Amendment 167A (to Amendment 167)

Part of Victims and Prisoners Bill - Committee (7th Day) (Continued) – in the House of Lords am 9:15 pm ar 12 Mawrth 2024.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Photo of Baroness Fox of Buckley Baroness Fox of Buckley Non-affiliated 9:15, 12 Mawrth 2024

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.