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Baroness Wilcox: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that description of the changes required. We broadly welcome the move to modernise the settlement arrangements for UK securities, but I have two questions. I understand that the regulations are part of a process initiated following a consultation document. Do the regulations implement all the changes recommended by the consultation process? Will there be further consultation following the regulations to ensure that all is working smoothly? With those questions answered, we will be happy to support the regulations.

Lord Newby: My Lords, this is another set of regulations dealing with the rapidly advancing death of paper. The legislative framework always seems to be struggling to catch up with very rapid changes in how we do business. As someone who has just moved office and found to my slight surprise that in two years we had accumulated very little paper, which made the move a lot easier, I think it very important that the legislative framework is changed as quickly as possible to catch up with rapidly-changing business practices. On that basis, we support the regulations.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, I am grateful for the favourable reception of the regulations. I have two answers for the noble Baroness, Lady Wilcox. The first is that, yes, this is the end of the implementation of the changes on which

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consultation took place. The second is that, if there are further changes, there will of course be further consultation in advance.

On Question, Motion agreed to.

Release of Short-Term Prisoners on Licence (Amendment of Requisite Period) Order 2003

1.13 p.m.

Lord Davies of Oldham rose to move, That the draft order laid before the House on 10th April be approved [18th report from the Joint Committee].

The noble Lord said: My Lords, the purpose of the order is to lengthen the maximum curfew period spent by prisoners released on home detention curfew on electronic tag from three months to four-and-a-half months.

Home detention curfew offers eligible prisoners the opportunity to spend the final part of their sentence on curfew at their home address, or another suitable approved address. During the curfew period, which is usually between 7 p.m. and 7 a.m., they are electronically monitored by means of a tagging device and may not leave home. The monitoring equipment is extremely reliable. The tag cannot be removed without damaging it and has tamper-proof mechanisms which operate in such a way that all damage is reported immediately to the tagging contractors. Prisoners who breach the curfew are recalled to spend the remaining custodial period of their sentence in prison.

At present, prisoners serving sentences of between three months and less than four years may be released on home detention curfew for up to three months before their normal release date. All prisoners must, however, serve at least one quarter of their sentences in custody. Under the present provisions, prisoners serving 12 months or more can receive the full three-month period on HDC. Those serving less than 12 months spend shorter periods under HDC. For example, someone serving a sentence of six months would spend six weeks on HDC, and someone serving a sentence of 10 months would spend two-and-a-half months on HDC.

The effect of the order will be to increase the maximum period that a prisoner may spend on home detention curfew to four-and-a-half months, while leaving in place the requirement to serve a quarter of the sentence in custody. In practice, there will be no change to prisoners serving less than 12 months, and the full curfew period of four-and-a-half months will apply only to persons who are serving sentences of 18 months or more.

The order will not increase the size of the pool of prisoners eligible for consideration under the scheme, but those released following the normal eligibility and risk assessment processes will be released for a longer period, so adding to the numbers on HDC at any one time. Of course, the Prison Service has an overriding duty to protect the public, and no prisoner is placed on HDC without being subject to a risk assessment. The

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Home Secretary has statutory powers to recall any curfewee who breaches his curfew condition. Any offending by a curfewee is also a breach of their licence and can lead to a recall to prison.

The home detention curfew scheme has been a success in providing prisoners with a smoother and more effective reintegration into the community. Since its introduction in January 1999, the scheme has enabled 70,000 prisoners to rejoin society earlier, while still subject to restrictions placed on their liberty. HDC has an impressive track record. More than 90 per cent of those released on HDC have completed their curfew periods without any problems at all, and less than 2 per cent have re-offended during their period on HDC.

Where HDC is supervised by the probation service—that is the case for all young offenders and those serving 12 months or more—it provides a valuable tool for probation officers in influencing the behaviour of former prisoners. HDC can be used to keep offenders out of trouble during the early weeks following release when they are most likely to get into trouble. HDC requires curfewees to develop self-discipline, and can therefore bring order to what might otherwise be a chaotic and disordered lifestyle.

Research shows that governors assess risks very well indeed. Governors release prisoners only when they consider the risk to the public and the risk of breach to be low. Research on the operation of the first 16 months of the scheme published in June 2001 showed that 9 per cent of prisoners released on HDC re-offended in the first six months after release, compared to 40 per cent of prisoners who had not been released on HDC. That is a significant difference, as the House will recognise, and confirms the accuracy of the risk assessments that governors perform.

In view of the continued success of the scheme, the Government consider that the time is right to lengthen the curfew period further. Carefully assessed, suitable prisoners will be able to return to their families and resume employment or training earlier in their sentences, thereby helping them to make a smoother and more effective transition from custody to leading a law-abiding life within the community. Those were factors identified by the Social Exclusion Unit in its report as important in reducing the risk of re-offending by ex-prisoners.

The change will have an impact on the prison population. Although not its primary purpose when first introduced, HDC continues to play an important part in helping to manage the prison population by reducing overcrowding at the same time as improving the resettlement and rehabilitation opportunities available for less serious offenders. Presently, some 3,100 people who would otherwise be filling prison places are serving the last part of their sentence on HDC. We expect that the increase in the length of the curfew period will release up to 1,000 further prison places by November, which is the equivalent of two medium-sized prisons.

HDC has been a highly successful resettlement tool that has enabled prisoners to rejoin their families and the community earlier in their sentence in a structured

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and carefully monitored way. The fact that such large numbers of prisoners have successfully completed their period on HDC without breaching it or re-offending while subject to the curfew shows that the risk assessment process carried out by governors is working very effectively indeed. I assure the House that governors will continue to maintain their rigorous approach and will release prisoners on HDC only where it is safe to do so. Accordingly, I commend the order to the House.

Moved, That the draft order laid before the House on 10th April be approved [18th report from the Joint Committee].—(Lord Davies of Oldham.)

Lord Cope of Berkeley: My Lords, the noble Lord has set out the purposes of the order. We go along with what he says, but I want to raise one or two points.

The noble Lord said that about 1,000 additional prison places will be freed up under the order. He attempted to imply that that was not its purpose but was incidental. But it is no doubt extremely welcome to a Government who have got themselves into a position where the prison population is under great stress and where considerable overcrowding and difficulties are resulting from that.

The noble Lord laid some emphasis on the figures for re-offending, and encouraged us to believe in the accuracy of the risk assessment that governors make before releasing prisoners. He was right to emphasise the importance of that process. In the end, the public will judge the purpose of the order by whether those released re-offend more or less. So the risk assessment process is extremely important.

I am encouraged by the figures that the noble gave relating to the period since the introduction of the HDC scheme. The order adds slightly more risk but will be crucial to how the scheme is judged in the long run.

Lord Roper: My Lords, we on these Benches broadly welcome the order. We particularly appreciated the detailed statistics that the Minister provided in introducing it. When the order was debated in another place last month, the Liberal Democrat spokesman, Annette Brooke, asked a number of statistical questions. I am glad that the answers have now been given in this House. We appreciate the effort that has been made to provide them.

I agreed strongly with the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Cope, about further checking and examining the risks. We need to monitor this operation in order to ensure that it provides benefits, which we believe are important, but that we are not at the same time increasing the risks. We need more information about subsequent re-offending by those who have been tagged. However, there is great scope for making good use of electronic tagging. I believe that the co-operation between the Probation Service and the Prison Service which it provides is also extremely useful. Therefore, we are pleased to see the order before the House today.


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