(2) how many prisoners convicted of non-capital murder under the Homicide Act, 1957, have now been released; and what proportion this is of the total number so convicted.
Prisoners who were sentenced to death before the Homicide Act, 1957, and had their sentence commuted to life imprisonment because of mitigating circumstances have been detained for nine years in an average case. The period may well be longer for persons sentenced under the Act of 1957 to life imprisonment for non-capital murder in cases where there are no mitigating circumstances, but it is too early to give any estimate. Only three of the 202 prisoners convicted of non-capital murder by the end of 1963 have been released from custody, representing a proportion of 1·5 per cent.
Would the Minister of State not agree, in view of the fact that we are likely to have legislation dealing with the abolition of capital punishment in the very near future, that there will be grave disquiet at the fact that on the average prisoners who have committed murder spend only nine years in prison whereas those convicted of far less serious offences very often spend much longer terms there? Will the Home Secretary, when such legislation is before the House, reconsider the practice in this case, in order that we may have a fair opportunity of a better reception for any capital punishment abolition Bill?
I am sure all these matters will be discussed when and if a Bill is before the House, but I want to emphasise that in deciding the period to be served we take into account all the circumstances of the offence, the age and character of the offender and his development in detention, and the necessity to protect the public from any prisoner who might be a danger if released, and we consider among other things what punishment will be sufficient to deter others. I can assure the hon. Gentleman that all these things are taken into account, and very seriously indeed.
Would my hon. Friend agree that the average period of nine years which she has quoted is rather an artificial figure, in that it compounds a number of cases where people are released very early on the grounds of overwhelming mitigating circumstances, whereas there are other bad cases who remain in prison for as long as 20 years?
Yes, that is so. The figures of prisoners released between 1959 and 1963 show that the period in prison varies from four to 14 years among those released in those four years.
Will the hon. Lady not agree, first of all, that it is very important for the public to have fairly detailed information on this matter during the discussions which we are shortly to have, and secondly, that this may well be the field in which average figures may well prove misleading and that it is important not to reach conclusions without full knowledge of the exact statistics?
I agree that average figures may be misleading. I can assure the right hon. Gentleman that all the relevant facts will be put to the House in the debates we shall have in the future.