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Lord Inglewood: My Lords, the jobseeker's agreement is being introduced to help jobseekers discuss, agree and set out their best route back to work. It will be a useful tool for each jobseeker in his search for work and will allow him to focus on the steps that he has agreed to take to find work and any restrictions that he has placed on his availability.
Each agreement will set out the jobseeker's intentions in terms of availability and actively seeking employment. The form of the agreement will also include a section which explains the help which the Employment Service offers to all jobseekers in their efforts to find work. The point about that is that the inherent obligations of the Employment Service are founded in statute rather than on a contractual relationship with the jobseeker in question. The agreement will not, and could not, stipulate in advance and in precise detail what help will be offered to individual jobseekers at particular points in their claim. Each jobseeker will have access to the full range of government help to assist in getting him back to work. That will be offered by the appropriate employment officer at the appropriate point in the claim and will depend on the needs that the jobseeker and the employment officer have identified at that time.
We return to the point we debated on the previous occasion to which the noble Lord, Lord McCarthy, referred. The jobseeker's agreement is not a contract. The jobseeker is not compelled to do precisely what is in it each week and neither is it sensible to bind the Government to particular forms of assistance from the outset. The point is that JSA is a conditional benefit. It is important that claimants should understand that conditionality. That is what the agreement is for. It sets out what the claimant agrees to do to meet the conditions of benefitno more and no less. What can be the difficulty with that? To me it is sensible that the claimant should have a clear view of what a particular claimant in particular circumstances needs to do to find work.
To some extent our debate has involved a series of semantic gymnastics but one point which the noble Lord, Lord McCarthy, raised related to the input which a jobseeker might have in the case of a dispute and adjudication about the agreement. We must return to the point which the noble Baroness, Lady Williams of Crosby, made on an earlier amendment; namely, that there is power for the adjudication officer to bring forward his own proposals if, having heard both the jobseeker and the employment officer, he feels that a different arrangement from that proposed by either is appropriate. This system envisages the involvement of the jobseeker to a greater extent than has been the case hitherto. In that way we believe that the jobseeker will be able to play a full part in mapping out the steps that he should take to get back to work.
Lord McCarthy: My Lords, the amendment does not refer to specific assistance. If it did, something slightly different might be provided in regulations. I am saying to the Government that if they do not like our words, they should put in some other words, but for God's sake, put some words in.
Secondly, the Minister says that it is not a contract. That is right but, of course, if the jobseeker breaks it he does not receive the benefit. In that sense it is a contract. It is not a contract because there is nothing which the jobseeker can enforce against the Employment Service. That is why it is not a contract. It is an imposition and if I were not in this House at this time of night I would say it was a bloody imposition. It is certainly an imposition.
Thirdly, the Minister says that the claimant must have a clear view and that that is the intention. Yet he will not agree to include in the contract anything which specifies or illustrates in any way what is the responsibility on the Employment Service side. I do not wish to go through all this. There are so many different ways in which we disagree. The Government's attitude towards the jobseeker and the jobseeker's agreement reminds me of Groucho Marx. In "Duck Soup",
The Earl of Lauderdale: My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time. I must declare an interest. The Bill was carried through in another place by my daughter, Lady Olga Maitland, to whom goes the credit for all the research leading up to it.
Noble Lords will be aware that prisoners who are allowed out on unescorted leave on home leave and temporary release schemes sometimes fail to return. Last year there were more than 5,000 breaches of the release rules, including failure to return. Of course, the failure of some prisoners to return is innocent: a prisoner may be ill; his transport may fail him; or his train may run late. But in such cases the facts are verifiable.
On the other hand, if prisoners do manage to stay unlawfully at large for more than five days, it is likely that as many as half might well commit further offences. For, with no legitimate means of support on the outside, there is a strong temptation to return to crime. So a prisoner may well go to ground, try to change his identity and make a concerted effort to avoid recapture. A worrying instance recently occurred and was reported in the press. On that occasion, a prisoner who had originally been sentenced to life for murder during an armed robberythe sentence later being reduced on appeal to 15 years for manslaughter was released on 9th April and failed to return.
Manifestly, such offenders should be swiftly recaptured if only to ensure the safety of the public. But, in such cases, surely it is right that the recaptured prisoner should face an extra criminal sentence, which this Bill would make possible. After all, it is a serious offence which deserves to be recognised in the criminal law. I mentioned that last year more than 5,000 prisoners failed to comply with the terms of their release. Some 12 per cent. were in fact punished, but with no more than a mere 28 days' extra imprisonment. Until the other day that was the most that prison governors could impose. So I welcome the Home Secretary's Statutory Instrument No. 983 dated 1st April. That spells out his decision to increase governors' powers, allowing them to impose up to 42 extra days. But, as things stand, that is still the most that prisoners have to fear. It means that they are not really afraid of the consequences if they do stay out over time.
Clause 1 would make it an offence to fail, without reasonable excuse, to return to a prison, a remand centre, or a young offenders institution; that is, on expiry of a period of temporary release or following notice of recall. The offence would henceforth be punishable with up to six months' extra prison, a fine of up to £5,000, or both, which would be imposed not by magistrates but by a court. That would remove a present anomaly. As things stand, any prisoner who escapes from custody commits a criminal offence in doing so. He is then subject to the full weight of the criminal law. But a prisoner who fails to return after temporary release can, under the present system, only be punished with up to 42 days more prison. Yet such failure to return is in fact akin to escape.
Clause 1(1) creates the new offence of failing to return after expiry of the release period or notice of recall. Subsection (2) excludes from the impact of subsection (1) those who will in future be held in secure training centres or in local authority accommodation. That is because, being in the youngest age group, they would only be given release in the first place into the control of a responsible adult. The youngster may not, therefore, be directly responsible for any failure to return.
Subsection (3) gives the courts power to impose a custodial sentence of up to six months, a fine of up to £5,000, or both. Subsection (4) provides that the offence should be taken to have been committed at the place whence the offender was released. Thus, it enables the offender to be tried at the nearest magistrates' court. Subsection (5) has the same effect as Section 49(5) of the Prison Act 1952 and would ensure that those on temporary release, and thus quite lawfully at large, who then stay out beyond the release period or notice of recall are deemed unlawfully at large. Subsection (6) provides that those unlawfully at large before this clause takes effect are not subject to the provision. That is to avoid any appearance of retrospective effect.
Clause 2 deals with another anomaly. At present, the police may enter and search premises without a warrant to arrest a prisoner who has escaped from lawful custody. They may also enter and search premises without a warrant for recapturing a prisoner unlawfully at large, such as those who have failed to return from a period of temporary releasebut only if they are in hot pursuit. The Bill removes that anomaly. It will save valuable time by enabling the police to enter premises to arrest a prisoner unlawfully at large, without first having to apply to a magistrate for a warrant.
Thus, Clause 2(1) amends Section 17 of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984, listing the conditions under which police may enter and search. Those paragraphs would allow the police to enter and search to recapture those from the categories listed. Both
Clause 3 refers to the Short Title, commencement and extent. The Bill extends only to England and Wales. Prisoners unlawfully at large in Northern Ireland and Scotland are already liable to prosecution. The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland has recently published a draft Order in Council to extend police powers there in line with the provisions of the Bill. The Bill would clear up important anomalies. It is a public safety measure. I commend it to your Lordships.
Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, I must confess that my first reaction to the Bill is a mixture of trepidation and suspicion. I say "trepidation" because, for some extraordinary reason, the Bill achieved all of its stages in another place not just in one day but in the space of perhaps one minute at the most, without any speeches being made on either side. I do not know whether Lady Olga Maitland has achieved a first in that respect; but, if she has, she certainly deserves objective congratulation. Therefore, I have nothing to go on except my own instincts. There was no debate in the House of Commons that I can refer to as a point of reference.
My suspicion is twofold, partly because I do not think that it is any secret that I am a long way on the political spectrum from the Maitland family, but also because I am instinctively opposed to the creation, especially by Private Member's Bills, of new summary offences and new police powers. But, having said that and after having considered the matter most carefully, I am bound to say that it seems that the Bill addresses two anomalies which need to be addressed.
The first anomaly is that the penalties available for those who are, in effect, escapers from prisonalthough overstayers are not escapers physically through the wallsare not available to those who outstay their home leave; and, secondly, the powers of search and entry which the police have for those who overstay home leave are not, and clearly should be, comparable to those applicable to prisoners who escape from prison. To that extent, and that is the fundamental point of the Bill, we shall not oppose the legislation. Indeed, I believe that it performs a useful purpose.
However, I have two reservations, one of which, if the noble Earl will forgive me, goes beyond the scope of the Bill and one which does not. The first reservation which does not go beyond the scope of the Bill is the reference in the noble Earl's speech to the 5,000 prisoners who breached the release rules last year. The question which I want to ask the Minister is: how many of those 5,000 breaches of the release rules were serious? The noble Earl said in his speech that if prisoners managed to stay unlawfully at large for
However, a high proportion of breaches of release rules occurred over very short periods of hours and certainly for fewer than five days. Those breaches were probably committed without intent or out of neglect rather than intent to commit further crimes. I suggest that we need to know whether there are really 5,000 people who are capable of committing further crime, or whether the problem is much smaller than was suggested by the noble Earl in his speech. That is a matter on which I think the Government could help us and it is important in our consideration of the Bill.
The second matter I wish to discuss was referred to by the noble Earl in his speech, and that is his welcome for Statutory Instrument 983 under which the Home Secretary is proposingand has probably now brought into effecta severe restriction on home leave. He announced in November of last year that he would introduce changes in the home leave rules which would reduce home leave by about 40 per cent. That is a severe restriction in home leave. It is a restriction to three particular categories of home leave which I shall not discuss now and it goes against the whole thrust of penal reform and penal policy over recent years. Indeed the noble and learned Lord, Lord Woolf, in his report on Strangeways in 1988 went so far as to say that it was important for the civilised conduct of prisons that there should be an extension of home leave, not a reduction.
I wonder whether the reaction of the Home Secretary to what may be a few cases of further offending while prisoners are on home leave may not have been in the wrong direction rather than in the right direction. I shall not go into that matter at the moment because the order to which the noble Earl referred is before the House under the negative procedure and I have today prayed against that order. I understand that I have been allotted a slot on Tuesday evening which will allow me to express these doubts in more detail. It would, of course, be quite wrong to anticipate, other than in the form of a trailer, the arguments which I shall be putting forward. However, the noble Earl tempted me by referring to his approval for the order. Indeed he can take some responsibility for the fact that, having looked it up, I found myself dissatisfied with it and have prayed against it. However small the numbers may be, the anomalies which are mentioned in the Bill and are corrected in the Bill need to be addressed, and we will not oppose this Bill at this stage or at any later stage.
The Minister of State, Home Office (Baroness Blatch): My Lords, I congratulate my noble friend Lord Lauderdale on his excellent speech. It is rareindeed I believe it may even be the first time everthat a
I can assure your Lordships that the Government fully support my noble friend's Bill. The provisions of the Bill are fully in accordance with the report of the recent working party set up by my right honourable friend the Home Secretary to look into the existing home leave and temporary release schemes. As a result of this review, my right honourable friend announced in his speech in another place on 18th November that the Government believed that a new offence of failure to return from a period of temporary release should be created.
The temporary release of suitable prisoners helps them in the process of preparing for the eventual return to the community. Evidence shows that prisoners who have a job to go to, a secure family environment and skills developed by training or education, are less likely to reoffend than those released "cold" into the community. However, the Government recognise and share the public concern about the potential for abuse that these schemes may on occasion offer. In the past, the balance was too much in favour of prisoners and did not give sufficient weight to the need to maintain public safety or to the concerns of victims.
For that reason, we have recently introduced a new scheme of release on temporary licence. This new scheme is more sharply focused to ensure that prisoners are released only for precisely defined and specific purposes which cannot be provided in prisons. The scheme incorporates a new enhanced collaborative risk assessment, which involves in a more pro-active way outside agencies such as the police and probation services. The safeguards we have introduced are designed to prevent prisoners who present any unjustifiable risk to public safety being released.
These new safeguards will enable us to guard against excessive use of the grant of temporary release which may have taken place in the past. It is never possible, though, to guarantee that any system will be infallible; and the provisions continued in this Bill will ensure that, where offenders abuse the new scheme, they can be swiftly recaptured and appropriately dealt with.
As my noble friend Lord Lauderdale has indicated, the Bill also would enable other offenders, such as those who failed to return to prison when recalled from parole licence, to be swiftly recaptured. These further measures will contribute towards improved public safety. I know that the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, at least gave me notice of one of the questions he wished to ask.
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