HC Deb 15 June 1998 vol 314 cc13-5
10. Mr. Geoffrey Clifton-Brown (Cotswold)

If he will estimate the impact of the implementation of the provisions of the Crime and Disorder Bill [Lords] on the prison population in the next three years. [44252]

The Minister of State, Home Office (Ms Joyce Quin)

The prison population will always largely depend on the sentencing decisions of the courts. The provisions of the Crime and Disorder Bill will help to target the use of prison on serious offenders. The Government's policies are aimed at early effective intervention to turn young offenders away from crime and possible later imprisonment. Home detention curfew in the Bill is intended to free up some 3,000 prison places a year.

Mr. Clifton-Brown

Will the Minister consider the Bill's effect on the provision of prison places for serious sexual offenders? Will she assure the House that a serious sexual offender will never be released from prison earlier than he or she would otherwise have been if he or she is considered for electronic tagging, and that that would not be an acceptable reason for releasing serious sexual offenders earlier?

Ms Quin

As the hon. Gentleman knows, we have said that serious sexual offenders would not qualify for home detention curfew unless there were exceptional circumstances. It is important to bear in mind the fact that, in general, home detention curfew will operate only after a stringent risk assessment.

Mr. Dale Campbell-Savours (Workington)

If there is a shortage of prison space as a result of the implementation of the Bill, why do we not substantially reinforce the resources available to the Criminal Cases Review Commission, which will meet in Birmingham and which is responsible for establishing whether there have been miscarriages of justice, as I believe happened in the case of Owen Oyston? If the commission were given the resources, the inevitable consequences would be that more people would be released from prison, more spaces would become available and we would be able to deal with any additional offenders who were put into custody.

Ms Quin

We have increased the availability of prison spaces to accommodate people sent to us by the courts. The Government strongly support the work of the Criminal Cases Review Commission, and very much endorse its approach and work. However, in terms of the prison population, we believe that home detention curfew plus the other measures that the Government support, such as effective use of community sentences, are the best way for the criminal justice system to proceed in the future.

Mr. Humfrey Malins (Woking)

Does the Minister accept that members of the public believe that the prison sentence passed should be the prison sentence served? What message are the Government sending to the public by introducing measures in the Crime and Disorder Bill whereby although maximum sentences of six months are passed in magistrates courts, no defendants will ever serve more than six weeks if they behave properly?

Ms Quin

The Government are committed to enabling the courts, when sentence is passed, to tell people exactly what that sentence means in practice. We feel strongly about that because it is important for the public to know that information. The hon. Gentleman seems to object to the home detention curfew. It will mean a reduction in prison places, and we think that it is right because it involves a managed transition from custody to release. The structure that it imposes on offenders is one of its most valuable aspects.

Ms Beverley Hughes (Stretford and Urmston)

Does my hon. Friend agree that it is now imperative to have a range of stringent, community-based sentences that inspire the confidence of the public and sentencers because they are not easy options? What measures in the Crime and Disorder Bill will promote such sentences? How will sentencers be encouraged to use them?

Ms Quin

The probation service will have new responsibilities under the Crime and Disorder Bill, which will show the public that community sentences are worth while and effective. The action plan order and the reparation order will be particularly significant. Other important sentences will be served in the community under other orders in the Bill, such as the drug treatment and testing order.

Mr. A. J. Beith (Berwick-upon-Tweed)

Does the hon. Lady recognise that recent legislation, including that on mandatory sentencing, is contributing to a relentless rise in the prison population, which is likely to consume resources needed for rehabilitation inside and outside prison? Many of the good measures in the Crime and Disorder Bill will require resources to be put into the probation service. If those resources are instead consumed by prison spending, we shall not be able to do the job that needs to be done.

Ms Quin

The right hon. Gentleman knows that we have a responsibility to imprison people who are sent to us by the courts, and that we must imprison serious offenders. However, the Crime and Disorder Bill contains many effective measures that, through the emphasis on early action and intervention, will have a helpful effect, especially on young people. We hope that they will deter them from crime and, ultimately, imprisonment.

Mr. James Clappison (Hertsmere)

Does not the risk assessment guidance say that in the prison population as a whole, prisoners will usually be eligible for home detention curfew and early release? Does that not drive a coach and horses through the principle of honesty in sentencing? As my hon. Friend the Member for Woking (Mr. Matins) said, sentences will not mean what they say. What else can right-thinking members of the public conclude when a sentence of six months' imprisonment, which is the maximum that can be passed by magistrates courts, will mean in practice only six weeks spent in custody? How can that engender public confidence in sentencing?

Ms Quin

First, the courts will spell out what sentences mean in practice. Secondly, I invite the hon. Gentleman to take a closer look at some of the electronic monitoring schemes in this country and in other parts of Europe. Schemes such as the home detention curfew are extremely effective in providing punishment for people and preparing them for ultimate release. The system that we are introducing will be tough and effective.