HC Deb 05 November 1987 vol 121 cc1054-5
5. Mr. Teddy Taylor

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department how many persons have been released from prison after serving sentences for homicide offences and have subsequently been reconvicted for murder or manslaughter since the year 1965; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. John Patten

Since 1965, seven offenders originally convicted of murder and later released on licence from prisons in England and Wales have subsequently been re-convicted of murder. Another four have been reconvicted of manslaughter.

Mr. Taylor

Is it not a matter of grave concern that innocent human lives have been lost because people who have been imprisoned for life for killing have emerged to kill again? Does that not show that there is a case for a careful study of the circumstances in which people convicted of killing are released from prison?

Mr. Patten

That is a matter of considerable concern, and it is kept continually under review by my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary.

Perhaps I could draw my hon. Friend's attention to the fact that since 1983, when a number of convictions took place of people who had committed particularly abhorrent murders—such as the murder of prison officers or of policemen in pursuit of their duties, or sadistic or sexual murders of children—none of those now serving 20 years or more have been released.

Mr. Alex Carlile

Why will the Government not introduce provisions which would enable judges to pass finite sentences in cases of murder, with a meaningful life sentence reserved for the very worst cases?

Mr. Patten

I do not know whether the House would accept such a measure. What I do know is that, following precedent, there will probably be an opportunity for such issues to be debated. It is not a matter for me; it is a matter for the usual channels. However, on previous occasions when a measure such as the Criminal Justice Bill has been before the House hon. Members have had every opportunity to debate the issues.

Mr. Dickens

Does my hon. Friend accept that we must add to the figures that he has given the numbers who have escaped from prison—for instance, the Maze prisoners—who have killed again since their escape? Will my hon. Friend tell us, regardless of the views of my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary and the Opposition, when the Home Office will produce a vote on capital punishment for this Parliament? Or must it again be left to a Back Bencher to take the initiative?

Mr. Patten

The business of the House is not a matter for me. It is a matter for the usual channels. I know that my hon. Friend takes a considerable interest in such matters, but when a measure such as the Criminal Justice Bill is before the House, there is always a good opportunity —certainly on the precedents—for the whole House to make its views known.

Ms. Short

Does the Minister agree that, in a week when the conviction of the Birmingham bombers has been referred back to the Court of Appeal by the Home Secretary because of doubt about whether it is safe, we are all reminded that capital punishment will inevitably lead to the killing of innocent people who have been wrongly convicted?

Mr. Patten

The matter is before the court, and is therefore sub judice.

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