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The Earl of Mar and Kellie moved Amendment No. 261:

Page 68, line 28, leave out from ("applies") to end of line 30.

The noble Earl said: Amendment No. 261 seeks to probe why there is a need for the use of prison for 15 and 16 year-old boys. The Bill allows the use of local authority secure accommodation, a remand centre or a prison. I am unhappy that that three-way choice should be open to magistrates. I should prefer to see in the Bill the Scottish process whereby a child may be admitted to a prison only after an "unruly" certificate had been obtained by the procurator fiscal. I prefer that situation to the one in the Bill because it would mean that a child would be placed in a prison only if it was proved that he could not be contained in secure accommodation or a remand centre. I believe that that approach has more justice in it. A child admitted to a prison would be there strictly as a result of his own actions. I beg to move.

Lord Williams of Mostyn: We have already discussed these problems and perhaps Members of the Committee will forgive my not repeating some of the observations I have made.

I say again that we are sensitive to these concerns. The Minister of State at the Home Office, Mr. Michael, has held a number of meetings recently on this issue. These have included discussions with the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Children's Society, who have campaigned for a long time for the abolition of remanding 15 and 16 year-old boys to prison.

If this amendment were passed, prison remands would immediately be abolished when the Bill became law. There are no remand centres designated for the purpose. Therefore the practical consequence of the noble Earl's amendment would be that all remands would be to local authority secure accommodation. As I identified earlier, there is a lack of such accommodation, and that might mean that the court would have no way of remanding to secure accommodation, even where the court adjudged it necessary in order to protect the public. I believe that that is not a consequence that anyone could sensibly look to. Bearing in mind what I said earlier about the way the Government's policy is set, I ask the noble Earl to withdraw his amendment.

The Earl of Mar and Kellie: I accept that we have in some respects returned to this subject. I should be happy to see the retention of the part of the Bill which I sought to strike out if it referred to prison as being a last resort. As the provision is framed, I believe that magistrates could decide on prison as one of three options. I do not believe that that is what anyone wants. Having said that, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 81 agreed to.

3 Mar 1998 : Column 1167

7.45 p.m.

Clause 82 [Power to release short-term prisoners on licence]:

Lord Falconer of Thoroton moved Amendment No. 262:

Page 69, line 46, leave out ("38A(1)") and insert ("38A(1)(a)").

The noble and learned Lord said: In moving Amendment No. 262, I shall, with leave of the Committee, speak also to Amendments Nos. 263, and 265 to 269. This series of amendments concerns the workings of the home detention scheme, under which prisoners serving between three months and four years, who are near the end of their sentence, could be released on curfew, enforced by electronic monitoring.

We are keen to ensure that the new home detention curfew works as efficiently as possible, that those offenders who do not meet the discipline it imposes on them are dealt with effectively and that circumstances which are unforseeable when governors are assessing the suitability of a prisoner for release under curfew are suitably provided for.

We believe that those offenders who fail to comply with the terms of the curfew or who return to their offending ways should be quickly recalled to prison and debarred from future eligibility for release under home detention curfew. We are also, however, keen to ensure that offenders are given the opportunity to continue to benefit from the phased reintroduction to society which home detention curfew represents, even when their circumstances change to such an extent that compliance with the terms of their original curfew become difficult.

There will, of course, be occasions when a curfew cannot be monitored and it may well be that, despite the screening process provided by the risk assessment, further information comes to light about the possible threat posed by an offender who has been released under home detention curfew. Clearly the right thing to do in such cases is to recall the offender to prison.

It is with those aims that we propose the following amendments.

Amendment No. 262 is consequential to Amendment No. 269.

Amendment No. 263 ensures that any offender who is at any time returned to prison, having been convicted of an imprisonable offence committed while subject to a sentence from which he had been released early, will not be eligible for release under home detention curfew.

Amendments Nos. 265, 266, 267 and 268 allow prison governors, acting on behalf of the Secretary of State, to change the hours or place of curfew once the offender has started the home detention curfew licence period. This will ensure that changes in the circumstances of an offender, such as work commitments or a change of address, which would make compliance with the terms of the licence difficult, can be accommodated without first recalling the offender to prison.

Amendment No. 269 adds two further circumstances under which a licence can be revoked and the offender returned to prison. It will ensure that, in addition to

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those who have failed to comply with the conditions of the curfew, offenders who can no longer be monitored at the place specified in the licence and offenders who pose a threat to the public can be recalled to prison.

Clearly offenders who, having passed the risk assessment, are subsequently found to represent a risk to the public, should be returned to prison. Offenders who, for whatever reason, can no longer be monitored at the place specified in the licence, by the same token, should not be allowed to remain at large. If there is no way of monitoring their compliance with the terms of the curfew, the effectiveness of the curfew is negated. I beg to move Amendment No. 262.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Lord Falconer of Thoroton moved Amendment No. 263:

Page 70, line 6, leave out from ("below") to second ("or") in line 7 and insert ("at any time").

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Baroness Anelay of St. Johns moved Amendment No. 263A:

Page 70, line 17, at end insert--
("( ) The Secretary of State shall publish guidance as to the criteria which will qualify a prisoner for early release under this section.").

The noble Baroness said: I beg to move Amendment No. 263A. Clause 82, which we have just considered, gives effect to the Government's policy for the early release of prisoners who are serving from three months to four years.

This amendment would require the Secretary of State to publish guidance as to the criteria which would qualify a prisoner for early release under this section.

At Second Reading I raised this issue and I am grateful to the Minister for writing to my noble friend Lord Henley in January on matters surrounding this point. He responded to my concerns in what I might call a three-pronged approach. I hope that today he can confirm that it is the Government's intention to adopt the proposals outlined in his letter.

He listed categories of prisoners who would not be eligible for a home curfew. Those were: those serving extended sentences within the meaning of Clause 46 of the Bill; those convicted under Section 1 of the Prisoners (Return to Custody) Act 1995; those subject to a hospital order, a hospital direction or transfer directions under the Mental Health Act; those liable to removal from the United Kingdom; those who have previously failed to comply with the requirements of a home detention curfew or a curfew order enforced by electronic monitoring, or those who have a due release date which means that they would spend fewer than 14 days on curfew.

That list is helpful. I am merely asking tonight whether the Minister can confirm that those are still the excluded categories within the Government's understanding of this matter, and whether any further thought has been given since that letter of January, and therefore whether any further additions have been made to that list.

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The second part of that three-pronged approach is that the Minister further stated in the letter that the Government are considering what further considerations should apply when assessing which of the prisoners, among the other categories not excluded, shall then be selected for home detention curfew. That is among those who first of all fall within the categories who will be eligible for consideration, and of course among those who actually apply to be considered.

The Minister stated in the letter that prisoners who have already passed the release on temporary licence risk assessment or who have already successfully completed a period of temporary release will normally be considered as suitable unless other risk factors come to light. Again, that is a helpful indication of how individual suitability for release might be assessed. I would be grateful if the Minister would confirm that this is the Government's position on the matter.

The last part of the three-pronged approach was that the Minister stated that he hoped to be in a position to show draft guidance on eligibility to the House by the time the provisions were considered in Committee. I wonder whether he can fulfil that hope and my expectation tonight, and say whether that draft is now available.

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