HL Deb 27 April 1995 vol 563 cc1082-94

7.4 p.m.

The Earl of Longford rose to ask Her Majesty's Government why the Home Secretary has informed certain prisoners that they are to remain in prison for the rest of their lives.

The noble Earl said: My Lords, I am grateful to all noble Lords who are to take part in the debate, especially the right reverend Prelate, because I am sure that he will underline the fine message in favour of penal reform delivered recently by the right reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury. I have my usual sympathy for the Minister, whose sensitive soul is tortured by the moral dilemma of defending something that is indefensible. I think that I shall say that again and again. However, she cannot help it. There it is. It is her job.

The idea of life meaning life was first propounded publicly by the Home Secretary last December. It was of course unprecedented, despite some contradictory answers on that point given to me later by the Minister, and it was understood to mean that these unfortunate prisoners would remain in prison until they died. That was the public's impression, and it was the impression created on the prisoners, one of whom had to be placed under 24-hour guard lest she commit suicide. There is no doubt that the intention was to create that impression.

The decision was criticised sharply later by, for example, the noble and learned Lord Donaldson, the former Master of the Rolls, in a radio talk early in the New Year, when he pointed out that no Home Secretary had the right to bind his successors. He said that it was cruel to say to Myra Hindley—he mentioned Myra Hindley in particular—that she had no hope of ever coming out. I know that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Donaldson, would have liked to be with us tonight. No doubt he would have spoken along the same lines.

That was how the matter was left until it was debated here. The noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Alloway, extracted from the Government the admission—about three months after the original announcement—that Mr. Howard could not bind his successors. That point was cleared up. In the meantime it had caused a great deal of unnecessary pain—pain which was no doubt unwelcome to the Minister, but it was pain all right.

Having disposed of the disingenuous tactics used in making the announcement, we come to the issue. There are a number of people serving life imprisonment. My noble friend Lord McIntosh has obtained details, but I know one of them very well—Myra Hindley. I first visited her in prison in 1968. I know another prisoner in this category also. Those are not the only prisoners serving a life sentence for murder whom I know well. I am in touch with about 10, I suppose, out of the 2,400 at present serving life sentences.

Let us take the case of Myra Hindley. We all remember that she was involved in horrible crimes. She was a girl infatuated with her accomplice, a man who has been in a special hospital for many years, She has always agreed that it is only right and proper that she should serve many years in prison. She has now been in prison for nearly 29 years.

When Myra Hindley was first sentenced, the Lord Chief Justice recommended 25 years, but later, Ministers secretly, or without conveying the decision to the public, decided that she should serve 30 years. Later still, the noble Lord, Lord Waddington, who was Home Secretary at the time, decided that life should mean life. That decision was not conveyed to the public. For whatever reason, it was kept dark. At any rate, that was the infamous decision reached at that time. Now, Mr. Howard, whether willingly or because he was forced as a result of various judicial decisions, announced that life would mean life.

We can consider the matter on its merits. If I take that particular case—my noble friend Lord McIntosh may tell us about others—there is someone who, by no conceivable stretch of the imagination is a danger to the public. It is years since the then chairman of the Parole Board told me that she was no danger. Since then, she has been twice recommended for parole by the local review committee, so there is no question of danger, but Mr. Howard has insisted that, however virtuous she becomes, she should stay in prison for the rest of her life. I can only describe that as an evil decision.

We may ask what is the explanation for that. I am afraid that there is only one possible explanation. Mr. Howard is a very intelligent man and for all I know, he may be an excellent man in his private life. This Government are the most unpopular government in history. We all know that they are many, many points behind the Labour Party in the polls and they are about to receive a crushing defeat in the local elections. This immensely unpopular Government are making frantic endeavours to endear themselves to the cruder elements of the public.

One must admit that they have been assisted by the tabloid press. I take the Sun as an example. I should say that Myra Hindley has recently broken her hip and is now in prison hospital, having had an operation. The Sun, which is undoubtedly close to Mr. Howard in its thinking, pointed out that, although I would probably be sympathetic, everyone else would wish that she had broken her neck. That is the kind of tabloid expression of opinion which has built up hatred towards that person over the years. The Sun calls her a monster and is begging her to write an article for it. That is the tabloid support for Mr. Howard's policies.

Therefore, we have that policy. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Donaldson, says it is cruel to remove all hope from prisoners. That has never been done before. It is totally anti-Christian, which should shock the noble Baroness, who is a good Christian. It takes us half-way back to capital punishment.

To be fair for once to Mr. Howard, I believe that he is now against capital punishment. Earlier he was in favour of it but he is now against it. That is in his favour. But his policy takes us back to the debates in this House in 1957, when I heard the Lord Chief Justice of the time say about one man who had been convicted of murder that such a man should be destroyed. That is the attitude of those who say that some prisoners should remain in prison for life. Some people believe that some sins cannot be forgiven and that such a person should be destroyed. I shall not ask the noble Baroness again whether she can reconcile that with her conscience because I believe that that is unfair. She has a tender conscience and that would be an occasion of mortal sin. But I put on record that I believe that that policy is fiendish. I hope that, when a Labour Government take power or even when a different Home Secretary takes over, that policy will be forgotten and repudiated as far as it ever can be.

7.15 p.m.

The Lord Bishop of Lichfield

My Lords, I understand that it has always been possible to keep a person in prison for the rest of his or her life within our system. I, for one, accept that there is a need for society to be able to repudiate horrific crimes with sufficient severity and without resorting to capital punishment. However, I wish to add that the Christian tradition and other traditions are not only about peace and forgiveness but are also about justice, reparation and repentance. Therefore, in some cases a life sentence may have to mean what it says; that is, life-long imprisonment.

On the other hand, there is the profoundly important consideration underlined by the noble Earl, Lord Longford, that nobody is irredeemably evil. People can and do change. That can be for a wide range of reasons which may include remorse, maturity, growth in insight, ageing, the influence of other people, and personal and spiritual change. The mystery of personality of whatever kind is that it can change. Therefore, it is surely a near-fatal blow to any person, however heinous his crime, to be told that however deeply and seriously he repents, and whatever real and lasting transformation is achieved, there can never be any hope of a fresh life outside prison.

However severely society needs to repudiate a terrible crime, as the noble Earl has already pinpointed, should there not always be some hope of eventual rehabilitation following both just punishment and true repentance? To lose hope is to lose a key part of our humanity.

One of the prison chaplains with whom I have contact reminded me recently that a declared purpose of the prison system is not only to punish crime but also to nurture that precious virtue of hope which can be a catalyst both to personal change and future rehabilitation.

My most serious anxiety is that the disclosure of a sentence lasting for the rest of a natural human life could eradicate hope. It is no wonder that, as the noble Earl told us, one lady needed a 24-hour guard to prevent her from committing suicide.

At another time the noble Earl, Lord Longford, has quoted a well-known saying of Augustine that we hate the sin but love the sinner. I want to argue that in a civilised society, we must not only hate the sin but also maintain hope for the sinner.

Finally, although I am a layman in these matters, I understand that for all prisoners serving life sentences the Home Secretary has an important ministerial power; that is, the power to review each case when the prisoner in question has been in custody for 25 years. Indeed, I understand that the Home Secretary has further powers to review the case every five years after that first 25-year review. May we be assured that the Home Secretary will exercise those powers for the 17 people about whom we are concerned? Further, when the Home Secretary undertakes his review, will he take account not only of considerations of retribution and deterrence but also of evidence of contrition, change, and, therefore, the hope of rehabilitation?

Let us hate the sin but let us not give up all hope or, importantly, allow the prisoners to give up hope for the sinners themselves.

7.18 p.m.

Lord Monson

My Lords, I agree with a great deal of what the right reverend Prelate said. But the first objection to informing people that they are to be kept in prison literally to the end of their lives, even if they are by that time enfeebled and utterly harmless, is pragmatic and utilitarian. If there is to be no remission whatever for good behaviour, there can be no incentive to co-operate or to behave well, and no disincentive, should the prisoner be so inclined, to refrain from murdering or causing grievous bodily harm to a prisoner or prison officer, given that the penalties for so doing are minor compared with the prospect of spending another 50 or 60 years in prison come what may. In other words, the decision would seem to be prejudicial to the maintenance of good order and discipline.

The second objection—which refers back to what both the noble Earl and the right reverend Prelate said—is a moral one, if that does not sound too pompous. To rule that prisoners, however well they behave and however much they repent and try to atone for their dreadful crimes, can never be released under any circumstances is actually more cruel than inflicting the death penalty. At least the death penalty fulfils one of the main criteria for a just punishment; namely, that it should follow as quickly as possible upon the crime. I refer, of course, to the relatively speedy and efficient former English procedure and not what we have recently seen in the United States of America.

In contrast, by continuing to punish people possibly 50 or 60 years after the event you are in effect punishing a totally different individual, physically, mentally and emotionally, from the one who originally perpetrated the crime. After all, that was one of the objections—although by no means the only one—to instigating war crimes trials 50, 51 or 52 years after the events in question.

When the whole issue of the death penalty was being debated in the 1960s, liberal-minded friends and acquaintances used to say that, even for those guilty of the most heinous murders, they opposed the death penalty. Instead, they favoured locking up those individuals for life and "throwing away the key", to use a phrase that was greatly in vogue at the time. They imagined that they were being humane but actually they were being squeamish which is a very different kettle of fish: humane they were not.

I return to the main issue. The Government will undoubtedly argue that there are two categories of prisoner who can never be released in any circumstances, even after perhaps 50 or 60 years. The first category consists of those deemed to be chronically homicidal and hence perpetually dangerous. What? Even if they have become bedridden, three-quarters blind or so crippled with arthritis that they can scarcely move? I suggest that the words "never released" in that case should be replaced with "not released until they are physically harmless." Further, once those prisoners have served the term of years which a trial judge originally deemed necessary to satisfy the requirements of retribution and deterrence, their status should revert from that of prisoner to one of what one might call "preventive detainee", rather like someone compulsorily detained in a mental hospital, with correspondingly improved conditions and amenities subject, of course, to the requirement of security. After all, the period of years which they have served as pure punishment has elapsed by that time.

The second category of prisoner and the one, I believe, upon which the noble Earl was mainly concentrating—the non-dangerous types, by which I mean people who were once dangerous but who are no longer so—consists of those the Government dare not release for fear of public opinion and consequent adverse electoral consequences, even though they have served fully the period recommended by a trial judge as being sufficient to satisfy the requirements of retribution and deterrence.

The Government have only themselves to blame in that respect. It is their absurd insistence on retaining so called "life" as the only sentence for murder that is responsible for their dilemma. Far from reassuring members of the public, so called "life" arouses their suspicions. First, the general public are firmly of the impression that life equals, in practice, nine years. I believe that it was true at one time that that was the average period of imprisonment served by life prisoners when capital punishment was in operation and only those reprieved were, by definition, serving life imprisonment. That is no longer the case.

Then, and more importantly, there is the quite understandable confusion between what might be termed gross and net sentences. On one day people read in the newspapers that a judge has sentenced a bank robber who has shot and wounded, for example, two security guards and a police officer to 22 years' imprisonment. The very next day they may read in the newspapers that the same judge has sentenced a murderer to life with a recommendation that he serve not less than 20 years. The public is understandably outraged, imagining that the murderer got off more lightly than the bank robber. Of course, he did not. The murderer's sentence is tantamount to 40 years gross; but the public can hardly be expected to grasp that fact.

If, instead, the law were altered so that judges could impose gross sentences ranging from, let us say, three or four years—or possibly even less—for a mercy killing; five to 12 years, but possibly more in the worst cases, for domestic murders; 25 to 45 years for ruthless, professional criminals who prefer to shoot their way out of a robbery; and the really dramatic, headline grabbing sentences of 50, 60 or 70 years' imprisonment for ultra-heinous crimes, happily perpetrated on average no more than once every 10 years—for example, deliberate child murders, or for murderers who blow up a passenger aircraft—members of the public would be largely satisfied, though not wholly, I grant. Those who are rightly sentenced to very long, determinate terms, unless they happen already to be middle-aged (and not many fall into that category) will be able to see a light, however faint, at the end of the tunnel, and will improve their behaviour accordingly.

7.26 p.m.

Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank

My Lords, I was tempted to remain seated and, therefore, to allow the Minister rather longer to reply. That is because I believe the issues behind the Question have been very well expressed in the course of tonight's short debate. The noble Earl, Lord Longford, said that what we needed was clarification as to whether the words really did mean what they said, or whether it has now been very plainly conceded that the present Home Secretary could not bind his successor. We need to be sure which is the case. However, even if the second interpretation is correct, I have to say that the intention is in the wish. The present Home Secretary expressed the view that some prisoners should remain in prison for the rest of their lives. Whether that is possible constitutionally does not take away the fact that he made the statement and that that is his own clear preference.

The right reverend Prelate talked about justice, repentance and reparation. He said that no one is irredeemably evil. I believe that that is a sentiment which many of us who may not be as close to the Church as is the right reverend Prelate would indeed share. I do not believe that anyone in this House today, or on other occasions, could deny that the idea of redemption must have its place in our penal system. If prisoners are to remain in prison for the rest of their lives, the opportunity for redemption is totally excluded.

The noble Lord, Lord Monson, was most thoughtful and persuasive. I listened to him with the greatest of care. We should be immensely grateful, as always, to the noble Earl, Lord Longford, for probing so acutely into a dark comer of government penal policy. Over very many years, the noble Earl has defied popular criticism—and, if I may say so, some ridicule—in the causes that he has espoused. However, he has always been brave and nine times out of ten—if I am allowed to make that slight amendment—he has been right. I certainly believe that he is right on the issue under discussion.

In his usual sincere but subtle way, the noble Earl said, in effect, although I must not put words into his mouth, that the Minister should not be held responsible for the sins of the Home Secretary. Indeed, some of those, if you like, "sins of report", were committed during that famous speech at the Conservative Conference in 1993 before the noble Baroness was a Minister in the department. Therefore, one cannot hold the noble Baroness responsible for them. However, some of those sentences were expressed in a more austere way (I recall that "austere" is one of the Home Secretary's favourite words for applying to prisons to which he wants to condemn some people forever), in the Home Secretary's speech during the Debate on the Address on 18th November last in another place.

As the noble Earl, Lord Longford, said, it is impossible—and one has to make that point now—to separate the issue, its presentation and the sentiments behind it from the whole thrust of the policies of the present Home Secretary. The noble Earl, Lord Longford, referred to those policies as appealing to cruder elements. That was a restrained way of saying what I would say; namely, that there has been a great deal of saloon bar populism in much of what the Home Secretary has said. Of course a Home Secretary who is a member of a Cabinet in a government which is responsible to an elected Parliament must take account of public opinion on this, as on other issues. But it is the role of Ministers to lead and not follow. I am afraid that in so many respects the present Home Secretary has chosen to follow and not to make a case for policies which substantially address the issues before the country. I remember the phrase used in the debate on 18th November last to which I have already referred, when he said: My task is to provide our country with the system of criminal justice for which it yearns".—[Official Report, Commons, 18/11/94; col. 239.] He did not refer to the most effective system of criminal justice, or the morally right system of criminal justice, but the system of criminal justice "for which it yearns".

In a different context I was interested to see the recent consultation document on strengthening punishment in the community, which stated at paragraph 2.6, The present arrangements suffer from the drawback that probation and supervision orders do not appear to the public to offer sufficient punishment … Probation supervision is still widely regarded as a soft option. Although in many cases this perception may be misconceived, it must be addressed". The usual way of dealing with a misconceived perception is to confront and to change it. However, I am afraid that is not the case with this Home Secretary in penal matters. His rule appears to me to be a case of, "Give me a misconceived perception and I will yield to it". That is, in my view, the background to the matters which we are discussing this evening.

The Minister missed the debate on training for the probation service that was held in this House a short time ago. However, I think she will know that the whole House, across all parties, was deeply distressed by the Home Secretary's proposals. No doubt the popular press would applaud ex-military policemen strutting their stuff with men on probation. However, that would not be a policy but an emotional spasm and that would be no way of dealing with the situation which this House fully recognised in the debate which was held only a short time ago.

As I say, I believe these issues form a background to the matter we are discussing this evening. However, there is another matter which it would perhaps be satisfactory to examine on a different occasion, and that is to consider what is the role of the Home Secretary on matters which otherwise might be thought to be appropriate to the judges and the courts. The Home Secretary has made a feature of the separation of the day-to-day responsibility of the Prison Service from the responsibility of the Home Secretary. In the debate on the matter Members of this House had doubts about whether that separation was effective. However, it is part of the Home Secretary's view —and let us take it on its merits—that there are strategic responsibilities which are his and day-to-day responsibilities which can be hived off to the director of the Prison Service.

If that is indeed the case, surely the Home Secretary should be drawing a clear line between the strategic issues of policy governing our penal policy, and leaving it to the judges and the courts to make these decisions. If the Home Secretary is afraid of what the popular newspapers will say about him if he fails to act in the way that he has been doing, the easiest route would be to say, "These are not matters appropriate to a Minister in a Government who is bound to be subject to strong day-to-day pressures. In some way they should be removed from ministerial responsibility altogether".

The Home Secretary has set his own performance targets and has boasted about them. He believes that to have more and more people in prison is a measure of success. If the Minister doubts that, I refer her to paragraph 3 of page 12 of the Central Office press release of 6th October 1993, in which the Home Secretary said very plainly that more people in prison could be a measure of the success of his policies.

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, I notice that from his first quotation to his second quotation the noble Lord has made some interesting changes. I would ask the noble Lord to tell the House—because he is making this a very public statement—when and where he saw or heard my right honourable friend the Home Secretary saying, "More and more prisoners is a sign of success".

Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank

My Lords, if I have summarised the Home Secretary's views inadequately, let me clarify the matter. I quote from the press release: This may mean that more people will go to prison. I do not flinch from that. We shall no longer judge the success of our system of justice by a fall in our prison population". If one is not going to judge the success of the system by a fall in the prison population, it is not unreasonable to believe that one will judge it by an increase in the prison population. I shall not give way for a moment. This is a matter of opinion. The noble Baroness can express a different opinion when she replies to the debate. I would be happy to submit it to the judgment of laymen that most people would read that paragraph as I have expressed it.

I recognise the moral dilemma of the Minister. I do not wish in any way to be unfair to her. I know that she must defend the Home Secretary. But, if he meant what he said when he used the words that he did—let me put it that way —about numbers, then I think that perhaps he judges his own performance not only by numbers but by how many of those who are in prison now will stay in prison forever. That is a poor measure of success for a Home Secretary and it would be good if the Minister was able at least gently to dissociate herself from some of the harsher aspects of it.

7.36 p.m.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, my noble friend Lord Longford is, as always, to be congratulated on his persistence in raising these humanitarian issues of penal policy before your Lordships' House. If we take his Question literally, it could be interpreted in a relatively minor sense as regards, why the Home Secretary has informed certain prisoners that they are to remain in prison for the rest of their lives". The Question could be thought to be about the notification to prisoners rather than about the principle of whether prisoners should serve what I think is called "whole life". I shall dispose of that, I believe, secondary issue as quickly as I can because my noble friend and subsequent speakers have all talked about the more important issue of whether it is right for prisoners to be in prison for all of their lives.

I am grateful to the Minister for the replies she has given to me in recent months on the notification procedures which the Home Secretary announced at the end of last year. She has told me that the process of notification for general prisons as opposed to psychiatric prisons or secure hospitals should have been completed by now I believe and that 15—or it may now be 17—prisoners have been notified of the tariff which has been allocated by the Home Secretary.

I, personally, do not object to the process of notification. If one is to have a tariff, it is proper that those who are subject to that tariff should be told openly what the tariff is rather than be kept in the dark. As regards that secondary issue, I have no difficulty with the decisions of the Home Secretary. But, of course, the issue is much more profound than that. The issue concerns not whether notification is a good thing but whether a whole life—in other words, staying in prison until one dies—is a proper instrument of penal policy, or indeed a proper concept for a humane society to adopt. The response of noble Lords to my noble friend's Question and his characteristically passionate and morally based speech indicate that there is something profoundly wrong about telling people that they are going to stay in prison for the rest of their lives.

Of course there are other considerations, and above all the consideration of danger to the public. Nobody will say that those who continue to be a danger to the public because they have uncontrollable homicidal tendencies should be released into the community. The public anxiety on the matter is entirely justified. However, those are not the people serving in ordinary prisons. They are people who have, perhaps physically based, psychiatric problems which mean that they are not detained for deterrence but for their own safety and the safety of people around them. In effect, they are detained, as the noble Lord, Lord Monson, suggested in secure hospitals rather than in prison. Let us put that aspect on one side.

The protection of the public does, of course, require that there should be people in places like Broadmoor who will never be released during the term of their natural lives, even when they become enfeebled. That is not what we are debating tonight. We are dealing with the issue of those who are capable of repentance and change. As a non-Christian I believe with the Christians that we are all capable of repentance and of change.

We are debating a system which has been adopted by the Home Secretary. First, he has decided that he, the politician, Member of Parliament and Home Secretary, has the right to change the tariff which has been determined by the trial judge and the Lord Chief Justice. Not surprisingly, in recent years such changes have always involved an increase in the tariff rather than a decrease. Secondly, the Home Secretary will tell people who are of sound mind and capable of repentance that they will never be released. I suggest that that is morally wrong and cannot be defended either in terms of humanity or, as the noble Lord, Lord Rodgers, made clear, in terms of the way prisons are run.

If people are to be restrained or confined, there has to be some sanction upon them. The noble Lord, Lord Monson, very effectively made the point that the sanction has to include the prospect of some reward at the end of a period of imprisonment. If the period of imprisonment is for life with no prospect of anything else, then the whole relationship between the prisoner and the institution in which he is confined changes. It becomes a relationship without hope, as the right reverend Prelate said, and a relationship which is destructive, not only for the prisoner and the institution but for all other prisoners who are confined in the same institution.

It is not a dereliction from our concern for public safety that leads me to say that I agree with my noble friend and all those who have spoken. It cannot be right for us to decide, and above all for politicians to decide, that prisoners serving mandatory life sentences should never be released.

7.44 p.m.

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, I know that the noble Earl, Lord Longford, speaks very much from the heart on these matters. I understand his concern about those prisoners who have been informed in recent months that previous Ministers have considered that the nature of their crimes demands that they should remain in prison for the rest of their lives—in other words, a whole life tariff has been set. I know that a number of noble Lords, including some who have spoken during this evening's debate, share that concern.

The issue here is a simple one. Is it right that in some cases a life sentence should mean just that? The Government's view is that it is entirely proper that in the very worst cases the extreme rigour of the law should be allowed to take its course. Indeed, we believe that there would be outrage in the community if some murderers were to be released into the community.

As I explained to your Lordships' House in response to the Starred Question of the noble Earl, Lord Longford, on 20th March, the sentence of imprisonment for life imposed by the courts affords sufficient legal authority to detain a person so sentenced for the remainder of his or her natural life. However, the imposition of a life sentence does not mean in practice that all murderers will be incarcerated for life. Far from it. In the vast majority of cases it has always been considered right that the extreme rigour of the law should be mitigated.

Perhaps I may give the current figures. Of 2,500 murderers serving mandatory life sentences, there are 16 people for whom a life sentence has been said to mean life and whose tariffs have been disclosed to them.

The period which must be served to satisfy the requirements of retribution and deterrence is fixed by the Secretary of State only after very careful consideration of the case, including, very importantly, the views of the judiciary—the trial judge and the Lord Chief Justice. I can assure your Lordships that it is not a decision that is taken likely. The tariff in a particular case will be tailored to reflect the specifics of that case. In a small number of instances the horrific nature of the crime may require that the period must be the whole of the murderer's life. We cannot escape from the fact that where the gravity of an offence is such that it can only be reflected by detaining the offender for the rest of his life a life sentence will, and indeed should, mean life.

When discussing this issue, it is important that we give a thought to those victims—innocent men, women and children —who received a life sentence and for whom there was no opportunity to consider parole or release, victims who were cruelly cut down by those who are the subject of this debate.

As your Lordships are aware, the prisoners who have been informed that previous Ministers set a whole life tariff in their cases have been offered an opportunity to make representations against that decision. No decisions have yet been made by current Ministers to confirm or vary those tariffs. I informed the House on 24th January in a Written Answer to a Question from the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh of Haringey, that such disclosure had been made in 15 cases. Your Lordships will wish to be aware that a further two prisoners have now been told that whole life tariffs had previously been set in their cases. Should somebody do their arithmetic and think that I have made a mistake, a prisoner has died in prison, which accounts for the missing case.

That is part of the exercise which has been embarked on as a result of the Doody judgment, a judgment with which this House is familiar. That judgment has resulted in important changes to procedures. There is now much more openness, a change which I believe your Lordships welcome as a very positive development.

It is that requirement for greater openness which means that, if it is right that whole life tariffs should be set in some cases—and I have made clear that it is the Government's view that that is the case—then we have no choice but to tell the prisoners concerned. I wholly appreciate that such prisoners may feel that they have no further hope of release.

I remind the House, however, that, even if whole life tariffs are set as a result of the current exercise, that is not the end of the matter. In reply to a point made by the right reverend Prelate, the Lord Bishop of Lichfield, I can say that all such cases will, as a matter of course, be reviewed at intervals to consider whether the whole life tariff should be converted to a tariff of a shorter period. In addition to the standard ministerial review of all mandatory life cases at the 10-year point, a further review will take place when the prisoner has been in custody for 25 years and, where appropriate, will normally take place at five-yearly intervals thereafter.

The Earl of Longford

My Lords, perhaps I may intervene. I cannot understand the point of a review if the prisoner is in prison only because of the original crime. How can the horror of that original crime be mitigated by further reviews? It is meaningless.

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, I suspect that at the end of the day we shall have to agree to differ. However, the specific responsibility of the Home Secretary of the day is to consider whether retribution and deterrence have been properly met by the serving of the sentence. As my right honourable friend the Home Secretary has made clear, such reviews will be confined to the considerations of retribution and deterrence. I believe that the right reverend Prelate would see that as some limitation; but those are the limitations on my right honourable friend.

I know that such consideration falls short of the type of review that some have in mind—that is, a review which would take account of a prisoner's progress during sentence—but it is the only review which we believe appropriate.

Once the Home Secretary of the day believes that the requirements of retribution and deterrence have been met, it is then a matter for the Parole Board to make judgments about behavioural patterns, risks assessments, and so on, to determine when a prisoner should be released. Behaviour subsequent to the offence can do nothing to change the seriousness with which such events must be viewed and the retribution which should follow it, so far as concerns the Home Secretary's consideration.

The noble Lord, Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank, not for the first time, personalised much of what he said. Much that he said missed the point of the debate. It is not the present Home Secretary who brought about the mandatory life sentence. That has been with us for a long time. My right honourable friend is responsible for making the system more open, for ensuring that those prisoners who are subject to whole life tariffs—they have not at this stage been levied by my right honourable friend but by previous Home Secretaries—have all information available to them, including all information relating to their sentence from the Lord Chief Justice and the trial judges. When the prisoners are in receipt of that information, they can indeed appeal to the Home Secretary to reconsider their tariff.

I believe that that openness is welcomed. I believe it is right that people should have that information. It provides at least a glimmer of hope that, first, the person knows the full information and, secondly, that he or she knows the process by which the case will be reviewed.

The noble Lord, Lord Rodgers, grossly distorted what my right honourable friend has said—again not for the first time. When my right honourable friend refers to prisons, he believes that, for some, prison works. However, my right honourable friend has a robust programme of community sentencing. Where it is appropriate for people to serve their sentences in the community, he believes strongly in that, too. Therefore whether the numbers of people in prison are rising or falling is not the measurement of whether the judicial system works. The measures are the effectiveness of prison sentence where it is appropriate, and the effectiveness of non-custodial sentence where that is appropriate.

In conclusion, I would say that it is in the Government's view vital, both as a matter of principle and in order to maintain public confidence in the criminal justice system, that the punishment should fit the crime. There will be few crimes which merit incarceration for life; but, for those that do, this Government will not flinch from ensuring that the perpetrators do indeed remain in prison for life.

Baroness Trumpington

My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now adjourn during pleasure until eight o'clock.

Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.

[The Sitting was suspended from 7.54 to 8 p.m.]