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Victims and Prisoners Bill

Volume 836: debated on Tuesday 12 March 2024

Committee (7th Day) (Continued)

Amendment 155

Moved by

155: Clause 48, page 52, line 23, after ““three”;” insert “and

(ii) at end insert “in the case of a person serving a sentence of imprisonment for public protection and one and a half years beginning with the date of his release in the case of a person serving a sentence of detention for public protection.”;”Member's explanatory statement

This amendment would halve the qualifying period for men and women who were sentenced as children in line with other statutory provisions, such as when convictions become “spent”, to reflect the principle that children change in a shorter period than adults.

My Lords, once more, I rise to move the lead amendment in the group in place of my noble friend Lord Blunkett. I think we can take this group with some speed, which will not diminish the power of his arguments or these amendments. These amendments concern men and women who were sentenced to indeterminate detention when they were children. Their sentence is called “detention for public protection”. All the arguments we have been airing in earlier groups are, to my mind, turbocharged in the context of these people—all the injustices are so much worse given that they were children when these appalling sentences were placed upon them.

The amendments seek to recognise our contemporary understanding of child development and to legislate with the according enlightenment and humanity. Amendment 155 halves the qualifying period before release eligibility to one and a half years. Amendment 162 ensures quarterly, instead of annual, progression planning reviews to avoid this cohort becoming stuck in the system and to recognise that, when one is younger, one develops at a different rate. One develops for longer than we used to think and at a swifter rate, including positively, we hope than would be expected of fully mature adults who have committed crimes. Amendment 163 requires the Secretary of State to refer these prisoners—because that is effectively what they are—to the Parole Board annually for enhanced scrutiny.

All of this prioritises this cohort and adds extra pressure on scrutiny and nudging things along to make sure that, if at all possible, they might be released. Not a single one of these amendments would change the basis for release. Regarding the difficulties that the Minister was reaching for in earlier groups, not a single one of these amendments would put a single person on the street. But, given the age at which they were sentenced and the increased injustice of that sentence, it would give closer and more regular scrutiny to their progression through the system—hopefully, towards release.

Finally, I declare an interest in that, for most of the last three years, I have had the privilege of serving under the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, who was the founding chair of your Lordships’ Justice and Home Affairs Committee. I have recently rotated off that committee in favour, I am glad to say, of my noble friend Lord Bach, who will no doubt be a wonderful addition to that committee. The last report from that committee when I served on it, again under the chairmanship of the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, was about community sentencing versus incarceration. In their lengthy response, in paragraph 90 regarding young people, the Government said:

“All offenders are legally treated as adults from the age of 18, however there is powerful evidence which shows that young adults continue their psychosocial maturity development well into their mid-twenties. Recognising this evidence, the Ministry of Justice and HMPPS is committed to developing approaches and support to meet young adults’ distinctive maturity and developmental needs while ensuring public protection”.

That was the Government’s position very recently—as of weeks ago. It is my suggestion to the Committee that that ethos fuels these amendments.

Therefore, the Government should have no difficulty, given the age of these people when sentenced, in accepting these amendments or some version of them. As I said, not a single person will walk the streets as a result of these amendments, but they will get extra support and scrutiny which is appropriate for people who were sentenced to indeterminate sentence when they were children.

My Lords, I have added my name to all the amendments in this group, initiated by the noble Lord, Lord Blunkett, and so well presented by the noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti.

While I have made my feelings clear on many occasions on just how egregious the treatment of all IPP prisoners has been, the situation for individuals sentenced as children has been arguably even more cruel and wrong. As I understand it, there are 85 people currently serving an IPP sentence that was handed down when they were children and some were of a very young age.

The teen years are such a formative time, and of the 85 remaining—who are now all adults—they have arguably had the worst start in life; 36 of them have never been released. What chance have they got of adjusting back into whatever might pass as a normal life? The only upside of this is that, because there are not that many of them, more time and attention can therefore be focused on fitting them for release.

According to the Prison Reform Trust, there is a window in which people typically develop the support and inner resources to desist from crime. As the noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti, has said, this unfortunate cohort is rapidly passing that window, which means that giving them the maximum possible support as quickly as possible is vital.

Amendment 155 would halve the qualifying period in which other statutory provisions for children become spent. Amendment 162 would give heavier support to DPPs who are unsuccessful in staying on parole or getting released at all. My worry about changing sentence planning reviews from annually to quarterly, however, is that if nothing has happened it might devalue the relevance of the review and dishearten the prisoner.

Amendment 163 would halve the time between referrals for consideration by the Parole Board to one year, which I heartily commend. The issue for me is the cost in financial and human resources, to which the Minister might want to refer. The only upside of this concentrated help is the fact that there are not many DPPs in terms of the overall cost that is being expended on IPP prisoners.

If these young people are to have a real chance, they need the help now, while their mind and their development can still be receptive to another way of living their life.

My Lords, I would like to add a few words to what has already been said about Amendments 162 and 163 devised by the noble Lord, Lord Blunkett. The really important part of Amendment 162 is in proposed new subsection (2), which would set out in statute the aim of the convenor of these planning meetings. It states that they are taking place

“with a view to ensuring that all possible steps are taken to enable their safe release at the earliest possible time”.

Those words emphasise the purpose of the reviews and therefore enhance the care that would be taken to conduct them by the Secretary of State.

As far as Amendment 163 is concerned, the first part of it is already the existing law. It says that for

“a person serving a sentence of detention for public protection, the Secretary of State must refer his case to the Parole Board … after he has served the relevant part of his sentence”.

That is a tariff and is already standing practice. What is new is the proposal that the Secretary of State must refer a person’s case to the Parole Board,

“where there has been a previous reference of his case to the Board, no later than the period of one year beginning with the disposal of that reference”.

The emphasis in both these amendments is on the regularity of reviews. When I was Lord Justice General, I saw this working well in my visits to the Parole Board. As I mentioned earlier, there are files prepared that have to be examined in detail, but the Parole Board appointed a particular member to take on a particular case, so that each time it came up for review, the member could reinforce what was in the files by explaining his or her own view of what was taking place and, as time went on, reinforce it by previous discussions. In that way, continuity was provided to the whole process.

Each board will have its own method of dealing with it, but the structure of what is provided by these two amendments provides a basis on which the Parole Board can exercise its views with a view to achieving what is set out in proposed new subsection (2) in Amendment 162, ensuring that all possible steps are taken to ensure safe release at the earliest possible time.

My Lords, I have added my name to Amendment 155 in this group. The principles behind and the purposes of the amendments we have been discussing have already been well forked over, so I will cut straight to the chase.

I have intervened in Committee only on one other group of amendments, a few weeks ago on restorative justice. I link the two because they offer the opportunity to break cycles of offending and to give the individuals involved a chance of hope, to avoid the hopelessness that my noble and learned friend the Minister said was so pernicious when he was summing up the first group of amendments; the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley of Knighton, also said it when contributing to a later group. Nowhere can this be more important than when dealing with young offenders. As the noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti, said, the individuals who make up the group covered by these amendments are unlikely, at the time of their initial sentence, to have a great deal of emotional maturity or self-discipline. They are children, as she pointed out. This is unsurprising, given the likelihood of their background and their life chances prior to their sentence. One hopes that the framework provided by the prison regime for young offenders will accelerate that emotional and other development, paving the way for a return to society.

I endorse the remarks of my noble friend Lord Attlee and the noble Baroness that this is not seen as a soft option. We have to make sure that the public are properly protected—otherwise, respect for and confidence in our judicial and penal system are undermined.

This group is going to undergo a further shock. At a meeting of the All-Party Group on prisons, we had evidence from young people—25 year-olds, really—about what it was like to move from a young offender institution to full prison life. The evidence was pretty startling. The guy said that life in a young offender institution was no bed of roses, but when you got into prison it was a whole different world—quite shocking. Clearly, he was very shocked by it. Indeed, Recommendation 24 of the Justice and Home Affairs Committee report addresses the issue of how you transition and what it means to the people who are so caught up in it. He went on to say that, for some people, it hardened them into a life where they would be persistent offenders but, for some others, it was a wake-up call. They saw that it was a chance, if they managed to get their act together, and were encouraged, to be able to break out—and part of that was seeing some light at the end of the tunnel. This is one of the issues that is very important in these amendments: it is about light at the end of the tunnel, and people being able to see that something can happen to them.

I shall end with a different example that is completely outside the matters that we have been discussing but which might give a sense of what it feels like to be given an IPP sentence. My father’s best friend was captured at Dunkirk in June 1940. He was 24 years old, and he was in a prisoner of war camp until May 1945, when the war came to an end—first in Germany, then in Poland. He went in at 24 and came out at nearly 30. He did not talk about it much, but I remember when I was about 20 him being prepared to talk about what the experience was like. So much of it was like having an IPP sentence.

It began with a sense of shame: had you done enough? Should you have gone on to the bitter end and had you, by surrendering, let your country down? But that died away. Then it was about hardship, which was quite great in the first winter of the war, 1940-41, until Red Cross parcels and parcels from home began to arrive. But my father’s friend said that none of that in any way matched up to the appalling sense of hopelessness —that month after month and year after year ticked by, and you could feel your life running through your fingers.

My father’s friend could articulate that, but I suspect that that is what quite a lot of the IPP individuals are feeling, to some extent, even if they are not able to put it clearly into words. They are the ones for whom I hope we can find ways to help, so that they get that sense of hope. In the prisoner of war camp—they put it rather more roughly in those days—a lot of people behaved rather oddly. What they were saying, of course, was that they were under extreme mental stress. There were no drugs, of course, because they were not available in those days, but the stress of persistent confinement in very crowded conditions undoubtedly had a huge effect on a number of people in a prisoner of war camp.

That is why we need opportunities for reviews of individual cases to take place as often as is consonant with public safety. That is why I support this group of amendments and why I put my name to Amendment 155 in particular.

My Lords, I am very struck by the words of the noble Lord, Lord Hodgson, about light at the end of the tunnel. That is what this suite of amendments is about for a cohort of young people who, at the moment, will not be seeing a light at the end of that tunnel. I thank my noble friend Lady Chakrabarti for speaking with such clarity about what these amendments are about, and other noble Lords who have described what this must feel like for a young person and pointed, as the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, did, to some of the remedies that these three amendments offer to the Minister and the Government. I hope that they take them up and carry them through.

My Lords, I again thank noble Lords for all the points made on this part of the Bill. I shall take it first in the general and then the particular. In the general, these amendments quite rightly put on the radar, the horizon and public consciousness the importance of dealing with prisoners who received their sentence when they were still under the age of 18. This is already a very important function that these amendments have performed. As for the question of the light at the end of the tunnel, I share the thoughts of the noble Baroness, Lady Thornton, that the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Hodgson, were very pertinent as to what it feels like to be incarcerated in the dramatic circumstances that he related.

It is the Government’s view that these prisoners, among others, need to have light at the end of the tunnel. This is the whole purpose and thrust of the Government’s approach. In practical terms, as I understand it we have 32 prisoners in this position who have not been released, another 48 who have been recalled, and a hundred or so out in the community. These figures may not be exactly right; they are not quite the same as those given by the noble Baroness, Lady Burt, although they are approximately the same. For the recalled cohort and for those in the community, the reduction in the licence period from 10 years to three will be significant and very much benefit those serving this DPP sentence. Against this background, the Government are not quite persuaded that these amendments would achieve our joint objective of providing this light at the end of the tunnel.

I turn to the proposals in Amendments 155 and 163. The first would reduce the qualifying period from three years to 18 months. Eighteen months is quite a short period. The Government are not persuaded that one and a half years is sufficient time for an offender to demonstrate their ability to reintegrate successfully into the community, so we are hesitant about this. This particular, very sensitive cohort needs careful management in the community. To reduce the time to 18 months risks setting them up to fail.

We feel similarly about an annual referral to the Parole Board. Getting into this kind of rhythm automatically without regard to the progress of a particular prisoner and the various factors in play could also risk setting people up to fail. The Government are not persuaded that this automaticity is a good idea. In any event, there is already a two-year referral period and people are often referred earlier. It is right to point out that the recently revised Parole Board guidance gives express priority to DPP prisoners, so I suggest that they are being properly served by the Parole Board and by the frequency of reviews. The Government are not persuaded on the detail of these amendments, although we accept the general thrust of the argument.

Basically the same applies to Amendment 162, which would require quarterly sentence planning reviews to be held to set out what is expected. I take the point made by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, that the aim is to make sure that close attention is paid to future progress, that things are not allowed to slip back and that there are regular phases in the prisoner’s progress. The Government are not convinced that quarterly sentence planning reviews are, of themselves, necessarily the right way to go, but the IPP action plan requires that each prisoner has a robust and effective sentence plan, tailored to their individual needs and supporting those released into the community. Quarterly reviews would not necessarily allow sufficient time between them to ensure sufficient progress. Again, the Government are concerned about the details of the amendments, rather than the overall objective of dealing properly with these DPP offenders.

That aside, the Government very much recognise the need to support these offenders. There will be additional psychological support, in particular through the psychology services of HMPPS, and there will be operational delivery plans across England and Wales which are envisaged to include a priority focus for DPP prisoners.

When I spoke earlier of the possibility, between now and Report, of putting the action plan, or the need to have an action plan, on some kind of statutory basis, and possibly setting out in the statute, in broad terms, what the action plan should cover, it seems, to me at least, that there would be an important argument for providing that the action plan has to have a section on DPP offenders and has to demonstrate that these offenders are given priority and that there is an appropriate regime for them. A combination of that kind of provision in the action plan plus the existing priority given to DPP offenders by the Parole Board would go a very long way to achieving the joint objectives that noble Lords are envisaging. That is broadly the Government’s position.

Before the noble and learned Lord sits down, will he comment on the point I was making about the aim of having these reviews written into the statute? Subsection (2) in the new clause set out in Amendment 162 says that they are taking place

“with a view to ensuring that all possible steps are taken to enable their safe release at the earliest possible time”.

That flags up, at the outset, exactly what these reviews are dealing with. I do not know whether it is already in the action plan that the Minister has been referring to, but is there some way of getting that purpose clearly identified, and of course communicating that purpose to the DPP prisoners themselves who are subject to the system, so that they know that that is the purpose for which these reviews are being conducted?

I thank the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope of Craighead, for that point. It is certainly something I will take away when we come to consider the Government’s position.

I apologise, because I know my noble and learned friend wants to complete his speech, but I ask this question simply because I failed to hear. The action plan has been spoken of a lot during the course of this evening. Is that an existing document, and is it published?

Yes, and yes.

On the basis that I accept, on behalf of the Government, the importance of this topic, I invite the noble Baroness to withdraw her amendment.

I am grateful to all noble Lords in the Committee. I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Burt, not least for giving us an opportunity to thank, once more, the Prison Reform Trust, and I would add the Howard League for Penal Reform and UNGRIPP, in particular, who are the family members of these desperate people in many cases. I thank her for pointing out this issue of the window of opportunity for rehabilitation and seeing another possible way of life.

Hope springs eternal, and therefore we are particularly lucky to have “hope” in the form of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope of Craighead, who is so active in this Committee. Every point he made was quite hard, if I may say so, to resist. But my man of the match, I am afraid, was, none the less the noble Lord, Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbots, because I feel that one of the reasons that we have not had a serious penal reform campaign in this country, possibly since the Victorian period, is because we have lost empathy for the prisoner. We have locked them away—out of sight, out of mind. They do not vote, et cetera: all these things that will set the alarm bells ringing at the Daily Mail, if anybody is up there. We have lost empathy for these people. They are not human anymore; they are prisoners; but in this group of amendments at least, we are talking about people who were children when they were given this sentence, and the fact that the noble Lord, Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbots, had sufficient empathy to compare “criminals” with his late father’s friend and a war hero is the kind of empathy that I rarely hear about any demonised group in our society, whether it is convicted people, refugees and asylum seekers or anyone else who is, for the moment, in a demonised category. I am grateful to the noble Lord for what he said.

I am grateful, of course, to my noble friend Lady Thornton for the support of the Labour Front Bench. She of course was an Equality Minister in the not-too-distant past, and I hope that she will be one in the not-too-distant future, shortly, or in due course, or whatever these other phrases are that are occasionally—

We are never complacent, but always with hope.

Finally, in that regard, I noted that the noble and learned Lord the Minister said, “not quite persuaded”. In that “quite”, in that little space, I will keep hope. I was here to keep my noble friend’s hope alive in his absence, because these amendments were particularly important to him.

I do not wish her noble friend to place overreliance on the word “quite” in terms of statutory amendments. Statutory amendments are rather different from a proper approach in the action plan and putting that on a statutory basis.

I am grateful, but my hope is not dashed, not least because my noble friend is a force of nature, as he has demonstrated throughout his career with the integrity that others have referred to in the way that he has conducted himself over this particular issue in recent times. I need to put on the record for the Committee that he feels particularly strongly about the injustice faced by this cohort. I repeat: every argument we have aired earlier this evening becomes turbocharged in relation to these people, who were children when they were placed under this sentence. But for the moment, at least, I beg leave to withdraw.

Amendment 155 withdrawn.

Amendments 156 to 158 not moved.

Clause 48 agreed.

Amendments 159 to 166 not moved.

Amendment 167

Moved by

167: After Clause 48, insert the following new Clause—

“Re-sentencing those serving a sentence of imprisonment for public protection(1) The Lord Chancellor must make arrangements for, and relating to, the re-sentencing of all prisoners serving IPP sentences within 18 months beginning on the day on which this Act is passed.(2) Those arrangements must include arrangements relating to the establishment of a committee to provide advice regarding the discharge of the Lord Chancellor’s duty under subsection (1).(3) The committee established by virtue of subsection (2) must include a judge nominated by the Lord Chief Justice.(4) A court that imposed an IPP sentence has the power to re-sentence the prisoner in relation to the original offence.(5) But the court may not impose a sentence that is a heavier penalty than the sentence that was imposed for the original offence.(6) In relation to the exercise of the power in subsection (4)—(a) that power is to be treated as a power to re-sentence under the Sentencing Code (see section 402(1) of the Sentencing Act 2020);(b) the Code applies for the purposes of this section (and, accordingly, it does not matter that a person serving an IPP sentence was convicted of an offence before 1 December 2020).(7) In this section—“IPP sentence” means a sentence of imprisonment or detention in a young offender institution for public protection under section 225 of the Criminal Justice Act 2003 or a sentence of detention for public protection under section 226 of that Act (including such a sentence of imprisonment or detention passed as a result of section 219 or 221 of the Armed Forces Act 2006);“original offence” means the offence in relation to which the IPP sentence was imposed.(8) This section comes into force at the end of the period of two months beginning with the day on which this Act is passed.”Member's explanatory statement

This new clause would implement the recommendation of the Justice Committee’s 2022 Report that there should be a resentencing exercise in relation to all IPP sentenced individuals, and to establish a time-limited expert committee, including a member of the judiciary, to advise on the practical implementation of such an exercise.

I rise to move Amendment 167 on resentencing those serving a sentence of imprisonment for public protection. I thank the noble Lords, Lord Moylan, Lord Blunkett and Lord Woodley, and the noble Earl, Lord Attlee: what a formidable cross-party, cross-Committee group of people that is.

We have talked a lot about hopelessness, and I am aware that moving this amendment probably fits under that category, but I am going to do it anyway. Along with other noble Lords, I warmly welcome the Government’s incremental reforms in relation to IPP sentences contained as part of the Bill. It is brilliant that they restore some sense of fairness for IPPs, especially on licence, by creating a realistic prospect that the sentence could be brought to a definite end in the foreseeable future.

However, these moves will do little for the 1,227 people who, as we have discussed already tonight, have never been released, even though 98% of them have already served beyond their tariff, the majority of which were tariffs for less than four years. Yet 58% have been locked up for an additional 10 years on top of that original tariff.

The proposed reforms also will not help the further 1,625 individuals in prison because they have been recalled, largely—as we have discussed—due to minor licence breaches rather than committing further crimes. That is therefore nearly 3,000 people languishing in jail, effectively indefinitely, all due to this abolished and discredited sentence. They are not helped enough by the Bill. This resentencing amendment—Amendment 167—which is based on the Justice Committee’s recommendation, would resolve this iniquity. That is why it is backed by all serious commentators, professionals and campaigners on the issue.

However, I already know that the Government plan to reject the proposal. I was very disappointed and saddened that the Official Opposition also seemed to back the Government on this when it was discussed in the other place. I hope to persuade all noble Lords to move a little.

I will go through all the arguments shortly, but first I want to acknowledge something important. The fact that this amendment is unlikely to succeed will be bitterly disappointing for people serving IPPs, their families and all those working so hard on their behalf. Inspired by them and their resilience, however, it is important that these issues continue to be aired—that we continue pressing. As Sir Bob Neill, who chairs the Justice Committee in the other place, and can be described as something of a hero parliamentarian for tenaciously taking on this judicial aberration, said, until we get resentencing in some form, there is unfinished business.

I am also conscious that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Bellamy, warned at Second Reading that,

“the basic problem with the re-sentencing exercise is that you”—

people like me—

“are raising expectations that people will be released.”—[Official Report, 18/12/23, col. 2134.]

I do not want to falsely raise expectations, and I am more than aware of that responsibility here tonight. Ringing in my ears I have the words of Shirley Debono from the IPP Committee in Action campaign. The last time that resentencing was rejected, she described the awful consequences of snatching away

“the last chance, the last hope.”

I am more than conscious of where this hopelessness can lead, and we have discussed the 86 people serving IPPs who have taken their own lives while in prison, with nine self-inflicted deaths in 2023 alone—the highest number in a single year since the IPP was introduced.

Also ringing in my ears are the words of the current Justice Secretary, Alex Chalk. He wrote in 2017 about the toxic legacy of IPP:

“Society should not have a bleeding heart about its prisoners. But it shouldn’t have blood on its hands either”.

That “blood on its hands” cri de coeur is powerful; indeed, it is daunting and humbling for all of us here today in terms of our responsibilities. However, I also want to focus on Mr Chalk’s point that opposition to IPPs is not a bleeding-heart approach. It is disingenuous to caricature this resentencing amendment as being all for the sake of the prisoners, and that those of us putting it forward have a naive indifference to public safety. We should remember that we got into this mess precisely because imprisonment for public protection was originally sold to the public by New Labour under the banner of public safety. Actually, the public were sold a pup and it failed abysmally.

Of course, the public want to be protected and, in the context of 2024, too many citizens feel that the criminal justice system is not serving public safety well enough. For example, the public look on at early release schemes that seem to involve, for example, men who have physically and sexually abused women and children leaving prison potentially prematurely—in comparison with IPP prisoners who are guilty of far less serious non-violent crimes but remain locked up.

If you consider what the public are feeling at the moment about the crisis in policing, with various police forces being put into special measures—most recently Nottinghamshire, for safeguarding concerns—some victims’ safety seems to get ignored. Look at those young women who suffered at the hands of the grooming gangs in the north of England while the police looked the other way. Then there is a general sense of insecurity, as street crime is sidelined and public disorder and intimidation on our streets seem to be given a free pass—or at least the police are confused.

However, rather than prioritising resolving those kinds of thorny issues, instead we are told that it is these few thousand IPP prisoners who are a danger to the public, and it just feels like a distraction. In the other place, the Justice Secretary claimed:

“The fact remains that there are around 3,000 people in custody … where the expert Parole Board has decided that this person is dangerous”.

My reply is: the fact remains that the criteria for labelling these specific prisoners as so dangerous that they need to be held indefinitely are dodgy. Where is the evidence, for example, that IPPs are a distinct group of offenders more dangerous than, for example, others sentenced post the abolition of IPPs who are subject to sentences with an eventual end date? How can the facts justify an IPP-er being in the same prison, and even sharing the same cell, as someone who has committed the very same crime or worse, on any objective measure of dangerousness? It is just based on an accident of timing: that is, they were unlucky enough to be sentenced during the time when IPPs were applied.

The reason they are not released is not to do with any crime they have committed but what they might do in the future, based on speculation, not facts. Indeed, Alex Chalk talks of people who

“could go on to commit appalling crimes”.

Yes, they could, but that is purely hypothetical. I therefore have to ask: is this a new policy of preventive pre-crime justice—locking people up in case something happens in the future? In the UK we have a system of justice that every day lets all sorts of people leave prison—rightly, because “they did the crime but they’ve done their time”—and, of course, they may reoffend and create future victims. However, unless we have decided to dispense with all sentences just in case, as a civilised democratic society we aim to manage that risk. Why are IPPs any different?

The noble and learned Lord, Lord Bellamy, warned at Second Reading that

“the people we are dealing with have been found not to be safe to be released”.—[Official Report, 18/12/23; col. 2134.]

and called them “highly dangerous people”. However, how are these prisoners assessed as dangerous? It is certainly not based on their original crime and relies largely on two methods: the Parole Board’s assessment and the fact that they have been recalled back into prison. On the Parole Board, we have already heard about the especially stringent criteria demanded of prisoners: the onus on them to prove they are not a risk, and so on—which is almost impossible as the presumption is against parole.

However, the most galling of the hoops the prisoners are asked to jump through to prove they are safe is attendance on designated courses even though programmes are often postponed, cancelled or not available in my experience. Meanwhile, a lack of transparent evaluation of these courses in effect means that we hear that the Minister, let alone the Parole Board, cannot possibly guarantee these programmes’ reliable, evidence-based determination of dangerousness or otherwise.

If, against all the odds, the prisoners manage to get out over the hurdles, the fact that they are released on such ludicrously strict licence conditions means that they risk again being labelled as unsafe and returning to prison for infractions as petty as missed probation appointments that we have already heard about. However, a startling 73% of recalls do not involve further proven offences and are often based on hearsay or accusations.

Ishuba Salmon was released after spending three times his original four-year tariff in jail. After 18 months, he was recalled and accused of GBH, but at Birmingham Crown Court the prosecution offered no evidence and Ishuba was found not guilty. However, it was too late because he was back inside. Surely this makes a mockery of exoneration by a court of law.

The recall system for IPPs also makes a mockery of rehabilitation. Last week I met Ms Mandy Slade, the mother of David Parker, an IPP prisoner. He was recalled to prison with only six months left on his 10-year IPP licence. He is currently held in HMP Bristol, not on a charge, just in custody on recall. For that nearly 10 years that he was released, David led a trouble-free life. He turned his life around; he owns a roofing business that employed three people, he was a homeowner and he financially supported his three children. Sadly, he and his partner had problems and his ex left the family home with the children, making allegations against him, having previously threatened to use the IPP to send him back to prison. The allegations were false. We know that because the court heard David’s case and all charges were dropped, but it was too late. IPP rules mean that 10 years of David’s rehabilitation were all for nothing: he is back in prison and now, as we are discussing, because he is in prison he is dubbed “dangerous”.

Such iniquities are now being tackled in terms of recall, as we heard in the first group, but I raise it because, when we are told that this resentencing amendment threatens to let out dangerous prisoners—a point reiterated by a range of noble Lords including the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, at the end of the first group and the Minister—that includes mislabelling David Parker and others like him. The Minister says the recall population is rising, but some of them should not be brought back to prison at all and are there only because of the specifics of IPP, this discredited sentence.

David’s mother Mandy, who I met, suggested to me that her son could have been curfewed in the community or tagged in his own home. Her common-sense approach to managing risk is just the sort of spirit behind this resentencing amendment. It is not extreme or unreasonable. Indeed, it is designed to provide sensible solutions that should allay any fears that a resentencing exercise might be a chaotic mass release, as has been suggested in the past.

There is plenty of oversight built in and the amendment simply calls for a new sentence to be passed, but—and this is key—it does not require when or how it takes effect. This leaves room for an expert committee to examine and recommend any number of models that could minimise anticipated problems. For example, there could be a staggered resentencing exercise with a priority queue, beginning with those furthest on in their tariff or who received the shortest tariff.

The new sentences could be issued in limited blocks of a certain number per quarter to avoid mass release. According to the Prison Reform Trust, issuing 475 new sentences per quarter would address the entire imprisoned IPP cohort within 18 months, and then it would be done; we would have finished. Alternatively, the entire resentencing exercise could be completed within a stated period with a staggered system of release based on a priority queue and, where necessary, authorising referrals to mental health tribunals or reserving fresh judicial examination for any complex cases.

You could even look at delaying the formal passing of a sentence for a fixed-term preparation period of maybe six months. There is an element of this approach in the interesting, probing amendment to my amendment from the noble Lord, Lord Attlee, which suggests a delay until the Government are satisfied that the Probation Service has the capacity and resources to cope.

I am eager to see whether this can assuage the Labour Front Bench’s concern about a lack of infrastructure if resentencing is implemented immediately. If the Opposition supported this, I would be happy to accept this as a step forward to getting resentencing on the statute book even if there is a delay.

Obviously, there is a worry that this might kick the decision into the long grass, but at this stage I emphasise that, whether it is this Government or a forthcoming Labour Government, the issue of IPP prisoners needs to be fixed. It will be fixed, and this amendment gives a range of structured fixes, because any of the models could be developed and adapted, all with the help of an expert panel doing the necessary modelling and analysis to assess the cost-benefit analysis of options.

Regardless of the detail, what is needed here is imagination, creativity and innovation—an approach that I have been delighted to see from this very Government who embraced such a sense of innovation in resolving the Post Office injustices. It was an exceptional set of circumstances that the postmasters found themselves in. Well, the plight of IPP prisoners is also exceptional. After all, this Parliament abolished the sentence, deemed it no longer fit to remain on the statute book and now, more than a decade later, these 3,000 prisoners are the last part of putting that wrong right.

Finally, I want to refer to the noble Lord, Lord Clarke, and the Spat—or discussion—he had with the noble and learned Lord, Lord Garnier, earlier. It is important not to make assumptions about public opinion here. This is my final point. When confronted with the facts, the British public are always repulsed by miscarriages of justice. They believe in fair play. Whenever I have got people to read the campaign group UNGRIPP’s important comprehensive archive of articles, or Faith Spear’s Criminal Justice Blog, or to listen to the brilliant podcast series “Trapped”, they are horrified. They are absolutely disgusted that this is the way people have been treated.

By the way, I include in that journalists too—even Daily Mail journalists because, despite the way they are discussed here as though they were a different breed, they are after all our fellow citizens. We should be ensuring that every member of the British public knows about this scandal and not keeping it in-house. Peter Stefanovic’s video on the topic, mentioned by the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, in the first group, has chalked up 14 million views in a matter of months. The reaction is unanimously one of shock, outrage and disbelief. As one respondent noted, “Let’s not wait for an ITV drama to do the right thing”. Hear, hear. I beg to move.

Amendment 167A (to Amendment 167)

Moved by

167A: In subsection (1), at end insert “subject to subsections (9) to (12)”.

Member’s explanatory statement

This amendment, along with others in the name of Earl Attlee to this amendment, would delay the resentencing exercise until the Secretary of State, in consultation with the Chief Inspector of Probation, is satisfied that probation services have the capacity and resources to manage additional supervision as a result of resentencing.

My Lords, I rise to move my Amendment 167A and speak to my Amendments 167B and 167C, all amendments to Amendment 167, which was so ably moved by the noble Baroness, Lady Fox. On a procedural point, technically we are debating my amendment, but of course all noble Lords can speak to all amendments within the group.

I agree with nearly everything the noble Baroness said about the desirability of her amendment, which I strongly support. She mentioned that this approach was the one taken by the cross-party Justice Committee in another place. I am bound to say that this is quite a good pedigree. The noble Baroness has dealt with all the most obvious points. However, there is a real concern that some agencies might not be able to cope with a large and sudden increase in demand arising from numerous IPP releases from custody—although the noble Baroness did talk about a phased process so that you would not get a huge number of resentencings at the same time. Nevertheless, we must make sure that we do not overrun the Probation Service, because that is the most obvious example.

My amendments seek to improve the original amendment by ensuring that the requisite Probation Service capacity is available before any resentencing exercise starts. It may be that, when he comes to respond to this amendment, my noble and learned friend the Minister will identify other areas where there is a similar capacity shortfall. If that is the case, a similar approach can be taken.

My Amendment 167C is a substantive one, and proposed new subsection (9) prevents the new section coming into force unless the Secretary of State is satisfied

“that the Probation Service has the capacity and resources”

to meet any additional demand resulting from the resentencing exercise. Proposed new subsection (10) requires the Secretary of State to

“commission a thematic review by the Chief Inspector of Probation that considers”

the capacity and resources of the Probation Service in order to make an informed decision. Finally, proposed new subsection (12) requires the Secretary of State to annually review his decision if he is not satisfied that the capacity is in place. I beg to move.

My Lords, I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Fox of Buckley, and my noble friend Lord Attlee on a very elegant double act. While the amendment that was moved by the noble Baroness is at the more ambitious end of change in this Bill, the amendments moved by my noble friend give the House a suite of options for how we might choose to implement it. Those who are concerned that there might be practical problems with implementing it can pick one of the options put forward by my noble friend or, before we reach Report, some other combination that would allow it to be delivered in a way that was acceptable and could be managed by the Probation Service, the ministry and the courts.

It was not for that purpose that I have principally risen to speak, but rather to pick up a point made by the noble Baroness about the family and prisoner reaction to our debate today, and in particular the issue of self-harm. The noble Lord, Lord Carter of Haslemere, and the noble Baroness, Lady Burt of Solihull, earlier this evening spoke about the case of Matthew Price. It is true that I got an email from Matthew Price: a perfectly literate and coherent email in which he said that he was only a few months away from his 10-year limit, but that the mental stress on him was such that he could not guarantee he was not going to take his own life.

I know that other noble Lords probably received the same email; certainly, the noble Baroness, Lady Burt of Solihull, did. I do not know how many replied. I did, and I tried to encourage him to cling on. I told him that, not that long ago, we had passed an amendment to the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill, as it then was, which meant that at the end of the 10-year period, the Ministry of Justice would automatically submit an application for the discharge of his sentence to the Parole Board. He himself did not have to take any action; it would happen automatically under the new regime. What I had to say to him, in honesty, was that that did not mean that the sentence would then be discharged. He could still be refused even at the end of the 10-year period. The ministry would then submit an annual application for his sentence to be discharged, but there was no guarantee as to when it would end. I did not put it as fully as that, but I did feel that I had to make that point.

I do not know what effect it had, but a few weeks later I had a short email from a friend of his simply saying that he had taken his life. The effect of that stays with me, and I know, from discussion with her, that it has stayed with the noble Baroness, Lady Burt of Solihull. It seemed such a terrible waste.

It is not a debating point, but this comes back to what was said by my noble and learned friend the Minister at an earlier stage when he was discussing the difference: “Well, it is one year or two years? Does it really matter if the offender has to wait two years as opposed to having an opportunity to make an application at the end of one year?” That was in relation to an amendment put by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd. Months can matter in cases like this. It also illustrates that, while we talk confidently about 10 years as the licence period, because that is what is set in statute, in fact it was never 10 years. It was 10 years as a minimum; it could be 11 or 12 years —nobody actually knows until they apply and get that decision.

In relation to self-harm, I have also had an email today—again, it is possible that other Members have—explicitly supporting my Amendment 161, which we debated earlier. That email comes from the Independent Advisory Panel on Deaths in Custody; this is a non-departmental public body, which writes from the Ministry of Justice—that is its address. It says:

“IPP prisoners are a particularly vulnerable group due to the close link between hopelessness, self-harm, and suicide. IPP prisoners’ vulnerability is further exacerbated as the period for which they are held beyond their tariff increases. Last year there were nine self-inflicted deaths among IPP prisoners – the highest number since the sentence was introduced … – with a similar number of deaths in the previous year”.

In that context, I want to make a practical and immediate point—not a sensationalist point. Many prisoners and their families are listening to this debate and are looking to us for what outcome they might expect from the consideration we are giving to this Bill, both now and no doubt on Report. Specifically, they have put their hope, in many cases, in resentencing, because it was so strongly backed by the Justice Select Committee in another place.

On the assumption that my noble and learned friend the Minister will reject this—he has made clear in the past that he is likely to—I think that it is incumbent on the Ministry of Justice and His Majesty’s Prison Service to be particularly vigilant in the coming period in supervising and supporting IPP prisoners as they react to what they might hear.

Finally, I second what the noble Baroness, Lady Fox of Buckley, said about the many NGOs that have backed reform. Obviously, one wants to refer particularly to the Prison Reform Trust for what it has done, as well as the Campaign for Social Justice. As she says, the video it produced has reportedly achieved 14 million views. I suggest that the public is more sympathetic to IPP prisoners than Ministers might imagine. I hope that they will reflect on that and find it in their hearts to move somewhat further on the amendments that we have been debating this afternoon than my noble and learned friend has felt able to do so far.

My Lords, I add a few sentences to support what has been said so ably by the noble Baroness, Lady Fox, the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, and the noble Lord, Lord Moylan. The case for resentencing is compellingly set out in the Justice Select Committee report. I cannot improve on that, certainly not at this late hour, but there are two points I wish to make.

First, there is no doubt that the sentence was imposed for a huge variety of cases. Some people were sentenced to IPP who would have received a discretionary life sentence, and we do not seem to recognise that. The second thing we do not recognise is what Parliament and the Government have done to contribute to this. I recall looking at a number of cases where people were sentenced when the regime was at its most severe. They had characteristics that were alien to British justice. First, there was an assumption of dangerousness unless the judge disapplied it. Secondly, the judge had no discretion if the person was dangerous to send him to prison. Thirdly, it applied to offences that would be characterised, for offences in the Crown Court, as at a low level—two years. The particular cohort that was most unjustly dealt with were those sentenced between 2005 and 2008, when the law was slightly ameliorated.

Secondly, I recall going to Leeds prison in 2005 where I saw that the state had made no proper provision for what was about to overwhelm the state: that is, a large number of people who, by the terms of the sentence, were given the sentence. Over the ensuing years, there were a vast number of cases where people complained that there were not sufficient resources. Again, this was a failure of the state.

Then, as the noble Lord, Lord Clarke of Nottingham, has made very clear, there was another failure: a failure to deal with this problem by changing the law shortly after 2012. It is very important in looking at this matter to bear in mind our responsibility. It is all Parliament’s responsibility—and the Government’s responsibility for carrying it out. As I said earlier today, it is an enormous tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Blunkett, that he has accepted his responsibility for the failure. We ought to do the same.

I understand why, at this particular time, with an election pending, there is no realistic prospect of people being bold. I hope very much that the steps that the Lord Chancellor has taken may work—it has taken him a great deal of courage to go that far in reducing the tariff period. I hope that we can persuade the Minister that he will make further changes to ameliorate the injustice, but I am not very optimistic. If none of this works, we have at least laid the groundwork for the incoming Government to face up to this problem and remove what everyone accepts is a stain on the character of British justice.

My Lords, as the noble Baroness, Lady Fox, rightly said, the Opposition do not support resentencing. I reflected on the reason for that during this debate and the debates that we had earlier. I think the reason is actually simple: the IPP prisoners will have been assessed, many of them on multiple occasions, by the Parole Board, which is made up of lawyers, lay people, experts, psychologists and psychiatrists. They will have made this assessment and they will have decided that, on that occasion, that particular prisoner would not be released. If one went down the resentencing route, it would put any judge who made that resentencing assessment in an invidious and difficult situation where they would have effectively, or potentially, to go against these multiple assessments made by the Parole Board. So it is for quite a simple reason that the Opposition do not support this approach.

We have had a number of calls to be bold. I support being bold. I think the boldness is in group 2, to which we spoke earlier. There are a number of ideas that we have backed and which we may well want to pursue at a later stage of this Bill. So we support boldness, but the single solution of resentencing that has been put forward by the noble Baroness, Lady Fox, is not appropriate for the reason that I just set out.

My Lords, I compliment the noble Baroness, Lady Fox of Buckley, for the force and sincerity with which she put forward her views, as indeed have other noble Lords who have supported Amendment 167, which would go down the road of the resentencing exercise that we have been discussing.

In setting out the Government’s position, I find it hard to improve on the remarks that the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, just made. This is a situation where we are dealing with the potential release of IPP offenders, who have committed mostly very serious sexual or violent offences. One would be overriding the decisions that the Parole Board has already taken, in most cases on multiple occasions, and would be putting the judge in the most difficult position.

Indeed, it is not a resentencing exercise in any normal sense of the word because, in most cases, the tariff has already expired. It is essentially a question of trying to do something different, dressed up as a resentencing exercise, to release persons who have already been held, on many occasions, to be unsafe to release. It is very difficult for the Government to go down that road. Again, there is a real risk, if one does go on that road, of wrongly raising the hopes of those who have put their faith in what is, in the Government’s view, not an appropriate way forward.

I want to add just one or two points. First, as the Committee is aware, I have on previous occasions—and I will do so on future occasions—emphasised the pressures we have at the moment on the prison population. The Government would be only too pleased to create further space in the prison population, or to relieve those pressures by releasing certain prisoners, but we have to consider the interests of public protection. It is not a question of being frightened of the media or of cowering in fear of the Daily Mail; it is a question of the protection of the public.

Any responsible Government would have to think very hard before a process that would allow the release, or that was envisaged to achieve the release—perhaps even unlicensed, without supervision—of large numbers of people in this position. I fully accept that the situation is regrettable. I accept the comments made by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas, that it is very regrettable that the whole thing arose in the first place. Terrible things may well have been happening back in 2005, but we are where we are. I do not know whether the noble and learned Lord wants to intervene.

I have made my point; I will not reprise it again. The fallacy in both the Minister’s arguments is that he says they are dangerous, but actually the state has helped make them dangerous, if they are dangerous, by acting in the way in which it has. Normally, someone who has made a mistake accepts it and bears the consequences. I am not going to say any more because I will not persuade the Minister otherwise.

My Lords, from the point of view of the Government, I am not in a position to accept the premise advanced by the noble and learned Lord. I hear what he says. I do not accept, as I think the noble Baroness, Lady Fox, implied at one stage, that there is anything wrong with the Parole Board processes. I think I heard the word “dodgy” at one point, but I may have misheard. The Parole Board is a body that the Government have complete confidence in in this respect. This exercise should remain with the Parole Board.

I will say again: can we please distinguish between the problem of the released cohort and the problem of the never released cohort? We seem to drift from one to the other a lot of the time. Cases such as those of Matthew Price and, I think, the case of David Parker, which was mentioned by the noble Baroness, Lady Fox, are cases where people have been recalled after having been in the community for many years. That will no longer happen. The question of the recall is very largely dealt with, or very substantially improved, by the Government’s amendments in this Bill. What we are dealing with primarily is the never—not yet—released cohort.

I say again, in the light of my noble friend Lord Moylan’s remarks about the expected possible reaction of those who are still in prison and how to be particularly vigilant in supporting IPP prisoners in the light of these debates and related points, that the action plan is intended to give people hope. It is focused on their future to prepare them progressively with a sentence plan, the psychology services support, and a multidisciplinary progression panel towards eventual release. I think he would accept, even now, that the action plan has made a difference already; I see him nodding. We will take that forward and, as I say, it may well be the case the Government will be in a position to propose to your Lordships that the idea of an action plan should have a statutory basis, that the broad terms of its content should be set out and that the Secretary of State should report to Parliament so that—whatever Government comes into power—we can continue on the process that we have already started. The resentencing exercise is not, in the Government’s view, the way to go.

On that basis, the amendments proposed by my noble friend Lord Attlee would not arise because we are not going down that road. I do not think I need to say anything further about them, save to remark that what is being proposed would impose a very significant burden on our existing probation services. For that reason as well, one would have to reflect very seriously before going down that route. I invite the noble Baroness to withdraw her amendment on this point.

My Lords, my amendment was a very fine amendment, but my noble and learned friend the Minister has addressed it. I beg leave to withdraw my amendment, and we will hear what the noble Baroness has to say.

Amendment 167A withdrawn.

Amendments 167B and 167C not moved.

I want to make some clarifications. I will deal with them all together, using my right of reply. I was not suggesting that the parole boards were dodgy, although I was suggesting that the evidence that they were using could be. In that instance, I was referring to some of the requirements where people had done courses that were not evaluated and there is some dispute as to their effectiveness. The noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, and the Minister are assuming that the Parole Board’s assessment of dangerousness is some sort of objective assessment of dangerousness that we would recognise, whereas we have just spent a number of hours talking about, for example, the fact that you might well be assessed as dangerous because of deteriorating mental health. The difficulty there is that, as a rule, we remove and section people only when they have serious mental health problems. We think very long and hard about putting someone away, but this is keeping people in prison on an indefinite sentence because they have a mental health problem that could make them unsafe to be released.

I do not understand why the Minister does not understand that we are not just talking about the people who have never been released. I argue that there are all sorts of reasons why they might never have been released that go beyond dangerousness. They have gone well beyond the tariff that they originally received, and we at least have to take some responsibility for that. However, those people who are recalled into prison then become prisoners. The Minister keeps saying, “It’s all right because we’re going to sort that lot out”, but they are in prison now. They have gone back into that system and they therefore need to be sorted out through a resentencing regime.

The point that I want to stress is that the resentencing amendment was not written on the back of an envelope by people who do not understand the system, as the noble and learnt Lord, Lord Thomas of—sorry, I am from Wales but not from the bit that can pronounce Welsh. The point is that this is the most comprehensive and well-researched amendment with all sorts of strategies, options and flexibility built into it. If only the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, or the Minister would say, “We’ve looked at one section of it. We like that bit, and we could adapt it”. It is the principle of resentencing that we would like to see, but I am worried that it is just being dismissed as though it is too damaging to do.

I am not cynical about the Government’s motivation. I feel as if I cannot bring myself to believe that this is just because we have an election around the corner, because I do not believe that is the case. However, you can be overly risk-averse about letting prisoners out. If we adopted the precautionary principle and risk aversion then we would never let anyone leave prison, but we do so all the time. We have sentenced an awful lot of people for exactly the same “dangerous behaviour” since IPPs were abolished. What is happening to them? They have determinate sentences and are then let out. So I am not convinced that we are not creating the worst kind of bogey-man in our minds. Anyway, the amendment would allow for complex cases to be dealt with, and it considers all those aspects.

A story that had me amused, because this is the Victims and Prisoners Bill, was that of one IPP prisoner—the Minister says they have never been released—who was one of the “never been released” until, after 18 years, he was; he might have been in for 10 years originally but eventually he got through the Parole Board, and then had a reconciliation with the victim of the original crime for which he was put in prison. The victim could not believe that he had been in prison for 18 years. She said, “I thought you were out years ago!” We talk about protecting the public and victims and so on, but that victim was horrified that a crime that had been committed against her had led to someone being incarcerated for such a long period.

We do not want to caricature any side in this. As I have pointed out, public protection should not mean great injustice at the expense of people’s rights, and I do not think the public would thank us for that either. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 167 withdrawn.

Amendment 168 not moved.

Clause 49: Section 3 of the Human Rights Act 1998: life prisoners

Debate on whether Clause 49 should stand part of the Bill.

My Lords, I rise with the leave of the House and at the request of my noble friend Lord Marks to oppose the Question that Clause 49 stand part and speak to the stand part notices for Clauses 50, 51 and 52.

Clause 49 would disapply Section 3 of the Human Rights Act in respect of any decision made under Chapter 2 of Part 2 of the Crime (Sentences) Act 1997. That chapter of the 1997 Act sets out a range of provisions concerning life sentences and sentences of detention during His Majesty’s pleasure, including minimum-term review for under-18s. For life prisoners, the provisions concern release on licence, termination of licences for public protection, recall for breach of licence conditions, the duration of licences, release at the direction of the Parole Board and removal of life prisoners from the United Kingdom.

The chapter is specifically extended by this Bill, in particular by Clause 41, to provide, in respect of public protection decisions, those considerations that the decision-maker is to be bound to take into account relating to such things as the risk of reoffending and the risk of breach of licence conditions. The clause includes, ominously, the provision under Clause 41(9):

“This section does not limit the matters which the decision-maker must or may take into account when making a public protection decision”.

Clause 44 provides for the Secretary of State to have the power to direct the referral of a prisoner’s case to a court—currently the High Court or the Upper Tribunal —as discussed on 26 February. Clause 48 makes further provision about the termination of the licences for life prisoners for public protection. For all these provisions, Clause 49 would disapply Section 3 of the Human Rights Act 1998.

Section 3 lies at the heart of the human rights protection afforded by the Human Rights Act. It governs the interpretation of legislation by courts and also, importantly, by public authorities, and so effectively by all relevant public decision-makers. It provides:

“So far as it is possible to do so, primary legislation and subordinate legislation must be read and given effect in a way which is compatible with the Convention rights”.

Section 3 gives legislative teeth to the convention, requiring legislation to be compatible where possible. Clause 49 would disapply that crucial protection in relation to this chapter of the 1997 Act and any subordinate legislation made under it.

The Explanatory Notes, in paragraph 353, claim that this disapplication

“will apply the section as it is intended to be applied, and not use section 3 to alter the interpretation”.

In other words, the clause is intended to operate in a way that enables convention rights to be ignored or overridden; otherwise there would be no point in the disapplication. This represents a real and important threat to human rights and should be removed from the Bill.

Clause 50 would operate in exactly the same way in respect of the provisions of Chapter 6 of Part 12 of the Criminal Justice Act 2003 relating to the licences, release, supervision and recall of fixed-term prisoners. These provisions are to be amended by Clauses 42, 45 and 47 of the Bill. At present, this chapter of the Criminal Justice Act 2003 is subject to the protection of the interpretive requirement of Section 3 of the Human Rights Act. Clause 50 would remove that provision, and not just in relation to the new provisions in the chapter introduced in this Bill. As with the 1997 Act dealt with in Clause 49, it would remove it in respect of the whole chapter of the 2003 Act dealing with fixed-term prisoners.

Similarly, Clause 51 would disapply Section 3 in respect of the amended Section 128 of the LASPO Act. This amends the power to change the release test for release on licence in cases involving public protection.

Clause 52 deals with a similar issue. It is not approaching the interpretation of legislation in the light of the convention, but the different question of whether a person’s convention rights have been breached in connection with a prisoner release decision under the two chapters I have previously mentioned in the 1997 and 2003 Acts.

Paragraph 354 of the Explanatory Notes sets out how to govern any challenge on human rights challenge under the convention to a prisoner release decision. Where Clause 52 is offensive is in subsection (3), which requires:

“The court must give the greatest possible weight to the importance of reducing the risk to the public from persons who have committed offences in respect of which custodial sentences have been imposed”.

That provision would apply regardless of the length of the custodial sentence imposed, regardless of what harm was being risked to the public and regardless of the injustice to the offender or the offender’s circumstances or the risk to the offender’s health, family or prospects of rehabilitation. What is the “greatest possible weight”? That, effectively, means exclusive weight—the only factor the judge is to consider.

When the Explanatory Notes say:

“Requiring the courts to give the greatest possible weight to this factor reinforces the precautionary approach and means that public protection will be given appropriate consideration in any balancing exercise”,

they are disingenuous. The provision does not call for a balancing exercise. It requires courts not to consider questions of balance or appropriate considerations, but instead to prefer one factor over all others. That is pernicious and ought to go. Judges are perfectly capable of performing balancing exercises. They can and do give appropriate weight to public protection when they do so. They should not have their judicial function curtailed in this way. The clause should go.

My Lords, here we go again. First, they came for the asylum seekers and then for the prisoners. Which unpopular and demonised group—to quote my noble friend Lady Chakrabarti—will be next to be deprived of some of the rights contained in the Human Rights Act?

As some of us have been arguing during the passage of the Safety of Rwanda (Asylum and Immigration) Bill, to deprive marginalised groups of their human rights in this way undermines the principle of universality at the heart of human rights. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Stewart of Dirleton, quoted back at us that it is

“a fundamental tenet of modern human rights that they are universal and indivisible”.—[Official Report, 14/2/24; col. 342.]

He then went on to try to justify the very opposite.

In answer to some general Oral Questions on our human rights legislation in June, the Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice emphasised the Government’s commitment to

“a human rights framework that … works for the British people”.—[Official Report, Commons, 27/6/23; col. 145.]

He later talked about our legislation delivering on the interests of the British people. Leaving aside whether universal human rights can be confined to the British people, it raises the question of whether prisoners no longer count as British people.

As it is, some of the briefings we have received, including from the Howard League for Penal Reform and the Prison Reform Trust, make the point that in the words of the latter,

“it is precisely in custodial institutions like prison … that human rights protections are most vital, because individuals are under the control of the state”.

The NAYJ, a member organisation which campaigns for the rights of and justice for children in trouble with the law, is particularly anxious about the implications for children in prison. The Law Society, the EHRC and the then chair of the JCHR have all expressed their deep concern about the diminution of human rights protection represented by these clauses. The EHRC, in particular, warns that there may be an impact on the UK’s international legal obligations.

The Constitution Committee sets out the government justification for these clauses in the human rights memorandum on the Bill, but invites us to seek further explanation from the Government as to what effect they intend to achieve with the disapplication of Section 3 of the Human Rights Act. According to the memorandum, the intention is to ensure that the HRA does not get in the way of the policy intentions of the release regime. In other words, it seems to be saying that human rights should not trump government policy. No evidence is provided to justify the need for this diminution of human rights, and of course the clauses were not subject to pre-legislative scrutiny.

In his response to the Second Reading debate, the Minister seemed to say that all the organisations expressing concern are making a mountain out of a molehill because Section 3 of the HRA is “a procedural provision only”. He argued that it gives the courts an

“unusual power to reinterpret what Parliament has said in a manner that may not have been and probably was not Parliament’s original intention so as to render a particular provision compatible with the convention”.—[Official Report, 23/12/23; col. 2135.]

This, he suggested, was a “neutral” description of the function of Section 3.

I am grateful to Amnesty for its help in making sense of what the Minister said, although it would be the first to emphasise that its analysis is in line with that of the independent Human Rights Act review, established by the Government. It questioned whether this was a “neutral” interpretation of the role of Section 3. The reference to reinterpreting legislation seemed to suggest that there is one legitimate act of interpretation, which is then challenged by a second questionable one under Section 3. But this interpretation is itself highly questionable. I am advised that Parliament intended for Section 3 to be used in the way that it is. There is no reason to think that Section 3 interpretations lead to interpretations that are “probably not” in line with Parliament’s original intention, as confirmed by the Human Rights Act review, even if that was not the view of one member of the commission cited by the Minister.

More practically, and I think for the first time in this context, the Minister suggested that it has been a difficult section to apply, with the case law having “gone all over the place” and the introduction of uncertainty where the Government want certainty. I am advised that while this may have been true of when Section 3 was first brought into force—although “all over the place” is a misleading description—that period has long passed and the legal issues around it have not substantively changed for the past decade or so. As the Minister acknowledged, it has “settled down more recently”. So having been in effect for 20 years, it is not at all clear why its continued function would create the kind of complexity and uncertainty the Minister fears.

If the Minister cannot come up with a more convincing case for the disapplication of Section 3 from a group of citizens for whom the protection of the Human Rights Act is especially important, given their relationship to the state, I certainly think that these clauses should not stand part of the Bill. I have yet to hear any argument that justifies this further breach of the principle of the universality of human rights.

My Lords, my right reverend friend the Bishop of Manchester regrets that he cannot be here today to speak to the amendments to which he has put his name.

The basis of our opposition to Clauses 49 to 51, to echo points made by the noble Lord, Lord German, and the noble Baroness, Lady Lister, is that human rights need to be applied universally, even when disapplication might seem expedient. We know that, when people are marginalised, it is then that human rights protections are most necessary and, as such, the disapplication of rights to prisoners, who rely on independent courts and the justice system to guarantee basic minimum standards of fairness and respect, is particularly egregious. The Law Society has warned that these clauses

“significantly weaken the system of human rights protections in the UK”.

My right reverend friend and I add our voices to these concerns.

On Clause 52, again echoing the point made by the noble Lord, Lord German, this clause says:

“The court must give the greatest possible weight to the importance of reducing the risk to the public from persons who have committed offences”.

However, it is not clear what “greatest possible weight” means—of course, it can be interpreted as the only consideration to be made. That leaves the clause open to a range of interpretations, even if one believes that this is the area which should be given most weight rather than weighing up all the competing factors that are to go into a parole decision, should the language not be clarified.

My Lords, I agree with all the speakers so far. My concern is that Clauses 49 to 51 may be another way for the former Justice Secretary, Dominic Raab, to dilute the human rights framework through the back door.

Section 3 of the Human Rights Act requires courts to interpret legislation compatibly with rights under the convention on human rights as far as is possible. The clauses would disapply Section 3 to prisoners as a group when it comes to legislation about their release. Several groups have rightly raised concerns about that.

I, too, cite the Prison Reform Trust, which said:

“The introduction of specific carve-outs from human rights for people given custodial sentences contradicts one of the fundamental principles underlying human rights—their universality and application to each and every person on the simple basis of their being human. Moreover, it is precisely in custodial institutions like prisons that human rights protections are most vital, because individuals are under the control of the state”.

In written evidence to the JSC, the Bar Council stated:

“There is no evidence of any systemic impairment due to the HRA of the Parole Board’s ability to make high-quality, safe, decisions about prisoners—no statistical analysis of recidivism/public safety concerns from prisoners released due to interpretation of legislation in line with Convention principles”.

In his speech at Second Reading in the other place, the chair of the Justice Committee, Sir Bob Neill, said:

“Whatever one’s view of the Human Rights Act, there is no evidence that this is a problem in such cases. In fact, the evidence we heard from practitioners, from both sides, is that it can be helpful to have to have regard to section 3 in these hearings. These clauses seem to be trying to solve a problem that does not exist, and I wonder whether we really need them. It is perfectly possible to have a robust system that still complies with section 3. This is a needless distraction that sends the wrong signal about a certain desire to pick unnecessary fights, which I know is not the current Secretary of State’s approach”.—[Official Report, Commons, 15/5/23; col. 604.]

I really could not have put it any better, and I look forward to the Minister’s response.

My Lords, as your Lordships know, this group is a stand part challenge to Clauses 49 to 52 of the Bill, which, in essence, disapply Section 3 of the Human Rights Act to prisoner release legislation. The issue before us is, as much as anything, to do with the constitutional balance between Parliament and the courts. It is not about disapplying the Human Rights Act; it is about who does what. What do the courts do and what does Parliament do? That is the issue.

The provisions with which we are concerned include the new release test for releasing prisoners on licence—namely, the public protection test set out in Clauses 41 and 42, which make it abundantly clear that the protection of the public is the overriding factor. The Human Rights Act is also disapplied in relation to the referral mechanism, referring the most serious release decisions by the Parole Board to a court—currently the Upper Tribunal—and to other prison release decisions. As far as I am aware, no amendment has been tabled in this House objecting to the principle of the new public protection test, nor to the proposed referral mechanism—though there is an argument about which court it should go to—nor to the principle of our IPP reforms, except that it is argued that we should go further. Parliament has plainly indicated what it is trying to achieve.

Against this background, where exactly does Section 3 of the Human Rights Act fit in? Lest any misunderstanding persist—which it seems to do—my first point is that nothing in these clauses removes or limits any convention rights enjoyed by any prisoners, or anyone else for that matter, by virtue of Section 1 of the Human Rights Act or under the convention. A breach of human rights may still be pleaded before any domestic court or in Strasbourg in the usual way, whether it be the right to liberty, family life or any other right protected by the convention. Clauses 49 to 51 do not alter or detract from those rights in any way.

Even if—which I do not for one moment believe—anything in the legislation from which Section 3 has been disapplied were held by a higher court to be incompatible with the convention rights, in such a hypothetical case it would be for the court to make a declaration of incompatibility. Then, in accordance with the principle of parliamentary sovereignty, it would be for Parliament to decide what to do—whether to amend the legislation and, if so, in what way. In other words, it is the job of Parliament to make challenged legislation compatible with the convention. It is Parliament’s legislation; it is for Parliament to fix it, and it is the constitutional responsibility of everyone in either House to find a legislative solution.

The problem with Section 3 is that it gives finding the legislative solution to somebody else altogether—namely the court. This is Parliament’s legislation and not the courts’. That was why I said at Second Reading that Section 3 of the HRA is, in essence, a procedural and interpretive provision that requires legislation to be given effect to in a way which is compatible with convention rights. Those words “given effect” have led, in certain circumstances, to the court reading in or reading down words into the legislation that Parliament has passed. In other words, the court is empowered under Section 3 to add to or subtract from what Parliament originally intended. This has been a difficult section to apply. It has required courts to depart from Parliament’s intention and, if I may say so, to stray into the legislative realm.

These amendments directly raise the proper balance between the courts and Parliament when it comes to legislative matters. That issue was highlighted in the 2021 Independent Human Rights Act Review. It was discussed over 80 pages, toing and froing on all sorts of points and suggesting numerous recommendations and amendments, with the majority of the panel finally recommending a series of reforms to Sections 2 and 3.

On the Government’s position that Section 3 is a most unusual power in this respect, I can do no better than refer your Lordships to the trenchant criticism of Section 3 of the Human Rights Act on constitutional grounds by the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, King’s Counsel, present in this Chamber, in his evidence to that 2021 review. His basic point was that it is not the function of the courts to legislate; it is the function of Parliament. Against that background, in the present context, the Government’s position is that, on an issue of importance, such as public protection and prisoner release, it is for Parliament to determine what the test should be.

In the unlikely event of any of those provisions being disapplied, and a declaration being made under Section 4, again, it is for this House and the other place to put it right and not to delegate, abdicate or push away that responsibility on to the courts. That is the Government’s position and it is essentially a question of the constitutional balance between what we do and what somebody else does—in other words, the courts. That is essentially the background to these amendments.

Clause 52 sets out the approach a court should take if there is a challenge on human rights grounds regarding the release of a prisoner. I do not accept the characterisation by the noble Lord, Lord German, that the wording of Clause 52 is effectively saying that public protection is an exclusive requirement; it simply says that that is a requirement to which weight should be given. No doubt, the courts are perfectly capable of arriving at a sensible interpretation of the provision, but the Government’s view is that the importance of public protection is a matter that Parliament can rightly draw to the court’s attention as something to which weight should be given. I will just add that that requirement does not apply to the so-called non-derogable rights under the convention, which are: Article 2, the right to life; Article 3, the prohibition of torture; Article 4, the prohibition of slavery, and Article 7, no punishment without law.

The courts already consider risk to the public. The Bill simply ensures that weight is properly given to that consideration. The essential point is that on these matters, in this context, it is not for someone else to be reading in or reading down what your Lordships decide; it is for your Lordships and for Members of the other House to put matters right.

My Lords, having heard that explanation, on the first part I suspect that this will have to come back when we have an array of former judges of all sorts in this House to test the position the Government have placed on this matter. To a lay person, it seems to be on a trail of chipping away Section 3 of the Human Rights Act, in particular. Therefore, I think this can wait for another day to have that legal learning that I think we will all need to take it on board.

In respect of the Minister’s second point, about weight, it would not be so bad if it were simply “weight”; it would not be quite so bad if it were “great weight”; but it is “the greatest possible weight” and the greatest possible weight to me means virtually everything you can possibly put into it. I will take a simple Welsh analogy. You have a scrum. You put the weight of everybody into it with the objective of pushing the other side off the ball so that you can take it yourselves. That is where you would apply “the greatest possible weight”. There might be a bit of pulling of hair and ears, and whatever else goes on inside a scrum—but I am not going to talk about that any more.

If you think about it, though, the words “the greatest possible weight” are pretty conclusive that what you must do is virtually everything that is in sight. So, I take on board the Minister’s view that the word “weight” is important, but I do not take on board the words “the greatest possible weight”. However, on the basis of the future legal discussion we are likely to have in this House, I beg leave to withdraw my objection to Clause 49 standing part.

Clause 49 agreed.

Clauses 50 to 52 agreed.

Clause 53: Parole Board rules

Amendment 169

Moved by

169: Clause 53, page 54, leave out lines 35 and 36

Member’s explanatory statement

This amendment seeks to ensure that the decision as to the composition of the Board is an independent judicial decision made by the Parole Board.

This is the first of three very short amendments to deal with the independence of the Parole Board. I think—and I hope—it is not disputed that the Parole Board is a judicial body and independent. If that is contested, we shall we be here for much longer today—so I hope it is not. I assume it is not going to be.

The second issue is that, if a body is judicial and independent, that independence must be recognised. There are three ways in which Clauses 53, 54 and 55 breach the independence position. First, in Amendment 169, the intention is to remove the power of the Secretary of State to predetermine the membership of the board. We have been very successful with judicial bodies in this country in allowing the judicial body itself, or its president, to determine who sits on panels. I can think of no good reason to change that—unless, of course, the previous Lord Chancellor had other plans for the kind of body he wanted.

The second is the business of sacking the chair. I use the word “sack” as I think it is a good, earthy word for what the previous Lord Chancellor wanted to do. We are the nation that established the idea that Kings could not sack judges, at the end of the Stuart period. We led the way forward, and virtually every proper democracy has that principle. It would be absolutely astonishing if we regressed from that, away from the rule of law. This is a pointer to it: it is quite wrong and should be removed.

The third aspect is quite disingenuous: the desire to remove the provision in the Bill that the chairman of the board should not deal with individual parole cases. It is absolutely unintelligible. Why would you want to make the chairman of a judicial body incapable of dealing with cases? The reason for this was that it could then be claimed that, if the chair of the board was not dealing with cases, the chair did not have a judicial function, and that could therefore justify the sacking. This is both disingenuous and very bad in principle. The chair is turned, effectively, into a pay, rations and hiring functionary rather than a leader.

Secondly, if you are chairing a board dealing with parole, you want to lead it, to know what is going on in the cases, and you want views. You have to sit and do the cases. From my own experience, it is quite clear that, if you have a judicial leader who does not actually understand the business of the courts, the fellow members of the judiciary—in this case, the Parole Board—will have no respect whatever for them.

These are three short points; there is no more I can really say about them. They are all bad points in the Bill. This seeks simply to remove them.

My Lords, I am grateful to my former neighbour, the noble Lord, Lord Bach, for permitting me to jump the queue. I want to make some equally brief points to the points made by the noble and learned Lord just now. I will start with Amendment 171. This makes as much sense as requiring the Lord Chief Justice, as head of the judiciary, not to be able to sit in individual cases, either at first instance or at appeal; to deny the Master of the Rolls, who I believe is the head of the civil appellate system, the ability to sit on cases; to deny the chancellor of the Chancery Division the ability to sit on cases; and to deny the president of the Family Division the ability to sit on cases.

These are judicial functions which may have an administrative function as well. If we were really to go down a road whereby the shadow of Dominic Raab is to spring forward into the enlightened era of Alex Chalk, I think we would be making a mistake. That is enough about that.

None of the judicial officers to which I have just referred is removable on the say-so of the Secretary of State. Equally, the constitution should not suffer the embarrassment of having the head of the Parole Board, who is a judicial officer, being removed on the say-so of the Secretary of State. I have a suspicion that if Alex Chalk had written this Bill it would not have contained these clauses.

Amendment 169

“seeks to ensure that the decision as to the composition of the Board is an independent judicial decision made by the Parole Board”.

Again, to go back to my references to the senior judiciary, it is the Lord Chief Justice who deploys the judges within the court system, it is the Master of the Rolls who decides which judges in the appellate court should sit on which particular case, it is the Chancellor of the Chancery Division who decides which of the Chancery Division judges should do what, and it is the President of the Family Division who does the same in relation to Family Division cases. It strikes me as being a perfectly normal and respectable constitutional arrangement. It would be a pity for Mr Raab, who has now moved on, to be able to continue to control the system. He is gone; these should go as well.

My Lords, it is a pleasure to support all three of these amendments. They were tabled by the penultimate Lord Chief Justice, and are supported by the most recent Lord Chief Justice and a distinguished recent Solicitor-General, who spoke just now. I am afraid I can only claim to have been shadow Attorney-General in what was, to use a cliché, a bad year, for a shortish time to make up the numbers. I cannot add to the arguments that have been so persuasively put.

It is wonderful to see the noble Earl the Minister in his place; I did not expect him to take this particular group. I invite him to talk to his noble friend from the Ministry of Justice, who I suspect—I hope the noble Earl does as well—privately has a lot of sympathy for these amendments, because they are commonsensical. I ask the noble Earl to ask the noble and learned Lord, Lord Bellamy, to speak to the Justice Secretary patiently and persuasively about these matters.

I start from the position that the Executive should interfere in individual sentencing as little as possible—preferably not at all. Under our constitutional arrangements, it is not the Executive’s responsibility, nor part of their functions. That is why the independence of the Parole Board is so important, as the noble and learned Lord just said. It is hard not to believe, I am afraid, that these proposals would actually have the effect of reducing that independence.

I have down on the amendment paper that I will oppose Clauses 53 and 54 standing part of the Bill. I will not press that at all tonight, but in this short speech I will talk about why I gave that notice; it may save a bit of time later on. It is really because I have two questions for the noble Earl. I asked the noble and learned Lord, Lord Bellamy, at Second Reading, but quite understandably he was so overwhelmed with the matters that he had to reply to in the minutes that he was allowed that he was unable to answer them at the time. I absolutely appreciate that.

The first question is to ask why, under the Bill, the Justice Secretary will send some cases where he has found the Parole Board has got it wrong to whichever body it is that he eventually sends them to, but not others. It was argued in this House in Committee, I think last week or the week before, that that should be not the Upper Tribunal but another body altogether. If he sends some cases where he thinks the Parole Board has got it wrong but not others, that will not make any sense at all. Surely he must send all of the case that he finds to be wrong to this judicial body or none of them. If he sends some then surely the position is not satisfactory. There may one day be a Lord Chancellor—certainly not the current one—who is less generous and would not send any that he felt was wrong to a court. If that position may develop, why on earth is this part of the Bill being proposed?

My second question is this, and the Committee deserves an answer to it: will the Justice Secretary himself make these decisions, or will they be passed down to junior Ministers or to senior civil servants? I have no objection at all to senior civil servants taking important decisions but it is not appropriate that they—or, in fact, junior Ministers in the department—should take these decisions. What is the answer: will they or will they not? If they will, the problems associated with the Executive interfering in sentencing become much more acute. Does the Minister agree? I would be grateful for an answer to both those questions.

My Lords, I agree with all three of the amendments in this group, and I do so for the reasons that have been powerfully explained by the other speakers. It seems that the issue here is very simple indeed. These clauses are designed to reduce the independence and authority of the Parole Board. New sub-paragraph (2C), in Clause 54(5), refers to the necessity of maintaining public confidence in the Parole Board. In my view, public confidence in the criminal justice system depends vitally on the independence and the authority of the Parole Board. I much regret that the Government should apparently think otherwise.

My Lords, I too support the amendments in this group, in particular the points made by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas. As a former chairman of the Parole Board, albeit some years ago, I will underline a couple of practical issues, because I think this is a point of principle about its independence. The job of the chairman of the Parole Board is a very sensitive one, and they need protection, not a kind of sword hanging over their head that they can be dismissed. That is one point.

The second point is that it will be disastrous and have a very detrimental impact on the work of the Parole Board if its chair is not allowed to be involved in cases. As the noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas, said, involvement means you begin to understand how it is done because the core work of the Parole Board is risk assessment. I know how engaged I was in dealing with the cases, talking to prisoners and getting involved. To me, that was very important when it came to risk assessment. The practical impact of these provisions will be negative, apart from looking at the independence of the Parole Board.

My Lords, I too echo the words that have been spoken. Rather than repeating all this or speaking to this in the next group, I will talk about those issues in this group because they are very relevant to these amendments.

I have a series of practical questions. For example, stating which Parole Board members should be involved in a particular case is definitely an interference in the independence of the board. If the reply to that is, “Well we need to make sure that the right people are hearing the right cases”, surely all you have to do is to make sure you appoint to the panels more people who have those experiences available to them. The Government, of course, have gone on the issue of those with enforcement experience. You simply recruit more enforcement-experienced people to the panels.

I agree with what has just been said. These parts of the clauses are analogous to the Government deciding who will be the judge in a particular case. Whether the chair should be involved in individual cases is a matter for the board; it should not be the subject of statutory prescription, as is before us now.

There is concern about the broad powers given to the Secretary of State to remove the chair on the grounds of public confidence. The outgoing chair of the Parole Board, Caroline Corby, said in her evidence to the Justice Committee that the power to remove the chair could see them dismissed if the board made an “unpopular decision”. Unpopular with whom? With the Secretary of State, perhaps. As the noble Baroness, Lady Prashar, just said, she argued that

“the chair of the Parole Board needs more protection than pretty much any other chair of any arm’s length body”.

There is already a termination clause which means that the chair of the Parole Board, or any other member, can be removed. It is therefore not clear why a statutory power is needed. Perhaps the Minister can explain to us why he needs a statutory power rather than relying on the contractual power he already has.

Who is going to judge that public confidence has been breached and when? What is the need for this confidence test? Does the existing contract not provide for appropriate removal? What is going to be the threshold for the new test of breached public confidence? Will it be an opinion poll? Will it be an assessment of the latest newspaper cuttings? What will be the criteria? How will that threshold be applied? As many of us suspect, will it rest merely with the subjective view of the Secretary of State, which is the reason why it appears in the Bill at this point?

Public opinion should not form the basis for ministerial interference in an independent body making quasi-judicial decisions. I say “quasi-judicial” because that is what the Government say they are called. Most people would just call them “judicial”. Last year the High Court noted that:

“It is … well established that, when exercising powers in relation to the Board, the Secretary of State must not to do anything that undermines or would be perceived as undermining the independence of the Board or that encroaches upon or interferes with the exercise by the Board of its judicial responsibilities”.

There is no explanation anywhere why engagement in individual applications is needed. Currently, the chair holds these quasi-judicial judgments in his or her hands. Paragraph 14B of the board’s current rules, which were put before this House in 2022, states that:

“The Board chair may determine an appeal by—(a) upholding the decision made by the panel chair or duty member … or (b) substituting their own decision, which may contain any direction that the panel chair or duty member could have made under paragraph (5)”

of the rules.

Pages 67 and 68 of the root and branch review made no such recommendation to neuter the chair. Instead, the review supported a strategic oversight group and a rules committee to recommend procedural changes to the Secretary of State. The impact assessment for this Bill states that the chair will be appointed for a three-year term, renewable. However, the job pack, a copy of which I have with me, issued by the Ministry of Justice with a closure date of just last month, states that the appointment is to be made for five years. So applications closed in February and people have applied for a job where the tenure of the job—whether it is three or five years—is not known. I hope that the Minister can tell us how that circle is to be squared.

Can the Minister confirm the delegated authority that the Secretary of State has given to Ministers for appointment of the role of board chair? Does it remain as it was when Liz Truss was the Secretary of State, because, on delegation to Ministers, the review said that Ministers

“should be involved at every stage of a competition, including: agreeing the advertising and the advisory assessment panel membership; suggesting potential candidates; being consulted on closing a competition; being invited to give views on candidates; being provided with a choice of appointable … candidates; and having the opportunity to meet candidates”.

If that is still the case, Ministers have an incredible influence over the person to be appointed, and one might reasonably wonder why they might want to sack them.

So those are a lot of practical questions, some of which are contained within the Bill and within the job pack for the new person taking over the role, which need to be clarified. I hope that the Minister in replying will be able to answer them.

My Lords, I apologise to the Committee for missing the opening part of this debate. I was with representatives of the Bar Council discussing these very issues.

Having chaired a committee that questioned Dominic Raab about his ambitions for the Executive to take over functions which I do not think that any of us regarded as appropriate for takeover, this seems to me to be Members of the House of Lords doing what we do so well. We are trying to help find a way through and answer the questions. We should just be rubbing the whole thing out because of that Executive takeover, which is anathema to probably everybody who is sitting in the Chamber at the moment.

My Lords, this group is actually more limited than the debate that we have had. It was very succinctly set out by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas, when he gave his three short points in introducing his amendments. Very amusingly, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Garnier, said that the shadow of Dominic Raab should not remain across this Bill. A good way of removing the shadow is with these three amendments here.

The debate has strayed into the next group, but I will not address any comments on that group. As far as the specific proposals in the amendments tabled by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas, of course we agree with them on this side of the Chamber. I noted the point that the noble and learned Lord made about the reason why the chair of the Parole Board would not have a judicial function. It would mean that he or she could be sacked.

I also noted the point made by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Garnier, and other noble Lords, that it is absolutely normal and to be expected that in any number of judicial and quasi-judicial roles, the heads of those particular functions also sit as judges. That is standard practice and it adds confidence to the various institutions that the people who head them are also practising and sitting tribunal chairs or judges.

I look forward to the Minister’s response, but there is a very strong array of speakers against the Government’s proposals, including the noble Baroness, Lady Prashar, who is a former chair of the Parole Board. We have two former Lord Chief Justices, a former Solicitor-General and my noble friend, a former shadow Attorney-General. It sounds like a pretty convincing line-up against the Minister.

My Lords, I am very grateful to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd, for speaking to his amendments with his customary clarity. I hope I can be helpful to him and the Committee in my response.

I have heard unmistakeably the reservations expressed across the Committee about these proposals. Before saying anything else, I undertake to represent to my noble and learned friend the Minister the strength of those reservations. I do so without commitment at this stage but in good faith. It may be helpful to the Committee if I explain where the Government are currently coming from in making these proposals so that noble Lords can understand the issues as we perceive them.

Amendment 169 seeks to remove lines 35 and 36 of Clause 53, which would have the same effect as removing the clause in its entirety. Clause 53 amends Section 239(5) of the Criminal Justice Act 2003, which allows the Secretary of State to make rules with respect to the proceedings of the Parole Board. At the moment, the provision permits rules to be made about how many members deal with particular cases, or that specified cases be dealt with at specified times. This clause adds that the Secretary of State may also require cases to be dealt with by

“members of a prescribed description”.

Amendment 169 seeks to remove that addition.

I will explain briefly why we want to ensure that the Secretary of State can make rules about who sits on parole cases. In the Root and Branch Review of the Parole System, the Government committed to increasing

“the number of Parole Board members from a law enforcement background”

and ensuring that every parole panel considering a case involving the most serious offenders has a law enforcement member on it. We are talking here about murder, rape, terrorist offences and the like.

The Government of course recognise that each and every type of Parole Board member brings with them different experience and skills. That range and diversity contributes to generally effective risk assessments and sound decision-making. However, members with law enforcement experience, such as former police officers, have particular first-hand knowledge of the impact and seriousness of offending. Many will also have direct experience of the probation system, including, for example, licence conditions and the likelihood of an offender’s compliance with such conditions.

Clause 53 enables the Secretary of State to make the secondary legislation needed to prescribe that certain Parole Board panels include members with a law enforcement background. We will, naturally, continue to consider operational readiness before we lay any secondary legislation. I hope that explanation is of help.

Am I to draw the inference from what my noble friend has just said that, under the current arrangements, inappropriate members of the board have been inappropriately appointed to particular cases?

No, not at all, but we think that certain Parole Boards can be strengthened usefully by having additional members with the experience that I have described. I have not implied or, I hope, made any criticisms of Parole Boards that have sat in the past or their decisions.

My Lords, I think that the explanation means that there is no confidence in the judgment of the chairman of the Parole Board to constitute the panels that they think are needed. Why is there a need for direction from the Secretary of State? That is what I fail to understand.

My Lords, I have heard the arguments. I hope that the noble Baroness will allow that I have already given an undertaking to take those arguments back with me, and I will do so.

Turning, if I may, to Amendments 170 and 171, the first of these seeks to remove the power currently in the Bill which would allow the Secretary of State to dismiss the Parole Board chair on public confidence grounds and would remove the prohibition on the chair’s involvement in individual parole cases. Amendment 171 seeks to ensure that the chair would continue to be permitted to attend and participate in individual parole cases alongside the more strategic role defined by other amendments to the chair’s functions.

Let me begin by confirming that Clause 54(10) means that any changes in respect of the chair of the Parole Board do not impact on the appointment or functions of the current chair, Caroline Corby. Caroline has led the board well since her initial appointment in 2018, and the Government are very grateful to her for her leadership. However, there might be an exceptional occasion in the future when requiring a change of chair before the end of their appointment period is the best or only option. For that reason, new sub-paragraph (2C) within Clause 54(5) gives the Secretary of State the power to remove a chair from office if it becomes necessary on the grounds of public confidence.

What is the term of office? There is a difference between the impact assessment, which says three years, and the pack against which people have applied, which says five years. Which is true? I am happy if the Minister wants to reply in writing.

I am sorry that it is very late and I am being tiresome. My noble friend the Minister said that there may come a time or there may be circumstances in which it would be necessary to remove the chairman or chairwoman of the Parole Board. I wonder whether my noble friend could perhaps give me one or two examples of the sets of circumstances in which that might apply.

A mechanism already exists for the Secretary of State to ask an independent panel to consider dismissing the chair if there are concerns about the postholder’s performance or ability to do the job effectively. That route remains our preferred approach in the unlikely event that a dismissal is required. However, as the board is a high-profile public body, making important decisions on public protection every day, it is right, in the Government’s submission, that the Justice Secretary should have the levers to change the leadership if a situation arose where it was necessary to do so in order to maintain public confidence in the work of the board. It is not a power that any Secretary of State would ever use lightly, and ideally there will never be a cause to use it at all. We are talking here about situations where, for example, there might be conflicts of interest, security issues or confidentiality issues. At the moment, my understanding is that there is no mechanism to dismiss a chair should any issue of that kind arise. The grounds at the moment are quite restrictive.

Just to be clear, the Government are proposing that they will need to sack somebody who could be responsible for a breach of confidence, a breach of security, or some other grievous breach; but they will already have appointed this person to that job. Surely the vetting procedure leading up to the appointment would weed out the sort of eccentric people who would leak, or breach confidence, or misconduct themselves.

That is exactly why I said that it is not a power that it is likely any Secretary of State would use often, if at all.

To add to that point, I read out the list of delegations to Ministers about the appointment of the Parole Board chair. I am sure that Members of the House will have realised that it is a pretty extensive power over who gets a job. I wonder whether those delegations have altered. Once again, if the Minister does not know, perhaps he could write to me before we get to Report.

I should be happy to do so.

Alongside this new power, we are setting out for the first time in statute the functions of the Parole Board’s chair. The intention is both to define the chair’s role as a strategic leadership role and to make it clear that the postholder does not play any part in the board’s decision-making when it comes to considering individual parole cases. The package of measures here, I am advised, ensures that the provisions that we are putting in place are consistent with the European convention.

The noble Lord, Lord Bach, asked me why the Justice Secretary will send only some cases to the Upper Tribunal, and whether he will delegate the power to officials. In line with other significant powers that the Secretary of State operates, such as the power to detain under Section 244ZB of the Criminal Justice Act 2003, which allows the SSJ to override a prisoner’s automatic release date and refer the case to the board, the operation of the power will be restricted to cases where it is considered necessary to take the not insignificant step of referral of a case via an operational policy.

It will be up to the Secretary of State to decide which of those cases they would like to refer to an independent court for a second check. We will develop criteria to ensure that this power is used only in those few cases where it is in the interests of protecting the public and maintaining public confidence. It will also be up to the Secretary of State, if he or she wishes, to delegate the power to senior officials, but we will ensure that there is a robust process in place.

I am of the view that retaining this clause—having a safeguard in case removal is ever necessary and being clear about what the role of the chair is—is vital. However, as I said at the start, I have listened carefully to what the noble and learned Lord and other noble Lords have said. I understand the concerns expressed. Without commitment at this stage, I undertake to consider the issues very carefully, in conjunction with my noble and learned friend, between now and Report.

I thank the noble Earl for agreeing to take all these points to the Minister. There are two points I really want to make. First, it is suggested that these decisions are somehow quasi-judicial. I had assumed that two of our most basic rights are not to be locked up and not to have our freedoms curtailed by restrictions. Deciding on those points is judicial; there is nothing “quasi” about it. Therefore, how “quasi” has got into this is, to my mind, a complete misapprehension. I hope it can be corrected, because the protection of your liberty and your freedom to do what you do as an ordinary person is essentially something that a judge must decide and no one else.

Secondly, I hope the Minister—not the noble Earl—will think back to his own experience when he sat as chairman of various judicial bodies. I do not know who the Government have in mind, but it is utterly absurd to think that they could maybe appoint someone who has run a large department store—there may be one of those becoming vacant in a moment—someone who has been head of a particular branch of the Civil Service, a retired physician, or a person who has run a hospital trust. These are the kind of people who know absolutely nothing about the difficulties of making a decision. The chairman of the Parole Board has to do the business, and if that person does not do the business, no one—not the public and certainly not the members of the Parole Board—will have any confidence in them.

I have put the message quite strongly; I think it has been understood. I am sorry to have gone on a little bit longer on these points at this late hour. I must particularly thank the noble Earl for the very courteous and clear way that he dealt with this. I look forward to seeing him be a much better advocate than me in persuading the Minister to make a decision that removes all three of these clauses. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 169 withdrawn.

House resumed.

House adjourned at 10.41 pm.