HL Deb 07 March 1989 vol 504 cc1356-8

2.41 p.m.

Lord Hunt asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether they have reached any conclusions regarding the report by Lord Carlisle of Bucklow on the parole system in England and Wales.

The Minister of State, Home Office (Earl Ferrers)

My Lords, my right honourable friend the Home Secretary has invited those interested to comment on the report by 10th March. We shall consider the position in the light of the comments which we receive.

Lord Hunt

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that Answer. Is he aware that I am relieved to know—if I understand his Answer correctly—that an article by Sarah Helms in the Independent on 24th January to the effect that the report of the noble Lord, Lord Carlisle, had been found to be unacceptable to Ministers and had been shelved is incorrect? Does he agree that the report proposes a more equitable combination of custody and supervision in the community than the present parole scheme and is likely to reduce the prison population and the rate of re-offending? Are those not strong arguments for accepting at least those parts of the noble Lord's report?

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, the article to which the noble Lord refers is one which I myself have not read. However if it gave the impression which the noble Lord received, it was in error. The report has not been shelved; we are considering it. We have invited comments before deciding exactly what proposals to put before Parliament. The proposals which my noble friend has made make a difference to the existing custodial and release systems and the effects have to be considered.

Lord Carlisle of Bucklow

My Lords, is my noble friend aware that the committee, which I had the honour to chair, found that many of the criticisms which led to the setting up of the committee by the Home Secretary were fully justified? It was our unanimous view that if confidence—particularly judicial confidence—is to be restored in the parole system those proposals should be implemented at the earliest possible moment.

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, I can fully understand my noble friend having a somewhat proprietorial belief in his proposals. We shall consider them and see what should be done about them. I am grateful to my noble friend for explaining that the doubts we had about the system in the first place were confirmed. He would be the first to understand that before introducing any radical changes, even after such a distinguished report as has been received, we need the comments of others.

Lord Harris of Greenwich

My Lords, does the noble Earl agree with what the noble Lord, Lord Carlisle of Bucklow, has just said: that both Parliament and the Home Office will undoubtedly derive benefit from a debate on the issue in this House? Although debates are matters for the usual channels, is the noble Earl aware that we have been pressing for one through the Government Chief Whip? I hope that as a result we shall soon have some indication that we shall be able to debate the contents of an extremely important report.

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, as the noble Lord, Lord Harris, has explained, he is only too well aware that this is a matter for the usual channels. If he has been unsuccessful in pressing my noble friend then I can only suggest that he should press him a little harder. I have no doubt that my noble friend has heard with accuracy what the noble Lord has said, but I cannot guarantee that there will be a debate.

Lord Mishcon

My Lords, when the noble Earl says that the noble Lord, Lord Carlisle, has a proprietary interest in his report, will he acknowledge that all of us who are interested in prison and parole matters share the feeling of proprietorship? Will the Minister therefore please assure the House that after the consultations have taken place to which he very properly and understandably referred, it is likely that the Government's response will be sooner rather than later?

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, always enjoys asking difficult questions. I can assure him that there will be a response from the Government. Whether it is sooner or later than the noble Lord wishes must be a matter for him to decide when the announcement is made.

Lord Boyd-Carpenter

My Lords, in view of the frequency with which the subject of parole has been raised in this House, would it not be a handicap for the Government if they did not have the advantage of hearing a discussion of the Carlisle Report in the House?

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, I am sure that the Government could only benefit from a discussion about my noble friend's report. I am bound to reiterate that when the discussion will take place is not a matter on which I could pontificate. But I have no doubt that my noble friend the Chief Whip has heard the observations of my noble friend Lord Boyd-Carpenter, as well as those of the noble Lord, Lord Harris.