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Lord Filkin: I should like to read some general principles into the record and turn to the specifics later on.

Amendment No. 204L requires the Secretary of State to exclude prisoners who are likely to commit an offence during the curfew period from release under the scheme. The well established risk assessment process carried out by prison staff already takes into account the likelihood of reoffending. In fact, it is, self-evidently, one of the central focuses for making that judgment. Governors do not, nor should they, release prisoners if they consider that there is a significant risk that the prisoner will reoffend during the curfew period. It is impossible for the risk assessment process to guarantee a successful curfew, but governors have proved themselves to be effective assessors of risk. The vast majority of curfewees—if I can use that expression—complete the curfew period without any problems at all. Less than 3 per cent of curfewees are reported to reoffend during the curfew period.

The noble Viscount, Lord Bridgeman, also asked the question the other way round. In a sense it was a comment on the risk assessment and on preventing the early release of people who should not be released early. It is almost impossible to know what people who had not been released might have done if they had been released. I am not being flippant—all we know is what happened to those who were released. Again, one would expect that governors, mindful of their duties, would be prudent and cautious on early release as the statistics I have given bear out.

Amendment No. 204M seeks to prevent prisoners previously released on HDC being released on the scheme at any time in the future. The amendment would limit the scheme to prisoners who had never previously been released on HDC, even where they had completed the curfew period successfully. We consider that the risk assessment process adequately takes account of the previous criminal history of prisoners and persistent offenders, and that it would be unduly harsh to limit eligibility to first-time offenders.

Amendment No. 204D seeks to establish a right for the sentencing court to prohibit an offender's future release on HDC,

The amendment would mean that sentencers could direct, at the point of sentence, that an offender must not be released on HDC. Suitability for HDC might therefore be determined months or even years in advance of a prisoner's release date and would remove the discretion of the Secretary of State—or, more specifically, the governor—in the decision-making process.

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HDC assessments are purposely undertaken near to the potential date for release so that the most relevant and up-to-date information is taken into account. That feels right. For example, behaviour in custody, success in addressing offending behaviour and domestic circumstances are all matters which are most appropriately considered near to the release date. In some cases it is only near to the release date that they can be considered. The seriousness of the original offence and the previous criminal record are also taken into account and should be taken into account.

Amendments Nos. 204E, 204F and 204G seek to limit the maximum eligible sentence length to 14, 10 and seven years respectively. The amendments would, in varying degrees, limit access to early release for longer sentence prisoners. This would reduce the resettlement opportunities for such prisoners and would have a detrimental impact on prison population projections.

Resettlement opportunities are the central focus. HDC is intended to make resettlement more likely. People who are serving long sentences will come out at some point in time—that is a fact. The issue is how to maximise the success of that. The discretion is with the governors; they have to make the judgment. It is not a question of whether to impose a custodial sentence—that has already been decided by the court—but whether to grant abatement. It is wise to give them that discretion across the full span of offences. No doubt they will be even more mindful of people who are serving longer sentences and have had repeated criminal convictions when they exercise that judgment.

Amendments Nos. 204H, 204J and 204K seek to exclude broad categories of offenders on the basis of offence committed rather than the risk presented at the point of release. For the same reasons, we think that the assessment of the risk of reoffending at the point of release is the right point at which to make the decision. It is good that it is not unduly fettered.

Amendment No. 204H seeks to exclude prisoners who have committed an offence against a child within the meaning of Part 2 of the Criminal Justice and Court Services Act 2000. But many of the offences listed in that part are sexual offences which already render prisoners statutorily ineligible in these circumstances. Offences involving child cruelty fall under the administrative presumption against release, which was introduced on 14th July 2003. So I hope that gives strong comfort to the noble Viscount, Lord Bridgeman.

Amendment No. 204J seeks to exclude prisoners serving sentences for offences involving the production and dealing in class A drugs. Amendment No. 204K seeks to exclude prisoners serving sentences for violent and sexual offences listed in Schedule 12. This would exclude those not given extended sentences for these offences.

Prisoners subject to the registration requirements of the Sex Offenders Act 1997 are already excluded from HDC. Other sexual offenders and some violent offenders are subject to the administrative presumption against release.

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Amendment No. 204N—the last amendment in this group, noble Lords will be relieved to hear—seeks to exclude prisoners who have previously been released on HDC and have been recalled for breaching the curfew conditions.

The reason the Bill removes the exclusions set out in the 1991 Act is that it was considered that previous HDC breaches, which may have taken place a number of years ago, would unnecessarily limit access to HDC for otherwise suitable prisoners. One trusts that prison governors are not foolish. For someone who has previously breached an HDC, the burden of the governor's consideration as to whether that person is likely to breach in the future must be a material consideration. But we do not think there should be an automatic exclusion because there could be circumstances in which a governor quite wisely decides there has been a change of behaviour sufficient to justify the release.

I was also asked whether the amendments are compatible with the ECHR and our own Human Rights Act. They are indeed, although if it would be helpful I would be delighted to write in more detail to the noble Viscount, Lord Colville, on that point, with copies to those on the Opposition Benches.

I was asked about the risk assessment process. Governors consider a range of issues before deciding to grant release, such as current offences, previous criminal history, behaviour in custody and success in addressing offending behaviour. They also judge the risk of breaking the curfew or of reoffending during the curfew period. Each individual case is different, and the risk assessments and process reflect that. Those convicted of drug dealing offences are not considered for release under the presumptive scheme, and governors may refuse release if there are compelling reasons for doing so.

I fear that I am in danger of boring the Committee. Let me conclude by saying that 90 per cent of offenders have successfully completed HDC without any problems, and less than 2 per cent have been reported as reoffending on HDC. I hope that clarification is helpful.

Viscount Colville of Culross: I am grateful to the Minister for saying that he will write to me. I am interested only in the point in relation to Amendment No. 204L, because it is different from the others. If he could tell me about that, it would be quite enough.

Lord Filkin: I was threatening not a very long letter, but a focused letter on that specific point.

Viscount Bridgeman: I am grateful to the Minister for undertaking to write to the noble Viscount, Lord Colville, as the question was addressed jointly to me. I am also grateful for a comprehensive reply. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 204E to 204M not moved.]

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Baroness Scotland of Asthal moved Amendment No. 204MA:

    Page 137, line 34, at end insert—

"(ff) the prisoner has been released on licence under this section during the currency of the sentence, and has been recalled to prison under section 244(1)(a),"

On Question, amendment agreed to.

[Amendment No. 204N not moved.]

Baroness Scotland of Asthal moved Amendment No. 205:

    Page 138, line 11, leave out paragraph (a).

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 236, as amended, agreed to.

Clauses 237 to 239 agreed to.

Clause 240 [Licence conditions]:

Baroness Scotland of Asthal moved Amendment Nos. 205A to 208:

    Page 139, line 37, after "(6)" insert "and section (Licence conditions on re-release of prisoner serving sentence of less than 12 months)"

    Page 140, line 1, after "include" insert—

"(i)" Page 140, line 5, at end insert "and

(ii) such other conditions of a kind prescribed for the purposes of this paragraph as the Secretary of State may for the time being consider to be necessary for the protection of the public and specify in the licence." Page 140, line 31, leave out from "licence" to end of line 32 and insert "at any time while a curfew condition required by section 242 is in force"

    Page 140, line 36, after "subsection" insert "(2)(b)(ii) or"

On Question, amendments agreed to.

Clause 240, as amended, agreed to.

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