HC Deb 25 January 1979 vol 961 cc652-4
2. Mr. Andrew F. Bennett

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department what provision allows a prisoner or his legal representative to ensure that any material relating to that prisoner presented to the Parole Board does not contain any factual errors.

The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Merlyn Rees)

There is no such provision. Much of the material comprises reports prepared on a confidential basis by, for example, members of the prison staff and probation officers. The basic facts are usually set out in a number of these reports as well as in the prison records and can be cross-checked. This is one of the functions of the parole unit in the Home Office.

Mr. Bennett

Is my right hon. Friend aware that many prisoners whose parole is turned down are, first, very disappointed that it has been turned down, but are also concerned that they do not know the reason? Such prisoners fear that inaccurate information may well have been entered on their records and have swung the decision as to whether parole should be refused or granted.

Mr. Rees

Over the years I have checked on the matter of inaccuracy and only a handful of cases have come to light. I accept that they are only the ones that have come to light. We are conducting an experiment, the results of which are now being collated, to see whether we could give reasons for not granting parole. When the facts have been collated I shall report to the House.

Mr. Grocott

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the decision whether or not to give parole can be almost as important to a prisoner as the original sentencing decision? Therefore, similar standards of evidence and natural justice should apply, the very least of these being that the prisoner should know the reasons for the decision.

Mr. Rees

I have just said that that is why we have been conducting an experiment. One factor which should be the least worry, is the paperwork that would arise from what is suggested. I am looking at all aspects of the matter and I shall report to the House.

Mr. Alan Clark

Does the Home Secretary agree that these matters would be more significant if any rational basis could be detected in a number of cases when the Parole Board comes to a decision? Does he agree that much of the feeling about unfairness among prisoners is caused by the extraordinary cases that the board seems to prefer over cases which prisoners themselves regard as being much more favourable?

Mr. Rees

I invite the hon. Gentleman to see how the scheme is worked. I shall willingly show him. I think that what he says is misconceived.

Mr. McNamara

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the cases he has considered must have included one concerning one of my constituents? When such errors occur, they create a great, deep and abiding sense of injustice not only for the prisoner but for his relatives and friends, if they feel that in one way or another evidence presented before the Parole Board is not accurate and in some cases is absolutely misleading.

Mr. Rees

My hon. Friend has given one of the reasons why we are conducting the experiment of which I have spoken.