HL Deb 03 May 2001 vol 625 cc812-4

3.16 p.m.

Lord Cope of Berkeley asked Her Majesty's Government:

How many prisoners have been released on the home detention curfew scheme since its introduction.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Home Office (Lord Bassam of Brighton)

My Lords, as of 31st March 2001, 33,737 prisoners have been released from prison on the home detention curfew scheme which came into force in January 1999.

Lord Cope of Berkeley

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply. We have long had a certain amount of remission for good conduct, but we have now reached the position where somebody sentenced to six months in prison actually serves six weeks. How will that help with either punishment or rehabilitation?

Lord Bassam of Brighton

My Lords, home detention curfews provide selected, short-term prisoners with a monitored return to the community. That was designed as part of the original trial periods set out by the last government back in 1995–96 when pilots were undertaken. I presume the noble Lord was then happy with the scheme since it was his party in government which trialled it. At that stage it had a success rate of 82 per cent. Since we have been in government, the success rate of HDC has reached 94 per cent.

Lord Janner of Braunstone

My Lords, given the success of the home detention curfew, should not Her Majesty's Government promote a greater use of the curfew with electronic tagging and monitoring as a court sentence? In that way, many more non-violent offenders need not be sent to prison and therefore the Question of the noble Lord, Lord Cope, would be better answered.

Lord Bassam of Brighton

My Lords, at present only around 30 per cent of those who may be eligible for HDC are placed on HDC. The Government took a cautious approach. We are dealing with the important matter of public safety. In those circumstances it is right to proceed cautiously. The scheme has been very successful and certainly the Home Affairs Select Committee endorsed that view in its report Alternatives to Custody, which members of Her Majesty's Opposition signed up to back in 1998.

Lord McNally

My Lords, does not the Minister agree that many civilised countries manage to maintain public safety without keeping such a high proportion of their citizenry in prison? Instead of imagining that building more prisons and sending more people to prison is necessarily the answer to crime and punishment, should not we be experimenting still further with alternatives to prison?

Lord Bassam of Brighton

My Lords, we share that common objective. However, public protection is paramount. We have introduced a number of measures in legislation which provide alternatives to prison. That was precisely the purpose of the last piece of legislation which we put through Parliament in the last Session, and which was welcomed in those terms. We want to see a variety of penalties used, not just custody. With the new Probation Service up and running, I believe that we can have great confidence in the future of that approach.

Lord Boardman

My Lords, of the 33,000 prisoners released under the scheme, can the Minister say how many have subsequently been confined to prison?

Lord Bassam of Brighton

My Lords, as of 31st March this year, recalls made on the grounds of breach of curfew, including tampering with the equipment, numbered 1,050. Recalls made on the grounds of inability to monitor, through no fault of the curfewee, numbered 465. As I said at the outset, the success rate is 94 per cent, which is an impressive statistic.

Lord Elton

My Lords, is it the case that between January 1999 and March of this year, 67 people convicted of manslaughter, eight of attempted murder, and 4,443 of wounding, aggravated bodily harm and grievous bodily harm were all released on tagging under this system, of whom 119 re-offended with the same offence? How does that square with the Statement given by the Home Secretary in the House of Commons in November 1999, in which 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"? What is a serious offence under his definition?

Lord Bassam of Brighton

My Lords, it is a matter of terrible public regret if anybody released under the home detention curfew scheme commits an offence, perhaps one similar to that for which they are in prison. I cannot accept the noble Lord's analysis or interpretation. It is the case that when in government his own party effectively introduced through the Criminal Justice Act 1991 an early release scheme by remitting 50 per cent of the length of the sentence. Approximately 90,000 prisoners, mostly short term, are released from prison every year under arrangements laid down by the previous government. The bonus and benefit of home detention curfew, a scheme which we have attempted to perfect, is that those who are released up to two months before the end of their sentence are fully and properly monitored. I believe that that gives us far greater control over those former prisoners.

Lord Avebury

My Lords, can the Minister tell the House anything about the reconviction rates of persons released on HDC compared to others who have committed similar offences and served their full terms?

Lord Bassam of Brighton

My Lords, Home Office research suggests that only 2.1 per cent of curfewees were reconvicted for offences committed during the curfew period which can last up to two months. Only 10.2 per cent had reoffended, including offences committed during the HDC period, up to six months after their normal release date, compared to—this is the key statistic—40.5 per cent of those who were eligible but not granted home detention curfew. That shows that the risk assessment procedures, which have been adopted to determine who should get HDC, are working extremely well.