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Imprisonment for Public Protection Sentences

Volume 731: debated on Thursday 27 April 2023

I beg to move,

That this House has considered the Third Report of the Justice Committee, IPP Sentences, HC 266, and the Government response, HC 933.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Twigg. I am grateful to the Liaison Committee and the Backbench Business Committee for enabling us to have this debate. I am glad to see the Minister in his place. I know he will take seriously what are grave matters that need to be raised—both the issue itself, and the complete inadequacy of the Government’s response to a considered report by a Select Committee. I welcome my fellow members of the Select Committee. This report had support across parties in the Committee and was based on detailed evidence. I regret that none of that evidence seems to have penetrated into the reasoning of the response.

Let me set out the situation. I regret that we have to have this debate. We spent a great deal of time considering this issue and, as I said, we had a detailed evidence base and a comprehensive report. I hope that with changes in the Department and a new Secretary of State, there will be more scope for the Minister, whose personal qualities I entirely recognise and respect, to revisit the position on this matter.

Sentences of imprisonment for public protection, or IPP sentences, are indeterminate—that is, they have no fixed end date. They were originally designed to ensure that dangerous, violent and sexual offenders stayed in custody for as long as they presented a risk to the public. IPP sentences were introduced in the Criminal Justice Act 2003 and came into effect in 2005. Following criticisms of the sentence and its operation, it was reformed in 2008 but, frankly, those reforms did not work satisfactorily either and the sentence was abolished by 2012.

The sentence was abolished largely because—this was accepted by the originators of the scheme, not least the noble Lord Blunkett and others, as I will come to later—the way the scheme was drafted and the number of offences that brought people within its scope, together with the lack of understanding and, at the time, judicial training on the matter, meant that far more people fell within the scope of the scheme than had been the political intention. Rightly, in 2012, the coalition Government, of which I had the honour to be a member, rectified that and abolished the sentence. However, they did not deal with those who were already serving sentences. In other words, the abolition did not have effect retrospectively for those who were already subject to the sentences.

In total, some 8,711 people received an IPP sentence. The sentence works in three parts. First, there is a mandatory period in prison known as the tariff. That is broadly based on the nature of the offence for which the individual is convicted and sentenced—that is, the tariff for that offence or the index offence, as it is sometimes referred to. Secondly, that is followed by indefinite detention until such time as the Parole Board determines that the person concerned has reduced their risk enough to be safely released. Thirdly, following that release, they are subject to a life licence in the community, from which they may be recalled if they breach their licence or reoffend. Ten years after their initial release, IPP prisoners can apply to the Parole Board to have that licence terminated. There is, of course, no guarantee that it will be.

Our inquiry was prompted by the serious concern, which has been ventilated in the media and both Chambers of this Parliament over a period of time, about the number of IPP prisoners who have never been released, despite the fact that the vast majority have served their tariff. Some 97.5% of IPP prisoners currently in prison have already served their tariff, and in many cases they have served well beyond their tariff. The last figures that we had showed that at the end of December 2022, there were 2,892 IPP prisoners, of whom 1,394 are serving their original sentence and have never been released.

Some 621 of those prisoners are at least 10 years over their tariff, and 222 of those had received a tariff of less than two years. To put that in stark terms, they have been in prison for something like five times longer than the index sentence that the court that sentenced them and the judge who heard the facts thought was the appropriate tariff for the offence for which they were convicted. The tariff was set at, say, two years or less—the going rate for that offence—and some have been inside for five times that. That is a stark and shocking figure.

Some 1,498 IPP prisoners in custody at the end of December 2022 have been released but subsequently recalled to custody. When we were doing our inquiry, it was suggested to us that, at the current rates of recall, the proportion will change so that a majority of the IPP population will have been released and recalled. That point has now been reached. More than half of IPP prisoners have been released and recalled for one reason or other, and I will come to that later. There are a number of problems with IPP sentences.

It is actually starker than my hon. Friend sets out. One IPP sentence was given with a tariff of 28 days, so hypothetically somebody who received a 28-day tariff could spend 50 years in prison. Even in the worst banana republic, that would sound extraordinary, but that is actually what this sentence is about. We are going to keep people locked up indefinitely, even though in any other circumstances they would be released. Will my hon. Friend touch on that? I do not have the words to describe it, but I agree wholeheartedly with him.

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Of course, he speaks with great experience as a long-standing solicitor specialising in criminal work. He and I have seen this in our professional experience. We have perhaps seen rather more of the prison system than many of those who pontificate in either House or the media about what it is like.

This is a scandal. That is why one of the great supporters of reform, the noble Lord Brown of Eaton-under-Heywood—one of the last Lord Justices of Appeal, one of the first members of the Supreme Court and one of the most distinguished lawyers of his generation—described it as a “stain” upon the reputation of the British legal system, and he is absolutely right. That is why, to his credit, the noble Lord Blunkett, when he gave evidence to us, said frankly, fairly and honestly, “This was not what we intended should happen with these sentences.” My hon. Friend is therefore entirely right to point out how stark that could be. We would be shocked if this were happening in some of the countries with which we do business, and we rightly criticise it elsewhere around the world.

One of the problems is that IPP prisoners face barriers to progression to prove they are no longer a risk within prison and, if they are released, within the community. The aim of our inquiry was to examine carefully and on the evidence the continued existence of IPP sentences and identify possible legislative and policy solutions to a situation that is, as my hon. Friend rightly says, really not acceptable.

The seriousness of those concerns and the strength of feeling about IPP sentences was reflected in the volume of evidence that the Justice Committee received. It was the largest number of submissions we have ever received for any inquiry that we have undertaken. Of course, I looked at all of them, and they included hundreds of handwritten letters, some going into considerable detail, from serving prisoners. They were moving, and articulate in many cases, but also frequently deeply distressing.

Beyond that, the Committee also proactively sought the perspective of all stakeholders affected by the sentence. That is why we took evidence from Lord Blunkett, who was the original architect of the scheme, and Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd, the former Lord Chief Justice. We also held private meetings and roundtables with affected parties, including people serving IPP sentences in the community, family members, legal professionals who have supported IPP prisoners, Parole Board members, prison and probation staff—it should be said that it is not easy for prison and probation staff to deal with people in this situation, and I suspect that there is also an injustice to them—and victims of IPP prisoners. I do accept that the victim’s perspective also has to be considered, so we deliberately and specifically sought victims’ views.

I thank all who took the time and effort to engage with our inquiry and to provide the evidence that underpinned our recommendations and conclusions. In particular, I thank Donna Mooney and Shirley Debono, both of whom gave oral evidence to us on behalf of the United Group for Reform of IPP. I think that some of the group are in the Public Gallery.

Donna Mooney shared with us the experience of her brother Tommy Nicol, who took his own life in 2015 following a second refusal of parole by the Parole Board. His tariff was four years; by then, he had already served six. Donna told us of the difficulties her brother Tommy faced in enrolling on courses that he needed to complete to demonstrate progression, and in accessing mental health support. He often told her and his family that his sentence was “psychological torture”.

Shirley Debono, whose son is a released IPP prisoner, told us that even those who have been released and are serving an IPP sentence in the community are immensely fearful of being recalled to prison. She described the licence conditions as “draining” and difficult to cope with. She said that her son had been afraid of the telephone in case it was the probation service calling. That is not a happy situation to put probation officers in, never mind anything else, including the difficulty that it causes people who are genuinely trying to rehabilitate themselves.

The Committee’s report considers the difficulties faced by IPP prisoners in progressing through sentences, and the psychological harm that that causes. Our evidence focused on actions that the Government should take to address the problem, and we began by considering the prison-based barriers to progression.

The psychological harm caused to individuals serving an IPP sentence was evidenced by a number of contributors to the inquiry, including those serving the sentence, family members and professionals who have experience of working with people who are serving the sentence. It was demonstrated clearly that rates of self-harm among IPP prisoners are high. Although it is good to see that the rate of self-harm thankfully reduced between the end of 2017 and the end of 2021, it is still almost double that for prisoners serving a determinate sentence. The Independent Advisory Panel on Deaths in Custody told us that as of May 2021, of the 250 IPP prisoners who had died in custody since the sentence came into effect, 65 had taken their own lives.

The Committee recently took evidence from the former chair of that panel, Juliet Lyon CBE. She told us that nine people serving an IPP sentence died last year. She said:

“It is something one cannot afford to forget. The utter hopelessness of their position means it is very difficult for them to maintain any sense of future; it seems just utterly sad and hopeless.”

Juliet Lyon has served in post for a considerable time and has decades of experience in the criminal justice system. Her wise words ought to weigh heavily. Sadly, I was notified that only two days ago another young man serving an IPP prison sentence took his own life in His Majesty’s Prison Manchester. This is still happening all the time.

Given the psychological harm that ensues as a result of the sentence and the conditions attached, many have argued that assessing risk is more complicated than it is for other prisoners. We heard that mental health need and risk are sometimes conflated and that poor mental health may therefore become a barrier to release—although, ironically, it is the serving of the indeterminate sentence that has triggered that poor mental health, and we have a vicious circle.

The hon. Gentleman is giving a very powerful account, and I am very glad that the Select Committee mounted the inquiry. Figures released last year showed that an increasing number of prisoners assessed as needing to be in secure mental health units because they had chronic personality disorders, psychotic illness and so on were not being transferred because the beds were not available. The figure was up 81% in the last five-year period, compared with the previous five years.

Does the hon. Gentleman think that this is also a factor in trying to get the right support for people on IPP sentences, so that they get treatment and can make progress? The Government are now committing to a time limit of 28 days for transfer to hospitals for people who need it. Does he have confidence that that is going to happen?

I very much hope that it will, because it is certainly true that that was a problem. Delays in transfer to secure beds were demonstrated to us in the evidence. I hope the Government will move on that.

The other germane point is that because of the fear of the conflation of mental health need with risk, we found that many IPP prisoners were frightened to speak up about their poor mental health and get the help that they might need, because it might count against them in their risk assessment. Compounding that, even when there is mental health support, we found that IPP prisoners faced difficulty getting help, and that included transfer to secure hospitals.

We asked the Ministry of Justice and His Majesty’s Prison and Probation Service to acknowledge the harm caused by the sentence and the challenges it presents to progression. We asked them further to set out how they intend to improve access to mental health support for IPP prisoners. The Government’s response did not set out any plans to improve access to mental health support specifically for this cohort of prisoners. Instead, it told us that which we already knew, setting out the work that is being undertaken to improve mental health support for all prisoners. That is welcome in itself, of course, like the 28-day limit that we have just discussed, but it entirely misses the point of what we asked about. We asked the Government to look again at the specific needs of the IPP cohort, separate from the general pressure that already exists, and to see what improvements can be made.

As well as the problem with accessing mental health support, there are concerns about the adequacy of offender behaviour programs and the availability of courses. Offender behaviour programmes and interventions are central to the IPP sentence. They are the primary means by which an IPP prisoner can demonstrate rehabilitation and risk reduction. If they cannot get on the courses or the interventions, they are being set up to fail, and too often that is the case. We heard of one prisoner who had a parole hearing coming up very shortly. He was asked to complete a course, but the waiting list for the course was two years. A system in such a state of affairs is simply dysfunctional.

We asked the Government what they are doing to expand the availability of courses, to reduce waiting lists and to ensure that IPP prisoners are held in the appropriate category of prison. That was a problem we found, too. We also asked that the Government publish a report that they had commissioned on the offender personality disorder pathway, and that they set out more generally how they will ensure that programmes deliver adequate outcomes.

The Government only partially accepted those recommendations. Their response noted that places on programmes and other interventions were disrupted by the pandemic. Of course I accept that, and many of the submissions we received from prisoners expressed concern about that too. In our ongoing inquiry into the prison workforce, we have also heard concerns about staffing pressures affecting prisoners’ access to courses. I hope the Minister will come back to us now that the pandemic is out of the way and set out in more detail what work is under way to ensure that IPP prisoners’ progression is not hindered by such circumstances—lack of access to courses and so on—which, in fairness, are beyond their control. And why, oh why, is it not possible for the Government to respond specifically to our request for the publication of the report on the offender personality disorder pathway? What is there to hide about it? Why can we not have it published?

We heard that, as well as the prison-based barriers to progression, people serving an IPP sentence also face barriers in the community on release. We have particular concerns about what we termed in our report the “recall merry-go-round”, which sees released IPP prisoners returned to prison following their release, in some cases time and time again. That is why we heard clear evidence that reducing the qualifying period to have the licence removed from 10 years to five years would go some way to restoring proportionality. If someone has been on an indeterminate sentence, persuaded the Parole Board that they can be safely released and been able to show, for five years, that they can stay out of trouble and move on, what is the magic in making them wait another five years, with these things hanging over their head, to reach 10 years?

The decision to recall an IPP prisoner is made by the probation service, and the reasons for recall vary. The Government’s position seems to be that they do not accept that offenders serving the sentence in the community are being recalled unnecessarily. In November last year, the then Lord Chancellor, my right hon. Friend the Member for Esher and Walton (Dominic Raab), told us in oral evidence that, in the 12 months to the end of 2021, 34% of IPP recalls were the result of new offences, rather than—in his words, not mine—

“tripping up over onerous licence conditions.”

Well, first, he did not deal very much with the 66% for us. Secondly, even in relation to that 34%, when we asked how many of those charges resulted in further prosecution or conviction—some might have been dropped because there was never evidence to justify them, which happens in the system—the answer was that the Government do not know:

“the required data is not routinely collated”.

How can the Government insist that every recall of someone serving an IPP is necessary for public protection if they do not know the basic data? There is an underlying problem with the collection and use of data in the justice system anyway, and that is a particularly egregious example, if you will forgive my saying so, Mr Twigg. Perhaps the Minister could explain why that is the case, and what can be done to correct it?

I am glad the Government have asked the chief inspector of probation to conduct an independent thematic inspection on whether IPP recalls are necessary and proportionate. Certainly, we heard evidence all too often that there was something of a tick-box exercise in relation to some of the recalls, which really are not based on risk. Of course, where there is genuine risk, any person on licence—whether it is IPP or not—should be considered for recall, but the risk must be genuine; these things should not happen, as is the case sometimes, purely because of a failure in communications, or because of a failure to bear in mind that many people find it really difficult to get their lives back on track straightaway after such sentences. It will not be a straight, linear progression, and there does not seem to be enough recognition of that in the recall process. There are probably better ways in which we could keep a hold on people, technologically and otherwise, and track their movements and so on without the need for the nuclear option of recall, if I can put it that way.

That is why we particularly want to press the Government on why they have not taken on board our recommendation of going down to five years for the licence to be removed. It is worth saying that among those who said they would support a reduction from 10 years to five years was Martin Jones, the chief executive of the Parole Board. The people who deal with this themselves—the Government’s own experts—see the force in that, but the Government will not listen to them.

We were disappointed to see that the Government rejected that entirely, opting instead to review the policy and practice of suspending just the supervisory element after five years of good behaviour. It is a small step, but it really does not do justice to the evidence presented on that point. I hope we can have a fuller explanation of what their reasoning was, because it just is not apparent from their response. Let us also have the opportunity to think again about that. We presented the evidence base. Where is the Government’s?

Since June 2022, the Secretary of State has been required to automatically refer every eligible IPP prisoner to the Parole Board for licence termination at the 10-year point, and to do so in every subsequent year. I hope that that will help with the number of licences terminated, but I would be grateful if the Minister could update us on the number of referrals made since then and on how many licences have been terminated, because the intention may be good but we want to know whether it actually works in practice.

This is a long topic, and I want to make as much progress as I can to do it justice, so I will now turn to our main recommendation. When the IPP was abolished in 2012, that was because it was found to be unfair. In particular, it led to a lack of clarity and consistency in the way that two people who had committed the same crime might be sentenced, and to uncertainty for victims and families about when their assailants or family members might be released. In 2012, Parliament agreed that IPP sentences are fundamentally unjust, but there are still people serving them. Successive Governments acknowledged the problem, and there have been efforts by Members of both Houses to change the arrangements. Lord Blunkett was very frank with us when he expressed his profound regret at the setting up of the sentence. He said:

“I got it wrong. The Government now have the chance to get it right.”

I just hope the Government will.

On our key recommendation, although we can make various improvements to the process inside and outside prison, the real issue is that we have to bite the bullet and get rid of this irredeemably flawed system by enacting primary legislation, so that we can have a resentencing exercise for all prisoners still serving an IPP sentence on licence. That was clear from the evidence we had, and the recommendation was overwhelmingly supported. Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd, a former Lord Chief Justice of England and Wales, called resentencing the only “inevitable” outcome. He said:

“It is the only fair and just thing to do.”

That is why we made that call, and it was not made lightly. We recognise that there are concerns about resentencing, particularly for victims of crime, who have perfectly valid concerns about making sure that there is no risk to them or their families. It should be said that we never envisaged that a resentencing exercise for determinate sentences would automatically mean that every IPP prisoner would be released. We have to be honest with IPP prisoners and their families and say that there will be some for whom a determinate sentence would necessarily be a long one, and that they would not necessarily be released immediately or in a short time. But many probably would be, and all of them, however long their determinate sentence, would have finality, some certainty and the prospect of some hope. In other words, they would have the basic fairness that everybody else gets in the prison system.

To deal with this difficult issue, we suggested having a small, expert and time-limited panel to advise on the shape that the primary legislation and the scheme might take. We did not try to draft it ourselves. All we were saying is that we need to balance protection of the public with justice for the individual offender—that is a basic principle of sentencing anyway—the need to preserve the independence of the judiciary and the need to ensure that we do not, even inadvertently, retrospectively increase a sentence. None of those, we believed, were impossible, and with expert support and political will all those things can be done.

Many people had great hope raised by that recommendation, and we had moving letters from prisoners about it. I am afraid that some of those hopes have been dashed by the nature of the Government’s report. They did not just reject our key recommendation on resentencing; they did so with such a scarcity of evidence to support their reasoning that, frankly, they demonstrated no engagement whatever with the evidence and reasoning behind our recommendation, and nor did they reflect on our efforts to explain the complexities of a resentencing exercise, including the risks to the public and how they could be overcome. The Government fell back on simplistic mantras, if I may say so. I am embarrassed to have to say that about a Government of my own party. It is not the way that I, as a Conservative, have normally treated these matters, and I do not believe that the Minister would either—he was not the person responsible for drafting the response. It is as shoddy a response as I have ever seen to a Select Committee report.

I am, however, pleased that the Government have followed through on their commitment to publish the IPP action plan, which came out two days ago. I welcome that, and I am grateful to the Minister for it. We look forward to engaging with him in taking it forward and seeing how it operates in practice.

I am sorry to have taken so much time to set out what I think is a compelling case. We are now in a position to move on. It is political will that is needed now. There is a new Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice, who is someone who has considerable experience of the criminal justice system, so they know what prisons are like not just as a politician—there is nothing wrong with that—but as a lawyer who has been in practice for many years and who has dealt with the complexities of sentencing for many years. There is a chance for a fresh start and for the Government to say, “We will think again about this. We need to revisit our response. We need to recognise that we did not do justice to all the evidence presented to us.”

I know that the Minister, who is a fair man in all our dealings—I genuinely mean that—and a humane man, as is the Secretary of State, will want to go by the evidence, and there is now no obstacle to prevent them from doing that. I hope we will hear answers from the Minister to the specific concerns we have raised and also a sense that the Government are prepared to revisit something. There is no shame in saying, “We got this wrong.” There is no shame in Lord Blunkett saying, “I got it wrong. It was for the best of reasons, but I got it wrong.” There is massive credit in that. There would be no shame in the Government saying, “The response we gave was not up to scratch. We will go back and look again.” I hope they will reconsider, reflect and do that following this debate, and I hope the Minister will be able to signal to us that they are open-minded on that.

If Members take no more than nine or 10 minutes for their speeches, I will not have to impose a time limit. I will call the Opposition spokesperson no later than 2.40 pm. Members should bob if they wish to speak. I call John McDonnell.

I just want to raise three simple points. First, I congratulate the Chair of the Select Committee, the hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Sir Robert Neill), and the Select Committee overall on an immensely thorough report that deals with an issue that has hung over us for so long now that it is time to resolve it. I have the same optimism as him because of the change of personnel who will deal with this matter now. I think the Minister— I am about to flatter him, although he is not listening at the moment, so perhaps we can remind him of this later—will deal with this issue with an open mind, so there is a real opportunity here.

I also want to follow the Chair of the Select Committee in congratulating those who have campaigned over the years. Most of us can relate to this matter as a result of a constituent’s experience. All such cases are absolute tragedies. Many of these people accept they have committed a crime, and they accept the judge’s decision on the tariff as well, but they then get trapped in a Kafkaesque process of never knowing when they have met society’s requirements in terms of redressing what they have done. The result—we have seen all the evidence now—is the loss of life, which has been tragic. What is particularly moving is the fact that there have been suicides since the Government’s response. What this sentence has continuously done is create a sense of hopelessness among the individuals concerned, pushing many over the edge into mental health conditions, breakdowns and then suicide. The families serve the sentence as well, which has resulted in chronic tragedies among families too. It impacts on the parents, wives and children of those who have been sentenced in this way.

I have been in Parliament 25 years now, and I did not support the original indefinite sentencing proposals. I was on the Justice Committee a number of years ago, and in 2012, when it was agreed to abolish IPPs, I was elated. I actually thought justice would be served and that we would then rapidly find a mechanism for dealing with existing prisoners, because that was the spirit of the decision to abolish. That has not happened, and I think we have a duty—I do not place the onus only on the Government but on Parliament overall—to resolve the matter once and for all and to do so rapidly. The Minister was busy when I was talking, but we have a fresh chance now, with a new administration, effectively in the Department. With a new Minister and a new Secretary of State, there is the opportunity to go back, look at the response to the Select Committee report and engage again, and to do it rapidly.

I am a member of the justice unions parliamentary group, which represents the Prison Officers Association and Napo. I am an honorary life member of the POA. There is no financial relationship between the POA and the Labour party—the only benefit would be an extra pillow if I ever get sentenced. We have discussed the issue with the unions involved—these are the people who are dealing with it hands on. What the POA says very clearly is that it does not usually comment on sentencing policy, but it has made an exception in this case. It feels it has been given a task, in dealing with these prisoners, that is impossible. It is impossible to deal with the hopelessness felt by these prisoners. In many instances, because of the overcrowding and the lack of access to the programmes that are required to support them, it is also almost impossible to keep them safe. That is why we have had so many self-harm injuries and suicides.

The POA supports the proposal put forward by the Select Committee. The same goes for Napo, which has also pointed out that the Parole Board cannot deal with this serious matter as promptly as it should because of understaffing. Every expert opinion that the Select Committee has sought, whether it is the lawyers, the prisons officers or the probation officers, says there has to be some form of shift. The proposal from the Select Committee Opposition on ensuring that there is at least an exploration of the resentencing exercise is therefore one that any Government should seize with both hands. A group of experts who can go through in detail the processes that could be undertaken is the light that any Government would want to see at the end of the tunnel in terms of resolving this matter.

Concern has been expressed that this will create a problem of mass release, but the Select Committee has addressed that. The expert committee can advise on the timing, the way this is dealt with and how the whole issue can be properly resourced and timetabled to maximum effect, to the benefit of not only the prisoners currently serving indefinite sentences but the victims and the wider community. This is a way forward, and I hope the new administration and the new Minister can seize the opportunity; otherwise, we could be here in another 10 or 15 years’ time, and more prisoners will have lost their lives or suffered harm, and more families will have suffered.

On behalf of the constituents I have dealt with and all the professionals I link up with through the justice unions parliamentary group, I urge the Minister to see that now is the time to act. I believe that the Minister would have cross-party support in that; it would not be a political issue for banter or anything like that—it would fall into line with the cross-party approach that the Justice Committee has undertaken so successfully.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Twigg. I must refer to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests. As my hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Sir Robert Neill) said, I was a criminal defence solicitor for 17 years. I dealt with many IPP prisoners during that time, and I am a proud member of the Justice Committee. Rather than repeat his every word—I agree with every single word that he and the right hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell) said about this—I will tell you about Thomas.

In 2012, Thomas received an IPP sentence for robbery of a mobile phone. He was ordered to serve a minimum tariff of two years, only a few months before IPPs were abolished. If Thomas had been sentenced four months later, he would not be in prison now. That in itself tells a tale.

Thomas is now aged 39. He has been in custody for more than 10 years. He should have been released after his tariff of two years, so why is he in prison 10 years later? It is because—as my hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst and the right hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington said—his mental health has taken a huge blow during that period. He has suffered with psychosis and various other mental health traumas.

Where has that left Thomas’s family? His 13-year-old son has been left without a father. He has been moved 16 times, and on many occasions, has not been given access to the appropriate recourses because of his mental health challenges. Certainly, on occasions, he has not been able to engage with what has been provided, but the provision has been sparse to say the least.

This man is in prison with mental health difficulties. He has served over a decade more than his tariff, yet he is viewed as somebody who cannot be released. How is that possible? That brings us to risk, which is what my hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst talked about. I do not have enough time to discuss how the Parole Board deals with this, but how on earth is a man who committed an offence more than a decade ago, who clearly should be in a mental health facility, viewed as a risk? The reason why is that risk, incredibly, has become related to mental health—I talk from personal experience, and we also took evidence in camera from people who were involved, who wanted to speak candidly but felt that it was difficult. If somebody has a mental health issue, that is viewed to be a risk factor to causing harm. We cannot treat people like that. That is not risk.

The figures bear this out. When the Secretary of State appeared before the Justice Committee, 66% of the people who had been recalled had not committed a further offence. Why were 66% of them still in prison if they had not committed an offence? The reason is that for many of those individuals, the Probation Service and the Parole Board take an overcautious, scattergun approach. IPP prisoners are treated differently from other prisoners—I do not know what the reason is, but they are.

To justify that and to ensure that backs are covered, we put in place lots of conditions, most of which have no relation to risk. Risk is the risk of harm to other members of the public. If someone breaches a curfew, why are they getting sent back to prison? That is not evidence of a risk of harm. It is an indictment of the Government’s response on this issue that there has been no evidence base to challenge any of the questions that were raised by experts, members of the Committee and others—none.

What could possibly be the reason for—as of 2022—2,892 people still being in prison on an IPP sentence? How can Parliament allow that, if Parliament views that sentencing exercise as unjust? More than 2,800 people are in prison serving a sentence that Members of this House think is unjust. Can somebody explain how we can look one another in the face and allow that situation to continue? It is quite extraordinary.

Looking at the Government response, this cuts to the heart of what the Government are saying:

“The risks to public protection from the immediate release of serving IPP prisoners continue to exist. Although the Government recognises the frustrations and concerns surrounding the IPP sentence, our view is that the IPP Action Plan remains the best way in which these offenders can progress towards safe release.”

Not a shred of evidence is provided to back up that statement—not one. There is nothing. We are left in the uneasy situation where what we are actually keeping people in for is a concern, and it may well be a non-existent concern, but people’s lives are being blighted by politicians deciding that they do not want the risk of somebody coming out and doing something and then it being a headline in the newspaper. That is not the way to make policy. The justice system that I served for 20 years did not recognise that as justice. That is what this has come down to.

The response to the various things that my hon. Friend set out is just words on a piece of paper. We all know it, and there is that acceptance. I could read out numerous statements about the Government being committed to improving mental health support and rehabilitation support. I could have stood here and said that 10 years ago. If a Government are committed to trying to doing something, it means that they are not actually doing it. It is an acceptance that the proper support—the rehabilitative support and the courses—that is needed for somebody to be released from prison does not actually exist. Not only is this sentence unjust, but we are not providing pathways out for people with mental health difficulties.

The Minister—I like him very much—is an honourable man and an excellent Minister. How on earth have we got into this situation? As I said, Thomas is 39 years of age. He has been in custody for 11 years. Let us say that Thomas lives to the age of 70. If the basis for which somebody stays in custody is their mental health condition, which is deteriorating by the day, that would be another 31 years. He would be in prison for 40 years, having received a two-year sentence. People think that that is okay, seemingly, without any evidence of risk or anything.

That situation is repeated throughout this cohort of people. It is genuinely appalling. As my hon. Friend said, the Justice Committee’s report is not some radical document saying, “Open the doors and off we go”. It is an expert-based resentencing exercise, where some people may not be released from custody immediately, but at least they would have a determinate sentence that they and their families could have some hope to work towards.

We talk about the effect of these sentences, and I hope the Minister will take that into account. I could read out many facts, but the rate of self-harm among IPP prisoners is twice that of those serving a life sentence. Do we think that that happens by accident? The causal link through all the evidence is clear: the sentence is creating this situation. The deterioration of people’s mental health is a result of the sentence, and it is just appalling.

I am saddened to say this, because I believe that the Government are a force for good, but on this occasion, their response has left me exasperated. All of us who have been involved in the process have seen the personal stories of individuals and their family members. During my career in criminal law, one thing that I sometimes noticed was that we tended to treat people who were in a custodial environment as non-human beings. These are human beings with the same feelings, aspirations and desires for a house, for love and to have a positive and good life. We have created a situation where that has been cut off from them.

I will finish with this point, because I am going to keep to my 10 minutes, although I am tempted to go on for longer. With the change of personnel and with the new Lord Chancellor—a criminal barrister for many years—I think we all know that we should look at this afresh. We all know that we cannot have this situation going on in perpetuity, because we may as well book this room every five years and come back and say the same thing. What will happen is that more and more people will commit suicide and self-harm, and more lives and families will be destroyed, and for what? For a sentence that Parliament accepts is unjust. What other situation do we do that in?

Sometimes in Parliament, we talk about a lot of things and throw words around, but everyone accepts that this is unjust and yet we continue with it. I genuinely believe that this is a national scandal. It is a disgrace and a stain on the justice system in which I and my hon. Friend served. In the Justice Committee—with the hon. Member for Lewisham East (Janet Daby) as well—we have tried to come up with a responsible way of answering those concerns and of reflecting the personal and bespoke circumstances of each individual, and the views of victims, to ensure that public safety is part of the resentencing exercise that clearly needs to take place. Please, Minister, please, let us bring this farce to an end, accept the recommendations and give these people some hope.

It is a pleasure to speak under your chairmanship, Mr Twigg. I thank the Chair of the Justice Committee, the hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Sir Robert Neill), for securing the debate and for speaking so eloquently, setting the grounds for it. I also wish to put on the record my thanks to the Justice Committee staff for their important work for hon. Members, including me, in Committee.

I make no apology for repeating some of the things that have been stated already in this Chamber, because I think it is worth doing so. IPP sentences are a shameful mark on our criminal justice system, and successive Justice Secretaries have recognised that. In 2011, Lord Clarke expressed his concern that no prisoner can realistically prove to the Parole Board that they are not a danger to the public until after they are released. In 2016, the right hon. Member for Surrey Heath (Michael Gove) recommended using executive clemency for hundreds of prisoners kept in jail for much longer than their sentence. As we heard, that was not done. In 2019, the right hon. and learned Member for South Swindon (Sir Robert Buckland) acknowledged that it would be possible to resentence those serving IPP sentences, yet here we are today in 2023.

I hope that the new Justice Secretary, and the Minister present, will go further than identifying lists of ideas and statements, as stated in the action plan that came out recently. I hope that they will make a real change for reform, because that is what is needed.

The primary reform identified by the Justice Committee was legislation to enable a resentencing exercise to take place, but we have to be honest that that would not be a simple process. Resentencing is the Prison Reform Trust’s preferred solution, but it noted that that would have significant resource implications and could place a strain on the judiciary. The Justice Committee, however, heard varying suggestions of how a resentencing exercise could be conducted, and 138 multidisciplinary criminal justice experts wrote to the Justice Secretary endorsing a carefully planned resentencing exercise. The Sentencing Academy suggested that the High Court be tasked with reconsidering the facts of each case. It could then apply the appropriate sentencing options.

Those varying approaches show that we must consider carefully how a resentencing programme would work. One solution would be to set up an expert committee to produce a report on the best way to run a resentencing exercise. That could include whether it is possible, and how it could be done in a way to protect public safety, to take the victim of the crime into account and to deal fairly with the offender. We should not forget why the need for reform matters so much—because we are discussing people’s lives, and those should be valued.

Last year, nine people serving IPP sentences committed suicide. That is the highest number since the sentence was introduced. Overall, 81 people serving IPP sentences have taken their own lives. They have committed suicide and we have heard about the impact of that on their family members. That is 81 lives lost because of shameful failures in our criminal justice system. This situation does not need to persist; no further lives need to be lost, although we have heard of one life being lost recently. As I said, each person’s life should be valued.

On face value, the Government have given up, locked the door and—it seems—thrown away the key for almost 3,000 prisoners currently serving IPP sentences. However, there is always time for change, and I hope that change will come. Of those 3,000 prisoners, almost half of them have been in prison for over 10 years following their original tariff. Is it any wonder that mental health problems, self-harm and suicide are so prevalent among those serving these sentences?

I remind the House, as the hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst did, that IPP sentences were abolished in 2012. Napo states that its experience of people serving IPP sentences is that they generally

“tend to suffer from personality disorders, anxiety and depression and other mental health issues at a higher rate than other prisoners in the prison”

service. There is, therefore, a higher rate of self-harm and attempted suicide among these prisoners, which “impacts on” their

“ability to ‘behave’ in a way that is”


“expected by the Parole Board and the Prison Service. As such they are denied release due to bad behaviour when in fact we should be looking at how imprisonment and the trauma this causes can escalate these behaviours. Many prisoners as a result are in a never-ending cycle.”

That is really important to note. These prisoners are already likely to suffer from some type of mental disorder, so they are more likely to have received this type of sentence when they are indeed vulnerable in other ways. This is an appalling state of affairs, and the Government can and should take steps to end it now. I would like to hear what the Minister says about how they will achieve that.

In 2018, I was contacted by a constituent whose son had been imprisoned in 2007 and is now serving an IPP sentence. Her son’s prison tariff was initially five years, but after 15 years he is still in prison. He has been repeatedly moved, or there have been threats that he will be moved, around prisons up and down our country. He is like a ghost in prison—he is moving from one prison to the next—and his mother repeatedly calls me to tell me where he is now. How demoralising and degrading this must feel to him. His situation has included him being moved away from his family, being denied contact with them and being denied emotional support. His parole hearing should have taken place on time, but, again, delay after delay has meant that his case is being deferred, because the necessary risk assessments and reports were not prepared in time. Indeed, sometimes no reason has been given for such delays. His mother is stricken with grief and often speaks to me on the phone, crying. I ask the Minister if he will review that case—in fact, all these cases need to be reviewed—and I know that that this man’s family in particular would appreciate that.

This man, like so many others, deserves a chance at reform, but our crumbling justice system—on the Government’s watch—is holding them back. Our prisons are overcrowded and the Minister has been forced to use police cells to hold prisoners. There are thousands of vacancies for prison officers across our country, but the Government do not publish full data on that, so we cannot properly understand the scale of the problem or how to tackle it. This means that many prisons are unable to offer a full and meaningful prison regime, with quality education and skills training, which are so crucial for those serving IPP sentences to show the Parole Board that they are safe to be released.

Almost the entire criminal justice system, from court to probation, is beset by backlogs, staff shortages and inexperienced staff. Even if a prisoner is released, probation officers are overstretched and cannot provide the support that they need. A litany of Government failures across the criminal justice system all indicate that the system is in crisis. Sadly, I fear that the Government are in denial about the scale of the challenge facing our justice service. Only if they own up to it and oversee the huge improvements that are needed will those serving IPP sentences get their chance at reform.

I hope that the Minister reflects strongly and responds to the issues that have been raised across this Chamber, and I look forward to his response.

It is an honour to serve under your chairship, Mr Twigg, and I thank the hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Sir Robert Neill) for securing this incredibly important debate, on an issue that affects so many people, as we have heard today. The hon. Member has worked hard to fight this injustice. To be honest, it has been an absolute privilege to stand here today and listen to the contributions from all Members. It has been a fantastic debate so far. I am going to reinforce and possibly repeat what has been said today. It is important that I do so on those of my constituents who are affected.

The hon. Member for Bury North (James Daly) said that this is a national scandal. I am chair of the all-party parliamentary group on public accountability, and we have seen some scandals instigated by the state. Unfortunately, this is another such scandal, and it needs to be resolved.

I speak today on behalf of several families in my constituency of Liverpool, West Derby who have been affected by IPP sentences and who have been in touch with me. I recently wrote to the now, thankfully, former Secretary of State for Justice, the right hon. Member for Esher and Walton (Dominic Raab), regarding the many issues associated with these sentences, and requesting a response. I take this timely opportunity to restate those asks, in the hope that the newly appointed Secretary of State for Justice, the right hon. and learned Member for Cheltenham (Alex Chalk), will be able to take them up accordingly.

The principle of IPPs, together with the poor drafting of the legislation, has resulted in those who committed less serious offences that never previously carried a life sentence receiving sentences that were never intended for them, as has been mentioned throughout the debate. It was predicted that about 900 people would receive IPP sentences, but they were actually given to more than 8,000 people.

In addition, prisons did not and still do not have adequate rehabilitation services, so prisoners are not able to access the interventions they need to demonstrate that they are no longer a risk and can be released. Like many other elements in this wretched piece of legislation, that defies belief.

In 2012, the European Court of Human Rights held that the failure to make appropriate provision for rehabilitative services for three prisoners serving IPP sentences breached their rights under article 5 of the European convention on human rights. The cumulative impact of IPP sentences on individuals’ welfare and their families is well documented and has been detailed today. Indeed, the then Government Minister described it in a 2010 session of Justice Questions as “not defensible”. My right hon. Friend the Member for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell) voted against the legislation. He is always on the right side of history.

Even though the sentences were abolished in 2012, that provision does not apply retrospectively, as has been said, and so the impact continues for thousands of families. The mental health element is absolutely crucial. The mental health crisis among IPP prisoners is rife, with 81 suicides recorded among those serving IPP sentences since 2005, according to the United Group for Reform of IPP. Tragically, it has been reported that only yesterday a young man serving an IPP sentence took his own life at HMP Manchester.

Studies have shown that the family members of those given an IPP sentence suffer financial and emotional strain, hopelessness and a loss of faith in the justice system. Their children show separation anxiety, emotional distress and behavioural problems. I have witnessed that at first hand in families I have spoken to in my constituency. In one case—I will not provide the full details, for legal reasons—the constituent had rebuilt his life following release. However, he has now suddenly been recalled. The positive progress that he had made over those five years has been put on hold—for how long, we do not know. His livelihood, children and family are now terribly impacted because they have absolutely no clarity on how long he will be imprisoned for.

In a surgery last month, the mother of that prisoner broke down in my arms, crying. She just could not see an end to it, with the destruction of the life that he had built, the impact on the children and the family, with everything ripped away from them. In her words:

“IPP sentences have been abolished since 2012 but so many people and their families are still suffering from the injustice and lives are being utterly destroyed. When will this nightmare end for all of us?”

That is a question for the Minister.

Along with MPs from across the House, I am a signatory to early-day motion 591, which calls on the Government to implement the findings of the Justice Committee’s report, which has been outlined fantastically today, in particular that the Government quickly legislates to enable a resentencing exercise for all IPP-sentenced individuals, except for those who have successfully had their licence terminated.

The Government’s response to the Justice Committee’s report rejected its primary recommendation on resentencing. Like everyone else, I ask the Minister to shed light on whether that will be looked at again by the new Secretary of State, following the dismay of families, campaigners, trade unions and the Justice Committee at the original response.

In a recent debate in Parliament on IPP sentences, we heard the former Home Secretary Lord Blunkett, who introduced the sentences, describe the current situation concerning IPP prisoners as unequal, unjust and immoral. It was good to hear him say those words. He acknowledged the mistake and the impact it has had on so many families. Former Supreme Court Justice Lord Brown has repeated his description of IPP sentences as the

“greatest single stain on the justice system”,

as has been mentioned throughout this debate, and that

“it is a deeper, growing stain because of the situation with the recalls.”—[Official Report, House of Lords, 15 November 2021; Vol. 816, c. 33.]

The absurd and incredibly damaging situation with respect to the legacy of IPP sentences cannot continue. I plead with the Minister to rethink the Government’s response to the Justice Committee’s report. I ask him to impress on the new Secretary of State the need to meet families, victims and campaigners in the next few weeks to discuss how we can repair the clear defects in the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 and, crucially, finally bring certainty to prisoners and their families about the nature of their detention and recall. We expect nothing else in this place. It is crucial that their words are listened to and adhered to.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Twigg. I thank the hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Sir Robert Neill) for bringing forward the debate and for the Justice Committee’s report. I was proud formerly to serve on the Committee under his leadership, and I can personally attest to his dedication and the Committee’s rigorous approach to its work. The report is no exception.

We have heard powerful contributions. The hon. Member set out in great detail the Select Committee’s findings after many evidence sessions and highlighted the inadequacy of the Government’s response. My right hon. Friend the Member for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell) talked about a Kafkaesque process and the need for cross-party support, which I will talk more about. The hon. Member for Bury North (James Daly) mentioned Thomas who, 10 years on, is still in prison serving a sentence that had a tariff of two years. My hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham East (Janet Daby) talked about setting up an expert committee to look at how resentencing could work and raised some really important points. My hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Ian Byrne) talked about a lack of intervention in prisons and spoke powerfully about his constituents’ experiences.

When IPP sentences were introduced, it was anticipated that they would be given to 900 people. In fact, between 2005 and 2013, they were given to more than 8,000 people. After concerns were raised that the sentences were being applied much more widely than originally intended, the use of IPPs was rightly abolished in 2012, but, as we know, that change did not apply retrospectively. As a result, at the end of 2022, there were still just short of 3,000 prisoners in custody under IPP sentences.

As has been outlined, countless testimonies and studies have shown the link between serving an IPP sentence and deteriorating mental health, self-harm and suicide. Eighty-one IPP prisoners have taken their own lives while in prison. In 2022 alone, there were nine suicides—the highest number of any year since IPPs were introduced. In 2021, IPP prisoners made up 11% of all self-harm incidents recorded, despite being only 3% of the entire prison population.

Those issues are compounded by the fact that, after a decade of cuts to the justice system, prisons are now understaffed, overcrowded and awash with violence and drugs. In too many cases, prisoners are spending up to 23 hours a day in their cells, with little to no purposeful activity. In a system under such strain, IPP prisoners have often been placed right at the back of the queue. Many have been unable to address their offending because they have been denied access to the courses necessary to demonstrate their rehabilitation. In some cases, the courses they need simply do not exist in the prisons they are in; in other cases, lifers have been given support ahead of IPP prisoners. A lack of mental health support and awareness of neurodiverse conditions has also made it easier to stigmatise an inmate as a problem rather than offer them the support they need to reform.

Given those conditions, it is no wonder that so many IPP inmates and their families have lost hope, and the problems do not stop there. Recalls are rising. As the chief inspector of probation outlined, most recalls to prisons are for non-compliance with licence conditions, rather than for new crimes. Non-compliance often results from homelessness, a relapse into substance misuse and a lack of continuity of care between pre and post-release service provision. In short, failing services are leading to unsuccessful licences, which means that we are setting up too many IPP releases to fail. They are put back into custody in a system that sets them goals it does not allow them to meet.

Many IPP sentences were more a judgment on an individual’s chaotic life than their risk, making it near impossible for them to prove their suitability for release. For example, Charlotte was a 30-year-old drug addict when she was sentenced to a minimum of 16 months in prison. She had been begging outside a corner shop, and when a woman refused to give her money, she pulled out a knife. She did not attempt to stab the woman, but she did terrify her. Nine years later, in July 2016, she died in prison. It was an awful crime, of course, but a disproportionate outcome given that for threats with a weapon, the mandatory minimum sentence is six months’ custody and the maximum sentence is four years.

As we have heard today, there are some cases where the continued detention of individuals appears unduly harsh, given the nature of their original crime or the length of their original tariff. There have been resulting calls from those individuals’ families and justice organisations for reform of the system. Equally, there are a large number of individuals serving IPP sentences whose continued detention has rightly been deemed necessary for public protection by successive Parole Boards. That includes many sex offenders and violent criminals. Any blanket amnesty for those individuals, who include the black cab rapist, John Worboys, would create a serious and unacceptable risk to public safety. Various proposals have been made, including by the Justice Committee, about ways to address the potential unfairness of outstanding IPP sentences without exposing the public to the risk that would arise from releasing all those currently serving them.

Whatever party is in power, I believe it is paramount that we approach any discussion of reform on a cross-party basis, just as the Justice Committee did, consulting victims’ groups as well as justice organisations. We must avoid at all costs the future of those prisoners becoming a political football. On that basis, if the Government are willing to bring forward meaningful proposals on how to solve the situation, Labour will engage with them in a constructive, cross-party way. It is important that the Government understand that we are willing to work with them to move forward on this issue constructively. I am keen to hear the Minister’s response to that.

We must also recognise that problems do not just lie with IPPs. Even if individuals on IPP sentences are eventually released on licence by a Parole Board, to keep us safe we are still reliant on a functioning probation system to ensure those individuals comply with their licence conditions and do not lapse back into the behaviours that originally made them a risk. The precursor of any reform must therefore be a probation system that works, yet after 13 years of the Tories, the probation service is buckling at the seams. Under Labour, probation was well regarded and fulfilled its aims of keeping the public safe and rehabilitating those it supervised, but after more than a decade of underfunding and chaotic organisational change, which has led to many experienced staff leaving, it is today failing. Inspection report after inspection report detail systemic failures, and it is the public who pay the price with their safety.

There have been an average of six serious further offence convictions every week since 2010, including for murder, kidnap and rape. The reality is that our criminal justice system has been pushed to the brink, and if the Government were truly concerned about protecting public safety, they would urgently plug the gaps and rebuild the service they broke.

We all recognise the problems that IPP sentences have caused, but we must also recognise the numerous complexities surrounding them and the pressures on our stretched criminal justice system. I welcome the Department’s new leadership, and I hope the Government will seriously look at this issue again. If they bring forward proposals, we will engage with them in a constructive, cross-party way with the priority of public safety at the centre of that approach.

It is very good to see you in the Chair, as always, Mr Twigg. I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Sir Robert Neill) for his opening remarks and for securing this debate on behalf of the Justice Committee following the publication last year of its report on imprisonment for public protection sentences. I also thank all colleagues in the Chamber for what they have brought to this important debate and to our discussion of these incredibly serious matters.

The Government welcomed the report by my hon. Friend and his Committee as a real opportunity to take stock of the debate on the IPP sentence, which rightly continues to generate enormous interest, attention and challenge across both Houses of Parliament. Having discussed this matter with IPP campaign groups and colleagues of different parties last month, I am even more acutely aware of the depth and strength of the feeling evoked.

Today’s debate is timely, because the updated IPP action plan from HM Prison and Probation Service was shared with my hon. Friend’s Committee yesterday. One of the Committee’s key recommendations was to refresh the agency’s action plan, and this debate provides an opportunity to share some details of the refreshed plan with the House. I am confident that it will make a genuine difference to the way that IPP offenders are rehabilitated and supported through to safe release, consistent with public protection.

I will provide a brief overview of the IPP sentence, before turning to the Justice Committee’s report and the Government response. As a number of colleagues have mentioned, the IPP sentence was introduced by the Criminal Justice Act 2003 for offences committed on or after 4 April 2005, and it was abolished from December 2012. As has been noted, abolition was not applied retrospectively, as the Government assessed that it would not be right to alter a sentence that had been lawfully imposed by a court prior to its abolition. This means that the Parole Board grants release to those serving an IPP sentence once they have demonstrated that they are safe to be released.

At the time of abolition, more than 6,000 offenders were serving an IPP sentence in prison. Since then a substantial number have been released on licence, so that at the end of March this year there were 2,916 offenders on an IPP sentence in custody. Although that is a significant decrease from the peak in 2012, I recognise that there is more to be done. I reaffirm the Government’s commitment to support those serving an IPP sentence, both in prison and on licence in the community, to work towards a safe and sustainable future release. We will continue this work through the updated IPP action plan.

I thank all members of the Justice Committee for their thorough work in examining the issues surrounding IPP sentences. The Government gave careful consideration to all the report’s findings and each of the Committee’s recommendations. We carefully considered the recommendations to undertake a full resentencing exercise of all remaining offenders serving an IPP sentence and to establish a time-limited expert committee to advise on the practical implementation of such an exercise, as the hon. Member for Lewisham East (Janet Daby) and others outlined. However, the Government’s priority remains the protection of the public, and any resentencing exercise that aims to provide each IPP prisoner with a definite release date would inevitably result in the immediate release of a considerable number of offenders who committed serious sexual or violent offences and whom the Parole Board has previously deemed unsafe to be released.

I make it on the basis of the profile of the prison population and the fact that prisoners have had parole hearings where determinations have been made not to release. That is based on the release test, with which I know my hon. Friend is extremely familiar.

It is vital for public protection that those serving the IPP sentence in prison, whether not yet released or recalled following release, are released only following a thorough risk assessment that finds that their risk has now reduced to the point where they can be safely managed in the community. That is a judgment for the parole board. It is for that reason we rejected the Committee’s recommendation of a full resentencing exercise for such offenders.

I am not sure we all share the same understanding of the Committee’s recommendation. My understanding was that the Committee recommended bringing together an expert panel that would advise on the process. That does not mean the expert panel would precipitously leap us forward into a mass release or anything like that. It is just an expert panel that could advise the Government on how the process might operate. The Government could refuse its recommendations. It is just another way of exploring—to the point made by the hon. Member for Bury North (James Daly)—an evidence- based judgment rather than one based, frankly, on prejudice.

I assure the right hon. Gentleman that our decision is based on principles of public safety, consistent with wishing to help and support the prisoners on an IPP sentence through to the point where they can be released safely into the community. All of us want that ultimate goal.

The Committee also recommended a reduction in the qualifying period for licence termination from 10 years to five following first release from custody. As hon. Members know, the licence period following custody is an important tool not only for public protection, but to ensure that offenders are properly supported to manage risk when they are integrating back into the community. As I said earlier, offenders who originally received an IPP sentence did so because they committed a qualifying offence and were considered to pose a risk of serious harm to the public. It is extremely important to allow a proportionate licence period after release to ensure their safe management and reintegration into communities.

Will the Minister set out, either here or in the Library, what evidence he has that suggests the risk is significantly greater at five years as opposed to 10? What statistics lead to that decision?

We will continue to engage with my hon. Friend’s Committee in the normal way. It is perfectly reasonable of him to challenge us. I was coming on to say something about the licence periods.

Although we will not be reducing the eligibility period for licence termination at this time, we have committed in the action plan to review the current policy and practice for suspending the supervisory elements of IPP licences to ensure that all cases are considered at the point when they are eligible, which, for the supervisory element, is after five continuous successful years on licence in the community. My hon. Friend will be aware of the changes that we made in the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act 2022 in regard to making sure that eligible cases are brought forward.

Colleagues have expressed legitimate concern about the high number of IPP offenders recalled to custody, and asked about the proportionality of that. I assure colleagues that in 2020 His Majesty’s inspectorate of probation did a thematic report on recall in terms of its proportionality, and it found that decisions to recall were proportionate. As part of our action plan, we will be internally reviewing our recall processes. We are also asking His Majesty’s inspector of probation—the chief inspector—to undertake a thematic inspection of recalls specifically for IPP and for that to happen in this calendar year. He will also look at the weeks leading up to recall—I know that this is a significant point that matters to colleagues, and rightly so— and consider whether, had the support on offer been different, recall could have been avoided. I thank the chief inspector for stepping up to undertake that piece of work.

I will move on to the IPP action plan, but first may I ask what time I must finish by, Mr Twigg?

Then I will turn to the IPP action plan, which sets out the range of work that His Majesty’s Prison and Probation Service does to support the progress of IPP offenders towards a prospective safe and sustainable release.

The Committee’s report criticised the then IPP action plan for lacking clear performance measures, an accountable owner and a timeframe for completion of workstream actions. We accept those points made by my hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst and his colleagues. It had actually long been the intention of the Government to refresh the IPP action plan, once his Committee’s report had been published.

Having taken that evidence into account, I am pleased to be able to share some of the details of the refreshed plan, building on the previous one. I am confident that it will deliver tangible change by safely reducing over time the IPP population in custody and in the community, while still prioritising public protection. Our key priority is managing the sentences of those serving an IPP to a consistently high quality, ensuring that the delivery of systems and processes in every prison and probation region facilitates risk reduction and the prospect of progress towards a safe and sustainable release. That will include the delivery of specific interventions and services to enable sentence progression, rehabilitation and effective resettlement for those who continue to serve the IPP sentence. To respond to a point brought up by my hon. Friend, it is true that covid restricted access to some of those programmes. The plan has now set out—and itself includes—actions to ensure that IPP prisoners get access in a timely way to the programmes they need to be able to reduce their risk.

I will say a little about the governance of the plan—that comes to the accountable owner and ensuring that it has sufficient heft. There will be a new senior IPP progression board, chaired by the executive director with responsibility for public protection, who my hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst and some of the campaign groups met and heard from recently. The board will drive the completion of actions, reviewing the impact and progress of the action plan every six months. Each workstream will be formally owned by a senior leader in HMPPS and held accountable for delivery through the new board. We will also set up a new external reference group for open engagement with external stakeholders, which is very important. That will give them a chance to engage directly with and provide input to the action plan and its delivery.

I accept the points made by my hon. Friend about transparency and reporting, and we are committed to reporting more and in a timely way. The Government’s priority continues to be the protection of the public, but we remain fully committed to doing all we can to support the safe progression of those serving IPP sentences. I look forward to continued dialogue on this matter with the Committee, colleagues here and others beyond this debate. I repeat my gratitude to my hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst for securing the debate and to all who contributed to it.

I thank all Members who have spoken so powerfully in the debate. Of course, we look forward to engaging with the Minister and the Government on the action plan, but I must say that closed minds still seem to prevail in relation to the key issue of resentencing. If the Government will not move, Parliament must move for them. I have prepared a draft clause to enact the recommendations of the report for a resentencing exercise, and I shall not hesitate to move it when the Victims and Prisoners Bill returns to this House. I hope it will have support from across the Chamber.

Question put and agreed to.


That this House has considered the Third Report of the Justice Committee, IPP Sentences, HC 266, and the Government response, HC 933.

Sitting adjourned.