§ 2.48 p.m.
§ Lord Boyd-Carpenter asked Her Majesty's Government:
§ How many grants of home leave and temporary release from prisons were made to prisoners serving terms of 20 years' imprisonment or more during the past year.
'The Minister of State, Home Office (Earl Ferrers)
My Lords, I regret that the information requested is not held centrally.
§ Lord Boyd-Carpenter
My Lords, is my noble friend the Minister happy with the thought that that development—which, as I understand it, is spreading and could erode somewhat the deterrent effect of long sentences—is not even known to the Home Office?
My Lords, the Home Office is a fount of all wisdom and also of knowledge, but not actually in the form requested by my noble friend. There are only 237 prisoners who have been sentenced to 20 years' imprisonment or more in the system and only 78 prisoners who have been sentenced to life imprisonment, but it would mean checking the record of each prisoner to find out whether the person had applied for such leave and whether it had been refused or accepted. It would be quite an undertaking.
§ Lord Ashley of Stoke
My Lords, on such an important matter would it really be too much trouble for the Home Office to go through the records, especially as the noble Earl has been assured there are so few prisoners to whom this matter applies? Is the noble Earl not aware that far too often Ministers say they do not have the information that is being sought and evade parliamentary scrutiny? That simply is not good enough.
My Lords, I quite understand the noble Lord's anxiety on this issue. I expressed that anxiety when I inquired about these matters. I can inform the noble Lord, however, that 30,000 grants of home leave are granted per year and 35,000 grants of temporary release. However, in order to determine how 564 many of those grants of home leave and temporary release apply to prisoners serving terms of 20 years or more, one would have to examine each individual record.
§ Lord Ennals
My Lords, at this particular time there: is a great deal of concern about the position of people in prison. The views of various people who may express different opinions are taken at various times. At a time when the Home Office must take important decisions, does it not feel that it is absolutely essential to have this sort of information? For the Minister to say that this information is not available is simply not good enough.
My Lords, there is information as regards how much home leave is granted, but we do not have the specific information as regards how much home leave has been granted to prisoners who are serving terms of 20 years or more. That is rather like asking how much leave has been given to prisoners who have fair hair. To find the information the noble Lord wishes to have would involve going through every single record.
My Lords, the noble Lord says "No" but I can assure him it would involve going through every single prisoner's record. That would be possible. but it could only be done at: disproportionate cost. That information is not available as a statistic.
§ Lord Gisborough
My Lords, has my noble friend any figures on the amount of crime committed by prisoners on home leave?
§ Lord McIntosh of Haringey
My Lords, the Minister has just said in response to previous questions that to find out how many prisoners serving life terms or terms of 20 years or more were granted home leave and temporary release last year—he said it was a question of only a few prisoners—one would have to investigate 30,000 records. I suggest there is a much quicker way of finding out that information and that is to go directly to the prisoners who are serving terms of 20 years or life imprisonment terms and find out whether they have been granted leave rather than search for a needle in a. haystack.
My Lords, much to my surprise the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, has got it wrong. I did riot say it would be necessary to go through 30,000 records. I said there are certain statistics which are held centrally and which are available. To satisfy the specific request of my noble friend it would be necessary to go through all those records of prisoners who are serving indeterminate sentences and those who are serving determinate sentences, find out how many have applied for home leave and temporary release and whether their 565 applications were granted. I am sure that that could be done but I suggest it could only be done at disproportionate cost.
§ Lord McIntosh of Haringey
My Lords, not only would it be easy to find out that information but also the fact that it has not been done calls into question the nature of the contract that the Home Office has with the independent prison service.
§ Lord Boyd-Carpenter
My Lords, would it not be perfectly easy, instead of going through the records as my noble friend suggests, simply to write to the governors of prisons and ask them for the information?
My Lords, if there had been a simple way out I would have taken it, as I thought I would get into this kind of trouble by giving the Answer which I gave. That is the reason why I tested the system vigorously and was persuaded that this information could only be determined at disproportionate cost. I knew that my noble friend Lord Boyd-Carpenter, who is so concerned about public expenditure, would not wish that to happen.
§ Lord Monkswell
My Lords, what action are the Government taking to ensure that statistics and information of this kind are more readily available in the future?
My Lords, the statistics which the Home Office keeps are voluminous. I know that is a fact as I have seen them and they are perpetually flung at me. I can assure the noble Lord that many statistics are kept but when one asks how many prisoners have been released for whatever reason after having served five, 15, 20 or 36 years, one needs to engage in more than statistical analysis.
§ Lord Harmar-Nicholls
My Lords, is my noble friend aware that many of us would consider his Answer sensible? We all know that the Questions on the Order Paper seek to make a point. This Question too seeks to make a point. To nit-pick and to indulge in all kinds of expedients to obtain detailed replies from the Minister which neither add nor subtract anything from the principle of the matter is rather a stupid way of running the show.
My Lords, I am deeply grateful to my noble friend Lord Harmar-Nicholls, whose wisdom, as usual, comes to the fore on these occasions. I agree with him that the aim of the Question is to make a point but I am still not quite certain what that point is.
§ Lord Mishcon
My Lords, I hope I may remind the noble Earl what the Question really implies. Will he kindly tell the House, if he cannot give the information that was required, what is the policy of the Home Office, if any, in regard to those prisoners serving 20 years or more being granted'home leave or other liberty? If the Minister will kindly tell us the policy, we might excuse him the detail.
My Lords, the policy is that category D prisoners are eligible for home leave every two months before 1st October 1992 from the parole eligibility date and after 1st October 1992 from one-third of the sentence expiry date. Category C prisoners are eligible for home leave once every six months. Category B prisoners have one opportunity for home leave and that occurs nine months before they are released. Category A prisoners are excluded from this eligibility. There is no quota for giving prisoners home leave or temporary release. Each case is considered on its merits and home leave or temporary release is granted only if no risk to public safety is envisaged.