HL Deb 19 December 2002 vol 642 cc777-9

11.13 a.m.

Lord Corbett of Castle Vale asked Her Majesty's Government:

What proportion of (a) men and (b) women remanded in custody are subsequently imprisoned.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, an estimate based on information held on the Home Office court proceedings database is that 48 per cent of men and 36 per cent of women who were remanded in custody at some point in their case were sentenced to immediate custody. The figures are for the year 2000.

There may be cases when a custodial sentence is not passed because the courts take into account the period of time that the defendant has spent on remand. Some of those sentenced to immediate custody will not in fact be returned to prison, because the sentence imposed has already been served on remand in custody.

Lord Corbett of Castle Vale

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that response. Will he confirm that the number of prisoners on remand rose by 12 per cent to just over 13,000 in the 12 months to last October? Will he encourage the National Probation Service to redouble its efforts to persuade courts to make more use of the wide range of non-custodial sentences for non-violent crime, so that we stand a better chance of reducing the prison population and minimising the risk of reoffending?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, the figures that I have are a remand population of 12,811, which is 8 per cent more than a year ago. Clearly, however, we are not that far off It is important that we should avoid remanding prisoners in custody when the offences of which they are accused would not merit custodial sentences.

Baroness Anelay of St Johns

My Lords, while I recognise that the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, is multitasked in this House and is well revered for being able to cover just about every subject, I am somewhat disappointed that a Home Office Minister is not here to answer this Question. Are the Government concerned about the Home Office's recent research under Section 95 of the Criminal Justice Act 1991. which shows that recent figures on prison sentences for women suggest that such figures are driven by a severe response to less serious offences? The rate of increase in women being given a custodial sentence at magistrates' courts is now higher than in Crown courts. If the Government are concerned, what do they propose to do about it?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, I apologise on behalf of the Home Office Ministers. My noble and learned friend Lord Falconer, who was due to answer this Question, must have been under the impression that Questions would be taken at three o'clock. I apologise on his behalf, because that is clearly not satisfactory.

I hear what the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, says about the research on custodial sentences for women. That is one of the issues that will he considered when we debate the Criminal Justice Bill. The Bill provides for a range of tough but flexible options, including intermittent custody, which would be particularly appropriate for women who might otherwise be in full-time custody resulting in huge damage to their families.

Lord Dholakia

My Lords, does the Minister accept that one in six people in prison on remand in custody is a very high number? It is sometimes as high as one in five. That means that of just over 72,000 people in prison, more than 12,000 are in custody, either before trial or before sentence. At the time of the goodwill season, the implication for many of the prisons that I have visited is that people must be served their Christmas dinner at about 10.30 a.m., soon after they have finished their breakfast. There is no other way of coping with such large numbers of people in prison. Does the Minister accept that less demand on custody, more use of bail, and less emphasis on imprisoning women and mentally ill offenders would alleviate the present prison crisis to a certain extent?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, as I think that I indicated in my supplementary answer to my noble friend Lord Corbett, the Government sympathise with many of the points expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia. It must be particularly unpleasant for those who have not been convicted of an offence to suffer Christmas Day in prison. However, remand in custody is used when an informed judgment has been made that there is a danger to the public if remand were to be on bail. That is a matter for the probation service and the police and can be debated when we consider the Criminal Justice Bill.

The Lord Bishop of Worcester

My Lords, does the Minister agree that the numbers on remand are extremely disturbing, given what the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor said in the debate on the gracious Speech about rehabilitation being at the heart of the Government's concerns and strategy? Not only do such large numbers cause the kind of situation to which the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, has just drawn attention, but they inhibit the Prison Service's work of education and rehabilitation for those who are given custodial sentences for a longer period. It may be comforting for the public to know that many people are being locked up on suspicion of having committed a crime—perhaps a dangerous crime—but, considering the long-term struggle against criminality, we may be doing something in this regard that militates against our long-term aims and those of the Government.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, the large numbers in prison have caused difficulty for rehabilitation programmes and education programmes in prison. That is not particularly a consequence of the number of remand prisoners; the significant rise in the number of prisoners causes the difficulties to which the right reverend Prelate referred. The Criminal Justice Bill provides alternatives to full-time custody and rationalises the non-custodial sentence regime by providing generic community punishments. I hope that the right reverend Prelate will take an active part in debates on that Bill.