Amendment 17

Prisoners (Disclosure of Information About Victims) Bill - Report – in the House of Lords at 3:35 pm on 1 July 2020.

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Baroness Kennedy of Cradley:

Moved by Baroness Kennedy of Cradley

17: After Clause 2, insert the following new Clause—“Parole board database(1) Within six months of this Act being passed, the Parole Board must create and maintain a database of family members of victims to whom the circumstances referred to in sections 28A(1) and 28B(1) of the Crime (Sentences) Act 1997 apply.(2) At each stage of an offender’s parole application the Parole Board must contact the relevant persons to provide them with information pertaining to the application, including but not limited to—(a) the timings of hearings where the prisoner’s release from prison is being considered;(b) a relevant person’s rights in relation to requesting a judicial review of the Parole Board’s decision;(c) the length of the sentence that will have been served by the prisoner at the time of the hearing;(d) decisions of the Parole Board; and(e) any other rights that a relevant person has relating to the provision of information.(3) The parole board must remove a relevant person from the database if they, or their parent or guardian (if applicable), do not wish their details to be included in the database.(4) Within one year of the database being created, the Secretary of State must undertake a review of the effectiveness of the Parole Board’s actions under this section, with a report to be laid before Parliament.(5) In this section, the relevant persons are—(a) where the prisoner’s sentence has been imposed for murder or manslaughter, the victim’s parents or guardians, children and siblings; or(b) where the prisoner’s sentence has been imposed for an offence relating to indecent images as defined by section 28B of the Crime (Sentences) Act 1997—(i) the victim, or(ii) the suspected victim’s parents or guardians if the victim or suspected victim is under the age of 18.”

Photo of Baroness Kennedy of Cradley Baroness Kennedy of Cradley Non-affiliated

My Lords, Amendment 17 is in my name and the names of the noble Baronesses, Lady Barker and Lady Newlove, and the noble Lord, Lord German. I thank them for supporting this amendment. It is a joint effort and builds upon the one tabled in Committee by the noble Baroness, Lady Barker, and the noble Lord, Lord German, which had support across the House and the support of my noble friend Lord Ponsonby. Let me indicate at the start of the debate that if the Minister does not accept this amendment, I will test the opinion of the House.

This amendment adds a new clause, which seeks to put the victims and their families at the heart of the Bill. It is a clause about respect being given to victims and their families by ensuring that there is a process in place, set out clearly on the face of the Bill, where there can be no dispute about people’s rights or the Parole Board’s obligations regarding communications with victims and their families. In explaining why this amendment is necessary, we must consider the reason for this Bill in the first place. To quote from GOV.UK, the Bill

“places a legal duty on the Parole Board to consider the anguish caused by murderers who refuse to disclose the location of a victim’s body when considering release”.

Thanks to the tireless campaigning of mothers such as Marie McCourt, the Government have rightly recognised that not having your child back to give them “a final goodbye”, in Marie’s words, is harrowing and painful and that legislation is needed to get closure for families such as the McCourts and to relieve the anguish that they feel.

This Bill is about alleviating the hurt that non-disclosure of information causes to families and places a duty on the Parole Board to act. This amendment does the same. It seeks to relieve the anguish that victims and their families experience from not knowing information about parole release hearings and places a duty on the Parole Board to act. It cannot be stressed enough how important it is for families to be fully informed and involved in parole hearings about release, and, when mistakes are made in the flow of information communication, how much anguish this causes victims and their families. As I noted at Second Reading, sadly, many parents involved in the Vanessa George case found out about her release on Facebook or via the local newspaper. That is completely unacceptable. I am sure that every effort was made to contact the parents, but the system places the onus on the victims and their families to keep in touch.

This amendment asks for this small group of people to have the right to receive proper, accurate and timely communications and information from the Parole Board. It shifts the responsibility from the victims and their families to the board. At a meeting a few months ago, the current Victims’ Commissioner and the chair of the Parole Board acknowledged that not all victims opted into the victim contact scheme. They noted that this caused distress to those who failed to opt in and who later discovered, through third parties, that the offender had been released. This amendment addresses that concern.

The Minister will say, as I am sure that he did in Committee, that processes already exist for victims and their families to receive information. Yet despite this, as in the case of the victims and families of Vanessa George, some find out about the offender’s release via the media and Facebook. This amendment stops that from happening. It does not stop a prisoner being released, it just sets a duty for the Parole Board to ensure that communications with victims and their families are made, that they are fully informed at each stage of the process and fully aware of their rights. The requirement is to maintain a database, which is not onerous in number, and have it set up within six months of the Bill getting Royal Assent. It allows victims and their families to opt out of receiving information and communications. It is not now the family’s responsibility to opt in. To ensure that this is working as intended, proposed subsection (4) of the new clause requires the Secretary of State to undertake a review of the effectiveness of the Parole Board action and lay a report before Parliament.

Finally, proposed new subsection (5) sets out, so that there is clarity and no dispute, who the relevant persons are and who needs to be communicated with. I hope that the noble and learned Lord recognises the anguish caused to victims by the Parole Board process and by ineffective communication, and will accept this amendment as it seeks to improve communications and the publicity surrounding parole release hearings. I beg to move.

Photo of Lord German Lord German Liberal Democrat

My Lords, this amendment has two principal functions: first, to ensure that victims are contacted about each stage of the parole application; and secondly, to provide victims with information about the Parole Board’s hearing of the case and about their rights in the course of the application.

The principle of opting out of these two functions is an important change from the current opt-in approach. The amendment seeks to place an obligation on the Parole Board to maintain a database of victims’ contact details, but with victims able to choose not to be on the database and therefore not to receive information. Fundamentally, this provides a right to information which they can choose not to receive if they so wish. In Committee, I sensed that the Minister had some sympathy with these issues. He told us he would be happy to discuss further an opt-out scheme for victims and the provision of improved engagement for victims. I would be grateful if he could tell us whether the proposed meeting on this matter has taken place.

Like other noble Lords, I believe that more needs to be done to support victims. In this tightly defined Bill, that is not necessarily possible, but there are some matters which relate to the Parole Board’s functions where we can act. There are considerations which affect the way in which the Parole Board should engage with victims. In Committee, I raised the importance of the system being modernised. Your Lordships’ House has learnt, if nothing else from this Covid-19 pandemic, to make best use of digital technology. Surely victims’ views can be taken by videolink, rather than having them travel in person to the prison where the perpetrator is located.

Victims will always struggle to come to terms with the grief they have suffered, and sentencing and conviction is just the start of the process. The parole process can easily add to a victim’s pain. Everything that can be done must be done to minimise the trauma it can cause, so opting out is the new right that this amendment provides. The amendment also sets out the information to which victims are entitled. The amendment does not seek to limit the information provided to victims, as proposed new subsection (2)(e) makes clear. For that reason, the review of the amendment’s operation in proposed new subsection (4) is important, as it will ensure that the process, the information and the victim’s rights are as effective as they can be in a situation of such anguish.

The opt-out principle built into this amendment is crucial. There are far too many examples of victims finding out the result of the parole process from media reports, as the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy, said. I am sure noble Lords will understand that the pain caused by reporters calling victims to ask for their comments on the results of the parole process, when they had no knowledge that it was taking place, is immense. By way of example, Members will recall the case of John Worboys, which was debated in your Lordships’ House.

Within the narrow scope of the Bill, which leads to only a relatively small number of cases to be considered, maintaining the database should not place a large administrative burden on the Parole Board. These parole cases are of great significance to victims; victims have a right to know what is happening and have a right to their say. They deserve a consistent and fair structure for exercising these rights. Modern technology makes keeping in contact with victims much easier. Tracing victims if they have changed address, telephone number or email is now much simpler and quicker.

In the letter sent to us from Marie McCourt—the mother of Helen—whose inspired campaigning has led to this Bill, she says that its passage will help many other families who are in the same situation as she is. Others have suffered the anguish Marie has been through, and some have remained silent, so I pay especial gratitude to her for the fortitude and strength she has shown in speaking out and ensuring that this piece of legislation has been brought forward.

We have a duty to ensure that the Bill is as strong and powerful as it can be. This amendment strengthens rightful engagement with victims, provides a voice for them if they want it, and gives that fundamental reassurance that the parole process is as fair as it can be and, at the same time, does not fetter subjective mechanisms for the Parole Board’s operation. I commend it to the House.

Photo of Baroness Newlove Baroness Newlove Deputy Chairman of Committees, Deputy Speaker (Lords) 3:45, 1 July 2020

My Lords, I was unable to attend Second Reading due to logistical circumstances resulting from Covid-19. I was therefore delighted to watch the speech of my noble friend Lady Finn. I was further delighted to watch Committee and the debate on the amendment from the noble Baroness, Lady Barker. Sadly, it resonated not just with what I am going through, but with many victims whom I saw in my former role as Victims’ Commissioner for England and Wales.

The Bill has been of not only professional interest to me, but personal. I must declare that I know Marie McCourt very well and the organisation she has set up. I have true admiration for Marie for facing the challenges over the years in wanting to know where the body of her late daughter, Helen McCourt, is lying. That must be heartbreaking, and she is fighting against time. That is why I am grateful to the noble Baronesses, Lady Kennedy and Lady Barker, and the noble Lord, Lord German, and support this amendment tabled by them.

Victims must be given correct information right the way through the criminal justice system. After all, they are involved in the process. You cannot split the two. I see for myself the strain on Marie’s body of ensuring she gets justice for Helen, hence what the Bill is about: Helen’s law. I also understand that people from the noble judiciary will have concerns about the rule of law and the human rights and mental state of the offender. I am very dignified in what I have to go through personally, and Marie is exactly the same. I understand that this legislation would not apply to many prisoners, but that is not the point, because we should not further remove the needs of the families of the victims, causing them to suffer more than anybody else in our criminal justice system.

Speaking as somebody who is currently going through the parole system and finding information while in the victim contact scheme, as the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy, mentioned, and speaking to the Victims’ Commissioner, I say that victims have to be able to opt out of this scheme. Too many victims are given this information at a traumatic stage. We are also seeing a cut to victim liaison officers, who are the relationship between the offender and the victim.

I am not asking to remove the rights of an offender, I am asking that the Bill thinks about the victim on a level playing field. It has taken many years for Marie to get this where it is. As somebody who knows exactly what it feels like, I ask your Lordships to understand that this is a balance for victims. The victim contact scheme has many options—and no disrespect to what my noble and learned friend will say at the Dispatch Box, but it is very piecemeal. You are waiting around for information; you are waiting for that phone call. You just have to wait. You have no control. This amendment gives a duty to the Parole Board, as the Bill will state that it is a legal duty for the Parole Board to ensure that it always considers victims from the beginning to the end.

Many people do not understand what a victim personal statement feels like to write and read out to people, whether by videolink or on a prison estate. I can assure noble Lords that it is heart-rending and emotional and, when you come to the last word and the last full stop, you are asked to leave the room. I have attended many as Victims’ Commissioner and I have seen the discourteous attitude of offenders who are not bothered and their legal representatives who want them not to speak. But taking the emotion out of this, this proposal sets the right footing to go along with the national Victims Strategy that the Government released 18 months ago. We have to balance them for the sake of our criminal justice system; to give victims the confidence to do what it says on the tin.

There are not many such prisoners, but families who are going through this are running out of time once they know the prisoner will be released. While victims are given exclusion zones—another issue that I am personally dealing with at the moment—that does not reduce the anxiety that you suffer on a daily basis. For all you know, the offender coming out of prison knows exactly where the body lies and exactly what community you live in. The body could be right there, and he could disturb you again. That is too little and too late to give confidence for our victims. That is why I support the amendment to get a database for victims so that they feel that they are at the centre of the Parole Board’s system.

Please include this proposal in the Bill for the reasons that victims have challenged for many years—for their heartache to be recognised and to give them some closure, because, at the end of the day, the criminal justice system should be a level playing field for everybody.

Photo of Lord Blunkett Lord Blunkett Labour

My Lords, I follow the noble Baroness, Lady Newlove, with some humility. She speaks from the heart and from bitter experience. I got to know and respect her greatly from the time we spent on committees together. I also pay tribute to Marie McCourt—whose campaign has been so dedicated and now, I hope, effective—and to my noble friends who put together this amendment.

I spoke in Committee about the issue of those who would never disclose where bodies were buried and drew attention to the tragic impact of the behaviour of the Moors murderers on the family of Keith Bennett all those many years ago. But I want this afternoon to refer to a case that is not about a body that was not disclosed by the perpetrator but the simple issue of a failure to disclose when someone is released or there is a change in their circumstances. That was brought to my attention by Frances Lawrence, the widow of Philip Lawrence, who was a head teacher murdered many years ago. Frances was supported by the then Home Secretary—now the noble Lord, Lord Howard—and my predecessor as Home Secretary, Jack Straw. When I became Home Secretary, it was my privilege to introduce the first substantive measure in relation to victims through the Domestic Violence, Crime and Victims Act 2004.

We have come a long way since those days, and mention has already been made of the greater ease that technology now provides for the Parole Board to be able to keep in touch but also to have a double or triple lock on the way in which proceedings sometimes go wrong. Therefore, there can be little excuse for the failure within the system to notify the victims when there is a change in the perpetrator’s circumstances. It is crucial that that should take place, given—as has been spelled out much more eloquently than I can this afternoon—the pain and distress that comes from finding that information out in a phone call from the media, reading it in the local newspaper or hearing it on the radio. If we can do anything to alleviate that, we should do it, and I can see no reason for not accepting the amendment.

There are times when we can see technicalities or difficulties in process or the way in which bureaucracy might be increased. Perhaps we can see administrative or bureaucratic reasons why something would not work. I see none of those in this amendment, and I hope that we will approve it.

Photo of Lord Mackay of Clashfern Lord Mackay of Clashfern Conservative

My Lords, I strongly support the Bill and I am conscious of the sort of hurt that the basic matter on which this Bill is founded can cause to people for many years. It is also very important that victims are at the centre of the criminal justice system, and the Parole Board is only part of that, albeit an important part.

I think that it is much easier and more definite if victims are properly included in the victim contact scheme. In other words, victims should be notified about anything that affects them. This is certainly one thing that they should be notified about, but I feel that having a system only for this particular matter—for the Parole Board—is taking the victim from the centre of the victim contact system out to a special place. In my view, unless we have a victim contact system that deals with all the possible interests of victims in what is going on, particularly in relation to those who have done them harm, there is a serious risk that the system is not sufficiently efficient.

It is also important that we keep in contact with victims. That involves finding out if there is a change in their circumstances—in their addresses or in any other matter that affects giving them notice. It is therefore important that a comprehensive system is set in place. I entirely agree with almost all that has been said about contact with victims, but I am not sure that it is wise to set up a system which deals with only one aspect of the criminal justice system rather than a system that deals with the whole lot, which the victim contact scheme was supposed to be. If it has deficiencies, as my noble and learned friend said, the thing to do is to put those right.

Photo of Lord Naseby Lord Naseby Conservative

My Lords, the House will know that I am not a lawyer. As it happens, I spent about 20 years of my life in the communications industry. One lesson that I learned was almost to a word what my noble and learned friend Lord Mackay just said. In the time available, I have not had a chance to look at the contact scheme—what it should do, what it does do and what it might do. While I say a huge thank you to the noble Baroness, Lady Newlove, for the way in which she put the situation, I want to be informed by my noble and learned friend on the Front Bench what exactly the victim contact scheme is supposed to do at the moment. I find it inconceivable that it does not do the majority of the items that are listed under Amendment 17, but maybe it does not. Maybe there are holes in it.

It may well be that, in certain cases, the Parole Board is not doing its job properly, but the fact that we include something in the Bill will not actually alter that situation one way or the other, except for those responsible to be cautioned or whatever.

The real issue is still the moving problem of the whereabouts of the body, or the disclosure in the case of Ms George. I have some sympathy for the new clause, but before I make any decision I would like to know what the Victim Contact Scheme is supposed to do. I do not know what audit has been done of the system, particularly in relation to the cases that we considered earlier. We certainly need a comprehensive system. Of that I am quite certain, but whether this new clause helps us get there, I do not know. I will have to listen to the Minister before I can make any decision.

Photo of Baroness Barker Baroness Barker Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Voluntary Sector) 4:00, 1 July 2020

My Lords, I thank the noble Baronesses, Lady Kennedy of Cradley and Lady Newlove, not just for their contributions today but for the discussions that my noble friend Lord German and I have had with them about this amendment since the previous stage of the Bill and for their valuable assistance in refining the proposals today, which are somewhat different from those that I put before the House in Committee. In particular, I thank them for enabling us to come up with an opt-out, rather than an opt-in system, in which we have set down a clear definition of victims and relevant persons.

I want to deal with the question raised by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay, which was alluded by the noble Lord, Lord Naseby, concerning why we have the proposal in the Bill and do not leave it to the more general workings of the Victim Contact Scheme. In one sense, they are right. We should have a Victim Contact Scheme which works for all victims in every case, but we do not. We should have a special measure in the Bill because these are victims of a particularly horrible situation. It is not just that they have been victims of a crime; they continue to be victims of the failure of a convicted prisoner to make a disclosure about a particular matter. That is of a sufficiently different order from other crimes for the Government to have brought forward this Bill, which applies solely in those circumstances.

As other noble Lords have said—the noble Baroness, Lady Newlove, said it perhaps more clearly than anybody else—parole hearings in these cases carry a weight even greater than those of other crimes, so it is even more important that the administrative processes, which our criminal justice system quite frequently gets wrong, should not revictimise these people. We are not asking for very much, we are just asking that there be a database, that they be on it and that they have an automatic right to information at all times.

I do not want to repeat the points made by the noble Baroness, Lady Newlove, about the position in which victims’ families find themselves, as I think she said it all. However, having talked to Marie McCourt, I think that we are talking about 100 cases at most. For these cases, which the Government have decided are sufficiently special for us to have a separate law, we should have this system as outlined, and if it works well, there is no reason why it should not be applied more widely either under other legislation or in the often-mentioned general review of the Parole Board.

I hope that the Minister will appreciate that we listened to what he said at earlier stages of the Bill and that we have brought forward an amended proposal which is modest but of immense importance to a very small number of people.

Photo of Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede Shadow Spokesperson (Justice)

My Lords, I support the amendment and I support my noble friend Lady Kennedy of Cradley. She set out very clearly the reasons for the amendment, and the majority of speakers have supported her. I found the speech of the noble Baroness, Lady Newlove, particularly moving. She spoke from the heart, as always, and, sadly, she spoke from bitter experience. It was particularly interesting that she talked about the practicalities of getting information from the Parole Board, even when you are very well known to the board as a victim.

My noble friend’s amendment would put in place an opt-out rather than an opt-in system, and the various elements of that are specified in the amendment. The arguments against the amendment made by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay, and the noble Lord, Lord Naseby, was: that is all very well, but why are these victims different from the other victims within the whole of the criminal justice system? The noble Baroness, Lady Barker, made the point very clearly: the reason they are different is that they continue to be victims because of the non-disclosure of the information.

There are roughly only 100 such victims in the country. I hope that any review of the work of the Parole Board will look at making a much wider opt-out system available in the future, but, now, we have the chance to legislate to address the concerns of this very particular group. The Parole Board has a heavy weight of responsibility but this is an opportunity for the House to make a tangible difference to these victims’ lives, and it should seek to do so. I support my noble friend.

Photo of Lord Keen of Elie Lord Keen of Elie The Advocate-General for Scotland, Lords Spokesperson (Ministry of Justice)

My Lords, I thank all noble Lords for their contributions to this debate. I quite understand the concern that has been expressed about the victims of crime and the victims of these particular crimes.

Perhaps, first, I may make a number of rather technical points in relation to the scope of the amendment. Subsection (1) of the proposed new clause does not apply to those receiving a determinate sentence for the offences contained in the Bill. However, I am confident that the amendment was meant to apply to all sentence types, and I will proceed with my remarks on that basis. Additionally, “relevant persons”, as defined in proposed new subsection (5), would include offenders beyond the scope of the Bill—namely, all those convicted of murder or manslaughter—rather than being restricted to the circumstances set out in the Bill. Again, I will proceed with my remarks on the basis that this was intended to be confined to offenders to whom the Bill applies.

I turn to the substance of the amendment. First, it would require the Parole Board—I emphasise: the Parole Board—to create and maintain a database of victims’ family members in cases captured by the Bill. The board would have to remove a family member from the database if they did not wish to be included. Secondly, it would create an obligation on the Parole Board to provide information to certain groups of victims and, indeed, suspected victims and their families.

This amendment effectively replicates some elements of the victim contact scheme for a limited group of people, and places the duty on the Parole Board to administer it rather than the National Probation Service. With respect, the Parole Board is not equipped for such a function. There is already a well-established process delivered through the victim contact scheme to provide victims with information about the date and outcome of parole hearings, and they can request a summary of the Parole Board decision. This process also facilitates victims requesting the imposition of specific licence conditions for the offender’s release, such as exclusion zones, and assists them in submitting a victim personal statement which will be considered by the Parole Board panel. The Government see no justification for replicating the excellent service provided by the victim contact scheme for a particular group of victims’ families in a limited way.

Proposed new subsection (2) of the amendment proposes an unfettered right to

“information pertaining to the application”,

which may include confidential information relating to the offender, such as police intelligence, which may breach the offender’s confidentiality rights and put their safety at risk. The Parole Board must balance the rights of victims with the rights of the offender.

If there is any suggestion that the parole decision is legally or procedurally flawed, victims may ask the Lord Chancellor to consider making a reconsideration application on their behalf, and the Lord Chancellor can ask the Parole Board to look at the decision again. Victims will receive a detailed letter setting out the reasons why the request for reconsideration was successful or unsuccessful. The victim liaison officer will provide information regarding judicial review if requested.

There are significant practical difficulties in operating such a scheme on the opt-out basis suggested by this amendment. The Parole Board would need to ensure that the correct contact details for each victim are recorded; if a victim does not respond to the offer of contact, it would not be appropriate simply to send updates to a last known address, for example. This amendment would duplicate much of the work delivered under the victim contact scheme but could not replace it entirely. That means that victims would have to receive contacts from and share information with both the Parole Board and the victim contact scheme, which would in turn add to their distress at a potentially very difficult time.

We are currently trialling a new process whereby all eligible victims are referred directly to the National Probation Service, to ensure that they are all offered access to the victim contact scheme directly by it, thus ensuring that we reduce the risk of victims opting out before they are clear about the benefits of the scheme. The new process also incorporates a standard referral form that provides the service with the address, telephone number and email address of victims to allow for multiple methods of contact.

We recognise that receiving information about parole hearings is of great importance to many victims, and we endeavour to support them through the existing victim contact scheme. We consider that this support is far better delivered by the National Probation Service than by being placed on the shoulders of the independent Parole Board, which, as I indicated, is not equipped to carry out such a service.

The amendment also contains a requirement to review the database’s use within one year of its creation. However, as some noble Lords observed, cases such as those detailed in this Bill are extremely rare and it is unlikely that a review after one year could result in any significant, reliable findings.

I emphasise that we are concerned with the position of victims. They are provided with information under the victim contact scheme, which is administered by the National Probation Service. The victim liaison officer will provide information to those who wish to receive it. Where the Parole Board considers or reconsiders a case, victims will receive a detailed letter setting out the reasons why, for example, a request for reconsideration was successful or unsuccessful. We are ensuring that the victim’s personal statement comes before the Parole Board when it has a hearing. We plan to enshrine support for victims in a victims’ law, as we have indicated, but before we do this we will revise the victims’ code to give them more clarity on their rights around access to support and greater flexibility over when and how a victim personal statement can be made.

The noble Lord, Lord German, referred to engagement on this matter. I can indicate that my honourable friend Alex Chalk, the Minister with responsibility in this area, has been endeavouring to arrange a meeting with the noble Baronesses, Lady Kennedy and Lady Barker, to discuss this matter. I do not know whether they are aware of that, but I am advised that this is in train, if I may put it in those terms. In these circumstances and, in particular, having regard to the distinctive role of the Parole Board on the one hand and the National Probation Service on the other, with respect to the victim code, I invite the noble Baroness to withdraw this amendment.

Photo of Baroness Kennedy of Cradley Baroness Kennedy of Cradley Non-affiliated 4:15, 1 July 2020

My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have spoken in this debate. I am very grateful for the support of the noble Lords, Lord German, Lord Blunkett and Lord Ponsonby, and the noble Baronesses, Lady Barker and Lady Newlove, and for the pertinent questions and comments made by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay, and the noble Lord, Lord Naseby. I thank the noble Lord, Lord German, and the noble Baroness, Lady Barker, for clearly setting out how the move from an opt-in to an opt-out approach is an important change that needs to take place.

The speech by my colleague, the noble Baroness, Lady Newlove, was passionate and well thought-out; I hope it brought home to noble Lords why this amendment is necessary. As a former Victims’ Commissioner, from her personal experience, and from her friendship with Marie McCourt, she passionately set out the anguish created for families and victims by the parole process and the lack of effective communication; that communication has to change. The victim contact scheme is, in her words, piecemeal, and the wait for information very distressing.

My noble friend Lord Blunkett recognised how this amendment would relieve anguish and pain; I thank him for his support. The noble Lord, Lord Naseby, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay, referred to the victim contact scheme. I thank them for their questions but, as other noble Lords, and the noble Baroness, Lady Newlove, from her personal experience, pointed out, that scheme is well under par. As my noble friend Lord Blunkett said, it is this Bill that is before us at this time. There is no reason why these amendments should not be accepted; the proposed new clause would also put in place a review after 12 months.

I am disappointed that the Minister is not prepared to accept the amendment. The explanation for not supporting victims and putting a duty on the Parole Board is very disappointing. As the noble Baroness, Lady Barker, noted, and as I tried to outline in my opening speech, the Government have recognised that these families need a separate law to relieve their anguish. Let us please now allow them a separate clause to make sure they are communicated with properly. I wish to test the opinion of the House.

Ayes 267, Noes 241.

Division number 2 Prisoners (Disclosure of Information About Victims) Bill - Report — Amendment 17

Aye: 267 Members of the House of Lords

No: 241 Members of the House of Lords

Aye: A-Z by last name

No: A-Z by last name

Division conducted remotely on Amendment 17

Amendment 17 agreed.

Sitting suspended.