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Automatic Release from Prison on Licence

Volume 664: debated on Tuesday 8 October 2019

14. Whether he plans to abolish the practice of automatic release from prison on licence at the halfway point of sentences for all offenders. (912606)

I do not have any immediate plans to extend the proposals that I made last week. I reassure my hon. Friend that public protection weighs very much in my mind when it comes to automatic early release—something about which I have long held strong views, from my days in the criminal justice system.

The automatic early release of prisoners halfway through their sentences, introduced by the last Labour Government, is dishonest. It undermines public confidence in the justice system, and it lets people out halfway through their sentence even if they still pose a risk to the public and there is a risk of their reoffending. A Conservative Government should scrap that for all offenders.

I hear my hon. Friend’s strictures. He will be greatly encouraged by the announcement that I made last week to move that threshold to two thirds for serious, violent and sexual offenders. As I have said, this is about public protection and confidence in the system, and I am sure that he will fully support the Government’s measures.

The Secretary of State is aware of my constituent Jackie Wileman, who was hit and killed by four men driving a stolen heavy goods vehicle. They had nearly 100 convictions between them. One man was in the probation system; another two had just completed probation. As part of the Government’s renationalisation of the probation service, will the Minister commit to review the way in which offenders are classed and monitored? Those men were not classed as high risk and were not monitored as such. That was a clear failure, which, as he knows, had devastating consequences.

The hon. Lady and I have spoken about this case in the past. She is an assiduous campaigner on this and other issues, and I am grateful to her. The reforms to probation give us an opportunity to get that sort of risk assessment absolutely right. Ending the division between the National Probation Service and community rehabilitation companies will allow us to focus on the offender, rather than worrying about which part of the system they should be in. I am grateful to the hon. Lady for raising that issue.

My constituent Valerie Matcham’s grandson was killed by a single punch to the side of his head. Bradley’s killer was sentenced to just two years in prison, and the family are distraught at the thought that he could be out on licence after just one year. I am encouraged by my right hon. and learned Friend’s words and urge him to keep the views of families at the forefront of his mind when considering these difficult decisions.

My right hon. Friend raises a distressing case. It is perhaps not appropriate for me to comment on it individually, but I extend my deepest sympathy to the family and friends of that victim. It is precisely why we have decided to take action to try to create a higher degree of confidence for victims and their families when it comes to the administration of sentences.

I was out with Gwent police on Friday. A large amount of their casework relates to serious high-risk offenders being released halfway through their sentences, which is a massive drain on resources both locally and nationally. Will the Lord Chancellor commit to review automatic release?

I am sure the hon. Gentleman will join me in actively supporting my proposals to change the automatic release to two thirds for serious violence and sexual offenders. That will indeed help local police forces, such as Gwent, with their management of offenders in the community. I pay tribute to the work the police do in that respect.

When violent criminals are released, it is a time of fear and sometimes terror for their erstwhile victims. Release under licence allows the restriction of both movement and access, but not beyond licence. When the Lord Chancellor reconsiders the issue of licence, will he consider whether restrictions can be put on such criminals after their licence periods are over, to protect the victims?

My right hon. Friend asks a very important question. I have to accept the limitations on the period of sentencing. Supervision is an important part of the licence period, but what happens beyond that is difficult in terms of court order. However, work can and should be done by the probation service to ensure we are protected as fully as possible.

Almost two years ago to the day, the Government made a pledge to increase the maximum sentence for causing death by dangerous driving from 14 years to life. In the light of the Secretary of State’s recent announcement, will he be revising that pledge? To date, no action has been taken.

I am grateful to the hon. Lady, who I know has written to me. I repeat my pledge to get on with legislating on that issue as soon as possible. We have, we hope, a new Session coming. I am not going to pre-judge what might be said then, but I think there will be an opportunity for us to right this wrong.