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Lord Carlisle of Bucklow: I am grateful for and accept the explanation why the Government have decided to change the system from one in which a prisoner is merely eligible for parole at the half-way stage to one in which he is automatically released from the second half of the sentence.

I still do not understand—with respect, I do not believe that the Minister answered the question—where the 135 days comes in. Surely that must mean that, as a result of whoever's whim it is, people given the same sentence will find themselves serving different lengths of time in prison.

Lord Filkin: I do not want to give the impression that I am avoiding the question, but I genuinely believe that I would give a better answer if I write to the noble Lord, Lord Carlisle, on that issue setting out the full argumentation. Perhaps he will bear with me in that respect.

Viscount Bridgeman: I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Carlisle of Bucklow for his support and to the Minister for his reply. We shall read Hansard carefully in anticipation of the Minister's letter. We may need to revisit this issue from a slightly different perspective on Report. In the mean time, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord Filkin moved Amendment No. 204:

The noble Lord said: In moving the amendment on behalf of my noble friend Lady Scotland of Asthal, I shall speak also to Amendment No. 205. The amendments seek to extend the provisions for early release on home detention curfew to under-18s.

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Under-18s were originally excluded from the scheme because of concern that electronic tagging might not be appropriate for young offenders. Before making a judgment on that question, the Government wished to await the evaluation of the curfew order pilots with electronic monitoring for 10 to 15 year-olds. The pilots have now been evaluated and the disposal has been made available throughout England and Wales.

In the years since the home detention curfew was introduced for over-18s, the use of electronic monitoring for under 18 year-olds has become increasingly widespread. For example, eligible offenders subject to a detention and training order of eight months or more are released one or two months early on an electronic tag.

Detention training orders are subject to a separate set of legislative provisions under Section 91, but the Government see no good reason why Section 91 offenders who are under 18 and meet the eligibility criteria should not also be released on an electronic tag. The amendments respond to ongoing litigation and reflect amendments recently made by order to current legislation.

Amendments Nos. 204CA to 204CF amend the method of calculation of the period spent on home detention curfew, which is tapered according to the length of the sentence. The tapering mechanism as currently drafted is not consistent with the 1991 Act as it significantly reduces the maximum curfew period available for different sentence lengths. For example, under the 1991 Act, a prisoner serving a 12-month sentence would serve three months in custody and three months on home detention curfew. As the clause is currently drafted, such a prisoner would serve four-and-a-half months in custody and one-and-a-half months on curfew. The amendments will correct this position and provide curfew periods consistent with the maximum curfew periods currently achieved through the Criminal Justice Act 1991.

Amendment No. 204MA prevents prisoners who have been recalled to prison for failing to comply with the curfew condition from being re-released on HDC during the current sentence. It is not appropriate for prisoners who have breached their curfew to be immediately eligible for consideration for release on HDC for reasons that I hope are self-evident. The amendment prevents this possibility. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

[Amendments Nos. 204A to 204C not moved.]

Lord Filkin moved Amendments Nos. 204CA to 204CF:

    Page 137, line 13, leave out "8" and insert "6".

    Page 137, line 15, leave out "6" and insert "4".

    Page 137, line 16, leave out "three-quarters" and insert "one-half".

    Page 137, line 18, leave out "56" and insert "42".

    Page 137, line 20, leave out "42" and insert "28".

    Page 137, line 21, leave out "three-quarters" and insert "one-half".

On Question, amendments agreed to.

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Viscount Bridgeman moved Amendment No. 204D:

    Page 137, line 23, at end insert—

"( ) the court has recommended to the Secretary of State that subsection (1) should not apply in the interests of justice,"

The noble Viscount said: In moving Amendment No. 204D, I shall speak also to Amendments Nos. 204E to 204M and to Amendment No. 204N, all of which are tabled in the names of my noble friends Lady Anelay and Lord Kingsland.

The amendments are tabled in order to probe the precise scope of the expanded home detention curfew provisions contained in Clause 236. A number of categories of prisoner are already excluded by statute from the HDC scheme, such as those liable to deportation and registered sex offenders. The amendments seek to add to those excluded categories and to ascertain the arrangements by which a variety of types of prisoner will be released on the modified HDC scheme provided for in the Bill.

Amendment No. 204D would allow the court to specify when sentencing that a prisoner should not be released early on the HDC scheme. In the case of those offenders from whom the court considers the public need protecting but who might otherwise qualify for the HDC scheme, would not this enable victims and the public to feel sure that an offender would not be released up to four months earlier than the standard release date? This might be a particularly important safeguard in the case of those serving very long sentences indeed, to which the next three amendments in the group relate.

Amendments Nos. 204E, 204F and 204G would exclude from the HDC scheme those offenders sentenced to terms of at least seven, 10 or 14 years respectively. Such offenders are presently excluded from the HDC arrangements by virtue of the fact that the scheme applies only to short-term prisoners serving less than four years. However, they will be eligible for release on HDC if the Bill is enacted because the restriction of the scheme to short-term prisoners is not replicated in Clause 236.

The amendments simply pose the question of whether all prisoners serving determinate sentences—perhaps those serving sentences of 14 years or more for very serious offences such as drug trafficking, armed robbery, manslaughter or even terrorist crimes—ought to be eligible for early extra release on the HDC scheme. Can the Minister say whether Clause 236 will allow those already serving such sentences—of whom there must be many in Her Majesty's prisons—to be released early on HDC, or will it apply only to those sentenced after commencement?

Does the Home Secretary intend to operate any separate policy in relation to those sentenced to long terms of imprisonment or who have committed the most serious offences, or will the same eligibility criteria apply regardless of whether the sentence is 12 months or 12 years?

As regards Amendments Nos. 204H, 204J and 204K, can the Minister clarify whether any special policy will be put in place in respect of those who have

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been sent to prison after committing an offence against a child or a drug trafficking offence, particularly if they have been sentenced to long terms of imprisonment for very serious crimes?

Will he also comment on the scope for the early release of those who have been convicted of the specified violent or sexual offences referred to in Clause 215 but who have been sentenced to ordinary determinate terms of imprisonment rather than detention for public protection or extended sentences? What criteria will govern the release of such prisoners, who may have committed very serious crimes?

Amendment No. 204L would prevent the release of a prisoner on HDC if the Secretary of State's view was that it was more likely than not that the prisoner would re-offend while on HDC. I sincerely hope that this is indeed the position at the moment in relation to those who are risk assessed after being released early on HDC and that the Minister can confirm that the amendment is reflected in the Secretary of State's policy.

Will the Minister also comment on the risk assessment for those serving short prison sentences who are released on the presumptive HDC scheme introduced last year who, as I understand it, do not have to go through precisely the same sort of checking as those who are released on the standard scheme? Will the Minister, in responding to the amendment, also comment on the risk assessment process more generally, and how successful it has been in preventing the release of those who might reoffend while on HDC?

I commend Amendments Nos. 204M and 204N to the Minister as alternatives to government Amendment No. 204MA, which was debated in the previous group. Amendment No. 204N would prevent the release of a prisoner who had on any occasion—whether during his present sentence or a previous one—been released on the home detention curfew scheme. While I welcome the Government's decision to include Amendment No. 204MA, I simply ask the Minister why the Government think that someone who has breached the licence conditions of a previous early release on HDC so drastically that he or she has been recalled to prison is a fit person to benefit from the scheme a second time.

Amendment No. 204M is on a similar point. Why should a person who has previously been released early on HDC and has committed a further serious offence, justifying a new prison sentence, be released early on HDC a second time? I should be grateful for clarification of the Government's position on these points. I beg to move.

7 p.m.

Viscount Colville of Culross: I do not know what the noble Lord, Lord Filkin, will do about these amendments, but I should be very grateful to be enlightened either by him or the noble Viscount, Lord Bridgeman, on Amendment No. 204L. This seems to be another of these occasions on which we are enacting power for the Secretary of State, without advice from

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anybody, to refuse to give somebody his liberty. Presumably he will have to give reasons for this. Is this consistent with the European Convention on Human Rights and therefore the Human Rights Act? I seriously doubt whether it is but, at any rate, it certainly deserves consideration.

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