Schedule (Electronic monitoring of persons released on bail subject to conditions) makes provision in connection with the electronic monitoring of persons released on bail subject to conditions. [Mr. Hanson.]
Mr. Hanson: This group of amendments gives effect to recommendations made by my noble Friend Lord Carter of Coles in his review of prisons published in December, as hon. Members will know. My noble Friend recommended a package of measures to increase the capacity of the prison estate and to develop a more sustainable approach to the use of custody. As the House will recognise, we will always ensure that there are sufficient prison places for serious, dangerous and violent offenders whom the courts judge necessary to commit to custody. In response to Lord Carters review, my right hon. Friend the Lord Chancellor announced in his statement of 5 December plans to increase prison capacity by 15,000 places by 2012.
The need to provide prison places is paramount, but we also need to ensure that both prison and probation resources are properly focused on where they are most needed. My noble Friend Lord Carter put forward five particular measures to help to manage the use of custody. In summary, they are: the reform of public protection sentences to allow greater flexibility in the use of those sentences; the reform of bail legislation to ensure that remand in custody is reserved for serious and dangerous defendants; allowing defendants who comply with the terms of their curfew while on bail to be credited for doing so when sentenced; aligning the release arrangements for prisoners serving sentences under the Criminal Justice Acts of 1991 and 2003; and restricting the availability of community sentences for those convicted of non-imprisonable offences.
I hope that I may briefly detain the House with a little detail about each of the provisions. With regard to imprisonment for public protection, new clauses 29 to 35 and new schedule 5 reform public protection sentences as provided for in the Criminal Justice Act 2003. I hope that I can assure the House that those sentences remain a major plank of the Governments public protection policy. However, while those sentences have met their objectives, they have given rise to a number of issues. In particular, the way in which they currently operate means that a very high number of offenders are being channelled into the IPP sentence, many of whom have short tariffs. Indeed, around 30 per cent. of tariffs are less than two years. In visits to prisons during the past few months, I and other colleagues have met many people in the prison system who believe that a difficulty exists when the concept of an indeterminate sentence is coupled with a short tariff. Sentences with such short tariffs are very difficult for the Prison Service to manage. They often put an unprecedented strain on the service, and on the Parole Board, and its workload.
The statute must be reformed, and I am grateful to my noble Friend for bringing forward suggestions to that effect. Indeed, Anne Owers, the chief inspector of prisons, has said that the sentences are not targeted on the right offenders. The chairman of the Parole Board has also said that there is a case for review. The changes we propose will not affect availability of IPPs for serious dangerous offenders. The courts will still be able to give IPPs where they are needed, but the current legislation is too prescriptive.
Mr. Hogg: I see that the minimum notional sentence is two years. That suggests to me that the IPP, under these provisions, can be imposed in respect of relatively trivial trigger offences. Would it not be better to have a higher notional minimum period, so that the IPP is imposed only on offenders who have committed quite substantive, serious offences?
The changes we propose will increase judicial discretion as well as imposing a seriousness threshold on public protection sentences. As the right hon. and learned Gentleman mentioned, the provisions on the
seriousness threshold will ensure that the threshold will be that the offence must justify a minimum of two years custodial time. We shall also remove the rebuttable presumption of risk where there is a previous conviction for violent or sexual crime.
Courts will obviously regard previous records as highly important in determining the risk presented by the offender, and we are ensuring that the legislation clarifies that the court is not being asked to ignore previous convictions. It is also important, as my noble Friend Lord Carter of Coles said, to allow courts greater discretion so that where conditions for an IPP are met, the court may impose an IPP, extended sentence for public protection or other sentence that it finds appropriate. We are also changing the structure of extended sentences so that offenders will be subject to automatic release halfway through the custodial part, rather than leaving such halfway release to the discretion of the Parole Board, as happens currently.
New clause 46 examines the reform of the Bail Act 1976 and would change the law on bail for offenders charged with the least serious imprisonable offences. As the law stands, the grounds for refusing bail differ according to whether the offence is imprisonable. If it is imprisonable, the court will deal with an application for bail in accordance with part 1 of the schedule. If that is not possible, part 2 applies. The amendment would insert a new part 1A into the schedule to set out the grounds on which bail may be withheld when the offence is imprisonable but summary only.
Phil Wilson (Sedgefield) (Lab): How can we trust the Opposition parties on criminal justice when, in Committee, the Liberal Democrats voted to remove the punishment of offenders from the Bill and the Tories abstained?
Mr. Hanson: My hon. Friend, who loyally served on the Committee, draws attention to the fact that we had a debate on the purposes of sentencing and the involvement of punishment. I appreciate the reminder of those debates in Committee, but I would like to continue considering the Bail Reform Act because I do not want to spark debate with the hon. and learned Member for Harborough (Mr. Garnier) and the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr. Heath) on those matters.
The new part in the schedule will also apply to some cases that involve criminal damage when the court is clear that the value involved is less than £5,000. The court treats such offences as if they are summary only. The effect of the new clause is that some of those charged with offences to which the regime in part 1 currently applies would become subject to a new regime. That would result in bail being granted unless the offender posed certain clear risks.
Broadly, offenders charged with less serious imprisonable offences would be treated in the context of bail more like those charged with non-imprisonable offences. However, the amendments contain important safeguards, which allow the court to refuse bail if it believes that, if released on bail, the defendant would commit an offence through conduct likely to result in physical or mental injury to any person, or in any person fearing such injury.
The broad definition will allow the courts to remand a defendant to protect the public from violence when it is clear that the circumstances of the offence or the defendants history make it necessary or appropriate.
New clauses 26 and 27 and new schedule 6 would enable the sentencing court to direct that up to half the time spent on bail under an electronically monitored curfew could be credited against a subsequent custodial sentence in a similar way to that in which remands in custody are already credited. That could also give us approximately 200 places.
In those circumstances, prisoners would need to spend at least nine hours a day subject to electronically monitored curfew to qualify for the credit and would not receive full credit for each day of the curfew. Sentences would also be required to take account of the defendants compliance with the curfew condition and have discretion to direct that all parts or none of the available time would be credited against the sentence.
In new clause 25 and new schedule 3, we have taken the opportunity to clarify the legislative framework for applying electronic monitoring to support bail conditions imposed by the courts on adults and those aged 17.
New clause 48 would equalise parole arrangements. It amends the early release provisions in part II of the Criminal Justice Act 1991 for prisoners sentenced to four years and more for any offence other than a sexual or violent offence. It is intended that such prisoners will be subject to release arrangements identical to those for fixed-term prisoners who are currently sentenced under the Criminal Justice Act 2003.
Under new clause 48, prisoners who are convicted of offences other than sexual or violent offences would be released automatically on licence at the halfway point of their sentence. They would no longer be required to apply to the Parole Board for discretionary release at the halfway point or wait until the two-thirds point before becoming eligible for automatic release. They will be on licence and liable to recall until the point at which their sentence expires, which compares with existing arrangements whereby the licence expires at the three-quarter point of the sentence.
Philip Davies: Does the Minister not understand the outrage among members of the public at prisoners being automatically released halfway through their sentence, and then going out to commit more and more offences? Most of the public whom I survey and speak to in Shipley want prisoners to serve their sentence in full, not to have their sentence commuted to half. Does he not understand that basic objection that most people have to the proposals? Will he confirm that, under the proposals, people will be released however poorly they behave in prison?
The hon. Gentleman indicates that he is against the principles of the Criminal Justice Act 2003. The policy that he advocates would ensure that many
more people were in prison, that many more people were serving longer sentences, and that many more prison places would have to be found, over and above the number already planned. I am not sure that the official Opposition Front-Bench team share his view.
We are ensuring that we bring into line the Criminal Justice Act 1991 with the sentencing provisions of the 2003 Act. That will strengthen the provisions, as it will ensure that people are on licence to the end of their sentence, not just up to the three-quarter point. That gives the public additional protection. The new arrangements will enhance public protection, because placing all such prisoners on licence, and making them subject to probation supervision for the whole of the second part of their sentence, will make them liable to recall at any time if their behaviour gives cause for concern.
New clause 45 will restrict the use of community orders to imprisonable offences. Courts increasingly use a community order, instead of a fine, for lower-level offending, which diverts probation resources from dealing with more serious offenders, where they are most needed. The option of a community order would no longer be available for all low-level, non-imprisonable offences, removing some 6,000 community orders per year. That would restore the position that obtained before the Criminal Justice Act 2003 for some types of community penalty.
Taken together, the changes that I propose will ensure additional capacity in our prisons for serious, dangerous and violent offenders. Along with the steps being undertaken following my noble Friend Lord Carter of Coless report on prison building capacity, including the extra places to 2012, and the three new titan prisons of 2,500 places each, those changes will contribute to building a sustainable, modern prison and criminal justice system that both protects the public from dangerous offenders and ensures fairness in our operations. I commend the new clause to the House.
Mr. Edward Garnier (Harborough) (Con): The Minister, in his characteristically disarming way, advances some propositions that, had we the time, deserve rather better scrutiny. Discussion on this group of amendments will have to be concluded by, I think, 5.13 pm. There is not therefore much time to discuss the merits or demerits of Lord Carters recommendations, which have beenI was going to sayspatchcocked into the Bill at this late stage. Whichever expression one cares to use, the detail of the new clauses and Government amendments betrays a worrying pattern.
The genesis of the new clauses and amendments is the Governments mismanagement, which is not only of the prison estate. It is no longer controversial to say that the prison estate is woefully, and I would suggest, dangerously and inhumanely overcrowded, and that all the promises made by the Prime Minister, Secretary of State and Minister of State about a new building programme for prisons will not deal with the issues faced. The prison overcrowding is easy to see, because we can see that there are two or even three people in one-man cells, and because the Government introduced
the end of custody licence programme last June to release 25,500 people over a 12-month period. What one has not been able to seeit is difficult to assessis the equivalent overcrowding or overstretching of the probation and community punishment system. It is clearthe Minister confirmed it in a written answer last yearthat each qualified probation officer now has to supervise between 20 and 80 individual offenders. If that is not the equivalent of overcrowding, I do not know what is.
Mr. Hogg: It is not just a matter of supervision. Because they are responsible for so many people, probation officers cannot ensure proper compliance with the original order, so enforcement is not taking place either.
Mr. Garnier: That is also true. The two issuesprison overcrowding and overstretching of the probation servicecome together very neatly in the ECL system. Prisoners who have not been adequately rehabilitated or made ready for resettlement out of prison are being released early. Some might say, So what? It is only 18 days, but with short sentences, it is during the last 18 days that the most important work takes placedrug rehabilitation, introduction to job centres, housing associations and other sources of accommodation, introduction to the national health service and so on. If that does not happen, the probation service is then required to catch these people, who are essentially being thrown out of the back of the aeroplane without a parachute, and look after them.
John Bercow: I am extremely grateful to my hon. and learned Friend, who I would not want to understate his case. I think he would agree that a further problem of massive overcrowding is that it exacerbates the phenomenon of the churn, whereby prisoners are shunted from one institution to another, often prematurely, or out of prison altogether, before they have had the opportunity to complete the training or education programme on which they have rightly embarked.
Mr. Garnier: My hon. Friend is quite right. Churning, or the constant movement of prisoners from prison to prison, is one of the fundamental problems that we have to face up to at the moment. The Government are responsible because they have so mismanaged our prison estate that prisons are woefully overcrowded. Roughly, the prison population now stands at about 81,500 [Interruption.] I hear 79,000 being mentioned from a sedentary position. I hope that the Minister can tell us that that population is the result of planned sentencing and sentencing progression rather than panic measures. In fact, there are some panic measures in this group of amendments.