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House of Lords

Thursday, 17th July 1997.

The House met at three of the clock (Prayers having been read earlier at the Judicial Sitting by the Lord Bishop of Southwark.): The LORD CHANCELLOR on the Woolsack.

Prison Remands: Number

Lord Henderson of Brompton asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether there has been any recent reduction in the number of people remanded in custody.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Home Office (Lord Williams of Mostyn): My Lords, the remand population currently stands at 12,100, compared with an average figure in 1996 of 11,600, 11,400 in 1995, and 12,357 in 1994. As a percentage of the total prison population, however, the remand population has declined from 25 per cent. in 1994, to 22 per cent. in 1995, to 21 per cent. in 1996, to 20 per cent. earlier this year.

Lord Henderson of Brompton: My Lords, I am very glad to hear of that percentage decline in the remand population. Can the noble Lord provide some advice on the latest figures in the Home Office statistics for 1995? They show that only 48 per cent. of those remanded in custody were sentenced to immediate custody. Does the noble Lord agree that if the up-to-date figures are anything like those for 1995, the number of people remanded in custody is rather large and could be reduced to the great benefit of the Prison Service?

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, the noble Lord makes an extremely pertinent point. Apart from the matters to which he has referred, the keys are at least two. The use of bail in appropriate cases is extremely important and delay is also important. The statistic that the noble Lord has given may not tell the whole story. It is well known that some courts do not sentence convicted defendants to prison, bearing in mind that they have already served a certain amount of time on remand while awaiting sentence. That is not entirely an illuminating figure. However, I agree entirely with the general thrust of the noble Lord's question. The policy of the Home Office is to attempt to reduce the number as well as the percentage of those who are on remand in prison.

Lord Allen of Abbeydale: My Lords, can the Minister inform the House whether the figures that he has given are for Great Britain or whether he is following what appears to be the normal practice of Home Office Ministers in giving figures simply for England and Wales but without saying so? The Question is not so limited.

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Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, the noble Lord is quite right. I have provided England and Wales figures which I believe has been the custom and convention in your Lordships' House. I meant no disrespect to any person incarcerated in a Scottish prison.

Lord Hayhoe: My Lords, does the Minister agree that to get a balanced picture of the situation one needs to know the length of time served on remand? Can the Minister give the average length of time which, linked with the numbers, gives the broad picture?

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, I am able to give those figures. During 1996 the average time spent in custody by untried male prisoners was 53 days. That was a reduction from the 1995 average of 56 days. In respect of untried female prisoners, the 1996 figure was 41 days which represents a fall from the previous year's figure of 45 days. Unsentenced convicted males in 1996 spent an average of 34 days in custody--of course, their situation is quite different--and in respect of females, the figure was 31 days. That seems to have been generally consistent as an average since 1992.

Lord Jenkins of Hillhead: My Lords, is the Minister aware that the intervention of the noble Lord, Lord Allen of Abbeydale, strikes a great echo in my mind? The noble Lord was one of the most notable of the permanent secretaries with whom I was associated in my ministerial career nearly 30 years ago. One of the noble Lord's minor contributions, with his passion for accuracy, was to write, in green ink, in the Answers to Parliamentary Questions, "in England and Wales".

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, I share the view which is generally held in the Home Office about the quality of the noble Lord's service as permanent secretary. I am always a little cautious about correspondence that I carry on in green ink. It is often underlined in red several times and consigned to an appropriate dustbin.

Baroness Mallalieu: My Lords, is my noble friend able to inform the House how many of those currently in custody on remand are women and whether the Government have any preliminary reaction to today's shocking report from Her Majesty's Chief Inspector of Prisons about the women currently in the prison system?

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, in 1996, 55,600 untried males were received into Prison Service establishments. In the same year, 3,340 untried females were received. That represented a rise of 16 per cent. Any rise in female as well as male incarceration is something that should trouble us all, but it is for the courts to deal with offenders or accused in the way they believe is appropriate. My noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor has issued guidance to magistrates about delay and the prudent use of bail. My right honourable friend the Home Secretary is concentrating

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keenly on the avoidance of the blemishes that might be prevented if bail conditions were more firmly set in appropriate cases.

Viscount Tenby: My Lords, the Minister has identified delay as one of the reasons for the increase in the remand population. Can he inform the House whether fast-track proposals for senior offenders are likely to follow on the back of those for juvenile offenders?

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, I entirely agree that delay is a blemish on our system. Sometimes it is manipulated by defendants. The Home Secretary has these matters keenly in mind and intends to make an announcement soon. One of the questions under active consideration is the particular conditions of bail. For example, unfortunately, much delay arises because defendants do not consult their lawyers and are therefore able to be provided with a facile excuse for further delay. That matter is being keenly examined at the moment in the Home Office.

Lord Ackner: My Lords, does the noble Lord agree, perhaps drawing on his own experience, that there are occasions when the only factor in mitigation is time spent on remand, and that in those cases it would be no kindness for bail to be granted because there would then be no mitigation at all?

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, drawing on my own experience, I always used to try for a little better mitigation than that, frequently before the noble and learned Lord, Lord Ackner, when he was sitting as a puisne judge on the Wales and Chester circuit. I did not always succeed. However, the point made by the noble and learned Lord is one that I made earlier. Sometimes, prison is not the ultimate sentencing outcome for the very reason which the noble and learned Lord specified; namely, that a substantial period of imprisonment has already been served. Nevertheless, in our view it is important that bail should be used when it is consistent with public security.

Helms-Burton Act: UK Trade with Cuba

3.10 p.m.

Viscount Montgomery of Alamein asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they consider the arrangements between the European Union and the United States concerning the Helms-Burton Act will be satisfactory for United Kingdom trading interests with Cuba.

The Minister of State, Department of Trade and Industry (Lord Clinton-Davis): My Lords, Her Majesty's Government are working closely with our EU partners to achieve an outcome to the current negotiations which will prove to be satisfactory not only for the UK's trading interests with Cuba but also more widely.

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Viscount Montgomery of Alamein: My Lords, what the Minister has said sounds rather general, so is he satisfied that the new arrangements will enable European companies to trade without any impediment whatsoever? Furthermore, have any representations been made in Washington by Her Majesty's ambassador there to the US Government about the general iniquities of this extra-territorial legislation?

Lord Clinton-Davis: My Lords, neither we nor our predecessors hesitated to condemn the claims for extra-territorial jurisdiction which emerged from this legislation, of which we disapprove very strongly indeed. We believe that the liberalisation of international trade is crucial. We believe that this legislation stands in the way of that objective and we shall use our best endeavours with our European partners and others to ensure that there can be some reasonable measure of satisfaction for our companies, for this country's interests and for European interests by dealing with this in the most effective way. It is interesting that only today President Clinton has ordered a suspension of the law suits under Title III of the Helms-Burton Act for another six months. I think that our representations are having an effect.

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