HC Deb 12 May 1982 vol 23 cc833-46

'(1) A person who is serving, or who after the commencement of this Act is sentenced to, a term of imprisonment other than imprisonment for life shall be released on a conditional release licence when he has served one half of his sentence or seven days, whichever is the longer; or such later date as may be necessary to take account of any forfeiture of remission.

(2) Any person subject to a conditional release licence shall comply with such requirements, if any, as the Secretary of State may specify in this licence.

(3) For the purposes of this section consecutive and concurrent terms of imprisonment shall be treated as a single term.

(4) A person whose sentence is reduced by the operation of section 67 of the Criminal Justice Act 1967 (reduction of sentence of imprisonment by reference to periods spent in custody on remand) shall for the purposes of this section be treated as if any period taken into account under this section were included in his sentence.

(5) A person shall remain subject to a conditional release licence until he has served two-thirds of his sentence, with the additions of any period for which he may have forfeited remission unless the licence is revoked under subsection (6) below.

(6) Where a person subject to a conditional release licence commits an offence punishable with imprisonment, a court may order his return to custody for a period not exceeding

  1. (a) the outstanding period for which the conditional release licence would otherwise be in force, or
  2. (b) 30 days, whichever is the longer.'.—[Mr. Kilroy-Silk.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

Mr. Kilroy-Silk

I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

The prison population today is again approaching the 45,500 level. There has been an unprecedented increase of 3,500 in the last three months. Those prisoners are occupying space that the chief inspector of the prison service says should be occupied by no more than 37,000 and that the prison and borstal governors say should be occupied by no more than 32,000 in order to meet the objective of ending cell-sharing and slopping-out. About 17,000 of the 44,000 men, women and young people in our prisons today occupy cells built for one in Victorian times. There are two or three prisoners to a cell often for 23 hours out of every 24. They are denied any reasonable access to recreation, leisure activities, association or to training or educational pursuits. For many of them, the conditions are appalling and degrading. The conditions have been described by the chief inspector of the prison service and, indeed, by the director general of the prison service, as dehumanising and brutalising. We have reached the point where the Home Secretary is often forced to use police cells, not just in the Metropolitan Police area but in the provinces, to contain prisoners who would otherwise be held in prison service establishments.

The Home Secretary and the Minister of State have recognised the appallingly overcrowded conditions in our prisons. The Home Secretary has travelled the country making the case for fewer people to be sent to prison and for shorter times. He has been joined in that campaign not just by the Lord Chancellor, but by the Lord Chief Justice. Everyone accepts that there is a crisis of overcrowding in the prison system and that the solution is to reduce the numbers sent to prison and the time that they are held there. It is also common ground that that can be achieved reasonably and effectively without endangering the public.

So far, the Home Secretary has relied on exhortations to the judiciary. He has asked that they pass shorter sentences and the judiciary has responded, not least in the noteworthy cases of Upton and Bibi. Mr. Faulkner, the deputy director of the prison service, writing in the October 1981 edition of the board of visitors journal conceded that the decrease in the length of sentences, consequent on the Upton and Bibi judgments, has not reduced the prison population, though it may have lessened the rate of increase. As Mr. Faulkner pointed out, welcome though the judgments and the marginal decrease in the length of sentences have been, they are not sufficient.

Last year the Home Secretary was relying for a significant reduction in the prison population on the widely canvassed and much-supported scheme of automatic supervised release on parole.

Mr. Douglas Hogg (Grantham)

I wish to make sure that there has not been a drafting error in the new clause. It provides that the Secretary of State "shall" release a person. In other words, the obligation is mandatory and it is not merely a permissive power. Will the hon. Gentleman confirm that that is his intention?

Mr. Kilroy-Silk

Yes, that is the intention of the new clause.

The deputy director of the prison service argued in 1981 that what was required was automatic release on parole which, the Home Office suggested, would reduce the prison population by about 7,000—a not negligible decrease.

For a variety of reasons, the Government have not found it possible to proceed with that scheme. If we are not to get a significant reduction in the length of sentences and if the Home Secretary is not prepared, for one reason or another, to go along the road of automatic release on parole, a bolder step is required and a bold, radical, but common-sense step is proposed in the new clause—a conditional release scheme of 50 per cent., instead of the one-third that is available at present. The scheme was a recommendation of the parliamentary all-party penal affairs group, of which I have the honour to be chairman, in its 1980 report "Too Many Prisoners" and the new clause has been tabled on behalf of the all-party group.

Though I have referred to the scheme as bold and radical, it is not new, innovatory or untried. The proposed scheme for England and Wales is no more than an extension of the scheme already in operation and apparently working successfully in Northern Ireland. It will certainly be within the memory of the House and yourself, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that my right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, South (Mr. Rees) introduced the 50 per cent. conditional release scheme for Northern Ireland in 1976. It has operated there for the past six years. Subject to good behaviour, prisoners there are released after serving 50 per cent. of their sentence instead of the previous two-thirds, which still applies in England and Wales. If prisoners in Northern Ireland commit a further offence while on remission they are taken back into custody to serve the remainder of their orgininal sentence as well as whatever sentence may have been imposed for the further offence. Release can normally be delayed only by loss of remission.

9.30 pm

The scheme is simple and, easy to understand and works without any great bureaucratic apparatus. It emphasises the individual offender's personal responsibility for his actions and for his release date. If he does not commit disciplinary offences while he is in prison, he knows with certainty the date of his release. If he is not released at the 50 per cent. point, he has the reason in the commission of those disciplinary offences. When he is released after serving. 50 per cent. of his sentence, he can live in the community like any other citizen, but subject always to the sanction that if he commits a further offence he will return to prison not just for a period appropriate to the commission of that offence but for the remaining 50 per cent. of his original sentence.

Ministers with responsibility for Northern Ireland of both parties, not least the right hon. Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Raison), the Minister of State, Home Office, when he was Private Parliamentary Secretary to the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, have said that this scheme has worked effectively and successfully. The percentage of those released after the first year of the scheme and who committed offences after two years was about 32 per cent. Some hon. Members may regard that as perhaps unsatisfactorily high. In fact, it compares well with the 55 per cent. rate of recidivism under the previous one-third remission scheme. The introduction of a 50 per cent. conditional release scheme has not resulted in a greater recidivist rate among those released than was the case in Northern Ireland and is currently the case in England and Wales. Nor, on the testimony of Ministers with responsibility for Northern Ireland, has the Northern Ireland judiciary responded to the introduction of this scheme by imposing longer prison sentences in order to compensate for the 50 per cent. remission.

The practice in Northern Ireland over the past six years has shown England and Wales the way in which we can introduce a scheme for the early release of prisoners without endangering the public, without leading to an increase in recidivism, without leading to an increase in the level of crime, and, significantly and importantly, reducing the prison population. In the appalling conditions in our prisons today, when the Government have tried but failed significantly to reduce that population, I submit that the scheme that has been found to work successfully in Northern Ireland can equally work successfully in England and Wales.

I am suggesting tonight that we should extend good practice in one part of the United Kingdom to another part of the United Kingdom and in doing so reduce our prison population and help towards the creation of a civilised, fair and humane prison system in England and Wales.

Mr. Grieve

I shall be brief. Although the hon. Member for Ormskirk (Mr. Kilroy-Silk) spoke not only for himself but for the group of which he is a distinguished chairman, his new clause is wholly misconceived. At a time of rising crime rates, nothing is more likely to shake public confidence in the administration of justice than a 50 per cent. cut in the sentences imposed by the courts. I shall not go into the crime statistics, but we all know that over the years they have risen appallingly. The hon. Gentleman's provision would interfere with the administration of justice, negate the decisions of the courts and shake public confidence. I hope that the Minister and the House will not accept it.

I agree that prison conditions are appalling and I am at one with the hon. Member for Ormskirk in that observation. However, at a time of rising crime we should deal with that by providing proper modern prison accommodation and not by interfering with the judgments of the courts.

Mr. Arthur Lewis (Newham, North-West)

I had not intended to take part in the debate until I heard my lion. Friend the Member for Ormskirk (Mr. Kilroy-Silk). AL the beginning of his speech he said that we all agreed. What right has he to say that? He may say that he agrees, or and that the all-party group agrees, and he is entitled to express his view. However, he has not expressed my view and my opinion. We do not all agree.

Do-gooders want to release prisoners and reduce prison sentences. Why release those who have sometimes been convicted of serious crimes when under the Labour Government and this Government 5,000 people have been kept in closed prisons awaiting trial although they have never been convicted of any crime? They are in prison because of the neglect and/or the trade union activities of lawyers, who love to look after their own interests. They delay cases. The cases are not heard and some of those people, believe it or not, have been in prison for more than 18 months, awaiting trial although they have committed no crime.

His lordship who has committed a crime is sentenced and sent straight to an open prison. Good food and caviare are sent in and he can use the telephone. Ex-commanders of police, such as Commander Drury, are sent to open prisons. The parliamentary all-party penal affairs group and others who want to release convicted criminals should have a go at releasing those 5,000 people, or should arrange for their trials. Are we or are we not Members of Parliament, elected by the people? Are we not entitled to seek the view of the people on the street? Tomorrow morning hon. Members should stop the first elderly couple that they meet—whether or not they are well dressed—and ask them their views. They should walk down some of the London streets in my constituency and ask people whether they think that prisoners should be released and whether they think that they should serve, in effect, only 50 per cent. of their sentences. I read in the newspaper tonight that an old lady of 89 had been raped. I hope to God whoever did that is caught. If he is caught, what will happen? He will get a nominal prison sentence. Why? I do not know.

Only yesterday we heard that one of our learned judges had remarked how beastly and wicked a skinhead was for knifing and killing an Asian who was standing in the street doing no harm to anyone. The judge said he would be seriously dealt with. He was sentenced to three years' imprisonment. He will get one-third off for good conduct. Fifty per cent. is now suggested. I would shoot such people. I think it wicked to sit here and talk about this when we know that one cannot walk through certain streets in London. Some old people cannot even leave their houses. Some of them are frightened to open doors. I am not talking about the wilds of Africa or the backward, developing countries. I am talking about Westminster, Lambeth, Hackney and my constituency of Newham, where old people are scared of opening their front doors.

I have read of one case of an old lady who had been attacked eight times and has had to be moved out of her home. What do we do about it? We are all united in cutting down the prison service. When this bloke gets caught—I hope to God he is—he will get three years. It was three years for murder. He will probably not get three years. He will probably find at some time in his life he did not have a couple of pounds to buy a packet of cigarettes. We will say "Poor boy, he had a deprived background".

Do my hon. Friends know that I was born and bred not far from here in the 1930s? There was more unemployment, poverty, starvation and misery. There were none of the clubs and social welfare facilities that now exist, but one could walk at any time of the day or night in any part of London without fear. Ladies could go to the ladies' areas. They did not go to the red patch areas. They could still walk with all their finery. They cannot do it today.

In those days there were more severe sentences and there were fewer people in prison, because they did not like long sentences. Has my hon. Friend the Member for Ormskirk ever spoken to some of those vicious, wicked animals and discussed their attitude? Has he been told by them how they despise the sort of people who try to do good for them?

I do not agree with the hon. and learned Member for Solihull (Mr. Grieve) that prisons are deplorable. Some of them are. I was on the Home Affairs Select Committee and I toured some prisons. I went to some in Scotland and I wish to God that many of my old-age pensioners had such good accommodation and were so well looked after. Many of us have pensioners who do not get enough heat. That does not apply to those in prison. Many of us have pensioners who do not get enought to eat. That does not happen in prison. Many of them cannot afford to have their places cleaned. They, too, have to slop out. Many of them have to go into the back garden to the toilet. Who would have believed that we in the House of Commons would be more concerned with looking after bestial criminals than people who have given 40 or 50 years of their lives to building up money to pay taxes to give those people a relatively good and comfortable life in prison?

9.45 pm

Prisoners get meals, clothing, heating and colour television. How many old-age pensioners can afford colour television? How many can even afford the licence? Yet they are to be taxed still more, because somebody must pay for all these services for the poor people in prison. Let us not kid ourselves that the rich, capitalist Tories are taxed the most heavily, because they are not. It is the ordinary men and women who pay. It is the poor, the sick, the disabled and the blind who pay relatively more tax. When they have to pay 15 per cent. on their limited incomes, they pay relatively more than the rich to help provide these conditions for prisoners.

We need far more severe sentencing. People should be kept in prison far longer. They should be given some——

Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North)

Hang them.

Mr. Lewis

Yes, if the crime warrants it, why not?

Mr. Winnick

Flog them.

Mr. Lewis

Yes, why not? My hon. Friend the Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick) may snigger, but I have more respect for the old-age pensioners who are mugged. I would not like to see my hon. friend treated in that way. Yet what do we do? We must look after these poor prisoners with their deprived backgrounds. Not on your life.

At Aldgate, not far from here, the Bangladeshis and the Indians now live in the same houses that years ago were occupied by Jews. They never rioted or cut people's throats, because sentencing was more severe. If people did wrong, they knew that they would be caught and punished. Most people knew and accepted that.

Mr. Tony Durant (Reading, North)

Even the criminals?

Mr. Lewis

Yes, even the criminals. The hon. Gentleman may laugh, but I have spoken to criminals who say that if they go out on a job they know what to expect. If they get caught they will take their medicine, and most of them do.

Let us make sure that the medicine is strong and that the punishment fits the crime. By no means should sentences be reduced. They should be increased. Let us get back to the 1930s. If we had the sentences that we had then, there would be less crime and bestiality in our society.

Mr. Douglas Hogg

Although I would not express my views in quite such dramatic language as the hon. Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Lewis), I entirely agree with his general argument. I believe that the new clause is entirely unacceptable—to the country, to the judiciary and, not least important, to the majority of those who practise in the courts.

It is important that we should be clear about the purpose of the new clause. It does not merely empower the Secretary of State to order an early release; it requires him to do so. In other words, he has no choice or discretion. He must cut sentences by half. I cannot believe that the House would wish to permit that.

Many offences require very long prison sentences, for a variety of reasons—to mark society's disapprobation of the offence, to serve as a deterrent and also simply as a punishment. I believe that society has the right to punish. Generally speaking, it is right that terrorists, very serious rape cases and those who embark on armed robbery with shotguns should receive sentences of 20 to 30 years. The idea that those sentences will be reduced by half because of an arbitrary act this evening is nonsense. If the House is ill advised enough to do that, public respect for the law will be greatly undermined.

Mr. Pitt

We have heard two eloquent reasons to why we should not support the new clause but both of them are completely wide of the mark. It is not the intention of this new clause, as the sponsors see it, to release excessively violent criminals, rapists or terrorists—those who merit sentences of 20 to 30 years because they are violent criminals attacking society. They should not be released until they have expiated their crimes. That is what the new clause does not do. [HON. MEMBERS: "It does".] If hon. Members wish to speak they can do so in their own time.

The new clause provides a system of 50 per cent. compulsory release, on conditions. It does not mean that a prisoner will automatically be released if his crime or his behaviour while in prison do not merit it. However, it deals with the pressing need to reduce our prison population. I shall give the House some examples. The certified normal accommodation in Birmingham prison is 596. On 30 April 1980 the actual population was 1,003. Brixton prison's certified normal population is 696. Its actual population on that date was 975. Liverpool prison's normal certified population is 1,016 but on that date it was 1,608.

Mr. Arthur Lewis

Can the hon. Member for Croydon, North-West (Mr. Pitt) tell me how many prisoners in Brixton or elsewhere are there not because they have been convicted of a crime but because they are awaiting trial? The Home Office will not tell me. Many of those in Brixton prison are unconvicted prisoners and I am more interested in them.

Mr. Pitt

I agree with the hon. Member for Newham North-West (Mr. Lewis), who has made a good point. Most of those in Brixton prison are awaiting trial. Far too many people are awaiting trial in closed prisons and we should also discuss that issue, but it is not included in this clause. The new clause will take from our prisons not the excessively violent criminal or the terrorist but the person who can, having been assessed, take his place in society.

Mr. Douglas Hogg


Mr. Pitt

I shall be finishing in a moment and the hon. Gentleman may speak then.

Mr. Hogg


Mr. Deputy Speaker: (Mr. Ernest Armstrong)

Order. The hon. Member for Grantham (Mr. Hogg) has made his speech and it is obvious that the hon. Member for Croydon, North-West (Mr. Pitt) is not giving way.

Mr. Pitt

A large proportion of those in prison should not have been placed there in the first place. We should try to find methods of sentencing so that people can account for their crimes in the public domain. That is why I support the clause. There is a pressing need to reduce our prison population and we must take radical measures. I take the point of the experiment that has already been successfully carried out in Northern Ireland. I suggest that the House should support the new clause and introduce it into the Criminal Justice Bill.

Dr. Summerskill

None of those who have opposed the new clause tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Ormskirk (Mr. Kilroy-Silk) have dealt with his point that this measure is already working successfully in Northern Ireland. It has served to reduce the prison population without showing any rise in recidivism among those who have been released after half their sentences and without showing any effect upon public order. It is serving two extremely useful purposes—one of reducing the prison population and keeping it low, and the other of not increasing crime. People who work with offenders agree that a very long sentence is no more effective in preventing recidivism than is a shorter sentence.

The House should at least consider the merits of the new clause. One of the main aims of the Bill should be to bring about a significant and permanent reduction in the prison population. If we can do that without increasing crime and without increasing recidivism, the Bill will have served a useful purpose.

I hope that when the Minister replies he will deal with Northern Ireland, where this same measure is operating successfully.

Mr. Dubs

My hon. Friend the Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Lewis), in his speech a few moments ago, spoke about people in prison who were there on remand and who had not been found guilty. I simply say on behalf of the all-party penal affairs group that that matter was covered in our recent report, where we said that we should seriously consider adopting the system in Scotland, so that there was a 110-day limit on custodial remands. As far as I can remember, that was also the subject of an amendment Committee. It was also a recommendation of the Home Affairs Select Committee. The proposal contained in this new clause in no way conflicts with my hon. Friend's suggestion that people should not be kept in custody for long periods before being brought before the courts.

Mr. Arthur Lewis

I thank my hon. Friend for what he says, but I would go one step further. I would prefer to release them, rather than accept this new clause. I cannot support the new clause while 5,000-odd people who have committed no crime are still in prison.

Mr. Dubs

I understand what my hon. Friend is saying.

It is not being soft on criminals to say that our prisons are so overcrowded that the situation has gone beyond acceptable limits. Indeed, the Home Secretary has said as much more than once. Moreover, it is not strictly in line with my experience—I have visited a number of prisons—to say that they are soft institutions. Anyone who doubts that should visit Wandsworth prison in my constituency, Wormwood Scrubs, or a host of other prisons, certainly in the London area, which are tough and nasty institutions. They are in no way a soft option for the people inside them.

Our prisons are bursting at the seams and it is therefore sensible to consider ways in which the prison population can be reduced. After all, we have steadily increased our average prison sentences over the years. Sentences are much longer now than they were in the days when, according to my hon. Friend the Member for Newham, North-West, they were adequate. We have more people, in prison in this country than in any other country in Western Europe, with the possible exception of Germany—indeed, it might also include Germany. By any standards, we have more people in prison and for longer periods than most other countries with which we could reasonably be compared. The only exception is the United States where there are more people in prison per head of the population than in this country.

The purpose of the new clause is to bring the prison population down to manageable numbers before there is a serious explosion in the prison system. On that basis I would have thought that the clause was a reasonable way of giving effect to the oft-stated wishes of Home Office Ministers.

It being Ten o'clock, the debate stood adjourned.

Ordered, That, at this day's sitting, the Criminal Justice Bill may be proceeded with, though opposed, until any hour.—[Mr. Gummer.]

Question again proposed, That the clause be read a Second time.

The Minister of State, Home Office (Mr. Timothy Raison)

It is with some trepidation that I make my first intervention on the Bill. I should like to reply to the brief but spirited debate that we had during the last half hour or so.

We accept that on the face of it the scheme which has been put forward has obvious affinities with the conditional release scheme which operates in Northern Ireland. However, there are, I understand, significant and important differences. In particular, the scheme in Northern Ireland is not automatic. It may be compared with the scheme for remission for good conduct in that release normally takes place unless there are good reasons why it should not, but it is not automatic. As my hon. Friend the Member for Grantham (Mr. Hogg) made clear, the whole point about automaticity—to use a rather ugly word—is of considerable importance.

Mr. Kilroy-Silk

Is the Minister sure that he is correct? What does he mean when he says that it is not an automatic scheme? It is not automatic, of course, in the sense that the prisoner does not get 50 per cent. remission if he has not behaved himself during his time in prison. That is precisely the same condition that applies here. If that is what the Minister means about it not being automatic, he is correct. The same considerations apply to this new clause: otherwise it is automatic.

Mr. Raison

My understanding is that there is a difference. The new clause is automatic except in certain conditions, whereas in Northern Ireland the scheme is not automatic; it has to be proved that the person is eligible for release. There seems to be a real difference between the two.

It is important when considering the merits of the scheme to distinguish between its application to those who are at present eligible for parole under current legislation and to those who are not. A large part of the prison population is currently not eligible for parole; and the debate surrounding the desirability of a reduction in the prison population has rightly focused on them because if a reduction is to be achieved it must operate on sentence lengths in that range. It is in that range of sentences that the courts themselves, under the leadership of the Lord Chief Justice, have shown that there is room for shorter sentences in appropriate cases.

But when we are considering the upper end of the sentencing range, including many of those at present eligible for parole, we are looking at some of the most serious cases—cases where the courts have the protection of the public most in mind. I think it is fair to say that the scheme as proposed could operate only as a direct alternative to parole in such cases. That is the first point at which the Government would find themselves in disagreement with the concept of the scheme.

The conditional release scheme in Northern Ireland has been successful in providing for early release when there would be special difficulties in selecting prisoners for parole and in supervising them after release. In the wider context of the criminal justice system in England and Wales, I simply do not believe that we could rely on public acceptance of a scheme which offered automatic half remission and a further one-sixth of the sentence to be served on licence in the community without supervision as an alternative to the consideration given to cases prior to release and the subsequent supervision arrangements under the parole scheme. I think that my hon. Friends will support me when I say that that is a fundamental objection. Apart from this objection in principle, a change from parole to the system proposed in this new clause would have little impact on the prison population in terms of its application to such offenders. The parole scheme can, incidentally, also be operated more flexibly since in appropriate cases prisoners can be released after they have served one-third of their sentence.

Mr. Kilroy-Silk

I am grateful to the Minister for giving way. I know that he is not familiar with the subject, but he is answering for the Government. Will he say why it is extravagant to suggest that we have 50 per cent. remission, although, as he concedes, it operates successfully in Northern Ireland, when only six months ago the Home Secretary suggested that we should have an automatic system of release on parole after one-third of the sentence had been met? The Home Secretary was proposing to introduce a scheme of automatic release after one-third of the sentence had been served, whereas we are being much more conservative and cautious in suggesting only 50 per cent. Why has that system suddenly become not possible in this country?

Mr. Raison

The hon. Gentleman knows at least as well as anyone that that matter has provoked a great deal of debate over the past few months. My right hon. and hon. Friends have been persuaded by the argument that this is a better approach. There is an important question of public confidence. My arguments are reinforced by what my hon. Friends have said. Inevitably this is a sensitive area in penal policy. To take steps that the public will not accept does not help us to deal with that problem.

I turn to the question of prisoners who are not at present eligible for parole. The objections that the Government see against a scheme of the kind proposed are much the same as those that we see against a scheme of supervised release. That matter has been discussed intensively, and I shall not go over all the arguments again. The main point, however, is this. Any scheme—such as the one under consideration—which automatically increases the gap between the notional sentence passed by the court and the effective sentence served may lead the courts to react by increasing the overall length of the sentences that they pass, particularly in cases where they have the protection of the public in mind.

Any notional savings in terms of the prison population that such a scheme might be thought likely to achieve would almost certainly, therefore, in practice be eroded. But in the Government's view it is wrong to approach the problem of the need to punish offenders and yet to take account of the dreadful situation in our prisons by looking simply at what may or may not be expedient. We believe, as I have said, that the right way to approach the problem is on the one hand to increase the flexibility of the courts so that they can take account of the period of custody to be served when sentencing offenders, which we have done by implementing the power to suspend part of a prison sentence; and on the other hand to open up the possibility that eligibility for parole might be extended to more prisoners.

We prefer to move forward, not with mandatory schemes, which would be rigid in their effect, but by preserving the discretion of the court when sentencing and the discretion of the Executive in relation to the release of offenders under the parole scheme—and in a statutory framework that offers both more flexibility in the exercise of that discretion. This represents the most sensitive and effective response to the need both to preserve public confidence in the sentencing and treatment of offenders and taking account of the problems of prison overcrowding.

Mr. Arthur Lewis

May I ask the Minister to deal with a point that was raised by his hon. Friend the Member for Grantham (Mr. Hogg) and supported by his hon. Friends in triplicate? Is the system mandatory?

Mr. Raison

My understanding is that it is mandatory. We cannot recommend that the new clause be accepted.

Mr. Kilroy-Silk

At a time when the prison population, by all accounts and from the testimony of the Home Office, the inspector of prisons and the prison service, is appallingly high, at crisis point, and when the Home Secretary is going up and down the country calling for shorter sentences and a reduction in the prison population, the Government's response to the proposal has been unsatisfactory. It is no good the Minister and his hon. Friends suggesting that this is a radical or new proposal because it is not. It already operates successfully and effectively in Northern Ireland and it has been doing so for the past six years.

Mr. Arthur Lewis

How many bombs have dropped in Northern Ireland in the past six years?

Mr. Kilroy-Silk

Successive Ministers in the present Government as in the Labour Government, have paid public testimony to the efficacy of the scheme, and to the fact that it has not led to an increase in the recidivist rate, to an increase in crime or to a lapse or diminution of confidence on the part of the judiciary. There is a lower level of recidivism among those released after the operation of the scheme than among those released previously in England and Wales under the two-thirds parole scheme. Certainly the judiciary has not imposed longer sentences.

This is not a particularly radical proposal. After all, it was the Home Secretary who said that he wanted to introduce a scheme of automatic release on parole after the serving of a third of a sentence. It was the deputy director of the prison service, Mr. Faulkner, writing in the journal of the Prison Board of Visitors only last year who said that sentences were becoming shorter but not short enough and that they were relying on automatic release on parole after one-third.

All we suggest is that there should be automatic release on licence after 50 per cent. of the sentence—subject to good behaviour—had been served. That is needed if we are to deal effectively with the prison crisis. It is a sensible, moderate and reasonable proposal. Given the unsatisfactory nature of the Minister's response, I ask that we divide the House on the new clause and urge my right hon. and hon. Friends to join me in supporting it in the Lobby.

Question put, That the clause be read a Second time:

The House divided: Ayes 72, Noes 137.

Division No. 148] [10.11 pm
Allaun, Frank Davidson, Arthur
Archer, Rt Hon Peter Davis, Terry (B'ham, Stechf'd)
Atkinson, N, (H'gey) Deakins, Eric
Beith, A.J. Dean, Joseph (Leeds West)
Bennett, Andrew (St'kp'tN) Dixon, Donald
Booth, Rt Hon Albert Dormand, Jack
Callaghan, Jim (Midd't'n & P) Dubs, Alfred
Clark, Dr David (S Shields) Eadie, Alex
Cocks, Rt Hon M. (B'stol S) Eastham, Ken
Concannon, Rt Hon J. D. Evans, Ioan (Aberdare)
Crowther, Stan Evans, John (Newton)
Cryer, Bob Ewing, Harry
Cunningham, Dr J. (W'h'n) Flannery, Martin
Dalyell, Tam Fletcher, Ted (Darlington)
Forrester, John Miller, Dr M.S. (E Kilbride)
Foster, Derek Morris, Rt Hon C. (O'shaw)
Golding, John Morton, George
Grimond, Rt Hon J. Oakes, Rt Hon Gordon
Hamilton, James(Bothwell) Parry, Robert
Hardy, Peter Pitt, WilliamHenry
Harrison, Rt Hon Walter Powell, Raymond(Ogmore)
Hattersley, Rt Hon Roy Richardson, Jo
Haynes, Frank Robinson, G. (Coventry NW)
Hooley, Frank Silkin, Rt Hon S. C. (Dulwich)
John, Brynmor Skinner, Dennis
Jones, Barry (East Flint) Soley, Clive
Kaufman, Rt Hon Gerald Spearing, Nigel
Kilroy-Silk, Robert Strang, Gavin
Lamborn, Harry Summerskill, Hon Dr Shirley
Leadbitter.Ted Tinn, James
Lewis, Ron (Carlisle) Wainwright, E.(DearneV)
McCartney, Hugh Welsh, Michael
McKelvey, William Winnick, David
MacKenzie, Rt Hon Gregor Young, David (Bolton E)
McNamara, Kevin
McWilliam, John Tellers for the Ayes:
Mason, Rt Hon Roy Mr. Allen McKay and Mr. Lawrence Cunliffe.
Millan.Rt Hon Bruce
Aitken, Jonathan Hamilton, Hon A.
Alison, Rt Hon Michael Hamilton, Michael(Salisbury)
Arnold, Tom Hampson, Dr Keith
Aspinwall, Jack Haselhurst, Alan
Atkins, Rt Hon H.(S'thorne) Hawkins, Paul
Atkinson, David(B'm'th, E) Hogg, Hon Douglas(Gr'th'm)
Bendall, Vivian Howell, Ralph (NNorfolk)
Bennett, Sir Frederic (T'bay) Hunt, David (Wirral)
Benyon, Thomas(A'don) Jessel, Toby
Benyon, W.(Buckingham) Jopling, Rt Hon Michael
Berry, Hon Anthony Kershaw, Sir Anthony
Bevan, DavidGilroy Knox, David
Biggs-Davison, Sir John Lang, Ian
Blackburn, John Lawrence, Ivan
Boscawen, Hon Robert Lawson, Rt Hon Nigel
Bottomley, Peter (W'wich W) LeMarchant, Spencer
Bright, Graham Lester, Jim(Beeston)
Brinton, Tim Lewis, Arthur(N'ham NW)
Brooke, Hon Peter Lloyd, Peter (Fareham)
Brotherton, Michael Loveridge, John
Brown, Michael(Brigg&Sc'n) Lyell, Nicholas
Bruce-Gardyne, John Macfarlane, Neil
Buck, Antony Major, John
Budgen, Nick Marlow, Antony
Bulmer, Esmond Marshall, Michael(Arundel)
Cadbury, Jocelyn Mather, Carol
Carlisle, John (LutonWest) Maude, Rt Hon Sir Angus
Carlisle, Rt Hon M. (R'c'n) Mawby, Ray
Chapman, Sydney Mawhinney, Dr Brian
Clegg, Sir Walter Maxwell-Hyslop, Robin
Cockeram, Eric Mayhew, Patrick
Cope, John Meyer, Sir Anthony
Costain, Sir Albert Mills, Iain(Meriden)
Cranborne, Viscount Miscampbell, Norman
Crouch, David Mitchell, R. C. (Soton Itchen)
Dorrell, Stephen Morgan, Geraint
Douglas-Hamilton, LordJ. Mudd, David
Dover, Denshore Murphy, Christopher
Dunn, Robert(Dartford) Needham, Richard
Edwards, Rt Hon N. (P'broke) Nelson, Anthony
Elliott, Sir William Newton, Tony
Faith, Mrs Sheila Onslow, Cranley
Farr, John Osborn, John
Fisher, Sir Nigel Page, Richard (SW Herts)
Fletcher, A. (Ed'nb'ghN) Parris, Matthew
Fletcher-Cooke, Sir Charles Pattie, Geoffrey
Forman, Nigel Percival, Sir Ian
Gardiner, George(Reigate) Pollock, Alexander
Goodhart, Sir Philip Prentice, Rt Hon Reg
Goodhew, Sir Victor Price, Sir David(Eastleigh)
Grieve, Percy Proctor, K. Harvey
Griffiths, Peter Portsm'thN) Raison, Rt Hon Timothy
Grylls, Michael Rees-Davies, W. R.
Gummer, JohnSelwyn Renton, Tim
Rhodes James, Robert Stanbrook, Ivor
Rossi, Hugh Stevens, Martin
Sainsbury, Hon Timothy Stradling Thomas, J.
Shaw, Michael (Scarborough) Taylor, Teddy (S'end E)
Silvester, Fred Temple-Morris, Peter
Sims, Roger Thomas, Rt Hon Peter
Speed, Keith Thompson, Donald
Speller, Tony Thorne, Neil (IlfordSouth)
Spence, John Townsend, Cyril D, (B'heath)
Stainton, Keith Waddington, David

Question accordingly negatived.

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