HL Deb 11 June 1975 vol 361 cc423-82

8.34 p.m.

The Earl of LONGFORD rose to ask Her Majesty's Government whether they and satisfied with the present parole system and its working. The noble Earl said: My Lords, I must ask the House to forgive me if I use the shortage of time as an excuse to speak rather dogmatically, although I will not be unbelievably brief. I am a strong and unrepentant believer in the idea of parole. For many years its application in Britain has been under the chairmanship of the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, who I am glad to see is to speak, and this has been of a positive and lasting advantage. After an opening period when public confidence was being won and following a steady move forward, our parole policy is now badly stuck. Today it is unduly conservative, not in a Party sense, to use the words of Dr. West, the criminologist and former member of the Parole Board. This is the gist of my point, although not the whole of it.

My Lords, in my own words our parole policy today is too timid and too frightened of hypothetical public opinion. However, before going on to criticisms, let us give credit, most of all to the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, to his eminent successor, and a number of others who have laboured so devotedly and fair-mindedly in trying to produce a good system. Many complaints are being made, I think rightly, about the working of parole in Britain at present.

In an important contribution by Dr. Hall Williams, the well-known criminologist and former member of the Parole Board, in the Criminal Law Review, the main complaints were mentioned as follows: One, too few paroles; two, too short a licence; three, too great delay in processing applications—and that is very painful for those making the applications; four, failure to give reasons for refusing parole; five, lack of a right to a hearing, to be represented and to appeal; six, the contents of the parole dossier; seven, unsatisfactory recall procedures; eight, unsatisfactory criteria for parole; nine, administrative deficiencies—and maybe noble Lords have thought of a few more which do not come under those headings, but that is enough to be going on with.

My Lords, there is ample room for well-informed controversy here. Anyone who reads the criminological journals will be aware that such controversy is raging actively. I would be much happier if prisoners could be interviewed, at any rate on request, by members of the Parole Board. I would be much happier if there was a right of appeal, and if reasons were given or at least indicated, for negative decisions. It might be possible, by widespread devolution of decision to the new regional boards which would have to be set up, to achieve some of the purposes without effecting a change in principle from the administrative to a judicial system. I am not advocating a major change which would require major legislation. Such devolution, however, I would favour strongly.

At present, the Board handles more than 5.000 cases a year without seeing any of the prisoners, although the prisoners have the opportunity of meeting one of the local members of the Boards. But this figure of 5,000 represents a number far too great for proper examination. I should like to see a reorganisation which left the central Board dealing only with cases of special difficulty. For reasons of time I must leave over this and many other disputed questions, but I hope that some at least will be raised by other speakers.

There is one point of which I have given the Minister notice. I believe far more use could be made than now of a combination of parole and the pre-release employment scheme. I would hope the Minister could indicate progress. To the initiated, that would mean that when a Parole Board were trying to discover whether a person would behave well if given parole, they would have the opportunity to see how he fared under a scheme which would enable him to work outside for a number of months. Perhaps the Minister would tell us what is being done already, and what he hopes to do. Before saying a few words about the special category of life prisoners, I wish to concentrate on the two complaints mentioned by Dr. Williams, the first one regarding too few paroled and the second, too short a licence. With that I will take the eighth criticism, unsatisfactory criteria for parole. If I may be allowed to mention it, I was chairman of a powerful committee set up by the right honourable gentleman Mr. Wilson, then Leader of the Opposition, to deal with the prevention and treatment of crime. In 1964 we produced a Report, shortly before Mr. Wilson's Government came in. The Report was called Crime: A Challenge to Us All. Our Report included the first public demand for the introduction of parole into Britain. Our team included the present Lord Chancellor, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Gardiner, and several other Members of this House, nearly all of whom held Office in the first Government of Mr. Wilson.

I should like to think—and indeed I persuade myself—that our ideas exerted no small influence in connection with parole and otherwise. At any rate, parole was introduced by Mr. Roy Jenkins, then Home Secretary, in the Criminal Justice Act 1967. I must admit that his expectations of the proportion of prisoners who would be paroled would appear to have been far less than those held by most of us in the Crime—a Challenge Committee. Be that as it may, the proportion of prisoners receiving parole, after a slow start—and one can understand that things started a bit slowly—has now built up to 32.8 per cent; that is to say, one-third of the prisoners who might receive parole receive parole. I can only speak for myself, but certainly a far higher proportion was in my mind, and I think the minds of most of my colleagues, when we produced our Crime—a Challenge Report.

My Lords, this is where we must think rather hard. In my view, the reason why still relatively few men and women are paroled is that we have never really cleared our minds as to what parole is all about; we have not yet achieved a coherent parole philosophy. What, after all, does parole mean to the prisoner? What does it offer him? It offers him hope and encouragement and an incentive to try to demonstrate that he has become a well-intentioned member of society. If a prisoner, for the sake of argument—taking an example almost at random—receives a sentence of nine years, he can, without parole, reasonably expect, given good behaviour or absence of bad behaviour, that he will come out after six years. But I think we must assume that the judge already takes that into account in delivering the sentence. The prisoner is really being told by the judge, "You are going to prison for six years "—or it would seem for nine years but in fact for six years—" but it will be more if you fail to behave yourself." There is little positive hope or encouragement there.

But under the parole system, which is quite new in our arrangements in this country but has been well established abroad, the prisoner should be able by his own conduct to win himself a further three years' remission, in that particular case of a nine year sentence. At any rate, he should have an excellent chance of doing so. I do not neglect the point—but I cannot dwell on it now—that release on parole is supposed to be release under supervision, not just release plain and simple. I am assuming of course—and this is fundamental to our discussion—that parole authorities, organised in one way or another, are capable of passing a verdict of approximate justice, capable of saying something that is reasonable and healthy in regard to a particular prisoner. Judged by divine or perfect standards, of course, the decision of the Parole Board will be rough justice. But so, after all, was the original sentence of the court. The parole authorities will at least have available to them collectively far more information about the prisoner than the judge could ever have had.

When I say that I am a strong and unrepentant believer in parole, I mean that the decision of the parole authorities can and should be sufficiently reasonable not only to console prisoners, in the sense of making them less unhappy, but sufficiently reasonable to encourage them to become better men and women. That is the crux of it all. Does parole lead prisoners to become better than they would otherwise become? A belief of this kind is central if one believes in parole, but it is only one of the two main arguments for such a system. Most penal reformers today are agreed that sentences passed by the courts are considerably too long. Again this is a fundamental issue and we avoid it at our peril. The case for shorter sentences was put with great power by Mr. Blom-Cooper, Q.C., chairman of the Howard League, at a recent annual meeting of the New Bridge for ex-Prisoners, of which I am president. A reduction in sentences would certainly fit in with the Home Secretary's strong desire, expressed last year, to see a major reduction in the prison population. Some of your Lordships may remember our debate in this House and the important speech made by the Home Secretary before that debate, the main lines of which were reaffirmed by the noble Lord, Lord Harris, later on.

Since last year the prison population has considerably increased. In that sense the hopes of the Home Secretary have been cheated; but of course, it has been due to the great increase in crime. But as a simple statement of fact, whereas last year the Home Secretary and the Minister were expressing hopes that the prison population could be reduced by a more enlightened policy, in fact it has gone up considerably. Nevertheless, I am sure the purpose of the Home Secretary remains as stated: I am sure he is still committed to the idea of reducing the numbers in prison. Mr. Blom-Cooper would like to see a radical reduction in statutory penalties and would like to see some offences made non-custodial, and so would 1. But he is so, to say the least, doubtful whether much progress, involving a new approach by the judiciary and considerable action by the legislature, will be made on this front in the near future.

There remains the alternative of what Mr. Blom-Cooper, Q.C., has called "handing wider release powers to the executive." In the case of parole, this can only mean a much more liberal policy than that being pursued at present, and my theme tonight is that a much more liberal policy should in fact be pursued. This brings me back to Dr. Hall Williams and his view that "here and elsewhere ", to quote his own words, "without a basic change in the system only marginal improvements can be expected ". This view I venture to dispute very strongly. Dr. Hall Williams quotes a statement made by the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, in October 1973, that the number of releases on parole had reached a kind of plateau and that any major advance was, in the view of the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, impracticable within the confines of the present parole system. With great respect to Lord Hunt, I can only say that after discussions with some of the experts of the Parole Board, I cannot accept this statement made by the noble Lord in October 1973 as Holy Writ. It has been regarded as a kind of dispensation from Sinai. I find a certain disposition in parole circles—I am not referring to the present chairman—to speak in a hushed voice of this plateau, this almost sacred plateau, as though it had been imposed by act of God. Well, I do not know much about plateaux, but I assume that if Lord Hunt had rested too long on the first available plateau he would never have completed his heroic ascent of Mount Everest.

The truth is that the decision whether to rest on this so-called plateau of 32.8 per cent. or to advance rapidly beyond it lies entirely in the discretion of the Parole Board, except for the role of the Home Secretary about which I shall speak in a moment. No one seems at all clear who decided that we must make this prolonged halt on this alleged plateau. The Parole Board would say, no doubt, that they have the advisory body, but who gives them their guidance as to whether 32.8 per cent. of releases is about the right proportion, as compared with their original 8.5 or a much higher proportion, as is the case in a number of other countries? The Home Secretary may tell us —though I hope the Minister, who has had time for reflection, will not tell us—that the Home Secretary gets his guidance from the Advisory Board. That, of course, is simply passing the buck round and round.

No one knows where the Parole Board get their standards from. We have been informed of some of the considerations that they have in mind, but those considerations can be applied in a conservative or liberal spirit, and moreover are completely inaccessible to those who wish to question their general policy. So none of us men and women on the Back-Benches, or ordinary citizens on the street, can find out what is animating or deciding their minds. What, indeed, is the constitutional position of the Parole Board? They are not judges; they are not civil servants, though the chairman works full-time. They possess a curious sort of independent status of their own which shrouds them in mystery and renders them immune from criticism. That is one of the things, though not the only thing, that I find worrying.

This brings me to life prisoners in general and the case of Mr. Michael Luvaglio in particular. Your Lordships will recall that that case was raised in this House by one or two noble Lords other than myself, and the Minister said that he hoped to have more to say about it when we reached this debate; at least, that is what I understood him to say. A number of us, including several Members of this House, visited not long ago the Home Secretary. One of us was the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Wakefield, who visits Michael Luvaglio regularly in Wakefield Prison and has a high regard for him.

The Home Secretary gave us, as one would expect, a courteous hearing. He said that he would ask the Joint Sub-Committee of the Parole Board and the Home Office to look into the question of when Mr. Luvaglio could first be considered for parole. So we went away cooing and billing and feeling that we had really begun to get somewhere. But we cooed and billed too soon. This Sub-Committee has now confirmed its previous decision that Mr. Luvaglio cannot even be considered for parole until the spring of 1977; that is, after 10 years in prison. Let us get this straight. It is not said that he cannot get parole until then. He cannot even be considered for it until then. Whether he actually gets parole at that time is still left open. A large number of men and women of standing are convinced that Mr. Luvaglio has proved himself in the last eight years as creditable a citizen as would be possible for anyone with restricted opportunities in prison.

I must ignore the point, because I must not drag this in and must argue the case without it, that he has all along insisted on, and convinced many others of, his innocence. I entirely agree that the offence of which he was convicted, rightly or wrongly, was of a heinous nature. But are we to be told that whatever the performance of a prisoner during his eight years in prison he cannot even be considered for parole until 10 years have passed? Is that because the offence itself overrides all the other factors? Is that the reasoning? We cannot tell for certain, because the reasons are not given; they are veiled in total obscurity. But we are driven towards that conclusion which, if true, is in my eyes deplorable.

How far, in a case of this kind, are the authorities—that is to say, the Home Office and the Parole Board together—allowing themselves to be intimidated by what they believe to be public opinion? The public opinion in question is often whipped up in the most unscrupulous fashion by certain newspapers. Rather more than two years ago, a life prisoner who had already done seven years in prison was taken for a walk by a governor of great experience and distinction. Within half an hour of the governor bringing the prisoner back to the prison a daily newspaper was on the line to the governor, clearly basing themselves on inside information. I agree that the Home Office have to cope with that situation, but that is what was encountered there. The Press as a whole did not know of this event until the first edition of the newspaper in question appeared; in other words, somewhere around midnight. I was telephoned by many journalists around about midnight. By the morning it was announced that there was a national outcry. There was no possible opportunity of making contact with the people of this country, but that is what happened. Elements of the Press, having created the outcry in the first place, then proceeded to foment it for all they were worth in the next few days.

This factor is one that the Home Office, concerned with the preservation of law and order, have to cope with, but this is the sort of opinion that the Parole Board are afraid of. Do they feel they would be letting down the Home Secretary if they exposed him to such unprincipled propaganda? The present Home Secretary, as we all know, and as he has proved many times, is a brave man. I can only hope that the Parole Board will not assume that they are doing him a service if they fail to recommend what they know in their hearts is fair and just, in order to spare him a blast or two of irrational criticism.

If the decisions of the Parole Board are to be governed in sensitive cases by the fear of Press clamour, a number of prisoners whom no one really believes are dangerous will be kept in prison for the rest of their lives. One of Sir Winston Churchill's greatest but least known sayings was that, Justice, that eternal fugitive from the councils of conquerors would have passed over into the opposite camp. I am aware that the application of parole to life cases is inherently more complicated than in other circumstances. Parole, one would hope, would be available in the majority of cases, but at any rate in many cases after a third of a sentence had been served. But who is to say what is the third of a life sentence? One must face the fact that there is a special problem there.

A great deal of additional confusion has been created by the change announced for life prisoners in 1973. Life prisoners are under the impression, understandably, that certain rights have been withdrawn. That is an absolutely bona fide conviction among life prisoners, and there are quite a few reasons why they might hold that view. The authorities will say that this is not so, that life prisoners never had any rights to parole, anyway. That may be true at British law, but our penal policy has recently been condemned by the European Court for a violation of natural justice. I am sure that we do not wish to offend again.

The authorities will say further that any change made was in the prisoners' own interests, and that they wanted to avoid raising false hopes. You will not get many life prisoners to understand or accept that explanation. I am talking about sincere and perfectly intelligent people. It was generally assumed before 1973 that there was an expectation of being considered for parole after seven years. It is now generally understood by life prisoners that this expectation no longer exists. The matter has been made infernally complicated. The present chairman of the Parole Board of course understands it perfectly. I am not so sure about some of the other members, or indeed senior officers of the Prison Service. I cannot blame anybody, however eminent their position, if they do not understand the present position. They are entitled, at the least, to expect the Minister today to try to clarify the position.

I repeat that I beg the Minister to go further. I would urge that natural justice requires that every life prisoner should be considered for parole in the sense of having a chance of going before a review board not later than seven years after being imprisoned. There should he a further assurance that all life cases would be kept under steady review by the Home Office, or the Home Office and the Parole Board jointly, and that consideration for parole could be accorded at any time during the sentence when it was thought to be possible before or after the end of the seven years. I am aware that a number of prisoners are paroled before seven years are up, and so far as I am concerned the more paroled before the seven years are up the better.

Leaving life prisoners as a category, I turn to prisoners as a whole. To quote Mr. Blom-Cooper again, Successive Home Secretaries have added their ministerial voices to the growing clamour that less people he imprisoned and for those imprisoned to be sent away for much shorter periods of time. I can only hope that the Home Secretary will give the necessary guidance to the Parole Board, and he must do so, I submit respectfully, if any sense is to be made of his policy. But does the Home Secretary accept any responsibility for giving them guidance?

It seems to me at present that, like his predecessor, our esteemed Home Secretary is sheltering behind the petticoats of the Parole Board, and that is surely wrong. I am not, of course, saying that it is up to the Home Secretary to decide individual cases, except in the last resort. I am saying that it is up to him to lay down standards which will assist the Parole Board to bring their general standards in regard to releases into line with his overall policy of reducing the prison population.

The weakest feature of our parole policies at the moment is that the release of many prisoners, particularly long-term prisoners, is delayed for many months, maybe a number of years, on no rational argument. The argument for granting them release when it comes is no stronger, and it may be weaker, than when it was first refused. By chance, since I drafted my speech I have talked to someone who has come out on parole. He received his parole on the fourth occasion, but there was no reason to suppose that in some mysterious way he became more suitable for parole on the fourth occasion than on the first. He had been in prison for many years. I think of one prisoner, not the one about whom I have just been speaking, who is now in his tenth year of imprisonment and who has not yet been considered for parole. Like other inhabitants of that prison, he can spend only half an hour a day in the open air. When people talk about 10 years in prison they might reflect on what it means to spend only half an hour a day in the open air. By what extraordinary process is that prisoner supposed to become more beneficial to society two or three years from now than at the present time?

I am not saying that no one can ever be improved by imprisonment. I have known people who have been improved, but the expectation must be that after 11 years in prison one will be worse, rather than better, than one was after 10 years in prison. Certainly long sentence prisoners believe that of themselves; they are under the impression that they are deteriorating, and it is hard to say that they are altogether wrong, though there are many exceptions. If the object of parole is really to encourage men and women to become better human beings, I venture to remind those who operate our system of the lines of W. B. Yeats: Too long a sacrifice can make a stone of the heart. When I meet somebody who has been in prison for 10 years or thereabouts I often think of those lines. In this policy of postponing parole, the Parole Board seem to be confusing their proper function with that of a sentencing judge. They are doing his job a second time. In general sentencing policy—and for my sins I once wrote a book called, Their Day of Punishment—factors such as deterrence and retribution or, if you like, a due proportion between the offence and their sentence, must play their part. But such considerations are, I submit, quite out of place in the decisions of the Parole Board.

The Parole Board cannot ignore the past altogether. Obviously one is forced to take into account a person's past when trying to forecast his or her future conduct and therefore the past cannot be just an aside as though it has never been. But except in that sense, the business of the Parole Board is or should be concerned only with the future and not with deterrence or retribution. Until the minds of the Parole Board are clarified on this point in particular, I believe that far too many people will be kept in prison who could be safely released to play a useful part in the community instead of wasting their lives and, incidentally, our money, in prison.

I have great admiration for those members of the Parole Board whom I happen to know personally and I have the greatest respect for their intentions, but they will continue, in my opinion, to drift about in the dark without a clear philosophy until the Home Secretary indicates the kind of general standards which he expects to see them apply. On paper the Parole Board are completely free to give the Home Secretary what advice they choose. They can use their discretion—they can step up the rate from 32 per cent. to 42 per cent., 52 per cent. or any other figure—but in practice it is very unlikely, taking human nature and institutions as they are, that we can expect such a step from them. It therefore comes down to the fact that the time has come, by the common consent of all those who are closest to prisoners and, I should like to think, all those who think about these things most dispassionately, when there must be a major breakthrough and liberalisation of the whole parole system, but only the Home Secretary can give a lead.

9.5 p.m.


My Lords, it is customary in your Lordships' House when speaking following the opener of a debate to express gratitude for the fact that he has initiated the debate and raised the subject. I am not quite certain whether it is the custom to do so in the case of an Unstarred Question, which presumably is addressed specifically to the Minister who will reply. Nevertheless. I most sincerely thank my noble friend Lord Longford for raising this subject and for giving me the opportunity, to which I have been looking forward, to speak in a detached fashion, whereas before I was constrained about the parole system. My noble friend Lord Longford and I are within striking distance—he is seated on the Bench immediately in front of me—and I had some notice of what he would say. I gave him the opportunity of sitting a few Benches away from me in case he was nervous in the course of his speech, but I did not notice it and I congratulate him on the way he presented the subject.

The last time I intervened on this subject in this House was in March 1969 in a debate on penal reform and aftercare on a Motion by the noble Lord, Lord Donaldson of Kingsbridge. I spoke with some circumspection about the new-fledged parole scheme, which was barely one year old and some restraint was obviously proper to the then chairman of the Parole Board. I made some fairly banal noises about sound foundations being laid and the need for caution, to start with at any rate, in order to win and retain public confidence, but I also suggested that for some time yet it would be only a minority who could be granted parole. As we know, and as my noble friend Lord Longford pointed out, this latter assertion is still the case and it is on this point that I shall have something to say. Today I can speak with less restraint and my problem is to be one of brevity because I feel that there is a great deal I could say. If I follow my noble friend along one or other of the trials he has laid for me. I hope the lack of brevity will be blamed on him rather than on myself.

Perhaps I should start by saying that I do not intervene to defend the parole system. From the list of speakers following my noble friend Lord Longford, I do not feel that there is anyone who will attack it. Nor do I feel a need to defend those who have operated the scheme in one capacity or another, because I do not believe that they need defending: what has happened speaks well for itself. Of course the system has not come up to the expectations of some criminologists, sonic probation officers, some members of prisoners' rehabilitation organisations, some organisations for penal reform. No[...] has it come up to the expectations of those organisations which defend the rights of prisoners which in many cases include ex-prisoners themselves. It certainly has not met the expectations of the majority of eligible serving inmates of Her Majesty's prisons. But, on the other side of the coin—and we need to look at that other side in any fair debate on parole—and subject to what the Minister may have to say to the contrary, the figures which I have seen do not prove conclusively, at any rate statistically, that it has been much more effective than imprisonment in reducing the incidence of crime.

The noble Earl suggested that we had lost our way and that there was no philosophy. I would remind him that the philosophy was stated in the White Paper, The Adult Offender, which followed the deliberations of his Committee. It has not changed. I quote it from memory, so I am subject to correction, but the words I remember are: Some prisoners are more likely to become good citizens if before the end of their sentence they are released conditionally under supervision, with a liability to recall if they do not behave. That is the philosophy, and the uncertain interpretation of "some" is a large bone of contention. Of course it is very easy to knock any system and, despite the lack of restraint with which I speak today, I am not going to do that. I am a great believer in the scheme, but before I make my own suggestions to remedy some of its undoubted imperfections—and the imperfections have been mentioned by my noble friend Lord Longford—I should like to strike a brief, positive note. I feel that among its main values are the side effects of introducing the parole system. Being invisible commodities, they are less easy to demonstrate, but I would say that they include a shift—whether perceptible or not, I do not know—in the public perspective on the treatment of certain types of offender. I would say that its effect is noticeable as an inspiration to further proposed penal reforms. I am thinking in particular of the Younger Report on Young Adult Offenders.

Last but not least among these invisible commodities is its value as a catalyst between all those organisations, professions and individuals who are involved with prisoners. I believe that in all these areas the influence of parole has been positive and my observation is that all those involved from the time of arrest—and that of course includes the police—to the term of the sentence have much to learn from it and, not least, a lot to unlearn about each other. I feel that the institution of parole has contributed to both these desirable processes.

As one who is engaged in the actual process of assessment for parole at board level, as one who saw it and listened to it on numerous local review committees on the Scottish Parole Board, and as one who has had the opportunity to study comparable systems in other countries, I would claim that an overriding merit of our scheme is the thoroughness of the documentation, combined with the clear-headed, constructive and committed attitude of the very varied and independent people who, as members of the boards and the review committees, advise the Home Secretary or the Secretary of State for Scotland and, as a result, produce a high degree of fairness combined with realism.

The community's interests—and here I follow the implicit intention of the philosophy—are given priority over those of the individual on the exceptional occasion when the interests of the individual are perceived as running counter to those of the community. They are exceptional occasions and it may be said that on those occasions fairness is questionable. But I am persuaded that in general the system is fair, though I am the first to admit that it is not seen to be fair. About that, I shall have something to say later. Indeed, it is the very weight of the documentation, combined with the large number of cases for review, which gives rise to two main causes of grievance. They are, as my noble friend has said, the long periods of waiting for decisions and the absence of explanations for refusals. I shall have something to say about both those vexed questions, but I would say now that we cannot have it both ways. We cannot have it both speedy and searching, and I contend that the public has a right to expect that it should be thorough.

I wish to make only one other point on the positive side—and I shall not go into it because it is bandying figures—and that is that there has been a marked advance in the number of paroles since 1968. It happens to be an eight-fold increase. The figure which the noble Earl quoted of 32.8 per cent., being the current one in the last year, is equally true of the releases within one calendar year. The overall percentage of release of all those who are eligible has worked out for some years past at 40 per cent. But it remains, as I forecast it would when speaking here in 1969, as still a minority.

The noble Earl spoke about this famous plateau. He reminded me that I had stated that statistically the scheme had got on to a plateau, and of my opinion that it was unlikely to be possible to rise above that plateau in terms of further releases without resort to legislation; and that is the point I had in mind—without resort to legislation. There was no act of God about it. The noble Earl said that some of my colleagues on the Board regarded this as Holy Writ, and went on to say that he could not accept it as an act of God. With regard to the first point, I am naturally flattered; it is the proper attitude by members of boards towards their chairmen. With regard to the second point, I am not at all surprised that the noble Earl, Lord Longford, has declined to identify me with the Deity.

I hold no particular brief for the plateau. I believed then, but I now no longer believe, that it could not be left without resort to legislation. Therefore, I shall conic straight to the point by declaring my belief that the time has come—perhaps it is overdue—when parole could, with advantage to the public as well as to eligible members of the prison population, become the normal expectation for the majority, and I venture to say the great majority, of eligible prisoners. By saying that, I am not suggesting that the ceiling of parole eligibility should be brought below its present level, but I would say that long sentence prisoners especially need parole. Parole should be received, not as a right and not so much as a privilege, but as a social need for those serving substantial terms of detention. I should like to see a further marked advance in this scheme, tried and tested as it has been after more than seven years.

My Lords, I believe that public confidence—and this is not an unimportant point—has reached the point of accepting such an advance, given certain assurances. One key point in making this advance is that it could reduce, if not remove, some of the basic snags which persist. With regard to the means of extending the scheme, I now believe that fresh legislation, which would complicate and delay matters, is no longer necessary. All I can say is that one changes one's mind. I have come now from a position of detachment to this belief. It may be that it was true or appropriate at the time it was spoken.

To an informed audience such as the small select number of Members of your Lordships' House who are present, particularly those taking part in the debate, I have no need to give any background for the suggestions I am making to the Government; and I hope that the Minister may make some comment on these when he replies. My first point is simply to agree with the noble Earl, Lord Longford, that it would be in line with the Home Secretary's explicit support for a shift of emphasis from custodial to non-custodial treatment, to state that he proposes to use the discretion granted to him in the 1967 Act to ensure that more prisoners than hitherto receive the benefit of supervision in the community as part of their sentence through the medium of parole. I agree that the Board should at least know the view and the intention, or the policy, of the Home Secretary in this regard. It is worth remembering that under a previous Government in 1967, the expectation of the same Home Secretary was that paroles would number about 10 per cent. a year. The figure has gone up to 40 per cent. over the whole period of eligibility, and it would be appropriate for him now to express another view in the light of the success of the scheme.

Secondly, it would be helpful if judges were invited—in fact, it is important that they should agree—when pronouncing a sentence of more than 18 months' imprisonment to make an open reference to that non-custodial element in the sentence as a matter of normal sentencing practice. At present, this very rarely happens. I understand that judges do not take the eventuality of parole into account when deciding what is the appropriate sentence. With great respect to the judges, I think that they should. I think that under the executive pronouncement that I have suggested it would be appropriate that they should do so.

Normally, my suggestion is, it would be referred to as something to be looked forward to, subject to conditions which are not, at the time of the trial and sentence, within the knowledge of the court but which will be reviewed by the parole board and the committees at the appropriate time. Exceptionally—and this is important—as is done in the case of certain life sentences for particularly heinous crimes, I suggest that the judge should recommend a minimum period in excess of the statutory one-third of the sentence before which parole should not be granted—a minimum recommendation. Let me say in passing that this independent review procedure—and here I am digressing slightly; but I am led by one of those trails of the noble Earl—is of cardinal importance. It is nonsense to claim, as some have done, that all the factors reviewed by the Board and the local committees are already known to the courts at the time of trial. It is tantamount to saying that time and circumstances have stood still over an appreciable period of time. It is no less nonsense to contend that prisoners change, if at all, for the worse. In the long term this is likely and often happens; but no one could believe that prison is entirely negative or harmful, after studying thousands of parole dossiers, if he did not also believe that members of prison staffs, and they are varied in function and type of person, the social worker in the prisons, the probation officer who will eventually have their person under supervision and making reports, the local review committees, and the Board and including fond relatives who contribute to the parole dossiers, are all without susceptibility and credibility. On both counts, it is desirable that changed circumstances, whether for the better or the worse, should be reviewed by independent persons, however curious their independence may seem to the noble Earl.

Thirdly, by making parole a normal expectation, my suggestion is, taken together with the suggestion about referring to the prospect in the courts—and this is an important point—it should be possible to devolve on local review committees—and here I agree with the noble Earl—the task of making recommendation for parole directly to the Home Secretary to a far greater extent than at present. I would go further and say that local committees should have discretion to grant parole in straightforward cases. This would leave it to the Board, as the noble Earl suggested, to consider at the second stage a small minority of cases, and only the cases in respect of which minimum recommendation has been made by the courts, and those other cases where the local review committees are uncertain, despite normal expectancy, that it would be justified or advantageous at the time of the review to grant parole. My fourth point is that the Board and local committees should make their assessments in future only on the basis of circumstances obtaining at the time of review and without having to weigh up the nature and gravity of the offence itself, save in those cases where minimum recommendation has been made.

My Lords, I believe now—it was not for me to believe before—that this semi-judicial function is a matter for the courts rather than for the Board. In 1967, speaking in this House, the late Lord Stonham outlined what should be the criteria for the Board and committees in considering prisoners for parole. Those criteria included the nature and gravity of the offence. They were passed down as notes of guidance to all local review committees and have been used and respected by the Board. It is because of that that the nature and gravity of the offence have been taken into account. I am sure, at that time at any rate, this was a condition of the acceptability of the scheme to the I Judiciary. Where a minimum recommendation has been made, the Board will obviously have to take it into account, as it does in life cases, before the Home Secretary or a Home Office Minister, and this would be the implication to make a personal decision upon it.

My fifth point is that under such conditions of normal expectancy I see no reason to fear the unavoidable difference in perception of the numerous local review committees at different prisons dispersed, as they are, over the whole country which the Home Office has such complex procedures to mitigate. The local review committees are much better placed than the Board for reviewing the current circumstances in direct consultation with the prison authorities, the prison welfare officers, the visiting probation officers, and of course with the opportunity they have to meet and interview prisoners. As I have already suggested, with appropriately revised notes of guidance, local committees might have discretion to grant, but not refuse parole, subject to prescribed exceptions which would have to be referred to the Board. Given this normal practice, and even allowing for the Board to review certain cases, the period of waiting—one key objection and, rightly, grievance—would be greatly reduced. I see no reason why, especially in conditions of "normal expectancy ", prisoners should not be involved in their cases more than is the case at present, at any rate to the extent of having the option to appear before the local review committee. I have seen this done in other countries; it has always seemed a sensible procedure; prisoners have not abused it.

Lastly, there is the most important point of all, because it bears on the other grievance, that the reasons for deferring or denying parole, should, under the premises I have suggested, be provided by the Board, whether directly in writing to the prisoners, or to prison governors for oral explanation of the reasons of the Board. Given the cases referred to the Board would become exceptional, the number of explanations would become within the bounds of administrative capability. This is one of the main stumbling blocks at the present time. Whether or not it is likely prisoners would be satisfied by refusals after that kind of explanation, I have long regarded it as a moral right which cannot be indefinitely denied.

There remains the difficult question on which the noble Earl, Lord Longford, has understandably dwelt: the question of conditional release from life sentences. That deserves an Unstarred Question of its own. I have a strong suspicion other noble Lords and, maybe, one noble Baroness, may have something to say about particular cases, and I will limit myself to some general and personal remarks which express my basic beliefs. I believe there is an element of social psychology bearing on the deliberate taking of a human life, and certain other terrible crimes, which demand severe retribution. We cannot overlook the likelihood or possibility that if the penalty for murder were made the subject of another referendum—and I hope it will not be—there would be a majority of the public in favour of the restoration of the death penalty. I am thankful Parliament has willed otherwise.

I cannot think of any other publicly acceptable retribution for this category of offence than prolonged deprivation of liberty. Bearing in mind the multiplicity of cases and degrees of circumstances, it is clearly better the actual period of detention should remain indeterminate. I say that because it is desirable for the protection of the public in certain cases and as punishment. This element of abhorrence of deliberate killing must be recognised and respected, if, as a community, we are not to be in danger of devaluing human life. Murder, whatever the circumstances, must not become something which society lightly tolerates. Having left that weighty point, I risk being flippant immediately afterwards. At that point, the noble Earl rather suggested that the members of the Parole Board might be intimidated by the fear of public reaction, and in close juxtaposition to that he mentioned the courage and bravery of the Home Secretary which we all respect and admire. I did not quite like the close juxtaposition of the brave Home Secretary and the craven advisers, the members of the Parole Board.

The Earl of LONGFORD

My Lords, I am sorry if the noble Lord did not like it, and perhaps I should try to express myself more clearly. My point was that the public-spirited Parole Board were so anxious to save their Minister that without any thought of their own convenience they wanted to spare him.


I thank the noble Earl very much indeed. As he has raised the subject—though perhaps the Minister will do this better than I—I should like to reassure him with some figures. In the years 1971, 1972 and 1973 the Parole Board recommended 10 per cent., 16 per cent. and 8 per cent. more life prisoners for parole than the Home Secretary—who always makes a personal decision in these matters—felt able to accept. I am well aware that there are many other suggestions for penal reform which hear on parole, and I join with those who maintain, like Mr. Louis Blom-Cooper, that some offenders are still being sentenced to prison without due cause or effect and that some sentences are quite unproductively long—some would say many sentences. This is not by any means to say that I would have any truck whatever with those who choose to make crime their profession, with armed robbers or with those who perpetrate diabolical frauds.

Doubtless if my suggestions were to be followed, the courts would make a minimum recommendation in cases where the gravity of the offence and the record of the offender made it appropriate. Nor would the principle of normal expectancy of parole contra-indicate stiff sentences for ruthless crimes. I have always felt that the time-hallowed operation of remission granted more or less automatically at two-thirds of a sentence without any strings attached is excessive and unconstructive. Practices in some other countries make far better use of the last one-third of the sentence. I am doubtful whether a reduction in the remission period or the attachment of conditions is a viable proposition in present circumstances.

My suggestions, for what they are worth, have the merit of being capable of introduction within the present legal framework for parole. They involve only changes in judicial and executive practice and could therefore be introduced sooner rather than after a long process of legislation. But there is one condition which is fundamental and it is right that I should refer to it—if you like declaring an interest as president of the National Association of Probation Officers. This is the essential condition of adequate supervision for the larger number of parolees which the public has a right to expect, and the degree of statutory aftercare which many prisoners may need in order to keep within the law. I do not know, but it may be that the Probation Officer Service may need to be enlarged and expanded to cope with the larger numbers. The Service has already expressed strong support in principle for the shift of emphasis towards non-custodial treatment, but expressed no less strongly that resources must come first. Under current economic circumstances, I understand that the Home Office policy for the Service—and I do not question it—is one for nil growth. Clearly the timing would have to depend on a careful review of resources in the Service and on consultations about the implication—and this is important—to the Service that the shift of emphasis might not only be to non-custodial treatment but from after care to a more markedly supervisory realm.

In conclusion, I believe that there has been much benefit from and progress in the parole scheme since April 1968. I am certain that other things being equal the time is right for potential to be further exploited and for some of these weaknesses to be removed: indeed, the two go together. I make no apology for the concern of my erstwhile colleagues and, I believe, the present members of the Board, because they are concerned not so much about public opinion as about public confidence in the scheme and those who are charged with its operation.

Perhaps I might say one further thing: it is a postscript and your Lordships may perhaps think it is irrelevant, but I should like to say it. There is a call for stiffer sentences, and this fits into the generality of what I have been talking about. We have heard it recently from the noble and learned Lord who sits on the Woolsack, from a respected Lord Justice of Appeal, and also from members of the public during a recent "phone-in" on a BBC programme. I accept, for what is is worth, that there may be a necesssity for stern retribution in certain cases and within certain defined areas of crime. But again for what it is worth, I am totally averse to the notion that this should become a kind of battleground fought over by the public at large against offenders in general, indiscriminately. If stiffer sentences across the board of crime were to be made, it would not reduce crime but it would certainly reduce our standing as a humane and civilised society.

So far as juveniles and young offenders are concerned, I have had some experience of them and some of them undoubtedly require a short, sharp, shock, but the problem for most of them lies in society's failure to provide valid demands and challenges to their enterprise and aptitudes. However, that is another story and perhaps it should he saved for another day.

9.37 p.m.


My Lords, I find an irresistible attraction in an Unstarred Question like this, and therefore I am all the more grateful to the noble Earl, Lord Longford, for introducing it. I am also immensely grateful for what this House has just heard from the noble Lord, Lord Hunt. I begin with an experience which I shall not flog unduly, but which necessarily has a great deal to do with what consequently I want to say. I have had the apprenticeship and opportunity of serving as a prison chaplain for upwards of thirty years. It is out of that experience and some reading on certain topics analagous to the whole system of prisons that I have reached an extremist position. I have been sitting through the previous debate and have listened to those who claim to be moderates and those who claim to be extremists. As regards the whole prison system, I am resolutely and completely convinced that in principle it is wrong. In principle it should be discarded, and the process of discarding it will necessarily take a great deal of time and much legislation.

I am well aware that at the moment the majority of my friends and cohabitants in this community are not prepared to take the risks which would be entailed, or to pay the price which would have to be paid. I confess that what I have to say in criticism springs from that extremist position, though many of the criticisms could be attached, as they were by the noble Earl, Lord Longford, to the actual administration of the parole system which began in 1967. Let me say right away that there was nothing that cheered me more than the passing of that Act, and there is nothing in the whole criminal world which I believe has done more, and can do still more, to relieve a situation of social, economic, political and moral depravity as well as the problems associated with prison life, to which I may refer later. In fact, much good has been done, and, if it were not almost pompous to say so, we in your Lordships' House should express our gratitude for, and appreciation of, what the Parole Board have been able to do in this initial period of activity.

I quite agree that no Government should be content with the level of achievement as yet reached, and I have no doubt that the Government will properly and humbly say that there is much more to be done. I have no doubt that they will take cognisance of the perceptive comments that have been made by the noble Lord, Lord Hunt. What I want to say is in auxiliary support of one or two of the propositions set forth in general terms by the noble Earl, Lord Longford, and in more specific terms by the noble Lord, Lord Hunt. Believing as I do that there is no sufficient reason for a perpetuation of the prison system at such, I find the increase between 8.5 per cent and 32.8 per cent. disappointing and unsatisfactory. I well recognise the difficulties under which the Parole Board have been working. To insist that some will profit by this programme is not necessarily a philosophy. It may come within the purview of the clerk of the works but it is not an architectural proposition. But I hope that before I sit down I may attract your Lordships' attention for a moment or two to the philosophy that lies behind the whole system of parole.

However, in principle, to those who have visited regularly the prisons of this country, and that is what I have done—Pentonville, Wandsworth, Holloway and a number of others—the overcrowding in them is a total loss, morally, intellectually and practically, to those who have to suffer this overcrowding. Your Lordships will not be surprised that in many cases it is more suitable to put three into a cell originally built to accommodate one than to put two. I would only mention in passing that the homosexual element in that kind of overcrowding is to me something quite terrifying to contemplate. The evidence of its proliferation is something which I am sure must attract the very careful attention of those who care for, in their turn, the ultimate redemption or improvement of young people, in particular, who submit, are compelled to submit, to that kind of overcrowding. Therefore, from a purely practical standpoint, to be enabled to provide parole for more than the 32 per cent. now able to take advantage of that opportunity would in itself be a move in the right direction, and would indeed be a beneficial move, not only for the prisoners but also for the administration of a prison.

Then, I have taken the conviction—it was first a view and it is now entrenched as a conviction—that in no circumstances is it desirable or morally permissible to incarcerate a man in the traditional prison system for more than six years. I do not mean by that that his crime should be palliated and it should be said that after six years he has redeemed himself. I do not say that after that period a man or a youngster should necessarily be enabled to go free. What I say is that it is almost inevitable that any human being incarcerated under the normal conditions of a prison will lose one of the essential dimensions of his make-up, probably irrecoverably. It is the most melancholy of all experience to recognise the hardening, calcifying process which inevitably seems to supervene upon a sentence of five or six years or more. Therefore, the parole system, in so far as it will reduce the length of sentences, is to be entirely approved and thoroughly and energetically stimulated.

May I pass to another clement? I am sure that other noble Lords whose experience is as wide as mine, probably wider, will know something of the claustrophobic condition of the minds of those who are so incarcerated and shut in. This brings me to one of the criticisms which has been voiced both by the noble Earl and by the noble Lord: that where there is a three- or four-month delay between the inception of an investigation by the local Board and the actual culmination of that process in the decision of the Home Secretary, there is ample room for, and an almost inevitable consequence in, a depreciation, a loss of vitality and a continuous and growing sense of frustration. What a man does when he is committed for a long period is to endeavour to accommodate himself to a life in which he will not have to think very much about what is going to happen.

For most prisoners, the most terrifying period is the week before they are released, for up to that point any prisoner who knows his way about things—this is not the prisoner represented by Ronnie Barker in that hilarious programme which was completely and, I think, most mischievously misleading about what goes on in prison—is liable to, and is almost committed to, the kind of claustrophobic attitude which clouds his vision of what is true and confuses it with what is false and leaves him in a state of perturbation. If that perturbation is increased, as inevitably it is increased when he is set within the framework of the expectation of some kind of change and is not prepared to live out or "to do his porridge" in the more or less neutral fashion in which it becomes tolerable, it imposes a very large and, I think, very dangerous strain on his whole make-up.

This is not to say that one ought to be sentimental about the prisoner, but it is a strong argument for the hurrying-up and the expedition of the programme whereby from the start of the individual local Board to the time when the Home Secretary makes his decision there should be as short a gap as possible.

Furthermore, how heartily do I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, when he says that this kind of prisoner—indeed every kind of prisoner—is entitled to know more than that which comes from an anonymous decision. And how heartily and gratefully do I accept what he has said about the necessity to let the prisoner know in clear and unequivocal language why it is that his application has been accepted or rejected. I do not acquit prisoners of the mischief of pretending that there is a world of deceit that necessarily goes on within prison walls, but a prisoner has the right to know what it is that stands between him and the agreement of the Parole Board to recommend to the Home Secretary that he should enjoy the opportunity of parole.

These are various matters, and there are others upon which I shall not dwell. Certainly I shall not dwell upon the question of the indeterminate life sentence because I have every reason to believe that it will be dealt with before the conclusion of this particular debate. In conclusion, may I refer again to what most eloquently was said by the noble Earl, Lord Longford—that what is required is a philosophy of parole. I did not take umbrage when I read the list of those who are members of the Parole Board, but I found that there was not a parson among them. I saw that the last listed member of the Parole Board has something to do with a mission, but then I found that his qualification is that he is a police superintendent.

I am not accusing anybody of some kind of black exorcism in this regard, but I wonder sometimes why psychiatrists are regarded as better at prognosis than saints—not that every parson is a saint, but the assumption is that a few may be! Whereas psychiatry has been so excellent in diagnosis, in many cases it has been so very ineffective in the field of care and in the field of treatment that I am wondering why it is that this Board, to which is given such wide and impressive powers, should not feel the need for the kind of philosophy which I believe adheres to the Christian faith—or indeed to the Jewish faith, for you will find very little in the book of Exodus about imprisonment. There is nothing so certain as that the whole ideology in penal terms for the ancient Israelites was to keep them within the community rather than to separate them from it. That perhaps is an illustration of what I would endeavour to say.

What strikes me as being so entirely and absolutely wrong with the prison system as such is that it fails to recognise that the true processes of retribution—which is necessary: the true processes of some kind of reformation, which at least should be envisaged, cannot be exercised within the framework of merely putting a man away and then enabling the rest of the community to forget about him. I know that there are mitigations of that system but they are not nearly sufficient and, in principle, the whole concept of parole is an ideological cuckoo in the nest. That is exactly why the difficulties arise. Sooner or later you can have the instrumentality and the machinery of parole, beginning at the day when the man is sentenced. What you cannot have is a perpetuation of the prison system plus the whole ideology and concept of parole. This is the philosophical problem and the difficulty that underlies the administration of the parole system. Sooner or later we have to pay the price of making certain that the man who has committed even the most heinous crime is not neutralised and is not set within an artificial framework, but has to work his way out of the difficulties that he has no doubt brought upon himself in large measure and the crimes that he has committed, not outside the community but within that community. I believe this is a redemptive process and I believe it to be much more effective than the almost total ineffectiveness of the normal prison system.

At the end of what the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, had to say he referred to something of which I have some practical knowledge. I am certain that one of the difficulties at the moment of increasing the processes of parole is the inadequacy of the machinery and particularly the insufficiency of agents to operate that machinery. I believe there is a great need for many more prison psychiatric workers, probation officers, and the like, and it may be that we shall need new categories. But it is also imperative that there should be domestic provision for a semi-custodial inclusion within that general framework of supervision. In that regard, I believe there is need—although in a pecuniary situation such as we are now suffering from I doubt whether it can be immediately realised—for the provision of homes or hostels or houses in which it will be much better for those who come out of prison under parole to find a settled and community life, and to become once again possible members of that community, than to leave them. In many cases I happen to know in the two hostels for which I am responsible, when they do come out—sometimes under parole, sometimes under licence and sometimes from borstal—one of the difficulties is that the probation officer is compelled to treat them as though they are vagrants and homeless. Therefore from both sides the situation becomes increasingly difficult.

Finally, when the Minister replies to this debate I would ask him to ask his right honourable friend the Home Secretary—as I am sure he will wish to do—what is the ultimate philosophy of parole. Is it to substitute ultimately for the prison system another system more calculated to be within the framework of a civilised society? This is the 65,000 dollar question. Unless this question is answered I still believe that many benefits will accrue to those who enjoy the blessings of the parole system; but I believe that sooner or later we shall find ourselves on a collision course between a system which I believe is completely outdated and irrelevant and a system for which as yet we have only the elementary and preliminary ideas—the rough drawing so to speak—but which in due time I believe can be a suitable and a final substitute to the iniquity of a prison system which is uncivilised and sooner or later must be discarded.

9.55 p.m.


My Lords, that the parole system has so far been a success I believe is not in dispute. It has led to the early release from prison of many thousands of prisoners, people who have been released into the community, the great majority of whom have been no danger to the community. Many of them have been of great service to it. That the system has succeeded has been due very largely to the efforts of the noble Lord, Lord Hunt. It ought to be slated that not only throughout the legal profession, but outside it as well, people are full of admiration for the vital part the noble Lord has played as chairman of the Parole Board, over what must have seemed to be the long period of some six years.

My Lords, the difficulty that arises appears to be that in any parole system there are certain inherent dilemmas. I venture to suggest that in fact we are solving those dilemmas in the correct way, but I believe we must face up to them to see where they take us. The first and most obvious dilemma is that unless the overwhelming majority of prisoners are released on parole, there is introduced into our present system of determinate sentencing by the Judiciary an element of indeterminate sentencing by the Executive. Inevitably the result is that prisoners are anxious and concerned; they do not know precisely what length of sentence they are likely to serve and, in addition, decisions are bound to seem to them to be arbitrary as between one prisoner and another, with the result that grievance feeds upon grievance in the atmosphere of a prison, and is consequently magnified out of all proportion.

If one faces up to this dilemma, the first solution is the one put forward by some speakers this afternoon, and perhaps in the words of the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, that parole should become the normal expectation; in other words, in effect that parole should be built-in to our system so that the overwhelming majority of prisoners can expect to be paroled in due course. I would venture to suggest some hesitation before proceeding to that end. I venture to suggest my hesitation on the following grounds. First of all, we are already approaching a situation in which some criminals—not many, but some; those who plan in advance, those who work out the prospects of profit from their crime and the possibility of detection; those who work out the likely sentence that they are going to receive—are already beginning to assess the likely sentence in the terms that they have what is known as the tariff sentence, and they can count on serving only one third of it.

In such a situation, assuming imprisonment has some deterrent effect on some professional criminals, the sentences as passed by the courts at the moment will lose very substantially a part of their deterrent effect. One must face up to the fact that if parole in effect comes to be taken for granted as a built-in part of the system, judges, in passing sentence, either consciously or sub-consciously, are going to pass even longer sentences in order to compensate for what they recognise will be the inevitable release after a comparatively short period of time in prison.

Therefore, it may be that to attempt to expand the parole system until it covers 90 per cent. or perhaps 100 per cent. of the prison population will be a self-defeating exercise. I heard the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, suggest that perhaps judges, when they are passing sentence, might indicate whether parole should apply and, if so, when, or whether, in certain circumstances parole might not apply. I only wonder whether judges would welcome this additional task, particularly when, as it seems to me, many of the major decisions as to when a man is to be paroled arise out of his conduct, after sentence, in prison, of which no judge could wish to make any valid assessment. In those circumstances, I think it may be not as undesirable as has been indicated by some noble Lords this evening to say that parole is not to be taken as a right. and does not apply necessarily and inevitably in the overwhelming majority of cases of people serving sentences.

My Lords, if that is right it follows, of course, that there must be a very substantial area of discretion as to when parole is to be granted, and this leads one perhaps to the next dilemma one has to face, which is whether in those circumstances when that discretion is being exercised it should be done on an administrative basis or on a semi-judicial basis. Again I would venture to think the present basis, the administrative one, is the right approach. I can see arguments for saying that a judicial approach might, in theory, be more satisfactory. I can see arguments for saying that, in theory, prisoners should be entitled when their parole is being considered to have the matter heard openly, to be legally represented, to have evidence called, to have a right of appeal to some other tribunal, and to have full and detailed reasons given if they are not to be granted parole. But I venture to doubt, first, whether that is a practical course to take with the limited resources that are available, and the vast amount of time that it would necessarily occupy. And I venture to doubt, secondly, whether the granting of parole can ever be formalised in this way, whether criteria can ever be set down in black and white which can be applied by panels who are considering cases; whether in the last analysis the best judgment as to whether a man should be released on parole is not the subjective judgment of a number of intelligent people looking together at the detailed evidence that is provided for them to consider.

The noble Lord, Lord Soper, raised the question, on the face of it perhaps very powerfully, as to whether it is not natural justice that if a prisoner is to be denied parole he should not be entitled at the very least to be told why and the reasons given. Again, there are practical problems which perhaps must be faced up to. There is the practical problem of the Home Secretary and Parole Board disagreeing on occasion. Reasons could perhaps be given, but it would not be easy. There is the practical problem that all of us know who have served on small groups of three, four or five people endeavouring to reach a decision. We reach a unanimous decision quite quickly, but it may well be for different reasons.

There is the problem that the panels depend very largely on the most detailed dossiers which are provided by prison officers, probation officers and the like. If reasons are to be given as to why parole is not to be granted, it will inevitably involve disclosing the contents of reports which might embarrass very considerably prison officers, in particular, who are playing an important part in the operation of the parole system. There are occasions, inevitably, when information in the reports is of a confidential nature. There are occasions, unhappily, when to disclose the reasons to a prisoner would manifestly not be in that prisoner's own interest. It might be reasons of a medical or psychiatric nature; reasons as to the assessment that is made as to his determination to continue to lead a life of crime, or the chance that he will succumb to temptation, and matters of that nature. It might be matters about his domestic home background. In all these circumstances, although there is a strong case in theory for saying that justice requires that reasons should be given, there are substantial practical difficulties before detailed reasons can, in fact, be given.

I know it has been suggested as an alternative that, although detailed reasons should not be given, some form of general statement might be given. That could no doubt be done. I suspect that it would be of no interest to a prisoner and no satisfaction to him, and would merely lead to demands by the prisoners concerned for further information, detailed particulars and matters of that nature. In those circumstances, I venture to suggest that we are perhaps proceeding along the right lines at the moment, and that on the whole the scheme is operating as well as any parole scheme could reasonably be expected to operate.

The only other matters that I would raise arise out of the 1974 Report of the Parole Board. They are two comparatively short questions. First, one cannot help observing with some astonishment that over 800 people indicated that they did not in the last year wish their applications for parole to be considered. I appreciate that some of those concerned people where parole might have been for very short periods indeed. We are informed in the Report that some research is going on into this matter. It might give us a very useful insight into the working of the parole system, and also perhaps into the mentality of a certain number of prisoners. I should be grateful if any information could be made available as to how that research is faring.

The other matter I would raise arising out of the Report is that it appears that in the case of determinate offenders, offenders serving determinate sentences, 119 of them committed further offences while on parole. I do not believe that that is a figure that need necessarily cause any public alarm and despondency. It has to be realised that they were serving determinate sentences, and they were therefore due for release in any event sooner or later, and that the decision which the panel of the Parole Board has to take when it is advising the Home Secretary is not as to whether it is certain that a man will not offend if he is released on parole, but whether there is a better chance of his not offending if he is released on parole rather than having to serve his full sentence. I notice, however, that there is no figure given in the Report for the prisoners who have been serving sentences of life imprisonment and who have been released on parole, who have committed further offences. I venture to think that it is an important figure that might be included in the statistics. It is not one that I feel it profitable to conceal.

Again, in relation both to those figures and the figures for people serving determinate sentences, I should like to ask whether inquiries are made after a person released on parole commits a further offence, and whether the papers are looked at again to see if there has been an error of judgment and, if so, whether it can be traced to any particular cause. I make those observations and ask those questions not in any spirit of criticism, but in the belief that the parole system has been an invaluable step forward in our penal system in the last few years.

10.10 p.m.


My Lords, I rise to take part in this debate because Mrs. Luvaglio, the mother of Michael Luvaglio who was mentioned by the noble Earl, Lord Longford, had a shop in my constituency when I was a Member of Parliament, so I have known the case for a very long time. She came to see me when I was still an MP. I also rise because an MP, Mr. Geoffrey Rhodes, of East Newcastle, who died very suddenly and unexpectedly a year or two ago—he did not hold my political philosophy at all—took a great interest in this case with a good solicitor and was always of the opinion that Michael Luvaglio was innocent of the crime for which he is now serving a prison sentence. I have always thought that it is up to those who survive, when somebody has done a great deal of work on a case, to try to see that that work—and of course I refer to this case in which Mr. Geoffrey Rhodes was interested—is dealt with by somebody who knows something about it.

I have listened with very great interest to what has been said in this debate. I was a magistrate for many years, until I reached the appropriate great age, and I am now on the supplementary list, so I know something about the courts and the problems which arise, though of course I have never been really connected with all the interests which have been so wonderfully expressed tonight by those who have taken a keen interest in parole matters. I wish to thank the Home Secretary because he has been very helpful to Michael Luvaglio. He arranged for his mother to live in another part of the country because Michael was studying hard in Wakefield Prison and is in the course of getting a degree. It was hoped that he would be able to go to another prison to finish his education but unfortunately it was not possible to find another prison where he could continue with his studies. The Home Secretary has been most helpful and I am grateful to him for listening to what I had to say about the matter and for doing what he could to help.

What particularly worries me and what prompts me to speak tonight is a most extraordinary statement which I received. As has already been stated, the Bishop of Wakefield has been a great supporter of Michael Luvaglio. I have with me a document which is headed: Interviewed on completion of seven years on automatic parole procedure. There are many cases listed and I will not read out the reasons why the people mentioned are in prison or the crimes they have committed. There are eight cases before one suddenly comes to Luvaglio, where it is stated: Murder no motive "— and then it says: Not considered. I am wondering under what circumstances that was written because so far as I am aware Michael Luvaglio has been an excellent and disciplined prisoner and has taken all the chances he can to educate himself in such a way as to give him a profession when he is finally released.

It seems to me a most extraordinary thing that the case has not even been considered and I want to protest with all the power I have about this because it has been quite impossible to find out why he was not considered. I am hoping that the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Greenwich, will be able to give a reason when he comes to reply. I do not want to read out all the crimes of the people who have been considered before Michael Luvaglio, but if the noble Lord cannot either give me an answer this evening or promise me one later, I shall have to publish all these crimes with the names and I do not think that would be helpful. I do not want to do it, but I simply cannot understand what "not considered" means. I want to say that very strongly.

Though I know that cases which are in the hands of the Home Secretary are very difficult, I asked some questions the other day and I have had a letter from the Home Secretary's Private Secretary giving me some further suggestions. But, as an ordinary individual—and, after all, in this place we still belong to a free democratic body—I trust that, if it is not possible for the noble Lord to give me an answer today, he will bear in mind that I should, on behalf of the Luvaglios and on my own behalf, be very much aggrieved if I was not told. With all the very interesting speeches which have been made by people who know a great deal more about this matter, it seems a little odd if I—though I was only a magistrate—cannot know why the case was not considered.

My Lords, after having been in another place for 38 years, I find being in this House slightly different. Certainly, in another place, if I did not get an answer from a Secretary of State, he would have many questions put down by me and I should have had the opportunity of raising the matter on an adjournment. My experience there was that Secretaries of State were always as helpful as they could be, because, I am afraid, they thought they would get a rough deal from me if I did not get an answer. So I am very glad to have this opportunity of giving the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Greenwich, a chance to give a reason for this decision, because I cannot see any reason at all and I believe that the noble Earl, Lord Longford, feels equally bewildered by the fact that Michael Luvaglio was not considered.

I shall not make any further speech because I have done what I wanted to do. I wanted to know the reason for this decision and, in view of the fact that the Home Secretary was helpful over Michael Luvaglio, I hope that the noble Lord will be equally helpful and will let everyone know what was the reason. It is difficult in this House, where one does not know which Minister will answer because they are speaking for the Government and not really for the different Departments. I fully realise that it may not be possible for the noble Lord to give me an answer today. Government Ministers on the Front Bench are always saying that they will look into this matter. I hope that the Minister concerned will do so, and that he will let the noble Earl and everybody else who knows about this case—and myself as, I hope, a very reliable member of a democratic society—know what the problem is. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Wakefield has been a great source of strength to Mrs. Luvaglio and Michael, and I shall certainly want to convey to him and them exactly what has been said, and so I hope that I shall receive a satisfactory answer tonight.

The Earl of LONGFORD

My Lords, may I say what I should have said earlier, that the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Wakefield was particularly anxious to be with us but was unavoidably prevented from being present. Had he been here he would have spoken very strongly, on the same lines as the noble Baroness.

10.21 p.m.


My Lords, I should like the noble Baroness, who has just resumed her seat. to know that I am one among quite a large number of lawyers with considerable experience of the criminal law and its administration—as indeed was the Mr. Rhodes to whom she referred—who are quite satisfied that Michael Luvaglio was wrongly convicted, despite what was said in the court of appeal at a later stage. However, that is neither here nor there, because we cannot go into that matter on this occasion.

It is rather difficult to know what to say at this late hour of the evening. But I wish to mention that it is 10 years since the White Paper on the adult offender was published. That brought about the introduction of parole, which was, to a large extent, due to the initiative of my noble friend Lord Longford. It made the introduction of the parole system a practical political possibility. It was the outstanding accomplishment of the present Home Secretary, during his first period of Office, when he was a Cabinet Minister.

I have been looking at the White Paper fairly carefully. It is quite clear that at the very outset of the Paper Mr. Roy Jenkins set out that parole should he granted to a man who is personally qualified for it. He mentioned particularly the man's character and record. It is interesting to note that a little later he stated that this was subject to the protection of the public needs. But in one of the admirable yearly reports produced by the Parole Commission it is stated—I think in the last but one—that the prime consideration is the safety of the public, and there is hardly a word about the importance of the character and the record of the man who is seeking a parole licence.

That seems to underline a shift in the administration of the parole system. That can take place only in a system which is based—and here I disagree entirely with the noble Lord on the other side—on discretion. One of the weaknesses of the present parole scheme is that it is discretionary. I do not think that the liberty of a citizen ought to be at the discretion of the Executive, without it being properly passed upon by a judge who has examined all the circumstances of the case and come to a decision based upon them. It has been justified ever since the time of the Roman Empire on the basis of the maxim: " salus populi suprema est lex" which a perceptive and witty friend of mine once translated as: The safety of the people is the supreme humbug. Whenever an attempt is to be made to steal away liberties it is always based on that quotation. As we are now in the tenth year from the publication of the White Paper it is a suitable time to pause at this milestone and see where the road is leading. I am extraordinarily encouraged by the speech of my noble friend Lord Hunt, who really made the Parole Board a success so far as lay within his power. Certainly it has been a success. There was an interesting and valuable article in The Times the other day about the Kingston Prison near Portsmouth, which is a prison where almost every prisoner is a "lifer ", as the saying is, and which showed the tremendous interest in that prison in the parole system and how they all looked forward to their own possibility of obtaining release under that system. Incidentally, it also underlines—and this is one of the points I should like to pick out and underline again which was in the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Hunt—how very worried these prisoners are because of the lack of information.

That is certainly one of the weaknesses in the otherwise admirable annual report which the Parole Board produces. The statistics are not broken down and analysed. It says that 200 cases were considered and 150 turned down; it does not say why. I should like to know, we are enitled to know in a broad way, what are the objections. Was it entirely due to the record not being good, or was it because some of them fell within his category of prisoners who are felt to be a public danger? This is where I think the weakness lies. We must take it on trust. Somebody says that this is a case of public danger. I can see no explanation for the treatment meted out to Michael Luvaglio, except that they have decided his particular case was of this kind. If that is so, why do they not tell him so? Why has he never been told from first to last why he was, as it were, singled out from the substantial number of cases of murder in which verdicts have been found since his own case was tried?—and at the eighth or ninth years when, if you look at the statistical record, in which most of these cases are reviewed by the Parole Board and prisoners are either released on parole or promised that release will take place in due course.

There are a number of other points one would like to go into. Michael Luvaglio's record was an extraordinarily good and unblemished one at the time when he was tried for an offence which I do not think was ever proved against him. His record in the prison, it was agreed at the Home Office when the deputation was there, was unblemished. His record in prison is a splendid one. On the face of it, his was obviously a case where parole ought to have been granted. The only possible reason I can see against it is that he falls within the category of cases which are regarded as likely to be a public menace, as it were, if they are let out. Nobody who knows him could possibly believe this. The authorities in Wakefield Prison do not believe it. They all expected him to be given his parole.

I should like to say a word, in addition to what the noble Baroness has said, about the difficulty of finding another prison where he could continue with his studies. This was all based on category difficulties, technical points. The Home Office was very sympathetic to us but said that these were the prison rules and they had to be obeyed. Surely these rules established in Victorian times should be looked at and made more flexible! It is ridiculous that prison rules laid down in Victorian times should prevent Michael Luvaglio being moved to a prison nearer his mother, where he could go on with his studies in the Open University.

I would implore the Home Secretary, who is a broad-minded and sympathetic man, to get his people to look at the rules to see whether they can be altered in such a way as to prevent this sort of thing happening again. There are all these people who are turned down every year by the Parole Board, but are there not others, in similar situations, who have not had the chance of enlisting strong support from Members of Parliament and other people in the general community?

That is all I want to say, my Lords, except this. I gave the Minister notice that I had had a question put to me as to whether regarding a case coming before the Parole Board—and some of the judges on the Board are judges who have sent these men and women to prison who tried the case, summed it up to the jury and entered the verdict—the judge could be a member of the Board, or whether there was some understanding at the Parole Board that such a judge should not sit on that particular occasion? I have no particular feeling about this. In some ways it would be a considerable advantage that the judge who tried the case, and therefore knew about it, should look at it again. On the other hand, we have to look at it from the point of view of the prisoner, too. It is a well known saying among lawyers that not only must justice be done, but manifestly and clearly done. The prisoner may feel that, because the judge who tried him is on the Parole Board, he will not get a fair hearing. I am sure that is wrong, but the prisoner may have this feeling. Therefore there would be a case for making it a convention that such a judge could not sit on the Parole Board when that particular case was under discussion. I should like to ask the Minister whether he will elucidate the position on that matter.

10.32 p.m.


My Lords. I join in thanking the noble Earl, Lord Longford, for giving us the opportunity to discuss this important issue tonight. He has, with infinitely more authority than myself, covered some of the procedural difficulties that at present exist regarding the parole system, and he has also referred to the more fundamental problems of the divergent criteria which frequently influence decisions of parole. When, with pleasure, I saw on the Order Paper that the noble Earl was to raise this matter, I started thinking about it. It occurred to me the best standpoint from which to start was to consider what, after all, is the purpose of imprisoning people. One thing it is not for, surely, is vengeance. Previously in your Lordships' House, in a debate on the subject of capital punishment, I have related how I personally experienced feelings of vengeance when a good friend of mine was tortured and murdered. I came to my senses and realised vengeance does no good. The same goes for the prisoner. However detestable, however revolting, the crime may be, vengeance is counterproductive.

Having said that, I accept that there is an element of the deterrent in the prison sentence, and there must be therefore an element of retribution. But, at the end of the day, surely the most important thing of all, the real purpose of imprisonment, is that the man or woman committed to prison, when released, is less likely to commit a crime again. In other words. reformation, rehabilitation and normalisation are the essentials of imprisonment, otherwise it is a totally barbaric process, and the sooner this transformation can be brought about the better. If it can be done in four years, why keep a man in prison for 14? It is a drag on the community and is inhuman. There is much evidence that the longer a man is in prison the less likely it is that a transformation takes place.

One argument is that when a man is in prison he receives training, and that the response to that training goes according to a curve that is like a "U". When he has been in prison for a while he is at the bottom of the curve, and then begins to come up again. Certain evidence I have read (and this is authoritative) is that this is not the case. It is when a man sees he has a definite date on which he will be released that his response begins to improve. I am not an expert and I should be delighted to give way to any noble Lord who wishes to correct me on this point, but I feel rather doubtful about some of the so-called training given in prisons. I am doubtful whether it is a valid argument to say, "If we keep this man in for another three years he will start responding to training ". Some of the evidence I have read points to the contrary. The longer he is in, the more likelihood there is that he will feel frustrated, develop resentment and bitterness and adopt a despairing attitude, which means he is much less likely to be responsive than might otherwise have been the case.

How does parole fit into this? Surely it is to expedite the process of rehabilitation and normalisation. One of the snags is the uncertainty at present existing because a man does not know whether or not he will be granted parole. As has already been mentioned, if parole is refused no reason is given. This again alienates him and makes him feel that the law of the land and authority is against him, and that no matter what he does he will come up against a brick wall. To the best of my knowledge, the prisoner has no opportunity to present his case before the Parole Board, either personally or through the medium of counsel. Therefore in his eyes it is an arbitrary decision. There are no means by which he can put his case, or appeal or find out the reason for any refusal.

I am aware of these procedural difficulties, which were touched on by the noble Earl, Lord Longford, and therefore perhaps I could put to your Lordships a simplistic proposition. Why not make parole automatic after a certain proportion of the sentence has been served?—perhaps a half, perhaps a third. I do not know: I am not an expert. Such a scheme would, of course, be dependent on what I believe is technically called the "sentence tariff" and on whether or not that was altered. But if it were feasible, this would mean that the Parole Board would perhaps have to consider only those cases that were refused, and not those granted. This would save a good deal of time, because one of the main reasons for a prisoner being unable to appear before the Parole Board at present is lack of time for depositions to be made.

One way of overcoming this might be for the judge presiding over the original court at which the prisoner was sentenced to give a recommendation as to whether or not a particular case could be an exception where parole would not automatically be granted. Such a decision, in common with the sentence, would be subject to appeal. The period of parole would almost be regarded as the norm and part of the sentence. However, this raises another issue, which is whether or not the after-care services have the resources to be able to supervise as many prisoners on parole as may be involved. In considering the whole question which the noble Earl has raised, this is something which Her Majesty's Government might care to look at. It was also touched on by the noble Lord, Lord Soper.

Criticisms have been expressed of the parole system in this country, but no such criticisms could be directed towards the Parole Board or the parole system in the land that I come from, Northern Ireland. They could not be criticised at all because a system does not exist. There is no parole system there. All there is is a system of compassionate leave: men are offered a weekend or a week off for Christmas or their grandmother's funeral, to get married or something like that. But it is not parole; it is a different thing altogether. I should have thought that surely in Northern Ireland there was an even stronger case for parole than there is in this country. I should have thought that if in the enlightened way in which I know the question is being approached in this country, a review of the parole system is going to be undertaken, surely it would be even more important to thresh out and work out, in the light of the valuable experience that has been gained in this country, a suitable system for Northern Ireland.

I have made reference to the frustrating effect on a prisoner when he does not know exactly when he is going to be released. But if he is a convicted prisoner in this country at least he knows that he has been given five years' or seven years' or whatever it may be. Perhaps he does not know exactly whether he will be granted parole or what his remission will be. But think how much worse it is for the man who has been interned, detained without trial. It is completely open-ended. He has not been before a court. He has no date so that he can count the days and say, "Well, at least I shall be out this time next year." He does not know. I have been to the internment camp at Longkesh and I can assure your Lordships that it is a very depressing experience. I am not old enough to have been in a prisoner of war camp, thank Heavens! But I have been at badly run Army transit camps, where men are hanging around with nothing to do. Some of them are lying on their beds; some are propping up doorposts, smoking. A radio is blaring out trash music continuously. It is a most demoralising situation in which any person can find himself. That is the situation in which the internees and detainees in Longkesh Camp in Northern Ireland find themselves. If they have committed crimes, I do not condone that for a moment. But I should like to see the law tightened up so that they can be brought to justice. But I say that having men locked up for an indefinite period with no prospects of being able to get out is wrong. Very often when they are released they know about it only the same morning; they are told to pack their bags to go out in the afternoon. This is deplorable and completely incompatible with a civilised society.

So I would put it to your Lordships' House, that, quite apart from the other aspects that have been covered this afternoon, internment and detention without trial is something that must be got rid of. I sincerely hope that when Her Majesty's Government—and I hope this is done with urgency—consider a form of parole system for Northern Ireland, which is so badly needed, they will take into account this terrible inheritance of internment and see whether there is any way in which the system could be tailored to bring this to an end. It must come to an end one of these days. The sooner the better. I sincerely hope that Her Majesty's Government will take this situation into account.

10.44 p.m.


My Lords, I am very grateful, as I think the whole House is, to by noble friend Lord Longford for providing the opportunity today for this debate on the parole system. It is clearly a matter of great importance in the field of penal treatment and one which deserves a great deal of discussion both here and in another place, and it should be given far more attention than it sometimes receives. As the noble Earl pointed out in his speech, our system of parole is one the life of which is indeed of relatively brief duration. As has been pointed out in the debate, the statutory authority for its introduction was contained in the Criminal Justice Act 1967, which was piloted through another place by my right honourable friend the present Home Secretary. Therefore, this provision has been on the Statute Book for only about eight years.

During the course of the debate today there has been some criticism of the scheme, particularly from my noble friend but from others, too. It is clearly desirable that the scheme should be looked at critically. Nevertheless, one point should be made. It is one which was referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, who has played such a crucially important role in the development of our parole system in this country. I am sure that we are all extremely delighted that the noble Lord was able to participate in this debate today. Apart from anything else, it gives the House the opportunity to pay tribute to the very remarkable work he did as chairman of the Parole Board.

The point which the noble Lord made, with which I certainly want to associate myself and the Government, is that whatever the difficulties may have been when the Board were established and whatever criticisms may justifiably be laid at the door of the system now, the fact is that the Board have probably met one of their own central objectives; namely, to create a very substantial degree of public confidence in the way in which they carry on their work. This seems to me to be a matter of primary importance. Without that degree of confidence not only, as the noble Lord, Lord Wigoder, said a few moments ago, in the minds of the Judiciary but also in the minds of the wider public, it would be extremely difficult to maintain the degree of confidence that we now have in the system.

I am particularly interested in some aspects of the debate today, for the reason that when this Bill was being discussed between the present Home Secretary and Home Office officials I was in the Home Office in another capacity. As the House may recall, when the then Government announced their proposals so far as the parole system was concerned, they were conceived very differently from those which now operate. It was suggested at first that the decision about whether a person should or should not get parole would be made as an administrative act within the Home Office itself—that there should not be a Board but that the matter should be decided by an official, although obviously in difficult cases it would be referred to the Home Secretary. After the Government announced those proposals there was discussion of the matter and Amendments were tabled in another place which were directed at setting up a Parole Board as an alternative to the Government's proposals. There was a substantial amount of discussion about it, and the Home Secretary finally took the view that the authors of the Amendments were right and that his proposals were wrong. That is how the parole system as it now exists came into operation.

The decision was clearly right. Any alternative scheme would have been seriously defective. Noble Lords must recognise that by accepting those Amendments the Government were accepting the existence of an independent Parole Board—not one which simply followed the directions of a Home Secretary. That was a decision which was taken by both Houses of Parliament and, as I have said, I am quite clear that it was the right decision.

Were it not for the fact that it is now a little late in the evening, I was proposing to go through the essential structure of the existing parole system. However, given the fact, first, that the hour is late and, secondly, that those who are now in your Lordships' House know a fair amount about the parole system, I do not think I need to go through it in any detail.

In passing, may I deal with one point which was made by my noble friend Lord Soper. He drew attention to the fact that as a result of an omission by the present Home Secretary—and, I fear, by his predecessors, too—there are no clergymen on the existing Parole Board. I fear that until he raised this point I was unaware of it. I am sure that there are numerous Christians on the Parole Board, and that the noble Lord will acknowledge this. Nevertheless, I take his point and I am sure that my right honourable friend will want to take it into account when making further appointments to the Parole Board. It is only right to say, as he would recognise, that a number of clergymen sit as members of the local review committees. As my noble friend is aware, these committees do a great deal of extremely worthwhile work, and their job is one of increasing significance because of a number of amendments to the 1967 scheme which have been introduced recently.

Since the 1967 Act came on to the Statute Book the system has been modified in one important respect. Section 35 of the Criminal Justice Act 1972 provided that the Home Secretary could grant parole on the recommendations of the local review committee. This modification has increased the importance of the local review committee since it dispenses with the need to refer the case to the Parole Board. The classes of case to which this procedure could be applied were to be determined by the Home Secretary after consultation with the Board. It was decided to exclude some categories of offenders. But apart from those cases where the sentence imposed was not more than three years, the matter can now go straight from the local review committee to the Home Secretary. I think this is a most excellent reform and one which I know my right honourable friend regards as a considerable improvement on the original scheme.

I come now to the main structure of the present system. The Criminal Justice Act 1967 makes it clear that what Parliament intended was a purely administrative, as opposed to a judicial or quasi-judicial, procedure. This has been criticised—indeed, it has been criticised this evening—on grounds chiefly that justice is not seen to be done, and that the Parole Board are given too much power to determine the length of custody without anyone, least of all the prisoner, being able to consider and try to refute the case against his being granted parole. This criticism forms part of a general criticism of indeterminacy in sentencing, and clearly raised a number of very wide issues. These are legitimate and important issues, but inevitably they would take us a great deal further than our debate this evening. Moreover of course, as was mentioned by one noble Lord today, fresh legislation would be required to establish a very different type of parole system in this country.

Therefore this evening I shall concentrate primarily on the points made in the debate rather than on these wider issues, and begin with some of those raised by my noble friend Lord Longford. My noble friend was particularly concerned about the review by the Parole Board of the cases of prisoners serving sentences of life imprisonment, and especially the changed procedure for this that was introduced by the previous Home Secretary in 1973. Originally—though there was no hard and fast rule about this—almost all cases of life sentence prisoners were formally reviewed by the Parole Board after not more than seven years from the start of the prisoners' sentence. The Board were not however, at that time, entirely happy with this arrangement since it raised false hopes in prisoners who for various reasons could not be recommended for release so soon, and also denied the Board the opportunity of recommending earlier reviews than these might have merited. I should like to emphasise that this change was not—

The Earl of LONGFORD

My Lords, may I just refer to that last point? Is the noble Lord saying that until 1973 it was more or less impossible to release people before seven years had passed? Surely that was not the position?


My Lords, as I understand the situation, the procedure has been as I described it and invariably, although I would not of course pretend that in no case was the matter looked at before a period of seven years, nevertheless the change in practice—and I am coming to this point in a moment, which I think will answer the noble Earl—

The Earl of LONGFORD

The second point.


Well, if I may just answer I think it may meet the point that my noble friend has raised. I should emphasise that this change was not something made by the Home Office alone. It was made largely at the instigation of the Parole Board, following full discussion with them, and it was welcomed by them. It did not alter or depart from the spirit of the law. As he will recognise, there is no statutory requirement to review life sentence cases after any set interval, and the former automatic review at seven years had been no more than an administrative practice. Moreover, it does not operate solely to defer the review of prisoners' cases; as I have explained, it enables the Board to review some cases earlier than they would have done under the former arrangements leading perhaps—for example, in cases where there are strong mitigating—circumstances—to early release.

When the new procedure was introduced all prisoners then serving sentences of life imprisonment were informed of the change. There is an idea—the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Wakefield, who, unhappily, cannot be with us today mentioned it when asking a supplementary question on 22nd May—that it was not to apply to prisoners who were then in the seventh year of their sentences. This is not so. It was agreed that where arrangements for referring a case to the local review committee had already been put in hand they should continue so that prisoners who had already been told that their cases were to be reviewed would not be disappointed. But there was no intention that other cases where the prisoner was in his seventh year should go ahead, and nothing was said that could be regarded as an undertaking to that effect.

Again during these exchanges on 22nd May, my noble friend Lord Chorley asked a question about the numbers of cases of life sentence prisoners who had served seven years of imprisonment that were referred to a local review committee of the Parole Board in 1972 and in the first full year after the procedure was changed. The House may recall that I told him that in 1972 the figures were 68 prisoners, or 97 per cent. of the total number of life sentence prisoners who completed seven years' imprisonment during that year, and that in 1974 the corresponding figures were 88 prisoners or 94 per cent. These figures show that between the two years there was a decrease in the number of cases referred at the seven-year stage. But it was so slight that it certainly gives no ground for the contention that a substantial number of prisoners are now having to wait until they have completed ten years of their sentences before their cases are considered. Since the relevant sub-committee of the Parole Board met for the first time in July 1973 they have considered 326 cases. In only 18 of these, or 5½ per cent., have they decided that the cases should not be referred to the local review committee until the prisoner has served for ten years or more. Against this, in 92 cases—or almost 29 per cent.—the committee decided on reference to the local review committee earlier than seven years.

The new procedure is working satisfactorily. It has several advantages over the former procedure and, in general, it is of greater benefit to life sentence prisoners.

My noble friend Lord Longford suggested that the new procedure reduced the incentive to behave well in prison that is given by the prospect of a fairly early review by the Parole Board. With respect to my noble friend, I do not think that this argument is well based in relation to life sentence prisoners. They know from the outset of their sentences that these are indeterminate, and that among the factors to be taken into account are the nature and gravity of the offence and their behaviour and response to prison treatment. It is not at all uncommon for a life sentence prisoner to let it be known to prison staff at an early stage—he may or may not be right—that because of the nature of his offence he expects to serve, say, 12 years. Progress and behaviour in prison, along with the other relevant factors, are matters which the Parole Board sub-committee takes into account in deciding when a case should be referred to the local review committee. The incentive to do well is therefore no less under the new procedure than it was under the old.

My noble friend Lord Longford and the noble Lord, Lord Chorley, mentioned the case, as did the noble Baroness, of Michael Luvaglio. My noble friend will not, I am sure, expect me to go too deeply into this case but there are a number of comments I should like to make about it. First, there is the point made in the latter part of the speech made by the noble Lord, Lord Chorley. He implied that this man was being kept under, as I think he described them, Victorian prison rules at Wakefield Prison, and in defiance of logical common sense.


My Lords, may I just put it to the Minister that the point was that he could not be moved into another prison because of his category, although everybody agreed it would be very reasonable that he should be. It seemed to me that the categorisation ought to be more flexible so that a technical point of this kind could not stop him being moved.


My Lords, I am sure that when my noble friend looks at Hansard tomorrow he will see the very substantial emphasis he placed on the prison rules. I am bound to point out to him—indeed, this point was made by the noble Baroness—that one reason why this man is being kept at Wakefield Prison is because of his present programme of study, to which he devotes a substantial amount of his time. There are other reasons too, but that is certainly one of them. There is the further point that although the Parole Board sub-committee decided in 1974 that Mr. Luvaglio's case should not be referred to the local review committee until 1977, when he will have been detained for ten years, my right honourable friend the Home Secretary, in the light of views expressed by the delegation which has been referred to, of which indeed Lord Longford and Lord Chorley were members, did consult the chairman of the Parole Board as to whether, and if so how, the question of an early referral might be considered. The chairman of the Board convened a special meeting of the sub-committee to consider the matter further, but the subcommittee came to the conclusion that their earlier recommendation that the case should be referred to the local review committee at ten years should stand. The Home Secretary accepted the recommendation and has informed the members of the delegation of that fact.

Third, I should like to refer to a point made again during these exchanges on 22nd May by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Wakefield. He asked about an undertaking he said was given by the former Home Secretary when the new procedure was introduced, that it would not apply to prisoners already in the seventh year of imprisonment, as in this particular case. He asked whether, in view of this, I would give an undertaking that the Parole Board would be asked to grant this prisoner a review at the earliest possible date. I have already explained that no such general undertaking was given. I have also looked more closely into the circumstances of this case. The prisoner concerned asserts that he was specifically told by an assistant governor at Wakefield Prison that his case would be reviewed in 1974, when he had completed seven years. But, as the Home Secretary has told my noble friend Lord Chorley, careful inquiries have not substantiated this claim.


My Lords, as I understand it, the noble Lord is saying the Parole Board, or the local board or whoever it may be, came to the conclusion, rightly or wrongly, that the case of Michael Luvaglio should not be considered until he had served ten years, and the Home Secretary accepted that recommendation. Are we not entitled to know why it is that this distinction has been made in this case, as opposed to all the other life sentence people whose cases have been considered after they have served seven years, and why Luvaglio's case was not considered after he had served seven years?


My Lords, I think the noble Lord would be wrong to assume that this particular case was being treated in a unique way, in a way in which no other life sentence prisoner within the penal system had been treated. That is quite false. This matter was gone into in substantial detail by this sub-committee as a result of the deputation which called on the Home Secretary. Despite this reconsideration of the case, the sub-committee reinforced their previous decision and decided that the review would not take place after seven years but after ten years. One of the problems in this case referred to by my noble friend Lord Longford is the particular character of this case. A number of noble Lords have made the point that they do not believe that this man was properly convicted. The noble Lord, Lord Foot, was probably in the House when one noble Lord said it about 15 minutes ago. Although I respect the views of those who take the view that this man was not properly convicted, that is not a matter in any way related to parole. This is a serious case, and this is one of the reasons motivating the subcommittee.


My Lords, it is no part of my argument that he was improperly convicted. Many of us share the view that he was improperly convicted, but that is nothing to do with the present argument, and I am not making that point at all. Why is it that Michael Luvaglio was not considered for parole, whereas the great majority of people who have been sentenced to life imprisonment, and who have served seven years, have been considered for parole?


My Lords, the noble Lord has moved to a situation where he refers to the great majority of cases rather than implying that it is in fact all other prisoners. The sub-committee charged with this responsibility take the view that in this particular case they are not prepared to review the matter until ten years have passed. That is a matter of decision for them. It is not a matter for decision by the Home Secretary, who is using the powers conferred on him by the 1967 Act.

The Earl of LONGFORD

My Lords, the noble Lord is delivering rather a dreadful answer. So far he has caused disappointment, and before he finishes I hope he will be able to answer some of the points a little more adequately. He is reading out a brief from the Home Office; this never makes a good impression here. He has not given any reasons at all. He says the Home Secretary is not to be held responsible. In the end the Home Secretary will be held responsible, and also the noble Lord as his excellent spokesman in this House. The noble Lord can go on saying that it is just a lot of officials who are very clever people, and we cannot give the reasons. The Home Secretary will, in the end, be held responsible in the eyes of the public, and the noble Lord will find himself answering this question for many a day if he cannot do any better than he is doing now.


My Lords, the deputation went to the Home Secretary and discussed the whole matter. Is it possible for us to know what advice was given, or what the Home Secretary did, to whoever he had to report to? We do not really know anything. Masses of things are being said, but we do not know. If you have a deputation, and the Home Secretary graciously receives the deputation, presumably the Home Secretary must then decide whether or not he wants to do what the deputation wishes.


My Lords, I have got the point. My right honourable friend wrote to the chairman of the Parole Board, who is the chairman of this sub-committee. He drew the attention of the chairman of the Board, and therefore the sub-committee, to what the deputation had said. He asked for the matter to be looked at again. It was. The sub-committee came to the same conclusion as they had previously. It is a matter for them and not for the Home Secretary. That is the basis of the 1967 Act.

My noble friend Lord Longford has applied himself most diligently to this case, but he must accept the fact that Ministers act on the basis of Acts of Parliament, and that is what my right honourable friend the Home Secretary is doing.

The Earl of LONGFORD

My Lords, I am grateful for this guidance from our young Minister, but I do not need this piece of instruction.


My Lords, I am relieved to hear it, because I thought for a moment my noble friend did. I am reassured about the fact that he does not take that view. I can do many things, but I cannot do very much about my youth.


Time will tell, my Lords!


Quite so, my Lords. My noble friend is clearly right.

The noble Lord, Lord Wigoder, raised the question of life prisoners—what had happened, what the failure rate was and so on—and he was quite right to say that there is not a great deal of detail; indeed, none at all in the Report of the Parole Board on this point. However, I can answer part of his question. Over the last few years the numbers of life sentence prisoners who have had to be recalled were: in 1971, five; in 1972, three; in 1973, four; and in 1974, six. As for people who had to be recalled during the first year of their release, the figures were: one in 1971; none at all in 1972; one in 1973; and one in 1974.

I come to the questions asked by the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, whose main object is to extend the incidence of parole so that the great majority of parole eligible prisoners would in fact be granted parole. He will be aware that the system has gone far beyond the initial expectations, which were that about 20 per cent. might be granted parole. In 1972 the figure was 30 per cent. and it is now 40 per cent., not 32½ per cent. as my noble friend Lord Longford believed.

The Earl of LONGFORD

My Lords, the noble Lord really should not misrepresent me. I was using figures which had been cleared with his own Department.


My Lords, with great respect, I fear that my noble friend misunderstood the point. The figure is 40 per cent. and I think he misread it if he believed it was less than that.

I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, that the potential benefits of parole make it necessary for us to consider what can be done to extend the scope of the scheme. At this moment there are about 1,600 men and women who would be adding to the overcrowding of prisons if they had not been granted parole. Only about 8 per cent. of parolees have had to be recalled to prison for misbehaviour, and it is clear that the community has not been exposed to any substantial additional risks as a result of early release on parole.

It is of course only fair to add that the present selection procedure inevitably rejects the worst risks and, equally inevitably, granting parole to many of the worst risks would expose the public to greater dangers. This does not mean, however, that the paroling rate could not be increased without running that sort of grave risk. As the noble Lord knows there were in his time as chairman of the Parole Board continuous discussions between the Home Office and the Board about ways of increasing the paroling rate, and these still continue. Since quite early days, in addition to all cases considered suitable for parole by local review committees, some categories of cases considered unsuitable are referred to the Parole Board. As the Board recommend parole for over 20 per cent. of these cases, this practice has the effect that more prisoners get parole than would be the case if the local recommendation had been the last word. We are currently discussing with the Board the possibility of referring more of such cases to them.

The noble Lord, Lord Hunt, also suggested that courts should at the time of sentencing consider the possibility of parole and, if they consider it appropriate, recommend that parole should not be granted until the prisoner has completed a portion, greater than one-third, of his sentence. The noble Lord suggested that the Parole Board should accept such a recommendation, when made, but, if not made, should feel free to recommend parole at any time after completion of one-third of the sentence without paying any regard to the seriousness of the offence and hence any considerations of punishment or deterrence.

This is a proposal which deserves careful consideration, but perhaps I might make one comment now. It is by no means certain that this proposal would lead to earlier parole, and this was touched on, slightly obliquely, by the noble Lord, Lord Wigoder. It may indeed lead to later parole. It is worth remembering that, at the time of sentence, a court may feel the need to demonstrate strong condemnation of an offence, but that the Parole Board, with judges as members, may feel years later at a parole review that so severe an attitude is no longer justified. However, their hands would be tied by the court's recommendation. I cannot be confident where the balance of advantage would lie as between the noble Lord's proposal and the present position, but I will ensure that the suggestion is considered.

The proposal which I know the noble Lord regards as most important of all is that the Board should state the reasons for every negative recommendation and that those reasons should either be conveyed to the prisoner or should be given to the prison governor to be explained by him in his own words. This is a subject to which the Home Office and the Parole Board have given a substantial amount of attention. I believe that everyone accepts that there are powerful arguments why the reasons for refusal of parole should be known to the prisoner. Common justice requires it and the prisoner ought to have a chance of doing what he can to remove obstacles to his being paroled. But there are also formidable and complex difficulties which I can only touch upon.

It would be easy and useful to give reasons to some prisoners—indeed, perhaps to many—but in other cases it might conceivably do some harm. I am sure that the noble Lord will agree that it would be exceedingly difficult to give reasons to some and to refuse them to others. Nevertheless, I do not wish to be unduly negative about the proposals of the noble Lord. Various possibilities have been or are now being discussed by the Home Office and the Parole Board. So far, no definite conclusions have been reached. For the present, I can only say that there is a great deal of sympathy with the noble Lord's purpose and that this will be one of a number of matters which will be discussed at a series of meetings which are now taking place. I can certainly give the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, a guarantee that the point which he has made with such force will be considered on those occasions.

My Lords, I began by welcoming this debate and I shall conclude by emphasising two things: the first is that my right honourable friend the Home Secretary fully supports the concept of parole as a means of containing offenders in the community, so far as that can be reconciled with the protection which the public has a right to expect. The essence of parole is the opportunity it provides for having another look, a considerable period after sentence has been passed, at the need for a prisoner to stay in prison for as long as the court originally thought necessary. I was glad that the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, supports the view that parole reviews are justified, because a prisoner's attitude or his circumstances can and do change during the period following sentence. These changes really ought to be taken into account if prisoners are not to be left to languish in prison for years longer than any reasonable person would consider necessary.

My second point is that in theory and in practice parole raises many questions to which there are no final and conclusive answers. There is no disposition on the part of Home Office Ministers or officials or the Parole Board to regard the present system as being fixed for all time and as incapable of any improvement. On the contrary, at every meeting between the Home Office and the Parole Board, possible improvements are put forward and discussed. This debate will be of the greatest benefit to us in reexamining our present procedures and stimulating further debate about the system. The Government are most grateful to all who have taken part, particularly to my noble friend—


My Lords, before my noble friend sits down, may I ask him to answer the question I put to him as to the possibility of a convention?


My Lords, I take it that my noble friend has in mind the point about the judges. I am grateful to him in this regard. So far as I am aware, this problem has not yet arisen, but following the point he raised, I shall go into the matter. But so far as I am aware, this problem of a judge having to consider the case of a man who has previously appeared before him has not arisen. However, as I say, I shall look into this question and see whether it is desirable to have a clear ruling in this matter.


I am very grateful to my noble friend.


My Lords. I hope I shall be forgiven for intervening. I realise that, due to the late hour, the noble Lord has been trying to be as expeditious as possible, but would he be good enough to say whether Her Majesty's Government have any plans to introduce a parole system in Northern Ireland? Do they not feel there is any way that could be used to eliminate this cancer of internment that we have there?


My Lords, at this time of night I would be a little hesitant to give any clear views on the situation in Northern Ireland. I know that my right honourable friend the Secretary of State, and my honourable friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, have been looking at this matter, but I cannot give any guarantee as to when it would be possible to give an indication of what their view of the matter would be.