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Home Detention Curfew Scheme

4. Mr. Stephen Day (Cheadle): How many violent offenders have been released from prison early on the home detention curfew scheme; and if he will make a statement. [147090]

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5. Mr. Edward Leigh (Gainsborough): What categories of offences have been committed by prisoners released under the home detention curfew scheme while they were on the scheme; and if he will make a statement. [147091]

14. Mr. Geoffrey Clifton-Brown (Cotswold): How many prisoners, in what categories, have been released on the Government's early release scheme to date. [147100]

The Minister of State, Home Office (Mr. Paul Boateng): As of 31 December 2000, 30,409 prisoners had been released on home detention curfew since the scheme began in January 1999. Of those, 5,573 had been convicted of an offence of violence. A table showing the breakdown of the original offences committed has been placed in the Library. A total of 533 prisoners have been reported to the Prison Service as having been convicted, charged or pending prosecution for an offence allegedly committed while on curfew. A table showing a breakdown of the offences by category has been placed in the Library. The most common offence types are motoring offences and theft.

Mr. Day: The Minister will be aware that the latest figures show an increase of 21 per cent. in the number of robberies. Does he believe that there is perhaps a connection between that and the fact that the Government have released more than 1,200 robbers back on to our streets before they have served even half of their sentence?

Mr. Boateng: No, I do not. The hon. Gentleman really ought to bear in mind his Government's record on the issue. The Criminal Justice Act 1991 introduced measures that provide for early release before completion of sentence for every prisoner, including robbers. What we are about is better management of the transition from prison to custody. The strategy is working, because there is a 94 per cent. success rate, which is better than that for any criminal justice measure that the Conservatives were ever able to introduce.

Mr. Leigh: Will the Minister confirm that 1,035 further offences were committed by criminals while subject to the scheme--including: threats to kill, three; actual bodily harm, 22; woundings, six; assaults, 35; rapes, two; indecent assaults, one; burglaries, 46; robberies, 17; and drug offences, 111? What does the right hon. Gentleman have to say to the 1,000 people who were robbed, burgled, indecently assaulted, raped, assaulted or wounded because of his scheme?

Mr. Boateng: I know that the hon. Gentleman gives these matters more serious consideration than his question reveals. He knows that the home detention curfew scheme was supported by the all-party Home Affairs Committee. He knows that his colleagues the hon. Members for Aldershot (Mr. Howarth), for Surrey Heath (Mr. Hawkins) and for Woking (Mr. Malins) all supported the scheme, and did so because it has a failure rate of only 1.8 per cent. That is minuscule compared with the failure rate of schemes introduced by the Conservative party. The scheme is about

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protecting the public better and it ought to be welcomed by the all-party consensus that originally appreciated its benefits.

Mr. Clifton-Brown: Whatever gloss the Minister may put on the scheme, he will know that those who are subject to it include 4,671 drug dealers who have been sentenced to 22 months or more but let out having served less than half their sentence. The drugs problem is particularly serious in Gloucestershire--there has been a huge increase in the number of registered drug addicts since the election--so surely it cannot be right to let people out before they have served their full sentence. It is insidious. Will the right hon. Gentleman consider revoking this half-baked scheme?

Mr. Boateng: What I do know, as the hon. Gentleman knows, is that the Crime and Disorder Act 1998 is making a real contribution in his county to the multi-agency approach to crime reduction--a fact which he ought to celebrate. The home detention curfew scheme contributes to the controlled and measured rehabilitation and release back to the community that underpins the measure. It is sensible, it is making a difference and it is contributing to crime reduction. That is why the hon. Members for Woking, for Surrey Heath and for Aldershot supported it and why the overwhelming majority of hon. Members support it. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will come to support it and will abandon the mischievous and misguided campaign against it.

Mr. Simon Hughes (Southwark, North and Bermondsey): Does the Minister accept that, despite the home detention curfew scheme--and as Lord Woolf said in his lecture last week--the public are given no greater protection when we keep in prison for short sentences a significant number of people who pose little danger to society?

Does the Minister agree with us and with Lord Woolf that people who receive a short sentence with no rehabilitation work at all are actually getting what Lord Woolf called a "soft option"--and an ineffective option--and that community sentences would be far more effective? Will he review the sentencing policy that sends many people to prison for short periods with no work done on them that prevents reoffending? Will he also ensure that people who are ill or addicted are treated either in hospital or in the community, where they can be far more effectively rehabilitated and are less likely to offend again?

Mr. Boateng: Each type of person to whom the hon. Gentleman referred will have been sentenced by the courts. It is the Prison Service's duty to implement and carry out sentences imposed by the courts, which take all matters, including the home detention curfew scheme and other factors, into account when passing sentence. The court determines that it is necessary that those people be in prison, and the Government must make sure that prisoners are held in safe, decent and humane conditions while we address the causes of their offending. That is what we are doing. We are investing record amounts in that, and we shall continue to do so.

Mr. John Bercow (Buckingham): Is the Minister proud that the figure of 31,000 includes those guilty of

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manslaughter, of attempted murder, of actual and grievous bodily harm, of drug dealing, of cruelty to children, of sex offences, of burglary, of robbery, of violent disorder and, indeed, of affray? How does he justify the release, after serving only six weeks, or less than one third of their sentences, of no fewer than 218 people convicted of assaulting policemen? Why does he not understand that that decision on its own makes a mockery of his claim to support the police and is yet further proof of his Department's institutionalised wimpishness?

Mr. Boateng: The hon. Gentleman does himself no justice at all by that inane and absurd comment. He knows that our first duty is to protect the public. He also knows that the Criminal Justice Act 1991, as amended by the legislative provisions for the home detention curfew scheme, does that by controlling the release of those convicted and sentenced by the courts. It is the courts that determine the length of sentence. They impose a sentence knowing that in cases where individuals are eligible for it, the home detention curfew scheme will be the basis on which prisoners are released.

If the hon. Gentleman would like to join me in visiting his local prison and meeting the governor there, he will find out that the risk assessment carried out by the governor has contributed to the overwhelming success of the scheme. Ninety-four per cent. is a record for which Conservative Members would have given their right arm when they were in office.

Police Recruitment and Housing Costs

6. Mr. Desmond Swayne (New Forest, West): If he plans to meet chief constables to discuss recruitment and housing costs. [147092]

The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Jack Straw): Ministers meet chief constables frequently. The crime fighting fund will enable police forces to recruit 9,000 police officers over and above the number previously planned in the three years 2000-01 to 2002-03, with the aim of bringing numbers overall to record levels. Following the increase of £3,300 in the London allowance, which I agreed last year, an offer has been made of £2,000 for those working in the home counties forces within a 30-mile radius of central London, and £1,000 for those within a radius of 30 to 40 miles. The Police Negotiating Board is meeting on 8 February and I very much hope that an agreement will be reached without delay.

Mr. Swayne: The Secretary of State will be aware that the crime fighting fund has granted Hampshire an additional 82 officers in the current financial year, but that because of our inability to recruit them, we are having to ask that 62 of those be deferred to next year. That leaves us having to recruit 300 fantasy officers next year. The right hon. Gentleman's arrangements for London and the radius around it will make our position worse. What does he propose to do to address the economic realities facing recruits in Hampshire and the Isle of Wight?

Mr. Straw: The hon. Gentleman fantasises about a variety of things, and we are all aware of the phantoms in his life. I am pleased to reassure him that the increase in recruitment is real. In January 2001, there was an increase

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in the number of recruits entering training college of two and a half times--to 820--over the figures for January 12 months ago. The hon. Gentleman should bear in mind the fact that other home counties forces such as Sussex, Surrey and Kent do not have the recruitment difficulties that Hampshire is experiencing.

The hon. Gentleman asked me what we are doing about the problem in Hampshire. We have made an offer to the Police Negotiating Board. I hope that that offer or something very similar to it is quickly accepted. The sooner it is accepted, the sooner the genuine recruitment problems, which I recognise exist, will be sorted out. I am pleased to tell the hon. Gentleman that the chief constable of Hampshire, Mr. Kernaghan, wrote to me only last week to say that he was pleased to learn that the Home Office was addressing the needs of home counties forces.

Mr. Christopher Leslie (Shipley): When my right hon. Friend next meets the chief constable of West Yorkshire, will he discuss with him the plans to reorganise the divisional command structures in the Bradford district? There are extremely welcome plans to rationalise and reduce the amount spent on administration and bureaucracy, but we need to ensure that those resources can be redirected to increasing the number of front-line police officers even further.

Mr. Straw: I am happy to receive representations from my hon. Friend about the reorganisation of the Bradford district. That is a matter for the chief constable and the police authority. Many other chief constables and police authorities have reorganised their command structure, and as a result have assured the release of hundreds of additional officers for front-line duties.

Mr. Jonathan Sayeed (Mid-Bedfordshire): On 16 February last year, the Prime Minister said:

The Government are failing to get real waiting lists down, and they are failing to decrease the number of large secondary classes. Can the Home Secretary guarantee that there will be at least as many police officers at the time of the next general election as there were at the time of the last?

Mr. Straw: I am happy to be judged by the promises that we made, which included reducing class sizes in infant schools--not in secondary schools. That promise has already been met, and waiting lists have already been reduced. The Conservative party made mendacious promises about police numbers, promising an extra 5,000 police officers when funding was to decrease. We did no such thing. The promises that we have made about increasing the number of police officers year by year will be met, and by 2003-04 police numbers will be at record levels--no thanks to the Conservative party.

Mr. Bill Rammell (Harlow): When I discussed the issue of police recruitment in my constituency recently, I was told that one of the worst decisions affecting recruitment in the south-east in the past 10 years had been the abolition of the housing allowance by the previous Government in 1994. The £1,000 and £2,000 allowances

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are an effective response to the problem, but they have been on the table for some while now. Will my right hon. Friend press the Police Negotiating Board and the Police Federation to reach a speedy conclusion, because that will lead to higher recruitment in my constituency?

Mr. Bercow: Robert Halfon for Harlow!

Mr. Straw: I do not know who he is, but he certainly will not be for Harlow.

My hon. Friend the Member for Harlow (Mr. Rammell) is entirely right. I share his frustration with the proceedings of the Police Negotiating Board. I am afraid to say that, as a result of the difficulties that preceded my offer of a £3,500 increase for Metropolitan police officers, the process was unnecessarily delayed for months and months. I hope that local police federations representing the forces, especially in the home counties, will put pressure on their colleagues in the national federation to accept that this is the best offer that could be made; that the problems go back directly to the previous Government, who abolished the housing allowance altogether; and that our proposal will make a big difference to recruitment, not least in my home county area of Harlow.

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