HL Deb 04 December 1995 vol 567 cc815-6

Lord Boyd-Carpenter asked Her Majesty's Government:

On whose authority convicted persons serving life sentences are temporarily released on home leave, and for what reason or reasons such persons are so released.

The Minister of State, Home Office (Baroness Blatch)

My Lords, under the new system of release on temporary licence, eligible life sentenced prisoners in open conditions who satisfy the mandatory risk assessment may be released on resettlement licence to maintain their family ties and links with the community. A decision to grant an initial period of resettlement licence is made on the authority of the Secretary of State by Prison Service headquarters. Subsequent grants are made by the governor of the prison in which the prisoner is held.

Lord Boyd-Carpenter

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that Answer. However, is it not a fact that the deterrent effect of a life sentence is very much undermined by the frequent habit of releasing people during the running of it? Equally, is it not a fact that on quite a number of occasions persons serving life sentences released on home leave then commit further offences?

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, I hope that my noble friend can be comforted by some of the changes that have been made. It is now the case that life sentenced prisoners do not qualify for release on temporary licence until they have moved to open conditions. They cannot be moved to open conditions until they are within three years of their service. If there is any risk assessment to public safety, open conditions will not be granted and therefore early release does not apply.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter, may or may not be comforted by the Minister's second answer. However, were not his first, and indeed his second questions, based on a considerable misunderstanding? As I understand it, all but 15 of prisoners who have mandatory life sentences may expect under the terms of their tariff period to be released into the community at some stage. Are not home leave and release under licence, which are intended to help them to get back into the community, as important for them as for other prisoners?

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, first, the Question relates to anyone serving a life sentence and therefore it will include discretionary as well as mandatory life sentences. If there is any assessment of risk to public safety, temporary release can be withheld and the prisoner can serve his whole sentence in custody. The noble Lord makes an important point that resettlement leave is a structured part of helping people to move from custody into open conditions and then out into the community.

Baroness Seear

My Lords, does the noble Baroness agree that the anxiety which lies behind this Question is evidence of the folly in rejecting the removal of the mandatory life sentence for murder because that means, does it not?, that people who are to leave prison relatively soon and who no doubt have committed different sorts of offences will be treated in the same way as serious offenders?

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, I do not believe that this matter undermines that provision in any way. The paramount consideration in all of this is the safety of the public, whether someone is serving a mandatory life sentence or a discretionary life sentence. For the mandatory life sentence the period to be served is, of course, the tariff period. It is only within three years of the tariff period that consideration is even given for open prison conditions. If concern remains about public safety, open conditions will not be granted.

Lord Boyd-Carpenter

My Lords, can my noble friend confirm that, when someone has been convicted of an offence committed while on home leave, he will never receive home leave again?

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, it is true that such a person would be unlikely ever to receive home leave again. An additional offence has been created for anyone who does not return from home leave. That new offence was created under the previous criminal justice Bill.

Lord Hayter

My Lords, will the Minister explain to the House under what order or what Act of Parliament this release is being governed?

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, the recent changes to home leave conditions did not require primary legislation. That is a matter for my right honourable friend the Home Secretary, who has made changes to the way in which the system works. He has tightened it up in response to the anxiety on the part of the public, which is, I believe, underpinned by my noble friend's Question. The public were concerned about people who committed crimes while on early release.

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