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The Minister of State, Home Office (Lord Williams of Mostyn): The arrangements for release on resettlement licence (introduced in 1995 as part of the release on temporary licence scheme to replace the previous system of home leave) already allows eligible prisoners, subject to their passing a risk assessment, to be temporarily released on licence in order to maintain family ties and links with the community and to make suitable arrangements for accommodation, work and training on release. Release on resettlement licence may be granted for periods of up to five days, normally at a frequency of no more than once every eight weeks.
In addition, most prisoners serving sentences of three months and over but less than four years will be considered for the new home detention curfew scheme. Under this scheme, if the prisoner passes a risk assessment and has a suitable address, he or she may serve up to the last two months of the custodial period of their sentence in the community, subject to a curfew order which is electronically monitored.
Prisoners serving sentences of four years or more will be considered by the Parole Board for parole at the half-way point of sentence. Prisoners not granted parole are released automatically at the three-quarter point of sentence.
Lord Williams of Mostyn: Most female prisoners serving sentences of three months or over but under four years will be eligible to be considered for the new home detention curfew scheme. No prisoner will be placed on home detention curfew unless they pass the risk assessment. From 28 January to 4 March, 130 female prisoners were placed on home detention curfew.
Lord Williams of Mostyn: Information in the form requested is not available. However, of the 3,194 females in prison in England and Wales on 31 January 1999, 485 (15 per cent.) were recorded as being foreign nationals.
Lord Williams of Mostyn: The recent report of the Home Affairs Committee in another place into alternatives to prison sentences suggested that the Government should consider looking at the feasibility of weekend prison. The Government's reply to the report (Alternatives to Prison Sentences, Cm 4174) explained that, although ideas such as intermittent or weekend imprisonment had been considered and rejected as impractical in the past, the Home Office had looked at the idea again in the light of recent developments such as electronic monitoring. It had, however, concluded that, from an operational perspective, it would be difficult to manage the logistics of such an arrangement.
Those prison places made available by those on home leave would not necessarily be either sufficient or in the right locations for those given weekend sentences. Extra staff would also have to be drafted in, not only at individual establishments to manage the reception and regimes of such prisoners but also centrally to manage and co-ordinate the process. The Government are, however, currently considering the possibility of using suspended sentences, by themselves or in combination with community penalties or supervision, to deal with particular types of offender.
Lord Williams of Mostyn: We are working with the Hereford and Worcester Probation Service to develop its supervision programme for women offenders so that it takes account of the best available evidence on what reduces offending by women. This is one of a portfolio of high quality supervision programmes which all probation services will be encouraged to adopt in due course. Guidance to services will be issued when the programme has reached the standard necessary for it to be accredited by the new joint prison and probation panel which is now being set up.
Lord Williams of Mostyn: Section 1 of the Powers of the Criminal Courts Act 1973 enables a court to defer passing sentence on an offender only to enable it to have regard to the offender's conduct after conviction or to any change in circumstances. There is no power to defer sentence to enable people to arrange childcare and such a change would require legislation.
Where a custodial sentence is likely to be imposed, national standards require the writers of pre-sentence reports to identify any expected adverse effects for offenders and their family, including the issue of childcare where appropriate.
On 3 December last year the Director General of the Prison Service announced a full review of the principles, policies and procedures for mothers and babies/children in prison. The review will consider the needs of mothers in prison from a much wider perspective than simply reviewing the provision of mother and baby units. Its report will shortly be submitted to the director general with recommendations for a future strategy. We will carefully consider this report and decide what additional measures are necessary in the light of its findings.
Lord Williams of Mostyn: No decision has been made as to whether the United Kingdom should accede to the Council of Europe Convention for the Protection of Pet Animals. The Government are not intending to commence a review of the matter before next year.
Lord Williams of Mostyn: The provisional aggregate budget for 1999-2000 for community health councils in Wales is £1.349 million, including contingencies and training costs. However, the total aggregate budget will be subject to the Secretary of State's final spending decisions for health.
Lord Williams of Mostyn: The information requested is not available. With several million visitors arriving in the United Kingdom every year, it would not be feasible to maintain complete records of all arrivals without excessive cost.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean): Under the Code of Practice on Access to Government Information, we cannot disclose information we have received in confidence from a foreign government.
Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: The Government stand by the commitment in the Preamble to the 1969 Constitution. We also accept the Brussels process set up by the United Kingdom and Spain in 1984. The Spanish proposals were made under this process and Her Majesty's Government have said that we will respond to the proposals in the next meeting of that process. We have therefore been fully consistent in our approach.
Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: We have no plans to request a copy of what is a report commissioned by a foreign government for their own purposes.
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