HC Deb 12 December 1983 vol 50 cc796-807 12.58 am
The Under-Secretary for the Home Department (Mr.David Mellor)

I beg to move, That the draft Eligibility for Release on Licence Order 1983, which was laid before this House on 1 December, be approved. I make it clear at the outset, that what I am asking the House to approve tonight is not some small inconsequential amendment to the way in which the parole system operates, but a change of the first magnitude and significance. It is a change, furthermore, which has long been called for by a range of people within and without the criminal justice system and extending well beyond the ranks of the Government, and prominently embracing the views of the hon. Member for Knowsley, North (Mr. Kilroy-Silk), whom I am glad to see here tonight.

The following bare statistics will make it clear to the House just how significant are the changes proposed in this flimsy document containing a mere two articles running between them to under 50 words.

At present, prisoners who have served one third of their sentences, or 12 months, whichever expired the later, are eligible to apply for parole. Latterly, each year around 10,000 do so, of whom 5,000 or thereabouts are actually released on licence. Because account has to be taken of remission for good conduct, and because there is also the eminently logical rule that a prisoner released on parole must serve at least one month on licence, the effect of the present rules is to exclude any prisoner from parole who is not serving a sentence of more than about 19½ months. That has been the case since the inception of the parole scheme 15 years ago and has rightly attracted much criticism in the interim.

The effect of the change proposed tonight is that the minimum qualifying period for parole is reduced to six months. That means that, even when remission and the minimum licence period are taken into account, the effective sentence to which parole will apply is reduced from about 19½ months to about 10½ months; that is to say, it is almost halved. The consequence is that some 19,000 prisoners a year will be eligible to apply for parole as against 10,000 at present. Added to that, there will be up to 4,000 young prisoners who will become eligible when the new young offender sentencing arrangements take full effect. While it is impossible to predict with total accuracy just how many of those eligible for parole will be granted it, we anticipate that, as a direct consequence of this proposal, if the House accepts it, the prison population will increase by around 2,500 in a full year.

I hope that, upon consideration of these matters alone, I take the House with me when I say that this is, indeed, a change of profound importance. It is also surely an eminently logical change. For what, after all, can be the logic of continuing to exclude from parole thousands upon thousands of relatively short sentence prisoners while permitting those serving long sentences, presumably for more serious offences, to be eligible? While of course any cut-off point is bound by its very nature to be to some degree arbitrary, by taking the bold stroke of reducing the limit to six months rather than nine months as some suggested, we are replacing the figure of 12 months, which many today do find arbitrary, with one that does have logic.

Given the sophistication of our parole system, it would in truth be difficult, if not impossible, to go through the proper procedures in time to permit release before a period of six months had been served. Even to get down to six months we have, as I shall later show, had to streamline the necessary procedures somewhat.

The measure therefore is important in itself, but it is doubly important because of its part in the Home Secretary's view and strategy for the criminal justice system as a whole. My right hon. and learned Friend is determined to attain optimum public confidence in the criminal justice system. In pursuit of that laudable objective he is determined to give effect to the public view that the greatest of the many threats posed to our society by crime is the threat of the violent criminal. Violent crime has grown dramatically over the past 20 years and something has to be done to mark out society's abhorrence of the type of mindless brutality we see repeatedly day after day in the newspaper reports. That is why, for the first time, a clear distinction is to be drawn between those in prison serving sentences for crimes of serious violence and those in prison for relatively minor offences. For the men of violence from whose activities it is especially crucial that the public should be protected for as long as possible, parole will be extremely restricted. For those serving sentences of more than five years for violence or drug smuggling, only in exceptional circumstances or in the last few months of a sentence will parole be granted. But correspondingly, and at the same time, those who have been sent to prison—and have got the taste of prison that they no doubt needed— for less serious offences will for the first time, come next July, with the House's approval, have the opportunity to win earlier release. This is a crucial symmetry and I believe in the wisdom of my right hon. and learned Friend's proposals, of which we see one pillar tonight.

On the detail of the matter, section 60 of the Criminal Justice Act 1967 established the parole scheme and empowered the Secretary of State to release on licence a person serving a determinate sentence after he has served not less than one third of his sentence or 12 months thereof, whichever expires the later. As a result of the interesting debates on the Criminal Justice Act 1982, initiated by the hon. Member for Knowsley, North, my right hon. and noble Friend the then Home Secretary inserted section 33 into the 1982 Act permitting the Home Secretary to provide a lower period than 12 months by order subject to affirmative resolution.

The delay was made necessary by the need to study in detail the resource implications and the practicability of implementing such a change. We need to understand that the parole system is a properly sophisticated and complex one. Parole consideration in each case requires reports from relevant prison staff, an assessment of release arrangements by a probation officer in the area to which the prisoner will go on release, consideration by the local review committee at the prison holding him, and consideration in the Home Office of the local review Committee's assessment. All that takes time, and that is why I say that the minimum practicable period is six months.

In describing the way the new system will work, I should like to make one point abundantly clear. The minimum qualifying period is being reduced by this proposal—but for the prisoners who will benefit from this change, the assessment of risk which underpins each parole decision will proceed in precisely the same way as previously. The question, as ever, will be to weigh in the balance the benefit to the inmate, and indeed the community, of early release under licence, properly supervised by a probation officer, against the risk to the public of having a sentenced offender prematurely released from custody. That requires difficult, individual decision-taking, which will continue to be applied with the same care and rigour as hitherto. Nothing less would be acceptable to the Government, the House or the country.

But to make the change we propose, the existing procedures will be modified and streamlined to take account of both the greater ease of striking this balance in the case of prisoners sentenced to two years and under, and of the more pressing time considerations that apply with shorter sentences. There will therefore need to be a presumption in favour of parole, but I stress that that is not a novelty, as it is the case with the less serious shorter sentence inmates under the existing scheme.

Reporting and selection procedures will, therefore. be primarily aimed at identifying those inmates who might be bad parole risks. The cases will be processed as quickly and routinely as is practicable. Abbreviated report forms have been devised for use in the prisons, and a standard release plan report will replace discursive home circumstances reports used for existing cases to minimise the work of the probation service.

Similarly, in view of the time constraint, these cases will not normally be referred to the main parole board itself for consideration. Those found suitable by local review committees at the prisons will be dealt with as in existing arrangements under section 35 of the Criminal Justice Act 1972. That empowers the Secretary of State, with the agreement of the parole board to release certain classes of prisoners on the recommendation of the local review committee without reference to the parole board. It is presently used in respect of all those serving sentences of less than two years, or those serving sentences of less than four years where the offence did not involve violence, sex, arson or drug trafficking.

What we intend is that in future all inmates serving sentences of less than two years will be considered by the local review committee between two or three months before their parole eligibility date, so that consideration in the Home Office of final release arrangements can be completed in time for their release, if agreed on that date. Reporting in the prison will have started about one month before that, and even before that the probation service would have been consulted about a release plan so that there is sufficient time for any arrangements to be made.

Prisons and youth custody centres will have to face a considerable task in identifying eligible inmates, and in the case of those eligible on or soon after 1 July work will be starting early in the new year. I should explain that, because of the complexity of these arrangements, it has not been possible to find an earlier commencement date than 1 July next year.

I am confident that all those concerned in the prison service and probation service will tackle this challenging task with efficiency and dedication. There will, of course, be considerable additional work for the local review committees. Indeed we see a need to recruit some 200 additional independent members of prisons and youth custody centres throughout the country. These committees perform a very valuable public service and are an essential part of the parole system.

I hope that many public-spirited people will come forward for consideration for this important work. Anybody who is interested should get in touch with the governor of the prison or youth custody centre nearest their home.

I end as I began. The passage of this order will mark a real step forward in the development of our penal policy. It is a proposal behind which I hope the House will unite, because, whatever else we may disagree about, there surely can be little argument as to the wisdom of what we now propose.

It is a tribute to my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary that so early in his period of office he has been able to build on the work of his noble predecessor and come before the House with this proposal. It is a carefully thought out and properly resourced proposal which has a significant role to play in my right hon. and learned Friend's balanced thinking on the criminal justice system, which involves cracking down on the men of violence while at the same time recognising that fresh and imaginative thinking has a real part to play lower down the scale of seriousness. I commend the order to the House.

1.12 am
Mr. Alfred Dubs (Battersea)

The House does not often have a chance to debate prisons. Therefore, I welcome the opportunity given to us by what will be a short debate at this late hour to discuss a proposal with which my hon. Friends and I are in agreement—the idea that there should be improved facilities for parole for short-term prisoners.

However that proposal must be set in the context of a point that the Minister failed to mention. That is the crisis in our prison system, which must be one of the main reasons why this proposal has been discussed by many people for many years before being brought forward tonight. The crisis in our prison system is such that we have about 44,000 prisoners and incredible overcrowding, with prisoners on remand being held in police and court cells in many parts of southern England. It is surprising that the Minister did not mention that as one of the factors that prompted the sensible proposal that he has introduced.

I believe that the origin of the proposal, certainly from the Home Secretary's point of view, was a speech that the right hon. Gentleman made to the Conservative party conference earlier this year, in which he made a number of related proposals about the prison system. This is not the time to debate them in detail, but in passing I might mention that he said that he would also introduce a scheme to enable fine defaulters, drug addicts and mentally disordered offenders to be released from prison. I hope that such a proposal will soon be forthcoming.

The Home Secretary also discussed the prison building programme, which is obviously sensible if it replaces our old, decaying, Victorian prisons with decent modern ones with adequate sanitation; in other words, if we replace Brixton, which is on the verge of falling down, by Woolwich. But it will not be such a good proposal if it simply means that there will be more prison places which will then be filled simply because they are available. We must be careful about that, and we must be careful about the fact that the proposal is put forward not in the context of a broader set of proposals, such as an extension of non-custodial measures.

The Home Secretary also mentioned in that famous speech his proposal to restrict parole in respect of prisoners serving five years or longer who had been sentenced for violent or drug offences. Perhaps we shall have an opportunity to debate that, along with the other proposal that prisoners serving life sentences should serve at least 20 years for a whole range of offences.

The scheme before us tonight has its merits. The parole scheme was introduced in 1968 and, since its inception, has shown, clearly that many sentences can be reduced in length without any risk to the public. Indeed, most prisoners in our gaols are released at some time, and one of the challenges to our penal system is that they should be released when they represent the least threat or danger to the public among whom they must live.

As the Minister said, about 10,000 prisoners a year are considered for parole. In 1982 the figure was 9,912, of whom 5,180 were granted parole. In that year, only 593 prisoners who had been released on parole were recalled to prison during the parole period. Of those, fewer than half were recalled because they had been convicted of further offences. In other words, the record of parole is good. There is a low rate of re-offending. All the evidence, including quite extensive research, supports the view that the combined effect of parole supervision and the threat of recall to prison have reduced significantly the probability of offenders being reconvicted. That is a good record, especially when set against the likelihood of other offenders being reconvicted when they have had different types of sentences.

Reducing the qualifying period for eligibility for parole from 12 months to six months contributes to alleviating prison overcrowding in two ways. First, short-term prisoners previously ineligible will be considered for parole and, secondly, prisoners serving between 18 months and three years will be considered earlier for parole. As the Under-Secretary said today and in answer to a parliamentary question some time ago, it is estimated that this measure will reduce the prison population by about 2,500, and that is a worthwhile achievement.

The scheme has some implications. The Under-Secretary mentioned the fact that the task of assessing prisoners eligible for parole must start early in the sentence of prisoners who are serving the shortest of sentences covered by this scheme. That will place quite a burden on those responsible for making the assessment.

One point that the Under-Secretary did not mention —I was a little surprised at the omission—was that the scheme will place extra responsibilities on the probation service which must supervise parole. What assessment has the Home Office made of the burden on the probation service? Will this require any additional probation officers? I cannot help feeling that the measure is bound to require additional probation officers to ensure that the scheme works sensibly.

All in all, this is a good measure, but, alas, it is in contrast to the Home Secretary's other measures which are less welcome. I especially regret that the move that the Under-Secretary has outlined is not accompanied by a parallel attempt to alleviate one of the problems of short-term prisoners which contributed to their ending up in prison in the first place — the inadequacy of accommodation. Will the Home Secretary do anything to increase the funding to those organisations that provide hostels for ex-prisoners and those that provide other types of accommodation so that when prisoners are homeless they have somewhere to go on their discharge from prison? Such hostels represent good value for money. There will be much more pressure on those people because of these proposals.

In the 1983–84 financial year, the Home Office is financing, I understand, all forms of hostel accommodation to the extent of £11 million. That compares with a prison building programme of about £250 million. Do we have the balance right? Should we put more money into facilities for prisoners who are to be discharged and who will require a stabilising influence on their lives so that they can obtain jobs, live sensibly and not get into further trouble?

The Home Secretary claims that he has achieved a balanced approach in all those matters, but I contend that he has tipped the balance — although this measure is worthwile—the wrong way. I am especially concerned about his proposals for limiting parole to prisoners sentenced for five years who are in gaol for violent or drug offences. It is feared that the proposals are a recipe for violence in prisons, will impose an additional and difficult burden on prison officers and will deprive the prisoners of hope as they will have little to lose. The proposals ignore the possibility that some of those prisoners, no matter how odious their offences, are capable of changing their attitude, feeling remorse, achieving maturity and becoming better citizens. Yet they will have to serve longer sentences than they do now even if they show signs that they would become good citizens if they were discharged.

Many distinguished people, including the former chairman of the Parole Board, Lord Hunt, have expressed their concern, which I share, about the proposal. Worst of all, the Home Secretary has tipped the balance by encouraging a greater use of prisons and custody.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Harold Walker)

Order. I have given the hon. Gentleman considerable latitude, but he must confine his remarks to the narrow terms of the order.

Mr. Dubs

Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I shall skate over the issue that I was about to develop. The proposals in the order are welcome but they contrast with a failure of the Home Office to tackle the overcrowding in our prisons in ways that are open to Home Office Ministers. Our country has a record that is not at all good. I fear that these measures will not make people feel more secure and will not reduce burglaries and other crimes in inner city areas, which is to be regretted.

The order should be welcomed. I only regret that it is not set out in the context of a wider set of proposals that would do more to tackle the crisis in our prisons. However, I welcome it and hope that it will be implemented speedily and effectively.

1.21 am
Mr. Robert Kilroy-Silk (Knowsley, North)

I welcome the order because, as the Minister rightly said, it implements the principle of an amendment that I moved on behalf of the parliamentary Labour party penal affairs group when we were considering the Criminal Justice Bill.

I welcome the order for four main reasons. First, when fully implemented, it will substantially reduce the prison population by a daily average of about 2,500. That is extremely important when set against overcrowding in our prisons, especially local prisons, which will be the most affected when the order is fully implemented.

Secondly, it is extremely useful, because it will reduce the level of re-offending. My hon. Friend the Member for Battersea (Mr. Dubs) said that the Home Office has provided testimony to the efficacy of release on licence under supervision, subject to recall, in reducing the rates of re-offending and of re-conviction among criminals.

Thirdly, the order is welcome because it will reduce a serious inequality to which attention is drawn most frequently by Lord Justice Waller. Many offenders, who are perhaps the least serious, are often released on precisely the same day as more sophisticated and serious offenders who were convicted of the same offence at the same time. For example, the ringleader of a group of individuals may be sentenced to three years' imprisonment, whereas a junior member of the gang is sentenced only to 18 months' imprisonment. Both men may be of previous good character. At present, only the one who is sentenced to three years' imprisonment is eligible for parole, so they may both be released on exactly the same date. That is clearly inequitable and unfair. The order will remove that anomaly.

Fourthly, the order is welcome because it will save money. That is a not inconsiderable feature. I acknowledge that the implementation of the order will involve a considerable increase in the work load of the Home Office. It will have to process 12,500 cases or more. The Minister has said in parliamentary answers that about 100 extra prison staff will be required and 80 additional probation officers. Another 25 officers will be required in the Home Office headquarters. The net cost will be about £2.25 million overall when allowance is made for the reduction in the cost of providing food. That may seem to be a considerable price to pay for releasing 2,500 nonviolent, non-dangerous, petty offenders. However, if one assumes, as I hope one can, that the introduction of the order will mean less reliance being placed on the use of police and court cells and the Home Secretary fulfulling his promise to end the use of police and court cells by the end of the year, we may make a more considerable saving.

It costs £100 a night for a prisoner to be accommodated in a court cell. As the average number accommodated each night is about 200, the total cost over a year is about £11 million. We are setting alongside the additional cost of £2.25 million a potential saving of £11 million by not using police and court cells. That is a not inconsiderable gain, and it is certainly one to be welcomed. Perhaps the Minister will reiterate when he replies whether the Home Secretary will fulfil his promise to end the use of police and court cells for remand prisoners, and, if so, by what means and when.

Many of the prisoners that we are discussing will be released earlier into the community, but many of them should not have been imprisoned in the first place. The Minister will know that we imprison a higher proportion of our citizens for longer periods than any other country in western Europe.

We are increasing rather than decreasing the use of custody. Fifteen per cent. of adults convicted of indictable crimes in 1974 were given immediate sentences of imprisonment. In 1982, the figure was 19 per cent. They are not all violent or dangerous offenders. Many of them fit precisely into the categories covered by the order. Only one fifth of the 44,000 offenders in the prisons today, mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Battersea, have been convicted of violent offences, sex offences, robbery, arson or drug trafficking. The vast majority are non-violent offenders who could more properly be dealt with and supervised in the community by established community facilities.

If those facilities had been established in the past, or if the Government were prepared to establish them now, we would not need to debate this order or to deal with so many people by imprisonment. Only 6 per cent. of adults convicted of indictable offences are given community service orders, even though those orders have been highly successful in keeping people out of prison, ensuring that they make some reparation to the community and successfully complete their order. There is scope for an extension of those orders.

The Government are increasing expenditure on prisons, yet the probation service committees are having to ration the number of community service orders that they impose. Because of the lack of facilities for community service orders, people are ending up in prison and having to go through the whole process that has been described at additional bureaucratic and financial expense that is absurd. It cannot be justified on any grounds. More resources are needed, so that we can avoid the problems that we have been discussing.

Greater emphasis on probation orders and packages is also required. A probation order — if allied to a condition of residence in a hostel or housing scheme, attendance at a day centre or participation in an employment project—will have credibility in the eyes of the court and be effective in dealing with and stopping non-violent offenders from offending again and returning to prison.

The evidence of the university of Lancaster's centre for youth crime and the community shows that if such a package were available in certain areas, the courts would use it and fewer people would have to go through the long bureaucratic process of being considered for earlier release on parole. They would have been dealt with beforehand more effectively in the community.

The Home Secretary is spending a great deal of taxpayers' money on building new prisons, at a time when considerable cuts are being made in our health and social welfare services. I do not quarrel with the need for new prisons, but if the Home Secretary seriously wishes to shift the emphasis from custodial sentences to dealing with and supervising people in the community, this order —welcome though it is, and delighted though I am that it is to be implemented—is not enough. The Home Secretary should show a clear desire to give more resources to the probation service and to provide facilities in the community, so that the ideal of dealing with people effectively in the community can become a reality. We need a clear sign from him that he is aware of the balance necessary between providing the prison places which are desirable and necessary and the resources to deal with nonviolent and non-dangerous offenders within the community.

Welcome and enlightened though this measure is, it is unfortunately besmirched by what the Home Secretary is doing at the other end of the parole spectrum. I understand the political difficulties with which he was confronted on 11 October when he faced the Tory party conference. I have written in another place about the balance that he had to achieve in front of that baying mob between what he knows to be right and proper and what he could find to be politically acceptable.

The Home Secretary is wrong to impose a blanket prohibition on parole for those who have been sentenced to life imprisonment or to five years or more for offences of violence. It is part of the parole order, and it is unjust to impose it on prisoners who are serving sentences. No doubt like other hon. Members, I have received dozens of anguished, muddled and confused letters from prisoners who feel that all their hopes of rehabilitation and reintegration into the community have been dashed by what the Home Secretary has done. All their plans and those of their families have been suddenly jeopardised and undermined. That is regrettable.

The instructions the Home Secretary gave to governors before his speech, and in anticipation of it, showed that there might be violence and unrest in our prisons. Prison officers have made public statements to the effect that the introduction of these proposals is likely to increase violence and unrest in our prisons. It is unfortunate and regrettal be that the Home Secretary should have found it necessary to introduce such proposals. It is unfortunate that, although I welcome this progressive and enlightened measure, I have had to make some churlish remarks.

1.37 am
Mr. Simon Hughes (Southwark and Bermondsey)

The Liberal party joins the Labour party in welcoming the order, which the House will no doubt endorse overwhelmingly. Our prisons have been filled unnecessarily in recent years because people sentenced to the shortest terms of imprisonment have not been able to have them reduced. We have heard examples of how people are treated unequally in relation to their sentences.

It is hoped that this measure will reduce the number of people in our overcrowded prisons by 2,500 and that, if continued, it will begin to restore our position in the league table. We unfortunately lead the league table of the countries in western Europe with the highest percentage of our population in prison. Prison has proved to be ineffective. Crime has increased no less here than elsewhere. There is no direct correlation between the length of prison sentences and the amount of crime.

Through this measure the Home Secretary is showing that a short loss of liberty—the "taste of imprisonment" as the Minister said—is important. Non-violent, first-time and young offenders are unlikely to want to repeat that experience.

I also should like to express sadness at the Home Secretary's written answer which followed his speech to the Conservative party conference in October. The Parole Board has protested that there will now be interference between the two functions which have necessarily been kept separate in the administration of criminal justice. The first is the sentencing system, whereby judges adjudicate as to the right punishment for a crime. After that is the parole system, which should remain separate. It is a case by case adjudication of whether a person can be released and what risk such a release would be to the community. There has been much complaint in the newspapers and in letters to newspapers that there is now a muddle because of the Home Secretary's insistence that people who are sentenced to specific categories of crime and serve more than five years will lose—

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. This is not a Second Reading debate. The House can debate only what ought to be in the order. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will confine his speech to the substance of the order.

Mr. Hughes

My point is relevant in that we are considering a system by which the local review board, not the Home Secretary adjudicates case by case. I hope that the Home Secretary will reconsider the important principle that an individual is entitled to be considered as an individual for release on licence. The risk to society that such a process poses to society should be considered separately in each case. The threat to that principle by the statement made a fortnight ago makes the subject relevant now.

I should like to ask the Minister two questions, which he might not be able to answer now. The Home Office began its consideration of the alternatives by setting up day training centres in the 1970s. They were pilot studies and one was in Camberwell. How has their success or failure affected the Home Office's thinking? Their effect has been completely lost in the intervening years.

I recently asked the Home Secretary whether he would reconsider—and what his reasons were if he would not — the refusing of parole when it was recommended regularly. A person should know why he or she does not receive the real results of a positive recommendation for release on licence. The order shows that Government's willingness to reduce the prison population and to enable people to know when their sentence will end. The date of release is the light at the end of the tunnel for a person who is being locked up. Will the Minister examine other methods of enabling people to see that light at the end of the tunnel?

We welcome the measure. It is one step, but we look to the Government to take many more steps down the same road so that the prison, sentencing and release systems take into account the individual cases, and to make sure that we do not have, as we have in the past, a prison system that does not allow for the individual's rehabilitation. It is this rehabilitation that we in the Liberal party have long been arguing should be the prime consideration of our criminal justice policy.

1.41 am
Mr. Mellor

With the leave of the House. I shall not be able to reply to all the points that have been made, some of which go far wider than the order. Hon. Members will know that I should be happy to deal with any matters that they want to pursue in correspondence.

I am grateful for the warm-hearted welcome that the measure has received. I also welcome the recognition that anything less than a warm-hearted welcome for a move of this significance would fall below the level of events. My right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary will be glad of the recognition that he, like my noble Friend his predecessor, is able not only to identify major changes in the criminal justice system that need to be carried forward but to fight for and obtain the resources necessary to carry through those measures—something, I am afraid, that not all previous Home Secretaries were able to do. Opposition Members need to reflect on that point when they look at the record of past Labour Governments in that respect.

The truth is that no Government have done more than this Government to alleviate the crisis in the prisons that we inherited. Prison numbers are down well below the peak of 1981. We shall bring on stream in the next decade about 5,000 places in 10 new prisons and 4,000 refurbished places in old prisons where basic sanitation and so on is put in, which is a crucial, humane response to the problems in our prisons and something that we have tackled where others have failed.

Mr. Kilroy-Silk

Will the Minister give way?

Mr. Mellor

It is very late. I would not have the House with me if I were to give way.

Mr. Kilroy-Silk


Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. The Minster has made it clear that he is not giving way. The hon. Member for Knowsley, North (Mr. Kilroy-Silk) must resume his seat.

Mr. Kilroy-Silk

Will the Minister give way?

Mr. Mellor

I have made it clear that I am not giving way. I was asked to respond.

Mr. Kilroy-Silk


Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. The hon. Gentleman must not persist. He has been here long enough to know that if the Minister does not give way, he has no right to intervene in the debate.

Mr. Kilroy-Silk

The Minister is chickening out.

Mr. Mellor

I am not chickening out. The hon. Gentleman knows only too well that I am capable of answering any question that he asks me, but it is too late. I have been led into areas in my response that it is important to put on the record, about our plans, but it would not be in the interests of anybody to go too far beyond the order.

Mr. Kilroy-Silk

Will the Minister give way?

Mr. Mellor

I shall not give way. It is no good the hon. Gentleman asking. I said that I would not give way, and I shall stick to it.

The hon. Gentleman was right to say in his speech that considerable extra resources are required. They have been properly provided.

We remain committed to the approach that many hon. Members have endorsed, that prison sentences should be passed only when absolutely necessary. To that end, we strengthened the probation service by the same proportion as the police force, although that has not so often been remarked upon. We have also very much strengthened probation and ancillary services to ensure that as far as possible community service orders and so on proceed properly. We remain committed to an enlightened policy on the criminal justice system, but we also recognise the need to be realistic—

Mr. Kilroy-Silk

Will the Minister give way?

Mr. Mellor

I have made it clear that I shall not give way.

Mr. Kilroy-Silk


Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. The hon. Gentleman is pushing his luck. I ask him to resume his seat, as the Minister will not give way.

Mr. Mellor

The hon. Gentleman knows only too well that I give way to him with monotonous regularity in Committee. I shall not give way to him, on matters that are outwith the debate, at nearly 2 o'clock in the morning. I am sure that it is the will of the House that I conclude now.

My right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary believes that it is crucial to keep public confidence at the optimum level in the criminal justice system. To do that, we must come to terms with the public view of the gravity of the crime problem, and especially the problem of violent offenders. That is why—not because of a need to pander to the Conservative party conference — my right hon. and learned Friend took the view that he did on the restriction of parole for the worst violent offenders. In that way we can ensure public confidence. If we mean what we say—that violent offenders must be set apart, and that they pose a fundamental threat to society, we must give effect to that in our actions. The twin pillars of our policy on parole —on the one hand, restricting parole availability to serious offenders, while on the other hand making it available more readily to minor offenders—achieves that aim, and will strike a real blow in continuing an enhanced public confidence in our system.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved, That the draft Eligibility for Release on Licence Order 1983, which was laid before this House on 1 December, be approved.