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Parole System

Volume 933: debated on Thursday 16 June 1977

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6.

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department what discussions he has had with the Parole Board regarding further new guidelines to be issued on the criteria and operation of the parole system by the Board and its local review committees.

Since fewer than half those prisoners who are eligible for parole are released, and since, also, the imposition of the recent new guidelines has not resulted in a material increase in the number who have been recalled for committing another offence, does the right hon. Gentleman not feel that a further liberalisation of the guidelines, if not an extension of the parole scheme, might be justified?

Certainly I take the hon. Gentleman's point. The parole scheme is in general an excellent idea, and in future I believe there may well be developments along the line of ideas that have been put forward in a wide variety of documents, and so forth. But since the new guidelines introduced by my predecessor in 1976, 50 per cent. of those considered for parole were granted it, compared with 43 per cent. in 1975 and 35 per cent. in 1974. I believe that we need to consider the question of shorter sentences, but this raises particular problems arising out of the nature of parole. For the moment I believe that we should carry on as we are.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that probably the most urgent need for reform in the parole system lies in the fact that prisoners who are refused parole are not given the reasons for that refusal? We all accept that there would be difficulties in implementing a system which gave reasons, but is not the bitterness created by refusal to give reasons a far more serious problem?

We are seized of this problem. A limited experiment is taking place in the Parole Board on the basis of giving reasons. It is early days yet, and there are divided opinions on this matter. It raises other issues, but we have set about an experiment. At the moment parole is an administrative device, and I think that that is the way it should continue. Some believe that it should move into the judicial area. I am not so sure about that. There are great merits in its remaining as it is.

There are many people who would be very worried if the arrangements were changed and the Parole Board had to give reasons for its decisions. Many difficulties could follow from such a change. There are two aspects to the parole system. First, there are the recommendations of the Board concerning the conduct of the prisoner in prison. Secondly, there is the position of the Home Secretary in deciding whether to give his consent to recommendations of the Board. On the latter, does the Home Secretary agree that it is most important that he should ensure that he does not undermine the parole system by granting parole in cases where public confidence might be undermined because of the violent or terrorist actions involved?

I think that the right hon. Gentleman may not have got it quite right at the end, or possibly I have misunderstood him. Certainly all recommendations come from the Board in the first instance. One of the Home Secretary's main jobs is to move in advance of public opinion, but with it, and that is sometimes not the case with those who do not consider the public interest. This is always a value judgment, but I take into account what the right hon. Gentleman says.