HC Deb 22 February 1990 vol 167 cc1053-4
5. Mr. Cran

To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what plans he has to review the procedures governing the release from prison of convicted killers.

Mr. Waddington

I am carefully considering recommendations made last autumn by the House of Lords Select Committee on Murder and Life Imprisonment to change the release arrangements for life sentence prisoners.

Mr. Cran

Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that it is somewhat unsatisfactory that, in the 25 years to 1987, 51 persons in England and Wales were killed by people who had previously been convicted of homicide? Against that background, when he considers the House of Lords Select Committee report, will he bear in mind, first, that more openness in the review procedure may produce more confidence and, secondly, the assessment procedure which is at the heart of whether a convicted murderer is released?

Mr. Waddington

I have discussed that with members of the House of Lords Select Committee. Cases pending before the European Court relate to the machinery that should be in place to decide on the release of people who have been sentenced to life imprisonment. We should not make a decision on this until we have heard the result of those cases before the European Court. I take my hon. Friend's point about openness. The difficulty is that the Select Committee says that decisions should be taken out of the hands of Ministers and given to an independent judicial tribunal; but could such a tribunal assess the risk any better than a parole board? Whoever assesses the risk has an appallingly difficult job.

Mr. Battle

The Government have accepted that Armley, in Leeds, is the most overcrowded prison in Britain. It contains convicted prisoners and unconvicted young people on remand. Is the Home Secretary aware that this week the prison staff are in industrial dispute with his Department, and that the fresh start proposals have ground to a halt as a result of overcrowding? What steps will he take to alleviate the problem, and will we be offered any hope in the short term, rather than having to wait for long-term and medium-term solutions?

Mr. Waddington

I cannot see for the life of me what that has to do with question No. 5. As a matter of interest, however, I can tell the hon. Gentleman that the prison department is trying to resolve the dispute.

Sir Fergus Montgomery

Is my right hon. and learned Friend aware of the campaign to obtain parole for Myra Hindley? In view of the terrible crimes committed by Hindley and Brady, may we have an assurance that such people will never be allowed out of prison during their lifetimes?

Mr. Waddington

A formal review of Myra Hindley's case will begin in 1990, in accordance with the announcement made at the time of the previous review five years ago. It does not follow that the board will recommend release, or that I would accept such a recommendation if one were made.