HL Deb 05 March 1985 vol 460 cc1203-5

2.47 p.m.

Lord Dean of Beswick

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government whether they have any plans to review parole proceedings following the murder last year of Miss Zoe Wade by a prisoner on parole in Bradford.

The Minister of State, Home Office (Lord Elton)

My Lords, my right honourable friend the Home Secretary and I were deeply shocked by this horrible crime. We have already examined very closely the way in which the decision to release James Pollard on parole was taken. We have found that it was properly taken after careful consideration of all the information available to those who took it. We are now consulting with the Association of Chief Police Officers to see how we can ensure that the information available for this purpose is always as helpful as possible.

Lord Dean of Beswick

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord the Minister for that reply, but the noble Lord must be aware that the Answer which he has given will in no way be acceptable to the relatives of this lady, to the people in that particular area and to the people at large. When someone can commit a brutal rape and a violent assault on a woman, threaten her that if she goes to the police he will return and murder her, be found guilty, receive a four-year sentence, be paroled within two years and go back and carry out the very act that he promised to do, something is wrong somewhere, and I find no comfort at all in the Minister's explanation of what took place.

Lord Elton

My Lords, the noble Lord has placed me in the difficulty that he has not actually asked a question. However, I should say that I entirely sympathise and cannot express the depth of my sympathy for those who are relatives of the unfortunate victim of this terrible crime. I sought to explain to your Lordships that we had taken very great care over the granting of the parole; and I should tell your Lordships that, in the five years to 1983, 950 people were paroled who had committed rape, and none of them has committed a crime of this nature.

Lord Dean of Beswick

My Lords, perhaps I may ask my supplementary question and then conclude. Is it not a fact that, despite the convictions to which the noble Lord has referred, this terrible, brutal and degrading crime is still on the increase? I should like to ask the Minister whether the Government will now consider making rape a non-parolable crime.

Lord Elton

My Lords, I do not think that because of one event, however disastrous, we should consider making every crime of that sort non-parolable, because they are so very different in respect of their facts.

Lord Hunt

My Lords, will the Minister not agree that, although this crime was of a particularly horrible nature and is deeply to be deplored, it should not be construed as an adverse reflection on the operation of the parole system in general, let alone on those who advise the noble Lord's right honourable friend, those on the committees and on the Parole Board and those who are responsible for supervising people on parole? Is it not a fact that the number of offenders on parole who have been recalled for committing fresh offences has consistently been not more than 5 per cent. in any year during all the years that the system has operated, and that the number of serious offences is a tiny fraction of that number?

Lord Elton

My Lords, the noble Lord is right to be reassuring in this sense. I would only add that, whenever there is a case of this sort, we look very carefully at the procedures to make sure that, if there is any way in which they can be improved, they will be.

Lord Boyd-Carpenter

My Lords, if, as my noble friend indicated, the Parole Board was not aware of the threats that this man had made towards the woman he had previously raped, is that not indicative of the danger of interfering with sentences imposed by a trial judge who has heard all the evidence and seen the accused? If the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, is right in saying that 5 per cent. of persons paroled commit further crimes, is that not further confirmation of the dangers of the procedure being followed?

Lord Elton

My Lords, the Question relates to the procedure for granting parole to prisoners. I believe that it is inevitable that there will be what we call failures on parole. The function of the Parole Board is to make that risk to the public the minimal that is achievable. When there is a breakdown of this sort, it is right that noble Lords should be very anxious and that Ministers should be required to look carefully at the procedure.

Lord Donaldson of Kingsbridge

My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that, if one were to follow the main Question and what the noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter, has just said, the natural recourse would be to keep everyone who had committed a serious crime in prison indefinitely, or at least until the very end of the longest sentence that an individual was given? Will the noble Lord agree that the courts are absolutely content with the present parole system? They do not find it necessary to alter their sentences because of its existence. I am sure that the noble Lord will agree that it is absolutely wrong to use one disastrous instance as a reason for altering the general procedure, which is working very well.

Lord Elton

My Lords, I would simply add to those remarks that if in every case prisoners were kept until the very end of their prison sentences, there would be no opportunity to keep them under supervision at any stage after they had been released into the community. That would reduce a protection which the community now enjoys.