House of Lords
Tuesday, 20 March 2012.
Prayers—read by the Lord Bishop of Wakefield.
Her Majesty the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee
Motion for Presenting an Humble Address
My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now proceed to Westminster Hall for the purpose of presenting the humble Address which the House ordered on 15 March to be presented to Her Majesty, and that thereafter the House do adjourn during pleasure and do meet again in this Chamber at three o’clock.
The House proceeded to Westminster Hall accordingly, for the purpose of presenting to Her Majesty an Address of congratulation in accordance with the Resolution of 15 March. The Commons also assembled in the Hall for a similar purpose.
The Address from the House of Lords was read by the Lord Speaker as follows:
Most Gracious Sovereign,
We, the Lords Spiritual and Temporal, are assembled here today to celebrate sixty years of Your reign. We record with warmth and affection our appreciation of Your dedicated service to Your people, and Your unequalled sense of public duty over the years—service and duty to which You have only recently, and so movingly, rededicated Yourself.
We celebrate too Your stewardship of Your high office. You have personified continuity and stability while ensuring that Your role has evolved imperceptibly, with the result that the Monarchy is as integral a part of our national life today as it was 60 years ago.
We rejoice in this Jubilee and we give thanks for all that it represents.
At the same time, we record our gratitude for the support which You have received throughout Your reign from His Royal Highness Prince Philip, for in this year of jubilee we celebrate his service too.
This is one of the first of many celebrations to be held up and down the land. In the coming months You and the Duke will travel widely throughout the Kingdom. But today You have come to Parliament, the constitutional heart of the nation, and granted us the privilege of being the first of Your people formally to honour Your Jubilee. And where better to begin the celebrations than here, in the splendour of Westminster Hall—a hall of kings and queens for almost a millennium?
While this Hall has seen many historic events, few are permanently commemorated. So we look forward with great anticipation to the unveiling of the stained glass window which Members of both Houses have commissioned in honour of this day. When placed in the window above the great doors, Your Coat of Arms and Royal Cypher will bathe the Hall in colour and be seen daily by Members and staff as they walk through to their offices—and by the many thousands of visitors we receive here weekly, from both home and abroad.
For we must remember that Your Jubilee will be celebrated with joy in Your other realms and territories, and throughout the rest of the Commonwealth. The Commonwealth as we know it today is of course one of the great achievements of Your reign and under Your leadership continues to flourish, with a membership of 54 countries. It is still growing. It is a tremendous force for good in the world and we are aware of its special personal significance to You.
Many of us present here today take an active part in the work of the United Kingdom Branch of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association. We work to share our experiences, to learn from one another, and to promote democracy. But our efforts are as nothing compared with those of Your Majesty in the service of Your beloved Commonwealth. Over the years You have visited all but two Commonwealth countries—some, many times—and attended all Heads of Government meetings since 1997. We look on with admiration and pride at the triumphs of some of Your recent tours and it is significant that members of the Royal Family are representing You this year at the Jubilee celebrations being held in all those lands in which You are Head of State.
Your Majesty, the Lords Spiritual and Temporal in Parliament Assembled give thanks for this Your Diamond Jubilee. We look forward to the years to come and we pray that You and Your realms may enjoy the peace, plenty and prosperity that have so distinguished Your reign.
Her Majesty’s Reply
Her Majesty’s Most Gracious Reply was as follows:
My Lords and Members of the House of Commons,
I am most grateful for your Loyal Addresses and the generous words of the Lord Speaker and Mr Speaker.
This great institution has been at the heart of the country and the lives of our people throughout its history. As Parliamentarians, you share with your forebears a fundamental role in the laws and decisions of your own age. Parliament has survived as an unshakeable cornerstone of our constitution and our way of life.
History links monarchs and Parliament, a connecting thread from one period to the next. So, in an era when the regular, worthy rhythm of life is less eye-catching than doing something extraordinary, I am reassured that I am merely the second Sovereign to celebrate a Diamond Jubilee.
As today, it was my privilege to address you during my Silver and Golden Jubilees. Many of you were present ten years ago and some of you will recall the occasion in 1977. Since my Accession, I have been a regular visitor to the Palace of Westminster and, at the last count, have had the pleasurable duty of treating with twelve Prime Ministers.
Over such a period, one can observe that the experience of venerable old age can be a mighty guide but not a prerequisite for success in public office. I am therefore very pleased to be addressing many younger Parliamentarians and also those bringing such a wide range of background and experience to your vital, national work.
During these years as your Queen, the support of my family has, across the generations, been beyond measure. Prince Philip is, I believe, well-known for declining compliments of any kind. But throughout he has been a constant strength and guide. He and I are very proud and grateful that The Prince of Wales and other members of our family are travelling on my behalf in this Diamond Jubilee year to visit all the Commonwealth Realms and a number of other Commonwealth countries.
These overseas tours are a reminder of our close affinity with the Commonwealth, encompassing about one-third of the world’s population. My own association with the Commonwealth has taught me that the most important contact between nations is usually contact between its peoples. An organisation dedicated to certain values, the Commonwealth has flourished and grown by successfully promoting and protecting that contact.
At home, Prince Philip and I will be visiting towns and cities up and down the land. It is my sincere hope that the Diamond Jubilee will be an opportunity for people to come together in a spirit of neighbourliness and celebration of their own communities. We also hope to celebrate the professional and voluntary service given by millions of people across the country who are working for the public good. They are a source of vital support to the welfare and well-being of others, often unseen or overlooked.
And as we reflect upon public service, let us again be mindful of the remarkable sacrifice and courage of our Armed Forces. Much may indeed have changed these past sixty years but the valour of those who risk their lives for the defence and freedom of us all remains undimmed.
The happy relationship I have enjoyed with Parliament has extended well beyond the more than three and a half thousand Bills I have signed into law. I am therefore very touched by the magnificent gift before me, generously subscribed by many of you. Should this beautiful window cause just a little extra colour to shine down upon this ancient place, I should gladly settle for that.
We are reminded here of our past, of the continuity of our national story and the virtues of resilience, ingenuity and tolerance which created it. I have been privileged to witness some of that history and, with the support of my family, rededicate myself to the service of our great country and its people now and in the years to come.
House adjourned to the Chamber of Parliament.
House adjourned during pleasure.
Groceries Code Adjudicator
To ask Her Majesty’s Government whether they will allow trade associations to make complaints to the proposed Groceries Code Adjudicator on behalf of members who are both direct and indirect suppliers of supermarkets; and, if not, why not.
My Lords, the draft Groceries Code Adjudicator Bill proposes to allow the adjudicator to consider any information once an investigation has started. The only limitation is on what information it can consider when deciding whether to start an investigation. As drafted, this is restricted to information from direct and indirect suppliers and to published evidence. The Government have agreed to consider extending this to third parties, particularly to trade bodies. Ministers are taking advice and meeting representatives of both suppliers and retailers before making a final decision.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for his reply, but what evidence does the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills have that limiting the powers of the groceries code adjudicator to naming and shaming transgressing supermarkets will have the desired deterrent effect?
My Lords, the adjudicator’s primary role will be investigating complaints and uncovering breaches of the groceries code. Once the breach is uncovered, the adjudicator will be able to use the following remedies. First, it will be able to recommend to the retailer how it should comply with the code. If that is not followed, a further investigation can be launched with a tougher remedy. It can instruct the retailer to publish information on the breach—naming and shaming, to which the right reverend Prelate referred. There is then a reserve power to impose financial penalties, which will only become available to the adjudicator once the Secretary of State has allowed it by order.
My Lords, does not the Minister agree that the power of supermarkets is such that there should not be any artificial restrictions on who might be the complainants and what they might complain about? Among the possible complainants would be suppliers such as farmers, through the National Farmers’ Union, or other retailers through the British Retail Consortium. Why restrict them in any way from making complaints to the groceries adjudicator if he or she is to have any real power over the exacting power of supermarkets that exists at the moment?
My Lords, will the Minister explain why these powers for financial sanctions will not be available from day one? Given that the point of setting up the adjudicator was to deal with the findings from the Competition Commission that supermarkets were transferring over excessive risk and unexpected cost to their suppliers, why would not the strongest possible signal be sent out right from the start?
My Lords, I understand the noble Baroness’s position. On balance, we think that it would be better to start with the regime that we have proposed. As I said earlier, and as she acknowledges, we may well have to move on to what she suggests, but we would like to consider it further. One advantage of doing that is that we would have the benefit of the adjudicator’s input and experience of deciding on the framework for fines.
I am sorry to hear that the noble Earl thinks that I am being hesitant. I do not think that it is reasonable to imply that we have been dragging our heels. The process was triggered in 2008 during the previous Government’s term of office by a report from the Competition Commission. I would not criticise the previous Government for dragging their heels because, in fact, they were getting on with the business of trying to persuade the grocery industry itself to put in place a process. The industry did not do that. We all want to get this right, which is why we have been through a thorough process of pre-legislative scrutiny—and I think that that is something of which noble Lords generally approve.
My Lords, we all wish to see the consumer get the best possible deal. However, this should not be at the expense of suppliers to the supermarkets; their confidence is crucial if this is to be seen to work effectively. If I might press the Minister again, will he confirm whether the adjudicator will have authority to levy financial penalties, should an abuse of power be upheld against any supermarket? Furthermore, however any resulting fine may be levied, will he confirm that this will not simply disappear to some central agency but rather be paid directly to those businesses deemed to have suffered abuse?
My Lords, the noble Lord’s question is in line with comments from the BIS Select Committee, which said that the arguments on whether to introduce fines from inception are finely balanced. I think that that is fair, and the Government’s view is that financial penalties should be kept as a reserve power, as I have said. We consider that the appointment of the adjudicator is in itself important to the effectiveness of the groceries code. The adjudicator already has sanctions available, and large retailers will immediately be conscious that if there is evidence of significant non-compliance and the existing regime seems not to be sufficiently effective, there is the prospect of a swift introduction of financial penalties. As to the noble Lord’s last question, as the Treasury Whip I could not possibly say where the proceeds will go.
My Lords, I am sure that the House will agree that the question asked by the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, is very pertinent. I thought that my noble friend could have been slightly more robust in explaining the reason for the delay. Can I press him further: if this does not prove to be a satisfactory structure, will the Government be prepared to legislate further?
My Lords, to reduce food waste and prevent it going to landfill, we are helping consumers through WRAP and its “Love Food, Hate Waste” campaign by working with industry via the Courtauld commitment and by aiming to launch in May a new voluntary agreement with the hospitality and food service sector. We intend to work towards our other waste review commitments, including developing the evidence base and exploring the role of incentives in reducing waste and managing it sustainably.
My noble friend lists a number of perfectly worthy measures, but is it not totally unacceptable that at the moment 16 million tonnes of food waste ends up in landfill—we must remember that it gives off methane, a very potent greenhouse gas? Should we not be looking at food waste as an energy source and encouraging caterers and commercial food interests to get their act together and ensure that none of this waste ends up in landfill?
I am grateful to my noble friend for mentioning the catering industry, because the hospitality and food service commitment, which we are pressing across government, is directed expressly at that sector. Ministers in other departments are ensuring that the Government are taking up the commitment, and Members in another place and in this House are working to ensure that Parliament’s own catering is signed up to this commitment.
My Lords, the noble Earl, Lord Selborne, is right that 16 million tonnes of food waste is way too high and that the potential for energy production is great. The Minister gave a fine answer in respect of catering, but can I press him on the subject of energy production, particularly from anaerobic digestion? What will Government offer to incentivise people in catering and elsewhere to put their food waste into that energy production?
The noble Lord is right: anaerobic digestion is a very good process for converting food waste. I was trying to emphasise that the most important aspect of food waste is to eliminate it at source, if you can. However, where food waste arises, AD is a very effective method. Indeed, we have an AD strategy plan, which includes a £10 million loan fund to set up new capacity. WRAP offered the first loan of £800,000 to a Wiltshire-based company, Malaby Biogas, in January 2012. Other actions to promote innovation in the AD sector, particularly on a small scale, are very much part of our strategy.
My Lords, for those of us lucky enough to have gardens or allotments, the incentive to compost is obviously much greater, but what incentive does the Minister offer to households without either of those to separate out their food waste?
This is part and parcel of the CLG process of looking for weekly collections. In partnership with local authorities, we in Defra hope to encourage food waste as a separate waste stream. Certainly that has been our policy, and many of the local authorities that are putting in bids to the CLG are doing so on the basis of a separate food waste collection.
In many of these cases, we in Whitehall can learn considerably from the devolved authorities. I am in contact with my opposite number in Scotland. I hope that that helps the noble Lord. Indeed, the department works very closely with the devolved authorities. There is much that we can learn from each other.
My Lords, traditionally and historically, food waste went to pigs. It seems extraordinary that millions of tonnes of food eaten by humans one day cannot be fed to pigs the next. Will he look at the restrictions and regulations that prevent this natural, common-sense and historically highly efficient usage of a waste product, and see whether they can be revised?
I thank my noble friend. In fact we are doing just that; Defra has commissioned a desk study, which is being operated by FERA at the moment and is due to report this summer. All noble Lords will appreciate that people have anxieties that we need to assuage. We cannot afford the repeat of the foot and mouth outbreak of 2001, as I think all noble Lords understand.
My Lords, is the Minister aware that food waste is one of the three main constituents of biomass, which, along with branches of trees and imported pellets, it seems many power stations are being encouraged to burn? What incentive is there for these companies to burn this food as an alternative to anaerobic digestion? From my discussions with the industry, there seems to be no incentive at all.
The Energy from Waste programme is subsidised and incentivised. It is up to local authorities to decide the best channel for their food waste. I mentioned before that Defra sees huge advantages in the use of anaerobic digestion as an efficient method of converting food waste into energy.
A great deal of work has been done on food marking. Some of those labels merely tell the shops when the product should be taken off the shelves, and it is really more for stock control. Some great strides have been made. The reduction in food waste will depend very much on consumers being aware that the use-by date still means that you can freeze the product and that it is still healthy to eat. By informing the consumers about the practical information that is available to them, we can save people throwing away food that is perfectly healthy.
My Lords, following on from the question of the noble Lord, Lord Laming, does the Minister agree that a great many people now growing up do not understand either how to buy or to prepare food, that often food is wasted because people are driven to believe the sell-by dates that are put on to packaged food, and that they have no mechanisms for understanding how to use their own common sense in discerning whether food is fit for consumption? Will he ask his colleagues in the Department for Education to look into educating pupils better about that matter?
I am sure that we could all learn good household skills. It is never too late to learn about some of these very basic matters. I agree with the noble Baroness that a lot of food waste is caused by careless shopping and food stocking. This applies not just within the household but within the commercial and catering trades. That is why we are trying to tackle this problem on all fronts.
Her Majesty the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee: Commonwealth
My Lords, the United Kingdom is committed to the Commonwealth and is working with the secretariat, member states and associations to modernise this 21st century network and help it realise its extraordinary potential for the direct benefit of all its members, not least the United Kingdom. This Diamond Jubilee year is also a celebration of Her Majesty’s 60 years as Head of the Commonwealth. A range of special events is being held across the Commonwealth in tribute. The recently launched Queen Elizabeth Diamond Jubilee Trust fund will benefit all Commonwealth citizens.
My Lords, today we have had a memorable endorsement of how much the Commonwealth means to Her Majesty, who has done more than anybody else to unify it, and a reminder that it encompasses some one-third of the world’s population. Will my noble friend assure us that he will do all he can to ensure that the Commonwealth becomes much more relevant in our deliberations? It is a fast-growing, young market eager for greater involvement with us, without demanding more and more regulation.
I very much endorse what my noble friend says; she is quite right. I am very glad that she puts it in those terms. I am myself convinced that the Commonwealth network today, in both its formal and informal linkages right across the planet, is the key to huge new markets, on which our own prosperity will depend, as well as being the promoter of our values. It is also a very youthful organisation. More than 60 per cent of the citizens of the 2 billion-member Commonwealth are under 25.
One of the Commonwealth’s truly important and precious links with this country is through higher education. Is it not the case that many Commonwealth countries—for example Malaysia, and also India—find immigration restrictions extremely difficult for them in terms of bona fide students coming to this country? Do they not also resent bona fide students being categorised under immigration policy rather than education policy? Should we not try to amend matters in this regard?
The noble Lord is quite right that educational links are extensive at the university level and, indeed, between schools all over the Commonwealth. He is also right that the visa issue has raised further questions. The aim, as he knows, is to cut out the bogus students, the non-studiers who claim to be students, but greatly to encourage Commonwealth exchange of students—both ways, if I may say so; not just students coming to this country but also students going to the great new technical universities of Asia and Africa which in many cases equal and even excel our own. So there is a need for all this. We are working all the time to see that the visa system, which is necessary, makes the minimum impact in delaying this growing exchange of students, pupils and young people throughout the whole Commonwealth.
My Lords, Her Majesty the Queen said this morning that the strength of the Commonwealth is its people. How vibrant they are was only too evident at the Commonwealth People’s Forum in Perth at the Heads of Government Meeting last year. Will the Minister please tell the House whether Her Majesty’s Government are planning to support the non-governmental organisations that are working in this country to develop and enable constructive connections between the peoples of the Commonwealth?
I say to the noble Baroness, who herself has played a leading part in the promotion of the Commonwealth network, that that is certainly the aim of Her Majesty's Government. Commentators sometimes overlook that the Commonwealth is not just yet another intergovernmental organisation; it is a gigantic web of non-governmental and professional organisations, institutions, school links and every other kind of professional and interest link, which makes it absolutely unique and provides this country with the most marvellous potential soft power network that we could possibly have.
Does my noble friend recall that at the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in Perth, Australia, at the back end of last year, the Commonwealth Eminent Persons Group submitted a report on Commonwealth reform, which was widely accepted? Can he tell us—it is now four months later—what actions have been taken to monitor the implementation of those agreements made at CHOGM so that we can see some real progress, which we all want?
My noble friend is right: the commitments were put forward, and many of them were adhered to, at the Perth meeting of the Heads of Government which I attended, while many others were remitted for further work. The next stage is a ministerial task force to carry those ideas forward. Ideas for strengthening the values and standards of the Commonwealth, as well as strengthening many of its other aspects, will be for the task force, and then later in the autumn the Foreign Ministers of the Commonwealth will meet to implement and carry those ideas forward. Not all of them are totally agreed—in any family there are bound to be some differences—but the broad thrust is to promote and uphold the Commonwealth standards in democracy, human rights, good governance and the rule of law.
My Lords, perhaps we can hear from the noble Baroness, Lady Hollis, and then perhaps from the noble Lord, Lord Pearson.
I am grateful, my Lords. Perhaps I may follow the question raised by my noble friend Lord Morgan. Would the noble Lord, Lord Howell—I am sure that he would—remind his colleagues in the Home Office that 60 per cent of those coming in under Immigration Rules are students, and that of those who enrol for bona fide three-year degree courses, 98 per cent return home on time and legally? That is to the mutual advantage of our universities, which receive their fees, and of the Commonwealth universities which acquire the expertise that we can offer them. Will he please remind his Home Office colleagues of the need to discriminate in favour of those who enrol for full-time, three-year degree courses?
The short answer is yes, I am very happy to remind the UKBA and any other authority of those kinds of figures. I am sure that the noble Baroness will not overlook the fact that despite questions having been raised about visas, which I fully admit, there are thousands and thousands of overseas students in this country—an enormous number from non-Commonwealth as well as Commonwealth countries. So our role and performance is not all bad—in fact it is extremely good—but there is always more that can be done. I am very happy to join with those who point out the enormous benefits of getting more and more genuine students to visit this country and to return and benefit our promotion and reputation in the future.
My Lords, is it not now clear that we took the wrong road away from the Commonwealth in 1972, as the noble Baroness, Lady O’Cathain, has indicated in her Question, when we joined the project of European integration? Would we not have done better to lead the Commonwealth in free trade and friendly collaboration, and could we not still do so, thus benefiting from the markets of the future instead of being stuck on the “Costa Concordia” that the modern EU has become?
These aspects of being a good member of the European Union and an effective member of a reinvigorated Commonwealth are by no means exclusive; on the contrary, they go together. We can ensure that although our trade may be handled mostly by the European Union, our investment, all our other links and our movements of capital are not so limited by the European Union, and it is through those links that we can maintain excellent contact. At the same time the rest of the Commonwealth is developing its own intra-Commonwealth trade at a fantastic rate, and all these developments benefit the United Kingdom.
My Lords, the Government have been actively working with the life sciences community and the transportation sector to broker a commercial solution to provide a sustainable and resilient supply chain. A cross-Whitehall group has been working since January, under the guidance of the Cabinet Office, driving this work forward and exploring shorter term contingency measures which the life sciences sector would be able to initiate itself if necessary.
The Government understand the position of the transportation sector and will continue working to secure a way forward that ensures the highest standards in animal transportation and the continuing success of scientific research in the United Kingdom.
My Lords, it is obvious that the Government and the companies face a very difficult problem. It is a very serious matter because it is not only a threat to very important research but it is a threat to democracy. If a tiny minority—in defiance of the overwhelming agreement of the public that properly regulated animal research is acceptable—forces major companies to yield to its threats, then it is a triumph for terrorism. Will the Government stress, in their negotiations with the companies, that they too have a social responsibility to play a role in protecting us from terrorism?
Will my noble friend give assurances about the checks that are made when live animals are exported to be killed abroad or for research? Do they have adequate ventilation? Are they being given water? How long are the maximum journeys? How is this being monitored?
My Lords, my noble friend asks a very important question. Inspectors from the Animal Health and Veterinary Laboratories Agency inspect all transport operators and vehicles wishing to transport animals for commercial purposes. Once they are content, they issue an authorisation to the relevant company. This is in accordance with the transport of animals regulations. Home Office inspectors visit UK-based establishments that use, breed or supply the animals. Any welfare problems experienced by animals during transit are recorded by the receiving establishment and would be followed up, as necessary, by Home Office inspectors.
My Lords, does the Minister agree on two points? First that, as he said earlier, a sector-specific solution to this problem is essential, so that these companies cannot be picked off by militant animal rights organisations? Does he also agree that, unless we find a solution to this problem, our own excellent medical research and pharmaceutical companies will suffer from anti-competitive practices because they will not be able to flourish in the way that our competitors on the other side of the channel do?
My Lords, I am very happy to say that I strongly agree with the noble Baroness on both points. The use of animals in research remains essential to developing new treatments and drugs, improving our understanding of disease and proving the safety and effectiveness of drugs and chemicals before they go forward for human trials.
My Lords, I know, from my time as chair of Cancer Research UK, of the importance of animal research for human and animal health in the future and of the high standards that exist in this country—but not all over the world—in the use of those animals. Will the Government continue to give a lead, concertedly, across the board, to companies and to researchers, so that we will not be intimidated from doing work that is of huge value to this country and its citizens?
I am extremely grateful to the noble Baroness for making that point. I absolutely agree with her. The Government’s strategy for UK life sciences sets out our ambition for the UK to become the global hub for life sciences, bringing together business, researchers, clinicians and patients to translate discovery into real benefits for us all.
My Lords, in relation to the question raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Oppenheim-Barnes, would my noble friend also recognise that there are great problems across Europe in relation to the export of live horses for slaughter under the most appalling conditions? Will he pursue that matter as far as possible in the European context?
My Lords, may I ask the Minister about NC3Rs? It was set up by the previous Government to engage in research that reduces the number of animals in research, and replaces them. It works very closely with, and funds, academic institutions and the scientific community, and also collaborates closely with industry. It does great work. Will the Minister ensure that the funding that comes from the Government for it will continue, and if not continue, increase?
Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill
Report (5th Day)
Relevant documents: 21st Report from the Constitution Committee, 22nd Report from the Joint Committee on Human Rights.
Clause 54 : Rules against referral fees
144A: Clause 54, page 39, line 29, at end insert “and in either case, the regulated person and the person by or to whom the business is referred, each act in the course of a business carried on for profit”
My Lords, there has been widespread condemnation outside the House, and unanimous condemnation inside it, of the activities of parasitic claims farmers and claims management companies that engage in the process of securing referral fees simply to generate profit. A major objection to the activities of those concerns is that they foster the myth of the compensation culture. People who see advertisements on the streets or in newspapers which invite claims may get the impression that hordes of people are succumbing to the temptation to make wholly bogus claims. In the field of whiplash claims, it is acknowledged that there is some truth in that perception. However, in general terms, as the noble Lord, Lord Young of Graffham, pointed out in his report, there is no substance to the suggestion that there is a widespread compensation culture.
The amendment deals with the position of not-for-profit organisations. We are entirely at one with the Government in seeking to ban referral fees made to commercial organisations simply for the purpose of making profits. However, some organisations—be they charities or membership organisations—receive referral fees from firms of solicitors and perhaps from others whom they appoint to panels on the basis of their expertise and record of service, and whose contributions help those organisations carry out their main purpose. That might be service to members or, in the case of charities, the furtherance of the charitable objectives of the organisation. For example, among the charitable organisations are the Spinal Injuries Association, Headway and Action against Medical Accidents. There are others, too, which receive referral fees and use the proceeds to benefit those whom their organisation was set up to help. Other membership organisations and trade unions do likewise.
When we debated amendments of a similar nature last week, the Minister referred to the main—and understandable—objective of the Government, which is to restrict the cost of litigation. We share that objective. In the case of referral fees, it is perfectly achievable. It does not constitute a cost to the system. If a referral fee is effectively charged to the client, of course that is a cost to the client, and that ought to be avoided. On general costs, costs payable by a losing party to another are either agreed or assessed by the court. Obviously, the court can base its assessment of costs on what the normal tariff would be. I have appeared before the courts many times in 35 years of practice as a solicitor—endeavouring to justify the very modest costs that my firm sought—to explain and justify those fees. In fact, a kind of tariff is applied locally by the courts. In any event, if this were thought to be a danger in the system, it would be possible to allow the courts to deal with any such referral fee, to require it to be disclosed and to make it an irrecoverable disbursement from the paying party. So the question of additional costs can be satisfactorily dealt with.
In last week’s debate, the noble Baroness, Lady Deech, made some interesting points, one of which was incorrect. She said that the referral fees received by some trade unions find their way into the coffers of the political party with which I and others in this House are associated. That is not the case. Payments by trade unions to political parties of any colour come out of the political fund, not the general fund. The noble Lord, Lord McNally, who was once more closely involved with these matters than he is now, confirmed that.
However, the noble Baroness also referred, understandably, to the situation that arose in respect of compensation claims by miners regarding pneumoconiosis —a whole raft of cases over many years. Many law firms and others spent considerable time and money researching these cases and it was a very long time before they were settled and a scheme developed. The abuse in that case was actually rather different from what we are now debating. It was not so much the question of referral fees; it was the fact that some firms of solicitors—happily, not many—not only were paid by the Government under the compensation scheme but had the effrontery to deduct some payments from their clients. That was absolutely outrageous and many of the firms involved were severely disciplined, and rightly so, by the Law Society. But that is a separate issue from that which this amendment and the whole topic of referral fees address.
There is a world of difference between the use of referral fees by claims management companies and the like—simply to generate profit and at the same time perhaps to promote invalid claims on the off-chance that some of them may succeed—and that by other organisations genuinely endeavouring to assist their members and receiving funds which in turn are used for the benefit of the members or the non-commercial purposes, charitable or otherwise, of the organisation. I beg to move.
My Lords, I will try not to repeat myself, because I spoke about referral fees last week.
Briefly, in response to the noble Lord, Lord Beecham, the evil of referral fees is threefold. First, if the law firm can afford to pay a couple of hundred pounds for each case, then it stands to reason that the case could have been handled more cheaply. Secondly, when work goes to a particular firm of solicitors, it encourages that firm not to compete and not to do its job properly because, no matter what, the work will come to it. The case of the miners to which the noble Lord, Lord Beecham, referred and which I described last week did not arise directly from referral fees, but one can see the risk. If a firm knows that 23,000 cases will come its way willy-nilly, why should it try very hard? Why should it not take short cuts?
Thirdly, referral fees arrangements deprive the consumer of choice. The argument for referring consumers to a particular firm is that they would not otherwise know where to go. These charitable organisations, to which the noble Lord referred, could do the job just as well by listing a few firms and helping their clients to go to those firms without expecting money to come their way. As far as I can make out from research on the web—I stand to be corrected—on its web page on legal services the Labour Party says that clients who are members of the Labour Party will be referred to a particular firm of solicitors if they have a problem. If one continues to click through the pages, the firm says in very small print, buried deep in the internet, that for every case that comes to it from the Labour Party website several hundred pounds will be paid to the political party.
To make things even worse, referral fees, some of which may well come from legal aid, could be channelled inter alia to a political party. There is no case for referral fees. I encourage the House not to be wooed into any set of exemptions, even where worthwhile charities are concerned, because the bad nature of referral fees spreads throughout the system, regardless of who uses them. I hope that your Lordships will reject this amendment and any similar ones. Now is the time to end the practice of referral fees.
My Lords, I agree entirely with what the noble Baroness, Lady Deech, has just said. Referral fees have for some years been a serious problem in almost all circumstances and have caused a great deal of trouble and unnecessary expense. It is not a case where, as the Labour Party has just proposed, it should be treated just as a matter where two firms are in business. This is a matter that requires to be removed.
My Lords, in my youth I appeared for insurers and unions, and I did not pay anybody to get those cases. We competed on quality. The competition was there so that unions and insurers would send their work where they thought that they would get the best service, not where they thought that they would get the largest fee. It is insidious for fees to be paid to purchase cases from any organisation, whether it is a union or even the finest charity. It is not right that unions and charities should fund themselves in this way. The noble Lord has made the case from the point of view of unions and charities being funded. One has to look at it the other way round. Why should firms of solicitors or even barristers’ chambers—I have heard rumours about this—get work on the basis of how much they pay a person referring cases to them? It is a practice which has to stop.
My Lords, I support my noble friend in this amendment. Referral fees are one aspect of the Bill that will affect union legal services adversely, along with changes to “after the event” insurance and conditional fee agreements. These three issues will make union legal services much more difficult and expensive to operate. Inevitably, fewer cases will be taken. Last year, unions assisted something like 50,000 individuals with cases. There was no charge on the public purse for that assistance. It was done through people’s membership of the union. Many people who were very ill or injured in some way were helped considerably. When this Bill becomes law, essentially, that will become more difficult.
I have checked which unions use referral fees and which do not. Two of the major unions use them and the rest do not. The two which use them do not use them to fund the Labour Party, which is the allegation that is around. As my noble friend explained, the political fund of the unions is completely separate. A separate contribution is made to that. It is registered under the Trade Union Act 1984, which was put through by the noble Lord, Lord King. You make a voluntary donation which is separate from your union membership fee and it is separately accounted for.
The suggestion that referral fees are used by unions to fund the Labour Party is totally wrong. The whole purpose of referral fees where they are applied has been to support the expansion of union legal services to make good some of the defects elsewhere in the justice system. I hope that the House will bear that in mind when it considers this amendment.
I declare an interest as a member of Unite. The noble Baroness, Lady Deech, was good enough to say that she had mentioned the problems of referral fees in a previous debate. That debate took place on my amendment. My case was that trade union officers go to places where there has been an accident. Therefore, there is a certain expenditure when those visits are made. There is obvious expenditure and there should be some compensation. The noble Baroness was good enough to mention referral fees and I was deeply impressed by what she said. Therefore, I will not move Amendment 146.
My Lords, I should have declared an interest as chairman of the Bar Standards Board, which prohibits barristers from receiving or dealing in referral fees. If I gave the impression last week that referral fees that go to unions go direct to the political party and that is wrong, I apologise. My point is that it is happening in another way. I have not yet been corrected but my research on the internet showed that direct referrals from a party to a firm resulted in the firm paying a referral fee to the political party. Therefore, if it is not happening in one way, it may be happening in another.
My Lords, I support the line taken by our Front Bench. Without any question, there are risks with referral fees but they are fairly minimal. The questions that the noble Baroness, Lady Deech, and others should ask themselves are whether they believe that there will be more of the kind of litigants who at present benefit from the union offering these services, admittedly through using referral fees, especially given what we are doing to legal aid in this Bill; or whether there will be fewer people taking action. My view is that if these changes are put through, the likelihood is that unions will not be able to offer services on the same kind of basis that they have in the past. As a consequence, fewer people will pursue cases and the people who will not be pursuing those cases will be the ones at the bottom of the pile, and not those who are higher up with a fund of money to pursue the law without any trouble whatever. I put those very serious questions to those who are pursuing this line.
My Lords, I shall intervene briefly. I declare an interest in that a firm in which I was a partner had major arrangements with a number of trade unions.
I say to the noble Lord who has just spoken that the unions and the firms who do their work will be able to adjust their arrangements. For a start, by not paying the referral fee, the solicitors doing the work will be able to drop their charges to take account of that fact, and the trade unions will be able to adjust their arrangements with their members, although it will not be a major adjustment. The point that the noble Lord reasonably made is capable of adjustment in a way that will enable the abolition of referral fees—which, in general, are extremely deleterious to justice—to be effected.
My Lords, this proposal is not in any way union bashing and I am sorry that it has been caught up like that. I was pleased that when the noble Lord, Lord Beecham, opened the debate he joined with the Government in our general desire to ban referral fees. It is of course right that injured people should be able to pursue claims and under our reforms they will be able to do so. Costs will be more proportionate and the damages they receive will be increased.
However, it is wrong for third parties to be able to profit from referral fees for personal injury cases in this way. I found the intervention of the noble Baroness, Lady Deech, last Wednesday extremely powerful and I recommend noble Lords to reread it. The noble Lord, Lord Beecham, is right: it is not four-square with referral fees but it illustrates the danger of sweetheart relationships in this area. The Law Society was quite right—but rather belatedly so—to deal with a great injustice to miners who had already suffered much in their industry.
On the question of political funding, yes, I understand the difference between union general funds and the political fund and that it is the political fund that goes to the Labour Party. However, again, the noble Baroness, Lady Deech, explained that she was referring to the party itself acting as a referee. Even as I speak, I wonder whether this merry thought has occurred to any other political party. I know political parties look for ways to earn funds and, if this has been thought up by the Labour Party, it is, at the moment, within the law. However, we do not think it is right.
I also welcome the intervention of my noble friend Lord Phillips. I do not always welcome his interventions but this time he has put his finger on it: we are not preventing solicitors taking on a case at reduced rates or for free; nor are we preventing solicitors from making donations to charities or other not-for-profit organisations. Charities representing injured people will still be able to offer advice and recommend the best law firms. However, they should do that in the claimant’s best interest, not on the basis of what fee they can get for that claim. The amendment would not only allow an exception for charities and unions but for all not-for-profit organisations. I fully appreciate that trade-union, charity and political-party referral fees can be nice little earners, but that kind of relationship is not in the best interests of the consumer.
I say to the noble Lords, Lord Monks, Lord Brooke of Alverthorpe and Lord Martin, that I am well aware of the record of trade unions in legal advice and the help that they give to their members. I have no doubt of the accuracy of the figure of 50,000 a year given by the noble Lord, Lord Monks. However, I also take the point—which I did not know—that only two trade unions use referral fees. This suggests to me that this is not the universal attack on trade unions that anybody has suggested. We simply say that whether it be political parties, trade unions or charities, it is not healthy or in the consumer’s interest to have sweetheart deals between unions, charities or political parties and individual law firms.
The amendment goes further than earlier proposals. Some claims management companies are currently not-for-profit organisations and others could become not-for-profit bodies in order to get around the ban. In Committee, the noble Lord, Lord Bach, tabled an amendment that would have made an exception for charities only. This amendment now makes a wider exception which would exempt unions, political parties and not-for-profit claims management companies as well.
We believe that referral fee arrangements are wrong in principle. Under the cloak of support for charities, the amendment would allow payments for the referral of personal injury cases by a wide range of organisations. This amendment would make a mockery of the ban on referral fees, which the Opposition have claimed to support in principle—and I believe they do support it in principle. I really think—and the more I listen to this debate the more I think it—that for the Opposition to press this amendment is simply wrong-headed. I hope that the noble Lord will withdraw the amendment.
My Lords, let me make it clear that I do not for a moment charge the Minister—or indeed the Government—with conceiving of this as in any sense aimed at trade unions. It is a by-product of policy. Let me also remind your Lordships that referral fees are only banned—certainly at the moment, under the terms of this Bill—in respect of personal injury claims. For any other kind of arrangement, referral fees are apparently acceptable—not, however, in the context of personal injury claims.
That really illustrates whence this proposal comes from. It comes from the unacceptable activities of those who have perhaps been promoting spurious claims—and we will come at the next amendment to the kind of techniques that some of these firms and outfits adopt to encourage claims in a way that fosters this myth of the compensation culture. That is the genuine motivation of the Government; what they are doing to deal with it goes too far.
I do not recall having jousted in legal terms with the noble Baroness, Lady Deech, 50 years or so ago when we shared adjoining desks at the Honour School of Jurisprudence, but I will joust a little with her, if I may, this afternoon. She first of all asserts that it would be an incentive for firms not to do the job properly. I do not know what possible basis she can have for saying that. A solicitor’s job is to do his best for his client. In a sense, there are two clients when one is acting for somebody referred by an organisation. Far from it being the case that there is no incentive to do the job properly, there is a greater incentive to do the job properly when one has a connection with a potential source of work—whether there is a referral fee or not —because, of course, one does not just lose and upset one client: one potentially loses a whole stream of work. In fact, therefore, the converse of her proposition is actually true.
The second of the noble Baroness’s points which I seek to rebut is that this deprives people of choice. A union member or a member of a charitable or other organisation does not have to use the organisation that is recommended or go to one that pays a referral fee. They have the same choice as anyone else. But they may choose to rely on their own organisation, trade union or otherwise, having established from its experience that a particular firm or firms are capable of carrying out the work. The choice, however, remains with them. The noble Baroness has been on the website and discovered the Labour Party’s scheme. Let me tell her and the House how much that scheme has raised: nil, nothing, not a penny. It is about as vibrant as Monty Python’s parrot. It is redundant. It is a dead scheme. It has never been activated, so that issue need not distract your Lordships’ House.
Before I conclude, I should make one other point in relation to charitable organisations. The ones I have mentioned operate on a referral-fee basis. There are three of them and I think there may be others, although perhaps that is a little beside the point. I liken the process to another aspect which is certainly something that political parties and many charities operate, and that is an affinity card with a bank, where a percentage of one’s expenditure when using the card goes to the organisation. In precisely the same way that it could be alleged—I think wrongly—that as referral fees increase costs in the legal system, so by definition an affinity card must push up the costs in relation to financial services. It is an analogous situation.
I feel strongly about this—
To the best of my recollection, they have appeared in the past 10 to 12 years. I have not myself been heavily involved in the practice in which I was a senior partner for the past nine years, much to its relief and mine. Having had our debate and despite the pleas of the Minister, I wish to test the opinion of the House.
Amendment 145 not moved.
145A: Clause 54, page 39, line 33, at end insert “, or
(c) arranges for another person to provide, for a fee, marketing services by unsolicited SMS text message, unsolicited telephone calls or any marketing in a hospital or other primary treatment centre.”
My Lords, first, I declare my membership of the Law Society. As we have discussed both in Committee and on Report, referral fees are one of the major causes of the public’s perception that a compensation culture exists in this country. We have heard some powerful speeches across the Benches on the subject of referral fees. My noble friend Lord Thomas called them insidious and I agree. For that reason I strongly support Clauses 54 and 55.
Although there has been some difference of views on the provisions for referral fees set out in Clauses 54 and 55 as they impact on charities and trade unions, generally there seems to be a common view that although these clauses are useful, if they are to catch all the abuses they need to go further—perhaps not as far as the right honourable Jack Straw would want to go in terms of making it a criminal offence, but covering the full range of malpractices. For instance, there is nuisance marketing in personal injury—specifically, advertising in hospitals, cold calling and spam texts; financial incentives to claim; selling contact and case details of personal injury victims without their consents; and auctioning claims to the highest bidder. Mr Simon Burns the Health Minister recently told English NHS hospitals that it was not acceptable to display advertisements for law firms encouraging no-win no-fee compensation claims. That was a firm and wise action, and I commend it.
In our debate in Committee, my noble friend Lord Carlile of Berriew, on the subject of text messaging immediately after an accident without injury even taking place, made a powerful speech in support of extending Clause 54. My noble friend Lord McNally expressed sympathy with the intention behind the amendment and said that the Government would consider it further. I hope that he will tell us today where the Government have got to. Can we expect white smoke on Report or Third Reading or, indeed, a text message? I beg to move.
My Lords, I entirely support the amendment. The noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, is right that this practice is a nuisance. I was half expecting a text message after I told the House about my fall the other day. I thought that eager readers of Hansard in these companies would have solicited my attention or that of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wallace of Tankerness, but so far nothing has happened. However, like many of your Lordships, I receive periodic texts and e-mails from organisations saying that I may not have made a claim in respect of my recent accident or, latterly, about payment protection insurance problems, and the like. As the noble Lord, Lord Thomas, said, it is an insidious practice and certainly ought to be banned.
I hope that the Minister accepts the amendment and that, if he does not, the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, tests the opinion of the House.
My Lords, this amendment looks to deal with the serious problem of unsolicited marketing, including text messages or telephone calls about personal injury claims. I congratulate my noble friend on raising an issue which, as the noble Lord, Lord Beecham, indicated, annoys and irritates millions of our fellow citizens. I assure the House that the Government have given careful consideration to this issue since my noble friend raised it in Committee. Legislation, which is primarily enforced by the Information Commissioner’s Office, already exists to protect individuals in this area. Recent action by that office has resulted in the confiscation of more than 20,000 mobile phone SIM cards that were being used to send unsolicited text messages.
Following this issue being raised in Committee, my honourable friend Jonathan Djanogly, the Justice Minister, will meet the Information Commissioner to discuss further how the problem can be addressed. Additionally, the ICO, the Ministry of Justice Claims Management Regulation Unit and other regulators continue to work closely with the telecommunications industry on this problem. Across government, an industry working group has been set up and is due to publish a joint guidance note for consumers explaining the functions of the relevant regulators along with advice on how to make a complaint.
On the particular point about advertising in hospitals, the Government do not support the marketing of such services on NHS premises. There is already an absolute ban on unauthorised marketing by claims management companies. We believe that it is more appropriate that authorised marketing should be dealt with through guidance rather than through regulation. In support of this approach, the National Health Service chief executive has recently written to NHS managers to make clear the position on marketing in hospitals and primary health centres.
I am grateful to my noble friend for raising this issue. The Government take it very seriously and are taking positive action. We believe that the answer lies in greater enforcement and robust action, along the lines of regulations and guidance that already exist. We will continue to monitor the situation and take it seriously, and I hope that in the light of that response my noble friend will agree to withdraw this amendment.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply. It very much falls into two parts, as far as I can see, in terms of action by and with the Information Commissioner and action by the Secretary of State and Ministers relating to unauthorised and authorised marketing in NHS hospitals. The bit I find difficult is not that relating to the Information Commissioner; indeed, it is very welcome that those powers are being mobilised and that the Minister, Mr Djanogly, is having the necessary meetings with the Information Commissioner. The surprising part concerns the National Health Service. I think that the view around this House is that there should be no authorised marketing of this kind within NHS hospitals. What baffles me is why that kind of marketing is allowed to persist within NHS hospitals. I am not going to press the amendment today but I very much hope that we can progress further, certainly in pressing the Department of Health to be much more robust than appears to be the case about this kind of marketing.
Whatever the form of marketing which is an arrangement between a hospital and a firm of solicitors —perhaps advertising law firms within hospitals or allowing texting—it certainly falls morally within the terms of the kind of action that we are trying to prevent within this clause. It therefore really should be covered, and if there is that power within the department —or indeed by any future regulator under the health Bill that has now passed—I very much hope that it will be exercised and that my noble friend the Minister’s department will keep pressing the Department of Health. Perhaps we might even bring this back for an assurance on Third Reading, to understand exactly what is being authorised if there is such a thing as authorised marketing of this kind. In the mean time, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 145A withdrawn.
Amendments 146 to 148A not moved.
Clause 55 : Effect of the rules against referral fees
Amendment 149 not moved.
Amendments 149A to 151ZA not moved.
151: After Clause 58, insert the following new Clause—
“Pro bono representationPayments in respect of pro bono representation before the Supreme Court
(1) In section 194 of the Legal Services Act 2007 (power for certain courts to order losing party to make payment to charity where other party is represented pro bono) in subsection (10) for the definition of “civil court” substitute—
““civil court” means—
(a) the Supreme Court when it is dealing with a relevant civil appeal,(b) the civil division of the Court of Appeal,(c) the High Court, or(d) any county court;“relevant civil appeal” means an appeal to the Supreme Court—
(a) from the High Court in England and Wales under Part 2 of the Administration of Justice Act 1969,(b) from the Court of Appeal under section 40(2) of the Constitutional Reform Act 2005, or(c) under section 13 of the Administration of Justice Act 1960 (appeal in cases of contempt of court) other than an appeal from an order or decision made in the exercise of jurisdiction to punish for criminal contempt of court;”.(2) This section applies in relation to appeals to the Supreme Court only where the decision, order or judgment that is the subject of the appeal is made or given on or after the day on which this section comes into force.”
My Lords, this amendment is less controversial than some that your Lordships have been debating on Report. I am very grateful to the Minister for adding his name to it, and I will briefly explain its purpose and effect. Lawyers are often criticised, sometimes in your Lordships’ House and sometimes with justification, but noble Lords will wish to acknowledge that a large number of them spend at least part of their time working unremunerated for clients simply because they wish to contribute to the promotion of justice. In some of these cases, the lawyer succeeds for the client. The other side in the litigation, the unsuccessful party, cannot then be ordered to pay the costs of the proceedings because, having been represented by the pro bono lawyer, the successful litigant has no costs.
Section 194 of the Legal Services Act 2007 addresses such cases. It confers power on the court to order a person, normally the unsuccessful party, to pay a sum in respect of the notional costs to a charity prescribed by the Lord Chancellor. The charity prescribed is the Access to Justice Foundation. It then distributes the sums paid to it to voluntary organisations that provide free legal support for individuals and communities. As currently drafted, Section 194 has one defect; it applies to civil cases in the county court, in the High Court and the Court of Appeal, but it does not currently apply to civil cases in the Supreme Court. This is despite the fact that many of the cases in which lawyers act pro bono are in the Supreme Court. This amendment quite simply will remove that defect.
The amendment is also in the name of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Goldsmith. Unfortunately he cannot be in his place today as he is working elsewhere, although I do not think that on this occasion it is on a pro bono basis. He is, however, the chairman of the Access to Justice Foundation. As Her Majesty’s Attorney-General, he was the promoter of Section 194. I pay tribute, as I am sure all noble Lords will want to do, to his tireless work in encouraging lawyers to give of their time to work pro bono. I know that he is as pleased as I am that the Minister has indicated that the Government will support the amendment.
I thank the Minister for considering this issue and for supporting this much needed reform, which I know will also be welcomed by the justices and practitioners of the Supreme Court and by all those clients, and potential clients, who will benefit from the receipt of further funds from the foundation. I beg to move.
My Lords, briefly, I support every word of the introduction by the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, of this amendment. On behalf of the Solicitors Pro Bono Group, which is sometimes called LawWorks, of which I am founder and president, I wholeheartedly applaud this amendment to Section 194, which can only be beneficial to pro bono.
My Lords, we congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, from these Benches. I thank him very much for his well deserved tribute to my noble and learned friend Lord Goldsmith. I have to say that I felt a slight tremor of envy when I saw this amendment on the Marshalled List. I have tried throughout the Bill to put forward an amendment that might have the name of the noble Lord, Lord McNally, attached to it, but have failed miserably. The noble Lord, Lord Pannick, makes one attempt and it succeeds.
My Lords, I will explain. The original amendment by the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, did not cut the muster as legal statute. As the noble Lord knows, I have qualifications in this area, so I tweaked it a little, on the basis of my knowledge of part 1 of the relevant material on English legal institutions, to make it fit for purpose. I was glad to do so.
I am also glad to associate myself with the intervention of my noble friend Lord Phillips, who is on a roll today. I commend LawWorks and its encouragement of pro bono work on the part of solicitors, the Access to Justice Foundation and the work of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Goldsmith, in this area. We hope that it will increase the stream of funding available for pro bono work. I have great pleasure in saying that the Government accept this amendment.
Amendment 151 agreed.
151AZA: Before Clause 60, insert the following new Clause—
“CHAPTER A1Women’s Criminal Justice Policy UnitWomen’s Criminal Justice Policy Unit
(1) There shall be a Women’s Justice Policy Unit (“the Policy Unit”) within the Ministry of Justice.
(2) The staff of the Policy Unit shall comprise officials from the Ministry of Justice and officials seconded from—
(a) the Department of Health;(b) the Department of Communities and Local Government;(c) the Department of Work and Pensions; and(d) the Home Office.(3) The Policy Unit shall report and be answerable to an inter-ministerial committee, including the Equalities Ministers, who shall be responsible for strategic oversight of the Policy Unit.
(4) The functions of the Policy Unit shall include—
(a) the development and implementation of a government strategy (“the strategy”) for women offenders and for women at risk of offending; and(b) review of the impact of government policies on women offenders and women at risk of offending.(5) The policies which the Policy Unit shall review under subsection (4)(b) shall include but not be limited to policies in the areas of—
(a) the delivery of appropriate and effective services to women in the criminal justice system including in the areas of—(i) the rehabilitation of offenders;(ii) sentencing, including youth sentences and the imposition of community orders;(iii) employment and treatment of prisoners; and(b) housing;(c) mental health; and(d) children and families.(6) The Ministers responsible for the strategic oversight of the Policy Unit shall lay before Parliament at least annually a report on the Policy Unit’s exercise of its functions.”
My Lords, it is a privilege to move this amendment. I acknowledge and am grateful for the support of my noble friend Lady Gould of Potternewton and the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham.
Last week was the fifth anniversary of the publication of the Corston report, and I have got to the stage now where I feel that the name on the report is not mine, as I gather that in the Ministry of Justice I have become both an adjective and a noun. However, I acknowledge that reference was made to that anniversary by the noble Lord, Lord McNally, in this place, and by the Secretary of State for Justice in the House of Commons. I also acknowledge that last week, on the fifth anniversary, the noble Lord, Lord McNally, held a roundtable discussion on progress and the way forward on the women’s criminal justice agenda.
In a debate in Committee on 15 February, the noble Lord, Lord McNally, said that,
“we are doing many things in the direction of travel of the Corston report”.—[Official Report, 15/2/12; col. 876.]
However, central to my report was the call for strategic and structural changes to drive progress on the women’s criminal justice agenda. I called for a joined-up response across government to address the multiple and complex issues in the lives of women offenders and—I emphasise “and”—women at risk of offending. Therefore, as far as I am concerned, the loss of a cross-departmental women’s unit poses a real risk of returning to policy silos within government departments that will inevitably be reflected locally.
The Ministry of Justice now has two officials left working on women’s policy, and they will inevitably focus on women offenders. In future, it is proposed that the funding should be devolved to NOMS—the National Offender Management Service—at regional level, and it will inevitably be probation focused. So NOMS will deal with women offenders. However, women who are at risk of offending do not come, and cannot come, on to its radar. These women will again be lost, as will a real opportunity to tackle their vulnerabilities before they end up experiencing custody and the consequent damage which that entails to themselves, their families and, particularly, their children.
The costs incurred to the public purse by not pursuing prevention are all too well documented. A women’s criminal justice policy unit does not need to be resource-intensive. In fact, I am not sure that it needs any resource at all. It does not need to mean cross-departmental officials working together in one place in a team. There are opportunities for creative working, with designated leads from each department working together on the common issues facing women offenders and women at risk in terms of mental health, drugs, housing, family, skills and employment. A policy unit would be cost-effective and represents a way to save money. Without such an approach, money could be wasted as individual departmental pots of money are all spent on the same group of women.
The Inter-Ministerial Group on Equalities is already in place, and I have called for ministerial oversight. I cannot see why that group cannot be used for good effect in helping the Ministry of Justice to drive forward progress on this agenda. The responsibility cannot and should not lie solely with the Ministry of Justice. Delivering the various required responses to women's needs is cost-cutting and it should be equalities-driven as well.
I am sure that many noble Lords will recall the speech of Nick Hardwick, Her Majesty's Chief Inspector of Prisons, on 29 February. I gather that the speech was entitled “Women in Prison: Corston Five Years On”. It was a timely reminder that while progress has been made, there is much more to be done. He said:
“We cannot go on like this … without senior, visible leadership, with real authority and resources to push things through”.
I could not agree more. That is what is missing. I do not mind people using my name, but I want them to make sure that they reflect what I called for, rather than what it might be convenient to suppose I called for.
I emphasise the need for a written strategy for these women. We currently have a virtual strategy in that government Ministers say that they have a strategy but that they will not publish it. That is no strategy at all. Surely that is meaningless if the Government are serious in their attempt to be accountable and to monitor progress. How can they evidence progress in a transparent way without publishing, at the very least, a framework of intent, supported by a statement of what they are trying to achieve for women with vulnerabilities who are caught up in the criminal justice system?
I fully understand that the Government wish to pursue localism and avoid being seen to dictate from the centre. However, without a strategy as an overarching framework, no one knows what it is about locally or can use it to persuade others of the merits of joined-up delivery. How can women's community projects or probation trusts persuade local delivery partners of the need for joined-up delivery at a local level if there is nothing to indicate that the strategy is in place? The Government’s planned programme of work on troubled families rightly intends to provide a clear national steer for local delivery. Why cannot the same be applied to the Government’s strategy for women offenders and women at risk of offending? After all, a lot of these troubled families are headed by such women.
What I am seeking is not a costly option; it is a basic minimum requirement to support the Government’s stated intent to progress the Corston agenda. It would be neither costly nor time-intensive to pull together a brief strategy that builds on earlier progress, because progress there has been. Without a strategy, how will the Government meet their requirements under the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women and the Bangkok Rules for women. Here, there are ramifications for the Government’s standing internationally. I have absolutely no doubt of the Minister's intent to influence policy across government, as the noble Lord, Lord McNally, has said. I also have no doubt that he will rely heavily on his officials to work closely to ensure that that influence results in tangible delivery. However, how much easier it would be for them to achieve that by having to hand a written statement of that strategy and its goals. I beg to move.
My Lords, I am very glad to have this opportunity to support my noble friend. I had the privilege of serving on the Joint Committee on Human Rights when she was its distinguished chair. I then had the opportunity to see at first hand that this is not a passing interest of hers; it is something deeply rooted in her culture and in her sense of justice and the availability of justice for everyone. If justice, in its fullest sense, is to be delivered, what matters is the appropriateness of what is being done when someone is sentenced. It is not only my noble friend who in her very challenging report has spelt out the issues, but I am repeatedly impressed by the research which seems to come to the same conclusion that the overwhelming majority of women in prison should not be in prison at all.
I vividly recall visiting Holloway prison with the Joint Committee on Human Rights—I am not certain that my noble friend was the chair at the time—in connection with some work that we were doing. While we were there we got into very good conversation with some of the staff. It is easy to be prejudiced, but for me it is always interesting that in a place like Holloway you find a mix of people in the profession, including some very good, caring people who—for any of us who would want to be seen as humanitarians—are living a very challenging life in the front line of their professional services. I remember—and this was dealing specifically with short sentences—one woman turning on us in exasperation and saying: “I don’t think you people know what you are doing. We don’t understand what you are doing. These women’s lives are a story of chaos, and all we do by having the women in here for a short term is to increase the chaos in their life in terms of their relationship with their children, their relationship with the community of which they are a part, their relationship with life as they have got to live it”. Then she looked back a little poignantly and said: “Unless, of course, by having them in here for a few days we relieve them of some of the nightmare of pressures outside”.
It is an indictment of us all that we have such an inappropriate, wrong-headed approach towards how we deal with women who may have been caught up in some offence. From that standpoint, it is clear that there has to be an interdisciplinary approach. The problem—the challenge—goes across all sorts of different aspects of life. However, as the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, repeatedly reminds us in debates on such occasions, if you are trying to get a change of culture and drive through a new approach, you have to pin down who is really responsible. You have got to have specific arrangements in place to make sure it happens and that it is pursued. This is what my noble friend’s amendment is about: making sure that we stop talking about what is wrong, stop talking about what we should all be doing, and start to do it. If that is to happen, it needs a cross-section of people with a specific responsibility for which they are accountable to make sure it is happening. From that standpoint, I warmly commend the amendment and am glad to support it.
In Committee, we had two separate amendments on this issue which was, in a way, a commentary on the fact that the vital issue of women in the criminal justice system was not even discussed in Committee in the other place. I am very glad to have been able to combine the two amendments in one, in the hope that this time we really may get something in the Bill.
I am glad that the noble Lord, Lord Judd, has drawn attention to the need to get something done. Over the years there have been directors of women’s policy, women’s policy units, women’s policy groups, Ministers for Women, Ministers of prisons looking after it, but nothing has happened. Why? Because there has never been anyone who has been the agent for those people, responsible and accountable for overseeing that what is laid down actually happens. I have lost count of the number of times I have said that, but I say it again. The key word “implementation” appears in paragraph (4)(a) of the amendment and the word “delivery” in sub-paragraph (5)(a). With all the wisdom that has gone into this subject from many sources over many years, it is all there. Everyone knows what is to happen. What is lacking now is the drive to get it done. I therefore hope that the Minister will go away from this particular stage and reassure us that this time something will be done to action what is so well known.
My Lords, may I first put on record my thanks to the Minister, my noble friend Lord McNally, for a number of changes that he introduced to the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act? I will do so because it has some relevance to the amendment that we are debating, which will assist many women to break the revolving-door syndrome of reoffending. There has been a near-100 per cent increase in the women's prison population in the past 20 years. The Government will find that the single initiative on the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act will help reduce the women's prison population.
I am attracted to at least one element of the proposal contained in the amendment of the noble Baroness, Lady Corston: namely, the importance of the Government publishing a strategy to improve the treatment of women in the criminal justice system. When we debated this in Committee, my noble friend Lord McNally said that the Government’s strategy had been set out by our honourable friend Crispin Blunt in a speech on 20 January. That was a good start, and I certainly welcomed that speech.
My noble friend the Minister then set out a series of measures that the Government were taking to improve the position of women in the criminal justice system. The measures included the provision of resources for diversion schemes for mentally disordered offenders; piloting drug recovery wings in women's prisons; giving women prisoners access to the work programme on release; developing intensive alternatives to custody for women; improving access to the private rented sector for women offenders; and developing support for female offenders who have suffered domestic abuse. No one in their right mind could object to these important and welcome developments.
The occasional speech needs to be crystallised. The published strategy document would start by setting out the Government’s overall objectives: for example, to reduce women’s offending—here I mention the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act; to reduce the unnecessary imprisonment of women; to ensure that every probation area and youth offending team has programmes geared to the special needs of women offenders; to place mentally ill women in appropriate treatment settings; and to increase opportunities for contact between women prisoners and their children.
Since we are all interested in outcomes, the strategy document would then set out the measures that the Government are taking to achieve each objective. Annual reviews would be published, assessing progress against each objective of the strategy. This would enable all concerned with the treatment of women to see that the Government had a thought-out, comprehensive strategy to improve the treatment of women in the criminal justice system. It would also enable the Government to be held to account for progress on each objective of the strategy. Very importantly, it would enable this to be done on the basis of accurate information about the measures that the Government were taking to improve the position.
Far from making life more difficult for the Government, this would help increase appreciation for the range of excellent work that is under way to tackle the injustices suffered by women in the criminal justice system. I therefore hope that the Minister will respond positively to the amendment, and in particular that he will agree to the publication of a strategy on women's offending, followed by annual updates on the progress being made towards meeting each objective of the strategy.
My Lords, perhaps I may crave the indulgence of the House; I was not here for the start of the debate on the amendment. Unfortunately, noble Lords moved a bit fast and by the time I got back the debate had already started. I hope that I will be allowed to say a few words as my name is on the amendment.
I start by saying that in no way do I question the Minister’s commitment to reducing the number of women in prison, or to extending support in the community for women who need help rather than punishment. However, I question the Government’s ability to make that happen within the present structure. In Committee, the Minister said that,
“we are working across government as well as with the voluntary and community sector”.—[Official Report, 15/2/12; col. 875].
That is fine, but the rest of his response made it clear that there was little co-ordination across the various elements that were working with government.
This simple and no-cost amendment would provide a model to overcome what is clearly a deficit. It would provide the Government with a strategy for women offenders and women at risk of offending, as well as reviewing the impact of government policies on this vulnerable group. It would also be a driver for local policy to provide co-ordinated and effective work to ensure that women offenders receive the right support to stop their offending behaviour. It is a tried and tested model and it works.
The backgrounds of many women offenders are certainly multifaceted. I will not go into the details as I am sure noble Lords have already heard them. If the Government are genuinely serious about trying to reduce reoffending, we need a holistic solution from all the agencies responsible. Most women offenders have children or are the primary carers for disabled and elderly relatives, so there is an enormous effect on the lives of their families. Many women offenders become homeless: imprisonment will cause one-third to lose their homes and other possessions. They are inadequately prepared for release, with little support and advice on how to cope with the future. Is it any wonder that there is such a high level of self-harming among women who have little hope for the future?
There is no question that progress has been made in recent years, and many extremely committed individuals within and outside the Prison Service have been working tirelessly, but it is essential that the momentum is maintained. The responsibility for that is firmly at the feet of the Government. However, it cannot be achieved by tinkering around the edges, but only by having a well co-ordinated strategy and integrated alternatives to custody via an expansion of the network of community centres. Essentially for the Government, this would save money, which could be used elsewhere.
This year the Government will be reporting to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women—CEDAW—on progress that has been made since the last CEDAW report five years ago, when the committee welcomed the measures that had been taken but expressed concern about there still being too many women in prison. In their report to CEDAW this year, the Government state:
“The UK Government is committed to diverting women away from crime and to tackling women’s offending effectively. It broadly accepted the conclusions in Baroness Corston’s March 2007 report … and is supportive of reducing the number of vulnerable women in prison”.
However, they are going to have to prove that, by the policies and structures that are in place, because at the moment that sentence lacks viability. Contributions from organisations that work in this field will show that that is the case.
If the Government are, as they say, serious about reducing the number of vulnerable women in the criminal justice system, the structures must be put in place to ensure that the needs of these women are prioritised, not marginalised. Only by addressing the issues strategically and monitoring the outcomes of the work effectively will we see a real reduction in the number of women in prison and the level of reoffending.
I do not for one moment question that the Government accept the seriousness of the situation, but I hope that they accept it in the context of this amendment, which will make a great difference by changing the position we have now. I hope that the Government will feel that they can accept this amendment. If they feel they cannot —although I would have great difficulty understanding why not—perhaps they could agree with the principle behind the amendment, of the need for a co-ordinated structure, and come back to us with a new amendment on Report.
My Lords, I support the amendment moved by the noble Baroness, Lady Corston, which will see the establishment of a women’s justice policy unit to review the treatment women received when they enter the criminal justice system. The unit would develop a government strategy for dealing with women offenders and the problems surrounding reoffending. Both these functions would be welcome.
In Committee, I supported an amendment tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Gould, which called for courts to have regard for the effect of sentencing on dependants when sentencing women. I referred to the admirable work that the noble Baroness, Lady Corston, and her influential 2007 report have done to raise awareness of the particular problems facing women in the penal system. Women tend to fall into crime for specific reasons and, it is often claimed, are penalised more harshly than men.
The effect that prison has on women is more taxing. As the report by the noble Baroness, Lady Corston, points out, prisons were designed for men and thus the conditions are particularly unforgiving for women. For example, recent figures suggest that 37 per cent of women prisoners have attempted suicide, 51 per cent have severe mental illness, 47 per cent have a major depressive disorder, and 50 per cent have been subject to domestic violence and 33 per cent to sexual abuse. Developing a specific strategy to ensure that women in the penal system receive more appropriate services is fundamental if these appalling statistics are to be improved.
That the unit would tackle the problems which often give rise to women offending is welcome. It is a venture which would limit the number of women who end up in contact with the justice system in the first place. This is particularly important when we consider that, according to the Government’s figures, 54 per cent of women who are imprisoned are reconvicted within 12 months, rising to 64 per cent if the sentence was shorter than a year. To tackle offending and to limit reoffending, it is vital to eliminate the problems which cause women to fall victim to this vicious cycle of crime.
I am pleased to see that the unit would review the delivery of services relating to children and families. In Committee, we discussed the effect that sentencing can have on dependants. Some 66 per cent of female prisoners have children compared with 59 per cent of men. The Howard League for Penal Reform estimates that only 5 per cent of female prisoners’ children remain with the family when their mother is incarcerated compared with 90 per cent of male prisoners’ children. Clearly sentencing has an undeniable and often disastrous impact on women’s families. For that reason, more than most, the implementation of a unit to oversee and review strategies for women in the justice system would be a positive improvement, not just for these women, but for society at large.
My Lords, I want to make a very brief point in support of my noble friend Lady Corston. She talked about how we cannot leave the issue of women in the criminal justice system to the Ministry of Justice alone. My noble friend Lord Judd made the case for an interdisciplinary approach. Many women get caught up in the criminal justice system because their crimes are crimes of poverty. Women are more vulnerable to poverty than men, and many women in this country are experiencing poverty. They have to manage poverty while looking after their children. As well as a criminal justice system better attuned to the needs of women, we need an anti-poverty policy better attuned to the needs of women. A unit such as this could link the two.
My Lords, this amendment does not ask for much. It is indeed modesty itself. It asks for a focus, a group of people in the Ministry of Justice whose job should be to carry forward the excellent policies that the Minister told the House about in Committee. It makes it clear that the Ministry of Justice cannot do this on its own and calls for the Ministry of Health, the Department for Communities and Local Government, the Department for Work and Pensions and the Home Office to be involved—a point that has just been ably made by the noble Baroness, Lady Lister. It makes it clear that they should report to a ministerial group and that there should be an annual report.
This amendment is not a criticism of the Government’s work so far, nor of that of the previous Government. It is recognition that this is a particularly intractable problem. Efforts are made by many people, and the situation gets a little better, but then it reverts. The Minister will know, because he has just kindly answered a Written Question that I asked, that the Chief Inspector of Prisons said of the Keller unit at Styal prison that it constitutes,
“a wholly unsuitable place to safely hold and manage very seriously damaged and mentally ill women”.
The conditions in which such women are held in Styal prison have been criticised on and off for many years. On 15 February, in Committee, the Minister said that,
“one does not need to visit many women’s prisons to see that far too many prisoners should not be there”.—[Official Report, 15/2/12; col. 876.]
Ministers have said that before. This is not politically contentious. There is wide agreement about what should happen but sadly it does not change or it changes at the margins—one aspect improves while another deteriorates.
That is why there is wide support among those who are concerned with this issue for a statutory framework, a strategy, a focal point and an annual report that will allow Parliament to see if at last we are moving forwards and seeing improvements that last. I very much hope that the Minister will support this modest proposal.
My Lords, I, too, welcome this proposal. All of us have been talking about this area for so long, it is not true. The point about action now, which was made by various speakers, is entirely right. My noble friend Lord Wigley has quoted a number of horrendous figures, which I will not quote again, but the fact that 5 per cent of women’s children stay in the family home should be enough to indicate just how disastrous the effect of imprisoning women is on family life and on the futures of those children.
I very much hope that the actions already begun by this Government, and those started under the previous Government, to do much more to keep women out of prison will continue, which is entirely the right way to work. There needs to be intensive work and support at differing levels, both at professional and volunteer levels, to see the women out of these crises. Women prisoners outnumber men who self-harm, have mental health problems and so on. The situation is horrendous.
Without overemphasising absolutely everything about this issue, I hope that all departments will come together. I want to see good examples of what can happen in a women’s prison, but I also want to see it as an example of what would be effective for a number of men as well, particularly young offenders. I hope that the Minister and all those involved in this issue will treat it with urgency.
My Lords, I add my wholehearted support to what the noble Baroness, Lady Corston, and everyone else around the House, has said. There has been no dissent. How could there be? It struck me that the proportion of women in the prison system is roughly similar to the proportion of children. Those are our two most vulnerable groups and the groups for whom we do least well by and least well for. They are the most vulnerable and the most needy.
It is very nice to see the noble Lord, Lord Warner, in his place, because the previous time we worked together—I imagine that we are together on this—we were fighting to save the YJB. I remember saying then that we must not allow ourselves to think for one minute that children are small versions of adults. Their needs are so different. Women are not other versions of men. Their needs are also extremely different. When the noble Baroness, Lady Corston, was quoted as saying that these prisons were all designed for men, she was quite right; women were in no one’s mind. They suited, and that was where they were coming from. To imagine for one minute that we could stick women into similar institutions and do them any good was absolutely insane.
If we ever get to what the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, suggested and have someone who is in charge of and leads the way in policy, organisation, delivery and practice for women, I hope that that person will be a woman.
I rise even more briefly to support the amendment. I do not know of a single lawyer, prosecutor, judge or prison officer who does not believe that women’s prisons are full of people who should not be there and, worse, who are being further damaged by being held there. The scandal is that we have all known this for years. Ministers know it, but nothing is done about it. The amendment is a modest proposal in the right direction, and it has my wholehearted support.
My Lords, I apologise for missing the beginning of this debate, but I was caught on the hop by the speed of progress.
Prompted by the noble Baroness, Lady Linklater, perhaps I may, with some trepidation, remind the Minister of the Youth Justice Board—not to score any points off him but to make the point that that body was set up to produce focus over a continuing period of time and to bring a range of agencies together to focus on the need of that particular group of offenders. I think the Minister accepts that some progress was made in youth justice by that kind of approach, and I hope that he will apply that approach and the same logic to women. I thoroughly support my noble friend’s amendment.
My Lords, I join noble Lords all round the House in supporting the amendment. There has been not one word of disagreement, and I am sure the Minister has listened carefully to what noble Lords have had to say on this issue.
I believe, as does my Front Bench, that the amendment can help to focus a national debate on the needs of women in the criminal justice system more effectively over the coming years, whatever Government are in office. My noble friend Lady Corston referred to what the Chief Inspector of Prisons, Nick Hardwick, said a few months ago. Two of the words he used to describe the state of the women’s secure estate were “aghast” and “ashamed”. I am sure that everyone who has spoken and has any knowledge of the subject would agree with those words.
In my view and that of many of my noble friends, the secure estate is too often no place for women. The majority of women in detention have not committed violent crimes. They are mothers, and each year more than 17,000 children are separated from their mothers because of imprisonment. Many of these women are victims themselves: one in four women in prison was in local authority care as a child; nearly 40 per cent left school before they were 16; over half have suffered domestic violence; and one in three has suffered sexual abuse.
I do not believe that anyone who has read the 2007 report of my noble friend Lady Corston has not been impressed by her recommendations—as my noble friend said earlier, it is now five years since the report was presented—by the examples she gave, by the intellectual force of her arguments and by the way in which these could be translated into effective solutions. We did not do enough to put those solutions into practice but we did make some progress. We continue to listen carefully to what my noble friend Lady Corston says on these matters because of her great experience in this field.
The Women’s Criminal Justice Policy Unit in the MoJ will help to bring her recommendations to life. It will provide a safe and collaborative environment within government and across departments for real joined-up thinking on these matters.
To deal with women’s needs in a holistic way—their health and social welfare needs and how local authorities, the Home Office and other bodies could work to keep them out of crime and out of jail—there is a need for all government departments to work in this collaborative way because the needs are so great and the challenges so important. The results would certainly be more beneficial, not just for the woman involved but for her family and the society that she comes from.
With this great agreement that women should not be in prison—every report that one has read over the years has said the same thing, and all Governments agree—I would hope that this amendment could be put into action. I pay tribute to my noble friends Lady Corston, Lady Gould and Lord Judd and the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, who put their names to this amendment, and to all those who have taken part in this debate this afternoon. They spoke with such passion in the belief that something should be done on these matters. I know the Minister is concerned about this and I am sure that he will look at this very favourably in the cause of justice for women. I look forward to his response.
My Lords, the noble Baroness, Lady Corston, said that she had discovered over the years that she had become not only an adjective but a noun as well. I told her last week when we met that she was well on her way to becoming a national treasure—something I would not wish on anybody. Her report was certainly a landmark report. It is required reading for me and I listen carefully whenever she speaks and when other experts in the House speak on this subject. I also listen carefully to criticisms such as those recently made by Nick Hardwick and repeated today by the noble Baroness, Lady Stern.
I should like briefly to mention our response to those criticisms, and particularly to his criticism of the Keller unit. This is being reviewed and a number of recommendations have been suggested. The potential for the provision of updated facilities to supplement or replace the Keller unit is being reviewed by the National Offender Management Service. However, the majority of recommendations have been actioned, including the development of healthcare and support, including mental health, first aid, training in positive behaviour, support methods, the presence of a registered mental health nurse seven days a week, structured therapeutic programmes provided by mental health occupational therapists and a co-ordinated approach to the clinical review of patients. There is also the introduction of a programme of structured intervention on a daycare basis that is accessible to the residents of the Keller unit. Steps have been taken to ensure the timely sharing of records between mental health and primary care teams. The new governor of HM Prison Styal is currently reviewing the role of the Keller unit, alongside the development of other specialist accommodation in the prison to meet the needs of women with a range of complex problems. The review will continue, and the prison is currently bidding for funding to establish a therapeutic unit.
I emphasise from this Dispatch Box the importance I attach to a strategic and coherent policy addressing the problems of women at risk and the problems of women in prison and on release. The noble Baroness, Lady Gould, and the noble Lord, Lord Wigley, gave us the statistics that underline the importance and urgency of this matter. As the noble Baroness, Lady Corston, mentioned, I had an interesting and informative meeting with Peers and stakeholders last week on the occasion of the fifth anniversary of the Corston report. The noble Lord, Lord Judd, paid tribute to the long-term interest of the noble Baroness in these issues. My interest has grown with every month that I have been in office, every visit I make and every meeting I hold. As has been said, we have too many women in prison and we intervene too late.
However, I do not believe that a women’s justice policy unit bringing together officials from several government departments, as proposed in this amendment, is necessary. That approach was tried a few years ago, but I understand was discontinued after a year or so. I can reassure the House that there continues to be a dedicated resource to women offenders within the Ministry of Justice. However, rather than co-locating staff from other government departments into the Ministry of Justice, officials now work closely with a wide range of rehabilitation reform policy leads in those other departments who are best placed to address the needs of women offenders in their policy areas, including health, employment and homelessness. These close working relationships across departments help to ensure that the needs of women offenders are embedded in cross-government policy-making.
As I explained in Committee, this cross-government approach receives strong leadership from the Minister for Prisons and Probation, my honourable friend Crispin Blunt, who works closely with his ministerial colleagues, in particular the Minister for Women and Equalities and the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Equalities. The amendment suggests that the policy unit would report and be answerable to an interministerial committee. I do not believe that we need any additional interministerial governance for the women’s agenda. The Inter-Ministerial Group on Equalities, on which Ministry of Justice Ministers sit, has responsibility for driving forward the Government’s equality strategy, including strategic oversight of issues affecting women. Departments also work together through the Cabinet Committee on Social Justice and the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Women in the Penal System.
Finally, let me assure noble Lords that officials are already delivering effectively the functions envisaged for the new policy unit. As I explained in Committee, we already have and are delivering a strategy for women offenders. This ensures that women will benefit in key areas such as mental health, drug recovery, tackling violence against women, troubled families and employment. It recognises the important role of women’s community services, as well as the good work by NOMS to implement many of the recommendations in the noble Baroness’s report. We also actively consider gender equality as required under the Equality Act 2010. We are committed to monitoring progress on achieving key outcomes for women offenders in all areas of our approach to rehabilitating offenders. For example, in setting out our plans radically to reform criminal justice through improved punishment, payback and progression of offenders, we have looked very carefully at how these reforms will impact on women, and have given a clear commitment that we will take into account the different profile of women offenders in achieving this, including the reasons underpinning their offending. I believe that there is effective provision to ensure that the Government are held to account for progress against this agenda.
The noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, gave us a long list of titles and initiatives, but he also pointed out that nothing has happened. What we need is what the noble Lord referred to: a drive to get it done. I believe that this is what the Government are doing—a drive to do practical things. In Committee, I undertook to consider what more we could do to communicate our priorities for women because, as I have emphasised, I believe that the priorities and policies are already in place. While I do not believe that we need a statutory requirement to report annually to Parliament on our work, I have agreed with my honourable friend Crispin Blunt that we will publish a short document setting out our strategic priorities for women. We will place this on the Ministry of Justice website for easy reference. It will be a live document that can be updated as necessary and will be available to promote questions and debate both in this House and the other place on the progress being made. We will continue to listen to noble Lords on this important issue. Noble Lords sometimes overemphasise the importance of writing things in the Bill. I believe the greater importance is, in the words of the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, in achieving outcomes.
I have listened carefully to this debate. It has been an excellent debate, and I think it will read well outside. I honestly do not believe it is a matter on which the House should divide. I am not in a position to accept the amendment and, therefore, if the noble Baroness does press it, I shall ask my noble friends to vote against it. I would rather urge her to withdraw it in the spirit in which this debate has taken place.
I have said that we will publish a strategic document. It will be a short document setting out our strategic priorities for women. It will be a live document and will be updated. I believe that goes some way towards what the House has been asking for. I believe also that what we are doing in practice meets the demands that have been before the House today. In that spirit, I urge the noble Baroness to withdraw her amendment.
My Lords, I am grateful to noble Lords on all sides of the House who have spoken in support of this amendment. I am grateful to them for highlighting the profile of the women about whom we talk. They are poor, they are mothers, they are mentally ill, they are alcoholics, they have very little education, and they have no life skills. They are in prison for an average of 28 days, at the end of which they have lost their homes and children and generally do not get either back. It is a huge social issue, and this is the place where it can be resolved.
I have to say that the Minister is badly advised. One of the reasons progress was made from 2007 was because a women’s criminal justice policy unit was established, and because there was an interministerial group run by Maria Eagle, who harried officials, organisations and NOMS to make sure that this happened. On her watch, more than 30 so-called Corston women’s centres were set up across the country to reduce women’s offending, with spectacularly wonderful results.
To say that there was not an interministerial group is not right. Nor is it right to say that there was not a unit, in that I know that the people working in that unit from different departments made things happen. Indeed, collocation of staff from different agencies in youth offending teams and the Youth Justice Board was the key to getting agencies to work together. If you do not have that nationally, it will not be reproduced regionally and locally.
As the noble Baroness, Lady Stern, who I think of as a friend, said, you can make progress but you can quickly revert. All I say to the Government is that quick reversion is what will happen. I am sorry to sound so passionate, but it is because I feel passionate. I wish to test the opinion of the House.
151A: Before Clause 60, insert the following new Clause—
“Awareness of sentencing options
(1) The Lord Chancellor shall, by regulation, promote arrangements to ensure that each Probation Trust provides adequate information about community sentencing provision to all magistrates in the area for which it has responsibility.
(2) Regulations under subsection (1) may provide—
(a) guidelines for liaison between magistrates and Probation Trusts;(b) a reimbursement scheme for magistrates expenses under paragraph (a); and(c) such other provision as the Lord Chancellor thinks appropriate.”
My Lords, in moving Amendment 151A I shall speak also to Amendment 151B, with which it is grouped.
I am bringing back these amendments following the discussions on them in Committee, both because I believe them to be very important and because the amendment expresses a view shared by noble Lords from all around the Chamber without a single voice of dissent. They were views expressed by people of such knowledge and distinction that there was an obligation to try once more to persuade the Government of the importance of this case.
First, I thank those noble Lords who have added their names to the amendments, in particular my hero the noble and learned Lord, Lord Woolf, who was also poised to add his name to the list but was not allowed to do so. The Public Bill Office informed me that my list was already full—four names were all that were allowed—so my list has lost a little of its potential lustre. I regard the noble and learned Lord as being on my list in spirit if not in fact, and for that I am extremely grateful to him.
Although technically these are amendments they are in fact proposed new clauses, which do not amend but rather underpin the central objectives of this part of the Bill: to reduce the prison population and develop the use of alternatives to custody, and so reduce reoffending. I am a wholehearted and paid-up supporter of the Bill in these key respects, and I have worked all my life to promote the same objectives. They were also, of course, the core objectives of the Government’s policy as set out in the Green Paper. I regard these clauses as enabling ones, which ensure that the Government will achieve their objectives—and without which their success is far from being assured. Indeed, I believe that the Government need these clauses if they are to succeed.
In addition, the magistracy and the probation trusts, the organisations about which I speak, need these clauses as well. They are unequivocally in support of them because they know that if they are to be enabled to achieve their objectives, which are in line with the Government’s own, they too need them. I pay tribute to all the work that they do in their different ways. The magistracy is the bedrock of community-based justice—the representatives of our communities across the land, delivering justice locally. They are hard-working and dedicated, sustaining the peace of the realm within the law and all selfless, voluntary and unpaid. I was a magistrate once and I know how much it takes, in terms of not just time but care and effort, to try to get things right for the victims and the offenders, and for justice to be done. Their task becomes ever harder over time, as our society becomes more complex and difficult to navigate for so many.
By the same token, the work of the probation service has become ever harder but ever more necessary and valuable. As patterns of offending change and prison numbers rise, it has to provide the courts with pre-sentence reports, carry the challenging responsibilities of MAPPA and support offenders in the community, while facing more uncertainties about its own future as yet another review of its work and role is under way, causing anxiety all around. I have also been a fellow social worker—a childcare officer in my far-off youth—and my admiration for the work of probation is boundless. I also declare an interest as a patron of the old Probation Association. I know how much we all need those people, as they work at the interface of the courts and the community, protecting us as they work to reduce reoffending and meet the challenges of offenders.
These are the people who actually deliver the programmes that magistrates need, and they too are solid in support of these proposed new clauses. They know that statutory liaison is necessary to bring about the understanding by magistrates of the intricacy of what is provided in the community for the courts. From the distance of politics or non-penal worlds, it can perhaps be difficult to understand the subtleties of the relationship between these two organisations. The world of the courts is and must be at a certain remove from the day-to-day reality of the world of those who transgress and break the law, but that is where probation also operates. Good and valuable relationships can of course be, and often are, developed between individuals in both worlds. Yet you cannot conduct a system of professional interaction based on the arbitrariness of personal relationships. We discussed at Second Reading examples where we know that good liaison between probation and the magistracy frequently occur. However, we cannot deliver the sort of high-quality, highly professional service we need on that basis alone without communication and co-operation becoming uneven and patchy to the extent that we have seen happen since 2000, when the statutory basis for the relationship was abandoned. All high-quality, professional service must have a high-quality, professional structure within which to work. This is what these professionals want and it is what our communities need.
The magistracy has roughly 29,000 members and probation trusts nearly 12,000 probation officers and probation service workers, though these are slightly old figures—about 18 months old. These are dynamic institutions doing difficult, highly skilled, professional work, where change is an essential part of the progress. They must have a basic statutory basis on which to conduct their business and keep up to speed with each other. To leave it to a voluntary local effort is simply not in the nature of these national bodies. It is important that all magistrates—not just some eager ones—know what their local probation service is doing. Such is the pace of change that contact must be regular in order for everyone to be up to speed. Both parties in this area agree with that. For sentencers, this is important to be able to make properly informed disposals. Custody should never be used because a sentencer is not aware of a programme or a service which could have been a better alternative. This is sometimes tragically still the case today. While the pre-sentence report and information leaflets give a flavour, there is absolutely nothing to match or beat seeing and talking to the providers and the offenders. Quite simply, seeing is believing. This is not rocket science.
In Committee, the Minister said,
“unless we have public confidence in non-custodial sentences we will have criticism of them. We have to win that public confidence”.—[Official Report, 7/2/12; col. 170.]
How right he is. Where do we start? We start with the sentencers themselves, whose use of them will justify and develop confidence. As their own confidence grows, the more they learn. My noble friend also said that he was not aware of any obstacles to magistrates making regular visits. He is quite right; there are no obstacles. However, we need more than a mere desirable aspiration; we need a requirement, if all concerned are to understand the importance of visits and keeping abreast of current provision. I referred to the senior presiding judge’s recently revised protocol in Committee, which sets out voluntary arrangements for probation trusts, courts and magistrates. However, I am told by the Magistrates’ Association itself that, even where relations are very good, the involvement of all magistrates is “rarely achieved” and “aspirational”.
Lastly, magistrates’ expenses have in the past been a thorny issue. Expenses stopped in 2000 when liaison ceased to be statutory. I have already referred to the extraordinary and voluntary commitment of time, effort, skill and responsibility—on every level—of magistrates to their role on behalf of us all. These visits represent training over and above their duties and commitment. It seems petty and short sighted in the extreme to begrudge a bus or train fare, or petrol, to go and learn about a programme, which, if understood and then used, will save the community that proportion of the annual £40,000 cost of each prison sentence and will significantly increase the chances of reducing reoffending at a fraction of the cost while making our communities safer. That is an achievement which I think goes beyond price. My noble friend the Minister told us in Committee that Her Majesty’s Courts and Tribunals Service was “looking at” this issue, which suggests at least a recognition of the right way to proceed and where its duty lies. I hope I am right about that.
I believe that this proposed new clause is what the Bill needs really to succeed in its admirable core adjective. I know that my noble friend is expected to make no concessions beyond those already agreed but I also know that it is possible to keep her heart and mind open to argument—otherwise, what are we all doing here? My case is that this simple new clause is not an amendment to anything already in the Bill but would add something which endorses it and ensures that what it stands for is achieved: namely, a safer, more civilised society with less reoffending as a result of less imprisonment and more community disposals. I commend the new clause to the House.
My Lords, I am very glad to support this amendment. The noble Baroness speaks with real experience because she has done a lot of front-line work in precisely this sphere in trying to bring the probation service and others together with magistrates and, indeed, judges. She is to be commended for that. She speaks in this House having done that.
I am glad that she took the opportunity to say a few words about the probation service. In my younger life, the probation service was one of the hallmarks of a decent society. It was a service in which people either had real, relevant experience of life and brought that to the service or had a good, sound, broad education to a high level and were able to bring that perspective to the work which they did. Ideally, it was a combination of both those things.
I am afraid that the probation service has been subjected to pressures and has been propelled towards becoming a sort of alternative to a custodial sentence. The old probation service concentrated on rehabilitation; it was not solely about punishing people. The sentence is the punishment. The people concerned have been told that they are being punished by society and are reported as such in the press. The task the probation service used to take on was that of helping the people concerned to become positive, constructive citizens. However, the service is now so harassed and pressed that it is very difficult to see how that work can properly be done at all, or whether indeed there is cultural leadership on what the task really is—let us be frank about that.
I cannot think of a more practical, sensible arrangement than to ensure that magistrates are not only encouraged but propelled, as it were, into meeting probation service staff, having discussions with them, obtaining information and seeing for themselves the reality of what the probation service does as part of their preparation for the work they will be doing in magistrates’ courts. Two things about magistrates are relevant in this context. I speak as someone whose mother was a magistrate and loved her work. One is that magistrates live in society—that is a strength—and are therefore bombarded by the popular press and everyone else with all kinds of prejudice and superficial judgments. To withstand that kind of psychological pressure, they need to have real exposure to and a real understanding of what is being done.
Another very important point about magistrates is that they are representative of society and can play a key role in educating society as regards social life and the realities of life. Most of us who are here at this hour of the debate are broadly of the same consensus: we would like to see more emphasis on rehabilitation and on enabling the offender to become a constructive citizen. We also know that that is not the prevailing culture outside. From this standpoint, the amendment is practical and helps to take the cause of enlightenment forward.
One thing that repeatedly irritates me in debates and deliberations of this kind is the assumption that what the noble Baroness proposes, and what comes up in similar kinds of amendments, not least this evening, is of a weak, liberal—I do not use that word in the party political sense—wishy-washy nature. It is not the real muscular stuff of facing up to the challenges before us, but the absolute reverse. It is easy to put someone into detention but God knows what the consequences are when you do that. We have talked about women and the young and in many cases it is a damaging and irresponsible thing to do. The tough thing is to ask: how do we work with this individual to help him to become a constructive, positive member of society? I am glad that this amendment is before us, and I hope that the Minister will look favourably upon it.
I was very glad to put my name to this amendment. As always, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Linklater, and the noble Lord, Lord Judd. On this occasion, I do so because it provides an opportunity, which is not present in much of the rest of the Bill, to mention the problems faced by the probation service.
It was a great pity when the probation service was made subordinate to the Prison Service under the arrangements of the National Offender Management Service because for years they had worked closely together with the courts and the police in the local area. The amendment draws attention to that relationship. It also makes the point that magistrates must know what is capable of being done in prisons so that there is relevance between what is ordered to be done for the rehabilitation of someone and what is able to be delivered. That will be different all over the country, and rightly so because conditions will be different. Also, as I mentioned in Committee, if prisons and the probation service had to do the same thing everywhere, it would help sentencers enormously to know what was there and what was not there, and the Ministry of Justice would also know what there was and could make good any shortfalls.
The other day, I was very alarmed to hear that the governor of Lindholme, Moorland and Hatfield prisons in Yorkshire had ordered the probation service out of those prisons because the local probation service in that part of Yorkshire was having to work with G4S over the provision of probation services. Presumably, that must have been under the direction of the National Offender Management Service and under all the marketing strategies that it is following. I mention that because I am very disturbed about probation services being marketed when the service is concerned with the face-to-face probation officer and offender relationship, which is absolutely crucial to rehabilitation.
I do not know on what authority the governor ordered the probation service out, but it is alarming because, if he is able to do that, he is interrupting the whole rehabilitation process and drawing attention to the fragility of probation, which must work closely in the community, with police and probation being subordinate to prisons. Therefore, apart from supporting this amendment, which I think improves the Bill and draws attention to the rehabilitative element of all that is going on, I am also glad that it allows us to draw attention to the problems faced by the probation service without which we are not going to be able to reduce the vast numbers in prison who are choking that system.
I support the amendment in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Linklater. I agree with everything she said. I remind the House that I currently serve on one of these committees in central London. It is not a statutory committee, but it is a very important committee from which I certainly benefit in my work as a magistrate, as I know all my colleagues do. Nevertheless, I want to make the point that there are other statutory committees. I am thinking of the bench training and development committees which are required to sit under statute. With the best will in the world, the officials administer those committees more thoroughly than they do the probation liaison committees, precisely because they are not statutory committees. For that reason alone, I recommend to the noble Baroness, Lady Northover, that the statutory provision would add weight to what is, after all, one of the Government’s primary objectives, which is to make sure that the magistracy has confidence in community sentences.
My Lords, I support the amendment. The noble Baroness, Lady Linklater, knows so much about the probation service and the magistracy. She draws attention to very little of which we should not take a great deal of notice. What my noble friend Lord Ramsbotham has just said about what is happening in the probation service is alarming. I hope that someone will be able to explain what has happened in a way that makes sense. I go back a long way within the areas of the magistracy and probation and the tremendous work that they do with offenders over very many years. I was a juvenile court chairman. I was horrified when I read the report by the noble Lord, Lord Carter of Coles. At that moment, I said to myself that if I were a probation officer, I would leave the service because I knew it had no future. It is, therefore, even more worrying to me that the whole of the very effective work that it still carries out is under this kind of threat. I hope that the Minister will be able to reassure us that this is not the way forward.
My Lords, as a signatory to the amendment, I am pleased to say that the Opposition is more than happy to support it and should the noble Baroness not receive a satisfactory answer from the Minister—we live in hope—and wish to press the amendment, we will certainly endorse it. I was particularly impressed by the remarks of my noble friend Lord Ponsonby, who speaks from direct and daily experience of these matters in a busy court in the capital. We are already 25 minutes into this debate and there is much more to come, so I am content to rest the Opposition’s case at this point.
My Lords, this amendment returns to issues raised by my noble friend Lady Linklater in Committee. I very much welcome the contribution that she has made on this issue during the passage of the Bill. My noble friend has considerable experience, to which other noble Lords have referred, in bringing magistrates and probation together and building trust in alternatives to custodial sentences. She is very much to be applauded for that. Like her, I pay tribute to the work that magistrates and probation trusts do.
We agree with the noble Baroness that it is important that probation trusts provide information to sentencers about the services they provide in delivering community sentences. We encourage that sharing of information. We agree that such liaison is beneficial both to magistrates and probation. We also agree that it is important that magistrates see for themselves the work of probation trusts. We agree with the intention behind the amendment, but we would point out that the current provisions in legislation already allow for this kind of liaison between probation and magistrates to take place. The noble Baroness is seeking to get two sets of people to talk to each other and that can already happen. There is no statutory barrier to it, but I hear what she says about trying to ensure that this happens, and we are certainly in favour of promoting best practice. We will look to see if there is more that we can do to ensure that best practice is brought to the attention of probation trusts. We are also ready to work with the Magistrates’ Association and others to ensure that we have practical arrangements in hand to encourage magistrates to take part in meetings so that information can be exchanged. We can, however, do this without changing primary legislation. I also note that the amendment does not ensure that magistrates attend these meetings—which would, of course, not be appropriate—it instead places the duty on probation trusts to provide information. As my noble friend Lord McNally said in Committee, we are not aware of a problem in the provision of information but would welcome further information on it if one exists.
I understand what the amendment is trying to achieve. It provides two illustrative examples of what regulations might cover. They include guidelines for liaison and a scheme for magistrates’ expenses. I would like to point out to my noble friend that both of these are, in fact, already covered by existing arrangements. Guidelines for liaison meetings are set out in a protocol issued not by the Government, but by the senior presiding judge. We think it is right that the protocol should set out the process so that there is no suggestion that magistrates should be unduly influenced in sentencing by consideration of a local probation trust’s priorities, rather than what they see as the appropriate sentence in an individual case. That is why the senior presiding judge issues guidance, not the Government. We agree that there should be guidance on these meetings, but we think that the current system is more appropriate and that the guidance—especially since it applies to the judiciary—should come from the senior judiciary, not the Government.
The second example which the noble Baroness gives relates to the payment of expenses. It is true that Her Majesty’s Courts and Tribunals Service does not routinely pay expenses for meetings between magistrates and probation. That does not, however, mean that magistrates can not claim expenses. They can, in fact, claim expenses from the probation trusts in attending these meetings. This is an area where the Government might assist by doing more to publicise the process if magistrates are unaware of it. We will certainly consider, as a practical approach, encouraging better liaison by publicising this.
The noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, referred to a statutory committee. The amendment would not create a statutory committee; it would merely provide a regulation-making power to promote such arrangements if that was what was decided. On the questions of the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, about ordering the probation service out, we are not aware of the detail of that situation. We would welcome further details, and I will then write to the noble Lord with our reaction to what sounds like a very concerning incident.
I hope that the noble Baroness is reassured that we are committed to best practice regarding liaison and that we will look at practical solutions. We welcome her input on guidance and expenses under the current legislation. I hope that, on that basis, she will feel able to withdraw the amendment.
My Lords, I cannot thank everybody who has contributed to this debate warmly enough. It debate has raised many interesting, detailed elements; in particular, what the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, was saying about the serious knock-on effect for the old relationship that the probation service had with its community after it came under the umbrella of NOMS. The example of Lindholme indeed merits some careful examination.
I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, for making reference to other statutory arrangements. As I understood it, my amendment was to recreate the very effective statutory liaison which existed previously. There was a reality to the liaison until 2000. This needs looking at again. I understand the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Howe, about the worrying nature of the Carter report. I hope that it has, as it were, melted away. I must, as always, thank the noble Lord, Lord Judd, for his incredibly enthusiastic and good comments on this subject which are very heart-warming.
The Minister made some promises. I do not know to what extent they will make a difference, but just as I have encouraged her to have ears to hear, I had better have some ears to hear myself. I was minded to divide the House at this point but I do not think it would be proper until I have learnt a little bit more about what her promises mean. I will indeed return and look at this again, but for the time being I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 151A withdrawn.
151B: Before Clause 60, insert the following new Clause—
“Short prison sentences
A court may not pass a sentence of immediate imprisonment for a term of less than six months unless it considers that no other method of dealing with the offender is appropriate, and must state the reasons for its opinion in open court in accordance with the provisions of section 174 of the Criminal Justice Act 2003 (duty to give reasons for, and explain effect of, sentence).”
I am sorry, my Lords—you must be getting very bored with the sound of my voice. I move on briefly to the second, connected clause, which is about the presumption against short sentences.
The presumption against short sentences carries with it the expectation that low-level offending will receive an effective community sentence which is designed to address the causes of offending behaviour and to emphasise that it is in this category that reoffending is the highest of all. This is the greatest area of sentencing failure in this country today, contrary to the central goal of government policy which is to reduce reoffending. There may, of course, be times when a short prison sentence has a place. An example might be when an offender is constantly breaching a non-custodial order and the magistrates feel that they are left with no option. Or it may give the victim of an offender a brief break from the hell of a violent partner and the chance to make changes to her life in the breathing space. These are legitimate but there should be a presumption against these short sentences which is not the case at the moment, as witnessed by the 38,000 sentences of three months or less in the year up to March 2011. That is an astonishing figure; these cases should be the exception and not the rule.
I suggest that we should follow the example of Scotland, where Section 17 in Part 1 of the Criminal Justice and Licensing (Scotland) Act 2010 is entitled, “Presumption against short periods of imprisonment”. Subsection (3A) states that a court,
“must not pass a sentence of imprisonment for a term of 3 months or less on a person unless the court considers that no other method of dealing with the person is appropriate”.
This is a proper model to follow.
Many of these sentences are for women, as noble Lords mentioned in our debate on the previous amendment. They are just enough to do disproportionate damage to children, families, jobs and housing, and to the ability of chaotic, vulnerable people who commit minor offences to keep their lives together at all.
Imprisonment results in even greater chaos to the community, which then has to manage that chaos and to deal with the inevitable reoffending, whereas preventive, effective work through community disposals is far more likely to effect change and make people face up to the causes and effects on others of their law-breaking behaviour. Short prison sentences do absolutely nothing to address offending behaviour. No provision exists during or after imprisonment—hence the reoffending results, at great and disproportionate cost to the community.
It is also worth re-emphasising that where communities want and need to demonstrate toughness in punishment, community sentences are the tough option—and are seen as such by offenders. It is much tougher to be made to face up to what you have done, and why, than to sleep away your sentence in a prison cell; and to learn about the consequences of your behaviour and be made to put something back into the community, for example by doing unpaid work.
An inquiry chaired by Peter Oborne and commissioned by an organisation called Make Justice Work, which is doing a lot of effective work in this field, highlighted how effective community sentences were seen to be by offenders, as well as how much more successful they were at tackling reoffending. This ties in with my earlier remarks about magistrates knowing what community sentences are like. If properly informed, they will be at the front line of awareness of the quality of the programmes, and of what works and is being well done, which will ensure that standards are high. I greatly welcome the Government’s plans to start a consultation on the effectiveness of community sentences, and I look for reassurance from the Minister that a presumption against short sentences will form part of the framework of their thinking.
The second reason that I return to this subject is the need for sentences to come with an explanation in court of the exact reasons for a disposal—and in particular, where the threshold for custody comes in a case, and precisely why and how the threshold has been passed so that a community penalty has become inappropriate. Perhaps the Minister will confirm, following a letter of 15 March from the noble Lord, Lord McNally, whether under new Section 174, to be imported under Clause 61 of the Bill, the sentencing judge or magistrate must explain to a person sentenced to less than six months in prison that,
“no other method of dealing with him is appropriate, and give reasons, including how the custody threshold has been reached, for that conclusion, whether to him if he is present or under rules made in accordance with government amendment 152ZA”.
I am quoting from the letter. If this is the case, that amendment will be welcome, since previous legislation did not require the degree of clarity and explanation that I sought. I look forward to the Minister’s reply and beg to move.
My Lords, Amendment 151B, moved by my noble friend Lady Linklater, relates to the imposition of short custodial sentences. It would place a duty on a court to consider all alternatives before imposing a short custodial term. The amendment would also require the court, when imposing a short custodial sentence, to explain why alternative sentences were not considered appropriate.
As my noble friend Lord McNally said when the amendment was debated in Committee, we completely understand the argument of the noble Baroness, Lady Linklater. We agree that short custodial sentences can be less effective than community sentences in tackling reoffending. The Government looked closely at community sentences and intend to consult very soon on ways to build greater confidence in their use. Our payment by results pilots are also looking to support offenders who are released from short custodial sentences.
As the Minister also said, a duty already exists in current law. I urge my noble friend to look at Section 152 of the Criminal Justice Act 2003, which was passed by the previous Government and places restrictions on courts imposing discretionary custodial sentences. It states:
“The court must not pass a custodial sentence unless it is of the opinion that the offence, or the combination of the offence and one or more offences associated with it, was so serious that neither a fine alone nor a community sentence can be justified for the offence”.
That provision applies to all courts that are considering a custodial sentence of any length—not just a sentence of less than six months, to which the amendment is limited. The issue of short custodial sentences has been discussed in Scotland. My noble friend made reference to Scottish legislation. The new Scottish provisions are less onerous on judges than the existing law in England and Wales that I have just explained.
The current requirement on courts considering a custodial sentence is more wide-ranging and onerous than that contained in the amendment. I understand the intention behind it, but I hope that I can reassure my noble friend on this point. I hope that she will feed into the consultation on how to make sure that what is already in law is used as widely as possible. The law is as she wishes it; we need to ensure that it is fully understood and delivered. On this basis, I hope that she will withdraw her amendment.
My Lords, what alternatives to imprisonment are being considered to punish the persistent non-payment of fines, which is a very common reason why people are sent to prison for short periods? Is there no other way of recovering the amount of the fine that could be considered by the courts, and is the matter being looked at by the Government?
Amendment 151B withdrawn.
Amendment 152 not moved.
Clause 61 : Duty to give reasons for and to explain effect of sentence
152ZA: Clause 61, page 44, leave out lines 20 to 24 and insert—
“( ) Criminal Procedure Rules may—
(a) prescribe cases in which either duty does not apply, and(b) make provision about how an explanation under subsection (3) is to be given.”
My Lords, I turn to a group of government amendments that concern three areas. I will deal first with the substantive amendments. The first concerns the duties on courts to explain a sentence. The second deals with powers to withdraw distress warrants. I will then deal with the grouped technical amendments that relate to the powers of magistrates to impose fines.
First, government amendment 152ZA relates to the revised provisions in Clause 61, which deal with the duties on courts to give reasons for, and explain the effect of, a sentence. These duties already exist under Section 174 of the Criminal Justice Act 2003 but Clause 61 provides for a revised and simplified version of the requirements.
We had an excellent debate on this in Committee. My noble friend Lord McNally was very grateful for the opportunity to discuss the concerns that several Peers had in relation to this duty and the needs of offenders who have learning difficulties or other problems understanding the sentence imposed on them. I pay particular tribute to the noble Lords, Lord Rix, Lord Ramsbotham and Lord Wigley, and the noble Baronesses, Lady Quin and Lady Gould, who have provided enormous insight into the problems that these offenders may face.
As my noble friend said in Committee, the Government were concerned to ensure that we got the balance right between removing unduly prescriptive provisions on sentencers while retaining the important duties to explain a sentence in court. The Government also wanted to ensure that the law remained practical, taking account of the million-plus sentencing decisions made by the courts each year.
The Government have looked again at these provisions, in light of the helpful discussions that we had in Committee. We believe that the basic statutory duties to give reasons for a sentence and explain the effect of a sentence, in open court and in ordinary language, remain appropriate for the vast majority of cases, but we also accept the point made by noble Lords that further guidance on this may be required.
With that in mind, we have looked at subsection (4) of the revised Section 174, which gives a power to the Lord Chancellor to prescribe cases where the duty to explain can be less onerous or not required at all. This power has existed since the 2003 Act came into force but has never been exercised by the Lord Chancellor. On reflection, we think that such a power would be better exercised by the Criminal Procedure Rule Committee, an independent body that provides rules that govern the way the criminal courts operate. The Criminal Procedure Rules already touch on the sentencing process so it seems more appropriate that the committee should have a specific power in this regard.
The first part of this amendment transfers the Lord Chancellor’s order-making power to a rules-making power for the Criminal Procedure Rule Committee. Secondly, the amendment clarifies the scope of the power in relation to the duties on sentencers. The amendment retains the power for the rules to prescribe when the duties to give reasons for the sentence or explain the sentence to the offender do not apply; for example, where the sentence is obvious because there is a fixed penalty or where the case is entirely dealt with on the papers without the offender being present, as happens with many low-level road traffic offences.
I draw particular attention to the fact that the amendment also allows the rules to make provision about how an explanation of the effect of a sentence is to be given to the offender. This allows the rules to cover, if required, any particular circumstances the courts should consider when meeting the statutory duty to explain the effect of a sentence to an offender.
I have no doubt that the committee, in considering this new power, will take account of the debate that your Lordships had in Committee and the helpful representations that have been made from organisations such as Mencap and the Prison Reform Trust. I will ensure that these are flagged to the committee. We believe that the consideration of the detail of requirements is better dealt with via rules than primary legislation. One of the Criminal Procedure Rules already requires the court to,
“explain the sentence, the reasons for it, and its effect, in terms the defendant can understand (with help, if necessary)”.
I thank noble Lords for sharing the benefit of their wisdom and hope that this amendment achieves our goal of allowing for practical measures to be taken to ensure that the duties to explain a sentence are met in every case.
Government Amendment 152BYH relates to a very specific area of the law that deals with distress warrants. Distress warrants are issued following the non-payment of a fine, to recover the value of the fine imposed by the courts. They can be issued by a court or by a fines officer. In Committee, the noble Baroness, Lady Lister, tabled an amendment that sought, among other things, to clarify the law on distress warrants, and in particular whether it was possible to withdraw a distress warrant once it had been issued. My noble friend Lord Thomas of Gresford also highlighted the problem of the inability to withdraw distress warrants.
I indicated in response to noble Lords that the Government were willing to look at the issue and, if a change in the law was necessary, to return to it on Report. That is what we have done. I very much welcomed the opportunity we had to discuss this issue with the noble Baroness, Lady Lister, and my noble friend Lord Thomas of Gresford, as well as drawing on the expertise of the Z2K Trust and the CAB.
We accept that the current law is flawed. This amendment makes a number of changes, mainly to Schedule 5 to the Courts Act 2003. The new clause introduced by the amendment does four things. First, it provides magistrates’ court fines officers with the power to withdraw distress warrants they have issued, in the circumstances specified in new paragraph (40A), which is introduced by subsection (8) of the new clause. This means that a fines officer can withdraw the warrant if there is any part of the sum left to pay and if the fines officer is satisfied that the warrant was issued by mistake. This can include a mistake made as a result of non-disclosure or a misrepresentation of a material fact in the case.
Secondly, the amendment makes it clear in new paragraph (40B) that a magistrates’ court has a similar power to discharge a distress warrant issued by a fines officer as it does to discharge such a warrant issued by the court itself. Thirdly, the amendment enables fines officers to take further steps to enforce a penalty where a distress warrant has been withdrawn, but this time taking into account information that was not available when the distress warrant was issued; this includes the power to issue a further distress warrant. Finally, the amendment enables magistrates’ courts to exercise any of their powers in respect of a fines defaulter where a distress warrant has been withdrawn, including issuing a further distress warrant.
Noble Lords will have noticed that while I have explained the amendment in terms of “distress warrants”, the amendment itself refers to “warrants of control”. That reflects the new terminology that will apply when the relevant provisions of the Tribunals, Courts and Enforcement Act 2007, which are presently the subject of consultation, are commenced. However, transitional provision will be made under the powers in Part 4 of this Bill to the effect that, until those 2007 Act provisions come into force, these provisions are to have effect as if the references to warrants of control were to warrants of distress.
These changes put the question of whether a distress warrant can be withdrawn beyond doubt and provide clear but practical powers for the courts and fines officers to deal with mistakes in the issuing of warrants. I am extremely grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Lister, and my noble friend Lord Thomas of Gresford, and to the tireless work of Reverend Paul Nicolson of the Z2K Trust, for identifying these problems and encouraging us to address them.
Finally, government Amendments 152BA to 152BYG deal with the changes to magistrates’ fines powers in Clauses 80 to 82. These amendments are largely technical and ensure that Clauses 80 to 82 operate as intended. The policy intention here is unchanged: the clauses remove the upper limit on the level of fines available in the magistrates’ courts on summary conviction. They also allow for the uprating of other fines, in particular by providing a power to increase the maximum fine amounts for levels 1 to 4 on the standard scale of fines for summary offences.
I draw your Lordships’ attention to the set of amendments that applies the provisions to fines imposed for common law offences which can be dealt with by magistrates. These offences—“causing a public nuisance” and “outraging public decency”—were not caught by the previous version of the clauses. It is important that magistrates should have the freedom to impose larger fines for these offences in the same way as they will be able to do when sentencing offenders committing statutory offences.
Overall, these amendments now deliver more effectively the Government’s objectives. I beg to move.
My Lords, as the Minister has explained, Amendment 152BYH is in response to an amendment I tabled in Committee with the support of the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford. The purpose was to remove legal confusion about the power of bailiffs to return a fine to magistrates for consideration. That confusion has resulted in hardship for many vulnerable people.
I am grateful to the Minister and to the noble Lord, Lord McNally, for meeting me and the noble Lord, Lord Thomas, as well as representatives of Zacchaeus 2000 and Citizens Advice to discuss this and related matters. I am even more grateful that the Government agree that the current law is flawed and that this Bill provides the ideal vehicle for removing the confusion. I assume therefore that they do not expect that there will be a further suitable Bill coming along in the foreseeable future and thus they brought forward their own amendment.
I had hoped that I would be able to sit down at this point and that all would be sweetness and light, but as the noble Baroness knows I am worried that the amendment refers simply to the power to withdraw the warrant where there has been a mistake, albeit one made in consequence of the non-disclosure or misrepresentation of a material fact. Rectifying mistakes will not prevent all of the kinds of problems that Zacchaeus 2000 and Citizens Advice have identified. I am particularly concerned about cases where there has been a change of circumstances since the fine was set. For instance, if the debtor’s or defaulter’s material circumstances have changed because of illness, unemployment or relationship breakdown, that could have just the same effect on the ability to pay the fine as if there had been a mistake at the time of the original determination.
I have been in touch by e-mail with the Ministry of Justice about this. Its response was that while the amendment does not cover a simple change of circumstances, it is clear that a debtor can argue that the change of circumstances, if it had been known to the court, would have affected the decision to issue the warrant, so the decision was based on a mistake as to the debtor’s circumstances and that, in other words, the provision in the amendment goes further than the simple slip rule would do.
Will the Minister clarify this statement for your Lordships’ House? I do not really understand what it means. Does it mean that if a debtor’s circumstances change for the worse after the fine has been set and the bailiff is made aware of it, the bailiff can withdraw the warrant and return the fine to the magistrates’ courts on the grounds that the fine would not have been set on that basis had those circumstances pertained when it was set? If it means that, I urge the Minister to withdraw the amendment and make that clear at Third Reading. Otherwise I fear that we face a new source of legal confusion. If it does not mean that, I fear that the amendment will not go nearly far enough to resolve the kind of problems that Z2K and Citizens Advice have brought to our attention. Will the Minister withdraw the amendment and think again before Third Reading? Can the Minister confirm that a mistake will cover cases where the defaulter was not in court when the fine was imposed so that the mistake was made because the full circumstances were not known?
In Committee, the Minister prayed in aid the revision of the National Standards for Enforcement Agents, and in particular the standards they set for dealing with vulnerable and socially excluded people. The revised standards for such situations, now published on the MoJ website, are virtually identical to those previously in operation. It is clear from the experience of Z2K and Citizens Advice that they have not provided an adequate safeguard. That is why we had hoped that the amendment would ensure that bailiffs have discretion within the application of the Wednesbury principles—in other words, a test of reasonableness—to return a fine to the magistrates’ court when they discover that the debtor is in a vulnerable situation as set out in the National Standards for Enforcement Agents.
I am disappointed but realise that the Minister signalled this in Committee. Can I ask that the MoJ monitors this? If it is clear that the National Standards for Enforcement Agents are not on their own providing an adequate safeguard, will the Government consider returning to this issue at the next legislative opportunity?
In conclusion, I thank the Government for having moved on this issue. However, I am seeking assurances about the situation with regard to a change of circumstances, to be made clear in an amendment at Third Reading, if necessary, and about monitoring the effectiveness of the National Standards for Enforcement Agents, which state that,
“the agent has a duty to contact the creditor and report the circumstances in situations where there is evidence of a potential cause for concern”,
to ensure that that happens. Otherwise I fear that vulnerable people will continue to suffer and that legal confusion will continue to reign.
Having read the amendment as drafted, I was confused as to whether the mistake was a technical mistake, a mistake of law or a mistake of fact of the basis upon which the order was made. It is not clear from the wording here that the latter is the proper meaning. I am heartened to hear from the noble Baroness, Lady Lister, that she has received a communication from the Ministry of Justice saying that mistake does not mean the slip rule, which is a very familiar concept to lawyers. It may not be familiar to the bailiff who is knocking on the door. It is important that my noble friend should make it quite clear that a mistake of fact is needed; in other words, that if the magistrates’ court had been aware of the particular circumstances of the individual at the time that the warrant was to be enforced, it would not have made that order. If that is what it means and the Minister says so from the Dispatch Box, I would be satisfied with that. If that is not what it means, we need to discuss the issue further.
My Lords, I speak in support of government Amendment 152ZA and also speak on behalf of my noble friend Lord Rix who unfortunately is unable to be present because of his wife’s ill health. I thank the Minister for the extremely productive meeting that we had, which has been mentioned. The points that my noble friend has asked me to raise arise out of the amendment which came after that discussion in support of what was said.
The context of this is the duty of the court to explain sentences in ordinary language, which we raised in Committee. The Minister admitted that the phrase would ensure only that most people could understand an explanation. While we welcome the amendment and believe that it has the ability to extend comprehension of the effect of a sentence on all parties concerned, which is an important development, we are still not certain that it covers the point about ordinary language. On that, we would like some clarification. We believe that the Criminal Procedure Rule Committee could offer a similar safeguard, but we are not sure about where that safeguard extends and how wide it is. Will the Minister clarify how confident she is that the committee will make rules regarding the need to go beyond ordinary language in certain circumstances? Will it actually make these rules? To what extent are the rules made by that committee binding on the court? The concern is that if the rules are merely guidance, they might not be put into practice, despite the best intentions of the Government and the committee.
Will the Minister tell us about the time scales? When will the committee be empowered to make such rules and when might they be enforced? Are we looking at something imminent? Will it depend on when the Bill is passed? Finally, what opportunities will there be for Members of both Houses to scrutinise the implementation of these measures in the future? If they are rules of the committee rather than something in the Bill, it is more difficult for us to monitor them. They have an enormous effect on the people whom we mentioned in Committee and their ability to understand the process of law.
My Lords, this has been another useful debate. I welcome the support of the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, for the Government’s changes to the duty to explain. I encourage him to feed in his concerns to the committee. I have no doubt whatever that noble Lords will scrutinise how the duty is being implemented. The fact that this may not be part of legislation will not stop people reporting, debating and asking whether this is working as it should. The Government clearly cannot dictate to the committee what it should make its rules on and what it should say, but I have no doubt that when and if noble Lords find that this is not being implemented as they feel it should be, that will have its effect.
On distress warrants, I am very grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Lister, for her guarded welcome of the Government’s amendment. She questioned whether the amendment goes far enough and was kind enough to send an e-mail with a number of questions. She has referred to our response, which gives me an opportunity to expand on or clarify a number of those points. She was concerned, among other things, about whether it allowed for the withdrawal of a distress warrant where there had been a change in the offender’s circumstances or where the offender was deemed to be vulnerable. I will do my best to reassure her on a few points.
It is clear that the government amendment allows for the withdrawal of a warrant where there is a mistake in the decision to issue the warrant in the first place. The amendment covers the case where an offender is not in court when the warrant is issued, which results in the court not having the full information before it. This, in effect, amounts to a mistake. I hope that that also helps to reassure my noble friend Lord Thomas. If there has been a change of circumstances that, had it been known to the court, would have had an impact on the decision to issue a warrant, it is open to the debtor to argue that the warrant had been issued by mistake.
The noble Baroness also raised the question of bailiffs dealing with debtors who find themselves in hardship or appear to be vulnerable. It is important that we strike the right balance between protecting the vulnerable—she is right about that—and ensuring that fines, where appropriate, are paid. Noble Lords will have seen recent criticisms of fine payment rates. The fine is by far the most used sentence of the criminal courts.
In practice, however, when bailiffs come across hardship as defined in the guidance they should not execute the warrant and return it to the court. In response to the noble Baroness, Lady Lister, I must say that we would welcome any further information on this matter and on the effectiveness, which she has queried, of the guidance. It is very important that that is monitored. The Government do not think that it would be appropriate for a bailiff simply to withdraw a warrant in regard to a fine issued by a court. This could undermine the decision made by the court, which is why such a power is not included in the amendment, although I realise that that will disappoint the noble Baroness. If, however, the fine was imposed because the full facts were not made clear to the court, or they had changed, the provision in the Bill could apply.
In the case of changed circumstances since the fine was imposed, the debtor can contact the court at any time to speak to a fines officer to have the matter reviewed. The Government would encourage any debtor to contact the fines officer or court about a change of circumstance, which is clearly a better approach than waiting until a bailiff seeks to execute a warrant, but it is important that we separate the two parts in that respect.
As I said in Committee, the Government think it is important that bailiffs are dealt with via effective guidance, national standards and contractual obligations. As the noble Baroness knows, the Government are consulting on the operation of bailiffs, and we will carefully consider responses to that consultation. I hope that the noble Baroness and the organisations with which she is associated will feed into that consultation.
I hope that the noble Baroness can be reassured that the government amendment addresses the key legal issue with distress warrants and places the decision on them properly with the courts. How bailiffs operate is a matter for consultation in order to make sure that they operate properly and as we would wish. I hope therefore that the noble Baroness is reassured and content with what the Government have brought forward.
My Lords, I got the impression that the Minister was saying that outside organisations should do the monitoring. I would argue that the Government have a responsibility to monitor this. I realise that some of this will be covered by the current consultation, but if there is to be a reliance on the national standards and the requirements and standards are not written in the Bill, it is incumbent on the Government to monitor and to make sure, as she said, that these national standards are effective.
I understand the noble Baroness’s point. I was trying to indicate that a number of organisations are closely involved in such cases. Their information is extremely useful to the Government because they are often closer. However, the Government have picked up on the concerns, which has led them to decide that they need a consultation on the operation of the bailiffs system. I hope that she will be reassured by that government involvement in trying to take that matter forward.
Amendment 152ZA agreed.
Schedule 9 : Changes to powers to make suspended sentence orders: consequential and transitory provision
152ZB: Schedule 9, page 199, line 19, leave out paragraph 20
My Lords, this group of government amendments contains a number of minor and technical amendments to suspended sentence orders, detention and training orders, youth remand, and the release and recall provision. This group also contains a few substantive amendments to youth remand. Last week, I wrote to all Peers about these amendments, and a copy of the letter has been placed in the House Library. The youth remand-related substantive amendments in this group mean that any imprisonable offences committed while a young person was remanded in prison will be taken into account in order to determine whether a young person has a history of relevant offending.
Amendments 152ZB and 152BZA remove two provisions that are no longer necessary. Clause 75(10) and paragraph 20 of Schedule 9 contain amendments to the Armed Forces Act 2011. The effect is to modify amendments that Schedule 3 to that Act makes to the Armed Forces Act 2006. This was to ensure that those amendments would work if this Bill came into force before the 2011 Act. In fact, the amendments in the 2011 Act will come into force on 2 April 2012, which makes Clause 75(10) and paragraph 20 of Schedule 9 redundant.
Amendments 152YH to 152YQ are technical amendments that will ensure that Armed Forces legislation properly reflects the changes that the Bill makes to the release provisions in the Criminal Justice Act 2003. The Bill makes changes to Section 240 of the 2003 Act on how relevant periods of remand time are credited towards a prisoner’s sentence, and in Schedule 15 makes certain transitional arrangements. These amendments ensure that these changes are also reflected in the equivalent Armed Forces legislation.
Substantive Amendments 152H, 152K, 152P, 152T, 152U, 152W, 152X, 152YD and 152YF in combination provide that where a young person who is being dealt with under the remand provisions of the Bill has previously committed imprisonable offences while remanded in prison under the current law, such offences can be taken into account when determining whether they reveal a relevant history of offending such that the court may impose electronic monitoring or remand to youth detention accommodation.
Currently, 17 year-olds are treated as adults for remand purposes and can be remanded only to prison. In addition, 15 and 16 year-old boys not deemed vulnerable and made subject to secure remand must also be remanded to prison. Offences committed in prison are not taken into account for the purpose of establishing a history under the equivalent tests in the current legislation, but the restructuring of the remand framework is based on the principle that all under-18s should be remanded according to the same test. Under the new remand framework, remands to prison for under-18s will cease.
These amendments are necessary to ensure that courts remanding offenders under the new framework will take into account any offences committed while an under-18 was previously remanded to prison under the old remand framework. They will ensure that all under-18s subject to the new remand framework or who may be considered for an electronic monitoring requirement on bail are treated equally.
I said before that these are mainly technical amendments, that I wrote to all Peers about them last week, and that a copy of the letter has been placed in the House Library. I beg to move.
Amendment 152ZB agreed.
Clause 71 : Drug rehabilitation requirement
152ZC: Clause 71, page 53, line 12, at end insert—
“(3) In section 223(3) of that Act (power to amend specified periods of time), omit paragraph (c).”
My Lords, this is a very important social issue. I do not think that anyone in the House disputes the fact that alcohol-related crime is a scourge blighting too many of our city and town centres and one we must address. I pay tribute to many noble Lords, especially the noble Baronesses, Lady Finlay and Lady Jenkin, and the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, for ensuring that we have reached this point. Through their amendments in Committee for an alcohol-monitoring requirement, this issue was flagged up in the way that it was last year in the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Bill.
In that regard, I also thank the noble Baroness, Lady Browning, who brought her knowledge, experience and wisdom to this area, including when dealing with the previous incarnation of this issue during the debates on the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Bill. The noble Baroness, Lady Newlove, has given an insight into the terrible harm that alcohol-fuelled violence can cause to victims and their families. I applaud the work that she has undertaken to help the Government establish a more effective approach to building active and safer communities, and in particular the work that she is leading to develop community-led, partnership-based approaches to tackling alcohol-fuelled crime and anti-social behaviour.
As noble Lords have demonstrated through their persuasive and informed words, it is vital that we look at new innovative ways of tackling the causes of alcohol-fuelled crime. That is why the Government have committed, as I set out in Committee, to undertake pilots to trial sobriety requirements as part of conditional cautions and community orders. Since then, we have considered the noble Baroness’s amendments. I was also fortunate to listen to the presentation from the United States based around experience in both South Dakota and Hawaii.
We have attempted to capture the essential elements of the amendments of the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, in order to provide a practical power for the court to impose sober behaviour on offenders who commit alcohol-related crime. Through these means we will send a clear message that if you abuse your right to drink and damage those around you, that right can be taken away from you. That is why the Government are bringing forward their own amendment which provides courts with a new power to impose an alcohol abstinence and monitoring requirement as part of a community order or suspended sentence order on an offender who has committed an alcohol-related offence.
The amendment forms an important part of our wider response to these problems, introducing a new and innovative way of tackling the causes of alcohol-fuelled crime through enforced sobriety schemes. I pay tribute at this stage to the work of the London mayor, Boris Johnson, and the deputy mayor, Kit Malthouse, and to their commitment in this area. Their work on the alcohol abstinence and monitoring requirements is a testament to their determination to make a stand against alcohol-fuelled crime in the capital and we will continue to work with them in the development of this initiative.
The requirement as part of community orders and suspended sentence orders will therefore focus on serious offences, in particular violent offences, where alcohol is often a contributing factor, such as common assault, actual bodily harm, affray and violent disorder. Under the Government’s proposed alcohol abstinence and monitoring requirements, offenders will be required by the court to abstain from drinking for a period specified by the court up to 120 days. They will be required either to attend a police station or test centre to be monitored by breathalyser equipment or to wear an alcohol tag around their ankle. This innovative new electronic monitoring technology will test sobriety at half-hourly intervals during the day.
Before imposing a requirement, the court will have to establish a link between alcohol consumption and the offending behaviour. In a case where the offender does not comply with the conditions of the requirement, existing breach proceedings will ensue and the courts will have robust powers to penalise the non-compliance.
I wish to make clear that this requirement does not amount to treatment. That is not to say that supporting programmes such as alcohol awareness and education courses do not have a use here, alongside the abstinence requirement, to help ensure that offenders seek to change their alcohol-fuelled offending behaviour. However, it is distinct from the alcohol treatment requirement and the alcohol specified activity requirement, which seek to treat dependent drinkers and provide advice and support to offenders with other alcohol-related needs. For alcohol-dependent offenders and others needing treatment these options will continue to be the best avenue for addressing these issues.
These new provisions enable the Government to carry out initial trials which will test the processes and practicalities of enforced sobriety schemes and help build the confidence of the probation officials and sentencers who will operate them. We will make use of the lessons learnt to inform further work in this area. We are carrying out an additional pilot to test sobriety schemes as part of conditional cautions. The conditional caution is an out-of-court disposal which aims to tackle low-level crime. The pilot scheme will therefore be targeted at offences such as drunk and disorderly, criminal damage and public disorder, which account for a considerable volume of alcohol-related offences overall. The condition requires an offender to abstain from drinking on the days they are most likely to offend as a result of alcohol and to attend a police station to be tested, using a breathalyser, on those days—for example, Friday, Saturday or Sunday.
We have already had interest from a number of police areas in piloting the conditional caution scheme, particularly from cities where alcohol-fuelled crime is a severe problem. We heard quite a lot about that in Committee. We will announce the pilot areas in the forthcoming government alcohol strategy. The first conditional cautions enforcing sobriety should be administered from April/May. We believe that this is a considered and effective amendment to test out the important concept of reducing alcohol-fuelled crime.
Amendments 152ZC and 152ZD seek to remove provisions under Section 223 of the Criminal Justice Act 2003 to amend the minimum period of time specified for a drug rehabilitation requirement or alcohol treatment requirement under Sections 209 and 212 of the same Act. The Government are taking forward provisions in the Bill to remove the statutory minimum period for drug rehabilitation requirements and alcohol treatment requirements in order to increase the use and effectiveness of these requirements, allowing for greater flexibility in tailoring and delivering treatment and recovery options to individual needs. Provisions under Section 223 for these requirements are therefore no longer necessary.
The alcohol abstinence and monitoring requirement, introduced by our amendments, is to be available to the courts in England and Wales but not, of course, to the courts of Scotland or Northern Ireland. It is our intention that the requirement should not be capable of being imposed by a court in England and Wales on a person who is resident in Scotland or Northern Ireland. We undertake to bring forward and table amendments at Third Reading to make that clear. I beg to move.
My Lords, I have some amendments in this group, but of course I am absolutely delighted that the Government have decided to bring forward their own amendments. If the House approves those amendments, I will withdraw the amendments in my name. I would like to add my thanks to all Peers from all sides of the House who have worked tirelessly to try to ensure that this localism response for local communities to deal with alcohol-fuelled offences can actually proceed and that this new sentencing ability will be available to the courts. I would also like to single out the noble Baronesses, Lady Browning and Lady Northover, both of whom have gone to great lengths to listen to all sides of the argument and to take those representations away. I know that they really have worked very hard behind the scenes to get to the point that we have reached today.
The government amendments do not include the “offender pay” content set out in my amendments. I understand that this is a complex issue and, depending on the outcome of the pilots, could be revisited at a later stage, but it has wider implications. The advantage of now being able to proceed with breathalyser pilots as well as tags is that, for those who have to present daily or twice daily for breathalysing, they will encounter staff who will be able to see how they are coping and offer them support to cope with all the other aspects of their lives that they have not been managing well and that have been contributing to their alcohol abuse. There is that support element and I know from the United States that the failure rate with tags is about nine times that with breathalysers. That is partly because the offenders tend to think that the electronics will fail and do not believe in the efficacy of the tags. They sometimes try to tamper with them and so on. It will be very important to see how it works here and compare the different systems.
This week there was a motion to seek international endorsement for these types of programmes from the 180-signatory nations to the UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs. These kinds of schemes are being debated there as well. I have had meetings with police officers from different parts of the UK and a consistent story that comes through is that after 10 pm at night alcohol-related problems are between 80 and 100 per cent of their workload, depending in part on the night of the week. Evidence of decreased reoffending has come from the USA and in the pilots we will be able to see whether that is replicated here. There, they are reporting a more than 50 per cent drop in reoffending at three years; a more than 50 per cent drop in drink-driving offences; and a more than 10 per cent drop in domestic violence. There has also been a fall in incarceration rates. Alcohol use appears to be interrupted before the person who has been abusing the alcohol can actually kill somebody, so they have decreased the very serious end of crime as well. We know that in London the Metropolitan Police recorded 18,500 offences flagged for alcohol. Offences involving violence against the person accounted for 64 per cent of those.
I want to turn briefly to the question of domestic violence because I fear there has been some misunderstanding over domestic violence and alcohol abstinence. The police already have evidence that on the nights of some football club victories domestic violence goes up in the areas around the club. There is a link and this is in homes where there is not domestic violence at other times. However, the police, the courts and everyone else involved in discussions about these pilots recognise that domestic violence is a complex issue. Alcohol per se, on its own, does not cause domestic violence, but it seems to disinhibit people enough to release the triggers for them to then start abusing in the home. Therefore, in dealing with domestic violence, these perpetrators of violence need to be assessed very carefully. If they are alcohol-dependent, they are certainly not suitable for the scheme because during withdrawal the domestic violence rates would go up. However, if they are people whose violence has been triggered by alcohol, then they may be suitable.
It is also important to stress that there has been consultation with domestic violence groups in the London area. The Domestic Violence Offenders Focus Group looked at the London Probation Service, Domestic Violence Lead, the Domestic Violence Intervention Project, Phoenix Features and Steps 2 Recovery. It also held a separate focus group in the London area with domestic violence victims and had representation there from the AVA project, the NIA project, Women’s Aid, Imkaan and Victim Support. The consultation has been carefully conducted and heeded and in the initial pilots there is a thought that domestic violence may not be included right at the beginning. However, later on it may well be that the victim would welcome some alcohol-monitoring of the offender while all of the domestic problems they have been facing are tackled. These include aspects of anger management, behaviours that trigger a response in the abuser, and so on.
I go back to the fact that in the United States the experience has been that they can use this for domestic violence cases when they are properly screened out. In this country we know from a Home Office study in 2003 that 60 per cent of domestic violence offences were alcohol-related, that 73 per cent of offenders had used alcohol prior to the offence and that 48 per cent were alcohol-dependent. I would stress again that for that group they would be screened out.
I have also gone through the planned programme with London where it is made clear that dependent drinkers would not be appropriate for this scheme because they need treatment. It is the non-dependent drinkers who are suitable and they would need a pre-sentencing screening report to assess their suitability for the alcohol monitoring scheme and the terms defined.
In summary, I cannot express strongly enough my delight that the Government have taken this seriously and how important it will be that we have a tool that the courts can use to begin to try to tackle the problem of alcohol-fuelled crime. The excellent report by the noble Baroness, Lady Newlove, who I am glad to see is in her place, endorses the fact that we cannot ignore what is happening in our country. We cannot deal with alcohol-fuelled crime without addressing it head on. The beauty of these proposed schemes is that they will empower offenders to begin to take control of their own lives and in the process provide them with support. I am delighted to welcome the government amendments.
My Lords, I, too, warmly welcome the alcohol abstinence and monitoring requirement that the Government have introduced, and I thank my noble friend Lady Northover for the hard work that she has put into bringing together all the parties in order to get an agreement. That is why we have this measure before us tonight. Perhaps I may also say that my friend, the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay of Llandaff, and my noble friend Lady Jenkin have worked over the past few weeks not only to bring this to the attention of the Government but to find a solution that will enable us to see this provision on the statute book before, we hope, too long.
These will be trials, of course, and I hope that they prove a valuable tool in addressing the issue of binge drinkers. During the working week many of these people, of whom there are increasing numbers, hold down responsible jobs; but at the weekend they decide that they have not had a good night out unless they get paralytically drunk, to the point where not only do they have to be helped home but—as the noble Baroness knows, having taken me to visit St Mary’s Hospital Paddington to see the work being done there—they take up huge National Health Service resources. I am sure that if we are going to tackle what in this Chamber we euphemistically refer to as binge drinking, these provisions will be valuable across a range of criminal activity and act as a deterrent for the particular group of binge drinkers who will find it difficult to comply with some of these measures during the working week. They may well start to take some responsibility for their behaviour.
The question of when alcohol dependency becomes a medical condition has already been mentioned. I would stress to my noble friend on the Front Bench that the Government should continue as they have started by ensuring that alcohol abuse does not remain the Cinderella of the drugs and alcohol scenario. It is important to ensure that people get appropriate treatment and that it is sustained so that they can recover. As we know, that takes a long time and it takes resources. It is not something that is easy to achieve, but it can be done. I hope that the Government will not take their foot off the pedal in terms of ensuring that proper treatment is available to those who become alcohol dependent.
Finally, these are trials, and as is the case with all trials, it may well be that some defects are identified by the end of the trial period. Some things may not work properly and could be different. If that is the case, I urge the Government not to abandon the trials and say, “Oh well, they didn’t work”—I am sure they will not do that—but to look for ways to modify the proposals, even if it means coming back to the House to make further changes to the legislation. I feel that this is one step on what will be a long journey to identify and address the systemic problems of alcohol abuse that we have in this country.
I, too, welcome the Government’s statement. I am one of those who have been on this journey since we commenced it in the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Act 2011. Like the noble Baroness, Lady Browning, I want to express my support for and gratitude to the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay. Her single-mindedness and determination have been extraordinary. She has been willing to accommodate the objections that come along, and on the route she has brought together a wide range of supporters for this change, not the least of which is the mayor’s office. Over the period people have quite significantly adjusted their responses.
The noble Baroness, Lady Browning, was also an important part of this process. I agree with what she has just said about how we should move forward with the Government. I also thank the Government for having shifted their position over the past few months. I believe that they have now presented to the House a workable set of propositions. They will be implemented on a trial basis, but they embark on an entirely new approach and are unlike anything we have tried before. It is probably the first time that the word “sobriety” has been used in legislation in this way. I may be wrong on that, but I certainly have not seen it while I have been here over the past decade. It gives us a platform on which we can try to build in the future.
I also congratulate the Government on bringing forward these proposals in advance of publishing their strategy on alcohol. How many times are we given papers and strategies, but not the teeth to accompany them? Yet in this instance the Government are taking action in advance of the words that no doubt will follow when the paper is produced. I think that people across the whole Chamber are very pleased indeed with the progress that has been made over the past months. We look forward to seeing how the trials pan out. They may need to be adjusted, but they will provide the Government and magistrates around the country with a new tool to help us tackle the pernicious problem of the abuse of alcohol.
My Lords, I will not go on for too long because others have covered the issue. I welcome the Government’s take on this, and obviously I want to congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, on her hard work. Her foot has been flat down on the pedal. As someone who has suffered and who is passionate about making a change in our society, I am really grateful for these pilots. As we have just heard from the noble Baroness, after 10 o’clock at night 80 per cent of all crime is alcohol-related. My husband was attacked at 10 o’clock, so I reiterate that this is very important.
I welcome these pilots, but as we have just heard, they are only pilots. However, we have to think outside the box. They are risky, but risks can be turned around. It is important that we do not wait for more victims and families to lose loved ones. We must do what we say on the tin and make communities feel safe and be happier places to live in. I receive many letters from people who hide behind their doors because they are scared of what they are going to face outside. I live with that every day and I want to make sure that we tackle this problem. I am very interested in these pilots and I wait with bated breath to see what they do.
Even the magistrates welcome this development; I have spoken to magistrates in two areas. Also, offenders will be helped to turn their lives around. Even so, their lifestyles are no justification. Drugs and alcohol are no defence for murder, but when it comes to sentencing they are seen as mitigating circumstances along the lines of, “Oh but for the alcohol”. We have to stop justifying alcohol abuse and make changes for the better. I really welcome these amendments from the Government.
My Lords, I also want to echo the warm congratulations which have been expressed to the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, on achieving some nine-tenths of what she set out to do in her original amendment. She is quite right to suggest to your Lordships that we should accept the Government’s solution, which omits the “offender pays” part of her original scheme. However, ultimately we will need to consider whether offenders should be made to pay some of the costs that they impose on the community—not specifically in the context of alcohol-related offences, but perhaps over a broader area. I see no reason why “offender pays” schemes should not be considered in a more general way, if not in the context of these particular amendments.
It is excellent news that London is to be one of the pilot areas, considering the huge burden that alcohol-related crime imposes on the capital’s health and criminal justice systems. According to the London health improvement board, the capital suffers a higher rate of alcohol-related violence—particularly sexual violence—than the rest of England, and the total annual cost of the health and social impacts of alcohol misuse to the capital is a staggering £2.46 billion. The more robust the measures for tackling this appalling waste of financial and human resources, the better it will be.
Perhaps I may ask my noble friend about the other towns and cities where she told us the trials relating to conditional cautions are to be been conducted. If these are to be started in April or May, then surely some of these cities must have been identified already. It would be useful if she could give us further details on that matter before the end of this debate.
Perhaps I may also ask my noble friend why the Government do not provide money for additional major cities, apart from those which have already been chosen, where alcohol-related crime is a big problem, so that they can join in the pilots at their own discretion. That would be a really valuable example of localism that would almost certainly achieve a substantial net return on the investment. Strathclyde, in Scotland, has its own AMR pilot in the near future, depending on the availability of funding from the Scottish Government. I wonder whether the Welsh Assembly would have the power to pilot a similar scheme in Cardiff. In England, however, a city that had a mind to conduct a pilot would have to provide the upfront costs, while the downstream benefits would be largely, though not entirely, at the national level. I would grateful if, when my noble friend comes to wind up, she could say a word or two about how the funding would be organised if, as we believe, these pilots demonstrate a substantial return on the investment for the country as a whole.
My Lords, I shall be exceptionally brief. Like my namesake, the noble Lord, Lord Brooke of Alverthorpe, I congratulate everybody who has made possible what has happened in the course of the last three or four months. I was a roughrider in the column of the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay of Llandaff, when she originally raised the South Dakota project. I have no intention of repeating anything that I said on the police Bill, except that I am extremely grateful to her for letting me know, after I remarked in the police Bill proceedings that the South Dakota legislation had been transferred into California, that although the Californian legislation is permissive, the Sacramento experiment is going forward. I am wholly delighted by this turn of events. Having had a very minor part at an earlier stage, I find it very satisfying to see the momentum that has gathered.
My Lords, I am not sure what the correct collective noun is for a group of persuasive Baronesses, but whatever it is, we—the House, and indeed society—are greatly indebted to this particular group of persuasive Baronesses, supported as they have been by the occasional male Member of this House.
I would like to join other noble Lords in congratulating the Government on responding so positively and readily to the proposals to carry forward the pilot scheme and to come forward with a legislative framework to adopt the proposals. These have been pushed very hard by the Mayor of London and, indeed, by London Councils as an organisation. There has been complete unanimity politically in London, and in this House too, about the merits of this scheme.
Coming as I do from a city where, unfortunately, alcohol consumption is particularly high—leading generally to low-level crime and a low level of violence which is nevertheless a disturbing social phenomenon—I am very glad that we are beginning to see an approach here that we hope will make a difference. As has been pointed out, however, an alcohol strategy is still awaited. This is perhaps only a first instalment in what may need to be a major review of how we deal with these problems.
The noble Baroness, Lady Finlay—who has been so much the moving spirit, if I can be forgiven the use of that term, in these matters—mentioned one particular matter: domestic violence. There has been consultation about this, as the noble Baroness rightly said. At a meeting held in May 2011, all the violence-against-women agencies present expressed,
“high levels of concern about this scheme operating in relation to domestic violence”.
They gave as reasons that tackling alcohol in itself,
“does not tackle domestic violence … implies that domestic violence behaviour is driven by alcohol, which is not the case … domestic violence can occur when men are sober”—
or when women are sober, as it is not always one-sided—and,
“implies that physical assault (which is linked with alcohol) is the main/only form of domestic violence”,
as that is not correct either. There was,
“general consensus that the additional elements which would need to be considered for DV”—
“cases, including risk assessment and support”,
would make the matter very complex.
That is not in any way to derogate from the proposals being made, but it does emphasise the need to look carefully, in the context of the pilot, at what will be run as part of the experiment, and to look very sensitively at the concerns of the organisations that work most closely with women as the principal victims of domestic violence, to see whether this is necessarily the most appropriate way of dealing with those problems.
I certainly have an open mind about that, and I assume that the Government would as well. I am therefore just uttering a word of caution. It should not necessarily be assumed that domestic violence is an appropriate topic for inclusion in a scheme of this kind. It is a matter that needs to be tested. The American experience might be helpful in that respect, of course, but the culture is not necessarily the same here as it is in South Dakota or other parts of the United States. I think that we have to be a little careful about jumping to conclusions.
With that single reservation—it is only a note of caution—I very much endorse the principle and the Government’s amendments. I would also like to endorse what the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, has said about costs. I assume that the Government would cover the cost of pilots as they take place in localities. In local government parlance, this would be a new burden, and the convention is that such new burdens are funded by government. As it is a pilot, it should not be too expensive to run—and ultimately, we hope, the public purse will benefit significantly from any savings that accrue, not least in the health service, where such savings would be extremely desirable. I mean savings not only in financial resources but in the time and skills of staff.
The Opposition strongly support this principle. With that note of caution, we congratulate the Government and look forward to taking matters further. Perhaps I may also ask whether the Minister or her colleagues would be prepared to meet before the pilots are instituted with representatives of the organisations concerned with violence against women to explore their concerns and to see whether, perhaps together, a joint approach might be worked out to test the scheme in practice or to see how it might be modified to reflect the real concerns they have expressed. We certainly support the Government and these amendments.
My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, and my noble friend Lady Browning for their incredibly kind words to me. However, it is they who have been the doughty fighters who have brought us to this position. I should also like to thank my right honourable friend the Secretary of State, Ken Clarke, for his help in taking forward this innovative idea.
The noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, and the noble Lord, Lord Beecham, mentioned domestic violence, and as both noble Lords emphasised, these are complex issues which require multifaceted approaches. We will need to see how, in tackling the abuse of alcohol, there might be a beneficial effect in this area as well. The provision is not targeted at domestic violence, as noble Lords will appreciate, but we will need to see what we can learn from its possible effects. I would be extremely happy on behalf of the Government to meet the organisations to which the noble Lord referred. I know that the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, expressed an interest as well. I really appreciate that and look forward to taking that further forward. It is extremely important that we discuss what is suggested here with such groups.
We agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Browning, that alcohol treatment is extremely important; as a spokesperson for health, I hope that I can reassure noble Lords that we fully recognise that. I want to reassure the noble Baroness that we believe that the pilots are there so that we can learn from them. We need to learn what works elsewhere and see how it might need to be adapted within our own legal, social and economic situation. However, we are optimistic that these are interesting proposals to take forward.
My noble friend Lord Avebury asked about the funding for the pilots and the noble Lord, Lord Beecham, also flagged that up. Existing resources will be drawn on for some of the work with breathalysers, but the Government are indeed providing funding for the pilots and this will be announced shortly. My noble friend Lord Avebury asked about the areas for conditional caution pilots. I hope he will be pleased to hear that this will be announced in the alcohol strategy next week.
Above all, I thank noble Lords for their support for the government amendments, and especially for the work of the noble Baronesses, Lady Finlay and Lady Browning, and others in bringing us to this point. I look forward to our learning from these pilots.
Amendment 152ZC agreed.
Clause 72 : Alcohol treatment requirement
Amendments 152ZD to 152ZF
152ZD: Clause 72, page 53, line 16, at end insert—
“(2) In section 223(3) of that Act (power to amend specified periods of time), omit paragraph (d).”
152ZE: After Clause 72, insert the following new Clause—
“Alcohol abstinence and monitoring requirement
(1) After section 212 of the Criminal Justice Act 2003 insert—
“212A Alcohol abstinence and monitoring requirement
(1) In this Part “alcohol abstinence and monitoring requirement”, in relation to a relevant order, means a requirement—
(a) that, subject to such exceptions (if any) as are specified—(i) the offender must abstain from consuming alcohol throughout a specified period, or(ii) the offender must not consume alcohol so that at any time during a specified period there is more than a specified level of alcohol in the offender’s body, and(b) that the offender must, for the purpose of ascertaining whether the offender is complying with provision under paragraph (a), submit during the specified period to monitoring in accordance with specified arrangements.(2) A period specified under subsection (1)(a) must not exceed 120 days.
(3) If the Secretary of State by order prescribes a minimum period for the purposes of subsection (1)(a), a period specified under that provision must be at least as long as the period prescribed.
(4) The level of alcohol specified under subsection (1)(a)(ii) must be that prescribed by the Secretary of State by order for the purposes of that provision (and a requirement under that provision may not be imposed unless such an order is in force).
(5) An order under subsection (4) may prescribe a level—
(a) by reference to the proportion of alcohol in any one or more of an offender’s breath, blood, urine or sweat, or(b) by some other means.(6) The arrangements for monitoring specified under subsection (1)(b) must be consistent with those prescribed by the Secretary of State by order (and an alcohol abstinence and monitoring requirement may not be imposed unless such an order is in force).
(7) An order under subsection (6) may in particular prescribe—
(a) arrangements for monitoring by electronic means;(b) arrangements for monitoring by other means of testing.(8) A court may not include an alcohol abstinence and monitoring requirement in a relevant order unless the following conditions are met.
(9) The first condition is that—
(a) the consumption of alcohol by the offender is an element of the offence for which the order is to be imposed or an associated offence, or(b) the court is satisfied that the consumption of alcohol by the offender was a factor that contributed to the commission of that offence or an associated offence.(10) The second condition is that the court is satisfied that the offender is not dependent on alcohol.
(11) The third condition is that the court does not include an alcohol treatment requirement in the order.
(12) The fourth condition is that the court has been notified by the Secretary of State that arrangements for monitoring of the kind to be specified are available in the local justice area to be specified.
(13) In this section—
“alcohol” includes anything containing alcohol;
“specified”, in relation to a relevant order, means specified in the order.”
(2) In section 177 of that Act (community orders), in subsection (1), after paragraph (j) insert—
“(ja) an alcohol abstinence and monitoring requirement (as defined by section 212A),”.(3) In subsection (2) of that section (limitations on power to impose community order)—
(a) omit the “and” at the end of paragraph (f), and(b) at the end of paragraph (g) insert “, and“(h) section 212A(8) to (12) (alcohol abstinence and monitoring requirement).”(4) In section 190 of that Act (imposition of requirements by suspended sentence order), in subsection (1), after paragraph (j) insert—
“(ja) an alcohol abstinence and monitoring requirement (as defined by section 212A),”.(5) In subsection (2) of that section (limitations on power to impose requirements by suspended sentence order)—
(a) omit the “and” at the end of paragraph (f), and(b) at the end of paragraph (g) insert “, and(h) section 212A(8) to (12) (alcohol abstinence and monitoring requirement).”(6) In section 215 of that Act (electronic monitoring requirement), after subsection (4) insert—
“(5) An electronic monitoring requirement may not be included in a relevant order for the purposes of securing the electronic monitoring of the offender’s compliance with an alcohol abstinence and monitoring requirement.
(6) Subsection (5) does not prevent the inclusion of an electronic monitoring requirement in a relevant order which includes an alcohol abstinence and monitoring requirement where this is for the purpose of securing the electronic monitoring of an offender’s compliance with a requirement other than the alcohol abstinence and monitoring requirement.”
(7) In section 223(3) of that Act (provisions to which powers to amend periods of time apply), after paragraph (b) insert—
“(ba) section 212A(2) (alcohol abstinence and monitoring requirement)”.(8) In section 305(1) of that Act (interpretation of Part 12), at the appropriate place insert—
““alcohol abstinence and monitoring requirement”, in relation to a community order or suspended sentence order, has the meaning given by section 212A;”.”
152ZF: After Clause 72, insert the following new Clause—
“Piloting of alcohol abstinence and monitoring requirements
(1) The Secretary of State may by order provide for the coming into force of section (Alcohol abstinence and monitoring requirement).
(2) The Secretary of State may not make an order under subsection (1) with the effect that section (Alcohol abstinence and monitoring requirement) is in force for the whole of England and Wales (a “general commencement order”) without having previously made a piloting order.
(3) Subsection (2) does not prevent an order under subsection (1) from bringing section (Alcohol abstinence and monitoring requirement) into force for the purpose only of making orders under section 212A or 223 of the Criminal Justice Act 2003 or rules under section 222 of that Act (and such an order is not a general commencement order for the purposes of this section).
(4) A “piloting order” is an order under subsection (1) with the effect that section (Alcohol abstinence and monitoring requirement) is force only—
(a) in relation to the area or areas specified in the order, and(b) for the period specified in the order,but otherwise for all purposes, or for all purposes other than application by the Armed Forces Act 2006.(5) If, having made one or more piloting orders, the Secretary of State decides to make a general commencement order, the Secretary of State may by order—
(a) amend section (Alcohol abstinence and monitoring requirement) so as to enable the general commencement order to bring it into force with those amendments;(b) amend or repeal any provision of this Act in consequence of provision made under paragraph (a).(6) Amendments under subsection (5)(a) may confer power on the Secretary of State to make an order or rules.
(7) If, having made one or more piloting orders, the Secretary of State decides not to make a general commencement order, the Secretary of State may by order—
(a) repeal section (Alcohol abstinence and monitoring requirement);(b) amend the Criminal Justice Act 2003 so as to reverse the effect of that section on that Act;(c) make other consequential amendments or repeals.(8) An order under this section may make transitional, transitory or saving provision (including, in the case of a piloting order, provision relating to section (Alcohol abstinence and monitoring requirement) ceasing to be in force at the end of the period specified in the order).
(9) An order under this section is to be made by statutory instrument.
(10) A statutory instrument containing—
(a) a general commencement order, or (b) an order under subsection (5) or (7),may not be made unless a draft of the instrument has been laid before, and approved by a resolution of, each House of Parliament.”
Amendments 152ZD to 152ZF agreed.
Amendments 152A and 152B not moved.
152BZZA: After Clause 72, Insert the following new Clause—
“To add restorative justice to the statutory purposes of sentencing
In section 142(1) of the Criminal Justice Act 2003 (purposes of sentencing) after paragraph (c) insert—“(ca) the achievement of restorative justice,”.”
My Lords, Amendments 152BZZA, 152BZZB and 152BZZC all deal with restorative justice. Restorative justice is one of the areas of good news in the criminal justice system. I should have said—I do so with apologies now—that I have the considerable advantage that the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, supports what I propose in these amendments. Indeed, the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Liverpool would also have supported the amendment had he been able to be present today.
The fact is that the benefits of restorative justice are now widely accepted, but its role in the criminal justice system is sadly lacking in statutory recognition. It is essential that it now receives this recognition, and the Bill would be an appropriate vehicle for that recognition to be provided.
In Committee, an amendment before the House sought to give statutory recognition, but the statutory recognition then proposed is very different from what is now being sought. I have to concede that the amendment that was put before the House then was not, even with the skills of the noble Lord, Lord McNally, capable of being tweaked to achieve the purpose needed. Following in the footsteps of the Government in relation to the amendment that we just dealt with, for which the Government should be congratulated on taking such a positive role, the present amendments were drafted at a very late stage at the end of last week. Those amendments followed a similar pattern, although there is a significant difference between restorative justice and the alcohol and monitoring requirements.
The present amendments are to the Criminal Justice Act 2003, which provides the framework for sentencing that is of great importance to courts up and down the land when they come to sentence. In relation to three separate aspects of the statutory provisions they ask no more than that one of the options—one of the menus—that those statutory provisions should include is restorative justice. That is needed, and it is surprisingly lacking.
The amendments would require the Government to take no action and would require them to spend no money, but they would take into account the fact that it has been established as a result of experience that restorative justice has an important part to play in the administration of justice, not only in ensuring that offenders receive the right sentences from the court, but in protecting victims. I would like to stress that aspect of the matter, because the Ministry of Justice, in its admirable consultative paper, Getting it Right for Victims and Witnesses, sets out what a significant role restorative justice can play. Paragraph 114 on page 39 of that document states:
“In partnership with the Home Office we will develop a framework for restorative justice. This will provide guidance to local practitioners and help support them to develop and deliver effective, best practice restorative justice approaches suited to local need”.
That is clearly something that is required. It follows on from the statements in the same publication that in 85 per cent of cases where there has been restorative justice,
“victims who participated in the schemes were satisfied with the experience”.
The document also states that it is estimated that there was a,
“14% reduction in the frequency of re-offending”,
as a consequence of the use of restorative justice.
If the full impact of the amendments now proposed had been delivered in a rather more timely way, there could have been consultation between myself and Ministers so that it could have been explained from the point of view of those who have the task of sentencing in courts just why these amendments are needed and appropriate at this stage. Although the matter was only put down in its current form a late stage, for which I owe the House and the Government an apology, we now have a proposal that fits in with what the Bill is trying to do. I personally can claim very little of the credit for these amendments. They are the product of excellent work by the Prison Reform Trust, of which I declare my position as chairman, the Restorative Justice Council and many others—in particular, Paul Cavadino, whose knowledge in this area is quite outstanding. If the Government cannot accept these amendments today, I urge them to give me and those who support me an opportunity to explain in detail why these amendments are very constructive and have no conceivable downside as far as I can ascertain. I hope the Government will listen and respond to what I have just said.
My Lords, it is clear from our debates in Committee that there is agreement in all parts of the House on the merits of restorative justice and the case for ensuring that it is seen as a central and fundamental part of our criminal justice system. I will make five key points. First, it has a salutary impact on many offenders by bringing home to them the impact of their offence on victims. All too often offenders minimise or simply do not think about the effect of their actions on other people. In a restorative justice process the offender has no alternative but to face up to the impact of his or her offences on those at the receiving end. Secondly, restorative justice gives victims much more satisfaction than other ways of dealing with offenders. A lot of research has been carried out on this point. It is clear that victims who have been through restorative justice express satisfaction with that process. It enables victims to tell their story, express their hurt and receive recognition in a way that no other procedure does. It helps to give victims closure, reduce trauma and reduce their fear about the future. Many victims also feel very positive about being involved in a process which can contribute more effectively to the rehabilitation of the offenders. Thirdly, restorative justice reduces reoffending. I have the Home Office research. It found that it did so by around 14 per cent. The process thereby helps to reduce the number of people in the future who would otherwise have suffered loss, distress, injury or damage as a result of crime. Fourthly, restorative justice saves money. The Restorative Justice Consortium has estimated a cost saving of £185 million over two years based on 70,000 cases and a return of £9 for every £1 spent. Finally, a wider use of restorative justice will help to increase public confidence in sentencing. An ICM poll that was carried out last year found that 88 per cent of people wanted victims to have the opportunity to inform offenders of the harm and distress they have caused.
There were a number of speeches in Committee on this matter so I will not repeat all the arguments in favour but I want to put two or three suggestions to the Minister. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Woolf, has tabled these new clauses and I think they require some discussion, even between now and Third Reading. One way is to include restorative justice in the statutory purposes of sentencing. Another is to enable courts to include restorative justice requirements in community orders. Another option that is open is to spell out that courts can use activities to require offenders to take part in restorative justice processes. Any or all of these proposals and approaches would help to keep restorative justice in the minds of sentencers and to achieve the Government’s aim of ensuring that it becomes a central part of the criminal justice system. This is not the time to look at a final outcome but I hope very much that this will open up a discussion with the Government with a view to seeing if they will move on any of these fronts. I support the noble and learned Lord, Lord Woolf, in what he has said.
My Lords, I rise briefly to support the noble and learned Lord, Lord Woolf. There was an extremely useful conference last week by the Thames Valley Partnership which has been pioneering restorative justice for many years. It was interesting to hear exactly how far the National Offender Management Service has gone in preparing for restorative justice to be administered in every prison and every probation area around the country. Indeed, staff are being trained to do it. In addition, the police have trained the all-important committee supervisors and people who run the committees which make it work. Therefore, it would seem logical if this effort is to be overseen and able to come to fruition that it should be backed up by the statutory recognition in the Bill if at all possible.
My Lords, I strongly support the amendment moved by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Woolf. We are entirely in agreement that restorative justice represents a significant way forward. It is calculated, as the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, said, to save public funds, reduce reoffending rates and prove acceptable to the wider community, which is not as hard-line in these matters of penal policy as sometimes people imagine. Restorative justice has been shown to be welcomed by 80 per cent of the victims who participate in it. That in itself is a testimony to its effectiveness. I hope, therefore, that the Minister will feel able to accept the amendment but, if she is not, I hope that she will undertake to meet the noble and learned Lord and other colleagues before Third Reading to allow a further and final opportunity to discuss the way forward to improving this part of the Bill, recognising that it will contribute to the intentions of the Government.
My Lords, these amendments from the noble and learned Lord, Lord Woolf, and my noble friend Lord Dholakia return to the question of restorative justice. The noble Lords have been outstanding exponents of the importance of restorative justice and we appreciate the contribution that they have made in the House, nationally and internationally in this matter. The Government support the principle of restorative justice as part of an effective response to crime. It offers a crucial opportunity, not only to assist in the rehabilitation of offenders by making them face the consequences of their actions and seek to make amends for the damaged inflicted on others, but to give victims a greater stake in the resolution of offences and in the criminal justice system as a whole. Indeed, victim satisfaction rates have been extremely positive. Additional work in this area will enable us to realise the benefits of restorative justice further. We already have encouraging evidence around its impact on reoffending rates and anecdotal evidence that it encourages offenders to seek further necessary interventions, such as drug and alcohol treatment.
As I mentioned in Committee, we are committed to delivering greater use of restorative practices across the criminal justice system and we are putting a great deal of time and effort into building up the capacity of youth offending teams, probation trusts and prisons to provide restorative justice services, investing over £1 million in order to do so. We just heard reference from the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, to the Thames Valley restorative justice partnership. It is developing training materials and guidance for using restorative justice in the adult system as part of our response to more serious offences. Its experience is invaluable.
These amendments take a three-pronged approach to adding restorative justice to the current legislation. The first would make restorative justice a statutory purpose of sentencing alongside the existing purposes of punishment, reduction of crime, rehabilitation, protection of the public and making reparation to offenders, as set out in the Criminal Justice Act 2003. The second would create a new restorative justice requirement for a community order or suspended sentence order, while the third would add the words “restorative justice” to the existing activity requirement.
We fully share with noble Lords the importance of embedding restorative justice in the system. However, we are not persuaded that these amendments are quite the right route towards this. Noble Lords will no doubt accept that the statutory purposes of sentencing are outcomes for judges and magistrates to have regard to when considering what sentence will be appropriate, given the particular offence and the particular offender’s circumstances. Restorative justice is a means to an end, rather than an end in itself; it is a process through which victims and offenders come together; it is not an outcome that stands alone. It would not be appropriate to add it to the list of purposes, although we have sympathy with the noble and learned Lord’s intentions.
In response to the second amendment, we believe the law already provides scope for restorative justice. Restorative justice occurs now, under current law.
The third amendment turns its attention to the activity requirement, which allows the court to consider the use of restorative justice when it has been advised that the victim and offender have agreed to take part and provision is in place to deliver such a requirement. We accept that the amendment simply adds a specific reference to restorative justice and mediation into the current section of the 2002 Act that sets out the details of the activity requirement. However, we do not feel that increasing the use of restorative justice is about imposing further legal duties at this stage. It is about supporting a culture change in the mind of practitioners to develop and deliver effective restorative justice practices and building capacity across the system, all of which must be rooted in local need and responsive to local crime and reoffending. We appreciate what noble Lords themselves have done to promote that culture change.
The Government have several areas of work in train to help to promote the same culture change and boost provision across the system. Within this, we are introducing neighbourhood justice panels to bring local victims, offenders and practitioners together. We are in the process of creating a clear national framework for the use of out-of-court disposals, which will include the use of restorative justice to improve its use and effectiveness. Through the National Offender Management Service, we are providing £1.13 million of training, guidance and support to staff and volunteers in probation trusts and in prisons to enable more post-sentence restorative justice processes. In the youth system, we are providing £630,000 to enhance the training of referral panel members and YOT workers so they can facilitate restorative justice conferences where suitable. We have recently published our victims’ strategy, which contains proposals in this area, including giving victims, for the first time, the right to request restorative justice in the victims’ code, which we hope will provide a much stronger emphasis on making restorative justice available to more victims of crime.
The Government are also about to consult on the use of community sentences, which will include a specific reference to restorative justice, looking at how to develop restorative justice across the range of the criminal justice system. Of course, respondents to that consultation may recommend new provisions. I hope noble Lords will contribute their wisdom to that process.
I can go further, because my noble friend Lord McNally has authorised me to invite the noble and learned Lord, Lord Woolf, to meet him and ministerial colleagues to see how his ideas on restorative justice fit in with what we are proposing. I hope that other noble Lords will play a part in this as well. I hope that the noble and learned Lord sees that as a useful way forward, so that restorative justice finds its proper place in our forthcoming consultation. I welcome the noble and learned Lord’s willingness to engage in this matter, and that of other noble Lords. I am extremely happy to ensure that his proposals on that move forward. I hope that the noble and learned Lord will be content to withdraw the amendment on that basis.
I thank the noble Baroness for that response and express my gratitude to others who have expressed support for the amendments. I firmly believe that they are an indication of matters that should be undertaken to take restorative justice forward as the noble Baroness just described. After the generous offer that was made for meeting with my noble friend Lord McNally, I am happy to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 152BZZA withdrawn.
Amendments 152BZZB and 152BZZC not moved.
Clause 73 : Overseas community orders and service community orders
152BZZD: Clause 73, Page 53, line 25, after “requirement)” insert “or (ja) (an alcohol abstinence and monitoring requirement)”
Amendment 152BZZD agreed.
Clause 75 : Breach of detention and training order
152BZA: Clause 75, page 58, line 24, leave out subsection (10)
Amendment 152BZA agreed.
Clause 80 : Removal of limit on certain fines on conviction by magistrates’ court
Amendments 152BA to 152BW
152BA: Clause 80, page 61, line 29, after “Where” insert “, on the commencement day,”
152BB: Clause 80, page 61, line 31, after “conviction” insert “on or after that day”
152BC: Clause 80, page 61, line 33, after “Where” insert “, on the commencement day,”
152BD: Clause 80, page 61, line 35, after “exercised” insert “on or after that day”
152BE: Clause 80, page 61, line 37, leave out “an offence or” and insert “—
(a) an offence is relevant if, immediately before the commencement day, it is a common law offence or it is contained in an Act or an instrument made under an Act (whether or not the offence is in force at that time), and(b) a”
152BF: Clause 80, page 61, line 39, leave out “offence or”
152BG: Clause 80, page 61, line 42, at beginning insert “the operation of restrictions on”
152BH: Clause 80, page 62, line 3, leave out from “and” to end of line 4 and insert “provision made in exercise of a relevant power in reliance on subsection (2) does not affect such fines or the operation of such restrictions”
152BJ: Clause 80, page 62, line 7, leave out from beginning to “for” in line 10 and insert—
“( ) The Secretary of State may by regulations make provision—
(a) for an offence in relation to which subsection (1) is disapplied to be punishable on summary conviction by a fine or maximum fine of an amount specified or described in the regulations, and(b) ”
152BK: Clause 80, page 62, line 12, leave out “a higher” and insert “an”
152BL: Clause 80, page 62, line 14, after “to” insert “—
152BM: Clause 80, page 62, line 17, at end insert “, and
(b) a relevant power which, immediately before the commencement day, can be exercised to create an offence punishable on summary conviction by such a fine or maximum fine.”
152BN: Clause 80, page 62, line 18, after “provision” insert “—
152BP: Clause 80, page 62, line 19, after “fine” insert “or maximum fine”
152BQ: Clause 80, page 62, line 19, leave out “a higher” and insert “an”
152BR: Clause 80, page 62, line 20, at end insert “, and
(b) for the power to be exercisable to create an offence punishable on summary conviction by such a fine or maximum fine.”
152BS: Clause 80, page 62, line 23, at beginning insert “the operation of restrictions on”
152BT: Clause 80, page 62, leave out line 26 and insert “and provision made in exercise of a relevant power in reliance on regulations under this section may not include such provision”
152BU: Clause 80, page 62, line 33, leave out from beginning to “amend” in line 34 and insert “Regulations under this section, and regulations under section 138 making provision in relation to this section, may”
152BV: Clause 80, page 62, line 45, at end insert—
“( ) Powers under this section—
(a) may be exercised from time to time, and(b) are without prejudice to other powers to modify fines for relevant offences or fines that may be specified or described when exercising a relevant power.”
152BW: Clause 80, page 63, line 4, at end insert—
“and references to an offence, power or provision contained in an Act or instrument include an offence, power or provision applied by, or extending to England and Wales by virtue of, an Act or instrument.”
Amendments 152BA to 152BW agreed.
Clause 81 : Power to increase certain other fines on conviction by magistrates’ court
Amendments 152BX to 152BYE
152BX: Clause 81, page 63, line 10, leave out “a higher” and insert “an”
152BY: Clause 81, page 63, line 19, leave out “a higher” and insert “an”
152BYA: Clause 81, page 63, line 26, at beginning insert “the operation of restrictions on”
152BYB: Clause 81, page 63, leave out line 29 and insert “and provision made in exercise of a relevant power in reliance on regulations under subsection (4) may not include such provision”
152BYC: Clause 81, page 63, line 36, leave out from beginning to “amend” and insert “Regulations under this section may”
152BYD: Clause 81, page 64, line 4, at end insert—
“( ) Powers under this section—
(a) may be exercised from time to time, and(b) are without prejudice to other powers to modify fines for relevant offences or fines that may be specified or described when exercising a relevant power.”
152BYE: Clause 81, page 64, line 6, after “power”” insert “, and references to a provision contained in an Act or instrument,”
Amendments 152BX to 152BYE agreed.
Clause 82 : Power to amend standard scale of fines for summary offences
Amendments 152BYF to 152BYH
152BYF: Clause 82, page 64, line 8, leave out “higher sums”
152BYG: Clause 82, page 64, line 10, at end insert “such other sums as the Secretary of State considers appropriate”
152BYH: After Clause 82, insert the following new Clause—
“Withdrawal of warrants of control issued by fines officer
(1) Schedule 5 to the Courts Act 2003 (collection of fines and other sums imposed on conviction) is amended as follows.
(2) In paragraph 7(1) (Part 3 of Schedule does not apply on an appeal against a further steps notice) for “or 37(9)” substitute “, 37(9) or 37A(4)”.
(3) In paragraph 37(7) (further steps notice must specify steps that fines officer intends to take) for “intends” substitute “wishes to be able”.
(4) After paragraph 37 insert—
“Issue by fines officer of replacement notice37A (1) This paragraph applies if—
(a) the fines officer has delivered to P a notice (“the current notice”) that is—(i) a further steps notice that has not been replaced by a notice under this paragraph, or(ii) a notice under this paragraph that has not been replaced by a further notice under this paragraph,(b) P remains liable to pay any part of the sum due, and(c) the fines officer wishes to be able to take one or more steps listed in paragraph 38 but not specified in the current notice.(2) The fines officer may deliver to P a notice replacing the current notice.
(3) A notice under this paragraph (a “replacement notice”) must—
(a) state that the fines officer intends to take one or more of the steps listed in paragraph 38,(b) specify the steps that the fines officer wishes to be able to take, and(c) be in writing and dated.(4) P may, within 10 working days from the date of a replacement notice, appeal to the magistrates’ court against it.
(5) If a step is being taken in reliance on a notice at the time when the notice is replaced by a replacement notice, the taking of the step may continue despite the replacement.”
(5) In paragraph 38(1) (list of steps referred to)—
(a) after “37(6)(b)” insert “, 37A(3)(a)”, and (b) in paragraph (a) (steps include issuing warrants that authorise taking control, and sale, of goods) for “levying” substitute “recovering”.(6) In paragraph 39 (powers of court on referrals and appeals)—
(a) in sub-paragraph (1)(c)—(i) after “37(9)” insert “or 37A(4)”, and(ii) after “further steps notice” insert “or replacement notice”, and(b) in sub-paragraph (4) after “further steps notice” insert “or replacement notice”.(7) In paragraph 40 (implementation of notice)—
(a) after “further steps notice”, in both places, insert “or replacement notice”, and(b) after “may be taken” insert “and retaken”.(8) After paragraph 40 insert—
“Withdrawal of warrant of control by fines officer40A (1) This paragraph applies if, in taking a step specified in a further steps notice or replacement notice, the fines officer has issued a warrant of control for the purpose of recovering the sum due.
(2) The fines officer may withdraw the warrant if—
(a) P remains liable to pay any part of the sum due, and(b) the fines officer is satisfied that the warrant was issued by mistake, including in particular a mistake made in consequence of the non-disclosure or misrepresentation of a material fact.Discharge of warrant of control by magistrates’ court40B (1) This paragraph applies if—
(a) in taking a step specified in a further steps notice or replacement notice, the fines officer has issued a warrant of control for the purpose of recovering the sum due, and(b) the fines officer subsequently refers P’s case to the magistrates’ court under paragraph 42.(2) The magistrates’ court may discharge the warrant if—
(a) P remains liable to pay any part of the sum due, and(b) the power conferred by section 142(1) of the Magistrates’ Courts Act 1980 (power of magistrates’ court to re-open cases to rectify mistakes etc) would have been exercisable by the court if the court had issued the warrant.Duty of fines officer if warrant of control withdrawn or discharged40C (1) This paragraph applies if condition A or B is met.
(2) Condition A is that the fines officer has withdrawn a warrant of control under paragraph 40A.
(3) Condition B is that—
(a) in taking a step specified in a further steps notice or replacement notice, the fines officer has issued a warrant of control for the purpose of recovering the sum due,(b) the fines officer has referred P’s case to the magistrates’ court under paragraph 42,(c) the magistrates’ court has discharged the warrant of control under paragraph 40B(2), and(d) the magistrates’ court has not discharged the collection order or exercised any of its powers under paragraph 42(2).(4) If P remains liable to pay any part of the sum due, the fines officer must—
(a) take (or retake) one or more of the steps specified in the further steps notice or replacement notice that was the last notice to be delivered to P under paragraph 37 or 37A before the warrant of control was issued, or (b) deliver to P a replacement notice and take one or more of the steps specified in that notice, or(c) refer P’s case to, or back to, the magistrates’ court under paragraph 42.””
Amendments 152BYF to 152BYH agreed.
Amendment 152BYJ had been retabled as Amendment 151AZA.
152BYK: After Clause 83, insert the following new Clause—
“CHAPTER 1AYoung adult offenders strategyYoung Adult Offenders Strategy
(1) The Secretary of State shall in each year—
(a) publish a strategy designed to promote the just and appropriate treatment of young adult offenders in the criminal justice process, and(b) appoint a person with responsibility for leading and co-ordinating the implementation of that strategy. (2) Publication under subsection (1)(a) shall be effected in such manner as the Secretary of State considers appropriate for the purpose of bringing the strategy to the attention of persons engaged in the administration of criminal justice and of the public.
(3) For the purposes of this section “young adult offender” means a person who is aged at least 18 but under 21 when convicted.”
My Lords, in an earlier debate today the noble Baroness, Lady Linklater, said that the two most vulnerable groups in prison are children and women. There is another group that is in many ways the most neglected as well as the most vulnerable, and that is young adults, who are in the halfway house between being children and adults. There is nobody in charge of them—they are lost souls. In the prison system, those in young offender establishments, or the split sites, are poor relations. Most facilities are given to children aged between 15 and 18, under the requirements of the contract let by the Youth Justice Board, and young offenders get what is left, which is frequently not enough to occupy them entirely. Whereas we have a Youth Justice Board concentrating on the needs of children and have had many reports, including that of the noble Baroness, Lady Corston, which we discussed earlier, dealing with women, there is nothing dealing with this group other than the Criminal Justice Alliance and the Transition to Adulthood Alliance, which consists of 13 organisations from the criminal justice, health and youth organisations that have been calling for a long time for something to be done about this.
In Committee, my noble friend Lord Adebowale and I mentioned the problems of this group, but largely in connection with the community. I want to mention that community trials have been going on but also to focus on imprisonment, because in our prison system at the moment young men of this age group are disproportionately represented. At the end of September 2011, there were 8,317 18 to 20 year-olds in prison in England and Wales. The sentenced numbers in this age group have gone up by 30 per cent since 1997. If we extend the age group to 18 to 24, which is frequently done, we find that although that group represents only one in 10 of the population, it represents one in three of those sentenced to imprisonment and of those in the hands of the probation service. They account for one-third of the total social and economic costs of crime to the nation. In other words, this group represents a particular problem within the criminal justice system, which to my mind does not appear to be properly settled, and indeed has not been for some time.
There are very promising signs. In Committee, we mentioned the success of the intensive alternative to custody schemes, which are being piloted and pioneered by the Greater Manchester and West Yorkshire probation trusts. They were tailored to the specific needs of this age group. The probation officers commenting on the schemes said, interestingly, that this was the first time they could remember having any hope of achieving anything on reoffending with this age group because at last there were programmes that were tailored to their needs. That was in stark contrast to comments made by the Chief Inspector of Prisons on young adults in one prison; he said that the young men were “sleeping through their sentences”. Commenting on young offenders in this group as a whole, he said that there was a lack of engagement in work, education and training opportunities across the whole YOI estate.
That cannot be sensible—certainly in terms of tomorrow—because if this group, who are so volatile in criminal activities, are being left to do nothing while they are in the hands of the criminal justice system, it must be a contributor to crime rather than a preventer of it. Commenting on the amendment that I put forward in Committee, the Minister warned that the Government did not have the resources to deliver intensive interventions with or supervision of this age group. I acknowledge that it is expensive. It is not a cheap option to do something with them, but on the other hand I put it to the Government that it is more expensive to do nothing and that we cannot afford that. What should we therefore best do?
Since Committee, I have had extremely productive meetings with the Minister, the Prisons Minister and Simon Boddis, who is the official in NOMS responsible for devising and introducing offender programmes—and who had the good fortune to be my principal psychologist when I was Chief Inspector of Prisons. I must admit that I have been encouraged by much of what I heard about what is going on, in areas such as the introduction of work and drug and alcohol treatment programmes. I have to admit, however, that I am concerned by the apparent overfocusing on payment by results, because I am uncertain whether payment by results really works when measuring reconviction. Who is responsible or not responsible for preventing reconviction? You really do not know which factor, which programme or which event it is, therefore how can you know exactly who qualifies for payment?
Yet in order even to have a payment-by-results regime, you have to have a structure in which it is conducted. What I do not see in the whole NOMS structure, as I have said on many other aspects of the system, is anyone in charge or being responsible for overseeing the programmes. Here you have a perfect example of the intensive alternatives to custody scheme in one part of the system. Why should that not be adopted in the other, and if it is all happening in NOMS, why should somebody not be driving it? If that happened, and if somebody was really focusing on the whole problem, the identification of what is needed and what can be done would be much sharper, and the expenses would become much clearer. Sensible planning would therefore be easier.
I know that some people have suggested that the age group should be 18 to 24, not 18 to 20. I disagree at the moment for practical reasons, because it would be possible to make a halfway step by inviting the chairman of the Youth Justice Board to take on responsibility for the 18 to 20s. That would put them under the same sort of focus as children have been under and leave the over-21s in the adult system. That is not to say that I do not recognise that there is considerable flexibility in this, because people mature at different ages and it may well be sensible to develop a system in future where we can take account of that. However, until and unless something is done this overrepresentation will contribute hugely to problems and expense in the future, and therefore it would seem sensible to put a structure in place now. While I admit that parts of this amendment are prescriptive, I believe what I have tabled to be the very minimum that it might be sensible to do to help resolve this very serious problem.
My Lords, in supporting this amendment, briefly, I very much agree with what the noble Lord has just said: that it is a halfway step. Yet better a halfway step than no step at all. I shall make two observations. I had the privilege for nine years of being the president of YMCA in England. I was particularly impressed by the work that it was doing with young people in prisons and detention centres. During that period, I became very concerned about exactly what preoccupies the noble Lord. It is almost as though we were deliberately building the foundations for a wasted and inadequate life, with future social costs and disruption, reoffending and the rest.
We know that society is becoming increasingly competitive and that it has huge pressures for the young. I say not simply on moral grounds, which I feel strongly about, but on the economic grounds that make absolute sense for the future of the country’s economy. To avoid the future expense of things going wrong repeatedly, and if we have any sense at all about rehabilitation and any commitment to it, these years are crucial. It is the very time that people are on the threshold of life, and they need to be equipped to face it. I make a personal plea to your Lordships: just think of our own families and of our own children and grandchildren in this age group. Think of the turmoil that they are faced with and the support that they need to sort out their lives for the future. Why are we ready to abandon these inadequate, neglected people to a system in which they are not getting any kind of support of that sort? I thank the noble Lord for having introduced the amendment, and I am glad to support it.
My Lords, what the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, has outlined as a beginning is a very important thought for the Minister. I hope that he will be able to adopt it. We all know what goes on in prisons with young people. We all know, and now all pretty well agree, that, early intervention, even in a prison situation, but preferably even earlier so that that does not happen, will in the long run save money. The flexible way in which what is proposed has been outlined allows the Minister to organise it in such a way that it can take account of the actual age of the individual. That will be a very good step in the right direction, whether or not it can be written into law. We have plenty of things to try to add to the law in addition to the ones on the agenda. I hope that it will be taken very seriously and that practical steps will be taken.
My Lords, I rise very briefly to endorse every word that the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, has said. How much it resonated with me. The older end of YOIs are famously inadequate and have been so for some time, no doubt partly because they are also a famously difficult group. The noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, highlighted the fact that these are very often young people in transition. Transitions are difficult and absolutely awful to go through. I have always said that I am never off my knees in gratitude that I will never have to be a teenager again. There is merit in the idea that they could be, as it were, somehow incorporated—that, if the arms of the YJB became wide enough, they could encompass them in some way. I am not entirely sure how much the YJB is in favour of such a proposition, but maybe there are ways of choreographing that. However, I have simply risen to say that the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, has put his finger on a very real and challenging problem.
The other day, I was visiting Merseyside Probation Trust, which is doing an incredible range of first-class work. Its IACs—intensive alternatives to custody—are particularly impressive. I spent some time with one girl who had been through it. She had form like you had never seen and she came singing the praises of the person from the probation service who had been working with her through this process. It was truly worth while in that case. Maybe it is very expensive—it is certainly very time intensive—but it is something that I, along with what the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, want to endorse.
My Lords, as I sit as a magistrate in both the youth and adult courts, I make one simple point. In the youth courts, we routinely say to youths, “You must behave. If you do not behave, you may come back to the adult court and of course that is a much more serious matter.” What we do not tell them is that the reason that it is a much more serious matter is because there is much less support for them in the adult court system. Everything that the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, said is absolutely right. We see a huge, disproportionate, number of young men from 18 to 24 years old. There are attendance centres, which do good work. I have been to a number. However, it is very minimal compared with the support that this group needs.
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, has identified very clearly the nature of the problem and has come forward with proposals to help deal with it. He made a number of points that are very telling. Perhaps a couple of other matters could be added to the issues he referred to. The first is perhaps implicit in what he was saying: the very high reoffending rates among this particular group. The second, and slightly different, point is that there is a disproportionate number of young offenders from black and minority ethnic backgrounds, which is an aspect that we have not much discussed in the course of the Bill. It is not a function of any greater criminality among that group. All the evidences suggest that, for whatever reason, the likelihood of a custodial sentence—or, for that matter, a refusal of bail at an earlier stage—is much greater for people from that group, compared to offenders with comparable offences. There seems to be an in-built bias against BME offenders, which is a matter that needs to be addressed. The other issue is what happens after certain custodial sentences are completed because, after short sentences there is, effectively, no follow-up. That is a significant contributor to the high reoffending rates.
I hope that this proposal—that there should be a requirement to produce a strategy for offenders in this group—commends itself to the Minister. The phrasing of the amendment is perhaps a little difficult in terms of what might be appropriate for statute. However, the principles that the noble Lord has advanced are surely ones that would commend themselves to the Minister. Again, I hope that he can either indicate policy acceptance of the thrust of the amendment or agree that he will consult further with the noble Lord, maybe with a view to bringing back at Third Reading something to meet the common objectives of the Government and Members of your Lordships’ House. Certainly, I would support the noble Lord’s aspirations in this respect.
My Lords, we keep coming round to these amendments from the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham. As he said, we have had debates in this House and bilateral meetings about them. There is a certain disagreement. The noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, seems to think—and I am sure that this will provoke him to get to his feet to say that I have got it wrong—that we have to have a strategy and a command structure and, after that, all will be well. I am old fashioned enough to believe that the buck stops with the Minister. The constant desire to have strategies is not a real substitute for doing things.
Having said that, I said earlier today that you do not have to be in this job long before you realise that we have too many women in our prisons. Neither do you have to be in this job very long to see that the 18 to 24 year-old age group among males is a key area for criminal behaviour. Therefore, we have to think very hard about how we break this cycle of criminality. The noble Baroness, Lady Linklater, acknowledges that this is a difficult group. I cannot quite agree with her about regretting that she is no longer a teenager. I would like to be a teenager again, but knowing what I know now. It is a pity that life does not give you that particular deal.
I said that if I knew then—let me get back to the speech. The noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham and the noble Baroness, Lady Linklater, acknowledged that the group we are discussing is a difficult one but that many of the ideas for dealing with it are extremely expensive. We are trying to deal with it but the Government’s view is that it is not appropriate to prescribe in detail from the centre processes which purport to improve outcomes. Such a way of working would lead to inflexibility and take up resources which are better deployed elsewhere. We are looking wherever possible to empower local decision-making and delivery by prison and probation trusts so that they use resources in a way that responds to local priorities. That also fits with our policy for the management of young adult offenders as individuals based on an assessment of risks and needs rather than their age.
The noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, is a bit premature in expressing doubts about payment by results. The Government believe that it is a key reform, and we expect it to deliver better outcomes for all offenders, including young adult offenders. Young adult offenders will be involved in the pilots at Peterborough and Doncaster prisons and—I think that the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, referred to this—in the local justice reinvestment pilots in Greater Manchester and a number of London boroughs. The same point applies to designating a person to lead and implement a strategy for young adult offenders. In particular, we seek to devolve resources and decision-making so that priorities can be set locally and needs assessed on an individual basis. I assure noble Lords that we will continue to be responsive to the need to improve outcomes for young adult offenders within the resources that we have available. I believe that the House will be reassured to know that the YJB is working closely with the National Offender Management Service and other key stakeholders on the transition of 18 year-olds from the youth justice system to the adult justice system. I should point out that many 18 year-olds who are near the end of their custodial sentence are held in the youth secure estate and are not transferred to the adult estate when this is considered to be in their best interests. This enables them to continue with education or training undertaken in the youth estate and avoids an unnecessary disruption close to their release.
As I say, I do not underestimate the scale of the problem which the 18 to 20 or 18 to 24 year-old sector faces, particularly as regards young males. More work needs to be done and more thought needs to be given to how we break into this cycle of criminality. However, we are taking a range of measures. We are consulting widely, piloting and, as I said at the very beginning, doing things which will address some of the problems in this area. In the light of that, I invite the noble Lord to withdraw the amendment.
My Lords, I expected that response. However, I remind the Minister that I have worked in Whitehall for many years. I do not disagree with him about Ministers being responsible; of course they are, but the question is how do they exercise that responsibility? They cannot do it on a 24 hour, seven days a week basis because they have many other things to do. Therefore, they need a structure to help them do it. The noble Lord referred to a command structure. You can call it what you like but it is a matter of people being responsible and accountable to a Minister for making certain that what the Minister wants to happen does happen. That happens everywhere—in schools, hospitals, businesses and the Armed Forces, but it does not seem to happen in the Prison Service.
I am very concerned about disseminating all responsibility down to the local level. I have said many times in this House that two things are involved in this. One is the question of what should be done, which is the central responsibility, but how it is done is the local responsibility. If you get that the wrong way round and nothing but “how?” comes out from the centre at the top and all the “what” is left down below in the local areas, you get confusion. People in the local areas need to know what they have to do. They should be allowed to disburse their resources locally as there will be different needs in different areas. That again seems to me common sense because unless you have a “what?” coming down, nobody knows where they are going. I have spoken to the chairman of the Youth Justice Board, and I understand that that body would be more than happy to tackle this measure. However, the chairman made the point that she did not want the youth offending teams involved in working with this age group. I accept that entirely. However, the success of the intensive schemes pioneered by the probation service shows that it is taking a keen interest in this group, and I see no reason to interrupt that. Therefore, it seems to me that the framework is there.
The Minister mentioned that a lot of things are going on but was not very specific. In the same spirit in which we have met to talk about many issues after Committee, can we meet to discuss this matter as it is far too important just to be left in the air at half past eight at night without, frankly, it being completely clear? I understand what he says about payment by results.
I am very willing to meet. The noble Lord knows how much I value his experience, expertise and commitment in this area. I am happy to meet him to discuss this matter as often as he likes. However, later this week I will be sitting down with ministerial colleagues to discuss a detailed report on the various areas of MoJ business with the civil servants with direct line responsibility for them. We will have gone through policy areas and will be looking at various policy outcomes. The idea that somehow the National Offender Management Service is drifting somewhere outside ministerial control or accountability or that it is not being set various tasks and responsibilities is just not true.
On the other side, as has been acknowledged, we are dealing with very difficult and straitened times. The resources available to target this area are extremely limited. We shall see whether we can involve payment by results as one way of getting good results and resources into this area. We do not doubt the problem. I am very willing to continue to have discussions with the noble Lord, but I do not want to give him any false hope that we can go down this way in this Bill.
I thank the Minister for that reply. In no way am I seeking to interfere; I am merely seeking to ensure that our commitment to this very important problem is properly recognised because we wish to share everything that he has shared with us that has come up from below to ensure that due account is given when we get an opportunity to do so.
I am not going to talk about payment by results because, as the Minister says, this is early days and the Government have set their sights on it; they have pilot schemes in place and we shall know more. It is premature to take more than that, other than to reflect concerns that are being reflected to me by people who have to operate it on the ground, particularly the small voluntary organisations which operate in this area and which are finding it enormously difficult to survive. In view of the fact that there is so much to play for in this area, it would be sensible to continue the dialogue. Therefore, I wish to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 152BYK withdrawn.
Amendments 152C and 152D not moved.
Schedule 11 : Amendment of enactments relating to bail
152DA: Schedule 11, page 205, leave out lines 1 to 5
My Lords, this group of amendments would remove the Government’s proposed amendments to the Bail Act 1976. The Government’s amendments remove certain exceptions to the presumption that bail should be granted to a defendant. Currently, bail can be withheld if judges or magistrates believe that the defendant will commit offences on bail, not turn up for subsequent court hearings, or interfere with witnesses. The Government seek to replace that with a no real prospect of custody test to make it far more likely that low-level offenders will get bail. Of course, currently the vast majority of low-level offenders already get bail.
The Government’s proposed changes are poorly thought through and could, in some cases, have the reverse effect to the one they intend. I understand that they are motivated by looking at the statistics of those who have received community sentences after they had been remanded in custody and then convicted at trial. They believe, in my view wrongly, that they will reduce costs by reducing the number of people who were originally remanded in custody.
I have come up with three practical examples which I believe will undermine the object of the Government’s proposed changes and the premise on which they are based. My first example is that of a sentencing bench. A sentencing bench sits and decides to give a community sentence where a defendant has previously been remanded in custody before trial. The sentencing court will know that, if it gives a prison sentence for a low-level but imprisonable offence, it is very likely that the defendant will walk free on the day of the trial or very shortly afterwards.
However, if the sentencing bench gives a community sentence, there is an opportunity for ongoing intervention by the probation service either through a tailored programme for drug rehabilitation, unpaid work or any of a number of courses that they can make. Of course, it is true that a court will be much better informed when it is giving a sentence than when it is making a decision about bail. I believe that it is misleading—and the Government are misleading themselves when they do so—to look at the bald figures of those who have been remanded in custody and those given community sentences.
My second example is of interfering with witnesses. I acknowledge that in another place an exception has been made in the context of domestic violence. I also accept the point made by the noble Lord in Committee when he said that interfering with witnesses is an offence. However, what about this following scenario: a neighbourhood dispute in which a bailed defendant is accused of interfering with witnesses and pleads not guilty? Of course, there will need to be a trial on the matter, but in the mean time the question of bail arises again. Surely the Government cannot be saying that the court cannot take into account a previous conviction of interfering with witnesses. That absolutely undermines everything that they are saying about putting victims at the heart of the criminal justice system. I find it impossible to imagine that they really inten