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Lord Bradshaw: My Lords, I have roughly the same question. I understand that community support officers and accredited persons can have such powers as are conferred on them by chief officers of police. The situation is confused. In places where there is special parking area status there are no traffic wardens, or they have quickly been withdrawn by the police in favour of local authority-employed wardens, who act as parking wardens.

I have no objection to the proposals and I am grateful to the noble and learned Lord for clarifying the position of cyclists. However, we shall probably need some general notification of what community support officers and accredited persons can do; otherwise, each chief officer may give different powers to different people. That could lead to confusion on what powers people have. Some thought needs to be given to that, although it does not apply under the order that we are considering.

We welcome the order, which will free up some police time to be used on other matters. The issue of escorting abnormal loads has been under consideration for a considerable time with the road haulage industry. It should be resolved as quickly as possible. Thought has been given to giving that duty to the AA, the RAC or some other responsible body, provided the people concerned are properly trained.

We certainly do not oppose the order, but we want the duties of CSOs and accredited persons to be codified in some way so that people will know where they stand.

Lord Falconer of Thoroton: My Lords, community support officers and accredited community safety officers already have the relevant powers—under Schedule 4 to the Police Reform Act 2002 for community support officers and under Schedule 5 of that Act for accredited community safety officers. As I said in my opening remarks, traffic wardens have only such powers as are conferred on them by orders such as these. In a sense we have brought them into line.

I note what the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, says about clarity on who has what powers. Schedules 4 and 5 set out the powers of community support officers and accredited community safety officers respectively and orders such as this set out the powers of traffic wardens. I accept that people need to go through a bit of a legislative maze to find out what they are. How

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they are used in practice will depend on the chief constable in each area. We have to see how that develops over time.

I am grateful for the support of the noble Viscount, Lord Bridgeman, and the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, for the order in principle.

On Question, Motion agreed to.

Release of Short-Term Prisoners on Licence (Amendment of Requisite Period) Order 2002

6.5 p.m.

Lord Falconer of Thoroton rose to move, That the draft order laid before the House on 29th October be approved [40th Report, Session 2001–02, from the Joint Committee].

The noble and learned Lord said: My Lords, the purpose of the order, which I move on behalf of my noble friend Lord Filkin, is to lengthen from 60 days to 90 days the maximum curfew period spent by prisoners released on home detention curfew on electronic tag.

Home detention curfew offers eligible prisoners the opportunity to spend the final part of their sentence on curfew at their home address, or another suitable approved address. During the curfew period, which is usually between 7 p.m. and 7 a.m., they are electronically monitored by means of a tagging device and may not leave their home. The monitoring equipment is extremely reliable. The tag cannot be removed without damaging it and has tamper proof mechanisms which operate in such a way that all damage is reported immediately to the tagging contractors. Curfewees who breach the curfew are recalled to spend the remaining custodial period of their sentence in prison.

At present prisoners serving sentences of between three months and under four years may be released on home detention curfew for up to 60 days before their normal release date, subject to serving one quarter of their sentence in custody. That means that the full 60-day period applies to all prisoners sentenced to periods of eight months or more. The order will increase that maximum to 90 days, still subject to prisoners serving a quarter of the sentence period in custody. In practice therefore, the full 90-day period will apply to all prisoners serving sentences of one year or more.

The Home Secretary announced the Government's intention to increase the curfew period in February this year but wanted to assess properly the impact of the presumptive home detention curfew scheme, launched in May, before moving ahead with the proposal.

Under the presumptive home detention curfew scheme, introduced on 1st May this year, prisoners serving sentences of between three months and less than one year are released on home detention curfew for the latter part of their sentence unless there are

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compelling reasons not to do so. Drug dealers, violent offenders and prisoners with any history of sex offending are not eligible to be considered for release under the presumptive scheme.

The Prison Service has an overriding duty to protect the public and no prisoner can be placed on home detention curfew without first passing a risk assessment. The legislation also contains a statutory list of exclusions, including those required to register under the Sex Offenders Act 1997.

Since the scheme began in January 1999, over 60,000 people have been released on home detention curfew and 90 per cent of those have successfully completed the curfew period without any problems. Fewer than 3 per cent of curfewees are reported to reoffend while on curfew. Home detention curfew is cost-effective, freeing up about 37 million a year for use in other regime interventions.

The Home Secretary has statutory powers to recall any curfewee who breaches his curfew conditions or presents a risk of serious harm. Any offending by a curfewee is also a breach of their licence and can lead to recall to prison. Where home detention curfew is supervised by the probation service—in the case of young offenders and those serving 12 months or more—it provides a valuable tool for probation officers in influencing the behaviour of former prisoners. It can be used to keep offenders out of trouble when they are most likely to get into trouble. Home detention curfew requires curfewees to develop self-discipline and so can bring order to disordered lives. Therefore, in the light of the experience of the scheme and the presumptive scheme, which are both working well, we feel that now is the right time to increase the curfew period.

Finally, I shall say a word about the population pressures on our prisons, which noble Lords will be aware of. Although not its primary purpose when first introduced, home detention curfew plays an important role in managing the prison population by reducing overcrowding at the same time as improving the resettlement opportunities for less serious offenders. Already 2,500 people who would otherwise be filling prison places are serving the last part of their sentence on home detention curfew.

We expect that the extension of the curfew period will release around a further 600 prison spaces—the equivalent of a medium-sized prison. In all cases releases will take place only after an assessment of the risks, including the likelihood of the prisoner concluding home detention curfew successfully. No prisoner is released when he or she is assessed as posing a risk to public safety.

In conclusion, home detention curfew has been very successful in providing prisoners with a smoother and more effective reintegration back into the community, enabling prisoners to be released from prison early while still subject to restrictions placed on their liberty. Increasing the curfew period will allow them to make that transition over a longer period and will help them resume employment or training at an earlier stage. I commend the order to the House.

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Moved, That the draft order laid before the House on 29th October be approved [40th Report, Session 2001–02, from the Joint Committee].—(Lord Falconer of Thoroton.)

Viscount Bridgeman: My Lords, we welcome the Government's conversion to the home detention curfew system that was proposed by the previous government. However, as regards the previous government, the aim was very much to monitor prisoners released from gaol at the end of their sentence. We are concerned that the present Government are using this system to cut prisoners' sentences. The Minister referred to that. We are not in favour of that being the primary purpose of the system.

The provisions have been considerably widened. They bring with them risks. The Minister referred to the fact that 90 per cent of curfewees have completed their curfew period successfully. However, that leaves a significant 10 per cent who have not. As the Minister said, some 3 per cent of prisoners have offended while on curfew, some of those offences being serious. We shall not oppose the order but we shall watch carefully the reoffending rate and any failure to complete the curfew. It carries high risks.

Lord Dholakia: My Lords, we on this side of the House see no problems with the extension of the scheme for the release of short-term prisoners on licence.

Concerns have been expressed in the other place and also in your Lordships' House about prison overcrowding. One simply has to refer to the response to the gracious Speech last week when a number of noble Lords spoke about the unacceptable number of prisoners in our penal institutions. What overall strategy have the Government in mind to reduce overcrowding? The Minister indicated that the measure we are discussing would help that aim. Is the draft statutory instrument part of the strategy? Or is it a reaction to the recent publicity that Britain's gaol population is expected to rise above 100,000 for the first time in history?

The number of people serving prison sentences over the next decade will increase by over 40 per cent, putting an intolerable burden on the Prison Service. Can the Minister say whether those projected figures are based on official forecasts of prison numbers from Home Office experts and from the Office for National Statistics? Is the forecast by the probation service that an extra 30 gaols will be needed at an estimated cost of 2 billion correct? That is something I picked up from a newspaper headline.

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