HC Deb 03 July 2000 vol 353 cc20-79
Madam Speaker

I have selected the amendment in the name of the Prime Minister.

3.31 pm
Miss Ann Widdecombe (Maidstone and The Weald)

I beg to move, That this House condemns the Government's policy of giving prisoners special early release on the Home Detention Curfew scheme; deplores the fact that more than 20,000 convicted criminals, including thousands of drug dealers and traffickers, robbers, burglars and violent offenders, have been released from prison under the scheme before serving even half the sentences they were given by the courts; regrets that child sex offenders and others have been released on the scheme before serving the minimum period required by law and contrary to the explicit assurances given to the House by Ministers; notes the contradiction between the recent comments of the Home Secretary and the Prime Minister's spokesman that violent criminals should serve longer prison sentences and the Government's policy that has resulted in the special early release of thousands of violent criminals on the scheme; calls on the Home Secretary to act on his word and end the release of robbers and other violent criminals on the scheme immediately; calls for the scheme to be abolished completely; and calls on the Home Secretary urgently to clarify the Government's prisons policy. For all their rhetoric, the Prime Minister and the Home Secretary have not shown the toughness on crime that they promised to show. The more desperate they get, the bigger fools they make of themselves; but the electorate, at least, can no longer be fooled. The facts are that police numbers have fallen by more than 2,300 since the Government came to power, the number of constables has gone down, and crime—especially violent crime—is on the rise once more, after the substantial falls brought about during the last Parliament.

One of the Government's responses to a rising crime rate is to resort to gimmicks, such as the Prime Minister's announcement of £100 spot fines, which senior police officers are queueing up to describe in the media as ludicrous and ridiculous. This was the usual exercise of headlines and spin, reannouncements of old policy, and gimmicks designed to grab a cheap headline. I am sure that the Prime Minister hopes that the fines will not go the way of his other gimmicks, such as the child curfew orders. After 20 months, we are still waiting for one to be used.

On this occasion, the Prime Minister has made an utter fool of himself. He has solemnly proposed that a policeman should approach a drunken yob and demand a £100 fine. When said drunken yob has managed to straighten himself enough to explain that he does not have £100 on him, the policeman—according to the Prime Minister—will accompany him to a cash dispenser, where he will in his drunken state instantly recall his PIN and solemnly produce his bank card, then withdraw £100 and give it to the officer. If that is the best that the Prime Minister can manage in the face of rising crime, it is pathetic.

Mr. Douglas Hogg (Sleaford and North Hykeham)

Will my right hon. Friend include in her criticism of the Prime Minister the point that that is manifestly incompatible with the European convention on human rights, which the Home Secretary recently incorporated into our law?

Miss Widdecombe

The Prime Minister, however, does not concern himself with details like that. He just wanted a quick headline. He just wanted to say something that sounded tough, regardless of whether he could implement it—never consulting the police, never asking whether the measure was practical and never testing his proposal. He just wanted a "Let's sound tough" headline, which has rebounded thoroughly and deservedly on him.

The Home Secretary will probably be relieved that we are not debating those fines today. Opposition Members would love to do so, but I am afraid that they had not been announced when we tabled the motion, so we are going to debate another of the Government's responses: letting more and more prisoners out of jail earlier and earlier.

Mr. Simon Hughes (Southwark, North and Bermondsey)

As the right hon. Lady knows, I do not always agree with her. However, on that general issue, and before she moves on to address the specific issue of this debate, let me ask her a question. Is she aware that the Prime Minister's announcement to the academics of Tübingen—who might not have been overly interested in that particular bit of ethical, theological or international political reflection—was made without information on it being passed to the Home Office? On Friday, the Home Office said that it knew nothing about the proposal, and, therefore, could not comment on it.

Miss Widdecombe

I do not think that I want to intrude on the private grief of this very unjoined-up Government—let us spare them any more blushes. I notice, however, that no Labour Members have jumped up to defend that ludicrous policy and that ludicrous announcement. They have failed to do so because, of course, they have absolutely no defence. Even those who are in places that we cannot see are falling apart laughing.

The far more dangerous policy, which we should be discussing now, is that of prisoners coming out of jail early. The Home Secretary's special early release scheme has seen more than 20,000 convicted criminals released before serving even half the sentence that they were given in court. Of course, it is likely that the up-to-date figure is substantially higher than that—I would estimate that it is probably about 23,000—but I am unable to say that certainly because, so far, there has been no answer to the parliamentary question tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Lidington), although he tabled it for answer two weeks ago.

Those who have been released on the scheme may be so-called short-term prisoners, but they are definitely not minor criminals. They are criminals guilty of some of the very worst crimes, such as manslaughter, attempted murder, drug dealing, violent assaults, robbery and burglary. They have been given the "get out of jail free" card by the Prime Minister and the Home Secretary. Criminals sentenced by the courts to six months are getting out of jail in just six weeks-tough on crime, indeed.

Opposition Members completely support the use of electronic tagging, but not as a substitute for serving the right jail sentence. Indeed, we pioneered tags in the face of opposition from Labour Members. What we do not support is the Government's decision to hide behind tagging to let tens of thousands of criminals out of prison before they have served even half the sentence handed down by the courts. We have made that crystal clear from day 1.

When the Home Secretary first announced that ludicrous policy, in November 1997, my right hon. Friend the Member for North-West Cambridgeshire (Sir B. Mawhinney) said: Today, we have seen a significant shift in this country's penal policy…when this bit of the crime and disorder Bill comes before the House, we will resist it—[Official Report, 20 November 1997; Vol. 301, c. 456.] And we did. When the Bill came before the House, my hon. Friend the Member for Ryedale (Mr. Greenway) said: We oppose the early release of prisoners under the scheme. He also said that what the Government are doing is wrong—[Official Report, 23 June 1998; Vol. 314, c. 925–28.] Therefore, the Home Secretary's previous attempts to portray this as a policy supported by the Opposition are every bit as bogus as his fiddled pledge on police numbers.

Today's debate is all the more relevant in the light of the recent comments of both the Home Secretary and the Prime Minister's spokesman. During the policing of London debate, 10 days ago, the Home Secretary told the House: We want to send a clear message to violent criminals that they can expect the stiffest penalties if they commit robberies or other street crimes.—[Official Report, 23 June 2000; Vol. 352, c. 560.] The Home Secretary told the House that he could see no justification for the over-lenient sentences being imposed for robbery in the Crown court. However, he knows very well that he himself has let hundreds of robbers out of prison before serving even half their sentence. What is the point of condemning the courts for over-lenient sentences when, by his personal decree, even those that they give are not served?

When I called on the Home Secretary, in the light of his comments, to stop letting robbers out on his special early-release scheme, he wrote to me saying that his "tough stance on robbers" was not inconsistent with continuing to allow them to serve less than half their jail terms. He said that he saw no justification for the automatic exclusion of robbers from the special early-release arrangements. Indeed, he tried to justify his policy by arguing that he was not really releasing serious robbers—only minor robbers.

The Home Secretary wrote that the average sentence length of the convicted robbers placed on home detention curfew was just over two years, which is well below the current average of three years. Without detracting at all from the seriousness of each individual crime. I think you will nonetheless agree that this gives an indication of the relative seriousness with which the courts regarded each of the offences in question. However much the Home Secretary tries to wriggle out of the situation that he has created, he has palpably failed to ensure that robbers have faced the stiffest penalties. Some 811 convicted robbers were released on his scheme up to 30 April this year. The average sentence given to them by the courts was 26 months. The average sentence served was just 11 months. Far from ensuring stiffer penalties, that is ensuring lighter penalties. The courts are not to blame—he is to blame.

The Home Secretary has made it clear, with considerable effrontery, that the policy will continue. On Thursday, The Sun—a splendid paper, which appeared to have been briefed extensively by the Prime Minister's spin doctors—reported: New figures show that there are 4,000 "vacancies" in Britain's jails. No doubt the Home Secretary will explain exactly to the House what these new figures are. If there are 4,000 vacancies and if the Prime Minister really is so committed to seeing violent and serious criminals locked up, why not use half of those spaces for the 2,000 criminals who, even as we speak, are on special early release?

Are there indeed 4,000 spaces? Why are there 4,000 spaces? Where are the 4,000 spaces? I was surprised when I read that story and I will give the Home Secretary every opportunity to tell us whether it was a mistake. Does he want to correct it from the Dispatch Box now? Apparently not.

A spokesman was reported as saying: There is a growing problem with violence in Britain. The Prime Minister is convinced there is only one way to deal with it and that is to send the message that those responsible will be caught and put away for long periods. There is no excuse for dealing with the situation in any other way. Perhaps the Prime Minister's office might like to have a word with the Home Secretary's office, because that has not been the Government's policy up to now. I was under the impression that the Government's thinking on prison sentences was summed up by the words of the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, the hon. Member for North Warwickshire (Mr. O'Brien), who said: We should not make a totem of the length of time spent in prison.—[Official Report, Standing Committee B, 4 June 1998; c. 697.] No doubt the Prime Minister's spokesman will be seeking an early opportunity to have a quiet word with the Under-Secretary and hear his excuses.

The Government's actions in releasing thousands of violent criminals early fly in the face of the Prime Minister's personal promises and those of his Ministers. Perhaps the Prime Minister—who promised in his manifesto to support the police—took time today to explain to the chief constables attending his so-called crime summit exactly why his Government have allowed out more than 100 criminals convicted of assaulting police officers on his special early release scheme, and why he ordered Labour Members to troop into the Lobby on 12 July to support that policy and to vote against the Opposition's amendment to stop it? Perhaps he will now order them to present themselves within seven days at their local police stations to explain their actions. That was yet another kick in the teeth from the Labour Government for the men and women of our police service.

Did the Minister of State, Home Office, the hon. Member for Norwich, South (Mr. Clarke), tell the chief constables why, after he called over the new year for dangerous drivers who killed to be locked up for life, the Government have allowed more than 100 of them to serve less than half their sentences? Perhaps the Prime Minister—who promised to fight the drugs menace—told the chief constables why thousands of drugs dealers and traffickers have been let out of jail on special early release. Or did the Home Secretary explain why, when the Government have in recent days promised—yet again—to crack down on violence and yobbery, hundreds of violent yobs, convicted of affray and even violent disorder, have also been let out early on the special early release scheme?

The Government's prisons policy is a shambles. Far from being tough on crime, they have let out more than 20,000 convicted criminals to the comfort of their own homes. We even heard yesterday of one prisoner being let out on the scheme having been tagged on his wooden leg. He substituted the tagged leg for another false leg and went out drinking until all hours. Home Office business as usual. Dozens of criminals have been tagged and let out early, and have disappeared completely.

Dr. Julian Lewis (New Forest, East)

In this lighter mood, does my right hon. Friend think that the new haircut being sported by the Minister of State is part of the Government's attempt to acclimatise society to what we can expect when more and more people are released early?

Miss Widdecombe

I had better let the Minister speak for himself on that score. The hairstyles of Members on both sides of the House have recently come in for some comment.

Mr. John Bercow (Buckingham)

My right hon. Friend referred to drugs. Given that—quite apart from statements by the Prime Minister—the Labour manifesto promised a battle against drugs and gave a commitment to tackle the modern menace of drugs in our communities, is it not a particular disgrace that no fewer than 2,767 drug dealers have been let out early on the Government's ridiculous scheme?

Miss Widdecombe

It is a disgrace, and it is proof positive of the utter cynicism that the Government bring to the serious subject of maintaining law and order.

Other aspects of the problem deserve the House's attention. Despite the so-called vacancies in our prisons, and despite the early release of thousands of prisoners, which is the Home Secretary's response to a rising prison population, conditions in our prisons are not improving. Despite the valiant efforts of the Prison Service, overcrowding is up, with an increase in the percentage of prisoners sharing two to a cell designed for one. If the Home Secretary could give them to me, I would be grateful for the numbers sharing three to a cell designed for two, because they are not up to date. Slopping out has reappeared in some of our prisons.

The rate of purposeful activity has declined significantly from more than 26 hours five years ago to around 23 hours today. If one puts criminals in prison, a proper effort must be made to rehabilitate them, or the result is more crime and another sentence. The Government's policy appears to be fewer purposeful hours and earlier and earlier releases. One wonders why the Home Secretary puts people in prison at all.

Distressingly, suicides in our prisons have also increased, alarmingly so—from 59 in 1995 to 91 in the last calendar year. During the debate on the Criminal Justice and Court Services Bill on 12 June, the Minister of State said that the early release scheme has had a highly successful performance record in the 16 months since its implementation.—[Official Report, 12 June 2000; Vol. 351, c. 659.] However, more than 700 further crimes, which include rapes, burglaries, assaults, threats to kill and drug dealing, have been committed by prisoners released on the scheme while they should still have been in jail. Is that a highly successful implementation? It does not say much for the Government's much-vaunted risk assessment or for the chief inspector's analysis that the scheme works because we can monitor what the released prisoners are doing. No. We can monitor where they are—not what they are doing.

What does the Home Secretary have to say to the 700 victims of crime, who have been subject to what must, in some cases, have been horrendous ordeals as a direct result of his allowing those people to out on the loose when the courts said that they should be in jail? He has taken responsibility for the policy. He must take responsibility for its effects.

Mr. James Clappison (Hertsmere)

My right hon. Friend has spoken about new victims, but how does she think that old victims will feel when the people sentenced to long periods in prison for the offences that they have committed suddenly appear on the streets after serving only a fraction of their sentences?

Miss Widdecombe

My hon. Friend is absolutely right to ask that question, which highlights why the Government's policy is such an insult and such a cynical way to treat victims. The Conservative party is pledged to introduce honesty in sentencing so that the sentence that victims hear being given will be the sentence that prisoners serve.

The Home Secretary has betrayed the police. He has also betrayed the victims of crime by letting criminals out on his scheme. He has hit the public with a double whammy, allowing hundreds of criminals to commit further crimes when, but for his policy, they would have been locked up.

Mr. Gerald Bermingham (St. Helens, South)

I thank the right hon. Lady for giving way, and I declare an interest as a practising lawyer. Will she explain, to someone as old and tired as I am, why her party when in government was so keen to increase the remission period from one third to one half? That let thousands of people out of prison before their original sentences were complete. What is the difference between that policy all those years ago, and the current policy of trying to get people rehabilitated in the community?

Miss Widdecombe

The hon. Gentleman said that he was old and tired. He is living in the past. The policies that I have announced today are our policies now. [Interruption.] If the Government want the Conservative party to justify past policies, let them justify past Labour policies. Let the Home Secretary tell us why he has changed his mind on trial by jury and on the numbers in prisons. Let the Home Secretary tell us why he has changed his policies on illegal working. Let the Government explain why, in the past, they have had policies that they have changed now.

The fact is that the policies of the previous Conservative Government brought about a sustained and significant fall in crime. All that the Home Secretary has delivered is a rise in crime.

The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Jack Straw)

I am always happy to justify any changes in approach that I have adopted when those changes are put to me accurately. As far as I could hear the right hon. Lady's extraordinary rant, nothing that she said could be described as that. My hon. Friend the Member for St. Helens, South (Mr. Bermingham) asked about the remission changes announced in 1989 by Lord Hurd, when he was Home Secretary, and introduced some months later. The right hon. Lady was a supporter of that Conservative Government. Is she saying now that Lord Hurd got that policy completely wrong? If so, will she say why she and the right hon. and learned Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Howard) never changed that policy when they were in office?

Miss Widdecombe

If we were to go back to 1989, the Government would have some interesting policies to answer for. That was before the Prime Minister decided to change all Labour's policies because the party could not win elections with the ones that it had. The Labour party had lost three elections in a row, and its policies meant that it did not have the confidence of the electorate. I should be quite willing to rehearse all the policies that the Labour party has overturned since 1989—on defence, Europe, and law and order—but the electorate are interested in 2001. The next general election cannot come soon enough for them, as they cannot wait to get rid of this incompetent Prime Minister and Home Secretary.

Mr. Straw

Will the right hon. Lady now answer a simple question, which she has so far refused to answer? If she disagreed so fundamentally with Lord Hurd's approach, why did she not change that approach—[HON. MEMBERS: "She did."] No, she did not. The Criminal Justice Act 1991 stayed in force and the two thirds remission stayed at a half. Why did she not change it?

Miss Widdecombe

We did. The right hon. Gentleman must have the shortest memory of any Labour Member. Does he remember the honesty in sentencing proposals that we introduced and had ready to put into law, and that he overturned in his first few weeks as Home Secretary? I remember asking him from the Back Benches whether the Home Secretary had therefore abandoned honesty in sentencing, and he said yes. So we did change the policy—my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Howard) changed it. It was opposed by the right hon. Gentleman, so we are being consistent, because we will reintroduce it when we are elected next year. We have been totally consistent, and the right hon. Gentleman has not.

Mr. Straw

Will the right hon. Lady give way?

Miss Widdecombe

Once more.

Mr. Straw

I am grateful to the right hon. Lady.

Miss Widdecombe

Three strikes and you are out.

Mr. Straw

Three and I am in. Will the right hon. Lady now own up to the fundamental flaw in her so-called honesty in sentencing approach? The provisions in the Crime (Sentences) Act 1997 would have made no difference whatever to the length of sentence laid down in the 1991 Act.

Miss Widdecombe

If the right hon. Gentleman had been listening, he would know that I said to my hon. Friend the Member for Hertsmere (Mr. Clappison) that the virtue of honesty in sentencing is that the sentence that the victim hears handed down will be the sentence served.

Mr. Simon Hughes

Will the right hon. Lady give way?

Miss Widdecombe

This is absolutely the last time.

Mr. Hughes

This is a very important point. Will the right hon. Lady give us a simple answer on honesty in sentencing? Does she expect, that if her policy were implemented, longer sentences would be served on average and in total? What would be the effect on the number of people in prison?

Miss Widdecombe

The sentence served would be the sentence handed down. Judges would be expected to take into account what they would have expected someone to serve. At present, a judge will sentence someone to five years, meaning two and a half. In future, he will say two and a half and he will mean two and a half.

In deliberately letting thousands of convicted criminals out of jail before they have served less than half their sentences, the Prime Minister and the Home Secretary have shown the House and the country exactly what their promises to be tough on crime were worth. They have been tough on crime fighters and soft on criminals. Their special early release policy is an insult to the police, the victims of crime and the people of this country. That is the way in which the Labour Government conduct themselves in office.

The Government swagger and they posture; the Prime Minister grins and he spins. The rhetoric of the Government is as vainglorious as any action that they take is vacuous. The fact remains that none of the Government's flagship policies on crime has worked. There are no child curfew orders—only a handful of anti-social behaviour orders. Prisoners are let out early, despite all the tough talk about the sentences that the courts should set. Those responsible for arresting criminals are reduced to the point at which they can hardly take any sensible action because there are simply not enough of them to do so.

It is a shambles of a record. What baffles me is that the Home Secretary, who, when he started in office, used at least to admit when things were going wrong, has recently taken to pretending that everything is absolutely fine. He calls a policy that results in 700 crimes being committed while their perpetrators should have been in jail, but who were out only because he decided that they could be, a successful implementation. It is cynical, it is disgraceful, and it is a betrayal of victims.

The change in government, which I believe will happen, cannot come soon enough. When it comes, criminals will serve the time that the judges have said that they should serve. No criminals will be released early just because it is an easy way of coping with a rising prison population. If we have a rising prison population, we will build the necessary prisons to house that population, as we did before. We will ensure that prisons are purposeful and worthwhile places, not merely empty warehouses where prisoners kick their heels waiting to be released to commit more crime. That is what I envisage as a sensible way of coping with crime. Both the Prime Minister and the Home Secretary should do one thing and do it now; they should apologise for the total shambles.

4 pm

The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Jack Straw)

I beg to move, To leave out from "House" to the end of the Question, and to add instead thereof: `notes that the introduction of Home Detention Curfew with electronic tagging as in the Crime and Disorder Act 1998 was specifically welcomed in the unanimous Third Report of the Home Affairs Select Committee, Session 1997–98 (HC 486-I), whose members endorsing the report at that time included the honourable Members for Woking, Surrey Heath and Aldershot; believes that one of the major factors contributing to re-offending is an inadequate transition between custody and life outside prison in the community; applauds the work initiated by HM Government better to manage that transition, through Home Detention Curfew, more effective drug treatment, Welfare to Work and greater emphasis on education, work and offender behaviour programmes; notes that short term prisoners are only released on Home Detention Curfew after a careful risk assessment, that about 94 per cent. of prisoners have completed Home Detention Curfew successfully, and that the latest information indicates that fewer than 2 per cent. have been arrested, prosecuted or convicted for offences committed on Home Detention Curfew; applauds the Government's toughening of the sentencing regime, its practical approach to honesty in sentencing, and its establishment of a comprehensive review of the sentencing framework; and further notes the Opposition's action in opposing strong measures against anti-social behaviour, benefit sanctions for probation offenders and reform of mode of trial, comforting only the miscreant at the expense of the victim and the community.'. I greatly welcome the debate, not least because it provides a timely opportunity to contrast the Government's strategy for sentencing offenders with the huge contradictions at the heart of the Opposition's approach. We saw those contradictions exposed as the right hon. Member for Maidstone and The Weald (Miss Widdecombe) twisted in the wind on the effect of her so-called policy of honesty in sentencing, to which I shall return. To manufacture her specific case in respect of the home detention curfew she had to dissemble and to build her argument on two insinuations that are demonstrably incorrect. I shall begin by putting the facts straight about the HDC.

The Opposition's motion claims explicitly that the home detention curfew scheme is operating outside the normal sentencing regime set down in law. That is simply untrue. The HDC is an integral part of the operation of the Criminal Justice Act 1991, which lays down the current sentencing framework. Within that framework, the Crime and Disorder Act 1998 creates a new threshold for the release of prisoners serving less than four years. It allows for the placement of a short-term prisoner on curfew after he or she has served the requisite period for the term of his sentence. It further defines in statute what is meant by "the requisite period". The meaning and intent of the HDC provisions in law are clear.

Contrary to what is asserted in the motion, the HDC scheme does not allow release from prison before the minimum period required by law. Instead, the scheme has changed the minimum period required for short-term prisoners serving sentences of at least three months but less than four years. It provides for release on a scale linked to the overall sentence up to a maximum of 60 days before the halfway point of the sentence for someone sentenced to just under four years.

There is nothing novel or radical about that concept. The sentencing framework laid down by the 1991 Act sets out the concept of discretionary release for prisoners serving four years or more. The Act was introduced by the previous Conservative Government, of whom the right hon. Member for Maidstone and The Weald and many other right hon. and hon. Members were members. It was operated by the right hon. Lady when she was a Home Office Minister. The scheme—parole—is a familiar part of our criminal justice framework. The HDC extends the same principle of discretionary release and applies it to those sentenced to less than four years.

Parole and the HDC also share another common characteristic. In both instances, while the majority of prisoners are eligible for the HDC, decisions as to who to release are taken only after careful risk assessment. In both instances, it is only a minority of those eligible who are placed on curfew.

Like parole, the fact that a particular custodial sentence will make an offender eligible for the HDC is something of which the courts are fully aware when sentencing. The courts are now well used to the idea that there is an earliest and latest point at which a prisoner might be released.

What is new about the HDC is that it aims to improve the effectiveness of the period spent by prisoners on licence or under supervision. The right hon. Lady talks about the need for prisons and sentencing better to rehabilitate prisoners. I accept that entirely. One of the major problems, of which she must be aware, is high levels of reoffending by prisoners, who come out on their normal release date or later. Securing a better transition between custody and the community must be one of the aims behind any sentencing policy designed to ensure that prisoners are less likely to reoffend. The right hon. Lady's description of the scheme as an early release scheme fails—as her entire approach does—to take account of the significant curtailment of liberty imposed by a curfew backed up by electronic monitoring.

Mr. Crispin Blunt (Reigate)

Just what would the Home Secretary say to the two women who were raped by prisoners who were in the community rather than in prison?

Mr. Straw

I should say the same to those victims of crime as I would to anyone else who had suffered a serious crime, perhaps committed by someone released on parole under schemes operated by the Conservatives, or even by someone released on the normal release date. I would deeply regret that those crimes happened, but the overall aim of the scheme is better management of prisoners' transition between custody and the community.

The right hon. Member for Maidstone and The Weald insinuated, entirely falsely, that if people served the extra period—never more than 60 days, and typically 30 or 40—of their sentences before normal release, they would never, ever reoffend. In fact, we know that well over 55 per cent. of people released at normal points of their sentences reoffend. One of the great crime challenges facing us—it should be a cross-party matter—is how to reduce the number of those who reoffend.

Miss Widdecombe

The right hon. Gentleman has put into law a scheme that has meant that a large number of criminals—20,000 at the latest published count, and probably more—have been released before the point in their sentences at which they would have been released had he not done so. Some 700 crimes have been committed. It would be bad enough if all of them were trivial, but some them crimes have been extremely serious. In addition, dozens of those who have been released have disappeared.

The point is that but for the right hon. Gentleman's intervention, those criminals would still be in prison, and the particular victims probably would not have suffered. I am not suggesting that those people would never reoffend if they were kept longer in prison, but they would not have committed the particular offences that they committed, and the victims of those offences, who should have been protected by the fact that those criminals were in prison, were not protected. That is the point.

Mr. Straw

The right hon. Lady may not be making that suggestion now, but it was the precise implication of her speech. Any system in which prisoners are released subject to a risk assessment requires us to do our best to get that assessment correct. In some cases, risk assessment will not work. That is true even at the most serious end of the sentencing regime in respect of those subject to life sentences for murder. The right hon. Lady well knows that successive Secretaries of State have taken very seriously their responsibility to ensure that there is a proper risk assessment, but, with the best will in the world, about 8 per cent. of prisoners subject to mandatory licence are recalled to prison for reoffending or because they are subject to a further risk assessment. I shall later outline the defects inherent in the right hon. Lady's proposals for so-called honesty in sentencing, which, in my view, would put the public at greater risk than our carefully calibrated system.

Miss Widdecombe

The right hon. Gentleman will be aware that we have pledged to abolish his scheme. Will he say from the Dispatch Box that he believes that abolishing the scheme will result in a rise in crime above the 700 extra crimes that he has brought about?

Mr. Straw

That is impossible to say. If our scheme works successfully, however, the overall result should be less reoffending by prisoners. The only figures that we have—we have done our best to provide the maximum information—relate to the number of offences committed on curfew. If we look further down the track, we hope—although it remains a matter for research—that, overall, fewer offences will be committed.

Only about a third of those eligible for the scheme are accepted. The point of the scheme is that those people are subject to a strict curfew of a minimum of nine hours a day—more usually 12—during which time they are not allowed to leave the confines of their home or probation hostel. Moreover, the scheme helps to impose a structure on what can often be chaotic lives. It forces curfewees to think and plan ahead, to establish a proper home address, to follow daily routines, and to submit to an ordered—if no longer institutional—life style.

Mr. Michael Howard (Folkestone and Hythe)

How many orders under the scheme are in force for more than 12 hours a day—if, indeed, any are? If they are not, and to the extent that they are not, does he agree with Frances Crook of the Howard League for Penal Reform—with whom I have not agreed too often in the past—when she says of those released under the scheme that they can always commit their burglaries during the day?

Mr. Straw

Like the right hon. and learned Gentleman, I have never found Frances Crook's interventions in penal debates—

Mr. Bercow

She is a member of the right hon. Gentleman's party.

Mr. Straw

I do not know whether she is a member of my party—[Interruption.]—The hon. Gentleman assures me that she is. I do not usually find her interventions on such issues particularly helpful, and I do not in this case.

The right hon. and learned Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Howard) is right to assert that curfew lasts for a maximum of 12 hours. Of course, we accept that that is not prison; it is curfew and there has never been any suggestion otherwise. Later, I shall try to tease out from the Opposition the difference in principle between the arrangements for curfewing offenders, which are worrying the Opposition, and those that the right hon. and learned Gentleman and the right hon. Lady introduced in 1995 on the back of the Criminal Justice Act 1991 for the use of curfew not only at the end of a prison sentence, but as an alternative to prison.

I have already explained to the House that the implication of the right hon. Lady's comments was that, but for the home detention curfew, people would be incarcerated in prison for months, if not years, beyond the date on which they were released on curfew. That is palpably untrue. It deceives the public to pretend that such people are not short-term prisoners and are not always due for release within a matter of weeks. The scheme is about improving the arrangements for the return of those people to the community and, hopefully, enhancing public protection.

Since the scheme began, 72,500 prisoners have been eligible for it, but just 22,000 of them were placed on it. Of those, about 94 per cent. successfully completed the curfew period, and just 2 per cent.—although even that is too many—are known to have reoffended while on curfew. Preliminary research published by the Home Office in January 2000 shows that, notwithstanding the complexity and large scale of the scheme, the home detention curfew operated successfully in its first year.

Mr. Bermingham

Does my right hon. Friend agree that if we compare the number of people who successfully completed the home curfew scheme with that for the parole scheme or the licence scheme, there are a small minority of failures under all those schemes? At least there is progress when people can live a stabilised life at home.

Mr. Straw

My hon. Friend is entirely correct. Although, like any Minister in my position, I regret any reoffending while people are on licence—of whatever kind—the HDC success rate on reoffending is significantly better than that for other systems of release on licence.

Occasionally, the right hon. Member for Maidstone and The Weald is constructive and makes constructive suggestions about the scheme. When we discussed the Criminal Justice and Court Services Bill on Report, she and her hon. Friend the Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Lidington) tabled an amendment on sex offenders. I hope that the House will be pleased to hear that I agree that the protection of the public may best be served by excluding—as the amendment proposed—all sex offenders, subject to notification under the Sex Offenders Act 1997, whether or not their current sentence was for a relevant offence under that Act. We shall introduce an amendment in another place to achieve that.

Mr. Bercow

The Home Secretary's problem is the chasm between Labour's pre-election rhetoric and post-election reality. Will he tell the House where in the Labour party manifesto, which promised a "battle against drugs" and a commitment to tackle the modern menace of drugs in our communities it was also stated that the Government intended to let out thousands of drug dealers early?

Mr. Straw

It was not intended that the Government should let out thousands of drugs dealers early, and nor have we done that.

I return to the point about the wilful dissembling in the Opposition's amendment, which suggested that people are released before they serve the minimum period required by law. Of course they are not released before they serve the minimum period required by law—

Mr. Hogg

You changed the law.

Mr. Straw

There is a huge and fundamental difference between changing the law, as we have done in the open, and what the right hon. Member for Maidstone and The Weald suggests, which is that we have evaded the law and are releasing people before the minimum period required by law. That is simply not the case, and she knows it.

Miss Widdecombe

The Home Secretary has not answered the question from my hon. Friend the Member for Buckingham (Mr. Bercow). If the right hon. Gentleman had said before the last election, "Our answer to the drugs problem is to reduce the amount of time that drugs offenders will serve in prison and then let them out—tagged as they may be—so that they will still nevertheless be perfectly able to deal in drugs", does he think that that would have inspired the confidence of the electorate?

Hon. Members

Answer the question.

Mr. Straw

I am just about to answer the question. Of course nobody would present a parody of that kind.

Miss Widdecombe

That is exactly what the Government have done.

Mr. Straw

That is not exactly what we have done. What we said repeatedly before and after the election— and it is what we are doing—is that we need better to manage the transition between custody and the community so as to reduce the risk of reoffending. We are talking about whether prisoners should be released one week or five or six weeks later, having served a period in custody before that.

We have significantly increased the investment that we are putting into fighting the drugs menace both inside and outside prison. We commended without reservation what the right hon. and learned Member for Folkestone and Hythe did through the introduction of mandatory drug testing in prisons. We supported that measure, continued it and doubled enforcement of it. Following representations in my constituency, I have considerably tightened up the regime to prevent visitors and staff from bringing drugs into prisons. The overall result of mandatory drug testing and what we are doing with visitors and staff has been a further reduction in the number of prisoners testing positive for any kind of drugs in their blood.

We are also introducing what is called the counselling, assessment and throughcare scheme—CARATS—to provide far better treatment in prison. Alongside that, we have provided £20 million to police forces around the country so that they can establish arrest referral schemes in every major custody suite. When people are arrested, they can be put in touch in the custody suite or in the cells with a drugs worker, so that arrangements can be made alongside whatever sentence the court decides to issue to get them quickly into treatment. Everyone knows that if we delay getting drug addicts into treatment, we often delay beyond their life expectancy. In addition, as all the evidence shows, getting them quickly into treatment means that the number of offences they commit goes down rapidly.

We were responsible for the home detention curfew scheme and take the credit for it. I am, however, concerned that the Government should not claim all the credit for innovation in the use of electronically monitored curfews as an alternative to custody. I always want to give credit where it is due. As the right hon. Member for Maidstone and The Weald will recall, it was the Conservatives who in 1995, commenced the provisions of Criminal Justice Act 1991, which allowed the courts to pass curfew orders supervised through electronic tagging.

Mr. Howard

The courts.

Mr. Straw

The right hon. and learned Gentleman says "the courts", but under the provisions that he and I have exercised as Home Secretary and to which we are both committed, it is not the courts that finally make a risk assessment of the most heinous of criminals—namely murderers—and then determine release and licence conditions; it is whoever occupies the position of Secretary of State. As I said earlier, the courts know full well the minimum and maximum time that is likely to be served when they hand down sentence.

The availability of such a community curfew order meant that some offenders who would otherwise be considered for a custodial sentence could be dealt with by electronically monitored curfew instead. The previous Government accepted that curfew with electronic monitoring was a useful alternative to prison, not only for the last few weeks or days, but in place of the whole custodial sentence.

Mr. Howard

Is the Home Secretary incapable of understanding the difference in principle between making such an order available as an option to the courts when they come to pass sentence before any sentence is served, which is indeed what we did, and the use of that procedure by the Home Secretary to release people from prison earlier than they would otherwise have been released? Is he incapable of recognising that distinction?

Mr. Straw

Obviously I am capable of recognising the differences in the regime, but the right hon. and learned Gentleman questions whether there is a difference in principle. I go back to the debate 10 years ago when the proposal for such a system was before the House—[Interruption.] It is no good the right hon. and learned Gentleman waving his hand because the key point, the gravamen, the burden of the argument of the right hon. Member for Maidstone and The Weald, is that such people should not be let out into the community even with an electronic tag. She thinks that they should be in prison. However, the principle that binds the home detention curfew and the system of curfew which was enacted in 1991, and implemented by the Conservatives in 1995, is, as the then Home Office Minister John Patten said, to put someone under curfew for certain periods during the day or night to keep him out of prison.—[Official Report, Standing Committee A, 18 December 1990; c. 258.] The provision was designed to keep people out of prison not just for a few weeks of their sentences, but for the whole of their sentences. It was seen as a direct alternative to prison up to the highest end of community sentencing. Virtually every one of those people put under that curfew would otherwise have gone to prison. Its aim was explicitly to keep people out of prison.

Mr. Hogg

The right hon. Gentleman must focus on the point made by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Howard). Under the home detention curfew scheme, release on tagging is an Executive discretionary decision—not one made by the judge—whereas the order to which my right hon. and learned Friend referred is a judicially imposed curfew. They are different.

Mr. Straw

In one respect, they are fundamentally the same: they are alternatives to prison. I shall go halfway towards the right hon. and learned Members for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Mr. Hogg) and for Folkestone and Hythe in a second. They and the Conservative party must recognise that, in the debates 10 years ago, there was no question but that the curfew orders were alternatives to custody. Yes, they were judicially decided, but they were alternatives not just to a few weeks of a sentence, but to any period in custody.

Miss Widdecombe

Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Straw

I will reply first to the right hon. and learned Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham. If the only issue separating us on the home detention curfew is whether the decision to curfew a prisoner should be made at the beginning of a sentence by the court, which would obviously be a judicial decision, or whether it should be made towards the end of a sentence by the Executive, which in practice would be prison governors, we could have an interesting debate.

I said that I would come to the fact that, as the House may be aware, we have established a major review of sentencing policy because it is plain that the 1991 Act is in need of reform. One arrangement that we are proposing is a better mixture of custody and community sentences, which will make it possible for the court to lay down that an element of the sentence should be spent in custody, then an element spent on electronic curfew and an element spent on licence.

Mr. Patrick McLoughlin (West Derbyshire)

Will the Home Secretary give way?

Mr. Straw

No; I promised to give way to the right hon. Member for Maidstone and The Weald.

Miss Widdecombe

I am grateful to the Home Secretary for giving way yet again. It is almost disingenuous to compare letting someone out of prison with not putting him in prison in the first place. The point of tagging as an alternative to prison is exactly the same as that of a community sentence as an alternative to prison, or probation as an alternative to prison—that is, a decision has been taken by a court that prison is not yet appropriate. In the case of people who are let out of prison, a decision has been taken by the court that prison is appropriate. That is the distinction between the two. They are wholly different approaches to criminal justice, and the right hon. Gentleman should acknowledge that.

Mr. Straw

No, those are not wholly different approaches to criminal justice. The right hon. Lady simply had not spotted the huge inconsistency in her approach and is now embarrassed by it. The two approaches are the same. The record shows that an electronic curfew was introduced in the 1991 Act in respect of offenders who would otherwise have been sent to prison and whom it was not safe to put on the normal range of community sentences.

The hole in the right hon. Lady's argument—I repeat the point so that she understands it—is that if she has objections to the electronic monitoring of people coming towards the end of their custodial sentences, she must have much greater objections to those who are put on electronic curfew for the whole of their sentences when otherwise they would palpably have been sent to prison.

Mr. Bermingham

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for giving way. Does he agree that the absurdity of the right hon. Lady's position is best demonstrated by the fact that as people come towards the end of their sentences, they are allowed home on home leave. From some prisons, they are sent out to work every day. They are allowed other forms of liberty. In other words, controlled liberty is a stage in rehabilitation, and that is all that we are discussing.

Mr. Straw

That rehabilitation is extremely important and it needs to be regulated properly. If longer-term prisoners in particular are to re-make a life and, hopefully, get away from crime, a gradual reintroduction to community life is essential, otherwise further reoffending will occur.

Before I leave the 1990 debates, the House, especially Opposition Members, may be interested to learn that during the debate a then very young hon. Member said that prison clearly does not do many people a great deal of good and does not turn them away from crime.—[Official Report, 12 November 1990; Vol. 180, c. 408.] That observation was made by the right hon. Gentleman who is now the Leader of the Opposition.

Mr. Clappison

Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Straw

I will come back to the hon. Gentleman.

It is a matter of record what approach the Conservative party officially took to the home detention curfew when that was discussed in Standing Committee. It is also a matter of record than when the Home Affairs Committee considered the issue in a good deal of detail, and spent some months taking evidence about it, it concluded unanimously that the HDC scheme would provide adequate protection to the public because of the tagging element, and will give prisoners an opportunity to readjust to life outside prison. [Interruption.] The hon. Member for Surrey Heath (Mr. Hawkins) signed the report, along with the hon. Members for Woking (Mr. Malins) and for Aldershot (Mr. Howarth). The hon. Member for Surrey Heath says now from a sedentary position that they were not talking about this or that. The evidence shows clearly that the Committee discussed the home detention curfew scheme, which was in draft in the Crime and Disorder Bill. That is what the hon. Gentleman signed up to.

Mr. Nick Hawkins (Surrey Heath)

There is no doubt that my hon. Friends and I would never have agreed to the report if anyone had suggested that the Home Secretary would release drug suppliers and importers, those convicted of manslaughter and those who killed through dangerous driving. The Home Secretary's argument is utterly specious.

Mr. Straw

All the detail and all the criteria of the scheme were placed before the Committee. We have used it less than was anticipated when I made my statement in November 1997. The last time I put it to the hon. Gentleman that he signed up to the report, he had a different excuse. Earlier, he said that he knew what he was signing, but that it was different from the scheme that exists today. On a previous occasion, his excuse was that he did not know to what he had signed up because he had not been a member of the Committee for the whole time that the Committee considered the matter.

Mr. Hawkins

That is true, too.

Mr. Straw

The hon. Gentleman says that that is true, but he was appointed to the Committee in early March, and the Committee did not report until the end of July. We can draw a new rule from that experience: the Hawkins rule of personal responsibility. Individuals are not responsible for any decision to which they sign up if it has taken less than four months to reach a conclusion. Whatever the excuse, which changes time and again, it is poor. The hon. Gentleman backed the home detention curfew two years ago, and his explanation for his volte face is demeaning to him as well as the Committee.

Let us consider honesty in sentencing.

Mr. McLoughlin

Will the Home Secretary give way?

Mr. Straw

I shall give way in a moment.

The right hon. Member for Maidstone and The Weald claimed today that she would scrap the home detention curfew and all automatic early release on licence. Of course, we all understand that when we talk to the public, they instinctively want not so much honesty, but complete certainty in sentencing. We all understand that instinct. People want 10 years to mean 10 years, and two years to mean two years. However, I suggest that anyone with an understanding of the penal system must acknowledge that there is bound to be tension between absolute certainty in sentencing and the need to maintain good order in prisons, to provide incentives to address offending behaviour, and to support effective reintegration into the community. The way in which that tension is resolved is at the heart of the debate.

The right hon. Lady accepted, not least by her silence, that the practical effects of her proposals for so-called honesty in sentencing would not add one day to the time that any prisoner served in prison under a sentence that he or she received today. However, she also said that the sentence given would be the sentence served. Under her scheme, as far as one can understand it, there would still be flexibility in the length of time that a prisoner served, as there was under the Crime (Sentences) Act 1997. Under that Act, up to one sixth of a sentence could be cut for good behaviour. Thus an offender who received a 12-month prison sentence could be released two months earlier than the time laid down by the court. However, there is a difference between the right hon. Lady's scheme and ours. Under her scheme, unlike ours, prisoners would be released without any electronic curfew system.

Mr. Hogg

Will the Home Secretary give way?

Mr. Straw

In a moment.

The problem with the right hon. Lady's so-called honesty in sentencing is wider and more fundamental. Indeed, the drastic way in which proposals were brought before the House in early 1997 and frequently changed, as we all remember, shows that it was ill-considered and poorly thought through. Prisoners would be assessed for early release on the basis of their behaviour in prison, not on the basis of the risk they posed to the public. Once released, offenders who breached their supervision requirements could be recalled to custody only by bringing them before the courts and charging them. Of course I am worried about the number, albeit small, of people who commit offences while on curfew, but the numbers who committed offences under the right hon. Lady's early-release scheme were bound to be greater because it provided for no quick recall. That contrasts with the quick system that section 103 of the Crime and Disorder Act 1998 established.

Mr. Hogg

Will the Home Secretary give way?

Mr. Straw

I shall give way to the right hon. and learned Gentleman's hon. Friend the Member for West Derbyshire (Mr. McLoughlin) in a moment.

The Government believe in honesty in sentencing. No one disagrees with that principle. The question is how we achieve it, given that there is no system—none is proposed by the Conservative party—that would achieve what the public want: absolute certainty in sentencing. In our manifesto, we proposed that courts should spell out in the sentence the period that an offender was likely to serve in custody and the period that he was likely to serve in the community. The Lord Chief Justice's practice direction, issued by Lord Bingham in January 1998, when he was Lord Chief Justice, ensures that the courts do just that.

Mr. McLoughlin

The Home Secretary spoke about honesty in sentencing. Will he give us an honest answer on when he expects to introduce legislation to follow the Prime Minister's pledge on on-the-spot fines?

Mr. Straw

We shall introduce legislation as soon as possible.

Mr. Hogg

Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Straw

I shall give way in a second, but first I want to answer the rest of question asked by the hon. Member for West Derbyshire. We shall introduce legislation, but not in the next couple of weeks.

Mr. Hogg

Reverting to the question of honesty in sentencing, I personally accept that it is necessary to give a degree of discount to maintain order in prisons. However, the right hon. Gentleman must address whether, in sentences up to four years, that discount needs to be one half. Most people think that that is far too much to achieve the purpose of maintaining order in prisons and better integration in society. A discount of 20 per cent., which should be earned, might be altogether more appropriate.

Mr. Straw

There is no particular magic about the current arrangements, which were introduced under the Criminal Justice Act 1991. I had objections to the proposals in the Crime (Sentences) Act 1997, of which I am happy to give further particulars, not because I disagreed in principle with what the right hon. and learned Member for Folkestone and Hythe was trying to do, but because the more I looked at their detail, the more I thought that all that would be produced was some high degree of chaos on sentencing for no purpose. As the right hon. and learned Member admitted in government and subsequently in opposition, the proposals would not have made any difference to the overall sentence that an individual served.

Having served as an Under-Secretary in the Home Office between 1986 and 1989, the right hon. and learned Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham knows that these are complicated issues. I established a review of sentencing so that, in slower time, we can work out a better sentencing regime—or what I would call a seamless sentence in which, for example, there is greater use of suspended sentences, short-term time in custody and, in some cases, day prisons, evening custody and night custody as appropriate, along with electronic tagging and periods spent under supervision. I hope that we can have a serious debate about that, as it is an important issue.

If we are to try to reduce reoffending in our society and have that flexibility which is related principally not to good behaviour in prison—although that should be a factor—but to likelihood of reoffending, a degree of discretion should be given to those administering the sentences, which, to some extent, collides with the issue of the court's control. One way of squaring the issues in that important debate is to ensure that the courts manage sentences in a way that they do not at the moment. We have introduced that in the drug treatment and testing order, and I believe that if sentencers—judges and magistrates—are the managers of the sentence, we will secure better sentences targeted at an offender's individual circumstances. We will also increase hugely the information available to sentencers about the effect of their sentencing decisions.

Sir Peter Lloyd (Fareham)

I should like to follow up the point that the Home Secretary is making. If his policy of early release, which he feels is successful, is designed to help to reintegrate prisoners into law-abiding society, surely it is needed even more for high-risk prisoners than for low-risk prisoners, who are unlikely to offend when they are released. He needs the release programme for the high-risk prisoners if he is going to reduce the likelihood of them reoffending. Surely the Home Secretary is dealing with the easy end of the problem, rather than the harder end.

Mr. Straw

The right hon. Gentleman's criticism comes from the opposite direction from that of the right hon. and learned Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham. I happen to believe that it is better to start such arrangements at the lower-risk end of the scale; it would have been impossible to justify starting at the other end. I can understand that, right at the other end of the scale, if someone was released after a very long period in prison it might well be sensible for him or her to be tagged for quite a period, not as an alternative to time in custody at that stage, but to strengthen supervision in the community.

I admit that there was a high degree of scepticism about electronic monitoring systems when they were first discussed 10 years ago, but I have no doubt that they are proving increasingly effective technically and, I believe, in terms of reoffending and the control of prisoners. I know that the right hon. Gentleman has a particular interest in sentencing policy, and I hope that he will make observations to the sentencing review, which we intend will be an entirely open affair.

As ever, the right hon. Member for Maidstone and The Weald used some extravagant language this afternoon.

Miss Widdecombe

Very accurate language.

Mr. Straw

The right hon. Lady says "very accurate" from a position of complete impartiality, but I think that that is for others to judge. Time and again, her rhetoric, and that of her party, is belied by her actions. We saw that only too clearly on asylum, where Conservative Members' publicly stated approach was belied by what they did on the civil penalty for hauliers and by their support of the retention of cash benefits for all asylum seekers. We have seen it on the mode of trial, where the Opposition appear to believe that the interests of the law-abiding public are best served by persistent offenders working the system by insisting on a jury trial against the decision of an independent court. We have also seen it on anti-social behaviour orders, which the Conservatives have pledged to tear up, despite increasing evidence of their effectiveness.

Mr. Clappison


Mr. Howard


Mr. Straw

I will give way in a moment.

Only last week, Conservative Front Benchers in the other place voted against the benefit changes that we are putting in place to ensure that community punishments are better enforced.

Mr. Howard

The Home Secretary seems to have left the subject of custody orders and imprisonment—he may even conceivably be in the middle of his peroration—but I hope that he will not sit down without answering the questions that my right hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone and The Weald (Miss Widdecombe) asked about the 4,000 prison places identified by the Prime Minister. We are keen to know about them and whether the Home Secretary agrees with the Prime Minister's figure. Are there 4,000 prison places?

Miss Widdecombe

Where are they?

Mr. Howard

Indeed, as my right hon. Friend asks, where are they?

Mr. Straw

The right hon. and learned Gentleman probably knows better than I do that the right hon. Lady asks so many questions that it is never possible to answer them all at the same time. I had forgotten about that particular question, but the answer is already on the record in the prison service projections. The current prison population is about 65,000 and the capacity is about 69,000—the difference is 4,000. The reason for that change is partly the effect of the home detention curfew, which has reduced the prison population by about 2,000.

Mr. Howard

Will the Home Secretary give way?

Mr. Straw

No, I will not.

The other aspect of that is the effectiveness of the Narey changes, which have made a considerable difference.

Mr. Howard


Mr. Straw

I shall give way to the right hon. and learned Gentleman for the last time in a moment, but now I shall answer his first question. The Narey changes have made a difference of about another 2,000 places.

Mr. Howard

I am grateful to the Home Secretary, who has been generous in giving way, but I am sure that he would like to deal with the question on the basis of the facts. According to Home Office figures, at the end of April this year—I do not imagine that the position has been transformed as dramatically as the Prime Minister might think since then—the prison population exceeded certified normal accommodation by 1,200.

Mr. Straw

The right hon. and learned Gentleman knows that the so-called certified normal capacity has usually been exceeded. For example, it was exceeded by 4,500 in the year in which he was Home Secretary.

What is crucial is the usable operational capacity, which the Conservatives always took account of—[Interruption.] Of course, it depends what is meant by overcrowding. As everybody knows, there is a grave distinction between so-called certified normal capacity, which is now 62,300—the prison population is some 65,000—and the usable operational capacity, which is 69,000. That is the difference.

Several hon. Members


Mr. Straw

I have spoken for 45 minutes. I know that a number of right hon. and hon. Members wish to speak, but—

Mr. Clappison

Will the right hon. Gentleman give way on this point?

Mr. Straw

Oh, come on then.

Mr. Clappison

The Home Secretary brought up the question of mode of trial. May I gently suggest to him that, on this matter, consistency may not be his strongest suit? Can he name one thing that has changed since 1997, when he described the proposal that he is now bringing forward on mode of trial as wrong, short-sighted and likely to prove ineffective?

Mr. Straw

One thing that has changed in my mind—I am sure that we do not want a full debate on this matter, but I have been over it in great detail—is the introduction in legislation of a full right of appeal, so that the final decision will be made by a Crown court judge.

The right hon. Member for Maidstone and The Weald began her speech by commenting on our record on crime. Crime today is still lower than it was in 1997, and that record compares extremely well with any previous post-war Government, particularly post-war Conservative Governments. Crime is down: home break-ins are down by a fifth and car crime has fallen by 15 per cent. Compare that with the indelible record of the Conservatives, under which crime doubled in their 18 years in office, while the number of people convicted of those crimes fell by a third.

We are delivering the most radical reform of our youth justice system in 50 years and are on track to deliver our pledge to halve the time that it takes to process persistent young offenders through the courts. We are getting on top of the long-term trend in crime—in very sharp contrast to the Conservatives' record. While the Opposition rant, we deliver. I ask the House to support the amendment.

4.48 pm
Mr. Simon Hughes (Southwark, North and Bermondsey)

This is an important debate. The right hon. Member for Maidstone and The Weald (Miss Widdecombe) reminded us, however, that it has a comic side, which was portrayed by the splendid article in yesterday's News of the World about a man from Bridgnorth, Mr. Tony Higgins, who hopped off to the pub after daft prison staff tagged his false leg by mistake. The article was entitled "Out on a Limb".

The subplot to today's debate is that, twice in four days on law and order policy and criminal justice policy, it is the Prime Minister who is out on a limb. Without talking to the Home Office, he first announces a new sort of offence whereby people get marched off to the cashpoint, and then cites spare prison capacity. If one tries very hard, as the Home Secretary was doing at the end of his speech, one can almost justify the Prime Minister's figures, but they are inconsistent with all the figures used in recent times. I hope that one lesson that has been learned in Downing street in the past few days is that it is as dangerous for Prime Ministers to make policy on the hoof as it is for leaders of the Tory party. I also hope that we shall see a reduction in that sort of policy making by both.

I gather that the Government fixed some time ago what they now call the crime summit. Even over the weekend, the terminology changed—one newspaper called it a convention and it had become a seminar by this morning.

The Conservative party has understandably chosen to use an Opposition Day debate to highlight the early release of prisoners. The Prime Minister responds by announcing in Germany his policy for dealing with thugs, then the police spend the weekend saying what a silly idea it is.

All that apart, we are glad that at last violent crime and the influence of alcohol on violent crime is on the agenda. Ever since I took over this job, I have repeatedly asked that we prioritise that problem. We have spent a lot of time in this Parliament talking about the effect of the misuse of drugs on crime and have spent far too little time discussing the effects of the misuse of alcohol, and I am glad that we are correcting that imbalance.

I hope that we are learning how to make better policy on difficult issues such as sentencing and penal policy. The right way to create policy in a democracy is fairly well established. The Government should establish what research has been carried out, and if there is not enough they should commission it. They should discuss possible ways forward with people who know what they are talking about. They should seek the advice of colleagues in Parliament across the parties who have relevant experience and interest, and a desire to express their view—we have the Select Committee system for that. They should have a discussion with the political parties. When they are ready and have tested the ideas they should legislate. Careful legislation after careful deliberation often produces good results. The experience of all of us who have been in the House any length of time is that hasty legislation after little or no deliberation is often useless and not used either.

I gently suggest to the Prime Minister that it is usually a good idea to have a discussion with the experts before announcing policy proposals, rather than announce policy proposals and talk to the experts afterwards. We should now get rid of this new item on the agenda, because new offences and new punishments—let alone offences and punishments for which the same person arrests, charges, tries and finds the accused guilty—require careful political consideration, especially if they go in a direction in which we have not gone before.

Like others, I have looked back to see how much Home Office law and order legislation there has been over the years since the Home Secretary and I entered the House. Although this year is a bumper year for Home Office initiatives, some of which are understandable and entirely appropriate—I think that there have been more than in any other year—there has not been a year since we entered Parliament without many Home Office Bills. That does not mean to say that they have always been successful, lasting or good. When I consider the legislation that has been passed and look back over the press coverage and ministerial speeches, I see that the road of law and order policy has been littered with failed criminal justice initiatives launched sometimes with good and sometimes with less honourable intentions. We need to stand back from all that.

Today's debate is the first debate we have had this year on penal policy. That is a wider issue than the early release of prisoners. I want to flag up five issues that Parliament should address once a year more coherently and better than we do at the moment.

We should discuss how to reduce criminality—the propensity to crime. My hon. Friends and I believe that the initiative that the Government announced today is a good one. We should provide young people with constructive activity so that they are not bored and thus prone to criminality, which they may otherwise not get into. The more the youth service, schools, the education and training system and the Employment Service can do, the more positive the role young people can play in the community, and the more likely it is that they will not commit offences. I commend the Youth Justice Board's initiative, and the Government's and the Prime Minister's support for it.

We should have a debate about how to prevent crime and detect crime. They are two separate parts of the process. We should have a debate about clearing up crime. We had a debate in the House recently, in which we highlighted the fact that there are only three convictions or cautions for every 100 British crime survey registered offences. The last debate we should have is the one we are having today about how to reduce reoffending, including how effective punishment is and what punishment works. Unless we try coherently and regularly to consider all those five issues, we are unlikely to have a more orderly and less criminal society.

We are happy that the Conservatives have chosen this subject for debate. It is a perfectly proper issue to consider, but I wish it had been a wider debate on penal policy. I hope that we can have that wider debate later in the parliamentary year.

The Crime and Disorder Act 1998 for the first time permitted home detention curfews. That Act became law two years ago this month, although it was another six months before home detention curfews were permitted as a result of the phased implementation of the legislation. It is entirely proper for us to review how it has worked 18 months or two years later, and we welcome the opportunity to do so. To their credit, Conservative Front Benchers—notably the hon. Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Lidington)—have tabled numerous questions about the issue, and the Government have supplied answers without seeking to hide the facts.

We should review regularly all five priority areas—the effectiveness in reducing the propensity to crime, in preventing crime, in detecting crime, in clearing up crime and in reducing reoffending. The more we can do that on the basis of the evidence, the better.

Let me say something about an issue that is relevant to the set of factors that put people in prison in the first place. I said a word or two about the need to reduce the propensity to crime; let me now say a topical word about reducing crime itself—preventing crime. Perhaps at this very minute, chief police officers are having tea with the Prime Minister up the road. It is to their credit that, ever since the Government were elected and before, they have kept on saying that they need enough colleagues to do the job. Whatever else we do later in the cycle of criminal justice measures, we need to ensure that the police service is adequate to prevent crime in the first place.

When anti-social behaviour takes place on a Friday night outside a pub in Brent, Southwark or anywhere else in the country, the lay person can do some things and the publican can do others, but if crime is to be prevented there must be enough police patrolling the streets. I hope—as do my colleagues, whether their seats are in the north-west, the south-east or anywhere else—that, when the Chancellor announces his comprehensive spending review conclusions later this month, we shall find that representations made by the Home Office, Opposition Members and the police themselves have been heeded. I hope that there will then be enough in the kitty to allow the police to recruit the number of full-time, retained part-time or special police to do the job—if they can recruit them, of course. That is a separate issue.

New York's policing has been more successful recently, and people apparently feel more confident in Paris than in London, because—as the Minister will note from the figures—those cities have considerably larger police forces than our capital has. Of course, more police do not necessarily mean less crime; but, as I have said before in this place, I have never heard anyone argue that fewer police provide a better chance of preventing crime.

Mr. Bermingham

As recent examples show, the period between application to admission to the police force for training can be as long as 18 months. Admission procedures and the funding of new recruits need to be re-examined.

Mr. Hughes

I agree. I hope that we can soon have a debate about recruitment. I think that we could usefully pool the various initiatives that have been suggested by my hon. Friends and me, and by members of other parties, to make the police service more appealing to school leavers.

Mr. Ronnie Fearn (Southport)

The chief constable in Merseyside proposes to ignore traffic accidents, as long as they do not involve human lives—as long as they are not "true" accidents—in order to put more bobbies on the beat. I think that that may be a good move.

Mr. Hughes

There is a big debate about it. I support a move in that direction. At the weekend, there was a story in the Financial Times about the Prime Minister's willingness to change the structure of the police. I do not know whether he consulted the Home Secretary about that, but, as I have said to, for instance, chief police officers, I think that jobs that could be done by others should not be done by the police. To her credit, the right hon. Member for Maidstone and The Weald (Miss Widdecombe) has made similar proposals. We need a debate on the subject. We should ensure that the police concentrate on what only the police can do, while others deal with matters such as certain motoring offences—although we shall continue to need the police to deal with some traffic matters, both in Merseyside and elsewhere.

Mrs. Gwyneth Dunwoody (Crewe and Nantwich)

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that many of us believe that maintenance of a good traffic police service would not only revolutionise road safety, but make an enormous impact on the numbers of road deaths and injuries? The suggestion that it is possible to hive off bits of traffic policing is a rather dangerous one that needs to be considered very carefully before the House accepts it.

Mr. Hughes

Not only has the hon. Lady long been a Member, but she has a specific interest in transport issues, on which she speaks with authority. I understand the point that she makes. I am not saying that traffic issues should not concern police. However, there is an argument—I shall not go into its detail now—that restructuring the police service would perhaps allow traffic, transport and safety matters to be dealt with far more comprehensively. British Transport police, for example, are a stand-alone part of the system, but perhaps they should be more integrated. Perhaps we should have more regional police forces, rather than county police forces. I hope that we shall be able to have that debate, as reform of the police service is on the agenda. I am sure that we will return to that agenda.

I believe that police are making clear representations to the Government on crime clear-up rates. We shall be better able to clear up crime if we better support and protect witnesses. We often fail to obtain convictions because witnesses either refuse to talk to police and the courts about the crime or, after talking about it initially, stop talking. Although I shall not elaborate now on how we can redress that situation, I have partly communicated thoughts on the matter to the Home Secretary. However, unless we devise a much better set of protection mechanisms for witnesses, we are likely to continue having a very poor conviction rate. Additionally, for those who interfere with witnesses and jurors, we should have more severe and automatic sentences. People who interfere with justice in this way should know that their action is an aggravating factor and that they will be additionally punished for it.

This debate—on when to release prisoners—is really about how we can reduce our appalling reoffending rates and make prison more effective. In the words of the former Home Secretary, the right hon. and learned Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Howard), we have to do what works. That is not a party political sentiment. In the past week, another previous Tory Home Secretary has made it very clear that he still believes that prison does not necessarily prevent re-offending. The specific issue that we are addressing is whether home detention curfew helps to prevent re-offending.

Two years ago, in our consideration of the Crime and Disorder Act 1998, the Government introduced the provision for home curfew detention. My right hon. Friend the Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith), who was then our Home Affairs spokesman, supported that proposal. Subsequently, Liberal Democrat Members supported the new clause introducing the proposal. Although the provision may not be operating perfectly, we shall not change our view on it today.

Interestingly, on Third Reading of the 1998 Act, Conservative Front Benchers supported the provision for home detention curfew. The then shadow Home Secretary, in his speech on Third Reading, said not a word about the provision's iniquity or inappropriateness. Although he talked about other things, he did not talk about that. Home detention curfew was not the big issue that the current shadow Home Secretary suggests it has become.

I do not want to add to the debate about the role of the Select Committee on Home Affairs. However, as the Home Secretary rightly said, the Committee examined the issue of home detention curfew, as it should have done, and its members—who were from all three parties representing English constituencies—unanimously supported its introduction. That is the deliberative way in which such proposals should be implemented. The proposal was enshrined in law in the right way, with the support of this place and of the other place.

The Government's amendment to the motion correctly flags up the success rate of home detention curfew. The fact is that 18,800 of the 20,000 people participating in the scheme have not re-offended. Ideally, there would have been no failures. However, there have been a considerable number of successes. We should not forget the basic facts in this debate.

Before today's debate, the Home Secretary announced that the Government are reviewing sentencing policy. We believe that such a review is a good idea, and we welcome it. Although I have not heard that the review will be entirely independent of the Government, I think that it would be more authoritative if it were.

The home detention policy, together with electronic tagging and all other alternatives to custody—as well as custody itself—should be included in the review. It is no good having a review if we do not look at how successful prison is on the one hand and how successful the alternatives are on the other. The Select Committee on Home Affairs provided a useful check list of the alternatives and looked at them all. It would be good to have such an independent review again, as well as a look at sentencing.

The Committee listed not only home detention curfew and electronic tagging, but suspended sentences, weekend prison or short prison sentences and fines. "What works?" is the question. Is it better to have a punishment that is inside, outside with a restriction or outside all the time? I would be grateful if the Minister confirmed that the review of sentencing in general will specifically include a review of home detention curfew and if he will tell us by when the Government expect the review to be completed. I suggest that it would be sensible for the review to be completed by the end of this calendar year, two years after the provisions of the Crime and Disorder Act 1998 came into place. The Liberal Democrats will play a full part in the process and will be happy to do so.

Parliament and the Government should commission independent reviews of sentencing regularly because we are not doing terribly well at the moment. Whether prison numbers are going up or down, we are not consistently bringing down crime figures, nor are we consistently bringing down the numbers of those who reoffend. If we are not doing that, clearly we are not succeeding. In our amendment, we propose a review of the policy, which we hope could be incorporated into a more general review of sentencing.

The review will be no good if it is not linked with other parts of the penal policy that the Government say are important but where we are making slow progress. For most people, we still do not have a fully constructive regime in prison. My view is that people in prison should do, in effect, 35 or 40 hours of work a week in prison. Until we get to that figure, we are failing.

We should support, but go further than the Government, the introduction of rehabilitative programmes for people while they are in prison—particularly for drugs and the like—and continue them in a more guaranteed way when people leave prison. All the prisoners to whom I have spoken have said that they need support when they go through those doors so they do not get back into the old habits, the old company and the old patterns of life. We need particular support for people in the years immediately after they are released, as that is when the risk is highest and when the risk assessment comes to the conclusion that they need the maximum support.

The Home Office guidelines for home detention curfews are concerned with the right matters. We must assess whether the right people are eligible; how we calculate the sentence; what preparation there should be; who does the risk assessment, how effective it is and how it is done; what the licence conditions should be; what we say to the prisoners and what they understand by the process; what the procedures are around release and what the post-release arrangements are. That list is clear and I do not quibble with it.

That is where the criteria set by the Conservatives for this debate are shown to be wrong. When I asked the right hon. Member for Maidstone and The Weald about the honesty in sentencing principle—which appears to be her great answer to the problems of the present system—she failed on each count to answer the three specific questions I put to her. The House will be able to read that exchange, which is clear.

I understand, having read what the Conservatives have said on the subject in the past few months, that their policy would not mean longer sentences on average or cumulatively longer sentences in total. Nor would it mean many more people in prison. If that is the case, to pretend otherwise is to perpetrate a deception on the public.

We also cannot support a proposal that an incoming Government would abolish the home detention curfew scheme without any proper, objective review. It has been in existence for less than two years. It has not worked perfectly, but the answer to something that might not have worked perfectly but has worked rather well is to improve it, not abolish it. It is a hasty, inappropriate and ill-researched conclusion to say that it should go.

There is no proof that longer sentences work. Longer sentences punish more, but, as our amendment points out, almost everyone is eventually released. The scheme covers those who would be released between six months and four years later. Their sentences are shortish, and it is ludicrous to reject a scheme for their sensible, phased reintroduction into society, as the hon. Member for St. Helens, South (Mr. Bermingham) pointed out. As I have said, we must ask what works.

It would be helpful if the Minister of State would give a considered response to the question that the Conservatives, people outside and I have asked about whether we can now work on the basis that we have 4,000 spare prison places—even though prison governors tell me that their prisons are overcrowded and they cannot cope. I understand that any spare capacity is mostly in open prisons. If that is the case, the Government may need to review whether we are using our prison establishment appropriately. The Government could also review the categorisation of prisoners, because they might be able to reallocate prisoners more effectively. That could reduce overcrowding in some places and stop some prisons trying to do several things at once. Some are asked to act as a local prison, a prison for lifers, a prison for immigration offenders awaiting deportation and a remand prison, and it is difficult to do all those jobs at the same time. A review of the use of the prison establishment—why some prisons are overcrowded and some are comparatively under-occupied—could be appropriate and I hope that the Minister will let us know when he winds up whether the Government will consider a review of this too. It could discover whether we have a sufficient prison stock for future projections and can save lots of money by not having to build all the additional prisons, which will not be cheap.

Let us have a coherent prison and penal policy debate, but let us not believe that being tough on crime and on the causes of crime is proved only by the punishment meted out. That is not the only test. Longer sentences do not by themselves lessen the chance of reoffending.

Some of the Government's suggestions are out on a limb. For example, in their amendment, they suggest two policies that we believe would be unhelpful in obtaining the right balance between rehabilitation and punishment. The first is the proposal that offenders on benefits would lose their benefits. The second is the removal, at a stroke, of the right to choose jury trial, which will have no great benefit in reducing crime, or the causes of crime.

When the Prime Minister was shadow Home Secretary, his policy became, "Tough on crime, tough on the causes of crime". That soundbite worked well then, but I hope that what has happened over the weekend has taught us that we must be equally tough on soundbite policy, and tough on the causes of soundbite policy. Policies must not be made up on the back of an envelope, or according to the latest wheeze. It would be helpful if the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition came up with fewer unsupported and insufficiently developed ideas.

The lessons from criminal justice policy over the years are that what sounds tough often does not work, and that what works often requires a much more sophisticated balance between punishment and rehabilitation. After this debate and the events of the past few days, the arguments about criminal justice and penal policy would be best served if all parties resolved to have fewer gimmicks and to be less intent on grabbing immediate headlines. An additional benefit for the House might be that political leaders might also look a little less foolish.


Mr. Gerald Bermingham (St. Helens, South)

I shall be brief, as I shall stick to the specific subject of the debate and refrain from going over all the things that have or have not gone wrong over the 30 years that I have been in the House. I declared my interest as a practising lawyer in my intervention in the speech by the right hon. Member for Maidstone and The Weald (Miss Widdecombe). I have many years of practical experience as a solicitor and a barrister.

The right hon. Lady's speech saddened me, as it combined prejudice with ignorance. It also coupled a lack of knowledge with an inability to foresee results. I do not mean that in a rude way, because the tragedy of the past 30 years is that we have failed to grapple with the simple, practical problem of why people who have been in prison commit crime again. Why has prison, supposedly such a great deterrent in the criminal justice system, failed to work?

When I was a young man, not so very long ago, I was a primary school teacher in the poorer part of Rotherham. My headmistress told me that the father of a child in my class was in prison, and that that was a great disgrace—to the street and to everyone. However, I know of streets today in which almost every resident has been to prison at some stage. Does that mean that we have become a much more criminal society or have we failed, for reasons of expediency, to tackle the problems of why people commit crime, and of what to do with criminals?

I fear that the answer to the second question is yes. I have heard many a speech over the past 30 years extolling the virtues of tough prison sentences and punishment, but the crime rate has not gone down. It has gone up, although it is falling again now. Even so, the prison population has risen, not fallen—so what has gone wrong?

I concede immediately that imprisonment is necessary in certain cases. I am neither a fool, nor a soft libertarian. I believe that people who rape and rob, harm and murder should go to prison, and that prison must meet three criteria. It must be a place for punishment, rehabilitation and repayment. By the latter term, I mean that prisoners must be able to repay their debt to society.

At present, overcrowding means that many prisons lack any form of educational provision and provide no means of rehabilitation. They fail on every conceivable score. That has not always been the case, so who is to blame for the present situation? That question immediately reopens the debate, and the slanging match about where the fault lies begins again.

I have always found that counter-productive, even though it was I who posed the question that sent the House into a spiral earlier. I asked why the Conservative Opposition criticise prisoner releases when the previous Conservative Government a few years ago increased the amount of remission that could be earned in a sentence.

Penal reform over the past 25 or 30 years has taken us away from the absolute deterrent of the death penalty and towards incarceration. Life sentences do not last for life, but for a set period of time. People serving a very long prison sentence are often released on parole or on licence, which contains a degree of supervision and of reintegration into society. That is a good thing.

The judiciary would say, almost to a man, that they wish that the suspended sentence could be reintroduced tomorrow. It was a very effective sentence, with the sword of Damocles hanging over what I call the middle-range offender's head. It was a deterrent, and it worked. It was abolished, which was a mistake. I will not lay blame for that: it happened, and we must look at the reality of today.

Remission rose from a third to a half for sentences of less than four years, although why we have that arbitrary limit of four years, I have never yet understood. Someone can receive a sentence of three years, 11 months and three weeks and get remission of a half, but someone who gets a sentence of four years—one week longer—serves three years. The remission in that case is a third, not a half. It is an arbitrary and pointless policy which has led to resentment in the prison system, as anyone who knows anything about the subject will readily concede. I have in the past asked the Home Secretary what is the point of this arbitrary four-year line. Why cannot we reconsider that, for example?

Home leave has been in place for a very long time; it is a means of reintegrating the long-serving prisoner towards the end of his or her sentence. We have seen the introduction of day release, work in the community and the development of open prisons. Far more development in this field could take place and with it, again, the policy of reintegrating the offender into society. If we can succeed in reintegrating the offender, we have achieved our purpose—he or she does not commit a further offence. That is good; it is what the whole thing is all about. That is how we develop our penal policy.

On home curfew towards the end of a sentence, I heard the figure of 700 crimes—gosh, shock, horror. It is a 2 per cent. failure rate.

Miss Widdecombe

It is 700 crimes.

Mr. Bermingham

The right hon. Lady, from a sedentary position, throws her eyes to heaven and says "700 crimes". Did she, in her experience at the Home Office, ever look at the figures of crimes committed by those released on licence and on parole, or when they were under a suspended sentence? If those were totalled up, noughts would be added to that figure of 700. I concede, from the word go, that 700 is 700 too many. However, in terms of success and failure, in looking at things realistically, it is a 2 per cent. failure rate, or a 98 per cent. success rate. I reckon that 98 per cent. success is pretty good, bearing in mind—[Interruption.] The right hon. Lady has an annoying habit—[Interruption.] No, just one. She sits there and mumbles like a little furry mole stuck in a corner with its snout out of the ground. Up come the little puffs of rubbish, disseminated frequently, and taking us nowhere.

Is someone is raped or murdered in this land, that is a horror for which there is no justification. However, no one has ever devised a policy—whether it is licence, parole or probation—that prevents all rape, all murder and all crime. How about those who commit crimes while on home leave and never come back? Despite that, we are not stopping home leave. No one will get it perfectly right.

We should look at the overall picture. If, by and large, the system is working—and to a very large extent, it is—we can look at the ways in which we choose those who are eligible to participate, learn lessons from our failure and improve our success in the future. That is a positive way forward.

Fair sentencing sounds wonderful. We will say to the prisoner, "You will go to prison for three years." Three years later, the door opens and out he or she comes. My experience extends across half the world. I have seen prison systems in the east and in the west, in Europe and elsewhere, and I have never yet found a system that works in that way. The one thing that a prison needs is the ability to encourage prisoners and to give them an incentive or a goal, whether that is done by remission or privileges, or a combination of the two. In that way, discipline is retained and the progressive behaviour of the prisoner is enhanced. In other words, his or her rehabilitation is enhanced.

If we say to prisoners that there is no hope, no matter how good they are, that is a policy of despair and disaster. It is dishonest and counter-productive; it takes us nowhere. If that is what the Opposition mean by honesty in sentencing, it is a recipe for disaster.

Mr. Simon Hughes

I am sure that the hon. Gentleman knows that that is the view of all prison governors and their staff. They need not only an end of sentence period, but an earlier date of release period. That gives prisoners an incentive. They realise that if they behave themselves, they will get out more quickly. Without that, the job of prison staff would almost certainly be impossible everywhere.

Mr. Bermingham

I could not agree more; that is absolutely right. That has been my experience in the conversations that I have had over the past 30 years.

I said that I did not intend to take long, and I hope that I have not. I end as I began, by saying that we are discussing an experiment that is in its early days. To date, it has been 98 per cent. successful. That is not bad for a first shot. It is a block upon which we can build. We can develop other sentencing theories and schemes, and perhaps rehabilitation. There may come a time in the not too distant future—I suspect long after my time professionally and politically—when it can be said that it is the minority of prisoners who reoffend. We shall then have developed a penal policy that is a success and a credit to us. We have taken a step on that road. It is a long road and we have a long way to go. I wish the Government well with it.

5.27 pm
Sir Nicholas Lyell (North-East Bedfordshire)

The Government's policy on law and order is plainly in a serious muddle. It is ill thought out. It is designed to sound tough, but in practice it is weak on real criminals. It is becoming increasingly illiberal and increasingly oppressive on the rights of the ordinary citizen who is on the margin of crime or who may find himself accused unfairly. His rights are being diminished.

A sensible law and order policy requires a clear and consistent message which tells those who seek to make their living out of crime that crime does not pay. That message was clearly spelled out by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Howard) during the last five years of the previous Conservative Government. Sentences for housebreaking and burglary increased. They were served for more substantial periods and the degree of housebreaking and that sort of crime fell during the period. It was a matter of cause and effect.

We in the United Kingdom believe in a firm policy on law and order. Certainly we in the Conservative party believe in that. But the Briton, the Englishman, requires a policy that is fair. An important part of that fair policy is a fair trial by jury if the individual chooses that right, not if it is granted to him from on high by a court.

The problem with the Government is that on all matters of serious crime, what they say and what they do are different. What they are doing in practice is deceptive and weak. On the rights and freedoms of the subject, however, they are becoming oppressive and illiberal.

This debate centres on early release and the home detention curfew. The problem is the extent to which home detention has not been used for the purpose for which it was introduced—as an alternative to custody so that borderline offenders could be kept out of prison. It is being used instead as a method by which to keep down the prison population and, thereby, to save money.

That is deeply disillusioning to the public. How can it be otherwise if someone rightly sentenced to six months imprisonment comes out in six weeks? It is equally disillusioning when the same applies to more serious offenders; for robbery, for example, people sentenced to an average of 26.3 months are being let out in 11.4. That sends the wrong message, which dissipates the deterrent effect on criminals, which in turn results in what is happening now: the incidence of crime in areas in which it was falling under a Conservative Government is now rising under the Labour Government. The Government are making a grave mistake.

The same error is about to be repeated in relation to the Criminal Justice (Mode of Trial) (No. 2) Bill on trial by jury. The rights of ordinary citizens will be reduced and removed. Meanwhile, serious criminals, who should be kept in prison for reasonable periods in order that the public may be protected, will serve reduced terms of imprisonment. If Home Office answers to parliamentary questions are correct, the term in prison of an average thief or handler will reduce from just under 11 months to just over 3.5 months.

The policy is designed simply to save money. The Criminal Justice (Mode of Trial) (No. 2) Bill is expected to save £120 million, but close questioning has revealed that the Government expect £84 million to result from reductions in periods of imprisonment among precisely the type of criminal who should be in prison—the experienced, repeat, dishonest offender who is alleged to be playing the system. Far from suffering, those criminals will serve only one third of the sentence that presently faces them. The Government's policy on trial by jury is deeply mistaken. It is relevant to this debate because it will reduce sentences for serious crimes committed by recidivist offenders from whom the public should be protected. That ought not to happen.

The public should see that the Home Secretary's policy to prevent wrongdoers from playing the system will in fact assist wrongdoers; and, far more seriously, it will take away the centuries-old right of the people of England and Wales which is an absolute foundation of our liberties. Much is said about democracy in current jargon, and even in the European convention on human rights—in almost every article of which the word "democracy" and stipulations of what is needed in a democratic society are mentioned. However, those who enjoy the privileges of this country should never forget that one of the greatest protections of our democracy, and one of the greatest protections that our citizens enjoy against oppression and—in Lord Devlin's word—tyranny, is the fact that, when they are accused by the public prosecutor and tried in the public courts, the decision on whether they are guilty is tempered and decided by ordinary citizens sitting in the mini-parliament of 12 good men and women and true—the English jury.

It is that right to an English jury that this oppressive Government are setting out to reduce. One of the frightening aspects of the matter is that they are stumbling into it semi-blind; they have not thought about it. They do not believe that they are doing what I described; they think that what they are doing does not really matter, but they are wrong. They should wake up.

There is a real place for tagging and for the home detention curfew. About half an hour ago, that matter was properly debated by the Home Secretary and by my right hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone and The Weald (Miss Widdecombe), who tried to pin down exactly which cases home detention curfew should deal with. I speak with some knowledge of and affection for the policy: I am proud that I was the first person to suggest such a scheme to the House—in 1981 during the Committee stage of the Criminal Justice Act 1982.

The idea was sensible; it had been proposed by Hertfordshire magistrates and carefully worked up—unlike the Prime Minister's policy proposals at the weekend. The scheme was introduced in a small way through night restriction orders and, with the development of electronic tagging and scientific testing, has become much more practical. The problem—then and now—is to ensure that people will remain at home if they are given a home detention order as an alternative to custody.

The scheme is about a tough law and order policy. My right hon. and hon. Friends—including my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Mr. Hogg) who is in the Chamber—constantly tried to persuade our colleagues and the House that to be tough on law and order, one does not have to demand long sentences on every occasion. The courts must have a range of sentences and disposals—in the jargon—so that they can impose a penalty that fits the particular offence and the particular offender. I am proud that, during 18 years, we built up a fine quiverful of penalties and disposals for the range of offences met by the courts.

Nowadays, the home detention curfew will play an increasingly important part in dealing with offenders who represent only some risk to the public. If we can be sure that they are at home and if we can give their family. the police and the probation service some opportunity to check that they are where they should be, the scheme provides a valuable penalty and disposal. It keeps people out of prison—as it is much better to do. Recidivism rates after the home detention curfew are likely to be much lower. When people go to prison, they do tend to get into colleges of crime. It would not be sensible to say that much reform is undertaken in prison; it is right to attempt reform, but difficult to succeed.

The home detention curfew was introduced in 1991. I should be happy to see it develop—provided it is used for the right purpose. It has a real place in that quiverful of remedies. However, it is not being used rightly at present.

I end as I began—attacking the Government for deceiving themselves and the public. The Government are not being tough; they are being soft on serious criminals and letting them out too soon. The Government are abusing—if that is not over-harsh—or misusing a remedy designed to keep borderline offenders out of prison; they are using it to help to reduce the number of people in prison, to save money, to give a false impression, to send the wrong signal and, in the end, to weaken the criminal justice system that it is their duty to strengthen. The debate has brought that out. I commend our motion to the House.

5.39 pm
Mr. Douglas Hogg (Sleaford and North Hykeham)

It is always a great pleasure to follow my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for North-East Bedfordshire (Sir N. Lyell).

I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone and The Weald (Miss Widdecombe) on bringing this debate before the House. We do not discuss prisons sufficiently and there are a variety of reasons why we should. One is that we should be concerned by what goes on inside prison. There is plenty of scope for abuse and, unless that is subject to harsh scrutiny in the House and elsewhere, the chances are that abuses in prison will continue. Anyone who has been involved with the Prison Service knows that prison life has its unsatisfactory features that should trouble any humane and compassionate person.

The Home Secretary reminded the House that I was the Under-Secretary responsible for prison policy in the late 1980s. At that stage, we were deeply troubled by, for example, overcrowding. I remember, too, being deeply troubled by the condition of hospitals in prisons. Some of the circumstances in which offending prisoners were kept were wholly deplorable and it is right that the House should focus as often as it can on the conditions in prison. If we do not, most assuredly, no one else will. My right hon. Friend is to be congratulated on introducing this debate.

In the first instance, I shall focus on the immediate subject under discussion—the use of home detention orders. My right hon. Friend is doing me the courtesy of staying here to listen to my speech, but I know that she needs to go and I shall certainly not take it amiss if she does. However, she articulated clearly the arguments that are to be advanced against the orders, and I wish to emphasise two of them.

First, the orders are a serious departure from honesty in sentencing, which is an important policy objective. I know perfectly well that I was a member of a Government who did not achieve that aim, but that does not mean that we should not achieve it. Broadly speaking—I shall come to the detail shortly—I am very much in favour of honesty in sentencing. It is profoundly unsatisfactory that, for sentences of up to four years, an individual can be let out of prison having served less than half the sentence.

I find that extremely difficult to justify and I believe that the public also find it extremely difficult to justify. Although I do not argue that the public should necessarily have the determinate say on penal policy—they tend to be unduly severe—we must have a penal policy that commands public support. If the public fully understood that, under the home detention curfew order system, it is possible to release people—and very serious offenders, too—who have served less than half their sentence, there would be a serious loss of confidence.

Such a loss of confidence would be compounded by the fact—the Home Secretary was fair in admitting this—that the process is an executive and not a judicial one. He said that, generally speaking, such decisions are made by prison governors and I am unhappy about the fact that a prison governor is able to substitute his or her decision on the appropriate sentence to be served for that of the trial judge. I know that an offender with a sentence of up to four years may be released when he has served half the sentence, but the trial judge at least knows that fact when he or she imposes the penalty. However, in the case of the orders, an executive decision is taken by an official, namely a prison governor.

The motives for the decision may be mixed. I do not dispute the fact that many prison governors will try to use the policy simply and solely to give a defendant a better chance of reintegrating into society. I am perfectly willing to accept that, because I have always had a high regard for prison governors. However, overcrowding is also bound to be a factor in the decision.

I have not done any research on the matter, so I may well be wrong. However, we may find that many of the orders are made by prison governors in charge of the local prisons. The overcrowding is in local prisons, as opposed to training or open prisons. I would be very disturbed if I found a high concentration of home detention orders made by prison governors of local prisons because I would be suspicious that they were made primarily to reduce overcrowding. So, I do not like the orders in principle, partly because they depart from the principle of honesty in sentencing, and partly because they are executive decisions, and that troubles me.

I also support the point made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone and The Weald that a number of offences have been committed by persons who have enjoyed the benefit of the orders. It is perfectly true that the failure rate—I am using jargon—is relatively low, as the hon. Member for St. Helens, South (Mr. Bermingham) said, but that is of precious little benefit or consolation to the victims of crimes including grievous bodily harm, robbery, burglary and rape. In one sense, the offenders might have committed the offences any way, but they would not have committed those particular offences. Therefore, the Home Secretary has some difficulty uttering reassuring words to the victims of offences committed by persons let out under such orders.

I shall go a little further to address, as other right hon. and hon. Members have, the question of honesty in sentencing. We should move away from what is in effect automatic release—in respect of sentences of up to four years at the half-way point and thereafter at two thirds. In general, a sentence should mean what it says. If one went up and down the high street, one would find that most people felt that, broadly speaking, the sentence means what it says, and that they would be surprised to learn the extent to which it does not. That broad principle is subject to two provisos.

I agree with the proposition that a discount needs to be earnable. I agree with what the Home Secretary said in response to my intervention—that it would be difficult to maintain order in prisons if there were no discount. Indeed, the process of discounting may have a role in integrating a person more fully into the community, where they are going in any event in almost the universality of cases. However, a discount of one half for sentences of up to four years is too much. I would like about 20 per cent. discount, with a requirement that it be earned. Discount should not be automatic; it ought to be able readily to be withheld, which is not so now. In other words, the person seeking the discount must establish an entitlement to it.

The other point is an overlapping one. I am sure that it is necessary for people to be released under supervision before their final release date, simply and solely to make the process of integration readier. Therefore, I strongly support the concept advanced by my right hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone and The Weald of honesty in sentencing, but in doing so I make it subject to the two provisos that I have just articulated.

I should like to make one other point in that connection, which concerns the question of life sentences and homicide cases. I am very attracted by one offence of homicide rather than the distinction between murder and manslaughter as in current law. I hope that, from time to time, the Government or the Opposition will address that question.

The second and related point is this: I am also very attracted by determinant sentences for homicide cases. I am very uneasy with the concept of the life sentence, simply because it does not mean what it says. There are very few whole-life sentences. In fact, the average time served—at least in my day at the Home Office, and I do not think that it has changed much—is about 12 years. There is a strong case to be made for giving the trial judge a power to impose a determinate sentence.

There is one problem with that which I must address, and I have not reached a final conclusion—that is, with regard to risk. At present, in life sentence cases in respect of murder, when a person has served the tariff, there is a discretion as to whether to let that person out, determined by an assessment of risk as to whether the person will reoffend. It must be accepted that the determinate sentence does not take full account of that.

There would be a way round that, which would enable the prosecution authorities to apply to the trial judge, but there is a problem. Perhaps, at least for the present, in murder cases where the life sentence is mandatory, the solution is a different one—to give the trial judge the right to set the tariff. It would be set in open court and might be subject to appeal, but it would be a judicial act.

I had to set tariffs. Subject to the supervening view of my right hon. Friend Lord Hurd, I set the tariff in about 600 cases. I had no inhibitions about doing so. Indeed, we ratcheted the tariffs up. I make no bones about that. However, I feel strongly that Ministers should not set the tariffs. I used to do it. Reading the documents, often late at night, I gave them as much consideration as I could, but obviously I knew but a part of what the trial judge knew.

I did not think that that was a proper exercise for a Minister. It was capable of constituting unfairness. I suspect that, in the fullness of time, it will be struck down by the Strasbourg Court, and we would do well to anticipate that by deciding that, in murder cases with mandatory life sentences, the tariff should be set by the trial judge.

Sir Nicholas Lyell

My right hon. and learned Friend is making interesting points, many of which I agree with, but the sentence for murder—a mandatory life sentence—requires review over a long period, and the approach to that review is inevitably part of the governance of the nation. Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that, in a sense, that is always political, and there is more wisdom than is sometimes recognised in leaving it with the Government of the day?

Mr. Hogg

Of course, what my right hon. and learned Friend says on this matter and on all matters should be listened to with great respect. He is right for a number of reasons, one of which I think that he would emphasise: confidence in the criminal system depends, at least in part, on a response by those administering sentences to the public sense of what is right and wrong. One must concede that, oddly enough, politicians are rather better at sensing that than are judges.

I suspect that at the back of my right hon. and learned Friend's mind is a fear that the tariffs to be set by the trial judge might be somewhat on the low side. I share that anxiety, but in the end my conclusion is that it is important that the trial judge sets the tariff. However, it is a difference of degree. We have so much in common, that I am sorry not to agree with my right hon. and learned Friend on this narrow point.

Sir Nicholas Lyell

I am grateful to my right hon. and learned Friend. I do not disagree with him about the judge setting the tariff, providing that it is a minimum. What is important is that the overview of life sentences for the most serious offence should remain with the Government of the day, answerable democratically to the people of the country.

Mr. Hogg

We are very close, my right hon. and learned Friend and I, on the matter. I think that I do not agree with him, but it is a matter on which two friends may disagree without any acrimony, so I hope that he will forgive me if I do not entirely accept what he said.

I shall make two final points. The first is about the nature of imprisonment. It is extremely important that the House should go on saying that the deprivation of liberty is the penalty. I say that because, like all constituency Members, I am often approached by people who want conditions in prison to be harsh. I do not. I want conditions to be sparse and rigorous, but I do not want to dishonour people.

The punishment lies in the deprivation of liberty, and one should not humiliate people unnecessarily. There are good pragmatic reasons for that. The first is that, if one dehumanises people, which comes from unnecessary humiliation, one yet further alienates them from the mores of society, to which they must ultimately return. Leaving aside reasons of humanity, I am pragmatically very much against that.

Secondly and differently—this goes back to a point that I made at the beginning of my speech—if one dehumanises people, one removes the inhibitions that others have about ill-treating them. If one coops them up in extremely unsanitary conditions and generally treats them as animals, one should not be at all surprised if the prison officers misbehave towards them. For those two pragmatic reasons, I am not in favour of unnecessarily humiliating prisoners.

That takes me to the next point, which was touched on by my right hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone and The Weald, who spoke eloquently on the same point at the Conservative conference two years ago, I think—the need to make prison as purposeful as possible. One of the things that struck me forcibly when I was prisons Minister and when I have gone round the prison in my constituency, Morton Hall, is the degree to which prisoners lack basic skills and social skills.

For an enormous number of prisoners, numeracy and literacy have no meaning at all. I am very much in favour of pursuing vigorous educational programmes to the extent possible in prisons, and related to that, taking every opportunity to give prisoners skills relevant to their employment prospects in the future. That, too, needs to be done in prisons to the maximum possible extent.

An overlapping but equally important point is that efforts should be made to get prisoners out of their cells, for association, yes, but for work as well, within the prison and sometimes—at Morton Hall it is possible—work outside the walls of the prison. Their time should be occupied in a fulfilling and purposeful way. It contributes a little to rehabilitation—I am not one of the great optimists about the prison system, but it makes a contribution.

My final point goes to the status of the inspector of prisons. During the greater part of the time when I was prisons Minister, the inspector of prisons was Judge Tumim, who was a highly distinguished inspector of prisons. I have a high regard also for the present inspector, Sir David Ramsbotham. The status of the inspectorate of prisons is important, and I do not want it to be in any way downgraded or its authority or status diluted.

The truth is—this goes back to a point that I made earlier—that there is too little external insight into the way in which prisons are run. We are greatly indebted to the boards of visitors. I used to read the report of the board of visitors in respect of every prison when I received it. The boards of visitors are valuable and have an important role to play, but it is not a sufficient role, partly because they spend a considerable time working with a particular prison, which means that their experience and judgment is focused on that prison and does not necessarily have the wider perspective that I would wish.

I know perfectly well that reports from the inspector of prisons can be extremely embarrassing to the prisons Minister. I must have had 20 reports while I was prisons Minister, and from time to time I was, indeed, embarrassed by what Judge Tumim stated. We were called upon to answer his criticisms. I would say to the Minister of State, Home Office, the right hon. Member for Brent, South (Mr. Boateng), that, although it is tiresome and one may be embarrassed at the time, for goodness sake, take a broad view.

Let us recognise that prisons are places where abuses can happen only too readily, and where they are never discovered. I hope that nothing will be done to undermine the authority, status or importance of the inspector of prisons. Above all, his office should not be merged with the inspectorate of probation. That would undermine and dilute it.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone and The Weald has returned. That is most kind. I congratulate her on introducing the debate. When she is responsible for implementing penal policy, could we please have regular debates on the prisons?

Miss Widdecombe


Mr. Hogg

That is reassuring. Will she also ensure that we get rid of the home detention curfew order scheme?

Miss Widdecombe


Mr. Hogg

The answer is yes. Subject to my proviso, which she did not hear, but can read, will she be careful to ensure honesty in sentencing?

Miss Widdecombe


Mr. Hogg

I know that my right hon. Friend attaches great importance to making prison life purposeful through education and work. I am sure that it will be one of her priorities.

Miss Widdecombe


Mr. Hogg

Finally, my right hon. Friend should maintain the status, importance and authority of the inspector of prisons.

Miss Widdecombe


Mr. Hogg

Yes! That is all I wish to say.

6.1 pm

Mr. William Ross (East Londonderry)

The main purpose of the debate is to discuss early release from prison in England and Wales. However, this Parliament covers the United Kingdom, and it is important to bring to the House a perspective on the early release of prisoners from the Celtic fringe, as it were. I listened to the comments of the right hon. and learned Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Mr. Hogg) on early release and large amounts of remission. I also listened with interest to the remarks of the hon. Member for St. Helens, South (Mr. Bermingham) on the same subject. Both appeared to believe remission should be earned. I suggest to the Minister that, regardless of the amount of remission, it should be earned more easily by a first offender who is serving his first prison sentence than by a chap who is serving a second or a third term and proving himself to be a persistent offender and professional criminal.

I hope that those who are in prison for the first time for lesser offences might be less willing to go back, and could have an early release target towards which to work. Thereafter, there should be harsher honesty about sentencing and remission. Folks should know that if they return to prison for the second, third or fourth time, it will be more difficult to get out early than it was the first time around.

I want to consider the consequences of the early release of prisoners that resulted from the Belfast agreement. We have heard that the Government have seen fit to grant early release to some 20,000 convicted criminals on the mainland, including drug dealers and traffickers, robbers, burglars, violent offenders, sex offenders and God knows what other sort of offender. The motion does not mention murderers. However, for anyone from Northern Ireland, the debate is a case of, "I've heard all this before; I've been there, done that."

I can give the right hon. Member for Maidstone and The Weald (Miss Widdecombe) some good news: early release of prisoners in Northern Ireland means that there will be many unemployed prison officers in Northern Ireland and two empty prisons of which good use could be made. It might be a little far to go to visit prisoners, but the accommodation is there. If the number of prisoners and misbehaviour is decreasing, use of Northern Ireland prisons for mainland prisoners would be a short-term answer. However, it would be useful, and would save money that would otherwise be expended on building a new prison on this side of the Irish sea.

As hon. Members will recall, the Belfast agreement was sold to the people of Northern Ireland as the answer to all their problems. Under the terms of the agreement, all terrorist prisoners—who are in a slightly different category from the prisoners that we have been discussing, but nevertheless wind up in prisons—were to be released in two years, no matter what their crime. Those two years end in four weeks. At the end of that time, every person convicted of terrorist murder up to a specific date will be out. We were told that peace and tranquillity would ensue if those mass murderers were released from prison and permitted to roam the streets freely. "Freely" is the operative word because none has something attached to his ankle to enable him to be watched. They are out, full stop. They are not electronically tagged.

The news for the people of Northern Ireland was not all bad. During the referendum campaign in 1998, the Prime Minister appeared in Coleraine in my constituency. He gave five handwritten pledges to the people of Northern Ireland, and asked them to vote for the agreement on that basis. I cannot stress enough the importance of those pledges to many Unionist people who were prepared to give the agreement a chance—wrongly, I believed. Those folk believed the Prime Minister when he promised them that those who threatened or used violence would be excluded from the Government of Northern Ireland and that prisoners would be kept in prison unless violence was given up for good.

When I dealt with a terrorist organisation, I did not believe in Santa Claus. I rarely believe it when a Government promise Santa Claus. Experience has taught us that those pledges, like so many from the Government, are merely the product of a highly sophisticated spin machine. The Government seem to us to have no clearer policy or strategic vision than to buy off terrorist organisations and to see themselves through whatever dominates the news headlines. They give no thought to the long-term consequences for the citizens who must live with them.

Mr. Michael Fabricant (Lichfield)

I wonder whether the hon. Gentleman has read the intelligence reports that I have seen from time to time, which suggest that several terrorist prisoners who have been released early have since joined the Real IRA and the Continuity IRA. What does that say about recidivism?

Mr. Ross

I shall come to that in a moment. The hon. Gentleman pre-empted me by a few moments.

The Government did not give detailed, comprehensive thought to the effects of creating circumstances in which a well-organised terrorist structure could claim success in getting prisoners out before they had completed their sentences. That unquestionably happened. Hundreds of such people from both sides of the community have benefited from early release. The first releases took place on 11 September 1998. Those released include some of the most violent criminals that the United Kingdom has ever had to tackle. For example, the IRA Brighton bomber, Patrick Magee, was one of them—even the Home Secretary had reservations about releasing him early. Sean Kelly, who murdered nine people in the explosion in a fish shop on the Shankill road, was released early. That is only the IRA side. On the loyalist side, the men who murdered eight people in the Rising Sun bar in Greysteel, again in my constituency, will soon be released, if they are not already out. It cannot have escaped hon. Members' notice that the recent tension in the Shankill road has not been helped by the release of the area's former UFF commander. That also happened under the terms of the Belfast agreement.

It seems to the people of Northern Ireland that those people who have been released early are the untouchables in the criminal structures of Northern Ireland. Two weeks ago, a bomb exploded in the garden shed of a house in Ballymurphy. There are strong rumours that one of the individuals involved is the IRA quartermaster for the area, who is out on early release. Several months ago, a car carrying a bomb was intercepted near Lisburn. One of those involved was also an IRA man on early release. During an Orange order parade the weekend before last, two IRA commanders, out on early release, were spotted stoning the RUC.

In Northern Ireland, early release has aided the growth of a mafia sub-culture, which is steadily increasing. Legitimate business men are faced with demands for money from people who have literally got away with murder. Such demands have been made for a long time, but they are now more subtle. When a convicted killer who has served his two-year sentence walks into someone's shop or business and requests a donation to his cause, or suggests that he provides the doorman for his bar or nightclub, what should that person do? Does he go to the police who, seemingly, often cannot help? He can try to ignore that killer, but that is not a wise policy—or he can do as the Government have done and simply surrender to the demands.

This has all come about as the result of a completely wrong reading of the situation. When I look at the system of early release of prisoners on the mainland in the light of my own experience, I wonder whether we are not taking too soft a line with many of the people involved. The real tragedy of Northern Ireland is that, rather than try to ensure that terrorists conform to the normal standards of democratic behaviour—namely, to respect the rule of law and the decision of the ballot box—the Government have sought to turn logic on its head and accept the terrorists' propaganda. They are now trying to persuade the law-abiding majority that it is acceptable for murderers to sit as Ministers, for decisions on the police force to rely on the good behaviour of the very criminals and murderers whom that same police force has fought for 30 years, and for vast terrorist arsenals to remain under the control of those terrorist organisations.

Since some of the dumps in the Republic of Ireland have been inspected, I assume that the whereabouts of such weapons is now known. If not, our security forces, never mind those in the Republic, are failing in their duty. I therefore hope that they will act properly and pick up those weapons. In Northern Ireland, the results of the early release of prisoners are plain for everyone to see. The RUC is demoralised and saying to itself, "Why bother to catch them?" That exists in a lesser form on this side of the Irish sea. In Northern Ireland, there is a rejuvenated criminal class, drugs and spiralling crime rates and an increasingly angry and frightened populace. It is hard for parents and teachers to teach children and young people the difference between right and wrong when one of the principal wrongdoers is now the Minister of Education and when they can see people who have literally got away with murder walking the streets.

Early release has massive implications for the criminal justice system. If someone can shoot eight innocent people dead in a bar because they believe them to be Roman Catholics, or blow up nine innocent people in a fish shop because they believe them to be Protestants, and then, after being caught, be released after serving less than two years for such mass murder, how can we possibly decide a reasonable tariff for a thief or a burglar? Early release has been a disaster in Northern Ireland. It was misconceived there and is equally misconceived here, because it lets criminals off too lightly and forgets that there is not only a rehabilitation but a payment to be made for crime. It is therefore an insult to the victims of crime. The sentences of innocent victims cannot be reduced. Why, therefore, should there be a reduction of sentence, except in limited circumstances, for those who do the injuring?

6.13 pm
Mr. Michael Fabricant (Lichfield)

It is a privilege to follow the hon. Member for East Londonderry (Mr. Ross) who, of course, is right: the purpose of prison is not only to punish and rehabilitate, but to protect people from crimes that criminals might commit if they were not in prison. As he said, in Northern Ireland terrorists have left prison early, joined Real IRA and Continuity IRA and committed terrorist offences in Northern Ireland and on the mainland of Great Britain.

It is a privilege to speak in this debate as a member of the Select Committee on Home Affairs. I am the only Committee member here today, although that is not the result of my colleagues' negligence—they are off on a visit to Europe, examining the integrity of ports in respect of asylum seekers and others trying to enter the United Kingdom. The Government's policy on asylum seekers demonstrates the Home Office's effectiveness on that, as does its policy on early releases. The Government have become notorious for the use of spin, re-launching existing policies and announcing new sums of money which, time and time again—as a little examination demonstrates—double, treble or quadruple the actual amounts that are given.

In considering whether we are soft on asylum seekers and why they seek out this country, the Home Affairs Committee visited Sangette, on the outskirts of Calais, where we saw 600 or 700 asylum seekers living in the most appalling conditions. Those who spoke English told us that they had travelled across Europe from locations as varied as Iraq, Kurdistan, Iran and Syria.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Michael Lord)

I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will appreciate that the title of the debate is "Prisoners (Early Release)". I should be grateful if he would direct his remarks to that.

Mr. Fabricant

I was going to point out a continuity, as those people had the sole objective of coming to the United Kingdom—[Interruption.] I shall answer the hon. Members for Basildon (Angela Smith) and for High Peak (Mr. Levitt), who question why I am raising the issue—not that they have participated in the debate. There is a continuity, as the Government try to claim that they are achieving many things, but they have not achieved anything on crime and punishment in this country. Indeed, my right hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone and The Weald (Miss Widdecombe) asked the Home Secretary two questions to which we still have not had a proper answer. The first question was, where are the 4,000 prison places that are now available? The Home Secretary tried to answer, but could not reach the figure of 4,000.

The right hon. Gentleman was asked another question that he could not answer—perhaps, in fairness, because my right hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone and The Weald asked him several questions. However, I shall repeat it in the hope that the Minister may be able to answer it in his summing-up. How many double cells are now occupied by three prisoners? That follows on from points made by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Mr. Hogg), who pointed out that prison conditions are important too. As I said in my opening remarks, prison should be a place in which rehabilitation can take place, perhaps, as my right hon. and learned Friend pointed out, through the acquisition of new skills.

The Home Secretary tried to maintain that our support for electronic tagging somehow allowed the use of the home detention curfew scheme. The two do not go together, and it is not right and proper that a tagging system should mean that people can leave prison early. Indeed, as my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham said, to ensure discipline in prisons, there should be a system of rewards as well as punishments for prisoners' behaviour.

Clearly, a system of reward, as well as allowing prisoners to perform certain functions in prison that they might not otherwise be allowed to perform, should include the reward of early release. I am inclined to follow the argument presented by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham that early release should amount to perhaps only 20 per cent. of the prison sentence set down by the judge. A 50 per cent. release is certainly not fair and is not safe for society, as my hon. Friend the Member for East Londonderry pointed out.

It is worth bearing in mind that between the introduction of the scheme on 28 January last year and 30 April this year, more than 20,000 convicted prisoners were released early. They were not released early for light crimes, as the Home Secretary referred to them: 53 people had committed manslaughter; six, attempted murder; and 2,562 wounding, aggravated bodily harm and grievous bodily harm. Most awful of all, in some respects, 2,767 had been sentenced to prison for drug dealing; 23 for cruelty to children; 20 for sex offences; 1,887 for burglary; 811 for robbery; 237 for violent disorder, and 535 for affray.

Perhaps if those convicted prisoners had learned their lesson and society was now safe from them, that would be justification, yet 700 prisoners on special early release have breached the conditions of their curfew and 40 have disappeared and remain unlawfully at large. Nearly 400 of those released on the scheme have committed further offences—offences that they would not otherwise have been able to commit had they still been in prison. They include two rapes, five threats to kill, 119 offences of burglary, theft and robbery and 43 assaults.

We should remind ourselves that those offences were committed by people who could not have committed them had they still been serving a prison sentence, yet what does the Home Secretary say? He has said: the introduction of home detention curfew has been remarkably successful. That is no remarkable success.

It is not my intention to speak at length. The Government have been successful up to now in one thing and one thing only: playing with the imaginations of the electorate by launching and relaunching initiatives and by doublilkng, tripling and quadrupling the money available for those initiatives, at least in the imagination. However, like the little boy who cried wolf once too often, Ministers are finding that they are no longer believed. Even their core supporters can see that the Government score full marks only on rhetoric, but continue to fail in delivery, as we have heard in this debate on crime and punishment.

The early release scheme is a clear demonstration that, far from being tough on crime, as is the case with asylum the Government and the Home Secretary are regarded as a soft touch by criminals. He does not deter them. To the majority of people who are law abiding and just want justice to be done and our streets to be safe, that is unforgivable. Criminal sentences must be just, but sufficiently harsh to deter future criminal acts. They must succeed wherever possible in rehabilitation, as my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham said, and must keep criminals away from society if they are unwilling to abide by the decent rules of society. The Government and the Home Secretary have failed the British people on all four counts.

6.23 pm
Mr. David Ruffley (Bury St. Edmunds)

the scheme, the more I realise that it could be described as the camel that broke the Straw's back because it is nothing less than a disgrace. We know—the prisons Minister, the right hon. Member for Brent, South (Mr. Boateng), has told the House—that it is possible for those sentenced to six months to get out in just six weeks because the scheme means that a prisoner can be released up to two months earlier than would otherwise be the case.

That raises interesting questions on the whole issue of honesty in sentencing. My right hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone and The Weald (Miss Widdecombe), the shadow Home Secretary, and my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition have been very clear over the past weeks and months about the need for radical reform, so that there is honesty in sentencing. The scheme that is before us makes a bad situation considerably worse.

The figures do not make happy reading. There are some chilling statistics on the period between the introduction of the scheme in January 1999 and 30 April this year. The following number of people have been let out early under the home detention curfew scheme: 53 who were convicted of manslaughter; six who were convicted of attempted murder; a staggering 2,767 who were convicted of drug dealing; 20 who were convicted of sex offences; 811 who were convicted of robbery; and 237 who were convicted of violent disorder.

The question that we have must ask is: did the Government intend that? Looking at the record and the comments of the Home Secretary, we are forced to conclude that they did not. He said: We have no plans or intention whatever to provide for electronic tagging to facilitate the early release of serious or sexual offenders. Let me make that clear, with a full stop—none whatever.—[Official Report, 29 November 1999; Vol. 340, c. 27.] The statistics that I have alluded to make it clear beyond peradventure that he was being economical with the truth when he made that statement. As such, he should apologise to the House for making it.

It is true, as my hon. Friends have said, that Labour acts soft, but talks tough. I am reminded of the comments by the then Home Office Minister, the right hon. Member for Gateshead, East and Washington, West (Ms Quin), when putting forward the scheme: Prison is the right place for those who have committed serious crimes. However, the facts show that those committing serious crimes—sexual offences, manslaughter, attempted murder—are being let out on the scheme.

The Conservative position is simple and straightforward, as we would expect from this Conservative Front-Bench team. We have common-sense policies. Our common-sense policy on electronic tagging is that it should be used not as a mechanism of early release, but as a form of punishment in its own right. Therefore, we will not have any nonsense about our support for electronic tagging. Where we have suggested that it may be a useful disposal, it is in connection with punishment, not early release.

I often read that great work of fiction, which is worthy of entry into the next Booker prize contest. It is the called the Labour party manifesto 1997. It promised a "battle against drugs" and a commitment to tackle the modern menace of drugs in our communities. We look at that at face value and then see the statistics disclosed under the scheme. As I have reported, that Government initiative has allowed 2,700-plus convicted drug dealers to be let out.

I could go on. In fact, I will. The manifesto said that the police have our full support. Those are warm words from the Labour party, but more than 100 criminals convicted of assaulting our police officers and of resisting arrest have been let out early after serving less than half their sentences. I give another example. The Government talk toughly about toughening sentences for causing death by dangerous driving and they want to increase it to a life tariff. The Minister of State, Home Office, The hon. Member for Norwich, South (Mr. Clarke), said that the public have a right to expect…long and heavy sentences. They do, but they do not expect it from this Government because 126 dangerous drivers who have killed on the roads have been let out early under the scheme.

I am surprised that Ministers show their faces. It is not difficult to understand why their Back Benchers have not bothered to show their faces today. It is an absolute disgrace that they have not been willing to be here.

Even Millbank has been unwilling to page them and to tell them to come to the House to defend their own Government's policy.

Mr. Fabricant

Does my hon. Friend realise that it is worse than that? Not only are Labour Back Benchers not here now, but only one bothered to take part in what is an important debate.

Mr. Ruffley

Labour Back Benchers are frit and we know why. It is a disgraceful piece of law and order policy and it will be judged as such at the next election by my constituents. In the aftermath of the Tony Martin case, they saw the robustness and clarity of the Conservative party position as articulated by my right hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone and The Weald and the Leader of the Opposition, and the pathetic, lily-livered, duplicitous talk and triple counting by the Government. We even heard Labour rubbish about "more money" for rural constabularies. My Suffolk constabulary has yet to hear any firm details in the wake of the furore that was created on the back of the Tony Martin judgment.

I shall give another example of how the Home Secretary talks about being tough on violent crime. We all read the spin that Labour put into the public domain to soften the bad news when it finally hit us, which is that violent crime has increased and is getting worse under this Government. We know why: fewer police officers and the soft, woolly minded, sandal-wearing policy of Home Office Ministers. They have no claim to be the custodians of proper, tough and effective law and order in this country.

I shall quote another statistic. I hope that the Minister can deal with it—probably not, if experience is anything to go by. The Home Secretary called for tougher sentences for street robbers in the light of the rise in violent crime, but he has let out more than 800 convicted robbers early under the special release scheme.

There is confusion in prisons policy. I am glad that at least one Minister has decided to turn up for this debate; it happens to be the prisons Minister—the right hon. Member for Brent, South (Mr. Boateng). Perhaps, in his summing up, he will tell us how he will be able to afford the burgeoning prison population. At the end of December 1999, the prison population was 62,060 and the certified normal accommodation—the prison capacity with no overcrowding—was 62,480. Some 17.8 per cent. of those prisoners were on remand. Projections based on those statistics show that the trend is upwards. If the custody rate and sentence length remain at 1999 levels, the projected prison population will be 70,400 by 2007—in the unlikely event that a Labour Government are running law and order then. If the custody rates and sentence lengths increase, the figure is predicted to be as high as 80,300.

The Minister has probably been doing his best with the Treasury to fund Home Office policy, but we want more money for our police, and he should tell us whether he has the money to fund the increase in the prison population. If he has not, the policy is more of a shambles than it first appears.

6.32 pm
Mr. Nick Hawkins (Surrey Heath)

It is always very interesting to discover what has been going on while a debate has been in progress. It is of particular note that we have some more up-to-date figures on the number of people released under the home detention curfew scheme. Those figures were released in a written answer at 3.30 this afternoon to my hon. Friend the Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Lidington). I shall return to those figures later. It is always a pleasure to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Ruffley), but I have to tell him that the figures are worse than those that he mentions.

In response to an intervention from my hon. Friend the Member for West Derbyshire (Mr. McLoughlin), the Home Secretary said that the Government would introduce a proposal on the Prime Minister's much vaunted announcement about on-the-spot fines as soon as there was legislative time, but despite that fact, this evening's BBC news reported that No. 10 Downing street is now saying that the idea of on-the-spot fines has been dropped. It has spun off into oblivion, so what price the Home Secretary's response to my hon. Friend now?

I do not think that the Home Secretary has the guts to try to explain away the fact that that policy has spun off into oblivion between 4 o'clock this afternoon and 6 o'clock this evening. What has happened to the policy, which, as the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) said, must have puzzled the theologians of Tubingen? It reminds me of the nursery rhyme about Solomon Grundy that we all learned as children. We now find that Labour policy is born on a Friday and buried on a Monday. Undoubtedly, we shall see much more spinning, angels dancing on the point of a pin and the Minister's usual sophistry to try to explain away that policy.

I turn to some of the serious points that have been made. In answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Reigate (Mr. Blunt), the Home Secretary said that he would tell those who sadly and tragically have been the victims of rape committed by someone who was released on home detention curfew that it is "better to manage the transition from custody to the community" of the criminal. Frankly, that is a disgrace. Are the Government concerned about law-abiding citizen or the criminal?

All the Home Secretary's words suggested that the Government are far more concerned about better managing the criminal's transition from custody to the community, but we on this side of the House are more concerned about the law abiding. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone and The Weald (Miss Widdecombe) said, the routine of someone who should be serving a custodial sentence in full, but has been released early on home detention curfew, may involve drug dealing from home.

I shall now deal with the figures that were announced in a written answer after the start of the debate. The Government said that they would be tough on crime and tough on the causes of crime", but in which group of offences have the largest number of offenders been released on home detention curfew? We had the figures to the end of April; we now have the figures to the end of May, and drug offenders comprise the largest group. No fewer than 3,480 of those convicted of drugs offences have been released, including 122 offenders whose convictions were for the production of drugs and 1,156 whose offence was the supply of drugs—the most serious drugs offence of all. Some 1,476 had been convicted of possession with intent to supply and 462 with possession. No fewer than 222 of those who have been released early have been involved in the unlawful import or export of drugs, so international drug smugglers are being released early.

Home detention curfews are not a sensible alternative. We know that the Government say that they regard that policy as a success, but they should tell that to the victims of the criminals who have been released early. The victims do not accept that; the public will not accept it, and neither will we.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Bury St. Edmunds said, as recently as November 1999, the Home Secretary said: We have no plans or intention whatever to provide for electronic tagging to facilitate the early release of serious or sexual offenders. Let me make that clear, with a full stop—none whatever"—[Official Report, 29 November 1999; Vol. 340, c. 27.] That was long after the Select Committee report, although the Home Secretary claimed that its members knew all about what the Government had in mind. Of course they did not. As late as last November, long after the report, the Home Secretary told the House that the Government had no plans to apply the scheme to serious or sexual offences.

I shall quote the number of sexual offenders who have been released under the scheme in direct contravention of what the Home Secretary told the House. Nineteen offenders convicted of indecent assault, one of unlawful sexual intercourse and one of buggery have been released. Those figures completely undermine what the Home Secretary said as recently as last November.

I shall deal with one or two of the other contributions to the debate. We agree with the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey about the need for constructive work to be done in prison. He is well aware that Coldingley prison, which is in my constituency, is an extremely good example of a prison where constructive work is done. I know that the Minister has visited it and, while considering legislation in Committee, we have agreed that we want to encourage such prisons, but there is no purpose in releasing people under the scheme and denying them the opportunity to take part in constructive work in prison when their offences should justify a lengthy custodial sentence.

The hon. Gentleman also said that longer sentences do not lessen the risk of reoffending. That may be true, but we on these Benches say that offenders cannot commit offences while they are in custody. He said that there should be fewer headline-grabbing initiatives. Perhaps that applied particularly to the one to which the Prime Minister referred last Friday, which has already been dropped. We need to be concerned about the protection of the public: once sentenced by a judge to a substantial custodial sentence, a person ought to serve that sentence. There should be honesty in sentencing.

Mr. Simon Hughes

May I ask a follow-up question? Given that, at the moment, almost everybody sentenced to prison is released, do the Conservatives believe that more people should be sentenced to prison with no chance of ever being released?

Mr. Hawkins

That simply does not address the issue of home detention curfew, which is what we are discussing, and the hon. Gentleman has raised a canard that has no relevance to the debate. We have said that there should be honesty in sentencing and that the sentence imposed by the judge, which the public believe will protect them, should be served.

I refer to some of the remarks made by my right hon. and hon. Friends. From his great experience as a former Attorney-General, my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for North-East Bedfordshire (Sir N. Lyell) pointed out that the Government's law and order policy is in a mess, saying that although the Government sound tough, in practice the policies are weak and designed to save taxpayers' money. Reducing periods spent in prison, especially for the serious offender, saves the Treasury money, but does not protect the public.

My right hon. and learned Friend spoke with particular authority. In 1981, during the debates in Committee on what became the Criminal Justice Act 1982, he was the first person to suggest a type of curfew scheme, which those in Hertfordshire who pioneered the idea called the night restriction order. He pointed out that it was intended for borderline offenders who might not get custodial sentences. It was never intended for serious offenders, to whom the Government are now applying it.

My right hon. and learned Friend also pointed out that over our 18 years in government we built up what he described as a fine quiverful of disposals and sentences that are open to the courts. By using the policy as an Executive act, the Home Secretary has undermined the integrity of sentencing judges and magistrates in the court. That is the most serious condemnation of the Government.

My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Mr. Hogg), who always makes a powerful speech to the House, supported honesty in sentencing and talked about the need for the public to feel that sentences are appropriate. He stressed that the problem with home detention curfews as the Government use them is that they represent an Executive decision, which departs from the principle of honesty in sentencing, and made a powerful call for moving to a sentence discount of no more than 20 per cent. and for that discount to be earned with good behaviour and work in prison.

My right hon. and learned Friend also made the important point that so many prisoners, as I know from my own experience at the Bar, lack basic skills such as literacy and numeracy. Therefore, one needs to provide incentives and to try to ensure that prisoners are asked to do worthwhile work in prison.

In an extremely powerful speech, the hon. Member for East Londonderry (Mr. Ross) called for a tough approach to those who have committed the most serious offences—in particular, terrorist offences in Northern Ireland—and drew parallels with what happens in Ulster. He knows that we on these Benches have repeatedly called for an end to early releases until there is actual surrender of guns and explosives and he is aware that we strongly support what he said about that: too many concessions were made to the terrorists and too soft a line has been taken.

As the hon. Gentleman said, based on their highly sophisticated spin machine and to get over the short-term difficulties, the Government made promises without giving any thought to the long-term consequences for law-abiding citizens. I say to him that that is true not only in relation to Ulster. Sadly, the Government cause the same problems—spin as opposed to substance—on the mainland. My hon. Friend the Member for Lichfield (Mr. Fabricant) drew attention to the double counting and the re-announcement of Government policies with which we are so familiar in this policy area as in so many others.

The Home Secretary made desperate stabs into political history to try to bolster his argument, but got into trouble when he talked about the so-called vacant prison places. My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Howard) pointed out the difference between certifiable normal capacity and usable operational capacity. Just like the initiative for on-the-spot fines, we know that that is another matter that the Prime Minister has completely misunderstood. On home detention curfew as on so many other law and order policies, we can be absolutely certain that what is vacant and certifiable is Labour policy.

6.45 pm
The Minister of State, Home Office (Mr. Paul Boateng)

We can be equally clear that crime doubled under the Conservatives while the number of criminals convicted by the courts fell by a third. That is the base from which we were required to move. Protecting the public and ensuring that we use prisons as an opportunity to address the underlying causes of offending with far greater success than the Opposition ever managed when they had stewardship of these matters are at the heart of what we seek to achieve. Therefore, it is disappointing that the Opposition have chosen to use this, their day, in such a way.

Let us not forget that today is the Opposition's day, not ours. We do not have to come into the Chamber to listen to them, but when one considers who turned up to listen to whom, it is interesting that the maximum number present on their side when Opposition spokespersons were not speaking was four on my count. Indeed, at one time they were outnumbered by Ulster Unionist Members, so let us be clear about who attended the debate.

Dr. Julian Lewis

Will the Minister give way?

Mr. Boateng

No, I have no intention of doing so.

Let us be clear: despite all the shilly-shallying and all the ranting and raving that we have heard from the Opposition, they cannot get away from the fact that the overwhelming majority of those placed on the home detention scheme have successfully completed their curfew. The overwhelming majority have not offended on curfew and the scheme has helped thousands of short-term prisoners to make the difficult transition back into the community. That is what it was designed to do—that was its purpose—and it is better to protect the public by ensuring that we better manage the transition of offenders from custody into the community.

Let us have a brief look at where all this began. The home detention curfew scheme was universally approved, without dissension, by the all-party Home Affairs Committee. The hon. Member for Surrey Heath (Mr. Hawkins) put his signature to its report and no amount of slithering and sliding can get him away from that fact. His fingerprints are all over the report—we do not need DNA to tell us that. Furthermore, I have here a record of the debate of 8 April 1998, in which he spoke. He had this to say: I particularly welcome the provisions on electronic tagging.—[Official Report, 8 April 1998; Vol. 310, c. 417.] There it is. He cannot say that he did not know—it was all in the Bill and it received not just a welcome, but a particular welcome.

Mr. Fabricant

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. In the light of the news that the Prime Minister has announced that there will not be on the spot fines, has the Home Secretary said that he wishes to make a statement in that regard?

Mr. Deputy Speaker

I have no knowledge of those matters. In any case, it is not a matter for the Chair.

Mr. Boateng

Even the speech of the hon. Member for Lichfield (Mr. Fabricant) was better than that intervention, and that is saying something.

We need to be clear that the home detention curfew scheme is just one of the many measures that we have introduced to help prepare prisoners for release, as part of our strategy for reducing reoffending and protecting the public.

Some good points have been made in this afternoon's debate. One was made by the right hon. and learned Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Mr. Hogg), who spoke of the importance of ensuring that we take care to reflect on what we do in prisons to address recidivism. That point was taken up with some force by my hon. Friend the Member for St. Helens, South (Mr. Bermingham), who endorsed the Government's approach on this issue. The right hon. and learned Gentleman spoke about how, on occasion, he was "deeply troubled" by the failure of his Government and the Prison Service better to address that issue. Well, we have been addressing the issue. We have been applying additional resources to addressing basic skills in literacy and numeracy, which were neglected for 18 years by the previous Conservative Government. It has taken a Labour Government to begin to address those deficits.

Miss Widdecombe

Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Boateng

No. [HON. MEMBERS: "Give way."] If I may finish the point that I am making, the right hon. Lady can then make her point in her own inimitable fashion.

We are spending additional resources: £26 million has gone into education—basic literacy and numeracy skills—to address the causes of offending. That is money that was never spent by the Conservative Government when they had stewardship of the Prison Service. Now, without costing their proposals, they seek to renege on their previous commitment to developing a penal policy that would have recognised the benefits that the home detention curfew scheme presents in terms of better protecting the public by better managing the transition from prison into the community.

Miss Widdecombe

Will the right hon. Gentleman confirm one very simple fact: that under our stewardship of the Prison Service, purposeful activity rose to a peak of 26 hours, whereas it is now down to below 23 hours? How on earth is that developing prisoners' potential?

Mr. Boateng

The right hon. Lady knows, because in her serious moments she has done some serious thinking on the issue, that the definition of purposeful activity is seriously flawed. In fairness, she will admit that. She also knows that, by any definition, this Government are spending more money on, and devoting more energy and resources to, basic literacy and numeracy than her Government ever did. [Interruption.] All the baying in the world cannot get over that basic fact.

Let us go back to the subject of home detention curfews. We have not sought to renege on that in the course of our stewardship of the Prison Service. It is but one element of our overarching strategy for reducing reoffending and protecting the public—one important element. However, let us examine what we need to do and should be doing better to protect the public, and what we are doing. A basic part of the structure of the home detention curfew scheme is the better assessment of risk, the reduction of risk and the managing of risk after release.

The Government are addressing the long outstanding issue of the partnership that needs to exist between the Prison Service and the probation service. That partnership was not in place under the Conservative Government, but it is now in place and the public are better protected for it.

In their consideration of these issues, the Opposition have failed to recognise the importance of ensuring that the criminal justice system as a whole works better. We need a Crown Prosecution Service, a court service, a probation service, a Prison Service and a police service that work in ways that are better designed to reduce the impact of reoffending and to protect the public. Importantly, they must also be based on recognition of the vital role that can be played by the home detention curfew scheme in terms of the transition from prison into the community.

It really is disappointing that, on a day on which the Conservative Opposition should have addressed the real issues—[HON. MEMBERS: "We have."] No; I mean the issues that show that it is possible to do as we have done, effectively to redress the impact of burglary and vehicle crime, and to take measures that have led domestic burglary and vehicle crime to fall. That is our record. Under the Conservatives' stewardship of the criminal justice system, crime doubled and the number of criminals convicted by the courts fell by a third.

This Government are reversing the fall in police numbers—[HON. MEMBERS: "No."] Oh yes.

Miss Widdecombe

Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Boateng

No. [HON. MEMBERS: "Give way."] I shall give way when I have finished this point.

Our crime fighting fund is providing the police with an extra 5,000 recruits over this financial year and the next. Under the previous Government's stewardship of the police service, the number of police officers fell. That is the record, and we are in the process of reversing that.

Miss Widdecombe


Mr. Boateng

No; let me finish. Opposition Members hate being—[Interruption.]

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. There are far too many sedentary interventions. The Minister has said that he will give way, but not at the moment.

Mr. Boateng

The Opposition hate to hear about their record in government. This Government's actions include the home detention curfew scheme, the crime fighting fund and £180 million spent on CCTV schemes. We have paid attention to anti-social behaviour, with the introduction of anti-social behaviour orders, which the Opposition opposed. It is this Government who, time and again, have taken the hard decisions. We have addressed the basic causes of offending and created a real partnership between the police, the probation service and the Prison Service.

It is our Government who will deliver increased numbers of police and steadily falling reconviction rates for offences such as burglary and vehicle crime. We will succeed with our policies in better protecting the public. That is why we must oppose the motion that the Conservatives have proposed. I ask the House to support our amendment and to oppose the Conservative motion.

Question put, That the original words stand part of the Question:—

The House divided:Ayes 137, Noes 319.

Division No. 245] [7 pm
Ainsworth, Peter (E Surrey) Green, Damian
Amess, David Greenway, John
Arbuthnot, Rt Hon James Grieve, Dominic
Atkinson, David (Bour'mth E) Gummer, Rt Hon John
Atkinson, Peter (Hexham) Hamilton, Rt Hon Sir Archie
Baldry, Tony Hammond, Philip
Bercow, John Hawkins, Nick
Beresford, Sir Paul Hayes, John
Blunt, Crispin Heald, Oliver
Body, Sir Richard Heathcoat-Amory, Rt Hon David
Boswell, Tim Hogg, Rt Hon Douglas
Bottomley, Peter (Worthing W) Horam, John
Bottomley, Rt Hon Mrs Virginia Howard, Rt Hon Michael
Brady, Graham Hunter, Andrew
Brazier, Julian Jack, Rt Hon Michael
Brooke, Rt Hon Peter Jackson, Robert (Wantage)
Browning, Mrs Angela Jenkin, Bernard
Bruce, Ian (S Dorset) Key, Robert
Butterfill, John King, Rt Hon Tom (Bridgwater)
Chapman, Sir Sydney (Chipping Barnet) Laing, Mrs Eleanor
Lait, Mrs Jacqui
Chope, Christopher Lansley, Andrew
Clappison, James Leigh, Edward
Clark, Dr Michael (Rayleigh) Letwin, Oliver
Clarke, Rt Hon Kenneth (Rushcliffe) Lewis, Dr Julian (New Forest E)
Lidington, David
Clifton-Brown, Geoffrey Lilley, Rt Hon Peter
Collins, Tim Lloyd, Rt Hon Sir Peter (Fareham)
Cran, James Loughton, Tim
Curry, Rt Hon David Lyell, Rt Hon Sir Nicholas
Davies, Quentin (Grantham) MacGregor, Rt Hon John
Davis, Rt Hon David (Haltemprice) McIntosh, Miss Anne
Day, Stephen MacKay, Rt Hon Andrew
Dorrell, Rt Hon Stephen Maclean, Rt Hon David
Duncan Smith, Iain McLoughlin, Patrick
Evans, Nigel Madel, Sir David
Faber, David Maples, John
Fabricant, Michael Maude, Rt Hon Francis
Fallon, Michael May, Mrs Theresa
Flight, Howard Moss, Malcolm
Forth, Rt Hon Eric Nicholls, Patrick
Fowler, Rt Hon Sir Norman Norman, Archie
Fox, Dr Liam O'Brien, Stephen (Eddisbury)
Fraser, Christopher Ottaway, Richard
Gale, Roger Pickles, Eric
Garnier, Edward Portillo, Rt Hon Michael
Gibb, Nick Prior, David
Gill, Christopher Redwood, Rt Hon John
Gorman, Mrs Teresa Robathan, Andrew
Gray, James Robertson, Laurence
Roe, Mrs Marion (Broxbourne) Townend, John
Ross, William (E Lond'y) Tredinnick, David
Rowe, Andrew (Faversham) Trend, Michael
Ruffley, David Tyrie, Andrew
St Aubyn, Nick Viggers, Peter
Sayeed, Jonathan Walter, Robert
Shephard, Rt Hon Mrs Gillian Waterson, Nigel
Shepherd, Richard Wells, Bowen
Simpson, Keith (Mid-Norfolk) Whitney, Sir Raymond
Smyth, Rev Martin (Belfast S) Whittingdale, John
Soames Nicholas Widdecombe, Rt Hon Miss Ann
Spelman, Mrs Caroline Wilkinson, John
Spicer, Sir Michael Willetts, David
Spring, Richard Wilshire, David
Stanley, Rt Hon Sir John Winterton, Mrs Ann (Congleton)
Swayne, Desmond Winterton, Nicholas (Macclesfield)
Syms, Robert Yeo, Tim
Tapsell, Sir Peter Young, Rt Hon Sir George
Taylor, Ian (Esher & Walton)
Taylor, John M (Solihull) Tellers for the Ayes:
Taylor, Sir Teddy Mr. John Randall and
Mr. Peter Luff.
Ainsworth, Robert (Cov'try NE) Clark, Paul (Gillingham)
Alexander, Douglas Clarke, Eric (Midlothian)
Allan, Richard Clarke, Rt Hon Tom (Coatbridge)
Allen, Graham Clarke, Tony (Northampton S)
Anderson, Donald (Swansea E) Clelland, David
Armstrong, Rt Hon Ms Hilary Clwyd, Ann
Ashton, Joe Coaker, Vernon
Atherton, Ms Candy Coffey, Ms Ann
Austin, John Cohen, Harry
Barnes, Harry Coleman, Iain
Barron, Kevin Colman, Tony
Battle, John Cook, Frank (Stockton N)
Bayley, Hugh Cooper, Yvette
Beard, Nigel Corbyn, Jeremy
Beckett, Rt Hon Mrs Margaret Cotter, Brian
Begg, Miss Anne Cousins, Jim
Bell, Martin (Tatton) Cox, Tom
Bell, Stuart (Middlesbrough) Crausby, David
Benn, Hilary (Leeds C) Cryer, Mrs Ann (Keighley)
Benn, Rt Hon Tony (Chesterfield) Cryer, John (Hornchurch)
Bennett, Andrew F Cummings, John
Benton, Joe Cunningham, Rt Hon Dr Jack (Copeland)
Bermingham, Gerald
Berry, Roger Darling, Rt Hon Alistair
Blizzard, Bob Darvill, Keith
Blunkett, Rt Hon David Davey, Edward (Kingston)
Boateng, Rt Hon Paul Davey, Valerie (Bristol W)
Borrow, David Davies, Rt Hon Denzil (Llanelli)
Bradley, Keith (Withington) Davis, Rt Hon Terry (B'ham Hodge H)
Bradley, Peter (The Wrekin)
Bradshaw, Ben Dawson, Hilton
Brake, Tom Denham, John
Brand, Dr Peter Dismore, Andrew
Breed, Colin Dobson, Rt Hon Frank
Brown, Russell (Dumfries) Donohoe, Brian H
Browne, Desmond Doran, Frank
Burden, Richard Dowd, Jim
Burgon, Colin Dunwoody, Mrs Gwyneth
Burnett, John Eagle, Angela (Wallasey)
Burstow, Paul Eagle, Maria (L'pool Garston)
Butler, Mrs Christine Edwards, Huw
Byers, Rt Hon Stephen Efford, Clive
Caborn Rt Hon Richard Ellman, Mrs Louise
Campbell, Rt Hon Menzies (NE Fife) Ennis, Jeff
Etherington, Bill
Campbell, Ronnie (Blyth V) Fearn, Ronnie
Campbell-Savours, Dale Field, Rt Hon Frank
Caplin, Ivor Fisher, Mark
Caton, Martin Fitzpatrick, Jim
Chapman, Ben (Wirral S) Fitzsimons, Mrs Lorna
Clapham, Michael Flynn, Paul
Clark, Rt Hon Dr David (S Shields) Follett, Barbara
Foster, Rt Hon Derek Liddell, Rt Hon Mrs Helen
Foster, Don (Bath) Livsey, Richard
Foster, Michael Jabez (Hastings) Lloyd, Tony (Manchester C)
Foster, Michael J (Worcester) Llwyd, Elfyn
Foulkes, George Lock, David
Fyfe, Maria Love, Andrew
Galloway, George McAvoy, Thomas
George, Bruce (Walsall S) McCabe, Steve
Gerrard, Neil McCafferty, Ms Chris
Gibson, Dr Ian McCartney, Rt Hon Ian (Makerfield)
Gilroy, Mrs Linda
Godman, Dr Norman A Macdonald, Calum
Goggins, Paul McDonnell, John
Golding, Mrs Llin McGuire, Mrs Anne
Gordon, Mrs Eileen Mclsaac. Shona
Griffiths, Jane (Reading E) Mackinlay, Andrew
Griffiths, Nigel (Edinburgh S) McNulty, Tony
Griffiths, Win (Bridgend) MacShane, Denis
Grogan, John Mactaggart, Fiona
Hall, Mike (Weaver Vale) McWalter, Tony
Hall, Patrick (Bedford) McWilliam, John
Hancock, Mike Mallaber, Judy
Hanson, David Marsden, Gordon (Blackpool S)
Harman, Rt Hon Ms Harriet Marsden, Paul (Shrewsbury)
Harvey, Nick Marshall, David (Shettleston)
Healey, John Marshall, Jim (Leicester S)
Heath, David (Somerton & Frome) Marshall-Andrews, Robert
Henderson, Doug (Newcastle N) Meacher, Rt Hon Michael
Henderson, Ivan (Harwich) Meale, Alan
Hepburn, Stephen Michael, Rt Hon Alun
Heppell, John Michie, Bill (Shef'ld Heeley)
Hesford, Stephen Michie, Mrs Ray (Argyll & Bute)
Hewitt, Ms Patricia Milburn, Rt Hon Alan
Hinchliffe, David Miller, Andrew
Hoey, Kate Mitchell, Austin
Hoon, Rt Hon Geoffrey Moffatt, Laura
Hope, Phil Moore, Michael
Hopkins, Kelvin Moran, Ms Margaret
Howarth, George (Knowsley N) Morgan, Ms Julie (Cardiff N)
Howells, Dr Kim Mountford, Kali
Hoyle, Lindsay Mudie, George
Hughes, Ms Beverley (Stretford) Murphy, Denis (Wansbeck)
Hughes, Kevin (Doncaster N) Murphy, Jim (Eastwood)
Hughes, Simon (Southwark N) Naysmith, Dr Doug
Humble, Mrs Joan O'Brien, Bill (Normanton)
Hurst, Alan O'Hara, Eddie
Hutton, John Olner, Bill
Iddon, Dr Brian O'Neill, Martin
Illsley, Eric Pearson, Ian
Jackson, Ms Glenda (Hampstead) Pendry, Tom
Jackson, Helen (Hillsborough) Pickthall, Colin
Jenkins, Brian Pike, Peter L
Johnson, Alan (Hull W & Hessle) Plaskitt, James
Jones, Rt Hon Barry (Alyn) Pollard, Kerry
Jones, Helen (Warrington N) Pond, Chris
Jones, Jon Owen (Cardiff C) Pope, Greg
Jones, Dr Lynne (Selly Oak) Pound, Stephen
Jowell, Rt Hon Ms Tessa Prentice, Ms Bridget (Lewisham E)
Keeble, Ms Sally Prentice, Gordon (Pendle)
Keen, Alan (Feltham & Heston) Primarolo, Dawn
Keen, Ann (Brentford & Isleworth) Prosser, Gwyn
Keetch, Paul Purchase, Ken
Kelly, Ms Ruth Quinn, Lawrie
Kemp, Fraser Radice, Rt Hon Giles
Kennedy, Jane (Wavertree) Rapson, Syd
Kidney, David Raynsford, Nick
Kilfoyle, Peter Reed, Andrew (Loughborough)
King, Andy (Rugby & Kenilworth) Rendel, David
King, Ms Oona (Bethnal Green) Robinson, Geoffrey (Cov'try NW)
Kirkwood, Archy Roche, Mrs Barbara
Ladyman, Dr Stephen Rogers, Allan
Laxton, Bob Rooker, Rt Hon Jeff
Leslie, Christopher Rooney, Terry
Levitt, Tom Ross, Ernie (Dundee W)
Lewis, Ivan (Bury S) Rowlands, Ted
Lewis, Terry (Worsley) Roy, Frank
Ruane, Chris Temple-Morris, Peter
Ruddock, Joan Thomas, Gareth (Clwyd W)
Russell, Bob (Colchester) Timms, Stephen
Russell, Ms Christine (Chester) Tipping, Paddy
Salter, Martin Trickett, Jon
Sanders, Adrian Turner, Dr Desmond (Kemptown)
Savidge, Malcolm Turner, Dr George (NW Norfolk)
Sedgemore, Brian Turner, Neil (Wigan)
Sheerman, Barry Twigg, Derek (Halton)
Sheldon, Rt Hon Robert Tyler, Paul
Short, Rt Hon Clare Vis, Dr Rudi
Simpson, Alan (Nottingham S) Walley, Ms Joan
Skinner, Dennis Ward, Ms Claire
Smith, Angela (Basildon) Wareing, Robert N
Smith, Rt Hon Chris (Islington S) Watts, David
Smith, Jacqui (Redditch) Webb, Steve
Smith, John (Glamorgan) White, Brian
Soley, Clive Whitehead, Dr Alan
Southworth, Ms Helen Williams, Rt Hon Alan (Swansea W)
Spellar, John
Squire Ms Rachel Williams, Alan W (E Carmarthen)
Starkey Dr Phyllis Williams, Mrs Betty (Conwy)
Steinberg, Gerry Willis, Phil
Stevenson, George Wills, Michael
Stoate, Dr Howard Winnick, David
Strang, Rt Hon Dr Gavin Winterton, Ms Rosie (Doncaster C)
Straw, Rt Hon Jack Wood, Mike
Stringer, Graham Woodward, Shaun
Stuart, Ms Gisela Woolas, Phil
Stunell, Andrew Worthington, Tony
Sutcliffe, Gerry Wright, Anthony D (Gt Yarmouth)
Taylor, Rt Hon Mrs Ann (Dewsbury) Wright, Tony (Cannock)
Taylor, Ms Dari (Stockton S) Wyatt, Derek
Taylor, David (NW Leics) Tellers for the Noes:
Taylor, Matthew (Truro) Mr. David Jamieson and
Mr. Don Touhig.

Question accordingly negatived.

Question, That the proposed words be there added, put forthwith, pursuant to Standing Order No. 31 (Questions on amendments):

The House divided: Ayes 272, Noes 153.

Division No. 246] [7.14 pm
Ainsworth, Robert (Cov'try NE) Brown, Russell (Dumfries)
Alexander, Douglas Browne, Desmond
Allen, Graham Burden, Richard
Anderson, Donald (Swansea E) Burgon, Colin
Armstrong, Rt Hon Ms Hilary Butler, Mrs Christine
Atherton, Ms Candy Byers, Rt Hon Stephen
Austin, John Campbell, Ronnie (Blyth V)
Barnes, Harry Campbell-Savours, Dale
Barron, Kevin Caplin, Ivor
Battle, John Caton, Martin
Bayley, Hugh Clapham, Michael
Beard, Nigel Clark, Rt Hon Dr David (S Shields)
Beckett, Rt Hon Mrs Margaret Clark, Paul (Gillingham)
Begg, Miss Anne Clarke, Eric (Midlothian)
Bell, Stuart (Middlesbrough) Clarke, Rt Hon Tom (Coatbridge)
Benn, Hilary (Leeds C) Clarke, Tony (Northampton S)
Benn, Rt Hon Tony (Chesterfield) Clelland, David
Bennett, Andrew F Clwyd, Ann
Benton, Joe Coaker, Vernon
Bermingham, Gerald Coffey, Ms Ann
Berry, Roger Cohen, Harry
Blizzard, Bob Coleman, Iain
Boateng, Rt Hon Paul Colman, Tony
Borrow, David Cooper, Yvette
Bradley, Keith (Withington) Cousins, Jim
Bradley, Peter (The Wrekin) Cox, Tom
Bradshaw, Ben Crausby, David
Cryer, Mrs Ann (Keighley) Jones, Jon Owen (Cardiff C)
Cryer, John (Hornchurch) Jones, Dr Lynne (Selly Oak)
Cummings, John Jowell, Rt Hon Ms Tessa
Cunningham, Rt Hon Dr Jack (Copeland) Keeble, Ms Sally
Keen, Alan (Feltham & Heston)
Darling, Rt Hon Alistair Keen, Ann (Brentford & Isleworth)
Darvill, Keith Kelly, Ms Ruth
Davey, Valerie (Bristol W) Kemp, Fraser
Davis, Rt Hon Terry (B'ham Hodge H) Kennedy, Jane (Wavertree)
Kidney, David
Dawson, Hilton Kilfoyle, Peter
Dismore, Andrew King, Andy (Rugby & Kenilworth)
Dobson, Rt Hon Frank King, Ms Oona (Bethnal Green)
Donohoe, Brian H Ladyman, Dr Stephen
Doran, Frank Laxton, Bob
Dowd, Jim Leslie, Christopher
Eagle, Angela (Wallasey) Levitt, Tom
Eagle, Maria (L'pool Garston) Lewis, Ivan (Bury S)
Edwards, Huw Lewis, Terry (Worsley)
Efford, Clive Liddell, Rt Hon Mrs Helen
Ellman, Mrs Louise Lloyd, Tony (Manchester C)
Ennis, Jeff Lock, David
Etherington, Bill Love, Andrew
Field, Rt Hon Frank McAvoy, Thomas
Fisher, Mark McCabe, Steve
Fitzpatrick, Jim McCafferty, Ms Chris
Fitzsimons, Mrs Lorna Macdonald, Calum
Flynn, Paul McDonnell, John
Follett, Barbara McGuire, Mrs Anne
Foster, Rt Hon Derek McIsaac, Shona
Foster, Michael Jabez (Hastings) Mackinlay, Andrew
Foster, Michael J (Worcester) McNulty, Tony
Foulkes, George MacShane, Denis
Fyfe, Maria Mactaggart, Fiona
George, Bruce (Walsall S) McWalter, Tony
Gerrard, Neil McWilliam, John
Gibson, Dr Ian Mallaber, Judy
Gilroy, Mrs Linda Marsden, Gordon (Blackpool S)
Godman, Dr Norman A Marsden, Paul (Shrewsbury)
Goggins, Paul Marshall, David (Shettleston)
Golding, Mrs Llin Marshall-Andrews, Robert
Gordon, Mrs Eileen Meale, Alan
Griffiths, Jane (Reading E) Michael, Rt Hon Alun
Griffiths, Nigel (Edinburgh S) Michie, Bill (Shef'ld Heeley)
Griffiths, Win (Bridgend) Milburn, Rt Hon Alan
Grogan, John Miller, Andrew
Hall, Mike (Weaver Vale) Mitchell, Austin
Hall, Patrick (Bedford) Moffatt, Laura
Hanson, David Moran, Ms Margaret
Harman, Rt Hon Ms Harriet Morgan, Ms Julie (Cardiff N)
Healey, John Mountford, Kali
Henderson, Doug (Newcastle N) Mudie, George
Henderson, Ivan (Harwich) Murphy, Denis (Wansbeck)
Hepburn, Stephen Murphy, Jim (Eastwood)
Heppell, John Naysmith, Dr Doug
Hesford, Stephen O'Hara, Eddie
Hewitt, Ms Patricia Olner, Bill
Hinchliffe, David O'Neill, Martin
Hoon, Rt Hon Geoffrey Pearson, Ian
Hope, Phil Pickthall, Colin
Hopkins, Kelvin Pike, Peter L
Howarth, George (Knowsley N) Plaskitt, James
Howells, Dr Kim Pollard, Kerry
Hoyle, Lindsay Pond, Chris
Hughes, Ms Beverley (Stretford) Pope, Greg
Hughes, Kevin (Doncaster N) Pound, Stephen
Humble, Mrs Joan Prentice, Ms Bridget (Lewisham E)
Hurst, Alan Prentice, Gordon (Pendle)
Hutton, John Primarolo, Dawn
Iddon, Dr Brian Prosser, Gwyn
Illsley, Eric Purchase, Ken
Jackson, Helen (Hillsborough) Quinn, Lawrie
Jenkins, Brian Rapson, Syd
Johnson, Alan (Hull W & Hessle)
Jones, Rt Hon Barry (Alyn)
Jones, Helen (Warrington N)
Raynsford, Nick Sutcliffe, Gerry
Reed, Andrew (Loughborough) Taylor, Rt Hon Mrs Ann (Dewsbury)
Robinson, Geoffrey (Cov'try NW)
Roche, Mrs Barbara Taylor, Ms Dari (Stockton S)
Rooney, Terry Taylor, David (NW Leics)
Ross, Ernie (Dundee W) Temple-Morris, Peter
Rowlands, Ted Thomas, Gareth (Clwyd W)
Roy, Frank Timms, Stephen
Ruane, Chris Tipping, Paddy
Ruddock, Joan Trickett, Jon
Russell, Ms Christine (Chester) Turner, Dr Desmond (Kemptown)
Salter, Martin Turner, Dr George (NW Norfolk)
Savidge, Malcolm Turner, Neil (Wigan)
Sawford, Phil Twigg, Derek (Halton)
Sedgemore, Brian Vis, Dr Rudi
Sheerman, Barry Walley, Ms Joan
Sheldon, Rt Hon Robert Ward, Ms Claire
Short, Rt Hon Clare Wareing, Robert N
Simpson, Alan (Nottingham S) Watts, David
Skinner, Dennis White, Brian
Smith, Angela (Basildon) Whitehead, Dr Alan
Smith, Rt Hon Chris (Islington S) Williams, Rt Hon Alan (Swansea W)
Smith, Jacqui (Redditch)
Smith, John (Glamorgan) Williams, Alan W (E Carmarthen)
Smith, Llew (Blaenau Gwent) Williams, Mrs Betty (Conwy)
Soley, Clive Wills, Michael
Southworth, Ms Helen Winnick, David
Spellar, John Winterton, Ms Rosie (Doncaster C)
Squire, Ms Rachel Wood, Mike
Starkey, Dr Phyllis Woodward, Shaun
Steinberg, Gerry Woolas, Phil
Stevenson, George Worthington, Tony
Stewart, Ian (Eccles) Wright, Anthony D (Gt Yarmouth)
Stoate, Dr Howard Wright, Tony (Cannock)
Strang, Rt Hon Dr Gavin Wyatt, Derek
Straw, Rt Hon Jack
Stringer, Graham Tellers for the Ayes:
Stuart, Ms Gisela Mr. David Jamieson and
Mr. Don Touhig.
Allan, Richard Davey, Edward (Kingston)
Amess, David Davies, Quentin (Grantham)
Arbuthnot, Rt Hon James Davis, Rt Hon David (Haltemprice)
Atkinson, David (Bour'mth E) Day, Stephen
Atkinson, Peter (Hexham) Dorrell, Rt Hon Stephen
Baldry, Tony Duncan Smith, Iain
Bell, Martin (Tatton) Evans, Nigel
Bercow, John Faber, David
Blunt, Crispin Fabricant, Michael
Body, Sir Richard Fallon, Michael
Boswell, Tim Fearn, Ronnie
Bottomley, Peter (Worthing W) Flight, Howard
Bottomley, Rt Hon Mrs Virginia Foster, Don (Bath)
Brady, Graham Fowler, Rt Hon Sir Norman
Brake, Tom Fox, Dr Liam
Brand, Dr Peter Fraser, Christopher
Brazier, Julian Gale, Roger
Breed, Colin Garnier, Edward
Brooke, Rt Hon Peter Gibb, Nick
Bruce, Ian (S Dorset) Gill, Christopher
Burnett, John Gorman, Mrs Teresa
Burstow, Paul Gray, James
Butterfill, John Green, Damian
Campbell, Rt Hon Menzies (NE Fife) Grieve, Dominic
Gummer, Rt Hon John
Chope, Christopher Hamilton, Rt Hon Sir Archie
Clappison, James Hammond, Philip
Clark, Dr Michael (Rayleigh) Hancock, Mike
Clarke, Rt Hon Kenneth (Rushcliffe) Harris, Dr Evan
Harvey, Nick
Clifton-Brown, Geoffrey Hawkins, Nick
Collins, Tim Hayes, John
Cotter, Brian Heald, Oliver
Cran, James Heath, David (Somerton & Frome)
Curry, Rt Hon David Heathcoat-Amory, Rt Hon David
Hogg, Rt Hon Douglas Rowe, Andrew (Faversham)
Hughes, Simon (Southwark N) Ruffley, David
Hunter, Andrew Russell, Bob (Colchester)
Jack, Rt Hon Michael St Aubyn, Nick
Jenkin, Bernard Sanders, Adrian
Keetch, Paul Sayeed, Jonathan
Key, Robert Shephard, Rt Hon Mrs Gillian
King, Rt Hon Tom (Bridgwater) Shepherd, Richard
Kirkwood, Archy Simpson, Keith (Mid-Norfolk)
Laing, Mrs Eleanor Soames, Nicholas
Lait, Mrs Jacqui Spelman, Mrs Caroline
Lansley, Andrew Spicer, Sir Michael
Leigh, Edward Spring, Richard
Letwin, Oliver Stanley, Rt Hon Sir John
Lewis, Dr Julian (New Forest E) Stunell, Andrew
Lidington, David Swayne, Desmond
Lilley, Rt Hon Peter Syms, Robert
Livsey, Richard Taylor, Ian (Esher & Walton)
Lloyd, Rt Hon Sir Peter (Fareham) Taylor, John M (Solihull)
Loughton, Tim Taylor, Matthew (Truro)
Lyell, Rt Hon Sir Nicholas Taylor, Sir Teddy
MacGregor, Rt Hon John Townend, John
McIntosh, Miss Anne Tredinnick, David
MacKay, Rt Hon Andrew Trend, Michael
Maclean, Rt Hon David Tyler, Paul
McLoughlin, Patrick Tyrie, Andrew
Madel, Sir David Viggers, Peter
Maude, Rt Hon Francis Walter, Robert
May, Mrs Theresa Waterson, Nigel
Michie, Mrs Ray (Argyll & Bute) Webb, Steve
Moore, Michael Wells, Bowen
Moss, Malcolm Whitney, Sir Raymond
Nicholls, Patrick Whittingdale, John
Norman, Archie Widdecombe, Rt Hon Miss Ann
O'Brien, Stephen (Eddisbury) Willetts, David
Öpik, Lembit Willis, Phil
Ottaway, Richard Wilshire, David
Pickles, Eric Winterton, Mrs Ann (Congleton)
Prior, David Winterton, Nicholas (Macclesfield)
Redwood, Rt Hon John Yeo, Tim
Rendel, David Young, Rt Hon Sir George
Robathan, Andrew
Robertson, Laurence Tellers for the Noes:
Roe, Mrs Marion (Broxbourne) Mr. John Randall and
Mr. Peter Luff.

Question accordingly agreed to.

MR. DEPUTY SPEAKER forthwith declared the main Question, as amended, to be agreed to.

Resolved, That this House notes that the introduction of Home Detention Curfew with electronic tagging as in the Crime and Disorder Act 1998 was specifically welcomed in the unanimous Third Report of the Home Affairs Select Committee, Session 1997–98 (HC 486-I), whose members endorsing the report at that time included the honourable Members for Woking, Surrey Heath and Aldershot; believes that one of the major factors contributing to re-offending is an inadequate transition between custody and life outside prison in the community; applauds the work initiated by HM Government better to manage that transition, through Home Detention Curfew, more effective drug treatment, Welfare to Work and greater emphasis on education, work and offender behaviour programmes; notes that short term prisoners are only released on Home Detention Curfew after a careful risk assessment, that about 94 per cent. of prisoners have completed Home Detention Curfew successfully, and that the latest information indicates that fewer than 2 per cent. have been arrested, prosecuted or convicted for offences committed on Home Detention Curfew; applauds the Government's toughening of the sentencing regime, its practical approach to honesty in sentencing, and its establishment of a comprehensive review of the sentencing framework; and further notes the Opposition's action in opposing strong measures against anti-social behaviour, benefit sanctions for probation offenders and reform of mode of trial, comforting only the miscreant at the expense of the victim and the community.