the taxpayer or the user, it has been subject to the user principle. As the Minister for shipping, I constantly had to deal with the problem that the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, raised, of how to deal with the Irish and how to get a proper agreement between us. I am pleased to hear that agreement apparently has been reached. The Bill proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, is trying to bring greater efficiency and effectiveness into this operation and the payment of navigational aids. I am not too sure whether that is the right approach, but there is certainly a problem.
I want to address my remarks to whether the user cost, mentioned by the noble Baroness, Lady Scott, is a disincentive to British shipping. The facts are clear: more tonnage is coming into Britain by ship than ever before. We are roaring in trade. That is true not only in Britain but in most countries; it is the nature of the global economy. So I do not think that they have been put off by the cost in those circumstances. I have been concerned about the cost of the crews, however, to which the noble Lord, Lord MacKenzie, referred. Over the past few decades, the reduction of crews on ships has led to a reduction in navigational skills and the loss of ships. Crews have been reduced by more than 25 per cent. That is a real saving—there is no doubt about it. Most of our shipping was flagged out to what we call the flag-of-convenience countries, such as Liberia and Panama, which sold their flag. The ship owners, many of them British, were very happy to take advantage, because it was a reduction in costs. It was also a reduction in skills and navigational abilities. Having achieved that real advantage, they now talk about the costs of navigational aids.
I should point out to the noble Baroness, Lady Scott, that what happened to containers happened years ago. A decision was made on whether Britain was going to be the area for container centralisation and distribution to Europe. We lost it. The tidal advantages to Rotterdam and other places gave them an advantage. Therefore, there was a great deal of redistribution from Rotterdam and to the British ports. Nevertheless, the container trade has been considerable; there has been massive growth, even in the UK.
I shall return to the point about user tax. Is this a disincentive to the British industry? Does it wish to reduce its costs and have an advantage? Of course it does—I understand that—but should they be paid by the taxpayer or met in user payments? When I was Minister for shipping, I was faced with a decline, as the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, must know. The British navy as registered under the Red Ensign was 30 million tonnes in 1970; when I came in in 1997, it was down to 2 million tonnes, and it had flagged out to other countries. I introduced the tonnage tax, which was a user payment and a means by which the ship owner could have greater control over his costs and profits by paying a known tonnage tax rather than a profit tax, which might be changed by various Governments. By using the tonnage tax we had a transfer back to the British fleet, and from 2 million tonnes in 1997, we now have 17 million tonnes under the Red Ensign. I am delighted about that, although I do not think enough jobs came out of it.
I bow to the noble Baroness’s knowledge, and I am sorry about that. I shall finish on this one point. User tax did not discourage the fleet—it actually encouraged it. So I am not convinced that the small amount of tax that we are talking about would be a disincentive to the British ship owner.
My Lords, this has been a stimulating debate on what looked to be a constructive and fairly modest Bill. I have found few joys in opposition, but it is one of them today that it is not my job to settle this kettle of fish. The Minister certainly has to produce some coherent replies, while my noble friend also has a few issues with which to wrestle.
I thought that it was slightly unfair that the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, was chided for interrupting the opening speech. This is a fairly unusual situation, as my noble friend Lord Berkeley said. As he was about to propose a major structural change to the Bill, in which only Clause 12 would survive in its existing form, he was bound to expect that some anxiety would be expressed on that score. I think that the noble Earl would accept, along with other noble Lords, that whereas my noble friend wrote to the Minister and to me on behalf of the opposition Front Bench, it would have been difficult for him to inform all Members who were going to participate in the debate, because he did not know who they would be at that stage. That is why things came late to other noble Lords. That is a genuine difficulty and not one that I have seen before with regard to a Private Member’s Bill. We all recognise the problems there.
I rise not to speak about this Bill but to point out that the Dog Control Bill was pulled from business last night because at 5 pm the opposition Front Bench tabled amendments, one of which was a wrecking amendment. There has to be some care in putting forward these points. I am not sure whether that was done on purpose to destroy a Private Member’s Bill or whether it was simply done, unfortunately, at the last minute, but neither I nor the Whips’ Office was informed. I hope that the noble Lord can take that back to his colleagues on the opposition Front Bench.
I reassure the House that I am not responsible for dog control for the Opposition, so I have no knowledge of those instances. A dearth of my colleagues in support on the Front Bench may have been noted; a major meeting of the Front Bench is going on, from which I am the only absentee, so I shall take to that meeting the point that the noble Lord, Lord Redesdale, has made.
With this Bill, my noble friend is trying to respond to the reality of a significant and changing situation. The Bill was drafted in advance of his knowledge of the agreement on the Irish lighthouses. We all welcome that agreement and congratulate the Government on the progress that has been made. Two successive British Governments had looked for a long time at what was almost a historical accident, which had somewhat outlived its justification. It is a slight irony, I suppose, that the Government hand out billions to the Irish Government and seek to take a small amount of money back in relation to this Bill, but this is scarcely the place for major economic debates on such issues.
I understand the point made by the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, reinforced by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Boyd, that there was a case for withdrawing the Bill. My noble and learned friend is wise enough in these matters to be able to conduct his own affairs but on the whole I agree that, if the Government follow up the suggestion that they should bring in a more comprehensive measure, this Bill could be and ought probably to be dropped. However, until we see the colour of the Government’s money, my noble friend would be well advised to continue with a Bill that has significant constructive possibilities to it. If the Government can give absolutely clear assurances on the way forward encompassing the objectives of the Bill, then so be it, but there should not be a premature withdrawal. Therefore, I hope today that, despite the strong points that were made in this regard—the noble Lord, Lord Greenway, also emphasised this—the Bill will be given a Second Reading, if only because we have had the occasion for a very enlightened debate, which I am sure will continue until we see the full picture. Only in this debate and in this House could we have such contributions of expert opinion on a shipping issue. I speak as someone who has been seasick on the Solent, so I defer to all those who have that vast experience of shipping issues and I appreciate the contributions that have been made.
The main debate was on the question of how the dues have been organised over the years. It is undoubtedly the case that a catch-up that occurs because a freeze has obtained for a time is deeply resented—it is bound to be. There is no doubt at all that, as the noble Lord, Lord Greenway, reflected, this has been a prosperous time for the British shipping industry, which has been the beneficiary of frozen fees. We probably need to ensure that there is a process that has a rather less dramatic impact on the industry, although I take on board the points that my noble friend Lord Prescott made when speaking in the gap. However, other noble Lords also emphasised that those questions of costs are not such as to see a major deterioration in the competitiveness of British ports vis-à-vis Rotterdam or other continental ports. We have to keep these things in some degree of context. Nevertheless, they are a factor. Consequently, we should use this legislation or ensure that the Government are pressed to identify how these matters will be dealt with in future.
We must all be in favour of the saving of costs. Quite frankly, even a landlubber like me would look somewhat askance if costs could not be reduced, given the enormous technological advances that have occurred regarding safety at sea. Those surely give us an opportunity to guarantee what is absolutely essential—safety—but must we then make a trade-off between safety and how the services that are withdrawn are organised? Nevertheless, there must be that opportunity on administrative costs and we should welcome that. The only thing to say on costs of that kind is that, if any vehicle is difficult to organise in terms of how one considers operating costs, I would guess that it is a Private Member’s Bill, but that is for my noble friend to answer when he replies to the debate.
This has been a most stimulating occasion. I think that we have all genuinely enjoyed the debate. There has been a clash of opinion, which I quite understand, given that the Bill is being recast significantly, but everyone in the House will know that my noble friend Lord Berkeley is stimulated by a commitment to improvements in transport. He has put this Bill forward in good faith. It can still be, in our view, a vehicle for progress in an important area. I therefore hope that the House will give the Bill a Second Reading.
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, for once again bringing forward his Bill. As he has said, this is the second time that he has done so but he has initiated a very good debate. The noble Lord will know that it is normal practice for the Government not to support or oppose Private Members’ Bills and I do not propose to break with this convention. I do, however, hope to demonstrate that the need for the main thrust of his Bill has been overtaken by events, as many noble Lords pointed out. I am grateful for their contributions.
Since the noble Lord first introduced his Bill, the report by the Atkins consultancy, entitled Assessment of the Provision of Marine Aids to Navigation around the United Kingdom & Ireland, has been published. It is a particularly well researched and well received document, which has provided us with a blueprint on the governance of the general lighthouse authorities and the provision of marine aids to navigation around the UK and Ireland, without the need for immediate legislation to enable the implementation of its recommendations.
I recognise that many of the clauses in the noble Lord’s Bill are consistent with those contained in the previous Government’s draft Marine Navigation Aids Bill. I shall comment on some of those clauses. Clauses 1 to 5 provide for the creation of the commission and its regulator. As I stated in my speech in February 2010, I do not see the need for either. Indeed, the Atkins assessment did not see fit to recommend the creation of either of these two organisations which, if the noble Lord’s Bill were to progress, would effectively replace two existing bodies with two more.
I applaud the noble Lord for his versatility and ingenuity in attempting to achieve his aims, and note that he is seeking to achieve some of his goals by means of amendments to the Public Bodies Bill as well. However, I draw his attention to page 245 of the Atkins assessment, which concluded that there was “a weak case for” amalgamating the two UK-only lighthouse authorities into a single organisation such as the noble Lord’s Marine Navigation Aids Commission, because the estimated costs of doing so were likely to outweigh the potential benefits generated. Indeed, I addressed the matter of the illusory benefits of such a merger at last February’s Second Reading of his previous Bill.
Atkins did recommend the creation of a general lighthouse authority Joint Strategic Board, responsible for identifying synergies and driving through efficiencies. Last summer, with the Shipping Minister’s endorsement, such a Joint Strategic Board was set up at no cost to the General Lighthouse Fund. The board has since worked closely with the Department for Transport and the three GLAs to identify efficiency measures and drive down running costs—several noble Lords referred to that work. The Joint Strategic Board is still at an early stage of development but is achieving positive results. I believe that this continued, gradual evolution of integrated working, driven by the Joint Strategic Board, is far preferable to any of the radical, rapid and uncosted changes in marine aids to navigation provision that the noble Lord’s Bill would effect.
The General Lighthouse Authorities co-operate in the provision of marine aids to navigation around the UK and Ireland. Each authority carries out largely similar tasks; however, the regional skills and knowledge that each employs reflects a localism in the service delivered. The Commissioners of the Irish Lights have continued as an all-Ireland body since the establishment of the Republic of Ireland. However, the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, is less concerned with the commissioners’ history than with their present funding. In his opening comments, the noble Lord mentioned that my honourable friend Mr Mike Penning, the Shipping Minister, has been in discussion with his Irish counterpart on the matter. It is to my honourable friend’s credit that he has reached an early understanding with the Irish Government on self-financing, which will nevertheless preserve the tri-GLA structure and the historic links of marine aids to navigation provision across both countries.
The stated goal of both the UK and Irish Governments is now that the Commissioners of the Irish Lights will become self-financing in their work in the Republic of Ireland by 2015-16, as relayed in my Written Ministerial Statement of 18 January. I hope that this understanding will go some way to reassuring the noble Lord that no undue financial burden will in future be borne by UK shipping, and that the continued cross-border co-operation of the UK and Ireland on this safety service is desirable and should therefore continue. The noble Lord, Lord Davies of Oldham, who touched on this point, called it a government subsidy to the Irish lights. It is of course not a government subsidy but a shipping industry subsidy, as many noble Lords mentioned. I am sure that was just a slip of the tongue by the noble Lord.
On Clause 7, the measure to clarify the extent of jurisdiction up to the outer limit of the pollution control zone will help to assist the providers of aids to navigation in operating an efficient safety regime in the seas around this country. That provision is therefore welcome. As I said last February, Clause 8 meets an important need, as the General Lighthouse Authorities are currently restricted in their ability to undertake commercial activities. For instance, those authorities may in some circumstances be unable to purchase the necessary tooling to carry out some evolutions that the industry might require.
The generation of income from commercial activities that maximises the utilisation of assets and resources is without doubt desirable and can only be of benefit to light-dues payers. It is inevitable that there has to be some spare capacity in a system that needs to be capable of rapid response to emergencies. However, it is important that the commercial activities of public sector bodies should not unduly impede the commercial activities and structure of the market.
Turning to Clause 9, the UK has many local marine aids to navigation in addition to those required for general navigation. The General Lighthouse Authorities seek to ensure local aids to navigation are established and maintained to internationally recognised standards through the discharge of their functions of superintendence and management, including their aids to navigation inspection regimes. Indeed, subject to the consent of the Secretary of State, the General Lighthouse Authorities may direct a local port or harbour to provide such aids to navigation as are appropriate. This alone is normally sufficient to ensure the appropriate provision of local aids to navigation, particularly when backed up by existing safety-related legislation.
On Clause 10, the noble Lord believes that as many users as possible of marine aids to navigation should pay for them, including the Royal Navy. However, I set out my position robustly in the debate on this Bill last year, and do not intend to do so again; my position has not changed on this matter.
On Clause 12, in the past, the General Lighthouse Authorities employed many more staff than they do now. The automation and de-manning of lighthouses and other technical advances have reduced staff levels substantially. Nevertheless, there remains a large number of former GLA employees who are now pensioners drawing their entitlement. This is not an unusual situation. Many other public bodies that have downsized due to efficiencies have exactly the same problem. The General Lighthouse Authorities’ pension liabilities are far from unique. As we are all aware, such legacies are not limited to the public sector, with many private organisations in a similar position. That said, as part of the Government’s wider public sector pension reform, we expect the General Lighthouse Authorities to review and modernise their pension arrangements, to keep them on a sustainable footing.
My noble friend Lord Caithness, in his well thought out contribution to the debate, dealt with the issue of GLA efficiencies far better than I could have done. I did not know that he was concerned about the approach of the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley. I am bound to say that I agree with everything that he said. He has certainly saved me much work.
My noble friend Lady Scott of Needham Market made a number of points in her excellent speech. She made her case very well, as usual, particularly when she queries our principle of light dues. However, in common with other transport modes in the UK, the Government believe that transport providers and not the general taxpayer should pay for the essential safety services needed for reliable operations. It would also be unfair for the Treasury to pay for the GLAs directly, as the majority of commercial shipping services calling at UK ports are owned by companies based outside the UK where beneficial tax regimes for those industries exist. Like any other form of revenue-raising activity, light dues remain unpopular with those asked to pay, regardless of how much they benefit. Many noble Lords have made that point.
The noble Lord, Lord MacKenzie of Culkein, also made an interesting and well delivered speech. Yet again, I find myself in strong agreement with the Benches opposite. I hope that this trend persists. The noble Lord talked about the vulnerability of GPS navigation systems. Last year, I attended the GPS jamming trials organised by Trinity House and my handheld GPS gave me some most peculiar results, telling me that I was somewhere in central Europe.
My noble friend Lord Newton of Braintree talked in the gap and touched upon the loss of trade to British ports. I have just explained the logic of the light dues policy. We were also joined by the noble Lord, Lord Prescott, and I was shocked to find myself in agreement with him as well.
We had strong contributions from the noble and learned Lord, Lord Boyd of Duncansby, and the noble Lord, Lord Greenway. This is a great example of the House showing itself to be a source of expertise. I strongly agree with everything that both noble Lords said. On the query of the noble Lord, Lord Greenway, about the Wreck Removal Convention Bill, we of course support that piece of legislation.
I always enjoy listening to the noble Lord, Lord Davies of Oldham, and his contributions from the Front Bench. I am grateful for his whole approach to this matter.
When my noble friend Lady Garden intervened, she did so only to remind the House that it is customary to allow the mover of a Bill to lay out his stall without constant interruption. That is a much better way for the House to proceed.
I have already touched on the point of the noble Lord, Lord Davies of Oldham, about the Irish Lights.
I thank all noble Lords for their contributions. I have found them to be very helpful. I hope that I have gone some way to reassuring the noble Lord of the fitness for purpose of the General Lighthouse Authorities and the Department of Transport’s administration and governance of them in my comments today. I hope that the noble Lord will consider substantially scaling back should the Bill proceed into Committee. The noble Lord could also consider drafting a new Bill, as suggested by many noble Lords.
My Lords, I am grateful to all noble Lords who have contributed to the Bill. I am also grateful for one or two interventions, because it was a slightly unusual way of proceeding after I decided to change it. However, I thought very carefully and consulted quite widely on this. I was advised that it was quite in order to do it like this. I felt it was therefore important to inform as many noble Lords as I could see on the list beforehand of my intentions. I am sorry that the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, did not receive it; I sent them all by e-mail but I could not find his e-mail address. Perhaps that is an opportunity for thinking again. I am very sorry; I apologise for that.
We can have a talk about that afterwards.
We have had a great variety of comments, some of them complimentary, some of them not. I have learnt a great deal from different people’s views today. I should of course have mentioned the Atkins report in my opening remarks. It has made progress. I still believe that more progress could be made. If one reflects on this, the key issue, when one is talking about RPI-X, is probably what X is. We can debate that, and I am sure that we will.
The key is what the noble Lord, Lord Greenway, suggested as the answer to having two concurrent Private Member’s Bills and the draft Marine Navigation Aids Bill. The noble Earl, Lord Attlee, did not really comment on the Government’s intentions on that in his summing up.
I could go through and thank all noble Lords who have spoken and comment on what they have said, but it would take a little bit of time. I know that one or two colleagues are waiting to get on with the next debate. However, I cannot resist responding to my noble friend Lord MacKenzie who complained, quite rightly, that we have got the date wrong for the Bill. If it had been on 1 February, it would have been 200 years from the start of the Bell Rock Lighthouse, which was a fantastic piece of civil engineering construction in its time.
Whether I want to take the Bill forward is really a question of whether we can somehow incorporate, or get moving on, the navigation aids Bill that the previous Parliament was unable to take forward. I have been talking to some people, and Clerks, about whether much or some of the content of that Bill could be incorporated into a Private Member’s Bill. It could be within the Long Title. I am advised of that for this Bill, but I do not think that it could be with the one in the Commons, because that is called the Wreck Removal Convention Bill—apart from the “wreck” bit of it.
There has been much discussion of how much the present Government want the Bill to go ahead, but in draft form it had a lot of support in the previous Parliament. As the Bill stands, I do not think it is appropriate to take it forward, even with the amendments I have tabled and much further thought. We have progressed and I have heard many useful comments today. However, it would be useful to keep it open for Committee stage to see whether the contents of the Marine Navigation Aids Bill could be incorporated. That is in the absence of any commitment from the Government to find time for it; I would not expect them to do so anyway.
My inclination, therefore, is to ask the House to give the Bill a Second Reading but, clearly, I would not take it forward in its present form or with these amendments without a discussion as to what else could go in and whether it is necessary to take it forward at all. On that basis, I beg to move that the Bill be now read a second time.
Bill read a second time and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.
Rehabilitation of Offenders (Amendment) Bill [HL]
My Lords, this Private Member’s Bill is designed to reform the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974. The Act provides that, after a specified rehabilitation period, ex-offenders do not have to declare spent convictions when they are applying for jobs, except in sensitive areas of work, such as criminal justice agencies, financial institutions and work with young people or vulnerable adults. Since it was enacted in 1974, the Act has helped many ex-offenders to leave the past behind. However, there is now growing acceptance that the Act is in need of reform. The Government’s stance on reform is very much appreciated. The Green Paper Breaking the Cycle, which was published in December, says in paragraph 114:
“The Act is often criticised as being inconsistent with contemporary sentencing practice, with the result that it can fail in its aim to help reformed offenders resettle into society. The reasons cited are that the rehabilitation periods are too long and do not reflect the point at which reoffending tails off following a conviction; the threshold at which a sentence never becomes spent (30 months) is too low given that sentencing lengths are much longer today; and the Exceptions Order exempts an ever growing number of occupations from the Act”.
The rehabilitation periods laid down in the Act are lengthy and many genuinely reformed ex-offenders can never benefit from it. For example, if an offender is fined, the offence becomes spent five years after the date of sentencing. If an offender is given a three-month prison sentence, the offence takes seven years to become spent. If he or she gets a nine-month sentence, the offence does not become spent until 10 years later. Sentences of more than two and a half years never become spent.
These provisions are notably less generous than the rules that apply in other European countries, which typically apply rehabilitation periods to sentences that are longer than two and a half years. Those rehabilitation periods are much shorter—often half the length of ours or, in some cases, even less. Since the Act was implemented, sentence lengths have significantly increased. What is the reality today? Many offenders who would have received sentences of two and a half years or less back in 1974 today receive sentences of between three and four years. This means that many offenders who would previously have been helped by the Act now find that their offences will never become spent in their lifetime.
In 2001 the then Home Secretary, Jack Straw, set up a review group to examine whether, three decades after the Act’s implementation, there was a case for reform. The review group was chaired by a senior Home Office official and included representatives of the police, the probation service, the legal profession, the judiciary, employers, voluntary agencies, victim representative organisations and ex-offenders. In 2002, the review group published its conclusions in the report Breaking the Circle.
Following a consultation period, the then Government published their own conclusions in April 2003. The Government accepted a modified version of the review group’s proposals, under which the current rehabilitation periods would be replaced by new buffer periods, which would begin after the sentence, including any post-release supervision, was completed. The buffer periods would be four years for custodial sentences of four years or more; two years for custodial sentences of less than four years; and one year for non-custodial sentences. These periods would apply to all offenders, except those serving life sentences. To allay fears, the new provisions would not apply to jobs in sensitive occupations, for which applicants would still have to declare their full criminal record. I have incorporated this proposal for reform into my Bill.
A reformed system along these lines would greatly reduce the scope of unfair discrimination against ex-offenders in the job market. Regrettably, such discrimination is still widespread. I declare my interest as the president of the National Association for the Care and Resettlement of Offenders, a charity working in the area of crime reduction. Surveys of ex-offenders that we have undertaken in projects have shown that 60 per cent have been explicitly refused jobs because of their criminal records. Nacro’s report Change the Record, published in 2010, stated that,
“employers are increasingly demanding ‘clear disclosure’ from applicants. This means that employment is conditional on having no record whatsoever”.
A study in 2006 by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development also found that 36 per cent of employers would refuse jobs to all ex-offenders, whatever the nature their record.
It is sometimes reasonable to refuse an ex-offender a job because of his record. For example, we must obviously bar offenders with a history of offences against children from working with children and we should bar offenders with a history of defrauding elderly people from work caring for elderly people. However, in many cases employers are turning down applicants because of offences that have no relevance whatever to the jobs for which they are applying. The scope of discrimination is wide, because decisions to employ or to refuse people jobs are not made at the top of companies; they are made by large numbers of individuals, managers and personnel staff, who have usually had no specific training in how to deal with applications from people with criminal records. A large-scale study by the Joseph Rowntree Reform Trust found that no private sector employers and only one in seven public sector employers in the sample had provided specific training on this point to staff making recruitment decisions.
The risk of discrimination against ex-offenders in the job market is even greater at a time of economic difficulty, when the country has not long emerged from the recession and employers have a wider choice of job applicants. The Home Office review group’s report, Breaking the Circle, estimated that reform of the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act would save the country £125 million, something that I am sure would appeal to my noble friend Lord McNally. This was based on the estimate that it would result in 12,500 additional people finding work each year, saving £50 million in welfare costs together with savings to the criminal justice system of £75 million. This estimate was a very conservative one as it did not take into account the extensive social cost of continued unemployment, such as physical and mental health problems or a return to drug use.
I pay tribute to the organisations that have been very helpful over many years in campaigning for reform of the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act. I pay particular tribute to Nacro, UNLOCK and the Prison Reform Trust. Nacro’s report, Change the Record, points out:
“The current Act is at odds with the Government’s rehabilitation revolution, its initiatives to get people off benefits and back to work and its big society plans to create a more equal society in which everyone has the chance to contribute to the prosperity of their communities”.
Unfair discrimination against ex-offenders is wrong in principle, as it imposes an additional illegitimate penalty of refusal of employment on people who have already served the judicially ordered punishment for their crime. It also reduces public safety, as an ex-offender’s risk of reoffending reduces by between a third and a half if he or she gets, and keeps, a job. The whole community benefits when offending is reduced, but employers benefit in particular because crime such as cheque and credit card fraud, shoplifting and burglary of commercial premises have a particularly damaging impact on their businesses.
I was therefore delighted to read in the Green Paper Breaking the Cycle that the coalition Government are taking a fundamental look at the objectives of the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act with a view to reform. I am particularly pleased that the Green Paper says at paragraph 115 that the Government are considering,
“broadening the scope of the Act so that it covers all offenders who receive a determinate sentence”,
“reducing the length of rehabilitation periods”.
Those are two key aims of my Bill and I welcome the Government’s support for them. The reform contained in my Bill would allow many more people with criminal records to start again with a clean slate. They would thereby reduce the risk of further offending by former offenders excluded from the job market. I look forward to the Minister’s reply with confidence that the long-awaited and long-overdue reform of the Act is now at last in sight. I beg to move.
My Lords, I am very grateful for the chance to support the Private Member’s Bill of the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, today. It is clear to all of us that the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act is in need of long overdue reform. That is widely understood but has not been acted upon.
The original Act was a hugely important measure that recognised that rehabilitation is essential to the prevention of reoffending and needs to be designed intelligently and practically, but the Act is now increasingly out of date and ineffective. The original ambition must not be lost, but the Act has to be made to work as it was originally intended. In an age when sentences have lengthened considerably, rehabilitation periods have lengthened in parallel but that is not because the severity of the crimes has changed. In addition, the introduction of the Criminal Records Bureau has introduced a whole new dimension. Arguably, the whole working of the CRB should be the subject of a thorough review so that its work is more targeted—it has become so widespread that, arguably, the most important cases are not receiving the attention that they need.
There has also been a more process-driven and risk-averse approach to recruitment among many employers. Although there are excellent exceptions that many of us know, for all too many ex-offenders, once the box is ticked, their application has no chance of progressing further regardless of any further positive information that might be available about them. Again, that issue would warrant a proper piece of work, which should focus not necessarily on the legislation but on best practice and ways in which that might be shared. That should involve the CBI, the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, the TUC and others. I hope that at some point somebody will grasp that and move ahead with it.
I want to focus briefly on young offenders, particularly as we know that the youth unemployment rate is at such a high level and is still increasing. We all know that since the early 1990s Britain's prison population has experienced a significant increase, including in the number of young offenders. One of the characteristic features of the prison population is its lack of skills. Almost 40 per cent of prisoners have a reading level below literacy level 1—equivalent to that of an 11 year-old—while young male offenders are nine times more likely to be unskilled than non-offenders of a similar age and young female offenders are 15 times more likely to be unskilled.
As chair of the charity Future Leaders, which trains potential head teachers for disadvantaged secondary schools, I have a lot of contact with schools, as do many other noble Lords here today. The message that I see often is clear and somewhat depressing: poor children are disadvantaged from birth. In urban areas in particular, such children are often without a father in any real sense who can play a full part in their lives and their parents often lack the parenting skills that are necessary to nurture, develop, stimulate and guide young children. Such children arrive at nursery school unused to social interaction, unable to sit at a table and eat with cutlery and without any of the basic knowledge—be that about colours or early counting—that is automatically passed on by many parents. If the children take their reading book home at the end of the day, it often comes back unread. Life is often chaotic for them outside the school gate. Without intensive intervention, that gap develops further. We know that high-ability poor children are overtaken by low-ability rich children early on in their school lives. By age 11, only half of pupils eligible for free school meals reach the expected level in English.
Such problems may be somewhat masked up till the end of primary school, where the friendly environment and one-teacher relationships often manage the problem without really dealing with it, but in secondary school they often escalate quickly. Without the literacy level to access the new wide curriculum that they face, such students find that the constant moving between lessons and teachers means that they are not supported or even tracked. They fall further behind, are embarrassed and then they misbehave. The next sad change is internal exclusion, then external exclusion, and then, for many, full exclusion and inadequate outside provision. As soon as they are away from the security of school, they are prone to gang culture. Indeed one head teacher with whom I work says that the biggest plea that mothers make to him is, “Please keep my son safe. Don’t let him be outside the school building”. They support his tough approach, involving intensive schooling and a long day, as they think that that is the only chance for their sons. Some head teachers are great exceptions to what I have described and people are doing fantastic work to change this culture, but it is still there in far too many of our schools.
For too many youngsters the next stage after trouble at school is offending, which leads to an inexorable journey into the criminal justice system and the prison system. I am sure that other noble Lords have, like me, sat on exclusion inquiries and agonised about whether to exclude a child that is known to be causing massive disruption in school when you also know that excluding such children puts them on that journey to the next stage of offending.
Inquiries by Ofsted and various other inquiries, several of which were held as recently as 2010, have identified a range of concerns about young offender institutions. Young offender institutions often have the wrong information about the skills levels of young offenders when they arrive. The vocational learning that young offenders receive is limited and basic skills are poorly delivered. People are often transferred between institutions, so even where good practice exists it is not continued. There is no work on the soft skills that we all know are needed for the employment that young offenders will seek when they get out. Often, people cannot gain accreditation for work that they have done, especially in short sentences. In addition, colleges and work-placed learning providers do not understand the young offending world, so it is extremely hard for ex-offenders to continue their education. The information available to young offenders is pretty hopeless and they struggle with accommodation. The recent IFLL study found that, unless ex young offenders find employment or training and somewhere to live within three weeks, they are likely to reoffend. We know that the reoffending rate among young offenders aged 18 to 20 is 75 per cent.
On top of all that, there is the effect of the unreformed Rehabilitation of Offenders Act. Of course, the rehabilitation rate for an offender who committed a crime when they were under 18 is lower—typically half that of those over 18—but it is still enough to hugely damage the chances of an ex-offender being able to get into work or training. Thus, there is a massively increased chance of reoffending and of a subsequent downward spiral. For young people aged 18 or over who offend, the normal adult rehabilitation rates apply.
Reports from Nacro and others always feature case studies, and I have a case study of my own that struck me recently. A young man whom I know well was hard-working and ambitious but got in with the wrong crowd. He was on the edge of that group, but he was nevertheless there and he ended up, sadly, with a drugs conviction and a custodial sentence. He lost his job, where he had been doing really well and was well regarded. His employer came to court and appealed on his behalf, but to no end. He lost his flat. He lost his support systems. He was 20 and he had never been in trouble before. He came out of prison recently but has been unable to get a new job. He is still ambitious and he even thought about setting up his own company—he is a computer repair technician—but he cannot get a loan because no one will consider him. He is trying to find any job and he gets bits of unskilled work, but he cannot get back into the sector that he was in, where his skills are needed. However, he is still skilled, bright and ambitious and, crucially, has a family supporting him. If you meet him, you will know that he has learned his lesson and that he will not go back there. He cannot get beyond the application-form stage, yet he is reasonably well educated and has a great mum and dad backing him.
I do not pretend for one moment that reform of the Act will transform the life chances of young offenders. In many cases, much goes wrong before they reach that stage. However, I strongly believe that a combination of better education and skills while in prison and a reformed Act would at least give more young offenders a chance. Crucially, that could also reduce the reoffending rate, which must be in everyone’s interests. I strongly support the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, in his effort to bring forward a much-needed reform in this area.
My Lords, this is not the first time that I have spoken on this subject, but our basic problem is the fact that a well intentioned Act has simply become out of date. It needs to be brought up to date for the world in which we live.
The noble Baroness, Lady Morgan, has done us all a service by doing some of the hard pounding on the background to this issue. My connection with the world of offenders and ex-offenders is probably a little out of date, but I am assured by everyone that things have not changed much. Those who are involved are predominantly young males, who offend and reoffend repeatedly. As the noble Baroness said, they may not be the most promising candidates for employment, because they tend to have quit school at 14—that is about the average age at which they leave. They do not achieve after the transition to secondary school. When they suddenly find themselves in difficulties, they ask, “Why should I be here?”, if they come from an environment where educational attainment is not regarded as the norm. The situation is accelerated.
I have discovered from my work and various interests in the field of dyslexia that a high percentage of such young people are dyslexic, but they may also have every other type of educational problem. Often, they and the social services sector work in a downward spiral together. This group of young people will be difficult to employ anyway. If someone who has got involved in comparatively petty, low-order crime when they were very young discovers that they have to disclose that and that people can just say no to them, they have virtually no incentive to try to get out.
The proposals in my noble friend’s Bill to change the rate at which disclosure of previous convictions is required are a huge step forward. I hope that the Government will have some positive words to say to my noble friend about why his Bill is unnecessary because real attempts will be made to deal with this issue in the immediate future. We will probably find a huge degree of consensus around this House—although I am sure that at least one person will disagree—that the way forward is, if not this Bill, something very like it. If the Government picked it up—like many Private Members’ Bills, it has been polished by time and effort to get into good shape—the world would be a slightly better place as a result. The Bill is no magic bullet, but it will make it slightly easier for, and give a slightly better incentive to, young people to get out of the cycle of reoffending. The Bill reflects the modern world and the group that it is dealing with in a way that the current legislation does not, although that legislation set a good precedent when it was introduced.
I suggest that, by accepting the Bill or being assured that something like it is on the way, we would be taking a step towards dealing with the problems of offending and reoffending.
My Lords, I want to say a few words on the Bill because it is a good time to raise an issue that has been a problem for some time.
I remember that one of the problems with revising the legislation was raised by a working party on the issue about 10 years ago. The working party became bogged down in trying to decide when a sentence started and ended, because sometimes proper records were not kept on when offenders moved to the first prison. Was the period calculated from when the offenders first went into the police station cells? When were they released? The working party lost sight of the objective—that was the trouble.
I hope that we do not lose sight of the objective, which is to allow people to get back into society in such a way that they can support their families. If you cannot support your family, you are a bit stuck. Providing such support is at the bottom of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs—for those who have heard of him—which is the need for food and shelter. If you cannot get a job, what are you going to do? You have to support your family and you probably turn back to crime. It is rather obvious. The major objective of the Bill is to allow people properly to earn some income again.
However, you have to protect people from employing others who may be dangerous in certain ways. How do we get around the fact that a financial services employer is allowed to reject someone on whatever grounds, because they can look at the criminal record, whereas a small company may have to employ someone with a known history of fraud who can bankrupt it? That is difficult, because what matters is the type of crime that was committed and the type of job that the person will do. If someone is prone to violence, you do not want them to deal with people. If someone is prone to fraud, you do not want them to handle your money. If someone is prone to violence, you might well let them handle your money as long as they are not working close to someone whom they might damage. The problem is that we throw everything out of the window together.
A couple of years ago, the papers had a wonderful report—it was not wonderful but, rather, quite the opposite—about a head teacher who was caught fishing without a rod licence and duly prosecuted. Immediately, the school governors said that they would have to consider whether he could stay on as a head teacher. Honestly, have we no common sense at all? I do not know what actually happened, because I read only the first newspaper report.
There is also the point raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Morgan, about drugs. People often commit crimes in order to try to pay for their drugs. They will mug people and nick things. If you deal with the drug problem, they are cured and on the straight and narrow, so there is probably no danger of them mugging people. There would be no purpose to that. We need to look at some of the circumstances behind this issue. It is essential to get such people back into work.
One issue that I really want to tackle is reprimands and cautions, which I have discovered are highly dangerous. The police will say to someone, “Just accept a caution and you will not hear anything more about it, and it will all be okay”. The same happens with children who are under 16—or who are 16 and under—who receive what is called a reprimand. You are told, “Once you are 18, it will be off your record. Don’t worry. People will not hear any more about it”. However, that is not the case. If a young person accepts a caution or a child accepts a reprimand, the police have stated that a crime has been committed and that guilt has been admitted. The person then has a criminal conviction. On the police records the matter is simple: “Crime committed; cleared up”. That looks good on the police records and there is much less paperwork, yet in reality the records do not stay under the table but remain for life for certain crimes.
If there is a CRB check and the criminal record relates to something that is not too serious, there may not be a problem, but what if it has an effect on a US visa application? Let us examine the life of an active child who is going places but gets into playground spats and has a fight with another child in the playground. These days, teachers are not allowed to interfere or touch the children so they have to ring the police, who come along, separate the children and say, “Shall we take them down to the station and give them a reprimand? Then they will take this seriously”. Off they go to the police station and the police say, “Accept the reprimand and that will be it. Do not misbehave again”. So the children accept it, but they now have ABH, affray or GBH on their record. Those are serious offences. In future, the person will not be allowed to work with children, youths or adults or become a coach or anything like that—or possibly even get an American visa, because they will no longer qualify for the visa waiver. This may come to light only when they are a rising market trader in a large city bank that wants to move them to America—and then their career is over. We should look at this because it is not as simple as it seems.
Perhaps it is worth recounting another typical story. A child is walking the family dog on a footpath. A jogger comes a bit close. The dog does not like the look of him and gives him a nip. The man runs on and then complains to the police, because a village argument is going on and he thinks that he is being clever. The police interview the child, nothing happens for about three months and then they decide to prosecute under the Dangerous Dogs Act. That is a serious, high-level criminal offence. The police tell the child that his dog will be destroyed. Why did they not use the 1871 Act—the so-called “postman Act”—which makes it a civil offence and does not result in the destruction of the dog? Normally that would have been done, but probably they wanted to get the conviction rate up. In this case, which I know about, the child was advised to say that he would plead not guilty and the police withdrew charges. I hope that the magistrates would have thrown out the case. However, most children would have accepted the advice of the solicitor to admit the charge so that their dog would survive. This sort of thing goes on behind the scenes. If the child had accepted a conviction, his life would have been the same as those of many others: a serious offence would be on his record for ever. We need to look at that side of the system, because it is not working at all.
My final point concerns the big challenge posed by the internet world, in which I live a lot, and in particular by social networking sites such as Facebook, LinkedIn and XING—all the bits and pieces that look at your life. One can look up someone and find out other things about them, such as the companies they worked for in the past, the things that they have done and the associations that they have had. It is difficult nowadays totally to rehabilitate oneself and erase all the pictures of what has gone before. I do not know whether that is a good thing or a bad thing. Perhaps we will have to be more accepting of certain behaviours and, instead of a blanket ban on anyone who has a criminal record, we will come round to saying, “They did something a bit silly, but we can handle it”. Perhaps society should be a bit more tolerant. When I think of half the people I know, I have no idea how we would teach people to be like that. It is a perpetual problem.
I would like to know, if the Minister has the figure to hand, what proportion of adults have a criminal conviction stemming from their childhood that they carry for the rest of their life. I have no feel for whether it is one in 100 or one in 20. I suspect that the figure is higher than we think. In that case, we would have to think about how society can handle it. Therefore, I welcome the Bill. I hope that it will get people thinking properly about the issue and move the discussion forward in a sensible and constructive way.
My Lords, I, too, am very grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, and for the opportunity to take part in the debate. I also look forward to a number of maiden speeches, not least that of the noble Baroness, Lady Kramer, who follows me.
Clergy suffer from stereotyping at least as much as any other profession. Saturday nearly always brings me the greeting, “Your busy day tomorrow, padre”. Still more does Christmas elicit from many: “Just coming up to your busy period, father”. Whatever the truth of this, Christmas and Easter present regular and essential moments for clergy. For me, with two prisons in my diocese and one in my see city, it is the regular service at Wakefield prison. I am there like clockwork every year at those great feasts.
Why do I visit the prison? Prisons play a part in the way that we organise human society. They are witness to myriad failures in our living together in human society. Christmas even more than Easter is a moment for each of us to be caught up in the wider human community: be it the family, the office party, the local town service or, in our case, the Huddersfield Choral and the “Messiah”. Christmas spells community and humanity. The Christian story professes God's presence among us as one of us, so Christmas is a good time to reflect on the failure of community and the nature of humanity.
I begin my contribution to this debate there because it is the flourishing and fulfilment of our humanity—or, sadly, in the case of many prisoners, the lack of such flourishing and fulfilment—that lie at the centre of our dilemma. The need for custodial sentences points to a failure or weakness in our humanity, both in individual men and women and in society as an organic whole. Such failure or weakness points to the tragic element in human nature. No realistic penal theory ignores this element in the tapestry of our experience. In a seminar in this place on penal reform earlier this week, we were reminded of a poignant phrase of the Russian writer Alexander Solzhenitsyn, who reflected that the line of good and evil cuts through every human being.
This realisation points us to a deeper truth about the significance of people and personhood. Put baldly, it is that people matter. This unmusical Anglo-Saxon concept is a key element in any theory of justice. Many years ago, I read an essay entitled Why Mattering Matters. If anything matters, people matter. Retributive justice is an unpopular concept for some liberal penal theorists. However, it contributes to that positive sense of taking seriously every individual and community of people. People are punished because we take them and their culpability seriously. People matter.
However, mattering requires of us more than crude theories of retributive justice might suggest. Mattering requires of us more than simple vengeance, or similar human reactions and responses. It requires of us more than simply balancing evil. Instead, it says something much richer about our personhood. This speaks directly to the reasons for, or purposes of, custody. From its introduction onwards, the recent Green Paper, Breaking the Cycle takes the issue seriously all the way through. Although protecting the public and preventing crime remain at the centre of the Green Paper, rehabilitation, transparency and accountability are listed as key principles. This, as other noble Lords have hinted, suggests a radical shift in attitudes and policy that is welcome.
Of course, it would be both unfair and inaccurate to suggest that there has been no restorative work in prisons. Over the past years, various attempts have been made to enrich and develop such work. Sadly, much of the effort in this direction has been blunted by lack of finance and resources. Doubtless we all give thanks for the educational and developmental work with prisoners that has already been achieved.
Nevertheless, despite all the good work, imprisonment does not only protect and punish. In the end, the use of custodial sentences cannot but diminish the person as well. In diminishing the individual, it diminishes society. It does so in two ways: first, by extracting the individual from the community, and secondly, in diminishing the individual, it reduces that person’s potential contribution to our wider culture. This diminishment impoverishes us all and, most dangerously, reduces the person’s, and ultimately the wider community’s, self-esteem. I hardly need say that the collapse of either individual or community self-esteem is one of the most serious corrosives of our broader humanity.
None of this denies the continual need for custodial sentences. The public need protection and, if people matter, offenders should be punished. However, issues of mattering and diminishment direct us immediately to the questions of spent and unspent convictions that lie at the heart of the concerns of the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia. Issues about disclosure of spent convictions are key here. Appropriate handling of disclosure or nondisclosure can mean a move towards renewed self-esteem and a growing potential for a person’s flourishing and fulfilment, thus moving towards a proper, esteemed humanity.
This means an unlocking of an individual's potential, which has significant effects on the community. My plea is for a realism about the tragic element within our humanity, clearly demonstrated in the propensity of all of us being unable to live by the light given to us. Therefore, it should be a proportionate and directed realism. This points ineluctably in the direction of proper appropriation of a clear policy on rehabilitation. The Green Paper indicates how much wider society can benefit from such a shift, but it also takes on a proper care for the individual offender. I cannot overemphasise the need for urgent action here, however. After all, the earlier paper, Breaking the Circle, was published as long ago as 2002, and it is a matter of some shame to us all that financial considerations may have meant that it has received low priority.
In a well rehearsed fragment of John Donne's 17th-century meditation, we should all remember the sentences:
“If a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as well as if a manor of thy friend's or of thine own were: any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind”.
Imprisonment is a kind of death. If people really matter, then prison will remain tragically necessary. It is there to protect and punish, but after death there must be the possibility and reality of resurrection—I use the terms figuratively, of course. I wholeheartedly support the noble Lord’s aims. We must counter diminishment with the opportunity to nurture a full, esteemed humanity, spent in diminishment but rich in aspiration.
My Lords, as I rise to make my maiden speech, I am incredibly conscious of the honour and privilege of joining this House. I particularly thank the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Wakefield for his words of welcome a moment ago. I have to admit that when he went on to say that the clergy are also subject to stereotyping, for a panicky moment, I thought we were about to get an embarrassing declaration. He went on to make a powerful moral argument, for which this House has its reputation. The quality of such arguments makes me particularly conscious of the privilege of serving here.
As your Lordships know, I come from the other place. I served there for five years as a Member of Parliament for Richmond Park, but I also come determined to shed its habits and to be a proper Member of this Chamber. I have to say that this week has perhaps not been the best start. My much adored granddaughter explained very carefully to a friend that, “Granny goes to work for sleepovers”. However, I am assured that that is not the norm. In these first days, I want to pay tribute in particular to the staff of the House, who have been so generous and supportive and who have brought so much experience to help me and others join the ranks here. If I may, I will refer again to my granddaughter, who asked me if I would give particular thanks to the lovely people in the black clothes who were so kind to her at my introduction. The quality of the staff is an outstanding hallmark of this House.
I was introduced by two noble Lords for whom I have great admiration, my noble friends Lady Hamwee and Lord Watson. They are old companions and compatriots of mine. I find that I join what may now be called the Lords’ Richmond mafia. I think that there are nine or 10 of us from the same neck of the woods in south-west London. I must say of all of them—another is making her maiden speech today—that they set a fine example for how to act as a Peer of the realm.
I understand that it is a custom in a maiden speech to talk a little about one's background and of one's passions. I am a Londoner born and bred with a great affection for and deep attachment to this city. I stood as the Liberal Democrat candidate for Mayor of London in 2000, a circus of an election, but one which showed me the potential to achieve change through politics. I then served on the board of Transport for London until elected to Parliament in 2005. In that period on the board of Transport for London I was very much part of introducing the congestion charge and of battling against the part-privatisation of the Tube, so I have frequently found myself both hated and applauded essentially within the same sentence. That was an incredibly important learning curve for me.
In 2005, I was elected to Parliament by the people of Richmond Park. That was such a privilege. I have lived in the area for 20 years; it is, I think, one of the most beautiful in the country with some of the finest constituents that anyone could hope for. I look back to very fond memories of campaigns with local constituents on issues such as opposition to the third runway at Heathrow, a campaign that was ultimately successful. Unfortunately and sadly for me, my constituents thought it right not to re-elect me in 2010, but so goes politics.
There are years before the political years. I lived for nearly 18 years in the United States, the consequence of marrying an American. A number of noble Lords knew my husband John, who died four years ago. Although I lived in the United States for 18 years, I never became a citizen. America is not my country, but I came away infected by that American sense of optimism and possibility. I bring that to this House. My career otherwise—my trade, in effect—is banking. When I left banking to enter politics, one constituent said to me, “Why are you leaving one despised profession simply to join another?". I have a lot of work to do on both fronts to restore the reputation of both the trades in which I am now spending my life. My background in banking was in the United States and eastern Europe. I very much hope to bring to the House the expertise that I gathered, particularly in this time of financial stress. I hope to focus on two issues for which I have a great passion: one being community banking and the other green infrastructure financing. We will see if that holds true.
I wanted to speak in this debate today because of the vital issues involved. The Bill was introduced by my noble friend Lord Dholakia who is, frankly, one of my political heroes. It is an incredibly important and well crafted Bill. In my years as a Member in the other place, I worked closely with Latchmere House, a resettlement prison, one of only three in this country. There are 207 prisoners, who are serving the last 12 to 18 months of their sentence. Because that prison focuses on resettlement and rehabilitation, the reoffending rates from Latchmere—every prisoner is serving a long sentence for serious crime—are as low as 25 per cent, very different from the prison system as a whole. The focus is on reintegrating prisoners with their families, which is crucial, introducing and linking them to AA and NA groups in the areas where they have lived and will live again.
The most important part of the work of Latchmere is reintroducing prisoners to the life of work and to jobs, helping them build working habits, rebuilding a CV and creating possibility for the future. I pay real tribute to the employers who support the programme and who are willing to give prisoners a second chance. I know the kind of work that has to take place to give an employer the confidence to have a prisoner work as part of the establishment, and to trust them with their business, their clients, the people they work with and, sometimes, with their financial affairs. It takes a great deal of courage but it takes a great deal of training and teaching. It is impossible to make that kind of offer sweepingly to employers at large. Therefore, the purposes of this Bill are not only to keep in place essential safeguards but not unduly to hang around the necks of prisoners a stigma attached to a past which they have now moved beyond—a point that seems to me particularly crucial. For that reason, and because I believe very much that rehabilitation, when done properly, can be incredibly effective—it really does work—I ask your Lordships to support the Bill brought forward by my noble friend today.
My Lords, at the end of a week when the customs and courtesies of this House appear to have been honoured in the breach as much as in the practice, it is a great pleasure and privilege to be given the opportunity to congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Kramer, on her most impressive and interesting maiden speech. I am not a citizen of Richmond but I have many friends who live in her constituency, and the affection that she records for it is recorded by them for her. Many of my friends said how sorry they were that she was no longer their Member of Parliament.
The noble Baroness brings to this House wide experience. She mentioned banking but she was also the shadow Trade and Industry Secretary, shadow International Development Secretary, her party’s spokeswoman on work and pensions, and shadow Transport Secretary in the House of Commons, so I am quite certain that in future years we can look forward to her contributions on many subjects that are of interest to us.
When I was given this opportunity to speak, I was particularly interested to see whether there were any connections between the noble Baroness and me. She triggered a story about Latchmere House which perhaps I may share with your Lordships. One of the people from Latchmere House was working with a bus company during his resettlement, and one day the bus company owner rang up the governor and said, “What crime did this man commit? He’s very good and we want to give him a job but we’re worried about the crime”. The governor said, “Sorry, I’m not going to declare that. That’s up to him”. The response was, “Well, it must be very serious because he had a 15-year sentence and presumably violence was involved”. The governor sent for the prisoner and asked, “Why have you not declared that your crime was violent?”. The prisoner said, “It wasn’t violent”. However, the governor said, “But you did kill your wife, chop her into little bits and distribute them around the country”, to which he replied, “That wasn’t violent because I drugged her first”.
The three things that the noble Baroness, Lady Kramer, and I share in common are that, like her, my mother and two aunts were all at St Paul’s. My mother never ceased to tell me throughout my life how far superior St Paul’s was to Haileybury, where she sent me. She never disguised what was almost her contempt at the fact that I had chosen a career in the Army. One day after the Falklands war, the headmistress of St Paul’s invited me to talk to the school about the way in which we worked with the media during a war. Afterwards, I wrote to my mother saying, “I’ve just been to a school called St Paul’s and the only reason I got there was because I was in the Army”.
The second thing that the noble Baroness and I have in common is a view about the replacement of Trident, which I have no doubt we shall be discussing in future. Thirdly, we share an interest in a wonderful organisation called HomeStart, which works particularly with new mothers. I first became associated with it in a garrison in Germany. While congratulating the noble Baroness on her maiden speech, perhaps I may say that she has made a marvellous start in her new home.
I turn to the Bill before us. I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, on, once again, bringing this Bill forward. This is not the first time that we have had a Second Reading on his Bill and I am very glad to see it being brought forward now. However, I like to think that today we are in a slightly better context than we were on the previous occasion, because, as has already been mentioned, the Government have declared in the Green Paper, Breaking the Cycle, their intent to do something about the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act, and indeed we are requested to ask specific questions about which parts of the Act need to be reformed.
The noble Lord, Lord Addington, mentioned that the Act is out of date. I submit that it is more than that: it is a positive inhibitor to making the sort of progress that we all want in achieving a rehabilitation revolution. Here, I must declare an interest as president of UNLOCK, formerly the National Association of Ex-Offenders and now the National Association of Reformed Offenders. In the spirit of the Bill, I must share with the House my delight that in the New Year Honours List the chairman of UNLOCK, Bobby Cummines, himself an ex-offender, was awarded the OBE. The ripples of pleasure that that has sent around the whole sector is very marked. If ever there were a mark that offenders can be rehabilitated, Mr Cummines getting an OBE is, I think, it. It is absolutely splendid in view of the enormous amount of dedicated work that he has put into the whole process.
I do not propose to comment on all the statistics and facts that the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, has given the House, except to agree with them 100 per cent and to pay tribute to Nacro for the work that it has done, and continues to do, in this area. I think that Nacro is making the most significant contribution to the whole debate, and I know that all Members of this House have benefited from the information that has been given.
I absolutely accept the need to review all the provisions for adult offenders but, as other noble Lords have said—the noble Baroness, Lady Morgan, concentrated on this— it is young offenders more than any others in the sector who most need the effects of the reform of the Act. I once went to a sixth-form college and was shown around by two of the pupils. I asked one of them, “What is the best thing about this place?”. She immediately replied, “The fact that none of the staff remembers me when I was 12”. That is very significant, because you grow up and move on. I was fascinated when inspecting the young offender prison in Barbados to find that at the age of 18 a young offender’s criminal record was automatically looked at and only the very serious crimes were carried forward. Everything else was eliminated on the grounds that the offenders were children and it was not fair to inhibit people in adult life with crimes committed at that time and of that kind. That is something I have always felt that we could do with advantage.
I said that the Act was an inhibitor. Yesterday, in this House, a number of us launched the Young Offenders Academy, which is a new idea for youth justice. It is based on two understandings of the current situation. One is that too many young offenders or people who come into contact with the criminal justice system come there having been denied long-term contact with a responsible adult. If you look at how the criminal justice system for young offenders operates, the one thing that it does is deny long-term contact with a responsible adult.
The second thing that has been shown over and over again is that if local people are involved in the care, rehabilitation, resettlement or whatever you like to call it of young offenders, they will contribute much more than if they are working with someone else. London feels that perhaps more than anywhere else because there is only one young offender institution in London at Feltham. I found boys from Feltham as far away as Northumberland. What interest in the resettlement of a boy in London will a voluntary organisation in Northumberland take? There could be nothing other than pure humanity; nothing practical.
The Young Offenders Academy will have on one site, within a radius of one hour by public transport, workshops, education centres, activity centres, mental health and drug treatment centres and so forth. At the heart of the idea is the opportunity, which has been welcomed by the chambers of commerce, to give aptitude tests to everyone there and see whether they can fit that aptitude to a job. At the same time, they will identify what special skills might fit future jobs and start the training for them.
However, the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act is an inhibitor to all that process. The fact that it sits there as a block to so many initiatives in this area should encourage the Government—I hope it will encourage the Government and I am delighted in thinking that it will—to do something about it. In doing so, they must listen not just to the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, but to all the good things that were in that report Breaking the Circle, which gave us so much hope nine years ago and which I hope today marks the move forward to something that has long been needed.
My Lords, I also begin by saying that it is such an honour and privilege to make my first speech in your Lordships’ House. I feel that I have been here months rather than just a couple of weeks, but that is perhaps to do with the hours that the House has been sitting. I would like to say a particular thank you to my dear friends and sponsors, my noble friends Lady Harris of Richmond and Lord Oakeshott of Seagrove Bay. I also thank all the Members on every side of the House who have made me feel so very welcome since I arrived. I also thank all the wonderful, outstanding staff who could not have been more helpful.
I come to the House with a varied background. I have been a finance director. I have managed an international fashion company and have been a management consultant. My political experience includes eight years as a councillor in the London Borough of Richmond-upon-Thames, where I chaired the housing committee. Since 2004, I have been a Member of the London Assembly and I currently serve as its chair. My duties on the Assembly include membership of the Metropolitan Police Authority and serving as a member of the Home Office’s Olympic Security Board.
I congratulate my noble friend Lord Dholakia on introducing his Private Member's Bill to amend the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act. The Bill recognises that getting ex-offenders back into the labour market is a key element of rehabilitation. Like other noble Lords who have already spoken I, too, would like to confine my remarks to juvenile offenders.
I shall always remember my first visit to Feltham young offender institution in west London. It is just a few yards from where I live. I was both shocked and deeply saddened by the acceptance of the offenders that they would never escape the cycle of crime. It was almost as if they thought that that was their lot in life. Many of them had really harrowing stories to tell about their upbringing. As someone who grew up in a deprived community in Ireland, I found it very easy to understand the issues. However, I was very lucky. I had the love and support of a close-knit family, something that most of these young men had never known.
Your Lordships may be aware that Feltham was the subject of controversy several years ago, with reports of violent assaults and allegations of racism; but significant progress has been made, and Feltham has been praised for its effective reception and induction facilities, the outreach team that deals with self-harm issues, and the measures in place to deal with race relations issues.
I should like to pay particular tribute to the innovative work that the Mayor of London and the London Metropolitan Police Authority have done in Feltham. In 2009, a pilot scheme called the London Reducing Reoffending Programme was launched, better known as Project Daedalus. This project aims to break the cycle of youth reoffending through intensive support which begins inside custody and continues beyond the prison gates after release into the community. The target group for the project is young men aged 17 to 19 who are subject to a detention and training order and who are from one of six London boroughs. These young offenders have also been assessed as motivated to address their offending behaviour, a crucial element in resettlement.
To date, 43 young people have been placed in the unit, with 24 of them subsequently released into the community. It is still early days but the initial signs have been very positive indeed. The rate of reoffending has been reduced to less than 20 per cent, which compares to a national average of juvenile reoffending of 78 per cent. In addition, security incidents in this unit are 90 per cent lower than in other units in Feltham. The success of this project is such that similar projects are being rolled out to other young offender institutions and I hope that the money will be found to continue this excellent scheme.
However, that is not the only good work being done in London. I should like to pay particular tribute to other schemes that help prevent young people offending in the first place, in particular the superb work being done by Decima Francis of the From Boyhood to Manhood Foundation and Camila Batmanghelidjh of Kids Company. Both of these truly remarkable women do extraordinary work providing help and support to some of the most vulnerable young people in our society.
However, the good work being done at Feltham and elsewhere in London will be undermined if unnecessary barriers to ex-offenders entering the labour market are not removed. Fortunately, government policy is moving in the right direction. The Green Paper on the criminal justice system published last month states:
“The … way to improve public safety and reduce the number of victims is to reform offenders to reduce reoffending”.
I am delighted that Project Daedalus is singled out for praise in the Green Paper.
It is essential that we do much more to rehabilitate young offenders, in particular by training and equipping them to enter the labour market and by removing discriminatory barriers to employment. Of course this is not the complete solution to the problem of crime and reoffending, but it is vital if we are to break the cycle of reoffending which a policy of imprisoning offenders without rehabilitation does absolutely nothing to address. Those and many other issues are some of the things that I look forward to pursuing in your Lordships’ House.
My Lords, it is a real privilege to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Doocey. Her maiden speech will, I think, rate with some of the most respected in the history of the House. We are fortunate to have someone with her experience joining us. Her experience in local government and her experience in the London Assembly, which she now chairs, are highly relevant to our work here and can contribute much. Her business experience also is important. But what I like is the fact that she has chosen this debate for her maiden speech. It speaks of a tradition of liberal humanitarianism which is a very important quality in our democratic political system, one which many of us in other parts of the political structure of this country have always admired and to which we have frequently related. She has represented that well in what she has said today and also in her practical commitment to having effective arrangements and policies in place to further that kind of commitment.
I understand that with her family background she loves theatre, which is the mark of a very civilised person. But I also understand that she likes listening to easy music. I hope that we may provide some theatrical and, if not actually putting it to music, good listening for her in her experience in this House. I wish the noble Baroness well and I think that we shall benefit from her presence.
I am very glad to speak in support of the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, at this Second Reading. The noble Lord has stuck with perseverance and commitment to this particular legislation, but that is only part of a consistent and admirable general approach to social and penal policy. I should like to repeat what I have just said about the noble Baroness in her maiden speech. I always feel that the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, is an epitome of liberal humanitarianism at its best being applied practically. That liberal humanitarianism is very special and it is something to which I say without hesitation that over our political lives many of us in my political party have always related as well as admired, and may it be preserved in the political future.
I have always felt that any sane and relevant penal policy must have rehabilitation as its overriding, unqualified principal objective. This matters because it makes economic sense. The noble Baroness spoke about getting people back into the labour market, but it also matters because of the cost of reoffending if we do not get rehabilitation right. It is absolute madness not to have rehabilitation at the centre of our purpose in penal policy.
I was deeply moved by the remarks of the right reverend Prelate in this debate. He spoke not only of the labour market and its place in the economy, he spoke of people and of people mattering. It seems to me that in a civilisation that is worth the title “civilised”, we should be concerned about every individual who faces imprisonment and should be second to none in our determination to see those individuals, wherever possible, becoming full, flourishing members of society. It matters that they should be able to live creatively and positively.
Other people have given personal anecdotes. I should like to refer to two conversations that I have had in this context, which have deeply influenced me since they took place. I may have referred to them previously in deliberations to the House, but I think that they bear repetition. One conversation was with a retired chief constable who very modestly was doing a lot of practical voluntary work in a young offender institution. He told me of a conversation that he had with a young man who was coming up to the time of his release. As they were talking, the young man began to cry. The former chief constable was rather thrown and disturbed by this. He said, “But you are coming up to your release, why are you crying?”. The young man said, “I am crying because the work being done by you and others in this young offender institution is the first time that I have felt in my life that I mattered. It is the first time that I have begun to discover myself and to face the realities of what I could be and of what I have allowed myself to do in the past. I am frightened of what will happen when I come out of this community back into society”. The former chief constable and I pondered that. Going back to what the right reverend Prelate said, it seems to me that every time we see someone in prison we have to ask ourselves how far we are responsible for that sad situation, because it is a sad situation to see someone in prison.
As a society we have a responsibility, and while of course it is not always the case, we have to realise that many people who are incarcerated are themselves victims, and that is why they are there. This applies particularly to those in young offender institutions. They are highly damaged people in terms of their own experience. When I visited prisons and young offender institutions, and heard about someone’s experience and how they had been treated in life, I sometimes thought that it would have been an absolute miracle if they had not ended up in prison.
I also recall how a much-loved colleague, the late Baroness Lestor, a close personal friend and godmother to one of my children, had been to visit the young people involved in the terrible murder of James Bulger in Liverpool. I had never seen Joan—I refer to her affectionately as “Joan”—more disturbed and deeply upset. She said of one, “I came to realise that this young man had never been loved in his life”. That brings home to us all our collective responsibility. The Bill is a practical and important part of getting things right because, as things are on this front, they are clearly not in harmony with the wider purposes we are spelling out.
The other conversation was with a chief superintendent of police who was coming up to his retirement. He said, “You know, Frank, as I reflect on my experience of working with criminals, one thing I have always felt is that when a person is sent down to prison, however much the bravado and bluster on their part, it is a very lonely moment in their life. To get it right as a policeman, I have come to the conclusion that that is the moment when someone should be there and gently take their elbow, saying, ‘Come on Joe or Jill. This is a hell of a mess. How do we begin to sort it out and get it right?’”. If we are going to get penal policy right, we need to realise that it is not just a matter of having the right administration or the right pieces in place in terms of treatment, it is about love and friendship and having relationships because they are crucial to the whole process of rehabilitation. There need to be friends who can walk with people through the experience of imprisonment, into rehabilitation and then back into the full and creative life we hope to see them fulfilling.
Because of my general orientation on this, naturally I am delighted to see the new trend in government policy. Also, if I may put it this way, I am glad to see that my old but mis-seated colleague and friend the noble Lord, Lord McNally, is to reply to the debate. I often reflect on the days when the noble Lord and I worked quite closely together, I as a Minister of State in the Foreign Office and he at No. 10. I am just reminiscing, but I remember how, through a little conspiracy together, we once saved the budget for the BBC Overseas Service. So I am very sad to see him where he is at the moment, but I must not go down that road.
One thing which worries me about the new proposals is that they are so often presented—I think that the noble Lord, Lord McNally, if he will forgive me for saying so, has sometimes done it, although I understand the pressures which make it necessary—as saving money. I have just put forward that argument myself: if you get rehabilitation right, you will save money; you will save the cost of reoffending and the rest. However, we must not let this become a Treasury policy as distinct from a policy about rehabilitation, because rehabilitation will not be a cheap option. We have not yet begun to face up to the real costs of making this enlightened and sensible policy a success. We must have the psychiatric services, the housing advisory services, the medical services, the educational arrangements and other practical arrangements in place, with, I hope, someone walking with the individual through the handling of all these different pressures and arrangements. That will be an expensive process. We cannot just say, “Well, we’re going to run a pilot scheme and we’ve got various voluntary agencies piling in”. Having spent much of my life in the voluntary sector, I know that voluntary agencies may have a very important part to play, but how satisfied are we that all the people involved, however sincere and highly motivated, have the training, experience and professionalism to do the job well? I remember what happened with lunatic asylums. It was thought that it was a terrible thing still to have such institutions and that the people concerned should be rehabilitated in society. The arrangements were not made, and we saw as a result many personal, collective and family tragedies.
Above all, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, on another practical manifestation of his lifelong commitment to getting penal policy right.
My Lords, it is with some trepidation, but a lot of courage, that I rise to address your Lordships for the first time in this magnificent Chamber. I was introduced to your Lordships' House by the leader and the deputy leader of my party, my noble friends Lord McNally and Lord Dholakia, for which I am most grateful.
I was introduced last Monday, just four days ago, but it feels as if I have been here much longer. Nobody warned me about long night shifts. The good thing is that I have enjoyed my short time here, but it would be so nice to get back to normality soon.
Your Lordships may like to know that I am a businessman. However, during the past 13 years, I have been engaged with my charity, the Loomba Foundation. It is committed to raising awareness of the plight of widows and their children around the world who suffer through poverty, illiteracy, HIV, conflict and social injustice.
I am glad that my charity has been able to give respect and dignity to widows, but we need to do more. My work in the poverty, education and empowerment of widows has crossed political boundaries. It has also crossed geographical limitations, because disadvantage does not honour national boundaries.
The Loomba Foundation has educated thousands of children of poor widows in India. It has also provided financial aid to their mothers so that they can live a life of dignity. As part of our global work, we are empowering unfortunate widows by setting up businesses for them in Kenya, Rwanda, Malawi, South Africa, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Nepal and Syria.
We are hugely proud that on 22 December 2010 the United Nations recognised 23 June as International Widows Day. It was launched by the Loomba Foundation at the House of Lords in 2005, and we continued to campaign for its recognition by the United Nations.
Noble Lords may ask what is the relevance of my charitable work and the Private Member’s Bill of the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia. Let me explain. Those trapped in a cycle of deprivation find it almost impossible to get out of it. Furthermore, many are dragged into crime, drugs, alcoholism, abuse and human trafficking because these are the only avenues open to them. I support the Bill on the basis that giving offenders opportunities for rehabilitation is a matter of elementary justice. When an offender is sentenced by a court, he or she receives a sentence which the court considers the just punishment for the crime. When an offender has paid the penalty, it is surely wrong in principle for society to inflict further non-judicial punishment on the offender, such as making it difficult or impossible for him or her to obtain employment.
However, rehabilitation is not only in the offender’s interest; it is also a vital part of public protection. The more effectively we can rehabilitate offenders, the fewer crimes there will be in the future. Rehabilitation not only helps former offenders to avoid wasting their lives in criminal activity, it also reduces the loss, distress and injury suffered by victims of crime. There is nothing more distressing for a former offender who is genuinely trying to put his past behind him than to be refused a job because of past offences he is trying not to repeat. There is nothing more distressing for a former offender seeking insurance so that he can get honest employment in a driving job than to be refused insurance because he has a criminal record.
Yet these things happen to former offenders day after day. Many employers and insurance companies will not consider people who have a criminal record, however sincerely they are trying to reform their lives. In a government-commissioned research study by the National Institute of Economic and Social Research, employers said that they were likely to reject people with criminal records for half their vacancies and to reject those with more serious convictions for 90 per cent of their vacancies.
The human cost of the current position was well illustrated in a letter received by the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, from a former offender who had read about his Private Member’s Bill. The letter said:
“I am an ex-offender who committed a single criminal act at the age of 18 whilst in the grip of an addiction to gambling, for which I was sentenced to three years in a young offender institution. At the time I thought the loss of my liberty and my chosen career was the greatest punishment but I was so wrong. Having to live in fear at every job interview that I will be asked ‘the’ question has hung over me like a cloud since the day I was released over 21 years ago, even leading to bouts of depression”.
When this happens, there is always a risk that in despair and depression the individual will return to the criminal way of life that he has been trying to leave behind. Therefore, I strongly support the provision of this Bill, which will reduce the number of old and irrelevant convictions that ex-offenders have to declare to employers.
The extent to which society supports rehabilitation of offenders is a key test of that society’s civilised values. Do we want to live in a society that offers those who have made mistakes in their lives an opportunity of rehabilitation and inclusion, or do we want to live in a society that continues to inflict punishment on former offenders for the rest of their lives, driving them further and further to the margins of society and making it difficult or even impossible for them to find redemption and reform? I believe that the first kind of society is in every way morally preferable and ask noble Lords to join me in supporting this Bill as a step towards a society that reflects the values of compassion, fairness and justice. This is something that has shaped my life and is the basis of a decent, civilised society.
My Lords, we have had a veritable panoply of talent on display in maiden speeches today. Although I have yet to have the opportunity to meet the noble Lord, Lord Loomba, it gives me the greatest pleasure to be able to congratulate him on an excellent maiden speech. I see from his published curriculum vitae, which he referred to in his remarks, that the themes that he proposes to follow in your Lordships' House are equality, fairness and justice. It is fair to say that he has made an excellent start in fulfilling that pledge today.
As the noble Lord told us, his major work has concerned the plight of widows. Women are the first and major victims of conflict and violence. Sexual abuse and widowhood are the inevitable consequences, and it is really excellent news that the noble Lord is focusing attention on these unfortunate women and the plight of widows generally.
The other reason why I wanted to congratulate the noble Lord is not just for what he has said but for who he is and what he has achieved. I see from his CV that he was born in the Punjab in India in 1943 and that he has now come here and is a British citizen. At a time when, too often, the media are preoccupied with problems with immigration, it is good to be able to redress the balance with an example of someone who has arrived in this country and made such a significant contribution to our national life. I am sure that I speak for the whole House when I say that we look forward to hearing from him again very soon.
I am of course pleased to able to support my noble friend Lord Dholakia. People say that the progress of legislation in this House is made up of equal proportions of perspiration and inspiration. There is plenty of inspiration on display here and, of course, the noble Lord has shown perspiration by the number of times he has pushed and kept this Bill moving forward and reintroduced it.
As some Members of the House will be aware, I am chairing a task force that is looking at the bureaucratic and regulatory burdens inhibiting the establishment and development of small charities and voluntary groups. We have been taking evidence for some four months and hope to publish by Easter, and we have received many submissions giving examples of the bureaucratic burdens, some of which verge on the risible. But there is a read-across to my noble friend’s Bill and purposes, and I shall return to that in a few minutes, after saying some words of endorsement of the Bill itself.
As many noble Lords have pointed out, we have to face the fact that the level of reoffending among prisoners on release from jail is unacceptable, on at least two counts. First, there is the issue in human terms, with a group of people locked in a cycle of deprivation which is affecting not just them but their relatives. Most depressingly, when you visit young offender institutions and learn how many people there are already fathers, what will that mean for those children and what chance will they have to fulfil any chance of a reasonable life with reasonable aspirations? In this, I very much follow the comments made by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Wakefield. Secondly, there is the issue of financial terms: the cost to the state and therefore to the taxpayer is not inconsiderable.
I am sure that we need to agree steps that can be taken to reduce reoffending rates. I am very pleased, as other noble Lords are, to see the emphasis given to that in the recent Ministry of Justice consultation document, Breaking the Cycle, for all surveys show that the key to stopping reoffending is to have a home—somewhere to live—and the opportunity for a job with a chance of earning a living wage. However, we have to do that against a background of affording a proper degree of protection to the public, because all of us who wish to achieve this happy state have to guard against the very adverse publicity that will occur if people who are released commit some terrible crime and end up on the front page of the newspapers. That sets back the whole cause and case at which my noble friend’s Bill is aimed. This Bill nevertheless represents a significant step towards achieving and reconciling these difficult and often conflicting objectives.
I am afraid that it is not just about changing the law; it is also about changing attitudes. Turning briefly to some of the work that we in the task force have been doing, it is clear that charities can provide a very helpful route back to full-time paid employment. They do so for the following reasons: first, they operate in a more non-judgmental and more supportive way than commercial operations can, so that there is less potential for damage to the newly released prisoner’s often fragile sense of self-esteem. Secondly, they provide a more flexible approach to work. Newly released prisoners can find it hard to live and respond to the demands of a nine-to-five, five-days-a-week existence. They need an environment in which to build up their endurance to that pace of life. It is like someone coming straight out of hospital and trying to run a marathon; like a runner, they need to develop their strength. Finally and most importantly, they provide an opportunity to help others. Often, the disadvantaged of our society and released prisoners have an opportunity to set their own lives in the context of others.
Yet there are a couple of significant impediments to achieving that happy outcome. The first, too often, appears to be our social security system—not in the regulations themselves but in their interpretation in jobcentres up and down the country. From time to time, we have had evidence that working for a charity is seen as a reason to reduce the social security entitlements because the person in question should be required to take any paid work in preference to that. That seems to me an entirely unhelpful approach which robs charities of volunteers, prevents ex-prisoners moving towards full-time employment and, in the longer term, probably costs the state money. As I say, regulations do not require that but the size of the workforce in the social security system and the rapid turnover of staff often mean that regulations are not properly understood.
The other inhibition, both for charities and commercial companies, is the system of the Criminal Records Bureau that was referred to in the Nacro briefing and whose checks have grown exponentially in recent years. Here, I shall respond to the challenge laid down by the noble Baroness, Lady Morgan, in her excellent speech. Let me be clear to begin with: this is not going to be a rant about the Criminal Records Bureau regime. We need proper protection for children and vulnerable adults but there are some important improvements to be made in administering the regime. The first is in the frequency of checks. It may astonish the House to know that 100,000 people in this country were checked 40 times each last year and that the winner of the table was someone who was checked 53 times. That is because there is no passporting system. We have a passport; it would enable individual health authorities, schools and government departments, which currently all require a separate CRB check, to carry the record of the individual. When a Punch and Judy man operating on Brighton, Hastings and Eastbourne beaches has to be checked three times, things have reached a pretty pass.
The second aspect is to give the person being checked control of his or her passport. That is because, in the first instance, you can be certain that the contents are accurate. There is quite a lot of attribution of the wrong data to the wrong person. Secondly, if my noble friend’s Bill comes to fruition, ensuring that the record is struck clean at the appropriate moment will be very important. It also enables the person to set the offence in context, so that they can have a chance to say, “I did something wrong. I was this age. It was this offence. Will you therefore please consider my application?”, on all fours. The present system whereby the potential employer and the individual get the check at the same time means that the individual has no chance to set the scene and is therefore always trying to play catch-up and redress the balance of the impression left with the potential employer.
I hope that the CRB will be prepared to give a sympathetic hearing to these sorts of proposals. However, the really depressing attitude and terrible situation is the frequent absence of any self-confidence and common sense among our fellow citizens on the value of CRB checks. The default option has become to have everybody checked every time, as if this somehow reduced risks. It does not reduce the risk in any way. It merely provides air cover for the company or organisation and shifts responsibility to somebody else. How often does one see, in the evidence about child abuse cases, for example, phrases like, “Oh, but we had him or her CRB checked”, as if that were somehow an excuse.
That default option of asking for CRB checks puts off people and inhibits employment, and the CRB checks are not necessary. If you read the CRB regulations, they refer to “frequent and intensive contact” with children or vulnerable adults. That phrase is not given sufficient weight by employers, be they charities, central or local government, the NHS, schools or commercial companies.
We move in these circumstances from issues which are stupid and silly to other instances where they are absolutely malign. Noble Lords will have seen the story of the ladies in Gloucester Cathedral, arranging flowers. They have had to have CRB checks because, in executing their duties as flower arrangers, they come into contact with the choir, which of course contains young persons. The jobsworth who managed to think up that particular CRB check is hard to imagine.
More malign is the issue represented by a retired doctor, aged 67, wishing to give a couple of hours a week to helping out Alzheimer’s patients, who had done so without trouble for several years. Then the decision was made that she should have a CRB check. As a matter of principle, she said they she was not going to do this. The society for whom she was working said that it would fill in the form for her. She said, “No, that is not the point. The society should trust me and recognise what I have done in the past, that I am a volunteer giving up my free time and that I am not ‘frequent and intensive’ in my association with the people I am helping”. There the matter rested, and she no longer provides the service to the Alzheimer’s patients that she had been helping before. If a doctor, who has an audit trail that probably stretches for 40 years since she first qualified, is unable to proceed without these sorts of intrusive checks, what chance for an ex-prisoner?
To conclude, of course I support my noble friend’s Bill. I hope very much that it will have a speedy passage in one form or another to the statute book. However, there is a lot to do to change public attitudes in society among our fellow citizens on this important topic.
My Lords, I first congratulate those noble Lords who made three remarkable, riveting and very sensitive maiden speeches. I feel fortunate to be taking part in the same debate and I look forward enormously to hearing their further contributions to this House. I join other noble Lords in congratulating the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, on his tenacity in pursuing this issue, and on his determination to effect this long-outstanding reform. I will make only a brief intervention, to offer him my strong support in his efforts to achieve concrete change that will, I hope, receive support on all sides of the House.
Every study and piece of research on reoffending identifies stable employment as the surest way of preventing reoffending. However, studies and many contributions in the House today also highlight the fact that former offenders, although they may be determined to rebuild their shattered lives and those of their families, face huge challenges and often outright unfair discrimination from potential employers. Our reoffending rates in this country are a social catastrophe. As our prison population has increased—it is now one of the highest of any developed country—the proportion of those reoffending has not changed. An attempt was made by the previous Government to break away from all this. In 2002 they commissioned a review of the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974. That review made grim reading. More than a quarter of the working population had a previous conviction. However, it also went on to find that employment can reduce reoffending by between a third and a half, but that a criminal record can seriously diminish employment opportunities.
I looked in vain for any data that suggest things have changed. Most studies show that offenders face inevitable discrimination when they apply for jobs. As the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, pointed out, 60 per cent of the offenders who took part in surveys by the National Association for the Care and Resettlement of Offenders were refused jobs because of their criminal records. This has been made even more problematic by the increase in the length of custodial sentences since the 1974 Act, as my noble friend Lady Morgan emphasised. Offenders who would have received a sentence of two and a half years or less in 1974 receive between three and four years today. Quite rightly, a great deal of care has gone into identifying those jobs for which former offenders must be carefully vetted and from which they should possibly be excluded, particularly in relation to children and vulnerable people. However, those who are genuinely reformed—who need only an opportunity to show that they can make it as good citizens—face an implacable barrier of rejection and discrimination.
I read with great interest the report on children and young people in the youth justice system from the All-Party Group on Children, which was published only two months ago in conjunction with the National Children’s Bureau. It reported overwhelming disquiet about, among other things, the current age of criminal responsibility in England and Wales. It particularly commented on the apparent emphasis in the youth justice system on punishment rather than rehabilitation. It found that the most vulnerable and most victimised young people are most likely to be persistent offenders and that at least a third of young people in custody should not be there at all. It found that prison is poor value for money; community service with early intervention, and family and other focused therapies, are much better value. It also gave specific ways—for example, through the work of the Foyer Federation—in which reoffending could be prevented.
I cite this to demonstrate that our justice system is clearly failing vulnerable young people, and that there are well documented ways in which rehabilitation can achieve great success. I draw the conclusion that we should do everything possible to encourage this approach and to encourage potential employers, particularly, to look beyond the stigma of a custodial sentence. Employers can be persuaded. Indeed, one scheme with which I have had close association has had remarkable success. The National Grid Transco scheme is championed by its chairman, Sir John Parker, and rolled out by its remarkable director, Dr Mary Harris, first within its own industry, then through the gas supply chain and now in several other sectors. It has reduced reoffending rates among its participating offenders by 70 per cent. One has only to talk to the employers involved to know how much they value these committed employees.
The recent Green Paper from the Ministry of Justice seems to take the same view. In breaking what it calls the “destructive cycle” of crime and reoffending, it says that its priority will be to stop the reoffending that blights the lives of individuals and communities and to get offenders “into honest work”. The proposals have been welcomed by NACRO. Its CEO, Paul McDowell, said:
“We must concentrate on reforming the system so that reoffending goes down and public confidence goes up”.
I hope that part of the strategy of the Ministry of Justice will be to focus on increasing public confidence, and increasing public and employer awareness of the enormous economic and social benefits of such a policy.
In conclusion, I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, will be rewarded for his tenacity, and that he will succeed in achieving the changes which he has so valiantly promoted for so long.
My Lords, I start by congratulating the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, on achieving this Second Reading. I greatly admire his persistence in championing this Bill. He has shown huge patience, enormous restraint and, above all, a formidable strength of will to keep going with this legislation, which will for ever have his name marked on it. His reputation in this field goes before him. His work for NACRO and his work in this House on this important subject are widely known. For that and other reasons, the House is absolutely delighted that he recently received the honour of entering the Privy Council. This side of the House congratulates him very warmly on that achievement.
We have heard three wonderful maiden speeches, which formed an extremely impressive trio. I do not know whether three maiden speakers have ever sat side by side in the Chamber. They make an extraordinarily formidable combination. I do not wish to go into great detail but I was impressed by the fact that all three maiden speakers in their different ways demonstrated a huge passion for rehabilitation and breaking the offending cycle, and that they have all, in their separate ways, done a great deal in this field, not just spoken about it. The House enjoyed all the speeches very much indeed and looks forward greatly to their further contributions not just on this subject but on others, too.
However, we should not forget the more experienced speakers who have spoken in this debate who have shown their experience and expertise in this subject. It is a subject in which this House is particularly interested—I say that in the broadest sense. Sometimes that can be slightly uncomfortable for a Minister, to put it mildly, although perhaps not today. However, the noble Lord, Lord McNally, indicates that that is the case today as well. Speaking from personal experience, I can say that a Minister can feel uncomfortable in these debates. However, that does not take away from the fact that this House is extremely knowledgeable and takes this subject extremely seriously.
On this side, we welcome the fact that the noble Lord is reintroducing this Bill, and are, of course, happy to support its Second Reading. At a later stage—I think that that the noble Lord will thank us for this, rather than criticise us—there may be technical details that we will want to look into, as obviously the House will want to, to get the Bill right. One matter that was referred to the last time there was a Second Reading on this was the position with regard to Scotland. The noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, will remember that the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act is a devolved issue. However, I am sure that, like us, he believes that it is desirable to have similar schemes on both sides of the border. I look forward to hearing, perhaps not today, about the work the noble Lord has done on having a dialogue with Scotland on this issue.
I can be fairly brief. The rehabilitation of offenders is a subject of immense importance for our society. We were rightly warned by my noble friend Lord Judd that rehabilitation properly done is very expensive indeed. That has to be appreciated by Governments. It is not enough for them to say they are in favour of rehabilitation; they actually have to be prepared to put the money aside in order to see it through.
In our time in government, we did much to encourage rehabilitation in a number of ways. However, we also placed, as do the present Government, great emphasis on victims of crime. I want to comment on the linking of these two. For a long time, not enough had been done for victims of crime, and we make no apologies for the concentration that we placed on them. Part of protecting victims and potential victims is reducing the rate of crime, a reduction which I am delighted to say, from figures published yesterday, seems to be continuing. Secondly, it is of course important to stop people committing their first offence. Thirdly—this is where we come to the Bill—it is also particularly important that people who have committed previous offences have an opportunity of rehabilitating themselves without any more difficulty than the mere fact that they have had a custodial sentence or serious conviction. We believe that if you can successfully rehabilitate offenders, you are protecting potential victims of crime. That is how these two issues are linked.
I have a couple of questions for the Minister. I promise him that there will not be a whole catalogue of questions for him to answer. The main question that the House really wants answered is: what do the Government intend to do with the Bill? Will they take it over and produce a government Bill, or make it part of a government Bill? Or will they give time to the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, in order that the Bill can complete its stages in this House and then pass on to another place? The other question is this: the debate has rightly been very much centred on young offenders, and stress has been placed on what we can do about them. How can the proposed abolition of the Youth Justice Board possibly fit in with the Government’s clearly stated concern about rehabilitating young offenders and keeping them away from offending? The House deserves an answer. The Minister will know that there is a lot of concern around the House about the proposed abolition of the Youth Justice Board.
In conclusion, from this side of the House, we support the Bill in principle. We will do our very best to improve it, if it needs improvement. I congratulate the noble Lord once again. He can tell that there is widespread support for his Bill in this House and we thank him for moving the Second Reading.
My Lords, I shall answer the questions first before going into the main body of my speech. I will attempt an impassioned peroration and I ask my noble friend Lord Dholakia to trust me. The Government intend to take on the main thrust of the Bill. We are in the process of consultation based on the Green Paper. Therefore, we would like to take on board the main parts of the Bill. I offer my noble friend full consultation on the form of government legislation. I do so with a sense of urgency and also in the full knowledge that if I do not deliver, he will be back with the persistence that he has shown already.
I turn to the question of Scotland. I am going there in about a month to talk to Scottish Ministers about their experience. The issue has been raised of bringing the work of the YJB into the MoJ. The matter will be fully debated in the Public Bodies Bill. I will explain to the House our intentions at that point. As I have said before at the Dispatch Box, the Youth Justice Board was one of the great achievements of the previous Government. It did a great deal to push the treatment of young offenders to the top of the agenda. However, we believe that we can justify bringing its work in-house to the MoJ without diminishing its effectiveness. We hope to learn some of the lessons of the youth justice experience over the past 10 years and apply them to the treatment of adult offenders. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Bach, will be patient. I shall be back at the Dispatch Box at some stage next week with the Public Bodies Bill, because I assured my noble friend Lord Taylor that when we reached the YJB part of the Bill, I would do my duty and defend the decision.
It is good to end this turbulent week in the House by demonstrating both to ourselves and to the public what we do best, and by showing the side of the House that people most admire, which is our ability to draw on the experience and expertise of Members in a matter of public interest and concern. I fully share the view of the noble Lord, Lord Bach. His stewardship at the Ministry of Justice is still highly regarded, not least by me. I share with him the fact that in piloting a liberal approach to these matters, we have to carry with us people who have a genuine fear of crime and a genuine concern for its victims. There is not a great deal of difference between us. We are talking about getting the balance right between proper protection of the public and a genuine offer of the opportunity for rehabilitation and reform.
Before I go into the body of my speech, I will say that I take real pride in the fact that the three maiden speakers today all came from the Liberal Democrat Benches. They all demonstrated that the new intake maintains the reputation for quality on those Benches—a reputation that is appreciated on all sides of the House. Pause for those on all Benches to say, “Hear, hear”.
As was pointed out, my noble friend Lord Dholakia has vast experience as president of NACRO and in the way that he has associated NACRO, UNLOCK and the Prison Reform Trust in this campaign. He has rightly argued that the rehabilitation periods in the current Act are far too long, and prevent rehabilitated ex-offenders from making a fresh start. The Government have sympathy with that position; we believe that one of the more effective ways to ensure that an ex-offender becomes re-integrated into society is to offer them the chance of stability which, among other things, means employment.
The Government are well aware that the Act has not been reformed since its introduction in 1974. The result is that it does not reflect current, more severe sentencing practice and it can, therefore, fail in its aim to help reformed offenders resettle into society. The long-standing criticisms of the Act include the fact that rehabilitation periods are too long, and they do not reflect the point at which the risk of re-offending reduces. Also, the threshold at which a conviction never becomes spent—that is, all those convictions which attract a sentence of more than 30 months—is seen as too low. At the same time, the exceptions order exempts a growing number of occupations from the Act. The legislation is also criticised for being over-complex and confusing, with the result that some people may not realise that they benefit from its application.
The Government are therefore looking at what can be done to address some of those criticisms and to get a better balance between rehabilitation and public protection. The Government are currently consulting on potential changes to the Act through our Green Paper, which has been referred to several times, on sentencing and rehabilitation. The Green Paper explains that the proposals we are considering include: broadening the scope of the Act so that it covers all offenders who have a determinate sentence; reducing the length of rehabilitation periods; and producing a clearer, simplified classification of rehabilitation periods.
The consultation paper also asks for views on how we do more for young offenders, a point referred to by several speakers, so that minor convictions as a juvenile do not blight their future prospects, and how offenders with minor convictions a long time in their past, but who are subject to full disclosure of their convictions, might be treated.
We share similar aims to my noble friend Lord Dholakia and are committed to bring in reform in this area. It will also be apparent from the overall thrust of the Green Paper that rehabilitation is very much at the heart of our approach. We believe that the right way to improve public safety and reduce the number of victims is to reduce reoffending, and that an important aspect of that is to ensure that rehabilitated ex-offenders are offered a chance to reintegrate fully into society.
I noted a number of points that noble Lords made. I will try to cover most of them in my reply, but I will also say that the consultation period ends on 3 March, so there is still a month and a half for individuals and organisations to respond to the Green Paper. I urge noble Lords with contacts with interested organisations or individually to make a response to the Green Paper. I assure noble Lords that the team within the MoJ working on our next steps in this area will receive the Hansard of this debate, as itself a constructive response to the problems that we are discussing.
The noble Baroness, Lady Morgan, together with a number of other noble Lords, pointed out that the whole question of criminal records needs to be looked at. A Home Office working party is considering the matter, including a number of the points that the noble Lord, Lord Hodgson, made about the system being over-prescriptive and over-bureaucratic. We are hoping that the outcome of the working party will enable us to clarify and simplify the matter. Anyone who is faced with these things, as I am, sees the same issues coming up time and time again. Getting to the bottom of some of these problems involves something less than rocket science, although of course there are dilemmas. The noble Baroness mentioned exclusion. There is the dilemma of the impact that exclusion will have on the excluded child, but there is also the dilemma of what not excluding the child does to the rest of the class or the ethos of the school. There is not always a simple solution.
I welcome the contribution of my noble friend Lord Addington, who reminded us how many of these issues are related to educational problems, including the area of his own expertise, dyslexia. This comes up time and again. Along with the Department of Health, we are trying to identify at an early stage the mental problems of one kind or another which are a factor in offending.
The noble Earl, Lord Erroll, asked me a question which I think was partly answered by the noble Lord, Lord Bach. He asked how many adults had a criminal conviction. The best answer that the Box could come up with was that about one-third of all men have a recordable conviction by the age of 30. That sounds like an enormous amount to me, but I think that the noble Lord, Lord Bach, said that research carried out in 2005 indicated that the figure was 25 per cent. I shall check the figure again, although I have heard it mentioned before. However, it is extremely worrying because it means that convictions leading to a criminal record are very widespread, and the blight might be wider than we think.
That is a great relief. It probably brings the number of adults with a criminal conviction, other than for traffic offences, down to below 5 per cent. I worked for my noble friend Lord Ashdown when he was leader of the Liberal Democrats in the other place, and he would tell me that he was going to get back to Yeovil in a frighteningly short time. As a result, my noble friend is probably among those statistics, which just goes to show that offenders can be rehabilitated. The noble Lord has made an extremely helpful point but I do not think that it takes away from the fact that there is a considerable build-up of these convictions, and finding a way of getting them spent would be extremely helpful. I am grateful to the noble Earl, Lord Erroll, for his intervention.
The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Wakefield also made an extremely helpful speech, and I welcome his support for the Green Paper. Again, he emphasised that there should be a proportionate, not a vengeful, response in terms of the criminal justice system. Nobody denies that prison works in certain circumstances—for certain crimes for certain individuals. But—and this is an argument that we must win—so do the alternatives to prison. If we can get a proper debate about that—a proportionate response—then we have some success in moving forward.
I have already mentioned my noble friend Lady Kramer’s marvellous maiden speech. I was interested by her endorsement, and that of the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, of Latchmere House, although I have not yet worked out how you find the space to make these visits—perhaps the noble Lord, Lord Bach, can advise me—other than by going into Opposition. Latchmere House looks an interesting place to go and have a look. On the question of not being re-elected, my noble friend might like to use a formula that I have used over the years. Whenever anybody asked me why I gave up being a Member of Parliament for Stockport South, I said that it was by public demand.
The noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, is another titan of this House in terms of this subject area and as president of UNLOCK. I thought that his comment about the chairman of UNLOCK, Mr Cummines, being given an OBE, was the living example of what we are trying to do. I hope that the Green Paper gives a real push to the work built on by the YJB of trying to prevent young offenders from coming into our prison system in the first place. To have fewer than 2,000 young people in custody of one kind or another is a success. That rate is falling. I also accept that the alternatives are intense.
I have been warned that I am running out of time. Along with the noble Baroness, Lady Doocey, I certainly think that Project Daedalus in London is an example that should be followed. We are hoping for other projects of similar local initiatives to be tested.
I say to the noble Lord, Lord Judd, that we have instinctively been on the same side on so many occasions over the past 40 years, and I am really glad that we are once again shoulder to shoulder on this. The only thing that I would say—this goes back to the original point of the noble Lord, Lord Bach, on victims—is that it is true that some of these young people are victims of their circumstances. However, without playing the old soldier, I should also say that I was born into a working-class area and I can think now of two lads in particular who were born into disruptive, dysfunctional families and had all the disadvantages that we find in people in young offender centres today—I had better not say what their chosen careers were, because some clever journalist will go and identify them—but they both succeeded past those backgrounds and made good lives for themselves. A disruptive, dysfunctional family does not mean that criminality is an inevitability; neither does poverty mean that criminality is inevitable—there is a choice. That is why I am very interested in rehabilitation. Some people have gone through this experience and said that it can be life-changing also for the young offender actually to meet their victim.
I say to my noble friend Lord Loomba that it is so valuable to have him, with his experience of work on poverty at home and abroad, as a Member of the House. I say to the noble Lord, Lord Hodgson, that I thank him not only for his intervention but for his work. I hope that he can de-bureaucratise the setting up of charities and voluntary organisations. The other thing that has impressed me over the past few months is the fact that it is often the smaller charities and smaller voluntary organisations that are doing the interesting work in this field. So I say to the noble Lord: more power to your elbow.
Like the noble Baroness, Lady Warwick, who also asked about the YJB, I pay tribute to the National Grid Transco scheme. However, I had better finish before the noble Lord, Lord De Mauley, gets overexcited about what I am doing. I always think that it is rather funny that we have to stop when we actually have hours and hours of time, but, given the experience of the past few days, we had better stick to the rules, and I had better set a good example.
We are trying to build on some of the previous work, Green Papers and studies, and we are doing everything that we can to bring the research up to date. People are invited to read the Green Paper and to respond to the questions, and they have until 3 March to do so. As I said at the beginning of these remarks, I would like the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, to leave his Bill in abeyance because we are working urgently on the issue and will be introducing legislation. The Front Bench opposite knows how restricted I am in making commitments, but we are undertaking that work with urgency. I also promise my noble friend that he will be fully involved in our discussions so that when we bring forward proposals they will very much reflect the content and the spirit of the legislation that he has put before the House today. As I said before, this has been one of those debates that show the House of Lords at its best.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for his very positive statement, and of course I am delighted to be able to co-operate fully, as he has proposed, in the forthcoming legislation. In his actions he has also established a deep bond between the leader and the deputy leader of the Liberal Democrats, and long may it continue.
I cannot miss this opportunity to thank all noble Lords who participated. We have had a very hectic week and I do not wish to inflict further pain but I cannot fail to point out that we have heard some remarkable maiden speeches from my noble friends who participated in this debate. As my noble friend Lord McNally said, the House is at its best when, despite some serious disagreements on occasion, it deals with social issues. This debate is an example of the unanimity that we can achieve in a cause for which we are all fighting.
I intend at some stage to have discussions with the noble Earl, Lord Erroll, about his concerns and to see how those matters can be taken up in discussions with the Minister. I would also be failing in my duty if I did not thank my own—completely voluntary—Bill team: Paul Cavadino from Nacro and Julie Wright of UNLOCK. They helped me to shape the Bill. I must also thank the noble Lord, Lord Bach, for his compliments. He also mentioned Scotland. We deleted part of those provisions for the very reason he suggested—that it is a devolved matter. We have had discussions with them, and I am glad that my noble friend Lord McNally will be visiting Scotland. I hope he will be able to take the matter up with them. I therefore ask the House to give the Bill a Second Reading.
Bill read a second time and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.
Arrangement of Business
My Lords, further to an intervention made by the noble Lord, Lord Redesdale, earlier about the Dog Control Bill, I wish to place on record that my noble friend Lord Grantchester tabled an amendment, about which he had been in discussion with Defra. It was known that it would not be a wrecking amendment. I want to associate myself with the words of the Chief Whip that Committee stage of the Dog Control Bill was postponed due to the number of speakers in this important debate on the Bill put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia.
House adjourned at 2.06 pm.