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Lord Renton: The amendments of my noble friend Lady Anelay do not alter the principles of Clause 174 but I think they improve its drafting. As to the details of the amendmentsthe number of weeks that should be considered in the various circumstances mentioned in subsections (5) and (7)I hope that the Government will realise that the amendments make the matter much more realistic. To say that a custodial period should not be more than 13 weeks is most unrealistic and would tie the hands of the court unnecessarily.
Baroness Stern: I will speak very briefly because I feel great sympathy for the Minister. I am surprised that she is still awake and I am very grateful to her for being so. I think her stamina is extraordinary. I would like to say a word in support of Amendment 173FA and similar associated amendments spoken to by the noble Lord, Lord Carlile. It is very important that we try to include in the Bill the intended use of these new sentences.
Over many years, we have tried, through legislation, to advise sentencers on how we hope sentences will be used. Those attempts have usually failed. We are now in a situation in which the use of imprisonment is moving down a tariff, the use of community sentences has reduced and the use of fines has almost disappeared. None of that was intended by the legislation. In fact, successive legislation has hoped that the outcome would be different. More needs to be done than simply including the information in the Bill. However, if the sentences are to be used as the Government intend, that would be a good starting point for the subsequent training and implementation which, in the case of this Bill, will be a very substantial endeavour.
Lord Carlisle of Bucklow: I accept and concede to being totally confused, but I think that we are covering amendments that cover the whole of Clauses 174, 175 and 176. I could say to my namesake that the partial reason for my confusion may be that I have been out of the Chamber for the past 20 minutes, but was
If I am correct in saying that we are covering these three clauses, I make some general comments. The provisions in Clause 176 are, as far as I know, totally new within the judicial system of this country. As I understand it, it effectively introduces weekend imprisonment. I apologise to the Minister, because I realise the stress that has been on her, but it is important that she sets out the purpose of Clause 176 and the way in which the Government intend it to be used.
Weekend imprisonment is extremely successful in Sweden although it is many years since I went there and saw what was happening. However, I have always understood that the problem in this country is one of space. I was always told that intermediate or intermittent custodywhich I understand to be weekend imprisonmentcould not be introduced because of the problem of where to imprison people. The prisons are full. I welcome this form of imprisonment because people who are able to work during the week should do so. They should serve their sentences by being required to report on a Friday evening as they are in Sweden and then released back to their work at a later stage until they have carried out the days of their sentence. However, we should know where those sentences are to be served and whether there is the necessary capacity.
Therefore, on Clause 176, I express my pleasure in seeing the idea in the Bill, but question whether the Government have thought through how the measure will be implemented. I hope that the Minister can help us on that point.
Clause 174 refers to prison sentences of less than 12 months. I understand that in custody plus the court will have the power to impose a sentence of up to 51 weeks stating the number of those weeks that shall not exceed 13, I believe, in which time will be spent in custody. The rest would be served under supervision. I am sorry to return to the committee that the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, and I were on, but we went into the matter in considerable detail. The problem is that if we extend supervision, as this Bill intends, to sentences of less than 12 months, the increased pressure that is put on the probation service is enormous. One must ask the Government whether they have thought through the implications for resources that this proposal will have.
I confess that I do not have my copy of the Parole Review Committee report with me and I had to get the copy from the Library. I refer the Minister to Paragraph 294 of that report, in which we set out why, if a sentence is less than 12 monthswhile accepting that offenders should be released at the halfway stage and subject to recall up to the full stage if they commit a further offencewe did not believe that it was appropriate to impose conditions of supervision during that period. It states:
I have not given the Minister notice of these questions but I wonder whether the Government have thought the matter through. What are the implications for those services? Although we published the report some years agoand it was a unanimous reportwe were satisfied at the time that resources were not available sufficiently to provide supervision for short-term prisoners. My worry is that against the wishes of the Government, the effect of Clause 174 may be to increase rather than reduce the prison population. People will be brought back before the courts for being in breach of conditions that have been imposed during their short term of release under supervision, rather than merely being released with the overriding condition that, if they do anything criminal in that period, they will be brought back and dealt with for that offence, as well as the current one.
I ask the Governmentnot in a carping sensewhether they are satisfied about that. Have they considered the effect on resources? Do they believe that the resources that, we felt at the time, did not exist now exist? Are they satisfied that it will not lead to an increase in the prison population, rather than a reduction? Is it the best use of available resources to make people on short terms of imprisonment adhere to conditions other than the condition not to re-offend during their sentence?
Baroness Scotland of Asthal: I agree with many of the comments made by the noble Lord, Lord Carlisle of Bucklow, about the utility of intermittent sentences and the need to think it through. I assure him that we have given much thought to the way in which it will operate. It may help the Committee if I say a few sentences about the work that we are doing together on the national Criminal Justice Board and the local criminal justice boards, which bring together all the criminal justice agencies in an attempt to adopt a more holistic approach.
The noble Lord will see, throughout all the provisions on sentencing, that we seek to create a better and closer partnership between the police, the Crown Prosecution Service, the courts, probation, prison and those in the voluntary sector who seek to assist offenders at whatever stage. We understand that there will be a greater need for interdisciplinary participation in some of the issues. It is not just a matter of intermittent sentences. We are examining the conditions attached to a caution, in the hope that we can prevent some offenders getting a criminal conviction. That involves work between the police, the CPS and the probation service at an early stage. We hope that that will reduce the number of people who accelerate up the scheme and the need to take advantage of the community service provision. Again, probation will be heavily involved in that. We will work with the probation service and others while offenders are in prison to carry out a risk assessment
We understand that there are new resource considerations. We also understand that it is incumbent on all parts of the criminal justice system to work together in a different way from that in which we have worked before. That is a throwback to some of our earlier debates, and it is one of the reasons why it will be so critical for the other disciplines that participate in the process to have a word or two to say on the Sentencing Guidelines Council to make sure that everything is threaded together. The noble Lord is right to say that, if the system is to work, we will have to think carefully about the new strains and stresses that will be put on all the agencies to allow us to deliver the new package.
We know that the research demonstrates that delivering the system in that way is likely to be the most effective way of making a difference to individual lives. In saying that, I refer to Amendment 177JA. I shall deal with the amendments spoken to by the noble Lord, Lord Carlile of Berriew, in more detail in a moment.
The noble Baroness, Lady Anelay of St Johns, moved Amendment No. 177A and spoke to Amendments Nos. 177B and 177C. She has not spoken to Amendments Nos. 177D, 177E and 177F, so I can leave those to one side. I say frankly that we did not understand the import of Amendments Nos. 177A, 177B and 177C. Although the amendments sought to improve the drafting of the provisions that enabled the court to impose the new sentencecustody plusthey appeared to us, at first blush, to be unnecessary, as they made no discernible difference to and had no discernible effect on the content of the clause. We considered that the current drafting was to be preferred. I listened to what the noble Baroness said, and I have not got an answer to her point. I would like to give her an answer, so I shall consider the matter again. I shall write to her in the interim, as soon as we have given the matter proper consideration, which we have not done at the moment.
The amendments spoken to by the noble Lord, Lord Carlile of Berriew, were supported by the noble Baroness, Lady Stern. I shall deal with some of the points raised. The amendments seek to ensure that the courts will pass a sentence of custody plus or intermittent custody or a suspended sentence only if it is clear that a full custodial sentence is justified. The amendments must be rejected because Clause 144 already sets out that a custodial sentence can be imposed only if the offence is so serious that neither a fine nor a community sentence would be adequate punishment. I know that that is the thrust of what the noble Lord wanted to demonstrate through the amendments.
Amendments Nos. 177FA, 177JB and 179ZB would not add any substance to the existing provisions. Similarly, there are already provisions in the Bill that require the court to give reasons for the sentence passedClause 167, which we discussed earlierand ensure that the requirements attached to the sentence
I know that the Committee was concerned that we should not replicate the sort of constraints currently present on suspended sentences. I reassure the noble Lord, Lord Carlile of Berriew, that those matters have been dealt with, so he need not be concerned about that. The provisions are already there. There is no "exceptional circumstances" limitation in custody plus, intermittent custody or suspended sentences such as exists currently in suspended sentences. I hope that, with that, the noble Lord will feel content.
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