HC Deb 23 March 1989 vol 149 cc750-1W
Sir Nicholas Fairbairn

To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland when the report of the committee on parole and related issues in Scotland, chaired by Lord Kincraig, is to he published; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. Rifkind

The report of Lord Kincraig's committee was published this morning and copies have been placed in the Library of the House. We are all indebted to Lord Kincraig and the other members of his committee for producing such a clear and balanced report within a year of their first meeting.

The Kincraig committee recommend the retention of a parole system, because parole recognises the possibility of change in an individual or his circumstances over time, and enables long-term prisoners to be released selectively on this basis. They recommend, however, that the scope of parole should be restricted to those serving over five years, and that prisoners should be eligible for consideration only after serving one half of their sentences, instead of one third, as at present. All long-term prisoners would be liable to supervision on release. Prisoners serving five years or less would no longer be eligible for parole, but instead a system of conditional early release would apply to them. Under this system they would be released after serving half of their overall sentence, but would be automatically recalled to prison to serve the outstanding balance of their sentence if they were reconvicted.

The committee has also recommended changes in parole procedures, which are intended to make the process less cumbersome and more open. Parole applicants would have the chance to put their case to a panel of three parole board members, and would be entitled to be given reasons for a refusal of parole.

The committee was also asked to look at a number of related issues. The committee recommended no change in the formal role of the Secretary of State in the parole system; no alteration in the present arrangements for supervision for released prisoners by local authority social workers; and funding of the supervision of released prisoners by central Government on an agency basis. Their recommendations on life sentence prisoners will fall to be considered in the light of the report of the House of Lords Select Committee on Murder and the Release of Life Sentence Prisoners, now in session. They recommend against the introduction of suspended or part-suspended sentences into Scots law but (by majority) recommend that all custodial sentences should be backdated to the date when the offender was first remanded in custody, unless there are special reasons for not doing so.

The report raises issues of considerable public importance, and before deciding on what action might be taken to implement it, I would be glad to receive views on the report which interested parties may wish to put to me. These should be submitted to me by 30 June.