HL Deb 30 June 1992 vol 538 cc659-60

2.58 p.m.

Lord Astor of Hever asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether they consider that the procedures for the early release of prisoners, or the halting of trials on medical grounds, are adequate to prevent abuse.

Viscount Astor

My Lords, yes. The Government consider that the procedures which govern the early release of prisoners on licence are adequate to prevent abuse. The medical condition of a prisoner is only one of the factors taken into account when assessing his or her suitability for release on licence. The halting of trials on medical grounds is a matter for the discretion of the judge concerned.

Lord Astor of Hever

My Lords, I thank my noble kinsman for that helpful reply. Are the Government satisfied with the standard of medical evidence available to the courts and the Parole Board? What factors are taken into account by the Parole Board when deciding on release?

Viscount Astor

My Lords, judges and the Parole Board must take decisions on the best medical evidence available. If they are not satisfied with the medical evidence, they may call for further expert medical opinion. Many factors are considered when assessing suitability for release on licence, including the nature and seriousness of the offence personal and criminal history, the inmate's behaviour in prison, any relevant medical factors, release plans and any representations made by the inmate.

Lord Molloy

My Lords, is the Minister aware that people are concerned that prisoners who have committed heinous crimes are released at an early date and then repeat the kind of crimes for which they were committed to prison in the first place? Should not the Government consider the matter?

Viscount Astor

My Lords, that is obviously a concern. We have announced a review of our policy. We have announced that we shall abolish a restrictive policy on parole immediately. That is being done prior to the Criminal Justice Act coming into force on 1st October.

Lord Tordoff

My Lords, are there any mechanisms available for the recall of prisoners released with apparently terminal problems who suddenly make miraculous recoveries immediately after release?

Viscount Astor

My Lords, I understand that those on parole licence are only recalled to prison if they re-offend or breach the conditions of their licence.

Lord Dean of Beswick

My Lords, in reply to his noble kinsman the Minister said that judges and the Parole Board act only on adequate and proper medical evidence. Is that not contradicted by the fact that a person involved in the Guinness trial was given a custodial sentence and then released when the medical evidence on which he was released has since been debunked by three senior specialists in Alzheimer's disease? How can lay people be expected to believe that medical evidence is factual, accurate and unbiased?

Viscount Astor

My Lords, I understand the noble Lord is referring to Mr. Saunders. Mr. Saunders was released on parole licence after serving the normal one-third of his sentence. All prisoners serving more than 12 months in prison are eligible to be considered for parole at that stage of their sentence. Mr. Saunders's sentence had earlier been reduced by the Court of Appeal.

The Earl of Longford

My Lords, is the Minister aware that everyone who has considered this matter condemns the fact that the Parole Board does not give reasons for refusing parole?

Viscount Astor

My Lords, it is a matter for the Parole Board and the Home Secretary.

Lord Richard

My Lords, is the noble Viscount aware that early release seems to have the most efficacious effect upon a whole range of conditions and diseases? Will he say whether this series of miraculous cures seems to be on the increase, is at about the same level as it was in the previous year, or is declining? Will the noble Viscount assure us that in cases of this kind independent medical evidence is made available to the courts?

Viscount Astor

My Lords, perhaps the figures reflect the adequacy of prison regimes and the fact that people are treated well in prison and feel well when they leave prison.