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Parole Board and Victim Support

Volume 634: debated on Tuesday 9 January 2018

With permission, Mr Speaker, I should like to make a statement on the Parole Board’s decision to release John Worboys and the Government’s response to the issues raised by this case.

I should like to start by echoing the statement made by my predecessor at the weekend, and expressing my unreserved sympathy to all the victims. They will never erase the emotional trauma of John Worboys’ crimes, and the Parole Board’s decision to order his release must have brought back painful memories. These were horrific crimes, and I take the concerns raised, including by many colleagues in the House, very seriously.

John Worboys was convicted of 19 offences in 2009, and received an indeterminate sentence of imprisonment for public protection with a minimum tariff of eight years in custody. Following the expiry of the tariff, he was eligible for review by the Parole Board, which was required to consider whether to release him. The board reviewed his case at a hearing on 8 November 2017, by which time he had served 10 years in custody, including a period on remand. A three-person panel considered a detailed dossier of evidence. Its subsequent decision to release him was communicated to my Department on 3 January.

There are two main concerns in respect of the contact with victims that I think it essential to address today: whether the correct procedures were followed in this case, and whether those procedures are right or improvements are needed. Turning first to whether procedures were followed in this case, all victims of the crimes for which John Worboys was convicted have a statutory right to receive information about parole hearings and decisions under the victim contact scheme. On the basis of the information I have received since arriving in the Department yesterday, it appears that, in relation to these victims, those who opted to remain in contact via the VCS were informed of the parole hearing. Of the victims currently in contact with the scheme, those who chose to be informed of the Parole Board decision by phone or email were contacted immediately on 3 January, although I have just become aware of the case of a victim who did not receive the email. Letters were also sent immediately to those who chose to be informed that way, but these of course took longer to arrive. Some victims entitled to this contact chose not to opt in, which is of course their right.

Any victims whose crimes were not prosecuted do not fall within the statutory remit of the VCS, so the arrangements are different. Discretionary contact can be considered, but in this instance, the National Probation Service has no record of any requests for discretionary contact.

While it appears that the correct procedures were followed, the fact that some victims learned of the decision from the media suggests that there is a need to review those procedures and examine whether lessons can be learned and improvements can be made. It is a priority for this Government that victims of rape and sexual assault have full confidence in the criminal justice system. Sentence lengths for these horrific crimes have increased by over 30% since 2010 and more victims are coming forward, but there is still more to do.

I should be absolutely clear that I think the Parole Board should remain an independent body, responsible for making decisions about the ongoing risk that individuals pose after serving their tariff. However, I agree with my predecessor’s assessment that there is a strong case to review the case for transparency in the process for parole decisions and how victims are appropriately engaged in that process, and to consider the case for changes in policy, practice or Parole Board rules or other guidance or procedures, including the victims code.

With that in mind, I can confirm that I have instructed my officials to establish a review to examine these questions, and I will share more information on this shortly. I think it is appropriate that the Department leads this work, but that it consults victims’ groups and others. I have spoken to the Victims’ Commissioner, Baroness Newlove, and the chair of the Parole Board, Nick Hardwick, to discuss what changes we could make and how best to draw on their expertise and insight in this review. Finally, I note that the Chair of the Justice Committee, my hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Robert Neill), has signalled his intention to hold an evidence session, and my Department stands ready to provide the Committee with any information it may require.

I intend to prioritise this review, and it will conclude before Easter. I hope that this course of action reassures the House of the importance and priority I attach to the issue. As such, I commend this statement to the House.

I welcome the new Secretary of State to his post, and I thank him for advance sight of the statement.

Our criminal justice system must always have the interests of the victims of crime at its heart. It is all too clear that victims of the vile crimes committed by John Worboys feel that this process has failed to do so, and such failings risk undermining public trust in our wider justice system. Many women—both the victims and others more widely—will be very anxious indeed about Mr Worboys being freed. The current legal restrictions on the Parole Board mean that we do not know why this decision was taken.

I thank the Secretary of State for his statement today. With respect, however, we do not need to debate whether there is a case for greater transparency. The Worboys case has underlined once and for all that there is a need for greater transparency, and the chair of the Parole Board has already called for this. Will the new Secretary of State for Justice therefore guarantee that his review will be about how to achieve greater transparency, and not about whether this is needed?

The failures go much wider than the rules governing the Parole Board. In fact, this whole matter has been dogged by failures from the outset. In 2009, John Worboys was convicted of 19 offences against 12 women, but the police have also linked Worboys to about 100 other cases. The public are asking questions about the failings in the police’s handling of the case, about why there were no further prosecutions and about failures of the victim contact scheme to notify victims of the parole hearing properly. The Worboys case raises so many serious questions that anything less than an independent end-to-end review into the handling of the case—from first reporting to the police of an attack right through to the Parole Board hearing—would let down the victims and the wider public.

The previous Secretary of State did not take up my request to undertake such an inquiry, but the new Secretary of State can bring a fresh perspective to all of this. He has the opportunity to reassure the victims and the wider public by going further than his predecessor and agreeing to an independent end-to-end review. That would be the right thing to do, and if he does so, I will congratulate him. I therefore ask the Secretary of State: will he agree to this proposal today?

There are also questions about whether wider problems in the justice system, a sector now subjected to the greatest cuts of any Department, have had an impact on this specific case. The failure to allow women victims the opportunity to participate in the parole hearing through written and oral statements, or to notify them of the hearings properly, was a real breach of their rights. The National Probation Service manages the victim contact scheme, and I would say that the House is all too familiar with the deep problems caused to probation by the chaotic reforms undertaken by the Secretary of State’s Government.

Does the Secretary of State believe that the changes to probation services have left the victim contact scheme more effective or less effective? Will he spell out today what his Department is doing to ensure that the scheme is functioning as it should and that we do not see a repeat of the failings witnessed last week? At the very least, will he consider amending the scheme so that victims opt out, rather than opt in to the system? Likewise, what is the Government’s assessment of the effectiveness of the current sex offender treatment programmes in prison? Last year, the Ministry of Justice found that its core programme actually increased reoffending among sex offenders. Does he know whether John Worboys was on one of the core programmes that were subsequently withdrawn? Will the Secretary of State take the opportunity to clarify what the current procedure is for prioritising which imprisonment for public protection cases are dealt with most pressingly? Are those on the shortest tariffs dealt with first?

Finally, I am pleased that the Government are now focusing on victims’ rights. However, in 2014, the High Court found that the Metropolitan police had breached the rights of victims of Worboys under the Human Rights Act 1998 by failing properly to investigate many of the crimes Worboys was linked to. That decision was later upheld by the Court of Appeal. I think that many will be surprised and disappointed that the Government—through the current Home Secretary and her predecessor, who is now the Prime Minister—backed taking Worboys’ victims to the Supreme Court last year. Will the Secretary of State take this opportunity to express regret for treating the victims in that way?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his remarks. He makes the case for transparency, as did Nick Hardwick, and I completely see and, indeed, sympathise with the argument being made. This case does demonstrate the need for us to look at the issue of transparency again, and it is important that we do so in some detail. I say to the House that I start off on the basis that more transparency is needed, as this case has demonstrated.

The hon. Gentleman asked me about an end-to-end review. It is right that we focus on how we can make this system more transparent to provide reassurance to the public that it is working in the way that it should. That should be a priority, as should victim support. The hon. Gentleman asked whether the basis of the system should be not opting in but opting out. That is something that the review will be able to consider.

We must be sensitive to the fact that, whereas some victims of crime will be keen to be fully informed at every stage, others simply may not want to hear the name of that criminal again. Different people will have different views about how they want to be treated, and we need to find a system that accommodates both approaches.

I was also asked about prioritising cases. Clearly, there is a need to look at cases in which the tariff has been completed. They will be higher priority than cases in which the tariff still has some years to run. That is what happens in practice.

The hon. Gentleman raised the Supreme Court case. The matter is sub judice and I cannot comment further on it, but I reassure him and the House that we need a system that has the confidence of victims. That is what we all want to ensure.

I welcome my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State to his new post. It is nice to see that it is still possible for a lawyer to become Lord Chancellor.

I thank my right hon. Friend for his offer of co-operation with the Justice Committee investigation into this matter. I welcome his statement. Will he bear it in mind that Professor Hardwick has indicated a greater desire for openness in the system, and consider the suggestions that he made in his Butler Trust lecture last autumn? Will he start very swiftly with reviewing the provision in the parole board rules that prevents the board from giving reasons for its decision, even if it might want to do so? Giving the reasons might help to reassure both the public and victims.

My hon. Friend is right to raise that case. I met Professor Hardwick this morning and he is already participating in this debate. He has been making the case for greater transparency and, as I said in an earlier response, he makes a good case. There is a strong case for ensuring that the reasons for particular decisions are put in the public domain, where that provides reassurance.

I welcome the Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State to his place, and I thank him for advance notice of the statement. I was pleased to hear him say that it is a priority for the Government that victims of rape and sexual assault have full confidence in the criminal justice system.

In Scotland, where these matters are devolved, we have put a huge amount of work into improving the prosecution of sex crimes, and Police Scotland works closely with the National Sex Crimes Unit—I was proud to be one of its first prosecutors nine years ago. In Scotland we have robust victim notification schemes. What has gone wrong with the notification scheme in this case is just one issue. There were also very serious failings from the outset in the way in which the police approached the investigation, and the House needs assurance that those serious police failings could never happen again. Can the Secretary of State give us that assurance?

It is concerning that, as Home Secretary, the Prime Minister intervened to support the police against victims who had successfully obtained findings in the lower courts that the police had been in breach of the Human Rights Act 1998 in the way they investigated them. I appreciate that, as the Lord Chancellor has said, those cases are currently sub judice, but can he give an undertaking that when the judgment is issued he will make a statement to the House about why the Government took the side of the police against the victims?

Worboys is going to be free later this month unless further charges are brought. We are all aware that there were many more Worboys victims than those in respect of whom there has been a prosecution. The Guardian has reported that the police say there is no live investigation, but it has also reported that the victims would like to see proceedings brought. Can the Lord Chancellor confirm whether any of those cases are still live? Will there be any further charges?

Further charges are a matter for the police and the Crown Prosecution Service, and I am very limited in what I can say about that. What I can say is that of course it is a priority for us that rape and other sexual offences are pursued. As I mentioned earlier, sentences for rape have increased in recent years by approximately 30% on average. We take these matters extremely seriously, and we continue to ensure that these horrendous crimes are pursued. It is not for me to make a statement about likely further prosecutions in this particular case. We are talking about a case that was prosecuted in 2009, and I know that there is an ongoing debate about whether more cases should have been brought at that point. It is important that we learn the lessons from this case and, not just looking at the particular facts of this case, ensure that we have a victim support system that works for victims across the board.

I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Lord Chancellor on his new role and thank him for coming so swiftly to the House on this solemn matter. It is shocking and unacceptable that victims learned of Mr Worboys’ impending release from TV coverage. I welcome his assurance that that will be investigated and reform will be considered, but can he tell us the size of the problem? How many other victims have found themselves suffering in that completely unacceptable way?

I thank my right hon. Friend for her remarks. The scale of the issue is likely to become clear in the course of the review. This is a high-profile case, but I will not pretend that it is unique. I have recently become aware that one of the victims did not receive an email when she had requested it—that email was sent, but it was not received. The procedures were followed, but the decision to release Worboys entered the public domain quickly, which meant that victims heard about it before they received the letters. We need to learn the lessons from that to ensure that it does not happen again.

I also welcome the Lord Chancellor to his post. He will note that some of the victims have still heard nothing from victim liaison officers and still do not know what the Parole Board terms are and whether this man may end up living near them. Given that Worboys had their addresses, will the Lord Chancellor urgently ensure that all the victims are contacted by victim liaison officers before this man is released? Given that some of them had no opportunity to put statements to the Parole Board, is he confident that due process has been followed in making this decision? Further to the Justice Committee’s point about greater transparency in Parole Board decisions, will the Lord Chancellor introduce changes to the statutory rules that would allow the board to make open the decision in this case, not just in future cases, so that people can see what the reasons were?

The right hon. Lady makes an important point. There is clearly the potential to change the rules for forthcoming cases, but she particularly asks whether such a change could apply to cases that occurred before the change in the rules. I do not want to make any guarantees to the House at this point, because there are clearly complex legal implications and one would want to look at them, but if I may take that as a representation of what she thinks should happen, I very much take that on board.

On notification of victims, as I said, there will be cases where people do not want to be informed; there will be cases where people will want to receive a great deal of detail. We need a system that is sensitive to what victims want. The right hon. Lady raises the point about where Worboys will be and whether victims could be close by. The conditions of the licence are for the Parole Board, but I suspect I speak for the House as a whole when I say that we would expect the Parole Board to be sensitive to the concerns that victims might have about their safety, and indeed to the trauma of perhaps finding themselves accidentally in the presence of someone who has committed such terrible crimes.

As the new Lord Chancellor, my good friend, knows—I welcome him to his post—I was the victims and the police Minister in the previous Administration. One reason for that was the justice side cannot really be taken away from the police and the Crown Prosecution side. In the files on his desk will be a draft Bill for a victims law, which has cross-party support, which I believe was in both Conservative and Labour manifestos, but one of the biggest issues is what is a victim. It is obvious to us what a victim is, but in law that is often very different; so where there has not been a prosecution, victims very often will not be informed in the same way as someone whose case has been before the courts. Why the Crown Prosecution Service did not prosecute as many cases as we all know about now must be investigated as part of the review, but we must put the victim first, and a victims law would be a very good way to start.

I thank my right hon.—and very good—Friend for his comments. He is right; I believe that I do have advice on that very matter in my inbox, and I will want to look very closely at it.. He is absolutely right to say that it is important that the position of victims is properly respected. One of the first people I spoke to on taking office was Baroness Newlove, who has done some excellent work on the issue.

I congratulate the right hon. Gentleman on his appointment. It is right that the Parole Board carry out its work to continue to review the backlog of prisoners serving IPP sentences. However, the public must have confidence that IPP prisoners are being released safely and responsibly. The decision to release John Worboys has undermined that confidence, and given that 3,000 IPP prisoners have been released since their sentences were abolished, what assurances can the Secretary of State give that public safety has not been and will not be compromised?

The hon. Lady raises a fair challenge. It is important that public confidence is maintained. It is also right, though, that the Parole Board, as an independent body, makes the decisions; I do not detect a consensus in the House that this matter should be returned to the discretion of politicians. However, the Parole Board clearly needs to be very mindful of public perception. It is, I know, very mindful of the risks that could be created on somebody being released. That is the test that the Parole Board must meet in making these decisions.

When a minimum tariff is imposed, can it be challenged on grounds of undue leniency; and given that the tariff is a minimum, why does the sole test applied by the Parole Board appear to be simply whether the criminal still poses a risk to others? What has happened to the concept that the punishment should fit the crime?

Of course, the IPP cases are essentially historic in the sense that those sentences no longer apply; but while approximately 3,000 IPP prisoners remain in jail, it is a question of testing whether there is a risk to the public once the tariff has been met, as my right hon. Friend sets out. Of course, a different system applies to those who do not fall within the IPP test.

I welcome the Lord Chancellor to his new job. He may be aware that on Friday, a cross-party group of 58 MPs wrote to his predecessor, to express our concerns not so much about transparency in decision making but about the right of victims to be heard by the Parole Board and for their information to influence decisions. His successor wrote back to us, stating that the victim support people had tried to make contact in October, for a hearing in November, with people with whom they had not had contact since 2009.

Will the Lord Chancellor, in his review, look explicitly, not at the transparency of how decisions were made, but at how victims’ voices were heard as part of that process? If he is not satisfied, as it seems that many of these victims were not told how they could have their say, will he use his powers to instigate a judicial review of the decision?

The hon. Lady raises an important point about victims’ voice being heard throughout the process. In the review, I want to focus on the areas that I have particularly set out, but it is important to look at the whole process of victim support and ensuring that the voice of victims is heard, so that it works for victims in the way that we all want it to work.

I think my constituents in Kettering would take the view that we are far too soft in this country on punishing sexual offenders. None of them serves their time in jail in full; too many are released far too early; and many go on to reoffend once they have been released. Will the Secretary of State publish in the Library details of the number of sexual offenders who have reoffended upon release, and how those who are responsible for their early release are held to account?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for the question. As I mentioned, since 2010 the sentence for rape has gone up by 30%—something that I am sure he would support. On the figures that he asks for, if I may, I will take that question away and see what information can be provided to him.

My constituent, who was raped repeatedly in childhood, came to see me in considerable distress before Christmas because the first she knew that her perpetrator had been released was when he visited the pub next to her place of work. I have raised the matter with the Department, but the letter I received from the Under-Secretary of State for Justice, the hon. Member for Bracknell (Dr Lee), blamed her for not giving the victim contact scheme her change of address. I would like the Secretary of State to commit to looking again at her case and to apologising to my constituent.

Obviously, I am not familiar with the case that the hon. Lady raises. As I said earlier, we need to look at communication with victims very closely. Clearly, to communicate, it is necessary for the authorities to have contact details. [Interruption.] We need to find a way to ensure that the relevant authorities have those contact details, so that we can provide the support that the victims want.

As a friend of one of the victims and a former criminal barrister, I take the view that the original sentence was the correct one in all the circumstances. Worboys, of course, was convicted on the basis that he was a dangerous predatory sex offender, and I have to be frank with my right hon. Friend, whom I warmly welcome to his position, that I and many others are struggling to believe that Worboys is no longer a danger. It is in the nature of this sort of offending that these men are often extremely cunning. We have to trust the Parole Board—I pay tribute to its work, and it must retain its independence—but if nothing else it must put a condition upon his release that he is not allowed back into Greater London. I know that that is not within the gift of the Secretary of State, but it is what the victims, who are very frightened of this man, need to hear.

I thank my right hon. Friend for her remarks. I quite understand why she is concerned about whether Worboys continues to pose a risk to the public. The Parole Board made an assessment on the basis of the evidence—several hundred pages of information in front of it—and it was an experienced board, but I am also not in a position to make that assessment. As she says, it is important that we trust the Parole Board—the case for transparency is that it will provide some helpful reassurance. On access to London, she makes her point powerfully, but it is for the Parole Board to determine the conditions.

Order. I gently point out, in respect of this extremely serious matter, that the statement has now been running for over half an hour, but we have had only 10 Back-Bench questions. To be candid, we need shorter questions—not people’s observations, comments, tributes and commendations—and then brief replies from the Secretary of State.

There is a third aspect to this, which is post-release supervision. Given that Dame Glenys Stacey, the chief inspector of probation, says that there is a fractured system, will the Secretary of State, as one of his first tasks, consider strengthening that post-release supervision system?

The right hon. Gentleman makes an important point, and I would certainly hope and expect that in this case the conditions will be stringent and rigorously enforced.

May I briefly congratulate the Lord High Chancellor on achieving the greatest and most distinguished office in the land? May I question his assumption, however, that nobody wants power returned to politicians in this area? It seems to me that final decisions on whether somebody is a danger should rest with those who may be held to account, not with unaccountable bureaucrats. It is not a scientific decision; it is a matter of opinion, and I would trust his opinion more than that of an unaccountable bureaucracy.

I thank my hon. Friend for his kind remarks and confidence in me. On this occasion, however, I fear that I am not entirely in agreement with him. I think that this needs to be a decision made by an independent body on the basis of the evidence in front of it, but it is also right that such independent bodies are conscious of the need to ensure that victims and the public more widely have confidence in the decision.

When I did the job of victim liaison, working with probation to keep victims informed, in the west midlands, where I worked, there were many people in probation working in that area. Since the privatisation of probation, in the west midlands, there is one victims officer—for an area with 3 million people. In this review, will the very welcome new Justice Secretary look at what was taken away and potentially why an email to a victim is not enough, when a relationship is what we used to have?

I thank the hon. Lady for her remarks. I do not think that this particular issue is, in truth, about resources. In terms of the requests for information made by some of the victims and the forms in which that was to be provided, which were established in 2009, some of the victims also requested to be informed at a later date. I stress, however, that I want a system that works adequately for victims.

Will my right hon. Friend pay tribute to the courage of those women who gave evidence against John Worboys, one of whom is well known to us on the Conservative Benches? Does he agree that it is essential that his victims have full confidence that their safety is a priority in the decisions of the Parole Board, which does not appear to have been the case this time?

I join my right hon. Friend in paying tribute to the victims who came forward, very bravely, and in some cases waived anonymity to encourage others to come forward. It is important that their safety be paramount. It is important that the system has the confidence not just of the general public but of victims, and this case demonstrates that there is a need for changes to ensure that that can happen.

I also welcome the Lord Chancellor to his new position. The victims and survivors of sexual assault and rape continue to suffer the legacy of hurt and trauma for many decades and often a lifetime, which is why many people are appalled that this man will be walking the streets again after a mere nine years. I welcome what the Lord Chancellor has said about transparency, but will he give a commitment in his new role that he will do everything he can to ensure that these crimes are taken seriously by the police, prosecutors and the courts?

Yes, it is vital that these crimes be taken seriously. I think that there is consensus across the House and the country that they are, and certainly it is my intention that that continues to be the case.

Worboys was a prolific sex attacker for up to 10 years, and there are likely to be hundreds of victims, yet in court he showed no remorse and dismissed his actions as “banter”. Just two years ago, he was claiming that he had done absolutely nothing wrong. It is impossible, therefore, for people to understand how the board could possibly have deemed this man to be safe. Will my right hon. Friend agree that, unless and until the board explains publicly the rationale behind the decision, people cannot possibly have confidence in our criminal justice system?

I completely understand my hon. Friend’s point. As it currently stands, the Parole Board cannot provide in public the reasons for its decision. The chair of the Parole Board has made it clear that he wishes that it could, but the Parole Board rules—secondary legislation, essentially—prevent that from happening. One thing we will have to look at is what can be done to review and potentially change that secondary legislation to provide for greater transparency, so that these things can be explained. As I said earlier, there is a question about whether the new regulations could apply to cases before any change, including this case, but that is something we will want to look at.

I welcome the right hon. Gentleman to his new role, the review he has announced today and the transparency he speaks about. Will he assure the House that that transparency will mean that the Parole Board can provide the detailed rationale, in each case, for why parole has been granted and that we will be able to guarantee that victims who wish to be informed are informed before there is a danger of them hearing it on the television or radio?

The review will need to consider exactly those points and seek to address the concerns arising from this case, which the hon. Lady has summarised.

For many years, I have conducted a rather lonely campaign in this House against soft sentencing in the criminal justice system, and I suppose that I should be grateful that so many of those who have decried me over the years are now leaping on to the same crusade. May I urge the Secretary of State not to think that the case of Worboys is unique, but to look at soft sentencing across the board, not least the ridiculous situation that we still have on the statute book whereby people given a determinate sentence by law have to be released halfway through their sentence, no matter how badly they behave in prison and no matter how much of a threat they still pose to the public? Will he deal with that nonsense in the criminal justice system, as well as this particular one?

As always, my hon. Friend has made his case in a forthright manner, and his consistency is very evident. I dare say that today is not the last occasion on which he and I will debate this subject. I think we all agree that the public must have confidence in our criminal justice system and our sentencing policy.

Both the Worboys case and the case raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Bishop Auckland (Helen Goodman) are examples of cases in which the victim is treated as an adjunct to the criminal justice process, and, as we have seen, that can apply throughout the process. Will the Secretary of State think carefully about the request from my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds East (Richard Burgon) for an end-to-end review? We must get the victim’s journey right when it comes to such harrowing crimes.

It is very important for victims to be at the heart of our criminal justice system. A great deal of work has been undertaken with, for example, Baroness Newlove in her role as Victims Commissioner. We continue to look into how we can improve our criminal justice system to ensure that victims are given the support that they need.

My right hon. Friend speaks of victim support. Will he ensure that both the need for repeated victim impact assessments and the appropriateness of exclusion zones are given proper consideration in the review? For instance, a county-wide exclusion zone will be of very little comfort to someone who lives on a county boundary.

The best predictor of future offending behaviour is, unfortunately, past offending behaviour. Victim impact statements also contain information that is important to a thorough and evidence-based risk assessment. Will the Secretary of State please consider in his review whether the risk assessment tools that the Parole Board is using are adequate and whether the intervention programmes are evidence-based and properly evaluated?

Whether the hon. Lady’s points are considered in the review or more generally, they are important points about the need to ensure that we have a system that is working.

For the second time today, women’s rights and transparency take centre stage in the Chamber. Again, we are discussing whether a system works and whether a process is letting women down. May I, too, welcome the Lord Chancellor to his role and urge him to use the review roundly to ensure that the system is fair and works for everyone, and women feel it is safe and works for them?

My hon. Friend has made an important point about the need for women to feel safe, and we must ensure that the system provides that reassurance.

The appalling release of this dangerous man has heightened the anxiety of my constituent Marie McCourt that her daughter Helen’s killer might be released in similar circumstances. Can the Secretary of State assure me that the review will look at parole guidelines and criteria on the release of convicted murderers who refuse to disclose the location of their victims’ remains? Incidentally, his Department promised to do that two years ago.

I will look at that case and, if I may, respond to the hon. Gentleman subsequently in greater detail.

Rather than welcoming the Lord Chancellor to his position, may I tell him how sorry those who worked for him until yesterday will be that he is no longer at the Department for Work and Pensions? I welcome what he said about the transparency of Parole Board decisions, but may I urge him to put a timescale on when the House will know more? It is important for the public to be reassured that the Worboys case will not be forgotten and that we will not move on without a change.

I thank my hon. Friend for his remarks. As for the timescale, I said earlier that I expect the review to conclude by Easter.

In the interests of transparency, will the review reveal which sex offender treatment programme Worboys underwent that satisfied the Parole Board? As my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds East (Richard Burgon) pointed out, the main programme used in England and Wales was found to increase the reoffending rate and was scrapped last year.

I hear what the hon. Lady says. When I set out the case for reviewing transparency, I referred to the reasons that the Parole Board gives for a particular decision being put in the public domain. I think that we need to consider precisely what information can be put into the public domain, and that is the purpose of the review.

As the Lord Chancellor knows, it is vital that justice is not only done but seen to be done. That is why judges hand down sentences and give the reasons for them in public, and it is why I think that the same should apply to the Parole Board, given what an important part of the process is involved. Will the Lord Chancellor commit himself to making a statement to the House when he has completed the review, outlining what action he then proposes to take?

The House would rightly expect me to keep it fully informed, and I certainly undertake to do that.

The public need to be confident that the Parole Board is making a balanced assessment of risk. Will the Lord Chancellor commit himself to reviewing how the board assesses the risk presented by offenders? Will he also undertake to consider the role of independent psychologists in advising on offender risk, especially when their advice conflicts with that of probation and prison professionals?

The hon. Lady makes an important point. Clearly, as we look at the issue of transparency for Parole Board decisions, we shall need to look at the evidence with which the board is provided and review the extent to which it should be put in the public domain.

I am not in a position to provide details of the case. Those details are given to the Parole Board, and I am afraid I cannot say more than that.

I have to say that the succinctness of the right hon. Member for New Forest West (Sir Desmond Swayne) is medal-winning. May I exhort him to circulate his text book on pithy questions?

My question will not be quite as pithy, I am afraid.

Much as I support the idea of redemption and rehabilitation, my own view is that a sentence of nine years in prison for 19 rapes is simply derisory, especially given that, as was pointed out by the right hon. Member for Broxtowe (Anna Soubry), this was a predatory attacker. The Secretary of State said that IPP sentences were no longer in use. Is he satisfied that the current sentencing guidelines meet the need for decent sentences in shocking cases such as this?

First, let me briefly correct the hon. Gentleman: Worboys was convicted of 19 offences, and there was one conviction of rape. I do not say that in any way to undermine or belittle the seriousness with which his crimes should be considered.

As I have said, sentences for rape have gone up over the last eight years, and I think it right that that has happened.