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Life Sentence Prisoners And Marriage

Volume 387: debated on Thursday 1 December 1977

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3.6 p.m.

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government what conditions must be satisfied before a prisoner serving a life sentence is allowed to marry.

My Lords, except to legitimise a child, a life sentence prisoner would not be allowed to marry until after he has been given a provisional date for his release.

My Lords, will the noble Lord provide any justification for that very inhumane treatment of women who want to marry life sentence prisoners? Is he aware, as he must be, that, as far as I know, the last circular issued on this matter—which was not available in the Library up to a few minutes ago—informs us that, in the case of,

"a prisoner serving a life sentence: the application should be referred to P3 or P4 Division, who will consult CS Division".
That leaves a strong presumption that discretion will be exercised at the Home Office. Although I appreciate the noble Lord's interest in this matter, will he agree that it is his own arbitrary fiat and not the law of the Medes and Persians which prevents this discretion being given?

My Lords, I would not agree with my noble friend that the policy is in any way inhumane. Indeed, until this year the marriage of prisoners was allowed only in a situation where a child would be legitimised. Since then, the situation has been changed and now, broadly, the position is that all prisoners with 12 months to serve, excepting life sentence prisoners, are, in fact, given permission. That is a major change and I am slightly surprised that my noble friend regards the situation as I have described it as inhumane. I do not think it is. There is a difference between life sentence prisoners and others in that as far as those people are concerned there is no right of release at any specific time. I believe that that puts them in a different category. Once they have a date for release, we are certainly prepared to look at the question.

On the circular, I am certainly prepared to look at its terms because at the moment I do not think that in this particular respect it is altogether adequate.

My Lords, will the noble Lord repeat that last sentence because it was not clear to those of us sitting on these Benches?

Certainly, my Lords. I said that my noble friend had drawn the attention of my office to the fact that the current language of the circular does not altogether accurately describe the existing policy as regards life sentence prisoners—it might conceivably raise hopes where none would be justified. That being so, I shall look at the language of the circular as it relates to life sentence prisoners to ensure that it accurately describes the situation that I have put to the House this afternoon.

My Lords, can the Minister tell us whether there are any women prisoners serving life sentences? He mentioned male prisoners serving life sentences.

My Lords, I cannot answer that question without notice. I think that there are, indeed, women in this category. Without notice I cannot give the number, but the situation that I have described of course applies to both men and women.

My Lords, I find it a little difficult to follow my noble friend's statement, but am I right in saying that permission to marry is given to persons who have been given a provisional date for parole? Why then is not a similar permission given to persons serving life sentences who have been given provisional release dates? What is the reason for this discrimination?

My Lords, I did in fact say, I hope fairly clearly but I shall now repeat it, that where a provisional release date has been given, permission will already be granted.