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Lord Clinton-Davis: My Lords, I thank the Minister for the last part of his Answer. Notwithstanding the expression of concern about safety expressed in the JAA draft report, is the Minister aware that the view of the pilots' organisations—and I am president of the British Air Line Pilots Association—is that the draft proposals represent a substantial reduction in safety as a result of the increasing flight time proposals which are being made? When this matter comes to be dealt with at the Council of Ministers in due course, will the Minister appreciate that the Government have a responsibility and that it is not solely that of the CAA? Will he ensure, in line with what he has said about safety, that those expressions of concern which come not simply from BALPA but from many pilots' associations are recognised and that the draft proposals as they stand will certainly not be implemented?

Viscount Goschen: No, my Lords. I recognise the views put forward by the noble Lord, but they are certainly not those of the expert body which advises the Government on these matters; namely, the Civil Aviation Authority. Its view is that these proposals will bring substantial benefits in raising the general standard of safety around Europe while maintaining the very high standard of safety that we have in the United Kingdom.

Lord Ewing of Kirkford: My Lords, if we increase the number of flying hours and reduce the number of duty hours per airline pilot between Britain and the rest of Europe, how can the Minister possibly give a guarantee that that will not lead to fatigue and therefore increase the risk that is always present in any case? As regards the directive, does not the noble Viscount agree that if ever there was an example of a matter which is suitable for subsidiarity, surely this is it? Why on earth do flying hours have to be the same in the United Kingdom as they are in Spain and in other European countries? Why cannot we decide these things for ourselves?

Viscount Goschen: My Lords, I do not agree with the noble Lord. There will be substantial benefits from

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harmonisation in the safety field. The noble Lord is also not right to take one particular aspect of these proposals. One cannot just take one aspect when there is a whole package. In the view of the Civil Aviation Authority this package represents equivalent safety standards to those which we already operate; namely, the CAP 371. For instance, in comparing the annual duty hours permitted for flight crew, the maximum permitted under the UK's present regulations is 2,470 hours, but under the new proposal the figure is 1,800 hours. That example shows that one cannot take any one specific figure and say that one package is higher or lower than another.

Lord Clinton-Davis: My Lords, is it not a fact that that overall package represents an increase in flying hours? Is it not also a fact that the medical centre at Farnborough has expressed deep concern about the health of air crews and has raised questions about the safety of both air crews and passengers? Is not that a factor that should be weighed very heavily in the balance when considering this matter?

Viscount Goschen: My Lords, I quite agree with the noble Lord about the importance of taking the best possible medical advice. That has been done. However, the noble Lord is not correct to say that the proposals represent an overall increase in the number of flying hours. On an annual basis, they will be the same at 900 flying hours per annum.

Prisoners on Release: Public Safety

2.50 p.m.

Lord Boyd-Carpenter asked Her Majesty's Government:

    How many offences were committed in the last year by persons temporarily released on "leave" during the currency of sentences of imprisonment, and in how many cases such offences involved injury to other citizens.

The Minister of State, Home Office (Baroness Blatch): My Lords, I regret that the statistical information which my noble friend has asked for is not yet available. As my right honourable friend the Home Secretary announced in another place on 18th November, a new system of release on temporary licence will be introduced early next year. As part of those arrangements, a system to monitor the operation of the new scheme is being established. This system will provide more comprehensive statistical information than is currently available, including information about the number and type of offences which are committed by prisoners temporarily released.

Lord Boyd-Carpenter: My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that Answer, but is her department aware that the very large number of cases of release on leave has involved not only the committing of further offences, sometimes involving innocent people, but also seems to be undermining the deterrent effect of penal sentences?

Baroness Blatch: My Lords, my noble friend is absolutely right. It is precisely because of that concern that my right honourable friend the Home Secretary is

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tightening the system and introducing the new scheme. It is our view that it will address some of the problems that my noble friend has mentioned.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, it is difficult to see how that can be the case. Although it is welcome that the new scheme will include improved statistical information on offences that are committed while prisoners are on leave, is it not the case that the Home Secretary has announced a blanket overall cut of 40 per cent. in the amount of home leave? Is it conceivable that that blanket cut can be justified in the absence of the statistics for which the noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter, has been asking?

Baroness Blatch: My Lords, my right honourable friend the Home Secretary is properly addressing the issues of public confidence in the system and of public safety. He is also doing something about restoring the balance away from favouring the prisoner to favouring public safety and concern for victims. It is our view that there will be a reduction of about 40 per cent. in the number of temporary releases.

Lord Allen of Abbeydale: My Lords, in view of the continuing criticisms of home leave, is it not worth recalling why we have the system at all, however much it will be curtailed? It sometimes seems to be forgotten that all prisoners, with a very tiny number of exceptions, are eventually released. Is there not much to be said for a measure which, if suitably operated in a suitable case, helps to prepare the individual for a more satisfactory reabsorption into the community?

Baroness Blatch: My Lords, the noble Lord is absolutely right on that point. The word that I should like to address is "suitability" for release. That is what is important. More rigour must be applied to the assessment of risk in relation to release. In terms of helping people to adjust from prison life to freedom, helping them to prepare for release and providing help with education and training and with resettlement and housing are very important. So there is a very good reason for temporary release, if it is properly managed.

Lord Harmar-Nicholls: My Lords, does my noble friend agree that "suitably operated" is the crucial phrase in the last supplementary question? Is she also aware that the Home Secretary's instinct seems to be in accordance with the nation's instinct, because the public are disturbed by the fact that many instances of crimes being committed while a person is on temporary release are reported every day and flow from such extravagant levity?

Baroness Blatch: My Lords, I entirely agree with my noble friend. This is not only a concern of my right honourable friend the Home Secretary. He was rightly responding to public concern about this matter.

Lord Hooson: My Lords, I agree with the Minister that suitability should be the test, but how can she square that with the across-the-board cut of 40 per cent.?

Baroness Blatch: My Lords, the noble Lord must at least recognise that the incidence of breaching conditions of release leads one to the notion that some

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people are being released although they are unsuitable. It is the view of my right honourable friend the Home Secretary that there will be a reduction of about 40 per cent. in the number of people being released because they simply will not pass the more rigorous test.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, I think that we can forgive public opinion for expressing concern without adequate statistics but can we forgive the Home Secretary for reacting in this knee-jerk way without adequate statistics? The Answer given to the noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter, indicates that there is not adequate evidence that excessive home leave is leading to an excessive number of offences being committed while on leave. Should we not be more concerned, as the noble Lord, Lord Allen of Abbeydale, said, with the ultimate release of prisoners and with the issue of discipline within prisons which will be endangered if the blanket cut of 40 per cent. is enforced?

Baroness Blatch: My Lords, the latest figures show that there were 6,300 breaches of the conditions of temporary release. I think that that should concern both noble Lords and the public. If it is "knee-jerk" to be concerned about the victim, public safety and public confidence, so be it.

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