Amendment 167A (to Amendment 167)

Part of Victims and Prisoners Bill - Committee (7th Day) (Continued) – in the House of Lords am 9:00 pm ar 12 Mawrth 2024.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Photo of Lord Moylan Lord Moylan Chair, Built Environment Committee, Chair, Built Environment Committee 9:00, 12 Mawrth 2024

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.