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Mr. Heald: That point used to be made about the proposed exclusions, but we pressed the case hard in respect of sex offenders and the Government gave way because of the nature of the offence, not because of risk. Does the Parliamentary Secretary agree that assaulting a police officer is a serious offence that demonstrates a wanton contempt for law and order? Is not that another example of grounds for an offence-based exception?
Mr. Lock: The home detention curfew legislation excludes people who are required to register as sex offenders because a judge has decided that they pose a serious risk of reoffending, perhaps during the curfew period. That is why it is right to exclude them from the scheme. With regard to assaults on police officers and ambulance workers, the hon. Gentleman is a lawyer, so he will know that assault can vary from slight interference with the person to a serious attack. The range is very wide. He referred to serious assault on a police officer, but such an offence might be deemed a substantive assault under sections 18 or 20 of the Offences Against the Person Act 1861. In respect of serious offences, I do not disagree with his analysis, but it does not apply to every case of assaulting a police officer. The only criteria should be the risk to the public and the risk of breaching trust. It must be borne in mind that those who receive sentences of four years or more are not eligible for the home detention curfew in any event.
Mr. Heald: The point is that police officers are among the guardians of law and order--there are, of course, other such guardians--and that those who work in the emergency services are trying to help others. I find it unacceptable that yobbos are pushing such people around and that others should be interfering with the way they do their job. I object to such interference, whether it constitutes a small infringement--I am speaking in the Parliamentary Secretary's terms--or a serious incident. That is why we would like the change to be made. Does the Minister accept that logic?
Mr. Lock: I entirely accept that it is appropriate for courts to mark seriously those who assault employees or officers who are carrying out public service duties. However, they are not the only ones who provide public services. For example, other such people include those who work on the railways late at night, and cab drivers, who are isolated in their cabs and need protection. We could carry on saying that there are a number of people who serve the public and that their assault deserves to be marked by the court when it determines the sentence that should be given. That is different from the question whether there is a risk of reoffending, and from arguing
The proposed exclusion of all who have committed certain offences against children again misses the point. The home detention curfew legislation excludes those who are required to register because they have been judged to pose a serious risk of reoffending. The offences listed in schedule 4 of the Criminal Justice and Courts Services Act 2000 disqualify the offender from working with children. The list was never intended to be applied to anything else, and it is not an appropriate guide to who may or may not be at risk of reoffending while subject to a home detention curfew.
Many of the offences dealt with in schedule 4 appear also in the list in schedule 1 of the Sex Offenders Act 1997. People who are guilty of those offences--those whom Parliament deemed to carry the greatest general risk of reoffending--are already ineligible for home detention curfews.
Mr. Hawkins: Will the Minister accept that we are concerned not only about what he has just said about other groups that might need protection, such as cab drivers working late? Not only is that a reason to repeal the whole scheme, as the incoming Conservative Government will do, but the risk assessment process clearly is not working--so many people who have been on home detention curfews have reoffended during the period when they have been on the curfew. The risk assessment that the Minister is talking about just is not working.
The proposal to exclude prisoners whose offence attracts a maximum term of 10 years, even though the prisoner received a much lower sentence, is illogical. It is a matter for the judge or magistrate to decide the gravity of the offence, and to pass sentence. The right approach to the concerns of Opposition Members is to ensure that every eligible prisoner who is considered for release on a home detention curfew is subjected to a most rigorous risk assessment, which will take into account the prisoner's dangerousness, propensity to reoffend and propensity to breach the curfew. That is precisely what the present arrangements are due to achieve.
Only about 30 per cent. of eligible prisoners have been released on home detention curfew, which shows that the risk assessment is a serious business. Of those, around 95 per cent. of those subject to curfew have successfully completed the curfew, and of those who have not, a very small number have been found to have reoffended while on curfew. As at 31 December last year, 533 of the 30,409 prisoners released on home detention curfew were in that last category, or less than 2 per cent.
New clause 3 would require judges to state the potential effect of home detention curfew on a sentence when passing judgment. I am grateful to the hon. and learned Member for Harborough for raising that issue. The Minister of State, Home Office, my hon. Friend the
The majority of prisoners eligible for home detention curfew do not get it: only about 30 per cent. do. So it would be misleading of the court to suggest to the prisoner at the time of sentence--and misleading for the public, who have come to hear how long the offender will spend in prison--that he was likely to be released early.
Mr. Garnier: In order to keep the transparency of the sentencing system alive, and to allow sentences to be altered by the courts rather than by prison governors, would it not be an idea, if a prison governor wished to release someone on early release--for good behaviour, perhaps--that some public announcement could be made in a court so that the public could be informed? Failing that, the defendants would be released early, without anyone's knowing about it except the hapless victim of their next offence.
Mr. Lock: I hear the hon. and learned Gentleman's point. However, it contrasts with what he said previously about his experience on the case to which he referred. He spoke of all the cost, time and trouble of bringing everyone concerned in a case back to court on a subsequent occasion, unless it was really necessary, and, clearly, there would be no point in making such an announcement to a court if no one in court had personal knowledge of the case.
Another point that is important for the hon. and learned Gentleman is that new clause 3 refers to the release, but as the hon. Member for North-East Hertfordshire said, this is not a release in the traditional sense of the word. It is not a release on licence, but a home detention curfew with very strict conditions that will be appropriate to the individual circumstances. Thus to suggest to the public that an individual might be released would represent only a small part of the picture, because this really concerns a
Mr. Heald: The whole purpose of this honest sentencing, as the Home Secretary described it and as set out in the Labour party manifesto, is that the victims will know exactly what is to happen to the person who committed the crime. How can the Minister give the answer that he has just given, when the Minister of State, Home Office told me on 22 January: