HL Deb 20 June 1994 vol 556 cc1-3

Lord Spens asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether the decision of the Parole Board on Friday 13th May not to grant parole to Mrs Carol Ann Riley (GB1136—HMP Drake Hall) is in line with Home Office policy.

The Minister of State, Home Office (Earl Ferrers)

My Lords, yes. The Parole Board's recommendation was based on the criteria for assessing a prisoner's suitability for release on licence, which the Home Secretary issued to the board under the Criminal Justice Act 1991.

Lord Spens

My Lords, I had thought that the Dickensian practice of the Parole Board refusing parole to inmates who had passed their "parole-by date" simply and solely because they continued to maintain their innocence had been abandoned some years ago under Home Office instructions. Is the Minister aware that the only reason why Mrs. Riley, a housewife who is allowed home freely for four days every fortnight, is kept inside is that twice this year she has been refused parole for the simple and sole reason that, She has not yet addressed her offending behaviour or realised the harm it did"? Does the Minister agree that that is a kind of doublespeak from the Parole Board? Will he explain how it is possible for a person who maintains her innocence to address her offending behaviour? Perhaps the Minister will confirm that it is truly the policy of the Home Office not to use denial of guilt as a threat to inmates? In those circumstances, will he go back to the Parole Board and ask that this case be reviewed again?

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, I do not believe that there is any "doublespeak", as the noble Lord, Lord Spens, would put it. Each case is considered on its merits. The types of issue that the Parole Board must consider are the nature and circumstance of the offence, the offending history, the inmate's behaviour in custody (including the approach to the offending behaviour and the attitude to its victim) and any relevant medical or psychiatric reports, release plans and representations which are made by the prisoner.

The fact is that the Home Secretary cannot release a person whom the Parole Board does not recommend. The whole purpose of the Parole Board is that it makes an independent judgment of the people who are applying for parole. If it is its view that the person is not considered right to be released, he or she is not released and the Home Secretary cannot alter that.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, I understand the Minister's statement about the independ-ence of the Parole Board and I do not wish to question that. However, will he confirm, as he was asked by the noble Lord, Lord Spens, that it is not the policy of the Parole Board to keep prisoners in prison after their parole date has been reached solely on the ground that they refuse to admit their guilt? I had understood that that wrong policy had been changed. It would be helpful to have that confirmed.

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, the policy of the Parole Board is a matter for the Parole Board. Each case is considered on its merits. Although Mrs. Riley has made good progress, she has not addressed her offending behaviour or realised the harm that it had done, as the noble Lord, Lord Spens, said. That is the reason why the Parole Board said that it did not think it correct to release her.

Baroness Seear

My Lords, is there not some absence of logic? If Mrs. Riley has not admitted the offence how can she reform the bad behaviour which she does not accept she has committed? I do not understand the argument. Can the Minister explain?

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, no I do not think that I very well can. The fact is that she may have maintained her innocence but she was found guilty. She must understand the effect on others of that of which she was found guilty. As I understand it, that has not yet materialised.

It would be improper for me to go into the detailed cases of individuals who seek parole. The Parole Board considered all the questions and all the merits of the case and that was the conclusion to which it came. It would not be right for a Minister to try to counteract the Parole Board's decision.

Lord Hailsham of Saint Marylebone

My Lords, in case other Members of this House share my ignorance, will my noble friend tell us what she was convicted of?

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, she was convicted of fraud. I believe that she was involved with a company which invited people to lodge money with it at an enormous rate of interest. It ended up at about 100 per cent. per month. Not surprisingly, that rate of interest did not materialise and some of the funds went down the Swanee.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, will the Minister accept that his answers have been rather worrying to some of us? Of course, nobody suggests that in individual cases there should be parliamentary comment on the decisions of the Parole Board. But the question of whether somebody should be kept in prison merely because she does not admit her guilt is surely an issue of public policy, is it not? Is that not an issue on which the Minister feels able to comment?

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, I have no reason to believe that anyone should be kept in prison simply because there is no admission of guilt. That is not the reason why that lady is being kept in prison.

Lord Campbell of Alloway

My Lords, did she enter an appeal against her conviction?

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, yes. She had two convictions. In 1990 she was convicted of two offences of fraud, to which she pleaded not guilty. She was sentenced for those offences in 1991 and received a sentence of six years. On the second occasion, in 1992, when she pleaded guilty, she received a sentence of two-and-a-half years. She appealed against that sentence and in 1994 the Court of Appeal reduced it to a year.